Prose Header


by Sarah Lynne Gibbel

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

I slept on a pile of newspaper that night, the farthest one from the fire. Unfortunately that also meant the creatures were between the door and me. They all had tattered, greasy sleeping bags. I had found a few rags to use for blankets, but they weren’t all that much help.

I tried to lull myself to sleep by thinking of my knife, imagining the secure feeling of its smooth handle in my hand. I could cut their throats as they slept and then slip out the door. I was shocked to find myself having a thought like that. I may have been the black sheep among my friends, but I tried to be a good person, well, at least most of the time. The creatures probably hadn’t always been the way they were, and there was a strong possibility that they were human beings. It would be murder.

The thing to do would be to start a fight, so that when I killed them, it would be self-defense. Or would I go to hell for that too? I love my Mom, though she scares me a little sometimes. But I don’t want to grow up to be like her.

I’d been going to church with Jessica — one of my few female friends — and her family for about a year. The first time I went with them, some fat woman looked at my lip ring and tiny bit of cleavage like I was desecrating the building.

I do stupid things when I’m angry. I went to the bathroom and doodled evil cats next to the toilet. Jessica’s Mom knew right away who did it and I was surprised when she let me come with them the next week.

* * *

I don’t remember falling asleep, but I do remember being kicked in the ribs by a hairy, twisted foot at the crack of dawn the next morning. “Slave get up. Make breakfast.”

“Man! The sun’s not even up yet!”

“Sun coming up. Morning best time of day.”

I groaned and piled more newspaper on top of my head. The creature grabbed my shoulders and began shaking me. I jumped away from it. “Okay, okay, I’m up. What do you want me to cook?”

One of the smaller creatures tossed me a dead squirrel. The eyes had fallen into the skull. The rotten stink made me feel sick. One of my cousins had died after eating bad meat. I was the one who had found him, all stiff and cold, looking like something in a wax museum.

“I am so not cooking this,” I gasped, throwing it back into the creature’s face and furiously wiping my palms on the back of my pants.

“You are slave. You must cook,” said another creature, squeezing my arm until blood oozed out from between its claws. Forgetting my struggle from the night before, I grabbed the frying pan and walloped the creature in the face. It fell over.

The others leapt forward. I jabbed one in the stomach with the handle, and then, while it was keeling over, whacked it in the jaw. A tooth fell out and the creature began drooling blood.

The others were kicking my legs. I managed to keep my balance, but their claws had ripped through my jeans and bit into the skin. I kicked one in the neck and it sat down, pawing at its throat and making weird moaning sounds.

I’m in very good shape and I can kick hard, but my aim was a bit off. I just got the other one in the shoulder. It head-butted me, pushed me over and tried to jump on me. The creature landed on the dirt floor. I rolled out of the way, jumped to my feet, and banged it on the back of the head.

The creature went down all right, but when I was on my way out it tripped me. This time I was not so quick to get up and the creature pounced. Its claws dug into my shoulders. They went fairly deep, and began grating on something hard. I screamed and, I’m ashamed to say, tears came into my eyes.

I reached up behind me — although it hurt even worse when I was moving my arms — and grabbed a fistful of hair. I pulled, and it suddenly just let loose. The creature froze and howled for a second. I could see one of its feet next to my side. I slammed my knee into its instep, putting as much of my weight as I could on it. The creature rolled off and we both jumped up at the same time.

The first one was still lying on the ground, but the other two were up. The creatures weren’t too bright. Apparently they hadn’t thought of getting between me and the door. I was able to beat them to it.

I ran outside, going back through the woods in the direction that I was dragged from. The creatures were chasing me, but eventually I thought I heard their footfalls becoming fainter. I ran past the clearing where I had been trapped, and didn’t start slowing down until I was once again in a familiar area, right next to our road.

My entire body was throbbing, but I have found that pain usually goes away if you just ignore it. I haven’t had aspirin for years. What I couldn’t ignore was the way it was getting hard to breathe, and my vision becoming grey and wobbly. I knew I should stop and lie down, but I was afraid the creatures would catch up.

* * *

I must have fainted, because I woke up to find a bunch of people standing over me. I tried to say something, but it came out as a moan. “I saw an arm covered with blood sticking up out of the ditch,” said a man, “So I called the police. After a second he added, “You know, you look good.” I wondered how much I resembled one of the creatures. People always say that to anyone who’s old or sick.

At the hospital, they had to peel the remains of my shirt off my back. The blood had dried and cemented it on, making the shirt sort of like a second skin. In places, it was even sticking to the bone.

The doctor didn’t believe my story. He thought the strange, leathery patches on my skin were some weird sort of rash.

“You better get rid of it,” I said jokingly. “If it spreads and I turn into one of them I’ll come by your house at night and scare your family.”

He grunted and pushed his glasses further down his nose.

* * *

When I was lying in bed with my shoulders and legs wrapped in about half an inch of cotton, my dad walked in the door. He looked odd and out of place with his big, steel-toed boots and old fleece-lined jacket in the harsh white hospital room.

“I brought you something, Sugar,” he said, putting a huge red package next to me.

I tried to move my arms, and couldn’t resist making a face and jumping a bit. They had gotten stiff.

“I better open it for you,” he said. It was a five-gallon bucket. The entire thing was filled with Hershey’s Kisses.

“Thanks.” I said, catching a quiver just in time. “You’re gonna make me cry, you big dummy,”

“I knew you’d like this better than flowers or balloons,” he said. “And it will keep for when you can use your arms.”

I laughed, then remembered something. “You were going to come back tonight, weren’t you? Why didn’t you bring Mom?”

He coughed. “I wasn’t going to tell you this until later, but the police found her stash.”

“Oh.” I was about to ask which stash, but then the doctor walked into the room. He was a short old man with a bristly grey mustache. He looked like a walrus for some reason.

“Mr. Griffin, it turns out your daughter was right about those creatures. They have been captured and identified as people who disappeared on a camping trip over ten years ago. They were living in a highly unsanitary fashion. It’s a wonder all four were still alive.”

So I hadn’t killed that one, after all. For the first time in months, I actually began feeling happy. “So what are they going to do with them?” my dad asked.

“They are quite mentally unstable and will be put in an institution. Their keepers should not be in too much danger as long as they handle them with gloves.

“There is an error with the copying mechanism of their DNA, similar to the one which happens to people as they age. It spread as they touched each other. The doctors believe that it can be cured in your daughter because the disease isn’t too far along in her case.

“In fact, some of them don’t think that it will spread at all because she is no longer in contact with them, but they would like her to have a few minor surgeries and additional drugs just to be on the safe side.”

His phone started beeping out an awful version of “Build Me Up Buttercup” and he turned even redder than usual, glanced at the screen, said, “Excuse me, this is a very important call,” and scuttled out of the room.

As he walked down the hall, I could hear him shouting, his voice gradually fading out, “Hello? No, this isn’t a bad day for an interview! I’ll be available in ten...”

My dad sighed. “What were those things like?”

I paused. “Well, they were kind of like bears.”

“I’m sure you’ll be fine...?” he said, trying to look reassuring.

“I will be. I’ll just have some cool scars, and like... I feel a bit slow. Um. Mentally.”

“That could just be shock. Or morphine. Or both.” Hospitals had always made him nervous.

“Don’t forget to feed the dogs tonight. Now that Mom’s in jail.”

“I won’t. And it will only be about a year, if she’s convicted, I mean. Worst-case scenario. That’s what the lawyer told me.” He cleared his throat. “Well, I need to go now, Sugar, but you get well soon, okay?”

“Bye, Dad.”

Turning off the light, he shuffled out of the room in his big boots.

I grabbed my blanket with my mouth and pulled it up. It was warm and clean. The sky was getting dark outside. Behind the black lace silhouette of an oak tree, I could see a thin sliver of moon. God’s thumbnail holding on to the world, as my grandma used to say when she was alive. Despite all the noise and strangeness of the hospital, I drifted off to sleep.

Copyright © 2011 by Sarah Lynne Gibbel

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