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An Unfamiliar Face

     He has a hammer. Hammer. Won’t do him any good. Not when I’ve been searching so long for someone to reproduce with. Not when all my senses have zeroed in on him.

     “Oh no,” he whimpers. Backs himself against the wall. “Oh no, you’re one of them.”

     Every time, I cry for them in my heart and beg their forgiveness in my mind. Every time, I fight against my muscles and my compulsions. But when I see an unfamiliar face, I cannot resist. I cannot.

     Can I? I did resist once. I did. Once. How? If I could remember, maybe I wouldn’t have to hurt anyone ever again. 

     He smells original. Overwhelms me with the ripe scent of uniqueness. I’m fascinated by his blonde hair – so unlike mine. Strands catch on the building’s brick exterior and gleam from the alley’s faint incandescent lights. Blonde. He slinks down and cries out. Hopes a passer-by will run in and save him. Knows that won’t happen. This time of night there’s no one around for miles other than me. And me. And me.

     “I’ll hit you!” he yells. Lifts the hammer to strike. The fury is genuine, but buried under too much fear. Fury. Fear. With his back up against the wall, knees half-bent, the tool can’t do much damage. I can’t stop myself, anyway.

     Can I stop myself? I did resist once, to save the one I loved. If I could remember how, maybe I could stop myself again. Maybe.

     I move closer, reach out. He flails out with the hammer, slams it down on my wrist. I pull back in shock and pain. Dart in before he can raise it again. Pain. Terror overriding his motor skills, he thrashes, but only manages to drop the hammer.

     “Why do you keep doing this? What do you want?”

     Want. I don’t want to keep hurting people. What do I want? Sometimes, while I’m searching for someone I can reproduce with, I forget. I wander the streets for days without rest, trying to find an unfamiliar face. The longer I go, the more it possesses me, until I see nothing but the faces of those I pass. Is that a different face? No, move on. That one – the body might be different, the posture. Run to check. No, that’s the same face. Move on.

     I press my weight down on him and he collapses, going fetal and screaming. Hands over his eyes and nose and mouth. Hands. I wrestle to pry them away, he clinches to keep them covered. He is stronger than he looks and a fiercer fighter than I expected, but it makes no difference. I cannot stop.

     A jarring impact against my ribs knocks me sideways. Jump back at the man without pause, fearful he’ll get away. Pain penetrates my brain just enough for me to realize the blow did not come from him. Someone else is attacking me. Trying to steal my mate.

     I roll over just in time to avoid a second kick. Look up. Not the same face. Different face. Not trying to take what is mine, trying to help the man. A woman. A woman with an unfamiliar face. Another potential mate.

     But her eyes. Eyes. They glint with yellow alleyway light and for a moment they are the eyes of someone I loved once. Was it a child or an adult I loved? Was it a man or a woman I loved? My love loved me back and we laughed in the sunshine.

     I fight the urges. Clinch every muscle to restrain my body. It helps me remember. If I can remember I can stop myself. I can stop hurting people. How did I do it before?

     I remember my love’s eyes and they were full of love for me. Then they were full of fear. I was fearful, too. What did I fear? I feared that I would hurt my love. That I would make my love another familiar face.

     I clawed at my cheeks and stabbed myself in the leg with a kitchen knife and screamed and screamed at my love to run. And my love did run, thank God. My love is far away now. My love is forever safe from harm now.

     That is how I did it. That is how I beat the compulsions. I can do it again, to save these unfamiliar faces.

     I grab a fistful of hair in each hand and pull. I remember. Each moment I resist the compulsions they are weaker and I am more in control. Each moment I remember more. I remember the apartment where we lived. I remember the soft hugs we shared. I remember my love’s beautiful face.

     I remember my love’s face changing.

     No. My love… My love did not run away fast enough. My love became another familiar face.

     I stumble and slam my shoulder against the rough alleyway bricks. I wail, the guttural moan of a banshee echoing off the walls.

     I start to lose control again. I fight to get it back, but my love’s face appears, sharp in the center of my mind. I recoil from the memory. It hurts too much.

     I let go of my hair. I let go of my muscles. Memories fade. 

     What was I remembering?

     It left a sad, horrible buzzing in my chest. I know I don’t want to remember it ever again. From now on I will stay away from the memories. I will stay here, where all that exists is the simple, blissful compulsion to reproduce.

     The woman runs. I dive for her and wrap my arms around her legs. Drag her to the ground. She punches at my head, striking my nose twice, clouding my vision with tears. Punch punch.

     I run all four fingers of my right hand quickly across my tongue, pulling up as much saliva as I can. Thrust my fingers into her eyes.

     “No!” she wails. Spins onto her stomach, hands over her eyes. Too late. She knows it’s too late. 

     So does the man. Looks at her with horror pulling down the corners of his mouth. Frantically kicks at the ground, scooting himself up the wall. He runs and I reach out, swiping at his leg. Only grasp his shin for a moment before he tears away and disappears down the alley. Disappears. 

     The woman gags, spits. Rolls onto her back. Already I see her hair lightening to the same shade as mine, her muscular arms slowly deflating to the same lean tone as mine. Her tan skin pales and freckles like mine. Like mine. She won’t have my face for another hour, but I’ve seen enough to be satisfied. Finally satisfied. 

     For now.

     I get up. Exit the alleyway. Continue without direction for a couple blocks. I come to an intersection where I spot other people. The yearning is less intense now. It has calmed enough that I can think of perhaps a bite of food, perhaps a night’s sleep. Still, I scan the faces of those I see on the street. Force of habit. 

     Three faces. All of them are identical. 

     They all stop and look up in hopes that I’m an unfamiliar face. Then, as one, they realize I’m not. All resume walking, wandering off in different directions.


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