She jerked awake in the middle of a thunderstorm. Noise assaulted her ears. Lots of noise. Cars, talking, music, screaming, machines, sirens, the storm, all forced their way into her ears in a nonsensical jumble. Then she made the mistake of opening her eyes.
Her eyes strained, the blitz of the sensory overload overwhelming. They struggled to focus with the shock of bright lights and vivid detail, taking in every chip and abrasion on the concrete she lay on. She recoiled and rolled her head to the side, only to be blinded by a streetlight. As she tried to draw breath, she gagged at the stench of rot from the dumpster, burning her nose through the gas fumes and rain. Two things dug into her back, just below the shoulder blades.
The cold rain spurred her to roll over and stagger upright, though she felt two weights pull on her back. Immediately, she lost her balance and almost toppled forward.
Toes. Why am I on my toes? she thought.
She clung to a wall for support, unsteady legs wobbling beneath her. A crack of thunder made her knees buckle and her eyes screw shut. Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop. She pressed her hands to her ears, desperate to stop the ringing in her ears. For a moment it felt like her ears were pressed against the concrete again.
Rain. Cold. Where am I?
She forced her eyes open and shied away from the street light, blinking a couple times to get the rainwater out. A metal door a few feet from her across the alleyway caught her attention. She pushed off the wall and stumbled towards it, her feet scraping along the cracked and crumbling concrete.
Something pulled on the back of her foot as she neared the doorway, tripping her. Her shoulder hit it, and something metal shrieked in protest as the heavy, imposing door snapped back. She collapsed on the ground again, laying face down halfway through the doorway. Something fell over her, partially covering her head. With a small groan, she reached out to get up once again. Her breath caught in her throat as she spotted something.
Hands. Green. Big. Big green hands.
The long fingers of the scaled hands before her ended in sharp, curved claws. What? She twitched what she thought was her index finger. The same finger in front of her twitched. What? Mine? No, that’s not right. That can’t be right. Her eyes followed a hand to her wrist, where the thick scales ended and transitioned to normal human skin. Wrist to arm, arm to the rest of her. She forced herself back onto her feet, still unsteady, and held her hands in front of her. Still green. Still clawed. No, no, no.
She looked down and found her feet in a very similar condition, the scales ending just above her ankles. For a moment, she only saw four toes, though a fifth clawed toe took the place of her heel, keeping her from standing flat footed. Her heart pounded. Something of hers twitched, sliding along the tiled floor. Wait, what? She whirled around, catching sight of an enormous leathery wing behind her before she fixated on her tail.
No, no, no. The heavy tail, covered in the same olive green scales as those on her hands, dragged on the floor. She curled it experimentally. That’s a tail. My tail. It started from the small of her back, a seemingly natural extension of her spine, and eventually tapered off to a point about five feet later. She twisted her head around to get a good view of the wings that had been covering her face when she’d fallen. They emerged from each shoulder blade up to a couple inches above her head, then folded back down and ended at about her knees. Fully folded, they didn’t fit neatly against her back, instead poking out a couple inches to either side of her.
This can’t be real. Lightning flashed. A split second later a crack of thunder rumbled the building. She screamed as the shock made her lose control of her legs for a moment, sending her sprawling. Make it stop. Once she recovered, she grabbed the dented metal door and forced it shut, deadening the sounds from outside to tolerable levels.
She scrunched her eyes shut. The wings dug into her back as she leaned her back against the wall. This can’t be real. Wake up. Come on, wake up. Why am I naked? Is there anyone here? Oh god, oh god, what am I?
She couldn’t remember. She couldn’t remember any friends, boyfriends, or even girlfriends. Not even acquaintances. Not even family members. Not even the day or month or year. No parents, no names, no faces, no locations. Nothing. The harder she tried to remember, the harder she remembered absolutely nothing. She couldn’t remember her own name. She had no idea who or where or what she was. She reopened her eyes and looked around, in the vain hope of anything providing her with an answer.
She didn’t smell anything besides musty air in the building she lurched into. No sounds of movement beyond the rain, no people she could see. Tarps covered the front windows. Stripes of light came in through the boarded up windows beyond. The smooth ceramic tiling of the floor might have been considered pretty at one point, but was now cracked and scuffed. To her right was another door, made of wood and glass instead of metal. Other than a toppled office chair in a corner, the building was completely devoid of anything or anyone besides her, her lack of memories, and dust. She slid to the floor and broke down fully.
She woke with a start to the sound of her stomach grumbling. Her eyes took in her ruined and abandoned surroundings before she had a chance to think. Where am I? Oh, right. She sat upright and wrapped her arms around her knees, wings splayed to either side. Sunlight beamed in through the windows as she tried to cut through her mental fog and piece together what had happened. Rain. I was trying to get out of the rain. Right. I came in here. I must have fallen asleep. That’s it. She glanced at her scaled hands and took a deep breath. I’m some weird monster thing. I remember that.
Sleep had neither returned her memory, nor revealed that she was in some sort of horrible, twisted dream. She could still hear nearly everything going on around her, all swirling together in a cacophony of noises. Ignore it. Just ignore it. I’m breathing. I can hear that. I know what that is. Focus on that.
Her tail thrashed nervously behind her. Oh, right. I have a tail, but no name. Maybe this isn’t real. Maybe. I hope. She took in another shaky breath and forced herself to stand. Her wings she folded behind her, using the wall for support as she balanced on her clawed feet. Her heel claws still threw her off balance. Maybe I should just stand on my toes? The more weight she put on the balls of her feet, the more balanced she felt. She removed her hand from the wall and took a tentative step forward. Her tail behind her straightened without her thinking about it, keeping her balanced. OK. That’s better. I can do this. Now what?
She took a few more hesitant steps. Her tail swished and dragged along on the ground, kicking up dust along the way. Everything just smells like dust. She sneezed. I should look around. Dust can’t be everywhere. Should I look around? What if there are other people? But I can’t just stay here, there’s nothing here. I haven’t seen anyone else so far. I guess I can look around. Maybe there’s food somewhere.
She half walked, half stumbled to a nearby door. Within was a staircase, with a few tiny windows along one wall letting light in. Darn it. More dust. She stepped forward and promptly smacked her head on the top of the door frame. Darn it. She eyed the door, then ducked her head down and stepped forward again. Her wings caught on the door frame. The sudden pull on her back caught her off balance. With her weight pushed onto the claws on her heels, she staggered back and fell down.
I just want to go through a door. Please? Crouching down and twisting her wings finally did the trick. Her claws dug into the steps as she climbed. One story up, she opened another door to a long hallway, lined with numbered doors. She poked her head into the nearest one, its door half off its hinges and mostly open. OK. Is that weird? Is there anyone here?
Just like the lobby downstairs, more dust kicked up by the opening door greeted her. And just like the lobby, the apartment seemed gutted. Debris had accumulated in small piles in the corners of the bare concrete. The next few apartments held the same: nothing. She moved on, going up story by story, until the first apartment on the fourth floor. There she found something that might have been livable before. The carpets, though threadbare and dusty, were still there. Light, which had grown weaker as time passed, still filtered in through the clear plastic coverings on the windows.
An old couch in surprisingly reasonable condition took up the center of the living room against a wall. The ache in her neck and back made her wish she had slept on that couch instead of the floor. She caught sight of the room’s light switch. Doesn’t hurt to check. She flicked it, though the lights remained dead.
I don’t think there’s anyone here. It doesn’t really smell like it. Maybe there’s food! She searched the kitchen to the right of the entrance, but came up empty handed. No food in the cupboards, no water came when she tested the faucet. She sighed, her mouth dry and stomach grumbling. Where else would have water? She found a bathroom, and her nose tingled as it picked up a faint chemical odor in the new room. No water came from the sink when she twirled the handle. Of course.
She looked back up at the mirror, for the first time getting a good look at herself. The eyes that meet her gaze were entirely silver iris without whites, with vertical slits for pupils. Messy brown hair draped down past her shoulders. Wait, what? She examined her mouth. Oh no. Rather than normal, rectangular human teeth, her mouth was lined entirely with sharp, pointy, triangular teeth, with a forked tongue to round it off.
One deep breath. A second deep breath. Why? Her claws gouged the ceramic sink as she gripped it. Leave me alone. Just leave me alone. Stop making every little thing weird and wrong, she ranted to herself. Her grip on the sink relaxed after a moment as she calmed herself. The empty ache in her stomach made its presence known once again. This isn’t helping. I just need to figure out what’s going on. She tore herself away from the mirror and returned the rest of the apartment.
In the closet of the large bedroom to the left of the entrance, she found blankets and sheets. She spread the blankets out on the couch, shying away from the the cloud of dust kicked up. That looks like it will be enough. I guess it will have to be.
She held a musty, off-white sheet in front of her. Could I just wrap this around myself? It’s big. Maybe fold it in half first? The claw of her middle finger caught in the fabric as she wrestled with it. What? No. Stupid sharp claws. She reflexively jerked her hand away, widening the tear even more, the sheet still wrapped around her hand. She dropped the sheet to avoid ripping into it any more. Stupid, stupid.
She took a deep breath. Just take it slowly this time. Having to work around wings and a tail put a damper on her inner fashion designer, but she eventually wrapped the sheet around herself with minimal catastrophic tearing. It’s better than nothing, I guess.
With the gnawing hunger still in her stomach, she returned to the living room. Her feet had torn up the carpeting wherever she’d walked, leaving little tufts of brown sticking out of the floor. The glare of the sun through a hole in the plastic window covering caught her eye.
I haven’t looked outside yet. Are there people around? Maybe I’m not so weird.
She closed her eyes for a moment and concentrated. Distant talking reached her, though she couldn’t make out what they were saying. Something large went by. She tore aside the taped up plastic sheet from the window, keeping away from the window herself. A few people walked outside below her. She heard movement, and a car drove by.
OK, that’s what a car sounds like. But no one has any wings. They’re all normal. Now what am I supposed to do?
She retreated from the window and crashed sideways on the couch. Her wing twisted inward, and the back of the couch bent her tail near her spine. Her surprised flails threw her off the couch. She shot back to her feet and uncurled her claws as she whirled around on the couch. It did not react. Of course.
She relaxed and sat on at the edge of the couch with enough room between her back and the back of the couch for her to curl her tail around. She relaxed her wings to either side of her, having kept them tightly folded against her back since she’d gotten up that day. Oh! That feels so much better. She stretched them out fully, each nearly as long as the couch itself. Wow. Those are… big.
Her stomach grumbled once again, catching her attention. Where can I find food? She paused when she remembered her teeth.
Sharp teeth. That means something. Meat? Something to do with that? Her mouth watered. That does sound good. But I’m really hungry right now, anything sounds good. I can smell so many people all around. That means food. They have to eat stuff too. The low, constant pain in her stomach persisted. She leaned her head back, stretching her neck. Maybe I can find out if something is going on. There’s not much here. Maybe I’ll go outside when the sun is down. It’ll be better than just sitting here.
Several hours later, she found herself back at the ground floor of the building, facing the dented metal door from last night. Open it. Just open it. I need food. Her hands did not comply. Maybe there are other people like me. People won’t think I’m weird. Who am I kidding? No one else looked like me at all. I’m just some weird monster thing. They’ll probably just throw me in a zoo or something.
Her stomach growled. She winced as her stomach convulsed with pain for a moment. It doesn’t have to take long. I won’t go far enough to get lost. I can hear really well. I’ll hear someone coming. Just open the door. She took a deep breath, opened the door, and took a few paces outside. No hordes of angry people arrived to jeer at her. The dumpster still smelled awful, but other than that, the air smelled just like a city would smell. A great stew of indistinct scents, many of which made her nose wrinkle. This isn’t bad.
She set off in a random direction, sticking to alleys, though the streets of the city seemed almost deserted. Sirens whined in the distance, though they never came too close. She rustled her wings a bit, her feet feeling stretched and sore every time her heel claws touched the ground. Flying would be cool. I don’t know how, but it would be cool.
A strip mall came up as she crept along; the Rocky Mountain Shopping Center according to the large sign in the parking lot out front. She sniffed. What’s that! She whipped her head around, searching for the source of the sugary smell. Her eyes caught sight of a smiling donut with stick hands and feet. Donuts! She frowned at the sight of the darkened windows below the sign. Maybe later. Among the shops of the strip mall was a drug store. Out back, lit by several large bright lights, a man unloaded crates of bottles from the back of a truck.
Water! He has water! But do I just ask for some? What if he says no? Or just runs away? How else do I get some water, though? Just take it? What if I get caught? I don’t want to steal. But I just need some water, just a couple bottles. He has so many. I don’t see anyone else. I guess he’s the only one out here.
She crept up as close as she could to the truck. Even with the sun down, she could see perfectly fine, with or without the lights. The worker stomped away with another load, grumbling something about his lazy ass partner. She ran as fast as she could to the back. Her feet skidded as her claws found traction. Don’t trip. Please don’t trip. She grabbed a crate. It was far lighter than she thought it would be, but she saw the water and wasn’t about to complain.
She rushed off before the man returned, straight back to her apartment. One of the plastic bottles had a large hole in it from a claw, but otherwise nothing had gone wrong. She downed an entire bottle, and the awful scratchy feeling in her mouth finally vanished.
OK, that didn’t go so bad. She returned to the streets, heading in the opposite direction of the strip mall. Soon, she stumbled upon a newspaper vending machine thing for a paper called the Westward City Times. In its window was the front page, dated Saturday, April 13, 2013. Is that the name of this city? Or are we just west of something? The front page story of the newspaper didn’t make any particular sense to her. A man in front of a burning building stood with fire shooting out of his hands. What? Why would he light a building on fire? That can’t be real, can it?
Just below the headline, she caught sight of the line ‘by Olivia Parker’. She spotted a couple more names skimming the article itself. People have names. I need one, right? I don’t have one, I don’t think. Could I just come up with one? What are some names? She looked back at the newspaper, her eyes drawn once again to the reporter’s name. Olivia sounds like a nice name. Is it weird that I’m taking it from someone else, though? She looked around at the empty streets. Well, no one else is around to call me weird. I guess I’m Olivia.
Olivia heard a car draw closer from behind her. She didn’t know if it would turn down the street she was on, but she darted down an alleyway just in case. Right, food. Her heavy, awkward stomps had a bit more bounce to them as she left. I have a name now. Olivia. I like it.
After two hours of fruitless searching and hiding, the tall buildings around Olivia gave way to row upon row of houses. She shied away, the grass lawns ahead of her didn’t offer any place to hide, until she spotted several garbage bags piled on the sidewalk with a sleeve sticking out of the top of one. The sign on the bags said something about a pick up for a homeless shelter. Real clothes. But… I can’t just steal these. I won’t die without them. These are for other people. Homeless people, too. But I guess I don’t really have a home. I can just take a couple things, and put the rest back. That makes it better, right?
Grabbing two bags, Olivia returned to her apartment once more. The clothes were old, but mercifully clean. After a set of underwear, she pulled out a pair of jeans that looked like they might fit. As she attempted to put them on, her heel claw caught on the first pant leg. Oh no! She jumped slightly, her front toes extended a bit, and the last eight inches of the jeans were shredded beyond repair. Oops. Maybe something not as tight. She dug up two pairs of large, baggy cargo pants and put them on successfully, though they only reached halfway down her shins.
Tops were a bit trickier. The hem of the shirt caught on her wings as she pulled it down. After cutting bigger and bigger holes in the back, she eventually just cut two long slits all the way down a t-shirt, starting a couple inches under the collar. It wasn’t perfect, but far more dignified than being wrapped in a bed sheet. She tailored several shirts accordingly, then stuffed the rest of the clothes back into the bags.
OK, I’m making progress.
After dropping off the bags where she’d found them, Olivia spent the rest of the night dodging people, with success, and looking for food, with no success. She wasn’t desperate enough to dumpster dive quite yet, but she had seen what smelled like perfectly good food being thrown out behind a fast food joint. But those dumpsters smell so awful.
There were few people out, even for the time of night. There was the occasional yell or scream in the night, but there were few cars and fewer pedestrians. Olivia could always hear a siren through the cool air though, sometimes very close by. Why are those always on?
Olivia returned back to her apartment as the sun started to rise again, her stomach feeling like it was about to eat itself from the inside out. She lay face first on the couch, her feet sticking off of the side. Laying on her back just pushed her wings and tail into her back. Look at me. I’m thinking of dumpster diving. What’s the point? I’m just kidding myself. I’m just some weird monster thing. People would probably run screaming from me the moment I show up anywhere.
Olivia cried herself to sleep again that night.