Lila Fellows — one-hundred and thirty pounds, nineteen years old, deloused, wormed, chipped, injected, and of good pedigree — wanted to stop biting their hands. But it was difficult. She knelt in the right place, where Owner indicated with a silver-topped stick, bounced on the spot, spun, danced, panted, smiled, but whenever one of the fat-handed (and invariably they were always fat-handed) buyers made to pet her, Lila chomped her teeth down until she felt their sausage fingers burst.
“What’s the matter with you?” Owner grunted, day in, day out, dragging her by the ear and tossing her in the back of the pickup. “Do you want to stay in the barn, cold and alone, for the rest of your life? Don’t you want company? Get a grip, woman.”
She told herself, night in, night out: I will be a good girl. I will stop biting their hands. I will let them pet me.
She wanted to be sold. The barn, like Owner was eager to remind her, was cold and she was alone. She wanted to be whisked into the High Life, the world of toys, massage beds, dessert, sweaters, chew toys, pampering kits… sometimes when she curled, naked, in the barn, she imagined she was living this new life.
But along came market day, with the fat fingers, and she bit. Couldn’t help it. She hated fat hands.
Sometimes, she watched Owner’s hands from the back of the pickup; and when she watched, she remembered. But these were memories around which it was best to build a high, strong wall, and around that wall another high, even stronger wall, and so on until the memories were impossible to get at. She thought of them as the Nasty Memories.
But no matter how many walls she built, when those fat-fingered, sausage-like, leach-like hands came for her, the Nasty Memories smashed through the walls and smacked slap-bang into the forefront of her consciousness. And — bite, bite, bite. She wanted Owner to remove her teeth; it would make her life infinitely easier. But the man adored her smile, though she never smiled for him, only grimaced. Often, he would roughly clutch her face and moan: “Show me those pearly whites, my sweet.” She wanted to bite him, as she bit the others, but — ah! He was Owner. He was God to her… he was He! Maybe, one day, if she became braver…
Over time, Lila Fellows — one-hundred and fifty pounds, twenty-five years old, louse- and worm-infested, diseased, and still being looked for by her family in Newcastle, Maine, Fifth Commune — became so angry it felt like lava was in her bones.
Why did Owner hate her? Why couldn’t she stop biting? Why was the make-you-forget medication he gave her no longer working? (Owner sometimes mumbled: “Goddamn benzos’re getting weaker.”) Why could she remember smiling faces from long ago? Why did they never go anywhere apart from this middle-of-nowhere compound in which only fat-fingered sweaty men lived? Why, when Lila looked into the faces of the other no-tongues at market, did she suddenly feel sad?
Something is wrong, she thought one night, butting her head against the wall of her barn. Something is very wrong with this life. I am not what I am supposed to be. I am being used. He may have cut out my tongue, but the fat, repulsive, sickening, ugly abuser made the mistake of leaving me my teeth.
Owner came into the barn, his silver-gleaming knuckle-duster in his fist. “You’ve always been a problem,” he sighed. “And now look what you’ve become. Can’t sell you, and you’re getting too old and fat to be of any use in my… Why do you do this, eh? What have I ever done to you? We — all of us — have built a good home for you girls. You never go hungry. You have a warm place to sleep. You don’t have to toil someone else’s fields, like you would outside. Oh, would you stop that?”
Lila kept butting her head. Her forehead was bleeding badly but she could scarcely care when Owner insisted on droning on and on and on and on like the perpetual braying of some dazed horse.
Finally, Lila’s butting gave her what she wanted. Owner made as if to hit her. Lila swung her head in a wide, powerful arc, teeth bared, and did the only thing she’d ever been allowed to get good at. She clamped her teeth down so hard on Owner’s hand his bone crunched. Then she brought her long-clawed hands to his face and burst his eyes. Blind and in agony, Owner fell back.
He is not God, she thought, shocked by the revelation.
Lila, for the first time in years, stood up like a real person.
She tried to speak, but all that came out was the pathetic clickclickclickclickclick of her ruined tongue.
But she told herself that Owner, as he bled onto the dirty barn floor, understood what she’d said:
I am here. I am a person. I have a voice.
Why? she asked herself, looking down at the man who no longer seemed so scary now that he guttered and spit and died. Why would they do this? It made no sense — none at all. Why, when most of the world was a wasteland of nuclear putrefaction, abduct innocent girls from farming communes and treat them like animals?
She growled. She didn’t know. She would never know. All she knew was that one of them, at least, was dead.
She giggled to herself — or made as close to a giggling noise as she could.
She would walk through this land on two legs — two! — and each step would prove the sadistic scum wrong.
For now, that would have to be enough.
Nathan J. Bezzina is a graduate of English literature and a professional ghostwriter, paid to produce stories in genres ranging from romance to horror, thriller to regency drama, and everything in between. His first love has always been science fiction and fantasy, however, and when he’s not writing for rent, he’s writing for sanity. He lives in Weston-Super-Mare, England, with his wife and a very resilient bookshelf, working on a novel which, to his surprise, is actually on its way to being done.