Murmurings from the Hive

Ambrosial Spirits by The Lizard Queen, Araceli McMullin

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I had never seen anyone who looked so sad, so forlorn in my entire existence. It clung to her, like a morning fog, turning her silhouette into an almost shapeless entity. But she was beautiful to me. There was simply no other words to describe it. She was beautiful. I licked my lips, hesitant in approaching her. I could feel her need for companionship, the need to have someone who spoke to her soul, who fed the dark impulses vibrating within her, but I stayed rooted to the spot. My body, the contemptible traitor, refused to obey any commands my mind tried giving it, so enraptured in the creature my attention fixated on.

 
She turned, and I felt my dead heart quicken, startling me. It had been so long since it drummed the familiar tattoo that for a moment, I felt fear. What was she? How could this be possible? She stared in my general direction, a subtle look of curiosity lacing her otherwise sorrowful features. I held my unneeded breath, ready to dash away the moment she took a step towards me. Did she realize that she was being watched? Did she sense the hunger I so keenly felt for her? My apprehension was for nothing, however, as she returned to watching the moonlight dance along the lapping waves of the river.

 
I released the trapped air in my lungs, and felt it whisper among the leaves of the elm trees I was hiding in. For a moment, I almost yearned for my deadened body to be alight with life, feel the expired blood course through my veins. Yet, I softly gasped at the thought. I enjoyed my static existence, was delighted in living in a never ending night. What was it about her, this lady of agony, that provoked such alien thoughts? I had no answers to give my churning mind and so resolved myself to continue watching, waiting.
She looked up at that moment, smiling as the moonlight illuminated her delicate face. Oh how I ached to stand before her and worship her very essence! How I wished to take her into my arms, and drain the vibrancy of life she so desperately hated. How I knew she felt this way, I could not say. But I knew it with every breath she took, every whisper in the wind.

 
She longed to die.

 
I could not let that happen. She was too pure, too decadent for something so mundane as death. This world may not have deserved to have such a somber angel walk among the putrid filth it possessed, but oh how it deserved to have her in all of her horrific revenge.
The glint of moonlight reflecting off a blade recalled me from my dark thoughts. In my musings, she dropped to her knees, unsheathed a knife that was hidden somewhere on her person, and held it hovering over her left wrist as though hesitant to complete the act she came here to do. My keen ears heard her soft cries, heard the gentle tears cascade into the grass below her, and felt my ancient soul shatter into countless tears to join her own. It was excruciating. It was exquisite in its pain.

 
“I can hear you….” her voice whispered into the night. I stood, paralyzed by her words, among the elms and waited to hear more of her melodic voice. I should have been concerned over the exposure, but there was none. The moment the sound of her voice echoed into my mind, I was hers, mind, body and soul. And in the moment following that realization, I knew she was mine. Forever.

 
I would make her mine, one way or another.

 
Still, I remained within my hidden perch, continuing my silent vigil of her. She sighed, her frustration a living thing in the soft breeze, and spoke once more, “I know you are there.” My lips parted, ready to say something, anything to my mournful goddess, but the words didn’t form. I was so taken aback, so shocked by the beauty of her voice that I could not speak. Slowly, she moved the poised blade from her wrist and let the hand holding it fall to her side. My useless breath caught raggedly in my silent chest. She stopped her pursuit of finding oblivion? Why? Not that I would have let her complete the task, but her doing so would have been the invitation for something so loathsome a creature as me to transform her beauty into something truly timeless. So why?

 
She finally rose from her kneeling position and headed in the direction of the trees where I hid. My body instinctively moved into a crouch, the predator within me ready to pounce the moment she walked into the tree line. The hunger writhed inside of me as the rushing of blood in her veins became a deafening roar filling my ears. Yes, my beloved, yes. Come to me and sacrifice your life force for my own. Yes….

 
No. That was not the only thing I desired or needed. I wanted to see her become alive in undeath, see her fury envelop the world, drenching it in the sticky sustenance we would so desperately crave together. It would be magnificent. Glorious. Two hunters in a never ending journey for prey. And oh, how I longed for that hour to arrive. Her steps drew her nearer and nearer to me, and I practically salivated at the scent of her delicious blood. Soon, she would be mine and the longing I felt for her would end in a savage fury of lustful fantasy.

 
“Please don’t be silent, hunter. I have what you crave. What you want. What you need,” she spoke to me once again. My world was utterly destroyed in that instant. In the next, it was recreated in the image of her dark fantasy. She knew. She knew! What was this? My mind raced, insanity clouding my sense of restraint. There were no others like me on this forsaken planet, I was the very last of my kind! Our existence caricatured by thousands of pathetic mediums, turned into idiotic fantasies for bored house wives and deranged men. How? How could she know? “I’ve been waiting for you….my whole life,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. She was so very close to me now, one step, two and she’d be before me.

 
I snarled into the still night, a warning to her to stay back. My yearning for her essence was so great that I was frightened that she’d expire before I could transform her into the being that most reflected the ambrosial spirit trapped in human wrappings. She never hesitated. Her steps never faltered. Before me stood the only being that would ever sing to this decrepit soul that lay trapped inside a mockery of life itself. She was even more enamoring up close, than I previously thought. The delicate way her features coalesced together to form the heart shaped face, the slender bow of her shoulder, carefully hidden behind the thin fabric of her blouse. The subtle rise and fall of her chest, quick as though she felt the same kind of exhilaration I felt when I looked upon her.

 
“Please. Take what you need. I cannot stand this world any longer. At least this way, my death will mean something,” she said to me, sorrowfully, pleading with me to do the task of ending her short life instead of forcing her to do it herself. This was too much to bear. The lovely carotid artery pumping in a steady rhythm, teasing me with its song, begging me to sink my fangs deep and devour. I could hold back no longer. In a flash I was upon her prone body, and gently, with a lover’s grace, I held her and bit into the pliable flesh of her neck.

 
It was like drinking liquid fire, her blood was. Instantly, I felt my body come alive in an onslaught of sensations that had long been forgotten. The sluggish dead lifeforce within my own veins slowly began to circulate as life was breathed into my long dead heart that haphazardly started to beat. The feeling of it was so foreign, so alien to me that I gasped against her skin. What was she? How could something be even possible for someone who had felt the kiss of death so long ago? I hesitated slightly, worried over what was becoming of me, but her essence was so pure, so invigorating… so addicting that I could not stop myself from engorging on her.

 
She moaned into the quiet night, a soft look of happiness spreading across her face. She looked divine. She looked alive. As the realization of that struck me, that despite the increasing loss of blood, she looked more and more alive than she had before approaching me, I began to feel scared. Truly afraid for the first time. What. Was. She? She smiled, a small, yet cruel pulling of the lips as the beating of my heart grew louder and stronger. Yet I could still not pull away from her, and continued to drink.
My body became alight with… life. Pure, unimaginable life. I was no longer the creature I had been. I was alive. The last of my kind erased. Panic washed over me as I realized what that meant. What she meant. I finally released her from my grasp, and stared at her stunned. What should have been a lifeless corpse heaped on the ground, stood a woman of such majesty, such splendor, that for the briefest of moments, I knew I stood before a Goddess. She smiled at me, and said, “Live now. Live. For life has many other pleasures beyond those of blood. Beyond those of the flesh.

 

Be wicked.

Be holy.

Be.

Free”

Boggled

An’ all us other children, when the supper things is done,

We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun

A-listnin’ to the witch tales ‘at Annie tells about,

‘An the Goblins ‘at gits you

if you don’t watch out…

(poem by James Whitcomb Riley)

I often hear the fair Woman tell this tale to the Boy before he goes to sleep. I think it cruel but very accurate indeed. To impart such thoughts into the mind of a wee child…to…warn him of what lurks beyond the warm hearth of their cottage. To warn him of me.

At the present time, I clung to the edge of their eave, tilting my head closer to the window to hear the witch-tales. I cannot proceed further for the windows are barred shut with thick slabs of metal; wrought iron more like. That most damnable of elements set in place by one who knows more than she ought to know should. This is as far as I can go but I will bide my time and stake the claim for myself and the rest of the Fae in due time.

They call us many things. The goblins, the boggarts, the faeries, the tricksters and most pathetically, “The Little People”. We’ve never bothered to correct them for to pronounce our race’s true name correctly, one would have to part ways with their tongues and these Fir folk (some would call “humans”) often do not like it when you remove their tongues. The closest approximation to my own name in their language would be Lokune, but I dare not speak it aloud lest one of them acquire dominion over me. It’s a powerful thing, one’s true name. I heed you a word of advice to be cautious with whom you share your own.

I have been observing this small family ever since they set up root here some six harvests ago. They encroached on our meadow, our hills without so much as a greeting or a saucer of cream left upon a warm and inviting doorstep. They did us a disservice and thus I am tasked with retrieving the Child for our own. A parcel of land for the soul of a Boy seems a fair trade to me.

I plan my visits carefully though. I found myself emboldened as the Man left one day, musket slung over his brawny back. I continued to observe from the treeline at the edge of the meadow as the day turned to night and to day and to night and to day and to night. I watched as the Woman emerged from the home each night, wringing her fair hands in worry and clutching her belly. I watched as the Woman lost hope and finally stopped emerging each night. She still left a lantern out in the hopes that he would return. Thus far to no avail. I watched as the Boy grew and my opportunity slipped further and further away by day. Children are so much easier to snatch when they are younger. I watched as the Woman’s midsection grew larger and that was when I knew I had my best opportunity.

I know little of the Fir’s inner workings but I knew their mewling young emerged in less than a harvest’s time. Had the man only been gone for such a short while? It seemed like so much longer. I am still here on the rooftop. The family below has been asleep for some while. I feel the faintest twinge of sunlight’s poisonous grasp upon my mottled skin and know that my night has ended. As I slink back to the ring of mushrooms that leads into our realm, I begin to plot. Lokune has a plan and he shall enact on the next evening.

Another Woman has been visiting the one who carries a child. I’ve seen her in the past few days and she has returned tonight. I need to be careful. Earlier this day, I approached the Boy as he played in the meadow. Conjuration is one of my many talents and so I set upon approaching from the forest in the guise of another young boy equal to his age. I walked to the boy with a foppish grin and sat down before him, inviting him to chat. The Child must have been starved for attention, I suspected he had no interaction beyond his Mother, such was that he joined me with no hesitation or suspicion. This might be easier than I thought.

The Boy’s name was Thomas, likely named after his father. I declared myself Luke (a close approximation) and asked him about his home life. Through my delightful deceit I gleaned that the Boy did indeed live alone with his mother, as they had been exiled from the closest village due to some act from his absent Father that had driven the village elders to declare his entire family heathens. Through an act of defiance, the Father’s Sister would brave the night to visit the Mother and assist her as she was in fact ripe with child.

The Father’s Sister would help cook and take care of the Boy. It turns out that she was the one that taught the stories to the Mother and also had installed the wrought iron bars. Thomas told me that she had sensed something dark and malevolent (stop, you flatter me!) on the edge of the woods and caution would have to be had to protect the Boy and Mother. The Father’s Sister was no stranger to defiance and living her life in the shadows. Woe be to her if the village caught wind of her own conjurations in the night, dabbling and communing with the other worlds beyond the veil. She learned things and acquired The Sight upon which few Fir could use to glimpse into our world.

I would have to be careful.

Then came the fun part. I told Thomas that he was my friend but that nobody else wanted him around. Why else would his Father have ventured into the woods and never returned? Why else would his Parents bring about another child unless they intended to replace the one they had? Why else would none of the village children venture across the meadow to play with him? He told me I was wrong, of course, but I assured him that I had heard things said in whispered and accusatory tones amidst the clergy of their former home.

I told him there was another place nearby that I could take him. It was a wonderful place full of warmth and mirth and fun games to play. Caves to explore for buried treasure, glowing mountains to climb to seek adventure. Bounty of bread and salted meat and delightful pastries and his family would want for naught ever again. Where is this place, he would ask me. I told him I would show him but he needs to pay the toll. See, this place, this World of Wonders, could be his and his Mother’s all for the cost of a single tooth. After all, you’re surely about to lose one of your own, right? Isn’t it hanging on by the most meager of threads?

Why a tooth?

Such an inquisitive child. Well, in this other world, teeth are coveted because they are so pearly white and pretty to look at. Even if yours is a bit on the dirtier side, it would still fetch value.

Perhaps I took this a little too far. The Boy grew wary and said he would think about it. He abruptly told me that he needed to go inside now. I bid him farewell and watched as he returned home, no doubt to tell the two Women about his new friend Luke and the funny things he said. Perhaps I had been too eager. The Father’s Sister would know what the child spoke of. I had sown my seeds yes, but I had also perhaps complicated matters further. I would have to act swiftly though. My people were demanding payment. And I wouldn’t want to incur their wrath…

I spent the rest of the night observing the family go about their own evening. I peeked through the windows as sneakily as I dare, being careful not to touch the accursed iron. The cottage was a warm one despite the heartbreak that had befallen the family. One room, décor of a few chairs, a rough hewn bed, a hearth and a flight of bisected log stairs leading to a small loft where the Boy slept. The scene inside was delightful and I felt the discomfort of a faint twinge of empathy tugging at the base of my pock marked skull. I scratched at it absentmindedly with a jagged talon, the loose and hairless flesh catching on one of my three sallow fingers. I pulled away and grimaced slightly; wiped the small swell of golden ichor oozing forth from my wound.

Inside, the Mother was telling stories to the boy as the Father’s Sister cooked a delicious smelling stew in large cast iron pot. No doubt these were stories imparted from the Father’s Sister, the Magick Woman. Indeed, young Thomas was clutching a small toy dog, woven from grey cloth, undoubtedly with a protection totem woven deftly inside. The Magick Woman was clever.

I watched as the Mother suddenly let out a cry and clutched her swollen belly. The Magick Woman rushed over and I knew that my opportunity was at hand. Not tonight though. As I leaped off the side of the cottage, I caught the fringes of an amber light from around the bend. I crawled through the grass and approached the porch warily. Alongside the ever lit lantern was a turnip, hollowed out and emblazoned with an admittedly terrifying face. A candle blazed forth and as I crept closer, the light touched my skin. My friend, if you have ever placed your hand into a roaring fireplace, I first must question why you would perform such a feat. But then I most also assure you that you assuredly know the pain that erupted from just the lightest touch of the candle light. I am quite embarrassed by the squeal that emitted between my porcine lips but you would holler too if you felt what I had felt. Just one more obstacle for me to overcome. What old trick was this?

I slunk defeated back to the mushroom ring, burning with the singe of an arcane flame and the fire of vengeance that gnawed at the marrow of my soul.

Tonight is the night. I timed it perfectly. The Magick Woman, burly as she was, was out in the yard splitting firewood as I approached. I started to form my child-guise but realized that she would see right through it. Better to confront her head on. I drew low to the ground, becoming one with the Gaia as my people so often do. I readied my claws – but then – a cry from inside the cottage. It was time. The hour was upon us. New life, a new Fir to stain this already begotten world.

The Magick Woman, the Father’s Sister rushed inside, leaving her implements behind. I passed by the hatchet and large planks of wood, they would do me no good. My plan required stealth, not brute force. No more thinking, it is time to act. In her haste, the Magick Woman left the front door open a smidge and the rush of her darting form had silenced the light within that bastard of a turnip. I rushed inside, quick as you please, wincing momentarily at the garish light within.

The two women were near the bed, one within and moaning like a nearly slewn foal and the other tending to her frantically. The Boy had been set to bed already and he peeked over the edge of the loft at the scene unfolding below. I ignored it all and scuttled up the stairs, bending into the shadows as I approached the bed. The Boy saw me coming, ol’ Lokune the mean ol’ Boggart, and ducked under his covers.

Such a sweet child. His flesh would taste so sweet.

I scurried to the foot of his bed and crept under the cover, relishing my slow approach. I felt the weight and warmth of his body below me and heard his whimpers. And then: a shadow in the darkness. Fangs flashed, silent but rending. I was unprepared and took a blow to the haunch. But this was not my first battle with a Guardian and likely would not be my last. I recoiled momentarily and pulled down a swath of blanket upon the tiny grey form. It looked like a dog, a toy, but I knew this was naught but a small and fierce Golem sent to protect the boy. The toy imbued with fangs was caught off guard by the entanglement of material and I took advantage to maneuver onto its cloth back, plunge my talons into its soft throat and wrench the head back.

The Boy squealed as stuffing and moss flew forth. I dug deeply into the Guardian’s neck and found a small bead, the size of a walnut. I could feel the carvings on it and recognized the magick imbued within. I crushed it deftly and all fell silent as the small toy dog became exactly that. No more tricks.

I crept upon the boy and pressed my forehead against his. He was sobbing and so, merciful individual I am, decided to comfort him. I told him to give me a tooth and I’d go on my way. I used my boy-guise voice and he recognized his new friend Luke instantly. The boy shook his head and pressed a chubby fist to his mouth. I wasn’t asking.

I’ll spare you the details. Know that the tooth story is pure fallacy. I’ve heard more witch-tales told of this before, but I suspect they are simply exaggerations to those that caught the briefest glimpse of a goblin enacting what I imparted on dear Thomas. I did reach into his mouth but it was to begin the process of imparting my entire essence into the Child, to absorb what might have been him and replace it with what was unmistakably me, your deal old friend Lokune. His cries were indistinguishable from those of the newborn in the room below. It was over swiftly and the soul of the Boy would soon emerge from limbo and enter the Fae world while I remained behind within this husk. Here, I will dwell and destroy the rest of these interlopers from the inside out. They did seem like a sweet family but the laws of the old world must be obeyed and if you should happen to encroach and not pay due respects, you must be prepared to pay the price.

I flexed my new fingers, ran them through the fine blond hair coursing over my smooth head. With the slightest of hesitation, I reached out and grasped the iron bars. The metal felt smooth and cold. Cold iron, such an unbelievable sensation. No burning, no pain. I nearly wept at the revelation. I crawled to the edge of the bed, brushing aside the destroyed Guardian and peeked over the edge of the loft. My new Mother and Nanny looked back up, smiling warmly. My Mother held my new baby sibling in her arms, swaddled gently. My Magick Nanny stared back at me and, for the faintest of moments, her smile flickered into a creased line of concern. I smiled back, beamed as joyful as you would please. She frowned again and turned back to the new child. Time would tell if I would have to deal with her. But for now, I was tired. It had been an exhausting day and I had earned my rest.

This is how I, Lokune, trickster and goblin extraordinaire began my new life within the skin of the Child. My next step would be to slowly drive my new Mother insane until she begged for death. One step at a time, my friends. One step at a time. She’s outside right now, lighting the turnip again. But I don’t fear, for the candle within casts a warm glow on my fair skin. No more pain. Not for me.

I approach the new baby, a female if I am not mistaken. A new baby Sister, unaware of the troubles of the world, of the persecution taking place beyond the forest, blissful and ignorant. To live such an existence. I lean in closer and feel the Baby’s breath exhaling softly. I breathe it deep and sample the tiniest morsel of its essence. The child stirs in discomfort and I restrain myself from inhaling the rest of it.

Soon we will have our land back. But for now, I have warmth, comfort and a loving family. One that I will break down to the loosest strands of sanity and then slice the taut cord until all that remains is a gibbering mess. I am happy and satisfied and have done my people proud.

What else could anyone want for? Could one think of anything more satisfying?

It simply boggles the mind.

Sweet and Warm

Its life was a black confine. From the moment it vomited forth from the Tierra earth mother, it did not know freedom. It dwelled in a seed pod, germinated in the UnderGround and placed in a receptacle of clay. It was but one of an ancient tribe, some would know as the Chullachaqui.

When it would emerge from its shell, it would be noticeable by its mottled grey skin, tapered ears, offset and backwards pointing feet. Yet it would not even attempt to walk for its life was an EarthBorne capsule. And now the young being must suffer even further indignity as its womb was wrapped in a tassled, kaleidoscopic carapace and made to rattle amongst confectionary sweets. And there it waited and gestated amongst the warm clay and the sweet treats.

********

“Swing harder, mijo!” Ana cried happily.

Her young son staggered about blindly and took another mighty swing with his reed. A loud crack! The cartoon burro burst from high above and rained down sweets and candies amongst a throng of jubilant children. Ana laughed and clapped as eight year old Raul dashed into the fray, eagerly scooping at the treasure he had so proudly unleashed. Candies and caramels and chocolates and one lumpy green ball of taffy that looked particularly delicious.

The birthday celebration was a grand day, filled with laughter and love. It was precisely what the mother and son needed after the untimely loss of the man in their lives. And yet Ana managed to work hard, proud to provide for her boy and to provide fresh pastries and bread from her own Panaderia bakery.

After the festivity had ended, Raul asked his mother: “Mama, can I have some of my candy?”
“Just ONE! And don’t try to sneak a second piece, El Cucuy is watching!”

Raul didn’t believe in El Cucuy, he thought it was a silly fairy tale. He pondered why his mom would try to scare him with a boogeyman story. He pondered this as he ate his caramel candy. Of course, he DID sneak his second treat, that odd little green sugar ball. He scrunched up his face as it tasted a bit sour but he was pleased with his successful deceit as he swallowed it whole.

**********

Ana had always been proud of how she had managed to scrape by. Now more so than ever although her savings was dwindling from the exorbitant medical bills. She sighed across the dinner table at her boy. She was a proud mama and it hurt her heart to see him limp to the table, small legs encased in wire and steel rods. It had began shortly after his eighth birthday; he had complained about his legs hurting. She chalked it up to growing pains but the day that Raul fell at school was the day she learned that her boy would have limited mobility for the rest of his days.

The doctors could not pinpoint what had triggered the weakening and distorting of his leg and hip bones. And now, as she started across her chicken mole at the boy, he started back with a most unusual look across his nine year old face.

“Mijo, are you…OK?” She asked. He hadn’t touched his favorite meal.

The boy nodded and asked if he could be excused. She quietly obliged and let the boy hobble to his feet and out of the room. He was a prideful child and the doctors advised her to only offer help when he truly seemed to need it. Against her strongest maternal instincts, she obliged this request as well. Ana sighed once more.

The next day was a fruitful one. The bakery was bustling. She was a well loved figure in the community and the locals enjoyed her wares and enjoyed supporting her family. On this day, late October, she rolled out the dough for the batch of casket shaped pastries for the forthcoming Dia de los Muertos rush. Raul hobbled in through the door.

“Raul, honey, go play outside, OK?”

She didn’t want him to be knocked aside from the hustle and bustle of the shop. As if on cue, a patron bowled over a display with a resounding crash.

“Dios…” She sighed under her breath and hustled off to tend to it.

Nobody noticed what happened next. Nobody noticed Raul duck under the counter. Nobody noticed his tapered ears, the grey scabs forming on his face. Nobody noticed nor heard him expunge a torrent of brackish slime into his own hand. And nobody certainly noticed him remove a small seed pod from his mess, stand up and drop it on the exposed dough.

Ana, however, noticed what a good helper her son was. She returned from the spill to see the boy rolling the dough with a proud smile lighting up his young face.

“Ohh, my boy, thank you for helping! Why don’t you go play with your action figures and I’ll make you something special for lunch later,” she said.

“OK, mama,” he said.

She caressed her son lovingly. She frowned as her hand brushed a scaly patch on his face. Must be eczema, she noted and reminded herself to ask his doctor during their next visit. Raul toddled off, braces creaking. He turned and smiled at his mom. She smiled back.

Then she rolled up the dough, inserted it into a crust with some filling  and tossed the whole concoction into the oven.

*********

Its life was a black, warm confine. Yet in this hive of sweet fruit, dough and sugar it flourished. It did not know freedom but it yearned to live. The seed pod embedded in the pastry held the next lineage of the EarthBorne, those known as the Chullachaqui. And here it would wait and gestate, waiting to be borne unto the next who would come seeking something
Sweet and warm.

Never Full by Amanda Rosenblatt

Alice perused the racks of the vintage store with her eyes. This was a weekly ritual.

Garbage. Garbage. Smells like garbage. Who would wear THAT?

Alice loved dressing up fancy for work. Having a job with a formal dress code basically required it. She loved having an excuse to fully embrace her hobby of admiring fine clothing. It was a rush.

Plaid? Pleather? Puce? Why does horrible looking clothing start with the letter P?

Usually, Alice would be shopping with friends. Or out with her husband.

You never have money to go out to eat, or even get a damned coffee, with us. Maybe you don’t need another dress, or another pair of boots? But they were vintage Louboutin and Chanel – what do those tasteless bitches know?

She gazed upon the fabrics, textures and different colors. Sunlight peaked in through the stained window, magnifying the scuffs on the leather and the lint on the old blouses.

A spider’s web in the corner peaked out from behind the racks. Waiting to devour their next victim, likely a stowaway moth from an old pocket.

You paid two thousand dollars for a jacket?! That’s our rent money. You’re out of control. Well that’s fine – I can wear that jacket in the cold now that I live with my sister, since I have a longer walk to work now. Who needs a husband when you have original Dior?

What was really missing was a nice handbag. She could drown her sorrows in a nice, new-to-her leather piece. Then, as if she dreamed it into existence, she saw it. A Louis Vuitton Neverfull in near perfect condition.

She picked up the bag by the thin but worthy straps. It could fit everything she needed for work. Her magazines for the salon. All of her divorce papers.

She briefly felt sad, but she shook it off as she searched for more telltale signs to make sure the bag was authentic. It had an odd smell and even more unusual stains on the inside, but she dismissed it. She could get it cleaned, or cover it up.

She brought the bag to the front register. A few hundred out of her price range.

The nerve! This place is barely better than a Goodwill. After all the money I’ve given them! I’ll show them.

She walked to the back of the store where they had men’s items. She grabbed a Fjällräven backpack that was in less than perfect condition, took a quick peek around, and shoved the Louis Vuitton inside the backpack. She grabbed tissue paper that was inside of the leather bag originally and placed it over top to cover up her stolen goods.

A low, piercing tone hit Alice’s ears. She groaned and put a hand to her head. The sound dissipated and she caught her breath.

That was weird. Must be tinnitus or a low flying plane? Whatever. Am I really about to steal a bag? Well, I’m paying for this other piece of crap bag, so they’re getting my money anyway.

She rung up the backpack and she smirked as the trusting, older woman who checked her out didn’t bother to look inside the bag.

Suckers.

When Alice walked out of the store, her leather heels hitting the cement with purpose, she made sure she was out of eyesight of the store front. She then stopped at a metal trash barrel, pulled her stolen goods out of the backpack, then swiftly tossed the perfectly good fabric accomplice in the garbage.

You could donate that or something? Fuck you! Mind your business.

Six blocks later and she was home. Home being her sister’s apartment.

I’m willing to put you up for a couple of months, but if you keep buying shit you don’t need, you can go call mom and live in the suburbs. I don’t care.

Alice pulled the murphy bed out from the wall and sat down on it, the metal squeaking viciously. She unzipped her leather heels and placed them gingerly next to the edge of the bed on the floor. She walked over to her plastic tub of drawers and pulled out a little vial of red nail polish, with the intention of covering the scratches in her Louboutin fiery red heels, courtesy of the ground.

After placing the nail polish bottle on the floor next to the shoes, Alice then grabbed her contraband purse. She sat on the bed once again, placing the new bag to her right and her old bag to her left. She looked over at her old purse, unzipping it and grabbing contents from inside. She turned her head to her right to place the items inside.

Where’s the fucking bag?

She looked around. She heard a quick scratching noise across the old hardwood floor.

What is that, a rat?! This place is a dump. Probably grabbed my bag.

Alice scanned in front of her, looking for clues. The irony that a rodent absconded with her stolen bag made her fume with anger.

She then placed her right elbow on the bed, bending her body forward to look underneath. It was remarkably dark. The piercing tonal noise happened again. Alice grunted, shoving her head against her leg and putting her left hand against the other side of her skull, covering her left ear.

Then, from the darkness, two leather straps with gold hardware on the ends reached out like tentacles. They wrapped around her bare ankles, over and over, digging into her flesh. Alice screamed in terror and pain.

YANK. Alice went flying face first into the floor from the force of it, her nose hitting the hardwood. She looked up briefly with just enough time to see a single drop of blood from her nose drip onto the ground.

She was then dragged across the floor. She turned on her back to find something, anything, to grab onto.

This isn’t happening. What is this?!

As she peered under the bed, grabbed the metal legs of it to try and free herself of her unseen attacker, she caught sight of it.

This is a dream. What is this? God please help me!

The bag was sentient. The leather body of the bag opened like a gaping mouth. Rows of jagged teeth inside. A manufactured Venus fly trap from hell.

Alice’s hands shook as she strained to hold on.

Wake up. Wake up. WAKE UP.

A guttural growl emitted from the creature, sending one more tonal pierce in the air. It was too much. Alice let go of the bed. She was pulled into the mouth of the beast. Teeth ripping into her body. Alice was horrifyingly aware of her last moments. The bags flappy leather body formed lips, scooping up the contents of Alice as it devoured her. Leaving no trace behind.

Then, like a fleeting memory, Alice was gone. Silence replaced the screaming.

A few minutes later, keys unlocked and opened the door. Alice’s sister entered. She surveyed the scene and let out an annoyed huff. She walked over to the leather boots and picked up the little bottle of red polish. She looked at the single drop of blood on the floor.

“This bitch moves into MY place and gets polish all over MY floor?!”

She then saw the purse, laying on the floor under the bed. Her eyes squinted in anger. She grabbed the bag, stuffed the shoes and the nail polish inside, walked down the stairs, into the cold alley and tossed it all into the filthy dumpster.

And alas, an alley dumpster was the final resting place of fashionable Alice, whose appetite for finer things was never full.

That Which Sees All

I’ve always been a seeker of the unknown; a vast interest in the strange, unusual and arcane often held precedence over what most would consider to be average. In that sense, I suppose I should have grinned with manic glee upon arriving at the tattoo parlor.

It wasn’t like the usual shop. There was no “Sailor Jerry” style bedecked facade ushering me in, nor the tell-tale sound of buzzing. What greeted me on this misty and cold spring night was a neon glow piercing the gloom of a forsaken alley, tucked away from the vestiges of humanity. This was the place though, I was sure of it. I pulled my jacket around my slender frame and pressed forward, kicking aside untold filth and piles of rotted food. The exterior of the shop grinned before me, an emaciated smile from a blue neon skull.

I shrugged. Strange, unusual. That’s usually how I like it. This was, however, an alien concept to me for my skin remained unblemished and inkless. I steeled my frazzled nerves before pushing my way in. The obsidian tinted door refused to budge. Pull, not push, obviously.

“Stupid,” I scowled at my own wariness and pulled the door open. I stepped in, unable to brace myself for the sensory onslaught: piercing, hair-raising cold inside. That smell: what is that? Sage and cleaning chemicals…is this how a tattoo parlor is supposed to smell? It was empty, no artist or proprietor in sight. A heavily worn couch sat forlornly along the grey bricked walls festooned with banners and sheathes of various tattoo designs. I ignored it because I knew what I wanted.

I knew exactly what I wanted.

A small display case on the opposite wall caught my eye. Within, a glass box held an ornately presented and weary looking book. I stepped forward to glimpse the interior, my nervous reflection catching off the glass. Compulsively, I wanted to see what was written, I wanted to know what lie upon the pages of this tome. I wanted to know what secrets it held, even if it was as mundane as a visitor log book or a ledger. But I never got the chance.

A soft tinkling sound betrayed my gaze. A beaded curtain at the back of the shop parted and ushered in a small, gaunt young woman. Her dark hair was strung with beads not unlike those of the curtain from which he had emerged and her hazel eyes were ringed with the shade of one who hasn’t slept properly. I turned towards her and immediately hoped she wouldn’t succumb to fatigue while inking my bicep. She looked to be middle eastern, copper sun kissed skin and a small rounded nose.

“Hey,” she greeted with a soft and raspy voice; brittle paper turning in a light breeze. “Are you just looking or-?” She trailed off and offered a slight smile.

“Yeah, I’m looking to uh, get inked,” I stated as confidently as possible. That was the correct parlance, right? Damned if I knew. I felt crucially out of my element. She seemed to sense this as she smiled again and gestured to one of two empty chairs.

I nodded in response and sat down, emitting a deep breath as she readied her tools of the trade. As she prepared the ink, I noticed scrawls of text on her left arm. The overhead lights seemed to glint off them, raising the text from her arm and appearing more like scar tissue than actual ink. They whorled about in a spiral surrounding her thin being.

Before I could ask about it, she prompted me: “What are we doing today?”

“Oh, OK, hi,” I stammered out. “Uh, first of all, I’m Hideo. Nice to uh, meet you…” I trailed off but received no reciprocation. She simply nodded, the beads in her hair jangling against one another in the quiet of the otherwise empty shop. I paused, licked my lips.

Awkward silence permeation. OK, moving on.

I pulled out my phone to show her the screenshot I wanted. The image was of an anime-stylized eye glaring forth from beneath a forcefully arched eyebrow. Savage, intense, perfect.

The girl nodded. “Tattoos often reflect the personality of those who choose them. May I ask why this…eye?”

“Yeah uh,” I started. Get a grip of yourself, idiot. “This is the logo of a comic and anime convention that I met my girlfriend at. She’s still living across country, it’s a long distance thing, y’know?”

She nodded. Nothing more and nothing less.

I continued: “Our anniversary is coming up and I thought I’d surprise her. After all eyes are the window to the soul, right? They still say that, don’t they?”

The artist nodded again, the lights glinting off her tired eyes. “They do,” she stated. A soft accent danced upon her withered voice. “Portals to the soul and…so much more. A watchful eye can see more than is truly present before you. They can glimpse truths beyond truths and secrets to be uncovered by the inquisitive.”

I frowned and rolled up my sleeve. I turned away instinctively as the needle approached my flesh.

Damn it.

“Wait, wait,” I cried and pulled my sleeve back down.

The girl grunted with annoyance and pulled the needle away.

“I have a few questions,” I stated. She gestured for me to continue. I glanced around, struggling for small talk. I needed a few seconds to calm my nerves. “Uh, are you the only one who works here?”

The girl hesitated. “There is…another. But she is at rest now.”

“Have you been doing this long?”

“Yes, I have. However, I believe you might be my last. If my inkwell runs dry after tonight, I might finally rest as well.”

I shrugged off the odd statements, simply pegged her as an eccentric. As long as she gave me the right response to my final question: “Is this…going to hurt?”

An odd expression coated her lithe face. Her thin lips pulled into an almost forlorn frown. Then she shook her head, her beads jangled and she seemed to come to her senses. That familiar smile painted her visage, a hint of mischievousness alighting upon it. “Oh, you are a pure one, then?”

“If that means this is my first tattoo, then yeah. I guess I’m uh, “pure”.”

“We shall see how long that lasts,” she said with an uncomfortable hint of malice. “To answer your question, this will only hurt if you allow it to. You do ask a lot of questions, don’t you Pure One?”

“I guess I’ve always been the inquisitive type,” I shrugged with a half-hearted grin. “I’ve always been rather curious about new things.”

“Then, my dear, you’ve come to the right place.”

And then, as the sprinkling of a light spring shower continued outside in the dark, I felt the first pierce of the ink forever stain my skin. I never knew the girl’s name but she seemed to know what she was doing. I still had a lot of questions to ask but no time to seek the truth.

Trust in the ink, Hideo.

This will only hurt if I let it…

 

 

I did. Just a little bit. It wasn’t as bad I as had suspected but the temptation to remove the covering on my freshly inked bicep was more of a struggle than anything else. I wandered home that night after paying the odd young woman for her services. I noted the strange look on her face, the unflattering melange of regret, elation and relief. What was going through her mind? As I walked out, I couldn’t help but notice that she watched after me intently. I shrugged it off and that was that.

I took one last look at the strange little shop as I departed and reflected with curiosity on how the lights in the establishment flickered off immediately upon stepping back into the grungy alley. The neon sign, formerly a bright and leering skull, now a silent and vacant spectre. It sat slightly askew; unexpected dilapidation that I hadn’t noticed. I need to be more observant I suppose, keep my eyes open.

I decided to do something I really should have done earlier: research. I made my nightly mug of decaf dark roast and plopped in my sagging recliner. I browsed on my phone for any information about the shop but to only mild surprise, found nothing. I sighed and rubbed at the new design. After it healed and I could remove the covering, I planned to take a few pics and send them to my girl. In the meantime, I pulled up my social media page and browsed around a bit, chuckling inwardly at the latest ridiculous memes to spew forth from cyberspace.

There’s an unusual one: a textless post with nothing but an all-too familiar eye. The logo of the convention, the very same that now adorned my arm. Curious that they would post it, it wouldn’t be held for another several months. I clicked it out of sheer curiosity and boredom.

My finger touched the screen. It immediately melted into the glass. My digit pushed forward into the glass and circuitry as the screen melded around it like gelatin. It was warm, malleable and almost pleasant to the touch. I didn’t think much of it. Maybe I should have been more concerned. I was tired after the experience in the parlor. My shoulder and arm ached. And this felt..good. I deserved a pleasant sensation. I could dig a little deeper. Why not? I deserved it and I knew it wouldn’t hurt. Not if I didn’t let it. I pushed my finger further into the digital eye as the rest of my hand sunk into the tangible soup. So good, so damn good. All the way up to my wrist now. Maybe just a little furth-

NO

NO

I pulled my hand out, threw my phone away with a startled yelp. I leaped up from my seat and stared at the fallen device, quivering with confusion. Then: sudden pressure in my left arm. I dashed into the bathroom and rolled up my sleeve. Beneath the gauze of the freshly inked flesh, something strained at its confines. I tore off the bandage, curiosity overriding even the basest of common sense. The eye, that stylized eye that represented what I loved and cherished the most: it was staring back at me, rolling wildly in an unseen socket.

As I stared back in the mirror, the eye suddenly stopped rolling and titled upwards, staring directly back at me and boring a hole into my very sanity. My arm rippled, waves of impossibility surging up and down. Even as the tiny eyes emerged across my arm like a hellspawn rash, I attempted to scream. But a scream is hard to emit as one’s tongue emerges from their own mouth like a sentient snake from a world that one ought not to know.

My own fleshy appendage strained at its very root and my tongue rose up in a serpentine motion at an impossible length. It ran itself down my eye bedecked arm and the taste that I could still experience was too much for me to bear. I began sobbing there in my own bathroom as my body betrayed me and the inked eye began to spin wildly once more.

The serpent tongue began to turn black, blemished and blighted and it turned towards me before splitting at the seam. It didn’t hurt. I didn’t let it.

The Black Serpent spoke, still spewing forth from my own mouth. Dear God, it spoke and I understood it.

Inquisitive and Pure, one who hosts the Eye of Agalia, Discoverer of Secrets, That Which Sees All. You bear our mark, you call our name and we arrive to show you sights unseen. Rejoice for only those chosen, those embellished with our blood will be granted the Sight, which is a very precious thing indeed.

“I don’t want this!” An attempted scream; my own own begotten tongue was too soiled and violated to speak what I wanted.

The Serpent didn’t heed my protest. My infected arm raised on its own accord. I struggled against it but I knew it was a losing battle. My arm raised up and pressed the Inked Eye across my own face.

Eye to Eye.

It showed me things then as The Serpent wrapped around my head. I saw what I had never wanted to see and now would never forget. Things from ages past, from times before. Shadows from other civilizations. Abominations, half human and half beast worshipped by ancient priests. Lovers torn apart and sacred texts recovered yet swiftly lost. Unjust executions, cursed blood and ink. Bottled and shifted through time and space until it bedecked the flesh of one whom would simply stumble across it unexpectedly. I was not the first nor would I be the last. I knew the cursed ink would continue to spread its blight across the land. It said it all in that book in the tattoo shop, the one I never read but now knew every sentence.

The Inked Eye and the Black Serpent showed me. I knew it all. But I decided then, that I didn’t want to see. I summoned one final ounce of strength and tore away from my tormentors. Naturally they rebelled and attempted to halt my mission but I pushed on. I pushed my way into the kitchen, struggling against my own body, shuffled blindly though the drawers until I found what I wanted.

Sharp objects had pierced my body mere hours before and now, in the comfort of my own home, they would do so again. They would do so at my own behest, of my own free will which I would not let be torn away. The scissors did their work splendidly. I cut the Black Serpent free and watched it writhe and squeal upon the black and red that festooned my kitchen floor. I took the blades to the smaller eyes next that covered my arm, popping each one like an overripe grape. But the Inked Eye, that one could not be pierced. And oh, how I tried. Even then, with the defilers strewn about on the floor and my own arm running fresh with filth, they continued to reveal their secrets.

I saw the girl from the parlor. I saw her run ragged blades across her own arm as she chanted in arcane language. I saw the piercing and parting of her skin and watched the red sea surge forth. It poured into a clay bottle at her feet. She thrashed in agony and the beads in her hair clinked together musically, almost pleasantly. Something spewed forth from her mouth, a coiling black foul thing that I recognized. In this age that I gazed upon, it was older and larger. Multiple hands stretched forth from the coiling horror as it chanted the word “Agalia” repeatedly. It streamed into the clay bottle, thick smoke and greasy mist. The girl dipped her blade into the concoction at her feet, held back a sob and began to tattoo her own arm…

I had seen enough. If I couldn’t see, I couldn’t watch and then I wouldn’t know and then… much like the woman who had cursed me with this Sight, I could rest. Perhaps.

I turned the scissor blades toward my own two eyes, granted to me by a God I thought I knew and not the fiend that had forced its own eyes upon me.

The scissor blades, blessed steel, came closer and I held my eyes open. I once was blind and now I see but I didn’t want to see anymore.

At least I knew it wouldn’t hurt.

Oh no.

I wouldn’t let it.