Light of the Beast
by Jason Earls
“I could smell his scent,” Megan said, panting. “And he could smell my scent and I knew he was coming for me.”
Her mother shifted a little on the sofa. “Now slow down, honey. Tell me again, how did you break your pottery?”
“I told you, it was an accident. I was sitting there painting my snowbird bowl. I felt calm. Everything was fine. But then I smelled the beast outside. And I knew he could smell me. And I wouldn’t be able to get away from him when he came. That’s when I got scared and dropped my bowl.”
Her mother squinted and feigned a smile.
Megan guessed her mother was thinking the accident had something to do with her special ability —Megan’s unique skill —but it didn’t this time. She panted harder and rubbed her eyes.
“We’re not upset with you, dear,” her mother said. “But I’d like you to tell me more about this beast you keep mentioning. We need to understand what it is exactly that’s scaring you.” She pushed a strand of hair from her face.
“I don’t think I can.”
“Just try, dear.”
“Well, the beast is really big. Bigger than our house. And he’s shaped like a wolf. Or maybe a coyote. But he’s like an alien too. He has big patches of slimy green lizard skin in places. But with a lot of fur. And long yellow teeth. He has antennae on his forehead and blue light comes from his eyes and also shoots out the top of his head.”
“Light comes from the top of his head?”
“Yes.” Red splotches broke out over Megan’s neck. Her fingers twitched. She had only seen the beast in her nightmares. But that’s how he had looked to her. “And he can smell my scent from miles away,” she continued. “I can’t get away from him because he can always smell my scent whenever he’s close. He knows where I am at all times.” Her breathing got heavier.
Her mother stood up and stepped forward. “That’s fine. Don’t get upset, dear. Try to stay calm. You’ve explained enough.”
“B-But, do I have to use my allowance to pay for the broken snowbird bowl? I never liked pottery class. You made me go. I’m sorry I shattered the bowl. But the beast made me do it. He could smell my scent. It wasn’t my fault.”
Her mother leaned down and hugged her. Then she stood up and tilted her head slightly to one side. “We’ll pay for the ceramics, dear. Don’t worry. Now try to relax. It’s all ri-”
“But what if he gets my scent again!” Megan kicked her feet and her cheeks puffed up. Her entire face began to swell. She reached for her forehead, placed her small hand across it. The bright light came out anyway. From the right side, a beam went straight up, then curved over to penetrate the wall. The light from the other side drilled a hole through the television screen.
Her mother stared at the light coming from Megan’s head. She stepped backward and screamed. Megan breathed in quick gasps, then fainted and slid from the chair. The bright light went away when she collapsed to the carpet and she lay on the floor, unconscious with her eyes closed.
* * *
The limbs of the oak tree scratched against Megan’s bedroom window. The moon was full and low in the sky, the darkness seemed like an impenetrable wall. She couldn’t fall asleep because of the gnarled tree limbs scraping against the glass outside. Her father was supposed to have trimmed the tree weeks ago, but he couldn’t stop watching football long enough.
With her hands under her chin and the blanket covering her mouth, she clamped her eyes shut and felt that the beast had her scent again. She sniffed and found that she could smell him too. She tried not to think of him out there working his way through the darkness. But the images continued flashing in her mind’s eye and her face started to swell. She knew she wouldn’t be able to drift off for hours now. The musty sour smell of the beast stung her nose.
“I can’t get away from him,” she whispered into the darkness. “And I know he’s getting closer.” She pulled the blanket over her head and turned onto her side and her whole body shivered.
Megan had first noticed the light when she was eight years old. The first incident occurred before they moved to their new town. She had been on the school bus headed home when three girls started teasing her about her crush on Phil Meyers. They tugged at her coat, giggled and threw pieces of paper into her hair. She tried to ignore them. The girls started singing silly songs about her and Phil, their names substituted into the lyrics to mock them. She hoped the bus driver would stop the girls’ teasing. But he paid no attention.
After more taunts, her neck got hot and the bright light shot from her forehead. Both of the beams swerved to each side. They shattered the near and far bus windows and then the girls stopped teasing her. The bus driver heard the breaking glass and halted the bus. He muttered a few curses and rose from his seat. The light from Megan’s head had vanished by then and she watched the driver walk fast down the aisle toward her. He had a large mustache and was bald.
“You!” he pointed at Megan. “You broke the windows! Why did you break them? You used your books didn’t you!”
The teasing girls stayed quiet. Megan turned toward them. They sat with their heads down.
“It wasn’t my fault,” she told the driver. “I didn’t mean to break the windows.”
“Your parents are going to pay for them!” he yelled, shaking his finger. He muttered more curse words and went back to his seat. She was surprised he didn’t clean up the glass.
Megan lowered her head and started crying and the bus moved forward again. She turned to look at the teasing girls. They were staring at her with fear in their eyes. Megan felt worse than before.
But after seeing the light, the girls never teased her again, and most of the other children at school stopped speaking to her.
* * *
“I’ll take that one,” said Megan, pointing to a new bowl on a high shelf.
“Good choice,” said Sarah, the lady who ran the pottery class. She smiled and took down the piece of pottery.
Megan was excited about starting a new piece. She had already picked out her paints. She strolled around the room as Sarah put her bowl in the kiln and fired it. Then Megan felt her thoughts almost turn to the beast, but she pulled them away. His musty smell came back for an instant. She raised some papier-mâché to her nose to stop it.
The scent lasted only a second but it seemed mustier than before. He must be getting closer, she thought. But since he’s always out there searching for me anyway, why should I worry now? She sat down at one of the tables. It was covered with cardboard. She opened her paints and stirred them.
When class was over she picked up her bag and went outside to wait for her ride. She gauged that it would be dark in about fifteen minutes.
She waited. No headlights beamed down the road. The wind blew harder. She sat down on the curb. It got dark. She stood and shifted her feet and sighed. Another ten minutes passed and she guessed that Katrina, her older sister, was off partying somewhere and had forgotten to pick her up, so Megan decided to walk the four miles home.
She passed the park. The musty odor suddenly stung her nose. Her arms started to shake. She wondered how she could have been foolish enough to walk when the beast was out there waiting for her. I should have asked Sarah for a ride, she thought.
The odor got stronger and she broke into a jog, squeezing her bag closer to her side. She ran for three more blocks, then took a shortcut. A dirt road just to one side of a large patch of evergreen trees. She looked into the trees. Black shadows moved and twisted among the limbs and the wind whooshed through them. She felt hot fingers cascade across her neck and move down her back. She coughed from the strong sour odor, then looked into the wall of evergreens.
The beast was there behind the dark twisting shadows.
She could feel his presence.
Just as she broke into another run, two beams of white light shot out horizontally from behind the trees. The light was more than twenty feet above the ground. It zoomed away infinitely in both directions and the beams were separated by a gap of three feet. That’s how big his head is, Megan thought. Running won’t do me any good now.
She felt like dropping to the ground and playing dead. But she also wanted to see him, observe what she had been scared of for so long. She stared into the trees. But only shadows and two beams of light stared back. The pit of her stomach burned; she knew he was there but couldn’t get a real glimpse of him.
“It’s a gift,” came a whispering voice, similar to an animal’s growl, but softer.
Megan dropped her head and shut her eyes.
“The light is a gift. You and I are alike.”
She wanted to speak, but couldn’t. The wind blew stronger. Seconds ticked away. Finally she was able to say: “W-We are alike?”
“Yes. The light that comes from you is there to protect you. You should trust it.”
She tried to get a look at him but could only see swaying tree limbs and two bright beams.
“I-It only gets me into t-trouble.”
“You will have to learn how to use it.”
She looked at the light shooting off infinitely, then moved her eyes to the ground. Not knowing what to say, she began walking again.
“You’ve been scared of me for a long time. But you shouldn’t be.”
She stopped. “Y-You mean, you aren’t g-going to k-kill me?”
“Of course not. I would never harm you. We are of the same species. Our kind comes from the Black Eye Galaxy. Soon there will be many of us here on Earth. We have the light to protect us. We are special.”
She searched the trees again for a glimpse of him. The beams seemed stronger. Her fear began to subside. “I’d like to see you, come out.”
“I can’t do that,” he said. “Just remember that we are the same.”
The beams disappeared, the musty smell went away. The scent of evergreens took over and Megan stood staring at the swaying limbs for a long time. Then she turned and ran down the dirt road.
* * *
Megan carried a yellow coffee cup through her back yard. She set it down on an old log. The cup had a picture of a dolphin jumping out of the sea on one side. Her parents had gone bowling for the evening. She adjusted the cup until it wouldn’t fall, then turned and stepped twenty paces to the middle of her yard. She stared at the cup and lowered her chin, aiming her forehead at the dolphin. She squinted hard and concentrated and the light came out of her head. It missed the cup and burned a hole in one end of the log.
She practiced aiming for another hour, trying to learn how to control the light. Three more tries and she hit the cup and it shattered. Next, she tried to make the light come from different parts of her body. She made it shoot from the tip of her index finger, but it wasn’t as powerful. Then she went into the garage and found three old bottles. A few minutes later they were all busted. She realized how deadly her gift was and tried to adjust its intensity.
By the time the sun started to set, she had gained a small amount of control over her ability. And right before she went inside, she discovered something else:
If she concentrated hard enough... she could make herself invisible...
* * *
“Hey, look at Megan,” said Suzie. “She’s wearing a funny dress.” Suzie was tall and had rows of zits running across her forehead.
Megan set her books down and took a seat at her desk. She was in history class. She rolled her eyes at Suzie’s comment.
“Why does your mother make you wear such funny clothes, Megan?” said Gene. He always joined in with Suzie. He had red hair and freckles.
Megan looked into Gene’s face, then down at his desk. He had been reading a comic book: Tornado Man. The cover displayed a muscular man in a blue suit with a big ‘T’ on his chest. A swirling tornado cloud encompassed his legs. Turning into a tornado is his power, Megan thought.
She smiled and decided to answer Gene. “My mother didn’t make me wear this dress. I picked it out myself and I like it very much, thank you.”
“You’re weird,” Gene said. Then he began to chant: “Megan wears funny clothes, Megan wears funny clothes...”
Suzie giggled and joined him. “Megan wears funny clothes, Megan wears funny clothes.”
Megan felt her neck get hot. She hoped the teacher would arrive soon. She looked at Gene’s comic book again. Studied the way Tornado Man’s legs went into the swirling cloud. Then another boy a few desks away joined in the chant. “Megan wears funny clothes...”
She raised her hand to her forehead. Her neck was tingling now. The chants grew louder. Other kids joined in.
Megan rose from her desk and turned toward the teasing children. She grinned at them and felt the musty smell of the beast sting her nose. He was close. But she didn’t feel afraid anymore.
She walked to the front of the classroom and faced the students. She clasped her hands in front of her and nodded and smiled as they chanted, “Megan wears funny clothes, Megan wears funny clothes ...” She folded her arms and and ran her eyes down each aisle as they sang on. She looked at Gene and Suzie and all the singing faces. Then she looked at the comic book and for some reason she thought of the Black Eye Galaxy. She shut her eyes, lowered her head, and concentrated as hard as possible.
And when the bright light filled the room, she felt herself become invisible...
Copyright © 2010 by Jason Earls