This short story first appeared as part of the YA Scavenger in March/April 2012.
“There you are.”
I snatch the giant flame-colored feather from the field of red and orange tulips next to the old Dutch windmill. Ursula got tricky with this last one, thinking it would blend in with all the flowers.
I shove the feather into my cargo pocket as I pull out my phone and dial home.
Ursula answers on the first ring. “That was fast.”
She snorts and says, “Do not be overconfident.”
I shrug. I have every reason to be confident. It’s been a long time since Ursula stumped me on one of her tracking tests. Not since she left hydra scales on the underside of the Bay Bridge.
“I’ll be home in ten.” I start for the path. “Just have to hoof it back to Moira.”
The phone clicks dead as I reach the paved sidewalk. I’ve only taken two steps when the smell overwhelms me. The reek of sewer and wet dog times a thousand. It’s so bad I have to bite back my gag reflex.
I shake off the reaction.
I’ve only faced this smell once before, but it’s unforgettable. And beyond dangerous.
“Here kitty, kitty, kitty,” I say as I step back off the path, moving toward the source. Toward the Nemean lion hiding in the woods beyond the tulips.
The giant cats are vicious and deadly hunters. If this one is hanging out in Golden Gate Park, chances are it’s not enjoying the flora. There are any number of fauna that might be tasty prey for a hungry kitty tonight.
I follow the stench through the woods and out into the open space beyond. Squinting across the municipal golf course, I can just make out the lion’s shape—an inky shadow disappearing into the trees on the far side.
If the smell is this strong from that distance, it’s going to be unbearable up close.
“Kitty needs a bath.”
I pick up the pace, sprinting across the green to chase down the bloodthirsty cat. I follow it around the southern tip of North Lake, across the road and —
On the other side of that road is the bison paddock. A whole slow-moving herd of yummy monster snack. I’m not interested in explaining a field of buffalo carcasses to the authorities—or to Ursula.
I break out in a dead run, determined to beat the beastie to the bison.
I get there just as it’s stalking up to a big shadowy blob.
“Tsk, tsk,” I taunt as I approach from behind. “Didn’t your mommy teach you not to play with your food?”
With inhuman grace, the beast slowly turns—head first, then body, and finally the tail, undulating like a golden serpent. For several long seconds, it just stares. Blinking big, amber eyes.
In a flash, it pounces.
I’m ready, though. I turn and race back the way we came. I feel the lion’s hot breath on my neck as I cross the street, pounding Dr. Marten to pavement. I weave around a large bush to buy myself some space, then I run all out for the edge of the lake.
At the shore, I stop short and spin to face my target.
The cat slows, purring in anticipation of a huntress-flavored appetizer.
“Come and get me.”
As the lion leaps, I dive to the side, rolling on the soft ground and bouncing back to my feet in time to watch it splash into the water.
“Your friends should thank me,” I say as I leap onto the beastie’s back, “for sending you back cleaner than you came.”
I drop my fangs and, with one well-placed bite to the shoulder, I send my ticket-to-the-abyss venom into the monster’s bloodstream. The lion disappears beneath me and I splash, knees-first, into the water.
If Ursula wasn’t impressed by my feather-hunt tracking time, maybe she’ll give me points for taking out a Nemean lion on the way home.
Hope you enjoyed it!