Tracie McBride is a New Zealander who lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children. She is a member of the Melbourne-based speculative fiction writers group SuperNOVA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in over 40 print and electronic publications, including Pulp.Net, Coyote Wild, Abyss and Apex, Space & Time, Sniplits and Electric Velocipede. She won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent for 2007.br> br>
Hell Is Other People
I got the idea from the fisherman. The nun inside me is dead against it, and as usual, she is making a lot of noise about it. No one outside of my body can hear her. But even although it hurts me more than it hurts her, I deliver her a psychic slap to shut her up. I want to get this exactly right, and so does the fisherman. It's purely a matter of professional pride for him -- in true conflicted human fashion, he is one part fascinated and nine parts appalled.
I've spent hours fashioning the bait into the right configuration. Now I extrude it from my greater mass and huddle down, concealed beneath heaps of refuse. Then I make it wail.
The fisherman assured me that this ploy would draw someone to me like no other bait could, and a quick trawl through the other consciousnesses in me found concurrence. Sure enough, the lid of the dumpster soon opens. It is night outside, and I can barely discern the features of the face peering in. I catch a glimpse of facial hair -- male, then -- and he is reaching in, just as predicted, to pick up what he thinks is a naked human baby.
I let out a thin tendril of flesh, allowing him to raise the "infant" to his chest. He holds it close, patting it gently on the back, and tries to wrap his coat around it to shield it from the cold. That's when he notices the line.
It's too late. He's hooked. I send tiny needles of matter burrowing into his flesh. They penetrate his tongue and throat first, choking off all sound. Oh, he will scream alright, when he realizes what has happened to him. I feel a little bad about that, thanks to the nun. She has taught me the meaning of guilt.
But a being's gotta eat, right?
I get the first taste of his psyche. The fisherman was wrong -- he did not pick up a child out of a sense of pity or civic duty or any other supposedly noble motivation. He did it out of lust. Oh, the things he intended to do to that baby... in amongst my victim's fear and pain and panic is a sense of resignation. He thinks he had it coming, apparently, and believes that his absorption is some kind of divine retribution for his sins.
I laugh. I learned about irony from the prostitute, who possesses a far more lively intelligence than those of her profession are commonly credited with. She is not going to like this new guy.
In fact, I think all my dinners are going to give him hell.