by Lindsay Redifer

illustrated by Robin Wang


The metro doors bulge for a second and the train seems to go faster. It’s as if someone trapped in the tunnel has made a desperate attempt to get through the doors shoulders first. The sound is angry. I’ve only slept a few hours, I remind myself. I could be hallucinating.

Deep breath.

I feel in my pocket for the small, white box holding my chocolates. Inside there are four, perfectly shaped bon-bons of deep, cocoa black chocolate, each sprinkled delicately with sparkling salt crystals.

The chocolate looks like human skin. A woman next to me raises her eyebrows at my decadence- the 75 RMB price tag is still on the box. The guilt weighs on me, but not as much as my need for these little rounded pieces of paradise. I just have to get through this next assignment. Then I can turn in my resignation and finally get some sleep.

I work as an auditor, a job that has made my parents love me even more than they did the day I threw myself at their feet and begged for the violin they could never afford. They live in a meager house in Dalian and count on me to feed them and pay for the doctor bills my father collects. But not a Mao of the money I send them goes towards a want, only their needs. The sweetest thing they eat is brown bananas.

Salt hits my teeth, then deep, dark chocolate. I can do this. I’ll be fine.

One chocolate down, three to go. I close the box and slip it back into my pocket. I pull my sketch book out of my lunch bag and pull my pen out of the wadded up, soft eraser I keep stuck to the back. My co-workers laugh or cry out, “Cute!” whenever they see my drawings. I’ll never show them my other sketchbook. In that one, all of my associates, team members and leaders are slashed by gleaming kitanas or forced to sit on homemade explosives.

Why does auditing have to pay so well?

My pen starts cross-hatching, black on black. Scratch, scratch, scratch, deeper, deeper into the page. The black mass grows and creeps across the paper. The ink doesn’t dry, but continues reflecting the metro light. A face emerges, mean and dripping, with metallic eyes like the heads of spoons. Then a torso; solid and strong that narrows into a long, snapping tail. It has two arms, but no legs. It almost levitates, using its powerful torso and long tail for leverage.

Spit Black

I can almost hear the sliding, squelching sound of my creature moving through the metro. It would move quickly, leaving hand prints on walls and women’s shoulders, its tail stroking the ankles of would-be victims.

I lean close and let out a sigh. My breath splays some of the ink on the head, giving it long, pointed spikes for hair. I breathe on it again and now a jet of black shoots from its mouth to the edge of the page. I let myself get lost in the shape, the evil of it. I think of its long teeth, sharpened abalone. Without realizing it I gnaw a bit on my own thumb out of sheer glee. I pull it away to find it bleeding and dripping on to my drawing.


Then it moves. The thing slides from my sketchbook down my leg to the metro floor carefully. It traps my leg in a wind of its tail while it surveys the people of metro line 2. The tail slowly slides around my calf and ankle until I’m free, but I feel it imprinted in my skin.

The people on the metro are fascinated, leaning close and one brave boy pokes it. Annoyed, it swings up a pole to the top of the metro where it walks on its hands, sticking to the ceiling. The sight is terrifying and our mouths open like carp face to face with a net.

I see myself

It leaps on to a small, curly-haired woman, its muscled torso on her face. She’s screaming, but I barely hear her through the black body. Everyone close to her scatters as far as they can get in the crowd. She flails, waving for help. The beast puts its hands on her shoulders, regards her panicked face then bites it off.

The beast works its way down, chomping, slurping up entrails like udon noodles. After spitting out her sensible shoes, the thing looks around almost smiling. A set of clicks and then a jet of black sprays from its mouth, hitting an elderly couple huddled into a corner. Its metal eyes flash and then it jumps, ricochets off the ceiling, swings around a pole and lands at their feet.

It climbs up the woman’s back, smelling her neck. She looks around almost blindly and then our eyes meet. “Daughter! Daughter! Come save me!”

“Stop it!”

Her husband hides his face in his wife’s wispy hair. He’s tall, like my father. The old woman looks at me again and this time it’s with disgust. I don’t move. I look down and there, in my hand, is my pen.

My fist closes around it. My fingernails are biting into my palm, mixing ink with blood. Before I can think, I stand.

“It’s not right.”

One brave boy

The creature’s head whips around to see me. It clicks at me a few times then spits its black bile all over my face and clothes. It wants me to know I’m next. I wipe my eyes and step a bit closer.

“I made you. You’re mine.” The thing is watching me now. I see a tiny, upside down reflection of myself in its eyes. I look so small.

The fiend reaches for the next pole, wraps itself around it and contemplates the human moving another step closer. The older couple behind the thing try to run, but only get pressed into the metro crowd. Two streams of hot, damp breath blow on to my face and up my nose. Some ink drips off my chin and a long, flat tongue darts out to catch it.

“I think,” I say, looking at the little Chinese girl in its eyes, “you should eat me.”

Don’t move. Don’t back up.

The beast rears back, whips its tail forward to catch my waist and then pulls me in, hard. My shoulder slams into the pole and more ink drips into my eyes, but I force them to stay open. Its teeth extend slightly, eager to taste me.

I stab it right in the neck. It lets out a high shriek and convulses, slamming me into the pole over and over. I drive the pen deeper into the wet flesh, feeling it give and then snap as the screams get louder. The monster dies from the inside out; liquefying in every direction. Black liquid squirts into my ears, down my bra and into my hair. I hold on.


Gush, pour, and spew everywhere. You can’t go on living.

And then it’s gone. I’m alone with my pen and a big, dark mass. The old couple walks up to me cautiously and the woman hands me a wadded up tissue.

“Thank you.” She nods, gives me a little smile. “Not at all.” The recorded voice on the metro announces that we are now at Lujiazui. The doors open and everyone pours out, hugging themselves. I’m alone in the car. I shuffle over to a seat and collapse. I’m filthy, covered in dark inky slime, but I reach hopefully into my pocket. There are my chocolates.

I shove all three into my mouth, almost choking. Cheeks bulging, I lean back and let them melt, salt floating near the roof of my mouth and then out to my teeth which slowly meet. The wet mess all over me is turning cold. I have to get back.

A text message: “OMG! People on the news are saying there’s a monster out. Have you seen anything?”

It’s my associate or my team leader or whatever she is. I text back that it’s just rumors. I tell her I’ve been on the metro and I’ve seen nothing. It’s better than the truth, which is that the monster was my own creation. I set it loose.

I stay on the metro but I have no idea where I’m going. Can I go to the audit tonight? What might leap out of my ledger, my backpack? Is this a gift or a terrible burden? Where did that thing come from?

I have to stay away from people. I can’t put them in danger. I have to figure this out. I look down at my hands. I can see that the black has seeped into the lines of my palms and I have a feeling it will never wash out.

It’s permanent.

Alone in Black Mass