The screaming won’t stop.
“Stay away from me! I don’t want you in my head!”
“Why won’t he shut up?” the redheaded girl says. She’s older than me by a couple years at least—she might even be in high school—and she doesn’t want to be over here with a bunch of stupid kids. I know—she’s said it about five thousand times since the earthquake.
Next to her, Teddy is scrunched over with his head between his knees, trying to block out the yelling. He’s short and scrawny—a born fag, dad would call him. If dad were here.
Which he’s not.
I want to go back up and look for him, but Mrs. Wilcox won’t let me. She says it’s too dangerous up there, though when I ask her what’s the danger, she changes the subject. She’s just scared of that gloop on the escalators. I don’t blame her. It looks nasty.
She told me not to talk about it with the other kids—none of them had been up there when the quake happened, so they don’t know about the melty people.
Most of the people in the station don’t. They’d been down here waiting for a train when the quake happened. Only a handful had been near the escalators and saw what happened. They’re keeping it a secret from everyone else. They’ve convinced everyone to stay down here until help arrives.
“Get out of my thoughts! Get out!” The voice is coming from the second floor—or is it the first floor, since we’re underground? I don’t know. All I know is, he’s one of the guys who was on the escalator when everything went crazy, but for some reason he hadn’t melted like Tina and everyone else. There’d been a couple more like him who’d been on the low end of the escalator, but they only had a few blisters. This guy, though, he’d bubbled up like a hot dog that’s been in the oven too long. He’s all gross and covered in pus. Some of the people who’d been upstairs during the quake are looking after him, though I’m pretty sure he needs a hospital. He’s one of the things I’m not supposed to talk about.
“I’m serious,” the redhead says, “they ought to kill that guy.”
“Don’t say that,” Frank says. He’s Teddy’s older brother, and like his brother, he’s definitely a fag. He’s already tattled on the redhead for having a bag of Skittles and not sharing. Mrs. Wilcox had come over and made her split the bag between the five of us, though Megan, the other girl with us, had refused (her braces, she said). We’d each gotten four pieces.
“What’re you going to do? Tell teacher?” the redhead says.
“It’s mean. You shouldn’t say it,” Frank says.
“But I’m a mean girl, so actually I should.”
“Why would you want to be mean?” Frank says.
“Because it’s fun. And it annoys you. Now shut up.”
She’s been like that all afternoon. She won’t even tell us her name.
“Hey guys.” Mrs. Wilcox is back.
The redhead rolls her eyes. Nobody else bothers to react.
“Somebody had a deck of cards.” Mrs. Wilcox holds up a tattered blue box. “Who wants to play?”
“Oh God, why won’t this stop?”
“That’s a good damn question!” the redhead shouts back. Then she looks at Mrs. Wilcox. “Seriously, why are you making us stay down here? We have rights, you know.”
“This is for your own safety,” Mrs. Wilcox says.
“Yeah? Are the cops going to buy that when I tell them you’ve kidnapped me?”
“I strongly doubt that’ll be an issue.”
I don’t know anything about the redhead except for one thing—unlike Ted and Frank and Megan, whose parents are in the station somewhere, the redhead’s on her own like me. Though unlike me, her parents hadn’t been with her when the quake happened. I don’t know if she’d snuck away from home or if her parents trust her to ride the subway by herself, but that’s what she’d been doing.
The train she’d been on had been stopped at the station when the quake happened, and everyone on board is stuck here now. Most of them are still on board—so are a lot of the people who’d been waiting in the station. Unlike the benches out here, the seats on the train are padded. You probably can’t hear the screaming guy in there, either.
Must be nice.
But Mrs. Wilcox won’t let us on. She says it’s too dark in there, and we should stay out where she can keep an eye on us.
“Yeah, whatever,” the redhead says and gets up.
“Don’t wander too far,” Mrs. Wilcox says.
“Yeah, like I’m going to get lost in a Metro station.”
Mrs. Wilcox sighs, then sits down with us and opens the deck of cards. “Everyone know how to play Old Maid?”
“Yes,” Frank and Teddy say together.
“Yeah,” Megan says without any enthusiasm.
Mrs. Wilcox looks to me. “Aiden?”
“It’s boring. I’m not a little kid.” I stand up. “My legs are stiff. I’m gonna go walk around.”
“Okay. But stay close so I can see you.”
I wander after the girl with the red hair. She’s standing near a guy who’s playing a guitar—he’s singing an old song that I’ve heard in movies and TV shows, but it’s not something my dad would listen to, so I don’t know what it’s called. Something about streets without names? There’s a little group gathered around the man, listening.
The girl tries to start a conversation with one of the guys, but even from ten feet away in the dark, I can tell he’s got no interest in talking to her. She makes a face like she’s tasted spoiled milk and walks away.
She notices me standing over here. I smile and raise a hand in a kind of wave. She turns and walks away.
“I can feel you looking at me. Stop it. Please.”
“Hey! Wait up.” I run after her.
“Shouldn’t you be playing with the other rug-rats? Teacher’s gonna get mad she finds out you’re skipping class.”
“She said I could go.” The moment I say it, I realize how lame I sound.
“Yeah? Well go somewhere else.” She flicks her hand at me like I’m an annoying fly.
“You think I’m hideous, but I can see your minds! You’ve got no room to talk!”
“You wanna know about that guy?” I ask.
“What’s there to know? Lunatic. Somebody should take a brick and—” She raises her hands over her head and makes a smashing motion.
“They’re afraid to, cuz he’s all deformed and gross.”
“Yeah, how would you know?”
“I was up there. When the quake happened. Everything was crazy. People were melting.”
“Melting? If you’re going to fucking bullshit me, come up with a better story.”
“No, it’s true. It happened to Tina, my step-mom.”
“What, did Dorothy throw water on her?”
“No. Everyone was melting.”
“You look in one piece to me.”
“Not everyone. People in the station didn’t, but people at the top of the escalators did. And that guy who’s screaming, he was in the middle, so he didn’t melt all the way.”
“Uh-huh. And what, you think I’m gonna get scared now and be all, ‘Oh no, won’t you hold me, big manly man, you?’”
“No.” Well, maybe a little. But not much.
“You wanna sell me on a bullshit story like that, you should at least be crying.”
“C’mon, you say you’re momma died—”
“Whatever. You say she died, you should be bawling your eyes out right now.”
That ... hadn’t even occurred to me. I don’t feel a bit sad about what happened. If anything, I feel like I’m at the dentist and he’s given me Novocain. Everything that’s happening is kinda there, but I don’t care. I probably should. Right?
I mean, Tina wasn’t my real mom, but she took care of me. I should feel bad that she’s dead. Why don’t I?
“I don’t know. I don’t feel like crying,” I tell the redhead.
“Weird’s not bad, you know. You can be cool if you’re the right kind of weird.”
“Yeah. But you’re not that kind of weird. What’s yer name again?”
“Grassy-ass. I’m Kate.” She looks up at the ceiling. “God, this place is boring. It’s not even interesting to look at. Who thought waffle-iron was a good choice for decor, huh?”
“Yeah. It does kinda suck.”
“You’re not a tattletale like those other losers, are you?”
“No. I’m not a fag like them.”
Her eyes narrow. “Don’t talk that way.”
What did I say? “Sorry.”
“Okay, if you can keep a secret, this way.”
She leads me around to the front of the train.
“Mrs. Will Suck Cocks isn’t looking, is she?”
I check, but Mrs. Wilcox is deep in a game with the other kids. “No.”
“Okay.” Kate jumps into the space between the train and the tunnel. She turns back to me. “C’mon.”
I sit down on the edge of the concrete and slide off.
“You coulda jumped. It’s not that high.”
The platform comes to my shoulders. That’s a long way. I get scared when we do bus evacuation drills at school. “Sorry.”
She rolls her eyes. “Why couldn’t you be cool? And cute? And older?”
We cross the tracks. There’s another platform on the other side and we climb onto it. Or she climbs onto it and helps me up.
This side of the station is nearly deserted, just one guy sleeping on a bench halfway down. There are escalators and stairs—not that there’s a difference anymore—on either end, but they go to two separate upper levels. If there’s a way to get from one to the other, I don’t see it.
Kate and I walk up one of the escalators. It’s hidden behind a second one, so there’s no way Mrs. Wilcox will see us from where she’s at.
When we get to the top, we’re in an area with ticket machines and those little gates you have to go through to enter the station, but there’s nobody up here.
“I heard somebody talking. They said there are two entrances to the station, but this one isn’t open on weekends. They’ve got the gate closed or something.”
So we’re all alone up here? Why? What does she want to do? Sex stuff? Is that it? I suddenly feel my ying-yang swelling in my pants. Tina’s panties are tight, without any extra room for my parts. They squeeze me as I grow. I want to reach into my pants and adjust things to a more comfortable position, but I can’t with Kate watching.
Oh no, what if she really does want to do sex? What’ll she say when she finds out I have Tina’s panties on? She’ll think I’m a freak and laugh. Kate’s not a tattletale, but wearing panties is pretty bad. Maybe bad enough that she’ll tell Mrs. Wilcox about it. How much trouble will I be in if that happens?
My hands are sweaty and my heart’s getting all weird. Maybe I should run away? Yeah. Kate’ll think I’m a loser, but she was doing that already.
“Back here looks good.” She’s gone through the ticket gates. “C’mon. What’re you waiting for.”
I step through. There’s a booth in the middle of the gates, though there’s no one inside. Kate sits down behind it so nobody can see us, even if they come up the escalators. They’ll have to walk all the way through the gates if they’re going to catch us. If she wants to do sex, this is the perfect place. We’ll never get caught here.
I should run away now. If I don’t, it’ll be too late.
“Why’re you standing? Just sit, anywhere.”
I do what she says.
She has her purse open and is digging through a bunch of junk. Even though she’s way younger than Tina or my mom, it’s the same sort of stuff they keep in their purses. Make up. Tissues. Phone cords. I don’t understand why women need all that stuff.
Once she’s got it all out, though, her purse is still bulging. The lights out here are really dim, but I catch the shine of a plastic bag deep inside. She pulls it out, a giant ziplock bag full of … “Grass?” Looks like the stuff left over after mowing the lawn.
“Huh? No.” She pulls the bag open and reaches inside. She grabs something that looks like a shriveled flower bud. Why’s she carrying something like that around?
She picks up an odd little glass ... bottle? It’s awfully small for a bottle, though, and the shape’s funny, almost like a genie lamp. The glass has all kinds of crazy colored lines running over it. Maybe it’s for perfume—Tina had some weird looking perfume bottles.
Kate holds the bud and pulls a bit of stem off it, then she starts tearing it into little pieces with her fingers and dropping them into one end of the bottle.
“What’re you doing?” I ask.
“You’ve never seen dank before?”
She snickers. “Gimme a minute.”
She finishes shredding the bud, then she pulls a lighter from her pants. Whoa, that’s cool. My dad won’t even let me pick up the lighters at convenience stores to look at the designs. Is she allowed to have that?
She flicks the lighter and holds the flame to the end of the bottle. She puts the other end to her lips and sucks on it. She takes the lighter away from the bottle and lowers it to her lap.
She looks at me with a goofy smile, and a bit of smoke curls from the side of her mouth. After a moment, she puckers her lips like she’s going to whistle and blows out a huge cloud.
“What is that?” It wasn’t tobacco—grampy smokes cigars and pipes, and those smell like a musty old room. This is a sweet, damp smell.
“I toldja, it’s dank.”
“Is it okay?”
“Never hurt anyone. Here.” She hands me the bottle. The glass is warm, and when I hold it up, I see the end with all the torn up bud is blackened.
“Put it to mouth, but not too tight, okay.”
I do as she says.
“No, the other end, dumbass.”
Huh. Oh. I flip it around.
“Don’t do anything until I tell you, okay.” She flicks the lighter and holds it to the end. “Okay, now. Suck it in.”
I inhale, but nothing happens.
“No, no. You gotta really suck it in with all your lungs.” She demonstrates.
I try again, and this time I feel the smoke snaking through my mouth and down into my chest.
I keep sucking until I can’t inhale anymore. She takes the lighter away.
“Now hold your breath, as long as you can.”
I feel like somebody poured pudding over my head, and it’s slowly dripping down my body. As it covers me, I relax. My whole body goes limp. It’s like I’m floating right now.
Whoa. That’s cool.
I breathe out and watch the white cloud rise to the ceiling.
“How’s it feel?”
Kate laughs. She puts the bottle to her lips and lights up again. She draws a long breath.
Part of me wonders how much trouble we’ll be in if we get caught. I’m sure my dad would kill me if he found out, but I guess I don’t have to worry about him anymore. Bye-bye daddy, so long, farewell. I hope you’re in heaven, but I’m not gonna be there. I’m so full of sin, the devil’s gonna get me.
“What’re you grinning about?” Kate says. She’s leaning against the booth like she’s half asleep.
“I just feel so ... floaty.”
“Yeah. Floaty. Like my head’s stuffed with clouds.”
“You’re that stoned off one puff?”
“Yeah. That’s what happens when you smoke marijuana. Doi.”
“Marijuana? But you said this was dank.”
“Dank, pot, weed, marijuana, it’s all the same difference.”
“Oh.” So I smoked pot? Huh. This isn’t what I imagined. I thought it made you crazy and … wooo! Woo~oo~oo~oo! What’s the big deal about this? Huh?
“You didn’t know?” Kate’s fighting back laughter. “Really?”
“No. You told me it was dank. How’m I s’posa know?”
“How old are you, dude?”
“Oh my, God, really? What grade’re you in?”
“Gonna be seventh.”
“Wait, for real?”
“Oh, shit. I thought you were some dork ass freshman. If I’d known you were in middle school, I wouldn’t’ve given you any. Oh well. Whoopsie.”
“I’m plenty old enough.”
“Uh-huh. Yeah. Bet you haven’t even had your first wet dream.”
“Oh. You have.”
“I ... I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“What was it about, huh? Some girl at school? You dream about sucking her flat-ass titties?”
“C’mon, fess up.”
“I’m not telling you.”
“Okay then, twenty questions. See if I can guess.”
“I don’t want to.”
“One—it was about a girl, right?”
“Yeah.” Who else would I dream about?
“Two—a girl you know?”
“Three—a girl at school?”
“Hmm. Church? You look like a Churchy Joe? Preacher’s wife? Daughter?”
“Girl in the congremagation?”
“Girl next door?”
She scowls and doesn’t speak for a moment. She puts the bottle to her lips again and lights it. I hope she’s gonna give up. But—“Is it someone you shouldn’t be having dirty thoughts about?”
“You are ly-ing. You’re a bad liar, too. If you lie, you will be punished.”
“Ah-ha! Sister? You were perving on your sister, weren’t you, you pervo-pervert?”
“I don’t have a sister.”
“Oh, oh, oh. I know, I know, I know. You said you have a step-mom, right? That’s it, isn’t it? Yer hot fer momma.”
“She’s not my mom. She’s only twelve years older than me.”
“So is that it?”
“Ah, man, that’s fucked up.” She’s laughing hard.
She hands me the bottle. “C’mon, cheer ya up.”
I put the bottle in my mouth and she holds the lighter to the end. I suck the smoke into my mouth and the sweet feeling washes over me again. Life would be so good if I could be like this all the time.
“Better?” she says.
“Oh don’t be that way. It’s not that big a deal. Like you said, she’s not your real mom, right?”
“Yeah, I guess not.”
“What do you mean ‘was’?”
“I told you. She melted.”
“She—c’mon, no bullshit.”
“It’s not bu-bullcrap.”
“You sure this the first time you got stoned? You aren’t tripping or something?”
“I swear to God!”
“That is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. People don’t melt. Not in real life.”
“They all did.”
“Okay. C’mon.” She stands up. She puts the glass bottle on the booth’s counter.
“Where’re we going?”
“You’re saying people melted, I wanna see.”
“We aren’t allowed over there.”
“Yeah? Is there a law?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Then we’re allowed. I paid money for a ticket, I can go wherever the hell I want in this station.”
I don’t know if that’s true. Something bad’s happened, and I don’t know that anyone cares about the old rules anymore.
But Kate hadn’t seen it for herself, so there’s no way she’ll believe me.
She’s already out to the escalators and I have to run after her. As I head down, I see Mrs. Wilcox and the other kids on the other side of the train. They’re still playing cards and don’t seem to’ve noticed that we’ve disappeared.
We walk down the deserted platform. People on the train can see us, but nobody seems to care. None of them stick their heads out to shout at us or anything.
We get near the escalators on the other end and Kate stops.
“We’re gonna be quiet about this, right? We’re gonna sneak up there and look around.”
We tiptoe up the stairs. When we get near the top, Kate crouches down so she won’t be visible over the railing.
Kate peeks around the edge of the escalator, then turns back to me.
“I see a bunch of adults, but they aren’t paying any attention. They’re … I dunno. There’s something weird.”
She takes a second look.
“I can feel you over there!”
I jump and nearly slip on the steps. We hadn’t heard the melty man for a while now, and his sudden shout scares me half to death. In front of me, Kate freezes.
“You wanna join us? Come on out.”
Something tugs at me, like I have a rope tied around my waist and somebody is pulling at me. Pulling me towards the top of the escalator. I don’t wanna go, though. Not up there. I don’t wanna see the melty guy.
The tugging stops. My head throbs, like there’s an icicle jabbed through my brain, and for a moment I think I’m gonna fall over. I grab the side of the escalator. So does Kate. We’re both trembling.
Kate turns to me. Her face is sickly white, the color of goopy cottage cheese. “Did you feel that?”
“Why aren’t you coming?” the man says. “C’mon, let me see you.”
I have an urge to turn around and run. To keep running as far as I can. To run through the subway tunnel all the way to the end, wherever that is. But my legs are so rubbery, I don’t think I could make it to the bottom of the escalator, let alone out of the station.
There’s a noise from up above. A figure appears at the top of the escalator. It’s too dark to see his face, but he has on a red T-shirt with a picture of a woman holding her hands over her naked boobs. I remember that shirt from right after the quake. I’d been freaking out, but I’d still been shocked to see somebody dressed like that. I didn’t think a shirt like that was even legal.
The man grabs for Kate. She tries to dodge, but he gets a hand on her shoulder and drags her off the escalator.
Another figure—a woman—appears and comes towards me. I back away, but I’m too slow. She grabs my shirt and hauls me forward. I trip and my knees scrape across the steps. Aw, that hurts!
She throws me onto the floor at the top and more hands grab me, drag me across the platform to where the melty man is.
His body is shaped funny, as though he’s halfway between a human and a snake. When he moves his arms and legs, they slither, as though they have more bends in them than they’re supposed to.
“Oh my God, what’s wrong with him?” Kate says.
“You think I’m ugly, don’t you? You think I’m disgusting?”
“I’m sorry, dude, I hate to break it to you, but that’s more than a thought—that’s a fact.”
“Oh, and I suppose you believe you’re different. You have a pretty face, so you’re better than me. Don’t make me laugh. I can see into you. I--
The baby was creeping her out, the way it kept staring at her.
—can see it all.”
I’m on my knees. I’m sweating. I’m panting.
I feel … oh my God … I … I was there. For a moment, I was Kate. I felt the guy touching me. I felt his ying-yang in my mouth, his hands on my head.
“Did you like that part? I think that you did.”
I take a moment to realize the melty man is talking to me. “No~o~o~o.” Why would I like that. I’m a boy. Guys don’t do that stuff.
“Boys don’t wear panties, either. And yet …”
“What’s he talking about?” Kate says.
“Don’t hide it. Be honest about--
I was going through the hotel room, making sure I’d gotten everything packed while Tina was in the shower. Just when I thought I had everything, I noticed one of Tina’s shoes under the bed, and when I bent down to get it, I noticed something else. I had to get down on my hands and knees to reach it.
—who you are.”
Kate has a fuzzy look on her face, and I can tell she saw my memory, just like I saw hers.
“I just … I thought they’d feel nice,” I try to explain. “I don’t really … I mean … it’s not like I wanna be a girl or something sick like that.”
“No, of course not.”
Tina was sitting on a stool with a tower of shoe boxes next to her.
I peeked out my bedroom window. Tina walked out to her car. She got in. The seconds ticked by and nothing happened. I wondered if she’s forgotten something, but then the taillights came on and the car rolled forward. She paused at the entrance of the driveway, then turned.
“I didn’t mean to do it!” I’d seen it in a movie, where a woman wore a belt with a rubber ying-yang on it, and she’d put it up a guy’s butthole. I couldn’t understand why someone would do that, so I … I’d wanted to find out. That’s all.
—You enjoyed it.
“No! It made me feel dirty.”
—Liking it made you feel dirty. You knew it made you a fag and you were ashamed. You pretended it never happened. You threw the marker into the trees behind your house and prayed to God, “I’ll never ever do it again. Please don’t let Dad notice the marker’s missing.”
“I’m sorry.” I’m sobbing. I can’t help if I liked it. You can’t control what you like or don’t. But I hadn’t done it again since that one time. I knew that was too big of a sin, worse than anything I’d done up to then. Even if I couldn’t keep myself from having emissions, I could stop that.
—You know enough of the Bible to realize that’s bullcrap. God judges us by what’s in our hearts. He knows you’re a faggy little pervert.
I’m trying, though. I really am.
—Why? Why bother? It’s so much work, isn’t it? Do you really want to live your entire life struggling against what feels natural to you?
That’s what God wants.
—And why should you care about that? What’s God ever done for you?
He gave his only begotten Son for the sake of the world.
—Aww. You pay attention in Sunday school. But you ever think about how that works? God tells Adam and Eve, “Don’t eat of this tree,” but he lets a serpent into the Garden who tempts them to do just that. Then He punishes all of their descendants for that one sin. How is that fair? Hmm? And why does he need to sacrifice his own Son to negate the punishment he decreed? He can do that any time he wants if he sees a person has a good heart. But instead he uses the whole setup to push you into worshiping him? What kind of petty God is that?
What are you? Are you the devil?
Has Satan finally noticed me and come to tempt me? Is that it?
—Maybe I am. But remember, the devil isn’t all bad. God wouldn’t let him exist if it weren’t part of his divine plan, would he?
I guess not.
—So maybe I’m here to test you. You. Her. Everyone.
“No you’re not,” Kate says. She’s sprawled out on the floor, her face dripping with tears and snot. But she pushes herself up. “There is no God, there is no devil. It’s all a bullshit fairy story they made up to control us.”
I flinch. How can anyone say that? Of course there’s a God. It’s in the Bible.
The melty man twists himself upright. The way his body moves, like he’s not even human—not even an animal—makes me sick. —Do I look like a fairy story to you?
He—he doesn’t quite step towards us, but lurches forward on his mushy legs. The man and woman who’d dragged me and Kate off the escalator stand next to him, and so do two other men who’ve been up here with him.
Kate stands. “Get up,” she tells me.
I try, but my legs are shaking. She grabs my arm and pulls me upright. Then she looks to the melty man and says, “What you look like is puke.”
The melty man’s face has bubbled and dripped until it’s barely recognizable as a face, but somehow I can tell he’s P-Oed. It’s almost like I can feel his feelings for myself, the way I can hear his words in my head.
—You’re saying that to me? You?
“Anyone would say that to you, puke face. Isn’t that right, A?”
I take a moment to realize I’m A. “Uh. Yeah. He’s a puke face.”
“I mean, I look at him and I feel like yakking, don’t you.”
“Like, I wanna bleaaagh all over the place.”
—I can see into you, remember. I know what you are, you little whore. And you, too, fag-boy.
“Who gives a damn what you think, Puke Face? I sure as hell don’t. You, A?”
I shake my head. “No.” But it’s not true. He’s right. I am a little faggot. I did enjoy it when I put that Sharpie in my butt.
—You know what that means, right? You’re going to Hell. You’re going to burn there. Your flesh is going to turn black and fall off, and all the little devils are going to eat it.
“C’mon,” Kate says. “We have to get away from him.”
We walk back towards the escalator—no, this is the other escalator, the one that’ll take us down to where Mrs. Wilcox is.
—It doesn’t matter where you go. In the end, there’s only one destination for you.
His voice keeps echoing in my head as we descend the steps.
To Be Continued...
-by Sean O'Hara