Can the maternal instinct transcend death itself?
“Mommy, when did the Dying start?"
"Stop asking about that, Etta. You have an unhealthy interest."
Etta's mother watched her rub her jaw. It seemed to be getting looser. She could barely get her words out. The mandibular tendons were degrading.
Both her and Etta would have to draw more sustenance from the living thing in the basement soon, and that could bring its own problems. Anni thought that it might die this time. They needed it to stay alive.
At least, more than they were.
That evening the yearning worsened, becoming almost as bad as it had ever been. Anni watched the way that Etta moved, shambolic and clumsy. Two of Anni's own teeth were now mobile in their sockets, looping a stream of bloody drool down to her chin. There was a contracture growing in her hands. Anni had seen the way that the bodies of others had broken down, and didn't want her and Etta to go the same way. Anyway, the hunger could not be denied.
She decided they should visit the basement again.
Her recall was very poor. She knew the little girl was hers to protect, and she knew the nature of the nourishment that they both needed. It was simple, this new instinct. Even though the small part of her mind that could still reason screamed to her in silent abhorrence, it had no real power. It was eclipsed by appetite.
The door to the basement was wide open. There was no need for it to be locked, nor even shut. The stairs leading up from the basement were obstacle enough.
Anni and Etta shuffled downward, one ungainly step at a time, until they reached the floor.
The body that was sprawled on the damp concrete had only recently stopped moving. It was that of a small boy, mostly. The soccer kit it wore was sufficiently soaked with blood to make the strip indistinguishable, but the rough tourniquets at his left shoulder and right thigh were now stemming the flow successfully. The arm was gone; the leg was gone; his consciousness - flayed away by many different agonies - was gone. All victims to the damned insatiable hunger. Yet Anni and Etta were here, back again. Back to feed.
She hated Etta asking that question because she had no answer for it. Her emptiness and the need to feed consumed her; there was very little space for luxuries like memory when you were obsessed by base urges and the will to survive. Lucid thoughts were smothered in that grey fog, as if parts of her mind had been scooped away to be replaced with dull, aching ash. It blinkered her completely. Or at least, it blinkered her just enough.
She was sure of so few things. But the gnawing hunger was incontestable and the unbidden empathy that she had for Etta was instinctive. They had found this child screaming in an upstairs room. She knew that too. And when it had seen her, there had been some sign of - what? Relief? Reassurance? Why?
She could only braid together the faintest wisps of memory, but she knew that this little morsel had been trusting, and that he had been trapped easily. It had been quite soon after the change that had taken over her and Etta. The hunger had been strong and immediate then, surging and engulfing. Any memories that she’d possessed of the child had been indiscriminately washed away, some of the first to go.
He had been clean, though. Clean and fresh and healthy and alive.
And that was the boy's most compelling attribute. He was live flesh. Not just an animated counterfeit.
"Eat, Mommy?" Etta slurred. She was edging towards her brother.
Anni's head nodded weakly. Her own body was calling out for nourishment. She could feel the advance of the decay. But she would let Etta eat first.
She was, after all, a mother.