Authors: Michael Marano
Tags: #Speculative Fiction
“Little Round Head” © 2012 by Michael Marano
All rights reserved.
Published by ChiZine Publications
This short story was originally published in
Stories from the Plague Years
by Michael Marano, first published in print form in 2012, and in an ePub edition in 2012, by ChiZine Publications.
Stories from the Plague Years
was originally published as a limited edition hardback by Cemetery Dance Publications.
Original ePub edition (in
Stories from the Plague Years
) October 2012 ISBN: 9781927469224.
This ePub edition December 2012 ISBN: 978-1-927469-69-9.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Mother found me in the sun today and “
” out she came on her fast legs when there were clouds and took me inside.
She wasn’t mad, but she held me against her fur and her tears fell,
, on me and I started crying too because I was bad and didn’t want to make her cry. When she saw me cry too she kissed me and rocked me back and forth and she said my name, “Little Round Head! Little Round Head! What am I to do with my Little Round Head?” And then she sang me one of the songs I like so much and cleaned off the tears with her tongue. Later, Father came with food from down deep and he and Mother and me cleaned each other before we ate and I slept between them and felt safe.
I didn’t want to be bad.
Father and Mother played a game with me with sticks and bones. It was fun and there were songs to sing with the game and Mother and Father said the game was very old and the songs were from the Old Times. One of the bones was a head bone, and it was round and funny looking like my head and I picked it up and kissed it like Mother and Father kiss my head and called the bone “Little Round Head” like how they call me and I held it close like it was my baby.
Mother and Father thought that was funny and laughed, “Ha-Ha!” They held me close and ran their hands over my skin that doesn’t have fur like theirs to pick off bugs.
It is nice to be loved.
Father brought home a paper box with milk in it. When he comes home down the big pipe he shakes the paper box “
” so I can hear that there’s milk inside that he is bringing. He makes sound because I can’t see down the big pipes like he and Mother do.
Sometimes the paper box is covered with the sticky red food Mother and Father like, and they lick it off and I drink the milk inside and we pass the milk box in a circle so we can all have a treat.
Mother and Father eat the box when it is empty, “
,” because it makes them happy and I am happy when they are. I tried to eat the paper box once, but it tasted bad and Mother and Father laughed and said maybe when I am older I can eat the grown-up food they eat.
Father was about to eat the paper box when his eyes got big and he showed it to Mother and she said a whispery thing “
” and they folded the box and put it between them.
I asked what was wrong . . . maybe the milk was rotten and would make them sick. But they said, “No, No. Nothing is wrong, Little Round Head. You go to sleep now, and we will come sing you songs.”
I went because I wanted to be good. I heard them tearing up the paper box and I was worried that they would be sick and I would be all alone.
When I went to sleep I dreamed about the Bad Mother and the Bad Father. They are ugly mean things like giant babies, without soft grey fur on them like Mother and Father have, without the fur that I will grow when I’m big. The Bad Mother and the Bad Father yell at me and keep me in an ugly thing like a cage with wood bars. The Bad Mother and Bad Father burn me with little white sticks that they put in their mouths and make on fire before they burn me with the orange parts.
I start crying because I am so sad and hurt so much. But Mother and Father kill the Bad Mother and the Bad Father and take me away home.
When I woke up I was still crying, and my real Mother and Father came and held me close and said, “Shh! Shh! It’s only a bad dream, Little Round Head! It’s only a bad dream!”
They let me sleep between them and they sang to me and I had dreams about a dark place with shiny black stone steps going down and down to a place where I could play all the time and get my own food like Father does from the hunts.
It is a nice dream, and the Bad Mother and the Bad Father are far, far away.
* * *
Today Mother and Father had to leave me all alone, and I tried to show them I was brave. They saw I was scared, and before they left they gave me the head bone that I had kissed and they told me I had to be brave and protect it. They made a little body for the head bone out of straw and skin scraps so it was a doll now, and they gave it to me as a present. I was happy and I held the doll close so it wouldn’t be afraid and Mother and Father kissed and hugged me before they left.
I sang to my doll. I can’t sing like Mother and Father. Sometimes the words come out right, but most times they don’t.
When Mother and Father came back, they had cloth things that I wear with them. They tell me I’m getting big, and the cloth things that keep me warm are getting too small.
I say I want to have fur like them, and Mother and Father laugh and stroke the top of my head where I have the most fur and they say, “Little Round Head! You will be big enough soon!”
The cloth things are covered with the red wet food. Mother and Father put them in their mouths and suck out the red food, “
shluck! shluck! shluck!
” like how they sometimes suck food from the insides of bones. I take my old cloth things off and use parts to keep my doll warm. My doll is all bundled up to its little head bone.
When they are dry the new cloth things smell like Mother and Father’s mouths, and when I wear them, it smells like I am being kissed and loved. That is the warmest feeling of all.
Father said I could go with him for food, that I was big enough and brave enough to come. He made me hang on tight to his back, where there is lots of hair and skin, and he carried me through the tunnels. Sometimes there was water and Father splashed through it and I got wet.
Father caught two rats and “
” he bit off their heads so we could eat them. But first he poured out the red food from where the rats’ heads were onto his tongue, because he knows I don’t like the red food yet. I tried once to bite off the head of a rat, but it bit me first and I cried and Mother grabbed the rat fast and smashed it against a wall and said words I didn’t know at it and it burned. So until I am bigger Mother and Father will bite off the heads.
Father carried me to a place with a wall and he shoved against it, “
” and it was a door that opened and there was air like outside. Then I saw an outside place that was dark and the ground was wet and had big stones in rows like teeth coming out of it. I stayed close to Father, because I was scared of the new place.
Father crawled behind the stone teeth things and I crawled behind him. Then he stopped and smelled, “
” and we crawled to one of the stone teeth that looked bright and new and in front of the stone tooth was a long mound of dirt that smelled fresh and different from the rest of the ground.
Father shoved his arm into the dirt and made a hole. He put his nose in the hole and wriggled into the dirt and dirt got shoved up as Father dug in and I heard noises like wood breaking and then Father came up with food and he jumped and stepped on the mound to make it like it was before.
He gave me food to carry. We went a little way, then I looked back because I wanted to see how Father had made the mound like it was before and I saw that the ground with the stone teeth ended with a big metal gate with spikes on top and past that was lights and buildings and houses. I remembered being able to see a place like that through a square hole in the wall of the dream place where the Bad Mother and Bad Father live.
I didn’t know places like that were real. And since the place was real, maybe so were the Bad Mother and Bad Father.
Father made a sound at me like a rat. He had gone far ahead of me. I hurried to catch up. We came to the door, and I saw that it was to a long white stone thing like a house that went into a hill. Father and I went inside and he pulled the door shut, and there were shelves near the door I didn’t see before, and on the shelves were long wood boxes that were broken and inside were bits of cloth and skin and bones.
Father said, “You were very brave, Little Round Head. I want to give you something for being so very brave.”
And Father put the food he was carrying on a shelf and picked up one of the long boxes and shook out the old rags and bone and skin and put the food inside it. Then he hunched down low for me to climb on his back.
When we got home we found Mother up high where the metal pipes are. When Father and I saw her there we all laughed because we knew she was scared and lonely and climbed up there so she can drop on things that come into our home and rip their backs out. Once she dropped on a thing that looked like the Bad Father except it had a yellow head bone that was metal with a light on the forehead. When Mother dropped on it, it screamed and the head bone fell off and the light made scary shadows on the wall while I hid. Later, I got the yellow head bone with the light so I could see in the tunnels better. The head bone was fun, but soon all the light got used up. I still keep it where I sleep, along with a belt the thing had that had lots of shiny metal things hanging off it that make a nice jangling sound when I shake it.
Mother dropped down and kissed us and cleaned us. Father put the long box up where I sleep and told me I could sleep in the box and not be cold from drafts at night. I got in the box and it smelled like the dry dusty food we get sometimes. It was warm and very soft because it had a special cloth in it. Father told me the special cloth is called “velvet” and he wanted me to sleep on something nice and there was even a fluffy thing where my head went.
Later, as Mother and Father clean themselves and bits of their fur come off on their tongues and hands, they put the fur in the box so I will be even warmer at night and the fur smells like them and I am happy and have nice dreams all the time.
Sometimes I wake up to find that Mother and Father have been kissing me while I am asleep and they put more fur in the box.
Mother sleeps and sleeps, and when she wakes up she doesn’t move fast like when she is well.
I ask Father what is wrong, and Father says she is all right, and nothing bad will happen.
Father brings food like always, but he brings a little more for Mother. Father has to give her lots of milk and sometimes he saves the paper box and goes out and fills it with the red food. Mother wants to share the milk, but Father and I take only little sips so Mother will have more.
At night I go to sleep in my box full of warm fur and I cry. I have lots of dreams about the Bad Mother and Bad Father. They burn me with the white sticks and cut me with glass and hit me with belts.
I wake up from the dream lots of times and hear Mother breathing funny, like her chest is full of water.
I hold my doll close to try to make it feel safe, but it is too smart and knows that I am scared too.
Father took me to get food today.
I didn’t want to go. Mother is too sick to go up the metal pipes to drop on bad things or go up there to hide.
But I went anyway, to carry more food back for Mother.
Father carried me along the tunnels, but we went a different way than before. Father whispered to me, “I want to show you something, Little Round Head.” And then he turned to the wall of the tunnel and there were metal things sticking out that Father climbed up easy. When we went up top there was a metal circle thing that Father pushed, and “
” it moved and scraped against something.
There were outside smells.
Father climbed through where the metal thing was and I saw a strange, strange place. There was a big building made of blocks of red stones that went up and up. Way up top of the building were big tunnels and lots of smoke came out of them and went into the dark sky and funny smells and sounds came from the building. Sounds like “
” and smells like the bad steams that come out from deep in the tunnels near home sometimes.
There were lights up high on green metal poles, but we were where it was dark and safe.
I held on to Father’s back, and he crawled over piles of red stone blocks like the building was made of. There was a wooden box on one of the piles, and when we got to it Father took me off his back and whispered, “Look inside, Little Round Head!”
When I got close, I heard funny sounds, like rats but not as squeaky and mean.
Inside was an animal, with grey fur and whiskers and pointy ears and pretty green eyes that was laying on its side. Lots of little animals were pressed against its belly and they made “
” noises. The big animal licked the little ones and I could tell it loved the little ones very much.
Father held me close, and even though we were far from home, I felt very safe.
Father said, up close so I could feel his nice warm breath, “Something like this will happen to your Mother, Little Round Head.”
Mother’s belly is getting big, and she is wanting more and more to eat that is wet with the red food. Father gets food for her all the time, and because he is away, we don’t sing so much anymore.
But I am happy. I bring Mother water and sometimes I catch a rat for her so she can bite its head off and get the red food inside. I rub her feet and her belly, and we clean the bugs off each other.
She kisses me and says, “Little Round Head! Little Round Head! How I love my Little Round head!”
Father spends lots of time rubbing her belly, only when he does it, he says special words, words like in the old songs and words that Mother said to make the rat that bit me burn. Sometimes when Father says the words, there are rumbling sounds and purple lights and cold winds come.
I sleep in my box and hold my doll close and wonder if I can hold the little one when it comes like I hold the doll.
I found the paper box Mother and Father hid from me. Just the one part they had torn off. It was up high, where it is drier and we keep special things to burn, like leaves that smell like the places where we get the food. I went up there to get leaves because I wanted to show my doll what the food places smell like. I was quiet because Mother was sleeping.
There was a picture on the box of a face that was my face. I know my face because I have seen it in a shiny glass thing that Father uses to make lots of light when we have fire and he makes shadow puppets on the wall that tell stories about the Old Days, and he and Mother sing the old songs in the old words.