by Bobby O’Rourke
“I’m really glad you came out with me tonight,” Tommy said as we exited the crowded movie theater, shouldering our way through the throng waiting outside to buy tickets for the late showing. The rain outside had stopped, but a dull mist now hung in the air. The tiny sprinkles of water were only visible when seen in the light of a streetlamp, but I could feel the gentle coolness whipping against my face. Tommy put his arm around me, and I let him keep it there.
We made a left outside the movie theatre and walked down Oak Street, talking about the best parts of the movie and giggling at the jokes we made about the actors. It was past eleven, and my parents were very insistent on my being home no later than midnight.
“I don’t know this boy,” Dad had said before I left. “I don’t want you out into all hours of the night. Midnight—that’s all.” Mom had nodded in agreement. Tommy had come to pick me up shortly after that. I think he eased some of Dad’s fears when he asked permission to come inside.
“Hello, sir,” Tommy had said, holding his hand out. “I’m Tommy Ulster.” Dad took it and told us to have a good time. Then Tommy shook hands with Mom and we left.
As we walked further down Oak, we were moving farther and farther from his car. I had had a great time, and I didn’t want the night ruined by Dad throwing a fit.
“Hey,” I said to Tommy, taking his hand. “I don’t want my Dad yelling at either of us. I think I’ve got to head home. I’m sorry.”
He smiled and tightened his grip on my hand. “Just a sec. I want to see if a coffee place I like is open.” I was going to tell him everything was closing up now, but he was already pulling me along. Another fifteen minutes wouldn’t make much difference.
We had left the movie crowd far behind us. Up ahead was the section of Oak Street filled with designer clothing stores and restaurants specializing either in muffins or bread and soup. The streetlights still illuminated the droplets of mist. We passed underneath one and I … I couldn’t tell what it was, but something happened to Tommy’s face. As the light overhead shone on us, a little rainbow from the vapor crossed Tommy’s face. Something happened to Tommy. It only lasted a second, but I thought his face became gray, and more angular, like a child’s first attempt at cutting construction paper with scissors. And his eyes—I thought I saw them glow red. But then we passed the light and he was back to normal. He tilted his head to me and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I said. “I saw a rainbow in the lamplight. What coffee place are we going to? They’ll never be open.”
“I think they are,” Tommy assured me. “We’re almost there. It’s on Jefferson Street.”
I had never heard of Jefferson Street. “Where is that?”
“We go up to Dunn and make a left, then another left. It’s one of those little side streets you don’t notice until something you want is there.” I think he sensed my hesitation, because then he asked, “Hey, do you think Scarlett Johannson could have done a better job as the girl in that movie?”
Talking about the movie calmed me, and I proceeded to tell him why Scarlett Johansen’s breasts would not have made a better heroine, since that was what he was really asking. Our banter took us around Dunn and onto Stanley Avenue. “It’s up here on the left,” Tommy said. We walked on. There were no streetlights on this small, one-way avenue. “Right here,” Tommy said, and pointed into what I thought was an alleyway.
I stopped, not wanting to go any further.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“There’s nothing in there,” I said, trying to let go of his hand. His grip became tighter.
“Maybe not,” Tommy said, and as he said it his voice became deeper. Then it sounded like his voice split, as if there were two people using his mouth. “But there is something I want.” He ran into the alleyway, dragging me behind him. I fell, but without losing any speed he lifted me up and continued into the darkness.
“Let go of me!” I yelled. He slammed me into the wall of the alley. Mom said if I ever got into trouble to shout “Fire” instead of “Help.”
I yelled. “Fire! Fi–”
Tommy covered my mouth with his right hand, muffling my cries. His two-voice was speaking again. “This will be quick if you cooperate.” He brought his left hand into view. I watched as the wrist jutted out from the end of the sleeve, making a horrible stretching noise. A webbing developed between the fingers. The webbing contracted until the fingers formed a single stump at the end of his arm. The skin was turning the gray color I had seen before. A small opening appeared at the top of the stump, and a sickening, thick yellow liquid oozed out, dripping down onto his arm and the ground.
“There must be incubators,” he said, pinning me against the wall with his body. His right hand slid off my mouth and choked me. “You are an incubator.” He raised the stump over my head and lowered it towards my face. I struggled and kicked, tried to hold the arm back, unable to scream. One of my kicks knocked over a trash can. My foot touched the ground again, and I felt something squish under my shoe. I looked down. I needed to scream, but all that came out was a strangled whine. I had stepped in the yellow ooze, but the liquid had formed into giant, wriggling worms. No, not worms, but like worms. One end of the things ended in a gaping maw. It made a sound. I thought of a bat laughing and squeaking and laughing. Little buboes on the body of the worms convulsed. One of the worms was on my shoe, buboes like twitching, slimy thumbs.
I felt like I would vomit, but I wasn’t getting any oxygen. I tried my hardest to keep my mouth closed. Tommy’s eyes were red as he brought his stump closer to my face. His breath rasped. Drips of the liquid fell into my hair. It ran down my head, down my neck. It was gluey and warm. Spots broke out in my vision. I tried to take in air. Tommy pressed the seeping stump downward. It was touching my nose. I sucked in as much oxygen as I could and gritted my teeth. It wouldn’t go into my mouth. The thought of biting the stump
spilling the ooze
revolted me, but I would if I had to. The stump got under my lips and rubbed against my teeth, searching for an entrance. Pulpy and moist. The taste and the smell
acid backwash sour milk
and Tommy’s rattling breath.
A light from behind us. Tommy shielded his eyes with the stump. A voice called out from a doorway in the alley. “Who’s there?!” Tommy shrieked as the flashlight beam crossed his face. The face of the boy I had been to the movies with was gone. His skin was ashen gray, and stretched over his skull like wax paper. His lips no longer covered his teeth, which were only gums with black protrusions. The eyebrows had hardened into ridges that dragged the eyelids up until it was impossible for the red eyes to blink. The nose had been pressed flat against the face, and the nostrils had been turned upward.
I kicked the Thing-That-Was-Tommy in the stomach. It bellowed and staggered backward. I ran out of the alleyway, coughing and telling myself not to look back or slow down. I didn’t know where to go. I was running across the street towards Hannigan Park. I couldn’t yell. Tommy was running after me, gaining on me. He would catch me if I changed direction.
the stump on my teeth
acid and sour milk
I couldn’t think of that. I couldn’t think of that. I ran into the park,
ooze on my neck
across the encircling walkway and onto the grassy field surrounding the lake. Lights and mist. Tommy’s grunts sounded more distant, weaker. I had to stop or I was going to collapse. I turned around. Tommy was running toward me, but he was moving slowly. He kept swatting himself, like a hundred mosquitoes were attacking him. Steam was coming off his body. He was growling, still watching me, coming for me.
I ran. My sides ached. I had overextended my leg. I couldn’t breathe.
I could think only of the mist. It burned him. Before it only ruined his disguise. Now it burned the real thing, the Thing-That-Was-Tommy.
I ran along a path lit by lampposts that ended in a T-split at the foot of the lake. I had to stop and see where Tommy was. I saw him running down the asphalt path, shielding his eyes from the light of the lampposts. He veered off of the walk, and disappeared into the shadows of the trees.
I was breathing hard, listening for his footsteps as the blood pounded in my head. I tried to follow his dark form as it made its way closer to me. I heard the hissing of the steam coming off of his body.
He charged at me. He was at full-run as he barreled into me. I had to let myself be taken off of my feet and slammed down, into the lake. I swallowed water and choked. Tommy thrashed above me, his body pinning me. Smoke and steam filled my vision. Gasping and howling sounds, then the thick modulations of underwater struggle. I grabbed his jacket and shoved him off of me. Some of Tommy came off in the jacket. It felt like it was filled with unbaked dough. The sleeves got tangled around me as I pulled my head above water. I scrambled out of the lake, clawing at the jacket that was clinging to me. I tore it off me and threw it into the water. I saw what was left of Tommy.
The water was boiling. All that remained identifiable of the mass in the water was the horrible face, melting and dissolving. Where his stomach would have been, a swarm of larvae bubbled and squealed. The stump popped open and yellow liquid oozed out and spread across the surface of the water like oil.
Police sirens screeched. I heard voices calling. My clothes were wet and I was cold.
the ooze the taste of acid it dripped down my hair
I scraped my fingers through my hair, certain I would touch something squirming or the ooze or a slick nest of worms. I felt crusty flakes fall out of my hair. That was all. I put my fingers on my teeth. I didn’t feel anything on them.
I stood at the edge of the lake, thinking about everything but taking in nothing. I began to doubt if something happened to me. I expected to wake up now, sweating and with my hair matted down onto my pillow. The voices were closer. Could I tell them what happened? I checked the time on my cell phone. It read 12:31 a.m., and I had missed two calls from home.
Bobby O’Rourke is a native of New Jersey, as well as a graduate of both Rutgers University and Union County College. He is currently enrolled in a Master’s program at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He has had poetry published in Spires, and is ecstatic to have his first fiction credit associated with The Writing Disorder. He dabbles in singing, standup comedy, and still checks his closet every night for monsters.