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Anastasia Robinson – Motherhood
Disaster – BUGS!
Location – Circus
Helpful Item – Backpack
Disability – Small child or baby to care for
by Marie Robinson
“Well aren’t I just pathetic?” Sable thought as she slithered through the hordes of couples. There weren’t just couples—there were parents pulling along tearful toddlers and packs of chattering preteens—but surely Sable was the only one at the carnival by herself.
What was the occasion for the festivities anyway? Sable searched for an explanation in the tattered, faded banners and in the flashing marquees, but she found none. However, she did find something that caught her eye. Through the revolving rusty beams of the Ferris wheel she spied a wooden sign painted red with bold black letters. It read, “Oddities”.
“I suppose ‘Freak Show’ isn’t politically correct these days,” Sable thought to herself as she headed down the narrow alley over which the sign hung.
A muddy, hay-strewn aisle was lined by fluttering red and white tents. As Sable gingerly pulled open one of the tent flaps she saw that it was populated by under a dozen people crowded around a figure perched on a stool. It was a man, who Sable guessed to be around sixty years of age, though it was hard to tell since seemingly every inch of his skin was covered in tattoos. He was naked from the waist up—his baggy skin sporting a rainbow of ink, its color worn by the sun.
Sable shook off a strange ominous feeling that followed her as she backed out the door of the tent and moved on to the next one. Inside this tent there was a small, circular stage with a ring of men gathered around, their eyes set hungrily upon a woman who danced on the stage. Given that she was only clad in a sheer, black lace bra and a thong, you could see nearly all of her ivory-skinned, voluptuous body. Her hair hung in inky black curls, her pouting lips painted red; she looked weary, and with closed eyes she appeared as though she could be dancing in her sleep.
As she twirled around, her arms stretched lazily above her head, Sable stifled a gasp with the palm of her hand. At the bottom of the woman’s spine, just above her soft, round bottom there sprouted a long, flesh-colored protrusion. It was stiff and thin, and hung down to her thighs—a tail.
Sable turned and tried to leave as quickly but politely as possible. “One more and then I’m out of here,” Sable thought, her morbid curiosity getting the better of her. She pushed into the next tent; this one was packed full of people crowded around a stage similar to the one in the last.
A wiry man loomed above them, and before him on the stage was the most horrid creature Sable had ever seen. Standing about three feet tall, Sable could not decide if it more resembled a slug or a maggot. The skin—slimy, milky, and somewhat translucent—was stretched tightly over the fat being; the pulsing veins and organs seemed as though they would tear right through and flood forth onto the audience. Two rows of sharp, needle-like digits flexed down the length of its body and it appeared to have no eyes or mouth.
“Now, keep your distance, folks,” sang the announcer. “This here is a new, unidentified species and we haven’t the slightest inclination as to its nature. Hell, we don’t even know what it eats! Could be you if you don’t back up, sir!”
The announcer jabbed a man in the chest with his cane that pressed himself up against the stage.
“This gorgeous feller was discovered in a barn in Iowa—the farmer who found him claims the creature came from outer space! I don’t have a better guess—do you? Hey, buddy, back up!”
The same man in the crowd was stepping closer again; he reached a hand up toward the thing. A low hissing issued from the bug and where before there appeared only tight skin, a small hole had opened. It continued to gape wider, revealing a round mouth lined with small, jagged teeth.
“Good God, get back!”
But before the inquisitive man could stumble backwards the creature sprang upon him. The thin, sharp legs of the beast imbedded themselves in the man’s sides, and the mouth closed around his face. While the man writhed in agony under the monster’s firm hold, a cream-colored, curved stinger grew from its abdomen. The dripping end disappeared into the man’s stomach with a cruel jab. The man collapsed to the floor, the creature still holding tight to him.
Sable jumped as a bullet ripped through the beast. The announcer was now toting a shotgun; he fired another bullet into the bug as it leapt from the corpse towards him.
The monster fell dead in a bloody pulp at the announcer’s feet.
On the ground, the man’s corpse was violently twitching and thick black liquid oozed from his gory wound. With a sick explosion, insects the length of a forearm came crawling from his chest. They were smaller versions of their mother, and the color of ink. They moved quickly along the ground and each sought out a pair of legs to scurry up to repeat the same grotesque process, plunging their stingers into the bellies of the awestruck crowd.
Sable stumbled backward, too horrified to scream while the announcer kept firing away at the beasts until a horde of them crawled upon the stage and overtook him; he disappeared in a seething black mass.
Sable’s stifled scream finally ripped from her throat as something bumped against the back of her legs. She whirled around, her heart frozen by the notion that it could be one of those ravenous insects. What she found, however, was somehow more disturbing.
It was a stroller with a silent, sleeping infant in tow. Sable searched the crowd wildly for the parents, but everyone within the tent was lying dead or violated, and the few that remained alive were fleeing.
Sable paused for a moment of trepidation. She knew next to nothing about how to care for a child, especially one that wasn’t even hers! Then again, she couldn’t just leave an infant to be massacred by these monsters…
Noticing a slit in the tent, Sable grabbed hold of the stroller’s handles and quickly wheeled the baby toward it. The opening led them to an aisle of abandoned ticket booths. Screams mixed with the maddening calliope.
She looked down at the child and felt a rush of panic, wondering what she had gotten herself into—but an unexpected feeling of courage drowned out the uncertainty. She would not abandon this baby.
Looking over the stroller, Sable noticed a backpack shoved into a compartment above the wheels. When she retrieved it she found that it wasn’t very heavy and seemingly only contained a few articles. She unzipped the backpack and rifled through, pulling out each object her hand found to examine it.
Within she found a bottle, half-filled with formula, a pack of diapers and wipes, a can of bug-spray—
“Why not?” Sable thought and doused herself with the stuff. She rounded the front of the stroller and knelt before the baby. Pressing a palm softly over the child’s closed eyes, she sprayed a layer of insect repellent on the baby’s smooth, mahogany skin. The baby’s peaceful face immediately crinkled as the pungent mist rained over it and the eyes fluttered open.
Tears welled in the almond orbs and small, choking cries sputtered from the infant’s mouth.
Sable’s chest tightened as the cries turned to wailing. She shushed the baby, wordlessly begging it to stop, but she was helpless. She lifted her gaze over the stroller and saw one of the black insects—already twice the size it had started at—slither out from the tent. It knew where they were and began twisting toward them on dozens of clicking legs.
Sable felt her insides contracting in terror but managed to snatch up the backpack and feel blindly inside for something—anything—to save them. Frustrated, unable to recognize any of the objects within by touch alone she overturned the backpack and dumped it onto the ground. She was pleasantly surprised when a handgun fell from the bag into the dust.
With no time to think Sable picked it up, cocked it and fired at the monster. She hit it—and the bug flew onto its back, long body flailing as liquid leaked from it, until it finally curled up and froze into a lifeless ball.
An exasperated laugh of disbelief escaped Sable’s mouth as she lowered the gun and whirled around, shoving the firearm down into the backpack.
“Let’s get out of here,” Sable wheezed through her burning chest. Pushing the stroller she blocked out the sounds and sights of chaos all around her. The horrible orchestra that was created by screaming, crying, ripping, shredding, mixed with the maniacal calliope turned into a dull fuzz in her ears. The collapsed tents, broken windows, dilapidated structures and blazing fires were unseen by her; Sable had eyes only for her destination—the Ferris wheel.
Somehow they made it there alive. The operator was surely long gone; the Ferris wheel spun in a slow, continuous ring. Sable swung the strap of the backpack over one shoulder and picked up the baby, whose little face was beat red and covered in tears.
Two corpses occupied the first carriage that drifted by—a teenage couple whose stomachs were savagely torn open. Sable gagged, took a deep breath, and waited for the next carriage. It was empty; she scrambled into it, keeping a hold of the baby as it screamed in her ear.
As they were lifted up towards the sky Sable rummaged through the backpack, searching with a clawed hand until her grasp claimed a pacifier. She popped it in the baby’s mouth, silencing its piercing cries. Sable peered down into the child’s eyes, which were wells that never seemed to dry; she suddenly felt a calm, a warmth, a peace.
“I don’t know your name,” she said softly. “I don’t even know if you are a boy or a girl yet. But I promise, I’ll keep you safe.”
She hugged the child tight to her, and just as they were perched on the peak of the arc the carriage stopped and the whole carnival plunged into darkness, leaving them nestled up in the stars.
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