3. The Huntsman

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Geoff finished the dishes and lay back down on the futon

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Geoff finished the dishes and lay back down on the futon. In the evening light, Naomi's body grew still. There was more time to nap now they didn't have jobs.

Geoff tried and failed to fall back to sleep. Instead, he lay awake and watched shadows dance on the mudbrick walls of the shack. The flickering light looked like three men with dead pools of light for mouths and eyes. The shadows moved along the wall, sometimes slipping up and melting into the ceiling.

Geoff had seen a documentary once on sleep paralysis. People afflicted by it described being trapped in their bodies at night, watching strange apparitions dance threateningly around them -- three-dimensional television static warped into humanoid form with black gaping mouths. Maybe it was Geoff's memory of that documentary that had created the supernatural creatures flashing across the walls. Or perhaps it was a previous dweller, someone else who dragged them into the under-earth with them when they died. You could never be sure down here, with so many people sharing common nightmares.

Naomi was so quiet when she slept, even more so now that she didn't breathe. Geoff rolled onto his side to watch her sleep. Her skull was as smooth as her skin had been when they were alive.

 Her skull was as smooth as her skin had been when they were alive

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Her hands were small but complex. Her back and hips and legs all fit together like the pieces of a puzzle, neatly connected.

It was a wonder how her spine worked. How all the vertebrae interconnected, stable yet so flexible. The machinery of her body was endlessly fascinating. It had been a kind of living nightmare, losing their skin, their hair, their muscles, their lips.

Watching himself rot away, peel off into the dirt had been embarrassing. But it had hurt just as much to watch the lover he knew change in front of him; seeing her soft curves melt away, leaving raw strips of flesh and grisly patches of hair. But now in her place, he was discovering new love, a new body, a bone woman.

The celling burped out a bubble of lava, and for a moment the light in the room flared brighter. Naomi's bones flashed white, and Geoff saw, in that illuminated moment, a dark shape wrapped around Naomi's spine.

It took a few confusing seconds of staring blankly at the lumpy mass before Geoff realised what he was seeing. When he did recognise it, he froze, as still as his sleeping girlfriend.

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