CHAPTER ONE: THE OPPOSITE OF SUBTLE
A thundering roar split the sky, calling down the fury of the north wind from the heavens, sending a curse upon the land for years to come.
I sat at the top of the stairs, listening to the four adults talking down in the living room. As much as my parents had always welcomed visits from Uncle Timothy and Aunt Marlene, that didn’t seem to extend to this particular trip.
“I don’t want him in that kind of danger,” said my dad. From where I sat, I could just barely see the back of my dad’s black-and-gray hair. He was a big man, and his years in the family business – exactly the kind of danger he didn’t want me to be in – had left him with several scars.
“Which is why we’re taking on something easy,” said Uncle Timothy. I couldn’t see Uncle Timothy or Aunt Marlene’s faces. “He’ll be fine,” my uncle continued, “There are some missing animals and some weird energy spikes. That’s all.”
I grinned, and there was a nudge in my side. I turned and saw the two figures sitting behind me on the landing. My cousins, Stephanie and Blake, were twins. They both had pale blue eyes – a trait I shared – and golden hair – a trait I didn’t. They both had the same mischievous grins, smooth features, and the musculatures of Olympic athletes.
Stephanie, who had nudged me, gave me a big smile and whispered, “You’re dad’s going to come around, don’t worry.”
“Our parents are really good at this,” Blake added. While Stephanie sat upright, leaning forward in eagerness, Blake had elected to stretch out on the floor, his eyes closed and the corners of his mouth turned upwards.
“They made flow charts on how to get your mom and dad to come around,” said Stephanie.
I shook my head slowly in mock sorrow. “Poor saps won’t know what hit ’em.”
“I left because I didn’t want to put my wife and son in danger,” I heard my dad saying. I winced, recognizing his tone of voice. This may not be as easy as we had hoped. “I’m not about to – ”
My mom’s voice, gentle though it was, stopped my dad mid-sentence. “Would Jeremy be taught to defend himself?”
I blinked, my mouth falling open. The living room was silent. I glanced back at my cousins. Stephanie stared with wide eyes, and even Blake had opened his eyes to raise an eyebrow. We were all thinking it: my mother was the reason that my dad had quit – she hated the family business.
“Yes,” said Aunt Marlene, as succinct as ever. “Masterfully.”
My dad heaved a deep sigh. “And how many people would be there with you?”
“Our kids and six fully-fledged hunters,” said Aunt Marlene.
“Big squad for such a small problem,” said my dad. His voice was sour, but resigned. I started smiling again.
“We don’t take risks with teenagers anymore,” said Uncle Timothy, “Besides, we’re just going to Missouri. Nothing major’s happened there for decades.”
My dad snorted, and the house fell silent again. In my head, I started mapping out every possible approach I could take to convince my dad to let me go, just in case they got him close to consenting, but couldn’t push him over the edge. And just in case they couldn’t even get him close, I started thinking of all the ways I could sneak out. I like to think that train of thought was a sign I had the right mindset for the job.
“This is a war, John,” said Aunt Marlene. “It’s our war for now, but it will be theirs soon.”
“I still don’t like it,” my dad grumbled.
“I think we should let Jeremy decide,” said my mom quietly.
When my father spoke, a lot of the irritation had drained out of his voice. He just sounded tired. “And explain the whole hunting thing to him?”
“He’s known for years, honey,” said my mom in the verbal equivalent of an eye-roll. “Besides, all three of the kids are listening at the top of the stairs.”
My dad turned around and looked straight at me. I held a blank expression and returned his gaze for a moment, not breaking it as I slowly backed out of his line of sight.
“Nice try, kid,” said my dad.
“If you’re allowed to be this obvious, then so am I,” I retorted, “You guys are not as subtle as you think you are. Like, at all. You’re the opposite of subtle. Besides, remember my math teacher in the seventh grade?”
“What about her?” my dad asked.
“She was kind of the most obvious werewolf ever,” I snickered.
“What?” said Blake, sitting up fully and staring at me. “You had a werewolf teacher?”
“Cool,” Stephanie breathed.
“Dang right,” I said, “Not to mention the gorgon – ”
“Yeah, that’s probably enough, honey,” I heard my mom say. I looked down and blinked. She’d moved to the bottom of the stairs more silently than should have been possible in our old, creaky house. She grinned up at me. I’d inherited my brown hair from her, and despite the fact that she wasn’t a monster hunter like the rest of the family, she had the same powerful physique, and even more graceful movements. “Your dad and I will talk it out,” then she lowered her voice to whisper conspiratorially, “But we both know you’d just sneak out if we said no, so don’t worry.”
I may have cheered. Just a bit.