The sense of shock slowly ebbed as Martha and Michael got about their business. It was almost harvest time, so Michael was very busy doing all the preparations for this. He, however, knew nothing about the selling of the finished product. This was arcane knowledge George kept to himself. Martha had only accompanied him a couple of times and knew only the scantest of information. George, knowing his heart was failing, should have taught Michael the particulars of it.|
''George SHOULD have done LOTS of things,'' Martha thought ruefully. They would muddle along with it as best as they could. She vaguely remembered names of dealers at the bustling Baltimore harbor, so they would go there in the twilight hours. The whole journey would take some doing. She wasn't sure she was up to it. They decided this was be the last harvest. Afterwards, Michael could tend to the chickens, plow and seed their vegetable garden, wash the clothes - all the chores she found herself too weak for these days. ''Someone can take care of ME for a change,'' she thought, looking forward to the rest.
Their future somewhat planned, after the harvest, they could relax and enjoy their days together. Michael knew his Mother didn't have very many more years left to live. He, who stayed perennially young, was beginning to suspect he'd had the ability all along to have done something to change that. But he didn't know that those many years ago when she was still quite young and vital. It was a lesson he'd remember in the future.
But for now, he could just ease her days and make them as happy as they could be, though he could see her weakening daily. He felt angry at death, that it should always be lurking by, waiting, waiting, waiting. He could feel it, and he despised it. Despise was not a strong enough word. He loathed it with all the immensity possible to him. And then he hated it some more.
But there was nothing he could do. His mother was too far along in its grips, too weakened. So he sat, day by day, helpless, as he watched his mother decline. And yet he knew this was just practice rage for the REAL day death clutched her away.
But for now, they had tea every afternoon. Oh, never mind, his cup just had water, they'd have tea. And he'd pretend to eat biscuits with her. His mother did once question his eating habits. Not while George was alive. Michael was sure she wondered then, but did not want to make a point of it, in case George would see it as well and have new reason to hate him.
But in the restaurant of the inn they stayed at while they were in the growing bayside city, Martha sat eating at the round table acutely conscious that Michael was only drinking water. She finally broached the subject, ''How is it I never see you eat? Michael smiled, as he assured her he did eat. ''Yes, but WHAT? I never see you eat!''
''You wouldn't want to,'' Michael again smiled, as he took her hand and patted it. ''Why? What is it you eat?'' Martha asked, as her eyes grew wider. ''Think of the most disgusting thing you can think of . . .''
''People!'' Martha ventured, wide eyed. ''Eh, . . ,'' Michael didn't elaborate, as he thought of the time he did not 'let good blood go to waste'. That having evoked no real response, Martha pressed further, ''Excrement?''
''Ugh!'' was the immediate response. ''Thank God there IS something worse!'' Michael thought with amusement. ''Urine? You've asked me to name horrid things!''
''Yes, indeed I have. Continue with the bodily liquids . . ,'' Michael said in an almost brusque voice. ''I shall find out if my Mother's love is truly unconditional,'' Michael thought with an uncharacteristic coldness. ''Blood?'' Martha at last guessed with hushed horror. Michael looked at her, into her eyes, and gravely nodded.
''Is THAT the secret of your, your eternal youth?'' Martha asked, as her mouth rounded into a nearly perfectly circle. ''It would do nothing for you, but ever since I was changed, it is all I can eat,'' Michael replied somberly. ''Oh,'' is all Martha said in response, though she did seem to shiver a bit, even though the room was not cold.
She never brought up the subject again. But she enjoyed taking tea with Michael every afternoon, very punctual at four o'clock. She loved him so much, she tried not to form a visual picture of what it must look like. Though one afternoon, she got a small clue. A rat had found their dining table, and Michael scrambled after it. He was faster, he was always faster, and he returned with the prize to the dining table. He held it up by its tail, while he chomped into the neck. Martha only watched, open mouthed, completely speechless, as in a few minutes the beast was finished and its carcass set down on the floor by his feet.
He raised his head up, and felt himself wanting to blush. ''Sorry about that, but it's a shame to waste a free meal. Sorry I let you see that . . .'' Martha let herself breathe again, and replied, ''Oh, never matter. 'Tis quite all right. I've been trying to catch him for days now.''
''He will trouble us no further,'' Michael smiled. Martha let loose another breath, and smiled, as well.
And such their days continued, happily. But gradually, Michael was most troubled by his Mother's increasing weakness. She grew more thin and frail each day. She tried so hard to keep her countenance cheerful, but he could sense the struggle it took to do this. Something inside of her had grown terribly wrong. This something was eating her from the inside out. He laid beside her at night and held her, to give her as much comfort as he could. It was during her sleep she let down her guard, and often soft moans of pain escaped. He stroked her, and it seemed to help. Finally, one day, after growing weaker and weaker, she had not even the strength to eat. Michael did not leave her side. Not many risings of the moon afterwards, her spirit silently left her body.
Michael laid beside the body and refused to move. Not even his eyes blinked. How long would he lay like that, he didn't even have the thought processes to consider. Eventually, he rolled over on his back, and his eyes resumed blinking. A strange kind of stasis had come over him. He was not aware of the moons rising and falling. He was not aware of the storms which pounded the little cabin. He was not aware of the sun which tried to seep through the heavy curtains of the house. He was not aware of anything. He just laid there, periodically shifting his body, with his mouth always partially open. He paid no attention to the rot of his mother's body. This would rouse a mortal by now. He just kept staring straight forward, mouth gaping.
The winter came and went. The spring storms tore at the house viciously. Still, Michael laid there, scarcely moving. Eventually, one day, his mouth closed shut, and his eyes moved around the room. His nostrils widened, not quite believing the strench. He wanted to get up and shake the dust off himself, but found himself too weak. Fortunately, a curious rat skittered close enough to the rotting body that Michael was able to grab it. Slowly, he sucked, for rapidity took a strength he did not have.
The rat's blood was relatively meager, but it gave him enough strength to stand and stagger to the door, where the crisp fall night air beckoned. Was there smoke in the air? It seemed he'd been asleep for an eternity. Rattlings of dried fallen leaves, a squirrel, with its bushy tail - it would serve as second course. It seemed truly that he had died that day his mother had died, and now he was reborn as something else. He didn't seem fully alive. He tried to imagine the world beyond their land, but he didn't feel connected to it. All of the world had gone on without him.