Written by Trey Briggs || Art by Monte Miller
You really don’t comprehend how long your bowels are until you’re trying to stop them from falling out of you. Yenna didn’t consider herself dramatic. Both her real mother and Cora had instilled a quiet regality in her, something close to pompousness but not quite there. Crying over a little disembowelment seemed like an ineffective use of her time. You keep your back straight, you keep your head up, and you do those two things no matter the hell what.
She could cry with her back straight. She couldn’t, however, hold her bowels in that way.
What time is it? I guess the burlesque show is cancelled.
The sky was black, as black as it could get without becoming a ball and crushing them all. Around twenty minutes earlier, she’d been reading a book on the patio of a restaurant, bobbing her leg in the sun. God, she loved showing her legs in Anity. There was no end to the appreciation for her length and skin there, no end to compliments and near-drooling. It was a trip for the ego, a blessing for the uncertain. Yenna was nowhere near uncertain, but she liked working less for the women she courted. Anity women came in every flavor of willing, and Yenna only found herself alone and in her thoughts when she tried. The whole country was filled with flirts, women who wore their breasts damn near pressed through their chins, women who winked long lashes when they walked by. A lover’s city, a whore’s country, a place that bloomed with connection.
Cora was right. Yenna needed the vacation. She needed some time to just exist.
The last time she’d had a moment to herself, it was Harold’s wedding, and that was more of a tense situation. It was hard to concentrate when the boy you’d grown up with was marrying a plain old human, and when that human happened to work for a company that was torturing your guardian to death (and back, over and over). Yenna spent the entire trip scolding Harold, threatening to murder his new wife, and then being stopped from actually murdering her.
Needless to say, the Anity trip was better. Other than the whole disembowelment thing, though it was still close.
Yenna pulled herself up, hand slipping against the wall, her blood dry before she could make a print on the next spot. She could already feel the veins in her back hardening, the pain shooting in so many directions that she wished her torso would just fall off. Still, she pressed forward, trying to remember the girl’s house from memory. Which one did the damn girl live in?
The sky managed to get even darker, black turning to Armageddon, turning to hell.
Yes, Cora was right. Yenna needed the time away. But Yenna didn’t have Cora’s luck.
Wherever she went, there she was.
“You can stay out of trouble, actually. You will stay out of trouble. Stop smiling.” Cora shoveled mashed sweet potatoes onto Yenna’s plate. “You’re a grown woman-”
“Cora! Okay! I just think I should be here with you, that’s all.” Cora scoffed, piling her own plate with food. She slammed the bowl in the middle of the table and went back for the next dish. Whenever Yenna dared move, dared lift a finger to help, Cora bat her with the long spoon.
Do we really need to eat any of this?
The woman was old-fashioned, and tradition said, yes, you needed to eat. You needed to keep the habit up when you were alone, you needed to stay hidden. Of course, after all was said and done, Cora was the least hidden person with Devil Syndrome around. And they still sat at the table, the old devil somehow looking, smelling, and feeling younger than Yenna ever did.
“I was living on my own when I was 16. You’re… how old are you, now?”
“19! A cougar! An old maid! You’re old!” Cora’s grumpiness had a lot to do with the pain she was in, and that had a lot to do with the experiments. As the years went by, Cora became more and more stern, losing her old wonderful charm. But Yenna knew not to mention any of that.
“The people tell me I’m young, actually.”
“The people want pussy, they’ll tell your old ass anything.” Yenna choked, holding in her laugh. Cora was sweet, loving, beautiful, all those things. But she had a crass side that she reserved for Yenna, and it wasn’t to be returned. They ate in silence for a moment, Cora’s nightgown shimmering in the light from the window. When she wasn’t performing, she was reading something with her image on it. Today’s magazine was a scientific one, and that meant experiments, and that meant Cora was reading about her own pain, and Yenna hated it.
“What body were on by 19,” she asked, slowly pulling the magazine out of her guardian’s hand and putting it down on the table. Cora flushed, shaking the words out of her head, and thought. Tired, Cora was always tired now.
They’re truly killing her.
“I can’t remember. It’s hard to remember things, too many things going on. Why are you asking me stupid questions? You need a vacation. Women should travel, especially before you find a husband.” Yenna smirked. Cora loved talking about relationships Yenna would never have.
“Why don’t we both go? You need a trip, too. You really need it, Mrs. Cora.” Both of the women thought about that, and no answer was needed. Cora was a prisoner to the city at the moment. It was unsaid even from the scientists at the lab, but there was no mistaking it.
“Are you afraid, Yenna? Tell me honestly.” She jumped up and scraped the potatoes into a tupperware container, back turned to Yenna. She’d barely touched her food.
“No, but you’re acting strange. You’re trying to get rid of me… I’m a little worried something happened and you just don’t want to tell me.”
“Your birth happened. You’re annoying.” Yenna laughed out loud this time, and Cora allowed herself a smirk. “Just some problems with Eon. And with Harold. And those girls of his…”
“Shipping me off to Anity won’t help those problems. I could go kill his wife and take the kids if you’d like. That would help more.”
“Yenna. You’re going to Anity, you’re going to relax, and when you come back we’ll consider that option. We really will.” She scratched her neck, hiding her face.
“It could be dangerous in Anity. What if you lose me, young lady?” Cora brushed her hair away from her face, letting it caress her shoulder. Yenna envied her for a moment, her own silky red hair wrapped up in a bun. You couldn’t get it to curl with a curling iron made from lava.
“If anyone touches you, I’m sure you’ll erase them from this existence quickly enough. You wouldn’t dare embarrass me.”
Someone had touched Yenna, as it was, and she had erased them from existence. But they got her good. Her blood puffed out from the sides of her wound, a thick gasp spewing the powder like the exhale on a cigarette. She inched forward, hand shaking on the wall. The sky opened up above her, a thick clap of thunder dulling every sense she could control.
“Shit.” She muttered, letting herself sink to the ground. She would’ve loved to put her cheek against it, feel how cool it was. Go to sleep for awhile. She hadn’t had time to sleep with the waitress from the cafe by her hotel there. That type of energy should be outlawed.
Seven more of the creatures fell from the cloud, all women this time, all dainty but sure footed. Shadows always looked just a little wet. A little moist, maybe too slick to be anyone’s human. Other than that, you couldn’t really tell. They could usually speak, could usually engage with you normally. Some of them had problems focusing, but who didn’t? If it was old enough, maybe fresh out the ocean, you could see a faint blue glow from the whites of its eyes.
These were all young shadows. They surrounded her, one hissing like a wounded animal. The sky opened, a violent light blazing through, and the rain that hit her felt like a good dream. Yenna wiped her mouth, getting ready to vomit up more powdered blood.
“Listen. I don’t feel… like fighting you. You’re not… ugh, you’re not looking for me, and I’m not looking for trouble. I’m on vacation.” One of them smiled, showing off a long blade. Yenna had a scar on her lower back that it could fit into like a key.
Cora packed with Yenna, but she stopped her constantly. She pulled random items from shelves and drawers, throwing in so much clean underwear Yenna wondered if she had any women to pack to wear it all. This time they were both dressed for the day, Cora’s long body draped in a tight blue wrap dress, and Yenna wearing blazing white palazzo pants and a white blouse. She kept her hands in her pockets, saving them from Cora’s frustrated pops.
“Wear a damn dress at least once while you’re there.”
“I wear dresses all the time-”
“Hybrid blood. Just in case you meet any of those soggy beasts.” Cora slipped three vials into Yenna’s suitcase.
If that gets on any of my damned clothes… She pulled out one of the vials, surveying the thick black gunk. It always disgusted her, carrying around someone else’s blood. Devils loved their hybrid blood, loved bragging about having it, threatening people with it. She expected Cora’d stolen some from the lab, but asked anyway.
“Where’d you even get this? What type of life are you leading, old woman?” Cora shook her hair out, offended.
“I’m- don’t insinuate things. David gave it to me a long time ago.”
“I- listen, don’t make me discipline you. You’re too damn grown. We never did any kind of loving, you know that. I was married.” Yenna wondered how 19 could be both ancient and infantile, but didn’t ask.
“To a loser. You should’ve given David something to remember. He could’ve pulled your head out of the clouds, got you away from Eric sooner.” Cora stood, straightening her dress. There was a change in the mood.
“You’re growing so casual with me. We better finish packing your clothes, or you won’t survive to make your trip.” Yenna smiled, unfazed, but she didn’t say another word.
Someone as old as Cora, stuck in the body of someone else’s stolen youth, didn’t warn you to watch your mouth twice.
Yenna moved through the dead bodies she’d just created, tired. Too tired to move with any urgency.
She’d been watching the news the entire trip, making sure she didn’t see anything about Cora. She half expected to wake up and see Cora’s face plastered all over the screen. “The world’s first immortal woman was found chopped into pieces today. Scientists say they can’t recall what caused the dismemberment, but they’ll be keeping her limbs to study.”
Every day, she waited to hear something terrible from back home. Between thighs, at burlesque shows, walking around town. She waited to hear something about the immortal woman they’d tortured to mortality back in Virginia Steeps.
Instead, she heard about a little girl. It was all word of mouth. In-between bites of food, she’d hear someone mention Autumn. Have you heard about what that little girl did?
They found the man burned from the inside out, dead! He’d only tried to consummate the marriage, and she’d murdered him! And she might even be back in Anity now, living with her mother like she wasn’t a murderer.
Yenna listened to this with a smile, happy to have helped.
Harold’s wedding hadn’t been the last break she’d had. That was wrong. The last moment to herself had been right there in Anity, just two months into her trip. She’d been showing off her long legs, winking at some waitress, when a woman and a small girl entered the diner. She recognized the woman. Her face had been all over the news, everywhere. The little girl she had with her was scared, and her face was more recognizable.
Autumn was small for her age, maybe somewhere around 10 or 11. Yenna was bad at guessing anything about human children. She was no adult. Her father had beaten a rich man to death for trying to buy her, and now he was facing execution. You didn’t kill rich tourists in Anity. They got what they wanted, even if what they wanted was a child.
The more interesting part of the story was the man’s brother, who demanded Autumn be ‘given’ to him as recompense. He wanted to ‘marry’ her. But Yenna recognized him as well, and he was no human. He was a shadow through and through, and there was no doubt in her mind that he would either consume the girl, or empty her and take her body. The Shadows had no need for marriages, child or adult.
She watched the two move through the cafe, sullen. The girl was supposed to leave soon, off to start her new life with a grown shadow. It wasn’t Yenna’s business. She should mind her business.
But she stood anyway, and she walked over to them. The mother looked up, eyes gaunt.
“Hi. Don’t speak.” The little girl didn’t move, just stared down at her plate. She had the biggest eyes. Yenna handed the mother a vial of hybrid blood, closing her hand around it. She pulled a pad and pen out of her purse and wrote down her number, sliding it to the little girl.
“Marry him. Hold this blood in your mouth on your wedding night, and take some of this.” She tapped another little vial, handing it to the mother. “That man is a shadow. It’s a type of creature. He’s going to kill your daughter. Make sure she takes the hybrid blood first, or she’ll die from the cyanide. Understood?” There was more conversation, and by the end of it the mother looked hopeful. Autumn never looked up, so Yenna pulled her face up, leaning down to emphasize her words.
“You can survive any monster if you put your mind to it. Human or otherwise. Don’t ever be afraid.” Autumn’s eyes somehow grew bigger, and she nodded.
Yenna should’ve minded her business.
A month later on a phonecall home, Cora scolded Yenna so badly she thought the phone would explode.
“You’re out there saving humans. Why? Are you out of your damn mind?”
“I’m on vacation, I thought I was supposed to relax-”
“You’re supposed to stay out of trouble!” They both waited for Cora to breathe.
“I’m sorry. She was a little girl. They married her to a grown man, they locked her father up, I don’t know. He was obviously a shadow. Was I supposed to let them kill the poor girl? He was going to eat her, I just gave them the hybrid blood, that was all-”
“You were supposed to stay out of trouble. There’s not many places to get Hybrid blood, Yenna. They’ll know it came from me when they find out.” Yenna was quiet for a long time, chewing her cheek. Making mistakes was fine. She’d never considered herself stupid enough to put her loved ones in danger.
“I apologize. I’ll be home soon.” Cora stopped this time, pain in her breathing.
“Yenna. You might want to stay out there a little longer. A lot longer. Just have a good time for me, okay? It’ll be fine when you get home.”
A lot longer turned into a year vacation. Yenna called as often as she could, and each time Cora was more tired, more frustrated. Yenna knew it was worse than she was letting on when the Batista girl called her one day, crying.
“I killed him. He- he- choked to death and- he- he melted or something-”
“So I heard.”
“My mother said… she said to call you. He tried to hurt me. I didn’t want to hurt anybody-”
“That’s great to hear. Glad you’re safe.”
“Wait! Please don’t hang up. I- I’m in Virginia Steeps. In a place called- called Chastain. I don’t know how to get home. My mother said I’m in trouble. I don’t understand, I didn’t do anything wrong, he was going to hurt me…” The girl was 12 now, 12 and scared, and Yenna didn’t want to deal with it.
What was I thinking?
“Good to hear! I’m sure you’ll do fine.” Yenna hung up, a small tinge of guilt tightening her stomach and then disappearing just as fast. The woman with her snuggled against her, snoring lightly, and Yenna drifted back to sleep. She was on vacation. She didn’t need the hassle.
The girl kept calling, and Yenna sent it to voicemail every time. She didn’t have the heart to block the numbers, and it was a different number every time. And then it was Cora calling.
“That little brat found me, Yenna. I had to take her to Eon Tech. Everyone knows about this. It’s bad.” Yenna was at a loss for words for probably the first time in her life.
“Yenna. I’m finding Shadows in my yard. They’re angry. Whoever she killed, he was important.”
“A leviathan, maybe?” Cora sobbed, and it yanked Yenna up in her bed. Her heart raced.
“Yenna, I don’t think we’re going to see each other again. You were such a good girl. I love you dearly. Please help me when they take me. Don’t let me handle your responsibility.” The phone went dead, and no matter how many times she called, Yenna couldn’t get through.
And now it was almost two of her being in Anity, and yes, Cora had gotten involved. Yes, they knew about the blood.
Yes, it’d been some time since Cora had picked up the phone, and Yenna was afraid of what that meant. She went to burlesque shows. She flirted with waitresses. She did everything but go home, and she wondered if there would be a home left when she got back. Harold called her day and night, and the messages were more and more frantic.
“Have you seen Momma? Hey? Yenna, are you both ignoring me?”
“Yenna, what’s going on? It’s been months, I just went to Momma’s house and the fucking door was open. She’s not here. Are you coming home?”
“Yenna, there’s a bunch of blood in the backyard. It’s everywhere. Answer the fucking phone! Are you hurt, too? Please tell me you’re okay!”
“Yenna, you better fucking answer. They burned my house down. They fucking burned the whole neighborhood down, they almost killed the girls. Answer the phone. Answer the fucking phone…”
Cora helped little Autumn get help to get home, and that was the last thing Yenna heard of her guardian. Her foster mother. The woman that saved her life. The woman that she’d put in danger for a human girl.
The small light from above gave Yenna just enough vision to make out the little townhouse. She held herself together, giving her body a chance to make a patch of thick blood over her wound. It would heal, they always did, and she’d have a nice red spot to compliment her skin. She didn’t mind the wounds that her body covered for her, the blotches they became. Yenna was a proud devil, and she held her scars well.
Yenna pulled herself forward, more blood bubbling from her throat, and fell onto the welcome mat. The door wobbled in her vision.
Wake up! Get the girl out of there. You gave up your entire life for her, don’t you dare let her die now. You can’t pass out now.
She banged on the door until a light came on, and it was Autumn who opened it.
“You’re back! You came back!” She screeched, her pigtails bouncing. There was too much happiness in her voice, too much love there. Yenna had only met her once, for christ’s sake. Why was she so revered by the damned human? She was older, now. How long had Yenna been in Anity? The girl was maybe 14, still small but more mature. Yenna stared up at her, her knees roughly scraping against the ground, and smiled. Autumn finally saw the blood on her teeth, the deep scratches traveling her chest, and screamed The girl dropped to grab her, too many tears pouring down her face for a stranger.
It’s not good. She idolizes me. I should’ve minded my business.
“Yes, I’m back… but… so are they.”