50 Minutes for the Rakshasa
The Rakshasa shows up about once a month and always after the sun goes down. He pays cash in American dollars since I refused to accept the gold Ramatanka coins he brought to our first session. I ignored him when he grumbled something about all of the people who had to die in order for him to get those coins. After my husband left me I need cash, not collectibles.
“Call me Rahm,” he said by way of introduction.
In the waiting room Rahm takes the form of what he refers to as “an unfortunate soul.” Too short pants, a white t-shirt under an open collared button down, short sleeved, no less. His dirty hair is matted away from his face. A greasy mustache dribbles over his top lip.
In my office, though, Rahm is his real self. Cloaked in an enormous robe that appears to be made of spun gold. Two curved fangs peak out from the corners of his fleshy red lips and two ram’s horns spiral over his round ears. The thick knot of glossy black hair on top of his head starkly offsets his chalky skin and jet black eyes.
Rahm has a hard time negotiating space for the stiff gown in my new leather armchair.
“I preferred the pebble weave.” He sneers at his seat. “The hazards of shape shifting, I guess.”
“That’s a big dress,” I tell him.
“It’s a cape,” he stresses the word on the first consonant and pops the last one out between his jagged lips. “Not a dress,” he hisses as he works a black claw between a sickled canine and lateral incisor.
“So, how are things?” I ask.
Rahm jumps right in. “I’m feeling ashamed of my behavior,” he tells me.
“Yes,” he says and shakes his head. The overhead light flickers over the man bun and creates a white halo on his head. “You told me once that guilt would be considered significant.”
“It’s one of the CAGE questions that we use for our substance abuse patients.” I count off on my fingers. “Do you feel the need to ‘cut’ down your substance use? Is your substance use ‘annoying” people?”
Rahm nods in agreement.
I continue, “Guilt.” I open my hand in his direction. “Is the ‘g’.”
Rahm open his hands in my direction with an embarrassed smile.
“And finally,” I finish, “Have you ever needed an ‘eye’ opener to settle your nerves or get rid of a hangover? Or in your case…” I let the sentence hang.
“Oh no, no.” Rahm holds out a hand lined by cyanotic veins. “I never feed during the day.”
“Well, that’s only one of the—” I begin.
“It’s right around sundown I just get this craving,” He balls his hands into fists and flinches when he stabs himself in the palm.
“For…?” I wait for him to say it. Admission is the key.
He mumbles something into his glorious lap.
“I’m sorry?” I ask politely. I stop myself just short of curving my hand behind my ear.
He rolls his eyes to the ceiling and holds them there as he speaks, “Human flesh!” he thunders. He fixes his eyes on mine as he continues, “Blood. Viscera.” He looks defeated as he fills his cheeks with air and exhales. I’m wreathed in a miasmata of hot copper.
Rahm shakes his head slowly. “I thought about what you said? About changing habits? I even tried the feed log.” he holds up a volume of rustic looking paper bound with suspiciously bruised leather. “But then it just got to be too much.”
“Did you try timing your feeds?”
He nods so heavily his body slides forward on the leather. He grips the armrest and scoots himself back into a sitting position. “That worked for about a day.” He shrugs. “I’d get the urge to kill and I did what you said. I told myself I wouldn’t hunt for another hour.”
“So it worked.”
“Once.” He says. “The next day I sat and watched the clock, and the minute the clock struck the hour I was out of my apartment and before I knew it I was feeding on a drug addled armed robber.”
I raise my eyebrows at him.
“You tried the cows before,” I told him. “You’d found success with that.”
“It’s just…” He holds his claws out in front of him and gesticulates as he talks. His arms are ropy and thin within the wide sleeves of the robe. “I always felt bad about the cows. Especially the Highland ones, they’re so cute and fuzzy.”
“Do you feel worse about the cows than about the people?”
He takes a deep breath, opens his mouth to speak and then shuts it as he scoots forward in his chair.
He drops his hands and his head with a throaty guffaw. “Honest?” he lets his elbows drop. “Okay, I’ll be honest. Yes.”
I cross my ankles and curl my index finger over my mouth.
“What?” Rahm asks. “Aren’t you going to ask me how I feel about that?”
I shake my head at him. “Let’s unpack this a little.”
“Okay,” Rahm mumbles as he chews the cuticle of his thumb.
“Why do you feel so bad about the cows?”
“Because, they’re innocent.” He looks down at his lap and twirls a fine gold thread around a long claw. “They’re just curious, you know, but a demon warrior has to eat.” He draws a deep breath and lets it out. “I found myself crying, after.” He turns to the window and brings a hand to his mouth. “I’d taken to apologizing first.”
“You apologized to the cows?’
“Yes,” he says softly to his lap. “I had a little rhyme I’d say, ‘Go to sleep little cow, shut your eyes right now, think of happy things…’” He trails off, eyes on the window at the new moon hanging in the dark. “Of course, it sounds better in the original Sanskrit.”
He stares ahead and knocks a fist against the arm of the chair. “You know, the thing is, I don’t even really enjoy it anymore. The stalking and the hunting and the blood feed.” Rahm runs pentatonic scales on the arm of the chair and I resist the urge to see if he’s left a mark. He continues, “I think I like the idea of it more than the actual practice.”
“That’s a common issue,” I say.
“So, I tried going vegan, like my cousin, Yasmina.” He runs a claw over the wrinkles that corrugate his forehead. “She’s all about life and nature. No flesh. No dairy. No guilt.”
“And how did that go?”
Rahm perks up in his chair, “Amazing! I got so much done! I had so much energy. I wasn’t just—” he slumps in his chair and slides himself back in to place, “—laying around bloated. For the first time in years I was sleeping through the day.”
I nod approvingly.
“And the food was actually delicious. It’s time consuming. And expensive, and you have to use every appliance you own pretty much, but Yaz gave me a recipe for spaghetti squash with cashew cream.” He waves a hand in my direction. “You have to try it! It’s delicious. Decadent, even.”
“But then the cravings came again and Brahma knows there isn’t enough cashew cream in the world to quell them. I wanted something more substantial. More…” He worries the tip of his horn between his thumb and index finger as he searches for the word.
“Satisfying?” I try.
He aims a black claw at me, “Exactly!”
“Did you give into the temptation?” I ask him
He nods, eyes closed. “I always feel so weak after, like such a failure. “
“Sounds like you want to make a change.”
“I’m thinking of moving,” he tells me. His pointed tail, fleshy and pink like a rat’s, snakes out from under the heavy garment and aims out the window in the direction of the cemetery across the street. “There,” he says, his voice soft and distant, “Maybe if I’m surrounded by the dead. I won’t feel the desire to kill.”
“Like an alcoholic who becomes a bartender.”
His lips twitch and he rolls his eyes. “This is hard.”
“It is,” I say. “See, Rahm. My advice to you is to not make too many big changes at once. The veganism is a great start. But it’s a big change, and if you do a big move on top of that?” I shake my head. “It might be a little much at this point. Changes cause stress and stress causes you to fall back on bad habits.” I cross my leg at the knee. “That’s why in recovery we say, ‘One day at a time.’”
“Oh, what does it matter?” He wails as he wrings his hands in his lap “People suck, anyway, why not eat them?”
“Maybe you’re just meeting the wrong people.”
“I’ve thought of that!” He points a talon at me. “I only go out at night, and you know nothing good is going on after 2 a.m. So I’m wondering if I’ve just seen the worst of humanity.”
“That’s possible,” I notice he is sliding down the chair again.
“So, what you’re saying is that maybe there are more cow like people during the daytime. Gentle souls just navigating the world.”
I nod. “That you don’t want to eat.”
“Yes!” He heaves himself back up on the chair. “This could be the push that I need to embrace a new lifestyle! Is this what you would call a breakthrough, Doctor?”
Rahm tilts his head and surfs the arc of his right horn with his palm. “I read about it on WebMD.”
Above his head the intricate cuckoo clock one of my colleagues gave me as a gag gift lets me know our session is over. “Looks like our time is up,” I tell him.
Rahm rolls his head around on his shoulders, “Time means nothing to me.” It’s what he always says and it’s probably true. Still, he tries it every session.
“You get 50 minutes, Rahm, You’re no different than anybody else.”
“Oh Doctor,” he says and drops the crumpled bills on the glass table between us. One of them is flecked with dark brown spots. “We both know that’s not true.”
“I’ll see you next month,” I say as we both stand. “Keep working on it. You’ll get there.”
“One day at a time,” he says with an obsidian wink.
And then he’s gone. Disapparated into the night.
Kathy Lanzarotti is co-editor of Done Darkness: A Collection of Stories, Poetry and Essays About Life Beyond Sadness. She is a Wisconsin Regional Writers’ Jade Ring Award winner for short fiction. Her stories have appeared in (b)OINK, Ellipsis, Creative Wisconsin, and Platform for Prose.