Saturday, 07 September 2013 17:24

The Last Supper by S.R. Mastrantone

Last SupperMother had just put the last bowl down on the table when the house shook again. Dad jumped in his seat. Nana moaned.  The rest of us, Jessica, Uncle Brian, Aunt Florence and me, watched for Mother's reaction through the flickering candlelight. Untroubled, she sat down, put her hands together and said: "For what we are about to receive, may the lord make us truly—"

Again, the house shook. A picture fell from the wall and the house began to lean very slightly to one side. Some of the smaller, lighter items, the cutlery, the tumblers, the nearly-empty jar of English mustard, journeyed toward Aunt Florence and Uncle Brian. They spread their arms wide to block anything from falling while Jessica and I, from the opposite side, leaned over to grab what hadn't slid beyond the length of our arms.

 

"—thankful. Amen."

"Amen," we all said.

The quiet after the shaking was interrupted by a soft hissing, not unlike cold meat hitting a barbeque. We all looked across the room. Green liquid was seeping through the dining room floor, bringing with it the foul smell that we'd been trying to keep out for two weeks by sealing the windows and the bottoms of doors. 

Like tennis spectators we all looked back to Mother as one. She shook her head. "It doesn't matter now."

"It's digesting," Uncle Brian said. At first he'd been full of ideas about how to escape but for the last week he sounded like he'd given up.

The room shook again, the house tilted even more. "Should we not at least try—" Aunt Florence said. She sounded like she might start crying again.

"Give it a rest, Florence," Mother said.

"But—"

"Have some dignity. Please." Mother shook her head and looked at Father. He cast his eyes down quickly to avoid getting in trouble. He'd been getting in trouble a lot recently because he thought that we should we wait until the very last minute to execute Mother's plan. He thought the thing might throw us up or we'd be rescued. But in the end, as always, he went with what Mother said.

With a slow creak the house corrected itself enough so that the liquid receded slightly. Gravity took over from our hands, freeing us to pick up our knives and forks. 

Mother nodded again and we all helped ourselves to the last of the food. The last chicken, the last beef, the last sprouts, the last gravy.

Though our plates were quickly heaped, no one took the first bite: all of us too aware of the special seasoning Mother had used while preparing the meal.

When no one had done anything for almost a minute, I said: "This is stupid". Jessica looked at me wide eyed, imploring me to shut up. But there was something else in her face made me keep going. "Dad is right. We should wait until the last minute."

Dad shook his head. "I'm not right," he said. "You should listen to your Mother now."

Most of the eyes in the room were on me now, equally curious and frightened, but mother had turned to stare out the window; she stared through the glass that a fortnight before had looked out upon the Malvern Hills but now looked out onto a blackness that was red when you shined a torch on it.

"You have to be the contrarian," Mother said. "Even now." Her voice was quiet but firm.

"He is wilful," Nana said.

 "That's not what this is. I just think—"

"Do you love your family, Matthew?" Mother asked, turning to face me.

"You know I—"

"Do you want to watch us all suffer? Do you want to watch your sister suffer?"

I looked at Jessica who still had the tiniest amount of hope in her eyes, then turned to Mother who was now looking at me. If I continued, things would become violent.  There was still a red streak across Jessica's cheek marking the last argument with Mother.

So I shook my head and Mother said: "Then, for once, stop ruining a perfectly lovely Sunday dinner and eat."

Uncle Brian and Aunt Florence held hands as they shovelled Mother's food into their mouth. "She's right," Uncle Brian said through a full mouth, "this is for the best. Mother knows best." 

That's right Uncle Brian, I thought. And if you eat all your greens you'll grow up to be an astronaut.

Nana nodded and joined in, the fork shaking so much it struggled to find her mouth at first.  Mother glared at Jessica and me as she started chewing her food. She swallowed. Softly, she said. "Eat it, come on. There are children starving in the third world."

I picked up a potato. Jessica picked up a sprout.

Dad, in a voice that sounded slightly drunk said: "You're right Brian; I think it's digesting us." He pointed to the green liquid that was now starting coming into the dining room from all sides. After making his announcement he fell from his chair, dead. Mother's plan had begun. Uncle Brian went next, pulling his newly deceased wife with him by the hand.

In the commotion caused by the fall, I threw my potato under the chair. Jessica saw me and did the same. I pretended to chew. Jessica pretended to chew.

Nana went next, slowly leaning forward until her head came to rest in her plate.  Mother still watched Jessica and I. "I don't feel right," I said.

"It will pass," Mother said "You're a good boy." She coughed once, then again, this time more violently. She gave us one more look just before she died.  On the way to the floor, her body hit nearly every obstacle it could have done on the way down, the plate, the table edge, the chair. When she was still, I grabbed Jessica's hand and dragged her to her feet.

"We need to move quickly," I said.

"Where?" she asked.

"Anywhere but here." On either side of the room the green liquid was advancing towards us, eating up what it touched. I could already see it had started on Uncle Brian's right arm. I took her up the stairs and into my bedroom.

"How long do you think we have?" Jessica asked.

"I don't know. But if things get any worse we can climb into the attic. And then maybe we get onto the roof, to give us a little more time."

"Am I going to suffer?"

"No. I'll make sure. But we can't give up yet."

#

Some time later, when the battery operated clock on my bedside table read 02.50, the house shook once again.

Elsewhere in the house it might have felt like any of the other digestive rumbles, but I knew this one was different. The other shakes felt as if they came from beneath us. This shake came from above.

Jessica, who slept through anything, didn't stir. I grabbed a torch, pulled down the ladders to the attic and went up.

#

Jessica was still half asleep when I took her up to show her what I had found. At first she didn't understand, just as I hadn't.

One end of the long, blue thing that had smashed through the roof rested on the attic floor. The rest of it poked out through the roof at a 30 degree angle. I'd been up to look already and I knew the other end rested against the things' stomach lining far above our heads.

She took the torch from me and shone it over the object. "Is there anything it doesn't eat?" she asked.

#

Just beyond the entrance was a long corridor with rows of blue seats on either side. The carpet on the corridor floor bore a logo: Chiltern Rail.

"So I checked, and there's a small kitchen at the very top. There isn't much, but there's some food and water that'll keep us going for a while. We're safe from that green stuff up here."

"Not forever."

I shrugged. "Well, yeah. Who knows? If it eats something big enough or maybe if it eats lots of things all at once..."

"We could climb to the top?"

"Maybe."

Holding hands we climbed to the top and sat down on the floor of the small kitchen. I switched the torch off.

"What's that door behind you?" Jessica asked.

"It's where the next train car should go but it's all squished shut."

"Oh."
For a while I listened to her breathing. The rhythm of it made my eyes heavy.

#

Last SupperWhen I woke up Jessica was shining the torch in my face.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Matty, you have to look. Come on."

She stood up and all the light disappeared through the door at the back of the kitchen.  "Jess, it's all blocked up. Come out of there."

"No it's not." Her voice was far away. It almost sounded like it was above me. "Come on."

I got to my feet and stumbled. Reaching out blindly I managed to grab the edge of the kitchen surface and steady myself. The angle of the train had changed, it was far steeper than before I'd fallen asleep.

"Come on," Jessica said.

The previously obstructed corridor to the next carriage now had a very slight gap that loomed above me in the dim glow of Jessica's torch; she was somewhere over my head, illuminating my way from the other side.  I clambered up, pressing my feet against the compressed walls and then heaving myself over the ridge of the next carriage using all of my upper body strength.

When I got to my feet Jessica was already running up the aisle of the new carriage. I caught up with her half way down where she had stopped to sit in a window seat. She was looking out.

"Sit in the row behind me," she said. I did. Jessica turned off the torch. "Now look up."

For I moment nothing happened. Then I saw it, daylight far above us cutting through the blackness of the beast's belly. It was gone seconds later, but a moment was all I needed to see the rest of the train rising up above us, each folded-over carriage a step towards the things' mouth.

Jessica turned the torch back on and shone it in my grinning face. "Do you think we can get all the way up?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.  

"What do we do once we're up there?"

"Make it sick. Make us spit us out. I don't know." I was speaking quickly. "But maybe there'll be people up there too, trapped people like us. They might have ideas."

My hand was on the back of her seat. I felt her hand fold over mine.  She turned the light off and, just after, I realised it was to hide her crying. "I nearly ate it," she said. "I nearly—"

Her voice cracked and I squeezed her hand. "I'd have never let you," I said.

I knew we had to be quick in case the carriages moved again, but I let Jessica finish crying first. There was time for that.

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