“Mouths” is a fiction story presented in installments. Look for a new chapter each Monday morning throughout the summer.
The alarm clock flashes a steady stream of banal red numbers at me. Something urgent will happen. The air is thick with tension. Sweat. Vodka. Fear. It is oppressive. Almost insufferable. Something stale in it. There’s nowhere to go.
I sweat, panting into the thick air, and look into the old woman’s eyes. They’re large, brown, and filled with terror. The left eye drifts slightly, unfocused. The strain from the blood vessels is visible in the whites around her dilated pupil. The mouths continue to whir and grind, and a low moan moves out from my shoulder with a resonant darkness beneath it. The plastic gag is pushing in and out at an increasing rate. She’s hyperventilating. She will pass out soon. Probably better for her. My mouths continue working. A heart attack would be a mercy. The mouths don’t mind dead flesh. They were fine with the meat patties, anyway.
Her damp hair plasters against her waxy flesh. Some sticks straight up. She makes muffled noises through the gag: moist, pulpy sounding. Almost subhuman. Her sounds sicken me. They sound weak compared to the mouths.
I look at my palms. The jaws move quickly, well-lubricated. The teeth are razor sharp. If I were to settle my body on hers, she would be consumed within minutes. She knows this. She saw the kid. I feel powerful. She writhes, struggling against the knotted plastic binding her. She’s wearing a necklace. I turn her over, face down against the bed. There’s a wedding ring, too. Looks nice. Lots of diamonds. I bet Sheila would love it.
I vomit. On the mattress. On the woman’s shoes. It’s mostly dry heaves — the mouths had fed; I had not. I should eat. Or at least keep the food down this time. “Relax,” I tell the woman. Her muscles are all tensed. Her body is shaking and quivering like mine. My voice is still thick from the vomit. I am thirsty. No more vodka. Not yet. I clear my throat, spit on the floor. I’m not worried about the damage deposit at this point. I know I will need to leave soon. Real soon. For good. The old man saw too much. The alarm clock blinks 1:48. I hate resetting it. The old woman isn’t relaxing. Maybe I should just rest my wrist against her throat and kill her quickly. I feel a hum throb in response. Or maybe I should do her the way I did the kid and consume her whole. It would take me awhile to figure out how to feed most effectively. I felt the power of the mouths on my body. I will have plenty of time to learn.
Ten minutes before Sheila arrives. It has to be done. I pull the woman’s ring off. She tries to bite through the plastic. Furious. The mouths won’t want her jewelry, though — Shelia might. I wouldn’t have to tell her the source. No witnesses, in any case. The ring would become mine — then Sheila’s. If she makes it through this, we could spend our lives together. No problem. And if Sheila wasn’t up for it, I could always pawn the ring. I still need money. The office life won’t fit my new style.
Traffic outside. A horn and a rage filled protest. A fly buzzes around the room, the sound meshing with my mouths. Mechanical. It bumps its lazy head into the glass, chasing sunbeams. Wanting a better life. I understand. I catch it in my hand and it is absorbed quickly into my palm.
I look at the mouth. Ravenous. The fly will not content it. I look at the woman. She’s stilled beyond panic. “It will be okay.” I lower my palm toward her, resting it on her head.
Nothing happens. The mouth is closed.
I look at my left hand, and see the jaws moving together in a frenzy. I push it against her shoulder. Nothing. She’s passed out. Too much strain. I untie her hands and lay on top of her, but the mouths still don’t move. I back off, and they start slowly before whirring into their relentless throb. I slam my palm against her shoulder again, hoping that I could trick the mouths into feeding. Nothing. She doesn’t even bleed.
Frustrated, I stand up and start pacing. Five minutes before Sheila arrives. The mouths begin again. I will them to continue, thinking of warm blood and soft muscle, leaning into her, but they stop moving as soon as I make contact with her flesh. I go to the kitchen, take a knife, and return to the woman. I lift her sleeve and scrape off flesh, then shove the ball of skin into my palm as an offering. Nothing. I push harder, using my index finger to try to make them eat.
Her skin falls to the ground as the teeth close over my flesh,instead, biting down around it, incising it, ridding me of my nail and flesh above my top knuckle. The teeth dig in. Cutting. Painful. I want to scream, but bite my lips. I taste blood. The mouth releases me, teeth scraping up from the knuckle, closing over the tip of my index finger.
It’s gone. I stare at it, waiting for blood to ooze, but nothing happens. I look at my palm, then back at my finger. Was it a warning? The clerk was still alive. Conscious. Did the mouths only feed on conscious flesh? Was it only the person? I wonder if the old woman has cancer or something. If they reject her out of self-preservation; if they know, somehow, something I can’t. The woman, for whatever reason, is safe. I take a scrap of shirt and tie it over my finger to soak up blood once it comes.
Knocks on the door. Probably Sheila. Maybe the old man. Maybe the cops. The old woman is still passed out. I need to tie her up again. Another knock. Louder. I grab a shred of shirt from the floor and make a loop. “Who is it?” I yell.
“Who the fuck do you think it is? Who are you expecting, asshole?” It’s Sheila. “It’s Sheila. Open the fucking door.” I stare. The apartment didn’t look great when I first rented it. It was cheap, functional. Not pretty. I shrug. I doubt it was the first time the place had been trashed. The landlord was scum. He would have no problem renting it again.
“Give me a minute,” I yell. The old woman lies still. Sheila keeps pounding. Yelling. She won’t give me time. The old man will notice, deaf as he probably is. Things are not getting better. My muscles twitch, sensing active flesh behind the door. I feel my heart starting to pound as I think of Sheila. I suspect that things are about to get worse.