For as long as anyone could remember, Shannon Fowler had wanted to be a Mother. Even as a toddler, long before her parents even contemplated having to give her the “birds and bees” talk, little Shannon Fowler could often be glimpsed in her families garden, pushing a gaudy pink pram around the perimeter and cooing to her teddy bear within as though it were her own flesh and blood. Indeed, this phase of playing with dolls as though they were babies was something that Shannon did not grow out of until she turned thirteen and even then, the decision to relinquish this once-endearing display of Motherhood had not been made by her. It was Shannon’s Mother who, after sensing the ripples of mockery throughout Shannon’s classmates and the spiteful parents of her classmates, decided to take action and prevent her daughter from becoming ostracised. She forced Shannon to donate the pram and all her various little dolls to her younger couisns. As a child, Shannon had wept and screamed at her Mother for days. As a grown woman, though she would never have admitted it, Shannon was grateful for the admittedly drastic steps that her Mother took to prevent her daughter from being teased.
Even without the pram, the maternal fantasy never left Shannon. While other young women were dreaming of stardom or success, Shannon would go on and on to her friends about babies. Which was why, by the time Shannon was twenty-four, she was already working as a teaching assistant at Roselands primary school. It was little children that made her heart stir. Little children and their little eyes and little fingers and little feet and little noses and little words and little attitudes and little, honest souls. She grew to love her children, so much so that when the school offered her a post as a full time teacher, Shannon Clark did not hesitate before accepting their offer.
It was at Roselands that Shannon first met Kyle Chalk and it was in the staff room that the two teachers first began their courting. Within a week they were a couple. Within six months they were married. There is old Greek myth that, at the start of creation, Zeus split his human creations into two halves, male and female, so that they would be forced to travel the earth in search of their “other half” or significant other or soul mate. Call it whatever you want. Kyle and Shannon met the criteria for a couple that were completely in love with one another. So swiftly did they join hands in marriage that they scarcely noticed the snide whispers and cruel, envious smirks of their colleagues Shannon had never been so full of joy because, finally, she had the opportunity to try for a baby of her own. One that would finally be made of flesh and blood.
The story of Shannon and Kyle Chalk was one that should have concluded with bliss. If only, if only, they could have been blessed with a child. Even one. Yet, it was not to be. Whether this was a cruel twist of fate, some failing of biology or the sadistic intervention of some vile cosmic jester, it is not my place to say. All I can say with certainty is that, by their sixth year of marriage, the Chalk’s had not yet conceived a single child.
It shouldn’t have been as hard on Shannon as it was. If only some kind soul, preferably a woman, had offered her solace or even a few half-hearted words of comfort. Yet, such was Shannon’s isolation and disconnect from her colleagues that, when the marriage finally tore itself apart all the poor woman received was mockery, always behind her back, always in hushed tones.
Kyle Chalk. The man who should have been there for Shannon was the one who failed her worst of all. In the beginning, he had been supportive and patient. He had booked in appointment after appointment both for Shannon and himself, desperate to arrive at the root of their barrenness. He promised her, over and over, in the middle of the night as she wept into his naked shoulder. He soothed her, over and over, his loving breath stroking the blonde hairs on her neck that they would find a way to have a child, no matter what the results might say. When both their tests came back with no clear answer to the Chalk’s enigmatic sterility, Kyle’s shadow crept up from under the couple’s bed and crept its loathsome way into the confused husband’s ear. Shannon felt the change in her husband before she saw it. His shoulder grew cold and foreboding as black ice. His promises began to falter and then, all at once they ceased to be. Shortly after that, the rows started to commence. For some reason, Kyle took great offence at the thought of adoption.
“It’s you I want a child with!” he would spit “we can’t do it together then what’s the point!?”
Shannon left the school after their marriage dissolved utterly into resentment and bickering. Kyle was never the same as a teacher, after her departure. His temper grew short with the children and his smile that had once been so wide and warm grew sparse and malevolent. He was sacked six months after his ex-wife’s departure, for drunk and disorderly behaviour in the classroom. He had screamed as he was escorted off the property, like a man being dragged off to the hangman’s noose.
Alone, all that Shannon could do was pray. Pray and fuck. Night after night, following her divorce she would bring strange men, drunk men, fat men, bloated men with eyes like black stones, to her little bed and let them have their way with her. Their seed, she thought, would be the solution to the decrepit, empty womb. She was wrong. For two years, she prayed and fucked and for nothing. It was as though she had been cursed to remain childless.
That is, until she first met Taradook, the eight legged Jin. He who dwells in the nooks and crannies of the dream dimension, the Mindscape. For you see, where science and God fails a suffering mortal, other forces will oft seek to intervene. On the evening of her fortieth birthday, Shannon met Taradook. He came to her as she lay in a drunken stupor on her sofa. His visage was so alien to her, so grotesque yet mesmerising that when he descended from the onyx stalactites of Shannon Fowler’s subconscious thoughts, the terrified woman could scarcely bear to look at him. All she could muster were glimpses. Snapshots. At his eight skeletal legs, at his long black tail, his blood red pelt, his gleaming purple eyes-these brief flashes of the demon as he lowered himself on the long black web to her level, were all that Shannon could manage.
“A child, you crave?” Taradook hissed after making his introductions “a babe in a blanket, is what you desire?”
Shannon agreed. Taradook took the anguished woman in his endless hands and, very slowly, sank his teeth into her neck. Where Kyle had once stroked with his breath. The demon offered Shannon a simple covenant. In return for one night of pleasure, Taradook promised that he would provide her with the most remarkable children in the world. Desperate and, more than a little entranced by the beastly creature’s bargain, Shannon accepted the deal. When she awoke, less than ten minutes later her whole body was engulfed in a hot flush of terror and excitement. The back of her neck burned where the demon had nibbled her flesh.
Nine months of pregnancy passed for Shannon without much discomfort. Her parents were relieved that, finally, they would be provided with a grandchild. Her new co-workers whispered about her, of course, and about the unknown identity of the Father but Shannon was too euphoric to pay them any heed. At one point, after she crossed the sixth month mark, Kyle turned up on her doorstep. He was dishevelled and frightened. He refused to leave when Shannon asked him to do so, babbling like a madman about bad dreams that had plagued him for years since their divorce, dreams about a red skinned man lurking under his bed, a blood red man who followed him down the street, laughing in his ear. The police arrived and escorted him away.
Shannon’s water broke exactly nine months and nine days after Shannon’s night with Taradook. The birthing was long and painful. Shannon’s screams could be heard down the halls of the hospital for over fifteen hours after she was admitted. She howled and begged for a respite from the agony as the contents of her womb wormed its way to freedom. No matter what drugs Shannon was offered, it made no difference. As she drifted in and out of the haze of pain, she imagined that she could see Taradook clinging to the ceiling, leering down at her. The Father was evidently relishing the arrival of his offspring. Shannon fought through the pain though, she had to, she had come too far to surrender now. Finally, Shannon’s bloodied legs gave one final spasm and her child was born. She felt it’s skin. Warm and bristly.
As Shannon’s vision stopped blurring she saw the face of the Midwife contort in horror. In a soft white blanket, something malformed and unbearably, hideously wrong writhed in the petrified woman’s arms. The child was like nothing that Shannon had ever seen. Taradook had not deceived her. It truly was remarkable. And horrifying. It’s eight limbs were the colour of blood and covered in red bristly fur. Shannon stared in revulsion as her baby turned its face towards its Mother, screwed up its eight, blue eyes-the same colour as Shannon’s-and bawled.
That wasn’t the end of Shannon’s ordeal. The demon had offered her children and the demon had delivered. Shannon bore another child that day. And another. And another. And another and many more after that. As the lonely woman screamed into the night, on the other side of town, Kyle Chalk lowered himself into a bath of cold water. Behind him, his shadow, the shadow that had whispered poison in his ear and hardened his heart to the suffering of his wife, unfurled its long black wings and tapped its eight legs against the wall. Kyle did not see any of this but, somehow, despite the distance he heard his wife’s tormented screams. The fallen teacher closed his eyes and, slowly, brought his knife out of the cold waters depths. He knew that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, he could do.
by Rhys Clarke