The Hawthornes really let me sit in my apartment by myself all weekend. I called them like ten times and Julian ignored my calls. I left them a bunch of super pathetic messages, literally BEGGING for information and got nothing. I thought maybe something had happened to them. I was like half frantic. And then Neal called me back and basically told me to fuck off. So fuck him.
What was I gonna do on my own? Head out into the woods? Are you insane?
Then on Sunday Julian called me.
“This is going against my better judgment,” he said. “But we need your friend’s help.”
They ignore me all weekend and then bam, they need me. So, I was a perfect angel and introduced them so Georgia could help them, and then I came back to my room to eat Twizzlers and watch Riverdale.
“Oh now you need me?” I snapped and Julian sighed.
“Look, we try not to snatch teenage girls from their homes on these missions alright? What if you died out here? What would we tell your mother?”
That sort of shut me up for a minute. Like he definitely has a point. I don’t want to die and leave my mom all alone here in this apartment.
“But,” Julian continued heavily. “This dog is in a rage, and nothing we do is helping. We don’t want to kill him, but that’s pretty much our option at this point. Unless Georgia can help him.”
Yeah go ahead and gather that for a moment. This guy is calling me because a murderous monster from another world is proving to be too insane for them to help, so their solution is to send a teenage girl at it. Not to give you whiplash or anything, but all of a sudden I was on my mom’s side of the argument.
“You want me to ask Georgia if she can come tame a monster that’s proving too much for you,” I said. I heard Neal laugh in the background. I must have been on speaker.
“Yeah, see, we do understand how that might seem controversial,” Julian admitted. “But look — Hailu dogs are useful, alright? And they deserve better. ”
“Hailu dogs?” I asked.
Julian explained that they’re a fairly common kind of traveler, and that they’re not usually violent unless desperate. He said he doubted that anyone the dog recognized — even just in passing — would be in any danger. The words he used were “a Hailu Dog will pack bond with anything.”
So I called Georgia, and she agreed to meet up. I turned up the volume of the X-Files on my computer and snuck out my window.
Georgia doesn’t have a car either but she lives pretty close. We met at the gas station and got slushies while we waited for the Hawthornes. Yes, it was awkward.
“…so these guys are who, exactly?” she asked. The line between her lips was tinged blue already.
“They’re monster hunters,” I said. She just nodded. We waited in silence.
When they pulled up I could tell she recognized their car. We climbed into their back seat one after another. Neal had a huge scratch running from his forehead through his eyebrow onto his cheekbone and half Julian’s cheek was covered in bruising.
“Jesus,” I said. “What happened to you?”
Neal flashed teeth when he smiled. “Monsters,” he said, as if this were wonderful. When he reached back over his shoulder I put my slushie in his hand without thinking. He gunned the engine and we lurched into the street.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” Julian said. “This is likely to be dangerous. We’re going to do everything we can to protect you of course but there’s something wrong with these creatures. I’ve never seen a Hailu Dog so violent.”
“Which is why we’re going to let the teenage girl take a whack at it,” Neal said brightly. Julian pressed three fingers to the middle of his forehead.
“Yes Neal I know how you feel about it,” he said.
“What do you think we should do?” I asked Neal.
“I think we should put the poor brute down,” Neal replied. “I don’t want to. But he’s already killed one girl.”
“He’s starving!” Julian exploded. It was obviously an argument they’d been having.
“Yeah, no kidding,” Neal said. “But that isn’t a problem we can solve.”
“Why not?” I asked. “What do they eat?”
Julian sighed. “Where they come from there’s a lot more magic than we have here. It’s in every living creature. Hailu dogs ingest that magic when they eat. They can’t survive without it.”
We don’t have any magic food, but according to Julian that was a, “bridge we’d cross when we got to it.”
So you’re getting an idea of how prepared these assholes were.
Neal parked the car up on the logging roads. Driving through there has like a physical effect on my body at this point hahaha it’s like ‘oh look it the trees time to face life threatening trauma.’
We got out of the car and Neal stretched. “Here we go again,” he said. “You sure you won’t just let me shoot this thing?”
“I’m sure,” Julian said, scowling out between the trees.
“Alright ladies, if this all goes terribly, terribly wrong just remember in the few seconds before you’re devoured that I voted to shoot this thing and be done with it,” Neal said.
Georgia set her jaw. We all walked out into the woods.
We walked a long time, realizing more and more that none of us really knew where we were going.
“He usually finds me pretty quickly,” Georgia said.
“Can you call him?” Neal asked.
Julian looked at him sharply.
“I won’t hurt him,” Neal promised. And when Julian didn’t relent: “I won’t!”
Georgia let out a low, lilting whistle. “Feathers!” she called into the trees, tromping out ahead of us. “Feather Dog are you out there?”
The beast that killed Bella Short is named Feather Dog.
Georgia only shrugged, maybe a little defensive: “I had to call him something.”
He appeared within ten minutes of walking. One moment we were alone in the woods, the next Georgia was flinging an arm out to stop me walking. She nodded up the fern-covered slope to where a huge hulking shadow had appeared between the trees.
“There you are Feather Dog,” she said and started walking slowly up the slope towards him.
“Georgia —” Julian warned but Georgia held out a hand to silence him. The creature had crouched, ears flattening to his skull.
“Maybe you should stay back,” Georgia said.
I didn’t need telling twice. I don’t think I even breathed as Georgia climbed to the crest of the slope and knelt down in front of the creature.
She murmured something to him that we couldn’t hear. The fact that this creature had slaughtered and partially eaten Bella Short was flashing neon in my head, but Feathers only pressed his enormous nose to Georgia’s neck and huffed a few times, blowing back her hair. He laid his head on her lap and inched his back legs forward to curl up as far into her lap as he could, like some kind of sad, horse-sized puppy.
Georgia looked back at us over the top of his head. “I think he’s sick!”
Julian and Neal exchanged a look.
“Do you think we can approach?” Neal called.
“Um,” Georgia said, looking down at the creature. “Maybe? Try coming slowly.”
They took two steps before Feathers lifted his lip to show teeth and growled, a low, bone-shaking rumble.
“Maybe just Shiloh,” Georgia said quickly.
Lol great, right. But what were my options? I was the asshole who insisted on coming out here.
I climbed the hill slowly. Feather Dog watched me approach but he didn’t growl or anything so I just kept coming until I was standing right in front of him.
I knelt. I think I said something stupid like “hello gigantic friend.” My hand was shaking as I offered it to him to sniff. There was no way I would have approached this thing if he hadn’t been laying down. Just his nose was the size of my entire hand. It was dry and cracked when he sniffed at my palm.
“He doesn’t look good,” Georgia said. “He used to be fat and glossy — his feathers used to be blacker and more iridescent.” She stroked a hand down his furry neck to his chest where the feathers started.
I hated to imagine this creature killing Bella.
“He’s been getting thinner and thinner,” Georgia said. “I even tried bringing him things to eat, but it hasn’t seemed to help.” Her dark eyes filled with tears and dropped down her round cheeks. “I think he came to the school looking for me,” she said. “I hadn’t been out to see him all week.” She leaned her face down into his cheek. He rolled onto his back, exposing his feathery chest and stretching out his long arms, exposing their wing-like feathering. Georgia managed a smile. “He wants you to scratch his chin,” she said.
So I did. It was pure magic. It was like a fantasy you have as a little girl. As for Georgia, suddenly I understood 100% what Madelyn saw in her. She met a monster in the woods and became his friend.
Julian came up behind us very slowly and though Feathers rolled back onto his belly and watched him approach warily, he did not growl.
“Hello,” Julian said softly, all warm and gentle. It was the same voice he used on people to get them to like him, I noticed. That shit works I guess.
Feather Dog snuffed Julian’s palm, and decided not to bite it off. Julian beamed with relief.
“There we go,” he murmured, scratching his snout. “Isn’t this better?” He turned his smile onto Georgia. “Thank you,” he said to her. “Now maybe we can do something.”
“Can you help him?” Georgia asked.
“He’s starving,” Julian said scratching at Feathers’ ears with his knuckles. “We brought some fruit from the Celeste’s Coven greenhouses in Seattle, but it won’t be enough. He needs stronger magic than anything we have here naturally.”
“Can we get him…back wherever he came from?” I asked. Hahaha poor Georgia must have been so confused. Or maybe not. She was super focused on Feather Dog, and when you have a gigantic flying dog in your lap maybe hearing about magic isn’t all that shocking.
Julian shook his head. “If there’s a way to control the rifts, no one in this world knows how to do it. The best we can do is get him to the Emporium and see if we can’t get him healthy.”
“The Emporium?” I asked.
“It’s like a…” Julian hesitated. “Museum of magical artifacts. They’ll sometimes take creatures under special circumstances.They’d take a Hailu Dog. They’d be able to feed him.”
Neal approached from behind us and Feather Dog lifted his head to watch. I would have shrunk back but Neal walked right up so Feathers could sniff his cheek.
“Yeah you great brute, that’s where you scratched me up,” he said, patting the beasts neck. Feather Dog snuffed curiously and then when Neal brought an orange out of his pocket Feathers’ ears pricked up. Neal smiled. “Witch grown and everything,” he said, offering it. Feathers took the fruit delicately between his teeth and after a few moments of tenderly rolling around in his mouth, he bit down hard and filled the air with citrus.
“How do we get him to the Emporium?” Georgia asked.
“Well, that does pose a problem,” Julian admitted. “The Emporium is in upstate New York. Getting him there will take some doing.”
Feather Dog had finished his orange and was nosing enthusiastically into Neal’s jacket. Neal smiled and produced some apples from his pockets.
Georgia watched this, frowning. “You’ll put him in the back of a truck and drive him over?”
Julian looked slightly uncomfortable. “We probably wouldn’t. The Emporium has people that specialize in transportation.”
I could see on her face that Georgia didn’t like that.
“But there’s magic here,” I said. “Isn’t that why we have cultists and ghosts and monsters in the woods and shit?”
Feather Dog’s enthusiasm for the fruit knocked Neal flat on his back. Neal was laughing, Feather Dog was snuffling around in Neal’s leather jacket and I was pointedly not looking at the exposed belly where Feathers had pushed up his t-shirt. I don’t need to know if Neal has abs under there. That’s not information I need to have.
“Yeah, there’s magic here,” Julian said, blessedly ignorant to my heckin thirst I HOPE OH GOD LMAO. “Enough to attract a whole forest full of problems. But not enough for a creature like Feather Dog to thrive. He needs more.”
“More than Celeste’s coven has?” I asked.
Julian shrugged. “Their magic will help. Fruit grown on their land will have some magic in it. But ultimately, he needs more.”
Neal threw an apple high up into the air and Feathers launched himself into the air to catch it, banking off a tree and spreading his arms to glide back to earth, like a great, feathered flying squirrel. It was incredible. I was flabbergasted.
“I don’t have anymore,” Neal said when Feathers nudged him with his snout. “You’ll have to come back to the car.” He looked up at Julian. “He’s smart and responsive,” he admitted.
Julian smirked. “You think it’ll work?”
Neal made a face. “Yeah, I think it’ll work, smart ass,” he said. “Now that he hasn’t murdered either of the teenage girls, yeah I think your plan will work.”
I caught on to that pretty quick. “What plan?”
Julian put a hand on Feather Dog’s flank. “Hailu dogs have a preternatural sense of smell. Especially where magic is concerned.”
So that’s how we’re going to get them. Neal says Feather Dog needs a few days to eat and recover before he’s comfortable putting him to work, but soon we’ll be able to follow those cultist monsters home and knock down their damn doors.
We might even be able to track Madelyn.
For the first time I can see and end to this mess. If Madelyn’s out there I’m going to find her.