• Fearsome Critters

The Salamander — Gry Ranfelt

It hisses and spews and it doesn’t like my friends. When my mother comes in to give me my laundry, its head moves out from the wall, hovers over her and licks the air above her hair.

I don’t know why I never told. At some point I should’ve said something to someone. Never did. Now I can’t. How do you explain an eighty-kilogram salamander hanging out of your wall? You don’t.

They can’t see it, anyway.

When I sleep, it moves so its head is right above me, and so it’s the first thing I see upon waking.

Yellow eyes.

Slick tongue.

Almost touching, but not quite.

Sometimes I wish it would just eat me. Just get it over with. Why else is it here?

But then, other times, I think there might be something else to it. Some other reason for its being here.

I’ve asked it, but it doesn’t answer. Its skin glistens and its eyes shift; the legs move, the tail wiggles, but it never speaks.

I tried to move. We took down all my stuff, the salamander watching silently, packed up books and furniture and all the odd, trivial things one gathers through the years. It didn’t feel good, somehow. I stood in the doorway with the last box and looked at the salamander.

“Hey,” I said. “Uh. It’s been . . . Well. Hang in there.”

All the reply I got was the tongue, whipping in the air.

I went to college halfway across the country, got a roommate and we were bumping fists after two days. Things were really picking up. The sky was brighter and I started noticing that clouds can have many different shapes on any given day. They can be streaks painted with a soft brush or pastry-like mountains of density, ready to water the earth.

Halfway through the first semester, I woke up from a bad dream. An old telephone, those with a handle you had to press in and these big, chunky parts acting as microphone and earplug, stood in the corner of a room darkened by heavy curtains. The phone kept ringing: ring ring, ring ring. Becoming so persistent it almost rang my name.

But to get to it, I had to pass a streak of light coming through an opening in the curtain.

So, I woke up.

Above me, a tongue. Slick. Yellow.

I should’ve screamed.

I didn’t.

As if my chest hollowed, caved in under a massive weight, I let go of my breath. For a moment, I thought I’d died, but then my lungs drew air and existence continued.

I did not sleep anymore that night. When my roommate got up, I remained staring at the salamander and only when he was out the door—with more than one lingering look in my direction—I got up. The salamander moved back, its head avoiding mine as I straightened.

“Oh, really” I stood up in the bed. The salamander hissed. Angrily? Couldn’t tell.

My hand shot out, the muscles in my arm straightening the bones out in a painful movement that was impossible to perform in slow motion. The salamander slid out of my range, escaping my touch, retracting all the way to the corner above my roommate’s bed.

I gritted my teeth, screeching, screeching. “Don’t like that, do we? Well, too bad.”

I marched over to my roommate’s bed, but the salamander moved to another corner. I grabbed the baseball bat resting against my desk and pointed at it. “Don’t think I’m not gonna getcha. I’m gonna getcha!”

I ran at it. It shifted position. I followed. Swinging the bat. It moved this way and that, avoiding, always avoiding. I threw a pillow at it. Another one. Then I grabbed some glass ball on my nightstand that my dad gave me, some holiday bullshit, and the glass shattered all over the floor. A piece cut its way into my bare feet and they were wet. Blood or water? I didn’t know. My eyes were on the yellow orbs in its face. I wanted to smash them. Squeeze them out.

“You’re too big for this world,” I shouted and threw the bat at it.

Miss. A dent in the wall. The salamander looked at the spot, then at me, licked the air.

Then it stretched, and I realized it had grown. It was now large enough to fill the entire length of the shortest wall. Five meters. It was five meters long.

I fell to my knees with a bump. My hands shook when they grabbed the sheets on my bed to climb into it, but all I managed was to make a messy pile of bedding on my floor.

“This is ridiculous,” I whispered. “You’re not here. You’re not here!”

The salamander cocked its head to the side. The eyes. The yellow. The grin. Three-fingered legs, climbing over the ceiling to dip its neck down toward me.

“Or maybe,” it whispered into my ear, “you’re not here?”

A moment of no movement. I spun around, my hand raised. It slapped against wet, slick skin and a tongue came out to tickle my neck, following the line of the vein, a tickle that was promised and had waited for years and years and years.

I curled. Shrank into a ball. Hid my face in my arms. If I screamed, what would happen?

Squeaking from the bed and thudding onto the floor. A thick limb dragging on the tapestry. The body was surprisingly warm as it covered me, and I held my breath when the slick surface once again touched my hand. My limbs were stiff. If I didn’t move, I didn’t have to feel.

The gigantic lizard relaxed on top of me as if I were an egg for it to hatch. It waited. Waited.

I waited, as well, anxious for what I would become.

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