Here’s my 6th robot-death story, this one for David Demchuk!
THE BORSCHT MOTHER
“What’s that thing, mum?”
Little Davey Demchuk sat at the kitchen table, a bowl of borscht in front of him, spoon at the ready. It hovered there, frozen, as the object at the far end of the table caught his eye.
“That’s a matryoshka doll,” his mother replied.
“What’s a matter-yosker doll?”
His mother laughed. She turned from the stove where she was ladling borscht into her own bowl, walked toward her chair, sat down. She put the bowl in front of her, then picked up the doll. “Matryoshka dolls are nested inside each other, starting with a big one, and getting smaller and smaller as you open them up. Want to see?”
“Yeah!” Little Davey said.
“Okay, watch.” His mother opened the first doll to reveal a slightly smaller one inside. Then another, and another. Davey’s eyes widened with each opening until she got to the last one, which looked impossibly small to Davey. They were now all lined up in a row on the table.
“Wow!” he said, and smiled from ear to ear.
“Yes, very neat, wouldn’t you say?” His mother beamed just as widely as her son at his happiness. It had always been this way. She lived for him, and he for her.
“Hey,” Davey said, his smile suddenly slipping from his face, “what’s that one doing, mum?”
“What one, darling?” she said, and looked down, following his gaze.
The largest of the dolls seemed to be putting itself back together. The two pieces were slowly but surely coming together again all on their own. Mother and son just stared as this happened. Davey’s mother instantly thought it was a curse coming to bear on them, some punishment coming due. Davey just thought it was awesome.
Once the biggest one had put itself together, the second biggest started doing the same thing—and on down the line. Davey’s mother pushed her chair back very slowly while they did this, as if any sudden movement might alert them to her presence.
When they were all fully back together, they started to move. Davey’s mother stood up and shrieked, knocking her chair over in the process.
It sounded to Davey like little gears were moving inside the dolls. It was faint, but he was sure he could hear it.
“Mum, what do we do?” Davey asked and, for the first time, felt the sting of terror in his heart. He pushed his own chair back, and ran quickly to his mother. She hugged him to her side. Davey buried his face in her chest. He was more afraid of her reaction than of the little dolls themselves.
But that was about to change.
The whirring of the gears got louder, and the dolls formed a tight circle. They began vibrating, jittering on the table, as if communicating with each other. A two-inch spike suddenly shot out of each of the dolls’ chests. They turned toward Davey and his mother, the vibrating becoming more forceful until they were bouncing all over the table.
That’s when they struck.
They launched themselves from the table en masse, and drove their spikes into Davey’s mother’s head. Most of them landed on the top of her skull, but the smaller ones wound up on her face, dotting her cheeks and forehead, still whirring with life.
Davey batted at them with his little hands, but it did nothing. They were stuck in hard.
Strangely, his mother did not scream, or struggle in any way. She just stood there with the dolls all over her head, and stared forward. The dolls stopped wriggling then, their gears winding down. Whatever they’d done to his mother, it was over. They sat motionless on her skin.
Then she spoke:
“More soup?” she said, her voice inflectionless. It no longer sounded at all like Davey’s mother.
Davey began to cry.
She moved to the stove, picked up the ladle there, and stirred the soup. “Sit down,” she said in her weird new voice, “and we’ll have more soup. Borscht is best served with love. And my love for you is forever. It will never, ever die. Sit down, darling. Sit down.”
Davey walked slowly to his chair, sat down, still bawling, tears obscuring his vision.
His mother stirred the soup fast for a minute, then slowed down more and more until Davey calmed down a bit, tears drying on his face. His breath still came in hitches, but his vision had cleared, and he could think somewhat straight again.
“Mom?” he said quietly—almost too quietly to be heard. But the new mother heard him. She would always be able to hear her only son, no matter where he went, and no matter how quiet he became.
Instead of answering in words, she suddenly stopped stirring the soup, and turned to face her son.
As little Davey watched, a thin crack formed down one side of her body, opening, opening . . .
Inside, he saw another mother. A slightly smaller version. And then that version opened, too.
On and on, deeper and deeper inside, until this new being, this flayed mother, stood before him. Red the colour of beetroot.
Davey’s tears came harder this time, obscuring his vision once again. He bowed his head, unable to look at the creature anymore.
And when it finally spoke, it did not speak of love.