The cat and the mouse.
One chasing the other. One being chased by the other.
An endless game. A constant loop. A part of nature.
For a little bit there, I was the cat. The one doing the chasing. Needing food. Always needing more. Taking what they took from me.
What did they take from me?
My name. My sense of self. My ability to just stand still and be okay.
Those were the crimes I was accusing them of.
Didn’t I end up taking those things from myself as well? In my chase, I invariably lost things along the way.
What were the crimes against me? Who committed them to who? Or was it just another cycle in an endless loop?
I threw myself into this. The world is, so therefore the outcome remains the same. No matter what.
No matter what.
Stick a hand in fire, it will burn. Each and every time.
In chasing after mice, I threw myself into the world. The fire. I burned.
But so does everyone else. In chasing after their own mice.
So what did I gain? What did I manage to take back for myself? Or did I have more to lose?
The world is spiraling into entropy, and all of us are just along for the ride.
No matter how many times the world turns, the cycle is all the same. Some may shuffle around to new positions, but it is always the same result. Every choice, every path, it seldom will change so it will always lead to this. From the beginning, it was always going to bring me here. All of us.
If I hadn’t gone outside that day.
Because it was me, because it was that day, and all those previous days were those previous days, I would always step out into that cold night, walking on the path that would inevitably bring me here.
Each and every time. Like starting over a novel from the beginning. The cycle would loop back to here.
Here and now.
A car crash. A chase. The mice had set their own trap. The same cycle, but now the positions had shuffled.
So now I was the mouse.
Was like coming out from a haze, a dream. A nightmare. But the terror was still very present, and very real.
Nauseous, discombobulated, dizzy. All over again.
Water splashed into my face and I choked, screamed, choked again. The water was hot.
“She’s up. Look at her, she’s shaking.”
There was laughter, a sickening note in the air.
My jaw was tight, teeth grinding, skin sizzling, and that voice was right, I was shaking. From both the heat and the suddenness of my coming to.
Feverish to the point of boiling. Then I was splashed again.
I heard other sounds now, outside of my gurgle and the laughter that surrounded me, taunting me. The tinny and tiny clattering of metal, distinct, and the hard knocks of wood, grating and skidding and screeching across a surface.
Harsh gasps for air, spitting and sputtering out hot water, dripping down my face and my hair, my clothes were soaked.
I couldn’t wipe my face.
As the heat started to subside somewhat, blinking away water and now tears, I could start to feel the restraints.
Shackles and chains.
Locked into a wooden chair, my limbs framed across the arms and legs and tied so tight I couldn’t budge a finger. Enhanced strength wouldn’t amount to anything when I had zero room to move. The sheer weight on me was too much to bear, discouraging me to even try.
I spat more water, feeling some drool down the corner of my mouth, trailing off my chin. My tongue felt as heavy and dry as a brick.
I was thirsty. But, it shouldn’t have been that long since the last time I-
Convulsing, trembling, hurting. Laughing and clattering and knocking and grating and skidding and screeching. The cacophony peaked again for a third crescendo.
I was panting and shaking like a wet dog, steam probably coming off my body, if I could see. Hair was starting to stick and poke into my eyes now.
Screaming, shivering harder. White hot. Blinded by pain and agony of which did know bounds, because I was it, and it encompassed me.
Couldn’t move an inch, aside from the chair skidding across the floor, slick with water, but not enough for me to spill over. I stayed sitting, steaming.
There was no cooling down from this. I couldn’t. As water dripped and soaked into my clothes and skin, I really felt as if I was melting.
“You’re up. Welcome back.”
I sucked in some air, some water coming with it. A vain attempt for a drink.
No sound came out from me. Nothing voluntary, anyways. A few wheezes. The rattling of chains.
“Need a little more? Here.”
I blinked again, and my vision cleared enough that I could catch the image of a rabbit standing in front of me, winding his arms back, holding a bucket. Water swirling inside, piping hot.
Hoarse, panicked, and even pitiful, I forced out a scream.
“No, no, please no!”
The rabbit stopped, swinging the bucket down but not spilling out the contents a fourth time. The rabbit set the bucket. Then someone else moved to collected it and positioned themselves where I couldn’t see.
My head was hanging, low, hair that wasn’t sticking into my face and eyes were pointing straight to the floor, dripping wet. There wasn’t a part of me that was dry. Breathing like a fish out in the open, exposed, dying.
I coughed again, and my whole body pounded. Hard.
Jaw hanging open, a long string of saliva stretching down, swinging slightly as I shook.
That voice called out to me again. A song. Sounded so far away, even though it probably was not.
“You ain’t thirsty? You’re call. We’ll be here a loooong time. To talk. So let’s talk.”
It was fucking near impossible to get my bearings on my surroundings, my self, much less how I even got here. Not even a blur. More like a smear, memories blending together, turning a once-blank canvas into something messy. Sloppy. Couldn’t even venture a guess at what the full image conveyed. Didn’t even want to. It was too ugly.
I closed my eyes instead. Focus on anything else but that.
Here. How to get the hell out of here.
“She can’t even talk. How about squeal? Can you squeal, little mouse?”
It wasn’t laughter this time, or, there was a possibility that I was losing the ability to comprehend. The voices echoed around and even in my head. Ringing and ringing and ringing and ringing some more.
“Alright, I was going to give you the courtesy of going first, but you’ve seemed to want to concede things to me. Fine by me. I’ll start.”
My eyelids felt like they were wired shut, now. Opening them was akin to digging hands into the earth and splitting it in half from there. A monumental task for someone, something, so miniscule.
“A question. Just one. You into Chinese?”
I breathed. It came out hard and hoarse.
“We had some time so I had Toby Wong get some takeout for everyone. Isn’t that right, Toby?”
“I did, I did.”
“And what, exactly, did you bring back?”
“Fried crispy pork chop, deep fried pork intestine, beef with broccoli, kung pao beef, sizzling steak with black pepper but it stopped sizzling a while ago, sauteed shrimp, sesame chicken, moo goo gai pan, roast duck, and lo mein. Oh, hot and sour soup, too.”
“Hot and sour too, sounds like a mouthful.”
“That’s because it is. Got a lot of mouths to feed, apparently.”
“You’re right, Toby. Apparently we do.”
“What are you hungry for? I’ll let you have the first pick.”
“Um, let’s see here… I’m partial to lo mein myself.”
“Then lo mein it is.”
Other sounds. Crinkling plastic and popping of cardboard. Footsteps.
“What’s in it?”
“In it? It’s lo mein.”
“Like chicken, beef, shrimp, what are we, ah, here we are.”
“Got it all. Combination.”
“Went all out, very nice. Here, get me that.”
“Here you are.”
“Smells fucking good.”
“But, I think we should have our esteemed guest of honor take the first bite. What do you say?”
“Sounds like a great idea to me.”
“And the rest of you, what do y’all say?”
There were cheers and claps all around.
Then it got quiet. Short of my own haggard breathing.
A sharp stabbing into my face that broke past my lips into my teeth going through my tongue down my gullet choking me and choking me and choking me and choking me-
-Something else was shoved down my throat. Intestines. Fish guts. Slime. Pig shit. Bugs. Snails. Dirt. Fingernails. Glass. Dust. Mud. Grime. Bile. Blood. Blood. Blood. Blood. Blood. Blood-
It was my blood.
I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t fight back. I couldn’t do anything except suffer.
I fought, or tried, but I was too tired, my restraints biting into my arms and legs.
Hair pulled back, neck exposed with trash continuing to be forced down into it like clogged a chute. Couldn’t take any more.
Completely involuntary, I threw myself forward, folding up. I moved faster and harder than whatever had me by the hair had anticipated, and a handful of it tore out from the roots.
I started hacking the stuff out, or tried, but it was all too much. Overload. Nothing came out, or I didn’t feel it. Every one of my senses had hit red. Nerves raw.
More than just saliva was hanging from my lips now. A strand of something. Bits of others. And they all had a foul, worse than foul taste to them.
Moaning, dry heaving. Suffering.
“I don’t think she likes Chinese all that much.”
“No, Toby, I don’t think she does.”
It wasn’t even registering to me, what anyone was saying. Where I was. How I got here. Who I was.
“Hey, look at me when I’m talking to you.”
Head pounding, face like it was splitting open, skull throbbing so hard it might crack.
“Have some dignity. For your sake. It would be better that way.”
I lifted myself. Somewhat. I angled my head towards the direction of the voice, but that was the best I could do. That was about all I could do.
Which was true. Everything weighed on me.
“Oh? How about another wash?”
I screamed like it was a reflex. Jaws tearing apart.
“No anything but that no!”
Didn’t even sound like me. Didn’t know who that was.
“Then open your fucking eyes.”
It was work. But I managed. As if by a miracle. But there was no good fortune to be found here.
The lights were low, but they were blinding to me. Hard to see, near impossible. So I didn’t try.
Blinking tears and other things.
The voice spoke. Somewhere in front of me.
“God damn, you’re still alive. So it really is you.”
“Whatever… I am, sure, it’s me.”
“I want to hear you say it.”
“The hell is a Vee?”
Defeated, I corrected myself. I didn’t want to get into it now. “Bluemoon.”
I couldn’t see, but I could feel a certain stillness run through the space of where I was, wherever I was. But that constant threat of violence was still there, hanging over me. It sat around me like a fog.
“Isn’t that a relief. And do you know who I am?”
“Good, because it doesn’t fucking matter who I am. What matters is that we have you, and we stand to get a lot out of that.”
“I don’t have anything. Wherever you found me, you already took everything I had.”
“No, not everything. Because I wanted to make certain. I’m a careful sort, you see, I need to know what I have, when I have it. Nothing worse than having the rug swept out from under you. I’m sure you can imagine.”
“Yeah… I can…”
“When I found you, half of your body stuck in a gutter, in a pool of blood but with no visible wounds, I had a feeling. A small feeling, that I didn’t recognize at the time. But it grew, oh yes, it grew, until I could no longer ignore it and I had to tackle it head on. And that’s what I’m doing right now. Tackling it head on.”
I didn’t really have a response to that. I couldn’t even guess at what the voice’s real intentions were. If there were any.
“The others, they lasted about as long as you’d expect. Redness, irritation. Swelling in some parts. Even blisters, but that’s to be expected when you’re going for full. Do you know what full is?”
I didn’t answer.
“Full, as in full-thickness. There are four categories. Superficial epidermal, which affects only the outer layer. Redness, swelling, the usual. Superficial dermal, which reaches down the second layer. Nerve endings and blood vessels practically pop. Then there’s deep dermal or partial-thickness, which gets pretty bad, this is where you see the blisters. Heard you might not even feel anything at all. Looking at you, though, that didn’t seem to be the case. And then there is full-thickness. The most serious of skin burns.”
Breathing went hard again, feeling a chill. I was feeling a chill the entire time.
“It’s basically a third-degree burn. It can turn the skin to leather. Wax, even. Red to black, as the burn melts away the skin and deepens the color of your tissue. Most of them don’t even make it past a partial without passing out, later unable to sit or lean against anything because there are too many of those damn blisters. You, though? You. You just sat there and went through three washes hot enough to burn a man to a crisp. From the top of his head, to the tip of his dick.”
A sharp stabbing into my face that broke past my lips into my teeth going through my tongue down my gullet choking me again.
That sharp force went to my arms, where the chain were. From underneath, I could feel the sleeves being pulled away, sliding between skin and restraints, the water having made things slick.
“I don’t see a fucking bubble on you! Where? Nowhere, that’s where! I can’t find one, I don’t see any!”
I was being rocked in my chair. Hard. A weight completely overtaking me.
Then I fell over. The floor had been made slippery, after all.
This was sloppy. This was a mess.
No one would listen.
Or maybe I wasn’t able to actually say anything at all.
Struck across the cheek. Stuff flicked out of my mouth.
“Get me the bucket!”
I started seizing again.
“The other bucket!”
Pulling against my restraints, not breaking them, but I was able to make my hands a little more free. I could wiggle my fingers. I wiggled them.
“I want you see this, too, because this is really something. This when I knew I really had something.”
The weight was taken off my body. Footsteps and other sounds, circling me.
“Open your eyes!”
I opened my eyes.
Still unable to see, but I could feel. My sense of touch had been ratcheted up to heights previously thought inconceivable.
Tiny dots, hitting my face. Like someone was flicking me with pebbles.
“Do you see this?”
More pebbles. I twitched with each bit of contact. And they were numerous.
I had to will my vision to come back to me. The fog around me finally solidifying into… something. Something terrifying.
Hazy doubles formed back together into show me creatures. A dog, a monkey, even a horse. The one standing over me, the one who I knew was doing all this to me, was the rabbit.
Reaching into a bucket, grabbing a handful and tossing them at me. Peppering me with small white dots.
More and more.
“You know what these are?”
He wouldn’t stop.
I flinched as they hit me. Then he dumped the rest of the bucket over me.
They fell like heavy snow.
Now that I was in a pile of them, it was easy to register. I screamed again.
Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Incisors. Canines. Premolars. Molars. Me.
I was buried in a pile of incisors and canines and premolars and molars.
All of them were mine.
I wouldn’t stop screaming. The girl, tied to the chair that had been tipped over, among a sizable collection made of her own teeth, would not stop screaming.
“They wouldn’t stop popping back out, no matter how many I took out, no matter how long you were out. Couldn’t fucking believe my eyes. They just kept coming and coming and coming, over and over, isn’t that crazy? Isn’t that fucking insane?”
The bucket was thrown down, hitting me at one temple and when my head whipped back the other temple hit concrete. I wasn’t seeing teeth now just stars.
“So we’re going to be here for a long, long time. Got enough food for all of us to have our fill and keep going. Got enough for you, too, even if you have enough fucking teeth to fill over a hundred fucking mouths!”
I was dizzying enough to throw up. So I did.
“Christ… You’re allowed to take a break.”
“Not now Toby.”
“I’m just saying, Dong-Yul was offering up a lot of dough for the Bluemoon. Dead or alive. More alive.”
“Dong-Yul can go get his fucking dick boiled, okay? I don’t give a fuck what that fucking gook has to say.”
“Alright man, it’s your call. Whatever you say.”
“God damn right it is. And what I say is, we’re not done with this little mouse. She threw all of us into this shithole, we’re taking her even deeper with us.”
“One call, they’ll be here in a minute, and we get to walk away millionaires. All I’m saying.”
“Another word from you like that and I’m putting you in that chair next.”
“All I’m saying.”
“That’s three, maybe three and a half. Fuck it. Help me get her up.”
In the haze that clouded my mind, I was only able to gather a few details. Few, but crucial.
They would be here any minute. They. Dong-Yul, maybe even Mrs. Carter and Styx too. The others at the table.
Could finish them off here, but I was reduced to something even lesser than dirt.
Had to get out of here and recuperate.
I felt hands on me, on the chair by my restraints. I did what I could. I moved my fingers.
Even as they lifted me, I moved my fingers.
That was all I had. Moving my fingers. That was my only available option towards an escape.
How pathetic. How sad. So pitiful I could laugh.
So I did.
I started to laugh.
Laughed so hard I cracked.
“The hell is wrong with her?”
“If you have to ask, Toby… Set her down there.”
They set me upright, but there was nothing up or right about me. I kept laughing, my fingers wiggling like worms.
“Hey, what the fuck are you on?”
A strike across the face. I didn’t even. I didn’t care about anything.
I couldn’t help it anyways, much less myself.
Another strike. Then a third.
“Who said you can find this funny? Who?”
Laughing. Fingers. Worms.
“How about this then, huh?”
The rabbit reached for one of my fingers and pulled it back. So far back that the fingernail was an inch close to my wrist. Eyes widened and I started crying.
“We cut your fucking finger off, how do you like that? Or maybe your whole hand even? Lord knows you’ll get it back. How does that sound!”
A cold fine point pressed into the finger, right above the knuckle.
I didn’t like the sound of that, but I also kind of liked the sound of that.
I was nothing but hysterical.
A cold fine point pressed deeper into the finger, right above the knuckle.
Then it cut right through.
And then it all was wrong.
Pain. Fire. Excruciating.
Not just me.
It got everywhere. Over everything. Blood and guts and gore and arms and legs and heads.
I saw sliced through the matter. Cutting the air itself.
Obsidian tendrils out of where my middle finger was supposed to be. Slinking, slicing, cutting through the air like a snake.
A snake with more than head.
They moved in spirals. Cold, in touch and indifference, leaving things in bits and pieces.
There were screams. Some didn’t last very long. Others never seemed to end.
I watched as the blood fell like rain.
And then it was over.
It happened fast.
Eyes wider still as the snakes, blacker than the shadows, spiraled and hit against something, somehow absorbing it. The finger that had been removed. Mine.
Then the tendrils retreated, slinking back where they came from.
I saw my finger return to me. Black for a second but then the color returned, as if it was being filled by something.
The force of everything was strong enough to knock and break the restraints there, and that arm was free.
Rain still seemed to fall in here when I worked on the rest of my bindings.
Then I was free. Or at least, I wasn’t in that chair anymore.
I looked around.
The dead and the dying. Bodies stacked from the floor to the ceiling. My eyes were hurting and bleeding but I could see that much. My eyes wouldn’t deceive me now.
Animals. Dogs, monkeys, horses, a cat and a mouse. rabbits. This place had been turned into a slaughterhouse. Sounded like one with the squeals, smelled like one with the blood.
I rubbed at my wrist, then hands. All ten fingers were accounted for.
I stared at each of them. Long enough that ten almost became twenty. Then thirteen. Twelve. Thirteen.
I knew I had to get out of here. I heard there were others coming.
But I was so thirsty.
I stumbled over to one of the bodies. The rabbit.
Removing the head, I saw its face. It kind of looked like me. Some of the others who didn’t look like animals looked like me. But only on a superficial epidermal level.
Animals. Had to try and think of them as animals.
I bit into one of the rabbit’s puffy cheeks. Juices spilled out as if I was squeezing a fruit instead.
Something told me to do more than just have a drink. I listened.
I clamped down, teeth going deeper until it broke past the skin and the underlying muscle. The meat.
Half of the rabbit’s face was in my stomach by the time I was full. Replacing all the dirt and trash that had been stuffed in there earlier.
Now I felt so much better…
The bodies bloomed and became like the equinox. A passing thought. That I wanted to become as beautiful as them. To become anything. Something.
The thought passed, and there was nothing else. Nothing that needed to be understood, nothing that needed to be made clear to me. Because I knew now. I saw it for myself. The snakes. The animals.
With something nice and filling in my stomach, my throat washed with a sweet drink, I began my march. My march into darkness.
But I tripped first. Slipped on something.
Blood and guts and teeth. I picked myself up and marched onward.
I found my way outside. Wherever I was. Feeling a light rain continued to fall. All around my body, I felt a slight buzzing, as though something was swimming or slithering, right beneath the surface.
Outside. Wherever I was. I wasn’t lost, because I had no place to go, or a goal in mind.
I just had to go. Didn’t matter where. Didn’t matter how. It made no difference to me.
No difference to me.
I walked the streets. It was dark, so it was either late or early. No difference to me. No difference.
My feet were bare, heels scraping along the pavement. Where I walked was segmented and changed color. One foot on black, the other on white. I turned a street and I was soon walking across a checkerboard.
I was getting thirsty again. I was getting… hungry again. I’d need more.
I would have taken more, too, if I hadn’t left that place so early. Why did I leave so early?
Oh, they were after me. They. All of them.
Misses Sticks and Carther. There were more too but I couldn’t name them. I just knew they were after me. They. All of them.
I could take them. I knew I could. But I wasn’t in a good position. I had to get somewhere else. I had to take stock of things. I had to rest.
Vision wandering like I was. I saw the moon.
Pale and round and swollen and beautiful. Like a single, unblinking eye. Watching over me. Watching over everyone. It saw all and it understood all. So high up. I was envious of the moon.
I tripped again.
Picking out bits of teeth and other matter out between my toes, I got up and started again.
I thought about who the moon would be watching.
Everyone. People. People I knew. Parts of faces. Parts of words. Letters.
D. I wanted to see D again. I was sure she’d know what to do. She was so small but she was so smart. She always had an answer. Even if it was smart one.
Isabella and Lawrence weren’t here. I wouldn’t be able to see them anymore.
Sarah. I’d never be able to see her again. I felt cold.
Someone else. Their name on the tip of my tongue. Almost clear…
She wanted something from me. For me. Hard to recall it now.
Until then, I’d keep on this path. Wherever this one led.
There were others that were coming to me. But they weren’t for me. Someone else. But their image kept getting caught in the glint of my shattered, fractured mind.
Turning to another corner, a foot catching on something and I fell.
Get up, you can’t let it end here.
I got up, but not before spitting out a fang. I had hit the ground funny and laughed. A new one grew back in.
Walking like this, on a seemingly endless path though I knew there would be an end eventually, I felt the closest thing to what I could ever consider to be peace. Wandering like this, with only wanting to take the next step, one bare foot ahead of the other. I was free. Free to live. Free to die. But a voice was telling me to keep trying.
I would. For their sake. As if I had been hardwired, this entire time, to do just that. Resigned to that.
Thank you. We’re almost there. Just a little more.
Just a little more. Almost there. Welcome.
Didn’t stop moving. Not even when the concrete began to gnaw on the soles of my feet, turning them red and raw, bleeding and healing with every step.
No other ugly, disgusting wounds on me. I walked, and was the closest to okay I had ever felt in a long time.
As long as I kept walking, I would be okay. Or at least the closest thing.
I looked again. Saw the moon. Watching me. Like the other times I checked. Thought it was something else but it was just the moon. Like always.
Then the moon shed a tear.
Dropping from the sky like rain, it landed there. There, on the street. An open area in a city desperately trying to get some sleep for the night.
Someone was standing in the middle of the space.
I saw them, and they saw me.
And it was as if a piece fell into place, in a puzzle I would never be able to step back from and take in entirely. But a piece did fall into place. A partial piece.
Just from seeing them alone. Just as I was alone.
They had been following me this entire time. For this moment. For me.
Muscles tensing, the bubbling and buzzing within me festering stronger.
Without thinking, I moved myself a tad closer. I began to hunch over on all fours, crouching like I was about to pounce. Step by step, I inched forward while keeping my eyes on them.
I shivered. But it didn’t.
Tried saying something, but it came out wrong.
“Keh… keh… keh…”
Didn’t sound human.
But I’d listen to the voice. I would not perish here. I didn’t want to die like the animal I had become, the monster I had always been. This would be my final defiance.
I would have my fill.
The form moved. Pointing. They weren’t any taller than the little girl who apparently had reduced herself to but a letter.
An instrument. A plaything. In their hand it opened up like an umbrella. Obsidian.
Among the rainfall, there was a rumble. Far away. Like a single instance of a boom of thunder.
I fell over.
That wasn’t supposed to happen a fourth time.
I checked where it hurt. It started to hurt so much.
My right arm, from around the elbow.
It just simply wasn’t there.
I waited for the tendrils to come back and help me. Save me. But they never came. Instead, black, charred flakes scabbed over the fresh wound. Nothing was coming out.
Nothing was coming out. Nothing was coming out.
Nothing was coming out.
Those four words.
I did not heal.
A wave of despair washed over, and a squealing pierced the night sky.