There was no trash to take out the following morning, and without the usual knock, Nick woke up several hours later than normal. For all the extra sleep, however, Nick wasn’t feeling any better rested. An ugly sore was starting to blister on his chest. Nick compensated for the fatigue by making a big pot of coffee, and drinking more of it than was, strictly speaking, healthy. Then he worked on his courses as usual.

As the time for sunset drew near, Nick realized that he didn’t want to be home when Mother woke up. Without any clear idea of where he was going, he donned his jacket and shoes and stepped into the dim hallway.

“Hey, Nick!”

It was Anna.

“Oh, hey.”

“Is the online comp-sci course taking that big test tomorrow?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

“So’s the in-person course.”

“Well,” said Nick, “good luck.”

“Thanks,” replied Anna, “Listen, I was gonna do one last big study thing before the test tomorrow. You want to come over to my place and maybe we can study together?”

This seemed like a decent-enough solution to Nick’s dilemma.


Nick had joined the military full of all sorts of hopes and ideals, the way most young men enter the world. One six-year contract had been enough to drain him of all that.

“You should move back in with me after you get out,” Barbara had said over the phone, “I remember what you said about being a burden, but you’ll never be a burden. Just knowing you’re under the same roof as me always makes me feel good.”

Nick would always tell himself that what happened next wasn’t his fault. He’d gotten back from yet another eight-month deployment just a week previous. He’d gotten off yet another five hour watch just an hour previous. He’d been passed over for promotion due to bullshit yet again and had, that very day, rushed off in a fit of rage to sign a paper stating his solid intention to never reenlist. He’d spent most of the hour between his watch and Barbara’s call thinking about Barbara.

“Listen,” he said, “you know I lied when I said that, right? I don’t give a shit if I’m a burden on you. I don’t want you in my life because you’re a burden on me. Don’t call me again.”

It was the last thing Nick ever said to Barbara. Nick tossed his phone into the Chesapeake Bay, got out of the military, moved to Chicago, and meant to start his life of isolation. Then Mother came knocking.


Nick wasn’t oblivious. He’d caught the knowing giggles of Anna’s roommates, he’d seen Anna’s frequent sidelong glances, and he’d known perfectly well what Anna had really wanted to do on the bed.

Nevertheless, they studied, and that was all.

Nick went back to his own apartment and walked in on Mother in the process of making tomorrow’s trash.

“Oh hey, sweetie,” said Mother, “I thought you were in bed.”

“Hey, Mom,” said Nick, “I was out.”

“You have a kid?” asked the trash, “and he’s that old?”

Mother grabbed the trash by his shoulders, pressed her breasts to his chest, and shoved a thigh into his crotch.

“Let’s not worry about that,” she purred.

Nick went into his room and stared at the black stains on his ceiling. The vast amorphic spots of mold whirled and pulsed and peered at him with cat’s eyes. Then he fell asleep.

When Nick woke up the next morning, the trash was the trash. He took care of it and got back to his room for some last-minute studying before the test. Tests were the only part of his course that were held to a strict time, because the professor expected the online students to turn on a webcam for him to peer through and make sure nobody was cheating. It occurred to Nick that his face might show up on a monitor in front of the lecture hall during the test. It occurred to him that Anna might see him.

When Nick finished the test, he unplugged his webcam and stuck it back under his desk where it couldn’t see. As he bent over to stow the camera, he saw a spot of red on his shirt and realized that the sore on his chest was bleeding.


It was raining the night Mother came knocking, and the windows in the yellow-lit hall looked like walls of solid black. Mother stood out against those portals to oblivion like an ice sculpture in the moonlight.

“Hey, buddy,” she said.

“Uh, hey, Mom.”

“I’ve been looking for you.”

Mother sniffed the air and fidgeted.

“Looks like you found me.”

Mother grinned. Nick thought her teeth looked a little odd.

“Yeah,” she said, “I missed you. What are you doing all the way in Chicago?”


“Oh, that’s good!” exclaimed Mother, “I’m glad you decided to go to college after all. It’s the only way to get a good job these days, you know.”


“Did you take a little time off to find yourself first?” she asked, “I know I had to do that when I was your age. I drove all the way out to California.”

“There’s nothing to find, Mom,” said Nick, “I’m right here.”

Mother giggled, and Nick distinctly saw her fangs for the first time.

“You’re funny.”

“Uh huh,” Nick said, “Are, uh, you all right, Mom?”

“Oh,” said Mother, “I just wanted to see you one more time. I know you said I was a burden that other time. I don’t want to hold you back.”

“No, no,” said Nick, “I was mad when I said that. If you need something, just ask.”

“You’re so sweet,” Mother said, “Can I come in?”


Nick had ended up going to bed too early after the test, and the next day, he woke up even earlier than usual. He opened the door and saw that Mother hadn’t left the trash for him yet, and he decided to wait for her in the kitchen. There was something he wanted to ask her about. Eventually, a stealthy click told him that Mother had come out from her room. Nick watched her silently carry the desiccated husk of last night’s victim over to his door and knock on it. When Mother turned around and saw Nick watching her from the kitchen, she flinched a little.

“Oh, hey, sweetie,” she said, “you’re up early. Is something wrong?”

“Uh,” said Nick, forgetting what he’d wanted to ask her, “Isn’t that a woman?”

“Hm? Oh, the trash,” Mother laughed, “I was just experimenting a little.”

Nick distinctly recognized the dead woman as Anna.

“An experiment, huh?” asked Nick, “How’d that turn out?”

“I don’t know,” said Mother, licking her lips, “I think girls might taste better.”

“I see.”

“Uh, buddy,” Mother said, “I need to go to bed soon. Is there something you need?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Nick said, “I needed to ask you something.”


“Yeah, uh,” he said, “Have you been, you know, sucking on me?”


“You know. With your fangs.”

“I’m your mother!” exclaimed Mother, “I would never do anything to hurt you!”

“Yeah, I know,” said Nick, “It’s just, I’ve been feeling real bad lately, and there’s a big sore on my chest.”

“If you’re feeling bad, you should see a doctor,” said Mother, “I’m going to bed now. Good night.”

Mother went into her room and slammed the door. Nick cut off Anna’s head, stuffed her body in a trash bag, and tossed it in the dumpster like all the other trash Mother had left for him. He went straight from the dumpsters to the little parking garage across the street, where he sat in his car for a long time. From the concrete apertures of the garage, Nick watched the sunrise set the dingy Chicago skyline on fire, only to be smothered by a solid grey cloud cover. Then he drove to the sporting goods store.


A few months after the divorce, a knock came on Nick’s bedroom door. Before Nick could answer, it opened, and Barbara walked inside.

“Hey, buddy,” she said.

Nick looked up from his homework.

“I just wanted to talk to you,” said Barb.


Barb came up behind Nick and peered over his shoulder.

“I’ve been worried about you,” she said.

“You worry about me?”

“Of course I do. I’m your mom.”

Barb slid her arms around her son’s neck and down his chest.

“Moms can’t help worrying, you know,” she whispered into Nick’s ear.


“You haven’t seemed very happy lately.”


“Happy. You should be happy.”

Nick pulled his head away from his mother’s mouth. She let go of him and stood up straight.

“I’m fine, Mom.”

“Are you sure?”


“I worry about you, you know.”


Barb leaned down and kissed Nick on the cheek.

“I just want you to be happy.”


When Nick got to the sporting goods store, he went straight to the camping section and started looking at tents.

“Hey,” he called over to a girl with a store uniform and dirty blonde hair, “you got any tents with wooden stakes?”

“Wooden stakes?” she asked.


“Like, for hunting vampires?” she asked.

“No, for tents,” said Nick, “I’m just trying to be, you know, environmentally friendly.”

The girl rolled her eyes and said, “They don’t make tents with wooden stakes anymore. They’re all metal or plastic now.”


“You might be able to find some wooden stakes in the gardening section,” she said, pointing off to the left, “People use them for gardening sometimes.”


There were, as the girl said, wooden stakes in the gardening section. They came in neat little packs of six, held together by pink strips of plastic. Even in six-packs, they felt awfully lightweight and flimsy in Nick’s grasp, and he doubted whether it was actually possible to penetrate the ground with them, much less a human heart. Still, he bought a pack and a red-handled carpenter’s hammer to go with them.

The same girl caught him checking out.

“Weren’t you gonna buy a tent?” she asked.

“I’ve, uh, already got one,” said Nick, “Don’t worry about it.”

By the time Nick pulled out of the parking lot, the lunch rush had started, and it took him an hour to get home. When he finally did get home, he took the hammer and a single stake, and he went into Mother’s room.

Mother slept like the dead. With the way the tower was built, with all the windows wrapped around the hallways which in turn wrapped around the apartments, there were no windows in any of the homes, and Mother’s room was as black as the dark places under the Earth. It was hard to see her at first, Nick’s eyes gradually adjusted, and the lights which filtered in through the open door became sufficient.

With her bed neatly made, she lay perfectly still on top of the covers. Her bone-white skin softly blended with the cloudy comforter she lay on, but sharply contrasted against the tight black dress which lay on her. Her face was utterly motionless, and her obsidian hair radiated from it on the pillow like an abyssal halo. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, in the slender hands and voluptuous figure of the body on the bed which could call to mind the suggestion of motherhood.

Nick stood there, in the dark, clutching his stake, for a very long time. Mother lay there, not rolling, not twitching, not snoring, and not breathing, all under the dull gaze of her son.

When hours had passed, Mother’s eyes fluttered open. Nick sighed, and stuffed the little stake into his back pocket. The hammer he held behind his back.

“Hey, sweetie,” said Mother, “You just here to say good morning?”

“Yeah,” Nick said, “Something like that.”

For a few minutes, the only sound in the dark bedroom was the sound of Nick’s breathing.

“Nick…” Mother started.

“Yeah, Mom?”

“You know I worry about you, right?”

“There’s nothing to worry about, Mom.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, Mom.”


“Yeah, Mom?”

“You know I just want you to be happy, right?”

“I know, Mom,” said Nick, “But sometimes…”

“Sometimes what?”

“Sometimes I think I don’t want to be happy.”

Mother sat up and looked Nick in the eye.

“Why wouldn’t you want to be happy?”

Nick looked down.

“I don’t know.”


For all installments of “Black Stains,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1