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THERE WAS A LADY WHO HAD SHARKS UNDER HER SKIN by Philip Webb-Gregg

There were bears there too, and tigers and wolves, and all manner of carnivorous things.

She walked around all her life, not knowing why she hurt so much. Always wondering why she was so hungry and so thirsty; always leaping at passing flames without a thought for her skin, which was worn and scarred from so many lost opportunities. And she would roar, sometimes, in the night, without knowing why. Or her mouth would suddenly be full of fangs and the taste of blood. And she would weep for the death she felt in her stomach, and kneel upon the floor. Not knowing why she hurt so much.

After many years of suffering, for no reason at all, she decided to find out what was wrong with her.

The first doctor she saw was a tired GP who looked at her strangely and said: Lady, you are fine. There is nothing wrong with you. Go home, please. There are people dying out there.

The second doctor was a little better. He at least smiled, and said she wasn’t alone. And would she like some pills?

The third doctor tried to rape her. He pressed his robber-glove hands into her crotch and whispered that he could take the pain away if only she would put his cock in her mouth.

After that, she gave up on doctors.

Instead, she went east. And in an ashram overlooking the filthy, sacred body of the Ganges, she met a guru who claimed he could levitate using only the power of his mind. She never saw this for herself, but all the other lady yogis swore it to be true, so she thought it could be possible.

The guru agreed that yes, her chakras were out of sync, and perhaps her bandhas were a little bent, or even broken. But these things can be fixed, he said, smiling like a car salesman.

.

She left India unsatisfied, and considerably poorer than when she arrived.

On the way home she found herself stranded in Amsterdam. Flight cancelled, wallet empty, heart pounding and spiting with all the rage of all the wild creatures. So, having no destination, she walked the midnight streets, trying to warm herself and silence the roaring in her veins. It was then that she thought that perhaps the third doctor had been right, after all. Perhaps flesh was the answer.

It was winter, and the snow fell with a deadly silence in the red-lit streets, looking like blood as it congealed around the lampposts. The ladies were out in force that night. With their shining faces and false designer handbags, heavy with the scent of plastic sweetness. They grinned at her and opened their arms, and for once in her life she felt like she wasn’t being lied to. Felt close to something honest. Something not yet violated by the pathetic corruption of human pretension.

So she did the only thing she could do, in the circumstances. She wedded those streets; became a bride of dark rooms and cheap perfume. Short skirt, hair bleached and wilting, lips ever smiling or snarling at those she called her prey.

She rather enjoyed it, the fucking. She had men and women of every race and class. Over and over. For years and years as the fat fell away, and her cheeks hollowed and her eyes grew sharp. And it almost, almost, worked. She could sense it, close. Something like purity. But still her toes itched to be claws and her bare breasts yearned to be smothered in fur. Still she hurt.

.

Then one night she met the psychopath in a coffee shop. She knew he was a psychopath, because he said so. I feel nothing, he said. I am like the pale canvass drawn upon with white chalk. My emotions are like rain falling in the ocean. My self swallows all to the point where nothing survives.

She agreed that yes, this was very interesting, and decided to take him to bed.

Later, exhausted and lying beside his naked body, she told him about her predicament. About her lifelong problem.

Oh, he said. This probably won’t work, but… May I? With that he took a ball point pen from his bag and drew upon her ruined skin, following the pattern weaved by a thousand tiny scars. From ankle to elbow. From wrist to navel. From philtrum to anus. They looked like constellations, at first. But no, it soon became clear that what he was drawing was a zip, running all around her body. And as he traced it with the touch of the ink she felt herself unraveling, unfurling. Coming apart.

Oh fuck, she groaned, as all the wild, starving things abruptly spilled form her body, pouncing and diving and gripping the naked psychopath, who laughed as he was consumed; his last, gargled words being: I feel… I feel… And then there was nothing but a few scattered bones and a large pool of blood, gently seeping into the carpet.

The lady lay back, then, empty on the soiled bed, and experienced a happiness so perfect it could only be called sublime. For endless minutes she drifted through a landscape of thoughtless satisfaction. A place that fitted together absolutely. And all her walls were gone, and all her hunger filled. And her eyes shone with cleanliness and joy.

But then, suddenly, she mourned.

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