Amala held her arms out in front of her. Her muscles trembled throughout her body. She felt heavier, as though something pressed in and down upon her chest. Yet at the same time her mind felt so light that she feared it might float away, out of her ears and into the sky above.
She rubbed her cheek on her sleeve in an attempt to clear her tears so that she could see better. She blinked, then blinked again, harder. Hard enough that the pressure of it make her eyes ache. Amala looked desperately around her room, sniffling. She fought the urge to sob. She had to find Chiku.
The sounds of her parent’s argument still echoed up from downstairs, rebounding off of the hard walls and the wooden floors. Amala couldn’t make out the words, but they didn’t matter. They fought constantly. She expected it. What mattered right now was where Chiku had gone.
On her knees, Amala checked beneath her bed. Chiku liked to hide there. In her heart she knew she wouldn’t find him there, but she still needed to look. She knew where he had gone. Still, she checked behind the dresser, and under her pillows, and behind the toilet in the bathroom. He was not there.
Of course he was not there. He hadn’t just disappeared. Amala had seen him go, and she knew where he was. She knew that she had caused it. Something about the stress of her parents fighting had finally triggered what had long laid dormant in her: that which had been there with her since birth, but which she had not yet discovered.
Her parents had tested Amala, discreetly, to find out whether she was Powered. Her father was a doctor, and her mother sat on the board of directors at his hospital. They had connections that most people did not. Testing for Powered status was voluntary, but disclosing whether an individual was Powered, once that status was discovered, was not. Her parents had illegally withheld that information.
Amala was a Class-1 Powered, but she, and her parents, did not know what her capabilities were. She had not discovered them. She had found no hint of what they might be until today. The technology to accurately analyze the shape of an individual’s soul so as to determine what their Talents might be hadn’t been available to her parents when they had checked her Powered status.
Now Chiku was gone, possibly dead, and it was Amala’s fault. She knew he wasn’t hiding in her room, because she had seen her flesh… absorb him. She had been holding him, tight, with her arms, seeking comfort in the warm, silky softness of his fur. Her parents’ angry yelling had driven her closer and closer to him, as her need for his comfort grew. She had wanted to be close to him, as close as she could…
And then she had taken him inside her. Where the bare flesh of her arms met his flesh, Chiku had begun to stretch and tear. His body unraveled like a knight sweater. He had screamed as his sinews and bones pulled apart, streaming into Amala as though she were a vacuum, leaving nothing behind.
Amala wanted to believe it hadn’t happened. She wanted to erase the memory from her mind, but it was there, real and vivid, like a photograph imprinted upon her retinas.
Amala turned on the shower. She felt dirty. Unclean, though whatever she had done to Chiku left no trace of blood behind. She felt that way often: cold and dirty. She went to the shower to rid herself of that feeling. Her mother reprimanded her for how much water she wasted, but it was Amala’s favorite place of respite other than her bed with Chiku in her arms.
Tiles covered the interior of the shower from floor to ceiling. Amala crouched on the floor with the hot water streaming over her back. It felt good, like the embrace of someone who actually cared about her. Her grandmother, perhaps, or Chiku.
But thinking of Chiku only made her sob harder. What was her Talent? To absorb living creatures into herself? She didn’t feel any different afterward. A bit heavier, perhaps — she’d thought that was just the weight of the fear and despair, but perhaps it truly was Chiku’s mass inside her, pulling her harder toward the ground. She looked down at her body — but no, her brown skin still held tight to her thin frame. She looked no different.
In the shower, she couldn’t hear her parents anymore. Not with the water pounding against the walls and the fan running to pull away the steam. She could pretend that they had stopped fighting. She could almost pretend to be alone in the house —
— but she didn’t want to be alone, did she? She wanted to be with Chiku. Oh, Chiku. He had been nothing but sweet to her since the day her father had brought him home. Chiku was an apology for years of deferred affection, but also an excuse to continue to defer. Amala had no hope that her father would change, so she felt only thankful that he had given her Chiku. She had long since giving up hope of more.
Chiku knew when she was upset. He came to her and purred, pressing his body against her legs until she picked him up and held her. He loved her. She knew that he did. What had she ever done for him, but, apparently, kill him?
Amala fell out of her crouch into a cramped sitting position on the shower’s floor. There was plenty of room, but she pulled her body in tight so that every possible inch found itself beneath the warm falling water. She wished Chiku could be in her arms once more. She pictured him there, soft and content just to be near her. If she strained her imagination hard enough, if she truly focused, she could feel him there in her arms once again.
A rippling sensation spread through Amala’s gut. Her muscles tensed. The sensation had come on without warning: it felt as though she were going to be sick, in that way that spreads itself throughout the entire body, as though one’s very limbs are going to vomit. But it wasn’t a nauseous feeling, it was a feeling of movement where there should be none, of pushing and expelling directly from the core of herself.
She looked down, and yes, her stomach moved. Not the muscles, but the plane of her flash, wet with the sheen of water. She yelped, setting her hands back behind her, as something pushed itself free of her body, sliding out directly from the flesh of her belly. Something furry and grey, and, in the downpour from the shower’s faucet, wet.
Chiku stood calmly on the other side of the shower, his eyes locked onto Amala’s in an intense stare. An image flashed through Amala’s mind, that of herself from Chiku’s perspective, naked and shining with moisture. Then her vision faded to black, and she fainted.