There were six bodies in my basement this time. I’d only known of four. Instinct only just saved me after I heard the voices. The smell of authority caused me to pause in the doorway; I barely avoided the hail of bullets. I am fast, faster than I have any right to be, and dangerous in ways humans never are.
I can die by bullets. I do not know how many it would take. I have no desire to find out. So I run, skidding out of my suit and tie as I move. There are laws. Old, unwritten, but I know them as surely as I know my own power. I shift form in broad daylight and break them all. Someone screams. Another throws up. I am lost in the rending of bond and the twisting of reality.
And moving as the change finishes. Fast. So quick they don’t have time to hit me. There are traps set up at home. It should be burning, but I see no fire when I stop. I find the woods to avoid the stares of humans. I watch. I wait. There is no fire. My home remains. There is evidence: identities, skins worn and shed, prints I will have left behind. There are limits to how well I can hide if I leave too much of myself behind me. There must be limits to how far I can change and remain sane.
Six bodies. I heard them say six. I pray the last two are no one I knew, but I no longer know what I pray to. I move through darkness once the night takes away the sun, slipping between brush and trees. I can feel the pain rising inside me, drawing need up with it. To change so fast hurts and I need food to dull the pain. Food means death. It always does.
There is a human boy of eleven, by himself and listening to his phone. I move. He sees a rabbit, not much bigger than others until I lunge. I have teeth, claws and people forget how dangerous rabbits once were, don’t realize how big I am until I let them. Somehow, the boy evades me. I am hungry enough to lunge again when I should flee, and the lunge ends with me hovering in the air. The boy smells human. He looks human. I know the smell of magics, greater and lesser all, and he does not smell of them or of the aromas of things Other.
He sighs. The sigh is heavy. “I said I could go for a walk without having an adventure and I am almost back at the hotel and this is really rude!”
“What?” I speak, in the tongue of rabbits, and I am somehow unsurprised that he responds in kind.
“Trying to eat a Jay is very rude. You never even introduced yourself,” he says crossly, crossing his arms as well.
I am dropped. I land, and shift into human. It hurts, and then doesn’t as something – I have no words for it. For a moment it as if I am a stringed instrument, and the one string that is pain is pulled away. I gasp, stare.
“And –.” The boy pauses. His eyes widen. “Honcho said he was looking for a monster that eats people and you tried to eat me!”
I am naked in my human form, but I am still me. Lucky, as rabbits are. I move, and again I am stopped. I call upon the luck of being what I am. A dangerous gamble, and one I will pay for later.
The boy doesn’t seem to notice, whatever he has done far beyond anything I am. He walks about me slowly, frowning. “You ate people. A lot of people, and you’re running and planning to do that again.”
“I am a monster. I was human once, I no longer am!” I snarl, and try to shift despite the danger, but somehow the boy stops that as well.
“But that’s not all you are.”
“It is. I cannot stop being a monster!”
“Oh. Sometimes I wonder why people aren’t as jaysome as they can be, when you have all these bindings you never touch or use at all. Here.”
There should be pain. It should hurt, to lose all that I am, but the boy just pulls the monster out of me. The thing that attacked me, changed me, made me something like a rabbit and like something else at all. What became part of me is somehow outside, and then gone as if tossed into a garbage can.
“You’re still you. Being a monster is just – just clothing you put on. And you can take it off. It’s not easy. I think maybe it should be, but it never is for clothing people forget is clothing and think is their skin.” He shakes his head, and for a moment I think he wasn’t talking to me at all. “So! you have a name?”
I tell him my first name, the one I had almost forgot.
Jay grins. The grin is so kind that it somehow hurts more than everything he’s taken from me. “So you get to be you again! I can help with that, and there are others who will help me so it doesn’t be an ooops!”
“Wait. What? I killed –.”
“And now you get to not kill. And do what you can to stop the hurts you caused.”
But what if I don’t want to? The words die on my lips. I don’t know what Jay is, but I know I can’t hurt him like that. I close my eyes. I am small again. Naked again. Scared again. “Why?” I whisper.
“Because if Honcho found you, he might have had to kill you. And you hurt a lot of people, so I think maybe killing isn’t something you deserve,” the boy says softly. “Dying is easy. Living is always harder. And now you get to.”
There is no power in his voice. Not like magicians have. But somehow I know. “How long will I live?”
Jay scratches his head. “I’m not sure,” he says, and then checks his phone. “And I’m late for supper, so I need to go. You have to go the corner of Redhill and Desmond. Someone will meet you with ID and give you a new life.”
I nod. I walk away with steps merely human, my sense of smell a crippled human thing again. A part of me wants to scream. A bigger part of me wants to cry. I know I’ve earned none of those things. I walk out of the park, shivering under rain. Six bodies. I need to learn about them. And others. I don’t know what comes after that.