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by Silva Noir

Chapter 14: don’t say it

“If he asks, you’re my cousin, my little cousin,” David repeated as Kristen, snapping the pink sugar of her bubblegum, wasn’t listening the first time.

“Okay, Okay,” She flaunted one hand on her hip, in her hip hugging jeans. They bore the same popular brand logo that was also emblazoned in blue bitter that matched her eyes on a baby tee. The other hand cradled a cordless phone, which she had been rattling into speed-spoken teenybopper rhetoric for the last ten minutes. He wasn’t sure if he’d made sense of all -or much of any- of them. She was such a stereotype of a mall-crawling girl it almost made you sad. But then you’d remember she did have unique redeeming qualities beyond her shallow sense of “cool”. Kristen was a member of the swim team, a very strong swimmer at that. She volunteered as a lifeguard at a summer camp during school vacation. She’d saved a good many lives including that of her own best friend Melanie.

It was the reason he’d invited her out on the excursion today. The May weather was warm, reaching an even 80 degrees. Warm enough to christen the nearest swimming hole for the season. He’d invited Melanie as well, having kept in touch with them since his pretend birthday months ago. Melanie was preoccupied with a function at her church. Not being particularly religious himself, David found her enthusiasm and fanaticism of Christianity troubling at best.

A convertible’s car horn beeped and beckoned below his bedroom window. David told her they’d be on their way to pick her up in a few minutes and hung up. In his usual fashion, he leapt out of the second story window to the ground below in a brief, undefined morph. He shrugged off the cushioning silvery sludge once his feet hit dirt. Granted it was broad daylight, but the neighbors were unfriendly shut-ins who never said a word or made their faces shown. He waved to Palmer, who he was sure from the look he wore, still wasn’t used to the spectacle of his ‘powers’.

“New car?” David inquired as he slammed the wide door of the boxy-bodied black convertible shut.

“Just different…. Not new. USED.” Palmer winked. “I had to get rid of the old one. People knew it was mine. Once I had repairs and detailing done, got it out of the shop, I sold it with the cash and bought this clunker.” He tapped the leather steering wheel from which a pair of red semi-transparent plastic dice hung off the key chain jabbed in the ignition. “Kind of a gas guzzler… but I like him, he’s got character.”

“He’s got character all right,” David felt the velvet of one of the animal pelt patterned fabric covered seats. His was yellow leopard, opposite Palmer’s purple zebra. In the back was something red and white, perhaps giraffe. “And you think this will help make you stand out LESS?” He criticized.

Palmer shrugged, too happy with his new thrifty yet outrageous toy to care. The driver took a playful jab back. “I like colorful, interesting things, unlike your house.” It was rather plain, no more than an average ranch that’d had a second level added on at once point to make it a three bedroom. The original meager downstairs bedroom was used as Ruth’s private home office. The yard was nothing to speak of, a few generic bushes, patchy grass, and a tar driveway. Overall, it was nothing impressive at all.

“That’s all right. It’s a house, not a home. Doesn’t matter…. We’ll be moving in a year again anyway.” David sighed, resting an elbow on the worn leather of the interior of the door. As he did so the handhold fell off its precarious rusty hinges. He fumbled and then stuffed it under the seat. “Really is a clunker, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, a real dinosaur. Better than the puddle jumper I used to have though. Took forever to scrape off all the corny bumper stickers. But wait…. You’re moving? Why?” Palmer got the way he did when he was worried about something, deer-eyed and cutely pouting.

“We always do.” The pale blonde leaned back, shutting his eyes, relaxing. “Can’t stay in a place too long… people start to know… and I haven’t been hiding myself very well… not that I want to. I’m not supposed to have any friends or human contact, let alone tell someone or show them what I can do… but I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to…. I was too lonely.”

“I don’t blame you. I haven’t told anyone. I really haven’t David. Honest. That dragon thing though…people are thinking crazy things. Not so much about you as about me.” He added sadly, “They’ll kill me before they kill you.”

“Don’t say that,” David bolted awake, taking hold of the beaded bracelets around his friend’s wrists. His fingers did not touch bare skin; he’d be part of paranoia concerning that action all his life. Force of habit kept him from violating that barrier without permission. He had to stop this frail one he cared for from falling into hopelessness. “I won’t let anyone hurt you. I promise.”

He was so close! Palmer’s breath caught in his throat, silver eyes staring deeply and intently into his own gold-flecked brown eyes in the spring light. He was frozen. He wanted to move, but couldn’t. His arms were in the grip of long fingered yet strong hands, but that wasn’t why. There was such ferocity to the one he faced. The stare was to make him understand that promise would be kept: at any and all costs. Knowing David, that proposition alarmed him. He fought to speak, “What… what about…. When you move? When… you’re… not here… to protect me?”

“If it comes to that, I’ll take you with me. Ruth’s promised me once I turn 18, I can be on my own if I wish. She’s promised me the truth of all of what I am. Maybe that will take me somewhere. If I can I’d like to be… not alone… in that journey.” He let him go, relaxing once more into the velvet backrest. “My birthday –my REAL birthday- is September 2nd. If you can wait ‘till then… I’ll be 18 this year.”

Palmer had a feeling there was a slight age difference between them. Only a year … it was the other differences he was worried about, mainly philosophies of pacifism versus David’s nearly eye-for-an-eye policy. He had to ask, fearing the answer, “Would you… would you kill for me?”

David, fixing his hair in the rearview mirror, answered truthfully, “You’ve been kinder to me than anyone else. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. I’m not ready to lose that yet.” It wasn’t a direct yes, but was along the lines of a maybe.

Palmer’s mind was running wild. It scared and thrilled him at the same time. He found himself completely possessed by the strange creature languidly stretched out in his passenger seat. The spellbound connection was broken as they stopped uptown where a redhead jumped in the back. She played along with the cousin bit, making up long-winded yarns of all the crazy times of David’s and her family…. NONE of which of course were true. Palmer didn’t question the false relation but he doubted the tales she relayed. They sounded entirely too un-David like. He was glad for the rush of traffic on the open road, anything to drown out the annoyingly hyper little girl. His face remained scrunched in a scowl the entire drive.

Ponkapoag Pond was far more scenic than the Tri-Town reservoir David and Palmer usually lurked around. The relatively virgin land and waterways served as Canton’s drinking resource, recreation, and nature preserve. The clear pool lay at the foot of the gently sloping Blue Hills. Evergreen forest surrounded the area on all sides, only cut through with an occasional carefully managed dirt path. The ‘beach’ was covered with dew laden long rich green grass. The intention of the clearing was not for swimming, but rather, a place to launch canoes and kayaks. The water wasn’t deep. It was really more suited to wading than full-fledged swimming. As his companions kicked off their shoes and stepped up to their knees David stopped short. Standing on the muddy edge still clothed in black jeans and black sneakers, he shook his head, telling them to go ahead without him.

“Why? You’re not going to melt like that witch in that kids movie when you touch water, are you?” Kristen treaded back over to him. “You invited us SWIMMING and you’re just going to STAND there like a scarecrow WATCHING us?” She not so subtly hinted at him to get over whatever fear that held him back. “You can SWIM, can’t you? Its not like you’re going to DROWN, it only goes up to your waist!”

“Don’t laugh. Don’t say anything…” He didn’t look her in the eye as he peeled of his shoes and socks and rolled up his pant legs. The sun glinted off what looked like a cross between pewter claws and hooves, encasing where fleshy toes should be. Further strands of permanent Xilvrin created webbing over and around each foot.

She was surprised but not scared. “You’ve got monster feet? Monster feet on the end of Barbie doll legs?” She refereed to the hairless plastic looking limbs, the skin not resembling much of human skin, not translucently layered as it should be, more solidly and uniformly colored. “What are they, fake? Like artificial and stuff? Cause you didn’t look like a cripple to me.”

“Shut up.” He squished the metal corners into the soft dark mud trying to hide them. “They’re not fake… they are, but they aren’t… just shut up. Leave me alone.” He crossed his arms, hugging them tight to his chest.

Palmer looked on without a clue what to do. He recognized the situation. It was the same type he found himself in all the time. He thought David was stronger willed than he, capable of getting out of something like this without a scratch. It was disturbing to see him reduced to something so vulnerable and easily offended. The girl obviously didn’t know anything about him, relative or not. She was a liar, and worse, a bully. But what could he do, go up there, pat him on the back, and say “I feel your pain”? He remained speechless, saying and doing nothing, just as so many spectators had to the numerous incidents where he had been the victim.

“So what is wrong with you? Why are you like that?” She continued insensible to the effect she was having on the elder boy.

“NOTHING! I’m not a monster!” He yelled. Injury beamed from his eyes. He turned heel then dashed off down one of the long and winding paths to the deep woods.

“What I say?” She asked Palmer who finally joined her. “Jeez, what a freak.” Blowing and popping a bubble of her gum, she shook her head.

“You know nothing about him, do you? You know nothing at all.” The 17 year old who was nearly equal in stature to the 14 year old hissed. He slipped his sandals on and took off in the direction disappeared to, hoping to try to catch up and remedy the disaster somehow.

He forgot! How could he forget! David ran as fast as he could, blindly forward. He wanted to have a normal, happy day amongst friends. He’d tried to get rid of them (the claw-hooves) but he’d never been able to shed them. They were stuck. Prying them with tools like screw drivers only led to pain and bleeding. The ends of his toes once worked like the tips of his fingers. Openings to long veins like tear ducts extruded the liquid metal. Only, the lower apparati had long ago become clogged and useless. He wasn’t sure how his unique anatomy worked in whole, but he had the feeling if his fingers ever froze in the same manner he would surely die. In theory, it would be like corking and sealing the barrel of a gun then pulling the trigger… not an appealing way to leave the mortal world.

At a bend in the road, a wall of unsullied mahogany fur and muscle blocked his flight. Having no time to react or get out of the way as it galloped as fast as he’d been running, he slammed into it. Stronger legs than his reared up kicking at him. A larger hoof than his made contact with the side of his skull. Knocked to a trickling stream, he landed awkwardly among ferns and fist sized rocks. The rider of the startled Morgan seemed unconcerned.

“Watch where you’re going the next time!” he shouted down, only a kid touring the trails. He left the tall young man to rot, crumpled and unconscious.

I…. I forgot.

I forgot I was… happy once…. a long time ago.

I remember running with shorter legs than I have now on a shorter, younger me. Strength and speed of a panther, I repeated to myself, strength and speed of a panther. The one in front of me took aim pointing the weapon squarely at my heart. He took a shot… the water was cold. I was not as proficient at hitting targets in squirt gun tag as he was. But I could run laps around him… blame it on his laziness… or blame it on the fact my mantra was turning me into an actual panther.

The day was sunny and warm. It was yet another perfect day piled on perfect days before it in a perfect neighborhood. And we, my best and only friend in the whole wide world and I, were perfectly happy in it. He climbed up the apple tree but I was right behind him. My claws sunk into the rough bark, scaling the thick elephant foot wide branches as quick as a mad squirrel.

“That’s cheating! You always cheat.” Hyuni shouted, laughing through the accusation. He wasn’t the least bit mean and could never take anything seriously. Inching towards the rope of the board swing Hyuni stuck out his tongue gloating “HA! I got gools! You can’t tag me IT now!” With one hand still on the rope he plucked a newly red apple and took a bite.

Hyuni… the same Hyuni that always accompanied Rabbit? It had to be. How many Chinese boys named Hyuni could there be in the world? I remember…I remember all those carefree days we spent running around and doing a lot of nothing laughing every hour. Why had I blocked this out? I thought I only blocked out what was too painful to rehash… so how did I lose him as a friend? Why are my feet trapped in this state of demonic appearance?

Clouds? We stretched the cotton balls, shaping and pushing them onto white glue drawn on drawn in shapes on blue construction paper. The activity was from a big floppy book Ruth bought for us… she encouraged us to find shapes of everyday items in the sky. I saw dinosaurs. I always saw dinosaurs. I arranged a puzzle of cotton in simplified versions of stegosaurus’, pterodactyls, and a hungry t-rex.

Hyuni’s father steps in to take him home and notices my cloud-o-saurs. “I’m taking the children to the natural history museum tomorrow, would you like to come with us and see real dinosaur bones?” He offers. We both look to Ruth.

I beg, “Can I? Oh can I please?” I’m bouncing up and down. I’d never wanted something so much as I did then. I felt like I’d explode if she refused. She agreed. But… why? Wait… his father was HER friend, wasn’t he? They worked together as scientists on some project or other. She trusted him and so I trusted him, his family was an extension of our own. I didn’t call Hyuni my friend; I called him my cousin. We were that close.

The museum was huge… and dark… and empty. It was like a cave made of soulless marble filled with cases and podiums, a bizarre collection of that which had come and gone all made eerie by the dim lighting. Hyuni and I were silenced in awe after misbehaving the entire car trip. His father, Dr. Chung, did his best to reel us in by forcing us to actually learn something from all the educational factoids sprinkled about on coppery plaques. We paused in the area surrounded by dead animals, be they bleached bones or stuffed by taxidermy, ancient or recently deceased, set in a variety of poses to make them look more alive. They instead looked possessed. He was directing his lectures at me going into detail about why each evolved trait was beneficial to the species survival. It went over my little head, not understanding it as I do now in retrospect. I was a young child learning to color inside the lines. He was advising me to take on proven bodies when creating my living armor instead of relying on wild imagination. More importantly, he knew what I was and what I was capable of. Now its all clear…

I realized there was no one else in the museum to act as a witness if anything unfortunate should happen. There was no one, aside form a single security guard to let us in beyond Hyuni, his father, and I. I was young and trusting… I thought it was special that we had the place to ourselves. I was with my best friend and my mother’s best friend, why would I worry? I shook it away. Hyuni was smiling, so I smiled back. I wasn’t afraid. I should have been.

Dr. Chung opened the door to where the moose loomed in a glass case, wading in glass water, surrounded by a painted backdrop and fake plants that feebly reenacted its environment. I remember the smell, musty mangy dusty fur mixed with mothballs and stale air. The exhibit hadn’t been updated for quite some time. I reached out to touch the best, sure its towering legs would kick at me, and sure its faux eyes would blink at any moment. I felt sorry for it honestly, that such an animal would be stuck standing stiff and gawked at. The door shut behind me, locking. I was now the trapped specimen being gawked at. I pounded on the Plexiglas; shouting to my friend that this joke wasn’t funny, let me out. He wasn’t smiling anymore.

The smell changed to some unfamiliar gas. I was being drugged. I felt dizzy, woozy. My usually jolly so-called best friend stood there watching expressionless. They were going to put me in display as some sort of freak. I just knew it. The backdrop would be repainted, I would be forced to perform tricks on the hour like a circus. The other kids would point at me and make fun of me. I sunk to my knees. By chance I glanced up at the broad large nostrilled maw of the moose. In the haze I swear it snorted,. It was coming back from its moose hell to exact revenge on any and all men that put it there and stared at it. It was going to trample me. I cried. My fear, my claustrophobia and hallucinations and the foul substance filling the already foul air froze my morph. I’d wanted something sharp to kick the glass or door down. Instead, the hooves stopped at my toes, refusing to advance or retract. I then passed out.

In my dream within a dream the earth beneath me shuddered and shifted. The walls were coming apart. What perfect horrific timing for an earthquake. I couldn’t move. The moose creaked, toppling on me. I coughed. The inky blackness was worse than hell, distantly feeling my body be victim without defense. The support beams bucked and the door creaked open. Blind and nauseous, I pulled myself from between the stiff moose limbs... only to be grabbed up to who I knew to be Hyuni’s father. I kicked as best I could, presumably hutting something with those sharp cloven metal toes and scrambled away. I repeated my mantra from the apple tree, taking on the lithe form of the panther, hightailing it out of there. I could hear him behind me, calling for some sort of backup on a phone, saying I couldn’t be allowed to get away. That part was blurry, and so, the real spoken words were probably far less hokey. Somewhere outside where the ground still rumbled I was tackled yet again.

“God of death…” a syrupy sweet tiny girl’s voice referred to me. “Please, so sorry. Take me with you.”

“I can’t” was all I could say. My vision cleared enough to see soiled dress caked with debris and little hands clutching a bunny plush toy. “I can’t take you with me now.”

“I follow you, demon. Take me with you.” She again pleaded. I shook my head, continuing to look for a suitable stable place to hide. “Don’t leave me. Don’t want to stay alone! Please…. ”

I dashed off to a darkened structure that was not entirely safe, but would do. Hyuni’s father grabbed her arm instead, questioning her. She dropped her rabbit doll as she was dragged to their car. I called Ruth from a still operating payphone collect. She told me to go to a park not far from there. She’d pack up what we needed from home and leave before anyone else could get there. I waited until sunset before padding to our agreed meeting place. Ruth and I left silently, without a trace, before dawn. We’d been moving like that place to place, ever since. The day had seemed so unreal I chalked it up to a nightmare and forgot about it until now.

I open my eyes....

“Oh god, David, I thought you were dead.” Soft teary eyes looked down on him. His friend knelt loyally by his side. “I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t dare move you. Are you all right? Do you have any brain damage or anything? Do you know who are, where you are? How many fingers am I holding up?” Palmer made a peace sign.

“My head hurts,” David got up slowly, head pounding. An imprint of the horseshoe remained on his forehead. “V for victory. Stupid choice.” The wave of remembrances hit him. “I can’t be your friend anymore, sorry. I can’t trust you. I can’t trust anyone. I have to leave now.”

“WHAT?!” The slim boy was shocked. “David, I swear I haven’t told anyone. I’m sorry. I should have stopped her from teasing you. I don’t think you’re a freak at all.”

“No. I have to go. Sorry. I can’t take you with me…” David continued to rub his head in real pain, knowing he had to confront Hyuni and the bunny girl as soon as possible. It was no mistake or coincidence they were here or that she’d chosen that name of Rabbit. Something was going on. Hyuni was most likely keeping her a silent slave. All David had to do was free her and get to the truth….

Or so he thought….

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