Metamorphosis: a short story
Some stories come easily and others have a difficult birth and you're never truly satisfied with them. I have several lying around that are "finished" but haven't seen the light of day because of different reasons. This one was written a few weeks back and almost became one of those but today, because I have a pain in my right shoulder and shouldn't be spending too much time by the computer, I re-read it and decided to give it a slight makeover and throw it out there. So here it is - METAMORSPHOSIS a short story in about 3300 words about a man who wakes up in a strange room and doesn't quite remember how he got there.
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Soft, stringy pillows all over the floor. A Persian pattern on the rugs, the soft smell of incense in the air. Dragon’s Blood, the woman tells me. She’s wearing tiny dreamcatchers in each ear, a bright colorful patterned dress that falls from her chest to the floor in an outward curve, it is held up by two tiny shoulder straps, and on her head she is wearing a scarf in the same pattern. Her hair peaking from underneath the scarf, its color ranging from dark brown to ash blond, with a hint of grey here and there. I role around on my stomach and what meets me is a disgusting sight. There is a man lying there, his head has been bashed in, leaving a dent in the skull that looks so unnatural and so impossible that I don’t understand what I’m seeing at first.
Then I vomit and I can’t seem to stop, the bile comes out of me and defiles the rug in a disgusting green, grey color. The smell almost unbearable. I can’t take my eyes off the man with half a skull and I find myself wondering where his brain is. It’s not with him, that’s for sure. I have the intense feeling that it’s with me.
The woman turns to help me. She says something, but I don’t understand her words, don’t even understand what language she’s speaking. She helps me clean my mouth, gives me water and pulls me towards a wall. I find myself sitting underneath a painting of Genesha, the Indian elephant god. It seems to fit the atmosphere of the room, though the woman doesn’t look like she belongs to the culture these things belong to. She is pale as a ghost, a western woman approaching her fifties I’d say if I had to guess.
The dead man on the floor is in such stark contradiction to everything else in the room and I can’t get my eyes of him. Still it takes me a while to realise that the corpse must have been carried there, because there is no blood around the wound, there is no blood on the carpet, just my bile laying spilled, soiling the fine fabric.
The woman vanishes and comes back with a plate of vegetables and fruit which she hands me. I try to make her understand that I don’t want the food, that I just want to get away from the corpse on the floor. But she doesn’t understand, just flails her arm at the corpse as if to tell me that it doesn’t matter. I shake my head, point at my vomit on the floor and shake my head some more.
A dark, stern look comes over her. A glimpse of agitation in her eyes and I find myself fearing her. I may be taller and stronger than she is, but it doesn’t stop my heart racing at the sight of her sudden mood change. She pulls at my arm, then releases her hold on me and goes over to the corpse, points at the empty skull, picks up a shard and throws it on the floor. Discarding it as if it’s just a piece of junk.
I can’t remember how I got here. I just know that I’m still carrying my sidearm. It’s in my belt around my waist. That fact eases my nerves. I have a way of defending myself.
The woman pushes the food towards me again and I pick up an apple and take a bite from it. It’s sweet and delicious, but I can’t get my eyes off the dry corpse on the floor.
I’ve eaten half my apple when I remember.
We were running down a narrow alley. The man had just saved my life although he was a perfect stranger. He was pulling at my arm, frantic fear in his eyes. I didn’t understand him, but I recognised the haste in his eyes. This was a matter of life or death. We ran down the alley and into a bigger street. It was late, the darkness pushed away by the lights of the city. The street was filled with people wearing masks of all color and sizes. There were scarcely clad women wearing elephant trunk masks and squid faces, the men had colorful pants, no shirts and some of them had painted their faces. They looked like sad clowns, happy clowns, scary clowns. There was music playing, a haphazard discord of noises and sounds made the whole ordeal an attack on the senses.
The man pulled at my arm, finding a way through the crowd, along the line of houses. There were laundry lines between the houses and the lines were covered with colorful scarfs and towels, the lights from the streetlamp exaggerating the colorful atmosphere. The man pulling at me didn’t seem to care, he just ushered me further along, fighting the crowd that was going in the opposite direction. He didn’t try to communicate with me, but he seemed to know where he was heading. He seemed to know what was on our heels too and I didn’t question his decision to run. There was something in his demeanour that was sincere and terrified at the same time.
He dragged me into another alley and we jumped a wall made of thin plywood, supported by wooden beams we used as support to get over it. A part of it broke and fell down, despite our attempts as we were rushing behind the house, rounding the corner to get away from the crowd. We ran over people’s yards, jumped over fences meant to keep intruders at bay. Once we were out on the street again the man drawing me along looked puzzled, he looked around frantically, then he started up the road, up a small hill but then he seemed to change his mind and he started running in the opposite direction.
I followed him, unsure suddenly why we were running, surely we had lost whoever was on our heels. I looked around and saw nothing suspicious so when he started running like a madman I fell behind. He looked back at me, shouted at me and waved with his arms, but I didn’t see what he was seeing and so I stopped to look around, suddenly in doubt.
I saw her coming over the hill on the other side. She was incredibly fast, considering that she was running barefoot in that long dress. He jumped up and down, flailing with his arms and then he started running again but when he noticed that I wasn’t following suit he ran towards me and started pulling at my arms, pointing at the woman that was getting closer.
I ran with him, not quite understanding why we were fleeing from her in such a frantic manner. I am a soldier, I’ve seen scarier things in the park during peacetime than this woman, though the speed at which she was following us was somewhat disconcerting. He pulled at my arm, and I tried keeping up with his pace, looking back to see the woman gaining on us steadily.
Still I was caught by surprise when she was suddenly on my heels, pulling at my shoulder so I lost my balance and fell to the ground. The man, a complete stranger, who had been trying to safe me was a few steps a head of me but he noticed and I saw him slowing down, struggling with his decision of what to do. He took a step towards us and this seemed to anger the woman because she suddenly started after him, fast as lightning.
He never stood a chance.
The man on the floor is the stranger who tried to safe me. He’s lying there, brainless and dead and I can’t help but think that it’s my fault, not just for having put myself in the situation, but for not taking his warnings as seriously as I should have.
As I’m sitting on the floor, looking at the woman who did this to him I start to feel an urgent panic. I have my sidearm, but my memory of the way the stranger died is not only outrageous, but makes me think that I have some form of psychological affliction that makes me remember things differently than they were, because I seem to recall her tongue reaching out of her mouth and into the man’s ear. He was struggling to get away from her, struggling to push her face away from his head but he didn’t stand a chance. When she’d done something to his ear, she smashed his skull in with her bare fist, something normal people can’t do, and she proceeded to devour his brain, her mouth and dress covered in blood colored goo and skull splinters.
I almost vomit again at the recollection, trying to get the grotesque imagery out of my mind, because it can’t be true. That can’t be what I actually saw. Something else must have happened, but why would my mind conjure up this craziness?
She looks at me, cocks her head and I see her annoyance only seems to be building. She goes and gets more water, throws a towel at me and shakes her head. When she’s gone I wash myself in the bathroom sink. Then I eat a banana and while I’m chewing on it I carefully test the door the woman vanished out of. It’s the only door there, except for the one to the bathroom.
I still have my sidearm, which seems strange. I spend a little while trying to recall what really happened the night before. I can see it’s daytime, the light is seeping through the windows that are placed quite high and have sturdy bars on them, preventing an escape through there.
I brace myself and start looking at the corpse, trying my best to find out what might have killed this guy, other than being bashed in by a superhuman female who first stuck her tongue so deep into his ear that it looked like she was tasting his brain. I got very little medical training and as my memory of her bashing his head in is quite vivid and I found no other explanation but blunt force trauma. Of course that might have been left with a weapon, but it didn’t really help me.
The daylight calms me down. The woman doesn’t appear again until it is getting dark. There is no electrical light in the room so it has become dusky when she brings in a warm meal. I don’t know what it is, a soup of some sort with unrecognisable things floating in it, but I can’t afford to be picky so I eat the food she gives me. When she is about to leave I try asking her why I am locked in there with the corpse. She just looks at me, shakes her head and leaves.
I get up and try the door, but of course it is locked. I rattle the door and get a bit shocked when I find it opening. The woman peaks in and shakes her head. “No, no,” she says. I try to push myself passed her but she is extraordinarily strong. “Better here,” she says in a strange accent. “Better for all,” she says and then she closes the door, despite my attempts to keep it open. I don’t stand a chance.
I am a bit surprised waking up in the morning having slept through the entire night. I can almost hear my old drill sergeant go down on me for not following protocol in dire situations. Sleep is preferable of course, but you should always do whatever you can do assess the situation and I clearly haven’t done that yet, however much I’ve tried. She brings me breakfast, sandwich with ham and cheese. I trt talking to her, but she ignores me completely.
When it starts to get darker again and I haven’t found a single solution to my problems. It seems hopeless and I find myself starting to get desperate. Not only that but I feel incredibly hungry. It’s as if the food isn’t doing a thing for me. Later the woman comes in and sits down with me. She is nodding her head, as if she knows something I don’t and to be honest I am rather happy for her company. She frightens me, but the way I am feeling I don’t care what she can or will do to me. I just need to get out of my own panicked head that keeps claiming that she is something other than human and that I am on the road to a brainless existence like the corpse of the stranger in the room with me.
The hunger gets worse and worse during the night. When the morning comes I am ravished. I eat her soup with enthusiasm, but it doesn’t help at all. I’m just as hungry as when I woke up. I try to communicate with her, but she just smiles knowingly and ignores me. She sits with me, but ignores me as I try to sign to make her understand me. She isn’t interested in communicating, but in something else.
Then my stomach starts to cramp, the pain is immense and she nods and picks me up off the floor and takes me to the next room. It is similar to the one I’ve spent my time in but there is furniture in this one. A table, a chair and a sofa in front of an old fashioned tube television.
There is a man sitting in the sofa. From the back it looks like he is watching television, but when I come around I notice he is unconscious. Sean Connery is frolicking about on the TV screen, drinking a martini, shaken not stirred. I try to ignore it, but it captures my attention and I find myself staring at the television for a while until I feel the cramp in my stomach again and it feels like I am going to vomit. I look at the woman who is standing behind the sofa, watching me closely.
Then my attention goes back to the sleeping man. His ear slowly seems to be becoming irresistible. It isn’t a sexual thing, just a heinous interest in the man’s ear. I sit down on the couch beside him and stare at his ear till I can’t take it anymore and I stick my tongue in it.
A creepy sensation goes through my entire body as my tongue shoots inside the man’s ear. I feel it burrowing in there, deeper and deeper, a strange wetness entering my mouth. I recognise the taste as disgusting, but it entices me, keeps me sticking my tongue in there even further till I realise that I am burrowing my tongue too far inside the man’s ear. I try to pull away, but as soon as my tongue shot out I realised that I need this and push it inside again. I am scooping the liquid up with my tongue, sucking on whatever it is that comes out, the taste is like nothing I’ve ever tasted and *this* is satisfying my hunger.
When I am finished I am still a little hungry, but the cramp in my stomach has subsided somewhat and I feel confused, dizzy even. The woman nods her head and tells me to continue. It is the first words I understand that comes out of her mouth and I don’t think about it but just stick my tongue harder inside the man’s ear. I am pushing through tissue and something else too, something harder. I am not contemplating what I am doing, just doing what feels instinctively right and satisfying. This will safe my life.
After a while of burrowing and slurping I feel better. I feel fine again. I feel like myself again. The man’s head is slumped down, a clear liquid running down from his ear and down his neck. Only then do I realise what I’ve done.
I look at her. The calm on her face seems misplaced and I am about to loose it when I catch a glimpse of something grey welling out of the man’s ear. I want to run away screaming, but something takes a hold of me. It’s as if something is seductively whispering into my ear that I can benefit from this, if only I swallow these human emotions and the disgust, I can benefit from this.
I can’t help myself, but start slurping up the grey liquid. The woman helps me out. She is the one to smash the man’s skull in then I find myself slurping up his brain, devouring every last bit of it until there is nothing left but the dry bone. I swallow and lick my fingers dry afterwards.
I feel little, or no remorse. Instead I feel energised. I feel better than I ever have before. I feel happier than ever before. It’s like a drug, except I don’t feel inebriated exactly.
“You did well,” the woman says as if she is talking to a small child. “In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen such progress in a newborn,” she smiles. “You’re beautiful my friend, you’ll make a good addition to our clan.”
It’s like my old self is separating from this new me. I instinctively take my belt off and place the gun on the floor in the corner. Then I walk over to the woman and aske her her name.
“My name is Jasmine,” she tells me. “I am glad you picked up our thought process this fast.”
It only occurçs to me then that I am not using my mouth to talk to her, but my mind. We are communicating through our minds. We are communicating telepathically.
The idea comes as a shock and I sit down on the couch beside the dead body. It is chilling how little I care about the dead person and though somewhere deep down I realise this it is more shocking to me now that I seem to hear what the others are thinking.
“What am I?” I ask her.
She smiles and shrugs her shoulders. “We think it’s a virus,” she sighs, “We start to receive thoughts from people who are affected a bit before anything happens to them. So we started getting your thoughts a week back. You were in the heat of a battle when I started getting your thoughts. It was quite the trauma.” She says as if this has had quite the impact on her. “I knew I had to get to you and that you weren’t too far off so I decided to follow you. When I found you there was a hunter right beside you. I fear he may have affected you with the virus to get to us, but his plan backfired. He died.” She points her head towards the room I was in before.
All I manage is a hiccup, “A hunter?”
“Well, he called himself a doctor,” she says matter-of-factly.
I feel no remorse for the man any longer. I don’t think I’m capable of that anymore. The hunger isn’t like human hunger. Once you’ve fed you are satisfied for a week at least, sometime more depending on the brain and though it is somewhat of a required taste it seems like a delicacy now.
What really happened to that doctor, the stranger who I thought was trying to save me but was really just trying to make sure I didn’t fall into the hands of my kind, what happened to him was me and not her. The mind works in mysterious ways and now I hear the thoughts of a hundreds like me, from all over.
We are many.