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The Gang Assembles

Bo lives and works close to Amsterdam. Bo is the first Dutch author to have been published in F&SF, Clarkesworld, Analog, and other places. Her sf novel The Wan was published by Pink Narcissus Press. When not writing, she knits, reads and gardens, preferably all three at the same time. For more about her work, you can visit her website or find Bo on Facebook @bo.balder or Twitter.

I tried to sneak out of the attic under cover of the air raid sirens, but a cold little hand grabbed mine and wouldn't let go. I couldn't have Precious wake up the others, so we tiptoed downstairs. Precious was dressed in every layer she had and wore shoes. That meant she'd known I was going. And I thought I'd been so sneaky.
"Presh, it's dangerous out there. There's bombs, and there's creatures. You can't come. You're better off here."
It hurt me to say that, because our clothes were threadbare, rations scant, our foster mother's temper far from sweet. But Precious with her bad foot could never keep up with me.
Precious made a werelight on her palm. "Nattie, I can light our way."
Which might be true, but light was illegal and would lure the Junkers. The werelight flickered and went out. She couldn't keep it up for long.
I realized there was no way I could talk Precious into staying behind without waking everyone.
"All right then," I said. I opened the door and helped her down the steps. We scurried around the corner and there I straightened her clothes and tucker her in, so she didn't look like a random heap of clothes but like a little girl.
"Where are we going?" she asked. It was pitch-dark, with only searchlights and distant explosions giving some illumination.
I gritted my teeth. I didn't know if there was anywhere to go to. I just hadn't been able stand Miss Mackie's for a second longer. I didn't know why we hadn't been evacuated to the countryside like most kids, but I had decided I couldn't wait and to evacuate myself.
"To the countryside," I improvised. "Fields and trees."
"Sure," I said.
We kept to the middle of the road, where the rubble had been swept so military vehicles could pass.
A tremendous crash behind us made me jump. Precious shrieked.
"Shush," I said, drawing her behind me.
At first it seemed like another heap of rubble, but then I saw twitching and the glare of red eyes. A gargoyle had tried to crush us.
"Missed!" I said.
"I always miss. I'm so hungry!" a voice creaked.
I snorted. "Good luck with that." I pulled on Precious' s hand.
"Nattie wait, it's hurt!"
Precious wrenched out of my grip and bent over the broken gargoyle, werelight on her palm.
"Help me," the gargoyle whined.
"Can't we help it?" Precious asked. "Someone will run it over!"
"Can I come with you?" the creature said. "You could easily miss a few drops of blood now and then."
"Hardly," I said.
"Nattie, please?" Precious asked.
But then I got an idea. "You can come. You can't feed on us, but you can eat our enemies." I wasn't sure we had enemies beside the gargoyle, but who knew what we'd encounter. Germans disguised as nuns. Other creatures. Or Miss Mackie. It might be useful.
"Yeah!" The gargoyle clambered upright. It was so damaged that it was barely recognizable as a creature. Only the gleam of its red eyes betrayed it.
Again I set off towards where I hoped the countryside was, now with the three of us.
"Wah!" A black shadow jumped in front of us.
"Gargle, eat it!" I commanded.
The gargoyle lumbered forward, shedding chips of stone as it went. It tried to crush the shadowy, billowy thing's feet. It didn't seem very useful against enemies faster than a brick wall.
"Bah," Gargle said. It spit out something that looked to me like blood.
"You bit me," a little voice gasped. The glamor dropped and revealed an emaciated vampire girl. Her lank blonde hair needed combing and her face was white as a sheet. "I should bite you right back!"
But she lisped noticeably.
"What happened to your teeth?" I asked.
She started to cry. "I was just losing my baby teeth when I was turned. The fangs never grew in."
Precious tugged at my hand. I knew what she was going to ask and I didn't want to waste any more time arguing about it. "Join the gang, " I said. "You don't eat us, you eat our enemies. We take care of each other."
"Oh thank you, thank you," she gushed. ""I'm Amaryllis."
"Gargle, Precious, Nattie," I pointed. "Let's get going before the city wakes up, the four of us."
"Five?" A deep voice rumbled. It came from on high.
"Who's there?" I asked.
An enormous dragon stuck its head around a corner. "Me. I'm all alone, and you look so cozy together. Can I join?"
"Why not," I said. I repeated my spiel. "Gargle crushes enemies from on high. Amaryllis bites them. Precious makes light. You burn things, I guess?"
"Yes," the dragon said, but I saw no fire in its belly.
"And what's your name?" I asked.
It hung its head. "We write our name in fire. I am no one."
"What is it that you do, Nattie?" The three creatures looked at me with avid eyes.
I squared my shoulders. "I plan. I lead. Follow me."
And they did.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, August 10th, 2022

Author Comments

How the story was written: I wrote it during a Codex contest. The prompt was to create a gang. For some reason I went straight to WWII and what might have happened to a motley collection of strays during a German raid on London.

- Bo Balder
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