Of Monsters and Dogs, by Antonija Mežnarić

The tall bush rustled somewhere behind her, making her almost jump and surprising her dog. He pricked his ears with a growl starting deep inside his throat, unamused. He was still quite young, but ready to defend her in any way necessary, even if it was just from a small hedgehog waddling in search of food. Aga lifted his little dark red paw while looking at the offending shrub, remembering something his hunting predecessors did, before they had mixed with other breeds,  resulting in his unique physique.

“Relax, everything’s fine,” Danijela told him, and pulled lightly on his leash. Aga looked at her with huge sad eyes, like her reluctance in leaving him to roam the huge park alone was a punishment of the worst kind. There was no way of explaining to him that they aren’t in the woods where he could do whatever he wanted. And it didn’t help that the park was full of distractions. Even in the night, when there weren’t a lot of people or kids, something was constantly happening. There was a cacophony of sounds. Leaves falling from trees to the ground, hedgehogs and cats making all sorts of noise, cars driving down the nearby road. And that didn’t include every type of smell that permeated the air like a stale perfume. School children with their food and smell, grown ups with their dogs, grass, wet fur, piss and shit. Aga, of course, needed to shove his snout in all of it.

Danijela just wanted to relax, but it was increasingly hard to do that. Their evening walk was usually her favourite one. With little to no people, the park was almost theirs alone. It was mostly covered in shadows, completely dark in some parts, while in other ones the golden yellow light of street lights covered ground in sepia blotches. But something was off tonight. The rustling of the bushes sounded like a warning, and tonight acorns and leaves fell all around her with loud thumps. Almost like a heartbeat of a beast, which was a peculiar comparison to come to her mind and a good sign something was wrong. She pulled at the leash again.

“Come on. Just poop, please.” And poop he did, but only after dragging her to a completely secluded dark spot. She suppressed the need to sigh and simply took out the plastic bag from her pocket. Squinting in the dark she tried to locate the excrement, thinking how this would be a good place for a murderer to get a drop on her. A dark path was lying on her left side, disappearing in the blackness, and she had to crouch.

And there was that rustling sound again, and now her dog was even barking, looking at something behind her back. Danijela sniffed the air and cocked her head, listening intently. There was no one behind her, and she was certain it was only an animal, but it would be so easy to attack her. Materialise from the shadows, fast and silent, with a weapon in hand, aiming for her head. Probably right now, while she’s most vulnerable, crouching and picking up her dog’s shit. That would be humiliating, but she wasn’t a kid born yesterday, unable to recognize the signs. One who would ignore the chill feeling in her bones, which screamed in alarm, just like someone had  suddenly started screaming in the darkness of the park.

It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and Aga started trashing violently on the leash and barking while looking in the direction from which the shouts were coming. It sounded like a woman, so Danijela acted on instinct, forgot all about the poop, and scooped her small dog in her arms and started running towards the source like some sort of avenging angel. And really, what was she thinking doing that? She was on a dark path, but had the advantage of a familiar territory even in a park this big, with so many twists and turns, the large laurel shrubs growing wildly everywhere, and the slippery stone stairs crossing the paths. Before long, she emerged from the darkness with a ball of anxiety and fur in her hands, ending up on a clearing enclosed by trees and illuminated by a lonely street lamp. And on the ground, between two wooden benches, a bloody female figure sat, cradling something mangled in her lap.

“Are you alright?” Danijela asked, not knowing how to approach a distressed woman covered in warm, sweet smelling blood.

“He fucking ate my dog,” the woman answered with anguish and pure, unbridled confusion in her voice. She lifted her face, sticky and red, and looked at Danijela with eyes which were bright even in the dimly lit park. “He fucking ate my fucking dog.” And for good measure she showed Danijela what appeared to be hind legs and a fluffy tail, with entrails hanging limply towards the gravel.

“Who?” Danijela asked and squeezed her own yappy dog, very alive and still in one piece. She sniffed the air, which probably looked foolish, not to mention it being completely pointless. Everything around her was covered in the stench of dogs and the iron scent of blood, hard, and sweet, and tingly, and all consuming. Danijela licked her lips almost subconsciously and fought an urge to facepalm there and then. She could freak the young woman out even more. Even though the woman did a good job of looking like an even bigger weirdo than Danijela, covered in blood and body parts. Which wasn’t fair, since she’d just lost her dog in what would appear to be a vicious attack. Danijela didn’t have that sort of an excuse. Still… something was really disturbing in the way the woman kept watching her, unblinkingly and with such deep focus like her eyes were slicing and flaying Danijela’s skin off her body, until there was nothing left to hide who she was. And the woman was magical, that was certain. Danijela could now feel the magic rolling off her like a smell of thunder striking three times in the same place. Powerful, without a doubt.

“A doghead,” the woman said finally and Danijela nodded, not knowing what else to do. She obviously came to the same conclusion like Danijela had about her, or she was still too distraught to try and hide the truth in front of a potential human. Although, if Danijela were just a normal human being, she could write off her statement as a symptom of shock. 

“Are you sure?” Danijela asked just in case she had been confused.

“Well, let’s see, he had one eye on his forehead, and you know, a dog’s head on a man’s body, so yeah, I think I’m sure it was a fucking doghead that attacked me,” the woman hiccuped and shrugged, like she knew how crazy she sounded. “He just… came  out of nowhere and startled us. Maxi, my stupid fucking dog, ran towards him, probably to attack, and I couldn’t, I was so slow, too slow… He would’ve probably eaten me, too, if not for you. I think he heard you rushing… So fuckin stupid, to die like that, just because I was too startled to react. So, thanks for the save. I owe you one.”

Danijela nodded again. Aga had finally calmed in her arms, probably sensing sadness and death. The woman on the ground looked at what was left of her own dog and started blinking furiously. She tried to wipe away the tears, but her arms were soaked in blood, like she’d pushed her hands into a bucket until the sticky red fluid had reached her elbows. And it was so dark and inviting, that Danijela had to swallow down her saliva. She looked around, but the park was covered in darkness, with laurels obstructing the view. The old, dried out stone spring, carved out in a small hill behind her back, gaped with black emptiness, its huge rocks shaped like teeth in a jaw ready to snap and swallow all three and a half of them. Something could hide there and watch them from darkness and they wouldn’t know.

A chill went down her spine. Danijela focused on sounds. She could still hear acorns falling on the ground, hammering in an unnerving silence, and blood dripping from remains in the woman’s arms, but nothing else. It would be stupid to stay there for to long.

“He attacked you too? Are you injured?” It was hard to tell in the poorly lit night if there were bleeding wounds on her, or if it all came from the half eaten dog. The woman shrugged, but looked at her arms like they belonged to a stranger.

Danijela crouched in front of her. A runny, white yellow substance was hanging on the woman’s chin, probably an eye, and a chunk of meat was tangled in her hair. Danijela had to push the need to reach out and extract it, not wanting to scare her.

“Look, I live close by. You can come with me and I can help you. I can examine you and treat your wounds if you have some. Or I can help you go to your home, or to a hospital, or to a friend. But really, you shouldn’t be alone, and someone needs to take a look at you.” Danijela could feel the woman’s eyes fixed on her face, boring through her head and soul. The woman was suspicious, and rightly so.

“I give you my word, by the old gods and new rules, that no harm will come to you under my roof, or by my hand. I promise that there is no hidden agenda in my suggestion, and that you’ll be under no obligations should you accept it. I expect nothing in return. I only offer you a safe place to… well… lick your wounds.” It was probably a distasteful choice of words, given the situation, but they already slipped past and she couldn’t take them back. 

A few moments passed, and then Aga almost licked the blood from the woman’s face, mixed with tears. The woman cracked a smile at that. And nodded her head.

Danijela’s home was one of the old ones, with two stories and its own garden closed with a tall concrete wall, right on the edge of the park. Situated on a side street and hidden in the shadow of a seven stories building, with trees growing in front of her nose, it almost looked like Danijela lived somewhere in a forest near Rijeka, not in the city itself. It was a small, green isolated spot in an otherwise grey industrial town. It was her grandmother’s place, and originally she’d owned only an apartment on the ground floor, but with a little manipulation and much more inherited money, Danijela managed to buy out the other apartment. She was now living alone, with her dog, in a place big enough for at least two families, but loneliness was a price she was willing to pay to live without judgment and fear.

With extreme caution, Danijela and the woman crossed from the park to the house, hiding in the shadows and behind parked cars, hoping no one will be on the streets at the wrong time. With an uneasy feeling Danijela let the woman into her house, not sure if she was tense in anticipation of her questions about Danijela’s life, or because she didn’t know anything about the stranger she had invited into her home. She did learn her name— Nana—unless it was fake. It was a start, in any way.

In the light of her living room, she could see that Nana looked young, early twenties or simply appearing like it. She was also, at close examination, injured. There were bleeding cuts on her arms, and Danijela helped her clean and bandage the wounds, using a salve made from her garden herbs to stop infection and help with healing. She gave Nana some old clothes she wore at home, and left her alone to take a shower, while she went to dump the dead dog’s remains in the basement, until she had the time to bury them.

 And now she wasn’t sure what to do next with her guest. Aga was sitting by her legs, watching her in anticipation.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked, and the dog cocked his fluffy head. He was mocking her, she was sure of that.

Taking a deep breath, she decided to make tea. It could calm Nana’s nerves, and it was a chilly autumn day, enough to warrant a nice warm beverage. And it would give her something to do. But should she put something else in it? 

After the initial shock wears off, with the loss of blood, Nana would need something stronger to give her a boost. Maybe some finger food? Danijela was certain she still had some fingers left from her last purchase in the fridge, but when she opened it to check, she found only a middle finger in the container, and serving that seemed just bad form. Maybe some blood? Should she offer her own? Is she a bad hostess for not already having done that?

The water stopped, and Danijela sighed. She wasn’t even sure what sort of diet Nana had, since she didn’t know what the woman actually was. If she was one of the more human sort of magical creatures, she could be offended with the offered cannibalism.

Choosing to do something not as potentially controversial, Danijela had just sat up a tea set and left nettle leaves to steep in the hot water, when Nana emerged from the bathroom, wearing Danijela’s old tracksuit. Nana was shorter by a few inches and broader in the shoulders, but otherwise it looked good enough on her. And the smell of blood wasn’t clinging to her anymore, even though there were still a few drops in her long, dirty blond hair. She entered the living room, striding with the confidence of someone who was ready to march into the battle. It didn’t instil confidence in Danijela, though, and a bad feeling materialised in the form of jaws nipping at her heels. Or maybe it was just her dog being bored.

“I made you tea. To calm the nerves,” she said, feeling foolish because it didn’t look at all like Nana was still freaked out. Her eyes were bright and burning, like molten gold.

“Thanks. Is that nettle I smell?”

Danijela nodded, drumming with her fingers on the bar, waiting for the tea and not sure how to proceed. Not that she didn’t know what to talk about. But there were so many questions about the woman she wanted to know the answers to, but wasn’t certain how to start.

Nana was checking her wrapped arms, slightly damp from the shower, lightly touching her left forearm. She didn’t appear to be in pain, even though that had to hurt.

“I wasn’t sure… I don’t know how fast you heal and you didn’t mention anything when I was bandaging you, but if you need I could,” she would say it even if that ends up with Nana looking horrified, a thought that sat on Danijela’s chest like a vulture on a corpse, “I could give you some of my blood. Only a little. I could drop it in your tea.” Nana redirected attention from her hands to Danijela’s face. She felt it heating, like she was still a young girl in the school, and then felt even more foolish because of it. Nana’s expression was curiously guarded, not disgusted, but not thrilled either. Maybe if she explained it better? “It’s just, I can’t heal you, but my blood could, so if you drink it your wounds will close and you’d feel—”

“Probably better and not like a chewed out toy,” Nana thankfully interrupted her, “but no thanks. If I’m not mistaken, the side effects would include bloodthirst and, possibly, hunger for human meat for days, if not weeks, and my diet is human free. It would be too annoying if I lost control and ended up eating some douche on the bus.” She smiled so, obviously, she couldn’t be too disturbed with Danijela. And, also…

“So you know who I am?” Danijela needlessly asked. Nana’s smile grew even more and her eyes twinkled with mischievous amusement.

“I hope you don’t mind.”

“It’s just, you have me at a disadvantage,” Danijela confessed, feeling a little bit infuriated that she couldn’t guess what sort of being she’d helped, or at least what kind of magic the woman possessed. But she had no right to ask her that. If Nana didn’t want to disclose this kind of information, it was completely within her rights. But how did she know that Danijela was a shtriga? Danijela believed she didn’t look like any of the stereotypes.

“Anyway, thanks for the tea. But I’m not staying too long,” Nana said and gestured towards the doors. But you didn’t even have time to drink it, Danijela wanted to say, looking at the untouched tea pot. Her mouth dried up.

“Wait,” she carefully chose her next words, wracking her brain to find an excuse to stall Nana’s departure, “what about the doghead that attacked you? We should notify the Council, don’t you think?”

The rules were clear. Hunting humans was forbidden in Rijeka and the Kvarner Gulf in general and, the last time she’d checked, dogheads were still blacklisted for entering their borders, being among the most violent and uncontrollable sorts of beings. The fact that there was one of them in her town meant someone was in transgression and they should surely notify what passed for authorities in the magical community. And if the report would buy her more time with Nana, then being a responsible citizen was a worthy shot.

“Well, we should definitely do that,” Nana agreed, yet Danijela heard the ‘but’ even before it was said aloud, “but it’s a slow process. First of all, it’s too late for them to do something tonight. They need to clarify our claims, and only then they’d send out a verified hunter to clean up this mess. By that time the doghead could do much more damage. You can’t reason with them. They know only killing and death.”

“You’re not thinking of going after him alone?”

“Maybe I’ll manage to track him,” Nana said, shrugging, like they were discussing some book they read. “I was thinking, in the shower, and I think I should’ve gone after him sooner, to make sure I didn’t lose his trail. Now is, maybe, too late.”

“Or maybe you should leave this to someone else. The rules—”

“I know the rules,” Nana interrupted her. “And the most important of them all is a human’s need to be in complete ignorance regarding the existence of our world. And it’s the duty of all of us to uphold the secrecy and to guard the truth. But a rogue doghead, who’s not even supposed to be on this territory, endangers that.”

“That’s an impressive manipulation of the law.”

“You call it manipulation, I call it interpretation.” Nana smiled and it had an edge which could cut through the ground. Magic was  rolling off her like a heavy perfume, making it intoxicating to be in her presence. But still, Danijela knew the girl’s ideas were dangerous.

“Going alone after the doghead is dangerous. You said it yourself, it almost ate you, too. What are you going to do if you find him?”

Nana shrugged. “I’m going to do what I couldn’t last time. Talk. Also, could I borrow your kitchen knife?”

She was dead serious. Danijela had an urge to laugh aloud like a maniac.

“Look, what if it kills someone and I could’ve done something to stop it? Or,” and she pointed at Aga sitting by Danijela’s legs, “he ate more dogs? No one is safe. And, you know, if you’re too worried about me, you could come with me so I won’t be alone,” she added, suddenly sounding shy. Danijela almost choked on her own breath, confused with the way the situation kept changing.

“Come on.” Nana took a step closer to her, with the kitchen bar being a barrier between the two of them, and she could smell her own flowery shower gel and, even more, the sweet pungent scent of ozone and battleground. If she focused, she could hear their hearts beating in the rhythm of a march. “Don’t tell me you’re not mad. He hunted on your territory. He defiled your sanctuary. The park is your place, and he spilled the blood on its grounds like it was nothing.”

The words cut through Danijela, through her skin and bones, touching her core. A fire, carefully hidden, buried to almost nothing but a live coal, suddenly flared inside her, huge like a bonfire on Midsummer Eve. It did make her angry. It did make her blood boil. But she shouldn’t…

Nana will go after the damn creature herself, regardless of what Danijela chose. Will she really leave the woman to fend for herself after she’d possibly saved her life? What was the point of it all if Nana ends up dying anyway? What if she went for a walk with Aga tomorrow and found her lovely torso shredded to pieces, and her pretty head missing, digesting in the belly of the beast?

“Fine, I’ll help. It would be a shame if you got yourself eaten after I’d saved your life.”

Nana’s smile was bright and inappropriately happy. 

“Just let me get changed into something more comfortable.”

Danijela slipped into a dog’s form, slim and huge with short white fur. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the best body she could use. Being a sighthound instead of a scent hound, she exceeded in speed and agility, keeping her prey in sight while hunting. But now, what they needed was someone with the most sensitive nose there was, tracking the doghead by his scent. Unfortunately, the sort of dog she could shapeshift into wasn’t by choice, and her old Croatian sighthound’s nose would have to do. She just hoped Nana didn’t have a slight idea about dog breeds because this wouldn’t look as impressive as she hoped it would. Maybe she should’ve just shapeshifted into a cat—her favourite body to use. Small and gracious, silent and regal, with fluffy calico fur, she probably looked more predatory than her lean, long legged canine form.

Sticking with her choice, she trotted near Nana, constantly making sure she wasn’t walking too fast. The girl was silent, thoughtful, making Danijela wonder if she was changing her mind. A part of Danijela wanted her to, but the other part, the home of the old hunting instinct in her bones, wanted nothing more than to find the offending monster and bite off his neck.

Which will probably be harder to do than to say. She sniffed through the clearing where the attack had happened, but the smells were too confusing for her. The white grovel was soaked in blood, and they should maybe do something about it before some unsuspecting elementary school kids stumbled upon it. Danijela circled the clearing multiple times, stuck her head under all six of the wooden benches, even got into the creepy dried out fountain and freaked out a hedgehog who mercifully decided to clench into a ball. If it had tried to run away from her, the stupid dog brain would probably react and before long she would’ve find herself on the other side of the park.

The air was fermented with the tart smell of piss and shit and the iron flavor of blood, but she couldn’t make any sense of that, or pick out what could be specifically her prey. This sucks, she thought. Never in her life was she disappointed about not being a scent hound. That little suckers would find the smell she needed and follow it all the way to the doghead’s butt. Irony was, she’d left Aga at home for his safety, but his nose would probably be of more use than hers, what with him having a dachshund somewhere in his family tree and all. But he was also treat sized for the doghead they were trying to find.

“He went that way.” Nana probably took mercy on her, seeing how completely lost she was, and motioned in the direction of the old industrial part of the town. Running a little bit ahead of Nana, in shame, Danijela actually managed to find a trail of small drops of blood. Happy that there was something she could follow, she focused on that. Blood spatter occasionally ended, and she would use her speed to move further away from Nana to look around, until she caught a new drop. It looked like the doghead had moved outside of the park, towards the main street. At least there weren’t any new dead bodies.

Coming upon a street crossing, there were three potential roads he could take. He could turn right, and venture into a western part of the town. There was a small gas station and, who knows, maybe the station worker saw something strange that could point them in the right direction. Of course, the doghead could’ve just turned left and continued onto the railway or even further away toward the center of the town. That would be most unfortunate, because there were certainly still people milling around. Or he would have crossed  the street into the derelict industrial zone, which lay by the sea and the old port. Since the trail of blood had stopped, he could’ve gone in any direction.

Danijela stood at the traffic light waiting for Nana. She tried to think like a doghead who’s just eaten a snack, but got interrupted before he could get on to the main course. Was he searching for more food? He didn’t dare to stay and attack Nana when he’d heard someone else coming to the rescue, so maybe he wasn’t brave enough to hunt larger groups of prey. In that case, he would prefer places where it was easier to hide. Somewhere like the port or the railway, or old buildings that no one cared about anymore.

She had decided they should ask the worker at the gas station if he’d seen someone passing by, just to eliminate one of the possible routes, when she saw something move out of the corner of her eyes, a shape, blurry, four legged, fast, disappearing in the grey dark street. Before she could register what was happening, she was running straight ahead, after it. It was just a cat, she knew that, and yet it was difficult to concentrate. She was on a hunt, so why was she trying to stop? The whole purpose of her body was to chase after some…one and she will not let it out of her sight. Her whole vision focused on that one thing trying to move away from her, moving swiftly in the darkness and piling on top of a carcass with other cats. 

Danijela stopped abruptly, her ears high in the air. Alley cats looked at her with pure hatred in their eyes, bits of bloody raw meat in their little mouths. They were dirty, beaten and missing ears and tails, and they had no problems fighting with a dog, even one as big as a calf. Hissing and showing sharp claws they were warning her not to come closer or try to steal their food, which still had a part of a head, a torso and an arm that had once, not that long ago, belonged to an older, living and breathing man. Now he was quite dead and in smaller pieces. Two of the cats were playing tug-of-war with his guts when Danijela stumbled upon them.

“Well, fuck me,” said Nana. Danijela turned to the panting girl, who must’ve ran after her, but her golden brown eyes were glued on the dead body in front of them. “See, I told you he could kill someone else tonight.” Danijela cocked her head since she couldn’t shrug, but hoped the right message would still be conveyed.

The corpse that was currently a feast for cats was hidden in the shadow of an abandoned looking building, behind a dumpster. Everything was forlorn here, lost in the past. It was quiet except for a hissing, warning sound of agitated felines and an occasional car passing by further away, on the main road. And it didn’t appear there was anyone else in the street. Danijela went searching for more blood or any other clue to where her prey had gone, but she didn’t want to leave Nana alone for too long with the dead body and the pissed off cats, so she soon abandoned her search.

Going back, she let her bones break themselves and rearrange with a loud crunching sound, skin burst and grew out new, long dark hair to replace the white fur. From the four legs, she got back standing on two, butt naked in the creepy dark alley. It was much colder than she’d expected.

“What are we going to do now?” She asked, worry gnawing at her stomach.

Nana obviously had a plan because she was trying to tuck the corpse in a big black trash bag while fending off the cats. Who were not at all impressed with Nana, but still cautious enough to stay away. The bag rustled in the silence, while she struggled to hold it open with one hand, handling the nibbled on head with the other. The bag was one of the things she’d asked Danijela to lend, first being the kitchen knife. Just in case, she’d said back then.

 “Well we need to—” Nana looked up from her task and her words faded away like they were intestines in the cats’ mouth. “You’re naked.”

“Yeah, shapeshifting does that,” Danijela said unabashedly, trying to project confidence she didn’t actually feel. But she was a shtriga and she wouldn’t try to cover herself, having nothing to be ashamed about, stereotypes be damned. It did feel cold, though, and she should’ve packed a bathrobe.

“Okay.” Warm eyes kept wandering over her body, making her feel like she was standing bathed in the light of the petroleum lamp. Danijela started to feel heated, too, in the cold autumn air, before Nana cleared her throat and turned towards the body again.

“As I was starting to say, we can’t leave the body here for anyone to find.” She pulled the head slightly, and it remained in her arms, while the torso fell on the ground with a squishy wet noise, startling them both. Dead, glossy eyes were judging them hard. One of the cats bravely tried to come closer again and Danijela loudly clapped her hands to shoo it away.

“So you’re throwing it in the trash?”

“What’s the alternative?” Nana was turning the severed head in her hands like a ball before putting it in a bag. “Or, wait,” she said, looking at Danijela again, “would you like to eat it? You eat human meat, don’t you?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” the curse slipped from her shocked face. “Do you find your food in the garbage? If you must know, all my meat is purchased from a registered local necromant morgue. It’s all clean, treated with care, and from a verified source. It came already dead, it’s checked for disease and, most importantly, it’s not covered in someone else’s saliva.” Danijela seethed in disbelief. To even assume something like that about her, that she was digging in the trash looking for her food like some damn plague infected rat! Just because she could shapeshift into one didn’t mean she shared its feeding habits or hygiene.

“Sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” Nana’s apology sounded sincere, her lovely cheeks flushed pink. “I just thought it’s a shame, throwing away all this meat when we could, I don’t know, recycle it.”

Danijela sighed and let go of all of the annoyance with her breath.

“There’s a… there are those who don’t have enough money for… er… meat sources like I do. I could check the remains and, if it’s not too damaged or diseased, I could clean it and give to those who can’t afford to be picky.”

She could feel Nana’s look burning through her head, but she ignored it and leaned in to help her stuff the corpse in the bag. There wasn’t much left, but even a half of torso was heavy enough to give them trouble.

After picking up all that was left of some poor man, Nana apparently got it in her head they weren’t finished with their hunt. Throwing the bag over her shoulder, she looked like she’d decided to tow it with them for the remainder of the night. Since reasoning failed, Danijela left it alone for now. When it becomes too hard, Nana will have no other choice but to stop. With Danijela shapeshifting again, and Nana dragging the dead weight, they resumed their search.

But the trail had turned cold. And, no matter where they looked, the only remains they found were from a once busy industry. A huge hotel stood empty like a tombstone to a lost time, broken, unkempt and abandoned to ruin within years. It was on a railway line and in a port, so poor emigrants at the beginning of the 20th century had a place where they could wait for the ships to take them to a better life in America. A smart quarantine—being in the city, and at the same time separated from it by the railway tracks on one side and the sea from the other, so all the poor people coming in drones didn’t need to interact with citizens. Danijela wondered if the doghead had gone over to the port, or followed the tracks to the train station, or if it had gone further down the street, broken into a hundred year old refinery, or even hidden in one of its empty buildings. Maybe even a hotel… But when Nana tried the doors on Danijela’s prompt, they were securely shut, and the street was too big to check every building.

A foul smell clouded her senses. It was coming from a recycling company that repurchased old paper and electronics, something of a garbage disposal site on it’s own. With their luck, the doghead had probably chosen to hide in some big pile of drenched newspaper. But, unless they decided to do some breaking and entering, they couldn’t actually check. And there was no other blood spatter to indicate where he went.

With so many possibilities and the night slowly crawling towards the dawn they had to face the fact that they’d lost him. Danijela turned around to Nana, whose face was ghastly white, covered in tiny drops of sweat. The burden she was carrying herself was probably killing her shoulder, but she didn’t complain. But she had a look in her eyes, full of ire and flame.

“I don’t think we’ll find him anytime soon. There’s just too many possibilities to consider…” Danijela said after taking her human form again. Nana’s eyes flashed, with almost the same color as her blonde hair, and there was something strange in her gaze, like a sharpened blade, heated on brimfire, carving through the air. Tiny pinpricks danced on the skin of Danijela’s naked body, and even deeper, under it, in the muscles and nerves.

Nana opened her mouth and Danijela’s heart started beating faster. She could almost taste the anticipation in the air, like the whole world had stopped breathing for a moment to listen to what Nana had to say. Danijela’s survival instinct screamed danger, and her animal side wanted to run away, bark, hiss, fly somewhere far. It all happened in a second, but when Nana closed her mouth and shook her head, the world breathed out like a deflated balloon. Danijela wondered if this was how it felt after you’ve narrowly missed a catastrophic event, but she couldn’t explain why she’d felt like that over something the other woman wanted to say. And yet. Nana’s eyes looked normal again. Not that they were particularly strange before. Just brighter.

“You’re right. We should go home,” Nana said in the end, even when it sounded like you instead of we. “No, really,” she must’ve seen the disbelief on Danijela’s face because she continued, “it will dawn soon, and I heard that vampires aren’t really morning persons.” It sounded like she tried to joke, but it fell flat.

“You’re continuing your search, aren’t you?”

Nana shrugged with an apologetic smile. “No, I’m going home. Promise. I’m also exhausted and I messaged my grandma not to wait up, but she’s probably still awake and glued to the window. And my back hurts, and yeah, I know, you did warn me about that. I’ll help you bring this dead meat home, and then I’m out of your hair. And I’m going to contact the Council, as a victim of the attack, so really, you shouldn’t fret. You’ll be free of this drama.”

It wasn’t really what Danijela wanted to hear. The thought that they’ll never see each other again didn’t sit well with her, but what was she supposed to do? Their time together had already been lengthened enough, and if she asked for more she’ll just sound desperate. Or worse, like a creep. Maybe it would be all for the better if they went their separate ways. She’d spent her life keeping a low profile, and everything about Nana suggested high stakes.

Also, there was no way that Nana would be ready to drop the case, so why would Danijela care if some strange girl got hurt seeking danger? It was better to just say goodbye, and hope for the best.

Morning came too fast, probably because she almost welcomed it awake. Aga was impatient, so, with a gnawing pit in her stomach, Danijela went on with her morning dog walking routine, trying not to think about two corpses in the basement that awaited her attention.

It was a cloudy day, with the smell of rain in the air, not really surprising for Rijeka, a city that constantly wept. The school by the park had already started with lessons and there weren’t many people in the park, save for some kid running late to its class. Acorns continued to fall with loud blows, like punishment from the sky. She tried to look as nonchalant as she could, walking Aga towards the place where Nana was attacked last night.

Bright red blotches marred the white gravel, evidence that what happened wasn’t just some fever dream. There was already someone there with a dog, walking near the dried blood, looking puzzled, but not particularly afraid. Maybe they thought a stray dog had slaughtered one of the cats that lived in the park.

She firmly pulled on Aga’s leash and took a different path. They made a round of the park, much longer than necessary. There was not a shrub which escaped Danijela’s scrutiny. And if she was looking around on paths for dirty blond hair, well, nobody asked.

Danijela’s midday walk went in a similar fashion. Except now everything was full of children with backpacks, running unleashed. Leaves rustled on the wind, and the weather was still on the brink of raining. Some old woman was walking a french bulldog, yelling at him for picking up a bone. Danijela felt guilty even if she wasn’t certain the bone had come from Nana’s deceased dog. It could’ve come from somewhere else, this being a big park and all. And even if it was, she wasn’t responsible for everything that happened there. Even if it was her territory, like Nana had said.

Danijela stopped in her tracks, looking at the fallen leaves, but lost in her thoughts. This place was a fantastic hunting ground. Highly dense with trees and big, thick laurel shrubbery, it was like a small forest. But, at the same time, it was a part of the town, laying near the very conveniently sketchy industrial quarter, where one lonely monster could easily find a place to hide. And have access to different ways to run away. He could easily come back again, and some other dog walker, or a junkie, could end up as his food.

But this was also her territory. Being the only magical creature to walk on this land regularly would do the trick even if the park wasn’t built on the former country estate of her ancestor. Not that anyone knew that in any case. But it was within her power to protect this place, even if she didn’t feel responsible for people who passed through it.

A little bit of her blood spilled on all the entrances to the park might be enough. And, if she wanted to go all in, she could build a strong protection spellground bones from a person killed violentlyand then bury it in the ground. Or the other one, where she needed to swallow a whole living cock with all its feathers while standing in the center of the area at midnight, which was unpleasant, but could secure the park as a safe place for everyone. There was also a possibility of her simply poisoning the ground with sickness tailored to her enemies, the downside being the possibility of something going wrong with the spell, which would end in a full blown epidemic.

She could do any of that to ensure that the doghead had to turn away, to find some other place to hunt. Except, trailing him, Nana would also go away.

Aga whined at her legs, protesting that she’d been standing still. He wanted to move, do something, and she was being morose. Danijela sighed.

“Let’s go home,” she said to her agitated dog. She had some planning to do.

Since she didn’t own any bones of a violently killed person, nor a rooster, there wasn’t much she could do for tonight. At least that’s what she told herself while looking in her closet, searching for what to wear. If she, by any chance, encounters Nana again, then great. If they manage to take care of the little doghead problem, then even better. But if not, tomorrow she’ll call her necromant suppliers and see if there’s a violent death sitting in their morgue. And that will be the end of that.

Checking her reflection in the mirror, she decided to put on lipstick, red like dried blood. The contrast was high with her full lips, a face that looked unnaturally pale, and thick black hair. And, on top of it all she was in a woolen black dress with long sleeves. She looked like some witch from a fairy tale, which made her frown. Or a vampire. Or even worse⁠—like a goth. Maybe she was a walking stereotype; no wonder Nana could guess she was a shtriga. That was the unfortunate thought. In a fast move she removed the offending clothes and decided on a gingham blue dress, reserved mostly for fancy events, which made her look even more ridiculous. Between the gothic damsel and New Years party attire, she decided to go with the former and changed again.

Feeling spectacularly foolish, she put the leash on her dog and went for a walk.

The smell of the approaching rain was even stronger than before and it was only a matter of time before it started pouring like water from a bucket. The wind was picking up, bringing colder weather with it, chilling her through her clothes. The playground was completely empty, swings swaying alone, like playtime for ghosts. One lonely lamp illuminated it in pale amber light. Behind her back lay a completely dark path, and in front of her old stone stairs pushed through tall shrubbery, towards the clearing where her current problems had begun. Focusing on the sounds, she listened for footsteps, but everything was just the rustling and the cars. And, of course, the continuous thuds of acorns, reverberating like gunshots in her strained ears.

Aga was also tense, sniffing with his little head held high and his paw in the air. Pulling on his leash, she started descending the stairs. She was being silly; when they emerge from the laurel into the clearing, she’ll find it empty like the playground, with Nana nowhere in sight, the same way she wasn’t there in the morning or midday. It would completely be like every other night. With only the blood stains as a reminder of their meeting, and the old stone face from the dried up fountain as company.

But when they finally hit the end of the stairs, her heart skipped a beat or two, seeing how wrong she’d been. Or right. Because there was a figure there, near the blood stain, with familiar dark blond hair that stood out in the yellow light of the street lamp. Pale yellow rays bathed her head in a warm color, and when she turned around, it looked like a halo, crowning her. She held something in her hands, a big piece of tupperware, like she’d come bearing cake and cookies. Somehow, Danijela doubted that it contained pastries. 

Nana smiled, and suddenly it wasn’t as cold outside as it had been. More like spring turning into summer, than autumn creeping towards winter nights.

“Hey, you. Didn’t expect you here,” she said and regretted it immediately. Especially when Nana’s smile turned sad.

“Well, I wish I could say the same.” Upon her confused look she clarified: “The dog, I knew you walked him here. Thought you probably go out at the same time every night, or close by.”

“So, you hoped to see me again?” It sounded dangerously close to flirting. And Nana’s face was going through some interesting internal debate. Something like regret flickered there, before setting on a small smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

“Just… well, I wanted to see if the doghead would come back. And I want you to know, you don’t have any obligation to join me in my pursuit. I’m really sorry you got tangled in my mess yesterday.”

Danijela’s hope plummeted to the bottom of her stomach. Really, she should’ve expected that. No one wanted to hang out with a shtriga. Too dangerous, too bloodthirsty, too sick, too cursed, the way the others tell it. But she’d thought that Nana was different, especially with how hell bent on finding the dangerous creature she’d been. She looked like she didn’t care about the risk, or the cannibalism. But obviously, it was all only a result of shock from the attack. Or fear.

“It’s okay. I didn’t mind the run,” Danijela said through dry lips, “I’m just sorry I couldn’t help you more.” Dejectedly, she started to turn away.

Nana’s mouth twitched, something between a smile and a frown.

“You’re wearing black.” Danijela felt completely thrown off with the comment. She lowered her gaze, like she wanted to check if Nana had been correct.

“It was a… difficult choice. Sometimes I wonder if I look too much like a witch. Or a vampire. I don’t want to be a stereotype.” She shouldn’t be airing her worries in the open like that. Nana didn’t really care for her angst.

“Well, I think you look lovely in that.” It caught her off guard again. Completely at a loss for words, she tried to understand the other woman’s behavior. Maybe she’d misunderstood her before? But it really looked like Nana didn’t want her company, sad smiles and all. And she was there only for the doghead, she’d admitted it herself.

“Look…” Nana continued, “I just want to say, despite being attacked and losing a dog and then spending a night in a wild chase which resulted in body parts, I’m really glad we met. And would gladly get to know you better. Outside all this. I just don’t want you to think that you need to stick with me on this… quest, if you’d rather do literally anything else. I shouldn’t have said that thing about protecting your territory, it was out of line and manipulative. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is…” she stopped talking there and for a moment Danijela didn’t want to accidentally breathe too loud. “I’m sorry if I made you feel like you’re responsible for keeping me alive, and I’m not expecting you to stick around. But if you’d like to grab a cup of coffee sometime when I’m not bleeding or, you know, holding cancerous lungs in my arms, I’d really like that.”

Danijela blinked. She was focusing on the wrong thing, she knew, but she still asked: “You’re holding what?”

Nana sighed and shrugged. “It’s for the doghead.”

Of course it was. “You’re planning on luring him in a trap with that?”

A shrug, again, covered with a bashful smile, like Nana was suddenly a nineteenth century maid, strolling through the countryside with a suitor on her hand.

Danijela couldn’t believe her. “You’re insane!” she exclaimed. “Did you even contact the Council about this like you said?”

“Hey, I made a promise. Relax, it’s done,” Nana answered, amusement lighting her whole face. “Until they do something about it, I still believe I can make a difference between life or death for some poor fool.” Or get revenge, a thought passed through Danijela’s mind, but she kept it for herself. “So, what about the other things I said?”

“I’d like to get coffee sometime. But also, I’m staying. And—” Danijela raised her hand to prevent interruption “—that’s final. You didn’t make me do anything I didn’t want to do. Honestly. Also, I want to see how this hunt ends.” Nana’s smile was bright like a summer morning hitting through the blinds. And as warm.

“So, what was your plan?” She motioned towards the tupperware, with a smile of her own mirroring the one on Nana’s face. Nana opened the lid with a flourish and the smell of rotten meat finally hit. Big, black lumps of it looked as if they were taken off an anti-smoking campaign. Aga started thrashing on the leash, wanting to see or, better yet, smell the pieces up close.

“I thought about how good this place was for hunting and realized that the doghead, while he’s here, will probably continue to haunt this park. He would be stupid not to. So I thought, maybe, I could leave it somewhere around here. Disease and death and meat, it’s what he craves. This would be like a drug to him.”

“If he’s close enough to smell it.”

“Well, I thought I’d maybe walk with the lid open until I draw him out.”

“And then?”Danijela was most interested about the other part. What would Nana do once confronted the doghead?

“Then I’ll improvise,” she nonchalantly said, but, upon seeing Danijela’s incredulous look, hurried to explain: “I’m not that powerless. Also, I have a knife! It’s actually yours. I forgot to give it back. Also, this.”

The knife in question was fastened to her belt, which Danijela saw when Nana moved the flap of her jacket. On the other side, there was a small axe, the kind people used to chop wood for kindling. It still didn’t sound like a good plan. Danijela frowned. Powers or not, she couldn’t just improvise with someone as dangerous as a doghead. They used to terrorise whole villages in northeast Croatia, always hungry for human meat, never stopping until they were destroyed. There was a reason they weren’t welcome in their town, even when a lot of other questionable homicidal species could stay. Including shtrigas.

“You mean to say you came here armed only with a kitchen knife and a tiny axe? Against a—”

The unmistakable sound of footsteps striding on the gravel cut through her thoughts. Aga pricked his ears, ready to run towards the sound. Danijela quickly turned around and faced the dark path. Thick laurel growth, however, hid what was approaching. She was ready to shapeshift, right there and then, her dress be damned, until a stranger emerged from the shadows, making her heart almost burst from her chest. He had a grey beanie and a hollow look about him, but he had both eyes, too, and a definite human face.

Nana quickly closed the lid on her tupperware, lowered her arms to hide the cold weapons below the jacket, and smiled. Danijela forgot how to look natural, so she just stood there, staring at the man. They made coincidental eye contact and the man swiftly looked away, walking in bigger strides like he was running away, clearly disturbed.

“Well, it looks like we’ve successfully freaked someone out. So, what do you think he thinks we’re doing here?” Nana jokingly asked.

“Probably drugs. Maybe he thinks you’re selling me a few pounds.”

“That’s unfortunate. If only he knew we’re getting ready to slaughter someone.”

Danijela’s laughter was sudden and loud, freed from her anxious lungs. Nana smiled, too, and her eyes twinkled with mischief. They shouldn’t be having this much fun, what with the potential trapping and killing, beast or not. But it was hard not to enjoy the other woman’s company.

And it would be great for them to survive so they could continue having fun, if possible, without their life coming in peril. To do that, they had to focus on the task at hand. Danijela looked at the other girl, and started to formulate a plan.

It wasn’t particularly well thought out, or meticulous in any way, but they worked with what they had. Danijela left Aga and her dress with Nana and slipped into a slim feline form which was easy to conceal. Nana left the blackened lungs like an offering on a heap of stones that someone had left in one of the dried up ponds. Her rationalization was that magic loved symbolism. There once had been a source of water in the park, turned now to dried up land, and in the middle of that former small pond someone had made a circle of stones, stacked like a pyramid. It screamed ritual sacrifice. The perfect place for them to place lumps of organ riddled with tumor, which was supposed to lure their mark.

Danijela hid, and Nana stood close to the pond with Aga on his leash, looking as inconspicuous as she could, lightly fumbling with her belt. Only a lonely innocent girl on a walk with her small dog that looked confused as hell. A lovely and easy meal. Main course and a fluffy dessert. Sitting in the cypress tree that grew right above the pond, Danijela had a clear view at them. It would be so easy to jump down from there, catch them off guard. Her sharp claws dug deeper in the wet bark. She had to concentrate. Nana and Aga weren’t her prey. Even when they looked like an easy catch.

The wind picked up and the rustling of leaves got louder. Danijela tensed, her muscles straining. She picked up a sound, something that wasn’t the treetops swaying, or the acorns falling on the ground. It wasn’t even Nana’s breathing, or the dog’s annoyed shuffling. It was almost imperceptible, noiseless, but her keen sensen picked it up—the slight movement of the gravel.

She crept further up on her branch and looked through green needles, searching for the source of the sound. A streetlight was behind her back, but her eyes caught the movement in the dark. A reflection from a single eye, behind a black mass that was a laurel shrub. He was looking at Nana and Aga, still unaware of him. Danijela hissed in alarm and jumped from the tree, landing on her feet.

Movement in the corner of her eye confirmed that the doghead was moving too. He was fast, and bulky, and with her cat’s vision she could see how bloodshot his eye was. There was also an odor leaking from his form, old sweat, piss, blood and rotten meat. His head looked like a german shepherd’s, but larger. He was charging towards the Nana, with a deep growl and saliva dripping from his canines. Danijela barreled at him, mid-change from the cat to her sighthound form. Bones broke and skin cracked, and her jaw was suddenly larger. She was aiming at his throat, but he managed to shove her off himself. As soon as she found her footing she attacked again, biting down hard on his leg. Blood surged to her mouth, but she focused on tearing away meat and muscles, looking for bone. A blow landed on the back of her head, heavy and strong enough to make her vision blur and her teeth hurt.

Arms caught her skinny body and she could feel the huge head coming down towards her to rip her apart, so she started thrashing and changing at the same time, into a body of a fly. Landing on his muscled arm, she noticed—through the tiny mosaics of thousand lenses in her eyesthat Nana had grabbed Aga and was now standing still nearby with a knife in her hand. Their foe stopped the attack, probably confused that Danijela in his hands had managed to get away, but then he shifted his focus back on his first victim without delay. Danijela flew away and shapeshifted into a dog again, ready to jump at the doghead when he turned his angry eye toward her and growled. The growl was deep, primal, and his big form dwarfed hers. But she still bared her teeth, ready to jump at him, when something passed through the air. It was a chilling feeling, like the wind was suddenly fleeting, scared away by something. The doghead must’ve felt it too, because he turned around, sniffing. Not daring to lose him from sight, she only saw in peripheral vision that Nana had moved closer to them. It looked like all of the light was following her, coalescing over her head like she was a goddess walking among men.

Don’t move,” she said to the doghead, in a strange, deep voice that reverberated in Danijela’s bones. “Only death awaits you here. Bites of steel, spilled blood. And know this, your life will end tonight. Your head severed, impaled on a stick, will be the only thing that’s left of you.

Her words were met with a challenging growl. The doghead advanced on Nana, looking absolutely furious, but Danijela had different plans. She charged towards him and jumped on his back, catching the nape of his neck with her dog jaw. The momentum of her movement knocked him down and she went with him, hitting the ground hard, losing grip on his neck.

In a moment of pure panic, while she was getting back on her feet, she remembered that Nana was standing in front of the doghead, and could’ve easily been pinned under his body. The panic passed when she finally saw the doghead kneeling on the ground and clutching the handle of a knife buried in his gut. He must’ve ran into Nana’s knife when Danijela had knocked him down. Nana had managed to move from his path on time. She was standing near them now, holding a whimpering Aga in her left arm, while she wielded the axe with her right.

Before she could react, the doghead ripped out the knife with a gurgling sound of streaming blood. His cry of pain froze Danijela’s blood. But he didn’t seem dead, only pissed off. With a slow, but deliberate movement, he stood up on his legs, clutching the knife in his hand.

The metallic smell that hit her was so all consuming that her vision started to blur. The urge inside of her focused completely on the slow river of blood, flowing from his wound. She still felt the metallic taste on her tongue and it burned with need for more. A silent whisper of an ancient urge tickled her belly and paws, wanting more of his blood. But he was too big and too strong for her current, light form.

She rose, changing back to human with each movement, but with tiny differences. Front legs got more mass, became arms again, but with longer, talon-like nails. In her mouth, the teeth grew long and sharp, ready to rip out meat to get to the blood. When she jumped, she hooked into his chest with her claws and her fangs penetrated the skin in his throat.

A loud, desperate cry rang out through the park. His trapped body trashed in her arms and she clenched harder, holding him in tight embrace. Tearing off a chunk of meat, she continued to lap up his blood, gulping it without restraint. It was invigorating, tingling in her limbs, sharpening up her sight and sense of smell. The thudding of her beating, excited heart drowned his cries, which had, with each moment, with every drop of blood lost from his arteries and delivered to her mouth, started to dim out. Until they stopped.

Spasms shook the body in her clasp. Just a reaction of dying meat, nothing more. She slurped the remaining drops, until there was nothing more to drink.  When she was done with him, the limp form of the doghead looked like a torn ragdoll.

Her senses came back, and Danijela became acutely aware of the fluid smeared across her face and in her hair, which now freely fell down her naked back. A chunk of meat had stuck under her claws, and she retracted them like she still was a cat. Licking her fangs, she made sure they disappeared beneath her teeth again. Nervous, she slowly turned her head towards the other woman, trying to look as nontreathening as she could, drenched in someone else’s blood.

Nana had an unreadable look in her eyes and rosy cheeks. She was breathing hard, and still hugged the dog to her chest, who was suddenly frozen with fear. Poor thing, he’ll probably be traumatised.

“Well now, I didn’t expect this. But that’s what I get for being vague,” Nana said. A loud thud interrupted whatever she wanted to say next. Danijela looked down. The doghead’s dog head had snapped off and fallen from the bruised, ripped out neck.

A drop of cold water struck her forehead. The rain had finally started.

“Wait!” Danijela almost flinched hearing her own voice, hoarse like she was shouting all night long. The things Nana said to the doghead about him dying tonight, like some prophecy of old… she wasn’t certain but there was an idea forming in her head. “You’re clairvoyant, aren’t you?”

Nana’s face was obscured by the rain, but Danijela could bet that she was smiling.

“Sort of,” she answered. Danijela nodded and stood up. It made sense. Those with a gift of seeing possible futures had a power to will one of them to life. That could be the reason Nana was so flippant about the conflict with the doghead—if she knew that it would end in their victory.

“You’re right, I can see the future. Or, better yet, futures. Whatever I say has to come to pass. And I’ve clinged onto a future where he died, and we’re both alive. Except, in the vision I’d seen, it was me who had butchered him. But I wasn’t clear enough in my speech and, well, I didn’t have the time to see all possible futures. So, that’s why I wasn’t expecting this.”

Danijela moved closer to the other girl, intently looking for any signs of distress. But Nana’s eyes were big and clear, and there wasn’t a trace of fear in them. Still, she wanted to know more before she decided what to do next.

“Last night, you had a chance to predict the future in which we find him. Why didn’t you? Or, did you? Is that why he came tonight?”

She shook her head. Rain picked up the speed, starting to pour over them in all it’s freezing might.

“No. Look, it’s complicated. My power. There are so many paths life can take. To see them all, it’s maddening. It’s like trying to see all of the universe at the same time. So, the easiest way is to focus on one thing, on one star. To anchor yourself in the streams of the future, so to say. I need to have visual contact with the person whose life I’m trying to predict. And, like I said, he startled me last night and left before I could do anything. The only person whose future I could influence was…”

“Me,” Danijela said. It wasn’t an accusation, just a statement. Still, Nana lowered her eyes, ashamed.

“I almost did that. I saw a possible future where we see each other again tonight and manage to lure out the doghead. Except you had a pretty blue dress. I was so, so tired and angry and frustrated with the search that I almost did that.”

“But you stopped. Why?” She was genuinely curious. Nana wanted to find the doghead, so why would she give up the only tactic that could secure the ending she’d hoped for? Nana looked up at her, like Danijela was speaking nonsense.

 “Because, when I say the words, the future is cast in stone. There’s no changing it. I own the narrative. I didn’t want to do that to you. To shape your reality like that, just because I wanted revenge on a beast that ate my dog. Especially because… well, I like you, and just, I don’t ever want to use my power to secure a date.”

Danijela couldn’t help herself. She grinned. Raindrops fell against her mouth, clearing blood from them. She wanted nothing more than to lean towards the other woman and kiss her lips, but Nana put a cold hand on her chest.

“There’s one more thing you need to know. Before… I just need to be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. If you still want to kiss me after that, than yes, please, do that, because what you just did, I’m… anyway.” She cleared her throat, uncertainty flickering in her light brown eyes. Danijela wondered what could possibly be so bad that she believed that it could send a shtriga packing away. “It’s not just the future that I can see. I also see the past. And last night, when you came to my rescue… I did a little search on your life. That’s how I knew you’re a shtriga. I just needed to be sure you’re safe. I mean, you were a stranger, and I was attacked, and then you offered me help. I’m not foolish enough to follow a stranger to their home before doing a background check. And I didn’t see it all… but I saw a lot. And I’ll understand if… that’s a dealbreaker, I mean, that’s a huge breach of privacy…”

“You know… you saw my past?” All of the sad, depressing life, and the despair, and the fear that followed her around? And still… she wanted her? The most positive reaction she got from people were the pitying “oh poor girl, it’s not her fault she’s born like that, she can’t help herself” words. But Nana stood only a few inches from her face, looking at her lips, and wanting to kiss her. Worried that Danijela would find her to a problem, and not the other way around? What was she drinking?

Instead of an answer, Danijela closed the distance between them.The kiss was slow and sweet at first, and then Nana deepened it with a fervor she didn’t expect. She was naked, rain was pouring, her dog was stuck between their chests, there was a mutilated body behind her back, and, at any moment, someone could stumble upon them, and yet, if anyone asked her, she would have said that it was perfect. Like the ending of a fairy tale.

And with a little bit of luck, it was also the beginning of something new.

© Antonija Mežnarić, 2020. All rights reserved.

If you want to check out more of Antonija’s writing, she has a sapphic horror comedy novella What do Nightmares Dream of and a queer folk horror collection Mistress of Geese.

Published by Antonija Meznaric

Reading, writing and procrastinating.

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