Happy Thursday, everyone! How about we celebrate the day before the last day of the work week with a dark little urban fantasy tale?
A couple of years ago I wrote Changeling for a themed anthology. The anthology didn’t sell, but the story turned out to be the first in a series of tales from the dark side of Moretown Bay, a nasty little dockside neighborhood called The Shadows. Moretown Bay is the same city where Diz and Dee do their detecting, but their stories tend to be lighter in tone. The stories set in The Shadows have their roots firmly embedded in noir.
Enough nattering by the writer. *g* On with the story!
Published by Thunder Valley Press
Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed
Cover photograph by Katie Reed
The changeling reclined on her narrow bed in the squalid little room, rumpled sheets testifying to a busy night already spent on her back. Features flowed across her face, flesh moving like liquid to thin her lips, widen her brows, sharpen her chin and the delicate shells of her ears.
“This what you want, sugar?” she asked. Her waist narrowed, lean muscle flattening her naked belly. Her breasts shrank from the porn queen size they’d been when Rory picked her up on the street to something he could cup in his hand. “This what you’re after?”
Most normals couldn’t watch a changeling shift. Couldn’t witness human features rearrange themselves and know, deep in the gut, it wasn’t an illusion. The wrongness of it hurt the eyes, made the stomach heave and the pavement tilt underfoot. Rory didn’t have a choice. He had to watch.
The changeling hadn’t turned on the overhead light when she let Rory in her room. Enough watery streetlight filtered through the sheets of rain beating against the window for Rory to see her try to become what he wanted. What he’d told her was his fantasy.
A half-full World’s Best Mom mug sat on the bedside table next to an overflowing ashtray. Lipstick smears circled the rim. In the dim light, the lipstick looked black. Judging by the boozy smell, the mug hadn’t seen coffee in a long time.
“You got a kid?” he asked. No toys littered the room, but that didn’t mean anything. Not every mother was the world’s best.
She saw him looking at the mug and laughed. “Goodwill, sugar. Got it cheap. Someone’s momma didn’t want it no more.” She took a drink. “You want some? I got a clean glass and a bottle in the closet. Five bucks extra.”
The place stank of sweat and cigarettes and sex. “No.” A drink wasn’t what he was after. He leaned one shoulder against the wall at the foot of her bed. Unzipped his coat. She didn’t have a kid. He couldn’t stay if she had a kid. He allowed himself to hope. Maybe she’d be the one.
“So?” She gestured at her face. At her reshaped body. “How’d I do?”
Close, but close wasn’t good enough. “The chin’s wrong,” Rory said. “A dimple, right here.” He touched the middle of his own chin. “Like I told you.”
“Like this?” A cleft appeared in the middle of her chin, but too high up. It looked like a piercing gone wrong.
“I said here.” He touched his own chin again. What was so difficult about a cleft chin? Why couldn’t she get it right?
“Would be easier if you brought a picture with you,” she said. “Don’t you have a pic–”
“Just do what I tell you, and you won’t need a damn picture.”
Now he did want a drink. Frustration did that to him, but he’d quit drinking just when any other man would have started.
Rory didn’t need to be reminded that he’d destroyed every picture he had. Smashed the camera and computer, snapped the backup disks in half and hurled the whole mess into the sullen gray water of the bay while the rain beat down on his bare head. By the time he’d snapped out of his rage and pain and realized what he’d done, it had been too late.
He told himself it didn’t matter. Every time he closed his eyes, he could still see his wife. Saw the tenderness of her smile. Heard the music of her laugh. Felt her cool breath against his face as she leaned in to kiss him. When he kept his eyes closed too long, he saw the dark stain of her blood, black as the lipstick on the mug. In his memory, her blood was always black, and the stench of it filled his head and left him shaky and hollow, angry and aching and so damn alone he couldn’t stand it.
The new cleft in the changeling’s chin was too deep. Her voice was scratchy from the booze and cigarettes, her eyes dark smudges that could have been any color at all, not his wife’s clear blue, and it was all wrong, wrong, wrong.
Why couldn’t any of them get this right?
To read the entire story, follow this link.