T H E M O R P H I S T
by Silva Noir
Chapter 16: paint
The thick acrylic was pushed along by the camel hair bristles of the crackled handled brush.
"Dead?" He wondered aloud. He knew David was in trouble from the way he'd run off that day at Ponkapoag. This trouble, whatever it had been, was most likely David's fault. The waify blonde wasn't exactly the master of subtlety. "But dead...?" Palmer was far from psychic, but he could sense bad feelings in the air. Sometimes he just KNEW things. He knew, somehow, that his friend was gone. But why did he think this was his fault? "Like I could have really saved him. Saved him from what? From himself?" He took the blue spring sky and smeared indigo across it, turning it to a half-night. The foreground would be harder to transform without ruining what little structure and detail he had managed to render. All of the paintings he attempted looked impressionistic. If he wanted realism he would have snapped a picture. He was much better at photography.
They let him in the art room during the lunch period to get his frustrations out on canvas as they had the day before and the day before that. Besides Sue, he was David's only other friend in the school. She didn’t seem to care one way or another about the disappearance. The painting had started out as a happy dreamscape of a world that did not exist. In the far distance he had painted two tiny figures sitting by the water.... David and himself. No one spoke to him during class, in the halls, or after school. No one said a thing. They left him alone. He knew they had only done so thinking he was going to commit suicide any minute. Why bother beating him up when he could do himself in? That wasn't too far from the truth. He'd been distracted during work and had broken his wrist. He was glad it wasn't his writing hand.
It took a long while for it to hit him. At first, he didn't believe it. One who could clothe himself in monsters of metal didn't seem at all fragile. When he tried calling David's house to ask where he was, an older woman had answered the phone and told him no such person existed. There were no sightings of silver beasts since the Thursday night before last, when one was apparently hit and destroyed by a moving bus. Yet, there were no remains found. He'd seen the armor evaporate before his eyes, but not David. David couldn't just vanish into thin air. Now three weeks had passed since he had seen his friend alive. It was strange, was what it was.
Maybe he was going crazy and had imagined David out of loneliness, someone strong and tall and impulsive and rowdy as he couldn't be. Or had he broken his promise and left without him? He liked that idea better. He still wished David could have had the decency to say goodbye.
He pushed more paint around.
He pushed the door open.
First day back... and not one teacher had asked him where he had been or why. Blackmail could work both ways. Hyuni hadn't wanted to be infected by Xilvrin and David had something to stop that. Not without utilizing Hyuni's skill in hacking first, of course. Databases had been changed not only to create false hospital records, but to also erase all police records concerning anything to do with him. Only then did he agree to sneak into the chemistry lab after hours to make more neutralizing powder. He was smart enough to give away just what the ingredients were or the amounts. If they were going to play with him, he was going to play back. He didn’t do anything harsh to his dear Rabbit. True, she was Hyuni's accomplice, but not by choice. She had been led into this life and David though he could show her another way and make her see that she did indeed have a choice over her own future. He was given a second chance by the powers that be, after all. Naively blinded by her beauty and the dream that it was no coincidence that they had run to one another once in the past and once in the present during a near deadly capture, he took no time to think about any of the obvious signs that this love was not destined to be.
Speaking of playing...
David strutted down the isle of cafeteria tables as though he was king. His feet practically floated over the filthy brown tiles. Whispers were shared between a few why someone who was rumored to be six feet under appeared fully alive AND happy. Well, smiling anyway. He was in a relatively outgoing, good mood at the moment. He stole a plastic spork from the sweaty hand of a boy who needed it to pull pineapple chunks from a fruit cup. David winked, further scaring the now dessert deprived boy. Then, he sang into the jagged end of the spork like a microphone. He could have picked any of the countless tunes he'd memorized the lyrics to. But, if he was going to show off a creative flair for singing, he might as well sing a song all his own.
"Watching,” he whispered, testing his voice in the crowd. No one had noticed him yet. "Waiting...” still, he was ignored. "Hesitating..." holding back, but not anymore. I want them to KNOW me. I want them to know me as a person, not a creature. "Looking for my chance... for opportunity to bowl me over...for someone to blow this cover." With a short impulse, he sprung up on the table. Both he and its surface wobbled. He raised his voice along with his body into full chorus... "DISCOVER ME!" he closed his eyes and belted out, clenching a fist dramatically. Opening his eyes, he spun about, seeing he'd started whispers on the lips of a hundred of his peers. For once, he enjoyed being the spectacle. He wanted to be talked about. He wanted their curious eyes locked on his lanky limbs as he dredged up all of the hidden feelings they would be unaware of otherwise. Some made fun in reaction; others wondered what 'the crazy guy' would do next.
As he walked across the table David found the top began to pop from poor construction. Made to fold for easy storage, the littlest disturbance set them back to upright position. He grinned, and jumped then stomped full force with both feet on the flimsy surface. "UNLEASH THE MONSTER!" He shouted as he came down on it. Lunch trays along with mashed potatoes, brown bags, various food items, bags and books were sent flying. He bounced to the next table. Angry shouts were mixed with excited 'woos' from his audience. He was giving them quite the show.
"Wondering if I can be," he pranced over the hands of the prissy cheerleaders, "wondering quietly..." He stepped over the pony tailed most popular girl in school. The wandering minstrel to the next cluster of people gathered for whatever social reason. "Before I...” he paused with a sparkle in his eye knowing he’d garnished all attention to him. The skin of his face nearly split his grin was so wide. "SCREAM!" He screamed, popping another table.
Cafeteria patrons who didn't want their food flung tried to stop him by grabbing at his legs. They hoped to pull him down. David was too quick for them and kicked back. "Before I go out of control” he was already on his way to being out of control. He merrily skipped over one, two three more tables. "Destroy everything," he'd loosened up enough to dance a bit as well. His silly mood contradicted his lyrics, but he didn't care. He was having a great time. Yet, he still wanted to get a message across. He hoped someone was listening to the words, not just watching the actions and could relate or at least sympathize.
Just when he had command over the entire room he paused in his tracks. His silvery eyes locked onto a pair or deepest brown of the girl gazing up at him. "I STOP". Infinite space stretched on behind maroon painted lids. She knew more about him than he knew about himself. That is why he needed her trust so badly. He needed to make friends, not enemies. He had enough enemies. Her life hadn't been very rosy either. "I'm going to do things differently from now on. No one is going to get hurt. I promise you." had been his oath to her this morning. "Take my hand...” He sung and gently commanded. His skin tingled at her cool touch. Pulling her up with him, slowly, he never broke the visual connection. His song and dance were toned down for her. The mood had changed. "With you I find unseen ways" his voice was smooth and rang clear. Emotion was tangible in the air. "To be a man...to smile again. "
She found the offbeat rhythm and moved her spiked cherry heels to it. With a swing of her denim wrapped hips and sway to his song she stole the spotlight. His real life music video was complete with a video vixen to distract and entice the eye. Her looks alone were enough to enchant him, but he was also motivated by his want to emancipate her from her tragedy. Call it a knight and princess syndrome, or just plain naive. He continued to serenade her in the most unromantic of settings. " Seeking love in dark eyes." There was no doubt on anyone's mind that she was his. They were all wrong. He was the one who was putty in her hands.
"In dark places, in strangers' faces, “ he raised his voice, now gone completely Broadway, spreading his arms out with the note. He’d jumped from style to style as many times as he’d jumped from table to table. No matter what he tried, they had to admit, he was damned good at them all. Too bad this wasn’t a school for the performing arts. "Finding my fascination with human races.... Our frantic dances... Our deep desires” he was torn between singing to his audience and singing to her. He was giving himself over to them both. "Singing loudly. Wanting everything." He looked to them. He looked to the wonderful girl who held his hand. "Can you give it to me?" There was no answer but there was a smile on her face. That was enough for him. Part of him wanted every last human being to disappear except her leaving them as the last two on earth so that he may embrace her endlessly. "These living cravings set my dying heart free..."
A strong hairy arm as thick as a small ham stole his girlfriend from him. David got ready to fight. She was being held by a bearded school security guard. The disrupting delinquents would be delivered to the principal’s office. Considering how this school was increasingly run more and more like a prison, that would be more like having to report to the warden. He bounced over some guy;s head to the floor to face his opponent. Dewdrop spikes protruded from David’s fingertips. He was reacting too harshly. A smaller less threatening was in the palm of his hand. He sally forthed in a musketeer pose shouting, “Unhand the maiden, knave, or I shall be forced to spork thee!”
Punitive plastic prongs poked the security guard’s shoulder. The aging ex- small time wrestler was so annoyed with the act he let go of Rabbit to snap the spork. True to her name she zigzagged and dashed off. High heels did not slow her. She was gone before she could be caught again, having left through the back cafeteria door past the dumpsters and over the short fence around the track. He figured he’d do the same by taking off in the opposite direction. Splitting up would increase their odds. He made his break towards front, pushing away two more sets of grabbing mitts of adults with an iron fist. The sheer fun and adrenaline went straight to his head and his hands.
The school hired guards looked in every classroom as well as utilizing the PA system to try to find David. It was the first time in a while that he was specifically in trouble and not one his armors. No luck befell them as he had climbed up the underside of the metal stairwell and blended in perfectly to shadow and gray. As soon as they had moved on from searching in his area he scaled the wall and continued right onto the ceiling. This was not the first time he’d used this trick and yet it worked every time. Clawing along the ceiling he hummed the Spiderman theme in his head. It seemed appropriate in a situation like this. Mentally laughing at the people below him confined to only one plane as a floor, he slapped a few in the back of the head with his tail and skittered off before they knew what hit them.
He went in the nearest open door almost losing the tail when the girl closed it. Above the cubby board he was spotted. The stuck-to-the-ceiling reptile was viewed with big brown nervous Chihuahua style eyes. David’s bullet shaped snout smiled wide and without moving it’s mouth amiably asked, “What’s up?”
“Y-yuh-you,” the student standing on a chair to put away his painting to dry stammered.
“Whatd’ya know? The kid’s a comedian.” The gravity defying silver skink continued to smile. Flicking a forked tongue at him as a tease proved to be going to far. The chair the painter petered on tipped. David reached out his shining arms to steady him but the ceiling couldn’t support the pull of both their weights and crumbled. They fell down with a great crash. Clothed in hardened yet flexible Xilvrin David felt no ill from the fall. His friend, on the other hand, was holding back whimpers of pain. Metal creatures don’t make good landing pads. “Aww…” carefully he picked up the already injured boy, “Sorry”.
“I… I thought… you…” Palmer wanted to say so much but couldn’t. There were other people in the room.
David stood tall in the same realization. “Do not fear Earthlings! I am one of the lizard men from….” he thought for a second on the most outrageous made up name he could say, “the planet Zargog. We have come here seeking what you call margarine for it makes excellent fuel for our spaceships!” He didn’t impress them. They were artists. They had seen and created weirder things in their time. “I must take this specimen with me to teach my race more about your culture. I shall return it unharmed in the near future. Do not panic!” He lifted Palmer easily to place him on his shoulders. He could carry him piggyback. “Carry on good craftsmen…and women!”
“You are such a dork,” the petite boy in the oversized red hooded sweatshirt ducked as not to bump into the hanging exit sign. For that, David dropped to all fours and changed to a horse, nearly throwing him. The overall shape didn’t change much except in the arms and feet, which became hooves. “Not funny.” Palmer growled, not exactly full of patience today.
“Where’s that go?” David asked once they were outside. He’d bypassed the lock by rearing up on hind legs and kicking the door down. He was now looking at a bus in the distance pulling up across from Crawford Square. He planned to hitch a ride just as he had a few weeks ago.
“238. That goes to Quincy Center. There is some nice eating places, little shops, and the closest comic book store to here. But we’ll never catch it in time to…” Palmer didn’t get to finish his sentence. The silver equine rocketed off at a speed no mortal horse could achieve. He held on for dear life as David ran into traffic and jumped on and over cars that would otherwise collide with him. He used them as stepping-stones, picking up velocity from them to add to his own momentum. More than a few rooves were dented and windshields cracked in the process. Palmer shouted over the angry car horns, “I should take you to the races. At least then I could make money on you instead of getting in trouble with you and worrying about you all the time!”
“You missed me. Admit it, you did!” David was laughing as he merrily skipped over a sedan.
”I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!” He accused, his voice breaking. “Shoot”, he thought aloud to himself, “too much emotion”. He figured David the mustang would shrug it off and say something corny like ‘nothing can kill me’ but he didn’t.
“I was… my heart stopped. But it started up again. So let’s not worry about that!” He vaulted off the bars of a jeep to the top of the bus. “Now this is the way to travel!” He threw back his head, pinned back his ears, and gave a joyful whinny.
Once at the bus terminal, David subtly stepped onto a ledge and dropped behind a wall to shed the armor. Palmer’s hair was more messed up more than usual from being windblown. He looked utterly miserable. In efforts to fix that David tried to put his hair back in place but it wouldn’t obey. He shrugged and gave up. Palmer didn’t stop looking upset. That bothered him. He took his mind off it by stepping on the brick path so that no part of his shoe touched the grout, “Don’t step on a crack. Or you’ll break your mother’s back”
He couldn’t hide anything from his friend. What had Palmer said about being able to sense emotions? He could easily tell David was overcompensating for being gloomy too long. But nothing had really changed to solve the problem. David was only pretending that all was suddenly fine and dandy.
“Stop it.” Palmer demanded of him again in a much softer voice. “Stop playing around. You’re up one second down the next. If you keep going like this I know you’ll… you just can’t, that’s all. You never learn and you never stop. But its not like you care what I think. You ask me but then you don’t listen.” Worse yet, David wasn’t listening now either. Palmer hit him as hard as he could in the back with his good hand.
“Oww,” David turned, “I thought you were non-violent. What’s bugging you?”
“Oh, forget it!” He mumbled to himself, “Why do I like him? All he does is pick on me. He’s not much better than the bullies. When I looked into his eyes that first time, when he caught me… I thought he really cared…”
“I can hear you, you know?” David jumped in front of him and poked him in the forehead.
“Sure. When I don’t WANT you to hear me, you do.” Palmer sighed heavily. He flopped down on the lush green grass under the pine and choke cherry trees of the little park. “Wake me up when its summer.”
“I’m sorry.” David lay near to him. They formed an 80-degree angle. “But it is a nice day. I wanted to enjoy a day for once.” He watched lumpy white clouds float beyond the tree’s needles and leaves. “And I DO care about you. You’re my best friend. I only pick on you because its fun. I never meant to hurt you. Don’t hate me.”
“I don’t hate you.” Scooting closer he rested his head on David’s chest, using him as a living, breathing pillow. He could faintly pick up a heartbeat under the navy fabric of his t-shirt and felt better knowing it was there. David had a heart and it was working for the moment. “I just wish…” apparently he’d made himself so comfortable he fell asleep before finishing his sentence.
David was rather uncomfortable. He felt close to the kid, sure, but this was a little too close for him. Then he noticed the cast peeking out of the edge of the baggy white-stripped red sleeve. Not to mention how frail and scarred and bruised partly exposed by khaki shorts. It was hard to tell if they were inflicted by accident or on purpose. “And you talk about me not being able to stay out of trouble? Ah, poor thing, stay there. Sleep. What do I care?” He casually draped his arm over his friend. After counting a hundred clouds he too found his eyes drooping. At least no one will bother you with me here. And if they do I’ll… I’ll something. Yeah, so they better watch out… after that he slipped into a dream that involved a world where all the floors were made of super bouncy fruit jello. His body may have left the cafeteria, but his mind was still there.
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