Winter 2007 Volume One Issue One
A Lesson In Flight - by B.A. Tyler
"Flight," Matthias said, "is simply a matter of aerodynamics. Of course, before you can even think about flying, you must transform into a more suitable shape. With a little experience, you will be able to change shape in midair."
Curtis wasn't listening. He stood on the ledge surrounding the roof, ignored his older counterpart and stared past the tips of his sneakers at the ground below. Even in the dark, the wet pavement glistened with a sheen his eyes could detect from fifteen stories up.
"Come, it is time for the transformation," Matthias prodded.
Curtis forced himself to tear his gaze away from the street and look at his companion. Matthias studied him with red-rimmed eyes.
"T-t-transformation?" Curtis' tongue tripped over the word. "I always thought, you know, it was just--Poof!--Magic."
"No, no, my boy," Matthias laughed. "Nothing is quite so simple. There is no, how did you put it? Poof! I am afraid there is far more work involved than that." Matthias crossed behind Curtis and placed a hand on his shoulder. "For the transformation to take place, you must concentrate with your whole being." He touched a long slender finger to Curtis' forehead. "Focus yourself on the shape inside your mind; focus with every ounce of energy you possess. Only then can the transformation begin."
Curtis peered over the edge again. He wondered what fifteen stories translated to in feet.
"Come now." Matthias gave Curtis a nudge. "It is time to begin."
Matthias' tone left no room for argument. Curtis took a deep breath and screwed his face into a mask of concentration.
Force all other thoughts from your mind. Matthias' voice was clear, even though the words hadn't been spoken aloud. Concentrate.
I am concentrating, Curtis thought. Does he think I'm standing on this ledge for my health?
Temper, temper, my boy.
Curtis ignored the reprimand and focused his thoughts on changing shape. For a moment, nothing happened. Curtis was about to give up when he felt a tingling sensation in his fingers and toes. Then, agony. Instant and intense. It began at the tips of his toes; a searing heat that felt like he had stuck his feet in the flames of a bonfire. He could almost hear the crackle of burning skin; almost smell the charred flesh. With effort, he ignored the pain and made himself focus on the task at hand. The heat flared upward now, traveling along his calves to his knees.
This must be what it feels like to burn at the stake. As soon as the thought entered his mind, Curtis forced it away. Focus, he thought furiously. Must stay focused.
The searing heat rushed up his body, through his shoulders and into his head. Then, as suddenly as it had come, the pain vanished. Curtis smiled. It was working.
A sudden rush of dizziness toppled him over to land on all fours. His feet slid on the narrow ledge and he scrabbled to keep from falling. No good. His feet refused to gain purchase. He was slipping--
A strong hand snatched at his neck from behind and pulled him to safety.
"No, no, no!" Matthias muttered.
Curtis opened his eyes. He looked up to see Matthias standing over him shaking his head. The older man mumbled curses under his breath. Something was wrong.
Curtis opened his mouth, intending to ask Matthias what was the matter. A soft whine issued from his throat.
"Boy," Matthias said, "if you wish to communicate with me, use your mind. This form is not equipped for speech." Mathias waved his hand at Curtis in exasperation. "Nor, I'm afraid, does it fare well in matters of flight," he added under his breath.
That hurt like hell! What happened?
"Well, how would you put it? Oh yes, no pain, no gain. I think that is the phrase," Matthias answered. "I feared if I told you how unpleasant the first time could be, you would not even attempt it."
"But that is over now." Matthias stared down, narrowed his eyes and frowned. "As for what happened. It seems you managed your first transformation, but for some reason, unknown to me, you have taken the wrong form."
Wrong form? What am I?
"Why, a wolf of course. Just look at your feet--er, paws."
Curtis did as instructed. He craned his neck to examine as much of himself as he could see. Big furry tail, strong gray legs that ended in hairy paws...wolf. The soft whine sounded again as he tried to speak.
Now what do I do?
"You are supposed to be learning to fly. In order to accomplish that goal, you must make another transformation."
I have to do that again? No way!
Matthias studied Curtis, tapping his chin with one long index finger.
"Need I point out," he said, "that if you were to make a leap from this height in that particular form, the end result would be rather, shall we say, unfortunate? Amusing to me, maybe, but not at all pleasant for you."
Curtis fought an urge to bite his teacher's kneecap, and concentrated on becoming human again.
The transformation back to his human self took less effort and caused considerably less pain. It was more like the Poof! he had expected at the beginning.
"Now watch," Matthias instructed once Curtis had regained his shape. "It is simple, really. Like this." He threw his head back as if he would howl at the moon and raised his arms to shoulder height. Curtis heard a soft crackle of electricity as the air surrounding Matthias began to shimmer. In seconds, his teacher shrank in size and sprouted wings. Curtis stared at the bat that hovered a foot in front of his face.
See? You do not have to make it so difficult. Besides, the faster you transform, the less pain you will have to endure.
Before Curtis could blink, Matthias stood before him, restored to his human form. Curtis reminded himself not to underestimate his teacher.
"Now," said Matthias, stepping back to stand beside the young vampire again. "It is your turn. This time, do not fight the transformation. Let it come upon you, and remember, you must focus!"
Curtis decided to try it Matthias's way. He stood back and imitated the motions the older vampire had made. Being careful to focus all of his concentration, he closed his eyes and pictured the bat he imagined he would be.
Bat, Bat, BAT! He chanted to himself as the pain seared into his body. This time it was more a flash of heat instead of the steady, creeping fire he had felt the first time. It's like being struck by lightning, he decided.
When the pain faded, he instinctively flapped his wings to maintain his balance and opened his eyes. At first, he was caught off guard by the clarity of his vision. Weren't bats supposed to be blind? He didn't take time to worry about it. Turning his head, he checked out his new wings.
Wait a minute! This can't be right! A shrill squeak sounded from his throat. A loud shrill squeak.
Judging by his wings, he was too big for a bat.
Matthias paced in front of him, his face a mask of disbelief. "Oh, no!" he ranted, waving his arms. "You've gotten the scale all wrong. All wrong!"
The wind from Curtis' wings blew Matthias' hair back from his brow.
Yes, Curtis thought, Way too big for a bat.
"The object of this...this entire lesson," Matthias said, "is to avoid detection. Do you understand that? Tell me, how long do you suppose you can go around in that shape before you attract an undue amount of attention?"
But, I'm a bat this time, right?
"Yes. You are definitely a bat," Matthias sighed. "Unfortunately, a six-foot bat is not as inconspicuous as I would like. All you need now is a long cape and you could masquerade as that superhero those mortals are so fond of." He waved his arms in a shooing motion. "Oh, do stop hovering there and change back!"
This day and age--
Cannot make a decent--
Should have eat--
Curtis, still unaccustomed to hearing thoughts unless they were broadcast directly at him, caught only fragments of what was going through the other's mind. But those pieces were enough to let him feel Matthias' irritation. He hurried to change back to human form.
I've got to do it right this time, he thought. No time for another screw-up. This is it.
He took a deep breath and tried to relax. His failed attempts at shape-shifting were starting to take their toll. He was tired, hungry and every muscle in his body felt strained and shaky. Right now, all he wanted to do was feed and sleep.
"Well?" prompted Matthias.
Curtis turned. The older vampire watched him, his eyes glittered with silvery intensity. A predator's gaze. Curtis shivered. He didn't want to think about what might happen if he screwed up again.
"Let us try this one last time," Matthias said. "This time, boy, aim for subtlety."
Curtis closed his eyes, shutting out that intense silvery stare.
A bat, he thought. Little bat. Unnoticeable bat. The kind of bat that will keep Matthias from ripping my head off--literally.
He took a deep breath and felt the fire course through his frame again. The pain was definitely less intense. Maybe I'm getting the hang of this...Maybe I'm getting the hang of this, he thought.
"See?" Matthias said.
Curtis opened his eyes to see Matthias smiling at him. I did it?
"Yes, my boy. You are now the epitome of the perfect bat." Matthias nodded in satisfaction, his smile showing a hint of the long canines he normally kept hidden. "And now, we feed." Matthias crossed the roof in long strides and stood looking out over the edge. He turned to peer over his shoulder at Curtis. "Just remember," he said, "flight is simply matter of aerodynamics..."
Curtis wondered if it was a good time to mention his fear of heights.