“Mǣnōn concede to me the quietude to recognize the effects I should not alter; the bravery to transform the conditions I am able to; and insight to recognize the distinction,” he prayed to the moon. Not Luna, the other one, Mǣnōn, the illusory moon that sat back and to the left. The moon that was only visible every four years on the twenty-ninth of February.
* * *
He had never been so disappointed in himself as he stared at the nubiles sauntering in and out of the bars and nightclubs that lined the strip. The passersby, those who bothered to toss him a sideward glance, sussed him as an alcoholic, but his problem was far more severe than that.
His affliction stemmed from the fact that everyone had two sides, no matter how open and honest they appeared to be. There was the side they showed the world and the beast side that only revealed its face when they were all alone. It wasn’t necessarily as evil as it sounded, but it was there nonetheless. And there was no way of really knowing someone’s true nature unless they revealed it to you.
But he saw it. On this night, with this gift that wasn’t so much a present as it was a curse that gnawed at his sanity. He saw the true faces of evil that hunkered down behind the tall brush of fashion, cosmetics and innocence. And sometimes the evil caught sight of him as well.
He spotted a woman as she appeared from one of the clubs, ultraviolet stamp still moist on the back of her hand, Ten years his junior, she was stunningly beautiful in an exotic way that unsettled him. Her auburn hair cascaded over the shoulders of her white satin dress and gave her the appearance of an old-world masterpiece come to life.
The woman walked past a Chinese take-out joint and an exposed bank ATM before she sensed she was being followed. When she turned, he knew she had seen him for what he was as clearly as he had spotted her. Her countenance shifted from serene beauty to that of a woodland creature frozen in the headlights of a speeding vehicle. But it wasn’t fear that registered in her eyes—she was making a decision, flight or fight.
The moment her face tightened with determination, he knew she would rabbit. And she did. She spun on the balls of her feet, kicked off her heels and bolted out into the street, dodging cars as she ran against the traffic, inhuman toenails ripping into the tarmac.
He grinned as he whipped out past the parked cars; he loved it when they ran. His reflexes, sharp normally, were amped under the light of the illusory moon and hope blazed within him as he was about to overtake her easily. In this mode, before what had to happen actually happened, he saw himself as a savior. What he had to do was in everyone’s best interest, even hers. He would not fail this time. He intended to honor his duty. And as he was about to lay his hand on her shoulder and set things right—he heard a wet thumping sound and felt a sharp pain shoot down to his marrow as a car bumper made contact with his hip and sent him sprawling into a lamppost.
Nausea and blood mixed in his mouth and as he looked up through blurred vision, he could just make out the woman’s lithe frame turning down a side street. A voice cried out amidst the murmurs in the background, “I’m sorry,” it said. “You came out of nowhere! I didn’t see you in time!”
Voices shouted and people rushed to the scene from both sides of the street. He fought the pain and forced himself to his feet. He had to leave before the cops showed up. Too many witnesses. He couldn’t have explained why he was chasing the girl in the first place. Who would have believed him? To bystanders, he surely must have looked like a psycho ex-boyfriend or worse, a perverted sex deviant.
He kept his head low and shielded his face from camera phones as he pushed through a crowd of people asking if he was okay, hobbling towards the side street, hoping against hope that he hadn’t lost her trail.
* * *
He still couldn’t fathom why he was chosen. Had he been a cop or any other branch of law enforcement, this might have been so much easier. Easier to pursue, apprehend and deal with a special brand of evil on a particular night every four years. But as a thirty-seven-year-old accountant, what was he supposed to do? How long could this go on before he was caught, or even worse killed? He had no social life, how could he? This thing made him unfit for human consumption. And what if he managed to hook up with a woman only to see, come February twenty-ninth, what sort of demon lurked beneath her cool surface? He knew he had to quit at some point. Maybe tonight, if he were able to resolve this in time, he would petition Mǣnōn to find a replacement.
Along with his heighten abilities came the urge to scour the streets and rid the city of pestilence. It was a basic bodily function to him, as much a part of his continued existence as breathing.
He limped around the corner, his pace picking up as his fractured bones knitted themselves back together and his muscles and internal organs returned to their optimal state. The neighborhood wasn’t the safest to begin with and those with a modicum of common sense stayed on the crowded strip in well-lit areas. The side street was dark, streetlamps busted on both sides, which was most likely why she chose this as an escape route. Nothing but places in which she could hide.
He moved into the street and swiped a finger across a bit of dug up tarmac, touched it to his tongue, and smacked his lips, processing the taste of her. Motionless, twilight settled on him as he cleared his mind—then he picked up her trail that led to an alley.
“You don’t have to do this,” she called out from somewhere in the dark.
“Yes, I do,” he said at the mouth of the alley, scanning the blackness as his eyes adjusted to the starlight. The woman was well hidden.
The buildings on either side were nonresidential but there was life here, he could feel it. And somewhere amongst the vermin and strays was the woman who was not a woman. He stepped into the darkness and inhaled deeply. As he could not detect her outright, he would have to eliminate all the things she was not. He sifted through the odors of rotten refuse and the rancid liquid that leaked from the overstuffed garbage bags. Dismissed the stink of vomit, urine and feces from canine, feline, rodent and human alike. Until, halfway down the block, the faintest trace tickled his nostrils. A musk that was most certainly not of human origin.
“You might as well come out,” he said, standing in front of a restaurant dumpster.
The lid raised slowly as the woman stood, her still oddly beautiful face and body smeared with dumpster sludge which was how she tried to mask her scent. “I haven’t hurt anyone.”
“Yet,” he spat.
“Please, let me go.” Her voice, soft as a butterfly’s footfall, was in itself a plea for life. She stared at him, eyes watering, lips pursed into a small quivering bow. It was plain to see she wanted to live.
“That isn’t the way this works. The earth must be cleansed of all unnatural beasts.”
The woman suddenly began fishing through the dumpster. He tensed, ready to pounce.
“No, wait!” she put up a hand, palm out. “It’s not a weapon. Just my clutch.” Her other hand came into view above the dumpster lid holding a small purse.
“You said all unnatural beasts must be cleansed?” she thumbed the clutch latch open.
“Yes,” he calculated the distance and felt certain he would be on her before the gun, knife or whatever she was carrying could clear the bag.
“No exceptions?” she produced a disc and held it up for his inspection.
The woman opened the disc, revealing a compact mirror and held it up, catching the faintest bit of night light. “Have you seen yourself?”
His expression turned from predator to absolute horror. His jaw clenched, clamping down upon a shriek, and his grip loosened on the urge and anger. He dropped down on his haunches. She was right. In the reflection, he could see what no normal human eye could see, that he was a beast, no different than she.
“How do you think you’re able to spot us? Didn’t it ever occur to you that it takes a beast to catch a beast?”
Neither moved in those long seconds that stretched like eternity and the city din was drowned out by the sound of two creatures breathing in near synchrony.
“Leave,” he eventually said in a low growl.
“You’re letting me go?”
The woman hopped out of the dumpster, giving him a wide berth as she tore out of the alleyway. “Thank you, mister! Thank you!” her voice echoed off the walls.
He was a failure, much as he had been his entire life at almost everything he attempted. Relationships. A career. A family to carry on his legacy or better yet, to improve upon his mistakes and build their own legacies. And now this. All the nights on the prowl over all these years, he failed at ridding the world of a single beast. There was only one thing left to do.
He found a neighborhood playground as far removed from nightlife activity as he could manage, unbuttoned his shirt and fell to his knees, arms stretched out to the waning illusory moon.
“Living one moon at a time; enjoying one solstice at a time; tolerating adversity as the conduit to tranquility; acquiring, as you do, this aberrant humanity as it is, not as I would wish it; believing that you will set all things right if I submit to your command; that I may be satisfied in this life and rewarded with you forever in the next,” his guttural voice trailed off to a whisper.
His prayer completed, he dug his claws into his chest and tore out his heart, marveling at how little blood there was.
To his surprise and delight, Mǣnōn, the illusory moon, embraced the essence of his being without hesitation or chastisement. For the first time in his life, on the first day of his death, he felt as if he finally belonged.
©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys