The Familiar

 

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The sorcerer Hieronymous stood by an interior window, considering from the parapet the angry mob advancing on his Bavarian castle, his black cat, Bane, perched on his shoulder. It was a standard group of irate townspeople bearing torches, pitchforks, and assorted agricultural cutting implements. They jabbered excitedly among themselves, moving quickly as a group up the long, winding pathway in the dark.

“Why can’t they leave us alone, Bane?,” the wizard asked rhetorically. “Why do they persecute and seek to destroy that which they don’t understand? — Well, we’ll prepare a reception for them, yes we will indeed!”

Hieronymous hurried to his book of black magic, the cat retreating unconcernedly to a comfortable small pile of straw in a corner of the stone floor. Ancient pages of text in arcane languages flew under his fingertips as he researched a spell, quickly targeting one. “Hah, Bane!,” exulted the sorcerer. “Let’s see how they like this! ” The wizard raced to his window, holding aloft his bony arms and gesturing while he uttered mysterious, guttural phrases in Babylonian. Dark clouds gathered, and rained stones down on the villagers. They cursed, shielded their heads with clothing, and hastened their advance.

The sorcerer’s expression darkened as he retreated to his book of black arts, again rifling through its pages while Bane the cat yawned and stretched. “I’ve used this one before!,” he exulted as he hit upon one encantation. Sparks flew from the fingertips of Hieronymous as he gestured and chanted at a broomstick, which clattered to the ground, sprouted wooden arms and legs, and stood upright before multiplying to two, four, eight, and sixteen ambulatory figures. Hieronymous hurried to equip each broomstick with a flask of acid or foul-smelling substances before sending his inhuman army through the door to confront the legion of townspeople. The broomsticks flung their odious fluids upon the villagers, who shrieked their protest but met the wooden abominations with axes and firebrands, splintering and burning them until they were immobile and moved no more.

Hieronymous switched his efforts to reinforcing the heavy oaken door which barricaded his workshop, dragging benches and ironwork racks to buttress it. The villagers, however, had reached this perimeter, and smashed a heavy log against the door as others of their number applied axes to the heavy planking, the noise causing Bane to shift and open his eyes as if irritated. Knowing that even the massive door would eventually yield to the assault, Hieronymous prepared his final defense; a powerful confounding spell. As the thick door groaned and splintered, Hieronymous shouted in demonic languages, weaving a rich tapestry of magical incantation that almost seemed to hover in the air before descending upon the townsfolk in a miasma-like haze. The local folk, however, apparently lacked much in the way of minds to confound, and the spell seemed to have little influence upon them.

You shall not suffer a witch to live!,” cried the apparent leader of the invading group as his followers raised their cutting instruments to strike Hieronymous dead. The sorcerer made a move to dash to his cloak of invisibility, thinking to elude his tormentors. It was then that a powerful and commanding voice came into his head, a telepathic communication.

Stand aside!,” ordered the voice. ” I’LL handle this! ” The black cat, Bane, vaulted from his bed of straw, moving towards the angry mob. A kind of blue effluvium surrounded the cat, who reared onto his hind legs, his form stretching and expanding as he underwent an incredible transformation into a Smilodon, commonly called a sabre-toothed tiger. The former housecat flashed his seven-inch long maxillary canines at the now cowering humans and roared, the deafening sound reverberating in the enclosed area.

“Hello, boys!,” grinned Bane. “Let’s party!, ” he proclaimed, gaping his jaws ninety degrees and flinging himself at the humans like an avenging wraith. Ripping wounds were swiftly inflicted on human flesh by canines and claws as the Smilodon fatalis brought a swift end to the invasion of his lair, the few villagers surviving beating a hasty retreat from the castle.

His rout of the villagers complete, Bane morphed back to the form of a harmless housecat. “Forgive me, mau, beseeched Hieronymous, employing the Egyptian term for cat meaning seer. “I have failed you, and disgraced the black arts!”

Bane looked at his apprentice patiently. “You have practiced the magical arts for a mere three hundred years,” he noted. “You cannot be expected to have the abilities that will come with maturity.” With that, the cat settled on his bed of straw, leaving his apprentice to clean up the mess of blood and body parts…for rank has its privileges, and it can sometimes be difficult in the world of magic to determine who is the master, and who the disciple…

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Something Tentacled This Way Comes…

tentacleCarl wasn’t having a good day to begin with, and getting lost in an unfamiliar coastal city at night promised to be the cherry on the cake of his day.  When he walked down an alley which turned into a dead end, Carl was disturbed to hear footprints growing louder behind him.  He turned to see an approaching male figure in a hoodie close on him, produce a handgun, and demand money.

“Let’s not start this,” countered Carl.  “I seem to have lost my way, and made a wrong turn.  Let me pass, and I’ll be on my way.  No foul, no error,” he offered.

“Fool!,” replied the confronting man.  “The guy with the gun makes the rules, not you!,” he taunted.  “Now give me your wallet before I mess you up!,” he demanded, waving the gun for emphasis.

Carl raised his hands in a disarming gesture of apparent surrender.  “I can feel your anger and your need,” Carl recognized, “and in a sense, I can identify with them,” he continued.  “You see, I’ve got a dark side myself.”  The gunman failed to comprehend his victim’s remarks, and was baffled by the slight smile which briefly crossed Carl’s face.

So intent was the would-be robber upon his gun and his intended victim’s hands and face that he failed to notice a tentacle, perhaps the thickness of a thumb, snake down the Carl’s pants leg and slither silently in the deep shadows along the ground towards the gunman.  The inhuman appendage wound its way undetected around the robber’s feet, rising thereafter to the height of his extended gun arm.  With a fast, snake-like movement, the tentacle then whipped itself repeatedly around the man’s arm.

“What the…” marveled the gunman, uncomprehending even as the tentacle began its contractions.  The muscular organ pulled the assailant’s arm back, then further back still beyond the arm’s intended range of motion.  The arm held for a short period of time, then a crack was heard as the bones within broke.  The gunman screamed as he suffered a compound fracture, his weapon dropping from a now useless arm.

“You’ve got me right where I want you,” mused Carl as a second tentacle emerged, this one from the juncture where his shirt was tucked into his pants at the waist.  Not trying for stealth, the tentacle snaked its way through mid-air at chest height, and wrapped itself firmly around the other man’s torso, holding him in an iron grip.

“It really was helpful when you presented yourself to me,” said Carl to the disabled and struggling man.  “It’s been a long and frustrating day, and I was growing rather peckish” confessed Carl.  “I really wasn’t looking forward to hunting this late.  Making a wrong turn down a blind alley turned out to be rather serendipitous for me.  And I do so love the irony that you intended me to be your victim whereas you became mine!”

“Man…or whatever you are,” pleaded the victimizer turned victim.  “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have messed with you,” he cried.  “Just let me go, man, I promise I won’t say nothin’,” he begged.

Carl shook his head slightly in the negative with a faint expression of amusement. “I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way,” he corrected.  The tentacles held the man tightly, almost in a lover’s embrace.  A suckered pad sprouted from one tentacle and stroked the man’s cheek slightly in almost a tender gesture before the pad attached itself tightly to the man’s head.

“Ah, the sweet aroma of fear,” observed Carl, his animal senses delicately sniffing the air.  “Sauce for the goose!,” he enthused.  “And now, I’m afraid that it’s time for you to die! ,” stated Carl matter-of-factly as he slowly began to unfasten the center buttons on his shirt.

The robber watched uncomprehendingly as Carl’s skin beneath the opened shirt was exposed, and then seemed to momentarily pucker inward.  With explosive force a third tentacle then erupted from the indentation, this one as thick as a man’s fist.  It instantly bridged the gap between Carl and where the robber was held immobilized, piercing the hapless man’s chest cavity.  There were wet, sucking sounds as body fluids and liquified internal organs were transported from the robber as nourishment into Carl via the tentacle.  The thief’s face registered a few moments of agony and astonishment before he succumbed to the sweet mercies of death.

In a short while the feeding had been completed, the drained husk of a man was cast aside, and the tentacled arms retreated back into the body of the creature which passed in the world of men as Carl.  He closed his eyes and basked in the feeling of the fresh infusion that he had just received.  He would need to return now to the sea, where Carl would cast off his human appearance and swim joyfully in his cephalopod form.  Evolution had provided Carl with some peculiar and useful adaptations, but it would yet be some time before his kind would be ready to openly challenge the land-dwellers for dominance…

In Our Midst…

Dragon EyeOld Pete had been a fixture on Oak Street for as long as people could remember.  Out of his small, ramshackle shed he sold newspapers, candies, gum, and other assorted notions to bypassing folks, all of whom knew Pete by only his first name.  Old Pete in turn knew his customers respectfully by their last names as Mr. Jones,  Miss Johnson, or whatever; Pete knew the personal lives of his customers as well as they chose to share them with him.  He knew their buying habits intimately as his customers were creatures of habit, and often had their preferred newspaper or candy bar ready for them as they approached his stand.  Pete exchanged a few words with each of his regulars, and sincerely wished all of them a good day following their brief daily transactions.

Now Pete was an unimposing figure and hardly an attractive one; he stood a little over five feet in height, and appeared to be a not too well preserved man in his late fifties to sixties.  Pete’s hair was flecked with gray, and his skin bore more than a few wrinkles.  Society paid little attention to men such as Pete, preferring to dote on the young and physically beautiful, individuals who would likely themselves draw little attention or interest by the time that they reached the age of forty. 

Pete, however, had found his niche in life, and enjoyed the feeling of being productive and self-supporting, and contributing to his community in some small way.  He regarded that community as his own, and had a definite affection for it.  A curbside merchant, Pete was part of a vanishing breed, one which someday soon would exist no more, eclipsed by faceless and soulless monoliths such as Wal-Mart.  This, too, Pete understood and accepted.  He lived in the present moment, and was glad for what he had at the time.  Tomorrow was, after all, a mystery which might never arrive.

It had been a cold winter, and Old Pete clad in his heavy coat stood in the limited confines of his news stand store, huddled next to the small propane heater which provided his only warmth.  Perhaps he would close up early that evening, since sales were likely to be few and far between.  Pete began swinging the shutters of his stand closed, and affixing their simple locks.  As he stepped outside the stand to remove a few racks of magazines, Pete took note of Mrs. Allison shuffling along the sidewalk half a block away, carrying a small plastic bag which likely carried the ingredients for stew or perhaps tins of food for her cats.  In the gathering darkness of the approaching night, Pete also noticed two figures following the elderly woman.  Something didn’t appear right here; years of observing life on the streets had given Pete an instinct for that kind of thing.

As he continued to watch, the duo flanked the old woman, one stepping in front of her while the other grabbed at her pocketbook.  She resisted its seizure, the struggle causing the grocery bag to spill its contents.  Tins of Fancy Feast cat food rolled crazily on the sidewalk.

“Hey, leave her alone!,” shouted Old Pete to  unlistening ears, as her two assailants ripped viciously at the straps of Mrs. Allison’s pocketbook.  Her balance upset, the elderly woman tumbled to the hard pavement, twisting her ankle painfully as she joined the hodgepodge of cat food and stew vegetables already littered there.

Old Pete was moving, surprisingly quickly.  He covered the half block of distance between his news stand and the unfolding assault in a matter of seconds.  “I told you to leave her alone!,” repeated the small man to two much younger and larger ones.

One of the assailants looked at Old Pete with a mixture of anger and distain.  “Who’s gonna make me, Grandpa?–You?!,” he sneered, driving the slight man backwards against a store front wall with a powerful thrust of his arm.  He returned his attention to the robbery, where his partner had finished separating Mrs. Allison from her pocketbook.

Old Pete raised his back from the wall against which he had been thrown, and gave a strange, regretful cry.  “Why do you make me do this?,” he anguished as he began an incredible transformation.

The frame and face of Old Pete contorted, and his skin ruptured in multiple locations as spiked, scaled, and jagged components began to emerge from within it.  There were glimpses of green wetness as an inner body protruded and then extended taloned limbs and other parts not even remotely human.  A pair of leathery wings extended themselves from the back of an emerging torso as human skin dropped away, the shredded cocoon of a new creation.  There were wet cracking sounds as reptilian-like structures expanded and clicked into place in a new anatomy.  A bipedal dragon now stood before the two hardened street punks, whose jaws dropped in disbelief.

Jesus Christ!,” one of them managed to say.

“No,” corrected the dragon who had been Old Pete.  “He would show mercy...I won’t!”  With that, the green-hued creature grabbed the shoulder of the one young man, and threw him against the brick wall of the store building, his head making kind of a soft  wet sound as it impacted with great force against an unyielding surface.  The second assailant produced a knife and swept it upward, but the blade skittered harmlessly against the armored  hide of the dragon, who seized the weapon arm, implanted his jaws upon the neck of the weapon-bearer, and bit down hard, the formidable teeth passing easily through skin, muscle, and bone.  Leaving the nearly decapitated body to slump to the ground, the dragon then turned to Mrs. Allison, his features softening to a look of concern.

“Are you alright?,” asked the dragon in a deep but surprisingly soft voice.

“Quite,” replied Mrs. Allison, taking the four-fingered clawed hand which the Dragon offered to her and using its strength to regain her footing.  “”You’re really quite special, aren’t you?,” she asked of her savior with quiet wonder, having witnessed his transformation.

The dragon finished gathering up Mrs. Allison’s stew vegetables and cat food tins in the bag, and handed it to her.  “I am a guardian,” he said quietly.  “I’ve lived among you in an ordinary fashion for many years, and would have preferred to have continued doing so.  But my kind cannot through inaction allow one among whom we live to come to harm.  Now, I must leave here forever, for I can hardly continue here in this form.”

“Can’t you just change back?,” pleaded Mrs. Allison.

“I can’t!,” responded the dragon sadly.  “Don’t you think that I would if I could?  But you are well worth the sacrifice, dear lady.”  From his clawed hand, the dragon handed the woman a small oval object.  “Now I bid you farewell, and remember me to your cats!”

“I’ll always remember you,” promised Mrs. Allison.  She watched as the dragon’s powerful legs propelled him into the skies, where his great wings effortlessly carried him to the point of invisibility.

Despite discovering the bodies of her assailants, no one took her story seriously.  Who could believe a crazy cat lady, after all?  Mrs. Allison didn’t care, however, carefully protecting the dragon’s egg that she carried within her sweater pocket…

The Last Diablero

coyoteThey say that the last diablero, a type of evil male witch, was killed in 1942 after having killed dozens of villagers with his sorcery.  This could not be tolerated, and so the villagers acting as a group took the sorcerer by surprise one evening, binding him and burning him alive.  Although the stake he was tied to was made of fresh wood, there were no ashes, and nothing was left following the burning except for a large pool of black grease.  The locals say that it is best not to speak of such things, and discuss it only reluctantly in hushed voices…

Wandering in rural parts of Mexico at night to learn more of such mysteries and whether diableros still walked among men, I came across a large, black dog that appeared to be strangely transparent.  Looking at the creature, I could see clusters of stars and even galaxies swirling within him, an entire universe in miniature. The dog froze and stared at me for a few minutes, then appeared to lose resolution and fade away into the night.  I shuddered and turned towards home, pondering the meaning of what I had seen. 

I slept deeply that night, and the morning was well-advanced before I awoke.  Emerging into the dazzling sunlight, I squinted and went in search of one of the village elders to see if he could make sense of what I had seen.  When I found one of the old men, he took me into his abode, listened to the story of my strange encounter, nodded knowingly, and gave me a concoction to consume which contained peyote. 

“Your journey is far from over,” the viejo or “old one” advised me.  “You must wander further in the desert for the answers which you seek.  I believe it is there that you will begin to understand,” he advised me.

I thanked the old man and embraced him.  As day wore on into night, I prepared a small pack and began my journey, my perceptions strangely altered by the peyote which I had ingested.  Advancing into the desert, I saw a number of coyotes, and somehow was able both to understand and converse with them.  Crows perched at various locations at my steps progressed, and seemed to be watching me.  Somehow, I seemed to share a kinship with all life that I encountered, and feel at one with it.

As dusk approached, I beheld a luminous coyote who was much larger than any of the others that I had seen that day.  He emitted a self-generated light which seemed to pulse and intensify as I followed him to the edge of a cliff, stopping in the darkness just in time before I fell fell from the precipice. 

“Be not afraid,” the coyote said from within my head.  “You know what you must do!,” he admonished, glowing brightly.  “Take the leap of faith!”

Trembling in the presence of this supernatural being, I closed my eyes at the brink, extended my arms, and fell forward.  The air rushed against my face as I fell towards certain death; the fall would certainly not be survivable.  Miraculously, however, I did not not fall far, for I opened my eyes to discover that my arms were now wings, and covered with black feathers!  I had transformed into a crow!  Exuberant, I soared effortlessly through the air, and could see for miles around me.

I descended to the ground surface, and by force of will shape-shifted into a coyote.  On four legs I returned to the village to greet the new day, shifting back to human form so as not to alarm the villagers with my approach.  They were sleepily going about their early tasks of the new day, but I could see all of their auras now; they appeared as glowing eggs of varying intensity with slender tentacles of light extending from them. 

I knew then that I was the last diablero, and embraced my destiny.  I would live long, see far, and know much.  And although my powers came from a dark place, they were not who I was, and did not define me.  I smiled at the villagers as they unknowingly moved about, eager to explore both my animal and my divine natures…this incarnation would be different!