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The fruit of thy womb, p.1
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       The Fruit Of Thy Womb, p.1

           Lori R. Lopez
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The Fruit Of Thy Womb

  The Fruit Of Thy Womb

  by Lori R. Lopez

  All rights reserved

  No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any

  media without written permission from the author, except

  brief excerpts in critical reviews and articles.

  This is a work of fiction.

  Copyright © 2013 by Lori R. Lopez

  Front Cover Illustration by Lori R. Lopez

  Imagine a world owned by corporate greed, where the bottom line is NOT the public good. Capitalism might seem a lot like Communism . . .

  The end of the world began with a rotten banana. Ziggy Boyle stood in an alley on a blistering day and nonchalantly peeled the piece of fruit — then noticed to his disgust the white interior had dissolved to a dark slimy pulp. ‟Gross!” Dropping it, he wiped sticky fingers on the front of a black shirt and ground the heel of a loafer over the squishy mound. He next spent a full minute scraping mashed banana off the bottom of his shoe onto the pavement. The peel had still been yellow. It was the last time he would steal a snack from that supermarket. Imagine if he paid for it! Indignation seethed. Out of habit, he suppressed his annoyance. Couldn’t denounce the corporations, even under one’s breath. It wasn’t wise.

  A mass of cockroaches scuttled to mob the smeared fruit, a common sight. You couldn’t go anyplace without seeing them. Must be the heat. Temperatures kept breaking records. It was all people yakked about on the tube. That and storms. There were always bigger storms than the last. Not to mention the massacres. Terrorism was on the rise. It might be a hate group. It might be the meltdown of some suicidal nut-job with a grudge and a bag of bullets and guns or homemade bombs.

  He figured they were all just too warm.

  Fans no longer did the trick. You had to have air-conditioning or risk dying of heatstroke. He didn’t, and some days he could feel his brain literally boil in his skull. It was like Hell on Earth.

  Water was becoming scarce. Nations feuded over that instead of land. Starvation was rampant. Plagues were expanding in biblical proportions.

  Tempers were on the rise along with the temperatures. Everyone was hot under the collar. And it was only going to get worse. That’s what they predicted on T.V. More gloom and doom. He finally hauled the offensive device off the wall, sick of hearing bad news. Then he kicked it, hurled the monitor against another wall, and finally heaved it through the window of his apartment. Lucky it didn’t hit someone or he could have been arrested. He wondered if the jail had air-conditioning.

  Before Ziggy came into the world, his parents had stopped on a lark at a palm-reader’s house to ask if their baby would be healthy. The woman, Lady Zsa Zsa (whose real identity was Jolene Snork) didn’t fit the role. She had bobbed Peroxide curls and smoked constantly, as if fueled by tar and nicotine. Sharp features regarded Adele Boyle with one eye closed, plunking regally into a seat across the round kitchen table. Fingers scrabbled in a package for her subsequent cigarette, the stub in her mouth burned to the filter. Coral lipstick stained the butt as she tapped it in an overflowing ashtray at one elbow and fumbled with a disposable lighter. The flame glowed an eerie shade of orange-red, blazing upward to ignite the end of a new cancer stick.

  ‟Pay now!” the oracle barked.

  Ziggy’s father Zeke forked over the cash. It disappeared. The blonde impatiently held out a hand. Adele nervously passed hers across the scarred wood surface, and the mystic seized it to pry open and thud palm-up on the tabletop. The puffing lady’s head leaned forward at such an angle, Adele was afraid she meant to burn a hole in the palm rather than read it. A clump of ash let go. Adele flinched, attempting to retract her hand. The fortuneteller gripped it hard and lifted green orbs like Adele’s to glare belligerently, not letting go till she had earned her twenty bucks.

  The expectant parents waited, convinced from the trappings and the woman’s demeanor that she was a charlatan and would merely pretend to study the creases on Adele’s inner hand. Scrutinizing the lines, however, the clairvoyant’s head jerked up in an abrupt attitude of shock. Fear was etched in the wrinkles of her blanched visage as she whispered hoarsely, a barely audible hiss: ‟Cursed be the fruit of thy womb!”

  Adele blinked. ‟What did you say?”

  The woman recovered and shook her head. ‟Get out.”

  ‟What was the prediction?” Adele inquired.

  ‟We’re done. Get out!” the lady snapped, crushing a half-smoked cigarette on the tabletop, missing the ashtray in her haste to leave the table.

  Adele raised an exasperated look to her husband, who calmly ushered her from the residence. The couple walked swiftly to their car at the curb. Inside, the windows rolled up, doors locked, Zeke confirmed what the palm-reader had uttered. It had to be nonsense, he assured. The woman wasn’t even a Gypsy.

  They avoided her street from that day. Ziggy was born a nine-pound two-ounce baby with no defects. His parents had considered themselves blessed. Until the afternoon Ziggy wandered out of his yard. His mommy only diverted her eyes a few minutes, hanging wet laundry, and he was gone.

  Bored, the child abandoned his toys on the rear stoop and toddled to the sidewalk in the front, which he followed for several blocks, crossing streets in the neighborhood, roaming to a green house with a sign in the yard shaped like a hand. This captured his interest, reminding him of the story his daddy liked to tell at Ziggy’s birthday parties.

  A woman slipped onto the porch and stared. ‟I know you!” she howled, and the boy started crying. ‟Go!” She aimed a finger down the street. ‟Do not return!”

  He trotted a blurred route and never saw her again. But two siblings saw him. The pair initially planned to turn him over to the authorities. Then debated collecting a reward, or a ransom demand. Yet he was cute and darling and won their hearts. That was the tearful confession of the one he called Uncle. ‟These things happen,” the old fellow said, as if that explained it. They had visited relatives the day he vanished and driven off with him like he was a stray cat needing a home. The one who insisted he call her Ma had died when Stevie (what they named him) was seventeen. A year later Uncle revealed the lad’s true name. It had been on T.V. They weren’t bad people, stated Uncle. They just didn’t do the right things.

  Being so young, he had forgotten his parents. Memories with them had been replaced by a squabbling makeshift family and that became his reality, seasoned with twinges of confusion. An idea popping into his mind. A brief image, like the flash of a camera. Or something unfamiliar fuzzily seeming familiar for an instant.

  Stevie Dunham, gradually switching to Ziggy Boyle, searched for his parents as he wished they had searched for him. News archives at the Public Library provided snippets of stale information; nothing current or conclusive. Working his way, he traveled to the city where he was born and traced his father to a cemetery plot. The man had died when Ziggy was ten. He couldn’t locate his birthmother. He went to the graveyard every evening for a month. When he married, he had hoped she would read the announcement in the newspapers online and be there. Standing next to his bride, his eyes distractedly drifted to the door. Sadly, it was as if his mother had dropped off the planet.

  Ziggy’s jaw sagged. Eyes bulged, witnessing a swarm of little flies appear out of nowhere above the banana. He swatted brumous air and coughed. There was a perpetual haze that smelled like poison. Bugs had taken over the city and to counter the infestation, experimental ‟safe” pesticides were periodically sprayed by teams wearing black hazardous-material suits. The Extermination Squad. If it was so safe, they wouldn’t need the suits. He tactfully kept such opinions to himself. Most of the time.

  Loudly stomping, the man succeeded in chasing the roaches away, flattening a few in the process. He had to clean more muck off the base of his shoe: banana and bugs. It wasn’t even a real banana. There was no such thing. That whole organic movement way back when? These days everything was manufactured. Big Business held the power. They owned the world . . . lock, stock, and barrel.

  Where the heck were those guys? Zig moodily contemplated the ends of the alley. He was alone. Except for the hum of flies. ‟Get outa here!” He kicked a leg, attempting to shoo the swarm to no avail. If anything, there were more.

  He paced up and down the stretch of pavement, then across the lane. Folding his arms, he leaned on bricks and hooded his eyes. Oh yeah, he was supposed to be the lookout. Why couldn’t he remember stuff anymore? It must be the heat. He endeavored to stay alert. Difficult when it was so hot.

  Ziggy tugged his shirt, ventilating his chest. ‟Come on, guys!” he muttered, pacing in a lather. He wasn’t always this uptight. As a kid he built models, cars and planes and whatever; later, intricate designs for houses, which required loads of patience. Maybe the glue and paint fumes had fried his brain.

  No, it had to be the heat.

  Once upon a time Ziggy wanted to be an architect. Dumb idea. The Housing Market slid into a sinkhole and disappeared. Almost everyone lived in condos, rented or owned. The land belonged to corporations. It happened before anyone realized — bank liens and foreclosures, government fines and land-grabs, tax increases, seizures by Homeowners Associations . . . By the time the dust settled, it was too late.

  Perhaps he should go and look for them. How long did it take to hijack a computer? They were activists, not thieves, but still . . . ‟You hack the thing and run! How hard is that?” he petulantly grumbled. Then sealed his mouth. Loose lips sank ships. Maybe he said too much. They couldn’t get caught until the transmission completed. His job was to call if the heat showed up. There was plenty of heat. And he felt conspicuous.

  Peace Corpse, the organization he worked for, wanted the secret formulas of the pesticides being pumped all over. They wanted to publish on the Internet how bad it was for humans along with bugs. Who knew what the long-range effects might be? Illnesses and suicides had already inflated. The government blamed it on the heat.

  Ziggy was racked by coughing. Two years ago he had watched his wife and baby cough up blood, their lungs congested, membranes thinned to bursting. Losing them turned his heart cold. He joined a group that was striking back, opposing the heartless bureaucracy of elitist moguls who lived above it all — not because he cared about helping the world. He wanted revenge.

  A droning cloud hovered by his face and he waved a hand, then felt a pinprick of pain. He smacked his cheek. Did one of them bite him? He gaped at a squashed insect in his hand. They didn’t look like regular Fruit Flies. These were fatter and appeared to have mutated. Ziggy squinted. No way, the things had teeth, rows of them on bony horns! Flies didn’t have teeth!

  It must be heatstroke. He was hallucinating. He brushed his palm on his trousers.

  The hum escalated to a furious keening. Did Fruit Flies usually sound like that? He didn’t remember them making noise. Other flies hummed. Fruit Flies were quiet, except right beside his ear. These were buzzing like an unhappy bunch of bees. More sting-like pricks from a unit of scouts. ‟Hey!” Ziggy’s arms flailed.

  The remainder of the swarm attacked as if by a cue from their advance guard. Ziggy wailed, slapping himself belatedly as he fled. The insects greedily nipped flesh. Normally vegetarian, they had evolved into carnivores. Gobbling like tiny winged piranhas, the multitude gnawed exposed parts. Still he charged, yelping, and bumped down a corner prophet ranting about the signs of The Apocalypse.

  ‟Here’s your doom!” squalled Ziggy. That’s when they got inside his mouth to feed on his tongue. It didn’t halt his screeches. Or his steps, until his tattered limbs grew weak. Then the flies swooped to the sky in a roiling cyclone of black and departed.

  The prophet never had a chance, sprawled on the pavement in a long bedraggled gown. Ziggy scrambled to her on all fours, trembling and maimed. The woman screamed too — being eaten alive.

  Wow, I dreamed I was attacked by Fruit Flies. That was crazy. Ahhhhh, why does my face hurt? And my hands? They’re torn up. Oh no, oh no, it’s true! It wasn’t a nightmare, it was happening . . .

  I have to — find help. That’s what I need to do. Find a hospital, a doctor or cop. A psychiatrist. Somebody. This kind of thing shouldn’t be happening. It has to be fixed. They’ll fix it. They’ll know what to do. I just need to find someone who will know what to do.

  I hear people. There, protesters, in front of the skyscraper we were here to rob. Idiots. Do you really think they’ll listen? We’re ants to them, gazing down from their ivory and steel towers.

  ‟Help! Please help me! I was bitten by a pack of man-eating flies! They have teeth!”

  Look at their expressions. They think I’m a lunatic. Can’t blame them. I’d think so too. Ohhhhh, what’s that feeling? My guts are curdling. My lungs ache. It hurts to breathe. It’s such an exertion. Maybe I can’t breathe! How can I walk? How can I even stand?

  That growling, it’s coming from me. My stomach. My throat. I sound like a wild beast. I feel . . . so empty. I’m suddenly starving. Oh man, it’s too intense, I can’t take it. I feel like I’m dying of hunger!

  Why are my veins throbbing? Did I get a disease? From the flies? Or the poison? God, what’s happening to me???

  No, oh no. I can’t. I won’t. I can’t control it, can’t stop myself. I need . . . no, please don’t make me . . . I need, I need . . . them.

  Ziggy lumbered toward the protesters, who backed away, frightened by his deranged expression, the vicious sounds that emerged from a fly-pecked monster. He grimaced in a garish toothy smile, the lips in fragments. Marble-skinned, his flesh ragged, the hulking man clutched a wide-mouthed woman who had frozen to an ice statue while her comrades scattered. Despite the frigid pose, she was pleasantly plump. His eager bite sank into a soft round shoulder.

  The woman’s shrill voice rankled him. He silenced her with his teeth. Warmth doused his cold torso. He had never felt so cold. Strange he wasn’t shivering. It was simply a deep burning chill that exuded from his very core.

  His banquet cascaded to a splattered sidewalk. The man knelt to pillage a bountiful midriff of flesh and organs. He binged with cannibalistic gusto, thoroughly enjoying a meal that a day earlier would have horrified him. He didn’t pause to dwell on what could be wrong with him. It hadn’t diminished his appetite, and that was all that seemed to matter.

  He straightened from the dead woman, feeling a sense of fulfillment that yielded to fleeting energy. As he retreated to the building’s corner, drawn toward the alley where his transformation began, the nourishment subsided into the dark void at his center. Dwindling faculties alternated between flickers of residual intellect and an avid animalistic craving. Satisfaction had evaporated, lingering sufficiently to propel him onward in a greedy quest for more flesh. Ever more.

  Behind him arose the growls of two holey unhallowed disciples, the remnants of prophet and protester shambling in his wake, like instruments of a merciless Old Testament God.

  Adele frequented the playground, huddled on the ledge of a low stone wall with the other mothers, watching the little kids joyfully romp amidst happy squeals and giggles. It was her ritual to check the swings and sandbox where she would often bring him. Hope kept her alive, the hope that he would return, that he would remember this cherished haunt. Yet disappointment and the laughter of children impaled like a blade through her heart and soul. Would she even recognize him now? She felt certain that she must. He was her son, and a mother never forgets. How could she when her child was a part of her own body?

  She perched there for hours, humming a lullabye
and rocking slightly, unaware of the women scooting away from an unkempt homeless lady who stared dreamily into space.

  This was her home. This was where she belonged. This and the house on Evermore Street, which had sheltered other families since destitution forced her eviction. The sites were her only ties to a blissful past. To the precious baby and family she once had, long gone, stolen by a cruel sword-thrust of destiny . . . a curse reflected in the terrified eyes of a psychic.

  Police canvassed the neighborhood. Jolene had been brought in for questioning due to a suspicious statement when informed a boy was missing and shown his photograph: ‟Of course he is.” She claimed to never have seen the child. Adele wondered. Had she glimpsed what would happen to him in her palm? Or in a vision? Did the woman hold clues or the key to her son’s whereabouts? Zeke had begged her to let it go, but she took to spying on the clairvoyant. Trailing her to stores. Then accused her in the aisle of a market, ‟You must have some idea, some critical detail. Tell me everything you know!”

  ‟He’s cursed and will always be. But I already told you that,” leered the psychic, blowing smoke in defiance of the NO SMOKING signs. ‟He’s like a black cat, that boy. You do not want him to cross your path.”

  Adele reeled. What an awful thing to say! The witch cackled and pulled free. Her laughter rang up and down the aisles. Adele had wafted from the grocery store in a fugue.

  If only they listened. If only they had believed and taken precautions, been more careful. She would have never let him out of her sight, not for an instant.

  Grief, regrets, guilt . . . these led to her husband’s death. He had taken to drinking at bars on the way home from work. One night he never made it home.

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