📅 Published on April 22, 2022


Written by Eli Pope
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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Joie slowly opened her eyes, tingles of numbing sensations prickled throughout her body. Not being able to focus on any one thought, she attempted to squint through the foggy blurred vision at what she could make out. The color green was predominant along with hues of blue, brown and dark black. She lay still as her head pounded with each pulse of unrelenting throbbing aches. Joie struggled, unable to remember or recognize any of the surroundings she now felt encased. Not the smells, the sounds—not anything. Everything appeared and felt entirely unfamiliar. Suddenly the crippling pain washed across her body in a crashing wave. It started in her legs, then oddly moved calmly past her torso, but again raged throughout both arms. Shackled with sharp attacks of gripping stings, Joie was paralyzed, lacking the mobility to move her body much at all. Wave after wave of shock rolled through her mind and body as she attempted to cry out. It was as if she were being stretched and pulled by the wooden horse, an ancient Roman rack used to torture prisoners by stretching them until their joints would dislocate.

Without warning, Joie’s ears became keenly aware to a strange whirring sound.

She wasn’t sure where the odd pitched noise came from, but it pierced through her agonizing pain, giving her sudden focus. She tried calming herself. Talking aloud as if it would help her frightened state of mind to slow her quick breathing. The high-pitched squeal lulled her concentration away from everything else except the tone. It was fading, slowly morphing into a slowing but rhythmic string of clicks. A pattern with a cadence becoming weaker and slower. She knew she was going to go black any minute, and then she was out.

* * * * * *

The wheel mounted between the bent front forks of the Harley FLH, slowly wound down, momentum losing its battle to keep spinning as the bike lay in a crumpled mass of metal and splintered wood.  The steel skeleton mortally wounded near the tree it had just made fatal contact with. A large owl with a massive wingspan had just dropped from a limb overhanging the highway flying into Travis’s neck and shoulder as he and Joie leaned tightly into the hairpin corner. The birds’ contact forced Travis to veer onto the shoulder making his Harley’s tires skid out of control in the loose gravel before hitting the unavoidable hole in the asphalt. The sudden sliding jar caused the bike to shoot off the highway becoming airborne into the tree-lined forest that made the road such a beautiful ride. Both Travis and Joie were thrown after careening into the tree trunk, some twenty feet down the embankment from the road’s edge.

The large dark-winged fowl was now twisted into the metal mess; blood, goo and feathers now smeared all over the chrome and crumpled black shiny painted pride and joy. Joie lay unconscious several feet to the right from where she was thrown. The motorcycle just behind her body which lay somewhat hidden in the grass and brush. Her fiancé Travis’ limp body lay decapitated, his head having been rolled several feet away and now rested against a brown boulder. Travis’s oddly perched face lay bloody and battered, his eyes frozen open in a blank hollowness while his stare gazed back as if he were looking into the world from another dimension. Thick long black hair on the now detached skull was covered with dirt and pine needles, making it an odd eclectic mix of things melded together that don’t belong as one. An eerie sight that would certainly haunt anyone upon walking up and witnessing the macabre scene. His body lay several feet back, twisted into a form no human should ever be found. He’d obviously died instantly, most likely never realizing what happened.

The twisty mountain road was not usually well traveled, but fortunately for Joie, who still lay broken but alive, an old man in a pickup truck not far behind them witnessed the entire accident. He immediately dialed 911. Help arrived just in time to save the young blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman from bleeding out. She’d sustained massive fractures and contusions leading her to code three times before the ambulance arrived at the Redwood Memorial Hospital emergency room, southwest of San Hose in Santa Cruz.  Joie would live, but her real battle now lies ahead.  A long and continuous war of overcoming and conquering the hidden enemy lying within—patiently in wait—to live again and hunt.

* * * * * *

Chapter 1

Joie Four Years After the Accident

Life was no longer easy. I often wondered what I’d done to piss off the big Man upstairs. I’d suffered through eleven surgeries in just over four years since the late afternoon ride that not only stole my lover and future but was still trying to steal my desire to live through recovery. The very word “recovery” makes me laugh. Does one ever really recover from a fucking life-stealing event like the one I was given? I still had more surgeries to go through.

The only thing I now looked forward to, was the measured pain of receiving new inked artwork that aided in covering the ugly memories of surgical markings left deep in my body from the surgeons. At least the pain of being tattooed was something I held control over. I got to choose when, where and what was to be stippled into my skin instead of some surgeon’s knife leaving a trail of tissue unnaturally sewn back together.  Yes, I held resentment. My life had been going perfect. I was gorgeous and had a great guy who loved and cared for me. Great rides together all over California and Oregon… wherever we damn-well wanted to go. Travis held a great job which afforded us to do anything we wanted. And then one Goddamned Western Screech Owl, protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act…and my life and future vanished. Gone in an instant. And to think I love nature, birds, reptiles, and… I love everything natural… but no longer any fucking owls…those Goddamned creatures can burn in hell….

I am alive though. And I’m strong-willed. I’m no fucking quitter. I survived for a reason. Travis, I miss you, babe. You were a good man, and I WILL see you again and ride that ride together forever, I thought to myself as I lifted my highball glass of Jameson on the rocks to the framed picture of the two of us on his scooter, named Blacky.

A tinge of pain began in the crook of my neck and shot down my arm. It was as if the devil were needling me of what he’d stolen away, but no broken neck or spine injuries could stop me now. Recovery… fuck it… I’m on a mission now. No need to be upset at the guys at work for calling me a cyborg. I’ve been recreated and tweaked for a purpose. I just needed to find out what that purpose is.

After dialing Royal Ink, I asked for Matt—my tattooist. “Hey, Matty, what’s up? Yeah… I think my scar can handle it now… you know I need the ink pain for therapy… right?” I smiled as he chuckled. “You’ve already done about sixty percent of my body and… I’ve never so much as flinched or cried like a little bitch yet! You know I can handle it! Okay, next Friday it is! See ya then, sweetheart.”

* * * * * *

I pulled my tank top up revealing yet another surgical scar. I looked at Matt as he studied the long rough patchwork on my side.

“Damn, Joie…” Matt ran his fingers over the spot of the latest incision. “I think you’re in for some real therapeutic… um… discomfort… here. Ribs are a bit… touchy. I know you’re one tough ninja warrior, but if this sketch of your quote is what you are wanting…What doesn’t Kill me only makes me Stronger…,” he continued to lightly trail his fingers back and forth over the long scar tissue. “… this one may make it difficult for you to prove that tough ninja shit. All solid dark blacks and grays, huh? You are either very brave… or very self-penitent.”

“Give me your darkest ink, Matty. No quote ever fit truer with me than this one, sweetie.”

“You are a different brand of woman, Joie. Your daddy named you right, Ms. Tommy boy.” Matt grinned an evil grin.

“Damn straight, Matty. You can’t be a girly-girl when your daddy names you Joie…kind of like Johnny Cash and A Boy Named Sue…how do you do—now… you’re gonna die!” Joie smiled a huge grin before the two busted into laughter.

I knew Matt shouldn’t have been amazed when I sat through the six-hour session without batting an eye or squeezing back a tear. He knew I was one tough cookie, and I knew he appreciated that. Crying, puking girly-girls were not exactly welcome in his shop. That’s why the sign over his chair boldly read…Hike Up Your Big Girl Undies and Shut the Fuck Up!

I stood in front of the mirror admiring yet another addition to the visual story of my journey. Yep…part of the “recovery” process. I knew my daddy was looking down on me with a smile of self-pride. After all, he’d made me who I was, and this world wasn’t even close to tough enough to break me. Not today…not tomorrow. Never. Semper fidelis… always faithful.

* * * * * *

Chapter 2

Dreams and Aberration

Waking up and sensing it was still dark outside, I felt an awkward feeling of a stalking nature. Not as if I were the one being hunted, but the tension and anxiety of being the lurker or shadow in the darkness. One part of me felt ashamed or contrite for this odd feeling, yet on the flip side I felt pride in my stealth and awareness of my prey. My heart was racing. I could feel the pulse in my fingertips. I felt… power. I found this sensation exhilarating, yet very awkward and uncomfortable for some reason. Who or what had I been stalking? In my dream I’d felt myself breathing in mechanical rhythms as if my body were growling a low inaudible purr of anticipated exhilaration. I was like an animal with the hunger for another’s lifeblood. Inquisitive of the urge to kill. Not out of any need or self-preservation…but for one of pleasure and discovery.

I laid as still as a deer, much like my eyesight locked into the headlights of a vehicle careening at me in a high rate of speed. I’ve never felt this way before. Never. Nary a flinch from a muscle. For the first time in my life, through all the hardship and tragedy I’ve endured… I feel something inside I’ve never experienced before. True fear. I felt its danger—I felt dangerous. Granted it is mixed with an overwhelming taste of intense excitement, but fear is a definite strain within this new emotion I’d never dealt with.

My senses homed in. I heard things clearer with focus, and my visual sight held more definition. I was like a cat—not some lazy fat house cat, but a leopard or panther. A sensation of being predatorial. I could smell a cologne I’d not recognized. It wasn’t Eternity. That was Travis’ signature scent that always heightened my sexual desires. This aroma was something more arrogant. It was almost assaulting in the way it infiltrated my nostrils. It was pissing me the fuck off, filling me with an agitated anger not present mere seconds ago. My eyes sharpened and the dark silhouette that moments earlier was hidden in the shadows, now stood out as if I were wearing military-grade night vision goggles. This figure now cleared into a legible face. He was a handsome young man. I don’t know why or what made that thought pop into my mind, but it did, and I couldn’t tuck it back into the recess of the drawer inside my mind. The sentence rolled across my mental tongue as clear as glass… It’s too bad I must stab the life out of such a cute young college boy. And mentally…that is exactly what I did. Of course, I played with the internal picture of the act inside my brain like a cat would toy with a helpless trapped rodent. He was easily lured into a false since of security by my hot moist and fleshy body. I almost felt bad he never saw it coming. He was so anxious to get me naked and romp, he never optioned in his young mind that a female such as me could be a dangerous and fatal threat. A trojan horse hiding within a woman that harbored needs of stealing life from a man. Not his possessions, but his life itself. The act of doing so had been beautiful, but hideous all at once.

The bed now splattered with collecting pools of the crimson red liquid that moments earlier sustained Josh’s life, now left his eyes silently stilled to an uncontrolled quiver as life slipped from his body. He hadn’t owned enough time to show a look of fright. Just as his face shined full of the pleasure that I was giving him, my fingers reached for the blade stashed in the sheets wadded up behind me. I went crazy energetic and wild as I slashed at him with the steel serrated blade. The thump of the bass from the song blasting from his stereo charged me with the rhythm I stabbed at his heart. The act felt like I imagined a famous painter would enjoy as he wielded his painter’s brush, bristles full of the bright red paint as it sliced through the air artistically filling the white canvas with broad strokes of his blood-red anguish. When my painting was finished, I collapsed, void of all the energy seconds earlier controlled me. Now completely spent. Breathing heavily and working at comprehending what I’d just done. I moved in close and looked into his open eyes as they stared back empty but wide open for me to inspect. Void of life, yet a tiny gleam of the hallway sconce’s light reflected brightly in his now dark and dead pupils. Fuck! What had I done? Confused, my lips which formed a straight line of shock and question, suddenly turned up into a Cheshire cat’s grin. I lifted my aching arched back from the bent-over position I’d been sitting on him in. I took a moment to admire my first work of art, smearing the fresh blood against my thighs and palms. As I leaned forward, his manhood fell away from me, and I took note of the awareness.  A fucking masterpiece! I knew instantly I would have to paint again. A new thirst that could only be quenched by replication leading to perfection. I climbed off my victim’s now flaccid moist body and rolled over onto my back. I attempted to relive the moment as if I could hit rewind on a VCR and then push play, but instead my eyes slid up under my eyelids, too empty to complete the thought. I laid still like that deer in headlights, beside the cooling body I’d just ravaged and then stolen its life without hesitation nor reason. I quietly fell into the deepest and pain-free sleep I’d enjoyed in a long, long time.

Recovery was coming along grandly.

* * * * * *

Chapter 3

Waking up Emotions of Consequence

My bedroom window was positioned where the rising sun filled its glass pane every morning. The curtains were light and airy enough to quell the harshness of its brightest beams without entirely blocking the early rays allowed in to wake me with casual brightening light. After all, I held no real schedule anymore. The surgeries and recovery times now robbed me of my job. Thankfully, my father had not only raised me to be strong and fit to care for myself, but he’d also left a gracious life insurance payoff. My schedule was now reduced to recouping from one surgery until the next, tattoo therapy from my artist Matty in between, and being hospitable to those in the neighborhood who were less fortunate than I. Watching crime tv at any hour I wanted was almost always on my schedule of killing time. Killing time. I laughed at my thought and use of the phrase.

I brushed the night crust from my eyes and rolled over to my side…expecting to see Josh’s cold stiff body lying beside me. No panic within, just realizing in the moment that I’d made no plan of how to dispose of his body.

I looked over with slight hesitation. My mouth suddenly fell open without refrain. Where the fuck was his body?

* * * * * *

Chapter 4

Internal Nagging Questions

Have you ever thought—or wondered for the slightest of a second, that maybe, just maybe, something foreign was inside your body? Something that in some way entered your bloodstream undetected and then began invading… attempting to orchestrate a coup—dissecting your defenses and interpreting your responses so it could counter your reactions? Something that doesn’t belong nor fit with your previous… I don’t know… thoughts and insides.

Some would say I’ve introduced foreign substance into my body in the form of poisonous inks every time I come out of Royal Ink. They would argue Matt’s artwork inlayed just under the surface of my skin is a voluntary risk of foreign invasion. While this may be true, I don’t believe the colored inks could slowly overtake my thoughts and render me powerless in the decisions I attempt to make. To that, I call BS, they are just offended in the choices I make. I used to think just one tat would be all I’d ever want. I could have been satisfied with that first little Irish knotted cross on my ankle, thinking it would suffice my inquisitiveness of the process. But that was before through going countless operations to put my broken body back together. Before the memories that those deep wounding scars kept reminding me of. Goading me into recollections of how broken I quickly became after what I’d lost in the flutter of that fucking owl’s flight into our path. I need the ink to help hide those memories so I can rebuild myself to the woman I once was. The one I long to be again. An existence without people seeing my torn and resewn flesh. Scars that lead them to ask stupid questions. It’s my battle Goddamnit…not yours! None of your prying business. Get in my way and I’ll make damn sure you live to regret it! Don’t Tread on Me or Mine!

I fell back into the chair. I don’t know where this rising steam comes from anymore. I was once very peaceful…filled with love and wonder of the world around me. Now I fight despising it. Something is inside me and taking residence within, invading my defenses, attempting to conquer what was once mine. Stealing pieces of me bit by bit. My power, my desires.

I sat up straight, finding myself gasping for the air that normally came easy to breathe in naturally. If I could just chill the hell out. What is happening to me? I question myself. Who am I morphing into? “This is not who I am, not what I want!” I yell aloud at the top of my lungs while I search the mirror hanging on the wall at the foot of my bed. Instantly tears blur my vision of myself. The colors of the artwork covering my body begin to swallow the image of the girl that is staring back at me. It’s as if I now am merely the screen to display a moving picture reel. I remember a phrase my grandma used to tell me when she suffered pain or distress from some tragedy she faced. She would look to the heaven’s outside from the front porch. The swing she sat on would sway back and forth to a melody only she could hear. My sweet grandma would shake her head and repeat the same quote over and over, “Lord God Almighty, this too shall pass…this too shall pass….”

I believed her, after all, my grandma never told a lie for as long as she lived. She wasn’t capable of it. But today as I sit in my bed staring at myself…trying to picture myself at that tender young age, the age she would see me as way back then…I believe I’m the exception that broke the rule. I don’t feel this strange internal war against my soul will ever pass. It’s too raging. I’m afraid my soul will instead be crucified…burnt at the stake like Joan of Arc, the painful flames licking at the soles of my feet as I cry out for mercy. And at the weakest moment I am engulfed in this pathetic pity party—that ruthless fucking Cheshire cat grin begins turning up at each corner of my mouth. Yes, whatever is inside me… was back… and I hold no control over it. But then again, a minute later… I don’t care. All I want is to satisfy its hunger once more. But this time for real. Not just in the imagination given to me as I sleep. I feel the hunger and desire to experience the intensity and taste the salt of another human’s blood. Feed the invader’s desire to witness the carnage I am capable of. I hold no clue where this entity within has come from, but I kneel in submission. Tonight, the hunt will begin, my heart unrelentingly rages once more with the anticipation equal to the hunger of the masses starving within a third-world country. Their collective agony of awaiting the day’s rations to quell those pangs of hunger one moment longer.

The crazy thing… last week, I felt none of this, that’s how quick this… this thing has swallowed me up. I’m like Jonah and the whale. The only difference, I have no idea what the fuck this internal whale is, this alien that has engulfed me and made me theirs.

* * * * * *

Chapter 5


I miss you, Travis. I took flowers to your gravesite today. “Travis Dean Tallyman.” His name rolled off my tongue nicely. Joie Rae Tallyman does too. Of course, Travis always wanted to call me Joy Rae. I never asked why, but instead told him, “Honey, I only answer to the name my daddy gave me…and Joy Rae ain’t it.” And then I’d laugh. His dark brown eyes would twinkle with a hint of mischief before he’d follow up with, “Joie…I’d call you Mary, mother of Jesus, if I knew you’d always be mine, sweetheart. You own me, baby doll…lock, stock, and the junk below.” Then he laughed with a hint of redness in his cheeks. He was tough but he was sensitive—in a Travis only kind of way. I knew I just missed him. There will never be another like him. All the babes adored him at the club. Hell, all his biker brothers did too. All the way up until you crossed him, then watch the fuck out. He never hurt me though. I don’t think he had it in him, but he damn sure knew I’d be gone if he did. I don’t put up with that shit and I let him know. I told him, “Travis, you ever feel the urge to hurt a lady, you best fuckin’ knock on some other lady’s door and not mine. I’ll kick your ass and crap down your throat…and you know I will.”

He’d smile big and respond, “I know it, Joie. A line I’d never cross. Love you, baby doll.”

It’s funny the little memories that flood back to mind when you lose someone you never expected to lose. I laid in that hospital for six months, fading in and out of comas…both natural and induced without knowing my world had been stolen from me. I laid there living every night and day with Travis as if he were truly there beside me. Sometimes now I think he really was… like maybe Jesus allowed him to temporarily stay back with me until I snapped out of things. But is that possible? Or maybe he laid claim to his soul that afternoon as the demon, in the form of that owl, stole him away from me? I’ll never know until we hook up again.  I hope that’s where he is, with Jesus, ‘cause someday I wanna see him again and I know that’s where I’m going in the end. It’s important to me. We never got to say goodbye, and while that wouldn’t change a thing, it’s that final goodbye that robs me of closure. It’s why I can’t empty his drawers in my dresser or take his leather jacket down from the hook on the wall by the back door. That framed picture of him and I on Blacky, our Harley. His last crystal highball glass still sits on the table beside his chair. I won’t allow myself to wipe away anything that has ties to him. It’s all I own to hold onto my sanity. I laughed out loud…as if this is sanity, I thought to myself. I suddenly felt the bone stirring pain in my neck once again as it traveled down my body reaching down into my arms. It comes from nowhere and without warning. Fucking owl demon—seems he is always just seconds away as if sitting on a tree limb just waiting to swoop back down and finish his task of destroying my soul.

“Damn these memories. There I go, attempting to let them bed back down in my head and make me weak. I despise any sign of fragility in myself. In my bones, my body, and especially my mind. Drowning in self-pity does nothing but brew more powerlessness.”

This too shall pass.

* * * * * *

Chapter 6

Virgin Artwork

The Score. Travis and my old bar. An eclectic mix of locals and tourists. Tonight, it held only two open seats at the bar top. The one on the left was next to some fat-Sam-touristy-looking slob. But sitting at the opposite end of the bar was a young smooth athletic type. He could be a physical challenge as he looked fairly buff. Maybe a college football jock or baseball player. God’s gift to women with the wavy blondish-brown hair and short stubble beard. If he has green eyes…he’s going to be my first prey, my first real kill. Not sure why I now find green eyes revolting, but I do. Maybe because that was the first color I saw after the accident. Trees with green swallowing up my world and spitting it back out with pain.

I ponied up to the bar and intentionally bumped his chair with the one I was pulling out. “Sorry, is this seat taken?” I asked as I smiled and batted my eyes.

He turned to me quickly at first as if he were annoyed to have his attention drawn away from the game on the television. When our eyes met, his attitude quickly changed. Yep, bright green, the green of redwoods in the Santa Cruz mountains… you poor asshole… you just had to own those plush green eyes. I squeezed my rounded ass in between him and the chair, rubbing it against him before hoisting myself up onto the seat. It was almost too far from the bar for me to reach.

“Excuse me, gorgeous, I’ll help you with that…” He scooted his barstool out and stood, as if returning my action, his crotch purposely brushed up against my leg as he needled his way out and helped scoot my stool closer to the bar.

“Why thank you, um…” a couple of seconds passed, “… um… your name?”

“Cole, Cole Riley, and you’re welcome, anytime. You here alone tonight?” He asked before he turned back to the game as if he were trying to play it cool. A move that lasted less time than it takes a horny dog to begin humping your leg. He turned back and asked, “What are you drinking tonight? I’ll order you one.”

My first, I thought and laughed internally…Hell…I could suck his wallet dry and empty his card by the time the bar closed tonight if I wanted. I knew his kind. Hell… before Travis, I dated his kind. For a minute I had another thought. It came from out of left field—and deep. Why am I being such a bitch? This isn’t who I am. I’m becoming one of those girls I despise. Back to the recent school of thought—I was indeed changing inside, morphing into everything I hated in others. I instantly smelled his cologne. Musky, yet slightly sweet overtones. My mouth watered for the salty, metallic taste of blood. His blood. My mind instantly lost any other insignificant thoughts other than attaining my craving.

“Um… Jameson please… on the rocks.” Even though my thoughts were scattered tonight, I easily seduced Cole and let him know I was going to rock his world tonight. I even gave him a hint of what was yet to come. “I’m going to paint you red with your heart pumping out pulses of lust-filled blood.” Poor Cole took no heed of my hidden warning. He was too full of the testosterone-induced daydreams of what he was going to get tonight when we got to his house to fully understand; he was truly going to diet tonight in a bright red, terror-stricken painting of his own blood. He’d be found tomorrow lying on his bloodstained canvas of stark white sheets smeared and stained with his story of seduction and departure. His eyes fixed in a dead stare at the spot that was filled with me stabbing the life from him as he lay confused and dying. For me—I’d just slip out after my work was done, leaving my artwork behind as a display of the horror now alive and well within Santa Cruz. A chilling virgin masterpiece of what would soon become a roving gallery filled with chilling pieces of my capabilities. Photos would adorn the walls of baffled investigators while news spots across television screens and headlines would drive fear and morbid curiosity. My new life given to escape the pains of recovery and re-enter the world in new fashion.

* * * * * *

Cole fumbled with his keys at the front door. He dropped them twice before I reached around and held his fingers in mine as we both inserted the tip of the key into the slot. Leaning in, I breathed a short sigh of sexual exhilaration into his ear. The door quickly opened as he twisted our hands holding the key—willingly inviting me in. A move he may soon regret, lf I created my painting slow enough to allow him to—enjoy his victory inside of me before snuffing out his existence.

Cole stumbled over to his bar, offering me a drink. I nodded in agreement as I began twisting the buttons on my blouse, poking them through the tiny holes, slowly revealing the inkwork scribed into the skin covering my breasts. His eyes widened with anticipation.

“So, are you tattooed over your entire body?” He asked in a voice slightly slurred and inquisitive.

“Why yes, yes, I am, Cole. Do you like them?” I asked seductively as I opened my blouse and began removing it from my arched back. “They tell my complete journey up to this point…do you want to see that story?”

“Yes.” He answered almost immediately as he turned to face me—spilling bourbon from the bottle as he unintentionally pulled the bottle’s neck away from the glass’s edge. “Oops!” He smiled. “I’ve never… uh… made love to a woman with tattoos all over her body. I’m ready to see what it’s like, though.”

Slightly offended by his candor, stating he would like to see what “it” was like…made my thought about the choice I’d made—now reassured I’d been correct. I was going to enjoy making him my first kill and how it was going to feel. “It” was going to be rewarding.

I set my glass back onto the table without even tasting its contents. “I wouldn’t call what we’re going to do… ‘making love.’  We’re going to fuck, and I don’t need anything else to fill me but what you already have down here…” My hand traveled quickly south to the overly excited part of his body.

Cole fumbled attempting to set his glass and bottle of Jameson back onto the tabletop. Both toppled to their sides and began spilling over the table’s edge, but he barely took notice of the mess as I wiggled my hips, shaking my skirt down around my ankles.

The race to his bedroom was furious. Caution thrown to the wind; our clothes scattered in a trail from the barstools in his living room, to the bed overlooking the lit boardwalk. Cole never noticed me sliding the stiletto under the pillow, his attentions on watching the artwork dance across my naked flesh was too titillating for his eyes to look away. I almost felt bad for him. The entire act so far was like shooting ducks in a pond. It was amazing how close to my dream this event was playing out.

His body was chiseled, and I must admit I enjoyed the sensations he was providing me. It had been so long since I’d been with someone. It felt like a shame to end it, but, I rolled him over onto his back and slowly crawled on top, grinding my pelvis against his. As he entered me, I began the dream dance while my arms stretched out forward toward his pillows, fingers of my right hand searching for what would be used as my paintbrush in his creative end. Our bodies heaved with an intensity I’m not certain I’ve ever felt as I leaned farther forward, my breasts pushing against his face, my fingers continued to reach for the hidden blade.

It was over so fast. I don’t believe Cole felt a thing after the third or fourth puncture into his chest. His head fell back onto his pillow and as I rolled off him, the words I’d spoken became truth. His heart truly spurted out streams of warm red blood in slowing pulses. His gaze became hollowed, and the shock and fear quietly slipped away into a calm vacancy. A few fading wisps of breath being vanquished from his lungs and he was gone. The actual kill had ended too quickly and abruptly to fill my new much-expected sensations. I would need to learn to pace myself in the future.

As I put my clothing back on and gathered my things, I walked back to the bed and surveyed my first painting I was about to leave behind. A feeling of disappointment washed over me as I stared at the growing red pool of blood soaking into the white cotton sheets. I’d held no previous knowledge of how much blood a body held. I now knew it was quite a bit as I contemplated my act and the force that had come over me to complete it. The oddness of the moment was as I looked into Cole’s eyes, which seemed to stare blankly at the ceiling without expression, I suddenly saw Travis’s face—and he smiled at me. I believed it was only inside my head or somehow echoing throughout my body, but I swear I heard his voice as it spoke to me— “It gets better babe, next time—do a woman—just for me, baby doll.”

My first reaction was a sharp pain in my gut followed by the need to wretch, but I turned and walked out through Cole’s door and by the time it quietly closed, I’d warmed up to the idea. Was the alien I suspected was inside of me—Travis? A side of Travis I never knew?

* * * * * *

Chapter 7

Adding to the Gallery

It’s amazing that the phrase “practice makes perfect” is so true. I was becoming quite proficient and causing a news sensation of fear throughout the Santa Cruz area in a very short time. The authorities couldn’t understand what had taken over their town so quickly. “A madman or team of home invaders…” There were no “profilers” able to come up with a typical outline of a suspect that fit each crime scene they now were investigating. Of course, there was also the fact I, myself could not formulate what was happening either. I didn’t know what was driving me into this new hunger I’d became a part of. Physically I shouldn’t be able to have the strength. Mentally, I couldn’t begin to explain what was going on inside my head. Travis’s voice became stronger inside my brain or soul, but I couldn’t fathom why. How did he fit into this chaotic craziness? Was this me acting out because I blamed him for not being here? Or for the accident? It was that damned owl’s fault.

I soon began leaving an image of an owl brushed on the wall with blood using a small paintbrush. I wasn’t sure why, but it did create quite a stir with the cops and media. It threw another question other than the fact both men and women were being found murdered in their beds. Now there was hand-painted images of owls being left on the victim’s walls.

I finally believed I was on track to finding out something that may help explain things. I’d visited my doctor and for the first time I asked a question that seemed to hit the nail on the head. “So, Doc. I feel pretty good, physically… at least… you know… most of the time. Better than I ever believed possible for sure.” My mind was fighting inside with not letting too much information escape my lips. I wasn’t certain I should tell him just how physical I could become at times. The broken and repaired nerves and bones would also help with any alibi I may ever need to call upon if—my prints or something were ever matched at a scene. After all, I’m the helpless wounded and crippled woman who survived the decapitation of her fiancé in a horrible and traumatic motorcycle accident several years back. What better cover could one have? And the scars and medical records to prove it. “…But I’m wondering… I have… a question, Doc….”

“Yes, Joie, ask away. I’ll tell you whatever I can in a straightforward fashion. You know that to be true, I haven’t pulled any punches up to this point. No matter how painfully true they may be or answers you didn’t want to hear.”

“I know Doc Peterson, and that’s why I feel like I can ask you this…” I paused, searching for careful wording. “…do you believe… there could be some kind of… of… alien… not an alien like from outer space, but alien matter as… not normally belonging….”

“Joie, I think I’m sensing what you are trying to ask. It’s the one subject I have been troubled about telling you—especially since you are so… so close… or I should say… were so close to… to Travis. I’ve thought better of letting you know until… well… until I felt you may be mentally ready to hear what I’m about to tell you.”

“Okay, Doc. I… I have to say I’m… almost afraid now to hear what you have to say….”

“Don’t be, Joie. It’s not a bad thing. It’s what’s kept you alive and from suffering even more.”

“Doc… you’re not going to tell me that I’ve been… a …part of some… sort of… biological… um… experiment, are you? Where I’ve been… re-created in some clandestine lab or something… and now you need me to carry out… contracts… are you?” I asked hesitantly, but with a slight sense of humor to cover up my sudden discomfort from the topic. “After all, I’ve seen the movies where shit like this happened. Was it real, though?” I laughed but questioned semi-seriously.  “I am still all… human—aren’t I? No monkey parts or….”

“No, no, no, Joie. Nothing like that at all.” Doctor Peterson smiled followed by a short guffaw. “…The procedure used on you has been done many, many times before—for quite a while. It’s called a “cadaver bone transplant.”

He hesitated a moment and watched me, I presumed to get my reaction before he would continue. I smiled, but honestly, I was beginning to become concerned. Did I have a killer’s bone and biology inside of me? Could this be what was causing these desires to kill people invade my mind to a point I’d lost control of myself and was enjoying it?

“It’s really a simple and effective procedure, Joie. You see, we take the bone chips of a donor that matches blood type and biological makeup—and we build a cage around the fractured or destroyed bone in the patient’s body. We then fill the cage with the matched bone chips and let them meld and grow into the patient’s natural tendency to heal itself. The cadaver donor’s bones help strengthen and fill in where your bone make-up wouldn’t suffice. It then becomes a rather symbiotic mating. Meaning the patient needs the cadaver’s bone make-up and material to fully heal to its best possible outcome, while the cadaver’s bones need the nutrients and things that the patient’s body creates, to maintain surviving and growing new bone. It’s a perfect marriage of a rather simple solution to a complex problem when so much bone and density is destroyed in a patient. It not only speeds recovery time but strengthens the patient’s new bone growth density with the attributes of the donor’s bone material.”

I literally sat in the chair dumbfounded.

“That’s of course boiled down to the simplest laymen’s terms that I can come up with in a moment’s notice. The fact is, finding a donor that works is many times the most difficult part of the equation to overcome… many times….”

“So, Doc, let me get this straight. I have someone else’s bone matter inside me—making my bones heal and become stronger than if they weren’t available and inside me?”

“Simple answer, yes, Joie. If we had been unable to have found a matching donor so quickly—you would more than likely not have been able to walk in here today on your own accord. It would have taken much more time if it were even possible at all. I believe, the donor’s bone, literally saved your life and improved the quality of such that you are now living.”

“So… have there ever been any complications or… added surprises… or things that weren’t expected? I know it’s a crazy question, but….”

“Are you talking something, like, taking on some of the donor’s traits or abilities… habits?”

“That’s exactly what I’m asking, Doc. I’ve felt very different lately, like… like… maybe there is something alien inside me…again, no seed pods or anything like that… just… I know I sound crazy, but….”

“I’ve heard of a case or two in the past. Patients claiming that they feel those sensations too, like they have new character traits that didn’t exist before… but… in my professional opinion… I don’t believe that to be possible. Not for a minute. Not physically possible. Now there may be the possibility your mind is playing tricks, so to say, with you, or you perhaps are reading things into nonexistent issues. Maybe not seeing coincidence as just that, possibly?”

“Am I able to know who my donor was so I could thank their family?”

“Joie, usually that is up to the family to say if they want the recipient to know who donated. But, in this case, there was no family we were able to contact for permission. Only the donor’s signature on the back of their driver’s license. And that, is what has kept me from letting you in on the who… until… you, yourself asked.”

“Who Doc? Whose bones are inside my body? Who is responsible for saving me?”

“I think you should probably sit down before we talk….”

* * * * * *

Chapter 8

A Flood of Questions

I couldn’t think. The off-white walls began closing in around me. Claustrophobia was new to me, but I sensed that must be what I was feeling. I instantly felt too much overwhelming emotion along with a multitude of new questions filling my brain. I was mentally drowning. My coping mechanism was being triggered. I’d been experiencing internal battles for several months. Hell, several years since the accident. But now the inside of my head was the battlefront in a war I knew nothing of survival. The de-militarized zone was in the rearview mirror, but I had no intentions of backtracking to any safe zone no matter what happened from this point on. I was just told in not so many words that the spoils of my existing war so far were mere trophies given to me by my true love through the gift of his cadaver bone chips. It was his battles of the hunt I had taken over, but I’d held no idea of the activities he was into before now. Travis had somehow kept his dark secret of killing for fun from me. I was now just a mere extension of the sickness he’d harbored covertly through the transfer from his bones to mine.

As I sat in the now cold and stark doctor’s office, my brain attempted to decipher the information I’d just received. I was shocked, I was angry with Travis for doing what he was doing while he claimed to love only me. I was pissed at Doc Peterson for not only telling me this now-damning information, but for using Travis’s fucking cadaver bone to begin with. My life had been a rollercoaster since the wreck, and I think now I’d rather be homebound and crippled— free from this new curse—rather than to have succumbed to it and lost my power of choice.

And then I felt it coming. It was as if my internal thoughts of conflict had awoken the beast within. I tried to fight the feeling washing across my face as I prayed Doc would be looking away as the smile roared in like the incoming tide. My lips quickly began their trek, defeating my will to refrain from the widening and stretching of my face until my entire mouth full of teeth stuck out. My giveaway, my tell. My Cheshire cat grin. Pearly whites shining like a troupe of bright white Broadway dancers stretched out across center stage with bright lights drawing attention. I quickly turned and ducked my head to cover up the unwelcome and maddening smile.

“Joie? Are you okay?” Doc Peterson asked as he attempted to survey the look as it washed over my face.

“I’m fine Doctor Peterson.” I quickly spit out. “My body is healing at a faster pace each day. I’m glad to hear I was able to retain a small bit of Travis to keep with me like a… a… memento… or tribute…” I forced the repugnant smile to withdraw slightly. “… and now know he didn’t just leave me without being able to take care of me the only way he was able to.” I allowed my smile to show just a little. “The grin was just a reaction from a memory I recalled… a moment we shared together—a long, long time ago. In fact, it was an entire lifetime ago. It’ll take some time for everything to settle in and gel… within my… my little world… my psyche. As you certainly know by now—I’m ninja strong, I’m nobodies little bitch. My father saw to teaching me that before he left this cruel world. I reckon I’ll be carrying on his tradition along with a little of my much-loved Travis’s from now on. Thank you, Doctor Peterson. I’ll see you next checkup—right?” I winked along with my damned smile. “I’m feeling good enough that I believe I could even ride occasionally.”

Doctor Peterson looked up from the chart in his hand. “Now, Joie, don’t be getting too far ahead of yourself. While I’m a firm believer of getting back on the horse eventually….”

I smiled and laughed. “Oh, I’m not climbing on the biggest horse—maybe start out with a little sportster and work my way up!”

The spot in my neck began it’s burn and slow movement down to my arms. It was the sign the hunt would soon be calling my name again. Now instead of just some vacant unexplainable desire within my soul, calling me to kill… I was now able to attach a name to it, and I quietly whispered aloud just under my breath, “It’s okay Travis… I’ll see you tonight… we’ll shred one together. This time you pick her out.” I could feel the continued burn in my cheeks as my smile grew wider once more. The Cheshire panther was clawing at my soul—hungry for a prowl through the Santa Cruz nightlife. Somewhere tonight, I’d be painting a bedroom crimson red—adding another work of art to my roving gallery along with a bloody sketch of an owl in flight. It would be a real newsworthy killer of a story for the morning or afternoon news.

* * * * * *

The boardwalk lights seemed extra bright while the bar traffic heavier than normal. My eyes darted back and forth in search of my desire. Across the pier, a beautiful brunette drew the lighter to her cigarette. The flick of the steel against the flint brought the flame dancing in the green pools of her iris’. I heard his inner voice inside my soul. “That’s the one, Joie. I can see it now.”

I nodded to Travis as if he were standing near me and spoke in a whisper as I slowly walked across the wooden planks to make my move, “This one’s for you, baby doll, I hope you enjoy my work.”

The woman’s lighter flickered before dying out, unable to relight as she rolled the small steel wheel across the flint again. I pulled the Zippo from my jeans pocket, flipping the lid open and running it up my leg until the flame came alive, all in one fluid motion. I lifted it to the tip of her cigarette and said, “Your lucky night, honey. I’m a sucker for green eyes… what’s your name?”

“Sasha, Sasha Kingsley—what’s yours?”

“Joie Rae.” I smiled showing my perfect teeth. “Great night for drink, don’t you think?”

“Well, Joie Rae… I never say no to a Jameson….”

“I just happen to know a sweet little dive where we can get a couple of those….”

“And I know a place we could maybe end up tonight after closing time….”

“Sweet… I could use some company tonight… do you like paintings… I have a gallery of my own… that your likeness would fit perfectly….”

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Written by Eli Pope
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
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🔔 More stories from author: Eli Pope

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