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Cannibal

1

Above all else, Gambol disdained bogeys who made their living off the fear of children.

In Bulgaria, he sighed with disgust as a sack-toting bogey limped out of the forest near a sparsely-populated village. It sang to itself softly and lamented the death of its maker, Baba Yaga. Too many of them had traits he didn’t need. This one was just another child-scaring bogey. None of the adults in the village paid it any mind, and some of the adolescents spit and threw rocks as it passed.

Pathetic.

“Goodbye, Torbalan.”

Gambol pulled open a trapdoor in the dirt and dropped through it. He fell into a high wind, one that pulled at his skin flaps. The tunnel opened up and beneath him was the Earth, big and blue and green. He pointed his being toward Poland and landed in a murky stream near a cobbled bridge. It was faster to travel this way, through trapdoors, though the falling had put him off at first.

A baby began to cry. Gambol pulled his skin up and walked down the stream toward the bridge. 

“Hello, Bubak.”

The crying stopped. From the shadows under the bridge drifted a form wreathed in rotten burlap. Its skull was painted with old blood, brown and black with time. It lifted an ax, and Gambol stepped forward. He grappled with it, and with the practiced fingers of his free hand he began to tear its skin, stripping the ragged flesh like bark from a tree. Bubak went limp, and Gambol stitched the skin onto his forearm, where it made a sleeve.

He was bits Japanese Namahage, Finnish Groke, and Pugot Mamu from the Philippines. Mamu had been his favorite, a headless shapeshifter that ground men into sausage while feeding them down its neck hole. After killing and unstitching each of them, Gambol wove them all into himself, his various trophies and bearers of power. Other bogeys feared him; he’d become well-known—especially by those with something to give. 

He pulled a trapdoor through the stream-bottom and dropped in, tucking and opening as a wedge of water filled with life and sediment followed. Below him, the rising Earth turned, and somewhere it would rain for a few seconds, pelt a spot with pebbles and crawdads. He guided his being toward Texas and landed in a farmyard. He dragged his skin behind a bale of hay and slept. 

Gambol was the first and only American bogey, truth-be-told.

A genuine, gosh-to-golly, spirits-be-praised, melting pot.

2

“Billy, Chocolate chip pancakes?” her dad asked from the sink, where he was drying dishes. Billy sat at the table, her pajama-clad legs crossed under her. She had a box of crayons and was drawing a picture of it.

“Okay,” Billy said.

“How come you didn’t sleep in our bed last night? Are you all right being alone?“

“No, I’m still scared in my room,” she said, scribbling.

“Well then how come? Your mom told me you told her there was something wrong with our bed.“

“Not with the bed,” Billy said, “just the thing that lives under it.”

“Something lives under our bed?” Her mother sounded amused.

“Well, I don’t exactly know if it’s alive. But it’s bad. And I could feel it through the mattress.”

Her father grinned and broke into a bad British accent. “Like the princess and the pea?”

Billy scribbled harder, shaking her head.

“Like laying in the snow without clothes.”

“That bad?”

For all his attempted jocularity, her dad was now concerned. “You and mom should sleep in my room. I don’t think it’s a nice thing.”

Billy stopped drawing and looked him in the face. “I think it’s a monster.”

“Noted.” He pursed his lips. “Now how many pancakes do you want?”

3

The girl knew Gambol was there. It didn’t bother him. Her parents, even if they believed her, wouldn’t believe in him. They weren’t naïve enough, or they were too naïve. Either way, he was a house bogey now, and they were his.

4

The morning hustle and bustle was a third quieter than normal the next day because her father wasn’t able to pull himself out of bed. Billy could hear her parents whispering to each other on her way back from brushing her teeth.

“Can you take her to school, Moll? I don’t feel well.”

“Are you okay? What’s wrong?”

“I’m sure I’ll feel better in no time, I’m just exhausted, and my head is pounding.”

“Do you need me to call in for you?”

“That would be so good.”

In the van on the way to school, Billy and her mom drove in silence. Like they were both thinking of something. Molly was thinking about setting up a doctor’s appointment for her husband, and Billy was thinking about the thing under her parents’ bed.

“I think Dad’s sick because of the monster.”

“Hmm? I’m sure there’s a perfectly rational reason for why your father is ill.”

“Yeah, I guess. Do you feel sick?” Billy said.

“Not really.”

Molly thought back. While she hadn’t been sick, she had woken up in the middle of the night and hadn’t wanted to stay in bed.

“I had some nightmares,” she said. She didn’t know why she’d said it out loud.

“About what?“ Billy asked.

“I can’t remember now…”

Molly wouldn’t tell Billy this, but the nightmare was why she’d slept on the couch that morning. In the dream she’d been getting ready to go to bed. She’d been taking her clothes off, and her hair had started falling out. She was pulling hair frome her head like cotton candy.

Then she became aware of something in the corner of the room, some dark mass or entity—watching her. The thing in the corner breathed a low rumble and seemed to make everything bigger, everything but her.

“Moll,” the mass whispered to her sweetly, “Moll.”

When she woke up she made a mental note to have the bedroom checked out by a professional. Even if there was no monster, maybe there was something else. Mold, or something. Maybe her subconscious was trying to warn her about something dangerous. Gas leak? There’d be something to check out before her in-laws showed up.

“Excited about your grandparents coming?”

“They are?” Billy asked.

“They called this morning, said they have this weekend to travel and wanted to come in to see us.”

“Saturday? That’s five days away.”

“If you don’t count Saturday, it’s only four. And if you don’t count tonight it’s only 3 1/2.”

“Okay, Mom. But you can’t just count things; that’s how story problems get done wrong.”

“Well even if it is five days, this way you’ll have time to plan what you want to do when they’re here.”

“I’m excited. I’m gonna go to my room now and read.”

Billy’s mother felt a finger of cold on her back and was momentarily clenched by fear.

“Billy.”

“Yeah?”

“If you don’t want to read alone you could come out here and keep me company.”

She heard the trembling warble in her own voice and wondered if Billy did.

“That’s okay Mom; I don’t like distractions while I’m reading and you hum all the time.”

“Okay, honey.”

Molly was alone. What was she so afraid of? The sun streamed through the open blinds and sparkled brilliantly, glinting off tiny dust particles in the air. She was two steps away from being outside on one of the nicest days of the year.

Her feet were sweaty on the tile. When she took her first step towards the door, her right foot slid forward and out from underneath her, jamming her toes into the door. Her left leg pivoted back, and she fell to a knee, slipping so far on the ball of her foot that all her toes bent back. She finally came to rest in a kind of painful half-straddle in the doorway.

Molly let out a yelp, then tried to catch her breath while she took stock of her situation. Both feet hurt a lot. Her knee hurt worse. But she’d be okay. She sucked in and pushed out, trying to get every bit of the pain into her breathing, like she’d learned in Lamaze class. She felt like screaming but wouldn’t. It must’ve only been condensation, she thought.

“Mom?” Billy’s voice from the other room.

Molly took a moment to collect yourself mentally and put all her energy into sounding normal.

“What is it, Billy?”

“Can you stop humming? It’s annoying, and I can hear it even from in here.”

“I’m not hum-”

Something licked her neck. She screamed, and swore, and swiped at the air around her.

Nothing was there but the feeling had been distinct—unmistakeable. Something’s slick tongue licked between her breasts up along her neck to her left ear. She couldn’t see it but she could feel it plain as anything.

“Mom?” Billy yelled.

“I’m okay.” Is that true?

She was doing a version of the splits on the tile floor.

“I just slipped. I’ll be okay.”

5

The silence of a windless night is unlike any other—following a day of cicada calls and sweatbrow sun filtered through cloudless blue. A small gray cat sidles out of the front door, its tail up, its eyes forward. It catches a whiff of something in the air, feline nostrils twitch and it pauses momentarily, mid-stride. Then continues and disappears into the dark opening of the barn.

Inside the house her parents whisper to each other and Billy huddles in the corner of her bedroom with a comforter around her neck, reading a book.

She shivers, reaching for her cat, and realizes it’s gone. She puts down the book.

6

Gambol was about to snap the cornered barn cat’s neck when the girl walked into the open door leading to the horse stalls and called for it.

“Here, kitty kitty. Here, kitty.”

The cat meowed and stretched its back upward to receive the ends of fingertips as a brush. Were Gambol another, more pathetic bogey he would have still snapped the animal’s neck, then swooped in to gather the girl as she screamed and wept so as to pull as much of her fear from her as he could. They were greedy, most bogeys, and tactless. Gambol didn’t care for fear of children. It tasted too electric to him, too sour. His kind gave him much more pleasure to consume, and adult humans—a delicacy incomparable to any other.

So he let the cat live. He spread himself thin into the corner of the barn and waited.

“What is your name?“ The girl asked. Gambol didn’t say anything, and neither did the cat. It weaved and rubbed through her legs with a sleepy purr, and she tickled under its chin.

“I know you’re here. I know you’re doing things to my family.”

Gambol felt a wave of annoyance. The little girl was talking to him. She had decided there was something nefarious going on and had the nerve to confront him in the barn, in the dark, with her voice. She couldn’t know he was here, could she?

“I’ll gamble you’ll show yourself soon,” the girl said.

Gambol lit up with fear, anger and paranoia. She had said his name. Did she know she had? She couldn’t. Was it a coincidence? It had to be — but how could it be? What fell thing had he stumbled upon at this unassuming farmhouse?

Billy got up and walked out of the barn with the cat in her arms. She raised it over her right shoulder and nuzzled its face with her cheek. “Silly booger man won’t come out to talk.”

Gambol pulled back into himself. Was he in danger? Did he need to worry about this now? What was the child if it wasn’t human? The only creatures Gambol know could see boogiemen are other bogeys and ghosts and whisps. What else?

No, all his senses told him the child was a child, and therefore he wanted nothing to do with her. He would ignore her and continue on his plan with the parents. Once he’d drained them, if the girl at that point had some way to oppose him he’d be at his most powerful in centuries.

“My name is Billy,” the girl said as she opened the front door to her house and stepped inside.

Gambol reconsidered dismissing her for now, but came to the same conclusion. She was a child, and he was neither deterred nor tempted nor interested. No child would prevent him from getting what he wanted. Not even a child who had said his name.

7

“What you doing out there, kiddo?” her dad asked Billy when she came back in.

“Playing make-believe. There’s a new imaginary friend I’ve been talking to.”

“Oh, have you?”

“Yeah Dad, I told you about this yesterday. I think it’s what’s making you sick.”

Her dad looked away fast, then juggled his hands in hiss lap while he looked around. Then his hand went to the back of his neck, and he coughed. “I’m not getting sick, Billy, you know that. I just had a bad week; things have just been a little rougher than usual, and I’m just going through something. I’m sure it’s fine.”

“Okay, Dad.”

“Did you get that cat out of the barn?”

“Yeah.”

“Well I don’t think he can be in the house, you’re gonna have to put him back.”

“Can I just for a little while? He’s not safe out there right now.”

“Okay, but keep him in a cardboard box, and if he starts to pee, carry him outside immediately, you got me? I wouldn’t want your mother to come home to cat pee in her carpets.”

8

While the family slept, Gambol investigated the parents’ window. He stood between a tall bush and window pane. He pulled himself in through the window edges. He pooled on the master bedroom floor and slowly rolled his way under the bed, where he didn’t bother remaking his shape. Instead, he twined upward from the middle, reaching through the bed until he found Billy’s dad, and wrapped the tendrils of his being around the man’s heart. His body shuddered for a moment but then struggled on, sleeping through the attack.

The girl’s mother wasn’t in bed at all. Gambol was slightly dismayed. Ideally, when they slept together he could collect from them both at the same time, but she was nowhere he could sense. How was that? He thought he could sense the girl, but he didn’t care about that.

The man woke up with a start. Gambol loosened his grip for the moment. The man’s heart beat hard and fast. Gambol was giddy to collect all the fear and despair the man was experiencing, but wary of giving himself away. Still, he couldn’t resist. He dipped in, he drank.

“Is she right?” The man asked to the empty air, air so cold in the moonlit room he could see his breath.

“Is she right that something is making me sick? Some being or entity that wants me to die a slow death? Is it here now? Hello?”

Dammit. The girl had wasted Gambol’s opportunity. He’d have to find the mother and feed on her and return when the man wasn’t so suspicious. If he decided to fight, the girl might—no, he wasn’t supposed to be worrying about the girl.

“If you’re here now, please,” the man said. “Don’t take any more from me. I can’t stand it.”

Gambol had, however, just come to the opposite conclusion. The girl couldn’t be allowed to stand in his way, not from getting what he needed. He latched onto the man and pulled at his soul.

“I’m here,” he told the man. “It won’t hurt, and I’ll be here.”

Billy’s dad yelled and screamed, and Gambol could barely hold himself open wide enough to collect all of it.

It was gluttonous.

9

Billy woke and flung herself out of bed, knowing nothing but the alarm feeling coursing through her body. What was that noise? Her father was screaming his head off in his room.

The boogieman was attacking him!

She ran from her room to the bathroom and got a cup of water. Then she flung open her parent’s door and saw her father screaming under the covers, and she ran forward to fling water on him. But then she remembered something, and instead of pouring it on him she poured it under the bed, where it seemed to hiss and evaporate very quickly as though the carpet was boiling. Billy imagined she could hear the thing scream, and her father instantly went limp and threw his head back. Then he looked at Billy and started laughing.

“You, you should...you were right. There’s something here, and it’s killing me, and it may be hurting your mom.”

“It’s still under your bed. I think I just damaged it.”

“What’s that on the wall?”

A shadow had formed under the windowsill, darker than it had been. Then there was a slight sucking sound from the window.

“It’s leaving!”

10

Gambol paced beneath the cold of the moonlight, lurking lankily in the fields behind the house. He seethed. They’d all seen him. They had seen him, and evidence of him, they’d watched him escape out the window pane, wounded. He hadn’t been able to be himself. Had anything wounded him like this before? He couldn’t remember. But he’d had centuries of cannibalizing other bogeys and sucking the life from adult humans. Shouldn’t he be at his strongest now, not so weakened by a glass of water that he had to slink out with his tail between his proverbial legs?

Gambol slunk away into the night scolding itself and ended up stumbling upon Billy’s mother.

She was getting out of the truck with groceries. The overhead light above the seats was the only thing that was allowing her to see. She was all bandaged up, presumably with items from the store, and now she was pulling a rigid fabric bag from the back. Toilet paper and bread stuck out the top.

Gambol got under the truck.

11

Billy’s mother pushed the garage door opener, but nothing happened. She did it several times, thinking she’d have to flash her headlights at the house to get Billy to notice. Her husband was most likely already asleep at this point. Instead, she thought she’d pick up the cell phone and call. She dialed, and it rang three times.

“Hello?” a breathless little voice said.

“Billy, it’s your mom. I’m outside, and I need you to open the garage door. The garage door opener isn’t working.”

“Oh. Oh, yeah, I can do that...Mom, you’re out front?”

“Yeah, in the driveway with groceries. Tell your Dad to open the door for me if it doesn’t work; he’ll have to lift it. Tell you what I’ll just leave it parked out here for the night.“

“I’ll open the door; you don’t want to stay out there.”

“Why’s that?”

“It’ll tell you when I see you. There’s a boogieman trying to suck the life out of Dad, and we scared him out of your room, and now he’s outside with you.”

Billy’s mother breathed in. It all sounded ridiculous. If she hadn’t had her own run-in with the thing, she would have assumed her husband had come up with a creative storytelling solution for ridding Billy’s room of monsters and ghosts. Her husband hadn’t done that—he had no energy for it, not lately. It did seem like he had a parasite and it wasn’t a joke.

The garage door opened, and she flipped her headlights on and drove inside.

She tapped the garage door button again, and this time it worked, closing the door behind her. The door to the house opened, and Billy poked her head out. “Good,” she said to herself.

“You’re alone. It didn’t come in with you for some reason.” The girl passed a tennis ball back and forth between her hands.

“I’m happy to hear that. Billy, why do you look like you’re wide awake? Have you been drinking Mountain Dew again?” She thought she sounded light, conversational, but her voice cracked with emotion with every word.

“No, the boogieman tried to kill dad, and I had to stop it.”

“What?” She’d heard, of course, but the words just seemed so strange.

“I woke up because dad was screaming and I ran to his room. It was feeding off him from under the bed. I threw water on it.”

“I’m not in the mood for jokes right now, Beulah J. Brown.” Her voice shook. Of all the problems she’d expected to have to deal with as the owner of a home out in the middle of Texas, a boogieman wasn’t one of them. And who could help? Nobody would believe them.

Billy frowned. “Mom, you believe me. Don’t pretend you don’t know. It was with you the other day, by the door.”

“You saw that?”

“I didn’t know what it was when it was with you. I didn’t know what it was doing. But it’s like a vampire. Or a big mosquito, but that drinks your life.”

They looked at each other for a long moment.

“How are we supposed to fight a boogieman?” Billy’s mother asked.

“I don’t know. I threw water on it, and it looked like it hurt it. The only thing I know is that it doesn’t seem to care about me. It just wants to get you and Dad.”

Her husband appeared in the doorway, curled against the doorframe looking haggard and weak. Pale. Sweaty.

“You girls get in the house now, all right? It went out the window but if it wanted to slide in under the garage door…” Her dad had a crazy look on his face, and when they registered it, he broke into a sheepish grin. “I mean, what are the rules now? I haven’t ever had to fight against a ghost or demon or whatever before.”

Billy went back in the house. “You guys, just stay together, watch a movie, be loud, assert your control over the space. You have to piss it off, make it attack when it’s weak. You have to refuse to fear it,” she said.

“What are you going to do?” her mother asked.

“Homework.”

Her parents looked at each other, acknowledging the absurdity of their child handling a situation like this with more poise and measured control than two adults who’d experienced plenty, and laughed.

12

Gambol had never felt this angry. He hadn’t previously thought himself prey for emotions, but maybe that was because he was used to winning—even against other bogeys. He’d never had to face something like this. The girl is onto you; you should leave. Pull from the next pair of adults on this road. But why should he have to? The thought of giving up now made him angrier. Gambol couldn’t—not after he’d been so humiliated.

By a child.

It made him howl, in the barn where he was holed up. There was no cat or anything else around to hear him.

After a moment during which he imagined pumping all of his energy into expanding, pulsing outward so that he could become as disparate and as cold as he wanted to throughout the universe, he gathered himself. Instead of destruction, he pulled a door open through the bottom of the barn. He fell, from a long way, toward the earth.

He had a bogey to see about a bargain.

13

That night Billy and her parents had a great game night. They played Scattergories, watched a movie and ate candy, all in their pajamas. Billy hadn’t had so much fun with her parents since her last birthday party. They hugged each other, and even her sickly father seemed to liven up significantly. When she finally went to bed, she felt like things were going back to normal, and the boogieman was gone for good.

The next morning Billy woke up late. It was Saturday. The day her grandparents were supposed to come. She went downstairs, noting the position of the sun and the lack of any pancake smell—it was almost noon. She didn’t sense her parents in the house; she didn’t hear anything. The sky outside was gray and painted in strokes of whipped cloud. The wind brushed the corn in waves.

She grabbed a sweater and pulled it on, then, went for her shoes. Then looked outside, and saw them. Her parents side by side in the corn, which was thigh high. Above them, and which seemed to be holding their attention, a scarecrow. It was like corpses stitched into a man; she thought of Frankenstein’s monster.

It was holding something in its arms.

She forgot about her shoes and pushed the screen door open. Something about the way the light was made things seem filtered. It was cold, in a way that felt like it was inside her. The sweater she wore offered little comfort.

“Mom,” she said, then saw that what the scarecrow was holding was a little girl, a little girl that looked like her. But it was hiding her face. Its hair was dirty, and its clothes were ragged and torn. Billy hadn’t expected an escalation from the entity like this.

“Mom, Dad!” she yelled, “Don’t believe anything it says or does!”

She started running. Her parents seemed transfixed, unfalteringly interested in what the boogieman was doing. Was it offering the creature’s survival for something her parents would have to give?

“Guys! Reject it!”

Her mother turned her face toward Billy, and she looked weak, gaunt. Like she’d been drained of everything that made her up; like she was a husk. She met Billy’s eyes, but the flash of recognition didn’t happen. Her mother turned back to the boogieman.

Billy slowed her run.

The boogieman rose higher above the corn, and her parents dropped to their knees. It held the decoy child out in front him with spindly arms. It wailed, cried like an infant, not like Billy at all. How could her parents be fooled, how they could have given in to such an obvious illusion?

“That’s not me!”

She was almost upon them.

The boogieman made eye contact with her, and with its left arm it made the finger against the lips symbol.

Then it peeled back the decoy’s hair and scalp and began to cut into its skin at the top of its forehead with its knifelike fingernail.

Her parents dropped forward and screamed, their faces in the dirt, their hands splayed from their hearts through shoulders.

“Please, please,“ they seemed to moan, although Billy couldn’t make out the word.

The boogieman tilted its head back and opened its mouth wider than it seemed should be possible.

Her mother got to her feet and ran at it, but not before it had devoured Billy’s facsimile. Her mother beat her fists against it, and it stood there grinning. Her father staggered to his feet. The boogieman made eye contact with Billy, then backhanded her mother with otherworldly strength, throwing her through the air.

“Mom!”

Her father watched in fear, and Billy could see the boogieman feeding from him, even before her mother hit the dirt near the house with a whump.

Her father fell forward with despair, and the boogieman rose up before descending upon him. He’s weak; he won’t last long. But he thinks I was just eaten.

She ran forward and kicked it in the face as it drained her father.

It ignored her. She might not be able to save her mother, but she was right here, her father was right here.

He has to see me.

She kicked it in the face again, then punched it in the ear.

“Look, Dad! It didn’t eat me! It was a lie! I’m alive, and you have to fight it!”

He was on his face in the dirt, but he jerked when she spoke. He could hear her; he knew she was there. Whatever the boogieman was getting from him, it wouldn’t be as much now.

Still it crouched there, over him, blocking her and killing him as sure as time eventually would. She could keep trying to kick him, but it barely did anything.

She didn’t know what to do. Water, she could run to get water. But she couldn’t leave her father. Not while it drank his soul.

Don’t give it so much credit; it’s a little kid’s nightmare. It’s not scary. She thought back to when she was in the barn with it. Hadn’t it been afraid to show itself?

“I thought I’d get a look at you before long. Not very pretty, though, are you?”

The boogieman started upward, locking eyes with her. She saw an intensity in its eyes, an icy glimmer. Then, like it realized she was looking at it, it went back to feeding on her father.

She felt anger take over, blood rushing to her face and the scene before her vibrated hot. She had felt ineffectual, helpless, but no more. The moment was a nightmare, and she was trapped inside. There was nothing to do, nothing else to do

She ran at the boogieman and jumped on its back. She bit into its neck. She bit out a huge chunk, and it was hairy and like moldy jerky or old shoes and she bit again, and she tore and she gnashed. With her hands, she tightened her grip, and she was biting into its skull, she was eating its brain, was feeling it die in her mouth, she could feel its power, its anger, its disbelief, its desperation and finally its fear.

Billy could feel the satisfaction, the absolute pleasure of killing it. She drank it in. She bathed in a silvery pool of its death. For her parents, and for her cat, which she saw in its memories also dead, eaten by the decoy bogey as payment for its role in the macabre play that brought her this feeling. She was young, but she felt old.

“Goodbye, Gambol.”

She kicked the husk of the boogieman aside, then knelt down to her father. He was barely breathing.

When she finally made it there, she found that her mother had a broken back.

That was around noon; ten minutes later her grandparents arrived, which was lucky. They drove right up to her, seeing her out on the lawn.

“Grampa! Gramma!”

She thought of how Gambol would have loved this, having two older souls to drain, like mana from heaven, and she laughed. The boogieman had been so pathetic, so prideful and sure of himself, and it had gotten him what? Eaten.

Her grandfather spun the car to a stop on the lawn and lurched out of the open driver’s side door.

“What, what is going on he-” He looked to where her mother was lying on her back, staring at the sky, reaching, endlessly reaching. Then he looked at her father, lying on his side with his head in the muck. Bits of the boogieman all over him.

“Billy, are you okay?”

“I’m okay, Grampa. We need to help them; it attacked them!”

“What did it? What was it, Billy?”

“Boogieman.”

Her grampa looked so afraid. He motioned with his hands to his wife, who’d unsteadily gotten out of her side of the car.

“Honey, don’t you worry about that, you come here, okay? Away from whatever is going on. Won’t you come here?”

Billy went to her grandmother and let herself be enveloped by the comforting odor of powdered sweat, and hugged her until she realized she was different—Billy was different. She wasn’t different in who she was exactly, but she was different in how she was, and in what she was.

She was different in a way that made her convince her Grampa not to go into town with her parents, not to seek help for their injuries. Her grandparents struggled with her plan at first, they argued, they didn’t understand, but in the end she was able to placate them.

“We have our family here; we have all we need right here.”

Her eyes were dark, her teeth were sharp, and so they went around and picked her family up from the dirt; her father, his eyes closed, her mother, eyes open but not appearing to see. The only one missing was her cat.

Since her Grampa loved her and her Gramma loved her, she got them to agree to stay with her and her broken parents in a house all their own. And they were happy, and Billy kept them all alive, after a fashion, for a time.

A year later, when her mother finally died and her family had dwindled to just her father and her, Billy made pancakes and ate them alone by the window.

Her father came at sat by her, watching her chew.

“I don’t know...how you can pretend to taste that,” he said to her. He could barely speak, but it looked like he wanted to tell her something else, something important. He leaned forward, his mouth was opening, and he whispered in her ear.

“That day…I didn’t…”

“What, Dad? What is it?”

She leaned all the way in and she could see him gathering a lungful of air to puff at her. He let it out in a wheeze.


“Why didn’t you kill me?”



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