“Mouths” is a fiction story presented in installments. Look for a new chapter on Mondays throughout the summer. (Perhaps you would like to start at the beginning?)
The world feels different as I walk up the stairs. My muscles are more obedient to my will, more responsive. It feels, ironically, as if my body has become more mine than before. I feel a lightness within me that makes me strong instead of brittle. I am more coordinated. More agile. Quicker. The old wooden walls pulsate outward to me, and I can feel the life that was once within them. Or that, given the insect population, persists within them now. It is as though my mouths are attuned to certain forms of life, certain kinds of decay.
I understand things that I couldn’t before. No words. Just old memories. Not even mine. Just traces of past lives. Tears and laughter. Booze and drugs. Screams and knives. Guns and torture. Evil. Bad things, that inhabit the fear-filled hearts of humankind. My mouths open and close, but not in hunger. Appreciation. Applause. I have done something correct. I have begun to grasp how easily the frail line between good and evil fades or falls. Perhaps the mouths appreciate the misery that flows through the world and delight that it is a wicked place. Either way, they know they will feed again.
I check my chest before entering my apartment. No blood. Freely disappeared completely. Nobody would want to know what happened. They wouldn’t ask. I open the door. Sheila and the woman still prone, where I left them. I get water. The water cools the glass, numbs the mouth on my palm. I splash water on the old woman. Refill. Sheila. They blink. Their eyes adjust. They realize the world is just as they left it: horrifying. A bleak and stifling darkness. They can’t even sense what I do — they just know it anyway.
I get assurances that they won’t scream. I rip the gags from their mouths. “There is no more problem with downstairs, but we will have to move.” Sheila asks after Mr. Freely. “He wasn’t the guy we thought he was,” I say. I think I smile. It isn’t joy.
Sheila talks. She’s calmer now. The old woman, too. They both have adjusted to the new way of things just as I have. Something in her voice sounds familiar. But stronger. I focus on Sheila. Her eyes shift, as though looking at something I cannot see, then open wide, parting as though to take in all of me. She pushes a finger against some flesh between the mouths. “You fed, didn’t you?” She almost giggles. She runs her fingers down my face, touching my mouth and lips and continues down my neck and over the mouths on my chest. I feel the weighty fact of her pressing against me, but do not feel her touch. They stir, but they don’t attack.
The old woman is watching, and becoming uncomfortable. She inches away from Sheila. Sheila can smell it on me. Her hands are still bound and travel downward to my belt, and I feel myself grow to her touch. ‘You’re different now,” she says. “Stronger.” She makes a sound, a low moan. Like my mouths. I feel her desire echo in me. Believe it. I am different. Stronger. Not just the mouths. I use my finger to free her hands and take her face gently in my fingertips.
I shake my head and pull back, zipping my pants back up. “Not now. We have to think, Sheila.” I watch her eyes dart to the side again. Perhaps disappointment. Too many distractions to focus. Need to fill her in. “Freely isn’t a worry, but that doesn’t mean we’re free and clear. We still have her.” I point at the woman, whose terror has faded. She’s more disgusted than worried at this point. “Plus, there are others who might recognize me. Like my boss.” I trail off. I need to think. I need to call work. I need an alibi. Something plausible. I stare out the window, trying to focus, and then her hands are at my crotch again, feeling the unspoken truth of things.
Her desire moans again. She nonchalantly pokes my left wrist with a finger, watching the jaws snap shut to refuse her offering. She pushes her lips against my ear: “I like you like this. Confident. Powerful. And there’s something else about you.” Her voice dropped to a raw whisper. “It’s intoxicating.” The old woman is trying to turn to face the wall. My pants unzip. “You could just eat my clothes off me, couldn’t you?” She smiles and starts undressing. I swallow.
The old woman sighs. “I don’t really want to watch this.” She points to her feet, still bound. “I would give you two some privacy, but I can’t. Clearly.” Sheila’s shirt is off. I don’t want to see the old woman any more than she wants to see us.
“Let’s use your room,” Sheila says, and I watch her turn, naked, beauty contrasting with the broken-down appearance of everything in the apartment. She’s stunning. I tear away my gaze from the curve of her hips, the strength of her shoulders, and face the old woman. She is cracked, but not broken. Not a threat now. But nothing I can depend on for my safety. I turn my eyes to Sheila, gesturing me toward her with a finger too experienced to know innocence. I look at the old woman again, who shrugs before offering a glance down to my erection, disgust breaking over her face.
“We’ll be back in a few minutes,” I tell the old woman. “Don’t do anything stupid.” I’m down the hall in four steps. Fast. Strong. I enter the room. Sheila is waiting at the door, pushing against my chest with her naked breasts, taunting the mouths to bite. They’re still full, and lazy, but my desire arouses a different kind of life in them. Each lazy closure takes a bit of skin. Not enough to make her bleed. Just enough to make her moan. Sheila’s eyes close. We both need this before we focus on anything else. She is right. I can trust her. I slide my pants off and sit on the weight bench, watching as Sheila continues undressing.
My mouths are quiet as I moan, for a change. Even in the choked light that struggles to illuminate the room from the pollution outside and the grime on the window, she’s beautiful. She almost prances, walking slowly, wanting to draw things out. “We should hurry,” I say, but she puts a finger against my lips to silence me and then moans as I suck it.
“No,” she says. “Some things need time.” She straddles me, remaining mindful of the mouths on my chest. I don’t think they’d attack, but I am in no hurry to consume her. We kiss. Both hungry. Her hands push on my chest, mouths closing as she touches. The jaws on my back start snapping and whirring, as if they need to discharge energy that my chest mouths cannot. She pushes me back. I hope that my back mouths won’t appreciate the artificial material on the weight bench. She sits on me, lowering herself, my hands caressing her with small bites as I grab her hips, encouraging her. My arm mouths, open, begin to moan and chomp, up and down, faster and faster. It’s a different sort of ecstasy than feeding, but not entirely different. Sheila likes it. I like it. She shifts her position, lowering her body, trusting her flesh to my chest, running her fingers along my arms. She likes the sense of control she has. The safety. Knowing she won’t be consumed.
We aren’t quiet, but I hear a click. Movement. I don’t remember her getting off, but Sheila sits on the bench and I’m standing next to her faster than I can even register. The old woman is there. Smiling. She’s holding the phone in her hand, its cord stretching down the hall. “You were taking longer than a minute,” she said. “I thought this would speed you up.” Her feet are still bound, as are her hands. I had forgotten to gag her again. “Anyway, I hope you two can get your clothes back on. Police will probably be here pretty soon.” My mouths whir and snarl, but we’re unable to touch her. She hasn’t done anything wrong. Sheila, startled, grabs her clothes and starts dressing. “I don’t know your name but I told them hers. And that we’re in a two floor apartment building by a vacant lot. Looks like Tar Flats by the Mr. Burger, from the outside.” She pauses, a pantomime of thinking. “Oh yes! And that a man named Freely lives here. They should be able to narrow it down pretty quickly.”
The old woman smiles. It’s a nasty smile. I pity her grandchildren. “By the way, they know she’s an accomplice.” Her smile becomes colder. Sheila snarls with betrayal. “And that she’s not a hostage.” I see Sheila shudder, shaking her head with confusion at the old lady who stares, smirking at the erection I’d momentarily forgotten. “You might want to put that away before they get here.” She cackles at me. She wins. I hate her. I deserve this. Bitch.
I grab my pants and shirt. Grab my car keys. My mouths do not chew through things. Not now. We understand each other. I grab the old woman’s elbow and walk her back to the living room. Sheila throws on her shirt, her pants. “Throw me my purse,” she tells me. “Deal with her.” It makes sense. “I’ll get my car started. We need to leave.”
“What about my car?” I ask as I zip my pants, carefully. “They only know my first name.” The woman’s mouth is helping us, after all. At least she was honest in her vengeance.
“They also know your address. Or they will, soon. Your name won’t be far behind”
We have no good option. Fuck. “Fine. We’ll take your car. Hopefully we can get out of town before they put us together.” I look at her. “Are you with me?”
Sheila’s eyes flash. I can’t read her depths in their brightness. She glares at the old woman and turns her head back to me. “All the way. Always.” My mouth smiles again. It’s everything I wanted to hear.
“Good. I’ll be out in a few minutes.” Sheila catches her purse and heads for the door. “Wait,” I say. She pauses and looks at me. I look her in the eyes. “Sorry about all of this. I didn’t know what to do.”
“I’ll see you outside in a minute.” She smiles and blows a kiss. I smile, to myself. I feel the mouths beginning to whir, responding to me. I had chosen better than I could have ever imagined. It’s the sort of clarity and insight that one discovers about a relationship when it undergoes stress, I suppose. I turn to the old woman. In control. I watch her demeanor crack as she understands fear in a new way. “Now it’s your turn,” I tell her.