Zephra sighed and settled ponderously into her celestial nest. She had nearly devoured the entire city. The night winds cradled her in the clouds, but her body was tight with tension as it strained to break down the essences she had so recklessly ingested. Her heart pounded the rhythm of lightning, and her soul, swollen with her vast meal, ached terribly.
The noise had drawn her to the city, the constant grind of machinery and fast conversation. A child bounced up and down in front of a window display of electronic games.
“That one, that one, that one!” Its shrill cry rose above the hum of traffic. “I want it so bad. See it there? Look at it!”
The passion bordering on vehemence was a curiosity, and Zephra nibbled on the piping sounds coming off the child. Small tidbits of civilization could feed her for weeks, filling her with satisfying sensations. She stopped suddenly, astonished.
This was quite different from the slow, steady rhythms of her rural grazing lands. There was an acid tang of desire, but it was paired with the sweet joy of anticipation. The fresh sensation roused something long forgotten, as ancient as sand and sea — an appetite so strong, her whole body throbbed with the pangs. A new urgency was born. Her soul cried for more.
A group of students passed by, their loose clothes snapping about them in the breeze like garish flags. Zephra couldn’t resist the outlandish fashions, so deliberately exotic that no one would understand them. It wasn’t the thread or fabric that she consumed. It was the bold design, the delicious colors, the essence of casual sexuality. Ah, so vibrant, so fresh. As she left the group now clad in empty grays and straight hems, the pangs of her new hunger roared. She moved on, an ambrosial scent leading her on to the next course.
Behind a tall and lean corporate chandelier structure she found a man in a courtyard holding a cigar to his nose. The tobacco was sweet and musky. Taking a moment to cleanse her palate, she absorbed the sheer beauty of a brass sculpture nearby. The man flicked out a tongue of fire from his lighter, unaware that the magnificent centerpiece of the courtyard had suddenly lost the smooth grace of its form.
The man looked off in the distance, smiling. He inhaled the bouquet of rich tobacco, and before he could blow it away, she took the sensation into herself. The sensual luxury was warm, but the satisfaction was derived from another source. This was a celebration of treachery, victory over the weak. It was a satisfying course, and the aftertaste of guilt gave depth to the flavor.
The gnawing hunger burned from within, and Zephra surged away to find more fine fare. The intense hatred of a child whose classmates destroyed a precious bauble; the popping, hopping rhythm blasting from a car that was puttering down streets; and gossip, delectable gossip was easy to find in back offices, dark cafes, and amid the smoke of alleyways.
Zephra moved slowly now, taking her time as she scoured the city for more. She didn’t notice the identical gray buildings, so lifeless even as they filled with dull-eyed people. She didn’t hear the silence.
Around the next corner, a city park stood out like a copper-green flame against the gray backdrop. A toddling boy planted himself by a small pond, leaning over to touch the cool water. When he spotted tadpoles darting around his finger, he lit up with fascination. This was dessert.
She had swallowed the boy’s happiness and curiosity whole before she could even taste it. No satisfaction registered in her senses, only the pain of being stretched and overfilled. The boy sighed and shook his wet hand. He stared at the tadpoles, bored and listless. Spasms of indigestion echoed Zephra’s distress.
Then she saw it, the city as empty as a white, polished plate. Sorrow, as hard as stone, joined the roiling pressure inside Zephra. She turned to leave, to fly up and sleep for a thousand years. But she had not consumed everything.
The old man squatted against the tree stump, his beard sticking out as he looked up at the nothingness that spoke to him. Fear and confusion bore down on him, pressing him down into himself. The shadows of his mind took form, the unforgiving passages of his life manifesting into demons with the faces of loved ones. Underneath it all, Zephra spotted something golden and bright. She had to set it free.
Zephra started on the absolute terror right away, forcing it down. The shame and disappointment, hot as jalapeño hellfire, burned her soul. The rampant imagination was enormous. His unconscious mind twisted the memories together and added new agonies, monsters of anger and bile, blood and blame that soared to new heights of originality.
Her whole being begged her to stop, but she kept going until she reached the precious dollop of hope deep inside the old man. It shone so bright, in blazing contrast to the colorless city beyond.
Zephra rose to leave and found the effort difficult, full and bloated as she was. She wobbled up in a breeze, looking down at the bearded man one last time. Like a seed in rich soil, his hope had already doubled in size.
After earning her Bachelor’s in creative writing, the next logical step for Tami Harris was to become a librarian. A few years later, she found a young adult librarian post in a city notable for its attempt at a quirky utopia in the 1920s. She lives and loves with a husband in a house they share with two old cats.