TOM’S THUMBS – K. M. Campbell
While the old couple slept Malakai the demon eyed them in the dark. They disgusted him and were perfect for his needs. 3000 years of servitude was over and he was free of this half-life. He was ready to return to the full world and no one was left to stop him. He had outlived all his hated masters.
His last token holder had died with no heirs to pass the trinket that held Malakai’s spirit and so the cragged metal returned to Malakai, granting his freedom.
He held the shiny nugget to his lips, licked it slowly then rubbed it against his cheek like a preening cat.
“Let us play and flay.” The demon whispered before tucking the nugget back into his soul, where he would never again be parted from it, no matter how much it hurt to hold onto, the blunted edges that pushed at his insides for release .
He had been watching the old couple for the past few moons. He hated them. They rarely spoke to one other and struggled to even look in the other’s direction. They abused each other with their silent hate and disappointment.
The old woman’s wrinkled hand moved as he scampered up her body, no bigger than a mouse. Even her movements repulsed him, shakes that screamed of old weakness.
They blamed each other for their own failures, their bitterness permeated every corner of their shack which smelled of piss and boiled cabbage. Malakai felt only inevitability at destroying them. After all, they had left the door open for him, all he would do was give them exactly what they wanted.
For the husband, freedom.
For the wife, the child she was promised.
Standing on the crone’s right shoulder, away from the husband, Malakai rearranged his features to resemble a child, the hag’s ultimate weakness.
“Mama, set me free. I’m so alone.” Malakai’s sharp little needle teeth emerged from his purple lips as he smiled brightly.
The old woman was infected with him now, she would never stop until she saved her little boy from the big bad monster that lay in the bed beside hers. And in return for his hard work Malakai would receive a body that would fit the size of his soul instead of this tiny carcass no bigger than a man’s thumb.
He trotted closer to the old man, licking his large callused thumb, wrapping his arms around it and biting down hard enough to draw a few drops of food.
Malakai was hungry and the old man’s blood was good. At least these country types ate well and tasted strong and when the old woman made the poppet this body would be Malakai’s to do with as he pleased.
Enid woke to the feel of tiny feet scampering up her body. Her hands jerked in reaction before she could stop them. It frustrated her, all this aching and shaking, it would only scare the child away. But what could she do, she was frail and old, no law against that, goddamn it all to hell.
She glanced toward Tom’s single bed on the other side of the room. The floral comforter was on the ground, tossed aside by his nightly struggles with sleep. She could see his striped summer pajama’s, old man’s clothes, and his plaid slippers lined up just so. Everything about him screamed old and stuck in his ways.
He wasn’t sleeping, she knew him well enough to know the difference in his breathing. He was lying still with his eyes shut, like he did every morning, waiting for Enid to get up and make his breakfast. Lazy old goat.
“Dead yet?” There was little of the humor that had made their marriage a success left.
“After you, my sweet.” He replied, gruff with lack of sleep.
Enid clacked her false teeth into place and left the room. The tiny child was waiting for her in the kitchen and she gasped in surprise, clutching a hand to her heart wondering if her body’s aged pump would stop dead.
“You’re really real?” She asked.
“Almost.” Malakai said on a wet, wobbly, pitiful sigh. “I need the doll. Have you finished it yet?”
Enid hobbled to the cupboard that held her knitting bag, rummaging inside she found the doll she had been working on for the past few days.
“Is it perfect?” Malakai snatched it away, sniffing each seam and licking each stitch. “Perfect.” He turned wide blue eyes to Enid. “It’s perfect. You have done perfect.”
Enid held the table to help her sit. Resting her chin on her hands to stare at the gorgeous little boy who so resembled a young Tom. “Thank you, child. I followed your directions exactly, and now you’re here. Will you be able to become a real child now?”
“Yes. Just one more thing…” He allowed one tear to trail down his perfect cheek.
“What is it? I’ll do anything. I promised.”
“I need my father’s body to complete my transformation, to be with you forever.”
Enid blinked, becoming more enraptured with each glance at the perfect child. “Alright. Just some skin, nails that sort of thing?”
“I need flesh to become flesh. I must be made from the meat of my father.”
“Not much. Just enough to fill the doll.”
Enid lifted the knitted doll. It was smaller than her hand, with tan skin, blonde hair and blue eyes, just like Tom when they met.
“Tom’s thumbs.” Enid said, “I’ll use Tom’s thumbs.”
Malakai clapped his little hands, “Perfect. Perfect. Thumbs and Plums. Soon?”
“Tonight. I promise.”
Later that day, Enid got her chance. “Don’t worry with lunch for me.” Tom said. “I’m not feeling so well.”
“Yeah, looks like the doc was right. I don’t have much longer, Enid.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Nothing, nothing at all. I’m going to bed. I feel like I might actually sleep.”
“Why don’t you take one of the pills the doctor gave you to sleep?”
“No, I told you. I’ll be ending on a mountain of drugs, I want to go without them for as long as I can.”
“I’ll bring you through a warm drink then.”
“I don’t think…”
“Just do as I tell you and don’t be a stubborn old man.”
Tom chuckled, “Alright, Enid, don’t get your knickers in a twist.”
“Would be the only thing that’s happened to my knickers in years.” She grumbled as she stalked to the kettle.
The spiked drink put Tom into such a deep sleep he didn’t even move as she took his favorite boning knife to his thumbs. She reminded herself that this was his penance for having bought home the disease that had rendered her sterile. This was the least he could do for her.
Afterward she cleaned his wounds, dressed them carefully, like a mother, cooing gentle words of apology. She doubted he would notice, he didn’t seem to notice much anymore these days, and if he didn’t like it he could go tell someone. There was another problem. Their lack of children had pushed them away from those that had them until they were solitary with only each other for company.
She gently washed the detached thumbs, waiting for the blood to drain away, soaking them in the kitchen sink wondering how they had ever created anything. They looked so small and shriveled when she pulled them from the water that she worried they would not be good enough for her child.
Back at the kitchen table she dried them with complete devotion, careful not to miss a watery red drop, even going so far as to use the napkins she had kept for good. Except there had never been a good. So the tissues were old and perishing. With frustration she threw them all in the trash, snatching out the white linen sheets she had been given for a wedding gift. Another thing to keep for good. Useless.
They continued to drip and seep for so long Enid was in tears, certain they would never be good enough. For once in her life she wanted to accept only perfection, not the ongoing faults, blame and mistakes.
She left them in the sun, sitting beside them on a blanket for several hours to ensure the birds didn’t come and snatch her treasures away. The thumbs resembled tiny ham hocks. There was nothing about them that made her certain they would produce life.
That night she wrapped the thumbs in one of Tom’s unused handkerchief’s, one he had gotten from his mother and hidden away in the back of his underwear drawer. His private territory. She then slipped the small package into the doll. It slid in easily. More room left around the doll than she expected when seeing Tom’s thumbs still attached to his hands.
She washed her hands, wondering if she should sew the doll up or leave it to await instructions from the child. emptying the sink she mindlessly wiped at the discolored ring left behind from the bloodied water. She wondered what the child would be called? Would he look like her as well as Tom? Would he have Tom’s calm personality or her erratic temperament. She hoped he had more of Tom. Her several breakdowns over the years making her certain she was riddled with demons in her blood. Remnants from her deranged family.
Behind her a small voice cried, “It’s not enough!”
She spun with a sinking sense of dread. “I did what you asked.”
“It’s not enough, and where’s the blood?”
“I cleaned it, I refuse to allow blood to drip all over my floor.”
“I need the blood.”
His blue eyes flashed to red and Enid stepped back, once more automatically clutching her chest, worrying for her aged heart.
“You’re not real.”
“I won’t be if you don’t do things right. Thumbs and plums. I asked for thumbs and plums.”
“His nuts, the seed. I need his seed.”
Enid sat down, disgusted even though it sounded logical. “I refuse. You can’t ask me to do that to him.”
“His dirty plums destroyed your life, they took your chance of children. They stole my life from you. All I’m trying to do is give that back to you. Please help me give you something. Help me. Set me free. I was supposed to be born and it never happened because he cheated on you and ruined your life. He took my life from me. Do this for me if not for you.”
That small pleading voice drilled at her brain. When she next looked up the child was a stunningly handsome young man.
“Who are you?” She gasped.
“It’s me, Mom. This is what I’ll look like when I’m older. If you give me that chance.”
“I can’t.” She wailed. “I’m not strong enough.”
“Cut them out. for both of us.”
Enid stared at him, in awe of his beauty, so like Tom as a young man.
“Will you stay with me?”
“I’ll do it.”
“I love you, Mommy.”
Tom came awake. Something was wrong. He felt sick to his stomach. He relaxed back into the dirty old pillow. The cancer had taken hold. It was eating him from the inside out like a horror movie monster. On a frown he lifted his hands that felt hot and thick. They were wrapped up and something about the shape made his heart beat hard. His head was too fuzzy to put it altogether.
His bowels clenched in a familiar sickening way and Tom scrambled from his bed, frantically kicking aside bedding that should have been replaced years ago. Forgoing his slippers for speed Tom stumbled to the toilet, terrified at the amount of blood he found when he flushed.
Clutching his stomach with one bandaged hand he steadied himself with a shoulder to a floral wallpapered wall (he had always hated floral but Enid never gave him any choice in decorating all those years ago). He found his wife seated at the table with a doll clamped in her hands, rubbing it against her cheeks and whispering to it frantically.
“Enid,” He interrupted, “I don’t feel so good, in my stomach. I might need the hospital. And something’s wrong with my hands. Honey, are you listening?”
When she turned, Enid’s eyes had that flat, long stare that showed she was in the thrall of another one of her delusions. Tom wanted to punch her back to life. After all these years, of enduring her hostility and her mental instability, when he needed her for once she was off on another one of her fucking breakdowns.
“Not now, Enid. Snap out of it. I need you.” She bared her teeth at him and Tom’s heart sunk further. She had returned to that one indiscretion that had almost broken them. It was strange that she had forgiven him all those years ago, yet when her mind wandered this is where she inevitably returned too. His one stupid mistake. He would never be forgiven and he berated himself for ever having stayed in this painful loveless marriage.
Stumbling to the phone he lifted the receiver, thankful he had always controlled the money so bills were always paid on time.
“What are you doing, Tom?” Enid asked in that far-off voice that made Tom rage.
“I’m calling an ambulance. I’m sick, Enid, real sick.”
The call connected but Enid touched his shoulder and took the phone off him. Dropping it back into the cradle, she smiled, just like the Enid of old, the passionate, fiery woman he had fallen for all those years ago.
“I’ll sort it. A taxi will be faster. You go get dressed while I organize everything.”
Tom sagged a little with relief. “Thank you, Enid. I know you’re going through something right now but I need you. Just for a little while.”
“I need you too, Tom. More than ever before.”
His stomach clenched again and Tom had to fight black speckling unconsciousness that threatened to overwhelm him. Stumbling back to the room, Enid followed with water and pills.
“Painkillers.” She said, dropping them into his mouth.
The look in her eyes warned him but Tom was all out of fight. He swallowed the pills and lay back on the bed.
That night Enid gave Tom more pills, more than she thought wise but enough that he would feel nothing and not wake up. Whatever her decision.
He was hot to the touch and she noticed that above the bandage that covered his left hand a hot line of infection was creeping into the light. She wondered if she should have boiled the boning knife she used? It was too late now. She sat on his bed for a long time with a small pocket knife. One Tom had been given years ago by one of the many customers he had entertained in his shoe store. It seemed sharp enough to do the job.
The little voice came from her dressing table. “What are you waiting for?”
“I can’t do it.”
“We’ve been through this. You have to do it.”
“He’s sick, he needs a doctor.”
“He ruined our lives.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I’m not alive because of what he did.”
“I forgave him.”
“I cheated too.” She gasped, never once having admitted this before. The secret that festered in the back of her head now tried to worm it’s way out of her mouth.
“It was too late by then. He infected you.”
“I can’t let him die!” She was crying now. Yelling with certainty.
“Then I will die.” The small boy turned away but Enid saw that flash in his eyes again in the mirror. That glint of something more hidden behind the façade she wanted to see. Could this all be her imagination? She had lost her mind several times before but those times she had never hallucinated. She reached out to touch the boy but he backed away.
“Not until I’m real. Please.” His pleading burrowed into Enid’s brain, twisting into her exhausted nervous system.
It was easier to just give in than to fight. “Okay.”
“Don’t forget the blood this time.” He said and scampered away.
“What’s your name?” Enid asked his back.
He turned back on a grin, “I’m Tom Junior.”
It had been a late night for Enid but the next morning she awoke with a feeling of dread and excitement.
“Today’s the day.” She told Tom who slept on, unaware of his new mutilations.
Noise in the kitchen had Enid sitting upright, hand to her chest. “He’s here, Tom. Our boy has finally come home.”
Tom surprised her into a small shriek then by saying, “He’s not ours, Enid. He’s trying to kill me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I need the hospital, Enid. Please…”
“For once, this isn’t all about you, Tom. It’s my time.”
She shuffled from the room to find Tom more drugs and to meet her son.
On the kitchen table the small doll had come to life. It moved and jerked with life. “Help me.” He cried.
Enid rushed to hold the small creature upright, it’s squirming sickening and unnatural. She had been expecting a real child, not an animated doll. Her disappointment sparked, that overwhelming feeling that had travelled the road of her life on her shoulder, reminding her of all the things she would never be, would never do.
“You’re still a doll.” She said.
The thing froze. “Not forever. I will change with your love and devotion. Like any other little boy.”
“But I don’t have much time left.”
“There is time.”
“Will you grow?”
“I will become more like you.”
“But will you grow?”
“Am I not good enough?”
“I want grandchildren like all those nosy women in the fancy units in town. I want to be rid of their pity and their dislike. I want to be one of them.
“You have what you wanted.” The knitted eyes sparked into life, not the blue of the child in Enid’s imagination but the fiery red she had glimpse. “I’m a fucking kid.”
“Don’t you profane at me!” She roared, insulted to her very core.
“Then be grateful I have worked so hard for you.”
“But I wanted a child, grandchildren. All you have given me is a midget and a sick husband. Two retards to attend to.”
“This is what you wanted.”
“I’ve changed my mind.”
“Too late.” The little creature snarled, small teeth breaking through the knitted wool. “You will attend me, crone, else your torment shall be ceaseless.”
“Torment? You think I don’t understand torment?”
With that she turned away and left the room. Malakai tried to move but the vessel his body was contained in was tight and slow. Until he became accustomed, until he learned to control a body once more, until this obscene shroud began to turn into a body proper, Malakai was trapped and at the hag’s mercy.
“Mother!” He called, “Please come back. I’m sorry I just…it’s been a shock finally being with you.”
It was sometime later that Malakai heard the sirens. He saw no one because Enid returned to the room only to stuff him into a drawer, unmoved by his pleading, her lips tight with anger, the wrinkles deep, her eyes heavy.
With little else to do Malakai waited, eventually falling asleep. Something he had not done for over 3000 years.
When he awoke it was bright and hot. He was under a spotlight of some kind and could hear a strange frantic clacking noise, could feel an incessant dull tugging at his legs. His head was held down with a cold iron, he couldn’t budge it.
He squinted past the bright light to see Enid frantically knitting, the wool coming from Malakai’s new body.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting rid of you before I go to jail to finish my days. You never warned me cutting Tom up like that would send me to jail.”
“How was I to…”
“He’s dead you know. Infections, cancer, blood loss, old age. Whatever it was I started it and I killed him. Least I can do is make sure you don’t do it to some other weak minded woman.”
“You can’t do this. I’m alive…”
“Not for long.”
“You don’t understand. I’m trapped in this material. I can’t be killed least it is completely consumed.”
Enid smiled. “Consumed, huh? How’s a fire for consuming?”
“My base is gold. You could never put me in a fire hot enough. Please, you must let me stay. Take me to this jail with you.”
“Like hell. I ain’t going to jail. I’m an old woman. I’m going to Hell to meet my maker and atone for all my sins. I’ll meet you there you evil little monster.”
“Fuck you, crone. Set me free. There is no way an old piece of shit like you can stop me now. I’ll find another way into the world. I’ve come this far, there’s no way back.”
Enid stopped knitting.
“I think I can slow you down at least.”
She picked the doll up, slipping out the back door of her horrible shack as the police turned into her road with screaming sirens. It was dark now but they would soon find her. That was not Enid’s focus. Her focus was getting this evil little puppet to the house three roads over.
She had to take the back way, down dark, dusty streets, past howling dogs and hissing cats. Eventually she came to the right place, clutching her chest as the huge dog threw itself at the fence then shoved his huge head through a hole it had dug.
Without further comment, hearing the police dogs on her trail Enid dropped the shrieking doll into the hole. The dog growled at it uncertainly for a moment then picked it up and swallowed it whole, the smell of blood permeating his mind.
“Enjoy that you evil little shit.” Enid said just as a police dog brayed at the other end of the road and a policewoman screamed at her to lie down on the ground.
Malakai waited inside his precious stone. All his earthly trappings were gone by the time he left the dog. He was picked up by a bird and dropped into a nest. The bird either died or didn’t find a mate as the nest was never used and it took long years for the twigs to rot enough for the stone to drop from the tree.
A young boy found the gold nugget, thinking it just a strange stone he put it in his pocket and took it home. His life would never be the same and the voice in his head pushed him to many things he would otherwise never dream of. He even swallowed it once, interested when it re-emerged unchanged.
Malakai was patient. He would wait for the right time. He had nothing but time.