I’ve seen you walking my neighborhood. 

Looking hopeful at the houses. Famished for a friend. A crumb of conversation. Anything to kill the loneliness. I heard it in your questions. When you asked if it was my house, the one on the corner, the one you were watching. 

I saw your fangs, but told you anyway. My mouth moving like my mother’s at the checkout. Be kind to strangers, she says. Never know the pain they’re in. 

I did not know to be afraid. Not then. 

When the road forked, I thought we’d go our separate ways. 

You shouldn’t walk alone, you said. 

So you followed. Every path I took, there you were. Beside. Behind. Ahead. You were everywhere.

Day after day, the heat ticked higher. Summer unrelenting, hungry for more calendar. 

Every time I went outside, there you were. Waiting with your questions. Did I live alone? Why and how long?

The look in your eye curdled my insides.

You seemed to stretch taller, casting a shadow over my house with every lap you took. The trees held their breath, stood a little straighter, their canopy parting so the sun could train its eye on you.  

The crow said to beware of strangers. Don’t you watch the news? he asked. He did not yet work for me.

At night, your eyes swept through the dark. Like searchlights after my dreams. Trying to steal sleep from me. 

By day, you wore camouflage. A bundle of sticks pacing the pavement.

But I saw you. Peeking over my fence. Standing at the door, sniffing for me. Your mouth pressed against it. Trying to steal my last breath. 

The crow called constant. Every time I looked, there you were. Circling and circling. I thought you would turn to butter and melt away. 

You had other plans. 

All I wanted was fresh air. 

I made myself thin, an assassin’s blade, and slipped into the shadows. Where the wild begins. So many places to hide. Flat in the ditch where the rain runs. With the vine, tree wrapped, strangling for life. Folded inside the couch, dirty on the side of the road, waiting for you to pass. 

I am the batting. The zipper. The seam you don’t see. 

But I see you. Near or far. Heat or kudzu leaf between us. Each freckle, an eye. Each dimple an ear.

Now I walk in darkness when the midnight candy blooms.

I need no moon, no streetlight, just the yellow of your eyes. 

All around the trees howl from the heat, ready to drop their leaves and dream. 

I hear you blocks away, the pavement sweating beneath your footsteps. I know your walk, the way you think the world is yours. My feet grow fast, they know the way. 

I thought I could outrun you forever. But then you shifted gears. Prowling faster on four wheels. Rope in the truck bed. Ready to tie something down. 

Every truck, white. Every driver, you. Coming around the corner. Circling. Then stopping. A fun little game, you say, your paw on my wrist. 

Playtime’s over.

I wriggle away. Skin bruised and split.

In a tree, by the school, a red hoodie swings from a branch. Someone else’s treasure, forgotten, dust gathered, faded. Mine now. 

I could be anyone. A five-star recruit. A washed-up fan. A kid trying to blend in. I put it on and disappear like a drop of blood into the crimson sky.

Deep in the night when you are dead asleep, I go to the woods and begin. Dragging myself through the mud. Becoming as still as a leaf. As sharp as a thorn. 

I learn how to be as patient as a nightmare. 

Starving myself so that I can be as hungry as you. I lay in wait on the forest floor to snag a sparrow. Pluck it clean, eat it raw. My mouth filling red.

Practice until I no longer flinch when the air conditioning kicks on, the blade swinging around and around, slicing at shadows. 

I will take the pliers to my teeth, pull them one by one, replace them with shards of glittery glass sunk deep into the pillows of my gums. My mouth a bloody mess, ready to smile for you. 

I teach the streetlights to fear me. One rock, two, and they pop and fizzle until it’s as black as the bottom of a sack. I wait for the moon to fold. The blackest black. The deepest sin. Black as the crow who lives with me. No eye to see when I take my revenge. 

The crow leads me to your truck. I slither through the crack of the tailgate. So thin and so hungry. So easy to flatten myself against the bed. As still as time on a summer afternoon. Too lost in your thoughts wondering where I was, what was for dinner. You didn’t see me float up, a blur of red in the rearview. The song that was on still stuck in my head. A murder ballad, funny enough. A lovely lass up to no good. 

My arm snakes in, headed for the steering wheel. Waited so long for a hand on yours, you don’t brush it off. Confused by the touch. Skin to skin. Truck to tree.