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LanceDeanApr 15, 2022, 1:51:09 PM

Monday July 4

"You got to suck out the eyes." The kid giggled. "They see it coming and man do they squirm."

He pushed the fish face down in the dirt that hemmed the lake and held a pocketknife to it. Another boy squatted down head to head, intent on every word. The fishing rod used to pull the hapless bream from the lake was abandoned in the dirt near their bikes.

"Lemme see." The second kid urged.

The first kid lifted the bluegill and planted his lips over its eye socket.

Out over the lake multicolored gunpowder flowers exploded across the sky. Red and white and blue carnations popped and rippled as reflections across the water.

The fish saw it all. Brilliant colors. Forms finally glimpsed without the distorting blur of water. Then the teeth came down.

They knelt at the edge of Lake Elaine half a block from the road. Bob paused to watch and listen in. Cute kids. He couldn't help but grin. Too cute for Bob's taste. Kids weren't his thing. He gave them a wide berth while he continued slinking through the shadows.

Darkness had slouched into Flagstaff and thrown its star-pocked cloak over the lake. Bob shivered despite the slow-roasting heat. Switching was like immersion into icy water. It chilled and exhilarated him. The new skin stretched and puckered over his jutting bones. Pinched at the creases like the shell of a new pupa, hardening in the summer air.

The first time, becoming Bob was a three day ordeal of unfolding. Now Bob was nearly instantaneous. Tonight some details were missing. There wasn't time to smooth the rough edges. The transformation was incomplete but it would be enough. He had the hat, the shirt, the walk and shadows to hide the rest.

Bob's collection operations had always been precisely planned and timed to the second. This was different. This was reckless. But circumstances had rearranged themselves for him. He recognized the significance of the opportunity. He was being called upon to receive a gift from the void. This was a bauble from the babble of chaos.

One must always accept the gifts bestowed by the void lest the void be offended. This made it more than an opportunity. It was a sacred duty. Gifts were meant for sacrifice. This was the intended alter.

Fireworks lit the sky. Bob knew they ended at 10:00 PM. A flurry of explosions indicated the time was drawing near. He checked his watch. Nine minutes away. Enough time.

While traveling down East Butler he'd spotted the Honda Civic parked near the lake. A faded pink beater with yellow and blue flower decals. Too promising to resist.

He crouched as he approached. Used the car as cover. Pyrotechnic timpani rolls and staccato pops echoed the machine-gun fire of distant wars. He watched her silhouette through the car windows, sifted by fine silt into soft focus, back-lit by the polychromatic mortars of patriotism as they reflected across the iridescently lapping lake.

It was good to have structure. To study and stalk the prey. But always one must be able to improvise. She caught her breath when she saw him. Half-scrambled to her feet. She moved fast. He was faster. His steel-toed boot connected with her solar plexus. She dropped. Gaped like a fish. Lips soundlessly flapped. Air refused to move.

Her mouth formed around a single word. It came out without air. Unvoiced and nearly inaudible.

"... Run."

It was too late to run. Wrapping her hair around his fist, he yanked her head across his knee. His tongue flicked out and licked her eye. Rough pink buds against the slick ball.

The exploding fireworks were an exclamation point to his inspiration. A thunderous yes to his unasked question. Bob thrust the knife. The sharpened triangle of steel popped her thumpy-plump valentine. Her fingers twitched. The light of life sputtered and shuddered toward surcease.

Bob locked his lips over her eye socket. He sucked and bit through the connective tissue. Teeth tore through conjunctiva and sclera. The ball popped like a plump yolk encased in calamari. He chewed slowly, relishing the experience.

As the woman twitched through her death, he sucked the plum from her other socket. Then he planted his mouth over hers. He inhaled her last breath. Held it in his lungs as if it were an opiate. He closed his eyes. Savored it.

He didn't notice the child until the boy stuttered, "M-M-M-Mama?"

A toddler. No threat to Bob. Of no interest to him.

But beyond Bob simmered the dark ether of the void. From this absence of creation and existence came a hunger. An instinct awakened. Blind and sure as an amoeba's need to divide.

Here was another glitter of darkness's gleam. Gratitude for a servant of the void.

Another gift.