By Cadi Murphy
Eamon tightened his jaw, pressing the tips of his fangs against his bottom lip. His specs slipped down the bridge of his nose. He hurriedly shoved them back so he could watch the werewolf boy swaggering toward him between the dusty library bookshelves. This was the leader of the largest student gang, the monster whose name was whispered throughout the school with reverence—Vespian. This was the boy Eamon had to impress to fit in.
And Eamon had to fit in, because if he didn’t belong here, at the Reformatory School for Troubled Young Monsters, he wouldn’t belong anywhere.
Vespian eased into a wingback chair. He scratched the silver hair covering his cheeks and pinned Eamon under a suspicious gaze. “All right, vampire, you’re in for theft? I happen to need a good thief, but I’ll have to test you to see if you’re worthy. If you pass the challenge, you’re in with the Pack.”
“I stole money from my father.” Eamon fiddled with his specs. “I’ve never swiped actual things.”
“You’ll have to adapt a little.” Vespian shrugged, a crooked grin curving up his face. “All you have to do is lift the spyglass from the headmaster’s desk.”
Eamon’s throat tightened. Swiping from any of the teachers, let alone the headmaster, seemed like a terrible idea. “Couldn’t I… Couldn’t I steal something from one of the other gangs?”
“No,” Vespian said. “It’s the spyglass or nothing.”
Over the next two days, Eamon ducked away from the teachers’ supervision between classes and work assignments to take constant detours past the headmaster’s office. The headmaster, a long-faced goblin, always kept his office locked unless he was working at his desk.
Eamon could think of only one way to get him to leave without locking the door.
That evening, Eamon took a textbook and a match he’d bribed from a fellow student, creeping to a lonely closet in the quietest section of the school. It didn’t take long for the pages to ignite.
He hid in the shadows near the headmaster’s office and waited. Soon, the corridor filled with smoke and cries of “Fire!” The door flew open, and the headmaster careened right past Eamon’s hiding place.
Before the door could swing shut, Eamon caught it and darted into the room. The spyglass rested on the center of the desk, its bronze shell reflecting the glow of the gas lamp beside it. Eamon snatched the spyglass and hurried out of the office.
A rhythmic clicking echoed in the corridor behind him. In the few days since Eamon had arrived at school, he’d learned to recognize the sound of the maths teacher’s cane on the hardwood floor.
And to fear the welts that followed the old vampire’s approach.
“What are you doing, boy?” The teacher’s harsh voice sent panic surging through Eamon’s heart.
If he turned, he’d be recognized and lose any chance of joining the Pack! Clutching the spyglass, he sprinted down the corridor.
“Stop!” The clicking rattled faster. It took all of Eamon’s self-control not to glance back to watch the teacher try to run like a three-legged spider. Eamon raced around a few corners, then paused to listen. No footsteps or cane clattered in pursuit.
He grinned at his warped reflection in the spyglass.
The fire brigade was called to put out the flames, so Eamon had to wait until the next morning to get a moment alone with Vespian. They met in a dark alcove just before breakfast, and Eamon handed over the spyglass.
The werewolf put it to his eye. “The teachers are going wild trying to find this thing. Word has it the headmaster hasn’t been this furious in a long time.” He tucked the spyglass into his vest. “Welcome to the Pack, Eamon.”
Relief and pride mixed in Eamon’s chest. He’d earned his place at last.
Still, something bothered him. “What do you mean he hasn’t been this furious for a while? Was my challenge harder than others’ or does everyone have to steal something from the headmaster?”
Vespian’s crooked grin returned. “I’d say your challenge was much harder, considering you’re the only one who’s ever been tested.”
“What?” Eamon’s jaw went slack. “But… But that’s not fair!”
“True. But it was fun watching you.”
Eamon’s face burned, and he clenched his fists. He ought to land one right on the werewolf’s hairy nose! “I won’t be made a fool! I’ll join one of the other gangs, and you’ll be sorry you crossed me!”
Vespian rolled his eyes. “Haven’t you figured it out? There are no gangs here, unless you count the teachers as one.” He spread his hands. “All the students are part of the Pack. It’s us against them.”
Even so, Eamon had been deceived. How could he trust this werewolf? “But why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?”
“You assumed you knew how things work here. I just didn’t correct you. Wasn’t expecting you to set the school on fire, but I’m honestly impressed. And now I know you’re the kind who’ll always come through. So…” Vespian clapped a hand on Eamon’s shoulder. “What’ll it be? I need you to help us make the teachers’ lives at least half as miserable as they make ours. Will you stand with the Pack?”
Eamon’s bubbling anger cooled. Vespian really wanted him in the Pack. No one had ever recognized his value or asked him to be part of anything before. Maybe Vespian could be trusted after all. He grasped Vespian’s shoulder in return.
Vespian nodded. “All right, then.”