It Was A Kindness
The cemetery asphalt is cool in the afternoon shade, identical tombstones, some hundreds of years old stretch as far as I can see. The wrought-iron gate to the inner sanctum, separated by a tall brick wall opens as I approach. I slip in and it closes silently as I navigate through the entrance maze. A right, a left, two rights, and left, and another left. I step into the courtyard and see a few of the workers pruning apple trees or working the garden. Some wave, some ignore me, some don't even notice my passage. I look up at the sanctum, a structure of stone expanded with wood, steel, and siding, ancient and modern gripping each other but never quite merging. I see a young-looking man in the massive arched doorway, thinning brown hair, slightly overweight. “Misty!” Dan calls out. “Misty Meaner!” he says with a wink and a smirk. I roll my eyes and shake my head. His grey-blue eyes invite you to fall into them, fly away, forever. His smile tethers itself to your heart and reels you in. “How old are you, again?” I ask, breaking eye contact. “That's—you know it—it's different.” he stammers. “Point taken, though.” I can feel his magnetism settling, simmering instead of boiling over. As we head inside, I can hear loud dialogue, likely from the theater. “It is,” he says, responding to my thoughts. “I've made some real progress on the 'magitech',” he gushes. “The 3D effect is next level now, with actual depth. “Only works for black and white films right now, but I'll get there.” He takes my hand. “You'll have to come by after your shift,” he offers. I shrug and bight my tongue behind a thin smile. “Be polite,” I think. He steps in front of me, using a tender gesture to raise my head. “Hey, wait.” he says squinting, hiding his charms, probing gently past my surface thoughts. “Are you okay?” I chuckle, “Actually, I feel like shit, but I've got responsibilities so here I am.” I do feel like shit. Brain fog, tight emotions, unexpected bouts of rage and crying. He sniffs the air lightly, “I didn't want to say anything last week.” “About what?” I ask. “Well—I'm not trying to be rude, but I think your hormones are off.” I nod slowly, “That would make sense.” “I haven't had bloodwork in over a year and my endo was talking about switching to injections.” He pats my shoulder, “Please take care of yourself. If it's money, you know she will cover it.” I shrug, “It's time. I have no time.” “Oh,” I start, “will the elders be upset by it?” Dan takes a deep breath and slowly releases it, “I doubt it; it's still closer to what they prefer than any cissy could manage.” “Anyway, I'll let you get to it.” He heads back to his movie theater and his experiments. I assume that's where most of the younger members are.
I remember the ad that brought me here almost two years ago: “Seeking Part-time Caregiver for multiple elderly residents. Must be well-read and have a strong voice. Services will be limited to reading and light teaching. Medical training not required.” And the part that really got my attention, “Transgender women on full HRT only.” I had to see what it was all about. I replied to the ad and met Melinda at an outdoor cafe downtown for coffee. I had water. Melinda was a fount of radiant 'house mom' energy, carefully put together comfortable but elegant outfit, expertly styled red hair, subtle 'no makeup' look makeup. Her eyes were a strange mixture of green and gold. I'd never seen gold in someone's eyes before. And her easy smile lulled me into complacency. I was spilling my deepest secrets and weird hobbies before I even noticed what I was saying. She told me about the job, about my charges, about the fact that they are mostly non-verbal and mobility impaired, but they like to be read to. I was moved to compassion. When she said the job was at an estate in the middle of a national cemetery in the oldest part of town, I was intrigued. I was taken to meet 'The Elders' and was led through a cavernous house, almost a castle, down stone steps lined with torches, to a large room filled with ancient armors, mounted weapons, and two walls of books stretching a full story high. At one end was the largest fireplace I'd ever seen. You could drive a car through it. And it was fully ablaze. I couldn't imagine how much fuel it took to burn that strongly. I was told 'The Elders' were cold blooded and liked the heat. When we got closer to the fire, I saw them, 10 pale faces with bright eyes sharing a deeply set opulent sofa, watching me, following me, each body bundled in heavy blankets or furs. “That's a good sign,” Melinda assured me. They had ignored other applicants, I was told. We stood between 'The Elders' and the fireplace. “Great and Honored Elders,” she said, bowing. “I present Misty Allen Shaffer for your approval.” I heard a sound like sighing or coughing, but so faint I couldn't tell from where. “Thank you,” she said, bowing again. She smiled at me, so wide her teeth shimmered in the firelight, “They will allow it.” Apparently, it meant I got the gig. She asked me to bring some modern science fiction from the library to read. She defined “modern” as anything after 1900. In spite of the walls of books we'd passed, they were awfully tired of what they had on hand. I'd come in and sit by the fire and read out loud for them for three hours once a every weekend, doing different voices for the different characters. They'd study me with their inscrutable eyes the entire time, never speaking, but occasionally making small noises. When I moved around, they followed me with their gazes, sometimes imperceptibly moving their heads, but often just with their eyes. I could tell what authors they liked and which they didn't although I'm not sure how. I could feel it. The particularly liked Asimov, Bradbury, and Frank Herbert but weren't fans of Philip K. Dick. When I read even newer authors like Liu Cixin or N. K. Jemisin, the vibe in the room was particularly electric. I'd caught an uneasy amusement from them when I read Peter Watts' 'Blindsight'.
Today, I was bringing a classic, HG Wells' 'The Time Machine'. Down 40 stone steps around a column, lit and warmed by torches at every fifth step. Into the visitation hall. Even in the dim light of the fire, I can see them watching me. I feel loved and involuntarily smile. “Good afternoon, everyone!” I call out. “As promised, HG Wells' 'The Time Machine' with a nameless protagonist and a look at what the future may hold, written in 1895. “I know that's few years older than you'd prefer, but trust me, it is worth it. “It gets pretty 'out there' toward the end. “You'll love it.” They study me as I read from the elaborate, carved seat by the fire. “Chapter 1,” I began, using an English accent befitting the author. “The Inventor.” I'd made it to the section where The Time Traveler loses The Time Machine to the Morlocks (who I voiced as deep throated aristocrats – inspired by Jeremy Irons performance in the movie) when the first rumble shook dust from the walls. As I look around for a source, I spot a red strobing light above the door. “Shit!” Evacuation? What was happening up there? “Uh, everybody?” I call out. They watch me intently, “We've got to go.” I'd been trained for this, drills even, although I was told it would probably never be required. I jog over to the hidden emergency exit door, trying to remember the pattern. Like a backwards treble clef, then three parallel lines, then eleven o'clock, three o'clock, seven o'clock. POP A handle appears and I struggle to slide the door which has probably been closed for longer than I've been alive. I create an opening about three feet before turning back around. The Elders still sit. They are watching me but not standing, not moving. They are supposed to follow me. “Come on!” I yell, waving at them with both arms above my head. Nothing. I reach into my bag and pull out my multitool. I stare at it in my hand, breathing hard. I slide it open and expose the knife, seeing flames dancing in reflection. “Hey, y'all!” I call out. Nothing. I'm going to have to do this. I bite my lower lip, hard, and cut a shallow, inch long gash in my left arm. The Elders lean forward but do not rise. Damn. I cut a second, longer and deeper gash close to the first. It burns and try not to scream through gritted teeth. “Mother fucker” I mutter. Blood runs down my arm to my elbow where it falls and splatters on the floor. The Elders stand and shuffle toward me, rasping from slightly open mouths. I squeeze into the hidden hallway and hold my arm where they can see it. Where they can smell it. The burning sensation runs all the way from my arm to my chest, making it hard to breathe. I did not expect it to hurt that much. How deep did I cut? I hear shouting from further down the corridor. Their language. A language I don't recognize. Flashlight beams play upon the walls and naked feet slap against the stonework. I still do not understand them but I catch words that seem familiar. 'anthropos' 'aima' Men, women in fatigues churn up from the catacombs, swarming around me, taking the arms of The Elders and leading them deeper into the passages. A man I've never seen leads me back to the reading room. I'm dizzy. “Foolish” I hear him say as he pulls a first aid kit out of his backpack. He's examining my cut which I can see spurts blood every couple of seconds. Whoops. The ground is shaking or it could just be me. “Skata” says the man looking at my arm. “Ti krima“ He shakes his head and sprays something that cleans the blood away. Then he places an absorbent pad and begins to wrap gauze. Something cracks, my ears ring, I'm on the floor. I can't move. I can't see. I hear the man scream, “Gamo to!!” Then “Gia to aima!” I can't feel my legs or arms. I'm not sure if I'm breathing. It's so heavy. I'm cold. Tired. Exhausted. I should sleep. Sleep. Yes. It's quiet. Warm. Like floating in river. Darkness.
. .. ... .... ..... —
Lightning strikes my heart. My head explodes. My arms and legs vibrate like plucked guitar strings. I hear myself screaming but the voice isn't mine. Something burrows into my throat, wiggling its way up to my mouth. My teeth clench, tear, I taste blood and bile. Sound pours itself into my ears, squeaks, groans, gasps. Pumping sounds. The flow of liquid. Sizzling steam, fire. Breaths, whispers. I smell sand, sweat, decay, perfume, incense. Something sweet. I can't name it. But I desire it more than anything I've ever wanted in my life. I can see colors that I do not recognize, outlines of life and probability. I sit up, grab my head. “Misty, you were chosen.” Chosen. I hear it. She's talking. It's Melinda. I love her. I would do anything for her. “For your selfless actions to save The Eldest Among Us, for your kindness and devotion, for your courage and calm under pressure.” My heart swells with each word of praise. “Where once there was death, now there is new life.” I feel her take my hand, our souls intermingle, our life force blends. I am hers. She helps me up. To my feet. I do not waver. I stand like a statue. I look down at my body. Naked. Small breasts, slightly protruding gut hanging over an equally small penis. Cold, but I do not shiver. I frown. This is not what I'm supposed to look like. For a moment I am ashamed. “Welcome our sister,” she says. “Misty Allen Shaffer,” a chorus of voices replies. “Receive your second gift and your secret name.” The crowd parts. “Become what you were meant to be.” A woman wearing only a solemn expression walks toward me. “Receive your second gift,” the crowd repeats. The smell from earlier. I catch it again, thicker, a current guiding me. My mouth twitches, my tongue curls itself into knots. The woman is directly in front of me now. She kneels and tilts her head to the right, exposing her neck. My heart pounds. I feel something slide and shift inside my mouth. Something stabbing my gums and lips. Without thinking, I bend down and bite the woman on the jugular. My exposed fangs effortlessly pierce the skin. The warmth of blood pouring into me is like nothing I've ever experienced. I see memories of her life, a child of poverty, sold, bought, raised almost as livestock but wanting for nothing. I feel her relief, honor, fear at being brought here tonight for me. Fire floods my body, every nerve ending tinkling like a bell, every cell ravenous and renewed. The blood wakes me, the world fills with song, like angels, like a chorus of stars in the heavens. Light pours from me. I feel strong, fast, free. Alive. I was dead. Now I am alive. “Enough,” Melinda whispers to me. I immediately stand. Someone takes the girl aside to bandage her wounds. I know their language now. I see it. I see a word. My word. “Υδατογενής“ Because I adapted myself, changed, flowed into true being. “I am Υδατογενής.”
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