Contains: Cannibalism, butchery, torture, self harm, as a metaphor for deriving sustenance through the deconstruction of one’s own past, transformation.
She tells me we are stuck here when I wake up, it smells like salt and forest.
She looks so real in front of fog that is behind her. Her snout is square and her teeth were long and sharp, but her voice was sweet. Her eyes scan me carefully, watching me for any change. I ask where we are, she says she does not know.
I ask what she is and she looks at me like I’m an idiot: a fox, just like you.
I try to sit up, seeing that she’s right, down my stomach is the telltale fur, behind me, a tail, in front of my eyes, now finally focusing, a snout. My hair is long and soft trailing down from my head, entirely different than the fur that covered the rest of my body. I feel like I’m half dead.
I feel like shit, I say.
You look it, she says, and tells me to follow her.
She leads me along a beach surrounding a forest. The surf is ever-present and snatches the words from her mouth. It seems bright here. And lonely. She tells me I washed up here.
All I see over the water is fog. No sounds beyond the waves and gulls and the cryptic slaps and interactions of fish. I linger there for a moment until she grabs my shoulder and pulls me along, muttering about how this is not a place you should want to be at night.
I can’t even find the sun.
After a long walk we come to a wooden shack, glass windows like eyes above the sides of the door. She opens the door and it smells of nutmeg, pastry, and meat. I feel my stomach growl audibly and she rolls her eyes and tells me that I’ll have to wait for supper.
The room is clean enough, the floor is made of wood worn down till it’s smooth, the walls fit together without obvious gaps. An iron stove sits on the corner awaiting fuel and fire, but the room is lit with LED strips.
She offers me some water in a clean looking cup and apologizes for the lack of food. My stomach growls. She looks at me sheepishly, and asks for help hunting. I ask what we’re hunting for, and she looks at me levelly and says nothing for a moment, her green eyes glance into the corner and she says nothing. In the corner is a bow and knife, serrated and very long.
It’s becoming dark outside, she says that we have twilight to find our quarry. She leads us down the beach, she gave me the knife because I said I didn’t know how to use a bow. It’s the nastier job, she admitted.
The sound of the surf is more intense now and it carries the stench of low tide, decomposing material. Shellfish are implied but not visible.
A man is running down the beach, jogging slowly. He has no fur, his ears are round, and his eyes are bright and visible. I feel like I should recognize something in this creature, but it’s just like the fog in the distance, indistinct and shapeless.
She leads us up the beach, behind some brush that holds no fruit. She takes aim, holding him in her sight until he reaches as close as his path will take him to us. Her shot whizzes off, a blur of dark wood and light bird feathers into his back. He collapses.
She leads me over to him.
He looks at me disbelievingly, and asks why. Why what? Why are you doing this to me? We are hungry. The expression on his face is abstract to me, why does it have to be him? I shrug, what else is there?
She pulls a stretcher out, we need him very fresh she says.
We drag him to our shack, into a small room in the back where the floor was a light smoothed stone, worn down by countless actions upon it. There are veins of darker material shot through that have resisted time with more success.
There are drains in the floor leading outside bored roughly into the rock, and a raised plinth. It is an abattoir and an altar.
She hands me the knife. She tells me to cut. Limb from body. That I can’t just inflict it, I have to feel it myself. She does something with her voice, her paws, her eyes, and my perceptions are duplicated. I see myself through this man’s eyes, and I see a human with a big knife, and the fox standing behind me, eyes shining frightfully.
A fox, you’ll be and you’ll see. Her voice is treacle. Her voice drips down through my ears onto my soul, making it slow and sticky and ready to listen to her.
I start slicing his arm off, he struggles, but he can barely brace himself, every slice I become more, fur slicked down with blood. Skin and flesh creaking as I work on him. It feels like I’m cutting my own arm off, but in some alchemy, it is transmuted to something sickeningly sweet, an exhilarating form of pain that would be fatal hubris in a mortal. Soon the man no longer struggles, merely watching me listlessly, consciousness preserved by whatever let me see myself through his eyes. I lick the blood off the knife, savoring its flavor. Tendons and ligaments resist in their frustrating way. The knife strikes bone with each tooth of the serration, it knocks against my wrist, leaving my wrist tingling by the end.
The arm pops free with a terribly sickening sensation, I feel bile rise to my mouth, but I swallow. I repeat. I repeat. I repeat.
The man lies dismembered. She tells me to cut his throat, to ensure the end to his suffering right here and now. I do so, feeling a relief that is improper. A monstrous relief.
I realize something about him, that was me once. That had been my voice protesting. It had been my stride as he had run across the beach. My eyes had stared at me as darkness had encroached. I look down at the body feeling a glee. A freedom.
She hangs up the pieces and pulls me back to the other room. She sits me down on a couch and says that dinner will be later today.
I curl up and try to sleep. The surf and the warmth of my own fur is enough to drift off: in spite of everything.
I awake to the smell of something baking. The cabin is smoky.
My hunger is a deep pang, a resonance that makes me feel as though I am shaking. As if nerves cannot conduct signals smoothly without nourishment, reducing me to a wind-up toy jerking. But it must just be my imagination, because I get up and walk over without falling over. She looks at me, and smiles, it’s the first time she’s looked anything but annoyed with me. She uses a spatula to portion out a few dumplings onto a plate, and shoves it at me. The fruits of our labor, she says.
She asks me to come with her on a walk along the beach.
It’s much the same as yesterday. She leads me along the beach to the outlet of a river, and suggests that we clean ourselves after all that effort and blood.
While we wash, she tells me what the world is.
This is a dreamspace. A place in between worlds where only the unlucky get caught, and those that stay are made into its denizens. She says that she’s been here a long time, I ask her how long, and she tries to count for a moment before giving up, she settles on too long.
We’re just one kind of monster, she says, but the curse of this place is to make you into something that cannot recognize what you were as worthwhile, and in doing so, changes you to be able to do anything.
I wonder if I should have brought the knife, but she tears up, she thought that she was always going to be alone. She’d never find anyone else to be like her. Different sorts of monsters don’t get along well, at least in her experience, and she had not run into her own ilk for a long time.
When she came here, there were villages of foxes, and they had inducted her like she had me. She looks fiercely hungry in this moment, a reminder of a sweeter meal.
My ears pick up rustlings in the distance. She suggests we leave. I catch shadows in the bushes, and I wonder what our neighbors are like, but I don’t want to meet them on such terms, so I nod.
We run, sprint, heavy air settling within my lungs with every bound, sand shifts underneath my paws dampening my effort. We arrive back at the shack. It already feels like home in comparison to this bizarre place.
She looks shaken and she sits down on the couch, and reaches underneath it, pulling out a small wooden box. She pulls a pipe out of it, a lighter, somehow, and pulls a hit off of it. She passes it to me, and I inhale deeply.
Colors intensify and shift, she’s purple. Then she’s back to where she was. A lightish orange and white and black.
I cough and stumble next to her, she laughs and pulls the pipe away. She takes another hit and sinks deeper into the couch. She starts to tell me what it was like when there were others here. Before they left across the sea.
There’s a lot to go on about, the nature of her kin, different somehow allegedly from the rest of the sorts of creatures that lived here, but that difference was never spoken of in a specific manner. It was just what it was to be a fox versus a bat or a dragon or whatever.
She spoke on the way they used to practice arts before the other sorts of creatures had become agitated by the lack of food.
The modern day was less bountiful, and this part of her life had started right as the droughts started. When that hunger that was previously confined to ritual, escaped into the mainstream meal.
That the sorts of dreams that pushed people to this place were becoming rarer and rarer too.
The rest left, their lives disrupted by hunger and conflict, as did many other sorts of people from this place. She wasn’t clear on what was beyond the ocean that surrounded this island, but she believed it to not be like here.
Her story had continued to veer across subjects in an unfocused way. But it ends with the assertion that we must also leave.
She tells me we will make it. I believe her.