The woman felt the warmth radiating off of the man next to her. She could still feel him inside her as she rolled over to lay an arm across his chest. She listened to his breathing steady and slow in the darkness. The man wasn’t very attractive, small and scrawny by any standards. He had survived this long with his wit, not his strength. The woman moved in closer to the man, his flesh chasing away the chill of the night. Then with one swift movement she dragged a dagger across his throat.
She dressed while he bled out, and by the time his body stopped convulsing she had her shoes on. Grabbing him by the ankles she slid the body off the bed. His head hit the floor with a sickening crack and left a trail of moonlit blood through the bedroom, through the living room, and out into the hallway. She looked at the apartment number as she shut the door and committed 4B to her memory bank of other apartments she could no longer take her lovers to.
She made quick work of getting down the hall to the stairwell, but here she paused. She knew nothing had been in the stairs that afternoon, everyday she did a sweep of her apartment building, but now in the dark she worried. There were no windows in the stairwell, but she knew fresh meat was better so she dragged him into the darkness and with each thud his head made on the cement steps she hoped with all her might that nothing else could hear it.
Two floors down the woman reentered a hall and shut the heavy door behind her in apartment 2D. She swung the metal bar down she had added for security with a clang and turned around with a smile.
“Mommy’s home,” she said into the still darkness.
And in return a deep guttural sound dusted the night air.
“I know you missed Mommy, my sweet, but you don’t want to be hungry now do you?”
The woman left the corpse by the front door and walked into the small galley kitchen to take a plate out of a white painted cabinet. Cockroaches scurried into holes at the sound of her footsteps. The woman walked back over to the corpse and took the same dagger she used to slit his throat out of her jacket pocket and bent down to slice off his left ear. She popped the shell-like body part into her mouth and chewed.
The human ear has a rubbery texture at first, but after 10 to 15 chews a strangely salty mush is formed. The woman spat this mush on to the plate she was carrying and wiped the juices from her mouth with the back of her hand. She walked into the darkest corner of the living room and disappeared in the shadows for just a second before pulling back the dusty curtains that hung there. Starlight poured in through the grimy window and landed on the head of a babe. Fine brown baby hairs swirled on top of a skull so pale it could be made of snow. Black veins webbed their way across the infant’s face. The same black veins snaked their way through the clouded whites of the babe’s eyes which locked onto the plate in the woman’s hand.
The guttural sound was louder now as the baby opened its mouth into a perfect O shape. The deep growl-like sound was music to the woman’s ears.
“Oh, I know what that means. Somebody’s hungry,” she cooed and brushed a spider off of her baby’s head that had crawled out from under the lace lined pillow. But all of the creature’s sounds meant it was hungry. It never cried for a want of love or warmth. It never fussed because it needed a nap. It was just hungry. Using just her thumb, pointer, and middle finger she pinched a small piece of the ear mush from the plate and let the babe suck it from her fingers. She let out a small laugh. The baby’s tongue and gums tickled. They felt like scrambled eggs that had been sitting in a pan for weeks, soft and fluffy underneath a crusty, yet leathery, layer.
“It’s a good thing you don’t have teeth, Emma,” the woman said. “If you turned me, who would take care of you? Hmm?” She began humming a lullaby and scooped the last of the ear off the plate. The thought comforted her; Emma had turned before she grew teeth and before she could walk. Emma would always need her now, unlike her brother and sister who had left for college before any of this began. The woman rarely thought of her other children. They had left her. They didn’t need her.
She set the plate on the floor and leaned over the bassinet to lift the babe out. The creature still moaned, but it was quieter now, almost like baby babble. The woman sat in a rocking chair and cradled her child in her arms. A scream tore through the night just outside. Calls for help fell on dead and deaf ears. The woman began rocking back and forth.
“Once upon a time,” she began, “there were two people who wanted a child very much. They were older, and their two other children had left them to deal with the evils of the world on their own. They hoped and wished and prayed for a baby to take care of, and one day their wish came true. They had a beautiful baby girl named Emma with hair the color of cinnamon and eyes so dark they looked like pools of midnight.”
“The little girl was born on the very last night of the world. Her birth signaled the dawning of a new era for in the very same hospital, just two floors below a virus had been created. Baby Emma’s parents were sad. The doctor’s had told them Emma had a hole in her heart and would not survive the night, but they were wrong.” The woman paused and lifted the child to kiss her on her forehead. The child in response tried to grasp it’s mother’s hair and pull toward it’s mouth, but the fingers were too weak. Decaying muscles that never had time to develop.
The woman tucked her loose hair behind her ears and continued, “They were very wrong indeed, for the virus had leaked out and was flowing through the air vents. So when little Emma took her last struggling breath and stilled, breaking her mother’s heart; it wasn’t very long before she opened her eyes again. Her mother was overjoyed, but the baby’s father had suffered a change of heart. He wasn’t sure this child was his anymore. So before he could make the wrong choice, Emma’s mother helped him sacrifice himself for their daughter. Baby Emma’s first meal was from her father’s heart, and that is why she is so special today.”
The woman hugged the babe close to her chest. The babe in return gnawed at her mother’s shirt leaving a brown stain of rotten meat.
Soon the flesh of the scrawny man began to turn sour. The creature refused to swallow and the baby babble turned animalistic. The woman spent hours at the window watching for signs of life. Anxiety ate at her insides listening to her child. She needs me.
It was a hot afternoon when she saw him scavenging through her window. He was larger than the last one, but she could always chop him up in the other apartment first. She kissed two fingers and then laid them on the head of her child before walking out the door.
Another month went by in this fashion when the woman noticed two things. First, Emma’s stomach was distended and her lips were beginning to look like an earthworm that shriveled up in the sun. Second, she was pregnant.
The months went by, and the normal ploy no longer worked. No man left on earth wanted to even hint at a connection with a woman who would soon bring a burden into the world. So the woman went to setting small traps. Emma did not make any sound remotely close to a happy babbel when the rat meat was offered to her, but she ate what her mom spit out anyway.
Finally, the day came. And the woman stuffed her mouth full of old clothes to muffle her screams. There was blood, more blood than her other three births. As the blood poured onto the kitchen tile, Emma moaned louder than she ever had before, the scent so close sending her reflex to feed into overdrive. The woman had pulled the curtains closed, but the bright afternoon sun illuminated the edges of the curtains like a mini eclipse. She concentrated on the small particles floating through the air to tune out the screams from both herself and the creature.
Hours ticked by, there were times when the woman felt like passing out, blackness encroaching her vision, but the thought of someone else who needed her kept her going and she would pull herself out just before the tunnel completely closed.
With one final push the newborn entered what was left of the world, and then the pounding started on the door.
The newborn let out a weak cry from the floor. The woman scooped the infant up in one arm and with the other reached to the counter above her for the dagger. She cut the umbilical cord then dropped the blade to the floor as if all her remaining energy had been used in that cut.
A shudder went up the woman’s spine. Her eyes had closed, but she took a deep breath and shoved herself and the infant up off the floor. On legs that felt like rubber she walked across the tiny apartment and set the infant down on the couch.
Emma continued to growl, the noise louder than ever before. The woman too weak to stand, collapsed to the floor.
They need me. I am a good mother.
She crawled across the living room carpet and cupped her hands together to gather the fresh blood from herself, from which a disconcerting trickle was still flowing. She stumbled on her way to stand up but managed to grasp the edge of the bassinet where Emma quieted as she drank her fill.
The newborn wailed. The woman took the three infinitely long steps to the infant, and pulled it close as she undid the buttons on her shirt. The child began to suckle and the world went black for the woman.
When she came to her view was of the living room ceiling from the red stained arm of the couch. Instant panic seized her and her eyes fluttered around the room; she was relieved to find that her baby was cold but breathing next to her thigh on the cushion. Tears flowed when she saw that she had a baby boy. She wrapped him up in a blanket she had laid out days before and immediately began tending to her two children.
Everyday they needed her for food and protection. With each passing week Emma needed her more and more. She had to have her stomach sliced open and sewn back up to make room for more food. She had to have her mother pick her up to move her around the room. But with each passing week baby Elliot needed her less and less. He could scoot around without his mother. After a few months he could crawl.
She continued to feed him breast milk only even though she was thin and the supply low. She wouldn’t give him solid food, and she wasn’t entirely sure she ever would. One day while baby Elliot was suckling, the woman felt a sharp pain. Looking down she saw Elliot had a tooth peeking through his gums.
Emma made a groaning noise, more muffled than it had been before since her trachea was collapsing in on itself.
She pulled Elliot away from her, and he said his first word, “Mama.”
The woman held the baby at arms length and her eyes turned hard. There was something behind them that screamed obsession but hid behind love.
The woman carried Elliot into the kitchen and slid him to one side of her hip while she dug in a drawer for a knife. When she found the one she wanted she walked over to the bassinet.
“Say, ‘Hello, Sister!’” the woman said lovingly, soothingly. Then she held up his hand to wave at his sister as she took the knife and slit his pointer finger down to the bone lengthwise.
His scream was quick and intense, and it only intensified as the woman held his finger out to Emma. The creature ravenously sucked on the finger, letting her tongue wash over the wound.
Surprise filled the woman’s dark eyes as the black web of veins instantly wound their way up the pale arm. She had seen many transformations since the old world ended and the new began, but none had ever been so rapid. She pulled Elliot’s hand out of Emma’s mouth, but he was already cold. She could hear his tiny heart beating swiftly in his chest. Hell, she swore she could see it pushing against his flesh.
He looked at her and cried the terrible cry of a child in pain. The sound sank the woman’s heart into her feet and ice crystals formed at the base of her spine.
“Mamaaaaa!” The wail continued and tears began to come. He screamed and turned his head to his mother for comfort. His left eye had black veins and clouded over as she watched him, and a black tear drop fell from the corner. Clear tears flowed out of the beautiful baby blue eye on his right.
In moments his screech of “Mama!” turned into something unrecognizable. It was the howl you might imagine a dog to make if he was conscious of the betrayal he was about to face before his owner shot him between the eyes.
The creature squirmed in the woman’s arms, but she held tight as she bent down to pick Emma up from the bassinet. Flesh stuck to the pillow, exposing the bone of her skull.
The woman walked to the couch and sat with a creature in each arm. She carefully balanced the tiny things as she undid each button on her shirt. She shifted her arms to move the tiny mouths to feed. The cold was a shock as the greedy mouths clamped down. And she felt an ice crystal growing from the cut Elliot had made with his first tooth. She had expected this, but she hadn’t expected the pain from Emma’s side. Startled, she pulled Emma away. A perfect bite mark encircled her nipple.
“Emma how?” The woman’s eyes went from the bite to the creature’s face. Astonishment filled the woman when intelligent eyes met her own.
Emma smiled. Tiny teeth showing through black gums.
“Mama,” she said.