Lisa Kilhefner
and Erica Szalkowski

Lisa Kilhefner

By Erica Szalkowski
Inspiration piece
The Man is sick; we can tell. We are seven; seven Nile Monitors, or Water Leguaan, or Varanus niloticus, but mostly we are ancient things from a time before men had tongues, from a time when we ate scurrying prey before it became man. Ancient things know sickness.

His skin looks red and raw and our black tongues can taste the fever in him; can even guess its nature and source. We did not mean to make him sick, but when he fed us boiled eggs and chicken, we sometimes nipped his fingers and filled his blood with the rot from between our teeth. In general, we poisoned him with little accidents, except for the largest and oldest among us who bit The Man on purpose, laying rows of vicious teeth into a muscled fore-arm or tanned calve. Despite all this, The Man loves us so. He laughs and says, “You little bastards!” though the largest among us is 6 feet long – longer than The Man is tall – and his teeth much sharper than those in The Man’s smiling mouth.

Usually, The Man wakes up early, feeds himself, feeds us and leaves for many hours. We lounge, sated, among his things, enjoying the apartment he keeps warm just for us. He loves so. At night he comes home blustering, cursing men we do not know for their ignorance, their incompetence. He sweats his frustration away, lifting great weights in front of a mirror for a long time. Sometimes, after he finishes, he talks to the mirror, talks to it naked and says, “Yeah, yeah…uh huh…this is why they’re jealous, huh huh.” Then he talks to us and says that we are good lizards, good little bastards and feeds us chicken and eggs if we want them.

The oldest one says that many years ago, before most of us even hatched, The Man would occasionally bring other men home, or, more rarely, women. They would drink and smoke and look at the oldest one of us and say “that thing’s cool as shit,” but these men visited less and less often and eventually stopped coming altogether, and The Man called them ‘bastards’ without smiling. After seeing the oldest one, the women left quickly and never came back, and The Man cursed and pleaded with them as they ran down the hall outside his apartment saying, “Come on babe, I’ll lock it in the bathroom. Come on, I thought you said you liked animals.” After the women ceased to visit, the rest of us came, and The Man loves us so. Sometimes, he invites new neighbors to see us, but seems pleased when they back away from us as we taste their fear on our slick tongues. They need not leave; they are not eggs or chicken, and we neither desire nor hate them, just as most of us neither desire nor hate The Man. The oldest one despises him, yes, but The Man is the one-who-feeds-but-is-not-food, and is to us as plates are to him. We are ancient. We are ambivalent.

Now though, The Man is sick. He struggles and staggers. He does not leave for hours. He eats nothing, but gives us our eggs and our chicken.  We eat from his hands, though he smells sodden. The eldest of us naps contentedly, and seems to need nothing. Then, after days of waning strength, The Man falls to the floor and cannot stand again. He tries to yell for his neighbors, but can only wheeze and cry a little. Soon he sleeps, and later he dies. We are ancient; we know the line between sleep and death.


It has been 3 days since The Man died where he lay, and we are hungry; so, so hungry. We opened cabinets with our noses and looked beneath all the furniture, but we found no chicken and no eggs. On the end of our pronged tongues, we taste death, always. Then, the oldest of us, the largest of us stirs. He sidles across the apartment floor, his little claws ripping the fibers, his tail churning the air with authority. He crawls onto The Man, tests him with the nib of his tongue, then takes a bite out of The Man’s cheek. We do not like carrion; we like eggs and chicken and fish and the small things which scurry in the grass, but we are so, so hungry. All of us, we seven ancient ones, bury our scaled heads into The Man’s reeking, blackening side and dredge up the sinewy meat beneath. We eat his flesh and drink his blood and confirm that The Man loved us so.

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