She ate the water hemlock because she knew it was poisonous.
The white blossoms were tasteless, but the leaves tasted green, like a stalk of celery. The first cramp was brutal, and that was it.
She died there on the trail, just where it got muddy as it skirted around the marsh. Her spirit drifted right up from the spot where she fell. Her body had landed in an awkward position, partway into the tall grass. So much for a graceful departure.
Her body looked wretched. She didn’t remember any of the thrashing and pain that showed on her gaping mouth and twisted limbs. She tried rearranging her face to look less horrific, but it was like trying to mold something covered in foam rubber, too fine of work for her insubstantial fingers. She rearranged her limbs so they weren’t quite so splayed and called it good enough.
She was finally free of that dead weight she’d been dragging around.
This year was simply the worst. It was exhausting, drowning out the yammering, all the pushing to improve, to become better, to fight harder for whatever she believed in.
If one more person asked her, earnestly, “Are you living your best life?”…
It was a life, a dreary, meaningless life. All those uplifting messages reminded her that she hadn’t done anything she dreamed of doing. They only reminded her how uncomfortable she was in her own skin. Some days she’d barely been able to hold back from scratching it off in strips.
That was done now.
She’d felt physically ill all month. Her stomach had clenched at the thought of eating, or drinking, or listening to one more thing that was supposed to enliven her. She’d barely eaten, and eventually the nausea had dulled, just like all other sensations.
The beauty of the woods had nearly been enough. If she was gone, she’d never walk through them again, never follow the trail down to where it opened to the marsh, ringed in bright green grasses. But she always had to go back. She had to go back to people and what they called real life. Once she realized it wasn’t what she wanted her real life to be, it was easy. She’d felt cleaned out at the end, scraped out, like her skin was merely a shell around her.
She looked down at her empty body again, to the husk she left behind. These transformations were becoming tiresome.
She could’ve just split her skin down the back and crawled out. She would’ve emerged gleaming. The humans would’ve thought she’d gotten a facial and highlights. They were so easy to fool with a superficial makeover. How dull.
The interior stuff took more time, but it was worth it. Even the “best life” idiots knew that. She’d felt herself sinking for months. Disconnecting. Shooing away the people who tried to drag her out of her shell. They hadn’t known what she needed.
This was what she needed.
Creatures were moving again in the marsh, now that she wasn’t making any noise. A metallic dragonfly dipped into the water. Something slithered through the grass. Small fish darted along the edge, and the wake of a larger fish cut across the water as it rushed to eat them.
Fish. Fish were caught by humans. And humans ate them. And once inside, she would be released and could become anything they carried with them. Bacteria. Dormant viruses. Small cells that would multiply into the thousands and spread outside their host.
The littlest ones grew and changed so fast, and they wielded such power. The nimbleness was elegant. And no one would ask her if she was living her best life.
This year, she could conquer the world.
By Fritzflohrreynolds (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Kenneth Allen [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons