For anyone who has ever lost their pet and ran through hell, high water, and smog to find them—placking up posters and going through every listing in the lost and found on the web...


“You say you have proof it’s a sphinx. I say that an untrained juvenile sphinx who has killed a human being is feral. If you don’t stop this thing; you’ll be up to your elbows in bodies. The hunger is clawing at his insides right now. Maybe the cat food it was eating slowed it down or weakened it, bad nutrition. You know Americans, no real substance to our food. But now that it’s eating fresh meat, that will all change.”

Vex shifted uncomfortably. “You’re saying Holly was saved from the sphinx by the crappy cat food the Taylors were feeding it?”

“You could put it that way. I don’t envy you.” A female voice in the background said something unintelligible. “Love, I really want to help, but I should get back to my party. You can do this without me.”

“Before you go, tell me more about this hunger.”

“Alright, but I need you to understand that my intense affection for you is the only thing keeping me from the best Mai Tai ever poured, and it’s wearing a bit thin.”

* * *

Walgreens. The natural replacement for the vanishing corner drugstore, making up for the warm, welcoming know-you-by-first-name atmosphere with idle sophistication and a wide selection. A Walgreens had always been in walking distance of Vex’s apartments since she’d left her dad’s home. As a result Walgreens became her twenty-four hour convenience store of choice. It had become her habitual stop-over to round out her makeup kit, but she’d discovered that it also doubled as an excellent source of reagents for spells.

Thunderstorms all day had cancelled her outing with Holly that afternoon, but certainly hadn’t dampened James’s request for a “date.” The short notice would have been a problem if she hadn’t realized how much she owed him for all the information he’d brought during the past weeks. If he needed someone to play dress-up with him to help get a scoop on a reporter at the Sun Times, then that was the least she could do.

Ordinarily, her purchases got some interesting looks from the cashiers—today her outfit drew every eye in the facility.

The woman behind the counter had green hair and a golden piercing in her eyebrow. All knobby elbows and pale skin covered with freckles. All of which wouldn’t have been that out of place in the urban wasteland of Phoenix if she wasn’t also in her 50s.

“Diet pills?” she asked after swiping the third box, eying Vex with open skepticism. “You certainly don’t look like you need them.

“It’s called Gothic Lolita,” Vex said. James had picked his favor well, although she would have preferred to do the “date” on a weekend, the event he wanted to crash fell midweek instead. Her side of the bargain involved trussing herself up with an outfit that reminded her of Wednesday Addams going to a Victorian tea party. A black corset with silvery trim and white lacing up and down the sides that terminated with a frill-covered pettiskirt—over that she’d pulled a velveteen opera jacket and topped everything off with a tiny top hat which canted slightly atop her head pinned in place with hidden barrettes.

“Hon, if you got any thinner, you’d disappear. You’re skin-and-bones.”

“The pills aren’t for me.” Vex took the bag and tried to offer as genuine a smile as she could. It was the truth; but what reason did the cashier have to believe her?

As if to answer that question, the green-haired woman snorted as she handed over the receipt.

“Thank you for your purchase. Stay dry now.”

* * *

Outside, what had been a light sprinkle minutes before had turned into a solid drizzle. Ordinarily Vex would have ignored even such a downpour, let it sluice off of her outfit without a care, but today she’d gone and worn something that didn’t agree with moisture. So she rushed across the puddle in front of the store, weaved between a few parked cars to her cab; where she made short work of opening the driver’s side door to slide inside with haste.

Not to have her mood dampened by the inclement weather, she mused over the aspects of rain that she enjoyed. The fresh scent that washed away the dust. How it brought out the comforting smell of the leather from inside the cab. Even with the rain shushing the usual sound, and thunder grumbling in the distance, birds were singing from a nearby tree. She didn’t shut the door all the way so that she could listen to them twitter.

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