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by Silva Noir
Chapter 32: Stag

"Mom, Dad: I'm a monster..."

Palmer crouched on the steps leading from his basement to the backyard. Outside, welcome summer shower was soaked up by Mrs. Hairitzeder’s rose garden. It made the day tolerable in the midst of a week long heat wave. Grena cowered by his sneakers, frightened by the loud cracks of thunder that began the storm.

"That's a horrible way to start a letter," he looked at the first line of the last note he'd write. "I owe it to them to give my reasons..."

Grena sneezed off a dust bunny stuck to his black nose. Not having learned his lesson, the shaggy shoe box sized mutt pounced on it and tried to eat it again.

"Thanks for the input." Palmer pushed the pup down the stairs with his toe so he could concentrate on what he wished to say.

Mom, Dad, I know what you wanted me to be. I listened to the story of how you met in college in New York. You paid your own way and worked hard. I listened to Dad talk about his parents farm they lost to drought in Mexico and how they struggled here in America. I listened to Mom's story of how hard it was to have just one baby, how hard it was to keep me from dying of high fevers. You put all your hopes in this life, your work, this house, and me.

Don't. I'll disappoint you.

My grades are bad. I'm dropping out of high school. I don't work hard. I don't want a little house in the suburbs. I don't want to inherit Shady Tree Landscaping from you, Dad. I don't want to get married to some woman and give you grandkids. All these things you want for me ... I don't want them. I get in trouble. I get in fights. I get piercings and tattoos and go to rock shows. I used to want to be an art photographer.

I fell in love with guy. (I used to be... )

I understand him now. I thought I was a pacifist. It was the right thing to do. But it’s EXCITING doing the wrong things. We're not together... we were close but not like you'd worry (We didn't sleep together or anything like that) ... but maybe with what he is it was worse.

His sister gave me this ... drug ... I don't know what else to call it to make you understand. It isn't something you would have heard of (formula X-192). It changed me. I’m not the boy I was. I’m not human anymore.

I can't stay here. I don't want to see you get hurt. It's not your fault. You’re not bad parents. I'm a bad kid. So I'm leaving. Forever. Bye.

This can be like a will... you can do whatever you want with my stuff, I won't be needing it where I'm going.

Truly, your ex-son, Palmer Angel Haritzeder.

P.S. Don't look for me.

He threw down his pen, tearing out the paper from the notebook. He was happy he'd got out his feelings. He was happy that it was over. "C'mere boy," he called Grena back. He tucked the note under the collar. "Go on, go up, dinner. Chicken, Grena, go!" He sent the mass of clumped fur bounding up the stairs to the main house.

Palmer adjusted the headphones of his portable radio, squashing spiked hair to fit the foam pads over his ears. His thumb pressed the buttons turning it on and tuning it to 104.1 WBCN. Heavy guitar and drums beat their way in from a new song that got his adrenaline going.

He ventured into the rain.

Jogging past the boulders and the red no trespassing sign, he headed towards the reservoir. A neighbor who’d never liked him shouted at him to go home.

No. Why should I? Why should I have to do what other people decide for me?

Pebbles wormed their way below the soles. He didn’t care. His feet hit hard against the packed sand of the path. The music raised in volume, chorus passionate and primal. He ran faster. Mist mixed with sweat on his skin. His muscles strained. His lungs burned. He couldn’t breathe in enough to keep up with his legs.

Faster, faster, faster … further away ….

He turned the corner left, right, then right again, winding his way through the trees down the unpaved road. All he’d held back in fear of his life he released as this one great burst of energy. He’d hurtle towards the horizon until he burst apart from the effort.

His feet barely touched the ground now, flying over dips and rocks. Can’t stop, keep running… He felt good. He felt free. Alone in the tempestuous weather he could be what he wanted to be.

Xilvrin veins tensed, sending out silver rivulets from fingertips and under toenails. It climbed up his legs and coated his arms. Palmer didn’t notice. He thought of nothing but running, running … and being one with the terrain.

He could run for an eternity.

He ran out of road.

It didn’t occur to him there was naught but empty air beneath him. The town water department had dug a channel to drain out an over flooded area at the end of a cul-de-sac to a low lying marsh, taking out a good fifteen feet of the dirt riser. Spindly cloven hoofed forelegs stretched to catch the lip of the far side. The embankment crumbled easily. Palmer, engulfed in Xilvrin, slipped down.

He hit the rocks below, back first into the gushing trench. The current pushed the cervid on its side where it lay against a log for a full hour, panting.

What … ?

He gained the will to stand on his legs again … all four of them. It was quite the challenge seeing he was accustomed to two coupled with the one of the worst places to relearn how to walk.

How did … He checked out his reflection in the water. Though a stag might not have been a chosen battle form for most, he did sport a full rack of sharp antlers.

The radio blasted away inside his shell. Without fingers to reach the controls, he couldn’t shut change the station or shut it off. A car commercial annoyed him now. It would stay on until he found a way to shed the armor or it ran out of batteries. Unfortunately for Palmer it was the latter. He hadn’t known how he’d morphed for the first time or how to undo it.

Hmmph ... okay

This hadn’t been his plan. He had neglected to make a plan at all.

Seeing as scaling the walls of the ditch was equally impossible given his unsteadiness, he trudged into the marsh. He found himself neck deep in cat-o’-nine-tails and water lilies. Out of curiosity he took a bite out of one of the pads, grinding the leaf on flat metal teeth. There as no taste but he had the sensation and satisfaction of eating something. With practice, he could make a living this way.

No people, no school, no depending on my relatives for a place to live, no needing a job for money, no needing money to buy things or a car to go places, no rules, no one to yell at me …?

Part of him felt sad for all he was giving up, but not too sad.

This would suit him for now.

[Meanwhile, back at at Sunsand ... ]

David's head spun. His throat was parched. Everything ached

"Where am I?" he wondered aloud, but it came out as a raspy whisper. What happened? I can't move. Why can't I? Oh no. He became aware of the situation.

The door opened. Rabbit stood in the same get-up she had worn the day she'd left him to make a trip to Sunsand while they were staying at the Mirage hotel.

"Is the prisoner thirsty?" That same tone she'd used with his father ... a servant’s tone. From behind her back she brought out a glass with a lemon wedge balanced on the edge. "Would he like a nice cold glass of water?"

"Yes, please"

"Yes what?"

He took a wild guess, "Yes, Mistress Rabbit."

"That's better."

He went to reach for it but found his hands had been put in buckets to collect the dripping Xilvrin from his fingertips. His arms were still bound to his side. His body had been fighting off some infection, though he couldn't remember what. What a horrible headache, though. From how hot it was he assumed it was a fever. He recalled looking after Palmer through frequent fevers. Who would take care of him? What he wouldn't give to be back there to be snoozing away no an idle afternoon on the Haritzeder's couch.

She put the glass to his cracked lips. He drank greedily. When he was done he lowered his head again. He looked up again at her angrily.

"You betrayed me."

"Why wouldn’t I? You only liked me for my looks and what you could use me for. You are just like every other man I have ever met."

"I barely touched you. I did everything I could to please you. I've forsaken friends for you, lied for you, stolen for you... killed for you."

"Be nice or you won't get your dinner."

He hissed at her.

One day was like the next. Get fed little bits of bread and greens with some water. As his faux-wife said, “rabbit food from a Rabbit."

Blood tests were done by holding jars under from where the wires had worked their way in. Like sap from a maple tree, he thought when they'd come to collect, Why don't you make syrup out of that and put it on your pancakes? Breakfast of sickos. Yum-yum. Get it while it's fresh!

They held his mouth open to do dental work. His teeth were perfect. They poked in anyway, pulling one. He wanted to know what it was that kept Xilvrin from eating away teeth and bones while it dissolved soft flesh easily. If they could find that, they could make an anti-virus ... an anti-Xilvrin.

Once it was determined he was clean, more rigorous tests were performed. He was held in place so there was little he could do to stop them besides shout filthy insults he learned from Sue. What he said could make a sailor blush but didn't impress them. They're probably used to dealing with crazy people. Am I a crazy person?

Am I a person?

I may not be fully human, but I remember studying U.S. government with Palmer. A person refers to the intellectual rather than body... my mind functions like a person, I know it. If it didn't I wouldn't be able to communicate at all with humans.

Am I a 'person'? Of course I am! Don't let them get to you, David.

"I have rights! I have rights!" he hollered. "I was born in this country. My parents are citizens. That makes me a citizen. I have rights! You're violating my rights!"

"Rights?" asked a balding Chinese man with a comb over. The photo I.D. read, 'Dr.Chung'. "What rights does a ghost have? Any records of you there might have been were erased by Agent Rabbit. As far as the outside world is concerned, you don't exist."

"Yes I do. People remember me. My mother ... she's a nice lady. She'll come for me. She'll notice I'm gone."

"But do any of them miss you? Really?"

David realized by answering 'yes' or giving names he'd be putting his loved one in danger. He turned his head away from Dr. Chung. "No. No one misses me."

Hyuni, Dr.Chung’s son, watched the interaction jealously from the back. When Dr. Chung left the room Hyuni approached him, kneeling beside the test subject.

“You!” Hyuni contorted his face.

“You!” David mimicked him.

“You ruined my life!”

“You ruined MY life!” Then he chuckled, “Isn’t it great? Old friends and still so much in common.”

“Shut up!” Hyuni was in a rage but his pudgy face was hard to take seriously. He bowed momentarily to take out his contacts to show David his silver eyes. He whispered now, “You did this to me.”

“I can do anything I like to you. You were the one spying on me. You wouldn’t let me live with Ruth in peace.”

“Peace? Ha! You’re not peaceful, you monster.” Hyuni snarled. “What’s worse is now my father only wants to pay attention to you. He only wanted me to be friends with you to get to you. He never told me but you go blaming me for all your problems. Bad enough I have to compete with my brothers and sisters for attention. Next to your metal ass I’m invisible.”

“Hey, you’re a Xilvrin being. You’re welcome to switch places with me. Seeing as I have it so good and all. You father will pay lots of attention to you then.”

“I hate you. I wish you were dead.”

“The feeling’s mutual, bucko.”

For all his plucky words, at the end of the day, David was alone.

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