Ariel woke up unceremoniously by falling out of her nice warm bed and onto the hard floor. "Ouch." Getting up and rubbing her elbow, she glared at her alarm clock. The sadistic red numbers glared back. 3:54 am. The girl groaned. She had gone another night with barely enough sleep to survive. "I can't wait for the weekend. Then I'll finally be able to catch up on some sleep," she said to no one. She was alone as usual.

After tossing around in bed for half an hour, Ariel decided that it would be better to get dressed and out of the house than to waste her time when she knew she wouldn't be able to sleep. Dressing quickly in black jeans and a loose long-sleeved dark gray shirt, Ariel ran a brush through her hair before checking her bag for her books for school, the book she was in the middle of reading, and each of her current four notebooks.

Glancing at her face in the mirror, she walked out of her room, closing the door behind her. She hadn't turned on the light in her room once since she woke up. She hadn't needed to. She had enough practice seeing in the dark from her job at the Spiders Web, a bar that she had shocked into letting her work there. Otherwise you can bet they wouldn't let some fifteen-year-old girl become a bartender. Her parents neither knew nor cared that she was working as a bartender in a bar that served people whose very auras were darker than her outfit. Silently moving down the hallway, she stopped when she saw her brother's bedroom light on. Pushing against the wood of the door, she slipped in, not making a sound. Her brother was sitting on his bed reading a thick book.

Looking up, he smiled and said, "Morning, Ariel."

"Emry, don't tell me you spent all night reading again," Ariel moaned at her younger, and taller, brother. "It may be interesting, but why couldn't you just read during the daylight hours?"

"First of all, I wasn't up all night," her brother explained. "I woke up an hour or so ago and couldn't get back to sleep, so I started reading. Secondly, daylight makes everybody loud. Night's quieter. Why are you up?"

"Insomnia. Do we have any breakfast foods in the house?"

"Unless you want to eat fat free chips, no."

"Mom's trying to lose weight again?"

"Guess so. I went looking for snacks day before yesterday, and all we've got is fat free chips and light beer."

"Neither of which sounds very appetizing. Want to come get breakfast with me?"

"No thanks. I've got to finish this chapter."

"Whatcha reading now?"

He held up the book to show the title: Wicca for the Covenless. Emry had been a Wiccan for over a year. He had yet to find a coven nearby.

"Still looking for a coven?" He nodded. "I could probably ask around at the Spiders Web. There are enough strange people there. There's got to be someone who belongs to an unconventional religion."

"No thanks. I'll find a coven when I need to."

Ariel rolled her eyes and said, "Good luck with that." She waved goodbye and left the room silently.

Moving swiftly, she left the house and began her usual morning walk to the gas station down the street. When she reached the gas station, she grabbed a lemonade and small packaged donut. Placing them on the counter, she fished a five-dollar bill out of a pocket in her bag. Handing it to the man at the counter, she took the change before walking out with her breakfast.

After walking to the park, she sat down at a small circular stone table, the same table where she had eaten breakfast during the past few years of her life. Placing her donut and lemonade on the table, she fished around in her bag for a candle and matches. Placing the candle in the same place she had for years, she lit a match. After looking into the flame, she lit the candle and blew out the match. She tore the plastic wrapping off of the small glazed donut before eating it quickly. She hadn't eaten very much for dinner the previous night.

She drank the lemonade slowly as she glanced around the park. It was empty as usual. The only people she had ever seen here were regulars at the Spiders Web. She had known most of them. The few she hadn't known had been in the bar a day or two after she saw them.

Her breakfast finished, Ariel glanced at the sky to see what time it was. The sun still wasn't up. She ran a hand through her hair. It was still too early to go anywhere. Taking out a notebook and a fine tipped black pen, she opened the notebook to a fresh page. Glancing at the scenery around her and deciding she had sketched it too many times before, she began to sketch one of the regulars from the Spiders Web. He had started coming to the bar shortly after she had started working there and had been one of the first people to start a conversation with her. He had asked her if she knew anything about the people at the bar. She had explained that she was new. He had said that maybe he'd tell her later. He still hadn't told her anything about the strange people at the Spiders Web. Nor had he explained what he meant. She didn't bother asking. He had probably been drunk at the time. She sketched quickly, adding a few people from the dark bar seated at tables in the background.

Judging the picture's quality, she decided that it was worth adding color to. She took out a few thin markers from her bag and added more shadows to the picture, bringing out the essence of the bar itself along with the essence of the people in the picture.

Glancing back up at the sky, she saw that the sun was beginning to rise. After adding the last details to the picture, she put the notebook and pens back in her bag. Blowing out the candle, she waited for the wax to harden enough for her to be able to put it in her bag without making a mess.

A few minutes later, she was wandering around the park, watching the sunrise. After an hour of attempting to wish the silence away, she began the daily trudge to the bus stop.

When Ariel walked onto the bus, she was quickly aware of eyes on her. Glancing around the bus, her eyes fell upon Katherine Williams, a girl who had always been afraid of Ariel, although most people thought they were both crazy. Katherine shrunk back in her seat when she saw Ariel's eyes on her. Ariel smiled maliciously and sat down next to Katherine. "It's rude to stare," she said, her voice like dark chocolate with arsenic. "If you have something to say, just say it."

The bus began to move, forcing Ariel to stay seated next to Katherine. She would have moaned, but that would have let Katherine know that Ariel hadn't planned this. 'It's always better to make them think you planned for things to be the way they are. Never let them know you aren't the one running everything,' Ariel thought to herself. She wondered if she would ever be free to stop pretending and just . . . be. 'Doubt it,' she thought to herself miserably. Opening a book with the slipcover turned upside down for added strangeness, she began to read.


Of course, Katherine was only acting scared out of her mind. She had always pretended to be afraid of Ariel. She had a dark feeling to her, so it was another part of Katherine's act to be afraid. Of course, Ariel was probably just another person acting.

Katherine fought back a growl. She hated people who pretended to be something they were not just to impress people. Sure, she acted like she was a goody goody who was scared of anyone who wasn't normal, but that was out of necessity. If anybody found out about her, she shuddered to think what would happen. History had proven that humans were afraid of people who were different. And humans had proven several times over that they killed what they feared. So if anyone found out that her secrets were darker than most, she'd have to run again.

It was bad enough that she had changed her name so many times she couldn't remember the original anymore, but when she had to maintain an act without even her mom there to help her, it was just maddening. If her mom had been there, she would have been able to perfect her act enough to become someone different. She might have actually been able to be friends with Ariel.

'I still could. I'm doing great with this act; I can probably pull it off.' After thinking about it for a moment, she decided on her plan. She wouldn't be like so many of her kind. Humans couldn't be that bad. Could they?


After Ariel got off the bus, she tried to ignore the person following her. Noticing that person trying to catch up with her out of the corner of her eye, Ariel began walking faster. 'Let her think I'm in a hurry to get to class. I hope she loses me in the crowd. Is she in any of my classes?' Ariel couldn't remember. 'I don't think she is. Even if she is, I doubt she'll try to catch me in front of a bunch of people. And why is she after me in the first place? Is she some psycho who has a vendetta against outsiders? Or is she just plain psycho without a reason? I mean, sure, everybody knows insanity needs a reason, but still, she might be an exception to the rule. She always was a little creepy. Nobody can be that scared all of the time.'

Ariel spent the rest of the morning avoiding Katherine as best as she could. But when Katherine sat down in front of her at her lunch table, Ariel had lost all hopes of avoiding the blonde girl. "What exactly," Ariel asked, "do you want?"

Katherine looked up from a homework assignment that looked suspiciously like it was due the next period, looking surprised. "Nothing. I just thought we could sit together." The girl returned her attention to the assignment, inwardly squealing with glee at the apparent success of her plan so far.

"And why would you think that?" Ariel wasn't going to abandon her icy attitude nearly that quick.

"Well, you did sit next to me on the bus," replied Katherine, as though Ariel was being silly.

"The bus started moving before I could find an empty seat," answered Ariel, glaring at Katherine without blinking. "And I only sat next to you to scare you. You've always acted so afraid of me."

Katherine shrugged, still seemingly cheerful. "You aren't exactly very approachable."

"For reasons you have yet to notice, I see," Ariel muttered. Katherine ignored her, and Ariel ate her disgusting school lunch and sulked. Not that she'd admit that she was sulking. Such a thing would be like a knife in her pride, painful, and most likely bloody for Katherine if she dared to mention it.

After giving up on the unrecognizable glob of "food" on her plastic tray, Ariel opened her notebook and glared at Katherine before deciding that she could always just scare the girl away if she decided to look at her drawings. Opening the notebook and deftly finding a pencil that had somehow managed not to get its point snapped off amongst the junk in her bag, Ariel smoothed down the page and began to draw. She didn't really know what it was that she was drawing, just that the paper wanted her to draw.

After noticing Ariel get out her notebook out of her peripheral vision, Katherine was careful not to let Ariel see her watch the picture form beneath her pencil. After a few seconds, Katherine's insides froze. Ariel wasn't even finished with the initial sketch, but Katherine could already see what the drawing was going to be. Choking back all the things she wished would just let her be, she spoke. "Whatcha drawing?"

Ariel jerked her head up, earning herself a sharp pain in her neck. She swore like a cabin boy who's learned most of his words from pirates.

"Sorry," said Katherine meekly.

Ariel sighed. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to have someone to talk to, if only about the littler bits of her life. "I don't know yet."

"Looks like a dog to me," said Katherine, cheerful once more now that she wasn't anticipating Ariel's anger.

Ariel squinted at the paper. "Maybe. But the eyes don't look quite right. They're too . . ."

"Wild?"

"Yeah," said Ariel, looking up.

"Might be a wolf then."

"Maybe . . ." The bell rang, and the two girls wandered off to their next classes.

Somehow, neither girl questioned that they met each other at the front steps of the school after school that day.

"Did you finish that drawing?" asked Katherine, barely able to contain her nervousness.

"Sort of," replied Ariel. "But I'm not sure if it's right." Placing her bag next to her on the concrete railing that served as her rest stop before going to work at the Spiders Web, she fished out her notebook and opened it to the picture in question.

The wolf in the drawing was howling, its lips forming a tragic O. The fur that covered its body was like foggy gold, a shade rather similar to that of Katherine's barely less than shoulder length hair. Its eyes were liquid mahogany with shimmering tears that had yet to surface. In the background behind the wolf, millions a ravens were flying away from where the wolf was looking, as though the sight behind them was too terrible for even those dark birds.

Katherine froze. There was no way Ariel could know about that day. No way that anyone could know about that. She had made sure that no one had seen her. And no one came after her, so no one could have seen her. Without trying, she went back to her memories.

Katherine was eight, and her mother was taking her out hunting in the woods near their house. There was a light breeze that was amazing to run through. Her mother had smelled something and told Katherine to stay hidden while she investigated the smell. Katherine had done as her mother said for the first hour. Then she had ventured out silently, not knowing what she would see. She had run when she saw her mother's human face. She had run when she heard the flames.

A tear glittered on Katherine's cheek. Ariel was staring at her. "It's not that bad, is it?"

Katherine forced herself to laugh. "No, something just got in my eye." She quickly wiped the tear away. "So where do you go after school?"

"To work."

"Where?"

"The Spiders Web, You wouldn't have heard of it."

"Actually, I've been there a few times."

"Really? I've never seen you there."

"Well, it's usually late at night when I go, which is rare enough as it is." Ariel was still looking at her funny. Deciding to ignore the weird looks, she said, "So would you mind terribly if I came with you? I already finished my homework, and I don't really want to go home."

"Sounds familiar," Ariel said dryly. "But I doubt anyone would throw you out or anything. Heck, they let a fifteen-year-old be a bartender. Besides, it'll be interesting to see what it's like to have someone other than crazy drunks to talk to during my shift. But I need to stop at home first. This outfit is terrible, and it won't be that hard to avoid my folks."

"Okay," said Katherine as they began walking to Ariel's house. Once there, the two girls climbed in Ariel's window. "So do you always do this?" Katherine asked as Ariel threw clothes about the room in search of the perfect outfit.

"Most days." Ariel held up two dresses. "Purple or black?" The purple one was a short sequined halter dress. The black one was short and strapless. "I'd wear a jacket with the black one of course."

"I'd have to say . . . purple," Katherine said after reviewing the two dresses.

"Hey, you want to borrow something? It's always more fun if you can look like a freak in that bar."

"Okay," said Katherine although her mind hesitated to think what Ariel had left in that closet.

Ariel looked at her for a moment before fishing a gold dress out of one of the piles she had made. "Try this one on. It'll look good with your hair." Katherine caught the dress, as Ariel changed into the purple dress and glanced into the mirror. Katherine changed quickly before going to stand in front of the mirror. "Awesome," Ariel said, approving completely. The dress was a little longer than Ariel's and covered in what looked like glitter, although it was very smooth. "And you can totally use any of the makeup on or in the dresser." Katherine glanced over at the dresser. It was covered in eye shadow, eyeliner, lipstick, and lip-gloss in seemingly random order and shades. "Same with the jewelry and shoes. Sorry if it's a mess. I'm not really here much."

"Really?" asked Katherine, surprised and slightly perplexed.

"Yeah, well, I'm usually at the Spiders Web. The parental units are usually asleep or drunk if they're here, so I stopped hanging around. I only come back for Emry."

"Who?"

"Emry. He's my little brother. But don't tell him I said that. He's always telling me that he's actually my big brother, since he's so much taller than me." She laughed and put on some lavender eye shadow and bright red lipstick. Leaning back to see the effect, she grinned. She turned to Katherine who was staring at her and said, "Come on!"

"I know this is going to make me sound like a complete loser, but I've never really used makeup before."

"That is totally weird, but you're not a complete loser. If you were, I wouldn't have let you find out where I live." She laughed again. "Now first of all, with this dress and your skin tone, gold eye shadow is the only way to go. And coral lip-gloss." She instructed Katherine on the use of makeup, and they grabbed some shoes before climbing back out the window. They walked to the Spiders Web still carrying their shoes.

As they reached the entrance, the two girls slipped their sandals on. Broken glass was far too common in the bar to walk barefoot. Katherine slid onto a barstool as Ariel slipped into her post behind the bar. "Can I get you something to drink?" she asked Katherine.

Ariel and Katherine soon became good friends for the simple reason that neither of them had anyone else to hang out with. Sure, Ariel could have bothered her brother, Emry for a while, but even he had better things to do.