It was an ordinary week really. There were a couple of explosions that hadn’t made it onto the news for some reason, my money said it was a cover-up, the lab that burst into flames was government owned after all. The remaining ooze from a gigantic slug creature was still slathered on the pavement of the busy street in front of my apartment building, cars slid through it like slush in the winter. A construction crew had kept me up for 48 hours as they rebuilt the front wall of the bank a block away, it had been broken into by a small crew of motorcyclists with a wrecking ball. I watched as they laid the last brick, and wondered how long it would be until they had to return. The incessant noise of their equipment was the price you paid living next to somewhere worth breaking into. I yawned so long it felt as though my soul might try to escape through my gaping mouth. One might have thought the long breathy sigh was due to my lack of sleep, but I would argue that it was spawned out of boredom, like I said before, this week had been nothing special.
I inspected myself in my compact mirror, the bags under my eyes were a particularly dark shade of bluish black, I looked like I had gotten into a fight. My busted lip did little to dissuade that assumption, but actually that had come from my own clumsiness. I had fallen out of the shower head first into my charcoal colored toilet. I wish I could say that was an isolated incident, but I tripped over myself often, it was like my brain had some sort of personal vendetta against my two left feet. The woman standing in front of me in line kept turning around to check out the damage, I’m not sure if she was concerned or just nosey, but either way she couldn’t be bothered to ask me what had happened. My stomach grumbled long and loudly, drawing the attention of the woman once more. “Can I help you?!” I snapped at her. She just rolled her eyes, scoffed, and turned her attention back to the food truck. I normally didn’t like to cause any trouble, but I was starving, and the soup being made inside the food truck smelled delicious. There were so many savory scents. Chicken noodle, turkey chili, mulligatawny, tomato & basil, and my all time favorite, clam chowder. My nostrils were teasing my gut a little too much, I think the next growl actually scared a couple people, as if I may keel over at any point from starvation. If it was a death sentence I’d be facing, clam chowder seemed like the perfect last meal to me. I was so hungry I felt as though I could have eaten several clams raw, shell and all, silverware be damned.
Finally I was second in line. The rude woman in front of me ordered a large tomato soup, but no grilled cheese, she was clearly unhinged. Her order was quick at least. She was out of my way and I (perhaps a little too eagerly) asked for a medium clam chowder. The very nice gentlemen ladling out the liquid joy informed me that they were out of clam chowder.. My heart sank, and I had to go with the next best thing, a medium mulligatawny. Chicken was the clear replacement, and I figured the spice may help clear my head. Since my apartment had been broken into weeks prior I was pretty on edge, expecting trouble behind every closed door. I needed to snap out of it, there were people far more powerful than me to handle the situation, it should have been a non-issue. My imaginative paranoia, however, was at times more than I could bear. Even as I returned my wallet to my purse I couldn’t help but think about the possibility of someone snatching it right off of my shoulder. Silly I know, but stranger things happened every day, more and more frequently.
Like a month ago, when some feds raided an entire apartment complex because there were rumors that a voodoo priestess was reanimating corpses. Corpses that were connected to numerous grave robberies in the area at the time. They were right of course, and the priestess was put into custody, but for everyone else involved it was an invasion of privacy, and a real bummer. My grandmother happened to be one of the zombies. I had moved to another part of the city years prior so I didn’t witness it first-hand, but when I saw her on the news chewing off some poor bastard's face I recognized her almost immediately (despite the fact that most of her face had rotted away from years of decomposition). The sapphire necklace around her neck was a dead giveaway, it was as beautiful as ever, or maybe breathtaking would be the proper way to describe it.. In either case I knew it was her, but I didn’t feel terror or dread at the sight of her, I felt jealousy. My 80 year old grandmother (technically 86 at the time of reanimation) had managed to get on the radar of some major news networks even after her death, and here I was working my ass off for the opportunity, to no avail. I guess “Professional Fletcher: STILL ALIVE” wasn’t a very gripping title for a story. Some days I prayed for mortal danger, hell, I’d take a car accident if it meant popping up on the news feed of some indie blog. I needed the exposure if I ever wanted to make the big leagues, real heroes using my arrows would have been a dream come true.
The mulligatawny soup burned just like I knew it would. A hot poker of flavor entered through my mouth, then exited slowly down the back of my throat. Ironically the bench that I sat on was scorched by a drunken hero (that shall remain nameless). The burnt wood blackened my yellow skirt, and the back of my white jacket, but that wasn’t much of an issue for me. I had always been one to keep up with fashion trends, this particular style was something that some of the greatest designers in the world called “Chaos Chique”. Once numerous celebrities had found themselves in the jaws of destruction, only to emerge unscathed (other than their clothes) fashion magazines and blogs had deemed this something of a sexy trend.
A young woman sat down next to me, also holding a styrofoam cup of soup. The smell was unmistakable, clam chowder. What the hell they were out.. “Did you get that from the food truck?” I asked the stranger, catching her off guard and making her choke for a moment. “..Yeah.” She said through half a mouthful of soup. “Why?” She asked. “They told me they were out..” I explained, unable to hide my disappointment. “Yeahhh.. Manny always saves me an extra bowl on Fridays..” She said sympathetically. “Oh damn, that’s lucky..” I said. She just smirked. “Nah he owes me one.. or twenty.” She looked down at my steaming bowl then back at me. “What’d you get?” She asked. “Mulligatawny.” I responded. “Oh I like Mulligatawny. Here, trade me.” She said, holding out her container. “No no that’s okay, I can’t do that..” I responded. “Why? You think I’m tryin to poison you?” She laughed. “It’s yours, I can come back earlier tomorrow and get some.” I said. “How do you know there will be a tomorrow?” I pondered her question for a moment. It was ominous, but for all I knew, totally possible. “If this was your last meal would you really be satisfied with mulligatawny?” She asked, smirking again. “To be honest with you.. Probably not..” I chuckled. “Then here.” She said holding the container out again. “Trade me, I like mulligatawny.” “Well.. I already had a couple bites..” I told her. “Shit, that doesn’t bother me.” She responded as she set down her container between us and grabbed mine from my hands.
“Go on, I haven’t eaten any of it.” She said, handing me a plastic spork still in the wrapper. “That’s really nice of you..” I said bashfully. I felt guilty, but if she was willing to give it to me, I was willing to chow down. I unwrapped the new utensil and dug in. The flavor never ceased to delight me. It was delicious, savory, perfect. “Manny’s” made the best soup in the city, better than any five-star restaurant.
“I’m Abby.” I said, holding out my hand. She squeezed it. She looked like she must have been a hundred pounds soaking wet, but her handshake felt like a lumberjack’s. “Sammy.” She responded with a smile. She took the spork out of “her” mulligatawny soup, and started to gulp it right out of the cup, and although it was still steaming the heat didn’t seem to bother her, she never even bothered to blow on it. She wiped the mess from her face with the back of her hand.
“Cool bag.” She said pointing to the brown leather duffle in front of me. “Thanks, it was a birthday present.” I said, a stupid smile printed on my face, I was always weird when it came to accepting compliments. “When’s your birthday?” She asked. “It was Monday actually.” I responded. “No shit! Mine was too!” She said, some soup spilled from her mouth out of shock and excitement. “Ohh that’s cool!” I responded between the meticulous blowing that was cooling my soup. “You on the run or something?” She asked, I could tell she was only half joking. I laughed at the question, but she didn’t find it funny. “..No, I use it for work actually.” I told her. “Oh yeah? What do you do?” She asked. “I’m a fletcher.” I told her. “What’s that?” She asked. “I make arrows.” I said as I opened my bag revealing a quiver of ten I had perfected just hours ago. “NO, SHIT!” She responded. “My brother is an archer!” “What are the odds?!” I asked. “Yeah! He’s not the best in the world or anything, but probably top three..” She said modestly as she continued to suck down the spicy broth. Top three? That must have meant.. “Do you mind?” She asked motioning to the dark-blue wooden arrows. “Not at all!” She set down her empty styrofoam cup and inspected one of them carefully, she held it horizontally in front of her one open eye, stroked it, dare I say, admired it.. “Damn you know your stuff.. This is way better than what he’s been hauling around all these years.” She said as she placed it carefully back into my quiver.
“If you’re looking to expand a bit I could say something to him, I’m sure he would be down to at least try them out.” She said. “If you don’t mind.. Who’s your brother?” I asked. I felt like I shouldn’t have intruded with my questioning, but I knew I would have hated myself if I didn’t, and the next words out of her mouth confirmed that. “Steve. Steve Shleck.” She said. My eyes bulged, my stomach tightened, my adrenaline raced, but I couldn’t help it. “Steve Shleck.. As in..” “Strong Bow? “Yeah.” She responded, like it wasn’t the best thing in the damn world. “So that would make you..” “Samantha Shleck, ‘Shapeshiftress’.” She responded, again like it was nothing. One of the biggest heroes in the city, talking to me on a bench, me eating her soup, I could have died in that moment and been completely fine with it. “I.. I didn’t recognize you..” I said, highly embarrassed. She just laughed it off. “It’s cool! Most people don’t. Shit I don’t even know what I looked like originally. This chick,” She said motioning to herself, “Is some chick I saw when I was in Thailand, I thought she was pretty, so boom! She’s been my new look for the past week!”
I could barely hold back my tears, she must have noticed, as she tried to ease the tension a bit. “Watch this.” She said as she started to transform. Her dark hair turned a light orange, and grew to match the length of my long, thick mane. Her eyes lightened into a vibrant shade of baby blue. Freckles appeared on her cheeks, and neck. Her hundred pound frame gained mass in a couple of specific places, and in only seconds she resembled me entirely. She stood from the bench, and cut in line to the front of the food truck. “From now on, you save me a big bowl of clam chowder every friday.” She said. Manny looked shocked, and maybe a tad angry. “Who the hell do you..” In that moment I saw her face return to its original form. Manny stopped in his tracks and whispered something I couldn’t hear. Sammy pointed to me and his eyes followed. He nodded, and seemingly apologized for the mix-up, but there was a smile on his face, this clearly wasn’t the first time that the “Shapeshiftress” had thrown him for a loop.
She returned to the bench, but didn’t sit. “I gotta run. Do you have a business card?” She asked. “Ye.. Yeah..” I stammered as I began to fumble around in the side pouch of my duffle, accidentally handing her three or four of them. “We’ll be in touch Abby..” She inspected one of the cards. “Brewer.” She finished. Her smile filled my soul with light, my life with purpose. “I.. I look forward to it..” I said, barely able to hold back my joyful sobbing. I shook her hand once more against my better judgement, (it was already sore from the first attempt) and admired her as she strolled away, changing her appearance once more. This time she took the form of Manny the soup man. She turned for a brief moment, held my cards up as if to say “I won’t forget you”, and gave me a wink. I. COULD. HAVE.DIED..