Beautiful Curse

The following story originally appears in Kristine Ong Muslim’s 2016 collection Age of Blight. Be sure to also check out our interview with Muslim.

todarodes_pacificus_tentacle

It was not an accident at all. I planned on the most opportune time for my family to find out that the removal of my tentacle had not suppressed my predatory urges. And in all this time, I also could not stop thinking about that room in our house, the one with no windows and a thick door lined with steel, a door that only locked from the outside.

I chose a Sunday afternoon in April. April was the time of the year when the northern sky developed a loathsome purple tinge, a consequence of the early stages of redshifting. The government issued warnings about this phenomenon, warnings which were useless because they could not change the eventual course of things—that we were all headed for extinction and no one could do anything about it. That afternoon was perfect. My family deserved a little pep in their long uneventful lives.

When my family discovered me behind the shed, I was disheveled in all ways that a person could be disheveled. I crouched in the bushes. My mouth was clamped to the neck of the bloodied, still twitching chicken. The feathers made me gag, but I kept on chomping, kept on tearing at the doomed fowl’s flesh until, at last, the animal, the prey, stopped twitching—a weakling’s ultimate recourse.

My father restrained me, gagged me so I couldn’t bite him, and then half-dragged, half-carried me inside the house. It was probably out of shame that he ended up manhandling me. He needed to get me inside the house before anyone could see the bloody spectacle I had created. With her screeching, my sister woke the neighbors and our hibernating house pets. Oh, I wanted to snap her neck just to shut her up, eat her and my father, devour their corrupted bodies and leave only the bones for the rare scavenging birds of prey to pick, but I just could not get to them. They managed to chain me up and plug my mouth.

My mother said that I had the peculiar maniacal look she associated with the residents of Bardenstan, the place nearest the epicenter of the 2115 fallout. Her comment was not meant to be an insult. She said it in the manner of someone expecting me to reform afterwards. My mother was a first-rate Loyal, thus the genuine kindness. My father bought her from an auction house. I never heard him complain about her expensive solar upkeep and collagen sustenance. If he did, well, that would be another story. My mother, a first-rate Loyal to the core, was wired to love me unconditionally with or without my tentacle.

Do you know that there’s a picture of me hidden inside my parents’ safe? In that picture was the real me. It showed how I looked the day I was born. I saw it only once, when I turned twelve, the mandatory age for Truth—the government’s thirty-three year campaign to make parents—both pre-arranged and natural—confess to their children about the circumstances of their birth. The Truth was supposed to foster family bonding, a hazy concept that was prevalent in the nuclear families of the late twentieth-century.

I believed in it. Or I thought I did. I believed in any effort, no matter how preposterous, to be truthful. In that picture, I did not look human, because I had an enormous tentacle protruding from the side of my body. The tentacle was covered by bluish skin. The skin was sparsely dotted with tiny sacs. Deoxygenated blood, the doctor curtly answered, when asked why it was bluish. The tentacle allowed for voluntary movement. It was, more or less, a prodigious limb.

“The tentacle,” the doctor went on to explain to the younger versions of my parents, “is an extension of the appendix. This anomaly is linked to predatory instincts.”

I looked it up in an exotic biology textbook, memorized the passage that defined what scientists thought I had: the tentacle is not a simple anatomical curiosity. It is associated with the need to hunt, to assemble in packs—a behavior that has been observed in long-extinct animals like canines. If the tentacle is not cut out in time, or before the host turns sixteen, the predatory instincts may prove to be overwhelming and may lead a person to harm others, as in the harrowing case of Flynn Romero, 19, who finally had his tentacle surgically removed when he was seventeen. Romero, who attacked everyone in a department store toy section where he worked on a contractual basis, killed nine people that day.

Ah, Romero! I thought when I first read about his case. Had they stopped moving and teasing you to hunt them, you wouldn’t have been interested in them and they would have survived, right?

Now in that picture in my parents’ safe, I had the squelched look of defeat, the squelched look of an ancient creature that believed itself to be dangerous but had no faculties to behave as such. It looked as if something vital had been seized from me. And something, indeed, had been taken from me—albeit temporarily and not fully. In that picture, my lips had the hideous color of raw and ragged flesh, as if I had chewed them up. You see, even pre-selection and genetic engineering could ruin even the most ordinary of human stock. Something could always turn out wrong. My sister and I were deemed to be from a good batch during the recount of 2120. But look at how I turned out—sentient and disfigured, maladjusted and happy—a familiar fixture, if I had lived years ago.

My parents had my tentacle surgically removed when I was five years old. The visible section of the tentacle was eliminated. The part that was anchored to my spine was left untouched. Removing that part could kill me.

I missed having my tentacle around. As a child, I used to swing from it on the banister.

Outerbridge, the only place in America where crops are still grown in soil, does not take kindly to deformities. There are towns where physical aberrations are tolerated. Bardenstan, for example. Anyway, that’s another story. (I have plenty of stories left in me. Now they’re mostly about the hunt, the hunt, the unending hunt.)

Think about the ones who cannot be saved. Think about the ones who cannot adjust to being different. Think about all our stories and those of the ones before us. This terrible unfolding does not always see a blunt object gain shape. Sometimes, it distorts the object and the landscape that conspires to retain its shape.

Outside, something darted across my line of vision. It looked like a bird, a real one. Flightless birds were the only real birds. I would find it soon. I would find it and then I would kill it. And you could say that this urgency was attributed to the unexcised portion of my tentacle. You could believe whatever sounded convenient, because that’s what drives people to stay sane. Father put me inside the room where there are no windows, the room with just this one door that locks from the outside. I hear them talking outside the room. They are scared. They are panicking. I sense their restlessness. My mother, the first-rate Loyal, I’ll gnaw her throat first when I get out of here, slurp whatever comes out of all her ragged holes.

Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of several books of fiction and poetry: Age of Blight (Unnamed Press, 2016), Butterfly Dream (Snuggly Books, 2016), A Roomful of Machines (ELJ Publications, 2015), Grim Series (Popcorn Press, 2012), We Bury the Landscape (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2012), as well as Lifeboat and Black Arcadia, two poetry collections from university presses in the Philippines. She serves as poetry editor of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, a literary journal published by Epigram Books in Singapore, and was co-editor with Nalo Hopkinson of the Lightspeed Magazine special issue, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction. Widely published in magazines and anthologies, she grew up and continues to live in a rural town in southern Philippines.