Blue Clouds
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"Shhh. It's okay, honey. Here, look, have some more of your cake! Chocolate frosting… That's your favourite, right?"

Parker smiled weakly, her lips wavering as she held the plate of leftover cake to her daughter's mouth. She watched unblinkingly as Jemma pushed herself forward to eat, greedily gobbling at the frosted devil's food as if she hadn't eaten in weeks. She could see her esophagus working, pushing the cake through her elongated throat, all the way to her stomach which was several meters away. Large crumbs tumbled off the plate and onto the floor; she was such a messy eater. She couldn't even use utensils herself; no, her fingers were much too sensitive for that.

Initially, she had just fed Jemma herself. Stab at the food with a fork or scoop it up with a spoon, and watch the stuff vanish down her daughter's gullet. But then she grew. And the complaining, the pain in her voice, she just wanted more and more and more. She couldn't do it fast enough. And then Jemma, oh she was a growing girl, she needed her nutrients and she needed those calories and it hurt her more than anything else in the world to watch helplessly as the walls of her house shook from her rumbling stomach.

Her new job, it paid… okay. Enough to satisfy the needs of her daughter, at least initially. She was so big now… Growing… Needed more. She wouldn't have her daughter live hungry. She needed to be a parent.

She sold everything. Eventually, she had to sell the silverware too. All of it, except for a singular fork. The rest of it had gotten her $25. Enough for five pounds of ground beef. Eventually, Jemma's appetite grew ravenous enough that one day, she had a bit of a tantrum. Children sometimes, they could be so impatient! It was just such a shame that her daughter decided to take her anger out on the last fork. She'd bitten the head of it off and swallowed it whole. It was embarrassing to her, but they both cried after that. She was supposed to be someone strong, someone Jemma could look up to, but she couldn't help it, really.

Her bed, frame and all, had gone for $80. That was enough to get a large cake and a wide assortments of fruits. The old CRT television that she had initially lugged into her car from the sidewalk, she had managed to sell for $3. Oh, and her car. Yes, that had gone for $3,000. She sold it just before her daughter's eleventh birthday, and it had been enough for a used bike and just about three months of food.

And of course, all the furniture in the house had gone, all of her clothes save for a few sets, her grandmother's ring, the laptop, her phone…

Her daughter's room was untouched. A crib, a queen-sized bed, and a closet full of clothes.

"I'm hungry, Mama."

"Honey, I'm sorry but we don't have any more… You'll have to wait for just a tiny bit, okay?"

"No!" Jemma cried out. Her face scrunched up in an ugly expression, her eyes half-closed and with her teeth bared. Parker winced as bits of plaster fell from the ceiling from Jemma's sudden outburst. She had never bothered to get the ceiling repaired after she had fallen through. "Mommy, it hurts, please! I'm just so hungry, my back hurts, Mommy, please I…"

"Honey, Mommy won't get paid until Monday, then we can get you a whole bunch of food! Doesn't…" Parker choked back a sob. "D-Doesn't that sound great?"

"But Mommy, I want my food now. Please, I'm hungry." Jemma sniffed noisily. "Anything…"

Trembling, Parker cupped her hands on the floor to scoop up the crumbs of cake that had fallen from the plate. Her fingers were covered in brown bandages, heavy with old blood after Jemma had bitten her those few times; she tried hand-feeding her, but Jemma oh she was just so famished and who could blame her, the poor girl was growing and she needed every single calorie to be a healthy girl and surely it was all an accident, Jemma was just an angel, wouldn't hurt a fly and she would cry afterwards and she could never get mad and god, she was just the worst mother in the world, wasn't she?

Jemma looked up at her from the hole and opened her mouth, wide. Parker shuddered as she peered into her cupped hands; bits of loose hair and roof plaster made up more than half of the pitiful pile, but… that's alright, wasn't it? It was better than letting her baby starve.

She dumped the pile back onto the plate and held it up to her daughter, who lapped it up enthusiastically.

"Mommy, I-"

"I know honey, but really, there's no more food."

"But I'm hungry. I'm still so hungry…"

She took a shuddering breath, kneeling on the floor with her hands placed limply on her lap. She looked up at the decrepit ceiling, at the horrible, warped spine and thinly stretched skin that ran through the room.

"Okay." Parker said, finally. Jemma brightened up at this, mouth contorting into a wide grin, a grin full of browning teeth and dark, sticky stains around her lips. "I'll… Mommy will get some food. It's o-only supposed to be for emergencies, but… Honey, you're sure you can't wait any longer?"

"Yes!" Jemma cried, her spine dancing with tremors. The loud crackling of bones contorting, bending reverberated through the house. "Mommy, my back, my stomach, they hurt. It hurts so bad."

"Okay, okay, just a little while longer. Mommy will get you your food right now, okay honey?"

She offered her daughter a weak smile before standing up and turning around. Emergency food? Well, that was one way to put it. At first, she had told herself that it would never come to that. She wouldn't let her daughter commit such acts of… of sin. Just the thought of her precious child eating…

Parker doubled over and began dry heaving, both hands pressed fiercely into her stomach as flecks of spittle dribbled onto the floor. Her body worked mercilessly to push out the nothing that was taking up space inside of her stomach, the nothing that made it seem like her chest was giving out. She gasped, once, and immediately began retching once more as she inhaled a mouthful of the rancid, stagnating air that had filled her house. It was a permeating sourness that worked to corrode her lungs from the inside out.

"M-Mommy? Are you okay?"

The genuine concern in her voice nearly broke her. Parker straightened up and covered her mouth, tears already forming in her eyes. "Y-Yes. Yes honey, everything's… fine."

Without another word, she continued walking. Her daughter was just so pure. It hurt to see how badly she was in pain, knowing that none of it was justified. The hurt, the hunger, the indecency, it was torture for the both of them. Knowing that it had come to this… Well, it was too late to ask her family for help now, not that she would. They wouldn't love her daughter. Not like she loved her.

It was never meant to happen. Still, she thought about it. The emergency food that is. It's just that when you lived in such an empty neighborhood, people would start up rumours; she knew of the tales that had spread about her. Her and her daughter. The whisperings of people disappearing once they entered her house, of the almost imperceptible crying that could be heard at the dead of night, the way that sometimes, if you looked closely, the walls seemed to move

Frankly, she was lucky. Lucky that the rumours hadn't caught the attention of the police. As of yet, anyway. They didn't come to this part of town too often, which was largely abandoned. No, they were much more concerned with other matters that were considered more significant, at least when compared to tall tales of breathing houses. Even the missing people could wait. There was an indifference by the law enforcement that she would have been upset about, perhaps if it was a decade earlier. But now there was just a guilty sort of relief.

She couldn't help it. Some of them, some of them really, really pried. They were curious. They wanted to know the truth behind it all. Behind her.

She opened the door to her basement and walked slowly down the stairs, careful not to step on any of the loose nails. The handrail was nothing more than a rotting piece of wood that would crumple at the slightest grip. And the stench, the stench was the worst part. The harsh metallic scent, coupled with a rotting sweetness, like honeyed meat being seared over a blue flame.

Oh, there it was. There it was.

Grabbing a broom from the wall, she shooed away some rats that had congregated around the body. It was half-decomposed, skin and flesh tinted with a pale, off-green colour. Meat. Meat soft enough that it looked like it was melting. A lake of thick, half-coagulated blood surrounded it; some of the rats had been licking it. Others were nibbling on the fingers, which were now small twigs of bone, albeit with some flecks of meat still attached. Swatting at the cloud of flies buzzing around it, she bent down and dug her arms under the corpse in a bridal carry.

She tried to ignore how soft and malleable the flesh felt.

She stood up.

She tried to ignore how some parts of it fell off.

She began walking.

She tried to ignore the dozens of maggots worming around inside of its mouth.

She carefully ascended up the stairs.

She tried to ignore the frigid blood seeping in-between her fingernails.

She tried to ignore how she was carrying a boy, no older than eighteen, who had simply wandered inside of her house once when she forgot to lock the door. Who had heard of the rumours of a living house and a crazed lady who lived in a ghost neighborhood and bought more food than anyone living alone could ever eat. She tried to ignore the look of awe-stricken terror that had been plastered on his countenance when he met her daughter. She tried to ignore the way he sobbed and pleaded as she loomed over him with that rusty shovel she kept in the toolshed. She tried to ignore how for months afterward, there seemed to be a slight uptick in curious visitors, in teenagers sent on a dare to talk to her. Once, there was a threat of calling the police. But they didn't come. Why didn't they come? They should have arrested her, then.

Did anyone see him come in? Did he have friends or family? Was there suspicion? Did his disappearance only add fuel to the fire? Did anyone even notice he was gone? Was there evidence? Did the boy even tell anyone where he was going?

Perhaps she could have asked him and spared herself from the nerve-wracking anxiety that had taken place afterwards. The sleepless nights of anxiety, the uneven drumming against her ribcage and the sharp pains of fear that stabbed through her chest at the slightest shadow.

The guilt. Murderer. Monster.

No. Don't think about that. None of that matters now. She couldn't waste time thinking about the past, not anymore. She was a rotten failure of a person, a terrible mother, a murderer, a runaway. But she still loved her daughter. She still had a purpose. Her daughter was hungry.

And she would do anything to provide for her.

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