Leather Pig

rating: +32+x

PREVIOUS: Jump the Gun

FIRST: The Chosen Few

It's worse than hell: it's Diya's subconscious, VIP access courtesy of magic. My recoil of horror saves my life — I fall ass-first onto another face right as Diya slashes at my chest, then scramble to my feet and run. Thank God I'm wearing boots or I'd fall flat on my face. The ground sinks and crystallizes with soft shrieks at every step. It's all I can do to keep my footing and everything's so painfully orange I can barely see where the walls meet the floor. Not that I want to when they’re already screaming at me.

Instead I glance over the shoulder to see Diya's swapped out bipedalism for chimerism. Every step I take puts her predatory grimace and bared incisors closer to my throat. Then I take one too many glances and slam into a wall of foam-Natashas that harden into glass and knock me on my ass. Diya springs on top of me. No thoughts. Act or die.

Act! A palm to the chin knocks Diya onto her back. She spits up a Spinal Tap guitar riff and then the tip of her tongue. Need to finish her off quick — axe stomp! — but a tail wraps around my ankle mid-strike and pulls me onto my back. Where the hell did that come from? I sit up and take a breath. Nope, should've done that in reverse, there's a tail around my throat.

What's our safe word again?

Diya rolls onto all fours and snarls. The furry choke chain around my neck tightens — strangles — yanks me under her forepaws. My hands are still at my neck as a pair of feline jaws go for my throat.

Hands that aren’t mine wrap around Diya’s fangs and hold her jaws open over me, cutting themselves to ribbons to keep me alive. Instead of my life flashing before my eyes, blood splashes into them that curdles into acid-green grain and solidifies into a memory I don't recognize.

The couch is familiar. It used to be Natasha's favorite. Our feet are propped up on the coffee table, with a quarter-full bottle of red wine and coffee mug on their left. The plate is piled in pierogi, slathered in sour cream and pork bits and hot sauce. We look around at a gut-wrenchingly familiar rotunda made from lunar regolith. Something big and blue looms outside, visible through jagged holes blasted into the cavern walls. For a moment I pretend it's the sky — then the Earth continues to rotate and leaves only a view of empty space through the window.

We look back across the room to the TV: a flatscreen plugged into a surge protector that's plugged into itself, stood in the center of a pentagram shaped from ash and blood. On the screen — it's [me? Her?], it's Rukmini five years younger, in jeans and the first bomber jacket [she?? I??] stole, nursing a copper mug in a near-empty dive bar. Behind [her??? me???], a mournful-looking clock on the wall displays 11:30 in the AM.

Diya chants quietly from the couch on our left. She must be scrying [me??? Rukmini???] through the television. There are bags under her still-human eyes, her still-human hair is a jet-black rat's nest, and she's still in her actually-identically-sized waffle-pattern pajamas. Her still-human hands are outstretched and wobbly.

"What the hell are you doing?" a voice says.

We languidly look left to see Tracy Tzu standing in the kitchen, hands on her hips. She's wearing a red floral print sundress and that fancy lipstick she keeps saving for a special occasion. Even did her hair up in a bun. Through the wine haze, we recall she has a lunch date today. Some sports reporter from Three Ports. Wonder if they wear jorts.

"Lookiter," we say. "Can you believe her? It's not even noon and she's drinking."

"What about you?" Tracy asks. "Diya, you promised you'd take the wine home!"

"I did!" Diya says. "I must've missed one and then while I was in the shower she went and opened it!"

"So you just let her keep drinking?" Tracy says.

"I'm sorry! She's been so sad I didn't have the heart to take it away."

"God dammit. Turn off the scrying and pour it out."

"No!" we shout. "Diya, don't even think about it. Keep that screen on or so help me God I'll throw that bottle in your face." We spear a handful of pierogi with a fork and stuff it into our mouth, then wash it down with wine.

Diya looks at Tracy. She sighs and walks towards us.

"Tasha, you gotta stop torturing yourself like this." She sits down next to us and reaches for a pierogi but we slap it away.

"Come on," she says. "You know this isn't good for you. Don't wait for her. You're better than that."

"No'm not," we mumble through a full mouth. "I wanner back."

Tracy pushes the mug away with two fingers. As if in response, the pierogi-wine cocktail in our stomach comes to a chemical climax. There's a moment, right as our cheeks puff up, where Tracy's eyes widen in horrified recognition. Then we soak her in a stew of starches, sauces, and stomach acid.

"God dammit. God dammit," she says. "This was my favorite sundress. God damn it, Natasha. Pull your shit together!"

"Hey!" Diya says. "Don't talk to her like that!"

"Diya, for the love of God, don't enable her!" Tracy says. "She can't keep fucking doing this! It's been six goddamn months, being sad is one thing but she's been a wino for five of them! I can only regenerate her liver so many times before it stops being a liver and starts being a tumor. She won't see a therapist, she won't go to rehab, and she won't stop watching Rukmini if you keep on showing her!

"Hey!" we say. "Don't… don't talk to 'er that way. At least Diya wants me to be happy!"

"Natasha, please!" Tracy says. She wipes her hands on her sundress and takes hold of ours. "I lost Rukmini, I lost Zabu. I don't wanna lose you too. I want you to be happy. I do. But you have to meet me halfway!"

We pull away and sulk. "Don't you have a date to be on?"

"Not anymore," Tracy says. "My sundress is ruined and I need a shower."

"I'm sorry about the dress. Okay?"

Tracy rolls her eyes. "Tasha, this isn't about the dress," she says. "This? I can fix it easy."

She stands up and clears a space around herself. "Kaṭikārattai mīṇṭum cuḻaṟṟuṅkaḷ!"

The vomit on Tracy's being extricates itself from her. Time rewinds itself around us as the puke reconstitutes inside our mouth and works its way down our esophagus. It's deja vu and jamais vu and sleepwalking and sleep paralysis all at once and we can't move and —


Our scream only dies when we run out of air and the choking fit reboots our mind. We're lying on the couch in Diya's arms. Tracy looms behind her nervously and starts babbling the moment our eyes come into focus.

"Oh crap, oh shit, oh fuck I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry about that!" she says. "I didn't think about where the puke would go —"

Panic subsides into resentment and curdles into anger. "Of course you didn't think," we say. "You were just thinking about your stupid dress and that stupid date! You never think. That's how you got Zabutom killed!"

Tracy's jaw tightens.

"That's not fair," Diya says. "Zabu's death was an accident…"

"It was an accident because she got in a standoff with security," we say. "It was an accident she got stuck in the vault cause she didn't have enough narcos to get back out cause Tracy took too many and killed her!"

Tracy slaps me. The humiliation hurts more than the sting. There's nothing more humbling than a palm to the face.

"Hey!" Diya says.

"Shut up," Tracy says. "Natasha… fuck you. Don't you dare hang her memory around my neck! We've done nothing this whole time but support you! Get your fucking act together or so help me God I'll quit."

"Oh, quit!" we say. "Quit when the going gets tough, yeah, quit when I need you most. Quit because you can't handle the pressure. Ditch us like you ditched Zabu, you cunt!"

We regret our choice of words immediately. Tracy's eyes harden. She stalks towards the kitchen, then pauses on the threshold.

"I hope you get better, Natasha, I really do," she says. "Diya? Spines are in these days. You should get one."

We know instinctively that if she vanishes into the kitchen, we'll never see her again. She'll pack her bags and vanish from our life — unless we call out to her. Apologize and beg for her forgiveness.

She's looking at us. Waiting for us to salvage our friendship. Diya looks between us helplessly.

Our jaw sets. We have nothing to apologize for. The love of our life betrayed us! Tried to kill us. Crippled us. Ruined our dreams. What else is there to do besides mourn?

Tracy should have understood that. But she doesn't. There's no room in our life for people like that.

"Diya? Keep scrying."

We reach for the coffee mug as Tracy walks out of our life.

My consciousness reasserts itself resentfully. It's the worst fever, brain freeze, and hangover I've ever had at the same time. Diya looks even worse than I feel, draped across my chest with bloodshot eyes and fangs lightly caressing my neck. The lack of blood flow to my brain is less severed carotid than catgirl hickey. I don't even feel a bruise.

We blink at each other. My critical thinking skills are at a nadir right now. A sound escapes from Diya's mouth.


I suplex her off me — face-first — into the wall of foam-Natashas. Their screams are echoed by the walls. She staggers to her feet as I flee past, deeper into the bounce house of death. Each turn I take is random; I can only pray the next one won't be a dead end, but my luck only holds out so long. I crash into the end of a one-way corridor and turn around in time to face Diya again — half-cat, half girl, all anger. I'm not interested in seeing if my deathlessness holds — I need to distract her and find a way out of this nightmare.

"That's what happened to Tracy?" I say. "You drove her off?"

"She left by herself!" Diya says. "She didn't care about Natasha. You didn't care about Natasha. I stuck with her. I helped her get over you!"

"Did you ever look into… I dunno, therapy?" I say.

Diya's claws gain an extra inch. “Don’t you dare make fun of her for not healing from wounds you inflicted!” she shrieks. “How many times do you think she burst into tears each day? How many nights she woke up screaming because of what you did?”

I wince. She jabs her chest with a sharpened thumb.

"I was there for her," she says. "I took care of her, I started a family with her, I built a life with her! I'm not gonna let you steal it!"

She's on me before the last word is out of her mouth and I'm already throwing myself to the side. Her momentum carries her through the wall of faces. A half-dozen Zabutoms shriek in fear before shattering before my eyes. I sprint through the breach into a jungle-gym from hell.

An enormous orange dome stretches overhead to freedom. Huge chains of orange faces, large enough to stand on, criss-cross walls of frozen terror. Where the fuck do I go? My eyes flit across the condemned terrain, seeing only a basilica of pain shot through by horrific neon chains. The first shrink I see is going to make a killing — assuming I live long enough to see one.

I look back and see Diya. Her eyes dilate. My hands hook around a pair of jaws that promptly close around my fingers and suck on them. It's like being groped by condoms full of Styrofoam. Whose faces…

Please, God, I think, don't let them be mine.

No such luck. I want to go mad but that would be letting Diya win. My indignation boils over and condenses into a plan: climb to the top and throw Diya to her death. She dies, she wakes up, the spell breaks, I wake up.


I have no better ideas. I fixate a phrase into my phonological loop: none of this is real.

None of this is real — each probing mouth of mine serves as a handhold. None of this is real — Diya sinks her claws into the face-chains and swarms towards me. None of this is real — crawl up the chains of doom to freedom, working my fingers into orange eyes and nostrils of throats.

None of this is real. Sure as hell feels real. A soft crackling fills the air: the sound of face after face petrifying as our touch pollutes Diya's mind.

I'm not even sure where I'm climbing. Up, mainly. I forgot how I was scared of heights. That's okay. None of this is real. As long as I don't look down or think about the extremely nettled catgirl stalking me through her own mind, I'll be fine. Just gotta keep climbing aaaaand I've reached the ceiling.

Do not look down! I look around instead and see no escape, only an all-pervading light bouncing off a million agonized faces that stopped being traumatizing about fifty meters down.

"Oh shut up already," I tell my foam self as it screams silent hell. To my surprise, it shuts its mouth. I hold my breath and look for Diya right as she clamps her claw around my leg. I lock a hand into foam-me's face and hold there, gritting my teeth and reminding myself that the aggressively sharp claws biting into my thigh are not real.

Then Diya's actual teeth bite into my thigh. They sure as hell feel real. I scream and let go, falling awkwardly and toppling backwards onto her. We both go ass-over-end, shouting and yowling and bouncing the long way down. Need purchase — something, anything — my hands tear through ears and lips and throats, catching off dreams of meat that arrest our fall into an even worse spin — and then my spine catches on a chain of faces.

Folding is the last verb you want to connect with spine, which makes chain the last noun I want to connect with mine. They meet so fast it feels like a shotgun wedding to the back. The only benefit of explosively separating all of my vertebrae is that I can't feel my collision with the ground.

Aren't those damn things supposed to be foam? Knowing my luck it saw me coming and turned to glass. As has the ground, which promptly implodes under our weight and sinks me into yet another nightmare.

The sky above us is a black velvet ocean devoid of stars. The Moon below stretches off into a sea of cold bone dirt. The Earth is half-buried in the horizon, level with our perch at the peak of Mons Pico, like a shipwreck on the abyssal plain of heaven.

A radar screen pops up in our eyes. Someone’s behind us. We don’t turn around.

“Wasn’t expecting you to come outside,” Diya says. Her voice carries through a place other than space to reach our inner ear. “Surprised you took the emergency suit.”

“Needed some fresh air,” we say. “Had stuff to think about.”

“Doesn’t it make you claustrophobic? I could conjure up an atmospheric shield for you…”

“I wanted to be penned in. Needed to be locked in with my thoughts.”

“That doesn’t sound healthy. Tell me about these thoughts, sweetie! Let me help you.” Her head leans against our helmet and her arms wrap around our suit.

"How do you start a revolution if you can't even trust the people besides you?"

Diya looks taken aback. "You don't trust me?"

"No, you've been good to me. You love me. That's the problem. It's not enough."

"What? Why not?"

"Love isn't enough. Motivation isn't enough. People just wanna walk through life asleep to all the problems in the world. Especially when all the cracks can be papered over by money and magic."


We stare at the Earth. "How many centuries do you think it took to pull that off?" we say. “How many spells and memes and volumes of pro-capital propaganda are we buried under? How many fucking brainworms do you think are burrowed in my head right now, telling me there’s no hope for revolutionary action?”

“Where are you going with this?”

We stand up. “We can’t willpower our way into a better world. I’m thinking a spell, Diya — one that spreads across the entire damn planet and scrubs the id right out of our brains. That burns the ennui out of humanity and fills it with revolutionary impulse overnight. One night, one year, one century where humanity is compelled to rise up as a single unit, to tear down the structures and prejudices of the old world and build a better one. However long it takes to create a society where people actually care about each other. By the time the spell dies we won’t even need it. People will just be born better."

“So brainwash people?”

“Why not? You are not immune to propaganda,” I say. Diya’s laugh, impromptu, fills the space between us with —

We look her in the eye. "Rukmini tried to kill me."

“I wasn’t —” Diya splutters.

"No, listen to me. The moment she had a taste of power she went fucking bonkers and tried to kill you. She tried to kill me! Face it, Diya. The revolution's only going to happen if we can turn the rabble into Rakhmetovs.”

“Ruku’s her own special brand of awful. She never cared about your dream. Not like I do, or Ingrid or Zabutom or –”

"She’s not special!" We push her away. “We’re all broken in the exact same way she is. We all hate each other in some tiny irrational little way that stops us from working for each other’s betterment. We’ve had the power of gods at our fingertips since time fucking immemorial and wired each other to be selfish with it. We prefer the lesser evil because we don’t want each other to receive the greater good.”

“How do you hate me?” Diya asks.

There’s no response. She takes our face in her hands but we refuse to see ourselves in her eyes. The Earth stares balefully down at us.

"Natasha – I’m in,” Diya says. “I’m all in. One hundred percent. But we can’t just snap our fingers and make everyone see the truth. Have you even thought about how we would reach seven billion people, much less keep a single thought in their heads for more than two minutes? We could spend the rest of our lives just trying to formulate that kind of spell. "

“Diya, we're witches on the moon!” we say. “It might take us a thousand lifetimes or we could solve it next week. But we'll solve it. Together.”

We reach down and take her hands into ours. Ten human fingers, coated under a sheen of thaumic energy, bury themselves in our metal fists. We can’t feel her through the suit but the warmth is cathartic.

“It’s us against the world, Diya. Just how it needs to be.”

I wake up and see orange. Who am I… who am I… I'm Rukmini. I'm trapped inside a monument to Diya's own neuroses. She's trying to make it my tomb. And… I'm paralyzed. Underneath her.

Diya shakes her head slowly, taking stock of the situation like it's a hangover. She spots me underneath her and springs up, then leans in closer.

"Are you paralyzed?" she asks.


"You are!" She laughs, hesitantly then rapidly. "You're paralyzed!"

Under pretty much any other circumstances, I'd appreciate being underneath a giddy catgirl. Too bad Diya's my worst enemy. Need to stall her until I can come up with something.

"That's Natasha's plan?" I say. "Brainwash the planet? That's what she's doing with my heart?"

"It's already fucking brainwashed!" Diya says. "Natasha's going to save this shitty rock from itself. She's the only person who cares enough to try."

”And that qualifies her to be the mistress of mankind?”

"Of course it sounds stupid to you," she says. "You don't get how intricate her idea is. You don’t see any of the details she can. It's the only thing she's thought about since you left."

I’ve never shied from the nuclear option. “Well, besides me. I think she might love me more than you?”

Diya squints her eyes and shakes her head like it’s the most obvious conclusion in the world. “Of course she does. You think I’m an idiot? I’ve known since you left her.”

I gawk at her. “Then why did you stay?”

“Because you left her! I built Zabu and Ingrid for her. I founded Wraith Enterprises for her. I conquered hell for her! What else do you have that I don’t?”

I’m actually lost for words. “How the fuck should I know?”

“How can I make her stop?” Diya glares at me through watery orange eyes. "How can I be better? Do I need to look like you? I'll do it. I'll wear your damn face if I have to."

"God dammit, Diya." I don't even have a clue. "What do you even see in her? Why kill yourself for her?"

"I can't help it." Her eyes dilate. "I love her."

My last thought before Diya curb-stomps me is how hot dying will be. I’m definitely going to hell.

Her talons fill my vision but something else intrudes on them. A sharp green hand pops into my vision like a sunspot and closes on Diya like it's catching a fly. The hand disappears in between blinks. All that’s left of Diya is a vaguely echoing shriek.

Something grabs me by the nape of my neck — but instead of pulling me out of the ground, Diya's labyrinth of screaming faces hurtles away from and through me. Each of their faces passing through mine feels like being killed in a dream a thousand times over until — I'm outside. There’s nothing. Less than nothing, it’s a void, it’s not real. Are my limbs still there? Something's wrong with my eyes!

"Ruku!" A voice drips like caustic honey in my ear. "How do your limbs feel?"

Acid floods my eyes and I scream. Through my screaming I feel a sloshing click in my neck bones that plugs my mouth with bile. I try puking but nothing comes out. Breathing doesn’t come easy.

"I feel sick," I rasp. Even my voice is barely there.

"I'm asking about your limbs, dummy!” the voice chides. “Can you feel them?"


"Perfect!" Natasha croons. "Wanted to make sure your spine was still detached!"

NEXT: No One Gets Out of Her Alive

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