The taste of course sand flooded his mouth, almost choking him, mixed in with the taste of salt and the sea. Other sensations filled his mind, the smells, oh the smells were awful, it was a musty warm and soupy smell like the whole place was being cooked in a pot. It smelled wrong foreign, and it sounded… loud, too loud, people, cars, a city?
Connor opened his eyes, it was bright, far too bright, sunshine beat heavily down upon him. It was so hot, and humid, he felt the need to pant; he was coated in sweat and his hair was already beginning to frizz. Where was this? How had he gotten here?
A swirl of memories, a ship, a cage, a box, drowning, falling; and then he was here. In this strange place of strange sounds and strange smells. Connor felt as if everything was so bright, so loud, yet he was both blind and deaf at the same time. Panic filled his blood and his limbs pushed him out of the sand and forward, he beach gave way to greens and the coolness of trees, where Connor latched onto the nearest trunk to try and steady his breathing.
Eventually his breathing slowed and Connor began to calm himself, quietly he repeated something to himself. Memories flashed, a woman in a nun’s habit, holding him gently, he had been crying, the other children bullied him often. But in her arms, in Sister Sophia’s arms, she sang him to sleep.
“Christ be with me,
And within me,
Christ behind me and before,
Christ beside me,
And to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore.
Christ beneath me and above me,
Christ in quiet and in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”
Repeating this over and over, the voice of Sister Sophia echoing in his head, Connor was able to steady his heartbeat and pry his eyes open. He saw the beach, and then adjacent to the woods he was cowering in it gave way to a city; the buildings were unfamiliar, their layout strange. It wasn’t just that this wasn’t a city he recognized, but the whole place felt alien and strange, like it couldn’t be a city even in the same… country.
That’s when Connor felt fear, the different air, the memories of the ocean, he wasn’t in Ireland anymore. He stuffed this idea down and tried to dismiss it as he felt the rising panic, he saw people down there, walking about, they could help him right?
So he ran down there, bursting from the trees, running up to the first person he saw. A man who was waiting for the bus.
“Excuse me… where am I?”
The man looked at him in bewilderment, “Uh, sorry kid, I can’t understand you.”
Connor frowned, “Why can’t you understand me?”
He tried another person, and then another.
“You’ll have to stop mumbling, dear.”
“Where are you from? What language is that?”
“What’re you trying to say?”
“But I’m speaking English!” Connor exclaimed.
“That’s right, English, I speak English,” one man said, he turned to his wife. “What’s he speaking? Scottish?”
“I don’t think Scottish is a language, dear.”
Connor was sweating hard, the sun was overly hot, where were the clouds? The rain? He felt like crying, but feared he’d lose what little moisture he had left.
“He talks funny, mommy,” a small child said. “And he’s so hairy!” .
Connor’s panic was turning to frustration, he felt a growl rising up in his throat. Without thinking of it, in response to the little girls annoying shriek, he snarled and bared his fangs at her. The girl screamed, her mother pulled her away.
“He’s a monster!”
Connor set off running, but the screams only continued. He felt pain ripple through his body, his heart pumped, his bones cracked, this hadn’t happened in so long. But as the fear took him, so did the anger, and with the anger so came the fury that filled his blood. Connor felt his entire body swell, growing from the size of a child to nearly that of a man.
Folk screamed, cried for help, a few pulled guns and opened fire. And Connor ran, with tears flooding his eyes and anger in his veins. Into the wild, away from them all, away from the world.
The Toyota Tacoma rumbled down the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, bullying its way through traffic much to the honks and chagrin of the other drivers. The driver just grinned to himself, popping a cigarillo in his mouth as he leaned over and cranked the music volume louder. He lit his smoke and smiled as he mumble-sang along with the lyrics.
"One. Two. Three.
And the Lord set a mark upon Cain.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight."
The city gave way to more suburban areas, and the driver rolled his windows open and turned the music up even louder. Folk out in their yard gave him looks.
"Look upon the wreck, stood upon the land
Blood in my footprints, gun in my hand
Gun in my hand, carved in my arm
The Mark of Cain, one eight one six
Murder be thy name
Murder be thy name
Murder be thy name"
Cain pulled his truck in front of the home, it was a modest single story thing, and to Cain's eyes it reeked of poverty. He switched his music off as he parked right in front of the driveway, he then rummaged around in his glove compartment before pulling out a tabloid magazine. Flipping through he found an article stuffed into the back Charleston woman claims monster-child attacked her little girl. He had his boys get the name and address from the publishers, wasn't hard, a few threats got you most places. Cain chuckled as he stepped out of the vehicle.
As soon as his feet touched the ground, Cain had to grip the side of the car for balance as the world spun around him, his heart pounded and pain was spreading across his chest. Fortunately, the vest strapped to him beeped and immediately delivered a shock to his heart to fix the rhythm. His heart slowed, and the world stopped spinning enough for Cain to watch one of the many tubes that ran from his vest, down his arm, and into his wrist; fill with liquid and pump medicine into him. The pain stopped. He cursed softly to himself, it was happening more often. Cain adjusted his coat, so the tubes weren't so visible.
Cain recovered himself and smoothed his hair back as he approached the home, eyeing the yellow dead grass on the lawn before approaching the front door and ringing the bell. He listened to the sound of a man and woman shouting at each other inside, while he took out his notebook and consulted it for a second. A very tired looking middle-aged woman cam to the door, her hair frazzled.
"What do you want?" she said with a scowl.
"Pardon my interruption, ma'am," Cain said, he smiled. He had a deep southern Tennessee twang to his voice, but so clean and enunciated he sounded educated. It was as if he was a gentleman Confederate officer, but in an almost comical way. "I represent an up and coming magazine which runs stories about strange sightings, I was hoping you might be amicable to answering a few questions for me about what you saw a few weeks back, the monster-child?"
"I've talked to too many magazines as it is, and barely got any cash for it besides, and I'm tired of being laughed at," the woman moved to slam the door in his face, but Cain shoved his foot in the way.
"Please, ma'am, just a moment of your time."
"I already told you to-" the woman paused as Cain waved a bundle of cash under her nose, bound together with a silver money clip.
"Please, ma'am, just a moment of your time." he said again, smiling slyly at her.
"Fine" The woman snatched the money an pocketed it. "Don't know what you want me to say, he came up and I thought he was a lost kid, long hair, all fuzzy y'know? He talked but it couldn't understand a lick of it, then he growled at my little girl, and he had a mouth like a dogs"
"The hair, what colour? " Cain asked.
"Red I think, light red, orange a bit."
"Strawberry blond" Cain corrected.
"Sure, whatever, why's it matter?"
"Just trying to get an idea, ma'am, now what about the eyes?"
"The eyes? Uh, green I think."
"Right, and when you say his mouth was like a dog, what do you mean exactly?"
"You know, like how a dogs is, big fangs."
"Right, of course," Cain closed his notebook with a snap. "Well, I think that's all I need."
"Wait, really? The other folk asked much more."
"Yes yes, between what you've told me here and what you've said in the other interviews I think I have what I'm looking for."
"Well... if you say so, what magazine did ya'll say you were with?"
"I didn't," Cain said, and he turned away. He walked back to his Toyota Tacoma and climbed in, the touch-pad attached to his dashboard was beeping. A symbol flashing on the screen, one that matched the one on his forearm. The Alchemical symbol for Saturn. Cain tapped the symbol.
"What's the story?" Titan asked, his voice crackling through the screen.
"Talked to the witness, details match, it's definitely the asset."
"Alright, I've got Dione and Tethys already trying to pick up their trail, what're we doing about the witnesses, client wnats no one mentioning the asset."
"Send it up the chain, shouldn't be hard to get rid of them, a small fire, a word to whatever bank owns this shithole, they'll be on the streets within a week and week from that dead or too drugged up to care."
"Heard, meet you at the RV, Titan out."
Cain revved up hsi truck and set out, a small smile on his face. When he'd heard about this asset being transported stateside he'd almost hoped it would escape, form everyhting he knew about it the thing was barely human. Maybe, just maybe, he'd be too much touble than he's worth and the client would call it quiets and he'd get the green light to skin the little bastard. He's seen pictures, and ugly twisted thing, some dadsdardly mockery of the human form, he'd almsot puked in his mouth when he'd saw the images. And apprently it ate like a dog too, oh yes, he'd like squashing this thing if he could. Then again, the clien't splans for him were just as interesting. As he took off Cain turned the radio back on and blasted his music as loud as he could out his windows as he sang along with it.
"I'm always walking as somebody else!
I'm always walking as somebody else!
I'm always walking as somebody else!
I'm always walking as somebody else!"
In the wild you could escape almost anything, Connor remembered a book he’d come across of a young man who didn’t feel as if he was free living like other folk. So one day he just took off, heading straight Into The Wild.
He died someplace in Alaska from exposure.
Connor had always been surefooted through the woods, and had always felt at home there. Though these were not the same trees as Ireland, the same land, it felt like home in a way. The way the light filtered through the leaves, the sounds of birds or other creatures, the smell of the wind. These were familiar.
If only it wasn’t so damn hot.
Connor’s hair felt greasy and frayed, his breathing was heavy and a sheen of sweat covered him. Why was it so humid here? The heart seemed to collect in his head, increasing pressure like a steam engine. He couldn’t think, he could barely keep his eyes open. Water, he needed water. The sea and sand had washed out his mouth, leaving it dry and painful.
His careful steps turned to stumbling ones, his head spin, desperation filled Connor’s mind. He was floundering, making all sorts of noise, until something caught his foot and he fell on his face.
Fortunately he did fall into a bed of moss, and he wasn’t hurt, but he also had no desire to get up. His spirit fled for the moment and Connor heaved sobs which brought no tears, his throat twisted painfully at the effort and his stomach retched but nothing but bile came up.
“Please…" Connor begged, no one answered.
After a long time he the sobbing and the vomit stopped and Connor lay there, accepting that maybe this was a decent place to die. He looked straight forward and his eyes managed to focus, mushrooms, he was surrounded by red toadstools which curved around him in a circle. A Fey Circle. Connor didn’t move, he wished for the circle to take him somewhere else. Over the Hill, Across the River, somewhere that was more like home, where folk would talk and laugh and dance all ills away.
Connor didn’t get his wish.
Something else caught his attention, a smell, one that cut through the smell of trees and sap and his own vomit. It was clear and sweet, water, fresh water, a river. Connor twitched his head towards the smell, but he couldn’t get up, it was too hard, too painful, too much.
But then a memory, a scuffed pair of knees, gentle hands cleaning the bleeding cuts, and wiping tears from a young Connor’s face.
“Now now, my treasure, what do we do when we fall?” Sister Sophia said.
Connor half groaned half growled into the moss and he forced his limbs to move, he pushed his hands underneath himself and fought to stand. He barely could so he half crawled half stumbled down the hill. He began rolling and all the way down until he plopped right into the river.
Fortunately it wasn’t that deep, and the cold water jolted energy into Connor’s body. He was able to stand and bring his head above water where he took great gasps of air before diving back down to gulp down as much water as he could hold.
The water brought him back to life, washed away the sheen of sweat and grease that had layered on him, cleared his head and lowered his body temperature. Connor remained in it until he became more cold than warm and then waded to the other side. He sat on the far bak, and let himself cry real tears this time, half mixed with a grateful and somewhat unhinged laughter.
The water saved him for now, but a different kind of desire filled Connor’s stomach, hunger. Connro frowned, he knew what he needed, Sister Sophia had figured it out somehow when he was a toddler and had fed him ground beef mashed into a paste and given raw. But Sister Sophia wasn’t here to feed him, Connor had chased squirrels before when she wasn’t looking. Those were always the meals that felt… right, but squirrels wouldn’t sustain him for long.
There was things around to eat, opossums, squirrels, Connor smelt deer somewhere. But as much as his gut told him to chase them down and sink his teeth into their flesh, Sister Sophia had never let him act on these instincts. Insisting that it was too dangerous.
His lack of experience showed, every time Connor thought he was about to pounce on something it would scamper away. The deer that he smelt he could never seem to find as they always knew when he was coming, by late afternoon Connor was tired and starving.
He was wondering a little farther away from the river when a new smell came to him… chickens. He followed it until he crested a hill and looked down, there was a small homestead surrounded by a white picket fence which enclosed a decently sized property. In the backyard which Connor looked at was a coop around which a whole flock of chickens pecked at the ground. Connor’s mouth watered.
He inched closer, staring closely at the chickens, trying to decide which one had the most meat on it. Though another thing caught his eye, a flagpole which stood adjacent to the house, on it flew a familiar flag of red, white, and blue with stars in the corner. An American flag, Connor decided not to focus on the fact that he had somehow crossed the Atlantic ocean and turned his attention to the chickens.
He had just reached the edge of the treeline where there was just a meter or so break before the fence, inching his way closer Connor was just deciding how to pounce when the back door of the house opened. Connor dove behind a tree and hid, fearing he’d be driven away again if he was caught. He stood still, hoping that they hadn’t seen him.
And then she started singing.
It was a golden sound, clear and joyful, wordless and full of hums and whistles but it was a song. Connor’s ears twitched, and he thought of how when Sister Sophia sang, everyone couldn’t help but fall quiet and listen. Something, Connor would never know what, compelled him to peak out from behind the tree.
Miriam MacBlair huffed and she lifted the bucket of chicken feed with one hand and hoisted her shirt with the other, he pattered down the back porch steps and over to the coop. Behind her she heard the crash of a bottle shattered on the floor, that meant Pa was awake, which was why she had strategically always gone out to do yard work at this time so his immediate flurry of hungover anger would be directed at the kitchen and not her.
She mad her way over to the coop and set the bucket down. Pushing her golden blond curls out of her face she took a scoop and began spreading the feed around, taking her time to be out of the house as long as possible. She allowed herself to let her mind drift as she sang wordlessly, so much that she almost didn't notice the boy very obviously staring at her from behind the tree.
It wasn't the first time, boys from town would stare at her all day, they were harmless. Far too intimidated by Miriam do do anything let alone even talk to her. Still, something was strange about this new observer, Miriam couldn't quiet place it. Maybe it was the flash of red hair she saw; which wasn't a trait any of her usual admirers had.
"I can see ya'll out there," Miriam out her scoop down and faced the treeline, hands on her hips. "Mighty rude to stare like that, why don't ya'll come out here where I can see ya, come one! I don't bite."
The figure froze and he seemed to be stuck in fear for a moment. Miriam rolled her eyes, they were all the same, thinking he'd just run away she waited patiently. Miriam was surprised when he stepped out and approached, and she felt her eyebrows raise as he came into view.
By the looks of his face he was only fifteen like Miriam but he stood a full head taller than her and build sturdily, if a bit hungry-looking. His hair was indeed mostly red with traces of blond, like fresh strawberries, and it looked like it hadn't been brushed in a very long time. His eyes attracted her own, they were as green as the forest after a heavy rain, and looked at her with a strange quality. In fact everything about him was off, how voluminous his hair was, how his square jaw sat like his mouth was more full than normal, how his hips were shaped. Very different.
Miriam admitted he was very handsome.
"Well hey there, big guy," She said, offering a friendly smile. He'd been courageous enough to actually face her, she figured he deserved friendliness. "Haven't seen you around here before, what's your name?'
One time Sister Sophia had brought Connor to one of the largest cathedrals in Ireland, the sweeping pillars and the intricate designs shining in the sunlight had captured his gaze. And he'd remembered thinking there was nothing else in the world that could be that beautiful.
The golden girl proved him wrong.
Her hair looked like it was weaved from some golden ram somewhere, it shined in the light and formed cascading curls that flowed down her neck and body. Her whole body was elegant and her skin almost seemed to glow, and when Connor saw her eyes he thought he was staring into the glorious sun itself. All the light, life, and warmth of daylight filled them. And her voice sounded like it shouldn't belong on the earth, like she had wondered out of Tír na nÓg itself carrying all the light and laughter of the land of summer with her.
Connor didn't realize he was staring until she looked right at him, he froze in the beam of her gaze. Unsure of what to do, he felt as if he had trespassed; which might have been literally true. But more than that he felt like even looking at her had been some violation, some crime, like he had stolen something he wasn't even worthy to think about. But then she spoke to him.
What? What had she said? Connor couldn't think, but he was sure she had just told him to stop hiding and come to her. That couldn't be right, this shining star should cast him away, monster he was, why would she want him to come nearer? Despite these thoughts, Connor felt compelled to approach and he stepped out of the treeline and approached her. He met her at the white picket fence, where she stood now, arms om her hips, looking up at him. Her mouth moved, Connor only heard music.
His name, he asked him his name. What was a name again? Connor couldn't remember, he could only focus on her smile and how it made him feel like he was warm and safe.
Miriam couldn't help the laugh that bubbled up, she didn't know why, maybe it was this guys striking, large, an intimidating appearance contrasted with his quiet and demure behavior. Or perhaps some part of her realized how ridiculous it was to be talking with a strange and potentially dangerous stranger so close and so casually, but she found she didn't care. What was life without risks?
"You sure that's your name? You don't sound too confident." Miriam caught her breath. "Well I'm Miriam MacBlair, now why don't ya'll tell me why you were creepin' about in the brush like a fox? If you're honest I'll consider not running to get my twelve gauge"
Something about her voice, the twang and tilt was like music to Connor's ears. It mesmerized his mind and stirred something within his chest, though he couldn't quite place it. But he felt... safe, for the first time since he came to this place with its strange air and people. There was an easiness to Miriam that relaxed Connor entire form.
"I'm... lost, I don't... know where I am..."
"Lost? Damn, where you from, hun?"
"I can tell that, hun, you talk a lil funny, ya'll from Europe?"
"Y-yeah... Ireland... where is this?"
"Ireland! Ya'll a long way from home, did you come here on vacation?"
"No, I... don't know how I got here."
"You don't know..." Miriam squinted at him. "How did you get from Ireland all the way to Tennessee?"
"I don't..." Connor was shaking, his eyes stung.
"Hey, hey, it's okay," Miriam spoke gently, like a silk sheet fresh out of the laundry. She looked behind her, as if she expected someone to be sneaking up on them. "Do you have anywhere to stay?"
"No," Connor sniffed.
"Okay, there's an old shack not far from here, I'm sorry it's the best I can do I'd invite you inside but I... I can't, I can bring you something to eat later okay?"
Cain crouched down, peering at the tracks on the ground. A cigarillo burning in his mouth, they weren't animal tracks, nor really human. The direction was scattered, as if the creature itself didn't know where it was going.
"Hard to say boss, it's a big forest, we know he went in here but not where he went," Titan said as he walked up besides Cain.
"Ain't that complicated, it's an animal, animals think pretty straightforward," Cain stood up. Titan towered over him, a classic corn fed marine type, Cain liked having him around because he barely had two rock upstairs to bang together. "So it'll look for what it needs, water, food, the works."
"Nearest big water source is Kentucky Lake, and food?"
"Check big cattle farms, particularly open range ones, it'll probably go for the easy prey."
"What do we do when we find him?"
"Oh that's easy, we flush him out, bag 'em and tag 'em."
It really was just a shack, the whole thing was leaning over like it would topple at any second and the thin wood was eaten and eroded from years of neglect. But Connor crawled inside without complaint, the space barely comfortable for his hue form. Yet he was thankful for this small barrier between him and the world, and the trees that kept civilization at bay. This is what allowed Connor to cry, the humidity scorched his sinuses and make him cough and hack up phlegm in his distress, like his whole body was rejecting this foreign place. Why, why was he here, how as this happened, Connor cried to himself, mumbling prayer and begging God to return him to where he belonged, tugging at the rosary around his neck like it was a leash that would lead his way.
He was all out of tears when Miriam appeared again, trudging through the woods in boots too bog for her. She carried a wicker basket with her, and when she entered the shack, Connor didn't know which to focus on. The warmth of her presence, or the promise of food in the basket.
"This is the best I could do," Miriam said, and she placed the basket down and opened it to reveal a stack of ham sandwiches. Connor realized just how hungry he was, and dove in without thinking. Miriam's eyes widened as she caught flashes of his long, sharp canines as they tore into the sandwiches like the flank of a doe. The bread felt too soft and gooey in Connor's mouth, and the ham was slim pickings; he emptied the basket in a flash and gathered no true satisfaction from it. His mouth watered for more, for something... fresher.
"Sorry I couldn't bring more," Miriam said, still staring at him like he had just fell from space.
"It is... enough, thank you," Connor said, not looking at her directly. He decided it was better to lie than to be rude.
"You're... different, ain't you? Like, not 'cause ya'll foreign, or Catholic, you're one of them things they're always talkin' about on the news? Someone with powers?"
"I don't have any power..."
"Well you ain't normal that's for sure."
"I'm sorry," Connor shrunk into the corner, trying in vain to make himself smaller.
"No! No! Sorry, I don't mean it like that, don't worry about that, hun, everyone's a lil different, that's the way God made us, listen you can stay here okay? I gotta go back, but you stick right here, and I'll try and help you out," Like sunset in winter she was gone as quickly as she came. Connor wanted to cry for her to stay, and not leave him alone, but he couldn't find the voice to do so. Connor curled up, his stomach growling like some untamed beast within, and Connor closed his eyes. Wanting to shut out the hunger and pain.
The Beast desired more. It always wanted more. It was never sated. When Sister Sophia first saw it, feasting on a raw squirrel, she was horrified. And from then they had attempted to tame the Beast. to control the fury that flowed through Connor's blood, yet now it could not be saited. It was hungery, it was ravenous, and it was furious.
Hunger, kill, meal, meat, blood. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. Eat. How dare they, how dare they capture me, take me hear, I'll kill them, I'll rip out their throats, eat their bones, taste the marrow. That damned girl brings me a morsel, can't she see I need more. More. More. More. MORE. Nearby, I can smell prey, easy, complacent. I can smell it's flesh, it cannot run. Yes. Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.
A great howl the likes of which those woods had never heard echoed through the air that night, and the Beast, driven by not but desire and rage tore across the landscape on all fours following the scent of prey. The power is drove it's limps with was almost enough to tear the muscles straight off the bones, as if the energy the animal desire to release could not be contained within the body it was cursed to remain inside. It did not take long for the beast to zero in on its target; a cattle farm with a lone cow that hand wandered off towards the edge of the fence. She never stood a chance.
The cow eye's bulged in fear and she tried desperately to turn and run, but it was in vein. The Beast pounced and its fanged sung into her back, severing right through her spine, killing her quickly with just a single cry of pain from the animal. The Beast dragged its kill back into the woods just as quickly as it appeared, and settled down to feast.
Warm, it tasted warm. It Filled Connor's mouth and ran down his throat and into his stomach. Life, he was tasting life, strength and energy, written into flesh. Torn open by his fangs. Connor swallowed the hunk of meat, and sat back on his haunches. The rage was gone now, and a manic fear replaced it. Connro cried out in distress, looking at the gore in fron tof him, looking at his hands covered in bovine vicera. He didn't remember, he didn't know what he just did, the Beast had taken over in an intstant without so much as a struggle. Tears stung his eyes and he sobbed, yet he couldn't help but dice back in and continue ripping hunks of meat off and swallowing. It was like an addictive nectar, and yet Connor's whole body wracked with sobs, drained from the rage, energized by blood, in fear of the monster that he was.