It was a kind of turning. For months it waited for the right conditions—a full moon or a drought—before waking up. Lodged under skin and muscle, it slept there with its feet braced against the bottom ribs. Sometimes it woke up for a minute and kicked at all the insides until shit poured out, but it could wait a long time.
Outside, it was raining. Big conifers tipped each other over, turning up roots like fans. Water snakes made homes in hollowed-out logs, and faces fell off mountains in whole sheets. When there were no more giant trees to build with, everyone paddled west into the mountains, portaging over hills and housing developments on stilts.
First it ate the appendix, and then the gall bladder. It ate in its sleep, chewing slowly, gums against gums, and sucked the pink slip down so hard its whole face dimpled. It got bigger as the moon got bigger, pressing up to the sternum, its elbows hooked back into the coccyx. It was round and white and its veins ran blue-black across its forehead. Anyone could watch it growing from the outside. Next it ate the left ovary and the fallopian tube (it liked them so much), and grew some more.
The wetness of it was surprising, and that it didn’t come all at once. First it was a foot with round opal toes. It wriggled out to test the air and refused to take a breath of pearl fluid and blood before it got its head out. First it was only toes, and then it was legs, too. Long legs. And then feet and legs and a pumping chest getting ready for the breath but refusing to take the breath. And then the whole thing, sliding out on a cord tethered to the body. At first the cord looked just like an intestine, but it wasn’t an intestine. When the whole thing was out it breathed and screamed and crawled on top of the body until the cord tore off. It stayed with the body. Once, when it got dark, before the stars blinked out, it tried to climb back in. First a small opal-nailed fist, and then two, but it couldn’t fit its head into that warm and darker space.
The moon came closer than ever and the mountains woke up, too. They coughed up islands that floated into flooded valleys. They shook open gorges. Now the rain let up for most of the day, but poured for hours every late afternoon.
It could never fit its whole head back into the body so it made a home outside of the body, a nest lined with hair in the hollow of the belly. It lodged its feet under the ribs and lay back, legs stretching and contracting as the lungs breathed. It sucked its thumbs and watched sky.
Meg Pendoley‘s work has appeared in Cleaver magazine. She lives and works in Philadelphia.