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Nixing The End of the World

Giveaway at the bottom

Nixing the End of the World will be available April 29th, and is currently up for preorder. Get your copy here! Want a second chance to win a giveaway? Join my reader group here where I'll be doing another giveaway! (PLEASE make sure you fill out the questions to join or you won't be accepted!)

Chapter One

Nix

            “You are the savior of mankind.”

            I pop a fry in my mouth as I watch the strange man standing in front of me. He has to be over seven feet tall as he towers over me while I sit in the hard booth contemplating my life choices that led me to this very moment. “Uh-huh… and you said your name was?”

            He swiftly kneels before me, even gives me this little bow thing, which is hard to do when he’s crammed between tables at McDonald’s—the man at the table next to us, who’d been trying to enjoy a Happy Meal, seems reasonably irritated. “My name is Bjorn Tisticle.”

            “Uh-huh… so I’m the savior of mankind, and your name is Testicle? Can I get a raincheck, please?” I ask no one in particular. The only person who’s currently with me is in the bathroom and is taking a ridiculously long time. No one wants to go into a McDonald’s bathroom and she’s spending the day in there, apparently.

            “Tisticle.”

            Right. “Sorry. I forgot the Tis. Um… you’re kind of weirding me out. I’m just waiting for my friend to get done reading Moby Dick in the bathroom and will be on my way. So no thanks.”

            The man beams at me like he’s horribly proud of something I’ve done, which is reason enough for me to know he’s got the wrong guy. “Time waits for no one, Mankind Savior.”

            I try to cram as many fries into my mouth as I can all at once before gathering up Annie’s untouched food. I don’t know what to do with it, but I have no other option when this man is determined to harass me, so I shove her cheeseburger into my hoodie pocket and decide I’ll just carry the fries and both of our drinks. “I’ll be right back,” I tell him before making a mad dash to the bathroom where I beat on the women’s room door, fries flying from my fist. “Annie… Annie, open up. Annie, are you okay?”

            I glance back as the man looms at the end of the hallway, a fucking creepy smile on his face. I’m more than positive this is a scene out of a horror movie and I’m going to be murdered at McDonald’s. What a way to go.

            “Dammit, Annie, open the door.”

            The door opens slowly, and I shove myself inside. “Annie?” I ask.

            Annie whirls on me from where she stands, dark brown eyes huge. She quickly pushes her auburn hair out of her eyes as she turns to me. “What the fuck are you doing in here?” she asks, clearly not having been the one to open the door. My beating on it must have pushed it open or she didn’t think to lock it or something.

            “There’s a creepy man following me, and oh my god, what the fuck is that?” I cry as I see flames leaping out of the toilet. With the way Annie’s standing, it’s really hard for me to get a good look at what’s going on as I question if my best friend for twenty-some years is secretly an arsonist.

            “Nothing,” she says as she steps in front of the toilet and continuously flushes it.

            “Annie?” I ask as she smiles at me over her shoulder.

            “Yes?”

            “What. The. Fuck?”

            My closest friend just continues smiling as she turns away from the now normal-looking toilet to wash her hands. She sees that there are no towels left so she dries her hands off on my hoodie before taking her drink from me. “What’s up?” She clearly doesn’t understand the gravity of this situation.

            “It’s time,” the hulking man says from behind me, making me jump which sends fries everywhere.

            “My fries!” Annie cries, seemingly not at all disturbed by the giant behind me. She grabs what’s left of them and looks into the half-empty container in disappointment.

            “Annie, we have to go,” I whisper as I grab her wrist and rush for the door only to have the man follow close behind us as we exit the building.

            “Annie, it’s time,” the man says.

            I hesitate and turn on the two of them. “You know this guy?” I ask Annie.

            She takes a ridiculously long drink of her pop. “I do.”

            “So… is this some weird joke?” I ask, because that’s clearly what this is. Only Annie would set something as ridiculous as this up.

            The man decides his legs are tired or something, and I don’t really blame him when they’re so damn tall, and kneels down right there on the sidewalk. “Your majesty, you are the savior of mankind and we need you.”

            “For… what?” I ask, reasonably confused. This is obviously some joke from Annie, which isn’t surprising since she seems to find joy in the little things.

            “Saving mankind.” The man seems to be confused why I don’t instantly understand this. “Annie, you have gained the human’s trust; speak to him.”

            Annie just keeps eating her fries as she stares at me while I question why the hell the man said “human” like that.

            “This is getting weird, Annie. Is this guy harassing you?” I whisper.

            Mr. Testicle… I’m sorry, Tisticle, looks a little exasperated. “Quick version. You, Phoenix Gray, were born to be a hero. We have always known that you would one day save mankind, so we sent someone from one of our most powerful families to grow up with you and protect you,” he says as he waves at Annie who is now looking at her empty fry container in concern. “She was to keep you safe until the time came for you to step up to your heroic duties and save mankind!”

            This is a ridiculous prank. Does Annie really think this is funny?

            I give him a horribly forced smile. “Fantastic. Nice meeting you. Annie, you’re on my shit list because this isn’t funny, but you still have to pretend to be my date this weekend so I don’t have to deal with my grandma trying to marry me off to the creepy guy who definitely has bodies in his basement, so I’ll see all of you later,” I say as I hurry over to my car. Annie drove herself so she can just drive her evil self home.

            I get into my car, back out of the parking spot and look into the rearview mirror at the two of them still standing there. Confused, I lean into the mirror to get a better look at what I’m seeing. The man looks off, almost unnatural in the reflection, and my mind tries to question if there was almost something inhuman about him as I shoot out of the McDonald’s parking lot and speed off toward home.

            And that reminds me…

What the hell was Annie burning in the toilet?

            Annie was acting strange. She’s always a little strange, but nothing like that. She’s been my best friend since before I can remember, so I’m sure it’s fine and I’m just acting like an idiot.

            She’s going to laugh so hard about this when I see her again. She’s never going to let me live this down and will make my life miserable. And then she’ll tell everyone we know that I’m an idiot who was conned into thinking… thinking what, exactly?

            I sigh as I pull into the driveway of my small house on the edge of town. I’d moved in just last year after getting a job that allowed me to work from home, since it was definitely roomier than the apartment I was staying in.

            I park the car and nervously look around before jumping out and heading inside. I shut the front door behind me, turn around and slam right into a boulder of a man.

            “Good idea to go somewhere quieter!” Bjorn Tisticle says from the foyer.

            I slowly look up at him then over at Annie who is still working on her drink. “Fuck!” I cry. “What… why? Where?”

            “I have a key,” Annie reminds me as she dangles it. While I’d love for her to explain what’s going on and why, this is probably the least important thing to say. I’m well aware she has a key, she spends half the week here, which I don’t mind since I have little better to do.

            “Annie, a word, please?” I say as I grab her wrist and drag her into my bedroom before shutting the door.

            “You look awfully cute today,” she says as she tugs at my hoodie that I’ve worn at least a hundred times in front of her. I couldn’t look less cute and that reminds me I have a fucking cheeseburger tucked into said hoodie.

            “What?” I ask. “Why are you acting so weird? What is going on?”

            She sighs and her shoulders slump before doing this full-body flop thing onto my bed. “Because I don’t want you mad at me. We’re such good friends and then you’re going to realize it was all a lie and then it’ll be like in the movies where you’ll be like ‘I can never trust you again!’ And I’ll be like ‘But we’ve taken bubble baths together!’ and then you’ll be like ‘But you’ve deceived me’ and I’ll have to be like ‘Remember that one time you showed me your butt crack because you thought you had a tick on it and it was just a mole?’”

            I fold my arms over my chest as I narrow my eyes at her. “Did you forget that was supposed to never be brought up again?”

            “A tick!” Bjorn shouts from outside the door before cackling.

            I stare at the door before slowly turning to look at Annie who is now sitting up. “Oh my god. Is he just listening in on us? Dammit, Annie, who is that guy? And you brought him here? You let that creepy guy in my house where he’s going to murder us? And how’d you get here so fast?”

            “You drive like a grandpa… a cute grandpa.” Annie takes a deep breath and grabs my wrists. “What I’m about to tell you is going to blow your fucking mind, okay? So when you were a baby, you were originally born elsewhere. Let’s say… Narnia.”

            “What?”

            “Hogwarts.”

            This is just getting ridiculous. “Come on, Annie.”

            “Some magical place that’s not copyrighted, okay? Let’s go with that. Anyway, you were born of magical parents and it was prophesied that you’d save the world one day. So we were given no choice but to hide you in the human world. I mean, you know you’re adopted, right?”

            I gasp. “I’m adopted?”

            She glares at me. “Don’t sass me.”

            “Fine, fine. Continue on with your stupid story, and we’ll see what happens.”

            “I will. So they gave you a magical beast to keep you safe,” she says as she waves over at my cat, Purrcival, who looks like a bad taxidermy job. He has one and a half ears, six toes on each front foot, and no matter how often I brush him, he looks like he stuck at least one nail in an electrical outlet. He yawns, like he’s noticed someone talking about him.

            “So… let me get this straight, Purrcival is… a magical beast. I mean, he’s old as fucking dirt so I guess that could be factual,” I say since my parents told me I came with the cat… as a baby. How a baby comes with a cat, I have no idea. They tell me times were different back then. But I just always waved it off because no one “comes with a cat.”

And cats don’t live twenty-nine years. I’m positive we had a white cat, it probably ran away, then my parents found another white cat and were like “Here, same cat” and I was dumb enough to agree. Then again, he’s a pretty peculiar cat. “Nothing can be that old and crotchety and not be from the depths of hell,” I decide.

            “He’s a super-awesome magical cat sent to protect you, Nix. Just like I was,” Annie assures me.

            “Uh-huh. What’s he do?” I eye the “magical” cat licking his “magical” balls. My parents tried getting him neutered a few times, but they could never get him in a carrier without him shredding their faces and finally just hoped he’d run away looking for some gals. Twenty-nine years later, he’s still never left my side.

            “Well… he… I mean…” She stares at him, looking mildly confused. “Anyway. So… now… here we are and that’s the end of the story!”

            “I feel like you skipped a lot,” I say, wondering if she actually thinks she dodged the Purrcival question.

            “To be honest, I was getting a little bored. You know I don’t handle long stories well,” she says, sounding a little whiny.

            I stare at her. She stares at me. Purrcival blatantly licks his nuts. Bjorn breathes ridiculously loudly outside my bedroom door.

            “Is this like a hidden camera show? Like ‘Ha-ha! We fooled Nix! He’s such an idiot!’”

            “I wish,” Annie says.

            “Annie, I can’t… I’m not whatever this is. I’m boring. Remember how boring our lives are. Is that why you’re trying to do this? Are you just doing this because I told you last week how much of a rut I was in? I was just complaining. I know everyone’s life gets kind of boring after a while.”

            “Yours is… really boring, Nix. You barely leave the house unless I drag you out.”

            “Okay… I get that… but isn’t the ‘save the world’ thing a bit extreme? Come up with something easier to entertain me. I can’t save anything. Remember the time I tried to save that cat stuck in the tree?”

            “You were so brave!” she says.

            “Was I? I got halfway up, was absolutely terrified and couldn’t figure out how to get down and you had to call the fire department to help me down, and in the middle of it all, the cat literally walked past me and just hopped down. Annie… if even a lick of this is true, it’s not for me. Got it? So… let’s go back to pretending like you’re normal.”

            That’s the moment I hear the doorbell go off. Her eyes get huge. “Don’t answer it.”

            “We don’t even know who it is,” I say as I push open the bedroom door ridiculously fast hoping to smash Bjorn with it, but the huge guy is a nimble little fuck and steps out of the way.

            I see the mailman peeking through the window to see if I’m home before ringing again. Noticing me, he smiles and waves so I hurry over to it since I recognize him. Maybe he’ll save me from the crazies who’ve taken over my home.

            “Phoenix, no!” Annie cries as I pull open the door.

            “Hey,” I say a moment before my mailman stabs me right in the stomach with a small, thin knife.

            “Let the world burn,” he says as his face twists into a horrifying expression. I fall back, startled as the man licks the red off the knife he stabbed me with before looking confused.

            That confusion is quickly erased as he bursts into flames and proceeds to burn up on my porch while I stare in horror.

            “Nix!” Annie cries as she grabs me under the armpits and drags me back into the house as Bjorn deals with the man (smoldering pile of ash?) on the front porch. “Please don’t die! Please don’t die!”

            And as she pushes me onto the couch, tears in her eyes, I realize that this is at least the second weirdest day of my life.

 

 

Chapter Two

Nix

            Annie yanks my shirt up and paws at my stomach before making a peculiar noise.

            “Huh… I mean… Did you have a cheeseburger in your pocket?” she asks as she pulls the pierced cheeseburger out. “Oh, thank god, when he stabbed you, this cheeseburger saved your life.” Annie takes a moment to examine it before biting into it. “It’s still warm.”

            Scratch that.

            This is definitely the weirdest day of my life.

            “Come on, get up, you’re not dying,” she says as she kicks my foot.

            “I’m definitely dead,” I decide. “I’m in purgatory. I… this is my torture for pissing on my neighbor’s flowers when I was twelve.” I really can’t think of anything worse that I’ve done. I’ve lived a fairly normal and absolutely boring life up until this day.

            “I also peed on them with you, so I think it’s fine. Remember? I ended up peeing in my shoe,” Annie says.

            “This is… what I deserve, and how the fuck did that man ignite?” I ask.

            Annie gives me a sheepish smile. “Oh! I’m a witch. I threw some fire dust on him. Watch,” she says as she pulls out a little bottle and tosses some dust onto my book that immediately bursts into flames.

            I’m not sure if I’m more concerned over the fact that my best friend just lit a book on fire with “magic” or that she lit the book I’m currently reading on fire. I only had one chapter left, and now I’ll never know what happens.

            I just stare at the little pile of ash on my now very singed coffee table.

            “I think he’s broken,” Bjorn says as he looms over me.

            “Nah, he’s fine,” Annie says as she pokes me.

            I grab my blanket and pull it over my head before burrowing my face in the crack of my couch. If I just go to sleep, I’ll wake up and everything will be normal, and my best friend won’t be a fire-wielding psychopath who is still eating her cheeseburger—I can hear the wrapper crinkle.

            My life will be normal. I’ll wake up and everything will be perfect.

            “I think he’s a little overwhelmed. Maybe we should just let him chill for a bit?” Bjorn says.

            “It’s okay, Nix,” Annie says as she squeezes my shoulder. “Bjorn, I’m afraid of leaving him alone in case someone wants to kill him again. We could just go outside and peek in through the windows to check on him like we usually do, if you want?”

            “Sounds good.”

            I listen to them leave and hope they took the mailman’s ashes with them or at least swept them up. That’s when I feel a thump onto the couch and slowly drag the blanket off my face to look at Purrcival as he waddles toward me—he might have gotten a bit hefty in his old age.

            “Hey, buddy. You’re just a normal cat, right?” I ask.

            He climbs onto my face, his favorite place to sleep, and curls up as he purrs.

            Okay. This is normal. I can handle normal. Everything’s normal. I hug the face cat to me and decide that when I wake up from this nightmare, everything will be fine.

 

***

 

            For two hours I try to ignore the fact that Annie and Bjorn have taken residence on my porch. But before long, I can’t ignore the “I’m going to freeze to death, why don’t you love me?” texts Annie keeps sending.

            So I eventually open the door with Purrcival in my arms and look out at the huge, man-sized hole burned into my porch. I can see the ground below and wonder if I’m now an accomplice in a murder. Will they even believe me when I tell them he stabbed me first now that Annie’s eaten the evidence?

            I jab a finger at them. “I don’t believe either of you, and I think you’re both pulling some shit over on me, but I’ll give you five minutes to tell me what the fuck you guys want from me,” I say.

            “I don’t even need five minutes. This is what we want: We want you to save the world,” Bjorn declares. “Your majesty.” And then he’s bowing again.

            I turn to Annie.

            “What he said but I’m not bowing to you. I’ve seen your butt crack. Once you’ve seen someone’s butt crack, you don’t have to bow to them,” she decides, which… oddly sounds logical.

            “Okay, say you really are a group of magical… people… how the hell am I supposed to believe you? That thing you did, Annie, that was just like… could have been science or something.”

            “Your cat can morph into a larger cat that’ll protect you. Come on, morph, Purrcival!” She stares at the cat in my arms. Purrcival yawns then rolls onto his back and stares at me with love.

            I glare at her as I squeeze Purrcival to me. “Stop trying to make my cat do weird things.”

            Annie shrugs and then turns to her next victim. “Fine. Um… Bjorn, take off your illusion.”

            Bjorn looks offended she’d even ask. “But I might scare him. And I want him to be my friend too.”

            “Yeah, but how else are we going to convince him?”

            Bjorn doesn’t seem sure. “You could do another spell.”

            “Or you could remove your illusion.”

            “Or you could do another spell.”

            “Or you could—”

            I slam the door in their faces before Purrcival and I carry off on our own. “Are you hungry, kit cat?” I ask. Purrcival meows excitedly.

            “Want a treat treat?” I ask.

            He jumps from my arms and dances at my feet, his white hair sticking every which way, his eyes following me. I get his treats out as he rears up, overly excited.

            The front door swings open as Annie and Bjorn hurry inside while I give Purrcival a treat. He doesn’t even bother chewing, he just swallows it. “You know we’ve had this talk. These are dental chews. How can they help your teeth if you don’t chew them?” I ask.

            The cat swallows the next one without bothering to chew… clearly, he listens as well as Annie does.

            “Nix, we did a heated match of rock, paper, scissors, and I lost. So I’m going to show you what I can do,” Annie says. “Because me igniting a man and a book on fire apparently wasn’t enough for you.”

            “That was a bad fever dream,” I say.

            “So… I’m an elemental witch, which means I can temper with the elements,” she says as she goes over to the cupboard and grabs a cup before filling it with water. She holds it out to me and sticks her finger into it, leaving me to watch as the water instantly begins to crystalize. “That’s why all your drinks are always cold when I give them to you.”

            “Oh my god… so…” I stare at her in shock. “You’ve been sticking your finger in all of my drinks?” I ask, horrified. She’s the absolute worst at touching germy surfaces without sanitizing her hands directly after, and to learn she’s been purposely sticking her finger in my drinks.

            She gapes at me while flinging her hand around, cup still frozen around her finger. “I just froze water for you, and you’re worried about germs?”

            “This is a fever dream. So yes. I’m worried about germs. Is that what this is? I’m sick and delusional from fever caused by the germs from your finger water and you’re spreading these… crazy ideas around,” I say.

            Annie grabs my wrists before I can escape. “I know this is a lot for you to take in and handle and all of that, and I wish you had time to process it all, but the reason why we had to tell you today is because there are rumors that they’ve figured out it’s you. And we can’t keep you safe like this much longer.” She waves to the door where the mailman once stood. “We’ve already seen that there are people after you. What we do know is that our savior will need a Guardian to help him. Every grand king does, but we can’t pick the Guardian for you, Nix. You have to do that alone.”

            “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say, realizing this is my new mantra.

            “You’ll understand. I promise,” she says as she pulls me in for a hug. “We have to do this, and I’m sorry I can’t go with you. Listen to me, you can’t choose anyone to be your Guardian, they have to feel the bond to know, okay?”

            More crazy talk. My eyes drop down to the cup. “Is your finger… frozen in there?” I ask. “Like the cup is still attached to your hand.”

            “Yeah, I kind of didn’t pull it out soon enough, but it’s fine,” she says. “I love you, Nix. You’re my best friend ever. Now please. You have to trust us.”

            “Are we doing drugs right now? Is this what drugs are like? You know what? Sure, yes. Let’s go. Do I get to slay a dragon?”

            They both gasp. Annie even grabs her chest as Bjorn looks at me like I’m a monster. “Oh my god, what a heathen. Dragons are so cute and you’d want to kill one?” Bjorn says. “I don’t come into your world and tell you I want to slay a puppy.”

            How the hell did I become the bad guy here? “Wait… what? No. That’s just a thing… you know what? Never mind. I’m going to bed.”

            “It’s like three o’clock in the afternoon,” Annie says.

            “Yep. Good night,” I say as I scoop up Purrcival and hurry to my bedroom.

            Before I even crawl into bed, Annie arrives with a different cup. “I brought you some tea.”

            “Did you stick your finger in it?” I ask as I take the warm cup from her.

            She averts her eyes. “No.”

            “Why are you looking away?” I ask.

            “I’m not!” she says as she continues to look away.

            I decide that I’ve already dealt with this for years, why stop now, and take the cup from her. I take a sip of the tea and instantly fall asleep.