Susan was a hippie, just on her way to Haight Ashbury in the last twilight moments in the early 80s when free love and peace were finally subsumed by the New America devoid of hope or revolution. At a truck stop somewhere in Nevada, she met the father of her first daughter, a shapeshifter.
They shared chili and crackers, then they shared a bed with squeaky springs in a roadside motel, in room 24.
After making love over and over again, he got up and stood by the window, staring at the highway and smoking Marlboros, his thumb stuck in the waistband of his Levi’s.
“I can be anyone you want,” he had whispered to her, the features of his face melting and reconfiguring into a dozen different desirable men.
When a grizzled biker gang kicked in the door the next day looking for him, he had already changed into a dove and floated out the bathroom window.
She never saw him again, but she didn’t stop when reaching San Francisco. Instead, Susan cut her long blond hair, got rid of her moccasins, and continued on across the Pacific Ocean. 9 months later in Japan she gave birth to a girl, and named her Amelia, after the waitress at the truck stop in Nevada.
Susan ended up marrying a tall, awkward expatriate professor, who added another girl to the family, but she never forgot the image of her one-night truck stop lover flying out the window as an ivory-colored dove.
On Saturday afternoons, in the tranquil parks of Tokyo, she would watch Amelia play and wonder if she would inherit the same abilities as her anonymous father. She didn’t realize that however precocious her daughter was, it would be many years before she discovered her shapeshifting potential.
Amelia grew up, she traveled the world, became an aid worker. She screamed, laughed, cried, blew snot out of her nose on several continents. She could fall in love 7 times in one week, drink a bottle of cheap whiskey in one night, and write a long, rambling letter to her mother in one hour.
Finally, one night, in a dark house somewhere on the outskirts of Bangui, she was wrestling off the clothes of a young man with dove-like eyes, her lover for the evening and possibly the next. She whispered in his ear: “I can be anyone you want,” as she unbuckled his belt and thrust her hands into his Levi’s.
That was the only thing she could recall from that night. When she awoke, she was laying in the wreckage of the house, the young man nowhere to be seen. Amelia blinked her eyes against the harsh tropical sunlight, and looked around her.
A crowd of people stood at a distance from the ruins of the house and stared at her, curious or perhaps frightened at what they saw in the remains of the house they heard being decimated in the night. Amelia lifted what she thought was her arm, opening her mouth to beseech them for help extricating herself from the wreckage, but what came out was not a voice she was familiar with.
The eyes of people watching her widened even further, and they shrank back with looks of terror, whispering one word over again.
“Kajavumbi,” they murmured.
Amelia looked down at her hand and realized it wasn’t a human hand anymore. There it was, something that resembled a cat’s paw, just much, much larger, with claws like scythes. Then she noticed the carcass next to her, the blood she could feel bubbling down her chin.