By Mike Zone
“Now you talk yourself up. You’re a twenty-nine-year-old college professor, tell me what you have to offer. Sell yourself.”
He swiveled on the stool slapping his hand on the counter with all the confidence of being the prime slice of alpha male pie there was on the societal market, but he wasn’t. French fry crumbs in the corner of his mouth and he knew it , royal blue shirt untucked to show he didn’t care wearing dark denim jeans to accentuate his participation in casual Fridays yet still a black blazer to demonstrate his solemn oath to the world of business in which he made his living primarily through talking and nepotism.
It was supposed to be a typical Tinder date, Christine was horny and not looking to be ridiculed but perhaps that’s the price you were supposed to pay when seeking organic carnal gratification when you were to afraid to attempt something called love or even just going out. Christine justified her misery quite frequently it was the only way to cope when and thousands of others felt absolutely ravaged by what passed for society.
MEET. DRINK. GO HOME. FUCK.
She would need an extra drink tonight. Perhaps two. Another ritual with a set of steps now with even more steps as things were increasingly becoming more intolerable. All you had to do was swipe left if you found your prospective sexual partner appealing, it wasn’t that complicated, maybe you met for drinks or skipped straight to the bedroom or a love motel, or you swiped right and nothing happened and if you were lucky you never saw that person in the grocery store crying alone while fondling produce…only it was, loneliness and despair seemed to be making itself more apparent and devouring superficial accomplishments and anyone who tried to appear otherwise was so fucking theatrical about it you just wanted to vomit right there or throw yourself into traffic but it was better to be anyone than yourself and project an ideal image, not yours, god no that would be absurd and self-destructive it had to be the selfie sellable self with an added secret value no could quite place their finger on, even if just one hour was needed. You had to get your time’s worth.
He snapped his fingers and chuckled “I knew it Blake this girl needs an upgrade, a big ol’ life improvement. Look, regardless of what happens tonight, I’m here to help you become the best YOU, you want to be.”
“That’s a lot of “yous”
“Only three… which rhymes with “ME” willing to help you three times more than you can or really want to help yourself. I’ve been selling plastic products and services for about seven years all over the United States and other far off places and I’ve met all kinds of different people: shapes, colors, sizes, genders, flavors…the different minded.”
Flavors? How blatant could this guy be?
“Do you know who you are Christine?”
There was a cold shiver of discontent and something that wasn’t her being pulled down internally into another realm starting to make her aware how empty she believed she was. Nothing but a husk, that’s what felt like, a self-aware husk.
“I’m going to tell you who you are girl and we’re going to get out here and explore the real you and how we can improve it. Cause that’s what I do, you wouldn’t believe all the lives I’ve touched. Life isn’t about selling plastic and it’s many beneficial services, it’s about selling people for a better world.”
“Get your masked face out of here, freak!”
Christine whipped around to see a shaggy haired, scarecrow of man land against the host stand. He wore a disposable medical mask. A hulking figure in a pastel green polo shirt stood over him, fists clenched, his spray on tan accentuating his closely cropped dark hair with a moderately short and thin blonde girl in a denim skirt draped proudly around his arm.
“I just wanted to pick up my order.”
“No one wants your sickness. Just go out in the street and die!”
He took a massive step toward the masked shabbily clothed man who lunged and landed on top of his assailant and pinned him down. He tried to wriggle free and flailed wildly.
“Let me go, you son of a bitch!”
“ENOUGH! All my life, people like you before I even got sick bullied me, wanted me out of sight and now you think you have a reason as if now there’s enough difference to blatantly treat us as subhuman, even openly ridicule us, wish us death, well I got news for you…we’re not so different.”
The man tore off his mask revealing his discolored lips, raw yet hardened bruised tumor irritated skin which seemed to have additional eyes sockets forming and teeth growing.
“For some it appears on the outside as things begins to change and for others on the inside, sometimes both but I think we’ve all got it inside us, in some way or another.”
Everyone was frozen in fear as the deformed figured held his attacker down with one hand and pried open his mouth with the other. He brought something up in his throat and spat into the helpless guy’s mouth making sure he swallowed what was released.
“Now you for sure have what I have.” He calmly stood up, someone shakily brought the man’s order as he pulled his mask back on.
“Ryan!” The blonde screamed and fell to her knees crying. The sick man turned to the young woman with his collected order.
“Go to him. He loves you. You love him. Don’t you?”
Both boyfriend and girlfriend, were shocked and uncomfortably befuddled. Ryan got up to reach for his girlfriend who shirked away and shook her head, her entire body quivering with fright. Ryan was aghast , he tried taking a step toward his girl who hid behind two other well built polo pastel wearing men, he made way for the infected man who was just opening the door to leave. They faced each other.
“Now that you’re one of us, you’ll know how we’ve felt even before the sickness.”
The chime of the bell hanging on the door signified his leaving. Everyone stared at Ryan who was on the floor sobbing, who suddenly stopped for the stares were not sympathetic but accusatory, even repulsive. He gradually rose, in a slumped posture, eyes to the ground hopefully never to be seen again by the patrons or even those who served them as no one wanted to be reminded of who and how anyone could be infected and left outside it even if they were in the first place, they all needed illusion to live.
Christine thoughtfully watched unrepelled a defeated and exiled Ryan walk to the end of the block. She even wondered what would happen to him. She looked out the window and could see the man who infected him eating his take-out on a bus stop bench observing Ryan. She wanted to smile but knew it was inappropriate. She shifted back to Blake who seemingly had not broken his stare at her, unaware even of just what happened, wide eyed, he took her hand, she was about to say something until he cut her off.
“Some people say we have a pandemic but I say it’s really a pandemic of loneliness.”
Something broke inside her. Christine tried to put a hand over her eyes as she felt a few tears fall and nodded. She was sold for the evening, Blake was going to be it.
They were just a couple of husks.
Back at her place. Skin bags holding together meat and bone, grinding, going at it, secreting various liquids no one wanted to talk about with lack of genuine personalities or rather the façade of the person they were trying to be in order not to be who they really were afraid to be.
“Moisten up, girl.” Blake pumped away not completely getting inside, clenching his teeth in pain. He refused to use lubricant, and Christine flat on her back not the least bit turned on closed her eyes pretending it was just the darkness on top of her as she mechanically answered each thrust, picturing flowers blooming.
“Blake’s about to go baby, and I want to go inside you…you’re so special.” He whimpered and lied.
Christine sweated profusely and not from physical exertion, something was inside her upsetting her nerves causing them to catch fire. She pictured the flowers, remembered what her grandmother said to do when confronted with unwanted or stomaching churning situations. “Just picture flowers blooming dear. It’s what made my forty three year old marriage with your grandfather work.” The advice she gave Christine when she lost her virginity in the back seat of a car to someone she really wasn’t attracted to but wanted to know why she did what she did and how she could help it. Her grandmother shrugged and did the best she could.
Blake was a continuation of this no matter how many books Christine read, how much she excelled in her career, something was missing and none it felt right at all even though she was hitting all the marks for a woman at her age with a degree she wanted in the career she dreamed of yet none of it felt real. She remembered Georgia O’Keefe paintings as Blake was finally entering her, panting manically and spouting all sorts of romantic nonsense he got from cheesy rom-coms. She didn’t have to listen, she knew, pictured those tortured yet fully blooming desert flowers.
Desert flowers. Was she a desert flower? Was the world she lived in a desert and was she struggling to bloom? Something clicked, there was a wet snap and a splash inside the bed, two husks slumped flat on the mattress. Blake clutched a skin-sack of bone and held it close, stroking it’s flat, disheveled blonde hair. He whispered in its ear, looking into the dark at the wet pillow with a proud smirk on his face.
“Baby girl, thank you for letting me share that with you.” He took his index finger and began to run it down her spinal column. Chicks like that, he remembered to tell himself that in his mind as he worked his way down to a moist slit which wasn’t quite right. He stopped and dropped the body which wasn’t a body but a an empty husk. Devoid of eyes, guts and tongue. Even the bones were shells, powder among the queer transparent liquid saturating the bed. Something gold, more blonde than blonde appeared in his peripheral vision followed by the tiny click the thought he heard during climax, followed by a raspy gurgle.
“Baby girl?” Blake took in the vision of something almost plant-like and insectoid, her mandibles silently opening and closing with piercing shining gold eyes matching her hair. Sprinkled in a distorted spiral design on her hard exoskeleton primarily shaped cylinder body with certain human curves were a series of buds beating like a score of miniature hearts akin to vibrational thunderous song of storms to be brought upon the realm.
Christine clung to the ceiling, not really sure what was happening as she seemed to be moving instinctually, like watching a movie through a golden sheathed screen with a spectrum of colors running up and down all around her eyes as if she was seeing for the first time. She saw her old skin, soiled by Blake’s cum, losing form around crumbling bone, anguished mouth hole agape and eyeball sockets enlarged.
It was her husk.
It illustrated pain. A withered flower in the suburban digitally enhanced landscape veiling the desert of the real. A barely living creature leaned over it, huffing and puffing, staring dumbly at it’s limp sex and the husk it had ruined. Was it a man or just another husk of something that had to be removed from this world? She dropped down from the ceiling landing on her feet, mandible’s clamped around the ape-thing’s neck, her web hands across its paunch, her talons sunk, the creatures limp sex suddenly erected as it winced and moaned. Was it pain? She did not care, it had soiled her husk. Disrespected its perceived persona. She would consume this creature, use its purposeless energy to sustain her own growth.
A branch sprouted from her forearm and entered the beast, it shook and climaxed a second time. Christine took a single talon from her free hand, jabbed it in the base of the creature’s neck and started it running it down the length of its body, to see what resided inside such a base existence. Her mandible let go of his neck unleashing a song of chirps and clicking, a soothing electric sensation around her body to ease the discomfort of skin ripping similar to the memory of a blue sequined dress being unzipped in the back after too much drink at an after prom party but flowers bloomed to dissipate the memory no more and she knew that what she was now, what had happened before was never her fault nor would it ever be again. The buds unfurled, erupting into yellowed and blue brightness as lightning bugs of blue and green were released illuminating the room in a soothing combination of light dancing in a variety of swirling angles to the tune of Christine’s song.
This is what it was to truly bloom.
Suddenly there was a splash and another wet snapping noise. Christine felt warm liquid seep underneath her. The creature in her hand had gone limp, sagging like it’s pathetic sex. Her mandibles shut putting an end to her cooing scraping song as the lightning bugs swirled around Christine’s prey and exploded into an acidic toxin, nearly disintegrating the husk except for a few scraps of skin-sack and bone powder. A hole had been hastily torn and burrowed through the memory foam mattress and the bamboo panels of the bed broken. Something slid and rolled out from under the bed, the creature from its trauma had evolved into its true form.
Blake shook all over. He felt himself shudder and slip out of what he was and operated on pure instinct, uncertain of what was going to happen, he had to get out from underneath the bed, back up against the wall to get his bearings together, head to the bathroom he spied , shut the door, possibly call the police or at least find a razor blade or plunger to kill this bitch that so violated him. Why was he thinking this way? Couldn’t he just be positive, isn’t that who he was? He felt new and improved yet something old lingered about him like eggs and musk. He got up and stumbled not used his new stumpy legs, trying to adjust far flung eyes on tendrils going this way and that way. He tried to steady himself on the wall with his fingers but couldn’t, he didn’t have any, he had these God damn useless penguin wing things with scales and looked down at where his pecker used to be and brushed his scaled wing against feeling his favorite instrument reduced to a single ball and flabby curved muscle hidden under ruffled speckled feathers. He was unnaturally hot used to have naked skin feeling an extra thick set of white feathers around his neck, he tried to scream but croaked a wretched bleep attempting a squeak.
Christine saw the creature once called “Blake” put it’s scaled wings in front of itself , in a defensive position more suited to digging and burrowing than assisting in a fight. The creature’s unprotected absurdly large eyes dangled haphazardly, unable to gain a stable position. She had the advantage in form and thought as the creature now half the size than it used to be tried forming humans words with its beak. It jumped up and down squawking and flapping in a desperate last stand meant to illicit sympathy and mercy rather induce fright and project an unparalleled savagery as intended. She grasped the creature which would have fertilized her original form regardless of consequence and discarded her, cracking it’s beak while doing so. Her mandibles spread open as something new formed there from her original self, a remnant of the husk but a fine new characteristic of who she was now. A smile spread across her lips as she opened wide.
Pick a color, Christine, any color. Her brain seemed to say. Her golden moment to shine with her chosen hue. Red and purple with gold colored the room but before she consumed the convulsing, spasming creature, she found the blinds open…perhaps Christine had hoped someone through an act of voyeurism would learn a lesson she should have learned long ago or perhaps some stranger would rescue her but they didn’t, sickness and trauma had evolved her to natural form and she wondered being safe in this room of hers would she ever be able to exist outside of it among the realm of the remaining husks?
Christine optics nerves tingled to view on a bench, munching on a corndog and looking up in the window the infected man from earlier in the evening in a hooded sweat shirt. He wasn’t sick but in chrysalis form, he’ll get there eventually maybe that’s just his point…Christine thought as he finished his dog and she took her first bite. He got up, waved and threw his hood up as it started to rain.
Christine knew there was no sickness after all.