The warehouse is huge, bigger than a football field, probably bigger than two or three, high, and loud. Rain hammers the metal walls and ceiling, dripping in through small leaks: a high-grade tropical storm, something only a damn fool would be out in at all, much less at whatever music-psychedelic-dance-fest this is. You’re one of a few thousand damn fools out here this Halloween. They’d promised magic, witchcraft. They meant it literally.
A raised circular stage sits in the warehouse’s center, but it’s not for dancers. It’s a summoning circle. The wizards—or whatever the hell they call themselves—stand on catwalks far above, hidden among the stage lights. Rationally, this has to be a mix of incredible effects and even better costuming; they couldn’t have really summoned a unicorn who looked like it stepped out of that children’s cartoon, or a faerie girl with prismatic butterfly wings. They couldn’t really be using true wizardry for cruel entertainment. But they sure looked real, and as they got pulled off the stage into the crowd, they struggled realistically, with very convincing terror.
Glowing lines around the summoning circle fade to reveal the third “guest,” and she’s not like anything you’ve heard of: a centaur, if both halves were coyote. Her top half looks like what those furries draw—human shape and size, generous chest, nicely curved hips. Both sets. Long straight jet-black hair with a few brilliant white streaks like flashes of lightning. Her bottom half is, well, coyote, just scaled up. She wears nothing but a studded black leather collar, with matching bands around her wrists and forepaw ankles. As with the others, the shock and confusion on her face is easy to read. But it isn’t flipping to terror as much as anger. She makes you think of a hot punk rocker grrl who’s just been dragged out of her favorite dive bar and is about to start smashing shit in response. Even so, you can’t help but edge your way closer, get a better look.
Her big paws dance back and forth gracefully—and stomp fingers—as revelers grab at them. She growls, shouting at them. You don’t think she’s speaking English, but get away, fuckers is universal. You’re at the edge of the stage now, looking up at her.
A partier manages to climb on stage while she’s distracted. He’s lanky, tall, six feet to her five and a half. But she rears up on her hind legs, and now he’s six feet to her eight. There’s just enough time for oh shit to register on his face before her forepaws slam into him, rocketing him off the stage into the crowd just to your left. They hoot and roar.
The storm outside ticks up another notch, a sharp wind gust and a spatter of rain loud enough to be heard over the thundering sound system. The coyote girl’s head whips up to look at the metal ceiling, eyes wide. Is she scared of rain? She bares all those sharp predator teeth. Even though she’s not looking at you, you pull back reflexively. As hot as she is, she’s also a coyote at least the size of a wolf.
Then you realize that’s not fear. She’s grinning.
Lightning strikes right through the fucking roof square onto the coyote’taur, a blinding blue-white bolt bathing her, arcing off her like an electrified waterfall. She doesn’t explode, she doesn’t catch fire. She raises her arms, looking straight up at the sky, and shakes off, spraying sparks like water droplets. An ecstatic roar rises from the crowd.
More dancers get up the nerve to try and get to her, but she doesn’t wait. She crouches, then leaps off the stage—
—and when she lands in the middle of the crowd, she towers over everyone, even without rearing onto her hind legs. She’s no longer five and a half feet tall. She’s closer to twelve.
And she dances, twisting around, tail swishing, hair flying. She dances better on four legs than most people do on two, graceful, quick, sinuous. The crowd surges around her, around you, driving you closer. You bounce against her foreleg. It’s bigger than you are, soft brown fur over powerful muscle. You look up at the same time she looks down, and see a huge, wide canine smile for a half-second. She curls out a bit of her tongue, just enough to show off a tongue stud. Butterflies flitter through your stomach.
Then she moves, and you stumble. You almost regain your balance before her tail smacks into you, lifting you clear off your feet, sending you flying back into the crowd.
By the time you recover from that, you’re hearing frightened yells mixed in with the gleeful ones, and you figure out two things. First, she’s dancing like she’s dancing alone. Anyone in her way just gets pushed aside by that huge, beautiful body. Second, she’s getting bigger, visibly growing as you watch. You can’t be the only one who’s noticed, but it’s not stopping partiers from crowding around, trying to dance “with” her.
She makes her way back to the stage, still swaying with the music, still growing, not looking down at where those widening paws land. She plants her forepaws on the platform, and together they completely cover it. Even without that height boost, she has to be twenty feet high.
Her arms go out again, wide, and there’s another lightning strike. Two of them. Down into her hands, reflected out into the nearest speakers. Most of the lighting in the catwalks explodes like popcorn. The music stops. The yelling doesn’t—but she definitely has everyone’s attention.
She says something, a few words that don’t quite sound like English, stops, then tries again. “And now?”
There’s some enthusiastic cheering, more nervous murmuring.
“Good.” She raises her voice. It’s low, rough, animal, sexy in a torch-singer way. “I don’t know how you little humans brought me here, but I know you didn’t give me a choice. You’re pulling what you think of as fantasy creatures from other worlds here for your fun. Creatures like me.” She raises her arms. “But I’m not mad.”
A little more cheering, a little more murmuring. You keep silent. You’re getting a run-for-the-exits feeling.
“See, I love storms.” She keeps her arms up, looking around at the crowd. “I control them, but they control me, too. I become them. They become me. I’ve dreamed for years of growing into the biggest storm you can imagine. But when could I do that? Where could I do that?”
Then she puts her hands on her hips, and answers her own question without words. She grins. A feral, deliriously happy grin, beautiful and wild, heart-stoppingly sexy, pants-wettingly terrifying.
The stage crackles around her paws, the summoning circle glowing again. The crowd parts, the wizards finally revealing themselves, a half-dozen goth kids all dressed in black, encircling what they can of the stage. Of her. At first glance they look like they mean business, although at second glance they look terrified.
The one directly in front of her, a lanky goateed guy who looks like a B-movie star, raises his hands and starts levitating as he chants with the others. He reaches her chest level—that has to be a hell of a view, you can’t help but think—and points at her commandingly. “Expello!” he yells. Then yells it again. And again.
The giantess watches him, tilting her head to the side. On his fourth failing command, she grabs him in one hand, bringing the suddenly flailing wizard toward her muzzle. The summoning circle flickers out like an unplugged light. Shoving him head-first into her mouth, she points her nose at the sky and begins swallowing him whole. She makes it a show, flashes of tongue and teeth around her prey’s helplessly kicking legs, neck ruff bulging out with his futilely wriggling form. After he goes completely down, she licks her lips, and mimics a curtsey. “Digesto!”
For a couple more seconds, the only sound is the storm outside. Then someone, somewhere, lets out a piercingly high, horrified scream, and pandemonium breaks loose.
You push and shove toward the exit, fighting against the high and the drunk and the delirious. With so many people, it’s hard, dismayingly slow. Behind you there’s a shift in air pressure, a rumble, a shake. The screaming rises. Suddenly the rain’s inside the building. The warehouse is coming apart. She’s outgrowing it.
A forepaw comes down a few yards to your right. It’s way bigger than it had been. You stare stupidly at a single toe that’s almost as big as you are.
Then a furred hand sweeps through the crowd just to your left, her pinky swiping your side and making you stumble again. If you’d been a foot closer to the exit, you’d be squeezed in her closing fist. Stupidly, you pause a moment to look up at her towering form, watch her lick a half-dozen people into her mouth, see them swallowed. Shit, she’s decided humans taste good, hasn’t she?
Silver lining: the space ahead’s suddenly a lot more open. You sprint for it.
As you make it outside, the wind staggers you: hard to walk through, hard to breathe through. The sky’s an angry grey so dark it borders on black. Cars fill the open lot behind the warehouse, all people who got here early. That’s not you. You’re a couple blocks away. What is it you were planning to do again, genius? Dance the whole night away “safe” from the storm at that magical rave? Come out when the rain let up and hope your car hadn’t been ticketed or just floated off?
But no, the magicians had to invite the fucking storm inside the building, and as you look back and up and up, that storm is shaking the remains of the warehouse off her legs. The metal walls and beams look flimsy compared to her. Everything looks flimsy compared to her around here, all old warehouses and factories and light industry, none of it past her knees. And you can still see her growing. In a minute or two, none of this part of town will be past her ankles.
She turns, facing into the wind, and again you can’t help but watch: as gargantuan as she is, she’s still graceful. A hundred feet of hair whipping in the wind, even more tail, and you should not find any of this attractive at any size. But you do.
And then a hind paw passes overhead like a dark cloud, a cloud crashing to the ground, flattening cars like tinfoil, and your situation snaps back into focus. You get the wind at your back rather than fighting it, and it makes your run into a crazy dangerous careen between intact cars and down the sidewalk. You don’t know if you’re running toward your car or not. You’re just running away from the storm goddess.
The rain picks up, but you keep running.
You hear crashes behind you—far behind? close behind?—but you keep running.
After three or four blocks you’re exhausted, driven as much by wind as your own strength, and you cling to a streetlamp pole, looking behind the way you came.
Is she still there? Is anything there? The rain makes it hard to see even a block. As you cling to that cold, wet metal pole, clothes soaked, storm gusts threatening to pull you away, it all seems ludicrously peaceful compared to the fever pitch of…what was it? Just ten minutes ago?
Did you take something you don’t remember? Just a couple of shots of tequila, but could they have been spiked? Are you having a bad trip? It would explain so much.
Then lightning strikes, at least a mile away, close to downtown. A series of strikes, illuminating the whole sky and cityscape in crazy-quilt flashes for several seconds.
She’s behind the city. She’s over the city. Thirty- and forty-story skyscrapers come up to her lower back. And she’s still dancing. The lightning makes it look like stop-motion, but she’s dancing to her own music, dancing over your city. This is her party—her city—and she is having the time of her life. Tropical storms aren’t usually even thunderstorms; she’s calling down lightning just to show off.
I become the storm. The storm becomes me. Growing into the biggest storm you can imagine.
The image of a spiral storm on a national weather map flashes into your mind, and you take a shaky breath against the wind. Surely…
The rain’s letting up, one of those brief spaces between rain bands. You know that’s a lie. This tropical storm isn’t going to weaken; it’s going to be a hurricane. You can see well enough to get your bearings now, and hurry toward where your car should be.
You’re starting to feel earthquakes. Tremors from her dancing. Even without the lightning, you can kind of make her out now. Enough to know she’s growing faster.
Okay, your car should be just around this street corner, on a street full of garages. You half expect them to all be in a coyote paw print, but they’re not.
You risk a look back over your shoulder. Now she’s so big she’s blending in with the storm clouds. They’re taking on her color, tan and brown mixed in with the dark grey. One forepaw descends over what remains of downtown, skyscrapers collapsing almost before toes touch them. It takes a few seconds for the force of the step to reach you, like thunder after lightning.
Taking another deep breath, you get in your car. It’s old, and it’s not in good shape, and it was stupid to come out in the storm even when it was just a storm. You turn the key. Nothing. Again. Come on, start. Come on, start.
It starts. It sputters, but the engine stays running.
As you pull out, you feel another quake somewhere…behind? Off to the side? It might have been the garment district, an up-and-coming hipster mecca, de-gentrified in a single step. If it was, she’s coming back this way.
Even thirty miles per hour seems daring in this weather, but at least nobody else is on the road. You ignore a red light, turn onto the freeway entrance ramp.
The rain nearly stops. The sky’s color shifts again. You brake, get out, already knowing what you’ll see.
Pebbled grey stretches across the horizon. Water runs and drips off her glorious, unforgiving forepaw. You feel air pressure building rapidly, debris starting to lift off the ground.
Letting go of the car, you spread your arms wide and close your eyes, and the full force of the storm descends.