Emily Sanders was born and raised in the Deep South. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in history from the University of Mississippi, and her car will be eligible for an antique license plate in three years. Her story “Letters from Roger” won Apparition Literary Magazine’s March Flash Fiction Challenge. You can find her on twitter at @3msander.


by Emily Sanders


Eliza ate her mother when she was thirteen years old. For Asia, it was nine. For me, it was seventeen. For Katherine, her mother ate her.

Asia was the first, but she didn’t mean to do it. The flesh tasted so good that she didn’t even notice it was happening. It went down easy. Her mother didn’t even try to fight it. She died soon afterwards. It wasn’t a painless death, but it was better than she deserved…at least, according to Asia. But she wouldn’t tell us that detail until later, when we were older.

We knew something had happened from the way she walked in the door after Christmas break, her hands clenched tightly around the handle of her rolling lime-green backpack, a gift from her father. There was something different about the way she carried herself, the way her head was held higher than normal, her eyes cast on the ground in front of her. Even the way she spoke had changed, and in class she didn’t raise her hand as often.

The teachers noticed too, and whispered to each other in the hallways, things like, “did you hear?” and, “so sorry for her.” Eventually it got around to the students, someone’s mother must’ve told them, and they told the others, and we all learned the reason for her change.

When recess came we crowded around Asia like crows to a corpse and asked if she wanted to play hide and seek. None of us dared to ask what we really wanted to know: how did it taste? We even let her go first, a sacred position usually reserved for whoever had the most stickers on Mrs. Harris’s board that week.

When she found us in our hiding spots and tagged us on the shoulders we followed her eagerly, one by one, like disciples. She was different now, and we wanted to show her deference. When she started wearing makeup the following week we didn’t ask why, nor when she painted her nails a pink and black checkered pattern, but slowly we began to follow suit, one long, wordless chorus, echoing her in entirety. We never did dare to ask her for the details, but we didn’t have to wait very long before Eliza changed too, and then they flowed freely.

The news spread fast. Not like the last time, when Asia had been the topic of conversation. Whispered rumors and inquisitive, albeit halfhearted, apologies were replaced with headlines and breaking news banners, splattered across the television of every home in town.

No one had to whisper when Eliza walked in on Tuesday, or wonder where she’d been the day before, because everyone already knew. By then we were also old enough to know that, though Asia had certainly changed, the rest of us were incapable of fully grasping the complexity of her transformation. It went without saying that Eliza and Asia then stood apart, yet together, from the rest of us. The two of them at the top of their own pyramid. If either of them resisted their coupling, they didn’t show it. After all, only they could truly understand each other.

Unlike with Asia, many of our parents worried about the effect of having Eliza in our friend group. Perhaps they worried that her experience was contagious, that soon we’d all be doing it. Looking back, they weren’t wrong, but it certainly wasn’t Eliza’s fault.

That was the year the girls were separated from the boys and made to shuffle into the gymnasium for a special talk. Only, the gymnasium was being remodeled, so we had to use the choir room. It was carpeted, and we had to sit in rows on the steps like we were giving a performance. Mrs. Moore waited until we were quiet and then turned off the lights and pressed play on the television that she’d rolled in on a cart, and we all had to watch as an actress dressed like a nurse explained how we were going to be noticing some changes in our bodies, or already had, and that if we had s-e-x with someone we would regret it forever and die, plus or minus a pregnancy.

At one point she interviewed a boy who declared that, after doing it, he’d hated himself and his girlfriend so much that he wanted to kill himself. It was a few minutes after he said it that Eliza projectile-vomited on the television, and Mrs. Moore had to turn the lights back on. By then Asia had started crying.

We never did finish the movie, but we were all pretty sure that we’d gotten the gist of it. Katherine, who was a few months older than the rest of us, explained that sex was when you kissed a boy with tongue. Asia shook her head at that, and Eliza, who had returned from the nurse’s office with an ice pack for some unfathomable reason, declared that she’d kissed Johnny Black with tongue and had not gotten pregnant.

The following year we went to high school, which only accentuated the differences between those of us who had tasted flesh, and those who had not.

Asia wore her cannibalism like a badge of honor, and proudly confided in us that she’d hated her mother long before she died. She told us about her mother’s abuse of alcohol, the pills, and then the needles, and so, she explained, by the time she was dead, there was hardly a bite left to take before Asia swallowed her whole.

We respected her for her honestly, and admired her for the way she knew things none of us did: like how to fold underwear so that the triangle became a rectangle, or how to clean an oven without inhaling the fumes. She knew other things, too, like how to get a boy to go ‘all the way’ even if his daddy didn’t like you.

Eliza differed from Asia in the way she expressed her tastes. She didn’t relish in the fact that she’d done it, or detail the events prior to that day. Perhaps it was because, unlike Asia, she was old enough to really remember a time before. Perhaps it was because she felt guilty. She never spoke of her mother directly, or revealed to us when exactly she’d taken the first bite, but we knew that it had to have been sometime between when her mother put a bullet in her father’s forehead and when she’d done the same to herself. Murder-suicides weren’t common, so there was no one else to ask.

We were content to put Eliza and Asia’s two stories together, blending them together to create one red image of beautiful, marbled flesh. We were all inexplicably and irrationally jealous. Deep down, though we would never have admitted it, we, too, wanted a taste.

Katherine was next; we all knew it. She was turning sixteen soon, and she was about to get her braces off. She’d been asked to the prom by an upperclassman, and when she wore her favorite pink plaid skirt to school, we all noticed Mr. Herrington’s gaze linger on her just a moment too long.

We watched this all eagerly, waiting for the moment she’d snap. We could feel the tension in her body; see it under her pale, freckled skin. After spring break, she wore a Victoria’s Secret push-up bra, her swollen figure accentuated by the cheap foam padding and leopard-print fabric. She was ripening, ready to bloom, ready to be plucked from her branches. Ready for someone to sink their teeth into her.

The calls came in the night.

First to Asia, who had been awake anyway finishing her youngest brother’s reading fair project that was due the next morning. She’d answered the phone with one hand, purple marker still gripped in the other. At the end of the call she’d carefully set it down, as if it, too, would break if she weren’t careful.

She called Eliza, who picked up on the second ring. They shared the news, but nothing more. Eliza had to go back to sleep. She slept a lot, those days. Then Asia called me, and after three missed calls, my father answered the phone. Though reluctant, he handed me the phone, and Asia told me the news. At that time, none of us knew what had happened. Two days later, as we walked in to the visitation, we got our answer.

Eliza wore a cheap lace dress, more dark blue than black. Her grandfather had driven us there, but he lingered by the door to give us space. Asia wore black dress pants and a blazer, and looked for all the world like the director of the funeral home. I had on a brown sweater and black jeans, which Asia said didn’t match, but the conversation died when we saw Katherine’s mother.

The small line of pearls dangling from her ears, the perfectly combed hair, even the stockings tucked into her black, red-bottomed heels. A look was all it took, quickly passed between us, for us to reach a consensus. Katherine’s mother’s lips drew upwards in a suppressed grin when she spotted us, but failed to part. We knew immediately that if she’d opened her mouth we would have seen bits and pieces of Katherine stuck between her teeth.

“Oh, girls,” she said, pulling us in for a hug. Her face was wet when she pressed it against my neck, and I had to resist the urge to check if she’d left bloodstains behind.

We didn’t speak as we drifted down the line of family and arrived at the casket. Asia was the one to break the silence. “The casket’s closed because her face is all fucked up. I heard someone say the dead person guy—you know, the one who sews them up—he couldn’t fix it.”

We nodded to ourselves, the three of us pretending that what she said was true. We knew, though, that inside the casket there was nothing left of Katherine. It was the first time any of us realized that mothers could eat their children, too.

The year moved on, and so did we, and soon it was my turn.

The holes in the walls of my house grew more frequent, the smashed furniture and dishes more obvious, and soon I saw my chance. It was a crossroads, really. A route that Katherine had opened for me.

When my mother pulled me in for one last hug, I saw the dark gleam in her black eyes; felt the way her fingers hooked into my skin as if she meant to shred it. I looked at her flesh and saw the gentle fruit prepared for me and me alone, and I knew what choice to make.

I took a bite without any hesitation. The ecstasy at being free of her filled my body as the meat filled my stomach, the glorious rivulets of her blood spiraling and running down my skin like rain. If she screamed, I didn’t hear it. If she resisted, I didn’t feel it.

The pain came slow, like an afterthought. The next morning, when I realized she wasn’t there, was like a new awakening. My eyes were clearer, my hands stronger, my mind all the better for knowing what I’d done. The hollow ache in my chest pricked at my conscience, but I ignored it.

Asia called, but I ignored her too. I wanted time alone with my new self, but the pain in my chest grew stronger, and I realized the weight that I now carried would never leave me. I knew, too, where that pain now came from.

Somewhere deep inside of me, my mother now lived. I clawed at my body, screaming for her to get out, but even then I knew there would be no relief from the feeling. I could sense her laughter then, for the first time, as she chided me for my blissful ignorance that morning, for daring to think that I’d ever be free.

My father returned home, asked me if I’d swept the house. I picked up the broom from the corner of the kitchen and turned to answer him, but choked on my words. Something was rising up in my throat, blocking my lungs and preventing me from swallowing.

I felt the scratch of fingernails emerging from my trachea; the fingers entering my mouth and moving my tongue like a puppeteer. My mother’s hands, I thought. My mother’s mouth. Kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten.

“Not yet,” I said, but it was my mother’s voice.