Mindy’s father came downstairs and into the living-room, where her mother was standing with her arms tightly crossed over her breasts as if she were feeling cold.
‘She’s fast asleep,’ he said. ‘She doesn’t seem to be running a temperature but she still won’t take off that jacket, and I couldn’t force her to.’
‘What are we going to do?’ asked her mother. ‘Perhaps we should have taken her to A&E.’
‘What – and sit in the waiting-room for six hours, only to have some junior doctor tell us that she’s just had some surge in her hormones?’
‘She’s nine, Peter. She’s nowhere near puberty yet.’
‘You don’t know these days, do you? There was a bit in the paper yesterday about some twelve-year-old girl having a baby.’
‘Peter, she ate Sprout. She ate him raw! I don’t know if she killed him or not before she ate him, but that’s not a symptom of precocious sexual development. That’s insanity.’
Mindy’s father sat down, and her mother sat next to him, taking hold of his hands.
‘Maybe we should take her to a psychiatrist,’ he said. ‘You said that she was talking like it was somebody else who ate Sprout, and not her. Maybe it’s genetic. My grandmother went doolally when she was in her eighties, and started having these long conversations with people who weren’t there.’
‘Yes, but that was probably senile dementia. Girls of Mindy’s age don’t get senile dementia.’
They didn’t speak for almost three minutes. Eventually, though, Mindy’s father said, ‘Look – let’s go to bed and get some sleep. We can work out what to do tomorrow morning. Right now I’m absolutely knackered and I can’t think straight.’
‘How am I going to sleep?’ asked her mother, desperately. ‘And even if I can, what if she tries to get out of the house? She said that she was going to come and go as she pleases, and nothing I could do would stop her.’
‘I’ll take the key out of the kitchen door and double-lock the front door so that she can’t get out. And of course I’ll set the alarm. Take a Nytol. You look absolutely shattered.’
‘Mindy’s my little girl, Peter,’ her mother sobbed. ‘I don’t want to lose her.’
Her father held her close and kissed her forehead. ‘You won’t, darling. This is just some temporary aberration. Maybe she fell over when she was taking Sprout for a walk and knocked her head or something. And she’s just getting over that really bad cold, remember. Maybe her temperature shot up and affected her brain, like heat stroke. That can make people confused, and make them vomit, too. I bet she’ll wake up tomorrow morning and won’t even remember what happened.’
‘I just wish we could take that horrible jacket off her.’
‘I know. But she’ll probably want to take it off herself tomorrow. The best thing we can do now is let her sleep.’
Mindy’s mother wiped her eyes with her fingers and then nodded. ‘All right, then. Let’s go to bed. I think I will take a Nytol, yes. But you will hear her, won’t you, if she wakes up?’
‘Wasn’t I always the one who used to wake up and feed her in the middle of the night, when she was a baby?’
‘And poor little Sprout. It’s all so sad. Dear God – I hope she didn’t hurt him too much.’
Mindy’s father and mother went upstairs to bed, leaving a single lamp alight in the living-room, so that the upstairs landing was dimly illuminated. While her mother undressed and went to the bathroom to brush her teeth and take a sleeping pill from the medicine cabinet, her father stole into Mindy’s bedroom and leaned over her bed to make sure that she was still breathing evenly.
She was lying with her back to him, with only her legs covered by her duvet. The blue velvet jacket had ridden up a little, but it was still clinging tightly across her shoulders. Mindy’s father knew that he wouldn’t be able to tug it off her without waking her up.
He was about to tiptoe out of the bedroom when Mindy spoke.
‘Have to— have to eat soon,’ she mumbled.
Her father stood utterly still, wondering if she had woken up or was talking in her sleep. Her breathing continued, steady and even, and she didn’t move, so he assumed that he hadn’t disturbed her. As he started to creep towards the door, though, she spoke again.
‘Not having them telling me what to do. Who do they think they are?’
‘Mindy?’ her father whispered. But she didn’t answer, and she didn’t stir, and so he crept out of her bedroom, leaving the door two or three inches ajar.
She had taken two Nytol tablets but it still took Mindy’s mother nearly an hour to fall asleep. Her father dropped off almost immediately, as he always did when he was upset or distressed. It was like a defence mechanism, and tonight her mother envied him more than she usually did. He kept twitching, though, and letting out little gasps, and so she guessed that he might be having a nightmare.
She could have woken him, but if she did he might find it hard to get back to sleep, and perhaps he needed this nightmare to work out his anxiety.
She kept picturing Mindy spewing Sprout’s half-chewed remains all over the living-room carpet. I’ll never be able to forget that, she thought. I’ll have that image playing over and over in my mind’s eye for the rest of my life. And I can still hear her heaving, too.
When Mindy had at last finished vomiting, coarse and curly dog-hairs were trapped between her teeth. For all her mother knew, they still were.
She dropped off at last, lying on her back in her long white nightdress with her hands clasped as if she were the effigy of a saint on top of a tomb. She didn’t twitch and she didn’t murmur and her breathing was almost silent.
After a little more than half an hour, the bedroom door swung open, in the same way that the door of David Nelson’s cell had swung open, soundlessly. Mindy was standing outside on the landing, still wearing the blue velvet jacket. She taken off her tights when she went to bed, she had kept her knickers on. She was breathing deeply, as if she were walking in her sleep, but her eyes were wide open, even if she had a fixed and glassy stare.
She came into the bedroom and stood beside the bed on her mother’s side. In her right hand she was holding a yellow plastic-handled craft knife with a snap-off blade. In her left she was holding a claw hammer.
I heard you two talking downstairs. You think I’m insane, do you? You think you’re going to take me to a psychiatrist to find out if I have a split personality? Well, I have for now, but every hour that passes there’s less and less of Mindy and more and more of me. As soon as I’ve eaten my fill, I’ll be back to being myself – all of me, and Mindy will be gone. Vanished, like everybody has to vanish one day, except us – the lucky survivors. That’s if you can call it lucky to die, and have to find yourself a host so that you can live again.
She felt completely calm, although she was a little sad, too. Not sad for Mindy, or Mindy’s father and mother, but for herself, that her life had come to this.
I would say a prayer for you, if I believed that prayers ever do anybody any good.
You’re not going to hurt them, are you? I love them.
Of course I’m not going to hurt them. They won’t feel anything.
But what are you doing with that cutter thing, and that hammer?
I can’t let them tell me what to do. And they don’t have the right to tell you what to do, either.
But they’re my mummy and daddy!
All the more reason. Mothers and fathers should respect their children. They should be endlessly grateful that their children have chosen them to be the ones to give birth to them. Think of all the men and women who can never have children.
Mindy came up close to her mother. She laid the hammer on the bed next to her, and then she carefully turned down the Peter Pan collar of her nightgown. Her mother still didn’t stir.
Sliding out the blade of the snap-off knife, Mindy positioned the triangular point just over her mother’s larynx. She took a steadying breath, and then she pushed the point as deep as she could into her mother’s neck. It made a faint popping sound as it went in. Her mother jerked, and gasped, but then Mindy dragged the blade all the way down as far as the pillow, so that she sliced through her mother’s platysma muscle and severed her carotid artery and her jugular veins. Her neck gaped open like some hideous second mouth, and blood flooded out in a crimson torrent, drenching her nightgown and soaking the sheet underneath her. As her heart pumped out more and more blood, Mindy was spattered, too, all over her face and her T-shirt and her jacket.
Mindy’s mother let out a bubbling, whistling sound, and flapped her arms up, trying to reach the gaping wound in her neck. Her father sat up instantly and said, ‘What? Janet! What’s going on?’
He saw all the blood pouring out of Mindy’s mother’s neck, and stared at Mindy aghast. ‘Jesus! What have you done? Janet! Janet, hold on!’
Mindy stood watching him impassively as he dragged up the duvet and pressed it against her mother’s neck. The rose-patterned duvet cover was sodden with blood in an instant, and her father realised with a howl of grief that there was nothing that he could do to save her. He pulled back the duvet and tried to cover her neck with his hand, but it was hopeless. Blood gushed out between his fingers with every beat of her heart.
‘Janet!’ he begged her. ‘For God’s sake don’t die! Janet!’ Then he looked up at Mindy and screamed at her, ‘Dial nine-nine-nine! Dial nine-nine-nine! It’s the least you can do, you little monster!’
As he turned back to look down at Mindy’s mother again, Mindy picked up the hammer that she had left on the bed beside her. She lifted it high above her head with both hands, paused, and then swung it down to hit her father as hard as she could on the back of his head. It made a loud clock sound, and he collapsed on top of her mother, stunned but not completely knocked out. When he tried to lift his head again, though, Mindy hit him again, and then again, and when he rolled over sideways, she quickly went around to the opposite side of the bed and beat his head until she heard his skull crack. Then she turned her attention to his face, knocking five or six circular dents into his forehead and breaking the bridge of his nose. Lastly, she smashed his mouth and his chin and his jaw, until his lips burst open and his bloody teeth were scattered across the sheet.
He grunted every time she hit him because he was concussed but not dead. As soon as she had finished with the hammer, though, she picked up the craft knife again and sliced the side of his neck. A fountain of blood sprayed up almost six inches into the air, soaking his pale green pyjamas.
Mindy stood back and watched with that fixed glassy look in her eyes as her mother and her father rapidly bled out. In the half-darkness, the whole bed glistened with blood. She wondered abstractedly if she should take a strip of flesh from each of them now, while they were still alive and warm, or if she should wait until they were dead.
You ate that dog raw, didn’t you, and that made you sick. It would be better to cut off some nice lean pieces and cook them, like that casserole you made at school. Think how good that would taste, and how much more you could eat.
I loved them, but now they’re dying, both of them.
Yes – but they loved you more, and what they’re giving you now is a whole new life.
I feel sad for them.
No you don’t. One generation always has to sacrifice their lives for the next. That’s the way of the world. That’s what they were born for. This is their destiny.
There was a long silence inside Mindy’s mind. She felt as if she were standing on the edge of an endless desert, at night, with a thin cold wind blowing across it. A young girl in a blue velvet jacket was walking away from her, into the darkness, becoming smaller and smaller, and that young girl was her.
Who are you? she asked, but even though she waited and waited, she was given no answer.