A Windstalker Story
By K. M. Baginski
“You can barely stand,” Sam snickered. “You need to get over being so empathic.
It’s a cliché.” His voice sounded oddly distant for his proximity, like a dummy whose ventriloquist was hiding in plain sight.
As they stood in a convex-walled, oval-shaped room of Sam’s submarine headquarters. Drew couldn’t wrap his head around what he had to do in order to satisfy his imminent hunger. His chest felt fizzy, but at the moment he wasn’t so tempted to eat.
He should do the world a favor and starve himself. There were others like him, like Drew himself, sitting at computer stations. They stared at screens with images of what looked like hieroglyphics. But no two screens looked identical. Each image was stilled in a different part of the same place. An enclosed space. The cave at the base of that mountain
Drew heard Sam mention once.
Drew had killed before, but it wasn’t an ambition. That was a one-time deal. Survival. He didn’t hunger for ending anyone else’s life, and couldn’t pretend he did.
“This is a very different hunger, Andrew,” Sam said. His eyes were warm and reassuring, as if he had this kind of talk with many young men. It was the kind of cutesy demeanor an experienced kindergarten teacher would use with a toddler. “And soon it’ll force its way out of you.”
“Then why don’t I feel the urge when I look at a human?” Drew asked, determined to protest. There was no primal need to fulfill. Only guilt. “I still feel like one.
And I’d have to kill them. It’s impossible. It’s like I’m staring at a mirrored image of myself when I focus on them. How can you kill what you used to be, without conscience?”
“And you think they’d have a second thought about killing you if you were a cow?” Sam persisted. He was either hiding something, or wanted to brainwash Drew. Why else would he answer a question with another question?
“What does that have to do with anything?” Drew asked. “That’s just the way the food chain goes, Sam. You know, the natural order of things.”
“My point exactly.” Sam nodded, “Humans kill lower animals regularly for food because they are higher up on the food chain. Why is hunting so acceptable for them, but not for us?”
“Hunting is respectable because the hunters try to prevent unnecessary animal suffering.”
“But hunters still kill and eat the animals.”
“And farmers even nurse their animals from infancy, only to slaughter them in the end, correct?”
“It’s still not the same.”
“I used to be one.”
“Let’s say a pig or chicken was suddenly elevated to human. Do you think either would contemplate the feelings of the other chickens and pigs while it’s starving?”
“That’s an impossible question to answer.”
“Then I’ll answer it the simplest way. No.” Sam was losing patience. His eyes rolled and drifted off to the side before closing.
He took a breath, then said, “Aside from the hunger you’ll undoubtedly feel, you need to understand your rank in the food chain.”
A woman with a crisp-ironed grey skirt and white blouse approached Sam with a printout. He turned his back to Drew and walked over to a computer monitor. “Human nature is not as altruistic as you’d like to believe,” he continued. “Every person you have ever known has used someone else to get something they’ve wanted. A good grade in school, friends, popularity, acceptance, a job, a raise, love, money, affection, sex…”
Sam paused to read something on the screen. “Yes, there’s always an exchange in nature. Simple survival has no faults. And it’s even more important to understand that death comes for everyone. Right now, their death sustains your new life. The sooner you learn to accept that, the less bothered you’ll be.”
Sam’s voice drifted farther away, and so did Drew surroundings. Sam’s ventriloquist was leaving. The metallic room was shifting in peripheral corners of Drew’s eyesight. He turned his head slightly toward the alteration, then back to Sam, but the entire scene had been erased.
He was in a beige hall now. It was wide, following a circular path—and empty. There were dark brown doors on his left, each numbered, and evenly spaced. He knew this hall well, and opened the door numbered 4b. His parents’ old apartment. He held his breath in the still, quiet hall, touched the doorknob, and pushed the door open slowly. Drew saw the face of his father immediately. He once wanted to save him. It was the first thing he ever wanted to do while he was growing up. A childhood wish made when he still loved the man. That hope, like so many, died incremental deaths the older he got. He faced his dad, who was lying on the kitchen floor where he died. He wasn’t moving, the bloodstain still fresh near his heart. Drew was supposed to be human when he pulled the trigger. According to Sam, he embodied humanity even then. His father’s death for the family’s peace, an exchange. Also a fact of life, like the food chain. Drew backed away, pulling the door shut.
The hall was no longer quiet. Something stirred in the distance.
When he looked to his left, he saw a young girl, elementary school age, sitting on the floor, her legs crisscrossed. Her long, dark, curly hair swayed from one side to the next as she circled her finger in midair pointing toward the grey tiled floor. “Shwish. Shul,” she sang slowly, winding her hand faster. “It was a cyclone.”
“What was?” Drew got lower, ready to kneel to her level. Oddly, he didn’t feel weak from hunger now.
She flicked her eyes toward him, but didn’t focus on him, didn’t answer, while her finger continued to cycle in silence. She was withdrawn, just the way he was as a child whenever his father’s tone was too harsh. Maybe the answer would be too traumatic to say aloud. He got the sense she didn’t want to elaborate. Drew lowered himself to the floor, squatting in the hopes she would speak candidly.
Someone exhaled in the unseen distance. Drew heard weight shifting from nowhere, as if cued to enter a play.
“Don’t you mean who?” said a man, strolling in from the opposite direction. The mystery man looked middle-aged, and wore a Yankee cap, denim shorts, a white T-shirt, and sneakers. He smiled and rubbed the head of the sitting girl before approaching Drew.
“Don’t you remember anything?” he asked, pointing a finger between himself and the girl. “You ate us.”
“I–I what?” Drew took a step back. This man’s clothing was familiar. So was the young girl. But he didn’t know why. Ate them?
“Well,” the familiar man said. “We are connected now, whether you want to remember or not.” The man tucked a hand in his front pocket. “I’m Leo, and that lovely ten-year-old is Heather.”
Leo’s eyes drifted over Drew’s shoulder. There was something behind him. “Watch yourself, now. Being human makes you just as defenseless as we were.”
Drew turned in the direction of Leo’s gaze.
It all came back.
He was displaced again. This time, out in the open on an empty city street. He stood on the blacktop road in daylight. There weren’t any cars in sight. But in the buildings on each side of him were people staring out at him through the windows. They didn’t say anything, or make gestures, but he knew they were aware of him. And now he was aware of them.
“I was so hungry then.” He whispered a confession. “I didn’t even know what I was doing.”
He saw the faces of every person whose energy he had depleted completely. Countless men and women.
The ten-year-old girl.
The result of his meaningless life. And the only mark he left on the world.
What was happening? What was this place? Purgatory.
He wasn’t always a monster. Killing wasn’t the only thing he was capable of.
He missed his friend Chelsea. She knew he hadn’t done it intentionally. He thought just of her name.
He scanned the faces of the people watching him, turning in a trance-like circle until he heard another stirring. From about a block ahead came a little girl, skipping down the road in a white dress. She was shorter than Heather.
“Drew?” she called, picking up her pace “Come with me. We’ll be safe inside.”
“Why, where are we?” he said, stretching his hand out for her. As she got closer, he recognized her angelic face and long, dark hair.
“Someplace real. They brought you here, but we have to go back.” She was close enough to whisper. “If they get too close, you’ll let them in. C’mon, let’s hurry!”
She pointed toward the direction she came from and started to run. He glanced back at the faces, and they turned away from the windows quickly. He could hear one shouting “Get him!”
He ran after the young girl. The doors of those buildings on each side of him opened. He didn’t watch long enough to see the people rush through it. But he heard their running steps thundering behind him.
“In here,” the little girl shouted without glancing back. “Close the door behind you.” She darted into an entrance, and he could almost feel the people gaining on him. He ran inside, and turned to see the legs of the throng just steps away.
Reaching for the door, he thrust all his energy to shut it quickly.
Once the door was closed, he couldn’t hear anything.
“Oh, my God,” he gasped, barely able to catch a breath.
“Drew, you coming?” He turned to see the little girl peeking over the stairwell, one flight up, her brows furrowed.
He followed her into what looked like a bedroom. The walls were a dingy tan color, caked with layers of paint. A pink and purple bike leaned against a radiator, and a kind of imitation wood medium-density fiberboard TV cart stood only a foot away from the vanity dresser, placed in the middle of the tiny room. The pretty little girl sat on the purple bedspread and patted the space next to her. He knew that gesture well.
“Chelsea?” He sat next to her, realizing she might have surfaced from his thoughts. He stared into those familiar eyes, studying the curve of her nose, chin, and cheeks.
“Mm-hmm,” she nodded. He felt himself smile. When he lifted his hand to touch her face, he had to stop himself.
“Why are you so young?” he asked, still amazed. He wanted to hug and kiss her, but their age difference made it seem…wrong.
“It’s just the way you like to remember me.” She smiled. “We were closer at this age.”
His eyes felt heavy, like he was about the tear up.
A new sound hummed in the distance. He looked toward her bedroom door while the noise became closer and louder. A steady humming.
He turned back to Chelsea, but she went out of focus. When he reached out to touch her, he could still feel her. So he closed his eyes, hoping to reset them both.
The humming sound was at the forefront of his senses. He felt himself breathing.
When he opened his eyes again, he was sitting in a moving vehicle.
Copyright 2017 by Kisa Baginski
About K.M. Baginski:
Kisa Baginski is a middle school science teacher and author of the Windstalker Series. Her new novella, Rehumanized Drew (May 7, 2017) is a spinoff from Baginski’s debut novel, Windstalker: Awareness, and follows the plight of a man in his early 20s, Drew Royce. After turning into a “Windstalker”—a Nephilim subspecies who can transform into air/wind in order to feed on human organs for survival—Drew has managed to become human again, which forces him into hiding. Haunted by his disturbing actions as a Windstalker, Drew must decide between causing more harm to the human world or hiding out until death finds him.
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