Fantasy

Elizabeth Frank's Decaying Orbit

By Garrett Croker
5,944 words · 22-minute reading time
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The townspeople came to cut off my head tonight, which is why I didn’t finish the 250-word report on planetary orbits that was due in the morning. Mr. Stevenson would just have to wait to read my take on what he liked to call “the perfectly choreographed cosmic dance of the solar system.”

It’s not that my head didn’t come off. It severed almost too easily, I’m sorry to say. No. That wasn’t the problem.

“It isn’t dead!” they cried before scattering, shame bright as the fear in their eyes. Oh, they had no problem calling me Elizabeth (or, in Mr. Stevenson’s case, “Miss Frank”) during the day, but as soon as the mob got together after dark I became “it.” This was yet another failure for the mob. It might help them kill me if any of us knew what the hell kind of monster I was in the first place, but at least crossing decapitation off the list narrowed it down. I’ll go ahead and call that a silver lining. I want to know what I am as badly as anyone.

Still. Ugh. First period is going to suck tomorrow.

“This,” Mr. Stevenson said, holding a banana high in the air for the whole class to see, “is a penis.”

I have to sit in the front row because technically I’m nocturnal and my day vision is an adventure at best. It hurt to crane my neck (which was still healing) to see the blurry yellow phallic symbol. I rolled my eyes in two sweeping, exasperated arcs, one after the other. I may not have a penis, but like everyone else in the class I know perfectly well what a human one looks like.

This obviously improvised sex-ed lesson was inspired by what I took to be a frantic e-mail from the principal, whose panic at this year’s accreditation process had already led him to discover a half-dozen such lessons that were supposed to be mandatory. The good news was that it gave me an extra night to finish my science report. The bad news was that the banana came from the faculty lounge and was badly browned.

“And this,” he said, holding up half a cantaloupe, flesh side out, “is a vagina.”

He hadn’t even bothered to scoop the seeds out.

It was just as obvious, unfortunately, where the cantaloupe came from. The remains of its other half practically littered Mr. Stevenson’s desk, tooth marks still visible in whatever he hadn’t quite finished for breakfast.

Was that a juicy sheen lingering on Mr. Stevenson’s perpetually chapped lips, or was I only imagining it? I thought of the cantaloupe in my own bag, which Mom had packed for my lunch, and began to feel sick. Melon was one of the few non-meats I could regularly keep down, and since I preferred to eat my meat (very) fresh, melon was all I ate when people might actually see me.

I wouldn’t be able to stomach my lunch after this.

Something collided with the back of my shoulder, falling to the floor with a small clattering sound, and something else bounced off my neck scab before dropping down the back of my shirt. Somebody snorted, barely even trying to hide the laugh. I tried to ignore the stupidity of being afraid enough of a thing to want to cut its head off, but also comfortable enough with it to openly mock. Mr. Stevenson didn’t do anything when this happened, like usual. I just kept my eyes forward.

“And this… Miss Frank, please pay attention,” the lumpy authority figure said, holding up a condom which, distressingly, was not improvised, “is a condom.”

I didn’t hear much of the rest of the lesson, busy as I was ignoring the sick feeling that had settled in my gut, the lingering pain in my neck, and the rising tide of emotions that every soft collision against my back brought with it.

Aymberlynn bounced alongside me at lunch, gorging herself on my melon, which I had not been able to eat after all. Her parents really liked the letter Y. She preferred to go by Amber. My stomach made a noise like a jaguar, and I did my best to ignore it.

Amber’s free hand swiped energetically up and down the screen of her phone. I knew without looking that she had it open to Wikipedia’s exhaustive list of monsters. She was frowning.

“I can’t believe they actually tried to decapitate you,” she said. “God, what is wrong with people?”

“They didn’t try to,” I said. “Technically, they succeeded.”

“Yeah, well, technically they’re a bunch of sweaty ballsacks,” she said.

I remembered the shame shining in her father’s eyes the night before, trying to make himself another face in the vanishing crowd. Amber was well-aware of her father’s torch-carrying hobby, and didn’t need me to reinforce her convictions about just what kind of a ballsack he was. She was better with colorful adjectives than I was, anyway.

“Still,” she said through cantaloupe, scrolling down the page with another flick of her thumb, “that does narrow it down.”

A football spiraled hard into the back of my head, tearing the scab at the base of my neck as my head lurched forward. I bit through the tip of my tongue, gagging on the milk-of-magnesia taste of what passed for blood in my body.

Amber spun and was halfway down the hallway before I knew what was happening, backing the boy who’d thrown the ball — a senior jock slash honor student slash walking acne scar — into the lockers. If not for the pain in my neck, I would have smiled at the sight of the six-foot-some-odd meatbag cowering before Amber’s (admittedly muscular) five-feet-if-she-stands-on-her-tiptoes frame.

“What exactly is your problem, dickshit?” she started, bits of melon flying from her mouth. It only got better from there.

Amber can make it not suck to be me sometimes.

By the time the sun set and I could get out to hunt, I was keep-your-pets-indoors levels of starving. (Literally, though.) One night I got really, really hungry and our resident cat lady, old Mrs. Meriwether, forgot to count heads properly when she called in her brood for dinner. I came upon the fat white tabby crying outside her door a few hours after sunset. Mrs. Meriwether opened the door a few minutes after that to a sight she’d rather forget.

I’m a carnivore, alright? I mean, aside from the occasional melon. And a girl’s gotta eat.

Anyway, word got around and before a day had passed the rumor was that Mrs. Meriwether caught me hunched over the still moving body of a half-eaten four-year-old child. The town came with torches for the first time because of that, and we all found out I was not the kind of monster that would burn to death.

I was really beginning to regret giving that cantaloupe to Amber when one eye spotted an owl at the exact moment my other eye noticed a raccoon. I had to make a decision quickly: the owl would taste better, but the raccoon, backed into a narrow dead-end alleyway, would be easier to catch and have more meat on it.

I was stalking the raccoon before I even realized I’d chosen, hunting instincts kicked into high gear. Every one of my muscles was tight with the anticipation of attack. All eight claws extended involuntarily from my fingers.

The dirty trash burglar never stood a chance.

It tasted even worse than it looked, but for the first few minutes I barely cared. All that mattered was the heavy weight of meat in my gut and the relief of warm blood coating my parched throat.

As I began to come back to myself, I chewed the chunks of flesh that tore away from the carcass with less and less joy. Though the kill was fresh, the meat had a rancid quality to it, like all the garbage the animal had managed to keep itself fat on had been mere flavoring.

I gagged, but kept chewing, hunched as small as I could make myself in the hopes that nobody walking by would see me. I at least had to finish. I killed the thing. The least I could do was finish.

By the time the last bite went down my stomachs were pleasantly bloated. Against all odds, the familiar sounds of my hometown were a comfort, the steady crush of pebbles under passing tires, the distant chattering of aimless teens out later than their parents would like but not so late as they wanted, the odd but pleasant silence of a small town settling in for the night no matter what big, nasty thing loomed over the next morning.

The smell snuck up on me. If I had still been hungry, my head would have spun, but on such full stomachs it made my belly clench a little. It smelled delicious.

I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t eat another bite, but I had to see what it was, had to know what delicacy these alleys had been hiding from me for so many years, what delights I had been missing out on when I hunted.

It wasn’t any of the common fare, not the gamey scent of birds, nor the sweet fat (but otherwise plain) scent of domesticated animals. This was different. This smelled like something that had been made just for me and nobody else.

I followed the smell to the back of the alley, the very deadest corners of the dead end, but there was nothing. I looked wildly in as many directions as I could, eyes moving independently of each other so I could see more at once. But there was nothing.

Panic rose in me. Here was this thing, a thing I needed. And it wasn’t just food. This, whatever it was, was part of my identity. The craving was so pure I knew if I could just find it, if I could just satisfy it, I would understand what I was.

My left eye settled suddenly on the corner of the alley. It wasn’t a dead end after all, not in the true sense. The wall at the dead end didn’t quite connect the two buildings; there was a space between them. It was far too small for me to squeeze into, but it could fit an animal. I got close and shoved my arm in the crack as far as it would go.

The thing was there, soft and fleshy and wet. I drew my hand out and tasted the wetness, the blood, on my fingers.

My knees almost went out beneath me.

I reached back in, sunk my claws into the flesh, and pulled. It resisted. Whatever it was, it was a little too big for the crack, had been forced roughly inside. I pulled again, hard, and it moved.

It slid out with a slightly sickening sound and thudded to the ground, and then I saw what it was.

“No,” I said. “No, no no.”

The child might have been five or six years old. Its abdomen was torn open, ribs broken outward so they looked like fingers reaching for the sky, organs gone.

“No,” I said again, and ran.

Hands shaking, I closed the door behind me as softly as I could. I wasn’t trying to hide the fact that I’d been out late like Amber sometimes had to do. My parents understand why I need to go out so much after dark, and it’s even saved us some trouble on those nights when a mob stopped by and I wasn’t in. No, I just didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to tell somebody about the child’s body, about how the smell and the taste made me feel, revulsion all mixed up with desire. Even the aftertaste, by then sour in my mouth, made some part of my brain think very seriously about going back.

I needed to tell somebody.

I didn’t know how.

I stood facing the door trying to breathe evenly, to control my shaking before attempting the long walk up the stairs to my bedroom. I must have stood like that for a minute — two minutes? Three? — before it occurred to me that the light was on even though it was past midnight and my parents never stayed up past 9.

I turned, not sure what to expect. Mom was sitting at the head of the dining table, her hands cupped around a mug of coffee that wasn’t steaming anymore. Dad sat straight across from her at the other end, one hand resting on top of the other. Even though neither one was looking at me (a tired, lost look in their distant eyes) there was no question they both knew I was there.

Mome only turned to look at me once I sat down. The lost look on her face disappeared like marker wiped from a whiteboard, as if her own misery could not exist in the face of my own. Dad’s gaze didn’t change. He sat like a statue.

“Oh my god, honey, look at you,” Mom said, putting her hand on mine the way mothers do. “Your fur is completely on end. And you’re freezing! Elizabeth, what’s wrong?”

I almost told her. It almost all came pouring out. I was so, so close. But I looked in her eyes and saw how red they were. She had done a poor job of fixing her makeup, and little gray rivers ran down her cheeks. She even smelled like the salt that had dried on her face.

Dad avoided my gaze with a purpose, barely allowed himself to move, as though doing so would start a chain reaction that could only end with him in pieces on the floor.

“It’s... nothing,” I said. “Nothing I’m not used to, anyway. Some jock hit me with a football earlier.”

“Oh, honey,” Mom whispered, and that was all she said for a long time.

I wanted to stand and go up to my room and fall asleep and wake up to find that none of this had happened, and that I’ve been a normal 15-year-old girl this whole time, with normal eyes so I could disappear into the back of the class and a normal appetite so I could buy a school lunch and cheat on the salad diets I was failing to be on with my friends, plural, and normal limbs so that I didn’t have to lope around everywhere like some kind of prehistoric bird and clutch pencils awkwardly in my four-fingered hands, and a normal fragile body so that if anybody ever cut my head off again I would just die already.

But mom’s hand stayed on mine, just firm enough to keep me from pulling away. Her shoulders heaved once, and a single sob as deep as the ocean on the darkest night escaped.

“When your father and I found you, we never thought it would be like this,” she said. I stiffened. Mom and Dad rarely ever talked about finding me, or about taking me in. As far as any of us liked to acknowledge, I had always been theirs. “I can’t stop them. I try. I try everything. When they came last night, I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t…”

I shifted the positions of our hands so that mine was on top of hers. “Mom.”

“I didn’t do anything!” she cried out, making even Dad flinch. “I just stood there.”

Then her heaves came in like the tide.

A part of me knew that this scene, my mom crying and me consoling her, should be played the other way around, and that part of me was beating itself against the inside of my chest as hard as it could. It wasn’t Mom whose head had been cut off. It wasn’t Mom who had to live with a barrage of insults and objects every day of her life. It wasn’t Mom who had just found a little kid’s body, torn open. And it wasn’t Mom who was trying desperately not to wonder how it would have tasted fresh.

It wasn’t Mom who should be allowed to cry.

But it was Mom who was crying.

I sometimes thought that if I just died for real one of these days, it would make things so much easier for Mom and Dad. I don’t want to die, but I’m not a fool either. Things would be a lot simpler for a lot of people if I did. At some point, maybe all the time, Mom and Dad must have thought the same thing. Some small part of them must know how much easier it would be if I were gone, and some small, deniable part of them must want it, too.

How guilty must they feel for that one small part?

“I’m so sorry,” Mom said. “We never thought it would be like this.”

“Mom.” I squeezed her hand. “Dad. It’s okay. I’m okay. It’s just another stupid boy, like all the rest. Nothing they can do will ever hurt me.”

She looked at me then with such wide, loving, guilty eyes. Dad’s eyes were closed.

“I love you so much,” she said.

“I have school in the morning,” I replied. I took my hand away from hers. “I’d better get to sleep.”

“You like the taste of human blood?” Amber whispered, so loudly it sufficiently defeated the purpose of a whisper. At least nobody passing us in the hall seemed to notice. “Oh my god, that’s amazing!”

“Jesus Christ, Amber. It is not amazing,” I said. “What is the opposite of amazing? Because this is that.”

“No, seriously,” she said. “Wait. I have an idea.”

Amber loosed an arm from her backpack and spun it around to the front of her body in one practiced motion. She unzipped the front pocket just enough to shove her hand inside and made faces while she searched for whatever it was she was trying to find. When she didn’t find it, she pulled her hand out, grabbed the Sanrio charm attached to the backpack’s main zipper, and tugged upward. Again, she dug around the guts of her bag until finally her eyes lit up.

Triumphantly, she pulled out a pair of scissors, small enough not to count as a weapon in the eyes of the school, but sharp enough to actually be one if the opportunity presented itself.

I didn’t know what the point of this was until she started pressing one of the blades into her left thumbpad.

“Amber, no!” I yelped. A few students around us turned to look, and looked away as quickly when they saw it was me.

I grabbed at the hand Amber was holding the scissors in, but it was too late. A thin line of blood crossed her thumb. She shoved the thumb in my face. Any closer and my upper lip would have been painted a bright, disturbing red.

I closed my lips tight and turned my head away as much as possible. I grabbed at her hand to push it away, but Amber’s reflexes were insane. No matter how fast I moved and no matter how much I squirmed to get my head out of the way, she somehow managed to dodge every attempt and keep her stupid thumb square under my retreating nose.

Finally, she pulled her hand back.

“Nothing?” She asked?

“Nothing what?” I said, barely even trying to keep the annoyance out of my voice.

“You don’t want to eat me?” She sounded disappointed.

“No,” I said.

Then I realized she actually was disappointed. She was actually pouting. I swear to God, any other person in this hellmouth of a town would have been thrilled to learn that, no, I didn’t want to eat them. But not Amber.

It would have made me smile if it weren’t so twisted.

After a moment, her face became thoughtful. “That means it’s not human blood in general,” she said. “It must just be children. That’s really good to know.”

“How?!” This was just too much.

“No, seriously. Hear me out. I’ve been thinking lately we’ve been trying to identify you all wrong. I keep going over and over this list of monsters, and a lot of the information we have on them is pretty unreliable. We just had this unit in psych about how bad eyewitness accounts are, and that’s all we have for most of these. For some of them, we have even less than that. So I’ve been going back and identifying only essential characteristics. Like, werewolves: We don’t really know what they look like, but transformation is non-negotiable. Vampires: Do they burn in the sun? Do they glitter? Different accounts say different stuff, but they definitely drink human blood. Furry trout? Maybe they grant wishes and maybe they poison water supplies, but they definitely have fur. Otherwise, they’d just be trout.”

“Jesus, I get it, Amber.”

“So, what I’m saying is now we have a little more essential information on you. Maybe we threw out a possibility before because we made some assumption we didn’t need to. But eating children, that’s solid gold for us!”

“I don’t eat children!” I yelled, and definitely got a few looks I wish I hadn’t.

“Whoa, okay,” she said, actually quiet enough this time that only I could hear her. “Having a taste for children, I mean. I know you don’t like it, and I get it. Nobody in their right mind would like what you’re going through. But this actually does get us closer to knowing what you are.”

Maybe, I thought for the very first time in my entire life, I don’t actually want to know.

“By the way,” Amber said, curiosity clear on her face. “What did the cops do when you called in the body?”

“I,” I said, the words dying on my lips. Somehow, between the shock of finding the body, of tasting it, being so tired, comforting Mom and Dad, and trying to make it through another day at school, I hadn’t realized how bad it would look for me when somebody eventually found that body, cracked open like a crab, claw marks all over it, organs missing. My voice came out very small. “I didn’t tell anyone.”

Amber’s eyes grew very big.

And the bell to go to class rang out.

The torches were out before the sun went down that night. They crept one house house to house, gradually adding to their number. I put my physics textbook down when I saw them through my window, little orange blurs in the failing sunlight.

There was something strange about how the mob was gathering this time, and the more houses they stopped at the stranger it got. Normally, one person ran ahead of the group, only knocking on the doors of reliable torch carrying citizens. This time, they stopped at every house, the whole group together, and it looked like everyone was joining in.

When the last of the light fell behind the horizon and I could see clearly again, I understood. Right there in the center of the expanding torchlight, hoisted high into the air by a pair of strong arms, was the body of the child.

“Leave,” Dad said, the hand on my shoulder startling me. Mom stood behind him, the silent one now, and I wondered how they decided which one of them spoke up when and which got to be the statue. “Go hunting. At least make it hard for them to find you. On foot outside at night, you have the advantage. Your mother and I will stall them.”

It was so strange how little he resembled the silent figure at the table a night ago, how much strength he had gathered since then. Where did it come from?

The now massive crowd inched closer. I did need to hunt. On a normal night, they’d never find me if I didn’t want them to, but with this many people searching, all with torches to burn away the shadows? It would be tough to stay hidden.

I scanned the mob. There was Mr. Stevenson, and there was Amber’s dad, both right up front. Everywhere I looked, I either saw somebody who I knew or the parents of somebody I knew. They all hated me so much for being whatever the hell I am that they would try to kill me again tonight, and if they failed they hated me enough to try again another night. They would keep trying until it worked, and all I ever wanted was stay out of their stupid way.

Dad was right. I could run.

Maybe somewhere else, it wouldn’t be this way. Maybe. And it’s not like this awful town deserved my loyalty, anyway. When it came down to it, except for my parents, the only person here who had ever been nice to me on purpose was Amber.

“No,” I said.

Dad’s firm grip on my shoulder faltered. Mom made no move and no sound.

“I’m sorry, Dad,” I said. “But screw that.”

A few minutes before the head of the mob got to the house, I jumped to the roof. As long as nobody came with a ladder, that would slow them down enough for me to do what I had planned.

My parents stood in the from yard, my vanguard. It must have been freezing the way they were shivering, not that my cold-blooded butt could sympathize. I tried, anyway.

“You should go inside,” I called to them. “You don’t have to do this.”

They stood firm, eyes shining up at me in the night like tiny moons caught in decaying orbits, firm in the knowledge that the only thing left to do was fall.

For crying out loud, I had to stop doing my physics homework before people tried to kill me.

The crowd had kept the child’s body toward the front of the mob, like a battalion flag, Mr. Stevenson always by its side, Amber’s dad always by his. This was it. There was only one thing left to do.

I had never really tried to find out how loud I could be, so I didn’t know what to expect. When my voice came out, it actually shook the air.

“LISTEN UP, DICKSHITS.”

Saying the words, I felt suddenly calm.

“THAT,” I pointed a long claw at the body, “IS NOT MINE.”

Nobody moved. I don’t think they knew what to do. I had struggled against them before (they wanted to kill me; of course I have) but I’d never actually stood up to them, never talked back. Even I was surprised how much of a voice I had.

Their inaction gave me confidence.

“AND HOW DARE YOU — HOW DARE YOU — PRETEND THAT IT IS. I HAVE GONE OUT OF MY WAY AGAIN AND AGAIN TO PROVE I AM NOT DANGEROUS AND YOU ASSHOLES DON’T CARE AND I DON’T KNOW WHY.”

Still, nobody moved. Just cowards after all, all of them. The second I actually challenged their shit, it fell apart. It pissed me off. How could they be so weak. How could I have let them do what they did to me for so long when they were all so weak?

“TELL ME WHY!” I bellowed, somehow louder than before.

It was Amber’s dad who stepped forward, and behind my anger and my pain, I kind of respected him. Of all the invertebrates here, his model came with a backbone. Of all the people here, only he had raised a kind person.

“We have the body!” he yelled back, pointing at the child. “You can’t deny it anymore! You can’t deny the evidence.”

“THAT. IS. NOT. MINE.” I growled.

“Then whose is it?” he yelled, and the crowd revived and roared behind him.

I didn’t have an answer.

“And it’s not the first time, either,” he yelled, facing the crowd instead of me, feeling their support rally, hoping to nurture it. “We all know about Mrs. Meriwether’s grandson.”

The mob exploded in agreement.

“No,” I yelled back, the power in my voice lost. “That was a cat. Mrs. Meriwether never even had children. That’s why she keeps so many cats. How could she have a grandchild?”

But nobody heard me.

Everything happened fast after that. Amber’s dad moved toward the house. Dad got in his way, but Amber’s dad hit him, hard. The sound his fist made against Dad’s skull was not that of flesh and bone on flesh and bone, and as Dad crumpled to the ground I recognized a pair of brass knuckles on Amber’s dad’s fist.

“No!” I cried. Mom ran to where Dad lay prone.

The torches pressed together and moved forward. The crowd so dense the dazzling lights could have been a single blaze. I could hear Amber’s dad pounding on the front door, and the sound of fists joining his.

Somebody started to drag Dad away from the house and when Mom tried to fight them another person grabbed her from behind and pulled her away. Amber’s dad abruptly stopped his pounding. Turning to the crowd, he yelled.

“Burn it down!”

Mom kicked and bit at the man who had her, but his grip was strong. A handful of torchbearers moved to place their flames against the house, to set my home aflame, and her kicks grew more desperate but no more effective. She couldn’t do anything against so much.

And in the middle of all of this was the body, the poor, dead child, who had probably only ever wanted to grow up and live a normal life and have friends and learn to love, but whose guts had been ripped out instead, who had been made a victim against his will, a rallying cry for violence without his consent.

Mr. Stevenson had never left the child’s side, one hand on the body the whole time, holding it aloft.

For one small second, he pulled his hand away. He moved a finger, thick with the corpse’s coagulated blood, to his mouth. And he sucked, a look of pure pleasure crossing his face. Nobody but me saw this.

His eyes met mine, one at a time, and he smiled.

“YOU!” I yelled, my voice strong again.

The torchbearers moving to set the house on fire stopped in place. Slowly, their heads turned in the direction of my finger.

I leapt high into the air, claws extended, fur raised, and just before I came crashing down on Mr. Stevenson’s shoulders I saw him transform.

He looked like me.

His cartilaginous frame bent against my impact but didn’t break. He rolled gracefully with the hit, throwing me into the crowd. Somebody caught me, staggering back into another group of people, but kept me upright.

“Are you alright?” they asked.

My head spun so fast to face them I almost tore the scabs on my neck again. I grimaced.

“You came here to kill me,” I spat. “What do you think?”

I wanted a response. I wanted to stare down their fear and their shame and force them to stare back, but I didn’t get the chance. Mr. Stevenson barreled into me, and the moment was gone.

We rolled in the street, fighting each other on instinct. My body did things I had never known it could do, claws extending an extra inch at least, jaw unhinging, menacing spikes rising from my spine. And every predatory change in my body was met by an identical one in Mr. Stevenson’s.

I dug my claws into him, tearing out chunks of flesh, trying to get at his organs, trying to rip them out of him, and his likewise sunk into me.

I snapped my unhinged jaws in the direction of his neck. They closed on air with a sickening sound. He bit back, and I recoiled as he had, avoiding his bite by millimeters, his breath on my face a stale mix of melon and blood.

I ripped my hand out of him and felt something come free with my claws. He yowled and grew more frantic. Somehow, his panic made him stronger. Faster. And all of my anger, all of my hatred couldn’t keep up.

I thought of Mom being held by those bullies and Dad laying prone in the front yard, and I fought harder.

I still couldn’t keep up.

We rolled and somehow he was on top of me, pinning me down. I couldn’t move.

“Do it,” I spat. “Just do it.”

He laughed then, a choked and terrible sound. “Do you think if I actually knew how to die we would have tried so many different things on you?” Then he lowered his head to my ear and whispered, “I don’t know what I am, either.”

The world disappeared in a blaze of light and I heard Mr. Stevenson’s cries. Then his hands were off of me, and I closed my eyes tight and turned away. My jaw settled back into its hinge. The spikes along my spine retracted. The wounds I had suffered began to hurt.

It only dawned on me slowly that the townspeople had come to my aid, pressing their torches into his body until he fled.

“You can transform to look like a human?” Amber whispered excitedly while doing something on her phone. The hospital had given Dad the all clear, and she had come along for the ride home. Her face dropped. “This is terrible! I already eliminated species that transform. Now I have to start over again.”

“I think it’s kind of amazing,” I said. “I don’t know how to do it yet, but I can’t wait to look normal.”

Amber looked up from her phone long enough for the screen to go dark. The look on her face was strange for a moment, anger warring with confusion (and betrayal?) before she got it back under control.

“I like you this way,” she said matter of factly.

“Amber,” I started, but didn’t finish.

Then she was back to her phone, scrolling quickly with her thumb. “Does this mean that Mr. Stevenson is your real dad?”

“First of all,” I said, “yuck. Second of all, I hope never see him again, and not just because I never finished that stupid report. Third of all, if you’re still counting, that’s my real dad in the front seat.”

The whole time I spoke, she never looked up from her phone. A small smile bloomed on her face.

“I have something to show you,” she said, handing me the small glowing screen.

It was a Wikipedia page, cross-linked from their list of monsters, with the header “Elizabeth Frank.” Just below that was my 8th-grade photo, which Amber knew was the only class photo of me I actually liked. The page full of subheadings which included things like “Physical Characteristics,” “Local Misrepresentations,” and “Known Weaknesses.”

“It took me forever to get this approved,” she said. “Total pain in my ass. You have no idea. And now I’m going to have to change the whole thing because you can transform.”

Hands empty for once and, apparently, lost that way, she crossed her arms briefly before dropping them to her sides.

“I mean, listen,” she said. “I’m still trying to figure out what you are. I won’t stop. I just thought in the meantime this would be good. Now you exist. Officially.”

I tapped on the heading for “Known Weaknesses” to expand the section. There was only one word there:

None.

This story originally appeared in the Mad Scientist Jounal Presents anthology series, Vol. 3.


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Author: Garrett Croker

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