THE COCOON - LJUBO POPOVICH
At her weekly therapy session, Amber tried to go through the motions, attempted to feel things a teenage girl was supposed to feel. Relaxing on the soft couch and closing her eyes allowed her normally sullen voice to become animated. Sometimes, she felt her heart grow suddenly light, before sinking back down into sorrowful depths.
“Tell me what you see.” The psychologist held up a board spotted with black blobs. She stared instead at his bloated nose. It hung from his face like a plaster cast.
“It’s a butterfly,” she lied. He scribbled on a pad. His hands and face looked like things that had been pickled.
“Amber… Do you know the purpose of our meetings?”
“To fix me.”
“There’s nothing to fix. You aren’t some broken contraption. Instead, we’re trying to unwrap the layers of you, like peeling an onion. Everyone has layers. They keep wrapping themselves up, over and over. It allows them to distance themselves from everyone, but it also keeps all of the bad things bottled up inside. If we remove the layers it can free us from stress. You see, when trauma happens, you always see the world through a lens. You can’t see anything without relating it back to that event.”
He was right. Not an hour went by in which she didn’t think about her dead father. It was as if he’d crammed himself into her head and every thought had to brush against him. She wanted to escape his presence, but she couldn’t. And his body was rotting, she thought, and her mind was filling up with the stench, and she had to keep rubbing up against that bulky, stinking thing inside her.
“If you’re always closing yourself off, shielding yourself, naked reality doesn’t get through. You get stuck in the past.” Sometimes the rhythm of his words tugged her consciousness toward trance. Other times it startled her into sudden understanding.
She watched his slightly sagging eyes. Her gaze lingered on his gleaming pad of hair, fake-looking and always about to slide off the side of his scalp.
They discussed her likes and dislikes, her hopes for the future and her favorite memories. She described her walks through the wilderness. He asked about her loneliness, isolation and destructive thoughts. Finally, she had to take deep breaths to slow her pulse, to conquer the anxiety.
It happened automatically. It was all in her head, he told her, the unbearable itch that arose when her mind lingered on death.
“Why don’t you tell me about a dream you had?” It was how he usually ended their meetings. Had hours passed since she lay down on that couch, or minutes?
“That day I dreamed of a storm,” she said. “And the dream came true.”
“Does it make you feel better to talk about it as if it were just a dream?”
“I’ll start from the beginning”
On that day it rained. Walloping, slippery, gross rain. Her yellow raincoat flapped as she ran to school. Her body burned beneath the sheen of hot precipitation. A vicious rash erupted on her thighs and arms.
What would it be today, she wondered, earthworms or the severed head of a bird?
Holding her breath, she flipped open the top of her desk and watched a pile of maggots wriggling on top of her Language Artsnotebook. She glanced up. Josh wore a wide grin, directed at her, and waved. He had long, greasy hair and a habit of drooling from the side of his mouth. Clutching the corners, she carefully tipped the jiggling creatures into the trashcan, gagging a little.
As the teacher droned on Amber wallowed in her seat, making loud squeaking noises with her boots, watching the cacophony of rain slashing the windows.
At the start of fourth period her arms and legs itched maddeningly and her breaths came in heavy shudders and the girl next to her asked if she needed to go to the nurse’s office. In response, Amber stuck her tongue out. The teacher cleared his throat and scanned the rows of indistinct faces from behind the thick lenses of his spectacles.
When the bell rang, Amber rushed to the restroom and studied herself in the mirror. Her thin lips were white. Slowly, gently, she inched out her fat tongue. It was a flattened leech, goose-pimpled, oozing out, a hideous purple thing. She raised her hands to her face – blue veins stood out like rivulets – shaking, and spat a wad of phlegm onto the sink faucet to dangle. In the stall she calmed herself down.
Indoor activities were assigned in lieu of a lunch period. Everyone turned to the window when lightning flashed. The rest of the day passed in a daze.
She waited in the library for her brother Danny to finish being tutored in Geometry, reading Alice in Wonderland.
But she couldn’t concentrate. Sleep had eluded her the night before. All night she’d lay in bed listening to her parents’ argument. Every so often a plate or cup crashed against the floor. The two of them weren’t used to spending time together. Her father had worked seventy hours a week at the car dealership before his illness. Then he’d become sloth-like, a deformity, her mother said, a disgrace. The money had evaporated under the mounting pressure of medical bills. Every day his face and head became more misshapen. No one could tell them what was wrong. The doctors were baffled. His oversized tumor was even featured on a show about anomalies of the human body. Rather than sympathizing, the host had dismissed her father’s comments and made a mockery of him for entertainment value. For months he shuffled around in slippers, with his head wrapped in bandages. The skin and skull constantly cracked open and resealed itself in alarming shapes. The only thing peeping through the mummy wrappers were his lifeless eyes. An indefinable, intolerable smell filled whatever room he happened to be in.
Amber began to see things in the corners of her vision. Just flashes, or unexplainable shadows. Her anxiety attacks were nothing new. But the bullies at school had it in for her. The only place she felt relief was the park and the forest beyond it. The stars, the cool night air, getting away from them all, that was what she cared about.
Every day she got home from school exhausted, and lay in bed until the screaming started and then she’d sneak into the woods. It got to the point where it was too hard to go through the front door, knowing her father was sitting on the couch with the television on, like an uninvited alien lodger, staring silently through that inhuman gauze at her as she passed by.
Her father lingered beneath the inoperable weight of his disease. Somehow less than human, like a stuffed manikin, taking up space in their living room, shuffling to and fro, molting layers of clothing, feeling around with groping hands, rummaging, and breathing noisily.
It was a miracle he was still alive. He was encouraged to enjoy his few remaining weeks in the company of family. Amber’s mother grew frantic, stole things from the supermarket, and drank until she collapsed on the kitchen floor. Her father sometimes stood over her unconscious form, lingering like a crucified effigy, nothing more than an accumulation of parts, waiting for some sign of life to evolve from nothing.
The day of the storm Amber stumbled home, lightheaded, shivering, and nauseous. Josh followed her the whole way, taunting her, slavering onto his sleeve. Her mother had taken the car out. She inched the door open. Amber smelled something awful as she stepped into the kitchen.
Her father’s shoes were in the middle of the floor, his legs sagging and his limp torso jutting from the mouth of the oven. Patches of his coat smoldered. For a few minutes she just stood there, unable to comprehend anything, feeling vague heat pour out, listening to a sickening sizzle. She didn’t touch him. The bandages had peeled off in charred lumps around the mummified flesh beneath it.
When paramedics pried his body up the head stayed in the oven because it was baked onto the sidewall. She swayed on her throbbing feet, panting beneath the blanket they gave her. For hours afterward her mind wandered into the dark recesses around reality.
To avoid seeing what was right in front of her she explored an untapped void just beyond her vision. She felt small, but she was attracted to the darkness. With a horrid clarity she could see herself plummeting. She took a leap and the whole world disappeared. Out of the darkness an enigmatic being beckoned her. A sleek dwarf hatched out of the massive festering tumor, standing behind that wall of darkness.
She only learned where her mother was a few days later. For months she’d been robbing liquor stores. They finally arrested her after a storeowner shot her in self-defense.
When Amber returned to the house briefly to pack her things she saw a charred spot on the kitchen wall crawling with flies. The oven had been torn out and a hundred flies congregated there and crawled about on each other, creating a mesmerizing texture.
The strange visions became more frequent. Death began to take on physical form in her mind.
Amber watched moisture plummet from opaque abysses of sky, watched it gather in green fascinations in the yard. The window screened her from the violent dance of droplets. The splashing and trickling calmed her mind.
Rain curtained the moors, hung sheets of foggy mist over the churning lake, and obscured the view of the water tower like choking gauze.
Amber and Danny arrived like two castaways. Days after the funeral, the surreal panorama was still unfolding before Amber’s mesmerized eyes. Bits and pieces came to light. Just listening to her monotone explanations sent shivers down Auntie’s back. Danny, on the other hand, went mute, but communicated more with his eyes than any child ever should.
Within a few weeks they were registered for therapy. Shortly after Amber’s dad’s funeral and her mother’s incarceration, Auntie and her hubby officially signed the adoption papers.
Auntie was tall, with gaunt cheekbones and eyes that bulged like a chameleon’s, and ghostly, pale skin. Her bare feet – crusty yellow things – jutted from under her stale nightgown. Her footsteps scraped on the wood floor whenever she slid around her studio, dabbing paint on the scattered canvases. In the evenings she smoked one clove cigarette after another through clenched yellow teeth with the radio blaring as she slapped stained playing cards on the table in an endless game of Solitaire.
When not absorbed with her work, Auntie maintained a laissez faire attitude toward the children. Her husband was never home, constantly on the road, bringing home bacon, as he said, though what exactly he sold, and how, remained a mystery.
The wet woods were crystallized in Amber’s memory. Danny was too young to remember the summer road trips to Auntie’s house and the incredible silence and immense darkness of those woods.
One night Amber followed iridescent moths onto the patio and watched them jostle in front of the naked light bulbs before steeling into the glistening shadows.
Giant, horny mushrooms leered from peeling tree bark as she wended through the darkening forest. A rusty pair of hedge clippers was tucked into her belt. Greedily, she snipped the swollen toadstools from their dank niches, and gathering them in her wagon like a cluster of softened warts.
She passed through charred pathways, where the soil gleamed like fresh tar and colossal millipedes snaked over colorful spangles of moss. Finally, she came to a steaming pond and listened briefly to the insects singing in the air. Slipping off her shoes she eased her toes into the dark water. The stones were smooth and slimy, capturing moonlight.
Something rustled above her. An ancient albino vampire bat dangled above her. No, it was a sinewy eyeball crusted over with rime. From the long, leafless, crooked limb of a tree a limp, porous sac of pus drooped. She could not break off her captivated gaze. It was like a phantom owl carcass. Carefully, she stood on tiptoe and extended a finger. The slightest jostle would cause it to tumble. The cocoon wavered, shied from her. Anxiously, she spread her coat beneath it and kicked at the fat end of the branch. It wobbled, a stringy ball pulsing subtly. She kicked harder and it plopped onto the fabric.
Gently, she clutched it and stomped her feet into her shoes.
Twilight glowered over the treetops. The Milky Way floated above her like frozen lymph.
Without making a sound she crept home and sidled up the staircase. The first thing she did after locking her bedroom door was stuff it into her mothball-scented closet. The cocoon seemed to absorb the darkness.
Amber stayed as far away from Josh as possible. He continued to follow her home without fail every day, whispering creepy things and staring with his hideous, pale face.
Of course, he ended up being assigned as her partner in Biology. According to the instructions they were supposed to drug the frog with chloroform and then slit its chest open.
“But won’t that kill it?” a student asked nervously.
The sweaty teacher leered at the impertinent question and cleared his throat in lieu of answering. “Be extremely careful with the scalpel,” the teacher announced, “it is sharp enough to lop off one or all of your fingers.”
Each child held a scalpel in his or her fist, prolonging the sense of horror settling upon them. One of the students, named Jack, slit open his brown paper lunch bag. The contents spilled out. “Wow,” he said. “Where can I get me one of these?”
“After your frog stops moving, carefully dispose of the chloroformed tissue with the forceps.”
“Mine’s still kicking,” somebody said.
Amber stared at the frog. It lay limply on the metal tray, belly exposed. Pretty soon, she’d be looking at its organs: things never exposed to the light of day, things meant to be hidden from prying eyes. She was about to see a beating heart. Fear retreated from her mind. Her body’s natural response to being near Josh was revulsion and uncontrollable itching, but part of her wanted to violate this living creature. Anger bubbled up and filled every inch of her.
“Let me do it,” she told Josh.
With trembling fingers, she inched the scalpel closer. A lump formed in her throat, saliva gathered in her mouth. The tip of the blade poked into the soft flesh. Spasmodically, the frog kicked once. Josh jumped. He gasped, reached for the blade. Instinctually, she whipped it out of his reach. The scalpel clattered onto the tray. “CAREFUL!” the teacher shouted right behind her.
Cautiously, she picked up the deadly instrument and continued to open the seam.
“That’s right!” the teacher said, hovering over her shoulder with foggy spectacles. “Very gently now.”
There lay the heart, beating furtively, trembling, moist and dark red. She continued to slice. A jiggling pile came into view. It was a phalanx of glistening eggs, like miniature eyeballs. A blur of motion caught her by the wrist. “My turn!” Josh shouted. Angrily, she wrestled and jabbed the loathsome hand touching hers. There was a clatter and crash. Amber looked through her goggles at Josh, who lay writhing on the floor. A stream of blood gushed from a wound on his hand. Within moments, his kicking feet fluttered and he lay still.
“He’s just fainted,” the teacher said uncertainly, stepping back in alarm.
“Do you ever feel like you’re dreaming while you’re awake?” Amber’s psychiatrist asked her.
“I feel like I’m dreaming all the time.”
He scribbled on his pad so vigorously that his jowls jostled. “Do you always see the ghost in these dreams?” They referred to her visions as the ‘ghost.’
“Have you ever thought about confronting it?”
“I try to ignore it.”
“Because you don’t believe it’s real?”
“ShouldI think it’s real?”
“I’d like you to confront it. Tell it it’s not real.”
“I screamed once before and it just hovered closer to me.”
He paused as if flipping through projector slides in his mind. “When tragedy strikes,” he said, “you’ve got to combat it. It becomes a lifelong battle.”
But labeling it as a tragedy was a convenience. It meant they could ascribe all kinds of effects to the cause.
“At some point in everyone’s life, darkness seeps in. Whether it’s death or illness, it comes, for some earlier than for others. You have to wade through darkness from then on. Passing through it is no easy task. It’s fraught with perils, but once you make it to the other side, like a ship passing through a storm, the sorrow diminishes and life all of a sudden seems worth living again. The perception of things mired in the past, anchored by that tragedy, will fade, and a whole new picture will emerge, like a new day over the mountains.” He examined her with very wrinkled eyes. She noticed a little gray hair sprouting out of the tip of his nose.
“Now whether it takes years or months to get through the darkness is hard to say,” he went on. “Whether you survive the cold and tender ache of those dreadful memories is up to you. How you push away that darkness can define how you progress. Will you ever embrace it? Will you let it consume you?”
Amber flipped through her biology textbook in class. Polyps, protoplasm, algae, organelles.
Her teacher went on, half-muttering the lecture as he scribbled useless diagrams on the chalkboard. “The brain is a little understood organ. For centuries it was regarded as the seat of reason, the vessel in which the intangible human soul is housed. Many have conjectured that the brain is an entity in and of itself. How could such diverse experiences, such immense comprehension, arise from such a squishy, gooey, icky, coiled, nasty, gnarled knot of palpitating meat? It sits in its little bloodbath, perfectly still, maybe getting a little pruney, inventing its own arms and legs, imagining whole engines and arranging collective systems, complex stratagems and whole civilizations. It does it all naturally, beautifully, guided by an instinct to survive, using every tool at its disposal. It is a relentless creature, awake even while we sleep, plotting, dreaming, squirreling away every last impression and memory for a rainy day.”
That slow creeping, gently nuzzling thing, hunched in the dark, slavering and wheezing heavily. Its oily fingertips grasping. Amber watched it out of the corner of her eye.
“You’re not real,” she whispered. It slid toward her, leaving a black trail on the tile floor.
“Infants are born with ‘soft spots,’ or points where the segments of the skull are slowly joining. Could this be the reason their spongey brains absorb information so quickly and efficiently? A newborn’s brain grows by one-percent each day in the first three months…”
It cast a long shadow. She stared directly at it. Its eyes were bloody. Its long tongue hung out. She felt a subtle scraping in the interior of her skull, and felt the throb of a headache spreading to her weary eyes. “Stop it!”
It hunkered before her, quietly seething, breathless, hungry. It had her father’s bulky shoulders, the lopsided, swollen head, and that hard protuberance like a secret offering, a subtle desire. And the one eye glazed over and dead, the other one glistening and alive, examining her heart, and pouring out some invisible pressure like disgust. It was a jealous eye, coated in a film of wrath. It lingered over her body, frozen in an icicle of terror, and infiltrating her like rainwater seeping through wallpaper.
The teacher paused, watched her. The entire class stared. All at once, her heart pounded in her throat, she felt herself rise unsteadily, muttering, “Go away! Go away!” Then saying it louder and louder. Josh cackled in his seat, overcome with mirth.
Before she realized it, the teacher instructed his aide to escort her to the nurse’s office. When she lay down on the cot she fainted abruptly but came awake when her Auntie arrived.
“Lack of sleep,” Auntie explained. On the drive home Auntie talked. Amber let the words wash over her.
In the silence of her room the cocoon waited for her return. With her vintage Polaroid camera she snapped a photo of it every day. Soon it would hatch. Something new would come into the world.
She tied it to the dead bulb in her closet and on the shelf above kept a sturdy cigar box. The little wooden box smelled strongly of her father and she held her breath while she opened it as if she were leaning over a coffin. It contained the tiny bottle of chloroform and a scalpel stolen from her classroom. Over the days she added to it: a molted lizard’s tail, a stray cat whisker, and an ancient wooden doll she’d found in the forest with rusty needles thrust into its eyes. She collected mushrooms too, pinning them to the walls beneath the cocoon.
Her favorite thing to do was hold a flashlight to the glistening chrysalis and peer at the blurry shadow inside it. It was coiled up in translucent fluid. Somehow, it comforted her. It was not like the evil things Josh deposited in her desk, the white dog feces and skewered centipedes. It was a private treasure.
She buried herself in blankets, gazing at the photos. The itching slowly subsided. Cloying sweat suffused her clothes. The small collection of magazines and books she’d brought with her, the drifting dust motes of memories in her mind, insignificant as they seemed, were arranged in piles. These helped stitch her together.
Danny knocked on her door and held up a pile of homework, mutely asking for help. Smiling unintentionally, she sat next to him and went through the whole assignment.
Downstairs dinner was ready. Night had fallen and she’d endured another day.
There was a lot of talk about the video they were going to watch in Sex Ed. Class. Some people said it was live sex and others claimed it was just a lady having a baby right into the camera. Like most rumors Amber just shrugged it off.
Nothing could have prepared her for it. The way the pale fetus slid out slowly like twisted viscera. The pasty skull forcing itself through the narrow gap. When she closed her eyes amid the screams of her classmates her imagination intensified everything her eyes had recorded. The images would never leave her. They would join the grotesque gallery inside her.
“It scarred me for life,” Allison said. “Never gonna have kids now.”
One of the things Amber had packed was her family album. Flipping through it, she saw pictures of her pregnant mother. Her mom had had short hair and a bulbous belly like a frog’s. The cheeks were rounder, face more cheerful. She imagined herself getting fat like that. Craving weird foods, swelling like a balloon, hard and lumpy, widening to the bursting point. And then the tremors, the screaming agony, the bloodletting, squeezing out a pulpy mass…
Josh was not in his seat during Biology. There was nothing in her desk when she sat down. She breathed a sigh of relief.
Before P. E. she swung her locker door open and jumped back, jolted out of reality by what she could not understand, unable to believe her eyes. The girls on either side of her screamed and hurried to cover their bodies. Josh’s face smiled up at her. He was lodged against the grilled metal slats of her locker, contorted without a single inch of space remaining in the interior. There wasn’t room for a finger. A wicked grin stretched across his sharply etched lips and his thin, naked limbs were coated in vivid oil. All at once he burst out and streaked through the frantic clusters of half-dressed girls.
She sat against the lockers trembling. But when her heart finally recovered from the initial shock she couldn’t stop laughing. Even as she realized she was still in her underwear, she was doubled over. Compared to what she had already seen, his trick seemed trifling, meaningless.
Auntie planted kiwi vines and worked outside during the summer. Her paint tubes were scattered all through the yard like coiled fungi. Auntie’s yellow, splotchy gowns attracted flies and large moths, and her movements were slow, deliberate, and dreamlike.
Danny had been sent to a private summer school. Ever since he’d stopped talking they couldn’t keep him from cutting classes and wandering around the streets all the time. Amber tried to nap during the day and watch black-and-white television shows.
Allison showed up out of the blue in her bathing suit and invited her to go to the lagoon.
They were having a big shindig, she said. Reluctantly, Amber changed, asked her aunt for permission and hopped into the minivan.
Wooden tables were covered with trays of gleaming meat, flanked by crunchy chunks of crab apple, and hot corn on the cob, white and yellow as compact rows of baby teeth. Amber tried bubbly apple cider capped with foam and warm pumpkin seeds, dry and salty. Allison gobbled pink, oily ham, cubed and smothered in mustard on top of grainy pumpernickel that made her jaw squeak when she chewed it.
Allison’s grandmother directed a water gymnastics class for shriveled old ladies.
The water was sparkling and warm. The sunlight felt harsh.
Several grandmothers emerged in lumpy green swimsuits and trundled into the water. They waved their arms and splashed themselves like decrepit hippos, and kept sitting down in the waist-deep water and standing up to get the life into their old legs. They must have been at least a hundred years old.
“Me and Amber are going to explore by ourselves,” Allison announced.
They hiked through the underbrush, chafing quickly in their sweaty sandals. When they got to the top of a forested hill they were both out of breath. They came to the edge of a cliff. Amber saw millions of trees and smog behind the mountains. The lagoon spread out like spilled green paint beneath them. On the other side Amber spotted the shiny water tower.
“Who’s first?” Allison asked.
“For what?” Amber asked.
“Jump,” she said.
“Are you crazy?”
“I saw my cousin jump before and I always wanted to try it but he wouldn’t let me. He did a swan dive. It was the coolest thing I ever saw.”
“It’s like a hundred feet down,” Amber said, seized by a fit of terror. Her entire back erupted into excruciating itchiness.
“Are you chicken?” Allison smiled cruelly, then laughed.
The water was deep turquoise. The strange shape of the pool and its beautiful color haunted her for a moment.
Suddenly, a deformed figure crawled out of the bushes. His skin was almost blinding. Sweat gleamed across his sunken, freckled chest. Amber’s neck convulsed involuntarily. It was Josh, in sagging, tattered swim trunks, giggling softly. “Look who we have here,” he smiled.
Amber thought immediately of her father’s disembodied head, attached to a shriveled body, with massive, swollen hands and feet – mere dangling appendages – tapering off into darkness, crawling out of the deepest recesses of her mind with cave-dwelling eyes. It stroked its pale, babyish skull like a massive egg. Something within it glowed. As mesmerizing as moonbeams dancing through water.
Josh’s chin was wet with drool. Laughing spasmodically his loose stomach convulsed. Amber could not bear the sight of him. Then there was Death, slithering toward her, shouldering along its burdensome head with all the effort in its exposed sinews, and those foggy, glistening eyes. The bully in front of her was nothing but a sad imitation.
“Oh my God, did you follow us all the way up here, you freak?” Allison said dramatically. “Let’s go back,” Allison suggested. “The ambianceis totally ruined.”
“You’re both chickens,” Josh laughed. He squared himself against the edge of the cliff as if he were about to piss. Amber stifled the urge to shove him off.
Instead, she gritted her teeth and charged past him, floating for a moment in midair, before plummeting down.
She rummaged in darkness, among broken bits of unidentifiable feelings. Everything inside her was jostled out into a pile. She started to fuse shards together, unburying herself from an accumulation of hurt and fear. As she dug frantically her heart thudded. Blindly wading through her mind, an impenetrable darkness settled around her. Finally, she touched something solid, something dense and immovable, a vibrating, hollow carapace. It was a barrier she could not pass through. Pressing her hands to it, hollow screaming echoed through her body and overpowered her. Beyond it was an incomprehensible vastness, a void, a wilderness. This was the interior of the cocoon. She had crawled into the sunken cavern to be born again. She had come right up to it, slipped into a slot, and it took all the rest of her resolve, every ounce of energy she possessed to claw her way back out. And when she finally ripped free, clinging to air, coughing up and spewing out, she scrambled through the haze, haunted again and again by that brink, by the immanence of that terror.
She woke up in an unfamiliar room with her aunt staring down at her. “You’re lucky to be alive,” she said.
“What happened?” Amber asked.
Tears sat like globs of jelly on her aunt’s face. “Don’t ever do something so stupid again.”
A chill swept through Amber as she lay in bed, as if her body weren’t a solid thing anymore. It felt like she’d died, like her body wasn’t done forming out of the dark mist. “Not after what happened,” her aunt went on. “Please. You and your brother mean everything to me. We need each other. You don’t have to go it alone.”
Amber thought about saying something but she just nodded her head seriously. After a few tests she was allowed to leave the hospital. The drive home felt unreal.
That night her body pulsed and throbbed. She stood before a tall mirror and she could see her veins; they seemed to rise to the surface like snakes beneath her milky skin. Before she got in the bath she saw them weaving through her. The ones on her breasts were like little blue rills, and her hands and feet were swarming with them. She thought they were moving in the pale light. It was painfully bright. Her skin glowed so she could hardly look at it. The beautiful light reflected in her skin poised in the blaring bulbs shocked her. She cried a little, but only out of relief. And, looking into her eyes there was so much light that her thoughts dissolved and memories arose in quick bursts. She was crumbling apart, like a hollow vein in the earth. Currents ran through her as she saw into other people’s flesh – people she didn’t even know. They were slimy, wet surfaces moving around like shadows, and their dull faces sat in front of her mind like transparent masks. She was in a forest and they were the trees, all of their veins connected like roots through the air, like multicolored branches, and it was like walking through spider webs, with each thin string leading to the heart of a man, or a young girl, and in all the nakedness and blue blood of the frozen standing forms she wandered. And they did not know what she was, but they had some sense she was there. And as she washed she watched them, rubbing the sudsy soap on her stomach, she could not feel herself as much as she could feel them. Rubbing it on her legs, her hands were not working to the command of her brain, and she felt so tall and thin like a tree above all the rest, with veins and hairs flowing through the air.
When she dried off with the towel it was like looking at a whole new body. Something she had never seen before.
LS Popovich resides in Denver, Colorado and is a self-diagnosed escapist who indulges in SF, weird, magical realism, horror, and more. Their work has been published in Red Fez, Bewildering Stories, 365 Tomorrows, Prune Juice, Marooned, Canyon Voices, and Big Fish.