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in addition to fanfiction on my ao3 here, i primarily write original short fiction! (and the occasional poem)
more polished work will go here, while unpolished work & creative ramblings will go in journal.
on this page, all work is posted reverse chronologically, and you can use the table of contents in the sidebar -->
>> works written for my bird-themed anthology are marked with a (!) in the table of contents.
information about my current work-in-progress (working title- the dead-alive man) is on its own page here!
THE SUN IS A DRAG QUEEN THE MOON IS A TRANS LESBIAN AND THE STARS ARE ALL OF US
MARS IS A BUTCH ON HIS WAY TO THE RECORD STORE AND VENUS IS HER GIRLFRIEND. MERCURY’S BEEN GETTING INTO BLACK-MARKET TESTOSTERONE AND JAIL. JUPITER IS HIDING HIS RED SPOT WITH HIS SISTER’S STOLEN CONCEALER AND NEPTUNE IS IN LEATHER ON THE STREET CORNER AND PLUTO PLAYS THE SAX IN FAGGY EYELINER FOR CASH. URANUS IS SCULPTING TRANSSEXUAL DAVID OUT OF MARBLE WHITE AS SCAR TISSUE. INSIDE OF ALL HEAVENLY BODIES EVER BORN THERE IS A CHILD WHO WILL ONE DAY CHOOSE A NAME. INSIDE OF ALL PEOPLE THERE IS A PLANET THAT CANNOT BE KILLED.
EARTH IS SINGING: DO YOU KNOW THE TUNE? DO YOU KNOW THE LYRICS, THE NOTES, THE CONCERT HALLS WE SING FOR? DO YOUR STARS GLITTER UNDERGROUND, DO THEY GLOW, DO THEY MOURN? DO YOUR CONSTELLATIONS CONNECT WITHOUT MEETING, LIKE OURS? WHEN THE TELESCOPE’S ON YOU, DO YOU FEEL SEEN OR JUST WATCHED? WHEN THEY NAME THINGS AFTER THE WAY YOUR STARS ALIGN, IS IT SAINTHOOD OR THEFT? TELL ME, JUPITER, ARE YOU AFRAID? DO YOU KNOW THE COLOR OF BLOOD? OF HOSPITALS? OF NIGHTS LIKE DARK MATTER? DOES YOUR LOVER? NONETHELESS, DO YOU WATCH THE STARS, TOO?
THE HEAVENS REPLY, WITH FEAR, WITHOUT HESITATION: YES.
- C. S.
>>back to top
Inside the hot coffee in my hands, there’s a woman I don’t recognize staring back in shades of brown. When I blink, she ought to be gone. She’s not.
“What the hell happened to you? If you don’t mind me asking,” the man– John– asks. He’s on the couch across from me, and his eyes don’t display anything but concern. It occurs to me once how lovely the shape and size of them is, although I’m sure upon further inspection they’re around average. I tell him the truth.
“I’m not sure.”
“We got a long while before Forest Service’s coming to help you out of here,” he says. “Start from the beginning?”
“Not sure there is one,” I tell him. That’s the thing, the thing none of them down here get. There is no beginning.
I am in a metal cage. Above, metal. Below, metal. I don’t know where the light is coming from, or why I can see the walls of a uniform, windowless cage. There’s wet, in my eyes, and metal-smell, blood– oh, that’s right.
They put a light in my eyes.
It hurts. Oh, God, it hurts.
A different time than when they put a light in my eyes, I am below, in the forest. I really had meant to wake up earlier, to get to camp before sunset, but nobody’d ever called me exactly disciplined.
So it’s one unlit foot in front of the other through blue atmosphere. This kind of blue’s my favorite, I think. I usually enjoy it more from sitting down to eat on the root-covered ground, but it’s almost as lovely from a walking pace. It’s a quiet sort of color, but the kind of false quiet found here. Natural quiet’s never all silent; there’s always some kind of rustle. Thinking about this between footsteps, though, it occurs to me briefly I may have reached some kind of exception.
Absolute silence. No rustle of squirrels or other creatures, no wind, no nothing. Absolute silence using absolute like absolute rule, oppressive. Silence like fog pressing down on my skull, ringing in my ears. For a moment I’m sure even my heartbeat has silenced.
The silence hangs heavy over several slices of time. Probably twenty-seven seconds, to you, or me in a different time.
And then there is light, brilliant cutting through the blue dusk. And I wonder if it was an angel.
“What, you got abducted by aliens or something? That’s not..”
“You’ve lived here a long time, John. Trail legends never got to you?”
“Not the kind involving lights in the sky. Sure, there’s things that live in those woods, devils and other sorts. But they’re just as terrestrial as you or I. ”
I laugh, with an echo of disdain. “Some things are more beyond us than others, then? How d’you sort it? How much can you handle seeing?”
He doesn’t answer. Understandable.
“You’re afraid of it,” I say. They all are. I am.
He laughs again. “I’m afraid of bears and my generator breaking, not little green men.”
Now it’s my turn to not believe him. He’s so afraid of it he won’t even take the chance of belief.
If the piercing light was of angels, I think I ought not to step into a church anymore.
When they take me up, it’s as if every atom in my body is pierced by it, split, sewed onto a different half. It is agony, and if the silence had ended I think half the country might have heard me scream.
When the taking is over, there is no noise left to spill out of my mouth. And yet it comes like thunder after lightning.
I am inside it. I assume this is their vessel, but perhaps it’s a beast in itself. It feels as though there could be flesh, under all this strange metal.
They strap me to the platform, and if I hadn’t been swallowed up by terror, I might have been reminded of those stories my niece likes. The ones with the green men from Mars. I might have thought about how none of the stories get it right. It’s un-imaginable– that’s where the terror really lies.
You imagine something that looks an awful lot like yourself, comparatively speaking. You do not imagine this, you cannot. It lies somewhere between anglerfish and rabbit and millipede. It is seven-legged. It is a color you cannot see. It hasn’t even got eyes, but it’s got other senses, I know. They showed me. They showed me the other sense.
And the tests. Odd chemicals into flesh, 3rd-degree burns. Machines down my throat until it produces vomit, to collect samples. Frostbite test. Full-consciousness brain surgery.
None of that was the worst, though. The worst was the lights in my eyes. Behind the whites of them, little miniature machines, LEDs or something. I don’t know how it works. I don’t know why they did it. Maybe they believed it a gift. Maybe they just wanted to see if they could.
But the light comes out of my sclerae, and I see, unstoppably. Closing my eyes is worse, almost. Seeing the flesh. Not to mention how the light comes at the expense of some sight. I’m not sure if it was on purpose, or a mistake, but the edges of my vision are gone, now. Beyond my eye-line, there’s only light.
Sleep does not even grant me darkness. I fear, sometimes, that not even death will.
They dropped me down like pebble into pond, when they were done. Around where I was when they took me, though maybe another mile down the trail. And I saw his cabin, John’s cabin, from a distance, golden light soft from the windows. And oh, how known and familiar it seemed!
He let me in.
“Where’s your daughter, John?”
“I don’t have a daughter.”
“Oh,” I say faintly. There’s definitely a daughter, here in this house, somewhere in time. “‘Past’ or ‘future’ then. Tell her hello, if you can, for me.”
“You’re insane.” Once again with the fear.
I laugh. “And I’m the blind one.”
There is something beyond the third dimension– time. This, even we know to be true. Somehow, through one act of evolution or another, perhaps, we, and likely every other Earthly species, have developed (and are developing and will develop) as solely three-dimensional creatures. Time, on the other hand, is largely imperceivable by our three-dimensional selves, in that our perception of it is uncontrollable. We understand its effects, like shadows on the cave wall, like reflections in cups of coffee. You can see a silhouette and understand it must truly be a three-dimensional object, and some part of us understands, or tries and fails not to understand, that in our only three-dimensional perception there is a fourth dimension.
They did something to me. I do not understand it. I do not understand any of it. But somehow, they have shown me time. Whether or not it is related to the light eyes remains and will remain unknown, but as easily as seeing a cup of coffee in three dimensions, I can see four dimensions clear as anything, an unimaginably immense number of a-fraction-of-a-fraction-of-a-second-long images together again and again and again.
I do not think I was supposed to see this. My head hurts, like looking at something far away, squinting all the time. Whenever I try to look at it, something I’m not supposed to, it hurts even more. My nose bleeds. I am scared.
“You ever learn about Plato, John?”
“Do you think if I did, I’d be here?” He laughs.
I smile. “He’s got this story. These guys are chained up their whole lives watching shadows on the walls of a cave, and their whole life they think that the shadows are all there is. That it’s all one-dimensional. One of them escapes, and he sees the truth– he sees the sunlight, you see? He sees the truth, and he comes back to tell the other prisoners, but he comes back different. He goes blind, ‘cause of the sunlight.
“And so none of them believe him. They don’t want to leave; they think the free man was injured by the outside.”
“They put a light in my eyes, John.”
>>back to top
All things considered, Dorothy should not have bought a parakeet off the Internet.
In her defense, the nearest pet store is a twenty-three minute drive away (Dorothy’s unlucky number) and she cannot step foot on the premises lest the frogs (a morally reprehensible creature, in Dorothy’s fine opinion) come out of their tanks and try to hop on Dorothy’s shoes (frankly ugly purple-red things with little golden buckles). But despite the lack of a suitable in-person pet store, Dorothy woke up one day with the inescapable desire to have a parakeet. A little multicolor one, red and yellow and green, like a stoplight.
Maybe it was the loneliness finally getting to her, that caused this surprise want. Her daughter had been saying the other day she ought to have someone in the old house to keep her company. A woman of your old age ought not to live alone, she had said. Well, now she’s not alone. Take that, Caroline.
She names the parakeet Kevin. She decided that as soon as she saw the thing. The parakeet-seller dropped the bird off in a little pink cage, and she picked up its cage and called it Kevin. She put it on the coffee table in her living room to examine her new companion further.
“Hello, Kevin,” she says. “I’m Dorothy.”
Kevin, for the most part, looks about exactly what you’d expect a parakeet to look like. In fact, it looks so much like a parakeet that it looks a little too parakeet. The quintessential parakeet, Dorothy thinks. Lemon yellow and orange and a little scarlet on the top, and green and a little royal blue on the bottom. The most parakeet parakeet in the world, maybe.
And then Kevin turns to look at her, and Dorothy notices its eyes. Its eyes, Dorothy thinks, are the only thing on this parakeet that don’t belong. They don’t fit. Dorothy’s not sure exactly what it is, but they’re a little too big or a little too dark or sometimes it looks like it’s looking at her from out of the corner of its eye.
“Well, we can’t all be perfect,” she says, and feeds it some of the food she ordered online before heading off to bed.
Dorothy doesn’t usually dream much. Certainly not nightmares. Mostly those strange, nonsensical dreams of random events. But, nonetheless, she’s asleep, and then she’s in her living room, sitting in front of Kevin’s birdcage.
Kevin looks about as normal, except, again, his eyes. They’re human. Human eyes. Green. The details are always funny in dreams, aren’t they?
And then Kevin opens his beak, and– human tongue. Human teeth. The sight of it!
“Can’t all be perfect,” Kevin says, in the scratching intonation of parakeet speech.
And then she’s back in her room, awake. She shudders in disgust, sitting up in bed. Human mouth in a bird’s beak is about all she can remember. Rather unpleasant, she thinks.
Alright. Back to bed.
In the morning, Dorothy dresses for the day, and brushes her teeth, and heads downstairs. In her living room, Kevin looks about the same as yesterday. Same weird eyes. Same perfect colors.
“Good morning, Kevin,” she says.
“Good- good morn-ing,” Kevin says.
“Oh, I didn’t know you knew talking! How fun!” Dorothy says, smiling. “I thought they only did that in the movies.”
“How-how fun!” says Kevin.
“Oh, yes, great fun,” says Dorothy, pouring out some of the food into a little dish in its cage. “Well, here’s breakfast.” She puts the dish in its cage, and it pecks at it, movement sharp and strange.
While it eats, she puts on some water to boil for her breakfast of tea and oatmeal. While she eats, on the couch in front of the coffee table where it sits, she gets the sneaking feeling of being watched, the kind that creeps up her neck. She looks at Kevin quizzically.
“Not polite to watch me like that, y’know, Kevin.”
“W-watch,” says Kevin.
“Yes, you’re watching me. It’s awfully rude.”
“You’re-you’re watching me,” it says.
“Hm. Guess I am,” says Dorothy. “Why am I talking to you, anyways? You’re a bird.” She laughs at herself, not quite alone in her house. “I’m getting old and crazy, I suppose.”
“I-i…” it says.
“Alright,” says Dorothy, finishing her breakfast and standing up. “I’ve got to be going now. Got to get to the shop soon. So long, Kevin.”
“Alright,” says Kevin.
When she returns, Kevin’s still on the coffee table. Except– it’s different, than this morning. She’s not sure what the different thing is, exactly, until Kevin flaps its wings against one of the bars of its cage. It’s bigger, by a decent amount, too. Probably around six inches taller.
“How strange,” Dorothy says, ignoring the little piece of feeling growing in her gut. “Guess I ought to get you more food. And a bigger cage.”
“Yes,” says Kevin.
Dorothy laughs a little. “Bright little bird. I didn’t even say yes in that sentence. Little genius.”
Kevin’s head twitches. “Yes-yes.”
It goes like this for four days. Dorothy keeps feeding it, twice daily, and it keeps growing. She keeps having to buy it a new cage, ‘til she gives up on Day Two and just lets it roam around the house itself. Not like it’s particularly destructive, so it ought to be safe enough, she thinks.
And he keeps talking back to her. She’s not sure when she starts calling him he, but her daughter was apparently correct that a bird’d help with her loneliness in the old house. He’s an awfully good conversation partner, for a parakeet.
On the third day, he learns his name.
“Morning, Kevin!” She greets him as usual, giving him his breakfast. He’s been eating so much she had to switch his food to one of her own dishes.
“Morning,” he says. “Breakfast.”
He’s silent for a bit while he eats. He’s a quick eater, too.
“Try not to eat so fast, Kevin. Gonna get sick or something.”
“Not– not… Kevin,” he says.
She laughs. “That’s your name, yes. Kevin. You’re Kevin, I’m Dorothy.”
“I’m-Dorothy,” he says.
“Oh, I see we’re back to repeating now. Well, then.”
“I got to go pick up some groceries.” She stands up. “Don’t go making a mess.”
On the drive to the store, it occurs to her what was ever-so-slightly off-putting about the morning– Kevin’s voice. Just slightly less awkward and slighted in that parakeet sort of way than before. Hm. Strange.
On the fourth day, she gets a phone call from her daughter.
“Oh, hello! How are you?”
“I’m good,” she says, quickly, trying to get to the point. “Mom, did you call me earlier?”
Dorothy thinks. “No, I don’t think so. I was at lunch. Why, did you get a call?”
“Yeah, you said you wanted to talk to me about something, and I had to call you back? You sounded like you were sick, or something.”
“Really? How strange. No, I don’t think I called you. You sure it wasn’t just one of those girls messing with you?”
“No, it was your phone number, Mom.”
“Is there anyone else that could have used your phone? Did anyone borrow your phone?”
“No, I don’t think so. Just been Kevin in the house all day, I’ve been out. That’s the bird.”
“Hm. Are you sure you didn’t call me?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Not going senile yet, Hannah.”
“Alright, Mom,” she says, but Dorothy can tell she’s not convinced. “Let me know if anything happens. Bye.”
On the fifth day, Kevin explodes. Or at least, that’s how it would look to anyone who wasn’t there. Before that, Dorothy gives him his breakfast.
Pouring the food into the dish, she opens her mouth to greet him as usual. But that’s as far as she gets; no words come out. She gags on the empty sound, spilling food all over the ground with the violent motion. She clutches her throat, swallows, tries again. Nothing. She falls to the floor of her kitchen. She can’t speak.
“Good morning,” says Kevin.
“Morn-ing,” Dorothy manages to release. What?
Kevin grows in front of her. He expands like there’s something underneath his feathers, shoving and kicking around. It’s disgusting.
And then Kevin explodes. Bursts like an expanding balloon. Feathers and blood and flesh fall around poor Dorothy, hail of yellow and green and red.
Where Kevin stood, there is a woman. Her purple-red shoes have blood on them.
“Good morning, Kevin,” the woman, New-Dorothy, says. She picks up what used to be Dorothy from the floor, holds it in her hand. “Breakfast?”
And what can it do, but peck food from her hand?
>>back to top
By the time the robins come this year, I’ll be on my way to New York. I’ll wrap myself in the worn-out bus, take my seat next to college students and other folks on their way home, and float up the highway like an ocean-bound message in a bottle.
I moved to Mississippi when I was twenty-three, and the sun shined down on the patch of pavement where I stood when I stepped out of the car. There was an empty building in the sun-singed little town, and I bought it because the sun shone there, too. Fixed it up with a few friends of mine, stuck a tangerine sign in front of the newly born bookshop, and called it mine.
When I was seventeen, six years before Mississippi and forty-four years before I left it, my father told me I ought to be a dentist. I’d got the ability to care for something that hated me in return, and I ought to use it, he said, probably more self-aware than he’d ever be again.
I quit school when he died, which was when I wandered my way down to Mississippi, 1,219 miles as the crow flies from his fresh soil.
The Earthworm stood in place for thirty-eight years. So did I. The shop provided shade, income, and little wonders like children who sit in the Science Fiction & Fantasy section for three hours and come to the counter with novels the size of their heads and old women who come in to gossip in the Non-fiction section.
I remember one July dusk, twenty-five years before I left, when Oliver Sound spotted a little robin perched on The Earthworm’s little sign. He offered to build me a birdhouse outside the shop, to keep the “avian patrons”. I accepted, and in two days there was a little wooden birdhouse outside.
Eight years before I left, the birdhouse rotted through and collapsed after it rained for six days, heavy like a sagging roof below the sun. Oliver Sound did not rebuild the birdhouse, because he was one-and-a-half months six feet under with a heart that gave out.
For a few years in the middle of The Earthworm’s life, I tried my hand at loving someone, anyone. It was time that I ought to, anyway.
Didn’t work out, probably due to that dentist curse. Maybe if it did work, I wouldn’t have left. But who knows.
And so, standing in place in a sun-singed town in Mississippi, The Earthworm and I lived in a sort of soft harmony, in tandem like strands of a double helix. I loved it. I really did. I loved the tangerine sign and Oliver’s birdhouse and the smell of the shop when I opened. I loved the kids I hired for help, despite their temporary nature.
That’s what made leaving the hardest, I think. I loved it.
But one late winter morning, I watched the robins leave town for the forty-fourth time. They flew overhead, red specks in the blue sky. And maybe I wondered where they were heading. And there it was– the pull. I turned back to the sign, and the tangerine seemed a little too far from scarlet robin red.
I worked that day, and maybe the day just seemed slightly longer than it’d ever been, and I noticed for the first time how my feet ached from standing among the shelves. I noticed for a moment that I was old, and tired. So tired it took me six months to do something about it.
I made arrangements. Talked to a friend, worked with him until I trusted him with the shop. And then I packed up my belongings, handed over The Earthworm’s glinting keys, and got on the bus.
In the city, I work in another bookstore. A big one, two stories and sprawling, labyrinthine shelves. I talk to people, all sorts of people, all day, looking for books on cooking or self-help or elaborately designed science fiction.
It’s wonderful. It’s alive; it sweeps me up into its arms and it breathes life back into me. Oh, it’s so much faster than Mississippi in the winter. Every dawn brings sweet possibility– new breakfast place, new people, something new to learn.
In sun-burned Mississippi, I lived in peaceful stagnation, lovely stillness, but here, I am growing every day into the sky. I am learning; I am reborn every day into new youth.
The robins will come to the city again soon; I’ll see their red forms in between skyscrapers. And if I tire of the quick rebirths of the city by then, I may think of returning. Fly home south for the winter.
>>back to top
70 miles into the belly of the beast, when the cavern’s swallowed you up entirely, it’s hard to remember anything but black. Dusty dark walls, monochrome in the light, stone pillars reaching out into the vein-like tunnels, rocky ground beneath feet. Even the other workers in front of you look gray in this light. I’d imagine it feels a lot like being buried alive, though I’ll never know that particular experience. Getting consumed by the Earth entirely, back into what birthed you. Letting it suffocate you like a candle without oxygen, if likely only for a moment.
Centuries ago, you might have needed a bird to enter the Earth. Now you’ve got me, your very own little technological marvel. A metal canary. Not exactly shaped like a bird of course, and can’t exactly make any pretty noise, just a little beep and a few silent words on my screen, but you call me Canary, so thus I become one.
They gave me to you when you set out, when my metal flesh was shiny and new, before dirt and grime. Now, of course, I’m less sliver and more slate as you carry me down the mine.
I don’t pick favorites among the workers in my protection. But you might be mine. You’re the one that carried me down here, anyways. I’ve had the most time to get to know you, as we work.
Every time you check my sensor, you touch your collarbone, like a talisman of good luck. I wonder if there’s a necklace beneath your uniform, there. I wonder who it used to belong to. Your eyes are bright, like shining rock, but your face is older. When you’re working, you hum an old lullaby. You, I’ve found, are a quite illogical creature. Lullabies when the sleep is yet to come, and good luck tricks with no real link to the desired outcome.
This is what I do when we work. I watch. I am vigilant in my duty, but I have time to watch you, all of you, taking time to notice all the details and record them. I’ll never have enough time for a full report, but these facts keep you in my memory. I am getting to know you.
Step after step after step on dusty ground. It repeats. You work, I work, I am getting to know you. On and on and on. There is a light at the end of the tunnel– the light of your fellow workers. It is always at the end of the tunnel. On and on. In, out, in, out.
On October 7th, 2237, there is a rumble in the cavern. A great shaking movement, a nausea in the belly of the beast. You all retreat, running, running, but–oh, your leg. That’s right.
You lied when you got the job. When you were sixteen, you broke your ankle. It never healed right, even decades later. But you needed the job, and you’ve gotten awfully good at hiding the slight limp.
But you can’t hide it now. You stumble, I hit the ground with you, and then it all comes down in front of us.
And then there is darkness, even more consuming than before. The exit’s blocked. Just me and you and the darkness left, I suppose. Mostly just you and the darkness.
You groan, heave your way to sitting up. You turn on a light.
“I’m alive,” you say, like you don’t believe it. You laugh. I tell you the truth.
“CONNECTION LOST.” The words flash on the small screen, along with a little beep.
“I know, birdie. I know,” you say, out of breath.
“Yeah, you could say that.” You touch your collarbone. “You know, birdie, not sure we’re making it out of this one.”
“Yeah. What I thought.” You are tired, but you smile, just softly. “Hey, at least I’m not alone, huh? I got you.”
This is another one of your little falsehoods, the evidence of your irrationality. I cannot say that, not with beeps or preset inaudible messages.
“What am I saying? You’re…” The words you meant to say would have been correct. Machine. Et cetera. “You’re all I’ve got, now, I suppose.”
“Doesn’t feel like I’m alone, anyways. I guess that’s what matters. If it helps, you can be my last friend.” You lay down, shining your light above you on the top of the cavern.
Beep. “CARBON MONOXIDE LEVELS: HIGH.” Beep.
“Thought so.” You breathe in deep, then out. In, out. On and on.
I want to ask you about your collarbone. I want to ask you why you laugh. I want to ask you about why you do not think you are alone. I want to ask you why you insist on irrationality when it will not save you.
I cannot. Just beep again.
“CARBON MONOXIDE LEVELS: EXTREME. EVACUATE. EVACUATE. EVACUATE.” Beep. Beep. Beep.
“Not happening, sorry. I’m afraid our evac route’s blocked.” That laugh again.
I can feel it. All around us. The gas. It swallows us up like the Earth. I’m afraid you’re a candle out of oxygen.
There is something else. First priority was my duty, the gas, but there is something else.
“BATTERY LOW.” Beep. I am dying.
“No, not you, too. C’mon, birdie. Little canary. Hold out a bit longer, will you?”
I want to tell you I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry.
“EVACUATE. EVACUATE. EVACUATE.” With levels this high, you ought to be reaching the end soon. I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry.
You are breathing heavy. It will not help you. I am sorry.
One last breath for you, with fragile lungs. In, out. No longer on and on.
Then one last breath for me.
“BATTERY LOW.” Beep.
“I AM SORRY.”
>>back to top
The chickens are the last to go. When all of it falls, when everything goes up in hellfire and heavenly storms, the dozens of billions of chickens live on in all the nooks and crannies in which chickens usually reside, and cluck-cluck away the apocalypse.
It might seem strange that such a domesticated bird is Earth’s sole survivor, but you have to remember that once, a long time ago, their feathers decorated bodies of a larger, meaner size, the hulking Tyrannosaurus rex, roaming Cretaceous-period Earth, massive feathered predators hunting on technicolor fauna under ever-blue skies. Millions of years later, humans might compare them to the monsters and dragons of myth, the demons that caused their same apocalypse, but if only they could see how the two-legged theropods stared into the light of the oncoming meteor, they might have seen themselves as in a fun-house mirror.
In Norse myth, the Earth is born from a decaying corpse, born from the previous death, and when Ragnarok comes and the world ends in flaming battle, a new world emerges from the dust and bloodshed. What survives becomes the new gods, new apex predators of the worlds, nothing like Midgard before.
So the meteor falls the first time, shaking scattered heavenly iridium all over the soon-buried layer of earth, when the Earth burns and almost everything dies, the T-rex, the soon-to-become chicken, is the last to go. The Earth burns, and when the embers finish cooling off, the awkward-shaped creature steps out into the light of the new Midgard, and it spends the next millions of years adapting to it.
The creature becomes smarter, and smaller, and one day, after billions of infinitesimal days, it learns of the new apex predators, the new “gods” of the new land, and thinks it might be advantageous to ally with them. The creature, now chicken, makes its way through the world, and sacrifices are made, but the little bird survives.
So when Earth as we know it falls away, when Kansas catches fire and Beijing and London’s buildings collapse and rot, when Homo sapiens meets its meteor, the chicken survives once again, and after a millennium or two, it re-becomes dinosaur.
>>back to top
TW: death, car accidents, animal death
Maeve Webber is born dead on the twenty-eighth of August, in that kind of rotting late summertime that sits humid in the air like buzzing flies, with autumn sitting and waiting to shrivel all the leaves. Jean Webber, her mother, cried when the doctors stopped hearing a heartbeat two weeks ago, and she cried again when its body comes out of her black and blue and motionless.
(Her father– if you can even call him that, the absent fucker– is still nowhere to be seen. Didn’t bother for a corpse.)
There is a change in the sterile air, all of a sudden, like the atmosphere before lightning strikes an oak tree. Petrichor, and a drop in temperature, and a flatline in the room next door piercing the solemn quiet of the room. Somewhere outside the windows of the concrete hospital, a migrating bird drops from the sky, dead.
And then Maeve Webber takes her first gasping breath. She can feel the sudden aliveness; she can feel it all through her body, all five-and-a-half pounds of bone and fat and muscle. She doesn’t understand or remember it, of course, because her brain’s still fleshy and soft, but it’s enough to keep her crying until she passes out while the nurses rush her away to run tests and keep her alive.
Even the most scientific of doctors call it a miracle, and Jean Webber won’t stop telling everyone about her miracle-baby like it’s the goddamn second coming of Christ, until everyone moves on and accepts the fact that sometimes unexplainable things happen and sometimes you have better things to do than sit around and question the hand that feeds you.
In early spring, when Maeve is seven, she falls out of a tree.
It was supposed to be a fun day in the park, the first warm day of the season, with her mother and her baby brother, but Jean is still learning not to take her eyes off Maeve around climbable trees.
Maeve makes her way up the first few thick branches, six feet or so, before her mother notices.
“Maeve! Maeve, get down from there!”
Maeve turns towards her, and her foot slips off its hold, and she slips and comes tumbling down onto the grass. Her mother can hear the crack sound from a few feet away and swears she saw her ankle bend ninety degrees the wrong direction.
She swears it. She knows she saw it. But it couldn’t have, because four things happen very quickly, almost at once.
1. Maeve Webber cries out in pain, and holds her ankle, rocking back and forth.
2. A change in the air. A drop in temperature. Petrichor.
3. Something brown and small and fuzzy drops from the tree and lands two feet from her body crumpled up on the grass.
4. Maeve stops crying, and stands up. And she’s smiling.
“Sorry. I’m okay. S’all good,” Maeve says, grinning and making a thumbs-up like her ankle didn’t just snap in half. Except no, because her ankle isn’t broken, it’s fine, and Maeve walks towards her without even a limp.
Must have been a hallucination. Sleep deprivation can cause that, you know. And Jean should be getting more sleep, certainly. Except Jean knows what she saw, she knows it.
And then she notices it, eight seconds after Maeve does. The something that dropped from the tree, now lying on the ground. A squirrel. Jean stares, slowly moving her foot towards it to poke it, to check for life. No response. It’s dead.
Maeve moves towards it as well, and Jean quickly takes a hold of her hand to stop her, but before she does, she sees the look on Maeve’s pale face. Not repulsion, not disgust, nothing like the expression she makes at the smell of stinking city air. It occurs to Jean that this little squirrel might be Maeve’s first encounter with something dead, and that occurrence pushes bile up her throat, because it is not disgust that shows on her face, it’s interest. Maeve looks at the dead thing with curiosity, like she wants to pick it up, feel its bones in her little chubby hands. The word hunger rises in her like the bile, but she pushes both of them down.
“No, Maeve. Don’t touch it. Just…” She leads Maeve away from the squirrel, towards the stroller, gently, firmly, but the image of the frozen dead thing stays burned behind her brown eyes like a curse.
Jean doesn’t know what to think of it. The whole afternoon. She supposes, perhaps, to some extent, it’s another miracle. She supposes that, well, Maeve is a perfectly normal little girl, and it’s not like she wishes harm upon her. She supposes she should be glad, and they couldn’t have afforded a hospital trip, anyways. She supposes that Maeve is happy, and she supposes that’s all she has power over.
It’s hard to treat it like a miracle, because the whole unexplainable thing rattles around in her brain and her chest. But Jean supposes that she doesn’t much care what dies, if her daughter is okay and smiling.
On Maeve’s twelfth birthday, Jean lets her sit in the front seat of their car for the first time when she takes her and her brother out for ice cream. It’s still warm in the late summer, so it should be a nice treat, she thinks as she drives. Hell, it’s a nice treat for her, too. It’s been a long week. She wonders if she could get a coffee on the way.
“Are you guys excited?” She asks, hiding the tiredness in her voice, turning halfway around to see Maeve and her brother cheering.
And then she takes her eyes off the road. Just for a second or two. Maybe longer. Jean’s so tired she feels like she’s moving in slow motion.
But it’s long enough for her not to see the silver car running the red light to her right. They slam into the left side of the silver car, and the front of their car crumples like plastic. Jean quickly looks around to check on her children, and that’s when she sees Maeve, slumped forward against the dashboard. Her head’s bleeding. It’s bleeding so much.
“Maeve,” She says, leaning over. “Maeve. Maeve!” She shakes her. Her brother starts crying. “No, no, no, no, no. No.” Jean lifts up her bleeding head, holding her chin like she did when Maeve was too small to hold up her head herself. She’s gentle. And then she lifts her up to look her in the face, and there is nothing in her eyes. Glazed over. She’s dead.
And then there is a shift in the air. Petrichor. A silence, a ringing in Jean’s ears. Jean’s eyes go wide a half second before they glaze over, but in that half second, she is not afraid. She is not angry. She looks at Maeve one more time, and she smiles, and she forgives her, as mothers do their daughters.
And Maeve Webber gasps.
>>back to top
of a feather
“If I could go back and change it, change their minds, I would, y’know,” says Sheila, over the phone.
(The air in Zachary’s college dorm is too cold.)
“I know,” Zachary responds. He doesn’t. Not really. She could change things. If she wanted to. Not their minds, not now, but she could come home.
“I wish you were here,” says Sheila. Zachary wishes she was here instead of the other way ‘round. He wishes she wasn’t there. He knows it’s selfish. At this point he doesn’t give a fuck.
(It’s always cold here, ‘cause the heating broke two days into the semester, because it’s freezing cold even in mid-September, because it’s fucking Connecticut and Zachary is here and Sheila is there.)
“Me too,” says Zachary. And maybe it’s a half-truth. Maybe it used to be true. When she got that email from that recording studio, and Zachary didn’t get anything except a single acceptance letter to the school his parents wanted him to go to, when she won and he didn’t, and when she drove away in that godforsaken blue minivan. Maybe then he wished he was where she is. He still does, sometimes. Mostly other way ‘round, though, ‘cause Los Angeles sounds like a shit city and the stupid university’s probably full of obnoxious music snobs, anyway. Probably.
(The air conditioning is better there, he thinks. Gotta be.)
“How’s the weather there? Bet it’s less hot. Can you believe it’s still so hot here?” God, Sheila’s voice is so beautiful. Zachary can almost remember how it felt to love her.
“Yeah, that’s crazy.” It’s really not. Zachary still checks the weather in Los Angeles. He’s not sure why. Maybe just to wonder how the air would feel on his skin. How it feels on hers. “Weather’s fine here. A bit cold, but fine.” He laughs. It’s forced. “The heating broke. It’s cold as hell, like the kind of cold on airplanes, y’know?”
Zachary wishes she was on a plane. He wishes it would crash, no survivors, into the empty nothing-fields between Connecticut and Los Angeles. It would start the world’s biggest explosion, he hopes. Blow everything west of the Rockies to little pieces, let it float out into the Pacific in new tiny continents.
Or maybe he just wishes the plane would land and she’d kiss him again. She’d hold him like she did the last time, before she left for the airport the first time, crying. He could love her again, if she was here, he thinks, maybe. Or maybe only if she’d never have left in the first place.
(It’s still stupid cold in here. Goddamn. Stupid goddamn college with shit heating.)
She laughs. “Speaking of planes, you should come visit sometime,” she says, as if Zachary could stand to set foot on the streets of L.A., or meet her stupid new friends, or listen to her talk about stuff he’d wanted to do and the people he’d wanted to meet since 7th grade. Stuff he’d wanted to do with her.
“Hm.” It’s the kind of thing you say when there’s nothing really to say. But that’s what this whole conversation’s been, anyways. “Maybe. Are you coming back for a fall break or something?”
“Oh, sorry. Me and some of my friends are going backpacking.” She does sound genuinely sorry. Zachary wishes he cared.
“Oh,” he says. “Okay. Christmas?” As if they’ll make it through the rest of fall.
“Yeah, I’ll be back for that.”
“Great.” It isn’t. “We should plan to meet up, or something,” he says, in the way people say “we should hang out again sometime” or “I’ll text you” or “Let’s stay in touch” and they are absolutely not going to. Just vague enough to promise something without ever actually following through.
Zachary thinks about telling her he doesn’t love her anymore. The words dance on his tongue and his goosebumped skin. ‘Cause it’s true, he thinks. He doesn’t. He won’t. Not since that email. Not since she got in that fucking minivan to the airport. It’s not her fault, but he barely cares. He just wishes they were both 18 again, six-months-ago 18, before the change and all of it.
He wishes they still worked. They don’t.
(It’s too cold in Connecticut and too hot in Los Angeles.)
He doesn’t tell her. He might, next time they call. Or maybe he’ll just text.
“I gotta go, sorry. Bye,” he says.
“Oh, bye! I’ll text yo-”
He hangs up.
(It’s still too cold in his dorm. He puts on a sweatshirt.)
>>back to top
thyme & time again
TW: death, terminal illness
Adam’s favorite smell is thyme. T-h-y-m-e, not t-i-m-e. T-h-y-m-e with a silent “h” and an out-of-place “y”, like his mother (and later, he) picks and chops and adds to chicken and sour-sweet lemon in their kitchen, letting the smell of it in the oven travel up through the rooms of their little house.
When he was still young, Adam always got thyme and rosemary mixed up. Thyme, he thought, should be long and thin leaves, sticking out from hardy stems like lines, like how children draw straight hair. But that, he learned, is his second favorite smell, rosemary, who’s curving letters and pretty sound ought to describe something like thyme. Thyme, instead of rosemary, is round-leaved and small and repeats itself over and over. It is illogical, Adam thought, that a round-shaped word like rosemary should belong to a line-shaped plant, and a rigid, limited thing like thyme (or time, maybe) should belong to something with repetitive leaves like round oblong dots.
But, regardless of his strongly-held opinions on the shapes and names of plants, Adam picks off the leaves like his mother shows him at 8 years old in their light-filled kitchen. Rosemary, she says, can often be slid off the stem easily if you do it right. She holds his small hands to show him, one hand on one hand on the end of the stem, the other hand on his other hand sliding down it. If you hold it right and slide your hands along it correctly, she shows, pinching it between the pads of your fingers tightly and running them firmly but smoothly against the stem, then it comes off easy and smooth onto the wooden cutting board like soft rain against his bedroom window.
Adam’s mother’s hands do not shake when she holds the stem in his hand; her hands are strong and firm and rough, scarred with dots of times her hands have slipped while chopping or cooking with hot oil. But she guides Adam’s soft child-hands along the plant, and the leaves slip off like the way years pass, faster and faster. But the years have not passed yet. Adam’s hands are soft, and his mother’s hands are rough, and soon enough there’s a pile of rosemary at the wooden kitchen table, lit up by morning haze through their windows.
When the rosemary is just hay-like leaves on the cutting board, Adam’s mother chops it up with a knife (Adam, still soft-handed and unlittered with dots of time, is not yet allowed to chop), so fast Adam doesn’t know how she doesn’t cut herself. The chopping lets out more of that wondrous smell, and Adam breathes it in and thinks it is his new favorite thing, the smell of rosemary chopped by his mother on the wooden cutting board in the afternoon light.
They store some of it in little glass jars for future meals in the fridge, and save the rest for dinner.
Adam cleans off the kitchen table and sets for three, like he always does, and his mother adds the rest to fresh bread baked to the crisp color of honey, and a steak that feels nearly as rich as celebrities on the television, and when Adam’s father walks through the door, briefcase in hand, just in time, they sit down the three of them.
“How was your day?” His father asks, and Adam beams.
“I helped with dinner!” Adam swings his feet back and forth as he talks.
“Did you?” His father smiles, contradicting and yet counteracting the tiredness visible in the corners of his eyes.
“M-hm,” Adam nods enthusiastically.
“He’s quite the chef,” his mother says.
“Mom taught me how to do thyme!” he says, still swinging his feet like a grandfather clock.
“Rosemary, honey,” she corrects.
“Oh, yeah.” Adam scrunches up his face when he says it, drawing out the syllables, forming them in his head. “Rosemary.” He smiles, taking a bite from his food.
Adam smiles when he tastes the herb, and quickly decides rosemary is his new favorite smell.
When they cook together again in a few days or weeks, his mother shows him to pick thyme. Thyme is harder than rosemary, she teaches. Rosemary is fast, and easy to slide, if done correctly. But thyme takes time and patience. The leaves are small and many, and you have to pick them one at a time, without shortcuts or waste. No amount of practice makes it take shorter.
His mother is patient, she picks the thyme one leaf at a time and makes Adam do the same. And Adam listens, he picks one leaf at a time, even when he can barely sit still and his fingers ache, even when his mother hushes his complaints and whining words. He sits for a very long time, and only finishes a couple sprigs by the time that his mother has finished the rest, but when he finishes, his mother congratulates him, and chops the thyme, and they eat another meal together, this time just the two of them, with his father miles away on a business trip. Adam smiles when he tastes it, but decides he still prefers rosemary, because his fingers still ache and he is impatient, as children are.
Rosemary is still his favorite smell when his mother teaches him to chop herbs. They pick the thyme first, and Adam complains profusely, as he always does, but the thyme ends up in a picked pile on the wooden cutting board nonetheless.
She puts her hands on his over the knife, careful, careful. Adam is not new to using a knife, having previously learned the art of cutting apples into slices and other simpler tasks, but he’s new to the quick precision of chopping. She tells him gently, calmly, that chopping is a game of balance. You must always chop precisely, carefully, or your hands will end up like hers, scarred and rough. But you must chop confidently, smoothly, or the leaves will be crushed instead of cut.
But when she lets go of his hands and lets him cut by himself, Adam, reckless by his 11-year-old nature, is too fast, too confident. He slices shallowly into the top of his thumb, and red young blood spills out of it. He pulls his hand back, wincing, leaving the knife on the cutting board. His mother, having watched closely with band-aids nearby, went quickly to examine the cut to find its lucky shallowness. She is gentle with her rough hands as she bandages the hand.
“You went too fast,” she says. “That’s what you get.”
And Adam, still wincing from the injury, just nods in the way that upset children do, having been told their mistake, not yet old enough to rebel against their parents.
But his mother chops the rest of the herbs while Adam washes and cuts up the potatoes, and his mother cooks up some sausage with the vegetables, while Adam sets for three.
They eat together, Adam and his mother and his father, and Adam still smiles when he tastes the herbs.
Rosemary is still Adam’s favorite smell, even when nobody has asked his favorite smell in several years, when he is seventeen.
The pair, Adam and his mother, are in the kitchen, and his mother picks the thyme one little leaf at a time with weaker-growing hands, and Adam chops the other vegetables, having refused the thyme every time his mother insisted. He hates it, the slowness of it. What he likes is the next step.
When the vegetables and thyme are chopped, he throws them into a pan with hot oil, and he cooks them all together and it is hot and fast, and he dances around the small kitchen, back and forth and back and forth between pots and pans and dishes. It’s almost too fast for his mother, who instead makes a salad for the side.
They don’t talk as they cook anymore. “It’s distracting,” Adam says.
His parents try to make conversation, but Adam is quieter and rougher around the edges like teenagers sometimes would like to imagine they are. When they eat the meal, Adam still enjoys it, but he eats quickly, and cleans up, and goes to his room. “Work to do,” he says to them. “School.”
It’s always fast with him, his mother thinks. Always rosemary.
His father doesn’t think much at all. He’s tired, and he’s busy like Adam, and he’s never been quite good at that stuff, anyways.
When Adam comes home from culinary school, Adam’s mother’s hands are even older than they were when he was eight, and arthritis is snaking its shaking grip into her hands. Adam notices it up close one day, when he is home for the holidays and the two are once again in the kitchen. She can’t pick the tiny thyme leaves anymore; instead, Adam watches with rising shock as she chops the thyme without picking it, stems and all.
“Why aren’t you picking it?” He asks, with a growing sense of betrayal.
His mother shrugs. “I can’t pick it anymore, with my hands. It’s pretty much just as good like this.”
“You made me pick it for an hour when I was a kid, no shortcuts allowed! I hated it!”
His mother keeps chopping. “It’s still better if you pick it. For all sorts of reasons. But cooking’s not about perfectionism, Adam. I wish I could still pick it, but I can’t.”
“It was certainly about perfectionism when I was a kid.”
His mother rolls her eyes, and laughs back gently. “You still are. And no, it wasn’t.”
“I’m just mad I’m only now finding out about this shortcut,” he laughs, with a bitterness like dandelion greens.
“It’s not a shortcut. But fine.”
She finishes chopping the thyme, stems and all. They eat together, with his father, like when Adam was younger than he still is, and every time Adam cooks with thyme for the next several years he chops it whole without picking. Shortcuts.
And then Adam’s mother is sick, and Adam’s favorite smell is still rosemary when he receives the call from his father to come home. He is in his apartment, about to go to bed, and the phone rings, and then he’s making the drive all the way to his hometown, and his car air freshener smells fresh in a way entirely unlike the natural freshness of herbs.
She is in the hospital, with smells of soap or the sterility of nothing at all. He sits by her bed, next to his father, and neither of them are crying, and Adam holds her hands, still rough and scarred, his hands growing less soft every day.
“I want to make you a meal,” he says. “Hospital food probably sucks.”
His mother smiles. “You gonna pick the thyme properly, or take the shortcut?”
“Gonna bring a basket here to pick. I don’t wanna leave here for too long…” He doesn’t say why, but his mother knows. She nods. “I’ll be back soon,” he says, getting up.
Behind him, his father leans his head onto her bed. He sighs. “Fuck.”
Adam doesn’t lie, he is back soon, with a basket of thyme and other herbs, more than he could ever need for one meal. He sits on the chair next to his mother’s hospital bed smelling of nothing green, with an empty wooden bowl in his lap and the basket full of unpicked herbs on the chair next to him.
Adam picks the round leaves one at a time, one after another after another, dropping them into the wooden bowl. He picks carefully and slowly, like maybe if he takes the time to pick it one by one by one then the basket of unpicked herbs next to him will stay full and green forever, like he wouldn’t eventually pick all the thyme in that basket, and have to finally cook it all. Like he wouldn’t eventually run out of time.
Adam decides then that thyme is his favorite smell. Rosemary is quick, and rosemary is easy, but thyme demands patience, demands stillness and persistence and unchanging, repetitive work, and the smell of thyme sits with Adam and Adam sits with his mother and thyme does not run out for a very long time.
>>back to top
TW: violence, blood
teeth (or, how a girl becomes a wolf)
It starts with a fistfight. Victoria is 13, and angry, born angry, and there is a girl named Ashley with words like venom. There is a uniqueness to the cruelty of 14 year old girls, who have learned that the only form of power in their lives is that of a spider, picking a prey weaker than them, a fly or other bug, weaving a web, and striking with venom.
Victoria is unlike a fly. Ashley has picked the wrong prey, Victoria thinks. Victoria is angry, and Victoria hits first. She is weak, physically, limbs still childlike and out-of-place in such a violent body. But she swings, and she strikes her in the jaw. Victoria remembers how Ashley’s lip splits open, how blood flows from her venom-mouth. She remembers the burning scent of blood, the sound of Ashley’s rough exhale.
Ashley is shocked, and spits blood out of her mouth. She, unlike Victoria, is not alone. It occurs to Victoria, later, that she picked the wrong time to fight. Ashley pushes her to the ground, hard, and Victoria is surrounded.
Victoria scrapes her knees on the pavement. When she tries to get back up, she is pushed again, from all sides. They kick and hit, again and again and again. The spider’s web. They kick her in the face, and her nose starts to bleed.
When Victoria stops trying to get back up, they stop. Ashley spits blood onto her body, and Victoria waits until they walk away to get back up. When she stands, she wipes the dirt from her knees and the blood from her nose with her dirty palms. She feels the blood from her nose, hot and wet and stinking. She tastes it. She grins, all teeth, like a wolf baring its fangs.
While Victoria lost the first fight, Ashley and her spiders choose a new prey next time. Victoria doesn’t stop to find out who. They are the fly, and she is not.
Victoria does not get in any more fights. Thinking back to the first fight, she is confused, and some part of her is scared. Scared of the way she grinned, scared of the way blood tastes, scared of the way she liked it.
I am good, she tells herself in the mirror. She is troubled, she hears her teacher tell her mother. She is angry, she hears her mother tell her new therapist.
Victoria is 14, and she has not gotten in any fights since Ashley. She is good, and everyone tells her she is doing better. She believes it, almost.
She has made a new friend. Her name is Faith, and she is new to the school, and she was not there when Victoria was 13. She does not believe the rumors they are spreading about Victoria. They are spreading rumors about her, too. She has been the spider’s prey, because when she was 12 she cut her hair short and did not wear a dress to her 6th grade graduation. She did not punch back.
Faith believes in Victoria. Faith shows her music and art, and Faith teaches her how to make a friendship bracelet when they sit in the corner of the cafeteria. She ties the knotted patterned string around Victoria’s wrist, and Victoria does not take it off.
Victoria does not tell Faith about Ashley. Victoria does not tell Faith about how hot blood feels on skin. Victoria does not tell Faith how she grinned.
The truth is, she misses it. She feels it bubble beneath her skin, in her young bones, the desire to hit and taste blood, to feel truly and fully alive, in every cell of blood. She does not tell her therapist this. She does not tell Faith this.
Victoria is 15 when she tastes blood again. The sky is the uneven blue of dusk over the school parking lot, and Ashley makes the mistake of saying something to Faith. She laughs, high and venomous, spitting words and fire like she once spat blood. She will spit blood again, Victoria promises to herself.
Victoria balls her hands into fists by her sides. Her fingernails dig into her palms, sharp, almost drawing blood. It crosses her mind that they might be claws.
“What the fuck did you just say, Ashley?” Victoria speaks slowly, the way a wolf circles its prey.
Ashley laughs again. “I said, she’s a-”
Victoria yells something that is not words, and throws herself onto Ashley. She pushes her to the ground. She hits her, again and again and again and again. Ashley pushes back, spitting in her face, getting up.
Victoria stands opposite Ashley. She stretches her neck back and forth until she feels the joint crack to her satisfaction. She grins, and wipes Ashley’s blood on her face. A small part of Victoria realizes the growing circling crowd around them, the part that hides when she fights, when the wolf comes out.
Victoria lands a punch, and Ashley hits back, and both are bloody and panting when they are pulled apart by blurry figures in the corner of her vision. Victoria can taste blood, and it is glorious. She is alive, in every panting breath, and she is grinning; the wolf’s bared teeth are back.
Victoria does not see Faith’s face during the fight, not until she is struggling in the teacher’s grasp, watching the other adult pull Ashley. On Faith’s face is something like fear, but mixed with something else. Sadness, maybe. Grief. Guilt, even. Blood mixed with water, a cocktail of blood-red fear and the stormy guilt-gray sea of knowing, rather, believing, that Victoria did this for her. Because of her.
Victoria does not pay attention when the adults scold her for the fight. She does not care, not about anything but the blood, not right now.
And Faith, she cares about Faith, more than anyone. Faith believes in her. Faith believes that she is good; Faith is the only one who believes she is good. She thinks she loves Faith. Victoria, still in her blood-filled mind, wonders, briefly, if kissing Faith would feel the way blood tastes.
The blood and dirt is wiped off of Victoria’s face, and she is sent home, and she goes to sleep with the taste of blood still in her mouth.
In the middle of the night, Victoria wakes. There is an ache in her mouth, and the taste of blood against her tongue. She sits up in bed quickly, still lightheaded with sleep. Bringing her hand to her mouth, she feels it: her teeth have grown sharp, like that of a predator. Long, pointed, smooth, against her touch.
She walks to the bathroom, to see herself in the mirror, to ensure that she isn’t going mad. Staring into her own pale face, opening her mouth to show her teeth, she sees them, long and sharp and triangular.
She steps back in revulsion. Her heart beats faster, and she is falling to her knees against the white wooden bathroom door.
Her gums ache and bleed from where her teeth grew in. Victoria hurts, and Victoria is scared. Victoria is 13 again, and the terror strikes between her ribs. She does not know what she is becoming. She does not know why her blood tastes like alcohol smells and her ache feels like growing pains.
Victoria sobs, and she does not know why. It comes out in stilting wet gasps, choking on her new teeth. She knows she is the wolf now, and she is so, so terrified. She clenches and unclenches her shaking fists by her sides, holding onto nothing. She vomits into her toilet, and it tastes like the opposite of blood. It tastes bitter, and it tastes ugly, and it tastes like fear. Victoria sobs, and vomits, and shakes, and sweats, like a fever.
When her body cannot lose its insides anymore, Victoria leans back against the bathroom door. She knows she is losing herself. She knows there is something inside of her, something like a monster. Maybe a demon, or something, she thinks half-heartedly.
Victoria does not pray, but Victoria asks the bathroom ceiling light, just once, if she can keep being good. She hopes, in her shaky body, that when she wakes in the morning her teeth will be flat again.
She hopes she does not taste blood again. She knows she will, and she knows she will want to.
In the daylight, Victoria smiles with her mouth closed.
Victoria is 16 when she asks Faith to kiss her. Faith is wiping the blood off of her face.
Victoria has become less afraid every fight, every time she tastes it. And she has fought a lot since the second fight. She no longer has to worry about the consequences from adults after the blood. The girls no longer tell a soul, and she thinks that the adults who might know are too afraid of her to do anything. She thinks even her own mother is afraid of her, maybe.
Faith is not afraid of her, Victoria thinks. Faith still believes in her, even as her hands wipe the blood. Her hands are so gentle; her hands have always been gentle. Faith knows that Victoria is not herself when she fights.
Victoria asks Faith to kiss her, and she does. It is sweeter than blood, but not altogether different. Victoria thinks it might be the second best thing she’s ever felt on her chapped and torn lips. Half an hour ago, there was hot blood on Victoria’s fists. Now, there wasn’t. Faith had helped her wash it off in the sink in the school bathroom. Now, Faith holds her hand in hers as she kisses her, and, for a moment, just a moment, the girl in Victoria’s mind thinks she is good again.
But there is still blood on Victoria’s cheek, and a redness in her hands that she can’t ever seem to get off anymore. Victoria is desperate, and Faith pulls away to wipe the blood off of her cheek with an impossible tenderness.
“I’m sorry,” Victoria says, in a way that means I am going to fight again and I love you and Thank you.
“I know,” Faith responds. Her voice is slow, patient, but tired.
Faith does not know. But she is learning.
Victoria is still 16 when she learns what fear smells like. She walks like an animal, hunched and quiet. It’s then that she realizes she can smell the fear of the people surrounding her. It smells like blood; it burns like alcohol in her nostrils. It is stinking and putrid around her, and it draws her in like circling birds of prey.
And then she smells her own fear, deep in her chest, but it is overwhelmed, buried by the euphoria of it, the high. Victoria is afraid of herself, but ‘Victoria’ grows less every day.
Victoria is growing less scared of the fight and the blood. She thinks now that this is what she is.
The next time she fights, she can smell both the blood and the fear of her opponent, her prey, and its smoke tendrils lick her neurons and veins. She grins. Her teeth are sharp. The scent of fear grows.
This time, even when she leaves the opponent, even as Faith washes her face of it, even as she lies in bed in the night, the blood does not leave her mind.
She has not lost a fight in a very long time. It takes this many fights to understand fully the way that it engulfs her. It takes this many fights for Victoria to know how she falls in love with spitting blood. The part of her that was almost all vomited out is scared, and but the other, bigger, part of her knows the wolf’s grin only looks better with sharpened teeth.
She is reminded of Red Riding Hood. The girl who walks to her grandmother’s house, and the wolf who stalks in the deep woods. In some versions of the story, the wolf is killed by a hunter or by the girl in a clever ruse. In some versions of the story, the girl and her grandmother are eaten by the wolf.
Victoria lies in bed, resolved, and makes a vow while falling asleep again that night. She knows she is not the girl. Not anymore. She is not eaten, not by the spider, not by anyone, except maybe her own teeth. She is not a fly, and she is less and less the girl every time she tastes blood.
The only other thing in the story, then, is to be the wolf. It is ‘eat or be eaten’, and it seems that the storyteller has told Victoria to eat.
Victoria is 17, and she stands grinning over the panting boy below her.
He started it. The sky was almost dark, and the parking lot was empty, and he yelled something at Faith. She doesn’t even remember what it was, not really. But he was bloody now; he reeked of it, of blood and stinking fear. She hit him again, and again. She doesn’t know how many times, but now her hands were bloody.
And then she looks up. She doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s the girl, the 13 year old inside of her, finally doing something. But she looks up, and Faith is terrified.
Faith looks at her the way like someone watches a car crash. Her heart pounds, Victoria can hear it. Faith is scared. Faith has never been scared of her before, not like this. Faith takes a step back.
“Victoria, that’s…” God, she speaks so softly, like she’s approaching a scared animal. She is. “That’s enough. Oh, God.”
Victoria steps away from the boy, lets him scramble to his feet and run. She wants to chase, but she doesn’t. She steps towards Faith. “Faith, wait.”
“Victoria…” Faith takes another step back, and then another.
Victoria lunges on instinct, desperate. She is afraid. They are both afraid. They are both afraid of Victoria.
Victoria grabs her arm. “Faith, wait, please,” she begs.
Faith gasps at the touch, and the stinking smell of fear grows stronger. “Victoria, let me go. Let me go, now.”
“Just wait, okay? I’m sorry, please.” Victoria does not let go.
And Faith knows, now. “I can’t, Victoria. I can’t…” Faith pulls away.
She pulls away, and she cries out in pain, and five dark red marks scrape across her arm, and Victoria realizes. At the ends of her fingers, her nails have grown sharp like her teeth.
Claws. Five bloody claws, to match her wolf’s teeth.
Victoria cannot smell her own fear. Not anymore.
Faith steps back again, and again. And the wolf runs until she can’t smell the fear anymore.
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