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Book 1 – Chapter 5 – Perelandria Regained – Part 4

The heat had been fixed in my building when I came home. I felt up my futon cushions to make sure it had been on all day. The warmth was soaked in the rug and the drywall, too. I kicked off my boots and settled down on the couch.

Part of me did take the other train though. My ghost rode outbound in a carriage with the newscaster’s voice announcing each stop. I stepped out under the concrete slabs. The escalator pulled me to the street level quietly, with the station deserted so late. I waited for the bus. The driver said I was lucky – this was the last run of the night, and no one else but me.

He let me out at the stop and the imprints of my hands and knees were still in the snow. I pressed the buzzer in the foyer.

“Who is it?” Jacob said.

“It’s the one you called for,” I said.

“They haven’t said if they were coming or not,” he said, “Please come up.”

I drifted upstairs past the indigo walls. His door had a paper bag against it, and which had written, “Go away.”

I gave two solid knocks which echoed in the cathedral’s space. “It’s me,” I said.

The chain rattled and Jacob cracked open the door. “I didn’t think anyone would come,” he said.

I stroked his nervous body. “I know how you feel,” I said.

He sealed us in.

I carefully inspected his stalwart kitchen, built from days when wood had hundreds of years to grow. “We are engaging in battle,” I said, “We must shore up the perimeter. We will lean every pot and pan you have against the door. This flimsy chain won’t hold it, so pots will warn us.”

Jacob rubbed his hands, too scared to think. I reached for the cabinet, and he stopped me. “No, it’s this one,” he said. We leaned his Corningware dishes against the door edges so they would fall if we fell asleep. That would surely wake us up.

He escaped to his bedroom, and left me to stand vigil against Leon. I prepared by making the apartment inhospitable. I opened the windows. I ripped open every tea bag Jacob had, and boiled them on every burner on his stove. I gathered printer paper and drew concentric spirals, laughing faces with horns and nonsense lines, “She took the scissors to her cheeks to help her smile more.” I taped them everywhere. I found Shabbat candles. I set them in glasses and plates. I watched them dance in the wind.

I knelt in the middle of this paper-thin insanity. These things around me were my allies and my armor. They were the handle. I was the blade.

I took the marker and drew harsh lines across my face, to imitate whiskers. I added lines beneath my eyes and down the backs of my hands. My tail spread out straight. I ripped a white strip from a dish rag and tied it to my tail’s end.

We lost power in every hurricane where I grew up. My parents would set candles like these and sing old Beatles songs. I listened to the gusts forcing their way in. This night would be mine.

I looked beyond the solid walls and searched for the One who would hunted me the first night at Elory’s. “Tonight, I am the hunter too,” I said, “Whatever strength you saw in me, let me feel it now.”

I ran my fingers through the flames and admired the line of soot which formed. I knew my enemy; his punches, his stubborness, and his lack of will. He knew to fear me, as long as I remained something to be feared. I would be elegant and precise.

For a moment, my chin vanished. I reached up and it returned, solid and smooth. I laid my hands by my sides and bent my head towards the floor. A low rumble formed in my throat. I had another face. I only had to summon it.

My long snout extended inches for my old mouth. My pupils folded inward, oval shaped, and the room brightened. My skull grew lighter. I closed my eyes and sensed every inch of my tail on the linoleum. The wind rustled my fur. My ears spread where I had imagined them. My hands and forearms turned black and I wasn’t sure I had fingers. My spine bent upright, in the perfect waiting posture. My lips were pulled tight. I rolled my head to feel my shadow-mask move with me.

I opened my eyes on the couch where my body rested in my apartment, and my shadow-mask was still there. I didn’t dare to look in the mirror. I flicked off the lights and sat on my kitchen floor. I gripped my hands on my lap. I shut my eyes.

I gave it the name ‘shadow-mask,’ but it was as real as my own hands. My nose was truly far from my face. My jaws were spread with sharp canines. I was smiling. I couldn’t help it. The instant I knew my face had shifted, this rush of happiness and utter thrill spilled into me. It was like coming home.

I released the mask to reclaim my old Nova Scotian face. My shadow-joy faded. I breathed slower, with paws out and relaxed. I became giddy a second before my shadow-mask returned. I’ll never understand why my animal side was so happy.

In Jacob’s kitchen, the Corningware clattered against the metal pots. A key rattled in the lock, and the light flickered around the edge of the door. I decided I should be on my feet, and I rose to a guardian’s stance.

Jacob’s phone was a useless pile of buttons. I slid open a drawer and drew out a steak knife.

Two voices bickered behind the door. “You’re doing it wrong,” the girl said, “Let me try.”

“Honey, I lived here for months,” Leon said, “It’s right, then left. See?”

The door slammed open and the chain that its best to hold it steady.

A bolt cutter swung up, with its jaws toward the chain. I jabbed the knife into the cutter’s law and knocked it aside.

“Who is that?” the girl said.

Leon’s eye peered and my throat rumbled with a snarl. “Relax, It’s the freak foxgirl,” he said, “Watch out. She bites.”

“You cannot come in here,” I said, “Go away.”

The girl slipped her cutters in again. I had the knife ready, but she caught both in the sharp maw. I wriggled the blade and a chain popped free.

A thick hand grabbed my wrist. I kicked the door in, and slammed Leon’s fingers. He yelped. The girl used the distraction to catch the chain a third time. She grunted and bore down on the steel. I kicked the door but metal always wins against wood. A link snapped in half and its pieces flew across the kitchen. One landed in a puddle of wax.

I jumped back. The pots cracked against each other as the door pushed open. I gripped the knife. I had something that could beat metal.

Leon’s face was horrified when he saw how I had prepared the room. His skinny ratty-haired girlfriend grimaced in disgust.

I raised my paws over my ears and pressed the knife’s edge against my palm.

“I’m not going to hurt you because I can’t,” I said, “But if you take one step in here, I will cut myself and I will put my blood on you. It will stain your clothes and your faces and it doesn’t wash out. And it may have a disease in there as well. My doctor has told me otherwise.”

Leon was confused until I dug the blade into my skin. I shivered as my flesh parted for it. A trickle welled up. My shadow-mouth could taste it.

My hand hurt and I winced. “I’m not joking,” I said, “There is nothing of yours left here.”

Leon’s eyes wavered as he tried to see passed me. His girlfriend took his arm gently.

“It’s not worth this,” she said, “Come on.”

He spun towards her and mouthed, “What?” Even with all my work and blood I had poured into the kitchen, he had the power to look away. Any second he would come in. No amount of smearing would stop him from showering later and buying a new shirt.

I lowered my palm over my face and I turned away slightly. I gave them the chance to leave.

Leon’s girlfriend smacked him, and they bolted for the stairs. I waited for the foyer to swing shut before I ran my hand under cold water and wrapped it in paper towels.

Jacob emerged from his room. He clutched himself from the cold air. He gaped at the mess in his kitchen.

“Is he gone?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, “And he won’t be back.”

“Oh, thank God,” he said. He helped me blow out the candles. He dressed my wound and offered me his own bed to sleep on, while he took the couch.

But instead, I took the Red Line inbound. I went home to my safe little uncomplicated apartment.

I put on the lights in my own kitchen. My legs were asleep and I grimaced until they were filled with blood again.

I stepped onto the rug and tried to pirouette in place. My tail curled to my waist. My eyes shut, and my lips spread out as my smile covered me.

I decided to take a walk. I had no place special in mind. I went the front door in my black booties and allowed my feet to wander. I knew the neighborhood so well, I only looked in one direction for cars at one-way streets. I stayed away from the trains, and went deeper into Somerville where the sidewalks were blocked with trees or ice from the thaw. I guided my tail around the hazards, air-swimming. I flitted under the street lights which blocked my vision down the roads.

It was easier to spot the girl coming my way when I was in the dark. Her black jacket and jeans might have been painted on her body. Her hat drew a solid line across her for head. Her scarf had fluttering tassels on the ends. Her vacant gazed stayed on me when we crossed paths. She turned herself around when she moved behind me. “Mrrr?” she said.

I slid to a stop and treaded air. “Yee-arp,” I said.

She cocked her shoulders while digging her hands in her pockets. “Prrrprp?” she said.

Her lips trembled, and sparkled with a little glitter mixed in. I could see her fitting in a catsuit with absolute comfort. I detected a trace of lavender around her. “Mee-arp,” I said.

She was sweetly inquisitive. I met her under the lamp pole. My tail beat behind me. She put her hand to my cheeks and our noses orbited each other without touching. Her lips brushed mine and I backed away an inch. Then I met with them.

Her kisses left me with the aftertaste of menthol and tobacco. She was a licker, too. After a series of pecks, she ran her tongue’s tip over the bumps below and over my lips. I responded in kind, while we thawed each other’s faces away.

I wanted to use my human voice. I wanted to ask where she was going.

Our breathing sped up and our fingers stroked the buttons on each other’s coats.

That was when she pulled away. The sounds bubbled up for my throat, “Rrrr?”

She shook her head and waved to a shivering hand at me. “Me-ah,” she said and continued on her way.

My tail fell before she disappeared around a corner.

I swung into the next block and headed home. I knew why she let me go. She was on her way to no place special, also, when she encountered a magical creature. She thrilled to the attentions the fox gave her. She left before the fox became too human.

I didn’t see why there had the distinction. Maybe I was over-thinking it. She might have been tripping on ecstasy to a party somewhere. Our kiss could’ve lasted a lot longer. She could’ve come home with me. I had rubber gloves and I didn’t know her name.

Most of the stories of animal people, especially kitsunes, insist that the worlds of people and shapeshifting animals must never cross. It brings only heartache. I disagree. I think people take the easy way out of situations they can’t handle.

I retrieved to my shadow-mask and smiled all the way home.

Categories: Book 1 - How Cheryl Got Her Tail, Chapter 5 - Perelandria Regained.

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