content warning: mild body horror
The rain is beginning to pick up as I stand in the tall grass, not too far from the road. I’m waiting for someone. I’m waiting for you.
And sure enough, I see the headlights of your car pierce through the downpour. You can just make out my form through the rain and the dark of the encroaching night. And there shouldn’t be a young woman in a white dress standing out here, all by her lonesome. She could get very sick or even, if this storm escalates (which it will), drown. So, you slow down your car. You slow it to a stop.
You crack open the door, leave it just ajar for the moment. Maybe you take some time to wonder what kind of girl would be standing out in a field, so far away from any city, even any barrio, at a time like this. What are you doing here, so far away from any place you might call home?
Perhaps you are hesitating to leave your car, simply wondering why I do not shiver. Once you judge either the rain to not be too great a threat or my safety to be too great a need, you push your car door all the way open and step outside. And that’s when I get my first good look at you. You are a young man, barely more than a boy growing a weak moustache to hide your baby face. You try to stand tall, sell yourself as strong and resolute. But the little things, the twitch of your brow, the steady rise in your heartbeat, give you away. You tremble in the cold, more than you thought you would. You grab the flaps of your coat so it doesn’t fly away, pull you away, let the storm whisk you away into the sky, into heaven.
“Hey,” you yell. You can barely see me as you shield your eyes from the water. You left your headlights on and for brief moments some of the raindrops look like falling crystals. I wonder, as I always do about the men who pull over for me, as I always do to no resolution, if I remind you of someone. Because there has to be a reason you would do something so foolish. Haven’t you listened to the tales your Lola or Lolo has surely told you?
Maybe I remind you of someone you once thought you couldn’t live without but have had to live without. You should barely be able to make out my face, so maybe you’ve filled in the blanks with features of that someone, and that is what has drawn you to me. You couldn’t possibly bear the image of her face driven into the mud, suffocating. Or maybe you are just so lonely that of course you’d stop at the side of the road to try to comfort a girl out in a storm.
I turn away from you and start walking away from the road, deeper into the overgrown grass. You yell for me again and start running. For you, it doesn’t quite register how unhindered my steps are by the rain, the muck. I hear you slip, your pants and coat getting caked in mud. I don’t worry that you’ll turn back, that you’ll say to yourself that I’m not worth it, that you’ll head back to your car and drive back to whatever kind of life you live. I don’t worry that you’ll try to forget this thing ever happened. Because you won’t. I hear you pick yourself up, fruitlessly try to shake off some of the mud, and continue plodding along through the field. It’s getting dark.
It really is your fault for following me out here, for being this naïve.
You can barely see me (and maybe you don’t, maybe your vision is tricking you into thinking a shriveled tree swaying in the heavy wind is a girl) but you continue on. You push forward and only pause when you see the house—the rancid heart of a dead hacienda that could collapse and swallow up anyone inside it at any moment. Its wooden walls are painted a dark red that seems to bleed in the rain. You behold it for a moment. The calamansi and duhat trees that surround it, and whose fruits seem to somehow glow, are strange to you. Their fruits, that should not be so vibrant next to something so decayed, are ripe, just like yours soon will be. You do not trust this house. You fear it, even. Every strand of your skin is shrieking at you to turn back, as they know what will happen to you. But you make out my figure opening the door and entering the house. The shadows, the dark inside it are so strangely complete that you no longer see even a sliver of my dress, my skin.
I know you turn your head back, look to see how far your car is. You don’t see it. It’s too far away. But even if it were close, you weren’t just going to forsake your mission. You turn back and pull yourself to the house, toward me.
There is a steady, rhythmic sound the water makes as it slides off your coat and plops onto the wooden floorboards. You make the sign of the cross as you step through the threshold, either for yourself or for me. Maybe with every step you take you convince yourself more and more that I am that person who has disappeared from your life, that person you need to fill some hole in your heart. You would need to believe that, now.
You feverishly look around to see nothing but old rotting dark wood walls, a dead living room with furniture stripped bare, a staircase that would crumble beneath your weight. I am not there. I can hear your breath quicken. You need me to be there. You shout, “Hello?”
You spin around, using the flashlight on your phone to see. The rain pelts the walls of this house sideways like bullets. I can feel your heart begin to pound in your chest, tantalizingly so.
Just wait, a little longer. I’ll join you soon. The night is almost settled in.
You continue to walk through the house, through the rooms bereaved of any life they may have once had. Some of the walls, you notice, have deep black burn marks that must have been left long ago. Either from fear or from the cold or from a mixture of the two, you are shaking, almost violently. I hear it in your voice.
“I… I saw you come in here. It’s not safe for you.”
You keep turning and shining your flashlight behind you, as if anything would have changed, as if I would have snuck up on you. But I’m not there, yet.
“Come with me,” you say, once the trembling in your voice has dissipated slightly. You try to speak in a stern tone, to make yourself believe that you are more of a man, that you can protect the girl you saw on the side of the road, that you can protect yourself.
For a moment, I believe, it occurs to you that I may be some sort of squatter, perhaps living here with my family. There are no signs that anyone has been living here, but it makes little sense for no one to have made a home out of an abandoned house like this. And yet here it stands, devoid of life. Nowhere to sleep. Not a crumb of food.
You lower yourself to your knees and feel the wood of the floor. You focus on it. Some of it seems discolored, almost stained red. I know you begin to feel dizzy, the blood rushing out of your head. This should make it just a little easier for you to believe whatever you need to believe in these last moments.
And the night has finally settled in, I feel it flowing in my arteries. Even from another room, I can hear your irregular heartbeat rising, threatening to burst like a plum. I begin to salivate as I remove my dress. I hold my left ring finger’s nail, as it has now grown quite sharp, against my skin, just below my ribcage. I puncture my flesh and begin to tear a line around my torso.
And you hear it. I hear a sudden shift. It must sound like someone unzipping a sleeping bag to you. Ah yes, a sleeping bag, what a squatter would need. But you don’t quite believe that, do you?
“Hello?” you say again. You care too much. It tempts me to be kind.
I hear you crash to the floor as you hear wings rip themselves out of my back. The sound couldn’t be mistaken for rain. You struggle, push yourself by the elbows away from the noise. With a single flap of my wings, the top half of my body frees itself from the bottom. My spine snaps in the middle, loudly. You scramble mindlessly on the floor and thud your head against the wall in an almost musical, loving response.
When you wake up, I am with you now, just above you. It’s almost funny, ironic that you don’t immediately realize this. The first thing you notice is a snake-like weight upon your arm, slithering into your lap. You shudder, try to wrestle it off of you, but you’re on the ground with your back against the wall. You’re just too weak. You focus your eyes on the elongated tongue now crawling up your chest, try to make sense of it. Before you even accept it as real, you slowly trace it to its source. The next thing you see of me are my intestines hanging, suspended from my body like a chandelier from a ceiling. Your heart is thrashing in your chest now, entirely ripe. Your gaze slowly climbs up my body, to my face. And I am not how you imagined I would be. You can no longer fill in the blanks of the girl by the roadside with whatever you need to. It’s irreconcilable. And your heartbeat falls, just a touch.
Almost as soon as you limply try to push my tongue from off of your body, away from your ribcage, it’s over.
A little later in the night, once I have had my fill, I rest by what remains of you. Any love, any pain you may have had now coats the walls of my throat. It’s ours now.
I pick up the phone that you dropped on the floor, search for any clues as to who you might have been, who you thought I might have been to you. There is only a photo of some fat cat that must be wondering when its next meal is coming. I toss it.
I dig into your pockets until I find your wallet. There is nothing in it but your ID and a few hundred pesos. I toss that aside as well.
And then I put myself back together and wait. I wait a long time, just until the monsoon relents. Once it does, I don my white dress and walk through the tall grass, which has since grown taller, more lush, until I am just close enough to the road to be seen. And there, I continue to wait. Once in a while, a car will pass by. Once in a longer while, a car will slow down before speeding up again, as if its driver had just been unsure of the road.
And I wait, just a little longer, until it happens. I hear a car’s engine slow down, feel the headlights shining on me as if I were a prized gem. The car stops, and the door clicks open. It takes a moment, but there, there you are.
James is a writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. His short fiction has appeared in Tales to Terrify, Maudlin House, Novel Noctule, and MetaStellar. He currently resides in Los Angeles. His work can be found at https://jamescannice.wixsite.com/writer.
photo by Georgi Kalaydzhiev (via unsplash)