All that Glitters is not G(u)ilt

Xan van Rooyen


A chandelier of glass hearts — the light refracted by stilled ventricles spun with threads of ruby capillaries and alabaster gristle — threw jagged facets across their face.

Dusa appraised her quarry. Yet-liquid eyes caught the glimmer, a dozen reflections trapping silent desires. They’d looked the same on stage, dazzled as strobes slashed the band and doused the vocalist in burning neon.

They’d raised their hands — exquisite, long-fingered, slim-palmed hands, ink dripping over tendons to pool beneath their nails. Those hands — clasping the microphone, chasing melodies through the fetid air and trawling the shadows in time with the frenetic beat. Hands lifted now, a tentative fingertip grazing the lowest hanging organ.

Dusa felt the point of contact, an electric sizzle through her chest. They hadn’t asked if they could touch; none ever did.

“Come.” She drifted from foyer to library between tomes dusted by the passing millennia and busts contorted in marble or soapstone. Each spine she’d cracked with a frown — glistening innards turned to geode spill.

The human trailed guitar-calloused fingertips across chests and shoulders, following where she led.

Here, the dining room replete with decapitations trophy-mounted between sconces. Eyes of amber, agate, sapphire. Mouths gashed with opal between garnet lips. Hair, dreadlock spirals of vonsenite, flat sheets of polished cinnabar, frozen waves of citrine. Expressions stricken in awe, gawped in horror, rictus-stretched in pain when she’d taken her time slow-knitting flesh to stone.

The human gaped in oblivious parody of the crowd tonight. Dusa had been among the writhing fans there to venerate and offer supplication, yelling adoration at the synthetic gods on stage.

Those hands drawing cries from their votaries, ears and minds sacrificed on the altar of driving drums and distorted guitars, blood and tears a soul-wrenched offering, surrendering all control.

Dusa had watched, her view filtered through polarized lenses, the sunglasses she still wore now dimming the intensity of her gaze.

Through drawing room and study scattered with crystal remnants of shattered femurs, kneecaps turned polished ashtrays, a foot wedged as granite doorstop at the threshold to the solarium. The room was shadow-soaked but for the candles already burning, mounted on upturned palms, the flames caged by fingers of pyrite, hematite, and sun spar.

The human studied the sculptures, the ones she’d wrought with a careful flick of lashes, as she studied them. Obsidian, she thought, or perhaps she’d keep their colors, the ink on their skin like trails of onyx through moonstone.

“Incredible,” they mused over the hands.

Graceful and gnarled, leathered and liver-spotted, petal-soft and scarred, but all groping, taking, touching. Like he had, his skin salted with brine, hair tangled with kelp and shell, beard washing tides across her flesh as he’d parted and pierced her softest parts. And how she’d been petrified, as rigid as the marble biting into her hips, veins of iron oxide and seams of quartz cutting, gouging, eroding as she’d drowned in his grip. Then been left raw upon temple steps, a sacrilege.

No hands would ever touch her again.

Soon the human would reach and grapple and their fingers would be hers. Their mouth forever begging mercy. And their heart — how she’d stare the muscle to dust, then coax it back to form with silica-winking before adding it to her bouquet.

The human drew closer still, sweat-caked from stage gyration. A thousand prayers echoed from the knot and weave of the gossamer shirt hanging loose and inviting over slick PVC disappearing into knee-high boots. They towered, their hair an oil-spill over broad-shoulders. She’d turn it to waves of basalt; their eyes to darkest jasper.

They were asking for it, dressed like that, smile lopsided and teasing, ego an alluring emanation — weren’t they?

They were all the same, these elevated, venerated deities of riffs and anarchy. Their voice, a blade whetted against the novaculite of her soul, every growl an excoriation of the barnacle rust clinging to her insides.

A shift, body corded with muscle slipping closer as Dusa scraped the glasses from her face. Squinting, she caught the hand before the finger could reach her cheek, and blinked wide.

They screamed, a primal fry razored from their depths as she traced the lines of their ink. Slow sutures of onyx formed in her wake. She tore delicate fabric as her gaze followed the black and gray mapwork splayed across their skin, up forearms and lean biceps to slender chest where splashes of color turned to amethyst and azurite. Over the flat plains of a belly she fine-chiseled with a look, then unbuttoned their fly to unsheath groin, legs, feet.

Dusa turned back to the human, cold and hard where before they’d been pliable and blood-flushed. She eased them to the floor, heavy limbs resting at odd angles, as she meandered her gaze back up shin and pelvis.

“Please,” a whisper, the mercy-plea.

Dusa lapped at their tears, eyes closed. She wanted to savor the final moment.

The, she focused on their throat: inked snakes disappeared onto their scalp — a cobra head emerging from behind their ear to bear fangs at their temple. Dusa eased the glamor binding her hair, relishing the soft sussurus of scales slithering over her shoulders, the hiss of viper breath, and the whimper of the body beneath her.

Slowly, she traced the intricate line work of the serpents, smiled at the gasp as coils tightened and lungs exhaled their last. She sat straddled across their chest. The erratic judder of the heart crushed by the weight of gems, pulsed against her crotch, a final agonizing throb before she placed a kiss on lips forever open in encore roar.

As human eyes glazed, she buried her fingers in flesh turned friable, excavating the musician’s heart from rib-scree.

Preemptive apology.

Precautionary justice.

Dusa hummed with snake chorus as she cradled the organ shedding scabs, letting her gaze linger as flawed flesh transformed to obsidian perfection. She added it her chandelier, the dark glass glinting in the glow of her satisfaction.


Climber, tattoo-enthusiast, peanut-butter addict and loyal shibe-minion, Xan van Rooyen is a non-binary storyteller from South Africa, currently living in Finland where the heavy metal is soothing and the cold, dark forests inspiring. Xan has a Master’s degree in music, and – when not teaching – enjoys conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. You can find Xan’s short stories in the likes of Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Daily Science Fiction, and Galaxy’s Edge, and their brand new cyberpunk novel, Silver Helix, will be published in 2023 by Android Press. Xan hangs out on instagram, twitter, and facebook so feel free to say hi over there.


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