Morning mist obscured the field opposite, like steam rising from a hot plate of food—nachos with bubbling cheese or sizzling chicken on a grill. It made her hungry. She pressed her pocketed hands against her stomach to suppress the rumbling. Exhaling created a plume of hot, rising air; she saw it, tasted it, smelled it, and longed for something sweet or minty to cleanse her palate.
Icy air blew past her legs, chilling the skin between her boots and the hem of the short skirt she wore against her father’s wishes. She didn’t feel it; she wasn’t in the mood to feel it. A numbness wrapped around her, a protective sheath, a breaker from the cold breeze. Her thin magenta jacket zipped all the way up to her pale, white chin. A wide, baggy hood covered her messily cropped hair. The stinging in her right eye had subdued a little, dripped away over time. At first it was persistent, providing a constant hurt all of its own accord, but now the unwanted sensation came only in occasional searing waves. She didn’t want it, this caustic reminder of the scars, but she had no option.
Her bulky canvas backpack struggled to hold its contents, containing things that jabbed and pressed against her spine, but she couldn’t put it down—she couldn’t risk putting it down. It stayed on her back despite the aches, the pains, and the clunky, cumbersome weight of it all. She felt it grew antsy without her, like it might suddenly run away in a fit of skittishness.
The board attached to the station wall said the train wouldn’t arrive for another hour or so. Such a waste of time, she thought, idly standing around before having to sit for however many hours on a chugging, outdated monstrosity filled with normal people. If only she could fly, she thought. But that also wasn’t an option. Her father would be checking for that.
“Do doo doo do, do doo doo do, all the same to me, do doo doo do, do doo doo do, all a game to me…do doo doo do, do doo doo do, ace of spades, ace of spades…” Ian sang, having checked the window was rolled firmly up. He only sang when he was alone, driving down the brightening country lanes each morning on the way to work. The words were often a mystery, an approximation of his best guess mashed in with a few bars from whatever tune skulked around in the back of his head.
As always, Terrence’s car was already at the station by the time Ian arrived. It was covered in more rust than a sunken ship and had a plastic bag covering the gap where the driver’s side window should have been. Terrence had a habit of arriving to work early, and Ian appreciated how he always took it upon himself to do the annoying jobs alone—dragging up the shutters and unlocking the gates. It allowed Ian to swan in to a pre-boiled kettle and a plate of neatly arranged chocolate biscuits.
This time was a little different, though; the door to the office was pushed wide open but the shutter remained half way down, looking a little embarrassed to be caught in such an unfixed state. The stack of folded leaflets that usually lay on the counter were strewn all over the floor.
“Hello?” Ian said, rolling up his paper tight and holding it like a short bat. He wondered what had interrupted Terrence and cast his mind back to the time he caught a few scurrilous youths trying to wrench the empty cash register off the desk with a bit of wood. Ian had sent them running but, well, Terrence was a lot smaller, and as intimidating as a terrier snoozing in front of a fire.
The office was dead, the kettle hadn’t even boiled, though Terrence’s coat—long and black with inexplicable silver buckles on the shoulders—lay slung over the back of the recliner in the corner. The floor looked damp in places, like it’d been recently mopped. It smelled like bleach and…something else—a faint whiff of manure, perhaps—wafted in from one of the local farms.
“Terry?” Ian said as loud as he dared. Nothing. An uncomfortable knot in his guts suggested something was off.
He tossed his paper on the side and walked out to the platform. He almost didn’t see the girl in the magenta hood standing in silence down at the far end. He called to her but she ignored him, fidgeting a little with her hands pushed deep in her pockets.
The tie around his neck wasn’t wonky, but he straightened it anyway and ran fingers through his thinning hair. The light helping of wax his fingers picked up made him wish he hadn’t.
“’Scuse me, love.” he called, striding confidently along the gravelly, colourless platform, trying unsuccessfully to suck in his bloated gut. She didn’t reply, through she did take a timid step to the right, away from him. “You, uh, you got a ticket? Don’t worry, I work here.” He laughed awkwardly.
She turned her head slightly, peering at him through thick-rimmed, thick-lensed glasses.
“Yeah,” she said, keeping him in her peripheral. “It’s in my bag.”
“Yeah? Who served you, then? My colleague seems to have gone walkabout.”
“I’ve got a monthly. Pre-paid.”
She kept her tone cold, wary, folding in on herself with slumped shoulders and a tilted head, gazing at the uninteresting floor. He took another step forward.
“Did you see anyone here when you turned up? And how come you’re so early, anyway?” he asked. The skin around his neck burned a touch red with that morning’s shaving rash. Little yellow dots of greasy pus flecked his chin. There was a tuft of hair near his left ear from where he’d missed a bit. The girl noted it all down. Something inside her wanted to rip off his skin and toss it in the trash.
“I didn’t see anyone.” Her voice was stern now. “When’s the next train?”
“Hour or so. Just under, I’d say. First one of the day is usually a bit early. Are you sure you di—” he started.
“How about you just fuck off and leave us alone? Stay away ’til we’re on the train. Then you might survive,” she said, turning more towards him but keeping the hood up, casting a shadow over her face. Exasperated anger laced her words, speaking with a tone to scold a naughty puppy rather than a human being.
“Wh—what?” he stammered, placing a cold hand subconsciously to his neck.
“I said, why don’t you leave us alone until we get on the train…then you might actually survive. The longer you stand around sweating, getting your stench all in my breathing air, the more chance there is of you not being here to welcome that train.”
“Is that a fucking threat?” he asked, squaring out his shoulders in an effort to adopt a menacing stance.
“It’s a helpful fucking suggestion,” she spat. “Don’t take another step.”
She faced straight ahead, staring over the tracks and into the vast fields until he took a step forward, confident and cocky. He assumed his size and build gave him power—authority—over the whippet of a girl.
“Listen here, you—”
“No!” she said in anger, turning quickly and brushing her hood off her head to show her unkempt hair. Her voice changed a little, took on a thin lacing of something sinister. “You listen. You go back to your poxy little office, lock the door and stay there until our train comes and we leave.”
Syllables strung into each other, carried along by a sudden throaty growl that didn’t have time to waste on meaningless pauses.
He stared at the scars across her face, hiding behind the glasses. He tried to look away but the missing eye drew him in. The skin around it had the texture of a singed steak and three thick lines led from her hairline down to the tip of her nose, built up into a mountain range of scarred, lumpy flesh. It looked recent; not fresh, but within the last month or two. Close enough to have not fully healed.
Where there was once an eyelid, a flattened flap of skin hung down like melted wax. Some remnant from a vicious mauling, three claw wounds or three lashes from a razor-tipped whip.
“Wh—who is ‘we’?” he asked, trying to coax his eyes away from the facial destruction.
“You just had to ask, didn’t you?”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow, love,” he said, furrowing his brow.
A pang of pain shot through her stomach, doubling her over with a squeal like a dying cat. Ian jumped, looking around for the culprit, some shooter from a grassy knoll, before turning back to see her lying flat on her back. She shook and juddered in the middle of a wild, convulsive fit. He reached her side and placed a heavy hand on her stomach just as she ceased, falling into a peaceful silence.
From afar, he’d guessed her age at late teens, early twenties maybe. Her outfit and the way she sulked with her head down suggested youth, but up close she appeared a little older, early thirties maybe, or late twenties if she’d had a hard life. He wasn’t sure if the marks all over her neck were bruises, welts, or if she just needed a good scrub with a bar of soap and water. They looked a little like the marks of stretched skin.
“Hey. Hey, wake up,” he said, lightly slapping her cheek below the scar. It seemed to throb as if something burrowed around her face beneath the damaged tissue. He thought he saw it glow.
“Terry! Terry!” he yelled towards the ticket office. “Where is that prick?”
He was panicking, with no idea what to do. Something in his head suggested CPR, but he didn’t know how and it felt wrong. “Please wake up.” he pleaded, tapping her again before searching around for any sign of help.
“I am awake,” she said. Her voice deepened, sliding over his senses like a rich dessert. She adopted a somewhat male voice, sly and assured, and the scars prised open to reveal a cloudy white eye, a glass ball full of smoke. It took on a malevolent red tinge as Ian stared, open-mouthed and unable to say a word, debilitated by the flow of ignited terror in his fat-lined arteries.
“Hello, darling…” the new voice said, a little scratchy, as the girl’s dainty mouth expanded and curled out into a thin-lipped smile, covering an endless array of tiny, spiked teeth. Row upon row ran right down the back of her mouth. A snake-like tongue lay on top of them, rolling around the needle tips like a performer on a bed of nails.
“So nice to finally meet you!” she said, whipping her hands from her pockets and jabbing two clawed thumbs into his waiting, gaping eyes. She chuckled as the ooze dripped out and the man screamed. Her gnarled fingers dug into his temples, drawing blood and holding him in place. The palms of her hands were perfectly human, covered in delicate human skin that slowly turned rough and leathery from the knuckle to each finger tip, ending in horrid points of sharpened, stained bone.
As the last of the fight left Ian, his tie dangling limply from his swollen red neck, she flipped him over and straddled his gelatinous midriff, pulling her thumbs from his eyes and sliding her sleeves up to past her elbows. The thin material snagged and caught on the rough, bark-like sections of her right arm. She swooped her hands out to the sides and tilted her head back, retching like a mother bird about to feed her chicks, her neck engorged and swelled like a snake swallowing a mouse, stretching out to twice its regular width.
She started to hack and choke, putting her tongue into a frenzy, flailing and whipping the air until a river of thick green bile spewed from her mouth and onto Ian’s contorted, punctured face. It melted and scorched the skin, searing though his cheeks; bubbling pustules inflated and popped like infected zits on his forehead. Her lungs heaved and her head lolled forward as she stared at her mess through the open, evil eye, waiting for the gloop to erode his thick skull.
She plucked up a handful of his now exposed tender brain and tossed it into her mouth where the teeth gnashed and whirred like blades in a blender, mashing the chunk into a paste that trickled down her throat. Sporting a wide smile she scooped up the rest of the pink, smeared organ, examining the little bobbles and ridges closely before dropping it into her expectant gullet with a hungry relish.
“Mm, mm-mm. What a treat, two in one day,” she said in her new voice, all silken and smooth, “She really must start watching our weight.”
The claw-like digits of her right hand flicked into the air with an artsy, confident flourish before plunging deep into the man’s chest, wriggling around for purchase on his shy heart. She cracked back a few ribs and delicately ran her wriggling tongue across a flaccid, sac-like lung.
“Altogether too sumptuous.”
Ian’s remains gave off a repulsive, grisly smell that wriggled up her nose and shook her conscious with a gasping start—the familiar tinny blood, guts and the infancy of decay. She lay with her hooded head resting against the rough platform, aching and throbbing in a thumping tandem with the scarred section of her face.
Something in her backpack rustled and kicked to get out, whining for a meal, enraged by the wicked scent of death in the air. Light trickled into her one good eye as it cracked open and a tired groan escaped her body, emanating from the deepest part of her. She licked at her two rows of teeth, wishing she could spit out the taste, before bolting up to take a look around. She never got used to how she remembered the actions of her darkened side, it was always so sudden. It crept up on her from behind and screamed Boo! into her ear.
The countdown clock on the wall read “12 minutes” and next to her was a body, torn apart and left as scraps for the pecking birds. A few bones remained, most of the spine and hips, along with land mines of miscellaneous meat.
After snatching up her misplaced glasses she whipped off her backpack and twisted off the combination lock, opening the zip up just a crack. The boisterous movement inside turned to frenzy, the sound of snapping jaws and guttural growls.
“Hope you’re hungry, buddy…” she said, all traces of her other voices absent. She removed a small scooper from a side pocket and began piling flesh and unidentifiable viscera into the gap.
The bag rewarded her with a contented purr and the merciless sound of frantic chewing.