Written by Trey Briggs || Art by Monte Miller
Autumn was going to kill her daughter. She was going to throw her from the roof, wait until she heard her hit the ground, and then jump herself. The little girl wriggled in her arms, the chill of the night piercing the blanket, and Autumn reminded herself that this was the right thing to do.
I won’t do this if I let myself sober up, I need to do it now.
With every breath that chilled through her chest, she accepted that fact. You didn’t wake up in the middle of the night, wrap your baby into bundles of cloth, and then stand on the roof of your three-story home in a right state of mind. After yet another gala, another event honoring some millionaire, she’d curled into bed with her husband. After walking around with The Creature all night, the one that beat and killed her family, she’d curled next to her husband in a wave of alcohol. She’d known she would kill Louetta.
It was something The Creature said.
“Well, Autumn, I’m glad you’ve gotten so thick and happy lately! It’s good to see. Maybe I’ll stop by later with a gift.”
The Creature’s gifts to her were always the same: death and sadness. The hard way her husband nodded, patting Autumn’s shoulder, told her he felt the same. They would lose another daughter. They would lose the one she loved most. She was smart enough to know that.
Below her, the panicked cries of one of her other girls filled the space between the roof and the ground, and she calculated.
Will she feel it when she hits the ground? Will she be in pain? I can’t take it if this hurts her. I can’t take it.
The alternative was worse. Those monsters always showed up with their split skin and ugly eyes. They stood there with The Creature, and Autumn knew they were going to punish her again. They’d taken everything from her, even going so far as to force her into a career she didn’t enjoy. They forced her to represent them, the help their species, to exist for their benefit. Every drop of her sanity was under constant watch, and there wasn’t a day that went by when Autumn could look forward to the future. She had nothing.
The only thing left was love, the love she never stopped growing and giving, and all of it lived in her daughters.
The last time she’d killed one of her daughters, she’d hurt them badly. So badly.
That day, the monsters closed in, and The Creature laughed in satisfaction. The Creature took the form of an old friend of Autumn’s, someone Autumn loved dearly. It was the insult to add to all the little injuries. The Creature wanted Autumn to do something, who could remember what it was, and Autumn said no.
“Fine. Let’s ask the child what she thinks about it. What’s your name, sweetheart?” The creature had tiny lights at the tips of every strand of hair, and they sprung to life when she moved forward. Autumn knew that they could do. She knew how they burned through skin, bone, metal, and anything else that got in their way. They were crowded in her lab, her children surrounding her, but The Creature always went for the oldest. Her little girl gripped her shirt tight, burying her face in the fabric, and Autumn had to think fast.
Was it better to be skinned alive, pulled apart, burned to death, or to be stabbed by your mother? Would her daughter understand in the afterlife? Would she forgive her?
She didn’t have time to wonder. Autumn grabbed a scalpel and ended her daughter’s life, right in front of the creature. Her other daughters scattered, and the creature made her regret it.
The thoughts clicked through her head, drowning out every other thought, that she had seconds to spare the girl’s life. The only way to save her was with death. The poor girl begged, and she screamed, and she was the only child Autumn refused to name in her head. How had she not seen it coming? Why didn’t she kill the girl the night before?
What type of mother let her children suffer?
She was better at predicting The Creature’s moves now. It was why she kept the poisons so handy. Her husband hid all of it in lockboxes and buried containers. Autumn could make a few potent poisons from scratch, but she’d given her children immunities to them early on.
What a regret.
When she’d gotten home from the event, she went straight to Lou’s room. Little Louetta with her tiny hands, the ones she spent all night and day staring at. Little Lou, the one she was supposed to give up someday. The person she cared about most in the world, right there in her crib.
They’re going to rip her to pieces.
Determined, Autumn tried her best to find something quick and easy, but even her lab was locked during the day now, and she eventually just bundled the girl and headed to the roof.
Autumn adjusted herself on the ledge. What a sturdy house. Hadn’t she dreamed of this when she was young, back when she used to help her father and brothers fix the dilapidated structure of her childhood home? Back when she hammered nails into the roof with her father, wiping sweat from her 8-year-old brow, listening to him hum peacefully? Wasn’t she the one who told her mother, changing into clothes that didn’t have splinters and holes, “I’m gonna get a big house for you one day, and daddy will NEVER have to fix the roof!”
Sure, she had promised that. She’d even dreamt of her family enjoying it, of visiting her mother and father as they grew old in a big garden. Maybe her brothers would bring their many families by, all of their red hair shining in the sun, all the children blessed with the same Anity red hair. But that was before she angered The Creatures, and before they took Yenna, and before Lawrence. That was before she was outcast from Anity. That was before her father’s smile lit up the morning, when the husky scent of her mother’s incense filled the home. That was before her mother’s skin was torn from her body bit by bit, and before her father was bludgeoned to death in jail.
Nothing that happened in her childhood mattered anymore. She didn’t even know how old she was. Everything in her life was done to benefit the creature.
Autumn lost everyone when she was running from The Creature, and everyone who helped her suffered.
Yenna was a woman with Devil Syndrome. She’d saved Autumn from certain death, held her shivering in her closet while The Creature killed her mother. They hid, Autumn filled with shame. The Creature interrogated her mother calmly, a slight edge in every word.
“Your daughter killed my son.”
“Sh- she’s only a little girl! We had no idea what he was. How can you blame her?” There was a loud gasp, and Autumn heard her mother’s pain rip through the room.
The Creature sighed and said, “Where’s your little princess, hmm? Where is she? Are you willing to let me kill the entire city to save her? Or what about your boys? Maybe I’ll kill them instead.” There were noises. The sound was something Autumn would unfortunately get used to, and her mother’s screams were agony. After a long while, her mother begged frantically, pleading and choking on her own slob. The sounds of her brothers being mutilated threatened to drown her mother out.
“She’s somewhere in the city, please! Don’t kill my children-”
Autumn could feel her mother’s screams, and when they turned into pleads, into her mother begging them to kill her daughter instead, she couldn’t stop herself from whimpering. Yenna slid her hands over Autumn’s ears, tsking. She could still hear them. The sounds were in her bones, and they’d stay there. They’d live inside of her.
When The Creature left, Yenna crawled out of the closet. She was mortally wounded, her intestines barely concealed in her hands. Anyone else would die from the wounds, and probably most of the people with her condition would as well. But Yenna crawled out with more irritation than pain, and she pushed Autumn back when she tried to crawl after her.
“Don’t. She’s still alive. Let me handle it.” Too scared to disagree, she crawled back in the closet and curled into herself. What could be left of her tiny mother? How would she take care of her? The sound of her wheezing was chaos; it was complete chaos. Where could she take her mother to make sure she lived out her life in peace, in health, in…
There was a loud crunch, and then her mother’s wheezing stopped. Autumn rushed from the closet to see Yenna standing over her, foot against her mother’s neck, her mother’s head tilted so far back it was nearly decapitation. There was blood, but most of her mother’s body looked like an anatomy sculpture. Her skin was gone. The woman’s deep black eyes stared blankly at the wall behind her.
“Why’d you do that? Why’d you kill her?!” Yenna sighed, annoyed and tired. She pulled her foot back and placed it on the ground tenderly, finally giving way to her own pain.
“You don’t leave someone to die like that, Autumn. You put them out of their misery. Don’t you ever leave someone you love to suffer.”
Louetta wriggled in her arms. Autumn pulled the blanket away from her face, cooing.
“Sweet little baby. You’re so damn sweet. Don’t wake now, please, just rest.”
What would she look like without skin? If those monsters got ahold of her, how would they torture her? If they found out why she’d been born, what would they do to push Autumn, to destroy that poor sweet child? Everything was always about punishing Autumn.
“I’m so s- sorry, honey,” she stammered, the windchill creeping into her bones. She worried about the baby shaking in her arms, then looked down at the ground again. The way down might be cold, but she couldn’t survive that fall. Autumn hoped and prayed that she wouldn’t survive the fall.
Autumn knew a lot of monsters, and sometimes she was the one teaching them bad things.
Another woman with Devil Syndrome, Alicia, was an old friend. They shared a lot of common disasters in life, and they shared The Creature as a common enemy. Autumn didn’t think she loved and hated anyone as much as she did Alicia, and the feeling was mutual.
The Creature made sure they both lost everyone they loved. When Autumn woke up one day to find Alicia crying outside her door, a tiny gasping girl in her arms, she knew what would happen. She tried to pry the dying girl from Alicia’s arms, but the woman held her so tightly that her fingers drained of blood.
The girl was drowning. Even there with no water, the girl was drowning in blood and mucous. Her face was badly bruised, her neck showing long dark fingerprints. Alicia’s own dark skin was thick with black blotches. Autumn didn’t ask. It was always the creature after them. It was always the monster.
“She won’t wake up,” Alicia murmured. She was always clear, even when the rest of her rattled with grief. It made it worse somehow. Autumn covered Alicia’s shoulders, wrapping her arms around her neck.
“I’m so sorry, honey. I’m sure you did everything. You-”
“She’s supposed to have Devil Syndrome, isn’t she? How can she be dying? How? I didn’t think anything could be worse than the ocean,” Alicia muttered. She couldn’t hear Autumn, not one word. The slim woman was deep inside her own head, staring down at her limp daughter. “She’s not supposed to die, how can she die? She’s not supposed to. How can she die without me? How can she leave me like this-” Alicia struggled, pulling the girl to her. Autumn recognized that wheeze, that ugly panting. She heard her mother in it. She ran back into the house and down to her lab, grabbed something off her counter, and came back up.
“Don’t let her suffer,” Autumn whispered, handing Alicia a small needle. “I’m so sorry, honey, but don’t let her suffer.”
Here, now, all Autumn had was the night and the air. There was no one else to help. Alicia was far away, making plans and ruining lives in her anguish. And the creature had taken even Yenna from her, even someone as strong and able as Yenna.
No. No one was going to help. The only person who could help Lou was Autumn.
“I’ll be with you soon, Louetta, and no one will take you from me. No one.” She tossed the girl with force, not wanting to do half the job. Not wanting to fall and see her daughter writhing in agony with her last bits of sight. Louetta didn’t make a sound, and the blanket floated separately on the gust of wind. Autumn couldn’t look. She tried, but the thought of the girl hitting the ground ached through her back, and she closed her eyes.
Autumn stalled. The silence of the night hit her, and for once she felt almost peaceful. By now, her husband usually stopped her. This time she’d made sure to lock him in his room, to pile furniture outside the door, to do everything to stall him. Lawrence was a slow, uneasy man. Even in an emergency, he took his time. But Autumn still stalled, feeling the fabric of her nightgown rub against her legs.
I can’t just jump. I have to say goodbye.
“L- Louetta. Mother. Father. Adrian, Iggie, Dominick, Freddie, Sari, Lucas, Eric, Jonathan, and Devon. I love you all. I’ll be with you soon.” Her brother’s names tumbled out with ease, the reality of their lives and deaths trapped close to her heart at all times. She thought of naming her daughters, all her daughters, but couldn’t get around the lump in her throat. She would name them when she saw them. She’d name them and protect them, and this second time around she would be smarter than the monsters that took them. If able, if allowed, she’d protect Alicia’s lost daughters as well.
Autumn leaned forward, arms outstretched, and fell from the three-story home.
There was no thud. The world seemed to pull toward her, the ground the sky, the sky eternity. When her body lurched, she felt hands gripping her until blood burst from her sides. A rush of spit flung from her mouth, her chest filled with pressure, and she finally opened her eyes.
Lawrence looked tired. He looked annoyed, cradling her despite the irritation in his grip, the exhaustion going across his face in a slow wave. Here he was again, this man she ruined, this life she owed everything to.
“You can’t kill her, Autumn. You know that.” Autumn tried to shake her head but the world turned violently. He’d caught her, but her head and neck weren’t spared in the fall. She looked down and could see the grass, could see his back, and realized her neck was broken or sprained or something in between. The pain shot through her back all the way to her toes.
He can save me from everything but misery.
A moment passed. There was disappointment, ugly disappointment, and then there was embarrassment.
“I have… ugh… I have to go, Lawrence. Please. Lou’ll be lonely, they’re all lonely! I can’t let her die alone!” A long cry filled the night, and then another, and Autumn’s heart dropped. They listened to the infant suck in sob after sob.
Lou was alive. Was she mangled?
“You care about your daughters? You could’ve killed two of them in one night. Think of someone other than yourself one day.” He let her go, and she hit the ground hard, her neck cracking, her back just as loud. When she finally moved, she saw her daughter Astley. Astley was in her pajamas, her feet exposed to the night air. Her teeth chattered. In her arms was Louetta, perfectly fine, maybe a little frightened. Her older sister held her tight, but one of her arms was clearly broken.
Astley managed a smile, and it was another tired face. Another person used to Autumn’s antics, another person that wished Autumn would shut up and suffer. She held her good arm out and motioned for her mother to join her.
“Momma… please. Let’s just go to bed. I’ll stay with you if you want. Please.” Autumn crawled over to her daughters and held them close with one arm, the other barely moving.
“Did you catch her? You weren’t supposed to do that, honey, you should’ve stayed inside!” Autumn wanted to cry. She wanted to scream and pull herself to pieces, to get rid of herself. But Astley wrapped Louetta tight in her blanket, and they sat and watched Lawrence walk away in anger.
“You know what happens to the girls and me if you kill yourself,” he shouted back. The words hit Autumn like a bat, like a metal ball, and she crumpled into her young daughter. The alcohol finally wore off, fear and sense roaring back into her, and then there was shame.
And of course, she knew what would happen. Of course. That’s why she had to kill them first. That’s why she killed them instead. Sometimes she just couldn’t take it, that was all. But she knew what would happen to them. She knew.
That was the only reason she was still there.