Extinction: short story
It was burger-grill hot on this side of the street. Jenna held her stomach and stepped into traffic, made it to the other side with just a single one finger-salute from a guy in a pickup truck. Rednecks and punks – never a good mix.
She lowered herself down carefully, bum on the sidewalk, feet in the road, mercifully shaded under the donut shop awning. She watched between legs and bicycles and electric chairs for the bus approaching. They didn't look for you. You had to flail. And they only ran once an hour. She couldn't afford to miss it.
Then Mick was standing behind her. He tapped her with his toe, sucked a litre of smoke from his cig and exhaled over her head.
“’Sup girl? Headin’ home?”
“Noooo Mark.” Her voice lilted into sarcasm. “You know this. I haven’t been home since March, 2025.”
“So where you at? You and Josh ain’t together no more, huh?”
“Josh went back to Wankerdom, where he belongs. And I’m not AT anywhere Mick. I’m just where I happen to be.” She enunciated her words that way just because it was Mick. She did it every time, and she continued doing it, because it wasn’t the words so much, it was the attitude that guarded you.
Mick hovered, sucked again on his smoke.
She squinted up at him. “Fuck Zack.”
Mick dribbled spit on the sidewalk, hiked up his kilt. He didn't have the legs for a kilt. Some people had no clue.
“Gonna hang at D’Arcy’s tonight?”
Mick scrabbled her hair with his fingertips. “Hey girl. D’Arcy’s ok. I know you like his ass. You jus’ got too much attitude some times.”
“I rate attitude,” she said. “I’m a mom.”
The bus roared through the intersection, sunlight leaping off its mirrors. Jenna hopped onto the sidewalk and flailed energetically.
The bus doors whined open.
“What the fuck! You serious girl?” Mick looked her body up and down. “Gotta say, yer tits are waay massive.” He twisted and spit again sideways. “Shit! A fuckin’ mom. And you’re underage girl…”
Jenna dug out her transfer, flashed it at the Pusher and squeezed onto the steps. It was packed to the roof, as always, and the Pusher earned his wage, leaning his weight on her, barely keeping the crowd from spilling down the steps. He gave a ferocious lunge; the crowd buckled, just enough to slot her in, then folded back around her.
Luck was on her side today. A moony-eyed teenager between her and the window fought upright and gave her his seat. It was the cleavage – always was. Maybe the torn fishnets. The bus lurched and swung. He was tenacious, this one, clinging to the hand bar, somehow maintaining a line of sight to her chest no matter which way the crowd swayed. Pathetic. Worms like him gave her the creeps. Living in the basement at home with mom, subscriptions to all the holo-porn a credit card could buy. Sad, odorous wanker.
Her mind slid back to her baby. She was underage to be a mom. But they didn’t know: She had signed up formally to be a child bearer back in the winter, January 2025. If it was a boy – and she had that feeling it was; it kicked like hell, a baby with attitude, and no time to hang around – and because he was healthy, she would be celebrated, and she'd get government child support. She'd be on tv, podcasts, the lot. The first 100% baby boy of 2026! A super rare feat. 100% sound; no Cyclops; two full hands, no more.
She realized that it still might not be a happy situation. Not everyone got to keep their baby. Depending on its needs, and the cost to the government, she may or may not get to be its mother. Surely they would see she could be a good mum – if she could deliver an unwarped baby, then being a mum would come natural too. They would see that, she knew it. If she had to she would get a job. There was always shit work – she could be a Phone-Geek in the Welfare temp pool.
Healthy babies, especially boys, were as scarce as peacocks in Alaska, and she was bringing one right through, ‘from Blip to Crip’, like they said on the streets. But she wasn’t going there, not any more. She was done with the streets. And her boy wasn’t going to be any kind of Crip – blind, testicles up around his abdomen somewhere, an arm coming out his spine, willy smaller than a peanut - no way. Hers would be a Pristine Boy.
While the bus stopped to load passengers, she looked out at the neighbourhood; sorry, toppling houses, a mashup of crumbling brick, decayed siding and sheer ruin. Rotting front steps, clumps of nasty weeds spotting the sidewalks. There was a guy on a blue porch, with a monster mutt straining against a leash. The Lab Coat arguing with him needed the hulking cop who stood by with the tazer. Jenna had never seen the Biz Raiders in action close up. Biz, short for that killer chemical Bisphenol they first found everywhere nineteen years back. Cops with ‘experts,’ come to ‘sterilize’ a house, a factory, a store, even like this, in the middle of the day.
The dog guy stiff-armed a ‘fuck you’ to the cop. Jenna slid the window open. A word here and there survived the traffic din. “Fuck you.” Harley roar. “…didn’ make ‘em. You guys did.” … Two cars whined around the cop van… “You guys fucked up big time”… The back doors of the van banged open… “take away my rights…my fuckin’ tunes, my clothes, my fuckin’ dishes man. Fuck you, get off my step!” The big cop fired his tazer and the dude dropped in the midst of a yell, crumpled and spazzing.
They were still hunting down chemicals like Bisphenol, phosphates, fuck-knows-what, years down the road from when they first tested. They couldn’t do it wholesale – that would mean shutting everything down, stores, eateries, clinics – make the world crazy and paranoid. So they did it guerrilla-style; one at a time, one building picked off, then another, stores shut down ‘for renovations.’ Sections of wall torn down, plumbing ripped out and land-filled, even your neighbour's miniature DVD collection sequestered, melted. Every bit of merchandise that contained the killer chemicals, bleeding, birthing new cancers, making mutant babies that could never be fixed, baked in mommy’s oven and too late to fix once outside.
But Jenna was happy. And confident, despite the pains and the worries. They were gonna be surprised. She would be the first in the neighbourhood birthing a healthy baby. She could sense it. Something about this life in her. It was urgent, determined.
It had woken her up to life. This child inhaled the cosmos and, breathing out in her, gave meaning to each day. And, she thrilled as the drama played through her mind’s eye, she would be a State Mom, a showpiece, evidence that there was new hope. There were miracles. Another point to our side, and zero for extinction.
Another few blocks and it was her stop. Jenna stood up, stroked her belly, drew a circle on it with her forefinger, then pressed her fingertip on its bull’s eye. “There you ARE.” Like the arrow on a shopping mall plan. My baby. She had never felt more sure of anything in her life. This was her time. A momentous, prophetic episode in the cycle of the planet. This was her say. Her flesh had blended with his – and a living miracle became birthed out of that.
The clinic matched the war zone it inhabited. Its walls were a retchingly sad neon blue, with green fronds slapped here and there, and pink, mauve, yellow hand prints all over, that had now scaled up like eczema, patches of concrete grey showing through.
Jenna aimed her belly at the front door. “See this, little guy?” Jenna’s chin indicated the clinic. “I’m sure you can see out of me if you want. You…”
Baby twirled in her, violently. A limb kick like it was trying to kick right through her skin. As if it was trying to punish her. For a second, calamitous thoughts filled her mind, made her weak and fearful. That kick had felt full of rage. An unstoppable biological thing that was having its way with her.
Jenna hung still, unable to take a step. The pain following the kick dissolved, and she waited, breathing short gasps. Suddenly the fear gnawed into her that she was a kind of pollution for this baby. She breathed delicately, pushing air out of her mouth as if each breath was sugar, not to be touched by lips or saliva. Her breath had to be unsullied, unpolluted.
What was she saying? She loved her baby. Her love made her clean. It was natural. Even if she didn’t know who the father was. So what? It had been her choice, even if others saw it only as a shag in a night-club parking lot.
She could walk again now.
Everything from that night was a surge of browns and greens and blood reds, drowning beautifully in a jet-black ocean of stillness that was the night sky. And his breathing, in duet with a languorous growl that came up out of him. Or more like an uninterrupted purr, behind the sound of their tongues and catching breath.
She had heard her own cries like wild birds escaping her, flying away through anaemic streetlight. She had cried out, yelping her sex as if with new found pride, gulping at the unabatable hunger that clawed out of her, shocking her. His eyes got huge, glittering gold butter, with irises like a cat’s. And she saw the matching gold rings at his knuckles as he lifted her half naked body, supporting her and stroking her all at once, his fingers like tentacles, reaching inside her, spreading out like a filigree of new veins.
It hadn’t been the drugs that made it so good. It was him, her and him. She had never felt such insane desire before – crazy like a sickness. She had been delirious, hallucinating, had almost given up breathing. His thing in her, stroking, sucking against her insides, ramming in her, and their hip bones joined like two parts of a machine. A cosmic machine, stars and bones and biology and surrender. She felt that when she had left him that night, she had walked out of a kind of madness.
And now she was here, standing at the reception desk, on a mission. Nothing had ever felt better.
The receptionist, tall and slim, came to her from a room to the right. Behind her, Jenna saw a pink wall with a nursery-rhyme mural of a loony looking crocodile leading a line of yellow chicks.
“How can I help you?” The receptionist’s smile was so beautiful, it made Jenna bloom completely open.
“You may not believe this, because I’m so small, but I’m preggers.” Jenna patted her tummy. “Feels like it's going to come out any minute, to be honest.” Her eyes followed the receptionist's hand as she began taking down her statistics.
“I love your hair,” she said. No response.
“Most women couldn’t wear head-bling that bold.” She had to be wearing at least five gold-leaves on each side, and a gold spider on the top. “You can pull it off for some reason. It looks perfectly natural on you. Subtle even.”
Why the hell had she said that? She was babbling through her nervousness.
The receptionist gave her a form, then a pen, which Jenna dropped on the floor. She scooped it up quickly and stood. Then her mind fogged, darkening at the edges. She gripped the counter. Consciousness pumped at her ears, on and off. Her mouth went slack; she tasted thin, sick saliva. She was falling.
She woke up in a metal bed. Under tight bed sheets, her stomach was no longer a mound. She lifted the covers – flat as a plate. She dropped the sheets and smelled her body as air wafted to her face. The yeasty scent of her pregnant body was already faint. She recalled another smell, of metal and blood, like she had once smelled in fear when her mum had punched her in the nose. Metal and blood – the operating room. And oily sweetness, like nothing she had ever smelled before. She recalled that they had washed her. Was that before or after? Just an image of her on her knees with shower water pounding on her and a melee of hands and voices.
She felt an aching vacancy.
She had to get a grip. To right herself, she scanned the room. Postered walls, 'Look out for STDs,' 'Know your rights,' ' It’s abuse if you’re paying sex for rent.' The newest update on the Dangerous Chemical of the Month. All the usual crap.
To her right, an empty bed, blankets tight and smooth, a stainless trap for the next occupant. And to her left, another girl in bed, propped up with pillows. She smiled wanly at Jenna and Jenna flashed a rictus and grunted.
“My baby…” she began.
“Gone, girl.” Her index finger made a diving arc toward the door. “An' don't talk too loud. All the rooms are miked.” She leaned Jenna's way. “This the shit ward, when your baby’s a mess. You been sedated for most the day. ”
“A mess? No way!” Jenna kicked at her clamped sheets. “My baby. I held him. He was no mess. He was alive, strong as a…”
A baby, not skinny, not fat, but robust enough to survive. She had held it up with both hands and felt strength there, shocking, like manhandling a fish, all muscle.
“Strong as a fish, a dolphin?” Her neighbour spoke with her chin pressed into her chest.
“Well, yeah, like that but…” What was the but? She remembered now: they'd said she had a miscarriage. But no. No she hadn’t. She stared at the other girl.
“I remember him… I can see him!”
Her hands waved. She couldn’t find words fast enough to match the images. His skin, emerald blue with soft, hazy patches of cinnamon red. Huge eyes, like melted butter, and slow blinking eyelids with eyelashes long and black.
Little yelps, she recalled, like a puppy. Those little yelps from his backward twisting little head. And the rings, three bands to a finger, two on the thumb. Those knuckle jewels that reminded her of pharaohs entombed, gold-plated and inlaid.
The nurse had carried him away quickly, holding him away from her like he was a mop covered in shit. They had all shut their mouths, turned away to other work, toying with utensils, folding blankets, checking the drip for another patient in the room. Their curiosity had died like a bludgeoned cat, and then it was just her and the sterile man in the lab coat, with the needle.
She hadn’t even named her boy.
She tipped back into dead sleep. She woke again. The other girl was smoking by the opened window and watching her. Nasty bitch.
“What you staring at, bitch? Fuck off.”
They had taken him from her. She was stripped bare inside. Laid out like a corpse. She remembered fighting; a braceleted wrist that she had grabbed and bit into as arms held her down, pulled the baby from her. She had clawed out, tried to get out of the bed but it seemed to landslide under her. A hard smack in the face had knocked her back, then people were swarming her and she had screamed, and screamed again as they pressed her down and someone stuck the needle into the catheter on her wrist. Trapped, her head pulsing, her breath choking in and out. Then a haze, her mind evaporated in a body turned liquid, and she had watched the foggy bodies march away and then she had plummeted into darkness.
The nurse unplugged her intravenous, automatically rearranged the blankets and left. As soon as the door shut, Jenna slipped out of the sheets. She sat cross-legged on the floor, under the window, and accepted one of the girl’s cigs. Her room-mate stuck to her post, staring out, once in a while turning and staring back at the hard room.
“How long you been here?” Jenna asked.
“This is my second day. Puppy came out early, like, only in me three months, then a labour fast as fuck. Came out of me sorta bad though.”
“That why you’re still here?” Jenna wanted to hug her now. Her voice wasn’t a bitches’ voice. Just a scared chick, like her.
“Yeah, fuck. Kid came out of me sideways, sorta all crumpled up.” She exhaled hard out the opened window, wiped sweat off her face with her sleeve.
“He was sorta blue and sometimes green, like, changing his colour, red, too, underneath it all.” She tried to laugh through her words, slammed on the brakes just before she choked into tears. “Poor little thing looked like a friggin’ lava lamp.” Her voice dropped to a near whisper. “… beautiful, beautiful colours floating up and down on him. Is that how Biz Babies look?”
“Like a chameleon…” Jenna added. “Colours like emotions signalling out of him…” Her mind floated into a dream of her little one, present, in her arms.
Those cries, as they wrenched him from her. His terrified face turned back to her as they rushed him away, crying out sharp pain. She was his mother, and she had failed him.
Jenna’s heart stopped, then fell into her empty belly.
She stared after a smoke ring floating to the ceiling. “I don’t know… man… the guy I 'slept' with. Well, we didn't sleep together. We went out to the parking lot and it just happened.”
Jenna reconstructed her lover, took him out of the night, the spellbinding tide of their moment together. Had it really only been minutes? The back door of the bar behind them, with one naked light bulb above them shuddering light. The sky a black hole. But the black hole was them.
The girl had been nodding with her every word. “Yes. It was like that for me. Just like that. It kinda swept through you like... like this HUGE feeling, right..? It was him, like power in a bottle... Blam!”
“Yeah. I figured, a quick shag in the dark with a superhot guy. Then his fingers touched my neck and it just drowned me out. A tsunami.”
She remembered a small tree by the garbage cans, sibilant under the wind, clacking half-clad branches. Or was it the clicking of his throat? It came back to her again, deliciously strong into her sex, up into her belly, that wordless sound that seemed to sing her name. The sound of a jaw closing, a bite wrapping her throat but not harming, not a scratch. A kiss, instead, like no kiss she had ever felt, nested in a note of snarling desire. Was it from her, or from him? It was one and the same. All that she had to protect in her small, precious life, she forgot about – she gave up to his monstrous hunger, left herself vulnerable even to death. But it had not been a surrender. It had been her victory, that she could take in such loving rage, universes wide, like the sown stars up there in the endless black.
The girl had collapsed to the floor, crying. Jenna slid herself tight to the girl, wrapped her arms around her neck and kissed her, once, then again on her wet cheeks. Tears flooded to Jenna’s eyes and a sob barked out of her gut.
“It’s okay. It’s okay.” She crooned and rocked her. “It’s okay sweetie. You’re gonna be okay.” Don’t leave her with that. Not just platitudes. Empty air. This was something real. Her cheek soaked up the warmth of the girl’s skin, her breath counted time, fell in with the girl’s breathing. And out of it, she spoke, knowing the certainty of what she said. She spoke loudly enough for the microphones.
“We’ll find him again, me and you. We’ll get out of here and stick together. And we'll make our own babies.”
The girl’s arms wrapped Jenna’s back. She nuzzled her neck, hiccupping quieter tears.
“We can find him again, I know it. He won’t be gone far.”
“You think?” The girl’s face searched hers.
“No doubt. No doubt at all.” Jenna’s certainty bloomed as she spoke. “He’ll be in secret places. Around the corners, in the shadows of the alleys and parking lots. Where else would he go? He’s not shopping at the mall.”
“If he knows we want him, he’ll come to us. I know it.”
The girl’s eyes locked on hers.
“Yes. You’re right.”
Jenna’s face twitched a smile. It was like food, this memory, this knowing of him. This was certainty. Something more sure than anything she had known, ever. Strange to say, she thought, she could depend on him the way you could depend on death. Nothing else was reliable. Not life, not love, not mom. Definitely not the future. Not the future of the kind of life she had known before he came. But maybe a new future…
And now she remembered, her heart almost stopping, the delivery room where her baby boy had reached out his hands and she saw the rings, the golden rings where knuckles would be. Smooth, wedding-bands of flesh that looked like hard shell. She had reached out, wanting to stroke those rings, to hold his little body to her and calm his cries.
He was gone. But there was a new future for her, one that was her blood, her heartbeat, her comfort. Because her passion equalled his. She saw her lover's hands reaching to her face, stroking her cheek. The pallid light flickering off the rings at his knuckles.
She was amazed at the power that swept back into her. Amazed, too that she didn’t mind the other girl being part of this. Part of it with an equal passion.
“It’s not our passion to hold, is it?” Jenna smiled at the girl. “Not just mine and not just yours.”
“Everyone’s. Every woman’s.”
The girl wiped her tear smudges and laughed. “It’s like he’s Christ or something. Love, like food for everyone.”
“A second-coming, he ain’t.” Jenna’s gut turned upside down as she remembered his muscular body, the heat of his cock in her, the beautiful, obliterating flood.
“For just us two, to begin with anyway.” Jenna wrapped the girl tighter, breathed into her neck, her lips nudging her clavicle.
“We’re so out of here,” said the girl. She announced to the room. “Dudes, we're gonna make more babies. And this time we'll keep them!”
They smiled brightly to each other, and stood up.
“Out the window?” said Jenna.
“You up to it? Stitches healed?”
“Who gives a fuck. He’ll fix me.”
They pushed the window wide and climbed out, dropped the three feet to the parking lot. Two parked cars. Chest clamped tight. No people.
They grabbed hands.
“What’s your name, anyway”? She laughed.
“Fucking Amber. My folks had no imagination.”
They were passing by the window to the front office. Jenna stopped to breathe, crouched up against a bush under the sill. She could just stretch her neck enough to watch inside.
The receptionist was standing, looking distractedly in her direction. She had a telephone in her hand.
No alarm going off. No panic.
Jenna pointed to the office, gave a thumbs-up to Amber.
“Tell her to fuck off and die,” said Amber. “Stealin’ our kids.”
The receptionist was talking.
“I think we can safely say we’ve got two more,” she said. Then she listened to the receiver.
“Agree? They volunteered, these two. They're off now to look for him. We're not paying them a cent.”
They were running. There was the bus stop. They were going to make it.
“Well, Amber.” Jenna could feel her lungs protesting. “This time around, same bar, no drugs. Right?”
Jenna laced her fingers into Amber’s. Then she recalled the receptionist’s gold rings. Each one of them set right near the knuckle.
Her mind stopped. It bent around a thought she could barely form.
Then she laughed. She didn't care at all.
A new friend, and new baby lava lamps to come.
She surrendered to a million-year-old smile, glittering with constellations.