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You have to know what you’re looking for. I learned this
after—after I glimpsed their not-quite white saw-edged

teeth in my peripheral vision, neatly filed
and gleaming when I dared to look straight at them. The

charmers (always impeccably dressed) advertise
a propensity for dark-red accessories:

garnet silk scarves, carmine-lined / cherry wood-handled
umbrellas, ruby earrings, sangria shawls. Such

colored foods excite them too: plump strawberries, wine
-red apples, radishes & beets still earth-sweet, flame

grapes tight-clinging to the vine. I watched one squat on
the street once, pluck leaf after leaf of burgundy,

merlot, maroon off the wet ground, then proceed to
make a dew-glimmering wreath. I’d not have thought much

of it, except after—after twining the birch /
maple leaves they’d chosen, they held it tambourine-

like, rattled the foliage for window-perched house
cats and foraging chipmunks to squint at. It’s these

minor, slanted things that give the charmers away.
Like squirrels hoarding acorns for winter, they like

to save pomegranate seeds in glass jars—line their
pantry shelves with the antioxidant beads. Come

summer, they grind their store into powder for their
preternaturally pale cheeks. Apply it by

leaning over sinks, still water as their mirror.
You have to know what you’re looking for—the charmer’s

affinity for deep-red things, their seamless smiles,
their measured words (largo & pianissimo)

as ensorcelling as their unearthly clear eyes.
How they lean back ever-so-slightly, blink down the

length of their nose, lick their parted cardinal lips,
and invite you to empty the contents of your

(un)troubled heart. They are excellent listeners,
these charmers—this is how they survive, how they thrive,

how they’re able to blend in with the natives when
they emerge from their hibernation in places

where nature swings its wettest, coldest fist. You have
to know what you’re looking for—the veining in the

throat that tap-pulses before a snowstorm, the slight
expansion of the nostrils & tightening of

the nasal septum after a late autumn rain.
The way, even when a confidant has silenced,

the charmer continues to stare, the space between
giver and taker shaped like a hoisted sickle.

Pay close attention! This is how the taking
starts. These creatures who like everything red—they shed

their skins after the passage of forty seasons,
fold up like insects in webbed attics, abandoned

garages, behind boxes in dank basements. When
they issue from their sealed nest—a crimson shell of

pumice-like material—they don’t have a heart
like humans do. (I’ve checked.) And their veins conduct lime-

green fluids, viscous and rancid. It’s no wonder
they’re drawn to shades of red—as if they can taste our

blood, our vitals, and pretend they have the one thing
they cannot make their own. “Come forth.” Thorned whispers well

below a human’s capacity to hear. Cheeks
dimpling, ears wiggling, as the hairline readjusts

along a rubbery-smooth scalp. “Tell all.” Honeyed
whispers composed millennia ago. And from

the darkest depths of the confidant’s grey wrinkled
warren, memories surge—scents & images from

their earliest childhood days, all saturated
in red; words plucked from conversations, re-spun, the

letters clothespinned across a buzzing canvas of
vermillion. They slip-slide in so quietly—

these charmers—their hunger greatest for the naïve,
the altruistic, the unguarded. They glide right

inside, carried on the inhalation of ill-
preparation and innocence. Steep deep. Deeper.

Deepening their soul-soundless voice, they cast mirror-
fogged webs into the center of their victim’s mind—

absorb the distilled essence of what they’ve pre-drilled,
oftentimes take more than what they need. But never,

ever do they experience remorse. Only
a cold curiosity regarding the husk

they’ve left behind. These charmers are vibrant, soaring
high on the talents of those they have de-winged—the

brightest, the loveliest, the most accomplished in
their field. Charmers have nothing to gain from those who

work in solitary units; those who dream of
chains, razors, split skins, walls & floorboards covered in

splotches of the richest red. Our Charmers are quite
narcissistic, after all; they want to boast, which

means their successful acclimation requires an
audience. Else, why go through untold life cycles

to perfect their outer form? You have to know what
you’re looking for, or chances are likely you won’t

realize when one of them passes you by in
the produce aisle, on a hiking trail, or on the

stairs at work. Trust me. They’re everywhere. I’ve seen them
crumple the strongest mind like a sheet of paper.

Unlined. Good for nothing afterwards but filling
up the bin. Do you recycle? Here. Take this knife.

You’ll use it if you know what’s good for you. If you
want to navigate among charmers unscathed. Seek

out the red, you’ll know you’re close. Keep your gaze sharp and
your blade sharper. Don’t hesitate or you’ll make a

mistake. Wouldn’t want to end up in the trash, would
you? This is your best chance. Remember this message.

A native Floridian, Crystal grew up playing with toads in the rain and indulging in speculative fiction. When she’s not working or writing, she’s usually looking for ways to spoil her pets or stopping traffic to rescue animals. You can find her on Twitter @sidellwrites.
Current Issue
25 Sep 2023

People who live in glass houses are surrounded by dirt birds
After a century, the first colony / of bluebirds flew out of my mouth.
Over and over the virulent water / beat my flame down to ash
In this episode of  Critical Friends , the Strange Horizons SFF criticism podcast, Aisha and Dan talk to critic and poet Catherine Rockwood about how reviewing and criticism feed into creative practice. Also, pirates.
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