- From my nest in the woods, I can hear Ma breathing. She sleeps in the bed that used to be mine. Her heartbeat is hard like a diamond. It hurts sometimes, to hear. I can feel all the blood in her body as if it belongs to me. One day all that blood will be mine, like the blood of so many others before her. The thought makes me happy. I am happy. On my body are the scraps of cloth from when I used to be human. I am not human. I am happy. Ma’s blood will be mine. My fangs swell in my mouth, full of venom. I like how they feel, like at any moment I could cut my own tongue into ribbons. In the sky is a moon that tugs at me. I nestle into the pine needles that prick my skin, marking my palms with bloodless wounds. My thoughts are big and blurry: pink, red, gut, tooth, Ma, dirt. I am hungry. Soon, I will no longer be hungry.
- The bed still has Mrithika’s smell. Her first smell, her human smell. It smells like dust and baby powder, and the soft sweat of her night terrors.
I’m thirsty, but the water has been brackish for months, a sign that the Fanged have spread from our suburb, begun to disrupt the machinery of the city and the factories by the mountains, all the structures that keep us alive. For months, I haven’t seen anything but my house and the street below, but I can imagine it: buildings, cars, all full of the Fanged, their cold eyes flashing hot with desire. I imagine the infrastructure rotting because those that usually grease the gears, pay the bills, are dead.
My shadow dances against the blinds. I like to think that Mrithika is watching me, even though I am also afraid that she is watching me. Maybe I hope that my image will cure her of the violence that has bloomed darkly within her. But secretly, I know that I just make her hungrier. How many has my daughter killed now? Their blood is on my hands—I’m the one who let her out. After her father died, there was no one left to stop her.
The fangs make little girls hungry, and they make them stronger, and they make them smarter. The fangs make little girls think that love means eating someone alive. I miss the shape of my daughter’s body in my arms. I miss her so fiercely I want to scream, or die.
I should have ended her misery when I had a chance. But is it misery? In truth, my daughter does not seem unhappy. Sometimes, I see her out the window with a hunter’s smile on her face. Her clothes are in tatters, her skin matted with dirt, but that smile. That smile.
- I am awake. Through the window I watch Ma. She smells like life and blood. She sounds like heartbeats and the click-clack of thoughts. I watch and I watch. I am hungry for her. Once, I tried to reach her. I tried to break the window but the window fought back. Even though I put my weight against the glass it stayed whole and healed, and Ma was whole behind it too. The Fanged tell me that this is normal—houses fight back. The Fanged find their parents in other ways, waiting and watching and luring. I will wait and watch and lure. I will have to be clever.
I am not helpless and pink anymore. Each day, I can feel myself grow smarter, stronger. When I came into the woods, the Fanged taught me how to forget I was a girl. They parted my skin with their fingernails. They kissed my ears with tongues made black by earth and blood. I fell in love with them. I was them. They felt like me, not the way I used to be, all bound up in clothes. They felt like the truth of me—wild and free and not-girl. When I touched them, they were cold, bloodless. We sleep in a pile of girl bodies, our teeth tucked safely into our cheeks, my hair tangled in another’s hair, her nose in my armpit, elbow under chin, chin on top of my shoulder, dirty bellies sliding against each other, grit in our belly buttons, my breath over everyone’s, their breath over mine. Sometimes when I sleep I remember words I had forgotten. Words like school and breakfast and car. Sometimes I dream of eating Ma, other nights I dream of being her child again. When that happens, I quiver. I cry. The girls wake me then and lick my hands until I am strong again.
We sleep during the day, but we like the day. When I sleep, the sun fills my body with a glowing red power, so that when night falls I can hunt, and hunt, and hunt again. We eat squirrels and rabbits but people taste the best. They taste like tomorrow and sunshine and dreaming and blood and brain. I’ve heard that the best taste in the world is the taste of a parent’s flesh. I know because I met a girl who ate her mother, and she said the woman melted in her stomach, all marrow and love. And it’s true, this girl has been stronger since. She can snap a small tree in half with her hands and her teeth gleam sharp in the moonlight. When I ate Baba I wasn’t fully fanged, and he didn’t taste very good, just raw. I ate him in a different way from how I want to eat Ma. I killed him out of anger, not love.
At night, I miss Ma. That’s not the right word for it. I want to sink my teeth into her neck. But that’s not right, either. Something between hurt and love. I feel a tug. The red door of her house is strong and made from trees. The house flexes around her, keeping me out. One day, I will knock it down and make our family whole again.
- Mrithika grew fangs on her ninth birthday. By then, there were already rumors, though they had the quality of urban legend. We had heard of girls, aged eight through twelve, growing odd adult teeth. We had heard of an unprecedented aggression, a tendency to bite, but kids bite, don’t they? We didn’t realize that bite meant eat, chew, swallow. And we never thought we’d be weaker than our children. There were already so many things to worry about: infectious diseases, getting enough iron, the weird boy who kept putting glue in Mrithika’s hair. We didn’t have time for something so strange and unlikely as girls growing fangs.
I wanted Mrithika to have friends. Those wide, lonely deer eyes. I was an excellent party planner. I knew how to make her feel loved. So one summer afternoon, well-mannered children filed into our living room with crisply wrapped presents and decorous smiles. For a while, everything was as sweet and orderly as a nine-year-old’s birthday party could be. Now, I sift through this memory over and over again, and I think, though I am not sure, that her fangs were already poking out beneath her lips, tiny diamonds that I explained away as a trick of the light. We brought the cake to the kitchen table and sang “Happy Birthday.” We waited for Mrithika to extinguish the candles, but despite our cajoling she would not blow them out. The candles melted down to stumps, and my daughter’s eyes grew dark and filmy. Then, someone coughed, and Mrithika’s head turned towards the sound, in the same way that I’ve seen dogs regard strangers, unsure if threat or friend. Her gaze grew hard, antagonistic. And then she was on the woman next to her, the mother of her classmate, ripping through tendon and muscle, sucking down the blood, the glint under her lips now fully extended. There was no way her baby teeth could do so much damage. The days afterwards were foggy with panic. Police were involved, behavioral psychologists, and those first few days Mrithika was quiet and polite, like nothing had ever happened. She wasn’t fully gone, yet. The woman she bit lived. But later, I learned that her daughter had turned, too. So she probably did not live for long.
I don’t know why, but the Fanged have not broken through the windows. One time I saw Mrithika try, but something repelled her. She was thrown backwards, skidding to a halt in the garden, snarling at the house like it was an enemy. I hope this strange magic holds, whatever it is, but I still hate how the Fanged look at me. They stare at me with the cool appraising regard with which I once looked at cuts of meat behind a butcher’s glass. Except Mrithika—her stare has more passion behind it.
The curtains aren’t enough. I think about how much furniture I have in my house, dead weight. What would I use a wardrobe for, when I barely change my clothes? It takes me two days, but eventually I block every window with stacked furniture.
There’s a man across the street whose bedroom window looks into mine. Sometimes, we write little messages to each other. I wish I had thought to stock the house with pens, papers, Sharpies, because after my daughter’s school supplies ran out I had nothing to write with. I used to write things like “safe?” and “plan?” and he used to write back “is anyone?” and “still thinking.” He has red hair, and I remember a nervous laugh from the few times we overlapped at the elementary school bus loop. His daughter, a couple of years older than mine, was a wild child. She used to drink beer on her front porch while her dad was at work, so I never let Mrithika play with her.
In any case, the ink ran out. He still sends an occasional message. “Help.” “Run.” I hope he makes it. With the windows covered, I will not know if he does.
- Inside the houses there is blood waiting in skin. Blood of men and women and mothers and fathers. They watch us while I run. Ma is busy today. She is moving and wriggling and her blood flows so hard that when I close my eyes all I can hear is its rush. She is moving something heavy from one place to another. She is afraid afraid afraid.
When I run by the house, I see that the windows are dark. Something is over them. I cannot see her. I cannot see Ma! I am angry. I am so angry I tear up the roots in the woods. I swallow leaves and spit them. I get in a fight with another Fanged girl, and she leaves a mark on my face which does not bleed, but still hurts, hurts like my skin used to hurt when the sun kissed it too long. I go to the house, put my hands on the door. I pound and pound but the red door protects her. I curl up in the moss and earth, feeling sorry for myself. My life is broken and I cannot see my ma.
A girl comes by to get me. I recognize her scent. We do not give each other names. We are only our scents. She pulls me out of the moss and my broken life. She brings me on a hunting trip.
She wants to eat her father and for a whole day we watch him behind his windows. I can smell his fear even through the walls. He lives across the street from Ma and his scent mixes with hers in our hiding place. The man’s hair looks like a fire, but he smells funny to me. Like metal. The girl tells me that’s what his fear tastes like and I wrinkle my nose because Ma’s fear smells so much better, like summer wind and big rains. Still, I will help the girl because she pulled me from the moss when I was feeling very sad. She says her dad will leave the house today. We hide in the grass and watch the doorknob turn.
We don’t hide well enough because he sees us quick. But he doesn’t go back inside. He is going to run. He thinks we will be sloppy and slow because there is sun and we sleep under the sun. But we are fast whenever we’re hungry, even though we are most often hungry in the dark.
There is something sharp and metal in his hand. It smells like danger. He looks at the car. We know it will take him away. I can see all the muscles that move in his throat. I want him. My fangs want him. The girl next to me stirs with desires.
When we are done and our bellies are full, there is nothing left of him but a smear, a smell. It’s the smell of weakness. His bitter fear faded at the moment of his death. He looked happy to see his daughter again.
- I’m eating the house, cans first. My dead husband’s paranoia swallowed our lives when we were together. Obsessed with survivalism, he was always preparing for the end of something: our marriage, our lives, the temperate climate, the world. And look—he was right. Now I am the one opening can after can. Now I am the one whose only source of fluids is the brine of expired vegetables. When Mrithika began lunging for us, her parents, we called everyone we could. We ignored the frantic fluttering of her fists at the door, pretending that we did not notice when the fluttering became pounding, crashing, breaking, her knuckles bending the wood, her body gathering strength. We called 911, the CDC, her therapist, her teacher, every office and branch of government we could think of. We were on hold for lifetimes. We called the conspiracy hotlines sprouted over the internet. We called a group of people who advertised themselves as “bonafide Wiccans.” They suggested burning lavender. I had never seen my husband so afraid, and a tiny, evil part of me was satisfied that something had finally shook him out of his endless superiority. We slept in different rooms. We did not speak, which was a reprieve from a marriage of yelling.
And the day came when her teeth were sharp and strong enough to snap the wood of the door. She ate through the splinters like they were nothing, and even when they lodged in her skin she did not bleed. She was still brown, but she was also pale. There was no pink behind the brownness. When she burst through the door she went to her father with murder in her smile, she grabbed his ankle between her fangs. I want to pretend that she was all animal then, but there was something human in her when she dragged him away. It was the same petulant rudeness I see in teenagers on television. And that was the last time I saw anything like humanity in her face.
I should have fought to keep her contained, I know I should have. She is my daughter, my responsibility. But when I saw her jaws clamped around her father’s neck, his tall body folded in on itself like the corpse of a gazelle, I did not know what to do. I did not know what I could do. Meekly, I opened the door, and she leaped through it with her fresh kill, too busy with her father’s body to bother with mine. Every day since, she has stared in the windows like she regretted leaving the house without me.
In the kitchen we have several sharp knives. For all her animal hardness, Mrithika’s skin still looks so soft. As soft as it used to be when I would hold her after a terrible nightmare, her bare skin milky with sweat, the smell of fear sharp against my nose. The truth is astonishing: I need to protect myself. I need to protect myself from my daughter. I need to leave.
- When I changed it was: oh yes, this is what happy is. Happy isn’t a birthday or a good grade or my favorite foods. Happy is growing fangs. The change settled in me one day when I was watching Ma and Baba and suddenly I could see straight through them. Sharp little heartbeats. Teeth wrapped up quietly in a skull. I could smell the heat trapped between their skin and their clothes. I didn’t tell anyone for a long time. I pulled my lips over my teeth. But one day there was a party with cake and fire, and this woman got so so close to me, and her skin smelled like metal and earth underneath all the perfume, and I could feel the shockwaves of her heartbeats punching through the air, and the flames on my cake urged me on. I couldn’t take it anymore. Happiness crept up inside me, and I howled and hissed and scratched and left the woman with a big jagged scar next to her eyeball, and a piece of her flesh came away in my mouth and it was joy, and I was joyous. Baba yelled at me then. He made his voice sharp in the way that usually made me cry, but I didn’t care. I was growing fangs, hard razors, and even though it hurt, the hurt was a good hurt, the kind of hurt that promises a later love.
There are those who try to kill us. A hunter was spotted, miles away, taking a girl by the hair, plucking her from the bush as easily as if she was another ripe fruit. He pushed a terrible needle behind her neck and pulled the diamond teeth from her mouth.
Some of us are weak. There’s a girl who sleeps with her head on my chest who was so curious about death that she climbed a tree and launched herself to the ground. Now her skull is soggy, and her tongue hangs out of her mouth, but she is still alive, she still curls against my body under the warming sun. She does not seem unhappy, but it’s difficult to hunt when you are leaking. I bring her mice and birds. I clean her matted hair. I worry—how will she kill her parents when she can’t kill a bird? Her parents’ blood, locked up behind the cruel houses, is the only thing that will make her strong again.
I don’t jump from the trees, but towards the sky. I try to catch the moon in my teeth, and each time I swear—I am inches away from swallowing it whole.
- Every mother raises her daughter assuming the world will live forever, and I am no exception. Every mother raises her daughter assuming that certain things will stay in place: the sky, stars, rain, snow, the land itself. Every mother. When I was growing up, there were sirens, alarm bells, a million things that could kill us, the oceans rising up to greet the land, the insects dying, the crops following soon after. But no one thought of this—our daughters’ fangs, their bloodlust, their hunger for us.
And my god, it was all a waste. The hours I spent driving her from location to location— dance, piano, tae kwon do, Kumon, robotics, swim team, violin, chess club—place to place to place. Sometimes, I feel like I’ve spent my whole life in the car with my daughter in the back seat. What was it all for? What an ungrateful girl my daughter is. She should have been stronger than the rest of the children, because I loved her harder than the rest of the parents loved their children. I was an excellent mother. And for what?
I have to confess. There are times when I do not love my daughter in the way that I should. I see that she is happy with fangs, happier than I ever saw her in her life as a human girl. I do not care that she is happy. I cannot bring myself to care beyond my own need to survive. Am I a bad mother, then? My own mother taught me that motherhood is sacrifice. She gave up everything she loved. She spent her days cleaning the same corners or cooking large vats of food. She was unable to sleep until I fell asleep, sometimes staring at the walls for hours while I studied late into the night, waiting for the scratch of my pen to stop so that she could finally rest, knowing that I was asleep, too, and no danger could befall me. By my mother’s example, I should sleep in the day and wake at night. I should be satisfied when my daughter makes another kill, because it means, if nothing else, she will live another week, or month. I should open the door and release my body to my daughter’s jaws, give her life for the second time. I should be a better mother, but I’m not.
I left my job for her, my little girl. I tried to stay for a long time. I was a scientist, a biochemist, and I loved my work, I loved that what I did wouldn’t make sense to anyone outside of my small corner of the world. You had to fight for access to that coded world.
When Mrithika was five, my husband began working from home. Suddenly it made more sense for him to pick her up from school some days, or to bake fish sticks for her after-school snack. He hated this, of course. He hated doing the work he thought was mine. I did everything I could to shield her from this resentment. But still, they were left alone together, hours and hours. I don’t know what he said or did during those hours, but within weeks, her mouth dragged down with what she could not bear to repeat.
So I left work, and spent my days with her. While Mrithika was at school, I cleaned and recleaned the house, even though it made my knees ache and my shoulders burn. The ache made me feel like I was doing something important. The sting of bleach in my nostrils made me feel like a martyr. And when my husband raised his voice, I protected her. His was not an explosive anger but a seething one, made of sharp comments and bitter glances that cut away at the heart. I laid myself down between them, I soaked up all his anger. But she still flinched at slamming doors, she still carried a darkness in her small, deer-like face.
I had a difficult childbirth. Two days of labor. By the end I didn’t even feel her come out, I was trapped in a blue buzz. It was a pain so exquisite I felt that I would never come back from it, that I was a scar of a woman lying there on the hospital bed, a red, wet part of the universe. Before I held her, all I felt was regret. What had I been thinking? I wasn’t ready to have something be so completely mine. I wish I could say that regret vanished when I looked at her. Instead, it only softened, became something I could live with.
- On the edge of the woods, a human. He has a tang about him, sour and dangerous. I can hear his feet crackle through the bushes. He should be afraid of me, but instead I am afraid of him. The man reminds me of Baba.
The other girls hide. I concentrate on the hunter. And that’s what he must be, all steel and anger. I follow his dark scent to the grass behind Ma’s house. I hear hisses as I pass by, other girls warning me to stay away. This man does not love us, and so will not die for us.
I turn the corner into Ma’s patch of grass. I do not see Ma, but I feel her watch me. I like that she is watching me. Her gaze fills me with a sharp hunger, but it isn’t time for that. I look back, and even though she has covered the window, there is a tiny crack from which I can see her big brown eye. I smile, and the eye disappears. Then it is back again. Good. I will show her I have learned how to protect myself.
I turn around just as the hunter steps into the clearing. There’s something deadly in his arms. He looks at me and I look at him. He looks so much like Baba. He lifts the dangerous metal, and I run towards his throat.
- Something feels different. Usually the feral stench of the girls is high and strong on the wind, but today, there is an absence, and in this absence I can smell more delicate aromas: the flowers that somehow still grow in the woods, even though it seems ridiculous that anything would blossom now. I can smell the soft sweetness of tree sap, the acrid buildup of bird poop in the gutters, the embarrassing fungal stench of my own body. Where are the Fanged?
I decide to move one of the wardrobes on the second floor, the one blocking the big bay window. It makes an ugly creak. The sound is a shard in the morning. I hadn’t realized how quiet it was. I couldn’t hear anything except an odd, lingering static, as if the whole world wavered on an empty frequency. The wardrobe slides and reveals a thin crack, through which I press my face.
The brightness pounds against me. My days have been lit only by the light filtering through the cracks in the doors and windows, and the full brunt of sunlight is almost too much to bear. I blink away tears, and move away from the window for a brief second, rubbing at my eye. Then I am back again, watching, and try to focus on the scene below.
And it is a scene. As soon as I register the shapes, the movements, and what they mean, my heart begins to stutter. Mrithika, my little girl, fanged and dangerous in the sunlight. And across from her a man carrying a large gun, his face creased with concentration and a bloodlust not too different from Mrithika’s. I can easily imagine him with fangs instead of a gun.
He raises the gun and my breath catches—this, the moment of my liberation, the hunter who has come to release this street from its fear of the Fanged. This, the moment where I become a survivor. This, the moment of my daughter’s ending. He shoots once, misses, the bullet lodging itself into the wood of my house. I wince, as if I had been hit myself. The house shudders in pain. I stop breathing.
She lunges at him, he lifts the cold metal to her throat, and what happens next happens so quickly that I’m not sure it happens at all. All I know is that at the end of that light and sound, the gun is on the ground and Mrithika’s fangs are full of blood. She feasts. Slowly and deliberately, she feasts. I don’t think she would notice if the clouds fell from the sky. Or if her mother, finally, left the house.
- I lift my fangs from the sweet hot blood. Something tastes different in the air. Something was there, and now is not. No, something was always there, but hidden. And now that something is no longer hidden. I snap my fangs at the air. Taste, taste, the taste of change, the taste of—Ma. I turn around. The blood took over my body, my mind, and I almost forgot. Ma. How could I. How could I forget.
She is out the door, blinking in the sunlight. She wanted to run while I was feasting. She wanted to run! She is out! She is mine! She is still close enough to the door to escape back into the house and I know I do not have much time. The sweet hot blood drips from my fangs but I still sing for more, for my mother’s blood. The hunger is a room inside of me with no ceilings or roof, a room that runs straight into the sky and only my mother can fill it. Hot sweet blood. I run as fast as I can, even as her eyes flash with fear and she stumbles backwards into the dark of the house.
- She didn’t kill me. She could have, but she didn’t.
The sharpness of her shadow, the way her bloodless skin lay against the delicate bones of a child—I had forgotten how real she was. I thought for sure that this would be my ending, and it didn’t exactly feel horrific, but it didn’t feel blissful, either. I felt afraid because I was going to die, not because my daughter would be the one to kill me. As if the reason and end were completely disconnected, and it was only a coincidence that my daughter would be present at the moment of my death. Isn’t that what any mother would want? To have her hands held while she passed? This was only a warped version of the final moment I had imagined for myself, my daughter, my death.
She looked beautiful and glorious but also strangely sad. The blood crusted her chin, and I had the urge to wipe it away, tenderly, as if she were a baby and this was only tomato sauce she had splattered across her face. Her fangs sprouted from her skull, forcing her mouth slightly open. They looked overlarge for her. She was still a little girl.
But then, she paused. She paused long enough for the pause to be deliberate, an odd ache in time. And in that pause, as if possessed, I gently closed the door between us. And then we were separate again. I was not surprised that she had spared me. I was surprised that I had allowed myself to be spared.
- Tonight, I have fists in my belly. At least that’s what it feels like. Fingers knuckles nails all squirming and twisting inside, all pain, not bright and hot but foul and dirty and close to the ground. Weeds I want to tear out, even if I’m the soil and the root and the plant and removing this anguish would remove me from the world. I mean that I want to die because of how much it hurts.
Then the hurt goes away and I feel sad sad sad. I feel so sad it changes my face. It softens my beautiful fangs. It bruises my cheeks and temples. I think that this is because I am bad. I am bad because I could have eaten Ma but I didn’t. My brains jumbled and when I was supposed to eat her all I could think was how I wanted her to hold me now, even though I am far too wild to hold. I could have run faster, but a part of me didn’t want to, I hesi-hesi-hesitated.
I think of Ma, imagine her strong and sharp in the light, and the pain releases just a little bit, the fists un-fist, and I know I cannot fail again, I know, I know, that Ma is the answer.
- I wake up to another strange smell. I wonder if I have become like a bat, my senses heightened in the constant gray dark. The new smell is like rot, not the rot of an animal, exactly, but something organic and sickly-sweet. I wander through the house like an old hound dog, trying to find the source.
The smell intensifies as I get closer to the front door, which now has an overturned dinner table protecting it. Carefully, as if at any moment my daughter could burst through, I remove the table from the door. Sure enough, the smell is stronger, rotten and pungent. I squint, and through the faint light I can see a dark patch on the skin of the door. Mold, mildew. I touch the door, and it is cold and slimy under my fingers. And it is—oh god, it is soft. It is the kind of soft that the Fanged would make easy work of. Why is this happening? Has the house soured against me, tired of protecting me against my daughter’s will? Was it the bullet in the house’s side, shot by the man whose bones now moulder on my lawn? Or is it simply a matter of decomposition, my own moisture, months of breathing and panting and sweating, eroding the once-solid door? I push my fingers into the muck. I have forced a decision on myself. The mold will worsen, and I cannot scrape it away without decreasing the distance between myself and the Fanged.
I will go to sleep tonight and have nightmares. I will sleep tonight feeling as though all my windows and doors are unlocked, as if my house is a corpse with many hallways, all of them leading straight to the heart.
- I have a dream that the red door is caving in. I go to see it for myself, and it is true. Something—one of us?—has scratched and snuffled at the door for so long that it now bears several deep scars. It looks like the reverse of a wound.
I take one step, then another. I feel the house fight back, but it is easier to walk through its protection than it had been. The whole thing creaks, moans, groans. I see a dull glint in its frame. That man’s metal, wounding the frame. I feel strangely sad for this house that is trying so hard. But I am stronger. I force through the terrible feelings between me and the door, and then it is just me and the door which is not very strong at all.
I push on the wooden tender parts. The house does not fight back. I consider calling the other girls, but this death will be special. It will belong to me alone, not to anyone else. But not now. Later, in the dark. I shine in the dark.
The first man I killed belonged to me, and I used to call him Baba. His death was a burst of delight. He had been asking me questions all my life, rude, horrible questions, like how can you be this way, and didn’t your mother teach you anything, and now I was answering them with the sharpness of my teeth. I was halfway human then. Afterwards, I became animal. Now I am halfway human again, and the fangs are loose in my skull. My mother’s blood will fix me. When I think back to human times, some of the human comes back to me. I remember words. Words like revenge, and laundry, and friend, and bus. But then I shake my head and the words disappear, leaving behind an animal dust.
- The knives in the kitchen. The rough handle of the toilet plunger. My sharpest earrings, unhinged. The cans I’ve collected over the months, their open mouths serrated. These are the things I could use against my daughter.
But isn’t it time to stop thinking this way? This isn’t my daughter, for whom I have sacrificed so much, for whom I would always save the last slice of cake, the fattiest piece of meat, the best bone—the one with all the marrow. This creature is a taker, her genes split open and ransacked, replaced with a monster who wants and wants. My daughter never asked for anything. She was always so quiet, so good.
I heard a tap at my window, and it was so gentle that I peeked through the crack in the furniture. It was a fanged girl, not my daughter. I recognized her as a girl in Mrithika’s kindergarten class, a soft girl who never spoke to anyone. She looked sad. She is the only sad child I have seen besides my own Mrithika. She looked like she was halfway back to human, and I almost let her in, almost, but it felt like a betrayal—to attempt motherhood again. And what could I give this girl? I had nothing but my own flesh.
Was I a bad mother? Am I bad because my girl looks so right with the blood on her teeth? Am I bad because still, despite it all, despite the air that no longer holds the hum of insects, the dead phones, the mysterious sky that flashes purple with lightning, despite the fact that I haven’t held another person in months, that a kiss feels to me like a luxury, despite it all, I want to live?
- My hunger squirms inside of me. I can feel my mother’s familiar weight inside the house as I circle, waiting. I miss her. Part of me wants her to hold me. The rest of me is hungry. I look around—the trees, which hunch, holding the shadows of the other girls in their arms. I hiss at them. I protect my territory. I pound at the door.
- I can hear her teeth gnawing at the door, oddly gentle, making quick work of the wood. The house does not push back. I know that at the end of this tapping, there will be teeth. I grab the kitchen knife from where it rusts by the kitchen sink. I prepare to live. I prepare to be free from motherhood. The door ruptures.
I thought my daughter would be something when she grew up. Something other than the shapeless feral happiness that runs through her now. And she is happy, I can see that now, I can see the glee in her dagger grin. She’s happy to be here. Happy to be. Happy to see me. Happy.
She lunges at me, her voice loud but still high. Isn’t that strange? The fangs didn’t take away the squeak of her voice. But now that I am so close, I see that I was wrong, she’s still human after all, horribly, achingly human.
I almost drop my knife, but it is already raised, and she runs right into it, impaling herself. Those almost human eyes widen in shock. She smells like rotting flesh. There is no blood, but the sharp knife skids through the empty veins and caverns in her body, and I know something vital has been destroyed. I inhale that alien, cannibal smell. The daughter I knew was not a daughter who smelled like that, because the daughter I knew had a mother who would never let her be so dirty. An animal. I have killed an animal, nothing more.
A black and gritty bile begins to seep from the wounds I have made, the color of coffee grounds. It doesn’t flow so much as spread, across my hands, down my chest, into my mouth, as I hold my daughter’s body. Eventually, my daughter’s bile stops flowing. It’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever done, choosing to live. I regret it, then I don’t. My little Mrithika doesn’t breathe or fight—she’s gone. Her fangs twinkle in the light, alive without her. I don’t feel free, when it happens. I am reaching for sorrow when I hear a rustling from the woods: other Fanged. I am still alive, still meat to them. I pull the knife from my daughter’s body. It makes a soft, bloodless sound.
Annesha Mitha is a MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Michigan. Her work is published and forthcoming in Catapult, Tin House The Open Bar, and The Kenyon Review Online. She was a cast member of YKR 2018, a South Asian community storytelling project.