Worse Things by Phoebe Reeves-Murray
Saltbush and prickly pear marched on the construction site, up to the cellar hole the previous class had dug. Here and there, a lemonade bush indicated a possible water source. But every time the students had dug it up, the ground yielded nothing but sand and dust.
The sun was roasting by the time Abag and Pinita hitched a ride and walked the path to the job site, arriving just before 8am. Because of the desert heat, site start time was a mandatory 5:30 a.m. Abag and Pinita were in the last quarter of Rightway, an education and training program for low income teens who couldn’t finish high school. They were always late. Today they were late because Pinita had forgotten to refill her Trigeminal Neuralgia prescription until that morning. The oxcarbazepine made her feel logy and awful. To compensate, she’d stolen a fistful of narcos from Abag’s mother’s boyfriend Ugly Bear. Abag’s mother made Pinita sleep on the couch—even though she and Abag had a baby now—so Ugly Bear forced himself on her while Abag’s family was sleeping and she didn’t dare tell. She read the warning about checking with the doctor before taking narcos while nursing. Well, the doc was the one who’d first given her Vikes after Samai was born. Therefore, Pain=bad. Painkiller=good. She took a dose of her shock meds and choked down two of Ugly Bear’s Vikes with the last swallow of water from Abag’s canteen. It tasted like backwash, but at least it was Abag’s.
Today, an announcement, posted next to the daily duty board, read that the work site was being closed as it had been discovered to be an archaeological site.
Abag tightened his tool belt, yanked his hard hat over his eyes and sauntered past their sleeping construction trainer, Mr. Jones.
Jones’ assistant Señor Yellowhawk pointed at the sky. “Abag, you shouldn’t make the sun wake you because he’s already busy. I used to count on you to teach all the rest of the RightWay kids…now…” He resisted a sharp sigh. “Pinita, Abag’s covering for you. Normally, the ladies outdo the hombres on site, but you just spend all day pretending there’s magic under the trash that’s your job to clean up.”
Pinita trudged over to the stack of trim boards. She opened a can of paint and picked up a brush. She read the closure sign, lingering on the ‘Archaeological Resources’ phrase. This place is important—a real commodity. She had learned about commodities in Señor Yellowhawk’s history class. Commodities are things with value. Her eyes wandered to the site, which was little more than a ragged cellar-sized hole in the ground, scattered with empty bags of cement mix, energy drink bottles, cigarette butts, and McDonald’s wrappers. Fire ant mounds rose around the rotten food scraps. Pinita was the one who had found two shards of pottery stained an ugly brown color like rust. She’d debated keeping them because she felt they were history—they were old—they were powerful. The rust-colored substance had flaked off on her hand as she handed the shards to Señor Yellowhawk. As he’d scrutinized them, she’d sucked her fingers. A strong iron taste had stung her tongue. She chewed her tongue now, remembering that taste, and as the float from the medication set in, a beautiful idea came to her.
She looked at the plywood jobs board that they’d surely be throwing away after today. She carefully wiped off her paintbrush and laid it across the open primer can, taking a deep breath. “Señor Yellowhawk, por favor, Abag and me need money—please don’t terminate me.” She stared at the can of gold paint, then back at the plywood jobs board. I could make my own magic door. She had read Alice in Wonderland in her GED class and loved it. “Hey, can you tell us more about the Anasazi, I mean, was it true about them eating people—”
“Don’t use that word, hija—the people you refer to are not called that. They are the Hopi ancestors and are correctly called the Hisatsinom.” Yellowhawk saw he’d spoken too forcefully and lowered his tone. “Hisatsinom means the Old Ones. Do you know what the other word you used means? It’s a Navajo word, with the degrading meaning ‘enemy of my ancestor.’ ”
“But Ms. Juarez told me that the Navajos think the Ana—I mean the Hisatsinom—are their ancestors, so who’s the right one?”
Yellowhawk took their phones and locked them in the Knaack box. “All right, hijos, since we’re closing up this site, we need to finish up our assigned tasks pronto!”
Pinita lowered her head. “I’m sorry.” But my gold door needs a magic name over the top of the frame. “Was it true about the Hisatsinom eating people?”
Yellowhawk pointed to the open can of paint. “Hija, work and talk, talk and work. No, that was the Toltecs.”
Her skin crawled like fire ants were scuttling all over her. She scratched her scalp and shivered. She loved history, and most of all, monsters. Monsters. They ate people right here. She spun around, peering through a glitter of heat and drugs. Wiharu. “What about Wiharu? My Hopi granny told me Wiharu’s got sharp teeth, a bloody saw, and swallows children whole. So why does Wiharu need all those teeth and a bloody saw?”
“Stupida!” Abag scoffed.
“Hijos.” Yellowhawk tapped on his tablet. “You think this is a game, to use the Hisatsinom as a diversion for wasting time on Earth? Yes, Wiharu’s a monster with many teeth and a magic saw. Be careful what you call down on yourselves. You got a baby now.” He walked away.
Jones strolled over, flipping his daily behavior log to reveal the zeros he’d entered for their performance.
Pinita tensed in anticipation of electric pain as Jones reached out and flicked her jaw. “What does one zero plus another zero equal?”
“Nothing, Señor Jones.” Pinita gripped Abag’s arm as he handed her some crumbled saltines.
Abag looked right at Jones and kissed Pinita very softly on her left cheek.
Jones made a sick face. “I can see my tax dollars goin’ to support drinkin’, druggin’, n’ sexting. Now listen, A-bug…”
Pinita pulled away from Abag. “His name is Abag, Señor. It’s Chamoru. We’re part Chamoru from Guam—we’re also part Hopi, and part Navajo from right here.”
“Right here in this hole, huh?” Jones was texting and laughing. “Oooh, I’m scared, Zero Squared.”
Pinita knew Abag would be furious that she’d made him lose face, but he wasn’t going to show it now. That would be later. Abag’s fists balled at his side. “Her name’s Pinita—we’re part Chamoru from Guam!”
“Right, you come with a certificate of ‘part’ authenticity—only 2,000,000 made and you’re number zero!”
The other students were watching.
Jones made a show of swinging a machete at a giant cactus outside the perimeter of the work site and several spiny “ears” flew into the crowd of youth. That scattered everyone back to work. “It don’t matter if you’re red, yellow, brown, purple—this is America. We don’t care. Chammy-roo.” Jones put his arm around Abag, walking him away. “So. A-bug. The deal’s this: Nothing’s been found yet, but those archaeologists’ll be here in another week and we wanna beat ‘em to it—I think this construction site is on top of a heap of money…if you know how to find it.”
Pinita stared at the hacked-off cactus. Its spines’ length alone made it at least 50 years old. Commodity. Something of value. Liquid blistered out of the broken “ear.”
Jones stood over the cactus limb lying on the ground and chopped it to bits.
“What do we hafta do?” Abag asked.
Jones ambled back over. “‘We’ nothin’.” He nudged Pinita with the machete. “This deal’s just you and me.”
Abag gripped the blade in his bare hand and shoved it away from her. Blood shone in an outline around his hand. “Whatevs.”
Jones slid the machete out of Abag’s grip and wiped it on the broken cactus. “There’s Indian artifacts, old bones, shit like that. Those archaeologists’d pay a lot of money.”
“Pero, Señor,” Pinita felt empowered by the sight of Abag’s blood. He loves me. The baby had been worth it after all. She ran her palms very deliberately down her front to calm herself and smiled inside. I’m a commodity. She mimicked Yellowhawk’s calm voice. “Señor Yellowhawk told us all bones are sacred and belong to the reservation Elders.”
Jones watched her unconscious gesture, taking it as a come on. “I hear Ugly Bear don’t even take his pants off…” He laughed.
Tears stung her eyes. Her hand dropped to her side. She waited for Abag to defend her, but he shuffled away to get another drink of water. “But…but…we can’t be selling bones…that will bring evil on us,” she pleaded with Abag as he returned.
Ignoring her, Abag asked, “How much, Señor, if we find these?”
Jones threw a punch at Abag’s head, laughing when he ducked. “I like you, A-bug. 70% for me, 30% for you. Whatever you find.”
Pinita tore a strip off her work t-shirt and took Abag’s still bleeding hand to bind it. “But—”
Abag flung away her touch. “We’ll do it.”
Jones handed him a disposable cell. “Call if you find anything. And don’t even think of using my minutes calling your buddies. If you got any.” He left the job site, hollering to Yellowhawk that he’d return later.
Pinita stared at the shirt strip stained with Abag’s blood in her hand. “Abag, you said we’d dig up and sell Hisatsinom bones! Wiharu’ll eat us!”
Abag took the water jug meant for the team and poured it over his head. The other youth cursed him. But Abag was on a high. “We’re gettin’ an education—mad lot of education, Miss History Genius! And we’re gonna be fuckin’ rich!”
She shook her head, gazing again at the bloody cloth. Don’t leave your DNA, carry it with you or else. “The devils and demons’ll eat us—that’s what the Anasazi did!” She folded the cloth into a tiny square, then a ball, and stuffed it in her pocket.
Abag watched her squirrel away the cloth. “Wiharu’s just a scary story for babies. You don’t know nothin’ about them…Old Ones. They gone.”
“I know they built their villages on the same meridian, meridian 108—and they made pottery—and they cooked in their pottery—and it made eating…beautiful.”
Abag looked at her, disgusted.
She stumbled to regain her thoughts, picking up trash so he wouldn’t think she was challenging him.
He flung the empty water jug. “What about us? We’re alive—no one cares about us.”
Pinita took the precious blood-stained cloth, kissed it, and held it out to him. Don’t let Wiharu get us. She sniffled and hiccupped.
He wiped the left side of her face hard and swung her into a fierce hug. “Stop crying and be a guatapang for Samai, for us.” He left to rejoin the group working on the far side of the site.
After she finished priming the trim and swept up the site, Pinita picked up the water jug and tipped it towards her lips. Empty. Dizzy, she pulled schedules off the job board and dragged the wood around against one of the pit mounds they had dug for the cellar. This’ll be my magic door.
She explored and found a cave in the rocks that went back farther than it appeared. It was cooler in there, but she wanted shade at the entrance so she could keep watch for Abag. Pinita dragged over mesquite sticks, managed to jam them somewhat into the ground, and draped a tarp over them. Hungry, thirsty, she licked the sweat off her arm. A desert insect buzzed. The wind blew hot. She coughed, but no moisture came up to wash the grit out of her parched throat.
Everyone had gone, so she opened the can of gold paint. The sun’s dazzle on the liquid hurt her eyes, forcing her to squint.
Finding a Sharpie in her tool belt, Pinita drew a door on the plywood jobs board. She felt embarrassed that she was almost finished with the Youthway carpentry course and still unable to make a real door. She hoped the others wouldn’t come back and see her drawing a door on plywood, before she remembered no one would be coming back. Pinita took another painkiller.
Lost in her stick figure door, she decided to paint a gold banner over the top, but realized too late she’d left the paint can open in the fierce heat. Pinita poked a stir-stick at the dried paint, now a solid chunk.
The monotonous buzzing stopped. Silence. She tried to nap, but couldn’t sleep because she wanted to cut a handle hole in the hand-drawn door. However, the tools were locked in the Knaack boxes, along with her phone, so she couldn’t even electronically pick the lock. Heat sick, she finally collapsed.
I need to saw open the door so that it can…open and shut.
She came awake. Beside her lay a saw with a gold handle and hundreds of serrated teeth. Each tiny tooth was stained red. She rubbed at the red. It wouldn’t come off. But we weren’t using any red paint out here. She wondered where the saw had come from since it didn’t look like a normal saw, but she felt too spacey to wonder much.
Pinita sawed an uneven rectangle in the wood, amazed at how easily the saw cut through. Stabbing two of the biggest, thickest cactus spines into the plywood door and its frame, she created makeshift hinges, but they slid out and the whole board tumbled into the shade under the tarp. As a last resort, she took the amputated cactus arm and used it to prop the door back into the sawn hole in the plywood.
Her relief that there were no other students around to criticize her took her mind off her terrible thirst. Pinita didn’t know how she would be able to cut a hole for a doorknob with no tool other than a rather large saw, but when she picked up the saw, she found it had shrunk and developed a sharp point with just the right serration to cut the hole.
After she sawed the doorknob hole, she stuck her fingers into the opening. The splinters pierced her fingertips. Blood smeared in the hole. I need a doorknob. Yellowhawk and Jones kept the hardware back at the offices, so there was nothing to use.
…latchkey. Pinita took the rag soaked in Abag’s blood and secured it into the hole with more spines from the severed prickly pear. Finally, she attached Samai’s photo to the end of the rag. My magic door to Wonderland. She hung the end dangling Samai’s photo on the outside of the door as a welcome. And a protection. Satisfied, she crept around the door and under the shade. Just before falling asleep, she brought in the saw and laid it next to her.
“What are you doin’?” Abag was shaking her.
The sky blazed pink and red. A shadow now fell over the cellar pit.
Pinita crawled, dizzy, over to the edge of the dig and tried to see under the shallow overhang that the other kids had dug into one side so they could have some shade to smoke, but it was pitch black. She lay on the overhang and reached under it. Like a hole. Or a mouth. “Waiting for you for lunch. I made us a house…”
“Puta! You call this a house?” Abag stared at her door. “It’s like you stupid! How you get those GED scores when you nothin’ but a zero?” He yanked her to her feet. “We gonna stay out here for now. We gonna get everything we got coming ta us, mamacita! Go get baby Samai and find us some food!” He pulled keys from his pocket and headed off to the Knaack box.
Pinita licked her lips and pressed her aching breasts. The tiniest drops of milk stained her shirt. “Abag? I really need some water, can you get me a drink?”
Tools thumped and clanked.
“Quit giving my kid drugged up teta and you won’t be thirsty!”
By dark, Abag had finished setting up work lights around the pit. Something heavy hit against what sounded like rock. He whirled around. The tarp rippled. “Pinita?”
Silence. He stared at her crudely drawn door, wondering what was different about it. Something nipped the back of his neck just below his skull.
He spun around so fast he slid down the side of the pit into the darkness of the overhang. Slapping at his head, he clawed his way up out of the pit. Nails clawed his shoulders, making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.
Pinita was coming from the direction of the road. “I got food. And Samai!” She carried the baby in a front pack. Pressed right up against the baby, she held bags of food and clothes. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothin!” Abag tossed the bags over towards her door. “You tryin’ to suffocate Samai with those plastic bags?”
“Oh…Samai…” Pinita dropped the bags. “I sorry, babykins…” She kissed the top of the baby’s head.
Samai smiled toothlessly and jerked her hands in the air.
“How’d you get out here? You sunburn my kid?” Abag grabbed a shovel, and jumped back into the pit, thrusting it in front of him like a weapon. Pinita stared, puzzled. When nothing happened, Abag went back into the overhang area and started digging.
Pinita began going through what she’d brought for them. Commodities: clothes, food, painkillers. And my magic saw. Everything is a commodity—everything except maybe Samai. The Internet says that children are ‘economically worthless.” Dictionary.com says children are being used as an expendable commodity, to be used and discarded. Does that mean all I am is trash? She realized she hadn’t answered Abag’s first question and didn’t want him to think she was ignoring him. “I gotta ride and sorta walked.”
She started to go around the door. “Abag? What’d you do with my latchkey?”
“What’re you talkin, ‘latchkey’?” He kept digging.
“I had your—my shirt rag and Samai’s photo hangin’ out—now it’s gone.”
He gritted his teeth and adjusted one of the lights. Pinita took a step back from the shelter. Open wide. She frowned, started to reach in the door handle hole, stopped. She started to go around the side, stopped. She put the baby down on some blankets at the edge of the work lights. “Abag, you hear anything?”
“Only one monster here,” he muttered as he hoisted himself out of the pit. He wiped his face. “Why you leavin’ the baby by a hole she can fall in? You care so much, put her in your ‘house.’ ”
She looked at the shelter, looked at him, shaking her head slowly. “There’s something in there.”
“Chica loca.” Abag returned to digging with a vengeance. “You gonna get down and dirty here or what?”
He’s afraid, ‘cuz he likes to know what’s gonna happen next. She liked that. I like to wonder what’s gonna happen next. The realization gave her confidence. She walked away from the baby. I’m like Alice. Something had accepted her welcome, and was in her house, and he was afraid. What was it? She shivered, excited.
Pinita pulled out food she’d gotten from the grocery’s dumpster, including a mashed supermarket cake. She broke off chunks and set the crumbled mess on dirty paper plates. Samai gave a tiny welcome cry and Pinita, surprised, smiled and lifted her shirt as the baby hungrily grabbed her breast. “I got us some food.”
Abag jumped out of the pit and grabbed at the baby. “No more teta! I told you, don’t be doping up my kid!”
Pinita fell backward, but shielded the baby. In one move, she crawled to the shelter. Something panted. She drew back. She looked at Abag, but he was back in the pit, digging. She pulled the protesting baby off her breast and slid her shirt back down. “Abag…do you love me?”
Abag hit something, cursed excitedly, threw his shovel. “Took my pants off, didn’t I?”
Pinita nodded and pulled out a bottle for Samai who cried and turned away. Abag kicked the food she’d arranged. Part of it flew into the pit. The rest disappeared into the shadow at the edge of Pinita’s makeshift house. Something reached out of the dark of the house and pulled the crumbs in. There was a sound like chomping teeth.
Abag saw Pinita looking at him, frightened. His own terror made it hard to breathe. He yelled at her. “You get us food from the trash?”
“It’s just day old cake from the Safeway,” she said, looking into the shadows and kissing Samai’s downy head in little pretend bites like she was eating her.
“My—the kid ain’t eatin’ dirt.” He knew that would bother her and smiled to himself.
An old woman crawled out from behind the tarp and smiled at Pinita. Pinita gasped. Buenas noches, Pinita. You like my saw. It cuts whatever I want it to because it has many, many teeth.
At first, the woman looked like her grandmother, but her hair hung in greasy strings in front of her face and her mouth…and her mouth went all the way around her head, attached on either side of her ears by broken cactus thorn hinges. Yellow and brown fangs hung down over splintered teeth. The thing that was not her granny drooled and chomped. The old woman-thing lifted her shirt and revealed skin so thin it shone purple in the work light.
Pinita could see shards of raw bones underneath. “Abag…” She gulped out his name. “We can’t sell those bones—”
“Right Way says the dream begins when you get up and gotta work—but I say the dream ends when you wake up—stupida!” Abag worked to free something under the overhang. “They don’t care about us—you think they work for $2.50 an hour?”
The old lady-thing scuttled off the overhang onto Abag’s shoulders, gurgling.
Abag gagged. “Augh, girl, you stink, eh? I told you that food was from the garbage and keep it away!” He threw himself back, but his focus was on the object now coming unburied.
Pinita inched her way to the edge of the overhang. “Granny?”
What a tender baby—couldn’t you just eat it all up?
Pinita threw Samai’s bottle at the creature. It flung up its claw. The bottle instantly changed direction and hit Abag hard in the head.
Abag…do you love me? The creature giggled as it copied Pinita’s tone and inflection.
Abag swore, but kept working at digging an object out of the ground.
Pinita reached for Samai’s hand and held the baby’s little fingers tight as she stared at the monster. You can’t be my granny. “Abag, ‘member…when you said we were gonna go back to Guam and be happy? That you loved me and we’ll get married and build us a little pink and orange house by the ocean? My Chamoru granny saved us part of her lot there—why haven’t we gone yet?”
“‘Cuz you decided to get pregnant.” He stabbed at the object.
“I gave you that money I saved for our tickets… Let’s go now.”
Abag dragged the object free of the dirt. It was a heavy pot, filthy with a thick layer of flaking brown. Pinita stared. Like blood. Claw marks showed through the brown.
He pushed Pinita back on her bottom and slammed the pot on the edge of the pit. Wiharu dug its claws into Abag’s scalp. Abag grit his teeth and shoved the pot hard between Pinita’s legs. “You were supposed to get an abortion!”
The old lady leaped off him and forced Pinita onto her back. Holding her down with yellow-toed claws, she rubbed Pinita’s leaking breasts. You know ‘mama’ just means you suck!
Pinita moaned and released Samai onto the ground beside her.
The monster bent backwards and slid the splintered fingers of one claw down Pinita’s stomach and tickled her thighs apart in front of Abag. Abag…do you love me? Wiharu taunted Pinita.
Abag didn’t respond except to cup the pot with both hands.
Wiharu grabbed his hands in one claw and fisted them into Pinita’s vagina.
Pinita arched her back, screaming, but the monster covered her mouth with the other claw. Pinita gagged as the monster, like magic, pulled the latchkey of Abag’s blood and Samai’s photo out of Pinita’s throat and dangled it over the cooking pot.
The creature pulled Abag’s hands out of Pinita and shoved them into his mouth.
He puked them out, and thrust them into the pot.
He won’t eat your smelly hole like he’s eating mine.
Abag caressed the inside of the pot, chipping the brown corrosion. He leaned down and licked along Pinita’s thighs, gagging until his tongue touched the pot.
A-bag brought you some talkin’ flowers for you, crazy Alice girl—to show how much he loves you!
Pinita bucked, but couldn’t escape as Wiharu pulled the two long cactus needles hinging its jaws to its head and made Abag slide them into the soft skin of Pinita’s thighs.
Abag kept sucking at the pot’s edges.
Wiharu grinned at Pinita. Mi cocinera favorita—you know how to tenderize baby meat better than anyone.
Samai started squalling.
Pinita struggled to reach the baby.
The monster squeezed Pinita’s gut, making her vomit sodden cake.
Gripping the pot, Abag heaved himself halfway out of the pit, his elbows pressing against the spines piercing Pinita’s thighs.
Her throat bloody, Pinita forced herself to focus on the latchkey.
He eats you and throws up—tasting all that blood and piss and baby shit and Ugly Bear’s cum—but I’m ready to eat it all and make you whole! Wiharu laughed and swung the latchkey back and forth just above Pinita’s nose. You’ve always wanted me, remember? And I know how you need the taste of blood!
Tears squeezed from Pinita’s closed eyes. “Lots of belly punching—bruise her head up nice and soft…but it wasn’t enough—you were supposed to die, Samai.”
Wiharu smiled. Her breath reeked of rotting blood. She could still die. Quick, while she’s still cute, before everyone knows she’s just another hole—another zero.
Grabbing the baby, Abag slid back over the edge of the pit, and half dropped the baby into the pot.
Pinita tried to scream, but her torn throat only rasped and wheezed.
The monster grabbed for the pot.
Pinita seized Samai before the baby slipped all the way in.
Samai snuggled against Pinita, making baby noises.
She kissed the baby, crying. I love you, Samai, I love you! “Granny told me I have to always listen to dreams and babies ‘cause they never lie.”
Wiharu stabbed Pinita’s jaw with bolts that exploded her nerves.
Pinita screamed, squeezing Samai so hard she began to cry.
Abag crowed and held up an old bone in the air. “Look at these! Mad lot of bones!”
Pinita forced herself to cradle the baby as she pulled the spines out of her thighs. Nobody knows my pain.
The monster touched the side of her face. And nobody would care if they did.
Pinita arched in silent agony. A tooth cracked as she braced herself against the monster’s grip on her jaw. Whenever I bleed, I bleed Chamoru blood.
There’s no Chamoru left—only Chammy-roo, and your aborted offspring, or should I say offering? The creature now addressed her out of the back of its mouth so it could watch Abag’s progress digging up still more bones. Wiharu assumed the voice of Yellowhawk and recited as if in a classroom: “The Spanish rounded up the survivors and forbade them to go near the sea because if they attempted to escape, that would reduce the slave population even further. And even though the period of open warfare was past, the Chamorus continued to resist by preventing and terminating their pregnancies.” It seized the baby.
Pinita grabbed Samai back, sobbing.
Wiharu shook Pinita, forcing her to shake Samai, continuing to recite in Yellowhawk’s voice: “Chamorus did not want to bring into the world children who would suffer the horrors that they were suffering.” If you were a real Chamoru, you would have killed her.
Remembering punching her pregnant womb during classroom breaks, Pinita hugged Samai tight to absorb Wiharu’s violent shaking into her own body instead of the baby’s.
Dizzy and vomiting, she managed to lay Samai on the blanket on the ground, and dragged herself and Wiharu into the dark of her shelter. Never leave your DNA behind, Pinita thought. But Samai is her own DNA. Zero plus zero made one. If Samai eats me, she makes me whole with love.
Wiharu spun Pinita around and around, shaking her and slamming her into the shelter’s rock walls. Pinita threw herself to the ground and crouched, baring her teeth. Oh monster—I have so much for you to eat. Outside, through the nausea, she heard Abag’s spade bite into earth and the earth slide away…bite…slide…bite…slide…I will not be afraid because my baby needs me…to…eat.
The spade stopped.
Pinita heard Abag pick Samai up.
Wiharu leapt off her and rushed outside, screaming, Give me my baby, A-bag—A bag of rocks!
“She’s not your baby.” Pinita had been expecting a challenge from Abag, but instead his response to Wiharu was sullen.
Or yours. Wiharu smiled, its hinges clacking.
Abag put the baby back down roughly, and filled his arms with bones.
Give them back! Wiharu screamed. You can’t lock me in that museum that has no moist life, no wet, warm blood power!
Pinita threw herself against the propped-up plywood door. It just missed hitting Samai as it fell on the pot. “Abag. Give Wiharu back its bones.”
Abag cradled the bones. “No.”
Pinita grabbed the bones from his arms and sucked and licked them.
Wiharu leapt on Pinita’s back. Its voice scream-sang in Pinita’s head. No bones for Jones. Jonesing for bones.
Abag jerked the bones out of her hands. “My bones. I found them!”
Pinita kissed his cheek. Feeling the monster dig in, readying to bite Abag’s head, Pinita swung away so that it couldn’t reach him. If anyone gets eaten, Wiharu, it’s gonna be me. I’m the mamá here.
Abag stopped, stared, touched his cheek.
As he did, Pinita reached again for the bones. She laid them on the fallen door, looking for the right combination.
She could feel the creature on her head change, its neck stretch down and wind around to look into her face.
It now wore Jones’ appearance, but its mouth still split its head all the way around, hundreds of fangs giving it away. You little jailbird bastard! It screamed at Abag, who stared dully at the bones taking form on the door. Living in the dirt of a house built on bones with your dizzy slut wife and your tasty cake baby! Here’s $50, a pair of handcuffs, and a squad car door with no handle on the inside—my best offer! Oh, and I’ll throw in a GED with your one phone call.
Pinita struggled to crawl into the pit to get the rest of the bones, but the creature was too heavy. She looked at Abag, wanting to kiss him again, but not wanting the creature to touch him. It’s ok Abag, I love you—
Is that what you say when he lets his mamá’s boyfriend fuck you? Wiharu bit her right to the bone of her skull. Blood tricked down Pinita’s forehead into one eye.
Abag’s eyes opened wide at the sight of Pinita’s running blood. He reached out with the rag Pinita had used to staunch his bloody palm.
She gripped his hand as he touched the rag to her face, staring at the old blood and the new blood together on the rag that had come from her shirt.
The touch of her warm blood electrified him, and he casually asked, “So what’s your offer, Wiharu?” His voice was calm.
The monster motioned to the cooking pot. “A place where you can be anything.”
“I’ll take it.” Abag palmed the rag. As he did, he flashed Pinita the picture of Samai.
But the monster saw it and swiped at him, cutting his forehead. It shapeshifted into Jones. Give me my bones and my baby, you stain on a filthy sheet—or should I be asking Ugly Bear about the baby, Chammy-roo?
“Samai’s my baby,” Abag roared, swiping at his eyes.
Unless she’s not. Wiharu licked its claw and reached for the baby.
But Pinita seized Samai and rolled into the pit behind Abag, shielding the baby with her body as her bloody fingers dug up the last of the bones.
Abag turned pale as he finally saw the monster was now wearing Jones’ face.
The creature smiled, putrid snot soaking the false Jones’ neck. “She’ll be yours if you eat her, and if you do, I will stay with you always, and you will have the wet, warm, blood power to use any way you want.” Wiharu opened its head until the broken hinges snapped and the two halves fell to the ground, vomiting earth, beetles, worms, scorpions, blood, guts, flies.
Abag sank to his knees, head bent. He turned his head and stared at Samai.
No! Pinita screamed and leaped out of the pit. Gripping Samai in one arm and the remaining bones in the other, she swung the baby behind her and threw all the bones but one down onto the fallen door. She is my baby—I love her more than the world because—because she is EVERYTHING! Pinita stomped her foot to smash the bones of the creature’s body, now laid out in perfect order.
She stopped herself. She opened her hand. It held the last bone: Wiharu’s hideous skull full of fangs. She spun it around and around, staring at the countless teeth.
Balancing Samai on her hip, Pinita gripped the skull, opened its mouth, thrust her face forward and chomped down on Wiharu’s teeth. Pain in her jaw drove her onto the door board, scattering Wiharu’s skeleton.
Pinita hunched over Samai, who remained unhurt and alert. She and the baby stared into each other’s eyes as Pinita gripped Wiharu’s skull, and used it to shove herself to standing. Samai grinned and patted Pinita’s cheek as Pinita clacked the monster jaws and her own teeth in perfect unison.
Eyes on Pinita, Abag moved the scattered bones back into proper formation on the door.
Pinita smiled, her now bloody teeth glistening in the work lights’ glow. “Teeth are a commodity, right, Wiharu? I bet I can get Abag, n’ Samai, n’ me, like, a thousand dollars for these teeth.”
The monster whimpered, reaching for the skull. Before or after Master Jones takes his money?
She tilted her head at the creature as Samai began to nurse, her tiny hand patting Pinita’s breast. “Ah, pobre monstruo, comidas?” She motioned with the skull towards the pot. “Abag, fill it with water.”
He hurried to do what she ordered. Finally, she handed the baby to Abag, leaving her breast bare, her nipple wet from the baby’s mouth. Still holding the skull tightly away from herself, she picked up the bones from the door and tossed them into the pot.
“Call Jones now, Abag.” Pinita made a fire. As the flames licked the dried blood crusted around the belly of the pot, she took Samai in her arms and breathed deeply into the baby’s hair. Putting her back to her breast, she sang a lullaby.
Abag dug out his phone. “What should I tell him?”
Pinita nuzzled the baby, pretending to eat her as Samai crowed. “Time to eat.”
Jones’ voice crackled over the speakerphone. “Do you know what time it is? You better have found something good.”
Abag paused before answering. “Better than good.” He grew more confident. “It’s bad, Señor. We found something. We want you to have the first taste.”
“You little bastard, don’t even think about keeping it, A-bug.”
Abag hung up. He, Pinita, and the baby retreated into the darkness of her shelter. Pinita returned moments later to throw in the remainder of the Safeway cake. The monster curled around the cooking pot, melting into the thick dried brown blood caked along its sides. The pot quietly bubbled.
Jones appeared. “Are you crazy—boiling soup in an Anasazi artifact that could be worth more than a thousand of your miserable lives!” He sniffed, reached into the pot, and yelped. He sucked his burned hand. Unable to stop, he bit into his hand, ripping the flesh, the sinews, the bones. Blood ran down his arm and he stumbled, falling into the pot.
Wiharu covered the rest of Jones, who stopped screaming. Black, brown, purple, red blood and viscera swirled, frothed, and ran back down the sides of the pot, baking, glazing the pot’s belly.
“Abag,” Pinita said.
Abag came back out with Samai.
“Give me my baby.”
He did, and waited, shaking.
“Now, smash the pot.”
He shivered. “I can’t smash it!”
“It’s not rock—it’s pottery.”
“How do you know?” He kicked it, sloshing the heavy contents.
“Something I read.”
She and Samai sat at the edge of the circle of work-lamp light, watching Abag bring the hammer down on the bubbling stew.
As the pot exploded and the hot, bloody mess ran into the ground around Pinita, she rolled the grotesque skull around in it, kneading the head. When the skull had shrunk to the size of her fist, she fitted it into the hole in the door where she’d first hung out her latchkey. She turned it back and forth. The door opened and closed. She smiled, opened it again, walked through with the baby, and shut it behind them.
Abag kicked all the shards and splinters into the pit, covered them, and climbed back out. Not seeing Pinita, he reached for the door handle. As he did, the skull knob hissed and snickered at him. Abag paused, then reached in his pocket. He pulled out the rag now saturated with his and Pinita’s blood, wrapped it around the shrunken skull and knotted it tight. Finally, holding the picture of their baby, he kissed Samai’s image, and opened the door.
© Phoebe Reeves-Murray
Phoebe Reeves-Murray has taught teens for over 30 years. Her writing is fueled by fairy tales and the seemingly ordinary everyday, yet often dark events that make us who we are. More of her latest fiction can be found in Pantheon Magazine, Dali’s Lovechild, Devilfish Review, Quailbell, Empty Oaks, Foliate Oak, and upcoming in Chromebaby.
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