All Things Devoured
There’s a lot of things you don’t really realize the importance of until they’re gone, or so they say. ‘They’ being books and songs the world over, usually lamenting the loss of a partner, or a home, or a purpose. Loss gets tied to regret gets tied to hope for a new future. Well, in the things I’ve read, at least. Things I used to read. I don’t, anymore. I don’t do a lot of things anymore, to go back to that missing-what-you’ve-lost thing.
Like blinking. I don’t do much of that, these days. Breathing would be up there too, but I have to fake that a lot more consistently than the blinking. Flex the diaphragm, let my chest expand, then wait a second before relaxing. Air whistles out from the ruin of my nose, and I see Julia turn to Madison a couple rows ahead and make a gagging motion. I breathe in again and exhale even louder, just to be petty. At the front of the class, Mr. Gladly turns his head from the board to see what’s making that noise, only to immediately remember what’s making that noise and quickly avert his eyes.
And I’d thought that the teachers at Winslow didn’t look at me before, hoo boy. Now that we’re living in a post-Locker world, everyone keeps to a minimum safe distance. No eye contact allowed.
The bell rings and I shove my textbooks into my bag with all the care and grace they deserve, then spend the next minute picking up the remains and scattered papers from the floor. It gives time for Madison to take up her post outside the classroom, which is the cue for Emma to sidle on by and draw other individuals into her orbit for the show. I get out the door and look, there they are, right on time. I stand close to the wall and let her approach, following the script of this tired play.
She starts talking at me. I don’t really care to listen, and neither does anyone else crowding the hallway. I don’t think Emma has realized that people don’t follow her movements to watch me. She talks, and I just stare. I always forget to blink, so I know my eyes look glassy and clouded. Emma talks a bit faster, like maybe if she just throws darts quickly enough one of them will strike home. Bullseye. Which gives me an idea.
I tilt my head a bit, like I’m thinking, and put my hand on my cheek. My pinky taps and taps into one of the sunken pockmark scars, right near my cheekbone, where doctors had to excise a lesion that had gone gangrenous. Once I see a few students start to fidget, I stop tapping, and move my pinky a bit higher.
I press the digit against my eye, just enough to move it. Relax, then press again, and now a few kids are already breaking away, unable to handle it. Emma finally notices about three more sentences in, so I press a bit harder and move my finger back a bit, like I’m going to pop the eye right out of its socket. I’ve considered doing it for real, but I’d never get a second attempt, so I’m saving it for a special occasion.
Emma’s composure breaks, like I knew it would. She stammers, and tries to rally her courage, but like Humpty Dumpty she can’t quite get herself together again. Her jabs get more desperate, more vicious, less able to be shrugged off as typical highschool drama. And the kids all around us in the hallway stop to watch her mask peel off, show the rotten undersides.
I don’t really blink anymore. I don’t do a lot of things anymore. But Emma doesn’t really have friends anymore, and while it’s a really far cry from an even trade, it’s something I can start with.
You see, everyone knows what Emma is. Everyone knows what Emma did. Everyone knows how the pretty redhead locked me up in that too-small space, how she laughed into the vents when I didn’t cry. Everyone knows that by the time the janitor pulled me out, I was eaten and dripping and broken. Everyone knows that there’s such a thing as going too far, and that Emma didn’t care.
Everyone knows what Emma is, except Emma.
I remember to inhale so I can start humming to myself, like everyone remembers I did while I was stuck in there. A nursery rhyme; Emma calls me a retard, as expected, and when I keep it up she just makes this teakettle shriek and slaps me, then runs away. By tomorrow she’ll have glossed over this whole thing until she’s forgotten it, or convinced herself she’s ‘won’ something.
One of the students says something-- an apology, or a reprimand to Emma’s behavior. I stare at them until they look away. None of them helped. They don’t get to say they’re sorry.
The crowd disperses, the show over. So is school, as far as I’m concerned. Which just leaves one last thing on today’s planned itinerary: check the traps.
There are two types of traps set around the city, mostly near the docks and the trainyards. That’s where there are the most rats, so that’s where there are traps. The regular rat-traps are easy, in that they’re easy to get and easy to set. Basically just an oversized mousetrap, with the brass bar strong enough to break a human hand. I baited them with peanut butter, and on good days maybe a third of the traps would have a rat in them waiting for me. The other traps were live traps, and so far I really hadn’t had any luck with them.
Today wasn’t a good day, but it wasn’t a bad day, either. I emptied the traps of my catch, moved them around, and re-set them for the next batch. Then it was just a matter of finding a nice, quiet alley where I could remove my shirt. Saves on laundromat costs.
I hunched down over the small pile of furry carcasses, and stopped holding my flesh in place so tightly. My false ribs twitched, then strained, making a bulge in the skin around my belly until the thin layer tore, making room for the bones to stretch outwards and reform. Skin wrapped back up around them as tendons crawled along the new limbs-- they were small, vestigial, they didn’t really need muscles. The tiny clawed hands reached, and I bent down a bit more so I could grab a rat with them, then I curled even farther forward. Saliva started flowing again, just in time to let my jawbone dislocate and crack in half, opening up my throat like a snake. I assume that most snakes don’t have squirming tendrils to help pull the meal in and down, but it’s convenient. The rat gets dissected on the way to where my stomach should be, its flesh becoming my flesh. I’m about to start on the third rat when someone’s foot scrapes on the asphalt behind me.
I turn my upper body, my spine making a popping sound as it gets twisted apart and put back together in the same instant. Bone spurs are already starting to press outwards from my wrists, flattening and sharpening until my limbs are less than useful for fine manipulation, but very useful for scything and stabbing.
I don’t use them for that, at least not right away. I’m not interested in stabbing heroes, even if it looks like they’re interested in stabbing me. Though, I suppose I will have to do something.
But there’s enough time to finish the rat before I decide.
(Story only thread, don't actually vote.)