Written by Trey Briggs || Art by Kokab Zohoori-Dossa
Nobody ever dies at the interviews. We’re not allowed to behave the way the Boars do, our big men, our protectors. We have to sit back and smile, demure, saintly. I want more than anything to push my fingers into Lyria’s eyes and squeeze until I send her into a black abyss of swelling blood and tissue, but I can’t. Prima and all that.
I sipped my beer in front of my wall-length bathroom mirror, practicing. I was a little horned girl once, you know — just a little horned girl with massive horns. Oh, I looked in the same mirrors that prove me beautiful today and saw a mess. A massacre of a girl. A loss. Horns stuck so far out to the sides that I had to turn my head to get through doors. The pity of it all!
Now, I fit quite nicely. They’re not big; they’re prominent. I practice easing into places just like I practice destroying Lyria’s confidence with tiny jabs. You must practice for success.
“Lyria! You look lovely today, so much better than last week. Your hair is a bit dry, but that blouse?!” I turned and sucked in a gasp of admiration.
“Oh, that blouse! That color is just a tiny bit faded. Would you like the number for my dry cleaner? They can bring anything back to life, even a shirt like that-“
“Get out already. You’ll be late.” Aba, my brute of a husband, lashed from the next room, probably picking some innocent animal from his teeth. I rolled my eyes, trying to connect my hands around my waist. My stomach, perfect as it is, felt a bit too soft. It was probably the beer.
“I will! I’m just preparing. You can’t eviscerate someone like Lyria without practice.”
“She tears herself to pieces the minute she sees you. Don’t need to do that.” He walked up behind me, and the size of him, oh, his shadow swallowed my entire existence and then kept going. Lyria couldn’t dream of a man like mine, not in her wildest imagination, and I let that fact sink into my smile. What fuel!
“You don’t need to do that, you mean. We talked about this. Speak in sentences or don’t speak at all.”
I let him lift me, turn me, and then had to keep him from going any further. The man exists on sex and meat. I spend half my day patting his nose.
“You’re right. I’ll be late.” He bit deep into my neck, maybe too hard, but I laughed and swatted at him. My horns, the two beautiful bones protruding from my hairline, they seemed so feminine and small with him there. Nothing could be big on me, not next to a Boar so thick, so menacing, so massive. There’s madness in every movement he makes, sure, but oh, the man could decapitate a crowd by coughing.
He gave me a nasty smile, the skin of some animal stuck to his teeth, and I made myself smile in return.
“Remember to speak with your daughter’s teacher today. Don’t kill anyone at her school. I won’t have it,” I cooed, rubbing his cheek. He sighed and pulled away. I waited patiently for confirmation.
“And, just your daily reminder, don’t kill my daughter. I only have one left, you will NOT take her as well. Understood?”
“Yes. I said yes.” Aba stomped away, nearly taking the wall with him, but I just smoothed my hand over my slicked-back ponytail. It sat flat, sheen, and neat.
The rest of my outfit came together nicely. I adjusted my lapel, trying to ignore my husband’s growling in the other room. Oh, the man growls all day long, you’d think he had a condition! My breasts looked beautiful in my blouse, as usual, so I took a moment to eye them. Above everything, my horns stood prominent and regal. Not huge. Not ugly. Regal.
“I’m leaving. Please make sure my daughter is home before I am. She can have Junnie over if she’d like, Lyria would hate that.” Aba disappeared down the stairs without another word, still angry.
I hated the damned interviews, the radio shows, the podcasts, the vlogs. I just wanted to stay home and get pounded into a coma by my Prime Boar, get absolutely destroyed.
If I get to destroy Lyria, well, isn’t it worth it?
My father taught me to value strength and loyalty above all else. He showed me in his actions that real men, real Boars, they will protect you. You tell them what to do, and they’ll get it done. I was so headstrong when he was around. And then I wasn’t.
When my real father died, I was a little damsel. Just a little horned girl with massive horns, ugly horns. They weren’t regal back then. You don’t want to be a girl with big horns. It’s unseemly. It’s too masculine. Children used to call me Bullhead, all those little snobs in my classes. You should’ve heard the other things they called me, the way they talked about me.
But Lyriiiiaaaa, beautiful little Lyria. We went to the same schools, you know? There are only a handful of prestigious schools in Notion, and we are Primas. She may act as if she’s a normal woman on the same level as these disgusting, diseased, rotting horns that she loves to protect so much, but she’s actually a Prima. You can see it in the way she moves. There’s grace there.
Lyria, her horns were always perfect. They still are. Aba may enjoy the way she tears herself apart when she looks at me now, the way they all do, but I see those horns. Perfection. Antlers! Going straight up! Bleach white! Can you believe that?!
Sure, I’m pathetic. I’ve come to terms with it. It’s that old story, you know. Oh, the bullied becoming the bully. I’m okay with it.
They never thought I’d be here deciding their fates, did they? Lyria never thought I’d be a formidable enemy. And yet here I am.
Making sure her loved ones suffer. Making sure they’re all gone.
Lyria, insufferable Lyria, always arrives everywhere late. It’s a tactic. She wants to look busy and harassed. Really, she sits at home alone with her tiny Prime Boar son and her wonderful, beautiful, lovely daughter. She has zero social life. I haven’t seen her date since her husband died hornless and babbling. Sure, she has all the research that she claims to be doing, but all those sick horns are still sick, and she’s still just late.
By the time she walked through the door of the dinky old radio station, well, I’d already greeted the host and talked about my weekend! It worked in my favor. He adores me, and most of his talking points are in alignment with mine. I can barely remember the little man’s name.
“Lyria! You look-“
“You’re beautiful as always, Yoan. Let’s get this over with.” Lyria’s words cut into mine, honest and genuine, and I pursed my lips to keep from smashing her skull open. Her black cloak looked like it was made on another planet, the darkness of it swallowing everything in the room. I tried to find a loose thread, a hole, something, but I was left just nodding my head and sitting down.
The little station could barely fit the small desk we all crowded around. She shook the little man’s hand, waving for him to get started. Oh, busy Lyria, she had somewhere to be.
While he introduced us, doing his usual spiel, I watched her. A dainty thing, just a severe little thing. Her hair was always just moist, just enough to make her look beach-ready. Her skin was supple; her makeup always perfect. Every expression she made felt like a calculation of the next one.
“We’re here again today with two of the country’s top Primas. Lyria Gorton, our Epidemiologist with the Notion Public Health Commission. We’re honored to have you here again, Lyria.” The man tried a smile, but Lyria just huffed.
“Thank you. Please proceed.”
“Yes, I’m sorry. I’m sure you’re needed elsewhere. And we also have Yoan Kendal, a prominent member of the Tivah National Party, and wife to Notion’s superior Prime Boar.” Lyria bristled. The less superior Prime Boar was her son, after all. I gave the man a dazzling smile.
“We’re here to discuss the recent proposals by the TNP… to consider permanent quarantine, or euthanasia in some cases, for Horns sick with… with the Rot.”
“Horn Rot. You won’t catch it by saying it,” Lyria grumbled, staring down at her nails. She sat up so straight, it made my back hurt. I leaned my head back to appear just a little taller.
“Right, excuse me, ma’am. Lyria, why don’t you start the discussion? I know you’re only here for a few minutes today, but it’s impor-“
“We owe it to our citizens, our people, to do everything we can to cure Horn Rot. And if we can’t, we at least owe it to them to provide comfort and empathy in their final days. My team is working around the clock to find a suitable-“
“Oh, your team!” I exclaimed, and the sharp way she looked up from her nails filled me with joy. “If your team wants to dig into the dead all day, let them! It’s disgusting to ask the rest of us to risk infection for empathy.” The little man lifted his pen to speak, but Lyria raised her hand, quick and final. The nerve of her.
“Empathy is all we have left. Horn Rot is spreading at an ugly rate, Yoan. We can’t even figure out how it’s transmitted. Are you going to exterminate entire cities? Whole schools? We’re closer to a cure every day and-“
“If you were closer to a cure, you’d be in the lab with your team. You wouldn’t be here trying to argue against preserving our species. I’m in alignment with the Tivahs when it comes to protecting the bloodlines of our clean citizens. We didn’t do anything wrong, and there’s no reason we should be subjected to illness and death. And the ones who are already sick should be happy to go to quarantine, to protect their people!”
“We don’t have the funding for proper care in quarantine. They’re shoved in there to sit in an empty room until death. It takes years sometimes. Do you really think that’s the fate our loved ones deserve-“
“We’re all adults.” Lyria glared at me so intensely that I gave her a moment to breathe. Her supple skin bloomed red with anger, all that brown transforming into some other color altogether.
How unlike her. I started to question it, but the little man tapped his pen on the table.
“Ladies. What are your thoughts on the proposal for higher funding for quarantine facilities?”
“Nonsense,” I spat. “We need that money for our healthy horns.” Lyria nearly growled, curving forward, her antlers heavy on her head.
“The Tivahs you love so much can’t spare their yearly allowances for their own people?”
“Not the ones that are going to die anyway, no. It’s repulsive to ask that of our only clean bloodline. Every Tivah proves their worth with their unwavering health. They inspire our children! They-“
“I didn’t realize bootlicking was a hobby of yours,” Lyria spat back, and I could barely hold in my smile.
“I can’t be a bootlicker, Lyria! I’m the boot! I’m healthy, I’m successful-“
“Marrying a big man is not success.”
“Wasn’t it when you did it? Or does it not matter because he died?” We both stopped, and I chewed the inside of my mouth for a moment. What a crass thing to say. Oh, but it was so good. I kept my face and posture even, letting her sorrow sink into me. Lyria’s eyes misted a bit, but she sat up straighter and kept talking to her nails.
“He died because Horn Rot research was defunded for a year.” Her voice came out slow and careful, all of her emotions stuck in some emergency bubble. Oh, she was losing. “Maybe if we cared more about our people, he’d still be here.”
“Let’s try to keep this civil, Yoan,” the little man said, giving me a worried eyebrow. I nodded and tapped Lyria’s chin, forcing her head up.
“The point is, Lyria… there’s a chance for a lot of us to avoid a painful and ugly death. I want to avoid it as much as possible. Can you honestly fault me or any other Horn for that?”
Lyria checked her watch. She fluffed her hair out. I let my pride swell as she tried to contain her anger, tried to transfer it to some other activity.
“What about the-“
“What about them,” I groaned. “Why give funding to a bunch of warping bodies? Their horns will kill them, or their brains will rot. They will be in the ground sooner than later, dust, and then we wasted the money. We should focus on our healthy horns, especially the Primas and Prime Boars that might be out there-“
“That’s what it’s always about, isn’t it? Primas. Primes. Do any of you care about the actual people you’re supposed to represent? About the actual dying citizens? Do-“
“Why should we?” Lyria sucked in an angry breath and slammed her hand on the desk. The little man jumped, but I just stared at her.
“Why? Ask my rotting daughter why, Yoan! Ask my little ROT! Or better yet, ask your dying fucking daughter!” She snatched her purse and nodded to the little man so viciously that he just coughed. We watched her and that anger swarm out of the room, the black cloak sucking every bit of air out of us, her antlers glowing through the dark hall.
The man stuttered into the mic, wiping his forehead. “We apologize for the language used here today. Dr. Gorton has been under a lot of stress lately.” He gulped, giving me a look.
“Yes. She has. I’m sure the audience will forgive her.” We sat stunned a moment more, and then he wrapped up the show.
Oh. The way my body warmed at that anger.
But… how unlike her.
I held my hips in triumph all the way to the car, walking slow, one small foot in front of the other, my head high. The joy wouldn’t swell. I tried not to think of our dying daughters.
“Ask your dying fucking daughter.” What a line! What an absolute stomach punch! And so unlike her. Lyria, tight-lipped Lyria, lonely Lyria who probably had to fuck herself to sleep every night… I don’t know.
It’s so unlike her.
I stopped to watch her storm to her car, rage tucked in the waves of her cloak.
It’s unlike her. What are the first stages of Horn Rot? Not rage, I don’t think. But still…
I shook the thought from my head and climbed into my car.
My Lewish, my little survivor, she doesn’t deserve to be brought into the same conversation as the other dying failures. As if my warrior would ever submit to quarantine. As if anyone would suggest it with my Prime Boar there to beat them into the ground. As if… so what? I’ve lost so many, who cares? Lewish is a smart girl. She always has been. If she can’t survive some ugly disease, does she deserve to be here?
The nerve of her, being sick. The nerve…
You know, it doesn’t matter.
I’m all out of strength to blame her for it, so I just pretend it’s not there.
I started the car and stared at myself in the rearview mirror. What a beauty! Oh, I may have to get a custom made car like the ugly girls, one that can fit my horns. I may have a daughter with horns growing from her hips, sharp and violent. Still, have you seen me? Have you heard me speak? Do you see the way the Tivahs, our royals, have you SEEN the way they dote on me?
Me! I was a little horned girl once — just a little horned girl with massive horns. And I looked in the same mirrors that prove me beautiful today and saw a mess. A massacre of a girl. A loss.
Here I am.