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As the landlord pounded in the for rent sign in front of the gray house across the street it was as if Sebastian could feel each whack of the hammer in the center of his own chest. He looked down the street at the line of for sale and for rent signs that stretched all the way to the end of the block. There already weren’t any other boys his age left living in the neighborhood, and now Jenny was leaving too. What was he going to do?
He hadn’t noticed her at all at first when her family moved in the summer before. She never ventured out into the sun, but was always indoors with her nose in some book. When he did finally notice her watching him from an upper story window while he skateboarded back and forth trying to avoid the cracks in the heaved sidewalk he thought he was seeing a ghost. She was just a wisp of a girl, pale-skinned with jet black hair that tapered into the shadows.
He found the rest of her family odd too. It was just an older brother and their father. Her father, a big powerful looking man with dark eyes, scared Sebastian. Her brother hid his face under a shock of black hair. He hung with a scary group of metalheads at school, and if he was at home, he was in his room with the door shut, behind a wall of thrumming music.
But once that last year of school started, Sebastian and Jenny had somehow become good friends. It was tentative at first. Two of his closest friends had moved away because of the plant closings. For the first time since Sebastian started school he had felt lost and Jenny was right there to find him.
"Sebastian, what are you thinking?" she asked as she always did when he was quiet. He had been staring into the finish of the black Suburban waiting for her to come down with another box of her packed-up life. He was at a loss. "You could be a gentleman and help me, you know," she said. He sighed and then followed her into the house.
Upstairs he stood in the door to her room and leaned against the jamb. She was putting the last few books into a box. He wanted to say something, but where did he start? Her family’s move was very sudden, and the feeling of being lost was creeping back.
"I don’t know," he said. He tried to keep the emotion out of his voice, but he knew he hadn’t succeeded; some anger had snuck in.
"If you’re just going to sulk you could go and say goodbye to Angel. She’s in the cat carrier at the bottom of the steps." He sensed a tinge of irritation in her voice and thought he better obey.
At the bottom of the steps he sat down and stuck his finger into the carrier. Angel purred. He looked through the door at the strange creature inside. At first he could only see the long hair of a perfectly preened white Persian staring at him with large copper eyes, but then he concentrated the way Jenny had taught him and his eyes refocused on what was really there. Angel crouched on six black insectoid legs. Her body was covered with mangy fur. She glared at him with blood red eyes, and her unhinging jaw was laced with long nearly translucent needle-like teeth.
"Don’t let her bite you again," Jenny said as she stepped around him with the box. "She doesn’t like being cooped up. It makes her cranky." He snatched his fingers from the cage remembering the row of deep punctures in the palm of his hand that took weeks to heal.
"My dad and brother will be back any moment and then we’ll be leaving," she said sitting down next to Sebastian on the step.
He looked down and tried to figure out the right thing to do with his hands. He settled on scraping embedded dirt from around one thumb nail.
"I guess this is goodbye," she said. She was sitting with the palms of her hands resting perfectly on her knees.
"What am I supposed to do now?" he asked. "How am I going to survive without you here?" He looked at her and a few hot tears began to run uncontrollably down his face. "Who’s going to protect me and my family from those… things?" The vision started to form in his mind of the otherworldly things… blood-drenched, lapping, lurching, fanged things... serpentine slithering, chittering, wall-scratching, devouring things… that were loitering just on the other side. Things he could now see lurking behind him in the corners of the room whenever he looked in a mirror, and all thanks to Jenny.
She placed her delicate white fingers on his hands. "I wouldn’t have shown you if you hadn’t been bitten by Angel," she said. He knew that the thing in the pet carrier was safe, but its venom granted sight into the world it came from. And that world waited for the opportunity to overrun his own.
"Father thinks this area will be safe for a while now. But there are other places where the barrier is weakening. We have work to do. I wish…" There was a catch in her voice.
"I wish too," he said. He looked at her. He wished they could stay; he wished he could go along; he wished he didn’t know and couldn’t see; he wished… he’d never met her. He looked into her eyes. They were deep pools of blackness, and he could see his own reflection, but there weren’t any monsters. She leaned forward and kissed him. He could hardly breathe, and he felt his cheeks burning. The kiss was unexpected, but he thought it was… wonderful.
"Don’t worry. We’ll meet again," she said. "We’re fated for each other, Sebastian. I’ve known it since I first saw you."
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