Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Fiction

Machines of Concrete Light and Dark

Things always seem closer together on a bad morning. I slept poorly last night, and now the relentless brilliance of the day makes my eyes smart and my face ache with squinting.

Just within the station doors I stop to adjust my bag where it is cutting into my shoulder, and I notice at my feet a small piece of black plastic shaped like a capital L, and one end is frayed into a tuft of fibers. What did that come off of—or is it a complete thing?

I check the board and signs and walk hastily to meet my train. A glance to my right tells me that someone has fallen in step with me. I think, it’s Jeanie . . . but she had had one of those faces whose outlines vary so much from one angle to another that she could sometimes be hard to recognize. She always preferred to walk on my right, and would keep her head turned to me in just that way, as if she were getting ready to rap me on the scalp with her chin. She’s looking at me now with a superior expression, having crept up and fallen in with me, taking me unawares the way she used to do.

Not wanting to acknowledge her, a little frightened, and made blank-minded by surprise, I lower my eyes again on the tile floor ahead of my feet. It’s perfectly flat. That would be a pretty pitiful bit of deception, but if it weren’t for the weariness I wouldn’t be subsiding into myself like this.

Defeated, I turn to her, and she halts with me.

Jeanie?” I ask falsely, trying to seem to verge on being pleasantly surprised, a fading part of me still en route to my train.

“I thought it was you,” she says confidently, her lisp unchanged, her voice much lower now, the hair not much longer, the skin if anything paler, flaking a little by her eyes like I’d forgotten it did. She has a bag on her back too. We always had looked more alike than different, even if she was taller.

“Where are you going?” she asks, a little imperious, looming over me.

I explain disjointedly. The names and places that I belong to now sound as bizarre as if I’d invented them, but they’re everything I’ve loved and built around myself in the nine years since July, the pier or boathouse or whatever it was and the path back through the trees to the street and not looking back and not listening.

“My parents moved back into the old house. That’s where I’m going now,” she tells me. “Why don’t you come along?”

“How long—?” I hear myself ask.

“Just a day. You can spend the night.”

“All right,” I say. “Sure.”

Without smiling, she opens her arms and takes me in them.

She is smiling when she releases me.

A thready, faltering sort of voice is chattering to me—It won’t take too long, I suppose—I won’t be missing anything and actually I was going back a day early; I could spend the night and go on in the morning. The words skip along the adhesive surface of a black, silent, motionless body of refusal, and its familiar spirit hissing at me, telling me insistently to escape, even if that means turning on my heel and running from her.

The station is vast, the high ceiling above me crawls with a disembodied roar of announcements. Black clocks with shiny plastic faces spell out the time in white points. Cold air gushes from colossal, softly-whirring vents. Everything is new, and spotless, white tile, white plastic, white steel, and white air conditioning tubes, and all manner of gleaming sterility. The air is so cold and dry it hurts my eyes.

Jeanie points the way to her train. One moment it is far off in the distance, and the next moment it’s directly in front of us, looking like a prostrated space rocket in a museum, glistening like ice. Its rounded windows and hatches are like frozen wafers of ink. Jeanie is in her clean element; she always hated feeling dirty and derived a great deal of pleasure from the exaggerated measures she took to keep herself clean.

“I think this train is new.”

The words drop from my mouth like the lifeless inanities they are. There’s something about Jeanie that utterly inhibits idle talk; I never could speak with her unguardedly. I had to watch what I said, vet it, and, as a rule, decide against saying it. It isn’t that I wanted to avoid exasperating her with trivia, it’s that there is something so relentlessly ultimate about her that I would feel like an ass no matter what I said, and consequently spoke as efficiently as possible.

She nods, looking at the silent train. The muttering under the white ceiling, which seems to hang above us like a luminous cloud, drones on, and somewhere an alarm is buzzing. Another train rumbles away from a nearby platform. Stepping through the hatch, an odor like hospital smell, and new plastic, and bleach, surrounds me.

I’m shocked to see a narrow black passageway in the car, lined with skinny doors of gleaming black acrylic. I was expecting to see rows of ordinary seats.

“Compartment 17C,” Jeanie says. “17C.”

Suddenly I feel a quick intensification of regret at what I’m doing, now that I know there are compartments instead of open seats and there will be no other people, visible around me, for me to turn to for respite. I didn’t realize I would be so completely on my own with Jeanie.

I find a white plastic tab with 17C on it and turn the recessed steel lever, pull the door open and step back awkwardly to make room for it as it swings out into the corridor. My bag gets caught in the doorway, and I have to yank it this way and that behind me to get into the box. Throwing my bag up on the glinting steel rack over the seat, I turn and watch Jeanie coming in, getting jammed a bit and pulling herself free. She has always been taller. Her figure has filled out quite a bit since, much more than mine did, but she’s still lean.

It’s as acridly cool in the train as it was in the station. Jeanie turns her head toward the platform. Without a sound, the train glides forward, as if at her bidding. Adjusting my bag in the rack, the movement takes me by surprise, and I allow myself to fold onto the seat. The muttering has followed us into the train; the voices are so faint they can’t possibly be making announcements—no one would hear. They seem to be murmuring amongst themselves.

Jeanie sits between me and the window, on my right. The train passes a succession of pillars that languidly stroke the station lights, already dimmed by the heavy tinting of the glass. She is looking at me, fixedly, with no expression. I pretend to be more curious about the view through the window than I am. The tunnel covers us like a black cape and we’re alone together in a little cell of light, rolling along in the deep. My reflection blocks my view when I try to gaze out directly. I have to look around it, diagonally. Jeanie turns to glance out the window herself, and then becomes still, as if something interesting out there had arrested her attention.

“Darkness—do you ever wonder if darkness is something in itself, and more than just the absence of light?”

“Yes,” I say, honestly.

Jeanie was always asking these kinds of questions, without any overture.

I go on, determined not to be cowed by her: “I think that, as a distinct physical sensation in its own right, it’s probably no different from light. Just as positive.”

Still looking out the window at the tunnel that is presumably conducting us up toward the surface, so that her face is a luminous membrane reflected there, she asks, “Do you think light can be negative?”

“. . . I suppose it could be,” I say. “Let me think. It wou—it might be—like a kind of dazzle . . .”

“That’s too much of something,” she snaps in the old way, peremptory but calm. “I mean a palpable absence.”

“. . . if there were no darkness for contrast.”

Her tone stirs my defiance; I’m not going to let her have the old ascendancy over me.

“You said you think darkness can be positive as a sensation? I hadn’t thought of that.”

She smiles at me, as always, without opening her lips.

“It’s a good answer, but do you think that a sensation has the same positive essence as an object does?”

“It’s just as real,” I say, spreading my hands.

“Do you think a sensation has as much reality as a physical object?”

“I don’t know. I only say they’re both real.”

“Yes.” She keeps her eyes all but riveted on mine, their focus expands to engulf my whole head. “Can a sensation be outside?”

“Outside the mind?”

I can feel her using me. Wisps of hair escape from the loose ponytail at her neck and waft toward me like gossamer antennae.

“Yes . . .” she draws it out, as if I were being slow.

“That depends,” I say. “How would you tell?”

Her eyes slam shut.

“Right,” she says briskly. “How would you tell? We should never have parted company. But perhaps this time apart has given us both a chance to learn useful things. We can teach each other.”

A glimmer illuminates the walls of the tunnel and the next moment the cape is swept back on buildings that whirl like tops, and trees blackened by a fire spinning as they go by, fragments of daylight twinkle in their charred branches.

I’d known Jeanie since grammar school, and for years we’d been so severely close we’d sealed virtually everyone else out. Now she’s asking me about the years of mine she’s missed. She gets evasive, vague answers from me. I don’t want her to make contact, even secondhand, with the life I’d lived after I broke with her, and I regret having let slip even the few details I had mentioned back at the station. I feel that I’ve spoken too freely. But she doesn’t seem to be interested in the people I’ve met or the places I’ve been; I get the idea she’s fishing for something in particular, having to do with abstract ideas.

I can no longer deny I have made a serious mistake.

We had been seated in the same group in second grade. In fourth grade, we hid behind the bungalows lining the lower playground and I’d joked that she couldn’t really be a djinni because she wasn’t stuck in a bottle.

“There are all sorts of ways to be confined,” she’d replied, a moment later.

Her tone, and her use of the word “confined,” sounded precociously adult to me then, and I think that was the moment—the playground visible all around her head, the trees over us, the dark corky ground, dingy white wall of the bungalow, her thin form in shorts and a white t-shirt, hair pulled back as it is now—when I really understood that the strength of her intellect drove her into weird places. Whenever I met her, I was always cutting into a line of reflections that had begun long ago and moved from point to point according to a succession of unpredictable associations.

She was always lecturing me about something. Her father had been a professor and she’d picked up some of his mannerisms. Adolescence brought us still closer because neither of us were interested in asinine giggling over boys. Jeanie had an affinity for spacious, air-conditioned caverns like museums, libraries, theatres, and train stations. We rode the trains, went exploring in my car, walked together under the stone pylons of the railway trestle that towered over a hundred feet above our heads: the arches cut into the pylons molded space into a tall corridor, like the nave of a ruined cathedral, or a passageway for giants, strewn with their litter, their condoms, their flattened refrigerator boxes, and marked with their graffiti and their urine.

July—when we’d gone to the park together.

There was a pier or a boathouse or something; I can’t remember what it was. A splintery old wooden relic by the water in the park. We’d been in there alone, looking out at the broad, green, tepid water, speculating about what invisible thing was causing the circles to spread on its surface. And she’d said something, I don’t remember what, that sounded to me like a casual insult. It wasn’t the first time that had happened. She often spoke harshly. She had an especially light touch when it came to subtle condescension. But this time I felt my patience completely give way. I was disgusted with her. That disgust grew and grew, was fed by, and opened onto, a long-sealed recess of silent resentment—and fear. The feelings showed themselves to me for what they were, then.

I started to walk, following the path through the trees that was the most direct way out of the park, seeing my way home like a map and route. Jeanie came hurrying after me, demanding to know why I’d left that way, without a word.

Turning, I repeated to her whatever it was she’d said. It was an afterthought; she’d said something, and added that I might understand if I were capable of it, something like that.

This made her impatient.

“I didn’t mean that,” she drawled, rolling her eyes disdainfully. The gesture humanized her too much for her own good, and I felt strengthened. My anger outgrew my fear of her.

“I know,” I replied calmly, “but it should have occurred to you—it should have mattered to you—that I might take it that way.”

“Don’t be stupid!”

“You should express yourself more carefully, Jean.”

I didn’t think I wanted . . .

I’d grown used to believing I didn’t want anything more than to go on with her in the same way forever, and I realized later that that must have been precisely my reason for breaking it off.

Showing her my back, I walked unhurriedly down the path, thinking—is this what I want? Do I just break it all off, just like that? Now?

It seemed as though the bond between us had just happened to wear thin, and I had, for the moment, the strength to break it.

Am I really doing it?

I remember feeling her there in the silence behind me as if she were shouting at my back.

Is it happening? Is it?

—I am doing it!

For hours afterwards I had to keep on telling myself I’d done it, that I wouldn’t go back, and that she wouldn’t come after me, before I could believe in it. I pictured a massive, black guillotine blade, as big as a wall, slowly dropping down between us. And there to stay. There never was such a person, I told myself. She never existed. I drove her from my mind.

The sun, through the smoky windowpanes, gives off a sullen, solarized leaden light that bursts and flashes over the dusty pines lining the tracks. The rails beneath us make a rheumatic hum, and Jeanie, the window at her back, is nearly a silhouette. That seems to make her more solid, the denseness with which she blocks the light.

Later, I’d heard from someone else who knew her that she’d checked herself into a hospital.

Behind her, rows of massive white globes and pyramids and tall white stacks, billowing clouds of brilliant white steam, float by faster and faster. Slender and lofty tubes tipped with orange fires trail streaks of heat-agitated air, like invisible banners trembling in the wind.

That muttering overhead is more like yammering now, almost like yelps of laughter. Then it cuts off, abruptly.

“God! It’s been so long!” Jeanie says, her chin high. I look past the tendons in her neck to the fractured light sluicing by the glass.

The train accelerates to hypnotic speed. With a whisper, it seems to tear the world outside the window to pieces, as if the land and trees and buildings and machinery and sky had all been flung into a blender, and the glass bizarrely separates the stillness of this compartment from the catastrophic violence outside. The sight has a numbing effect on me, and my head is getting heavy.

She used to talk to me about “chafing.” The chafing of the arrangements she found herself in was an indication that individual fractions of mind or consciousness created a ghostly tumult around her, making her irritable to the point of desperation. She saw herself caught in the middle of something like a mobile the size of the world. Bigger.

“What do you think of the idea that insanity is a predator or a parasite you see only in its effects on its victims?”

I told her I thought it was a promising idea.

She had been obsessed with the subject of insanity; even then, to an oblivious fool like me, I could tell she was getting to be more and more at home with a tragic idea of herself.

“I close my eyes, look inside, and see the pistons, wheels, gleaming metal,” she declared with enthusiasm. “They don’t come from inside, or outside, exclusively, but from both at once.”

Her words come back to me at random, in a raft of incomplete memories.

“A question of time—if all time is simultaneous—the pieces of mechanized consciousness are drawn into a different . . . mode of time, and so they become immanent, which means—old? Or do I mean young, or older-younger-older-younger?”

That was her theme: minds devouring each other, taking pieces out of each other. One consuming another. The action was always understood in terms of eating, but the result was something else. Not digestion. Not excretion. Co-optation. Use. Loss.

The idea was that parts of people’s minds were being integrated into an interpersonal machine, or more than one. Sometimes these parts were torn out, like chunks of flesh ripped from a carcass, but sometimes they were left in place. Those parts left in situ would sometimes be completely inaccessible to the host consciousness, but not always. Quote-Insanity-unquote meant one’s mind, or part of one’s mind, had been lost to, or incorporated into, interpersonal machines, another species of mind following its own scheme of cause and effect—totally, or partially, for an instant, or a while, episodically, or constantly, or forever. Sometimes this could happen so briefly, or on such a small scale, that no one would be aware of it. One would be insane for only a split second. Fractions of consciousness were being used. The predators were the thoughts of other living things being thought with someone else’s mind, and minds consisting of pieces of countless minds. Long archipelagoes of insane people, insane animals. Tiny motes of insanity hidden in objects, plants, stones, buildings.

These machines consist of both material and immaterial elements and extended into this dimension from some other. Their tissue is and isn’t theirs . . . They don’t act according to need—the closest analogy would be sexual, like sex combined with eating. They are machines that build themselves; some parts are gravity; some parts are empty spaces, or light, or even darkness and cold, things that are normally considered strictly negative like death, absence, and silence; colors, gestures, relations of objects in a volume . . . emotions, symbols, and steel and copper and blood and nameless things . . . acts . . . subterranean slime . . . quantities, odors, textures . . . They are bodies seen one way, minds seen another way, and still other things to the infinity of all the ways of seeing. They actually consist in part of the way they are seen, and in relations between the different dimensions, the ways they relate, actually part of them, just like a wheel is part of a car.

“They’re organisms,” she’d told me, “but at the same time they’re like making a plan, seeing abstract relations . . . like doing calculations in mathematics. They aren’t many or one . . . and they have no reasons—they have no reasons”—here she spoke with a quickening intensity, almost fiercely, “They’re free! Really free!

I wake up. Jeanie’s eyes are fixed on nothing in particular, not exactly out of the window, but straight ahead. I don’t know if I am hearing that yammering again. I don’t believe I am. The country outside the window looks narrow, like a medieval landscape painting, crowded and deep. The sun’s orange and white octagons keep raking my face. We flash through a station, almost a blink, and I see the faces of the people waiting for the local train all smear together. As I am drooping back into half-sleep, Jeanie turns toward me. Perhaps she wants to sleep with her back to the window.

At dusk we came to the rim of the valley. The ridge line comes rushing toward the train like the edge of the world, crumbling away with terrifying speed.

We’ve switched seats. I sit by the window. A thrill comes over me—I feel in my chest, in my body, my own life, like light water, a sort of constantly vanishing glory. We’re travelling at top speed now. Blue light fills the valley below, and seems to thicken, gathering into a dark, grainy band of deep indigo all around us. Just opposite me, that blue thrusts a shapeless finger high up into the sky, like a plume smoke. A single planet shines at me, almost directly level with my eyes, and I realize that there is a fine mist in the valley, and a thin veil of dim white clouds hanging just above us; the dark indigo band is really a clear gap in between; the “finger” isn’t dark blue smoke, but a rent in the white cloud above.

Beneath me, there is the crust of the earth. Beneath that, magma. Go far enough, through the core, eventually there will be crust again, and the bottom of the ocean. Then sea water. Then air. Then the edge of the atmosphere. Then infinite nothingness, directly beneath my feet. The entire earth is a little trapeze, holding me up over yawning emptiness. And space extends to either side of me, in front of me, behind me, and above me as well, forever. I see the planet out there in the blue the way I might see the porch light at the end of a dark street; I mean not as a light in a high ceiling or as something in a different plane of existence from me, but as a part the space I occupy. All that there is between that planet and me are this glass, a trivial bit of air, and an inconceivable expanse of empty space. A plummeting fall that would go on for years and years. Innumerable years.

The light changes on the hills all at once. Behind them I imagine clicking gears shimmering with incessant, precise, mindlessly purposive adjustments. The train cants forward and the ridges bound up around us like rigid waves.

My weight shifts oppressively as we begin the long brake into the first station stop.

The air conditioning flutters out, and now the compartment is stuffy. Drowsing, I am dimly aware of a vague outline on the other side of the window and hope that no one wants to share our compartment. The train is so completely silent I can hear a fly buzzing around. It must have wormed its way into the car when the hatches opened, and crept under the door, or through the lock. A cold, gelatinous living thing buzzing to and fro above me, and occasionally knocking against the window with a distinct splat.

Jeanie springs up and reaches for her bag.

“We’re here,” she says, looking down at me from between her upraised arms.

I follow her from the carriage into the stale heat of the open platform. The lights are on in the station, but the curved platform is dark. I can’t see either end of the train, only this middle section, white glowing blue. We walk alone into the empty station. The train is gone when we emerge from the other side.

I can hear the rustling of trees and brush far up on the ridges. Behind me, the public announcement system murmurs sleep language, in short, declarative phrases.

Jeanie leads me up a steep sidewalk, lined with old shops in wood-frame houses, curtains drawn across the windows. There are no signs. There are no streetlights, just a porch lamp here and there, throwing distinct circles of wan radiance onto the pavement. Trees dense with leaves tower over the buildings in foamy black heaps and seem to trap the light close to the ground. The town is beautifully eerie, and I begin to feel a pleasurable conspiratorialness with it. Finally, I comment on the quiet.

“That’s right,” Jeanie says, without really looking back at me. She’s walking steadily along and I try to fall in step with her, beginning to breathe hard. It’s difficult to shake the jolted-awake feeling. Synchronizing my pace to hers, I suddenly find the effort far less.

After a few moments, I allow myself to drop out of step with Jeanie again. I think I prefer the effort to that strange ease.

As if sensing this, she says, “The town really empties out in the summer.”

There are a few streetlights now, like cowled figures dropping cones of heavy light down onto the street. Some are older; simply lamps stuck on poles, and each creates a short halo of foliage around itself where it nestles in the overhanging branches. The houses here are all dark.

We come to the top of the street, where it intersects another that climbs up toward the peak of the hill, to our left. We go down the shoulder. After only a few minutes’ descent, Jeanie points to an overhung side street that opens into the darkness like a burrow’s mouth. It is illuminated by a solitary lamp at the corner that shines on a crescent of leaves like a stationary wave. A pleasant, night wind washes over me as we jolt down the slope toward it.

Turning onto the street is like going under a high archway into another world. Now there’s dark blue sky ahead, stars, black ridges jumbled against each other black on black, moving air stirring fragrant brush.

“We’re at the edge of town,” I remark. My voice sounds strange in the becalmed air.

“M-hm.”

She leads me to the silhouette of a roof against the sky.

“Here we are.”

Crossing the pale, perfectly new sidewalk, she slips out of her pack and flings it over the high steel fence onto the lawn.

“Let me,” she pulls me forward and then takes my pack, throwing it over next to hers.

“You don’t have a key?”

“If I had I would have used it,” she says bluntly. “You go first.”

I pull myself up over the fence and drop next to her, lose my balance and sprawl forward. My outflung hands drive back a mat of newly-laid sod, exposing the coffee-ground topsoil beneath it.

We approach the house. The smell of fresh concrete, plaster, and paint mixes with the herby odor from the wild hillside behind the lot. A steel trough, encrusted with dried cement, sits in the driveway like a small boat among heaps of bricks. A shovel leans against the wall of the house, marking it with a dim shadow in the blue. The front door rests on its side against the porch struts. It’s the kind you buy at a box store, adorned with a garish window of many small bevelled panes radiating from an oval centerpiece. Jeanie walks into the house over a threshold sheeted with clear plastic. I look around. There are other, similar houses there in the dark. I see exposed beams, a cement mixer, tools.

Going inside I can hear Jeanie moving around in the gloom, her feet making hollow sounds in the empty house. She looks up at me, her eyes dark in her dimly glowing face.

“I guess they’re remodeling,” she says flatly.

I bend forward to avoid her look and bang my hands against the knees of my pants, leaving faint blackish streaks of topsoil.

When I straighten up again, she has gone through to the next room. I don’t follow right away. My mind seems too receptive. I’m no longer tired, but I can’t seem to think about what I know is wrong. Jeanie is doing something that involves some scraping and rustling. I go through the doorway.

There’s a kitchenette in front of me, a few stray tools, a hammer, caulk gun, boxcutter with a few razors, nails, pins, scattered on the counter. The room beyond the kitchenette is floored with white linoleum, and its sliding glass doors open to the blue backyard. Jeanie crosses toward me naked from the far corner of the room, since I stand by the only door. Brushing by me she sways in my direction and I raise my hand; it streaks her forearm with topsoil.

Her face slackens.

“Dirty. Dirty.”

She plucks up one of the loose razors and slices the side of my neck with it. The left side of my head goes cold, and the back of my right knee and right foot instantly go numb. Jeanie cuts my neck first on one side then the other. I twist and flop forward over the counter and I feel her behind me darting her hand in around my shoulder and pushing my arms away. My breath against the counter, and spatter. She pulls me round to face her and keeps cutting at my neck. I watch my arms float up, but there’s no strength in them, and she easily bats them back down.

I taste blood. She’s gone. I see black streaks everywhere on the white. I am on my back, on the floor. My vision is dim, my eyes are dusty and cold. My neck hurts. I can’t tell where my hands and feet are, how I’m lying. My neck hurts worse—impossibly—burning like acid. They churn avidly, in a trembling, colorless light. I realize they’re eating. Rows of pistons, like piano keys, are applauding.

My heat and strength drain onto the linoleum. I tell my heart to stop. It must be made to realize it’s pumping my blood out of me, not through me. Each beat hushes in my ear, or the one that doesn’t seem to be glued to the floor, and through which the sound of muttering comes to me.

The searing pain in my neck is like a beacon in empty space; it won’t let me go. Mindless, automatic greed surrounds it, just out of sight.

My throat is in agony. I want to sob but whatever I do hurts it more. My body is cold, appallingly weak.

I drag myself to my feet. The night is paling. Outside I can hear the coyotes. They must have been on the train the whole time. Barely able to move, I stagger to the sliding glass door. I need to get out of this house.

In despair I tug nervelessly at the handle. I make a supreme effort and the rubber seal parts with a kissing sound. Hauling the door out of my way, I nearly throw myself off my feet.

My neck is raw, icy and burning. My shirt is stiff and glued to my body. Slowly I am leaving the house behind. The yammering is all around me, very near. I’m in the back yard. Which way do I go?

I call out.

“I am here!”

My voice is so weak I can hardly hear it.

Why am I calling?

“Here!” I call, frailly, my voice breaking. “I am here!

The ragged whooping erupts on all sides. It rises jubilantly into the sky and dissolves into a swarm of shrill yipes.

The explosion of noise makes me dizzy, I fall at full length on the patio—my wounds are jarred open and bleed again. I gasp, shake. I feel myself nuzzled. For a moment I can almost see myself from a distance—a wild distance.

I turn onto my side. Some part of my mind sees all this, my body outstretched and the coyotes and the grass, house, stars, patio, inside and out, and it’s leaving me. A tongue jabs at my neck—I cry out, convulsing with pain and yet not with surprise. I seem to know all this, or part of me does. I taste my own blood in an alien mouth.

From the corner of the house, Jeanie slinks toward me out of the dark, her loose hair frisking her shoulders. They are so precisely coordinated that neither she nor the coyotes take any notice of each other. She kneels beside me and takes my head in her hands, laying it in her lap. This is so painful that I cry out in despair, the churning mutter roaring in my ears and rising to cover the sound of my voice.

Jeanie is bending over me, impassive as a nurse. She lays my arms outspread on the ground to either side of me, her breasts brushing my face. Now she is stroking my forehead.

She whispers to me, “This is necessary,” lisping it over and over to the shrinking thing that is still me. “This is necessary.”

Jaws sink into my calf and I cry out in pain.

She smiles down at me. Her face becomes part of the sky. She soothes me as they begin eating.

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Michael Cisco

Michael CiscoMichael Cisco is an American writer, teacher, and translator currently living in New York City. He is the author of novels The Divinity Student, The Tyrant, The Traitor, The Great Lover, The Narrator, Celebrant, and MEMBER, as well as the short story collection Secret Hours.  His short fiction has appeared in Lovecraft Unbound, Black Wings One, The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, Blood and Other Cravings, The Weird, and elsewhere.