CATHARSIS

Andrew Hand

 

As the changeling waited for his client, he busied himself by straightening the multitude of pictures that lined the entry hall of his house. Each in matching frames in perfectly straight rows. He hoped she wouldn't be late. The muscle relaxers he'd taken thirty minutes earlier were setting in and he began to feel lethargic. Just as he decided to lie down to wait, a quick set of sharp cries from the doorknocker told him that his guest was indeed on time. He sprang toward the door and immediately felt woozy, paused for a second, letting the blood retreat from his face before turning the cold brass knob.


A woman in her early twenties stood on the front step heavily armored against the formidable Chicago winter in a wool pea coat. A long multicolored scarf rested in loose coils around her neck like a brightly painted snake and in her arms she held a paper grocery bag. Her dark brown hair was cropped short and looked as though it needed to be washed. She shifted her weight and hefted the bag, readjusting her grip.


"You must be Melody. Please let me help with that," he said reaching out and plucking the bag from her arms before waiting for her to respond.


She flinched and looked slightly perturbed but said, "Thank you."


"You're very welcome, please come in." He took a step backward and allowed her to come into the house. He closed and locked the door after she had made her way into the hall. As he turned the lock, her eyes shot to the deadbolt and then to her feet.


The changeling made a half smile, "It's an old house. If you don't turn the lock the wind will push it open. Please make yourself comfortable. May I take your coat?"


Melody nodded and began uncoiling the scarf, slowly undoing each button on her coat, like a girl undressing in front of her lover for the first time. "I don't believe I got your name?"


He took the coat and serpent scarf and hooked them carefully on the coat rack. With his back turned he replied, "That's because I didn't give it. This will be much easier for you if you know as little about me as possible."


She pulled her gaze from her feet and looked the changeling in the face, "Don't be offended, but I'm rather skeptical about the whole idea."


He turned and looked behind her blue eyes, his half smile pulled into an unreadable line. "My clients always are. At least in the beginning." He motioned for her to move out of the hall into a small sitting room. "Please have a seat."


Melody sank to an uncomfortable depth in a brown leather sofa. The changeling pulled a wooden chair from its resting place against the wall and sat so that he was facing her. Before sitting he leaned forward to place the bag on the couch next to Melody. She recoiled slightly moving deeper into the plush grip of the sofa.


He eased back into his wooden chair and stared at her for several seconds. "So why do you require my services?"


Melody fought to hold eye contact with the man. "It's my grandfather." She looked down at her grey knit sweater and began picking a loose piece of yarn. Without looking up she continued. "He died a few months ago and there was a lot I never got to say."


The changeling nodded. "Did you bring all the things I asked for on the phone?" Melody motioned toward the paper sack on the seat next to her. "Yeah, its all there. I couldn't find any home movies or audiotapes of him though. Will that matter?"


He watched her pick at the string; it had grown longer forming a tiny hole in the sweater, from which a yellowed, once white, t-shirt peeked out. "Well I won't be able to do the voice without something to go off of."


"That's alright. He just needs to listen really." She looked up from the hole, which was now the size of a quarter. "But I have everything else."


"And my fee?"


Melody went back to the hole in her sweater, redoubling her efforts. "I brought your money. But if this is a scam I won't pay you a dime. If I didn't trust Valerie so much, I wouldn't even be here."


The changeling settled back in his chair. After one hundred years of skeptics he felt the barbs of disbelief less and less.


"And how is the good doctor?" he said.


"She's fine. She seems to think that an hour with you will do more for me than a year of her therapy. But I'm fucking serious, if this is some kind of scam, I'm out."


He leaned forward in his chair, his face devoid of anything recognizable, "I can assure you, you will not be disappointed."


He stood and gathered the brown bag, throwing his shadow over her. "Follow me." He said.


He led her through a narrow doorway into a sparsely decorated kitchen. He motioned for her to sit at the table and pointed to the counter. "There is a fresh pot of coffee, this will take a few minutes."

 

He vanished behind a heavy oak door. Melody could hear a deadbolt being turned.

* * *

The changeling made his way through the darkened room without turning on any lights, settling down in a plush chair. He pulled the photo out of the worn grocery bag and studied the old man's face in the dim light. The pill he took earlier was making him drowsy; he would make a point to mention that to Dr. Stafford at their next meeting.


Dr. Valerie Stafford was one of the changeling's oldest customers. She had been using his services for nearly three years. Normally he never saw his clients after their initial visit, mostly due to the five thousand dollars he charged per visit, and the strangeness of the changeling himself.


Valerie had lost her husband four years ago and was referred to the changeling through one of her patients. He had been seeing her on the first of every month since their first meeting.


She was the only person the changeling saw on a regular basis. He gave her a significant discount on his fee and she prescribed the muscle relaxers and pain killers that allowed him to shift with little or no pain, besides, being a beautiful woman's husband, if only for one night a month, had its own rewards.


He reached out and turned on a small lamp that sat on the table next to his chair. He pulled himself up, slowly reverted to his natural state, and then disrobed. He ran a hand over smooth grey skin, his body devoid of nipples or a belly button.


He stood in front of a full-length mirror and began to concentrate.


He began to change.

* * *

Melody added a heaping spoonful of sugar to her coffee and went back for another only to find the dish empty. She threw the sugar spoon on the counter and blew into her mug.


What was she doing here? This was ridiculous, why would Dr. Stafford suggest this? That skinny bitch needs to be in counseling, not me.


She heard the shuffle of heavy footsteps. He was on his way back, Melody would thank him for his time, but tell him she had to leave, this was too weird. He was too weird.


She heard the deadbolt, and turned to face the doorway as the heavy oak door slowly creaked open.
"Hey look, I don't mean to be a pain in the ass." She stopped. Her coffee mug slipped from her hands and shattered on the kitchen floor, sending its contents everywhere.


"It can't fucking be!"


But it was. Her grandfather was standing the doorway. It was no trick or illusion; it was him, down to the mole on his chin.


He lumbered into the kitchen, a strange look on his face, somewhere between uncertainty and amusement. He smiled, showing yellow teeth and reached forward to touch the hole in her sweater that was now the size of a baseball. She felt the all too familiar sensation of his calloused fingers on her skin. She leapt backward, smashing into the countertop scattering its occupants.


"No. It can't be. You're fucking dead you prick!"


It wasn't supposed to be like this. Melody wasn't sure what she expected in coming here, for him to dress in her grandfather's clothes and listen while she told him what a bastard he was. Listen while she told him that only a sick fuck would touch a child. Whatever she had envisioned or expected, this was not it.

 

His smile faded into a look of confusion that Melody found mocking. He withdrew his hand and took a step back. He looked as if he wanted to say something, but thought better of it.


It was going to happen again. Melody could feel it. She could feel his breath on her neck; feel his hands pawing her breasts.


"No!"


Her grandfather just stood there with that stupid look on his face, like he had no idea what he was about to do. Like he hadn't done it a hundred times over the years. But Melody wasn't buying into his little game. She remembered every time.


The changeling took a step forward, raising his hands to try and comfort her, people were always startled when they witnessed the change, but this time it was different. This woman was terrified. Not of him, but of his newly acquired persona. There was some dark history here that he wasn't privy to.


"Stay the fuck away from me!" she shrieked.


She wouldn't let it happen again. This would end here.


She searched the scattered objects on the counter and grabbed a small paring knife. Without hesitation Melody lunged forward and buried the short blade into her grandfather's chest.


He let out an alien scream. "What the fuck is wrong with you? Are you out of your fucking mind?"


Melody retreated two steps and tried to speak. The voice coming from her grandfather was not his own. Seeing him as he was and hearing another man's voice coming out of his mouth was too much. This was all so confusing.


He clutched at the wooden handle lodged in his right breast. "This is what you wanted!" he said.


Melody continued to back out of the kitchen. It wasn't her grandfather. Somehow this man had managed to make himself appear like her grandfather.


It wasn't possible. None of this was possible.


"What the fuck are you?" she said.


The changeling pulled the stainless steel blade from his chest with both hands. He howled, the pain forcing him to his knees. His eyes involuntarily changed to grey, then black. His ears lengthened themselves by four inches, then back to that of the grandfathers. Blood frothed from his wound in pink bubbles, the knife had punctured his lung.


Melody watched the inhuman stranger writhing in pain, his features changing rapidly. This was too much. She turned and ran abandoning her coat and scarf and sped into the dying afternoon.

* * *

The changeling was standing in front of his mirror, examining the nearly healed wound to his chest, when he heard the knocker drop sharply three times.


He pulled a loose shirt slowly over his head and moved stiffly to the front door, opening it awkwardly with his left hand.


A middle-aged woman in a blue-grey postal uniform smiled at him, handing him an envelope with an oversized stamp on it.


He returned the woman's smile and ran a hand through his shoulder length blonde hair. "Special delivery?" he joked, winking a blue eye.


The woman's ruddy cheeks deepened two shades." No just a certified letter sir. I need to have you sign for it." She said, held out a small computer with a black plastic pen attached by a cord. "Just sign in the box sir."


He stared disdainfully at the electronic device. The changeling was born in a time long before such cold contraptions were the norm. He took the pen without breaking eye contact, "I meant you, but I guess I'll take what I can get." He signed illegibly on the small transparent rectangle.


The woman stared at the changeling for just a second more than was proper, started to say something, then turned and walked away, her hips moving in a rehearsed pattern.


The changeling's smile faded and he focused his attention on the letter, ignoring the display being put on for his benefit.


Inside the envelope was a money order for five thousand dollars and a small scrap of paper with two words written in sloppy, vaguely feminine script.


Thank You.


The changeling smiled and closed the door.

 



      

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