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Animals Under the Skin

by Tantra Bensko


“I’ve gotten rid of things like that before. I mean, not slugs, per se.” Slugs. Jeez. I was glad no one was listening.

“Have you?” He kept his face turned on me. Here I was, wanting a man who turned into a slug when he wanted someone back. I wanted to kiss him. I wanted to stop walking and heal him and kiss him immediately! But I knew instead, I would help prepare him for the rest of his love life after he left the island, not for me. If it worked.

What a ridiculous world. A world in which slugs eat hominids, boys get hissed at by naked cobra girls, and people are possessed by giant, tentacled slugs. Did they ever tell people about this in school?

“The birthday party is for a guy your age, so there should be plenty people you’d want to meet. A good dance band is playing. There will be homemade wine. We’re almost there. Do you want to go with me?”

He looked relieved. Maybe I could do something. Maybe I was his answer. Here I was, hoping for a romantic time on the island, and everyone I was interested in was younger and seemed so inaccessible to me. I knew most people thought I looked in my twenties, and many assumed I was. But I wasn’t.

I felt a little silly carrying the moist boat all this way. My arms were getting tired of cradling it, my muscles cramping and twitching. Was there any hope for me to just have a normal relationship? Flings at least seemed safe, because if I did have the mycoplasma, there would be no chance of contagion from short contact. But I was content with just being their friend, showing them love in chaste ways, being helpful, sisterly. Or, I was working on it, anyway.

Slugs were everywhere.

The party was in the little building. The band was made up of friends I’d made while living on the island, dancing to music of the various members in various permutations of bands. I hesitantly set the boat down on the counter where they were selling beer, and I got beers for myself and for Tyson. Seeing him in the light was even more of a bittersweet treat, and I knew I needed to work fast if I wanted to at least find some bond with him. To actually have anything major happen seemed out of the question, but I felt like I already loved him, could communicate with him better than I could with Byron, though I was as drawn to Byron as I ever was.

Byron was playing drums in the band, and we smiled at each other and he interrupted the song to yell “Hi!” to me. I felt so honored that he cared about me. I could feel my ache, my soul, my yearning to be touched not only physically, but emotionally, to be let in, to let the vibrations merge and spark and tingle and not just hold back within my skin.

I sat down very close to Tyson on the couch, uncertain if that was OK. He didn’t seem to mind, seemed maybe to welcome it, but I wished for more obvious welcome.

Why did I pick men who were so withdrawn, with such emotional convolutions? Was it the James Dean syndrome? Was I being set up by my own emotional patterns to endlessly be drawn to unavailable men? Was my pattern being used against me by the entities that wanted to extract my pain? Was it because I had felt his pain when I watched him in the movies as an adolescent, as he was stumbling, wrenched, gorgeous, stuttering, head down, wrapped in a shell of intensity? The men I was drawn to on the island had that desperate wounded feel, yet also had that kind of poetic, whimsical relaxation that Dean would display as well. I had spent my life trembling.

I pushed my gestures closer to Tyson, touched his knee, offered to buy him more beer. When was it okay to talk over the music and when did he want to listen? I took my cues carefully, and in the silent times, I engaged him in the most creative conversation I could.

Bryon came over and gave me a hug and I told him happy birthday, and he went back to play again, switching this time to the guitar.

Cordial came in and danced over to me. I happily got up, glad someone was making herself clear, though I assumed even with her, the friendliness could only go so far. We danced, and I checked to see if Tyson was watching.

He left, and I was nervous, wondering if he was gone for good. But I threw myself into the dance, into smiling with Cordial, doing contact improv with her, flirting with her, dancing with her as if we were two snakes.

As we did that, we both started mimicking the cobra breath, being two snakes intertwining and hissing and slurping and staring each other down. Our laughter afterwards made us bend over, and we went with the bending pose, and danced the cat position, our butts up, and then curled down, flinging our hair back and forth, and making mewing sounds to each other.

Then, the cat being the animal said to be the best catcher of snakes, she became the cat while I was the snake, and she chased me around the room, all in tune with the improvised music. The musicians were watching us with big grins, and others came to join in and play.

The dance floor was mostly populated with females, with so many people I had come to care about scattered around, standing, drinking, talking. When the dancing got to be too much about showing off, I lost interest, and sat down. Then grew instantly too restless and went out to look for Tyson.

I could see he had gone out for a smoke, and I was relieved, went back in. Byron stopped playing and danced with me for the next song. My light was all in my aura, reaching toward him, lit up far beyond my skin. It was an electric feeling, so intense I could hardly stand it. I said “Byron, I always feel you when you are near me. It’s like an electricity.”

“I know, Kundra. I feel it too. Only for you. Only for you.” We danced closer, more smoothly, and what a rush to have him say that. I was in my element. Life had meaning.

After the dance, I said I had a present for him, and I could show it to him.

“Show it to me now, then!” I took his hand and led him towards it. “I’m excited!”

I was glittering as we wound our way through the room. “I made you some marzipan hominids but slugs broke into my tent and ate them. But here’s this, for you to get more tips.”

He picked it up, studied it, and exclaimed about how much he loved it. He gave me a hearty hug and laughed. “It’s the best birthday present of them all!”

“How’s camping going?” One of our bonds. Some of the islanders found alternate ways to live in the summer, in school buses, vans, shacks, a very few camped.

“Really well. I found a girl to camp with me. We’re making blackberry wine at our camp.” A girl. Someone half my age, someone he would tell where his camp was. I wanted him to invite me to see it.

“Slugs are possessing my tent. Do they ever do that to you?”

“What?” He was pulled away by a friend, and then hoards of girls acting all sexy and naughty started spanking him. Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two! That was IT? He was only twenty-two?

I talked to friends, trying to process that, letting myself realize slowly that he was way too young for me to have any hopes for. I lost energy, needed to sit down. This was the age I had always feared. The exact feeling I had always imagined since youth, thinking when that happens, it’s time to just end it all.

And then Tyson said he was getting ready to go. I walked out with him, into the dimly lit park. I knew all we had was that evening. But I wanted to change his life forever, free him up from the spell. How many people he would meet would have the ability and experience I had? How many people would even take such things seriously? How many people could he relate to with such trust?

“Do you want me to see if I can get rid of the slug thing?”

“Do you think you can?” He laughed that strange, slightly demented laugh I was coming to dislike.

“Yes. We’ll see.” He laughed again.

We stood there for probably an hour, as I brought all my attention, all my power, intuition, larger self, connection with the life force, discernment, and healing powers into play. It was a time that was beyond time, magical.

“I can see light coming out of your hands,” he told me. “And I can feel the tentacles. It’s like it burns them.”

As we stood closer to each other, as I ran my hands over his aura, held him here and there, with such tenderness, such fire, our faces drew closer. Each touch was done with infinite love, and knowing that whatever was in him could come out at me, because we were so attracted to each other. Whatever was attached to him could take revenge on me.

Our lips drew close to each other, and he grimaced. We pulled back. I circled him, releasing the hold, feeling the thing, feeling the cutting of the cords, releasing what in his psychology allowed it to stay.

As I circled back to face him, he drew closer to me as if to kiss me, but then looked again as if he were hurt, about to cry out, and stood up straight again. It was a good test. People were coming out of the party, ignoring us politely as they drove away. The parking area was starting to clear out.

Eventually, he had to sit down, and for about another hour, we sat on the cool ground, and I wondered what was going on with Bryon inside, as the music sounded so good, the laughter inside swelling, people drinking, people hugging.

Byron’s best friend, Joey, drove up, and talked to me for a minute before realizing the oddness and privacy of what was going on. I hoped he wouldn’t think me too strange.

I curled over Tyson, like a mother protecting a baby, or like a womb surrounding a fetus. If I were being tricked into being around mind-controlled men, or if I were in a program myself, led around by my desires, that was just too bad. I always turned it into healing for them, helping them. I always was able to at least feel love. I rocked him, told him how much love I was sending him, and he cried. He laughed strangely for far too long. He wailed.

Suddenly, he stood up and I knew it was the final moment, and I made the final cut, and Tyson yelled, and made some sounds I couldn’t identify, and said “It’s gone! It left, totally left!”

We were exhausted. We sat down again, huddled together against the cold, my coat wrapped around both of us. I petted his hair. Byron and Joey and a few others of his friends came out and stood by a car. Was Bryon going to leave before I could find some resolution to my evening with him? I didn’t know what to do.

I stood up, said I wanted to say goodbye to Byron. And Tyson said he wanted to leave, anyway. We hugged, holding each other, still teary, looked into each other’s moonlit eyes, and he thanked me. “That’s the best thing anyone has ever done for me.”

And he walked away. I went up to Byron. “Did you remember your boat?”

“Yeah, I got it. I love that present, Kundra. It’s the best present of all of them.”

“Yeah, that’s a killer boat,” said Joey.

I stood closer to him, wanting a kiss. “You’re really gorgeous, you know that, Byron? I really like you.”

He looked at his friends standing near him. “I know, I’m attracted to you, too, Kundra. But we have to just be like brother and sister. Cause that’s what Andy White would say, and Frank Lipner.” Another of his friends came out and they started hollering to each other.

“What? Who are they? What do you mean?” He was distracted, and I turned and asked Joey. “Who are Andy White and Frank Lipner?”

Joey, a pleasant but bewildered look on his face, shrugged. “I don’t know.”

I couldn’t figure out what he meant by that. But he and Joey hugged me and everyone piled into the car. Everyone was gone, and these guys were going to have fun elsewhere.

“It ain’t over till I’m sober,” Byron said, grinning.

When I got back to my tent, I got in my sleeping bag without even checking for new holes. All my food was put away as always in the tin, but that hadn’t been helping much. I was too tired to care, though.

I kept wondering. Andy and Frank would say they were attracted to me too? Or, they would say that Byron was attracted to me? They would say he and I should be brother and sister? At least he hadn’t said I was like a mother to him.

I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop thinking about Byron, and Tyson, feeling so alone and untouchable. I heard the familiar scratching and rustling and as always, wondered how slugs could make sounds like that. It just seemed like it would be beyond them.

I was tired from nights of being kept awake by the sounds of slugs nibbling. I was tired because of my illness. Was it mycoplasma? Was each little colony taking me over, making life in the mainstream world harder and harder?

I could hardly move after dancing, and doing the de-possession. I thought about when I woke up in Atlanta when I was young, nothing different, except for a needle mark on my inner arm, right on the one blood vessel anyone could use for IVs. It had a hematoma, and an obvious hole that went into the vein.

I could hardly move, had to be carried, felt horrible, and never felt the same again after that violation. It could have been mycoplasma. It could have been any number of things. They could have drawn blood, not put anything in. But testing for mycoplasma was nearly impossible to get a correct answer with, if a person took supplements. And without those, I would have been too ill. I could only hope it was really only my body breaking down in the usual way from too much stress of this modern world. Too much toxicity of this age. I could only heal it.

I banged the side of the tent periodically, knocking the slugs off. My muscles were twitching so hard, I could hardly get to sleep.

Then, blamph! Right on my face was some unnamable thing! I yelled and sat up.

Was it the giant slug thing coming to take revenge? I felt for my flashlight, wanting to reach out for it, but afraid to.

When I found it, some shadows and movements followed under the covers, a shaking against the wall of the tent. And then, across the floor of the tent ran something small and dark. It was a mouse!

I opened the door to the tent and said hello to the mouse, to reassure it, and chased it with my hands. I lifted a shirt. It came tumbling off and scooted out the door. I said bye, zipped up the flap, and then realized it all made sense. The mouse would be back. Eating a hole through my tent.

The slugs had never been slugs. They had been mice. It was only coincidence that a slug had been lying on the hole. I lay back down. Scratch, scratch. I banged against the side of the tent where that mouse, or some other mouse, was trying to get in.

Copyright © 2009 by Tantra Bensko

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