Black asphalt and white striping unwinds ahead of the motorcycle as Jan and Violet streak along 80-North to Sacramento, winding through sparse late-evening traffic. Now and then, he grips the throttle and twists, gunning the engine and dashing between slower neighboring vehicles. The thrill of passing them is mingled with a faint snarl of territoriality, a hint of caution despite the lack of sweaty palms or tense pit-of-the-stomach feelings, and a desire for abandon—to just give in to further speed, damn all consequences.
Jan and Violet are armored in leather, kevlar, armored padding and plastics and their own hardened flesh; even if they were to fall they’d still fare better than the average living person in the same condition. After seeing his own flesh renew, awakening to see it having knit itself together over-day, physical harm seems less and less frightening to Jan by each night… so long as he can feed that hunger, that part of him Matthias called the Beast.
It gives and it takes, Jan thinks as he swoops between two SUVs, Violet leaning with him in sync. I hope there’s some balance in there.
What’s happened to him has left him with more ferocity, sharpness, and tenacity, and yet, it threatens to break free at a moment’s notice. So far the only one to keep him most easily in line is Violet. After all these nights so far, once the hunting is out of the way, turning to feed each other has left something of her wound around within him, and vice-versa. And even then—amidst clawing, snarling, biting at each other in the dark, silently roaring at each other—the urge to take even more has circled at the edge of his consciousness… or the urge to be taken.
It’s hard to tell which is the stronger impulse, or even which is which at times.
All this blurs through his mind in the time it takes for him to twist the throttle again and dart around a minivan, now pulling ahead of the scattered herd of commuters.
Ahead the open highway beckons, and he grins widely behind a darkened visor and leans further forward. Behind him he can feel Violet gripping tightly at him, laughing out loud, sharing in his exultation as they streak down the highway.
Live fast. Die Young. Be wild.
Three for three.
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This part of him wants out. The ride to Sacramento, to take Violet to her photoshoot, only seems to have whetted its appetite instead of sating it. It paces back and forth in Jan, eager for more, urging him onward.
A few early shots of the two of them in fancy dress together, posing coldly for the camera, turning to stare intently at each other, feeling their bond rise between them as they do, simultaneously challenging and submitting. Kaylee grins eagerly at the two of them as she takes shot after shot, while unbeknownst, Jan and Violet work to still that part of themselves that shies away from being seen, captured, recorded, reflected.
Photoshoots won’t work if the pictures don’t come out clearly, now.
“Okay, let’s get ready for your big glamor shots, Violet!” Kaylee cheers her on, spurred by the newly-sharpened poise between the couple. Jan turns, grinning briefly through tightly clenched teeth, then slips to one side, changing into his more casual clothing—boots, jeans, t-shirt—passing on the leather jacket and riding gear for now.
“I know you’ll be here awhile, love,” he says to Violet, turning back to kiss her. She responds with equal fervor, the two gripping tightly at one another for a moment. “I’m going out for a bit. Promise I’ll be back.”
He and Violet glance over at Kaylee, before Jan leans to whisper in Violet’s ear, only half-joking, “And no eating the photographer.”
Violet gives him a mock-serious half-reproachful glare for a moment, then nods, giving him a tiny smile. “Don’t be gone too long.”
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Outside the warehouse space, Jan walks away from streetlights, from people, into night. Despite the darkness, he can see as if in full day. Not as if it were lit that brightly… but everything is apparent and clear, tinted silver. He looks up at the waning half-moon, and in the dark the Beast inside him stirs once more. Free, unburdened, alone, the only companion is the thing within him that is at once part and parcel, and something all its own.
And it wants out. Now.
Jan closes his eyes, thinking back several nights, to the coroner’s lab, to the fight, to the changes in his body. Remembering the curious sensation of his flesh suddenly shifting, finding himself on all fours, clawed, fanged, black-pelted, somewhere between canine and feline. What else can I do…
Jan’s eyes open and he gazes skyward, unconsciously beginning to flex his hands. If he still needed to breathe, he’d be taking those involuntary excited gasps, but instead he just waits, thinking. Somewhere in the dark, an owl keens, and he lets out an unexpected soft laugh. The Beast waiting inside him joins its voice to the laugh, and he feels it steal into the open just a little. Alright… just a little for you…
He can feel his body shifting, stretching, changing, the blood in him catching a cold fire and stirring within, and he takes off at a run across open ground, then leaps…
In this one long moment in mid-air, he feels gravity begin to take hold, and pushes down, fighting against its pull. The frustration at falling lashes through him, the Beast snarls at the restraint of the Earth. He drops lower for a moment, fights it, the Beast’s presence coursing through him, then feels himself moving…
Exultation. Triumph. Territoriality.
…For I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth—and fuck right the hell off, gravity…
Black-winged and taloned, Jan feels the ground fall away beneath him. He beats his wings ungainly, then more instinctively, and climbs higher. One final triumphant laugh bursts from him before fading into a rasping, shrieking call.
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Clad in the flesh of something between bat and raven and owl, Jan hurtles skyward over fields and homes. Below, the sound of animals grazing on an open pasture yard reach him, and he folds wings, plummeting with sudden swiftness.
Jan swoops low, watching one of the cattle moving away from the rest, and lands atop it, feeling this mountain of muscle and bone and hide startle briefly beneath him before he battens onto it, sinking teeth into flesh.
The animal relaxes under his bite as he hangs onto it, feeling the heat of its blood in his mouth, somehow thinner and less satisfying than Ashley or any other (to say nothing of Violet), and yet still filling his senses. Traces of dull emotions flicker through his mind: contentment, hunger, dim surprise. He has to take more and more to push back the hunger that surges in him, the Beast wanting every single drop it can wrest from this creature’s life.
He breaks free, letting the cattle slump to its knees, weakened by the feeding, but not dead, yet. Still hungry. More. Urged on by the Beast’s hunger and desire for mayhem, he takes wing across the field, latching onto another of the herd briefly, tasting the same mix of dim sensations and simple emotions. Like fast-food fare compared to the buffet of human life, or the sumptuous sybaritism of Violet’s own blood.
That desire for more courses through him, his uneasy bargain with the Beast strained as it pushes back at his control, leaping from animal to animal in a desperate desire to consume, to be full, to own and take and feed and control and destroy. The winged creature that is Jan opens its mouth and lets out another rasping cry, and the herd, already an uneasy collection of individuals, bolts as one, hooves thudding on ground and multiple voices lowing in dim fear and worry as the cattle stampede from one side of the field to the other, driven, harried by his presence, the Beast, a wordless voice urging yes, more, feed, take, kill . . .
Sudden light blinks on at the far side of the field, and a voice calls, “Who the hell’s out there?!” Jan freezes, hunkering low on the ground, wings mantled, and from his throat the Beast hisses an angry sound at the intrusion.
No. Let him be. Jan and this part of him struggle for dominance, and somewhere in the night he can hear the hunting call of another owl as it descends on its tiny prey.
With a furious snarl the Beast retreats once more. It hates to be enclosed, caged, leashed, controlled—and this interruption will be paid back in kind, Jan knows it. Not right now. With a snap of leathery, feathery wings, he launches himself skyward, leaving behind the farmer and cattle.
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Back at the warehouse loft, Violet pauses, after a long series of shots and poses taken outside in the cold light of sodium streetlamps, feeling Jan draw nearer. A soft rustling sound as of clothing being adjusted—or leather—and he turns the corner and comes into view.
“Heyyy, prodigal returns!” Kaylee calls, giving him a one-handed wave as she holds up her camera. Jan nods, raising a hand in return, before moving to embrace Violet, kissing her briefly. She can taste the traces of blood on his teeth, and for a moment his nails dig into her sides as if testing her skin, before he withdraws.
“Photos going well?”
“Yeah, we’re almost done.” She gives him a curious look. “You okay? Something wrong?”
He shakes his head once, sharply. “I’m fine,” he says, although the few words hardly cover the matter. “I’ll explain later . . .”