“Ecdysis” by Kurt Hunt

“Ecdysis” by Kurt Hunt

Only one rule: do not speak to them.

Even when they crawl into your room at night, their claws gripping the floorboards — do not speak to them. Even when their breath is hot on your tightly closed eyes, their double-jointed elbows braced against the headboard above you — do not speak to them. Even when they chitter about their loneliness — do not speak to them.

You knew the rule. Your grandfather taught it to you before you could read. He tucked you in one night and you breathed the cedar smells of the cabin at the foot of the ridge and asked “when is she coming home?”

Strange, the way he turned his face away.

“She’s not,” he said to the wall after a long silence, then turned back and told you: when they come — and they will come — do not speak to them.

You knew the rule, but you didn’t understand it. Maybe grandfather did, but he’s been gone for many years while your conviction faded and your resolve weakened.

Eventually, the weight of their carapaces became too much, too familiar to bear alone. You felt your lips part one night and you heard your voice rasp at them in the darkness.

And now look at you.

No more grandfather. No more cabin. No more softness. You left those scraps in your bed.

Nothing now but gnawing hunger, that hollowed-out feeling in your armor as your chitinous legs scrape against the others, as you whisper about your loneliness to a succession of faces, all of them closed to you. Sometimes you think one will break, but the lips only ever form the words in silence: “do not speak to them do not speak to them.”

Kurt Hunt is, in no particular order, a father, a lawyer, a husband, a human, and a daydreamer. Sometimes he writes things, but usually he doesn’t. His fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fantasy Scroll, and other publications with questionable taste.