I woke up with a rope around my neck.
“How…?” My shaking fingertips grazed its coarse fibers. “How did I get down?”
Cool tiles pressed against the backs of my naked arms. My eyelids fluttered at the fluorescent light bulb swinging back and forth above my head, throwing shadows along the bathroom walls. A rope dangled from it, its end looking like it’d been chewed off by one of those giant New York City rats.
I swallowed. My throat didn’t hurt.
Blisteringly cold hands glided over my cheeks, my forehead. My skull rubbed along the tile’s grout lines as I tilted my head back, my neck arching–locking–at the pale face staring into mine.
Scars and bruises gilded their skin. Their short, cropped hair stood on spiky ends. Their lips were sewn shut with bleached thread, and their brown eyes were so deep, so liquid, I thought muddy droplets might pour from their tear ducts at any moment.
They were me, and I was them. I saw through them, my ghost.
Those scars had once been mine.
Those bruises; once mine, too.
I glanced down at my bare arms, my legs exposed by ripped jean shorts. I had none of those painful markings. Not from my abuser’s lashing tongue. Not from years of wrestling for her unquenchable approval. Not from my false conviction that her emotions rested on my broken shoulders. It was as if my old skin had molted away; fallen from a cocoon spun by another’s cruelty.
“Get up.” My ghost’s words sunk into my ears, though their sewn lips didn’t move. “Get up. You’re free.”
Free. I sucked a deep breath into my lungs.
Free. I clawed at the rope digging into my throat.
Free. A knife glinted in my ghost’s hand. They slid its teeth beneath the cord and cut it away.
Rubbing my throat, I lay on the floor in wonderment as my ghost faded into the air, sucked away into another space, another time, another life. I stood up, clutching the rope in one hand, and stumbled over to a cracked mirror hanging above a porcelain sink.
Into the shards I looked, no bruises on my neck, as I mouthed my answered prayer: “Butterfly.”
N.V. Devlin writes dark and speculative fiction to better make sense of the world. N.V. was the 1st Runner-Up for Indecent Magazine‘s 2022 Queer Quivers Contest and has had or will have work appear in the Creepy Podcast, Tales from the Moonlit Path, and Rebellion LIT’s The Start anthology. Some favorite authors include Edgar Allan Poe, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Joyce Carol Oates, Shirley Jackson, and Neil Gaiman, and N.V. aspires to someday write even a fraction as well as them. Find N.V. on Instagram (@nvdevlin).
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