The Weird Girls Page 5

Larissa laughed, turning in circles like Julie Andrews on top of a freaking mountain.

Before she disappeared in a crash of thunder that propelled us onto our snow-ridden lawn.

I quickly rolled off of poor Emme and crouched to attack as the rear side window of our sedan snapped and crackled. A chink spread from one end to the other. It continued onto the passenger side window, spelling out words in an ear-splitting pitch like a saw cutting through metal.

Three days.

My sisters and I staggered to our feet, stunned and more shaken than I cared to admit. Larissa didn’t have to blow out our eardrums, wreck our car, and go all Linda Blair on us. But I supposed when eye of newt and toe of frog-fight fests were concerned, it paid to be over the top.

Genevieve dusted off the snow from her dress and rose on wobbly legs, using her staff for support. She staggered to our driveway, paying no mind to the chunks of charred sidewalk littering the street, or the pizza-sized crevice where Larissa had stood. Her lovely eyes fell upon me before nodding gracefully. “May strength, will, and courage carry you through your task.”

We watched with opened mouths as Genevieve spun gracefully, erasing the darkness of night with her gentle breeze.

“Damn,” Taran said.

Chapter Five

Beast. Self. Protection. We had no clue what that meant exactly. We played around with the words, even did some Googling, trying to prepare for anything and everything. Three days. What did that mean? Would each challenge last three days or would they start in three days time? I wished I’d asked more questions, exchanged digits, requested a rulebook—something. But I hadn’t. The little we knew about supernaturals wasn’t enough, and now it was too late.

Danny appeared stunned stupid when I’d phoned him following the witches’ disappearing act. He didn’t speak for a solid minute. “Move, Celia,” he’d finally insisted. “For the love of all things holy, just move. You can come stay with me in Palo Alto.” I heard him rifling through papers. “I’ve done a little research on the Tahoe Clan. This time of year they practice making it rain in Meek’s Bay. They sometimes hole up for days chanting. If the majority of the clan is distracted, maybe it will give you and your sisters the chance to escape.”

“No matter where we go, there’ll just be another Larissa telling us we don’t belong. We’ll always be different, Danny. There’s nothing we can do about that. But that doesn’t make it okay for anyone to push us around or force us from our home.”

The silence that had followed told me he agreed. But his tone when he’d spoke also echoed his fear. “Celia, I don’t want you to die.”

“I don’t either, Danny,” I’d told him truthfully.

We put a hold on our renovations, unsure whether the attacks would arrive on our doorstep or if I’d be summoned to the middle of some cornfield somewhere at the next full moon. My sisters guarded our home in shifts. I focused on getting into optimal shape, exercising, weight training, and making the heavy bag in our half-finished basement my bitch. A week of worrying. A week of waking at every creek, squeak, and crack. And nothing. Finally, we returned to our jobs at the hospital, figuring Larissa wouldn’t dare pick a fight in such a public place.

Ha. Ha. Silly me.

I was finishing the last few details of my delivery so I could move on to my next assignment. I smiled at the sleeping infant as I cuddled her in my arms. Our foster mother had been a nurse. It was a career that had never interested me, but one she forced me into when she was diagnosed with cancer. I was only in high school at the time. Ana Lisa made me get my GED, and dragged me kicking and screaming into the program. I resented her for it. But I resented her cancer more. She knew she was dying and wanted me to obtain a job that would secure my future and provide for my siblings. I never expected to love it. But I did. So much so, my sisters pursued nursing as well. Taran worked in the Cardiac Lab. Emme in Hospice. Shayna and I delivered babies—a job that showed us the miracle of life on a daily basis.

My smile widened as I walked toward the new father. The labor and delivery had gone smoothly except the young dad remained skittish. He kept his hands on his lap when I tried to pass him his baby girl.

“I don’t think I should hold her,” he said.

I rocked the baby when she stirred. Like Tahoe, babies settled my beast and made me less scary. “I think you should. You’ve been waiting nine months to meet her, haven’t you?”

He glanced at his wife, the baby, and me. “What if I break her?”

“You won’t.”

“What if I drop her?”

“I won’t let you.”

“What if she dates?”

I pulled out his arm and tucked the sweet infant into the crook. “I think you have a good fifteen years to worry about that one.” I reached to help him wrap his other arm around his daughter, but he beat me to the punch. And just like that, the frightened man became a “Daddy.” He lifted his chin as the first tears of fatherhood dripped down his face. “Thank you, Celia,” he whispered.

I nodded and turned to adjust the new mommy’s pillows. Compliments weren’t something I was used to, no matter how subtle. I covered the beaming woman with a warm blanket I’d brought from the linen room. “Everything looks great. I’ll give you some alone time and be back with your lunch.”

The woman squeezed my hand, but never turned away from her precious little family. I slipped quietly out the door with the cartful of garbage from the delivery. I pushed the squeaky wheels along the halls, nodding to a doctor as she passed. As much as the babies brought me great joy, every delivery made me wonder if I’d ever experience that moment myself. I abandoned those thoughts. Who would want to father the child of a beast?

I knocked my elbow against the push knob to open the door to the dirty utility room. The giant metal cage to my right was filled to the brink with bean bags and yoga balls yet to be cleaned. Directly in front of me stood a large sink and the counter where we placed the cord blood for lab pickup. I slapped on some gloves and dumped the placenta into the medical waste bin, and angled the cart next to the laundry and garbage chutes. With the speed worthy of any tigress, I dumped the soiled linens down the rusted metal chute, slammed it closed, and opened the one for waste. Everything ran smoothly until a giant tongue sprung from the chute and fastened itself around my waist.


My face smacked hard against the brick wall as it pulled, stunning my beast and slowing my reaction time. All I knew was I couldn’t go down the bin. My arms and legs spread out to cling to the opening, encouraging the force to yank harder. I grunted, gripping the edge tighter with one hand while my free claws sliced at the tongue holding me.

Warm fluid splashed against my scrubs. I’d thought I’d injured it, but realized quickly I’d only pissed it off. The tongue tightened, robbing me of my breath and threatening to snap my spine. It pulled me, harder and harder, until I wheezed and my body was abruptly yanked through.

I fell down the passage, banging against the metal sides as my claws searched wildly for something to dig into. My claws raked against the metal like a fork, but still I found nothing to halt my descent. The burning in my lungs caused fear to rip through my veins. I reached into my beast, willing her to beat back my panic. We had to survive. No way would we die without a fight.

The opening was too narrow for my beast form to fit through, but even if she could, the strong grip would likely prevent my change. So I kicked out, using my legs to prolong my inevitable meet-and-greet with whatever had lassoed me. Every time I slowed, the force became more insistent and my need for air grew ever desperate.

Finally, I managed to stop at the curve in the chute. Only to have something collide with my head and burst open.

Double shit.

I whipped down faster like a reverse bungee. It’s bad enough I had a tongue dragging me down a dark cylinder caked with years of hospital nastiness. Now I had to deal with a rainfall of garbage. Mounds of trash pounded into me in a cascade of rubber gloves, plastic cups, and catheters. Globs of iodine, detergents, and things better left wrapped up tight spilled against my head and arms like rain.

The tongue, thankfully, didn’t seem to like the combo, either. It quivered as if gagging and loosened its hold. I slashed hard in the direction of the pull just as I hurtled through the basement opening.

My body hit a large container and toppled it over. I rolled from the force and slammed into the cinderblock wall. I moaned and chanted the F-word like it possessed the power to make me rise. It didn’t work. I slumped onto my side. Everything hurt down to my toenails.

The expanse of the dingy white room took up an entire hospital wing. I gasped, pushing myself up on all fours in time to hear a wet hiss.

So much for thinking the hospital was neutral territory.

I turned my head, scanning the area. Four bins at each corner, including the one I knocked down. A double door to the far left. A floor buffer. A few broken office chairs. And a newt the size of our sedan hanging upside down from the ceiling. He blinked his tire-sized brown eyes at me, and angled his head. He seemed deep in thought while slurping on the blood pooling in his mouth. Witches, it seemed, didn’t mind falling under the “eye of newt” stereotype.

My mind searched for what I knew of California newts. Brown, smooth skins. Check. Orange bellies. Check. Long tongue. Not sure, but I gave that one a check. Hundreds of times more poisonous than cyanide if ingested? Oh, yeah.

Witches. Didn’t. Play. Fair.

Beast against beast, but at a cost. If I bit into him with my fangs I’d die within minutes. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t claw, couldn’t strike, couldn’t kick. I slowly rose to my feet. The muscles and girth of my golden tigress stretched the thin cotton fabric of my scrubs until blue shredded scraps plopped against my fuzzy paws. It was a show of intimidation and to catch my breath. Take that, Geico reject.

The newt angled his head from side to side, curious yet not afraid. Oh, so not afraid. His limbs extended outward, his eyes depressed, and his tail whipped eagerly. He wanted to brawl. But so did my beast.

He leapt from the ceiling, slamming his head through the concrete wall when I jumped. But either he had eyes in the back of his head or Larissa saw all. His tail whipped me across the face. Warm fluid drenched my eye and sudden pain stung beneath my fur like fire. My head flew back. I slammed into the group of broken office chairs, cracking them with the weight of my form. I scrambled to my feet and charged. He jerked free and rammed me into one of the bins. I shifted, came up behind him as human and kicked him in the jaw when he spun to face me.

His skull snapped back, but the bones of his neck didn’t break. I straddled his head and used my weight and muscle to flip him onto his side, ramming my clawed hands into his brown eyes. The mutilated tongue rushed out and nailed me in the face like a fist. I fell back and shifted, sparing my body from the brunt of the fall.

My molecules traveled beneath the foundation and reformed as I surfaced behind him. He must have sensed my presence. His tail whipped across my shins before I could strike. I collided face first into the concrete. The impact robbed my lungs of much needed air. The newt leapt on me, slapping at me with his leathery hands and ramming me in the back of the head with his bloody tongue.

I saw stars. And planets. And rockets. And possibly Superman. But he wasn’t there to save me, and I’d be damned if I’d let Larissa win.

Without enough breath, I couldn’t shift. But I could change. My tigress form returned. I rolled, clawing and cleaving into the soft underbelly of the newt. His skin parted like wet cardboard. I wrenched my head to the side, trying to avoid the likely poisonous blood and entrails drenching my fur. He screeched, ruptured eyes oozing fluid as he whipped the remains of his tongue to encircle my throat.

I raked his tongue with my free paw before he could squeeze. A section of it fell with a splat beside me as I dug my front and back legs into the large holes of his underside. Adrenaline fueled my strength, numbing me to sweltering pain. I launched him into the corner garbage bin. He landed hard enough to pop the overstuffed bags, spilling dirty cups and pizza boxes onto the linoleum.

I whirled onto my belly and roared. Get up! Get up! Dammit, I was pissed.

My tigress didn’t like getting thrown around. And my human side didn’t care for it, either. For a long time, the newt didn’t move. But the moment his dark brown tail lifted, I bolted and hurdled myself on top of him. My claws hacked into his reptilian side like nails through plastic—hard at first, until I completely broke through the tough outer flesh. His skin and innards sprayed my face in chunks, his squeals barely audible over my thunderous roars.

I continued to slash until I felt the pull of muscle and ligaments from long thin bones. That’s when I stopped. Viciousness had its limits, and I’d far surpassed them. I leapt from the bin with grace, the soaked pads of my paws leaving prints on the grimy floor with each step.

I’d won the first challenge. No one appeared with a medal to place around my fuzzy neck, no balloons dropped down from the ceiling, no one patted my back to say “Well done!” And while I didn’t exactly expect a supernatural parade complete with black cats on unicycles, I had expected something more . . . mystical. I changed, returning to my human side and adding bloody human footprints to the tiger ones. Now what? I stood na**d again, with no bouncer in a tacky T-shirt in sight. I reached the floor polisher and sighed, exhausted and still freaked out.

If it wasn’t for the sudden change in the air, I wouldn’t have sensed the giant newt springing at me. With more reflex than strategy, I gripped the handlebars of the floor polisher and swung. The newt bounced off the wall and slumped in front of me, nothing more but ground, battered meat and bone piercing through rubberlike skin.

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