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Insect Incarnation

by Arianna Kanji

The first time it happened, they ripped out my spine. Or perhaps ripped isn’t the best word choice in this scenario. Gently slipped their fingers through the meat of my back and tugged it out like a loose thread would be a more accurate description. There’s not really any way to explain the feeling, except maybe the chills that you get when sandpaper runs against a chalkboard as your mouth is being smashed into gravel. But I haven’t experienced that, so I wouldn’t know. 

I know it was my spine because I saw it. The smooth curve of the bone, slick with blood and flakes of skin. It was clutched between their forefinger and index, balanced precariously like a pencil of sorts. As they set it down, it gleamed in the light, every arch and dig accentuated by the glow. 

I have to admit, I didn’t really panic. And maybe that’s a character flaw of sorts. But then again, isn’t everything just another imperfection carved onto our priceless statues, slowly picking away at their worth, like chips on smooth marble or rust on curved hips? Maybe because, in moments like these, panic is as unneeded as pain. Neither would solve anything, in the end. 

Then they poisoned me. Some might say drugged, but I don’t think this was it. My consciousness never slipped away, only my gaze blurring in and of focus with every unceremonious twist of my neck. At some point, I could almost make out the elusive figures whose spindle-topped fingers were fiddling with the skin around my wrist like it was a flimsy friendship bracelet, but then it vanished. Julian used to tell me I was better off wearing one so people knew I was loved even in my last dying moments, but he was definitely drugged while saying so. There’s no point in trusting those who cannot even understand the words they say.

The poison was sweet, but bitter, stinging the insides of my mouth. Something moved. Me? No, not me. No, wait, yes. My head slumped against my shoulder, but still nothing occurred. Nothing except the slow sensation of numbness stretching along my body like the cocoon of a butterfly or the glass around the model ships my grandfather used to make. It tasted vaguely like blood, but in the way cracks in the sidewalk vaguely resemble remnants of a mark left long ago. 

I like bugs. This was why the cool sensation of thousands of wings against my skin didn’t spike panic in my heart. I assume some drew blood, or else the crimson color leaking into my palms existed for an entirely different reason. When I was younger, when my fingers were less brittle and I hadn’t yet tasted pools of vinegar, I would sketch hollow skulls with sunken eyes into the edges of notebook paper. Characters with peeling skin and teeth rotting away to orange near the tips and black mold peppering their smashed noses. More body parts than necessary - three heads joined together in a twisting pattern, a girl with seven arms and a coal black gaze, creatures with three wings and hands curved backwards and bodies contorted until basically indescribable. The idea comforted me, in some strange way. Like being mangled and distorted was better than being nothing at all. 

Maybe this is why the maggots didn’t scare me. Even as they festered near my forearm, slowly eating away at the surface of the flesh. Or at least they felt like maggots. They could have been thousands of phantom hands for all I know. Little shovels digging away at a soft graveyard, one that beat in time with the rise and fall of a distant heartbeat. Distant being literal. It was collecting dust and grime a few centimeters away from the spine. 

I believe they brought out the needle next. It was long, and thin, and resembled a pinched up version of the bones they’d extracted not a few minutes earlier. The maggots were being peeled off, hung on the walls with bits of my skin still caught in their mouths. Something strong and firm shivered against me like a moth shifting towards an open flame. Or perhaps it was another insect, maybe one with thousands of miniscule eyes. The string tugged once, twice, three times. Then they twisted parts of my face inside out and dug the needle into my cheeks. Once, twice, three times. Until there was nothing left but my own shallow breath against shadowy skin. Smooth scales grew along my features. A few extra eyes embedded themselves into my forehead. 

Once the sewing was complete, they left me, skin sagging and peeling away in parts, bones exposed and body inside-out. It didn’t feel half bad, actually. The light breeze shifting through my torn muscles felt almost exhilarating. The first time it happened, I didn’t scream. Julian had told me once that fear was the only barrier between living and existing. But he’d read that off of a motivational poster stuck onto the door of the place we never visit anymore, so there’s no use trusting the words of something with only two eyes and no scales. Congratulations, child, they said eventually, long after the rest of my features had crumbled away. You are ready to be born anew. 

Maybe I’ll come back as a worm next time. That would be nice.


Arianna Kanji (they/them) is a young writer from Toronto, Canada. You can find them on Instagram at @ari.kanji


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