Good Bad Magic Holiday short - Ian




I ran a wet cloth across the Langs’ kitchen’s new backsplash, pleased with my work. The gleaming gray tiles had been set in perfect straight rows, and the grout was now an undisturbed matte white. Most of my old coworkers thought I was nuts for settling down and fixing other people’s houses for a side job—bounty hunters in general didn’t think much of doing things for other people unless it involved some sort of excitement and a lot of money—but the work suited me.

Coming back to a hotel room at the end of a job to wait for the next one had nothing on coming back to your own house and dog.

I retrieved my phone from the kitchen island’s countertop and took a few photos of the finished wall. The rock track filling the air through the wireless speakers chose that moment to end, and a Christmas cover of an old ballad began.

Frowning at my phone, I skipped the song. A new set of tinkling bells came through the speaker.

What does a man have to do to get a respite from the holidays?

With a sigh, I switched off the music app and turned my thoughts toward my next task. Chris Lang had hired me to take care of all the small things that had fallen into disrepair through the years while he and his family were at the in-laws’ for the holidays: cracked tiles, leaky faucets, broken screens, and that sort of thing.

With a small smile, I remembered fixing all these things for Mom and my stepfather over the years. A trip back home meant a lot of hugs, lots of love, and a long list of things that Gene tried, but he’s not very dexterous.

A knock on the front door wiped the smile off my face.

Warily, I grabbed a screwdriver from my toolbox and made it to the entrance. I hadn’t survived until almost thirty to be taken down this easily.

When I checked through the peephole, my shoulders relaxed a little, and I slipped the screwdriver through the belt loops in the back of my jeans before opening the door.

A tall, lanky teen stood in front of me: olive tan skin, shaggy black hair, faded jeans, a Varsity Jacket that had seen better days, and a cloth eye patch with fraying edges covering his right eye. Someone had drawn a skull on it.

Shifter, my instinct told me. My instinct was good at this—it had saved my ass more than a few times. Blocking the entrance, arms loose by my sides and ready to deal with any possible surprise attack, I stared down at him.

The teen held my gaze, his expression direct and serious like he’d never met a smile.

Just to test things a little, I allowed some of my alpha power to leak out.

The teen’s left eye tightened, but he didn’t look down.

Impressive. “Yes?”

He shuffled from one foot to the other. “Heard you need help.”

Did you?”

Yeah.” When I didn’t say anything else, he added, “’Serker dude told me you might need a hand with your house stuff.”

Ah, that’d be Mark. He or Jack usually helped when I had a project that required more than two hands, but they were both tied up this week with their jobs at the Crawler.

What’s your name?” I asked.

The kid straightened. “Shane.”

How old are you?”


I cocked a brow.

After a bit of a staring contest, he coughed and shifted his gaze. “Nineteen.”

My other brow joined the first.

Eighteen, almost nineteen,” he insisted.

I crossed my arms over my chest and leaned against the door frame, ready to wait this out.

I was a bounty hunter. I was good at waiting people out.

Shane opened his mouth, closed it again, narrowed his eye, then mumbled, “Seventeen.”

That, I could believe.

Giving the kid another look over, I pondered what to do as I rubbed my chin. I didn’t exactly need extra hands today, but it was such a rare occurrence that anyone outside my few friends was willing to come near me of their own accord. My dark fame as the bounty hunter who’d murdered his partner usually kept people away, not to mention the fact that I was still a bounty hunter. Semi-retired but not completely out of the job.

Olmeda wasn’t exactly known for being a hot spot of legality where the paranormal world was concerned.

Your parents?” I asked.

Shane shrugged.

I wasn’t going to dig deeper, just like I wasn’t going to ask about the eye. Not my magic, not my problem—a person had a right to keep their own demons. Shane here was a stray, a young shifter who had yet to find a pack, and strays weren’t dangerous. They were only lost.

I could’ve suggested he go to Clawstone Park and talk with Hutton, but this kid wasn’t stupid. If he’d wanted to belong to Hutton’s pack, he wouldn’t be here, talking to Hutton’s estranged half brother.

Chances were Shane only needed a few jobs to tide him over until he moved on to the next town.

And I’d need a second set of hands the day after tomorrow.

Know how to fix a leaky faucet?” I asked.

Sure thing.”

Let’s put it to the test. “Follow me.”

I led him through the house, picked up my toolbox, and took him up to the guest bathroom on the second floor. The plink plink plink of solitary drops hitting the basin filled the silence as we both stared at the faucet.

As a shifter with enhanced senses even in my human form, the constant noise rankled on the nerves.

I handed him the toolbox. “Show me.”

He took the toolbox from me and put it carefully on the floor. I’d already emptied the space and set some of the stuff I’d need to the side, so all the kid had to do was choose the tools and get to work.

Shane took off his jacket to reveal a ratty sweatshirt underneath, then brought out his phone and typed for a few seconds.

Today, we are learning how to fix a leaky faucet,” came a baritone voice from the speakers.

I let out a startled laugh. Shane didn’t seem to notice my sudden bark of amusement; his brow creased in concentration as he watched the man on the video explain the facts of faucet life.

Yeah, the kid would be all right.

After showing him how to deal with the faucet and having him help me with the remaining tasks, I paid him fifty bucks and watched him open the front door.

Do you have a place to stay?” I asked in what must’ve been a blip of insanity. But what the hell. It was the holidays and all of that.

Shane stopped and nodded curtly.

Good enough for me.

I’ll need help the day after tomorrow.” It’d be Christmas Eve, but I doubted Shane had any more plans than I did. “Cracked House, eight o’clock.”

After another nod, Shane shoved his hands into his jacket pockets and strode into the street as if he had somewhere important to be.


Cracked House had been named that way when a lightning strike had cracked open the only tree in the small front yard. One half had then fallen on the cantankerous owner when he’d tried to fix things by himself, killing him instantly.

A warning to the perils of working alone, if I’d ever seen one.

Good thing I dealt with processed wood and not trees.

Shane was waiting by the iron fence gate, his breath fogging up the air as he shifted from foot to foot to help against the cold morning.

He straightened the moment he saw me. “Morning.” His eye went to my companion and widened slightly.

Setting a hand on top of my dog’s head, I introduced him. “This is Rufus.”

Rufus was huge, furry, and my best friend.

I wasn’t exactly sure why I’d decided to bring Rufus with me today. I never usually brought him to work, but this morning as I ate my breakfast cereal and Rufus licked his doggy bowl clean, it had suddenly seemed like a great idea.

I’d had him for a couple of years, but it had only taken me about a week to know that Rufus was an excellent judge of character.

Rogers was probably still having nightmares from when he’d first met Rufus. Rogers was known for stabbing other bounty hunters in the back when a big bonus was involved.

Shane eyed Rufus warily, then stuck out a hand. “Yo, Rufus.”

Rufus shifted forward and sniffed the offering. That was a plus on the kid’s side. Usually, Rufus ignored people’s hands; he simply stared them down until he made up his mind on whether to growl or allow the person’s continued existence in his presence.

Looking back at me, Rufus opened his mouth to let his tongue hang out.

Approval, then, and not extra breakfast.

Cool dog,” Shane said.


How old is he?”

I studied Rufus. He’d already been big when I’d found him, but he’d only gotten bigger. “Not sure. Maybe three or four years old?”

Shane reached over and gave Rufus a tentative scratch behind his ears. Shifter and animal relationships were complicated. Some pets took affront to the power to shift, others couldn’t care less. Cats were particularly annoyed at certain paranormal types, dogs a lot more open to the possibilities. Rats bit.

You’re cool, Rufus.”

Rufus let out a woof of a snort, as if he was clearly aware of that fact. Shane grinned, then the smile immediately disappeared to be replaced by a solemn expression that gave little away.

I liked this kid.

We moved into the house, and I pointed at some heavy wooden furniture lying around the entrance and the living room, still wrapped in plastic.

These got delivered the other day.” The rest was obvious: we now had to put them in their correct places.

Shane divested himself of his jacket to reveal the same sweatshirt. “Owners not home for Christmas?” After giving the two sets of heavy dressers and the disarticulated bed frame a second look, he also took off the sweatshirt. He was wearing a gray T-shirt underneath with a hole over his clavicle. The short sleeves revealed thin, wiry arms with just enough muscle I knew he could help me carry the stuff up the stairs.

Not this time,” I answered, getting down to a long-sleeved T-shirt myself. “Rufus, guard.”

Rufus trotted out to the yard, and I used a rubber block to keep the door half-open.

Shane rubbed his hands and looked at me expectantly. “Well, boss?”

Let us begin,” I agreed, taking my speakers out of my toolbox and praying today’s playlist would be free of tinkling bells.

Taking the bed frame parts up the stairs took some time and inventive maneuvering, but we got it done. Not once did Shane complain or appear grumpy at taking so much time and care not to destroy the railing or the walls. He didn’t complain about my choice of music, and I even caught him bobbing to the beats a couple of times.

Once we got the bed frame up and spent an hour putting it together, I called for a water break. Moving the dressers and the mattress was going to be a pain, but not as much as the antique wardrobe, which had come in one piece. I grunted at the sight of it just inside the side parlor.

Shane gulped down his water and followed the direction of my gaze. He made a face.

No more needed to be said.

Rufus ambled in, and I filled a bowl of water for him. Shane petted him again as tentatively as if it were a snake not a dog. In these moments, he looked more like a twelve-year-old with his first pet than a seventeen-year-old stray looking to fit into the paranormal world.

Why do this if you’re a bounty hunter?” Shane asked.

I shrugged. “Why not?”

He nodded. Perhaps he understood the wisdom of finding one place to live rather than roaming the country on the whim of paranormal criminals. Perhaps he didn’t care all that much.

Are we going to—”

Rufus’s low growl interrupted him. Outside the house, a wooden window snapped open. My attention immediately went to the kitchen window, where it met the next house’s side.

A man was sliding out of the window, a bulky backpack on his back.

Rufus’s growl grew louder.

The man’s head snapped up. He cursed when he saw us staring at him and hurried the rest of the way over the window frame.

Go,” I barked. Rufus shot off toward the front door, me on his heels.

Once outside, Rufus made an elegant jump over the low side fence, and I leaped after him. Movement on my side told me Shane had chosen to go through the window.

I unleashed some of my shifter energy, increasing my speed to match Rufus’s. In front of us, the man ran like a devil—or a paranormal, in this case. Not a shifter, witch, or a mage—a demon or berserker, probably.

The small path between the houses came to an end ahead of him, and he slowed in preparation for entering a more public space. House robbery was nothing compared to the hell he’d have to endure if he got caught using paranormal abilities in front of normal humans.


Apprehend,” I told Rufus.

Rufus let out a curt bark and put on a bit more speed. In the next moment, he’d jumped at the man’s back and taken him down to the ground mere paces before the street.

Good boy,” I said, coming to a stop by them. Shane joined me a couple of seconds later.

Not bothering to stop to catch my breath, I grabbed the man by the backpack and dragged him back farther inside the path and into a nook formed by two mismatched fence corners.

Who the hell are you?” the man demanded, breaking free of my hold. He was breathing hard and his eyes were a deep red. Demon.

Rufus growled again, showing all his teeth.

The man plastered himself against the fence. “Get that thing away from me! If that thing bites me, I’ll sue you—I swear!”

Shane snorted. He was sweating, but his breathing was even. Judging from his performance, the kid was used to channeling his shifter energy into running. And probably fighting. Scrawny but resilient.

The paranormal world was a harsh place.

The kid would go places.

Screw you,” the demon suddenly exclaimed, swiping his hand upward toward Shane, the less scary target.

Shane jumped back, and I snatched the man’s wrist. Bending his arm, I twisted him around and pushed him against the fence. It groaned with the impact. His nails had turned into five sharp demon claws, and I made sure to keep them away from me.

With a couple of swift tugs, I jerked the backpack off him and passed it to Shane. The man turned to look at us, rancor filling his expression as Shane peeked into the backpack.

Shane let out a low whistle. “Laptop, tablet, a jewelry case.”

Those are mine,” the man said.

Even Rufus snorted at that.

Shane looked at me. “What do we do, boss?”

I rubbed my chin, thinking over the issue. Calling the guild over petty robbery was too much.

I told you,” the demon started, “those are—” He suddenly gaped at me, then cursed. “Oh, hell, you’re Cavalier, aren’t you?”

He is,” Shane said smugly, crossing his arms.

The man cursed again, a new sheen of sweat covering his temples. The claws were gone, his eyes back to normal, and a new pallor had taken over his coloring. “C’mon man, I’m sorry. You got the stuff. No harm done, right?”

He shriveled under my stare.

I’m just a small-time thief. I promise I’ll leave Olmeda today.”

Shane snorted.

We’ll call Officer Brooks,” I decided.

I hadn’t had any encounter with Brooks yet, but my sources told me she was solid.

It’s Christmas Eve, man,” the demon begged. “Have some pity. I swear I won’t steal again.”

Ignoring the man’s pleading, I studied Shane. He hadn’t tensed at the mention of calling the police, and he looked more interested in puffing his chest and scowling in disgust than nervous about the idea of Brooks coming over.

Hadn’t been around long enough to get into too much trouble yet, then. By design or by choice?

Something told me by choice—I had a feeling that Shane was one smart stray.

I extended my hand toward Shane. “Your phone.”

Mine was still bleating Christmas versions of otherwise perfectly fine songs back in the house.

Shane handed me his phone. I aimed it at the demon, took a photo of his face, then returned it.

The demon opened his mouth, then snapped it closed when he met my eyes.

Go,” I barked.

The man sprinted toward the public street, promising once again to leave town right away.

Shane looked at me with curiosity. “Is that okay?”

I grunted. If I had to drag every petty criminal I found to the police station, I’d never see the end of the paperwork. “I’ll pass his photo to the guild. He knows this. He’ll lie low for a while, and if he’s caught again, he’ll already be in the database.”

Shane’s eye grew wide. “There is a database?”

No.” I grabbed the backpack and started walking back. I dipped into our house to wipe our prints off the backpack, then carefully dropped it through the open window the demon had used. Careful to use the rag, I closed the frame.

These people needed to install better security.

Moving the furniture and getting everything into place, then cleaning up took up the morning and most of the afternoon. By the time I locked the front door behind me, the sun was low and my stomach was rumbling.

Draped over the house on the other side of the street, Christmas lights blinked merrily while a ruby-cheeked Santa doll waved from the front yard.

By my side, Shane shoved his hands into his pockets in a now familiar gesture and avoided looking at me. “Got any more jobs lined up, boss?”

I had a few things coming up in January, but nothing I couldn’t do by myself.

And yet, what came out of my mouth was, “A couple of things.”

Shane straightened, hope all but pouring out of his posture. “Will you be needing help?”

Maybe,” I found myself saying.

Rufus woofed as in agreement.

Looking up at the darkening sky, I searched for the stars I knew to be there even though they weren’t yet visible.

Ah, what the heck.

Let’s go have something to eat and we’ll talk about it.”

Really?” Shane asked eagerly.


It was Christmas, after all.



Thank you for reading! I hope you have a wonderful holidays!

Copyright © 2023 by Isa Medina