Suspense Urban Fantasy R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
Caitlin wants nothing more than to be invisible her senior year but the notoriety she earned killing vampires last summer bodes more adventure. Remnants of the Revenir realignment continues to challenge her life expectancy. Her family crumbles like the worst soap opera cliché. The kith's queen, a five-thousand-year-old shape shifter, tags her to search for a loose ghoul and negotiating with a sociopathic ancient. Breaking her back wasn't enough sacrifice or enough fodder for her clinical depression. She has to dodge a pack of bullies at her new school.
CHAPTER ONE ~ I   hadn't   gutted   a   vampire   in   the   lunchroom   or   tripped   a   teacher   on   the   stairs.   I   should be   on   my   way   to   PT,   not   gimping   to   the   principal's   office.   Not   that   I   love   physical therapy,   but   I'd   take   that   over   any   attention.   I've   had   enough   attention.   What   in   the world could he want? While   the   last   three   months   had   been   enjoyably   drama   free,   after   the   summer   I   had   I could   take   more   boredom.   The   kith   shrink   diagnosed   me   with   PTSD.   I'm   an   adolescent. That   means   pissy   by   default.   I   think   the   jerk   was   melodramaculous   in   the   extreme.   Like I was going to pop pills because I had anger issues and bad dreams. What a dweeb. I   tried   to   focus   my   attention   on   the   right   foot   which   liked   to   wobble   too   much.   Tough to   exercise   muscles   you   can't   feel.   The   tingling   was   getting   worse.   Michael   the   always smiling   physical   therapist   said   that   was   a   good   thing.   He   didn't   deal   with   it   twenty-four by seven. Maybe that electrical shock treatment caused the PTSD. The   main   office   was   surprisingly   quiet   considering   the   clamor   in   the   hall   with   the last   of   the   students   hightailing   it   out   of   Dodge   for   the   day.   A   woman   behind   the   tall counter   looked   up   at   me.   She   wore   way   too   much   makeup   for   her   age.   On   the   prowl   for   a new mate? "Caitlin?" she asked. I prefer Cait. "Yes, ma'am." I   can't   get   with   the   public   school   dialog.   Not   that   the   floozy   with   the   inch   of   makeup appeared to deserve my respect, but I couldn't say yeah like the other kids. She told me to go right in. "He's waiting for you." I looked left and right. I didn't see any neon declaring Evil Principal. "Straight down the hall, sweetie." She pointed to my right. Evidently   in   public   school   everyone   knew   where   the   principal's   pit   was.   I   was   raised in    private    school,    up    to    the    present    semester,    where    the    threat    of    death,    at    least maiming,   was   enough   to   keep   everyone   but   the   village   idiot   from   ever   having   to   visit   the headmaster. Had I ever even been tardy in my life? Gawd. I hadn't realized how Goody Two-shoes I was. Revolting. I   passed   a   plethora   of   open   doors   with   placards   decrying   everything   from   Town Witch   to   the   Incredible   Oz   before   I   found   one   with   Principal   Jennings.   I   reached   out   to knock   with   my   right   hand.   It   was   no   longer   an   automatic   thing   after   four   months   of nothing but the tingling. I had to focus to make it work. So the, "Come in," made me jerk. My   pack   slipped   off   my   left   shoulder   and   the   lurch   to   grab   it   threw   me   off   balance.   I teetered,   the   worthless   right   foot   clubbed   the   tile   hard.   I   barely   kept   my   tush   or   face from slamming the floor, but my skirt flipped up indecently. I   needed   to   do   some   shopping.   Get   out   of   my   Kith   Preparatory   skirts.   Girls   wore shorts to public school in Florida. Mr.   Jennings   had   lurched   out   of   his   chair.   Presumably   to   be   the   gentleman   and   pick me   up,   but   he   loomed   over   the   corner   of   his   desk   with   a   mildly   panic-stricken   look   on his   face.   His   eyes   drilled   me   like   I'm   a   vampire.   I'm   not.   I've   been   known   to   hunt   them though. I cleared my throat, and Mr. Jennings seemed to come out of his trance. "You okay?" he asked. "Never better." I   was   raised   to   be   polite,   but   I   can't   refrain   from   sarcasm.   Oh,   if   I   could   curl   into   a ball   and   die.   I   hate   my   life.   Why   did   everything   have   to   change?   I'm   an   idiot   for   selecting one   of   the   biggest   changes   myself,   spending   the   last   year   of   high   school   here.   Not   a decision   I   was   willing   to   reverse.   Hearing   I   told   you    from   my   mom   would   be   worse   than evisceration. Mr.   Jennings   continued   forward   and   extended   his   hand.   To   take   my   pack?   I   almost handed    it    to    him    before    I    realized    the    grand    administrator    wished    a    human-styled greeting. Since I held my pack in my good hand, I gave him my fish. He didn't vomit. Must   have   a   strong   stomach.   The   pile   of   flesh   made   me   sick.   I   blinked   at   the   dang tears. "Have a seat," he said, stepping around me to close the door. He   closed   the   door?   Even   in   the   kith   a   male   adult   would   never   put   himself   in   a situation   where   he   didn't   have   a   witness   for   an   evil   teen's   vindictiveness.   Just   in   case. It's the times. Gawd help us. He   walked   back   and   sat   behind   his   desk.   His   eyes   seemed   to   check   out   my   hair,   color of my eyes, the blush of my lip balm. A little creepy. My face flashed warm. "I'm   sorry,"   he   said.   "It's   just   I've   known   of   you   since   you   were   born   but   never   got the chance to meet you." That took a second for me to process. "Known—of me?" I asked. "I   went   to   Tampa   U   with   your   parents.   We   were   all   pals.   My   wife   dated   your   dad once upon a time." The   sudden   vacuum   in   the   room   sucked   air   out   of   my   lungs.   My   dad   dated   outside the kith? No way. "I hadn't talked to your mom in ages," he said. I   imagined   his   head   narrowing   like   a   grape   being   squeezed,   eyes   bulging   as   he looked   away.   He   just   lied   to   me?   Why   lie   about   talking   to   my   mom?   Why   would   he   be talking to her anyway? Dad is listed as my first contact at school. "I called her to ask—" he stuttered. "She told me about your car accident." Car accident. What a lame story. Better than, a vampire messed me up. "Why am I here?" I asked. He   froze   with   his   mouth   open   for   a   three-count.   I   love   catching   adults   off   balance. Especially   when   they   have   an   agenda   I'm   not   in   on.   Renee   had   taught   me   a   thing   or   two about being bold. I wasn't past being abrupt too. "I   got   straight   A's   this   semester   and   I   haven't   killed   anyone   so   there   isn't   a   reason   for me to be here," I continued. "This is a personal matter," he said slowly. I   swear   he   lost   all   the   color   in   his   face.   Mr.   Jennings   could   never   be   a   professional poker player. Couldn't even play penny ante without losing his lunch money. "One I've got to request discretion for," he said. I   can   be   discreet.   Ask   anyone.   But   it   comes   at   a   cost.   I   was   busy   considering   what   I'd demand   for   that   kind   of   consideration   during   the   lull   in   the   conversation.   He   really struggled, the poor guy. I almost sympathized. "My daughter attends Kith Preparatory," he said. "Freshman year." The   vacuum   that   ripped   the   air   out   of   my   lungs   earlier   yanked   on   my   eyeballs   now. The heat in the room skyrocketed. No    way.    This    man    wasn't    kith.    I    would    have    heard    of    him.    Every    kithman    of importance    in    the    area    had    been    discussed    at    our    kitchen    counter    at    one    time    or another. I'd never heard the name Jennings, before I enrolled at Plant. "I   know   that   is   unusual."   The   timbre   of   his   voice   had   climbed   a   key.   "But   your   old school   has   a   reputation.   A   hundred   percent   graduation   rate   with   ninety-three   percent continuing on to TU and graduation. I wanted the best for my little girl." No way. Why would he lie about this? "Your daughter?" stumbled out of my mouth. The   kith   is   a   secret   society.   So   secret   we   don't   exist.   We're   the   paisley   rhinoceros   of the   world   no   one   talks   about,   because   our   administrators   have   a   way   of   making   people disappear who learn too much about us and refuse to play our game. "Lisa received special consideration." Special! I'd say. "Her name's Lisa?" I asked. He nodded. "She's struggling." Not surprising. Our world comes with a whole 'nother level of complexity. "Are    you    out    of    your    freaking    mind?"    blurted    out    of    my    face.    "You    sent    your daughter to Kith Prep?" He had remained pale the last ten minutes. His lips hued blue, now. Chapter Two ~ I    got   out   of   Mr.   Jennings'   office   without   having   to   call   EMT's   to   resuscitate   him.   I   felt maybe   I   needed   some   of   those   electronic   paddle   thingies   to   get   my    heart   beating   right. No way I'd make it to physical therapy. I   beeped   open   my   beautiful   Z4,   my   guilt-gift   from   Renee,   flopped   into   it   with   my flaccid   grace,   and   maybe   drove   a   little   over   the   speed   limit   to   get   home.   I   could   blame   it on   the   numbness   in   my   pedal   foot.   My   heart   raced   harder   every   minute.   By   the   time   I pulled into our long drive I needed to scream. No   way   this   was   happening.   This   was   a   scandal   that   would   get   someone   killed.   I jolted   to   a   stop   halfway   to   the   front   door   and   stood   under   the   shadowy   light   of   the   overly warm, Tampa October afternoon. Crapolla. Really get someone killed. Dang. Did I want to be responsible for that? I   wouldn't   be   responsible   for   it.   The   idiot   that   pulled   the   strings   to   get   Lisa   Jennings into Kith Prep was responsible for their own problems. A   tap   from   Dad's   office   window,   which   overlooked   the   front   walk,   made   me   jerk.   He gave me a little wave, followed by a what's-up head thrust. Concern warped his face. I   took   a   quick   breath   and   shook   my   head,   but   I   didn't   continue   on   for   the   house.   A ten-count   later   the   door   opened   and   Molly   trotted   across   the   porch,   down   the   steps   to me, tail at three thousand RPM. "Hey, sweetie," Dad called. I   bent   to   give   Molly   the   Wonder   Pup   a   hug   and   head   scratch.   She   accepted   a   bit   of loving and proceeded to her excited, you're-home dance around me. "You okay?" Dad asked. I looked up at him. No way I was going to lie. "I don't like that look," he said, heading for the steps. I   slung   my   pack   over   my   shoulder   and   walked   toward   him.   "You   went   to   school   with David Jennings?" He jolted still, left foot halfway to the first step down. His   face   turned   a   bit   like   Mr.   Jennings'   did   when   he   said   he   hadn't   talked   to   Mom   in ages. Maybe just a little guiltier. What the heck was with that? He retreated as I gimped up the steps. "Yeah,"   he   said.   "How'd   that   come   up?"   He   bent   down   and   gave   me   a   kiss   on   the forehead. I told him about being called to the principal's office. "We need to talk to Mom." "About?" he asked. "Can   we   go   through   it   once?"   I   asked,   and   fussed   at   Molly   to   finish   her   smelling   and come in. She ignored me until she checked a couple more pee-mail hubs. "Aren't you supposed to be—" "I   can   skip   one   day   of   torture."   I   may   have   snapped.   Been   doing   that   a   lot   the   last couple months. I   finally   got   Molly   heading   for   the   stairs   but   fussed   at   the   old   Labrador   to   hurry.   I didn't   feel   guilty,   because   she   wouldn't   feel   badly.   The   girl   had   no   conscience.   She moved at her own pace. All was good, unless her dinner was fifteen seconds late. I   got   her   herded   in   front   of   me   and   sighed   over   the   cool   air   inside.   Tampa   could stand   a   Polar   Vortex.   Why   did   only   the   Canadians   get   them   this   time   of   year?   The   yards were decorated for Halloween already for goodness sakes. I   dropped   my   pack   at   the   foot   of   the   stairs   and   headed   for   Mom's   office.   I   didn't   wait for Dad. Officially,   Mom   and   Dad   equally   share   the   leadership   role   of   the   Tampa   caucus.   But Mom's   alpha   dog   personality   ensures   no   one   considers   her   anything   but   the   big   boss, including   Dad.   I   frequently   wonder   if   he   resents   that.   He   never   lets   on   if   he   does.   I'm glad   he   accepted   second   billing,   because   it   gave   him   time   to   be   the   nurturer   of   the Janecek duo. In another life Mom could have been a CIA assassin. That thought made me shiver. I   plopped   down   in   the   wingback   next   to   Mom's   desk.   She   was   on   the   phone   of course,   and   instead   of   leaning   forward   to   give   me   a   kiss   like   Dad   would   have   done,   she gave   me   an   irritated   glance   for   the   interruption.   I   ignored   it.   This   was   big   enough   she could cut her current call short. I   mouthed,   "We   need   to   talk,"   in   case   she   didn't   get   the   hint.   She   would   need   it.   I   got every   smidgen   of   my   intuitive   leanings   from   Dad.   Mom   needed   a   two-by-four   over   the head to gleam a stray emotion.    Mom   isn't   about   feelings,   unless   it's   ire   or   irritation.   She's   the   one   who   carries   her AR-15   to   the   range   every   week   to   get   her   practice   in.   As   though   she's   a   kith   commando or something. I'm convinced Mom was born with the wrong chromosome. She   didn't   tidy   her   call   up.   She   began   her   next   statement   with,   "And—"   Dad   tired   of leaning against the door jamb and settled into one of the two open visitor chairs. When   she   finally   pressed   the   button   on   her   Bluetooth   to   end   her   call   I   hurried   to   ask her   to   mute   her   phone   so   we   could   talk.   She   gave   me   a   glare,   but   entered   the   code   on   her land line to discontinue routing to her cell. "What?" she asked. "There's   an   outsider   attending   Prep."   I   didn't   see   any   reason   to   beat   around   the bush. Her glare continued for a three-count. "No,"   she   said.   I   didn't   fall   for   her   denial,   perhaps   because   there   was   an   absence   of surprise in her voice. Dad turned his eyes for his shoes. Not   the   reaction   I   expected.   From   either   of   them.   And   Mom   didn't   follow   up   with argument. Oh, my, gawd. They knew. They knew. "You knew, and you didn't do anything about it?" rasped from my throat. "Who says there's an outsider in the kith?" Mom snapped. Angry   at   me?   My   mouth   gaped,   but   I   left   it   to   do   its   thing.   Seemed   an   appropriate response, one Mom could catch. Not overly subtle. "Principal Jennings," I answered. Mom's   face   turned   about   as   red   as   the   red   I   wanted   for   my   Z4.   But   oh   no,   the   kith doesn't   draw   attention   to   itself   by   buying   cars   with   bright   colors.   My   metallic   blue   was the   only   exception   I   was   aware   of.   Dang   is   black   old.   Not   all   that   appropriate   for   the South,   either.   Someone   should   tell   the   queen   that.   Maybe   I   would.   I   had   her   Telex number.   Worked   like   any   other   phone   on   my   end,   that   received   text,   though   Renee couldn't spell cellular. Mom's   mouth   slowly   fell   open,   as   though   her   mind   had   just   analyzed   the   answer   for the   world's   problems.   With   the   pause,   a   pain   I   hadn't   felt   in   a   couple   months   radiated through my body, the kind of pain that had nothing to do with my cracked vertebrae. "My, gawd," I drawled. "You're the one who pulled the strings." Her   mouth   clomped   shut   and   her   regular   irritation   flooded   her   face.   "Pulled   what strings?"   she   tried   on   me.   As   though   the   village   idiot   would   even   believe   that.   I   read   her face.   I   wasn't   called   the   Interrogator   for   nothing.   I   had   earned   that   title   during   my internship with Renee. "Does Renee know?" I asked. "We're not having this conversation," Mom snapped. I   looked   at   Dad.   He   still   studied   his   shoes.   He   stood   and   walked   out   of   the   office.   I called after him but he didn't stop. I turned back to Mom. "What   do   you   mean,   we   aren't   having   this   conversation?   You   let   an   outsider   into Prep. And—" "It is none of your business," Mom said. Before   interning   with   the   queen,   I   might   have   slunk   away   from   Mom   in   fear,   but there   is   something   about   emptying   a   9mm   into   a   vampire,   inserting   a   fresh   clip   and putting   three   more   rounds   into   its   brainstem.   Living   through   what   I've   experienced dulled   me   to   a   certain   amount   of   deadly   threats.   If   I   could   put   a   round   into   Renee's chest by her command, I could stand up to Mom's glare. "Bull," I managed through my—I didn't have a clue what emotion was burying me. She   drew   her   fists   up   on   the   arms   of   her   chair   like   she   considered   giving   me   a   smack down, but I returned her glare. "We're   still   tidying   up   from   the   human   incursion   against   the   kith,   and   you're   going to try to sell me, letting an outsider in is none of my business?" "Your internship is over, missy." She called me missy? She'd never dismissed me like this before. "You   aren't   Renee's   interrogator   any   longer,"   she   said.   "You're   a   senior   at   Plant   High School.   You   need   to   be   deciding   if   you   want   to   get   your   PhD   in   engineering   or   physics. Plan for a prom. You aren't carrying a nine millimeter in a war." Molly whined, rose from the rug, and sat beside me. I   pointed   to   the   massive   safe   across   the   room.   "Great   sentiment   coming   from   a woman with an arsenal of weapons ten feet away." "How   dare   you   question   me.   I'm   not   just   your   mother,   but   your   caucus   leader.   This conversation is over." "Renee will be interested in that," I said. Mom   sucked   in   a   bucket   of   air   really   fast.   "You   will   not   be   having   this   conversation with Renee either," she shouted. Molly   whined.   I   set   my   lousy   hand   on   her   shoulder,   not   sure   if   my   fingers   curled   into her fur as I intended. I kept my eyes on Mom. It   occurred   to   me   she   had   never,   ever,   shouted   at   me.   Raised   the   intensity   in   her voice, every conversation, but shouted, not that I could remember. "Sorry,"   I   whispered.   "But   I   was   raised   a   good   kithman.   You   need   to   give   me   a   good reason if I'm going to keep this kind of secret from my queen." Mom gushed a word she would have had a hissy over if I had used it. We   sat   staring   at   each   other   for   a   good   half-minute.   At   least   she   sat   back   a   bit   in   her chair and relaxed her hands into her lap. "That idiot," she whispered. I   took   that   to   mean   Principal   Jennings.   That   was   the   problem   expecting   an   outsider to   keep   our   secrets.   They   hadn't   a   clue   how   much   was   at   risk.   Mom   had   put   his   life,   his entire   family's   lives,   along   with   her   and   Dad's   on   the   line.   For   what?   So   a   fourteen-year- old can attend the strangest school in town? I was missing something. "Give me forty-eight hours?" Mom asked. Why?   She   couldn't   clean   anything   up   in   two   days.   She   had   royally   screwed   things   up. I'd   seen   Mom   manipulate   reporters   and   senators,   but   she   couldn't   undo   this.   She   had broken a trust. And Renee wasn't known to be forgiving. That slammed me in the lungs. I could trigger the deaths of my own parents. Chapter Three ~ I t   didn't   matter   my   mother   asked   for   two   days.   I'm   not   one   for   sitting   back.   I   can   supply a   long   list   of   references   that   can   back   that   up.   I   would   learn   everything   I   could   about   this mess on my own, since Mom didn't appear willing to share. When   Dad   came   back   from   his   run   I   would   give   him   a   kick   in   the   shins.   I'd   fall   over, but   it   would   be   worth   it.   He'd   walked   out   of   the   room   and   left   me   alone   with   my   mother. He'd never done that before. He'd always demonstrated a caring heart until today. Clearly, a new day had dawned. Good   thing   he   told   me   about   the   birds   and   the   bees   a   long   time   ago,   because   a   trust had   been   broken,   crushed,   and   the   birds   and   the   bees   was   one   discussion   I   needed before I was officially without a parent who gave a dang. Reaching   my   room   I   hurried   to   pull   out   the   slip   of   paper   Mr.   Jennings   gave   me   with Lisa's   number   on   it.   I   wouldn't   be   spouting   any   supportive   words   to   her   like   he   intended though. I grabbed my land line and punched in the first six numbers, but hesitated. What good could come from this call? Not much of anything came to mind. What bad could come from this call? Several   scenarios   popped   into   my   head.   Oh   my   gawd.   But   I   entered   the   seventh   digit anyway   and   sprawled   across   the   top   of   my   bed   waiting   for   the   phone   to   ring.   At   least   I didn't   press   send   to   hurry   it   on.   I   still   had   a   couple   seconds   to   hang   up   if   my   conscience caught up with my anger. "Hello." The voice was soft, about as high as I'd expect for a high school freshman. I almost hung up. The greeting repeated. "Sorry,   uh,   an   interruption   over   here."   I   gave   her   a   "Hey."   My   throat   thickened   with plasmordial   goo   from   an   alternate   universe   and   I   had   to   clear   my   throat.   I   told   her   who   I was, and asked her if her father had told her to expect my call. "No," she said. No!   The   jerk.   He   must   not   have   expected   me   to   call   her.   That   was   plain   rude.   I   was going   to   be   his   Valedictorian   this   year,   whether   he   knew   it   yet   or   not.   I   wasn't   a   do- nothing. "Oh."   The   contents   of   my   stomach   felt   as   though   they   were   in   a   boil.   "Well,"   I continued. "I only spoke to him after school today, so—" "Caller ID said C Janecek, but that doesn't ring a bell." I   explained   the   accent   was   on   the   third   syllable,   which   was   pronounced   like   there was an H in it. She said, "Huh?" I   guess   it's   a   visual   thing.   "Never   mind."   Now   what?   "Uh.   Since   I   used   to   attend   your school, your dad thought I might be able to help you." There   was   a   lot   of   quiet   over   the   phone   for   a   half-minute.   What   did   I   say   now?   Did   I hear   crying?   Oh   boy.   No   wonder   Mr.   Jennings   took   this   chance,   even   if   he   didn't   know how   big   a   chance   he   was   taking.   He   knew   I   had   attended   Prep.   But   he   didn't   know   what they   had   to   have   told   Lisa   in   orientation.   A   wonder   she   didn't   have   a   coronary.   Not something an outsider could take in without really weirding out. Had to be hard she couldn't even share it with her parents. What   in   the   heck   was   Mom   thinking?   If   she   survived,   she'd   lose   her   leadership   over this. Had to. Oh, Mom. Lisa recovered faster than I figured out what to say. "They said not to talk to anyone. I don't know you." Ah.   Duh.   "I   can   meet   you   at   school   tomorrow   at   three-thirty.   My   credentials   should still   get   me   in   the   building.   That   sound   good   to   you?   That   is,   if   you   want   to   talk   to someone who, you know, kind of knows both worlds." "I   hang   out   at   the   library,"   she   said.   "Until   my   mom   gets   off   work.   I   can   meet   you   in the atrium." I   checked   my   watch.   Even   if   her   mom   worked   downtown,   Lisa   was   probably   still sitting   in   the   library   now.   Living   a   seven   minute   walk   away   from   the   kith's   building downtown   was   always   nice.   I   strolled   across   the   bridge   on   my   own   every   day   before   I   got my own car. Independence can't be overrated. I   told   her   I'd   see   her   then   and   hung   up,   since   there   wasn't   much   we   could   say   until she knew I was who I said I was. That is, what  I am. I   sat   up   and   blood   rushed   to   my   head.   Dang.   The   fuzzies   didn't   evaporate   for   a   ten- count.   My   skin   tingled.   A   good   scream   would   help.   What   would   really   help   was   a   hard, five-mile   run.   That   wasn't   going   to   happen.   Thanks   to   my   idiotic   tackle   of   Mattie.   Who knew you could break your back taking on a vampire. So   no   run.   A   long   walk   was   better   than   nothing.   Ten   year   old   Molly   was   slow,   but even   she   gave   me   a   workout   now.   I   stripped   and   pulled   on   a   sports   bra,   out   of   habit. Like   I   needed   that.   But   I   didn't   take   it   off.   I   pulled   on   a   pair   of   khaki   shorts   and   an oversized    tee,    socks    and    my    old    runners,    which    got    Molly    spinning    in    excitement. Grabbing   her   leash,   she   let   loose   with   a   triple   bark   that   let   neighbors   know   a   mile   away it was walk time. I   hesitated   at   my   door.   Between   home   and   school   I   got   a   bit   of   privacy,   but   outside that,   someone   from   our   security   team   usually   tagged   along.   I   didn't   want   company   on   a stroll down Bayshore today. I   strode   back   to   my   bedside   stand   and   drew   my   Beretta   Nano   from   the   drawer, clipped   it   to   the   back   of   my   shorts.   The   big   tee   came   in   handy.   The   baby   gun,   as   Mom called   it,   only   carried   a   six-round   clip,   but   really,   who   was   going   to   bother   me   in   daylight on Bayshore among the hundreds of runners and sunset worshipers? As   I   struggled   down   the   stairs   with   Molly   at   the   bottom   huffing   at   me   to   hurry,   it occurred   to   me   I've   experienced   enough   crazy   things   I   shouldn't   ask   questions   like   the one I'd just asked myself. I had learned Murphy's rules trumped everything. Following   Molly   down   the   porch   stairs   I   caught   Dad   jogging   for   home   and   I   groaned. Would   he   have   something   to   say   now?   He   was   on   my   poop   list.   I   hurried   to   reach   the sidewalk   to   turn   for   Bayshore,   but   he   picked   up   his   pace.   He   had   been   escorted   by   a   guy on a mountain bike. I moaned again. No way I was getting away on my own now. "No," I snarked as Dad neared. "No, what?" he said. Like he was all innocent. "To anything you want to say to me." "That's   harsh."   He   stopped   fifteen   feet   away,   raised   a   heel   to   his   butt   to   stretch. "Want company?" I cocked my head to the side. "Yeah."   He   shook   his   head   a   tiny   bit.   He   had   been   doing   that   a   lot   since   I   turned fifteen. I'm thinking he doesn't much like teenage girls. He should have had a son. We used to have such a great relationship before I got boobs. "You used to like me," he said. This   wasn't   the   time.   "Why   do   you   go   belly   up   to   Mom?"   But   I   had   to   shriek   it   at him. He    sucked    in    a    deep    breath    and    switched    legs.    It    felt    as    though    he    thrust    my deformities down my throat. Na na booboo, you can barely stand on two legs, ha ha. I hated him. "It's easier, sweetie," he said. I didn't hate him. Maybe I hated Mom. Molly   had   tired   of   the   aromas   from   the   nearby   Mexican   Heather   and   gave   me   a   tug to get farther down the sidewalk. I stumbled to keep my balance. "I   got   to   go,"   I   said.   A   misery   washed   over   me   as   I   wobbled   to   turn   away.   The   dang depression   knifed   me   in   the   back   and   exited   my   chest.   More   like   a   short   sword.   Maybe   I should take the pills. Maybe a little me time with Molly would kill the depression. In   my   mind's   eye   I   saw   Dad   wave   at   his   buddy   to   follow   me.   I   hesitated.   Almost shouted   that   I   was   packing   and   didn't   need   company,   but   why   be   an   itch   with   a   B? Weird   how   clear   my   image   of   John   nodding   to   Dad   was.   I   could   even   count   the   five 9mm magazines in the armor John wore, fashioned like a fisherman's vest. I   didn't   hear   a   thing   behind   me   but   I   knew   John   set   his   bike   up   against   the   panel   van across   from   our   house,   and   followed.   I   wish   it   was   Adam,   or   his   little   brother.   Even Raul. He wasn't as easy going, but for an old guy he was chillaxed. I missed all of them. A   stressful   environment   can   bring   people   together.   Would   I   ever   see   them   again? The dang tears blurred my vision. Chapter Four ~ N earing   my   locker   the   hall   noise   rose   and   the   knowing   looks   grew   more-knowing.   I asked myself, now what? Some coward in the crowd muttered, "There ya go, Cek." I   hadn't   gotten   a   grip   on   where   the   animus   for   my   transfer   to   Plant   derived.   No   one ever    bothered    any    of    us    from    the    kith    at    Tampa    Prep    for    taking    advantage    of, participating   in   their   athletic   program.   Our   van   had   been   dropping   us   off   for   sixth period forever. How   did   my   transfer   to   Plant   hurt   anyone?   All   I   wanted   was   less   kith   in   my   life. Interning   for   the   queen   had   been   hard   the   past   summer.   Coming   close   to   dying   has   a way of making you want to step back. "Cek"   repeated   from   my   left   and   right.   The   herd   parted   with   peals   of   laughter.   Five rude   letters   scrawled   in   black   marker   filled   the   face   of   my   locker.   If   it   hadn't   been   for seventh   grade   Human   Growth   and   Development—that's   a   title   for   a   class—with   the banana   thing,   I   wouldn't   have   recognized   the   balloon-looking   thing   jammed   in   a   vent- slit between the I and the T. "Busted, Jane," someone said. I   wanted   to   scream,   "My   name   isn't   Jane   Cek."   Did   a   teacher   mispronounce   my name   calling   roll   early   in   the   school   year?   That   time   period   remained   fuzzy.   I   was   on autopilot   then.   Dad   didn't   even   want   me   going   to   school   yet.   Like,   what   else   was   I supposed to do? Mope about being a cripple? So I got a lot of practice using my cane. I would be engrossing myself in the basketball season if things hadn't changed. I   sighed   and   flicked   the   condom   away.   Varying   responses   spiked   from   the   mob circling   me   as   the   prophylactic   floated   to   the   floor.   I   mumbled,   "Juveniles,"   and   hurried to unlock my locker. "That's permanent marker," some boy mumbled to my left. "Yeah. Have to be painted over," another voice droned. I    opened    the    locker    but    as    I    reached    in,    a    hand    came    out    of    the    evil    plethora billowing around me and slammed the door shut, striking the back of my hand hard. "Crap," I hissed, flinching. My    eyes    welled    with    tears.    I    hunched    forward,    but    a    body    leaned    against    me, throwing   me   off   balance   and   I   fell   forward.   My   cheekbone   clipped   the   ridge   of   the   box surrounding   the   lock.   Felt   like   someone   slammed   me   with   a   hammer.   My   left   shoulder pasted   against   the   wall   of   steel.   At   least   I   didn't   fall.   The   body   that   lunged   against   me held   me   up.   That   was   accidental   though,   because   the   words   hissed   into   my   ear   weren't the   helpful   kind.   The   quick   words   that   followed   were   so   jumbled   I   didn't   catch   any meaning. The word that stuck in my brain was, "Valedictorian." What the heck? By   the   time   I   gathered   my   senses   a   double-handed   thrust   in   my   back   banged   me   into the   lockers   again,   set   me   in   a   new   stumble.   I   finally   turned   around   and   watched   the   girl I   believe   attacked   me,   walking   away   briskly.   Before   she   disappeared   in   the   morass   of teens   I   only   caught   her   long   brown   hair   which   fell   several   inches   below   her   shoulders. Among   the   herd,   it   wasn't   enough   to   recognize   her.   Not   that   I   knew   many   people   at Plant. I'd been living with my head down since August. "Who was that?" I hissed, without looking around me to anyone specifically for help. No   one   spoke   up.   The   gawkers   hurried   to   tend   to   their   own   business.   I   muttered   a few   rude   collections   of   words   that   would   have   gotten   me   grounded   if   Dad   heard   them, took a couple breaths, and turned around to unlock my locker all over again. A    girl,    short    blond    hair,    pale-blue    frame    glasses,    had    to    be    no    more    than    a sophomore   since   she   had   a   lower   locker,   looked   up   at   me   from   her   crouch   and   said, "You have to report the bullying. They're really into the whole, no tolerance thing." I   wish   I   knew   her   name.   Had   seen   her   a   couple   times   a   day   since   the   start   of   school but I don't think I'd shared as much as a, "Hey," with her. She slammed her locker closed, stood, and strode away. As   the   three-minute   bell   rang,   new   tears   blinded   me,   and   I   struggled   to   cram   a   sob down   deep.   The   din   turned   from   laughs   and   talking   to   scampering   feet.   I   needed   to hurry   or   I'd   be   experiencing   my   first   tardy.   I   had   to   hobble   upstairs   and   to   the   far   wing for first period. I exhaled. No way I was going to make it. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
SCI FI Fantasy Dystopian
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
The Jennings Kid CHAPTER ONE ~ I     hadn't     gutted     a     vampire     in     the lunchroom   or   tripped   a   teacher   on   the stairs.   I   should   be   on   my   way   to   PT,   not gimping    to    the    principal's    office.    Not that   I   love   physical   therapy,   but   I'd   take that   over   any   attention.   I've   had   enough attention.    What    in    the    world    could    he want? While   the   last   three   months   had   been enjoyably   drama   free,   after   the   summer I   had   I   could   take   more   boredom.   The kith    shrink    diagnosed    me    with    PTSD. I'm   an   adolescent.   That   means   pissy   by default.       I       think       the       jerk       was melodramaculous   in   the   extreme.   Like   I was    going    to    pop    pills    because    I    had anger issues and bad dreams. What a dweeb. I   tried   to   focus   my   attention   on   the right    foot    which    liked    to    wobble    too much.    Tough    to    exercise    muscles    you can't     feel.     The     tingling     was     getting worse.      Michael      the      always      smiling physical   therapist   said   that   was   a   good thing.   He   didn't   deal   with   it   twenty-four by seven. Maybe   that   electrical   shock   treatment caused the PTSD. The     main     office     was     surprisingly quiet   considering   the   clamor   in   the   hall with   the   last   of   the   students   hightailing it   out   of   Dodge   for   the   day.   A   woman behind   the   tall   counter   looked   up   at   me. She   wore   way   too   much   makeup   for   her age. On the prowl for a new mate? "Caitlin?" she asked. I prefer Cait. "Yes, ma'am." I    can't    get    with    the    public    school dialog.   Not   that   the   floozy   with   the   inch of     makeup     appeared     to     deserve     my respect,   but   I   couldn't   say   yeah   like   the other kids. She    told    me    to    go    right    in.    "He's waiting for you." I    looked    left    and    right.    I    didn't    see any neon declaring Evil Principal. "Straight   down   the   hall,   sweetie."   She pointed to my right. Evidently    in    public    school    everyone knew   where   the   principal's   pit   was.   I   was raised     in     private     school,     up     to     the present    semester,    where    the    threat    of death,   at   least   maiming,   was   enough   to keep   everyone   but   the   village   idiot   from ever having to visit the headmaster. Had I ever even been tardy in my life? Gawd.    I    hadn't    realized    how    Goody Two-shoes I was. Revolting. I    passed    a    plethora    of    open    doors with   placards   decrying   everything   from Town   Witch   to   the   Incredible   Oz   before   I found    one    with    Principal    Jennings.    I reached    out    to    knock    with    my    right hand.    It    was    no    longer    an    automatic thing   after   four   months   of   nothing   but the   tingling.   I   had   to   focus   to   make   it work. So the, "Come in," made me jerk. My   pack   slipped   off   my   left   shoulder and    the    lurch    to    grab    it    threw    me    off balance.   I   teetered,   the   worthless   right foot   clubbed   the   tile   hard.   I   barely   kept my   tush   or   face   from   slamming   the   floor, but my skirt flipped up indecently. I    needed    to    do    some    shopping.    Get out   of   my   Kith   Preparatory   skirts.   Girls wore shorts to public school in Florida. Mr.   Jennings   had   lurched   out   of   his chair.   Presumably   to   be   the   gentleman and   pick   me   up,   but   he   loomed   over   the corner   of   his   desk   with   a   mildly   panic- stricken   look   on   his   face.   His   eyes   drilled me   like   I'm   a   vampire.   I'm   not.   I've   been known to hunt them though. I   cleared   my   throat,   and   Mr.   Jennings seemed to come out of his trance. "You okay?" he asked. "Never better." I   was   raised   to   be   polite,   but   I   can't refrain   from   sarcasm.   Oh,   if   I   could   curl into   a   ball   and   die.   I   hate   my   life.   Why did   everything   have   to   change?   I'm   an idiot    for    selecting    one    of    the    biggest changes   myself,   spending   the   last   year   of high   school   here.   Not   a   decision   I   was willing    to    reverse.    Hearing    I    told    you   from    my    mom    would    be    worse    than evisceration. Mr.   Jennings   continued   forward   and extended   his   hand.   To   take   my   pack?   I almost   handed   it   to   him   before   I   realized the      grand      administrator      wished      a human-styled   greeting.   Since   I   held   my pack   in   my   good   hand,   I   gave   him   my fish. He didn't vomit. Must   have   a   strong   stomach.   The   pile of   flesh   made   me   sick.   I   blinked   at   the dang tears. "Have     a     seat,"     he     said,     stepping around me to close the door. He   closed   the   door?   Even   in   the   kith   a male   adult   would   never   put   himself   in   a situation   where   he   didn't   have   a   witness for   an   evil   teen's   vindictiveness.   Just   in case. It's the times. Gawd help us. He    walked    back    and    sat    behind    his desk.   His   eyes   seemed   to   check   out   my hair,   color   of   my   eyes,   the   blush   of   my lip   balm.   A   little   creepy.   My   face   flashed warm. "I'm    sorry,"    he    said.    "It's    just    I've known   of   you   since   you   were   born   but never got the chance to meet you." That   took   a   second   for   me   to   process. "Known—of me?" I asked. "I     went     to     Tampa     U     with     your parents.   We   were   all   pals.   My   wife   dated your dad once upon a time." The     sudden     vacuum     in     the     room sucked    air    out    of    my    lungs.    My    dad dated outside the kith? No way. "I   hadn't   talked   to   your   mom   in   ages," he said. I   imagined   his   head   narrowing   like   a grape   being   squeezed,   eyes   bulging   as   he looked   away.   He   just   lied   to   me?   Why   lie about   talking   to   my   mom?   Why   would he    be    talking    to    her    anyway?    Dad    is listed as my first contact at school. "I    called    her    to    ask—"    he    stuttered. "She told me about your car accident." Car     accident.     What     a     lame     story. Better than, a vampire messed me up. "Why am I here?" I asked. He   froze   with   his   mouth   open   for   a three-count.    I    love    catching    adults    off balance.    Especially    when    they    have    an agenda   I'm   not   in   on.   Renee   had   taught me   a   thing   or   two   about   being   bold.   I wasn't past being abrupt too. "I   got   straight   A's   this   semester   and   I haven't    killed    anyone    so    there    isn't    a reason for me to be here," I continued. "This   is   a   personal   matter,"   he   said slowly. I   swear   he   lost   all   the   color   in   his   face. Mr.      Jennings      could      never      be      a professional   poker   player.   Couldn't   even play   penny   ante   without   losing   his   lunch money. "One    I've    got    to    request    discretion for," he said. I   can   be   discreet.   Ask   anyone.   But   it comes   at   a   cost.   I   was   busy   considering what     I'd     demand     for     that     kind     of consideration     during     the     lull     in     the conversation.    He    really    struggled,    the poor guy. I almost sympathized. "My         daughter         attends         Kith Preparatory," he said. "Freshman year." The   vacuum   that   ripped   the   air   out   of my   lungs   earlier   yanked   on   my   eyeballs now. The heat in the room skyrocketed. No    way.    This    man    wasn't    kith.    I would   have   heard   of   him.   Every   kithman of    importance    in    the    area    had    been discussed   at   our   kitchen   counter   at   one time    or    another.    I'd    never    heard    the name     Jennings,     before     I     enrolled     at Plant. "I   know   that   is   unusual."   The   timbre of   his   voice   had   climbed   a   key.   "But   your old   school   has   a   reputation.   A   hundred percent     graduation     rate     with     ninety- three   percent   continuing   on   to   TU   and graduation.    I    wanted    the    best    for    my little girl." No way. Why would he lie about this? "Your   daughter?"   stumbled   out   of   my mouth. The   kith   is   a   secret   society.   So   secret we      don't      exist.      We're      the      paisley rhinoceros    of    the    world    no    one    talks about,   because   our   administrators   have a   way   of   making   people   disappear   who learn   too   much   about   us   and   refuse   to play our game. "Lisa received special consideration." Special! I'd say. "Her name's Lisa?" I asked. He nodded. "She's struggling." Not   surprising.   Our   world   comes   with a whole 'nother level of complexity. "Are   you   out   of   your   freaking   mind?" blurted   out   of   my   face.   "You   sent   your daughter to Kith Prep?" He    had    remained    pale    the    last    ten minutes. His lips hued blue, now. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017