He couldn’t believe he’d been caught, not after a lifetime of hard-won freedom, of narrow escapes, of costly solitude. Arrogance. That’s what’d done him in. He’d imagined himself undetected after years of living in her walls, of waiting patiently until she was gone, or asleep, or showering, or watching TV. He’d thought nothing of the subtle changes… that time she came back unexpectedly after leaving for her yearly beach vacation. Five years he’d been in her house without a single incident, five years of knowing her schedule—and her— by heart, and that last time she’d come back after he’d heard her car rumble away. He always waited thirty minutes after she left the house for an extended period of time, to make sure she was gone before he left his hole in the wall, and when he finally emerged from concealment, she’d been standing there.
He’d frozen then, thinking he’d been seen, his hand flying to the blade he always carried with him. She might kill him easily, but he’d give her a scar that would force her to think of him every time she looked at her hand. Instead, she’d peered down at some papers, old mail, bills she kept in the mail basket, shifting them until she appeared to find what she needed. She’d then left without looking at him, even though he was sure he’d been within her field of vision. He’d run to his hole and had waited a whole day before he stirred from it, and the following two months he’d been riddled with anxiety, extra cautious, depending on his well-stocked pantry rather than adventurous trash-can spelunking expeditions, curtailing his staring sessions during her showers down to a frustrating zero. He’d also checked her Internet browser history and expenditures to make sure she hadn’t bought a cage, or clothes for tiny people, or anything that would indicate knowledge of his presence. There’d been nothing, so he’d begun to consider relaxing a bit.
Maybe that’s why she caught him. Maybe he should’ve checked her receipts more carefully and realized she’d been purchasing materials for a trap, but there was nothing she’d searched online that gave him cause for alarm. Still, he’d been caught. He’d just finished killing a rat that had squeezed its greasy body under the back door, where she’d removed the worn gap seal and had yet to install a new one. He’d stood there, eyeing his kill, recalling days not too long ago when the first thing he did was tear into the still warm flesh and devour the heart. He was spoiled now, grown lazy in her warm home, a little thick in the middle from eating up her carbohydrate-rich crumbs. Disgusted with himself, he got down on his knees and split the rat’s skin with his blade, finding its heart, which gave a couple of pumps when he sliced it free and brought it to his snarling mouth. And then… darkness.
He woke up slowly, his head swimming, his nostrils filled with the overpowering scent of something familiar. Nausea coiled inside of him, but he suppressed it and forced his eyes to open, regretting his decision immediately. Over him loomed a woven canopy, and he recognized the smell right away. Bamboo, from the backyard. He’d harvested some fresh shoots in the past to make a cot that still stood solidly in the hole that was his home inside this house. He’d cut them with his own blade. His blade! He reached for it and found nothing but fabric. His belt was gone and with it the weapon he carried everywhere. Now he sat up and felt as though he’d been punched in the gut. His lips moved as he tried to scream, but all they produced was a slow, dry gasp. Before him, encompassing every inch, every foot at the other side of the cage bars was her face, closer than it’d ever been, closest to him than he had ever allowed anyone her kind to be.
“Hi,” she said, her breath blasting him with warm air, his curly hair pulling back and away from his face in a dance that stopped almost as soon as it began. He scrambled backward, not knowing he looked just like a little beach crab to her at that moment, and not knowing that’s what made her laugh goodnaturedly at his useless effort to move away from her. When his back hit the opposite side of the cage, he stared at her and tried to scowl. His face felt so frozen in astonishment he almost wanted to knead anger into his features with his fingers. Instead, he cleared his throat and swallowed hard before speaking with what he wanted to be a firm tone.
“Stop laughing at me and let me go this very moment,” he squeaked, instead. That seemed to stop her giggling, but the vacuuming gasp that replaced them only increased his distress.
“You are amazing,” she whispered, a gale of minty heat swirling all around him and then past him, and then another when she spoke again. “I’d never seen one of you this closely. Not once. Not until now.”
“I don’t believe you! Let me go, and I swear you’ll never see me again. I won’t even pack my things. I’ll just walk right out and never ever come back.”
“Things? You have… things?” Her face moved closer to the fragrant bars. “What things are these you have? Are some of your things my things?”
He whimpered in horror, knowing that everything he owned he’d stolen from her. Everything but the blade he was sure she now had, and a loincloth that had eventually turned to shreds, replaced now with tiny clothes he’d sewn himself from the fabric of old panties and bras she discarded.
“Yes- I mean, no. Just my knife. Give me back my knife!”
“Absolutely not. So you can slice into my palm?”
“Why would I do that? You’re not touching me.” He felt regret at his words, even when knowing that what then took place would have happened no matter his response. Something out of his range of sight shifted like mountains turning in their sleep, and her hand rose over the horizon, fingers stretched like sunbeams in his direction. She pinched the cage door’s latch open, and the space that contained him was instantly reduced to nearly nothing, occupied now by her hand. He screamed and rose to his feet to run somewhere, anywhere but here, only making it easier for her hand to grab him. Wordless shrieks, high-pitched and following the rhythm of his fists as they pounded on the wall of her thumb, her forefinger to no effect. He tried to turn in place, using the softness of his skin to try to slither out of her hold, having never been held by a petal-soft hand as strong as iron, not knowing there was nothing he could do to escape her grip. A passenger all the way to her face, there were no bars between them now as she held him so close to her face he could almost touch it. Horrified at the impulse to hold out his hand until he could feel the tip of her nose, he begged.
“Please, don’t eat me!”
A roomful of air somewhere below expanded and contracted as she laughed silently. Or nearly so. More air, quite moist, bathed him as the corners of her eyes crinkled. He looked at both of them, his head moving from side to side and then his gaze dropped point blank to the lightning-white rows of teeth that shone in front of him. He felt stupid now, thinking of his knife. It was nothing compared to these enormous blades. They would slice and dice him until he was a mass of unrecognizable red. He made himself stare at them. He had screamed and begged, but he wasn’t going to close his eyes. He was going to make her look at him as she killed him.
“Eat you? Such a silly little thing. The thought never crossed my mind. Why should I eat you? Are you delicious?” Her middle and ring fingers held him in place to the center of her palm, but she extended her pinkie finger and curled it under his leg, forcing it to straighten before him, towards her mouth. Something snapped inside of him, and he became enraged as he realized she was going to make him watch her eat him. He let loose a string of words in his language and hers, terrible insults, the most vulgar names reserved for one’s worst enemies. In response she pinched his thigh between her digits firmly, and smiled brightly as her lips spread, saliva popping against her gums as her mouth grew wider, her tongue emerging to welcome his foot. He tried to kick that wide swath of pink flesh away, only to see the upper row of her teeth come down to pin him, shin deep, against it. He stopped saying words and started howling, expecting to see, to feel his leg split into two pieces when she severed it with a single bite. Instead, he felt suction as her tongue pulled away, her teeth clamped him firmly… but instead of biting, she licked. And licked. Again, and again. And a moan as deep as the center of the Earth traveled from her chest to her mouth, plucking him until his ears rang. Yet he screamed until his throat was raw.
Her head cocked a little so she could turn one ear closer to him, and his lower body twisted in place, dragged by the hold of her teeth as his leg stretched too much, enough to pull his groin painfully. Pain, he thought. That was pain. What happened before was not painful. His screams stopped, now nothing but dry heaves as she continued to play with his lower leg like it was candy. Her moaning stopped as well, and he dared to move his eyes away from her mouth to look up and see her open her eyes. Why had she closed them? With part of him still inside of her, she hm’d quickly, and spit him out.
“I don’t know. You don’t seem very tasty to me.”
He was quite hoarse but still had enough voice to say, “Your kind eats our kind all the time. Don’t pretend you don’t.”
“Have you ever seen… how long have you been here?”
“Tell me the truth. It’s better that way.”
“In those five years, have you ever seen me eat any of your kind?”
“No, but maybe when you go out to eat…” he trailed off, knowing from looking at her every receipt that she never ordered those dishes when she went out to eat.
“I don’t. Some of my friends do, but I can’t stand to watch them eat when they do. I’ve never eaten one of you. I wouldn’t.”
He only stared at her for a moment before he croaked again, “Please let me go now. You’re not going to eat me, so please don’t kill me.”
“Oh, I don’t know about not eating you now… I’m just not sure. Your meaty leg is quite fuzzy, but it’s only your leg. Maybe the rest of you is more flavorful. Perhaps in broth? With some wine, I think. Red… yes, red wine.”
He never saw it coming, her other hand. It reached him suddenly, and two of its thick prongs met him below her firm hold. He thought to scream again and instead watched in shock as two polished fingernails, as shiny as mirrors, pinched the fabric of his underpants, the only garment she had not removed from him. When she began to tug gently at the fabric, he found his frog-like voice again.
“What- what are you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing?”
“It- uh, it looks like- Hey, stop! No!”
She ignored him, pulling slowly at the fabric like she was peeling the film off a boiled egg until the waistband bumped over his groin, exposing it fully as it slid past his legs. She half-moaned, half-grunted a very dirty word.
“I’m going to really taste you now, and see if there’s any truth to how delicious you are. If I don’t like what ends up in my mouth, I’ll let you go… but if I like it, I’ll keep you forever. Is that clear?”
He didn’t really get a chance to answer. Not for a few hours, anyway.