On Thursday, there's been a murder.
"Did you hear? There's been a murder!"
Apparently it's a Sherlock day today, judging from Zoe's black overcoat and blue scarf. Eli isn't sure whether the theming is appropriate, but it's subdued enough that maybe no one else will notice.
"I guess that's why Addi was out last night," Eli offers, hugging his books closer to his chest. Across the quad Lance makes the I'm-watching-you gesture, a big white gauze pad taped to his neck.
"They think it happened last week. Guy didn't turn up for his shift at the gas station just out of town. Sheriff found his body like five miles away in the woods, torn to shreds. Like it'd been mauled by an animal."
Eli tries not to think of sharp teeth and yellow eyes. Which is easier said than done, of course, when the only thing anyone talks about all morning is the murder. The stories get wilder as the periods drag on; a bear becomes a serial killer becomes a mob hit becomes a monster.
"It's Satanists," announces Morgan Lacroix, just before Spanish. "Human-sacrificing Satanists." Morgan is Arthur's little sister, and an equal tie for the Worst Person At Rosemont High, as far as Eli is concerned.
"Don't be retarded," is Mark Winger's, not-entirely-politically-correct opinion. "Satanists don't do that."
"How would you know," Morgan snaps. "Know many Satanists?"
"Uh, yes? My brother's in a metal band, duh."
"Besides," Morgan continues, ignoring Mark. "Mom was called out last night. Mom wouldn't have been called out if the Sheriff didn't suspect something."
Ms. Lacroix is some sort of police consultant, specializing in so-called "weird cases." Eli knows this because Aunt Addi knows it and, if prompted, will complain about both it in general and Ms. Lacroix, specifically.
"Elias, your aunt is a deputy, right? What does she say?"
It takes Eli a full three seconds to realize every eye in the class has focused on him. Including Morgan's; sapphire blue gems, glinting above peach-blush cheeks and beneath hair like spun gold.
Eli swallows thickly, and says:
"Uh. S-she wasn't home last night. And was asleep this morning. Um. S-sorry?"
The answer earns him a few derisive scoffs, though Morgan just looks contemplative. "See? It must be serious if they're keeping the Sheriff's people out there all night. They wouldn't do that for, like, an animal attack or whatever."
"It's still not Satanists," is Mark's opinion.
"It was probably just a bear."
"Uh huh." Eli nods, mostly because Jake looks so earnest.
Jake Smith is what, in Eli's opinion, would happen if an evil sorcerer turned a slice of supermarket white bread into a human. Not even a whole loaf; just a slice. Jake is somewhere between short and tall, thin and fat. With hair that can't decide whether it's blond or brunet, and eyes the color of a paint palette after an hour with a room of rowdy preschoolers. He's entirely un-memorable, so much so that Eli can't even remember if he's their friend or not. Sometimes he sits with them, sometimes he doesn't, and Eli barely notices either way.
"That sort of thing happens, you know," Jake continues. There's something hungry in the way he looks at Eli when he says it. Like he's drowning and Eli's the one with the boat. Or the helicopter.
"I guess so, man," Eli says, mostly because he hates it when Jake looks at him like that. "I just . . . can we not talk about it? I'm kinda trying not to think about the horrible murder right now."
"Oh." Jake blinks and physically recoils, like he's been slapped. "R-right," he says. "B-because of your parents."
Because of yellow eyes and sharp teeth, but Eli isn't about to admit that. "Yeah," he says. "And Aunt Addi. I mean, if it really is something dangerous . . ." About the most serious crimes Rosemont sees year-on-year are DUIs and shoplifting. Eli doesn't want to think about it being more dangerous that that. He's already lost one set of parents. How's the quote go? Losing another would look like carelessness.
"Here." Zoe looks up from whatever she's been doing, and tosses something at Eli. He fails spectacularly to catch it, but it doesn't fall far and it isn't breakable.
"What is it?" A small cotton pouch, wrapped up tight in blue wool. It smells like sandalwood and there's something hard in the centre.
"Amulet," Zoe says. "For protection. Keep it, or slip it in your Aunt's pocket if you're worried about her."
Eli looks at the amulet then back to Zoe, sitting in the middle of her dime store occult arts and crafts paraphernalia. "Thanks," he says, and means it.
Zoe's amulet might not be real magic, but the fact she cares enough to make it keeps Eli's heart light for the rest of the afternoon. At least until Lance corners him on the way home.
"I know you did it, Drake," he snarls. They're in the middle of the hallway, Eli up to his elbows in his locker, Lance leaning next to it. At least fifty people are in shouting distance, including three teachers. Whatever Lance is doing, he's not sizing Eli up for another beating.
"What are you talking about, Marlowe?"
Lance points to his own neck. "I've seen under this thing. Whatever the hell bit me didn't have no human teeth. Except whatever the hell bit me was you. And now people are getting murdered like they've been chomped on by monsters? Yeah. I'm onto you, Drake. You won't get away with this."
Eli slams his locker shut, and Lance jumps at the sound. "Wait," he says. "You think I'm some kind of gas-station-attendant killing monster?"
"Don't try and deny it!" Lance stabs his finger in the air as he says it. He looks like he wants to be stabbing it in Eli's chest, but doesn't have the guts to. Like being a monster is contagious.
"You think I'm this 'monster' and you're here telling me about it?"
Eli sees the moment Lance realizes his error, the smug expression dropping so fast it might be funny, were Eli in a laughing mood. "Er . . ."
"You also realize," Eli continues, "that if I really were this monster of yours, I bit you. That means you're a monster now, too. And who's more likely to be out rampaging and killing people? The monster who knows what he's doing"-he points to himself-"or the new cub." He points to Lance.
Lance goes so pale he'd make even Morgan's foundation look tanned. "Oh," he says. "Oh, f-"
Eli doesn't stick around for the revelation, just books it down the hall.
His clothes from yesterday are shredded, no mistaking it. Eli inspects them when he gets home from school. Someone, possibly Nurse Ike, had balled them up and tied them in an old plastic shopping bag. Yesterday, it'd been good for displacement; Eli had throw the bundle in the corner with the intent of never looking at it again. If he never looked at it, he'd never have confirmation-one way or the other-about what he'd seen in the Science Block bathroom mirror.
Tonight, he has confirmation.
Internet searches for am I turning into a monster end up being either too psychologically metaphorical or links to Imagine Dragons songs. The question am I turning into a werewolf results in more helpful answers for people with a problem that isn't Eli's.
If nothing else, Eli is pretty sure werewolves don't have spikes that can tear through a hoodie. Maybe he's turning into a werehedgehog?
In the end, he shoves the bag of ruined clothes under the bed, and vows not to think about it. Instead, he makes tacos.
Of course, they don't actually have the ingredients to do so, and Aunt Addi is once again nothing more than an apologetic note on the kitchen table. Eli fingers Zoe's amulet in the pocket of his jeans, and hopes his aunt's night is more about paperwork than crime scenes.
Four months ago, Elias Drake was one of the eight and a half million souls to call New York City home. Today, he's one of the three thousand that do the same for Rosemont. The town itself is little more than an outpost along the train line, a satellite suburb huddled at the edge of a national park, the weekend retreat for the bankers and lawyers that fill in Rosemont Heights; a gated community filled with gated mansions.
Sheriff's deputies don't live in gated mansions. Aunt Addi's place is a creaking old wood-paneled building of the sort Eli had only ever seen in videogames and Stephen King movies. It's a three block walk from there to the ShopStop, a.k.a. what passes for a convenience store here in the armpit of nowhere. The ShopStop sells a lot of quinoa and organic kale, but Eli supposes that's the way things go nowadays. Not even Rosemont is free from what Dad used to call "the cancer of gentrification."
Eli's about a block from the ShopStop when he sees the monster. The sun hasn't quite set but the clouds are low enough and heavy enough that it doesn't matter. Eli's halfway down Old Coe Road; it winds around behind the main streets, inching into forest, and he usually likes it because it's quiet and gives him time to compose beats in his head. This evening, he's startled from his thoughts by a snapping branch and the thick, wet huff of a large animal exhaling.
At first, he thinks it's a deer. He sees them, sometimes, wandering the streets and through backyards. Much cooler than the squirrels Eli was used to in the city. The head of the thing Eli is looking at is certainly deer-like; large and black and set beneath two huge, twisted horns. Except below that? Below that isn't anything like a deer at all. It looks more like an eagle, except an eagle the size of a man, huge wings hunched like a vulture and scythe-sharp talons pawing in the dirt. The creature has mad red eyes that glow like LEDs against the glossy oil-slick black of its feathers. Mad red eyes that are focused right on Eli.
He should run. He knows he should. But the monster's eye seem to pin him. Eli's heart is dropping like dubstep and that strange, hot tingly feeling is back in his limbs again.
The monster takes a step forward.
It's comical, almost, or would be, were Eli not a hairsbreadth from pissing his own jeans. The monster is not designed to walk on land, and it moves with a series of waddling hops. Eli is suddenly very, very aware of the tree-line, not ten feet to his left. The monster is maybe thirty feet in front of him. It's big, and he's betting it's fast when it's airborne, but he doubts it can fly between the trees.
The monster takes another hopping step forward, head lowering and feathered hackles raising. Eli feels the sweat bead on his palms even as he slips one hand into his pocket. Zoe's amulet is still there, and Eli tightens his fingers around it. Useless junk or not, tonight he'll take all the help he can get.
He has one moment to process what feels like a warm breath of air, gusting across his skin before the monster lunges forward, opens its mouth, and screams.
The sound is the second most soul-shearingly awful thing Eli's ever heard, right on the heels of son, there's been an accident. It's like the dying screams of a dozen children, being flayed alive. Like a hundred cats being burnt in a sack, a thousand bunnies squashed beneath a bicycle's wheel. It's a banshee scream, something soul-sick that reeks of clotted blood and the absolute, searing certainty that death has found him.
"Not today, asshole!" Eli screams back, lunging left and breaking for the trees. His legs devour the ground. It's not far, not really, but the relative safety of the woods may as well be the other side of the world when Eli can feel the monster's loping footfalls shake the ground and hear the heavy whump-whump bass of its beating wings.
It's the wings that do it, in the end. Or rather, the great gusts of wind they raise up. Eli is past the first tree and into the woods when the wall of air hits him from behind like a physical blow. He stumbles, unprepared, going down hard against the dirt, chin cracking against a root with enough force that he can feel it in his teeth.
It's still nothing to the agony a moment later, when monstrous jaws clamp down on his calf.
The world spins as Eli is half dragged, half tossed back into the grass. He bounces, then rolls, finally coming to a stop half-on-half-off the road. His wrong body feels like it's on fire again, like there's something hot and huge inside, waiting to come out.
It doesn't get a chance, not when the monster lunges an instant later, its mouth open far too wide for a mere deer, the teeth inside as sharp and square as razors.
It lunges. Eli brings his arms up, one last futile gesture and-
There's . . . something. A flash of light, a noise like a sack full of bricks bouncing off a stripped electrical cord. The strange reek of burnt feathers and ozone fills Eli's nose.
And then, when the light clears, Eli see the monster crumpled on the grass, not ten feet away. Smoke rises from its back and strange arcs of blue-white power spark between its antlers.
Eli's arms are still raised. More blue-white light pulses between the fingers of his left hand.
"Holy shit," says Eli, to no one at all. "It worked."
In front of him, the monster twitches. Eli doesn't wait around to see if it's still alive.