Literary Orphans

Mojave by Chantel Delulio

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Andy pretends not to notice that Becky McAllister has changed. He doesn’t look twice when he sees her barefoot, drifting down the side of an empty desert road. He does his best to forget the image of iguanas skittering adoringly in her wake.

Before, he’d hardly ever seen the reclusive woman. The only time she wasn’t holed up inside was during sporadic stints as a substitute teacher. Her tenure at his high school had been brief, but even years later he remembers her harried panic as she’d struggled with the VHS player and its various outputs. She was younger than the other teachers but the way even the lowest forms of technology shredded up her nerves made her seem so much older than she really was.

But Becky doesn’t hide away anymore, spending long afternoon hours sitting on the wooden steps of her small home, sunburnt legs sticking out from the end of an oversized olive t-shirt.

Nearly every day she visits the corner liquor store where he works, shuffling up and down the three narrow aisles. The packaging of the restaurant style tortilla chips, pork rinds, cheese-powder puffs, and cellophane wrapped tuna sandwich jostle against each other as they hit the counter. He’s barely finished ringing her up before she’s using two hands and all ten fingers to slurp the sandwich into her gaping mouth.

Heat washes over him when her focus locks onto his face. She knows that he knows. At first, he thinks this is a challenge—daring him to breathe a word of what she really is. What she really isn’t. But, with an electric thrum in his chest, he soon understands that this is an invitation.

When Andy’s manager snickers that she must be on some real good drugs he lets out the laugh that’s expected of him, pretending that he doesn’t know about the creature that lives inside Becky McAllister.

 

 

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He could take another route home after his shift but instead he walks the long way past her house. It sits by itself, separate from any established neighborhood, the spindly outlines of the distant wind farm serve as its only backdrop. She watches from just within the open door as he approaches.

When he makes his way inside he finds her waiting in the dinghy half-light of a cluttered living room. She reclines back into the depths of a plastic beach chair, her fingers playing along the pockmarked armrests with languid regality. The over large shirt drapes off her frame with an easy, muted grandeur. The loyal fleet of iguanas peek out from the shadows, watching him with a prescience that Andy finds unsettling in a way he can’t quite put his finger on.

He doesn’t think that this is dangerous. Consumed only with the image of the inhuman workings of Becky’s jaw as she gulps up the sandwich. Her eyes crinkle as she looks up at him, making the collar of his uniform polo constrict around his throat.

“I should thank you.”

On the other side of the sliding screen door a cloud of cream-white yucca moths swarm the buzzing patio light. He breathes in, remembering how the bugs had battered against the headlights of his totalled car. How Becky’s broken body had looked so pitiful, eaten up by the harsh high beams.

Andy swallows. She smiles—pinches the soft pout of her stomach.

“Your kind isn’t always so yielding. If you hadn’t struck this one down … ”

Her arms twist up into a stretch, her bare legs kick up as she crosses them. He thinks of contorted limbs frozen in rigor mortis on the side of a dusty road.

“I’m going to do well here.”

Her head cocks to the side, that strange trill echoing in her throat. The same sound had rattled through her body as she’d unfolded like a crumpled barroom napkin, pristine and perfect again. The moment Becky had given way to something else entirely.

His gaze slides to their audience of iguanas. How many of them had been little more than roadkill—just like Becky, just like he’d be one day. Their beady eyes glint and dart, their mouths curve with a smugness they shouldn’t be capable of.

Andy sinks down to his knees.

“You could do well here.”

Her palm goes flat against his chest.

Whatever’s walking around in the husk of Becky McAllister terrifies him. But it’s chosen him. And he realizes then that not being chosen terrifies him more.

Her eyes list out the window toward the wind turbines and narrow strip of purpling mountains as her skinny grasshopper legs stretch forward, hooking her ankles behind his shoulders. She pulls his face down so that his mouth flushes against the heat between her legs.

Through small and pointed teeth, she hisses the name of a God that is not of this world.

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Chantel Delulio is a fiction writer currently living in Los Angeles. Her short fiction has appeared in The Vignette Review and the anthology Dark Bits from Apokrupha.

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O Typekey Divider

–Art by Marina Ćorić