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By Sarah “Neila” Elkins and Ru Xu

My muscles ache. Bruised. Battered. I have a couple broken ribs, a fractured arm, a shattered jaw, an eye that’s rapidly swelling shut, and a fistful of the asshole’s hair. I’ve been in the trunk for about ten minutes and he’s still driving. I need him to take me to where he’s keeping the other women. I know he’s been holding them somewhere–that’s what the police report I snuck a look at said. The body of the girl who had been missing for three months showed signs of having been held captive. She and I could have been sisters. Twins.

He has them somewhere, and I’m just nuts enough to take a beating to find them. I’m nuts enough to do far more than that.

The car is still moving. I’m not sure how long I have before he stops. It’s an older model, so there’s no emergency release for the trunk. I could kick out the light, but I won’t–I want him to take me to whatever dark hole he has those women stashed in.

“This is gonna suck,” I say to myself as I feel the wad of hair in my hand.

The hair roots have enough DNA for this to work. I am not looking forward to copying a kidnapper, murderer, and likely rapist, but…I think of the terror the dead girl must have felt. Trapped God knows where for months. The body was too far gone for the coroner to tell if she had been raped… Ugh.

Maybe I could copy something else. The genetic memory of things I copy stays with me, but it begins to fade without use. It’s been a couple months since I Read any genes.

The car hits a pothole…then another. No, not potholes. It’s off a paved road. I’m running out of time. I can’t put up much of a fight in the shape I’m in. My body will shatter like glass if I go up against him like this.

I have to do it.

I have to copy this shitface and use hands made from his own to beat the shit out of him. He’s what, six feet, four inches? Taller? It was hard to tell when he was dragging me by my hair in the dark parking lot. I also couldn’t tell how tall he was when he was pummeling my rib cage like a sack of ice.

I exhale as the car continues down what feels like a rocky, washed-out road. I can feel his sick essence from his greasy hair. There’s some blood on it that I can smell. The presence of the blood makes the DNA easier to Read–and the process go faster. I’m glad the trunk is dark and that my eyes are shut. It’s bad enough that I can feel my body change.

Focus on the DNA–the change.

I feel my ribs heal, then continue to grow. My bruised muscles swell. There’s a grinding in my ears. The pain of the change makes the beating I was subjected to feel like a warm shower. My shoulder begins to rub against the top of the trunk and I strain to pull my knees up to my chest through the pain. I’m glad I wore loose clothes.

I am going to beat the shit out of this guy as soon as he stops the car. He’s going to shit bricks when he opens this trunk and sees himself. I am going to feed him those bricks. I can feel the adrenaline and testosterone kicking in. I want to tear his fucking face off.

Breathe. Breathe.

My breath sounds alien.

The car isn’t moving. How long has it been stopped?

Listen. Listen.

The car shudders as he slams the driver’s side door. There are crickets chirping rapidly outside; it’s a hot night. His heavy boots grind against gravel. I’m glad I wore cheap flip-flops. They don’t fit anymore, so I slip them off.

The heavy footfalls stop outside the trunk. I hear him laugh as he jingles his keys.

He laughed.


The fucker beat the shit out of me in a parking lot and now he’s laughing? I’m going to bust his teeth out. Maybe make a nice necklace out of them and put it on my mantle. Whoa. Shit. That was a creepy thought. I’ve got to change back as soon as I can. After I give this guy the beat down of his life.

I wedge my shoulder against the top of the trunk and wait for the click of the locking mechanism as it disengages. I push with all my force and manage to clip the guy with the lid.

“What tha fuck!?” He stumbles back, lip bleeding.

I am gonna make him hurt.

I leap out of the trunk as best I can with legs I’m not used to.

“What tha fuck?!” he repeats as he trips backward into a pile of firewood.

“What tha fuck?!” I echo with a parrot of his voice. “Where are the women?!”

He recovers, grabs a large log, and clocks me across my face. I lose teeth. I don’t care–they’re not mine. Screw those teeth. I answer with a left hook to his jaw, knocking out one of his molars. Tooth for a Tooth, motherfucker.

I leap onto him, but he still has the log and manages to slam it into my face again. I get splinters in my cheek, but keep punching him.

“Where did you put the girls?! Where did you take them?!” I spit blood on him as I roar with a copy of his deep voice.

He’s not fighting back as I punch. His abs are hard, his skull thick. Both are used to blows, but his hands are busy. Reaching behind him. Waistband.

Shit. Gun.

I hear a click.

He fires. I’m hit in the chest. I can feel it–left of my heart. He fires again. Hit. Left shoulder.

His aim is trailing to his right; some of my blows damaged his vision. I grab his arm, pull it down, and punch his elbow. I’m filled with a sick glee as I feel his joint give up. I relieve his limp arm of the gun as he moans in pain.

I examine the gun. It’s a Glock. Typical. It’s not even the best gun in the world; you’re paying for the name.

“What the hell are you?” he groans.

I hold the gun to his head. “Where are the girls?”

“The…the basement. They’re all in the basement.”

I punch him in the face one more time with my empty hand. I get up off him and survey the area. It’s dark, but I can see a cabin nearby. I switch hands with the gun, then shoot the asshole in the right knee.

Just try to drive away, asshole.

“You’re gonna want to put pressure on that or you’ll bleed out.”

“You’re the one bleeding out,” he says weakly.

I am bleeding a lot. I don’t care. I can’t go in the house wearing this monster’s face, anyway. I can’t subject those women to that. I won’t.

I walk around the car and sit in the driver’s seat. The interior light is dim, but it’s bright enough for me to see the damage done by the firewood. My…the right ear hangs by cartilage, sliced through by the large splinter that’s been driven through my cheek and into my mouth. I was shot twice, too… I can’t change back with the splinter in my face. Well, I can, but it would be harder.

“I hope you die…mother…fucker,” the man groans. I can see him by the woodpile where I left him. He’s still clutching his knee.

I set the handgun on the car’s dashboard. Then I hold my face with my left hand…and try not to look into those dark eyes. I’m going to have nightmares about this guy for sure. Hold my…the face, grab the splinter, and pull it out.

Ahhhh!” I’m well-acquainted with pain, but this pain is different. There’s a nerve that forks out from the skull to control everything on the right side of the face, and I just hit it with a fucking splinter.

I lean into the pain.

Don’t resist it. Just like when you change.

I keep pulling at the splinter until it’s free. There are still some pieces stuck in the meat of my face, but I don’t care. Small things are easier to deal with…

How small are bullets? 9mm? I didn’t feel them break apart, so they weren’t hollow points. Lucky me. The guy buys–or more likely steals–an overpriced gun, then gets the cheap ammo. I’ve never been shot before. I hope it heals when I change.

Focus. Breathe.

Change back.

This is not who you are. Remember your DNA. These injuries will be healed once you’ve changed back. You’ll still be covered in blood, but showers are easy. Focus.

I’m engulfed in heat as my body consumes itself. The slugs are dissolved in the shifting flesh as the wounds heal. Thank God, I think as my body shrinks. After a few agonizing moments that make me forget the pain of the face splinter, I’m back to my ‘normal’ five feet, four inches. I check in the mirror and see my familiar dirty blonde hair and hazel eyes. The elastic of my pants is shot; there’s a cord in them that I pull tight.

I glance back toward the asshole. He’s still by the wood, clutching his leg with meaty yet feeble hands. I take the gun from the dash and get out of the car.

“Is there a phone in the house?” I level the gun at the heap of a man.

“Fuck you, you monster.”

“I’m not the one who’s been kidnapping women. Now ANSWER the question or lose another kneecap. And you only have one left, in case you can’t count. Is there a phone?”

He spits at the ground in front of me and smiles. “Go fuck yourself.”

This is going nowhere, so I head to the cabin. The door is locked, but it’s cheap and in a plain wooden frame. I place a kick near the knob. The wood around the bolt gives and I push inside.

I flip the closest light switch. The cabin is crowded with hunting memorabilia; stuffed deer and elk heads, two stuffed bobcats, three stuffed pheasants, and shotguns flank the fireplace. I check the guns on the wall. The barrels are worn out and the guns are unloaded. I lean them up against the door. They should make a loud enough noise to alert me if Jackass tries to follow me in.

I don’t see a phone as I sweep the house. All the rooms are empty, so I begin searching for the “basement” Asshat mentioned, thinking that it may be hidden. It’s not. He probably would have been too stupid to remember where it was if it was hidden. The basement door is heavy and blocked by a huge, roughly cut squarish board.

I set the handgun down next to a lamp made from a rattlesnake on a small table. I manage to move the board, then take up the gun again before I enter the basement; he could have an accomplice downstairs keeping an eye on his prisoners.

Halfway down the stairs, I find a light switch on a power strip connected to six shop lights that run the length of the long basement. Each shop light hangs above…a cage.

Six cages. One is empty.


CRASH! A loud clattering comes from above.

He’s in the house.

I didn’t check for other guns besides the ones near the fireplace.

“You got away from him, didn’t you?” I’m not sure which woman it is as a voice comes from one of the cages. “You’re covered in blood–are you okay?”

“He’s coming. He’s always…”

The women in the cages sob as we listen to the thump and drag of the monster upstairs. I eject the magazine of the gun. Six rounds. One in the chamber; seven total. I slide the magazine back in and look back up the stairs.

He could lock me in, if he had two working arms.

“Run, run while you can,” one of the women pleads. I recognize her from the police reports–Amber Lawson. She disappeared two weeks ago.

I shake my head. “This ends here, Amber.”

The thumps continue, and…I hear a gurgling. Shit. He’s going to burn the house down?

New plan.

I race up the stairs, burst into the kitchen, and find him with a partial bottle of tequila. He’s fumbling around for something. The floor is soaked in blood and liquor.

“Where the fuck are those matches?”

“Not today,” I hiss.

“Shit!” He grabs a large carving knife from the counter and I fire three times, into center mass. The man falls into the mess on the floor.

I wait a few minutes and listen for breathing. There is none.

I pick up a large, round rock from another small table–the twin to the table with the snake lamp–on the way back to the basement. I use it to smash open the locks on the cages.

Foldable dog kennels. The women need help up the stairs.

“Thank you…” one says weakly. I don’t recognize her from the report I read.

Amber is the only one with any amount of strength left; she helps one of the other women up to the ground floor, but has to sit down after we get outside. Once they’re all out of the cabin, I head back in, wipe down the gun, then shift just my hands and forearms to copy those of the kidnapper.

I hold the gun, pointed at my own chest. Having bulky arms connected to my slender frame is cumbersome, but I manage to set the gun in one of his actual hands.

I try to think of what to do next as I change my arms back to normal.

I killed a man.

The women are free.

If I leave now… I don’t even know where we are.

I killed a man.

“Um…did you… You killed him?”

A weak voice I recognize as Amber’s comes from the small hallway that leads into the kitchen. I force myself to turn around; Amber stands less than three feet away from me.

How long has she been there? I didn’t hear her walk up because I was distracted focusing on… Did she see me?

“Yes,” I finally croak. “I did.”

“Why did you put the gun by him?”

Did she see me change my hands?

“To make it look like he killed himself.” All the blood matches his DNA, but there’s no reason to tell her that.

Amber nods. “I found the keys,” she says quietly. “For his car. I think this cabin is near my Uncle’s house; I recognize it from the road. I’m…too weak to drive and there’s a lot of blood in the car…”

“Give me the keys. I think I can drive,” I tell her as we leave the cabin.

Her eyes stay focused on the ground, like it could fall away at any moment.

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