Thankfully, I deal with stress well.
This time, a huge bundle of folders got added to my desk; the reports from the investigative teams on the street and from the people at the airport, along with the peculiar jar found on the plane. I ached to spend a quiet evening with Akiko (as quiet as an evening can be with her, that is), but I had too much work to do, too much to think about.
I went into the kitchen and started some coffee; the ritual interlude between work and work. My mind was clogged with the preoccupations of the aswang issue, and with a deep-seated need to indulge, to be free of it, if only for a moment. Seeing the small pottery jar in the refrigerator only emphasized this.
Doing my job is not something that keeps one sane. The stresses of dealing with hostile supernaturals, and even worse, the panicked mundanes... well, they wear on you, even someone with an ironclad mind like mine. I don't sleep much.
Part of it is isolation. Aside from a few unusual talents, I'm still pretty much human. But it's gotten to the point where I don't know how normal humans live anymore.
I just don't know how to be one.
Most of my friends are in a similar field, but most of them have a family of sorts. Cabalists and necromancers have their cultish brotherhoods, the youkai and the skinchangers are their own people. I was born mundane.
Originally, I just wanted to be a painter, to feel alive in the process of creation.
I still paint. My small apartment is full of dreamscapes and portraitures, some of them done from life (or death). I don't consider any of them to be good, though I've sold a few here and there. They are just work by rote, swathes of pigment creating illusions, illuminated by some slight edge of inspiration if I'm fortunate.
I'm usually unfortunate.
On one wall, facing my desk, I have a painting that isn't mine. A friend of mine from art school gave it to me as a gift; Caspar David Friedrich's 'Wreck of the Hope'... or, as my friend preferred, 'Das Eismeer', the Sea of Ice. I had a fondness for landscapes even then, but I never understood why he gave it to me until much, much later.
For the hundredth time, I took out the small pottery jar and set it on the counter as the coffee spat and bubbled its way to creating itself.
Once, I was called into Russia, assisting in some mediations between the locals of a village and a very annoyed family of poleviki, who were stealing children in response to the village's attempts to go from agricultural to industrial. The Department of Supernatural Relations knew I was good with the more dangerous sorts, and so they sent me out into the fields.
It wasn't easy; the poleviki don't like concessions, and I had to bleed a little before I managed to bargain a bit of peace. Afterwards, the poludnitsa took me aside and gave me the pottery jar, smiling in a way that meant no good.
To this day, I don't know whether what she did was a gift, like the painting, or whether it was a deadly temptation she knew I couldn't put aside; you see, she'd put some of her black breast milk inside. It's deadly poisonous, but you die in bliss if you drink it.
A poludnitsa isn't like her brethren. They actually have a sort of empathy for humans, and at the time, I'd been feeling futility, emptiness. When I'd returned home, and saw the painting, I abruptly understood what both she and my old friend were aiming at... albeit for different reasons, perhaps.
"The painter should paint not only what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself. If he sees nothing within, then he should stop painting what is in front of him." --Caspar David Friedrich
I could still be a painter, but knowing what I know would hollow me out if I tried to turn away from it.
I could leave this world behind, try and be some mundane, but this world would hunt me down again.
I could stop trying, knowing these problems will never stop, knowing that the friction between mundane and supernatural will never come to an end, but I couldn't live with myself if I did.
For the hundredth time, I put the jar away, and got out the carton of half-n-half instead.
Tonight, there is an aswang in the city. Tonight, a youkai named Akiko loves me. Tonight, there are far too many people relying on me. Tonight, purpose fills me with fire... like a shark, I have to keep moving.
Perhaps, tomorrow night the poludnitsa will win, and have revenge for the loss of a field.
But that's tomorrow.
I tip my cup to the painting, and thus to a friend who died at the hands of a hungry ghost, at the beginning of who I am.