Chapter 2: Hunger Pains
Shit. I quickly shut the bathroom door and locked it. “Sorry, babe, did I wake you?” I called through the door.
“Is something wrong?”
“Had to use the bathroom. Don’t worry about it,” I said, trying and failing to sound nonchalant.
“...Chris, what’s wrong?” I bit my lip; Liz had known me long enough to know when I was lying. I heard her jiggling the door knob, trying to get in.
I panicked. “Liz! I’m taking a dump, all right?!” I snapped.
Liz stopped twisting the knob. “...Okay, just… Turn the fan on when you’re done.” She didn’t sound all that convinced, but she seemed to drop it as I heard her walking away. I leaned my head against the wall behind me and sighed.
Close one… I had no clue what was happening to me, but I knew Liz seeing me could yield no positive outcome. I sat on the toilet for another few minutes, trying to figure out what I should do. What can you do in a situation like this? If I told Liz, she could freak out, call the hospital, and who knows what could happen to me from there? I could leave, just grab some things and go, at least until my face started getting better, but I could never do that to Liz. My breathing became labored, erratic; there was no easy way out of this.
I gingerly felt the bump on my forehead. Whatever it was, it sent a strange sensation throughout my whole skull when I touched it. My only medical knowledge came from Surgeon Simulator, but I was fairly certain whatever was plaguing me wasn't listed in any medical records. What disease causes discoloring of hair, eyes and makes a big bump in the center of your forehead? Did this have to do with that cookie I choked on earlier? Was it contagious? Would it be permanent? Too many unknowns...
Finally, I decided to, at best, postpone the issue. I stood from the toilet and left the bathroom. I crept down the hallway and peeked through the bedroom door; Liz had gone back to bed. “Liz?” I called, softly.
“You okay?” Liz said, sitting up in bed. I quickly withdrew into the hallway.
“I think I’ve got diarrhea or something…” I said. “I’m gonna sleep in the guest room tonight, since it’s closer to the bathroom.”
Liz was quiet for a couple worrying moments. “...Okay…”
I ran my fingers through my new locks nervously. “I don’t know if I’ll be well enough for class tomorrow, so I’ll probably skip it. You can leave for the campus without me.”
“Are you sure?”
I stroked my hair with more urgency. “...Yeah, I’m pretty sure.”
“Okay… Want me to bring you some donuts or something in the morning?”
“Uh, yeah, just leave them on the kitchen table. You know how I like to sleep in. Thank you…”
“Get better…” Liz called as I shut the door. I leaned against it and sighed in relief; I may have only bought myself time, but it was time I could use to figure out a proper course of action. I headed into the guest bedroom and locked the door behind me for good measure. The guest room had a crappy queen-size bed, a bland-colored wall with no windows and a single mirror hanging opposite the bed. I approached the mirror and looked over my new features again. Nothing new had popped up, but that was small comfort. The bump on my forehead was still there; it was the kind of thing you’d see in a cartoon after a character suffered blunt head trauma. I took a shuddering breath, then noticed something in my mouth. My canines were roughly twice as long, almost vampiric. They were very sharp, as an idiotic finger-press was quick to attest.
This was too much. I slowly backed from the mirror and fell on the bed. Any hope that I could sleep this off was quickly diminishing. Whatever was happening to me wasn’t going to just go away. My breath became quickened, my eyes began to tear up. I curled up on the bed, unable to imagine what I would do, what I could do. What if I was put in quarantine or something? I might never see Liz or my family again. Despair began to cloud my mind. I quietly began to sob into the pillow, trying desperately to avoid alerting Liz. Whatever happened to me, I couldn’t let Liz get involved. So I could do nothing but lay there, alone, slowly turning into… something.
- - - - -
My eyes slowly fluttered open. I couldn’t remember whether I dreamed or not that night. The slight presence of dark greenish-blue on the edge of my vision told me I hadn’t gotten back to normal. I sat up and lifted a hand to my face.
Whack. My hand was much more blunt than I remembered. I took a glance at it, yelped, and fell out of the bed. This was no human hand. Human hands didn’t turn into some kind of blackened stump halfway through the middle finger. My entire forearm was black with a sort of plastic feel, and several inch-wide holes dotting it. The only traces of my human hand were the pinky and ring fingers, and about a quarter of my palm. The point between my hand and the… thing was lined by an eerie green line, constantly shifting like a very small flame. Peering closely I could see that the amount of ‘human’ in my hand was very slowly diminishing. I lifted my right hand to my face, only to receive another painful smack. To my horror, my right hand was completely gone, replaced by what could only be described as…
“...a hoof…” I whimpered. I began feeling something turning over in my stomach. I bolted over to the mirror, and screamed. My face was turning black, the same black my arms and hands were becoming. The bump in my forehead was now a full-fledged horn, poking out through my veridian hair, which was now about a foot long, dangling in front of my face.
“Wha… what, what the…” I sputtered. “What the f-f-FUCK?!?!” I was gonna be sick. I backed away from the mirror and stumbled into the door. I struggled to unlock it, then barged into the hallway, no longer caring if Liz saw me. I practically tripped into the bathroom, lifted the toilet seat, and vomited. Between each heave I sobbed, resting my head on the rim. I could feel my new horn bumping against the side, sending unpleasant vibrations through my skull. A few minutes passed before I felt well enough to stand again. I turned from the toilet and faced the mirror, leaning against the counter.
“No…” I muttered, shaking my head at the corrupted visage that stared back at me. “No, you aren’t me…” I had to deny it. Stubborn denial would be less painful, easier than simply accepting this to be my new face. “This isn’t me… This. Isn’t. Me.” I grabbed my hair in fistfuls and began to tug. My scalp screamed in pain but I kept pulling. “I’m not some kind of sea witch!!” I screamed, screwing my eyes shut. I put an image of myself- my normal self- in my mind and concentrated. “This isn’t me! THIS ISN’T ME THIS ISN’T ME THIS ISN’T ME THIS ISN’T ME THIS ISN’T--”
A sudden burst of warmth around my body made me think I’d suddenly caught fire. I jumped at the sensation, feeling my hair somehow slip from my vice like grasp. I opened my eyes, and my jaw dropped.
I was me again. The hair was gone, my eyes were a normal color, I had hands again. I let out a soft laugh, running my hand down my face. “I’m back…” I said, putting a knee on the counter. “I'm fucking back!!” I climbed onto the sink and began kissing my reflection full on the lips. I got off the counter and sat on the toilet, laughing joyously.
As my laughter died down, I tried to figure out what exactly had happened. One moment I’m turning into something I wasn’t even going to seriously consider, the next I’m back to normal. The only marginally logical explanation was that my new look was all in my head, and I’d only now gotten past it. That theory was iffy, though, since I was positive I felt the slick, sickly texture of my hair.
Now what do I do? I thought. I had no way of knowing what had just happened. Was I just hallucinating? If so, why? Was I actually sick with something? Should I see a doctor? What would I tell them, 'I had long green hair for a few hours, but I shouted a lot and it went away'? Would I move on, and pray to every conceived deity that this oddity would never rear its ugly head again? And what if it did, and in a much less convenient time? If whatever this was came back, and people saw me, I'd be snagged by the CDC or whatever and be tossed into quarantine.
No, I thought. I'll be careful. I'll stay here for today, see if it comes back. I'll try and keep to myself for a while, and if this doesn't come back, I'll consider it gone. I won't be quarantined, and I can stay with Liz...
I stood up and washed my face in the sink, still relishing the fact that I had a chance at maintaining a normal life. Knowing what I could have lost, I planned on holding it closer. No more of this shitty house, first chance we’d get, Liz and I would leave, find a nice place away from the city. We’d find somewhere quiet, and when the time was right, I’d move things forward. I’d… I’d… what?
I swayed a little bit and leaned on the counter. I was suddenly winded, as if I’d suddenly just run up several flights of stairs. Not only that, but I was hungry too. I suddenly felt a dire need to eat something.
“Donuts…” I said. “Liz said she’d get donuts…” I stumbled out of the bathroom and into the kitchen. There it was, a baker’s dozen of glazed “fat pills”, as my dad called them, right on the kitchen table. With a relieved sigh I hurried forward, the emptiness in my stomach suddenly painful, and flung the box open. I grabbed a jelly-filled donut, not caring that I preferred normal glazed, and shoved it into my mouth ravenously.
I only remembered the previous night’s cookie incident a mere nanosecond before the donut touched my tongue. I spat the donut to the floor and rinsed my mouth out again. “God dammit!!” I yelled, my hunger and fatigue growing worse. “What’s the matter with me?!”
I turned my back to the counter and slid to the floor. So either I can't eat, or I can't go out in public, is that it?! I thought angrily. I slammed a fist into the counter behind me, receiving a throbbing hand for my troubles.
“Hey!” A voice yelled from outside. I stood up, turned towards the window over the sink and saw who shouted. I gave an exasperated groan; I was in no mood for this shit. I walked over to the sink and lifted the window open.
“What!” I yelled at Mrs. Bedford, who was leaning through her own window.
Bedford was pretty much your average, crotchety old lady with one of the most volatile personalities you could imagine. Odds are she was much more pleasant when her husband was alive, but honestly even being a widow didn’t excuse her attitude. She had a habit of yelling profane insults at anyone she saw walking down the street, screaming at her neighbors if she managed to hear a peep from them, and snagging our mail under the pretense that “the damn mailman messed things up again.” Bedford was one of the ‘perks’ of living in this neighborhood.
“I hear you yellin’ over there!!” Bedford croaked. “You better keep it down or I’ll call the police!!”
I scowled. “Listen, I’m not having the best morning, so why don’t we just ignore each other today, all right?”
“I won’t ignore you if you keep screaming like that!” Bedford yelled.
“Like what you do on a daily basis?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“How DARE you!!” Bedford screamed. “I should come over there and give you a whoopin’!!”
“Yeah, go ahead!” I called. “Maybe then you’d finally be taken to the home-- FUCK!!”
Without warning, a gray, furry ball of hatred and fury leapt through my window and onto my face. Gwyneth, Bedford’s vicious chartreux, shared in her master’s hatred of anything and everything outside their home. She often took the opportunity to bolt out and give you a painful scratch before running home. Bedford was either blissfully unaware of her cat’s violent tendencies, or perfectly aware and willing to let her cat spread misery to the neighborhood. And right now, this demon in cat form was latched onto my face, hissing and spitting as it sliced me. I stumbled backwards, yelling and swearing, as I could hear Bedford yelling outside.
“Get the fuck off me!!” I screamed, grabbing Gwyneth by the stomach and pulling her off my face. Gwyneth made several close attempts at slicing my face again, but I managed to toss her out the window. I pulled the window down, low enough to deter any further attacks, and saw Gwyneth running through the cat door of Bedford’s house.
“You monster!!” Bedford screeched. “You could have really hurt dear Gwynnie!!”
I was never one to take insult to injury, so my temper flared up. “You’re lucky I didn’t SKIN that fucking thing!!” I roared through the window; when I got angry, I tended to get creative with chewing someone out. I clenched the edge of the sink so hard my knuckles threatened to burst through my skin. “If that thing gets in my house again I’m gonna make it into a fucking cap!!”
A green glow from the counter made me look down. My grimace faded when I noticed a familiar green flame enveloping my fingers, dancing wildly. I could hear Bedford yelling something at me but I was so distracted her voice sounded like an adult on Charlie Brown. I relaxed my grip on the counter, and the flames flickered out. I looked up, gave Bedford one last, scathing glare, then pulled the curtains shut. I turned from the sink and stared at my hands, breathing heavily. “What’s happening to me?”
The moment of silence made me remember how hungry I was; somehow in the span of a few minutes my hunger had exacerbated from ‘haven’t eaten all day’ to ‘eat your own arm.’ My stomach let out pulses of pain. I looked to the donuts. Deciding to bite whatever bullet was preventing me from eating my favorite foods, I grabbed a cruller and bit a sizeable chunk out of it. I kept my jaw clenched when the inevitable gag reared its ugly head, chewed the donut and swallowed.
Somehow the introduction of food made the pains even worse. I fell to the floor, clutching my stomach and groaning. Whatever was wrong with me, it wasn’t limited to the changing of hair and eye color, real or hallucinated. My groaning breaths became quiet sobs. “What’s wrong with me?” I asked, the pains becoming more and more intense. I rolled to the side, curled up into a ball, and began to lose consciousness.
The last thing I remember before passing out was a familiar warmth encompassing my body.
- - - - -
I pulled up beside the house and turned off the car. As I unplugged my iPod from the radio I grabbed the burger I’d picked up for Chris, in case he was awake and hungry when I got in. He hadn’t called all day, but I chose not to worry; whenever he was sick he liked to seal himself from the world like he was in quarantine. I climbed out of the sedan, took my backpack and headed up the porch.
“Living with a monster, she is…” I heard a voice say. I turned to notice Mrs. Bedford sitting in her rocker on her porch next door, stroking Gwyneth in her lap and staring at me.
I raised a hand in awkward greeting. “Hi, Mrs. Bedford…”
“Your boyfriend is a real asshole!” Bedford snapped at me. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes; unlike Chris I tried not to let her get to me. “Poor Gwyneth got into your house and he just tossed her out like a sack of trash!”
“I’m sure there’s more to it than that…” I said, turning and unlocking the front door. I could practically feel her glare burning into my back as I entered the house and shut the door. “Chris?” I called. “I got Micky D’s!” Silence. Frowning, I set the bag on the counter. I entered the living room and made to head for the guest room.
A large black form slumped on the floor between me and the hallway made me stop dead in my tracks. I let out a shuddering gasp at the sight. It was equine, but with a black, chitinous skin and inch-wide holes in its hooves. Its mane and tail were a sickly veridian, it had a pair of insect wings folded at its sides, a strange crown-shaped growth protruding from the top of its head, and a crooked, foot-long horn protruding from its forehead. It was clearly unconscious, its chest raising and lowering slowly with each breath.
Familiarity made me take a step back.
Queen Chrysalis was passed out in our living room.