Help me, don’t hurt me…

The past several months have seen me entirely give up working on my book, thus proving that writing is my main method of depression management. I have been entirely content, mostly because of the new relationship in my life. However, as that relationship normalizes and becomes just another daily part of my life, I have begun to feel drawn back towards writing. Ideas for stories have been keeping me awake, keeping me entertained while I go about the day-to-day business of living.

So, can I be happy and still write? I hope so. I’m going to try. However, I don’t want to entirely give up on my last project just because I may be starting a new one. It still needs loads of work, hard, difficult, possibly ego destryoing work. To that end I am putting my first chapter out for your consideration.  I worry that in fact the first chapter I’ve written should actually remain backstory rather than, er, frontstory? But having said that I would still love any input people are willing to provide. What did you enjoy, what didn’t make sense, etc. If you have any friends interested in Urban Fantasy (the genre my work falls into) please pass it along to them.

Thanks and here goes.

What’s Borne in the Blood

1

Life is funny. Sometimes in a ‘ha-ha’ way but more often, in my experience, in  ‘the-exact-opposite-of-amusing,’ way. It was a frosty evening in Toronto and something funny was going on.

The alleyway I’d been living in for the past several weeks reeked of a pungent mix of piss and booze, with a delicate undertone of rotting food from the dumpster at its entrance. Near the lower part of St. James’ town and just behind a strip club and a diner, no one gave me much trouble when I spent nights here, camping out as far from anything organic as I could get. Living on the street wasn’t a picnic but I’d done my best to make a cozy little nest for myself in a pocket of space set aside for the fire door of the club. I’m fairly certain it was rusted shut, in strict violation of the fire code, so I was in no danger of getting shifted in the middle of the night. Piled high around me were all the sleeping bags and blankets I could find, forming a snug little cocoon. I would have preferred something a bit less flammable but I figured if the whole mish-mash of fabric ever did catch fire, between the heavy metal door and the surrounding cement alcove, it wouldn’t spread far. The key thing was that I wasn’t near any other people, homeless or otherwise. That’s what had drawn me to the area, even run down and in the dumps as it was. When you were already sleeping on the streets I guess you could be a bit picky about what streets you slept on. Or other people could anyways. My ‘condition’ meant I had fewer options than most.

During the day I moved around, trying to stay away from people as best I could while still begging enough change to get food and occasionally ducking into public restrooms to use the facilities. I hadn’t bathed in over a month; I’d stopped caring how bad I smelled after only a week on the streets. Your priorities shift pretty quickly out here: less concern about coffee, clothes and basic hygiene, more worry about finding enough food to survive and staying away from the crazies, druggies and other dangerous flotsam and jetsam. And of course I spent most of my time just trying not to hurt anyone.

I’d been a city scavenger, one of the crawling, great unwashed for…I forget how long. Two months? Three? It had been early summer when I’d first slunk back to the city and buried myself in my pile o’ stink. It was Autumn now,  so I guess I’d been out here a bit longer than I’d thought. Time did weird things when you had no way to mark its passing: no appointments, meetings, bills to pay, anniversaries. It all blended into one dreamlike blur. Every day was the same day as before, a seamless continuation, each night a match for the previous one with variations too small to make a difference.

I hadn’t planned on this life at all. Me, Jacqueline Brankowski (just call me Jacq), I was not supposed to be here. Sure, I’d had a bit of a weird upbringing, but that had all changed when I was a teenager. I’d excelled at school, gotten a scholarship and was accepted to the University of Toronto for History. I hadn’t really thought through what exactly I was going to do with a history degree, but it was interesting and I was good at it. I had friends, a crappy little apartment and even a boyfriend, for a little while at least. Then, the year before I graduated, I went to the tiny bungalow on the border of Scarborough my parents were subletting for the winter, the only time they took a break from the road. It was Christmas and we were spending it together as we always did.  After that came The Fire and now I was living in my own stink.

That was nearly 4 years ago.

Tonight must have been a Friday or Saturday because the club was doing good business. Loud, pounding bass business as indicated by the way the fire door was vibrating against my skull as I tried to get to sleep. It was nearly two and they would have stopped serving alcohol by now but that didn’t seem to be bringing the good times to any kind of close. I guess writhing, naked women bring on their own kind of intoxication.

I’d learned, sleeping out in the open like this, to distinguish between the usual night sounds of the neighbourhood, the kind I could pretty much ignore, and the other kind, the sort of sounds that meant something different was going down and I needed to prick up my ears.

The rough bark of drunken laughter and the heavy, stumbling footfalls of at least two people, men by the sounds of the laughter and weight of the clumping steps, were not the usual sounds. At least not coming back into the alley, away from the street and the parking lot around the corner. They were probably just coming back here to take a piss against the wall so I hunkered down further into my nest and hoped they stayed far enough down the alley that I wouldn’t have the stink of fresh urine in my nostrils all night.

Of course I wasn’t that lucky. They made the turn towards my end of the alley and both seemed to decide simultaneously that my dark little nook would be the perfect place to relieve themselves.

As they got closer, their grunting voices thick with drink, the Power inside me woke up, like a gas burner being suddenly turned on, just waiting for the spark to light it.

The men stumbled over, each supporting the other, laughing and joking in voices so slurred I couldn’t catch more than one word out of ten, their breath puffing white in the crisp night air. I held my own breath, hoping to the last that they would veer off and I could avoid any confrontation, but when the two shadowy forms loomed over me and I heard the sound of zippers being lowered I knew I was out of luck.

“Hey, guys, could you maybe not piss on me?”

Both men flew back as if touched with a live wire, the one on the left giving a less than manly scream of surprise and falling flat on his back. The other one, taller by about half a foot and heavier by a good twenty pounds, pressed himself flat against the wall across from my alcove. He must have been a bit more sober because he managed to zip himself back up and stay on his feet, while the other guy lay sprawled and panting with his fly down.

“What the fuck!?” Tall Guy shouted, his voice stretched and angry. I raised myself to an upright position and removed enough layers so they could see I was an actual person and not a talking pile of blankets.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to surprise you, just didn’t fancy getting pissed on.” I tried to keep my voice level and non-judgemental, though I didn’t think either of them was sober enough to detect anything as subtle as tone of voice. I really just wanted them to go so I could get myself back under control. I needed to tamp down the panic rising inside me, but I didn’t think shouting at them to get lost was the way to go.

The guy who’d fallen pulled his legs up under him and rose unsteadily. He had the stretched, hard features of someone who’d grown up malnourished, being fed only cheap processed food from day one. It was a look common to this neighbourhood. His eyes were sunk deep in his face but opened wide in surprise.

“Holy shit, there’s a lady in there!” He finally noticed his zipper was still down, maybe he felt a draft, and yanked it up. I studiously kept my eyes on his face.

“What the fuck you doing in there lady?” the other guy barked at me accusingly, like I’d been lying in wait just to catch them with their flies down.

Despite everything that was going on being called “lady” kind of bothered me. I was 24, not exactly old, but I guess I should have been pleased they could even tell I was female, bundled up the way I was.

“I’m just trying to sleep guys, so why don’t you move on and we’ll just forget all about this, okay?” I could tell something about my voice or the way I was speaking wasn’t sitting well with them. I could kind of understand. Usually when you talk to homeless people, there’s a fuzzyness to their speech, whether from drink, drugs or just the disconnect that comes from being out in the air too long. I didn’t have any of that. I sounded too sober and self-aware.

There was a moment of silence, loaded like a gun. I waited to see if anyone was going to pull the trigger. I could see both men trying to think through the alcoholic haze they were under, like looking through thick glass, and I couldn’t help holding my breath. Please just go away I begged silently.

The two drunks shifted closer together, drawn magnetically, till they were leaning on each other for support again. The contact seemed to give them both the balls they needed to make a really bad decision.

The tall one grunted, his soft, doughy face the opposite of his sharp featured friend’s. “Fuck you lady. We’ll piss wherever we want.”

“Yeah Bitch. You gonna live like an animal, we’ll piss on you like an animal.”

Even as scared as I suddenly was I couldn’t help but be annoyed by the absurdity of that statement. How many animals had this guy urinated on in his life, and more importantly, would even an animal just sit there and take it?

As they both stumbled towards me I hoisted myself up from beneath my layers of blanket and rose to my full height, nearly six feet. It wouldn’t have been nearly as impressive if the idiots coming towards me hadn’t obviously expected some wasted little woman. It gave them pause, but they were either too drunk or just too determined to stop.

My entire body trembled. I strained to keep the Power inside me quiet. The gas was on but there was no flame yet, and I was scared out of my wits. Even then, I still probably could have just made a dash for it down the alley and out onto the street. The men were so loaded they would have tripped over their own feet trying to follow me. Then Sharp Face spoke and all bets were off.

“Yeah, and maybe after we’ve used you as a pissing pole you can provide another service for us, and our cocks.” He leered at me and unzipped his jeans. Dough Face grinned and did the same. That’s when I totally lost it.

See,the fire that had killed my parents nearly 4 years ago, that had left me lost and hallucinating in the ravine behind there shabby bungalow, had been my fault. I hadn’t left a candle burning or fallen asleep with a cigarette in my mouth (smoking=bad breath, yellow teeth and, oh, death), nothing so pedestrian unfortunately. No, the fire had been me. I could start fires with my mind. That’s right, I was a Firestarter.  Drew Barrymore, eat your heart out. And I’d woken up in a fire of my own creation, a fire that burned my parents alive and left me alone, confused and afraid.

That’s what the Power was, the thing inside me, that I liked to think of as being separate from me though I wasn’t sure that was true. It was fire, horrible, death causing flames. I’d learned to control it a bit, but not much. Not as much as I’d hoped anyways.

After the night my ability first revealed itself, I’d decided I couldn’t return to school, so I’d gone back to what I knew, my parent’s old business. But that had ended badly, proving that it wasn’t safe for me to be around other people.  I’d finished up back in Toronto, the only city I’d ever lived in long enough to call home.

Boo-hoo, poor little me…Whatever.

So here I was, in this filthy alley, with two assholes threatening to rape me. Their threat was all the spark the Power needed. Flame on.

In the past I’d only ever set ‘things’ on fire; my parent’s house, bushes in the woods, a few random piles of trash, then as part of my job and that one time…but this was new. This time rather than the fire leaving me and setting something else on fire it swirled up around me, wrapping me in what felt like fluttering silk. In an instant, all 5 layers of clothing I had bundled myself in were burned away and the only thing standing between complete nudity and the frigid night air was fire. I was on fire. Or maybe I was fire. It’s all a bit hazy.

All I know is that the flames blazing from me sent the ass-hats, dicks still waving in the breeze, stumbling away screaming.

I barely saw enough of them to know what was happening. The fact they were backing off was just too little too late. I was completely out of control. All there was in the whole world was fire, just like the night my parents had died. That horrific evening flashed back to me and I screamed, sending a wave of flames out from my body. The Power was taking over, building and building till it felt like I was going to explode. And then I did.

Like a firecracker, I shot straight up leaving a trail of flame in my wake. Seriously. I had done a complete Johnny Storm, flying upwards, the fire that surrounded my body also propelling me along.

Actually, calling what I was doing flying would have been a bit generous. I was hurtling through the air above the city with absolutely no control over my direction or destination. I couldn’t even see where I was going, my vision blinded by the flames engulfing me. It seemed like a bit of a design flaw, whether by mother-nature or whatever had made me the way I was. As I flew blindly over the city another flaw in this particular system made itself clear. With the fire wrapped around me as it was, eating up oxygen to stay alive, I was starting to find it hard to breathe. In fact within moments of taking off, breathing was no longer an option.

High above the city, with no idea where I was headed or how I was going to land I took one final gasping breath before blacking out completely.

————————————–                                   

I awoke to the cold grey light of an early November dawn. Right, it was November. For some reason my brain chose that moment to recall seeing people with Remembrance Day poppies pinned to their lapels around the city. God. November. Had I really been on the streets that long? Okay, back to the present.

Something sharp was poking me in the thigh. It was really annoying and I wanted it to stop. It didn’t, so I reckoned I would actually have to do something about it. I looked down and saw a small stick jutting out of the ashen grey sand of a beach. I was on a beach. I brushed some sand off my bare thigh. And I was naked. I was lying on a beach without any clothes on with a stick jabbing my leg. It may have been almost acceptable if I’d been on a bright, sunny beach on the Riviera, sexy cabana boys bringing me fruity alcoholic beverages whenever I liked.

Sadly I had no such luck. I was still in Toronto, lying on the beach in a part of the city called, fairly unoriginally I thought, The Beaches. Or just The Beach if you were a local. And a complete snob. The east end beaches weren’t the only ones in the city though it could be argued they were the nicest, certainly the most popular, definitely not nudist.

I mentioned it was November right? Freezing wind blew off the water and I should have had hypothermia after lying there naked for half the night, but I didn’t because the one good thing the Power brought to my life was that I didn’t feel the cold. Or the heat for that matter. It was always a comfortable 21 degrees Celsius for me, whether I was in the Sahara or the Arctic. So the only problem I had with being naked in November was that I was NAKED!

Fortunately, I seemed to be the only person on the beach this morning, though I knew that wouldn’t last. It was just a matter of time before the dog walkers and joggers arrived for their morning rounds.

I pulled my knees up to my chest, doing my best to cover up all my naughty bits. I was also trying to ignore the sand sticking to my butt and probably getting in to all manner of uncomfortable and awkward places.

Scritch…scritch…

My head whipped around and I had a sudden conviction that the two losers who had tried to pee on me last night must have followed me.

A seagull stood a few feet away, looking up at me quizzically, its beady yellow eyes reminding me of headlights in fog, pale and casting no light.

Scritch…scritch…scritch…

The gull was scratching at the ground with its beak, trying to scrape through it.

I did a double take and leaned forward, forgetting all modesty. The sand the gull was on stretched out in a dark, uneven strip like a short road behind me; it wasn’t sand anymore . Well, technically it was sand. Just sand that had burned so hot it had melted into glass. The scruffy, yellow eyed bird was standing there scratching at my landing strip.

“Ho-ly shit.”

I reached out and touched the glass. It was rough, sand and pebbles coating its surface. It made a slightly hollow sound when I rapped it with my knuckle. The gull froze, stopping its investigation of the glass and focusing on me again, it’s head tilted sideways as if trying to figure me out. Irrationally bothered by the stupid bird, I threw a small stone at it. The gull fluttered back a few feet, complaining noisily, then settled again, fixing on me with its blank yellow eyes.

“Stupid bird. Go! Shoo!”

I knew that yelling at animals wasn’t going to help my situation at all but the gull was starting to bug me. I felt like it was judging me. I shook my head to clear it. Okay Jacq, time to get a grip. The bird isn’t judging you.

The gull tilted its head at me again.

“Yeah well, you think you’re so special. You’re not the only one around here who can fly. And my brain is way bigger.” Ok, now I was insulting the bird. I was completely losing it.

The gull took a few tentative steps toward me, it’s feet making tiny clicking sounds on the dark surface of the glass. We stared silently at each other for several moments. Every time it tilted its head I did too. This seemed to confuse the bird so it tilted its head the other way. So did I. Finally our game was halted by the sound of barking coming from not nearly far enough away.

Crap! Someone was coming. It had been inevitable that a dog walker or one of those insane joggers who ran no matter how cold it got, would come along the boardwalk eventually. I had just hoped that I’d have figured out a plan for finding some clothes before then.

I turned to face the direction of the barking. A huge, black wolfhound loped towards me, its paws flinging sand in all directions. If I’d been standing, it’s back would have been at the same height as my waist, as it was, with me on the ground trying to make myself as tiny as possible, the beast’s head was actually higher than mine. By the time I’d figured out what kind of dog it was and decided it didn’t look blood-thirsty (it had more of a shaggy smile thing going actually) the hound was on me. It’s claws scraped my bare flesh as it tried to climb on top of me. I prayed to god it wasn’t going to try to hump my leg. Oh god, or any other part of me. I pushed it off as best I could, not quite managing to avoid getting dog slobber on my face.

“Argh! Get…off…me! Blech!”

I was finally able to get free of the beast. The gigantic animal managed to calm down enough for me to breathe without inhaling dog spit, but it still loomed over me quite impressively.

“Cedric! Get away from that naked woman immediately!” The command came from several feet away. I looked up, my cheeks instantly burning red with embarrassment.

The over-excited canine bounded over to its owner, who stood about five feet away, then sat expectantly before him, tail thunking quietly on the sand. The dog’s owner was an older gentleman with thin, graying hair and thick, circular glasses that made his eyes appear as if they were trapped in two tiny fish bowls. The guy was small enough that he could have ridden the hound and his feet wouldn’t have touched the ground. From what I could see of his face I guessed him to be in his 60’s. There was nothing particularly unusual about him except for his coat, a long, black, puffy nylon affair which went all the way down to his feet and made him look like a giant caterpillar. I’d seen tiny Asian women wearing them before, but never a man.

As I huddled on the sand, trying to hide my nakedness as best I could, the older man bent down and scratched his dog behind the ears causing its tail to thunk against the sand even faster.

“Who’s a good boy, who’s a good doggy, finding naked girls on the beach, who’s my lovely puppy?” He spoke the way you would to a baby and made kissy noises at the excited dog, then looked at me, one eyebrow raised inquisitively as he straightened.

“Well, I must say I think you’re by far the most interesting thing Cedric has ever dug up on the beach.” His voice was slightly nasal and incredibly camp. I immediately made certain assumptions about his sexual orientation.

With his magnified green eyes and prominent upper and lower lids he looked rather like a turtle and when he blinked his lids met in the middle. He surveyed the scene, taking in the swath of hardened sand and my clothes-less condition. “You know, I don’t think I’m even going to ask how you ended up naked on a public beach in the middle of winter.” He placed one purple gloved hand on his hip, or where his hip would be if he weren’t just one long tube of puffyness. “However I’m not one to ignore a fellow being in distress. My name’s Beverly. You’ve met Cedric already.” He leaned down to pat the shaggy hound again.

I wasn’t sure what to say, though I was glad he wasn’t asking for any kind of explanation. I really had no idea what I would have said, “I was sleeping in an alley and two guys were going to pee on me then possibly rape me so I burst into flame and flew here,” didn’t seem like a good idea.

“Um, I’m Jacq.”

I jerked back in surprise when he clapped his hands in delight. “Oh that’s just perfect. Jacq and Beverly. Brilliant! You’re a woman with a man’s name and I’m a man with a woman’s name. I love coincidences like that. They’re what make life such a hoot.” I wasn’t sure if he was being serious or sarcastic. It was a feeling I’d get used to.

He looked me up and down his expression thoughtful.

“I suppose I should give you my coat. You must be freezing.” He didn’t actually sound all that inclined to hand his full body coat over. I opened my mouth to tell him not to worry, I wasn’t cold at all then snapped it shut remembering that of course I should be freezing. A normal person would be blue and shivering by now. However, I didn’t want Beverly to get suspicious so I should probably start acting the part of frozen victim.

“Y-y-yess, v-v-very c-c-cold.” I clutched my legs tightly and shook like I was having convulsions. I might have over-done it a bit.

Beverly frowned at me then rolled his eyes heaven ward. “Well, that is the most pathetic attempt at appearing cold I’ve ever seen. You look like a vaudevillian actor going for laughs.” He crossed his puffy black arms over his puffy black chest and squinted at me with his magnified turtle eyes.

“You’re not in the least bit cold are you?”

For a moment I considered lying, but there was something about this peculiar little man that made me think I might be better off if I told the truth. I immediately stopped shivering and gave him an apologetic look.

“Uh, no. Not really. Not at all in fact.” I shrugged my bare shoulders. Beverly appraised me for a moment then bent and scratched behind Cedric’s ears. It seemed to me an unconscious gesture, sort of meditative.

“Well Cedric, what do you think? Should we help the poor creature or leave her for someone else to deal with?”

All the blood drained from my face. Leave me? Suddenly I felt very certain that I didn’t want to be left, that I wanted Beverly to help me. That he was the only one that could help me.

Before I could say a word, beg him to help, he came to a decision nodding at the happy wolfhound at his feet.

“Of course, we must help her. Wouldn’t do to leave her here and let the humans discover her.” He crossed the five or so feet of dark sand between us in a moment and reached for me. With no effort at all as far as I could tell he hoisted me to my feet.

“Jesus!” I lurched back in surprise, trying to use my arms to cover my nakedness.

Beverly’s turtle eyes widened in shock before becoming heavy lidded with disdain. He gave me a look of pure contempt.

“I assure you my dear, I am only trying to help you. I have no interest in your…body,” this last was said with such barely contained scorn I almost forgot I needed this man’s help and got offended myself. I swallowed my pride, so that when I spoke I sounded almost normal.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything by that…I just didn’t expect you to be so strong and wait, did you say humans?” His words had only just registered in my brain.

The about face in subject seemed to throw him for a moment.

“Pardon?’

“You said it wouldn’t do to leave me for the humans to find which would mean…”

I took a wary step back, all attempts at modesty forgotten. “What are you?”

Beverly’s look of confusion hardened into something sterner.

“I think I could ask you the same thing. Or do you know lots of humans that can, what…” he looked at the glass/sand pointedly, “…transform things with your mind or…” he seemed suddenly more certain as he looked at my makeshift runway and my nakedness, “set themselves on fire and fly through the air.”  A bitter smile tweaked the corners of his mouth, “Or would you rather I left you to be discovered by some normal people, and you can try to explain to them how you ended up here in the middle of winter with no clothes but don’t feel cold. I’m sure they’d understand”

He was right of course. Whoever he was, whatever he was, he was the only chance I had of getting home. My other option was trying to get there naked or busting into someone’s house and stealing some clothes. I’d either end up in jail or a mental institution. If I was really lucky the cops might decide I was dangerous and tazer me. It seemed to be the new pass-time of law enforcement in this country.

I looked the older man up and down. He certainly seemed harmless. But then so did I, and I’d proven more than once that I was as far from harmless as drunk is from sober.

My shoulders sagged in defeat. There was no use fighting it. Despite my reservations my choice was really no choice at all. Beverly seemed to recognise where my thoughts had led me. He nodded once in acknowledgement of my change of heart.

“Good. Now…first things first. You’ll need to wear my coat,” he unzipped the floor length, puffy sheath, revealing khakis and a tasteful shirt and sweater-vest combo. “As much as I’m neither bothered by nor interested in your nudity, it would probably draw the wrong kind of attention. My neighbours are a conservative lot and I want to remain a member of the Community Interests Committee. I’m the treasurer and it wouldn’t do for me to be seen gallivanting around with nude women.”

I took the proffered coat and slipped it on. It was a bit tight across the shoulders, when I zipped it up my breasts were squashed almost to the point of pain. Though it had hung almost to the ground on Beverly, he was a good head shorter than me so the bottom edge of the coat only reached just below my knees. Still, it was good to not be naked anymore.

Smiling with a measure of satisfaction Beverly looked me up and down.

“Well, I suppose it will have to do for now. Fortunately I don’t live far,” he turned and began walking back towards the boardwalk and the street beyond. Cedric trotted along happily beside us, occasionally rubbing my legs with his shaggy fur as he came by for a good sniff. 

For a little guy Beverly crossed the beach at quite a clip. I jogged to catch up, moving awkwardly, my steps shortened immensely by the tightly fitting coat. My movement was further impeded by the sand. My feet weren’t cold but I could still feel pain and all the sharp rocks and bits of wood were starting to get to me. Finally we reached the boardwalk. I was relived to be on more solid ground, though that was quickly replaced by annoyance as Beverly’s pace picked up even more. What was he trying to do? Lose me?

“Hey, wait up!”

I shuffled as quickly as I could across the uneven wood and onto the grass where Beverly and Cedric were nearly to the road. Without turning around he said, “You may be immune to the cold but my old bones feel it very keenly. I want to get home as quickly as possible. You’ll just have to keep up.”

I shuffled faster.

We crossed the road without seeing anyone and started up a quaint residential street. The houses  were all well cared for, with evidence of oft-tended lawns and gardens, some of which were impressively large. I’d been to the Beaches a few times over the years but I don’t think I’d noticed how freakin’ huge some of these places were.

Hurrying along behind Beverly and Cedric my feet made an audible slapping sound on the sidewalk. Beverly glanced over his shoulder at me and smirked.

“Not exactly a delicate flower are you?”

“Hey,” I said, offended.

Amused, he shook his head. “Oh please, you can’t possibly be offended by anything I say, it’s not worth it I assure you. Besides, I have no patience at all for the kind of woman who plays the defenceless damsel in distress. I’m just glad you’re more sensible than that.”

I shrugged. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had to worry about what other people thought about me. I’m pretty out of practice when it comes to the social graces.” Living beside a dumpster and smelling like sweat and lord knows what else tends to limit ones social circle somewhat, on top of which I’d been avoiding the other street people, so I really had gotten out of the habit of civilized life.

“I’d noticed.”

We continued on in silence, the only sounds the slapping of my feet and the excited panting of Cedric. I managed to catch up to Beverly, though keeping that pace, hobbled as I was by the long coat, was murder on my calves.

“Is there anyone I can call for you when we get in?” he asked distractedly.

I hesitated, “No,” I replied quietly. Beverly glanced at me then slowed his pace slightly. “You’ve got no family.” It was a statement. I shook my head, trying to block all thoughts of the family I’d once had from my mind.

“Well, that would explain why you think you’re human.”

I drew up sharply. “Excuse me?” I said accusingly.

Beverly rounded on me and sighed theatrically. “Really dear, can we please have this discussion inside? I am bloody freezing.”

I began shuffling along again but I wasn’t happy. Why the hell was I going anywhere with this weird old man and his giant dog? Well Jacq, because otherwise you’d be naked and alone and as much as you want to be all offended you know he’s right. You’re not human, not completely, and he seems to know something about it. So suck it up you big sissy.

Yes, that’s right, I’m talking to myself, though sometimes it feels like the thoughts are coming from outside, some Other, an observer, and a really sarcastic, insulting one at that.

I had to admit that being able to set things on fire with my mind wasn’t exactly a normal, human thing to do, but the thought that I was actually NOT human was a hard to wrap my head around.

I guess that’s why I kept my mouth shut and continued shuffling along behind the obviously freezing older man. I wanted answers to questions I’d been afraid to ask since the fire.

We turned up Balsam Ave., passing immaculately tended homes, each one unique but all of them together creating a whole that was harmonious. It was a mixed neighbourhood with artists and professionals living side by side. It made me think of my own home growing up, and how different it was from this idyllic residential haven. A ratty old trailer can’t compete in most ways with an actual house, let alone these robust and well cared for offerings, but it did have one thing these didn’t. My family. And a really tiny shower. I mean, teeny-weeny, shoe-box size, freak of nature small. I still plan on tracking down the idiot who designed it and kicking him in the nuts.

The street was getting busy now with people heading off to work and children, with their huge, oversized backpacks nearly pulling them over backwards, heading to school. One of my few friends in high-school had lived around here and there was an elementary school across the street from his place. That was probably where most of these kids were going. I got a lump in my throat thinking about the past, remembering those few moments of normality between when we left the travelling life so I could go to school and killing my parents. I swallowed it and focused on the here and now.

A mother with two kids passed us. The youngest child, a boy of maybe 6, noticed my bare feet.  Eyes wide, he tugged on his mother’s coat sleeve to get her attention.

“Mommy, that woman has no shoes!”

His harried mother didn’t look where her son was pointing, just gripped his arm to keep him moving.

“Steven, we’re going to be late.”

Steven kept his head twisted around so he could continue to stare at me and Beverly until his mother jerked him forward in frustration, complaining again about how late they were. They disappeared over a rise and I was left with Cedric and his master, who was opening a small, wrought iron gate. We walked through, Cedric following, his tail wagging madly. I followed them up the paved path to a charming little house with shuttered windows and a small porch. It was painted light blue with white trim and accents like a house in a picture of the English countryside as envisioned by Walt Disney. The front garden, bare and brown at this time of year except for a few struggling coniferous bushes, none-the-less gave the impression of an overgrown grotto. It must have been a lovely, lush place in the warmer weather.

Beverly unlocked the front door with its old-fashioned brass knocker and Cedric bounded past him nearly knocking the slight man over. Before he could enter as well I touched his arm, stopping him. He looked at me and I held his gaze.

“You haven’t answered my question.”

Beverly sighed and tried to push me through the open door but I wasn’t budging.

“I’m not going to answer your questions while I’m freezing my bits off out here. Let’s just get inside, get you something to wear and I’ll brew us a nice pot of tea. Then I’ll answer your questions. Agreed?”

It was annoyingly reasonable. I felt like a petulant child demanding answers now, now, now! So I nodded and let him direct me though the open door.

“Agreed.”

A little while later I was sitting in Beverly’s front room trying to make myself comfortable on a delicate day bed that was doubling as a sofa. Every time I shifted it made horrible creaking sounds and I was sure it was going to give way at any minute. It was also making me feel more than a bit self-conscious about my weight.

The room was done in a tasteful French Country style, with blue and white being the dominating colours. The walls were navy along the bottom half and had a blue and white Delft pattern along the top, separated by a thin border of dark wood. The side tables, coffee table and shelves were done in this same dark wood. Everything looked expensive and breakable and I wondered that Beverly was able to keep the place in such good shape with a huge wolfhound as a house-mate. Personally I was felt breathing was a risky endeavour, let alone moving.

My hair was still damp from the shower I’d taken upstairs. It had required a solid 20 minutes of scrubbing and lathering to get all the stink off. Honestly, not having washed in nearly a month, I was surprised I was able to get it all off without a chisel or sandblaster. The water running from my body was nearly black when I first got under the hot water and didn’t run clear till the shower had turned cold and I was starting to get wrinkly fingers and toes.

When I emerged from the shower all pink and clean, I found a pair of grey sweat pants and a matching sweat-shirt with Queen’s University written across the chest. Amazingly they both fit me pretty well. There was no way these belonged to Beverly, he would be swimming in them, and I wondered who had left them. I felt a bit guilty, like I was nosing around in his business, then I chided myself. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Sometimes I had the guilt reflex of a hardened Catholic.

I wiped the condensation from the large mirror above the sink and appraised my reflection.

Blech…I looked tired. Dark bags hung beneath my washed out blue eyes. My short, blonde bob was tangled more than usual and I stood there for several minutes brutalising my damp hair with a comb until it behaved. It felt like I’d been beaten around the head afterwards, but at least my hair was lying flat. It had taken three goes with the shampoo to get it really clean and there wasn’t any conditioner. Which, considering how little hair my balding host had, wasn’t all that surprising.

It had been a long time since I’d seen myself in a mirror. I’d stopped really caring about my appearance since returning to the city. I felt like I was seeing myself clearly for the first time in months. Not unsurprisingly I looked pretty much the same as I always had. My nose was too small and my forehead was narrow, but I had nice, full lips and cheekbones to die for. I’d always been complimented on my good bone structure. Really could do with a better nose though.

My figure was what a kind person would call curvy but I considered myself one chicken Korma away from fat, though living rough had done a fair bit for my waistline. Ah, the starvation diet. A few days of proper nutrition and I’d be back to pleasantly plump. It was just the way I was built.

Have to say, as thankful as I was for the shower and the clothes, I really wish it hadn’t been sweats. They made me look like a  grey lump. That’s right, as soon as you do something like have a shower and brush your hair all bets are off. If I was going to smell nice I wanted to look nice too. How quickly we find ourselves resocialised.

The washroom I was in was immaculately clean and tastefully decorated in cream and a rich, chocolate brown, with a towel of each colour hung on a rail by the bath. Everything matched and had its own place. My Aunt Beryl would have loved it.

When I was finally satisfied I looked as good as I was going to, I followed the sound of Beverly’s voice down the stairs and towards the kitchen. He was just hanging the phone back on its hook on the wall when I entered. His expression was serious, like a man who’s just gotten bad news but when he noticed me lurking by the door his face cleared and he smiled .

“Well, that’s a bit better,” he walked around me slowly, checking every angle, making me feel like I was getting the royal review, “you won’t be winning any beauty contests, but then you won’t be getting arrested for indecent exposure either.”

I smiled stiffly. He seemed like a nice guy, and he was going out of his way to help me so I suppose I should have been grateful, but there was something about his expression when I’d entered the room that had put me on alert. I was torn between my desire to trust him and maybe find out what was happening to me, and the urge to flee. I did an internal once over of my body and found the Power inside me a quiet glow, present but not active. So, I’d stick around for now…

I wandered over to the little kitchen island while Beverly returned to his preparations. Cedric was flopped out on the floor beneath a small breakfast table in one corner. The wolfhound snorted once and shifted his head on his paws, giving me an uninterested glance before settling back to sleep. I was damn glad he didn’t see me as any kind of threat considering he was nearly as big as I was and had much sharper teeth. Expansive windows above the table gave a view onto a back garden done in the English style, which meant it was manicured to within an inch of its life, but would probably be stunning come spring.

When I’d tried to help with the food prep I’d been shooed away and ushered into the living room where I’d been waiting anxiously for the past ten minutes. By the time Beverly entered with a tea tray heaped high with goodies I had memorised every line of the blue windmill and dutch-girl pattern on the sofa I was perched on. I’d also decided that clogs had to be the stupidest invention ever. Who the hell thought it was a good idea to make shoes out of wood anyways?

Setting the tray down on the ornately footed coffee table, Beverly settled into a narrow, over-stuffed wing back chair across from me, crossing his legs delicately and straightening out the line of his trousers.

“Help yourself,” he said genially.

I looked at the offerings before me. Besides a tea-pot with a set of fine, bone china cups and saucers, there was a plate piled high with finger sandwiches and another with English biscuits. As I gazed longlingly at the ridiculously twee, affectedly dainty food, I realised I was absolutely starving. I practically inhaled a cucumber and marmite sandwich before moving on to one  containing cheese and chutney, topping it all off with two short bread cookies and another cucumber sandwich for good measure. When I’d finished gorging myself I took a deep breath of satisfaction and looked over at Beverly. He was staring at me with amusement.

“Better now?”

“Er, yes. Thank you.” God, I must have looked like such a pig. My eating habits had degraded somewhat over the last little while what with not knowing when my next meal would be. I was covered in crumbs and had even managed to get a blob of chutney smeared on my sweatpants. I went to brush the crumbs off onto the floor then realised that would be even worse and froze awkwardly.

“Oh go ahead,” my host said lightly, “today is cleaning day anyways. The rug is already a disaster.”

The soft, white rug was immaculate, but I decided not to argue. It would have been rude. I hastily shook the crumbs off my lap onto the floor, ignoring the mess I was making.

“Sorry. I haven’t eaten since lunch yesterday,” I muttered lamely.

“That’s quite alright. You eat your fill. I’ve already had breakfast so I’m not hungry. How do you like your tea?”

I slowly and carefully picked up another sandwich, being careful about the crumbs this time. Beverly poured the steaming brew into two china cups. I swallowed noisily before speaking.

“Milk and sugar please.”

Beverly added the ingredients to one cup and placed it in front of me on its matching saucer.

“I’ve got into the habit of having mine with a slice of lemon,” he said as he squeezed said fruit into his tea. The scent of lemon filled the room, somehow making me feel more relaxed.

“My granny used to have lemon with her tea. I never liked it, but the smell always reminds me of her.” I hadn’t meant to speak, it had just come out. I hadn’t thought about my grandmother in years. She’d died when I was still a kid but I had fond memories of tea parties at her house, and playing gin rummy for hours, though I had no idea how to play the game anymore. I always thought it was weird that her house stayed in the same place all the time since I was used to our constantly travelling trailer. After she’d died it had just been me and my parents. My mom’s family were all dead aside from Aunt Beryl and granny was the last of my father’s relatives. I hadn’t realised how unusual it was to have such a small family till I got older.

Settling back into his chair Beverly gave me an appraising look.

“So…”

“Yeah.”

“It’s not every day I find a naked woman on the beach.”

“No, I would guess not.”

“Any chance you’d like to explain how you got there?”

I stared down into my tea, watching it swirl. When the silence threatened to drag on forever the older man sighed and placed his cup back on its saucer.

“I see. Well, perhaps you should start then. I imagine you have some questions for me considering how appalled you were at my use of the word ‘human’.”

I shifted uncomfortably then placed my cup and saucer back on the tea tray. How was I going to put this?

“What are you?” So, I was obviously going for the direct approach.

The older man quirked a graying eye-brow. “I’m a retired bachelor living a life of ease after decades of public service. What are you?”

I huffed slightly.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“I know,” he leaned forward to place his own cup and saucer on the elegant coffee table, “I’m just not at all sure how to explain things to you. You should have been raised to understand these things. I really can’t imagine how you’ve gone so long without knowing what you are.”

“I’m human.” I heard the note of petulance in my voice and winced. I was human wasn’t I? Until 4 years ago I’d been completely normal. Mostly. Well nothing a good therapist couldn’t have fixed. And now, suddenly, this kindly looking little man was implying I wasn’t human at all. At least I thought that’s what he was implying.

“No. You’re not. Not entirely. Not from what you’ve told me. Not from the evidence I saw down on the beach this morning.” Beverly was being firm, leaving no room for argument. Which wasn’t going to stop me from arguing.

“You’re wrong. No, wait, you’re not wrong…you’re insane. Yes, insane. I’m leaving”, I stood abruptly almost knocking my tea over in the process. Everything was so small and packed so closely together there was no way I was going to get out of here with my dignity intact. I shuffled sideways through the narrow space between the sofa and the coffee table. I managed not to knock anything over but nearly tripped on the hem of my sweatpants before steadying myself on the door frame. I was nearly six foot so whoever the previous owner of these pants was he was a freakin’ giant. My breathing was loud in my ears, I was practically hyperventilating. Crap! Why was I even letting what this stranger was saying bother me.

I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the door frame, appreciating the cool of the wood against my face.

I was letting it bother me because he might be right. Whatever had happened during the fire 4 years ago it had left me changed. I wasn’t a normal person anymore, I wasn’t…

Deflect.

“You’re not human.” It wasn’t a question. I opened my eyes and looked at Beverly who had relaxed back into his chair, all lord-of-the-manner like. He studied me thoughtfully, his green, turtle eyes blinking slowly, then tilted his head to the side reminding me of the seagull from the beach.

“No. Not entirely.”

I felt like I’d suddenly grown an extra nose, which was funny considering I was talking to someone who claimed to not be human.

“You really have no idea of your heritage? You weren’t raised in the Blood community at all?” he asked wonderingly. Since I had no clue what he was talking about I could safely say, “No.”

He shook his head, but smiled reassuringly. “Well, no wonder you’re ending up on public beaches with no clothes, you haven’t had anyone to show you how to use your abilities properly. I’ve heard of Bloods growing up with humans, not finding out till much later in life what they are, but I’ve never actually met one.”

I bit my tongue to stop myself from repeating that I was human. It felt less and less like the truth the more I said it.

“If I’m really the first of our kind you’ve ever met it’s no wonder you were so hostile outside. I forgive you,” he intoned magnanimously, but I wasn’t paying attention.

The memory of a tall, blonde man with sharp features who’d helped me the night of the fire flashed into my mind. He’d been so beautiful and strange, otherworldly. Maybe…

I set that thought aside for the moment. I had a more immediate question.

“If you aren’t human, what are you?”

“Sit down.”

“But…”

“Sit down and I’ll tell you whatever I can.”

Part of me still wanted to leave. I’d wanted some kind of answer about what had happened to me the night of the fire, why I had changed. What I had become. But now that it was possible I was actually going to get some of those answers I found I was scared. Maybe it was better not to know? Then I remembered almost getting pissed on in an alley and accidentally flying through the air on fire.

I shuffled back to the little day sofa and perched stiffly on its edge. I needed to know.

Retrieving his tea, Beverly settled back into his chair and took a sip.

“Collectively we call ourselves Bloods. There are Half-Bloods like myself, and I suspect you, who are part human. Then there are the Full-Bloods who are wholly Other. They tend to think they’re better than us, though personally I haven’t seen anything that would lead me to agree. Finally there are the Blue-Bloods, but much like their human counterparts they rarely deign to walk amongst the peasants here on this side of the lines.”

I just stared at him. I had no clue what the hell he was talking about. I’d asked him a perfectly simple question and he’s started spouting out extreme weirdness.

“The who, with the what and huh?”

Beverly sighed.

“You have no idea what I’m talking about at all do you? You should you know, someone should have explained all this to you when you were a child. Right, well I suppose I’m going to have to start at the beginning,” he took another sip of his tea then set the cup back down.

“Like many stories this one begins with Once upon a time…”

Beverly’s once upon a time led to one of the most ridiculous stories I’d ever heard. It was sci-fi at its cheesiest, most Stargate-esqe.

“Once upon a time, in a land far, far away and a step to the left, there was a war between two vast armies. This far away land was actually in an alternate dimension and in this dimension were beings that would appear like monsters to us. We call them The Ancients or Blue-Bloods, though that’s not their name for themselves.”

I had to ask. “Uh, what do they call themselves?”

Beverly shot me the same withering look my grade 9 science teacher had given me when I asked him what colour atoms were.

“It’s very long and complicated and I’m afraid I can’t actually pronounce it. I don’t have enough tongues. Now, may I continue?”

I raised my hands placatingly, “Yes, sure, sorry. You were at beings from an alternate dimension…”

Taking a deep breath he continued.

“These beings lived by feeding off energy, the energy that’s created by all living things. For millennia they had been able to live quite contentedly off the creatures that existed in their dimension. However, several thousand years ago, a plague decimated the native population. This plague didn’t affect the Ancients directly, but with so few creatures left alive it was just a matter of time till they began to starve.

“At the same time a scientist and his team discovered a way to open portals to other dimensions…”

See? Stargate. Portals to other dimensions. I so would have preferred to hear they’d opened a portal to Hell or the underworld or something. I hate Science-Fiction, but I could deal with a little supernatural mumbo-jumbo. I mean, vampires are so IN right now. But he continued on the trans-dimensional tip so I bit my tongue and tried to follow along.

“The scientist and his team visited many worlds searching for a new food source. Most of these worlds had no life on them, and the ones that did were not capable of providing the Ancients with the sustenance they required. The kind of life they were looking for was very specific and they had no luck.

“Meanwhile, back in their home dimension, the situation was degrading quickly. Food was getting short. There was rationing and riots amongst the Blue-Bloods. Long held grudges and political tensions rose to the surface and violence became common place. One of the Ancients, a small-time leader who knew the scientist and completely believed that he would return and lead them to a new home land,  realised that even were that the case the Blue-Blood population was simply too vast for all of them to make the journey. He saw the population dividing along racial and philosophical lines. He believed that the only ones who should be making this journey, when the time came, were the scientists and intellectuals like himself. However, being the astute judge of character he was, he also knew they would need soldier types if they wanted to be the ones to make the trip and leave the others behind. He began to gather two groups together, the great thinkers who would create the new society they would have to build and an army.

“Of course, other armies began forming almost immediately. It quickly became clear that war was inevitable and only the victors would be continuing on to the new world.”

Beverly stopped for a sip of his tea, grimacing when he discovered it was now cold. I was trying to picture the scene but was finding it difficult as I had no idea what these Ancients looked like. Despite the fact that he didn’t like being interrupted I was going to have to risk it to get some clarification.

“So, these Ancients, do they all look the same or do they come in different colours like us? I’m just trying to get a feel for what they’re like.” I’d completely relaxed on the day couch by then, even crossing my legs and leaning against the fragile feeling back-rest. All the finger sandwiches had been eaten and there was only one shortbread cookie left. I was debating whether or not to eat it.

At least Beverly wasn’t annoyed this time, he just looked thoughtful for a moment, trying to figure out how best to answer my question.

“No,” he said slowly, “they aren’t like us. It’s actually more as if all the creatures on earth from the smallest insects to the largest mammals were to be conscious and self-aware. Many varying species but all part of society. Of course some species are more intelligent than others, many of them are more like animals than what we think of as conscious individuals, or so I understand it.”

“History is written by the winners,” I pointed out.

“Indeed, so we only have one side of the story. As to what the Ancients look like, all I can say is that they are completely alien. And I don’t mean they have bumpy foreheads but otherwise look like us, I mean Alien. They are so foreign, so different from us it would be difficult for our brains to process what we were seeing were we in their presence. I think.”

Beverly rose with the tea pot in his hand. “We need more tea. Come with me and I’ll continue the story while we wait for the kettle to boil.” He picked up the empty cups and plates, placing them back on the wooden tea tray before padding towards the kitchen. I rose awkwardly to follow, shimmying my way around the delicate furniture as best I could. I was glad to get out of the living room. Everything in there was so dainty and looked expensive. I hadn’t broken anything yet but I reckoned it was just a matter of time.

The kitchen was darker than the living room and it took my eyes a moment to adjust. Cedric was still sprawled out beneath the kitchen table. He favoured us with an half-lidded glance then ignored us. I plunked myself down on one of the sturdy wooden chairs ringed around the table. This was definitely more my kind of room. Everything was made of metal or strong, dark wood and all the breakable things were neatly tucked away in cupboards.

We waited in silence for the kettle to boil. Only when a fresh pot of tea was sitting on the counter-top and Beverly had joined me at the kitchen table did he continue.

“Ahem, where was I?”

“Fighting and riots amongst the Ancients, the Scientist and his team searching for food.” Scientist had become capitalised in my mind and I had also begun picturing him as a handsome, thirty-something intellectual type with glasses. Since I had no clue what these Ancients actually looked like I felt I had free reign to picture them however I wanted.

Beverly nodded distractedly and continued, stopping to occasionally sip his tea.

“Right. Well, everything was going to the dogs, new factions were appearing every day, fighting was continuous, no one could escape the conflict. The leader who had sent the Scientist on his mission was a savvy tactician and he soon developed a strong following. Groups that had been trying to make it on their own threw in with him and soon he was at the head of a vast army. At the same time however, another general had arisen amongst the throng and he too began to collect followers till finally there were only two sides to this war: The Leader’s and The Enemy’s.”

“Pffft!”

I slapped a hand over my mouth. I hadn’t meant to make such a loud sound of derision; it had just gotten away from me. Beverly stiffened.

“You find something I said amusing?”

“Well, sort of…I mean, The Leader and The Enemy? It’s a bit over the top don’t you think? Not to mention it sounds like propaganda to me.” I shifted in my seat preparing myself for an argument.

Instead Beverly rolled his eyes and gave me a condescending look.

“Well of course it’s propaganda. This goes back to what we said about history being written by the winners. This is how it was told to me when I was a child, it’s in a language children can understand. I don’t know their real names, so I’m afraid unless you can come up with something better The Leader and The Enemy are what we’re stuck with.”

“ Dave and Chuck.”

“Excuse me?”

“We could call them Dave and Chuck. The Leader could be Dave, and The Enemy could be Chuck.” There’d been a bully at my elementary school named Chuck when I was a kid. He used to constantly pick fights with me. I was the tallest kid at the school, taller even than some of the teachers and I think Chuck took my height as a threat to his dominance. He made the fifth and sixth grades an ordeal I thought I’d never survive. Then he ended up at the same junior high as me and I wondered what would happen if I just stopped going to school altogether. Fortunately for me, he encountered an even bigger bully in a kid named Aiden and I was saved from another two years of torment. Chuck still lived in my heart as the nastiest person I’d ever met so I thought if we were going to buy into this propaganda we should at least have a hero and villain I could relate to. All the Daves I’d met over the years had been pretty decent guys.

“Fine, if that makes things more palatable for you, Chuck and Dave it is. May I continue?”

“No need to be snarky.”

“I am not being snarky.”

“Fine. Go ahead.”

“Oh thanks ever so…”

“See! Snarky.”

“Oh, for goodness…fine. I’m going to tell the rest of the story now.”

“Good. You do that.”

We glared at each other, the moment stretching on endlessly.

Brrrp!

I nearly fell out of my chair, the legs scraping back with a loud squeal as I looked frantically for the source of the sound. Beverly’s expression froze in embarrassment. God, had he done that?  No way. I peeked under the table at the oversized mutt there. As I looked at him the sound was repeated.

Brrrrp!

Was that what I thought it was? Had the wolfhound just…

“Poor Cedric,” cooed Beverly, “is our bickering upsetting you?”

The smell hit both of us at the same time.

“Ohn My Ghod Dat smeld horrible.” I said pinching my nose against the stench. Beverly held a napkin over his nose and turned to me.

“Cedric reacts badly to negative energy. When my ex came to get his things the house stank for a whole day afterward. He’s a sensitive soul.”

I looked at the prim Beverly with a white napkin draped over the lower half of his face and he looked at me with my nose pinched, taking shallow breaths and it just suddenly seemed so ridiculous. We both burst out laughing.

The smelly wolfhound twitched his eyebrows quizzically at us then rose and padded over to his master. Beverly scratched him behind the ears and his tail immediately began to beat happily against the linoleum floor.

“Does that mean the gas attack is over?” I unpinched my nose. Either the smell had dissipated or I’d got used to it because it just smelled like Beverly’s aromatic Earl Grey.

“I think so. Maybe you could agree to just let me finish the story without any further argument?” He looked at me for assent. I nodded. I was still waiting for this story to lead to the present and couldn’t see for the life of me how it would get there. Despite my desire to get out of here and my hope that the weirdness of the past 12 hours would become a distant memory, I was now far too curious to see where this was going to take off. I’d give him another 20 minutes.

“Each side believed itself the most deserving of rescue. There was a horrific battle that went on for days.”

I tried to imagine the scene: Two armies of hideous creatures, each spread out across a blackened, desolate land. The sky swirling with dark clouds, red lightning stabbing downwards, looking for targets on the dry, cracked earth. Ravenous hordes of what I could only imagine as monsters, all oversized teeth and claws, facing off, waiting for the order to attack. And at their heads, two leaders standing tall above the roiling masses, determined, waiting. Dave on the one side, square jawed, massive of muscle, with an intelligent and compassionate expression in his yellow, monster-eyes. On the other side Chuck stood, a gargantuan brute with spittle covered jaws, an oversized under bite and huge, red, bulbous eyes. It was epic, putting the entire CG team that worked on the Lord of the Rings films to shame.

“Each side took loses,” continued Beverly dramatically, “and by the end of a week nearly half the population had been killed or fatally injured. It began to appear there would be enough room for everyone left to move on to the new world, but though The Lead…though Dave,” he corrected himself with a nod in my direction, “tried his best to convince Chuck to end the fighting it was all to no avail.”

I bit my lip to stop from laughing. Did he actually just say ‘to no avail’? I didn’t think people really said that sort of thing. Not outside of cheesy fantasy novels anyways.

Fortunately Beverly didn’t seem to notice my struggle and continued his tale.

“The fighting continued but the rules seemed to have changed. Dave’s side barricaded themselves into their stronghold and were determined to hold out till the Scientist returned, accruing as few losses as possible. Chuck took this as a sign he was winning and redoubled his efforts. For days on end they were battered and bombarded. The walls shook, fires raged and the end seemed inevitable. Just when it appeared all hope was lost, the patience Dave and his followers had shown was rewarded. The Scientist had returned.”

Despite myself I was getting into this. I reckoned we were getting close to something that would start to make sense soon. Of course Beverly realised he had a captive audience and he bloody well took his time, pausing to sip his tea and scratch Cedric behind the ears. I crossed my arms in annoyance. He looked up at me innocently then smiled.

“The Scientist returned to a different world from the one he’d left. He quickly found his mentor and reported what he’d found. There was a dimension with plentiful inhabitants to feed off. In fact it was far easier to draw energy from these creatures than it had been from the beings in their own dimension. The Scientist had discovered an Eden, a paradise. Now the only question was: Who would survive long enough to enjoy it?” Beverly pinned me with his gaze, or at least I assume that’s what he was trying to do before he was interrupted by a snuffle from Cedric. It pretty much broke any dramatic tension he was going for.

With a resigned sigh Beverly continued. “Dave and his army re-joined the battle with renewed hope and vigour. Calling what happened next a war wouldn’t do it justice. This wasn’t a war, it was an apocalypse. Wars have certain rules of conduct; there are prisoners, civilians to avoid harming and most of all the chance for peace. None of those things existed during the Great Conflagration.”

I couldn’t help it this time. A snicker escaped before I could stop it. Beverly glared down his nose at me.

“Something to say?” he asked coolly.

“The Great Conflagration? Kind of OTT isn’t it?

Huffing in annoyance Beverly picked up his tea and took a disgruntled gulp.

“Do you even know what conflagration means?” he shot at me.

I felt the smile freeze on my face and twist into something darker, haunted. When I spoke my voice was barely a whisper.

“I know all too well what conflagration means.”

I was gone then, no longer in the present but transported kicking and screaming into the past. The flames of my parent’s house surrounded me, caressed me like a lover, gentle and intimate. Memories of that night had warped over the years, so that now, when I travelled back there in my mind, everything had changed. Besides the roar of the flames and the crash of the house collapsing I could also hear my parents screams. Their shrieks of pain and terror drowned out every other sound till the night existed only as those screams of agony.

Seeing I had drifted into dark waters Beverly tried to bring me back.

“What, pray tell, does OTT mean? Is that some of this text speak I hear so much about? Please tell me you’re not one of those carbuncles who spend all their time sending pointless messages to each other.”

I took a deep breath, clearing the past away as best I could, before answering. “Yeah, I spend my time texting all my many friends. Oh, wait, I don’t have any friends because I live in a dumpster where I spend all my time trying not to set people on fire,” I said sarcastically.

Awkward silence filled the kitchen. Beverly didn’t seem to know what to say and neither did I really. He hadn’t deserved to have his head bitten off.

“Look, I’m sorry. Bad memories is all. You’ve been nothing but kind to me. I’m an ass. Forgive me?” What I’d said was true. I was an ass. Beverly had rescued me from what could have been one of the most agonising walks home in history. He was feeding and clothing me and trying, in what I still thought was a very long and convoluted manner, to explain some of the weirdness I’d experienced. I hoped my apology would be good enough. But instead of looking mollified the older man just seemed embarrassed. He scratched his sleeping dog to the point where Cedric snuffed and shook his head to get his master to stop.

“Well, yes, don’t worry about it. I’m sure you didn’t mean it.” He turned from harassing Cedric to stirring his tea, though his mug couldn’t have been even half full.

“Um, OTT means Over the Top,” I said to break the tension.

Beverly nodded in understanding though he still wouldn’t look at me.

“I see. I suppose the story of the Conflagration could come across that way. However for a thing to be…OTT…it would need to be exaggerated out of all proportion and in this case I don’t believe that’s true. In fact I’m fairly certain no matter what I say I couldn’t do the war between the Ancients justice.”

“You make it sound like you were there.”

Beverly stared at me as if I’d just said I liked to eat babies. A hand fluttered to his throat then finally settled back on the table.

“Good lord no. I…my goodness, what an appalling thought,” he sipped his tea, giving himself a moment to recover.

“Perhaps,” he said when he finally recovered, “if you ever have the misfortune to meet a Blue-Blood you’ll understand how terrifying a war amongst them must have been.”

“Have you?” I asked, intrigued, “Met a Blue-Blood?”

He nodded distractedly. “Once. When I was a young man. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.”

I was confused. Still. In fact the more Beverly told his story, the more confused I got.  I only had one option as I saw it.

“Ok, tell me the rest of the story.”

“As you wish,” he said heavily.

As I wish? Oh, that was rich. But I let it slide. I didn’t think I was going to find out anything useful until the tale was told.

“Right, well, the Great Conflagration. Horrible fighting broke out amongst the Ancients, the two sides battling for the right to escape to this new world the Scientist had discovered. It was imagined to be an Eden and only the winning side could lay claim to it. The Scientist was kept hidden during the battle and he worked on perfecting the device he’d created to transport his people to the new world. It was called a trans-dimensional portal and only he knew how it worked. The Scientist had promised Dave that if it looked like their side were going to lose, he would destroy the portal and kill himself, forever trapping Chuck and his people on their dying world.

“The battle raged, for who knows how long, some claim centuries but that may be hyperbole, till only one side stood victor. Dave, leader of the winning side, decided that rather than slaughtering the remainder of the opposing combatants he would show mercy and instead just leave them behind.”

Beverly smiled, enjoying the reflected beneficence of this long lost leader. I found it hard to see things as positively as him. It seemed to me that Dave was just being economical. It would have taken ages to track down and kill all the remaining soldiers in Chuck’s army. It was loads easier to just ditch them and let nature take its course. There didn’t seem to be much mercy in leaving people to die of starvation on a barren world, At least, not to me.

The story continued, Beverly missing my expression of doubt.

“The Scientist had built several more portals across their dimension so all the chosen could leave at once and arrive together. He also designed the portals to self-destruct once his people were through, leaving Chuck and his followers trapped. The Exodus went off without a hitch. Dave and his supporters arrived on Earth about 14,000 years ago.”

Wait. Did he just say they came to earth? What the hell. Before I could question him however, he continued.

“At first it seemed their prayers had been answered, they had truly found an Eden. The psychic energy the little, hairless apes produced was so rich and plentiful that the Ancients imagined it could never run out and they would never again risk starvation.”

I opened my mouth to ask him a question, but before I could speak he raised a finger to forestall me. My mouth snapped shut.

“The Ancients survive on the psychic energy created by all conscious, living beings. The energy  humans create is particularly potent. While on this side of the lines just being near a group of humans allowed them to consume this energy. It was at its richest and most plentiful when humans were experiencing intense emotions: Terror, anger, love, joy. These are what the Ancients feed on and what humanity gives them.”

This was too much. “So hold on, you’re telling me these creatures from another dimension came to earth thousands of years ago and have been feeding off us ever since? And nobody has ever noticed them, even though they’re supposed to be terrifying. Ok. What did you take and where can I get some?”

Beverly nodded in understanding. “I know, it seems incredible, but you’re imagining them actually standing around eating and that’s not how it works. Unlike vampires,” wait, did he just say vampires? What the…, “the way Blue-Bloods feed on psychic energy doesn’t harm humans at all. Think of them as dung beetles. A camel doesn’t notice when a dung-beetle takes what is left behind and humans don’t notice when the Ancients absorb their expelled psychic energy. Nobody gets hurt.”

He shifted slightly, looking as if he were considering the best way to phrase the next part of the lesson. I immediately became suspicious. So far Beverly had been reciting his tale like someone repeating a story told to them on a daily basis since childhood. He hadn’t been aware of how strange and ultimately disturbing that story was. Until now. I thought about what he’d just told me and wondered what he could be thinking about. Then it struck me.

“But if everything was working out so great for the Ancients here why have we never seen them? Shouldn’t there be scary monsters everywhere, drinking our emotions like frothy cappuccinos?”

Beverly looked at me sceptically. “Frothy cappuccinos? Really?”

I flushed, feeling my cheeks warm. I’d spent the last several months thinking things, not saying them, I couldn’t be held accountable if my language had gotten a bit fruity. I’d have to watch that.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by that. Personally I appreciate a creative use of language, especially from a young person. Most people these days seem to think the word ‘like’ can be substituted for everything. It should be used only to express a positive opinion of something as in ‘I like tea’ or as a comparative; ‘that cake tastes like ambrosia’. It’s a pet peeve of mine.”

Beverly had actually managed to get a bit worked up about this. He took a deep steadying breath and fixed a calm smile on his face. Meeting my eyes I could see a kind of sympathy there. Between the weirdness of what Beverly was telling me and my apparent inability to behave like a normal person after all the time on my own, I found I was flailing wildly for level ground.

Beverly spoke to cover my discomfort. “So, as you’ve guessed it wasn’t all coffee beverages and sunshine.”

He leaned towards me as if confiding a secret and I unconsciously mimicked his pose.

“The Ancients had been in our dimension just long enough for the humans to begin to accept their presence and cease attacking them, not that those primitive men could actually harm the Blue-Bloods, but it must have been annoying.”

“Good eating though,” I interjected. Beverly looked at me, non-plussed.

“Pardon?”

I shifted, crossing and uncrossing my legs till I found a comfortable position. “Well, you said they feed off of strong emotions. I imagine the humans they met must have been scared out of their minds. I know I would be if huge, terrifying monsters suddenly showed up out of nowhere. So, I just mean the Ancients must have been getting a tasty treat.”

Turtle eyes blinked at me thoughtfully. “I suppose it would have been a treat indeed. However something began to happen which altered the course of things to come and explains why we don’t see giant monsters hanging out at the mall. The Ancients began to change.” He paused dramatically. I felt like I was required to say something so I pursed my lips thoughtfully and said, “Oh. I see.”

I didn’t of course. See that is. But I was hoping this would encourage him enough to continue.

“Yes. Not all of them and not all at once but the majority of the Ancients began to mutate. The Scientist conjectured it was our atmosphere causing these changes. The Ancients home dimension was radically different from ours in terms of what chemicals and gasses were floating around. The Scientist had believed their bodies were adapting to this new atmosphere, but he was wrong. The only way he could think of to prevent any further mutation was to leave. So they did.”

“Whoa, what? They left? Then what…I don’t get it.”

“If you’d let me continue…” he gave me a chiding look. I harrumphed and waved a hand for him to continue.

“Ahem, now I’ve lost where I was…”

“The Ancients were leaving…”

“Ah yes. So based on the Scientists theory the Ancients went back through the one remaining portal into a side dimension.”

“A side dimension?”

“Yes, a sort of null space if you will. It was a dimension with no life, and very little structure. At first they simply used this side dimension as a home base of sorts and made forays back through the portal to our dimension to feed. Unfortunately, this didn’t stop the mutation. It seemed the effects were accumulative. Eden became a place they could no longer enter without risking mutation. Many began to plan for another pilgrimage to find a more hospitable dimension, but the Scientist knew how unlikely it was they would find anywhere as rich in food as here. He directed all his intelligence and knowledge to finding another way to stay.

“Whilst in our dimension the Scientist had observed the humans worshipping at a primitive alter. Their emotions during worship were intense and highly focused, directed entirely upon the object of their belief. The Scientist thought it might be possible to create a connection, almost a pipeline, directly between the two dimensions and join each of the remaining Ancients directly to an object of worship.”

I got it. Or at least I thought I did.

“So it’s like when you set up a website, every time someone comes to your site it increases your popularity rating. Only in this case instead of gaining popularity points they’re actually getting food.”

The older man looked at me with only the faintest look of comprehension.

“I’m not entirely sure what you’re talking about, I don’t own a computer and every time I’ve tried to use the internet I just get frustrated and confused, but I believe we’re talking about the same thing essentially.” He folded and unfolded a chocolate coloured napkin before finally pushing it aside in annoyance. “Jan used to have a laptop and he would try to teach me about the World Wide Web but it was all Greek to me. All those names; Yippee and Myface or what have you. And Digging things…what does that even mean? It all seemed a bit pointless really.”

Jan must have been the previous owner of the sweats I was now wearing. Sounded like ol’ Beverly might have been dating a younger man. Good for him. I smiled knowingly at him and he sniffed and turned away.

“The point is,” he continued, “that the Ancients could use the energy expelled by  humans in the act of worship without actually having to be in proximity to them. Once the Ancients attached themselves, (I have no idea how as the science is far too complex for me to understand), to a particular object of worship, they were able to feed without ever having to set foot on Earth again.”

This was all so bizarre. It was science fiction and I couldn’t help but wonder if Beverly had maybe been smoking something that had permanently affected his brain. But I was able to set things on fire with my mind and had even been able to fly. If Beverly was tripping the light fantastic then he wasn’t the only one.

I felt there was an important point in his story that he’d sort of just skipped over.

“You said some of the Ancients mutated, that was why they couldn’t remain on Earth. What happened to them? Did they just die?”

Shaking his head Beverly said, “No. They survived. But they had changed.”

“Into what?”

“Into us.”

Gasp! Horror! Yeah, I know, you’d probably already guessed that. What can I say, it’s a bit harder to be all perceptive when you’re smack in the middle of things like I was. Am. Whatever.

So the mutated Blue-Bloods were called Full-Bloods and when they eventually mated with humans (I can’t help imagining giant bug creatures raping the women folk) we got Half-Bloods. And after that, as the bloodline (or is it Blood-line) becomes less trans-dimensional, more strictly human you get the Blood-touched. I guess it’s like those people who are 1/16th Native and have an Indian Status card to prove it, though Bev didn’t go into how involved in the “Blood Community” those folks are. It wasn’t really top on my list of questions.

There were at least as many different races of Bloods as there were countries in the world and some preferred one area to another, city to country, cold places to tropical. There were plenty more differences in some cases than similarities between the different lines, but somehow they’d all managed to agree to a few certain rules.

1)The humans must never know about us.

That meant keeping a low profile, blending in and, when necessary, manipulating human politics and science to keep the status quo.

2)To make sure this happens, a council will maintain strict watch on and manage the Blood community at large, including registering all Bloods born. This central council, called the High Senate, keeps a massive database locked in a secret location so it can’t be meddled with. Each region has their own Senate, a government body, that maintains order and manages local Blood affairs.

The world was divvied up into regions, some of which had changed over the years as both the human and Blood communities expanded. Toronto was in Region 5. It ran from northern Ontario to the East coast and down through the U.S., including everything South of Minnesota down to Montana and Virginia in the East. It seemed like a huge area to be supervised by one government, but Beverly explained that the Bloods make up barely 3% of the world wide population and our region is actually one of the smallest because it does have a fairly dense population of Bloods. I thought about all the major cities included in that one territory and it made sense. If I were part of a shadow government I would want to be set up in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto to the North and New York and Washington to the South. As far as where the power, population and money are in North America that really doesn’t leave much of importance outside of Los Angeles and maybe Vancouver to the North.

Of course being the most recently settled land mass on the planet, North and South America also have the newest governments and the communities here have drawn more open-minded types, those seeking more freedom I guess. Apparently even trans-dimensional beings (or the mutated descendants of them) are lured by the myth of the New World.

3)To maintain order a law enforcement agency will exist for each region. The Praetoriat will enforce the laws of the Blood community and will involve itself in human law enforcement when it intersects with Blood interests.

What that summarises as is: we’ve got our own police/RCMP/FBI, whatever you want to call it, that takes care of any naughty Bloods whether they commit crimes against other Bloods or against humans. The impression I got from Beverly’s tone of voice though made me think nobody really gave a crap about crimes against humans, as long as it didn’t put the ‘Community’ at risk of being exposed.

Blood government seemed to be based loosely on the Roman Republican model, though since no system stays the same over any period of time, I was sure it had a lot of differences and I shouldn’t assume I understood it just because I’d read my Marcus Aurelius.

The day was a blur of new information, all of which I had trouble getting my head around. Sure, I could set things on fire with my brain, but what Bev was telling me was just nuts.

Beverly and I talked for hours, me asking questions, him shaking his head at my ignorance but doing his best to answer them. Every fact he gave me led to more questions and eventually the older man’s voice began to go slightly hoarse from over-use. When he’d cleared his throat for about the third time in a row and it still wasn’t coming out as more than a smokers pant I felt guilt tickle my conscience.

“Beverly. Stop…” He peered up at me warily with his turtle eyes. Poor guy probably thought I was going to ask another question that would require a half-hour explanation. It wouldn’t be the first. You try explaining the set-up of your country’s government then times that by a 100 and you have some idea of how long it took him to explain the set-up of a government that stretched all around the world. I smiled at him and held my hand up to halt his concerns.

“You’ve been great, answering all my questions. Your voice is going, you’re obviously tired and I don’t know about you,  but I’m starving.” As if hearing my words, Cedric appeared at the entrance to the living room and snuffled meaningfully at his master. He looked like he wanted to do more but seemed unwilling to enter the room. I didn’t blame him. I’d been sitting rigidly on the tiny decorative sofa for the past several hours, afraid to relax in case my full weight cracked the delicate furniture. Cedric wouldn’t be able to navigate his huge body around the room without knocking something over no matter how hard he tried.

Sighing, Beverly made a cooing sound at his hairy companion, “Poor Cedric, you must be starving. I’m coming.” he rose, glancing at me, “Let’s retire to the kitchen, I’ll see what I can whip up for dinner.”

“Sounds great. And I promise to give you a break on answering questions.”

Beverly stretched and there was an audible cracking sound from his back, then we followed Cedric back into the darkened kitchen.

I slumped into one of the dining chairs and stared blankly out the window.  It was nearing five o’clock and the window had become a darkened mirror, reflecting my ghost, pale and tenuous. My eyes were murky pits in a face as white as bone, my mouth a stretch of ash. I turned away abruptly, disturbed more than usual by this vision. Everything felt unreal right now, like walking through the woods at night, every sound and sigh of the forest frightening and unfamiliar. My feelings had been swinging wildly between excitement and fear at all the new information I was getting.

Growing up as I had, the “normal” world had always seemed a bit limited and unreal to me but actually finding out that the world as I knew it was a complete lie was a different thing altogether.

We ate a supper of sandwiches and chicken noodle soup, something I hadn’t had in years, a comfortable silence between us, the only sounds the scraping of our spoons and Cedric’s snuffling and crunching as he chowed down on his dinner over in the corner.

Afterwards, I felt completely drained, as I’d spent the day hiking over mountains. I could feel a headache lurking at the base of my skull.

“I think, if you don’t mind, I might get some sleep now,” my voice seemed to come to me from far away. Beverly nodded in understanding, though there was a look in his eyes I couldn’t quite identify.

“Yes, of course. I’ll show you to the spare room. You’ll need your strength for tomorrow.”

I nodded lazily but I had no idea what he was talking about. What was happening tomorrow? I wanted to ask but my brain felt encased in cotton balls and I found it was just too much effort. I followed my diminutive host through the front hall and upstairs, my feet dragging up each step like they were made of lead.

“Oh dear,” Beverly’s voice was muffled and seemed to come from a great distance, “I must have given you too much Valerian. Let’s get you to bed before you collapse.”

A moment later my face sank into a down filled pillow and the lights went out, though I might just have closed my eyes. I felt warm and safe and the whole world drifted away.

(revised chapter 1, feel like this should all be backstory but if that is the case, how do I actually start this bloody book)

1

Life is funny. Sometimes in a ‘ha-ha’ way but more often, in my experience, in  ‘the-exact-opposite-of-amusing,’ way. It was a frosty evening in Toronto and something funny was going on.

The alleyway I’d been living in for the past several weeks reeked of a pungent mix of piss and booze, with a delicate undertone of rotting food from the dumpster at its entrance. Near the lower part of St. James’ town and just behind a strip club and a diner, no one gave me much trouble when I spent nights here, camping out as far from anything organic as I could get. Living on the street wasn’t a picnic but I’d done my best to make a cozy little nest for myself in a pocket of space set aside for the fire door of the club. I’m fairly certain it was rusted shut, in strict violation of the fire code, so I was in no danger of getting shifted in the middle of the night. Piled high around me were all the sleeping bags and blankets I could find, forming a snug little cocoon. I would have preferred something a bit less flammable but I figured if the whole mish-mash of fabric ever did catch fire, between the heavy metal door and the surrounding cement alcove, it wouldn’t spread far. The key thing was that I wasn’t near any other people, homeless or otherwise. That’s what had drawn me to the area, even run down and in the dumps as it was. When you were already sleeping on the streets I guess you could be a bit picky about what streets you slept on. Or other people could anyways. My ‘condition’ meant I had fewer options than most.

During the day I moved around, trying to stay away from people as best I could while still begging enough change to get food and occasionally ducking into public restrooms to use the facilities. I hadn’t bathed in over a month; I’d stopped caring how bad I smelled after only a week on the streets. Your priorities shift pretty quickly out here: less concern about coffee, clothes and basic hygiene, more worry about finding enough food to survive and staying away from the crazies, druggies and other dangerous flotsam and jetsam. And of course I spent most of my time just trying not to hurt anyone.

I’d been a city scavenger, one of the crawling, great unwashed for…I forget how long. Two months? Three? It had been early summer when I’d first slunk back to the city and buried myself in my pile o’ stink. It was Autumn now,  so I guess I’d been out here a bit longer than I’d thought. Time did weird things when you had no way to mark its passing: no appointments, meetings, bills to pay, anniversaries. It all blended into one dreamlike blur. Every day was the same day as before, a seamless continuation, each night a match for the previous one with variations too small to make a difference.

I hadn’t planned on this life at all. Me, Jacqueline Brankowski (just call me Jacq), I was not supposed to be here. Sure, I’d had a bit of a weird upbringing, but that had all changed when I was a teenager. I’d excelled at school, gotten a scholarship and was accepted to the University of Toronto for History. I hadn’t really thought through what exactly I was going to do with a history degree, but it was interesting and I was good at it. I had friends, a crappy little apartment and even a boyfriend, for a little while at least. Then, the year before I graduated, I went to the tiny bungalow on the border of Scarborough my parents were subletting for the winter, the only time they took a break from the road. It was Christmas and we were spending it together as we always did.  After that came The Fire and now I was living in my own stink.

That was nearly 4 years ago.

Tonight must have been a Friday or Saturday because the club was doing good business. Loud, pounding bass business as indicated by the way the fire door was vibrating against my skull as I tried to get to sleep. It was nearly two and they would have stopped serving alcohol by now but that didn’t seem to be bringing the good times to any kind of close. I guess writhing, naked women bring on their own kind of intoxication.

I’d learned, sleeping out in the open like this, to distinguish between the usual night sounds of the neighbourhood, the kind I could pretty much ignore, and the other kind, the sort of sounds that meant something different was going down and I needed to prick up my ears.

The rough bark of drunken laughter and the heavy, stumbling footfalls of at least two people, men by the sounds of the laughter and weight of the clumping steps, were not the usual sounds. At least not coming back into the alley, away from the street and the parking lot around the corner. They were probably just coming back here to take a piss against the wall so I hunkered down further into my nest and hoped they stayed far enough down the alley that I wouldn’t have the stink of fresh urine in my nostrils all night.

Of course I wasn’t that lucky. They made the turn towards my end of the alley and both seemed to decide simultaneously that my dark little nook would be the perfect place to relieve themselves.

As they got closer, their grunting voices thick with drink, the Power inside me woke up, like a gas burner being suddenly turned on, just waiting for the spark to light it.

The men stumbled over, each supporting the other, laughing and joking in voices so slurred I couldn’t catch more than one word out of ten, their breath puffing white in the crisp night air. I held my own breath, hoping to the last that they would veer off and I could avoid any confrontation, but when the two shadowy forms loomed over me and I heard the sound of zippers being lowered I knew I was out of luck.

“Hey, guys, could you maybe not piss on me?”

Both men flew back as if touched with a live wire, the one on the left giving a less than manly scream of surprise and falling flat on his back. The other one, taller by about half a foot and heavier by a good twenty pounds, pressed himself flat against the wall across from my alcove. He must have been a bit more sober because he managed to zip himself back up and stay on his feet, while the other guy lay sprawled and panting with his fly down.

“What the fuck!?” Tall Guy shouted, his voice stretched and angry. I raised myself to an upright position and removed enough layers so they could see I was an actual person and not a talking pile of blankets.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to surprise you, just didn’t fancy getting pissed on.” I tried to keep my voice level and non-judgemental, though I didn’t think either of them was sober enough to detect anything as subtle as tone of voice. I really just wanted them to go so I could get myself back under control. I needed to tamp down the panic rising inside me, but I didn’t think shouting at them to get lost was the way to go.

The guy who’d fallen pulled his legs up under him and rose unsteadily. He had the stretched, hard features of someone who’d grown up malnourished, being fed only cheap processed food from day one. It was a look common to this neighbourhood. His eyes were sunk deep in his face but opened wide in surprise.

“Holy shit, there’s a lady in there!” He finally noticed his zipper was still down, maybe he felt a draft, and yanked it up. I studiously kept my eyes on his face.

“What the fuck you doing in there lady?” the other guy barked at me accusingly, like I’d been lying in wait just to catch them with their flies down.

Despite everything that was going on being called “lady” kind of bothered me. I was 24, not exactly old, but I guess I should have been pleased they could even tell I was female, bundled up the way I was.

“I’m just trying to sleep guys, so why don’t you move on and we’ll just forget all about this, okay?” I could tell something about my voice or the way I was speaking wasn’t sitting well with them. I could kind of understand. Usually when you talk to homeless people, there’s a fuzzyness to their speech, whether from drink, drugs or just the disconnect that comes from being out in the air too long. I didn’t have any of that. I sounded too sober and self-aware.

There was a moment of silence, loaded like a gun. I waited to see if anyone was going to pull the trigger. I could see both men trying to think through the alcoholic haze they were under, like looking through thick glass, and I couldn’t help holding my breath. Please just go away I begged silently.

The two drunks shifted closer together, drawn magnetically, till they were leaning on each other for support again. The contact seemed to give them both the balls they needed to make a really bad decision.

The tall one grunted, his soft, doughy face the opposite of his sharp featured friend’s. “Fuck you lady. We’ll piss wherever we want.”

“Yeah Bitch. You gonna live like an animal, we’ll piss on you like an animal.”

Even as scared as I suddenly was I couldn’t help but be annoyed by the absurdity of that statement. How many animals had this guy urinated on in his life, and more importantly, would even an animal just sit there and take it?

As they both stumbled towards me I hoisted myself up from beneath my layers of blanket and rose to my full height, nearly six feet. It wouldn’t have been nearly as impressive if the idiots coming towards me hadn’t obviously expected some wasted little woman. It gave them pause, but they were either too drunk or just too determined to stop.

My entire body trembled. I strained to keep the Power inside me quiet. The gas was on but there was no flame yet, and I was scared out of my wits. Even then, I still probably could have just made a dash for it down the alley and out onto the street. The men were so loaded they would have tripped over their own feet trying to follow me. Then Sharp Face spoke and all bets were off.

“Yeah, and maybe after we’ve used you as a pissing pole you can provide another service for us, and our cocks.” He leered at me and unzipped his jeans. Dough Face grinned and did the same. That’s when I totally lost it.

See,the fire that had killed my parents nearly 4 years ago, that had left me lost and hallucinating in the ravine behind there shabby bungalow, had been my fault. I hadn’t left a candle burning or fallen asleep with a cigarette in my mouth (smoking=bad breath, yellow teeth and, oh, death), nothing so pedestrian unfortunately. No, the fire had been me. I could start fires with my mind. That’s right, I was a Firestarter.  Drew Barrymore, eat your heart out. And I’d woken up in a fire of my own creation, a fire that burned my parents alive and left me alone, confused and afraid.

That’s what the Power was, the thing inside me, that I liked to think of as being separate from me though I wasn’t sure that was true. It was fire, horrible, death causing flames. I’d learned to control it a bit, but not much. Not as much as I’d hoped anyways.

After the night my ability first revealed itself, I’d decided I couldn’t return to school, so I’d gone back to what I knew, my parent’s old business. But that had ended badly, proving that it wasn’t safe for me to be around other people.  I’d finished up back in Toronto, the only city I’d ever lived in long enough to call home.

Boo-hoo, poor little me…Whatever.

So here I was, in this filthy alley, with two assholes threatening to rape me. Their threat was all the spark the Power needed. Flame on.

In the past I’d only ever set ‘things’ on fire; my parent’s house, bushes in the woods, a few random piles of trash, then as part of my job and that one time…but this was new. This time rather than the fire leaving me and setting something else on fire it swirled up around me, wrapping me in what felt like fluttering silk. In an instant, all 5 layers of clothing I had bundled myself in were burned away and the only thing standing between complete nudity and the frigid night air was fire. I was on fire. Or maybe I was fire. It’s all a bit hazy.

All I know is that the flames blazing from me sent the ass-hats, dicks still waving in the breeze, stumbling away screaming.

I barely saw enough of them to know what was happening. The fact they were backing off was just too little too late. I was completely out of control. All there was in the whole world was fire, just like the
night my parents had died. That horrific evening flashed back to me and I screamed, sending a wave of flames out from my body. The Power was taking over, building and building till it felt like I was going to explode. And then I did.

Like a firecracker, I shot straight up leaving a trail of flame in my wake. Seriously. I had done a complete Johnny Storm, flying upwards, the fire that surrounded my body also propelling me along.

Actually, calling what I was doing flying would have been a bit generous. I was hurtling through the air above the city with absolutely no control over my direction or destination. I couldn’t even see where I was going, my vision blinded by the flames engulfing me. It seemed like a bit of a design flaw, whether by mother-nature or whatever had made me the way I was. As I flew blindly over the city another flaw in this particular system made itself clear. With the fire wrapped around me as it was, eating up oxygen to stay alive, I was starting to find it hard to breathe. In fact within moments of taking off, breathing was no longer an option.

High above the city, with no idea where I was headed or how I was going to land I took one final gasping breath before blacking out completely.

————————————–                                   

I awoke to the cold grey light of an early November dawn. Right, it was November. For some reason my brain chose that moment to recall seeing people with Remembrance Day poppies pinned to their lapels around the city. God. November. Had I really been on the streets that long? Okay, back to the present.

Something sharp was poking me in the thigh. It was really annoying and I wanted it to stop. It didn’t, so I reckoned I would actually have to do something about it. I looked down and saw a small stick jutting out of the ashen grey sand of a beach. I was on a beach. I brushed some sand off my bare thigh. And I was naked. I was lying on a beach without any clothes on with a stick jabbing my leg. It may have been almost acceptable if I’d been on a bright, sunny beach on the Riviera, sexy cabana boys bringing me fruity alcoholic beverages whenever I liked.

Sadly I had no such luck. I was still in Toronto, lying on the beach in a part of the city called, fairly unoriginally I thought, The Beaches. Or just The Beach if you were a local. And a complete snob. The east end beaches weren’t the only ones in the city though it could be argued they were the nicest, certainly the most popular, definitely not nudist.

I mentioned it was November right? Freezing wind blew off the water and I should have had hypothermia after lying there naked for half the night, but I didn’t because the one good thing the Power brought to my life was that I didn’t feel the cold. Or the heat for that matter. It was always a comfortable 21 degrees Celsius for me, whether I was in the Sahara or the Arctic. So the only problem I had with being naked in November was that I was NAKED!

Fortunately, I seemed to be the only person on the beach this morning, though I knew that wouldn’t last. It was just a matter of time before the dog walkers and joggers arrived for their morning rounds.

I pulled my knees up to my chest, doing my best to cover up all my naughty bits. I was also trying to ignore the sand sticking to my butt and probably getting in to all manner of uncomfortable and awkward places.

Scritch…scritch…

My head whipped around and I had a sudden conviction that the two losers who had tried to pee on me last night must have followed me.

A seagull stood a few feet away, looking up at me quizzically, its beady yellow eyes reminding me of headlights in fog, pale and casting no light.

Scritch…scritch…scritch…

The gull was scratching at the ground with its beak, trying to scrape through it.

I did a double take and leaned forward, forgetting all modesty. The sand the gull was on stretched out in a dark, uneven strip like a short road behind me; it wasn’t sand anymore . Well, technically it was sand. Just sand that had burned so hot it had melted into glass. The scruffy, yellow eyed bird was standing there scratching at my landing strip.

“Ho-ly shit.”

I reached out and touched the glass. It was rough, sand and pebbles coating its surface. It made a slightly hollow sound when I rapped it with my knuckle. The gull froze, stopping its investigation of the glass and focusing on me again, it’s head tilted sideways as if trying to figure me out. Irrationally bothered by the stupid bird, I threw a small stone at it. The gull fluttered back a few feet, complaining noisily, then settled again, fixing on me with its blank yellow eyes.

“Stupid bird. Go! Shoo!”

I knew that yelling at animals wasn’t going to help my situation at all but the gull was starting to bug me. I felt like it was judging me. I shook my head to clear it. Okay Jacq, time to get a grip. The bird isn’t judging you.

The gull tilted its head at me again.

“Yeah well, you think you’re so special. You’re not the only one around here who can fly. And my brain is way bigger.” Ok, now I was insulting the bird. I was completely losing it.

The gull took a few tentative steps toward me, it’s feet making tiny clicking sounds on the dark surface of the glass. We stared silently at each other for several moments. Every time it tilted its head I did too. This seemed to confuse the bird so it tilted its head the other way. So did I. Finally our game was halted by the sound of barking coming from not nearly far enough away.

Crap! Someone was coming. It had been inevitable that a dog walker or one of those insane joggers who ran no matter how cold it got, would come along the boardwalk eventually. I had just hoped that I’d have figured out a plan for finding some clothes before then.

I turned to face the direction of the barking. A huge, black wolfhound loped towards me, its paws flinging sand in all directions. If I’d been standing, it’s back would have been at the same height as my waist, as it was, with me on the ground trying to make myself as tiny as possible, the beast’s head was actually higher than mine. By the time I’d figured out what kind of dog it was and decided it didn’t look blood-thirsty (it had more of a shaggy smile thing going actually) the hound was on me. It’s claws scraped my bare flesh as it tried to climb on top of me. I prayed to god it wasn’t going to try to hump my leg. Oh god, or any other part of me. I pushed it off as best I could, not quite managing to avoid getting dog slobber on my face.

“Argh! Get…off…me! Blech!”

I was finally able to get free of the beast. The gigantic animal managed to calm down enough for me to breathe without inhaling dog spit, but it still loomed over me quite impressively.

“Cedric! Get away from that naked woman immediately!” The command came from several feet away. I looked up, my cheeks instantly burning red with embarrassment.

The over-excited canine bounded over to its owner, who stood about five feet away, then sat expectantly before him, tail thunking quietly on the sand. The dog’s owner was an older gentleman with thin, graying hair and thick, circular glasses that made his eyes appear as if they were trapped in two tiny fish bowls. The guy was small enough that he could have ridden the hound and his feet wouldn’t have touched the ground. From what I could see of his face I guessed him to be in his 60’s. There was nothing particularly unusual about him except for his coat, a long, black, puffy nylon affair which went all the way down to his feet and made him look like a giant caterpillar. I’d seen tiny Asian women wearing them before, but never a man.

As I huddled on the sand, trying to hide my nakedness as best I could, the older man bent down and scratched his dog behind the ears causing its tail to thunk against the sand even faster.

“Who’s a good boy, who’s a good doggy, finding naked girls on the beach, who’s my lovely puppy?” He spoke the way you would to a baby and made kissy noises at the excited dog, then looked at me, one eyebrow raised inquisitively as he straightened.

“Well, I must say I think you’re by far the most interesting thing Cedric has ever dug up on the beach.” His voice was slightly nasal and incredibly camp. I immediately made certain assumptions about his sexual orientation.

With his magnified green eyes and prominent upper and lower lids he looked rather like a turtle and when he blinked his lids met in the middle. He surveyed the scene, taking in the swath of hardened sand and my clothes-less condition. “You know, I don’t think I’m even going to ask how you ended up naked on a public beach in the middle of winter.” He placed one purple gloved hand on his hip, or where his hip would be if he weren’t just one long tube of puffyness. “However I’m not one to ignore a fellow being in distress. My name’s Beverly. You’ve met Cedric already.” He leaned down to pat the shaggy hound again.

I wasn’t sure what to say, though I was glad he wasn’t asking for any kind of explanation. I really had no idea what I would have said, “I was sleeping in an alley and two guys were going to pee on me then possibly rape me so I burst into flame and flew here,” didn’t seem like a good idea.

“Um, I’m Jacq.”

I jerked back in surprise when he clapped his hands in delight. “Oh that’s just perfect. Jacq and Beverly. Brilliant! You’re a woman with a man’s name and I’m a man with a woman’s name. I love coincidences like that. They’re what make life such a hoot.” I wasn’t sure if he was being serious or sarcastic. It was a feeling I’d get used to.

He looked me up and down his expression thoughtful.

“I suppose I should give you my coat. You must be freezing.” He didn’t actually sound all that inclined to hand his full body coat over. I opened my mouth to tell him not to worry, I wasn’t cold at all then snapped it shut remembering that of course I should be freezing. A normal person would be blue and shivering by now. However, I didn’t want Beverly to get suspicious so I should probably start acting the part of frozen victim.

“Y-y-yess, v-v-very c-c-cold.” I clutched my legs tightly and shook like I was having convulsions. I might have over-done it a bit.

Beverly frowned at me then rolled his eyes heaven ward. “Well, that is the most pathetic attempt at appearing cold I’ve ever seen. You look like a vaudevillian actor going for laughs.” He crossed his puffy black arms over his puffy black chest and squinted at me with his magnified turtle eyes.

“You’re not in the least bit cold are you?”

For a moment I considered lying, but there was something about this peculiar little man that made me think I might be better off if I told the truth. I immediately stopped shivering and gave him an apologetic look.

“Uh, no. Not really. Not at all in fact.” I shrugged my bare shoulders. Beverly appraised me for a moment then bent and scratched behind Cedric’s ears. It seemed to me an unconscious gesture, sort of meditative.

“Well Cedric, what do you think? Should we help the poor creature or leave her for someone else to deal with?”

All the blood drained from my face. Leave me? Suddenly I felt very certain that I didn’t want to be left, that I wanted Beverly to help me. That he was the only one that could help me.

Before I could say a word, beg him to help, he came to a decision nodding at the happy wolfhound at his feet.

“Of course, we must help her. Wouldn’t do to leave her here and let the humans discover her.” He crossed the five or so feet of dark sand between us in a moment and reached for me. With no effort at all as far as I could tell he hoisted me to my feet.

“Jesus!” I lurched back in surprise, trying to use my arms to cover my nakedness.

Beverly’s turtle eyes widened in shock before becoming heavy lidded with disdain. He gave me a look of pure contempt.

“I assure you my dear, I am only trying to help you. I have no interest in your…body,” this last was said with such barely contained scorn I almost forgot I needed this man’s help and got offended myself. I swallowed my pride, so that when I spoke I sounded almost normal.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything by that…I just didn’t expect you to be so strong and wait, did you say humans?” His words had only just registered in my brain.

The about face in subject seemed to throw him for a moment.

“Pardon?’

“You said it wouldn’t do to leave me for the humans to find which would mean…”

I took a wary step back, all attempts at modesty forgotten. “What are you?”

Beverly’s look of confusion hardened into something sterner.

“I think I could ask you the same thing. Or do you know lots of humans that can, what…” he looked at the glass/sand pointedly, “…transform things with your mind or…” he seemed suddenly more certain as he looked at my makeshift runway and my nakedness, “set themselves on fire and fly through the air.”  A bitter smile tweaked the corners of his mouth, “Or would you rather I left you to be discovered by some normal people, and you can try to explain to them how you ended up here in the middle of winter with no clothes but don’t feel cold. I’m sure they’d understand”

He was right of course. Whoever he was, whatever he was, he was the only chance I had of getting home. My other option was trying to get there naked or busting into someone’s house and stealing some clothes. I’d either end up in jail or a mental institution. If I was really lucky the cops might decide I was dangerous and tazer me. It seemed to be the new pass-time of law enforcement in this country.

I looked the older man up and down. He certainly seemed harmless. But then so did I, and I’d proven more than once that I was as far from harmless as drunk is from sober.

My shoulders sagged in defeat. Therewas no use fighting it. Despite my reservations my choice was really no choice at all. Beverly seemed to recognise where my thoughts had led me. He nodded once in acknowledgement of my change of heart.

“Good. Now…first things first. You’ll need to wear my coat,” he unzipped the floor length, puffy sheath, revealing khakis and a tasteful shirt and sweater-vest combo. “As much as I’m neither bothered by nor interested in your nudity, it would probably draw the wrong kind of attention. My neighbours are a conservative lot and I want to remain a member of the Community Interests Committee. I’m the treasurer and it wouldn’t do for me to be seen gallivanting around with nude women.”

I took the proffered coat and slipped it on. It was a bit tight across the shoulders, when I zipped it up my breasts were squashed almost to the point of pain. Though it had hung almost to the ground on Beverly, he was a good head shorter than me so the bottom edge of the coat only reached just below my knees. Still, it was good to not be naked anymore.

Smiling with a measure of satisfaction Beverly looked me up and down.

“Well, I suppose it will have to do for now. Fortunately I don’t live far,” he turned and began walking back towards the boardwalk and the street beyond. Cedric trotted along happily beside us, occasionally rubbing my legs with his shaggy fur as he came by for a good sniff. 

For a little guy Beverly crossed the beach at quite a clip. I jogged to catch up, moving awkwardly, my steps shortened immensely by the tightly fitting coat. My movement was further impeded by the sand. My feet weren’t cold but I could still feel pain and all the sharp rocks and bits of wood were starting to get to me. Finally we reached the boardwalk. I was relived to be on more solid ground, though that was quickly replaced by annoyance as Beverly’s pace picked up even more. What was he trying to do? Lose me?

“Hey, wait up!”

I shuffled as quickly as I could across the uneven wood and onto the grass where Beverly and Cedric were nearly to the road. Without turning around he said, “You may be immune to the cold but my old bones feel it very keenly. I want to get home as quickly as possible. You’ll just have to keep up.”

I shuffled faster.

We crossed the road without seeing anyone and started up a quaint residential street. The houses  were all well cared for, with evidence of oft-tended lawns and gardens, some of which were impressively large. I’d been to the Beaches a few times over the years but I don’t think I’d noticed how freakin’ huge some of these places were.

Hurrying along behind Beverly and Cedric my feet made an audible slapping sound on the sidewalk. Beverly glanced over his shoulder at me and smirked.

“Not exactly a delicate flower are you?”

“Hey,” I said, offended.

Amused, he shook his head. “Oh please, you can’t possibly be offended by anything I say, it’s not worth it I assure you. Besides, I have no patience at all for the kind of woman who plays the defenceless damsel in distress. I’m just glad you’re more sensible than that.”

I shrugged. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had to worry about what other people thought about me. I’m pretty out of practice when it comes to the social graces.” Living beside a dumpster and smelling like sweat and lord knows what else tends to limit ones social circle somewhat, on top of which I’d been avoiding the other street people, so I really had gotten out of the habit of civilized life.

“I’d noticed.”

We continued on in silence, the only sounds the slapping of my feet and the excited panting of Cedric. I managed to catch up to Beverly, though keeping that pace, hobbled as I was by the long coat, was murder on my calves.

“Is there anyone I can call for you when we get in?” he asked distractedly.

I hesitated, “No,” I replied quietly. Beverly glanced at me then slowed his pace slightly. “You’ve got no family.” It was a statement. I shook my head, trying to block all thoughts of the family I’d once had from my mind.

“Well, that would explain why you think you’re human.”

I drew up sharply. “Excuse me?” I said accusingly.

Beverly rounded on me and sighed theatrically. “Really dear, can we please have this discussion inside? I am bloody freezing.”

I began shuffling along again but I wasn’t happy. Why the hell was I going anywhere with this weird old man and his giant dog? Well Jacq, because otherwise you’d be naked and alone and as much as you want to be all offended you know he’s right. You’re not human, not completely, and he seems to know something about it. So suck it up you big sissy.

Yes, that’s right, I’m talking to myself, though sometimes it feels like the thoughts are coming from outside, some Other, an observer, and a really sarcastic, insulting one at that.

I had to admit that being able to set things on fire with my mind wasn’t exactly a normal, human thing to do, but the thought that I was actually NOT human was a hard to wrap my head around.

I guess that’s why I kept my mouth shut and continued shuffling along behind the obviously freezing older man. I wanted answers to questions I’d been afraid to ask since the fire.

We turned up Balsam Ave., passing immaculately tended homes, each one unique but all of them together creating a whole that was harmonious. It was a mixed neighbourhood with artists and professionals living side by side. It made me think of my own home growing up, and how different it was from this idyllic residential haven. A ratty old trailer can’t compete in most ways with an actual house, let alone these robust and well cared for offerings, but it did have one thing these didn’t. My family. And a really tiny shower. I mean, teeny-weeny, shoe-box size, freak of nature small. I still plan on tracking down the idiot who designed it and kicking him in the nuts.

The street was getting busy now with people heading off to work and children, with their huge, oversized backpacks nearly pulling them over backwards, heading to school. One of my few friends in high-school had lived around here and there was an elementary school across the street from his place. That was probably where most of these kids were going. I got a lump in my throat thinking about the past, remembering those few moments of normality between when we left the travelling life so I could go to school and killing my parents. I swallowed it and focused on the here and now.

A mother with two kids passed us. The youngest child, a boy of maybe 6, noticed my bare feet.  Eyes wide, he tugged on his mother’s coat sleeve to get her attention.

“Mommy, that woman has no shoes!”

His harried mother didn’t look where her son was pointing, just gripped his arm to keep him moving.

“Steven, we’re going to be late.”

Steven kept his head twisted around so he could continue to stare at me and Beverly until his mother jerked him forward in frustration, complaining again about how late they were. They disappeared over a rise and I was left with Cedric and his master, who was opening a small, wrought iron gate. We walked through, Cedric following, his tail wagging madly. I followed them up the paved path to a charming little house with shuttered windows and a small porch. It was painted light blue with white trim and accents like a house in a picture of the English countryside as envisioned by Walt Disney. The front garden, bare and brown at this time of year except for a few struggling coniferous bushes, none-the-less gave the impression of an overgrown grotto. It must have been a lovely, lush place in the warmer weather.

Beverly unlocked the front door with its old-fashioned brass knocker and Cedric bounded past him nearly knocking the slight man over. Before he could enter as well I touched his arm, stopping him. He looked at me and I held his gaze.

“You haven’t answered my question.”

Beverly sighed and tried to push me through the open door but I wasn’t budging.

“I’m not going to answer your questions while I’m freezing my bits off out here. Let’s just get inside, get you something to wear and I’ll brew us a nice pot of tea. Then I’ll answer your questions. Agreed?”

It was annoyingly reasonable. I felt like a petulant child demanding answers now, now, now! So I nodded and let him direct me though the open door.

“Agreed.”

A little while later I was sitting in Beverly’s front room trying to make myself comfortable on a delicate day bed that was doubling as a sofa. Every time I shifted it made horrible creaking sounds and I was sure it was going to give way at any minute. It was also making me feel more than a bit self-conscious about my weight.

The room was done in a tasteful French Country style, with blue and white being the dominating colours. The walls were navy along the bottom half and had a blue and white Delft pattern along the top, separated by a thin border of dark wood. The side tables, coffee table and shelves were done in this same dark wood. Everything looked expensive and breakable and I wondered that Beverly was able to keep the place in such good shape with a huge wolfhound as a house-mate. Personally I was felt breathing was a risky endeavour, let alone moving.

My hair was still damp from the shower I’d taken upstairs. It had required a solid 20 minutes of scrubbing and lathering to get all the stink off. Honestly, not having washed in nearly a month, I was surprised I was able to get it all off without a chisel or sandblaster. The water running from my body was nearly black when I first got under the hot water and didn’t run clear till the shower had turned cold and I was starting to get wrinkly fingers and toes.

When I emerged from the shower all pink and clean, I found a pair of grey sweat pants and a matching sweat-shirt with Queen’s University written across the chest. Amazingly they both fit me pretty well. There was no way these belonged to Beverly, he would be swimming in them, and I wondered who had left them. I felt a bit guilty, like I was nosing around in his business, then I chided myself. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Sometimes I had the guilt reflex of a hardened Catholic.

I wiped the condensation from the large mirror above the sink and appraised my reflection.

Blech…I looked tired. Dark bags hung beneath my washed out blue eyes. My short, blonde bob was tangled more than usual and I stood there for several minutes brutalising my damp hair with a comb until it behaved. It felt like I’d been beaten around the head afterwards, but at least my hair was lying flat. It had taken three goes with the shampoo to get it really clean and there wasn’t any conditioner. Which, considering how little hair my balding host had, wasn’t all that surprising.

It had been a long time since I’d seen myself in a mirror. I’d stopped really caring about my appearance since returning to the city. I felt like I was seeing myself clearly for the first time in months. Not unsurprisingly I looked pretty much the same as I always had. My nose was too small and my forehead was narrow, but I had nice, full lips and cheekbones to die for. I’d always been complimented on my good bone structure. Really could do with a better nose though.

My figure was what a kind person would call curvy but I considered myself one chicken Korma away from fat, though living rough had done a fair bit for my waistline. Ah, the starvation diet. A few days of proper nutrition and I’d be back to pleasantly plump. It was just the way I was built.

Have to say, as thankful as I was for the shower and the clothes, I really wish it hadn’t been sweats. They made me look like a  grey lump. That’s right, as soon as you do something like have a shower and brush your hair all bets are off. If I was going to smell nice I wanted to look nice too. How quickly we find ourselves resocialised.

The washroom I was in was immaculately clean and tastefully decorated in cream and a rich, chocolate brown, with a towel of each colour hung on a rail by the bath. Everything matched and had its own place. My Aunt Beryl would have loved it.

When I was finally satisfied I looked as good as I was going to, I followed the sound of Beverly’s voice down the stairs and towards the kitchen. He was just hanging the phone back on its hook on the wall when I entered. His expression was serious, like a man who’s just gotten bad news but when he noticed me lurking by the door his face cleared and he smiled .

“Well, that’s a bit better,” he walked around me slowly, checking every angle, making me feel like I was getting the royal review, “you won’t be winning any beauty contests, but then you won’t be getting arrested for indecent exposure either.”

I smiled stiffly. He seemed like a nice guy, and he was going out of his way to help me so I suppose I should have been grateful, but there was something about his expression when I’d entered the room that had put me on alert. I was torn between my desire to trust him and maybe find out what was happening to me, and the urge to flee. I did an internal once over of my body and found the Power inside me a quiet glow, present but not active. So, I’d stick around for now…

I wandered over to the little kitchen island while Beverly returned to his preparations. Cedric was flopped out on the floor beneath a small breakfast table in one corner. The wolfhound snorted once and shifted his head on his paws, giving me an uninterested glance before settling back to sleep. I was damn glad he didn’t see me as any kind of threat considering he was nearly as big as I was and had much sharper teeth. Expansive windows above the table gave a view onto a back garden done in the English style, which meant it was manicured to within an inch of its life, but would probably be stunning come spring.

When I’d tried to help with the food prep I’d been shooed away and ushered into the living room where I’d been waiting anxiously for the past ten minutes. By the time Beverly entered with a tea tray heaped high with goodies I had memorised every line of the blue windmill and dutch-girl pattern on the sofa I was perched on. I’d also decided that clogs had to be the stupidest invention ever. Who the hell thought it was a good idea to make shoes out of wood anyways?

Setting the tray down on the ornately footed coffee table, Beverly settled into a narrow, over-stuffed wing back chair across from me, crossing his legs delicately and straightening out the line of his trousers.

“Help yourself,” he said genially.

I looked at the offerings before me. Besides a tea-pot with a set of fine, bone china cups and saucers, there was a plate piled high with finger sandwiches and another with English biscuits. As I gazed longlingly at the ridiculously twee, affectedly dainty food, I realised I was absolutely starving. I practically inhaled a cucumber and marmite sandwich before moving on to one  containing cheese and chutney, topping it all off with two short bread cookies and another cucumber sandwich for good measure. When I’d finished gorging myself I took a deep breath of satisfaction and looked over at Beverly. He was staring at me with amusement.

“Better now?”

“Er, yes. Thank you.” God, I must have looked like such a pig. My eating habits had degraded somewhat over the last little while what with not knowing when my next meal would be. I was covered in crumbs and had even managed to get a blob of chutney smeared on my sweatpants. I went to brush the crumbs off onto the floor then realised that would be even worse and froze awkwardly.

“Oh go ahead,” my host said lightly, “today is cleaning day anyways. The rug is already a disaster.”

The soft, white rug was immaculate, but I decided not to argue. It would have been rude. I hastily shook the crumbs off my lap onto the floor, ignoring the mess I was making.

“Sorry. I haven’t eaten since lunch yesterday,” I muttered lamely.

“That’s quite alright. You eat your fill. I’ve already had breakfast so I’m not hungry. How do you like your tea?”

I slowly and carefully picked up another sandwich, being careful about the crumbs this time. Beverly poured the steaming brew into two china cups. I swallowed noisily before speaking.

“Milk and sugar please.”

Beverly added the ingredients to one cup and placed it in front of me on its matching saucer.

“I’ve got into the habit of having mine with a slice of lemon,” he said as he squeezed said fruit into his tea. The scent of lemon filled the room, somehow making me feel more relaxed.

“My granny used to have lemon with her tea. I never liked it, but the smell always reminds me of her.” I hadn’t meant to speak, it had just come out. I hadn’t thought about my grandmother in years. She’d died when I was still a kid but I had fond memories of tea parties at her house, and playing gin rummy for hours, though I had no idea how to play the game anymore. I always thought it was weird that her house stayed in the same place all the time since I was used to our constantly travelling trailer. After she’d died it had just been me and my parents. My mom’s family were all dead aside from Aunt Beryl and granny was the last of my father’s relatives. I hadn’t realised how unusual it was to have such a small family till I got older.

Settling back into his chair Beverly gave me an appraising look.

“So…”

“Yeah.”

“It’s not every day I find a naked woman on the beach.”

“No, I would guess not.”

“Any chance you’d like to explain how you got there?”

I stared down into my tea, watching it swirl. When the silence threatened to drag on forever the older man sighed and placed his cup back on its saucer.

“I see. Well, perhaps you should start then. I imagine you have some questions for me considering how appalled you were at my use of the word ‘human’.”

I shifted uncomfortably then placed my cup and saucer back on the tea tray. How was I going to put this?

“What are you?” So, I was obviously going for the direct approach.

The older man quirked a graying eye-brow. “I’m a retired bachelor living a life of ease after decades of public service. What are you?”

I huffed slightly.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“I know,” he leaned forward to place his own cup and saucer on the elegant coffee table, “I’m just not at all sure how to explain things to you. You should have been raised to understand these things. I really can’t imagine how you’ve gone so long without knowing what you are.”

“I’m human.” I heard the note of petulance in my voice and winced. I was human wasn’t I? Until 4 years ago I’d been completely normal. Mostly. Well nothing a good therapist couldn’t have fixed. And now, suddenly, this kindly looking little man was implying I wasn’t human at all. At least I thought that’s what he was implying.

“No. You’re not. Not entirely. Not from what you’ve told me. Not from the evidence I saw down on the beach this morning.” Beverly was being firm, leaving no room for argument. Which wasn’t going to stop me from arguing.

“You’re wrong. No, wait, you’re not wrong…you’re insane. Yes, insane. I’m leaving”, I stood abruptly almost knocking my tea over in the process. Everything was so small and packed so closely together there was no way I was going to get out of here with my dignity intact. I shuffled sideways through the narrow space between the sofa and the coffee table. I managed not to knock anything over but nearly tripped on the hem of my sweatpants before steadying myself on the door frame. I was nearly six foot so whoever the previous owner of these pants was he was a freakin’ giant. My breathing was loud in my ears, I was practically hyperventilating. Crap! Why was I even letting what this stranger was saying bother me.

I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the door frame, appreciating the cool of the wood against my face.

I was letting it bother me because he might be right. Whatever had happened during the fire 4 years ago it had left me changed. I wasn’t a normal person anymore, I wasn’t…

Deflect.

“You’re not human.” It wasn’t a question. I opened my eyes and looked at Beverly who had relaxed back into his chair, all lord-of-the-manner like. He studied me thoughtfully, his green, turtle eyes blinking slowly, then tilted his head to the side reminding me of the seagull from the beach.

“No. Not entirely.”

I felt like I’d suddenly grown an extra nose, which was funny considering I was talking to someone who claimed to not be human.

“You really have no idea of your heritage? You weren’t raised in the Blood community at all?” he asked wonderingly. Since I had no clue what he was talking about I could safely say, “No.”

He shook his head, but smiled reassuringly. “Well, no wonder you’re ending up on public beaches with no clothes, you haven’t had anyone to show you how to use your abilities properly. I’ve heard of Bloods growing up with humans, not finding out till much later in life what they are, but I’ve never actually met one.”

I bit my tongue to stop myself from repeating that I was human. It felt less and less like the truth the more I said it.

“If I’m really the first of our kind you’ve ever met it’s no wonder you were so hostile outside. I forgive you,” he intoned magnanimously, but I wasn’t paying attention.

The memory of a tall, blonde man with sharp features who’d helped me the night of the fire flashed into my mind. He’d been so beautiful and strange, otherworldly. Maybe…

I set that thought aside for the moment. I had a more immediate question.

“If you aren’t human, what are you?”

“Sit down.”

“But…”

“Sit down and I’ll tell you whatever I can.”

Part of me still wanted to leave. I’d wanted some kind of answer about what had happened to me the night of the fire, why I had changed. What I had become. But now that it was possible I was actually going to get some of those answers I found I was scared. Maybe it was better not to know? Then I remembered almost getting pissed on in an alley and accidentally flying through the air on fire.

I shuffled back to the little day sofa and perched stiffly on its edge. I needed to know.

Retrieving his tea, Beverly settled back into his chair and took a sip.

“Collectively we call ourselves Bloods. There are Half-Bloods like myself, and I suspect you, who are part human. Then there are the Full-Bloods who are wholly Other. They tend to think they’re better than us, though personally I haven’t seen anything that would lead me to agree. Finally there are the Blue-Bloods, but much like their human counterparts they rarely deign to walk amongst the peasants here on this side of the lines.”

I just stared at him. I had no clue what the hell he was talking about. I’d asked him a perfectly simple question and he’s started spouting out extreme weirdness.

“The who, with the what and huh?”

Beverly sighed.

“You have no idea what I’m talking about at all do you? You should you know, someone should have explained all this to you when you were a child. Right, well I suppose I’m going to have to start at the beginning,” he took another sip of his tea then set the cup back down.

“Like many stories this one begins with Once upon a time…”

Beverly’s once upon a time led to one of the most ridiculous stories I’d ever heard. It was sci-fi at its cheesiest, most Stargate-esqe.

“Once upon a time, in a land far, far away and a step to the left, there was a war between two vast armies. This far away land was actually in an alternate dimension and in this dimension were beings that would appear like monsters to us. We call them The Ancients or Blue-Bloods, though that’s not their name for themselves.”

I had to ask. “Uh, what do they call themselves?”

Beverly shot me the same withering look my grade 9 science teacher had given me when I asked him what colour atoms were.

“It’s very long and complicated and I’m afraid I can’t actually pronounce it. I don’t have enough tongues. Now, may I continue?”

I raised my hands placatingly, “Yes, sure, sorry. You were at beings from an alternate dimension…”

Taking a deep breath he continued.

“These beings lived by feeding off energy, the energy that’s created by all living things. For millennia they had been able to live quite contentedly off the creatures that existed in their dimension. However, several thousand years ago, a plague decimated the native population. This plague didn’t affect the Ancients directly, but with so few creatures left alive it was just a matter of time till they began to starve.

“At the same time a scientist and his team discovered a way to open portals to other dimensions…”

See? Stargate. Portals to other dimensions. I so would have preferred to hear they’d opened a portal to Hell or the underworld or something. I hate Science-Fiction, but I could deal with a little supernatural mumbo-jumbo. I mean, vampires are so IN right now. But he continued on the trans-dimensional tip so I bit my tongue and tried to follow along.

“The scientist and his team visited many worlds searching for a new food source. Most of these worlds had no life on them, and the ones that did were not capable of providing the Ancients with the sustenance they required. The kind of life they were looking for was very specific and they had no luck.

“Meanwhile, back in their home dimension, the situation was degrading quickly. Food was getting short. There was rationing and riots amongst the Blue-Bloods. Long held grudges and political tensions rose to the surface and violence became common place. One of the Ancients, a small-time leader who knew the scientist and completely believed that he would return and lead them to a new home land,  realised that even were that the case the Blue-Blood population was simply too vast for all of them to make the journey. He saw the population dividing along racial and philosophical lines. He believed that the only ones who should be making this journey, when the time came, were the scientists and intellectuals like himself. However, being the astute judge of character he was, he also knew they would need soldier types if they wanted to be the ones to make the trip and leave the others behind. He began to gather two groups together, the great thinkers who would create the new society they would have to build and an army.

“Of course, other armies began forming almost immediately. It quickly became clear that war was inevitable and only the victors would be continuing on to the new world.”

Beverly stopped for a sip of his tea, grimacing when he discovered it was now cold. I was trying to picture the scene but was finding it difficult as I had no idea what these Ancients looked like. Despite the fact that he didn’t like being interrupted I was going to have to risk it to get some clarification.

“So, these Ancients, do they all look the same or do they come in different colours like us? I’m just trying to get a feel for what they’re like.” I’d completely relaxed on the day couch by then, even crossing my legs and leaning against the fragile feeling back-rest. All the finger sandwiches had been eaten and there was only one shortbread cookie left. I was debating whether or not to eat it.

At least Beverly wasn’t annoyed this time, he just looked thoughtful for a moment, trying to figure out how best to answer my question.

“No,” he said slowly, “they aren’t like us. It’s actually more as if all the creatures on earth from the smallest insects to the largest mammals were to be conscious and self-aware. Many varying species but all part of society. Of course some species are more intelligent than others, many of them are more like animals than what we think of as conscious individuals, or so I understand it.”

“History is written by the winners,” I pointed out.

“Indeed, so we only have one side of the story. As to what the Ancients look like, all I can say is that they are completely alien. And I don’t mean they have bumpy foreheads but otherwise look like us, I mean Alien. They are so foreign, so different from us it would be difficult for our brains to process what we were seeing were we in their presence. I think.”

Beverly rose with the tea pot in his hand. “We need more tea. Come with me and I’ll continue the story while we wait for the kettle to boil.” He picked up the empty cups and plates, placing them back on the wooden tea tray before padding towards the kitchen. I rose awkwardly to follow, shimmying my way around the delicate furniture as best I could. I was glad to get out of the living room. Everything in there was so dainty and looked expensive. I hadn’t broken anything yet but I reckoned it was just a matter of time.

The kitchen was darker than the living room and it took my eyes a moment to adjust. Cedric was still sprawled out beneath the kitchen table. He favoured us with an half-lidded glance then ignored us. I plunked myself down on one of the sturdy wooden chairs ringed around the table. This was definitely more my kind of room. Everything was made of metal or strong, dark wood and all the breakable things were neatly tucked away in cupboards.

We waited in silence for the kettle to boil. Only when a fresh pot of tea was sitting on the counter-top and Beverly had joined me at the kitchen table did he continue.

“Ahem, where was I?”

“Fighting and riots amongst the Ancients, the Scientist and his team searching for food.” Scientist had become capitalised in my mind and I had also begun picturing him as a handsome, thirty-something intellectual type with glasses. Since I had no clue what these Ancients actually looked like I felt I had free reign to picture them however I wanted.

Beverly nodded distractedly and continued, stopping to occasionally sip his tea.

“Right. Well, everything was going to the dogs, new factions were appearing every day, fighting was continuous, no one could escape the conflict. The leader who had sent the Scientist on his mission was a savvy tactician and he soon developed a strong following. Groups that had been trying to make it on their own threw in with him and soon he was at the head of a vast army. At the same time however, another general had arisen amongst the throng and he too began to collect followers till finally there were only two sides to this war: The Leader’s and The Enemy’s.”

“Pffft!”

I slapped a hand over my mouth. I hadn’t meant to make such a loud sound of derision; it had just gotten away from me. Beverly stiffened.

“You find something I said amusing?”

“Well, sort of…I mean, The Leader and The Enemy? It’s a bit over the top don’t you think? Not to mention it sounds like propaganda to me.” I shifted in my seat preparing myself for an argument.

Instead Beverly rolled his eyes and gave me a condescending look.

“Well of course it’s propaganda. This goes back to what we said about history being written by the winners. This is how it was told to me when I was a child, it’s in a language children can understand. I don’t know their real names, so I’m afraid unless you can come up with something better The Leader and The Enemy are what we’re stuck with.”

“ Dave and Chuck.”

“Excuse me?”

“We could call them Dave and Chuck. The Leader could be Dave, and The Enemy could be Chuck.” There’d been a bully at my elementary school named Chuck when I was a kid. He used to constantly pick fights with me. I was the tallest kid at the school, taller even than some of the teachers and I think Chuck took my height as a threat to his dominance. He made the fifth and sixth grades an ordeal I thought I’d never survive. Then he ended up at the same junior high as me and I wondered what would happen if I just stopped going to school altogether. Fortunately for me, he encountered an even bigger bully in a kid named Aiden and I was saved from another two years of torment. Chuck still lived in my heart as the nastiest person I’d ever met so I thought if we were going to buy into this propaganda we should at least have a hero and villain I could relate to. All the Daves I’d met over the years had been pretty decent guys.

“Fine, if that makes things more palatable for you, Chuck and Dave it is. May I continue?”

“No need to be snarky.”

“I am not being snarky.”

“Fine. Go ahead.”

“Oh thanks ever so…”

“See! Snarky.”

“Oh, for goodness…fine. I’m going to tell the rest of the story now.”

“Good. You do that.”

We glared at each other, the moment stretching on endlessly.

Brrrp!

I nearly fell out of my chair, the legs scraping back with a loud squeal as I looked frantically for the source of the sound. Beverly’s expression froze in embarrassment. God, had he done that?  No way. I peeked under the table at the oversized mutt there. As I looked at him the sound was repeated.

Brrrrp!

Was that what I thought it was? Had the wolfhound just…

“Poor Cedric,” cooed Beverly, “is our bickering upsetting you?”

The smell hit both of us at the same time.

“Ohn My Ghod Dat smeld horrible.” I said pinching my nose against the stench. Beverly held a napkin over his nose and turned to me.

“Cedric reacts badly to negative energy. When my ex came to get his things the house stank for a whole day afterward. He’s a sensitive soul.”

I looked at the prim Beverly with a white napkin draped over the lower half of his face and he looked at me with my nose pinched, taking shallow breaths and it just suddenly seemed so ridiculous. We both burst out laughing.

The smelly wolfhound twitched his eyebrows quizzically at us then rose and padded over to his master. Beverly scratched him behind the ears and his tail immediately began to beat happily against the linoleum floor.

“Does that mean the gas attack is over?” I unpinched my nose. Either the smell had dissipated or I’d got used to it because it just smelled like Beverly’s aromatic Earl Grey.

“I think so. Maybe you could agree to just let me finish the story without any further argument?” He looked at me for assent. I nodded. I was still waiting for this story to lead to the present and couldn’t see for the life of me how it would get there. Despite my desire to get out of here and my hope that the weirdness of the past 12 hours would become a distant memory, I was now far too curious to see where this was going to take off. I’d give him another 20 minutes.

“Each side believed itself the most deserving of rescue. There was a horrific battle that went on for days.”

I tried to imagine the scene: Two armies of hideous creatures, each spread out across a blackened, desolate land. The sky swirling with dark clouds, red lightning stabbing downwards, looking for targets on the dry, cracked earth. Ravenous hordes of what I could only imagine as monsters, all oversized teeth and claws, facing off, waiting for the order to attack. And at their heads, two leaders standing tall above the roiling masses, determined, waiting. Dave on the one side, square jawed, massive of muscle, with an intelligent and compassionate expression in his yellow, monster-eyes. On the other side Chuck stood, a gargantuan brute with spittle covered jaws, an oversized under bite and huge, red, bulbous eyes. It was epic, putting the entire CG team that worked on the Lord of the Rings films to shame.

“Each side took loses,” continued Beverly dramatically, “and by the end of a week nearly half the population had been killed or fatally injured. It began to appear there would be enough room for everyone left to move on to the new world, but though The Lead…though Dave,” he corrected himself with a nod in my direction, “tried his best to convince Chuck to end the fighting it was all to no avail.”

I bit my lip to stop from laughing. Did he actually just say ‘to no avail’? I didn’t think people really said that sort of thing. Not outside of cheesy fantasy novels anyways.

Fortunately Beverly didn’t seem to notice my struggle and continued his tale.

“The fighting continued but the rules seemed to have changed. Dave’s side barricaded themselves into their stronghold and were determined to hold out till the Scientist returned, accruing as few losses as possible. Chuck took this as a sign he was winning and redoubled his efforts. For days on end they were battered and bombarded. The walls shook, fires raged and the end seemed inevitable. Just when it appeared all hope was lost, the patience Dave and his followers had shown was rewarded. The Scientist had returned.”

Despite myself I was getting into this. I reckoned we were getting close to something that would start to make sense soon. Of course Beverly realised he had a captive audience and he bloody well took his time, pausing to sip his tea and scratch Cedric behind the ears. I crossed my arms in annoyance. He looked up at me innocently then smiled.

“The Scientist returned to a different world from the one he’d left. He quickly found his mentor and reported what he’d found. There was a dimension with plentiful inhabitants to feed off. In fact it was far easier to draw energy from these creatures than it had been from the beings in their own dimension. The Scientist had discovered an Eden, a paradise. Now the only question was: Who would survive long enough to enjoy it?” Beverly pinned me with his gaze, or at least I assume that’s what he was trying to do before he was interrupted by a snuffle from Cedric. It pretty much broke any dramatic tension he was going for.

With a resigned sigh Beverly continued. “Dave and his army re-joined the battle with renewed hope and vigour. Calling what happened next a war wouldn’t do it justice. This wasn’t a war, it was an apocalypse. Wars have certain rules of conduct; there are prisoners, civilians to avoid harming and most of all the chance for peace. None of those things existed during the Great Conflagration.”

I couldn’t help it this time. A snicker escaped before I could stop it. Beverly glared down his nose at me.

“Something to say?” he asked coolly.

“The Great Conflagration? Kind of OTT isn’t it?

Huffing in annoyance Beverly picked up his tea and took a disgruntled gulp.

“Do you even know what conflagration means?” he shot at me.

I felt the smile freeze on my face and twist into something darker, haunted. When I spoke my voice was barely a whisper.

“I know all too well what conflagration means.”

I was gone then, no longer in the present but transported kicking and screaming into the past. The flames of my parent’s house surrounded me, caressed me like a lover, gentle and intimate. Memories of that night had warped over the years, so that now, when I travelled back there in my mind, everything had changed. Besides the roar of the flames and the crash of the house collapsing I could also hear my parents screams. Their shrieks of pain and terror drowned out every other sound till the night existed only as those screams of agony.

Seeing I had drifted into dark waters Beverly tried to bring me back.

“What, pray tell, does OTT mean? Is that some of this text speak I hear so much about? Please tell me you’re not one of those carbuncles who spend all their time sending pointless messages to each other.”

I took a deep breath, clearing the past away as best I could, before answering. “Yeah, I spend my time texting all my many friends. Oh, wait, I don’t have any friends because I live in a dumpster where I spend all my time trying not to set people on fire,” I said sarcastically.

Awkward silence filled the kitchen. Beverly didn’t seem to know what to say and neither did I really. He hadn’t deserved to have his head bitten off.

“Look, I’m sorry. Bad memories is all. You’ve been nothing but kind to me. I’m an ass. Forgive me?” What I’d said was true. I was an ass. Beverly had rescued me from what could have been one of the most agonising walks home in history. He was feeding and clothing me and trying, in what I still thought was a very long and convoluted manner, to explain some of the weirdness I’d experienced. I hoped my apology would be good enough. But instead of looking mollified the older man just seemed embarrassed. He scratched his sleeping dog to the point where Cedric snuffed and shook his head to get his master to stop.

“Well, yes, don’t worry about it. I’m sure you didn’t mean it.” He turned from harassing Cedric to stirring his tea, though his mug couldn’t have been even half full.

“Um, OTT means Over the Top,” I said to break the tension.

Beverly nodded in understanding though he still wouldn’t look at me.

“I see. I suppose the story of the Conflagration could come across that way. However for a thing to be…OTT…it would need to be exaggerated out of all proportion and in this case I don’t believe that’s true. In fact I’m fairly certain no matter what I say I couldn’t do the war between the Ancients justice.”

“You make it sound like you were there.”

Beverly stared at me as if I’d just said I liked to eat babies. A hand fluttered to his throat then finally settled back on the table.

“Good lord no. I…my goodness, what an appalling thought,” he sipped his tea, giving himself a moment to recover.

“Perhaps,” he said when he finally recovered, “if you ever have the misfortune to meet a Blue-Blood you’ll understand how terrifying a war amongst them must have been.”

“Have you?” I asked, intrigued, “Met a Blue-Blood?”

He nodded distractedly. “Once. When I was a young man. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.”

I was confused. Still. In fact the more Beverly told his story, the more confused I got.  I only had one option as I saw it.

“Ok, tell me the rest of the story.”

“As you wish,” he said heavily.

As I wish? Oh, that was rich. But I let it slide. I didn’t think I was going to find out anything useful until the tale was told.

“Right, well, the Great Conflagration. Horrible fighting broke out amongst the Ancients, the two sides battling for the right to escape to this new world the Scientist had discovered. It was imagined to be an Eden and only the winning side could lay claim to it. The Scientist was kept hidden during the battle and he worked on perfecting the device he’d created to transport his people to the new world. It was called a trans-dimensional portal and only he knew how it worked. The Scientist had promised Dave that if it looked like their side were going to lose, he would destroy the portal and kill himself, forever trapping Chuck and his people on their dying world.

“The battle raged, for who knows how long, some claim centuries but that may be hyperbole, till only one side stood victor. Dave, leader of the winning side, decided that rather than slaughtering the remainder of the opposing combatants he would show mercy and instead just leave them behind.”

Beverly smiled, enjoying the reflected beneficence of this long lost leader. I found it hard to see things as positively as him. It seemed to me that Dave was just being economical. It would have taken ages to track down and kill all the remaining soldiers in Chuck’s army. It was loads easier to just ditch them and let nature take its course. There didn’t seem to be much mercy in leaving people to die of starvation on a barren world, At least, not to me.

The story continued, Beverly missing my expression of doubt.

“The Scientist had built several more portals across their dimension so all the chosen could leave at once and arrive together. He also designed the portals to self-destruct once his people were through, leaving Chuck and his followers trapped. The Exodus went off without a hitch. Dave and his supporters arrived on Earth about 14,000 years ago.”

Wait. Did he just say they came to earth? What the hell. Before I could question him however, he continued.

“At first it seemed their prayers had been answered, they had truly found an Eden. The psychic energy the little, hairless apes produced was so rich and plentiful that the Ancients imagined it could never run out and they would never again risk starvation.”

I opened my mouth to ask him a question, but before I could speak he raised a finger to forestall me. My mouth snapped shut.

“The Ancients survive on the psychic energy created by all conscious, living beings. The energy  humans create is particularly potent. While on this side of the lines just being near a group of humans allowed them to consume this energy. It was at its richest and most plentiful when humans were experiencing intense emotions: Terror, anger, love, joy. These are what the Ancients feed on and what humanity gives them.”

This was too much. “So hold on, you’re telling me these creatures from another dimension came to earth thousands of years ago and have been feeding off us ever since? And nobody has ever noticed them, even though they’re supposed to be terrifying. Ok. What did you take and where can I get some?”

Beverly nodded in understanding. “I know, it seems incredible, but you’re imagining them actually standing around eating and that’s not how it works. Unlike vampires,” wait, did he just say vampires? What the…, “the way Blue-Bloods feed on psychic energy doesn’t harm humans at all. Think of them as dung beetles. A camel doesn’t notice when a dung-beetle takes what is left behind and humans don’t notice when the Ancients absorb their expelled psychic energy. Nobody gets hurt.”

He shifted slightly, looking as if he were considering the best way to phrase the next part of the lesson. I immediately became suspicious. So far Beverly had been reciting his tale like someone repeating a story told to them on a daily basis since childhood. He hadn’t been aware of how strange and ultimately disturbing that story was. Until now. I thought about what he’d just told me and wondered what he could be thinking about. Then it struck me.

“But if everything was working out so great for the Ancients here why have we never seen them? Shouldn’t there be scary monsters everywhere, drinking our emotions like frothy cappuccinos?”

Beverly looked at me sceptically. “Frothy cappuccinos? Really?”

I flushed, feeling my cheeks warm. I’d spent the last several months thinking things, not saying them, I couldn’t be held accountable if my language had gotten a bit fruity. I’d have to watch that.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by that. Personally I appreciate a creative use of language, especially from a young person. Most people these days seem to think the word ‘like’ can be substituted for everything. It should be used only to express a positive opinion of something as in ‘I like tea’ or as a comparative; ‘that cake tastes like ambrosia’. It’s a pet peeve of mine.”

Beverly had actually managed to get a bit worked up about this. He took a deep steadying breath and fixed a calm smile on his face. Meeting my eyes I could see a kind of sympathy there. Between the weirdness of what Beverly was telling me and my apparent inability to behave like a normal person after all the time on my own, I found I was flailing wildly for level ground.

Beverly spoke to cover my discomfort. “So, as you’ve guessed it wasn’t all coffee beverages and sunshine.”

He leaned towards me as if confiding a secret and I unconsciously mimicked his pose.

“The Ancients had been in our dimension just long enough for the humans to begin to accept their presence and cease attacking them, not that those primitive men could actually harm the Blue-Bloods, but it must have been annoying.”

“Good eating though,” I interjected. Beverly looked at me, non-plussed.

“Pardon?”

I shifted, crossing and uncrossing my legs till I found a comfortable position. “Well, you said they feed off of strong emotions. I imagine the humans they met must have been scared out of their minds. I know I would be if huge, terrifying monsters suddenly showed up out of nowhere. So, I just mean the Ancients must have been getting a tasty treat.”

Turtle eyes blinked at me thoughtfully. “I suppose it would have been a treat indeed. However something began to happen which altered the course of things to come and explains why we don’t see giant monsters hanging out at the mall. The Ancients began to change.” He paused dramatically. I felt like I was required to say something so I pursed my lips thoughtfully and said, “Oh. I see.”

I didn’t of course. See that is. But I was hoping this would encourage him enough to continue.

“Yes. Not all of them and not all at once but the majority of the Ancients began to mutate. The Scientist conjectured it was our atmosphere causing these changes. The Ancients home dimension was radically different from ours in terms of what chemicals and gasses were floating around. The Scientist had believed their bodies were adapting to this new atmosphere, but he was wrong. The only way he could think of to prevent any further mutation was to leave. So they did.”

“Whoa, what? They left? Then what…I don’t get it.”

“If you’d let me continue…” he gave me a chiding look. I harrumphed and waved a hand for him to continue.

“Ahem, now I’ve lost where I was…”

“The Ancients were leaving…”

“Ah yes. So based on the Scientists theory the Ancients went back through the one remaining portal into a side dimension.”

“A side dimension?”

“Yes, a sort of null space if you will. It was a dimension with no life, and very little structure. At first they simply used this side dimension as a home base of sorts and made forays back through the portal to our dimension to feed. Unfortunately, this didn’t stop the mutation. It seemed the effects were accumulative. Eden became a place they could no longer enter without risking mutation. Many began to plan for another pilgrimage to find a more hospitable dimension, but the Scientist knew how unlikely it was they would find anywhere as rich in food as here. He directed all his intelligence and knowledge to finding another way to stay.

“Whilst in our dimension the Scientist had observed the humans worshipping at a primitive alter. Their emotions during worship were intense and highly focused, directed entirely upon the object of their belief. The Scientist thought it might be possible to create a connection, almost a pipeline, directly between the two dimensions and join each of the remaining Ancients directly to an object of worship.”

I got it. Or at least I thought I did.

“So it’s like when you set up a website, every time someone comes to your site it increases your popularity rating. Only in this case instead of gaining popularity points they’re actually getting food.”

The older man looked at me with only the faintest look of comprehension.

“I’m not entirely sure what you’re talking about, I don’t own a computer and every time I’ve tried to use the internet I just get frustrated and confused, but I believe we’re talking about the same thing essentially.” He folded and unfolded a chocolate coloured napkin before finally pushing it aside in annoyance. “Jan used to have a laptop and he would try to teach me about the World Wide Web but it was all Greek to me. All those names; Yippee and Myface or what have you. And Digging things…what does that even mean? It all seemed a bit pointless really.”

Jan must have been the previous owner of the sweats I was now wearing. Sounded like ol’ Beverly might have been dating a younger man. Good for him. I smiled knowingly at him and he sniffed and turned away.

“The point is,” he continued, “that the Ancients could use the energy expelled by  humans in the act of worship without actually having to be in proximity to them. Once the Ancients attached themselves, (I have no idea how as the science is far too complex for me to understand), to a particular object of worship, they were able to feed without ever having to set foot on Earth again.”

This was all so bizarre. It was science fiction and I couldn’t help but wonder if Beverly had maybe been smoking something that had permanently affected his brain. But I was able to set things on fire with my mind and had even been able to fly. If Beverly was tripping the light fantastic then he wasn’t the only one.

I felt there was an important point in his story that he’d sort of just skipped over.

“You said some of the Ancients mutated, that was why they couldn’t remain on Earth. What happened to them? Did they just die?”

Shaking his head Beverly said, “No. They survived. But they had changed.”

“Into what?”

“Into us.”

Gasp! Horror! Yeah, I know, you’d probably already guessed that. What can I say, it’s a bit harder to be all perceptive when you’re smack in the middle of things like I was. Am. Whatever.

So the mutated Blue-Bloods were called Full-Bloods and when they eventually mated with humans (I can’t help imagining giant bug creatures raping the women folk) we got Half-Bloods. And after that, as the bloodline (or is it Blood-line) becomes less trans-dimensional, more strictly human you get the Blood-touched. I guess it’s like those people who are 1/16th Native and have an Indian Status card to prove it, though Bev didn’t go into how involved in the “Blood Community” those folks are. It wasn’t really top on my list of questions.

There were at least as many different races of Bloods as there were countries in the world and some preferred one area to another, city to country, cold places to tropical. There were plenty more differences in some cases than similarities between the different lines, but somehow they’d all managed to agree to a few certain rules.

1)The humans must never know about us.

That meant keeping a low profile, blending in and, when necessary, manipulating human politics and science to keep the status quo.

2)To make sure this happens, a council will maintain strict watch on and manage the Blood community at large, including registering all Bloods born. This central council, called the High Senate, keeps a massive database locked in a secret location so it can’t be meddled with. Each region has their own Senate, a government body, that maintains order and manages local Blood affairs.

The world was divvied up into regions, some of which had changed over the years as both the human and Blood communities expanded. Toronto was in Region 5. It ran from northern Ontario to the East coast and down through the U.S., including everything South of Minnesota down to Montana and Virginia in the East. It seemed like a huge area to be supervised by one government, but Beverly explained that the Bloods make up barely 3% of the world wide population and our region is actually one of the smallest because it does have a fairly dense population of Bloods. I thought about all the major cities included in that one territory and it made sense. If I were part of a shadow government I would want to be set up in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto to the North and New York and Washington to the South. As far as where the power, population and money are in North America that really doesn’t leave much of importance outside of Los Angeles and maybe Vancouver to the North.

Of course being the most recently settled land mass on the planet, North and South America also have the newest governments and the communities here have drawn more open-minded types, those seeking more freedom I guess. Apparently even trans-dimensional beings (or the mutated descendants of them) are lured by the myth of the New World.

3)To maintain order a law enforcement agency will exist for each region. The Praetoriat will enforce the laws of the Blood community and will involve itself in human law enforcement when it intersects with Blood interests.

What that summarises as is: we’ve got our own police/RCMP/FBI, whatever you want to call it, that takes care of any naughty Bloods whether they commit crimes against other Bloods or against humans. The impression I got from Beverly’s tone of voice though made me think nobody really gave a crap about crimes against humans, as long as it didn’t put the ‘Community’ at risk of being exposed.

Blood government seemed to be based loosely on the Roman Republican model, though since no system stays the same over any period of time, I was sure it had a lot of differences and I shouldn’t assume I understood it just because I’d read my Marcus Aurelius.

The day was a blur of new information, all of which I had trouble getting my head around. Sure, I could set things on fire with my brain, but what Bev was telling me was just nuts.

Beverly and I talked for hours, me asking questions, him shaking his head at my ignorance but doing his best to answer them. Every fact he gave me led to more questions and eventually the older man’s voice began to go slightly hoarse from over-use. When he’d cleared his throat for about the third time in a row and it still wasn’t coming out as more than a smokers pant I felt guilt tickle my conscience.

“Beverly. Stop…” He peered up at me warily with his turtle eyes. Poor guy probably thought I was going to ask another question that would require a half-hour explanation. It wouldn’t be the first. You try explaining the set-up of your country’s government then times that by a 100 and you have some idea of how long it took him to explain the set-up of a government that stretched all around the world. I smiled at him and held my hand up to halt his concerns.

“You’ve been great, answering all my questions. Your voice is going, you’re obviously tired and I don’t know about you,  but I’m starving.” As if hearing my words, Cedric appeared at the entrance to the living room and snuffled meaningfully at his master. He looked like he wanted to do more but seemed unwilling to enter the room. I didn’t blame him. I’d been sitting rigidly on the tiny decorative sofa for the past several hours, afraid to relax in case my full weight cracked the delicate furniture. Cedric wouldn’t be able to navigate his huge body around the room without knocking something over no matter how hard he tried.

Sighing, Beverly made a cooing sound at his hairy companion, “Poor Cedric, you must be starving. I’m coming.” he rose, glancing at me, “Let’s retire to the kitchen, I’ll see what I can whip up for dinner.”

“Sounds great. And I promise to give you a break on answering questions.”

Beverly stretched and there was an audible cracking sound from his back, then we followed Cedric back into the darkened kitchen.

I slumped into one of the dining chairs and stared blankly out the window.  It was nearing five o’clock and the window had become a darkened mirror, reflecting my ghost, pale and tenuous. My eyes were murky pits in a face as white as bone, my mouth a stretch of ash. I turned away abruptly, disturbed more than usual by this vision. Everything felt unreal right now, like walking through the woods at night, every sound and sigh of the forest frightening and unfamiliar. My feelings had been swinging wildly between excitement and fear at all the new information I was getting.

Growing up as I had, the “normal” world had always seemed a bit limited and unreal to me but actually finding out that the world as I knew it was a complete lie was a different thing altogether.

We ate a supper of sandwiches and chicken noodle soup, something I hadn’t had in years, a comfortable silence between us, the only sounds the scraping of our spoons and Cedric’s snuffling and crunching as he chowed down on his dinner over in the corner.

Afterwards, I felt completely drained, as I’d spent the day hiking over mountains. I could feel a headache lurking at the base of my skull.

“I think, if you don’t mind, I might get some sleep now,” my voice seemed to come to me from far away. Beverly nodded in understanding, though there was a look in his eyes I couldn’t quite identify.

“Yes, of course. I’ll show you to the spare room. You’ll need your strength for tomorrow.”

I nodded lazily but I had no idea what he was talking about. What was happening tomorrow? I wanted to ask but my brain felt encased in cotton balls and I found it was just too much effort. I followed my diminutive host through the front hall and upstairs, my feet dragging up each step like they were made of lead.

“Oh dear,” Beverly’s voice was muffled and seemed to come from a great distance, “I must have given you too much Valerian. Let’s get you to bed before you collapse.”

A moment later my face sank into a down filled pillow and the lights went out, though I might just have closed my eyes. I felt warm and safe and the whole world drifted away.

Published in: on March 23, 2013 at 11:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

This is the DL

In this case DL stands for Download List. I present you with my current weekly downloads courtesy of my local coffee shop. I’m posting this so folks can see what I’m watching and also so recommendations can be made.

Alphas. If you haven’t checked this one out yet you should. It’s one of the better additions to the “people with powers,” list if shows. And it’s all filmed in T.O. so it’s fun to location spot. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1183865/

Arrow. Ok, this is a new one and I had my doubts. I thought it was going to be like Smallville, super high on the cheese factor and there certainly is an aspect of that, but the main character is so much more flawed that it is far better. Good fight scenes, not-painful acting, pretty people and the whole thing seems inspired by the Dark Knight as far as theme goes. Only been two episodes so far, so we’ll see how it goes, but I’ve put it on my weekly DL. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2193021/

Covert Affairs. I just enjoy it. Spy stuff is fun. It’s like a weekly, female James Bond without all the grim shit. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1495708/

Criminal minds. Yeah, I still watch this crap. What can I say, I’m a sucker for serial killer stories. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0452046/

The Doctor. Always, always. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0436992/

Downton Abbey. I love it and I won’t apologise…http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1606375/

Elementary. Meh, it’s ok. Still giving it a chance to improve or get cut. I kinda have a girl crush on Lucy Liu. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2191671/

Fringe. This is the final season. I haven’t been loving it so far, it all seems a bit too straight forward so far. Fingers crossed it picks up, I would hate the last season to suck. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1119644/

Grimm. I quite enjoy this show. Love Monroe. Good to see some new supernatural creatures, and I like the fact that they’ve created their own paradigm rather than just rehashing the usual stuff. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1830617/

Haven. Not enjoying the second season as much but still worth watching. Kinda makes me want to visit the East coast. Kinds. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1519931/

Homeland. Some questionable messages, politically, but I love the two leads so much I don’t care. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1796960/

Merlin. I love this show! Cheesy, English fun. Plus dragons! http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1199099/

The Vampire Diaries. Ok, so this is my version of watching Jersey Shores or the Kardashians. It has no real value and is pretty trashy but I love it! Purty people, silly vampires and wacky magic. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1405406/

 

So, that’s what I have on regular download at the moment, it changes with the seasons (pun intended). Questions, comments, insults?

 

 

 

Published in: on October 21, 2012 at 12:55 pm  Comments (2)  

Music is the Massage….

…Or “What’s on my Playlist Right Now.”

 

Let’s start with Benny Benassi. Lot’s of it sucks, lot’s of it kicks! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5901QC8Dt40&feature=BFa&list=AL94UKMTqg-9D-mvrHwtFeRhbUlgA4KOF6

Next a little dubstep from Big Chocolate  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ev47e_0dXY&feature=related

Bloody Beetroots   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltxZWZzFKt0

Fake Blood!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nq2ZM1k2QSA&feature=BFa&list=ALHTd1VmZQRNpy9ftqFuJW4o-Q7aEy_b_r

Digitalism. Saw them a while back in the UK. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKKWXmKebwk

Simian Mobile Disco  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0Bf6YGbc1c

Justice. Also saw them perform, pretty sweet show.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThKNt-GY1ww

MSTRKRFT  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7OMMZ4ZNKg&feature=BFa&list=AL94UKMTqg-9B_a581mah_x43BTzgpmlqm

Para One  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Np5icGrgY_Y

Noisia  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAO-lzl3vVQ&feature=list_other&playnext=1&list=AL94UKMTqg-9CmZne3jWwCzFiSCHW08u9B

Vitalic   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=651UYYxrfh0&feature=fvst

Thomas Bangalter http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M77KDtfJFHM

Which of course brings us to the Daddies of most of the music I listen to…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9MszVE7aR4&feature=list_other&playnext=1&list=AL94UKMTqg-9B6Tg9tGUuOKEWlN0VueVEW

Followed by two of the current champs, whether you like it ot not:

Skrillix  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSeNSzJ2-Jw&feature=list_other&playnext=1&list=ALYL4kY05133rC1pV-Fma3i1EA8vX6xi4W

Deadmou5  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g34B-YOaC7c&feature=BFa&list=AL94UKMTqg-9CD40DpM-jp9WmffQhQCgYL

 

So that covers the straight up Electronic stuff. But wait! There’s more….

On the mellower end of things we have Ulrich Schnauss http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VREjN0NGvFA&feature=relmfu

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QY60VAViupk&feature=fvsr Sigur Ros, which leads directly to my obsession with Swedish electronic music…

Familjen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HK5fCS0_II&feature=bf_next&list=AL94UKMTqg-9BVWESHbR29gIwkSUP8dn1f

Slaaglmalsklubbin (which translates as Fight Club) This track is so happy!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjSxkCBjb1I&feature=list_other&playnext=1&list=AL94UKMTqg-9AUOrB2fv5-KYmbMVAUWrG8

Oooh, which leads to all the fun 8-bit stuff like Psilodump  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDcnzmOsveY&feature=relmfu

Trash80 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUzfbjD02AM&feature=relmfu

Twilight Electric http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dn3arZFFoKQ&feature=relmfu

and Null Sleep http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmwfHppAjUY&feature=related

And then there’s Denki Groove from Japan  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xK9FkutYTAI

and Pizzacato Five  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tph7GKu89-g&feature=related

Capsule  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=viycVSrrCXk&feature=bf_next&list=AL94UKMTqg-9Cq2LffnIxG4OgyTU766H3y

Leaving Japan, we come to Crystal Castles  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSPcC5N5hZs&feature=BFa&list=AL94UKMTqg-9Dip8daxTXZsJSVaf0BLr25

CSS http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7agPOt1XZz8

Miike Snow http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLHjKgQt39s

Empire of the sun http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eimgRedLkkU&feature=BFa&list=ALHTd1VmZQRNqUqaL3KwGxosYUQpcdoaJp

Dan Deacon http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ysUbo4bED4&feature=BFa&list=AL94UKMTqg-9A-Xo1yH7mG7hv-DhDTnYpq

DNTEL  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VE9k0OhoxXA&feature=list_other&playnext=1&list=AL94UKMTqg-9AjKhZcrkFkyTRzNtEsS3KA

DIPLO http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upXNQ5tnhE8&feature=BFa&list=AL94UKMTqg-9AjBSsFKQ7X6GKH_xSkGChv

Calvin Harris, though he is obviously a total douche bag  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwZVZ5qZnoA&feature=BFa&list=AL94UKMTqg-9BvOPibyG-I0eOqrZsRN8nA

Gnarles Barkley http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oc9nB3Odcq0

So, I don’t know if anyone is still here but I’m enjoying myself 😉

Fantastic Plastic Machine http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0nmL12y4lM&feature=related

Esquivel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eczE9pAEHo4&feature=BFa&list=AL94UKMTqg-9Bo30JDtAXvlfANuy3HFxkM

Lemon Jelly  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bP-N9057wiQ&feature=BFa&list=AL94UKMTqg-9C8mzKbMk0k7ChmgHugWuL9

The Avalanches http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLrnkK2YEcE

Ratatat http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKniXABsUeE&feature=BFa&list=AL94UKMTqg-9Do25z8AtVSr3Hx82-0SpQR

RJD2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abeUTN9OB8I

Itch-e and scratch-e  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pG7RB-GOz4g

Freezepop  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewOToS0fxb8

Hot Chip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mdgLn5BFRQ

Parov Stellar http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jOnHpY1z5E

Caravan Palace http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EE7XkaFFtGE&feature=list_other&playnext=1&list=ALHTd1VmZQRNqgtNi44G8UiSZ1rqeNLUPi

And finally, though by no means the end of music I like, I want to include my favourite track for almost a year now the Ocelot remix of A. Human’s Pacey Singer  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtvCGgILJqE

 

So, if you want to know the kind of music I listen to, this is it, or some of it anyways. I love music, and I tend to prefer music that is either made electronically or run through computers. Essentially, music made by robots for robots.  There’s tons of other stuff I listen to, but this gives you a taste of the more interesting stuff…I want to get people interested and hooked on the stuff I like, not the music you hear every day on the radio anyways.

Published in: on September 8, 2012 at 9:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Hunt for a new UK TV fave

Looking for something worthwhile to watch this summer, preferably British, as they tend to make more that I enjoy. I’ve chosen some new shows, and some old ones I’ve been meaning to check out.
1. Garrow’s Law- Ran for three seasons. Sounds like it could be a good little detective show.

Wigs!

Update: So I watched the first two episodes and found I really enjoyed this. Going to download the rest of this. Fun period setting, interesting to see how much the law has changed, and hasn’t. 

2. The Sarah Jane Adventures – Yes, this is a kids show. It’s Doctor Who adjacent and technically that is also a kids programme and I love it, so I thought I would give it a chance. We’ll see. Might be too kiddy.

Lots of glowing things and fart jokes

Update: First episode was fun, but yeah, this is way too kiddy for me.

3. Thorne – Detective stuff again, this time with David Morissey, who’s usually good for a bit of gruff, Northern menace.

Manc and moody

Update: Really enjoyed the first three episode story. Aiden Gillen is great as usual, as the coroner and Thorne’s only real human connection. Moody detective drama.

4. Endeavour – A one off prequel to the Inspector Morse series showing him as a young copper. Looks like it’s just been picked up for few more episodes this year.

Why Inspector Morse you were a handsome lad…

Update: This was fantastic and I am now in love with Shuan Evans. Look forward to the new episodes.

6. Sebastian Bergman – Based on a Swedish series of Detective novels.

ugh! Old depressed people. NO!

Update: No. Just…No. God, what is it with the Scandinavians? Does it always have to be so bloody grim?

7.Scott and Bailey – Two female detectives in Manchester. Sounds like a mix of their personal lives and pursuing crimes.

Honestly, just shut up.

Update: What women want? Not bloody likely mate. Shite.

Anyhow, will update this post when I’ve had the chance to give them a watch, pass on any gems.

Published in: on June 12, 2012 at 4:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Now I Wanna be Your Dog

Job hunting is soul destroying work. Each day spent presenting the best You possible, whether that version of you is real or not.
Do you love to serve the public? You betcha! Are you cheerful, dynamic and a self-starter? But of course! Can you work well with others but feel comfortable managing their work? Er, yes?
It’s all lies. Lies, lies and more lies. If they read my blog they would know. In fact, uh…
But really folks, if someone were to snoop around to try to find out what kind of person I am, what kind of employee I would be, if they didn’t like what they saw and it counted against me I would be fine with that. Because if an employer feels the need to snoop into my personal life, as so many companies do these days, this really isn’t the 1984 I want to work for.
I am not a good worker. By which I mean I don’t live to work, work doesn’t set me free. Being free sets me free. I will always try hard, whatever job I do, because I care if people think poorly of me (though I wish I didn’t), but I will never sacrifice my health, mental or otherwise, for a job.
The only occupation that matters to me is being the best, truest version of myself, and that involves spending as much time as I can force on myself, and the world, writing.
But I’ve been pounding the streets and smiling brightly, hoping for someone to take sympathy on me, to give me a chance. I need a job, I need to pay the rent and afford food and of course have enough left over for a coffee a day, or as I like to call it, Brain Juice.
I’ve got quite good at pretending to be someone I’m not, mostly when it comes to my working life, but I know my limits.
Cheerful barista, sandwich maker, cashier, book/dvd/video game seller, you betcha!
Secretary, office clerk, childcare worker…if I must.
Accountant, Manager, full-time waitress/bartender, mall employee…uh, no.
So I continue to slog away, to send off resumes, to smile and enthuse in shops and boutiques, pretending I’m younger and more energetic than I really am and maybe, hopefully, very soon, someone will fall for it.

Published in: on May 16, 2012 at 10:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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Saving my Pennies for These!

Ah, spring. The time of year when Torontonians strip off their protective fleece garments, toss aside their insulated rubber boots and bare their pale, pasty skin to the world. The flowers are blooming, the sun is shining (at least two or three times a week!) and tiny, rodent-like canines are strutting their stuff up and down Queen St.

For some of us however, late spring and early summer is exciting not so much for a change in the weather, but because of what’s going on in the dark. There are only three things that get me outside at this time of year: Yard Sales, Patio’s (beer) and the journey required to get to my favourite discount cinema. Blockbuster season is fast approaching and dammit! I’m getting excited.

These are just a few of the films I am excited about this year. Possible reviews to follow, though probably only if they piss me off. In no particular order…

1. The Avengers

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPoHPNeU9fc

I am a huge fan of Marvel comics in general and have a tendency to get suckered in to seeing any property they toss at us, but this actually looks bloody brilliant. The first Iron Man was kick-ass, Thor was completely entertaining and to my surprise Captain America was pretty damn good too. I choose to forget both Hulk films, I’ve always seen him as a better supporting character anyways. Directed by Joss Whedon, this film should be wicked slick. Avengers Assemble!

2.The Dark Knight Rises

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXAzGGX2tpw

I trust Christopher Nolan. This will at worst be decent entertainment and at best will make my brain explode.

3.Prometheus

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0WUpsErUBA

Beyond the general awesomeness of this not-a-prequel-to-Aliens, it has two of my current favourite actors in it. Idris Elba, whose turn on The Wire was brilliant, but who is even better in the, sadly cancelled, Luther, would be draw enough but Michael Fassbender as an Android grabs this film bonus points. The trailer is delicious!

4. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTI2KJvNJOs

No, really.

5. Hysteria

http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/sony/hysteria/

Love me an amusing period piece about the invention of the vibrator.

I will update this list as films catch my eye.

books……

Published in: on April 30, 2012 at 1:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Something Lost…

So, when I had my stroke a few years ago, or ‘cerebral accident’ (as if I was just walking along and oopsy-daisy, I burst a blood-clot in my brain, what a klutz!) I was pretty lucky. A lot of truly horrific things could have happened to me and didn’t.
I remember spending that first night on the stroke ward, looking at my exclusively elderly ward-mates as they lay unmoving and unseeing in their beds, or struggled to eat with limbs made clumsy and uncoordinated. I watched a man walk past the nurse’s station, his hospital gown hanging open at the back, shit running down his leg. I saw all this and it scared me to death. Was I like these people? Surely not. I could walk and talk and do everything I could before the stroke.
Except…
A blind spot in my upper right field of vision that would prevent me from ever getting a driver’s license (I wasn’t going to get one anyways, that’s what public transportation is for) and some minor difficulty with my memory.
More than three years later and I’ve adapted to the blind spot, I hardly even notice it anymore. The problems with my memory however, well, some days it feels like a bad joke.
I’ve had a love affair with the English language since I was a kid. I was one of those who actually read the dictionary, who would never use a simple, understandable and common word to describe something if there was a multi-syllabic, obscure, outdated word I could use instead. I loved it when some of the kids at summer camp called me the “Human Dictionary” though I had to correct them since I was more like the “Human Thesaurus.”
I’m a writer. Not published, and I’ve resisted calling myself that for a long time, but if we accept that someone who spends a large part of their life writing is a writer, then that is what I am.
What I lost when I had my stroke, what was worse than losing part of my vision, or the loss of movement I could have developed had I not been so ‘lucky,’ was my easy access to language.
Just in the process of writing this short entry, I’ve had to look up several words, hunting for synonyms that used to exist somewhere in my head.
That would be bad enough, but I can feel the words there, almost a physical pressure in my brain, as if they were just behind a barrier and I could almost see them, almost free them.
I struggle to find the words I need these days, though I know it may not seem that way to people who know me. Besides the obvious halts in my speech where I just lose a word at the last-minute, something common to us all, there are many times when I’m forced to use a more basic, even inaccurate word, because I can’t find the one I”m actually looking for.

I’ve lost a lot of the confidence I once had in my ability to write. It’s just something I’ve always done, since I started writing poems and short stories in grade school, to the screenwriting I spent most of my adult life working on. I make no claims to being a ‘great’ writer, but I’ve always been a competent one (despite my poor spelling and weak grasp on grammar, weaknesses I admit freely).

I love writing. Even if no once else ever reads what I write, even if I leave stories unfinished, the act of writing itself has always provided comfort to me, allowed me to connect my often mis-matched thoughts to reality in some way.

Now, every paragraph is a struggle. I get trapped by missing words, like an insect in amber. Writing is the only thing I’ve ever been able to just ‘do’. Sometimes, when I get going, when the words are flowing, it feels like I’m high, but better because taking drugs that actually make you ‘high’ has never been all that great an experience for me.

Writing is my drug, it gives me that rush, that feeling of transcendence and pure joy of accomplishment that I imagine athletes, actors, dancers or anyone who creates something physical must feel. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does…it makes everything seem brighter and clearer.

And now that’s gone. I haven’t felt that high in years. How can I when my thoughts are constantly being blocked by the absences in my mind.

I know I can get through this. I will continue to write, not because it’s what I do, but because it’s who I am. I only hope that someday I can feel that rush of ease and accomplishment that I once felt, that it won’t always be a struggle to find the next word.

These are my tools these days, without which I believe I just would have given up out of frustration:

http://thesaurus.com/

http://dictionary.reference.com/

http://www.wikipedia.org/

And the most brilliant page ever : http://www.onelook.com/

Published in: on April 8, 2012 at 1:32 pm  Comments (1)  
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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Why?

The cast of the most recent incarnation of LeCarre’s classic tale of Cold War era espionage reads like a who’s who of brilliant British thespians. Long-timers like John Hurt, Gary Oldman, Ciaran Hines,Toby Jones and Colin Firth, are supported by (relative) newcomers Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy and the sotto voiced Mark Strong.

It should have been a cinch, at worst a standard spy flick, at best a look at men who submerged themselves in a world of intrigue and betrayal for all the wrong reasons.

Instead it was a slow-moving, confusing mess. Thank god I had beer and cheesecake or the evening really would have been a waste.

The high point of this film was Benedict Cumberbatch’s hair:

Blonde with a fringe. Don't judge me!

 

The worst part? Not once did Gary Oldman yell. In fact, I’m fairly certain he was in some sort of somnambulist state the entire time, only once even coming close to displaying any emotion at all. His performance was sa grey as he is in this film, which made me kind of sad.

 

Overall, I’d give it a 2/5. I sat through it, but if I’d been watching it alone, I may have switched it off. Not bad, per se, just kinda boring.

 

Published in: on March 25, 2012 at 12:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Limbo limbo!

I’ve been unemployed for a full week now, having had to give up my job at the cafe due to having a partially torn rotator cuff. In my right shoulder, and I’m right-handed. My doctor and the internet say the same thing; Rest, Ice, Anti-inflammatory meds, and when the pain gets better, exercises that strengthen the surrounding muscles. I am doing the first three and waiting patiently to get to the fourth.

 

However, my arm feels like it’s getting worse not better (it probably isn’t, that’s just how it feels) and I’ve actually invested in a sling to help me NOT USE MY ARM. God, how do one-armed people do it? There is absolutely nothing I can do that doesn’t require the use of my right hand/arm. And pretty much everything makes it hurt.

So, plenty of time to work on my writing while I heal and, eventually, job hunt. I had just come around to the idea of going back to the book, What’s Borne in the Blood, taking a look at Erin’s (my wonderful roommate who agreed to give the whole thing a read through and edit) notes, seeing what I can polish up. Most of her points and corrections are valid, and I have to agree with them. The thing is, there are just so damn many of them. When I saw the amount of work I still have to do I just shut down, quietly put her corrected copy back in its folder and am trying to forget about it. At what point does ‘editing’ become ‘completely re-writing’ and maybe I should just call this good practice and move on.

Which brings me to my final stress (other than the whole unemployment, deaf in one ear, useless arm thing): I have a new story I’ve been planning on writing with main characters, basic plot themes and a whole world. And I can’t seem to write a damn word of it.

I struggled with the whole 1st vs. 3rd person dilemma for a while, finally settling on 1st person, which is the format I feel most comfortable with. I wrote an opening and started into the first chapter then decided I was just waffling around pointlessly. After full consideration I’ve changed my mind and decided to re-start in 3rd person, allowing myself the flexibility of other characters POV, plus I think it suits both the story and the lead better. 1st person is my fall-back position, I feel in some ways it doesn’t require as much skill or actual talent as 3rd.

I haven’t been able to write a word in the past week. And I’m unemployed, it ain’t like I got a lot else to do with my time other than watch Murdoch Mysteries and try to ignore the bad acting and focus on the history and science.

Strangely, I think in creating a character who isn’t like me personality wise, but who is going through some of the same difficulties as I have/am post stroke, I’ve made it even more personal in the long run.
The main character is and editor, she spends her time immersed in words and grammar. When she has a stroke, she faces the same dilemma as I have since my own stroke nearly 3 years ago. My ability to recall words, names or turns of phrase has been decimated. I’ve always been a bit iffy on grammar, and my spelling hasn’t improved much since grade 5, but I’ve always had a pretty solid grasp on the English language itself, a broad vocabulary built by extensive reading. I’m one of those people who signs up for ‘a word a day’ emails and I used to read the dictionary.

Now, I spend half of my ‘writing’ time on Thesaurus.com, trying to find all the words I’ve lost.
As a writer, I don’t just want to write what comes easily, I want to challenge myself, surprise myself even, with my writing. As a human being however, butting up against my own limitations every few minutes is exhausting and stressful.
Writing Miranda, my new heroine, is going to be tough for me, both practically in that I will need to increase my vocabulary, and personally as I’ve made her struggle, part of it at least, a mirror of my own.

Anyway, that be where I’s at right now. Exhausted, frustrated, tired, unsure about my immediate future and in pain. So, business as usual then!

Published in: on March 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm  Comments (2)  
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