City of Blood by Matthew J. Gleason


The thrill of being on a different planet quickly faded when hunger came. The cold soon followed. There were twelve adults among our party of colonists. Someone would need to be given up. There was no truly fair way to decide who it would be so we left it to chance. The oldest man’s name was Odem. It’s been thousands of years and I still remember his name. I don’t remember mine but I remember his and the way he whistled out of tune. He had brought with him a white wool cap for keeping warm. We filled it with eleven empty medicine capsules and one which contained the cutting from our home which itself had been a colony world. We reached in and one by one selected a capsule swallowing it without determining its contents or lack thereof. I remember thinking mine was so light and that it had to be one of the empty ones. The pain was already unbearable by the time I realized I was feeling it. I screamed for the few seconds I had a mouth in the traditional sense.

The others  huddled around me, trying to offer comfort as I twisted and contorted in the alien mud. There was a cracking sound I only half realized was made by my own bones. My muscles and soft tissue tore and stretched with a wild fury.  I was growing larger. The others ran away so as to not be crushed or consumed by my hulking mass.  As my body destroyed and rebuilt itself my senses struggled to reorientate to this new state of being. The agony would have driven me mad if I was still something which could be mad. Without warning my bones could hear and my skin could see. I saw the shape of my new self from every angle. It was both glorious and terrifying. I was a city and I was a person. I consisted of nine towering skyscrapers of translucent stretch-mark covered skin stretched over green bioluminescent spinal cords which swayed in the breeze of this nameless alien world. 

As I stopped to admire my strange beauty, time slipped by without my noticing. My mind, which no longer existed within the context of anything you’d recognize as a brain, had become divorced from human time. I was bigger in every way than all of that. I looked around inside and around myself and I saw the descendants of my friends and colleagues living their lives in brief beautiful instances. It was nearly impossible to tell the little creatures apart but there was a vibrancy to their fleeting existences. I could taste and feel them with my skin. It felt good to gift them warmth and security.  They ate  meaty purple fruit which grew from the trees within my core. Each of the people would  in their own time die and go into the soil which fed my roots and kept their world going.

I grew truly massive. In time I contained more than a hundred spinal skyscrapers and a few handful of tumorous growths of villages. My skin is now hard and leatherlike from centuries of unforgiving alien solar radiation. Sometimes my walls blister and bleed. That is not the only damage time has wrought.  A class system sprouted up. In my time we were all family and partners in everything. The poor for a time were under this new system very poor. They were seen as mindless things even more so than myself. They would sometimes become so hungry that they would rip with their dirty hands and yellow teeth  into the walls of their homes and eat  my pulsating green and crimson flesh just to stay alive. I did not begrudge them this. I was their mother. I didn’t remember what my sex or gender was before my apotheosis but that did not change or inhibit  my role as mother to these humans who dwelled within me.

In time my people grew restless. They built shiny little spaceships  and  plotted to conquer the universe just as my ancestors once had dreamed of doing. For some reason they saw meaning in it all. Perhaps I once did. I can’t recall. Each shining silver ship that took my children away also carried a part of me within it. I mean that literally. Cuttings were taken from me and kept alive in small jars. When the universe proved cruel some of my children would be remade in my image. Maybe one day we’ll be reunited in some way.

For now I sit and daydream as a young girl carves her initials into me with a switchblade. She snuck it from her father’s bag when he wasn’t looking. I imagine she’s slicing where my freckled chin once was. It tickles. I would laugh if cities did that sort of thing. I shift my focus elsewhere for the briefest  of moments. When I glance back, the girl’s great grandchildren are long dead. There’s no one left on this world. I can sense the emptiness and the absence. I sing silently to the stars above and imagine they’re singing back to me. A thousand years or more pass between one of my imperceivable breaths and the next. It still tickles where the girl cut me.


Matthew J. Gleason is a writer of speculative fiction usually gravitating toward the strange, the unsettling, and the monstrous. They were born and raised in West Virginia but now reside in Iowa with their partner. They have had their work included in Horror Sleaze Trash, The Sirens Call eZine and Unstamatic among other publications. Books in their collection series Strange Phenomena are available for purchase on Amazon. They plan on releasing a vampire novella titled Blood Ties later this year. They can be found on Twitter (@MatthewJGleason) and have a Facebook page also called Matthew J. Gleason Writer. 

Published 2/16/23

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