Blessed be the Dark, that hides us and nourishes us.
This was written on the wall, where I fed a few moments ago. I smile, my canines showing. I sit on the edge of the building, my head pounding, my heart beating against my chest, my bones re-setting themselves with audible cracks. It is the strength of the Ther, moving through my veins. I can feel it, under my skin, the flickering flame, ready to devour, to take, to hold on to nothing, and to take everything. Some call it hunger, and rejoice, while I call it evil, and I shrink from it. I know what it means to see as I see, and to feel the Ther in me, trying to escape to the surface. Whoever wrote this did not know Ther hunger, or the rage of which it is capable. They were nothing but a bunch of Goths, who had no true understanding of what Ther is like.
I am worse than the Hunters. They can hold on to their humanity, because they are not truly beasts. Their instincts are alien, and do not meld well with the human mind. Thus, they stay sane. I, on the other hand, am mad. I feel too much, and feelings are my enemy. I used to have friends, but now, I’m afraid of showing my face. I might hurt someone, or myself.
I look down, unto the wall, again. I wonder if perhaps, a Ther had written those words after all. It is the darkness that hides me, and nourishes me, even if in a different way from the romantic pictures of a predator of the night. I am no such thing. Certainly, I am beautiful, in my own way, but I have no need for the blood of innocents, or the lust of the deranged. I crave only contact, however brief. As if they would give it to me!
I tear down the side of the building, my talons, for that is what my fingers have become after the Fall, taking chunks of concrete and brick out. What did I ever do to deserve this! I am a cat! I can rip out the throat of a grown bull with a single swipe of my talons. Run on all fours, or walk on two legs, it doesn’t matter to me! I am a madman…. I stop, on the ground now, looking in a puddle. It’s me, looking back. Short, well-groomed feline looks at me, his black fur and tiny points of the upper canines in contrast to each other. Am I a madman?
Seven years ago, the Fall happened. Before then, I was a proper citizen of New York, not the monster of New City. I was human, and studied at a good college. I loved parties, back then, the nightclubs and coffee houses taking my breath away. It was an easy life. I lived in an apartment with two others, John and Shimao. John was the extravert, always telling me to be a bit more relaxed, to make a party out of life. His father was some kind of big boss for a company, I remember. He lost it after the Fall, went completely insane, and was taken in by an asylum. Some say he got better, but I don’t think so.
Shimao was the opposite. He was focused, and always took everything seriously, including, for some strange reason, magic. He was part-Japanese, but was neither a Buddhist nor Christian, preferring to pray to the Lord and Lady, as he called his gods. Still, despite his strange religion, he was the only one of us who ever made anything out of his life. He learned everything he could about biology and physics, saying Biotechnology was a better field than my Creative Writing major, and he was right. When New York became New City, Shimao went and got a sci-license from the BCI, Bureau of Changed Investigation. He became a hunter for them, searching out new, dangerous Changed, and looking for clues as to what plagues caused what changes in humanity. Last time I checked the paper, he found a new form of Changed-the Skinwalkers, he called them. As if they were the monsters of legend.
I cry, softly at first, and then breaking into sobs as I look at myself in the dark water. If Shimao saw me now, he would no doubt never recognize me. I can only hope that if he saw me, he wouldn’t shoot. The Ther, after all, are the second most dangerous form of Changed. I stand up from my position on the ground, and spitting in the puddle, begin to walk eastward, to the Old Districts. There is always great talk in the Old Districts, and most people don’t pay attention to a cat like me. Half of the population there is stoned or out of touch with reality, and the sane half tries to ignore the Fall. The tears in my eyes dry off as I remember the faces. There are the old ladies with umbrellas, who, if they ever saw who was following their small-talk, would have heart attacks. There are kindly nuns from a Catholic school outside the Old District, who often stopped by to leave some supplies for the poor. They didn’t seem to notice that a monster wearing an overcoat, black fur, and claws like the Devil himself, picked up a few cans of beef stew now and then. There are families there, whose love I share, if only by looking into the cracks of their doors. I love it there. It’s the most peaceful place a Changed can find, and I have the honor of living there.
As I slip by a police officer on break, I overhear a snatch of a news alert on the radio. Someone is causing trouble by the Hudson again. Must be the Kings again. The Weird took almost an hour to clean up that mess, and they put down the New City Rebellion in twenty minutes. They say the Kings hired two Ther and six Hunters. In the end, the Ther are dead, and the Hunters and their King superiors are taken into custody. I run down a side street, trying to control my anger. Ther are killed, and the Hunters spared? Who is more dangerous? I want to go out and smash something, but I know what would happen if I did that. I would be killed, and have my body dissected. But, even as I look up at the wall before me, trying to stopper my rage, there it was again, written in a bloody red.
Our world is memory, and our people are many.
Who would write this? I look around me, sniffing the air. The smell shifts, as if it’s alive. I seek it, and wish I were a dog-based Ther. Suddenly, I feel something familiar. This smell is human, and covered by something. Tear gas, maybe? No, I can tell if it’s tear gas. This smell is more like perfume, or incense. I remember something like it, once. It’s a smell of burning herbs, like the ones Shimao used. But, why here? I try to think about it for a moment, but I cannot help but feel overwhelming, brain-numbing sadness every time I take a whiff of the air. I remember how I chased Shimao away.
I remember how afraid I was when I got the first symptoms of the blue flu. I prayed that I would die. There was little I could do as I felt the plague slowly spread through me, though. I did not even have enough strength to kill myself. It hurt unlike anything I ever felt when the Changes began. I dreamt I flew through the air, then fell into the heart of the planet, burning up. My body died, and was reborn, torn apart and reformed. I felt death many times, but somehow, I was always spared. It hurt when I felt my body finally assume its shape, and it hurt when I came into my powers, and saw that only one of my friends, Shimao, survived with his sanity intact. Then, Shimao told me he was going to work for the BCI. I picked him up by his throat, my claws cutting deep into his flesh, and I told him to leave. I told him that the BCI will hunt my kind, and kill every single Changed. There was such anger in my voice, I wondered if I have gone insane. He passed out from the loss of blood even as I finished my hateful tirade. I called the ambulance, and ran off, afraid that Shimao would kill me once he regained his health. I was a coward. I should have stayed. Maybe, then, I would feel less like an outcast, and feel friendship was possible.
Suddenly, there is a cracking sound to my left, near the dumpsters, where even my smell failed me, and I break away from my thoughts. I circle the metal container warily, and try to detect what is inside. Neither my ears, nor my nose, can tell me what I’m dealing with. Then, the plastic cover is lifted, broken off its hinges as something pale, covered in stitches, tufts of fur and hair sticking out, jumped out. I closed my eyes, expecting the beast to kill me where I stand. Then, I hear a faint whisper:
"Don’t be afraid…you have brothers here…in the Old District…" the creature had to take pauses in its speech, as if it was hard to work its tongue around the words. "You are not evil…look at the walls…and be happy…that BCI gave us this place…to grow into power."
"Who are you?" I say, and open my eyes. Before me stands a sight both terrible and beautiful. A creature made from parts of others, tall, slender, muscular and unnaturally graceful in movement, threads that hold it together colored a deep green, greets me. Its eyes are cat-like, face covered by bright green scales, it’s torso like a bird’s, and its hands made from the paws of a Hunter, large and sharp-clawed. It’s legs, mercifully clothed in a pair of dirty pants, seem strangely formed, and the feet that emerge from the cloth are those of a chimpanzee. I cannot trace any smell from it, nor the beating of its heart or any intake of breath.
"I am a Skinwalker…John." It, or rather he, judging by the name, looks down at me, a smile forming on his face. Something clicks behind me, and he grabs my hand.
"Don’t turn…around…it will be better."
I turn around. Behind me, there is man, bound from head to foot in protective armor, holding a pistol. A BCI agent, with a sci-license, about to shoot at me. I can tell. They always have sci-licenses, when they take out a gun before telling you your rights according to the Last Amendment. It’s even in their policy. Anyone with a sci-license has to draw the gun first, so that a Changed doesn’t try to run away or attack while the officer reads off a pointless list.
"You have the right to protect your previous identity, unless you have committed high treason. You have the right to know your condition, including any mutations you may possess. You have the right to remain silent, withhold genetic material, and control your reaction to truth-sensing officers. You have the right to know why you are under arrest. You are under arrest for a temporary check-up due to your current unknown status as a Changed. Please do not refuse the arrest, or I will be forced to shoot." He smiles. "Well, now that this unpleasant business is over, why don’t you come with me?" He puts the gun in its holster and walks up to me, offering his hand. It’s a trick. That purpose of the arrest is fake. They always kill their quarry.
"The name is…" He never gets a chance to finish. While I was shocked, feeling dreamy when he talked, I acted as soon as his hand moved away from his weapon. I jump, knocking him unconscious with my paws. I feel my shoulder pop, and my neck crack, but the pain does not register. Behind me, I can hear the Skinwalker curse and begin running after me. I’m not sure he is as fast as I am, but it does not matter. I fall to the ground, letting my skeleton reform enough to run on all fours, and escape. There, into another side street, I run.
Love is a world’s cement, when all else fails.
I laugh, and fall on the ground. I’m running to my death, no matter where I go. The BCI will kill me, whatever I do. These words are lies, I want to scream at the evil creatures that follow me. But, are they? Maybe, Shimao was right, and the BCI is built to protect, not destroy…no, I cannot think this. Pain envelopes my body, but I struggle up on my two legs, my body cracking, my bones rubbing against the muscles, other bones. My anger heals me. Soon, the Ther is completely out, and I roar at the two running towards me. I grab one, the Skinwalker, and dash him against a wall with no effort at all. The other shoots me. It feels like a hot ember burning into my stomach. He shoots again, and I cry out, tears bursting from my eyes. I fall to my knees, whimpering softly, holding my belly, still trying to kill the BCI scum. My strength, fueled by my wrath, is running out, though. Then, a cold, clammy hand holds my shoulder.
"I’m sorry…brother…you would have been…good."
Then, I feel darkness closing over me, the pain in my underside slowly fading into nothingness.
I can hear something. Voices are talking above me.
"I’m so sorry, friend."
"But, I had to shoot him in the stomach. Ther feel the worst pain from such wounds. I made him suffer unnecessarily."
"He threw…me…and would have…killed you…Besides, he is not…dead."
"You didn’t see the fear and pain in his eyes, when I shot him that second time."
I feel hands picking me up gently, carrying me.
"Are you…afraid…he will die?"
"I know he won’t, but it’s so hard to deal with Ther when they are scared of you. It’s almost as bad as dealing with a Vampire Flyer, and they are the most dangerous Changed we’ve ever tracked."
"You…forget how good…it feels to help them."
"Hell no, John. I won’t give up. But, it’s like dealing with addicts. The before picture will always haunt me, but the after gives me hope."
I disappear into nothingness, and dream of wandering the streets, speaking with others, and flying high above the city.
I wake up. There is a small patch on my shoulder, and my stomach is bound by several bandages. It feels like I got run over by a truck, but I am alive. Though, I am afraid of what the others think of me.
Several days ago, I met Shimao again. He has changed, but he still thinks I am not focused. He told me what an idiot I was, and even hugged me, crying. I did not enjoy it, but he let me go several days later. Though, I wonder if he thinks that I am insane. Perhaps, I am…I cannot bear to see other men, yet I am drawn to living as they do. My anger is terrible, yet what makes me a monster also makes me gentler. I remember Byron, and Pushkin, and Poe, as I read the words on the wall…
Take our hands into your paws, for we are mankind.
A small, homeless man makes his way across the street, and in his hand, winking in the night, a red spray-paint can.
Perhaps, we are all human, after all, I wonder as I shift my weight, slipping into the night, letting the voices from cracks in the doors carry me away, into another world, where there is still New York.
"Mankind is not about skin and law,
Or Change about mink,
For it is not every beast that’s monsterous,
And not every man that’s pink."
-Unknown, New York, two days before the Fall.