The Other Child
By K.Z. Morano
My name is Lila. Not that I expect anyone to recognize my name. I am after all, just the “other child”. But I do have a story to tell. And though it may not seem as magical as the candy-colored versions they tell about my brother and sister, it is nonetheless the truth.
I was ten when Hans and Greta came into our lives. They were no more than suckling infants, children of Mr. Higgs whose wife had died of childbirth. I pitied the woman; the babies’— if you could call them that— enormous heads must’ve ripped her apart. Her single reprieve was that she did not live long enough to see what they looked like.
Ugly creatures they were, with limbs gnarled like the branches of an ancient tree and pink eyes that poked out from their massive skulls. Shameful scandals of nature. To have brought them into this world was a sin in itself.
Still, there could be no greater love than that of a mother’s. And it was for my recently widowed mother’s love for me and my baby brother that she had agreed to nurse them. Money was money, after all. And I’d like to think that it was for Mama’s love for us that she had agreed to share Mr. Higgs’ bed as well.
Since they were always suckled first, the creatures grew stout and strong while my little brother grew thin and sickly on whatever that was left. I shall never forget that one afternoon when I came home from the forest with my palms full of berries. I saw Mama staring out the window, a twin’s mouth latched on each of her nipples. They wriggled in horrific delight as they greedily sucked the life from her. Their plump cheeks and snub-noses were smeared with crimson that dripped towards the floor in a rhythmic tap, tap, tap…
“Mama!” She started and looked down at her bloody breasts.
“Goodness,” she murmured absently. “They must’ve been very hungry.”
It baffled me how they were already able to grow a complete set of teeth— they were yellow and needle-like— while my brother still hadn’t any. But then they were always different. The boy’s reddish gaze followed me everywhere while the girl’s stare seemed frighteningly intelligent, as though she had an understanding of the hatred and fear that her presence stirred from within me and enjoyed it immensely.
Great was my relief when Mama declared that she’ll stop feeding them. But the news soon eclipsed my happiness. Mr. Higgs, now impoverished, was to live with us in our tiny cottage. It was hardly surprising. Famine was upon us and Mama was a woman with conscience. What did surprise us all was the sudden death of Mr. Higgs. He was found in the thickets— dismembered, disemboweled and drained of blood.
Mama was inconsolable. It didn’t help that we grew hungrier and poorer with each passing day. Left with nothing but a few crumbs of stale bread, I finally convinced Mama to get rid of the twins. Fewer mouths to feed, I said. And they were always insatiable. And so one night, we took them deep into the woods. The wind stabbed at flesh like icy knives and the barren trees reared like frozen giants. They didn’t cry. The twins simply sagged against the tree like a pair of hideous puppets, holding hands, framed against the background of silver mist.
Whatever Mama did, she did out of love for me and my brother. Not that it helped him much. My brother died anyway, consumed by a sickness. It was too late to save him; the monstrous twins had already stolen what they could from him. It wasn’t long before Mama’s guilt caught up her with her and slowly, she began to lose her grasp on reality…
For me, it was years of struggling with famine, years of caring for my ailing Mama… People were afraid to venture into the woods for fear of the strange beast that lurked there. Though it had never been caught or seen, it always left a trail of blood, bones and bowels.
So grave were my troubles that I was close to forgetting that the twins ever existed. But then they came back, as Mama said they would. We pay for the sins we commit, she said. One day, the tangle of bushes parted and out they came, five years older but no less repulsive. Mama begged me to let them stay. She said we could afford to feed them now and she wanted their forgiveness.
The twins never spoke a word. I suppose there had been no one in the woods to teach them. The fact that they had managed to survive on their own was disturbingly peculiar. Then I looked at them and thought: How utterly silly; they’re so tiny.
Then one afternoon when I came home from the market, a delicious aroma wafted from the kitchen, insinuating its way into my nostrils.
“Surprise…” said a voice, soft and spidery. It was the first time that I heard Greta speak.
Something hissed and crackled in the oven.
“Where’s Mama?” I asked.
When Hans spoke, his voice was deep and hoarse. “Yummy . Yummy.” He rubbed his bloated belly and pointed into the rustling inferno. “Tummy. Tummy.”
It was then that I saw the blood-stained pieces of Mama’s clothing on the floor.
I think I went mad then.
I ran out of the cottage screaming and went as far away as I could, never to return again. News from the old village would still reach me as troubadours sang their versions of the tale, adding candy and gingerbread— distorting the story, syllable by syllable, until the truth lies buried beneath the fantastical lies.
Mama said we pay for the sins we commit. But I think we pay more dearly for the sins we fail to commit. I look at my infant step-daughter, her unfamiliar eyes dark and beady, and I place the pillow on her face.
Copyright: © 2013 K.Z. Morano
Note: First appeared in UGLY BABIES: the Anthology, JWK Fiction, October 2013
Reprinted in BLOOD REIGN LIT MAGAZINE, December 2013
and Republished The Sirens Call – Issue #13 – Women in Horror (Second Annual Edition), February 2014
🙂 Thanks for reading. The Other Child may not be my best but it’s certainly special to me. It was my first ever horror story! Well, flash fiction, since it’s exactly 1,000 words… ^^ It was published in Ugly Babies exactly one year ago. My, my… how time flies. So I guess this is Happy Horror Anniversary to me.🙂
Five days until Halloween… xox