Lost in Transition
For as long as he remembered (and that wasn’t long), Jack had always lived on the streets, bumming cigs off of the other hobos and occasionally decent people if they deigned to answer him. Dressed in an assortment of filthy rags, he ate whatever he found at the bottom of dumpsters. He was fine with all that; he had never known any better. At least not as far as he knew. And of course he was free to roam. He drifted from city to city, doing temporary jobs whenever he could find someone willing to employ him – though that wasn’t often. It wasn’t his looks – he wasn’t particularly conspicuous in these realms where the colorful vohiek population was a jumble of sizes and shapes. Him, with his blazing mane, clawed hands, with the veins glowing white hot under the black skin wasn’t even that extreme to look at. It was more the way things tended to burst into flames around him, especially if he had to concentrate on more than one thing at the same time.
It’s your vohiek talent, the other hobos told him. He didn’t feel particularly vohiek-ish (he wasn’t quite sure what he was) but he wasn’t one to argue.
He was staying at one of those homeless shelters specified for vohieks, the lowest of the low, the dregs of humanity.
“You have any talent we should know of?” the administrator lady asked.
“Nah.” He didn’t want to spend another night in some filthy back alley.
“No smoking inside, showering compulsory,” the admin rattled on, as she handed him a form to fill.
“Oh.” He didn’t like either of that. Neither the showering part – he had an aversion to water – nor the filling out the form bit. He had to be extra careful not to set the paper on fire, not to leave even a scorch mark on it. That much concentration in itself was bound to cause an accident, but it couldn’t be helped. He hoped he smelled of street, rather than of burning; he really didn’t want to sleep in that back alley. It said rain for tonight.
He did manage to fill the form out alright; he’d figure something out for the showering part. He always did.
The admin lady looked at him for the first time. “No family name? No date and place of birth?”
“No ma’am. Don’t remember any of that. Sorry,” he shrugged.
The woman shook her head and filed his form with a sigh. “Canteen at the end of the corridor on the right.”
She pulled out another sheet of paper. “What’s that smell?” she muttered as she opened a folder for the next applicant.
“Must be the folk in the kitchen; burned something,” Jack offered. “Always just the trouble with them folk.”
The admin looked back up at him. By that time she obviously already forgot he was there. He found it a better idea to scat.
“Got a fag?” he asked one of his roommates, a wino with a patchy bald head and too many eyes.
“This is a non-smoking institution,” another guy from one of the top bunk beds informed him.
Jack tsked at him. “C’mon, no one’s gonna notice.”
In the end he and the wino shared a fag by the window.
“Where you from, son?” Some of the old man’s eyes were focused on him, some of them somewhere behind him. “Why you on the streets so young?”
Jack blew out the smoke, considering. “Dunno. Not sure I’m all that young, either.” He shrugged.
The wino chuckled. “Another psycho, I see.”
He saw a vast, stormy sea, flashes lit up the low hanging, black clouds. The water opened to engulf him, but just before he was plunged in it kicking and screaming he saw a massive, scaly back deep under him at the bottom of the abyss.
He woke with a gasp. God, he hated dreaming with water. The sheets under him and the bed above him were crackling merrily. His two roomies were scrambling around in a panicked frenzy.
“He’s an arsonist, a fucking arsonist,” the wino howled, as he barged out to the corridor.
Another street in another town. He was sitting around, chilling with some newfound mates. He was popular on the streets; folk tended to freeze to death less if they teamed up with him.
They were passing around a bottle of moonshine one of them got off a friend when the carriage passed. They didn’t think much of it; just one of the decent people, after some urgent decent-people business.
Then the carriage stopped at the end of the alley, and the group instinctively hushed, their muscles tensing as they prepared to disperse.
The door of the carriage opened and a young man in a high priest’s garb climbed down the stairs.
Jack looked around and realized he was alone. The priest was a young vohiek with tanned skin, part of his face was badly ruined in some past accident. A namvöos, or burned one.
“Oh, drat,” Jack muttered. He didn’t remember harming this fellow, but that meant nothing. The priest headed straight his way, never taking his one good eye off him. It was a startling shade of blue, the only vivid spot of color in the drab environment.
“Ayy, dude, you’re in deep shit,” one of the guys remarked with glee from a nearby doorway.
“Not that I know of,” Jack huffed.
The priest halted a few steps away, boring his gaze into him.
“G’day, mate,” he spread his hands, the cigarette in his left trailing smoke. “Look, I don’t know if I did that to you bro, but I’m real sorry if I did, sorry big time if I did…” he offered his right in a handshake, then reconsidered. It would not be in good standing with the authorities if he burned this here priest. Again, by the looks of it.
The lad ignored his hand wavering in midair. “I can hear what you are,” he started without preamble.
“Hear? Oh, that’s grand, mate, that’s mighty grand…”
“You don’t remember who you are, do you?”
Jack narrowed his eyes at him. “Are you from the authorities?”
“You are a destroyer of worlds,” the priest said.
“Am I now?”
“You caused the twilight of an entire race of gods. You brought on the downfall of a universe.”
“Oh, okay?” Jack stole a glance at his mates, but he could not hope for help from there. They just cowered deeper in the shadows.
“You sired a score of monsters,” the priest went on relentlessly.
“Dude, none of that fits into my budget.” Jack stretched out a hand, claws like razors at the end of his fingers, veins aglow with liquid fire. “Got some change?”
Come back next Tuesday for another story, and click HERE to explore even more stories by Susan Anwin.