Return to Issue 4
Return to Stories

By Shanna Hale


She enters the world in a rush of liquid more blood than water, tiny claws rending skin never meant to hold up under such abuse. She opens slitted eyes the color of a Siamese's orbs and twists her lips, giving the midwife a brief glimpse of teeth capable of even more damage than her claws. After a moment of thundering silence, the midwife, with shaking hands, wraps her in a red velvet blanket and thrusts a nipple into her mouth; she begins to feed, a low sound coming from her throat. The woman on the birthing bed sobs quietly as her daughter purrs. Her father does not wear feathers, but her mother's name is Leda.


Leland Parks was a businessman. More importantly, he was a good businessman. He knew how and when to make a deal and, unlike many of his competitors, when to let one go. At thirty-six, he had traveled the globe four times over, flushing out the odd and unusual for his collection. For Leland Parks prided himself as a big game man, a vicious hunter. Not that his house in Falls Haven reflected this. To the public eye, he was a conservative man with mild tastes and an easy smile. It was hard to imagine his sandy-blonde hair matted with blood, lips snarling as he grappled with his prey. Leland believed in hands-on capture; tranquilizer darts were cheating.

He did not collect just anything, however; the big cats bored him, and the exotic wilds of Africa held no challenge. He wanted something special, something not just anyone could claim. The locked door at the foot of the basement stairs concealed a mythologist's paradise. Leland Parks collected things sentenced to myth and fairy tale.


She shakes her mane of silver hair so it settles over her shoulders, concealing her ears. As a child, she learned not to flaunt herself; by concealment she can almost pass for normal, and survive. Claws can be retracted; pointed ears hidden in hair; she is careful not to purr. First skirts, then hair that tumbles to her waist hides her most noticeable disfigurement. Nothing can be done for her eyes.

She dresses in a cropped tank and a long, flowing wrap-around skirt, both black, her hair falling free and spiraling below her waist. Fabric hugs her body; light glints off the silver down that covers her skin. A red velvet jacket completes the outfit. She smiles, lips closed to cover slightly pointed teeth. Her name is Kyra; her father is not a god, but she is something more than human.


With an almost childish glee, Leland unlocked the door at the foot of the basement stairs. Some might consider the locks over-precautionary, but he was, for the most part, a sensible man; in both his lines of work it was a necessity. Without sense, you were liable to get your throat slit.

With a mental shrug, Leland opened the door. The lights came on automatically, as they did in every room of his home, for Leland was a firm believer of the credo "What you can't see can kill you." But standing in this room, surrounded by his successful hunts, it was difficult for him to believe that any of these beautiful creatures were capable of causing harm.

His eyes slid over their bodies, the fur, the feathers, the flesh. This room always appeared wrapped in a fog, a dream, and wasn't that what he collected? He had tried to arrange them as they would have been in life. The flower faerie knelt in a rose-colored bloom; the Sasquatch hunkered down behind artificial snow mounds. He tried very hard to do the creatures justice in their death; they were, after all, things of beauty as well as intelligence. Every one of them deserved a place of honor for the battles they had fought.

He wandered the aisles between displays, careful to stay away from the farthest wall where the poisonous creatures rested. Even dead, some were potent enough to kill a grown man. There was the serpent he had hunted in Africa, praised for its healing abilities--one lick of its tongue would cure anything. Of course, the flip side was that if it touched you with the underside of that same tongue, it killed you instantly. So many of them were like this, death concealed in absolute beauty.

Finally, he stopped in front of one last display. It was empty, waiting. This would be the crowning glory to his collection; after he had her, Leland planned on retiring this part of his life. He could find no name to call her, but she was beauty itself. And so deadly. He knew where one hunted, but wanted to wait a few more days, until Kale brought him The Book. Leland was hoping to find something with which to subdue her; he knew if such knowledge existed, it would be in The Book. He also hoped she did not move on while he waited, but that was a chance he would have to take. After all, Leland Parks was a sensible man.


She sleeps by day, not out of necessity, but simply because she enjoys the night more. It is also more practical; much can be passed off as shadow that would be a glaring deformity in the light of day. She has come to this city, haven for the fallen, to bring down another. Tonight, she will play god, and bring one more sinner home. She smiles to herself, imagining his shock; she, too has seen his collection--there has never been a room a cat could not get into--and shuddered before the anger stood the hair of her body on end.

She knows what he knows--of her kind, but not of her--and recognizes his tragic flaw even if he does not. He is driven not by desire, but by curiosity, and curiosity, as she could tell him but won't, has been known to kill.


Leland tossed in bed, nightmares prowling through his mind. The only difference between Leland Parks' nightmares and anyone else's was that his had teeth.

Familiarity seeped through the visions. Leland traced his steps, re-lived the hunts. Hunts that had gone wrong. The hunt where he first saw her.

He crouched in a dark alley, a knife in one hand, a delicate bouquet of lavender flowers in the other. Tonight he sought an odd sort of creature, a thing resembling a large dog, but blessed with the ability to sing. It was called a Sireen, after the enchantingly beautiful sounds that came from its throat. It concealed almost human thumbs in a pocket on the side of its paws. Leland knew of at least two people who had fallen to its teeth; it was not a social creature. The only thing that calmed it lay in Leland's left hand. The flowers' fragrance anesthetized the beast. Or so he hoped; if this worked, he could lay claim to the only one of its kind successfully subdued.

He gazed at the landscape, like so many dreams dull and gray, undefined. And then he heard it. The voice slunk into his ears and his eyes began to close. So lovely . . . a hand touched his cheek, his neck, a hot breath brushed past his ear . . . only the haven of the flowers' fragrance preserved his life. The books had been wrong; the blossoms did not calm the beast. They simply allowed the hunter enough distraction from the song to strike. And strike he did, sinking the knife up to the hilt in the creature's midsection.

Another thing the books got wrong--none of them mentioned it walked on two legs. The song changed to a howl, and slid into a snarl. Leland tossed in bed, once again feeling the rocks beneath his back as the beast fell on him. His hands twisted into claws that eerily mirrored the ones reaching for his throat. Like so many other times, he could not tell how long he fought his prey. But when the myth lay still on top of him, Leland smiled, a sharp grimace that cut through the gore on his face. Once again, success.

In his sleep, Leland frowned, haunted by a noise from years ago. His dreams all ended like this; no matter what he hunted, he always ended up seeing her. He lifted his eyes and saw her, crouched on a pile of boxes. Nude; the foggy light of dreams gave her an ethereal glow. Her hair hung in tangled knots, her claws out for balance, her eyes narrowed as she gazed at him. She took his breath away. Mad, he could see that, but capable of speech. "What are you?" he breathed. And in his dream, she snarled, her tail whipping back and forth. "Your death." He awoke in a cold sweat, knowing, somehow, that to let her touch him was to lose himself.


She is a hunter, the night her chosen ground, and men her chosen prey. She is not some relic, left over from a more primitive time; she is a highly evolved creature who enjoys the physical sensations of two bodies coming together. She craves sex.

Under normal circumstances, she prowls the city's seedy side, picking off the men as they stumble from the bars; or she might simply allow herself to be seen leaving a club on the ritzy side of town, trailing her fingers along the bar, her eyes sliding up the length of the males jittering on the dance floor. They always follow. She knows where to lead them, for in this day one must be discreet.

She prefers a bed, although a laid-back seat is enough, and an alleyway will serve in a pinch. It never takes long--she has that effect, she's been told--but then, endurance is not what she is after. Commitment is not a word that frequents her vocabulary. Tight muscles, the feel of skin on skin, the pressure of a man inside her--she struggles not to lose control; she remains vigilant, prudent enough not to draw blood.

Men seek her out without knowing why. But tonight she hunts one who knows. Striding down the street, she feels their eyes on her body, sliding over every curve, and the heat builds in her loins. Her purity was lost long ago, but playing the innocent has always been her forte.


Dust puffed into the room, causing the two men at the table to jerk back, coughing and choking on air suddenly too thick to breathe. When breath was again possible, they peered with watery eyes at the tome resting on the table. "Well, Leland," the elder of the two commented. He pushed his glasses up his nose with an absent gesture. "If you don't find it in here, you won't find it." He gave his younger companion a sharp glance. "I hope you realize exactly how many favors I had to call in to get this." He motioned toward the book. "I wouldn't do this for just anyone. This had better not just be a lark," he growled.

Leland grinned. "Don't worry, Kale, I know what I'm doing. Have I ever been wrong before?"

Janson Kale peered over his glasses. "That's what bothers me, Leland; one of these days, it's going to catch up to you. Your 'hobby' is going to turn around and bite you in the ass."

Leland threw back his head and laughed. "Kale, if I didn't know better, I'd think you cared." He clapped the older man on the shoulder. "Like I said before, I know what I'm doing. I'm on the trail of something here that could be the crowning glory to my collection. You don't think I'd get myself killed when I'm this close, do you? Give me some credit, Kale; look who you're talking to."

The other man sighed, taking a handkerchief out of his pocket to clean his glasses. "Leland, you've led a charmed life. You forget, I've seen your collection. And I've seen you after you added to it. You've always pulled through." Kale shook his head. "I've an idea of what you're after, Leland; don't underestimate them, or you may find you're on the opposite side of the scale. The line between hunter and hunted is a fine one indeed."

He replaced his glasses and started for the door, where he paused. "Keep in mind, I don't care if you find it or not; if that book is damaged in any way, shape or form, it's my skin on the line." He paused with a significant look to the young man. "Which means it'll be yours I take it out of." With that dour proclamation, he left.

Leland grinned as Janson Kale let the door shut behind him. Kale was probably the only man Leland would allow to help with a hunt. It was, after all, Kale who had taught Leland the art and beauty of the hunt. Kale had seen the young hunter, recognized both passion and talent, and taken him under the proverbial wing. It was Kale who had taken him, shown him what danced under certain moons, and explained how one goes about capturing things such as faeries, werewolves, and griffins. It was Kale who cleaned him up and nursed him back to health after a failed capture attempt with a unicorn; they weren't as meek as legend portrayed them.

It had soon become apparent that the student would eclipse the teacher; Kale enjoyed the hunt, but knew his age would soon be working against him. So he had looked for a prot�g�, more than willing to help Leland hunt and capture the things that were now beyond him. He tracked down ancient books, like the one now in front of Leland, to identify obscure creatures and give the hunter enough information to come back in one piece.

Leland had long ago decided that the focus of his collection would be the "thinking myths," the ones with cunning that would fight back not out of instinct, but pleasure. Those were the dangerous ones, the ones that made mankind their playthings. The things that stalked the night--and on rare occasions, the day. Leland rolled his shoulders and sat down to lose himself in the ancient book. The night, after all, had to be made safe again.


She has always enjoyed the thrill of the chase. The hunted always know the hunter; she has made it her business to familiarize herself with those who claim that title. One may only stay hidden as long as one is shrewd; confidence breeds arrogance. Arrogance breeds mistakes.

She has been privy to his hunts, watching from distant perches as he toys with whatever creature has had the misfortune to fall under his scrutiny. She snarls to herself as she strides down the sidewalk. There are too few of her kind left to let one fall to his obsession, his games. She knows how it works, what he expects--a fight, a desperate plea for life. She throws back her head and laughs, letting the warm air wash over her. For every game, there are rules, but if you know what they are, you can bend them.


Leland sat back, wiping a hand over his brow and leaving a dirty gray streak in its wake. He couldn't even begin to count the hours he'd been sitting at this table, but he knew the sun had gone down and come up at least once. Kale had delivered some Chinese food, which lay cold and greasy--and uneaten-- in its cardboard containers. He didn't have time for food when he was on the hunt. He had learned by harsh experience that if you blink, you stand a very good chance at missing what you are after. He had not missed this time.

The page was maybe two-thirds through the book; the picture was almost indecipherable. But there she was: hair thick like a lion's mane; slitted, feline eyes; ears just slightly pointed; tail poised behind her. No one knew where they came from, and there were not that many of them left; they apparently did not breed that easily, even though they were the worst kind of hunter--sexual predators. Those that remained kept to the cities where it was easier to blend in. They weren't feline, but they weren't human, either. They were somewhere in the middle. And after ten long years of searching, Leland knew where to find one.

He closed his eyes, remembering the moment. In a crowded, smoky club, as he pushed his way toward the exit, he saw her in a corner, reclining against a young man who, judging by his wide eyes, obviously had no idea what to make of this woman. She looked up once and met Leland's gaze. In the darkness, her slitted pupils took up most of her eyes. She smiled, tongue flicking out to lick her lips, and he caught just the hint of her tail waving behind her. Then she dipped her head again, her hands already moving over the young man's body.

The book held few suggestions for capturing or killing; he would have to be careful. Their humanoid aspects would be a disadvantage in a crowded place. He would have to let her lure him away, let her think she was in charge. Leland felt excitement building. It was always like this, before the hunt, never knowing what would happen.

He grinned, arching back to ease the muscles in his shoulders and neck, and then glanced at his watch. Not quite four in the afternoon. Good. Time for a shower, a change of clothes, a quick beer, and then the games would begin. Whether she realized it or not, the "feline" was about to become the newest addition to Leland's collection.


She holds her head high as she throws open the door to the bar, daring anyone to stop her even though the sign clearly states the establishment is not open for business. She has watched him long enough to know the rituals--a relaxing beer, a bite to eat, perhaps a round of pool. Then he hunts.

The sun has not yet gone down, and the air holds a murky quality that is almost stifling. The sun's rays hold her for a brief moment before she saunters into the gloom.

He is sitting in the back corner, at his usual table. There are perhaps six other people in the bar, preparing for opening, but she is not concerned with them; tonight, he is her chosen prey. She dips her head, letting her silver hair fall partially over her face, and glides toward him. He sits with his chair tipped back, his feet propped on the table in front of him, not paying attention to anything. A glass of beer is in his right hand, but that does not concern her, either. She must move quickly; he cannot have time to look into her eyes. Before he can react, she is there.

With her right hand, she shoves him gently; with her left, she takes the glass of beer from his hand and sets it on the table. Then, with a deft flick of her wrist, she switches her skirt out of the way and settles herself across his lap. She is not wearing anything underneath the skirt, a fact of which he is soon made aware.

As he opens his mouth to speak--perhaps to utter a snappy line, more probably to ask who the hell she is and what she is doing--she spins her glamour (another thing the books won't have told him) and reaches down with her now free left hand to wrap her fingers around his crotch. His eyes widen as his mouth closes; he is now all hers. Her skirt hangs in folds of fabric around the chair; even if anyone in the bar were able to see her, all they would see was a woman sitting on a man's lap. Her right hand caresses his hair while her left works the button and fly on his pants. She smiles inwardly. So fierce, so driven. Here is a man after her own desires. Such a pity, really. She hopes the pain won't kill him.

The hard part is getting his pants unzipped; the rest is easy. She guides him inside and locks her fingers around the back of his neck. For what must seem the first time in his life, he is not in control. And he likes it. Even knowing what she knows, she still enjoys this; after all, she could have simply attacked him in an alley--this is so much more fun.

She rocks against him, feels the moan he cannot voice. Wait, wait--this must be timed perfectly. She feels her own climax building--too soon. His body gives him away; the tension in his limbs and neck increases and she feels his back begin to arch. Now. She wrenches his head toward her, crushing his lips against hers. He is so overcome by the spasms wracking his body he does not notice the small nip as she bites his lip.

And then it is over. She stands, her skirt falling to cover her again. He sits in a stupor, not quite comprehending what just happened. For the first time, she looks him in the eye and smiles, her tongue darting out to lick his blood from her lower lip. The glamour will hold, she knows, for as long as his blood stays in her body. She snares a drink from the bar as she ambles toward the door, pausing only once to glance back in his direction. Then the night swallows her.


Leland blinked his eyes and the fog that seemed to have settled in the bar was gone. So was the woman. He looked up just in time to see her pause in the doorway, framed in streetlight. Then the door shut and she was gone. Wait, he thought, a little wildly, streetlight?? The sun had been up when he came in here. How long had she been with him?

Glancing around, he realized the fog had probably been cigarette smoke; the place was packed. A flicker at the window caught his attention and Leland bolted to his feet. "Wait!" he shouted, praying she heard him. He scrambled for the door, fumbling with his pants as he went. The patrons did not seem to notice him. He threw open the doors just in time to see a flash of skirt vanish around a corner. "Wait! Please!"

Leland staggered around the corner to find himself face to face with a dead end. His shoulders sagged. She was here. She was here! But the only living thing in the small alley was a silver and black striped tabby cat. The cat watched him intently for a moment, and then jumped down from the boxes it was sitting on to rub itself against his ankles, purring. He did not notice. Without knowing how, Leland Parks knew he had lost, and turned with resignation to trudge back home.


She watches him walk away, dejected. She guesses his books did not tell him what to expect, the process that goes into their creation. Why there are so few of her kind. Females are born; males, however, must be made. And one such as she must be cautious when choosing a mate. He will awake in the morning with a high fever; his mouth will hurt, his tailbone, his ears. By the time the moon rises again, the human race will have lost a member; he will not be dead, but the result will be about the same. A fitting justice, she thinks, the hunter now forced to lay with the hunted.

The shadows blur, and she steps out onto the street on two legs, only a light glamour surrounding her now. A cool wind blows her silver hair back; she realizes her skirt is ripped, her tail lashing free. It does not matter; she is through hunting for the night. Besides, if anyone should notice her, all they will see is an alley cat.

There is no name for what she is, but she will never be a man's prey.