Maternal Grief

Submitted into Contest #190 in response to: Start your story with someone vowing to take revenge.... view prompt

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Horror Speculative Thriller

"You will rue this day–I swear it."

With that, the shell of my mother ducked her head as officers pushed her into an armored SUV. They don't know that the being chained and caged behind them is not just a monster in name.

I alone know the truth, and nobody else would believe it. The only other living witness has already requested a psychiatric evaluation.

Perhaps I should, too.

My sister is gone. My mother is gone, but not in the same way.

Seventeen days ago, I noticed Mom's shadow was …wrong. We were taking a sunset walk and for a moment her shadow's legs merged into one undulating column. The next night, we were watching TV in the dimly-lit living room and Mom was gently stroking Andrea's hair as she fell asleep in her lap. Mom stopped, but I saw her shadow's hand cross over Andy's forehead two more times.

I shifted my gaze and saw her staring at me, seeming to flicker like an old film. In one instant I recognized her clear emerald eyes, and in the next I saw yellowed sclera, beige irises, and faded pupils. I could swear I was looking at two different women at the same time.

...

Andrea was getting ready for school a few days later when I heard her ask Mom why she'd been hiding in her closet that night.

"What are you talking about, baby? I wasn't in your room."

"Mom, I saw you. You were peeking your head around the doorframe, but I could see your hair and your eyes."

"Maybe it's time to try a different breakfast cereal to curb weird dreams? I'm thinking Coco Puffs!""

Andy laughed; it was fake. Mom should've caught that, but she just kept smiling and caressing her face.

By this point I think it knew that I was suspicious. She–er, it barely spoke to me. Any exchanges that did pass were curt and cold. In a matter of days I'd lost my mom and gained a resentful roommate, it seemed.

"It's good that you've come back from university for the spring." No indication of her feelings about it.

"Yeah, um, thanks for letting me come home for a while, Mom."

"You're welcome." It turned with its mug of black coffee and sidled away. One week prior I was getting warm hugs and exclamations of, "Oh I've missed you so much, Lizabug!" from a woman who enjoyed a splash of coffee with her cream and sugar.

As it lost interest in me, its obsession with Andrea grew exponentially. I can recognize now that even Andy was uncomfortable, but at the time I didn't trust myself; between the flickering shadow and black coffee, I felt like I was going crazy.

...

I heard it keep Andy up past her bedtime, watching disturbing TV shows. At 2:30AM I'd had enough, so I went to check on them. My sister was asleep on the couch, at least. The Mom-thing stared at her, and from my position I could see that it was not blinking. I shifted my weight, causing a floorboard to creak. Mom-thing's head snapped around and its timeworn eyes focused on me, predatorial and unflinching. The abrupt movement should've caused the blonde bob to sway but everything about this creature was still as stone.

My heart ached and my gut twisted; I wanted to go to my sister, but my intuition told me that I would've only endangered us both. I was exhausted; Mom-thing, with its eyes showing eons of time to practice its twisted games, was not.

Ten days ago I mentioned I needed to run errands and could take Andy to school on my way, which garnered a squeal of delight. Mom-thing glared at me, then switched demeanor and asked, "Are you sure you don't want to ride the bus like a big girl Andrea?"

"I'm positive! Thanks, Liz. Let's hurry so we don't get stuck behind the bus line!"

...

Normally I'd just let her out and drive on, but this time I parked my truck and walked her in, checking over my shoulder a few times. She squeezed my hand and whispered, "Thank you." I watched her greet the security officer, swipe her badge, and skip out of sight down the hall.

I found the administration office around the corner. A slim young man pushed glasses up the bridge of his nose as he welcomed me, "Hi, how can I help you?"

"Um, hi. Is there a school counselor I could talk to? I'm Andrea Billings' older sister and I have some…" I cleared my throat and looked over my shoulder again, "...concerns. I was hoping someone here could help us."

"What kind of concerns?" He asked, furrowing his brows.

"Safety concerns," I returned. "At home."

He got up from his desk and gestured toward a row of plush chairs. "I'll get Dr. Juarez. Just a moment, please."

I heard people laughing together in the direction the man disappeared to. They stopped, and a moment later I was greeted by a woman whose expression and tone made her instantly calming. Before she even spoke I felt more cared for by this stranger than I had by my "mother" in weeks. 

With a graceful wave she introduced herself, "Hi, I'm Dr. Juarez, the social resources director. Join me in my office?"

"I understand you have some concerns about the home life of Andrea Billings? Oh, I'm sorry–I'm sure Isaac gave me your name but it's slipped my mind."

"Elizabeth Billings, Andrea's older sister. I just moved home last month."

"Ah, thank you, Elizabeth. You can call me Ilene. Now, what concerns do you have?"

I hesitated. "I think–no, I know something is wrong with our mother. She's always been very firm about things like sleep and diet, but over the last week or so she's kept Andy up past midnight watching explicit shows and following up with nothing but Coco Puffs for breakfast. 'In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous,' has felt like a bedtime prayer that is chanted from the next room every hour for the whole night. Every time I've gotten up to check it's just been staring at Andy, like it's studying her or making some sort of plan." 

"It?"

"Oh, um, I meant to say 'she' as in my mom."

Ilene nodded and pulled a file out of a side drawer of her desk. "I agree that SVU is probably not appropriate for a third grader to be watching, especially not that late at night and before a school day. I can talk to Darla and Andrea about it but I'm sure this is just a–"

"There's more," I interrupted. I scooted forward on my seat, checking the door. "Dr. Juarez, please listen to me. Our mom has never picked favorites. She has always been consistent and loving to both of us, but since she started obsessing over Andrea, she's been cold and withdrawn from me. I feel silly, or even just plain crazy but please understand: I think something's wrong with my mom and that Andrea is her target, or focus, or something. I think she's love-bombing her."

Ilene's expression cooled. "As in, you think your mother is a narcissist and creating codependency between herself and your sister?"

"Yeah," I exhaled. "Something like that."

Within thirty minutes a child welfare social worker named Michael joined us in the office. I gave him the same story, adding that I felt the danger was urgent. Ilene passed me a paper from the file she'd pulled and forgotten earlier.

"That's a safety plan tool," Michael said. "We can help you fill it out, and we'll make a copy of it to keep on file with the case. Is there a phone number that we can use to reach you without risking your mother finding out?"

"Is mine not already available?"

Ilene shook her head. "We only have your mother's number. She's the only emergency contact Andrea has, and we really don't keep phone numbers outside of that."

I had definitely been on Andy's I.C.E. list at the beginning of the semester. Somehow, I knew that I'd been taken off within the last two weeks.

After writing my number at the bottom of the page I passed it back to Ilene to be copied. Michael approached me, stooping unnecessarily. "We take allegations like this very, very seriously. This means that you are not exempt from being investigated."

"Sounds good to me. I failed Geology 101 and got a ticket for going 54 in a 50, and that's pretty much the worst dirt you'll find."

The errand excuse wasn't an excuse; I actually did need to visit the library.

Aside from my sneakers' padding across glossy tile, the loudest sound in the room was my own heartbeat. I considered looking for a librarian, but meeting with Ilene and Michael ate a lot of my patience for people likely to think I'm crazy for what I'm about to look for. Thankfully, the self-service terminal was easy enough to find and navigate.

Once I found the area I wanted, a QR code loaded on the screen. I scanned it with my phone and promptly followed the map it pulled up in my browser; I needed to be on the third floor, west wing, and in the last two aisles of shelves before the space shifts to a study area.

It felt like the elevator took ten minutes to ascend two floors. The pounding in my ears grew louder, faster.

Ding.

Thump-a, thump-a, thump-a.

I froze, everything in my mind screaming all at once: What makes you think this is the answer? How would this have even happened–Mom isn't into this stuff. Maybe this is just all in your head. Hey, why was it that you came home from school this semester again? Oh, was it because you were mentally unwell? Yeah, that seems to ring a bell.

With fists clenched, I strode out of the elevator anyway.

I was frantic and had no clue what exactly I was looking for. My eyes flew over spines and I walked my fingers over the tops of the books to keep my place.

False Monarchy of Demons

The Lesser Key of Solomon

As soon as I touched the next book, I smelled lilac and patchouli. Mom's signature scent. I grabbed it and rushed back to the elevator.

The Infernal Dictionary: Devils, Gods, and Spirits of the Dictionnaire Infernal

I decided I'd be safest reading the book in the comfort of my truck, so I checked it out and did just that. I thumbed through the pages, hoping to smell Mom again and trying not to think about what that method of communication implied.

Boom, lilac.

Lamia.

...  

At 2:50 my alarm went off. I needed to get to the school to pick Andy up at 3:15, and 25 minutes gave me padding for traffic and a chance at getting a parking space near the front where Andy would see me.

I kept running Lamia's story through my mind repeatedly as I drove. She was one of Zeus's many mistresses. Hera, the rightfully jealous wife, slaughtered Lamia's children and paralyzed her eyelids so she could never close them–could never stop seeing a world devoid of her babies.

The eyes… Mom-thing's eyes. The discoloration could be due to millenia of dryness and insomnia; maybe the demon was replacing Mom's beautiful green eyes with its own decrepit ones, open for eons.

As I drove, and things started to fall into place, it became clear that this was all much, much worse than I thought.

Lamia kidnapped children. 

Then, she ate them.

...

I dashed through the front doors of the elementary school. Kids were packing up their bags behind classrooms' windows, chattering and giggling.

Isaac from earlier looked up and started to speak: "Hello again. Are you here about–"

"Andrea. I need to pick her up. Now."

Eyes widening, he said, "I'm sorry, but your mother just left with her a few minutes ago."

No. No no no.

"But I came in earlier today–today–and spoke with Dr. Juarez and a social worker. They know something's wrong and that Andy isn't safe. How could you let her go with her? Why didn't you protect my sister!?"

Isaac stood and brought his hand up in a 'calm down and let me explain' gesture; I clenched my teeth to keep myself from punching out the window on my way out.

No more dashing; only sprinting now. Before the door swung shut behind me I heard Isaac yell for Dr. Juarez.

No reds, no cops, no stops–that's all I asked for on that drive. Lamia must've already done her begging, though, because I ended up with no choice but to dodge other drivers and just floor it through the last two stoplights ahead of my house.

The front door was open–I didn't even get my parking brake on before flying out of the cab, not bothering to take the keys out or shut the door. I sprained my ankle when I landed but didn't notice until the next day.

"ANDREA?!" I charged through each room of the house, one by one, leaving any furniture I knocked over in my fury; a dining chair toppled over after I yanked it from its place to get a better view under the table, and that is where it stayed for seventy-two hours.

"Andy? Please, Andy where–"

The scream I heard should not have come from a child. It was a howl, somehow pulling the agony of an entire lifespan out of lungs not even a decade old. It was the worst thing I'd ever heard, until it wasn't.

The abrupt, horrific silence barely lasted long enough for me to inhale and register the scent of blood. It was broken by a heavy, wet slop sound, and a groan of delight.

"Finally!"

The space between the dining room and the back den disappeared and I found myself empty and staring at the woman who raised me as she gnawed on a shredded chunk of throat, ripped from where there should not have been empty space between Andrea's head and her little shoulders. Tears tracked down the sides of her face as precious blue eyes stared dead at the ceiling.

I didn't feel my mouth move:

"Monster."

Lamia stood and slowly turned to face me, grinning and chewing.

"Quite rude of me to start without offering any to you, I know, but this is simply delicious and I didn't think you would want to–"

 I launched myself at her, wailing on a chuckling, heartless creature covered in my sister's blood. Even gripping her neck with everything I had, strength that should have been causing burst blood vessels, the laugh was unfaltering. 

"How could do this to a child, you sick fuck?!"

"Now, now, Elizabeth," she drawled. I spat. "That's no way to treat your mother, is it?"

She wasn't fighting back, yet I couldn't continue. Was this shock or did she have me under some spell? My fingers relaxed despite my demand to squeeze tighter. 

She took a step back as a gentle smile spread through the blood. Raw, screaming sobs tore through gritted teeth, and that was the most I could do. My face was hot, wet, and I couldn't escape the taste of salt nor the stench of rust.

I finally gathered the control to growl one word:

"Lamia."

Her posture hardened and the demon hissed, then demanded, "What did you just say to me, brat?"

Hot dampness spread down my legs but I squared my shoulders. "I said your name, Lamia.

The demon sighed, shoved her bloody hands into her pockets, and feigned indolence."You know, Elizabeth," she started, glancing back toward the abhorrent scene. "Darla really did well with you girls. You're smart as a whip, and little Andrea was sweet and courageous to boot. It's truly a shame that things turned out this way."

The front door banged against the siding, preceding hurried footsteps and Michael's voice: "Oh, fuck."

"You know, I was once just a woman with too much love to give. I was chosen to be a mistress of the god of gods–an honor, I thought. Soon I was pregnant, made lying to my family, and held in the wrath of Hera.

"She didn't care which of my children were even sired by her husband; each of them was slaughtered right in front of me. She stole my light, and my ability to fully mourn the loss."

Lamia looked past me, seeing flashing lights approaching fast.

"You picked up on my eyes very early, and you've done the necessary research to learn my name..." Lamia reached up and pulled crumbling orbs out of her face, leaving gore and empty sockets in the place of my mother's eyes.

"No surprise, then, right? It's glorious to just take them out whenever I please. I highly recommend giving it a try–nobody ever takes me up on the suggestion, though." She chuckled. I hurled. Michael fainted.

I caught my breath and looked up. Lamia's eyes were set in my mother's face again, still framed by blood.

SWAT officers swarmed the house. I could see them shouting but everything was drowned out except one sickeningly sweet feminine voice.

"Do you want to know what I said to Hera after she murdered them? After I'd decided to go through the rest of eternity stalking good mothers and shredding their souls, as she had done to me? I warned her that she'd created a new goddess of maternal grief, and that whatever unions she blessed would be subject to my review alongside her own."

I stumbled out the door, following the chaos. My mother–evicted and extinguished by the demon, Lamia–writhed in the grips of armed officers.

"After that bitch sent my children to Hades, I told her:

"You will rue this day–I swear it."

March 25, 2023 02:50

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