*EDIT* I finally caught COVID after holiday travel, unfortunately, so Paranatural's return won't be possible until next week! I will be resting in the meantime... already starting to feel better! Thank you for your patience, and I'll see you on the 19th!
Paranatural will be on break from now until January 12th while I'm traveling for the holidays! A much needed respite for me. I hope you guys are excited for its return, because I can't wait for Cody to arrive at his destination...! Until then, thanks for your patience, and thank you so much for reading! If you enjoyed this update and want to give little old me a holiday gift, consider supporting Paranatural on Patreon! That's all for now. See you soon!
Cody’s limo wound its way through West Hill’s curves like something slow and subterranean. The dusk of its interior and stillness of its air contrasted sharply with the wild night outside, drawing eyes on both sides to its windows
The Hijacks could see more and more strange spirits flitting about in the gloom that surrounded them the further that they drove from Davy’s mansion. Shapes that looked like deer at first glance stood and left before the headlights could reveal them; a chilling howl shook leaves from trees but was cut short by something soundless and much larger; still more trees weren’t trees at all, but legs that never seemed to reach their source. The ride felt like a roller coaster crawling through the dark, and every turn felt like the moment it would drop.
Unable to find purchase in the detail drifting past them, Hijack’s right side looked to Cody for a handhold.
He was staring past it all. Suspended in a lattice of bare branches sat a bright and haunting moon, only a drop from full and two from overflowing. Cody’s gaze was fixed upon it. Even knowing what it meant to him, Hijack couldn’t help but feel unsettled; he’d lost track when he tried to count how long it had been since Cody last blinked.
“S-so... your mom’s a werewolf?”
Cody had smiled just as blithely as he always did. “Yep! Well, that’s MY theory.” The uncertainty was theater; he’d decided he was right. “See, I don’t know much about the Cousinhood—ancient order veiled in shadow and all that—but I do know that they’re strict about their rules. There’s only one fate for a monster they’ll allow: extermination.” Cody shrugged like a cartoon character, as if his mom belonging to a group that would destroy her son on sight had been a real “pobody’s nerfect” revelation. “They’re strict about the means to that end, too. No supernatural powers allowed, just silver, stakes, and sunlight. Lucky you that they’re not spectrals, huh? I doubt they’d show more mercy to a body-snatching brainiac.”
“...Indubitably,” murmured LB. He didn’t know what that word meant, but it was great for sounding smart when you had nothing to contribute to a lengthy conversation. Studying Zarei had served him well.
“Right. So there’s no way that my mom’s ‘cousins’ were big fans of her eloping with my dad—if they ever did find out—but that wasn’t her first time breaking their rules.”
From underneath his bed, the young dhampir had pulled a hidebound journal.
“My mom writes like a caveman, so I’m somewhat short on details, but it’s clear that she was keeping track of three things ’til the day she disappeared
Cody tapped the cover of what seemed to be Shrike’s diary. The Hijacks could see sticky notes and samples of what looked like fur protruding from its pages.
“The first thing...” Cody whispered, conjuring with tone alone a flashlight’s glow beneath him, “...was my first word! And my first steps and fangs and milestones like that. She didn’t bother keeping a separate baby book, I guess, so I’m here growing up next to her notes on werewolf breath and the salinity of holy water.” He grinned playfully, but didn’t get a laugh or leer from either of the Hijacks, and so he cleared his throat and kept on going. “...The second was someone she called her Cousinhood apprentice. She never used his name—like she was hiding his identity even in her own diary—but she was watching him in secret. Where he went, what he would do there, stuff like that... and all while she let him think she was dead.”
Hijack was too young of a homunculus to deduce that the apprentice in question was none other than Zarei’s childhood friend, Jean Garcia. Mina had kept the past that Cody had partially uncovered a secret from all but her first artificial spirit—and perhaps would not have divulged it to him either, had Sockpuppy not witnessed many parts of it firsthand.
Cody freaking loves to count to three, was Hijack’s sole insight instead. Exactly like the vampire from Sesame Street.
“The third thing that my mom tracked...” Cody went on, “were the phases of the moon. She never wrote what happened when it finally got full, but look—she always had a LOT more data in its aftermath.”
He fluttered through the weathered manuscript, worn, in part, by how much he’d perused it.
“Her notes were tame at first—measured footprints, maps of forests, things like that—but close to when they stopped, the year before she disappeared, things started escalating bit by bit.” Cody opened to the journal’s final pages, reading its scant passages aloud. “Evolution of the curse,” he quoted, smoothing over his mom’s many spelling errors. “Beyond worst fears.” Turning the page revealed crude diagrams—a drawing of a lupine claw, taut skin sketched without fur. “Bigger every full moon. Stronger than the strongest that I’ve fought.” Cody’s blue eyes locked on Hijack’s. “Can’t keep him safe forever. Need a cure.”
Cody snapped Shrike’s journal shut, which made the Hijacks flinch.
“That was the last entry my mom wrote.” He shook his head. “She never said it plainly, but... it’s obvious my mom’s apprentice was a werewolf. A really dangerous one, too. I think, before she had me and hung up her sword for good, a pupil she was training had been bit. I think she went rogue then, to spare him. I think she hid him from the Cousinhood in Mayview, faked her death, and settled down here with my dad. She kept an eye on her apprentice after that, staying secret even from him, and when he started to become too much to handle... well, then she left to find a cure.” Cody sighed, a hint of envy reaching his controlled expression. “My mom must have really cared about him, whoever he was. Even though she hunted monsters her whole life, she never let herself consider killing him.”
Left Hijack nodded sagely. “That is the root of most ideal relationships.”
“Gosh, then we’re off to a bad start, huh?” laughed Cody. “Well, for my mother and her pupil, at least, it didn’t seem like murder was a mutual red line. When I first read the journal, I was convinced some awful apex alpha werewolf ate my mom!” Once more Cody ducked beneath his bed, this time returning with a veritable quilt of old newspaper clippings, all of them stitched together with a web of tape and string. “I’m pleased to say I’m less convinced today. Here, look!”
The Hijacks hovered closer. Some of the articles that Cody had collected mentioned the dwindling local deer population and tracts of forest that his father had purchased, but most concerned the West Hill Horror more directly... that reclusive cryptid said to stalk the dark of Mayview woods. At the heart of Cody’s hoard was a blurry photo taken by a pair of crackpot radio personalities (and surrounded by a hatchet job discrediting their find). The subject, a matted mass of moon-white fur, stared at the camera with an eye that shone its flash back twice as bright.
“An alabaster beast with but a single ice blue eye,” Cody read, beaming. “Myself and DJ Mothman have discovered the sole offspring of a YETI and a CYCLOPS here in Mayview. Who knows what other cryptids can successfully crossbreed!” Cody chuckled to himself. “Well, those guys were way off-base. But the creature in the photo—that’s my mom! The color of her fur, her eye, the scars... there’s simply no mistaking it!”
As much as he loved jumping to conclusions, LB was still hesitant to leap without a push. “Then... when your mother left to try and aid her erstwhile apprentice—”
Cody grinned. “She killed him but got bit!”
Across town, Cody’s science teacher slipped in mud, fell on his butt, and nearly shot himself with his own crossbow, but was (and had been his whole life) still very much alive.
“I can’t see how he could still be in Mayview, at the very least. There’s no local legends that scream werewolf other than the West Hill Horror’s... and that one’s been my mom for years and years.” Cody jabbed a constellation of his clippings, each hinting at a rare white beast with one eye, just like Shrike. No other werewolf had been sighted—no other werewolf that roamed free. “If she’d cured her apprentice, well, then she would have cured herself, too! And then there’d be no Horror... and no reason for my mom to not come home.”
RB was full to the spongy brim with sweet, sweet pathos. “Y-you mean... you think that she’s still looking for a cure for lycan—lycantherp—for werewolfism?”
“She must be. Every night the moon’s not full.” Cody had no doubt in his deductions. “See, I read it in her journal: vampires and werewolves are each other’s only predator—”
Never had the Hijacks heard a single better sentence.
“She probably thinks she’s a danger to me. That she’ll lose control and hurt me... even though I’m strong now, too. Just like with my father, everything is safety first.” Cody clenched his fist against his chest, and his face darkened. “My dad’s busy with work more nights than not... but never when the moon’s full. He’s always home for those, and keeps me close, cooped up inside. I had a chip of his hook sent away to a lab—he’d had the whole thing laced with silver. One time he caught me sleepwalking after the curfew he’d commanded... and I caught him with claw marks that he’d yet to fully heal. He said it was a spirit, but...” Cody’s blazing eyes met Hijack’s. “I think my mom is more than just alive out in the woods. I think my dad fights tooth and nail to keep her there. Every time the moon’s full, she comes here. That’s what I think. No matter how long my mom’s been gone, no matter why, her instinct is to be with me when that’s all she can act on.”
Right Hijack blubbered out a wordless whimper.
“...A desire sublimated into eating you, perhaps,” Left Hijack pondered, steepling his tentacles. “What’s the logic in tracking her down if, when she sees reason in the daylight, she decides to stay away? I certainly would not defy MY mommy—”
“Anything’s better than my dad,” Cody spoke harshly through his smile. “I’d rather live in danger in the woods than safe inside his stuffy, spotless mansion.” He took a breath he didn’t need and looked away. “Besides, he’s planning something big. And he’s giddy about it, so it can’t be good. My dad’s an evil monster, after all
Cody’s gaze went back to Hijack. This time he looked forlorn, almost guilty to admit what he said next
“...That’s why I have to find my mom. Of all the people that could stop him—I mean really stop him, not just slow him down—she’s the only one I know who wouldn’t hurt him.”
The limo softly rolled on through the moonlight.