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PARANORMALCY
by Kiersten White

Genre: Paranormal, Young Adult

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We stumbled out of the Faerie Paths into the dim sunlight of a hazy, cold field, surrounded by nothing but tall brown grass. Fehl quickly backed up through the door in a dead tree behind us. Good riddance. I pulled my arms around myself. “Shoulda worn a coat.”

Jacques shrugged. “It is not so bad.” 

I could see the pond, a murky, lonely thing ahead in the distance, surrounded by a thin copse of trees. Why couldn’t these creatures ever hang out on tropical islands? I wouldn’t have minded a trip to Hawaii.

I frowned. “You should probably hide when we get close, let me stand there alone. She’s more likely to show, if she’s even there.”

“Are you certain you will be alright?”

“If I’m not, trust me, you’ll know.

He smiled and we crossed the field in silence. When we were a few yards away from the edge of the pond, Jacques broke away and hid in a scraggly stand of trees. Putting one hand on Tasey, I walked to the edge of the water, picked up a rock, and threw it in. There was no reaction. I did it again. Nothing.

Granted, I hoped nothing would happen. Hags live in ponds and creeks and look like old, gnarled women. Not even a very cute glamour, but what’s underneath is awful. They’re sickly green, with big, round fish-eyes—pure white. Their hair is like clumps of rotting weeds, and they top it all off with three rows of needle-like, blackened teeth. Did I mention they eat kids? Yeah. KIDS. They ask for help and then pull them under the water until they stop struggling. Then the hag eats them whole. 

Hag protocol was pretty simple. You couldn’t get them in the water—too strong. But if you lured them out it was easy enough to tase them, attach an ankle tracker, and call for transport. Unlike vamps, hags couldn’t be neutered. They were kept in a special unit somewhere in Siberia. “Humane Detainment” IPCA called it—a little odd, considering there was nothing humane or human about hags.

After ten minutes of tossing rocks into the pond I got bored. Maybe I was too old to attract a hag these days. I looked around the pond, trying to see any hints I wasn’t wasting my time. Most of the vegetation was still dead; spring had yet to visit this part of Ireland. Then I noticed something to my right. About two dozen feet away was an odd little mound. It was mottled green and gray, not the right colors for this area. Pulling Tasey out, I made my way cautiously over. As I got closer the scent of mildew was nearly overpowering—that was the hag smell all right. Holding my breath, I tiptoed around to her other side. I couldn’t believe it.

She was dead.

I didn’t even know how to kill a hag. They were just one of those things that always were, kind of like mermaids. But she was definitely dead. Underneath the glamour her milky white hag eyes were opened wide, her horrible face frozen in confusion. How had this happened?

I glanced around for clues, but didn’t see anything. Looking down at the hag again, I narrowed my eyes. There was something under the glamour, just where her heap of rags covered her chest. Finding a stick, I pulled down the cloth. There was the faintest trace of a handprint there—a handprint in pale gold, getting dimmer even as I watched until it disappeared entirely. 

Then I realized something else: the hag was steaming slightly in the cool air. Which meant her body was still warm. Which meant she hadn’t been dead for long. “Oh, bleep,” I whispered. I stood up straight, holding Tasey out in front of me and spinning around. The whole area felt sinister now, as though every clump of brown bushes held my imminent death.

“Jacques?” I called softly, backing away from the pond. I pushed the panic button on my communicator, hoping that Fehl wasn’t far and would be waiting at the transport point. “Jacques?” I didn’t want to yell. Of course, I’d been standing out in the open so long whatever this thing was had probably already seen me. Far to my left I heard a twig snap. Dropping my bag of ankle trackers, I pulled out the knife.

“Jacques? Jacques, is that you?” My voice was shaking almost as bad as my hands. “Jacques?”

A scream ripped through the air, like a soul was being ripped from its body. Jacques’s soul. Jacques’s body. And, hating myself even as I was doing it, I turned and ran as hard as I could for the tree. If this thing could take a hag and Jacques, I didn’t stand a chance. My breath tore at my chest as I pushed myself faster than I thought possible. I was running from death and expected it to catch me at any moment.