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Mouths 7: Stalling


“Mouths” is a fiction story presented in installments. Look for a new chapter Monday mornings throughout the summer.

“Shut the fuck up, Sheila!” I scream at the door. I realize that I shouldn’t draw attention to myself. I breathe. “I’m sorry.” My voice is softer. “Just give me a second. Everything will make sense soon.” She pounds her fists into the door three more times, and then paces outside. “I, uh — cut my finger. Just let me get it taken care of.” It’s stopped hurting. I remove the shirt I’d used to bandage it. It must have been a clean bite. There’s still no blood. I look closer. It’s another mouth. It’s smaller than the rest, the exact width of my finger in diameter. It moves in unison with the other ones.

I freeze.

Slowly, sounds makes their way to my ears — one at a time. They conspire, together, distracting me from the little mouth on my finger. I hear, “Fuck.” It’s a quiet voice. Mine. I hear Sheila pacing. Nails on the walls. Worked up. Her feet imprint her emotions on the threadbare industrial green carpet outside. One step: scream. One step: cry. Scream. Cry. Tick. Tock. Her watch. I sense her heart pounding. She’s confused. She knows this isn’t how we normally are. Rustling. The old woman. Must be conscious. Struggling to get free. The dark moan of the mouths, their sharp scrapings — this is the backdrop. Tick. Tock. I hear it and feel it, the way you hear a yawn. It is incessant, like cicadas in summertime. Scream. Cry. Omnipresent like the traffic, this part of town. An unending, mechanical droning. I turn on the radio, but it’s playing some pretty version of “Make You Feel my Love.” I turn it off again, quickly. I prefer silence.

“What is taking so long?” Sheila. She’s still outside. I shake my head. I need to stay focused. Her words are whispered, not screamed. She is cooperating. It’s a good sign. “You’re scaring me. Please open up.” I’m paralyzed. I can’t move. Something is wrong. I block out the noises as I move to the door. This mouth grew where my knuckle had been a few minutes ago. Sheila probably has one, too. The mouths had gotten their teeth into her. It’s a virus. If I bite the woman and infect her, everything will be okay. I won’t be alone. I inhale. Meditation class. Everything zen. The world falls into places, not pieces. Exhale. I open the door.

Sheila’s hair is pulled into a thin ponytail, face blotched with anger and anxiety. Her eyes flash with a fire. Adrenaline, not rage. She’s had a bad day, too. Confused. Infected, maybe, from this morning, mouth chewing her skin out from the inside. No: Yesterday morning. Time feels different, thicker now, like it’s having trouble moving forward. Like the fucking clock. But I should have said something before I left. We’ve moved beyond the Hallmark moment. It’s too late now–although I do hope she likes the ring. I look at her face. The faded evidence of an attempt at mascara blacken her cheek. Wiped away. She stares in horror — but not at my hand. At the room. Empty vodka bottles. Stench. Blood. Ripped clothing. Trash. Splinters of wood and glass. She stares at me, in horror, and then stares, horrified at me. I watch my shirt disappear into my chest, the mouths activated, craving, suddenly hungry. The whispers deepen, sibilant gutturals issuing forth with more urgency. I feel them starting to take control.

I grab her arm with my left hand’s fingers, keeping the palm away, happy she’s too shocked to resist. She’s inside. She screams. I look and see I wasn’t careful enough. Her arm oozes blood, which reddens the mouth on my left palm for a brief moment. Then motion. A chunk is gone, a perfect circle. She’s fucked now, just like me. She collapses against the wall. Her voice is a low babble of words, her mouth moving like mine do. “Jesus christ what the fuck is happening what is wrong i don’t understand what the fuck are you oh god oh god oh god” and I guide her onto the couch, careful to use my left hand’s fingertips only, and look for something to stop her bleeding. She touches the blood on her arm and holds it up to her eye like she’s never seen blood before.

She is bleeding.

Art by Aaron Gillespie
Art by Aaron Gillespie
I shake my head, still reacting, and reach to the collar of my shirt. I hold my right index finger up to it and use it to cut a strip of fabric away. The mouths moan louder. I need something cleaner. I go to my bedroom and pull out a hand towel. I walk toward her, feeling each powerful chomp multiply and vibrate through my body, feel the mouths on my chest straining toward her. I see her eyes dart to the right. The old woman! Sheila starts shaking her head again, slowly, back and forth, as I re-enter the room. She has no words. There are no words. She holds her hand to her bleeding arm and whimpers.

I snap my left fingers together. “C’mon baby. Stay with me. I tried to warn you. I just didn’t know what to say.” Her eyes aren’t focusing. I move my right hand to slap her, to snap her out of it, but as my hand moves toward her I notice the mouth on the palm bulging forward, as though it is eager for her. I look at her arm. Still bleeding. I lift up her skirt and stare at her thigh. There’s no mouth. Just a welt.

It isn’t an infection or a virus. It’s just me.

“Christ.” It hits me. Everything hits me. The morning. The kid. The old woman. Me. I look down and try to imagine what it is Sheila sees. The mouths move. Up and down. Again and again. Chewing. Sheila passes out. I know the pain of it. Her eyes close. Shallow breaths. I gag her and tie her up. She has enough room to breathe. Just not to scream. It will be a rough awakening, I know that much. There’s no nightmare worse than this reality. The old woman is still. I’m safe. Alone, basically. For now.

My mouths seem to be chewing faster. I can’t sit down. The ones on my back will chew through anything. I need to feed them. I go to the freezer and throw the patties on the stove and spin the dial. No need for a pan.I glance at Sheila. Not moving. They moan. The oven is too slow. I throw the frozen patties on the ground and roll around, feeding everything—my chest, my back, my wrists, my palms. I use my index finger to get the chunks of meat the other mouths left behind.

Satisfaction. The mouths are calm. Sheila is slumped over. The old woman hasn’t moved.

Silence.

Stillness.

I don’t trust it. I don’t have a choice. I look at Sheila, and feel movement in my wrists and palms. I breathe deep, willing stillness.

I get a glass of water. The mouths seem indifferent to glass. I take it to Sheila and splash her with it. It’s time for her to wake up. She shakes her head angrily, then looks up at me with confusion, then fear. Terror. It makes sense. My mouths are calmer, now, although I’m sure she still feels like a target.

I make what I hope is a reassuring face. “We need to talk,” I say. I stare at her gag and reconsider. “I need to talk. Stay awake.” Her eyes are focused again. Clear. She might be exactly what I need. “Stay with me. Just listen. Trust me.” She nods.


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