They Can't All Be the Right One
Mary glanced up, tracing the edges of a picture frame with her eyes. She sat still in a firm spot on the lone couch, a glass of something or other glinting shyly up from the table. The stale air was devoid of sound in here, save for the harsh ticks of the clock in the hall. She cast her gaze slowly down to the glass and reminisced.
It had been just a month since the crash took Tom, and left Mary totally alone in the house where they'd built their life. She married him in the summer, one beautiful day eight years past, their eyes full of promise. A love as ideal as could be, they proceeded to live a life of adventure for a while, traveling the coasts, hiking, fishing, exploring... before settling in this Georgia suburb about two years in, and gradually quieting down. It was a modest place with one main floor and a basement, in a neighborhood with a good canopy of trees and fertile, soft sod. Tom had a nice office job - a rare sort these days - and Mary taught part time at local middle schools.
Things could be tough, sometimes, but Tom was always supportive... most of all when things were hardest. Mary had always wanted kids, and they'd been trying since their second year. Five times, they were denied - five miscarriages in barely six years. It had left Mary totally exhausted, and in a horrible depression. She had to put on a face for Tom, even though he did the best he could to help her through. He knew how devastated she was, of course - and inside she knew that he knew, but couldn't bear to admit it. It was after the 5th that she had given up - maybe she'd even be ready to try again later. The thought had lingered in the back of her mind. She thought she was strong. Now with the love of her life gone, she was breaking. She'd never been so alone, her dreams of a family of her own dissolved like sugar cubes into the ocean. She was still combing the beach, her mind looking desperately for something she could still hold onto.
The world around her had moved on. In truth, Mary had never moved on from that first day in the delivery room, and the promise they felt. There was a world where Mary had five little children and a loving husband, and right now she could almost see it.
Over this past month, from the moment of his vicious death, she'd been thinking a lot about the nature of the union. What's lost, what's left behind, and quietly she obsessed over the meaning of fidelity. Somehow, she'd never really expected to outlive him. Not like this.
There was no one else she could love the way she had Tom. Her mind went back to the wedding vows. The traditional - 'til death do us part. She thought about it in shrewd terms - what was lost and gained. In accepting his death, she got the house, his assets, his money.
This was some kind of trade, Mary thought. But he got her dreams, and it was no good to have all this and nothing to make of it. When he had left the land of the living, he had come to occupy a world of 'could have been.' Tom was a vague, potential man, now - his every motion and every inch of his flesh existing in a state of quantum flux, shifting skin marbled with every possibility that never came to be in life, the shape of a man surrounded by smoke and haze.
Mary was as attracted to Tom the mirage as she had been to Tom the man. Over this month, they had been courting and it wasn't hard at all for him to pull her away from the mundane advances of Tom the legal benefactor. These things around her meant nothing, and she knew that to ascribe meaning to them would cripple her. Impede her. The only way to win this game was not to be. She lifted the glass up to her lips, having toasted to nothing, now prepared to embrace Mary's end and the endless echo of her potential existence as it would dissipate and fade down the chasm of mankind's collective memory.
But as she raised the glass, there was a scratching sound. Something fell in a corner - she would have ignored it, but for the feeling of something touching her shoulder. Her head started to jerk towards it reflexively, and as it did, she heard it speak.
"No - don't do it."
"Don't do it" it repeated, and it lept over her shoulder, pulling the glass from her hand and spilling its contents on her knees. A small, dark thing. Its voice was something high pitched and raspy. Something like the meow of a cat mixed with the whirr of a blender - or the raspy wheeze of a baby opossum contorted into words. It was now perched awkwardly on the floor in front of her, in a pool of glass and cyanide. A baby's form, blackened, blued, with jaundiced mottles of flesh in between. It could only be one of hers. More scratches and little pitter-patters were moving in from behind the couch, and she could only stare, paralyzed at the one in front of her.
"Don't do it, he's an evil man!" it wheezed, and she felt two more grab her by the hair from behind the couch. A hand, tiny, an arm... wrapped around her neck.
"What?" she muttered. Just barely. Almost inaudibly. She didn't really want to know.
Now all four that had gathered around her chimed in.
"I'll show you" in perfect time. The fifth one crawled in in front of her from the next room. Two pulled her hair from behind, directing her gaze towards the open basement doorway, as they all scurried towards it. She got up, and only watched them as they started to climb the doorframe, all making a rapid ascent, and then coming back around at increasing speed, dragging themselves hard against its surface, leaving a trail of skin, then stale, crusted blood, organs, and bone matter until they'd ground their entire bodies into a coat of flesh which covered the wood and stretched thin over the doorway all the way down the stairs, leaving a lightly pulsing fleshy threshold, gaping like a massive toothless mouth parched with thirst.
Slowly, she moved towards it, and cautiously down, careful not to slip. The occasional crunch of bone and dried flesh sounded underfoot, but no louder than the repetitive knocking she could now hear from below. She was sure no one else was in the house. There was a faint light coming from the bottom of the stairs. The stairway around her seemed to let out a quiet, frightened wheeze as she came nearer to the bottom.
The light grew a little brighter, and the knocking much louder. The walls around her seemed to beat with it as though synchronized. Finally, her foot landed quietly on the basement floor, and she wearily turned into the main room from which the light and sound were emanating. She saw a figure in that hard light, pale, hammering against something on the work bench. Only slightly closer, she could tell it was Tom, blotches of red and wound from the accident marking his near-ivory skin distinctly, his dark hair the same as before, just a bit matted.
Tom, "alive as ever."
She didn't get a response. He just kept hammering. With a hint of panic in her breath, she repeated the question - her word seemed to dissolve into the light. He raised his head from the workbench to look at her, still hammering. No answer.
She screamed it this time, using an entire short breath, her throat was tensing, and her lips were trembling. She didn't understand any of this. He kept hammering. Slowly, he smiled. Still looking at her, stare unbreaking. No blinking.
She walked back into a wall. Stood back against it, watching him, eyes welling, almost tears. Sadness, confusion, fear, hope still lying drawn beneath it all that something better would come. She pushed herself into the cold wall, watching him hammer. He just kept hammering. So she tried to smile.
"Tom, what are you doing?"
She barely asked it. But the words were caught up in the light, and he heard. His smile took on a threatening, hostile air, his brow moving to accomodate. Back still against the wall, she started to slowly move herself back out towards the stairway. Just as she got to the hall, she heard him -
"Mary, where are the kids?"
And just as she heard these words, she looked at the stairway. Now, the light was off upstairs and the fleshy coating which had been there was gone. She was ready to leave, and began to climb back up, when she heard a thump from the living room. Frantic movement. She stopped mid-way up. And as her eyes adjusted to the dark, she saw a human form standing still, upright at the head of the stairs, looking down. Looking at her. She stayed still, focusing, trying to quiet her breathing, but only for a moment, because before she could think about what to do it began a rapid descent towards her, loudly slamming its feet on each step. She frantically turned and ran straight down, the thing in hot pursuit. She still heard the hammering, but the light was gone. Horrified and deeply confused, she ran straight to the work bench, to where Tom was, and clung to him almost aggressively. He was totally still. Now, the form stood in the dark on the other side of the room, and it began slowly to advance towards them. She held him silently. It was getting closer.
She looked at Tom, her eyes begging him to stop talking or to protect her somehow from the thing coming towards them.
"... Where are the children?"
The light suddenly flooded back into the room. Mary screamed, trying to hush herself as the figure fell to the floor five stillborns, unmoving, lips open and aimed at the sky. The hammering grew louder, though Tom remained still. She looked at him, and saw only a corpse bearing the grimace of death back at her. She stepped back, releasing him from her grip. Now everything in the room was dead.
Suddenly, she felt a force lifting her up off her feet, carrying her. Now, she glanced at the work bench and saw a completed wooden box.
An invisible force was lowering her into it, the walls surrounding her. She couldn't move. She saw Tom's head rise as he stood up beside the coffin, and then climbed inside, pushing down on top of her.
"No -" she screamed or tried, willing her arms to move but feeling no movement after all as he positioned himself over her and started to undo her pants.
"No!" louder this time, as he lowered her underwear and raised her legs to the sides of the coffin, resting her knees over its walls.
Without ever bending his body, he entered her hard, looming over her all the while. With each thrust, she saw visions of herself, a happy family, all of them alive and stretching on endlessly. But each time he pulled back, the vision faded. Then in again - it clouded her eyes, she couldn't see the corpse above her. Then out, and again she lay in a coffin, immobile, the dead Tom-thing senselessly, violently penetrating her.
The vision shifted on the next thrust to a regal dinner scene. A now-middle-aged Tom toasted with her and guests at the center of a great table draped in white cloth. Torch-lit glass chandeliers hung overhead. The mood was warm and friendly. Tom began to speak.
"You didn't know this when I married you, Mary, but you're something special to me. It's true!"
The guests laughed, more than they ought to have, really - smiling, he continued.
"Your naked eye is a treat for me to con. But I need you to join me dead, so I can con you forever. I've been around for a very long time, Mary. Slowly, inch by inch, I poison the Earth and drag your bodies down. As the tatters of your mind mold into my flesh, I will gain your eyes and body as my slaves. You will be my released disease, Mary, runoff into worms as I live on in flesh here on Earth. For this, I love you."
The last sentence rang uncontrollably in Mary's mind, even as the corpse above her pulled back again. As he thrust back in, she saw a vision of herself standing, staring in the doorway to the basement's main room. Wide eyed.
Suddenly her view shifted.
Mary was standing, staring, paralyzed at her husband, who hammered something rhythmically on a workbench in the glowing, eerie basement light. She turned to leave, but heard it again -
"Mary, where are the children?"
She had a sudden urge to look down, only to see that she was pregnant again - and it was kicking. Hard. Writhing. Wriggling. Now, something was coming out of her - what?
Worms down her legs and out of her pantlegs, like a flood roaring out and rolling away up the stairs. Wave after wave of worms, emptying her insides, she fell to the floor, slouched down. She felt the sound of the hammering, pounding hard in the cavity. Painfully hard, expanding her empty womb with the vibration as it came down. It was like the slow drum of a funeral march, a ritual rhythm propelling her into nothingness. Mary leaned her head against the wall, smiled, and died.