Transformation

By Katherine McIntyre

Tonight was my third sleepless night in a row.

It started a couple days back when I noticed that man on the subway. I wasn’t attracted to him, so I don’t know why he stood out. Gimlet eyes didn’t help his appearance, and wrinkles stretched across his face like railroad tracks. He wore a gray suit with a dark green tie, and if he could’ve gotten any more nondescript, he’d have faded into the background. His black briefcase marked him as a suit while the slightly balding gray hair and lingering smell of mild soap painted this man as utterly normal. So uninteresting and yet every night since then I’ve watched him die.

Each night I open the door to my dark apartment after work and collapse onto my bed. My head hits the threadbare pillow, and with the regularity of an alarm the vision begins. The Market Street sign, marred by graffiti, stands out against the cragged city skyline. This bland man crosses the street, suitcase in hand. Several thin wisps of hair are whipped the wrong way on his comb over. Darkened shadows overtake the barren streets and the one dim lamp encloses the area into a life-size snow globe. The pedestrian light flickers on. He starts across, but never makes it five paces before a white car whips around the bend. And then …well, it isn’t pretty. The vision ends after lingering a little too long on the dead body. And it replays, over and over and over until morning.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m human. Like everyone, I’ve had fantasies of smashing my boss’s head into the counter, but I don’t normally imagine folks dead. Not like that, and not some random man I’ve never said a word to.

Each time it replays I shiver, repulsed. The Market Street sign. The white car rounding the bend. The man with the suitcase, crumpled on the ground. The images parade through my head with the persistent precision of a carousel, but why? Deep down, I know that man is going to die.

Who am I to make that call though? I have no fancy abilities, no psychic voodoo like the dozens of crazies crammed in those Witch-Marts they called Wiccan shops. My greatest achievement amounted to employee of the month at my Grab N’ Go and that was only because I’d worked there three years without quitting like the rest of the crew. Maybe going out to the club every weekend led me to start hallucinating. Grinding up with sweaty creeps smelling like Lucky No. Six doesn’t strike a high confidence note for me, but I didn’t think desperation would sear these images into my brain just for some attention.

Great.

I swung my legs off the edge of the bed. My stomach rumbled, even though the neon glow of my clock read midnight. I bent down into the cupboard and pulled out a can of soup. The aluminum tore under my can opener and the slimy packed noodles slopped into the open bowl. Other people my age might be out at the bars right now, but they also didn’t swill this crap for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I took a deep sniff of packaged, salty goodness. My weekday nights consisted of a noodle soup of some sort — more often the ramen variety — and a date with my secondhand television.

Goose bumps prickled along my arms. A chill swept through the open window, despite the boggy humidity. I popped the bowl of soup into the microwave and pressed the keys. The hum of the food churning under radiation comforted me in the lonely dark. The neon numbers ticked down as I tapped my foot against the floor, impatient for my bowl of chicken noodle.

A screech filled the air and burned in my ears.

Tires squealed against pavement. Then I heard the smack of bludgeoned flesh, and the sickening crunch of broken bone followed. The smell of burnt rubber hit my nose. The microwave beeped with finished soup. The thought of food now wrenched my stomach. I raced over to my sink where the remains of my chili dog came heaving out. I placed a hand over my empty stomach after I stopped vomiting. The crash must have happened outside my building. A nagging thought tugged at the recesses of my mind, that it might have something to do with this weird vision, but I shook it away. No black cat ever spooked me.

I raced down the dimly lit corridors to the front steps. The purple hue of midnight coated the streets. Several tall lamps brazenly cut through the gloom with sallow fluorescent lighting. The rustle of shredded McDonald’s cartons mingled with the occasional scrape of the grates as debris skittered along the street. The sidewalks lay empty and barren. Silence dominated the air with a sobriety reserved for graveyards.

My heartbeat raced in my chest and my eyes widened with a realization that I tried to shove away. Any sane person would. Again, that gut wrenching twist seized my stomach, the same one that hit me night after night waking up from those horrors. If my coworkers, let alone my boss found out about these visions, they’d lock me up faster than I could push the register shut. My uncountable sessions with my high school counselor during the period I thought I saw ghosts would reinforce any of their crazy claims. Market Street was seven blocks from me and about a fifteen minute walk. I couldn’t have heard or smelled anything from home. It couldn’t be.

Taking advantage of the adrenaline rush, I broke into a run. Dirty red-brick buildings blurred by me. Used condoms, aluminum Coke cans, and ripped up Durex wrappers littered the concrete sidewalks. If someone stopped me to ask what I was doing, I couldn’t even tell them. Nobody took midnight runs around here, unless they welcomed a mugging or friendly gang beatdown. I winced, remembering the salty sobs of the last poor bastard who got caught loitering during late hours. Before my common sense could catch up with me, the crunching sound replayed in my head and the images flashed with the same frantic pace of my footsteps.

My sneakers slapped the pavement and smacked my ears with sound. Had my thoughts murdered someone? No logical explanation identified why I smelled rubber and heard screeching from my window. The street signs passed and I neared Market. As I got closer, a foreboding feeling chilled my core, the same one that had haunted me the last several nights. My blood froze and my pace slowed to a jog when the dingy green and white sign for Market Street flashed into view.

The closer I got, the more hesitation gripped my steps. Doubt and fear tugged on my heels. And then I saw it again, like I had night after sleepless night. The man from the subway lay crumpled on the ground in a pool of his own blood. It stained the road and seeped into the pavement cracks. My stomach flopped like a wet sack, and my breaths frayed at the edges. His blood coated the street. The man lay as limp as the dead rats littering the street side.

And then something new happened, different.

His heartbeat pounded in my ears.

I stood a good twenty feet away, but his pulse pounded, discordant with my own. It throbbed, but slowed with every ensuing beat. This poor man would die here, alone. Tears bit the corners of my eyes. A sudden compassion welled up in me, one I hadn’t felt since my cat, Rusty, passed away.

Unable to control it, a wail ripped from my throat. The foreign sound jolted me like the emergency exit alarm in the back of the Grab ‘N Go. I pawed at my neck and even though I fought to close my mouth, the sound continued. The ringing burned in my ears and surrounded me like wrapped cellophane. My throat shredded under the intense wail, but in my panic I couldn’t stop it. Something had taken control of my voice, taken over my body, and it sent a thrill of terror through me. My hands shook; hell, my whole body shook and still the song tore from me. And then his heartbeat stopped.

The wail snapped, silenced. But the intense reverberations echoed in my ears like the pulse of club music on the taxi ride home. That man was dead. He passed with no one by his side but me, some weird stranger who had dreamed of him for nights. Like that made sense. My throat burned and I desperately longed for a Coke. I couldn’t call an ambulance with this scratchy symphony. Glancing back, I tried to ignore the guilt that crawled over me like a spider at leaving that poor guy abandoned on the pavement. The vision of him as his life force waned and faded out of existence pounded in my brain, but each pulse just brought more questions. I shivered.

My apartment still smelled like crappy soup, and the shadows gave me the shudders. Those screams had made me feel like some monster had crawled inside my skin. Between the uncontrollable wailing and the death knells in my head, something had happened, and yet any guesses would get me thrown back into therapy. I grabbed some water from my faucet and tried to placate my raw throat. The cool liquid burned the whole way down. Maybe some ghost had possessed me, but somehow I didn’t think Jonathan Edwards could help. I collapsed onto my bed and stared at the ceiling. For the first time in days, the vision didn’t appear when my head hit the pillow. The tiles above swirled out of reach, and the truth nagged at me. I couldn’t deny it any longer.

One thing wailed like that, but I hadn’t heard it mentioned since Gran scared me with tales of the ghastly fairy whose shrieks filled the air and announced the dead. I’d been seeing all those people in my nightmares, like a carousel of the damned for the past couple of months. I ran my hands through my hair, trying to scrub out these ridiculous thoughts. All coincidence, right?

A strand of hair glistened between my fingers so I squinted to examine it. The pale hair gleamed white in the greenish yellow lighting of my apartment. Grabbing a fistful, I lifted it up to the light: equally pale. I threw down the strands in surprise. Gran had always described them with long, pale hair and a keening voice, but those were fairytales, not reality. Fae didn’t live in Philadelphia, but the mirror begged to disagree. My hair glistened silver in the moonlight and my blue eyes had darkened to asphalt. A flush lit up my cheeks and a sparkle hid in my gaze that I hadn’t seen in years, not since I was a kid and still believed in the chubby old chimney man who came at Christmas.

Deep down, I knew despite my denial that I’d seen that man’s death. I knew the scream came from my throat, and I knew, stronger than anything I’d understood in years, that this was a baby step to something huge. The blood that ran through me tingled in my veins, like static electricity.

A knock sounded on my door.

My eyes widened in panic — those strange blackened ones staring back at me in the mirror. The knock sounded again. I turned on the faucet and scrubbed water over my face and my hair, trying to look somewhat normal.

“Coming!” I tried to shout, but it came out raspy, my voice still rough from that unearthly scream.

The door rattled as someone tried to force it open. I groped around the drawer under the sink for something sharp. Who the hell would be looking for me at this hour? The blood chilled inside me. Had someone seen me by the man’s side? Was it the police?

A velvet click echoed around the room. I inched towards my bathroom door to peer past and see what had caused the noise. Darkness greeted my eyes, the thick murky kind that rolled in with the deep night. I sniffed the air, my heightened senses picking up a sharp charcoal that drifted through the apartment like smoke. My foot poked out from the door as I pushed myself out more, still trying to make out any shapes amongst the shadows.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder.

My heart spiked with anxiety and I opened my mouth to scream, but the air scraped along my hoarse throat without sound. Slowly, I turned my head around to look behind me. Three sets of eyes stared back, glinting gray in the darkness.

“Banshee, we heard you a wailin’ from across three counties. It’s been awhile since one of your kind has been awakened.” A man stepped under the moonlight from the window which highlighted his stark white skin with razor precision. His eyes were red — the deep carmine kind that glistened like rusty blood — and the tips of his ears ran to points. Fangs shone where teeth should be. After all the night’s surprises and changes, I found myself less startled than I should’ve been. After all, I barely looked human myself.

“Welcome to the club. The gathering of fae in the city,” a slim woman said, shorter than all the rest. She reached out and handed me a card. It was average cardstock with an address printed smack in the middle.

The man’s grin widened, revealing more of his dagger-like teeth.

“We meet on Tuesdays.”

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Katherine McIntyre splits her time in pursuit of writing and her career as a massage therapist. As for hobbies, if it’s creative, chances are she’s dabbled in them, from soapmaking to tea blending. Her poetry and prose have been featured in a variety of magazines such as Abandoned Towers, With Painted Words and Cause and Effect Review. Her debut novel, “An Airship Named Desire,” was published in August 2012 through Hazardous Press.

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