Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing work by horror writer Angel Zapata.
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The Mouth of Babes
“You called me all the way down here to photograph a dead girl’s tattoo?”
“I’m telling you, Jimmy, it’s some weird shit that’s right up your alley.” Steve pulled open the morgue refrigerator drawer and unzipped the body bag. “You know I’ve been a morgue tech for almost ten years. Well, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The young woman’s pasty skin and bleach-blond hair burned a soft shade of blue beneath the cold fluorescent lights.
“They brought her in a couple of hours ago,” Steve said.
“She was pretty.” Jimmy leaned over the body.
“Yeah, but she won’t be as pretty tomorrow. She’s scheduled for autopsy in the morning.”
“How’d she die?”
“My guess is a heroin overdose. She has track marks up and down her arms. Real shame too.” Steve reached down and pinched her pale nipple. “Helluva rack.”
“You’re one sick puppy, Stevie boy.”
“You’re one to talk.” Steve laughed. “I don’t spend all my time posting pictures of dead people on the internet.” He pointed his finger below her navel. “Take a look at the tribal teeth.”
“It’s not your ordinary tattoo. Get ready for a shocker.”
Jimmy felt uncharacteristically scared. He always needed new macabre photos of fresh, gruesome mutilations for his website, Death Images, but something about this one just didn’t feel right.
“Alright,” Jimmy said. “Show me.”
Steve put his latex-gloved hands around the tattoo. There was a full-color, saw-toothed mouth above the coarse black hair of her sex. “Now don’t freak out.” He spread the inked lips and teeth apart with his thumbs and revealed an open cavity. He let it go and it snapped shut like the jaws of an Alabama gator.
“Jesus!” Jimmy jumped back. “What the hell?”
“I know, man. Crazy, huh?”
“That’s impossible.” Jimmy shook his head.
“I would’ve said the same thing before tonight.”
“Who the hell is this woman?”
“Don’t know. Probably some crack-whore. Cops found her body dumped outside a shooting gallery off of Cherry Street, behind the Hindshaw Hotel. She’s just another Jane Doe toe tag.”
“What’s down inside that hole?” Jimmy said and dabbed at beads of sweat on his forehead. “I mean, there ain’t like a tongue or something down in there?”
“C’mon, let’s take another look-see.” Steve grinned. “Get some pics. I’ll pry her apart again.”
“Uh, why are you taking off your gloves?”
Steve licked his lips. “Sometimes I like to feel the dead with my bare skin.”
Jimmy cleared his throat and peeled back the Velcro on his camera bag.
“Ready?” Steve’s fingernails thumped against the illustrated teeth.
“Sure.” Jimmy swallowed hard.
The next two minutes of silence were interrupted only by the click and flash of Jimmy’s digital camera. He took detailed pics from face to feet. When he was done shooting, he let out the breath he’d been holding.
“Doesn’t seem to be a tongue in there, but I got an idea,” Steve said. In under a minute, he ran back to his office and returned with a half-eaten, fast-food hamburger. “Let’s see if mommy’s hungry.” He tore free a piece of the beef patty and plopped it down on the tattoo.
“Dammit, Steve!” Jimmy was repulsed. “Why in the hell would you—”
A low moan rumbled deep within the lower abdomen of the woman’s inanimate body. With a sudden violent tremor, the twitching mouth bit down on the brown meat and swallowed it whole.
“Holy shit!” Both men shouted simultaneously.
Steve took hold of the stainless steel latch and immediately slammed the morgue drawer closed. An uncomfortable quiet pervaded all senses at once.
“Fuck the autopsy,” Steve said suddenly. “We need to burn this bitch tonight.”
“Is this real, man?” Jimmy’s eyes were haunted. “Please tell me this is just some joke you cooked up.” He began to slowly back away.
“Ain’t no joke.” Steve grabbed Jimmy by the shoulders and faced him. “I think she’s a real life monster. I guess we have to kill her.”
Jimmy smacked Steve’s arms away. “She’s already dead and I’m getting the hell out of here.” He bent down and collected his equipment.
“You can’t leave me alone with her, man.” Steve was clearly shaken. “I need your help.”
“Help for what?”
“We should probably transport her body to the crematorium. Then we’ll stick her in the oven and melt her bones.” Steve’s voice was on the edge of hysterics.
Jimmy stepped forward and smacked Steve hard across the face. “As I said, I’m leaving.” He looked up at the ceiling and exhaled. “And we’re never speaking of this night for as long as we live. Got it?”
Steve rubbed his cheek and nodded in understanding.
Jimmy turned, ran for the door, and was outside in his car in thirty seconds flat.
Ten blocks from the morgue, Jimmy pulled his Sentra into an empty parking lot. He fetched his camera and scanned the pics. He zoomed in on an exceptionally vivid shot exposing the black bowels of the tattooed maw. In his dark vehicle, the bright screen flickered like ghost light. Gazing into the nightmarish vision, Jimmy sat shivering in terror as the perfectly rendered lips seemed to carefully form his name.
Early the next morning, Jimmy decided to snoop around the Hindshaw Hotel. He couldn’t sleep. He had to know more about Jane Doe. He cornered the night manager in the lobby just as the guy was leaving.
“Far as I know, she wasn’t staying here,” the man said uninterested. “Hey, I call the pigs almost every night about the junkies skin-popping out back. They kick one out of here and another two take their place a minute later.” He lit a cigarette and blew smoke in Jimmy’s face. “Now please, get outta my way. This is a non-smoking hotel.”
He spoke with three different cleaning ladies, but they didn’t know shit either. He traveled down a long corridor and through an emergency exit door that prevented reentry.
Out back, the narrow alley was surprisingly dark between the hotel’s brick wall and a rundown tenement. The acrid stink of piss and garbage was overwhelming.
To his immediate left, he surveyed a series of green dumpsters. On his right, a homeless man, wearing only filthy jeans, was sitting on a torn sofa cushion drinking warm beer from a straw. Beside him, a destitute woman of an indeterminate age struggled to locate a suitable vein and inject herself. Her facial features were partially obscured by the brim of a black baseball cap.
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, Jimmy thought.
“You got any corn?” The homeless man licked his black gums and stared up at Jimmy.
“Corn. C-O-R-N. Do you got any?” He lifted his hands, exasperated.
“Uh, no. Sorry,” Jimmy responded. “Why?”
“Cause only folks looking to get corn-holed come out here!” The homeless man exploded into laughter. The woman sighed and fell over. She had miraculously found her target.
“I, uh…” Jimmy was flabbergasted.
“Relax, dude. I’m just yanking your Johnson,” the homeless man snorted. “Martha told me people would come around asking about her after she died.”
“Yeah, you know.” He pinched the meat below his belly button and pretended to speak with it. “Martha the Mouth,” he growled.
The hair on Jimmy’s neck became tiny slivers of ice.
“Hate to speak ill of the dead, but that was one girl who never shut the fuck up,” the homeless man continued. “Know what I mean? And oh, by the way, my name’s Luke.”
“Who was she?” Jimmy shook his head. “Where’d she come from?”
“A lot of money,” Luke said.
“She came from a lot of money?”
“No,” Luke said annoyed. “You’ll have to pay me a lot of money to tell you,” he grinned. “This unstable economy has raised the price of beer, dude.”
Jimmy checked his wallet. He had sixty-four dollars.
“I’ll take it,” Luke said excitedly, peering into Jimmy’s billfold. “And I’ll take that condom you got tucked in there too.” He leaned forward and whispered. “You never know when it might come in handy.”
Jimmy acquiesced. “Okay, now tell me.”
It took Luke twenty minutes to spin his yarn.
Martha had wandered into the alley about three weeks earlier claiming she had killed her pimp and needed a place to hide. Her aquamarine tank top and short blond hair were matted in blood. Luke and some of the other street dwellers had wanted nothing to do with her. Then a psychotic junkie named, Eddie said she could crash with him beneath one of the warehouse truck bays if she was willing to put out. She took his hand and they both vanished into the recessed shadows. Five minutes later, Eddie came screaming out of the darkness clutching what remained of his right hand. He had stuck his fingers down her pants and had pulled back a bloody stump. Martha could be heard cackling from behind the dumpsters. Over the next few days, most of the alley residents found new places to squat, but Luke decided to stay. He told Jimmy with Martha around, the rats no longer disturbed him. In fact, in the nearly silent hours before dawn, he would often hear the squeals of rodents as they were painfully digested from tail to whiskers.
“But where did she get the tattoo?” Jimmy asked.
“She said her pimp brought her to a witch.” Luke closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. “That bastard paid for the tattoo and held her down while the witch carved it into her flesh with dirty fingernails. Supposedly it gave her pimp rights to her soul when she died. I remember her telling me she was nothing more than the devil’s whore.”
“Christ. I don’t know if I can believe any of this bullshit,” Jimmy sighed.
“Suit yourself.” Luke stood up and stretched. “I’m off to get me some more beer.”
“Wait. Please, before you go,” Jimmy said. “How did Martha die? What happened to her?”
Luke locked eyes with Jimmy. “It was the voice. It wouldn’t leave her alone.”
“Oh, you don’t know?” Luke smiled. “The mouth would keep her awake at night. She said it wanted her to do terrible things. Something about eating babies.”
“My God.” Jimmy was horrified. “Did you ever hear it speak?”
“All the time,” Luke said and shivered. “One night I heard her crying. I knew she was alone, but I could hear her talking to someone. I snuck up close and listened. She didn’t see me.”
“Sounded like Latin to me.” Luke slapped his hands together. “I used to be an altar boy at my grandmother’s church when I was a kid. All of them priests spoke Latin during mass back then.” He paused. “They also butt-fucked my brother, but you probably don’t wanna know about that.”
“Anyway, Martha had enough of this shitty world. She overdosed herself with some China white right over here.” Luke pointed to where the woman in the baseball cap was sleeping off her high. “She died in that very spot.”
“Did this woman know Martha too?”
Jimmy crouched down and flicked a thumb over his shoulder. “The woman who’s been lying here the entire time we’ve been talking.”
Luke froze. “Fuck, man. There was never anybody there.”
Jimmy spun around and gasped.
They were all alone.
It was all over the news when Jimmy got home. The morgue had burned to the ground. Two security guards were killed. Arson was suspected, but no arrests had been made.
“Steve,” he whistled under his breath. “What did you do?”
He called Steve’s cell phone, but got only his voicemail. Jimmy left him a frantic message. He hoped his friend was alive.
Jimmy figured he’d drop by Steve’s apartment to make sure. He grabbed his camera, his keys off the wall hook, and opened the front door.
Steve was standing in the doorway crying.
“Jesus!” Jimmy fell back on his ass. “What the hell’s going on, Stevie?”
Steve was still wearing his lab coat. It was completely stained in blood and ash.
“Help me, Jimmy,” he sobbed.
Jimmy got up, pulled his friend inside, and slammed the door shut.
“Did you really burn the place down?” Jimmy asked.
“I had to, man. Martha kept telling me—”
“Whoa, Steve,” Jimmy interrupted. “How do you know her name?”
“She told me.”
Jimmy shook his head and sat down on his recliner in the living room. Steve remained standing. A scuffed-up coffee table separated one man from the other.
“I don’t understand, Steve.”
“After you left,” Steve explained, “all I wanted to do was burn the bitch and be done with it, but I could hear her calling my name from inside the drawer. She sounded so scared, and despite my own fear, I felt sorry for her.”
“What did you do?”
“I unlatched the drawer and listened to what she had to say. Actually, it was the tattoo speaking. It told me about her sick pimp. He liked to get his working girls pregnant. He told them he only wanted daughters, because he wanted them to grow up and be good little whores like their mommas.” Jimmy wiped his nose with a sleeve. “And this bastard was seriously into the occult too. If any of his girls gave birth to boys, he fed them to Martha. That’s why he put the curse on her. He said he needed a way to send Lucifer back his children.”
“Oh, my God.” Jimmy was mortified. “So she killed him, right?”
“Yeah, but not before he made her chew on the bones of her own son.”
Jimmy rubbed his eyes and sighed. “Thank God you put her out of her misery.”
“Not exactly,” Steve replied.
“I didn’t burn all of her,” he smiled. “She said she needed my help with one last thing.”
“What do you mean?”
“She needed a live body to create a miracle,” Steve said and slipped off his lab coat. He wasn’t wearing a shirt underneath.
Jimmy was speechless, frozen in his seat.
Steve had used a scalpel to remove the tattoo and surrounding flesh. It was now crudely stitched to his abdomen.
“It’s the only way to get her son out of hell,” Steve groaned. The mouth began to stretch, unhinge at the seams. “It’ll need you to be its father, Jimmy.”
Steve screamed in agony as his own flesh was torn in the process. Dark blood and other gelatinous fluids gushed forth from the open wound.
Jimmy covered his mouth and stifled his own screams.
Suddenly, a bulbous head, tiny hands and feet, broke free of Steve’s ravaged body and hit the coffee table. Steve collapsed in a heap and choked on his last breath.
Jimmy felt oddly at peace with the situation and realized this is what insanity must truly feel like. It wasn’t frightening at all.
The infant writhing on the coffee table was crying in two distinctly different voices.
He must be so hungry, Jimmy thought.
There was no denying this was Martha’s son. He had all her best features.
Jimmy gently lifted the squirming baby into his arms and brought its blood-encrusted face up to his own. “So which mouth would you like to eat from first?”