“Human Body as Compendium”: “In moments of high anxiety I like to imagine that I can crack my skull open and take my brain out and put it somewhere else for a while. “Human Body as Compendium” carries this impulse to its natural conclusion.”
“Words are very unnecessary; They can only do harm”
Sometimes Boys Don’t Know
by Donyae Coles
“Bonnie,” I say. He asked my name! I should have thought of something, but I wasn’t expecting him to notice me. Talk to me. “Bonnie,” I repeat, fighting down nerves, ignoring the fluttering in my middle, hoping I sounded closer to those other girls, the ones he likes. I’ve been practicing.
“Bonnie,” he repeats, smooth as his smile, and my insides tickle and shudder. Bonnie was good. Simple. He liked simple. I could be simple. For him, I could be anything.
My eyes feel too wide, and I blink to try to make them normal. I pull my lips into a smile, tell my body to be still, relax.
“Where are your friends? Did you come alone?” He’s looking around now and those flutters in me drop, turn into a pit. I want him to look at me. Just at me.
“I came by myself,” I offer. Is this the right answer? I don’t know.
But he turns back, smiles bright and wide. “You shouldn’t be alone, it’s not safe.”
He hands his cup to me and I take it, drinking deep without asking. The taste is bitter but I smile because he’s smiling and it’s perfect. He sees me. He’s never seen me before.
He passes me in the halls all the time, like a star, like the sun, so bright and perfect, and I’m not like the girls I’ve seen him with, but he sees me now and that’s all that matters. I can be good enough for him. I’ve changed so much for him. And he notices it. Notices me.
He pushes the cup, prompts me to drink more, and I do. Of course I do. It’s what I’m supposed to do. I think.
“Can I walk you home?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say. It’s so easy to say yes. I want to say yes to everything he asks. Yes, yes, yes.
He wraps his arm around my shoulders, pulls me close. He’s so hot and the pit turns back to flutters again. My palms are wet, my legs are shaky. Is this right? It must be right. I want it to be right.
I’m so happy, it doesn’t even bother me that he doesn’t ask where I live. I don’t have an answer for him anyway. His arm slips, drops to the dip of my waist, holds me closer.
He’s leading me away from the house party. Down the street. He’s talking, but I can’t follow the words. I’m too happy and all I can focus on is the feel of his hand on my waist, his arm around my back. The heat pours from him to me, and it’s like we’re already one, already together.
My body tingles with the joy of it. I’m so nervous. Wet slicks my skin. Does he notice? I look up at him and he’s talking. It doesn’t bother him. He turns into an alley, leads me into an abandoned building.
“Do you live here?” I ask. What a silly question. Of course he doesn’t. I know that.
I open my mouth to say something else but then he’s pressing his lips to mine. His tongue is in my mouth.
Is this right, I think as his hands creep under the fabric of my clothing, searching, searching and I don’t care. I’m so happy. If he asked I would have said yes, yes, yes but he doesn’t ask.
I could cry, I’m so pleased. His fingers sink into me. He moans into my mouth. Past his knuckles and his whole hand is inside. He’s confused, I can feel it, taste it.
Maybe he doesn’t know about this part? Boys don’t always know what to do. So I help: I split from where I hold his hand all up my belly and chest, spill out the ribbons of my private form. It’s ok now, we’re together, he can see it. I wrap around him, hold him closer, tighter.
His eyes are watering, he’s trying to help. My hearts swell. I knew he would be perfect. I pull him tighter, fuse him to me so there’s no break between us. Pull him so tight as his skin melts and he’s bare and open before me as I am before him and we are one mass together just like I hoped.
He’s twisting and moaning. My ribbons shiver as he sinks deeper into my channel, deeper, deeper. I let my head drop back, no need for it, let my split open to the night air, take him in up to his eyes.
I want to tell him to relax. I am doing all the work, sucking his seeds from him. I ask him if he can feel the coming spawn in me, tell him how happy I am they have such a beautiful, perfect boy to feed on. But I can’t. My mouth is gone.
He’s filling me all up and I am so happy that he finally noticed me!
Human Body as Compendium
by Mary Berman
You’re familiar with the standard methods, and also the obstacles, to wit:
Your father forcing you into the kitchen and barring your escape until you swallow each slimy bite of the sixteen-ounce prime rib, reeking of blood and charcoal, that he’s slapped on the marble counter;
Your mother filching your report card from the mail and setting it aflame without even looking at it, without even letting you look at it, saying she doesn’t care about your grades, she just wants you to be happy, why is it so hard for you to be happy?;
Your sister, arms crossed, leaning against the doorframe of your bedroom, watching you as you dust your fan blades, the walls, the hardwood floors under the carpet, the inside of your keyboard, the spheres atop the bedposts, the knife-thin gap between the window screen and the trim;
Your best friend always following you to the bathroom –
The trick, you see, is to implement a method invisible to the naked eye.
Gather your materials. You’ll need a tarp of ten by twelve feet, a large hammer, a crowbar, a fillet knife, a needle and thread, and several plastic containers of various sizes, ranging from medium-sized Tupperware to multi-gallon storage bins.
Lock yourself in the bathroom and line the bins, sans lids, alongside the tub. Spread the tarp in the tub and lie down on it, your spine hard against the ceramic. It’ll be uncomfortable, but you’ll have no problem with that. Use the hammer to crack open your thoracic cavity, then pry yourself open the rest of the way with the crowbar, separating the ribs from the sternum the way you would separate the lid from the body of a keepsake box.
Reach your bare hands inside yourself and extract your organs, one by one: the heart, spongy with liquid and surprisingly solid, though why this surprises you you don’t know – it’s made of muscle, after all; the delicate sacs of your lungs; the slippery liver and the accompanying water-balloon pocket of your gall bladder; the encumbering hollow of your uterus; the fleshy ropes of your intestines, meter after meter folded within your spare body. Place each organ in its own container. You won’t need them again, but organization is valuable for its own sake.
Once that’s done, slide the knife very slowly between your muscle and your skin, taking care not to nick the flesh lest someone notice the wound. Peel the muscle off from the inside, like peeling an orange from its rind. Toss the hunks of meat, so like the slimy prime rib, into a bin. Do this for your torso, then for every limb, sliding the knife into your arms and legs as into a long pipe. Take extra care when using your non-dominant hand.
Leave the skeleton.
The head is last, and trickiest. You must leave your face intact, else everyone will know. Worm your hand up through your foramen magnum and pull the brain down and out. You will worry that it won’t fit through the cavity, but it’s gelatinous, like an octopus. Once you’ve removed it from your body, put it in its container.
Snap your ribs back into place and stitch up your chest. Ensure that no one sees you with your shirt off while it heals. Snap the lids onto the containers and carry them down to the far recesses of the basement where no one ever goes, among your pastel-colored plastic toys from a decade ago, and your father’s ancient computer parts and moldy manuals, and your mother’s soft wooden furniture from a previous marriage. Visualize, dizzily, the yawning chasms inside your body where all that burdensome meat used to be. Revel in the fact that you have at last achieved total control over yourself, over this little slice of human real estate that’s now less body than air. Wonder if there’s a way for you to get your skeleton out.
Never Enough Pockets
by Kat Day
The man in front of me is wearing one of those black vests that’s meant to protect against stabbing, and which is covered in pockets that contain things like CS spray, handcuffs, a collapsible baton.
He is dead.
Well, he would be. My pockets contain far more dangerous things.
Women’s clothes never have enough pockets, do they? And even when they do have them, they’re too small, or too awkwardly placed, or have silly openings that seem designed to encourage the contents to fall out. Of course, you’re supposed to be able to get things out of pockets when you actually want them – that’s rather the point. But you don’t want things… escaping.
I had things I needed to keep secure.
I was never much of a seamstress and, besides, even when suffused with a whispered cantrip, cloth and thread have their limits.
So, I made a pocket in my left thigh, half-way between the knee and my hip. Somewhere I could reach if I wore a skirt, but which was also easily concealed. Because, I didn’t know, not that first time, how neat it would be. There was a chance that it would leave an obvious mark. The sort of thing that people’s eyes are drawn to, before their gaze slides to your face and you see the poorly-concealed thought: don’t ask about the scar. Everyone probably asks about the scar. And then they make a comment about the weather.
I knew it would, of course. I had to slice the skin, and I had to cut deep. All the way down to the creamy layer of fat, peeling the skin back, just a little. Folding and cauterising the edges, so that they were clean and rounded and smooth. Here, in this world, I really only needed a small gap. Just enough to slide a finger in, and twist.
There, in the dimension to which I linked the new pocket, I had all the space I could ever need.
The pain eased in time, although it still aches, occasionally. Particularly if I keep something large in there. Or hot. Like pinches of rage, or a chunk of white hot anger.
Mostly I forget about it.
Unless I need it, of course.
I didn’t intend to make another pocket. My thigh was very convenient, and I ended up with only the faintest of silvery marks. You’d never notice unless you looked very carefully, or ran your palm over the skin.
But no one tries that without my say-so. And I don’t say so.
Yes, it was perfect. Secure. Neat. Plenty of storage.
But I did begin to worry about mixing things up. You reach for a lump of compassion, you don’t want to, say, pick up a lump of hatred.
Sometimes I needed things quickly, and I didn’t have enough time to check.
So the next one was in the crook of my right elbow. I was careful not to hit a vein and it didn’t bleed. It did fizz and tingle, though, and that spiralled all the way to my fingers. An uncomfortable buzz that left me clenching so hard my nails were constantly leaving dents in my palm. I think I may have nicked a nerve. I suppose these things will happen when you build pocket dimensions into your skin.
Now it really only twinges when I bend my arm, and it helps that I usually keep the nicer things in there. A few grains of love, a little kindness, a sliver of forgiveness.
After I’d made two pockets, why not keep going? I made another on my scalp, under my hair. That one left a small lump, for some reason, but I changed the way I wore my hair and no one noticed. I keep a measure of wit in there. A little sarcasm. Droplets of cold, hard logic.
The second-to-last was in my cleavage. For flashes of lust. A thimbleful of need. A touch of serendipity.
And finally? The side of my nose. Outside, not in. It’s funny, when you think about it – how it’s completely socially acceptable to touch the outside of your nose, but put your finger inside and people stare at you as though you’ve committed some sort of awful crime. Anyway, that one really did bleed. I struggled to stop it. There was a red bead there for days afterwards, and just when I thought it had dried up, it welled up again. A thin, red rivulet that ran down around my left ala and towards the corner of my mouth if I didn’t catch it in time. It would start to bleed in the middle of the night, so that I kept waking up with the taste of copper in my mouth and brown smears on my pillow.
But once it was made it was terribly useful. I keep a dollop of disgust in there, you see. A morsel of dread. Scraps of sorrow. A generous slug of horror.
All these things do press on the inside of my skin sometimes, for all that they’re not exactly here. They don’t bulge – apart from the one on my scalp, a little – but I’m faintly aware of them squirming, every now and then. I’ve learned to ignore it. Welcome it, even. Like the flutter of a child kicking its mother from inside her belly.
Nothing can escape. It’s all trapped. Concealed, buried deep.
But they do grow.
He put his hands on me, the policeman in the stab-proof vest. Grabbed me with those horrible blue, plastic gloves. Too much strength in his arms. I felt the world splinter and, in that broken moment, I saw her face. Glittering blue-grey eyes, a smile that always seemed forged from genuine laughter, beautiful bones under flawless skin. Skin that would never age, not now. Because a man like this one believed he was entitled to something he wasn’t.
I had just enough time to reach the serendipity.
And once I had that to hand, well. It was just enough to shift the odds in my favour.
He heard something, perhaps. Or thought he did. In any case, he hesitated. Didn’t hold me quite tightly enough. Gave me just enough latitude to reach my thigh.
And then the big man found there was rather more than he’d expected to the small woman.
It wasn’t just a small chunk of anger, any more. No, there had been a lot of anger. Now it was a huge, burning cold, sharp thing. Released from my skin, it sought new warmth. It caught his heart, twisted knots around it, made it beat so hard something inside it split. And just for good measure, I reached for all the horror and dread I’d been keeping and threw that at him, as well.
Yes, the man in front of me is dead.
I never stored any happiness, and the compassion and forgiveness are long exhausted.
But I think I have a smidgen of satisfaction, somewhere.
About the Authors
Mary Berman is a Philadelphia, PA, USA-based writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. She earned her MFA in fiction from the University of Mississippi, and her work has been published in Fireside, Daily Science Fiction, Weird Horror, and elsewhere. In her spare time, she takes fitness classes and antagonizes her cat.
Kat Day is a PhD chemist who was once a teacher and is now a writer and editor. By day she mostly works as a freelance editor and proofreader of scientific materials, with bits of article and book-writing thrown in. By night she… mostly does all the stuff she hasn’t managed to do during the day. She’s had articles published in Chemistry World, has written science content for DK and has produced scripts for Crash Course Organic Chemistry. Her fiction can be found at Daily Science Fiction and Cast of Wonders among others. You can follow her on Twitter at @chronicleflask , or check out her blogs, The Chronicle Flask and The Fiction Phial. She lives with her husband, two children and cat in Oxfordshire, England. She thinks black coffee is far superior to tea. The purple liquid on the stovetop is none of your concern. Kat joined the team in 2019, and became assistant editor in 2021.
About the Narrators
Cherrae L. Stuart has directed several projects available on Amazon Prime and lends her voice talents as a regular guest narrator for the Nightlight Horror Podcast. Cherrae has recently acted in NCIS-New Orleans and Return to Sender with Rosamond Pike and Nick Nolte. Currently she’s busy working as Writer, Producer and Narrator of the compelling and unique Podcast experience Good Morning Antioch, a science fiction black comedy and Co-Host of TCAD (Theatrical Conjecture and Dissertation) an “Unfancy” Entertainment News and Movie-Review show, both available now on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
Katherine Inskip is co-editor for Cast of Wonders. She teaches astrophysics for a living and spends her spare time populating the universe with worlds of her own. You can find more of her stories at Motherboard, Cast of Wonders, the Dunesteef and Luna Station Quarterly, and forthcoming from Abyss & Apex.