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Sick and Sin
or: The Second Failed Baptism of Miss Marybeth Prowse
I awake as I have awoken before; in horror.
I awake as I have awoken before; cold, wet, hungry. Huddled and broken under a half-forgotten highway overpass. Shameless, and lost. Particularly, shameless. I have one, single concession to modesty, and that is in the form of a torn-through edge-frayed Indoc War surplus overcoat that I had found in the refuse heap behind a rat-chewed "thrift" store, in a town many miles back; presumably, they had felt it not up to the standards of even their shoddy mercantile quality. Under normal circumstances, Miss Marybeth Prowse would have agreed with their judgment. But Miss Marybeth Prowse no longer exists. There is someone, or something, which goes on in her place, but I do not believe that it is alive in any real sense. Any illusion of such results from its not having stopped moving yet.
Moving. Motion is that which keeps this thing, this thing whose eyes my soul peers out of, whose stiffness and discomfort and caked, dry sweat my soul feels... Motion is what keeps it from ceasing to be. Move. Move. Ever, ever move.
The coat is my one possession. Miss Marybeth Prowse had lots of possessions. She had a rack full of never-thrown-out stuffed toys, old lapis jewelry boxes, a clean, white glass vanity to dress and prepare herself in before school every morning. Miss Marybeth Prowse the braw young factory-workin' lass had _her_ own stuff as well--a purse, full of the essentials of a young woman's life; a sturdy spare work-apron; an extra pair of solid boots; even, I imagine, a lunch that her mother had packed for her on her last day on the job, all sitting there in a grey-brown locker behind the comfortable security of a good, strong, Master Brand padlock, in a plastics factory seventy-seven miles and ten hundred million years behind, the food itself slowly rotting in the creamy-white Georgia heat. I don't know why I am remembering Miss Marybeth Prowse's things. If I din't know better, I'd be under the mistaken impression that I once was her, or somethin'.
I, on the other hand, have a coat.
It's not even a particularly good coat. But it suffices. It sheds the rain (except at the holes and the tears), and keeps away the night-chill (ditto), and isn't so hot that I can't stand to wear it during the day, which is a good thing, because I'm fucking naked under it. Naked but for a thick pelt of red-haired horsehide that I am not anxious to show off to the world.
It's not as though I am hiding anything by concealing the horsiness of my body, of course. My... face is evidence enough of who and what I am. I have flicked the end of this alien skull, near the soft leather of the nostrils, not able to think anything else but that the end of this skull, a foot or more past my eyes, must needs be made of some matter completely different from _me,_ and I have sat numbly as, in defiance of my thoughts and against all reason, I _felt_ it. A foot or so of clean, solid bone, wrapped in brown-white horsehair, away. Don't even start on the ears.
And what of the feet? Hooved, planted feet, at an impossible angle, an angle that aches to walk in, sticking out from the too-short lower rim of the coat. Devil Feet. No clefts to the hoof, but devil-feet all the same. And the tail. This damned functionless tail, which only serves to catch the brambles and thorns as I walk, now nothing more than a solid, bloody-ripped mass of ragged knots.
No, this is _not_ Miss Marybeth Prowse. This is... something else. Something that my soul rides in, at the level of the eyes, and now, to my quiet horror, at the level of the nose and ears as well.
The first night out, I fought it back. Beat it down. Then, lovely then, this thing was a horse full and truly, no shade of uprightness in the stance, no fingers, no anything. After my winding, crackling gallop for the eternity until sunset, while huddled resting on a roadside embankment, I screamed wrath at the stars and tried to tear control of this thing back from whatever had taken it. But it was like arm-wrestling the devil. I'd get something, one little thing back to the pale pink homeyness that I knew and ached for, and I feverishly exalted; but in the next breath, with anything less than the most perfect concentration, it would *snap* back with a pain that made me regret ever having started in the first place.
I finally managed to make myself into what I now am, a rough, reasonably symmetrical amalgam of what I am and what I should be. And then, I could go no further. Not with every scrap of my power.
I rested for the entire next morning, naked and heat-bloated, little more than a corpse along the highway, unable to move.
When I could move again, I decided to do so. And I haven't stopped yet.
Yes, I have fought. Because...
Because, if I were human, I would not be a Sinner. If I could bring myself back to the thing that once was, if I could rassle God the Almighty away from this horse-beast's body, that would mean that Momma was wrong when she told me of the sinfulness of the perverse desires that had sickened my soul. If I could beat it, it warn't God doin' it, right? You can't beat God, not at his own game. Stands to reason 'at then, if you could win back your own corpse, it wouldn't be God doing it to you.
But I could not. And faced with this fact, I had about two choices.
I chose the second. I chose to stop believing. Right then and there. I had been leaning towards that path anyway, before any of this had a chance to happen.
After all, given a choice between a wholly-constructed delusional entity and an omnipotent, omnipresent being who _hates_ me for what I am, for what I feel, and manifests this hate by ripping me apart and subsequently cobbling me back together in a profane mockery of what once I was... Well. I choose to go with the former. Lies. All of it, lies. Societal, outmoded, weak, simpleminded superstition. That's all that He is, to me.
I wish it were that easy. I wish it were true.
The overpass, and the road that it overpasses are both empty and white. Old roads, both of them, long forgotten by all but the most traditional traffic. Weeds grow from their surface, chips and cracks mar their finish, pot-holes pock their faces. Old tar-soaked electric poles criscross above; they stink of black oil. The roadsides are an unruly, dry-brown-dead biomass of failed plants. And the sun is rising, turning the cold humidity of the evening past into the thick, cloying steam of the day.
And the black, slender cords held aloft by the black stinking poles lead their way, pole after pole, to the heat-hazed silhouettes of an unknown city far away into the flat wasteland.
I arise, kick some of the soreness from my weeping, tortured muscles, stretch, and then stand in full face of a bloated, joyless day.
* * *
The city is no longer the place that I thought it was.
Out there, in the wasteland of scrubgrass and forgotten asphalt, I was at home. A lost, willowy, decaying spirit, clad in a dead man's coat. It was new country to me. Miss Marybeth Prowse had never seen country like that wasteland, and so when she died and became me, I had no preconceived notions about what it was to be like. We got along fine, me an' the wasteland.
The city, however...
I know how cities are supposed to be. I am supposed to be their equal. But I am not. This shopping mall is...
This shopping mall in which I now stand is so much _better_ than I am that I can hardly bear to slouch within its vestibule.
Why a shopping mall? Force a'habit. These were the places that Miss Marybeth Prowse used to go, because they had, _were_, everything that she needed. I, me, whoever I am, had hoped that they would be everything that I needed as well.
I look inward, into the clean, shiny-marble tiled floor. Miss Prowse's hundred-dollar sneakers once breezed, chilly-cloud-like, over floors exactly like this one, shopping bags daintily kissing its polished surface in her wake. Miss Prowse used to pass under brass-brushed neon-lit signs with impunity, knowing that she was _at least_ as good as the signs that she walked under. She, in fact, knew that she was _better_ than most of them, most of these blazing bright mallfront signs. She knew she was at least as good as the pleasant, lambent directories, at least as good as the polished tiles and ornamental fountains, somewhat on a par with the great, quiet-polished clocks that dictated the pulse of these places.
A dignified shopper in a sport jacket, clearly better than the doors of the vestibule, breezes past me. Behind him, the scorching heat of the South is pushed back in clouds by the icy, crystal air from within the shopping mall. As he passes, he glances at me, and then quickly glances away, making a conscious effort not to stare.
He is dressed like, and looks like, one of the Prowse Family Business Houseguests that Miss Marybeth used to know. One half of one week ago, she was exactly as good as he is. Now, of course, here, is me. I _stink_ from the heat. My armpits and crotch drip reeking, cheeselike crusty-sweat, to dry there and congeal just as all the other sweat does from every past day that I have been upon the road. I think, perhaps, that it is not my imagination that my sweat smells even worse now that I am horselike. It does, I swear to you.
That which passes for the hair on my head, this odd, hairy mane, is knotted and lackluster. Whole clumps have been ripped out of my ridiculous tail. I am naked under this Indoc Vet's overcoat, its rips and tears showing glimpses of red hair all over my grossly distorted body. There is still a ribbon of dried blood on the left side of my face where the plastic shard is still lodged. My eyes are wild and sunken, from heat exhaustion and hunger. There might, just might be, a spark of madness down in their black cores.
He is polite, he thinks, and makes an effort not to stare at the mad old SCAB-woman lurking at portals.
I'm not old. I'm just out of high school, goddamn you and your prissy haircut too. But he doesn't know. He cannot recognize the shape of a young horse as well as he could the shape of a young woman. And even if he could, even if he were an expert on all things horse, I am not certain whether or not I would even look young.
But I am. God Damn It, I am.
Low, and hunched, cleverly disguised as a pile of dirty coats, I shamble into the icy white air of the mall. Moving. Moving.
* * *
A deep, hissing breath that flutes whinnyingly past my long nostrils.
And after that, nothing is forthcoming.
The clerk, prim and correct in her nice white apron and hat, blinks. She is younger than me. By a few years of physical age and a few decades worth of trauma.
"Ma...'am?" She says, haltingly, as if uncertain of my gender.
I stand, a hulking, stinking mass of horseflesh, slowly polluting the air around me.
Nothing, as ah'said, is forthcoming.
"This sto-uh." Ah say. "Is a sto-uh with one thing that it sells."
She blinks again.
"Cinnamon Buns?" She asks, brilliantly, piggy blue eyes glimmering in confusion.
I just stare at her, grimly.
"This ee-uz a cinnamon bun shop." I say, inexorably, after a time, as though not even answering her question. "When ah come up to you, and ah say, 'Ah Want', it shee-yuld mean to you that 'Ah Want' somethin', not from _you_ as a person, but from _you_ in your role as merchant, pur-vey-or of cinnamon buns."
She blinks at me, eyes wide.
"As a purveyor of cinnamon buns, ayund working as yew do here in a shop that sells _only_ cinnamon buns, not even multiple varieties of cinnamon bun, just one kind, and as experienced a purveyor and consumer," I nod at her, "of cinnamon buns as you so obviously are, at this specific shop which I have already previously described to you..."
I gesture at the glowing cold-pink sign.
In restarting, I realize that I have lost track of my grammar. I start again.
"One would presume that ee-yif someone approached yew, here, while yew were on the job here at the counter of this cinnamon bun store, and expressed some form of need to yew, that yew would naturally _presume_ that said individual was in need of a cinnamon bun, would you not."
She does not realize that it is a question until several seconds later.
"No...?" She says, hesitantly.
"No meaning No, yew wouldn't?"
"No... I mean... I would!"
"Wunderful." I say.
"Do yew recall what ah did immediately upon making your acquaintance across this counter?"
She blinks, her little piggy eyes becoming watery-hostile. "Ma'am, just _tell_ me what you want."
"One." I say, meeting her gaze, evenly.
We stare at each other again for a short time. My own cloud of odor tickles her lily-white tiny li'l freckled nose, and she wrinkles it in disgust, ever-so-slightly. Moments pass.
Eventually, I win.
"Okeey." She says, exasperatedly. "One roll." She gooes one out of a nearby pan and slaps it into a thin, cardboard box. The smell of the fatty pastry makes my jaw quiver. It is the closest I have been to solid food in three days. Except if you count the grasses of the wasteland. But I will not, _will not_ go there.
"Four Ninety Five." She says, coldly.
Casually, I pick the roll-box off the counter.
With extreme casualness, I begin to walk away.
"Hey...!" She says.
"I ain't got no wallet, so you're gonna have to bill me." I mutter to her, distantly. "Actually, better yet, bill Miss Marybeth Prowse. She's the one what had all the money in the first place."
She begins to sputter. "You-- Can't--"
I pay her no heed as I saunter circuitously away.
When out of her sight, I begin to wander in a less circuitous fashion. I pick up speed.
The first food I will have eaten in three days. It sits, warm, against my chest. I clutch it there, like a stuffed-cotton toy.
The first food...
I want to eat it here. Vanish into a side-corridor. Wolf it down. The odors, sweet, spicy odors recalling to me better times, almost comically better times. But no. Gotta get out of here first. Remove myself from the scene of my petty larceny. Move. Move to the exits. I pace my steps, head whirling in tiny exaltation, moving towards the nearest set of doors that will lead back to the wastes, my rapidly-becoming-permanent home.
Warn't so hard. I say to myself. One meal per city, no-one'll remember you as the old horse-woman who comes in and filches fast food. New town every few hours. Nobody's gonna slap yer mug up in the post offices for stealing a burger here, a sweetbun there... maybe it'll be enough...
I hold the roll, jealously, a warm, concrete symbol of the will to continue to exist, like a first-grader with a batting trophy.
Presumably, I have forgotten that Cinnamon Bun Girl has other resources than just her own lackluster presence. That she has a phone, probably with a speed-dial to the security folks in the mall.
The hot-glass greenhouse doors leading back out into the world loom before me. And there are man-shaped shadows before them, at their bases.
Two uniformed men. Uniformed men. Symbols of comfort, of Social Order, for Miss Marybeth Prowse. Suppressors of dangerous illegals, and such.
They're gonna try an' make me give back my cinnamon roll.
The madness grows, deep within my eyes.
"Ma'am." Says one, sharply, a red, round-faced fellow with white hair.
I do not cease for a moment. They're gonna try an' make me give back my cinnamon roll. Give back. _My_ cinnamon roll. Give it back. They're gonna try...
"Ma'am." He says, louder, and more sternly.
I stop, and turn to him. Quivering slightly, I pop open the cardboard box, and with calculated leisureliness, I tear off a strip of hot pastry and eat it, chewing directly to his face, with gusto. It is all I can do to prevent the taste of the food from causing my legs to swoon out from under me, but I remain steady, keeping a hold of my dignity.
"_My_ cinnamon roll." I rasp, hoarsely.
I continue to walk away. Out the door.
The younger of the two skips into following me, out into the white heat. "Ma'am!" He says, echoing his partner. His voice has a sharper note to it, like a metal-burr.
I continue to walk. With increasing speed.
Skipping-Boy catches up with me at last.
"MA'AM!" He calls again.
Mine. _My_ cinnamon roll. I won it, fair an' square. Tricked that little piggy white-skinned bitch back there outta it. Yew should'a seen the look on her splotchy little face. Mine. Mine.
You better not _FUCKING_ touch it.
He moves into my personal space. I begin walking quicker, but _he_ prolly ate breakfast this morning. I can almost feel his breath at my flanks... Mine, goddamn you, mine, mine, mine mine MINE...
...and then, he reaches out to grab my shoulder...
In a blink, at that one touch, I swing wildly around, my strong, hard-muscled forearm outstretched.
It is a blow that _should_ have cracked one of his ribs, at least, were it to have been delivered from my prime, at a better angle. But my dehydration, and my hunger, and my aches and pains and _everything_, all of it, conspires against me, so that in the end, all that I deliver to him is a faint, misdirected, not-even-bruise-leaving wallop, on one shoulder.
It is enough. Enough to provoke him.
Seven seconds later, I am sprawled flat on the ground. My vision glows bright with sparks from the whack my head has taken against a nearby concrete embankment, and I have subsequently been thrown teeth-first onto the cement sidewalk. My hard-won pastry is crushed and smeared forlornly all over the front of my coat.
"BITCH!" Screams Skipping-Boy at me, backing away, looking shaken.
Quietly, like a sinkhole, the madness undermines and caves away even more of the brown of my eyes. I rise, joints screaming, and begin to stand. Thick-nailed fists squeeze themselves into cinderblocks. I was afraid, before, swinging wildly. I couldn'tve hit a goddamn barn door. That's all different, now. I am no longer afraid.
I am _angry_.
I am angry, and, I am only a few yards away, a few yards across the pavement, a massive, half-equine monster, rock-solid and utterly stupid with pain, snorting fire at-nostrils, ready to rage, to wrath, to kill, break, destroy, to kick the living _shit_ out of Skipping-Boy's prissy white Norm ass. I can see a coil of fear in his eyes.
But before I am even completely up, the other guard appears in the door.
He holds, easily in one red-pudgy hand, a mean, black-looking galvanized-rubber-grip pistol. He does not hold it threateningly, inasmuch as a man holding a pistol can avoid looking threatening. But it is clear that he means it nonetheless as some form of punctuation mark.
We freeze, all quiet.
"Get." Says the gun-toting guard.
"Police are gonna be here soon, missy." He jacks a thumb. "Concerned citizen inside jes' got off the payphones. You got about three-five minutes of head-start, maybe more if the boys are feelin' sluggish today, to get offa this property and never come back again, ya hear? You leave us alone, I do you the favor of not telling the cops _exactly_ in which direction you start 'a running. You disappear, lay low for a while, they'll forget about you in a week or so. We," he gestures laconically at his stiff-standing partner, "Cliff here and me, we forget about you right here and now. Ain't that right, Cliff."
Cliff nods, bloodlessly, rubbing the shoulder that I clipped.
"See." He continues. "Cliff already forgot'choo, seems. Me, on the other hand, I'm a little older, wiser, got a little better police mind in me. I don't forget things that are standing right in front of me. Takes me at least a minute or two of something bein' outta sight before I can start forgettin'. An' lemme say, havin' me forget is a helluva lot better than you gettin' caught up by the Blues right here an' now. They don't treat young girls a' your type real nice, roundabouts, hear?"
...he called me 'young'...
"You got any human brains left in that head of yours, you recognize this here as one big goddamn birthday present from me t'you. Understand?"
Silence. The only motion is of the younger man still nervelessly rubbing his shoulder. I nod, slowly. There is more than the madness in me.
"Get." He repeats, with a note of finality.
The crazed, filthy SCAB-woman turns tail and flees without another word.
* * *
Moving. Into the darkness. Back away from the order, back into the chaos. Back to places that Marybeth Prowse never knew. Out along the highways again. Away from the unfamiliar city that I have been exiled from. Into...
Into the woods.
* * *
There is an eternity spent in the darkness of the hot Georgia forests.
My sweat has become a force of nature, dried into a sticky, reeking froth everywhere on my body that I am aware of. I drink where and when I can to replenish the water that I lose, constantly am losing, day and night. But before lowering my face to any still, standing water that I find, I make _certain_ to close my eyes.
At some time, some unknown later date during the time that I am not keeping track of, I break my own unwritten rule not to start eating plants. It starts with blackberries. No one would think any worse of me for eating blackberries. They're acceptable food, right? Hell, Miss Prowse used to go out to the bushes in back and scour 'em dry for gallons and gallons of the little fuckers. A few scavenged handfuls here, and there. Munch, munch munch. They take the edge off, and they themselves do not cause me any psychological harm. But they are a breach of my discipline.
By the time I reach two more days of wandering, I am eating anything even remotely green and not deadly-looking that I happen across. And it's making me sick. Even natural hosses aren't s'posed to do what I'm doing. And the fact that I am not a natural one at all, with my digestive patterns probably fucked up beyond all recognition, is only hurting matters. I avoid the plants which make me puke afterwards. I have read that hosses don't, _can't_ puke. Somehow, even in its gore, it is an encouraging sign, one of few in my damaged, decaying mind.
Days and nights go by, ending in night.
And then, there is a light.
House. My brain hunts around, and finally comes up with the word "house." But it's not.
Of course, I'm approaching, if in nothing else, then in dull, stupefied curiosity.
It's not a house. My brain hunts around for a few more milliseconds. "Building." comes up. Much better.
Yes, definitely "Building." If it's a house, it's a rather odd one. Come think, even as a building it's a bit odd.
You know those huge, naked-log lodges they have up in the woods in those prissy-sorta exclusive campgrounds? The ones with the big, high, cedar-shake roofs and hardwood finishings? The ones that they can only make to look nigh-painfully rustic and natural through hundreds of hours of highly-intensive labor using the most modern equipment known to th' field of architecture?
Well, this building is exactly, precisely the furthest thing you can get from one of those. There's a comfortably sturdy-looking stone-and-wood basis to it, but in other places, it looks disturbingly like it was cobbled together out of sheets of pasteboard. There is corrugated iron showing elsewhere, aluminum too. God knows how they got it to be multiple stories, even, but it looks like there's at least two of 'em.
My mind conjures images of mad hermits and Thoreau-ish dissidents from society, but this is no hermitage. It's far too big, for one thing. And there is a civilized air about the immediate grounds that suggests... some sort of...
I try to look about the darkness of the clearing, for some hint, a sign, anything, but there is nothing that can be seen in the black-soft mosquito-thick sultry darkness. Nothing but a single, hooded lamp, mounted on the front porch of a house... a building, sorry, that shouldn't even probably be here, might not even _exist_ but for a strip of rough brown gravel road curving around and leading off into the night opposite me, proving, in a way, that this place must have _some_ connection to the world without.
I realize that I have stepped forward into the clearing, almost on instinct.
There is no reason why the proprietor of this building should be any more friendly to me than anyone else. But the hermit image refuses to be dislodged from my mind. Maybe... someone enlightened... wise enough to see th' wicked belligerence of human society, willing to welcome other outcasts...
Or a sex-starved loon with a shotgun and a pair of handcuffs...
I shake my head. The latter image just refuses to stick. There is no feeling of ill about this place, nothing but an odor of... cleanliness.
* * *
The door is unlocked. I didn't try it first. I knocked, like a good little girl. I remember that much about being human, at least. When there was no answer, though, for many minutes, I gathered myself and sorta-kinda peeked in, after warding away images of terrified, gun-toting homeowners lurking upstairs, waiting for an excuse. I didn't want to start trespassing, either. But there is something almost irresistibly alluring about the notion of regaining some measure of civilization in my life. This might serve as a waystop, a stepping-stone, the Wilderness and the City sorta mixed up together like chunky intermediate baby-food. I know it's an unreasonable thought. I'm in an unreasonable mood.
On its inside, the place much resembles its outside. Bitted and Pieced together. There is a general feeling of homey whiteness to the interior, however, a not-unpleasant antiseptic odor that suggests diligence in upkeep more than it does sterility. Somewhere, a cooling-system thrums, flooding the halls with comfortably chilly air just on the pleasant side of a shiver. Some of the halls are just slightly too low for my huge monstrosity of a frame, but I just duck my thick-muscled neck and plod onwards. In the first few minutes I accompany my walkings with loud "Halloos" and "Anybodytheres," but after a time, I stop, feeling quite certain that I must certainly be alone. Somebody left this whole big place completely unlocked and untended, not only that, with a _light_ over the goddamn door. It's like the South _used_ to be, before people stopped being civilized to one another.
It isn't really a house, but it sure feels like a home. Here is a commons area, with a pleasant and not-at-all domineering satellite feed in one corner with some cushions scattered before it; something in me is pleased to note, however, that it seems somehow shuffled off to one side--carefully shuffled, but shuffled nonetheless, as if to say, "Mindless entertainment? Pshaw, you don't need _that_..." Taking up more central, important positions in the room are assorted card-tables and circles of comfortable chairs, gently suggesting by their presence that sitting across from another real-live human being and chatting amiably, either alone or over a game of blackjack, would prolly be _far_ more entertaining a pastime.
Here is... sorry, here _are_... a group of doors, along one axial hall in the newest little wing of the compound. I sneak a peek inside; a comfy little dorm-esque room, complete with the added feature of a soft patchwork quilt spread, a riot of color. Intrigued despite myself, I crack other rooms's doors; the quilts are, each and every one, _different_. Whoever placed them had managed to succeed in the formidable task of making no individual quilt any more beautiful than the last, but yet managing to make each unique enough so that anyone surveying them as a whole would have no trouble picking their "favorite." I find mine, and in entering to view it more closely, heedless of the dirt which I track onto the utilitarian-yet-soft carpeting, I note that there are inside privacy-locks on the doors. So... there is a modicum of human dignity to these rooms as well.
Here is... a dining-room, or perhaps, dining-hall. Some mixture of the two, with the roominess of the latter and the hominess of the former.
A _library,_ small but serviceable, oh goodness, wouldn't Marybeth have loved this...
Here's a _bathroom_...
A careful bathroom, perfectly private, again with a locking door, its very presence giving the suggestion that there are others like it elsewhere in the house. Here is a small, mismatched rack containing...
Soaps... and shampoos...
My brow furrows even as my heart begins a relieved-joyful pitterpat as I note that these aren't just the garden-variety normal human brands that we SCAB's can't use without getting flaky skin and manky hair. These are the real thing, the genuine articles, a good assortment of them, each for a different general cosmetic makeup.
I find a set indicated as being good for...
Soaps here, must mean that...
I whip around... a full bath with shower-head...
One more single dizzy turn...
And into my vision comes a tiny placard, on a faux-gold-metal standing-plate. The script on the placard is hand-written, but neat-looking, and old, as though its words had been kept as sacred and holy across the years, so that no more than one little sign had ever needed to be made.
The little sign reads, "Please Make Yourself At Home."
The Indoc War Coat drops to the carpeted floor.
There are tears in my eyes.
* * *
For the first time in over a week, I am not afraid to look, do not shy away from, a reflective surface that presents itself to me. And what a surface it is; a big, wide mirror above the sink that I was too dazed to even notice upon first entering the room. The little bottle of shampoo, now completely empty, is nestled in a nearby wastebasket, and I am wrapped in a no-nonsense white-bleached towel that, while not fluffy, is undeniably _clean_. I am looking at myself, really _looking_, for the first time. The knots and bothers have been taken out of my mane and tail as best as a steel comb and some scissors, found resting in a drawer nearby, could do. My shoulders are straight, my neck is erect, and my ears... oh hell, they're up, too.
I am so smitten with myself, I lean forward to get a better look, certain that my eyes must be deceiving me. But they aren't.
_I am Beautiful._
Horse-like, undoubtedly. There is still no question of that. Huge, too, yes. Rough estimates would put me in the area of just shy of seven feet up. And there is no scale in this bathroom, but, bluntly, I imagine that I'm _well_ over my former target weight. I never was a small girl, and being shook up with a big-ass gingerbread mare has done nothing but increase that tendency. But..
I even got a blaze, nice big white one running down the length of my nose. I was only dimly aware of having had a blaze, before.
I stand there staring at myself for a long time.
After a while, I even drop the towel.
The coat, too, is forgotten there on the floor, its olive-drab curled up with the whiteness of the towel that lies upon it.
My sanity is restored. Unequivocally restored. Marybeth Prowse is...
Jesus! I said it! I have to stifle a giggle, and then realize I don't have to stifle it at all.
Among other things, Marybeth Prowse is apparently resurrected.
I do what Marybeth Prowse would do. Because I am her.
Heedless, maybe even impishly proud of my nakedness, I go find the library.
* * *
I am sidetracked by the kitchen. Nothing fresh or prone to spoilage, but there are nonperishables of every description, including, to my delight, canned cream soups.
I make myself at home.
* * *
Books! Books, books, lovely books! I want to touch them all, reassure myself that they are, indeed, as real as they appear. A nice blend of harmless fiction and nonfiction, nothing you wouldn't see in Reader's Digest, but still, Saints Alive, books! More mismatched-but-comfy chairs, reading-tables. The cooling-system is particularly noticeable in this room, and I am able to spend many minutes just soaking everything about this room up. Shelves and shelves of books. Brain food. Soul food. These things I can concentrate on, now that I am virtually stuffed with hot soup and crackers. Nothing, _nothing_ that Father Hugh promised us of Rapture from the pulpit back home can even come _close_ to what I am now feeling.
I am even more Marybeth Prowse, in fact, than I used to be.
The thought fills me with a sort of giddy joy.
I do not believe this. When you're a SCAB, you're not _supposed_ to feel _better_ than you used to. But I do. Every one of my goddamn horsey muscles seems to have been electrified with little tinsel sparks. I am constantly working to hold back laughter, only because my own concept of 'sanity' doesn't include breaking out into mad little chortles every few minutes.
I am even more than I used to be.
I stop, on my rounds of the library, and blink, my mouth twitching in a spastic smile.
When I was something before, I had a name. When I became nothing, I lost it. Now... I'm even more than I was before.
Logically, _I need an additional name._
Something... neat. I am dimly aware of having heard tales of people picking whole new names upon their acquisition of SCABS. Catchy, weird, neo-cult things, sometimes incorporating the name of their species, or something. None of that for me.
But... other people have done it...
I need a name that suits _me_. And simultaneously pays homage to this place which has made me reborn. Something from one of these marvelous Books.
I have only been rummaging the book stacks for about fifteen minutes before chancing across, quite by accident, Anna Sewell's wonderful blast-from-the-past _Black Beauty_. A perfectly innocent book, perfectly suited to this perfectly innocent library. I do not even have to open the slim little novel to have images leap unbidden into my mind, images that I painstakingly constructed in my imagination when a little girl, reading this book.
"Ginger." I whisper, touching only the cover. Of course.
I recall the image of the horse from the mirror. And I recall the mental image that I had wrought when young of the Black's contrary-yet-spirited rein-mate.
Christ. We're like two peas, looking at us that way.
"Ginger." I say, rolling the word on my tongue like a steel ball. I _like_ the way that it feels, sitting there. "Ginger." I say again.
It's a good name.
I could read it again. I love revisiting old books.
But there are others here. Many, many others. Perhaps this one has served its purpose.
"Ginger." I say again, and here, on the fourth time, it _sticks_.
Joyfully, I set the book down and pluck another off the shelves, totally and completely at random; and then, I leap into the nearest deep, embracing chair with a squeal of delight that is completely inappropriate for a young woman of my age but nonetheless feels _damn_ good.
I begin nourishing myself, for the second time this evening.