Jillian Chmiel



His wail tore through me, ripping my flesh and bones apart, searching for my heart. It was a useless task. It would find nothing there.

I stared at the old man, watching the blood pour from his hands and drip onto the ground. The troops roared with lust. A week ago I wouldn’t have been capable of this, but now I had the strength of an army behind me.

My blood cells had been wrestling with one another for weeks; since the morning I crouched on the icy ground, beckoning the dog toward me. He had snarled at me from beside the dumpster, but my loneliness played me like a marionette, and I got onto all fours. I reached toward him, clicking my tongue. He licked his chops and charged.

Since I’d fought him off and staggered home to wash the blood from my face and arms, my blood cells had been at odds. Some grew restless, and angry. They found each other, and riled each other up. They recruited thousands more, and formed an army.

The army attacked my nerves first, climbing hand over hand like pirates pulling themselves up ropes. It surrounded my brain. The defending neurons fired warning shots. A civil war broke out. The army, ruthless, slaughtered everything in its path. It sent regiments to my throat, slashing and burning vocal cords, making me growl.

Eventually, troops fought their way to my heart. They burned it; set it aflame. It burned for hours, and I howled with the pain of it. But the winds of time scattered its ashes, and it’s little more than a memory now.

Once the army won the war, when it had conquered my face and my hands and my feet, it set out on fulfilling its mission. The mission was clear: conquer and spread.

So, I followed orders. I snarled at passersby, and picked out the weakest of the herd. I chased men, women and children down sidewalks, pounding my hands against the pavement in frustration when they twisted away.

Some men in uniform came, cornering me behind a dumpster. I crawled underneath it and out the other side, peeling the skin off my back. The army ordered troops to repair it, and sent others to my arms and legs, propelling me forward. I ran and ran. I fell asleep in an alley and woke to a man prodding me with the toe of his shoe. It was a small shoe; small and old. I rolled over and saw him, hunched over with Scoliosis, concern on his wrinkled, frowning face. The army leapt to action. My hands threw him to the ground. My fingers clawed at his face.

He wailed, and I growled. My mouth foamed and bit. Troops jumped from my mouth to his skin, and burrowed down into the wounds.

It was a decisive victory, a job well done, though the mission is far from complete. The army, drunk with triumph, will rally again and again.


Jillian Chmiel is a teacher in South Korea. Raised in Wisconsin, she now spends hours each day holed up in a café, watching the leaves, snow, or cherry blossom petals blow through the streets of Pyeongtaek.  On her way to the café, she trips over dozens of feral cats. They’re tough and mean; they eat garbage and look at her with disdain. They’ve got one goal–to survive. These cats inspired her short story “Marionette.”