The Shapeshifter (working title, 5337 words)

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    The Shapeshifter (working title, 5337 words)

    The Shapeshifter

    The city lights danced on the inside of Lucius’ eyelids, even after he turned his face from the window. A silent happiness filled him from his sneakered feet to his bronze-brown, thick-boned fingers.

    “I learned something new today,” he said.

    His friend Isaiah was curled up against the wall, bent in a half-fetal position over a notebook which he was scribbling in furiously. His long black hair fell over his face. He looked up briefly but did not answer.

    “I’ve been reading Yeats,” Lucius tried again.

    Isaiah’s concentration snapped for a moment; he snapped up from the notebook like a spring and raised up his pen as if pronouncing judgement. He stared through Lucius’ liquid eyes, his lips moving without making a sound. But then he looked back at the notebook. “Poor bastard,” he murmured.

    Lucius laughed. “Who? Me, Yeats, or the guy you’re drawing?”

    “All three I think.” Isaiah was back to drawing now, his pencil bearing down on the page, his breath coming out in gasps.

    “Why do you draw like your life depends on it?”

    “Because it does I think. I have to get it out of my brain. Don’t you ever have a sentence that’s like fire in your head—and if you don’t say it out loud you know that it’ll kill you?”

    “Is that really healthy?” Lucius was used to when Isaiah got like this; it happened at least once a week.

    But the happiness over what he’d found quickly overcame his concern. “Well, anyways, I was reading Yeats. And a lot of other books. And I’ve come to the conclusion that . . . magic is real.”

    He waited for Isaiah’s reaction. Surely, even for someone in that state, a revelation like that would cause at least a turn of the head.

    But Isaiah didn’t even look up. “Told you that years ago, dammit.”

    “Well, then, you’ve finally convinced me,” Lucius said lightly. “And I’ve decided--”

    Isaiah stood up abruptly, letting the notebook slide off his lap. “Gotta get some air,” he growled. He went out the door of the dorm room, into the hallway, and outside.

    Lucius shrugged. He had so much more to tell him. Isaiah could be so odd.

    Curious as to what Isaiah had been drawing, Lucius picked up the notebook. A tentacled monster, skillfully sketched in pen, stared at him from behind the blue lines of the paper. It sprawled over the whole page, a mass of writhing and terrifying, its grinning mouth the only human piece of it. Its eyes were empty sockets. Scrawled in pen beneath it were these words: I’m not a human, this is just a dream and soon I will awake.

    Lucius pulled back from the notebook—why did it seem so real? It was just a drawing, it meant nothing. . .

    He turned on the overhead lights, brightening the room. The monster’s features grew more grotesque, more alive and clear, in the sudden light. Lucius refocused his thoughts—Isaiah, Isaiah had drawn it. Isaiah was just depressed, off his rocker. . .but he couldn’t shake the feeling that Isaiah knew something. Lucius shut off the lights again. Then he turned off the corner lamp, and the computer, and the desk lamp, and his reading light. He shut the curtains, too. There, it was gone.

    Outside, Isaiah lit a cigarette. The end glowed like a beacon. “Magic,” he murmured. “Talk talk talk, ‘til you try something, and try try try, ‘til you kill something, and kill kill kill, ‘til you be something.” Then he shook his head. “What the hell am I talking about?”

    When Lucius went to bed that night, still happy from his epiphany, he could feel the monster’s presence, straining and straining against the bonds of the blue lines.

    That morning Lucius got up in a vaguely bad humor, but determined to show a kind face to the world anyways. He laced up his sneakers, buttoned up his shirt, combed his hair, and went out to the campus.

    There was a place beyond the football field where the trees grew wild, interspersed with nettle and bramble. It was here that Lucius always went to try to understand the universe.

    Two monarch butterflies spiraled in synchrony at the edge of the forest. Their wings caught an interplay of light and shadow, and their beauty caught Lucius’ attention. He wondered, was it because their souls were beautiful that their wings were beautiful, or had the beauty of their wings seeped down to their souls and made them beautiful, too? And did it really matter, which way it went? He laughed like a child, and followed the butterflies into the forest.

    The land cupped down, after a while, into a small swamp, where cattails grew and mosquitos buzzed. The butterflies danced off to the left, and Lucius stood at the edge, right where the ground began to be squishy. All the fear from the night before was far in the back of his mind. But the intoxication of new knowledge was not.

    “The best part of magic,” he said (here he felt free to speak his thoughts aloud). “Is things changing into other things.”

    He watched a water beetle skimming over the swamp’s surface, and wondered what that change would look like. “It could be like evolution, only sped up. Darwin’s finches change their beaks in an instant. From lizard to bird in a matter of seconds.” He pictured it now: the beetle’s thorax thinning and splitting with the abdomen, its mouthparts joining and extending into a long tube, its wing caps swelling until real wings burst out, and then the beetle would fly away, except as a mosquito.

    “Or it could be a transfer—a soul-transfer. The beetle’s soul would go into the mosquito, and the mosquito into the beetle. . .or. . .”

    The water beetle flicked itself forward, forming a ‘v’ shape in the water.

    “Or maybe. . .maybe it’s like putting on a costume.” The humming of the mosquitoes droned on while the beetle paddled around its world. “Yes, that’s it. The beetle puts on a mosquito costume, it’s like a game of pretend. . .”

    On intuition he stretched his hand out toward the water, toward the beetle. “Like putting on a costume. . .” he murmured. “Like that.

    Just like that. And the beetle spread its mosquito-wings, which sprang from its mosquito-body, and its mosquito-legs trailed in the water as it took off through the air with its mosquito-mouthparts. Lucius drew back his hand as if he had been burned. The beetle buzzed through the air in its perfect mosquito-body.

    Lucius’ jaw was slack. All the swamp reeled around him, but he was still. He breathed out slowly. Like playing pretend. Dress-up.

    He stretched out his hand again. The mosquito’s hum—no, the beetle’s hum—died away, and it hung in midair for a moment. Its wings curled up like burnt paper and shrunk into the body, its thorax and abdomen swelled and fused, and its tube-like mouth twitched and twitched until it was a beetle-mouth again. Then it fell into the water with a faint plop.

    Apparently, taking off the costume was more difficult than putting it on. The beetle struggled in the water, disoriented, weak, and even in Lucius’ own body a wave of nausea rolled through him.

    The experimental, Lucius realized, swaying in the grip of his own discovery, felt very, very different from the theoretical. There was something about seeing a beetle turn into a mosquito before your eyes that changed you. The taste of magic had been sweet in his mouth; now, he was addicted.

    Isaiah came home late that night from class. The smoke from his cigarette trailed through the darkness like from a stick of incense. Lucius was still awake, lying flat on his bed and watching the shadows on the ceiling. The notebook was in the corner of the room, still open to the page with the monster.

    “Isaiah,” Lucius said. “How did you find out magic is real?”

    Isaiah stopped, and tapped the ash from the end of his cigarette. “Still on the fuckin’ magic thing, huh?”

    Lucius sat up. “Of course. You don’t forget something like—” He stopped.

    Isaiah’s eyes, reflecting the light from the orange end of the cigarette, flicked towards Lucius. His gaze seemed to cut through him. “How I found out magic is real. . .well, why the hell wouldn’t it be?”

    “That’s fair. But there must have been something. . .”

    Isaiah tilted his head to one side. “Yeah, there’s something. You know the old brick house just outside campus.”

    “The one with the tower?”

    “That’s the one.” He sat on the edge of the bed, next to Lucius.

    “Isn’t it abandoned?”

    “Nah.” Isaiah shook his head. “Nah, it’s not abandoned. Someone lives there, has for years. Aurelias, Simon Aurelias, that’s his name.”

    He drew from his cigarette until his amber eyes went glassy. Then he blew out the smoke slowly, forming a series of concentric rings which each expanded in turn. “And he talks to the dead.”

    Lucius absorbed this. After what had happened at the swamp, it was easier to take into stride. “And you. . .know this how?”

    “I answered the question, didn’t I?” Isaiah said, narrowing his eyes.

    “But. . .”

    “There’s some things you just know, okay? I hear things, I see things, I feel things. If you’ve ever been near the house at night, it’s pretty damn obvious.” His eyes clouded over. “Just, please. . .stay away from there.”

    Lucius gave a little sigh. “Well, I have to see for myself.”

    “Don’t.” Isaiah gritted his teeth. “You got to be careful with these things, you can’t just go off, like some kinda—”

    “Oh—” Lucius laughed, in sudden realization. “You’re afraid of him.”

    “I’m not! I’m just not stupid, either.” He came to the end of his cigarette, and stomped it out on the linoleum.

    “We have an astray,” Lucius said, pointing at the nightstand.

    Isaiah kicked the remains of the cigarette under the bed. “Fuck that.”

    Lucius rolled his eyes. There was a whole world he was just beginning to know, and he wasn’t going to let Isaiah ruin it for him. Besides, the presence of the creature in the notebook was still in the back of his mind, and it was worse here, where it was near.

    He got out of bed, slipped on his shoes, and headed downstairs to the lounge. There were not many people there, just a couple guys playing foosball in the corner, and someone studying at one of the tables. Lucius sat down in a chair, reflecting. Lines from a poem echoed in his head: “This whole day I have followed in the rocks, and you have changed and flowed from shape to shape. . .” Things changing into other things. Dress-up.

    I know how to play pretend, he thought. He looked down at his hand and lifted each finger in turn, watching, waiting. The foosball players finished their game, and left.

    Then all of a sudden, he thought of the monster in the notebook. Just like that. And just like that, his hand had turned black and writhing, all claw and tentacle-ends. A wave of cold swept up his arm and along his neck. His brain became hazy.

    Was he dreaming? The beetle had become a mosquito, hadn’t it? The tentacles spiraled out from his elbow, twisting, frothing, snapping in and out in silent daemonic dance, until his head spun with their motion. The blackness was creeping up to his shoulder.

    “Take it. . .” he mumbled. “Take it off.” The dark tendrils writhed and writhed.

    “Off with the new skin, back, back to the old. . .” The words came to his lips, seemingly of their own accord. His hand stiffened, as if filled with electricity. His body curved forwards, sucked in by the weight of it. Then the claw grew soft, the tentacles slithered inwards, black gave way to brown, and his old flesh was back.

    Lucius drew a ragged breath. Beads of sweat dripped from his forehead, but he was so, so cold. He glanced at the one person studying; they were still staring at the computer screen, not noticing a thing.

    He began to shake. He clutched his arm like it wasn’t his own, and bit down on his lip to keep from crying out. He couldn’t do this. . .

    He had a sudden memory of himself as a first-grader, on Halloween, dressed up as a tarantula. Rar, rar, I’m a spider! Mama, mama, you’re scared of spiders so you gotta be scared a’ me! Rar, rar, rar! His older sister, wearing a lab coat and plastic goggles: Spiders don’t go ‘rar,’ stupid. His mother: Ooh, don’t worry, I’m real scared. Him: That’s right, I’m scary, I’m the scariest spider ever!

    The scariest spider ever. Could he do this? Did he have the guts?

    Well, at least there was a way out. “Off with the new skin, back, back to the old.” He tasted each word individually, memorizing their exact sound.

    This was not the sweet magic of the swamp, that was certain. This was closer to Simon Aurelias’ conversations with the dead—if all that was even true. One thing Lucius knew: he would not use it unless he absolutely had to.

    A couple weeks later, Lucius drove out to see his mother. On the way out of the campus, he passed the brick house with the tower, the one that Isaac had said this Aurelius fellow lived in. The bricks were crumbling and blackened, untrimmed vines trailed down the walls, and most of the arched windows were either broken or boarded up. It was hard to believe anyone lived there.

    On his way back, Lucius decided to take a look to see if he could see what was inside. He approached it with some trepidation; after all, if someone did live there, he didn’t want to trespass. And there was something else, too, in the back of his mind—a feeling, maybe, or maybe Isaiah’s words echoing unbidden, don’t, he talks to the dead. . .

    He climbed up the crooked, cobblestoned steps. The path to the house was cracked and overgrown, and seemed very long. Lucius crept up to the house and peered through the porch window. At first, he didn’t see much, just a few wicker chairs arranged haphazardly. But then he noticed something hanging from the doorframe. It was a doll, a naked plastic doll, missing a leg and an eye and most of its hair. Lucius pulled back from the window, repulsed.

    Then, a sound from inside the house startled him—the creak of a foot on a squeaky board. He jumped back, and ran across the lawn and down the steps, taking them two at a time. It was only when he was at the door of his car that he realized how fast his heart was beating.

    “Stupid,” he muttered. “I’ll come back tonight, and look at it again, when no one is here. . .”

    He glanced back at the house. It seemed larger than it had at first, and darker. The corner of Lucius’ mouth twitched. “Stupid. It’s nothing.”

    Turning back around, he opened up his car and slid inside. “Later tonight,” he promised himself.

    He drove into the campus, spent some time finding parking near his building, and went back to his dorm room. Isaiah was there, sitting against the wall. All the windows were closed, and the smoke from his cigarette filled the room.

    “Hey, Isaiah. You know, they don’t really like smoking in here,” Lucius said.

    Isaiah chewed moodily on his cigarette and said nothing. Lucius went to open a window, but then Isaiah said, “You’re going to that house tonight, aren’t you?”

    Lucius froze. How did he know? He cleared his throat, and, feigning obliviousness, said, “What house?”

    “Oh, you know.” Isaiah flicked the ash off the end of the cigarette.

    “What house?” Lucius repeated. His hand was on the window, but, paused mid-action, he still had not opened it.

    Isaiah broke into bitter laughter, which set him coughing. “Don’t play dumb. You’re going to Simon Aurelius, ‘cause you’re a fucking idiot. I try to tell you this shit, but you don’t believe me. You think the world is a real nice place, at its heart. You think—”

    “Don’t tell me what I think!” Lucius snapped. “And how do you know I’m going there, anyways?”

    Isaiah’s eyes clouded. “There’s some things you just know. Some things—like fire in your head. I try to tell you this shit. You never listen.”

    Lucius sighed, unlocked the window, and pushed it open. The spring air rushed in, and he breathed it gratefully. “But what if the world is a nice place? I mean. . .” He thought of the monster in the notebook, and what had happened to his arm. A shiver went through him, and he cleared his throat. “I know there’s bad things out there, but—”

    “But you think they can’t hurt you. You think you’re immune, strong enough to do anything you want. Strong enough to be anything you want.” He said the words as if they weren’t his own.

    “I am, though,” Lucius said with a little laugh. “I’m not stupid. I’ll be careful. Don’t worry so much about me, okay?”

    “Can’t help it, really,” Isaiah murmured. Lucius glanced at him sideways.

    “Damn.” Isaiah took a drag from his cigarette, and blew out the smoke slowly. Then he stood up, and clumped towards the door. “Well, I tried.” He tilted his head up, addressing the ceiling. “Anything happens from now on, it ain’t my fault, okay? Okay.” Then he left.

    Lucius shook his head. Isaiah was his friend, but, sometimes, he hardly knew what to make of him.

    There was no moon that night, so the only light came from the yellow street lights. There were not many on the street where the Aurelius house was. When Lucius drove up to it, the yard was so dark that for a moment he was going to go home and come back the next night. But then he remembered what he had told Isaiah—he was strong enough. And that wasn’t overconfidence, was it? Because, after all, he had turned his arm into a the arm of tentacled monster and back again, hadn’t he?

    Steeling himself, he stepped out of the car and into the darkness. The house loomed before him as he went up the stairs and across the yard. A sick feeling in his stomach grew as he got closer and closer to the door. He knew that there was that doll hanging from the frame, and, somehow, that thought prevented him from knocking. He didn’t feel like a visitor—he felt like an intruder.

    Lucius glanced to the left and the right, then tried the doorknob. It was locked. He let out his breath in relief. He could get in through a window, in the back of the house, maybe, and somehow, that was less unnerving then the thought of walking beneath the dangling, naked doll.

    He started to walk across the lawn, before a sound behind him made him jump. It was like a footstep, but so faint as to be almost unnoticeable.

    Lucius stopped, frozen on his feet. “Who’s there?”

    There was no answer. Lucius summoned his courage to look behind him, over his shoulder, but saw only the tall, shadowed grass, the overgrown walkway, and the darkness.

    He took in his breath sharply and kept going. He crept along the side of the house, looking for a window, but all of them were either up on the second floor or blocked by nailed-down boards. As he approached the corner of the house, he noticed a white glow coming from the backyard.

    Lucius rounded the corner. He saw where the glow was coming from immediately—a small fluorescent lamp, set on a round patio table. But it was what was seated at the table that made him doubt his senses.

    Very few in the modern era have seen a human body in its almost fully decomposed state, where only a skeleton with a few bits of flesh clinging to it remains. And even fewer have seen one comfortably seated at a patio table, with a cup of tea and a battered hiker’s hat on its head.

    Lucius swayed backwards, as if hit by a powerful wind. The skeleton lifted the teacup to its jaw, and the bones of its fingers quivered like a death rattle. When it drank, the liquid ran in rivulets in between its ribs.

    He stepped back again, and stumbled. Hearing about it was one thing, but seeing. . .? Could he believe it? Would he, even if he could?

    Then, a whisper from behind him, “So, then, he doesn’t just talk to the dead, huh?”

    Lucius whirled around, his heart beating in his ears. “Who—?” he managed to squeak out.

    “Hey, chill out, man. It’s just me.”

    Lucius recognized Isaiah’s voice in the darkness. “What—”

    “Shut up,” Isaiah hissed. “You’re talking so fuckin’ loud.”

    Lucius took a deep breath, trying to slow the beating of his heart. “Are. . .are you seeing what I’m seeing?” he whispered.

    “Yeah, you idiot. What did I tell you?”

    “What are you doing here?”

    Isaiah scratched his neck thoughtfully. “I dunno. I just couldn’t let you go off like this..”

    “But. . .”

    “You’re a stupid son of a bitch, but you’re still my friend. And that’s that, I guess.”

    Lucius stared and stared at the skeleton sitting in the metal yard chair. “God,” he breathed. “I wonder who that was. You know, when it was alive—really alive.”

    “Don’t know if I wanna know, really,” Isaiah whispered. “C’mon, let’s get out of here before someone sees us.”

    The blood ran to Lucius’ cheeks. “What? We can’t go now. You can, but I—”

    Isaiah gripped his shoulder. “Don’t be an idiot,” he hissed. “You don’t really want to stay now, after—”

    “I haven’t even talked to the man yet.”

    “Dammit. You’re crazier than I thought. Do you really think. . .” He trailed off as the back door of the house opened a crack and pale light streamed out.

    Lucius gasped. Isaiah clapped his hand over Lucius’ mouth and brought both of them to the ground so that they were hidden in the tall grass.

    The door opened the rest of the way. A man, tall but crooked-boned and bent over, emerged from inside the house. He was only wearing a pair of ragged dress pants, and the porch light illuminated the spine-notches in his bare back. His hair was white-blond and uncombed.

    “Ishmael,” he said to the skeleton, running his tongue over his lips and teeth. “You like the tea?”

    The skeleton turned its head, and its teeth clattered.

    “Good. Now—” He stopped, inclining his head to the left. His tone became more gravelly. “Excuse me. Is there someone else here?”

    The skeleton sipped from its china cup. It cocked its head, as if listening.

    “I think there is, Ishmael,” the man said, turning in Isaiah and Lucius’ direction.

    Isaiah pressed further into the grass, but Lucius shook free from his grip and got up on his knees.

    “What the fuck are you doing?” Isaiah hissed.

    The man advanced towards them. “Who’s there?” he said, a tremor in his voice.

    Lucius stood up on shaking legs. “A visitor.”

    The man froze, his mouth hanging half-open. The harsh light accentuated the wrinkles in his skin, the sunkenness of his cheeks, the hollowness of the sockets that held his eyeballs. For a moment Lucius didn’t even register his face as human; it was so distorted and emaciated.

    “Who are you?” the man said. His voice crackled like a voice over a radio.

    “Lucius Herringshaw,” Lucius said. Overcoming his fear, he walked towards him with his hand stuck out in greeting. “You must be Simon Aurelius.”

    The man drew back. “That’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time.” His wrinkled eyelids slipped over the whites of his eyes, then back up again. “No, I can’t say I am anymore,” he eventually said.

    “Then, who—”

    “There’s someone with you,” the man cut him off. “Isn’t there?”

    Lucius inadvertently glanced down at Isaiah, who, muttering curses to himself, ducked beneath the grass. “No,” Lucius said.

    “Why are you lying? You came here to spy on me, didn’t you?”

    Lucius looked past him to the skeleton at the patio table, who had stood up and was staring at them both through empty eye sockets. “No. . .”

    The man strode forward, breathing hard. He grabbed Lucius’ shirt collar. “What do you mean, no?” he rasped. “Who do you think you are?”

    “I just—”

    The man turned his head back towards the skeleton and snapped his fingers. “Ishmael. Find the other fellow.”

    The skeleton grinned like a jack-o-lantern and bounded across the lawn, feather-light and soundless. He whisked past Lucius’ shoulder and stopped.

    Isaiah, knowing he couldn’t escape, leapt out of the grass like a cat. Desperate, he rammed his fist into the skeleton’s jawbone, and the skeleton’s head jerked back.

    For a moment it remained there, stuck, but then it rolled its head forward again, the bones in its neck clicking into place with a series of snaps. Its gleaming teeth chattered as cold wind blew between them.

    “Son of a bitch!” Isaiah threw another punch, but this time the skeleton stepped lightly to the side as if it had foreseen it.

    Isaiah wheeled back, startled, and the skeleton caught his arm. It grinned. Then with a twist of his arm it had thrown him to the ground and was standing over him. Lucius saw all this in his peripheral vision. Panic overwhelmed him.

    “Who do you think you are?” the man said again, shaking Lucius’ shoulders. “Who?”

    “I don’t think I’m anyone!” Lucius squeaked. And at that point, caught in the grip of Simon Aurelius’ dead-eyed stare, he didn’t. But then he remembered Isaiah’s words. You think you’re strong. Strong enough to be anything you want. . .

    Like playing pretend. Dress-up.

    And the image of the monster, scrawled in pen, bound only by a few thin blue lines, bound only by a few measly brain-cells, burned in his head. But this time, he welcomed it. He took a deep breath.

    “No,” he said, looking the man in the eye. “I’m not anyone. But I can be anyone.”

    Lucius closed his eyes. Just like that.

    It was his hands that changed first; he could feel his fingers giving way to claws, and tentacles burst out from his wrist. His veins pulsed with a substance that was thicker and blacker than blood. Then his body swelled, his shoulders caved into themselves, and his neck crumpled and twisted like paper in a fire.

    Simon Aurelius reeled back. Tentacles spiraled out from Lucius’ chest and belly. His whole self had become like liquid, and blacker than pitch. He spread like an inkblot, making the darkness around him seem mere grayness. His mouth spread, too, far too wide for his head, and now his mind was all blackness, too. Like playing pretend, is it? Rar, rar, I’m scary! I’m the scariest spider ever. . .

    Then, the whites of his eyes were crushed by the force of his own brain. Blood and clear liquid poured out of the empty sockets.

    He—it—wasn’t Lucius anymore. “Go home, old man,” it droned. “Who do you think you are?”

    Simon Aurelius’ face turned cake-icing-white. He turned on his heel to run, but stumbled to the ground. “Ishmael!” he cried.

    The monster swelled over the man’s prone form. The skeleton, heeding his master’s call, dashed between them and clattered its teeth threateningly. Something like laughter, but inhuman, shook the creature’s sprawling body, and it sent its tentacles shooting through the skeleton’s hollow body like liquid bullets. They writhed up between its ribs and out its mouth, lifting it off its feet.

    Isaiah, shaking, got to his feet. “Jesus,” he whispered. “Fucking hell, Lucius. . .”

    The tentacles wound around the skeleton’s bones. Then, like snakes, they constricted all at once, crushing its ribs. The skeleton’s spine snapped. Its skull lolled back.

    The monster tossed the crumpled skeleton aside, and seemed to grow even larger and darker. Simon Aurelius stumbled backwards, whimpering.

    “Lucius!” Isaiah shouted. “I think you scared him enough, goddammit! Now just go back to how you were, and let’s. . .” He trailed off, clenching his jaw.

    The monster didn’t even notice him. Its empty eyes were only on the shaking, pathetic figure of the man who talked to the dead, the man who raised the dead, the man who knew more of magic than anyone else. It wound its black tentacles around Simon Aurelius’ neck and pressed him to the ground. The wind blew cold, and the grass quivered.

    Isaiah gritted his teeth. Then, bracing himself, he grabbed one of the tentacle-arms. His hand sunk into the blackness like a boot into mud. “Lucius!” he said. “Come on, you gotta get out of this. You don’t know what the hell you’re doing. You never did. ”

    Somewhere in the funeral fog of his mind Lucius heard Isaiah’s voice, and he knew there were words he could say to go back. Something about new skin, and back, back. . .No they were lost. He was lost, lost in this sea of blackness, drowning in his own costume.

    Isaiah’s voice faded. The monster whipped the tentacle back, like it was shaking off a gnat, and Isaiah flew backwards. He fell into the bushes, slamming against the garden wall.

    Simon Aurelius strained for air in the vice-grip of the tentacles. The monster tightened them around his neck. His face went from white to blue.

    Isaiah tried to stand. Black spots danced in his vision, and his head spun. “Lucius. . .” he said.

    The monster paid no attention. It rose like a cloud over the body of Simon Aurelius.

    “Please,” the man managed to gasp out. But the dark shape that towered above him only grinned, and squeezed his neck until it snapped. Then, it turned its leering mouth towards Isaiah.

    “Shit, Lucius,” Isaiah said, his voice shaking. “You killed him, didn’t you?”

    The monster writhed toward him. It grinned its death’s head grin, and said nothing.

    “I told you this would happen!” Isaiah shouted. “I fucking told you! I didn’t even understand at the time, but I knew, I fucking knew! And you thought, you thought. . .”

    “And who are you?” the monster gurgled. “Who do you think you are?”

    Isaiah froze, his face turning gray. “Lucius. . .you don’t know? Me, even?”

    “Who do you think you are?” it roared, stretching its tentacles toward him.

    “I’m Isaiah!” he said. “You know, the pessimistic one who never throws his cigarettes in the ashtray. Don’t you know me?” His eyes wavered like candle flames in the darkness.

    “Isaiah,” the monster said. Then a sound, half-wheezing, half-choking, but that really was a dark species of laughter, came from its mouth. “Isaiah,” it shrieked. “Isaiah, the prophet.”

    And then its tentacles grabbed Isaiah by the chest and tore his limbs from their sockets. Its black rows of teeth pierced his body. There was blood on the grass and on the wall and on the monster itself, and the voice which had glowed like the end of the cigarette in the darkness of its brain was snuffed out.

    Then, silence. The monster rippled over the grass, its tentacles dancing. Without a sound it narrowed its body and slipped inside the house through the door.

    Much, much later, when the college had already given up puzzling over the two missing students, fall blew in with its balmy weather and red leaves. Two people already had seen the creature in the house that was once Simon Aurelius’, and were passed off as lunatics.

    But that Halloween, when the fog of night descended, and the children came out in their costumes, somehow it all seemed less ridiculous.

    The children, especially, dressed as ghosts and vampires and spiders and monsters, shivered as they passed the weathered house. And when they saw a shadow creeping in the window, they didn’t just pretend to be afraid.

    "So long is the way to the unknown, long is the way we have come. . ." ~ Turisas, Five Hundred and One

    "[An artist is] an idiot babbling through town. . .crying, 'Dreams, dreams for sale! Two for a kopek, two for a song; if you won't buy them, just take them for free!'" ~ Michael O' Brien,
    Sophia House

    Christ is risen from the dead,
    trampling on Death by death,
    And on those in the tombs,
    lavishing light.

  2. #2
    It was easy to follow and read. Much easier than other works. I like the mysterious antagonist. The person who lives in the tower makes for a great mysterious character to be the victim of the antagonist. I also like the mc's powers. I have nothing negative to say. I never thought a shapeshifter would be a great idea for a novel. But this is interesting and is my kind of reading. They always say start in the middle of the action but feel maybe with a few more rewrites you could explain more about how shapeshifting is regulated in this society. You know a rule-based magic system why not let it be a law?

    Not every story is the same I sort of have a wish list of what I like characters to do. The mc doesn't get in trouble too much and is not a troublemaker.

    But that's okay, it's an excellent story. Keep writing it but make the character do terrible things that have consequences. Bad decision making, bad wishes, and so on. Looking forward to reading more if you eventually decide to post more since the reading level is for almost any age. Can be appreciated by children and adults.
    Last edited by Theglasshouse; January 9th, 2018 at 03:11 PM.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  3. #3
    Thanks for the feedback! One question, though: this was meant to be a complete short story, not the start of a novel. Does it feel complete to you?
    "So long is the way to the unknown, long is the way we have come. . ." ~ Turisas, Five Hundred and One

    "[An artist is] an idiot babbling through town. . .crying, 'Dreams, dreams for sale! Two for a kopek, two for a song; if you won't buy them, just take them for free!'" ~ Michael O' Brien,
    Sophia House

    Christ is risen from the dead,
    trampling on Death by death,
    And on those in the tombs,
    lavishing light.

  4. #4
    I read it again extra closely to answer your question since the pov shifts often but I like the style of this story. I get this sense that the two missing students are Lucius and Isaiah and Isaiah is his friend despite his flaws of being pessimistic and a bad influence since he is always smoking. But then the ending I did kind of want closure as to what happens to them to know the moment that things change for better or worse.

    It seems Isaiah has been killed or injured by the creature who is Lucius because he shapeshifted, and the man who knows magic (Simon) was the one who made him into a creature who can speak with the dead. This is where I need the closure, by you telling us, they stayed missing, makes me believe they are alive but used magic and never returned back to school or Halloween but I wanted the ending to tell me what happened if this was the case.

    Does this make sense?
    Thank you for the read.

    Could it use more closure as in be more interesting by writing it and making it more obvious, and by showing the ending? Definitely. There is room for improvement in this area. Still good writing. You might even be able to make the motivation more obvious as well of simon, which seems like a terrible lesson. He goes to lengths to play with dangerous magic, but in the end, they are hurt and nearly killed by misunderstanding (he can speak with the dead which is dangerous plus he shapeshifted children or youngsters).
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  5. #5
    I like this story. It's the kind of thing I like to read and write. Hell, I can see this in a quirky animation style, with all the goriness that comes with it.

    For me, I think The Shifter could a better title, not giving everything away at the start. But that's just me.
    Now, I'm off to watch Supernatural.
    If we surround ourselves with 'yes' people, how can we grow.

  6. #6
    Member Sync's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Canada eh
    I think your writing is fine, the voices sound nice and clear. Nothing major from what I've seen at first glance. 5k of words is a bit much to critique. I want to show you something though, to maybe consider.

    His friend Isaiah was curled up against the wall, bent in a half-fetal position over a notebook which he was scribbling in furiously. His long black hair fell over his face. He looked up briefly but did not answer.

    passive writing can be activated using your characters and structuring your sentences. Sometimes it's removing a word even, like here.

    His friend, Isaiah, curled up again the wall, bent in a half-fetal position over a notebook in which he scribbled feverishly.

    (furiously - sounded too intense when used with 'half-fetal' . But with the removal of 'was' you put those actions of 'curl' and 'scribbled' into the scene at that time.

    If that makes any sense. If not, just disregard.

    Keep at it


  7. #7
    Member Sync's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Canada eh
    I've been sneaking in to read bits here and there when I get the time. I noticed your prose is borderline purple. Well, not really purple prose, but like in description amounts. There are times when I could admire the images, and others, where I shook my head(not that they were badly drawn/worded, but more because they weren't there improving the scene.

    Another example of passive/active

    “Why do you draw like your life depends on it?”

    “Because it does I think. I have to get it out of my brain.

    "You draw like your life depends on it." - a direct statement, not relying on the other's opinion. So active.

    "Because it does." - Period. A direct reply. Sometimes it isn't required to colour in. Sometimes black and white is sharper.

    The trick is when to use them.

    Best writing to you


    P.S. As the writer. Choice, is always yours.


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