Something dangerous is out there. I know it.
Sylvan Lake is like an aquatic Venus flytrap—beautiful and deadly. This whole giant puddle is my nemesis. I sense that every time I come here. Always have.
The lake is as warm as a bath. The sun’s scorching rays make my skin tingle, cooled only by the fluid lapping at the brown skin between my short, purple tank and the matching bikini bottoms. Unless forced, I don’t push myself farther.
Anchored twenty-five yards from the rope separating shallows from deep water, an aluminum raft mocks me, daring me to cross the distance.
The triangular swimming area is crystalline closest to the shore, dropping off to a murky abyss beyond the midline rope. Little nibblers called “sunnies” dart around seeking the bits of bread they’ve come to expect from the humans—a toll for entering their space.
“You’ve Goat to be Kidding Me”
On a dark September evening, chilly gusts rattled the panes of my third-floor office. Beyond the glass, buildings lined Leroy Street to form a wind tunnel coming off the Hudson River, across the West Side Highway. I leaned back in my chair, feet up on the peeling radiator. It was barely six—too early to go up two floors to my apartment. Too many hours facing emptiness.
I was throwing myself a small pity party. At twenty four, it sucked to already be such a disappointment to a famous psychic mother. Already divorced. Psychic abilities nowhere near where hers were at my age. She wouldn’t let me take on any independent cases, “for my own safety” until she deemed me “ready.” I was too young to be in such a rut. Something needed to change.
And then he walked into my life.
“The Pendulum’s Swing”
The call came in to Donovan’s cell phone just after seven. Ten minutes earlier, a small chime from his pocket watch—the one that signaled a shapeshifter crime happening within the fifteen-mile radius of his jurisdiction—woke him from a restless sleep.
He never anticipated a life altering encounter such as the one he was about to enter.
Donovan answered the call absently and without checking the screen, his attention on the enchanted timepiece. Cradling the cell phone to his ear, he rose from his bed and padded to the kitchen. “Detective Holder, Shapeshifter Investigation Division.” He dangled the vintage, gold device by its chain over a complex chart and waited for the pendulum to point out its message.
“Donny! You have to stop him!”
“Nelita and the Shadow”
Be safe, child! Remember me,my best friend whispered to me. Great-Grandfather Oak was more real to me than my two human grandfathers who I never met. He shaded the small hill at the front of our courtyard and told the best, most magical stories when the wind danced through his leaves. I leaned against a little stump that was always perfect for resting a cold drink as we listened to the honeybees collecting nectar from surrounding clover flowers.
I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye and hugged Great-Grandfather Oak’s rough trunk. “I’ll never forget you.”
At the gym, I stumble into the arms of the hot personal trainer I’ve lusted after for ages. I smile and gaze into his eyes, willing him to sense my desires.
The room dims.
The skin on the trainer’s face sags, lengthens, melts. Scarlet tendons and muscles contrast against white bone. He grins. Misshapen lips pucker and stretch toward mine. I scream and try to shield my mouth. His grip on my wrists feels like handcuffs. My head thrashes from side to side. I fight to pull my hands away.
A voice disrupts my escape efforts. It has an unnatural quality, an echo, and seems far away. “Flirt with a stranger.” A chuckle follows.
Faces only melt in dreams. This isn’t real.
I find a focal point—the leg-extension machine—and force deep breaths into my dream-self’s lungs. When I turn, the trainer’s face will return to normal. I will wake up.
“Stop! Let me in,” the voice commands.
The air feels thick, as if the humidity level is one-hundred percent. I can’t breathe.
A shadow passes in front of the machine as I shift my gaze away from the equipment.
I am transported to my room.
“Under the Mattress”
Nathan heard the crash and the scream downstairs. With one last glance at the object he cradled in his hands, he jammed it between his mattress and box spring before he tore out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
“Ma?” Nate shouted. “Jess?”
He thundered down the carpeted stairs and through the living room. Ahead and to the left, a weak groan led him to the source of the commotion. Nate stopped short at the kitchen entrance.
A large space on the wall glared at him where a cabinet used to hang over a cluttered counter. Beneath the rubble—
“Oh my God! Jess!”
“…wanted some chocolate…”
A puddle of milk seeped under the oven and refrigerator.