• Fasia sighed. As her fresh pumpkin spice flavored coffee moistened her hands with steam and the setting sun tinted the suburban farm-scape golden red, the idea of putting the mug back in the hole she hid her breaktime goodies in grew less and less appealing. She sighed again, shaking her head, and pulled an orange brick from the wall to stash her delicious, soothing, cinnamony, hot, hot, unfinished drink.

    She peeked around the corner and pulled up her sagging pants. The gun hidden along her thigh fell down one leg, and she groaned, leaning one arm on the brick wall to fish it out. A whine of hunger cut through the hair behind her ears. She frowned. A Rarngfish? In the open? Didn't those slippery beasties always-

    The creature clenched its flippers around her neck. Guess this one was really, really hungry. Fasia tried to slip underneath its, uh, fingers, but she could feel the edges of its wolven claws forming. Bad, bad, bad. That's usually how you'd describe being anywhere close to one of these barely conscious slime bags when they morphed.

    The soft, impenetrable jelly under her chin melted away, and for one moment, the creature was neither fish nor wolf. In transition, it was protected only by a sheet of red, translucent skin. Fasia ducked her chin and breathed purplish gray smoke on it. A blubbering howl rang out as it dropped her, so she guessed it was fully wolf by now, a form reserved for killing.

    She shot up the wall and perched on it, watching the monster dance below. Carpeted in course, thick, mop-like clumps of brown fur, it had a silky face like a dolphin's, bright red eyes on either side of its snout. On its toes, it might have been six or seven feet tall. Fasia tilted her head and watched the leftover slime drip from its claws, all four long enough to go completely through her. They flexed out from paws as large as her head.

    "Hard to climb a wall without thumbs, right, Rarngy?" she called.

    It whined again.

    "So, you used to be somebody?"

    The beast snarled and snapped straight, white dolphin teeth behind purple lips, blood oozing from a gum infection.

    "I see." Fasia yawned. "Ok, that was a lie. I have no idea what you're talking about. Do you know English? Elvish? Korean? Japanese?" She peered into its eyes, looking past the film, past the years of sleeping on rocks and tearing flesh from roadkill. It was still, to some degree, someone.

    They stared at each other, searching for hope, or maybe just empathy.

    "I don't want to hurt you," Fasia said, lowering her voice, hoping it knew how she felt. "But I can't let you hurt anyone else." She leveled her gun to the beast's head and fired.


    As the bucket dropped back down, Fasia laid her throbbing head on the smooth stones of the well and felt her skin cool off against it. Her pants made squishy sounds in the mud, so it was a few minutes before she heard the faint, insistant humming. She held her head and leaned over the edge.

    None of the light from the full moon reflected up at her. The dark sucked Fasia in, made her dizzy, and she'd started mumbling about painkillers when it hit her. Literally and figuratively. The dank water stung her face and ran to the collar of her already soaked shirt. She jumped back, raking a hand down her leg for her gun, but it popped out of the well and landed three feet in front of her.


    The wind blew over her. She felt cool, cold, then freezing. She screamed and covered her eyes. Her senses tilted off balance. She could still feel the air on her skin, so her vision took in nothing but a scorching black light.

    "You've had so much fun this year, little elf. But what about me, in the water, all alone?"

    Fasia gritted her teeth and tried to look at the light objectively. It was just this person's presence, trying to show herself when she had no body to show. It still burned, though. "Were you trapped?"

    "Of course I was!" Fasia noticed a change in the light, and though nothing had moved, she knew the creature was frowning.

    "What did I do?"

    "You were so sad, so lonely. I was sleeping and I heard you drink the water. I heard you sigh." And then she smiled, in that unphysical way. "Play with me!"

    Fasia dropped to the dewy, midnight grass and held her head between her knees. The sudden burst of positive energy was spearing through her brain. "How? I'm sorry, but we're different, we're very, very different. We can't play. I'll get hurt."

    The searing happiness didn't cool. "No, you won't! See?"

    The water of the well hit Fasia harder than the wind. She gasped and opened her eyes, but of course, there was nothing to see. The water in her lungs and ears heightened the sixth sense forced on her by her leering captor.

    "Pretty little idiot! I haven't caught anyone since the century turned. Why didn't you run?"

    Fasia gurgled.

    "You hesitated. You thought I was lonely. Or maybe you thought you couldn't run?" Fasia got the blurred impression that the being shook her head. "I can't ever leave this well, elf-thing. You came to me!"

    Fasia couldn't tell if her eyes were open or closed. Her senses were fuzzing over, even the voice, even the pain-laced light. She was losing to the water.

    And then the light returned, lifted her from the water, to bring back the sharp darkness. Fasia became aware of the bottom of the well and the fact that she had died a few seconds ago.

    The light flashed out and removed her from the physical world. She only felt the heat, the burning as the blackness exploded into white, taking everything from her that the water had not. Fasia sighed. It was so pretty, actually. And that coffee was good enough to make one lifetime worth it, anyway....

    "You didn't run! You didn't fight it! No! Azhimte! You didn't-"


    Fasia sat up on the grass. Her pants were almost to her knees, and she was soaked to her purple, very visible panties. She yanked the jeans up to an appropriate level and stood to scrutinize the field for witnesses. A soft glow outlined the grass on the horizon, sunrise, and Fasia turned around and swaggered off. Coffee. She needed coffee.