Swap, pt. 3: Meanwhile…

 
Content Warnings: Body-horror, gore.

 

Earlier that day, Katters pulled a rabbit out of a magician.

 

The magician had been a survivor — lived through Zebra’s barbery; lived through the fall down the chute; and lived through however many hours she’d been in the freezer, on top of and under a generous handful of other bodies.

She begged for help as Katters hauled the first body out of the freezer, clutching at the cuffs of her scrubs. Katters ignored her, and by the second corpse, she had caught on that Katters was not there for her health. She screamed, but her cries grew hoarser, quieter, weaker as she froze.

Katters would normally have started with the magician, both because she is impatient, and because survivors usually stop being survivors when she waits. But she could smell the magic on this one, and knew the magic would keep the magician alive while she worked. It always did.

One by one, bodies left the freezer, and eventually the magician was the only one left.

She was tall. Too tall for Katters to carry, so she dragged her by her feet out into the basement. It was cold out there, but not nearly as cold as it was in the freezer, and the difference made the magician flush with what blood she had left. Katters heaved her onto a table — sticky with what remained of the preceding patients — and rolled her onto her back. She was too weak, too cold to protest as Katters fastened chains to her wrists and ankles.

A tranquiliser would not be necessary. The magician would not be alive for long.

The basement was well-lit, bright lamps hanging over each of the steel tables that dotted the room. Every surface was white or metal, and reflected light back at you no matter which way you turned. The magician was squinting.

She said something. Katters ignored her.

The quiet, constant hum of the freezer was overshadowed briefly by the squeaky wheel on the tray Katters brought to the side of the magician’s table. Tools lay neatly across it (knives, and scissors, and forceps) along with a pair of welding goggles and what looked like an iodine bottle: dark brown glass and a dropper lid. A small pet carrier sat on a shelf beneath the tray.

Setup done, Katters looked over her patient. The magician was middle-aged, though pain and fear accentuated the lines of her face and made her look older. Her brown hair spilled over the edge of the table, what of it wasn’t clinging in clumps to drying pools of blood. She was wearing a white blouse, though it was stained bright red along the collar, and a brown skirt. Office attire.

She said something — swallowed. A wound on her neck gaped, a shallow laceration through the right-side sternocleidomastoid muscle. More blood spilled across her shoulder and into the pit of her arm.

It was sloppy work, but it should have been fatal. And there should have been a lot more blood.

Katters took the magician’s jaw and tilted her head to get a better view of the wound. She gasped, whined, and Katters leaned in to glare at her neck.

She reeked of magic. It was panicking inside her, struggling to keep her alive and setting off bells in the back of Katters’ mind.

She said something.

Was the magic holding the blood in, somehow? Redirecting it away from the wound? She should have bled out minutes after having her jugular severed, and yet. Here she was. Still alive and full of blood.

Katters straightened, giving the magician’s face a shove before letting go.

Well. She wouldn’t be for long. Magics may be magic, but they aren’t miracles. Katters didn’t know what the magician’s skin-tone was supposed to be, but it probably wasn’t the pallid shade she was now.

Katters picked up the brown-glass bottle and drew a dose into the dropper. The contents were lime green, and glowed.

The magician opened her mouth to speak — and was cut off by a drop of potion down her throat. She choked, coughed, coughed more.

The potion, Sor had explained when she gave it to Katters, would temporarily change a magic-user’s physiology into that of a non-magic-user. Katters did not understand what the difference was between the two, but it apparently existed. The change would render the magic-user’s body inhospitable to the magic, which was (to Sor’s knowledge) the only reliable method of harvesting them.

Katters stood back. The magician’s cough spread deeper into her lungs, turning wet and rough, lifting her away from the table with every hack.

Her muscles strained against her bonds, which clanked against the metal table before pulling into a taut and creaky silence. Her face contorted. A tense grimace. Clenched teeth. Sweat running down her temples. Her joints groaned, popped. Snapped. Cracked like breaking branches. Her broken elbows bent backwards, then sagged and folded floppily under her.

Her cough mutated into a pained wheeze as she struggled to breathe.

Creaking. Groaning. Her back held tense — a deep and severe arch, the top of her head brushing the steel table. She whined.

Her chest burst open. A wet bang and blood sprayed everywhere, and the magician collapsed onto her broken arms.

The freezer hummed.

Katters held the goggles up and looked through one of the lenses. There was a volleyball-sized hole in the middle of the magician’s chest, gore and the tatters of her shirt forming a starburst pattern around the wound. Sitting in the middle of the hole, invisible to Katters’ naked eye, was a black rabbit.

She grabbed the pet-carrier from under the tool tray and popped it open.

The rabbit was trying to burrow back into the magician, digging into her chest, tiny claws scrabbling at broken ribs. Up close, it appeared less to be a rabbit and more like a rabbit-shaped hole in reality. It had no defining characteristics beyond this, no visible details like eyes or a nose.

Katters grabbed it by the scruff and plopped it into the carrier, then snapped the door shut. The rabbit panicked, thumping against the walls of its new prison.

The magician was dead. Katters removed her clothes, cutting the ruined shirt away and throwing the scraps to the floor before gathering the rest of her outfit and storing it away in a cabinet.

The rabbit scratched at the floor of its cage, plucking at the metal with its claws. Katters kicked the carrier. Not hard enough to knock it off its shelf, but hard enough to rattle it and its contents. The rabbit thumped, again, and she sighed through her nose. She went to work, determined to ignore her prisoner.

 

Hours later, Katters came staggering down the basement stairs, clutching the arm that had recently been pinned between Zebra-in-Sor’s-body and a pile of very uncomfortable books.

“Katters, go to bed,” she muttered as she turned on the lights. The basement was as pristine as she’d left it — spotless, tidy, nothing out of place. If it weren’t obviously a murder basement, one would never guess it was a murder basement.

“We don’t want you around,” she continued in a nasal whine. “You don’t get to laugh at our pain.”

A faint scratching came in response, the rabbit disturbed by the sudden light and noise. Katters had tucked the pet-carrier away in a cubby behind the magician’s clothes, and the scratching stopped when she pulled it out.

She pitched her voice into an imitation of Sor’s. “Don’t you dare science those magics I’m making you get for me,” she said. “It’s not like I’m paying you for them or anything, but they’re very valuable and if you lose one, I will be upset.”

She set the carrier on one of the tables. “Well,” she said, in her own voice. “And we wouldn’t want her to be upset.”

The rabbit was quiet, as it should have been. Logically, it shouldn’t have been able to make noise in the first place, considering it didn’t really exist.

“That seems like a good place to start,” Katters told it while pulling the goggles over her eyes. “You can interact with some physical objects, but you shouldn’t be able to. How, I wonder?”

There came no answer from the rabbit. A peek inside the container showed it was curled against the back wall, making itself as small as it could, which was still roughly rabbit-sized. In the shadow of the carrier, its colour had shifted to an ashen grey.

Katters lifted the goggles and the rabbit vanished, confirming that it still wasn’t really there. Not like the carrier was, or the table, or Katters herself. She opened the cage and swept her hand against the back of it. Nothing.

She pulled her hand back out, resting it on the mouth of the carrier, and replaced her goggles. The rabbit appeared, much closer to the front of the cage than it had been before. Much closer to her hand than it had been before.

It bit her.

She yelped and shoved the carrier away, yanking her hand back. The rabbit came with it, hanging from her by its nonexistent teeth. She could feel them, though, slicing through her scales and scraping against her bones.

“Motherfucker!”

She swung the rabbit into the air and slammed it against the table, then did that a few more times for good measure. It wouldn’t budge, its jaw tightening around her and its teeth sinking in deeper.

It was black again. The void, where its mouth should have been, wrapped around her first knuckle and swallowed it into nothing. She hit the rabbit with her free fist, and her blows slid off and away from it, like it was a block of ice. It was heavy, too, and hard.

She took a breath and tried to stop freaking out. The rabbit lay on the table, its hind legs splayed out behind it, its ears pressed flat against its back. It was holding statue-still, except that it periodically gnawed at the finger in its mouth. Katters’ blood was smeared over its face, drying into fur-shaped clumps. There was some blood on its back, too, where her knuckles had skinned against it.

She couldn’t hurt it. That was a problem. She didn’t know how to make it let go if she couldn’t hurt it, if trying just made it tighten its grip on her. She didn’t know how to handle a problem she couldn’t beat into solving itself.

She hurled it against the table again, hard enough to leave a dent and wrench her index finger out of its joint. She swept the rabbit up under her other arm and tried to yank her hand free. It slid in her grip like it was wrapped in seaweed.

She bit at it, still pulling away with her trapped hand, and her teeth ground against its neck but did no damage. Not to the rabbit, anyway.

Her legs folded under her. She sat, hard, on the tiled floor. The rabbit wound up in her lap, snug against her crossed legs.

The adrenaline was leaving her and sharp pain seeped into her hand and up her arm. She considered cutting it all off herself, but with the way things were going, the rabbit might do it for her. With its sharp, sharp teeth.

It was warm against her legs, and still so heavy. It felt less like she had a rabbit in her lap and more like Spike had curled up there.

The rabbit shifted, digging its hind paws and claws into her thigh, clenching its jaws around her knuckle. Prying it away from the rest of her hand.

It was dense. That would have been interesting, if it wasn’t attached to her.

“Fuckin’ talk about interacting with physical objects,” she said. “You’re just showing off.”

The rabbit said nothing.

She laid her free hand over its face, feeling its invisible eyes close and twitch under her palm, and pushed. It hunched its shoulders around its neck, but otherwise did not budge. Katters removed her hand.

“This is my life now,” she said.

Her hand hurt. Her index finger was cold and numb, but the rest of her hand ached. The rabbit’s teeth met inside her.

Maybe she could get it to stop existing. Then it would go away, and it wouldn’t be her problem anymore.

As she lifted the goggles, she worried a little about the possibility that she’d still be able to feel the rabbit, but not see it. Or that it would get away into the basement, somewhere, and she wouldn’t be able to find it again. She was not prepared for the possibility that the rabbit would not disappear.

She froze, the goggles hanging limp in her free hand. The rabbit — small, sleek, black — sat in her lap and twitched its teeth around her finger. It seemed more substantial, now. Less flat. Less like a hole.

It seemed like it was more her problem now than ever.

 

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