Cat changed into a fresh shirt and returned to the living room. Gran gave her a curious look.
“How’s Mare-Bear?” she asked.
“Overworked and tired,” Cat replied. “But not suspicious.”
“Not suspicious that I had a fight with a werewolf last night?” Gran asked with feigned shock. “You must have had an excellent poker face.”
Cat sighed and rolled her eyes.
“Are you ready to head out?” Gran asked. “It’s a couple miles away, and we’ll have to walk it… since your car had its little encounter.”
Cat doubted that getting wrecked by a vengeful werewolf could best be described as a “little encounter.” Either way, walking around in the Texas heat didn’t seem enticing.
“None of your friends have cars?” she asked. “We can use Uber.”
Gran chuckled. “It’s only a couple miles,” she replied. “And good luck finding a ride out in the middle of nowhere.”
“But… you shouldn’t be wandering around,” Cat said. “I mean, you’re supposed to be a weak old lady.”
“Again, middle of nowhere,” Gran said with a chuckle. “And I’ve been known to wander around the back roads, so this is all within character.”
“Maybe I’ll stay home then,” she said slowly. “You can go off to book club. I didn’t even read… any book.”
She glanced away so she didn’t have to see Gran’s bemused look.
“I mean, any book club book,” she amended lamely. “I’ve read books before.”
“If you want to know what it is I do,” Gran replied, “then you should really come with me.”
Cat’s eyebrows shot up. Was it a book club that studied spell books? Was it wizards running the library? She tried to slow her thoughts.
“Will you make the trip worth my time?” she asked as nonchalantly as she could.
“In what way?”
“Telling me stuff,” Cat replied. “Like how you got into this, or how all this started… or anything really.”
“Deal,” Gran replied with a smile. “I’m always up for a history lesson.”
She grabbed her walker and cane and motioned for Cat to lead the way out.
“You know, I used to be really into history,” Gran said, jingling her keys as she followed Cat onto the porch. “I thought I would be an art history professor someday. Or a famous artist with paintings based on scenes in history.”
Gran clicked each lock into place carefully and tugged at the door as if to make sure it had been properly locked. She nodded and returned her attention to Cat.
“Now I’m just a walking piece of history,” she joked.
“Why didn’t you become a professor or artist?” Cat asked.
“That’s… not today’s story,” Gran said with a wry smile.
“Then what is today’s story?”
Gran looked thoughtful as they walked slowly down the driveway.
“How about we start from the beginning?” she suggested. “You wanted to know how the creatures came here and why I was involved, right?”
“A long time ago, there were many realms, all connected to each other,” Gran began. “You could travel between them as easily as you can travel from one city to another nowadays. And within these dimensions lived many kinds of creatures. Almost all kinds that you could imagine… mermaids, elves, faeries, dwarves, vampires, sirens…” She sighed. “Humans of course, too.”
Cat saw a sour look cross Gran’s face.
“The story differs here,” Gran said. “Some say there was a long famine. Others say there was a plague. Either way, many creatures died, and someone needed to take the blame. One group of humans thought the death was caused by the intermixing of creatures. They viewed humans as the pure race and others as contaminants.”
Cat had a bad feeling she wouldn’t like the next part of the story.
“I’m sure you can guess what happened,” Gran said, looking at Cat with a wry expression. “Witch hunts. Well, all mythical creature hunts, but also witches. Many were captured, their lands seized, their lives taken.”
“Didn’t anyone stop them? It was just one group.”
“One group that influenced others,” Gran pointed out. “You know, humans are both incredibly persuasive and extremely gullible. Some truly believed in all that ‘humans are the pure race’ nonsense. Others just didn’t want any trouble and went along with whatever kept them safe.
“Anyway, things got pretty bad, and many dimensions began sealing themselves against outsiders, keeping the humans out and only their race in. Some creatures went to the realm they originated from. Others tried to stay. After our dimension was closed off to others, humans began conquering whatever they could, destroying anyone who was unlike them.
“They mostly succeeded, too,” Gran continued. “Enough so that non-humans went into hiding. Over time, humans forgot that there was a race other than man and called everyone else myth.”
“If the dimensions are sealed, then isn’t that the end of things?” Cat asked.
“It’s never that easy,” Gran replied. “Families still wanted to keep in touch between dimensions. Sometimes they needed to find sanctuary from famine or political strife in their dimension. That’s where the Guardians came in.”
“They would protect a doorway, one that could lead to other dimensions,” Gran explained. “They kept it sealed, opening it to let in those who immigrated here.” She took a long pause. “The Guardians passed down their position through family ties. When the family died off, the portals were sealed forever.”
“It happens,” Gran said with a shrug. “Or they would refuse to pass down Guardianship and let the portal die with them.” She gave a small smile. “You’re looking at the last Guardian in this dimension.”
She chuckled at the surprised look on Cat’s face. “It’s not as exciting as it sounds,” she said. “It’s mostly dealing with immigration, problem management in this realm, blah, blah, blah.”
“You fought a werewolf with a sword last night. I’d call that exciting.”
“That was a rare occasion,” Gran replied. “Usually, it’s trying to get the Other Side to send me proper paperwork for immigrant requests.”
“There’s a Guardian on the Other Side?”
“Of course, dear, you need a key on each end to open it up,” Gran replied.
“What’s the Other Side like?”
“I wouldn’t know. The other Guardian isn’t chatty, and I’ve never gone to the Other Side,” Gran said with a shrug.
Cat nodded slowly, still trying to process everything. She wondered if it was the heat, the long walk, or the story that made her feel lightheaded.
“So… our family’s been Guardians since… forever?” she asked.
“Passed down for generations,” Gran replied with a nod. “My great-grandmother, grandmother, mom, Ca—” she broke off and cleared her throat. “I would have told Mare-Bear when she turned 16, but…”
Her voice trailed off again, but Cat knew what she was omitting this time. Mom had gotten pregnant and run off with Michael at sixteen.
“Anyway, I’ll just do my job a little longer and then seal the door before I go,” Gran continued with a shrug.
“But—” Cat began.
Gran stopped walking and held up a hand as if in warning.
“Before you try to offer,” she said in a firm voice. “It’s a lifelong commitment, and it’s not something I would ever wish on anyone else.”
“I want to help,” Cat said. “I mean, if this door closes, then what? No more Guardians? No more connections between the dimensions?”
“You don’t know what you’d be taking on,” Gran said. “Or sacrificing.” Her expression was stormy. “This job brings pain, and I won’t pass that onto anyone.”
Cat could sense the finality in Gran’s tone. She couldn’t help but feel a pull towards it, though. Was it guilt? If it weren’t for Cat’s existence, maybe her mom would’ve been a Guardian. Or maybe it was pity, that Gran was alone, that soon no one could travel between dimensions… Cat shook her head. She didn’t know what she was feeling.
Gran reached over and rested a wrinkled hand on Cat’s shoulder.
“I know that teenage adrenaline is itching for some adventure,” she said in a voice that seemed mixed between wry and soothing. “And the part of your brain that warns you to be careful of consequences is still developing. So just trust me when I say you don’t want this as your future.”
“Then why are you telling me all about it?” Cat asked.
“Because you’re nosy and wouldn’t take any amnesia tea,” Gran replied. “And I could use some extra help… at least until he’s gone.”
Her expression clouded over, and Cat knew she was imagining that werewolf from last night. The dark look faded quickly as Gran pointed to a driveway on their right.
“We’re here,” she announced.
The library rested at the end of a dirt road. Cat could see a couple pickup trucks, some fancy looking cars, and an SUV in the grassy area outside. The building itself was impressive, looking like it had been painted a sunshine yellow just yesterday. The windows were clean, though darkened by long curtains. Gran trotted up the stairs and swung open the door. A small bell sounded in the distance.
“Welcome!” Ms. Peregrine said with a smile, appearing at the door. “Oh, hello, Catherine. Are you bringing your Gran to book club?”
She looked at Cat with a smile, but her eyes seemed to study Cat closely. Cat felt like her brain was being picked.
“I could show you to the Young Adult section,” Ms. Peregrine continued. “The wi-fi signal is strongest there, and you won’t have to be bored by our conversations.” She glanced at Gran. “How did you find this month’s reading, Ms. Betty?”
“Cat already knows, Jules,” Gran said with a smile. “Though I’m sure you already saw that.”
Ms. Peregrine’s expression changed. It was almost like she was flushing, only without the change in her pale face. Her eyes went down and her lips twitched.
“I thought I was reading that wrong,” Ms. Peregrine replied. “I… well, I trust you know what you’re doing with this, Betty.”
“Wait,” Cat said, looking from Gran to Ms. Peregrine. “Does she… Is she… you know…”
She wiggled her fingers, like a magician about to pull a rabbit from a hat. Gran tilted her head and gave a confused look.
“Is she what, dear?” Gran asked.
“Does she know about… the thing?” Cat said slowly. “Related to the story you told me on the way here.”
“Oh, don’t tease her, Betty,” Ms. Peregrine said with a roll of her eyes. “Yes, dear, I’m a ‘you know.’”
“Well, I was curious to know how you’d ask subtly,” Gran said with a shrug. “But I guess a lack of subtly runs in the family. Cat, dear, meet Juliet Peregrine, founder of the Vampires’ Inter-Dimensional Relocation Project.”
“And leader,” Ms. Peregrine added.
“V… vampire?” Cat repeated.
“In the flesh. Well, undead flesh, I suppose.”