Trigger warnings for disordered eating, self-harm, abusive relationships.
A thing like me cannot be frantic. We are not made for frivolous impulses, even weak versions like I. Elise’s absence did not fill me with worry, merely frustration. I was trapped in her habitation until I rode a human out — and they would have to stay long enough to let me in, then live long enough to cross over some more fitting threshold.
Moreover, I wanted her, not some convenient stand-in, like the awkward male coworker who gathered up a bag of clothes after a week of her absence. Elise existed in the most delectable state of shame, and had only grown more succulent by the day. She would taste so pretty, writhing in pain within my grasp. And now she was out of my reach, at a hospital somewhere, from what I could gather from the man’s murky thoughts as he shuffled through her closet.
Had I pushed too far? Had I missed my chance at the kind of meal I hadn’t had since the Inquisition? Was she going to make it home in one piece?
Unmoored from my purpose, I sank into a sulky hibernation. I barely noticed the hum and flow of the maintenance man, the landlord, or the nosy coworker who kept coming by to gather mail. They held no interest after Elise.
I woke properly in early fall day, to the footsteps of a woman wearing sensible clogs meant for long hours of standing. Tall, and nearly as thin as Elise, with a brisk step I’d only ever noticed in military men, she brought bags of groceries and soft blankets, rearranging the apartment to suit herself.
A few hours later, my girl shuffled in.
Elise was gaunt as the grave, and as I flickered through her memories, I could see that she’d been institutionalized — without me! I writhed at being denied such a treat as plaguing doctors with ever more unfathomable symptoms.
But she’d brought one back. Our interloper, who busied herself with tidying and talk. She had the stench of death on her. A nurse, or perhaps a physician’s assistant. Elise looked at her with delicious agony, worshipful and eager to please.
Their relationship had progressed beyond professional already. The nurse fed her by hand, waited with her for hours while she digested, then scowled at her beeping alarm. With a searing kiss, they parted.
Deep love is hard to override, but sudden love is worse. My girl’s mind was full of thoughts of her new lover, swimming in endorphins I couldn’t trade in. I was locked out.
She sang in the shower. She kept the lights on when she dressed. She ate and slept and exercised at her new god’s command. The woman didn’t move in, but she may as well have.
I resorted to growling through the walls while they slept. There was more in the nurse I could have worked with — even through her haze of love, I could taste fear, and anger, and a need for control — but people like her were no greater victory than the resentful repairman who had been in and out of the apartment for decades.
Still, she annoyed me. I watched the nurse watching Elise on rare mornings when they woke together. I wanted Elise, a line of light snaring her spine, as treacherous and narrow as a ladder out of hell. I wanted to line that creamy expanse with claw marks. The nurse didn’t think in those terms, but there was a baseness to her destructive urges that I recognized in myself. I hated the thought of myself in competition with a mere mortal.
I would read it in her, the urge to destroy perfection. Unlike Elise’s former lovers, this one had no desire to marr her skin and hold her afterwards. Though my girl begged her for a bit of violence to take solace in, the nurse wouldn’t have it. She would snap and order and fuss, but it amounted to control, not care. She wanted the vessel to achieve perfection while the soul crumbled beneath her grasp. She wanted to inhabit an empty, pliant body.
That was the first time I thought that the nurse should have been the demon, and I the lover.
I could have taken the nurse. I could have slipped inside her in an instant. There was nothing in her to withstand me. It would have been so easy, riding that beast to freedom. Or I could have stayed, had Elise physically as I destroyed the nurse from the inside out.
And my girl wanted it. She panted for it, out of love and lust and loneliness. She’d happily agree, beg for it, enjoy it. The nurse didn’t want that, which I didn’t mind, but I still despised the idea of inhabiting the nurse. She was ever so base, and only wanted to hurt Elise in ways my girl didn’t want.
Like I had. I told myself the taste looked worse on a mortal. It wasn’t supposed to be their nature, to want to harm each other. I was meant to make them want it.