“The Caul” Dark Flash Fiction by Brooke Brannon

The word vulva is so dangerous that Facebook flags it, did you know that? I get it. Words are dangerous. Words like body and man and woman and sex even different when they come out your mouth, have you noticed? Even baby. Because that’s what comes out of the vulva, and also what men say when they do it to you.

Before he went away, Daddy told me it’s OK to say words like that, even normal. But when he made me do it, it felt dirty, like under my clothes I’m wearing underwear that hasn’t been washed in a while. Which I never do, I’m very clean. And anyway I prefer the word hoo-ha. Makes it sound like one big joke. Which if you think about it, it is. All that shaking back and forth, all that—and I am very sorry for putting this word into your brain—thrusting. It makes you jiggle back and forth. That can’t be a good look.

So I’m not into words these days. (Just ask my English teacher.) I’m into fashion. Particularly the big oversized shirt trend. It’s very practical, like when you’re shoplifting and you have something to hide. I got a lot of mileage out of that trend. The beanie trend, too. Once I went two full weeks without washing my hair. Finally Mom told me my hair was starting to smell and later that day, Daddy left, and ever since I’ve wondered if my smelly hair was why.

I’m over the whole beanie trend now because that night, when she came out, she had a slimy grey thing on her face like a beanie, only on the front of her head instead of the back. I couldn’t touch it—right then I couldn’t really do anything—so my friend Gwen had to pull it off her.

And right then, my St. Christopher’s medal started to feel really hot. I yanked it off, and the metal was charred black. And everything hurt, especially my hoo-ha, and stupid Gwen was panicking—what was she going to tell her parents and were we going to hell and what was that weird goopy beanie thing on the baby’s face—and then she dropped it, and it didn’t even cry. It was grey and still and it didn’t cry, and there I was with a St. Christopher’s medal burning a hole through my neck. Look here—see that scar? That’s what that’s from.

So I did the only thing I could.

Gwen won’t look at me since then, but I don’t care. And anyway, they found her, didn’t they? Because of the cats. You heard about that, right? All the cats in the neighborhood went to the culvert and started purring. Loud. And for a while, whenever anyone got close, like they were trying to see past the cats to whatever it was they’d found, they hissed. All of them, all at once. And then, only then, did that baby cry.

Now, you look me in the eye and tell me that’s normal.

Brooke Brannon, a former crime reporter and escapee from the software industry, writes dark fiction that none of her family is allowed to read. Her nonfiction has won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, and her first US-published short story was nominated for a 2021 Pushcart Prize.

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