I can feel my death closing in. Pressure on the air, the feel of wind against the glass. I have hidden in the deep woods since before humans came here, and yet they continued to come despite all I do. They came, until there were too many. Until now, when a magician comes. I am far from the places they go, but even so I feel the magician, feel their power like something vast stirring at the bottom of an ocean. It is within me to sense such things, to use that to hide, to know when to flex my own power. To know when to keep still. To know when to strike, if needs must lead me down that path.
If this magician dies, another will come. I can feel the world outside my woods: the roar of human vehicles, the pressure of human lives, the shattering of the old places. To find another place to hide, to travel through their lands: I do not know if I have it in me anymore. I do not want to die, but the hunger wants so many other things. Five days, six, a week. Perhaps more since I ate. I hide, moving through trees, flowing within mosses and claiming shadows for my own. Moving, because I feel uneasy each time I stop.
A good monster hides from its prey. A wise one is so good the prey never know they exist, but I have eaten a half-dozen humans in the past year. Tried not to, but I have, and the human world is connected in ways I scarcely grasp. A net forming. A trap being made, though I do not understand how. I am considering options, how few they are, when I smell the human. A child, alone, walking down the path with a phone in hand. No adults. No one is with him. He does not smell of poisons, not of some bait meant to kill a monster – though humans rarely make such sacrifices. Even so, I am uneasy. A test by the magician? Magicians can do things other humans would never consider. I do not know if making a child be bait would be one in this time or place.
I move, and move again, gather moss for flesh, stray twigs for the bones of a new body, move out from behind trees to the path behind the child. I lash out, the hunger strikes out, and the child is somehow not there, behind me instead. I react on instinct, hurling power into the world. The magician will know where I am, but instincts can only be mastered so long. Somehow the child avoids the flare of energy that kills every animal about me. It will be some time before I have energy for that again.
The boy is staring at me through dark glasses, up at me in a way that suggests he isn’t seeing me. Would even humans let a blind child walk these paths alone? I pull back, knowing everything feels wrong. I should be leaving, fleeing deep into the woods, but something is holding me here. Some other power I can barely catch the edges of.
“That was really rude,” the boy says.
“Pardon?”My voice is the scraping of bone against bone; he doesn’t start at all.
“You hurt tons of animals and you didn’t need to because I’m just here to talk,” he says firmly.
I lash out, and the boy moves aside in a blur faster than anything human can move.
“Hello? I said talking, and we can’t have a good talking if you keep trying to eat me!”
“I’m sorry,” I say, without even thinking. I am not certain when last I was sorry for anything at all. The boy grins at that, and there is a power behind it. Not one I know, but power. Were he a magician, I would call it a binding. As it stands, I have no words for it yet.
“You are his familiar?”
The boy draws himself up at that to glare up toward me, radiating indignation. “I’m his friend,” he says, and lends the word a trust so deep it shakes me to the core.
I have not loved; it is not in the nature of my kind to do so, but I think that no human has loved as deeply as this boy trusts in a magician. Of all the beings one could trust, a magician is hardly safe. “But he sent you here,” I say, to say anything at all.
“Well, he felt you were scared of him but! you might not be of me because I’m Jaysome,” he says, and somehow I understand the meaning of the word I’ve never heard before.
“I have been the nightmare of this place for a long time. Keeping other monsters away with my legend, protecting humans when I could. But the world has changed. Too many food sources flee, vanish, and the humans are – sometimes I am hungry, and I cannot stop myself.”
“That’s totally what I told Honcho, because somethings bindings get all desperate and not-fun at all,” he says. “So we thought you could move somewhere quieter without humans, and that would be okay?”
“I have been here a long time. I do not know how to move.”
“Oh! Well, Honcho wanders a lot and I’ve learned from him and I could help,” he says.
“Why would you help me?”
“Because we’re friends,” the boy explains.
I draw back pulling my nature about me. I am more than moss and roots, more than vine and thorn. I can be wings and claws, fur and fangs as I must. “We only just met,” I say.
“But why wouldn’t you want to be friends?” he demands, looking hurt.
I draw back, stare down, let my power press against the world. The magician is both distant and close, a being more than a doing. The boy just stares up, utterly unfazed.
“What are you?”
“I’m Jay, and that’s a what too I think, and I’m from Outside the universe too but that means we could be friends and not fight because that’s just a really stupid thing to do!”
I sense nothing in him that is not human, though I know he can’t be human. Not with that speed, and certainly not that smile. “What will happen to the Barrens without me?” I say, and it comes out softer than I intend.
“I’ll do a binding to help protect it and Honcho will make sure it works and you can move somewhere fun without humans and start up a whole new legend,” he says, and he’s so happy for me that I find myself pleased as well. Power upon power, within this child.
I have no idea how many of my choices I’m making right now are my own; I think he is using influences on levels so deep I barely grasp them. Shaping me because he doesn’t want us to be enemies, and I – I have nothing in me to challenge that. Whatever he is, I am certain he could destroy me if I attacked him. And I am even more certain this magician knows this, and sent this boy rather than destroying me on is own.
So that I would have another choice. “Your magician, this Honcho, he is very wise. And wiser still to have a friend like you, I think.”
“I try to be a good friend, but I do have lots of adventures,” he says with a grin, and then his power is winthin me and without, as he hugs and the world shifts. Another forest, dark and still during the night as he lets go.
I have been unhomed and moved in moments. I shudder in fear, but the boy misses the fear and scrambles back.
“I didn’t mean to hug without asking, it was just fast and I think we’re in the rainforest so you get to meet human tribes and protect them and the rainforests from other people and I think that would be all kinds of Jaysome, right?!”
“It is – very acceptable,” I say.
The boy offers up another impossible grin and is gone between moments. I form a body slowly again, thinking about magicians and power, and wondering what Jay will become. But I let it go, for I have work to do and a new legend to create.