Thank Mother for Your Life12 min read


Mary G. Thompson
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Mother loves me.

I know this as she zips the suitcase closed around my body.

As the white overhead light disappears from view, the outline of the fabric inside the case bursts to life. In the darkness, my world explodes into vivid color. Red, green, blue, yellow: my vision spasms, so deprived of darkness am I.

Not supposed to. Not supposed to.

So many things today I’m not allowed to have. So many risks taken for me. I want this. I want this.

But not inside a small space, not confined. I want out, out, out, to expand, to grow, to be, to live.

“It’s okay,” Mother says from outside this suitcase, from the bedroom, which is tiny but large compared to this. I’ll take it back, Mother. I will. I’m sorry I whined. I didn’t mean to. I was sleeping. I can’t control what happens when I sleep: what you hear, what you see. I can’t help that I let my feelings escape from me like sweat. I want to take it all back now because I know where it leads. I know I can’t have what I want and why.

But I want.

I want.

Mother lifts the suitcase. She sets me so the wheels touch the floor, so my head is down toward the ground, the way I like it, the way they won’t let me hang, in the darkness, which is color, and I let out a gasp because this is good.

But I want out.

My head down, I breathe in and out as Mother rolls me across the carpet and out of this bedroom, past the threshold of my habitat. Like an animal, they keep me here. Like a pet, they feed me and lock me inside and say they love me.

And Mother does. She does she does she does.

She’s taking me.

I heard Mother planning, on her phone with the other woman, the other mother. I was here in my bedroom, and she was outside in the driveway inside the car with the music playing too, trying to prevent me from hearing her, but I did. I hear everything.

They have one in there.


Yes, look at the window. The lights are always on because they can’t be in darkness. See, you can tell even with those curtains. And that’s reinforced glass.

That’s crazy. We killed them all.

No, the government saved some of the larvae.

Which conspiracy podcast did you get that from?


I saw the one in the Smithsonian.

Ugh, why?

It’s fascinating! It’s like, almost an animal, but not quite. There’s just something wrong. So alien.


It’s so sad. Of course we had to kill the adults, but the babies? What harm could they do?

I killed six of them myself. They were not babies, they were monsters.


Don’t look at me like that.

I’m sorry, I know. You know they killed my sister. I just think the babies—


In every car, on every sidewalk, in every house on this block, they talk about me, or if not me, then us.

Mother said:

Tetra is so lonely. She cries in her sleep. It’s not really crying, but more like screaming, whining, keening? Just awful to listen to … She hasn’t shown any special abilities. Or any desire to hurt people. You have to learn those things, and how would she learn that from us? … But they won’t tell us why this rule. What could the harm be of letting them just see another of their own kind?

There will be no harm, Mother, I promise. I never hurt anyone. They did, my parents, my swarm. They killed people, but not enough. They started small when they should have killed all the humans all at once, so the humans fought back and the humans won. I don’t remember that, or them. I was too small. I was supposed to grow up here with my own kind. The humans saved me because I was small.

But I can’t see another like me ever. I can’t be in the darkness. I can’t go outside. I have only Mother and Father, and Father doesn’t know we’re doing this. Father has a plan for me. He has special equipment in his office to block the sound, but I hear.

One more year, and it will be mature enough.

For what, he never says, not here.

Mother lifts me into the trunk of the car. She lays me flat, and now my head is facing the street, and I’m curled into a little ball, arms folded, claws pointing toward myself. I feel warm because of the color. It fills me like I knew it would. Without light there is everything. Light pollutes; light hurts.

Find a dark place. The words circulate in my brain. So many words in a language I don’t know but feel. I know what the voice in my head is saying. I know what I’m supposed to do.

Gather strength.

“Tetra, honey,” Mother says. “I’m so sorry I have to do it this way. I can’t risk anyone seeing you. Do you understand?” Mother knows I can’t reply. I can’t speak like a human. I can only sign. “Nobody can ever know we did this, okay?” Mother’s heart is beating fast. Water sloshes through her body.

But they give me water. All the water and all the food I want, any time. What we came here for, they give me.

Not the same though, from a bowl.

“This girl, her name is Freida. Her mother says she’s been crying in her sleep, too. We just think you need each other. If this doesn’t help, I don’t know what to do. I wish you could leave the room, but they’d kill you. I can’t let that happen.” Mother is crying now. Mother is always sad. She doesn’t know what Father is planning. She thinks I’m going to be in that room forever and grow up and grow old. Maybe if she knew she’d try to save me, but maybe they’d take me away sooner.

I don’t want to leave Mother. All the humans say terrible things except for her. They all want me dead or in a cage. Mother wants me to be free to live.

I want Mother to be free.

A noise escapes from my mouth: a cry, a scream. I don’t want Mother to be sad.

“Oh, honey, we’re almost there,” Mother says. “You’ll be out of there soon, I promise. Just a little longer.”

I want this so badly. Another one like me. This is my first time, my first chance, my only. To touch another. To hear, to feel, to smell, to see. I remember my own head in the mirror, and I wonder if she will be like that. Will she have the same gray skin, the same deep holes where they have eyes?

The car slows to a stop.

Mother gets out and slams the door. Heart, water, heat, meat.

“Did you get her out?” another woman whispers.

“Yes, in a suitcase.”

“Oh, Jesus.”

“I know, but—”

“Freida is lying on the floor of the back seat.”

The trunk opens.

“I’m going to unzip you, honey. Get up slowly. Don’t hurt yourself.”


I squeeze my lids shut. My body conserves the strength it’s gained. I am stronger than I was before. The light won’t take it all from me.

Gather strength.

“It’s okay. Can you climb out?” I let my lids widen and see Mother holding out a hand. I reach out a claw, and I unfold toward her: legs, body, arms, skin flaps; skinny and fleshless compared to them, short and small. We are in a clearing in the woods. There’s one other car and a woman who looks a lot like Mother: thin, wearing clothing, paint on her face.

Claws brush against leather inside the other woman’s car.

Saliva rolls over my tongue.

Find another.

There are things my kind know from birth. Humans have to learn each tiny, painful thing. We know where we came from and why, what happened when we were too young to see. As we mature, the knowledge grows.

We chose not to kill all of them, but they chose to kill all of us.

The other woman stares at me.

“We made the decision,” Mother says. “We can’t let them down now.”

The other woman nods. “Freida? It’s okay, you can come out.” She opens the back seat car door.

I see a claw, an arm, a head. Like mine—it is! Slits with eyelids, gray skin, a mouth with thin teeth, a tongue that drips saliva onto the lips. She screeches with joy, and so do I. She slips from the car and rises to her feet. Her tail thumps against the ground, sending dirt into the air.

I run toward her on my flat, three-toed feet.

Our tails meet first. They touch, wrap around each other, pull our bodies closer, and we smash together, my arms around hers, her arms around mine, skin flaps on our bodies lying flat against each other.

For a long minute, we simply feel each other’s presence. Our bodies touch, and our minds, too. We’re full of information, full of water, full of need. I’ve never met another of my kind in my whole life, and neither has she.

What is it about ourselves that matters so much?

Because Mother loves me, but she can never love me this way.

You have strength, Freida whispers in my mind.

I had darkness.

We must.


Which of us?

We hold each other close, body and mind. Her life weaves through me, mine through her. She has been living in a basement room, full of blinding electric light. She has never been in darkness. The light I’ve been living in is less strong, and I am alive with the boost of darkness from the suitcase. But her body is robust. She has a wide head cavity. She is almost one year more mature.

Me, she says.

You, I say.

Behind me, Mother is crying. Through Freida’s eyes, I see that the mothers are leaning against my mother’s car, clinging to each other. Both are in tears.

“How could we have done this to them?” the other mother says.

“I don’t know what to do,” Mother replies. “I can’t let her out. But to keep her inside. We’ll let them meet again.”

“Give them something to look forward to.”

They will die, Freida says.

Her memories speed before me: men and women holding her down on a table. Her voice hissing; her voice silenced; waking again in her bright basement, her mother with her, holding Freida’s claw in her human hand. Her mother’s arms around Freida, the mother crying, Freida shaking and cold. Bowls of water, plates of food, television, mother’s visits. Waking from sleep to the end of her own screams, leaning over the bed so her head can fall below her body, whimpering and folding her skin flaps around herself.

She sees my memories too: there are no tables and no experiments, not yet. There is me in my bedroom with the lights on. Bowls of water, plates of food, television, mother’s visits. And inside my mind, the knowledge I was born with floats to the surface: gather your strength, find another. And why I shouldn’t do this. Why I can’t do this.

But I have to.

I move my claws to the sides of her face, and I press my forehead against hers. Our lids touch, and our eye sockets see inside each other. Our lids press closer until our faces are one face, until we are as one body connected by our heads.

One of the mothers gasps behind me.

I want to save you from this, I say.

I will save us, she says.

How long we’re together in this way, I can’t tell. I see her father entering her basement with a plate of food, setting it down on the stairs, and closing the door behind him. She hears his heartbeat and his footsteps as he races away from her in fear. She watches the television and longs to be one of those children who live in a whole house and can leave and can go to school. She longs for a friend. She cries when awake, not just in her sleep.

We separate from each other slowly, one being splitting our skin to become two again. I see her from the outside, but our connection is still there. I want to pull her close again, but it’s too late. The mothers are moving toward us. The sky is beginning to darken. We must have been like that a long, long time.

“Tetra, honey, it’s time to go,” Mother says.

I hiss.

Freida screeches and turns away. Her mother rushes to her, puts her arm around Freida’s shoulders, pulls her gently toward the car. Freida’s voice softens to a low whimper. Her tail curls around her body.

“It’s okay, honey, we’ll come back,” Mother says. She opens the trunk of the car, and there is my suitcase. There is the darkness.

I look into Mother’s eyes. In them, I read truth. She will bring me back to Freida. She doesn’t know why she shouldn’t. They don’t tell her: Father, the ones he works with. She doesn’t know what she’s done. All she wants is to help me.

She’s kept me prisoner my whole life.

Mother runs a hand over my head. “I promise.” There are tears in her eyes, and I know she means it.

Behind me, Freida is lying in the back seat of the car. In her head, the ova I’ve passed to her cavity are warm and safe.

I climb into my suitcase and fold myself up. I wrap my skin flaps around my body, curl my skinny legs into my chest, and wrap my arms around them, digging my claws into my skin. My tail curls like Freida’s did. Mother pulls the zipper closed, and as she does it, she whispers, “It’s okay, Tetra, it’s okay.” And then I’m in darkness, and it gives me strength, and inside my head, more ova grow.

Mother loves me.

I know this as Mother begins to drive the car away, as she begins the journey back to the house where she holds me captive in a bedroom. When Father decides it’s time to take me, she’ll try to stop him. She’ll fight for me with all she has.

I knew I knew I knew I couldn’t.

But I did. I came here.

I could have said no, could have resisted. But I climbed into the suitcase. I knew what I would have to do.

When Freida births the ova, they will be tiny, and there will be millions. They will spread out across the city, the country, the planet. These larvae will have the knowledge Freida and I have, plus the memories of our lives. They will know that this time, they must kill everyone. Every human, for our species to survive, must die.

Even Mother.

I keen inside my suitcase. I screech and I cry.

Not Mother. Not her.

Mother loves me.

Why oh why oh why did I come here? I knew I knew I knew I knew.

I love them already: my ova, my children.

I love the world outside my bedroom, on the television, through the window. The humans in their houses saying mean things; it’s what I know; it’s everything. And she, she she.

Mother doesn’t deserve to die. None of them do, really. They want to survive. I want to survive. I have to save my entire species. It’s not fair that this is on me. I didn’t want this. I can’t do this. I can’t be the one who makes this choice.

I love Mother and Freida and my ova and everyone. Everyone everyone everyone deserves to live, even humans. And I can’t can’t can’t be the one to kill them.

I feel for the connection between Freida and me. In the back seat of the car, she is curled around herself. She still whimpers, and she reaches for me.

I miss you, she says.

I miss you, I say.

We will kill them, she says. All the pain, all the fear, all the want, all the need. She directs it toward me.

Yes, I lie. I reach for her. I feel the strength inside me grow. In the darkness of the suitcase, colors burst around me. I am the strongest I’ll ever be, and I must act now. I must kill her, or the ova will live. I send a burst of energy through our connection, over the air between our car and hers, into her brain. It overloads her, bursts her fragile synapses.

Like a light bulb dying, she sputters off.

I wait. I search for her. I find nothing. My only friend, dead, and my ova, because I couldn’t stop myself from coming here. Because I wanted to meet another of my own kind. Because I didn’t want to be alone.

I cry as loud as I ever have. My voice radiates from the suitcase through the car to Mother. I cry and cry and cry and cry.

Mother cries too, for my pain.

That’s why I saved them. Because Mother loves me and hates my pain. Because the mothers wanted to help us and were too stupid not to. Because every human could be a mother.

Mother, I love you.

  • Mary G. Thompson

    Mary G. Thompson is the author of Wuftoom, which Booklist called “impressively unappetizing and absolutely unique,” and other novels for children and young adults. Her contemporary thriller Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee was a winner of the 2017 Westchester Fiction Award and a finalist for the 2018-2019 Missouri Gateway award, and her next contemporary thriller will be published in Spring 2024. Her short fiction has appeared in Dark Matter Magazine and Fusion Fragment. Mary is originally from Eugene, Oregon, where she attended the University of Oregon School of Law. She practiced law for seven years, including five years in the US Navy JAGC, and now works as a law librarian. A graduate of The New School’s Writing for Children program, she lives in Washington, DC.

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