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Animal instincts, animal extracts. Bone powders and bone grinds. Strike the bone against the flint. Forty-degree angle, eight hundred pounds per square inch. Extract a blade. Fasten the blade to a branch. Becomes a spear. The spear enters flesh. The spear enters bone. The spear sits behind an inch of glass. The spear glimmers benign under spotlights. Eyes click in their sockets, following its edge.
A swipe and the neck is severed. Hung upside-down the blood pools on the ground. Crooked legs kick for a minute then are still. Cut the animal down. The blade enters at the groin, shimmies upwards to the belly, rests at the rib cage. Steam pours out of the cavity into the frozen air. Sever the head and feet. Peel the skin back, carefully. Save the pelt. Scoop the organs out with both hands. Save the heart. The liver. The kidneys. Careful not to break the bladder or intestines. They spoil the meat.
William moves to the next case. He watches Alex press her face to the glass. She looks in with wonderment. He smiles.
“They’re just spears,” he says.
“Yeah,” she replies, and trails off. She stares at them for a few seconds, studies their ragged edges and then turns to look at him, a grin on her face.
“You act like you’ve never been in a museum before,” he says.
She shrugs. “It’s been a while.”
William doesn’t really remember how Alex came into his life. When he thinks back, the memories get a little hazy. He had seen her around the city…somewhere. Before they met. But just in flashes. Memories in gloaming. When he looks at her now, he realizes how white her skin is. So white it takes on a bluish hue. Framed by her short dark hair. So dark it’s nearly black. But it’s her eyes that put on his nostalgia: Huge and copper; ringed with dark circles. They seem to take up most of her face. Most of his vision. Yellow-orange sun and moon. A twin faced god.
Footsteps down the clearing. Hooves. Lay in wait in the ferns. Eyes flash. Adrenaline dumps into the bloodstream. Teeth bare instinctively. The animal trots and slows. It senses something. Maybe a scent. Or sound. Its eyes swing back and forth wildly, lids peeled with fear. Wait for an opening. Wait and its head turns to check the other direction. Lock and spring forth. It hears the scramble and begins to run, pull its weight. Leap and reach its back before it can start momentum, engine, pumping. Claws emerge. Slice the skin. Flesh splayed open under the tension of coiled muscles. Red. Red steam. One second, maybe two, then the blood flows. Swing around, rending the skin in passing. Jaws lock around the throat. The animal struggles. Kicks. Teeth pierce the jugular, the carotid. The taste of salt and iron overwhelms.
“This is… gruesome,” William says. Alex says nothing. She stares at the diorama. The cat-like animal looks William in the eye. Its jaws are locked around the throat of the spindly horse-creature. William can feel the heat and smell the dust. His eye moves to the blood, frozen in mid pour. It runs down the cat’s mouth.
“Let’s keep going,” William says. He checks his watch. “They’re going to close soon.” Alex doesn’t move. “Come on,” he says gently and takes her arm.
“Huh?” she says, her trance broken. She blinks and swings her gigantic lamp eyes over to him. She smiles warmly. William smiles back. But something bothers him. He senses something lurking just beneath the surface of her grin. It seems familiar.
He suddenly remembers: he spotted her at a coffee shop. The one on 3rd. Panache. It was a long time ago. He saw her in profile as she waited in line. She was captivatingly beautiful. Animal-like. He couldn’t help but stare—one second, two, then she turned and looked right back at him. Hurriedly, heart pounding, he brought his gaze back down to his book—but he could still feel her still watching him. Unblinking. Eyes like an angler. He didn’t dare to look up. Hours passed. He still felt the stare on him. Surely it wasn’t possible she was still staring. But he just kept reading. And when he couldn’t take it any more and finally did look up, he found she was gone. Had probably been gone for quite some time. He sighed, finished his coffee and left.
A cold dark. Massive. No teeth. Only four plates. Streamline currents. Slow. Heavy armor. Sense prey. Turn the eyes. The prey is blind. Move forth. Snap the jaws open, brilliant machine. Suck it to the plates with this gesture. Muscles shift. Bite. Scissored in half. Effortless. Smell the primordial blood. Taste nothing. Leave nothing. Nothing against the skin. No feeling. No sensation. Small particles drift over glass corneas. Move on. Move to the next. Clasp the jaws. Tight. Grind muscle. Grind and grind. Tear and splinter. Blood. So much blood. Ecstasy behind a static mask.
Alex doesn’t look at this diorama. She stares at William. William looks back to her. The blue projected onto her skin hardly changes her complexion. They share more smiles. Alex reaches up with her thin, delicate hand and touches the side of William’s face. Gently. The skin brushes feather-light. Barely there. William brings his arms up and over hers. They meet between her shoulders. Her fingers trace his lips. Their gaze holds steady while William brings his face to hers. He keeps his eyes open until the last second. Their lips connect.
He remembers a knocking at his window. Months. Maybe years ago. It was late. Five in the morning. He sat up, not sure if he was dreaming or not. But the sound persisted. Knuckles on glass. He lifted the blinds to find a girl sitting on his windowsill. Startled, he recognized her massive, copper eyes. A benign smile spread across her face. She knocked again and waved. William opened the window.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m coming in,” she said and gently pushed him aside, sliding her thin naked legs through the threshold. The rest of her followed and she crouched gracefully at the foot of his bed. “Scoot over,” she said. William did so, mindless, in shock. She shuffled into the covers next him and nuzzled herself up to his body.
“Who… Who are…?” William began. Her eyes rolled magnetically up to his face. William felt stricken…
“Alex,” she said.
Emptiness. Black void. The cold of space. But no stars.
“I love you,” William whispers. Alex looks up.
“I love you, too,” she says, blood covering her lips and cheeks, dripping from her chin. William looks at his hands. They too are covered in blood. His face feels wet. Alex smiles briefly and brings her mouth back down to the body of the animal. Rending muscle from bone. William sticks his arm into the creature’s chest, up to the elbow. He searches and then clutches its still heart. Squeezes.