By the next evening, there was barely a slight improvement on the bite marks though the scratches were completely gone. I was beginning to feel a tab abnormal internally; hotter, kind of like my already fast metabolism was becoming unstable. I found myself sporadically sweating and trembling out of the blue for no reason all day today. It was also as if all my natural senses and talents for scenting have been…heightened. The smell of grilled hamburgers and hot wings were extremely strong. I could distinctly smell all of the spices from my apartment.
What the hell was happening to me? Even the possibility of seeing Marq tonight and picking up where we left off last wasn’t appealing —and that was really bizarre for me. I hope he’d understand.
Twinkie, already full on sardines, was having a field day chasing and diving at the small prisms of dappling sunlight covering the cement floor. Sunlight was filtering in through the canopy of tropical leaves draped over the six wide, skylight windows inset on the roof of the bar.
We try to be eco-friendly here.
Shyenna, Marq’s younger sister, came in with her best friend, Coye. I was surprised to see her without Marq trailing her or being in his wake herself. She wore a skin tight dress that clung to her body very well… and not just because it was still slightly damp either. All eyes followed her whenever she made an entrance, even fully clothed.
Though their faces and gem-like, jade green eyes were similar, her long, bleached, nearly white hair was the opposite of Marq’s jet black hair, which I found weird.
Then again, I don’t understand the world of the undines at all either.
“Hey, Kai! Long time no see.” She smiled excitedly as they seated themselves at the main counter. Coye was a bit plain looking next to Shyenna. She had a cute face but her dark red hair and marble-like, yellow-colored eyes made her appear…kind of creepy to me.
“I should say the same. Where have you been hiding out?” I greeted them.
“Well, I was told by mom and dad that I needed to spend more time at home but there’s a festival going on in town that I don’t want to miss, so I had to get away. You should wear your hair down more, it’s so gorgeous!” She complimented me, reaching over to bounce one of my dark, loose curls in her cupped palm.
I usually didn’t wear my hair down for the simple fact that I was lazy when it came to conditioning, glossing, and taming and it tends to get in the way anyway.
“Blind luck. I didn’t even feel like bothering with a clip or braid tonight. What’ll you guys have?”
“I’ll take a pomegranate cosmo.” Coye ordered.
“We’re celebrating but I shouldn’t drink in my condition, so I’ll just take an aloe vera and pineapple juice spritzer.” Shyenna smiled proudly while patting her abdomen.
My jaw dropped. “No way. You’re expecting?” I smiled.
“Yep. I just found out today.”
“Thanks. You know, Marq is going to be a father too. Did he tell you?”
I couldn’t stop the corners of my mouth from turning down a bit. What?
“No, I didn’t know. He didn’t mention it.”
“Oh,” Shyenna waved her hand, “It’s not like you think, Kai. He and she aren’t in a relationship. Keeping the bloodline going, that’s all.” She assured me, reading my expression.
I shrugged to play it off. That was something I would never understand about the undines. How could you mate and produce offspring with someone you didn’t have deep feelings for? Or did he? I wondered. A wave of jealousy spiked in me momentarily.
“It’s cool, I understand.”
“So when are you and your crew going to come and party with us on our turf?” She changed the subject.
“I don’t know. Soon, maybe. Is he coming tonight?”
He said he would when we last parted.
“I don’t think so. Dad needed him to take care of a few things since confirmation she was pregnant.”
I nodded, disappointed and wondering who the ‘she’ was.
I knew I was being silly. It wasn’t like I could ever be impregnated by Marq. It didn’t work that way, kind of like how humans can’t reproduce with animals. It’s a species thing.
The only other beings that we were compatible with were earth elementals, hence Cole and Clee, mystics, and Mages. Yes, the coincidence of their adorable, near-matching, comic strip names were more than a sign that they were meant to be together. At least, that was my thinking. I couldn’t wait to be an aunt.
Besides, I don’t know if I ever wanted kids for myself anyway.
The eligible hunter bachelor pool wasn’t that big to begin with and I wasn’t going to mate and get pregnant just to keep the race going. I needed more of a permanent commitment and the feelings that go with it.
“Hey.” I heard Cole call from the kitchen.
I turned to see him beckoning me over with his index finger.
Riza came out to take over for me briefly, though she was already geared up to join the stake out team.
“What is it?” I asked him once we were behind the swinging door.
There were two fire elementals we hired on staff as cooks, busy preparing dishes and cleaning in the background. The aroma of everything was vivid enough out in the main floor. Now, the smell of grease, sauces, and spices were nearly overkill to me, so I opted to simply breathe in and out of my mouth.
It didn’t help much.
“You may want to start getting ready. We’re about to head out. How are you coming along?” He asked.
“Better but I think I’m gonna stay behind on this one. I’m not feeling so good.”
I decided on the truth.
Cole’s brows furrowed. “What’s wrong?” He studied my face.
“I’m just not feeling like myself. I’ll wait up for you guys and keep an eye out on things here.”
He sighed. “Let me see the bite.”
“Not now, we prepare food back here! It’s healing, don’t worry.” I assured him.
He paused and eyed me with concern. “You sure you’re alright? You’re worrying me.”
I laughed it off. “I’ll be fine, Cole. Really.”
“Alright. You call any of us if it’s anything significant or you’re in trouble. I already have four guys staying to keep watch outside the bar anyway.”
“Same to you. Be careful out there.”
“No need to worry, sis.” Cole said, leaning down to brush a quick kiss on my forehead.
What the hell? Cole never called did anything remotely affectionate like kissing me on the forehead. It was as if I were his little sister…granted the fact that I was older by ten minutes.
“What’s up with that?” I smiled crookedly, swatting a swath of my long (in desperate need of a trim) bangs from my face.
“Don’t make it weird or too mushy. See you in the morning. Get some rest.” He said with a wry purse of his lips as he turned to exit the kitchen.
I decided to close the bar an hour early. Given light of what was going on, most were wanting to head home early anyway. That was fine. I had a whole night ahead of me, straightening and restocking. Twinkie did a thorough check underneath all of the tables before retiring on the lip of the bay window to clean himself. I kept the television on mute just in case there was any more breaking news about the strange beings and more dead human bodies. I plugged an auxiliary cord into my phone and tuned the radio to a preset nineties R&B station.
The melodic baseline and groove of TLC’s ‘Creep’ began to play through the bar’s mounted speakers, making me want to dance more so than clean.
This was one of those sporadic moments where I felt like literally climbing a building or jumping off a cliff and into the ocean.
Pierce and Stone were on the other end of the walkie-talkie that sat on the counter. They were two of the four that stayed behind to scout around outside for a while before retiring to the mainland back home.
“Hey guys, I’m locking up so if you need anything, knock four times or call me first.” I relayed first.
“Copy that, we’re good.” Pierce replied.
“Alright, be safe guys.”
Stone chuckled. “Night, Kai.”
I started by sweeping up the floor, wiping down the tables and then setting all of the chairs on top.
Twinkie watched me with one eye open while I worked, curled up in an orange furry ball on the bottom step leading up to my apartment.
I found myself singing out loud from time to time, finishing up arranging and stocking the liquor and condiment supply shelves.
A sudden low, buzzing noise immediately separated itself from the music. It was that distinct.
A strange scent unexpectedly hit my nose but I really didn’t make the connection until I realized that the buzzing sound was actually Twinkie.
When I glanced over at him on the steps, he was standing upright on his back legs snarling with teeth barred…growling and hissing a forewarning.
Though it was adorable and hilarious when he did that, it alarmed me right now. My eyes quickly darted around the expanse of the bar, penetrating into each and every dark corner.
Not wanting to take any chances, I ducked down momentarily to unlock the safe beneath the counter and retrieved my spare short arm rifle.
“What is it, Twinkie? What do you see?” I asked.
There couldn’t possibly be anyone in the bar. I locked it and there was only one way in and out that anyone, other than the staff, knew about.
I reached for my phone, killing the music and then went for the walkie-talkie.
It was dead.
That was impossible! I had just put fresh batteries in it a few hours ago.
There was an entity in here.
I could smell it and it was familiar.
Twinkie emitted another low rumble of warning, slowly stalking towards the center of the room.
I flipped on more lights, aiming my gun to the exact spot but I couldn’t see anything.
Then, Twinkie just stopped. Sitting back down on his haunches, he watched that particular spot for a moment longer, and then he returned to his napping as if it was nothing after all.
Now that was creepy and odd.
“Really, Twinkie? Some watch cat you are.”
I panned the bar again, making rounds all the way up the stairwell to my apartment, where Twinkie took the opportunity to dive through the open door to find his comfy cat bed, and then back down into the kitchen. All was as it should be.
Now, I was paranoid. Twinkie had a talent for spotting entities and things we couldn’t see right away as well as those who may be enemies beneath the surface. I should have made him stay downstairs with me.
Well, maybe he had the right idea. I guess I’ll just retire for the night and take the walkie-talkie upstairs with me to find new batteries.
I had many other weapons in my apartment but I was going to keep this rifle with me on my way up, just in case.
Pushing the kitchen door open, I instantly picked up the faint scent that wafted by me earlier. It was a light, fresh scent…like cologne or soap.
Keeping my back to the wall, I slowly leaned out of the kitchen door, peering around the edge and slowly sweeping my rifle across the expanse of the bar.
—I nearly screamed. A gasp caught in my throat as I tightened my grip on the rifle and the trigger.
Sitting casually at the bar, as if waiting on a bartender, was a guy I’ve never seen before.
First teaser: First Teaser from HUMANS