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The heart was tarnished but still beautiful in its trauma

By Heather HagyPublished 3 years ago 6 min read

We huddled in the remains of Ping’s Noodle House, sitting in the manager’s office on a makeshift couch of cinder blocks and torn cushions. We stared at the portable tv perched on the edge of the manager’s desk like a broken bird, its wings bent antennas. The shell of the tv was battered. Splinters ran across the dark screen.

“What’s on tonight?” I asked. I shifted my weight on the couch. My back was killing me.

“Twilight Zone,” Kyle answered, scooping cold, canned chili into his mouth. He handed the can and plastic spoon to me.

I took a bite of the chili. Disgusting but edible. I passed it back to Kyle but he waved it away.

“You need it more than I do,” he said. He continued to stare at the tv, his expression as blank as the screen.

I finished the chili, scraping as much out of the can as possible, and looked around for a place to put the can. Though the office was trashed, I still felt bad about leaving the can on the floor. I stuck it between my thighs.

“My favorite episode is the one where the store mannequin comes to life and doesn’t realize she’s a mannequin. Are we watching that one?” I turned toward Kyle, wondering how long he’d sat there without blinking.

“No,” he said flatly. “This is the one where the aliens come to Earth, and the humans think the aliens are being all friendly and shit, sharing information, but really they just want to harvest and eat the humans.” He smiled slightly, the corner of his mouth quivering.

I punched him in the arm. “Really, Kyle? Not funny.”

“Sorry, I’ll change the channel.” He picked up an invisible remote and aimed it at the tv. “There, now we’re watching Comedy Central. Kevin Hart is onstage. It's his farewell tour. Can you hear the audience laughing?”

I shook my head, looking away from him. I stared at the picture of a family – a smiling, happy family – posted on the cracked wall above the manager’s desk. Mr. Ping, his wife, three kids. God only knew where they were now.

“I don’t remember the last time I heard laughter,” I said, getting up from the uncomfortable couch. The chili can clattered to the floor. I ignored it and moved toward the picture to get a closer look.

“Not much to laugh about these days.” Behind me, I heard Kyle shifting around on the couch, putting his legs up where I had been seated.

He was tired. I was tired. We were running on fumes, getting little sleep, finding it harder and harder to find food and shelter. But we couldn’t stop, couldn’t get too comfortable in one place for too long. For that meant certain death. For him, anyway. For me, it would be worse.

“Six months.”

“Huh?” Lost in thought, Kyle’s voice startled me.

“It’s been six months since the world went to crap.”

I looked down at my growing belly. “A lot has happened in six months.”

I took the family picture from the wall and turned around as Kyle rose from the couch, stretching his scrawny frame. His hoodie was too large for him now, and his pants had holes in the knees. The laces on his worn shoes were fraying. Feeling guilty, I looked down at the new shoes on my feet, sneakers we’d been lucky to find at our last stop. I'd been overjoyed when I put those shoes on my swollen feet.

Kyle began to pace around the office, singing softly. “We’ve gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do . . .”

“What’s that?”

“Some song my grandpa liked. He called it classic rock. Said it was the greatest music ever.” Kyle plucked the Ping family portrait from my hands and examined it. “I loved my grandpa. He was the best part of my messed up family.” He traced the faces of the Ping family with one finger then, without warning, threw the picture to the floor and stomped on it.

“Kyle!” I hissed. “What if they hear you?”

“They,” he said, kicking at the broken glass on the floor. “They. We don’t even know what they are. Lizard people. Space dragons. Cosmic chameleons. All the stupid names we stupid humans have given them.” He looked up at me with bloodshot eyes. “Mr. Ping is dead. Mrs. Ping is dead. The three little Pings – all dead. My grandpa. The rest of my stupid family. Dead, dead, dead.” He stepped closer to me. “You know what they do to newborns, don’t you?”

I slapped him, hard. He reeled back, eyes darkening. For a split second I thought he might hit me back but then he turned and walked away, stopping in the office doorway, back to me.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But you went too far.”

Thick tension hung between us for a full minute. He broke the silence. “I can still smell it," he said, softly.

“Smell what?” I approached with caution.

“The chicken chow mein. This place was famous for it.” His voice sounded far away.

“Kyle,” I said firmly. “Look at me.”

He turned around slowly as if in a dream state. Our eyes met. Mine burned with hope and determination. His looked haunted and empty.

I took his hands in mine. “I am not giving up. I can’t. This baby is depending on me. I have to see him born. I will not let . . . I will not see him become . . .” I couldn’t say it, could barely even think it. That horrible, awful F-word.


Kyle hugged me. “I’m sorry, Cass. I’m just burned out.” He tugged on my long braid as he released me. Light returned to his eyes as he reached into his hoodie pocket. “I’ve got something for you.”

He held up a heart-shaped locket on a silver chain. The heart was tarnished but still beautiful in its trauma. Tears threatened to spill as he clasped the locket around my neck.

He cradled my face in his dirty hands. “You told me three things when I first met you. Your favorite dish is chile rellenos, you like silver more than gold, and you were pregnant.” He smiled. “Gotta admit, that last one took me by surprise.”

I put my hands over his. “You and me both. And for the record, I was babbling incoherently when you found me hiding in that parking garage. I was delirious with hunger.”

Kyle stepped back and watched me as I admired the locket. “Where’d you find it?” I asked.

“Same place as the shoes. I snatched it up as soon as I saw it. Wanted to save it for you, maybe give it to you for Christmas. But then I started thinking,” he tugged at his beard. “I started thinking maybe we wouldn’t make it till then.”

I fixed my gaze on him. “We have to make it to Christmas." My tone, my words, were uncompromising. "That’s when the baby is due.”

Kyle nodded. “Roger that, mom-to-be. You’re the boss now.” He started gathering our meager belongings. “Let’s get outta here. I really am starting to smell the ghost of Chinese dinners past, and my stomach won’t stop growling.”

It was past midnight when we left Ping’s Noodle House, walking in silence as a late September moon lit our path through the ruins of the city. Now and then I’d touch the locket and think about how grateful I was that Kyle found me in the aftermath of the first invasion, both alone, both fighting to survive.

My thoughts drifted to the baby – my son. I don’t know how I knew it was a boy; I just knew. If all went well, we wouldn’t be captured. If all went well, I’d carry him to term and give birth in three months. I wasn’t worried about where I’d give birth. I knew Kyle would make it his mission to find a safe place for me. He'd been an excellent provider so far.

Instead, as we walked through the night, I worried about other things. I thought about how Kyle would react when he saw the baby.

I wondered if my son would have my eyes. Or his father’s.

I wondered if my son would be petite like me. Or big like his father.

Most of all, I wondered if he’d have scales.

Like his father.

Short Story

About the Creator

Heather Hagy

Stephen King fan (but not like Annie "I'm your #1 fan" Wilkes cuz I'm sane and she's not)

Horror/supernatural are my favorite writing genres

Wife to 1 and mom to 4 humans, 4 dogs, 6 cats, and a dragon

"Jaws" is the greatest movie ever

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Comments (4)

  • Rick Henry Christopher about a year ago

    What a great story. I really enjoyed reading that. A lot of intensity and emotion. Great job.

  • JBazabout a year ago

    Oh this one deserved more. You have a great way of writing such a wonderful and well told story with a BAM of a finish.

  • Stephanie J. Bradberryabout a year ago

    This is an amazing story that is extremely well written. And you mentioned two of my favorite things 1) one of my favorite episodes from "The Twilight Zone" and 2) older Kevin Hart comedy.

  • Loryne Andaweyabout a year ago

    Your skill and love for horror is present in this story. Tight writing, perfect pitch and excellent twist. How this does not have more reads is criminal. Well done!

Heather HagyWritten by Heather Hagy

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