I woke in a hot milky bath. My green dress hung on a wall hook across the bright open room. Women I didn’t recognize, rushed back and forth in my field of vision.
“They didn’t mention you don’t have a witch.” A voice behind me stated. An older, trim woman dressed in water splashed jeans and an overdyed purple turtleneck that matched her multi-studded earring posts perfectly. “We didn’t find a coven mark either.”
“I was as careful as I could be with your things.” A young woman in pink rose leggings and black sports bra explained.
“Purple is my favorite color,” I coughed, struggling to sit upright in the slippery tub. “I don’t have a witch or a medallion or any marks I know of.”
“You can see and make fashion comments good. Pour some of this potion down your throat.” The rose-covered woman handed me a fizzy, pink drink. I sniffed the glass before guzzling the contents with as little breathing as possible.
“My uncle mentioned the clan leader’s witch with reverence. Are you his witch?”
“Those green stones you were wearing are charged with energy.” The rose legging girl skipped across the floor in front of my tub.
“His witch?” The woman asked. “I should think not. No more than he is my wolf. I am a rather long-lived witch. Malou and this twit droning on is Jordan.”
A splash of water rolled over the rim of my white tub. The thick cast iron bathtub sat on a deep brown wood plank floor. The space looked like an indoor pool room on the Titanic or a place to store fancy rowboats. Rows of towel bars and herb boxes lined the wood lath walls next to white and green amaryllis.
“This is a beautiful room. The flowers are so delicate looking.”
“Belladonna, quite poisonous. Don’t eat them.” Malou wrinkled her nose at me and patted my hand.
“I wasn’t planning on eating them.” I became aware of my lack of clothing as my once cloudy water cleared. The bottom of the tub held a thin layer of silt. “What’s on the bottom of the tub?”
“Dead skin. You are regenerating nicely.” Malou dipped a pink crystal in black goo and dropped it at the end of the tub.
“Why am I losing skin?”
“Your new age, Clan didn’t do you any favors by keeping you ignorant.” Jordan shook her head as she added a pitcher of sparkly cream to my tub. Malou looked up in shock.
“We do not discount other Clan beliefs, Jordan.”
“Yes, Madam Malou,” Jordan checked her phone as she walked away.
Malou let out an exasperated breath. “I must ask. What do you think is going on?”
“I don’t know. There was a shooting. Several people died. I pushed my friends out of the path of bullets. I bit one of them.”
“You bit one of them?” Malou gasped.
“He wouldn’t stop bleeding. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“The bleeding stopped?”
“Yes, I think it saved his life.”
“You’re not a half breed. There’s no way.” Malou looked at me strangely. Jordan grabbed my hand and sliced a small cut in my thumb, collecting my blood in a clear glass tube. I barely felt the injury but watched my blood flow into the container.
“You saved one life and ignored another. Not the same as killing someone,” Malou explained, pacing the floor next to my tub. “Perhaps stress set you on this path. Your human body is dying. We can’t stop the process. Your wolf can heal you. The question is, how much wolf DNA is in your blood?”
“My mother is a wolf. My father is a human. I assume fifty percent.”
“The human is not your only father,” Jordan exclaimed, holding up three tarot cards and her vial of blood. Malou looked at the cards carefully and then back at me.
“I don’t know what you see, but I look just like my human grandmother. He is my father.”
“Just like, hereditary similar or you look like a copy of his mother,” Malou asked, peering into my eyes.
“My father says I look just like her. I’ve only seen pictures when she was older.”
“I need to speak with your mother to confirm, but if I found gambling useful, I would wager you have three parents.”
“It’s possible for mammals, but the offspring die. Twins have been born with two different fathers, but a human egg can’t survive in a panspermia event.” I was confident of these facts, having read about the fatal condition.
“Human no, but your mother’s a wolf, and so is one of your fathers. Your markers like hair, eyes, and skin are from your human father. You look like his mother, so he will care for you. The wolf is a predator even in its tiniest form.” Malou smiled and hurried off to look at my blood with Jordan.
Leaving my arms outside the water summoned radiating pain. Slipping back under the milky surface removed the pain instantly. A hard plastic headrest was placed across the tub. While it wasn’t soft and fluffy, it allowed me to rest without sliding into the water.
Henry came to my mind. While logically, I knew he would still be sedated. I wanted an update. Through the narrow windows at the top of the walls, I saw it was still dark outside. Exhaustion and grief washed over my body. All I wanted to do was sleep.
“Jordan, did my phone make it with me?”
“Yes, let me grab it for you.”
“I’m afraid I’ll drop it in the tub. Can you see if Henry texted me?”
“Sure thing. Nothing from Henry since early this afternoon, but there is an unknown. Says he is out cold and doing fine. When he wakes, I’ll call. How are you doing? Jordan read the text and scrolled through my messages.
“We will reply. Thanks for the update. I’m fine.” she typed. “Anyone else you need to contact?”
“Under LidoKane. Just text, Out of town. Long story. See you tomorrow.” All the energy remaining in my body was spent. I closed my eyes, rested my neck in the plastic notch, and fell asleep.
Relaxation quickly turned to fear. Someone grabbed my ankles and tugged on my legs. I slipped down into cold, salty water. My eyes caught a glimpse of a dark figure and a long tail.
I struggled to swim up toward the light. “Stop pulling me under. I can’t drown here, damn it!”
“Apparently, you can. Without a linear body, I’m not sure what you think you’re frantically breathing.”
“Pax, what the hell are you doing here?”
“Here is a fluid concept.” Pax snickered and vanished, only to appear below me again. He tugged on my legs, pulling me a mile below the surface.
“How can I kill you,” I thought, pounding my fist on his thick oily skin.
“Not possible.” I heard his voice deep in my mind.
“We run the risk of dying with the human body we inhabit. Covet the vessel too much, and you may be interned with the flesh.” Pax made a disgusted looking face. I shook my head and giggled. “Don’t laugh. It’s a real problem. Religious relics wielded by those of faith have power, but no faith and the relics are useless.”
I did my best to swim back to the surface. Being underwater panicked me. “I get the impression you don’t like our human forms. You looked comfortable enough in one at the bakery.”
“My current vessel is complicated. He’s Emma’s pet project this year. No, I don’t care for the human-animal it’s too squishy—your constantly dying skin teeming with microscopic filth.
“The waste contaminated blood rushing under your skin. Your digestive systems with all you excrete. Your fluids swapped back and forth to procreate and your foul diseases. Worms the whole lot of you, but your world is by far the most beautiful.”
I reached the sunshine again. “You think I have girl cooties or just cooties in general?” I laughed.
“I don’t know this word, cootie?” Pax bobbed up and down in the waves. “You are afraid of drowning. This is where your enemies will lock your mind. You can’t keep this weakness. You must let it die today.”
“All humans are afraid of not being able to breathe. It’s a normal thing we avoid.”
“Think of a memory for me,” Pax requested. “Your thoughts are so filling and innocent. My vessel’s memories are of pain and loss. These aliments don’t taint your thoughts.”
My sister’s recent text popped into my head. Shoveling the stables out, replacing the hay, and cleaning out the feed pens was a part of our weekly duties as children. Seeing my sister all geared up, shovel in hand, brought back memories of a simpler time when all I needed to do was my chores and homework. Sliding across the slick cement outside the main barn was a fun, albeit messy, memory from home.
“Ugh, no, no, not what I want. No excrement.” Pax exclaimed.
“Shit bothers you. Hate to break it to you, but everybody poops. And if you happen to be a full-grown horse, you shit a lot.”
Pax put one hand over his thin dark lips and held his other clawed appendage toward me. After a few seconds, he dove deep under the waves. I knew what was coming next. I cleared my mind and prepared to be pulled under.
Several rounds of drowning took place before Pax let me go. The logic was sound. You need to learn to fall before you aren’t afraid to hit the ground. Drowning a few times would have its benefits.
The water in the tub was warm when I opened my eyes. Jordan sat on an old wood stool, looking at her phone. She plunged her arm into the tub to grab my hand.
“Oh no, this doesn’t happen within the protected walls. We don’t allow demons. Even in ethereal form.” She hurried out of the room and returned with a flimsy side table and her deck of tarot cards. Malou walked into the area carrying a stack of towels and looked at the two of us strangely.
“What are you doing, Jordan? Wait until we move her to recovery.”
“You didn’t see it. She has a demon attachment,” Jordan whispered reverently.
“What!” Malou hissed. The stack of towels flew to a nearby bed. “All right, girl, no more fucking about. Tell me about this demon. Everything!”
I sat up and made an effort to calmly retell the events of the past few days. Malou’s expressions vacillated between pity and disgust.
“If you ate demon blood and lived? You are not a half breed. Blood is how it’s able to invade your dreams. We need your father’s clan name.”
“Pax claims to be providing me with lessons to survive the Yolk.”
“It’s a Pax demon. That’s it’s species. You need to get this thing’s name so you can control it. There are stories of collectors, but I wouldn’t trust one. And the vampire girl.” Malou rubbed her forehead and hugged her arms to her side. “I’m shocked you aren’t dead already.”
“I thought I was losing my sanity. I don’t have time for this bullshit. I have finals.”
“Time for? Enter the White and pass into the Yolk before the month’s end, or you will die. You were chosen. There’s nothing but life and death now.” Malou grabbed a towel. With Jordan’s help, I was lifted from the tub and dressed in a simple sleeping gown.
They walked me to a guest room one floor above the tubs. I could have run the stairs in my heels for fun earlier in the day, but now I took each step carefully, one foot at a time.
Something grave and ancient was happening to my body—much more than a stress response to the shooting.