Somethin’ Strange in the Neighbourhood by Justin Bedard

Halloween comes but one a year… But time and space are so vey malleable when you think about it. As such you have even expectation that there will be…

Somethin’ Strange in the Neighbourhood
By Justin Bedard

I’m not too sure what the word is for deciding one Halloween that you’re finally to old to go trick-or-treating only for something totally off the wall to happen, but if I had to guess or if I ever got around to asking my English teacher about it, it would probably be “ironic”.

I guess I should’ve thought something was up from the get-go. Monica always liked to spend the first few hours of Halloween night at home so she could hand out candy and gush at all the costumes the kids were in. She’d head off to some wild/super lewd party after that (usually at Auntie Tera’s place…because where else would it be?), and she’d probably take Rayyah and Akumi with her considering this was their very first Halloween ever. I wasn’t old enough to go to those things, so I’d usually just chill out and watch movies with Lance after I got back from snagging free candy. Helps that he’s the best big brother ever and will let me watch literally anything I want, which coincidentally is how Jensen Ackles becomes your celebrity crush.

That’s how everything went at first, though the movie marathon started earlier when I decided to just chill out at home this year. Blame it on the movie or the lack of scarfing down a whole bag of candy like I had the past couple years, but I was out cold in the first five minutes. Not too much of a biggie. It was a school night, after all.

Then I woke up to the grandfather clock chiming like it was possessed, and even though no time had apparently passed, the lights were out and everyone was gone. I rolled my eyes, thinking everyone was pulling a goof on me. Or the girls had headed out already and Lance decided to just chill in his room. He’d been a bit weird ever since he and the gang got back from Europe, which probably meant that he…

Oh, hey, spooky red words on the wall. Cool.

“Little Succubus,” they said. “What happy haunts we are to have your brother in our clutches this most delightful of nights. Come and take him back from us…if you dare! Eternally yours, MisTress.”

Emphasis on the T, huh? Should have been a dead giveaway, now that I think about it, but I do kinda have this nasty tendency to act before I think. Runs in the family, apparently. Take responsibility and own up to my faults? In what media, good sir/madam?

“Oh, the hell you didn’t, lady!” I yelled.

So, yeah. Not the most conventional night, but if crappy slasher movies were all our oh so varied network would provide, sign me up for showing this MisTress person how we do things downtown. Of course, if Lance were there, he’d tell me to play it smart. Don’t just rush into it like Monica always did ‘cause you’ll just get your ass beat before you know what’s what. Luckily, Lance was also the kind of guy that wouldn’t let his little sister hold a gun but would build a proton pack in our garage and leave it where said little sister could borrow it whenever she wanted. Another strong dose of dat dere i-roo-nee as us hosers say up here in the ol’ Great White North, eh? And yeah, not steal. Borrow…quite possibly permanently.

I see you judgin’ me back there!

Whatever the case, I slipped on some gloves and a conveniently placed boiler suit, then strapped on the pack and some night vision goggles and headed for the door. Sorry, did I say the door? I think I meant the tunnel to the friggin’ Twilight Zone.

“Ex-squeeze me, whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?”

Yeah. I opened the door and there was some big swirling portal right in front of me. Calling it weird was an understatement, and there was a two thousand-year-old genie living with us. I got that I was being set up, but this was…

Ah, screw it. I’m Tina freakin’ Harlita, man! I ain’t afraid of no ghost…except Paranormal Activity. Yeah, screw that noise. Now, then!

“Insert awesome catchphrase here!” I yelled before I jumped straight on in like the total nutbar my friend Jamie sees me as (and probably am, if we’re being honest). “I am the fighter! I am the creator! I am the…bathroom?”

Not just any bathroom, I realized. One of the girl’s rooms at my junior high, but the lights were this weird sort of reddish-purple. The mirror had a creepy smiley face painted on it in this gross black sludge, the stall doors were swaying and creaking…oh, and the toilet started talking. That’s always nice.

“We all float down here, Tina…” it said. “And you will, too!”

“HA HA HA no.”

I slammed that gate to the mental home shut and headed out into the hall. The hall that was spiralling and curving like that Escher guy had gone and studied physics in his spare time. Smoke circled the floor, the lockers opened and shut all on their own, and on top of the moon being way too close in the window, it was also red. Not really blood red like you’d expect because ooo, spooky! This sorta fiery red that I could swear I’d seen someone wearing before.

“Tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinaaaaaaa…”

“Spooooooooooooooky voooooooooooooooooice…” I answered.

The wand was out and the pack was revved up anyway. It felt damn good in my hands, but it wasn’t too useful as I took the first few steps down the hall. My friends like to say I’m not scared of anything (especially my buddy Sam who admitted he was scared of everything), but that wasn’t even close to true. Example: I really really hate sudden loud noises. Pretty shitty considering the lack of effort in the horror film industry these days, and now that I was actually in a movie-type scenario, I was getting too many jitters to count. Like, come on. Lockers all the way down the hall the perfect size for something to hide in and then pop out and scream at me? Did they think I was stupid?

Then again, there’s nothing wrong with being smart by being stupid.

“Gee whiz, I’m just a harmless little girl looking for her lost brother! I sure hope there aren’t any big spooky ghosts waiting around to scare the pants off of me!”

He didn’t scare me when he burst out of the locker at the end of the hall and came barreling for me, but he sure creeped me the hell out. He basically wasn’t much more than a big red blob with long flabby arms and the face of a registered sex offender, his tongue flapping out as he made this nasty-sounding scream at me.

“Yeah, yeah, RAARGH and all that stuff,” I said before I lifted the wand. “Hey, guy, check out my camera!”

Aaaaaand it pretty much blew me across the room the second I fired. Maybe I was just lucky that the pack was throwing me against the wall with its sheer force and not, say, causing a total protonic reversal making all life as I knew it stop instantaneously as every molecule in my body exploded at the speed of light. It was okay, though. If Lance’s science was right (or math or whatever other school subject I suck ass at), a little ding was enough to send the living blood clot over there spiralling into next week.

Except I totally missed. And now he was laughing at me. Swear to gods, if he had balls, I’d have kicked them. Repeatedly. Then I shoot them just to make sure I’d thoroughly busted them up. That’s right, jerk. Let’s both be girls.

Still on my back, I aimed right at his stupid face and fired the wand off again. Now I could see just how big the particle beam was as it shot out, one red burst of light in the middle with two smaller blue ones spinning around it. It plowed right through the little red prick’s body and hooked into him like a fishing line, and even though he dragged me across the floor as he freaked out and started trying to shake loose, I had him locked in tight.

“See ya in Hell, buddy boy!” I yelled.

The beam intensified, and just as fast as he’d shown up, the ghost burst into tiny red particles that faded away into nothing. Cool as it was, I laid there and took a breather for a minute or two. Right, I reminded myself. That’s what happens when you go in thinking you’ve got the whole thing in the bag. You get jumped. But I couldn’t really blame myself. Your brother gets kidnapped by some freaky deeky ghost lady and you throw all caution to the wind (if I’m saying that right).

“Up at ‘em, Tina,” I groaned. “You ain’t done yet.”

I gave it another second, then rolled onto my feet and kept going. The hall kept twisting and turning as I went, but I got to the end soon enough. Everything was holding out so far, but I wasn’t exactly looking forward to when I’d have to fire this baby off again. That one ghost had been one hell of a trip. Gods only knew what would happen if there were more.

I took a deep breath. Then I kicked open the doors to the stairway, and…

“Mother pus bucket…”

The stairs had morphed into gravity-defying slide swirling and looping down to the first floor, a dozen more ghosts guarding it like freakin’ sharks around a bleeding fish. These ones were all stretched out with huge smiles too wide for their faces, and even though they hadn’t noticed me, they kept making these laughs that would probably give the Joker the creeps. Worst of all, no way around them. No other staircase, but it’d probably be just as infested if there was. No way to get down faster, either, considering I was twelve and still didn’t have my wings yet. Man, being a late bloomer sucked.

I had to go right through them. I figured my best shot was to wipe some of them out now and then slide on down while the rest weren’t paying attention. Problem was I hadn’t forgotten how bad I’d gotten tossed. I was taller and heavier than most of the other girls in my class, but I still just a squirt by most standards, and it wasn’t like I could gain another twenty pounds just by wishing for it. Just thinking about it made that good ol’ adrenaline wear off now and let that spot where I’d cracked my back really smart. Any more of that, and…

Focus, girl. You’re better than worrying about that kinda crap. Your tail ain’t all bright and yellow for nothin’, and you wouldn’t have jumped through that portal if you weren’t sure you could do this. You’re brave. You’re strong, and your brother’s counting on you! It’s your turn to be the hero! Now get down there! Show ‘em who’s boss and have some fun while you’re at it, yeah?! Who they gonna call?! You, witches!!!

…get it? Witches? ‘Cause it’s…it’s Halloween…and witch rhymes with…yeah…

…I’m gonna go shoot ghosts now.

“Yoo-hoo!” I called. “Long, dark, and fugly!”

The ghosts looked up at me and starting laughing even louder before they zipped right at me. The few seconds I had to react were all I needed to figure out what I’d done wrong the first time. Of course. No wonder I got tossed like a ragdoll. My stance was all wrong. Put one foot forward, bend both arms, and keep both eyes open. Just like how Lance and Jack did it. Shit, just like Venkman and Spengler and them did it in the movie. So I shifted everything into place, and when I fired this time and landed the beam dead center, I didn’t move a single inch.

“Boo-yah!”

I swung the nabbed ghost to the side and bowled over his buddies before I slammed him into the floor. He burst the second he made contact, the grand ka-boom skirting me back a few feet and giving me enough time to spot the dial on the wand. Giving me options for all my busting needs? Lance totally is the best brother ever.

“Lessee here. Stream, full auto, detonator…ooo, sword! Cool…a-ha!!!”

I flipped the dial to “SPREADSHOT” and fired away, the lights now coming out in huge bursts. Away went the one ghost, then the other, then the next one. Soon I had enough space, and I jumped butt-first onto the slide. I went fast. So fast that the others ghosts closing in on me weren’t much more than blurs. Luckily, I’m a hockey player and my hand-eye coordination is top-notch if I do say so myself (and I do). You step even a quarter-inch the wrong way, and I’m gonna see ya.

“Slapshot!”

Exactly.

Every last one of the stretchers was dust when I reached the bottom of the slide, and it was a good thing the pack was still heated up ‘cause holy hot damn. Ghosts on the walls, ghosts on the ceiling. Starsky and Hutch ghosts, a ghost sitting on the can. Ghosts that pretend to laugh at my stupid jokes. Ghosts just freakin’ everywhere, dude. Like, jeez. The toilet was right. They all floated down there.

Gross.

“Hi-eeeeee!” I chirped ‘cause I guess I just crave attention of all kinds.

And they all just booked it right for me, arms reached out and jaws wide open. I reiterate: freaky deeky. Any other girl would’ve dropped everything and ran, but I think we’ve already established that I’m a little nutbar, short and stout. Flick the wand to Rambo mode, watch me flip out. Okay, maybe that’s a strong term, but it wouldn’t be that weird to say holding a machine gun gives you this big sense of euphoria, and Lance and Monica won’t let me hold a real gun (which now that I think about it is probably for the best), a rapid-fire proton pack ought to satisfy my somewhat sadistic needs. That, and these ghosts were definitely just random specters and not the actual souls of dead people, so it was kind hard to feel sorry about it. It was harder when they kept on charging at me even as I held the trigger down and made them all go up in smoke one right after the other.

Meh. Why not take a trip down Easy Street, right? Let’s have ourselves a ball!

You ever play those rail shooters at arcades? Y’know, games like Time Crisis or House of the Dead or that one Terminator game that pops up at like every movie theater? That’s what this was like, and it was that sick. I had it down to an exact science as I aimed and fired with the kind of precision that made the bad guys in movies wonder why they bothered getting out of bed in the morning. One ghost went down, then another one and another one. They kept on coming, and I kept on shooting.

Of course, I did have to back off and make a tactical retreat once they started getting a little too close for comfort, but hey. It’s just as much fun being chased as it is to do the chasing. Words of wisdom from your epic ghostbusting hockey-playing Super Succi narrator! You too can kick names and take ass with three simple steps!

That was totally on purpose. Just sayin’.

I jumped the tiny flight of stairs and landed dead center in the foyer, the ghosts still hot on my literal tail and swarming around me when my feet touched the ground. Good time to test those figure skating skills that I somehow remembered from six years ago. Up on the balls of my feet. Perfect spin. Wand out. Shots fired this way, that way, every way imaginable. Down went the blobs, the stretchers, that one ghost that looked a little like Jigglypuff and now I feel bad! Yes, folks, yes! A ballet of chaos and awesomeness! Huzzah, my good people! I am the champion! I am the grandmaster! I am…a ragdoll again.

“Buzzkill, dude,” I groaned as I got back to my feet.

It’s always nice when you’re spinning around, blasting ghosts, having a good time, and then a big spook the size of a freakin’ bear grabs your all-important zapper and just flings you across the room. Clears more head space than yoga, I’d be so bold to say. I’ve never stretched for minutes on end and thought of anything productive, but getting chucked away like that gave me the most excellent idea of sticking my pack down his incorporeal mouth and pulling the trigger ‘til he went poof.

…or he could take like fifty shots to the face and not react at all. That’s cool, too. Even if I couldn’t get it through my admittedly thick head and kept firing anyway. No dice, kiddies. Just as well he was so big and slow and gave me more than enough time to roll out of the way every time he swung his trunk-sized arms at me. I rolled the dial to “STREAM” and “SPREADSHOT”. Even “DETONATOR”. Nothing.

The Force was strong with this one, and so as I realized I had one option left, it was time for him to experience the full power of the Dark Side. I flipped the dial, pressed the button, and up came a big blade of blue light that hummed with all the right sound effect whenever I moved it. Gods bless my big brother and his contagious nerdiness.

“Dead meat, you are!” I let loose with my pitch perfect Yoda impression. “Mmm!!!”

Big Burly Buddy over there didn’t seem to think so and shrieked at me as I made the first swing. He didn’t burst out of existence right away like I was kinda hoping, nor did the saber cleave anything off as it passed right through him, but the hefty trail it left as it plowed through him was all I needed to know I’d done him dirty. He started swinging, and while I wasn’t anywhere near Monica’s level of acrobatic, I prided myself on all the flips and rolls I was managing.

Monica…crazy as she could be sometimes, I really did look up to my big sister. Always knowing exactly what to do in the right situation, or at least having Lance at her side to keep her from screwing anything up. I dreamed of being as strong and brave as she was, so perhaps this whole ghost shindig was someone’s way to test me. Like, maybe this was early training for when I finally turned eighteen and could actually enlist in Tenebra. Gods…what I’d give to be with Lance and Monica every day, going around the world…being a hero.

Jeez, did it get really sentimental in here or what? I still gotta own Señor Spooky here.

A few more missed punches wore him out, an orb that assumed was his core shining his chest. A few more slashes to open him up, and when he clapped his meaty hands together to try and catch me, I vaulted over him and swung down hard. The core split clean in half, and the ghost let up a little yell before he was gone like all the rest. And yes. I did stick out my butt and shake it while going “NAH NAH NA-NAH NAH!”.

Hey, I just finished vaporizing like a hundred ghosts and living out my Jedi fantasy. My ego is massive right now.

With the last guy out of the way, the main goal of the whole trip came back to me, and I stuck my nose back to the grind. No PKE meter or whatever to tell me where the energy signatures were coming from strongest. Just my intuition, and who runs the world? That’s right. Us girls, so our intuition’s all we need. So a few steps this, a few steps that way, and…there. The library. Or if I had to guess…

“Yep. What I thought,” I said as I opened up the doors and saw another portal.

Well, I didn’t come this far just to quit now. No mental preparation required. One quick jump, and I was through, sneakers slamming hard against the polished floor. The music was pounding and energetic, but it was a little too dark to make everything out, so I slid the night-vision goggles over my eyes and took a quick peek. There was nothing too out of the ordinary that I could see except for a human-like shape slumped over in the massive chair by the back wall. It took me a second to realize it was a throne, and just as I started to take a few steps toward, I caught a few violet shapes out of the top of my eyes. So I glance up, and what do I see on the ceiling? Dozens of adult succubi and incubi paired up and dancing to the beat in a pretty…fun way? I mean, I know what I am and I’m proud of it, but I’m still a kid, dude. I don’t really need to see that.

Then again, I refer you to my prior comment about Jensen Ackles. I’m just saying. That boy’s fine as summer wine…which I can’t drink anyway, so I guess that makes no sense…y’know what, how about I just crash the party already?

“YO, WHERE’S MY BROTHER?!?” I yelled.

I didn’t notice the two shadows by the chandelier until one of them started to laugh. A kind of exaggerated witch-like laugh with this sexy-ish tone to it. The I’m-up-to-no-good laugh. The two shapes flexed their big wings, one gliding down to meet me while the other one slipped out of my sight. I raised the goggles back up to get a good look, and…

“Well, it’s about time! We thought you’d never get here!”

She had some kinda masquerade thing going on where the only parts of her face I could see were her nose and lips, but the rest of her did more than enough to stand out. It doesn’t even bother me to admit that she was totally rocking her Morrigan Aensland cosplay with the bat leggings and the thigh high boots and the long green hair and everything. And yes, boys. She had the body for it, too.

“…hi.” I said.

She just smiled and started running the back of her fingers on my cheek. Stranger danger? Not when I had this funny sense of déjà vu when she talked.

“We’ve been waiting all night…and she doesn’t like to be kept waiting, you know.”

I looked back up at the crowd of ghosts, who’d basically been ignoring me right up until then. Now they were looking at me all nice and inviting, and I kinda felt bad for yelling at them now.

“No thanks,” I said honestly. “You’d have to fork over a twenty to get me in a dress and heels.”

I felt a rush of air behind me, then one hand on my shoulder while the other one played with my hair. The other shadow, I guessed, and I looked over my shoulder to spy another succubus cosplaying Lilith Aensland. Pretty much the same as the other one but with shorter pink hair and red and blue clothes instead of her friend’s black and purple. She also wore a mask, making sure the first thing I saw was the puppy dog pout on her lips.

“Aw, that’s disappointing, she whispered. “Are ya sure you don’t want to…play? It’ll be fun!”

Lady, my sister’s got a list of boyfriends and girlfriends longer than a Stephen King book. I know what that means when I hear it.

“That sounds nice and all,” I answered. “But I’m just here to pick up my brother? Either of you seen him? Glasses? Brownish-red hair?”

“Oh! You mean…this delicious mortal?”

A spotlight clicked on over the throne, and that shape that was sitting there the whole time? Yep. It was Lance. Hands tied behind his back, gagged with what looked like a dog collar, and out like a light. At least until Pink fluttered over to him and blew in his ear. Then he pretty much screamed himself awake and looked around like a crazy person.

“Wmm thmm fmmmk?!” he yelled before he looked at me. “…Tmmnm?!”

“Hey, bro!” I called with a wave. “Guess what? I’m saving your ass!”

I managed another few steps toward Lance before Green slinked from the side to stand in front of me, still smiling but now with her hands on her hips.

“Saving?” she asked. “Really? I’m pretty sure we haven’t done anything to him. Yet.”

“No, we haven’t. He’s so much fun, you know,” Pink giggled, giving Lance a kiss on the cheek that made his face go red. “You can’t tell us you don’t have some naughty fun too.”

It’s called slash fiction, and it’s art.

“Yeah,” I said. “But he’s not the BDSM sorta guy. Like, I’m his sister, right? I know his freaked-out face when I see it.”

“Aw, he’s not freaked out,” Pink said, giving Lance another look. “Are you, love?”

Lance started wriggling again, and that just made Pink hug her against him even harder. It’s funny looking back on it now, but at that moment? Yeah. I agreed with him. Getting held captive ain’t the best time, even when your captor is nuzzling you like…shit. There went that déjà vu again. I mean, Lance getting snuggled deep by a succubus wasn’t exactly an uncommon thing what with how much Monica fawned over him, but the way Pink held him was way too familiar. Now that I thought about and now that my eyes had adjusted, this room seemed familiar, too. It wasn’t at home in Halifax, but you could say it and everything connected to it were never that far out of reach for people like me.

Look at me, stealing Lance’s duty of overthinking everything. That’s right, bro! I took yer jawb! …sorry. Always wanted to say that. Now, then.

“Anyhow,” I said. “I’m just gonna grab him and get outta here if you don’t mind.”

“But you only just arrived,” Green said with the same pout as Pink, though it didn’t sound like she was that upset. “Can’t you stay just a bit longer? We’ll really make it worth your time…”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“’Cause I don’t feel like it.”

“And what do you feel like?”

“Choking down twenty pounds of Sour Patch Kids and Kit-Kats.”

I got the feeling Green and Pink were arcing their brows at me, and their smiles took this turn to them. I think bemusement was the right word, and now I was damn near certain I knew these two from somewhere. Either way, I knew I’d crossed a line as Pink flew to Green’s side and they both started to step toward me.

“We can’t have that,” Green chuckled. “Besides, don’t you know Smarties and Pop Rocks are so much better?”

To each their own, I guess.

“Oh, Mother!” Pink called. “What ever shall we do with this one?”

Lance freaked out again when he started to hover a little above his spot on the throne, but even he went quiet when heels started clicking somewhere in the dark, their owner letting up a deep throaty chuckle that would probably really get the guys and gals going. Then she appeared. Masked just like her two kids, but instead of cosplaying as a thematically appropriate fighting game character, she wore this black-and-red latex dress that hugged her so tight you could make out every single curve. Two big raven wings stuck out of her back, a red tail snaked around her legs, her arms were wrapped in black velvet, and she wore the same bemused smile as the others, but somehow a lot stronger in every regard.

Not gonna lie. I was actually getting kinda nervous.

“A hostess must always provide for her guests, my dear ones,” she said as she sat down and nestled Lance into her lap. “And never have we had a guest that we could not…satisfy.”

Oh, boy, here we go.

“You’re Mistress?” I asked.

“So I am, dearest one,” she purred. “And you are Tina Harlita. We challenged, you dared, and so here you are! I’m so very pleased you came.”

“…’kay. So what’s the deal with kidnapping my brother?”

She laughed again and started running her fingers through Lance’s hair. He didn’t care too much for that since he was still…y’know…being held hostage, but it didn’t matter what he thought. He wasn’t getting away from her anytime soon.

“Did we now? Bit of a strong word, wouldn’t you say?” Mistress pondered. “True, we did…snatch him away for a little while, but rest assured. We haven’t harmed a single hair on his head, nor do we intend to.”

“Okay. So can I have him back?”

She wagged a gloved finger at me. The hard way it is, then.

“Let’s not be too hasty. Dearest Lance is a means to an end, and that end…is you.”

“…huh?”

Like, okay. I get using someone I care about as bait to lure me in, but for what? I didn’t do anything, officer, I swear! I’m just an innocent girl with an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on her back! I was framed, I tells ya! FRAMED!!!

…seriously, though, what was this lady on about?

“There is a mystery about you… Questions to be answered. There’s so much promise lurking behind that yellow tail of yours. There’s such wonderful untapped potential waiting…”

“Oh, yeah?! Well…”

Wait, that was a compliment…um…

“…you look super sexy in that dress?”

Her lips curled in a smirk as she tickled Lance’s chin.

“Flattery will get you almost anywhere with me dear, but not this fine evening. After all, you can’t expect me to make it that easy for you. If you want dear Lance, you will have to take him from me.”

Well, she was speaking my language now, so I guess there was that. I switched the dial on the pack to “SPREADSHOT” and got into my little stance. My gracious hostesses just laughed again, and for some reason, I almost felt like laughing along with them.

“Aww… can’t we go first, Mother?” Pink begged. “We’d just love to play with her!”

Scratch that. I’m nervous again.

“How can I refuse that precious face?” Mistress chuckled, then cast her hand forward like the evil genius she was. “Have fun, my darlings! Make this an encounter that she will never forget!”

And now Pink and Green were looking at me like the Dancing Clown Itself. More like Titself, am I right? …screw you, that’s funny. What wasn’t that funny was when they started walking right toward me, all slow and ominous and giving me more than enough time to think that I was quite possibly in over my head.

“We’ve played our tricks, little sister,” Green said, licking her lips. “Now…for our treat.”

“Still twelve,” I said.

“No need to be shy,” Pink said with a wink. “We’ll be oh so gentle.”

“Still twelve!!!”

Okay, so this was happening, and if I just blasted one, the other would close in on me before I could blink. Going alone. That was my biggest mistake, and while I’d gladly smack anyone who blamed me for it, I was sure as hell paying for it now. It was just like a game. The goons were down, and the only thing left between me and the high score was the final boss. The toughest enemy so far, made easier either through power-ups or a second player if the game allowed it.
Worth a shot, and we all know I don’t think about things until after I’ve done them.

“SHADOW CLONE JUTSU!!!”

Me and my anime, huh? Not two seconds after I said that, though, I felt my chest clench up, and when I happened to look to my left…

“Hey, Tina!” I said.

“Hey, Tina!” she said.

So apparently I can clone myself. Sweet.

“My, my!” Mistress beamed. “Wonderful! Delightful! An absolutely thrilling surprise!”

Me and my new best friend struck a pose mirroring each other and got around to smiling. Crazy succubi kidnapping my (our?) brother? Piece a’ cake. We are Legion…for we are FREAKIN’ AWESOME!

“Well, then,” Mistress said with a wave of her hand. “Let’s see what you’ve got!”

Pink and Green took off in either direction, so we did the same. Race to see who could be their bogey the fastest? Either way, Tina wins, so I settled on Pink while my double went after Green. Putting the major familiarity off to one side, I started blasting at Pink with everything I had. Too bad she was fast. Like, the Flash levels of fast. She’d be there one second and then somewhere else the next, still giggling every time I missed. Me? Demoralized? Pfft. Please.

There was a puff of air against the back of my neck.

“Boo!”

Okay, how did she get behind me?! And what the hell did I say about sudden loud noises?! I’mma getcha, lady! I’mma getcha!

“Ooo, up close and personal, huh?” Pink asked as I switched over to Lightsaber Mode. “My favourite.”

She stepped back, flicked her wrist, and…heels? I mean, I don’t know what I was expecting, but…yeah, not that.

“Okay,” I said. “So?”

“When I’m done with you, you’ll be wearing them and the cutest dress ever and it won’t take a twenty to do it!

Oh. My. God.

I jumped away from her and raised the saber as she stepped forward, tossing the heels behind her and with the most evil smirk ever started conjuring little blue bats and throwing them like ninja stars. I lunged in when the last one just barely missed my ear, swinging with all the muscle and faith I had in me. One swift stroke to finish the job. One small step for a succi, one giant leap for…

Alright, I missed again. Jeez.

“Well, if you’re going to be that stubborn…” Pink said.

She lashed out her blue tail and got me around my waist, and before I had time to figure left from right, she had me wrapped up in a warm hug.

“I’ll just snuggle you ‘til you give up,” she purred before she started nuzzling my hair with her nose.

Actually way more comfy than it should have been, but it didn’t keep me distracted for too long. I thought of yelling at my double for help, but she was too busy dodging Soul Fists from Green. Lance meanwhile was darting his eyes from me to my double and back against, just as freaked out as before while Mistress kept right on smiling and playing with his hair. I was on my own.

I wriggled a few times, but Pink held on tight. I tried to aim the pack’s wand up, but she nudged it out of my hands with her knee. I tried politely asking for her to stop. She listened to that about as much as you’d expect. Okay. No conventional way out. I’d have to get creative, and all that took was spotting her long blue tail swishing all happy in front of me. I didn’t know much about how it worked for other succubi, but I knew from many a bad experience that when someone grabbed my tail, I got stiff as a frickin’ board. Honestly like the weirdest feeling in the world and probably something that wouldn’t happen if my wings would come in already. So was that what I was gonna go on? A hunch?

Don’t ya know me at all, pal? I waited until Pink swung the sucker just a little too close, and then I grabbed it with both hands and tickled the tip with my thumbs. She let up a little squeal and shuddered so much that she just about rattled my bones looses from each other. Then her hands dropped and she collapsed onto the ground, leaving me to pick up the wand and take a few steps away just in case she decided to take another grab at me. Nope. She laid there smiling and squirming to herself, and not two seconds later, my double had done the same to Green.

Boo-yah, folks. Rockin’ this joint.

“Bravo! Cunning little one, aren’t you?” Mistress laughed as the two of us joined up and stepped in front of her. “How wonderfully naughty!”

Me and my double looked at each other and smiled. Then we slapped a high-five, took up mirroring poses, and touched our fingers together with all the epic dorkiness we could. Ladies and gentlemen, tonight’s show is sponsored by the quote…

“Fu…sion! HA!!!”

The double phased in and sent my energy surging way up. Just me now. Kinda sad to see her go, but now I’m sounding like totally vain, so how about we get to the part where the big baddie and I throw down, yeah?

“And now for the climax,” Mistress said with a little giggle.

She left Lance sitting on the throne and floated towards me. A bright red pitchfork popped into existence when she snapped her fingers, and she grabbed it with an elegant little dance that told me all I needed to know about how hard I was gonna have to work for this one. I kept right on smiling, and so did she. Hero and villain in perfect sync.

This was gonna be good.

“Now, dear Tina,” Mistress said. “Take your best shot!”

You got it, lady. I made the first swing. She blocked it and pushed me back, so I came at her again. From this angle, from that angle. Up high, down low, but always just a little too slow as she twirled the pitchfork and parried everything I had. I couldn’t get mad. She was so amazing to watch, and it made me think and realize I had a lot to learn.

And I do mean a lot. I prided myself on lasting longer than, say, a few minutes against her. Hell, I’d take thirty seconds. Even still, pretty much everything I knew about fighting? Games, anime, and occasionally watching Monica and Akumi spar. Everything I did to fight Mistress off was something I’d seen from somewhere else, and I switched style every once in a while to try and keep her guessing. I’d stick with a two-handed style like the Jedi I wished I was, then I’d switch it up to a left-handed mix of slashes and stabs like I was Link from Legend of Zelda. I even tried fighting like Monica, using the tip of my tail as bait before I went in for a grapple. Don’t ask me why I thought that would work ‘cause it freakin’ didn’t. Her tail got right around mine and yanked me into a hug so tight I thought my eyes were about to pop. Not gonna lie…it was kinda nice. All warm and fuzzy and smelling a little like cherries for some reason. Definitely not quite the route I thought the big bad of this story was going to take, but could I really be sure of anything anymore?

“Nothing’s ever for certain,” Mistress said as if she heard me thinking. “…it’s the only certain thing about me.”

She could say that again. She let me go after a couple seconds, and when I was sure she wasn’t gonna make the next move despite me being wide open, I…well, did pretty much the same thing that got me tangled in the spooky sexy senorita’s sensual other-word-that-starts-with-an-S-‘cause-I’m-trying-to-be-funny-but-I’m-out-of-ideas.

You know! Like a genius!

I didn’t have to be a genius to know something was up about this whole thing, though. I’d left myself open too many times to count, and she’d never once taken a single stab at me. Was she waiting for the right moment? Feeling sorry for me and waiting for me to score one hit before she finished me in one move? No. She was playing with me. Was that good? Was it bad? I honestly couldn’t tell. I really didn’t like the idea of someone taking it easy on me just because I was too young to know what that thick hunk of rubber under Monica’s pillow was for (or so you’d think), but then again, even cutting some slack didn’t do a whole lot of good for me. I kept swinging and missing and tuckering myself out, and by that point, lugging that freakin’ pack around was really starting to strain my back.

Somehow that still didn’t convince me to think the whole thing through, and I fuelled every bit of strength I had into this one last swing. Guess what happened. I conked her on the head and took her down in one go? Get real, skippy! She held up her pitchfork with one hand and blocked it so well that my bones rattled on impact. I did see her take a little step back, so…not completely worthless? Except it totally was as I kept the saber locked on and pushed back as hard as I could. No dice; I could feel that she was at least twice as strong as me, but she still wasn’t using all she had.

And she didn’t need to. The sweat, the panting, my heart hammering inside me, and the slow dawning feeling that I’d really gone and done it now. All the telltale signs…she was pushing me straight to my limit.

“No. Not even close, dearest one,” she said all psychic and spooky again. “You won’t disappoint me. Not ever.”

I believed it, and even though her eyes had that sort of vortex that suck you into a trance for looking at ‘em just one second, I still looked right into them and smiled. It had just hit me that a change in tactics was in order. Maybe Mistress already knew that, or maybe she’d been the one to sneak it into my noggin in the first place. Either way, as I made a quick glance at my big brother watching me all worried, I started thinking about what he’d do.

Easy. He’d get creative.

I swung a few more times just to watch Mistress’s epic dance of defense, then pushed myself backward and switched the dial to “DETONATOR”. I launched two bombs: one near Mistress’s feet and one right underneath me. Then I crouched and set them off, the first one flashing bright enough to blind Mistress for a little bit while the second threw me a good few dozen feet into the air. Better than any ride you’ve ever been on, I’m tellin’ ya, and I capped it off with a semi-graceful landing right behind Mistress as I drew up the saber again, channeled my inner Master Kenobi…

“Hello there!”

…and ran her through, besting the cruel witch once and for all, except she totally wasn’t cruel and was actually super sweet and now I felt bad. Or at least I would’ve if I hadn’t noticed a few things, the first being that the beam hadn’t gone through her body, kinda like if you shine a flashlight on a solid wall. My second clue was that she’d flinched and gasped before it even touched her, and my third clue was…well, her going all Broadway on me.

“Clever girl, you got me!” she cried out, falling to her knees all dramatic with her back arched and her hand on her head. “I can feel everything going dark…oh, what a world, what a world! How could a wonderful and perfect little thing like you be so cruel to poor old—”

“Seriously, Auntie Tera,” I sighed. “You’re like the craziest person sometimes.”

She dropped the act and gave me a wink before she stood up without a scratch on her and snapped her fingers. The ghosts on the ceiling disappeared, Lance’s bonds came loose, and the lights snapped on. I watched Pink and Green jump back to their feet and help up their mom, and I smiled bright as they all whisked off their masks with a flourish

“I take no credit for my daughter’s shenanigans, darling,” Tera said, shooting her trademark smile at Rianna a.k.a. Pink. “But admit it. Uou got all wrapped up in the game, didn’t you? And you loved every minute of it!”

“You’re telling me,” snickered Branwyn, the artist formerly known as Green as she rubbed that spot just above where her tail appeared on her back. “We’re gonna be feeling that one all night.”

“What we get for being tricksters, I guess,” Rina giggled before she stretched out her arms. “Truce?”

Truce anytime. I stepped forward and let the group hug fall in. They were all so busy with everything going on in the world, but they always found time for each other and the people they cared about, and I always thought that was so freakin’ cool. Granted, they were like one big all-powerful unit, and I guess that was the thing I had to keep in mind. They preferred to use seduction and persuasion to settle scores, but they were more than capable of handling themselves. If they’d wanted to lay me out, they would’ve. In, like, two seconds.

“I sense disapproval from our captive party,” Tera said with a raised brow.

Yeah. Disapproval seemed about right when we turned around and spotted Lance scowling at us with his arms crossed. I’d seen him mad, and this (thank the gods) wasn’t it. Still, I felt a little worried for my people’s matriarch and heiresses when he started off with…

“Not happy.”

“Hey, you’re the one who gave your little sister a weapon,” Bran smirked.

“One: I didn’t give it to her. Two: it’s completely harmless against organic material. Three: doesn’t excuse kidnapping me.”

Good to know even if it dashed my dreams a little bit and he was still totally steamed. Like I said, though. My people’s matriarch and heiresses. The ones that could get that fake blond idiot down south to shut up with a simple look. This time, though, Rina only had to cup her hands behind her back and sway all guilty-looking, putting a little extra into her pout just for him.

“Aww…come on, Lance,” she said while nibbling her lip. “You can’t be mad at little old me, can you?”

Monica pulled the same sort of thing on Lance all the time, and it worked double here since he’d totally crushed on Rina back in the day. No kidding. He’d hide behind Mom whenever she and Tera came to visit so she wouldn’t see him getting all red like he was now.

“Yeah, sure, pick on the nerd,” he grumbled. “How original…”

“Not picking on you dear Lance. Think of it as… a bit of persuasion,” Tera chuckled. “After all, I know full well we’d have to drag you kicking and screaming to the ball, and that’s exactly what we did.”

“Ball? …wait, you mean…”

Arms around his shoulder and tail around his waist. Pretty much the surefire sign that whoever Tera snared wasn’t getting away from her that easy.

“You didn’t think we dragged you and Tina all the way here for a little cat-and-mouse game, did you?” she asked. “Fun as that was, the real party’s just getting started.”

An invitation to the sweetest party one of my kind could think of? Colour me thoroughly excited and kinda amazed how fast that night had gone from snoozefest to epic. Colour Lance a little less so.

“Not that it doesn’t sound appealing,” he said. “But…we really should get back home.”

That’s what I get for saving Private Buzzkill, I guess. Like, I get it. He’d had a wild night and he already wasn’t in the best shape of mind. On the other hand, isn’t wasting away by yourself pretty much the exact opposite thing you should do when you’re having anxiety issues? I’m no expert, but if I was feeling down in the dumps, I sure as hell wouldn’t wanna be kicking around a place as big as ours by myself.

Guess it was a good thing two blue-tailed princesses weren’t finished with him yet.

“Make no mistake, handsome,” Bran said. “That bridge is out ‘til midnight.”

“Please don’t say that…” Lance answered on the definite verge of whining.

“C’mon, Lance” Rina begged. “Mom wants you both here, and so do we. Why do you think we went to all of this effort for ya?”

“I mean…it’s already late. Tina has to get some sleep.”

Speak for yourself, bro! What, because it’s a school night and I have to consider my academic performance, right? Puh-lease! Academic? More like ASS-ademic!

…you know what, maybe I do have issues.

“Well, if you feel that way,” Tera said with an exaggerated sigh. “I suppose there’s no stopping you.”

She sounded really bummed out, but she was still smiling. Probably because she could tell I really wanted to stay and see what this midnight madness was all about. I honestly wondered why Lance bothered trying to resist her sometimes. She was gonna get her way no matter what, and she didn’t have to strongarm or blackmail him to do it.

“Lance, it really would mean a lot to me if you and Tina would stay. Yes, I will admit that it gets a little crazy at times, but it’s all in a good cause. As you know, we gather up donations we receive throughout the night and send them out to children’s hospitals the world over. For me, that’s be best part of all. We all make a difference, and I’d love to have the two of you contribute to that difference.”

She stopped for a second and put her hand on her heart with that bemused smile of hers. More Broadway stuff just for the sake of it. That was my people’s beloved Queen, and we’d have her no other way.

“Now, I am your aunt. I know I can’t make you do it. But please, will you just this one time come along? It really would mean more than I can honestly say.”

If I wasn’t already sold on the idea of sticking around, that definitely would have sealed it. It sure seemed to be working on Lance; I saw this little glint in his eyes and then watched his cheeks go red when Tera looked back up at him with a sweet smile. Hypnosis didn’t work on him, but offering him the chance at being the nice guy? Hook, meet line. Line, meet sinker.

Or he could’ve just been getting all worked up over Bran and Rina closing in on him from either side. He was a huge dork around pretty girls and it was legit the most adorable thing ever.

“Besides,” Rina chimed in as she started tickling Lance’s shoulder. “It’s not like us to leave our family alone on such a festive night. Come and take a load off. We promise you won’t regret it.”

I sense double entendre. You guys sense double entendre? Subtle sex jokes aside, it kinda looked like we were getting somewhere, but leave it to my brother to be all wishy-washy every chance he gets.

…Lance, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. Big hugz!!!

“It’s just…” he said. “Mom trusted me and Tina with looking after ourselves. If she and Monica and all them come home and can’t find us…”

“I wouldn’t worry about that, honey.”

…’kay, so I’m blind. There was a big two-way screen on the wall this whole time, and somehow I didn’t notice it until I heard Mom’s voice coming out. There she was, sitting front and center with her legs crossed and her cheek in her palm. I hadn’t really seen that sort of bemused look from her in a while, but it shouldn’t have surprised me that she had a funny side to her. This was, after all, the same lady who conspired with her sister to name their kids after that one line in “Mambo No. 5”.

Really! They did! What, you think I just make that junk up?

Behind Mom was the ballroom all decked out in orange and black, and in just about every corner of it were all the folks Tera had mentioned. Mostly people I didn’t know, but those I did were hovering nice and close so I could see them. Monica, Jack, Rayyah, Akumi, Tera’s husband Keith. Even Sandra was there, and she never went to these kinds of things. Granted, she was still in her usual leather pants and black tank top while everyone else was either dressed up fancy or in a costume (just putting it out there that Mom was rocking it as Black Widow). All that really mattered to me, though, was that everyone was smiling.

“I thought our generous crowd might enjoy Tina’s efforts on the big screen,” Tera chuckled. “Quite the box office smash…wouldn’t you say? I understand that the popcorn machine’s been running overtime.”

I think “sheepish” is the right word for what I was feeling at that moment? Not too sure. It was that awkward and yet exhilarating sensation knowing everything I’d done from the moment I dropped into the freaky school to the fight with Tera had been seen by a couple hundred people. Wasn’t exactly planning on making my star-studded debut just yet, y’know? I was a girl of catchphrases just like Monica. I needed to say the one thing that would set the perfect tone. Something that would make this moment one to remember always.

Something like…

“Look, Ma! I’m famous!”

That oughta do it. Take that, Endgame.

“Not happy…” Lance groaned, covering his face until Tera waved the screen away. “Reaaaaaally not happy…”

“Can’t say no now, can you?” Bran giggled. “So what do you say? Care to indulge us for a while longer?”

“You know damn well that’s blackmail…”

“Blackmail that gets you outta the house and doing something. Come on. It’s not like you’ve got anything better to do.”

Lance opened his mouth to argue just to have Bran arch her eyebrow at him. He shut his mouth, and though I wasn’t the mind-reader my people’s matriarch was, I knew he was finally coming around. He sighed, but gave us all a tiny smile.

“Fine…” he said, wincing a little as Rina and Bran rushed him from either side and smooched his cheek.

“Wonderful!” Tera said, clapping her hands in delight. “But before we hit the scene, let’s…spice things up a little with you, hm?”

Another snap of her fingers, and away went Lance’s baggy shirt and jeans. I don’t mind my brother’s grungy looks most of the time, but I wouldn’t be the smartest girl in the world if I said he didn’t look good in that snazzy suit and tie. He looked himself up and down like it was any crazier than everything else that had happened that night, then blushed again when he spotted Rina and Bran checking him out. And I know they were checking him out, ‘cause they were looking at him like I look at pizza.

“Much better if I do say so,” Tera mused as she held her arm out to Lance. “Now then. The ball is on and our guests await. Care to…escort me, double-O-seven?”

Lance gave it a few seconds, then sighed and smiled as he tightened up his cufflink.

“Parker,” he said all cool. “Lance Parker.”

Boo-yah. Lance led Tera away down the hall with Bran close behind. I watched them go, not realizing Rina had stayed back until she hugged me from behind before walking around and taking my hands in hers.

“Hope you’re not too mad about all the spooks,” she said. “Kinda got a little creative with the whole school bit. I didn’t want you to be bored or something.”

I looked up into her face and smiled. Most succubi I came across treated me like I was their cute little sister since I was supposed to be the youngest one in existence. I found it kinda annoying in most cases, but with Rina, I could tell all the huggles and fawning were genuine.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “It was fun…”

“Okay. Then why are ya looking miffed? Did I do something wrong?”

I sorta felt myself frowning a little bit before, but I wouldn’t really say I’d pulled an actual bummed out face at any point. Still, Rina was just like Tera. She already had your five dirtiest secrets figured out from just looking at you. Even if that wasn’t the case, I felt more confident telling her things than most other people, and I’m extroverted as shit, so that’s saying something.

“I was thinking,” I started. “…this is pretty much the first time me and Lance and everyone else have all been together in like…forever. Just kinda wondering how long it’s gonna be before that happens again.”

“Plus you’re a little bummed out that this whole thing was staged and Lance wasn’t ever in any real danger?”

I reiterate: just like Tera.

“…I just wanna get strong enough, you know?” I said. “Strong enough to get out there and be a part of something…bigger, I guess. Like, there’s a million and a half things wrong with the world. There’s people like you and Auntie Tera trying your hardest to do something about it, but…”

Sheesh, who was the Harlita family’s resident downer now? It was just as well that Rina put her finger on my lips and shushed me. Otherwise I’d have gone on for a friggin’ hour. Still, that nagging feeling in my gut didn’t go away until she pulled me into another hug and spread her blueberry scent all over me.

“Oh hush, you. You’re better than that. Mom and Dad saw that from the moment they laid eyes on you. I know it, Branny knows it. There isn’t one single succubi or incubi that doesn’t know you are something amazing.”

She beeped my nose.

“Doesn’t mean you let all of that go to your head either and think that you can do it all right this second. You become a hero the same way you do anything else. You start with a dream. You make it a desire. Then come the little things. Give a shoulder for someone to cry on and a hand for when they fall. You learn, you grow and then, when you turn around… suddenly you are one.”

‘kay, gettin’ chills.

“All that adds up to the heart you need,” Rina went on, gently prodding my chest with her tail. “But you’ve got that heart already. You came to save Lance without a second’s hesitation, and no matter what we pulled off, you kept right on moving.”

“You totally rehearsed this, didn’t you?” I asked.

She gave me the same coy look she gave Lance, and I rolled my eyes a little.

“Well, duh.”

I should’ve figured. It sounded way too much like something Tera would’ve said, though to be fair…yeah. Like mother, like child.

“The point is,” she went on, locking eyes with me again. “You’re already on your way to being the greatest hero this world or any other has ever seen, and I guarantee you that your brother and sister think the same.”

The feels, folks. The feels. I have them, and she wasn’t letting up. Not that I’d want her to, anyway. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m not the humblest girl this side of the Milky Way, succubus or otherwise.

“Okay, pep talk’s all done,” she said, leaning in close to whisper. “When did you learn how to clone yourself?”

“Dunno,” I answered. “Guess I’m just that awesome.”

I promise there’s a limit to my ego, but Rina laughed, so I clearly hadn’t hit it yet. In all seriousness, though, that minute-long pep talk did a lot of good for me. I really didn’t think twice about doing nice things for people. I always volunteered to help if someone was having a problem, I went out of my way to make sure people could get through the day with as little hassle as possible, all that good stuff. Some folks thought I was annoying because of it and would tell me that I should mind my own business and stop sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong. Like I said before, though, I’m extroverted as shit, and that means I thrive on the happiness of others.

I wanted to be out there making a difference in the wider world with Lance and Monica. I wanted to fight big monsters and save entire cities. I wanted to forge my own path and follow my dreams, and now that Rina had flicked a switch on for me, I saw I was on my way there already. It was still a long way to go, but you know what? I’d get there, and I could enjoy the journey, too.

And Rina was happy to help me on the first step as she beeped my nose again and took my hand in hers.

“Darn right you’re that awesome,” she said. “Okay, let’s go have some fun. There’s a bowl of Smarties in there I called dibs on!”

Sounded sweet to me. I could already feel the party in my bones, and up came a smile that would last me the rest of the night. That night and many more after it, probably. This was, after all, a party no one was gonna forget.

Stuff always gets strange in my neighbourhood. Maybe that’s why the fun never ended.

…never REAR ended!

Stupid joke quota fulfilled! Mmmm-WAH! Goodnight, everybody!

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