Tag Archives: daughters

The Wombly, by K.L. Morris

The Wombly arrives first on my father’s back. He brings it home, and it travels ’round the family faster than a whip crack. It passes from him to Liza Lee to Mom to me, except I don’t tap, so Mom doesn’t tap back. The circle hangs open around our necks, a family all Post-Wombly except for one, that’s me, I’m still Pre.

“I’m scared,” I say.

“Of course,” Mom murmurs. As the seconds pass, the Wombly steals around her neck. It goes up her thighs, her pits, her back. Slowly, so slowly, it creeps. I watch it go, and while I watch, she weeps.

“We’ll wait,” she says. “Go out and find someone to Bear it.”

wombly01It is a soap Wombly. Some say these are one of the best. Little Liza Lee had it for so short a time, she will shave the pebbly suds from her sides and her back, and no one will ever know she Bore it. But Dad will have it forever. He’ll don plastic bags to shower and be careful of rainstorms and puddles and dense fog because they will melt him. He’ll make a collection of galoshes and rain coats and rubber gloves and live forever in fear of water.

We have to wait to see how Mom turns out. Wait and see until I come back with a Bearer.

All Womblies can be passed off to someone else, except they can never be passed back. People with the worst Womblies, like steel or wood or sand, creep down the street begging for relief. Some people, the worst people, knock against you in secret to pass the Wombly on. You don’t even know you have it until you arrive home and take off your coat and see your fingertips are turning to brass or wax or concrete. If the Wombly Watchers catch you street-passing, they’ll chain you to a post and build a Wombly fence around you, and keep you there ‘til you die. It won’t take long because almost all Womblies need twenty-four hours to complete.

First, I went to Jill’s house, but nobody answered when I rang the bell. There was a sign on the door—At Uncle Rod’s Funeral. Wool Wombly to the Grave. God Bless His Soul.

Since the Womblies came, people believe in God again. And some of them believe in Womblies. I have to pass tiny knots of both on the street corner, Womblies on one side of the street and people on the other. Repent! say the signs. Repent and Be Free.

And on the other side, Surrender to Wool. Surrender to Glass. Surrender and Be Free.

It’s weird they both want the same things. But some of them are standing while Womblies eat them up. The man with the glass sign is already frozen in place, his fingers crystalline where they grip his sign, the lower half of his face see-through like a broken mirror. On the other side of the street, the people who believe in God throw things at him. They want to chip bits of his Wombly off and kick them down the street.

I know a girl named Savannah. She has long red hair, and I hate her because she is beautiful. I go to her mother’s house and tap, tap on the door. When it opens, I say, “I need a Bearer.”

Savannah’s mom pulls the door open further. Savannah’s father is on the floor, almost all bronze, but still he says through clenched-together jaw, “Don’t come near.”

I see now Savannah’s mother is crying. She says, “He’s chosen to take it to the grave. He won’t let us near.”

Not Savannah. Not her mom. Not like my dad. I leave the house, and I hate Savannah even more. I seethe with hate for her.

I think about the moment the Wombly came to the house. About how, without a thought, Dad passed it to Liza Lee to Mom, but not to me. How they left me dangling out the end, like the tail of the whip. How they are all Post-Wombly now, and I am still Pre. Why didn’t Mom move? Why didn’t she sandwich me between them, too? Like Liza Lee?

I go to Monique’s house next. She answers the door with her jaw made of tin, and when I gasp, she sputters tears.

She tells me it was her brother’s first. She says, “He’s out to find a Bearer. Would you—Could you Bear it?”

I don’t answer her. I think of the soap waiting for me at home, how at least it won’t freeze me up the way the tin has frozen Monique. I back off the steps away from her, away from her tin and her request, and the desperate, desperate eyes that perch above her neck. I bump into Old Man Roger, his arms bound behind his back. Monique’s brother, James, hauls him into the house. He shoves past me without even a hello and kicks the door shut behind him.

I peek through the windows and watch James pin Old Man Roger to the floor. I hear him scream and scream. All Monique has to do is tap him, a tap would be enough. But she straddles his stomach, leans in close, and licks the side of his face. Old Man Roger’s scream cuts off real quick, like he knows he’s done.

James leans over and whispers something into his ear. I can’t hear, but I can guess. To the grave, James says. To the grave. I run from the house. I should call someone and tell them what Monique and her brother have done, but I can’t. Because I am thinking—maybe that’s what I should do.

I go to the town square. There will be people there. There may be one or two with a kind enough heart to come home with me and tap after I tap. I even imagine not tapping at all. I imagine finding a woman who’s middle-aged, with love in her eyes, who stays my hand. She taps my mother instead. The Wombly passes from Mom to her right over my head, and I am safe.

wombly02But when I get to the town square, there are twenty people already there. Some yell into megaphones. Some hold large, bedazzled placards with rhinestones that catch the sun. They say, “Bearer Needed! Wool Wombly.” “Begging for a Bearer. Mere Soil. Save my Son.” There are even two or three with signs that say, “Bearer for Hire. $3,000.”

The ones who hold these signs are the worst. Little bits of everything cling to the people like layer cakes with barely any flesh left. They wrinkle with soil and cement, soap and concrete. There’s rumors that they’re the Street Passers, that that’s how they can take on a Wombly and pass it off so fast. There’s rumors that entire networks of Bearers for Hire exist, passing the Womblies from one to the next until they get to a town or a place where they can kidnap someone and threaten their family, a Wombly-turned finger pressed close, so close, to their neck. I wonder how they are human at all.

I go home well past midnight and steal into the house, but they are not asleep. Mom sits at the kitchen table beside my father. She is worse than he is now, the soap curling into her hair so it looks dried and dead. Her ears are all soap now. I wonder if she liked Dad to kiss her ear lobes, the way people sometimes do in movies. He will never kiss them now. There are whole parts of her that he will never kiss.

I tiptoe past them toward the stairs. I hear Mom say, “No, I don’t want you to look for her. I want her to come back on her own. I want her to want this.”

Father reaches out to grasp her hand, but freezes just above it. Her fingers are lined with soap, as if the curves of her joints have dried out and flaked. He stretches past them, past the place where his hand might leave imprints, and takes her wrist. “And if she won’t?”

Mom shrugs. “I cannot force this on her.” She clears her throat, and I wonder if it’s inside her now, crawling up her esophagus, lining her stomach. “I will not.”

Father’s hand clenches on her wrist. “She will take it. We have all Borne it, as a family, as we should, and she will do her part.”

Mom raises her hand and lays it on Father’s, and despite the soap that limns his elbows, that creases his eyes, I still see him flinch.

I creep past them up the stairs, and behind my eyelids in my bed that night, I see Savannah’s father hardening on the floor.

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In the morning, I wake to Liza Lee sitting on my bed. Already, she has developed a nervous habit, scratching at the soap hidden in her armpit. Large pieces of it crumble onto the bed beside me. Horrified, I brush them away.

“Stop that.”

Liza shrugs. She is tiny for eight. “It is what it is,” she says. This is a saying she has learned from someone at school. “Are you afraid?”

“Of course. What does it feel like?”

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” she singsongs. Liza sticks a finger up her nose and pick, pick, picks. When she tugs it out, there is soap dust on her fingers. “It feels like fizzing wherever the Wombly sits.”

She rubs the soap dust onto my pillow. I flip it over and pull it away from her in disgust. “Dad says they will take me to a doctor to see what can be removed. Probably, there won’t even be any scars.”

No one will know, then, about the Wombly and Liza Lee.

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I hide in my room. I flick Liza’s soap flakes off the bed, being careful to only use my fingernail. One time, I slip and it grazes my cuticle. I feel a tingling—the fizzing Liza Lee said? I can’t tell. My whole body has frozen in place, my heart beats dully in my ears. No soap forms. I don’t feel the tingle anywhere else. I can’t get the Wombly from Liza Lee’s soap, then. It is as harmless as dead skin. I am surprised by the disappointment that swoops through me as the adrenaline fades. It would be easier to have gotten the Wombly by accident than to have to take it from my mom.

Downstairs, they are calling me. They don’t know I am home. Dad becomes desperate—his cries going sharp like birds. When I roll over, I hear them through my pillow, their voices echoing around in my bed. Mom can only whisper now, her throat husky with soap. “I want her to come on her own. I want her to want this.”

Then Liza Lee’s voice, singsong-y and free: “She’s upstairs.”

I hear a shuffling on the stairs, ascending, ascending, ascending. I know it is her, even though it sounds nothing like her, nothing like the light skipping-step of my mother. The doorknob to my room makes a single guck, like a hand has knocked it, a hand that can’t use its fingers anymore. There’s a long pause before I hear it again—the soft tings of the knob being touched. Then the ease of it sliding open, pulling its trigger to the left.

I am hiding under my covers now, furious at my body for its terror. I whisper over and over: It’s just Mommy. Just Mom and me. The words slur together until I can’t tell the difference between “Mommy” and “Mom and me.”

wombly03And then the door creaks open so I see a crack of light. It widens to show the shape of my mother, her body blurred by soap. The hand that opened the door is still raised, she cannot put it down. She’s freezing right there, freezing slowly in place.

“Please,” she says, her words garbled, nearly lost, and I can tell her teeth are soap now, that the dumb press of her tongue is melting them. “I can’t take it anymore. It hurts.”

Even if I could hear the pleading at the bedroom door and connect it with my mommy, even if I could cure myself of terror and move to her, tap her cheek, her hand, her heart, even if. I could not save her. The Wombly has claimed her now. There is nothing left to save. In moments, she’ll be dead, freed from the Wombly or not.

She wheezes, “Please,” and her voice is vanishing.

“Please,” and it’s the whisper of a door that’s closing.

“Plea—” she says, and her esophagus has frozen shut.

Her arms stretch towards me, her fingers twitch once, twice, and stop. I think she is soap. I think, she is gone now. But then I see—she is still staring at me. The soap has not covered her irises, not yet, though it’s creeping close. I will be the last thing she sees, the daughter who sits, Wombly-Free, and watches while she’s eaten right in front of me.

 march-endof

karalynmorris

K.L. Morris earned her M.F.A. from Lesley University in 2013. Her work has appeared in The Flexible Persona and Body Parts Magazine: A Journal of Horror and Erotica. She spends most of her time writing, walking her dog, and ignoring her husband in order to write. When no one’s around, she writes inside of a tent with a large glass of wine. When people are around, she writes inside of a tent with a large glass of wine and the door zipped shut. She’s neither as broody nor as introspective as she presents herself. Connect with her on Twitter @KareMoreIs. She blogs at www.thewritinggeek.com.

These Are Also Spooktacular:

In the Pines, K.M. Carmien – “You stink like the city,” the woods-thing says. The pines close around them, a green wall, filtering the light to dim and gray, cutting off the world. It looks like a girl, this one. Waxy pale skin, lank dark curls, shabby blue coat. Most of them don’t. They look like trees, or thickets, or wolves, or cats, or patterns of shadow. But this particular one, which always claims the right to deal with her, wears the skin of a girl who was murdered by a drifter four years ago.

A July Story, K.L. Owens – Iron red, linseed-cured, and caked in salt, in a place where the mercury never crept much above fifty Fahrenheit, the two-room house chose to keep its back to the sea. A wise choice, given the facing of the windows and the predilections of the wind. Still, in other Julys, Kitten had stood naked between ancient trees or buried his toes in sun-warm sand. In this new July, he donned the buckskin jacket from the peg by the door and used wool socks for gloves, swaddled his head in a gaily-patterned scarf given to him by a gray-haired marm in some other July on some other island. Shivering on a shore made of black cobblestones—waves did not break, but clattered and rumbled—Kitten watched a bazaar of common murres bob on the wind and wondered which side of what ocean the house had selected this time.

The Earth and Everything Under, K.M Ferebee – Peter had been in the ground for six months when the birds began pushing up out of the earth. Small ones, at first, with brown feathers: sparrows, spitting out topsoil, their black eyes alert. They shook and stretched their wings in the sunlight. Soon they were pecking the juniper berries and perching on rooftops, just like other birds. They were small, fat, and soft; Elyse wanted to hold them. But they were not tame and they would not come to her.

Jane by Margaret Dunlap

“–JANE?”

I had heard Rob’s question. It’s just that while I was in the middle of performing CPR in the back of an ambulance on a patient who had been very stable until he had all of a sudden up and crashed, I wasn’t going to stop and answer it. It was a stupid question anyway. Not that that stopped Rob from repeating it.

“You okay back there, Jane?”

Oh, I was great. The ambulance was barreling towards the hospital as fast as L.A. traffic could get out of our way, and I was dead certain we weren’t going to make it.

Pause for accuracy.

The patient wasn’t going to make it. Barring taking a Beemer up the ass, we were going to be just fucking fine. John Doe on the other hand? The best I was going to accomplish with CPR was to give him a few cracked ribs to go with his sudden cardiac arrest. Still, we all do our best. So I stopped to check for a pulse.

Then I checked the machines.

Then I checked my patient again because I do not trust machines to tell me if someone is alive or dead.

“Jane—?”

I didn’t let Rob finish. “I’ve got a rhythm.”

Rob didn’t take his eyes off the road as he called back, “You’ve got what?!?”

“He’s alive,” I said.

And that’s when the asshole sat up and bit me.

You will not believe the paperwork you have to fill out when you save someone’s life, and then your ungrateful patient turns around and bites you. The forms that pile up when said patient then spits a glob of your flesh into your partner’s lap, which causes your partner to drive your ambulance into a utility pole are truly staggering.

And then, to add insult to literal injury, after we finally finished the paperwork, they put Rob and me both on leave for thirty days.

“I should have just let him die, Gina,” I said. “At least then he wouldn’t have bitten me, and I could still work.”

I hate not working. At least, that was the excuse I gave to Gina. Gina was my last foster mom. We met when I was fourteen and had no interest in having another mother, and even less of a skill-set for being a daughter. But something must have rubbed off because here I was, calling her to not admit that I might have HIV or drug-resistant hepatitis, or that I was scared to death.

A car full of club kids honked on their way up to Sunset and obscured whatever Gina said in response. Conrad, my bull mastiff who does not—it turns out—like loud noises, peed himself.

“What was that?” asked Gina after the car had passed.

I lied without thinking. “The TV.”

“Uh huh.”

“If I told you I was out, you’d worry.”

A sigh from the other side of the phone. “I worry anyway.”

I could have pointed out there was no point in her asking then, but I’m not a total tool. It wasn’t like I wanted her to worry. “I’m not alone. I’m walking a bull mastiff.”

“Conrad is blind.”

“Muggers don’t know that.”

Well, they wouldn’t have, except Conrad chose that moment to walk into a Westside Rentals sign. I cringed. Even with the day I’d had, I should have seen that for him.

Too cool to admit he hadn’t meant to face-plant the sign, Conrad stopped to sniff at it. It wasn’t fooling anyone, but I didn’t push the issue. We all have our coping strategies, and Conrad’s past—I suspected—rivaled my own. I never asked the nice people at the shelter what exactly they had rescued him from. I have enough trouble sleeping with only my own nightmares to worry about.

“Some of the kids are coming home this weekend,” Gina said.

“Oh?” I asked, even though I knew why.

“We’re going to the cemetery to visit Marissa. But after, we’ll have dinner at the house. You’re welcome if you want to come.”

Notice, Gina didn’t ask me to come. She’s very smart that way. I hadn’t been to her house in nearly three years. For my foster sister’s funeral, she had insisted.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it,” I said. Leaving out that I couldn’t stand cemeteries. I knew she knew that. And I knew she wanted me to know I was welcome anyway. I had come home for Marissa’s funeral. I hadn’t managed the interment.

Finished with the sign, Conrad sniffed the air, no doubt searching for rogue hydrants that might be throwing themselves in his path. I felt, more than heard, the low rumble of Conrad’s growl against my right calf.

Conrad never growled.

I hung up on Gina.

When a pregnant woman is on the verge of dying, it triggers a series of reactions in her body which cause her to miscarry and expel the fetus. It’s simple lizard-brain reasoning. Re-task the resources currently being used by the baby to try to tip the balance and save the mother’s life. A woman who survives could become pregnant again. An infant with a dead mother would die. In evolutionary math, one dead is always better than two dead.

But then you get the tragic case of a young couple expecting their first child, driving home from a doctor’s appointment when their car French kisses a fully-loaded garbage truck. Father-to-be was decapitated on the spot. Mother-to-be was rushed back to the hospital where she was declared brain dead. And that would have been the end of it. Except some bright bulb of the medical arts had a theory that if you crammed a woman’s blood full of drug A, drug B, and just a touch of hormones X, Y, and Z, you could fool her uterus into thinking that there was still someone at the controls upstairs and maybe it should hang onto the baby a little while longer.

And because they could do it, they did. If anyone wondered if it was a good idea, they kept quiet. And I get that. I mean, I don’t know that I’d have been able to look at a little thing wiggling on an ultrasound and pull the plug on it either. So the tubes stayed connected, the ventilators kept venting, and when the mother’s heart stopped, a machine took over that too. For two months.

Until I was born.

And people act surprised that I was kind of screwed-up from the beginning.

Conrad and I reached the intersection just as the light turned, and the car full of club kids raced off with another ear-shattering set of horn blasts. Conrad pulled on my arm, and his growl, already low, dropped to sub-sonic levels.

We crossed the street, carefully, and found an empty lot where a couple of bungalows had been ripped out. A developer had been planning to build an apartment building before the economy tanked. Now, the lots were nothing but a crop of weeds. Fortunately, the indigent population of the neighborhood was not about to let prime real estate go to waste. It wasn’t hard to find a gap in the fence, and Conrad and I pushed through.

We found it towards the back of the lot.

Pause for accuracy.

We found them.

gen_illo_topHidden from the sidewalk and the neighbors by the fence and high weeds, the lot had become a pretty nice little homeless camp. Half a dozen piles of blankets around a fire pit, an old bucket under a standpipe outlet, even a small TV propped on a milk crate. Well, it had been nice before my very bitey John Doe arrived and ripped the occupants limb from limb. I have a good memory for the faces of people who cause me pain, and there he was, taking a bite out of some poor bastard’s calf, right through his jeans.

I froze. Conrad froze. John Doe looked up from his dinner and saw me.

John Doe opened his mouth. I could see a bit of denim stuck between his teeth. “Jane,” he said.

I am not proud of this, but I screamed like a little girl. Screamed like I hadn’t screamed since I’d found nice Uncle Antonio hanging in the basement when I was five. The cannibalism part was bad enough. What really freaked me out was that I was pretty sure I’d never introduced myself to him. John Doe lurched towards me. I ran. So did Conrad.

Unfortunately, Conrad and I chose different directions.

By the time I realized that, John Doe was tangled in Conrad’s leash, and I was wrenched around right on top of them. I put my hands out to catch my fall and slammed into John Doe’s chest, taking us both to the ground. I could feel his skin rip against the friction of his shirt, and as I scrambled to my feet, my hands came away wet. I threw up on them.

It was an improvement.

I stood there and looked down at John Doe, unmoving on the ground, lying in a growing pool of bull mastiff urine.

Pause for accuracy.

It might not have been entirely bull mastiff urine.

I would like to say that finding a man whose life I had saved eating a homeless guy less than a block from my apartment who dropped dead as soon as I touched him was when my training kicked in and that I proceeded to calmly alert the authorities like the emergency professional that I was.

I did manage to call 911.

When I told the nice paramedic who showed up what happened, he gave me a sedative.

I woke up in the ER with Gina holding my hand.

“Wha—urg…?

That was supposed to be “What are you doing here?” But my mouth was all gluey from whatever they had given me.

Seeing that I was awake, Gina let go of my hand. “You still list me as an emergency contact in your phone. You had a bad reaction to the sedative and started seizing. They almost lost you.”

Gina got up, filled a plastic cup with water, and helped me sit up to drink.

“Conrad?” I asked once my mouth was unglued.

“I took him back to your apartment.” Gina took the cup of water back and refilled it.

I drank again. “How long?”

“Most of the night.”

I glanced over to the clock beside the bed. It was nearly five AM. I looked back at Gina. She looked terrible. “Sorry to keep you up.”

She shrugged and smiled. “I didn’t have other plans.”

“They going to let me out?”

“The doctor said something about getting a psych consult.”

I was sure he had.

I looked at Gina. “Will you help me sneak out before the shrink gets here?”

“No. I don’t enable stupid decisions.”

I will give Gina this: she doesn’t beat around the bush. And she had certainly raised her share of epically stupid children who made epically stupid decisions. I however, was not one of them.

“Why don’t you get something to eat? I’m awake now, and you look like hell.”

Gina shook her head, then leaned forward and kissed me on the forehead. It was her way of telling me that she loved me even when I was being an idiot. I lay there and let her. That was my way of telling her the same thing. “Call me,” she said, and then she left.

I gave her enough time to let the doctor know I was checking out against medical advice. Then I found my clothes and snuck out by the back stairs.

I meant to call Gina. I really did. But, while I’d felt okay when I left the hospital, by the time I stumbled off the bus two blocks from home, I was almost sick enough to consider going back. Except for the fact that I’d promised myself I would never again enter a hospital as a patient under my own power. Luckily, Gina was used to me being the kind of crappy too-old foster daughter who promises to call but never does. I had, after all, given her plenty of opportunities to practice.

Conrad met me at the door as I stumbled in, whining with concern. I let him out to pee, crawled into bed, and we both hid under the covers, waiting for whatever happened next.

The first day, I managed to let Conrad outside twice.

The second day, I let him pee in the bathtub, or at least, near the bathtub.

On the third day, I felt better. I showered, dressed, and was just about to take Conrad out for a walk when someone knocked on the door. Which was odd. No one ever knocked on my door.

“Go away,” I said.

There’s probably a reason why no one knocks on my door.

“…Jane?” It was Rob.

That was surprising enough that I opened the door, Rob and I have a very successful partnership because we don’t bother each other. Before he showed up on my doorstep, I would have sworn he didn’t actually know where I lived. But there he was. I opened the door and he came inside. Apparently, he didn’t mind the smell of dog pee.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“Jane?”

“Yeah…?” I started to ask, and then I realized why he didn’t seem to notice that my apartment reeked of dog piss.

I’m not an expert in these things. But my more than passing knowledge of the nature of human mortality was enough for me to say that the primary reason Rob didn’t notice the stench from the carpet was because he’d been dead for a least a day.

He looked back at me, and even I, with my sub-par people skills at the best of times, could tell that there was no one home.

“Jane…” he said.

I am not exactly proud of what happened next. All I can say in my defense is that when you grow up the way I did, you tend to have indelicate reactions to threats. Even though he was Rob, my partner, the guy who remembered to ask for extra salsa for me when we stopped at Taco Plus, the second I saw those eyes, my fist snapped forward, and I slugged him.

I remember the feel of his flesh against mine. It was warm. Not human warm. Room warm. A second later he collapsed, falling to the floor like a sack of meat. He didn’t move.

I looked at him there, lying on my carpet.

I hit hard for a girl.

I don’t hit that hard.

Three days earlier, I’d been doing CPR on a dead man who woke up and bit me and then spat a glob of my flesh onto my partner. Then I’d gotten sick. Then I’d gotten better. I wondered if Rob had gotten sick too, so sick he died. And then he’d gotten better. Until I touched him, and he became a pile of flesh on my landlord’s carpet.

I checked the mirror. Skin still pink. Pulse still strong. I got a thermometer from my kit and took my temperature. My apartment was warm in the afternoon sun, but not ninety-eight degrees warm.

I was alive.

I packed a backpack for me and another for Conrad, locked the door, and didn’t look back.

I’ve never learned to drive, which is an unusual lifestyle choice for someone who lives in Los Angeles, but not for someone whose parents died in a car accident before she was born. Once again: screwed-up, yes. Stupid, no. When I was traveling on my own, I took the bus. Since Conrad, I’d bought a bike. The sun was sinking towards the Pacific, already silhouetting palm trees over Beverly Hills, so I turned the opposite direction and started riding South and East, Conrad easily loping alongside.

I have seen some strange things in the course of my life. I have done even stranger. I say with confidence that biking through Los Angeles, my blind dog and I quietly killing the walking dead while the rest of the city went on with its Saturday night—still, for the moment, oblivious—tops the list.

A roller-derby girl.

Two guys coming out of Rosco’s.

Three passengers on the number four bus.

A student out walking alone in the wrong part of town.

The victims got more numerous as I passed downtown. I also noticed Conrad became more and more certain of his direction. He even got out ahead of the bike, which he usually doesn’t, what with not being able to see and all. When I caught him stepping around a parking sign on a street I was sure we had never visited, I stopped worrying about it. As long as he didn’t turn around and say my name, it wasn’t my problem. He wanted to take the lead; he could be my guest.

“Jane…”

“Jane…”

“Jane…”

gen_illo_botTo my relief, the gates at the County Cemetery had long been locked for the night when we arrived: proof against taggers, vandals, and the homeless. I tugged on Conrad’s leash, and when he didn’t move, grabbed his collar. Conrad planted himself and refused to budge. I listened, but for the first time in hours, I couldn’t hear anyone calling my name.

Then, in the silence…my phone rang.

I checked the caller ID on my cracked screen. It was Gina. I was standing outside the gates of the cemetery where my foster sister was buried. Three years ago that day.

In the dimness beyond the cemetery gate, I saw the glow of a cell phone screen.

I answered the call.

“Jane?”

“Yes?”

“Jane…”

I couldn’t speak. Oh please, for the love of an unloving God, say something else.

“Jane…”

I watched the glow of the phone inside the cemetery. I quietly hung up, and the distant screen flared brighter, then died.

It could have been coincidence. Could have been some other person standing in the middle of a cemetery in the middle of the night, happening to finish a call at the same moment I hung up. Could have been.

I slipped my phone into my pocket. I dropped Conrad’s leash. Then, I grabbed the fence, and began to climb.

There were no lights in the cemetery at night, but the city glow was enough to see where I was going. I could hear the guard dogs in the distance, howling at the invasion of their territory, but too cowardly to get anywhere near what I was approaching.

I pulled a pair of latex gloves out of my pocket and slipped them on. Whatever I was about to see, I didn’t want to touch it.

She was still standing, at least. Looked like she hadn’t been dead very long.

“Jane.”

One word. Four letters. Rhymes with pain, rain, and stain. I’ve never liked it much.

Except that hearing her say it, I could feel my heart cracking open in my chest.

“Jane.”

“I—”

I tried to answer her. But I couldn’t. She didn’t say my name again. Maybe she was waiting for me to continue. But I couldn’t. So we stood there.

I stood there until I couldn’t stand anymore, and then I sat.

At some point. I started crying.

She just stood there. Waiting.

I don’t know how long I was at the cemetery. Eventually, I think I slept. And woke. And maybe slept again. Around us, the city had realized what was happening and was losing its collective shit, but no one wanted to be anywhere near a cemetery, and so we were left alone.

I remember lying on the ground, looking up at what used to be Gina standing over me. Death and fear and longing looking out at me through her drying eyes.

She had reached out a hand for me. All I had to do was reach back.

I don’t know why I’m different. Maybe it has nothing to do with being gestated by machines in the body of a dead woman. When some new bright spark of the medical arts figures out what makes the dead rise, maybe we’ll know. Of course, most people just want to know who this “Jane” person is, and why the dead ask for her. They don’t know that zombies collapse at her touch. Or that when she talks, they listen. Ultimately, I’m not sure that’s the most screwed-up thing about me.

Conrad and I caught the first ride leaving the city that would have us. It took us to Detroit. The next one went to Tennessee. I don’t remember the one after that, but there were plenty more.

I was fourteen when I met Gina, and I thought I had everything figured out. I thought it was too late for me to have a mother. I thought I didn’t need one. I thought I didn’t deserve one.

My multiple mothers had raised one more stupid child than I had thought.

But I’m learning. After a particularly hard day, or when I especially hate myself, I’ll call. When I think that no matter how many of the undead I put an end to with my touch, it will never make up for the dozens I may have infected with my still-oozing bite wound as I rode the bus home from the hospital; when I believe that ignorance is not an excuse, I call. Just like I promised I would if she could stay hidden, stay safe.

Sometimes, I just need to hear my mother say my name.

“Jane.”

fin

Interview with the author, Margaret Dunlap | Buy Shimmer #19 | Subscribe