The Disappearance of Sylvie Clementi

Sharon Cogbill


The stares of others wearied her, their eyes confused and intense — she had to escape their gaze. It had been days since she had seen herself in a mirror and she had changed, taken on the aspects of her inner thoughts and actions, the outer shell, the mask, beginning to disintegrate. Sylvie kept her thoughts calm, tried to quell the process, smooth the marks, those that showed her being in-between.

The night before, she had worried that Karr might notice, but his own world occupied him; it was not his nature to notice others. They had gone to bed without incident and as he lay there breathing in short snorts and whistles, she felt the moonlight sliding over the chair and bureau. She could not let it touch her. Not yet. It had been a restless night, with each minute pushing her toward the inevitable; time, the tyrant, unconcerned with Sylvie’s feelings of vulnerability.

Her reluctance was absurd. One could not stop what was already starting, announcing itself the prior evening as a slight tingle beside her nostrils followed by a pain behind her left ear. An ache. It never began the same way but the first signs often occurred around the face. When it moved about her whole body, encasing her in a warm slippery wave, time was closing in.

And so it was that she had done as she must, prepared the potion, the one that would grant invisibility. She had gathered the poppy seeds, milked honey from the comb of bees, made the tincture, the sacred triad of Fern, Wolfsbane and Angelica, and harvested the juice of the stag beetle. Not any old beetle. It had to be the male. It was never easy to find one, not with so many needing it, but Sylvie had her favorite spot near the Botanic Garden and it did not fail her.

“Eliguntur optima,” Sylvie repeated as she placed the bugs in the silver cup. Only the best were chosen, the best ladybugs, the best wolf’s spiders, the best sphinx moths, all crushed and bound into paste with mud taken from between the willow’s roots. She pricked her thumb to moisten the contents and mashed it for a full minute, unum minutum, before stirring in powdered eggshells taken from the swallow’s nest beneath the bridge. Lastly, Sylvie rolled the mixture into pea-sized pellets.

Karr had not questioned her about her absences before but that night he asked where she’d been when she was late for supper. She told him traffic had been horrible. “An accident on the Dan Ryan,” she said, and he accepted it. There were always accidents on the Dan Ryan.

Two days later, Sylvie stooped to retrieve the buried pellets in the park and was shocked to see her reflection in a puddle left by a recent storm. Her eyes had started their travel toward cheekbones, pointed ears were poking through her hair above a face dotted with reddish fur, and a bump was growing, finding its way, probing, becoming the muzzle of the little brown bat. Old Bat’s words came to her on a gust of wind, “Never let anyone see you in the in-between state, stay out of the full moon until you are ready to transition, and lastly, know when to disappear.”

The sun was setting and she looked nervously toward the east. Blessedly, a small mound shielded her from the full moon rising above a bank of clouds. Sylvie dashed back to her apartment.

When she was certain she had not been followed by a squirrel – squirrels were notorious for their inability to keep secrets — she dragged out her crockpot and softened the pellets over the kitchen burner. She had to be careful, too many and she would never return, too few and she would be left exposed, her cloak stripped away so that all could see her true form. In the correct dosage, the magic potion would grant a half-hour invisibility, just enough for her to move from one form to the other.

Satisfied that everything was in readiness, she entered her study, placed the black chair in a pool of moonlight and sat down. The moonlight streaming through the window caressed her skin and she quickly popped two pellets, washing them down with mineral water from the drug store on the corner. The mix affected her in a rush and she watched her skin tremble as the earth does during a quake. It slid this way and that, exposing bone and throbbing vessels, then dispersed in a silver mist. Sylvie looked down, her blurry gaze landing on pine floorboards. There was nothing there, nothing left of her to see, not even a toenail.

A shiver ran through her — she had cut this trip too close. It was dangerous to dilly-dally along the edge. She recalled the story of Alana who lingered, reluctant to leave her child, roasted by neighbors, served up on skewers to the happy horde. They were told it was pork. Did Alana’s daughter partake of the meal? It was best to not think about such things.

And then there was the tragedy of Pauline. Poor Pauline, caught between the worlds, doomed to endless cycling, without a home or destination, never welcomed no matter where she turned, never fully transformed; neither human nor bat.

There was not a moment to spare. And what of Karr? Would he report her missing? Would he fall under suspicion? Boyfriends usually did. She hoped the best for him, wished him well, but she could not be distracted, had to remind herself of Alana and Pauline, remember that no lover, spouse, family, friend, or circumstance could delay her departure.

At the last minute, an undertow held her back as she dangled from the armrest of the chair, something lightly gripping her feet. Was it the ghost of the life she was leaving? If so, it was no match for the life pulling her on. She dropped into the waiting breeze and jiggled out the open window, rode it across Lakeshore Drive and over the tall elms lining the park.

Seized with the joy that always came with absolute freedom, she realized she was safe! Safe from tormentors, frightened strangers, and, save the occasional owl, those who would hunt her. Descending to a height above the lapping waves, she aligned with the delicate magnetic field, a tug as familiar as the sound of insects plying the air, and veered toward the gathering place. The moonlight held her closely as a mother holds her child and once more, the silky night parted, welcoming her home.




Sharon Cogbill is a throw-back to a former time, a time of discovery and exercise of interests without academic sanction. Trained as an abstract expressionist just before that style yielded to the ongoing joke of pop art, the elegance of minimalism, and a parade of other fickle imperatives, all lacking the soul of the movements that launched modern art, she emerged with no interest in claims to stylistic superiority or the insistence that she focus on one thing, either art or writing. In the 80s she reconnected with her love of literature and participated in performance pieces and readings, supporting herself in related and unrelated fields. The related fields were education (teaching art), graphic arts, and journalism (editorial and freelance work). As those careers collapsed during the onslaught of the electronic revolution, she segued into other lines of work, following the examples of Nelson Algren and T.S. Eliot, namely, anything she could find, and eventually, the durable behemoth, banking. At present, she writes short stories and poetry and is working on a novella. Art calls to her from time to time and she may take up her brush again when time permits and the stories that swirl in her head grant respite.