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Draw One in the Dark: Snippet Two

       Last updated: Wednesday, April 26, 2006 10:13 EDT



    And the Kyrie part of her mind, the human part, looked bewildered at the dragon wings which were a fantastic construction of bones and translucent glittering skin that faded from green to gold. And she thought that dragons weren’t supposed to look that beautiful. Particularly not a dragon whose muzzle was stained with blood.

    And on that, on the one word, she identified the enticing smell. Blood. Fresh blood. She remembered smelling it before the shape-shift. But it smelled nothing like blood through the big cat’s senses.

    With the feline’s sharp eyes, she could see, beneath the paws of the dragon, a dark bundle that looked like a human body.

    Human blood. And she’d almost lapped it.

    Shock and revulsion did what her fear couldn’t. They broke the human Kyrie out of the prison at the back of her own mind. Free, she pushed the animal back.

    Push and push and push, she told herself she must be Kyrie. She must be human. Kyrie was smart enough to run away before the dragon let out with fire.

    And never mind that the dragon might run her down, kill her. At least she would be able to think with a human mind.

    All of a sudden, the animal gave, and she felt the spasms that contorted her body back to two human legs, two human arms, the solidity of a human body, lying on the concrete, hands on the ground, toes supporting her lower body.

    She started to rise to run, but the dragon made a sudden, startled movement.

    It was not a spring to attack nor a cowering in fear. Either of those she could have accepted as normal for the beast. It was a vague, startled jump. A familiar, startled jump.

    Like coming on Tom around the corner of the hallway leading to the bathroom and meeting him coming out of it. Tom jumped that way, startled, not quite scared, and she always thought he’d been shooting up in there – must have been shooting up in there.

    Now the same guilty jump from the dragon, and the massive head swung down to her prone body, to look at her with huge, startled blue eyes. Tom’s eyes.



    Kyrie. His human mind identified her a second before his reptilian self, startled, scared, surprised, would have opened his mouth and let out with a jet of flame.

    His mouth opened, he just managed to control the flame. He tried to shape her name, but the reptilian throat didn’t lend itself to it.

    Tom felt his nictating eyelids blink, sideways, before his normal eyelids, the eyelids he was used to, blinked up and down.

    She stood up, slowly, shivering. She was honey-colored all over. Both sets of his eyelids blinked again. He’d always thought that she had a tan. No lines. And her breasts were much fuller than they looked beneath the uniform and apron – heavy, rounded forms miraculously, perfectly horizontal in defiance of gravity.

    He realized he was staring and looked up to see her looking into his eyes, horrified. He tried to shape an apology but what came out was a semi-growling hiss.

    “Tom,” she said, her voice raspy and hoarse, her eyes frightened and... pitying? “Tom, you killed someone.”

    Killed? He was sure he hadn’t. He stopped on a breath, then tasted in his mouth the metallic and – to his dragon senses – bright and delicious symphony of flavors that was blood.

    Blood? Human blood?

    The shock of it seemed to wake him. He looked down to see a corpse between his paws. His paws were smeared with blood. The corpse was a bundle, indistinct, neither male nor female, neither young nor old. It smelled dead. Freshly dead.

    Had he run someone down? Killed him? Had he?

    He tried to remember and he couldn’t. The dragon...

    He took his hand to his forehead, felt the clamminess of blood on his skin, and realized he was human again. Human, smeared with blood, standing by a corpse.

    And Kyrie had seen him kill someone.

    “No,” he said, not sure to whom he spoke. “Oh, please, no.”



    Tom’s voice was low at the best of times. Now it came out growly and raspy, like gravel dragging around on a river bottom. His transformation, much faster than hers, had been so fast that she’d hardly seen it.

    He stood by the corpse. Broad shoulders, small waist, muscular legs, powerful arms. A body that, except for his being all of five six, and for the track marks on his arms, could have graced the cover of body-building magazines. Only his muscles weren’t developed to the grotesque level the field demanded.

    And above it all, was a face that managed to make him look like a frightened little boy.

    His hair had come loose from the rubber band he used to confine it in a ponytail. Loose, it just touched his arms, in a rumple of irregular curls. His skin was pale, very pale all over. Not exactly vampire white. More like aged ivory, even and smooth. And his eyes were a deep, dark and yet somehow brilliant, blue.

    They now opened in total horror, as he stared at her and rasped, “I didn’t. Kill.”

    Her first reaction was to snap out that of course he had. She’d seen him by the corpse, his muzzle stained by blood. Then she remembered she’d almost lapped the blood, herself. Lapped. And she’d known what it was before shifting too.

    She shuddered, and remembered what the blood smelled like to the jungle cat. *The beast * as she’d learned to call it years ago, when she’d first turned into it. Or hallucinated turning into it, as she’d convinced herself had happened over time. That theory might have to be discarded now, unless she was hallucinating Tom’s shifting, too.

    “I don’t remember chasing,” he said. “Killing.”

    A look down at the corpse told her nothing, save that it had been mauled. But wouldn’t Tom... The dragon have mauled it anyway? Whether he’d killed it or not?

    Tom was looking down, horrified, trembling. Shock. He was in shock. If she left him here, he would stay like that. Till they were caught.

    She reached for his arm. His skin felt skin cold, clammy to the touch. Was it being the dragon? Or being naked in the night? Or the shock? She had to do something about the shock. No. She had to do something, period.

    “Come,” she said. “Come.”

    He obeyed. Like a child, he allowed her to pull him all the way to the back door of the diner.

    She stooped to pick up her clothes, trying not to get blood on them.



    Tom stumbled after Kyrie, confused. The parking lot was cold. He felt it on his wet skin. Wet. He looked down and saw patches of blood on his body. Human blood.

    “You’re shaking like a leaf,” Kyrie whispered. She opened the back door of the Athens and looked in, along the corridor that curved gently towards the bathroom. She said, “Go in. Quickly. Get into the women’s bathroom. Don’t lock. I’ll come.”

    He rushed forward, obeying. In his current state, he couldn’t think of doing anything but obeying. But a part of his brain, moving fast beneath the sluggish surface of his shocked mind, wondered why the women’s bathroom. Then he realized the women’s bathroom was just one large room and locked, while in the men’s restroom they’d managed to cram the stall and a row of urinals. And the outer door didn’t lock.

    Yeah, there would be more room in the women’s bathroom to clean up, he thought, even as he skidded into the door to the bathroom, on damp, bare feet.

    “Why didn’t you turn the light on?” Kyrie said, coming in after him, turning the light on.

    She went to the sink and started washing herself, making use of the paper towels and the water. Considering where she’d been, she had very little blood on her. Not like Tom. He tasted blood on his tongue.

    And now he was shaking again.

    “Stop that,” Kyrie said. She was clean now, and putting her clothes back on. How had she managed to get out of her clothes before shifting?

    He tried to remember his own clothes, and where he’d left them, but his memory was fogged and confused, intercut by the bright golden blur of the dragon’s thoughts.

    “Are you going to clean yourself or am I going to have to?” Kyrie asked. She’d somehow got fully dressed before he could notice. She stood there, looking proper, in her apron. She’d even put the earring back on her ear. She’d remembered to take that off. What was she? Some kind of machine?

    Tom pulled his hair back from his face. “I’m naked,” he said.

    “I’ve noticed,” she said, but she wasn’t looking. And now she had the expression back on her face – the expression she’d shown Tom since the first day he’d arrived at the Athens and Frank had offered him a job. The expression that meant he was no good, he was possibly dangerous, and that Frank was crazy to trust him.

    He knew she would glare at his track marks next and, damn it all, he hadn’t shot up since he’d got– Well, since he’d got the job. He stopped the thoughts of whatever else he’d got forcefully. You really never knew what the other dragons could hear. He didn’t think they were telepathic. He thought they were just watching him really closely. But he wasn’t about to bet on it. No way. He wasn’t about to let his guard down. He’d seen what they could do, way back when–

    He shook his head and took deep breaths to drive away his memory – which could force him to become a dragon as fast as the shine of the moon or the smell of blood. He concentrated on the thought that it was nearby – it. The treasure he’d stolen. The magic that helped him stay himself.

    A wet and cold paper towel touched his chest and he jumped. Kyrie’s glance at him held a challenge. “I’ll do it if I have to,” she said.

    He shook his head and pulled the towel from her hand, rubbing it briskly on his shoulders, his arms, his chest. He discarded it in the trash can, thinking about DNA evidence and trying not to. Telling himself he couldn’t have done it, he couldn’t have killed anyone. He couldn’t. He just couldn’t. That was something he couldn’t live with – knowing for sure he’d killed anyone.

    But the police would think– The police–

    He started shaking again and took deep breaths to control it. He folded another mass of paper towels and wet it and ran it on his face, his hands. The face looking back at him from the mirror looked more red than white, smeared with blood.

    Whose blood? Who had that person been, out in the parking lot? Tom didn’t remember anything. Nothing, before opening his eyes, staring at the dead body, and seeing Kyrie. And that wasn’t right. It had been like that at first, but it had given him more control and he was supposed to know what he’d done while in dragon form. He was supposed to remember.

    Kyrie was looking at him, attentively, cautiously, like a bomb expert trying to decide which wire to cut in a peculiar homemade contraption.

    Tom bit his tongue and managed a good imitation of his normal, gruff tone. “It’s all right,” he said. “I’m fine.”

    She cocked her head to one side, managing to convey wordlessly that there were about a million interpretations of *fine* and none of them applied to him. But aloud she said, “I’m going out for just a second. Lock up after me. When I come back I will knock once. Only once. Let me in when I do.”

    Tom locked the door behind her, obediently. He wondered where she was going, but it wasn’t like he had any room left to argue about what she might want to do. He should count himself lucky she hadn’t screamed bloody murder when she’d found him in the parking lot. Perhaps she should have screamed bloody murder. Wasn’t that the name for what he’d done? No– He hadn’t– He couldn’t–

    A muffled knock. He realized that not only had Kyrie been gone for a while, but also that he’d somehow managed to remove most of the red stains from his hands and face. His hair was a drying, sticky mass that he didn’t want to investigate, much less clean.

    “That will do,” she said. “You can wear these.” She extended to him, at the end of a stiff arm – like a person feeding a wild animal – what looked like a red jogging suit.

    “It’s mine,” she said, as though mistaking his hesitation for a belief that she’d mugged a vagrant for the clothes. Or taken them from the corpse. “I usually jog in the morning before going home. Safer here. It’s a main street.”

    He swallowed hard, trying not to think of what street would be less safe than Fairfax. But then if she lived nearby – as he did – in the interlacing warren of downtown streets, there would be many less safe. Well, not less safe in reality – the crime rate in Goldport was never that high and most deaths were crimes committed by and between gang members. But in the side streets, dotted with tiny houses, or with huge Victorian mansions long since turned into tiny apartments, a woman jogging alone in the wee hours of the morning would not be seen. And that, perhaps, meant she wouldn’t be safe – because she could disappear and not be noticed for hours.

    A thought that whoever tried to attack this woman would be far from safe himself crossed Tom’s mind and he beat it down. Perhaps that was what she was afraid of. Of being mugged in the dark street and killing–

    He grabbed the jogging suit. It felt too cold to his hands, and too distant – as if it weren’t real fabric but some fabric-like illusion that his senses refused to acknowledge fully. As if he weren’t really here. As if this were all a dream and he would, shortly, wake up back in the safety of his teenage room, in his father’s house, with his stereo, his tv, his game system, all those things he’d needed when life itself wasn’t exciting enough.

    The clothes fit. Of course they would fit. Kyrie was his height, just about, and while his shoulders were much broader, and his chest far more muscular, she had other... endowments. A memory of her in the parking lot swept like a wave over him, and he felt a warm blush climb his cheeks and adjusted his – her – jogging pants and prayed that she wasn’t focusing there just now.

    But he might have been too late, because she frowned as if she were about to ask if blood turned him on. She didn’t, though. Just said, “Wait for me. By the back door.”

    “The back?” he said. His voice came out too low and raspy. “But–”

    “You can’t walk through the diner like that. It’s clear your hair is caked with blood. Someone might notice and say something. Later. When... someone asks.”

    The police. But neither of them mentioned it.

    “I’m going to tell Frank I’m going out for a moment,” she said.

    He nodded. She was efficient. She was determined. And she was helping him. It was more than he could have hoped for. And certainly no fault at all of hers if it made him feel helpless and out of control.

    As he hadn’t been in six months.



    Kyrie wasn’t sure what she was going to tell Frank. She had some idea he’d already be on simmer from what he would see as her sudden disappearance. In the ten steps between the bathroom and the diner proper, she ran her options through her mind – she could tell him she felt ill. She felt ill enough after the mess in the parking lot and the more specific mess in the bathroom. And the last thing any greasy spoon owner wanted was to have a sick employee – visibly sick – tending to tables. On the other hand, if she did that, she was going to be some hours short this month. Because there was no way she could come back again tonight. And there was rent to pay.

    She didn’t know what she going to say at all until she emerged from the corridor into the yellowish light of the diner and said, “Frank, I need a few minutes, to go to Tom’s.” Which made perfect sense as she said it. A few minutes should suffice to go to Tom’s house, because Tom walked here, and if Tom walked here, he couldn’t live very far away. That meant a couple of minutes would also see him back to his home with no problem at all. And her back here, pretending she’d just dropped by his place.

    Frank was attending to the students’ table and had the sort of look on his face that meant he was trying very hard not to explode. Kyrie had worked for him for a year and she’d been a reliable employee, never late, rarely sick and trustworthy enough to be left alone with the register on occasion. None of which were easy to come by in a college town in Colorado for the late night shift and considering what Frank was willing to pay.

    He looked over his shoulder at Kyrie, and his brows beetled together, nonetheless, and he managed, “What? More minutes?”

    “Tom is sick,” she said. “He called me.” Let Frank wonder why and how she’d given Tom her cell phone number. “He wants me to buy him some stuff at the pharmacy and drop it by. Over the counter stuff,” she added, thinking that most of what Tom probably took was not over the counter.

    Frank looked like he was going to say something like that, for just a moment, but he gave it up. Probably he couldn’t imagine Kyrie buying illegal drugs. And in that he would be right. She got enough lawlessness in her everyday life, enough to hide and disguise, that she did not need any more adrenalin.

    So Frank shrugged, which might be taken for agreement, and Kyrie rushed back down the hallway, hoping to find Tom, hoping Tom hadn’t shifted, hoping that for once things would go well. For just this once.

    Tom was where she expected him – at the back of the diner, facing the door to the parking lot. He was pale and had started trembling again, and there wasn’t much she could say or do for that. She wondered if he’d killed the man. She didn’t want to think about it. It didn’t matter. If he had, could she blame him? She knew the confusion of mind, the prevalence of the beast-self over every civilized learning, every instinct, even. How could she accuse someone else who’d given in perhaps further?

    Of course she could, a deeper voice said, because she didn’t give in. She’d fought her – as she’d thought – hallucinations tooth and nail and she’d held onto a normal life of sorts. No friends, no family, no one who might discover what she’d thought was her hideous madness, but she made her own money, she lived her own life.

    She managed a weak smile at Tom by way of reassurance, as she turned the key and opened the door.

    She took a deep breath to steel herself against the smell of blood, the light of the moon. She must stay in control. She must.

    But she wasn’t ready for the other smell – the hot, musky and definitely male smell that invaded her nostrils as she stepped onto the parking lot.

    Dizziness and her mouth went dry and her whole body started fluttering on the verge of shifting shape, and she told herself no. No. Regained control just in time to see it, at the edge of the parking lot, under one of the lights.

    Not it. Him. The smell was clear as a hallelujah chorus in her head. He was at the edge of the parking lot, and he was tawny and huge and muscular.

    A lion. He was a lion. Was he a lion like she was a panther and Tom was a dragon, or...

    Or what? An invader from the vast Colorado savannah outside Goldport? Where lions and zebras chased each other under the hot tropical sun?

    She shook her head at her own silliness.

    Behind her, Tom drew breath, noisily. “Is it?” he asked.

    “Yes,” she said.

    “But–” He drew breath again and something – something about the movement of his feet against the asphalt, something about his breathing, perhaps something about his smell (since when could she smell people this way?) made her think he was about to run.

    She put out a hand to his arm. “Do not run,” she said. “Walk steadily.”

    His arm felt cold and smooth under her hand. Light sprinkling of hair. Very little of it for a male. Perhaps being a dragon... She didn’t want to think of that. She didn’t want to think of Tom, muzzle deep in blood.

    Which of course, meant the lion could smell them. Smell the blood on them. “You mustn’t run,” she said. “We... Cats are triggered by motion. If you run he will give chase. Walk slowly and steadily towards my car. The small white one. Come.”

    They made their way slowly, steadily, across the parking lot, in the reek of blood. Perhaps the lion wouldn’t be able to smell Tom in the overwhelming smell.

    Perhaps they could make it to the car. Perhaps... Perhaps the moon was made of green cheese and it would rain pea soup tomorrow.

    He smelled powerful, musky. She could hear him draw breath, was aware of the touch of paw pads on the asphalt. She felt those movements as if they were her own, her heart accelerating and seeming to beat at her throat, suffocating her.

    Paw touching asphalt, and paw touching asphalt, and paw touching asphalt. Measured steps. Not a run. Please don’t let it be a run.

    And her movements matched his -- slow, measured, trying to appear unconcerned, escorting Tom to the car, guiding him.

    Tom walked like a wooden puppet. Was he that terrified of the lion? Didn’t he know in his dragon form he was as big? Bigger? Stronger? Why was he afraid?

    But her rational self understood. He was afraid because he was in human form. And every human at the back of his mind feared the large felines who lurked in the shadows and who could eat him in two bites.

    Kyrie herself was sweating and cold by degrees, and felt as if her legs were made of water, as she concentrated on following the beast’s movements by sound.

    They hit the moonlight, out of the shadow of the diner and into the fully illuminated parking lot. The heat of it felt like fire playing over Kyrie’s skin and she kept her head lowered. She took deep breaths. Her heartbeat echoed some old jungle rhythm but she told herself she would not, she would not, she could not shift.

    And the smell of him – of the lion – enveloped her, stronger than ever. Her senses, sharpened from wanting to transform, gave her data about him that a mere nose should not be able to gather. That he was young. That he was healthy. That he was virile.

    She pulled Tom forward, and the lion followed them at a distance -- step, step, step, unhurried, unafraid. She prayed he wouldn’t start running. She prayed he wouldn’t leap. And inside, deep inside, she felt as if he was toying with her. Playing. Like a cat with a mouse.

    She was not a mouse.

    Sweat formed on her scalp, dripped towards her eyes, made her blink. The car loomed in front of her, white and looking much bigger than it usually did. Looking like safety.

    Kyrie pushed her key fob button to unlock it, and felt as if her fingers slipped on the smooth plastic, as though she had claws and unwieldy paws.

    No. She must not. She must remain human. She must.

    Breathing deeply and only managing to inhale more unabashed male musk, she shoved Tom, slightly, and said, “Go around to the passenger side. Get in.”

    *Go, give him a divided target. Go, but for the love of all that’s holy, don’t stop. Don’t stop. Don’t let him catch you.* She didn’t know which she feared most. The idea of being attacked of the idea of seeing Tom attacked, of seeing Tom torn to pieces. Of shifting. Of joining in.

    She shuddered as her too clumsy fingers struggled with the car handle. She saw Tom open the door on the other side. Get in. She struggled with the handle.

    And the lion was twenty steps away, crouching in the full light of the moon, augmented by the light of a parking lot lamp above her. He was crouching, front down low and hindquarters high.

    Hindquarters trembling. Legs bunching.

    Jump. He was going to–

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