My Superpower is a regular guest column on the Skiffy and Fanty blog where authors and creators tell us about one weird skill, neat trick, highly specialized cybernetic upgrade, or other superpower they have, and how it helped (or hindered!) their creative process as they built their project. Today we welcome Christian Baines to talk about how his power of recognizing non-humans relates to The Beast Without.
My name’s Christian Baines, and I’m one of a handful of people blessed, cursed, enriched, soundly spanked or however you want to see it with the ability to immediately spot creatures that look human, but aren’t. You know the list. Vampires, werewolves, demons, Kardashians. Kidding. I really wouldn’t know a Kardashian if I fell over one.
Part of me wonders if growing up in Australia, my ability to see these things was a side-effect of boredom. In a small town where boys are expected to alternate between football and cricket, and where reading or imagination of any kind is kicked to the (dirt) curb and scorned from an early age, you start looking for any excuse to see something else. With no great desire to hallucinate in the footsteps of William Burroughs, I instead started to write what I wanted to see, as opposed to what I could see, which pretty much amounted to dried-out corn fields. It didn’t matter if it excited me, scared me, made me laugh or wanted me to sit quietly while it belted Chinese opera (this particular spirit and I would quickly part ways), it offered some relief until I finally came to my senses, packed my bags and moved to Sydney.
Sydney. Now there’s a city ripe with randy old souls from all throughout its brief history. Thieves, drunkards, whores, perverts, swindlers… to say nothing of the dead. It’s also a place where the ability to spot some guy who’s out to drain you dry (interpret that as you will) quickly proves invaluable. And Oxford Street, the pumping heart of the city’s gay district, was ripe with every monster you could pluck from imagination.
Werewolves who’d flip from mild, cute, scruffy guys to raging monsters with the changing moon (pretty sure I dated one or two of those). Witches and sorcerers who’d manipulate the scene from behind increasingly thin veils of respectability. And of course the ever present vampires — usually the emotional kind == most of whom had long ditched the angst and instead openly reveled in their predatory natures. I ignored the ones prone to glitter, instead imagining what the more successful ones got up to in between sweet talking their prey at local bars. What lives they’d lived and, most of all, what monsters they feared.
An in-depth interview would have been fascinating, but I have it on good authority that this has been done.
What happened when these creatures got involved with each other? Did they have their own cliques, rules and traditions, or did they try to avoid one another as much as possible? What happened when they fought? Crossed each other’s territory or took another’s prey? Or fell in love? Or all of the above?
My power isn’t the most reliable or consistent of abilities. These people have gotten so good at passing for human that it can be hard to spot the difference. One thing that surprised me in Sydney was the number of humans fascinated by them. Well… yes, there was me. But a surprising number of folks from the church also made it their business to know what these creatures got up to after dark. Sometimes, it seemed as if they’d devoted their whole lives to it. Kind of strange… unless they harboured some secret desire to be bitten, mauled, enchanted or otherwise involved with their subjects.
I judge nobody.
This all eventually meshed into a novel based on a few individuals I’d met, cut and spliced with liberal doses of the traditional, original and hypothetical, then turned into characters. Names have been changed to protect the guilty, since the innocent usually make for dull stories.
But if you can see these creatures, you soon come to realise that despite all that sly condescension that cuts through smarmy confidence, every beast is going without something. Sometimes, s/he just has to be willing to find it in an unexpected place.
Christian Baines’ first novel, The Beast Without was published in 2013. His other scribblings have appeared in publications in Australia and Canada, including Same Same, Charlebois Post and Xtra. Much of his writing is influenced by his time living in Sydney, though he has never been called Bruce. His passions for travel and mythology have sent him chasing legendary monsters across the globe, including vampires in New Orleans, asuras in Bangkok and theatre critics in New York. He now lives, writes and shivers in Toronto, Canada.