Snow threatened. It seemed like this was an everyday occurrence nowadays, where you could even smell it in the air, almost. Like the change in pressure that brings precipitation could be felt on the skin. Not a cloud. Not a glimpse at rain, snow, or anything falling from the sky in months. Still, if it wasn't rain, if it wasn't snow, something impended.
Ed thought he knew what that was: He'd fought to keep it away since he first learned of its existence and of its increasingly strong attempts to... emerge? That might be the right word, but without more information on what it was and what it wanted, Ed couldn't be exactly sure. It would serve.
How had he fought? Ed thought back to that first night, the dreams -- nightmares -- of a world changed through fire and blood, wars upon wars, fought in the name of the nameless thing that threatened. And he thought of the ceremonies that he'd half-remembered from the tutelage of his youth, the hours of research as the day of All Saints approached.
It was always known that the end of October was the time that the fabric that protected this world like some mystical bubble-wrap was the thinnest. Hence, Hallowe'en. Hence the disturbance that had required Ed's intervention.
He knew he wasn't much. He wasn't a titan of supernatural energy. He just knew a ton of stuff and had just enough strength to be useful. And he knew that there was something that needed to be done. A fact of which the dullards that made up the Consortium were ignorant.
They had had their laugh when he'd applied. It was true: he wasn't much. He knew it. But he also knew that he paid closer attention, and was maybe more sensitive to things like this, than the stronger, more arrogant, and seemingly oblivious men and women who, as they liked to say, "made the world turn." Somehow, having the last laugh, shoving in their faces that the very thing that they were made to stop had eluded them, would be less gratifying if the world had to end for it to come to pass. He'd started his work to hold the unnamed entity at bay, and he couldn't stop now, not even to put together a message to the Consortium.
The thing was, All Saints' Day was supposed to rejuvenate the world's veil, to hide its existence from the colossal "other" that seemed to always have us in its targets. But that hadn't happened. It had stayed as weak as it was at the end of October, and, again, Ed was a little busy holding off Armageddon to figure out why it was even happening. It was February now, but echoes of October continued to cascade through the ether. Something knocked, and Ed could only pretend not to be home for so long before it decided to kick the door down. And that was only if this thing was the only one out there.
If his suspicions could be counted on, and he was confident they could, there was only one entity that was seeking emergence. He could also make an educated guess that it was the thing that was keeping the veil from repairing itself or being repaired. Ed couldn't truly speculate on what reset the world's barrier, but whatever it was, it wasn't happening, and it was this thing's doing that the veil hadn't been able to repair itself.
As he paid more attention, as he pushed past the struggle to try and understand the thing against which he struggled, Ed came to see a sort of panic, a struggle born not of a will to dominate, but of fear, and he understood where it came from. The thing could no longer live in the world where it found itself, and would, seemingly, do anything to leave. Which started something in Ed's mind that he could not get rid of.
The problem, as he saw it, was that this thing wanted in, and in its current form, it would rip apart the world. War upon war after war, fighting to be the one to properly worship it. Blood and fury and fire, just as he'd seen in his dreams since this nonsense had begun. And yet, there was something from which it fled. Something that made it desperate to leave where it was.
Two contesting desires in one entity, and no way forward for humanity, because Ed was doing his damnedest, but he was wearing out, just like the fabric of the world's veil, and there wasn't much more time.
What if… what if the thing could enter the world, but be bound by it? Enter it through the rules of humanity and be forced to play by those rules? But how could that happen?
Ed had understood the rules, had understood the way that souls entered and departed the world -- birth and death -- but how did that apply here? How could it apply here? In essence, this thing was just another soul. Granted, one with nigh-infinite power in the ether, and a serious need for the adulation of the masses, but it was just a soul. If he could force it through the standard channel for souls entering the world, he could limit the things it could do while here.
So, birth. But what did that mean? He couldn't consign some woman to carrying this thing in her womb for nine months. The thing couldn't even be contained in that way. Basically, there was entry, then birth. But even if he was callous enough to impregnate some woman with this being, he simply didn't have the power. He stood in the way of whatever this thing was -- he imagined all the fan art of Cthulhu and had a hard time picturing anything else -- and anywhere else it went, it would have to go through him. Through him.
Through him. That was it. Not what he would have ideally chosen, but he knew what he could do to make it happen, and he didn't hesitate.
The entity on the other side of the veil picked up his change in resolve. He could feel its uncertainty, then a renewed effort to pierce the barrier. Ed tried to send soothing thoughts, trying to play for time. He would have a hard enough time making this happen without the Elder One, or whatever it was, metaphysically thrashing about. Eventually, the struggles subsided a bit, and Ed was able to concentrate.
He knew how souls entered the world, and he knew the conditions he would have to create in his own body to make that happen, but he was not down on the nitty-gritty of childbirth. That said, he had the spare power -- barely -- to create within himself a biological vessel that could contain the soul. Borrowing from materials around him, he consumed and transformed matter at a rate that would never have previously thought himself capable of. He rationalized it with the thought that you never knew what you could do until you were forced, but if he'd been paying attention, he probably would have realized that he wasn't doing it on his own.
Problems with biology, missing pieces, and wires that would allow him to invite the being into his body were added, things were changed, and, before he truly knew what was going on, he felt his chest changing, sacs filling with milk, becoming wired to his nipples. It was intensely uncomfortable, but not painful -- he knew that would be coming soon -- and before he knew it, his body was ready. He gave over holding the thing back and started welcoming it through into the womb he had created. Almost before he relented, Ed felt the being enter his body, and the body he had created for it. Something that, when he looked back on it without the panic he was feeling, would tip a hat to collusion on the thing's part. It had understood what Ed had intended from the beginning, and it had gone along, because the alternative was too horrible.
Almost immediately, Ed felt the thing -- he should stop referring to it as a thing -- his child, moving inside of him. And the intense discomfort he had been feeling intensified even more and morphed into pain -- a searing, tearing feeling that started in his lower abdomen and radiated out. Then he remembered, the one conceit he had left.
There is a reason they refer to it as a person's "manhood." It seemed to Ed to be completely inseparable from his identity, but, he reasoned, it was in the way. It was a hard decision to make, but it had been made when he'd decided to welcome what was now his child into his body. Without an exit, Ed worried that the thing would claw its way out. And so, with the cooperation of his unborn child and with a sigh of resignation, Ed gave up on being a man, gave up his physical equipment, and, without even the self-delusion that he could change it back later, made a way out for his child.
With the changes, both physical and otherwise, the rest of the birth was straightforward. As Ed had known beforehand, it was a girl. He'd done that on purpose, crafting a body that, maybe wasn't entirely his own design, he was beginning to realize, but that he'd had a hand in, at least, and one that he'd hoped would help ease his daughter into the reality of this world.
Ed didn't feel like Ed anymore, but didn't know what name to use. Thinking back, though, it was October when the change truly began, when the entity made itself known, and it was approximately nine months previous, so Ed became October, and as a private joke, named the baby Catherine Louise, and called her Cathy-Lou.
October did her best to be a good mother to Cathy-Lou, who was always a quiet child. The girl learned as well as she could, though there was an aloofness about her. It was always an effort to instill empathy, as Cathy-Lou always seemed to feel superior to everyone. Not to October, who she looked on with all the fondness a daughter has for a mother, but all others.
As Cathy-Lou grew, however, she seemed to shed that veneer of smug superiority, and October began to understand that it wasn't an alien consciousness that had driven Cathy-Lou's self-possession and air of superiority, so much as it was just the arrogance of childhood. The girl developed as any young girl will, and gained good friends. Into the girl's teen years, however, October began to truly fear that there was no humanity in her. Still, she persisted, and Cathy-Lou made it through those years without destroying the earth, and October chalked it up to adolescence and the hormones of development.
Cathy-Lou even started dating, as her high-school years ended with high honours. The guy was not someone October would approve of, and she warned Cathy-Lou away from him, but as with everything else, when Cathy-Lou wanted something, she would drive towards it.
The phone rang, one night, when October was waiting for Cathy-Lou to come home from a date with Jim, the guy in question. The pressure that had been building in October pressed up against her throat. She knew what the call was, and the need to vomit was as strong in her as it had ever been.
"October," Cathy-Lou said. She never called October "Mom," or "Dad." Not even "Ed," though that would have been weird, her never knowing October by that name. Just "October." Every time.
"I have made an error, I think. I need your assistance."
And there it was. October was out to the car and on her way as soon as she knew where she was going.
Cathy-Lou answered the door, looking past October, left, then right. She ushered her mother in and closed the door after her. Anxiety painted the younger woman's face as she led October into the room.
Sitting on the bed, bare-chested, with his pants pulled part-way down, Jim held his head in his hands. His shoulders were shaking. October's eyes widened as she realized what had been playing out here.
"Did he…?" October couldn't finish the question.
"He tried. I knew it was a mistake to come here, and you were right about Jim. He is a piece of filth. FILTH!" she screamed this last at Jim, who didn't seem to notice. His shoulders just shook, and he didn't lift his head.
"You're going to have to be straight with me, Cathy-Lou. What happened?"
"We were kissing, and then his shirt was off. He wanted more, and I… um… I wanted to, but then I thought about you, alone, having me, with nobody to support you, and I didn't want to anymore. But he wasn't ok with that. And he kept going. He took his pants off. Then I…" Cathy-Lou trailed off.
"You what, dear?"
"I stopped him."
They both looked at Jim. He had raised his head, and his shoulders were no longer shaking. The eyes he turned on October were empty. There was absolutely nothing behind his gaze. His mouth was open in a gruesome attempt at a smile. His teeth were opened maybe a half-inch, and his lips were pulled back obscenely far. There was blood from the corners of his eyes, trailing down his cheeks. Some dripped onto his bottom lip, but he paid it no attention.
October turned to Cathy-Lou, who looked guilty.
"I didn't mean it," the girl -- because no matter how much she had grown, she was still just a girl -- said to October.
"You didn't mean what? I still have no idea what you did."
"I told you. I stopped him. He stopped, and he stopped doing anything. I had to start him back to breathing, to being. And he looked so dead, so I made him cheer up." Which explained the smile, but nothing more.
"You… stopped him."
"Yes. I stopped him. I made him stop."
"What did you do to make that happen?"
"You know," Cathy-Lou said, coyly. Her upset melted away, and for the first time since Cathy-Lou had been born, October knew, without a doubt KNEW what giving birth to Cathy-Lou meant.
"I do know. I know everything. But you mustn't do this."
"You always said that I could defend myself if needed. You said!"
"I did say that. And I stand by it. But this seems excessive." October was very uncomfortable with this conversation. She realized it was because she was used to talking to Cathy-Lou like she was an everyday young lady, and defending herself meant getting help or running away. Not eroding the free will of the transgressor. Still, Jim had made his choice when he decided that "no" wasn't sufficient.
"I didn't even know I could do this!" Cathy-Lou said. "And besides, he'll be fine. See? Laugh, Jim."
Jim turned his head to October.
"Ha a." Still, nothing showed in his dead eyes, and horror bloomed in October's mind. She could try to teach Cathy-Lou, could try to show her humanity, but it was all just a set of cues that she would have to follow. There WAS no empathy in her, because she wasn't human, and even this defensive reaction was just a learned thing.
"You need to learn from this, Cathy-Lou. You need to learn, and you need to do better, next time."
"I won't ever do this again." She seemed deeply disgusted.
"You won't, but you can't guarantee that you'll never find yourself in a bad situation again, and … this," October swept her hand towards Jim, who showed no reaction, "can't happen again. I won't tell you not to defend yourself, but you have to understand that this can't happen." She made her voice firm, to make sure that Cathy-Lou got the point.
"As for Jim, we can't do anything to help him… find himself again..." October said, a question rather than a statement. Cathy-Lou didn't say anything, just shook her head.
"Right. Well, that's that, then. Jim the aspiring rapist is gone, the meat puppet in his place. He's our lesson. We're his judgement." They left.
There were no more such incidents, at least not that October learned about. Either Cathy-Lou had learned her lesson and would go along with things at an intellectual level, or she had become more circumspect about the boys that she destroyed. Either way, there didn't seem to be anything that October could do about it, so she accepted it.
Life did continue, and eventually, Cathy-Lou got married. Yes, the aloof young lady that she was, she decided that she would share her life with someone else. That took October by surprise, and, if she could say so, it made her hope for Cathy-Lou's future. If the girl was looking for a connection, if she actively sought something like that out, maybe October was wrong. Or maybe it was just because it was what she saw other young ladies do. Either way, Cathy-Lou was 26, and it was well past the time that a mother should be governing her daughter's relationships. Even for Cathy-Lou and her singular situation? Maybe especially Cathy-Lou. October doubted she could exert any sort of government over Cathy-Lou that the girl did not want, and at this point, Cathy-Lou no doubt knew it.
The strains that had been placed on October's body had not lent themselves to a long life, and it was not surprising to her when she saw her end coming. She had done for the world what she could, and left it hopeful that Cathy-Lou had learned something of her own responsibility and love for the world. If the girl would never be a hero, October was confident that her daughter, now a mother to her own sweet little girl (who showed no signs of strangeness), would at least never be a villain. Though the mourners for the magician-cum-mother-to-other were few, the sorrow was very real.
Despite what my mother thought, I am not an unfeeling computer. Instead, I have always been ignorant of the reasons for doing things. For her, I wanted to do better, to fit into this world. I understand the sacrifice she made for me, and that transforming act, that act of giving – not to me, because I truly was on the verge of breaking through, but to the world – transformed me as well.
Until that point, I – though there was no concept of the self, of "I" – was concerned only with domination, with power versus power. It was only with seeing my mistakes, seeing the horror on October's face as she looked at what my superior power had wrought, that I grew to understand that there was another way, and though I knew that way would be more difficult, I wanted to go that way, because it was what October wanted.
Now that my mother is dead, I feel less attachment to this world than I did, though I feel her commitment to protect it. From her, I inherited also a sense about the veil which protects the world. I sense that the creature I fled upon my birth into this world has discovered it. I fear for myself. I fear to face it. But even more, I fear what will happen if I pretend ignorance or run away again. I am powerful, and I have learned the judicious use of my power in my time on Earth. The echoes of October have imbued me, simultaneously, with the knowledge that might allow me to overcome my enemy, and the will to see it through.
To my loving husband, I say, I wish I had told you all of this before, though there is no way you would have – could have – believed me. To my daughter, I counsel not to let your grandmother's lessons be in vain. I will return to you if I can. If I cannot, know that I love you both and always will.