Excerpt: The More Things Change

Nick Donovan startles awake when Jackie starts screaming. It’s not an uncommon thing to happen, but it’s been a few days since the last time. He had started to hope that the worst of the nightmares were over.

He fumbles for the bedside lamp and climbs out of bed wearing nothing but boxer shorts, his lean, muscular frame dimly illuminated from the glow of the streetlight outside. Helen, his wife, opens one eye and gives him a look that borders on being a glare. He ignores her, heading into Jackie’s bedroom. The nine-year-old has burrowed down into the blankets and gotten tangled into them. She’s thrashing and wailing as Nick tries to pull them away from her.

“Hey, hey, I’ve got you,” he says as her eyes open and the screams turn to sobs. “It’s me, you’re safe, I’ve got you.”

He scoops her up, cradling her shaking body against his shoulder. She wraps her arms around his neck and cries harder.

Out in the rest of the house, Nick can hear that Valerie has started crying now, woken by her sister. Helen emerges from the master bedroom in a terrycloth robe, and this time the look she gives Nick is positively icy. She passes him in the hallway as he rocks Jackie without saying a word. A few moments later, he can hear her soothing Valerie back to sleep.

“Sorry,” he says as she heads back into the bedroom. The only answer is the door closing again.

Jackie’s sobs have trailed off into sniffles, but Nick knows from experience that if he tries to put her back to bed before she’s fallen asleep, she’ll rev right back up. So he keeps walking around the house, one arm tucked securely underneath the girl’s rear, the other hand rubbing her back. He hates that Helen gets so angry about Jackie’s nightmares, but he doesn’t know how to address it with her. It’s not Jackie’s fault. She found her murdered parents in a pool of blood. Of course that’s going to give a child nightmares.

It was six months ago, now, and the official adoption had just gone through. “There has to be someone else who could take her,” Nick’s brother had said. But truthfully, there wasn’t. Jackie’s only living relative was her grandmother, who was in a nursing home with kidney failure. There were probably other qualified parents looking for children to adopt, but Nick was adamant that she shouldn’t be moved if it wasn’t necessary. Jackie was attached to him. He was the only one who could calm her nightmares. Moving her would only cause more trauma.

Six months. First the nightmares had been every night, multiple times per night, to the point where Nick slept next to her all the time. Then it was just once a night, then once every few nights. She was getting better, and he felt vindicated.

He counts his circuits as he paces the house. It usually takes about twenty before Jackie’s asleep again. If it takes more than that, it’s because the nightmare was a particularly bad one, and there’s a good chance she’ll wake up again. When Nick gets to his thirtieth circuit, he sits down on the sofa. He’ll stay up with her for a while. She’ll sleep better that way. He lays her down with her head in his lap. She closes her eyes and sticks her thumb in her mouth. Nick smoothes down her hair.

After a while, her breathing is deep and even. Nick doesn’t want to go back to bed, and he figures the television won’t wake her as long as he keeps the volume low. He fishes around for the remote and turns it on. It’s tuned to CNN, probably the last thing Helen was watching. He’s not really in the mood for more depressing news, but doesn’t change the channel because he sees a familiar face. CNN is playing clips of Sam Callaghan’s testimony before Congress about the murder of Jackie’s parents.

It was hard to believe that one incident could have such a widespread effect on the country, but it had. Tension between the supernatural and the ordinary world had been growing for a while. Unfair laws had been passed, restricting the movement of werewolves and demanding harsher sentences for any supernatural creature caught committing a crime. The non-humans were furious. They could have continued to live in the shadows, they said, but they had allowed humanity to know of their presence because they felt like they had things they could learn from each other. And this was how they’re rewarded?

Nick closes his eyes wearily. Everyone paints the situation like it’s black and white, but he knows from experience that it’s so many shades of gray. Harsh sentences aren’t fair, but at the same time, supernatural creatures had instincts that were difficult to control. It was true that they had revealed themselves, but it was really only because enough of them had been discovered that it was basically inevitable. Both sides wanted to protect their families. Both sides had important points to make. And of course, each side had their share of raving loonies who wanted the other side exterminated ‘for everyone’s protection,’ and each side pointed to the loonies on the other side as the reason why rational discourse was impossible.

Sam Callaghan is the alpha werewolf in their region, the most powerful of the supernatural creatures. He’s being called in front of Congress to explain how a werewolf could have killed an innocent couple on his territory without him being able to stop it, without even being aware of it. Sam is adamant that no werewolf did any such thing, but it doesn’t matter. Nobody believes him.

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