Sam’s mind was radiating fear, too, fear of the pain she had been through, and of the ugly dead thing she saw drop to the ground right in front of her face. With a whimpering sound coming out of her, she curled up into as tight a ball as she could make of herself.
I wanted to comfort her, and frankly, I sort of wanted to curl up into my own little ball, but I had to protect her, so I bit my lip a little to screw my courage up, and faced the direction from which I suddenly felt a malevolent presence approaching.
The Major’s cell phone rang again. She answered, then immediately looked over at me. “Get read…”
But the attacker was already in the room. I don’t know how it got into the house, but there it was. I lashed out through my glass, my mind having begun the mantra almost on its own. The specter lost some of its cloak from my attack, becoming visible, and the Major and the police officer fired at it.
I sprang out of my chair as a second specter came at Sam from the other side. It was too fast. I couldn’t start another mantra that soon. I did the only thing left to me. I threw myself at it, wrapping my arms around it to stop it from reaching her. Its talons, meant for Sam, slashed into my body like razors. Its anger, its hate, its loathing all became mixed up together with the sudden torrent of pain as it clawed my back.
Pushing back with my mind, I sang a warding mantra against its thoughts, desperately seeking space to concentrate on another strike. My body begged me to let go. It screamed at me to get away from the pain, but I knew that Sam needed me to hang on, so I tightened my grip instead.
The demon pulled its claws out of me and jammed them in again. My arms let go without my permission. The front door came flying open and Rufus rushed into the room, his glass out, his thoughts singing out like a trumpet.
His mantra struck the evil thing, and its claws released me. His song struck again and I heard the guns firing again, and at last the creature’s evil light switched off.
I fell to the floor, helpless, and discovered that I couldn’t breathe. Nor could I move my hands or my feet. My body seemed utterly dead. I struggled to find any control over it.
I could hear the Major reporting three of the ‘Zindavoor’ had taken up stations outside. I could hear Mrs. West panicking and fluttering over to check on her baby. As I began fading from lack of oxygen, I wondered if anyone had even noticed me down on the floor.
Then Rufus was turning me over. As I rolled, I caught a glimpse of his eyes growing wide, and his worry turning into something more severe. I ended up on my back, with my head shoved up against a chair, propped up and staring down at my chest.
I watched his hand come at that chest with a huge knife and begin ripping my clothing open. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing. I was dying, and this man seemed to be assaulting me! He slashed my shirt open, then sliced my bra in two. I stared down, helpless to stop the insane events as he bared my chest.
Then he stabbed the knife into my solar plexus. He seemed to be using the knife like a lever, trying to pry me open!
But in complete opposition to his actions, his emotions radiated deep anxiety and fear for me, not some horrible perversion. Then I felt something let go in my chest, and I watched it swing open like a box top. Rufus threw the knife down and reached into my open torso …
I experienced at that moment something like changing television channels. I was now surrounded by plastic, wedged into a tight space. I could see an unbelievably huge Rufus reaching down toward me, wrapping his titanic hands around me and pulling me out. Next thing I knew, he was cuddling me against his enormous chest, his fear changing to massive relief.
Breathing didn’t feel the same as I was accustomed to, but I was getting oxygen again. I could move again, too. I turned my head and saw… me. My favorite blouse hung in tatters on my half-naked body. My chest lay open like a cardboard box, but my insides through the gaping hole weren’t dripping gore. There was a black plastic lining. I looked around and saw Mrs. West and the police officer staring at me, repulsed, the Major concerned and Sam… horrified.
Terrified at the insane turn that my reality had just taken, I huddled deeper into Rufus’s giant arms. The Major strode across the room and lifted my pendant chain from around my… body’s neck. For decency’s sake, she also pushed the doors of my chest closed and arranged my shirt.
She turned toward the new me, handing over my scrying glass with a grave look in her eyes.
“You had better keep this with you, young lady. We aren’t out of this, yet.”
I reached out and took it with tiny, furry paws. One part of my mind screamed, Oh my god my hands look like cat’s paws! Another part marveled over what used to be my little scrying glass, because it was enormous now. But it was definitely my glass. I hugged it to my furry chest as if it were a teddy bear, and burrowed a little deeper into Rufus’s chest.
Sam finally got over her own panic-induced paralysis. She wailed, “What was that thing doing inside Tawny? What happened to Tawny?” She had up and looked back and forth with terror from me to the other me on the floor. Her voice was something just short of a scream. “Did that thing kill Tawny?”
By “that thing”, she meant me, not the specter.
I would have been screaming too, if I could. I wasn’t any less horrified at this turn of events than Sam. My only reason not to, was that I didn’t seem to have the ability to scream anymore.
I’m Tawny, I protested. That’s when I discovered I didn’t even know how to speak in this body. Rufus said it for me, though. He stood up, turned toward her and bent over to show me to her.
“This your friend, Miss Sam. Not that thing on floor. That not Miss Tawny. This Miss Tawny. Always this. Always Zindavoor.”
It was the same word the Major had used. Three of the Zindavoor were outside, guarding.
Three of… my kind.
Rufus straightened up again, still cradling me. He nodded down to the thing on the floor, the me I had been when I woke that morning. “That thing just mannequin. Shell. Human disguise. Not Tawny.”
He strode across the room, stepping over my body and one of the specter corpses. I huddled against him, still confused and scared. Human disguise, he had just said. I suppose it was obvious already to everyone else that I wasn’t Human, but it was the first time anyone had confirmed it to me.
He kept speaking, in gentle, caring tones. I could now tell he was trying to soothe me too. “She never see herself, before. Live whole life inside mannequin. Look, Miss Tawny.”
Rufus had brought me to a mirror. I turned my head to see a rabbit-chihuahua-ferret-meerkat thing huddled in Rufus’s arms. Dark little eyes with no whites or pupils or iris, like solid black marbles, stared back at me, and a tail… I have a tail?… draped down from the other end. Orange-Brown fur covered my tiny everything. I wondered if that color was why they named me Tawny.
After he let me look a little longer, he crossed back over to Sam. “Hold your arms out, Miss Sam.”
Confused, she did, and Rufus put me in them.
They’re treating me like a baby, I thought. Or a kitten.
I still couldn’t figure out how to speak, and it was just adding to the anxiety. Sam was nervous, and a little repelled, but she held me anyway, and stroked my fur. I could feel her attitude change as she looked at me. I could feel anguish, pity, curiosity….
In a small voice, she asked, “For real? Is that you, Tawny?”
I put my paw on her hand and looked up at her. I was still scared, but somehow, Sam calling me ‘Tawny’ instead of ‘that thing’ had just made it less awful.