Phobia – "A persistent, abnormal and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous; a strong fear, dislike or aversion" (American Heritage Dictionary)
Ophidiophobia – "Fear of snakes"
Erotophobia – "Fear of sexual love or sexual questions"
Haphephobia – "Fear of being touched"
Polyphobia – "Fear of many things"
Summary – Eugenie is adopted and little do her parents know she is a shape-shifter. Amazing? Well… Being able to transform into a four-inch tall kangaroo rat is close to amazing. Now she's finding her secret increasingly difficult to hide as her brother gets older and more observant. But that's not even the worse of it! A new gigantic family arrives in town and they're a family she would rather not get acquainted with… Oh, was it mentioned that Eugenie is Ophidiophobic?
Ophelia Serpa watched with hooded eyes as the… girl… ran away. She did not hear the call of the redhead boy and the sincere apologies of her new neighbor. All she saw was the golden creature that ran away.
Her dark gaze went towards her middle child, her second eldest son, Asher Serpa. Those black eyes stared back at her and he knew what she saw.
The girl was not completely human.
Ophelia turned to the girl's mother.
"I'm very sorry about Eugenie," her new neighbor – Marianne Dickson if she remembered correctly – apologized once more. "She is usually a very friendly girl. I don't know what's gotten into her."
The redhead boy cleared his throat before announcing, "I'll go take a look at Eugenie, okay Mom? Nice meeting you." With one polite nod, he ran off towards their home.
Ophelia knew that everyone else in the girl's family was normal. The probability that the girl was adopted was rather high.
"It's perfectly all right," Ophelia finally said in reply to Marianne Dickson's apologies. "She must have had a bad day at school. Teenagers are more high maintenance these days."
Marianne smiled in relief, happy to not have offended the neighbors severely.
"Probably," she agreed. "But I will have to talk to her later."
"I am sure it is nothing to be worried about," Ophelia stated dismissively. "This is my son, Asher, by the way. I believe he is your daughter's age."
"Which school are you going to, Asher?" Marianne asked, though she had a feeling he would be attending her children's school due to the close distance.
He was a very handsome boy with black hair and black eyes that contrasted his pale – but not sickly – complexion. Marianne would've been alarmed at the fact that he lived near her daughter but due to Eugenie's Erotophobia and Haphephobia, she knew that there was nothing to be worried about. But she also knew that the street would be more… lively… Marianne was not unaware of how often popular teenagers threw parties these days and she had no doubt that Asher Serpa was going to be at the top of the school's social hierarchy.
"Since the school year is ending, we've decided – my siblings and me – that we would just have to start next school year. But we will be looking at the school and their amenities." A polite boy and he seemed intelligent. Marianne was more positive than ever that this boy would be popular.
"I wish you good luck on that."
"Thank you, Ma'am."
Ophelia noticed how his son glanced up at the house. She knew what was on his mind… That non-human girl… Ophelia wondered if her parents knew what their daughter's other form was.
An idea springing up her head, Ophelia ventured, "Marianne, our family is very eager to get acquainted with the neighbors… and we want to start with your family. Would you please grace us with your presence for dinner?"
Marianne's eyes widened. "Oh, no! I'm grateful for the offer but you need to rest and-"
Ophelia gave her a beautiful smile. "There is enough for us to finish unpacking and not be tired. Besides, I already have something prepared and it is really no trouble. I insist." Seeing that Marianne still had second thoughts, she added, "Maybe next time, we can dine in your house if you don't mind our numbers."
Marianne's eyes lit up. "That would be splendid! We accept your invitation, if it really isn't any trouble."
Ophelia's smile became more radiant and she noticed the amused twist in her son's mouth. "Oh, believe me, the pleasure is all ours."
"Eugenie, what's wrong?"
Worry was etched on Leon's face as he approached me. I didn't let him in at first even though he kept on talking to me through the door and asking questions. He was quiet for a few minutes and I suspected he had been talking to Mom but then he started talking again before finally getting fed up talking to a door and entering. But my mind began to wander as I pondered on his question…
Our new neighbors areNOThuman!
And no, it is not an exaggeration of a kangaroo rat shape-shifter with a hyper over-active and wild imagination who is terrified of sex, being touched and snakes! I'll say it again…
They are NOT human!
…However, I can't exactly prove it at the moment… But they aren't! …But I still can't prove it. It's just this nasty feeling in my gut, similar to the time I saw that vicious, nasty, blood-thirsty, malicious, evil, malevolent, yada, yada taipan.
I can still remember those fangs… That hideous body and head…
Those eyes… Those horrible fierce eyes… Those eyes still haunt me…
"Eugenie, are you listening?"
And those black eyes I saw just a while ago… They weren't full of aggression but they were scarier… So much more terrifying…
"Eugenie, if you don't snap out of it…"
Those black – black – eyes were bottomless… And I knew that if I had stared any longer, I would've been caught… Helpless… Defenseless… Unable to resist…
"Oomph," I gasped and I stared up in surprise at the hazel-green eyes looking intently down at me. "L-Leon? What's the big deal?!"
My little brother had grabbed my wrist, yanked me upward then pushed me on my bed so I landed on my back. Then he just had to crawl on top of me and corner me there…
…It was kinda disconcerting (ooh! Big word!).
"What happened there?" he asked seriously.
"There?" I echoed, blinking. Then I remembered. Oh yeah, I ran away – quite rudely might I add but who cares? – from our neighbors as if they were the hounds of hell come to get me…
…which they probably are.
Now, what to say…?
"Oh, nothing," I said with a nervous laugh. His eyes narrowed. Oh, botch it! I suck at lying. So I tried again. "Well, that guy was just sooo hot I got intimidated?"
As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized what a fool I was and winced. Not to mention the tone didn't sound quite sure…
Number 1: I didn't get a good look at the guy to be able to tell if he was hot or not! As soon as my eyes landed on those black ones, I just bolted like a… well, like a mouse… A kangaroo mouse to be more specific. Leon knows this.
Number 2: Due to my Erotophobia and Haphephobia, I have never really paid much attention – as in the admiring way – to guys to be intimidated by their looks. Sure, intimidated if they approached me? You bet. But intimidated by just looking at them? Not really. Leon knows this too.
Number 3: This is Leon for the love of God! This is my little brother and he would be able to see through my lies – not just because he knows me all too well… But because he's the smartest, most observant person I know!
Finally, Number 4:
This. Is. Leon. The boy – who is also my brother through adoption – who has had a huge crush on me ever since we were little? I think me giving another guy attention is going to make him severely pissed off. Dare I say insane with jealousy?
Nah… I'm sure he doesn't like me that much…
But at the moment, his eyes were burning and he was actually breathing nice and slow but I knew he was about to explode.
Then it was just gone.
What do I mean it was just gone?
His face suddenly smoothened and his eyes became serene. It was quite fascinating to watch, really.
Then I flinched when his fingers touched my cheek. But I let him do it because I owe him for lying. Even though my heart was beating at an alarming rate I started to breathe heavily, I let him do it.
"Eugenie," he said gently, his eyes softening and for some reason, I couldn't tear my gaze away. "Do you love me?"
"Of course," I said instantly. "You're my brother."
I knew he didn't want to acknowledge that fact. But he seemed to ignore the last thing I said since he began talking again as if I stopped at "Of course".
"Our new neighbors are inviting us for dinner. It seems they have already finished all their packing and they want to get acquainted. But my mother didn't want them to get even more tired and insisted that she cook the dinner. But we will be dining at their house. It seems they have a big family and they wouldn't want to bring so many people here."
I noticed how he said "my mother" but I decided not to comment. I wasn't hurt but I also knew the reason why he said our mother was his alone.
But he cut me off. "If you don't want to go, I'll stay here with you…" With that, he lay down beside me before turning me towards him so that we were face to face, his arms wrapped around me.
I knew what he wanted. I could already feel the apology wanting to get out but it wouldn't.
"Leon! Eugenie! Do your homework quickly so that you won't have to cram tonight after we go to the Serpas!"
An excuse to escape!
"I have to do homework," I said quietly as I lightly pushed him away and looked over his shoulder, not at him.
Leon stayed still for a moment before letting me go and then getting up. Just before he went through the door, he turned back and asked,
"So you're going?"
I stiffened. I looked up at Leon and knew that if I said no, he wouldn't go as well and we would be alone together. I usually would have been happy with that but something about the way he looked at me at the moment…
I felt guilty but I didn't want to be alone with him.
Swallowing heavily, I nodded, "I'm going."
I saw disappointment quickly flash through his eyes but he nodded and closed the door after him. I sighed heavily, not happy with what happened.
But now I had to steel myself for what was to come.
Standing up and pacing, I began massaging my temples.
If my whole family entered that house and it turned out they were dangerous… What would I do? My other form was a kangaroo rat and I would be no help to anyone as a mouse. As a human? I could jump really high and I was very fast… but I did not possess super strength to carry my whole family to safety and what if they were as fast as me?
I was getting a headache. But I had to find an answer.
"Etoile," I said out loud. "I need help."
Now you're probably wondering who Etoile is. Etoile is…
Always making me think of the hard stuff…
…the voice in my head.
Am I insane?
No… I don't think so. LOTS of people talk in their heads, you know? So why not give the voice in my head a name? Only, it wasn't me who picked her name out.
Only, she's me, right?
But she said she didn't choose that name; someone gave it to her. But then I should know who this was, right?
But I don't.
So I just say it's her and try not to get my rat mind confused.
So what am I going to do?!
Calm down. There's no sense in panicking. Besides, you know your heart beats incredibly fast when you're anxious. If you don't watch it, it'll pop.
How can I be calm at a time like this?! Seriously! Sometimes, Etoile is just too relaxed!
Hey, someone has to be the relaxed one. You panic over everything! If it weren't for me, you would be scared of air!
Hey! Depending on the ratio of the gases in the air, air can kill you, you know!
I know, I know, Etoile sounded exasperated. Now just calm down, okay Eugenie?
Easy for her to say! She's not the one who gets physically hurt!
Don't forget I'm you so whatever you feel, I feel.
Are you getting attitude? She sounded excited. Tch!
"Oh go away!" I said out loud. "You're not helping me!"
Don't come crawling to me later, she replied in a sing-song voice then my head was quiet.
I guess I just have to be really alert and aware of what was happening around me…
Oh, God, help me!
"I'm so glad you accepted our invitation!" Ophelia Serpa said with her beautiful smile. Her arms made a welcoming gesture as we entered her house.
Would you look at that… The house wasn't just black on the outside… It was also all black on the inside! Well… Black and a few shades of grey. Nothing else. Oh wait… Was that red? Ooh! Red velvet… Nice…
Eugenie! You are supposed to be alert, damn it! Stop making your thoughts drift…
Damn! She's gorgeous!
"Let me introduce my eldest daughter, Aaliyah," Ophelia stated as she took her daughter's hand.
Aaliyah Serpa was attractive beyond belief. Seriously. She had black hair like her mother's though her eyes were a dark grey. She was also pale but her skin looked milky instead of pasty. Unlike her mother, she was wearing a white blouse instead of having a full black ensemble. I was starting to realize how this family fit in with this house. Nevertheless, Aaliyah was one of those classic beauties and I was positive that she would have all the guys in school kneeling at her feet – whether or not they were in love with their girlfriends.
She greeted my parents politely but when her eyes landed on me – and I felt extremely uncomfortable and anxious under that gaze – her smile widened.
"Are you Asher's age?" she asked excitedly as she reached her hands out to me. I automatically backed away, not wanting physical contact, most of all from someone like her no matter how stunning she is.
Her gaze became blank and my mother quickly explained.
"Don't take offence, dear," she said. "Eugenie doesn't let anyone touch her – not even her father or her brother Leon here – only me."
The blankness disappeared and curiosity took over. "Really? Why is that?"
But my foot automatically moved backwards to take a step back. But then I remembered that these people could be dangerous and more than anyone, my parents and Leon were the most vulnerable. I could always run or hop away or hide in the form of a mouse but they, being human, would be too slow and too big to hide.
I placed my foot back firmly where it was, my whole body becoming tense. I was prepared to jump if needed. If there was one fighting thing I had going on, my legs were strong enough to give anyone a powerful kick that would bring more than just bruises.
"Don't be nosy, Aaliyah," a voice drawled. "We wouldn't want to scare our pretty guest away."
I quickly turned my head towards the direction of the voice and met the gaze of those black eyes again. But now, something else caught my attention and dismay…
There were eleven more figures behind him.
There was so many of them!
My heart began beating faster all the more and I saw that they all focused to me. They could all probably hear my heartbeat as though they were loud drums at a rock concert.
Leon stepped up next to me. I quickly glanced at him. He could see my fear and he was obviously puzzled as to why I was so terrified.
I forced a smile on my face and I did a thing that would shock him beyond anything.
I took his hand – skin contact and all.
My mom and dad quickly noticed and they both grinned. "Eugenie, that is wonderful! When did this start happening?"
But I ignored them and lightly pushed Leon towards Mom and Dad. "Stick with them, okay?" I whispered. He only nodded numbly, still stunned.
Ophelia Serpa began leading my family away to what I suspected was the dining room. I quickly made a move to follow them but and instant shiver ran up and down my spine when I felt a hand on my wrist.
Another hand quickly covered my mouth before I could scream. An arm wrapped around my waist and I was pulled on to only God knows where. All I knew was that it was a dark grey room with stone walls and candles all over the place. I was then unceremoniously tossed on something soft. I quickly tried to scramble away from the black-clad figures that surrounded the – was it a bed? – thus preventing escape.
Aaliyah stepped forward held a hand out.
"Don't be scared, Eugenie Dickson," she said quietly. "We're not going to hurt you."
"W-What a-are you?!" I demanded though I was terrified beyond belief. My heart was beginning to hurt with the speed it was beating.
"We are shape-shifters like you," she replied. "You probably sensed it already and that is the reason why you fear us."
"What are your other forms?" I asked but I knew with rising dread that my suspicions were probably right.
Instead of speaking, Aaliyah gestured to one of the others – a guy Leon's age. He began to undress and I blushed despite of the situation. I quickly looked away when he bent over to remove his boxers.
"Look, Eugenie," Aaliyah commanded. "Look."
Hesitantly, I slowly turned to the guy only to see that he was already in the middle of transforming. My suspicions were confirmed as soon as scales began growing on his skin. My eyes were wide with fright and my heartbeat sped up even more that I had to clutch my chest in pain. Within a few seconds, the transformation was over and on the edge of the bed or whatever it was was an anaconda…
A horrifyingly large anaconda.
I gasped and started breathing heavily as cold sweat broke out all over my skin.
"Aaliyah," one of the others said. "This is not good. She is…"
I couldn't hear anymore. All of my senses focused on that one snake. I could hear nothing else, see nothing else. The air suddenly seemed loud on my ears and I felt like choking on it…
That's when my mind went blank.
Aaliyah's cousin, Samuel, hesitantly reached out for the violently trembling girl. The sheets under her were already soaked with her sweat and Aaliyah knew that it was becoming dangerous for the petrified shape-shifter. Had they gone too far? But they had only wanted to question her!
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Asher about to lean forward as well but before he could be moved, Samuel suddenly went flying towards the anaconda Jaron and together, they hit the far wall. A number of her other cousins ran to the fallen pair to see if they had injuries. She quickly brought her attention back to Eugenie.
The girl was no longer trembling. In fact, her form seemed serene. Her hair fell over her face, shielding it.
"What did she do?" Aaliyah demanded.
It was Asher who answered.
"She kicked him," he whispered, his tone slightly impressed.
Eugenie jerked to attention before she looked up at them. Something in her eyes was different – almost dangerous. She gave them all a confident, almost arrogant smile.
"You frightened her so much I had to take over." Even the voice was slightly different as this time, it lacked fear or anxiety. Her? Who was her?
Who was this girl?
"I am Eugenie," she introduced herself with a cheerful smile. "But I am the… Let us see… Darker side if you will." A darker side, Aaliyah wondered. "But my lighter side calls me Etoile. You may do so too."
Aaliyah stared at her. So the girl did not only have another form…
…She also had a darker side.