“RED SKY AT NIGHT SHEPHERD’S DELIGHT, red sky at night shepherd’s delight.” She muttered it frantically as the light of the dying sun torched the house with searching, bloody rays. Quickly, she darted down the hallway, swinging her weight through her hips so that she could hold the baby tightly. She remembered her great grandfather, supposedly eighty-two when he died, confiding the secret of how he rid the curse from his final child and how he passed it down, to her, her baby. She bustled to the end of the corridor, a cupboard at it’s end. The baby in her wrappings stirred and lifted her arms sleepily, too strong for a six day old child. It had been one hell of a pregnancy.
For nine months the child had kicked and scrabbled and twisted inside her. The birth was horrible and messy but holding her baby in her arms was the way it had always been described. Bliss and euphoria. It had been worth it.
To recover her strength he'd let her stay in hospital until the last possible moment. Great Granddad Daedalus had calmly approached the reception desk.
“I'm ever so sorry, I thought your visiting hours were an hour later.” He said loudly enough to draw attention from the waiting room, “My granddaughter asked for me to pick her up.”
“We have a bed you can stop in until tomorrow, sir. Who is it you're seeing?”
“Samantha Miles, please, or does she take her husband's name, that would be Samantha Dolan.” Daedalus said, playing on the confused old man stereotype.
“It says here a Mr Jeremy Dolan is taking her home tomorrow, he's already staying over.” The receptionist replied.
“Yes,” Daedalus tilted his head down sadly, “I'm afraid they aren't getting on very well at the moment, and Samantha finds this hospital incredibly restrictive.”
“I'm sorry to hear that, sir, but I understand she is still in recovery.” He replied, glancing around at the waiting patients. Daedalus turned slightly, looking lost, until the patients began to direct glares at the receptionist. “If she really is so uncomfortable, you may go and see her for a few minutes, sir.” He added.
Samantha's reaction was expected, as Daedalus opened the door to her room. She laughed in his face in shock, she’d seen his coffin buried, he could not be there. Samantha wildly thought she was hallucinating from an overdose of morphine.
She stopped laughing when he became a wolf.
Right there in front of her a dark silver wolf appeared where he'd stood. She screamed but found she couldn’t. Too fast a hand had covered her mouth and shut off the sound, pressing down too strongly on her lips. Daedalus looked down at her with fury and told her:
“Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning. You know who made that saying? Our grandfathers, way back with Romulus and Remus; it even got slipped into the Bible, you know. Some idiot thought we were talking about the weather. A shepherd’s biggest fear is never rain. It’s wolves.” He sat back as she stared at him, frozen and falling quickly into shock. “Must I show you again?”
She shook her head. Not too shocked, then, Daedalus thought. Her eyes were as wide and wild as rabbits’ caught in headlights. Or lupine jaws. The werewolf chuckled.
“What do you want? You’re supposed to be dead,” she muttered feverishly.
“Oh, no, Samantha. I’m dying, certainly, but I can still run faster than any twenty year old. Funny that.”
“You should be dead, monster!” He chuckled again, her words could have been so brave and yet were high and breathy, only a gasp.
“I thought so too but I decided to do something better than run myself in with a bullet. After all, if I were dead, who could have passed you such important information about your own child. Your own self, in fact?”
She sat quietly but drawn upright and away from him. Subconsciously, Dae noticed, Samantha’s eyes were flicking to the pipe sending painkiller into her arm, the windows, the door he sat in front of.
“Not yet, Samantha. You see, you will need to remove that drip, and we will be leaving very soon through that door but you certainly can’t outrun me. I am helping you and you’re wasting precious time.
“You’re not like me because of my success. Werewolves, you see, are a mutation. Mutations are genetic mistakes. In my pack, we thought it was fun to be so mutated. I knew otherwise. One day, in a nice human church, I saw the words ‘red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning’. All of the human children believed their parents that this referred to the weather. I saw it for what it truly was. Every full moon it is preceded by a bright red sky. Did you know that many werewolves die when their blood is thinned by humans?”
Samantha shook her head frantically, her brain skimming over the conversation. Tears had seeped down her face without her notice.
“Makes sense, doesn’t it? A mutation can’t pass on forever. If the blood-line carrying the mutation is thinned by the uninfected, the mutation can simply disappear. Werewolves are supposed to disappear.”
She nodded. Daedalus’ voice was low and dangerous – soothing as if to a terrified animal. Soothing his prey, Sam thought wretchedly.
“What do you want with Drew? Don’t you dare hurt her!” She still sounded so shocked but at Drew’s name her voice turned braver and desperate determination seeped in.
“I see you’d do anything for your child. So would I. My mutation was very thin, one more child born by an uninfected human would not have survived. The mutation would end and so would my bloodline. But I was not afraid. In Greek Mythology, my name is that of a great inventor, so, I decided to invent and experiment in his name. I had children with humans exclusively once I realised there was a cure. If a mutation was born it would be weak and die, if I succeeded I would be able to end my disease once and for all. My final child was my success, your Grandfather Isaac, you remember him? Strong, fast, keen vision and sense of smell. But no mutation. I made him perform the same ritual I did to his children and then you. Now, I will make you do it to your daughter. Andrea, isn’t it?”
Sam shook her head. “Just Drew.” she said with a touch of pride. She was told Daedalus hated shortened names by Grandpa Isaac. She called him Dae in her head, too afraid to say it out loud but wanting to defy the monster lying calm, content, in front of her.
“How do I know you’re not lying? Or an imposter?” He wasn’t, she’d seen pictures too accurate for Dae to be an impersonation.
“You know I’m not,” he waved her question away, casual as she cowered, “and besides, this is Andrea’s life we’re talking about. Imposter or not, surely you want her to be safe? What I will suggest will not at all harm her, I promise.” He held up his hand, as if showing Samantha that he held no weapon.
Watching her, Daedalus saw the gesture working. Samantha turned away in thought, her eyes peering squintily into the middle distance, her mind working through the shock and offer. Her first sign of action was her eyes widening ever so slightly as she realised and wiped away her tears.
“OK.” She said decidedly, determined and almost business-like despite her fear. Daedalus laughed to himself. In her current state of mind he could not laugh openly, she wouldn’t trust him, but it was funny how werewolf-like she was in a crisis. “Where do we go?”
“Just home. Take Andrea out of the nursery and discharge yourselves. I will drive you home and instruct you. At this time you must be quick, there isn’t long to do this.”
Daedalus removed her pipe, either he knew how to remove a drip or her adrenaline was too high to notice any pain. Once Samantha was free, Dae held up clothes. He had taken them from her wardrobe and she shivered with repressed panic. If she was still alive after tonight she would change the locks and lock them for every minute they were unattended.
After changing behind the curtain, she pulled it back and ignored Dae as she walked out of the room into the nursery; walking with utter dignity despite her exhausted muscles. Drew was firmly asleep and Sam lifted her gently and slowly from her cot; maybe she did have limited time but Dae could wait. He was, apparently and after all, far past eighty-two.
They climbed into his car. To anyone but Sam he'd seemed the perfect gentleman. Dae was dressed fashionably in jeans and black leather, and was stubbly, but not untidy. Somehow, he looked so young he could pass for a rock-star-turned-ranchman granddad. Walking through the wards, he'd opened and shut every door for her out of the hospital and into his car, always deliberately turned towards her and giving her just enough space to keep her from panicking. To others, he was simply an attentive carer.
Holding Drew, Sam found she couldn’t look at her. Her eyes weren’t open yet but confused nurses had already come to her saying she was “a restless baby,” too strong for her age. Samantha had been proud before she understood, but since Dae had pressed his hand to her mouth, it was clearly nothing to be proud of. Sam’s eyes flitted to one of the car’s wing mirrors. On her face a pale red mark was vanishing around her mouth. In it’s shape, she could just see the stretches of individual fingers.
Daedalus turned the engine over once before the car started, he revved it slightly like a motorbike, put it into gear and drove off.
He didn’t drive quickly, always a few miles below the speed limit, making Sam restless.
“Didn’t you say we didn’t have much time?”
“I’ve been driving for a very long time, Samantha, I know how to do it.”
“What do I do when I get home?” She asked, nervous and shaking but trying to prod Dae into a distracting conversation.
Daedalus bit and she turned to watch the road as he explained, stimulating her senses as much as possible to stop her hands from shaking. “When you get inside the house you must find the darkest room you have. There must be no windows and no light must come in from the door.”
“There won’t be any light once the sun sets,” Samantha replied instantly.
“Werewolves, Samantha, transform by moonlight. It's a full moon tonight.”
“You mean she’ll - “
“No. That’s what I’ve been telling you,” Dae replied. When he had been angry it had terrified her into silence, in the car he spoke softly, with endless patience. His untrackable character irritated her. “You will leave Andrea all night in the room. No moonlight will touch her. She will be safe and have no mutation. If no room you have is dark enough put her somewhere, in a black bag for example.”
“I can’t leave her all night! Not in a bag or on her own!” Sam stared at him, shocked.
“You must. It works. I promised you she won’t be hurt.”
“She’ll starve though! Babies must be fed every two hours.” She recited from the nurses.
“I did this to you, your father, and your grandfather. You’re alive.” He said simply.
Sam snapped her head back to the road sulkily.
“Just this one night is your magical cure? And I can forget all about it?”
“What about Jeremy?” She asked. Him watching her stuff her baby into a bag would be slightly disconcerting.
“Jeremy is already asleep in the hospital hotel. They won’t wake him and send him home until tomorrow.”
Samantha gave up on how Dae knew her husband was asleep. “OK,” was all she said.
As she’d clambered out of the car, the sky was flooded with blood. It flew in streaks across the clouds and lit up Drew’s chubby face.
“Hurry inside, now.” Dae told her calmly. “She will die otherwise.”
Samantha’s jaw dropped as the truth came crashing on her, her shock was now a buzz that she was pleased to ignore but like any human it had stopped her absorbing the facts. She snapped her mouth shut and glared up at him.
“Freak.” She said to him in her largest voice of loathing and ran inside.
She reached the cupboard and threw the door open. The one room with no windows. Dae knew it wasn’t dark enough. There were coats and shoes and bags littered about and she grabbed her coat, wrapping Drew in another layer. Scanning the cold cupboard she caught sight of a black bag at the back of a pile, large enough for Drew and the warm coat. She picked it up and pulled open the silver zip. Silver, deadly to werewolves. Hopefully. She pushed Drew inside and just as she drew the zip, red light fading entirely, her daughter’s eyes opened. They glinted as bright as a cat’s.
And they were the exact same colour as Dae’s.
THE SUNSET GLOWED DIMLY RED AND PURPLE, the grass turning grey in it’s shadows. Drew walked barefoot in a field, wearing cotton shorts and a t-shirt. She saw herself from above entering a tunnel beneath a bridge.
Inside the tunnel was dark and dank with moss and drips of water that worked their ways beneath the tarmac of the road above, through the curving stones of the bridge. Puddles clotted with mud lay on the concrete base. As Drew headed nearer the centre of the tunnel a man walked in the other side from which she’d entered. He walked up to her and stood squarely, less than a metre away. She couldn’t make out his face, or even his body type, he kept shifting, or maybe her vision was blurred. Drew squinted as if he stood much further away.
She jumped suddenly and span around, though nobody had been behind her a moment ago. At the mouth of the tunnel stood her friends. Marie, Akachi, Max, June, Felix. They stood fixedly. Drew had half a mind to draw nearer but didn’t. They did not move. They did not blink. They watched her eerily.
The sound lanced under her skin like a static shock. She whipped around, the man gone, with a black and silver mass in his place. It swirled like a hurricane and launched towards her – she threw herself to the concrete out of harm’s way. Realising her mistake, she sprung up immediately. The tornado had moved past and was reaching out towards her friends.
She watched the tornado move in front of them, horror filling her gut with ice, and lunged for it. Reaching it, Drew was pulled in, for a moment she glimpsed her stationery friends on the other side. The sunset was glowing suddenly with fire and blood behind them. Then she was sucked in; encased. Inside the tornado was the deepest black, streaks of light from the outside flashed like scratch marks and the growling echoed like thunder. Before she could fight out she was buffeted to the ground, feeling her knees sagging, hitting the concrete deck painfully. She could barely see them through the dark. Looking down, something closed around her arm, tugging hard, sharp as a razor. A snout flashed in front of her, needles poking an inch out of enormous gums. The growling laughed at her as she tripped and gasped in pain and for air.
Stumbling, she fell out of the tornado, casting a wild look at it, she staggered to protect her friends. Wounded and panting, she stopped. Gone.
Out of the tornado her friends grinned maliciously, each face snatched from view to be replaced by another just as she’d distinguished them. They laughed or growled before opening their mouths in an unnatural, stretched, snarl. The hurricane lurched at Drew a second time as it’s new mouths gaped with pointed teeth, shining slick with blood, and she was dragged beneath it again.
More scratching and biting. The flashing jaws and streaking claws that tore the tornado itself apart were tinged with scarlet that burned on Drew’s vision as she struggled. She writhed and screamed but the growling drowned it out. It mocked her and snapped bloody maws that laughed with howls. Tossing and turning, she felt herself losing consciousness. Just before she passed out her hands reached inexplicably up to the black and red…
And she was part of the mass. She saw her body stretched on the ground. Blood matted her hair, laced her legs and arms, spurted from her chest. Drew licked her lips. Joining the hunt, she bit and growled and howled, enjoying the assault on the body. Her body. Drew laughed as she scratched and tasted the blood, no longer contained inside the pale carcass-
Drew shot up, kicking out at the swirling mass that clung to her.
Her bedcovers slumped to the floor.
She panted heavily and snatched a glass of water from her bedside, gulping hard she washed out her mouth then rubbed a hand across it. No blood came away.
Staring about, she grabbed the switch of her lamp to search the corners of her room. No monsters crouched there; no creatures beneath her bed or outside her window. She dragged her covers over her shoulders, sitting against the wall at the head of her bed, shivering silently until she realised she was covered in dried tears and claggy sweat. Chucking off the soggy covers, she shoved on her headphones and picked up her laptop, playing music to throw off the echoes of the growling laughs.
Once the sun had risen, Drew sprung up from her bed, moving towards the wardrobe. As she crossed the room, she couldn’t help glancing around at the pastel grey-blue of her walls. She peeked sheepishly outside her window. Greeted with nothing but milky pink and golden sunrise.
“Right then,” she said, breaking the unnerving silence, “lets see what we got.”
She began riffling through her wardrobe, distracting herself still. Once she’d calmed down sufficiently she pulled out clothes at random, then tugged them on. Though it was only half past five, she felt awake. Not wide awake but more awake than usual for someone with insomnia, she decided. In front of the mirror she brushed out the knots in her hair and studied the puff of blonde that fell to the small of her back. “I think it looks brushed,” she muttered with a smirk, knowing full well her friends would ask her why she hadn’t later, something that happened at least once a week in school.
Looking in the mirror wasn’t an up or down for Drew, Marie sometimes couldn’t look in the mirror after bullying about her appearance. At this thought, Drew comically stuck out her bottom lip and huffed, always the best people were self-conscious. Besides, Marie, unlike Drew, had perfectly tamed chestnut hair; Marie, unlike Drew, had clear and not altogether pale or blotchy skin on a pointed feminine face; Marie, unlike Drew, actually cared. For Drew it was just her eyes - they were hazel, or grey, or green in different lights with a constant ring of orange in the centre. Friends like Marie, who she’d known since she was four, still couldn’t tell what colour her eyes were. Anyone who stood too close would notice and promptly stare into her eyes trying to guess the colour and arguing with anyone they pointed it out to. Other than that, Drew decided she wasn’t bad looking but completely lacking in the idea of stunning. Unlike Marie, she thought again with a nervous smile.
Drew headed downstairs for breakfast, no getting back to sleep after that nightmare. At the thought, Drew’s bare arms prickled with goose bumps. It was always like that around this time of the month, hormones messing with her dreams.
Not the only thing that changes though, is it? She thought to herself as she crossed her arms, self conscious suddenly as she entered the kitchen.
Around the same time her insomnia symptoms had started up, Drew found herself becoming obsessed with eating meat. The first day, she had scoffed away packets of cut meat and the leftovers of a roast dinner before she could even think about stopping herself. Once she’d snapped out of it, her force of will kept her eating anything but meat - it had been a complete violation of her five year long vegetarianism. She lost track of how long she resisted the feeling of starvation, food poisoning and disgust. She craved it carnivorously and once she slipped to eating it again it was even worse than before. Sickeningly filling herself with frozen meats and unsmoked ones on top, the contents of both fridge and freezer were eradicated. She stopped feeling sick but it was wrong, her head told her, that was how people were supposed to get sick with things like salmonella. Seeing her doctor and watering down the need for protein, she had told Drew it was strange but that, probably because of her insomnia, she was merely trying to gain more energy to keep herself awake. In the kitchen she was vigilant of what she ate at all times. Hardly ever stopping even without her newer, carnivorous, instincts giving a helping hand.
Looking to the steel fridge-freezer combo, she thought about the leftover burgers from yesterday.
I could just have one… A pathetic voice inside her started to reason.
No. She countered herself sternly, tipping her chin up and steering away to the other side of the kitchen. There was no “just one” any more and she would not let herself believe that there could be. As punishment for even thinking about it, Drew grabbed what would obviously be an unsatisfying apple from the fruit bowl and found a kids size box of cornflakes, stashed in the cupboard below. It was bland but it was healthy and more importantly, normal. Tucking each under her left arm, she prepared an extra strong glass of orange squash with her right. Drew took a swig from the bottle after to tell and force her mind, fairly disgustingly, back to the present and away from drowsiness. With that, any leftover thoughts of her nightmare went straight out of her head.
Another effect of the insomnia had been initially wanting to stay as quiet as possible when pacing the house at night. A weird trick she seemed to have picked up wasn’t just walking quietly but making no noise at all. The trick worked everywhere, with almost no effort required whether it was on carpets, creaking wood or even loose gravel paths. Though it seemed a few of her friends could just as easily pull off the trick, they were usually impressed. Drew felt she still had to deliberately try to slap her feet across floors if she didn’t want to sneak up on anyone...
Creaking pricked Drew’s ears, footsteps on carpet walked across the hallway above and paused.
“Morning, mum,” Drew called back as she heard her mum pace back across the hall from her empty room and her foot hit the top step.
“Breakfast?” Sam asked as she came through the living room towards the kitchen.
“Already got it,” Drew replied, “what’s the time?”
“You’ve got half an hour ‘til your bus. Hang on, I’ll just grab breakfast and we can eat together.” Sam said, opening a cupboard and pouring muesli into a bowl; Drew stuck her tongue out at it. After the rabbit food was drowned in milk, they sat on the worktops on opposite sides of the kitchen, eating quickly. Sam pointed her spoon at her, asking, “What’s first lesson?”
Drew sighed exaggeratedly, “Maths, of course. Same class as Marie though.”
“Sounds a good lesson on gossip to me,” Sam replied with a wink. Drew grinned at her; Sam was drawn in and cold sometimes but when she was in a good mood she was all fun. Her short, red, hair and green eyes were bright and at all of five foot nothing, Drew could easily guess how good she was at her job as a primary school teacher.
“You can say that, maths is all two times tables for you.”
“Aw, baby, is your work that hard?” Sam replied with a sarcastic smirk matching her daughter’s. She jumped off the counter to pour a drink and chuck her bowl in the dishwasher. “How are Marie and Felix, and the newbies?”
Drew chuckled, her mother flinched slightly.
“Are you ok?” she asked distractedly. She’d started to notice her mum’s twitch only recently but it was often.
“Yeah, I’m fine, just chilly,” Sam replied, reminded of Daedalus for a moment. Drew couldn’t know but those colourful eyes had not changed from the day she opened them. Her laugh was just like his.
“Ok… Technically, neither of them are couples anyway. Well, Marie says she and Felix aren’t, I don’t think he knows that, though.” Drew’s voice halted slightly.
“You don’t like them together? I thought it was a little romantic, or do you think it’s weird since they’re technically siblings?”
“No, no, it’s not like that,” Drew blushed, “they’ve never acted like siblings... I don’t know,” she finished lamely, shaking her head at the thoughts, like a dog shaking off water.
Sam shuddered again. She was too doglike, more than Sam ever had been. Drew had no knowledge of her DNA, no closeness with the smallest and tamest of dogs, a generation more space between her and a monster she didn’t even know the name of. Sam was still paranoid that the technique Dae had taught her hadn’t really worked.
“Anyway,” Drew said into the awkward silence, still red, “I’ve got to go. Don’t want to be late.”
“Good luck in maths.” Sam kissed her daughter goodbye. “Make sure you beat Felix in all your subjects,” she added, grinning lopsidedly again as her daughter blushed darker.
“Bye, Sam. Will do,” Drew replied as she fetched her bag and headed out for the bus.
DREW WHISKED HER HAIR INTO A SCATTY PONYTAIL, snaking between her shoulder blades as she walked towards Akachi and James. School had began almost a month ago and already Drew was overworked and completely stressed. Sighing, she let her head bob down for a moment, her lids heavy. Since school started, energy had gone out the window along with sleep. Drew hadn’t even done her homework though she’d had hours of lying awake last night to do it.
“Why didn’t you brush your hair?” Akachi yelled.
“Very funny!” Drew forced herself to shout back.
Peeling open her eyes, she saw Akachi grinning over, waiting for her to walk the extra metres to the art block. Against one of its walls, their group had set up an out-of-the-way spot to sit during their breaks and lunch. Beside Akachi, James stood upright yet awkward, scruffy. Bordering windswept, he looked as if he'd barely woken up and had to run to school. Drew wasn’t surprised to see him anymore. He'd been talking to Akachi a lot recently, as though the summer had somehow pulled together a close friendship between them. Drew couldn’t work out how they could stand each other; Akachi was passionate about everything, James could easily go with the flow. He’d scamper off once Marie and Felix arrived, avoiding Felix, Drew assumed. He was also passionate about whatever he did – around James he was passionate about picking a fight.
Drew hit the pause button on her music and plucked the earphones away, winding and unwinding them around one finger as she spoke.
“Alright?" She asked openly to the pair, her voice husky from tiredness.
"Fine. You don't look it though," James replied honestly. Proving his point, she stretched out a yawn as he spoke. Wide-mouthed, strangely increasing in pitch instead of decreasing - the sound came out dog-like, surprising James who she’d figured was generally unflappable.
"Insomnia," Drew said vaguely to him, dismissing his surprise as Akachi mimicked the former yawn for one of her own. Before hers had ended, James was also making a copy of Drew’s original. She raised her eyebrows at him, highlighting his obvious hypocrisy. It wasn't as if his yawn was perfectly normal either.
"Well, it seems like you're not so awake yourselves."
"Late night," the two answered in perfect, eerie unison to the unasked question. Akachi chipped in:
"Is your insomnia getting worse again?"
"Yeah. I'm pretty sure it's hormones that make it worse, a week around this time? Crap... Sorry," she directed to James who looked either worried or shocked.
Note to self: don't talk around guys you hardly know about your lady hormones, it scares them, Drew decided, flopping on to the ground and resting her head on the dirty bricks of the art block wall.
Glancing over, Drew caught James and Akachi having a silent exchange. Akachi stood with her arms crossed and eyebrows raised at him, leaning back to compensate for his height and nail him with a piercing look. Undaunted, James made a sarcastic Mexican wave movement of his own eyebrows in response. He stood loosely, then shook his head with a mocking smirk, and squinted very slightly at her. Drew closed her eyes and pondered what they were thinking about – Akachi exasperated, James joking.
Should be a normal conversation, then, Drew thought, her lips tipping up slightly.
"When were you diagnosed with insomnia?"
She sighed, that was an anti-climax. She opened, rolled and closed her eyes again. Her forehead creased, searching for the memory before replying.
"Diagnosed, start of the winter holidays, Year 9. Effects of it started in May, Year 8. Kind of the time I first met you actually," she said. Drew bit her tongue, almost a lie. She’d pressed the memory down but it had sprung up suddenly. Exactly the day she’d met James, all of the problems started: no sleep, nightmares, carnivorous traits, walking silently. Each had started at the exact same time, on the exact same day, and not changed since. She yawned again more loudly, weariness toppling her concerns of the unnatural coincidence. "If you don't mind, I'd like to conserve some energy for later, good morning."
Part of her always wanted to keep talking around her friends, though preferably about something else at the time, but Drew was certain she'd regret it later. She turned away. Akachi started muttering something grumpily, maybe about James or politics.
Forcibly, Drew tried to relax her mind, pulling her ivy green fleece off and over her shoulders like a blanket, scrunching into an upright foetal position against the rough wall. Once deeming herself relatively comfortable, she let her subconscious claw around her head, trying to find the torn up scraps of sleep it had lost and craved.
It felt like a growl in the back of her head, creepily reminiscent of the snarling from the recurring nightmare she’d just fallen into. The difference this time was that her stationery friends were talking and moving. The tense voices were accompanied by feet, shifting on the tarmac to steadier stances, fighting stances. The scraping voices had turned to animals and threatened a fight.
Shuddering, Drew opened her eyes and directed herself towards the voices and the shuffling. Catching her gaze, Marie slipped past the bubble of people – Akachi, James and Felix – and walked speedily over to her, taking short, nervous, steps. Drew stayed huddled against the wall, afraid to move as she saw the two boys square off through the gap between Marie’s curvy, muscled, legs and the wall.
"Sup, Chrysalis?" came Marie’s usual greeting, tinged with an underlying hint of worry, her folded arms were tugging on her new scarf. The old nickname made Drew smile, no matter what the mood was. Marie had seen Drew curled up to sleep so many times, she said it was like watching a caterpillar trying to make a chrysalis.
Upon reaching Drew, Marie placed her body on her far side and continued to watch the face off that had started. It was a supposedly blank face to people who didn't know her, a face of apprehension to Chris. She was waiting for something to happen, to launch her into running back to the others, her patchy and bright hazel eyes unmoving.
"Hey... What's wrong with those guys?" Drew asked wondering if Marie would even notice that she’d spoken. Drew felt adrenaline rising in her, ready for fight or flight. Looking back at the boys also, Drew and Marie were waiting for the break in tension that would start their fight. For a moment, Marie looked at them anxiously then dropped her head to reply.
“Nothing.” She replied, too quickly, too high pitched, for it to be true. Even if Marie could lie without a trace, Drew could feel in her gut that everyone was waiting for this fight. She could imagine it. The stillness breaking with Felix’s yell as he dived a right hook into James’ side. James would grab his arm to block him and dive his other arm upwards to attack. Drew shook her head and shuddered again. She noticed Akachi shuddering too. She was pressed against the wall between them, staying out of reach. She didn’t dare move for fear.
James didn’t look a fighter, he was tall but skinny, lean at best. Nothing on Felix’s large, curving, muscles, except for his speed. Drew had seen James jump, run, and once he had caught her from falling over in an exhausted heap – he was more athletic than he looked. Standing straight, and looking down at Felix, Drew saw his mindset was clear. Felix’s was cluttered with angry ideas. James thought without question he would win. Drew didn’t know who to back but believed James would triumph almost instantly. That just left why the heck she was even thinking of backing someone in a fight?
Marie was still staring at them, her chest moving as she breathed fast and shallow, her adrenaline soared with the boys’ and their tempers. Drew noticed she had been breathing sharply the same way.
Felix moved half a step forward, his stance wider, his body craving violence. Marie leant forwards. Drew sprung to her feet. James echoed his posture, his mouth a bow, curved up at the sides from habit. Felix’s eyes darkened.
“Would you two stop being testosterone-filled dickheads and move out of the way?” Came a strained voice behind the two. A thick mass of turquoise hair appeared just above Felix’s shoulder, Max underneath it.
The tension broke.
The two boys moved apart and Max put his bag in the pile Akachi and James had started. Felix’s shoulders sagged and he slouched past James, whose arms loosened. Max knew they were picking a fight but as he spoke to Akachi it was clear he had no idea what he had just walked in on. Drew gaped at him. The physical, chemical, effect on her made her head spin in the sudden aftermath. Not tired anymore. Marie flinched her attention away as if stirring from sleep.
Felix came over. Leaning against the wall with his back to him, he blocked James from Drew and Marie’s sights, or maybe he just blocked the girls from James’ sight. For whatever reason, Felix had decided from day one that James was obviously out-of-bounds dangerous.
"What's James doing here, anyway? Do you know where June is?" Felix gave Marie a pointed look, directed sulkily from dark brown and hooded eyes. For people who weren’t dating, Felix seemed to have an opinion on everything Marie said and did. Then again, Drew did too. Marie and June were nothing alike and had no friendship – she was changing the subject. Her question about James was asked snippily, like she blamed James that Felix was picking a fight with him.
Maybe Marie was telling the truth and there was no feeling between her and Felix. She had been his sister since they were eight when her family had adopted him. Maybe he just had no idea of how to act around a sister, or more likely it was one sided. Felix didn’t suit Marie, he was too angry to make her happy. His mood was dark and muted, Marie’s had always been more light and readable. Drew’s high adrenaline got her angry at how much Marie needed someone like that, rather than the possessive brooding type she stuck herself with.
An awkward silence had fallen, Drew changed tracks in her mind and mercifully let Marie carry on with her change of subject.
"Nothing and no idea," she responded when she’d prized apart the teeth she’d been grinding, the first part of her answer mimicking Marie's earlier reply. "I thought Max said he was dying his hair a different colour?"
"After the disaster with the blonde turning green during the summer, I think he's gone off the idea," Marie said silkily, before they started giggling at the memory. Felix gave a smile and chuckled in his close-lipped sort of way, a deep, beating, hum. The awkward silence dispelled as Marie recited some other choice memories from the summer, Drew laughing quietly as she sat against the wall again, Felix humming his muffled snickers. For all Felix’s faults he was her friend, had been for years, and had the most reassuring laugh she knew. The thrumming sound relaxed her – if he was laughing so should she – there was no trouble.
For the rest of the day the boys were acting almost friendly, in a sarcastic, mocking, not friendly, sort of way. Max kept being subconsciously stationed between them, Drew wondered if he was ignoring the other’s hostility, it was like he couldn’t see Felix practising his glaring skills over his head. James was finally firmly in place within the group, which seemed to make Akachi in equal parts irritated and happy he was there. While Felix remained hostile towards him, Marie would at least make a forced attempt at smiling whenever the two caught each other's eyes. Like Marie, Akachi was on top level security, James was playing her guard dog. Akachi attempted similar moves towards Felix but met stern glares rather than polite acknowledgement.
As Drew and Marie left the English lesson Drew had slept through for lunch, she decided to ignore Felix and James all together. Supposing Akachi would empathise with her, Drew tried to talk to her, walking up and throwing an arm around her, the other still over Marie’s shoulders. The boys reacted like they’d been slapped and looked guilty for a moment. Drew turned to Marie.
She was scared. Drew let her go and she darted over to Felix. Akachi and Drew spoke briefly but Drew noticed that she was still acting exactly like Marie, distracted. For someone passionate about everything, especially freedom and fair treatment, Drew had no idea why she wasn’t yelling James out of this stupid guarding match. Drew caught her eyes away from James, and raised her eyebrows at Akachi in suspicion, then tipped her head sideways, away from the group.
She never would have thought Akachi would feel that way for James but if Marie standing near Felix told her they fancied each other, it could just as likely be that way for the other two, even if they were usually a bit more subtle. James wasn’t bad looking, in fact he was good looking in a skinny, pointed, sort of way but Akachi had high standards. Boys with super muscle definition, and rugged jaw lines, contrasting James’ soft, smoother, features. On top of that, boys she was interested in had a neat style, from their hair to the way they dressed. Nothing like the gamer logo T-shirt over a long sleeved top, messy hair, and tattered jeans James Clayton seemed born to sponsor.
As the two girls walked away, Drew began wondering why Akachi standing like that with James was even any of her business. It wasn’t, so she settled for the idea of making things fair, she’d asked Marie where she and Felix were and now it was the same for Akachi and James.
“So what is it?” Akachi asked as they walked down the alley by the side of the art block, her hands stuffed in the pocket of a bright yellow hoodie. Around it, her treacle coloured skin and scarlet dyed hair glowed brightly.
“I was wondering if you fancied him,” Drew said, turning to face her with a deliberately wicked grin. It unnerved people, and Drew noticed that it made them off guard.
“Clayton!" She called him by his middle name, "No, thanks! What makes you think that?” She said indignantly but not in an untrustworthy way.
“It’s nothing,” Drew backtracked quickly, “you were just standing next to him the way Marie does with Felix... I don’t believe they’re not dating.” She tipped her chin forwards and Akachi glanced over her shoulder, assessing the two quickly. As he had all day, Felix, his dark hair set in a ragged ponytail, was looking up at James challengingly, jaw set. His athletic, broad shouldered, build blocked Marie entirely from the taller boy's sight.
“Yeah. They’re definitely weird," Akachi agreed instantly and confidently, nodding, "but seriously, if you want to know, he’s a family friend. I’ve known him since way back and if he was any more than like a brother, I hope you’d be terrified for me, since I’d be too deranged to manage it myself.” When she spoke it sounded harsh but having known Akachi for four years, Drew found it unsurprising and laughed.
“Affirmative,” she replied. Just so long as James felt the way Akachi thought he did, he wouldn’t care either, a family friend of Akachi would definitely be used to that.
“Is that all, Detective Miles? My guard dog is waiting.”
“Why are they doing that?” Drew burst out suddenly. “It's like they never evolved out of being apes!”
“I know, I hate it too!” Akachi fired up suddenly, then huffed angrily, “There’s bad blood between them. I have to humour him.”
“Can’t we just annoy them instead?”
“They almost picked a real fight this morning, I was in the middle! No way, not today, we’d be crushed!” Akachi said firmly, not joking anymore.
Together they headed back to the others. Drew settled herself between Max and Felix: she wouldn’t do what she was told but she respected Akachi, so she wouldn’t annoy them outright again. Akachi immediately slipped back behind James. Despite what she considered obvious differences in their situations, Drew couldn’t help staying suspicious.