Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
Her shaking fingers reach for the yellow lozenge.
“No, not that one. Try the green one.”
Olivia does so and her eyes go wide, then close. She slumps.
Smiling, toothy and benign, he steps over her twitching body, then shakes the bowl and proffers it again.
“Her mind is flooded with synesthetic euphoria. Never again will she fear, never again will she hunger. Now, who will try a blue one?”
A broad-shouldered man stands up.
“I’ll take a purple one.”
The snout lifts. A howling laugh echoes.
“Purple it shall be. Come.”
He takes his choice, then drops to his knees. Melting eyes gaze back at us as smoking tears cut lines in his face. Without a sound, he topples, head splashing across the floor.
The bowl is shaken again. The Wolfclown extends it toward me.
Long ago, my wife and I played a question game. One of them stuck in my mind: held in separate rooms, knowing we both would die in an hour, but the other would be saved if we pressed a button, would we press? We both said we’d wait until the last second.
Yet, here and now, Olivia had stepped in front of me.
Our starliner has been lost in space for two hundred weeks. Released from translight field by freak chance, we celebrated our luck at not being disintegrated – the predicted outcome of translight failure. Then the captain told us we’d emerged in an uncharted sector. It could take centuries to reach anywhere useful. We voted to head homeward and leave messages for those who would eventually find our remains.
Yesterday our sublight drive flickered out. The captain announced a ship had docked with us. We all heard the gleeful howls as something rampaged through the ship, killing all who resisted, herding the rest into the ballroom.
A lupine biped dressed in jester’s motley. Clawed hands held a bowl of gewgaws. Clawed feet peeled strips from the carpet.
“I be Wolfclown, with space for one more on my ship. To see who shall take it, you must sample my wares. Amongst them is a confection that will allow its consumer to best me. Thus one could become two. Who will partake?”
Sweets! Containing anything from sedatives to lethal picotech. Hoping to live, desperate for painless oblivion, we took candies from the monster.
Today, the dance floor is littered with bodies.
The bowl wags from side to side.
I step up. Looking into the bowl, I see a blue teardrop to the left of a yellow lozenge. There are other blue sweets, but no more yellow.
The Wolfclown grins, purple tongue lolling. I stare into its jaundiced eyes. Without shifting my gaze, I snatch a sweet and swallow without chewing. Our eyes drop to see the blue teardrop fall to the right.
“Lucky. Now for the feeling.”
Something blossoms in my gut, then crawls outward with scalding heat. I go blind. All is lost in howls and screaming.
The bowl smashes on the floor.
Strange clarity: I am furry, and am no longer in control of my body.
I’m kneeling on a floor covered in sweet-dappled blood, pulling a yellow lozenge from a lupine head with my long-clawed hand. I stand up, leaving Wolfclown lying next to Olivia.
My usurper whispers to me.
“We two: eternal, yet alone. Sometimes one gets lost in the song of the beyond. But that maddening song always finds a way to set the other free. I be Wolfshadow, returned at last. Fear not, for you will fade.”
I have no mouth to scream.