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Draw One in the Dark: Snippet Three

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



    But her other mind... Her other mind practically died in the ecstatic smell of healthy young male. Her other mind thought the lion knew her, guessed her, smelled her for an equal. That the lion wanted– Not to eat her.

    She realized she’d closed her eyes, when she felt him landing near her – landing with all four paws on the asphalt. Not on her, but so close to her she felt the breeze of his falling, and smelled him, smelled him hot and strong and oh, so impossibly male.

    She felt her body spasm, wish to shift. She fought it. She struggled to stay herself.

    Through half-open eyes, she saw a lion’s face turned towards her, its golden eyes glowing, its whole expression betraying... smugness?

    Then it opened its mouth, the fangs glowing in the light and a soft growl started at the back of its throat. She didn’t know if it was threatening her or...

    Something to the growl – something to the sound crept along her nerves like a tingle on the verge of aching. If she stayed– If she stayed...

    The car door opened, shoving her. She leapt aside, to avoid being pushed into the lion. A hand reached out of the car, dragged her. She fell onto her seat. Blinked. Tom. Tom had pulled her into the car.

    “Drive,” Tom said. “Drive.”

    He reached across her, as he spoke and slammed the door. From outside, the lion made a rumbling sound that might have been amusement.

    She didn’t remember turning the ignition. She didn’t remember stepping on the gas. But she realized she was driving down Fairfax. Tall, silent apartment houses succeeded each other on either side of the road, lighted by sporadic white pools of light from the street lamps.

    “Where do you live?” she managed, glancing at Tom. Part of her wanted to tell him she hadn’t been afraid, she hadn’t been...

    But she wasn’t even sure she could explain what she’d been. She had been afraid. That was a huge beast. But also, at some level, she was afraid she would end up shifting, cavorting with him. Over a half-devoured human carcass.

    “Two blocks down,” Tom said, and swallowed, as if he’d had the same thought at the same time. “Audubon apartments. On the left.”

    She remembered the place. Not one of the graceful Victorian remnants, but half a dozen rectangular red-brick boxes sharing a parking lot. During the day there were any number of kids playing in the parking lot, and usually one or two men working on cars or drinking beer.

    Now, in the dark of night, it was silent and ill lit. As she pulled into the parking lot, Tom asked. “It was one of us, wasn’t it?”

    “Pardon?” she said. She knew what he meant. She knew all too well. He was asking if the lion was like them. If the lion too had a human form and one not so human. But Kyrie had managed, until very recently to convince herself she only had one form and that everything else was hallucination. Mental illness.

    Now this whole thing felt like mental illness. She parked the car, turned the engine off.

    “You know...” Tom said. His blue eyes were earnest, and he plucked at her sleeve like a little kid seeking reassurance. “You know, a shape-shifter. Like us.”

    She shrugged. “Seems unlikely it escaped from a zoo,” she said. “Someone would have given the alarm, wouldn’t they?”

    Tom nodded, as if considering this. “What.... what did it want?”

    Kyrie shrugged. She wanted to say he wanted everything but all she had to go on was the smell. And she didn’t wish to discuss her response to the smell with Tom.

    “Do you think it killed the... person?”

    Did you? Kyrie thought, but only shrugged. How did you ask someone who looked as bewildered and shocked as Tom if he’d committed murder? And was she really feeling sorry for Tom? Must be going soft in the head.

    Tom got out of the car, patted down where the pockets would be in normal pants and Kyrie realized he wouldn’t have keys.

    But he turned around and said, “Thank you for driving me,” and pushed the door as if to close it.

    “Wait, do you have keys?”

    He shrugged. “The neighbor usually keeps them,” he said. “For me. I keep his.”

    His? For some reason it had never occurred to Kyrie that someone like Tom could entrust his key – or anything else – to a male. If she’d thought of his social life outside work at all, she imagined a never-ending succession of sweet things across his mattress. But now she realized she was probably wrong. It was unlikely there was anyone on his mattress. He had come from a homeless shelter. And he was a dragon.

    “Keith keeps my key and I keep his... So if we lose it while we’re out,” Tom said, an edge of impatience in his voice. “He’s a college student. They lose their keys.” He hesitated a minute. “Gets stinking drunk too.” He said it as if he, himself, never took any mind-altering substances.

    And out of nowhere, an altruistic impulse, or perhaps the thought that he’d saved her – from what? – with the lion in the parking lot, made her get out. “I’ll come with you,” she said. “To make sure you get in okay.”

    She had a feeling, a strange feeling something was wrong. Wrong with this parking lot, with this entire area. There was a feeling of being watched and not in a friendly manner, but she wasn’t sure by whom, or how. Any other day, any other time, she would have shrugged it off. But now... Well... perhaps she was picking up smell or something. Something was definitely wrong.

    She got out of the car, unsteady on her legs, glad that the moonlight was hidden by the shadows of the buildings. The pressure of the full moonlight was all she needed now. At the same time, she felt as if the buildings themselves were looming shapes waiting to jump her.

    It wasn’t possible, was it? For the buildings to be shifters? With a human form? What was this? How many people did it afflict? And why was she afraid?

    She wasn’t sure of anything anymore. Sweat trickled down her back and her legs felt like water while she followed Tom to the steps outside the door of the nearest building.



    “Keith might not be home,” Tom said, pressing the button. Actually, it was damn bloody sure that Keith Vorpal would not be home. Keith was a film student at Goldport College and somewhat of a ladies’ man. One or the other tended to keep him out of the house on warm summer nights. He always assumed Tom had the same sort of life and only seemed somewhat amused Tom managed to come home naked so often. He took Tom’s mutters of some good beer or a glass too many and asked no questions. Which in itself would be worrisome, except that Keith’s own life was such a mess of perils and odd adventures that he probably took it for granted everyone else’s life was that crazy. And no worse.

    Their arrangement with the keys rested on a vague hope that one of them might be home when the other needed a key. So far it had worked out, more or less. But there was always the chance...

    Tom rang again. A buzz he recognized as Keith’s voice came through the loudspeaker. He couldn’t actually understand what Keith said, but he could guess. “It’s Tom, man,” Tom said. “Lost my key, somehow...”

    Another buzz that Tom – with long practice – understood to mean that he should ring Keith’s door and Keith would give him the key. Then the front door clicked open.

    “Sorry there’s no elevator, but–” Tom started, and shut up. Most apartment buildings in Goldport, much less most apartment buildings in Downtown Goldport didn’t have elevators. He must be having flash backs to his childhood in an upscale NY condo.

    As it was, the Audubon was more upscale than the places he’d lived in the last five years even when he’d been out of the shelter. There were no rats. The cement stairs covered in worn carpet were clean enough and didn’t smell of piss. And if, now and then, like on the third floor, you could hear a baby cry through the thin door of an apartment, you could be sure the little tyke had just awakened and needed to nurse, and not that he was being beaten within an inch of his life.

    These were solid working class apartments, where people scrimped and saved to get by and might wear clothes from thrift shop racks, but where most families had two parents and both parents worked, and where kids went to school and played, instead of doing drugs. Or selling them.

    Yeah, it could be much, much worse. Tom rubbed his hand across his face as he climbed, as fast as his feet would carry him up to the third floor. He hated with shifting shape – particularly shifting shape when he didn’t mean to and staying shifted for... hours, he guessed as his last memory was from when the moon first appeared in the sky, around maybe nine. He wondered what he’d been doing. It had been months since shifting had come with such total memory loss.

    If he could find his clothes, he would know what had happened, but right now he only had a memory of fear – of fleeing. And then nothing at all until he’d come to himself in that parking lot, with Kyrie staring at him and the bloodied corpse at his feet.

    They’d reached the landing on the third floor and he lurched to Keith’s door on the left, and pushed the doorbell. Despite his having called, he didn’t expect a fast response and didn’t get it. From inside came Keith’s voice and a higher, clearly female voice, and then the sound of footsteps, something falling, more footsteps.

    Tom smiled despite himself, guessing that Keith had still been explaining to his visitor why the doorbell had rung from downstairs, when it rang again up here.

    When the door opened, Keith looked disheveled and sleepy. He was a young kid – although to be honest he might be older than Tom. Tom just perceived him as much younger than himself -- perhaps because Keith didn’t shift. Keith was blond and generally good looking. Right then, he was blinking, his blue eyes displaying the curiously naked look of the eyes of people who normally wore glasses and suddenly found themselves without.

    His hair was a mess and he looked confused, but he was grinning as he handed Tom a set of keys. Though the student held the door almost closed, Tom glimpsed a redheaded girl behind Keith. He felt a little envious. It had been years since he’d even dreamed of sharing his bed with anyone. He could never guarantee he wouldn’t shift and scare a date halfway to death. Or worse.

    Then he realized Keith was looking enviously at him. Tom followed the direction of Keith’s gaze, and saw Kyrie standing just behind him, hands on hips, as though daring Keith to make a comment. And Tom felt at the same time ridiculously pleased that Keith thought he could be involved with someone like Kyrie and a little jealous of Keith’s admiration for her. Keith didn’t even know her. He didn’t even know who she was. He didn’t know that she shifted, as well.

    “Thanks,” Tom said, a little more dryly than he should. He snatched the key from Keith’s hand and started up the stairs at a faster clip than he should, considering how he felt.

    Keith grinned. “No problem. But I have to go back. This girl is something else. She swears she saw a dragon flying over the building. A dragon.” He shook his head.

    A dragon. Tom managed a noncommittal sound of empathy. Probably Tom. But Tom didn’t dare ask questions about what he’d been doing or what direction he’d been flying. Instead, he turned and started up the stairs. Up and up and up, to his fifth floor landing, Kyrie’s steady gait keeping pace with his.

    His door was... locked. He let out a breath he hadn’t been aware of holding in. After all, he did not know how or when he’d shifted and all he had was the memory of fear, of running away. It was possible they had found him in his apartment. It was possible... If they’d figured out his name, and they must have by now, it would have been easy.

    But the door was locked, his doormat looked untouched. Everything was as it should be. No light came under his door. Everything was normal at least to human senses and he didn’t want to use his dragon senses. He didn’t want to reach for that other self, for fear it would bring them. And for fear of what he might do. He swallowed hard, thinking of the corpse.

    There could be nothing odd in his apartment. The only reason his hand trembled was because of his being so tired. And the corpse and everything.

    He slid the key in and turned it.



    In the moment before Tom opened the door Kyrie had a wild surge of panic. She wanted to tell him to wait, but she couldn’t speak. And she didn’t know why he should wait. She just had a feeling – added up from rustling, from sounds she could not possibly have heard, from an odd smell, from a weird tingle up her spine – that something was wrong, very wrong.

    Perhaps Tom was going to drag her into his apartment and– And what? Imagination failed her. She had seen him in that bathroom, so slow and confused he didn’t even seem to know how to wipe away blood from himself. She had seen him standing there, helpless. She could hardly believe he would now turn around and rape her.

    On the other hand, didn’t they sacrifice virgins to dragons in the Middle Ages? She almost smiled at the thought of Tom as virgin-despoiler. The way he looked, he’d have trouble beating away the ones who threw themselves at him. Kyrie managed to calm herself completely, when Tom reached in and turned on the light.

    The light revealed an unprepossessing living room, with the type of dark brown carpet that landlords slapped down when they didn’t expect to rent to the upper echelons of society. But the rest...

    The furniture, what there was of it – splinters of bookcase, remnants of couches with ugly brown polyester covering – seemed to have been piled up in the middle of the room as if someone had been getting ready to light a bonfire. And the window – the huge picture window opposite – was broken. A thousand splinters littered the carpet. Books and pieces of books fluttered all over.

    Tom made a sound of distress and stepped into the room, and Kyrie stepped in behind him. He knelt by a pile of something on the carpet, and Kyrie focused on it, noticing shreds of denim, and what might or might once have been a white t-shirt. And over it all, a torn purple rag, with the Athens logo. The Athens sent the aprons home with the employees to get laundered at employee expense.

    That meant that Tom had been ready to go to work when... The tingle in her spine grew stronger and the feeling that something was wrong, very wrong overwhelmed her. It was like a scream both soundless and so loud that it took over her whole thought, overcame her whole mind, reverberated from her whole being.

    “Tom,” she said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Tom, we’d best--”

    She never had time to finish. Someone or something, moving soundlessly behind them, had closed the door.

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