--I THINK OF THE FEAR MOST OF ALL
Mother has other children she keeps in a cave beneath our house. They make sandy, shuffling sounds from time to time. When I tell Mother I’d like to play in the dungeon, she says it’s too dark. She says there are rats. “What about the kids then?” I ask. “Won’t they be bitten, eaten?” She looks at me with her maladjusted face, her wall-eyed gape and says, “...”
My brother suggests we try a game. “Take a breath,” he tells me. “Don’t you smell it? There is something stinking rancid putrid hideous gaseous grotesquely wrong with our family.” When I ask what it is, what he means, my brother beats his chest and yodels. My brother is afraid of living things, especially those locked in a zoo, and by feigning gorilla antics it’s his way of facing his fears, but I am patient and when he finally wears himself out I ask again, “What is wrong with us?”
“…,” he says.
My sister slips into my bedroom at midnight and tugs my earlobe to awaken me. I rise from the bed and tiptoe down the hall down the steps down the other stairs and open the lid to the hatch to the cave. The air sizzles with sparks of formaldehyde. Sister has a light that she shines down into the hole, the earthen cage. The radiance is butter yellow but grainy and gritty. It cuts cones of light from the glut of darkness.
First I see a dirty foot and the foot’s toe nails curled long like Fritos. Then there are ankles attached to that foot, and then legs and torso and a full body but there is no head, just a stump, as if it’s been uprooted recently around the neck where beet-purple tendons hang limp and lanky.
The body draws knees to chest and rocks itself. Next to the headless body is another and next to that several more.
They stand together, animated now. They hold hands and step clockwise in a circle, Ring-Around-the-Rosie. Their movements are rhythmic, audibly hypnotic.
“Psst,” my sister calls. “I’ll toss down a rope so you can escape.”
The headless captives carry on, making the same continuous loop, their footfalls raising bearded tufts of dust. They do not hesitate or stop.
“Didn’t you hear me?” my sister calls.
“Stupid,” I say, louder than I should. “They don’t have heads. That means they don’t have ears either.”
My sister falls first. I reach out, catch a clump of hair and hear it ripped savagely from her scalp mid-tumble. Then I am kicked from behind and I drop. I land in the middle of the ring of the headless children, land on top of my sister. “I think my neck is broken,” she says.
It doesn’t matter. Mother peers down at us. The headless children move closer. Their fingernails are jagged and sharp. They start to work on our throats, prying the skin apart like a rusted can opener, drawing gushers. In a moment we will be headless, too. We will be one with them, part of a bigger plan, part of a real family after all.