Chapter Twenty-One


All in all, Beatrice spent far too long inside the walls of the apartment building. It could have been two days, or it could have been a week. Maybe just a matter of hours. Time as a bird felt different somehow.


She didn’t care all too much. It turns out not having hands and fumbling around in complete darkness are both substantial hindrances she hadn’t quite considered before she pecked her way through the crumbling plaster behind Blake’s antique credenza.


Beatrice had fallen behind an old oak credenza after a failed attempt of exiting through the window. In her excitement of seeing Don resurrected into human form, Beatrice flew directly into the glass of Blake’s sixth story window, momentarily knocking herself into a bird dream.


Frustrated and sore, Beatrice began to peck her way out when she heard the shrill voice of Janice interrogating Don in his fourth floor apartment. Had she only gone two floors? Beatrice realized that distance, it would seem, also felt different as a bird.


She emerged behind a pile of dirty laundry discarded loosely in a corner. She stumbled as she pushed her way through, flapping her wings in utter frustration. As she rolled herself upright, feverishly pecking at the sweat laden socks that swirled around her feet, she heard a cough, or was it a gasp, above her.


Janice held steadfast, with a baseball bat raised above her head in an awkward and admittedly non-threatening sort of way. Non-threatening in that Janice clearly had no idea how to hold a baseball bat.


“Toooooseeee,” Beatrice cooed, “Tooooessss”


“Did she say t-t-o-toes,” Don emerged from the other room, his face still as dazed as it had been when Beatrice spotted him stumbling outside. It was day now, but Don still looked as bewildered as before.


“I think she said tooths,” Janice lowered the baseball bat and placed her well-manicured hand on her hip, “although that makes little sense. Is there someone named Tooth in this building?”


“I think she means two,” Don nodded, lowering his hand for Beatrice to hop on. His head jerked from side to side - Beatrice did the same.


“Toooooooeeesssss,” she cooed again, aching her vocal chords to cooperate with each breath. Don raised her close to his blinking eyes.


“No, it can’t be,” Don twitched at a rapid rate, “Beatrice. This is Beatrice.” Don raised his finger to the side of Beatrice’s face, lightly stroking her cheek. He could see her there, her warm eyes and adorably crooked nose. It was faint, but it was there somehow. Beatrice nodded her head in a way, and pushed her head into the warm hands as he stroked her. She might not know Don well, but it felt nice to feel comforted.


“Well, I’ll be. 2S. She hasn’t changed back though, Don. How are we going to turn her back?”


“We still don’t know how I t-t-turned back, Janice. One minute you’re carting me back home on your shoulder, and the next minute I was sprawled onto Ashland Avenue. I don’t know how this works.” Don set Beatrice on the coffee table and sat on the worn leather couch.




Outside, thunder rumbled, from the east, a storm approaching over the lake.


Blake stepped from an angle of the room quicker than any of them could respond, standing in a corner by a bookcase.


“Metempsychosis,” he said, “That’s the word. Transmigration of a soul. It’s a bit advanced.”


The three of them stared at him blankly, in shock, for what seemed like an eternity.  In a swift motion, Don lunged off the leather couch to grab him by the collar, but froze in a locked stance inches away. Beatrice cocked her head to one side, doing a cautious dance backward, hopping onto the couch, wings still tucked. Janice blanched, reaching her hand up to cover her mouth, as if to stifle a scream.  


Blake of 6S had always been odd, he was a figure of some curiosity to a few people, a fixture, that near-stranger brought into proximity only at points along the stairway, a person in passing, not even an acquaintance to most, but within the past few hours his true nature had been revealed to those transformed and transfixed by him. Now, his entire being seemed more off than odd, a weird luminescence to his frame, something almost insubstantial about him, gaunt as he had ever been, but something else, a strange vibration that surrounded him, seeming like nothing so much as a mobile cylinder of half-visible flipping cards in steady rotation around him.


“It can be undone, but then again it is always being undone,” he said.  “What was human may become human again, as my friend would put it, land and field, ash of May. So the sleepers have awakened. To see through the eyes of another, to know their world, to challenge the other, the darkness, the outrage to come.  This is only the beginning. The beetles have begun to gather, even now they mass, as the harbinger told me. The first language is the only means of protection. The intent got lost in human nature. This is a rescue mission and an insurgency. Go, now. Sing. Be reborn.”


Beatrice took flight at the final word, Don and Janice skidding as they ran out into the hall and hunched over the railing.


As Blake emerged from the doorway, the frame flapping to tatters as he followed them, ghost cards flipping around him.


“There is only one song, being sung again and again, in different ways. There have been unavoidable side-effects, madness, time-displacement, and yes, potentially irreversible metempsychosis.  Come, my neighbors, my augurs. Show everyone what is to come. Sing.”


Beatrice, her avian frame straining at the effort, began shuddering, expelling a stream of untranslatable language, a glossolalia unnatural to anything so slender as the bird pouring it forth. A cacophony took form, as doorways buckled and transformed figures began expelling the untranslatable language from inside their homes.


Thunder continued, louder now, the storm huge, bloated clouds rumbling inland with torrents of water, tamping down the panic in some sections of the city, exacerbating it in others.


Birds circling the rooftop above veered mid-flight, perching in odd groupings. The sound, the ur-language drawing them here was getting stronger.


A rush of beating wings accompanying the bizarre tangle of near-words throughout the building, and at the mad symphony’s peak, a blazing glare in Blake’s eyes matched that of Beatrice, still hunched over, feathers giving way to form, shuddering and human and whole again but still emitting a babble foreign to any sense or meaning. Don and Janice both edged towards the stairs, clutching their ears helplessly, noses bleeding.


Laughing amidst the clamor, and mimicking the unknown language, Blake vanished into the angles of the hall, flipping cards fragmenting his image, as if he had never been more than a projection, a ghost, an image with no texture, overlayed with reality itself.


The mad cacophony ceased with his exit.


The homes of the building were suddenly silent.


Outside, a curtain of rain hissed.


By the Volumes Staff