On my third birthday, my mother told me she had a special treat for me. She placed a dome-shaped cake the colour of smashed berries in front of me; a flaming candle stuck in the tip of the arch. “Today, you begin your transformation,” she said, smiling. “Today, you discover hunger.” The lines by her eyes and mouth reminded me of the tracks birds left in the dirt. I beamed up at her, showing my jagged grin of baby teeth and gaps of pink gums. I blew out the candle, wishing she’d stay this happy, and then she cut me a large piece, the insides oozing crimson onto the plate.
The hunger increased steadily until the monthly bleeding began. I was thirteen. My limbs stretched, my body blooming just as my mother’s had. I was her double, twenty years removed. She said she could smell it on me, the blood. She nodded, saying it was time for me to hunt on my own. She told me to use the blood on my mouth. “Men can’t resist women with blood-red lips,” she said. “It reminds them of your cunt.”
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A man lies at my feet, cracked ribs and gutted organs displayed. Dark brown blood stains my bare toes; I wiggle them in the syrupy liquid; I hold the man’s heart in my palms. It pumps softly, fluttering, unaware that it’s left its body. I remember biting into that cake on my third birthday, the shredded heart chewy and a little slippery. The taste was hearty, like steak, but better. Now that I have been hunting for over a decade, I know each heart tastes different, reflecting the man it comes from. The women in my family subsist on men. Our kind has existed for centuries, adapting to technology and popular culture and beauty standards. We use the male gaze, shaping our appearance, to lure and trap our prey.
Hunger is the one thing that doesn’t change.
I raise the heart to my mouth, jaw stretching, fangs extending to deadly points. I salivate at the thought of what this man’s heart will taste like. Sweet? Tangy? Chocolatey? I press a finger into one of his heart’s flexing valves and dress my lips in purple blood, a hot appetizer. My mouth opens, my fangs tear into the heart with a crunch. I grin. I remember the words my mother told me all those years ago. A fresh, beating heart is the best. The blood dripping from it the sweetest.
Christina Rosso is a writer and bookstore owner living in South Philadelphia with her bearded husband and rescue pup. She is the author of SHE IS A BEAST (APEP Publications, 2020), a chapbook of feminist fairy tales. Her first full-length collection CREOLE CONJURE is forthcoming from Maudlin House. Her writing has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. For more information, visit christina-rosso.com or find her on Twitter.