Little Miss Saigon
I wake with a start and fall out of my chair. My entire body is sleep-stiff. I can't feel my legs. It's a struggle to crawl into bed.
The sheets are cool, even though the broken hotel air conditioner sputters its last breaths to keep out the humid Ho Chi Minh morning.
Rehani is gone. She took Isabella.
My clothes are strewn all about the room. I think Rehani did that to slow me down. Funny that. I couldn't be more lethargic right now if I were asleep.
When the circulation returns to my legs, I pull on my clothes: black and white Billionaire Boys Club ringer tee shirt; super-baggy khaki regatta shorts; red, white and black Ferrari Speed Cat Super Lite Pumas. Had I known we were going to Vietnam when I woke up yesterday morning, I would have dressed a little less high-end street and a little more bou'gie bleak.
Rehani didn't take the backpack. Our passports are still there. So is Isabella's manufacturer's certificate of origin. That doesn't comfort me, though. Just because Rehani didn't leave the country doesn't mean she and Isabella won't be hard to track within the myriad of unfamiliar scents that smell nothing like her.
I shoulder the backpack, close the door behind me, and limp to the elevator bank on still-wobbly legs. In the lobby, the young girl at the front desk greets me good morning, her white ao dai sheer beneath the split at her hip. I ignore her.
I can't smell Rehani. Or Isabella. I'm not sure if I even know what this Isabella smells like. We've had her less than a day.
But I flare my nostrils anyway and push open the hotel entrance double doors leading out to Nguyen Van Cu. Still nothing. I refuse to panic.
There's a mall to the south. I'm certain Rehani didn't go that way. Her hunger, her instincts--just like mine--would drive her into the countryside or to sparse, secluded areas of Ho Chi Minh City. Those would be the best places to eat our daughter, uninterrupted.
So I set off in the opposite direction.
Two days ago:
Cora Juniper Jackson put a Rickard's Red in front of me on the marble kitchen island and asked: "What's your favorite memory of Isabella?"
I couldn't help but smile. "That's an easy one: taking a daily nap with her. She would put her head on my chest and fall asleep the moment we laid down. Without a whimper. Without a cry. And she would stay that way for as long as I slept." I took a sip of my Rickard's. "She was such a good baby."
"But even now, you're still grieving for her."
I nodded because my voice would break if I spoke.
I believed Cora when she promised me and Rehani last week the interview would be "routine." I'd done my research. The Dictionary Man told me all her business.
Cora had been one of the youngest United States Mensa members at three years and two months. She did Alicia Keys covers and impersonations--piano and all--on the weekend, which was why she wore a fedora and a white ribbed tank top now. She'd played a gig at the Soul Spot in Chicago before flying into Toronto on a Naomi Nakamura Industries private jet.
This condo was her neutral site, where she conducted all her final interviews with mothers and fathers wanting Naomi Nakamura daughters. She did them here to put the parents at ease, and to make them nervous as hell.
People like Cora didn't do routine. People like her had lives that were anything but routine.
Cora rinsed some asparagus in a colander at the sink before breaking off the white bottoms. "And what's your worst memory of Isabella?"
That one was easy, too.
My stomach rumbles as I make my way up Hai Ba Trung. I step fast around clusters of toothless old women selling fruits and vegetables, strong young men unloading crates of beer from small trucks onto the sidewalk, and the occasional scantily-clad bargirl standing outside darkened doorways that beckon with the clink of glasses.
I don't know where I'm going. Everything smells like Rehani. Nothing smells like Rehani. When I pause to get my bearings, desperate to pick up her scent, six little brown children swarm me.
"Hello!" they say. "Hello! Hello! Hello!"
All six are shirtless, and only one has footwear. Filthy, over-sized pink flip-flops are clasped between her filthier toes.
The children shove sticks of Wrigley's spearmint gum into my just-as-brown hands. "Buy! Buy! Buy!" they say. I give them the handful of American quarters in my pocket.
I smile as they run down the street looking for the next foreign face. It's nice, for once, to feel this hunger again. I don't mind this hunger. I trust this hunger. I know this hunger won't drive me to chase down those children, snatch them up, tear off hunks of their supple flesh, and gorge on their bloody goodness.
But I also know that other hunger, the dark hunger, will soon win out. I just hope that time hasn't come for Rehani yet.
Two days ago:
"We'd been playing with Isabella on the beach in Khao Lak when the tsunami hit Thailand eight years ago. It had been her first time on sand.
"Isabella wouldn't put her feet down. Not after that first hesitant touch of warm sand on those smooth pink soles of hers. Each time Rehani or I went to set her down, Isabella would lift her chubby little legs and just hold them there. It looked as if she was sitting in mid-air. I guess she just didn't like the texture of sand.
"Rehani noticed the water first. With the light and the distance, it looked like a solid bank of very low white clouds rolling in from the horizon. It was such an odd sight, especially when you consider the sky was mostly blue with high, wispy-white clouds.
"We didn't recognize the tsunami for what it was until it swept over a fishing boat. Just swallowed it whole. That's when the people at the edge of the water started pointing and shouting. That's when we should have run.
"But the water was so mesmerizing. Fascinating. As it bore down on us--stretching across the entire horizon--violent, white sprays burst up to the sky, as if the water was angry at us. Or showing off. Or both.
"That's when people started running. Rehani snatched up Isabella, and I scooped up our backpack. I left the towels, books and sunscreen. We didn't look back. We didn't have to. We already knew it was too late.
"I'd never seen Rehani cry until then. She sobbed my name. That was the only word she spoke as she ran. Isabella was clutched tight to her chest, but Rehani never broke stride.
"I didn't say anything. I just ran, two steps behind Rehani and Isabella, hoping that solid mass of water would hit me first. Hoping I could shield and protect my two beautiful girls.
"I should have known better. It hit me hard. I was surprised by its force. We'd just made it to the other side of the beachfront bungalows. It knocked me right off my feet, slammed me into Rehani and Isabella, and then skewered me onto some splintered wood.
"And as if that wasn't shitty enough, it swept both my girls away from me. All I could do was scream their names until I couldn't scream anymore."
I cross the crazy-busy street, just like how the Ho Chi Minh Lonely Planet tells me: slow and steady, into the endless wave of motor scooters so they can see me and avoid me. Halfway to the other side, I stumble and nearly fall.
I've picked up Rehani's scent.
Tinny-sounding scooter horns beep with cute anger all around me. I ignore them as I keep moving. Faster now.
Her scent is faint. Sickly-sweet. Much like a mango left out too long.
Yeah, I know; there are probably scores of mangoes like that for sale within a six-block radius of me. But I also know this is Rehani's scent.
She's going ripe fast. It won't be long before the hunger takes her completely.
Two days ago:
Cora pulled a wooden cutting board and a knife from the storage space inside the kitchen island and brought me two yellow onions from the walk-in pantry. "Tell me about the healing process."
My Rickard's Red paused at my lips. I wasn't quite sure what she meant or where she was going with this. Did she mean me? Did she mean Rehani? Did she mean our psychological and emotional healing after we lost Isabella?
The last thing I wanted to do was fuck this up. Rehani deserved to have Isabella back. Besides, she'd drop my ass like a bad habit if I messed up this daughter-buy.
I could hear Rehani playing with this Isabella upstairs in the lofted space of the church's former bell tower.. This Isabella laughed exactly like our Isabella did.
Cora put the asparagus into a roiling saucepan on the stove, reduced the heat somewhat, and then added a few spoonfuls of bacon fat into the skillet.
"It's not a trick question," she said, cutting the asparagus stalks in half and then slicing them at a diagonal. "Debris turned you into shashlik--a shish kabob. How did you heal?"
I must have looked like a man who'd just heard he wouldn't be granted a reprieve at the eleventh hour because when Cora looked up from the asparagus she laughed her ass off.
"Wash your hands, chop those onions as thin as you can, and then tell me what it's like to be one of the living dead."
This is what I mostly left out of my interview with Cora two days ago, but she found out anyway through the Dictionary Man:
I'm a delta child. So is Rehani. Twenty-six years ago, our moms and ninety-eight other pregnant women wanted perfect, beautiful babies. So they took drugs.
Good thing that turned out so well.
Our moms had been part of an experimental prenatal drug research program at Great Lakes Naval Hospital in Chicago. The researchers had enticed all one-hundred knocked up women with the promise of super-healthy children for the first twelve months of our fragile little lives.
The researchers also promised the first-time mothers an assload of money in case a healthy child wasn't enough of an incentive.
Two months into the program, twenty women miscarried. The researchers labeled those dead fetuses alpha children.
Three months into the program, twenty women bore their children premature. The researchers labeled those eager beavers beta children.
Nine months into the program, my moms, Rehani's mom, and the eighteen remaining women had uneventful births. The researchers labeled us gamma children. The normal ones.
That is, until we turned sixteen and half of us started to rot from the inside. Then the researchers called us delta children.
We didn't heal. Not even the smallest cut. Our skin sloughed off. Our blood turned thick and viscous and black. It stank like nobody's business.
I would wake up in the middle of the night, my sheets soaked through with awful chunks of decayed me. I thought I was disintegrating. It hurt like hell.
It was worse for Rehani.
As a boy, I could get away with smelling like that. At least, in the beginning when the smell wasn't so bad. But for Rehani and the other four delta girls, the decaying process was accelerated.
We were such the enigma and fascination to our researchers. We were special. They adored us so much, they locked us away. All ten of us. They wanted us all to themselves.
To this day, I don't know where they put us. I just know it was the cliché of every science fiction movie: cold and bright with white floors and white walls. Not that it matters where they held us. The place is empty now.
We ate them all. Guards. Researchers. Assistants. Even the pompous government administrators.
They tasted the best.
Two days ago:
"What did they taste like?" Cora transferred the onions from the skillet onto a porcelain dish.
"Lunch." I was proud of myself for pulling that one off with a straight face.
"So," she began, as she placed the six liver slices she'd asked me to season with salt, pepper, paprika and dry mustard into the skillet, "if you ate me after dinner tonight, I'd taste like this."
It wasn't a question. I felt saliva squirts at the back of my jaw as the meat began to fry.
"Good thing I seasoned those to my liking," I said, also proud my straight face didn't falter.
"Would I even satiate you?"
I looked her up and down. "An appetizer, at best."
Cora lifted her chin at the simmering asparagus on the stove. "Drain that, put it in the bowl on the counter, and then tell me why you aren't a rotted, putrescent mess right now, dripping all over my kitchen."
Looking back at that moment two days ago:
I'd bet a whole pan of my moms' peach cobbler that Cora made me season the liver because she'd thought it would trigger my dark hunger.
It definitely explains why her muscle, Ruck, had been standing off to the side with a gun in one hand and another in a shoulder holster.
But the dark hunger doesn't work that way.
Not that I understand it. I just know raw meat doesn't get me slobbering for human flesh.
More of what I mostly left out of my interview with Cora two days ago, but she deduced with that big brain of hers, anyway:
An average-sized, full-grown adult gives me and Rehani a few weeks of total healing and pristine health. The rot is reversed. Skin and organs regenerate. Wounds and broken bones mend within hours. Hair grows back in thick and lush. We smell like newborn babes.
For two years, we fed in remote, off-the-beaten-track locales. We backpacked all around Southeast Asia. Thailand. Cambodia. Vietnam. We even did Sumatra for a few weeks.
And then, during our second stint in Thailand, I knocked up Rehani in this secluded Phuket beach bungalow just steps from that blue-within-blue water. She knew it right away. We'd become in tune with our bodies at the cellular level.
That new awareness we now had--sight, smell, taste, touch--scared the hell out of us. Especially when we couldn't bear the dark hunger any longer.
Sometimes, it felt like we were walking around with big 'Z's tattooed on our foreheads. We just wanted to blend into the background. Become faceless.
But that no longer was an option. We had to step back onto the grid.
As we browsed bolts of silk and woven handbags at Night Bazaar in Chang Mai or bought fish and rice at Psah Chas in Siem Reap, we knew people would notice the big, bald black dude and the tall, stunning Persian-African-Indian girl with the newborn strapped to her chest. And we were cool with that. As long as they didn't notice us eating people.
We put diapers in those woven handbags and we made baby slings out of that silk. We might not have liked what we'd become, but that didn't make us love that Isabella any less.
But always, in the back of our minds, was the urban legend that floated around those bright, white holding cells the Feds had put us in. Devour a baby whole before its tenth month, and we would have total healing for an entire year. No smell. No decay.
Not that either of us really wanted to find out if it were true. But the thought was there. Every day. Niggling. Whispering. Tempting. Seducing.
That's what the dark hunger did to you. It messed with your mind.
It fucked you up good.
Two days ago:
Cora tossed the asparagus in a large bowl with extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest, Parmesan cheese, and a pinch of salt and pepper. "I'd figured that's why you googled the Naomi Nakamura process."
Her words hung in the air for a long moment before silence filled the space.
And then, from upstairs, Isabella giggled, long and lovely. Rehani answered with a pure, joyful laugh I hadn't heard in a very long time.
"The Dictionary Man goes both ways, you know," Cora said.
I tried to play it off. "Excuse me?"
She turned the liver over to brown the other side. "The last thing you want to do right now, Clive, is play dumb with me."
I gulped my Rickard's to cover my nervousness.
"Look," Cora said, "I want you to be truthful with me. You need to be truthful with me, if you want any chance of getting a Naomi Nakamura daughter. It's what we value. We like candor. Honesty. Veracity."
Cora got three white, over-sized dishes from the cupboard over the sink.
"That's how Naomi Nakamura Industries chooses its clients," she continued. "You can have all the money in the world and then some, but if we doubt your integrity, then you don't get one of our daughters."
Looking back at why I woke up so stiff this morning and how little time I've spent with this Isabella:
When we made the exchange last night at Hotel Nikko Saigon--backpack full of money from me to Ruck; Isabella from Cora to Rehani's loving arms--Rehani couldn't get enough of Isabella.
She nuzzled her neck, taking in Isabella's scent long after Cora and her muscle had left.
Rehani stayed that way the entire night on the hotel bed. Just her and Isabella. I slept in a chair.
That's why I don't know this Isabella's scent.
And no, I'm not jealous. Or bitter. I didn't carry Isabella for nine months. I didn't form that special bond a mother has with her unborn child.
But I for damn sure made Rehani promise not to ever take this Isabella anywhere without me.
Even more of what I mostly left out in my interview with Cora two days ago, though I'm not sure if she was able to fill in the blanks:
Damn right we googled the Naomi Nakamura process. Rehani and I had to know if Naomi Nakamura daughters were actually eighty-seven percent keratin and collagen.
We'd heard they have an epidermis, dermis and hypodermis. Google said their hair grows out of their dermis and it has a cortex and multiple layers, just like ours.
Google also said their skin and hair are sustained by a blood surrogate, an artificial hemoglobin that's the best on the market today. Details like that were important to us. Especially Rehani.
We had to make sense of it all. We had to dispel the rumor, once and for all. Or give it life.
Cora had told us all they needed was Isabella's stem cells. The roboticists and genegineers would use them to seed Isabella's synth keratin and synth collagen before attaching both to her mechanical structure.
That sounded real enough to us. Real enough to hug, at least.
Why wouldn't we google that?
We just wanted our daughter back. I just wanted Rehani to be happy again.
The moment during the interview two days ago with Cora when it turned into an inquisition:
"But you and Rehani asked for Isabella to be age-progressed to nine months old." Cora turned the heat off the liver and placed the meat on the cutting board to rest. "That's three months older than she was when she died."
"We just wanted our baby girl back." My voice was almost too soft for even me to hear.
Cora nodded, quiet for a moment. Then she asked: "Who did you want to find first? And don't lie, because I'll know."
I try not to run.
I keep my strides long and my steps quick. It's a monumental battle of will not to sprint down the sidewalk and knock everybody out the fucking way.
But I'll be damned if Rehani sees me bust through the door like a crazy person, my eyes wild and my chest heaving--even if she did break the one and only promise we'd ever made to each other.
And yeah, I know exactly where Rehani is now. Her scent beckons. It's unmistakable. Heavy. Cloying. Dangerous.
She'll be looking to feed, desperate to stave off the change. If she doesn't feed soon, she won't have the element of surprise.
People will smell her coming from a mile away. Stalking will be difficult. She'll have trouble walking, let alone running. Her muscles and ligaments will quickly deteriorate and shred into ragged fibers. Her femur and tibia will shatter.
I hope she's not at that point yet. I pray she's not at that point yet.
But I run, anyway.
This is what naked honesty looked like during the interview with Cora two days ago:
"It took me six days to find Rehani after the tsunami. She'd been at one of those notice boards with information on missing people. "I love Rehani, but to be completely honest, I was looking for Isabella.
"I knew Rehani would be fine. I knew that from experience. One cover-of-darkness feeding, and four hours later the hole in my chest from the palm tree branch was gone. So I didn't lose sleep over her.
"But I tossed and turned all five nights thinking about Rehani eating Isabella. And it didn't help at all that Isabella wasn't with Rehani when I found her.
"She couldn't tell me what had happened to our daughter. She'd said she didn't know where Isabella was. Rehani just wept and clung to me and wouldn't let go.
"I wanted to comfort her, but I couldn't. Not at first. Not without knowing Isabella's fate.
"As Rehani sobbed and snotted all over the front of my shirt, I couldn't help but keep thinking over and over: Thisisbullshitthisisbullshitthisisbullshit.
"I know that sounds harsh. But you don't know the dark hunger. It's brutal. It's powerful. It's unyielding."
This is what naked emotion looked like during the interview with Cora two days ago:
Cora put a bottle of Jackson-Triggs white merlot on ice in a bucket. "You still don't believe her."
Again, it wasn't a question. I sighed hard and heavy, and rubbed my smooth, bald head.
"I didn't see her ripen and decay once over those next three months." My voice was a bit louder, but just barely. "Rehani claimed her beautiful glow was from the nice, juicy bodies she found in overturned fishing boats and under piles of cars on the remote parts of the beach." Two tears came fast, as if they were racing each other down to my chin. "That was a bad time for us."
Cora handed me another frosty cold Rickard's Red. I nodded my thanks.
"It was wrong of me to accuse Rehani of lies and bullshit as we looked for Isabella all over Khao Lak and Bang La On and Phuket," I went on, taking a long drink of my beer. "Even then, she swore up and down that she'd been feeding the whole time without me. Maybe she had. I hardly saw her at night."
Cora put a corningware dish of wild rice soaked with a cup of water into the microwave and set it for fourteen minutes. "But yet, you lashed out at her."
"Which was stupid. I needed her." More tears join the race. "No one understands me like she does. No one wants me like she does. No one loves me like she does."
"You say she loves you, but those were some serious accusations you threw at her. How do you really know she still does?"
I don't go in through the front door of the convenience store. Neither did Rehani. That's not good.
I want to believe that everything is Kool and the Gang. I want to believe that Rehani still had the presence of mind not to bust through the front door because she could smell easy pickings in the back.
I don't want to think about Rehani holding Isabella the moment she's overcome with her dark hunger.
But the unmistakable scent of fresh blood isn't comforting.
I won't lie; I wonder if surrogate blood smells like real blood. I wonder if nine months of carrying our Isabella wins out over ten years of dark hunger and this Isabella.
I mean, all we are is collagen and keratin.
Flesh and blood.
This is what growing doubt and anxiety looked like during the interview with Cora two days ago:
I frowned. "Did Rehani tell you something different during her interview?"
Cora sat down on a stool across from me at the kitchen island. "Think about it. You accused the mother of your only child of eating that very child. I wouldn't be surprised if there was some love lost there."
I raised my left hand and wiggled my ring finger, showing off the simple white gold wedding band Rehani bought me in Japan, where we got married seven years ago. "She put a ring on it, didn't she?"
"Just because she needs you, doesn't mean she loves you."
This has been every day of my life since I turned sixteen years old:
That hunger--the dark hunger--doesn't just sneak up on you. It hits you hard. It hits you fast.
Like that tsunami.
It's impossible to resist. One moment, you're sitting there minding your own business. And the next moment, you're tearing into somebody's hips and thighs.
At least, I do.
That's where all the tasty fatty meat is.
This is what drunken anger and confusion looked like during the interview with Cora two days ago:
"Fuck you." Both my stool and beer were on the floor. I don't remember knocking them over.
Ruck stepped forward like he was about to kick my ass. For a brief moment, I didn't know what the hell was going on. I'd just had a few too many. I wasn't trying to get angry and break shit. Cora and Ruck would know without a shadow of a doubt if I was. An Ikea stool and a beer bottle wouldn't be the extent of it.
Cora raised a hand and Ruck stopped in his tracks like the good dog he was. "Look," she said, "I'm just trying to accurately assess the emotions you and Rehani have for each other. Both the good ones and the bad ones."
"Bullshit." I put the chair back upright and almost missed it when I sat back down. "You're just trying to sabotage the interview."
"Why would I do that? It's already apparent that Isabella loves you two to pieces."
I don't hear anything but my own breathing as I climb through the broken window and drop into the storage room at the back of the convenience store. The smell of blood is stronger here.
It doesn't take me long to see why. A young girl, maybe fourteen years old and wearing a blue uniform, is sprawled in the corner. Her throat is torn out.
I find another girl in a blue uniform just outside the door in the darkened hallway. A stout boy, also in uniform, is face down in a room full of dry goods. Both had been quick throat snacks as well.
That's when I start to get anxious.
These were the random thoughts running through my head at some point during the interview with Cora two days ago:
If Cora doesn't give us Isabella, Rehani will kill me. Literally. She'll wait for me to get all nice and juicy and healthy from a recent feed, and then eat me in my sleep.
Balls and all.
This is what gobsmacked drunk looked like during the interview with Cora two days ago:
"So this is the part of the interview where you piss me off?"
I was talking to Cora, but I looked at Ruck. I wondered if I could hang with him for a few punches, grafted bison muscle and all. As if he knew what I was thinking, he showed me his fat, bratwurst-sized middle finger.
I turned back to Cora. "This is where you fuck me around, play with my emotions, and then tell us we can't have this Isabella--even though you say she loves us like our Isabella did?"
"No," Cora said, plating the asparagus, "this is the part of the interview where it ends and I feed you."
I blinked. "We're done?"
"Unless you have something else to say."
These are the focused thoughts running through my head right now:
Rehani has this thing for salty flesh. She can't get enough of people with sodium rich diets. And she's a picky eater, on top of that. Her food must have the exact amount of saltiness. It's why she usually goes for the throat first.
She says the carotid artery is the perfect way to taste just how salty someone is. If the first person isn't salty enough, she moves on to the next one. And if that person doesn't light up her taste buds, then she keeps searching until she finds someone who does.
Which makes it easy to find her during her hunger urges. You just follow the trail of bodies with their throats torn out. And that's what's bothering me.
Maybe she didn't find anyone before the dark hunger made her settle on the best available option. Like Isabella.
We all know how just how good chubby-cheeked babies taste.
Rehani could always put off her hunger longer than any delta child, though. She usually fought it with a hoodrat-like scrappiness.
But after a while, like the rest of us poor bastards, Rehani has got to eat sometime.
This is what a poor, drunk bastard looked like two days ago when he was told the best news of his life:
I took the broom, dustpan and paper towels Ruck held out to me. We stared at each other for a long moment, mean mugging each other something fierce. He flexed his muscles under his three-quarter length leather coat.
"No, I think that's about it," I said to Cora.
"Good." She sliced the liver into long strips. "Clean up that mess, and then go tell your family dinner is ready."
I paused mid-sweep. My hearing always seemed to play tricks on me after the sixth or seventh or twelfth beer. "We passed the interview?" I asked her. "Isabella is ours?"
Cora shook her head, but she was smiling. "Not quite. I still have some paperwork to do, but you and Rehani need to be available to fly within the next forty-eight hours. No matter where I tell you to be."
"I frowned. "What's with the secrecy?"
"No secrecy." I swear her smile got even more kind. "I just need to find the lowest bidding country for a visa bribe. Someone out there will let us sell you an underage paedroid on their soil. But don't worry. You bring the money, and I'll bring your daughter."
A brassy, meaty scent like nothing I've smelled before draws me from the back office to the public restrooms. The back of my jaw tingles with saliva squirts.
This isn't stomach-rumbling hunger. This is the approach of violence and rage and want.
It begins to flood me. Fill me.
Shit. I don't want to find Isabella like this.
That brassy smell is stronger on the other side of the women's restroom door. I move to push it open, and then stop. The push panel on the door is smeared with a fresh bloody handprint.
I touch my index finger to the blood, and then the blood to my tongue. There's so little of it.
But it tastes so good. I want more.
That's when I hear Isabella scream.
These are the unfocused thoughts running through my head right now:
It was a squeal. Isabella squealed. She didn't scream.
Or maybe she did scream. Maybe it was a scream of laughter. Of pure delight.
This is what happens when the dark hunger hits. Perception becomes distorted. Rationale non-existent. Senses muddled.
Except for sense of smell and taste.
There are probably pieces of my baby girl on the floor.
These are the focused thoughts running through my head right now, parallel with the unfocused thoughts:
Rehani, I'm so sorry.
I was angry in Thailand. I was stupid. I was hurt. I shouldn't have insinuated otherwise.
I'd thought I lost you--and Isabella--forever. And then, when I saw you, and not her--
That was the worst day of my life.
I lashed out at you. I blamed you. I attacked you. Because I didn't have her. Because we didn't have her.
We were broken. We weren't a family anymore. But I knew you didn't eat our baby girl. I always knew--
It doesn't take me long to find Rehani.
She's in a tiny office, feeding on what looks to be an older woman wearing the same blue uniform as the two girls and the boy. Most of the woman is gone.
I haven't seen Rehani eat that much in one sitting since the government facility. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Her scent did nearly knock me over once I found it.
I back out of the office, nice and slow. A delta child has yet to attack another delta child while feeding, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. We all smell like food at some point.
Not that I really want to watch Rehani eat. Sometimes, watching another delta child within their throes of the dark hunger can trigger mine--even if we don't all feed the same.
Besides, I still need to find Isabella.
This is me, right now, happy, focused and unfocused, hungry and dangerous:
I hear Isabella again. This time, her wonderful voice comes from the front of the store.
I inch forward. I'm in full stalking mode. I peek around the wall.
A young girl in a blue uniform holds Isabella near the cash register. Another girl smiles and coos and chatters in Vietnamese at her. They pass her back and forth. Isabella loves it.
My baby girl grins right back at them. Shows her pink, toothless gums. Flashes her dimples.
The girls nearly swoon from her cuteness. They take turns kissing Isabella's chubby cheeks. They can't get enough of her. My baby girl can't get enough of them.
She basks in their attention. She revels in their adoration.
She extends a small, pudgy hand to each girl. She opens and closes it. Each girl places kisses in her palms. With delight. With reverence. As if she's royalty. Or. Some sort of infant-goddess.
She squeals again.
I take a deep breath. Sweat runs down my face. Into my eyes. I try to blink it away.
I don't want Isabella. To see me this way. I try to hold off my dark hunger.
Goddamn, this is so hard!
She's my baby girl. She remembers. Everything. That's how Naomi Nakamura Industries made her.
And now, this will be her last memory.
Just as I surge forward, someone grabs me. From behind. Rehani. She whirls me around. She kisses me. She still has gore around her mouth.
"I'm so sorry," she says. "I went out to get some moisturizer for Isabella's skin, and then I got hungry."
I lick Rehani's face. I savor the blood. The bits of flesh. All of it.
"Wait here," she whispers.
I push forward. Again. Rehani is stronger. She's just eaten. She throws me halfway down the darkened hall. But she moves fast. Out into the store. To get Isabella.
Rehani knows I'm not choosy. I eat whatever flesh I can. Whatever flesh I can grab.
The real kind. Maybe even the synth kind. Young girl. Baby girl.
I'd like to think I wouldn't. That I can choose. But I don't have that bond with my baby girl.
I didn't carry her for nine months. I didn't fight the tsunami for her. I didn't lose her. Forever.
(I think all of this in the three seconds it takes me to get across the store.)
And now, face-to-face with this Isabella--my Isabella--she gives me that lovely smile of hers.
And I make a choice.
I choose blood.