M & I

From the back seat I watch M gripping the steering wheel, not moving, considering the situation. November ice glitters on the road ahead of our sedan, caught in the sheen of headlights.

The man lies crumpled and shivering on asphalt. His breathing is a shallow wheeze.

*

One minute ago M slammed on the brakes, and my wooden horse went flying out of my hands into the windshield. It landed with a crunch at the same time the man hit the ground.

*

Framed by the rearview mirror, M’s eyes have narrowed to pinpoints. On top of her head, and mine, damp hair is coiled around fat rollers with nylon bristles, held in stony compliance by metal pins and green silk scarves.

M is Mother if anyone stops us, if anyone wants to know. Our story is the same every night: We’ve driven to a salon to have our hair shampooed and set. We’re on our way home to eat macaroni and cheese with bacon for supper. These are normal things to do, in this place.

“Doing normal” is our specialty, M’s and mine. We blend. It’s why we’re here. We’ve seldom been noticed. Well, a few times.

Bundled in a corduroy coat, M’s habit is to work the brake and gas pedals with one foot on each. A cigarette dangles from her mouth, stained with orchid lipstick.

“We’re flyin’ now,” she likes to say, over her shoulder. We travel like this everywhere, middle-aged woman at the wheel and diffident seven-year-old in the back seat.

*

“Is this normal?” she asked, on our first night. “Does this configuration seem right?”

“Yes,” I assured her. “Children avoid their mothers, here. Don’t you see how they run away at the shopping malls, screaming, with snot on their lips?”

We have an understanding now, “doing normal” until orders arrive and the real assignment begins.

*

The street we’re on is famously tricky, divined half by instinct and half by repetition memory. Lamps tower overhead, broken, as derelict as the bare sycamores spreading wicked fingers at our passing car in the deep dark.

The man who came ambling across the street, out of nowhere (as they say), wore a gray suit and tie with a smart little trilby perched forward on his head. Maybe inebriated, or maybe not. Didn’t notice the bulky station wagon rounding the corner. Didn’t hear us coming, M and I. His senses were startled and sharpened when a wet tire skimmed the back of his leg.

The car halted with a shriek, rocking forward and back on its axel. The man froze. He turned toward us.

M set the brake and lumbered out of the car. She stood in the middle of the street, cold air buffeting her and the man, no one else in sight. The man’s voice was a shivery squeal.

“What the hell? Look what you’ve done!” His hat was gone and the back of his shoe, the part protecting his little Achilles tendon, was smashed flat.

“You’re all right,” M said.

“You could’ve crippled me!” he shouted.

“It’s only your shoe,” she told him, the bulbous mass of her cranium beginning to writhe beneath the green silk. “I will pay for your shoe.”

“Are you crazy?” he shouted. “You almost hit me! You should be arrested!”

“You’re all right,” she said again, her voice like water gliding over ice. I recognized the glimmer behind her eyes.

“You don’t belong on the road! Where do you come from, you maniac?” He pulled off his broken shoe, aimed like he was going to throw it at her.

M drew up to partial height, until the corduroy coat hung about her shoulders like a floppy bolero. A quiver of movement shifted her scarf to one side.

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” she said. “Go to your home.”

“What the hell?” the man stammered. “You freak—you—you—bitch!”

M strode back to the station wagon and climbed inside, folding to her “doing normal” size again. She checked the mirrors, made sure the man was squarely behind the car, shifted into reverse, and hit the gas pedal.

The screech of brakes accompanied my toy horse flying from my hands. I saw the man fall and turn to a pulpy mass on the road.

*

M sits silently pondering. The driver’s door opens again.

Now the part that never gets old.

A flutter of wind catches M’s scarf, tugging it down around her neck. The green and writhing membrane opens, flaring from her facial bones like enormous wings. Flickering tongues emerge, naked, alive, and hungry. The run-over man greets the sight with screams until the membrane envelops his broken flesh with soft murmurs of digestive fluid: Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

From the trees something normal, deprived of a meal, takes wing and flies away.

 

— S.P. Miskowski

This story originally appeared in Forbidden Futures.

Franz von Stuck_Medusa

Medusa, Franz von Stuck

 

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