Cassie sat in the passenger’s front seat of an older brown Chevy. It was her car, technically, but Curtis was driving. Cassie rarely drove: she didn’t have a license, on account of having a known history of ‘epileptic shock’ — which is how the doctors decided to describe her occasional bout of being haunted. At least I had the sense not to tell them what really happened, she thought. If she had, she would probably have wound up in rehab to deal with her ‘hallucinations’ — and never mind that she still hadn’t even tried alcohol! After all, she didn’t turn twenty-one until next year.
Hans was sitting in the backseat, diagonally from Curtis. It gave him — or rather, his wolf — as much distance as possible from their driver. Which was ironic, because Hans’ wolf was in the passenger seat next to him, directly behind Curtis because Curtis’ wolf was in Cassie’s lap. One of the local wizards had once speculated to Cassie that what she was seeing was actually a very specific mental interpretation of enchantments and people’s auras. She’d been confident he was full of bullshit, and said as much. He’d blustered and protested and thrown out big words, but he never had explained why ‘enchantments’ would have personalities.
No, Cassie could see ghosts, not auras. In fact, she couldn’t see any auras, and trying to get a feel for them was painfully hard: it gave her vicious migraines. But she could see any ghost with ease. And ‘any ghost’ included any disembodied spirit — like the bodiless wolves of a werewolf in human form. Curtis’ wolf never strayed more than a couple arms’ lengths from his body — and when it occupied his body, Curtis’ ghost was never more than half that distance away. Which was weird because Curtis always swore that what he saw — when he could see anything — was through the wolf’s physical eyes rather than from where Cassie saw his ghost as manifesting.
Her theory was that it had something to do with his ghost being bound to his body — even when it was displaced — more firmly than his wolf was. That, and the wolf probably had more range as a ghost because it spent much more time as a disembodied spirit than Curtis did. So it just had more experience with the entire ‘out of body experience’ experience.
And I’m clearly getting flustered if I’m trying to see how many times I can legitimately use ‘experience’ in a thought, Cassie chided herself.
Cassie peeked at the rear view mirror to look at Hans: ghosts didn’t show up in reflections, so it was one of the few ways she could be sure that what she was seeing actually reflected reality. She’d been intensely embarrassed, more than once, by having an extended conversation with someone whom no one else could see. And some ghosts were pranksters. Cassie was a favorite target of those who knew about her: every once in a while one of them would work up the wherewithal to manifest just a part of their full form and then move in sync with someone else. Cassie had been convinced her first period professor freshman year had a mustache — until it walked off of his face one morning — along with the rest of his hair — laughing. She still hadn’t quite lived down complimenting her bald professor on his new haircut.
Hans’ jaw was set in a firm frown that seemed out of place with the laugh lines around his eyes, and he was staring out the window at the passing scenery. It made Cassie uncomfortable, and sympathetically sad, to see. She didn’t like it when people were upset. Upset people were a lot more likely to leave shades behind if tragedy struck. But more than that: Hans seemed nice. And he was handsome, although not Cassie’s type, and she felt a certain amount of mothery caretaker-ness toward him. The tattered state of his ghost the night before remained fixed in her memory: whatever he’d gone through, it had been hell on his spirit. It wasn’t fair that he was still going through more, now.
Hans was tense: a tension that was reflected in his wolf, which continued to hunker in the corner and eye Cassie suspiciously when she glanced backward to check on it. Hans’ wolf had a lot more range to wander than Silver did, which Cassie privately thought lent credence to her theory that Silver’s range was something he’d built up over time, since Hans had claimed to have been a werewolf for decades.
Hans himself seemed distracted by whatever was going on in his head, so Cassie hadn’t mentioned her theories to him — despite the fact that she really wanted the input of another werewolf than Curtis on them. Shoot: Curtis had been a loner from the beginning. He’d been cursed by accident, or something, just two months before starting college. In any case, no one had ever come to tell him how to handle his new life. Everything he or Cassie knew about being a werewolf was something they’d worked out together from experience and guesswork. But Hans barely even spoke, despite ostensibly being the one giving Curtis directions, which left Cassie and Curtis both with plenty of unanswered — and unasked, due to the sheer awkwardness that interrupting him would have brought about — questions.
“Here,” Hans suddenly said. “Wherever you can park.”
Poor guy. And his wolf, too. Cassie scratched Silver — the ghostly projection of Curtis’ wolf — between his shoulders. Silver didn’t respond: he was too busy enjoying his ride. Even though the window was closed, he had his head stuck through it so the wind could blast his fur. Cassie had no idea how that worked: the wind, she suspected, was psychosomatic. But when it came to how a ghost could phase through a car window without phasing through the entire car? She had no idea and tried not to think about it. She’d asked Mike, once, and he’d been unable to ride in a car for a month. He’d started remaining stationary even though the vehicle started moving, and then falling on his butt while his ride drove off. As long as ghost physics made sense to the ghost, they seemed to work — and asking questions about why they worked tended just to break them.
They drove just a little further before Curtis turned into a small parking lot and found an open space. He pulled into it and put the car into park, but left the engine running while he twisted around. Silver flowed off of Cassie’s lap and curled up around Curtis, prompting Hans’ wolf to slink back to Hans’ side of the backseat — glaring at Cassie the entire time.
“This the place?” Curtis asked Hans for confirmation.
Hans nodded once. His jaw clenched slightly while his wolf snarled quietly at Curtis. “Close enough,” he managed to say without snapping angrily. His seat belt was already undone, and he didn’t wait for Curtis to stop the car before getting out of it. His wolf actually went through the door before he got it open. Must’ve been driving it crazy, Cassie thought, being trapped somewhere that had so much of Curtis’ and Silver’s scents and auras soaked into it. She really needed to ask Hans what his wolf’s name was. She felt uncomfortable continuing to think of it as ‘it’ — but she was more uncomfortable with the idea of intruding on Hans’ issues just to sate her curiosity. Maybe after we find whoever his wolf bit and get all this sorted out. At least Hans was looking for the person he’d turned. It still pissed her off that whoever had cursed Curtis hadn’t awarded him the same courtesy.
Cassie waited for the engine to stop before she unbuckled and got out herself. Curtis followed suit and locked the car behind them. They were in a small shared lot between a bar and a Mexican restaurant. Hans was already walking toward the street entrance to the lot.
“It happened across the street,” Hans said. There was still a lot of tension in his shoulders, but it seemed different now that he was out of Curtis’ car. He tilted his head from side to side, prompting a quiet pop. His wolf paced around him in agitated circles, growling.
Cassie waited long enough for Curtis to walk around the car, then caught him by the arm. “Curtis,” she said, “why don’t you see if anyone knows anything on this side of the street.” The bar had probably still been open that late at night, so maybe someone there could tell them about who had been bitten. Besides, separating the two wolves for a little bit was probably a good idea. Silver was in a reasonably friendly mood — but then: Cassie spent a lot of her spare time socializing him. Hans’ wolf, on the other hand, bristled and snapped at everything. Except her. It still skittered away from her — but otherwise, it was very much a feral creature.
But that’s okay, Cassie told herself. Silver was pretty shocked, too, when I first whapped him on the nose.
“Sure,” Curtis agreed. He walked with Cassie up to the sidewalk, then passed her his keys with a grin and turned off toward the bar. Cassie rolled her eyes.
“Don’t you think it’s a little early for…” she started to say, but Curtis was already walking away from her with Silver trotting after him.
Curtis laughed. “I’m sure whoever’s tending bar will be more talkative if I have an excuse to tip them,” he called back over his shoulder. Then the two of them disappeared into the bar.
Cassie sprinted to catch up to Hans, who was already crossing the street. He glanced at her when she caught up with him. “It was right here. In front of the bike shop, I think.” He took a deep breath — at the same time as his wolf, who was further ahead, started sniffing at the sidewalk. “I can smell the blood,” Hans said quietly. “And the man. This is where it happened.”
Cassie nodded. “Can you tell where he went after your wolf ran off?” Hans walked up to the spot where his wolf was investigating the pavement and started to pace alongside it. It was funny, because Cassie was willing to bet Hans had no idea he was mirroring his wolf as he did it. She’d laughed at Curtis and Silver for mirroring each other plenty of times, and Curtis had never been aware of it.
Finally Hans shook his head. “No,” he said. “As near as I can tell he didn’t go far after he was bitten. Other people came over — I can still pick up on the adrenaline. The scents get muddled, but I think…” He frowned. His wolf had stopped pacing and started toward the street again.
“They helped him across the street,” Hans said. “The people who came to help him must have been from the bar.” He pivoted and followed after his wolf. Cassie held her tongue and followed after them both.
On the other side of the street Hans’ wolf turned a brief circle along the curb before picking up the scent again. Hans started to walk toward the bar before stopping and shaking his head. His wolf had already walked up to the door and turned around. “They took him in there,” Hans said. “But he wasn’t there long.” Hans’ wolf walked another short jog to the curb while Hans took the shortcut and walked directly over to it. Hans frowned at the street while his wolf paced up and down the edge of it. “The track ends here,” he said. “I think they put him in an ambulance.” He grimaced. “I smell antiseptic.”
“Oh,” Cassie said. She managed to suppress a cringe. “Well, that’s not a bad lead.”
Hans didn’t seem to notice her discomfort. He was staring down the street, presumably in the direction that the ambulance had gone. His wolf had returned to his side. It circled his legs and then twined between them to glare suspiciously at Cassie. “Maybe some of John’s contacts can put word out to the hospitals about what’s going on,” Hans mused. “Someone might recognize the description of the patient. We might be able to get his name and address.”
Cassie shifted uncomfortably, but didn’t reply. Hans’ wolf noticed, even though Hans didn’t. It began to growl suspiciously, prompting Hans to look at Cassie over his shoulder. “Cassie?” he asked.
She didn’t get to answer, because just then Curtis burst out of the bar. He sauntered toward Hans and herself, grinning. “It was a kid,” Curtis declared. “African American. Male. The barkeep didn’t have his name, but he went to the hospital — Hope Community Hospital.”
Curtis stopped after reaching Cassie and Hans. He put an arm around Cassie and gave her a tight, sympathetic squeeze. “Sorry girl,” he said. A little honest chagrin dampened his buoyant pride over having gotten the information they needed.
“It’s alright,” Cassie said. Silver was nuzzling her leg with his spectral muzzle, so she reached down and gave him a reassuring scratch between the ears. I can do this. She forced a smile for Hans’ sake, though he was still looking slightly confused. His wolf’s ears were laid back with agitation: it seemed torn between paying attention to Cassie, watching Silver, and backing off so it could start tracking the Hope Community ambulance from the previous night.
Hans needs our help, Cassie thought. She met Hans’ eyes with her own. “We should let Kels inform the rest of the community, yeah, but we don’t need to wait on them to get back to us with who the guy is,” she said. Sure, Hans was doing his best to suppress it, but it only took one look at his wolf for Cassie to know how distressed Hans was over the previous night. One hospital visit won’t be that bad. “We can use my contacts, instead.”
For a moment no one said anything. Cassie watched the understanding light go off in Hans’ eyes as who her contacts were sank in. “Thank you,” he said.
Uncomfortable, Cassie cleared her throat and turned toward the lot where they had parked. She appreciated the thanks, but she also knew that Hans had no idea what she was in for. Curtis gave her another squeeze.
“Well?” Cassie finally asked the two guys. She broke away from Curtis and started walking toward the car. Without looking behind her, she called back to them: “What are we waiting for? Let’s get going, then.”