By Abby Sundeen
When I come to, drenched in blood, the first thing I feel is fear.
It’s a terrible, heart-pounding, blood-screaming sensation, like there’s something outside of me forcing my body to the verge of combustion. My blood-slick palms grow hot and sweaty, and my legs jitter like they long to be far from here.
The fear only grows when I see what lies before me, some mangled corpse with its layers of muscle, organs, and bone all exposed in violent shades of red. This thing has stopped moving, but only recently; blood oozes from its every opening. I have to search to find the remnant of a face, its features halfway slashed from the skin.
Moving myself to see the details is a feat within itself. Though my legs are shaky, full of adrenaline, they’re rooted to the ground. Go, they scream, run from this place. But don’t move.
The longer I stare at the body, the more aware I grow of the blood coating my skin.
Did I do this?
And why don’t I remember anything before this moment? I stand here and I try to recall, but there are no emotions or memories to bring to light. For all I know, I was in a standing coma until I woke to this very moment.
I don’t know who I am, or what I am.
What I do know is this: I am here, and I am very, very afraid.
The sun rises and sets two times since I woke up. I have given fear its name, and I have discovered two other states of being. I call them curiosity and desire.
I fear a lot of things still, and this is the main state that I live in. I can’t get over how the bits of myself that I could see looked like distantly related appendages of the corpse before me two sunrises ago. My legs move, though, and they carry me to several places. Each and every one of them feels familiar, though I recognize nothing about any of them.
This is where the curiosity began, when I reached the first of these places. The unexplained familiarity raised so many questioning thoughts. If I felt these places were familiar, had I actually been there before? How many places had I been and not remembered?
If I only remembered that single corpse, were there more that I’d forgotten? Would I forget again?
Too many questions circle me back to the same kind of fear, and so I ignore the curiosity. Still, the fear only keeps me going so far. The questions take up a residence in my mind, and the feeling mutates in a powerful way. I have questions; there must be a way to answer them, or to find someone who can. There’s a want.
With too much that I don’t know, there’s one thing I know for certain: I woke up with a corpse at my feet. There has to be a connection there, whether it’s coincidental or not. If I woke up with that corpse there…
The answers are in the corpses.
So I’m on the hunt again.
My curiosity is confirmed when I stand over another body. I felt powerful, watching their life drain from their eyes and their body. They struggled at first, but the claws at the tips of my fingers proved something far beyond my prey’s control. Of course I had to kill them; for my answers, for my knowledge, they had to die.
With this comes a new sensation, a new state: pride. Maybe happiness. Maybe both. I smile for the first time as I stand covered in their blood. This time, I let myself drink in all of the details. I see the shapes of the muscles, how some of the muscles are larger than others, how their blood seems to flow thicker than my first corpse.
It’s more comfortable now, this powerful feeling of killing.
My stomach rumbles, a foreign feeling. I fall to my knees and use the same life-taking claws to separate meat from bone. The same blood on my hands stains my face as I eat, as I leach their blood from their body into my hands and drink like it’s a life-saving substance.
The metallic taste seems to hold answers, but the blood runs with more questions than I had before.
Anger is something like fear, but less timid. I’m ready to move, and I’m ready to fight forward rather than run back. It makes the tips of my ears go red, and it gives me a sort of tunnel vision so intense I barely notice my claws retracting from my fingers. My back grows straighter, and my teeth seem to flatten just a bit.
At last, I’ve had my fill. Once I’ve taken everything I need, like some sort of parasite, I’m able to stand with renewed energy. I rise off my knees with a different type of hunger, the same curiosity now driven by a real thirst and real emotions.
With this energy, I run. I’ve never had such a fulfilled energy before, something taken from another living being, something I hunted for myself.
I run for another full sunset, through the entire dark period, and into the sunrise. As I run, I’m hunting, listening, searching for the same beasts that gave me my first two corpses. There’s something magical about them, almost alien. I’ve come across other animals since then, and even taken the liberty to eat one of them.
But the experience didn’t give me anything even remotely similar to this experience of the prior corpses. There were no new sensations or needs or questions. I was just eating to eat. And what a painfully boring existence that was.
I have, admittedly, grown addicted with just these two kills. The newness of the things they have to offer has become a craving.
So when I set foot into something that looks like a civilization full of the same creatures, I’m walking into a utopia of satiation. The closer I get, even stepping inside of the proper civilization, the more I’m noticed. These creatures stare and whisper at me, and somewhere in the process I hear the word, “human.”
If these things are humans, I must be something… subhuman. Not quite there, but close enough.
I recognize fear quickly enough in their prolonged stares, in the way these tall, clawless beings look upon me. There’s a fair amount of shame brought with the encounter, and that’s a feeling I’ve never felt before. It’s a feeling that I don’t like.
And it makes me angry.
I get the feeling, however, that these humans are group-oriented creatures. They walk along mostly in pairs or in groups, which means I can’t just pick one off in the middle of this civilization.
It takes a bit of searching to find a human by themself, but the kill is quick enough. It takes a longer time than before, and there’s a noticeable lack of strength from what my body had previously held. But I watch their life fade all the same, and I feed myself.
As I eat, there’s something more level than emotion rising. Not in my chest, but in my head. I call it logic, this sudden ability to think of things rather than feeling. To reason with my questions rather than killing my way out of them, perhaps.
To understand that I am well and truly on my way to becoming human, and it’ll only take one more corpse to get there.
To learn the word murder.
This next murder requires more of a plot. I can’t just go in blindly and hope to pick off another human; there has to be a plan. I retreat to the shadows beyond this civilization and lie in wait like a vulture waiting for a death by someone else’s hand.
As much as I want to wait now, every other kill has been by my hand. If I want to complete this process, this final death must be by my hand and well.
Now that I’ve given myself a moment to breathe, I allow my primitive curiosity to return to me. Has anyone else ever gone through this process before, this change to human through death? Have I unknowingly seen someone who’d already done it?
I can’t say I prefer this new form of thought. It’s too controlled for me; I need to move, and I need to move quickly. The more I exist in this in-between state, the more difficult it becomes to call myself anything other than a monster.
It’s easy to ignore this rumbling in my stomach, now that I know it can so easily be solved by following through on this plan.
I’ll be fine soon.
When I stand over the last corpse, everything falls perfectly into place. My claws recede completely, my back straightens, the hair on my arms, legs, and torso grows lighter and thinner. Staring into the darkness of the forest, the darkness loses clarity.
But, oh, this guilt.
The lives and blood of four separate people rest in my chest, right by my pride. I did it; I followed through. But I plotted out and forced myself to murder four different people to get here, with no thought about the ramifications.
This final kill has brought me what I assume is the most human thing of all: empathy. And with it comes the guilt.
I wish I had never done this at all.
I wish I had been able to force down the curiosity, I wish I hadn’t let it get the best of me. I wish I’d never found this civilization, that I hadn’t been so desperate to slot into its hierarchy like another regular human.
But I did. I did every single one of those things.
Setting foot in civilization again feels proper. I fought and I killed for my position here among the other humans. I deserve this.
With each step I take, the memory of my inhuman-ness grows within me. Each of these people likely was born into this civilization. They didn’t have to kill to get there, and they don’t have several peoples’ blood on their hands.
They just live, and they’re happy.
Well, I did it.
I killed to do it, and it started off as just a fever dream. Just a wake-up from a dreamless sleep. One single kill brought me fear and anger and curiosity and hunger and logic and guilt. That heavy, awful guilt.
It’s not going to go away; that much I know.
But we stay here anyway, me and this guilt. I deserve to live with it.
Everyone else here was born as they were supposed to be, and they likely know nothing of what I had to do to walk among them. They’ll never know that with each human breath I take, I’m drowning in the consequences.
Abby Sundeen is a writer and a linguist from Buffalo, New York. She didn't anticipate that writing would become such a huge part of her life when she wrote a silly story about squirrels in the third grade, at least not until her English teachers encouraged her budding passion. Fiction helped her through the stresses of middle and high school, and then college, and now is a core part of her life. She writes to escape, to create, and to imagine.