This is an old story I finished a couple of years back and shopped around to various literary agents but never managed to gain much interest in it. However, the other day, I happened upon it, sat down and read a bit of it and found that I kind of still liked it. It might do with a bit of cleaning up and some stronger wording, which I might get around to in the future; however, it was still something I quite liked. I still remember much of the old magic that touched me while I was writing it and while I’m working on some other new stories now, I thought I’d turn this old story into a serial fiction on my blog for the time being. I aim to add a new chapter each week so keep checking back if you read this and find you like it!
I’ve hovered between a few different names for this story and at this point I’m just calling it A Reason for Being. It’s somewhat of a cross between urban fantasy and paranormal romance and tells the story from two points of view: a somewhat restless, highly energetic, lonely girl named Meredith caught in a troubled romance with a magician, and an old friend of hers, Iris, who has secrets of her own to hide. Meredith is the main protagonist of the story and her story is told in third person with Iris occasionally popping up in the first person. But enough of this. I won’t give away much more, but let you read on…
A Reason for Being
Meredith was having a bad day even before she sensed the magic behind her.
She had been working on repairs at Ivan’s Café, which was one of half a dozen minuscule shops and restaurants on Shoestring Lane hard hit by yesterday’s summer storm. The storm had appeared literally out of the blue, splintering rooftops and ripping up signs and trees. There were those who thought it must be an ill wind conjured by a magician, but InterPara and the magi scholars at Berninski University were quick to discredit any such ideas. The insurance companies breathed a sigh of relief at this. Magical disaster policies were notoriously messy beasts, with a high risk for catastrophically huge payouts. As Bern Waldorf of Waldorf Mutual Insurance once declared, “Give me a nice, simple natural disaster any day.”
Ordinarily, Meredith would have been in her element on a day like this. The weather was clear and bright after the storm, the sun shining down strong as she moved like a miniature whirlwind herself, clearing debris, re-potting plants and re-sculpting the brick wall which lined the courtyard out the back of Ivan’s Café. It was hard, dirt-in-nails manual labour, the kind of work Meredith liked best because she could pour her relentless energy into the doing of it. The café staff, most of whom she had known since high school, came out often for a cigarette and a chat while a mix of blues and reggae played on the radio out back.
By afternoon, however, the music had given way to a talk station out of deference to the old Russian regulars who sat in their personal corner of the courtyard, drinking strong black tea and chain-smoking cigarettes while playing chess.
And that was when it all began.
Joe Paton, the patron saint of talk radio, was in top form that day with his particular brand of controversy and shock jock tactics. Freak summer storms and floundering emergency services had been all the rage yesterday, but today Joe had bigger fish to fry. Talk radio, Meredith had long figured out, was a modern witch hunt, and Joe was a witch hunter who longed for the good old days of Salem.
The topic of the day was, ‘Wild Ones: Society’s Greatest Supernatural Plague?’ It was a topic that popped up from time to time, and had been revived especially today because two towns away, an Incident had occurred where a Wild One had lost control of his powers and killed two teenage boys.
Public outrage was rife. Joe made much of the fact that the Incident had occurred just a little over a hundred miles from Berninski. He reminded his audience that Wild Ones were perennial drifters, that that very same Wild One who had killed those two boys could just as easily be amongst them today – “in your supermarket, outside your children’s school, sitting right next to you on the bus. Yes, that’s right, folks. Think about that.” He emphasized over and over again the fact that two promising young men had had their lives cut short by a supernatural menace, “a supernatural menace that shouldn’t even exist.”
Joe’s first interview was with the mother of one of the boys, who called for the lynching of the Wild One. “My son is dead,” she sobbed, “and no one can bring him back to life. He’s lost his life while this bastard gets to walk free. He won’t even be punished because he’s a Wild One. What justice is there in this world?” Joe could barely contain the glee in his voice even as he oozed sympathy – a grieving mother’s tears were like manna to radio ratings.
Next came two experts on the supernatural, one ‘for’ Wild Ones and the other ‘against’. The one ‘against’ went first. “Well, Joe,” he drawled. “I can say nothing else but that this Incident reinforces the old arguments that Wild Ones are amongst the greatest evil ever to walk this earth.” He went on to point out how Wild Ones invariably got given “special treatment,” reminding Paton that no Wild One was ever brought to justice for the crimes they perpetrated, for Wild Ones, by their very nature, could never be incarcerated or punished. That made them far more dangerous than any demon, for at least magicians and InterPara had a fighting chance at controlling those ungodly miscreants. Who could control a Wild One, a creature who lost control at the slightest attempt to control them?
That brought Joe to the next age-old topic: ‘Wild Ones or Demons: Which Are Worse?’ The expert was firm in his answer. “Wild Ones, every time. They walk amongst us, they look just like us, but they’re not like us, the sneaky bastards, how can we ever protect ourselves from them?” Joe pointed out that thanks to the Vienna Identification Treaty of 1843, all persons were required to carry an identity card detailing their status – OH (ordinary human), magician, demon, Wild One, etc. – and that each InterPara chapter was notified whenever a Wild One entered their district.
True enough, the expert allowed, but identity cards can be forged. The black market was rife with expert forgers who could fool anyone with their skill. Forgers who charged a fortune for their services. And how do Wild Ones pay for these services when they can’t even hold down a job? By resorting to crime. So much worse than any drug addict robbing to feed his addiction; at least we know these people are driven by an illness, a mental disease that can yet be cured. But – brace yourselves, boys and girls – there is no cure for being a Wild One!
That was the cue for Joe and the expert to spend the next five minutes hashing out the oft-debated theories of how Wild Ones first came about, of which there were plenty. Wild Ones were born out of sin; they were the children of Lilith and Lucifer; they were a punishment from the devil; they were an invention of the devil himself. A curse upon mankind for some unfortunate mistake, probably a mistake committed by women, for they were the ones to give birth to Wild Ones and how could a man have anything to do with a Wild One child that had neither his genes nor those of his wife or partner? (This last one caused a burst of outraged calls from women, calls which Joe parlayed into a short, animated debate before hanging up dismissively on them). It was with reluctance that Joe ended the interview because it was time for an ad break and the sponsors wanted a piece of the spotlight too.
After the ads, came the ‘for’ expert, earnest but not as exciting as his predecessor. He reminded Joe that the dead boys had been part of a gang of teens attempting to mug the Wild One, a gang of teens who, when they found he hadn’t any money, had resorted to beating him instead. The Wild One had been covered in bruises and blood when the police found him and had suffered several broken bones. No hospital would treat him and an InterPara healer had to be brought in. Well, rightly so, Joe asserted. You couldn’t risk a Wild One losing control at a hospital and potentially harming hundreds of sick people, not to mention visiting families and friends and the hospital staff.
But that’s my point, the expert insisted. Wild Ones are denied all the basic human rights we take for granted. Health services, health insurance, any kind of insurance basically, basic education, legal rights, and that’s just the beginning. People need to cease their prejudice against Wild Ones. If no one would hire a Wild One, how could you blame them for resorting to crime to pay for basic needs like food and shelter? It was a vicious social cycle no one was prepared to break.
Joe had his answers ready for such a question. It had already been proven that Wild Ones do not respond well to authority, hence the name Wild Ones. That was why they didn’t do well in school, why they could never hold down a job. Was it really a wonder that most parents refused to let their children attend school alongside Wild One kiddies? Could any employer, any hard-working, salt-of-the-earth, honest-living business owner, be faulted for refusing to take a risk on an employee who would refuse to listen to his orders and potentially destroy his business or hurt his staff?
But it wasn’t the Wild One’s fault that he lost control of his powers, the expert pleaded. He was provoked, he was beaten, he was only trying to defend himself as anyone would. Well, tigers can’t help hunting humans either, Joe answered, but that doesn’t mean we let them walk freely amongst us. Humans have a right to safety. Wild Ones aren’t human ergo they shouldn’t be allowed the same civil rights as humans. Why should we be punished for their inability to control themselves?
Joe’s Topic of the Day was a hot success. The calls and e-mails poured in, listeners eager to air their views. Wild Ones get away with murder – literally. Send them all to an island, and if they get antsy about their incarceration, they only had themselves to blow up. The rest of us could just sit back, have a beer, and wait for the fireworks.
Meredith listened closely, in spite of herself, as she placed the finishing touches to the courtyard wall. She also listened in on the staff commentary, though she knew she didn’t really want to.
“My cousin lives in that town and she knew those boys,” Gail told the others. “She said they’re real trouble, that they’ve been in and out of juvvie for beating up on other kids and that one of them got charged with attempted rape once, but was let off due to lack of evidence.”
Samantha leaned forward. “Okay, so the boys were trouble. But that doesn’t deny them the right to live. I don’t know about you guys, but Wild Ones give me the total creeps. I’m glad there’s, like, hardly any of them in Berninski.” She tucked a piece of silky blonde hair behind her ear. “I think the only good thing about them is that they’re so fidgety, they have to keep moving from place to place. Keeps them out of our hair. Imagine if we had to provide social welfare for crazy time bombs like them? Our tax dollars going to these good-for-nothing troublemakers?”
Joshua nodded. “Can’t blame those boys for having a go at a Wild One. I’d do the same if I weren’t afraid of them going Wild on me.”
“But that’s the thing,” Gail said. “Those boys didn’t know that guy was a Wild One. I mean, Wild Ones look just like everyone else, you know? And they can’t be branded or made to wear an identifying mark because – well, they’re so subversive by nature. You can’t force a Wild One to do something they don’t want to do without them going Wild on you.”
Even Ivan, who had come outside to view the finished product of Meredith’s wall, chimed in. “I went to school with a Wild One, believe it or not,” he said. “We used to play chicken with him. We’d dare each other to get close enough to the Wild One to push or kick him, then run away as fast as we could before he went Wild on us. None of the teachers wanted him in their class. They all ignored him. No one would sit near him.”
“What happened to him?” Gail asked.
“He just stopped coming to school one day. No one asked any questions, no one said anything. We were just relieved he was no longer there.” Ivan shook his head. “Joshua’s right. It’d creep me out to think that even one of them was on a bus with me. Give me terrorists, or even demons, any day. At least you can reason with them to some degree. You can’t even reason with a Wild One.”
“You used to do business with demons, didn’t you, Ivan?” Mary demanded. “Back in Russia.”
Ivan grew coy. “Now who told you that?”
“I did,” called Pasha from the corner, grinning a toothless grin.
“Oh, so it was you, was it? And did you tell her what you used to do with the monkey demons, selling those watermelon rockets on the black market?”
The others grouped around, demanding Ivan and Pasha tell them more stories of their heyday in Russia, eager to know, but not daring to ask, if the men were escaped criminals or former members of the Russian Mafia, a topic that was especially rife among the café staff. Joshua, a huge fan of mafia movies like The Godfather and Eastern Promises, swore he’d seen tattoos of church tower spires peeking from the back of Ivan’s collar, a sure sign he’d been in a Russian prison. There were the usual jokes that Ivan might be part-demon, but that was mainly due to his oft-crabby disposition and reputation as a tough taskmaster with his staff. The topic of Wild Ones, fascinating as it was, was soon forgotten.
Meredith ducked into the restroom where she washed up as best as she could, swapping her old shorts and sneakers for a red dress with a leather halter collar studded with red stones and a pair of heels. Her hand shook as she applied her lip gloss. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Breathe, Meredith. She opened her eyes. Her hand was trembling harder than ever.
When she emerged, she was relieved to see the radio had been turned off. The old Russians were gone and the others were closing up the café.
“Meredith, we’re going to the pub after this,” Samantha called. “Come join us.”
Meredith quickly shook her head. On any other day, she would have said yes right away. But today… “Not today, guys. I… I promised Iris I’d hang out with her.”
Her answer was met with half a dozen protestations. “Oh, come on, it’s a Friday night!” “Yeah, Ivan owes you for fixing up his courtyard for free.” “Aga, Meredith, I buy you drink.” “Yeah, Friday night won’t be the same without you, Meredith!” “Please?”
But Meredith was already out the door, forcing an apologetic smile even as she shook her head. “Some other time, guys.”
Ignoring their calls, she ducked around the corner and immediately broke into a run. Shouldering her bag, she dodged the after-work crowd with an agile ease that would have football and rugby coaches clamouring to sign her up on their team. She picked up her speed, piling the wound-up energy inside of her into her run, transferring the volatility into speed and agility, swift kinetic motion.
On any other day, she would have been the first one up for a drink, for the start of what looked to be a big night out on the town. She remembered how she and Samantha had gotten drunk just the other night, laughing and belting out off-key songs as they stumbled down the street, arm in arm. Then she remembered how Samantha had leaned forward that afternoon, the look in her eye as she denounced Wild Ones, and Meredith shivered. She couldn’t get the image out of her head of Joshua voicing what he’d like to do to Wild Ones given the chance they wouldn’t go Wild on him, of the fear and doubt in Gail’s voice, the people she called her friends. Denouncing Wild Ones.
She shook her head vigorously to rid herself of the images and switched direction, this time making for Gasoline Centre, the clubbing heart of Berninski. She ducked down a couple of back alleys to avoid the ever-increasing sidewalk traffic, and shot out across the busy corner of Bedford and Tyvelvet, causing more than a few cars to brake and honk. As she skidded round the honking cars with an apologetic wave, the wind changed direction and that was when she felt it.
She smelt it first, like the scent of a storm on its way, before the metallic-tinged sea wave washed over her, engulfing her senses and setting off tiny prickles like electrical jolts along the back of her arms and neck. Fear and adrenaline surged through her, along with a crazy-hyper-excited-violent sensation she recognised, a sensation which was far more addictive and thrilling and scary and out of control than any drug or alcohol high, a sensation that could only be called Wild.
She came to a stumbling halt on the corner of Bedford and Tyvelvet, and gasped sharply. No, not here, not now in the middle of all these humans, the going home crush, not when she was already agitated from everything that had occurred that afternoon. For she recognised that scent all too well. It was the one thing guaranteed to make her go crazy, that would make any Wild One go crazy, more effective than subjugation, or teenage boys looking to beat you up, or your friends turning on you because they’d discovered what you really were. The one thing that was really dangerous to a Wild One because it made them dangerous to everyone else.