Milk Teeth releases October 20th in paperback and digital. Andrew Post is also the author of Mondo Crimson, Chop Shop, Aftertaste, and more.
Sephorina Breathland would do anything for her family. She’d even trick men into coming home with her so her kinfolk can kill them and drink their blood. Because the Breathlands are anything but your typical gaggle of podunks. Sephorina’s mama has been pregnant with twins for nine years and is ready to pop. Her daddy lives in the bathtub trying to regrow the arms and legs he lost after the neighbors caught him eviscerating their cattle. And her brother, Hughie, believes that maybe with their pops laid up, it should be him who calls the shots. And while every family has its secrets, none has a secret as dark as theirs. And when Sephorina discovers it, she’s going to call for a family meeting—and bring along a freshly sharpened hatchet. Because the Breathlands might have their problems, but they are getting sorted out tonight.
“A Laymon-esque backwoods family with a penchant for drinking blood, and a kick-ass young woman protagonist keeping their shit together. Milk Teeth shows us it’s not only the humans in the arse-end of nowhere we need to be afraid of. Part Texas Chainsaw, part Wishmaster, I hope Post creates more stories within this universe as I feel there is still much to learn …
A highly enjoyable tale with enough violence to please us more extreme readers; you’ll be glad you didn’t take a wrong turn and happen across the Breathlands …”
Janine Pipe – Splatterpunk Award nominated author of Twisted: Tainted Tales
PREVIEW OF CHAPTER ONE
About forty-five minutes outside Richmond, there was a titty bar Sephorina Breathland liked to use for the ol’ park and wait. Here, she didn’t have to do more than sit within view of the bar in her skimpy spaghetti-strap top with the car’s window cut down invitingly. When the boys came out at the end of the night, it was like horny fish in a dern barrel. The moon was near full. Its light fell across the interior of her car, a Chevy Prizm on its deathbed, now more rust than anything else. She looked over at the dashboard. Like the moon shining upon it, the dash on the passenger side was covered in shallow pockmarks from many small collisions. She hoped tonight’s beau wouldn’t notice and raise questions as to their origin.
She heard a jingle from the belt of bells above the bar’s door. The boys currently exiting this particular October night were clearly all in the same cement crew. Like it was part of their uniform, their dungarees were dusty white around the knees and their necks were sun-baked a handsome working man’s bronze. She didn’t smile at any one in particular but met eyes with each one in turn like they were wooden ducks on a firing range lane. They noticed her, too, of course, and began conferring. Who was gonna be the one to take a swing at her? She kind of hoped for the tall boy.
She got her wish. He came sauntering over in his reflective yellow vest, young, maybe a year older than Sephorina. Closer now, she could see the pale dent at the base of his ring finger.
“How’s this fine night treating ya, darling?” he said, all sugar. His breath smelled of the sweeter variety of chew, mint maybe.
“No complaints so far.” She glanced over his muscled shoulder to see his fellas loading up into their vee-hicles. One gave a honk as they passed and made a crude gesture out the window—the fella, her fella, played down a laugh.
“They don’t mean nothing by it.”
“Boys will be boys.” She lit a cigarette.
“You waiting on somebody?” he said, once his buddies’ tail lights had gone, letting the darkness settle around them again. “Or is this how you get jingle in your pocket?”
“I ain’t a hooker.”
“Meant no offense,” he said right away. “It’s just some pretty thing sitting outside Darnell’s Bunny Basket on a Saturday night all smiles, all alone . . .”
“I had off work today,” she said, “and with nothing on the TV worth watching, I got to thinking how it’s been a while for me. My man took off about a year back and I’ve been so busy with other things I kept forgetting to take care of . . . you know, certain needs.” She had practiced blushing on cue, and did so now.
“Well, sugar,” he said, dropping his voice an octave to a smoldering timbre like he, too, had been practicing in the mirror some, “I can keep you company.”
She could almost laugh. But he was reaching in and stroking that cement-dusty finger against her shoulder, right by her collarbone—this boy ain’t no virgin, he knows the good tickle spots.
“Does that sound like something you might want, darling?” he said.
“Got my place all to myself tonight,” she said, aiming a violet-painted nail west. “If you don’t mind the smell of farm and a little bit of a drive.”
“Don’t mind it at all.” She could see it in his eyes; he was clicking his heels inside, believing he’d just successfully stumbled his way into some imminent, free trim. “So, uh, should I follow you or . . . ?”
“I can bring you back to your vee-hicle when we’re done.” She unlocked the Prizm’s doors. “Hop on in.”
Apart from the occasional piece of farm equipment grumbling slowly along, they had most of 17 to themselves at this hour. He wore his seatbelt, she noticed out of the corner of his eye. He bobbed his head to the radio, not seeming to mind the channel was coming in choppy. The occasional screeches of static reminded Sephorina of her father’s voice.
“What’s your name?” she said.
“Huh?” Maybe he couldn’t actually hear her with the windows being down or he just wanted to lean in closer to her. He put his warm, rough hand on her bare thigh—and there was plenty to paw with her in her new Daisy Dukes.
“I said, what’s your name?” she said.
“Crystal,” Sephorina said.
“You from around here, Crystal?”
She stared ahead through the cracked windshield at the asphalt lit by the Prizm’s one remaining headlight. “You really give a shit, Dillon?”
“I heard you,” he interrupted. “That just threw me a little is all. I was just trying to be a gentleman.” His stroking thumb on her leg had paused. “Figured you might wanna have us get to know each other some.”
“Why?” she said with a laugh. “I don’t give a rat’s ass where you’re from.”
“Girl’s all business, huh?” he said, his fingers curling around her leg to her inner thigh, close enough his thumb knuckle grazed the button-fly of her shorts. “Do believe I appreciate that. Most girls nowadays don’t wanna hook up with no strings. They wanna get to know you, meet your friends, know where you work. Shit, some—like my ex—won’t mess around ’til they see that diamond ring on their finger.”
“Personally, I don’t think it needs to be as complicated as all that. If I get feeling lonely, I know where lonely men tend to congregate. I don’t mind going to where they is.”
“Even though they’re all worked up having been staring at other women?”
“What makes you think I haven’t been looking at other men tonight? Maybe before you came stumbling out saying howdy ma’am I was sitting in my car thumbing through one of those kind of magazines. You know, one of the ones they keep behind the counter at the filling station? Ever think of that?”
He smiled toothily. “Fair point. So do you do this pretty often, then?”
“Are you calling me a whore again, Dillon?”
“No, no,” he said, “I just meant . . . do you get lonely pretty often?” He cleared his throat. “Because we could make this a regular thing. I’m out this way for work pretty often.”
“Let’s see how tonight goes first there, Dillon.” Sephorina put on her blinker and changed lanes to take them around a tractor. “Maybe you should just sit there and be handsome.” Maybe feeling it was unwanted, he tried to withdraw his hand from her thigh. She grabbed his wrist and put it back. “Stay. You’re warm.”
Flicking the blinker on again, she turned them off of 17 and onto County Road 6. Unlike the highway, there weren’t streetlights here. The only thing to see out either side was the occasional pole fence and maybe a silo cutting its bullet shape against a starlit sky. They went about a mile in silence.
“Did I hurt your feelings?”
“I did.” She laughed. “Didn’t I? Aw, baby.”
“Come on now. I meant nothing by it. Just not big into small talk is all.”
“I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do if you don’t wanna talk,” he said. “Sitting here like mutes is kinda weird.”
“You can talk,” she said. “Just don’t ask questions to fill the air. We both know what this is about. Let’s keep it honest.”
“So what’re we supposed to talk about?”
“If you want,” she said, pushing forward to bump herself against his hand, “tell me what you’re gonna do to me. We still got a little bit to go before we’re home.” This wording was deliberate. Home. Not her home, just home, like it’s something they shared, a place he was welcome to all the treats inside.
Grinning like a fool again, he swiped the dip out of his lip and flicked it out the window. He ground his thumb against her in slow, good circles. “Well, I was thinking I’d start by kissing you. On the neck, then behind your ear . . .”
“All right now, all right,” Sephorina said, grinning wide. Inside, she felt nothing. Less than nothing. Dust. But she still fanned herself like a biddy at a Sunday mass in July. “Go on, go on.”
She checked the rear-view mirror, only half-listening to him because there was someone behind them a few hundred yards—big headlights, like a truck—and coming up quick.
“What do you think of that?” he was saying.
“Sorry, hon, can you run that last part by me again?” she said, watching the rear-view mirror. “I was paying too much attention to the road.”
“Don’t crash us,” he said with a chuckle, working a finger up inside her shorts and worming his finger, ungracefully, inside her. “That won’t make for much of a good night, would it?”
Sephorina watched the headlights behind them loom large. The inside of her car was lighting up and she was getting blinded by all three mirrors. She could hear, out her window, a growling engine being put through its paces. When the vee-hicle came up alongside them, relief flooded her. In the backsplash of her car’s headlight, the peripheral glow lit the driver’s face—it was her brother, still in his blue vest from work. Next to her, Dillon stopped kissing her shoulder to look. Sephorina’s brother, hovering in the oncoming lane, promptly hammered the gas as soon as Dillon laid eyes on him and sped ahead, vanishing over the next hill.
“You know him?” Dillon said. His finger, to the first knuckle inside her, was still.
“Just some looky-loo. Maybe we should cool ’til we get home.”
He withdrew his finger and leaned back into his own seat. Peeking over at him, she watched Dillon looking around for a place to wipe off his digit. Finding nothing he sat with his index finger glistening, staring at it.
She kind of wanted to fuck him. Fine. Guilty. But with her brother making a show of it that he’d beat them to the house, they wouldn’t have any privacy. Maybe the next one, then. Deciding her own needs would, sadly, not be met tonight, she decided to move on with the second part of the ol’ park and wait.
“Could you get in the glove box and see if my knife’s still in there?”
“Don’t worry about that creep, sweetheart. I’ll protect you.”
“You’re sweet, but you ain’t always gonna be in my car,” she said. “Could you look?”
He dropped the glove box lid and shuffled through the half-carton of Virginia Slims and the Prizm’s insurance stuff. He came out with a buck knife in its leather sheath and said: “Damn, girl. This is one big blade for a little whip like you.”
“You can look at it, if you wanna,” she said. She felt down between them, poising her finger over Dillon’s seatbelt’s release button. “Be careful with it, it’s sharp.”
He chuckled. “I think I can handle it.”
She heard the metallic pop of the sheath’s snap clasp, then the unmistakable shhhk of a blade being drawn from worked leather.
She watched him angle the knife into the moonlight and squint at the engraving on the brass bolster. “Who’s Sephorina?”
She acted like she hadn’t heard him. “How straight’s your eye?”
“Does the blade look bent to you? Used it to pry open my trunk when it got stuck couple days ago. Think I might’ve bent it.”
“Well, I’ve sure seen knives in better condition. Your edge’s all dinged to hell.”
“But is it bent?” she said, easing their speed up to sixty-five, then seventy. When they hit a straightaway she looked over at him again. Dillon had brought the end of the bone handle to his cheekbone to peer down the blade’s length. Then, turning it so the tip was facing him, searching for any bowing in the blade again, he was about to say something when Sephorina mashed the brake pedal with both bare feet and clicked his seatbelt release at the same time.
With the chirp of rubber came the hollow knock of a bone handle meeting the dashboard and a brief, surprised-sounding grunt.
“Shit, sorry, thought I saw a raccoon.” She got them back to speed. “You okay, hon?”
Only silence from the dark of the passenger side for a moment. “I think I cut myself.” He sounded like he was holding his breath.
With a little alarm: “My shirt’s all wet . . .”
When he reached to turn on the dome light she smacked his hand away. “Don’t. It glares on the windshield.”
A person could be okay with feeling their clothes getting wet in the dark, but the confirming sight of a shirt wicking red with milk was a different story. He could start hollering—which could get annoying with how much further they still had to go yet.
She heard him grunt, maybe trying to sit up, then slump back with a defeated sigh. “I can’t find the knife.”
At another straightaway, she looked over at him again. With the tobacco fields flitting past behind him and his silhouette set against it, she could see the shape of the knife handle sticking out like he’d blossomed a stiffy high on his chest.
“Baby? You all right? Talk to me.”
He gasped. “Oh, fuck. Fuck. It’s in me.”
“Don’t pull it out,” she said, leaving unsaid because that’d make one hell of a mess. “I’ll call 911 when we get home.” Home.
A wet hand, in the dark, grazed her arm. His diligent fingers were clumsy and useless now, a shame. “I need to go to the emergency room.”
“An ambulance can come out here faster than I can turn around and go back to town,” she said. “My girl’s old. She won’t make it.”
Filling the car with his shout: “Turn around. I’m gonna die.”
“You ain’t gonna die,” she said. “Don’t be so dramatic. You’ll feel better in a minute.” Feel better was close to a phrase well-loved by her family. It was a slip, saying it in front of a milker like that, but he would never know the difference.
“Did you . . . did you do that on purpose?” Not angry, no, only confused and sad. “Did you?”
She took one hand from the wheel to pat him on the knee. The denim was wet and warm. “Everything will be okay.”
He passed out before Sephorina pulled off of County Road 6 to crunch up the gravel driveway. She clicked on the car’s brights and navigated the narrow serpentine route as it wove through the willows. She parked behind her brother’s pickup and killed the engine. The floodlight angled over the driveway snapped on. By it, Sephorina saw Dillon was pale and still, painted red from neck to knee. The knife handle levered up and down with his slow, gurgling breaths.