Part 19: The Stepmonster

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I stood in the alley behind the Precinct building for a long time, wondering what to do.  I really wanted Valentine, but he’d flown off somewhere. Nana Spider and her plastic bag companions had shuffled further along, dumpster diving or divining or whatever it is they did with their time.  I’d given Jack a concussion.  At least, Sarah Jane’s friends had rescued me, so not everything was lost.

And Nana told me to talk to my dad.

I fished out my cell, which was, remarkably, still shoved into the front pocket of my cut-offs.  I suppose the agents hadn’t really been too worried that I’d make an unauthorized phone call in the gold-lined, gem-encrusted cell they’d tossed me into.  The gold had put me to sleep, and, anyway, reception was probably crap.

The gold had put me to sleep.  Now that I finally had time to think about it all, that struck me as very… weird.  Then there was Nana Spider telling me that I’d been the one to cause the cops not to see us and that invisibility was a kind of magic that humans didn’t use, but which dragons did.

The fuck? Was I some kind of dragon?

I didn’t think so, because, you know: baby pictures.  Back home, in Chicago, I’d seen the albums full of photographs, the kind they used to print from negatives.  There was the classic naked in the bathtub shot, the zonked out with teddy bear one, and… mom?  Why did I not remember seeing any pictures of my mother?

I leaned my shoulders against the rough brick of the alley wall.

My mother was dead, I knew that—I mean, I feel I could tell anyone who asked about how I’d felt when I’d gotten the news, except… how old was I? Grade school, maybe?

What did she look like?  My dad always said I had her eyes.  But what was her name? Did she have curly hair or straight, was it blond, brunette, black?  I had no clear memory.

You know what this reminded me of?  It reminded me of when I used to try to think back to my first meeting of Valentine.

Holy fucking shit, was my mother a dragon?  Was that even possible?

I’d been staring at the face of my phone this whole time.  Sliding it open, I dialed my father’s number.  My hand shook as I raised the receiver to my ear and listened to the rings.

How the hell did I even ask this question?  Hi, Dad, I know you haven’t heard from me in years, but, hey, was Mom a dragon?

A woman’s voice answered after the third ring.  “You left your cell phone here again, hon. Do you want me to drop it by the library on my way to work?”

The stepmonster.

I’d gone silent in shock.  “Daniel?” she asked.  Then, she must have pulled the cell away from her ear to finally check to see what number was phoning, because her voice hardened with ice when she returned.  “Alexandra.  This is certainly unexpected. To what do we owe this… pleasure?”

Despite the summer heat, cold shivered down my spine.  She terrified me.  I took in a steadying, if shuddering breath, and tried to remind myself that the power she had over me was gone.  I knew now, for a fact, that magic was real.  The things I saw weren’t delusions; there really were fairies and trolls and vampires and golems.

“My friends want to know if you’re an ifrit or one of the Fallen,” I said, as steadily as I could manage—which, admittedly, involved a bit of stuttering and a squeak.

“Ifrit?” She spat, as though I’d insulted her. “Do your new little friends think an ifrit could befuddle and trap a dragon, or did you not tell them of that humiliating experience?”

Okay, so she wasn’t denying any of it.  This was new.  Normally, she’d already have on her lawyer voice and be patiently explained to anyone listening that I was insane, obviously, given the nonsense I was spouting.  “They know about all that. They’re cops,” I said.  “And witches.”

“How nice for you,” she sneered.

Here’s where things got awkward—well, more so, because with a normal person, I’d be able to say something like, “So, how’s Dad?” or ask after the cats or her job or something.  Instead, I just listened to the silence on the other end, wondering what the hell my life was and if Dad was okay.  The worst part of this whole conversation had been how it started. She’d sounded so very… well, like a wife, worrying after an absent-minded husband.  I kind of hated that.  Because then it could be just like Spenser had suggested, and, maybe, she was at least somewhat innocent and just in love with my dad, and that grossed me out beyond repair.

Because, if that were the case, then I might have to learn to get along with her—or worse, I might have to feel guilty that I sicced Valentine on her, nearly killing her.  If she really loved my dad and wasn’t after him for nefarious purposes, then I was kind of evil myself for having assumed she was, and being willing to let Valentine do grievous bodily harm to her.

But, she had tried to put me into a mental hospital, for good, keys thrown away and all.  She’d also kept Valentine away from me with whatever magics she possessed.  So, she wasn’t blameless in this.  In fact, I had a pretty good case going of: ‘she started it.’

It was really cruel to convince a pre-teenager she was insane, and, worse, to turn her father against her.

Especially since magic was real, and, as a demon, my stepmonster knew that full well.

“Why did you do it?” I asked her.  “Why didn’t you just let me be?”  I wanted to say, but couldn't quite: why didn't you just let us be a proper family, the three of us?

There was a little huff of a laugh on the other end.  “It’s my nature.  I am the Destroyer of Worlds.”

With that, she hung up.

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