When you first saw her, you thought she was a shadow, blacker than the normal gloom of your tenement building’s hallways. You paused in your flat’s doorway, looking for someone, something, capable of casting such a huge shape. The ceilings aren’t high, eight feet at most, but the catlike ears on that shadow touched the tiles. That’s what made you gasp: the shape didn’t bend like a shadow, didn’t flatten itself to the wall and faintly flicker in time with the old fluorescents.
And when you gasped, she turned around.
Feline? Canine? Most like a cat, full-figured, attractive. But those eyes captured you. Demonic, red, glowing. Beautiful. Beckoning. You almost, almost, took a step toward her, but she was still all shadow. You could only make out her form from the way it blocked the light. You thought: tar. She looks like she’s made of tar.
Then she laughed, deep and discordant, and spoke five words that left you weak-kneed. Then she flowed down the hallway away from you. You slammed your door shut and sat down on your tattered sofa, eyes squeezed shut, until you could convince yourself you’d imagined her.
The police came by the next morning, asking if you’d heard anything. They’d gotten noise complaints about the apartment at the end of the hall. The old fox who lived there couldn’t be found, but neighbors never saw him leave.
Then others began to disappear.
You didn’t see her again for nearly a month but, God help you, you heard her. Wet thumps from the floor above. Slithers below. Terrified screams abruptly ending in…satisfied noises.
Eighteen floors, a dozen apartments each floor. Not all occupied, but well over three hundred people lived here at the start. There had to be other tenants who’d seen her, too. It couldn’t just be you. You couldn’t ask; you didn’t know how to. But you started to see the fear in their eyes.
When the sounds came from the apartment next to yours, the wet thumps, the screams, you panicked. You knew that family: husband, wife, and three pups. You picked up the only weapon you had, a baseball bat, and you smashed in their door, and you saw—you saw—
She filled the room this time. She filled more than the room. Black, shiny, almost liquid. The mother wolf held two of her screaming children to her as she watched her husband’s kicking paws disappear between the goo-giantess’s lips, heard the tauntingly casual swallow.
Bravely, stupidly, you charged into the room screaming and swung the bat at her closest hand. It hit with a wet, useless thock, and she simply pinned you to the floor with her palm. She felt hot and soft, but not liquid, not sticky. You struggled wildly, futilely, as the wolves’ screams grew more frantic—then stopped, not one by one but all at once. You saw their shapes go down her neck, squirming, still alive, no doubt still screaming.
She moved her hand off you, looked down at you, and blew you a kiss. Then she turned away, and—flowed up out of the room, breaking just into liquid, flowing into multiple air shafts.
When the police came about those disappearances they dragged you downtown. They had a lot of questions, and they didn’t like your answers. They especially didn’t like the true ones. But they released you two days later, because the disappearances hadn’t stopped.
The dwindling survivors began to talk about her, but what could they do? Bullets did nothing. She couldn’t be trapped. She couldn’t be predicted. She could be anywhere. You might step into your bath water and watch it swirl black around you, finding yourself already halfway in her mouth. She might form from the ceiling and wrap her tongue around you. The elevator went out of service because, some said, she ate the car: not just its passengers, but the whole thing, leaving only dangling cables. Not that the stairs were any more safe. And you heard dark whispers about how creative she could be in playing with her food.
The last other holdout went down her throat a week ago, along with the priest he’d hired for an exorcism. The police won’t come to this block, let alone this building, anymore; you heard they lost a whole cruiser. It’s just you now. You didn’t have anywhere to move to, but it wouldn’t have helped. You’ve read the papers: the people who thought they’d gotten away have been disappearing one by one, too. She’d claimed everyone in this building.
And for the last week, you haven’t seen or heard a thing out of the ordinary.
Where is she? Why are you still here? Why are you still alive? Has she forgotten about you? No, this is a final game, her last, most dreadful cruelty: she’s left you unable to think about anything about her, about how she’ll take you. How big will be she be? How will it feel going down her throat? To be inside her? Obsessing on it makes you shiver, makes you ache, makes you moan, but you can’t stop. You’re terrified she’ll take her time with you. You’re more terrified she won’t.
You walk outside your building, sit on the front steps. The whole neighborhood is quiet, tomblike. A light, warm rain is falling, and you close your eyes, listening. Is that burble the sound of water flowing down a storm drain, or is it something else? Could she be the rain itself? Will tonight be when she finally keeps the promise she’d given you, the only words you’ve ever heard from her?
I’ll save you for last.