One part oatmeal and three parts magic, she was a mix of shadow and light, bitter and bright. She offered absolution in an outstretched palm and I - a shy child, faded and crumbling - refused with tears. She left and I could not say that she despised me. She walks with a potato-peeler, a mundane, stolen terror that reveals bone one confession at a time.
This morning I misremembered speech, and freed a god created in my kitchen by a wisp of errant prayer.
Zai stood guard outside of the hospital creche, keeping her eye on the hallway that could have stood in for any hospital hallway in any movie she’d ever seen. She hardly knew what to watch for as nurses and techs went from room to room as quietly as they could. Even though it was the middle of the night, no-one had slowed down, they’d only dimmed the lights.
The odd quiet and low light of the maternity ward made her nervous, but she didn’t want to leave Leah’s new baby in the hands of the hospital unsupervised, however willing they seemed to be to care for the little squid.
With one last glance down the hall, she turned and pressed her face to the glass of the viewing window. Leah’s little boy was easy enough to spot, sleeping like a tiny swaddled buritto in his plastic baby bucket.
She smiled to herself, a fond little smile. Where the other babies were had scrunched skin and ugly little faces, he had violet skin - the rich color of darkness and the chasm - and gently twitching tentacles that sprouted from his jaw to curl around his chubby arms and grip at the edges of his blanket.
“Some guard you are.” Leah startled Zai as Georgia wheeled her chair up to the window. Trailing them both, a rather dazed looking Nikki completed the quartet.
“Sorry.” Zai apologized, her gaze returning to the window and the baby beyond. “Have you decided what you’ll name him?”
Nikki spoke up when Leah shook her head. “She was trying to decide between something bog-boring that won’t get him teased, like Henry, and something weird enough to fit his face.”
Georgia tried to hide a smile and said, “Nikki suggested both Taicarilon and Cthuhlu.”
“Really, Nikki, really? You’d saddle a kid with Cthulu?” Zai gave her a look.
Nikki shrugged, her dangly earrings reflecting the green from one of the exit signs, “I was brainstorming. I only said that they share the whole ‘chintacles’ thing, so it would be more or less appropriate.”
“I might go with Zane. With a Z or an X. I haven’t decided.” Leah said, pressing her hand to the glass and staring off into the middle distance.
Never taking her eyes off the baby’s crib - Number #16. It had been a busy night for births - Zai teased Nikki, “The hell did you find Taicarilon? Was it in the glossary of one of your fantasy novels?”
“I made it up, if you must know. I told you, I was brainstorming. If you want something truly weird, go with something old and British.”
They all chuckled quietly at Nikki’s indignation, except for Leah. Zai was the first to notice the ripples in the glass radiating out from where her friend’s hand met the pane.
“Leah. Not here, sweetie.” She wrapped her fingers gingerly around Leah’s wrist and pulled her away, the ripples and tiny spiderweb cracks disappearing the moment her skin left the surface. “They’ll probably let us break protocol for him if we ask. He can sleep right next to your bed. I can bring him.”
“Sorry.” Leah began to cry and Nikki was on her knees next to the wheelchair with tissues as soon as she heard the tears in the apology. “Ask. Zai - ask, please. I don’t want to be this far from him right now.”
Zai nodded at Georgia, sharing a glance, and Georgia slipped away to find the doctor. Placing her hand on the glass beside her, Zai ran her fingers over the pristine surface. “Don’t worry.” She said. “Don’t worry. We’ll tuck squidbaby right into your arms and you can drift off to dreamland holding him.”
“Xavier.” Leah said, laughing as she blew her nose, producing the most unholy noise. “I’ve decided. Not squidbaby, but Xavier.”
Nikki made a small sound of approval. “Xavier.”
Ellia clung to the dingy’s low side and tried not to cringe away from the watery shape pacing the boat as her brother rowed for shore. “Serpent to starboard, Kemet.”
“I see it.” He said, deliberately ignoring the curious, scaled head that rose above the water to peer at them. It showed every inclination to remain, leisurely swimming alongside the siblings until they struck rocks and became food. “Tell it to go away, Ellia.”
“Do I-?” Ellia asked, but Kemet cut her off mid-thought.
“Yes. I don’t want it nudging us into the reef. Low tide is dangerous enough.”
Clenching her jaw, Ellia nodded and passed a hand over her face to wipe away her expression. With a breath and a sigh, she shut her eyes and blocked out the choppy water, the impending storm, and the sharp-toothed, semi-intelligent predator pacing them. When she had composed herself, she blinked and locked gazes with the serpent.
Her irises, leeched of color, glowed with a faint silver light as her pupils contracted to tiny points. The serpent swayed with the impact of her regard and reared further out of the water.
“Leave, Serpent.” Ellia commanded.
“Leave, Serpent.” The creature echoed, its voice a hollow duplicate of Ellia’s. Each syllable came from the thin, orange vanes along the sides of the serpent’s neck, caught and returned without inflection, only an accompanying vibrational hum.
Frustrated, Ellia narrowed her eyes, the silver light dripping, half-liquid, down her cheeks. “Don’t mock me, just leave.”
“Mock.” The serpent trilled as it returned her word, leaning in close to Ellia until its scaled snout touched her nose. “Mock.” Its rough skin itched, but she did not pull away.
“You would eat me, now that you know what I am?”
There was a pause before the serpent replied, “Know.”
Ellia smiled, then, and laid her hand on lightly along the spines of the serpents jaw. Her gentle caress traced the gaps between the opalescent scales and the serpent thrummed in pleasure and amusement. “Leave, Serpent. You will find no meal here.”
“So we hope.” Muttered Kemet, pulling hard on his oars.
The serpent withdrew. “Leave. Leave.” As it backed away, its vanes still vibrated and it did not drop to the water to mute their sound. A faded, thin wail rippled across the boat, an unnatural cry for help repeated from a source unheard. Then, with a shift in color as the vanes turned a brilliant yellow, it used Kemet’s voice to say “Hope.” Once more orange it continued, “Meal. You. Find.”
“Meal?” Ellia’s eyes flared brighter, sending more shimmering tracks down her cheeks. “Find it? Where? Who?”
The serpent, however, slipped below the water and muted its vanes, leaving Ellia to stare at the empty surface. “Kemet?”
Her brother shook his head, slipping the boat through a narrow channel between two sandbars. “Someone the serpents regard highly enough to repeat their cry for help.”
“Like me?” Ellia wiped her face and let the sea rinse the silver light from her fingers as her eyes faded to their natural brown. “Do you think so?”
“We can’t look until after the storm, Ellia, no matter how much you want to.”
Staring after the serpent, she let out a small frustrated sound. “Hope, then, Kemet. The serpents do not repeat words without cause. Hope whoever it is will survive just a little bit longer.”
As something that prowls the night, the empty streets between living alleyways, it is a great offense that the new city’s chemical lights are having a detrimental effect on the psyche of the general public. In the past, when the streetlights came on, the people would be consoled—if falsely—by the cheerful white and yellow streetlights provided them to prolong their daylight hours and keep my kind at bay. As evinced by the romantic art of the last several hundred years, suggested by many paintings and holograms metaphorically depicting lonely lampposts as islands in a sea of darkness, the sun-mimicking glow of gas, electricity, or even sulfur—cheap and vile as it might be—has been as steadfast in your culture as a sign of urban hope. Whether it be a solitary cone of light cast upon the snowy sidewalk or a a string of streetlights reflecting from a windshield, they have always possessed a warm glow that confounded night vision and provided pooled safe havens from night hunters.
The ‘increase’ of attacks so loudly trumpeted by the text in this very newsfilter is nothing more than a removal of the natural urban barriers to ghast predation.
With the introduction of this new ‘un-fueled’ system of lighting—which even the least educated know for a misdirection, Senator Kleary—the city streets are now bathed in an eye-soothing wash of reds and blues. Is it any wonder that such a fundamental change in the city’s infrastructure might have unforeseen repercussions? Who would have thought that a color change might send the city into a spiral of terror?
Terror, as you well know, taints the meat of creatures who experience it, which is one of my primary concerns. Additionally, fear both keeps humans inside and, paradoxically, allows my kind more opportunities for a meal from those who do decide to brave the cool, dark streets.
Since time and population controls - like the controversial Lista-Parvani ‘Thirdborn’ Act - have regulated human birthrates, the ghast population has increased and decreased in lockstep with their chosen prey. The humans, though wary, carried with them into urban centers an acceptable-loss threshold, as unfeeling as it sounds. I fear that with the city’s color-change decision, the threshold has been breached and my kind face a world where our survival is not only seen as at the expense of others, but as unnatural and detrimental.
I argue for a return to the equally-expensive and less third-planet exploitative streetlight colors of last year. As further evidence to the duplicity and corruption of your human leaders, the budget numbers do not even show a dip in infrastructure spending as we were assured there would be by cool-light proponents.
My kind’s society depends on hovering at a certain ratio to human. Yours and my goals for ghast population control align in that neither of us wish the population to increase, but the removal of the precaution of electric light has caused a baby boom among my community, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the urbanization of the the old United States and the second Great War when the ghast population was able to increase their former rural ratio and experience a cultural Renaissance. Our culture is about to, once more, go through the bloody growing pains once experience by our previous generations. The effects of this, with our increase in numbers, may spill into the human herds and reinforce prejudices and fears regarding what is normally a positive, symbiotic parallel civilization.
To those listening, I exhort you to write your congresspersons in a rational manner to explain the need for yellow light on the streets at night. The humans more likely to survive their walks home at night will thank you, as will this particular ghast and his growing family.