by E.M. Killaley
The rodent stared at her mother, her dark eyes glassy and wide.
‘Don’t stare, Abigail.’
She sniffed loudly in response, shaking back the long quills at her shoulders as she turned away.
‘I’m almost finished. There’s no need to take that tone.’ Mother’s hands and arms were covered with pink welts, the skin stretched across her bulging, swollen knuckles like inflated kitchen gloves. But still her needles clacked against one another, winding the long vine of poison oak into a thick jacket.
Abigail curled on the cushion by the fire, catching up a blanket with her spiny back, and turning so it fell across her shoulders. Her eyes flicked between Mother and the door.
‘Done.’ Mother didn’t see her at first, nestled under the thick grey afghan. The dark strips of cloth were loose, some torn completely, and more still were weakened when Mother untangled them from her spines. ‘You needn’t have gotten under the blanket, dear. You knew it was almost time.’
But Abigail recoiled from her mother’s touch, her body a cloud of sharp needles.
‘Now, now,’ Mother chastised, pulling Abigail toward her. But the barbed rodent struggled, trying to pull away, until Mother wrapped an arm around her and she relented. Mother tutted at the droplets of blood blossoming on her arm. ‘No more of this soon, eh?’
Abigail glared sceptically at her.
Mother laid the vine-woven jacket across Abigail’s back, and with effort, pulled her front legs into the arm holes. Nothing happened.
Mother scratched her flushed arms as Abigail began to lay down again. Seized by inspiration, she flipped Abigail onto her back. Abigail’s legs flailed as Mother quickly tied together the bodice, then dropped her back on the pillow.
Abigail’s back arched and grew, and as her quills retracted into the jacket, Mother turned to a sealed jar on the mantlepiece, wrenching it open and pouring its contents into her hand. The rodent nose sank into Abigail’s face, and she clawed at her cheeks as the last of her fur fell away, and long, auburn hair tumbled down her shoulders. Abigail gazed down in wonder at her pale hands, then felt her smooth shoulders. ‘Mother,’ she gasped, turning to see her.
Mother blew the dust from her hand at Abigail. ‘Protect my daughter,’ she wished aloud, and Abigail shrank once more into a different form.