Cassandre woke as she had since her injury took her feeling from the neck down days ago, horrified to remember she was paralysed. She couldn’t accept it. Needed to get out of it. Out of life, get anywhere. Please let her not wake again.
Cassandre woke at 5.34 a.m., turned her head. And much of her upper body. She felt automated, not moving under her own will. Beside her bed rested a beautiful black prosthetic leg for amputees above the knee. Who had put it there? Who owned it? And how were the blankets under her feet moving?
The room was full of sunlight. A bright sunny day intruding in the room, and within its golden flaming core, a woman. Much of her was a woman. She had wings, and a long, long tail. She was beautiful and every part of her but her face was burning or glowing like an ember. She had golden scales from the stomach down to her tail.
Cassandre kept trying to peer past the woman and the light for a hint of the blue sky that must lay about its edges. But this strange woman filled the room entire with warming sunlight. No hint of blue.
“Hello,” the woman said, the light about her dimming and revealing more of her lovely face and figure. She was everywhere covered in gold, and gold itself seemed to be growing from her head, the only part of the woman that was flesh.
“I’m Sarah, Senior Trainer, Acquisitions, Elisha’s fief. I’m here to tell you that you’ve been heard, and your wish has been granted. Why don’t you take the new body for a walk. Strap on the leg; you’ll see it’s not so bad.”
The woman smiled at her, eyes blue, honest, unwitholding. She had a pretty pinch of a nose and full cherry red lips. Pam sat up. Tears streamed down her eyes.
“You aren’t dreaming: come near my wing.” Cassandre did as told and almost burned herself. Not a dream.
“Go,” the woman said, coiled on her snake body, burning but not being consumed. The woman smiled, eyes sparkling. Cassandre slipped the cup onto her stump, attached the strap as if she had done so all her life. No scars.
She walked, and walked, and felt like it were breath she had gained back and not movement and feeling below the throat.
“Okay, I have to talk to you about your options moving forward, Cass. May I call you Cass?”
Cassandre nodded. She could run. Lift weights again. Fuck.
“Yes. You get it all back. Fucking. Your Dancing, cold water between your toes on the beach at home. Careers, a family. All you ever dreamed of doing. Not the mixed martial arts, without the leg, though. You’ll have to dream another dream. But you’ll be capable of making it come true.”
“How do you know that? I’ve never told anyone I wanted to learn to fight for a living.” Cassandre had known she could follow in the footsteps of so many wrestlers who had made the transition to mixed fighter. She dreamed of blood and glory. And women. The glory was over. Unless there were another path to glory for her. She felt hopeful. Things could happen.
“Sorry about the leg. It’s deductible on the deal. I tried to get my boss to waive it for you.”
“And what do I lose besides the leg?”
“Your soul. And your mortality as well. You’ll live forever!” she grinned.
“What does losing your soul mean?”
The warm, encouraging expression seemed to blow off in the wind. Under it was a face of worry, and naked fear.
“It’s like being depressed or being anxious every moment waking or asleep, and the night never comes. It’s worse that that. A lot worse.”
“What else do I lose?” Casandre knew she had to be careful with this woman.
“Your basic feeling of safety, of being okay. The only relief from that panic is consuming a human soul. That buys you six months of safety from the attacks of fear. And a month of safety from transformations into your true Devil form. The lupine. You do not want to be anywhere near either deadline. The anxiety about the fear alone will paralyse you. You’ll lay in bed and just wait for the wolf to take you.”
“Werewolf. Human but much stronger from the chest down, lupine Devil in true form from the neck up, including the arms. Here’s a photo I took of my other client, Beth. I got so many likes for this.”
The photo showed a powerfully built naked woman running through downtown streets, looking like Manhattan streets, with an oversized wolven head, eyes gleaming with intelligence and bloodlust. It’s huge maw and tusky teeth dripping blood, as did her four-fingered claws. She’d looked right at Sarah.
“She killed ten constables, twenty civilians, and a swat team before she transformed back into human form and escaped to safety. It starts to happen once you’re past deadline. She crashed at my place and we talked, came up with a plan, got her paid up for a few months in a bachelor.
Cassandre was never going to miss deadline. She’d give herself seven days. Oh, no. She’d decided to sell her soul. When had she done that? The soul buying sounded like—well, a lot more fun than retail. Getting to know prospects, desperate people like she had been, pitching them, building a relationship with them…”
“You acquire a soul a month, get a sales funnel started, get in a networking groove, keep building relationships with desperate people, and you’ll never have a transformation. Life’s a party. Eternally young.” Sarah said.
“Or you can lay back down, and live, for a long, long, time being fed and shitting and listening to podcasts and Classical music every day until you die. No one will touch you sexually ever again, except a molesting old man when you are in your sixties. It becomes regular and lasts a decade before you pass. An organ stops.”
Sarah smiled. She slithered over on only a small part of her tail so she remained towering over Sarah, who stood at the head of her bed. Sarah’s flaming wing touched the bed. “Go on, then. Lay back down. Forever. Still.” Her smile became a brilliant white grin of perfect lickable teeth.
“So, let’s review before you go in. Threes. Always threes. What’s your first three?”
“Confide your crisis, drawing out theirs.
“Offer immortality and escape or freedom, whichever they need.” Cassandre said. She was a fast learner, but was coder and math jester, not a natural salesperson.
“And end with support either way to keep the relationship in play and the prospect on the line. Remember, this is going to relieve your anxiety about getting that soul before the end of the month.”
Sarah rode with her on the bus and then subway to her date with Kim, her suicidal friend. No one seemed able to see Sarah. Sarah waved her wing from the bus seat she was coiled in, reminding Cassandre it was her stop.
Cassandre almost flew out of the bus. She wore distressed jeans and a leather bomber, her prosthetic leg almost sexy, almost part of her. Freedom. A young woman in her young twenties with pink hair bopped her head to some R&B, smiled at Cassandre, and then looked away and went red in the face. Gotcha, thought Cassandre. Cassandre wore her hair in sexy dyed spikes and was very pretty, she knew. She got up and walked over to the woman, stood in front her, pelvis inches from her face: “Hey. Do you ever do karaoke?”
“Yes,” She said, blinking in attractive cadences.
“Here’s my number. We’ll go out sometime.” And Cassandre left knowing she’d get a first date. She usually did.
What happened to Kim’s soul when she consumed it? To Kim? Sarah would know. She was getting her hitting the ground running with her first deadline.
She saw Kim waiting in the window seat of Pam’s Flapjacks diner, the best indie diner in Toronto, both friends swore. At Coxwell and Danforth, a short walk from two great Irish pubs.
Kim was a fox and had blushed when Cassandre had asked her if she’d ever been attracted to a woman. She’d only talked about men before.
She had taken a big bottle of pills, called a friend, and then induced vomiting, saving herself. She’d been terrified ever since. She hadn’t really spoken to anyone about it since except her counsellor.
Kim had been there for Cassandre when she broke her neck for hours out of every day, crying with her, for her. She was what a good friend was.
Kim’s face lit up when she saw her friend. She ran up to her and embraced her as she entered. “You’re walking. And you’ve lost your leg!”
“That was part of the surgery.”
“I’m so happy for you.”
“The truth is–let’s sit down.” Cassandre ushered her slip of a friend back into her cozy window seat on the creaky boards of the forties house turned diner. “I’ve been thinking about suicide myself. My wrestling, my hopes to learn mixed martial arts. Fight for a living. All done.”
“Cass, I’m so sorry. You were really good. But you can walk again, move again. Surely you’re happy about that?” Kim’s Philipino upbringing had been staunchly Catholic. Suicide was damnation. But there were fates worse than damnation, she knew now.
“I was for a few days. Then I realized I couldn’t do what I loved anymore. What if you couldn’t use your hands anymore. You couldn’t play the piano, write your music.” Kim had a successful band that got paying gigs and for which she wrote all the material on keyboard. She had also been molested and suffered from anxiety. Kim said it was the anxiety, not her troubles and nightmares about the molestation, that made her decide to kill herself.
“I’m feeling a lot better than I felt laying paralysed in that bed,” Cassandre said.
“Oh, my God. I didn’t know how to comfort you!” Tear’s spilled down her face. She was an atheist, but parents were devoted Catholics. She loved sex with men too much to be a devout Catholic.
“Don’t think of harming yourself,” Kim said. More tears, and she pressed her fist against her brow. Holding it there.
“Hey, it’s me, Kim. Unburden.”
“The anxiety. I’ve told you how it works. You just get panicked about your whole life and it feels like the only safety is death, escape. Any solution you come up with will fail, or be poisoned by your fucked up nature.”
She blubbered briefly and then recovered and spoke with a hoarse voice: “I’ve got a new suicide plan this time and this time I don’t think I’ll call anyone, vomit the pills. I’m going to get super high before and during, until I’m dead, to kill all the anxiety that would make me stop, bring up the pills. Just slip away.”
No. Cassandre was losing her. She got nothing from a suicide.
“Kim. You know I even support your suicide if it’s really the right thing for you, but I think there’s a plan B for you that’s better.”
Kim looked despondent, but her eyes softened, relenting in her despair to listen.
“I didn’t get surgery. I sold my soul. Got everything back but one leg. And there’s no anxiety or negativity. Just appetite and indulgence, and learning, and new lovers, and travel, and for you, your music. And lifetimes to make the dream work.”
“You sold your soul? To a devil?”
No, I prayed like I had been every few minutes on that bed, and a devil heard it and answered, pitched me. I’ve been alive and well and young forever for a day now!”
“Oh, my God!”
“I know I never dealt with what you deal with, Kim, but all my old negative feelings and fears are all gone now. Hell’s not a bad place.”
“What do you lose?”
“Just your ticket to Heaven. You lose an unknown. The Devils can’t remember what Heaven was like or why they miss it.”
“I don’t give a fuck. I don’t want another day with this anxiety. How do I sell?
A document appeared on the old wooden table at the diner and an ordinary pen. Their server, a full-timer in her forties, filled their cups with fresh, rich-smelling coffee. Rare in a diner to get good coffee. Sarah appeared sitting next to Kim. Winked at Cassandre.
“Oh, my God, this is happening,” Kim said aloud.
“You’re going to feel so much better.”
Kim went very pale.
“I have to go.” She grasped her jacket and all of her bags and guitar at once and hurried away, passing through Sarah.
She texted Sarah the next day and heard nothing. Texted Kim. Nothing. She began to fear the end of the month.
“Fuck!” Cassandre yelled out loud to Sarah. “I fucked it! She’s the only one I’m close to who would do this!”
“You get better at prequalifying prospects, nurturing networks of desperate souls. You’ll get the hang of it.”
“Where have you been all month! Deadline is tomorrow!”
“I have over a thousand devils to look after. Some are in much worse shape than you and aren’t getting this sales thing at all.”
“But what do I do when I change?”
“Everyone goes through a change. Best to just surrender to it and don’t try to take the wheel or you’ll lose your hands. The wolf knows what it’s doing and will use all of your smarts in ways you never have. Enjoy it, if you can. Some do.”
Cassandre’s apartment felt very lonely. She wished she had Kim just for company. She’d not wanted to rejoin her friends who had been nowhere to be found after her injury. She wondered if it would be exhilarating, the killing. Her parents were Catholic. And they wouldn’t understand her choice. She texted Kim:
“Kim, you’re my only real friend. That’s why I reached out to you. I’m happy. I escaped. You can too, but not into death. Choose life. With me. I want you to live. And somewhere deep down, I believe you want to live, too. Text me soon, please. I love you.”
God, what would she do when she turned? Where would her mind go when the wolf came upon her? If only Kim would get back to her.
A ping from her smartphone signalled an incoming text. And before she could launch across her fourth floor walkup apartment to grab the phone, another ping. Probably just a text from her phone or internet bill.
Two texts from Kim. One long, the next short.
I’m glad to hear from you and sorry I left you wondering where things were between us. I felt betrayed, like you had something to gain from my selling you my soul. What do you get out of it?” Kim
Fuck. What would Sarah answer? Why hadn’t she prepared her for this basic question? She had to text in another minute or would seem insincere.
“I eat your soul and that keeps me from changing into a visibly damned person. But your soul is nothing you can feel. It’s just a ticket to Heaven. You won’t feel a thing.” Cassandre
“What will I become like you, a devil who has to consume souls or appear as they are?” Kim.
“Yes. And you get the hang of the networking for desperate souls, so I hear. But isn’t working a creative job seducing people better than another anxiety attack, sweating through your beddings? Working retail?” Cassandre
“Why not give it a try and see what happens? It can only be as bad as damnation, and I’m pretty happy so far. I do need a soul. Or I’m going to transform. Appear.” Cassandre.
“I’ve been so close to deciding anyway, just to do anything to be somewhere different in my mind and emotions.” Kim
“I don’t want to transform. I’m afraid of becoming this devil within me. For the whole world to see. YouTube videos of it. Me all over the dark web.”
“I’m scared for you. I can’t sell to you, not yet. I’m just not ready.” Kim
No. She was going to change sometime tomorrow! The deadline was hours away. She had almost made the sale. Saved herself from the devil’s visit.
“I’m going to bed. I’m really scared to go to bed. Afraid she’ll come when I sleep. I’ll never even meet her before she takes over my mind.” Cassandre
It was midnight. No response from the text she sent Kim forty minutes ago. In the middle of the night, a ping.
“I’m sorry I went away on you. I had a panic attack about your change and selling my soul. I’m really scared to sell. But I want to. Leave this anxiety behind. I’m so sorry I can’t sell now, but I’m working on getting comfortable with the idea. Text you early in the morning to see how you are.” Kim
Cassandre didn’t respond. She was on her own with the wolf coming.
What would be worse, waiting awake to change, or letting it happen in her sleep? Either way, it could happen any minute now. Or at the end of the day.
Would there simply be new thoughts from the devil she mistook for hers? Or a surge of passion and murderous will?
Would it be a good idea to drink most of the blood from the opened throat so that the rest of the flesh she pulled from the woman’s chest with the next bite wasn’t so juicy? Raping a dead woman with her new juicy hard cock in front of her husband would fuck his shit up for life!
No. The devil was there already. Looking forward to it’s Christmas morning rampage.
She ran to the mirror. Felt with claws her protruding lower jaw. Felt an urge to break bones between her teeth. Hear screaming she had composed with her sweet tortures and sexual torments. Cassandre knew what she wanted. Women. Lots and lots of them in a single night, many spared to tell her story.
Nothing she felt with her fingerpads or felt in her changed face prepared her for what she saw.
She was still a little wolf-like, but alien, too, as though she might be cold-blooded, despite her light brown fur. Red eyes with wide black pupils showed naked thoughts of harm. Cassandre almost thought to wear a Fedora, her favourite. She pranced down the stairs to take the bus to the subway. She wanted population density.
She passed a group of people sitting around the picnic table next to the big patch of lawn next to the low-rise she lived in. She’d talked to them in the laundry room sometimes. She stopped, looked at them, waiting. They froze, too long by a heartbeat for Cassandre’s comfort. Why weren’t they screaming? She roared into the face of a child sitting in her father’s lap. Paid no attention to the crying child turning from her tusks and hot breath. The father himself did nothing. Frozen. Cassandre bit his head off and spat it into his daughter’s lap. Point made. Forever.
Cassandre ran for the bus she saw coming at the top of the hill. She hummed her favourite Christmas tune “There’s Always Tomorrow” from Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer cartoon. It always gave her a hit of courage.
She remembered later, hours after her foray, killing the bus driver and making another rider drive the bus to the subway, changing back. The police were encircling her, and she had fun killing arriving cops emptying from police cars, attacking her by themselves. Then, first night full of kills and rape, and police forces mustering and encircling her with swat teams, she transformed. Her clothes were a little stretched in places and bloody, but intact, except her shoe, which had come apart with the change. She was mortal.
She went home. Conscience somehow clean. As if she’d had an erotic dream that was dark and violent and arousing but okay to masturbate too because what happened was all in her mind. She masturbated to memory of the the dying constable’s partner begging her to let her partner die and stop rapping him.
Cassandre could feel the wolf inside her, pleased with itself and well satisfied. It was eager to return. And would, unless she could get Kim to sell.
She picked up her smartphone to text Kim. There were two messages from her.
“Did something happen last night? The attack on those cops and people watching—was that you?” Kim
“I’m so sorry I didn’t sell to you. I’m ready to suicide and almost did last night. I could have given you what you needed not to change instead. It was selfish. If you still want me to, I want to sell you my soul.” Kim
“Kim, it was me. I have a plan B myself. I’m very sorry you are suffering and almost lost your life last night. Please don’t die. Stay. And I’ll stay too.” Cassandre
“I’m going to move way up North for a start. The wolf can’t drive, so I’ll live in a small town, then drive five hundred miles away from anywhere at the end of every month. I know the devil. She’ll be bored and just give me back.” Cassandre
“What will I do without you?” Kim
“We’ll Skype every day and text all day long, okay? You will get through this, Kim. You can tame this anxiety. It’s the only thing—pluck it out, shave it down a little a time. Life gets worth living.” Cassandre.
“Do you really have to leave. You’re kind of my only friend.”
“I have to leave, but if you look, there’s a warm acquaintance or two you could turn into friendships pretty easily. Betty, at the library where you always hang. She’d totally go for coffee with you.”
Sarah appeared on her couch next to her, flooding the apartment with daylight.
“You’re shooting this sale in the head with a shotgun. Why?” Sarah asked.
“I’m going to live with the wolf. I can deal with it.”
“And the terror coming in five months if you don’t come up with a soul by then? Do you think I didn’t try to be a good person at first? I felt the terror. Bought a soul from a homeless person that night–was out all night, on fire with terror, begging any drunken hobo to sell. I got one. Lucid, but crazy. She counted. The panic ended.” Sarah waited. Saw her point was made and vanished.
Cassandre got into a new lifestyle. She Skyped Kim every day from her bungalow in Kirk, a northern town in the Yukon with five thousand residents. Drove far north of Kirk at the end of the month. The transformation didn’t even happen. She always made the drive. She could feel the devil within her would insist upon it or emerge.
Into deep, freezing January three lupine devils walked up to her house. Their fangs and claws were coated in silver. Behind them, slithering vigorously, came Sarah, aflame and shedding sunlight from ever scale and feather.
Cassandre opened the door. Let Sarah in. The wolves entered and took seats in her living room.
“So, you know why I’m here.”
“To end me.”
“Close enough. You’re a good kid. I’m not going to let you suffer the terror. And you can’t do sales. So this is goodbye.” Susan said. The wolves licked their lips and began to get restless.
“When this life ends, what’s next?”
“What, indeed? Susan pondered. She looked disturbed.
The wolves lunged.
Mark Stanski. Thanks for reading.
Both these art builds will be available for purchase at Gallea for about $225 Can in a few days. My page from which you can order my sanitized, permanent art builds is below.
My Twitter account is updated frequently @stanski-mark.