Alpha

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alpha
ˈalfə/S
noun
denoting the dominant animal or human in a particular group

Marv walked me home. There was no need, as I was far more capable of looking after myself than he was. But he was a few years older and thought it was the responsible thing to do. Plus I was pretty sure he had a thing going for me, though for all his joking about I could tell he wasn't going to make a move. Besides, it was still warm and a pleasant walk, although there was a blustery wind building up, and neither of us really wanted to be alone after seeing the cop pancake.

I thought about inviting him in, then noticed that the living room light was still on, which meant my dad was waiting up for me. Never a good thing. Definitely not something I wanted Marv to experience on a first date. Not ever. Not that it had been a date. You know what I mean.

Here's the thing about my dad: he's an arsehole. That's pretty much all anybody needed to know about him. If you want a bit more, then all that's important is that he works in local government, figures he's pretty important even though they pay him shit, and most nights he gets drunk and slaps my mum about a bit.

Getting home on time like an obedient little girl wasn't top of my priority list.

As Marv walked away, I snuck my key into the lock and turned it as quietly as possible, avoiding the creaky spots on the porch. The music from the club still thrummed in my ears and I could tell that I'd had a bit too much to drink, to the point that I was aware of not being as quiet as I intended but unable to do anything to prevent myself from clattering about. Squamata were thought of as stealthy, or sneaky, but that had never really worked out for me.

"You're late." The voice came from the half-open door to the living room. I could see him sitting in his arm chair, lit only by the side-light and staring through the doorway at me. He'd moved the seat specifically to get that view. Like I said: arsehole.

I took my bag and coat off, hanging them on the banister and abandoning any pretence at quiet.

He came closer, stood in the doorway between the hallway and the living room. "Keep it down," he said, "your mother's trying to sleep." His voice was ash crushed into gravel.

"What do you care?"

"She's your mother. Show her some respect."

I smiled and curtsied, then draw two fingers across my lips. "Quiet as a mouse," I mumbled.

He'd never laid a hand on me. I don't know why he hadn't. Maybe he saved it all up for her. It still felt like talking to a coiled spring, one which was aching to leap at my throat. That's kinda how the tabloids wrote about squamata, but that didn't even apply to him. He was about as different to me as possible, physically and in all other respects.

The lock on my bedroom door had been removed years ago. Instead, I just jammed a chair under the handle so nobody could come in. It made him mad, but he didn't seem to have the energy to complain these days.

I was tired and it was late (or was that early?), plus I had a seriously great novel I was halfway through reading, so I undressed as fast as I could and brushed my teeth in the tiny corner sink in my room. The walls were lined with movie posters and album cover art. Everything else was book shelves and mix tape holders. It was my little haven.

Our house backed out onto the town's huge cemetery, extending off as far as I could see into the night. There were a few lights dotted along paths, revealing headstones and old trees. Our garden wasn't huge, no more than 10 metres deep, and pretty narrow, leading up to a fence separating it from the graves beyond. I liked it. It meant quiet neighbours.

Because there was literally nobody alive out there I rarely bothered closing my curtains. Waking up to the sun was so much more relaxing than an alarm clock. And at night, looking out at the dark trees and gravestones made it easier to forget everything that was behind me, inside the house.

Tonight, of course, the shed door had come unlocked and was swinging back and forth in the wind, hitting against its frame every few seconds. Having noticed it, I now had to do something about it, if I wanted to get any sleep.

I dragged my heavy, weary body back downstairs and stumbled blearily through the dark house, glad that my dad had already disappeared upstairs. Their room was at the front of the house, so the banging door wouldn't have bothered them. With a heavy sigh I unlocked the back door and stepped out into the ragged mess that was our garden, carpeted with mossy, tufting grass and lined on either side with fences that propped up an assortment of unused gardening implements, rusting bikes and unidentifiable machine innards.

It was a warm night but I tucked my dressing gown around me and shuffled through the garden, barely keeping my eyes open. An owl hooted somewhere in the graveyard beyond the far fence. Something scurried past and disappeared beneath all the accumulated crap. Some of my friends thought it was creepy backing onto a cemetery but I kinda liked it. You knew where you were at with dead people.

As I approached, the shed door swung open again on its rusty hinges, revealing a black hole of a doorway. Once I'd found a fox sniffling about in there, back when I was a kid. Having heard random tabloid stories of foxes creeping into babies' rooms and attacking them, I did what any good squamata would do - I bit it. It was dead before it even reached the fence. That was the first and last time I used my venom on anything living. I was pretty annoyed that the memory had resurfaced, in fact.

Something acrid was in the air. I could taste it. There was something coppery, too, like when you cut your lip and taste blood.

I reached the door and put a steadying hand on it before it banged shut again. As I was gently closing it I perceived a large shape inside, heaped in a corner, unmoving. Freezing, I willed my eyes to adjust faster to the darkness and wrestled whether to run back to the house or investigate further. Or just close the damn door and bolt it shut.

Instead, I peeked in closer.

It was a body, I realised, as I discerned legs. There was something else, though, making the torso hard to figure out. The body still wasn't showing any signs of movement, so I crept a careful step into the shed, leaning down close and flicking my tongue to try to get a better reading.

The coppery taste was blood. I should have recognised it earlier. There was a lot of it in here, splashed across the floor and the wall where the body lay slumped.

Where the shape of the body had been difficult to see I now realised was due to two half-folded, feathered wings, which were probably each five feet across when fully extended. They connected at the shoulder blades, as tended to be the case, with one folded awkwardly across his chest. I traced the blood back up to a gaping hole in the right wing, where the feathers were burnt and caked with dirt. Slowly piecing it together, I figured this guy had been shot while in the air, and had maybe come down in the graveyard.

Sometimes my brain is a bit slow. Not when it comes to thinking of the name of an actor in a movie, or the exact track listing from an obscure album. I could recall that kind of shit straight off the top of my head. But the important stuff? That was often like wading through mud.

That's why it took me far longer than it should have to realise this was who the cops had been after at the club.

Let's face it; there was no way I was getting any sleep tonight.


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