Flash 13: Staying Human

Pire knew her lover was an angel, whatever Huilen said. Only an angel could be so beautiful and speak so sweetly. Of course Huilen thought he was a Libishomen, but she'd never seen him.

"Sister," Huilen said. She only called Pire "sister" when she was going to lecture. "Sister, you must have nothing more to do with him. I'm telling you he's no angel. He'll hurt you. He may turn you into one like himself, a demon -"

"He may turn me into an angel," said Pire lightly, smiling.

"He may turn you into a corpse. Is your arm better?" Huilen asked, peering at the tender spot above Pire's elbow where he'd gripped her too hard.

"Yes, nearly," Pire said. "It wasn't so bad. Angels are very -"

"He's not an angel!"

"He is very strong," amended Pire, shrugging. "I've never been too badly hurt."

"I can't lose you, sister," Huilen said. "Refuse him when he next comes. Send him away. He'll hurt you worse. He'll change you. You must stay alive, stay human."

"I think I'd like to be an angel, Huilen," said Pire. She paused, and after a long silence, she added, "I think I'm carrying his child."

David didn't know what was happening. This didn't happen, strange pale men didn't break into houses and truss the occupants up and gag them and bite them in the neck.

The only reason he didn't think he was dreaming was the pain. That much pain should have him bolt upright in bed drenched in a cold sweat, or at least screaming in his sleep so much that he'd have woken the family next door and they'd have called the cops with a noise complaint. He didn't have any clue how he could even remember the neighbors through the burn. Something in his head was changing, making way for thought.

That scared him, more than the pain - the pain was awful, but had ceased to frighten him after his clock had indicated that it had blazed on for a day and a half. As far as he knew, no poison lasted that long only to then prove fatal. He didn't expect to die, although he might have preferred to. But the change in his head... that he didn't know about.

He thought he might be changing into something else. Something less than human. Something like the monster that had broken into his house.

So he fought the change, with every part of himself that wasn't trying to scream in spite of the gag. Stay human, he begged himself, even as sound upon sound poured into his ears, and the windowless basement became visible around him when he could force his eyes open, and his twisting in his ropes gathered more strength with each spasm. Even as his mind bloomed with speed and space. Stay human.

He didn't manage the feat.

Kim looked at the stack of paperwork in her hands, eyes watering.

Dear Mrs. Kim Connweller-Norton: You have been approved for turning. You may choose to exercise this option on your own recognizance without restriction. However, due to the nature of your connection to the werewolf community, we advise that you carefully discuss your decision with Mr. Jared Connweller-Norton, and, at your option, your children and other wolf and puppy friends and relatives. You (and any such friends and relatives) may opt to schedule an appointment with HIH Princess Elspeth Cullen (through the Golden Coven website) to receive detailed sensory information about the olfactory and instinctual issues that may trouble you if you should opt to turn. Disclaimers about the incommensurability between wolf impinting tendencies and vampire mating habits are attached.

We hope that these cautions do not unduly dissuade you from immortality, although you are entirely free to choose on this or any other basis to stay human. The Research and Development Department is working twenty-four hours a day to develop ways around these and other challenges facing the supernatural community. You may defer your turning approval for any length of time, and, again, your approval is not contingent on permission from your husband or any other person.

Sincerely, the Golden Coven Department of Public Relations

Kim looked at the picture on her desk: her. Jared gazing at her. Two beaming sons waving at the camera.

She flipped to the disclaimers, and recognized some of the names from the case studies, especially Pera and Brady. (But Pera's happy now, isn't she, even if Brady's dead and would be miserable if he'd lived? said some part of her traitorous brain.)

Chewing on her lip, Kim locked the paperwork in the bottom desk drawer. Then she logged onto the Empire website and signed up for the R&D newsletter, and went home for the day, to her family.

Mike found out about vampires when the rest of Forks did - which was a fair amount of time after the first of his neighbors had. People who he'd known in elementary school came into the family sporting goods store, chattering about how glad they were to at last discuss in public the spa that wasn't a spa and the people who weren't people.

He barely remembered Bella. She'd been in town a grand total of five months and he'd never even gotten around to asking her out. Apparently since then she'd turned into a vampire queen, not that Forks could advertise this and get more funding for the high school that'd had a hand in producing her. On the other hand, he did remember the rest of Bella's family (apart from the freakish daughter he'd seen all of once), and was less surprised than he should have been to find out what they were.

It was a while before actual vampires started showing up in Newton's Olympic Outfitters. They bought most of the same things human customers bought, except for much of the camping gear (they didn't eat - except blood - or sleep, he'd heard, so that made sense), and shoes, which they didn't seem to like. If Mike was a little edgy around them, well, that didn't change the color of their money, and he served them like he would anyone else. His mother put in a custom order for Pyrex canteens, and those sold very well. Mike put up a "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" sign up on the front window and the vampires started turning up in cheap flip-flops, undeterred.

People talked in the store, about all topics under the sun. Mike overheard everything from the intimate details of eating disorders to surprisingly non-furtive confessions of adultery, which gossip was why Jessica still took him out to lunch on alternate Tuesdays even though she was elsewhere married and her husband didn't like the habit. Still, Mike was surprised when he took out a box of jerseys to put on hangers only to hear a couple in the next aisle urgently discussing the pros and cons of becoming vampires.

It wasn't the last time he heard something like that, either. Forks was one of a handful of cities in the world that could be reasonably called Vampire Central. This was good for the town's economy - Bella and her crew bought local when it was convenient, and preferred suppliers in the know; Mike fielded huge orders for standard-issue Imperial Enforcer backpacks and lighters. But he didn't like it.

He'd take the money, sure, especially when the vampires decided to have Freak Olympics not far from Forks and he was inundated with werewolves who wanted matching basketball jerseys and halfbreeds asking him about ice skates.

But even as the freak to normal person ratio crept up over the years, Mike never went to the "capital", never collected his own stack of papers, never mailed it in and hoped. He preferred to stay human.

Petra hated her scars. Her dad told her no one really noticed them, but he was just wrong, and she was reminded every day at school. (Two boys in her year in particular had a comedy routine, where one would call for a pox upon something and the other would drag her towards whatever it was. This had gone on until she'd broken one's nose and lunged at the other, and gotten suspended.) Her mother told her she was lucky the disease hadn't killed her. Julian pointed out that they might never have gotten out of their birth mother's house at all if Petra hadn't turned up to kindergarten covered in untreated spots without having so much as been told not to scratch.

Petra thought her mum was the most beautiful person in the world, and had from the first minute she'd seen her. She didn't learn until she was nine that Mum had heard her, whispering to Julian that she hoped the pretty red-haired lady took them home, and that this was why she and Dad had done exactly that.

Once, when Petra wasn't supposed to be awake, she heard her parents talking about the scars. "She's a pretty girl, but I know they bother her. Will they go away if she turns?" Dad had asked.

"Of course," Mum said. "I was born in 1731. I don't credit the high standards of healthcare and hygeine at the time for my complexion, believe me, love."

"You're beautiful, Cath," said Dad, and from there Petra had firmly stopped listening, because that sentence always turned into things she didn't want to overhear. In the morning, she didn't remember that Mum had claimed to have been born in 1731, but she did remember that, supposedly, there was a way to make the spots go forever.

When Petra was twelve, she knew exactly what the way was, and that she had to wait six years unless she had a medical emergency, and that she would be grounded for the rest of her unnatural life if she manufactured such an emergency.

Petra's cousin Molly was three years older than her, and turned when Petra was still seventeen. (She agonized about it. Petra didn't understand at all: with that permission slip in her hands, how could Molly stay human one minute longer than she had to?) Petra badgered her parents into arranging for a visit as soon as they'd hear of putting their human children near their newborn niece, and got an up-close look for herself. And yes: Molly hadn't been as marked-up as Petra, but she'd had a few specks from picked-at acne, a mole, and they were gone. Molly was lovely. Petra ached to follow her.

The instant she turned eighteen - Petra stayed up until four in the morning to make it the very instant - she submitted an electronic application for permission to turn. Then she collapsed into bed, woke up six hours later to her mother trying to coax her into the dining room for her birthday brunch, and didn't get to check her inbox until after her entire party had been and gone.

Dear Miss Petra Trafeli: You have been approved for turning...

Petra whooped and raced down the stairs to tell her parents.

Half a week later, Alec pulled her out of her batch, and she whipped her little mirror out of her pocket.

She smiled at herself.

Julian applied when he was eighteen, but he didn't fly to a capital right away when he got his approval, like his sister had. He didn't wait a few months like his cousin had. He deferred, and deferred again, and went on deferring.

Finally, when he was twenty-five, Petra turned up uninvited at his flat and sat him down. "Julian, just how old do you want to get?"

"Dunno," he said.

"You're not going to stay human, are you?" she asked, full of horror. "You can't, what if you get hit by a car or something in the middle of nowhere and you can't even do an emergency turning before you die?"

"No, I'll probably turn eventually, just... Hit by a car? Not bloody likely, is it?"

"Something could happen too fast for someone to get to you and help," Petra insisted. "It doesn't matter if it's a car or not. The Coven's in India right now, you should be on your way."

"You're just mad I -"

"This has nothing to do with you looking older than me," said Petra frostily. "This is your life we're talking about. You're the only little brother I have. Come on. Twenty-five's a fine age, the wolves look twenty-five. You even look older than Mo-mo. Go to India. Try some authentic curry before you go in."

"I dunno..."

"Julian," said Petra, exasperated. "What are you waiting for? Are you going to be that devastated over losing the taste of curry?" He shook his head. "Well, what then?" Petra demanded.

Julian sighed. "There's... this... girl."

Petra waited.

"She's a wolf."

His sister winced, but then shook her head. "Julian, so help me, do not literally die for a girl you - have you even met her in person? I don't smell any wolf on you at all."

He chewed on his lip. "No, not exactly in person."

"India, Julian," said Petra. "No more waiting. This is ridiculous. I cannot go to the baby brother store and get another one just like you. Think of Mum and Dad."

"Right," said Julian, and he changed the subject. Eventually Petra left.

Julian took his acceptance slip out of his files and looked at it, then put it down and started composing a letter to the wolf girl.

Kora was not a superstitious person and didn't have much of an imagination such that it could run away with her. She did not believe in vampires the first time she heard someone blatantly talking about them in the middle of a restaurant: they were probably discussing a book or a game. She did not believe in vampires the first time she found a website claiming that they walked among normal people and sparkled in the sunlight (of all things). She did not believe in vampires when her aunt the crazy cat lady disappeared for a week and came home raving about vampires and how they couldn't make her give up her pets.

It was a little harder to ignore Beth sitting on her doorstep.

There was no reason she should remember Beth. She'd spent all of two days with the girl, who'd appeared, then vanished without explanation. But something about the girl had stuck with Kora. Beth had practically glowed with noticeability, and hadn't faded since.

"Beth?" said Kora. The girl on her doorstep was well-preserved for - what would it be, twenty-four? - but not unrealistically so, for a value of "unrealistically" that already allowed Beth to be that symmetrical and shiny.

"It's actually Elspeth," corrected Be- Elspeth. The sentence hit with force, not in an unpleasant way, but it woke Kora up a bit: this is the way the world is. Elspeth had done the same thing before but not so strongly. "You remember me. I wasn't sure you would."

"You're memorable. What are you doing here?" asked Kora, glancing around. She lived on a nondescript suburban street, thirty miles from the town she'd grown up in. She couldn't think of any reason for Elspeth to be visiting. There were a few American Indian-looking people milling about, casting frequent looks in Elspeth's direction, but the place was otherwise deserted. There wasn't even a car Elspeth could have arrived in.

"I remembered you too," said Elspeth. "And I'm going on a sort of... tour of places that I went when I was a kid, so I was nearby, and I thought I'd look you up. What have you been up to?"

Kora wound up inviting Elspeth in (the Indians turned out to be with her, but they stayed politely outside, albeit prowling about Kora's house) and talking to her for nearly two hours.

And when Elspeth said vampires were real, Kora couldn't very well ignore her.

Elspeth gave her a little folded-up sheet of paper with some addresses on it, for if she wanted to learn more, and then she had to be on her way. "I can bump you up the queue if you want to be a vampire," Elspeth said. "But you don't have to. You can stay human."

"I'll think about it," said Kora noncommittally. Elspeth hugged her, and then left, trailing Indians (werewolves!) behind her.

Quil quit his wolf when Claire was twenty-three. It was a bit early to do it, but he wasn't sure if it'd take him a few tries or not, and he didn't want to be younger than her. In fact, he did slip up and phase once, a week after the first time he tried to quit.

"What happened?" Claire asked him when he told her. "You haven't phased by accident for as long as I can remember."

"Panicking about the imprint, I think triggered it," he said. "I'm worried I'll quit and then, after it's too late to change my mind and phase back again, it'll be gone. We've got, you know, old stories that say it won't, but... nothing from anybody we know."

"I don't think it could ever be gone," said Claire. She added a peck on the temple. "Not ever. You don't have to quit if you don't want, though, Quil. It'd be fine with me if you stayed a wolf forever, or wait a bit. I'll be the envy of my bridge club, or whatever it is old people have in fifty years."

"I don't want to be the test case for what happens when a wolf outlives his imprint," he mumbled into her hair. "I'm already an example in more pamphlets than I like, and that horrible little booklet about Golden Empire law and precedent."

"That one's my idiot parents' fault," said Claire, patting his knee loyally. "It's up to you, anyway."

"I'm quitting," he promised. "This time I'll manage to stay human."