I am a covetous thing; a ravenous thing. Right now, I am without form or substance, composed purely of need. I hunger for all that you are. I must become you.
For creatures of such allure and beauty, you are so very fragile. For all that I am, at present, nothing more than a puff of cold, slightly colder than this winter night, even I remember the roaring vastness from whence I came. I know the universe to be a much darker, much larger place than that which you envision. I embrace the concept that you, for all your warmth, and your struggling, and your desperate delusion, are nothing but a fleck of froth, floating atop a deep, roiling sea. You are prey animals. It baffles and insults me that you should be so desirable. That you should drive me to such a frenzy of jealousy. And yet …
You are heedless of the beauty which leaks from you. It is this careless emanation which draws me to your lighted windows, this which drives me to use the last shred of my tenuous existence to stay by them, rather than be blown back into the dark. You are too ensnared in the new life, the new love, which you are creating. You do not notice me.
As your essence spills from you, out to where I hover and huddle, I determine to have you. But … which one of you shall I possess? I take my time over this decision; the woman, young, beautiful, so enamored of her new husband. Or, the man? He is strong, determined to build a dream world, into which he and his beloved wife can submerge themselves. Both of you, proud of the lives you are building, both vigilant of the conjoined life your new marriage is spawning… Which one will feed me best?
At last, I decide. I find entry into the man to be easiest. Vanity is the gateway. I sip, greedily.
With the influx of energy from you, I perform my first act. From the vast, roaring darkness from which I have emerged, I spin the simplest of things. Bringing it up from the below place and into this world requires monumental willpower. It is a single red hair.
“What’s this?” She asks, curiously, as she plucks it from the silly red and white checked tie you wear. You secretly think the tie is banal, but she gave it to you for Christmas, and you feel compelled to wear it. Now, she holds up the red hair, so unlike her rich, ash-blonde tresses.
“I have no idea,” you say, bemusedly. “Where did that come from?”
“From your tie, Andy,” she replies, dangling it before your face. It is long, bright red, except where it darkens to brown near its root. “It came from someone who dyes their hair red.”
You shrug. “No clue,” you say, nonchalantly. You turn away.
I am still too incorporeal to shiver, but if I could, it would be a slow, delicious shiver of anticipation. The seeds of discord have been sewn. “Doesn’t your secretary have red hair?” She asks, slowly.
“Bethany? I guess she does,” you reply. “But, Samantha, I think she’s—“
Normally, it would go no further. But I push, just a little. Samantha turns away, a little too quickly. You don’t notice. Nor do you see the hooded look that comes into her normally guileless green eyes.
For now, for me, this is enough of a meal; I digest, and start to burrow my way into you, becoming you.
Machines shall be the undoing of your race. What a curious concept—the crafting of devices from dead matter, to do your labor! It’s an even darker undertaking, to my way of thinking, than is my slow possession of you. Still, I am not one to pass up an opportunity.
Your wife has left her phone on the coffee table. She has been preoccupied for the last little while, by a single strand of red hair. She can’t seem to forget about it. Of course, I am helping to keep it at the forefront of her mind. It is, in your parlance, getting under her skin. In a similar fashion to the way I am getting into your soul.
It is the simplest of nudges that is required to make the recent text message on Samantha’s phone repeat itself. The inane little ring tone catches your attention. It is not even necessary for me to make you pick up the phone—you do that all by yourself. You glance at the screen, reading what is written there of your own volition, too. “Hi, Samantha,” you read aloud. “Good to hear from you again. I remember you from St. Patrick’s High School. I’d love to reconnect with you. Just tell me when’s good …”” Your voice trails off, as your perplexity grows. “Tony,” you say, slowly, disbelievingly. Then, you repeat the name. “… Tony …”
Now, my intervention is required, to keep you from tossing the phone across the room. Instead, I make you put it gently down on the coffee table. It is my first act—the first in a long chain—in my takeover of you. “Who the hell is Tony?” you whisper. The pain in your voice, the doubt that blights your loving heart—all these things I dine upon. I take on mass and substance. I can feel myself forming into the outlines of you. It is ecstasy, this becoming.
As the tension between you and your beloved new wife grows, I nibble at it voraciously. When she tries to meet your eyes, I am now able to form the puff of frigid air that delicately caresses the back of your neck. It is this which makes your eyes widen, and makes you look away. She misinterprets this as the telltale of a guilty conscience.
To you, those wide, innocent eyes seem distracted somehow, as if her mind is somewhere else. “With someone else?” I whisper, oh so softly, into your bewildered, wounded mind. Your imagination does the rest, taking the tightness of her expression for a desire to be elsewhere. Mistaking her deepening frown for an expression of impatience. “To reconnect with you,” I suggest…
Your sleep is restless, as is hers. For the first time in your new, blissful union, you face away from one another. You carefully do not touch each other. She prays to her God, under her breath. You toss and turn, long after she is finally asleep.
Into the open doors of your troubled dreams, I insinuate myself. I begin to learn your intimate flavors. I feed from you, now less subtly than before, more overtly.
In the morning, Samantha wakes with a small cry. The anguish of remembering yesterday’s doubts and suspicions is a sweet, tangy delight to me.
Breakfast is tense and silent. Her Audi peels a little rubber, as she leaves the garage too quickly.
You feel a strange, pervasive lassitude—no doubt, the effects of my feeding. If you were in the habit, you might describe yourself as feeling a little bit thin, this morning. A little bit… not there. But, you are not a man of words. Still, once Samantha is gone, and the house echoes the emptiness inside you, you decide not to go to work today. “Flu,” you think, when you think about it at all.
Mostly, you think about Tony, whoever he is. The edges between your thoughts and mine are growing hazy by now. You feel more and more exhausted, more and more … thin. It’s easier and easier for me to keep your mind circling around the question of Tony, and the tormenting mystery of why Samantha—beautiful, beloved Samantha—wants to “reconnect,” with him.
You watch TV all morning. Rather, the TV is on, but you are paying less and less attention. You skip lunch, remaining on the couch. It seems like too much effort to eat, or even to move.
The Jack Daniels was a wedding present, a gift from one of your more cynical bachelor-for-life friends. “You’re gonna need this, buddy!” he told you. You and he have not spoken since your marriage. Still, when you find it, tucked at the back of a cabinet, up on the top shelf, it seems like the best idea in the world to mix it with Coke. Of course, I had something to do with that idea.
After a few drinks, the afternoon becomes a formless blur. The inane reality shows stream and run together. Indeed, as it is without, so it is within; I feed upon you in earnest, while you are whisked away by whiskey. I imagine, were you to raise your head from where it rests, listlessly, upon your chest, you might even be able to see me. I might resemble the reflection gleaned from a warped, cracked mirror—shimmering and watery. You might even think you had seen a ghost. I am nothing so mundane.
By the time you realize something is very wrong, it is far too late. You stand, shakily, drunkenly, and mutter, “I liked this channel when they showed the mating habits of wilder …” you try again. “Wilder beasts.” You laugh, drunkenly, fighting back panic at how very thin you feel. “Covid!” I hear the panicked thought. You turn away from the television.
Samantha’s bright blue sports car flashes past the bay window. She’s home early. When she enters the kitchen from the attached garage, there are storm clouds in her eyes. When she sees you staggering toward the staircase, the storm bursts. “Didn’t you go to work today? You wouldn’t want Bethany to miss you!”
“Beth …” You can’t get the whole name to emerge correctly from your mouth. “What … Why…?” You give up, and flap your arms in a gesture intended to convey utter confusion. “What about her? Anyway, I think she’s probably …”
Samantha spies the bottle of Jack on the table. “You’re drunk!”
“Little bit,” you need me to hold you upright and steady on your feet.
“I guess a guilty conscience makes you do just about anything,” Samantha says, archly.
“Guilty? Me? I’m not the one who’s reconnecting …”
Now it’s Samantha’s turn to look dumbstruck. “What are you talking about?”
“Tony!” The word, given impetus by my growing control, stabs out like a stiletto. “Who the hell is Tony!?” With every word, I become stronger. With every word, you and I merge. I’m eating you in gulps.
“What, you mean Father Anthony? From St. Patrick’s?”
I act quickly to suppress the import of what Samantha has just said. Instead, I make you turn toward the front door, instead of the stairs. “I’m going for … walk,” you say, mushily.
“Yeah,” Samantha screams. “Just keep walking!” You fail to register the click of the deadbolt behind you, as you stagger out the door.
At least you have the sense not to try driving. What irony it would be, to have your last act be to wrap us around a tree while driving drunk. Your BMW sits in the garage, and you stumble down the street. It is snowing lightly, you notice, peripherally. Large, fluffy flakes that promise heavier snow soon to come. “Hotel,” you mutter. “Just … sleep it off.” You pat your pockets, reassuring yourself that your wallet, with its credit cards, is there. You find the three-quarters-empty bottle of Jack Daniels as well. “What the hell,” I whisper into your quickly unraveling mind. You take a swig. You lurch onward into the burgeoning storm.
Somewhere, in the whiskey-soaked despair of that stormy winter night, I complete my digestion of all that you are. I wonder if, at the last, you were aware of me, consuming you. Your last words make me suspect this is so. “Father!” You cry. “He’s a priest!?” But, of course, by then, there is no hope for you at all. You are rapidly becoming as thin, as lost, as hungry a creature as I was, when first we met. In the morning, I prepare for the final course in my banquet.
Given how much of you is invested in the bond between you and Samantha, it is an easy thing for me to compel her to answer her phone, when it rings. The face on the screen, with its bright red hair, makes Samantha recoil. “Bethany,” she hisses.
“Yeah. Umm, hi, Mrs. Collins. It’s Bethany, Andy’s secretary? He listed you as his emergency contact, so …”
Samantha studies the face on the screen, looking for any trace of impropriety in the bland expression. When her eyes catch a glint of color, they are drawn to it. Bethany sports a bright rainbow flag, pinned proudly to the lapel of her otherwise austere, black business suit. Samantha’s eyes are captured by it; I can feel her mind reeling. It is a delicious snack, to feel doubt and remorse assail her jealous anger, and make it crumble.
“So,” Bethany continues, blissfully unaware, “Andy didn’t come into work yesterday, and he’s not here today … Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine,” Samantha replies, numbly. “He’s had a touch of the flu. He’ll probably be in tomorrow.”
“Oh, okay!” Bethany responds, brightly. “Thanks, Mrs. Collins. I hope he gets better soon … bye!” The phone beeps, and Bethany is gone. The long, desolate wail which Samantha utters, echoing harshly back from the parque floor, the bay windows, the high ceiling, is, as you would have said, icing on the cake.
By the time Samantha returns home from work that afternoon, all is in place. A trail of rose petals leads from the garage door, through the foyer, to the base of the staircase. I am kneeling, my head down, a bouquet of roses in one outstretched hand. I am the picture of abject, sincere contrition. “I’m so sorry for the past couple days,” I whisper, keeping my eyes on the floor. “I’ve been a total jerk. Please forgive me for thinking such horrible things about you?”
It is all I can do to keep from licking the tears from Samantha’s cheeks. “I’m the one who should be sorry,” she cries. “Bethany called today, and I saw…” We rush into each other’s arms.
Tonight, I lay my head on your pillow. Your wife rests in my arms. As her breathing loses its ragged edges, and smooths into the sussurations of sleep, I am finally content. I am no longer hungry, at least for the moment.
For a time, I will rest, like a snake with the bulge of a mouse in its belly. But this will not last. For I am a covetous thing. A ravenous thing …