A teaser from my latest short story, His Mother’s Arms. This was written for a competition on Scribophile.com called Deal With The Devil.
Row upon row of empty, fleshless skins swayed upon a gentle breeze from the electric doors. The tiny forms in blue and pink and white hung from floor to ceiling, while wide-eyed customers stopped to stare at them, reaching up.
Emily stood among them, eyes raised, searching the hangers. Fingers with chewed nails clutched the pleats of her skirt. Her aunt, who wasn’t really her aunt, had told her that this was the place to come. For this was the place where some of the most reverent prayers and most desperate deals with the devil have been made.
Her aunt had been looking after Emily while her mother had been staying at the hospital. One evening, Emily had wandered into the wide living room with bare walls and asked the question she’d asked many others. They had all responded with a sympathetic tilt of the head and a worried look cast down at their shoes. The aunt, who wasn’t an aunt, had spun around with a twisted smile and thrown her arms wide open.
“Ha!” The laugh had erupted like a thunder clap from the woman’s throat. “Take yourself down to Mother & Baby. Go stand by the premature baby clothing line. That’s where all the deals are made.” The aunt, who wasn’t an aunt at all, had tripped over her feet as she stood, spilling her drink onto Emily’s shoulder. Flecks of brown peppered the white of Emily’s school shirt.
The baby grows reached the whole length of the shop and high up towards the bright electric lights above them. It was only when Emily’s eyes moved to the back of the shop, where the lights were dimming, a red sign seemed to melt into being.
Premature Baby Clothing Line
20% off this season
Emily stepped towards the sign, turning her body to avoid the swollen bellies that blocked her way. The size of them made her wince. She stood alone; the others waddled towards the cots and cradles where the fluorescent lights fluttered, reflecting blues and pinks across the white floors.
Emily focussed on the white letters on red card. She pushed her blonde hair away from her eyes and attempted to flatten her curls with the palm of her hand. She wondered if she needed to speak, if there were magic words. She suspected that the woman who wasn’t her aunt wouldn’t have known the right words to say.
Just as she opened her mouth to speak some trite but well sounding summons, a grey hand slipped from between the hangers. The long, knarled fingers swept over the soft fabric and rested on a rack of white baby grows with a pattern of stars and moons. The pale skin over the bulky knuckles tightened as it gripped the clothing. Short, white fingernails reflected the silver light from the bulbs above. Emily stared down at it, her mouth still open in anticipation of words, her pink hands frozen in tiny fists by her sides.
A second hand appeared, this time over a blue baby grow with the word ‘mummy’ emblazoned across the middle. There were other words too, but Emily couldn’t see them. With force, the two hands clenched and tightened, as if attempting to pull something towards them. Slowly, a grey face appeared between the racks and a pair of red eyes met Emily’s horrified stare.
The face was round, with ashen skin. There was a sense of fragility about its appearance; cracks seemed to appear in the cheeks and across the forehead. One breath might have knocked its features out of place. Only the eyes were pure fire; a red that looked like no other red that Emily had seen, like looking into the eye of the sun. Emily stared into the simmering orbs with a cold, immobilising fear. And a deep, unyielding desire.