The Night Has Teeth

Their frenzied footfalls were metres behind. She could hear their growls and shrieks. Ravenous. How they raged. They gnashed their teeth — sharp and merciless.

Behind her was death, and death was hungry.

Rosemary ran, wrapped bundle cradled to her chest. Her breaths came in ragged mouthfuls. She felt depleted, but she would not stop. She would slow for neither the fire in her lungs nor the stitch in her side. Tears streamed down her cheeks in the cool night breeze. Between her hurried gasps for air, she bellowed a sob.

Her bare feet were raw and bloody. They pounded on the road. The evening’s wind was gentle, but it froze Rosemary to the bone — she wore nothing but her nightdress. It flapped and billowed about her as she sprinted, caught in the air like a sail. She’d had no time to clothe herself. In the few precious moments afforded to her, she’d whisked her infant son up and out of his crib.

As Rosemary ran from the horde, the scene repeated in her mind over and over and over again. The shatter of glass and the splinter of wood. The ear-splitting screams of her husband (help me help me, please, oh god, why won’t you help me). The way the seconds stretched out before her. The cries of her baby. The back door to the hedgerows behind the houses. The crisp night air.

She stole a frantic look over her shoulder and immediately wished she hadn’t. Her pursuers had increased in number. And their eyes — the fury. The pure, unadulterated hatred. The animalistic contortions of their faces. Their gore-splattered features.

Rosemary put her head down and ran. She held her baby tight and nestled him into her neck. He wailed with an intensity only exhibited by the newborn. The sound wrenched Rosemary’s heart. She would have soothed his woes with a song, as she had before, and his cries would have petered out. But now his howls continued, ceaseless; the ringing of a dinner bell.

She would shield him. As they came for her, she would shield him. As their hands and teeth tore at her, she would shield him. As her skin broke, as her flesh ripped, as her blood spilled, she would shield him.

They would not touch him. They would not. She would not allow them.

And after you’re dead, Rose? Who will protect him then?

Rosemary sprinted past the elderly couple who lived down the road.

They were out in their front garden.

Rose only allowed herself a glance, but she would not stop. She would stop for nobody, for she carried a cargo more precious than her own life.

Harold was on the floor, screaming. Someone was on top of him. They ripped the flesh away from his neck with their teeth, and Harold’s legs kicked and spasmed beneath. Harold’s wife, Dorothy, stood metres away, her wrinkled hands to her face. Her whole body shook.

“Harold! Oh, no, please, Harold! Harold!

Rosemary ran.


Rose did not stop.

“HAROLD! HAROLD! HA—” Dorothy’s pleas turned momentarily to a scream. It ended in a choked, liquidy gurgle.

Rose flicked a look over her shoulder, despite herself. Some of her chasers had broken off and smashed through the fence into Harold and Dorothy’s garden. The feeding frenzy drowned out the sound of the couple’s struggle.

The rest of the horde still bore down on Rose, eyes wide and famished. The scent of fresh blood quickened their pace. Her stomach dropped. Rosemary saw they were closer now. Not quite near enough to grab her, but—

Rosemary gritted her teeth and pushed her trembling legs to go faster, faster. Her whole body shouted at her in protest, but she forced her frail frame to go, go, oh sweet Jesus, go!

Seconds after she kicked her body into overdrive, Rosemary mounted the top of the hill.

There it was. It was close. At the bottom of the road.

Rosemary could see the church. Wrought iron gates tall, thick wooden doors strong, stained-glass windows illuminated from within.

They pelted down the hill, the mother and her child, towards the lights.

Somebody came out of the church, its door a warm envelope of yellow.

Rose stumbled downwards, the uneven slope a terrain fraught with traps.

The swarm salivated and breathed down her neck.

The stranger scurried to the gates. They fumbled with something.

Rose was ten metres away. Five metres. Two. She was there, and—

The gates were chained.

The stranger was crying, cursing, shouting, pulling at the gates, fighting with them, creating a narrow opening.

Rose crouched and tried to squeeze through, but she was too big, too big, it was no use, she couldn’t fit, and—

The teeth sank into the tender flesh above her collarbone. All the air escaped her body and Rose tried to scream but found she was empty. She opened her mouth and gasped. The air rushed in as if there were a vacuum within her chest.

Rosemary pulled and a chunk of her neck tore away in the process. Her nightdress suddenly felt warm and damp.

“Oh,” was all she could say, as she collapsed to her knees and clutched her baby, her son, her child.

Hands upon her, from every side. They surrounded her.

As her vision greyed and swam, she held her baby, shielded him, kept him safe in a cocoon.

Hands from in front. They tried to get to him. Her baby. She resisted.

“Let me take him!” shouted the stranger. A woman. A kind face. Middle-aged. “Give him to me!”

With tender love and care, Rose pushed the bundle through the small gap and blocked the way with her body. She would be a barrier between her son and the night filled with teeth.

And then he and the stranger were gone. They disappeared into the square of gold.

As the throng shredded her human body, Rosemary clutched the gates. She was unable to stop the screams that now flooded her throat. As the mass tore her to pieces, Rosemary held onto one thought.

My baby is safe.

My baby.

Written for the #BlogBattle prompt: “Shield” — 3rd September 2019

28 thoughts on “The Night Has Teeth

  1. Gary

    Ahh, the words of a horror smith. Trouble with this short story lark is it raises more questions like who? What? Why? Where? I do like the protagonist concept of a rabid horde. It reminds me of the fast paced zombies in World War Z. As opposed to the usual lumbering, why can’t you just outrun them types. Obviously my version of Rose will now struggle having seen her namesake being dismantled in gore. But we’re they after her…or is the infant child something more?

    Good pace and flow. Rather up my street in fact…in a metaphorical sense of course!

    • Joshua Insole

      Thanks, Gary! Yes, I struggled to stay within the confines of 1,000 words — I wanted to expand and expand and expand the story. But, I think I’m beginning to understand the attractiveness of the short story now; a well-crafted novel is a series of photographs in a family album, but a short story is but a snapshot from a disposable camera — no before, no after, just the now. I quite like the immediacy — I am all too aware that in my full-length work I have a tendency to waffle on a bit, but with shorter pieces I’m forced to fire the gun straight away!

      I had in mind the ferocious infected from Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later — a favourite of mine!

      I do apologise to your Rose for having seen such unspeakable things! The name just felt right, and clicked.

      Thanks again, Gary. I’m looking forward to reading your story for September!

      • Gary

        That’s the sign of a WIP awaiting to evolve! I think that’s why they say short story writing helps to write concisely. There’s no waffle room. Your analogy to photography is a good one too. They also allow you to just dive into an action scene, or one of immediate impact value. Nothing previous, nothing after…just raw story telling. There just isn’t time to get a real character feel for a reader through protracted discourse. The situation drives us at empathy to a plight or crisis. Or…in my case… distracting through word association to other things.

        Rose has many traumas already lol. I have decided if I use her this time there might be a reference to a nightmare where she’s chased in the night by a horde!! I did that last time with the droid AN-1TA. That was a straight connection to the BB ladies who do the poetry, one of which is called Anita!

        Good call too. 28 Days Later also works for me too.

        My September piece is being mulled. I have several characters that are bickering for a presence. Rose was quiet until this! But then again, I did use her the BB before last. Time will out as they say…

      • Joshua Insole

        Yes, I think it’s excellent practice, all of these short stories! I can definitely see an improvement in the writing of my WIP as a result — it’s nice to feel as if I’m making progress!

        Haha! That would be most amusing! Perhaps all of this was some cheese-before-bed-induced nightmare…

        Can’t wait! I look forward to seeing which of your characters wins the attention for this month! 🙂

      • Gary

        You might even get an anthology together soon too! Rachael put one together not so long ago and one of mine ended up in it. No writing is wasted type of thing.

        In truth, having spent many hours going over blog battle stories I’ve actually witnessed writers I know improving massively.

        Not sure mind has though lol… that said returning to the amusing nightmare interlude…I’ve just been threading an idea together and it’s already in with an Ed comment at you!

        I’m self doubting the line though. It’s not really a short story, but another feeler for a sequel. A third done, but sometimes I feel it’s suiting to BB might not be quite right. We shall see 🤔

      • Joshua Insole

        I was actually considering compiling my short stories (there are now quite a few, hidden in multiple folders within folders on my desktop). Perhaps at some point in the near future…

        I think we all improve simply through the act of doing — even if we’re not aware of it. Practice might not make perfect, but it does make better. 🙂

        Well, whether it makes it to BB or not, I’d certainly like to give it a read!

      • Gary

        I did that earlier this year after adding up how much I’d done on short scenes since April last year. One series of them for backstory to an intended WIP was just shy of 60K words in total. That hit me like a brick!

        They soon add up without realising. Fabulous way to world build though!

        I’m thinking it might work now. Well, if nothing else I know what’s going on!

      • Joshua Insole

        Wow! Yes, they soon grow and swell, when we’re not paying attention to them. I swear they multiply, in the shadowy, cobwebbed recesses of my labyrinth of folders…

      • Gary

        The breeding grounds of the antagonist… now there’s a thought… writing their own plots whilst nobodies looking…hmm, could be a story idea….

      • Gary

        Ha, ha. I’ve got several concepts in a notebook regarding some possibilities there too. Almost like Kings Dark Half book.

  2. floatinggold

    You’ve managed to write so much about… running. I’m in awe, because it’s not easy to hold someone’s attention without the plot developing much. Those 1,000 words (or so) seemed like barely a hundred. I wanted more. So intense.

    In response to one of your replies to Gary:
    Have you tried CarrotRanch prompts? 99 words flash fiction? I’ve been doing that for a while. On and off. At first, I could not imagine writing anything substantial in fewer that 100 words. But the more I tried, the better I did. It’s a fascinating learning experience. “Shield” is my first prompt on #BB. I saw 1,000 words as the rule and I laughed. Surely, I would not write more than 200 words or so. And then I sat down and wrote. And wrote. I knew I was over when I finished. I checked just now… 1,200 words or so. And I still feel like I should have developed the ending better.
    That just goes to show how different exercises are needed.

  3. Chris Hewitt

    You know you’re hooked when you realise at halfway you might just need to breathe. This is beautifully written, the sense of urgency and desperation is palpable. So many clever turns of phrase. My particular favourite had to be the “the ringing of a dinner bell”. I won’t repeat the expletive I dropped on that gem. It doesn’t help that I’ve just got back into running and could totally relate to the agonies of her run. I’ll thank you now for my nightmares tonight as my brain meshes my earlier 5k run with the tastier parts of this great tale.

    • Joshua Insole

      Thanks, Chris! It really means a lot! 🙂 Haha, I was quite pleased with myself when I wrote that little line! Best of luck with the running — I know I’ve been slacking with my routine, as of late…

  4. aebranson

    I love how the story unfolds and leaves you gasping (he he!) for more. I also loved the line about the baby’s howling ringing like a dinner bell. Your imagery was vivid and pulled me right in there with Rosemary. I have to admit there was one spot where my brain stopped: After you described the couple were in their garden, you switched to the scene where the horde had Harold on the floor. Floor? Maybe there’s a cultural difference I’m missing here, but our gardens have dirt. It was the only time my mental image sputtered, however, and like I said, it might just be me. The ending is powerful. That primeval resonance of a mother protecting her child rings so true. I did wonder if her motivation was ‘simply’ that, or is there some special significance to her child? Hmm, he is Rosemary’s baby…. Wonderful story!

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      Thank you very much! It’s much appreciated. 🙂 Yeah, we generally use ‘floor’ to mean the lowest horizontal platform, indoors or outdoors — as far as I can tell, it’s used interchangeably with ‘ground’. Our gardens also have dirt — but we typically use that word as a synonym for soil/earth. Perhaps if I’d used the word ‘ground’, the scene might be less ambiguous? Haha, yes, the whole ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ bit did occur to me afterwards — I wish I could say that it was intentional, but it was purely accidental! Thanks again. 🙂

  5. Doug Jacquier

    As I’ve said in a response to an earlier post, Joshua, your subject matter is not really my cup of gore but your narrative skills and your originality in turns of phrase are coming on a treat.

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