This is going to sound crazy, but I’m only half human.
Shocking, right? It was for me when I first found out. Before that horrible night, I was just an average high school girl. My biggest worries were the kind most teenagers have, like surviving the first week of sophomore year or making new friends.
I stood by my locker, glancing down the hall toward a trio of girls. How was it that no matter what outfits they threw together, they always looked cool? I frowned down at my own clothing. Pink tee shirt—a little faded and definitely nothing fancy. Jeans with holes in the knees, not by choice—all my jeans were like that. The start of a new school year was a good enough reason to make some new friends. But seeing how much better those girls were dressed, I wasn’t so sure. Still, I put on a friendly smile and approached.
“Hey,” I said. “I heard you guys were going to the movies tonight. Mind if I come too?”
Their conversation stopped as the three girls turned to me. I tried not to flinch as they scrutinized my thrift store outfit.
Finally, their leader spoke. “Sorry, Lesley. We’ve already reserved our seats. It would be kind of a hassle to squeeze you in last minute. You know how it is.”
My smile faded. “Oh. Maybe some other time, then.” I turned and trudged away.
Behind me, one of the other girls snickered. “Maybe if her deadbeat dad was still around, poor Lesley could afford some real clothes.”
I meandered through the crowd of students, back to where my friend Phyllis was waiting. Her forehead was dotted with acne despite the pimple cream she used, and her hair seemed even more frizzy than usual.
“Rejected?” she asked.
“Rejected,” I muttered.
Phyllis tilted her head. “I still don’t get why you suddenly want to be friends with them. You’ve got, like, nothing in common.”
I sighed. “I’m sick of being just some loser. Maybe that would change if I were friends with someone cool.”
She offered a smile. “At least you have another loser for company.”
“You say that like it’s a good thing.”
Phyllis gasped, pretending to be offended, before we both burst into laughter. “I know what will cheer you up. We should stop at Mrs. McKee’s after school. She’ll probably have cookies.”
“Hmm, I don’t know. My mom doesn’t want me visiting her anymore.” But the draw of Mrs. McKee’s fresh-baked cookies was hard to resist.
The bell rang, and students poured out through the school’s front entrance. Side by side, Phyllis and I strode along the sidewalk through the neighborhood.
Phyllis sighed. “I can’t believe we had to do an algebra quiz today. It’s still just the first week of school!”
“Right?” I said. “I’m having a quiz in history class tomorrow, and—” I stopped and pointed along the sidewalk. “Is that Mrs. McKee’s pet ferret?”
A small furry head was peeking around the corner of a house. When he saw me, the white-furred animal came running and huddled against my shins. “Aw, did you get lost?” I scooped him up in my arms. “I guess we’re going to Mrs. McKee’s house after all.”
We headed down the street, and Phyllis knocked on the door of a small cottage. A wrinkled face peered out at us. “Phyllis, Lesley, hello,” Mrs. McKee said. “Oh, you found Snowball! Thank goodness. Come in, please, come in.”
Doilies and knick-knacks decorated the living room, and the wonderful smell of cookies baking wafted in from the kitchen. I set Snowball down, and the ferret ran to Mrs. McKee, pawing at her knees. “There you are, you little rascal,” the white-haired woman said. “I wondered where you’d gotten to.” She winked at him.
I scrunched my brow. Something about the way Mrs. McKee had winked gave me the strangest idea—that she’d actually sent Snowball out on purpose. I shook my head, dismissing the silly notion.
Snowball relaxed, stretching himself out on the floor. Mrs. McKee turned to us. “I was hoping you two would come by today. You especially, Lesley.” She headed into the kitchen.
I followed. “Why me especially?” I asked.
She pulled a tray of cookies from the oven and set them on the counter. “Because,” she said, “I sense a great change is upon you.”
Typical Mrs. McKee. She was a bit eccentric and claimed to be a witch. Phyllis and I usually went along with it, letting her read our palms or cast sheep’s teeth like dice to tell our fortunes. “Oh, uh, that’s cool,” I said politely.
“Aren’t you curious to know more about this change?” the old woman asked.
Not really, I thought. “Um, sure.”
She beckoned me to take a seat at the kitchen table and spread a deck of cards in front of me. They weren’t playing cards but tarot cards, each illustrated with a different scene. The imagery was straight out of fairy tales, depicting knights and kings, swords and chalices, dragons and monsters. Mrs. McKee sat across from me and gathered the cards into a neat stack. “These cards can reveal truths about you and perhaps tell us about this coming change.” She looked me in the eye. “Do you want to know your truth, Lesley?”
I hadn’t noticed him climb up, but Snowball was perched on the woman’s shoulder. The ferret watched me with a look just as intense as Mrs. McKee’s. A weird chill crept through me. “My truth? Uh, yeah, I guess.”
She drew a card from the top of the deck and laid it in front of me. Mrs. McKee grinned as she looked at the card. “Ha! I thought so. Your mother is a witch like me. That’s why she didn’t want you coming here—because she doesn’t want you to find out.” She winked. “But you didn’t hear it from me.”
My mom wasn’t a witch—at least, I didn’t think she was. Of course, I wouldn’t know if she secretly did witchy things like reading palms or consulting tarot cards, but I was pretty sure she didn’t. I was too weirded out to say anything, though, so just I watched as Mrs. McKee drew another card and laid it next to the first.
“Ah, yes,” she said, nodding gravely. “Your mother is about to return to Misty Hollow, and you will go with her. Perhaps this is the change I sense.”
My jaw dropped. “Misty Hollow! How do you know about that?”
She laughed. “Believe me now, do you? And you thought I was just some batty old woman.”
Slowly, I shook my head. “I-I must have mentioned my mom’s stories to you before. That’s how you know about Misty Hollow.”
“Rationalize it however you like, dearie. But sooner or later you’ll have to accept that the world is different from what you thought.” Mrs. McKee paused. “Oh, and when you leave, could you not mention any of this to Phyllis? I cast a spell on her to keep our conversation private, and I’d like it to stay that way.”
Glancing around, I realized Phyllis wasn’t in the kitchen with me. “What? Where’s Phyllis?”
“She’s perfectly comfortable, I assure you. Eating a few cookies, I’d bet. Now, where were we?” Mrs. McKee drew a third card.
She paused, her eyes widening as she peered at the last tarot card. Snowball squeaked and scurried away. “What is this?” Mrs. McKee murmured. “Lesley, you used to have nightmares about demons?”
I almost fell out of my chair. “No… there’s no way you could know about my nightmares. I’ve never told anyone except my mother.”
“As I said, the cards reveal truths. But why is the deck showing me that you—” She looked at me. “Oh, of course. Now it all makes sense. That’s why your father is never around.” Mrs. McKee narrowed her eyes. “Lesley, I must ask you to leave.”
“What? I don’t understand—”
She pointed a bony finger at the door. “Leave, now!”
I scrambled from my seat and, before I knew it, was through the living room and out the front door. I nearly knocked Phyllis over. “Oh, thank god, there you are!”
She turned to me. “Lesley? Is something wrong?”
“What do you mean ‘is something wrong?’ In the kitchen, Mrs. McKee said—”
“What are you talking about? We were with Mrs. McKee in her living room, eating cookies the whole time.”
* * *
I felt awkward trying to convince Phyllis that something strange had happened at Mrs. McKee’s house, so I gave up. And I never got a chance to take that history test because the very next day, I came down with a terrible fever.
My room was dark except for the sunset glow seeping through the window blinds. My bedsheets lay rumpled around me, and sweat beaded on my forehead. A knock sounded on the door.
“Lesley?” my mother called.
“Mmf…” I groaned.
My mom came in, carrying a steaming mug. Rugby, a black-and-white border collie, trotted in after her. The dog hopped onto the bed, licking my face sympathetically. I reached up to scratch between his ears.
My mother held out the mug. “I brought you some more tea, sweetie.”
I wrinkled my nose. She’d been giving me tea all day—she claimed it was some kind of herbal remedy. No amount of arguing had convinced her to give me real medicine. With a sigh, I propped myself up and took the mug in my hands. The hint of honey and cinnamon did nothing to hide the bitterness of whatever else she’d put in the concoction. Holding my nose, I drank it.
I set the mug aside. “Mom, can’t you just take me to the doctor?”
For a long moment, she was silent. “I’m sure you’ll feel better by tomorrow,” my mother said. “How is that rash on your back doing?”
I rolled over, allowing my mom to pull aside the straps of my tank top. “It still itches, and I think it’s spreading.”
“Oh, it doesn’t look so bad.” The hesitation in her voice told me she was lying.
“Are you sure it’s not getting worse?” I rolled back over and reached up to scratch an itch on my forehead. “Mom, seriously, why don’t we just go to the doctor—”
She caught my wrist, pulling my hand away from my brow. For an instant, fear flashed in her eyes.
My mother let go of my wrist. “You’re right, Lesley. If you’re not feeling better by tomorrow, I’ll take you to the doctor.” She took the empty mug and headed to the door. Rugby followed at her side, whimpering up at her. “Goodnight, sweetie,” my mom said, closing the door behind her.
I lay back down but didn’t close my eyes. I couldn’t stop thinking about the frightened look that had crossed my mother’s face.
* * *
That night, I dreamed of demons. It was the same nightmare as from when I was little—the nightmare I’d never told anyone about except my mom. In the dream, demons surrounded me. Their hair was oily and matted, their skin red and slick with slime. Horns jutted from their brows, and their eyes burned with fire. The demons jeered and cackled as they grasped me with cold, clammy hands, their claws pricking my skin. I struggled against them, crying and screaming for my mother, but the demons wouldn’t let go.
I gasped, opening my eyes. “Just a dream,” I told myself. “It was just a dream.” I’d thrown off my bedsheets, and my pajamas were soaked with sweat. My forehead itched like crazy, and the rash on my back felt like it was on fire. I sat up, reaching around to rub my back, and shuddered. The skin between my shoulders was covered in blisters. I pulled my hand away, hoping the warm, sticky feeling on my fingertips was just sweat and not blood. With my other hand, I reached up to scratch my itching forehead.
I felt something there and screamed. I leaped out of bed, dashing down the hall to the bathroom. I flicked on the light and screamed again when I saw my face in the mirror—saw the blood trickling from my blistered brow, saw what was emerging.
“I’m still dreaming,” I told myself. “I have to still be dreaming!”
But it didn’t feel like a dream this time.
My mom burst into the room. “Lesley?” Her eyes went wide. “No!”
The burning across my back turned to sharp, stabbing pain. I peered over my shoulder into the mirror. Between my tank top straps, the blisters on my back were bulging. A jab of pain sent me to my knees. “Mom, it hurts! It hurts!”
My mother dashed back into the hall and returned carrying a pouch. She set the bag down on the counter and dug through it. “It’ll be okay, sweetie,” she said. But her voice was shaking.
Inside the pouch was a collection of mismatched jars, bottles, and vials filled with powders and liquids. My mom filled a brass bowl with water and sprinkled in the contents of one vial, then another. I hugged myself, holding in another scream as pain clawed at my back. “Mom, what are you doing?”
“I’ll explain later.” She reached into the pouch and took out a polished wooden rod—what looked for all the world like a magic wand. She recited something as she waved the wand over the bowl, and I jumped as the water started boiling. Wisps of steam rose, filling my nostrils with a soothing smell. “Breathe it in,” my mother said. “It will numb the pain.”
I gasped in the strange vapors, and the pain across my back subsided. I looked in the mirror again. “No, this has to be a dream.” I pinched myself on the arm. “Wake up!”
My mom took my hands in hers, tears glistening in her eyes. “You’re not dreaming, sweetie.”
I hissed as pain jabbed at my back. “Mom, please! What’s going on?”
“Do you remember the stories I told you when you were younger, about Misty Hollow?”
I blinked. “But those were just fairy tales.”
She shook her head. “No, Lesley. They were true. The fae are real, and… and Lesley, you are…” She bit her lip. “I should have prepared you more for this. But I thought I could prevent the transformation. I thought you’d never have to know.”
“Mom, please! What’s happening to me?”
She hesitated. “Lesley, your father, he… he was a demon.”
My eyes widened, and I stumbled back as the pain returned. I screamed in horror at my reflection in the mirror as something sprouted through my blistered skin, reaching out from between my shoulder blades.