Before and After Sleep

Chapter 1

by calledbyflowers

Tags: #cw:noncon #cw:blood #cw:gender_dysphoria #cw:violence #transgender_characters #urban_fantasy #weird #cw:guns #cw:transphobia #memory_alteration #mind_alteration #religion

Includes transphobia, violence, blood, mind and memory alteration, anxiety (particularly social anxiety), guns, allusions to sexual assault, misgendering, sex stuff, religious and metaphysical themes, also more blood I should mention that now.

The Moon hung low in the sky, staring harshly at Calliope. She kept her eyes down at the ground, watching raindrops hit pavement. She tried to pretend it was just rain.

Footsteps from behind her. The Chosen Maiden. Her back tensed. She tried not to guess who it was.

The two stood there for a moment, listening for a crack of thunder. It was almost midnight. The Witching Hour. The moment passed.

Calliope breathed a sigh of relief. She felt the steady rise and fall of her chest, only recognizing in hindsight the unnatural stillness, the intense pressure of the moment before. Color began to return to the world. She could see it through the darkness.

Cautiously she raised her head. She wanted to thank her savior, but she knew that one could never look at one's Chosen Maiden, nor even speak to her in her capacity as Chosen Maiden, since to do so would inspire them to speak back. No Witch was permitted to ignore another Witch. One had to answer back, even if it meant death. But it was part of the sacred responsibility of being Chosen Maiden that one could never speak to the one judged, nor let them know in any way that you were their Chosen Maiden, since one could never seek to explain oneself nor ask for forgiveness. It had to be an absolute responsibility, without hope of reconciliation.

One had to make the decision entirely for oneself and by oneself. Calliope was glad she had never had to do it.

A smile, dawning on her face, was quickly shattered. For the Moon, which once had somberly overseen the affair, had now turned dark. It hid itself from her, appearing in its mundane guise as rock, according to which it would submit to Man.

Calliope fell to her knees, gently scraping them on the wet pavement. She thought she heard a whimper, but it could just be a dog barking in the distance. More footsteps. The train would be coming soon. Back to where she came from. Back home.

* * *

Calliope waited dutifully for the next train, standing red-eyed in the stairwell and listening for it to come and go. Already she felt weak, blood draining from her wrists and from her forehead. She wiped some from her face and her vision faltered, trying to reconcile the sticky dark green substance she knew to be there with the clear snot and tears she saw.

The Screen, so recently lifted, had already begun to reassert itself. She wondered how long she would recognize herself, how long it would be until she began to see a stranger in the mirror. Or not a stranger, since she had not seen a stranger before, but rather herself, which was worse. Would she remember that it was not herself that she saw? How long would she continue to do so?

The train rolled into the station. There was a man there–scruffy-faced, middle-aged, wearing a ruffled trenchcoat, carelessly reading an old paperback–and she thought about waiting for the next one. She still had her pepper spray, though, and her semi-automatic.

But that was just a rationalization. She knew if he did anything that she would claw out his eyes while dark green blood–the blood of the Earth, the true Earth that hung underneath–dripped into his sockets and filled his brain with unknowable truths, leaving him unable to work and probably leading ultimately to his institutionalization. She almost wanted to do it, even if he just sat there, just as one last exercise of power.

But that was not their way. One was guided by the inner order of things–of the stars, of the body, of the world under the world and the world above the world. So long as the Ichor was still in her, she was physically unable to so destroy him without cause, despite what he was. And as soon as the Ichor was no longer in her, she would likewise be unable to do so. She could still kill him, though.

So she just stood there, clutching the handholds, waiting for the train to move. She shook slightly, forcing herself to stare at the bone that shown through her arm, just hoping for the pain to go on. Because as long as she still felt it, she still had some Ichor left in her, was not yet fully one of them.

* * *

Her eyes glazed over. Sweat covered her face. The dripping slowed. Her feet were undecided as to whether she stood in a puddle or not, but she was sure it had all drained from her head. The signals were staring to get muddled, like her legs still knew what was going on but somewhere around her chest she lost the ability to process it. She tried to avoid looking, to keep her eyes on the man with his Dan Brown novel who she so feared and envied and pitied, since though she had lost the Gift of the Moon she had at least had it at one point, while he was totally incapable of doing so, forced to live in illusion as all his sex was.

A lazy smile came over her, as she basked in her superiority, Yes, even if She had revoked Her gift, she had at least had it once and so she could have it. She was the sort of creature who, by the inner order of things, could receive the Gift. Her flesh was capable of accepting, while his could only violate and destroy.

And this thought transmuted to feeling, as everything that allowed it to make sense as thought emptied out of her, leaving just the feeling. She felt that she was superior, though she no longer knew why.

She also no longer knew why she felt so light-headed. Nor did she notice the scars along her arms, which were already beginning to disappear. The floor of the train car was a little wet, but that was to be expected. She had just come in from the rain, after all. A little midnight walk, to clear her head. And if anyone messed with her, she had her pepper spray. And her semi-automatic.

The one good thing about this godforsaken country, she thought. She would be sad to leave her behind when she moved to Germany next month.

* * *

At last, the sound of her home station sputtered over the loudspeaker, unintelligible to anyone who did not know it by heart.

She tensed up when she saw the man in the trenchcoat begin to move as well. There were a number of apartment buildings nearby. Perhaps he lived in one of them as well. A tiny bachelor pad full of old takeaway containers and littered with posters of naked girls. Not that much different from her place, she supposed.

Still, she waited for him to go first, wanting to say, "Gentlemen first," but knowing she could not do so unmaliciously. She took three deep breaths, while he tipped his hat to her and bumbled past, casually slipping his book inside his coat. Who was the kind of person who would like The Da Vinci Code and hadn't already read it? she wondered. Who was the kind of person who would reread The Da Vinci Code? She knew there were people who liked disposable trash like that, but to think that those people would be passionate enough to read it again was inconceivable.

Still pondering this strange man, she stepped briskly out past him, entirely forgetting her earlier desire to let him go in front of her, just barely making it out before the train doors snapped shut. Some primal part of her felt that she had left something behind in the train car, but as she rooted around in her purse nothing seemed to be missing.

* * *

Calliope typed the code into her apartment building. As it swung open, she thought she saw a man in a trenchcoat on a park bench nearby. She thought he was looking at her.

Slamming it shut, she hoped he hadn't been watching. Had the motherfucker been tailing her the whole time? God-fucking-dammit, she should've been keeping a closer eye. The big lumbering oaf thing must've just been an act, if he'd caught up with her so quickly.

Oh, well. She climbed the stairs two at a time. This was her house now, she thought. If she filled him with lead, that was just her exercising her right to stand her ground. The neighbors might be annoyed, if they weren't too busy fucking.

She thought so, anyway. She was pretty sure it wouldn't matter that she was renting, though she supposed it wasn't outside of the realm of possibility. After all, those laws were designed for a man in his castle, not a single twenty-something woman in a one room apartment where it fell below freezing in the winter.

Jamming the key into her lock, she watched down at the entrance, trying to decide if there was a shadow or not on the other side of the door, keeping one hand on her holster strap. She twisted and pulled without even looking, grabbing the key and moving inside in one motion, quickly locking the door again on the other side. She took a deep breath, pressed her back against the door and took her hand away from the semi-auto.

"Oh, hey there, Ms. Menendez," came the squeaky, slightly accented voice from the opposite corner of the room.

She flashed the light on and pointed her weapon at him. The middle-aged man was standing by her sorry excuse for a kitchenette in an apron, trenchcoat balled up on the floor with his mangled Dan Brown, a bowl in one hand and a whisk in the other.

"Do you like eggs?" he said, stirring them slightly, "I see you didn't have any eggs, but, well, I like eggs and I thought you might like them…"

"I'm vegan," she stuttered.

"Oh, that explains it." He put the bowl down on the counter, turned off her hot place. "Real sorry about that, I should've thought of that, I'll wash the bowl out real good. Hell, I'll get you a brand new bowl if you'd like. Free of charge. Don't even have to accept my offer or nothing. Just a free bowl. Scout's honor, I promise."

Calliope struggled to find words. "Who the fuck are you?" she said at last, pointing at him with her gun.

"Oh, well, geez, that's a real long story, you wouldn't want to hear it, real boring, too, I mean…"

"Get to the point! How did you get in my house?"

"Well, that's the thing, it's that I'm not in your house, am I?" He gestured around the room. "And I don't mean because you have an apartment, you know, I mean times are tough for a lot of people I get that, no, what I mean is that I'm not anywhere. Or, I'm not anywhere that you can see, at least, if you get my meaning.

"Ah, geez, I'm really not explaining it well, but basically wherever you are, that's where I am. I'm not singly located anywhere independent of you, do you understand?"

She shook her head. He was trespassing, but he hadn't threatened her yet. Would the police believe her? Some scared little animal in the building would call the piggies, hearing shots. Would they believe a strange man had followed her from a train, broke into her apartment and offered to make her an omelet?

"Please continue." She could feel a headache coming on.

"Well, of course. It's real awful, I know, my not having even explained my offer yet. Maybe I should do that first, shouldn't I? But I should explain the context first. Well, not to go all Harry Potter on you- you know Harry Potter, right? Magical boy and so on. Real popular with the kids, my wife tells me. Never seen it myself, though. Hear it's good- but anyway you're a Witch, is all I'm saying. Or you were anyway."

Calliope blinked. She had played around a bit in high school, she supposed, doing fake rituals and stuff, wore a pentagram necklace or an upside-down crucifix occasionally, liked to wear black. But she knew that wasn't what he meant.

"You don't remember now, of course, because they've had all the Ichor drained from your veins. Or Ichor is what they call it- the Witches, I mean. It's really more complicated than that, what this stuff is, I don't want to get into it right now, but it's basically a kind of Blood transfusion, a transfusion of a different kind of Blood, makes you not quite human, but that's all a little above you right now, every part of you that could've understood that is now lying in a puddle on that train back there, where a clean-up crew is mopping it up and preparing to load it in a tub in the Sea of Tranquility."

"The Sea of Tranquility? You mean, the place on the Moon?" She let her grip slacken. This was clearly beyond her level of expertise as a psych minor. She reached for her phone to try and find an emergency number for social workers. If it was beyond her expertise, it was definitely beyond your average beat cop's.

"Well, yeah, but- ah, geez, I've really let you in on the deep end, huh? I should really start on reteaching you what you already knew, before you got drained, I mean, before going further into new stuff, Explain what Hyle already taught you, before whatever happened happened. And trust me, even I don't know what happened. I just know you got, pardon my French, shitcanned, and that's why you're here now and why I can talk to you without getting a moonbeam through my brain, heh, if you get what I mean."

She half-listened to him while she scrolled. Each number she tried seemed to have been disconnected. She just got static. Fucking gutted social services in this country. She was so glad to be leaving it soon, even if she couldn't remember why.

"I suppose I should probably just show you. I mean, that's probably what She had to do, ultimately, at some point, though I think they like to take things so slow. A little more foreplay, eh? Sorry, I know I shouldn't make jokes like that. I don't want to be disrespectful or anything. Just tell me, if you're at all interested. It's a job opportunity is what it is, really. But I really can't explain."

At last she gave up and put down her phone. After taking a few deep breaths, she told him, "Listen, dude, I'm real sorry. I don't know how you got into my house. I don't know what you're doing here. But I can't do anything for you. I don't know what you think is going on between us. I really don't want to call the cops, so please, just get out here, okay? I won't do anything, I promise. Just take your stuff and go. Don't worry- don't worry about the fucking eggs. I can clean up myself."

He put his hands up. "That's quite alright. Whatever it is you want, that's what I have to do. No way around it. You just take care now, Ms. Menendez."

He picked up his coat and his book. She moved aside to let him pass, let him fumble with the lock.

"Oh, by the way," he said, turning back in the doorway, "Don't tell anyone about this. For your sake I mean."

"Goodnight," she muttered, staring down at the floor.

"Goodnight, Ms. Menendez."

He left her alone in her room. It began to rain again outside her window. She watched the raindrops as they fell, outlined against a black sky.

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