“Mouths” is a fiction story presented in installments. This is the final chapter; read from the beginning, starting here.
I don’t hear the bullet pass by me. It doesn’t hit Sheila. He must have aimed at my back. The mouths must have gotten it. I smile. This is good to know. But Sheila is stumbling and I’m following and the cop can still shoot her. More are probably on the way. Nothing is really okay. “Keys!” I yell, and she drops them and swears and almost screams but I tell her that it’s okay and that I took care of the bullet and I kick the keys and pick them up and we go to the car. It starts. “Things are better already. See?” I try to smile. It doesn’t work. I start the car. Sheila’s exhausted and terrified. Her eyes aren’t quite able to focus. The dashboard light illuminates the bloodstains on her mouth. The old woman’s blood stains my mouths.
“I can still taste him.” She says. “It was warm.” She’s fading a bit. Must have been moving on pure adrenaline. I turn on the radio as I put the car in reverse. A good distraction. A lot of cars play loud radios in this neighborhood. The strain is affecting her. It makes sense. That I feel more alive than ever is what is strange. I accept it. Johnny Cash’s cover of “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” comes on, and I turn it up.
No shirt. Mouths moving, but with a quiet whirring. No moans. For now. The cop. That cop. I think about him, and suddenly they start to moan and flash, my back digging into the seat behind me. Sheila stares at me, and then smiles through her fog. “You need to eat him, baby.”
“I know. I will.” I feel her strain fade, exhaustion taking its place. I feel bad. I hear a gunshot. It becomes hard to drive. I skid. I look up. I see the cop in my rearview, still in firing position. My mouths whir in rage, the black groan of their hunger drowning out the radio, which switches to static. I sit up. The seat is mostly gone. The light is bad enough that I can’t guarantee the cop can see well. It isn’t the kind of neighborhood where lighting is a priority. Or, frankly, a preference. I stop the car. Sheila whimpers, but then goes quiet. I push my finger into the dome light, killing it. “Go to my car, baby. In the carport. Wait for me.” I don’t want to leave her behind. Not anymore. Not ever again.
I walk across the parking lot. He’s leaning against his squad car, holding the gun, holding gauze against his arm with his good hand. My palms are snapping. Open. Closed.
“You shot the woman.” It’s a fact. “What the fuck had she done to you? She was on your side.” He just laughs. I need to focus. “What the fuck did she do to you?”
The cop laughs louder than the mouths. It is the loudest laugh I have ever heard. Joy is alien to it. “What’s the matter with your woman, mouth man? Doesn’t she have a taste for blood? Too bad. You probably like freaky ladies, don’t you?” He laughs again. Bad laughter. He’s off in the wrong kind of ways, twisted, like he was planted in some perverse soil. He’s evil, but in control. He coughs and spits. “You made a lot of the wrong people worried. We weren’t expecting to see mouths yet. And not on someone like you. You’re a mistake. They don’t like mistakes. They will make a lot of things happen to ensure you go away. People want to see you dead.”
He inhales. There’s an uncanny calm in his voice. “They only need you dead. I want to see you hurt.” I wish the mouths weren’t so loud. He’s walking closer. Nonchalantly points the gun toward the car and its black interior. Sheila’s body looks limp against the passenger side door. Fuck. She passed out. “I know how to wake her,” he says. “I’ll shoot her. In the guts. The pain will wake her. Keep her company.” He laughs, then spits again. It sounds like blood as it hits the pavement. “Don’t fuck with me, and maybe she will make it out of this alive. Got it, mouth man?” I nod. I try to not let my body vibrate off the ground. The mouths are chomping. If they were organic, I could imagine them frothing. But they’re cold. “Give me your wrists, freakshow.”
Does he not notice the noise? Is he just playing with me? It’s too dark. This isn’t a game I understand. He seems to know the rules of it far better than I do. He isn’t afraid of them. In spite of the mouths, I’m afraid. He knows something, and it’s making him powerful. My muscles tighten. I choose to smile. He’s close enough now. I spit at him. He roars, shoots. Shoots me, not her. My hand moves, and I watch my palm devour the bullet. No impact. No pain. It’s time. I walk forward slowly. He empties his clip, bullets flying. Most are aimed at my heart, and they’re devoured. He gets wise at the last one, but my wrist moves to cover the space between my eyes. I’m absolutely safe. He’s staring. Shaking. Not in control anymore. Now he sees what I am. I smile. “You shouldn’t be able to do that. You shouldn’t know about any of this. You should have dropped. What the fuck happened with you?” I hit him with the back of my hand and he drops. Stunned. Shock. I don’t know. But he’s not active meat anymore. I can’t feed. Even though the mouths want to. Rules are rules, even when we don’t understand them.
Suddenly there are lights. Other voices. Too many to count. “You are surrounded. Hands up. Please move to the squad car and put your hands on the hood. We have orders to shoot to kill.” There’s truth behind their voices. But they don’t know what they’re dealing with. I walk forward. A medic attends the cop, bandaging his arm. And his head. There’s a chunk of raw meat on the pavement where he dropped. Not my fault. Not exactly. My mouths are quiet. My arms are behind my back. Handcuffed. Turn around. Back to the car.
A car starts. There’s a scream. Sheila. Screaming screaming screaming screaming screaming like she’s trapped in the bad dreams that spill darkness beyond nights. The cops turn her way. Confusion. I put my left palm over the metal of my right cuff. It isn’t there. I’m free. I punch the cop in front of me, grabbing his gun, shooting two of the others in the leg. They’re good guys. Not time to feed. Radios are going off. I know where I parked the car and I run. More cops will come, soon. People will get hurt.
A cop faces me. Young. He has a moustache. Kind eyes. I throw what remains of my cuffs toward him. He turns pale. I point to the dirty cop. “Watch that one. Or don’t. Justice is coming, either way.” He backs away. Takes out his gun, squeezes off a few rounds. My mouths are too quick. He realizes the futility, drops the gun, takes cover. I walk slowly to my car.
Sheila’s voice in the darkness: “I had my dirty laundry still in there. I leaned it against the door and went out the back door. Waited down low in case they shot. I kept the car running, though. I hope I did okay.” I feel her hand on the small of my back.
I kiss her, hard, letting her feel the cool metal of my right index finger mouth against her jawline. “You did real good, baby. Real good. Do you want to get out of here? You can still make your way on your own.”
She turns and stares at me. “I’m with you.” I smile. Then I think about the old woman, whose dead body remains unconsumed. She was good, even if she was a bitch. Those aren’t mutually exclusive. Something tastes rotten about everything. My mouths aren’t happy.
“That cop will be a problem.”
“I need to take care of that problem.”
I look around peering into the darkness. It clears for me when I focus. The parking lot is a state of confusion. Cops are running into the apartment, looking at the old lady, listening to the bad cop. I won’t be able to get to him without hurting a lot of people. I will need to wait. I keep the lights off until we’re three blocks away. We need to lay low. I need a shirt. I need to stop sweating. I need to feed. I need to feed again. I need the cop. The woman didn’t have to die. I hated her, but she deserved better than that. There’s something evil about that cop. Even if he knows something, he needs to be eaten. I still need to feed. Soon. Sooner than the cop, probably. His wickedness is deeper than Freely’s — he delights in it. Celebrates it. But there has to be something that even that man has done with regret. At some point. I just need to find it.
My hand rests on Sheila’s thigh, palm mouth closed. Her hand is on top of mine. The darkness looms ahead. Mouths whirring, I race into it.