Cat heard a crashing sound and fell out of bed in a tangle of bedsheets. She glanced at the mural, which looked sunny and peaceful. They couldn’t be in danger, then, she thought, pulling herself up. She heard the banging again.
It took her a minute to untangle herself and get out of her room. The house seemed empty, and the sound came from outside.
“Gran?” she called, slowly shuffling towards the front door. “Gran?”
She glanced out the window and sighed with relief. Gran was standing outside with some other old lady, and it looked like they were taking turns smacking Cat’s car while talking animatedly. Cat hurried to the front door and opened it.
“Oh, sorry, Cat,” Gran said. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“You did,” Cat replied honestly. “My car’s already been beaten up. Why are you hitting it some more?”
“She was just giving it a few protection spells before I fix it up,” the other woman replied, inclining her head to Cat by way of greeting.
Something about her seemed familiar. Cat stared at her. She had pale blond hair, red eyes, and was clad in a long gray jumpsuit.
“Do you have a daughter?” Cat asked.
The two women chuckled.
“You must have met Bree,” the woman said. “We aren’t related, surprisingly enough.”
“But they’re both banshees,” Gran added with a nod. “So, you can see some similarities, like the hair and eyes and taste in gray.”
“You have the cloud of death,” the woman said, staring at Cat.
“And the optimistic disposition,” Gran finished with a wink at Cat.
“You’d have depression, too, if you could see death,” the woman said somberly, still frowning at Cat. “It’s like a thick fog that takes away the clean air.”
Cat crossed her arms in front of her chest and shifted on her feet uncomfortably. “Am I… going to die then?” she asked.
“No, not that kind of cloud,” the banshee replied slowly, making it sound like it wasn’t a good answer.
She didn’t elaborate more.
“Fiona here is the best mechanic I know,” Gran said. “She’s going to take your car into town and fix it up while we go shopping.”
“Oh. That’s… nice,” Cat said. “So… are banshees all good with cars, or is it unrelated?”
“She can see the parts of the car that are most dangerous,” Gran replied. “The malfunctions that can cause death.”
“And I studied automobiles for thirty years,” Fiona added. “Perceptive powers only get one so far.”
“You should get changed, Cat,” Gran suggested. “And we can head into town soon.”
Cat nodded slowly. She turned and went back inside, finding suitable clothes and remembering to brush her hair and teeth. If they were going to the store, they might run into the cart boy. Cat braided her hair. It’d look less frizzy that way. She hoped.
Gran gave an approving nod when Cat reappeared. Fiona had already attached the car to the tow truck she had with her. Cat glanced at the small front seat in the tow truck.
“We can squeeze,” Gran said.
“Banshees don’t actually cause death by being close,” Fiona added. “We just get blamed for it after the fact.”
Cat gave a polite smile, trying to pretend she hadn’t worried about banshees and death.
“I was just wondering where to put the walker,” she lied.
“We can put that in your car,” Gran said. “You’ll just have to fetch it for me when I get out.”
And so, Cat found herself riding shotgun with a banshee at the wheel and Gran squished in between and fiddling with the radio.
“It’s broken,” Fiona said over the sound of static. “I was going to fix it yesterday, but Bree called.”
“So, you are related?” Cat asked.
“No, but we know each other,” Fiona replied. “When I came here from Ireland ten years ago, I brought her with me and kept an eye on her.”
“What about her parents?”
“She’s an orphan,” Fiona said. “Or was, I should say. Some humans in town adopted her.”
“Do they know?” Cat asked.
Gran chuckled. “Nope,” she said. “They think she’s just been going through some sort of phase with red contacts and depressing anecdotes.”
“We aren’t always depressed,” Fiona argued. “Besides, how is our discussion of death any more uncomfortable than people joking about wanting to die?”
“Please no discussions before I’ve had my morning caffeine,” Gran said with a wave of her hand. “Anyway, why was Bree so worried?”
“What makes you think she was worried?” Fiona asked with a frown.
“You said she called. And it was something that made you unable to do a simple fix on your car.”
Fiona shook her head.
“Nothing too serious,” she replied. “She just thought she saw a rolling cloud.”
Gran looked over at Fiona, and it got quiet, except for the fuzzy sound of the radio.
“It was a little overcast yesterday,” Cat supplied.
“Not that kind of cloud, dear,” Gran said. “Banshees see clouds over people. Still clouds tend to mean death associated with a person, usually that they’ll have a brush with death or die. Rolling clouds are those who cause death. What color was the cloud?”
“Black as night, she said,” Fiona recalled. “I told her no one in town could have that cloud, else I would’ve seen them, too. And it was so brief, too, just on the highway as she drove to work. I even drove around and looked but saw nothing.”
Gran bit her lip and looked at the road ahead of her. Cat waited for her to tell Fiona that Bree must have been mistaken, and it looked like Fiona was waiting for that, too.
“Silverfur is back,” Gran said softly. “It might have been him.”
“Silver—” Fiona began in a questioning tone. “Oh… him.”
“Yes,” Gran replied. “Did you not recognize the cloud from her description?”
Cat could feel the tension in the air. Fiona let out a deep sigh.
“I thought it must have been something powerful,” Fiona replied calmly. “But I can’t say that I remember every single cloud I’ve seen, let alone one from so long ago. Especially if it wasn’t me who saw the cloud yesterday.”
She kept her eyes fixed on the road. Cat looked from one woman to the other.
“Is that all you’ll say?” Gran asked.
“It’s darker than before.”
Cat wanted to sink lower in her seat as Gran studied Fiona’s face.
“Anything else you want to share?”
“I don’t see the cloud you’re worried about over you or Cat,” Fiona replied calmly.
“Would you tell me if you did?”
“Yes, but if I see it, then it isn’t something that can be changed,” Fiona replied. “And you know that.”
Gran sighed in response. Cat looked at Gran and raised her brows, asking if Gran was going to share what that was all about. Gran shook her head.
“I’d apologize if there were an apology in order,” Fiona said, her eyes glancing at Gran. “But you know I just see clouds. I can neither cause them nor prevent them from appearing.”
“We’ll go to the restaurant first,” Gran said in a monotonous voice. “Then the store.”
“I’ll drop the car at the shop and bring you a temp,” Fiona replied in an even tone.
It was like suddenly they weren’t friends anymore, Cat thought. And they had just become two strangers awkwardly talking in a cab together. She tried to hold in her curiosity until they had been dropped off.
“What was that about?” Cat asked before they even made it from the sidewalk to the front door of the restaurant.
“Fiona is a dear friend,” Gran said. “I just… Well, I had an unpleasant experience with a banshee before.” She gave a sad smile. “Unfortunately, I’m terribly good at holding grudges, and sometimes I take it out of Fiona.”
“Because she’s a banshee, too?”
“Because she’s a banshee, too,” Gran agreed. “And banshees have the rare ability to know when Death is coming for someone.”
“Is that bad?”
“Some think so,” Gran said. “Others might appreciate knowing when Death is coming so they can say their goodbyes.”
The tone of her last statement made Cat think Gran was the “others.”
“And that makes you jealous?” Cat asked.
“I wouldn’t say jealous exactly…” Gran said, trailing off.
Then she sighed, and Cat saw her grip her walker a little harder.
“The last time I saw my sister,” Gran said slowly. “I had a fight with her. We both said things that we would have apologized for later… but we never had the chance. After the fact, a banshee I knew told me she knew that Death was coming for my sister, and in my brain, I started blaming her for ending things so badly.”
Gran sighed and hobbled along with her walker.
“I know it isn’t fair,” she said. “And yet I can’t stop feeling angry about it even today.”
“So, you’re suspicious Fiona will do the same?” Cat guessed, holding the door open for Gran to shuffle through.
“Yes. I know she won’t, but I can’t help but feel she will.”
Cat followed Gran inside and listened as she demanded her usual table. Bree wrinkled her brows as she glanced at Cat. Cat wondered what sort of cloud the banshees must have been seeing over her. Her heart pounded.
She waited until they were in the booth before leaning closer toward Gran.
“How many banshees have you met?” she asked. “And are they similar to the legends?”
Gran raised a brow and looked over the menu.
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about, dearie,” she said. “Is this from a book you’re reading? Or a movie?”
Cat gave Gran a confused look, but Gran’s reply was stern. She was telling Cat not to talk about this stuff in public, Cat guessed.
“A… TV show,” Cat replied. “But never mind. What are you going to get to eat, Gran?”
The rest of their breakfast together was quiet, and Cat watched Gran fiddle with the artificial sweetener packets, pocket a few paper napkins, and then lose the bill on the way to the till. Cat was sure it was all an act, but if it was, Gran definitely deserved an award. She followed Gran outside. Gran hobbled over towards the grocery store, and Cat trailed behind, trying to match Gran’s glacial pace.
“Why do you walk like this?” Cat asked. “Isn’t it uncomfortable?”
“Nah, it gives me time to smell the roses,” Gran replied with a smile and a wink. “Besides, I have a reputation of the batty old lady to uphold.”
“Is that so no one suspects you’re a Guardian?” Cat asked.
“Most people here wouldn’t even know what Guardians are,” Gran replied. “Nah, this lets me say strange things without anyone taking me seriously. Plus, I get better parking spaces and a lot of people carry my groceries for me. It’s a win-win.”
Gran looked around the parking lot as they approached the store, and Cat saw her eyes narrow. She made a beeline for the side entrance. Cat’s heart skipped a beat. Cart boy was nearby, sitting on a bench texting someone. She wondered if he was about to text her.
Gran stopped in front of him, her hunched shadow covering his face. He looked up and gave a casual smile.
“Hi, I’m actually on break right now,” he said. “But if you need help, one of the other employees would be more than happy to assist.”
“Oh, no, that won’t be necessary, dear,” Gran replied, sitting next to him on the bench.
She moved her walker to rest in front of him and so close that it bumped into his knees. He (and Cat) gave her a weird look.
“I was looking for you, you see,” she continued. “Your queen might have warned you already, but I’m not one to be trifled with. Especially when it comes to family.”
He looked from Gran to Cat.
“I think there’s been some sort of mistake,” he said, his smile faltering as he tried to move the walker away.
It was like the walker was glued in place, trapping him in his seat. He pushed harder, but it didn’t so much as budge. Cat looked at Gran, but she seemed bemused as she leaned on her cane and watched him struggle.
“Gran,” Cat began.
“Hush, now, dear,” Gran replied. “I’m working.”
“Look, I— I didn’t know she was related to you,” he stammered. “I promise I didn’t steal anything from her.”
Cat felt her pockets instinctively. Was he some sort of thief? But then why would Gran be so interested?
“Not for lack of trying, I’m sure,” Gran replied. “Did you just get her nickname?”
His smile had turned into a morose expression, and he slowly nodded.
“Wait,” Cat said slowly. “He’s a…”
“Fairy,” Gran said, using the word like it was an insult. “You’re lucky, dear. Once a fairy has your name, they have complete control over you.”
Cat’s eyes widened.
“But— but I told him my name!”
“Nicknames aren’t the same, dear,” Gran said. “Luckily for you.”
She returned her focus to the boy, but Cat was still trying to wrap her head around it all.
“So, you flirted with me just to steal my name?” she demanded. “And you were never even gonna text me?”
“Honestly, that’s not something to be upset about,” Gran said. “You don’t want a fairy trying to get your name.”
“You are adorable,” the boy replied. “But a long-con isn’t really my style. If it doesn’t work the first time, I just move on.”
“And how many girls have you done this to?” Cat demanded.
He shrugged nonchalantly and turned to Gran.
“Technically, I haven’t exposed the Fae,” he said. “And, technically, I didn’t steal anything from your family. So, I didn’t break any rules. Are we done here?”
“Oh, honey, I was just giving you warm up questions,” Gran replied. “Now that we’ve settled our personal matter, we can move on to the business.”
“If it’s anything to do with the Fae, I don’t know anything,” he replied quickly. “I’m not even connected to the Council.”
“No, you’re just some sad grifter who couldn’t even get a name from a hormonal teenager,” Gran retorted.
“Hey,” Cat protested.
“No offense, dear. We were all that age once.”
“You should watch your words, old lady,” he warned. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you to not anger a fairy?”
“Didn’t anyone ever teach you to not anger a Guardian?” Gran replied. “Besides, you should know by now your magic has no effect on us.”
She touched her pendent lightly and smiled at the boy.
“Now,” she said, checking her watch like she was bored already. “I’ve got some shopping to do, and it’s really quite hot outside. Just give me the name, and I’ll be on my way.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, please. Whoever had the audacity to open my gate has the audacity to brag about it to other Fae,” Gran said. “If you don’t tell me, that’s fine. You can spend the century in a mason jar in my kitchen. You know, as Guardian to this world, I can hold you as long as I want if I’m convinced you’re a danger to society.”
She dug around inside her purse.
“Okay! Okay!” he exclaimed, trying to wriggle away from her. “It’s Rosaria Alvaro.”
Gran stopped and looked at him.
“Are you certain?” she asked in a deadly tone.
“I swear on my wings,” he said. “Please.”
Gran sighed and moved her walker away from him. He quickly jumped up and ran back into the store. Cat sighed as he left.
“So, he was just after my identity,” she said glumly. “I knew it was too good to be true.”
“Cheer up,” Gran said, lifting herself off the bench. “You dodged a bullet with that one. And now you have your own pendent, so you don’t have to worry about any spells directed at you.”
“So, I’ll be safe?”
“As long as you can control the love-struck teen inside, yes,” Gran replied. “Unfortunately, I don’t have any magic to protect you from your own feelings.”
Cat sighed, feeling her face flush. She tried to think of a way to change the subject before Gran made her feel even more like an idiot.
“Hey, Gran, who’s Rosaria Alvaro?” Cat asked, following her into the store. “You looked pretty upset hearing her name.”
“She’s a member of the Council,” Gran said. “The Fae are ruled by a queen here, and the queen relies on a dozen of her most trusted fairies, called the Council, to manage all the fairies in this realm. The fact that it’s a Council member means the queen is less likely to believe anything I have to say about her.”
Gran grimaced as she grabbed a shopping cart.
“And?” Cat asked after a pause.
She had a feeling there was something else upsetting Gran.
“And,” Gran said with a sigh. “She’s running against Mayor Castio in the next election.”