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Chapter Fifteen

(Not Three Years Ago Anymore)

"In other news, famous actor Christopher Livingston has announced that he will be collecting money for charity. When asked which charity he will be collecting for, he threw a chair at the reporter."

 

"I'll throw a chair at you!"

 

Beating his chest like a tiny flying gorilla, Ethan zipped up to the tv and glared defiantly at the newswoman.

 

"Today in Mt. Valiant, Colorado, a new world record was set by Sarah Lee Enkins for the most gumballs swallowed in one minute. The previous record, thirty seven gumballs, was nearly doubled by Miss Enkins with seventy gumballs! Our hopes and prayers go with Miss Enkins, who is now in the hospital having her stomach pumped."

 

"I'll pump your stomach!” Ethan yelled. He raised a centimeter-wide fist and punched the screen. A ring of discoloration rippled across the reporter's forehead and disappeared. "Oh! Ooohhhhh! How's that? You want some more? DO YOU WANT SOME MORE OF THAT, NEWS LADY?"

 

Sitting on the couch, Con chuckled at Ethan's little fairy antics. I sat beside him, trying not to let my face show how many somersaults my stomach was doing.

 

"Go for the eyes," Con laughed. Ethan immediately began throwing little jabs at the newswoman's eyes.

 

"Don't encourage him," I said. "If the tv gets messed up, you know Mom and Dad are gonna blame me."

 

"Little dude's funny."

 

Still, Con leaned back on the couch and left Ethan to his own fickle little fairy whims. When the reporter never rose to his taunts, Ethan eventually got bored and flew up to the ceiling, where he hitched a ride on the fan.

 

I had been a little iffy about showing Ethan to Con. Grandpa Teddy knowing was bad enough. Con was no snitch, though, and it had only taken fifteen minutes to figure out that keeping Ethan locked in my room all night would be like keeping a rhino inside a cage made of paperclips. A rhino on a major caffeine rush. So when Mom and Dad had announced they were going out for the evening, I'd given into pixie peer pressure and let him out to watch tv.

 

Not that I’d had a choice. I couldn't have come down here and left Ethan alone in my room. In his current state, there was no telling what he would do. But I needed to keep an eye on Con tonight, and how was I supposed to do that from upstairs?

 

That didn't make what I was doing any easier, though. Spying on my older brother? I felt like camel puke just thinking about it. But I had to do this. Grandpa Teddy thought Con was murdering people. As much as I hated to admit it, I couldn't fault his reasoning. A ghul was clearly behind the killings—and lo and behold, here was a ghul! It was only common sense to suspect Con.

 

That's why this was so important. Whether I liked it or not, I had to spy on Con if I wanted to prove he wasn't behind this. Every night since he'd come home, he had gone out. Every time he left, he hadn’t gotten back until morning. If he was out giving people heart attacks—which he wasn't!—that's when it would happen. Ghuls can't use their powers during the day, so from dusk till dawn is when they come out to hunt. All I had to do was prove Con wasn't spending those hours doing you-know-what, and he'd be in the clear. Then I could track down the real ghul and put an end to all this.

 

"So, you think you're gonna stick with this one?" Con asked as Ethan came down from the fan, spinning drunkenly through the air.

 

At first I'd been worried Con would be offended by Ethan's…what's the word…recreational use of the drug he depended on to live. To my surprise, though, he'd accepted Ethan's story immediately.

 

Ethan crash landed on the couch between us and stood up, swaying and almost losing his balance. "I dunno yet. I like being able to fly, but I could do without being so small."

 

"Told you," I huffed.

 

Ethan jabbed a finger at me. "You didn't tell ne nothin', you—whoop!"

 

He vanished for a second, falling in between the cushions. Con smirked as we listened to him curse, his voice muffled, until a tiny blue hand finally broke the surface and he hauled himself back up.

 

"I'LL LIGHT THIS THING ON FIRE!" he screamed. He raised his hands, balls of electricity crackling in his palms, and I reached out and flicked the back of his head before he could exact retribution on our furniture. That light tap sent him sprawled out on his face.

 

"VENGEANCE! I WILL HAVE VENGEANCE!"

 

"How about instead of vengeance, you have a snack?" I asked, reaching into my pocket and producing a single chocolate chip.

 

Ethan's eyes went wide, and he held out his hand—but then took a step back. "How long has that been in your pocket?"

 

I shrugged. "You want it or not?"

 

Ethan hesitated, his teeth clenched from the effort, but he finally caved and grabbed the little sweet from my fingers. The stupid thing was as big as his head, yet when he sank his teeth into it, it was obvious he wasn't going to stop until the whole thing was gone.

 

I sighed. For a second there, I'd seen the real Ethan. The Ethan who was smart enough not to eat candy out of somebody's pocket. Especially my pocket.

 

"Con," I said, pulling his attention from the tv again, "think you could do your precious little sister a favor?"

 

"That depends on what it is and how many body parts I'll lose." He flashed me a grin.

 

"I need you to tell this idiot," I pointed at Ethan, "that he's being an idiot. Only idiots do what he's doing, so he needs to stop being an idiot."

 

"Actually, I think sprites are just like that."

 

I rolled my eyes. "Not that! I mean—"

 

"I know what you mean," Con laughed. "But it's not really my decision, is it?"

 

"Graaahhhhh!" I yelled in frustration, slumping backwards on the couch. "Why does everyone I know have to be so open minded and accepting? Would it kill you people to be a little judgmental? Just once?”

 

“Fine, I’ll give it a shot,” Con said with a laugh, then looked down at the little blue terror. “Ethan, why do you want this so bad?”

 

Ethan immediately looked away. “I just think it’s cool, okay? Mind your own beeswax!”

 

I sneered at him. “Do you really expect us to believe that? There’s something—”

 

Con held up a hand, and I fell silent. “You’re not wrong, dude. It is pretty cool!”

 

Ethan’s face immediately lit up, and he rose a few feet into the air so he was at eye level with Con. “Right? Being able to turn into anything you want is freaking awesome!”

 

“Trust me, though, it gets old.”

 

Ethan gave him a stunned look, which I’m sure was almost identical to my own.

 

Con shrugged. “It’s true! Take it from somebody who knows: the novelty wears off fast. Oh sure, it’s cool and different at first, but once that goes away…” He sighed. “Eventually, no matter how cool the thing you’ve turned into is, you’ll start to miss being what you really are.”

 

I opened my mouth to say something, but the words wouldn’t come out. What exactly had he meant by that? Was he trying to say that he missed being a ghul? That despite all the horrible things he’d been through before he met me, and the amazing life I’d given to him, there was still a part of him that wanted to go back to being a lowly fear-sucker? Having to live in hiding no matter where he went, an outcast from existence itself, something to be hunted and killed if he were discovered?

 

No, that couldn’t have been it. He was just trying to get through to Ethan. Who would ever want to go back to the life he had before he’d met me?

 

“Lies!” Ethan yelled. “Lies and treachery! Off with your head!”

 

He spun to face me, raised his hands, and a tiny bolt of electricity arced from his fingertips to shock me on the nose.

 

“Ow!” I yelled, springing to my feet. “What was that for, you Smurfs reject?”

 

He flew away from me. “Treason! You’ve been conspiring against me from the start! And now you’ve poisoned your older brother against me too! I will have your head!”

 

I drew Splatsy, keeping her in ping pong paddle form, and chased after him. He shot up into the air above me, and I whipped Splatsy over my head like a flyswatter, trying to knock him back down to earth. He skillfully wove around Splatsy’s paddle, though, and blew a raspberry from the other side of the living room.

 

“Youuu suuuck, youuu suuuck!” he sang in his irritatingly high pitched voice. “Who sucks? You suck! You suck, suck, SUCK!”

 

I fumed, my cheeks burning blue. Still sitting on the couch, Con was roaring with laughter by now. I gripped Splatsy and got ready to have another go at Ethan. I would smack him from one side of the house to—

 

Beep! Beep! Beep!

 

In an instant, all the laughter was gone from Con’s face. With an expression as serious as the grave, he raised the sleeve of his black trench coat to uncover the wristwatch that was beeping its shrill alarm at us, and switched it off.

 

“I’ve got to go,” he said, standing up.

 

I lowered Splatsy, my quest for revenge forgotten. “What’s up? You got somewhere to be?”

 

“I, uh…” He made for the front door, refusing to look me in the eye. “It’s my new job. I deliver pizzas. Night shift.”

 

I raised an eyebrow. “You got a job? I thought you were only going to be home from school for a few days!”

 

“Yeah, it’s, uh, a temporary thing.” He put on his N.O.S.E., morphing into his human persona before my eyes. “Just to get some spending money before I head back, you know?”

 

“But you—”

 

“Look, I’ve really got to go!” he said, hesitating just inside the door. “I can’t be late for work. See you in the morning, sis!”

 

Before I could say another word, he slammed the door behind him and was gone. I stood there for a few seconds, too stunned to move, to speak, or even think. Then, with a horrible feeling of dread, I headed for the door too.

 

“Come on,” I said. “We’re going after him.”

 

Ethan flew over to land on my shoulder as I donned my own N.O.S.E. “Why? You think he’ll give us a free pizza?”

 

“He’s not delivering pizza,” I said softly.

 

Ethan gave me a curious look. “He’s not? How do you know?”

 

I threw open the door and ventured into the chilly, foreboding night.

 

“Because he doesn’t have a driver’s license.”

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