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by Noah Micah, 10th January 2023

She touches the lump protruding from the back of her head. It squirms under her touch and moves, making every nerve it crosses shudder on its path. Her breath is trapped as it pushes back against the muscles in her throat, making her huff out her breath as it continues, creating pressure against her skin and muscles until it finally stops on her right bicep.

She can’t help but stare at it. It’s the size of a baseball now, with five irregular indents that keep getting deeper the bigger it grows. Two oval indents, two small circle indents underneath them, rounding off with a long line underneath those. It never stops moving. No matter where it moves to on her body, or however long the thing squirms over and under itself under her skin, those indents are always there.

The ground shakes and groans underneath her. She turns her head and sees cracks form on the dry, red earth not three feet away from her. On the other side of the ground there is nothing but darkness filling the crater left behind from when the dried dirt and crust fell into the sky above, a small sprinkle of more crumbling away into the sky. She watches as the pieces of earth fly further into space until she can’t see it anymore, hidden by the pale blue of the cloudless sky. Every day the crater widens, the sun slowly chasing the darkness inside away as if it wants to replace the Earth itself.

Pain shoots throughout her right arm. She fights the spasms and forces her arm to look it over. The lump has gotten bigger, threatening to start wrapping itself around her bicep. The indents have grown deeper, and ice forms in her stomach as they now look like face, eyeless with a wide smile. The squirming under her skin slows, stopping the pain in her arm, but the eyeless grin remains.

She slaps a hand on the lump and rips her eyes away. Pain shoots through her as the smack of her hand wakes up every nerve surrounding the hard lump. Her teeth grit and grind against each other, breath hissing between her snarled teeth to soothe herself. She forces her eyes to focus on the lake in front of her.

She remembers when the lake was surrounded by forest, the cool grass and earth underneath her feet as she ran towards the water. She remembers the way the icy water hugged her, chasing away the heat of the summer sun that soaked into her skin. She can feel the heat waves gently warm her head, the rest of her body still encased in the cold lake, her skin numbing until she couldn’t feel the difference between the sun and the water anymore. She can hear her mom’s cackle echoing from the grassy shore, loud and obnoxious and warm.

The earth around the lake started to crumble away about a week ago. Water from the lake would drift up into the sky every single day, droplets turning into bigger gallons of water as the days went by. She thinks about her mom’s ashes every time she notices drops falling to the sky and hopes none of them were taken with the water.

A scream rips through the air. The only way she can tell it’s coming from her is the pain of her throat tearing itself apart. Her head smacks into the ground as her body straightens in a spasming jerk. All her nerves shriek at her, her vision blurring, drool dripping out onto the hard earth. Her right arm pulses in a burning pain, radiating until it wreaks havoc on the rest of her body. She can’t move, can’t breathe, and only thinks about begging the pain to stop.

And then it does. It all stops. The pain that burned her nerves all left at once. Her body shivers from the cold left behind under her skin.

A purring sound flows through the air around her. It sounds off, like it was being forced out by something that was never meant to purr. A low, phlegmy growl wraps around the purr and warbles it as it continues to drone on. She realizes it sounds like a human trying to purr.

Shadow spreads across her eyes. A long worm-like creature moved above her, its body covered in what looks like flesh, dark tan flesh like her own. She doesn’t look at her right arm to confirm if it’s true, choosing to follow its long and thick body up to its head.

A human face waits for her. Its eyes are a deep and dark brown, almost black. Its nose is wide and flat with flared nostrils and leads her to a wide grin frozen underneath. Yellowed crooked teeth stand proud in its mouth, the growling purr slipping past the gaps of its teeth slowly tapering off the longer she stares at them. What looks like worms coil and slink over and under each other just through the gaps. She can’t feel her right arm anymore. She still doesn’t look at it. Even if she wanted to, the thing’s eyes won’t let her.

A deafening crack rings out around her, finally letting her pull her eyes away from the thing. Water and dirt rush to the sky, blocking out the sun as the ground all around her shakes with a violent fury. She clenches her teeth and tries to claw her left hand into the dirt to give herself an anchor. Hard dry dirt fills the inside of her fingernails, pushing them up and up until it threatens to rip them off her skin. She keeps trying as every bone and nerve in her body rattles with the earth underneath her, thoughts of flying up into the atmosphere and choking on the void filling her head. She squeezes her eyes closed, her throat constricts, and she chokes on every breath she tries to take.

The earth slowly stills. Her teeth and bones take a moment to register the newfound stillness, still shaking against her nerves until minutes pass. She opens her eyes once breath moves freely in and out of her lungs again and blinks against the pale sun. The water and dirt are gone, lost somewhere forever. 

Slowly, she pushes herself back up to sit with her left hand, her arm weak from when she clawed at the ground and shaking from the effort of pushing her up. Her eyes focus on the lake in front of her.

A crater greets her instead.

The ink-black interior of the earth glares at her from the giant crater left behind. Her heart stabs at her chest the longer she stares back, the darkness clawing down her skin until she can’t feel anything but the cold it forces into her. Her mind muddles, thinking only of her mom’s ashes, all alone among the stars forever until one of them burns her away one day. White noise fills her ears. Ghosts of the lake brush against her skin, leading the memories of her mom’s smile to press into the backs of her eyes. She can see her mom laughing, but the white noise blocks out her boisterous laugh.

Pressure settles around her shoulders. She blinks as the white noise slowly leaves her, the same purring from before replacing it. She cranes her neck down and sees the worm thing wrapping loosely around her shoulders. It winds itself around her until she feels the skin on her right shoulder tug. Her eyes drift to her shoulder before she can stop them, and she finds the thing connecting to her shoulder where her right arm should have been. Her stomach bubbles weakly. She can’t fight through the mud caking her brain enough to be horrified.

Flesh rubs against her cheek briefly before leaving and she finds herself staring into its too-human eyes again. Its brow is folded and creased together, and its ever-present grin is gone, replaced with a deep tooth-filled frown. The purring is gone, replaced with a low whine that grows louder the longer it stares at her. It moves to rub against her cheek again, its whine reverberating throughout her body. The waves slowly break down the cold under her skin, and she begins to feel her limbs and nerves again. Her fingers twitch, sensation crawling up her arm, lifting it until she feels her hand land on soft flesh wriggling in her hand. The thing’s head immediately pushes against her hand, forcing itself and her hand away from her face. Purring fills the air again as her hand pets and scratches its head on instinct. She sees its frown smooth away into a small smile and its eyes close in contentment.

Her throat closes and tears burn down her face. She wraps her arm around the thing and pulls it flush to her chest. She feels her chest loosen as it purrs underneath the pale sky.

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