Greg listened absentmindedly to the sounds of the old index. It was unnaturally noiseless for a public building. The lights had darkened a bit and the sound of hard rain and thunder could be heard in the distance. The public library seemed to be reflecting his emotions in every way possible; it was annoying. His heart felt heavy as he breathed out a sigh. The whole world had gone mad in just a matter of days! Greg tapped his finger on the hardwood table and muttered to himself. There had to be a way to get out of all this mess and return home! No solutions seemed to be jumping out at him.
“I am going to die here,” said Greg after a minute of contemplation. He looked around the room and shook his head at all the books on the shelves. The smell of mildew drifted up from the old carpet. “This place has become a tomb! A library from hell!”
Greg’s lamenting was interrupted as the sound of footsteps filled the air in the east corridor. He turned and watched as Evelyne approached with a handful of books and papers. She placed the stack on the table in front of Greg and pulled out a chair. Greg stared at her without blinking. He couldn’t believe that this woman was living inside his head; free of charge. He shivered as he considered the damage she was doing to his thought process.
What is she really doing in here? Thought Greg. It had been hours since they last spoken to each other in the kitchen. Greg recognized that not much had changed in her physical appearance. Her mouth was still fake but her deep blue eyes were rich with life. The sound of typing filled the room.
¨(I was waiting for you in the main area but you never showed. I figured with the wind howling like it was outside you would be in the DRAMA section!)
Greg didn’t know where he was in the public library and he really didn’t care. The whole darn place was a giant maze meant to trap him. He couldn’t even find a proper drinking fountain. “Yep, the drama section! I figured it had to be somewhere like that.”
Evelyne picked up a book from the pile and skimmed through it for a second. The cover of the thing was black as tar and the perimeter was decorated with small bones. Greg couldn’t see what the gold lettering on the front said; it was covered in shadows. Evelyne pulled out a bookmarker and placed it strategically in the pages. She looked over to Greg.
¨ (So did you make any new friends at orientation?)
Greg shook his head as he thought about him and Dennis cowering in the corner of the Grand Atrium. Greg laughed to himself; he must have looked ridiculous. He laughed to keep himself from crying like a little baby. Greg was too exhausted to go through the whole ordeal with his personal assistant. “You could say something like that. My whole life has been ripped from me like a used Band-Aid! I have been accused by the United States Government of being something I am not, and now I live in an underground base like a interdimensional hobbit…for the rest of my life… eating gruel! But, yeah, everyone seemed friendly enough. ”
Evelyne nodded her head encouragingly and gave him the thumbs up. There was so much she wanted to talk to him about but didn’t know quite how to approach it. Greg would most certainly become the big strong nightshade she knew he was. She just had to help him overcome his human-ness one step at a time… And boy was it going to be uncomfortable.
¨(Gwen seems nice, and she is very pretty.)
Greg stopped tapping his finger on the table as he read this comment. He shifted his gaze from the speech bubble to the brown haired woman sitting across from him. “Are you being serious right now, Evelyne?” He pointed to some outer part of the public library. “That crazy woman just powered slammed a nightshade into the ground like a railroad spike! I wasn’t there for the cleanup, but I am pretty sure he died instantly!”
¨(Asset 626 had it coming. He broke the rules of the Grand Atrium before it was time… And between you and me his genetic sequence wouldn’t have made him much of a breeding partner. No elverkongens I know want to breed with a male nightshade that was defeated by such a small human woman.)
Greg didn’t know what to say to this. Evelyne was talking to him as if all this should be normal, and it wasn’t. He opened his mouth to replay but nothing came out but hot air. He closed his mouth and bit his lower lip.
Evelyne stood up and stretched her arms into the air. There was something oddly graceful about the way she moved. It felt like she was warming up for the ballet. She reached under the table and picked up an industrial size paper shredder. She placed it in front of Greg and fiddled with the switches on the top. The machine hummed as she continued.
¨(I did happen to see the whole fight…)
Evelyne paused and looked over to Greg and then back to the paper eating machine.
¨(Gwen is a powerful human female Greg; anyone with two eyes and a gizzard can see that. If she were a proper nightshade, she would be a perfect specimen to fight in the cogent breeding arenas in The Black Forest…)
Evelyne put one hand on her hip and turned to Greg. She was turning the paper shredder on and off habitually. Her text seemed defensive.
¨(But you have to learn to let go of all this human nature inside of you. Gwen isn’t even your own species. It just wouldn’t work between the both of you. Predators should never date their prey… It’s practically written all throughout The Book of Cipro Ellekonge… Eventually you wind up eating the one you love… Don’t get me wrong… it’s delicious… but at the same time it does have its consequences.)
Evelyne Indicated to the black book she had been looking through moments ago. She pushed the thing across the table with one finger. Greg watched as the book came to a stop in front of him. He read the gold lettering now:
-The Book of Cipro Ellekonge
First Erlking of the Black Forest-
¨(Herla was a Princess of the Black Forest that fell in love with a Hellraiser from the Tremaine Mountains. Let’s just say, for the sake of time, that the hellraiser brought brimstone down to the Black Valley to stoke the fires of her passion. Herla was fool hardy in nature and completely oblivious to the ways of the world. She shunned the advice of her dear sisters and went after her own interests. Herla couldn’t see that she was drawn to one of the Son’s of Shellcar because of his skill in the dark arts of sensual augmentation. The hellraiser race has a unique ability to enlarge everything they touch; even pain! Their unholy union was short lived to put it mildly. The hellraiser died through ingestion and Herla was left in an eternal state of pain. Writhing on the ground like a miserable little puke. Her shrill moans still haunting the oaks of the Black Forest to this present day. Begging for death! And it not coming! I am sure you know what I am getting at with this story…)
Evelyne paused and waited for Greg to acknowledge where all this exposition was clearly heading. Surely he would see that Gwen was a hellraiser in disguise; waiting to suck the happiness from his life and leave nothing but an empty shell.
Greg opened his mouth and then closed it again. He felt like he was thirteen years old receiving the “Talk” from his father. There were so many new terms and phrases that he felt sick to his stomach. He couldn’t get the voice of his father out of his head now. “Woman are like cars son. That’s all you really need to know about the topic. You have to be carefully with the gear shifting every once and a while. You have to say something that lets them know you understand and value them... even when you don’t know a damn thing they have said to you.”
“I understand and value you,” said Greg.
Evelyne rolled her eyes at this robotic response. It was clear that Greg lacked proper culture and refinement. Years and years of being housed in a human body had made him soft in the head. She would have to spell it out for him,
¨(You can’t breed with Gwen…What would the neighbors think?)
Blood rushed to Greg’s pale white Checks. He was getting flustered with this weird conversation about nightshades breeding with each other. There was so much to unpack from Evelyne’s previous statements that he didn’t know where to begin. To be perfectly honest he didn’t even want to touch the subject with a ten foot pole.
“First off, my dear Evelyne, I am not a nightshade! This weird story of Havilah and Brimstone doesn’t even apply to me. You should be talking about these weird breeding rituals with someone else, not with me! I have seen what these nightshades are and I have never transformed into one… and I plan to keep it that way!” Greg tried to control the level of his voice. He was failing horribly. “Second off I do not have a crush on Officer Garcia. We are strictly only friends… at least I think we are only friends...but definitely not in love… for the most part I think she is showing a great amount of self-control in not killing me on the spot every time we have a conversation. It’s all complicated; everything is complicated now!”
¨(Swear to me you won’t breed with her!)
Greg jumped at the desperation in Evelyne’s voice. He threw his hands up into the air. “I’ll breed with whatever I feel like breeding with and you can’t stop me!”
Evelyne was confounded by Greg’s belligerence. The fool of a nightshade was playing with brimstone and he didn’t even realize it. She began shoving stacks of papers into the shredder next to her; everything she had planned was falling apart. She would have to do away with this whole experience and start over again. What was she thinking? You never open a lecture on the breeding habits of nightshades.
Greg watched as the text bubble above Evelyne’s head went light red. It was showing that Evelyne was writing something but nothing really popped up. Greg could feel she was holding something back from him. He shifted awkwardly in his seat.
Evelyne eventually spoke,
¨(Well it’s good that you don’t get involved with human females.)
“Is that so?” said Greg with surprise. He sat up and leaned forward. He wanted to challenge her in every way possible. He was getting sick of being walked on by everyone he met. “And what do you suggest I do, seeing as how you are full of advice this evening?”
Evelyne threw all reason to the wind at that moment. She would tell this fool of a nightshade what to do. She turned quickly and pounded a fist on her chest and looked off into the distance like a warrior poet. She bore her teeth like a wild animal,
¨(I would suggest that you pick a mate that is willing to fight for you in open combat! If I were, hypothetically, a sworn Princess of The Black Forest like Herla and had been given my breeding rights under the yellow moon calendar. I would challenge all the whores who dared to take you from me, to open combat. I would secure our alliance every cycle until there were no more challengers!)
Greg pulled away from the table as Evelyne jumped on top of it. Her shoes thudded loudly on the wood as she flourished upward. The text in her bubbles started coming to life. Images of female nightshades taring and slashing at each other could be seen beyond the text bubble. In all the chaos, one female rose above the rest! Her speckled patterns shown elegantly across her slender back, angled forehead, and muscular arms. Her stark white hair danced around her head as she vanquished each foe with precision slashes. She was powerful. She was strong!
¨(I am the heiress to the Erlking and am more deserving than them all! I have waited centuries in a mindless stupor for this moment to come, and nothing below Shellcar’s Grave can stop me from perpetuating my existence! Not even the pains of Herla could stop me in my purpose!)
Evelyne moved gracefully across the table and struck out at the air.
Greg could see the female nightshade in the text bubble above her head. Her red eyes glowing brightly in the darkness. Her chest moving up and down to the rhythm of her heavy breathing. There was nothing in the world that could stop her; the others had given up. She embraced the male nightshade and kissed him passionately. They walked together into the willows of the forest. A beautiful nightshade queen had found her king.
The world was at ease.
Evelyne had her arms around an invisible person.
Greg flinched and stood up as Evelyne started hissing all around the room like a crazy python. She stopped her mating cry as her eyes caught Greg’s expression. This was obviously not normal behavior to a human. This was a shame in more ways than one. Evelyne thought she had “Glutted” perfectly! She straightened up quickly and brushed her skirt off. Her hormones were raging like a wild fire. She forced the text bubble above her head to go back to normal.
¨(This is what I would do if I happened to be a nightshade pursuing a mate during the yellow cycle. Sometimes you have to do what is necessary… seeing as how there are so few male nightshades among our race.)
Greg’s hands were gripping the table behind him. He had pushed the thing a few feet back to give himself some room for escape. His heart was racing in his chest and sweat was coming to his forehead. He watched as Evelyne jumped down and resumed her position behind the paper shredder once again. She tucked the strands of stray brown hair back behind her round ears. There was no point in holding anything back now.
¨(I wear this human form to comfort you during your mental transition. It’s not what I really look like. I am not usually this hideous and asymmetrical.)
Greg remained standing. He shifted his gaze to the nearest aisle. He wanted to run, but at the same time he was drawn in by the declaration of his personal assistant. His voice was soft as if speaking to a wild animal in the forest, “so you are not really Evelyne Prewitt?”
Evelyne picked some more papers up off the table and shook her head no. She slowly stuffed them into the paper shredder and watched as they became pulverized. She couldn’t help but think she had shredded her own chances for a future mate.
¨(Evelyne Prewitt perished several years ago during a demonstration. I merely wear her form to perpetuate the plans of my new master. The Giver of Knowledge wants to give the world to us. He has worked everything out for my sisters and me. He knows the end from the beginning.)
The Giver of Knowledge? Thought Greg. Is she talking about the guy in the suite?
Greg walked up to the table again. There was something about this “Giver of Knowledge” that seemed off. There was more fear then love around him. Greg could see that from Evelyne’s interactions with him from the first day. They were definitely not friends.
“What is your real name?” asked Greg.
Evelyne seemed reluctant to answer.
¨(My real name is Bethesda Elverkongen, Daughter of the Erlking and Princess of The Black Forest.)
“And your one of these things?” asked Greg. He looked her up and down as if seeing her for the first time. She had not transformed yet.
A flash of anger crossed Bethesda’s face.
¨(We are not things Greg! You of all people should know what it feels like to be compared to monsters and things! The humans have been rejecting you from your childhood. I have been through your past memories and witnessed the cruelty. It has all played a part in who you are today. You chose to be an audiobook narrator to get away from the world; to get away from humanity.)
Greg wanted to protest. He didn’t know exactly why he became an audiobook narrator, but it certainly wasn’t to get away from humanity. At least that’s what he would continue to tell himself. Everyone seemed so convinced he was something else.
“If I am a nightshade,” started Greg, shivering at the thought. He hate the words he was speaking. He knew from his Alcoholics Anonymous meetings that people had a dark side that they didn’t want to confront… but nothing like this. “How do I transform into one? I mean there would be no arguing against it at that point. It would be something I would have to accept regardless of my human failings.”
¨(You transform like this!)
Bethesda held up a plain brown book from the stack of books she had brought in. The thing looked thick and boring; like an encyclopedia. She showed the front cover to Greg so that he could read the text. The black lettering was bold.
Volume 1. (Survival and Shelter)
Bethesda thumbed through the pages.
¨(There are 100,000 Volumes like this in your head Greg. All of them have different titles and all of them help to make you human. It is my job to shred them and then replace them with my own volumes. These are the first steps to becoming the new you.)
“You plan to shred everything that is human about me?” asked Greg in surprise. He didn’t like where all this was headed. “So I have no decision in the matter?”
Evelyne held up a remote and placed her finger on the button. She seemed apprehensive.
¨(It’s way more complicated than that Greg. This is only the mental transformation.)
Greg jumped across the table and reached for the remote.
His world went dark as Evelyne waved goodbye to him and pressed the button.