Skin Girl

Drumbeat batters breeze bare-knuckled. Bloody, if it could. Tut-tut-tut transforms the atmosphere into something tormented. Tortured. Just a sliver shy of a scream.

I sway to the sound, skin soaking in its scathe. Absorbing the maim and claim. The tug and tear.

In the thick of the crowd, illuminated by a mix of fire and faint moonlight, a figure fights the drum’s beating. Twists sharp turns to thwart possession. To prevail. A losing game.

Once lured in, that’s it.

Other figures clap, pound flesh till the night seems alive with its own rhythmic pulse, thrumming steadily through the battered air. A grunted chant rumbles in time.

Somewhere, deep in the wood surround, a wolf howls. Tears at night’s skin. A territorial call if I’ve ever heard one. A victorious brag. I grip the skin I’m in. Tame growl into grumbling chant. Return sight to the light bathing those gathered in shades of dark red.

The dancer nearest flame, so deeply red they’re shadow on smoke, throws back their head–theirs and the bear skull that swallows it whole. An echoing, bellicose bellow–growl–silences both flesh and drum beat.

Another deep sound, the wolf.

A last, me.

For now.

Closely, I watch the dancer shed the bear skull. Slide claws as long as fingers from their hands. Keep the grizzled pelt wrapped ’round their wide shoulders, though. For warmth, maybe. The skin in place ’round their meaty waist.

Two figures donning wolf skulls and matching hides separate from the crowd as the lone bear dancer returns to it.

Beats begin their battering blows once more. Less heavy. More lean. Like wolf meat. Night’s pulse picks up in a low thrum, a lower hum. Faintest scream.

I track the bear dancer as they cut through the crowd, one toothy smile at a time. A short laugh or two. My rhythm mirrors theirs. Overtakes it. Sleek. Light. A slow skulk. Steady hunt.

We meet where the edge of the crowd kisses forest fathoms.

Bear Dancer slashes a charming smile across their face, distinctive jaw jutting upward with its self-assured slant as if to display the many scars crisscrossing sensitive skin like trophies. One rather deep cut is still raw. Fresh. I curl my fist.

It’s him.

A grin of my own begins to stretch flesh. Tempt tearing. Bear dancer’s widens in return. Devours his face.

“Hello,” he steps into my sway. “Like tonight?” I nod, grin sharp enough to put Bear Dancer to shame.

“You dance good.” Another growl tamed into something softer. “It’s striking,” I motion to the pelt on his back. “your form.”

“Yes.” He preens, fingering the fur. I swallow fury. “A lucky catch, bear. Usually, they keep to their caves.”

“Ah?” I drag him back to me. “Where’d you get the bear then?”

“Clearing by Slim River.” His voice is proud. “Mama and cub hunting. Hare, probably. I got Mama first in the side with my spear. When she charged, I got her in the head with my handy ax. She clawed, though.” He taps his scarred chin. “A fighter.”

Huntress.” I correct.

“Yes.” Bear Dancer nods, looking grave. “Very fierce. The others threw many spears till she went down. The cub though,” Bear Dancer’s grin returns. “was easy. Little fella. A club to the head.” Bear Dancer swings his arm past my face. “Dead.”

“Dead.” I repeat, dead, stepping back into forest, spiny nettles brushing bare skin. Swirl my hips. Bear dancer follows. “Poor boy.”

“There were two.” He leans close as if revealing a secret. “Cubs. Two of ’em. Always with Mama but not this time. Very odd.” He quirks his head. “Bears don’t usually keep more than one. Too hard to feed. Keep only the strong one…. Wonder where the runt is? The little fella cried out after he was hit. Almost like a scream. Maybe–”

She heard.” I finish with too much gnash. “The sister?” Bear dancer gives me a confused look and I reach for his hands–the ones that were wearing Mama bear’s claws–settling them on my waist.

“Yes.” Bear dancer tightens his hold on me. I lead us further behind branches. Beyond the fire light’s creeping reach. “You know the story?” Now, I quirk my head. Take another backward step. “About the sister cub. That she’s one of us. Child lost from the tribe long ago. Found by bears. Clothed in their skin.”

“I hadn’t heard.” Another step. So close.

“Not from ’round here?” Bear Dancer asks. “Was wondering…. You look familiar but can’t place face.”

Finally. Trees give way to open space. A clearing. Nearby, a watery babble replaces drum beats. Flesh beats. Moonlight overtakes flickering flame.

“It’s not my usual.” I brush Bear Dancer’s hands off me and he tilts his chin. That fresh cut. Shiny red beneath the moon. I flex my fingers. Feel nails sharpen. “Face.”

A swipe of my claw to the head and Bear Dancer is down. For brother.

I’m on him before he knows what hit him, my lithe body now heavier. My skin, fur. Much better. Weight settles on my shoulders–my skull no prop large enough to swallow a head whole. Bear Dancer’s. I stare into his wide eyes, grizzly reflection in their glisten. I can’t smile anymore so a snarl will have to do. Recognize me now?

“S-s-skin-n-w-w-wwalk-ker-r.” He accuses.

No, a growl like a laugh rumbles in my cavernous chest. I told you. Huntress. 

A claw finds purchase in the mark Mama carved so I’d know and tugs. Jaw gone before Bear Dancer can scream. Then, claws like little spears and teeth like ax blades find flesh. Tear. Bite bone, too, creating their own beat, own chant. Rhythm.

And, when the song is done, I toss my head back. ScreamTear the night in two. It’s no victory screech. No brag. Nothing celebatory. It’s a warning. An announcement.

I’m here.

I’m coming.

I’m hungry.

The battle is mine.

****

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*Side note: those last words are coincidentally my first thoughts in the morning…. Weird. ^.^

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Split Girl

See.” Auntie would hiss, breath-half mist-half piss–spit splattering across my face like soggy freckles. “Don’t you see?”

Spittle soaking deep into bone, I’d bob my neck up down. A metronome kicked on its side. But that was never enough.

My compliance meant nothing till it suffered. Till I suffered.

Till I looked.

“Can’t you see?” A banshee-screech that bounced off mirrored glass like my small skull in Auntie’s gargantuan grip. Bang. Bang. 

“I see.” My raspy exhale fogged the glass.

“See what?” Bang.

“I see a sister slayer.” Yours. “Mommy murderer. Blood traitor.” The worst kind of betrayer. The kind that bathed in their victim’s blood and cried out in wailing victory.

“What else?” Auntie pressed–my head harder into my fisheye-like reflection.

“I see,” I swallowed. Chewed the tip of my tongue. Bang. “a pretty dress.”

“And,” Auntie dragged the consanent across her crooked incisors.  “what do you say?”

“Thank you,” Bile slid down my throat. Spit settled on my face. “Auntie.”

I was released with a huff that coated me in another spray of slimy, grimey, salted spit. Tasted like Mommy‘s tears. Probably. I wouldn’t know. Won’t. I sagged into myself.

“Good boy.” I’m not.

Satisfied, Auntie would slink off and I would scramble back from smudgey glass. Smooth my hands down silk. With fingertips, find frills, find something like-comfort-but-not-quite in the edges.

I’m not.

What? Auntie’s spit simmered on my skin. My fists clenched frills flat.

Boy. Bang. Good. Bang.

I’m not.

****

Auntie comes to see that for herself. Eventually. She has no choice but to.

Not when my shoulders brush the height of hers. Not when my eyes meet hers on an upward climb. An ascent.

The few photos kept reveal Mommy had a good head above Auntie. My good head, now. The only good thing about me, according to Auntie.

Still, Auntie takes me to the mirror. Stands me before myself and demands–See.

See what you’ve done to your mother, boy. To me.  

Auntie reaches for my lengthy curls–for leverage–but the bang is already echoing in my ears. The spit already boiling fresh on my flesh–each drip of dribble like a teardrop at the corner of two lids kissing. I flutter.

Auntie is against the glass in a spin that twirls my skirt.

“What, bo–”

See.” It isn’t a hiss. Nor, an order. It’s the slightest, crunchy-squish of a hard-shut eye opening. Blossoming. Ricocheting ad infinitum off mine and Auntie’s super-imposed reflection.

“Wha–” Bang.

See.” Frills brush Auntie’s skin like eye lashes, gentle but coated black so they curl. “Can’t you see?”

Another bang and she does. She looks and–

“I see.” Of course, Auntie spits it–in our shared face. My glassy-eyed part of the reflection doesn’t relent. though. Not now.

What?” Bang. Red joins spit. “Auntie, what?”

“I see,” She huffs when struggling only intensifies red. “a sister slayer.” Mommy’s. I bob my head. Auntie’s lip curls sharp. “A Momma’s bo–” Bang. The mirror cracks.

Auntie gasps, splattering crimson in our splintered reflection. It’s splitting down the middle. Like a large eyelid.

“See what?” Like glass, my voice cracks. Auntie can’t stifle her snicker. Bang. Bang. Bang. She stops. “You see Mommy’s what?”

“–aughter.” Auntie spits between a newly chipped tooth and mouthful of shards. I crook a brow and she tries again, “Daugh…ter.”

“What else?” I roll her limp head till she’s staring straight at the split separating as it joins. “What else do you see?”

“Blood…” Her gurgle hides her reflection’s eye beneath a red coating. Again, a try. A cry. “blood…tr…blood-y….dr….ess….”

She slumps into herself like one lid folding down and I rise from her like the other lid sliding up.

“Thank you, Auntie.”

My fingers find wet frills, edges soaked in and dyed a colour they’ve always been afraid of. Blamed for. A colour I’ve not worn since my first and only–till now–victory.

What would Mommy say?

See?

I wipe the glass before my eyes till I peek through red. Split open and smiling. Fingertips brush the toothy slash.

Good girl. I nod.

I am.

****

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**This is the painting in the Featured Image for this post. Saw it at a recent trip to the Whitney Museum in the city and–fell in love–but also felt like it would be perfect for this sweet vicious little story**