Note: To read the first three chapters, please refer to my BMAC. I’d like to give a huge shout out to everyone who bought coffees recently. You folks are amazing! With that said, this chapter has a few mentions of helpers 😉 and more to come! Without further ado, let’s get back to Idlewild:
“Try not to burn the dragon tongue this time.” Hales sang out from her place next to Ari. It was her first legitimate shift training – and getting more information on the Bog Witch. She had received a few brief messages from her private chat with Mr. M on the Network, but had minimal to work with behind a computer screen. Today was her chance.
“Shut your sauce box, shifter.” A nasally voice called from the fryers. Sebastian was one of the few humans on staff, but his hook nose and vulture-like appearance would have fooled anyone into thinking he was an imposter.
Ari made a mental note to take care of his attitude later.
“Don’t even pay attention to him. Penche ogro.” The three shapeshifters in the morning were sisters Hales and Riles, and their family friend, Omina, who only spoke the Ancient Tongue.
“Stupid… man?” Ari guessed. Hales smirked in amusement, placing a hand on her hip and tilting her head dramatically. In their natural form, the shifters appeared as diverse as humans, but their chromatic skin gave them away. Hales, the older sister, was a bit more voluptuous, as opposed to her athletic sister, both with dark, thick hair and appled cheeks.
“You speak the Tongue?” Her mouth was agape. The Ancient Tongue was ancient for a reason, after all.
“No, I learned a little, but can’t remember most of it.” Ari shrugged.
“Ogro is like…” Hales looked up in thought before making a disgusted face and retching noise. Ari laughed. It had been awhile since anyone could elicit such a response out of her. It felt odd but not unwelcome. Much like the tingling in her stomach and the rush coursing through her blood as she ran from the hellhounds mere nights before. Her fingers twitched with the muscle memory of Cillian’s laced in hers.
“He’s a child. He’ll learn his place someday.” Riles chimed in, carrying a bucket of refrigerated food to place below the line; lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream. Ari looked at Sebastian again as he lifted the deep-fried dragon-tongues out of the fryer. They were coated with a special type of cheese crumble to offset the grainy taste from the meat.
“Maybe sooner than later.” Ari muttered before Hales continued to direct her through the Point of Sales system. It was easy enough to navigate, albeit a little slow for her liking. Hales offered to pretend to order as a customer until Ari was comfortable taking orders. She seemed to take pride in her job but Ari couldn’t understand why. She could be anything, anyone she wanted. But she chose Moody’s? Because of the human’s rules about utilizing her own birthright abilities? It seemed unfair and restricting. Ari knew the humans were only trying to control and demean all of them. Why were these girls playing by their rules?
“Es zie heute Travahe?” Omina spoke, her voice raspy. She was older than the other girls and the shortest employee at Moody’s. So far.
“Neh.” Riles responded.
“She was asking if Kendra would be in today but it’s her day off,” Hales explained, seeing Ari’s confusion. She nodded, going back to exploring the menu.
“Not that she’d come on time anyway.” Riles muttered, carrying the tub back to the dish pit, her sister’s eyes watching her pointedly.
“I take it she’s late a lot.” Ari pretended to be concentrating on the screen while making small talk, something she only ever did to pry out information. In any other instance, small talk was boring and a waste of everyone’s breath. But Ari was hired to do a job, and she was dedicated to earning every single bit.
Hales snorted and cleared her throat in an attempt to cover up, but it was too late. “I don’t know if you’ve ever ate here but you’ll soon find out just how things really are, behind the scenes.” Ari could tell she was holding back seething anger.
“Anything you want to warn me about before I get in trouble… or accidentally spark something?” Her eyes flicked to the human. Hales gasped and Ari shook her head reassuring her. “Please. He’s not worth the Magical Misuse fine or assault charge.” Hales seemed to consider her for a moment.
“With us, the only ones you need to look out for are Kendra, Sebastian, and Greg.” Hales leaned against the metal soda dispenser. “If you give Kendra an opportunity, she’ll blame you for something she did. Sebastian likes to gossip, and so does Greg. He’s an ogre, you can’t miss him.”
Ari remembered Greg, the lost-looking ogre from the day of her interview. “I’ve seen him. Bit of a staring problem.”
“Girl, yes!” Hales whacked her arm. “Every new girl that comes in, he cannot help himself. He’ll probably tell you how single he is. Don’t feel bad for him, there’s a reason he’s single.” She rolled her eyes, crossing her arms. “Oh! Greg is actually one of Flint’s roommates. Flint stays out of gossip, he’s usually chill, but be careful anyway. You never know around here.”
“He manages nights, I thought.” Ari interjected.
“Yeah, but once a week, he opens with us. Other days he might be in at noon or sometime in the afternoon.” Hales tilted her head at Sebastian, who was leaning against the heating cabinet and scrolling through his phone.
“Sebastian, why don’t you clean the lobby. I’m sure Kendra wouldn’t want to hear that you’ve been on your phone with all those trays waiting to be cleaned.” Hales flashed a graceful smile as though she hadn’t just given him a passive aggressive command. Ari wondered how much of an ally Hales could prove to be.
The boy sneered and huffed, shoving his phone in his pocket and stomping to the front of the store. Hales shook her head.
“I try not to be bossy, but these kids make it hard to be nice sometimes. Speaking of night crew, my boyfriend’s sister is dating one of the night manager’s brothers. You’ll see her popping off on our channel on the Network, literally any time I say something. She’s a hater, so don’t let her get to you.”
“Is she a shifter too?” Ari inquired curiously.
“Uh… no. She’s a witch.” Hales cleared her throat. Ari understood what she wasn’t saying. It was bordering on illegal for anyone to date outside of their species. The humans claimed that the results could lead to deformities at the minimum. Ari had met enough hidden mixed Otherkind to know the humans were merely fear-mongering things they didn’t bother to understand.
Ari’s watch buzzed and she looked to see a text from Regan.
Burgers tonight. Our spot.
“I’ll have you enter orders in over the headset today. We should be hitting a rush any second now.” Hales instructed. She was right, within a minute cars had pulled up to the drive-thru. They barreled in over the next three hours, while there was only a trickle of customers dining inside of the store. Ari was relieved to have her focus on only one part of the job.
When the rush died down and Ari restocked the drive-thru station, Hales let her go home. “See you tomorrow?” Ari nodded and said her goodbyes to the crew.
She looked at Omina with a wave, “bis… manyana?” Omina’s eyes widened and her lips spread into a smile, waving at Ari.
On her way home, she passed one of her neighbors leaving. “Ari?!”
“Hey, Bunny.” She was a human in her near 60s, though anyone who saw her would have guessed she was unaware of her old age, for she didn’t shy away from dressing in neon skirts, studded high heels, and wearing bright lipsticks every day.
“You work at Moody’s? Heck, if I knew you were looking for a job, I would have offered one at the diner.” She patted Ari’s cheeks. “Careful on the way up, honey. Hubs is in a throw-y mood.”
They parted and she peeked her head in to see Bunny’s husband, Chuck, indeed throwing scraps of paper and anything else that his feeble arms could lift. Not that it mattered, even if he caused any damage. Ari was certain no one managed the building enough to fix the walls, let alone check for squatters.
After a quick shower, Ari made her way across town to one of the quieter neighborhoods. She climbed up the fire escape until she made it to the roof of a building across from a dance studio and a few two and three story houses.
While she waited, she flipped through channels on The Network. The holographic image of Zimri and Bill hovered above her palm as they interviewed one of their frequent succubus guests on the show. L’Sean had to steer Bill back to the topics every time she appeared on the show, his jaw agape and his eyes wide as she spoke as though she were a Messiah. As Ari switched channels, an Earthling with a devilish goatee and a thick accent appeared on the screen.
“Everyone wants to call me a nutter, but people I’ve known for years keep goin’ missin’. This isn’t our usual conspiracy take on dropbears or giant spiders, folks. Somethin’ more sinister is at work right beneath our very feet, I fear.” He flipped on his tattered cowboy hat and nodded before the screen faded to black, leaving only his name glowing in the warmth of a flickering yellow, Lumis.
Ari checked the time, she still had a few minutes before Regan should have arrived. She flipped through a few more channels before she heard a twanging voice hit her ears.
“Now, Ty, this beer we’re tryin’ today has the body of a minotaur and just as much of a kick.” The channel looked like it was being filmed on the outskirts of the city where the houses were made of wood and weeds sprouted from every crack in the floorboards. The two men on the screen were sitting on the front porch of a house with a red label six pack of beer between them.
“Hang on a tick. You see this?” Ty’s phone started buzzing with notifications. He flipped it towards the camera to show a news article regarding the Earthling signing off post-ominous warning. News in Idlewild traveled fast as long as it was the type of news that didn’t matter, it seemed. There was no mention of the missing people, just the Earthling’s message. She rolled her eyes at the waste of time.
“How the hell did you get here before me?” Ari didn’t have to turn around to hear the fluttering of Regan’s wings and the frown in her voice.
“Would you believe me if I said I hopped the back of a dragon?” She craned her neck as Regan made her way to the ledge, placing a bag of food between them. The scent of grease and regret filled Ari’s nostrils.
As Regan separated the food, no cheese for her, double for Ari, she vented about a customer she had today, who deigned to question the integrity of her fabrics. “Like, babe, if you wanted something cheap, you could have looked in your own closet.” She made an unpleasant, frustrated noise before tearing into her Burger.
They ate in silence for a while, watching the graceful elves at the dance studio move rhythmically in perfect congruence. Her gaze moved to the apartment above the studio where an old couple was slow dancing together, as though the world outside of their walls wasn’t filled with despair and disappointment.
“I miss sex.” Ari choked on her Burger, her eyes bulging at Regan’s blunt outburst. The fairy shrugged. “What? It’s been awhile.”
“They’ve got apps for that now.” She responded, taking a chunk out of her cheesy burger.
“Yeah, but… to have someone who knows what you like, you know?” A forlorn shadow cast over Regan’s usually rosy pallor. “Ugh, why are we even single? We’re so hot.”
“I think we agreed about 150 years ago that my taste is garbage.” Ari reminded her best friend. Regan chuckled.
“You mean, demon boy?”
Ari groaned at the reminder. Erik the Incubus was a bad judgment call she made when she was bored and needed a release… repeatedly. She struggled to escape him as he liked to appear every decade or so, solely to torment her.
“One of many examples.” Ari shook her head, reliving the many times she should have lit his perfectly coiffed hair with her fire magic, instead of falling into bed with him again, fanning a very different type of flame.
“Well, in that case, you might want to stay low for a while.” Regan murmured.
Ari turned her head, the french fry that was on its way to her mouth now tumbling to the ground below them. “No.”
Regan bit her lip. “I saw him the other day. Why is he so hot?”
She sighed. Ari shook her head, wishing she could also shake all of the memories from her head. The last thing she needed was to run into Erik, especially with a very different face haunting her dreams recently. A face belonging to a mysterious and frustrating human. She wasn’t sure which she hated more.