There was a demon in McDonald’s.
And it had a powerful hunger for Big Macs.
Most days, I loved my after-school job. Tagging the soulless and the damned usually gave me a mad case of the warm fuzzies. I’d even given myself a quota out of boredom, but tonight was different.
I had a paper to outline for AP English.
“Are you gonna eat those fries?” Sam asked as he grabbed a handful off my tray. His curly brown hair fell over his wire-frame glasses. “Thanks.”
“Just don’t take her sweet tea.” Stacey slapped Sam’s arm and several fries fell to the floor. “You’ll lose your entire arm.”
I stopped tapping my foot, but kept my eye on the interloper. I don’t know what it was with demons and the Golden Arches, but man, they loved the place. “Ha-ha.”
“Who do you keep staring at, Layla?” Stacey twisted in the booth, looking around the crowded fast-food joint. “Is it a hot guy? If so, you better— Oh. Wow. Who goes out in public dressed like that?”
“What?” Sam turned, too. “Aw, come on, Stacey. Who cares? Not everyone wears knockoff Prada like you.”
To them, the demon looked like a harmless middle-aged woman with really bad fashion sense. Her dull brown hair was pinned up with one of those old-school purple butterfly clips. She wore velvet green track pants paired with pink sneakers, but it was her sweater that was epic. Someone had knitted a basset hound on the front, its big, sappy eyes made of brown yarn.
But despite her drab appearance, the lady wasn’t human.
Not that I had a lot of room to talk.
She was a Poser demon. Her astronomical appetite was what gave away the breed. Posers could eat a small nation’s worth of food in one sitting.
Posers might look and act human, but I knew this one could snap the head off the person in the booth next to her with little effort. Her inhuman strength wasn’t the threat, though. It was the Poser’s teeth and infectious saliva that were the real danger.
They were biters.
One little nip and the demonic version of rabies was passed to the human. Totally incurable, and within three days, the Poser’s chew toy would resemble something straight out of a George Romero flick, cannibalistic tendencies included.
Obviously, Posers were a real problem unless you considered a zombie apocalypse fun times. Only good thing was that Posers were rare, and every time one bit somebody, its lifespan was shortened. They usually had about seven good bites in them before they went poof. Sort of like a bee and its stinger but dumber.
Posers could look like anything they wanted. Why this one was rocking an outfit like that was beyond me.
Stacey made a face as the Poser moved on to her third burger. She wasn’t aware of us watching her. Posers weren’t known for their keen powers of observation, especially when preoccupied with secret-sauce awesomeness.
“That’s disgusting.” Stacey turned back around.
“I think the sweater is hot.” Sam grinned around another mouthful of my fries. “Hey, Layla, do you think Zayne would let me interview him for the school paper?”
My brows rose. “Why do you want to interview him?”
He gave me a knowing look. “To ask what’s it like to be a Warden in D.C., hunting down the bad guys and bringing them to justice and all that jazz.”
Stacey giggled. “You make the Wardens sound like superheroes.”
Sam shrugged bony shoulders. “Well, they kind of are. I mean, come on, you’ve seen them.”
“They’re not superheroes,” I said, falling into the standard speech I’d been giving ever since the Wardens went public ten years ago. After the skyrocketing increase in crime that had nothing to do with the economic downturn the world faced, but was more like a signal from Hell saying they no longer wanted to play by the rules, the Alphas had ordered the Wardens to come out of the shadows. To humans, Wardens had come out of their stone shells. After all, the gargoyles adorning many churches and buildings had been carved to resemble a Warden in his true skin. Sort of.
There were too many demons topside for the Wardens to continue to operate without exposure. “They’re people. Just like you, but—”
“I know.” Sam held up his hands. “Look, you know I’m not like those fanatics who think they’re evil or something stupid like that. I just think it’s cool and it would be a great piece in the paper. So what do you think? Would Zayne go for it?”
I shifted uncomfortably. Living with the Wardens often made me one of two things: a back door to gain access to them, or a freak. Because everyone, including my two closest friends, believed I was just like them. Human. “I don’t know, Sam. I don’t think any form of press makes them comfortable.”
He looked crestfallen. “Will you ask him at least?”
“Sure.” I fiddled with my straw. “But don’t hold your breath.”
Sam leaned against the hard seat back, satisfied. “So guess what?”
“What?” Stacey sighed, exchanging a woeful look with me. “What random piece of knowledge are you going to wow us with?”
“Did you know you can freeze a banana until it’s so hard you can actually nail something with it?”
I lowered my sweet tea. “How do you know these things?”
Sam finished off my fries. “I just do.”
“He spends his entire life on the computer.” Stacey pushed thick black bangs off her face. I don’t know why she didn’t cut them. She was always messing with them. “Probably searches for random crap for the fun of it.”
“That’s exactly what I do when I’m at home.” Sam rolled up his napkin. “I search for little-known facts. That’s how cool I am.” He threw the napkin at Stacey’s face.
“I stand corrected,” Stacey said unabashedly. “It’s p**n you spend all night searching.”
The hollows of Sam’s cheeks turned bright red as he straightened his glasses. “Whatever. Are you guys ready? We’ve got some outlining to do for English.”
Stacey groaned. “I can’t believe Mr. Leto wouldn’t let us do our classics report on Twilight. It is a classic.”
I laughed, momentarily forgetting about the job I had to do. “Twilight is not a classic, Stacey.”
“Edward is definitely a classic in my book.” She pulled a hair tie out of her pocket, tugging her shoulder-length hair up. “And Twilight is way more interesting than All Quiet on the Western Front.”
Sam shook his head. “I can’t believe you just used Twilight and All Quiet on the Western Front in the same sentence.”
Ignoring him, her gaze bounced from my face to my food. “Layla, you haven’t even touched your burger.”
Maybe somehow I’d instinctively known I was going to need a reason to stick around. I sucked in a sigh. “You guys go ahead. I’ll meet up with you in a few minutes.”
“For real?” Sam stood.
“Yep.” I picked up my burger. “I’ll be down in a few.”
Stacey eyed me suspiciously. “You’re not going to bail on us like you always do?”
I flushed with guilt. I’d lost count of how many times I’d had to ditch them. “No. I swear. I’m just going to eat my food and I’ll be right there.”