a short story by Jack Kilborn, J.A. Konrath
Copyright © 2010 Joe Konrath and published here with his permission
Edito’s Note: We are re-sending this post from Saturday because we received a report today that it may not have downloaded to all subscribers’ Kindles as intended.
Billy pushed his plate away.
“I’m not hungry anymore.”
A pout appeared on his shiny little face. A miniature version of Josh’s. Marge could remember when it used to be cute.
“You haven’t even tried it. I made it different today. Just take a bite.”
Marge could feel the tension build in her neck, like cables beneath the skin.
“Billy, honey, you need to eat. Look how skinny you’re getting.”
“I want an apple.”
“We’ve been over this Billy. There are no apples. There won’t be any apples ever again.”
He crossed his arms. So thin. His elbows and wrists looked huge.
“I want a Twinkie.”
Marge’s mouth quivered, got wet.
“Billy, please don’t…”
“I want McDonald’s french fries, and a Coke.”
A deep breath.
“Billy, we don’t have any of those things anymore. Since they dropped all those bombs, we have to make do with what’s available. Now please, you need to eat.”
She pushed the plate back towards her son. His portion of meat was small, scarcely the size of a cracker. Pale and greasy. Marge eyed it and felt her stomach rumble.
It’s for Billy, she chastened herself.
But if he didn’t want it…
Marge killed the thought and looked away for some distraction.
After three months in the shelter, there was nothing left to distract herself with.
She knew every inch of the tiny room like she knew her own body. The shelves, once stocked with canned goods, were empty. The TV and radio didn’t work. The three dirty cots smelled like body odor, and the sump hole in the corner had long overflowed with urine and feces. No view, no entertainment, no escape.
Josh had built the shelter because he wanted his family to live. But was this living?
Marge turned to her son, the tears coming. “We’re going to make it, Billy. I promise. But you need to eat. Please.”
“No.” Billy’s own eyes began to glaze. “I want Daddy.”
“I know you do. But Daddy left, Billy. He knew we didn’t have enough food. So he made a sacrifice for you and me.”
“I wish Daddy was here.”
Tears burned her cheeks.
“He’s here, Billy.” She patted her chest. “He’s here, inside of us, and he always will be.”
Billy narrowed his eyes. “You hit Daddy on the head.”
Marge recoiled as if slapped.
“No, Billy. Your father made a sacrifice.”
“He did not. You hit him on the head while he was asleep.”
Billy picked up the small piece of meat and threw it at his mother.
“I don’t want to eat Daddy anymore!”
Marge scooped up the meat, sobbing. It tasted salty. She didn’t want to take food from her son, but she needed the strength for what came next.
She silently cursed her husband. Why didn’t he properly stock this place? Getting nuked would have been better than this.
Her hand closed around the fire axe.
The scream woke her up.
Marge’s face burned with fever. Infection, she knew. In a way, a blessing. Consciousness was far too horrible.
Whimpering. Marge squinted in the darkness.
She shifted, the pain in her legs causing her to cry out. She unconsciously reached down to touch them, but felt nothing.
They’d eaten her legs last week.
“What’s the matter, Billy? Are you hungry, honey?”
“I made a sacrifice, Mommy.”
He crawled out of the shadows, handing Marge his tiny, dirty foot.
The drool that leaked from her mouth had a mind of its own.
“You…you have to do it, Billy.”
Billy was crying.
“You have to do it for Mommy. Mommy can’t cut off her second arm. I can’t hold the axe.”
“I wish Daddy were here.”
“Daddy!” Marge’s face raged with anger, madness. “Your father did this to us! He got off lucky!”
She stared a her baby boy, legless, pulling himself along on his hands. Damn the world, and damn God, and damn Josh for letting this…
There was a noise coming from the door.
It was a knock! Someone was knocking!
“Billy! Do you hear it! We’re going to be…”
Billy swung the axe.
“This one’s still alive!”
Officer Carlton leaned over the small boy, checking his pulse. He was awful to look at, legless and caked with blood. His mouth was a ruin of ragged flesh.
No-not a ruin. The flesh wasn’t his.
His partner, Jones, made a face.
“Looks like the kid ate his mom. There’s another body over here. My guess it’s the homeowner. Why’d they come down here?”
Carlton shrugged. “The father had a history of paranoid behavior. Maybe he convinced them it was a nuclear war.”
He squinted at the father’s corpse. The bones had been broken to get at the marrow inside. Carlton shivered.
“There’s a hidden room back here. Look, the shelf swings away.”
The hinged shelf moved inward, revealing a large pantry, stocked with canned goods. Enough for years.
Carlton caught the movement and spun around, in time to see the little creature with the axe bring it down on his partner’s head.
Carlton’s jaw dropped. The woman-the gory, limbless torso that they thought was dead-was undulating across the floor towards him like a gigantic worm.
He drew his gun. The axe hit him in the belly.
“We’re saved!” the mother-thing cried.
Her voice was wet with something. Blood?
When she bit into his leg, he realized it was drool.
Marge slithered away from the light. It was too bright outside. There was probably radiation coming in, but she didn’t pay it any mind.
Her only motivation was hunger. And the food was in the hidden room.
Part of her brain recognized the can goods around her, recognized that they contained edible things. But her attention was focused on the police officer, cowering in the corner, holding the pumping wound in his gut.
Her mouth got wet.
She crawled, inch-worm style, up to him.
“Get away, lady!”
Billy crawled past her, faster because he still had arms. The cop screamed, and Billy hacked at his flailing legs like kindling.
A sound mixed in with the screams, and Marge realized it was laughter.
Her son was laughing.
“Billy! Don’t play with your food!”
“You killed Daddy.”
Billy had his mouth full of something purple, and his eyes were far away.
“Yes I did, Billy. I killed him so you could have food. But we have enough food now for weeks. And these men have families, who will come looking for them. We’ll never be hungry again.”
Billy chewed and spit out something hard.
“Daddy is inside me.”
“You’re a little inside me, too. Your legs and arms.”
Marge almost smiled at the child’s analogy.
“That’s right. Mommy is a little inside you.”
Billy narrowed his eyes.
“I want all of you inside me.”
Marge watched her son drag himself over to the axe.
Billy opened his eyes. The sheets were soaked with sweat. He turned in bed and shook his wife, who was snoring softly.
“Jill! Wake up!”
Her eyelids fluttered. “What’s wrong, Billy?”
“Get the baby!” Billy rolled over and strapped on his prosthetic legs, snugging the belts tight. “It’s happening!”
Jill sat up. The air raid siren cut through their bedroom like a scream.
“The bombs are dropping, Jill! We have to get down to the shelter! Hurry!”
He hobbled out of the room, Jill joining him on the stairs with their six month old son. The siren was louder in the night air. On the horizon was a horribly bright light, and a pluming cloud in the shape of a mushroom.
He opened the door to the underground shelter, ushering his wife and son down the stairs, frightened and anxious and…salivating.
J.A. Konrath is the author of seven novels in the Lt. Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels thriller series, Whiskey Sour, Bloody Mary, Rusty Nail, Dirty Martini, Fuzzy Navel, Cherry Bomb, and Shaken (coming in October, 2010.)
Under the name Jack Kilborn he wrote the horror novel Afraid. Two more Jack Kilborn novels, Endurance and Trapped, have just been released.
Under the name Joe Kimball, he also writes sci-fi, which is set in 2054 Chicago and features Jack Daniels’ grandson as the hero.
SERIAL, by Jack Kilborn and Blake Crouch, a free ebook about serial killers, was one of the top Kindle Store downloads of 2009, and SERIAL UNCUT (Extended Edition) is now available in the Kindle Store for $2.99.
Konrath has also released several other books on Amazon Kindle, most of them for just $2.99 each, including:
– A Jack Daniels novella
– A police technothriller (Jack Daniels makes a cameo)
– A heist thriller (Jack Daniels is a supporting character)
– A horrific technothriller about Satan
– A horror thriller about medical experiments
– A Jack Daniels novella written with Tom Schreck
– A Jack Daniels novella written with Henry Perez
– A Harry McGalde novella writeen with Jeff Strand
– Over 360,000 words of writing advice
You can visit Joe at www.JAKonrath.com