Eat My Dust
by Brenda Anderson
Five shapeshifters crouch and sink their fingers in the dust, ready to race. Right now they’re human: soon they’ll be animals. Wherever they go, stalkers follow, desperate to capture that moment when shapeshifting bodies are midway towards transformation. Their victims call them freak pufftas, these half paparazzi, half pervs that feed off strange flesh.
Invisible, I hover overhead. Security detail, that’s me.
Someone raises a gun. They strain forward. Pop and they’re off, running naked of course. When their bodies change they’ll have no need of clothes. The wind picks up. They choose to compete in this isolated dustbowl on the offchance that if anyone does track them here and photograph that moment of change, the resulting gosh-wow pic will be dismissed as bad focus, grit in the lens, or trick photography. They race as men always do, with pumping arms and sweating bodies, glancing sideways at each other. I understand that they themselves cannot predict the exact moment of change.
A strong wind descends on them and knocks them around. Worried, I descend. Merciless now, the wind slams into them like a solid wall. It picks up one runner, turns him around and releases him. He falls in a heap, all arms and legs. Another runner crashes into him. Oh no. The moment has come upon them both. The fallen runner’s body stretches, thickens and grows thick black hair: a bear, perhaps. The runner who crashed into him grows wings: an eagle, perhaps. Their entangled bodies keep changing, but in and through each other. Two half humans, one half bear and an eagle, their bodies combined into an abominable whole. The other three runners circle them. One, now a wolf, howls. The other, a puma, pads closer, ears flattened. The last, a small bird, swoops down, chirping madly.
They’ll have to see me. I choose the body of a low level security guard, middle-aged, uniformed, with a young-old face. I swoop down and plant myself in front of them. They crowd round, shocked, terrified, human, half-human and howl, hiss, chirp, growl, a cacophony of protest. What a reception. My eyes well with tears. This unnatural conjunction of flesh would make anyone weep. I reach towards it. The others push closer, getting in my way.
“Stay back.” I use my toughest security-guard voice. “I’ll try my hardest to separate them.”
The half bear still has a human face. Pale, shocked, incredulous, he screams something I choose to ignore.
“Tissue needs to be cut apart, I’m afraid,” I explain. “Please. I’m not trying to harm you. It would help if you could relax.” Renewed cacophony. I reach into my uniform pocket and take out a long, narrow knife. The shapeshifters go berserk. I shush them. The abomination struggles to get away, the half bear sobbing, the half eagle squawking. Now I’m the one in shock. I kneel.
“I said, get back. If you startle me, I might just make a mistake and cut where I don’t want to cut. Understand?”
Very reluctantly they give me an inch or two. They don’t trust me. That’s natural. The sudden appearance of a security guard would freak anyone out, I suppose. And this lot are used to freaks.
I begin cutting. The layers of flesh are relatively easy to separate. The metaphysical ones are not so easy. At last I separate the two spirits. The final, the conjoined soul…that’s not so easy. I weep, in frustration, in agony. Please. Please separate. My knife probes. It’s doubly hard, because these two were already connected. No, not lovers. I see no mark of physical conjoining. These two are soul mates. I cry out in pain as I test, trying desperately to cleave them apart. The others draw back, perhaps impressed at my own agony.
At last, I do it.
The half bear rolls back and completes the transformation. In minutes it rises up on its hind legs, a complete bear. The other, the eagle, grows feathers, stretches its wings and flies off. I sigh with relief.
The others crowd round me. I see respect and fear in their eyes. They howl, hiss, chirp, growl and back off.
“Relax. I’m no freak puffta.”
They hiss. Doubt fills their eyes. That I even know this term for their harassers worries them.
What do I have to lose? I abandon my security guard body and change to my true form. In times past, we used to be called guardian angels. Quaint, right? Now it’s security detail. Still visible, I rise in the air, extend my wings and beat them with great force, raising clouds of dust. Shocked, they blink and stare. They’ve never seen my kind before. I shoot skyward then swoop so low that they duck. Perhaps later they’ll check with their family lawyer, or insurance agent. I can imagine the questions. Did you hire protection?
No, I’d answer. I work for The Man. We’re all volunteers. Day in, day out we use every supernatural gift at our disposal for these precious humans of his. Did I say ‘supernatural’? I’d say these unnaturals have more in common with me than meets the eye. Some days, I wish I could run with them, flex my muscles, exult in the splendor of life.
Work calls. I rise high above them and the wind swirls after me.
Watch my moves, guys.
Eat my dust.
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Brenda Anderson’s fiction has appeared in various places from Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine to SpeckLit. She lives in Adelaide, South Australia, and tweets irregularly @CinnamonShops