A Bright and Bloody Becoming
A chill pervaded my body that year, pierced it like a needle carefully inserted into a balloon, keeping the structure intact while still infecting it. Its source could not be traced. It wasn’t the pressure drop of November, that foreshadowing of winter nights to come. It felt like something more pernicious and lasting, something that wouldn’t fade with the spring but would instead suspend my bones in its persistent cold, surrounding me like drifting clouds, encasing but never pressing in too tightly. Too omnipresent to ignore, but subtle enough in its infiltration that it made me question if I were imagining it.
I presumed it was my troubled mind made manifest, as most of my physical illnesses have been. I possessed a frightening capacity for translating mental pain into tangible problems. Sometimes it was unintentional and sometimes it was calculated, that desire shared by all those who suffer in silence. The need to bring pain into physical being so that it may be recognized and possibly conquered all the more easily. But it doesn’t really work that way, does it?
Looking back, perhaps it was negligent of me not to consider the basement and the macabre scene lying within its walls. But in truth, I gave it so little thought that it seemed inconsequential at the time. The typical aftershocks any sane person would experience didn’t worm their way into my consciousness. It was merely an inevitable outcome, a deserved one, and I refused to dwell on it any further.
On that particular day, I was bundled in several layers. A t-shirt, heavy sweater, and charcoal grey winter coat, the one with the circular collar high as a Victorian school marm’s prudish garb, swallowing my neck in weighty fabric. It was much too elaborate of a swaddling for forty odd degrees in mid-November. I was borne of hearty Midwestern stock, the Great Lakes blowing cold fronts down the state in expanding gusts like ancient illustrations of the wind as a man’s face, puffed cheeks expelling jet streams of air. I had been fortified for this climate. It usually took much more than a mild autumn chill to trigger such a desperate piling of clothing. I knew something was amiss, but I couldn’t punch my fist through the fog to grasp at the apparitions ahead.
There was simply that ever-present sense of certain doom, an anxiety cloud I was used to, yet somehow it felt truer and more urgent this time. There was just that — an indecipherable sense that would have been dismissed as a false premonition, a mere trick of an unwell brain, were it relayed to anyone else. While I was no stranger to anxiety convincing me of the certainty of dire outcomes that would never actually come to pass, I knew this wasn’t a lie. I wasn’t paranoid. It was there — shadowy and mounting — its ghostly fingers stretching to impossible lengths until it spanned the entire orbit of my existence. Regardless of what had happened days earlier, I refused to believe I was deteriorating. This wasn’t specific in that way. This was an as-yet-undefined voice shouting, ad nauseam, it’s coming, and you’ll know it when you see it. Just as it will know you.
Only that and the chill. The ice that no blanket or radiator would thaw from my limbs. I tried to eradicate it with steaming broths and teas, stews and oven-roasted dishes. But the odd shivers, like little quakes radiating from the inside out, persisted until I was convinced I could hear them like haunted, whispering voices calling my name, the clack of my shaking bones like the beating of some horrific drum.
Being alone slowly morphed from a comforting necessity to a nearly unbearable and constant state of dread. Shadows in the corner of the room took on sinister shapes in my periphery only to disappear as soon as I swung my head in their direction. Small creaks in the floorboards of the house began to sound like scratches inside my very brain, compounded by my lack of sleep (a reality that was typical for me, but only worsened the deeper I became immersed in the unsettling atmosphere).
That’s when the walks began. Sometimes I left just before dusk, when the faded orange hues began to kiss the horizon. Other nights, I would set out long after they’d dipped below the surface to leave an empty star-studded blackness in their wake. I would make my way to the woods, drawn to the thorny thickets marking the entrance to the path behind the house I now called my own. Like a young starlet in an old Dracula film, eyes drunkenly half-lidded from some semi-trance induced by my sliding grip on reality, I would forge ahead.
With nothing but moonlight to guide my way, I would trudge unhurriedly down the winding trail. The ground was unsure of the season, dew fighting frost to create an uncertain texture that neither crunched nor gave way beneath my feet. I never felt afraid out there, although a voice somewhere deep inside told me that was unwise.
As a child, I’d always avoided wandering too far into the woods, the spindly branches and ashen bark of the paper birch trees like specters waiting to pounce. I was gripped with chilling visions of their branches curling around my unsuspecting limbs and dragging me into the forest forever. But now, these treks into mysterious territory were comforting. They felt like the furthest thing from the trepidation I felt inside the walls of that house. Something buried in the depths of the trees and scratchy underbrush called out and coaxed like a guide, steering me where I needed to go with such certainty that I trusted it without question. Every night I wound up in the same spot, this strange area that one couldn’t quite call a clearing. It was much too small for that, but the space was exposed in that manner, separate from the density of the tangled web of trees leading up to it. It almost seemed to be highlighted, a beacon bathed in a glow that was too shimmery and ethereal to be from the moon alone.
I would sit in the center of its halo and gaze down the path from which I had come. From that distance, my house looked like the cabin of some fairytale witch who lived at the edge of the forest, spoken about in hushed tones by the children of a nearby town. Small and dark with yellow light glowing through the windows like so many eyes. I remember the distinct feeling of floating, and then my line of sight rising until it was level with the roof of the house. The wind would howl, crescendoing until it resembled a death rattle, the branches of the trees swaying and picking up speed until their movements were so violent, they threatened to snap off. The sound of the wood bending and twisting was maddeningly deafening.
I continued to float, except forward instead of skyward now, my entire frame struck with a weightless, free sensation, closer and closer to the house. The shingles of the roof came into view, my eyes discerning the sharp outlines as they shook violently, the wild wind coming ever closer to ripping them from their perches. The voices of the cold from within my skin tore free all at once, sounding in hundreds of tongues in endless variances of pitch. All a resounding chorus of the same. You hear me as I hear you, you hear me as I hear you, you hear me as I hear you.
My pace accelerated until I was hurtling toward the house, propelled by an unseen force, the wind raking through my hair like knives, the voices drowning out everything until suddenly it was over. I woke up in my bed, presuming it to be the next morning, the seeds of images from the night before vivid and hazy all at once, the line between dream and reality drawn thin as it often is in those first few minutes.
It continued like that night after night, the pull to the woods growing stronger every time. The voices grew louder, more tenacious and demanding, until I thought they would split me in two. I was being drawn into something. A pact or a permanent dream, I couldn’t say what really. Only that whatever it was, our unity was growing nearer with every passing night. I would take it, and it would take me. The eclipse of one another was the event for which we were both meant. This I inexplicably knew.
The first time she spoke to me within the walls of the house, it seemed to resonate from the very floorboards, the rumbling tones like splinters in the oak, snapping and cracking with a ferocity that threatened to collapse the entire structure. Her voice was no longer countless tongues. It was but one: a voice that seemed to embody the terrifying power of nature itself. It was rough and weathered, ancient and flinty yet hypnotic, enticing me to fold myself with its cursed wings. Coming from everywhere and nowhere at once, it oozed from the pores of the walls like so many huffing breaths.
Have you prepared for the bond? The time is fast approaching.
“Why are you here?” I had meant to shout, to be a defiant and steadfast match for her insidious cries, but it came out a weak croak.
That is entirely your doing, darling Isabelle.
I shivered at the mention of my name. The creature, spirit, whatever she was, had never uttered it before. It sounded otherworldly in her hissing, commanding cadence, an eerie yet seductive oath of things to come.
No. That single word echoed across my brain, and she answered immediately. I couldn’t be sure if she was inside my head or simply perceptive enough to sense my doubts. As much as I wanted to deny the possibility, to hang onto some shred of the control I felt slipping further away every day, part of me knew it was the former.
Have you forgotten your misdeeds already? Impressive resilience for a novice. No screams awaking you in the aftermath? Nights of pitiful regret plaguing your every thought?
She cackled, and the walls reverberated with it, cracks beginning at the ceiling and descending in spidery fault lines. It was a sound more powerful than any thunder I’d ever heard. It skidded across my heart as though her claws were wrapped around the muscle, contracting it in her mighty fist.
Don’t you already know the answer to that?
Banking on the fact that it was already non-existent, I gambled with my privacy and spoke only with my mind, curious to see the extent of her reach. There was an answering pull deep in the pit of my roiling belly when I did so, and in a horrifying instant, I knew I had widened the gate.
Cleverest of girls, aren’t you? I know so much more than you have imagined, for I have always been here. I knew you would return someday. Tell me, were their shrieks as satisfying as you hoped? Did you dream of that night as a girl, waiting for the day you were strong enough to bring your desires to fruition?
The memory of vibrant red and garbled screams flashed across my mind, gruesome snapshots from the night I returned to this house to kill them. There had been a near religious ecstasy thrumming through me as I sliced through their throats that night, their blood splashing across my face until I was swathed in a slick coat of it. Like a disciple approaching the sacrificial altar for worship, I reveled in the evidence of their downfall, the job really so very easy in the end. Panting and flooded with adrenaline, I held my hands up to the dim bulb dangling from the basement ceiling and slowly rotated them, admiring the crimson glint in the muted light. The concrete foundation of the room had quivered at the edge of my vision that night. At the time, I dismissed it entirely, certain it was simply a side effect of the waves of euphoria coursing through me, the sense of closure their deaths had given me. Now I wondered if it had been her shaking underneath the floor, her magnificence awakening at the first taste of blood.
I fled the shaking house, unsure of where to escape to. The woods belonged to her as well, of that I was now certain, and everywhere I ran, I heard her voice inside my head, her deranged laughter like insects skittering across the surface of my brain. I turned back to see that the house was intact and still as a frozen river. From here, there was no hint of what the interior held, and for not the first time, I wondered if all of this was only visible to me.
For obvious reasons, I hesitated to entertain the idea of attempting to verify this. It wouldn’t do to have prying eyes on the house, nor did it seem wise to invite questions of my sanity. I collapsed to the ground and hugged my knees, the stance bringing to mind all the times I had cowered on the property, barefoot and girlish, hunted by their watchful eyes but still small enough to disappear. And disappear I did, full well knowing the punishment would be worse but willing to sacrifice it all for more time, the delay of the outcome feeling so very vital.
You have protected yourself admirably, but now I am here. Nothing will cross this threshold without my permission. Come back inside, Isa.
My heart warmed at the familiarity of the nickname. As frighteningly invasive as all of this was, there was an alluring comfort about her knowledge of me. There was no one with whom I could share my crimes. The isolation I craved had only cracked my spirit bit by bit, a persistent chisel at every fiber of my being as I became more frustrated by the silence of that house. It had begun to feel like a trap instead of the reclaiming I had imagined, the house still theirs in some unspoken way. Even in death, they denied me anything I desired.
It is yours. It is ours. It CAN be ours, darling Isa. Do not doubt what we can become.
And what can be become?
Let me show you.
On shaky legs, I rose, forcing my chin to the sky. It was painted with dark clouds sweeping around one another like hoards of black cloaks. I absently wondered how long it had been like that. I fixed the still-open door with an unwavering stare, my hands clenched into fists at my sides, and marched back into the welcoming darkness.
They no longer have power over you, yet you believe they are still the masters of this house. Why?
I don’t choose to… the past doesn’t leave simply because you will it away.
I had given up the pretense of the spoken word. It seemed unnecessary, almost an archaic method of communication. I now knew our connection ran deep and solid, our thoughts, our minds, our desires entwining with one another more and more each day. We were becoming inextricably bound, a network of vines too hearty to be felled by any manmade blade. It was an intoxicating feeling unlike anything I had ever known. Intimacy had always been elusive to me, a slippery creature my hands could never quite grasp. Was this what people spoke of so raptly?
“Oh, but it does. No one is the master of you, Isabelle. Not anymore. Don’t you know that?”
Her voice was a melodious rasp in my ear as she spoke aloud for a moment, her long fingers combing through my hair. She had begun to take nebulous form over the past few days, at first just a flicker of an outline, her curvy figure extending into serpentine coils on her lower half. As time went on, the details filled in as though an invisible hand were sketching her body, the strength of her image growing in time with the strength of our bond. Her upper half was almost that of a normal woman, the shape of her waist and arms familiar, yet her skin was a pale green that gave way to darker hues below her hips. Her hair was wavy, flowing and white, luminous as though a thousand points of light were radiating outward from it at all times. Her eyes were mercurial, shifting with her mood and my own, two things that were fast becoming indistinguishable from one another. Sometimes they resembled a snake’s eyes, the pupils vertical black slits layered atop vibrant yellow irises. At other moments, they went completely black, darker than the dankest cavern. When overwhelmed by my response, my emotions flowing into her like we were tributaries of the same river, they would shade a pure white, glowing like two small orbs.
She lay behind me, the spirals of her lower body winding around my bare legs like curious little creatures, tickling and exploring.
Aren’t you my master?
A soft laugh rumbled through my back as she pressed against me, her breasts between my shoulder blades.
To merge is not to eclipse.
I have no intention of erasing you, Isa. You should know better than to trust what distorted notions of love you have been taught. Do you truly believe us to be like all of them?
Is that what this is?
That is the name you have given it, darling. It bounces inside your thoughts with increased fervor every day.
My heart thumped, wild and erratic in the cage of my chest. I hadn’t wanted to admit it, but there was no hiding anymore. Not when someone else was inside me every minute of every day.
Do you object?
I waited for the answer I already knew would come.
Never. We belong to each other. It is my privilege to be the catalyst of your fearsome potential.
How did you know I would come?
I told you. I’ve watched you for so very long, Isa.
Her voice sounded inside my head, soothing syllables that rang in such strange harmony, and sleep came more easily than I had ever known possible.
The woods responded to her and, in turn, to me as well. She bent over the soil and crooned to the roots, a siren song whose foreign tones I recognized in my marrow. The winding tendrils coursed through the dense earth, mimicking the effortlessly fluid movements of her body as they crawled closer to the house. The bowing of the branches, that wood-snapping sound that now seemed to fill my every waking moment, fusing with the rhythm of my own pulsing blood, flooded the atmosphere, leaving room for little else. Soon the tallest branches were stretching over the house, weaving together in a dense arch over the roof, encasing it in a fairytale thicket. We were the dark princesses locked away in the forest, dwelling in the house where few dare to tread. It was no longer just a fantasy of mine.
This is what you were showing me. All those nights… waking up unsure if I had dreamt it all.
She slithered over to where I stood at the edge of the newly formed copse, her serpent’s tail making its way across the ground with impressive speed. She coiled her body around mine, the reptilian slick of her scales holding tightly to my hips and legs, her arms threaded around my shoulders. Even her hair, that white mane that flowed as though perpetually combed by the hands of a balmy sea breeze, mingled with mine. It was a grounding embrace. It should have been smothering for someone like me, someone who had shunned the hands of so many who had come before her, their touch like a searing brand upon my skin, a twitching burn that made me hiss and claw away. But it wasn’t. I thought yet again… is this what people speak of?
I dutifully ignored the throb inside me, the beat, beat, beat that wanted to pull her nearer until we were but one body. It didn’t matter. She knew. She always knew. A low, throaty chuckle emanated from her mouth, and when she spoke this time, it wasn’t telepathically. Her lips moved against my ear, the aching brush of their warmth breathing life and yearning into me every time they grazed my skin.
“Gone are the days of banishing what you crave. Do we not share everything? Did you not think I would give you this too? Together, we have no secrets. No limits to what we can achieve.”
She clasped me even tighter, pushing me against the house as the press of her heat joined every part of me. I felt enveloped, surrounded and held so very safely. I sagged against her, letting out a long breath I didn’t know I’d been holding in, my shaking hands slipping around her elegant shoulders as her lips met my neck.
You are with me now. Where you belong. You are home.
Every cell within me believed it. I leaned my weary head against her shoulder, the crackle of ancient wood and her panting breath in my ear.
As I lay in the bed which I had come to think of as ours (silly really, when the whole house, the woods, everything as far as the eye could see was ours), naked and sated, a great sense of rebirth washing over me, I realized I wanted to see it. I hadn’t dared to descend those steps since I killed my parents, unsure of what to do with the aftermath. The cleaning of their mess didn’t feel like a task that belonged to me. Despite it being my own doing, I blamed them for it. Blamed their bits of scalp and fragments of bone for painting the walls, blamed their unruly blood for the splatters across the floor. They had made such a mess of my mind and my life, their pummeling fists and manipulative words from sneering lips staying with me long after I had left their home. They were an indelible stain I could never scrub out of my skin no matter how ruddy and raw I rubbed my body, scouring in hopes of uncovering a fresh new layer underneath, something they hadn’t touched with their sinister need to torture me into a shell of a person. Why should I deign to remove the untidy disorder their deaths had caused? Let them languish. Let them dissolve for days, weeks, and months, decayed and gnawed by rats until only the clean white bones remained. I wouldn’t fall to my knees to wash away their blood.
Despite this, I knew something would have to be done. Fear seized me, running down my spine like a shiver-inducing gust of winter wind, and she encircled me in her strong arms, hands stroking down my sides until I stopped shaking.
You will never have to face that. I fed from them, siphoned every bit of nourishment from their useless existence. Trust that while they caused you great pain in life, they are thoroughly gone from this world. What a glorious feast you left me, darling Isa. The souls of ones as hollow as they were are always the most delicious.
I smiled and leaned into her embrace, the words leaving my thoughts before I could even register their existence.
I love you.
Some remaining part of me, a vestige of the moral rules of the world I had left behind, considered the twisted truth of this. But try as I might, I couldn’t muster any sense of the guilt I knew I should feel. I hadn’t spoken the words since she had astutely plucked them from the depths of my brain. Giving voice to it felt like an acknowledgement I wasn’t ready for that day, but I was now. How could I not be? There was only her. There was only us.
I will always love you, my darling girl. Always.
What is your name? How have I never thought to ask you that?
I frowned at my own thoughtlessness. In a way, it seemed like a useless formality. We were beyond that, weren’t we? Still, she uttered my name with such devotion. I wanted to reflect that back to her.
Names become less important when you are as old as I am. What would you like to call me?
I thought for a long moment, trying to summon a title both beautiful and meaningful, a name worthy of all that she was.
Always a clever girl.
She tickled my ankles with her tail and laughed softly against my shoulder.
How will we feed you again?
I turned around in her arms and gazed into her hauntingly beautiful eyes. They had gone pearly white, feeding off the love that radiated from me. A conspiratorial smile spread across her plump lips, a hunger that was nearly libidinous written in the narrowing of her eyes.
They will come to us. They will not know why, but they will come.
The thicket parted, and I waited at the door, smiling with the knowledge of how very good I would be at this. I could feel it all: the irresistible glow of my new skin, the sheen of my dark curtain of hair, the seductive charms I had learned from her flowing through me like a potent drug. The empowerment of all that she had imparted was palpable, a second heart beating within me, stronger than my own had ever been. The metamorphosis was slow at first, so gradual that it had escaped my notice.
One crisp winter day, she had smiled at me, pride in the upturning of her mouth and the luminescent waves of hair cascading down her back, and turned my body toward the mirror. I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I had looked at my reflection. I had grown so accustomed to avoiding it, the image staring back at me always like a specter of the past, the scars written across the canvas of my skin a reminder I wished to ignore.
I resisted her attempt at first, chin turned into my chest, eyes downcast, but then her delicate fingers clasped my chin and lifted it until I met her gaze.
Trust me, little one.
I forced myself to look into the mirror and gasped at what I saw looking back. I had shed my outer layer, leaving behind that which I had always yearned for. I was someone new. Someone untouched by them.
You are not new. You have always been this. You needed only to open the gate. As I have told you… you were made for this.
I turned my head and sealed our mouths in a fierce kiss. A kiss from her always felt like something holy, a sharing of breath and life that was unlike any fumbling attempts I had made with others. All of that felt like a previous life now, a sleepwalking imitation of something that resembled a person but wasn’t. Not really. She pulled back, resting her forehead against mine and licking tenderly at my bottom lip.
You are so formidable. I always knew you would be.
As the door opened, a man with a befuddled wrinkle in his brow entering our house, I remembered her words and felt invincible, a terrible power unlike anything the world around me had ever seen. He looked around as though waking from a dream to find himself somewhere strange and unexpected, a mystical disorientation whose effect was pleasing to watch. Not that I had doubted her. How could I?
“Come in. You look lost,” I said with a gentle hand on his shoulder, conjuring a mask of concern into my features. “You must be hungry.”
Lying in wait behind me, hidden and ferocious, Angitia growled, and I smiled.
Paulette is a queer, nerdy nonbinary being residing in the formidable hills of Pittsburgh and shouting about the queer and existential themes of Bryan Fuller's Hannibal to anyone who will listen. Sometimes that's only her cats, but at least they're very attentive listeners.
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The beautiful thumbnail photograph was taken by her partner who you should also follow.