This story is part of Chuck Wendig’s: Pick a Character and Go, Go, Go. The characters from which I could select from are here. I chose an unnamed character by Pavowski. There were so many possibilities for a story based around this character. The fantastic thing about him/her is the flexibility I had to create my own character from a scant outline. I had so much fun playing with someone else’s creation. This short story is the one my muse decided on. I hope you enjoy what I turned him/her into.
CONTENT ADVISORY: This story contains a short sex scene. If you are easily offended or under the age of 18, I suggest you skip the middle scene, hit the back button on your browser, or simply close it. You have been warned.
I’m Australian and use British English. 😉
The bullet tore through my heart. My body — that of a twenty year old man with piercing green eyes, a smattering of freckles, and chocolate brown hair — dropped to the floor of the makeshift meth lab in a pool of blood.
A lifetime of regret, guilt, and terror coursed through the bulky, middle-aged man I flung myself into. I thrust his soul out and into the afterlife to make way for mine. I didn’t know what would happen to him, nor did I care. That wasn’t my job.
Sighing, I turned away and lowered the gun in my hand. Austin MacMillen, the man I’d become, had been a contract killer.
My lungs felt heavy, my circulatory system sluggish, and my stomach bloated. The bloat did nothing to help the size of my gut. This body wasn’t up to scratch and I wanted out.
I’m a soul shifter. I have standards.
I yanked the door to the granny flat open, pulled my hood up, and charged into the pouring rain. A clap of thunder followed a flash of lightning. The wind blew the heavy water droplets in swirling sheets as I ran through the long grass and around the side of the single-story, weatherboard house.
Passing through the skewed front gate, I fished a set of keys out of my back pocket. The lights on a silver SUV powered on and the sound of the doors unlocking disappeared into the background noise of traffic and thunder. The adrenaline left behind from my body jump made me clumsy, and my wet fingers struggled to get the door open.
I fell into the leather seat behind the steering wheel and the door blew shut behind me. After chucking the gun onto the passenger seat, I removed my hood and wiped my hands on my pants. A wallet pressed into my hip. I checked the contents: fifty bucks in cash, three credit cards, drivers license, a few shopper rewards cards, and a health care card.
Austin’s memories revealed a luxury beach house down south, complete with a girlfriend half his, my, age. I also had an ex-wife and two teenage sons that wanted nothing to do with me. Some buddies from my time in the military and I met once a week at a bar in the city. I had no colleagues; my clients were mostly high flyers, politicians, and drug dealers.
The mobile phone that sat in the cup holders between the seats trilled.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Is it done?” A man’s voice.
One I recognised from Austin’s memories. “Yeah. Kid’s no longer a problem.”
“Excellent. Eleven am, twenty-one Florence Street, East Gardens. Gary is in room 302.”
The line went dead.
I didn’t want to be Gary anymore than I wanted to be Austin, but I’d take the money he had for me.
The sun visor was already down and I examined my face in the mirror. Swiping a hand over my features, I removed the sun spots on my cheeks. Massaging the deep creases around my eyes, forehead, and mouth reduced their depth. I didn’t want to remove them completely, it wouldn’t look right on someone in their mid-fifties. Grabbing hold of my nose, I straightened the crooked bent left behind after having it broken twenty years previously. My eyes were a shade of dull blue and bloodshot. With another swipe of my hand, they cleared and brightened, the irises becoming the cerulean of the ocean on a clear day. My patchy hair was streaked with white. That wouldn’t do. I ran my hand over the top of my head. The hair filled out and darkened.
As I skimmed my hands down my body, my muscles tightened under my clothes, my breathing became easier, and my paunch reduced by a couple of inches. I wasn’t a perfect example of the male human as I had been fewer than ten minutes prior, but I’d created the best version of Austin I could.
The contacts list on the phone revealed a lot of different people who should know me on sight and give me the opportunity to jump. By the time I reached the bottom of the list, I’d already made my next choice.
Having murdered myself and collected payment for the hit from Gary, I went to find my next body. Someone younger and stronger.
Lucky for me, I had the perfect candidate, and she rode me like there was no tomorrow. Which in her case happened to be true.
Red hair cascaded to the middle of her back and over the smooth porcelain skin of her shoulders. Sweat slicked the delicious curves of her body. Her sapphire blue eyes focused on mine and her full lips parted on an “oh.”
She was so relaxed, all I had to do was guide her into the aether. Easy.
I opened my eyes and stared down at Austin. His body had gone out with a smile.
I sat on a hospital guernsey and allowed the doctor to check my irises. “I’m fine. Really.”
“You do appear to be.” He lowered the otoscope and adjusted his glasses. “Shock can be delayed in instances of this nature. If you have any problems at all over the next few days, please come back to see me.”
The doctor looked at his notes when he next spoke. “Your boyfriend’s body will be checked by the coroner before a death certificate will be issued. Is someone coming to collect you?”
I nodded and wiped away a tear as I lied. “Yes.”
“Before you can leave, a nurse will need to check some information, and give you the contact details for the hospital social worker. See Sierra at the front desk. She’ll take care of you.”
I left the public ward for the front desk down the corridor.
Two nurses sat behind a navel height counter. Both were on the phone. The first was a dark haired woman with a stern face and thick glasses. The second was a blonde wearing a ‘Sierra’ name-tag on her chest. She slammed the phone down and looked up. A dark haze shimmered around her outline as her eyes locked on mine.
“You must be the woman who lost her boyfriend. Doctor Andrews has given me instructions.” Sierra looked down at the desk in front of her; hands flying to organise papers and brochures. She gathered them to her chest, stood, and tilted her head to one side. “Follow me. We’ll do this somewhere private.”
I followed her into an empty room and sat on a floral patterned couch.
Sierra closed the door behind us. Her blue eyes glittered silver before returning to normal. “It’s me, Mara. I can see your aethereal signature. It’s been a long time Darius.”
“Almost a century.”
She nodded and shoved the brochures into my hands, before taking a seat beside me. “I need to ask you if you know anything about the hunters.”
A tingle of fear crept along my spine as I stuffed the brochures into my bag. “There hasn’t been a hunter in four hundred years.”
“Seven shifters have been obliterated. Two here and five more internationally. They weren’t sent to the aether. They’re gone.” She placed a clipboard on the coffee table in front of us and tears spilled down her rosy cheeks. “Talan’s gone.”
Talan was my soul brother, created at the same time I was. He’d been Mara’s partner, and the two of them had spawned ten new shifters.
My hands curled into fists on my knees and the longer fingernails I forgot I had dug into my palms. “Hunters send us back. They don’t kill us.”
“These people do. They’re part of a group calling themselves the ‘Righteous’. They’ve found a way to get rid of us, permanently. I thought you might know a way to protect ourselves.”
I grabbed Mara’s hands. “You’re telling me there’s hunters that can kill shifters?”
“Yes. Do you know how to stop them?”
I shook my head, dropped her hands, and paced between the couch and the door. “Tell me everything you know.”
“Talan heard from one of the other shifters about the hunters. He said he was going after them, before they could find us. Finneus went with him.”
“Is Finneus still alive?”
“Yes, he escaped. He said the hunters had medallions around their necks that protected them from a jump. When they placed one against Talan’s body and chanted the words ‘vade et non revertetur huc amplius’, the medallion glowed with a bright yellow light. Talan’s soul rose into the air, but without a body to enter, he had no where to go. He should have spiralled into the aether, but Finneus said he checked with the High Council and they confirmed that he wasn’t there, that he ceased to exist.”
“What does that mean? Vade et non… whatever you said.”
Mara’s tears fell faster and her voice hitched. “It means: ‘Be gone and never return.’ It’s latin.”
Sobs racked her body and she buried her head in her hands.
“I’m sorry.” I sat beside her, wrapping my arms around her gently. “You know I won’t let it happen to us.”
Mara nodded but didn’t look up, placing her head against my shoulder. Her tears ran down my jacket and I stroked her hair.
For the first time, I understood how grief was supposed to feel. How Kelly would have felt knowing Austin was no longer with her. A burning ache bloomed in my chest squeezing the air out of my lungs and my sobs joined Mara’s. Talan was gone, and I wouldn’t see him again, ever.
I’d always known what waited for me in the aether, and I’d taken it for granted. Now there were people, humans, who could prevent me from making it there. Anger, vengeance, and a good dose of fear, reminded me what it felt like to be alive.
I don’t know how long we stayed like that, but eventually our sobs subsided.
Fear gave way to determination.
Kelly didn’t have a full time job, or any job. Austin left her everything he owned in his will, bar a small amount he’d allocated to his kids.
I’d struck it rich. With time on my side, I could turn the hunters into the hunted.
I kissed Mara’s forehead and pulled away. “How do I get in touch with Finneus?”