Inside

The dream started normally enough.

She was at work, at one of the large retail pet store chains. Her arm was soaked to the elbow as she scraped and scrubbed the algae of the blue backing and front acrylic of hundreds of tanks.

It was soothing, normal.

The customer was normal, too. He had a box in his arms. He examined the aviary for a few moments then approached. He held up a battered cardboard pet carrier like an accusation.

“My parakeet died.” He stated, wielding the words like a weapon. The man seemed to think that no other words were necessary. His eyes gave away the confrontation he was prepared to engage in.  This was normal, too.

“Did you notice anything unusual?” She asked. A lot of people were surprisingly unconcerned about animal death, but the details could nearly always be teased out. She lifted the bird from the box. She had sold this one only a few days ago.

“No, but I’m sure there is some kind of disease in your birds and I want a refund! I don’t want another one of your sick, mass produced birds!”

She sighed, internally. This was normal, too. The bird was light in her hands.
“How was he eating before he died?”

“Well, I bought those pellets but he didn’t seem to like them much.”

“Any seeds, fruits or veggies?” She already knew the answer. It was just normal ritual at this point.

“No.”

“Sir,” she began carefully, “parakeets and most other birds don’t switch well to pellets. You have to transition them carefully. A parakeet or a cockatiel has a high metabolism. They literally will starve themselves. The instructions are given on your care sheet and on the bag of pellets.”

As she was talking she walked to the shelf with the bird feed, grabbed the bag the man had probably bought, the bag she didn’t see him leave the store with. She turned the bag over, smoothed the crumbled plastic and showed him the instructions. The belligerence went out of the customer’s eyes as it always did.
Mumbling confusion, he took his bird back and left the store. She still would have honored his request for a refund, corporate policy dictated she do so but she had no interest in clearing the man’s confusion. Payback for his careless death and mindless accusation. For the way he had stared into the aviary looking for more dead or ill birds to justify his position.

She stood there for a while, thinking.
She had the answer. She knew what to do.

Unnoticed by customers and coworkers, she poisoned the fishtank system with an overdose of Melafix. She crushed the rodents and reptiles with her feed, snaring them in fish nets to hold them in place.

It wasn’t until she had started in on the aviary that she was caught by a manager with a parakeet in her left hand, its head twisted around in another.

That was the exact moment awareness and sanity returned to her. A moment later, she woke terrified of the realization that she had no free will.

When she got up and looked at her baby sleeping the next morning in its crib, also normal, she realized it wasn’t a matter of choice. She couldn’t choose to not love him, she couldn’t choose to suffocate him. She stumbled out into the living room.

It would only take one small quirk in her brain, one small moment of nightmare to change her perceptions, alter her choices.

She pressed her head against the glass coffee table and laughed.

It Dwells

It came only after her breath had steadied into the long deep rhythm of sleep. Dark fingers crept along her jaw, ebony limbs slid over her torso. A blank, empty visage nestled itself between my face and hers.

“She doesn’t love you, you know.”

I didn’t say anything in reply. Please, please let me sleep.

“She only feels sorry for you.”

I turned away, carefully, trying not to wake her. The low whisper continued.

“If you died, she wouldn’t have to feel guilty about leaving you.”

Go away. Let me sleep!

I felt its fetid breath on my cheek. I felt it’s tongue slithering against my ear. I tried to ignore it, but the whispers cut through my resistance. They were undeniable. I threw back the blankets and went out to apartment balcony. I sat on the wooden bench swing. The florescent light overhead was calm and did not crackle or waver. The stable glow soothed me, stabled me.

After a few moments, my loathing slithered up beside me.

“She never loved me anyway.”

Her Flesh

The womb of the universe had always been cold and dark, prickling with distant lights. Erde was born near the flickering candle flame of her Source. In the beginning, she wobbled uncertainly.

She had been born of that candle. She was born of dead brothers and sisters, and familiar strangers. The remaining siblings began to coalesce. One, flung himself upon her, tearing at her flesh and rending himself in his passion. Soon, a child of her own was born, the Moon.

Ages passed, and the Deep Sky showered her with his seed soon Life crept upon her. Brown sludge, then green tendrils crept across her clean pure flesh, corrupted it. Red seas faded to blue. Poisoning itself with it’s growth, it adapted and exploded.

Dismayed, Erde grew an icy shell to hide her shame from her siblings. But her warmth did not permit the ice to last. And Life renewed its ravagement upon her skin.

She tried to burn the insult off.

But in the end… it won.

The Vulture and the Woman

“I have you.” he said to himself. Surely, to himself. Surely not to the broken thing he cradled. She didn’t hear him, however. She was unresponsive to his crooning. She was the one leaving him to pick up the pieces.

She had told him it would be alright.

She had cradled him once like this, he remembered. When she had picked him up, a bundle of ragged black that was weak and dying in the snow.

There were good fairy tales, he knew. He breathed in deeply of her scent, lesser now. He remembered her hands, smoothing down his feathers. He remembered the scent of her flesh, the scent of her spices and oils. So much was denied him, now.

I can heal you. She said. We will go together, and you will be a Prince, again.

He saw that she had been mad, now. Eccentric and mad and… lovely. She had been lovely. She was lovely.

But she was dead now. He had pulled her from the water into which they leapt… but she was gone and he was alone there. He stared up, up the cliff from which they had plunged, and into the deep pale sky he would never touch again.

And after a moment he looked down and began to eat.