"Are you kidding me?"
Villatoria Prescott sighed as she stopped to pick up the taped package currently blocking her from fully opening the front door to her shared apartment. The box had been delivered three weeks ago, addressed to a "Graham Frazier" - a recent or maybe even current boyfriend of Villa's roommate, Karen. She was fairly certain Karen had told her that they finally separated for good, but somehow his socks were still lingering on their hardwood floor, and his favorite flavor of ice cream, which no one else ate, kept appearing in their freezer, and every time Graham ordered from his favorite online store, the package ended up in front of their apartment door. This particular package seemed destined to act as a doorstop until the end of times.
Her back was tired. Her boots had been muddy, but she'd taken great care to make sure she removed them and placed them in a plastic bag before entering their home. She'd also taken great care to wash out the blood left on her sword so that she wouldn't track that into their apartment either, despite the awkwardness of using the very public squeegee bucket at a gas station in fall weather late at night. All this after a long evening of hunting, fighting, triumphing over her target - a hive of gremlins with a passion for knocking over the local Donut Emperor store - and her roommate couldn't even be bothered to take her boyfriend's (or possibly ex-boyfriend's) package to her room, or a table, or to his house, or anywhere else in the world except right in front of their entrance.
She hoped the contractor for the gremlin job paid a bonus for her expediency in handling his request; she needed to move out before her last nerve was obliterated.
As if on cue, Karen called out in her sing-song voice from the couch in their shared living room. "Tori! I made dinner tonight! It's sitting on the counter!"
Villa cringed, even as her stomach gurgled. "Thanks." She handed the box to Karen as she passed the couch. "Is he ever going to come by and pick this up?"
"Oh I was leaving it there because they need to take it back. He hasn't bothered to pick it up and I'm not taking it to him, so I figured the next time we get a delivery we can just hand them the box."
"It doesn't have a return label on it," Villa replied. "They'll just deliver to this address again, even if they do accept it, which they won't."
"You don't know that," Karen said, rolling her eyes. "I've done it before at work."
"Okay, well," Villa replied, taking a deep breath. "Can we at least not keep it where I'll trip over it every day?"
"But how else will you remember it's there when the delivery guy comes by?"
Nevermind. Villa gave up the fight, just as she'd given up on correcting Karen about her preferred nickname months ago, and continued into the kitchen. Her ability to maintain her annoyance couldn't complete with her innards' howling need for nutrition and the pure exhaustion that came from being stomped into the ground by dozens of dirty, little gremlin feet. Plus, the smell of the waiting lasagna - Karen didn't have many good qualities, but her lasagna was amazing. Villa adored lasagna, especially the way Karen made it with spinach mixed in with the layers. It was really hard to stay mad in the face of warm, glorious, free lasagna.
She managed a smile as she scooped some onto a plate and replaced the tinfoil over the pan, ignoring the six mugs in the sink that hadn't been there when she left earlier that day. Her worthy reward for a hard fought battle: the rest of the night spent in her pjs in her room, eating delicious lasagna, and listening to her favorite late night comic on tv as she once again contemplated putting that new sword she had been eyeing into her shopping cart on Amazoom. It was pretty pricey, but her current sword was pretty old - if she ever wanted to up her game and start taking on harder contracts, she needed new gear. And if she had new gear, then she'd get higher paying jobs that would mean more money to do whatever she wanted. It had to be worth the price. It was called the Blade of Doom, after all. The description said it was a must for all serious monster killers. See a monster's insides in half the time! How could she not buy it?
Villa's shoulders were starting to slump in relaxation as she crossed the living room again, heading to her room with her great plans for the rest of the evening. Maybe in a couple of more weeks, after a couple more steady jobs. Before the Blade it had been a so called legendary Bow of Awesome, and before that the Shield of Rewards. She'd look at it again and invariably click save for later. But looking was half the fun. Maybe she'd come across some new boots to put on her list too.
"Oh!" Karen said, stopping her just short of crossing the threshold into her room. "I forgot to tell you, I told Graham he can stay here next weekend when they're doing some renovations to his building."
"Oh...kay, that's fine, I guess. Then he can pick up his package next weekend."
Karen made a face and shook her head. "I'm not holding his package for him. He can order whatever it is again and have it sent to his address. I'm not catering to his whims."
Blade of Doom. Yep, she needed the Blade of Doom. She needed it delivered Express. Villa promptly entered her room, opened her laptop, and hit purchase. Her credit card would take the hit but she was sure to recoup the costs in no time. She brought up the monster hunter job boards and started scrolling through the three star ranked postings. Two star jobs were not going to cut it anymore. She used one hand to work the scroll function on her mouse and her other hand to shove lasagna into her mouth as she skimmed over anything that looked remotely manageable.
Easy hit! Entry level monster, high pay! Save some town babies! Three stars. Villa clicked the description.
"A vampiric being," she mouthed around her lasagna as she read the posting aloud. "A pena...penagal- penagagagalan?" she tried, not quite able to get her tongue around all of the letters. "I like taking down vampires," she mused with a shrug.
New sword. New opportunities. And then, sweet blissful freedom.
The sword was. The Blade of Doom came next day delivery and was the perfect length and the perfect weight. It was shiny and sharp, able to cut a curl off of Karen's long hair when she wasn't paying attention with just a flick of the wrist. It was as perfect as perfect could be.
The vampire - or rather, Villa realized as she covered her mouth to keep from spewing at the sight, the vampiric being: not so much.
She rather liked vampire jobs. For the most part she could easily lure them into a trap by pretending to be an over-eager goth youth hoping to join the dark army, with her neck purposely exposed and her sword hidden behind her back. Or by dribbling a little fake blood on her neck and wandering dark alleys, loudly complaining of her poor fate being afflicted with her non-coagulating blood and forever non-healing wounds before she sprung her trap. Occasionally she'd get the fun, really old vampires, whose arms were lost in layers of silly lace sleeves and who were unimpressed with modern monster hunters and their lack of decorum. But vampires could talk. She could banter with them. At worst they'd try to fly away or hiss at her as she swung her sword with the intention to behead - always easier to stake them that way. Sure, it was a bit of extra work with the stakes, but at least she didn't have to go find silver, like on werewolf jobs, or come home stinking of a thousand years of rot, like with zombies. One time she'd even tried to take on a dullahan, with its disgusting spine whip that it threw at her as she was trying to put its head back where it belonged. Ugh, no, vampires were way better than ghouls, and creatures, and slimey lake monsters.
But vampiric and vampire were not the same words. And as Villa dove behind a bench to watch the floating head pass by, all of its entrails and organs dragging below and behind its blank face and long black hair, she promised herself that next time she'd try to read the job posts a little more carefully. Or at least look up the monster first.
Not that this penanaban...pananarama? Penanburger? This thing looked all that hard. It seemed to be completely uninterested in its surroundings as it drifted through the air, occasionally stopping to look down when one of its intestines got caught on a sign or a fire hydrant. Villa could probably run up behind it, grab its dangling kidneys, and slam it into the closest bus stop before the monster could blink.
But she would have at least liked to have known that she'd be looking at a glistening liver, and a sagging pancreas, and a rotten stomach before choosing to eat dinner before work that night. If she wanted to look at raw, exposed lungs, she could just look up self surgery videos on MeTube.
As it rounded a corner, drifting into the brief patch of darkness between street lamps, Villa knew she needed to end this hunt quickly. She raised the Blade of Doom and quietly made her approach. At worse, the thing would hear her coming and- and what? Turn around to lifelessly float into her at a snail's pace? She knew better than that. This was probably how the monster hunted, luring unsuspecting idiot monster hunters into its grasp, where it whipped its entrails in prehensile fashion, wrapped a length of small intestine around its victim's neck and squeezed - snapped the neck, or strangled it, or just kept it taut until the head could catch up and sink its sharp teeth into a trapped neck or a pair of eyes.
Villa shook the image from her mind, stuck out her tongue in disgust, and decided this needed to end now. With a quick rush and a swing of the sword, she found that her former opinion of the monster's prowess had been correct: her sword plowed through the creature's skull before it even registered that Villa was there. The organs quickly sloughed off into a pile on the pavement and Villa saw as the creature's eyes rolled back into its split head, its lengthy tongue lolling out of its gaping mouth. Also, the blood spray now drenching her clothes. Lovely.
Villa sheathed her new sword and pulled out her phone to take a picture for the job board. As she was typing in her credentials, she noticed that the letters on her phone were getting fuzzier and fuzzier. By the time she hit the submit button, she could barely keep her eyes open and her head was pounding something furiously. Was there poison in the blood?
She didn't have time to find an answer as her eyes closed and Villatoria Prescott crumbled to the ground.
Villa groaned as she struggled to make it down the hallway to her apartment door. As best she could tell, she'd been out for nearly an hour when she finally came to, blinking lazily as she tried to get the fog to lift from her mind. It had to have been a toxin in the creature's blood.
She couldn't be bothered tonight. She knew she was gross, she knew she needed to clean off the sword before opening the door, but if Karen got mad at her for dragging in a mess, she'd just have to get over it. Villa felt so weak she could barely lift her sword again, dragging it behind her as she went. She struggled to open the doorknob - obnoxiously left unlocked despite it being 2 am in the morning - was Karen asking to get robbed? But the anger quickly passed as Villa felt her cheek slump against their door, her weak effort to get it open once she finally managed to turn the knob.
The apartment was dark, save for the light coming from a crack in the door to Karen's room. Pleasantries would have to wait - she needed sleep.
"Tori? Is that you?" she heard Karen call. Ugh, no, whatever, go back to sleep. But then she found herself unable to grasp the lock to secure their front door. Fine.
"Yeah," she slurred. "Can you come lock the door? I need to lie down."
"Uh, yeah, sure," Karen called back.
Villa let out an exhausted sigh and started her unsteady and slow amble toward her own bedroom. She couldn't will her limbs to behave and hurry; she just had to lean forward in the right direction and hope the rest of her body would follow her head. Again, the doorknob decided to be an asshole, and Villa just gave up and proceeded to push her own door open with her forehead and nose squished into the wood.
"Oh my god," she heard Karen gasp behind her. Yeah, yeah, yeah, she knew - there was probably remnants of nasty monster guts all over her clothes.
"Deal with it," she muttered, trying to get into bed. She couldn't seem to pick up her sheets.
Whatever. She plopped down on the mattress and her last thought of consciousness was to wonder if she'd wake up on the floor, given that her legs and her lower half seemed to be sliding down and off her top cover.
Villa looked up from her laptop. Karen was leaning against their kitchen counter, her face twisted up in pain.
"Did you cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner while asleep again?" she asked.
"No," Karen started, looking for the right words.
She did look a little under the weather, like she hadn't slept in a long time. Despite the fact that the sleep aid was designed to help with Karen's insomnia, sometimes it worked too well and left her overtired for the rest of the day, Villa knew.
Which, if anyone should have looked like something the cat threw up, it would be Villa - and somehow after passing out last night, she'd woken up refreshed, recharged, and with more energy than she'd had in a long time. Her clothes weren't even that messy, with no sign of blood anywhere. Her sword was clean. Maybe the toxin in that weird creature's blood had a hallucinogen? Regardless, she woke up to find the contractor ecstatic with her work and one of the best payouts she'd ever received forwarded to her bank account.
She was even considering taking on another job, even though the night before she had been certain she'd need a whole week off just to recover.
"I've been having those really intense, weird dreams again," Karen finally said. "Like last night was really crazy. I think you were involved and there was blood and you were dragging a body around in the living room," she stopped and gave a sheepish look. "I don't know if I did anything weird last night but I woke up next to the front door like I had passed out right there."
"Oh," Villa replied, sipping her black coffee. A ton of new postings had been added to the job boards overnight. If she could just find the right one - maybe not a full three stars, maybe two and a half. And maybe something that didn't come out after midnight. After all, who was she to question her renewed and energetic feeling? Better to take advantage of it and recuperate over the weekend.
"That part was real, actually," Villa continued. "I got home pretty late last night after a messy job. I think what I took out had a toxin in its blood so I had to ask you to lock the door. And I had to drag my sword around - that's how bad it was." Hmm, a manticore? No, she was done with venomous, poisonous, toxic things for a while. A lamia? Taking on lamias always meant taking out broods - no thank you.
"Of course," Karen said, holding her hand to her head. "I guess that's what I really saw." She moved toward the coffee maker and searched around for an empty mug.
"You still have a full mug sitting by the microwave," Villa pointed out, briefly looking up from her work. Oooh, a bukavac? What was a bukavac? She quickly entered its name into a search engine.
"Yeah I know, but it's cold now," Karen replied, getting a new mug out of the cabinet and ignoring the full one.
"So what was it you fought last night?" she continued.
Okay, definitely no to the bukavac. Villa had no interest in being drowned or dumped into a lake. Maybe in the spring. "P-E-N-A-N-G-G-A-L-A-N," Villa spelled out. She had purposely spent the first ten minutes that morning figuring that out because: never. Again.
"Oh yeah, one of those," Karen mused.
Yeah one of those - Villa did her best not to roll her eyes. "Bingo," she said quietly, ignoring Karen as she started to hunt through the refrigerator for a carton of half-and-half that wasn't expired. Chupacabra. She knew that particular beast, had even taken down a small one when she'd first started monster hunting for a living. And this one was terrorizing a neighborhood only five minutes from her apartment.
"You know what?" Karen said, interrupting her thoughts. "We should get a waffle maker. I can pick one up today and you can pay me your half whenever you get paid next."
Villa blinked. "I don't really eat waffles? Do you?"
"I don't know, I've never had a waffle maker to know."
"We live in walking distance to a Waffle Condo, you could go right now and order waffles," Villa pointed out. "And coffee," she muttered.
"I just think it would be nice. Oh we should get one that makes waffles in flower shapes!"
Submit. One dead chupacabra, coming up.
The alpha snarled and chomped, saliva and spittle flying from its jaws and dripping from its razor teeth. If Villa stopped to pivot and block it with the Blade of Doom, the chupacabra would tackle her straight to the ground before she could fully turn. And start ripping out her jugular or shredding her abdomen to disembowel her - like a hairy, stinky kind of stupid looking velociraptor. Oh, maybe chupacabra were descended from velociraptors? Villa hoped not - she was keeping pace so far, but the first open shed she found, she was going to lock herself in, and she did not need this rabid goat-sucker knowing how to turn door handles.
No sheds though. Only suburban houses too tightly packed in next to each other to have lawns, let alone sheds. No wonder this pack of chupacabras had been causing so much destruction to this neighborhood - not a chicken or goat for miles for them to feast upon. So there went Plan A. Plan B was go into an open house, but that looked like it was less and less feasible by the second. Which left Plan C.
Which Villa supposed was getting in a car, since there were a multitude of them parked on the streets. Stopping to check if any of them were unlocked would mean death, though. So she did the next best thing.
At the next intersection, she turned, spotted the first car parked on the street, and ran ahead with as much power and speed as she could muster. When she made it to the car, she leaped, stepping up the bumper, onto the hood, and tripping up to the roof of the vehicle, pulling out the Blade of Doom as she landed. The chupacabra might be confused by the change - or if it wasn't, maybe it would at least seize upon her legs, which were still sprawled across the windshield, first, giving her a chance to at least survive and bring the blade down for an attack.
She knew she wasn't so lucky when she heard the sound of sharp claws meeting metal and felt the car shifting underneath her with the added weight of the beast. She only had one shot and she had to make it count; with the Blade out and in her hands, she heaved herself to the left as hard as she could, rolling onto her back, swinging the sword in an arc as she did. She banged her left shoulder into the roof, hard, instantly feeling the sting but unable to have the luxury of exploring that pain. Her desperate attempt had come at the critical point; she managed to connect with the chupacabra's snout as she swung the sword, severing it off completely. A second later and it would have had its jaws on the back of her head.
Villa was almost as stunned as the chupacabra, rearing its head back to let out a howl of pain through an open throat. No time to think - she pushed her sword up into the creature's gut, impaling it and cutting off its howls. The weight of the beast had nowhere to go. It slumped forward on the sword, forcing Villa to let go of the hilt as the dead chupacabra landed on top of her body - its open face landing just above hers, so that the saliva and blood could drip down onto her mouth, and nose, and eyes.
Chupacabras would now need to be added to her list of jobs to skip for a while.
After some struggle, Villa was able to push the beast off and compose herself. She took a picture as quickly as she could, adding it to the others that she had managed to sneak in before the alpha chupacabra had seen what she had done to its packmates. She almost felt sorry for the poor thing. Then she remembered that she most likely had swallowed chupacabra snot at some point in the last five minutes and promptly kicked its corpse with a scowl on her face.
The sun had just barely gone down. She wasn't as bone tired as the night before, but she could tell the event was catching up with her. She started the trek to her apartment, becoming increasingly slow as the time passed. She also felt the weight of her torso dragging her down, as if her spine were no longer designed to hold her body upright.
By the time she reached the door, she realized that she was constantly drooling too. The damn thing must have hit her lip and busted it without her knowing.
This time, she had no problem opening the door to her apartment. She had forgone cleaning her sword again, but Karen didn't seem to be home, so she decided to simply sneak it into her bathroom where she could wash it in peace. Her breathing became a little more labored; perhaps she had been more tired than she realized after the whole incident with the penanggalan.
She dragged her heavy feet into her room and the adjacent half-bathroom. She turned the hot water in her sink on full blast and set about lifting the heavy sword onto the counter, clumsily, to start cleaning it off.
"Tori?" The front door slammed.
Villa rolled her eyes. Fantastic. She had been able to have just a single moment alone, it seemed. She raised her head to answer that she was in her bathroom when something very strange caught her eye.
Something about her bathroom mirror was terribly off. She had always kept her brown hair on the shorter side, but now it came out in wisps on the top of her head. And ran down her spine. On her grey-green scaly skin. With red, glowing eyes looking back at her and drool dripping down her sharp fangs.
"Tori?" Karen called again, now closer to her room. "I was thinking we could go out for dinner."
"I'm a fucking chupacabra," Villa whimpered to herself as she sprung into action, running from her bathroom into her bedroom, and slamming the door shut just in time to prevent Karen from entering and seeing her new hideous form. She pushed against it to keep it closed, on the off chance that Karen assumed the door had shut accidently and tried to walk in.
Villa tried to reply, but was having difficulty making her words sound like anything but the heavy breathing of a salivating monster.
"Wow," Karen said through the door. "You sound awful. I guess you caught a cold last night after all. Nevermind. I can bring something home, you want anything?"
"Goats!" Villa yelled before she could help it. She slapped her clawed hands around her mouth and pressed her face to the door, listening for any sign that Karen had been alarmed by the sound of her new demonic voice.
"Oh," Karen replied. "I think there's a new Greek place in midtown?"
"Please," Villa whimpered. "Just...go, find some?"
"Greek people eat goats, right? Or wait, is that sheep? I love Greek food anyway. Or oh, you know what, what about the sandwich place on fifth? They have a great tuna san-"
"GOATS, KAREN, BRING ME SOME FUCKING GOATS!"
Villatoria cringed and put her claws on her lips, hoping next time she could just rip her own mouth off to prevent another outburst.
"Wow that cold really did a number on your voice. I guess I could call the sandwich place and see- or ooh I could look up who serves goat meat in the city!"
Villa pressed her forehead against the door and glared holes through the wood, wishing against all reason and sense that some witch would burst into their house and turn Karen into a goat so that she could tear her hindquarters asunder and rip the sinewy flesh from her bones, thereby solving two very looming problems in her life at the moment: the increasing, uncontrollable need to have goat to feast on and the never-ending headache of her roommate, Karen Threadgood.
"You know what," Karen said, finally. "I'm just going to see what's open, drive around until something strikes my fancy. I know what you like."
Villa kept her mouth shut and resisted the urge to howl, "No you don't!" in her new, sad, beastly manner. She waited until she heard the jingle of Karen's keys and the slamming of the front door before she slid down to the floor and sprawled as best as she could with her newly curled haunches. "Why am I a fucking chupacabra?" she whined.
The snout. When she cut the snout off, all manner of effluvia had poured into open orifices. Maybe chupacabra were more like werewolves than they were velociraptors? She had been infected by the chupacabra virus! She would now spend the rest of her life hunched over and slobbering, whining about the lack of chicken blood to drink in the apartment. When Karen found out, she was sure to run to Villa's computer and look for the job board, posting her own hit. Need help now! Giant mutated chihuahua infested home! Does dishes but probably means to kill me someday.
The adrenaline of fighting the monsters from before and discovering the monster she was now quickly wore off, and as Karen took hours to return, Villa found herself so tired that she was able to curl up on the rug on the floor and ignore her biting hunger. Luckily for her, she was fast asleep by the time Karen returned and announced that she had brought home falafel.
No, because her sword was still lying across the sink. Her door had scratches in the wood from where she had clawed at it in impatience while waiting for food. That was going to sink their deposit. And when she exited her room, surprised to see that it was already noon, Karen met her with her sing-song voice: "So I know you said you wanted goat last night, but I ended up going to about three different places before I decided on getting my favorite."
Villa tuned her out. Was it a temporary curse? Would she morph again that night?
Regardless, it was time for a break, and she decided the next job would just have to wait a while. Who knew - maybe in a week she'd be used to turning into a chupacabra and it'd help her take down monsters a little faster. Or, at least, maybe help her tame her grocery bill.
It didn't matter. She was thankful that the incident had passed and she was ready to resume her life as Villatoria Prescott, Monster Hunter.
She fired up the job boards and started filtering out the new obvious "no"s. Nothing that cursed, nothing that rotted, nothing that oozed, nothing that could drown her, nothing that would eat her, nothing that would strangle her with entrails, nothing that would spray its inner juices at her face.
That essentially left a worm.
"I can handle a worm," she muttered to herself. She searched for details on the monster. "Long, but not tall. Can conduct lightning. Don't touch for prolonged periods of time." She mulled it over. It was this or wait another few days, hoping a vampire would attack enough people to get noticed.
"I can handle a worm," she repeated to herself, with more confidence.
People apparently did not know that Mongolian Death Worms could in fact spray acid from their mouths, which clearly violated at least some of her new restrictions. But it also came up to her ankle and well, ultimately, was still a worm. A very large worm, but it wasn't exactly able to deal with Villa's ace maneuvers, such as "walking around behind the worm" and "stabbing it in the ass." Or whatever worms had. It had thrashed and flailed and Villa took a picture with the Blade of Doom still stuck in its side, pinning it to the ground. It seized and then laid still, juices pouring out on all sides.
Villa quickly took the blade back. Worm handled.
She was gobsmacked to realize once she uploaded the proof to the posting that she had been so focused on filtering out qualities she wasn't willing to tackle at the moment that she had completely missed that the posting was rated at five stars. This was going to make bank - serious bank.
"For a worm?" she choked out.
Finally. Finally this was going to be it - this would finally put her finances in a stable enough place that she could move out and have her own little apartment. No more random things left at random places; no more Graham showing up because Karen gave him a key after they "broke up"; no more, "Hey Tori?" in sing-song voices as Karen asked her to finish her laundry for her so she could go meet up with friends for dinner at 3 pm. FIN. AL. LY.
As she headed home, a familiar sense of exhaustion began to settle into her muscles. She wasn't limping or dragging her feet or slowly ambling through as if floating in mid-air. She was just sinking lower and lower, until finally everything gave out and she collapsed on the ground in front of her apartment door, looking up to see the doorknob way above her head.
What the hell? Had the death worm sprayed some sort of invisible gas after she killed it? Was that why it was so dangerous?
She heard the door open and felt someone pick her up into their arms and pull her in. Karen wasn't that strong. For fuck's sakes, it was probably Graham, here to use the shower again for some reason. She opened her mouth to protest, but nothing came out but a slight high-pitched mewl.
The next thing she knew, she was on the floor of her own bedroom, staring up at her savior: herself.
"The fuck?" she said, trying to sit up and not making much progress.
Her own body looked down at her, seemingly furious. Her limbs were jittery and at odd angles like she was having trouble controlling the way her bones moved. In a high-pitched, shrieking voice that Villa had never heard herself speak in before, the other suddenly yelled, "Give back my body!"
"You, bag of sticks!" Villa's body yelled at her again. "Return me to my glorious shape, now! Exit my body, stick slave!"
Villa was at a loss. Surely this was a dream - perhaps the gas the worm released was one that caused confusion, rather than death. Although, it would be odd to not then call it a Mongolian Confusion Worm. Villa shook her head. Or she tried to, anyway - instead, she ended up shaking her whole being.
"Look!" her body demanded above her.
She couldn't stand up. She couldn't put her arms underneath herself to push up. Villa attempted to turn her head and peer back at the length of her body - all she saw behind her was the cut-off, red-tubing length of the worm.
"We...we switched bodies?" she asked.
"Yes! Bag of sticks! Give it back!" Villa - no, the worm - shrieked.
The worm had a gas that caused people to switch bodies? No, Villa clenched her muscles, rolling up her new worm form into a tight coil as she tried to think. She could feel the ache at the end of her length, where she had stabbed the worm and killed it, or so she thought. She was surprised to see that, instead, the last part of the worm's tail was simply missing - a segment that had been jettisoned.
"You cannot create death by stabbing a posterior!" she heard the worm shriek in her voice.
"The sword," she replied. She had used the Blade of Doom and became the worm, just as she had the chupacabra. It was no curse or toxin in the blood. Her aimless drifting after the first kill - she hadn't bothered to look at herself when she came home. She must have had her organs hanging underneath her head - no wonder Karen fainted at the front door!
Luckily, it seemed the worm had thought the sword important and brought it back with them. "The sword," she repeated, nodding her head toward it in the corner. "It must switch bodies with whatever I kill. Or, no, not switch really, not entirely. Curses me? Possesses me? I possess things?"
"Why would you use such an instrument?" the worm screamed.
"It was supposed to be a more efficient weapon! The Blade of Doom!" she yelled back.
"Did it specify whose doom it provided?"
Huh. No, it had not. She didn't really think that would even be a necessary thing to explain. Had there been any mention on how to get a refund…?
"Give my body back!" the worm hissed.
"Calm down," she replied, squirming her way to the bed. Moving through body oscillation was much harder than she realized. "It'll wear off in the morning and we'll be back to normal. I can't do anything about it now, so you might as well just go to bed."
"What if I use it on you now?"
"Do you want to lose another segment or do you want to just wait one night and return to your almost whole self?"
Villa saw the pout on her own face, the look of defeat in her eyes. "I have already lost my reproductive tract. I will sleep."
"Ew," Villa replied. "But good. It's late enough as is and I'm exhausted, so if you'll just put me on the bed?"
The worm glared at her and did not move. "Perhaps you do not understand the death part of being a death worm?"
Villa mulled it over. "You'd have to cuddle me all night for it to matter, right?" Her body did not move, or blink. "Okay, fine, I'll sleep here on the rug. You can change into clothes over there an- no, don't dump my clothes on the floor, what are you doing?!"
"I will not sleep in bindings!"
"They aren't bindings, they're clothes! And I have a roommate who has trouble with the concept of boundaries!"
"Not my concern, stick bag!"
"Fine, fine," Villa huffed, sighing and breathing as fast as her new little worm body could. "Just get on the bed and go to sleep."
"Worms do not sleep in beds! Worms sleep under!" it shrieked, dropping Villa's body to the ground and looking for a way to squirm underneath the small rise under the bed.
"You can sleep under the covers on the bed! Please, just do this one thing and tomorrow I promise I'll let you live when our bodies switch back."
Villa felt unnerved as she saw her own icy glare aimed in her direction. "Acceptable."
Villa woke with a start and strained around her to see that she was not, in fact, stretched out in her own bed, her own skin and her own hair and her own body parts there in a lump under the bedding. Rather, she was still at the foot of the bed, buried halfway into the shag carpet of the tiny green rug in her room. Villatoria Prescott's skin, and her hair, and her still very naked body, was standing above her, thoughts of death reflected in her squinting eyes.
"Hold on! Hold on!" Villa cried, trying to rouse her worm body lest she'd have to quickly dodge an invertebrate trying to stab her with great precision on only its second day ever of having limbs. The carpet felt wet - she must have secreted something overnight. The rug would definitely need to be burned. Along with probably most of the things in this room, if she survived.
"I don't understand," she told the worm. "I'm supposed to change back! It happened with the chupacabras and the penanggalan I kil- oh." She hadn't killed the worm, only maimed it. If she wanted to have her body back, the Mongolian Death Worm had to die. Or, at least lose another segment. "Okay," she admitted. "Stabbing...actually might be reasonable."
"Tori? Are you awake?"
Villa sucked in a quick breath and tensed all of her worm muscles, odd spikes shooting out of her back and oscillating as she writhed in the carpet. Not. Now.
"Be gone bag of sticks!" the worm shouted through the closed bedroom door.
"Her name is Karen," Villa hissed.
"BE GONE, BAG OF KAREN!"
"We're kind of out of coffee," Karen continued, seemingly unfazed by Villa's voice screaming at her in tandem with the high-pitched hissing of a death worm rolling around, smacking furniture loudly. "Are you going out? If you're going out today, could you pick some up? I'm going to go help Graham move a couch."
"I must spray acid at the bag of Karen," the worm growled, moving toward the door.
"Wait, wait wait wait!" Villa yelled, started to scoot closer to the other. "You can't spray acid at Karen."
"You have my acid reservoir. You will spray."
"Look, worm-" No, she didn't like addressing it like that. She sighed. "Just hold on, okay? Let's start again before we spray anyone with acid. We need to work together - you and I. So let's start off simple. What's your name?"
Villa saw the confused look on her own face, and then the incredulity that came with having to answer such a question. "Death."
"I'm not calling you 'Death,' that's ridiculous."
"I am a death worm!"
"What do other worms call you? Like your family? Do you have any brothers or sisters or siblings?" Villa asked.
"We consume our siblings upon hatching to ensure the superior specimen's dominance." Duh.
Villa shuddered. "Your parents?"
"We consume our parents upon hatching to ensure the superio-"
"Okay, okay, what about friends? Mates? Just other worms?"
Villa sighed. "They're death worms too, do you just all call each other Death? How do you not get confused about which Death you're talking about?"
Villa's face blinked. "We consume our acquaintances upo-"
"Nevermind," Villa said, feeling the urge to throw up. She had to quash her nausea and any thoughts of what might happen if she did spew the worm's stomach contents: bits of Aunt Death or just a puddle of acid? "I need to call you something so that we can talk." She mulled it around for a moment - Mongolian Death Worm. MDW. "How about...Meadow?"
"Meadow of Death?" the worm asked.
"No, just, Meadow," Villa offered.
Villa's body crouched low to the ground - the worm put her face as close to the carpet as it dared to stare into its own...eyes? Villa hadn't remembered seeing eyes. How was she even visually processing any of this? "Acceptable," the worm finally said.
"Wonderful. Okay, so Med, you can't just-"
"Med was not the agreed title."
"Meadow," Villa conceded with some exasperation. "You cannot kill Karen. Okay, we'll just wait for her to leave and then you can use the Blade of Doom on a place that won't cause you too much damage and everything will be fine. Please." She coiled up. "I'm not going to spit acid at her and I doubt you'll do much damage tackling her naked."
"Acceptable," the worm said through Villa's clenched teeth.
"Tori?" Karen called again through the door. "Are you still there? That's a yes to you getting the coffee, right? Okay well I'm going to the park! It's a beautiful day! See you later!"
Villa clenched her mouth - was that the right word? Did worms have mouths? - shut to prevent the rising acid. "You are Tori?" she heard Meadow ask. "No. I am Villa," she grunted. Maybe just a little acid. In a shoe. Or on Karen's toothbrush. Would it really hurt that much?
"I will stab you," Meadow said. Villa couldn't be sure, but it almost seemed like Meadow spoke with the slightest sliver of sympathy, now. "My body instead of this terrible bag of sticks."
"Where," Villa started, "...where would be the best place? Maybe you can just put a hand on the sword and I can impale myself where you can spare a segment? What about this?"
"That is a heart."
"Okay why would you have a heart next to your reproductive...tract?"
"Is that not obvious?"
"What do you not need?" Villa asked quickly to avoid any further conversation about that particular benefit in anatomy design.
"The acid reservoir will produce minor permanent damage. Here," Meadow said, pointing to the neck area on Villa's worm body. That was a little too close to the head for comfort. At least for what Villa was used to - maybe death worms kept their brains in their stomachs and she wouldn't be risking near lobotomization?
Villa took as deep a breath as she could manage. "Okay, you want your oozey, wiggling, weird body back and I want to put on clothes, so...let's try this. Let's go ahead and if you'll pick up the sword."
Before Meadow could nod, turn, and hoist the Blade of Doom, the door flew open and Karen walked in, absorbed in her phone. "Yes, I'm going to ask her for a ride right now." Speakerphone conversations - the worst. "Villa can drive me to the park and then to your place an- what the…."
Villa watched as Karen dropped her phone and stood aghast. Sure, Karen had pretty much known that she was into some weird things and sometimes brought home unwanted souvenirs from her battles. But this wasn't right. For all Karen could tell, "Villa" seemed to be frozen in place, naked to boot, and nowhere near her weapon, while a disgusting, bright red, oozing thing that Karen probably just assumed was a snake - of course, she hated snakes more than anything - was poised to attack. Villa knew that Karen had never thought of herself as a brave woman, but it seemed clear that at that moment she knew what she had to do; she could see it in Karen's eyes that her time was now - she would be the hero. She would grab that sword, oh so conveniently close to her, and murder this horrifying mutated snake before her.
"Karen, no, stop!!" Villa yelled. But Karen didn't seem to hear her. The only noise that seemed to come out was a high pitched whine with the gargling of acid spittle flying to the floor.
At first the worm seemed content to let the action unfold - only too late to realize that someone else stabbing with the sword would do it no good. And, worse yet, that this crazed bag of sticks meant to puncture its vital cerebral ganglia.
"Karen, you don't know-!" Villa tried yelling out one last time, as the sword came down on her head, shoving through the skin and the muscle. Huh, guess the brain was exactly where she feared it would be. Villa felt her head ripping in half as everything went dark and acid started draining out of her corpse.
"It is not enjoyable, is it?"
No, she supposed not. She never really had sympathy for her targets before - after all, they were monsters who typically preyed upon the weak and hapless. But now, with a ringing, stinging headache that felt like the ocean was rocking back and forth between her ears, she could at least understand that dying was a fairly unpleasant experience to go through. She blinked her eyes and looked across the room. Villatoria Prescott's naked, crouched body, looking at her with what could have been described as concern.
"Unacceptable," Meadow replied, sitting fully on the floor and glancing to the corpse next to her. Her eyes seemed glossy. Villa felt that way too, sudden tears that she hadn't planned or were used to welling up and falling down her cheeks at the sight.
The worm's corpse had been split, stabbed - ganglia smeared on the carpet that were fizzling away with leaks of acid and gastric juices.
"No," Villa whimpered, in the tone of Karen Threadgood's voice. "Anything but this."
Meadow gave her an icy glare. Villa had always liked her own appearance - she knew she probably wasn't considered the most beautiful woman in the world, but she liked the shape of her nose and the way her hair framed her face. She had spent all her life learning and loving Villatoria Prescott. Now, having to constantly see her own scowl, her own fiery stare of death, her own sheer disappointed pout all the time...it was unnerving.
"Stick bags have odd customs."
Right, like not vomiting up acid? Villa shook her head. Karen had had an enormous amount of thick, curly, heavy hair - and even after cutting almost all of it off in the past few weeks, it was still taking her some time to get used to the new balance. "You don't have to wear a skirt if you don't want to," she said, looking over Meadow's outfit in the changing area of the department store. She had grabbed a number of things to try on herself, but she had trouble figuring out her new dimensions, her new staple sizes. She couldn't even wear wool now. She had tried to give Meadow the opportunity to choose her own new ensemble, something that would make her feel comfortable in this still awkward transition - but when Meadow had pitifully stared at an associate's forgotten dust pan, asking, "Is this a clothing?" Villa had no choice but to step in and guide her to what she already knew looked good.
Meadow made a face. "It is not the...skirt that is unacceptable." She paused, running her hands down her hips - she still didn't understand what those were for - and looked slightly lost. "This underwear thing defies logic."
"Well," Villa replied. "My parents are coming into town for the holiday and I wear underwear, so you're just going to have to get used to it."
Meadow sighed. "You should have consumed your parents as a hatchling," she muttered.
"Try the next one," Villa said, dismissing her.
"And you should have eaten the bag of Karen when she moved in!" she yelled as the changing room door closed.
Villa cocked her head. Maybe Meadow wasn't too far off about that one….