Someone was screaming. Only the pain in my own throat revealed who. Me. I felt detached from what was happening, like I wasn’t the one standing there with blood and… and more spread over my face. Like I wasn’t the one frozen in shock at the sight of… of Scott, or what was left of him. A dull, yet somehow almost deafening echo rang through my ears. Part of that was the sound of the incredibly loud gunshot, while part was psychological. Standing there, staring, frozen, screaming. I was broken.
Scott. My babysitter. The guy I’d pretty much grown up with. He’d always been there. Always. Even before Mom disappeared, Scott had been there. Besides Dad, Scott was my one and only constant. He was more than my babysitter. He was my friend. And more than that. He was almost like a big brother. Actually, he was the closest thing to a brother I’d ever had before I’d found out about Wyatt’s existence.
And now he was… he was… dead. On the floor. The hole—the blood—the—him. In my shock, I stood there frozen as more people suddenly filled the room by the door. Professor Dare and Asenath, both there within a second or two of my scream. The latter went through the open front door and into the yard beyond to look for the threat, while Dare went to one knee by the body, her hand outstretched.
But there was nothing she could do. I knew that from the start. Scott’s head was—the hole—oh. I hadn’t stopped screaming. Not that more than a couple seconds had passed, even if it felt like hours in my mind. Everything was going slow. The crash from the kitchen that had to be my father reacting to the gunshot and my scream couldn’t have been more than two or three seconds removed from the actual event, and his pounding footsteps brought him into view a moment later, which itself felt like hours.
Dad was yelling my name. He stopped short at the sight of me, before his eyes went to the floor. A look of incomprehension, followed by dawning horror filled his gaze, and Scott’s name leapt from his lips.
Professor Dare rose, moving so fast she was up before I knew what was going on. Pursing her own lips, she blew out some kind of purple dust. As it struck my father in the face, he slumped to the ground.
Despite myself, seeing Professor Dare blow dust into my father’s face that knocked him out, in the horror of the situation, made my hand reflexively move for the weapon canister at my hip. Before I could get it out, however (not that it would’ve done anything), she caught my arm. Her voice was gentle, yet firm. “Flick,” she said quickly. “Your father is okay. He’ll be okay, I promise. Come here.”
Before I knew what was happening, she pulled me away from the front door, toward the kitchen. My feet moved automatically to follow after her, and whenever my head moved to look over my shoulder at the body, Professor Dare stopped me with a hand to keep me looking at her as she continued to back up. She forced me to keep looking into her eyes while pulling me out of sight of the… of Scott’s body.
“Flick,” she started once we were out of the way. “Sit.” Pulling me to a seat, the professor made me sink it before snapping her fingers. A glass from the nearby cupboard leapt to the sink and filled itself with water before going to her waiting hand, and she held it out to me. “Drink this, please. Slowly.”
Instead, I just stared at the glass in my hand. It started to slip away, almost falling to the floor before she caught it. Professor Dare went down to her knees, and I saw something in her expression. Something more than professionalism. That time, her voice cracked a little bit as she put both hands on my shoulders. “Flick, please. I—I can help you. But I need to know what just happened. I need to talk to you, and you can’t talk until you drink. The person at the door, that was… your friend, wasn’t it?”
I went briefly blind as liquid filled my eyes. Tears, I realized through the haze. And through those tears, I would have slipped off the chair and fallen to the floor, but Professor Dare held me up, supported me for just a second until she took me from the chair entirely. Her arms went around me, embracing me tightly. “I’m sorry,” she whispered close to my ear, emotion shredding her voice. “I’m so sorry, Flick.”
That lasted for… I had no idea how long. She held me as my face hit her shoulder and my sobs took over. All I could do was shake and sob, unable to even try saying anything. After a few long seconds, my limp hands rose before wrapping around her, and I slumped there half on the floor, clutching the blonde woman as tight as I could as my tears continued to pour out freely, soaking through her shirt.
At some point, Asenath returned. I heard her quietly tell Dare that there was no one out there, and that Twister was doing a quick search of the neighborhood. There was also something about somehow convincing the neighbors that the gunshot they’d heard had actually been a car backfiring as it passed.
Finally, through the hard lump in my throat, I managed, “Fossor. It was Fossor. Ammon. He—Scott–”
“It was him.” There was hatred and anger in Dare’s voice, something deeply personal. “Flick, I’m sorry. I–” She leaned back, looking me in my tear-blurred eyes. “I—we didn’t know you were on the phone. We didn’t hear any of your conversation until the very end. Fossor was using some kind of spell to block it. We heard your friend show up and then you suddenly stopped talking. Then we heard the phone fall and you started to say ‘turn around.’ Then you screamed. We came as soon as—but it was…”
“Too late,” I finished for her, my voice cracking painfully. “Even your time stop, the—you couldn’t–”
She shook her head. “It takes a second to start up. I heard the gunshot and… and we had to get to you.”
Falling back against the legs of the chair as I sat on the floor, I slumped weakly. “It was a Christmas present.” My voice felt dull and empty. “Fossor said it was a Christmas present. He made—he got Ammon to make Scott—to make Scott…” I couldn’t get any more words out. The tears took over again.
Senny was by my side on the floor as well by the time I caught myself once more. Her hand took mine, and I could see the pain in her eyes. “Flick,” she started, her voice full of self-recrimination. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. It—like she said, we heard him show up and then it was just quiet. I thought you were–” She hesitated, shoulders shrugging helplessly. “I’m sorry, I should’ve known something was wrong.”
My head shook, but I couldn’t find my voice for a few seconds. “Scott— he’s… his… he’s just… laying there. We—you can’t–” My gaze turned pleadingly toward Professor Dare for a moment. “Help?”
“Oh, Flick.” The pain came back to her eyes. I’d never seen the woman look so… helpless and emotional. “I’m sorry. There’s nothing we can do for him. I wish there was. He’s gone, Flick. He’s–”
She said something else, but I didn’t hear it. I couldn’t hear it. The roar was back in my ears, and my head dropped. I saw the floor, then nothing. Tears took over yet again. I slumped down, falling onto my side as I shook. No, no, no. Scott. Please, please. God, why. Why did I have to lose him too? Fossor took my mother, he’d kidnapped her and kept her away over half my life. He was going to try to take me in less than a year. My whole life revolved around dealing with that. And now he had killed Scott.
Eventually, I managed to sit up and take the glass of water, drinking from it almost mechanically as my eyes continued to stare at the floor. A million thoughts whipped through my head like a tornado. Most were less than half-formed, and many consisted of more vague emotions than coherent ideas. Kill Fossor. Kill Ammon. Kill them both. Destroy them. The rage boiled up in me, overwhelming the grief.
“Scott,” I finally managed after sitting there for what felt like hours. “We–” My throat cracked, and I took another drink of the water. “He can’t just disappear. He des–” Tears came back and I squeezed my eyes shut tightly briefly before giving a shudder. “He deserves better than that. His family deserves better than that. He was adopted, but—but they loved him. We have to—they have to know. Not everything, but… but please, please don’t let them think he killed himself. He was murdered.” The tears were coming back full force as I spoke. “They can’t think their son killed himself. Please, please.”
Professor Dare’s hand touched my cheek as she nodded. “They won’t. I promise, Flick. They… his parents will know he was a hero. I won’t let them think that he—that he did that. It won’t be okay, but that’s the very least we can do. I’ll take care of it. I’ll move him and—and make sure that no one thinks he committed suicide. Will you–” she paused, looking hesitant and, again, emotional. “Will you be okay here with Asenath for a little bit? I’ll be back as soon as I can, but I’ll need to call some help.”
Sniffing once, I nodded before cringing. “My dad. What about when he… when he wakes up?” It felt sick to talk like this, to talk at all after what happened. I knew that both Dare and Asenath had lost people close to them many times. This wasn’t anything new to them. But it was new to me. It was Scott.
“His memory will have to be adjusted before he wakes up,” Dare informed me quietly and patiently. “It’s the only way if you want people not to believe that Scott killed himself, if you want to change it. He can’t remember seeing him there. He can’t remember hearing you scream or—or any of it. We can set it up differently, but your father can’t remember any of that. It’s that, or let things stay as they are.”
Swallowing hard, I nodded. “If I can’t tell my dad what really happened to Scott, I don’t want him to think that he killed himself. I can’t—no. Please. I can’t let Fossor do that to him. And he’d never—never let me go back to school if he knew that I saw Scott—that I saw Scott–” My voice broke once more.
“I’ll take care of it,” Dare promised while giving my hand a squeeze. “Stay here with Asenath, okay?”
Weakly nodding, I lowered my gaze and stared at the floor again. In the background, I heard the two of them murmur to each other for a second, before Dare left the room to into where Scott’s body was. After a short time there, the front door opened and then closed again as she went to… handle things.
For a few minutes, neither I nor Senny said anything. We just sat there. My eyes stayed locked onto the floor while my hands clenched and unclenched. It was all I could do not to break down yet again. But the anger in me was still steadily overwhelming the grief. My voice, when I finally spoke again, was hard. “I hate him.” I spat the words harshly, because being angry felt better than being sad. Being angry felt productive. Being sad felt helpless. “I hate that son of a bitch. I’m going to kill him. I’m going to kill them both. Ammon and Fossor. They deserve to die. They’re monsters. They’re both monsters.”
“They are,” Senny agreed. Her voice was as gentle as her hand against my arm. “Fossor is evil. The kind of evil that.. that shouldn’t exist. I’m sorry, Flick. I’m sorry you had to see any of this, that you have to deal with that piece of shit. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to have a regular family.”
“I don’t want a regular family,” I snapped despite myself as the anger twisted inside me a bit more. “I want my family. I want my mom back, with the gifts and abilities that she earned. I want my dad to know the truth. I want to know the truth about the world, and I want to help people. I don’t want to go back to being clueless. I want to take my father into the truth. I want him to know everything, and I want my mom back, and I want…” Stopping, I shook my head violently. “But I can’t have that. Any of it. Not now, anyway. But no. I don’t want normal. I want the truth. I want my family back together, with the truth. I want to save people with my mom, with my dad. That’s what I want, not ‘normal.’”
Before Senny could say anything to that, the front door opened again. There was a brief sound of footsteps before Twister came into the kitchen. She was carrying a small computer pad, which she held out to me. “Flick,” the girl said quietly while meeting my gaze. “You should look at this. Trust me.”
I took the pad with a frown of confusion before turning it around. On the screen there was a video playing. A video of a young, familiar boy playing with a truck on the floor in some kind of big room. There were a few other kids around, but he was in the center frame, and immediately recognizable.
The anger boiled up again, and I almost threw the pad even as the tears returned. “Bastard! Why’d Fossor send a video of Scott as a kid? How did he even get a video of Scott from years long ago?”
“Flick,” Twister said gently, head shaking. “It’s not from years ago. Look at the calendar on the wall.”
Confused, I looked at the pad one more, my eyes searching. Sure enough, there was a calendar there. A 2017 calendar, which was set to December. And all around the room, there were Christmas decorations.
The truck that Scott-that eight year old Scott was playing with on the floor… it was a Christmas present.
Twister’s voice cut through as my brain completely locked up. “It’s a live feed, not recorded. He’ll start getting his memories back over the next few months. Then his tail should come in. Probably doesn’t have the ears, or you would’ve noticed as soon as you saw him after the whole Heretic thing. Tails you can hide though.”
“Pooka.” I managed, as a tidal wave of emotions tore down every wall in my mind. “Pooka.” Turning, I went to my feet so fast the chair behind me fell over. I didn’t care. “Scott—you’re saying he—he’s a… He’s a Pooka?!” My voice was a shout. Still didn’t care. “Scott—he’s not—he’s a—he’s a Pooka?!”
The Stranger sense didn’t recognize Pooka, didn’t register them as Strangers at all, or anything non-human. The thoughts were coming to me in a jumble. My grief wanted to turn into delight and relief, but it was hesitant, terrified that this was some kind of mistake or lie. I couldn’t deal with that. Couldn’t deal with losing Scott and then having that hope dangled in front of me only to be yanked away again.
“Why didn’t you say anything before?” Asenath questioned while I was busy staring at the screen where the eight-year-old Scott was making engine noises as he ran the truck up over a green couch.
Dead. Not dead. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what to feel. Could I be happy? Could I be relieved? My body, my brain didn’t know how to switch emotions that fast. I wanted to sob again. I wanted to cry and scream and laugh and… and everything in between.
“I didn’t know.” Twister shrugged. “Not like we recognize each other on sight. But—yeah, that’s him.”
Scott. Scott wasn’t dead. He was, but he wasn’t. He was a Pooka. He was still alive—sort of. He’d get his memories back in a few months. He was a kid again, but he was alive. He wasn’t dead. He wasn’t–
Tears, these ones of much better emotions, flooded my eyes yet again. It took me a second to find my voice, but when I did, a question came. “I—but if you didn’t know, where’d this pad come from?”
“Guy gave it to me when I was checking the neighborhood,” she explained. “Said he wanted you to know that Scott wasn’t dead, that he was sorry he didn’t get back soon enough to help.”
“Get back soon enough to…” I echoed in confusion, my eyes moving from the pad to the girl and back again. “I don’t… Scott’s a Pooka. He—oh my god. He was here on purpose. He grew up with me. They put him here to… to watch Mom. And then to watch me. He knew the whole time. He knew all of it. He was watching me, probably… protecting me. He was—he… but who? Who put him there?”
“I did.” A new voice spoke up. All of us jumped, even Asenath. Turning, we saw a man standing there. A tall, broad-shouldered black man whose form filled the doorway he was standing in, and whose aura seemed to fill the entire room, the entire house.
“And it’s probably time that we talk,” Gabriel Prosser announced.