Today we’re treated with a short story from David Dalglish, author of the Half-Orcs series and Shadowdance Trilogy. For more information on David, please visit his website at ddalglish.com
I Was Once…
My first sensation was of the earth, cold and loose, as I dug my way toward the surface. My thoughts were chaotic fragments of images, without names or meaning. I felt my fingernails peel back, felt rocks rip into my flesh. No pain.
Why was there no pain?
I wasn’t breathing. Dirt caked against my lips and nostrils, but it didn’t matter. No fire burned in my lungs. I didn’t even have to fight the impulse. My frantic clawing increased, and I felt memories hanging like monsters in the distance, threatening to overwhelm me. When my fist punched into open air, I might have cried if I had any tears left in my eyes. Thrashing, clawing, I emerged. My eyes were open, but I saw little, just darkness, and a man. Impulses filled me, a feral anger that directed me toward him, this shapeless shadow.
Something slipped around my neck. Awareness struck me hard enough I thought I might fall backward. I didn’t, though. I only stood there, my mouth hanging open, my arms stiff at my sides. My vision improved, and in the sudden stillness I took in my surroundings. The night was dark, clouds blotting out the stars. Candles surrounded me, creating a blasphemous formation that filled my stomach with fire upon seeing it. All around me were tombstones, but I could not read the letters. And towering over me was the man.
He was tall, pale of skin, with his long hair falling down past his shoulders. He wore a strange robe, but underneath I caught site of simple jeans. Various amulets and trinkets hung from leather straps about his neck. I keenly remembered wanting to hurt him, but the impulse was gone. Nothing about him was familiar, but he seemed to know me.
“Welcome back, Jessie,” he said, and his thin lips spread into a grin.
I looked down at myself. I wore what might have once been a pretty dress, though it was wrinkled and dirty now. As for its color, I couldn’t tell. Colors seemed strange to me. It’d torn during my climb, exposing bare, gray flesh. Upon my chest I saw two breasts, purple, thin, and sagging, but breasts nonetheless. Between them hung a red crystal, like many of the trinkets master wore. Long, stringy hair cascading down past my face. My hair.
I was a woman, and my name was Jessie. That was all I knew.
“Kneel,” said the stranger.
My body acted on its own, without hesitation. I fell to my knees. With strange detachment, I watched my flesh rip away as I scraped against a stone, exposing the bony white kneecap beneath. No pain, only sensations. I was getting better at recognizing them, realizing what they were. I tried to ignore the squirming sensations deep inside me, fearing I knew what they were. At some point they’d burrow their way free, eat through my eyeballs, and fill my lungs with eggs. But not yet.
Two more things I knew, then. I’d been buried recently, and this man was not just a man, but my master.
“That bitch still won’t let me touch her,” said my master as he patted his robe, looking for something. He pulled out a picture from the pocket of his jeans and held it before me.
“Recognize her, Jessie?” he asked.
I tried to answer, but my jaw refused to cooperate. My tongue squirmed inside my mouth like it was an alien thing. My response came out as a guttural moan, indecipherable even to me.
“Just nod or shake your head,” said my master. “I can’t understand a word you’re saying. Now do you recognize her?”
It took a moment of concentration, but the muscles in my neck finally relented. My head swung side to side, jerky, over exaggerated movements, but they were the best I could do.
“That’s fine,” he said. “Don’t matter none. Look at the picture. Look closely. Her name is Liz. You know where she lives, don’t you?”
I did. I couldn’t answer how, or why, but as I stared at the picture, and felt the candles burning about me, I knew I could find her with my eyes closed. She burned like a beacon in the distance, a cold brightness overwhelming the rest of the world’s muted grays. Like I said, colors were strange now.
“I asked you a question,” he said. My head flung all the way back, then slammed forward. Wasn’t me this time. I’d had no choice in the matter. He seemed pleased. I might have felt revulsion at the sick grin on his face, but compared to the sick sloshing in my abdomen, of my intestines swimming in formaldehyde, it was only a mild irritation.
“Go get her,” my master said. “Tear her throat out, then return here. I’ll be waiting.”
I let out another guttural moan. My waist twisted, and I felt my muscles tearing. They didn’t want to move, everything was so stiff. I had no choice, though, no choice. Master wanted Liz killed, and so I would. My upper half facing the right way, my legs shifted to follow. Soft popping noises came from my joints as I shuffled about. My movements gained a bit of gracefulness, so to speak. The stiffness was leaving me, step by step.
“Go get her,” my master said again, and it urged me on. Liz. Find Liz. Kill her. Tear out her throat. Imagining her blood welling across my tongue filled me with a shocking hunger. Deep in my belly, I felt the ache, the yearning to consume something still bleeding. Still overwhelmed with emotions. Still alive.
Master must have woken me in the deepest part of night, the streets were so quiet. The graveyard I left was small, almost cozily surrounded by long roads decorated with cute houses. I tried reading one of the road signs, but the letters were jumbled, and made no sense. It was as if they were written in a language I could no longer read. I didn’t need the signs though, only tried using them as a way of pretending humanity. That distant light, that certainty of direction, made me uneasy. It wasn’t natural for me to know where she was, to know she slept on her bed in a little one bedroom half of a duplex.
Of course, the only thing natural about me was the way the worms were slowly working their way through my intestines, shitting in my dry veins, and eating their way through the last remnants of my soft tissue. I could even feel them squirming behind my eyeballs. Their soft bites into the back of my retinas were…uncomfortable. It didn’t hurt. It didn’t have to. Knowing what it was, that they were there, was a million times worse. I felt it all. Every nibble. Every sliding movement. I had a few beetles too, for nothing compared to the skittering of their legs down my windpipe.
I walked down the center of the street, the movement of my legs coming easily now. Liz wasn’t far, and for that I was thankful. Once she was gone, I would be free. I wasn’t sure how I knew this, but I did. She was why I had returned. Her, and master. Once I pleased master, he’d let me go, let me sink back into the abyss he’d yanked me out of. I tried to think of the beyond he’d taken me from, but I couldn’t. Just like my memories, my past, it was a solid blankness without any give. Heaven or Hell, it didn’t matter. Both had to be better than this. The flies had found me now, and I could not swat them away.
Liz shone like the sun in my mind, she was so close. As I approached her door, I stopped. My mind was working, and it was pleasant to have something else to think about than my multitude of sensations. Could I break through the door? Or should I use a window? She could outrun me, I knew. That meant any warning was bad. I couldn’t smash through a window, nor wail on the door until it gave. What to do?
Staring at the door, I tilted my head to one side, then reached out my hand. The doorknob was smooth, and when I gripped it, I felt my flesh start to slip off the bones of my fingers. I turned it, but it was locked. To the window I went, which had a row of tall bushes in front. Their branches scratched open pustules of my skin. Looking inside, I saw an empty living room. Good. Grabbing the window, I lifted. It might have been hard, but what did a little tearing of muscle matter to me anymore? The lock on the window was old, and it hadn’t been shut fully, only barely catching the side. With a creak, it opened.
I climbed inside.
My landing on her carpet was far from graceful. I hit head first, then rolled onto my back. My scalp shifted, and my hair slid lower, as if I’d messed up a bad wig. Cool air blew across my exposed skull. The feeling was good, except when the flies followed me in and landed atop it.
Liz, I thought. I know where you are, Liz.
Slowly I rose to my feet. My roll had torn open the flesh of my back, and I felt something wet slide down my legs. Pieces of me fell out my dress and to the carpet. I didn’t notice, much. At Liz’s door, I once more grabbed the knob and twisted. It gave, and I pushed it open.
I must have made a noise, for I felt a rumble in my throat. Perhaps I was too excited to be there. I was overwhelmed by her brightness, by the comforting fact that master wanted this, would be happy at my accomplishment. Liz sat up in her bed, and the poor girl’s mouth dropped open at sight of me. It took her a full second before she screamed. It probably took her that long to believe what her eyes saw.
“Oh god, help!” she shrieked.
I took a step closer, and my arms reached for her throat. Master had been very specific.
Liz flung a pillow at me, then rolled off the opposite side of the bed. I blocked the door, though, and her windows were too small for her to escape through, not in time. Another step, and another, my hands always reaching. I moaned, feeling something akin to pleasure, as my hand brushed her arm. Liz batted me away, but now the stiffness of my joints was working for me. We were about the same size, but she couldn’t shove me, couldn’t overpower me. I was the stronger.
She grabbed a lamp and swung. It hit me in the stomach, and I lost my balance. Teetering forward, my mouth opened, and streams of fluids gushed down my lips and chin. Some of it splashed across Liz’s nightie, and this amused me. I lashed out, catching her wrist as she tried to run past me. She yanked and pulled, but I would not relent. My fingers would not open. Her desperation grew as I pulled her closer. Tear out her throat, master’s words echoed in my head. Tear it out.
He didn’t say how, and I still had most of my teeth.
Liz thrashed and screeched, her hands raking across my body, tearing rotted flesh and spilling worms across her floor. It wouldn’t matter. Nothing could stop me.
And then her arm caught on the leather strap holding the red crystal between my breasts. It tore, and as it fell to the ground, I froze. Memories assaulted me, terrible in their strength. I still held onto Liz, but out of instinct, nothing more. My hunger remained, but the light surrounding her was gone. I opened and closed my mouth as Liz sobbed uncontrollably.
I knew who I was.
I let her go, and she ran. It didn’t bother me. Her name was Liz. She was master’s infatuation, but unlike me, she’d been smart enough to refuse his advances, to know what lurked beneath that charming grin of his.
My lumbering gait took me back to the graveyard, and I knew I’d be far enough away before any police or ambulance arrived. Master was waiting for me, but I knew his name now. He wasn’t master, oh no. He was just Harold.
“Did you kill her?” he asked as I neared. I let out a moan, pushing the soupy air from my lungs into my vocal chords. He frowned. I saw his eyes drop to my chest, saw the horror hit him as he realized the crystal was no longer there. Too late, though. I had his arms, had him in an embrace we had shared for many, many years.
I inhaled again, forcing my hollow lungs to cooperate.
“Hello…husband,” I told him.
I kissed his lips, felt his scream breathe into me. My teeth closed around his tongue, and I bit. Blood dripped down my throat, and I moaned again. I was hungry. So hungry.
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