Today, I stopped at the village of Carlsburn, Alabama. It’s a small, isolated town, the kind where the residents mostly keep to themselves. I decided to stop here due to rumors from the neighboring town of Ross that the reason they keep to themselves is that they are hiding some kind of unbelievable secret. This could just be some crazy rumor or superstition, possibly a tale invented by the people of Ross to explain Carlsburn’s isolation. Nonetheless, after what I have encountered on my journey so far, I cannot dismiss this as mere fantasy until I take a closer look at the town…
Evaira finished the passage from the diary, and put it aside. The remainder of the entry was badly burned, and could not be read. If a record of what was strange about the town existed, it was gone now. She sighed as she put the diary down, and looked out the window of her RV, which was parked on the edge of the town of Carlsburn, Alabama. It looked just like any small town in the USA.
“This place looks exceedingly ordinary,” she said, “wouldn’t you agree.”
A bald man walked up behind her and said in a droning, monotone, mechanical-sounding voice, “So do most of the places we’ve visited.”
“Naturally, Alpha,” Evaira said, “That’s what keeps the unusual places from being discovered so easily. That’s why it took someone like my sister to actually find out what goes on in most of these places.”
“Of course,” a small, high-pitched, feminine voice added, “just think of me.”
“Exactly, Chira,” Evaira said.
“So, what’s the plan?” Chira asked.
“I will take a look around this town,” Evaira said, “Alpha, can you see if you can clean up the burnt part of the diary entry?”
“As you request,” Alpha said.
He picked up the diary and started to study it very carefully.
Evaira stepped out the front door of her RV, and walked into the town of Carlsburn. She wandered around the town. Though she tried to look inconspicuous, it was rather obvious to her that many of the townspeople recognized her as a stranger. This made Evaira a trifle suspicious, but she also figured it could be because the town is so isolated that they are not used to strangers. However, it was quickly proven that they were hiding something from her; something big.
Evaira caught a glimpse of two people sitting on a bench. They did not notice her. One of them stood up from the bench, and then, suddenly and unexpectedly, began to change shape. His body reshaped, as he transformed into a bird. Then, he swiftly flew away. His companion did the same.
“I believe I figured out what the town’s secret is,” Evaira thought to herself.
Her discovery did not remain a secret for long. In city hall, the mayor sat in his desk. He was a somewhat short and fat man, who was mostly bald, and wore a suit, but no tie. He was relaxing, enjoying his free time, when a large white bird flew in.
“Hello, Bill,” the mayor said.
The bird changed into the form of a man: a tall, handsome man, with short brown hair, and a crooked nose, who was dressed in casual attire.
“Mayor Valencia,” Bill said, “there’s been an incident. An outsider of our town has witnessed a transformation.”
“I see,” Mayor Valencia said, tapping his fingers on his desk, “I suppose it’s only natural that some people would learn our secret. It is rather difficult to watch your back all the time, and so many people forget, considering how few visits from outsiders we get.”
“Then we should leave it be?” Bill asked.
“Of course not,” Mayor Valencia argued, “just because it’s natural doesn’t make it a good thing. Our secret must not be allowed to get out. You know how outsiders will respond.”
“Panic, fear,” Bill said, “then we get declared a public enemy, and the military takes action against us. Just like with any other unusual being that’s been discovered throughout history. I’ve been told the story several times before.”
“True,” Valencia said, “for us, like it was for them, maintaining secrecy is paramount.”
“Then what actions shall I take?” Bill asked.
“Attempt to convince the outsider to come to the laboratory that Professor Fox set up before he left town,” Valencia said, “We can erase her memory, and send her someplace out of town.”
“Understood,” Bill said.
“But,” Valencia said, “if she seems to resist the idea of coming to the lab,” Valencia said, “or if you suspect this is more than just an accidental encounter, she must be eliminated.”
“But, mayor,” Bill said, “is that not a little harsh?”
“Yes,” Valencia said, “but it is necessary. Maintaining secrecy is paramount.”
Bill looked out the window. He seemed a little uncertain.
“I understand,” he reluctantly said.
“Good,” Valencia said.
The mayor shapeshifted into a blob of white goo, and sunk below the desk. Bill walked out of the office.
Bill was scared. He had never killed anybody before. He heard stories of how killing changes people. This was the first time he was assigned to deal with a shapeshifting sighting. He was relieved by the fact that most sightings are pure accidents, and the mind eraser works much of the time, but still feared that he might have to kill this outsider.
By asking people about the stranger, he was eventually led to the edge of town, where Evaira’s RV was parked. He began to follow the typical procedures for dealing with this situation, as he was taught through his training. He first shapeshifted into a fly, and flew through a tiny crack in the door, to get inside, and eavesdrop. He had to be sure the encounter was pure coincidence, so he looked around and listened.
He found the inside of the RV to be rather unusual. Not the décor, that looked ordinary. There was a small kitchenette with a booth-like dining table next to it, and a reclining chair in the front. What was unusual were the RV’s inhabitants.
First, there was a tall, bald man kneeling completely still in a corner, aside from the moving of his lips when he spoke. He was dressed entirely in gray, and had a blank look on his face, as if he did not have a soul. He seemed to have his fist clenched around something, which was plugged into the wall.
The other person was a woman. She was young, a brunette, and in Bill’s opinion, moderately attractive. She wore a bright floral dress that Bill found to be somewhat exotic-looking. She seemed rather cheerful, but Bill could tell by looking at her that this was a façade. There was a dark look in her eyes, like she was missing something and she was dedicated to finding it. Also unusual was the fact that she seemed to be talking to a potted plant on the kitchenette counter; it was some kind of a tall grass-like plant. More unusual was that the plant talked back. Though Bill initially suspected this plant was a shapeshifter, he immediately realized that a shapeshifter who had assumed a form without a mouth could not speak.
Bill knew not to react strangely, or give away his presence. He first had to find out if the encounter was a coincidence, or not. He quickly got his answer.
“So,” the woman said, “now that we’ve figured out the secret of Carlsburn, we’ve got to figure out the next piece of the puzzle. Was this where it happened?”
“You think she’d come back here?” the plant asked.
“Well,” the woman said, “a village of shapeshifters was the premise for her story ‘The Hawk Who Was a Man’, one that she always considered to be a favorite. She has spoken about her desire to revisit this premise in a few interviews, and mentioned it on a few pages of her diary. It does seem reasonable that she would try to return here.”
“Did the townspeople show any sign of hostility, Miss Evaira,” the bald man said.
“Not really,” Evaira said, “they did seem a bit suspicious by my presence, but that could just be the fact that they’re not used to strangers. Considering that, it does seem strange that no one approached me after I witnessed the man changing but my lack of surprise may have lead them to believe their initial suspicions were wrong, and I was one of them. I wonder what they would do in a situation like this to keep this place a secret. Surely this has happened before, it must have happened when my sister came to town.”
“So,” the bald man asked, “do you have a plan?”
“We wait to see if they make a move,” Evaira said, “then I investigate if they had anything to do with my sister’s disappearance. “
“And if they capture us?” the plant, Chira, asked.
“We’ll simply make it clear to them that we have no intention of spreading their secret,” Evaira stated calmly, “just like we always do. It usually works, once we’ve got them convinced that we’re honest enough people.”
“But that doesn’t always work,” Chira said, “especially if this is where Liza disappeared. She didn’t spread the secrets either.”
“Not directly,” Evaira said, “Liza was a writer, and she wrote about her travels, but was able to get away with it most of the time by passing it off as a work of pure fiction. Without her diary, nobody could connect her stories to reality.”
Evaira held up a small, brown, badly burnt, and seriously worn out book.
“Besides,” Evaira added, “in a worst case scenario, Chira’s our ace in the hole. Aside from us, everybody thinks she’s just a potted plant. And, of course, your robot strength and intellect has taken many of our enemies by surprise, right, Alpha.”
“As you request Miss Evaira,” the bald man, Alpha, said.
As he said this, he stood up, and unclenched his fist. The fist was empty, and the cord was embedded into his skin. He pulled the cord out with his other hand, and it retracted into his hand until it disappeared completely into his body.
“Not now,” Evaira said.
“As you request,” Alpha said once more.
“We must discover if my sister disappeared here,” Evaira said, “If there’s a complication…”
The fly flew back out the crack, and reverted to his original human form. He didn’t know how to react by what he heard, but it made him question everything. This Evaira woman was looking for her sister, who disappeared, and apparently the sister had come to Carlsburn at some point. This brought up major concerns about Valencia’s philosophy; if somebody was killed in the process of keeping the secret of Carlsburn safe, other people surely would investigate their “mysterious disappearance”. This would ultimately lead to more people coming to Carlsburn, and possibly learning the secret as well. Could this have happened to the sister?
Though the mind erasing technology works much better, it requires a large machine, and it needs to be possible to get the person there. Plus, if the person actively was trying to discover the secret of Carlsburn, and their discovery of it was erased from their mind, they would continue searching for it, rather than minding their own business and leaving town.
Bill’s thoughts about the flaws of Valencia’s philosophy confused him. He didn’t know what to do. If he killed Evaira, how would he know that somebody else wouldn’t come investigating her disappearance. Plus, he was concerned that Alpha’s “robot strength” and the fact that he completely didn’t understand the nature of Chira the plant, would make this task difficult. Besides, he didn’t feel right about killing them just because they’re looking for a lost relative. On top of all that, it was clear that they would never reveal the secret to anybody, which is ultimately Valencia’s goal.
Bill ultimately decided there was only one thing he could do: investigate this missing sister Liza Evaira further. He’d decide what to do about her sister and the others once he’d found out if Liza had indeed been killed here. He walked back to City Hall, and went to the basement: the records room.
The records room consisted of a small desk. Bethany, the clerk, sat at the front desk, in front of a wall of boxes, folders, and other records. Bethany was a young, attractive girl, wearing her usual pink short sleeve shirt. She was especially known throughout Carlsburn for her hair color, which she uses her shapeshifting to change every day. Though she has had some bizarre colors before, today, she was an ordinary blonde.
“Bethany,” Bill said, “could you get me the records on a Liza Evaira.”
“Liza Evaira,” Bethany said, “I’ll check. Where should I look?”
“Under visitors,” Bill said, “possibly in the section for people killed due to learning the secret of Carlsburn.”
“Section 19.6.2,” Bethany said, “I’ll check. Hold on.”
She walked into the shelves of records behind her, carefully looking for the record on Liza Evaira. While she was looking, Mayor Valencia walked into the room.
“Hello, Bill,” Valencia said, “have you taken care of our visitor?”
“Not yet,” Bill said, “my initial recon tells me she may be connected with another possible incident of our secret being discovered. I’m gathering information so I can know best how to deal with her.”
Valencia seemed a little annoyed.
“You know,” Valencia said, “if you need to do research, that means the encounter is more than a coincidence. Killing becomes necessary.”
“I’m not sure,” Bill said, “this would tell me for certain.”
“I suppose I can understand your reluctance,” Valencia said, “this is your first job, and killing is hard. You just have to remember this is for the greater good.”
Valencia walked out of the room, and back upstairs. Bill pondered his words, but was stuck on him saying “the greater good”. It sounded like a cheap way to justify doing something horribly wrong. He knew this was not for the greater good. Miss Evaira did not seem to be very harmful.
At this point, Bethany walked back.
“No record of a Liza Evaira,” she said.
“So,” Bill said, “what does this mean?”
“If she was in Carlsburn,” Bethany said, “either she left without discovering our secret, or she discovered it without us knowing.”
“So, she didn’t die here?” Bill asked.
“Nope,” Bethany said.
Bill left City Hall, and thought to himself about Mayor Valencia’s orders, and what he felt was right. Miss Evaira had just come looking for her missing sister. Her sister may have been here, but she was never caught for learning their secret. Liza Evaira was somewhere else. The more he thought about it, the more he knew it was wrong. Miss Evaira was just a concerned sister, and was completely harmless to the people of Carlsburn. She didn’t deserve to die. She apparently knew of the secret before she came to town since she showed no reaction to the changing and she was just looking for her sister and would not divulge the secret. Besides, based on her odd companions, it was clear she had secrets of her own.
But the question became what he would do about it. He decided he would simply tell them to leave town. He would tell them everything. He would tell Miss Evaira that her sister was no longer in town. He figured it would be the safest, and most effective way to get things done. He returned to the RV door, and knocked on it.
Alpha opened the door.
“Identify yourself and state your business,” Alpha said, in his dull, monotone voice.
“You have to leave this town,” Bill warned, “now!”
“I only take orders from Miss Evaira,” Alpha said, “identify yourself and state your business.”
“Then may I speak with Miss Evaira,” Bill asked.
“Identify yourself,” Alpha said.
“My name is Bill,” Bill said, “and I need to speak with Miss Evaira! It is very important.”
At this point, Evaira’s voice spoke to Alpha.
“It’s okay, Alpha,” Evaira said, “I’ll speak with him.”
“As you request,” Alpha replied.
He stepped aside, and Evaira walked up to the doorway.
“Is there something I can do for you?” Evaira asked.
“You have to leave, now,” Bill said, “your lives are in danger. They’re going to try to kill you.”
“What are you talking about?” Evaira asked.
“Mayor Valencia,” Bill said, “he’s desperate to keep the secret of Carlsburn a secret. He tries to kill or erase the memories of anybody who’s figured out the secret.”
Evaira was freaked out by Bill’s comments, but tried to remain calm.
“Who are you anyway?” she asked.
“My name is Bill,” Bill explained, “I live here. I don’t agree with Valencia’s philosophy, so I decided to do something about it. Therefore, instead of obeying Mayor Valencia and kill you, I decided to warn you. I know you’re no threat to our secret.”
Evaira was confused as to how he knew.
“Alpha,” she said, “analyze his voice. Is he telling the truth?”
“Based on the level of emotion in his voice,” Alpha explained, “and a noticeable sense of urgency, I would say that it is highly probable he is telling the truth.”
“This means that this could be where my sister disappeared,” Evaira said, “she probably escaped on her own the first time, without the residents knowing. Then, she came back and was found out as knowing, and killed.”
“Nope,” Bill said, “she was not killed here.”
Evaira felt a bit uncomfortable by Bill seemingly knowing this.
“How do you know?” Evaira asked.
“Valencia sent me to gather information on you,” he said, “determine if your discovering our abilities was a chance encounter, or if you were actively looking. If it was a chance encounter, a simple mind erase would have been sufficient to keep the secret. I learned about your sister, Liza Evaira. From learning about her, I did some research on my own, and found no record of a Liza Evaira having been killed in Carlsburn. Valencia has always been known to keep very good records, so I think this proves your sister was not killed here. If she did discover our secret, she got away before we found out.”
“In order to find this out, it means you’ve been spying on us,” Miss Evaira said, a bit uncertain, “and I don’t know if I like that. Nonetheless, if what you say is true, it’s probably worth it. Alpha?”
“My analysis says he’s telling the truth, Miss Evaira,” Alpha said.
“Then I guess we’ve no business here,” Evaira said, “come on, it’s time to go.”
Miss Evaira was about to step back into the RV, when the whole thing shook violently. She lost her balance for a moment, but was able to remain on her feet.
“What was that?” Evaira said.
Bill looked behind the RV, and saw a large elephant was standing behind it, bashing it repeatedly.
“Mayor Valencia,” Bill said immediately.
“That is correct,” Valencia’s voice said, coming from the elephant’s mouth, “I kept an eye on you. When we met at the archives, I became sure I couldn’t trust you, so I realized that I had to take care of these people myself. I’ll deal with you later.”
“I won’t let you,” Bill said, “these people are harmless! They don’t deserve to die!”
“You can’t be sure of that,” Valencia said, “even if they agree to keep the secret, we don’t know if we can believe them. Besides, all it takes is one slip-up, and the secret’s out!”
“Leave,” Bill said, turning to Miss Evaira “now! I’ll handle Valencia.”
“Just try and stop me,” Valencia taunted, “I’ve had a lifetime of shapeshifting experience! You couldn’t hold a candle to my abilities!”
“Alright,” Evaira said.
Though she momentarily seemed a bit concerned for Bill, it didn’t last long. Bill was a stranger to her, but he did save her life.
“Alpha,” Evaira said, “drive.”
The RV door closed, and drove off. Valencia charged after it, but Bill stood in the way.
“I’m better than you think,” Bill said.
He started to grow, until he was fifteen foot tall. Valencia charged at him, but Bill was too big to be bothered. Valencia then smiled, and turned into a giant himself, slightly bigger than Bill. He then tried to lunge at Bill. He knocked Bill to the ground, but when he did, he fell directly down. Bill had shapeshifted into a rat and slipped away.
However, Valencia noticed that Evaira’s RV was long gone. She had managed to escape thanks to Bill’s distraction.
That evening, Evaira sat in the RV, pulled over at the side of a road, somewhere far from Carlsburn. She looked at the plant, Chira, on her table.
“He did save us from that elephant shapeshifter,” Evaira said to Chira, “so I guess I’m grateful, but I’d like to know what happened to him.”
The plant lifted from the pot, revealing a brown creature was living in the pot, slightly less than a foot tall. The “plant” was just the hair on her back. Chira was the creature.
“Don’t worry about him, Evaira,” Chira said, “he’ll be fine. He seemed like he could take care of himself.”
“I know,” Evaira said, “regardless, we should find another entry in Liza’s diary to investigate.”
“You shouldn’t obsess over this,” Chira said, “remember, even though he did save us, you did just meet him.”
“I know,” Evaira said.
Evaira picked up the diary and began paging through it, while looking out the window. While looking for a promising lead, she noticed, outside, a large bird came flying down from the sky, and landed on the ground right outside the RV. Then, it changed into the shape of a man, revealing itself to be Bill.
“Bill,” Evaira said.
She walked to the door, and stepped out of the RV.
“Just came to make sure you made it,” Bill said.
“We’re fine,” Evaira said, “thanks to you. But what about the mayor?”
“He may be an experienced shapeshifter,” Bill said, “but he’s much too big to properly use a flying form, so I think we’re safe from him. Anyway, I’d best be off. After attacking Valencia, I’m pretty much persona non grata in Carlsburn, so I need to go find a new place.”
“If you’d like,” Evaira said, “you can travel with us.”
“I don’t want to be a bother,” Bill said.
“I mean it,” Evaira said, “it’s okay with me, and Chira won’t mind. Besides, I think your shapeshifting abilities may come in handy on my journey.”
“Well,” Bill said, “if you’re really okay with it, I accept. Thanks for the offer, Miss Evaira.”
“Great,” Evaira said, “but please, not Miss Evaira, just Evaira.”
“Evaira?” Bill said, “You go by your last name?”
“It’s the name I share with my sister,” Evaira explained, “You’d be surprised how many reactions I get when I use it.”
The two of them walked aboard the RV.
Author’s Notes (may contain spoilers):
This is the first story from a series of short stories I am writing, Evaira. I will be posting the first eight of them over the course of the next eight weeks. The Evaira series is very much a serial, with a continuing mystery, but I think most of the stories can be enjoyed on their own as well. I created the Evaira setting as a place where anything can happen, so I can write a wide variety of different stories in the series. However, they will be somewhat longer than most of my stories (a little hint – when reading Evaira, pay attention to the details!).
So, “The Shapeshifter Phenomenon” is the first in this series. As I wrote it, I considered a “Welcome Episode” on a television show, where I tried to introduce the reader to the character of Evaira, her friends, and the series’ main mysteries through Bill, the new guy who joins with them in the story.
I’ve always had a thing for the idea of shapeshifting, so it’s certainly great to write a story about shapeshifters, though I tried to focus more on the lengths they would go to keep such an ability a secret. The discovery that people with shapeshifting powers exist would certainly create a panic, so Mayor Valencia tries to prevent the discovery by any means necessary, but is certainly going too far.
In general, this is a story about how far somebody will go to keep a secret, and the mayor’s “ends justify the means” philosophy, and how one man realizes the mayor is wrong. Keeping secrets, and the methods, and implications, of doing so, will be a major theme throughout many Evaira stories.