The Body Surfer
by Edward Ahern
Danton awakes to the sense turmoil of his new host- gasoline smoke, dung flavored dust, lice bites, taste of spiced mutton, ache of hernia, tinny horns, blurred vision of a tent stocked with cloth. So like the last host -- who had been driving to this village when its ancient Jeep was broadsided by a Mercedes truck. It is bleeding out, forcing Danton to blindly flee into a new body.
Burrow now, quickly burrow. Slide past the thinking and the seeing and the hearing. Deeper, senseless deep, hiding depth at the bottom of mind.
Danton waits, measuring time by the body rhythms of his host. He is trained to wait, to hibernate. To not think, to only take of its energy and cradle in its rhythms.
He waits. Motions ebb. Breathing slows. Pulse lowers. Now, Danton thinks, let's see what I'm riding.
Gently creep up from the lair. Deaden and seep upward, deaden and ooze, an invading well spring. Perch among the unconscious sensations. Layered fat. Sweating new onto dried sweat. Breath rasped by harsh tobacco. Eye lid flutter. Dream of saffron rice.
Fleas, they called themselves, hopping on and off hosts until they find the quarry. His last host had known that the quarry lived in this village. It had died luckily close.
Slither into the sleeping library. It is Khalil. Sells fabrics. Poor. Seven children, three dead. Ignored wife. Timid thief. Ah, knows the prey's relatives but not the prey. Bad, only the women in the target family come to the shop. Can't be helped.
Danton swirls, spinning a sealed cocoon. Khalil will never know he is being ridden. Danton waits. He cannot sleep, but shrivels his thoughts, aware only of the host sensations. Body temperature rises slightly. The gray light of false dawn seeps into the room.
Stirrings. Stiff muscles flex. Flatulence. Its eyes open. It needs glasses. It washes some body parts, dresses and eats. Khalil walks to its stall in the souk. It hates many people here. Danton waits. A bird dog, he thinks, just a bird dog. But instead of scents he prowls for thoughts. The closer to the quarry the stronger the thought scent. No, not quite a bird dog. Danton retrieved thoughts but killed his quarry. And he relished the kill.
One day. Two. Three.. It prays, sells cloth. Eats. Defecates. Sleeps., Once beats wife.
Danton holds his stalk, keeping insulated from the host. In it but not of it. A deer tick that wants no host diseases.
On the fourth day two wrapped women enter the souk. Khalil recognizes them, they are kin of the quarry. Women, are always more difficult for Danton to infiltrate and mesh with. The younger, ride the younger, fewer hard thought patterns. But harder to transfer with both hosts awake.
Danton stretches out gently from Khalil and touches the girl's head like a blessing. Reads inward from the skin. Confirm. Quarry's daughter. Lives with prey. Curl back to cup the neck nape. Glide through hairs, black and clean. Poise at the skin, then flow in through a hole smaller than a pore. Once at the mind bottom, where no thought lives, hollow out a tiny sac. Bulge his stream to accommodate a morsel of himself that is left behind. It shivers as Danton's bit of consciousness nestles in.
Draw back like ebbing water. Resettle on his perch in Khalil.
The two women buy nothing. Khalil is annoyed.
The day passes. Khalil is ignored. A cab ride, Danton is taught, just a cab ride. He subsides, becoming only Khalil's senses.
Light fades. It prays, eats and argues with the woman. It falls asleep. The night gradually chills. At its coldest, Danton winds himself about himself and glides out. Khalil is left behind, unknowing and alive. If it does not bleed into its brainstem it will stay alive.
He glides from the hut and moves into the light spattered dark, He holds, swaying, at roof top level. The germ of himself in the girl pulses, and he moves forward and slightly side to side, keeping in the spoor of himself, toward the germ pulse. His reach is about as far as he can run and as long as he can hold his breath. Mistakes mean delays which will shrivel and kill him. The roads below, easier to move through, are traps, for they almost never go the direction he needs. Slide around a taller building, around another. The walled compound ahead. Left, near the back wall. First, no, second floor, open window, not that it mattered.
The girl's bed is in a darkened corner, but he did not need light to see it and the pulsing morsel of himself. He swirls so close that were he breathing his breath would flutter its hair. Touch with the lightness of dust fall.
He flows in. Smell of sandalwood soap and child pungence. Fan whirr. Tongue taste of sugared cake. Barked knuckle ache. Swells of growth and wellness. Burrow, burrow down until only heat and pulse and motion are sensible. Hollow out the lair.
Sleeping still. Swim upward. Deaden and seep, deaden and seep. Explore the library. Amira. Five.. Father equals quarry. Father away, back perhaps tomorrow. Dream of moving through a wheat field. Certainty that Amira is exactly where she should be. The perch in her consciousness is spun. Danton slides back down. He waits.
Target does not return the next day. Danton is cocooned but cannot settle into dormancy. He is taught not to comingle with hosts, but is restless. After half a day of shifting about in the lair, he seeps into Amira's mind, and explores.
Beliefs. Warm, overwashing beliefs. Father, mother, something called allah, hazy but protective. The day's purpose is itself. Mutton, rice, bread tastes, all new and sharp. Running without restraint. So little difference between waking and sleeping. He is uncomfortable and slides back down.
The quarry is another day late. He moves back into her consciousness. Delicacies of soft touch. Annoyance at an older sister. Attending with vigor to a small cat. Water has taste. Small pains are newly discovered. He holds at sense level, unwilling to return to the lair. Finally she sleeps and Danton drops back down. He is uncomfortable and does not wish to share her dreams.
Amira is in high excitement. Her father has returned. Quarry spends time with assistants and wife, then takes Amira onto his lap. Questions back and forth. He reads Amira's senses of the quarry's warmth and odors and muscles. Target is uneasy, asks Amira several times if she is unwell, or has troubles.
Target wraps its arms around Amira more tightly and opens up to absorb everything it can about her. Amira is completely open to his gentle probing. Danton is trained to the stillness of a hunting cat, but senses his own fear. He knows his cocoon is sealed, but is anxious. He releases from his perch, dropping back down the deadened channel into the lair, landing hard. Too hard. Bleeding starts, couldn't be helped. He knows by training that the target cannot have sensed him while on his perch, but fear lingers.
Danton waits in the lightlessness. Breathing slows, pulse slows. Motion almost stops, Wait. Wait. Wait. Judge time by the falling night temperature.
If the target did sense him Its defenses will be up. The target's room is known to him. The target travels constantly, and could be off again the next day. There is only this night, Danton takes energy from her. The kill, so close to the kill. There is only one suitable technique, nice in the sense of elegance. Danton poises, flexing for departure.
.He wraps himself around himself and glides out. Amira is left in her bed unaware and dreaming. She is still bleeding internally and will die.
Floor slide without resistance into the targets room. Observe. Wait. Target sleeps. Unfold and reach out. Gently, gently touch, not the head, but lower down, the neck nape. Gray frizzled hair. Acne-pored skin. Breathing slow, even. Pulse slow, soft. Deaden and slide in. Deaden and slide deeper. Deaden and slide deeper. This is leaving blood spotting, but it does not matter. He pushes himself into the brain stem.
He is cord bound. No references but up and down, stem tissue and not stem tissue. Swirling blood in veins. And touch, his own touch to use. Touch, touch again and again, and again. Ah. Numb this spot. Carve. Cut close by. Cut again, Fuzzy, aching. The killing cuts always demand such energy. It is done. Danton rests in the blood of his kill.
He cannot leave from this depth, and must move upward. Target's body is inactive, its pulse rate slow., Blood pressure and body temperature tell him that the target sleeps as he dies.
Deaden and slither upward, clear out a lair and climb past, up, and up. Cradle quickly at the level of senses and thought. Enter the library.
Shaikh Rhaman. Confirmed. A flip flop procedure, first the kill then extract information before thought is lost.. Query, answer. Query, answer. Query, answer. False dawn swells into the room. A good performer, Danton thinks, knows when to exit. Two associates in the house, Khalil and Faisal. Faisal is trusted to travel. Faisal it is.
Store intelligence Slide down into the lair. Rest. Draw energy across from the sleeping, dying Shaikh. Rest.
Quickening pulse. Motion. Movement. Disturbed motion. Thready pulse. Danton is curled tightly in the lair. Wait.
From motions Danton infers that the Shaikh performs his ablutions. The killing cuts are bleeding, The Shaikh should begin to have trouble breathing and thinking. Wait. The Shaikh's body falls sideways and begins to tremble and lose function. Danton swells quickly upward into his perch.
But then, without thinking, like a relapsing alcoholic taking a drink, Danton reaches outside the cocoon to the dying Shaikh. His action violates his training and Danton is shocked at himself.
Bloated fear of dying, swelling, blobby. The Shaikh has no reference for Danton's invasion. Just weak hatred.
Its thoughts are swirling wildly. It does not realize that the thinking flows into Danton like river water. Floating in the water are memories, sensations. More than Danton wants to know. Confusing. Pain, he begins to sense the Shaikh's pain.
The Shaikh has the weak thoughts of the dying, and Danton easily outshouts him.
"Shaikh Rahman. You have no bodily control and very little time. Listen to me. I will help you scream for help. I will let you ask one thing -- that you be taken to Amira. You need to say goodbye to her. If you fight me I will leave you on the floor to die in your feces."
The Shaikh sputters out hatred, and horror at his weakness, and disbelief, and then grudging agreement in the hope that he can somehow trick or overpower this hallucination. Its thoughts begin to flicker.
Danton has stolen energy from the Shaikh and must now give some of it back. The Shaikh screams. His wife hears and finds the Shaikh on the floor
Screams, motion, bodies filling the small bathroom. The Shaikh tries to shout a warning but Danton chokes its vocal cords, and then plays them: "Take me to Amira, now!"
Shouting, calls for a doctor, an ambulance. The wife, who has been screaming the loudest, is obedient. She speaks.
"While the ambulance is coming, carry him to Amira's room. It is closer to the entry way."
The Shaikh is picked up by his arms and legs and carried to the girl's room. The wife screams again, for Amira cannot be awakened. Faisal stays in the room. Danton swells outward for eight feet and cradles Faisals neck nape. He inserts a seed and moves back. Faisal is bleeding from his neck but no one will notice.
The Shaikh is beyond making sounds and is losing his ability to think.
"Listen to me Shaikh. You are dying. Amira is dying. Can't be helped. You should say your goodbye. I will help you. Do you understand?"
Confused thoughts, fear for Amira but no longer for himself. Vaguely, what? Not grateful, but accepting.
Danton has little energy left, but plays the vocal cords again.
Wasted, Danton thinks, with drinker's remorse. Foolishly wasted energy.
He has left the dead only once, and hated it. His host is his world, and once death begins its cloying process he must fight hard to escape. He claws in as much as he can of the Shaikh's energy and swirls about himself.
The Shaikh fails. Fading screams. Gray, clotting gray, must kick loose from nothing, must flee.
Out, swirling and disheveled., only partially wrapped about himself. He seeps quickly into Faisal. Down, quickly, burrow down into the black comfort at the bottom of mind. Wait.
Faisal does not travel for two weeks after the funerals, but finally flies out of country. It carries Danton and instructions which Danton records. Danton knows he should try to leave Faisal alive, so the known instructions can be passed along. Faisal should voyage onward as an unwitting Judas goat.
The commute by body begins.. Hardest to find that first air traveler. Then traveler to traveler, airport to airport to airport. Child, stewardess, salesman, child. They are disposable, more roughly handled than their baggage. He does not explore them beyond confirming a destination.
Danton relishes his kills and normally relives them several times. But he drifts instead to the flowing, almost directionless thoughts of Amira, and they sour his killing after-lust. Her sensations, so open and strong, bathe him and wash off his pleasure of the kill.
Danton's last host deplanes at the airport where he is housed. He wraps himself about himself, seeps out of his host, and dives easily back into his own body. Monitors record his reentry.
He has been absent for two months and his body has vegetated. His withered muscles twitch as Danton prods them awake. The reopened senses seem stale, like the breeze from bad air conditioning. Not like Amira's, he thinks.
His minders are careful but uncaring. Before any other muscles Danton's vocal cords are made pliable enough that he can recite the stored information. Danton expects nothing different.
Then therapy. body and mind. From the careful ministrations of many people Danton senses that he is one of very few fleas, that the bird dog is so caringly tended to because the his masters have so few dogs with which to hunt.
Four months are spent reconditioning his body and oh so gently assessing his mind. Occasional women are provided to him for one night each so that they learn nothing and no attachments are formed. He is allowed two drunken evenings of his choice.
And he is judged to be again field-ready.
As Danton receives instructions, he hesitates. What happens, he wonders, to fleas too weak to hop, to crippled hunting dogs? Amira, with no duplicity of her own, has made him wary. But as the briefing continues, the sickly-sweet killing expectation rises. He wants again to jaguar-prowl in darkness, to ride the many hosts to prey. And most of all perhaps he wants to leave himself behind.
© 2011 Edward Ahern
Bio: Edward Ahern describes himself as "Officially old, ex J school grad/reporter who for 40 years worked in foreign intelligence (make of that what you will) and export paper sales." He further remarks that he is still with his "Original wife, but after 42 years I suspect we're both out of warranty." Edward's recent publishing credits include stories in Bewildering Stories, Red Fez, Wicked East (twice!), and Escape.
E-mail: Edward Ahern
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