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As I inched across the roof of my house, the harpy nestled against my chimney regarded me with suspicion. I'd have let her stay there, but the mailman could be coming up the street soon. With all the weird things he'd already caught glimpses of on my property, I didn't think he'd go for some half-assed explanation that she was a Halloween decoration. Especially since it was April.
I drew closer to her, and she pressed herself against the bricks. By human standards, she couldn't have been more than eighteen or nineteen, though maybe harpies had a different rate of aging. She was all boobs and hair and feathers. And she stank. She also clutched my car keys in her sharp, grimy claws.
I stretched my legs out on either side of the roof peak and sat back, straddling it. The harpy relaxed. I laid my hands on my thighs in as nonthreatening a manner as I could muster. I kept my voice low and casualas casual as I could while squatting, two stories up, with cedar splinters poking me in the ass.
"There's nothing to be afraid of here," I said. "Are you okay?"
She frowned. I truly hoped harpies understood English, since my regular translator, an eight-month-pregnant brownie, was unavailable. The height wasn't a problembrownies don't fall, they float. The climb was the issue. Molly didn't need the strain. Her tiny body was already burdened enough with the thimble-sized life inside her.
The harpy stretched one filthy wing and shook my car keys. Her perky breasts jiggled. I kept eye contact, afraid to get caught staring. Seriously, though, they were impressive. I never felt I lacked in boobage until that moment, but if I had what she had, I'd head straight to Mardi Gras. They'd run out of beads and beer by the time I left.
An arm I didn't know she possessed snaked out from under her greasy feathers and scratched a nipple before folding away.
She shrugged. "I've been better." Her voice had a husky sound to it, like she'd been gargling with a handful of sand.
At least we could communicate. That was a good start.
"Anything you want to talk about?" I reached out to her with my empathic gift, opening myself to whatever emotions she might be leaking. Nervous energy pattered against my skin, tinged with the dark taste of fear.
She shook her head, and a hank of stringy blond hair dropped across her face. She peered at me, waiting.
I thought I heard a car and glanced out across the yard. No mailman yet. The driveway was clear. "Listen, we need to get you somewhere you can't be seen, okay? You're welcome here. Just not, you know, right here."
She chewed on her bottom lip, thinking, measuring me up through her mat of hair. When she finally spoke, it was a whisper. "I don't have anyplace else to go."
I let out a breath. "Oh, honey, as long as I'm here, you have a safe place to be. You just can't camp out on the roof. We're protected here, but we still have to stay out of sight, okay? We've got trees in the back, if you want to stay in the open. There's room in the attic if you want to come inside. No one will bother you there."
The bird-woman shook her hair from her face and looked at me with surprise. "I can come inside?"
"Of course you can." I smiled to reassure her. "And when you're ready, maybe you can tell me what's wrong?"
She nodded. "Maybe."
I stuck my hand out, palm up. "Unless you were planning on a road trip, I could really use my keys back."