The May Third Selected Writer is Colin Benson
Please feel free to email Colin at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The hole in Jackson’s chest made a wet, sucking sound as arteries and veins and what was left of his lungs rearranged themselves in the bloody cavity. His eyes were wide, though sightless, flicking from side to side, frantic; drool mixed with yellow mucous oozed from the corner of his mouth and ran down to pool and congeal on the padded fabric that cushioned what was left of his head. He was silent. He wasn’t able to speak and he wasn’t able to breathe.
But he didn’t need to breathe.
Dolores Davis wasn’t what most people would consider to be an ordinary single mother; which is to say, she hadn’t suffered financially when her husband Harold had passed away five years ago. Harold Davis had been all too aware of the importance of providing sufficient, no generous insurance cover for his family in case the unthinkable happened. Not that he expected it to. He took care of himself, did Harold Davis: he played golf every Sunday and racket ball twice a week. No heart attack was going to take Harold Davis off to his maker. No, sir!
Unfortunately, the unthinkable did happen. It hadn’t been a heart attack, but cancer that carried him off. He was dead three months after the diagnosis. Three months of pain and false hope and utter despair for his wife and son.
Dolores was devoted to her family; had loved her husband with a deep and abiding passion and he had loved her in the same way. They’d married young and their son and only child, Jackson, had come along nine months later and, no, Dolores wasn’t pregnant what they’d stood at the altar. They supported each other in their careers and they both worshipped Jackson. They indulged his every whim, as far as they could: they weren’t that comfortably off.
They loudly applauded his successes, consoled or simply brushed aside his failures, minor though most of them were and took pride in the fact that despite being indulged he wasn‘t spoilt; he believed in doing the right thing by others. They encouraged his ambitions, whether they were academic or sporting and generally gave him all the love and security a young man could ever want or need.
When Harold died, Dolores lavished all her love on her son, making sure he wanted for nothing. And that included buying Jackson a powerful motorcycle And now Jackson was dead.
Everyone was astounded that he hadn’t been killed instantly. He’d skidded on an oil slick, lost control and hit an oncoming truck head-on, smashing his head through the radiator and spattering his brains across the engine block. But he hadn’t died instantly; he was still alive - just - when they’d taken him to the hospital. Merciful death had come two hours later.
Dolores was devastated. She’d killed him, she told herself over and over; she’d killed him with that motorcycle just as surely as if she’d put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. It was because of her that Jackson was in the morgue, battered, broken, most of his skin torn from his body by the sharp steel of the truck’s radiator grille, his head smashed and his sweet face unrecognizable. To make it worse, Jackson had put it on his driver’s license that he wanted to be an organ donor and they’d taken his heart, which was the only organ in his body left undamaged by the crash, so she couldn’t even lay him to rest whole.
The guilt ate away at her just as the cancer had eaten away at her beloved husband, Harold. But for Dolores, there was no merciful release from her suffering.
But it was too late because Jackson was gone and would never come back.
Jackson writhed and squirmed in the dark. The pain in his smashed arms and legs as the jagged bone ends ripped fresh wounds in his flesh roared through him but he couldn’t make a sound. The pool of yellow muck that had drooled from his mouth had now congealed into a mass of ice cold jelly against his mangled ear. He could smell it: a foul and reeking mess; a mixture of blood, his own liquefying flesh and the preservative fluid that had been pumped into his veins at the funeral home in the forlorn hope that what remained of his corpse would remain uncorrupted. All it had done was burn like acid, eating away at what was left of his arteries and blood vessels.
He wanted to scream, not just because of the unbearable agony but also in anguish at the squirming things that had invaded his body, their small teeth tearing at the rotting tissue, feasting on him.
Jackson tried to throw his head back and howl but he couldn’t because there was no space to do it; and his spine had snapped and he couldn’t move his head anyway.
She threw back the sheets and sat on the edge of the bed, listening. Her eyes were unfocused, her thoughts locked into one thing and one thing only: she needed her son back. She had to have him back. She cocked her head: first to the left, then to the right. There was nothing. Not a sound. Not even a breath of wind from beyond the window.
Fully awake now, she switched on the bedside lamp and stood up. She listened again. Still nothing, just silence. She checked the clock: one-thirty-three in the morning.
She dressed and headed downstairs; made tea - it helped her to think - sat at the kitchen table and concentrated her thoughts. She had an idea and now she had to turn that idea into a plan. She turned her head and gazed thoughtfully at the freezer.
She found herself in the car; she checked the clock on the car’s dash: two-oh-five a.m. Winter had come early and the streets were covered with the first heavy snowfall of the year. Not enough to need the snowplows but enough to make her drive carefully; she didn’t need to have an accident, not tonight of all nights. And she didn’t want to be pulled over by the police: she didn’t want them finding what was in the trunk of the car. That would never do.
She headed downtown.
The homeless man in the alleyway huddled deeper into the old threadbare overcoat and pulled the tattered remnants of the greasy blanket more tightly around his equally greasy head. He wriggled further back into the scant shelter of the restaurant’s kitchen doorway. At least it wasn’t windy. The few scraps he’d scavenged from the dustbins, the scraps he’d got to before the rats beat him to it, hadn’t done much to ease the hunger pangs. He could hear the rats right now, scurrying around the alleyway; the more adventurous of them sniffed at his feet. They, as much as the biting cold, stopped him sleeping: one of his buddies, if people like him could be said to have buddies, had been badly gnawed while he slept. It wasn’t going to happen to him, that was for sure! He kicked out and the creatures disappeared among the garbage bins. But he knew they’d be back.
The hand came out of nowhere, grasping the blanket and at the same time his hair, yanking back his head and exposing his throat. And for the first time he understood what people meant when they talked about feeling a sound as the blade slashed through his windpipe and severed his jugular and carotid arteries. He felt the rasp as it met resistance from cartilage and bone. But there was no pain and there would be none; there wouldn’t be time for pain. He could smell his own blood as it spurted across the alleyway; heard it splash against the wall of the restaurant: another stain among many. His strength ebbed away and he felt himself drifting into the deepest darkness he had ever known. And finally, he was warm.
Just before he died, he heard a voice, a woman’s voice, whisper, “Thank you.”
Dolores worked quickly. She pulled, tugged and ripped the dead man’s clothes away and exposed his chest. It was sunken, dirty and covered with scabs left by bites from lice. The man was so thin she could see every rib.
She slashed with the knife she’d brought from her kitchen - the same knife Harold had used to carve the turkey on Thanksgiving - ripping open the abdomen, spilling intestines across the corpse’s knees. Plunging her hands into the body, she pulled glistening, slippery organs out of her way as she sought the thing she’d come for.
Dolores reached under the rib cage and found the heart, surprised at its size: she’d expected it to be larger. She’d also expected it to be easier to remove. She wrestled with it, pulling it this way and that, frustrated that it stubbornly refused to leave its host. Dolores dug her nails into the vessels surrounding the heart, tearing at them until finally it came free. Panting, she held it in her hand, looking at it in the dim glow cast by the alleyway‘s few security lights. She looked at the thing, saw patches of fat, and tendrils of flesh that dripped blood.
She delved into her backpack and found the bag of ice, opened it and pushed the heart inside. Sealing the top of the bag, she shook it, making sure that the organ was properly covered. It wouldn’t do if it lost its freshness. Dolores headed down the alleyway to her car, stowing the bag of now-pink ice in a cooler in the trunk along with the rest of her tools. She climbed behind the wheel and drove away. She had an appointment.
The homeless man was still slumped in his doorway. First one rat, then another and then dozens came out from behind the bins, leaping over the garbage, their whiskers quivering, their noses twitching at the scent of food; at the prospect of feasting on fresh meat that night.
And Dolores drove straight to the cemetery, parking a half-mile from the gates: she didn’t want to attract attention by parking right outside. She went to the trunk, took out her backpack, the cooler and her tools and walked back. It would be easy to get into the cemetery: she’d been there so often, to sit next to Jackson’s grave, to talk to him, to say how sorry she was, how she wished she had never bought him the motorcycle.
But now she was going to make things right again.
The bars of the cemetery gates were wide enough apart for Dolores to slip through: she’d always been petite but now, after three months’ grieving for her son, going without proper food, she was positively thin. Only the bulky cooler wouldn’t fit through. She took out the precious ice-bag; it wouldn’t be long now and she could stow it in her coat pocket without any fear of the contents thawing and the heart becoming unusable. Shouldering her tools, she made her way between the graves; she could find her way around the cemetery blindfold.
She stopped by the grave, first kneeling down on the frozen ground and then, half-sobbing, half-laughing she raised her eyes to the stars in the clear night sky.
“Please, help me do this!” She cried. “I can do this!”
Dolores reached for the shovel and began to dig.
The casket had been buried deeper than she’d anticipated and by the time the shovel struck metal she was exhausted, sweating with the effort. Desperately, she made the hole large enough to jump down into grave. She ran her hands over the casket.
“It’s all right, Jackson, baby,” she whispered, “Mommy’s here.”
She reached for the pry bar she’d brought and hooked it under the lid. After heaving and straining the lid came free; she lifted it and looked down at Jackson’s shattered face.
Jackson had been buried in a shroud, not in his best suit, the way they told her he should be buried. Jackson hated suits and his best jeans had been ruined in the crash so a shroud had seemed best. Now, Dolores pulled the shroud free. Small, bloated white things moved across his body, in and out of the hole in his chest, wriggling from his nose and the lumps of gristle that had been his ears. She brushed them aside and reached for the ice bag and the heart that nestled within it.
“Look what Mommy’s got, baby,” she cooed. “Let’s make you well again!”
But then Dolores recoiled. She heard Jackson’s voice, but his lips weren't moving.“NO! IT WAS WRONG TO KILL THAT MAN! HE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH US! IT’S NOT RIGHT!”
Jackson’s hand flashed from the casket, the shattered fingers now straight, locked and rigid. They passed the homeless man's heart and reached for his mother.
His hands plunged through her clothes and her flesh, smashed through her breastbone and clutched his mother's heart. It began to flutter in his hand, trying to maintain its rhythm, striving to keep beating. Blood came from her mouth as it dropped open, staining her torn clothing and pouring over Jackson’s body, washing away the crawling, wriggling things and trickling into the hole in his chest.
He jerked the still-twitching heart free of his mother’s chest and placed it carefully, almost tenderly, into the place his own heart had been. His eyes snapped open as Dolores’s body toppled against the side of the grave.
“YES!” He said, feeling his lips move for the first time in three months as he formed the words. “THAT’S RIGHT!”
He sat up, his broken neck fighting to re-align itself. He turned his head, slowly, so very slowly, to look at his mother’s body.
“THANK YOU, MOMMY.”
Colin Benson lives in Birmingham, England with his wife, Jacqui, three cats and a dog. They have three children and seven grandchildren.
Colin is quite versatile, having worked as a journalist, written comic strips and romantic fiction. He has also driven a London Underground (subway) train, worked for a funeral director and ran a care home for the elderly, the infirm and the terminally ill. All quite normal for a writer, he thinks!