Touch the Moon
That was the most that my little brother had said to me since he'd left me passed out in the cabin almost three weeks ago.
“Pop's dead,” was my only reply. “The dead stay dead.”
“He's been seen around town, Dez.”
“You know I don't believe in ghosts, Kenai.”
Vampires, werewolves, mermaids, genies, fairies. Yeah, those existed. Ghosts did not.
“Ravenwhite saw him too.”
“You expect me to believe a thing that seal says after he walked off the mine? You gonna tell me Caleb Cayce saw Pops, too? He’s a lying fish. Maybe they saw our uncles, too.”
It was my fault the seal was back in Alaska at all. The plan was all laid out. Have one of the best people—creatures, really—in Alaska turn around our failing gold mine. My siblings and my kid had no clue how close we had come to losing the houses and the businesses when I’d approached the seal. Hell, I’d never even told Ravenwhite. I just didn’t see another way out. So, I made a deal with him that he really couldn’t refuse. One season and out. Get me a million dollars in gold out of the ground and we’d talk about a second season. Double it, and I’d give him a quarter of the profits on top of his share.
I never expected my sister to drive up to the mine. She hadn’t been there in the last four years. I should have told her I’d take the parts to the mine when I’d gotten back from the lower forty-eight states. The fact that she and the seal were even back together was my fault.
I heard my little brother growl in frustration on the other end of the line.
“That better be one of the dogs,” I snapped. I wasn't up for his shenanigans.
“Ya know what, Dez? Fuck off.” The phone went dead.
My phone landed on the heavy wooden table and bounced a few feet away. I scrubbed my hands through my hair that was badly in need of a trim. My two siblings would be the death of me. That was if an Other didn't get me first.
I'd almost lost my family a few weeks ago to a loup garou. I'd gotten pissed off that the seal was with my sister, and sent them right in to its path. I’d anticipated the seal bolting since he’d been marked as the next target from the scratches on his trailer. He’d never made the connection and my calculated risk was wrong. I'd forgotten how persistent he and his twin sister could be. Koda had listened to my orders without question. He'd gone with her like a puppy, and the loup garou followed.
I chased after them as soon as I had gotten back to town when Connor told me that the seal hadn't left like I’d anticipated.
A broken nose and a torn ligament in my already bad knee was my sister’s retribution for trying to kill the seal. Two weeks later, I had a seal for a brother-in-law. Well, not an actual seal. He is a Fae. A Selkie. He is still a shifter; still an Other. Koda had invited me to their quickie wedding at her bar. I'd declined to attend, but I sent a present. I thought it was the least I could do.
I sneezed as the dust caught the light streaming through the windows of the old Hayes house. The pain that shot across my cheeks was still enough to make my eyes water. It still pissed me off she'd broken my nose, yet a tiny part of me was proud of her. Koda had used the techniques I'd spent so long practicing with her in our father's absence. I just wish it hadn’t been against me. I should have gone to the clinic and had my nose set. Rhen had broken again two weeks later when my wedding gift didn’t go over so well. But, like everything else, I didn't do what I should have done. It would just be another reminder of a miscalculation I had made.
My phone lit up where it laid on the table. I recognized the number as that of the realtor for the place. I let the message go to voicemail. There wasn't much they could tell me that I didn't already know. My holding company for the mine was buying the house outright, so I wasn't worried about mortgage funding. The realtor was probably hoping I'd slide him a bonus for making things go smoothly. He could keep hoping. Hell, I'd even paid for the current owner’s plane ticket up to Alaska so they could take anything they wanted from the house. I'd told them as part of the sales agreement that I’d take care of cleaning up anything they didn't want.
I wasn't willing to let Minnie’s place get bought by a developer. I'd spent a lot of my life there. So had my kid. I wanted to turn it into a bed and breakfast. I couldn’t hunt Others forever.
The voicemail flashed. I ignored it. I didn't know how to retrieve the message anyway. Connor would check it for me later. The current owner would be in that afternoon. It was the last chance I had to clear out all the weapons that I'd stashed there over my entire adolescence and adulthood.
“Hey! Down!” I barked at the red and white husky pup whom had made its way on to the other end of the table.
The pup cocked its head at me. He did that when he debated if he should listen. I snapped my fingers and pointed to the floor.
“Down. No sass.”
My dog yipped at me, but hopped down off the table.
Zom was a handful. Just like everything else in my life. I’d started taking Zom on hunts shortly after he’d pulled his Houdini act at three months. The pup had opened his crate from the inside and left his siblings still caged. I’d come home to find him on top of the crate, teasing his siblings inside.
I made my way around the house, my dog at my heels, collecting the guns and knives Minnie had allowed me stash to there. Some she allowed; some she didn't actually know about. Memories came flooding back in bits and pieces as I moved through the rooms.
That house had been my second home. Minnie’s grandson, Brian, had been my best friend. We'd done many crazy things there. Why she let us host the parties she did still escaped me. If the house could talk, it would tell me things about my younger self that I hoped would stay buried.
I cleared the weapons from the first floor and moved to the second. The old photos that lined the staircase made me pause like they always did. There were more pictures of my ancestors on the walls then there had ever been at my grandfather's house. For nearly one hundred years, our families had been intertwined.
The Hayes family had migrated to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush. Grant Hayes had been a doctor somewhere in the south of Georgia after the Civil War. He wanted something better for his family so he’d packed them up and come here. Problem was: he wasn’t as skilled at removing gold from the ground as he was removing limbs.
When Grant opened his practice in town after failing as a miner, my family became his most frequent patrons. For the last century, our families had a symbiotic relationship. We kept people safe, and the Hayes kept us patched up. The faces on the walls were the proof of that. We wouldn’t have survived without them. And I wasn’t about to let the house fall in to someone else’s hands. It had seen too much. It deserved better than that.
When I paid my respects to the family in the yellowed photos, I made my way to the room I always stayed in. I'd long ago modified the headboard of the bed to be a secret compartment for a shotgun. Minnie hadn't been the happiest with me when she realized what I was doing, but she'd understood why.
I fought with the jammed secret door, rattling and shoving the wood. Pop's journal fell on to the pillow beside where I sat. I'd forgotten I'd stashed it there. I hadn’t wanted Kenai and Koda to worry themselves with the things he had written.
The moment I placed my hand on the worn leather cover, my heart started to pound. That was one of the few things I had that connected me directly to my father. With his disappearance, his knife had gone with him. I hadn't even had that to carry with me as a reminder.
I absently traced the embossed five-point star on its cover. It had felt like an invasion of privacy to open the cover when he was just missing, but I'd done it anyway. Now there was no denying he was gone. In a few days, he’d be gone ten years.
Pops had written a few lines every day. If something was special, he'd go in to greater detail. I'd read a few of the longer entries the first time I'd touched the journal. It had been a mistake. Reading his words had brought the memories rushing back. For most of those entries, I was the only person alive that had any knowledge of them. It left me feeling alone and wanting to grip tighter to my family and keep anything bad from happening to them.
One of the entries that had hit me the hardest was my father writing about my mother. I flipped through the pages to find the entry. My hand shook so bad I missed it the first time.
September 17 - When she turned around, I’d forgotten how to speak. I was a little taken aback as she looked me over with a raised eyebrow. Then that smile. That smile that reached those sky blue eyes. “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.” I should have known the quote, but I was so star struck she had to tell me it was Shakespeare, her favorite poet. She told me I’m taking her fishing next tomorrow and I wasn't allowed to tell her no.
September 18 - She pushed me out of the boat. I pretended to not be able to swim. When she reached over to help me, I pulled her in. Stole a kiss, too. Not even 24 hours and I am completely taken by this girl. Gram always said things could change in a day. I never believed her until today.
It was the first time they met. They were sixteen, and everything changed in one day for them. Within a year, I was born. I remembered them as loving and playful as my father described them in his entries. But even that magic had been ripped away from them. It was torture to read later entries. Nothing is promised in life.
My husky jumped up on the bed before I could lose myself in thought. Zom had some chunk of plastic in his mouth. He dropped it in my outstretched hand, and I realized it was my cell phone, a bit worse for the wear. It must have rang downstairs. I ruffled his fur and checked the blinking light. It wasn't the voicemail that time. It was a text. I could answer a text.
Need you at the office. Noon. Werewolf. ~ K
Could they not just do one hunt without me being involved? Just once. Meeting my siblings at noon gave me an hour to do the rest of what I needed to at the house and head over to the office. Hunting Others waited for no man. I took a few deep breaths and tried to remember where I had stashed the most incriminating weapons in the house through the years. I wasn’t going to have time to get them all out before the current owner got there to poke around.
A little over an hour later, Zom scratched at the back door. He was right; it was time to go. I’d make my siblings wait a bit longer once I got to the office, but I needed to get out of the house. I didn’t want to see who from Minnie’s family had the pleasure of going through the house and deciding what was worthy of keeping and what wasn’t. Especially when whomever it was had never been to Alaska in the last fifteen years.
My dog bounded out the open back door with a growling bark. I whistled after him and he stopped in his tracks, growling at the front of my truck.
“Was almost tired of waiting for you, Valerie.”
I knew that rough voice. Only one person ever called me that.
The damn fish stood there in jeans and a hoodie. I did envy the shifters their ability to weather the Alaskan cold. I’d concede that. I gave my dog the signal to stay at my side, but I heard Zom’s slight growl. He didn’t like the fish either.
“Go away, Caleb,” I snapped, my breath hanging in the cold air. I took the few stairs down the back porch too fast for my bad knee. The cheap shot Koda had taken on me was going to take more time to heal than I wanted. Wearing a brace was out of the question. Especially anything with metal in the cold. I gritted my teeth against the pain, and the words came out as a growl. “I don’t have time for you.”
“I'm on my way out. Promise. I’ve got a drinking date with who’s left of my mining crew. Thought I’d stop by on my way to Broken Tusk and check if you were here. I wanted to congratulate you.”
I adjusted the duffle bag over my shoulder. “For what?”
“Never thought we’d have something in common, Val.” His smirk at my sharp words annoyed me. “You don’t like the seal any more than I do, do you?”
So that was what he was talking about.
“Don’t act like you don’t know I’m not a hunter, fish. I don’t care much for you either. Your gills are healing nicely. You ever catch who did that?”
He shrugged, those blue eyes of his glittering. Someone had braided his blond mohawk recently. There were bits of gold and ruby in that tangled mess that sparkled in the sun.
“No, but only because I didn’t feel like going after them. I’ve had worse. But I also have good news for you.”
“How could a fish possibly have good news for me?”
There was that damn grin of his that made the local girls crawl on to his lap in the off season. How Koda had ever fallen for it, I don’t know.
“I'm taking the Selkie off your hands next season.”
That stopped me in my tracks. My shoulders tensed as the web began to weave in my head of the impact it would have if Rhen left the mine next season.
“He’s coming over to Big Mount.” I heard the smugness in his voice. He might not like the seal either, but he sure was happy about screwing me over for some reason.
“I don’t know why you expect me to believe that.” I fumbled with the keys for the truck, trying to put his words out of my head. I had assumed since the seal was firmly attached to Koda’s hip, he wouldn’t think of leaving the mine. He had as much at stake in the family as I did.
He wouldn’t leave, would he? If he left, we’d have to start all over, find someone else, and that meant we'd probably lose everything for sure.
“You should talk to him about it. You'd be interested in what he has to say.”
I tried to ignore Caleb as I opened the rear door on my king cab truck to stash the bag of weapons. It was nearly eight months until the start of mining season, we’d just barely finished the last one, but he was putting seeds of doubt in my mind. Ones that he knew would take root and tangle me up until I either went under or figured out a plan.
“Fine. Don’t say anything.” He pushed off the truck, the gold sparkling in his hair. “The boys tell you anything about the loup garou?”
I slammed the door to my truck and turned to square off against him. He was only a few inches shorter than me—maybe five-foot-eleven at most. He looked mid-twenties, but that was that Fae blood for you. Koda had mentioned once in passing that the merman was a nearing on four centuries old.
“You’re expecting me to take the bait for something here, Caleb. I’m not sure I like it. I know you helped them, and not just with the loup garou.”
I knew the basics of what happened. He’d had helped the Selkie and my brother save Koda from being eaten by that thing. What the sea creatures had done with it once they took it over the railing was anyone’s guess.
“No bait to be taken, Val.” I’d heard the lie in his voice. “Just thought you should know that your brother was glowing.”
I knew my face gave me away.
“Oh.” His voice was light with laughter. “So, they didn’t tell you. Have fun with that.”
The merman walked away. I waited until he was around the edge of the Hayes house before I punched the side of my truck. It was pointless, though. The sound of his laugh quickly followed the metallic crunch.