gryphons_quill: (feather)
[personal profile] gryphons_quill
Finally, a year after I began it, I've begun writing more of this story. I have all kinds of ideas about where it's headed and what's happening, too. Exciting!

This is a draft. I'm determined, this time, not to fall into my normal trap of editing as I go. The inner critic wins if I do that, and I don't finish anything. So I'll just write and write, and later I can make the things that are wrong with it better.

Use the tag "megan" to find the rest of the story, conveniently backdated to avoid flooding all your friends' pages, because I love you all.

**********************

Sunday passed in a long, uncomfortable blur. I stumbled through the motions, feeding the cats, leaving a scrawled message for my landlady, eating a bowl of yoghurt because I thought I should. Other than that, I slept a lot, staring at the TV news whenever I was awake. No one seemed to be talking about a dead guy in a basement, but I still felt a jolt of terror every time I thought about it. I had half-formed dreams about blood and glass every time I fell asleep.

As the sun set I found a little more energy and dragged myself to the shower. Hot water washed away the dried blood I hadn't realized was on my ankle. The back of my head was still spongy and tender. My eyes were both sunken and the skin around them bruised, puffy-looking. Being clean felt good, though.

Wrapping myself in a towel, I experimented with glamour a little. The cats chased invisible bits of light around the room happily, and I didn't feel anything out-of-the-ordinary, not even a twinge of a headache. I opened my mind delicately. My landlady was home and had company, a friend; her birds were mostly asleep. An old man was walking a dog past—I cringed when I touched the dog's mind, but only for a heartbeat. Breathe...

Nothing seemed to hurt, and the dizziness was genuinely gone. If it came back, well, I worked in a hospital. I could get my head examined if I needed to. At least I'd be able to use enough glamour to do my work... and to make myself look normal.

A cup of my aunt's homegrown willow tea with a shot of valerian later, I drifted into sleep that was deep, dreamless, and entirely welcome.

*

Disguising myself for work is practically second-nature. I'm often anxious, a bit fidgety, easily stressed, and I live what some people would call a double life (really a triple or quadruple one), but I need my clients to see me as calm, competent, and sincere. I always try to relax and focus, but my workday glamour fills in the gap between my efforts and my goal. I added a layer to it today, to clean up the stubborn blue-black half-circles under my eyes, and smooth out the bump on my head.

The walk to the hospital was uneventful. No one gave me a second glance, which is normal. The head nurse on duty handed me my roster for the day—two new patients, the rest familiar to me. She told me that the first one on the list was awake and waiting for me, so I headed in.

Mrs. Anderson was 78 years old. She had metastatic cancer that hadn't responded well to treatment, and she'd recently decided to stop her chemo and radiation. At some point she would be stable enough to go home, which was where she wanted to die. Officially, I was her therapist—I specialize in end-of-life counseling and grief counseling. Unofficially, I reduced her need for the painkillers that muddled her mind. I held her hand and slowly, while she talked, used glamour to soothe her pain. She talked about hoping that her oldest son would come to see her before she dies, and about her frustration with the doctors that can't or won't give her a solid prediction about when that would be. I watched her face relax, the tension in her bony old shoulders give way. My job is very rewarding. At the end of our session, Mrs. Anderson thanked me and said she hoped she'd see me again before she went home.

On the way out of her room, I saw an official-looking woman going in. Her lawyer, probably; she'd been working on amending her will. Interesting that she scheduled the appointment right after ours, but not so surprising really. Like I said, she was pretty sharp.

My next few appointments were as expected. One of the new patients was a little boy with leukemia. I steeled myself at first, then looked at his chart and saw that his prognosis was actually quite good. Apparently I was being called in because he'd become convinced that he was dying, even though he probably wasn't. I let him talk for a while, using very little glamour at all, just enough to take the edge off his fear. When I left, he seemed calmer, and even smiled a little.

I love my work. It takes skill and compassion, and a deft touch. No two days are ever the same. And while it's hard to watch so many people in the last part of their lives, I get to help them make peace with the idea of dying.

I got through half the day before I realized that I'd killed a man two days before, and however terrifying he had been, whatever he was trying to do to me, he probably hadn't wanted to die.

It was a busy enough day that it was easy for me to compartmentalize, not think about the weekend, keep my head down and focus on the people I was there to help. Maureen passed me in the hallway a time or two—she worked there too—but we didn't speak. I saw her eyebrows go up and realized she could see through my glamour, but through long habit we don't talk about it at work. She didn't ask, and that meant I could spend a few more hours not thinking about it.

My day was reassuringly normal. I headed home without speaking to anyone, unconsciously dodging Maureen's curiosity and solicitous company. I just wasn't ready to talk about it yet.

My landlady was home. I knocked and she let me in. She's a neat older woman, comfortably plump with curly white hair. She raises pet birds, and I pay her greatly reduced rent by taming the babies for her. It cuts down the amount of time she has to spend hand-feeding, and only takes a few hours a week. Besides, it's pleasant work; it makes me think of the time I spent in the woods with Crazy Eddie, when everything changed.

Crazy Eddie didn't like to be called that, of course. I didn't even learn his name until after I'd left the woods and rejoined human society. I heard rumors about the man who lived with the animals, and testimony from a few street people who swore they knew him—that's how I heard his name. But none of that changes how I knew him: he was a kind, quiet man who found me at a difficult time, and taught me to use my new, terrifying power with care and control. I learned how to charm animals from him—and how not to. He rarely spoke, but imparted to me a sense of ethics that was firm and absolute. By the time I left him, I felt able to go back among other humans and not fear hurting them. The baby birds made me think of him, of how his delicate touch with animals was such an inspiration to me.

I sat covered in baby budgies and cockatiels, with an adult macaw on my knee and two greys talking happily from their cage-top perch. The trick of charming animals is that it's a slow and gentle process, a sort of gentle glamour-leak. You have to be kind, and move slowly, and project an image of yourself as gentle and trustworthy. It takes time, and it goes both ways; the first time a deer put her nose in my hand I cried. I could never hurt an animal I charmed.

When I moved back into civilization, I got a cat, because I knew it would only love me for me. You can't charm cats. They look at you strangely if you try.

By the time I was done, it was time to make supper. I chopped vegetables for a quick stir-fry. My aunt grows the vegetables—she's one of the people with a green thumb, though hers is pretty minor. She always grew most of her own food anyway. Now she makes a living at it. Locally grown food is easier to come by now, and safer to trust than anything that has to travel. Dinner for one took no time at all, but focusing on it did allow me to avoid thinking about anything important for a while longer, so I put more effort into it than usual. Summer squash, garlic, purple string beans. Some of dad's homemade egg noodles.

Dinner in front of the news was a habit of my father's that I picked up. Most of the time I get my news from the net, but when I'm eating it's easier to be passive and let it come to me. I plunked down on the threadbare, cat-clawed couch and turned on the set.

Nothing, nothing, nothing. I forgot why I was worried until the newscaster, a fake-pretty white woman with seriously bleached teeth, got that carefully solemn look on her face and said, “Apparently, the body found in Deering Oaks Park late last night has finally been identified as Amani Kamil. Amani's family and friends are gathered to...”

She went on, but I didn't hear her. The girl's face, smiling out of a school photograph, was familiar, and the angle allowed me to see the corner of the scar on her neck. It was her, the girl Maureen had shown me in the cafe. The girl I was supposed to find and make contact with.

The story ended without much more information, so I went to the net. It isn't really what it used to be—when everything changed, a lot of long trust-chains were broken, and businesses that relied on them didn't do well. Ironically, the internet is doing better than ever, because the corporate interests that had been taking it over had more important things to worry about. Most of the net now is very redundant, with a lot of distributed processing, and there's a lot of focus on geographic locale in ways there weren't before, because it matters more than it used to. It works, though.

One of the local message boards I usually read was covered in posts about the dead girl. This is a little city, really not much more than a town, and homicide's not commonplace here. It didn't take me long to find out the details. Amani Kamil had been found under the footbridge in the park. Her throat had been torn out. The net was full of speculation—wild dogs, a werewolf, someone trying to make us think there were werewolves.

There are no werewolves. I would know.

My fragile peace was shattered. I couldn't pretend everything was all right any longer—I had to act, and quickly.

There's another reason I tame birds for my rent. One of the most powerful cantrips I know requires a feather from a still-living bird. Thanks to my landlady, I always have several. She might even know why I collect a few each time I visit. Light, fluffy down feathers work best, and her birds are always molting them anyway.

I took out my little box of feathers—I keep them in an old jewelry case, the kind covered in velvet and intended to present a diamond ring in the best possible light—and went to the window frame. Like most cantrips, this one was simple, just a matter of getting the right ingredients together. Feather and breath, this one. I held each feather before me and thought of the person it should go to, whispered “come to me,” and blew gently on it until it was caught by the breeze outside the window.

I'm no hero, and have never pretended to be.
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December 2010

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