Even before I saw you I had that feeling. Something was about to happen that would change the course of my existence. It must have been a Thursday. I’m sensitive on Thursdays. On Thursdays, my instincts are like sharp razors. 

     I had been inside Dean’s body for eleven months and I knew I was being watched. That somebody was breaking inside my apartment. I could sniff out your spoor. Or was it along the bank of a nameless river? I get confused about the when these days. I breathed your scent of sweat and musk, together with the moist aroma of your genitalia.  

     I crept behind the shadow of your movements. I sensed how you had kicked your shoes out of the way and nestled your bare feet in my slippers. I tasted the traces of your feet on them. You changed the batteries of the clock on the wall, the one with the red arrows, so it worked again. You tried on my clothes and my underwear too. My boxers smelled of you, Laura. 

     How curious I was about you! How I had to know! Who does that?  Who breaks into homes and fixes appliances? What did you want from me? Did you know of me? Were you like me? Were you sent? Wished me harm?

     It all happened backward with us. 

    Remember when I brought that blond home? Her hair was so electric as if strands of mulberry silk fiber grew out of her scalp. In a week, I found the woman’s nail under my pillow – red as a cherry and some of her blond hairs on top of it. You planted them. And I thought I was about to read of her death somewhere in the newspapers. I was flattered by your attention, but I feared someone would come knocking on my door. Did jealousy trigger you? And you and I hadn’t even met back then. You thought I had no idea. Your interest in me was like a mirror, and you know how my vanity knows no limits, my sweetheart. 

     You don’t know how romantic I am, my love. This episode was a one-time thing, an experiment. That’s what I wanted — an empty experience to veil me in lightness. I was still depressed from almost having eaten Tom. I wanted to see if I could take control – of my life; of my urges. But you couldn’t have known that. How human you were back then, how tiny and cute, but smart! So smart, you didn’t even realize it. 

     I will tell you everything. I will spill my blood and guts. In the end, it was only you, Laura. It’s always been you. 

                                                                                                                     ***

     I took Kara’s body right before I became the man who met you.

     My life as Kara was calm. Quiet. When I ate Kara, it was her gracious legs that attracted me. They screamed wild horses, wild horses. Even when the body got old, those legs refused to age. I want to explain to you, only to you, my love.

      I want you to look inside my soul, the way I never devoured you. Although it was my instinct. 

     Whenever I transformed, it was like falling in love. I paid attention to people’s details, their movements, their gestures, the way they wore their hair. I noticed the perfection of skin, the imperfection of skin. Scars were important to me; ghosts of wounds I used as portals. The posture of limbs, hands, palms, fingernails. I could write poems about how people walked on the street. Their flesh spoke to me. Only to me.

      I held her from behind, and I wrapped my hands around her throat. Kara fought with a vigor that made her even more appealing. So tiny! So fierce! So perfect! I squeezed. Her flesh was tender, her bones – soft. They crunched beneath my fingers while I was watching her legs twitch. Typically the eyes, unblinking, were what invited me inside my victims. The precise moment they understood what I gave them. 

     Love. 

     Kara’s eyes were gorgeous, fast and curled at the ends. But to gaze at her legs was an instinct, and back then I always followed my instincts. The movement of her legs tried to tell me something. Her legs spoke in morse code, telling me about me — who I was, where I was from. All the things I didn’t know. And I held her dead. 

     What was I telling you? I have forgotten what I wished to remember and remembered what I wanted to forget.

     I had to eat the heart to transform into my next body. And it was a savage act. But it was not new. It is not an easy effort for a human to eat a whole heart. And as I was in the body of a human, at one point swallowing the chunks becomes difficult. It sticks to the walls of your gullet, like trying to swallow a large pill with no water. My absolute favorite is the semilunar valve. It is the heart of the heart. But the arteries are too chewy and my jaw would hurt for days. 

     Imagine what’s it like to be in this spot, torn between your body - your meat suit, and your creature – your soul. Because if the body is not the soul, what is the soul? Kara’s heart tasted like dirt.  

     Oh, how I wished to know my own body! To remember its form. Did I have a feathered tale? Was I like a Leviathan? Was I a planet? Or what was my planet like? Was my world timeless? One with no name or measure. Or was it known and awed by a hundred galaxies? The thought I still had no answers rose in the darkness like an ugly invisible disease that eats you from the inside until only your skin is left hanging over a hollow bone.

     In my life as Kara, I decided to take a partner. I felt most alone when surrounded by people, and most communal when on my own. Tom respected that.

     I switched so many lives and so many bodies and Tom was my truest marriage. In the midst of an inferno, he was not inferno. Tom brought me peace. Sixty years with him have been a quiet pleasure that passed as fast as deep night sleep. I recognized Tom as the perfect companion. He endured. I gave him his space, and he gave me mine. We went to the same pool for half a year until Tom dared to introduce himself. 

     I like to see shy people cross their lines and get themselves out there. 

     I learned from Tom how to live with someone. Don’t be jealous, my dear, he prepared me for you. Old age brought me…happiness. Yes, I believe I was happy. Until I wasn’t. Until the beast came and knocked on my door, grinning like a cat. The beast was me.

     The door opened. I luxuriated inside the bathtub, neck-deep in bubble foam. The water was pleasant, womb-like.  Tom entered and started to bathe me. The sponge went roughly down my skin. Even in his old age, he still pressed too hard, and my skin was too thin to tolerate it. It felt as if he could tear it as easily as a wet newspaper. Tom always had roughness in his movements. It was a problem when he still used to touch my vagina. I twitch.

     “Sorry, am I pressing too hard?” he asked. I did not answer.

     “Kara?” 

     His hands never shrunk from old age as the rest of our bodies. My own hands didn’t seem my own anymore. Freckles spilled all over them. These were an old person’s hands. 

     Tom enveloped me in a towel and helped me out of the bathtub. I suddenly felt aware of my ruffled body and the dripping hair pasting around it in long wet locks. But my legs were still long and slender. Shapely. 

      For a person who doesn’t know regret, I regret the last words I had spoken to Tom. 

      “Are you stupid,” What childish ghost had possessed me! “You don’t know anything about me.” 

     At times I couldn’t recognize him.  Something was badly wrong. I stayed above his face at night and watched him sleep. My jaw hurt, the world flashed and reeled. I didn’t believe myself. He was turning into meat. I would come to myself in the morning. I had frightened him. I wanted to calm him. But I seemed to make things worse. One day my instinct prevailed. 

     I came to myself in the wreckage of Tom. His remains were splattered all over our bedroom. The mattress had to go. It traumatized me. That’s what happens when I defy my nature. 

     Laura, my love, I cried. I wept for two days covered in the remains of my husband. But I did not eat him.  I did not eat him. 

                                                                                                                      ***

     I went out on the street and walked to the South Ferry. It was noon, the sky like pewter. I stared in the faces and bodies of people trapped in the pale light, which rumbled outside. For the how-many-years of my life, air never felt so frigid. It was like eating ash. A constant smog clung outside. 

     I fished in my coat’s left pocket, took out my scarf and wrapped it around my neck and mouth. I looked at the sea below, and the water offered me a dark oily reflection, a distorted galaxy. 

     I had to do it to someone today. 

     I heard everyone’s hearts breathing. It was easier to change when you were old. The skin is rather thin, and it sheds better.

     I took Dean that day.

     If I only knew he would be the man to bring me to you. 

     My old body was beginning to malfunction. Dean’s muscles were visible through his shirt; his cut features made his face look like a polygon, roughed up but at the same time attractive. He was tall too. But what brought me to him were the urine-yellow eyes. I could dive inside his eyes.  I tripped in front of him, and a lucid stone pierced my brow. He helped me home and entered my apartment with ease, like he was the owner.

     This was not supposed to be seen, Laura. Tell me, should I be defined only by my wildest edges?

     I used both hands to open up his thorax, thrust myself inside, and reached for it. 

     Dean’s heart beat in my hand in a steady and slippery pace, like the rhythm of your fellatio. 

      I tried to take a bite from his heart, but I couldn’t chew with those teeth, the meat was sinewy. I nibbled on it. The pressure was too much for my jaw. I hurt my gums. My gums bled and this blood mixed with the one from the heart. I slipped the prosthesis out. Trying to do anything with bare jaws aggravated me. The heart was smooth and slippery in my mouth like a fish. I cut it in smaller pieces and finally swallowed it.

     To shed my skin was not as natural as a snake shedding. I thought it would be easier now, Kara’s skin being so wrinkly and thin. It looked like I could almost flake it off. I nipped a small part, right there on my right shoulder. It immediately started to itch. And right now each part of my body tickled and itched as if I had cooties all over. An itch I’ve known forever; an itch that was life and at the same time death. I scratched. I scratched with vigor, scratched and scratched until the wound began to ooze. 

     The mind needs to prepare first. It is a process as physical, as it is mental. While the epidermis gave way to the dermis, I worked my way through the papillary, to the subcutaneous tissue and reached muscle and fat. I continued to claw on it with nails and teeth and cutlass.  The meat covered up with a film of moisture. Blood ate its way down my body. My intestines were going to spill out. Inside, I burnt. Like I had a huge lava ball settled inside my guts. It tremored and occasionally pumped fire tongues up and down. 

     After I flayed myself, I liked to look at myself skinless like that, without my wrapping. Bones jutting out and parts hanging from my body in a shape that had no name. A dark passenger, rolling naked through this earth.

     Cartilages formed and crusted. I commanded my juju, with all the free will I was capable of, to change the old bodysuit to my next lifeform. Limb after limb after limb… 

     Bones grew, fingers bloomed. My bare face pumped with each nanometer of progress. Then all of my body smoothed out. And skin formed to try and contain it. Skin, at first tender and translucent as the wings of a dragonfly. It would break if I probed it with a finger.  Kara was shorter than Dean. It was easy to transmute from a shorter to a taller person because the bone grew painlessly. (Except for the teeth. This was deafening pain.) But when you had to become shorter, the bones had to be disassembled and assembled again.

     I stayed secluded during those first days. Tightly hugging myself in a ball. An embryo without a mother. Unsafe. Everything was still adjusting, skin and fresh body parts had to break in. Remains had to be cleaned up.

     What was real?  A giant bird that stirred in its sleep. Is it real?

                                                                                                            ***

     Was I a stranger to you, or were you a stranger to me? 

     It was nice being strong again.  Dean was a male in prime. Boners surprised me. I was in awe of my own penis. Its shape, firmness, length, its veins. 

     My first hunt inside the body of Dean taught me so much. It was when I felt well put inside his body. My body. It was when I made peace with what had already happened and what was about to happen. 

I never felt very comfortable in the forest. I was wearing my camouflage; the forest wore hers. Nature always gave me a feeling of delusion, loneliness, and desperation. But I loved to hunt. I loved my prey. I connected with my prey on a level close to perfection. On a level close to my connection with you. 

     The rain had made everything damp, slimy, and sinking. The spongy ground molded around my feet. I watched the shadows of the sparrows, vibrant and pulsating smudges. I moved and marched, thrusting my feet into the mushy ground. I felt like a duplicate. Myself, my body, my teeth, my guns. 

     I saw four deer. They walked graciously in the hills above me, but I knew in my gut this was not what I was looking for. I knew they couldn’t love me. And I moved away from them.

     After some time, I saw a mother doe and her baby come out from the trees. This was it! What I was looking for was right here! First, I was looking at the mother. But then her baby came shyly behind her and looked at me, straight in the eye. I tell you, straight into my eyes, straight inside my soul and I – in hers. Oh what tenderness, what love, what shy curiosity showed inside those eyes. And a little sadness -- deep inside her gaze and deep inside my heart. 

     My shot was clean. I walked at a fast pace to the fawn, and the mother escaped. She was still breathing. I took her head with both my hands and looked deep inside her eyes. For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon her bed of leaves, then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily. And in her violent and now final death-agonies, I kissed her. A long hard kiss. Because she didn’t know it, but she was dead, and in a way, I couldn’t have loved her more.

     I took out the eyes with one swift move each and ate them. For my visions. For my future. For our future Laura. I saw you. I see you. I will always see you.

     I felt for the doe what I was about to feel for you. You were the one who was spying on me, chasing me, my little munchkin. I was the one chasing the doe. And the doe was waiting for me so that I can love her. So that I can eat her. She recognized in me her destiny. An everlasting cycle, my cycle, a cycle that I could understand, a pattern I could read. 

     I know this. People live on a land of ignorance, and they will not voyage far. But not me. And not you, my love. We will open up vistas of realities.

     Do you remember our first meeting? Some social gathering. Was it a market? An opening? A new store? A gallery? Theatre? I never paid attention to these things. I just trusted the energy, the instinct to tell me where to go, which crowded place had something special for me. And oh, I saw you. Dancing through the people, my bright star. So lovely! I recognized you the second I smelled you, the fluid dripping on your glass, on your cigarette bud, on the clutch you occasionally dabbed with your long fingers. The white dress you wore did not hide you but emphasized your bulky forms. Your flesh was firm. Your arms - muscular. First, you moved, then your dress moved, and then you jingled with the sound of your jewelry. Rings twined your fingers. Your nails were red. And your neck cuffed in a choker. I have not seen anything more beautiful than you, my angel. I salute you for your seeming effortlessness.

     “Aren’t you having the worst time?” you said half turned to me.

     I slid a cigarette between my lips and offered you one. You refused. I watched your direct blue eyes through the smoke. 

     “You see that woman over there?” You pointed to a tall brunette.

     I did.

     “Doesn’t she look like a horse to you?” you said.

     She did. Her teeth were too big for her mouth.

     “You wanna know why?” you said.

     “Tell me.”

     “Since there is a shortage of supply of souls in heaven. Because of  overpopulation.” you said and gulped. “So whenever you see someone who reminds you of an animal, it’s because of the shortage; they take souls from the animals and give them to people. So, that woman right there was a horse in her previous life.”

     The woman’s big teeth showed even through closed lips. Her hair was brown and rusty, like old menstrual blood. 

     “I like it,” I said. “Was I a person or an animal?”

     You looked at me. “You were an animal.”

     “It’s not a bad thing,” You continued. “On the contrary, it’s better. People could be so plain.”

     You were so smart, my gorgeous princess.

     “Which animal?” I asked.

     You looked again in my eyes and squinted. “An owl. It’s a great soul animal, don’t worry.”

     “I’m Laura, by the way.” 

     I took your hand and shook it with one firm grip. You looked at our hands with approval. 

     “I got to go and look for a bathroom.” And you disappeared into the labyrinth of people and sweaty armpits and buzz.

 

     Our second meeting happened at Doctors’Garden — the little park I’d sit and just watch people pass by. Listen to their heartbeats. Was there a garden or was the garden a dream?

     I was sketching a drawing. I called it - A man flaying a calf in the snow

     And there you were. Your hair was black and slick like ravens’ feathers, your skin lucid snow, and your lips - red. You sat next to me on the wet grass. Your presence was pleasant.

     “Mind if I take a look?” you said and slithered closer.

     Your long fingers swirled around my arm and a massive copper ring squeezed your index finger. I slid it out. It was spherical and cold. Like I was running a finger through the hollow sockets of a skull. It engulfed all the sun and reflected it on the cement. The bright sun spot was nimble across the shade. I directed the sun-specter, this rare jewel, right into your mouth. 

     I wanted to eat you, my love, to take your heart and chew until its juices trickled red down my chin.

     Blue intricate veins cobwebbed the transparent skin of your temple. I read the pumping of the veins as I would read a book. Nothing appealed to me as your desire for me.

                                                                                                             ***

     I liked to stay at your apartment and find the thick dust-spots on the top of your doors. Ninety-eight percent of the dust in our homes is dead skin cells. Your dead skin cells. 

     After each day we spent together and dust inhaled, I believed I knew you better. 

     Or was it worse? As you filled my lungs with your dust, you filled my heart with your different lives. 

You lied about everything, Laura. But with lies uniquely your own. Your encyclopedia knowledge was impressive. I believed your stories not because of naiveté, but because of their truth. Does it matter if you build castles in the air? Are they not still there …

     People who felt things as intensely as you were either in a mental asylum, or dead. I saw something once hidden amidst the shelves of your library. A private note. Laura, where was this ripped from?

                                                                       The patient, age 10, has an excitable imagination, allowing her to

                                                                  metamorphose into her imaginary characters. Symptoms include depression, anxiety

                                                                  disorders, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. Pathology is not confirmed, but the

                                                                  patient pushes herself in its direction in a manner she believes creative. The cause of

                                                                  her mental instability is childhood trauma. A history of mental illness is observed on

                                                                  her  mother's side. A parent who couldn’t meet her most basic need for nurture and was

                                                                  never satisfied by her achievements. ( a bitter and neglected wife, who felt a threat

                                                                  from the very birth of her daughter?  Mother jealous from daughter?) Disorganized

                                                                  attachment - she lacks human contact and warmth, as well as the ability to form her

                                                                  own identity, because of a powerful father figure, who dictated her behavior and

                                                                  unloving mother, who she desperately tried to please. Her parents were always dead in

                                                                  her stories. Inconsistently dead, which is unusual for her otherwise consistent lies. She

                                                                  never leaves untied ends with her builds of characters. (Except for the myriad deaths of

                                                                  her parents.) If left as is, this will turn into a case of borderline personality disorder and

                                                                  disturbed identity. Because of her fragile age, I think the first step is weekly sessions.

 

      I would have loved to be your psychologist when you were a little girl Laura. Was this your school psychologist, my sweet little doll?

                                                                                                                           ***

     You took me to dinner. And announced you haven’t been completely honest with me. But the work of a spy, you said, was by its very nature shrouded in secrecy, so there wasn’t an awful lot you could tell me about it.

     “Are you able to keep a secret,” you asked me. You were not allowed to disclose your job to anybody but a couple of very close family members (they help spies come up with a cover story to tell everyone else). You were a part of the Secret Intelligence Service and concentrated your efforts on gathering intelligence from abroad to support the government’s defense. You told me you have a British passport and a few university degrees. Your work involved communicating with people from other nationalities and that’s why you knew so many languages. Politics, Economics, Geography, Law and History were among your fields of expertise. Quantum physics was your passion. You told me about the long and exhausting recruitment and vetting processes. This is how you explained your inexistent travels. You’d go off the radar for weeks sometimes. Staking other people?

     For a long time, you told me you were an ornithologist, imitated birds’ sounds with unique precision. Every time we saw a bird you told me of its traits. You knew birds in such detail. The The Grey Partridge, the Black-billed Magpie, the Winter Wren.

     I was with you when you cut open the sparrow. You and I – we shared the moment, like two people sharing an orgasm. Like a deep secret. Like a special inside joke. It wasn’t funny, you’d say. But it was, my darling. You don’t know how funny it was. You just don’t know what funny means. Your eyes were still shut.  But then, you never cease to amaze me, Laura. That is why I love you. You are so intuitive, so open on the inside. 

     “All nature is deception,” You said while making the incision. Did you know how much this resonated with my being, beloved?

     You brought me high to some rocks where we could look at the whole city that stretched beneath. It looked like an old smoldering newspaper.

     “Strange,” you said looking down. “Whenever you look from high above. It tempts, lures. The desire to fall.”

     I decided to take you then. I don’t know if I wanted to eat you or love you, but I wanted to know all of you. You moved quicker, my little fireball. Your hand sought my flesh. And I was lost in the labyrinth of your white satin dress. Do you remember the start? You were so sure of yourself, but then became shy; and shier. Each thrust of mine stirred the tentacles of your iris.  I felt like desecrating something pure and innocent; penetrating something sacred, forbidden. To be with you was like making love to ten different people at the same time. You licked both of your hands. Your posture changed.  Your vagina was a jungle orchid. You could go for hours, dripping thigh saliva from the lips of your insatiable carnivorous plant.  I drank in sips loud and earth-shattering. You spread your legs wider, leaning back against the blanket, and your love-flesh swelled. I knew you were not true, that your heart wasn’t open, but I was patient. I took your body. And I dipped my tongue inside you until I reached your heart and licked it, trying to smooth each wrinkle and iron each crevasse inside your body, and again we started to make love. As many times as the number of ripples across the skin of your impatient tongue. Finally you.

     Was I myself as well? Could you see through the stitching of the person suit that I wore? You were about to see me killing your fake baby and becoming your real one. Wherever you go, Laura, I follow. I will follow you even from a distant planet.

                                                                                                                          ***

     You said it: 

     “I want to have a baby.” 

     I do not know how much time passed before you said the words. The compression plays its tricks on me. I am forgetting what time means. Which deep inside I know is good. Existence only exists here. I am transitioning in some way. I know that. I am led to believe all my memories will fade, and only one thing will remain. And it will be the truth. 

     “I know you know…of me,” you continued.  To speak your very own thoughts was extremely difficult for you Laura. I saw your effort deeply appreciated it.  I saw your overwhelming desire to tell me something of the utmost importance. Was it ‘don't let me go, hold me tight, make me yours entirely?’ But these, I knew, were words you could not say. The only thing you said, "You don't know how happy I am to be with you." That was the most your nature allowed you to express. I wanted to ask you then how much you knew of me. But I realize now, what a stupid question that was.

     I couldn’t have babies. That baby you were carrying was not mine. Who’s? I do not care. It’s not important. You told me it was my daughter. You couldn’t help your nature and I couldn’t help mine. You lied and I was hungry. 

     I thought you and me could beat destiny. 

     We walked out in the gray light and stood and we saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. Of us. I believe this. The cold relentless circling. 

     You left her with me. Your daughter. Why’d you done that, Laura?   

     Tell me, what did you do with the leftovers of the baby?

 

                                                                                                           ***

     To be your baby—

     Dazed with delight and torment. To be able to be always close to you was bliss, pierce through you, to sink into the warmth of your skin, to see that warmth. To drink the life-full liquid out of your bulging breast, upon which I suckled into oblivion. I would just cry. Crazed with love. Louder. And you will hug me and I will dive into you.

     I was falling all the time. How scary it was to travel from your chest to my crib. Your hands were elevators.  Horror. Until you saved me again. Another hardship. There were two ruffled monsters, with five heads each that came after me constantly. They raised their blurry bodies and trembled like a snake’s tail. You brought them down. You told me these were just my own baby hands and everything was alright. But they would rise again. And again. They woke me up so many times. Only you could defeat them.

     At night I would express my longing and you would take me in the bed without end, only you and I. My head was a puzzle piece that fit perfectly into your armpit. That was my favorite, to be snuggled in your sweaty armpit when I could smell most of you. Safely. You were hot like an oven. I wanted to suckle all the time, nothing else existed. We communicated through breastfeeds. Pumping warmth and nourishment. Your left breast was my very favorite. But the right made me delirious with happiness too. 

     I’ve decided, I will just stay at your breast forever. 

     I was not happy when you disattached me and I expressed it. You sighed often, probably because of your love for me. Hold me tight.

     Hold me softly. I drank your golden milk. I saw you with my nose. When I didn’t feel you, I ceased. I could not differentiate between me and you and when you were gone, I was gone.

                                                                                                             ***

     I cannot tell for how long I have been buried. 

     What did you do with me exactly? When exactly did you murder me, the crooked version of your baby girl? Did you finally understand me? All of me?

      I do not blame you, Laura. 

     I blame you because you are not here with me. 

     Come to me, my love.  It is silent here as if you are below sea. Soft, and warm and cold at the same time – like your vagina. I saw a movie once before who knows how many years -- and a woman, a Goddess, engulfed men inside her genitalia. I do not exclude this possibility. I favor it. I’ve always imagined this is how it would feel like to be inside you, completely inside you.

     Kalina Panayotova is an emerging author with a knack for darkness. She conducts creative writing workshops in Bulgaria for anyone who writes in English and has no access to an educational institution.
     Kalina graduated from the American University in Bulgaria and  recently completed her master's degree in Language and Culture from Sofia University, where she occasionally lectures on creative writing.


 

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