In the silence of your bones and eyes, forgotten magic sits and waits for fire.

tattoo

Though I can’t remember the exact instant, I’m sure I began writing stories the moment I was able to scratch out sentences. I shared the first, graphic chapter of my horror story with my fourth grade class when I was nine, and though I was mysteriously unable to share any future chapters, my fellow students praised me and encouraged me to keep writing.

When I was twelve, writing persisted in being my number one pastime and passion. I built friendships through it — friendships that would last many years. I wrote several thousand words a day, and I obsessed over building worlds and melodrama with my friends.

But I also hated myself then. I had a deep-rooted loathing for my own existence. I wondered how I could ever be loved by another human being. I “realized” that I was a waste of space. Many times, it was writing that kept me from going that extra step and killing myself. “Just one more reply,” I would say. “Just let me write out this part.” Instead of trying to end myself, I would scratch at my arms until they felt raw. It couldn’t be too noticeable, though; I couldn’t let anyone know what I was going through.

Shortly after my thirteenth birthday, I decided I was going to go through with it. I went so far as to run away from home, but stopped in a cemetery to call and say I wanted to come back. I spent three days in the psych ward of a hospital, and during that time, I wrote a lot.

Depression doesn’t go away quickly, unfortunately, and often it doesn’t go away at all. I continued to write and find pleasure in it, but I also became spiteful and bitter towards the people who loved me and wanted to help me. Sometimes, my writing became a way to hurt those people. It wasn’t just an escape, but a weapon.

I began to get better. Over time, I accepted that I hated myself and that I couldn’t do anything about it. I continued to write. I wrote letters to my ex-girlfriend, pining over her and romanticizing our future. Writing slowly became a more solitary activity. It became more personal.

The first time I remember really accepting myself was when I was sixteen. I had gotten over the fear of social backlash for my sexuality and outgrew my self-hatred. I didn’t love myself, though; it was mere acceptance. I was what I was, and I had to live with it. There was no use getting upset about it. I had managed to go a year without hurting myself, and that amazed me. Though I still had my days of depression, this development signaled growth.

I went through a moment of panic when I turned eighteen. I had lived nearly two decades, and I hadn’t done the one thing I had always wanted to do: write a book. I had completed nearly a quarter of my life, yet I was nowhere close to fulfilling my life’s goal. All these years of writing, and the only things I had to show for it were the first few chapters of several dozen half-worked ideas. At this point, I began writing fanfiction in earnest. I ended up posting a story nearly 70,000 words long with a comments section filled with the praises of strangers. I never dreamed that there would be thousands of people reading this piece of fanart, yet the hit counter continued to rise.

Though it wasn’t original fiction, I still felt a swell of pride from all of this. It was exactly the kind of reinforcement I needed. 70k was nearly a book, and if I could do that with fanfiction, surely I could do that with my own work. Though I continued to write fic, I kept my own ideas in the back of my mind. Fanfiction was practice, I told myself. Once I was confident in my writing, I would go through with my own ideas.

robert montgomery

“In the silence of your
bones and eyes,
forgotten magic sits
and waits for fire.”
– Robert Montgomery

These four lines of poetry haunted me. I recited them to myself when I needed a confidence boost, a morale boost, a reason-to-live boost.

I started working on my novel in earnest between my first and second year of college. I hadn’t seen depression in over year, and after interviewing professors about nuclear warfare and spending hours of my summer days in the library, I felt confident.

Then I went to work in Disney World, nearly a thousand miles from home. Depression kicked down my door, and I spiraled. Writing forced me to get up in the morning. Though I often spent half an hour convincing myself to get out of my bed, I managed to write nearly every day. Writing eventually became more than a pastime or a hobby; it became a literal reason to live. My words are my own, and no one can write them but me. I thought this to myself often. My stories — fictitious or realistic — could only be told by me and me alone. Though the new found depths of my depression scared me, the idea of dying without having written a book scared me even more. If I died before completing my life’s goal, then why have lived to this point at all? I didn’t write because it was fun; I wrote because I had to. My life was literally write or die.

My depression terrified me, so I went home a month early to recover. Within days of returning, I finished the first draft of my first novel. Things looked up.

My moods wavered drastically when I went back to school. I kept writing, though. I had to. In Disney, I had suffered a terrifying relapse. I couldn’t go back to that. I had to do whatever necessary to avoid slipping backward.

Last month, I finished the second draft of my first novel. I’m more stable now. With my novel finished, however, I knew that it was time for something as physically permanent on my body as this achievement was on my mind: a tattoo.

That poetry I had recited to myself over and over again in my darkest moments needed to be on my body. They had to be. In the silence of your bones and eyes, forgotten magic sits and waits for fire. My words were my own, and no one could write them but me. The stories and characters I created in my mind could not affect others’ lives unless I put ink to page, ink to skin, ink to soul.

I resolved to get Roberty Montgomery’s poetry permanently on my body. The placement needed to be perfect, as well. While I thought about getting it on my ribs where it would be easy to hide, the idea didn’t sit right with me. I realized the only place these words could be was on my forearm, where I’d hurt myself since the first appearance of depression and in my bouts of relapse. Just as I wrote on my paper with my right hand, I wrote red messages of hate with it on my forearm. These words that had fueled me for so long had to be inked where I had expressed self-hatred. They needed to be somewhere as a constant reminder, always visible, a scarlet letter to warn me away from ever touching my skin in disgust again.

Writing has become my reason for living. Marking the world with my stories and characters has become the main driving force in my life. People disappear from your life, they die, and they change their minds, but stories tattoo the world with your soul. As long as there is someone in the world who has read my writing, who has been affected by it, I know I have done something with my life. I have inspired with my passion. I have kindled the fire in others’ bones. And that will always be worth living for.

Star

You were born with the union of hydrogen and helium, a violent conception of cosmic dust. You are alpha and omega, and life begins around you. Life begins because of you.

Heat forms your fingertips and you reach out as far as you can. Your touch nurtures, and your scorn kills. Your worshipers surround you and sing your praises. They think they’re running, exhibiting their skill and speed. They think they’re impressing you, but you see them only as crawling. They are not like you.

You can see ones like you. The light they give off dwindles and grows. Sometimes you see them disappear. You are never close enough to see their faces, to touch them, to experience them.

When you die, you feel as though you cannot contain yourself. You shrink into yourself. You hide. You think that perhaps you can escape the torment of solitude you have faced all these years by embracing it. It doesn’t work. Before you can stop it, your anguish boils out of your mouth. You lash out at your oblivious benefactors, destroying their life as easily as you created it. You turn them to dust, and you become cold. You devour everything that brushes you, remorseless and unfeeling.

The ones who worshiped you have been turned back to their elements. They are nothing more than clumps of molecules, attempting to escape your magnetic pull. You are dead to the ones who loved you and to yourself, but somewhere out there, there is a union of hydrogen and helium.

Saving People is a Stupid Thing to Do

This is a snippet from the first chapter of my upcoming novel, DEATH DEFIANT. I hope you enjoy it.

 

The woman crossing the street stared at her magazine, and the car speeding towards her paid no attention. Cheri froze for a brief moment, taking in the situation as Tyler tugged her arm to get her attention. If she ever dared to count the stupid things she had done in her life, it would be a very long, embarrassing list, but as she ran forward and shoved the woman out of the sports car’s path, she realized this would definitely be the number one Stupid Thing Ever Done.

The car hit Cheri’s knees. Her eyes locked with the driver’s for a split second as her tibia shattered. The driver stood on his brakes as she crashed into the windshield and rolled over top the rest of the car before hitting the pavement. A sick, wet thud cracked the air when her head took the brunt of the fall and her body crumpled around her broken neck.

Blood flecked the blacktop and the saved woman’s pant legs, her scraped palms nothing compared to the way Cheri’s limbs twisted at impossible angles. As he ran to her, Tyler’s eyes grew wide with terror. His huge hands tried to set her body up right, as if that would somehow fix her. Pedestrians on the sidewalk stopped, as did oncoming traffic, everyone staring at the broken body of the girl in the road.

The saved woman stood. Walking past her discarded issue of Vogue, she stumbled towards her savior’s body.

“Somebody call an ambulance!” Tyler said, trying to stop tears from crawling down his cheeks. He supported Cheri’s head and shook her, trying to wake her up. He looked around at the crowd gathered on the sidewalk. Many people had taken their cell phones out, but few looked to be using it to call anyone. Some focused their cameras on the two, and that only put Tyler into a rage.

He stood, entire body shaking. Just a few feet away, some teenager’s camera phone focused on Cheri’s body. Tyler stalked towards him with his fists clenched at his sides. Before he could get there, though, the driver’s side door of the sports car opened, and a man – a kid, really, who couldn’t have gotten his license more than a few months ago – stepped out.

Tyler turned on him, shouting, spit flying from his mouth as his hands balled up in the driver’s blazer, slamming him back into the car. The saved woman looked on, but then her gaze shifted to Cheri’s body. She knelt next to her and reached out…

Then she stopped, eyes transfixed as the body twitched. Limbs moved, realigning themselves. Blood splattered on the pavement dissolved into red smoke, and Cheri’s head twisted itself to a more natural position with a sick crunch.

Tyler stopped and turned to look at his friend’s body, just in time to see the worst of it: the curling, ice blue horns that grew just above her ears; the smaller ones pushing from her knees and elbows, ripping through her docent’s jacket and best pair of black slacks; the inch-long ones jutting from each of her knuckles, from discolored spots she’d always told her friends were old scars.

Bloodless and unharmed, she blinked, sat up, and the first person started screaming.

From Funeral to Fall

The angels passed around pictures of the dead person, laughing and telling stories about the deceased’s life. Despite their cheery expressions, a touch of sickness tinged their skin. Bags hung beneath many eyes, but few looked as close to death as Belkor, whose sallow skin clung to their bones. They sat away from the rest of the group. Their hair hung in a loose bun at the nape of their neck, the same red hue as their eyes.

Their parent’s body lie in front of them, still and quiet. A white shroud covered them. Oil dripped from the shroud to the kindling below, and Bel stared. Time passed. Condolences from fellow angels and distant siblings lasted centuries, and the best response they could muster was a shrug and a muttered “Thank you.”

They had known it was coming. In the end, all creatures fell to death. Ganus had lived three-hundred forty-seven years, a full life for anyone. The impact they’d had on the Board and Paradise was immeasurable. Ganus would be reincarnated, soul transformed and given to a new body somewhere in the universe. These were the things Bel told themself in an attempt to calm their grief. It didn’t work.

Belkor was brought back from their thoughts by a hand on their shoulder. They looked up, unable to match the kind smile of their parent. Alouise had been Bel’s second closest parent, but the relationship between them had been nothing compared to the one Bel had shared with Ganus. Ganus had been the one to raise Bel since hatching, to nurture and mold. Alouise had visited every month or so when Bel had been a juvenile, but now they couldn’t remember the last time they’d seen each other.

“You look nearly as sick as me,” Bel said, the closest they’d come to a joke in several days.

“Many angels loved Ganus dearly,” said Alouise. Their hand fell from Bel’s shoulder. “You should join in with the reminiscing. We are here to celebrate Ganus’ life, after all.”

Bel shook their head and turned back to watching oil drip from the shroud.

“I think I would only make everyone feel worse.” Before Alouise could attempt to persuade them more, Bel added, “I won’t die. I promise. It is definitely hard to deal with, but they lived a good life, right? I just with they didn’t have to go so soon. I’ll move on, but I need time.” The words were harder than they meant, but they couldn’t bring themself to care much.

“It’s a natural process in the cycle,” said Alouise, though the words sounded rehearsed.They let silence sit between them until a clap of thunder rattled their seats and shook the dark clouds above.

“It’s time to send off Ganus,” said Alouise. “Are you ready?”

Hearing their natural cue, the funeral guests gathered around the body and sat at the benches, a reverent quietness taking over. Bel breathed deep before standing and approaching the body.

It was much worse up close. The damp shroud clung to the body’s form, barely masking the feature of the body beneath. Bel’s insides twisted, and they struggled to hold back their tears. Throat constricted, they reached forward and held out their hands. A ball of light formed between their palms. It spun in the air as if suspended by a string. Turning their palms down, they watched as the ball descended. Belkor stepped back from the body, giving it a wide berth before the hot orb connected with the body and the whole apparatus went up in smoke, consuming shroud and flesh and wood. From the tips of the fire came lights, sparkling mist that changed its hue as it floated towards the thunder clouds.

Bel couldn’t hold back anymore. Clasping a hand over their mouth, they wept openly. Sobs shook their entire body. Alouise came closer to the pyre to wrap their child in an embrace. Bel tried to push them away first, teeth gritted, but eventually resigned to nestling in the comfort of a familiar bosom. They didn’t pull away until they were able to control themself. Alouise asked if they needed anything, their own eyes wet. Bel shook their head. Once sure they’d be stable, Alouise left them to be alone.

Bel wasn’t sure how long they stood watching the flames before Alouise returned. They felt an arm wrap around their shoulder, and they leaned into it. Alouise put their mouth lose to their ear.

“You’ll kill yourself if you keep grieving like this.”

Bel’s shoulders tightened, as if trying to get as far from the source of the voice as possible. They turned their head just enough to see that it was not Alouise who had come to their side, but someone else, and they tried to push the angel away, stopped only by the other’s strength.

“What are you doing here, Kael?” Bel asked, trying to keep their tone quiet.

“I’m paying my respects to Ganus, of course.”

Bel crossed their arms over their chest, hoping to still their trembling hands. They tried to shoulder Kael away again, but they had a firm grip around them and wouldn’t be easily moved.

“You shouldn’t be here. I don’t want you here.”

“Don’t be so rude, Bel. We used to be best friends.”

” ‘Used to’ being key,” Bel said. “If you’ve come to harass me, could you do it some other time? Not at my parent’s send off?”

“I didn’t come to harass you. I wouldn’t dare to do such a thing.” They sounded so sincere that Bel almost believed them. The pause gathering between the two made them wonder if Kael might actually try a hand at comfort. Maybe they had a shred of decency in them. “However, I must that it was about time that piece of shit died. I thought it was never going to happen. I mean, they’ve been ruining Paradise for over a century, so-”

Bel didn’t let them finish. They spun around, flesh glowing as if a fire had been lit inside them and illuminated their veins. With their entire weight, they slammed a fist into Kael’s cheek. The offender stumbled back, feigning shock, but they had no time to goad Bel further. The angel was too far gone. Kael tried to step away from the punches they threw, but Bel was too fast, advancing and refusing to let up even when Kael had fallen to the ground. The pyre blazed beside them as Bel wailed, teeth bared as they struck their victim over and over. At first, the hits were harmless, more shock than pain, but then Bel’s fist gleamed as if it had caught a beam of sun, and it left burns across the other’s face wherever it touched. It wasn’t until then that Kael began to fight back, but Belkor was relentless.

A group of angels had to pull Bel off, so they resorted to yelling, unable to see anything but Kael sitting up and touching the delicate burns on their face. The sight of them already healing drove Bel crazier.

“I’ll kill you,” they snarled. “I’ll kill you, you piece of filth. You waste of life. I’ll kill you.”

Bel couldn’t hear the angels trying to talk to them. The only thing they could focus on was Kael, who was surrounded by a concerned chorus. Restraints were forced around Bel’s wrists, keeping their hands firmly locked behind their back.

“You planned this,” Bel said, barely a whisper. They stopped fighting back the angels long enough for the fact to sink in. This was a fallable offense. Bel could be banished from Paradise for this. “You planned this. You trash! They planned this!”

As Bel was led away from the funeral, away from the pyre and the last remnants of their family, they swore they saw Kael smile.

Tips on Being a Teenage Driver

Tip #109: Acquire your license.

When you’re sixteen and fresh out of driving school, you think you can do anything. You have ultimate freedom. Mom and Dad can’t weigh you down. You might even have your own car, and you can go anywhere in it. You could drive from Ohio to Wisconsin if you really wanted to, as long as your blubbering death trap kept itself together. It was self-discovery and freedom and fast food at any time of night.

I had had my license for two months, and driving was my jam. I blasted the crackling rock station from the speakers and was careful not to burn out the clutch as I pulled off of Columbia Parkway and onto Beechmont. I was on my way home, coming from who-knows-where. As I drove, I remembered a small road up ahead, a dirt path I’d always wondered about whenever my parents would drive by it. I used to watch for it from the backseat, trying to get a glimpse at where it might go. Who sees that kind of street off of a four-lane state route? It had to go somewhere cool.

 

Tip #25: Embrace your inner Magellan.

And I was the driver today, which meant I could go anywhere I liked. I pulled into the slow lane, heart-racing, waiting to see it. I knew it was before the bridge that crossed over the Little Miami River, so I slowed down as it came into sight, searching.

There it was: my wardrobe to Narnia, my Diagon Alley, my rabbit hole. A drum beat in my chest, and I couldn’t tell if it was my heart or the music.

Surely, I was about to embark on an exciting adventure, the kind written about in Young Adult novels where I’d stumble across something philosophical, meaningful, and it would change my life forever. I’d call my ex-girlfriend and we’d end up getting married, going abroad to find ourselves, and then coming back to have two point four children. I might even find inspiration for a novel down this road, leading me to get the Nobel Prize in literature.

 

Tip #3: Always remember to be safe.

I slowed down and turned onto the road. As I passed between the open metal gates, the tires crunched the dirt and gravel beneath them, and I was careful with the gearshift to make sure I didn’t stall. Suddenly, I was surrounded by woods. I idled down the road. The path was only large enough for one car, so I would need to find a safe place to turn around. To my left was the river. Remnants of old fishing gear and beer cans speckled the green earth. Coming up was a house, decrepit and spooky in a perfect way, ready to fall down at any moment. It made me shiver despite the hot, so I kept going. People must drive down here to go fish or camp, I thought, eyes searching for somewhere along the way to turn around. I saw a decent spot to the left where I might be able to turn around, but there was no guard rail to stop my tiny Saab from rolling down the hill and into the river. I figured I might as well keep going forward. Better to be safe than sorry.

 

Tip #37: Stay vigilant!

Less than a minute later, there was another metal gate and a patch of concrete leading up onto a road. It stretched before and to the right of me, no longer surrounded by trees, but by fresh turf. There were no signs or markings to tell me where to go. I had to decide my destiny.

I chose to go forward, because turning while going up a hill from a full stop meant I would definitely stall. My car heaved itself up onto the flat track and I continued onwards. In the distance, I saw something – someone. There were people, walking along the road. Hitchhikers? I wasn’t sure what area I was in or what kind of people lurked about, so I locked my door. Better to be safe than sorry.

I crawled forward, unsure of where to go and looking for any street sign that might orient me. Something else was coming up on the side of the road, something strange. Was… Was that…

A bench?

 

Tip #98: If you start to cry, be sure that you can still see before continuing driving.

Terror seized me. After several seconds of hesitation, I slammed on the brakes and stopped. Oh god. Oh god. This was a goddamn park.

The people who’d been walking alongside the road – no, it was not a road, it had never been a road – started to pass my car. They were an older couple, giving me strange looks as I reached over to roll down my window.

“Excuse me,” I said. My voice cracked and suddenly tears were blurring my vision. “I’m sorry. I made a – a wrong turn, and now I’m lost. How do I get out of here?”

The husband and wife looked at each other. I could feel them judging me, but I didn’t care. This was a portal to Hell, not Middle-Earth.

“If you just follow the path, it should take you right to the parking lot,” said the old man, pointing along the walking path I was following, which would soon curve ninety degrees to the north. I could see the parking lot in question.

“Thank you.”

 

Tip #109: Be prepared for disillusionment, but don’t take it too hard.

I rolled all my windows up, and then I blasted the air-conditioning and made sure the music was loud enough that I could barely hear my own choked sobs. Oh god. What if there were kids here? What if I ran into a kid? Why did I turn down a road that I knew nothing about? What if the cops showed up? What if I went to jail?

I was dead. I was going to die. My car was going to explode in the middle of Lunken Playfields and I’d be on the news and my mom would cry but she’d also be shaking her head because how did she raise a daughter who would drive her car through a park?

I didn’t go over five miles per hour the entire time, not until I got to the end of the path where, thankfully, there were no metal rods to stop cars from passing through. When my tires hit pavement – real pavement, road pavement – I sighed and slowly made my way down towards the road.

I wasn’t dead. I hadn’t found Narnia. I hadn’t found myself. I’m such a moron, I thought. But, hey, I guess I could say that at least I found adventure.

Unsalvageable

Once upon a time, I was a princess locked in a tower, guarded by a fearsome dragon. It was for my own protection; everyone said so. I was the key to the kingdom, with powers so great and terrible that they could be used for evil if the wrong people got a hold of me. I spent my days entertaining myself with feats of magic, but one can only take so many years of that before one grows tired.

My father visited me every week. Sometimes he would bring me new things to do, things I could help him with. It felt good to do something for my father. I enchanted his weapons and crafted creatures out of dust for his army.

One day, I asked if I could go home with him.

He refused me, but every time he came by, I would ask him again. The idea of leaving my prison of stone became an obsession. I wanted to learn more, experience more.

It wasn’t long before I attempted to escape. The dragon, always my friend, always fighting the evil beasts that came to kidnap me, snatched me up before I could make it to the bridge. I sensed its apology when it put me back into my room.

When my father found out about my attempted escape, he was furious. He shouted. He struck me. He had my windows barred and kept guards at my door to stop me if I should try to leave again.

After three days, I opened the door, and I blasted the guards with fire so hot their armor melted to their skin.

When I arrived outside, the dragon attempted to take me again, but I grabbed it by the horns. I whispered to it, pleaded with it, and filled its head with the promise of a world beyond this, of freedom and power – and he took off from my tower, and we flew to the kingdom.

Fighting my way to the throne room was easy. I destroyed those who were in my path, and the monsters that I had created to aid my father turned on the castle guards. It was slaughter, a cacophony of my rage released on the kingdom. When I found my father, he begged me not to do this. He told me to stop.  You’re my child, my princess, he told me. You don’t need to do this.

I was bored of his talk, and I watched as his limbs ripped from his body, as if quartered by invisible horses.

As I found my proper place on the throne, I watched knights scramble away, grabbing my father’s disembodied limbs as if his life might be salvageable from the wreckage. But all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put him back together again.

Stay-At-Home Meal

Rosa sat in the corner of the living room, tablet balanced on her lap and tried to ignore the influx of rotting companions coming in through the door. None of them were as healthy as Mei, each one sporting a black decayed ear, shriveled skin, or smoky eyes. After her gaze had lingered too long, she focused back on her book. She’d finally found something in Spanish after a long time of searching, and it would be her only company for the night.

Rosa had asked Mei if she could just stay in the guest room, but she’d been denied. Even after living together for a month, Mei didn’t trust having Rosa out of her sight for longer than she had to be. The party was concentrated in the block of space next to the kitchen, where some kind of game with tiles and weird money was being played. Strange, wavering music played from small speakers on the kitchen counter, with cups of clear alcohol provided for every guest. The sight of the huge jug of booze made Rosa uneasy.

She stared at her book for fifteen minutes, but couldn’t get past the third page.

Quickly, she moved only her eyes to look over at the table. Ten zombies here, and three of them kept looking at her; at least, she thought they were. It was hard to tell since their eyes were black spheres, but sometimes they would tilt their chins or turn their heads towards her. One of the ones with his back to her turned just enough that he must have been able to see her out of the corner of his eye.

She looked back to her book.

Throughout the night, she kept touching the oval-shaped metal over her throat. She’d turned the translator off once the first guest arrived. Whatever they had to say, she didn’t want to hear it. Despite this, she could still pick out Mei’s voice from the crowd. She didn’t understand a word, but sometimes she caught the strangest thing – laughter. At those times when the antanama would start laughing, Rosa would look up, amazed. She’d never seen Mei smile, let alone laugh, and she’d find herself staring at the green-tinted woman until the zomb went back to playing the game in earnest.

Whatever they were doing with that game, they were drinking along with it and growing louder. Rosa managed to power through a decent portion of her book. She laid the tablet down on her seat and went to the restroom. After delaying there for some time – she really didn’t want to go back to the living room – she finally returned.

Only a couple antanamae sat at the game table now. Most were in the kitchen, waiting next to Mei as she distributed chunks of preserved organs from the fridge. A few guests looked significantly better in contrast with when they’d arrived, the healing properties of the meals working quickly.

Most importantly, however, was that there was an antanama in Rosa’s chair – the same one who’d kept turning his head to look at her. She sighed and made sure the earpiece of her translator was fully in before switching it on.

“Excuse me. I was sitting there,” she said.

He looked up at her, eyes narrowing. The flesh of his cheeks was a deeper green than the rest of his skin, and she wondered if that was what a blush was supposed to look like.

“This how Mei stays so goddamn healthy?” he asked. “Keeps stay-at-home meals?”

All pretense of manners were gone. “Move,” she said.

She quickly glanced over at the kitchen. Mei had her back to them, providing drinks for her guests with laughter and oral jabs. The conversation between Rosa and the antanama would be covered by the music. When she brought her eyes back to the man in her chair, he had stood. He shoved her back a few feet, looming over her until she had her back against the wall. She didn’t back down, though. She stared, thick brows converged into an angry line.

“You know how long I’ve been waiting to get some new fucking intestines?” he said, bearing his teeth. “Four months while that shit rots inside me. Meanwhile, Mei’s got a whole damn buffet sitting at home. How much of you has she eaten already?”

“Go fuck yourself.”

He went to grab her throat, and she immediately grabbed his face, pulling at his ears and nose and whatever soft, fleshy protrusion she could get her hands on. She jammed a finger deep into his ear and he dropped her with a curse, leaving her sputtering on the ground.

The antanama’s face brimmed with rage, and he glared down at Rosa, snarling his words.

“I’m gonna tear-”

Before he could finish, the sound of bone hitting flesh reverberated through the room and he was on the ground, too. Rosa skittered away as fast she could, putting the attacker – Mei – between them.

“I allow you into my home, provide you with food and entertainment, and this is how you repay me?” Mei asked.

There it was – the voice Rosa was familiar with. Quiet, foreboding, demanding the listener’s careful attention. Her sleeveless shirt meant that the muscle of her arms was on display, toned and flexed. She still had some scars from the naval mission a month back, having not yet dined on skin to heal it.

The man turned and sat with his back to the wall, cradling a cheek as he looked up at her.

“The government give you that bitch?”

Mei looked unfazed. “The only reason I’m not killing you right now is because I don’t want to stain the carpet.”

The other party attendants were silent, watching. The stereo’s speakers continued to play the warbling music, the fast beats an odd backdrop to the situation. Mei seemed to contemplate something, then, before he could say anything, she grabbed the man by the hair and pulled him to his feet. He fought her, but he was much more drunk than she was, barely able to control his motions. Even if they’d both been sober, Rosa knew Mei would have taken him easily. She wrenched him across the apartment to the front door, then threw him outside.

Rosa sighed, happy that it was over. As she stood, however, she noticed that Mei hadn’t come back inside; she’d followed him. The party-goers ran outside, and Rosa did, too, unable to restrain herself.  Mei and the man were out in the courtyard of the apartment complexes, a simple garden on the top floor of the building with stone benches and immaculate sculptures of famous antanamae. The man rattled off insults, trying to hit Mei when he could. He only landed one or two decent hits, but then she wrenched his arms around. The sound of breaking bones made Rosa cringe.

The man began to cry.

“I’ll tell you what, Gang. I’ll leave you alone today,” said Mei. He’d fallen to his knees, sobbing as his arms hung uselessly from their sockets. “But if I ever see you again, I’ll rip those decaying intestines from your carcass. Understand?”

His “fuck you” was only barely audible.

Mei slammed his skull into the edge of one of the benches so hard that when she pulled back, the skull was cracked and dark green blood and brain pushed from the extreme fracture. Rosa knew without a doubt he was dead.

Mei walked up to Rosa and glanced her over.

“Did he hurt you?”

“No.”

After looking to the others, Mei flicked her head dismissively. Everyone went inside just long enough to grab their belongings, and then left. Mei cleaned up the game table, and Rosa busied herself by washing cups. They didn’t speak until the apartment was clean and Rosa was heading for her room.

“I might’ve found someone who can take you home,” said Mei, sitting on the couch. “I’ve still gotta check him out, but if things go well…”

Rosa lingered in the doorway and nodded.

“Okay,” she said, “thanks.” A moment passed, and she added, “You didn’t have to kill him.”

“You don’t know me very well.”

“I don’t, but still.” Rosa pressed her lips together. “He was an asshole, and honestly, I’m still of the idea that the world would be a better place without antanamae, but he was just a drunk asshole.” She glanced to the front door. “Are you going to leave him out there?”

“The worst my boss will do to me is make us have a one on one meeting about the importance of discretion,” Mei said. “So yes. Unless you feel like taking him to the dumpster?”

She didn’t.

“Well, then, leave it be.” Mei kicked off her boots and said the command prompt to turn on the entertainment screen hanging on the wall. “I’m a government-sanctioned killer, Anarosa. No one’s going to care – especially not about scum like him.”

The human nodded, despite disagreeing.

“Thanks for sticking up for me, anyway.”

“I still owe you.”

Rosa sank back into the guest bedroom she’d been occupying for the last month. The bed was welcome, and she curled up happily beneath the blankets. The night was over, thank God, and soon she might be able to go home. Her heart clenched at the thought of it. What did she have to go home to anymore?

She set those thoughts aside, and instead focused on the idea of her house, the converted convenience store from a hundred years back with the strange, delightful paintings on the wall and the portrait of her family… She buried her face in her pillow and sighed, wondering if she could suffocate herself before she ever went back.