for as long as the light does not reach us

by zerodignity

November 17 —

There is a single window at the far end of the attic, and the afternoon light that falls through it is gray, so gray and flat that it casts no shadows about the room. It admits only a shapeless gloom, an oppressive damp, and the distant sounds from the street below, muffled as though beneath a thick blanket.

To the faded bed, dresser, and desk with which the room came furnished, I have added only a few meager things, carried with me from my old apartment. A single case bundled with clothing, toiletries, a razor. A small crate of books. Ink and paper for writing.

Of money, I have very little remaining. It’s nearly a month since I was let go from my position as a clerk at the customs bureau a role I performed faithfully for many years, then indifferently, and finally not at all, until my superiors were left with no choice but to turn me out.

R. was, from what I can gather, aghast when he learned what happened. He has since tried to reach me by various means, though I have so far managed to avoid any contact with him. His letters I left unopened and unread on the floor of my empty apartment. 

It is true that we have spoken rarely in recent years. Yet he is the only person left in my life, perhaps, who still cares enough to be disappointed in me. I don’t think I would have been able to explain to him why I did what I did to explain that I simply felt the need to exist for a time in a different state of being, to allow myself to drift, unmoored from those forces of normalcy that pull me always, relentlessly, back toward center. And if he had asked me what I plan to do next, how I intend to make a living after this, I am not sure I could have given an answer. 

Now the last of my wages are nearly depleted, and I have little idea when or how I might supplement them. I have found myself obliged to relocate to these more modest lodgings, to this sparse attic room in a disreputable boarding house.

I first arrived around eleven o’clock this morning, answering an advertisement in the newspaper. The landlord proved to be an older man, gruff and unsympathetic, and his eyes traced over me with a mixture of curiosity and distaste as I counted out my payment. 

“Due the first of every week,” he informed me doubtfully. “Paid in advance. And not a day later.” 

I bristled momentarily at his tone, before deciding that I could hardly take offense at being treated as a vagrant, when that was indeed what I had become; and if he harbored doubts about whether I would be able to pay him in a week’s time, then my own uncertainty on that account more than justified his skepticism.

He led me up the narrow staircase, opened the door with a small iron key, and gestured me into the room. I could see at once that it was a wretched place. Poor light, a cold draft seeping through where the glass fit unevenly to the window frame, the shriveled carapaces of moths and spiders littering the corners. There was something immediately uninviting about it, as though it were a space that preferred to be empty, that recoiled at the prospect of a human occupant. 

Haunted, I thought, with a trace of amusement at my mind’s attempt to read some mystery into this unattractive little spot.

Still, as I breathed in the musty atmosphere of the room, a strange feeling took hold of me. A twinge of anticipation, sweet and slow and golden as honey, dripped along the nerves of my spine, as if my body sensed possibilities from this place that my mind could not yet formulate.

I was struck by the thought, so sudden and foreign that it could have been planted in me from the outside, that this place was like a garden stone someone might turn over, and that I was the thing they would find wriggling in the clammy darkness underneath.

It is a den, I thought, a nest, a lair

There was a chilly satisfaction in this monstrous notion, and I stood for a moment savoring it, turning it over in my mind. I saw how the landlord stood half across the threshold, one foot still in the corridor, and imagined that if he took another step forward he might brush too close to where I lurked, and be pulled under, and devoured whole

I suppose he must have glimpsed some flush of this queer sensation reflected in my face, because he looked at me very strangely beneath his brows, mouth falling slightly open in bewilderment. But he hesitated only a few moments before collecting himself. 

“First of every week,” he repeated. Then he turned abruptly and departed, closing the door behind him.

As I write, it is now early evening. Measuring by the vivid color of the sky through my window, the sun must have not yet dropped below the horizon. But in my room it is already so dark that I have had to light a candle to hold back the gloom. The chill gnaws at my fingers where I grip my pen. Cold air floods through my chest with each breath, as though I had gulped icy water. 

Yet there remains still that glow of possibility in all of this, like a faint warmth of liquor through my veins. 

This is indeed a lair, I have decided. A place of shelter. Somewhere a creature might disappear from the world, cocoon itself, and emerge as something unrecognizable.


November 18 —

Since leaving my position at the office, I have settled into a deepening solitude, with entire days spent scarcely hearing the sound of another human voice. I have found that this state of affairs suits me well. 

Yet a curious side-effect is that my dreams have turned correspondingly more vivid and restless, a torrent of vague, unsettling imagery and sensation, of which I typically remember little the next day. It feels as if some untapped energy, too long dammed up inside me, has found cracks in the structure of my sleeping mind and seeks to force itself through; and I often wake with a sense of unease, a sticky heat still clinging to my brow and chest, as though I had spent the night engaged in some strenuous labor, conjuring these things into being, or holding them at bay.

Thus far, I have spent only one night in the peculiar atmosphere of this attic room. But already it seems to have imparted a new clarity to these visions. A sense of tangibility, of permanence, that only renders them more powerful and lucid.

I will try to recount now what I dreamt that first night, though my face burns to recall it, and certain details I hesitate to confess in writing.

It began with darkness, then a sense of pressure, like a heavy weight against my chest. I felt pinned, immobilized beneath it. But somehow the sensation was not unpleasant; instead there was relief, even pleasure, in having my body so removed from my control, in being freed to simply notice the firm weight of the presence atop me. I gave up trying to struggle against it, and simply submitted, observing with curiosity the way it shifted lightly against me, with a sound like the lapping of waves, or the fluttering of insect wings.

At length the feeling grew more definite and insistent. A rhythmic motion — the breathing, I thought, of another body against mine. Then warmth, wet, a kind of steady suction. At one moment it was heady and enveloping, like a deep kiss, at the next moment sharp, almost painful. There was a point when I even imagined it might be the jaws of a wolf wrapped around me, tugging against my tendons, worrying away the flesh until I felt the gnawing of teeth against bone. 

Yet instead of revulsion, all of this elicited in me a torment of desire, a longing for release, such that I shuddered and twisted against the form that held me in place. But I found I could gain nothing by my movements; the sensation brought me no nearer to relief no matter how I chased it. I could do nothing but lie there and ache.

Gradually my surroundings rose into hazy focus around me. My back was laid flat against a sofa, which was upholstered in a faded beige and burgundy floral print. This I recognized — it belonged to R. I felt at a loss as to how I could have ended up in such a place, having not set foot in his apartment for years. When we were younger, and just out of university, this had often been the site of far-ranging conversations between us that lasted into the deep hours of the night. But it had been a long time since we were so familiar and at ease with one another. 

I could still make out no details of the dark shape that lay over me. But the faint friction of its movements through my clothing, and the damp, insistent suckling at the exposed skin about my wrists and throat, held me in a dizzying, senseless sort of rapture.

Only gradually did the horror of my position begin to dawn on me — that my friend might enter his apartment at any second and find me in this debauched condition, my face flushed with arousal, my knees spread open by the weight above me, the straining front of my trousers scarcely managing to conceal the effect of all this sensation on my strangely awakened body. 

A terrible wave of shame and fear flooded through me. Panicked, I began to struggle against the force that held me thus. “Let me go,” I whispered. But there was a half-heartedness to my protests, suspended, as I was, midway between humiliation and want. 

And my ambivalence must have been evident, because the reply that came was mocking, in a voice low and close to my ear. 

“It will be better,” the voice said, “if you say what you really want.”

At this, an awful chill passed through me, because I recognized the voice. It, too, belonged to R., and the words were ones that he had spoken to me once before, in a memory I had long ago sought to bury.

It had happened like this: There had been a late night in his apartment, perhaps four or five years back, with half a bottle of whiskey gone between us. Following some foolish, spiteful impulse, I had suggested to him, as a sort of drunken game, that we should test our strength against one another. I didn’t expect that I could prevail against him; he was taller than me, with a healthy thickness and fullness about him that I had often observed with envy. But on that day I had been angry with him — it was something, I think, regarding a girl — and wanted to see how far I could provoke him. To see if I could place him somehow in an embarrassing position, to force him to either hurt me, or give in to me.

So I had pushed the game, deliberately, childishly, too far, lashing out at him until he was forced to defend himself against me. It had ended with him kneeling over me, holding my arms against the sofa to restrain me, close enough that I could taste the whiskey on his breath. He had said those words: “Enough, K.; it will be better if you say what you really want.” And they had seemed to me so vicious, so unthinkable in their implication, though his voice remained quite soft, that I had frozen in horror.

I knew how I was meant to respond. I should have shoved him away, or cursed and insulted him, or else played it off and made a joke of it. But instead I had gone utterly still, dumbfounded, terrified, unable to bring myself to move. 

A few breathless heartbeats passed before I managed to speak. At last I murmured weakly, “Let me go” — and he had. Without hesitation, he pushed himself upright and, not meeting my eyes, asked me to leave. I did so hastily, burning with shame, and avoided seeing him for some time after that. 

Eventually he had forgotten about the events of that night, or else had decided, mercifully, to pretend they had never taken place; though I would venture to say that our friendship was never fully the same after that.

Now, in my dream, I realized with horror that it must indeed be R.’s body that lay over me. Though I could not see his face, I recognized the appealing softness of his belly and thighs where they straddled mine, the graze of his beard against the side of my neck. Once again, I found myself unable to struggle against him, though this time fearing that if I tried, he might feel the firmness of my erection brushing against his hip or groin, leaving no doubt as to the nightmarish condition in which I found myself. 

Yet instead of pulling away, he lowered his weight against me further, as though deliberately searching out the evidence of my arousal, pressing himself into it. I felt momentarily dizzy with terror, to have my wantonness so exposed, even as a wild, heedless part of me longed to take myself in hand and make my end come sooner, no matter that my friend would bear witness to the entire scene. But my arms remained pinned. I was held, surrounded by him.

There was a stir in his chest, something like a chuckle, as if he were capable of reading my thoughts perfectly. 

“Tell me,” he urged, “if I withdrew from you now, would you beg for my touch? What would you promise, to have my hands on you again?”

I released a small, stifled sound as the shock of these words passed through me, acting with terrible precision on my already overwrought body. I was unable to restrain my hips from shifting in discomfort, and every sinew in me felt tight and resonant as a violin string. I was exposed, I knew; there was no disguising the state I had been reduced to. I was beyond my own control entirely. 

But as he lay there, clasped against me, it struck me that there was something wrong about him. Not merely the unthinkable words, or the coaxing, mocking voice that spoke them, so unlike R.’s usual frank manner. But something in the way he moved — a suppleness, a liquidity, an unnatural undulation. It was as though a mask had slipped partway from his face, or I had glimpsed the seams of his costume, how they strained and bulged around the true shape that lay behind them. 

With a shudder of recognition, I said, “You’re not him.”

Another faint laugh, then the response: “No, I am not.”

I caught my breath at this — more in fascination, I confess, than fear. I did not move for several seconds before asking, “Then — what are you?”

“A stranger,” came the answer. The words were spoken so close to my ear that I thought I felt the movement of the lips against my skin. Though it occurred to me, with a shiver, that perhaps they were not lips at all. “One who can grant your honest wish.”

“My honest wish?” I echoed this strange, fantastical phrase without comprehension.

Something shifted then. Though the entity’s arms had not moved from where they held mine pinned against the sofa, and what I thought of as its face still hovered close to my ear, I felt a light fluttering below my waist, like countless hands groping down the front of me to prod and stroke between my thighs. I noticed, with a spasm of horrified fascination, that these unseen appendages felt too fluid and flexile, dragging oily trails where they grazed against my clothing and skin. Slowly, but without apparent effort, they slipped beneath the waistband of my trousers, and I felt a cry of gratitude release itself from my chest as they wound their warmth firmly around my flesh.

“Wait,” I gasped desperately, though I felt myself on the brink of losing all semblance of restraint.

“Name it clearly,” the thing instructed, calm and implacable. “You must say it, and I will give it to you.”

I could feel as it unfurled an unidentifiable part of itself against me, like the petals of a flower. It slid delicately along my full length, intensely warm and moist, skillful as a hand, velvet-soft as a mouth; and the sensation was so unbearable, so close to bringing satisfaction even while ruthlessly, patiently denying it, that I felt my mind go white and blank. A plea of desperation rose up in my chest.

“I want you to tear me apart,” I uttered incoherently; but as soon as the words had crossed my lips it was as though a key had turned in a lock, and more words came pouring forth unbidden — “Break me, overthrow me, corrupt me, change me” — and from there such a stream of obscenities and blasphemies as I will not record here. 

The thing engulfed me fully, then, in a warm, wet embrace, all coyness abandoned. The pain and pleasure that throbbed through me built to an unbearable intensity, and I felt myself held and pulled as if by muscular limbs tugging at me from every direction, flooded and filled to bursting as if by a deluge of seawater. At last my body split and cracked open, and something glistening and unspeakable and beautiful began to work itself free from my skin — 

I awoke, then, in my bed, sweat-drenched, disheveled, and achingly hard. Late morning sunlight pooled beneath the window of my attic room. The coarse sound of an argument between the landlord and another boarder drifted up from the floors below. 

I lay there for a moment, catching my breath, holding painfully in check the desire to lay a hand on myself, to chase the feeling the dream had stirred in me to its end. 

Instead I rose and hastened to set myself aright with a basin of cold water, endeavoring to wash the confounding blur of images and sensations from my mind. I recoiled with guilt as I recalled R.’s role in the dream, to have implicated my friend unwittingly in my grotesque and distorted nightmares.

Still, one image clung to me, and would not leave me all throughout that day: the glimpse of the twisted, radiant thing that had emerged from the remains of my body, just before I woke. 

I felt myself overtaken with a strange, restless energy. Eventually, unable to contain it any longer, I descended the stairs of the boarding house, stepped out under the slate-gray sky, and began to walk. I lost myself for hours wandering the streets and alleys of the city, carrying that final image within me. Fearing, above all, that I might lose hold of it, striving to memorize and catalogue every detail of it.

I began to understand, I think, why I had come to this place. What I hoped to achieve in leaving behind my old life. Why the strange atmosphere of that attic room instilled in me such a sense of hope.

By the time I came to myself again it was nearly dark. I was chilled to the core by the wind, which sliced unmercifully past my thin clothing. But I had arrived at a decision. Before returning to the boarding house, I pushed inside a small shop preparing to shut its doors for the evening, and spent my remaining money on canvas, an easel, brushes, and oil paints.

Tomorrow, I have decided, I will begin the thing’s portrait.


November 20 —

I had aspired to be an artist, once, in my younger years — this was before I settled into my long, anesthetizing term of service at the customs bureau. Until recently I had not taken a brush in hand for at least a decade. Yet all of that matters little, I think. What training I received during my youth has proven useless here. It only leads me astray, offers me the false comfort of familiar forms, leashes me to the hidebound laws of proper line and color and proportion. 

In the days since my last entry, I have attempted a start on the portrait six times, and each time I’ve reached only as far as the thing’s rough shape and outline before discovering that I’ve erred too far in the direction of conventionality. Each time, I’ve abandoned my progress in frustration, scraping away the paint from the canvas to begin anew.

In between my abortive efforts, I have periodically left my room to wander again through the city. Peering in the windows of galleries until being roughly ushered away, poring through old, discredited volumes in the dim corners of bookshops — archaic bestiaries, manuscripts adorned with chimeras, lithographed daemonologies — in search of any model or referent to match the thing from my vision.

But I have arrived at the conclusion that visual forms will bring me no closer to the true shape of the thing. It is something that will have to be attained by touch alone, by mimesis, by embodiment. I must try on each shape like a cloak, until I find the one that fits — I must hunch my shoulders and twist my spine, letting my joints loosen and my limbs grow long and slack, and in this way feel out the image on the canvas

I am confident, now, that my newest attempt will be the one that succeeds. 


November 21 — 

It is slow, painstaking work. I’ve layered crimson on blue on black on black, letting the paint build and cake on itself until it stands almost half an inch thick in places. I have stood before the easel for hours, dragging the bristles of the brush again and again over the same spot, pulling the thing’s contours out of the places where the colors smudge and muddy into one another.

But I can see, at last, that my efforts have not been in vain. In the murky light of this room, there are moments when one can see a writhing, heaving mass beginning to take shape. There is even a pleasing effect of depth and movement and suppleness to it, the suggestion that if you pressed a hand against the canvas it would warm and yield under your touch.

I tried it, once. It did not respond — not yet. But I could not help but let my hand linger there anyway, feeling a faint buzz of pleasure at the rippling texture of the paint under my fingers. Feeling, too, the hairs rise on the back of my own neck, as though someone had let out a breath just behind me. 

By all of this, I know that I’ve made a proper start, at last. 


November 23 — 

I find that I have grown less careful in recent days. A testament, I suppose, to how thoroughly my work on the portrait has absorbed my attention. But it has manifested also as a growing indifference toward all of the cares that made up my previous life. A lack of hesitation even in the face of possible embarrassment and disgrace, those terrors that had governed so much of my existence prior to this point.

One consequence is that I have allowed my long walks through the city to lead me past my old neighborhoods, to places where R. might conceivably cross my path. A second consequence is that when he inevitably did, and pressed me to tell him where I had been staying since vacating my old apartment, I gave him an honest answer.

So it was not a surprise when I found him waiting for me on the stoop of the boarding house this afternoon. And not entirely surprising, either, when I felt no particular inclination to protest or turn him away, and instead invited him to speak with me in my room.

He followed me mutely up the narrow, creaking staircase to the attic. If he felt any discomfort arising from the seediness of these surroundings, or the disreputable business in which the other boarders seemed engaged, or the landlord’s suspicious glances in our direction, he gave no indication of it. 

But R. had always been this way, since I’d known him: even-tempered and gregarious, capable of weathering nearly any disturbance with apparent good humor. He’d always been possessed of a peculiar ease in moving through the world, one that I had at times marveled over, at times resented and envied.

Nevertheless, when he stepped inside my room and caught sight of my painting in its raw, half-finished state, he nearly flinched. I had an odd suspicion that he would like to walk over and cover it somehow, perhaps throw a sheet over it; but he seemed confused and abashed by the impulse, as though what he saw there were some distracting glimpse of bare flesh not meant for his eyes, and to address it would be to confess to having seen it in the first place.

Instead, he merely averted his gaze quickly, and seemed to avoid looking in the thing’s direction after that. He angled himself with his back toward the portrait, seated in my desk chair. Even then, I thought that the line of his neck and shoulders might betray a peculiar rigidity, as though he had to restrain himself from turning toward it through a force of will.

All of this I observed with great interest, and some satisfaction, witnessing the effect that my painting had on him. 

I sat down opposite him, at the end of my bed, and waited for him to speak. It occurred to me that this was the first time that another living soul had set foot in the attic since I had taken up residence here. I became somehow profoundly aware of his physical presence, the stir of his breathing, the beating of the pulse in his veins, how he filled the space in the room and interrupted its cold and silence. It conjured in me a peculiar awareness of an absence that I had, until then, scarcely registered — loneliness, one could call it, or perhaps something closer to hunger. 

The feeling was so unexpected and persistent that I simply watched him for some time, allowing my gaze to linger on him longer than was altogether suitable. I studied the curve of his back and shoulders, how he sat, as he always did, with hands resting against his thighs, knees apart, leaning slightly forward. I could paint him in that pose, I thought, relaxed and masculine — or else fit my body into that space between his thighs, lowering myself to rest my cheek against the faint crease and bulge where they met — 

“Have you been eating?” he asked, bringing an abrupt halt to my dangerously unbalanced train of thought, relieving me from the necessity of learning what lay at the end of it. “You look unwell.”

I admitted that I had not eaten since the morning of the previous day, but told him that I felt quite well; that with the recent change in my habits, I had found I was entirely comfortable surviving on less than before, much less. Which was true, though I did not mention that I could hardly have afforded a good meal at this moment, even if I had felt the inclination for one. 

His brows lowered at this, a quizzical, mildly disapproving sort of look.

“You should come out with me,” he said. “We can get a warm meal somewhere. It’s no good staying dungeoned up in a place like this, K. And it’s too long since we talked.”

“Talked?” I asked suspiciously. “About what?”

He shook his head — a little evasively, I thought. “Anything you’d like. But I’ve missed our conversations, these past months. And I think you’ll feel better after good food and the company of others.”

I was briefly surprised by how delicately he was handling me. He had not yet mentioned the loss of my position, despite having come to talk sense into me, I felt certain, on exactly that point; nor the fact that I had transparently been avoiding him for some weeks now. All this he artfully skirted, as though I were a porcelain figurine he feared might shatter in his hands if grasped in the wrong places.

But it struck me then just how I must seem to him, viewed from the outside. Pale, unkempt, destitute, living in this miserable place, with that obscenity lurking on the canvas in the corner. He was, I supposed, very much afraid for me. Not only for my health and finances, but for my mental state — for what might happen to me if left to my own care. 

Realizing this, I felt, more than anything, a sharp stab of pity for him. This poor fool, I thought bitterly, to have chosen me of all people to worry himself over. He seemed strangely vulnerable to me in that moment — and I myself, a hungry, predatory thing into whose lair he had strayed — and all I could think was that he had erred very badly in coming here.

I brushed aside his suggestion that I should go somewhere with him, and repeated, a bit more coldly, that I was really quite well, and had no interest in the sort of company he was proposing. I could see him growing irritated at this, as he always was when I refused to let him help me. The mask of it was familiar on him, the frowning set of his jaw, the trace of something indignant, even wounded, in his gaze. 

Opting for the more direct approach, he asked if I had yet found paying work; I said that I had not. He asked how I meant to pay the landlord in that case, and I told him honestly that I didn’t know. He asked, a little stiffly, if I intended, then, to simply be thrown out on the street. I told him that I didn’t know that either, but that I was no longer afraid of such things — that the question bore so little relation to the work I was now undertaking that it could not possibly matter to me one way or the other.

I saw, again, that trace of fear cross his expression at these words, and the incline of his head as if he meant to turn and look at my portrait, though he did not. 

Instead he asked, with a curiosity that struck me almost as genuine, “You’ve taken up painting again?”

I nodded. “A self-portrait,” I said. “Or, not quite. But — an effort to bring something into the world, through myself.”

He paused, looking me over intently before responding. 

“I’m glad,” he said. “I used to admire your work a great deal.” Then added, “I wonder if you’ve been working too hard,” with an unfinished note in his voice that made me suspect he had meant to say something quite different.

“And why wouldn’t I?” I shrugged, feeling a perverse half-smile form on my lips. “I have always wondered what motherhood might feel like — the labor of drawing something alive and squirming out of your body. Maybe it’s a little like this. The pain of birthing something new.”

I saw him blink at this strange turn of phrase, gazing at me in wonderment. I could see very well that I was explaining myself poorly, that he could not be expected to comprehend what I was telling him. But that was all the more reason, I decided, for him to leave here, and not return.

He was silent for a few moments further, then said, “Perhaps you should come stay with me, K. For a few weeks, at least, until things are more settled for you. I can’t offer much, but there’s space in my apartment. And if nothing else it’s a place out of the cold, where you can rest and regain your strength.”

At this, the memory of my dream, his apartment, all of the unspeakable debaucheries I had imagined there, released such a jolt of terror through me that I laughed, much too loud and abrupt, verging on the hysterical. 

“You think I want to live like that,” I asked tightly, “as an unwanted guest on your sofa?”

“If it were unwanted, I wouldn’t ask,” he replied, then added: “When is your rent due?”

“Tomorrow,” I admitted, with some reluctance.

He let out a short scoff of disbelief. “It’s settled, then. You can’t stay here. Do you understand? You’ll be put out on the street in the morning. I can help you move your things tonight.”

His tone had taken on an insistent, pleading quality, as though it were merely for his own benefit that he asked me this. He was persuasive, to be sure; in my younger years, I might even have let him convince me. 

Now, though, I found I had no interest in all of this self-effacing sympathy. I realized, with a mounting disquiet, that what I wanted from him was something else altogether.

“That’s kind of you,” I answered placatingly. “But I have to wonder, R., what would your wife think?”

“Wife?” he mumbled, looking at me in bafflement. “You know that I haven’t married.”

“Fiancee, then. You did tell me you meant to marry, didn’t you,” I pressed on, “a few years back? Some dark-headed girl you had found working at an alehouse?”

His face fell into a perplexed frown, eyes reading over my expression with concern. “What is this about, K.? You aren’t making sense.”

I knew that he was right. An unnatural heat had blossomed inside me, and my skin itched as though it fit too tightly over my bones. But I found, even after all these years, a small, twisted barb of jealousy still lodged inside me, and could not help plucking at it — a slender artifact that I took pleasure in turning between my fingers, feeling with interest how it tugged and frayed at my skin.

“I was just thinking,” I continued more slowly, “that your plans in that regard might pose some difficulty, if I were to come stay with you.”

I could see something sidelong and guarded cloud his expression, as though he anticipated the trap I was leading him into. Yet even so, his curiosity prevailed. 

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Well, just think of it, R.” I leaned toward him infinitesimally. “What if you bring home a woman one night, and want to take her back to your room? Should I simply lie awake on your sofa and listen to her moans, and yours, as you push a hand through her clothes and work her open on your fingers? Should I squeeze my eyes shut and pretend not to hear the rustle of her dress when you lift it over her knees and thrust into her?”

“For God’s sake, what are you saying?” he breathed, expression going slack with shock.

I might have left it at that. But there was a newfound hunger unfolding inside me, like a long-dormant creature awakening and stretching its limbs. A grotesque, fatal part of me that craved nothing more than to see this to its end, even if to do so sent me headlong into ruin. I half-hoped that R. would take his leave, escape, before I could say more, that some instinct of self-preservation would intervene to save him. But he did not stir from his spot.

“I thought about it often, when you first told me about her,” I continued, stumbling momentarily over the words. Less from hesitation, I think, than from some inner force that pushed them out of me before my lips were fully ready to form them. “I think you would be gentle with her, R., and go slowly, so it might last quite a long time. I think you would murmur kind words to her as she knelt over you and took you into her mouth. You would stroke a hand through her hair and praise her, hold yourself back from pushing into her mouth too greedily, even as you spent yourself down her throat — and all this, I would hear from the other room, and imagine — “

He rose to his feet in alarm, sending the chair scraping across the wooden boards, a twist of horror and hurt marring the line of his mouth. He took a step backward, as though he would flee the room. But when I stood as well, and stepped toward him, he did not back away. Instead he grew absolutely still. Trapped, I thought, like prey mesmerized under the gaze of its predator.

“I fear you are not well,” he said very quietly.

“No,” I managed to utter, feeling sick and dizzy and short of breath, “but listen, R. — I think — “

“K., stop,” he pleaded.

“I think,” I said, “that I would imagine it was me, instead of her.”

The room was utterly silent for some moments. Even the sound of his breathing had stilled almost completely. 

“So you see,” I concluded, “why I can’t come stay with you.”

“K. — ” he began. 

But I knew suddenly, urgently, for his own sake, that he should not be allowed to finish his sentence.

“That’s enough,” I interrupted, shaking my head. “You should go. You’ve remained here far too long already.”

His face bore a look so troubled that I was again overcome with pity for him. I was almost prepared to allow him to take his leave at once, with nothing further between us. 

But his gaze dipped, just for a moment, to my lips. So I leaned in and laid them against the corner of his mouth; and when he did not pull away, I finished the movement and kissed him very gently, open-mouthed, breathing in the small gasp that escaped him as my tongue brushed against his. 

Aside from that breath, he did not move by one iota until I broke away from him.

“Goodbye, R.,” I said. “Don’t come here again.”

He hesitated only a heartbeat, blank-faced and mute. Then turned and left.

With the fading echo of his footsteps down the stairs, there arose a pained feeling in my lungs, accompanied by wave after wave of agonizing relief. A sensation as though I had been holding my face underwater all the time he had remained in my room, and now my breath returned to me in ragged gasps. 

I had hurt him, I knew, and regretted it; nevertheless I had not hurt him half as badly as I might have. With a mixture of horror and fascination, I considered how close I had come to capturing him, to ruining him entirely. If I had merely knelt before him, opened his belt, it might all have been over — he might have cradled the back of my head and pushed inside my mouth, hips working forward until I tasted salt on the back of my tongue. Making me keep my promise to him, letting me —

I tore my thoughts free from the image, and went to stand near my window, peering down to watch as he exited the boarding house to the street below. I saw him step out onto the stoop, where the landlord stood already, waiting. The two of them exchanged some words, which I did not overhear; then R. pulled a handful of folded bills from his pocket and passed them into the landlord’s hands before continuing on. 

He disappeared hurriedly around a corner, not looking back. The landlord made a brief glance upward in the direction of my attic room, sated, it seemed, for another week.


November 28? 29? — 

I suspect that I haven’t been sleeping, though it is difficult to be certain. I’m running too quickly through my candles, and bright light disturbs me more than it used to. My thoughts feel worn thin, threadbare from overuse. 

All the while, my portrait continues to improve with each passing hour. It extends to every corner of the canvas, now, and has even begun to accrue along its bare edges, to drip and fuse to the easel in places, to pool along the floor at its base. The paint is layered so thick and deep that if I hold a candle alongside it, it casts a swollen, sinuous shadow against the wall, almost like another living presence in the room.

At times, I have discovered with surprise some new addition to the image — a cluster of vibrant growths sprouting along its surface, or a collection of thick, ropy tendrils trailing from its central mass — without any recollection of when or how I might have painted them. I’ve begun to wonder whether I may have continued my work in an unconscious state, as if by sleepwalking; or else if the portrait has somehow started to creep outward and propagate under its own volition.

And I have begun to notice changes in my own body, as well. At first, it was so subtle as to be hardly noticeable: my hands stained dark by the paint, nearly to the wrist in places, joints rubbed waxy-smooth and shining, the colors and textures of my skin blending with those of the portrait. But now there can no longer be any doubt. My shoulders have slumped and rounded, mirroring the thing’s contours; my limbs are looser, less restricted in their range of motion; new budding growths have sprung up from my armpits, knees, groin; my sensitivity to touch and my tolerance for pain have increased.

There is pleasure in this, in knowing how completely we are linked, myself and the painting. A joy of connection, of communion, like two outgrowths of an organism with a shared root system. 

In my old life, I had always wondered whether it was too late to be transformed, to become something entirely new. For a long time, I had despaired of the possibility. But I have come to understand that all existence is merely a matter of habit, and if I failed to change myself before, it was only because I did not dedicate sufficient time and focus to the act.

Now, I am at last able to labor over it without distraction; and day by day, I become more unrecognizable to myself.


December — 

I have lately succumbed to a kind of illness, a dry feverish heat beating through my veins, a dull ache stiffening my joints, which has rendered me too weak to leave my room, or even to stand longer than a few minutes at a time. 

I am not afraid of this affliction; I believe it to be connected with the transformation my body has now undertaken, and know that it must eventually pass. Yet in being confined to my bed, my imagination has grown so vividly focused, and my memories of the daylight world so dim and weak, that I increasingly find myself unable to distinguish between dreaming and waking. 

More and more often, I have awoken to a thrill of dread passing through me, sensing a presence in my room. At times in the far corner near the door, at times standing beside my bed, almost leaning over me. I can make out little of its detail, and recognize it only by oblique indications: a silhouette in the darkness deeper than what surrounds it, or a certain anticipatory silence, like the sound of a held breath. Nevertheless, I am convinced that this is the same stranger who visited my dreams that first night. 

Only once, since that first time, has it spoken with me directly. 

I awoke from a fitful sleep, and opened my eyes to see nothing but blackness. Nevertheless I knew that I was not alone. Scanning across the room, I saw a vague shadow interrupting the light from the window, like a kind of limb or tendril. Then I watched it shift, retract, slither backward into darkness, before going still once more.

I scrambled upright in my bed, terror pulsing through my veins with each heartbeat, and called out.

“What do you want from me?” I asked.

The voice that answered was muffled, strangely hollow, as if heard from another room, even while I could sense that the thing must be pressed into the shadows not more than a few feet from my bedside.

“He is waiting below your window,” the voice said. “Come and see.”

At this, curiosity overruled my sense of self-preservation. I rose slowly and approached the window. I looked down and, indeed, saw R. standing on the street below. He seemed to face upward toward me, though his expression was obscured in darkness. I could not say how many days it had been since his last terrible visit, but I noticed that there was now a thin dusting of snow coating the pavement at his feet.

As I stood looking down at him, I felt an almost imperceptible change in the air around me, as if an unseen door had shut elsewhere in the house; and only after some moments realized that it was because the thing had approached, and now loomed close behind me. It leaned in, folded itself around my shoulders and chest, and began, languidly, to undress me. In the pale moonlight that seeped through the window, I caught a brief glimpse of the uncanny, violet-dark smoothness of its extremities as they wove around me, and pressed my eyes shut hurriedly to avoid seeing anything more.

I shivered as the cold draft through the window panes washed over my bare, feverishly warm skin, every inch of me alight with fear and desire. I imagined R. standing below, watching. 

“Can he see me like this?” I asked helplessly.

The thing did not answer. It only emitted that same quiet, quivering laugh as it held the shifting mass of its body against mine. I braced my hands against the windowsill and let it twine its heavy warmth against the backs of my thighs, let it grip me hard about the hip and belly and bend me, pulling me flush against it.

“Can he see —” I repeated, but broke off as it closed its limbs over my nose and mouth, filling my lungs with its briny scent. 

“Show him,” it said. It pressed me close to the window, muffling my cries against its flesh, and began to work itself, slowly and methodically, inside my body — 

I woke again, still in my bed, to the definite sound of my door opening, then closing again, nothing furtive in it this time. 

Struggling to shake off my disorientation, I saw that the landlord now stood inside my room, just near the doorway. He held a lantern which he swung around the darkened space before spotting me in my bed.

“Are you ill?” he asked — a little too loudly, I thought — as he peered at me in the lantern light. “Awfully early to be in bed.”

I could only accept his word on the matter, since I had not the slightest idea of the day or time, except that it seemed to me very dark. I pushed myself to a seated position, squinting blearily into the light.

“Has it been snowing?” I asked in confusion. He only stared at me levelly, and gave no answer to my question. 

“You’re six days late on rent,” he said instead. “I thought I might catch you one day on your way out. But it seems you haven’t left your room all week, or so much as answered when I knocked. So I let myself in.” 

He paused again, perhaps expecting a response, then raised his lantern a little higher. “You need a doctor?”

I assured him that I was feeling stronger by the day, and should soon be fully recovered. When he asked again, with a certain flat insistence, about the money, I invented a vague story of how I was on the verge of completing a commission on a painting, and would be able to pay him, for both this week and the next, in two days’ time. I made a point of emphasizing that the expense of a doctor would only delay things in that regard.

I hoped that my feeble excuses would persuade him to leave me in peace, if only for the moment. Yet as I spoke, he had turned his attention to the corner where the painting stood against its easel, and now took a few steps toward it, leaning forward to make out its details in the unsteady light of his lantern. 

The thing was quite monstrous by this time, having exceeded the limits of its canvas, its blackened tendrils spilling down the legs of the easel nearly to the floor, the layers of paint blossoming from its surface like fungal growths, plainly obscene in scale and contour. I half-expected that he would recoil in revulsion, perhaps even throw me out of the room then and there. But instead he stood staring at it, lips parted in bewilderment, expression fixed and heavy. I found my skin prickling with anticipation as he tilted his head to study it, his gaze sliding across its dark shapes, catching and lingering on the soft folds and inviting recesses of the form I had painted.

“What is it?” he asked.

I did not answer; but I saw, for a moment, his hand hovering near the surface of the portrait, as though tempted to reach out and touch it. I felt a small swell of pride within me, to have rendered him so rapt. Then a sharp edge of curiosity — a craving, perhaps, to test the bounds of this fearsome new thing I had created. 

So I told him, offhandedly, that he could touch it, if he wished. That the paint had had time to cure, and he wouldn’t harm anything by it.

He lowered his brow in perplexity, and shook his head, as though dismissing the idea. Yet his gaze had not stirred from the canvas. 

Finally, evidently unable to pull himself away, he laid his hand against it and drew his fingers across the ridged, winding shapes sculpted in paint. I felt my body respond at once, watching how he petted the thing. A shiver, a hardening, a throbbing ache within my gut.

“Warm,” he murmured. “How did you — ”

But he did not finish the thought. He continued exploring along the painting’s rippled expanse, and I heard a quick intake of breath as his hand caught on a place where it dipped inward, opening into a smooth, shallow hollow, just below the surface. He let his touch linger there with a slight, curious pressure, which I almost believed that I could feel, even from the other end of the room. 

“It’s still wet,” he mumbled, “there — ” and he pushed deeper into the painting, which seemed to part and fold around him. He looked on in dread, or fascination, rubbing the pads of his fingers across that tumescent ridge and the hollow beneath it; and this time I was certain I did feel it, the rough texture of his calloused fingertips, as distinctly as though they had stroked against my own flesh. I let out a stifled gasp, a desperate flush climbed across my face, and I fought down the shudder that threatened to convulse through my body.

I could not say how much of my reaction he had noticed. He only let out a quiet oath and reached up to set his lantern atop the dresser. I saw him lower his newly free hand to his waist, then the muscle of his shoulder began to tighten and flex, slowly, rhythmically, in the stark shadows cast by the lantern. 

The scene possessed a lurid, unreal quality, and his back was turned partly toward me, so I could not be certain of what I was seeing: but it occurred to me that he might have placed a hand on himself, thumbing furtive circles along the end of his cock through his clothing, even as he continued to feel out the painting with his other hand. The possibility filled me with a deep wave of contentment, an intoxicating awareness of power.

At last he withdrew his hand from the painting, which was indeed damp, glistening where he had been pressed inside it. But before stepping away, he drew his oil-slick fingers across one of the delicate, supple clots of paint on the portrait’s surface, very lightly, once, twice; and then my body was vibrating like a plucked string and I was coming apart, all in a single instant, without a sound, my hips lifting from the bed, a sudden heat flooding into my lap, spilling out of me freely beneath my nightclothes.

He turned his gaze toward me, and I was certain that even through the darkness he would see the painful flush in my complexion, my fists clutched against the bedclothes as the last spasms of my orgasm twisted out of me. He stared in my direction wordlessly for several seconds more, brow creased with a kind of vacant, stupefied interest. Then he let his hand fall from the canvas, and slowly, as though himself in a dream, lifted his lantern and walked from my room.

When he had gone, I pulled off my damp and ruined underclothes, cleaned myself, and lay nude against my bed, sweat-drenched, sobbing in exhaustion. It was only minutes before I fell into a deep, restful sleep. 

When I woke, many hours later, I could not be certain how much of the night’s events I had dreamt. Yet I felt somehow clearer in my mind than ever before, and strong and well in my body, all hunger and thirst in me sated, utterly content.


Winter — 

Outside my window, a gentle snow falls continuously, blanketing the streets in white. In my room, the only warmth emanates from the slim flame of a candle. My breath mists and hangs in the air before me. 

Even so, I hardly feel the cold anymore, and find that I need the light much less than I once did. My physical shape is so altered that I can no longer easily contain its excesses and excrescences beneath my clothing, and on the occasions when I venture out of my room to wander through the streets of the city, it is always after dark.

The landlord has not approached me, nor inquired about his payment, since our last encounter, though I can only guess that some weeks must have passed. I wonder if he is afraid of what I have allowed to take root here in the attic, or how it might have grown and festered since his last visit; I wonder, too, if he thinks himself lucky to have escaped it when he did. It seems he prefers to avoid me altogether, rather than risk finding out.

In any case, his absence has granted me a period of unchanging calm, during which I have been free to continue my work uninterrupted, all the while having very little by which to mark the passage of time. 

Yet a few nights ago, there was an event. An interruption in the calm, something unexpected and strange. 

A letter arrived for me, from R. 

I have transcribed its contents below in their entirety.


Dear K.,

I left our previous conversation in some agitation, as I know you observed. Above all, I felt certain that I had done you some unforgivable injury, now or in the past. So I am writing to say that I am sorry. For failing to understand you sooner, and for other things besides. But I also ask that you remember: you have pushed me away, for many years, and I have fought to remain in your friendship only so far as your coldness toward me would allow.

You mentioned my engagement. It is true that I was engaged, for a time; but have you forgotten what preceded it? There was a night in my apartment, back then, when you teased me with stories of a girl you had taken up with, and taunted that I ought to find one of my own rather than clinging to your company so pitiably. You were so insistent, and fought with me so ferociously, that I at first believed there must be some other meaning behind your words. That perhaps you intended to force a confession from me, or from both of us. But the deathly stillness that greeted me when I touched you sealed off any of my possible illusions in that regard. 

It was months before you agreed to see me after that, and I knew that I could not make the same mistake again, to risk offending you with my advances, nor persist for the rest of my life waiting fruitlessly for you to return my attentions. I have since learned to be more careful, and have sought to show my love for you in other ways, as the warmest regard and friendship, knowing those other avenues to be foreclosed to me. 

I say all this in the hope that you will believe, at least, that my care for you is sincere. I admit I understand only little of this new phase of life you have recently undertaken, but I can see clearly how important it is to you, and how necessary. If there is any aid I can offer in it, I would wish nothing more than to provide it.

And, if there is something else that you would desire from me — if there was something meant in your peculiar words at our last meeting, or in the manner you chose to mark our parting — I would only beg that you tell me plainly, since I would not risk our friendship by guessing wrong a second time.




Since its arrival, I have read and reread this letter, uncertain anymore of my own comprehension, fearful of misremembering some small detail. I sheltered the paper in my hands like a fragile thing that might perish if allowed to stray from my sight, even as I ached to be reminded of the unkind and faithless words I had spoken to my friend all those years ago.

This evening, at last, I found the courage to pen a response.


R. — I should be ashamed, I think, to ever speak to you again. Yet so much in me has changed in recent days, even since our last conversation; and this body no longer remembers what it was like to be as afraid as I once was. So I can say, finally, that you have always seen through me, what I am and am not, better than I myself was able; and if I pushed you away, that alone was the reason.

Not everything in me has changed. Some things are just as they have been, as far back as I can remember; some so obvious that they hardly bear speaking aloud. 

Have you considered, for instance, that no one thinks it surprising for the wolf to love the lamb, or the maggot to love flesh, even while the opposite is nearly beyond imagining? So the fact that I have loved you, always, is unremarkable, R.; I have both wanted and not wanted to possess and devour you; I did not know how to say so for many years, but now I am able to say it.

You asked me to speak plainly, so I will. I would like to learn, I think, whether this new form, hatched from the shell of my former self, is capable of nourishing as well as devouring. To test whether it knows how to give satisfaction as well as take it. I would try it with you, if you let me. And I hope, being less fearful now, and clearer of my own nature, that I might become something more closely approximating the friend you deserve.

I wanted to tell you, also, that my portrait is finally finished. If you come, you will be the first to see it. I hope that you will.


Night — 

It is late when he arrives at my door, overcoat slung over his thick frame, beard and shoulders dusted with snow. He is pretty, like this; after so many years, it is a relief to admit it.

“Are you well?” he asks, eyes traveling my expression in search of a response, and then, “Do you still want me here?”

“Yes,” I answer. “Yes.”

I take the hand which he extends to me, drawing him into my room, and when the door is shut, I bring it to my lips and kiss it. The knuckles first, then the palm, a simple act, long nurtured in my imagination, as impossible and deeply buried as my most shameless fantasies. He seeks to pull me into an embrace after that, but I restrain him, being as yet shy of the strange, shifting shape he will detect beneath my clothing. Even in the dim candlelight, I suspect that he has already noticed.

But as he enters, his eyes are drawn at once to my portrait. The shape of the canvas is no longer visible beneath the writhing mass of growths and tendrils that spill out from it. They are dark and shining as congealed paint, though if one watches long enough, they will certainly appear to move. They occupy the full corner of the room now, creeping up the walls almost to the ceiling, sprawling along the floor, reaching out in hunger and invitation. 

This time, there is no shock in R.’s expression as he looks on. Only a focused light of interest.

“I dreamt of this,” he murmurs. “Your painting.”

“Oh?” I reply, curious and faintly amused. “What sort of dreams?”

He does not answer, but steps nearer to it, tracing over each detail intently with his eyes, as though searching for a particular feature within its numberless folds, swells, ridges, blossoms. I feel myself burn with a violent blush as his gaze lingers there.

“I wondered,” he continues, “the last time we met, if you meant for me to see this. If you wanted me to. I couldn’t be sure.”

“I was not certain what I wanted, then,” I reply truthfully. “But I think, now, this was always meant for you. You may have whatever you want from it.”

His gaze drifts back to meet mine, and he pauses, as though weighing each possible word on his tongue. 

“Tell me how, where,” he says. “Show me.”

My mind goes temporarily blank at the words, as though he had uttered some strange invocation in a language I did not comprehend; yet his meaning is quite clear. Taking his hand in mine, I guide it to the thing’s surface. I help him locate the spot he is searching for, pushing into a shadowed, curling indentation that yields readily to his pressure. He delves deeper, finding the slick inside, coating his fingers in it. I let out a small sob in response to his touch, just enough to pull me to the edge of pleasure, too faint and frictionless to offer relief.

“Is it alright?” he asks. I nod.

Then he pulls his hand away, puts one finger in his mouth, and tastes it, salt and copper, blood and seawater. Sucks at it lightly, experimental and bashful, not quite meeting my eyes.

“Yes,” I murmur. “Like that.” Unsure whether my voice will reach him, whether my words are audible, whether I have in fact spoken at all. “Exactly like that.”

He hesitates for only an instant longer, then kneels carefully in front of the thing, bracing both hands against it to steady himself. He brings his lips to it and kisses, tentative at first, one of its smoother contours, just at the edge of its shadowy bulk. I breathe through a quick hiss of discomfort; the spot is still raw, oversensitive, not yet acclimated to such direct contact. But he is gentle and insistent, shaping his lips around it, moistening it with his tongue. It softens and yields up its own moisture in turn, and he lets out a small sound of surprise, licking its pearlescent fluid from the dips and creases in its surface.

I feel my body begin to expand and unwind in response to him. Losing its human shape, flowing outward into something looser and more amorphous. I am afraid, still, of this new form, this ravenous dream-thing, whose capacities and appetites I as yet understand only poorly; but I know that he has always been much braver than me. I say to him, “I will stop when you tell me to stop.” And he says, “Yes.”

I undress him with fluid movements, then slip and creep out of my own clothing, opening the warm expanse of my flesh to him and giving him its embrace. I wrap it around him from behind, as tenderly as a spider around something caught in its web. I draw his legs apart, sliding myself along the gap between his thighs, caressing the smooth length of his erection, the planting of coarse hair at its root. He cries out softly and strains into the too-slight contact, but only swallows over the protrusions of the painting more eagerly, hips opening and relaxing in preparation for me. 

I wonder how many nights, since our last encounter, he has dreamt of exactly this, conjuring the unknowable reaches of my reconfigured flesh, envisioning how they might break him down and unwind him; and I find that I am no longer afraid, am eager, merely, to serve well, to display all of my strength for him, to not disappoint.

The limb I unfurl and press against his entrance is already slick, almost dripping. He pants, begs, pushes himself backward onto it, nudging it inside him. I catch my breath as it swells at once to open him up and fill him, leaking sweet fluid, pumping him full of it. Each pulsation stretches him open, working itself deeper into him, seeking out the heat and pressure of his insides. My other limbs extend to wrap around his throat, belly, wrists, cock, too many to count, each one throbbing and many-mouthed, leaving traces of salt and saliva and semen where they graze across his skin.

He breaks away from the painting long enough to accept one of them into his mouth, relaxes his jaw to let it fill him nearly to choking. He trembles and moans as my milky come releases into him at once, hits the back of his throat. He swallows it down, mouth stretched open by the growing size of it, and angles his hips so the part of me penetrating him from behind will hit deeper. Amazed at his readiness, his ability to withstand so much of me, I tighten my embrace; my tendrils of warm moist muscle twine around his waist and ribs, lifting him, pressing as much of myself into him as he can contain, until I am flush against him and curling against the deepest part of him. He works himself back and forth on me as the slick heat continues to flood him from all sides, dripping from the corners of his lips and the insides of his thighs.

“Beautiful,” I want to say, but find that the parts of me capable of human speech are gone.

I draw myself closer to the painting, and begin to weave myself into the sprawling thing that has emerged from the canvas, coalescing with it, tightening our embrace around him. I bend open to encircle him fully, letting my flesh close and pulse around him. At last he is sobbing rhythmically with my every quivering movement, gulping air from around the flesh filling his mouth, his body hot and desperate where I drag myself against his innermost recesses, his erection firm and leaking and buried into the newest parts of me. I feel a powerful, euphoric joy opening within me, that this vessel is capable of giving him such pleasure, that his body’s heat and suction seem so determined to pull it out of me, to squeeze me clean of it, to drink it down and feed on it.

He braces himself hard onto me, clenches his slicked and opened body down around my muscular appendages. I can feel, from the inside, that he is already tightening and quaking around me, coming to his climax, but I grasp his thighs and wrench them further apart so I can reach still deeper into him, too deep, nearly splitting him, drawing out a hoarse cry from him that awakens every cell in my body.

His abdomen grows firm and contracts, then he shakes and releases, shooting streaks of white across my quivering flesh. He continues to plunge his body onto me and into me for several long seconds, until the final, uneven spasms of his pleasure finally drag my own from me. The skin along my back and neck splits and sloughs away, the muscles of my shoulders stretch and glisten like newly formed wings, my bones creak and snap like branches, my ribcage unfurls like the petals of a flower to encompass him. The vibrations through my body build, my spine contorts, and I empty into his mouth and the warmth of his belly until he is overflowing, gasping for air, spilling my release generously from his lips and the space between his legs.

He remains knelt there, sobbing, dripping, catching his breath, as I slump into a messy heap around him, my body slack, spent, and changed. After some long moments, he turns on one side to face me and gathers as much of me as he can hold into his arms. Sweat-damp and loose at my side, he gently kisses the place where my mouth had once been, strokes his hands lovingly across the contours of my rewritten flesh. 

“Do you know that you’re marvelous?” he murmurs, and it is the last thing he says before I drape myself around him like a protective sheath, surrounding him, merging with and digesting him. Nourishing myself, this new body I have birthed, on his post-coital warmth. 

Yet I find, to my surprise, that he does not dissolve and dissipate in this embrace. Instead he remains enfolded there, the rhythms of our bodies slowing in pace, our temperatures equalizing, the taste and smell of our skin intermingling, until I am unable to recall where mine ends and his begins. We are a tangled, twisted thing, a mass of shadows and limbs, and we skitter and shrink away from the small pool of early morning light that has begun to break through my window. 

I wonder, idly, whether someone will eventually grow curious and look for us here. Whether they will find my words scribed on ink and paper, or in some other, inhuman lettering, scratched into the floors and baseboards. Whether they will merely hear a faint, shifting sound from the attic, like a lapping of waves, or a fluttering of insect wings, and let a shiver pass through them, and think better of ever approaching, dreading what might dwell in the darkened corners of such a profane and seclusive place. 

For the moment, though, we are forgotten, unwitnessed by the world outside; and I think we will simply remain here, threaded into each other, for as long as the light will not reach us.

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4 thoughts on “for as long as the light does not reach us

  1. Oooh, I loved this one! It has a near magnetic pull to it, or maybe more like a whirlpool — I got sucked in as everything got stranger and stranger. The descriptions of the painting were especially compelling, and I love the idea of painting your new form as part of a metamorphosis. I can’t normally visualize much when I read, but I feel like I have a great idea of what the painting (and, I suppose, the narrator) might look like. Really, really fascinating piece!

  2. What an ending! I thought it was a happy ending until the digesting part, and then finally I wasn’t even sure that it wasn’t after all.

  3. This is such a magnificently creepy piece with a solid slow burn that really, truly pays off. “Mounting dread” is NOT easy to write in a way that both feels intense but doesn’t either burn the reader out or taper off into nothing before it goes anywhere; the cold, the dwindling funds, and the painter’s growing obsession all made it feel like there was something Very Not Right going on, with nowhere to escape. That lack of anywhere to turn to (R’s offer notwithstanding) ratchets up the tension, since while the easiest way to not get eaten by a pitcher plant is to not fall in, this isn’t very helpful advice to a fly already caught by the scent of its nectar. I thought the ending was sweet in its own way, too; this is absolutely not a Revealing Look Into The Commenter’s Psyche, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  4. I wish I could say more other than your use of language to navigate the reader is amazing, and this was a great story. Felt very gothic Victorian, even though I, uh, have no idea if that’s even a correct guess! Great story, really.

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