"This summer, go on down to a little town. Sit on a park bench. Watch the world go by. You might even see a parade" - a professor's advice on the last day of class.
T H E M O R P H I S T
by Silva Noir
Chapter 22: 3rd of July
Whirring in circles, the ceiling fan provided little relief from the oppressive New England summer. Thick with humidity, pollen, and pollution, the air was next to impossible to breathe. David and Rabbit lay each spread on the mattress that was the sole piece of furniture (unless you counted the fixtures) left in the apartment. They were far apart as they could possibly be from each other while still stretching themselves out as much to comfort of the fan. For even the littlest touch of anything warm was unbearable in this weather. Wearing as little as they could while still within decency (for her a bikini top and a pair of denim cutoffs and for him a tank top and khaki shorts) and keeping bags of ice on their foreheads seemed to help a bit.
"It's too hot to move," she bemoaned the day.
He amended her complaint, "It's too hot to do ANYTHING."
"Mmm..." she agreed.
"Well, I'm going to take a shower. That's the only thing that helps," He peeled himself off the mattress. He would have liked to live in that tub for the past few days, and nearly had been. There was nothing like cool, clean water and soap to forget the summer doldrums.
After an hour Rabbit became bored of lying there alone. "I agreed to date a man, not a fish. If you're not coming out I'm going to join you." When she opened the door the tub was drained. No one was there. As far as she could figure he'd gone out the window...which was three stories up, straight down to the parking lot. Not that that was a problem for him. "If it wasn't so damned hot and humid I'd try to find him but..." she went back to the mattress and flopped face down.
"Slam dunk!" the basketball rattled the chain net set up in Melanie's driveway. "This game is too easy when you're THIS tall."
"Or when you cheat," David said from under her, having been carrying her on his shoulders. She was getting too heavy, so he let her down easy.
The whole neighborhood was mingling house to house. Barbecue smoke wafted in from all directions. Traffic was heavy as well, having been detoured away from Main Street. In his nearly one year stay he'd never seen so many townspeople out a once. Even those who stayed shut inside their houses and wouldn't give a dying man the time of day were out and about, acting friendly. July 3rd was the magic day when this community came alive.
"You want a hotdog or a hamburger?" She led him around back to where her brother was watching over the charcoal grill. David shook his head no. He never real cared for either and it was too hot to eat anything just cooked. She instead sloshed her arm in one of the styrofoam coolers full of half melted ice and cans to get him a store brand cola. Being a good hostess, she popped the tab and poured it into a plastic cup for him. No one questioned her change in eye color, as she kept those extra dark sunglasses of her on.
He maneuvered through the crowd and over and old woman's pet poodle to find an empty lawn chair. He found one in the far corner in the shade of a peach tree, he just had to flick off the inchworm that was crawling on the arm rest first. He sat back, enjoyed his drink, and watched and listened to everyone else talking about their lives, as he obviously couldn't talk much about his own to what were predominantly strangers. A couple of people from high school would recognize him and ask the standard questions like, "Awful weather we're having, huh?", "Hey, I remember you! How's it going?" , "You were friends with that weird guy for a while. Are you still friends?" No, he wasn't. "Remember when such-and-such a thing happened in school? Wasn't that cool/funny/scary/weird/stupid?" A month had gone by since classes ended, he thought it was too early to reminisce about it. "Man, I am glad high school is over, aren't you?" He was glad. "What does you tattoo mean?" He told them it was something from a favorite movie. The last person was Melanie's brother (not the one manning the grill, a different one), who asked the touchiest question.
He pulled up a folding chair, "Where are you going after this? College, work, the Army...? I joined the Navy."
David shrugged, "I'm traveling across country with my girlfriend. After that, who knows..." his plans didn't go any further than that in life. He didn't dare go into detail.
Melanie's brother pushed anyway, "Where are you headed?"
"Las Vegas, right? Quickie wedding?"
"Uh... not that I know of." David broadcast an annoyed enough look to stop the questioning. At peace once more, he stretched out, closed his eyes, and decided to nap the party through.
Melanie rejoined him after she'd made the rounds of relatives and other guests, which took hours. She poked the sleeping blonde blonde's shoulder. He'd gained sunburns on his tops of his legs which he'd left in the light. "You ready to go?"
He stopped snoring. "Grugh...?" The request registered, and he got up. They slipped around the high wooden fence whne no one was looking to build their armor. Costumes of Xilvrin helped cool them from the abominable heat, plus was a lot more fun to be in.
Two silver horses, a muscular stallion and a smaller mare, burst out of the underbrush taking flight over the baking pavement. Standing still they looked like refugee lawn ornaments. They didn't stand still for long. Anyone who managed to spot what were two white hot blurs in the sun assumed they were part of the show or were a mirage. The route they took reminded him of the first day he'd walked home with Palmer, talking about rainbows and the town. Only this time he know the town, was with a different friend, and had no time to think about color distortions.
An excellent student, Melanie had picked up on the intuitive mechanics of moving a Xilvrin beast quickly. This was a race. She was but a few steps behind and gaining. Barricades prevented him from using his carhopping trick. His experience was his only advantage. Spindly legs danced downhill too quick for the naked eye to see. Staying on course, he did not risk deviating from the straight line he was headed in, the slow walking humans would have to move aside for him. Slowing down was not an option. How dare the underling try to beat him at his own game!
In the end, he won by a nose. No judges awaited him at the invisible finish line. There were floats parked at the start of the parade route. He stole a flower from the garden society's float as his prize ... then ate it. He couldn't taste the chrysanthemum, only absorb the organic material through the liquid Xilvrin inside the armor, like a Venus fly trap to a fly. He avoided eating real flies. Victory relished, he jumped back into the underbrush.
Rolling in the mud, pleased as pigs, the pair went from being brilliant to dull brown. Now they could much about as much as they wanted. Local news men were reporting on and recording the scene on the 'School for the Deaf' hill, the place where they always began Independence Day festivities. David had an eye on a very particular something. Without warning he bounced past the camera and into a group of mostly elderly people in kilts. Snatching from them the whole purpose of their being there, he tossed the ghastly objects high into the boughs of the fir trees. As he would tell Melanie later, "Bagpipes! I hate Bagpipes! They've been practicing since late May from the middle of morning late into the evening! Didn't know where but I heard it everywhere, carried on the wind from all around. They were driving me bananas!"
She laugh-whinnied, wondering if 'willful destruction of Scottish instruments' was a punishable crime. Under cover, they waited for the biggest event of Randolph to begin. The production was... less than impressive. She told him the reason why they celebrated on the 3rd and not the official 4th. Anyone with any sense went into Boston to see the symphony orchestra conducted by Keith Lockheart at the Half-Shell. The highlight of the evening was the 1812 Overture, with cannons going off in tune with the music. There was no way this small town could compete on its budget, so it didn't bother. Priding himself on being one with sense, he would be attending. He didn't mention that it was Rabbit's idea. Rabbit rarely missed an opportunity of culture and celebrity. He still wanted to see what this town had to offer ... as he'd never seen fireworks in person and wasn't patient enough to wait another 24 hours to do so.
They marched with the parade although several feet to the right, weaving between trees and houses unnoticed. It was easier than dealing with the tightly packed people on the sidewalks. Plus, it wasn't really worth it to stand and watch. The parade was mostly fire engines and marching bands, along with classic cars and campaigning politicians. A few organizations came out, the churches having religious messages, the dance troupes having little girls in sequins and bows, the garden society covered in flowers, and so forth. Random rented balloons in an imitation of the popular Macy's parade were dragged along, pool patches over the leaking holes. and boy, were there a lot of vendors. David didn't know what was worse: the vendors trying to get kids money on cheap plastic knockoff toys, or the politicians bribing them with candy tossed onto the street.
Despite better judgment telling him not to, he decided these people needed something really worth talking about in their parade. The bulk of his form increased five fold. The shell filled with air, connecting back with Xilvrin veins. His partner hnug back not wanting to be a part of this if it went bad. Once he was completed, he was hard to ignore. Swinging a new trunk he placed a few small children on his back for the ride. Everyone loves elephants, he thought. right? He flapped his big fan ears and made all of the other motions a live pachyderm would. The kids were happy and that made him happy. He was sure their parents weren't; adults could be such close-minded bores. He grabbed up free icecream from the greedy vendors for the little darlings before letting them off a few blocks uphill.
Elephants, as you might have guessed, are hard to hide. He ducked behind a Ken's Barbershop, knowing he would be followed. He did something ingenious then. Such a large form would take time to collapse and evaporate fully. He left go the ropes that held him to it and simply stepped out through an opening he'd made for himself in one of the pudgy legs. The focus was on the animal, not him, so he was able to sneak away. He could imagine the confusion of those who watched a several ton elephant melt into a puddle.
As a human, he ambushed a horse, "Trusty sidekick! Or should I say steed?"
Melanie made the horses snout frown, "I'm not your sidekick. You'd have to do something heroic first." She kept her voice at a level only he could hear.
"What about ridding the world of bagpipes? Sounds like a noble cause to me."
"Liberating icecream from freezer carts?"
"Aww... shucks..." he pouted.
"David, I can't stay all night. My parents will be wondering where I went to and I have a curfew. ... so I'll see you around."
"No you won't, I told you, I'm leaving tommorow..." he pouted for real now. He wanted to share the innocent experience with her. Once she tottered off he mumbled to himself, "Lousy sidekicks."
So he was alone. That was all right, he was used to it, and not in a bad way this time. He was happy to stroll among the crowd. He was just another human in the vibe. He even hummed Springstien's "Born in the USA" that the senator's float had been playing incessantly and loudly as it had inched its way up main street and rounded the final corner. He and the rest of the town were headed to the football field Man, haven;t set foot there since graduation. I have the goofiest smile in the pciture accepting the diploma. Ruth was there that day; I saw her on the bleachers. To prove my mother wrong, that I can survive public school ... and to have survived and be free of that educational prison ... what a giddy feeling.
So he was alone. That was all right, he was used to it, and not in a bad way this time. He was happy to stroll among the crowd. He was just another human in the vibe. He even hummed Springstien's "Born in the USA" that the senator's float had been playing incessantly and loudly as it had inched its way up main street and rounded the final corner. He and the rest of the town were headed to the football field Man, haven't set foot there since graduation. I have the goofiest smile in the pciture accepting the diploma. Ruth was there that day; I saw her on the bleachers. To prove my mother wrong, that I can survive public school ... and to have survived and be free of that educational prison ... what a giddy feeling.
The sun dipped down to the horizon. It had cooled off by a lot. There was still and hour or so before the light show. David paced the fenced in field in search of people he knew to sit with. They found him ... his computer class, that was. One boy was occupying himself and the other males by showing off lowbrow comedy skits he'd downloaded to his laptop. The three girls were entertaining themselves by dancing in a circle with glowsticks and glow-in-the-dark jewelry. The most attractive one who'd dyed her hair neon pink pulled David into the circle. The other two put some glow-in-the-dark bracelets on him. He'd asked her out once. She'd liked him well enough but already had a boyfriend. Tables turned, and now she was telling him how she was free for the summer if he ever wanted to hookup.
"Sorry, I'd love to, but I have plans and won't be in Massachusetts." He regretted having to decline. She gave him her number in case he changed his mind. Figures, he thought, When I was single I couldn't find anyone who wanted to be with me. Now that I have a girlfriend girls are throwing themselves at me. He had fun dancing with 'Pinkie' and her friends nonetheless.
She pulled him down on the blanket the rest of the group was crammed onto. He wouldn't want to sit on the soggy grass and ruin his shorts, after all. They were on one of the yard lines. Not being a football fan, he wasn't sure which one. Machines were set and ready on the adjacent soccer field. The pyrotechnics specialist waited from the word of safety from the fire crew. All was 'go.'
Whistlers went up first. They had more sound than they did pop, a brief trail of light for the visual. To David it was more colorful and impressive. 'Pinkie was leaning her head on his shoulder, openly, but sweetly, flirting. A few more went up, these the red 'pompoms' that one usually pictured when thinking of fireworks. Children and the easily amused oohed and aahed. The rest watched silently. David was mesmerized. The flashed, through filtered through his glasses, were still unspeakably dazzling. The sound and show had him on edge. The Xilvrin screamed inside him, if you could call it a scream, as more flashes bombarded his sensed. He clenched his teeth in a frozen grimace and leaned in.
"David, you look demented," Pinkie whispered.
He wanted to dive into the explosions that tore a hole in the night sky. His heart nearly burst at each BA-BOOM. He felt like the phoenix, tempted to the flame of simultaneous death and immortality. The 'Finale' struck up, every remanning shell sent up at once in what even those mortal human beings about him would describe as "blinding and deafening." Overloading his nerves, it became his private pain and pleasure. He continued to watch as he could not, would not turn away ... wanting to drive himself in to what his science fiction fanboy-ness thought of as a small scale interstellar war. Hands clicked into claws, shoulders tensed. He wanted to fight. He wanted to win.
The voice of a woman brought him back to reality. Pinkie patted his back as he shielded his bowed head in his hands that dripped Xilvrin down his bare arms. She thought he was splashing water on himself to wake up. Having a look into his eyes she shrieked and crawled away. He could hear her, but that was all. His unconscious self-defense mechanisms had been triggered, then short circuited. His eyes were blank, solid Xilvrin. Metal tears froze to his lashes. Night was by nature dark, but his was empty ... and lonely.
His schoolmates had left him. A mass exodus squeezed through the fences gate on the far right. It was not in fear of him, but it might as well have been. Police with flashlights made a sweep to shoo away any scragllers. One ordered David to stand up. David tried, finding it hard to keep his balance. The officer accused him of being drunk or drugged up. He made a check of the teen's pupils to see if they were dilated ... and didn't find any.
Before he could call for assistance, the hell of a boot made an audible KRACK! to his skull. The officer fell to the dirt. David stood helpless and blind to the action. His only clue was that before it happened a motorbike had sped in, skidding to a stop in the turf close by. The perfume of the rider told him who it was as she took his hand and fled into the starry night with him.
"What were you thinking!" Rabbit demanded as they broke the speed limit through the maze of back streets. "You weren't thinking, were you?"
"No..." David admitted sheepishly. "Forgive me?"
"I take such care to cover up your existence..." she would have sighed if she didn't have to shout over midnight wind they rode into. "I forgive you. But from now on, you do as I say!"
"Forget tomorrow, we're leaving tonight." She took a sharp turn that nearly threw him off.
Meanwhile, in a pastel bedroom, the fourteen year-old girl named Melanie opened the gift a much older boy who nicknamed himself 'The Morphist' had brought for her. The inside of the card had read: I trust you with this. Do not let anyone else at it. This is the legacy of Xilvrin beings. That legacy is also your future. Keep your secret and mine well, lead a normal a life as possible. I will right this wrong any way I can, doing what I must ... please understand, Dear Melanie ... if that turns out to be an awful thing. Imagine, having not to avenge a death ... but to avenge a birth...
She put the first tape into her radio, on low volume, and listened in rapt attention.
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