winnow

Celeste showed up early yesterday morning to deal with our winnow problem, and she brought backup. Apparently the Seattle coven is super busy because the only witches they could spare were Sophie (her cousin? I can’t keep the witch’s relationships straight) and Iphigenia. Not to be a huge bitch or anything, but they’re slightly underwhelming as far as witchy guardians go.

Sophie greeted me with a big hug. Sophie’s pretty overwhelming. She’s blond and bouncy and has these bright blue cat-eyes. Iphigenia on the other hand is tall, gangly and dark-haired, and she’s so quiet it’s easy to forget she’s even there.

“Oh my gosh, Celeste told me everything. Did you really get winnowed? How did it feel? What was it like?”

Well Sophie it was horrible, thanks for asking.

Turns out winnows eat….suffering? Hahahaha that’s what Celeste said. She was dead serious too, no hint of irony at all, despite the fact that this was some cheesy 90s monster shit. Like is it an X-Files episode? Could be!

Apparently they’re known to be attracted to places with large amounts of emotional strife and they just come… eat the sadness buffet. Which leaves everyone feeling better, but you know, still themselves.

That wasn’t our experience with them on New Years Eve.

“Usually they have the good sense to try and avoid detection,” Celeste grumbled as we packed into the car. “Just eating a little, so they don’t dramatically alter people’s personalities.”

Apparently sometimes the savvy psychiatrist will even use them intentionally to ease mental illness. So it’s not like these creatures are evil or anything.

“They must be new,” Celeste sighed. “Otherwise they would know that in this world they need subtlety or consent or else hunters will come for them.”

To start the search we needed something that smelled like Keith, so we snuck into his house, which was easy. The thing about witches is that little things like locked windows become pretty irrelevant. We picked up Georgia on the way. She handled being introduced to a car full of witches pretty well, considering.

We snuck around to the back of the house, peering into windows until we found the room that looked most likely to be Keith’s. The house itself was faded and definitely hadn’t been redecorated since the seventies. Keith’s room had lots of wood paneling, covered sporadically with posters. His clothes spilled out of the dresser and spread all over the floor.

“A shirt?” I suggested, picking one up off the floor.

“Make sure it has plenty of stench,” Georgia replied.

I tentatively brought the shirt closer to my face and I was wincing at the scent when the door opened and in walked Warren Miller.

We all froze.

“What the hell?” he finally hissed, came in and shut the door. “What are you doing here?”

I said nothing. Like how do explain to someone why you’re in their best friend’s bedroom sniffing their dirty laundry?

Sophie poked her head in the window. “You guys find anything appropriately rank?” And then, when she saw Warren, “oh, well hello!”

“What the fuck is going on?” Warren said, loudly, which I suppose makes sense, considering the circumstances, but was nevertheless going to alert Keith’s mother.

I shushed him. “We’re trying to find Keith, okay?” I hissed.

Warren stared pointedly at me and the shirt I was holding aloft.

“We need… his smell,” I said.

“…like, for a dog?” he asked.

Georgia and I exchanged a glance. “Sort of,” I said, and began ushering Georgia back out the window.

“Wait,” he said, in a strangled voice. It was there in his voice, I could hear it: the familiar desperation and helplessness I’d been feeling for months. When I looked at him again, I saw his bloodshot eyes, his lank hair, his untied shoes. Like shit how was I supposed to leave him there alone?

“Look, we’re gonna find him. And I won’t stop you from coming with us, but it’s gonna be… eye opening,” I said.

“Shiloh!” hissed Georgia.

“Oh look at him, what’s he gonna do?” I snapped back.

Georgia rolled her eyes and hoisted herself back out the window.

“What kind of eye-opening?” Warren asked.

I stuffed Keith’s shirt into my bag. “I can’t really explain,” I said, one leg out the window. “You’ll just have to see it.”

I was halfway across the lawn when Warren caught up to me.

“Who’s this?” Celeste asked as Warren slid into the back seat after me.

“A friend,” I replied.

“Hi,” Sophie said, batting her eyelashes.

Celeste rolled her eyes and gunned away.

I could see Feather Dog’s nose between the curtains when we arrived at the Circem Street house.

“Okay,” Georgia said, watching the house anxiously. “We gotta be really calm when we get in there, okay? It’s gonna be overwhelming so —”

“It’s just a Hailu Dog, right?” Sophie said, flouncing up the walk, flipping her hair. “Hailu Dogs are sweet.”

“A what kind of dog?” Warren asked.

“Look, it’s gonna be… sort of alarming,” I said. “He’s a very big dog. He’s mostly friendly. Just like… be careful.”

Feather Dog was absolutely ecstatic to see us. Feathers went flurrying everywhere and he put a hole in the wall.

“Yeah, yeah I hear you,” Celeste said, slugging aside the bag of fruit she brought for him. He ignored it at first in favor of greeting Georgia and I, then sniffed Sophie and Iphigenia curiously for a moment before finally and decisively noticing Warren.

His feathers fluffed up and crested around his face, making him look even bigger than his already formidable size.

Warren literally fell off the porch. If we hadn’t been in such a hurry it would have been hilarious. He literally just like ass over teakettle tumbled off the deck. Feather Dog barked, satisfied, and then went after his food.

It only took him a few minutes to devour everything. Georgia pet his shoulder as he ate, following the line of his feathers.

“Is there anything else he can eat?” she asked Celeste.

“Actually we’ve been thinking about that,” Celeste said. “We’re bringing him as much fruit as the greenhouse produces, but it just isn’t enough. He needs meat, and this town has one hell of a monster infestation. You know what would solve that issue? A big ass predator.”

“You want us to let him out to hunt?” I said, obviously thinking of Bella Short.

“You’d have to accompany him,” Celeste admitted.

“What the f u c k is going on here?” Warren demanded from the lawn and Celeste rolled her eyes impatiently.

“Give me that shirt, and go clean up your mess,” she said. She meant Warren. He was the mess.

I explained as briefly as I could: there are monsters here that come from other dimensions. As long as you’re nice to Feather Dog he’ll be nice to you. Our best hope of finding Keith is to track him using Feather Dog’s sense of smell.

“Those dealers,” Warren said. “They were monsters weren’t they.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Fuck I thought I was just high,” he said. I laughed, which I think surprised him because he looked up at me, and managed a small, helpless smile.

“Feathers has a trail!” Celeste called from through the house.

“Ready?” I asked Warren Miller.

“Fuck no,” he replied but took the hand I extended so I could pull him up.

It was the middle of the day so we were all grateful that Feather Dog seemed pretty intent on heading into the woods. He rushed out ahead of us and then impatiently waited for us to catch up, fluffing his feathers and kneading his big, cat-like feet.

It was a long way.

Feather Dog lead us up hill. And it’s not like we were on nicely curated paths. Like, if I liked hiking before I sure as fuck don’t like it now. Eventually we made it to a place where the hill split in half and rose up above us in two great rocky precipices. Feather Dog led us right down into the gorge between them.

“Are we okay?” Georgia said, hesitating, but Warren trudged ahead fearlessly, and I recognized that too. I’d have walked into anything for Madelyn.

At the end of the gorge was a cave. Feather Dog let out one of his melodic little whale nosies, and sprang up onto the gorge walls.

“Fuck,” Celeste sighed. “Alright listen, I’ll go in and get him. You guys stay out here, and if anything comes out you ignore it, do you understand me? Don’t let it do anything.”

“You can’t go in there alone,” I said.

“No, what I can’t do is bring a bunch of children into a cave full of winnows,” Celeste replied.

Warren scoffed. “How do you plan on carrying him out of there?”

“On my back,” Celeste said, straightened her jacket and stalked into the cave without looking back. Feather Dog glided back down onto the gorge floor and opened his mouth to bellow after her, but he did not follow.

It took maybe five minutes for us to hear screaming from in the cave.

Georgia and I exchanged a look.

“She’s okay,” Iphigenia said. “Celeste can handle herself.”

“Fuck this,” Warren replied and stormed into the cave.

Georgia and I hesitated for only a moment before following him.

“Wait!” Sophie cried. “Celeste said we should stay!”

We didn’t stop. We picked our way through the rocks and down into the earth. It was cold and wet inside. We could hear water trickling somewhere close but unseen. It got dark quickly, so we used our phones as flashlights.

“Celeste?” I called.

The cave went on and on, narrowing quickly. My voice echoed away from us.

“Keith better appreciate the fuck out of us,” Georgia said.

“We’ve got to find him first,” Warren said. “Keith! You back there?”

Eventually the cave opened out into a large, dark room. It seemed to be empty through the narrow beams of our cell phone flashlights, but then, suddenly, there was Celeste, curled up on her side, hugging her knees, eyes squeezed shut, shuddering.

“Celeste?” I gasped, lurching forward, but Georgia caught my arms. I whirled to pull away from her, but she only pointed up above my head. When I looked there was the dealer — only it didn’t look like the dealer anymore.

It had done away with it’s strange human clothes and stood strange and naked in the dark. It’s skin was silvery, it’s limbs wiry and strange. It’s eyes were huge and a strange, pale shade of blue. It’s mouth was a fleshy, wet-looking pucker.

If I didn’t scream it’s only because I was stunned into silence.

“What did you do to her?” I squeaked. It cocked it’s head slowly, and then with one long, spindly finger it pointed at it Celeste’s temple, it’s own mouth and then a slow trail down it’s throat to it’s belly.

So ya that was creepy I guess.

On the ground, Celeste began to relax. The shuddering stopped. She released her knees. She rolled onto her back and stretched. Then she opened her eyes. She smiled.

“That’s the deal,” she said to the winnow. “I’d like the boy back now please.”

The winnow shook it’s head. It pointed it’s one long finger at the three of us.

Celeste’s brow furrowed and she looked where he was pointing.

“Oh, good,” she said. “So glad you’re here. That’s great.” She looked back at the winnow. “They weren’t part of the deal.”

It pointed more insistently, directly at me.

“Look, you three are in enough trouble as it is — Hunters aren’t going to buy the they took the pills that counts as consent defense. I’ve agreed to defend you to Pale Fish, but only exchange for the boy.”

No idea who Pale Fish is. I forgot to ask.

The winnow let out a long, rattling breath. It was like wind through bare branches. I shuddered.

And then, through the gloom, the other two winnows appeared, dragging a body between them.

“Keith,” Warren gasped and lurched forward to catch him before the creatures could drop him. In contrast to Warren they were even taller and stranger. I have no idea how I ever mistook them for people.

“War?” Keith said. I caught his big, goofy smile in my flashlight beam. “Shit man, I’ve been having the strangest dreams.”

Warren managed a strangled laughed and hugged Keith hard. “Come on man, let’s get you out of here.” Keith was a bit wobbly on his legs, but Warren took most of his weight, and Georgia ducked in to hold onto his other arm.

“I recommend staying here,” Celeste told the winnows. “If you leave, hunters will find you, and they won’t be gentle.” Then she turned and followed the others out.

I hesitated. Just for a moment.

One of them, the middle one, lifted one finger and the end lit up with a soft blue light, like fucking ET. It pointed directly at my head.

It didn’t take a genius to understand what it was getting at. That thing wanted to eat the bad shit in my head. And look, there’s a lot of bad shit in there, okay? It’s not been an easy five months.

Like idk there’s this sort of eternal scream inside my head and usually I don’t really notice it but when I think of Madelyn it gets sort of overwhelming. Like I’ll be having a totally normal day and then I’ll think of how she used to give me shit for eating so many spicy cheetos, or how she used to play with the scar in her lip and all of a sudden my head is full of this horrible screaming and I’d really like for that to go away.

So yeah I was tempted. Like I’d like to be able to scroll through tumblr without my brain shrieking every time I see a meme I want to send to her but can’t.

But I didn’t go through with it. I heckin ran out of there. I’ll stick with my boring therapy for a while longer before resorting to paranormal SSRIs.

Anyways, that’s that. We walked home in the dark. Warren helped Keith deal with his blood sugar, and then he was totally good. Better than good. He was like… super positive? And like cheerful? Idk it was bizarre.

Then we piled back into Celeste’s car and she took us home. Apparently she’s leaving Iphigenia and Sophie at the Circem street house with Feather Dog. So I mean, it’s cool that we’re getting our own witches. It would be cool if they were like… adults. But apparently the girls are who they could spare so… (shrug emoji). I don’t know we’ll see. At least we’re not flying totally blind here. At least Keith’s back and everyone from the party is okay.

And okay I admit it — it was kinda cool to go save Keith.

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