Annelisse

Annelisse, Pt. 1 – Alley Cat 

The stars formed pinpoints of light over Paris, muted by the moon’s overwhelming pale glow. Just beyond rows of small businesses towered the Sacred Heart Basilica, perpetually honoring the Holy Eucharist and casting its blessing down over the city. At this time of night, traffic was at a minimum, and one could hear faint music drifting from the windows of nearby homes. 

Then, a crash. 

Inside a small antique shop, a short, chubby man in a black turtleneck swore, placing the rusty alarm clock he’d knocked to the floor back on its shelf. He stumbled through the darkness until he found the shop counter, lugging a plastic box along the way. Unscrewing a cap atop the container, he upended it, dumping its liquid contents across the wooden countertop. Turning, he repeated the action on the nearby aisles of dusty paraphernalia, nodding with satisfaction once the stream reduced itself to a dribble. Dropping the container, he retrieved a book of matches, reaching for the nearest one. 

Suddenly, a flash of white light filled the dark shop, and he spun around, peering into the shadows. 

“Who’s there?” he called out in French. 

A quiet zip whispered back at him, as if someone had pulled a spin top. 

Then, two yellow eyes appeared, staring at him from barely thirty centimeters above the floor. The eyes moved away from him, revealing their attachment to the sleek body of a black cat. The cat turned away from the man, who angrily pocketed the matches. 

“You!” he growled, and the cat darted back into the blackness. 

The man took chase, snatching up a nearby baseball bat perched against an aisle. He saw the cat brush open the front door, which jingled slightly as a bell near the ceiling activated. Following suit, he shouldered past the barrier of glass and metal, waving the baseball bat with red-faced fury. 

“Get back here!” he hissed, his feet pounding against the sidewalk. 

Rounding a corner into an alleyway, the cat slipped out of the man’s sight, and he picked up his pace, almost colliding with a dumpster near the entrance. He steadied himself, tightening his grip on the bat, and stalked through the alley, keeping an eye out. Something moved beneath a pile of abandoned clothes, and he leapt forward, bringing the bat down onto it repeatedly. Kicking away the shirts and pants, he saw the crushed remains of a large rat. 

A glass bottle rolled across the asphalt near his foot, and he turned quickly to see the black cat darting away. He hurled the bat at the animal, but it narrowly missed, ricocheting off the ground and clanging into the brick wall of the alleyway. The man swore against, sprinting through the alley after the cat as the disregarded weapon gently rolled to a stop behind him. 

At the other end of the journey sat a single streetlamp, whose yellow light glistened off the cat’s black fur as it approached the structure. The man in the turtleneck saw the creature’s escape as imminent, and his fear enabled a burst of speed that brought him quickly to the other end of the alley. As he exited the space between the buildings, he turned to run after the cat, but stopped. 

Less than a meter away, at the outdoor table of a closed café, sat a bald, dark-skinned man in a tan trench coat. The man in the turtleneck froze as the man in the trench coat lowered a newspaper he was reading by streetlight. At his feet sat the yellow-eyed cat, who purred smugly. 

“Monsieur Dufort, yes?” the man in the trench coat asked in French. “I’ve been expecting your arrival. Please, have a seat.” 

Dufort glanced up and down the empty street, raising an eyebrow at the stranger. “And who are you?” 

The man in the trench coat sighed, leaning back in his chair. “I’m Inspector Monet. Yes, like the painter, and no, I don’t also paint. Will you sit now, please?” 

Jabbing his finger down at the cat, Dufort asked, “do you know what this is?” 

“I do,” Inspector Monet replied. “Now, sit.” 

This time, he pulled back his coat, revealing a snub-nosed revolver secured in a brown leather shoulder holster. 

Dufort’s face went ashen white, and he stepped forward, sliding into the chair opposite Monet’s. He twirled his thumbs around each other nervously, waiting for Monet to speak. Instead, the Inspector stared at the man in the turtleneck for a moment, a smile twitching at the edges of his lips. 

“You own a bakery near here, don’t you?” Inspector Monet finally asked. 

Dufort looked down at the black cat, who blankly returned his stare with its yellow eyes. Returning his attention to the Inspector, he responded, “Yes, that’s right.” 

“Interesting,” Inspector Monet responded, retrieving a small notebook from his inner coat pocket. He flipped it open, turning to the second page. “And you’re friends with Monsieur Blanchet, the toy shop owner down the street?” 

Dufort wiped away the sweat forming at his brow. “I am.” 

“Hmm.” Inspector Monet nodded. “Such a shame that their shop burned to the ground last month. A tragic accident.” 

“Yes,” Dufort agreed, his voice shaky. “Tragic.” 

“A lot of tragedy going around lately amongst friends with failing businesses, eh?” Monet commented, turning to the next page of his notebook. “Madame Fontaine’s pet boutique . . . Monsieur Adrien’s used cell phone store . . . if I were a betting man, I’d be keeping an eye on the Bassett family’s antique shop.” 

He snapped his notebook shut sharply, locking eyes with Dufort. “Do you think I’m a betting man?” 

“I . . . I’m not sure what you want me to say,” Dufort whispered. 

Inspector Monet reached up with his other hand, slapping a pair of handcuffs on the café table. “Honestly, I’m just curious whether your friends will use the generous insurance payouts you guaranteed them to ensure your release from jail.” 

Dufort frowned. “May I speak now, Inspector?” 

Monet offered a welcoming gesture. “Of course.” 

“I don’t know what you think is going on, or what kind of crazy conspiracies you’ve invented,” the shop owner huffed, “but this is all absolute conjecture. If you wanted to bring real charges to my face, you’d come with other police, and with evidence.” 

Rising from his chair, Inspector Monet towered over Dufort, casting an icy shadow in the streetlamp. “You think I need help detaining you?” 

Dufort cowered in his chair. “No. Sorry, sir.” 

The Inspector placed his hands on his hips. “As for the ‘theories,’ they aren’t mine. They are the work of a talented young detective who I’ve come to trust very much. Do you know Annelisse?” 

Hanging his head in defeat, Dufort responded, “Yes. We’ve spoken before.” 

“Then all we need is evidence,” Monet continued. “Something like . . . a photograph of you literally committing the crime?” 

Dufort kept his head down. “Right.” 

Turning to the cat at his feet, Inspector Monet nodded. “Well?” 

A quiet zip whispered back at him, as if someone had pulled a spin top. 

The cat arched its back, bones popping out of sockets as they stretched unnaturally. Yellow eyes flickered, illuminated by something more than just a streetlamp, as the creature grew taller, thicker. Its paws turned to hands, its snout into a nose. Black fur retreated into flesh, and yellow cloth grew in its place, covering the tan skin underneath. The entire process took no more than a second, leaving behind a teenage girl in a yellow sun dress, her brown hair short and choppy. 

The girl reached up to her neck, around which hung a small digital camera. She removed the camera, handing it to Inspector Monet, who rifled through the images on the small screen on the back of the device. While he worked, the girl’s eyes flicked over to Dufort, still as yellow as they were in the body of a cat. She offered a smirk, winking at the man in the turtleneck. 

“Ah! There it is,” Monet exclaimed, tapping the digital camera’s screen. “Monsieur Dufort’s much-needed evidence. Thank you kindly, Annelisse.” 

The girl’s smile grew wider at the compliment. “Pas de problème, Inspector.” 

________________ 

The next morning, the sun rose over the cobblestone city streets, burning in Annelisse’s eyes as she navigated the tight spaces between local businesses. Around her fluttered a world of smells: Sweetness from the Boisseau flower shop, umami from the Archambeau butcher store, and even the remnants of fresh bread from the closing Dufort bakery. She frowned at the locked doors, briefly saddened that her well-intentioned investigation had blighted such a positive culinary center of the local area.  

“Annelisse!” someone called out, ripping her attention from the bakery. 

Turning around, she saw Nathan Dubois approaching. The young, small-time journalist fumbled for a handheld voice recorder, smiling sheepishly as it almost slipped from between his fingers. 

“Annelisse, word’s gotten out about Dufort,” he announced, bridging the gap between them. “Can I take a statement about how you came to the conclusion–” 

“Nathan,” Annelisse chastised, “you know I can’t make press statements. That’s the Inspector’s job.” 

“Yes, but . . .” Nathan paused awkwardly before continuing. “You did all the work, right? And you practically live in Inspector Monet’s attic. Surely you can speak on his behalf.” 

Annelisse frowned at the comment. “Good-bye, Nathan.” 

She turned away from the man’s protests, slipping into a nearby alley. 

He was right, of course. Inspector Monet was quite competent on his own, but ever since he found Annelisse on his doorstep as a baby, he’d grown both protective of her as a paternal figure and reliant on her as a crime-fighter. They’d had their differences, and she often found herself restlessly roaming the city for nights on end, but she always navigated her way back to his attic. Back to the place she called home. 

Still, she couldn’t help but to wonder where she really came from. 

Hunching over, Annelisse allowed herself to slip into a twilight state, her body shifting almost reflexively. Black fur sprouted from her skin as her clothes evaporated, and she contorted herself toward the ground as she shrunk, her muscles and bones realigning. Within a second, she stood in the alley as a black cat, the only sound during the transformation a quiet zip, like a pulled spin top. 

In her other body, the world changed dramatically. 

Annelisse had read once that a cat’s sense of smell was fourteen times stronger than a human’s; having experienced both, she could attest that it felt exponentially more potent than that. The alley flared to life around her, bombarding her with far more than just flowers and meat and bread. She could practically taste the salt of Nathan’s sweat; the bitterness of the dirt on the cobblestone; the chilled sterility of the fresh glass window in a nearby shop. Living creatures in the alley, from mice to cockroaches, exploded into view, aided by her night-vision eyes. 

It was one thing to not know her parents or her past; when it came to her strange ability, Annelisse was at a total loss for answers. She had no clue what allowed her to shapeshift, or why a black cat was her only available form. More baffling to both Monet and herself was the way her clothes and any small objects on her person transformed with her, completely dismissing the laws of biology and physics alike.  

Still, she found her . . . condition . . . to be quite advantageous, despite not fully understanding it. As a sleuth, she relished in the fact that her senses amplified her detective skills. As someone often in dangerous situations, the light and nimble cat body allowed her to slip away from harm undetected. And as someone who wanted the best for everyone . . . 

Well, there was The Call. 

Even as she mused on it, The Call came for her, whispering down the sidewalks like a gust of wind, causing her whiskers to twitch. Something pulled at the pit of her stomach, as if she’d been dropped from a great height, and she felt her eyes dilate, black pupils overwhelming yellow irises. The sound of her own heartbeat filled her ears, and she felt pulled, drawn North. Gothic towers and blurred monochrome churches filled her mind, and the name Monet reached her tongue. Not her adopted father, though; the famous Monet, who painted the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Yet, this was not Paris’s Notre-Dame. It was someone else’s. 

Annelisse felt The Call fading, so she shifted back into her human form, shaking her head to clear it of the images. 

“Rouen,” she murmured to herself, turning to leave the alley. “Someone needs help in Rouen.” 

Annelisse, Pt. 2 – Another Woman 

The train from Paris hissed as it stopped, the passenger doors opening. Shielding her eyes from the sun, Annelisse stepped out of the vehicle, taking her first deep breath of Rouen air. She twisted her body, stretching to relieve her stiff muscles after her two-hour trip. People swarmed around her like ants in a hive, busily transitioning between phases of their day, unable to stop and appreciate the ornate architecture around them. 

Wandering into the center of the town, Annelisse smiled, marveling at the complex wooden lattices and colorful masonry. Above the rest of the buildings towered the Notre-Dame Cathedral, its façade wrapped in a nest of concrete spines that gave the church a hostile appearance. 

Annelisse tore her attention away from the towers stretching into the sky, focusing instead on the details of the cobblestone roads. She sought out a space alone to transform, to find the person whom The Call claimed needed her help. Crossing the closest street, she squeezed into a dark alley between two homes, adjusting the miniature backpack strapped to her torso. When she was confident in her isolation, she shifted into her black cat form, taking a moment to absorb the bombardment of new sensory information. 

There it is. 

The Call wasted no time reaching out to her, and her stomach fluttered as she chased its trail, her tiny paws padding across grass and stone. She hardly watched her path, allowing her instincts to guide her, only changing her trajectory to avoid being squashed by passing traffic. She ran at least a half-mile before she found herself standing in front of a small, nondescript house, The Call surrounding the building with a pulsating aura that only Annelisse could see. 

Crouching out of sight behind a parked car, Annelisse shifted back into her human form. She approached the front door of the house, curious if anyone was even home. Shrugging, she lifted her hand and knocked. 

“Bonjour!” she called cheerfully, attempting to appear as nonthreatening as possible. 

No response, for a moment. 

Then, the curtain of the closest window pulled back just slightly, and Annelisse saw a single eye staring at her through the shadow-filled gap in the cloth. She waved cheerfully at the inhabitant, then pointed at the front door. 

“May we talk for a moment?” 

The curtain returned to its place, and after a few seconds, Annelisse heard the door unlock. The wooden barrier swung back, and a middle-aged, grey-haired woman poked her head out, examining Annelisse.  

“Do I know you?” the woman asked. 

Annelisse shook her head. “Not yet. My name is Annelisse, and I’m here to help.” 

The woman raised an eyebrow. “Help with what?” 

“Well, I’m not sure yet,” Annelisse admitted. “See, I’m a detective from Paris–” 

“Oh!” the woman interrupted, recognition flashing across her face. “You found the culprit for the recent Paris shop fires! I was reading about you in the paper today. You’ve made quite a name for yourself.” 

Annelisse shrugged sheepishly. “I try.” 

“I’ve heard some interesting rumors about you, too,” the woman added, cocking her head with a slight smile. 

“Well, that’s why I’m here,” Annelisse replied. “The interesting things you’ve heard about me are the same things that led me to your front door.” 

The woman’s smile softened, and Annelisse could see her eyes watering a little. 

“Please, come in,” the woman whispered, wiping her reddening face. “There is something I could use your help with.” 

Annelisse nodded empathetically, following the woman into her house. 

If it wasn’t for my trust in The Call, this would be incredibly unwise, she thought amusedly. 

“Would you like some tea?” the woman asked, and Annelisse shook her head. 

No reason to push my luck, the girl added silently to herself. 

“Oh, I never gave you my name,” the woman said, pouring herself a cup of tea. “I’m Harriett. My husband is Hugo. He’s probably the reason you came today. He’s missing, and I think he’s seeing another woman.” 

Annelisse’s eyes widened. “I’m sorry to hear that. How long has he been gone?” 

“Three days,” Harriett responded, her voice cracking a little. 

“And what makes you think he’s having an affair?” Annelisse pressed. 

Harriett averted her eyes. “I found . . . love letters. In his work desk. To and from someone named Cadence. She has very pretty handwriting.” 

“Where do you think he went?” asked Annelisse. 

“He hadn’t left the house much recently,” admitted Harriett. “I think he may have left to meet her for the first time, and now he isn’t coming back. But if that’s the case, I just want to know for sure. I need to know what happened to my Hugo.” 

Annelisse pondered for a moment before speaking again. “Do you still have the letters?” 

Harriett shook her head. “I went back for them later to confront him, and they were gone, along with him.” 

Annelisse sighed. “Do you remember anything they said? Anything about how they met, or where they might be going?” 

Wiping tears from her eyes, Harriett nodded. “One of his letters said he couldn’t wait to see her ‘fly again.’ Whatever that means.” 

Reaching into her backpack, Annelisse retrieved a small electronic tablet. She loaded a maps application onto the screen, zooming out to display the entire town. 

Not a lot of airport options near us, she thought to herself. She could be a pilot, but if he’s been staying close to home lately . . . 

“Show me where he works,” she requested, handing Harriett the tablet. 

“Well,” Harriett said, “he’s an accountant, so he’s been working from home more recently. But when he used to leave the house for work, his office was at the industrial equipment supply facility on the West side of town. I don’t know what the office was like, but sometimes he’d come home smelling like popcorn.” 

She pointed at the map, and Annelisse took the tablet back, zooming in and scrolling around the area. 

“That’s a start,” Annelisse finally responded. “I’m going to head that way. But I’ll be back as soon as I can with any updates in the case.” 

The girl stood to leave, but Harriett leapt to her feet, wrapping her in a tight hug. 

“Thank you,” Harriett whispered in Annelisse’s ear. “This means the world to me.” 

Annelisse patted the woman’s arm. “Don’t worry. It’ll be fine.” 

________________ 

The sun had transitioned from stark yellow to deep pink as it began to set, casting shadows across West Rouen. Annelisse walked up to a tall chain-link fence, peering through the other side at a series of tall, red-and-yellow-striped tents. The faint smell of popcorn filled the air, and a small sign indicated what the place used to be before it closed down: Cirque De Noel. 

“’See her fly again,’” murmured Annelisse, glancing over her shoulder at Hugo’s office building in the visible distance. “Not airplanes. Trapeze.” 

Glancing at her feet, she saw a small hole in the bottom of the fence, likely the work of a stray raccoon. Smiling to herself, she shifted into her cat form, scurrying under the fence and onto the circus grounds. Her heightened senses and night vision allowed her to navigate the maze of tents with ease and precision, and she padded atop brown grass, examining the decrepit buildings. 

Suddenly, a small squeak reached her pointed ears, which twitched in the sound’s direction. Annelisse turned her small, furry head, lowering her feline body as close to the ground as she could to avoid detection. Another squeak, and this time she identified the source from within the second tent on the left. Not an organic squeak; no, this was mechanical in nature. 

Annelisse crept into the tent, sticking to the shadows as she prowled past old cages and rusted animal training tools. A third squeak directed her to a flap that separated the performer’s area from the main stage, and she approached it cautiously. Behind her, she felt the sun’s warmth fade as it inched below the horizon. At this point, only a sliver of light remained. 

A fourth squeak, and Annelisse poked her head through the tent flap. 

A middle-aged man in glasses, presumably Hugo, sat no more than five meters away from her, perched atop the metal bleachers used for stadium viewing. His head tilted up slightly, a blank smile on his face, as he watched a figure perform on the trapeze ropes above the main stage. Annelisse followed his gaze to see a young, pale woman with flaming red hair, expertly flying across the tent on the ropes in a baby-blue leotard. As she moved, the waning dusk seemed to almost warp around her, like heat waves above asphalt on a hot summer day. The distortion drew Annelisse in, and it took her a moment to pull herself away from the performance. 

Instead, she weaved beneath the bleachers, working her way past metal girders until she reached the space behind Hugo. Transforming back into her human body, she reached up, tugging on Hugo’s shirt.  

“Hey,” she whispered. “Hugo? Your wife sent me.” 

Hugo completely ignored her, still transfixed on the trapeze performer. The soft squeak of the swinging ropes filled the dark, empty, abandoned circus tent, and a chill traveled up Annelisse’s spine. 

Something’s wrong here, she thought.  

As the realization occurred to her, she saw the red-haired woman leap from the ropes, falling toward Hugo. Rather than dropping quickly, though, she glided, as if held aloft by a parachute. When her feet touched the metal bleachers, Annelisse hardly felt the vibrations of her landing. Unease filled the girl’s chest, and she sunk into the shadows, peering through the cracks of the bleachers. 

“How did I do, my love?” the woman asked, smiling at Hugo. 

“It was wonderful, Cadence,” Hugo responded, as if murmuring in his sleep. “As beautiful as the first day I saw you.” 

“Oh, Hugo,” Cadence sighed, stroking his face. “Of all the men and women who’ve come here, you’re easily the most romantic. I must be sure to keep you around for a while.” 

Her smile widened, turning sinister, and long, sharp fangs sprouted from her gums, blood trickling down from the protrusions. She blinked, and her eyes shifted from dull green to bright yellow, not too unlike Annelisse’s own eyes when she was in her cat form. Leaning forward, Cadence clutched Hugo’s shoulders, holding him steady as she sank her teeth into his neck. 

Covering her mouth to mask her gasp of surprise, Annelisse stepped further back, trying to avoid seeing too much. Still, she could make out droplets of blood leaking beneath the bleachers as Cadence sloppily lapped up Hugo’s life force. After what felt like an eternity, the feeding ceased, and Cadence pulled away, wiping the blood from her mouth as her eyes and teeth reverted to normal. 

“Did you enjoy that?” she asked the man, who was considerably paler than before. 

“It was wonderful, Cadence,” Hugo weakly replied. “As beautiful as the first day I saw you.” 

“That’s what I like to–” Cadence suddenly stopped, tilting her head. She raised her face, sniffing the air, a low growl emanating from deep within her throat. “Someone else is here.” 

Hugo sleepily looked around. “Where?” 

Annelisse tried to keep her whimpers of fear bottled up, tears welling in her eyes. 

“I’m not sure, my love,” Cadence responded. “I think it’s . . .” 

She glanced between the cracks in the bleachers, and her eyes connected with Annelisse’s. “Ah, there you are.” 

Spinning on her heels, Annelisse exploded from beneath the bleachers, sprinting toward the tent’s exit, a rushing wind alerting her to Candace’s chase. Ahead, the last vestiges of sunlight faded away, and the darkness of night finally fell on Annelisse as she stumbled onto the circus grounds, running for her life. 

Annelisse, Pt. 3 – Second Opinion 

Annelisse’s shoes dug into the grass as she ran, weaving through the circus tents. Her pulse pounded in her ears, and she felt her extremities shiver from the rush of adrenaline.  

From the rush of fear. 

In her panic, she must have made a wrong turn, because as she rounded the next corner, she found herself in a sea of tents, rather than the exit she expected. She slid to a stop, sweat dripping down her face as she looked back and forth, wide-eyed. Somewhere nearby, she heard Cadence’s soft snicker; such a quiet sound, but full of malice and smugness in equal parts. 

Thinking quickly, Annelisse shifted into her cat form, using her enhanced senses to reorient herself. As she turned in the correct direction, a rush of air sounded whispered above her, and she looked up to see Cadence hurtling toward her, yellow eyes hungry and fanged mouth open wide. 

“So, you have your own secrets,” Cadence hissed gleefully. 

Annelisse darted away, her four legs and lighter frame carrying her more quickly from the attack than her human form could. Cadence slammed into the ground, calling at the young detective as she ran beyond the tents. 

“No matter! You can’t escape me, girl!” 

Scurrying under the hole in the chain-link fence, Annelisse leapt onto the sidewalk, sticking to the shadows as much as possible. She ran forward, unsure of where to go, or what to do, completely aware of how exposed to Cadence this side of Rouen left her. Trees lined either side of the otherwise empty road, stretching endlessly ahead, offering her no reprieve from the creature chasing her. Still, she pushed on, daring not to look back.  

After a few minutes, her muscles burning in her tiny legs, she glanced at the path behind her. To her surprise, she saw no red hair, no yellow eyes, no bloody fangs. As far as she could tell, she’d been left alone. Her run slowed to a trot, and she focused her animal instincts on her surroundings.  

Nothing. No one. 

Opting not to stay in the open for a surprise attack, Annelisse turned her attention to the nearest tree, clawing her way up the bark and perching amongst the uppermost covered branches. There, she waited in cat form, her golf-ball-sized heart pumping inside her chest like runaway car with a flat tire. The wind caressed the leaves around her, causing her sensitive ears to twitch, but she heard no footsteps, no voices. 

Until . . . 

“No hiding, either,” Cadence playfully chastised in her ear. 

Annelisse yowled, leaping down from the tree, transitioning to her human form at the last second to catch herself. Looking up, she saw Cadence leering down through the branches, fangs bared. 

How did she get up behind me without me noticing? Annelisse silently marveled.  

Nonetheless, she turned away from the creature, this time aiming for a bridge in the distance that hovered over a nearby river. 

They can’t cross running water, right? thought Annelisse.  

She pumped her human legs against the asphalt, angling toward the bridge as Cadence cackled behind her. Cold breath on the back of her neck caused her to panic, and as she reached the bridge, she hurled herself forward, tumbling onto the concrete expanse. Behind her, she heard Cadence gasp, and she turned to see the red-haired woman backing away, yellow eyes wide and frightened. Cadence glanced over the edge of the bridge at the rushing river and shivered, crossing her arms over her chest. 

“Holy shit,” Annelisse whispered, sighing in relief. “I can’t believe that worked.” 

Cadence regained her composure, smirking at the girl. “You think this will stop me? Maybe the thing inside my heart hates water, that’s true. But just like with any other psychological block, it can be overcome with a little bit of willpower.” 

With that, she took a step forward, planting it firmly onto the bridge. 

Shifting back into her cat form, Annelisse turned away, darting across the rest of the bridge while Cadence slowly wormed her way toward her. The roads became cobblestone, and she soon found herself surrounded by tall, glass businesses. She returned to her human body, calling for help as she stumbled through the streets. 

Much to her dismay, no one answered. 

In the distance, Annelisse heard Cadence laugh maniacally, her voice drifting into the girl’s ears as if part of the moonlight. 

Wiping away her tears of terror, Annelisse made her way through downtown Rouen, seeking any assistance, but no one appeared in the shadows of the buildings. Turning another corner, she saw the Notre-Dame Cathedral stretching for the stars, its spiny exterior much more welcoming to Annelisse in her current predicament. She made a beeline for the building, staggering up the front steps and pulling the heavy door open. As she turned to close it, she saw Cadence hurtling toward her, hissing like a snake. Annelisse slammed the door shut, and the creature collided with the wooden barrier, banging against it. 

“Uh . . . can I help you?” a man’s voice called out, echoing throughout the dimly-lit church. 

Annelisse turned to see an older, grey-haired man descending from the pulpit, making his way down the pew aisles at a slow, steady space. Cadence banged against the door again, and he tilted his head, glancing behind Annelisse. 

“I take it that’s not a friend?” 

Annelisse shook her head, shuddering.  

“That’s okay,” he said softly, pausing a few meters from the girl. “I don’t think that thing can come inside anyway.” 

The banging outside stopped, followed by a low, soft chuckle that quickly faded away. 

Sighing, Annelisse sat in the closest pew. “Because this place is holy?” 

The man laughed, his toothy smile infectious. “I’d like to think it is, but no, that’s not why. This town’s ancestors built this cathedral years ago using a rare metal that repels creatures like the one you’re hiding from in here.” 

Movement drew Annelisse’s attention to a window above her head, and she looked up to see Cadence clinging to the glass and staring inside, nothing more than a dark silhouette. 

“Don’t worry,” the man reassured her. “She’s just trying to scare you into leaving.” 

“Well, that’s not going to work,” Annelisse mumbled. 

The man stepped closer, extending his hand. “I’m Father Marquis. You can call me Mark.” 

She took his hand, shaking it. “I’m Annelisse. You can call me that.” 

Looking back up at Cadence, Annelisse continued, “What is she, anyway? She said something about a ‘thing’ in her heart.” 

Mark glanced down at Annelisse, a glimmer in his eye. “You already know, don’t you? This is what people fear when they talk about vampires.” 

Cadence backed away from the window, vanishing into the night. A knot in Annelisse’s chest loosened a little, and she felt her shoulders relaxed. 

“Of course,” the priest added, “not everything you read is accurate. I may be a man of God, but these creatures are natural, rather than spiritual. Predatory, rare nature, but nature nonetheless.” 

“What do you mean?” asked Annelisse. 

“Well . . .” Mark slid into a pew a few rows down from Annelisse. “The way it’s been explained to me, vampires come from one man: Vlad the Impaler. Are you familiar with him?” 

Annelisse nodded. “He was a political and military leader in the fifteenth century, right? Not a great man, though, I understand.” 

“You’re right on both counts,” Mark acknowledged. “What most don’t know about him is that, during an exploratory campaign in the Seychelles wilderness, he contracted a rare disease that edited his DNA, much in the way that scientists are able to achieve with CRISPR today.” 

“What kind of disease?” asked Annelisse. 

Mark shrugged. “We’ll never know. As far as we’re aware, he killed his comrades and incinerated that part of the wilderness after he realized the power he’d obtained. I’m sure he didn’t want others to compete with him.” 

“That figures,” Annelisse said. “What kind of power does he have?” 

“Oh, it varies depending on the legends,” admitted the priest. “Most agree that he’s been gifted with strength, flight, and immortality. Some say he can control pests, like rats and insects. And, of course, he’s most widely known for his ability to turn others into beings similar to him, making him the de facto king of vampires.” 

“Similar?” inquired Annelisse. “Not the same?” 

“No, no,” he responded. “Not the same. They’re much weaker, their bodies and minds slaves to a parasite that embeds itself in and around their heart. Certain metals irritate them, running water scares them, sunlight burns them. They can only feed on blood, not transform others in the same was as Vlad. And, of course, if the parasite is killed, the entire host dies with it. Hence, the old ‘wooden stake through the heart’ myth.” 

Annelisse pondered for a moment before speaking. “So it’s true, then. Destroy the heart, destroy the vampire.” 

Mark smiled. “Exactly.” 

“But what about her victims?” she pressed. “I saw her perform some sort of . . . acrobatics routine. It lulled a man into a trance, or something.” 

“Hmm . . .” Mark paused, thinking to himself. “Well, not all vampires change in the same way. It could be a talent unique to her. Though I imagine that if she perished, her victims would be freed.” 

Realization struck Annelisse, and her eyes widened. “Wait. Harriett doesn’t know. His wife is in danger!” 

She moved to stand up, but Mark waved her down. “I wouldn’t go back out tonight. Not while your nemesis lives. Wait here until daylight, where you can hunt her and kill her in her sleep.” 

Annelisse returned her attention to the priest. “How do you know all this, anyway?” 

Mark smiled again. “Pardon my language, but I’ve seen some shit.” 

Sighing, Annelisse laid down on the pew, closing her eyes. Cadence’s yellow eyes flashed into her thoughts, and she frowned. 

“There’s more troubling you, isn’t there?” Mark prodded. 

She puffed her cheeks, blowing air out of her mouth in a thin stream. “It’s more about me, than anything else.” 

Mark nodded gently. “Care to elaborate?” 

“I have a . . .” Annelisse hesitated before continuing. “A skill. I can change my body, like Cadence. I’m different, but . . .” 

“But you’re worried that you’re still too similar,” Mark finished, understanding in his voice. 

Annelisse squeezed her closed eyelids tighter together. “Yeah.”  

“Well, consider the book of Exodus,” he said. “We’re asked to put no other god before the God of the Israelites. I don’t think that’s a declaration of vanity, though, nor a symbolic message. I believe there are, in fact, other deities, other gods, that interact with humanity. I think Exodus is a warning of their potential danger.” 

Opening her eyes, Annelisse shot the priest a worried glance, and he chuckled. 

“Now, I’m not saying they’re all bad. It’s just that, sometimes, you don’t know where your gifts or your curses come from. These vampires? They may be borne of science, but they do the work of a devil, a dark entity. But just because you are extraordinary, too, it doesn’t mean that your actions have to be similarly evil.” 

“Personal choice,” Annelisse muttered, smiling a little. “It’s all about personal choice.” 

The last vestiges of adrenaline faded in her body, and she soon drifted to sleep. 

Annelisse, Pt. 4 – Until Death 

A warm ray of sunshine poured through the cathedral windows, tickling Annelisse’s nose until she awoke. She blinked, her eyes adjusting to an overstimulation of light, taking a moment to realize that she’d shifted into her cat form while she slept. Morphing back into her human body, she stood and looked around the chapel, but Father Marquis had disappeared. Annelisse stretched her stiff muscles, turning to exit the building and step onto the streets of Rouen. 

It didn’t take long for her to reach Harriett’s house, and she knocked on it, the rapping of her knuckles producing a strangely hollow sound beyond the barrier. She glanced over at the curtains, expecting Harriett to peek through the veil once more, but to her surprise, the door almost immediately unlatched from the other side, swinging open. On the other side stood the woman who’d hired Annelisse, smiling affectionately down at her. 

“Annelisse!” Harriett exclaimed, pulling her into a hug. “After you didn’t come back yesterday, I got worried. Are you okay?” 

“I’m fine,” Annelisse responded, pushing the woman into her house and shutting the door behind them. “Have you heard from your husband, or from anyone else?” 

Harriett blinked in surprise, then shook her head. “I’ve been alone since you left. Did you find Hugo?” 

Annelisse lowered her gaze. “I did. He’s in trouble.” 

A teakettle began to whistle in the kitchen, and Harriett clucked her tongue, glancing in the sound’s direction. “Can you be a dear and take the kettle off the stove, please?” 

Nodding, Annelisse hurried into the kitchen, using a towel to protect herself from the hot kettle as she removed it from the stove eye. As she leaned over to turn off the stove, she said, “You may not believe me, Harriett, but your husband’s actions were involuntary. He’s currently under the thrall of a supernatural creature.” 

“A supernatural creature?” Harriett called back, beyond Annelisse’s sight. “What does that mean?” 

Some of the hot water from the kettle dribbled onto the counter, and Annelisse turned to grab a towel. “Cadence . . . well . . . she’s a vampire, apparently. A vampire who can mesmerize her victims. And now that she knows I was trying to reach Hugo, she might come for you . . .” 

Her voice trailed off as she spied mud-caked loafers next to the back door that led into the kitchen. The mud was fresh, but the shoes were far too big for Harriett’s feet.  

“We need to leave before Cadence comes,” she muttered, her eyes drifting to a wooden knife block on the counter. 

One of the kitchen knives was missing. 

“You didn’t mention how wonderful she was,” Harriet whispered into Annelisse’s ear from behind. “As beautiful as the first day I saw her.” 

Annelisse sensed Harriett rear her arm back, and she dove to the floor, shifting into her cat form. Behind her, something whistled through the air, striking a nearby kitchen cabinet with a sharp crack. Skidding across the kitchen floor, Annelisse turned to see Harriett wielding a brass fire poker, its pointed tip gleaming.  

“Cadence says you’re a pest,” Harriett said, her eyes wide and glazed over. 

Footsteps sounded behind Annelisse, and she darted out of the way just as Hugo appeared, swinging a kitchen knife down into the floor. 

“Pests must be crushed,” he murmured. 

Shifting back into her human form, Annelisse held up her hands in surrender. “I know you aren’t doing this of your own volition. Please, remember who you are. What I came here to do.” 

Harriett swung again, and Annelisse jumped, shifting to cat form mid-air and running along the woman’s offending arm. Using her claws to maintain her balance, she scurried up to Harriett’s shoulder and leapt off, shifting back into human form as she fell. Her feet slammed into the floor behind her attacker, and she rushed out of the kitchen, into the living room. 

Not far away, she heard the entranced couple storm toward her, and she rushed for the front door, but it was bolted shut. Before she could figure out how to unlatch it, Hugo’s knife whistled through the air, barely missing her skull as it embedded into the door. She spun around, pulse pounding, and ran directly at the man, who lunged at her. At the last moment, Annelisse shifted into cat form, sprinting between Hugo’s legs and back into the kitchen. 

Aiming her tiny, furry face at the back door, Annelisse transformed back to her human form, reaching out to open the barrier. It wouldn’t budge. Behind her, Harriett’s feet slapped against the linoleum, and Annelisse leaned to the side, narrowly avoiding a jab from the fire poker. She shifted again, deftly leaping onto the kitchen counters. Harriett smacked the poker repeatedly across the counter, attempting and failing over and over to strike the girl in the cat body.  

Leaping for the wooden knife block on the counter, Annelisse wrapped her tiny mouth around the handle of the blade, morphing back into her human form with the knife still between her teeth. As Harriett and Hugo approached, she plucked the weapon from her mouth and wielded it in front of her, still crouched on the counter. 

“Please stay back,” she pleaded to the couple. “I don’t want to hurt you.” 

“But Cadence wants us to hurt you,” they droned in unison. “We must hurt you.” 

Suddenly, the back door burst open, and Inspector Monet rushed inside, snub-nosed revolver drawn and ready. “Get on the ground! Now!” 

Annelisse looked at her adopted father, shaking her head. “Don’t kill them! They’re under someone else’s control!” 

Monet cocked his head. “Pardon?” 

Harriett swung her poker, smacking the gun from the inspector’s hand. He cried out in pain and took a step back, barely avoiding her second swing. Annelisse hurled herself onto Harriett’s back, slashing the back of her hand with the knife and causing her to drop her makeshift weapon. Inspector Monet rushed forward, punching Harriett in the face. She fell backwards, unconscious, and Annelisse released herself at the last moment, tumbling across the floor. 

Before the girl could get her bearings, she felt strong hands lift her into the air, and cold, sharp steel pressed against her throat. She glanced down to see Hugo’s fingers firmly grasping the kitchen knife. The man turned to Monet, who was reaching for his revolver. 

“Stop!” Hugo demanded. “Or I’ll slice her neck.” 

“Sure you will,” Annelisse retorted, shifting into her cat form. 

Hugo lost his grip as her mass and shape dramatically altered in his arms, and he fumbled with her small, furry body. Exposing her claws, she scaled his chest, scratching at his face. He howled, dropping his knife and reaching up to protect his eyes. Annelisse heard Monet approaching, and she deftly leapt away, leaving the inspector room to shoulder-check Hugo across the kitchen. The man crashed against the cabinets, and ceramic plates crashed down onto his body, dazing him. 

Moving quickly, Inspector Monet produced a pair of handcuffs, clasping one end to Hugo’s right wrist and the other to Harriett’s left wrist, the chain between them looping behind a nearby wall-mounted radiator. Satisfied, he turned to Annelisse, hands on his hips disapprovingly. 

“Why didn’t you call me?” he demanded. 

Annelisse smiled sheepishly. “I was kind of busy. It’s been a crazy twenty-four hours. How did you know I was in trouble?” 

Inspector Monet tapped his temple. “You have your Call. Let’s just say I have a sixth sense of my own. You set it off far too often, young lady.” 

“Sorry, Inspector,” she apologized. “Thank you for your help.” 

He sighed, looking around the war-torn house. “What on earth is going on here?” 

“Uh . . .” Annelisse chuckled nervously. “Would you believe me if I said vampires?” 

Monet shook his head in incredulity. “After raising you, I’ll believe anything.” 

Glancing back at the front door, Annelisse added, “it’s only one vampire, at least. She lives down at the old circus. The name’s Cadence. Until we do something about her, she’s going to cast a dark shadow over this family, and probably the rest of Rouen.” 

“’Something,’ eh?” the inspector commented, looking at his adopted daughter. “Like what?” 

Annelisse shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t want to kill anyone. But I don’t know what it will take to capture her, or to convince her to release Harriett and Hugo.” 

“Well,” Monet grunted, picking up Harriett’s fire poker and Hugo’s kitchen knife, “there’s only one way to find out, right?” 

“True,” Annelisse responded, smiling. “We’ll solve this one together.” 

Inspector Monet put his hand on Annelisse’s back, guiding her to the front door. “Let’s go catch a vampire, I guess.” 

Annelisse, Pt. 5 – High Stakes 

Inspector Monet deftly worked his wire cutters on the chain-link fence separating them from Cirque De Noel, sweat dripping down his brow. Annelisse patiently waited for him to finish, resisting the urge to taunt him by slipping through the barrier in her cat form. After a few minutes, he peeled back the fence, gesturing for Annelisse to go first. 

“Such a gentleman,” Annelisse mocked playfully, stepping through. He silently followed, revolver at the ready. 

They moved through the circus grounds cautiously, wary of danger. The sun shone down on them, though, offering Annelisse the comfort that Cadence would pose them little harm at this time of day. They approached the tent that Annelisse had found Cadence and Hugo in previously, and she pointed it out, whispering. 

“There. I don’t know if she’s still there, but she was before.” 

They brushed open the curtain, sneaking inside the massive canopy. As they walked across old straw, the ground whispered beneath them, threatening to spill its secrets. Unease filled Annelisse’s stomach, and she furrowed her brow. 

“Something is wrong,” she said. “I don’t know if–” 

The earth collapsed beneath Monet’s legs, and he plummeted downwards into some kind of pit. At the last second, he grasped for the edge of the pit, clinging to it by his fingertips. Annelisse rushed to the hole, looking over the side. Below his legs stood sharp, rusty animal cage bars, mounted as a makeshift spike trap.  

“Here,” she reassured him, “I’ll get you out.” 

She grabbed his wrists, working him up out of the hole as he found better footing. His weight pulled her down, though, and she gritted her teeth, straining against the force. 

“Maybe try fewer cookies in the future,” she chastised. 

Monet shot her a stern look as he lifted himself the rest of the way out of the pit, collapsing into the straw near the edge. He covered his face, taking deep, shaky breaths. 

“What the fuck was that for?” he finally squeaked. 

Annelisse returned her attention to the spike pit. “Deterrence. Something to protect her in the daytime while she sleeps.” 

“Oh, great,” the inspector moaned, climbing to his feet. “Then where there’s one, there will be more.” 

Annelisse nodded. “It’s very likely.” 

She shifted into her cat form, guiding the way through the tent, using her animal senses to avoid Cadence’s other surprises. They stepped past toothy bear traps, wired World-War-Two-era claymores, and even some hydraulic-powered needles filled with some kind of venom. As they approached the entrance to the main stage, Annelisse shifted back to her human form, addressing the inspector. 

“Right this way. All we have to do is–” 

Something shifted beneath her foot, and a tommy gun dropped from the ceiling, suspended by a maze of wires and cables. A spring-loaded clamp tightened around the trigger guard, and the gun opened fire, its recoil steadied by the ropes. Monet lunged at Annelisse, knocking her over as a hailstorm of bullets rushed over their heads. The projectiles bit into the dirt, kicking up little clouds that choked Annelisse. Rolling onto his back, Monet returned fire with his revolver, shattering the tommy gun’s body and disabling the attack. 

“I think I’ve had about enough of this,” he grumbled angrily, jumping to his feet and storming toward the entrance to the main stage.  

“Inspector, wait!” Annelisse cried, chasing after him.  

Together, they entered the main stage area, and as they crossed the threshold, Annelisse felt some kind of thin wire break at her shins. A loud whoosh filled the air, and a series of heavy, black curtains descended from the canopy, slamming to the ground all around them. Within seconds, the dimly-lit tent fell into pitch blackness, the curtains absorbing all sunlight. 

Then, on the other side of the tent, two yellow eyes appeared, glaring at them through the gloom.  

“You dare return, girl?” Cadence hissed. “You don’t learn lessons well.” 

“On the contrary,” Annelisse retorted, “I learn something new every day.” 

Reaching into her backpack, she retrieved an emergency flare, igniting it. The tent filled with burning red light, exposing the red-haired vampire. Monet leveled his revolver, squeezing the trigger three times into Cadence’s midsection. She staggered back with each shot, almost losing her balance on the third one. Monet lowered his weapon, and Cadence looked at her torso, laughing. 

“Bullets?” she cackled. “You’re going to kill me with–” 

She suddenly doubled over, retching. Blood sprayed from her mouth, and she dropped to her knees, quivering. When she looked back up, Annelisse saw red tears leaking from her eyes, sliding down her face in glistening lines. She returned to her feet, but the movement was shaky, no longer fluid and whispering like before. 

“What did you do to me?” she weakly demanded. 

“A little birdie told me you don’t like the Notre-Dame Cathedral because of how they built it,” Annelisse explained. “Seems like bullets coated in a little metal from the foundations go a lot further than anyone thought.” 

“We’re not here to kill you,” Inspector Monet calmly added, reloading his gun. “We’re just here to detain you so you can’t hurt anyone else.” 

“I’d rather die,” Cadence growled, her voice stronger now. Annelisse squinted, registering the bullets pushing themselves from the vampire’s skin and falling to the floor. “Actually, I’d rather kill you.” 

With that, she faded backwards, into the darkness beyond the flare’s light.  

Annelisse stepped forward, swinging the flare around, while Monet kept his revolver steady, his head on a swivel. From the darkness, Cadence hummed an off-kilter melody, the broken tune of an old nursery rhyme echoing around them. 

A green mouse that ran in the grass, 

I caught it by its tail. I showed it to those men. 

The men said: Dip it in oil, dip it in water. 

It will become a snail, nice and warm. 

I put it in a draw; it told me, “It’s too dark.” 

I put it in my hat; it told me “It’s too warm.” 

Suddenly, she emerged from the shadows behind Inspector Monet, barely a meter from his neck. He seemed to sense her approach, dropping to the ground in a surprisingly graceful tumble, coming to a stop beyond Cadence’s reach. 

Annelisse rushed at the vampire, leaping into the air and morphing into her cat form. She landed on Cadence’s arm, digging her claws into the redhead’s skin. Cadence hissed, trying to shake her off, but Annelisse shifted back to human form, using the momentum and sudden weight increase to throw the creature over her shoulder and onto her back. Before Cadence could recover, Annelisse produced Monet’s backup handcuffs, clasping one end around the vampire’s right wrist and the other end around the nearby bleacher supports. 

“Are you serious?” Cadence chuckled, looking over at her handcuffed arm while Monet returned to Annelisse’s side, leveling his revolver at the vampire. “You think this little thing will hold me back?” 

She pulled against the chain, but it remained intact, the handcuff clasp grinding against the bleachers. 

“Something tells me you haven’t been handcuffed in a while,” commented Monet. “They aren’t as fragile as they used to be.” 

“Well,” Cadence spat, “neither am I.” 

Without another word, she jerked her arm against the handcuffs at an upward angle with enough force to complete sever her right hand from her body. 

Annelisse and Monet stepped back in horror as the vampire stood to her feet, blood spurting from the stump at her wrist. Behind her, her hand melted into the dirt, leaving behind nothing but reddened bones. She looked at her bleeding arm, and something began to sprout from within. Five pink, wormlike tendrils appeared as the wound itself sealed, creating a perfect circle of half-meter-long tentacles where her hand used to be. 

“Hmm,” Cadence muttered, looking at her replacement hand. “I admit, I thought it would just grow back normally.” 

She adjusted her stance, spreading her legs and leaning forward like a sprinter. “Still, this will work.” 

Her body blurred, and she darted forward at a speed Annelisse could barely track with her eyes. Dust kicked up from behind her as she aimed herself at Inspector Monet, wrapping her tentacle-hand around his neck. He screamed, clawing at the air as she dragged him away from Annelisse, back into the darkness.  

“Dad!” Annelisse cried, running after them, but they had disappeared. 

At the edges of the shadows, though, the air seemed warped, as if rising up from hot asphalt. 

“Annelisse,” she heard Monet call back, his voice a weak whisper. “Help me, Annelisse.” 

She looked around, trying to pinpoint the direction of his voice. The sound seemed to float through the air, shifting around her like a feather caught in a tornado. Squinting, she peered into the darkness, considering shifting into her cat form to locate the man.  

Then, she heard the distinct cock of a revolver hammer. 

Realization struck her, and she rolled to the left as far as she could as a gunshot rang out, the muzzle flash illuminating Inspector Monet’s glassy eyes. The bullet whizzed over Annelisse’s head, and as her tumble concluded, she shrunk into her cat body, darting toward Monet in a zig-zag formation to avoid being struck. He attempted nonetheless, and bullets slammed into the dirt around her, sending puffs of dust into the air like tiny land mines. 

As his cylinder clicked over to emptiness, she changed back, rushing to disarm him. He seemed prepared for it, though, pivoting on his heels to dodge her movement and backhanding her across the face. The blow dazed her, and she lost her footing, collapsing to the ground. As she tried to regain her bearings, she heard him reload his weapon, his footsteps soft as they approached her. 

“Time to send you to heaven,” he said, his voice monotone. “It’ll be wonderful. As beautiful as the first day I saw her.” 

Annelisse squeezed her eyes shut, expecting the sharp pain of a bullet and the cold darkness of death. 

Instead . . . nothing. 

Surprised, she rolled onto her back, her eyes widening as she saw Monet standing over her, shivering, the revolver to his temple. His eyes, still glassy, leaked tears now. His lips trembled as he spoke, his words disjointed like a malfunctioning robot. 

“Heaven . . . wonderful . . . beautiful . . .” 

Suddenly, his eyes locked with Annelisse’s, and he spoke three words. 

“Live for love.” 

Then, he pulled the trigger. 

“Dad!” Annelisse screamed, her voice cracking as he fell, lifeless, to the ground. “No!” 

“Wow,” Cadence commented from behind the weeping girl. “No one’s resisted my trance before. That took balls.” 

Fury flushed Annelisse’s face red, and she dove at Monet’s body, snatching up his revolver and swiveling to face the vampire. Cadence darted away, but Annelisse shifted to her cat form, taking chase. Her augmented hearing, smell, and vision honed in on the creature, and her four legs carried her through the tent like a force of nature. Despite Cadence’s enhanced speed, Annelisse caught up quickly, leaping at her back.  

Before she could reach Cadence, however, the vampire turned sharply, ensnaring Annelisse in her tentacled hand. The tendrils snaked around Annelisse’s cat body, circling her neck and torso. 

“I’ve had enough of your disrespect,” Cadence hissed through her fangs, her yellow eyes practically headlights now. The air began to shimmer around her like a heat wave. “Join me. It’ll be wonderful. As beautiful as the–” 

Annelisse shifted back to her human form, the sudden change in mass and size breaking her free from Cadence’s grasp. Before the vampire could react, Annelisse leveled Monet’s revolver, squeezing the five remaining rounds into her chest. Cadence staggered back, clutching her torso as blood began leaking from her eyes, ears, nose and mouth. She tried to speak, but only a gurgle emerged, and she fell onto her back, writhing in the dirt. 

Stepping over Cadence’s prone body, Annelisse reached into her backpack, rummaging around. 

“’Live for love,’” she quoted, speaking loudly over Cadence’s moans. “That’s what he chose as his last words. It speaks to who he was as a man. The caliber of his kindness.” 

She produced Harriett’s fire poker, examining the brass object. Below her, she noticed the bullets had begun to push themselves back out of Cadence’s wounds. 

“You took that kindness from the world,” Annelisse continued. “And yes, I’ll live for love.” 

She raised the poker over her head. 

“But maybe I’ll start tomorrow.” 

Bringing her arms downward, she shoved the tip of the poker into Cadence’s heart. 

Cadence screeched, her shrill voice tingling Annelisse’s ears. The air rippled around her as her skin liquified, revealing organs and muscle fibers. Those decayed, too, rapidly falling away as the vampire’s fluids pooled around her body like a burst water balloon. Within seconds, all that remained of the creature who once plagued Rouen was a blood-soaked skeleton. 

________________ 

The next morning, Annelisse called in an anonymous tip for the local police to pick up her adopted father’s body, wary of what they’d say about Cadence’s. Strangely, though, the remains of the vampire disappeared by the time the officers arrived. The only clue left behind was a small porcelain figurine of St. Maria Goretti, the patron saint of forgiveness. 

While they shipped the inspector back to Paris, Annelisse visited Harriett and Hugo. They were horrified by the actions they’d performed under Cadence’s spell, but Annelisse reassured them that it was out of their control. If anything, they were bonded even more now after such a harrowing experience. 

Afterwards, Annelisse returned to Paris, locking herself away in the attic of Monet’s house to mourn. There she stayed for a day, then two, then a week, time stretching towards a month before she heard a knock at her door. 

“Go away,” she croaked, wiping away her tears. “I’m busy.” 

“It’s me,” Nathan Dubois responded on the other side of the door. “Can I please come in? No interview. No story. I just want to talk, as friends.” 

Sighing, Annelisse walked across the attic, turning the knob to let the young man in. He stepped inside, smiling awkwardly. 

“I’m so sorry about the inspector,” he said. “The department said he willed his home and savings account to you?” 

Annelisse nodded, sniffling. 

Nathan pulled her close, wrapping her into a hug. “What will you do now?” 

She paused before responding, considering his question. 

“All my father ever wanted to do was to help people. To protect people. That’s what he died doing: Protecting me. To not follow in his footsteps would be to spit on his memory.” 

“Who will you help?” Nathan asked, finally releasing the girl. “Where will you go?” 

“I . . . I don’t know,” Annelisse admitted. “This is the only place I’ve ever known. But I feel like I’ve done all I can do here.” 

She backed away from Nathan, looking down at herself. “But maybe I can find out.” 

Leaning over, Annelisse shifted into her cat form, attuning her senses. 

Instantly, she felt The Call reach out to her. Her whiskers twitched, her stomach flipped, and her eyes dilated as images and sensations filled her head. She felt intense cold prickle her skin, melting into a wet, dreary trickle, like heavy rainfall. A hollow echo filled her ears, as if she was sinking into an aquatic abyss. She saw a bridge . . . a clock tower . . . a flash of green light . . . a trio of grinning skeletons in tattered clothes. As The Call faded, she morphed back into her human body, locking eyes with Nathan. 

“London. Someone needs help in London.” 

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