I have lived one long life and died a thousand deaths; been tortured more times than I would care to count. But not alone. There is always someone else along for the ride. Someone I hold captive inside me, and the true target of the savagery.
My skin is scored with so many scars, it loosely resembles burlap. My mouth has been slashed wide and stitched totally shut, my heart and eyes gouged out only to return later. The creativity born from people’s hatred is boundless and I am forever amazed at their viciousness.
Our most recent customer has brought me hair from her intended victim. My assistant, Skyla, offers them to me and I use my tongue to roll it into a ball before swallowing it with a generous helping of wine.
The man’s DNA begins running through my veins and I feel myself changing as his essence is pulled into me. As he is absorbed into my flesh and we become one.
I see the eager look on the woman’s face as she raises her blade skyward–the frantic look of fresh hurt written all over her face. I wonder what he has done to her, but I never ask.
As she plunges the blade downward, I leave the man on the stone surface my body lies on, feeling his terror as I hold him prisoner. I dive into my sacred space and feel myself scream with him, though I only vaguely register the pain. It is just part of the ritual of channeling his flesh through my own.
Long ago I had to find a way to escape the bloodletting lest I go mad with the agony of both blade and emotion. This escape is the only way I manage it.
Broken and bleeding, I feel the man’s consciousness slip away and know the woman has finished him off. I let him go and return to myself.
Somewhere in the world, a dead man lies slashed and bleeding, no evidence of the killer left behind.
I hear the woman’s whispered words of thanks and the soft sounds as she weeps her way out of our temple. I know not whether they are tears of joy, relief, sorrow, anger, or even guilt. It does not matter. The job is done.
Weakened, I raise my eyes gratefully to Skyla as she pours healing elixir slowly into my mouth and over my tongue. As it rolls down my throat, I pull her to me and taste her lips. She is the tether that keeps me sane, the single point of light in the world of hatred and pain I live through every day.
She breathes deeply, fingers gently caressing my broken flesh as if instead of a battered canvas, I were a beautiful masterpiece, and I know that there is hope for the world–that love truly can exist alongside so much hate.