I couldn't show my face anywhere in the city.
But a rat could. At least until I got to the station itself. They'd probably have a rat catcher. Maybe a couple cats. I'd have to think of something when I got there. All I had to do was spirit the Shofar out, skip town, face Coyote, and head for that tunnel that went to L.A.
I focused my thoughts on Rat Mode. After the change was complete, I shimmied out of the pile of clothing I was in, left it in the hall, and stepped into the Speed Walk. Of sorts. It was more of a Speed Scamper, as a rat, but the advantage was that it could take me stright up walls and through ceilings, and out onto the roof.
From there, I could point myself in the direction of Harlem, and make swift progress towards a certain police station.
I huddled in the shadows of an alley off of 35th street, wondering what to do next. Gnaw through the wall? Slip between bars? I didn't actually have any idea where they would have been keeping the things they siezed as evidence. Kind of hard to slip in and grab things when you have to search the whole place for them. Plenty of time for the cats to catch you.
Well, well, well, said a voice in my brain. I smell a rat with a human spirit. Isn't this interesting.
A slimy tentacle, glowing like moonlight, slithered out from a gap in the stonework.
You? What are you doing here? I thought you protected my neighborhood, and all that. We pay eels to you specifically for that. What the hell are you doing in Harlem?
Looking after you. I assume you're the shape-shifter girl.
After the police came to your home, your Nonna hired my services with some spare eels on hand. Said you'd need looking after in difficult circumstances. So here I am. Is it that unusual to find me here? The pipe runs beneath the entire city, and my reach is long.
Fine. Help me get into the police station so I can find -- actually, you know what? I know exactly what I need to do. If you're going to look after me, the first thing you need to do is bind my hands behind my back.
I let go of the rat form, and returned to my usual size. My, it was cold this evening.
What do you think you're doing?
"I'm letting them take me into the same place the Shofar is in. This is precisely where I escaped from, this must be where they put the thing in a drawer or something. I need you to bind my wrists together so I can look docile before they nab me. Then maybe they won't crack me over the head or anything. Come on, my feet are freezing."
You're making it very difficult to fulfill the terms of my service, but I will do what I can for you. Watch the water pipes once you get inside. I will be listening for your word.
I put my hands together, and the tentacle detached itself form the crack, and wound around my wrists.
I stepped out to the widewalk.
I sat in a cell.
The charges were now: escaping prison, indecent exposure, and violating a parks ordinance. No lumps on the head, fortunately. When I had knocked on the front door, the officers had stared open-mouthed for a second, then dragged me in here and slapped some real cuffs on below the more rubbery ones. I was surprised they hadn't done a body-cavity search, but maybe they were too shocked. Or worried about my lack of clothing.
Then again, they hadn't rushed to give me any clothing. They hadn't taken me straight to the interrogation room, either. They'd brought me before a tall, olive-skinned man with a goatee and a big blue cloak. They held me before him, one officer on either side of me holding me by the upper arms.
"Mister Mazigh," said the police officer, "can you confirm that this is the girl who can turn into a rat?"
"Hang on a second," I said, "you're the fellow from the liquor store! What are you doing here?"
"My life's work," said Mr. Mazigh. "Manning a cash register just pays the bills. And you're the good little granddaughter of Granny King, the girl she saw so much in. Ah, well, so much for that. Now, let me see..." He put on his glasses. "Yep, you've got that shape-changing power in you. An impresive amount of control over it as well. You could have stayed out in the street or the sewer forever. Why on earth did you come back here and face additional charges?"
Well, I couldn't tell him the real reason. Could I? Sure I could. "I've come to take the Shofar back, one way or another. I'm assuming it's still here, given the hour, and it hasn't been packed away to somewhere else yet. I want it back. Coyote wants to get his hands on it, and blow it to knock the walls down, or something. He tried to send me on a wild goose chase away from here. I assume that means it hasn't left the building?"
Mr. Mazhig stared at me, wide-eyed.
The officer to my right said "Wait, how would -- what in -- why would you -- Are you completley nuts, kid? You turn yourself in peacefully and then you tell everyone you're here to commit more crimes! What the hell is the matter with you? Are you TRYING to get sent to a Supermax? Good grief, this evening is completely nuts! First you flush yourself down the toilet and now you come back and tweak our noses! Well, we're going to put a stop to this right now. Mr. Mazigh, if you please, would you -- Mr. Mazigh?"
Mr. Mazigh was still staring at me. He shook his head and brought a book out of the voluminous depth of his cloak. "Right, well, let's see, I wonder..." He flipped a few pages, and said, "There we go. Spell for the banishment of alternate form. I'm fairly certain you can't turn into anything besides a rat, so this will suffice." He extended his hand, waved it about a bit, and muttered a few words.
I felt a cold force run down my body, as if someone had dumped an iced drink on my head.
"She good to go?" Said the other officer. "Right. You're going to the most secure Juvie we can find, once your trial is over, and you won't be doing any funny magic this time."
And now, here I was, in a cell. Alone. No shape-shifting. The Cell itself, if I called upon its spirit, wasn't going to be lenient this time, not at all.
I looked at the toilet. "Jake," I said. "I need you now."
A slimy, slug-like head appeared out of the bowl. Two eyes on stalks, and it glowed like moonlight.
I will do everything in my power to make sure you are not harmed before the trial.
"Wonderful. Supposing it's outside of the city, though? Then you can't help me. Why can't you help me now?"
Who says I can't? What do you want me to do?
"Give me back my shapeshifting powers. So I can -- "
Turn into a rat, and somehow lift an entire Shofar, assuming you can find it. But no, I can't give you back your shapeshifting powers, because you haven't lost them completely.
Mr. Mazigh said you lost a form. You've got another he didn't know about. Think about it. Shapeshifting. The normal form, and...
"The massive and brutal form. The one that happens when Shapeshifters lose themselves completely and go nuts. Are you saying I can do that one without turning into a rat first?"
I think it's possible that if you jump into it straight from human form, you'll remember more of yourself than you would otherwise.
"It's going to be difficult turning into a creature I've never even seen before."
I will lend you the power to do so. Now, close your eyes, and think of what a rat might look like if it were twice as tall as you. Think of the size of its teeth, think of its lashing tail, its slavering jaws. Think of its thick fur. Think of catching cats, and holding down their tails while you get the hot, wet revenge you desire.
I opened my eyes.
Strange. I was in a stone box. This box was too small for me. And one end was just a set of bars. They had put me, ME, in a tiny box and left one side nearly open? Pathetic. I snipped the bars off with my teeth, one by one, and stepped out into the hall.
There were no cats here that I could have fun with, but there were a lot of screaming bipeds in the boxes around me. I might have been able to chew on them, but it would have been tedious to extract them. I left them behind as I moved down the hall. I could smell more of them coming. Ah, here they were, the blue-and-black-skinned ones, what did you call that, clothing. They were pointing black rectangles at me. Shouting something. Maybe a challenge? I rushed towards them.
before I reached their position, several loud bangs went off, and I collapsed in pain. My ears simply could not handle that level of noise. And there were a few dark spots in my fur where small trickles of blood were leaking out, as if someone had slashed me with extreme finesse. Odd.
I screamed. The sound echoed in the hall, causing my ears more pain, but then, sound isn't quite so bad when you're the one making it. The bipeds dopped their rectangles and put their hands over their ears.
With that opening, I ran straight into both of them. I knocked one into a wall, and the other I tread upon. One of their bones cracked beneath my feet. Well, that was decisive.
A corridor to the right stood open, and I charged down it. More bipeds appeared. How about that? I screamed, and they writhed in pain, halting before they could get closer. I crashed into them and through, and their agonized cries were lost to my hearing as I took a left turn down another hall. Surely the open-air place was around here somewhere, and that was supposed to be where the flimsy barriers to exit were, if I recalled correctly. Doors, yes, they were called doors.
But this hallway had a new challenger, a strange little biped wearing a different sort of skin. A blue one that wrapped around him, like a snake's skin half-shed. Not that much of a threat, probably. I rushed towards him.
Before I was halfway there, fire roared right at me. I skidded to a halt.
The fire subsided, and the funny little blue biped waved his hands again. This time, the fire was a long snake leaving his hand, and it slithered in a circle around me. Then the flames leapt to the ceiling.
That was a mistake for the little blue fellow. If he'd left an opening that led to a trap, I might have fallen for that. But he left no opening, and that effectively cornered me. You know what happens to rats in corners.
I charged at the flames, and through, and landed right on top of the little blue man. I slashed at his face. I could have finished him right then and there. But there was something else I could do with him.
Give me what is Mine! I roared. Give me the horn! Give me what I want, and I will let the little blue man with the conjuring tricks go! Continue to resist me, and your funny little blue man dies! I want the Shofar!
Whatever a Shofar was. I remembered that it was important, in some manner. Wasn't that what I had come here for?
I am waiting!
Unfortunately, the little blue man wasn't. And I had forgotten to pin his arms. He waved his hands and a red light shone straight in my eyes.
I screamed in pain. Not that I needed my eyes all that much, but I wasn't going to be using them for much now.
I heard a roar, and I felt fire sear my skin. I screamed again.
Suddenly the room became very cold, and even I, with my massive body, began to shiver.
Then the fire roared again, and burned my paws.
And the temperature dropped again, getting even colder this time. It was getting more difficult to move. Hard to think of anything besides laying down and sleeping peacefully --
I screamed again, and louder, and I felt the hall press me on either side, as well as the ceiling. Were the walls closing in? I reared up, and pushed through the stucco. No walls were going to hold me. I deliberately lurched to the side and broke through a cheap drywall. There were funny glowing boxes strewn over the floor here, and more scraming bipeds. One had their legs pinned under a toppled desk. Amusing.
Humans. These were called humans. How did I remember that?
Ah, well. I barged through the office, scattering cubicles and people in my wake. Maybe that Shofar was here somewhere. It was supposed to be made of bone, right? I knew the smell of bone. All too well.
Something smelled like bone in one of the filing cabinets I had overturned.
Open all the cabinets! I roared. Bring out the horn, and give it to me! Then I shall leave.
Officers raced into the room. They began firing their rectangeles -- guns, as I recalled -- at me. But whatever they were using for ammo, I couldn't feel it. The noise was annoying, though. I swept my tail and knocked their feet from under them.
Those who were still standing were opening every filing cabinet they could. One of them grabbed a likely-looking thing made of bone, and held it up to me.
I took it in my jaws, just behind the long front teeth, and headed straight for the exit. A few more walls, a curved desk someone had been sitting at, maybe I'd knoced them over, I hoped not, that would have been rude, and...yes, that would have been rude.
That would have been very rude.
As well as everything else I'd done in the last twenty minutes.
Maybe "rude" was too soft a word. And why was I eight feet tall at the shoulder? And why did I have fur? Why was my shofar in my mouth? What had I --
Oh dear, dear dear dear.
I crashed through the front doors, leapt across the road, and finally let go of the rat form. Then I ducked into an alley and Sped away to some place it would take them more than five seconds to find me.
I sat beneath a tree in Central Park, in the cold, rainy March night, shivering.
I could hear plenty of sirens coming from here and there, heading towards Harlem. Police sirens. Fire trucks.
I felt warm water pooling in my eyes.
A tentacle that glowed like moonlight appeared from a hole at the base of a tree.
I can keep you warm, if you like.
"If -- you -- would be -- so kind."
The tentacle spread and flattened into a shing cloak, which spread across my shoulders and around my body. A bit conspicuous, but I wasn't planning to stay here long.
Why are you crying, girl?
"Why -- why do you -- think? You -- were -- the -- one -- who -- suggested -- all -- this."
Tears upon the earth, on a night like tonight, were like coals to Newcastle, but it's not like I could have stopped them.
All I did was suggest that you still had power. The desire to get the horn back was yours. The choice to go back in there was yours. The choice to change form was yours. I just...made a suggestion. I was trying to make you feel better.
"You knew -- that I was -- going to -- go insane!"
I had the confidence that, the way you were going about it, you would be able to retain more of yourself. And look, that's just what you did! You remembered who you were in time to stop yourself from destroying the...ENTIRE place...and you managed to bring yourself out of the form! That's good. That's better than the Beast of Gevaudan, right?
"I feel like the fucking Beast of Gevaudan right now, you asshole! You're in league with Coyote, aren't you? You tricked me into this!"
All of us beings and spirits are in leage with Coyote.
And Coyote is, in his way, in leage with the city. You shut him out of your considerations. That's a shame. And...I think, when you reflect on this night, you'll realize that you were the one who tricked yourself. It's usually the con man within who does the best job tricking you, after all. Convincing you to do exactly what you want to do. You never even think to question yourself.
" Well, you had the chance to stop me! You could have witheld certain relevant information in order to protect me and prevent me from turning into a FUCKING MURDERER!"
Well, in a court of law, I'd say it would be more along the lines of manslaughter, and we could probably get you off on the grounds of insanity --
"Shut up! Just shut up! Give Nonna back her eels and stick to patrolling my neighborhood, you're no good for me!"
I threw off the cloak, and grabbed my shofar from where it lay. I reared back my arm to throw it into the bush.
But then, the Rabbi would be heartbroken if I threw away his gift, wouldn't he?
I mean, besides the heartbreak he already had coming.
As did Nonna.
And everyone in the Synagogue, and all of my cousins.
So much for community.
I stepped into the Speed Walk, and moved in a random direction. Maybe I'd keep moving forever and never touch this city again. Only to see it, and the pain of the people, and be unable to help them, like one of the wandering ghosts that Jacob Marley showed to Ebenezer Scrooge. The ones who'd been venal and selfish in life, and, in death, were cursed to see everyone and help no one.
Maybe this was my death.