Playing With Your Food -My mother told me once to be careful, that people will rise and fall to your expectations, so set them wisely.
I'm not the scariest thing walking around the world, but it's better for everyone if that's what the world believes. It's not openly talked about—not in polite company, anyway; certainly never in mixed—but the real reason the government restricts the sale of glamours to magical creatures with a history of...shall we say, appetites that run counter to human interests is that it makes the rest of humanity feel more in control of their world, if they think they can see the danger coming.
And, you know? That's fine. I'll be the boogeyman paraded out into the light that makes the children feel safer, in order to keep the truth—and the inevitable chaos it would cause, if the world discovered it—in the shadows where it belongs. It doesn't bother me.
But it bothers you. I can see that it does. I can see you flinch at the gasps and the stares as people around us scuttle away. Aw, baby, I love that you're not bothered by a girl with six eyes and eight limbs, but you are not the world. I looked hard for you and you were not easy to find.
We both turn when we hear a child cry. A mother clutches a toddler to her chest and glares at us. As if it’s my fault her kid scares too easily. I smile, flashing my fangs fully, the long curved lengths sharp against my bottom lip, and blink innocently. All six, pitch black eyes.
I can practically see the breath leave her lungs as her skin pales and her arms grip vice-like around her child even as her legs wobble. Scenting their fear combine and swell, my joints shake, the sensitive hairs along my limbs at attention, as my articulated legs twitch as if to pounce. I lick my lips and feel my heart race.
I look to you, the corners of my lips uncurling. My face flushes hot at your censure. I hate that I can see smug looks on the faces of people in our earshot. They think that you’re putting me in my place. Keeping the monster on its leash.
I know you’re not.
Don’t. Such a small word that can mean so many things. Right now, it means “Don’t be the monster they want you to be.”
Don’t prove them right. Don’t reinforce the stereotypes these people already hold against arachnes and vampires and gargoyles and gorgons and anyone whose existence, for centuries, has been relegated and reduced to the public’s nightmares. That tone in your voice, that look on your face, it all screams, begs and pleads with me, to not feed their worst fears. Don’t make my life, the lives of others like me—not to mention your life—worse for a fleeting feeling of pettiness.
No matter how good it might feel.
Fine. For you.
I sigh. You’re right. And we have better things to deal with tonight than crying children, stink-eyed mothers, and pettiness.
You reach your hand out to me. I wring mine before clutching your hand and tucking another arm in the crook of your elbow. Curling into you, I place my other two hands on your arm, feeling their strength, being comforted by it, even as I put more sway into my four-legged gait. Screw them. All of them. The whole world. I have you and that's all I need.
We walk to a nondescript building and enter the Preyer Service. When the magical community first came out, those who've preyed upon humanity in the shadows and in their nightmares for eons, were the first to be targeted. With hate crimes and lynch mobs, with protests and, finally, laws. Initially, Preyer Services were a way for the government to track the mating and living habits of those on predatory lists. We were studied and kept in captivity, in the name of public safety, until the magical community, joined by non-magical legal support, were able to strike a compromise.
Conditional amnesty was granted for those who agreed to reform and conform to society's laws and norms. And, for those who could not or would not agree...well, mercy is never meant for monsters.
So, even after the official Preyer Service was disbanded, those of us who remember kept it alive. Reclaimed it for our own. Built a community in its ashes, where we feel safe. Where we are protected by each other. And where we protect each other—even from one another and, especially, from ourselves.
There's a strange accountability in community. We all know each other's business. We know each other's partners and practices. We share our joys. We lighten each other's burdens.
And we call ourselves out, when we see each other slip. We deal with our own. The world can be cruel; no one knows this better than us. We are predators, by nature. But, after being the world's prey, we won't be held at anyone's mercy again.
So we come here. Our safe space.
I nod to several people as we make our way through the room. Couples and groups huddle together, talking to each other and avoiding everyone else. Predators, by nature, tend to be solitary or pack creatures. We don't group well. But an awareness hangs heavy in the room. My feelers tingle with it, sending shivers up and down my limbs. I can feel others watching me, even as I indirectly watch them.
“Looks like Jericho brought a new partner.”
I turn to you and eye the pretty, young thing hanging on the arm of the vampire in question. I shake my head. “No, we've seen her before. But she lives out of town and only comes to events while on business.”
“Oh yeah.” You nod. “She had blond hair last time; that's why I didn't recognize her.”
I shrug, paying less attention to what she looks like—most humans look more or less the same to me—and more to how she appears. Her scent. The sound of her voice. The rhythm of her movements. I turn away, dismissing her as beyond uninteresting.
But there is something interesting here. Someone new. I scan the room, trying to pinpoint the presence.
I see it in the corner. A young yeti is crouched on the floor, his furred back up against the wall. Willem, a werewolf who recently joined the group, is kneeling at the yeti's side, trying to settle him. “You need to calm down.”
He really does. Poor, sweet yeti; he may be a beast, but he's no monster.
My gaze flicks around the room and sees other eyes zero in on the couple, drawn by the scent, sound, and promise of fear. My own body reacts to it, making my mouth water and my blood heat.
In an age old dance between hunters and the hunted, the yeti instinctively looks up, his ice blue eyes wide as they take in the room’s collective, dangerous gaze. Our eyes meet across the room and his widen. I can’t help but smile, somewhat proudly. Even in a room full of nightmares, I stand out in the crowd.
My joints feel weak as the scent of his fear blooms stronger, filling the room. As a low rumble echoes hungrily through the space, I can sense countless claws clench and pointed teeth grind. Everywhere, muscles tense in as much restraint as excitement, and any wrong move could tip the balance.
But then in a moment—for just a moment—the tension eases as San, one of the Preyer Service moderators and a fearsomely powerful witch, leans down and whispers into Willem's ear, undoubtedly advising he take the yeti and leave, for their own safety as well as everyone else's. Willem looks sadly at his friend, but nods resignedly. Uncontrolled fear in a gathering like this is like blood in the water.
Speaking of scary, that woman is truly terrifying. San straightens, her beautiful form the picture of serenity in the face of the thwarted bloodbath. It’s hard to believe that she’s one of the deadliest creatures in this room—in existence. But we’ve all heard the legends surrounding her. For all her elegance and grace, the blood on her hands could make a vampire weep. That kind of power, that level of legend, is the only way to make a den of hungry predators bend like this.
Taking advantage of San's enforced clarity, I subtly stretch out my limbs, trying to rid my body of any residual strain. Others shake their heads, trying to clear the haze of the hunt's call. Others still curl their lips in disappointment, in silent longing for the good old days.
I understand that longing. I do. But, with technology and overpopulation, the world became too small. There's no safety in the shadows anymore. We may be their nightmares but, without the alliance with the humans, they would have been our extinction.
We ought to hate them. Some of us do. But I look at you. And I can't. I want to. I want to hate them for everything they've done to us. For everything they've taken from us. For everything we used to be—creatures of myth and legend to be feared and respected—and now, because of them, can't.
But here you are. Walking among us like there's no difference. Like you're one of us. As if we're just like you. How do you do that?
I follow you as you walk to our favorite spot at the back of the space, your hips swaggering slightly with an easy confidence. My lips curve up, revealing more of my fangs. Cocky, little human, aren't you? I let you get ahead of me, content to just watch the muscles in your ass flex with each step, feeling my body react.
Climbing the walls, I watch from afar as you stand off to the corner and strip. You told me once that, even as non-binary, coming here helped you get over any shame or insecurities you had about your body. I'd assumed that it was because, in a room full of monstrous freaks, any body must feel normal.
But you'd said it was because everyone here lives with such confidence, not giving a shit what anyone thinks of us or what they think they see in us. We defiantly walk this world that fears and hates us; in the face of that, how could you do less?
I don't know either. How could you ever think your body's anything less than miraculous? As you take off your shirt, I study your skin, the color of sapwood, like a great oak whose bark has been peeled from its trunk. From high in the corner of the room, I think about the touch of it, soft and smooth, tender flesh over strong muscles.
Eager, I reach for the slip of silk streaming from my spinneret. On an excited breath, I send it across to the other side of the wall, creating a bridge line. I let instinct take over, spinning my web from anchor point to anchor point, and revel as your body is revealed to me.
You pay me no attention as silk strings shift between almost simian hands and feet made for climbing and swinging from my threads, forming a spiral pattern outward. Instead, as if no one's watching, you slide your belt from your pants, loop by loop. You peel your jeans down your legs like you're shedding skin. You stand there, vulnerable and raw, and all I want is for you to wander into my trap.
And then you do...
Read Part Two Here