The Sweetness of Death

Marianne had kept herself wrapped up in human skin for so long that it was starting to itch. It worried at her all the time; at night, in the shower, during sex. But it was in the condiments aisle of the supermarket, reaching out for a jar of honey, that she finally cracked. Her arms twitched within the cage of her impostor flesh and she groaned out loud.

‘Scratch me,’ she whispered to the person closest to her, an unassuming teenage boy frozen in the act of grabbing a tub of peanut butter.

‘Excuse me?’ 

‘Just scratch me,’ she gasped. ‘Anywhere will do.’

The boy had no choice but to abandon his groceries in order to accommodate the request, such was the intensity of her gaze, and the volume of the buzzing. He extended tentative fingertips and scraped his nails down her back.

After the first few scratches, Marianne’s skin began to fall off in chunks, melting away in hot, gnarled twists to reveal black and yellow fluff beneath. The boy’s face contorted.

‘What the fuck?’ He took a step back.

Marianne snatched up a bottle of tomato ketchup by its neck and wielded it at shoulder height, like a baseball bat, before shoving the base up into the boy’s Adam’s apple.

‘Don’t even think about it.’ A crowd had now started to gather, but no one intervened. A staff member quietly placed a yellow hazard sign next to one of the pieces of skin.

‘Keep scratching,’ hissed Marianne. With shaking hands the boy continued his task. Golden-banded fur began to swell from the torn patches, like a ready-to-use pizza dough expanding from the can; Marianne was now twice the size she’d been just two minutes ago, and still growing. The sensation was so intense that it was hard to tell where pain ended and pleasure began.

As the final pieces of skin split and slithered to the floor, Marianne felt the glorious freedom of her wings unfurling across her thorax. She reared up and beat them, antennae quivering. The crowd gasped and screamed; some recorded videos for TikTok. The boy began to weep. There was a commotion at the end of the aisle as a huge man with a moustache and a bandana started to blunder towards them, jars of marmite and mustard tumbling from shelves and skidding across the floor as he ran.

‘You stupid fuckin’ bee!’ In one motion he shoved the boy out of the way and swung at Marianne with the bag of potatoes he’d been twirling like a mace; he’d evidently watched a lot of films. Marianne simply flew up high out of the way, although not before taking a Maris Piper to the face. Now she was angry.

Hovering above the aisle, illuminated by the glowing lights of smartphones held aloft, Marianne took in the scene. The faces below were like flowers, so bright and varied. She was sorry it had to end this way.

With venom-tipped intent Marianne slammed into the potato-wielding Hulk Hogan and plunged her barbed stinger into his side, as deep as it could go. His screams were as loud as the frantic thrum of her wings and blood flowed quick and viscous. Marianne detached from her weapon and felt the burning agony of her digestive tract sliding out of her, as she knew it would. Her vision popped in hexagons; the world was now nothing but a blurred kaleidoscope of cameras and condiments. She tore off her tiny, human face, the only part of her false self that remained, and tossed it onto a BOGOF display of jam. Her claw closed over a jagged shard of glass among the debris, thick with honey. Life oozed out of her. With her last strength, Marianne unfurled her tongue and tasted the golden sweetness of death.

Katie Oliver has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and the Bath Flash Award, and was awarded an honourable mention in the Reflex Fiction Flash Competition. She has further work published in various places including Popshot Quarterly, Molotov Cocktail, X-R-A-Y and Dust Poetry, and is a first reader for Forge Literary Magazine and Tiny Molecules. She can be found on Twitter @katie_rose_o

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