The rumbling grew louder. Cat looked around for the source. She could feel the tension radiating from Gran. The Were-Mayor was nowhere to be seen anymore, but she had the sinking feeling that she and Gran weren’t alone in the woods.
A large, silver monster stepped into the clearing. It was larger than Mayor Werewolf, Cat noted, and looked much less friendly. It bared its teeth as it growled, low and steady like thunder in the distance.
“Well, now,” Gran said lightly, sounding like she was greeting an old friend at the store. “Here’s a sight I didn’t expect to see.”
The werewolf curled its lip, almost like it was taunting Gran.
“You’ve gone grayer,” Gran continued. “But I suppose I have too since we last met. How long has it been? Three decades? Four?”
It tilted its head at her. Cat was really glad it wasn’t responding to her. That would’ve just been a little more creepy, in her opinion.
“It must have been at least three,” Gran said. “Which is a lot shorter than the lifetime banishment I gave you, no?”
It panted, almost like it was chuckling.
“I’m pretty sure,” Gran said, her voice sounding steely. “Now, correct me if I’m wrong. Age messes with the mind, you know. But I could have sworn I told you if I ever saw you in this realm again I would skin you alive and use your coat as a doormat.”
It curled up its lip. Gran lifted her sword with a humorless smile.
“Well, my old mat was starting to get ratty anyway,” she said.
With speed Cat didn’t know an old lady could have, Gran rushed forward. It must’ve taken the werewolf by surprise, too. It barely leapt out of the way of her blade. It snapped at her, and Cat could hear the force of its jaws.
She should help Gran, she thought. Her body seemed more inclined to run behind the trunk of the tree and look on.
Gran didn’t look like she needed the help, though. She moved like a woman half her age, swinging her sword around with ease. The blade licked the werewolf on its flank, its leg, and once across the cheek. The werewolf didn’t seem to like that.
With a howl of pain, it snapped at Gran. She dodged it. It stood on its hind legs and grabbed her with the swipe of a paw, tossing her into the air.
Gran flew into a tree. Cat could see the rips in Gran’s clothes, already dripping red, where the werewolf grabbed her. She held onto her sword and looked… well, ticked off more than anything.
She stood her ground as the werewolf swung its paw at her again. With a flash of silver, her sword dug straight into the great paw of the werewolf. It howled and smacked her in the head, sending her to the ground in a heap. Then, it rushed away, disappearing with the snapping of branches.
Cat shakily rose from behind the tree trunk.
Gran stirred with a moan, using her sword to push herself up. She had blood all over her face, a mix—Cat guessed—of her blood and the werewolf’s. Her side was bleeding profusely. Cat stumbled towards her. Gran pushed her sword into the ground, and it returned to being a cane.
“The blood’ll wash off,” she said, hobbling towards Cat with a weary smile.
Cat reached out to take Gran’s glasses. They were cracked and caked with dirt and blood. She tried cleaning it off with her shirt.
“Don’t worry about those,” Gran mumbled. “I can get on fine without ‘em.”
She took the glasses from Cat. Cat noticed how shaky her hands were.
“I’m fine,” Gran said, glaring at Cat, like she was daring her to contradict her.
She turned to walk away and stumbled. Cat caught her just before she fell. Gran put a finger to her side and examined the blood.
“Hmmm, that’s interesting,” she said.
Then she collapsed.
Cat carried Gran home and set her on the couch. She hoped Gran wasn’t too attached to the dish towels. She soaked some of them in water and began dabbing off the blood from Gran’s face, while using the rest to put pressure on the large wound on Gran’s side. She wondered if she should call an ambulance… but how was she supposed to explain this?
Gran began stirring after a few minutes. She groaned and reached into the front pocket of her overalls, pulling out a small ring of keys.
“Silver key,” she murmured. “Next door to you. Green vial.”
Cat took the keys and rushed off. Her hands shook a little as she approached the doorway, unsure what to expect. She could be fairly confident now that it wasn’t art supplies behind those locked doors. Gran groaned in the distance, and Cat hurriedly swung open the door.
It looked like an office for a wizard in ancient times, if Cat had to describe it. Vials, bottles, bookshelves, dusty scrolls and books on wooden tables… All that was missing was a bubbling cauldron and a pointy wizard’s hat, she thought.
There was a large black cauldron in the corner, but it looked as untouched as the bookshelf next to it. Cat glanced at the table. There were vials with liquids in every color imaginable. Like, every color. She saw sparkly pink, black and white marble, and something that looked like slime.
There were too many green vials.
“Gran?” she called out. “Which vial?”
There was no answer. Cat picked up the first vial.
She was pretty sure that’s not what Gran needed. She tried the next.
Sun protection. Up to three hours of high exposure.
Maybe the next one.
She went down the line of green bottles until she found one that looked promising.
She carried it out to Gran, who read the label before gulping it down. Then, she gagged.
“Gah,” she said, sticking out her tongue, which had turned lime green. “Tastes like grass.”
“I’m sorry,” Cat said.
“I’m the one who made it,” Gran replied, trying to wipe her tongue with her teeth. “Bring us some water, please, before I throw this back up.”
At least Gran seemed to get back to normal. Or as normal as can be for an old woman who wasn’t as batty as Cat thought. Who could fight monsters. Who just took on a werewolf. She had a headache trying to figure out a better word for normal.
Gran gave her a sympathetic look.
“You should’ve just taken the tea,” she said. “Then you’d be fast asleep by now and not have to know any of this.”
“The tea was drugged?”
“The tea is a drug, dear,” Gran said. “A lovely herbal blend gifted by one of the few non-awful fairies of the world. It has a lovely cinnamon aftertaste, too.”
“Wait, did you drug me last night, too?”
“Honestly, though, wasn’t that easier than tonight?” Gran asked.
“It’s still not right.”
“I suppose,” she said. “It’s your choice if you want to remember this, but it’d be easier if you just forgot, no?”
Cat couldn’t answer.
“You can still drink some and forget it all,” she said.
“Hey, if it weren’t for me, you’d be bleeding out in the woods right now!”
“I know,” Gran said. “But that’s an occupational hazard for me, dear.”
With a groan, she lifted herself off the couch and winced as she touched her side gingerly.
“Well, the tea’s there,” she said. “I’m gonna go sleep this off.”
She kissed Cat on the cheek.
“Take my advice,” she said. “The tea is easier than remembering what happened tonight. I don’t think I can live with myself knowing I roped you into this life.”
With that, she hobbled off to bed. For the first time, she probably wasn’t faking her hobble, Cat thought. She went into the kitchen and stared at the tin.
If she took it, the memories would all be like a weird dream. She’d go back to thinking Gran was a batty old lady. Her hand hesitated on the lid of the tin. She couldn’t help but wonder how long Gran had been fighting this battle against the werewolf. Several decades, by the sound of it. The werewolf was still alive out there, too. Would Gran be able to take care of herself if it came back?
Gran was waiting for Cat in the kitchen the next morning. She raised a brow as Cat shuffled in and didn’t break eye contact as she sipped her coffee.
“How are you feeling?” Cat asked.
Gran was in her pastel yellow nightdress, making it impossible to tell if she still had a nasty gash in her side.
“Probably better than you,” Gran replied. “Did you have any tea last night?”
Gran tsk-ed. Cat poured herself a cup of coffee and sat across from Gran.
“I don’t want to forget… whatever that was last night,” Cat said slowly, trying to make her thoughts sound logical. “If there’s something out there trying to kill you, I want to be there to make sure it doesn’t succeed.”
Gran’s eyes softened, but she just sighed.
“Well, that’s not your smartest idea,” she said matter-of-factly. “You’ve never even fought a werewolf.”
“But to be fair, I didn’t even know they existed.”
Gran allowed a smile to cross her face. Cat sniffed her coffee and glanced at Gran.
“This isn’t drugged, is it?” she asked cautiously.
Gran reached across and took a large slurpppp.
“Just checking,” Cat muttered with a flush. “How many times… have you drugged me?”
“Just when absolutely necessary,” Gran replied, a shadow crossing her face. “It’s better than the alternative.”
“Me finding out the mayor is a werewolf and seeing you battle another werewolf?” Cat guessed. “And kick the other werewolf’s butt, by the way.”
“Hardly,” Gran said with a tiny smile before returning to a serious expression. “He’s only a real threat on a full moon.”
Cat noticed Gran was biting on her lower lip. She realized that she did the same thing when she was nervous. Mom did that, too.
“So we have to find him before the full moon?” she asked.
Gran sighed, setting her coffee cup down.
“Hopefully,” she said. “Unfortunately, a werewolf not in its wolf form just looks like a regular human. And I can’t stab every man I meet just in case he might be the werewolf.”
The thoughtful look on her face made Cat think Gran had already seriously entertained that idea.
“It’s a small town,” Cat supplied. “I’m sure we could narrow down the suspects.”
“We don’t even know he’s in town,” Gran pointed out. “He’ll be close enough to find me on the next full moon, but… he could be anywhere right now.”
“What should we do then?”
“You,” Gran said pointedly. “Need to go straight home. Tell your mom I wouldn’t come up with you and make sure she doesn’t try to come down herself.”
“There’s no way I’m leaving you!”
“Cat, while I appreciate the sentimentality, you’re no match for a werewolf,” Gran said with a sigh. “Next full moon, he’s coming for blood. I can’t have you around for that.”
Cat felt the gears in her head turning so fast she thought her head was about to start billowing smoke.
“We have a month,” she said. “You could train me.”
Gran raised a brow.
“I mean, you aren’t getting any younger,” Cat continued. “And what am I supposed to do if the werewolf kills you? Is there anyone else who would be able to stop him? Is there anyone else who would even know he existed?”
“Why would you want to get involved?” Gran retorted. “You’ve probably seen a lot of movies about fighting monsters, but do you even realize how dangerous it is?”
“I just,” she said with a falter. “I wanna help you… and be useful, I guess. Look, the worst thing that could happen is we start to train and I decide I hate it and then drink your druggie tea and forget it all.”
“Worst that could happen is you die,” Gran said bluntly.
“Well, I’m not drinking anything else without testing it,” Cat said stubbornly, folding her arms across her chest. “So you can’t roofie me anymore. So either you help me help you, or I post all the pics I took last night on social media.”
“You didn’t take any pics.”
Gran studied her for a moment. Then she stood up.
“I suppose,” she said with a deep sigh. “I could use an understudy.”
Cat felt her heart skip a beat, and she almost jumped out of her chair. Gran held up a hand, as if to stop her excitement.
“Before you do,” Gran said. “You should see something and really think hard before you throw yourself into this.”
The something was Cat’s car. Or at least, what used to be Cat’s car. It looked like someone—or something had left deep, bloody gashes on the tires and the hood. Cat felt her breakfast creep up her throat.
“I think my old friend wanted to send a message last night,” Gran said with pursed lips. “I can call a friend to fix it. But I seriously advise you to head home.”
Cat gulped. This was worse than the time Naomi had gotten mad at her and spilled milk in her backpack last year.
But the burning curiosity tugged at the back of her mind. If werewolves were real, what else could be out there?
And who was her Gran, to know all about these creatures… and be able to take them in a head-to-head battle? Maybe she didn’t have to fight them, but Cat could at least learn about them. Her heart raced at the possibility.
“I want to help,” she said finally.
Gran nodded with a small smile, almost like she was hoping for this answer, and returned to the kitchen. Cat followed, noticing that Gran held her cane still, but she dropped all pretense of needing it to walk.
“So, all that shuffling around,” Cat began slowly.
Gran’s sheepish smile answered her unasked question. Cat huffed.
“It was really convincing, though, huh?” Gran asked with a sly grin.
“You could’ve moved faster.”
“The mortals here see me as an old woman,” Gran replied. “I have a part to play.”
She stretched, and Cat heard several popping sounds burst from her back as she twisted this way and that.
“All the bending over gets uncomfortable,” Gran admitted.
“So… are you actually an old lady?”
“But you don’t have the…”
“The eighty-year old bones and muscles? No.”
Gran gave a mischievous grin and winked.
“I won’t be giving away all of my secrets on day one of your training,” she said. “Now, if you get dressed, I’ll call my friend over to fix up your car. Then, I need to head to the library tonight.”
“Book club,” Gran replied simply. “Off you go.”
Cat couldn’t think of any more questions, so she obeyed. It wasn’t that she couldn’t think of anything to ask. More like she had too many questions, but her brain was turning too slowly to form any coherent thoughts.
Her phone buzzed as she changed clothes, and Cat realized with a sinking feeling that she forgot to check in with Mom last night.
“Heyyyy,” she said slowly, afraid to look directly at the camera.
Mom’s worried expression flashed on her screen, super close to the camera like she was leaning in to stare at Cat.
“Is everything okay?” Mom asked. “I thought you were going to call last night, and you didn’t answer any of my texts—.”
“I didn’t realize you texted,” Cat said, and it wasn’t a lie. “Sorry, Mom.”
“Is everything okay?” Mom repeated.
“Yeah,” Cat said slowly.
She didn’t want to lie to her Mom, but what exactly could she say?
Sorry, Gran was busy fighting a werewolf, and the weird forest had no signal.
“Gran turned in early,” Cat said. “And I was watching a movie. It was pretty cheesy. I guess I fell asleep before calling.”
“I was worried sick.”
“I know, I’m sorry.”
“Well,” Mom said with a sigh, letting her voice trail off.
Mom looked exhausted. Cat guessed the project wasn’t going very well.
“Are you coming home soon at least?” she asked.
Cat realized she should’ve rehearsed an answer to this question before picking up the phone. She gave a nervous smile.
“Maybe… not?” she said slowly. “I just—.”
She couldn’t say she was having fun. Mom already knew Cat didn’t like it here. She couldn’t exactly say why she was tempted to stay.
I’m gonna stay and figure out what monsters exist in the real world and also hopefully go on a date with a cute cart guy as soon as he calls!
“Gran’s place is… really messy,” Cat said. “She seems really attached to everything here, so I don’t know if she wants to leave just yet.”
“Well, just pack her in a car. She’s old, she can’t exactly fight back.”
Cat envisioned Gran doing a back-flip past a large silver werewolf.
“Yeah… of course. It’s just… I’d feel bad forcing her away.”
“Honey, you don’t want to be stuck down there all summer, do you?”
“It’s not too bad,” Cat said. “She’s… going to teach me her craft.”
“She’s still painting?”
Cat nodded with a forced smile.
“Her paintings are really cool,” she said, trying her best to not lie. “So I’m okay staying here for a while longer.”
“Okay,” Mom said dubiously. “Well, if I ever finish up this project, I’ll come down to check on you.”
“No!” Cat flinched as the word escaped her. “I mean… you need to rest, Mom. Honestly, if you come, it’ll overwhelm Gran. Besides, why send me down if you were gonna come anyway?”
She fake-pouted, and Mom seemed to buy it.
“Alright, sweetie. But I’m only a phone call away if you need me… Sorry again for dragging you into this.”
“You can make it up to me when I’m back.”
Cat let her Mom talk for another minute or two before saying she had to go. She realized that she had already sweated through her shirt. With a curse, she changed into a fresh tee.
How am I supposed to face a monster if I can’t even talk to Mom without sweating a storm?