By Jacqueline Applebee
Evil twins -- you have to love them, even if they don’t really exist. The concept of someone else out there, who does all the bad things you would never admit to, oh that is sweet, as sweet as sin. And that’s what makes the whole thing so very captivating. We can all delude ourselves, commit acts of such lovely pleasure -- the same things that disgust us, and if anyone sees, or even suspects, we can smile and say, “Me? I think you must be mistaken.”
Well I’m not going to delude you, or try to fool you or anything like that. What I’m about to tell you is the honest truth.
I’m a magician. I can make people disappear, cut someone in half, even pull the occasional interesting item out of a hat.
You see, I’m a killer too.
This place you call Earth is a fine looking planet; it’s green like my blood, and blue like my eyes. I like the way that everything is growing; the plants, the people, everything seems to thrive. Not like my home world; that was a dried up useless husk of a place. It was full of desperate, manipulative people, living out their whole existence in so much garbage like vermin.
The inhabitants of my home were also renowned for their ability to never shut the hell up. Even when I was with them, and they had other things to think about, they would still jabber away, presenting some useless piece of information to try to sway me, like, “Please don’t kill me, please don’t hurt my family, and don’t suck out my mind!” It never worked before, but when I got to Earth, everything changed.
Someone said they loved me.
Well at first she pleaded, and it was just like being back home.
“I won’t tell anyone, I promise, just stop and I won’t tell a soul. I know you don’t want to do this.” Her name was Isobel.
“Oh but I do, very much so.”
“What you said yesterday; it can’t all be lies. I know you, I know you love me.”
“I love you?”
“Yes, you said you loved me,” she wailed.
“Dear Isobel, that could never happen,” I assured her, and then I grimaced as sudden clenching pains in my stomach made me almost double-over in agony.
She still struggled, still kept repeating that she loved me, even as I held a blade to her throat. And then I did something strange; I didn’t kill her. I put the knife down and I let her go. I watched with stunned amazement as she ran crying into the empty street.
The full force of her words struck me as I was cleaning up; I may be a murderer, but I have my standards, and I won’t live in a mess. There was furniture and debris strewn all over my room from our struggle. A little square had dropped from Isobel’s ripped jacket. It was a photograph; a small one, the sort you get from those cramped picture-booths I’ve seen on the pier. I held it up to the yellow light bulb, and I got the scare of my life. My would-be victim was sitting with her face pressed up against someone who looked just like me.
Are you ready for some history?
Before I came to Earth, things were very different. Whenever I killed someone, I consumed my victims, and I took on their appearance -- it was the reason why I was the most sought after assassin in my system of planets. There are a few others who were made as I was, but I was still nothing like them; I didn’t revert back to my original form a few hours after I completed my job, and I have never been confused with someone that I hadn’t killed before.
I was only a child when they made me into what I am now, and let me tell you, I grew up very fast. I don’t know why I was different from the others, but it was a fortunate happenstance that meant the loved ones of all my victims could not look at me and seek revenge. They saw their husbands, their wives and even their children staring right back at them. They couldn’t touch me, the fools.
Back in the present, I thought how I had met Isobel in the quiet pub. I realised that she had gone along with me with far too much ease; had been too eager to come home with me, and she had laughed out loud when I told her what I was about to do. That’s why it was hard to stop, even when I knew I could not kill her -- I don’t like people laughing at me. But I did stop, and that was the most disturbing thing of all.
Now let me set you straight. I don’t do this for some ridiculous cause, or because I am following orders, well not anymore. I do this because I enjoy it, and it is as simple as that.
I always endeavour to make the best of the skin I’m in, but since I arrived on Earth, things have not gone well. I didn’t choose to come here; fate chose my destination after I escaped from my transport. I was supposed to be going to prison, where I was to spend the rest of my very long life. They wouldn’t kill me, wouldn’t let the end come because of the manner of my crimes.
Since my arrival, my appearance hasn’t altered at all, and is has been quite disconcerting to remain the same after a lifetime of change. The thought that I was half-way through feasting on one of my guards, had been nothing but a coincidence until now, but what I saw when I looked at that photograph … it was me and it was the same guard; a strange mix of the two of us. He must have escaped, half consumed.
He must be after me.
I remembered the guard’s name -- Pendulum, that’s what I called him, I used his constant pacing to mark the time. I hated him, didn’t like the taste of him when I bit into his mind. I should have known something was wrong back on the transport; he knew what I was, yet he walked into my cell without weapons, and he was in my arms in mere moments. He was astringent, acrid and flaky, with layer after layer of bitterness that crumbled into me, but I knew that there was more beneath. There was a sweet remorseful core to this sour prison guard that he tried to hide. I was just about to suck it out when the accident struck, and the next thing I knew, I was in an escape pod, being pulled down by the gravity of an unknown planet. I crashed on a rocky shoreline with wreckage all around me. I was now in a new world, with lots of opportunities to have fun.
Only nothing fun has happened. It’s been a disaster, and I haven’t been able to feed at all; I feel sick whenever I even try. You have to understand, I've been a man who loved men, been a woman who desired no one. I've been no gender, and every gender, felt new life grow within me, and thrown away so many chances for happiness. If you can think of the combination, I've been there; I've devoured and consumed, and pleasured without consequence. I'm hungry for my senses to be satisfied, and the pain is getting stronger. There’s a banquet right outside my front door, and I have no stomach for it.
I brought myself back to the present, wondered how I could have become so very stupid, and then I ventured out into the small coastal village that has since become my home. I was greeted by smiles and waves, instead of the cautious avoidance that I was usually accustomed to. People actually looked pleased to see me, and those signs of happiness made me shudder in the driving rain. They wouldn’t be so jolly if they really knew me.
I skulked into the local pub that I had been in last night; the place where I had met Isobel. Someone bought me a drink. Several pints of disgusting alcohol later and I discovered that apparently I had defused a peculiar looking bomb of all things, which had been unearthed in the local schoolyard. It didn’t take me long to figure out that a piece of ordinance must have come down with old Pendulum and me.
I felt sick, truly offended at this turn of events. The thought of someone out there using my face, mine, to generate warmth and goodwill was revolting. It wasn’t the awful beer that made me gag and leave the pub after a few hours, cursing that rotten guard and what he had done to me.
I felt impotent, useless; all my abilities seemed to have disappeared after I had fed on Pendulum. I was truly wretched.
I leant against a wet brick wall clutching my stomach, when a woman turned the corner and ran straight into me. The force of our collision knocked me down into a puddle, but she helped me up, and before I knew it, she was taking me back to her place, as I apparently needed a cup of tea to set me straight.
The woman introduced herself as Moira. She fiddled with a large set of keys, leaving me with the chance to look at her from behind. She would usually have made a fine snack for me, but as she yanked me a little roughly into the hallway, I put my mind on other things, and willed my churning stomach to settle down.
“I can’t believe what you did yesterday; I mean how do you even know how to defuse a bomb? Were you in the army? I can’t understand why it was never spotted before. I’m just glad that you were volunteering at the school, helping out like that’s ever so kind. Do you take milk and sugar?” Her eyes shone with admiration, and I looked away, ashamed.
“Just water for me. It was a bit of luck, wasn’t it?”
“I’ll say, and now the Mayor wants to make a presentation and all. Would you like a biscuit? I’ve got some chocolate ones. I think I’ll treat myself too.”
I was unsure if Moira ever took a breath, but there was a dividend to her words. I learnt what I needed to know; how to get hold of myself. Forty-five minutes later, and I also knew where the ceremony would be held, who the Mayor’s driver had gone to school with, and what sandwiches to avoid at the small reception.
It was strange, I have never been much of a talker, but my spell with Moira had benefited me greatly. I couldn’t bring myself to slay her after she had treated me like an honoured guest in her home. I doubted I would be able to, even if that was what I had wanted anyway. So instead I helped her wash the dishes, and I immersed my deadly hands into warm water that was full of bubbles.
Later, Moira showed me photographs of her sister who lives just outside of Edinburgh, her nieces and nephews as they played in a park, and her red-setter who had died a month ago after getting hit by a speeding lorry. As I looked upon the images I was amazed at what I saw. I saw living beings; not just a tasty treat to be consumed, but real living people. And a dog.
The room span, I felt woozy and ill, stuffed full of strange emotions that left me overwhelmed. Moira asked me why I was crying, and I could not answer her; I didn’t know myself. I haven’t cried since I was a child. I never thought that it would ever happen again. I didn’t know myself anymore, and I curled myself into a ball. Moira tried to put her arms around me but I pushed her away and fled like a coward. I didn’t know what was happening.
I ran blindly down the wet cobbled lanes of the strangely silent village, instinctively finding my way in the dark. I felt deeply upset by my evening with Moira; could not understand why she had been so kind to me when she didn’t even know me. No one has ever been kind to me, not ever. There is something about me that makes people want to run away, but now, because of another man with my face, everything had changed.
I returned to my small accommodation and was greeted by a terrible sight.
It was me.
“You’ve been looking for me,” Pendulum said; it wasn’t a question, but a quiet statement.
“Let me finish what I begun. I can’t live like this.” Even as I said this, I backed away from him.
“Some may say that this is the only fitting punishment that you deserve; unable to feed, unable to change, a prisoner inside yourself.”
“Please,” I choked on the word. “This is no way for me to live. Either let me end this, or you kill me, but don’t let this carry on.”
“Is this so repellent to you? Is helping others so much of an abhorrence to you? We both have knowledge that exceeds anyone in this world. We can use it for good. You can be a source of good.”
“I don’t know how!” I cried, and once I confessed that, I felt weak and ashamed of myself. How could things have fallen apart so quickly? “This isn’t me, I wasn’t made for this.”
“You were the ultimate assassin,” Pendulum replied. “You were the spy who moved in plain sight, genetically altered to be a parasite, to drain the victim of all that they were, but it changed with me. You see, you killed my lover and when he was gone … I only wanted revenge, so I sabotaged the transport, took half my own weight in slow poison, and walked unarmed into your cell, so you could kill me but in doing so, kill yourself. We should both be dead you know.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I wailed like a pathetic animal. “But if you know so much about me, then you know that I cannot survive without taking the lives of others.”
“Have you even tried?” he asked quizzically.
“I haven’t killed anyone since coming to this place, and I’m ravenous. I’m sick and I cannot do anything until I finish with you. I can’t do anything.”
“I’m not going to kill you, Changeling.”
“So you’re just going to leave me like this, to starve to death? At least when I killed, it was fast, I never let anyone suffer.”
“You’re lying to yourself. You took the lives of innocent people -- for sport, for fun.”
“Yes, you’re right. I have enjoyed it, but something has changed. This world is different; people are good and compassionate here, and I cannot take the life of a single one.”
“It isn’t because your feeding became interrupted?” he said, not convinced in the slightest.
“Why ask, when you already know the answer?”
“I just want to hear you say it, that’s all. Say it and I’ll leave you in peace. I’ll leave this place and go into this world alone. You won’t have to look at me, at yourself, ever again.”
“All right, I’ll say it. I can’t do it because they like me. I’ve lived for so long as a killer, an assassin, a spy. I had forgotten what I used to be like when I was a child, before the experiments and the training. People on this planet like me, and it makes me sick and horrible, and it makes me feel good. There I’ve said it. Now just kill me and get it over with!” I spat in a rage. How dare he make me feel like this! How dare I feel anything at all?
“I’ve already told you, Changeling, I’m not going to kill you. You’re the expert at that,” he laughed, already walking to the door.
He laughed at me.
And as Pendulum turned to go, leaving me with tears stinging my face, burning with shame and remorse, I felt the pain of a hundred pleading victims, of corrupt generals whose faces I wore, before surrendering their long fought-for land to my owners. I felt the terror of the family I destroyed, simply because I couldn’t remember the names of my own. I experienced the confusion as a sick man died in my arms, only half aware that I was putting him out of his pain-filled existence.
I reached out a hand to Pendulum. It was a long thin hand; the hand of a man who upheld the law, who protected the innocent from the likes of me.
The hand was not my own.
I touched his shoulder and clasped his neck, spinning him around, surprised. I squeezed his throat, and I gripped at the veins that throbbed beneath my fingers, listened to our breaths halting and gasping. I watched as blood coated my arm, fluid and green as the plants that thrive on this planet.
In a surging warm, fortifying moment, I suddenly felt like a new man -- a hungry man, who knows that a banquet awaits him, right outside his front door.