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By Charles P. Zaglanis
Elder Signs PressCopyright © 2016 Charles P. Zaglanis
All rights reserved.
THE OCCASIONAL BEAST THAT IS HER SOUL
JOHN CLAUDE SMITH
Tonight she wished for wings.
Thea at the window, wishing for something more than the wayward enticements of this earth, or the fickle fantasies that roosted glumly in the minds of her potential partners.
Tonight there will be wings ...
It was not the first time Thea had nurtured this thought. With the malleable condition of her body as shaped by the emotional resonance within her psyche, wings would be a much better transmutation than what has transpired so far; than what she always has become: a beast of ill intent ...
Talons to tear into the meat of her lover.
Pincers to pluck out the cooling gray matter from the bowl of the cranium she'd cracked as one would an egg, red runny yolk staining the carpet.
Wings would be her only means of escape this evening, the dizzying height demanding something different. Always running from something, maybe flight would bring her freedom. But wings had failed her before, bony stubs along the parchment expanse of flesh so thin the wind tore from them the ability to glide along the invisible ether byways above everything.
They would have to be strong wings, she thought, then frowned, a shifting of flesh with which she had actual control.
Because her control was as much driven by shock and panic as by wish-fulfillment. Shock and panic and the wayward imagination of her lovers, as muddled by that which resided within her ... She'd rarely become something more than the occasional beast that is her soul.
The first time she realized she could shift — moving thought into form, fantasy into surreal fact — she'd accidentally killed her beloved pet panther, Lacuna. She'd become something unnamable, something without history or design, something ugly that only the blackest thoughts would ever conceive and, hence, conjure.
She was eleven, and bled afterward for the first time.
She'd often thought that the ability and the bleeding were intertwined, but subsequently realized that all women bled at some point, but she knew only of herself as one who could shift.
Even though she'd heard the rumors, she'd never seen or heard of evidence of another like her.
Unknown spices, or the dream they emitted, coiled into her nostrils — curries and cardamom, turmeric and cinnamon. A swath of sweet too fiery, too tangy, too pungent; a heady concoction she felt roil as a turbulent ocean under her skin. She tasted them in the back of her brain, as sunlight radiating through stained glass, as sculpted rainbow, as crystalline desire. The smell cut the warm plastic stench of the polymer garden below, though even at that, the air on high was fresher anyway, colder; closer to the gods, she thought, and laughed.
The gods. The purgatory that was this planet was bereft of the hierarchy of fantasy, myth, or dreams.
But what of reality? Within herself she writhed, unsettled, shifting again. That was her reality, rarely used, but only because she had harnessed the skill to control the impetus. Because, realistically, the core of who she was wanted to shift forever, be amorphous into oblivion. Anything beyond the fragile; beyond the loneliness.
There were no dreamers anymore. No myths or fantasies to fill one's head with joy or hope. There was the world as it was: aluminum and steel and singing electricity, clockwork motivation via oiled gears and cogs and tightly coiled springs; rigid constructs that dictated the paths of every life. People worked and ate and defecated and went home and watched the holo and slept, only to repeat the process, part of the machine that was the world, the gears and cogs and tightly coiled springs made of flesh and dull minds; the oil, of blood and resignation.
She remembered a book read long ago, pilfered from her Uncle Stan's underground library, a story about a past that had become her future; only the year had been altered, to obliterate the innocent.
Not that she had ever thought of herself as innocent. Not since Lacuna's untimely death.
She turned from the window when the sirens burned her ears, flaming daggers made of sound and shoved white hot into her skull. She felt it start then, a ripple inspired by dissonance and discord, and thought of wings again, prayed for wings: for flight to the cosmos, to be kissed by the sun, if that's what it took to escape the dead world that was her prison.
To no avail.
She remembered reading of angels and seeing the photographs in another book her Uncle Stan had in his underground library, and asking, "Are they real?"
Her Uncle Stan, a distant twinkle in his cataract damaged eyes, said, "Of course they are," patting her nine-year-old head, the fire orange mop thick under his fingers. "Angels are everywhere."
"Let me see one," she'd said; insisted.
He pointed at the page, "There, my dear," and flipping to another page, "And there," and the pictures may have been beautiful, but they were only pictures.
Only pictures, drawings, not even photographs, not that it mattered to her. They were more real than photographs, anyway.
One's imagination was more real than reality, anyway. We all live in our heads ...
She learned this lesson after Mesirai.
Mesirai had been her first lover, even if it was only a kiss, their brief love. Mesirai had spoken of so much more, and his unlimited imagination had triggered within her a shifting, and with the shifting, his fear escalated to pronouncements of witchery, freakishness, "inhuman allegiance" — grasping at greased straws. What it amounted to was his lack of comprehension could not understand what she had become (as if she really understood herself): beautiful beyond compare, filling herself, her puttylike soul and flesh, with the words he had spoken and, more so, the thoughts that frolicked in the back of his brain: of leviathans that used to bound majestically in the deepest of oceans; of giants who roamed mountains and crushed boulders in their teeth; of angels (yes angels) made of leather and fire, plummeting from the heavens to this desolate rock; of monsters, so many monsters, beautiful and strange ...
She felt his coarse desire, felt the neurotransmitters as if they were her own, read the dashing sparks and shaped herself to fit his desire, and the doubts that followed, as she shifted. She became something of monstrous beauty, for him.
And he'd screamed as if a nightmare had overtaken his waking hours and devoured his vision; his soul.
She'd felt the scream as well, felt it flow through her like blades of lava: crisp burn to serrated igneous formations that caressed her spine, vertebra singing as her shifting went liquid. And the maw, vast and lined with diamonds that sparkled as stars, opening to the blackened gulf where all hope was devoured; annihilated ...
She destroyed him without conscience, because while shifting, her conscience was rendered unnecessary; not a part of the process. Conscience might impede her shifting, dim the full persuasion of myth and dreams and the mind of her partner, brief partner: a beginning, without reciprocation.
When she'd come around, that sliver of time between shifting and being, Mesirai'd been slaughtered, much as Lacuna had been slaughtered, without compunction; pain, yes, but she understood in situations like this, the remains meant that the other had done something to inspire her to become something different. (Perhaps reluctantly — the unrestricted animal affections of Lacuna were evidence of this — and without pure understanding, though she could not deter the results: it was what was buried deepest within their psyches that fed the beast.)
Worse yet, the omnipresent cameras had caught her transformation. Sirens wailed and she took darkened hallways and stairwells down to the street, shifting every floor, so that the person who emerged could in no way be mistaken for the person — the beast — that killed Mesirai those many floors above her, or even the person captured in the lens from the floor above.
The pictures posted on newscasts and across internet avenues were her, she knew this, but she so altered her appearance that even she wouldn't have been sure if not for the knowledge, the experience.
(Well, the person part of her was sure; the beast part was something she turned her head from, not wanting to know the true nature of this occasional condition of her soul. Yes, she understood: without control, she was chaos personified.)
And though it'd been months since she last lost control, and with the grim recollection of Mesirai those many years ago still clear in her memory, she had obviously lost control here.
Thea could run again, but to what consequence? She realized there was no escape from what she was: an anomaly, neither human nor monster.
She'd never been able to shift into something she truly wanted to be: angel, mist ...
She'd only been able to keep it at bay, until her adrenaline rushed with the dreams of another. All she wanted to do was to love and be loved, but the aberration that stained her soul disallowed even this. What it saw was always horrific.
Was that what love really was, horrific?
She turned from the window as the sirens died below her.
Tonight, there would not be wings.
She sighed, harboring the knowledge that she would never know what it was to be fully human.
She sighed and her eyes rested on the statue at the end of the hallway of her latest destroyed lover. Almost lover ...
The thought was crisp, without design, yet full of magic. She smiled: magic, something this sad world had surrendered to obsolescence.
She'd run from many places in this world, but this place, full of technical wonders and ancient religions, would be her final home. Because she sensed within the brittle yet sturdy old bones of this place, an understanding of magic that still lingered as potent.
She'd always run from her destiny, from those who experienced her misguided wrath, her aspirations as corrupted by the beast that ruled her soul. She had always wanted something she could never experience because the beast wanted something else, be it harsh truths or misguided avariciousness.
Tonight, there would not be wings, but there would be love, just not as she had always thought love would be for her. Then again, we are all subject to our own definitions of love, often finding out those definitions are wrong. And making do with this new wisdom.
Shifting now, with purpose: the low vibratory hum of corpuscles harmonizing within the torrents of Earth's first dawn, a chorus of life on the brink. Viscous flesh thickening in the boiling saltwater of her atavistic soul, congealing as sentient slime. The momentary blink of bones and muscles, viscera and organs — liquefied — as she attained the amorphous state in between, where black dreams and the quest for happiness jousted for control.
And pain beyond comprehension, beyond breath and sky, beyond wind and madness.
The shadows scattered from her with blown dandelion efficiency as she shifted. The prismatic patina of her eyes belied their allegiance to visions black and white, flickering as a light bulb about to die. She swirled, a compressed tornado, an anatomical atrocity, the final stage of her transformation before she became that which she felt was her last chance at love or survival in this world.
When the door burst inward from the force of a shoulder being purposefully rammed into it, three men rushed in, security officers having witnessed her previous indiscretion via the ubiquitous cameras. They arched their heads to peer around a corner, knowing what to find — the cameras had caught the ferocity in which she had mutilated her latest failed lover. It still elicited shock, for the smells and fading heat overtook their senses, taking in the body draped across the daybed, an elephant carved into the back, plush pillows drenched in blood. Blood clotted the interlocked gears of the still ticking clock embedded in the elaborate designs of the teak end table, and stained the Persian rug, the intricate weave of silk and wool and thin wire coated with the drying, sticky fluid.
Turning to their left, their eyes grew large, taking in the wondrous spectacle that stood tall at the end of the hallway. Tongues knotted in dry mouths, all speech was rendered useless. What stood before them denied the privilege. They immediately dropped to their knees in reverence; both fear and love — a love inspired by awe, and fear — took hold of them as they knelt, heads bowed to the floor.
Was this love?
Thea stepped out of the shadows so they could fully take in the true aspirations of her soul. As well as she knew it, at least. A matter of choice, this time; a matter of choice and no struggle from the beast. There was relief settling in her six limbs. Four arms and two legs, three eyes and dark, blue-tinted translucent skin.
There was a sense of being what she always should have been finally taking hold. Perhaps she was never human and this form was the form of her soul. Perhaps the desires she had always fostered were the desires of someone lost within themselves, in need of self-discovery.
The men cowered in supplication as she approached them, their dry mouths moistened with chants, pleading ...
Thea was dead now, her true spirit rising stronger with every breath.
Perhaps it was never love she really wanted, not in the insufficient way that what she may once have been so desired; not as human's love.
In her new flesh, fear and adoration mingled as one, and for what was once Thea, this form of ancient and eternal love would have to suffice.
Kali smiled, tongue lolling in amusement: her time had finally come.CHAPTER 2
She came in on the New England Trailways, trusted that far, although she noticed the driver kept an eye on her every time the big bus stopped. She came in at night, to the Park Square station across from the huge green they called the Boston Common. That much she knew — at the School they had told her a few things she should know in case she got lost. But she would not get lost, they said. She would be met there.
She waited until the last passenger got off, then reached to the rack above her seat and took down her single suitcase. She saw the driver was openly staring at her now so she smiled as she passed him. A modest smile only though.
That they said also, at the West Haven School: Maria, they said, you should always smile when strangers take an interest in you. Show them your pretty teeth. But always be sure to keep your eyes cast down, because you don't want people to think you forward.
They said many things, Maria thought as she pushed past the driver and down the steps to the concrete platform. She went in the terminal, seeing the driver reflected behind her in the plate glass door, nodding to someone who waited inside. She glanced around her — the entrance door to the street outside so near — the newspaper kiosk with headlines displayed about President Eisenhower; Nikita Khrushchev replacing Bulganin, or anyway trying; riots in London and Nottingham, England; more trouble in Little Rock some place down south; a musical show still playing in New York called West Side Story. She thought she was hungry and looked for a hot dog stand before remembering they hadn't given her any money — and then, the man, large, that the driver had nodded to, dressed in a dark and too-tight uniform, striding toward her.
He glanced at the clipboard he held in his hand. "You Sanchez?" he said.
"Sí. Maria Sanchez," she answered with a small curtsy. Always curtsy, Maria, they told her — and always speak English. "Yes," she corrected. "I'm here from Connecticut, from the West Haven School for Young Women."
The large man glanced down again. "From the reform school, you mean," he grunted. He reached toward her suitcase, as if to take it, then seemingly changed his mind. "You're lucky, Sanchez," he said, "Someone like you. Getting a job at all. With the recession, not even Americans can get jobs that easy."
He motioned for her to follow him out to the parking area behind the station, then opened the back door of a large sedan. Maria bristled, but scrambled inside, pulling her suitcase in behind her. Americans indeed! she thought. As if people "like her" were not American citizens too. And yet, she was lucky, she knew that as well — at nineteen years old, going on twenty, so they had told her, soon enough she would have to be leaving the School in any case, and without this job they had set up for her, it would be to prison.
Excerpted from Street Magick by Charles P. Zaglanis. Copyright © 2016 Charles P. Zaglanis. Excerpted by permission of Elder Signs Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsTHE OCCASIONAL BEAST THAT IS HER SOUL JOHN CLAUDE SMITH,
BOTTLES JAMES DORR,
BRANDED FOR HELL JAMES C. SIMPSON,
GROUNDING A MOCKINGBIRD D. H. AIRE,
CODEX VERITATIS DARIN KENNEDY,
HOW TO BEAT A HAUNTING EVAN OSBORNE,
WHATEVER THE MOON DECIDES SHERRY DECKER,
COME MR. TALLY-MAN ERIC DEL CARLO,
DEATH'S HARVEST NICOLE GIVENS KURTZ,
CHILDREN OF GOD COSTI GURGU,
VALKYRIE'S QUEST JOSH BROWN,
DRAGON FOUND STEVE LEWIS,
MIRACLE WORKER L CHAN,
THE GIFT CHARLES P. ZAGLANIS,
CHOOSE YOUR OWN EXCUSE CHRISTIN EDAIGLE,
THY SOUL TO HIM THOU SERVEST LEE CLARK ZUMPE,
IN A WITCHING MINUTE TARA MOELLER,