Hello friends and fictional folk! (New intro I’m trying out) Sorry there was no update last week, I was still in Israel and I didn’t have time before hand to write out the next issue. But now I’m back and writing furiously! Here’s the next installment of the story! I’m really looking forward to the writing the next issue.
Please remember to comment, share, and subscribe! Hope you all enjoy!
The supermarket was in ruins. The entire glass front of the large shopping center was completely smashed, the means of their destruction—whole metal racks that had once held items for sale—lying strewn and twisted in the parking lot. Inside wasn’t any better. Produce, meat, and every other category of grocery carpeted the tiles, illuminated in the dark of early night by the half-light of the few fluorescent ceiling bulbs that hadn’t been smashed.
Emergency response workers of every type had arrived to the scene, as had a substantial crowd of onlookers. Firefighters pulled tools from their big, red trucks to pry open doors and lift shelves to check for any injured civilians. Said injured civilians were being treated by no less than three ambulances, though any physical wounds seemed superficial. Police searched the rubble and questioned witnesses still suffering from shock for clues as to who could have done this…or what.
Across the street, Natalie lurked with Daniel and Mr. Ross in the shadows of an alley. They’d made good time. Using the abandoned sewers, they got to the alley in a little under ten minutes, with only the slightest delay after they made a wrong turn at Albuquerque Street.
Natalie felt a chill run down her spine as she stared out at the destruction. It was unreal to think that a single living thing could create such wreckage. Even more unreal was that she had stood near that person not two ago. And she was supposed to go looking for that person.
She glanced at Daniel. He was staring at the supermarket scene with intense, almost giddy, fascination. To him, this was probably one of the most amazing things to ever happen. A comic book made real. And he expected her to be the hero of that comic book? Did he have any idea how terrified she was? She didn’t have the guts to be one of those spandex clad supermodels with god-like powers.
Turning away from those lofty expectations, she focused on what Mr. Ross was doing. He seemed to be fiddling with something on his phone, glancing between his screen and the supermarket with hard eyes. She missed her phone—it had gotten lost as Daniel was dragging her from the ark shard explosion—but those eyes were what really unsettled her. The easy going, fun history teacher had transformed into a competent field agent in a matter of seconds. He was in his element, she realized. Perhaps he truly enjoyed teaching, but this sort of work is what he had lived for during his prime.
Both Mr. Ross and Daniel were ready for this. They wanted this kind of world shattering adventure. One was returning to his glory days, the other escaping from his dull life as a bullied nerd.
So where did that leave her?
Mr. Ross’s phone pinged
“At last,” he sighed, pocketing the device. “The higher ups at ISRD managed to find agents to spare for us. Unfortunately, they won’t arrive for several hours. Until then we’re on our own for this.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Natalie said. “You ssay that like we’re going after whoever did that.”
She gestured to the wrecked supermarket.
“We are,” Mr. Ross confirmed.
Natalie gawked at him.
“I’m sssorry!” she spluttered. “Do you not sssee that ssstore? It looksss like a herd of elephantsss went through there. You’re ssuper taser did little more than sspook the persson we found in the sssewer. How are we ssupposssed to do anything to whoever did that? We already ruled out calling the police, but maybe we can wait for the agentss to show up and—”
“The agents likely won’t be any better. The police and military weren’t the only ones who rejected my wife’s patent, ISRD did as well. If we subdue the shard-pierced, then they will take them in for containment and search for a cure. But they will not hesitate to take the lethal option for taking down their target. Besides, we don’t want to let a shard-pierced cause any further destruction if we can help it.”
“‘Shard-pierced?’” Daniel asked.
“We might as well call them something,” Mr. Ross explained. “Monster sounded much too derogatory and shardling seemed rather childish.”
“Why not call them ‘hybrids’?”
“Oh, that’s actually much better considering their mixed DNA. Hybrids it is.”
“It doesssn’t matter what we call them!” Natalie snapped. She didn’t like hearing what she was discussed as if she wasn’t human. She’d had enough of that thanks to her mixed Chinese-American heritage thank you very much. “Whatever we-they are called, they can wreck a grocery store! How are we ssupposssed to ‘sssubdue’ ssomeone like that?”
“Well,” Daniel said, rubbing his chin, “we have the super taser, which can at least do something. And we have you.”
“Me?” Natalie asked, her voice maybe squeaking an octave higher.
“You machine gun punched the other one.”
“I don’t even know how I did that!”
“It’s quite simple,” Mr. Ross said. Natalie and Daniel turned to him. “Snakes strike with incredible speed when biting. Similar muscle groups have likely formed in your arms and been enhanced to accommodate for a human-sized body. Thus your punches can strike with the combined speed of a human and a cobra.”
“See!” Daniel said. “You have superpowers!”
Natalie blinked and looked down at her arms. She didn’t feel superpowered. She felt like plain old Natalie. Sure she had gymnastics and cheerleader training, but she didn’t feel powerful, she never had.
Then she noticed the little splotches of temperature in her vision. Infrared vision.
She curled the fingers of one hand backwards. Hyper flexibility.
Her other hand tightened into a fist. Super-fast strikes.
A memory surged to her mind’s eye like a drowning man bursting from the surface of a lake. Her mother in full uniform scolding her after she’d gotten into a fight with bullies for calling her friend ugly.
“I don’t put my life on the line out there everyday just for you to get in trouble!”
“They were mean!”
“People are mean, Natalie. You can’t stop them from doing that. You can only stop them from breaking the law. And I don’t want you stopping crime. That’s my job. Your job is to go to school and be safe, to get a safe job, a safe husband, and live a safe life. That’s why I do what I do. I take the risks so you don’t have to. Please just stay safe!”
Natalie clamped down hard on the memory.
I was safe. And look where it got me, mom.
Now she was faced with an actual choice with actual risks. It was like sitting at the top of a rollercoaster hill, fear and anticipation in equal measure. People were in danger and she could do something about it, she had to do something about it. Both Daniel and Mr. Ross believed she could help. She might get hurt, but she was perhaps the only one with the ability to go toe-to-toe with the other hybrids. Shouldn’t she at least try?
Natalie clenched both fists. Even so, her hands still shook.
“Ok,” she breathed. “Where should we ssstart?”
“First, we need a way to track whoever this hybrid is,” Mr. Ross said.
Natalie frowned. “I don’t think I can help with that. There’ss too much foot traffic to ssee any leftover heat from footprintss and, lasst I checked, ssnakesss aren’t known for their ssenssse of ssmell.”
“Not their direct sense of smell, no. But have you attempted using your tongue to gather air particles and send them to your olfactory glands by use of the roof of your mouth?”
“You know when snakes flick out their tongue?” Daniel said. “He’s asking if you’ve tried to do that yet.”
Natalie cringed and shook her head. The change to her tongue was one of the things she was most self-conscious about because of the speech impediment it gave her. She’d been trying to minimize the hissing, but she hadn’t been very successful yet, especially with words with two S sounds in them. Essentially, she’d tried to do everything but use her tongue like a snake would.
“Give it a try, my dear,” Mr. Ross said. “See if you can sense anything unusual.”
Natalie hesitated, then mentally berated herself. If she was going to use her new body to help people she needed to use all of it, regardless of how weird it made her feel.
She slithered forward a step to be just a little closer to the supermarket. Then, nervously, she stuck out her tongue. Immediately it darted forward, as if excited to be free of her mouth, and wagged up and down in the air like own of those springy doorstop things she played with as a kid when bored or grounded.
She finally got a good look at what her tongue had become. Sure, she had felt that it had changed in her mouth, but now that she saw it in all its “glory” she couldn’t help but shiver at the wave of unease she experienced at the sight of it. No longer a human tongue, it had transformed into a long, straight, cherry red thing that split near the end into two thinner strips of muscle.
She didn’t seem to be smelling anything extra either, so she sucked it back into her mouth, not wanting to see the thing longer than she had to. She was just turning to tell the guys that it hadn’t worked when her tongue pressed itself against the roof of her mouth.
A wave of sensation caused her to flinch violently. She knew taste and smell were linked, but what she experienced now was like the ultimate fusion of the two senses. They carried much more detail together than apart. Natalie caught the musk of the many sweaty bodies in the crowd, the acrid heat of vehicular exhaust, and even a buffet of groceries all hitting her brain together like a truck.
“Whoa,” she breathed.
“Did you catch anything?” Daniel asked.
“Too much. Let me try again.”
More eager now to experience the strange sensation again, Natalie flicked out her tongue once more. Following her instincts, she left it out longer and swept it further up and down through the air.
As she reeled her tongue back in and pressed it to the roof of her mouth, the wave of senses washed over her again. Now that she was prepared for it, she could parse all the smell-tastes much more neatly. She could almost pick out each individual fruit from the store. Two smell-tastes however, permeated through nearly all the others. The first was strange and sweet, but not in the way of pure sugar. The other was sharp, lingering, and harsh. It made her want to shrink away from it.
She frowned. Both of those smell-tastes were familiar. But the two of them together didn’t make sense.
Her tongue sampled the air again. There they were. No mistaking them this time.
“Anything, my dear?” Mr. Ross asked.
“Yeah,” she answered slowly, “two thingss, but I don’t think you’re going to believe me?”
“What are they?” Daniel pressed.
“I ssmell honey,” she said, “and sskunk.”
There was a pause.
“Do skunks eat honey?” Daniel asked Mr. Ross.
“Yes, but not often,” the teacher answered, stroking his beard. “Usually they go after the grubs inside the honeycomb for protein rather than the honey itself.”
“Ssso we’re dealing with a sskunk-human hybrid?” Natalie asked.
“It may not merely be part skunk, part human. The hybrid we encountered in the sewers was more than just one creature added onto a human frame.” He glanced at the crowd outside the supermarket and the rapidly darkening sky. “We best stick to the shadows and get to the bottom of this. Can you tell where this hybrid was going?”
Natalie nodded. It was weird knowing which direction a taste was coming from, but there was a definite pull from where the smell-tastes were coming from.
“Whoever it wass didn’t have good mannerss,” she said. “There are globss of honey on the ground and on walls. They alsso came through thiss alley when esscaping, sso I have a good trail to follow.”
“Well then,” Mr. Ross said, adjusting the shoulder holster hiding the super taser under his tweed coat, “lead on McDuff.”
They searched the streets for nearly a full hour.
Once she knew what it was she was tasting the air for, Natalie could easily follow the trail. The only difficulty was sticking to the shadows and alleyways to avoid the growing nightlife of the city. Daniel and Mr. Ross did a good job as lookouts though, so there were only a few close calls.
Eventually they rounded a corner and reached a construction sight between two office buildings where, presumably, a third one was being built. Some crude scaffolding had been assembled so far, but the majority was still a big, flat area covered in hard dirt, sand, and power tools.
Natalie stopped. She would have kept following the trail, but a spot of heat stood out in her infrared vision. It was hunched over and almost completely still except for a few jerking movements of where she assumed its head and shoulders were.
“What is it?” Daniel whispered, stepping up to her side.
“They’re here,” she whispered back.
“Really? What are they doing?”
“I don’t know. Nothing right now.” She turned to Mr. Ross. “Ssso, what do I do now?”
Her teacher scanned the construction site. “I suggest you approach as a friend.”
“Jussst me?” she squeaked.
“No, my dear, of course not. We shall remain near at all times to assist you. I merely meant that you should take the lead in conversing with whoever this hybrid is. After all, they are likely frightened by the experience of becoming part animal, so I imagine seeing someone else who has been transformed, rather than a normal human, will make them more susceptible to diplomacy.”
Natalie swallowed, her throat dry as her scales. She had talked a big game to herself back at the supermarket, but now. She had no idea what to say and only the vaguest idea of how to fight from the little self defense her mother had taught her—sure her grandma had shown her some tai chi, but it had been more physical meditation than martial arts training.
Plus, the weird smell-taste combo raised too many questions. Why honey? Why was a skunk-human hybrid so desperate for hungry that they would destroy a grocery store for the stuff? And how did mixing skunk DNA with human DNA give someone super strength?
Something was wrong, she knew it.
She heard a scraping sound and turned to see Daniel hefting a crowbar like a baseball bat.
“We got your back,” he said, giving her a shaky smile.
A chuckle escaped her. If he was going in there without superpowers, surely she could do it too.
Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she carefully slithered toward the shadows of the scaffolding. Mr. Ross and Daniel followed.
The shafts of lights piercing through the lattice of support beams that was the building so far did little to illuminate the space. If anything, the uneven illumination made it harder for Natalie’s eyes to adjust. It also gave the whole place an eerie vibe that set her scales crawling.
Luckily, with her infrared vision, she knew that they were alone, save for the hybrid who she made sure to keep in her field of view.
Near the middle of the construction, they came to a room hidden by thick plastic curtains. Natalie could hear sounds that she could only describe as snuffling and slurping, a low rumbling would roll out to her every few seconds. She flicked out her tongue and got the mixed smell-taste of honey and skunk odor stronger than ever. It was in this room, she knew, that the hybrid was doing…whatever it was doing.
But those noises were not human, and they definitely weren’t skunk either.
She slipped past the curtains as quietly as possible and slithered into the room.
Just like with her heat sight, she saw a hunched figure sitting with their back to her in a corner near a support beam. Now however, she could see that the hybrid was covered in a thick layer of two-toned fur, black with a white stripe down the spine. A big bushy tail lay sprawled out on the floor behind them.
I guess they really are just part skunk? So why the honey?
Dozens of bottles of the sticky, amber liquid were piled on the floor around the hybrid. Many more empty ones lay strewn about the rest of the less-than-half-built room. Even as she hesitantly scooted forward on her tail, Natalie watched as a newly emptied bottle was tossed into the air and another full one was snatched from the pile. More of the slurping and snuffling sounds she’d heard before started.
She was just trying to think up a way to get this person’s attention without also getting immediately attacked when the noises abruptly stopped.
The figure shifted, turning. A large head, snout filled with fangs dripping honey emerged from the mass of fur. It fixed her with one huge eye and Natalie realized that she had been terribly right. This wasn’t just a human-skunk hybrid.
She watched in growing horror as the hybrid stood, stretching to a height of over seven feet tall. Their shoulders were twice as wide as hers and their limbs were like furred tree trunks filled with boulders. Massive claws, each one several inches long, glinted in the uneven light and short, rounded ears twitched above a face that was several different animals at once.
No, this was no mere skunk. Some sick force of nature had taken the worst traits of that animal, melted them together with those of a bear and a badger, and grafted the resulting abomination onto an unsuspecting human victim. The final product of which was currently looming over her with fangs and talons bared, hot breath still sweet with honey rolling across her face.
Vaguely, somewhere through the fog of pure terror, Natalie heard someone—probably Daniel—gasp so hard he might have sucked out all the air in the room. If her throat wasn’t currently trying to choke itself, she might have done the same.
“He-,” she tried, but the word barely made it past her tongue. She swallowed and tried again, the sound quiet and quivering. “Hello…”
The hybrid blinked, drew in a breath…
And roared like a jet engine.