Mr. Slim was a firm traditionalist when it came to the art of bone twisting pain. It was one of the reasons why he demanded that his students use shapeshifting over glamour. Jazz knew this. She agreed with it. Glamour was a shallow thing that miraged the skin to resemble exactly what was expected. Shapeshifting hurt. Physical pain was the path towards mastering many needed skills.
Still, Jazz didn’t predict that her mentor’s methods would spread into the realm of psychological torture camouflaged as boredom. She was a rogue monster catcher. Being assigned to a house where the most monstrous thing was a cranky human cook had to be some kind of punishment.
Jazz was walking towards the small Victorian, considering the demise of her psyche and the ugliness of her denimed, tank topped, and terribly unimaginative human shape, when the front door burst open to spew a child wearing a colander as a helmet and brandishing a short wooden sword. A helmeted head and extra pointy protection, Jazz thought, that’s style!
“Beg for a merciful bloody death!” Octavia said, the tip of her sword aimed at Jazz’s belly.
“Just how much blood are we talking about?” Jazz said. “And who will clean up the mess?”
“Octavia, Kai is going to have your hide if you don’t get back to the kitchen.”
“Kai doesn’t have hides, Uncle Terrence.” Octavia grinned over her shoulder. “She just cooks nasty stuff and makes you eat it.”
The old woman came to the front door, and sneered in Jazz’s general direction.
I don’t like you all that much either, Jazz thought, trying to catch the cook’s eye and failing.
“Come inside, Octavia,” the old woman said. “I need that colander to finish supper.”
Her smile gone, Octavia ran into the house after the cook.
“I’m so glad you accepted to watch my niece overnight at such short notice, Jazz.”
“It’s no problem,” she said, heading towards the house.
“I told you about Calvin, Octavia’s godfather and my business partner. I wanted you to at least see his face before I left.” He pointed at a man in a blue car. “He’s taking me to the airport. I’m late. But he’ll be available to answer any questions, and help with anything you might need. All my numbers are on the list on the kitchen table. The number to the pediatrician and to—”
“Terry,” the man called out from the car, “you won’t make it if you don’t get moving.”
Jazz had babysat nine-year-old Octavia for nearly three weeks. Mr. Slim was convinced that something was threatening the child, but Jazz hadn’t seen a thing lurking around.
“What about the cook?” Mr. Slim had said to Jazz, a few days ago.
Jazz had watched Kai closely. It was obvious that under the shroud of sternness, the old cook’s heart was soft for the child. And Octavia adored Kai, provider of cookies, improvised helmets and other weaponry. No one spent that kind of time on a wild kid they didn’t care about.
After Jazz put Octavia to bed and Kai cleaned the kitchen, the old woman collected her things and phoned her granddaughter for a ride.
“I wish my eyes did better at night,” Kai said to Jazz, sounding strangely sweet.
A few minutes later, Jazz heard someone at the door. “Your granddaughter has a key?”
“No,” Kai said, undoing her scarf and placing her handbag on the table. “That’s Mr. Calvin. He comes and goes as he pleases whenever Mr. Terrence isn’t home.”
“You’re still here?” Calvin said to Kai, after he entered the kitchen. “It’s late. And Terry won’t pay you overtime.”
The air thickened with dislike, disdain, and a wave of nerves.
“I… I wanted to drink something warm before I called my granddaughter. Should I make you something, too, Mr. Calvin? Perhaps, a snack? It would be no trouble. I could—”
The bell rang and Kai nearly jumped out of her skin.
“It seems your family knows your schedule better than you do,” Calvin said.
“Oh, that’s all right. I’ll tell my granddaughter to go on. I’ll take a cab home. I’ll stay until Miss Jazz’s ready for bed and you’re ready to go. In case you, either of you, might need something. It’s no bother. Really. I’ll just…”
Jazz said nothing. But she did not miss the trembling of Kai’s hands.
“Leave,” Calvin said.
Kai grabbed her bag, looked at Jazz one last time, and walked out of the house, her eyes shiny.
“That old hag gives me the creeps.” Calvin handed one of two tea mugs to Jazz. “I’ll grab some things out of Terry’s study and then head out, unless you need something from me.”
“I’m good for tonight,” Jazz said with a yawn. “I’m more tired than I thought.”
They exchanged goodnights. Calvin stayed in the kitchen. Jazz finished her tea before checking on Octavia and readying herself for bed.
Jazz’s shade watched Calvin crack her door open ever so slightly. “Miss?” he whispered, “Miss Jazz?” When he got no answer, Calvin walked into the room, examined the form sleeping in Jazz’s bed, peered into the tea mug, and then left the room.
He sneaked through Octavia’s door without making a sound, and stood smiling in front of the child’s bed. After some long minutes, he walked towards the door.
Jazz’s shade relaxed. Until Calvin turned off Octavia’s nightlight and closed the door without getting out of the room.
The child’s bed complained under the weight of the man. His hand moved to touch the neckline of Octavia’s polka-dotted nightgown. When his fingertips landed on skin, Jazz’s shade reentered her own flesh and reclaimed her natural shape. Her spine and limbs elongated, her eyes lost all color, her teeth sharpened, and her living hair shoved itself into Calvin’s open mouth.
She let him struggle for a while. Then she flipped him onto his back, her steel-strong arms and feet imprisoning him, her hair still jammed in his mouth. She got really close to his face, letting him appreciate the fury burning in her pupilless eyes, before saying, “You don’t get to beg for a merciful bloody death, filth. That’s just for honest monsters.”
written for May Monster Madness
follow the link to Little Gothic Horrors to see what else is brewing
and don’t forget to be an honest monster
by the way, this is a bit of a draft
so we’ll probably hear more about Jazz
in my next short story collection
from Sticky Monsters, by John Kenn Mortensen