I heard my wife squealing like a butchered animal the moment I entered our house. I almost called out to her before a deep, unfamiliar voice answered first. Up the stairs to the bedroom, her fresh peels of laughter haunting every step along the way.
I stood outside the door for a long time. Not moving. Not thinking. Barely breathing. Just listening to the sound of their vicious pleasure leaking from my bedroom.
I thought it would be satisfying when I finally flung open the door and caught her cheating. Exposing their naked flesh and the guilt on her face – it should have been my victory, but it wasn’t. The man scrambled out of my bed, but my wife just rolled her eyes.
“Do you mind? We’re kind of busy in here.”
I did mind. I stepped aside as the man snatched his clothes and ran. This wasn’t about him. He wasn’t part of my crumbling world, and it wasn’t for him that my blood thundered or the tempest in my nerves surged lightning through my body.
“What do you want, an apology?” my wife asked, not bothering to cover herself. “Why don’t I email it to you since you’re supposed to be at work anyway?”
I don’t remember much after that. Just how soft her skin felt when my fingers sank into her throat. I couldn’t even appreciate the moment when all I could think about was how he must have enjoyed the same flesh minutes earlier. I do remember the smug superiority on her face draining into ashen terror though. The desperate thrashing as her body sought the release only I could give.
I didn’t mean to kill my wife. She didn’t deserve to die. I can see that now, but I couldn’t at the time. I punished her for every forgotten dream, every tender feeling, every blind road that my life had disappointed me with. Even after she was dead, I kept pummeling all my jealousy and hate into her body until my fists were churning blood and I was screaming like my soul was ripped from my body. I poured everything that I was into her until with shallow gasp, I realized I had nothing left to give.
That there was nothing left of me at all. Staggering across the room, drunk on the scent of our mingled blood, I took the only thing she hadn’t already taken from me. The cold truth of a knife along my veins told the rest of the story. That was the first time I ever killed myself, but it wasn’t the last.
“Feeling better now? Up you go, you’re alright.”
The voice wasn’t kind, but neither was it especially cruel. It spoke with an honest certainty like a physics teacher explaining the irrefutable laws of reality. It’s not that I died and went somewhere either. I was still in my house. My body was still lying on the ground in a pool of its own blood. I – whatever was left of me – wasn’t in there anymore.
“That’s okay, take your time. You’re in a safe place now. A healing place. You won’t have to go back until you’re ready.”
“I’m dead. I shouldn’t be here.” I felt rather fooling addressing the moth flitting about my corpse on the floor, but there wasn’t anyone else around.
“Is that supposed to make you special?” The moth floated toward my face. “Everyone dies dozens of times. Some of you spend your whole lives dying and re-living, popping out babies and dying again, over and over. It’s rather excessive if you ask me.”
“I’m pretty sure I would have remembered dying.” I was beginning to get a sense for my new body. It almost seemed to be growing around me, bones and organs and skin all swelling and stitching themselves together out of nothing. For one ghastly moment I was only a mess of arteries and pulsing blobs of flesh, but somehow I still felt oddly tranquil.
“Would you like to remember? You can if you want, but most people don’t,” the moth replied. “But even if you decide not to, you can’t pretend you don’t notice. You were once a little boy who thought he could fly, if only he ran fast enough to take off. What happened to him?”
“He grew up,” I replied.
“He died,” corrected the moth. “It wasn’t bloody or malicious, but you killed him. You took the parts of yourself that weren’t compatible with who you’ve become, and you’ve killed them. Just like you’re going to do again now.”
My new body was almost fully formed now, and it wasn’t the only one. On the floor beside me, two more on the bed, another by the window – pulsing, growing sacks of flesh were beginning to take shape. Muscle twisted and stitched itself around new bones and sheets of crisp skin bundled up the freshly packaged bodies.
“Some parts of you are damaged as you navigate through life,” the moth said. “Some become crippled or cruel or stupid. They’ll drag you down and reduce you to pettiness and evil if you don’t leave them behind. Then again, some people will kill so many parts of themselves that there’s nothing left by the time old age arrives. I feel the most sorry for them, but no matter. Look, over here.”
The moth dropped down to land on the handle of the knife, still loosely gripped by the hands of my old corpse.
“You’ll need this when you’re ready. That one by the window is your hatred. A lot of people try to kill that one, but I don’t recommend it. It’s hard for anything to remain sacred once you allow life to spoil what you love without your blood stirring.”
The fully formed hatred copy of myself stared placidly at me. Its features were smooth, its body relaxed, almost like a life-sized doll.
“Same goes with fear, on the floor,” the moth continued. “Kill that and you’ll be back to visit me before you know it. Of course, whatever you had going obviously wasn’t working if you decided to kill yourself, so you’ll have to make somechanges.”
“Who is that?” I asked, pointing at the naked woman on my bed. She seemed to have finished growing, but her body was still savagely deformed. Half of her face sloped downward as though it suffered a stroke, her stomach was bloated and misshapen, and two bulging swollen eyes blinked lazily at me.
“It’s been a hard day for love,” the moth conceded. “Don’t go making any hasty decisions though. That’s what brought you here in the first place.”
None of these naked bodies were dead, but they might as well be. They didn’t move, hardly drew breath. They just sat there and stared at me, waiting to be killed or brought back with me, seemingly not caring either way.
All those eyes – all those lives – I couldn’t take it. I needed air. I got up to walk to the bathroom, regretting it the moment I opened the bedroom door.
There were more of them. Along the hallway, in the shower, dozens more out the window – all almost exactly like me apart from the varying severity of their injuries. Some were old, others children. Men and women – all looking at me with my face and my eyes. Some were completely intact, while others were maimed and shredded until they were little more than piles of shattered bones and oozing gore. All staring at me, turning their heads as I moved, silently judging me for every mistake I’ve ever made to reduce them to this pitiful state.
“One more thing,” the moth followed me as I returned to the bedroom. “When you do kill the ones you don’t want, please be quick about it. Sometimes they don’t like to go quietly.”
My eyes immediately darted to the knife on the floor. It was gone. I automatically pressed my back to the wall, my new heart lurching in my chest. My eyes scanned the room. Something was different. One of them wasn’t here.
“Of course there’s always the chance one of them will get the better of you,” the moth drawled on, not showing the least concern. “Then you’ll be the part that was left behind.”
I took a hesitant step farther into the room. The door slammed shut behind me. A blur of movement – I barely darted out of the way in time. That deformed stroke face – love – she’d been hiding behind the door when I entered. Now she was lunging again, the knife lighting up the air between us.
“Stop wasting time,” the creature slurred, spit flying from its uneven mouth. “We both know it’s me you want.”
I fell straight on my ass trying to get out of the way. I turned and began scampering on my hands and knees, flinging myself across the floor to escape form its lurching advance.
“You think it’s my fault,” she wailed. Each word felt heavy and deliberate: a mentally deficient person struggling to be understood and growing more frustrated by the second. “I didn’t do this to you!”
I regained my feet and faced my adversary. The knife fell again, but I managed to catch her by the wrist. She roared with unintelligible fury as I wrestled the knife from her hand. I almost plunged it into her without thinking. The tortured misery on her face though – on my face – the rejection and loneliness. I hesitated, just for a moment…
…a moment too long. Hands grappled me from behind, grabbing both of my arms to hold me in place. Two more of the impassive copies – I couldn’t tell which – wrestling me onto the bed. I didn’t let go of my knife, but it didn’t matter if I couldn’t use it.
The deformed love was on top of me. Her lips peeled back from her functional side to sink her teeth into my neck. I strained to pull away, but the other two had me firm. I screamed though words failed me, yelping a noise like an animalistic snarl. One of the hands on my arm slackened just a bit at the sound.
Did they feel sorry for me? I didn’t have time to think. I lashed out with the knife, gouging a deep line across love’s face. She grunted but didn’t let up. Her teeth were digging deeper into me. I cut again, and again, hacking and slashing at the loose folds of her uneven face.
The grip behind me suddenly released. I pounced on my victim, hesitating no longer. Both hands on the handle, I impaled the creature in the chest with all my strength. The blade tore through her so easily, dancing through rotted and pitted skin, down her bloated body, ripping a line all the way from her sternum to her groin.
One look at the bloody mess underneath me and I knew I was done here. “Bring me back!” I shouted. “I’ve done what I had to do.”
The world was spinning around me. I closed my eyes, trying my best to keep breathing without being nauseous. The flaccid bodies filling my house all began to howl with one voice. One wall of noise at first, but as it went on the different voices began to weave between each other, swelling and diminishing in an intricate melody almost indistinguishable from mindless screaming. It was either the most beautiful or most horrendous sound I’d ever heard, perhaps both.
And then I was through. The howling abruptly stopped. My heart was throbbing. My breath came in ragged gasps. I was standing outside my bedroom door again.
“Is someone there?” It was my wife. The sound of her voice was even more disgusting than the cacophony I’d endured.
“Stop worrying. You said he’d be gone all day, right?” That deep voice. The one that didn’t matter. Now that I thought about it, neither of them did. I turned and walked down the stairs as quietly as I could.
I had a second chance, or perhaps a hundredth if I’ve been through all this before. I wasn’t going to waste it on her. She’ll never know how much of myself she made me destroy, but it was better this way.
My time on the other side has changed me. And looking down at the love I killed with my own hands, I knew that I had transformed myself into someone who could survive this. When I had plunged my knife into that rotted belly I had looked down on more than decay and ruin.
I’d seen a child blossoming inside the fetid corpse of love. And if I was careful, and kind to it, I knew it would grow to replace the one that I killed.