He used to have choices; now, he has a hunger. He needs to find his fiancée.
Right now, though, he’s in the rigid dark, in the aftermath of dreams. In one of them, his flesh caught fire. The tongues of flame revealed themselves as fifty thousand ants, each one hungry and red and frantic with its mandibles. Waking tells him there are no ants. That’s only how his flesh feels. His skin shimmers within. He can barely contain his multitudinous appetites.
Coffin lid and sifting earth part like gauze and sugar. His fingers are hard now, like the talons of a condor. His old skin is a caul. He eats it. Its proteins feel rich on his tongue; they nourish him for the new life. Only the hair of his old self is recalcitrant. It clings like corn silk in his mouth. He feels the carrion beetles crawl within it. He wants to blow the hair out with his breath, but he has none. Breathing is no longer a hidden rhythm and a reflex. He has to search for it, perform it as a chore, or forget it altogether. Finally, the hair blows out, strand by wet strand, and goes dandelion-dancing away.
The skin he’s left to wear is moist and new but touched, already, by the tunnelings of insects. Their passages have left a kind of writing on his skin. No one is near to read it.
A young woman pauses to let her dog do its business. To his surprise, the man who’s come wandering from his own grave sickens at the thought of it. His gagging draws her attention.
“Are you okay?” she says and leans to look at his face. The moon is out, half-full and almost hidden in the blue buzz of the streetlight. “Jesus,” she says, and steps away.
She’s not the right woman. Nonetheless, he seizes her arm and bites, the salt of it bursting in his mouth. She’s screaming now, her voice so shrill it sounds like power lines arcing. The dog bounces around their legs, barking in a hoarse little voice. The woman tries to pull away, but he has her in his hands now, the bone and smooth beautiful muscle, and he bites and bites the salty brie of her, and soon she is quiet, but the dog keeps bouncing, barking. It seems more playful than protective. When the woman sags to the cement, the dog gets more excited, jumps on her and gets in the way. He pushes it aside gently as he can so he can continue.
“Shut that damn dog up!” someone yells, and a window slams.
What he’s really hungry for is his fiancée, the one who woke him to this life. He’d seen her at his window: the yellow half-moon oozing over the horizon in a haze, her yellow eyes like a second moon, and a third.
“Am I dreaming, Honey?” It was the only way to figure her return. His hands smelled of the roses he’d laid at her grave—rather, of the one he’d kept and crushed in his hands while he lay in prayer, in recrimination with God. Get the window open before she goes away, he thought, before the bubble of dream bursts. She said nothing but seemed eager for his embrace. He smelled the sex and surprise of her a moment before he felt what she was doing to him.
How long since then? The moon remained a half. The same half or another?
The sun is for the living. First light makes him find a place to fold himself away, between a brick wall and a box of trash. While he sits through slow hours, flies come to him and kiss him on the lips and eyes. Why not? His hunger for love became literal that yellow-moon night and left him bleeding. If he found his fiancée again, he’d greet her with teeth. Let the living practice a gentler love—even the smallest of the living. He feels the flies laying their gluey eggs. Within hours, he feels their pulse. His skin blisters, pregnant.
With evening, a long-legged bug picks its way on his arm, its steps light as dew. It bends its many knees to kiss him in its turn. He no longer minds being eaten. Each appetite is a facet of the larger hunger that is life. He feels closer to God, can almost hear Him breathing beyond the box of trash.
Which doesn’t mean he’s lost the appetite for love. He mistook it for rage. It’s easy when your flesh feels on fire and everyone in town wants a piece of you. If he finds her, he’ll bite, and be bitten in turn. Husband and wife are one flesh.
If not, anyone else will do.
Gordon Grice’s stories have lately appeared in Paramnesia (Grendel Press), Metaphorosis, and Horror Library Vol. 8. He reads creepy poems on a Youtube (@deadlykingdom). Find out more at GordonGrice.com.