Part 5 - Sickness
The mass split open like a hungry maw with hard parts of irregular teeth. The sound was muddled as it started to roar. We ran around the room, trying to dodge whatever we could. Wet dribbles of disgusting things continued. Maggie groaned and staggered.
I turned back to look at her, the mass projected out at her like a horrible, rotten meatball. I tried to grab her to turn her away, but it crashed against her. We both screamed but I took a breath when it puffed around her like a cloud of dust. The dust was foul, full of all the worst scents from trash that someone had long forgotten to take out, to things turning colors in the fridge. The worst of all was the crash of dust, like putrid spice against our sinuses.
Maggie bowed and trembled until the wave passed. She stood up but taller than she had before. I marveled. Her body was different. Her long hair was gone. It was still shaggy but not nearly so much. Her chest was flat and her figure had dwindled. Across her face, I saw the faintest peppering of facial hair.
She noticed her hands first and gasped before crouching. The sounds from her throat were different, deeper. I reached a hand out to touch her. She turned away and whimpered.
"No. Not this. Please…"
I crouched beside her, trying my best to ignore the lingering odors and pulsing masses still present in the room. I put my arm around her and asked, "Are you okay, Maggie?"
She bent her head towards me and sniffled. "Why didn't it hit you…you don't even want that form…"
I took a breath and pressed my lips together. "I wish it had. I'm so sorry."
She brushed at her eyes and glared up at the ceiling, yelling, "LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE FOR A MINUTE!" She still managed to get her growl to sound high and angry. Amazingly, the mass listened to her and pulsed by itself.
Taking a breath, Maggie told me, her face turned away, "My name is…Andrew. Like you. My birth name. And I wince every time I hear it." She winced a little saying it too.
I kept my hand on her shoulder. "So…you're another me?"
"A different you…I guess. A you who'd give anything to be a girl."
The mass receded into the wall. I could faintly hear the music again, but I focused on Maggie.
I sighed to myself. "Well…uh…you make a really cute girl…and a really cute boy too. But I see you as Maggie. If that's alright."
She turned to look at me. "Yes. Thank you so much."
I gave a smirk. "You're my sister. No biggie."
The mass had dwindled so much that it looked more like a stain on the walls with the occasional insect fluttering around. I had no idea what I was doing but it seemed like the right thing.
Maggie cupped her face. "This is what I look like on the outside. I can't…keep it outside. I keep reverting. I found the switchboard…after mom died. She…always emphasized how much of a boy I was. Over and over…like water torture."
I looked beyond Maggie. The wall had begun to fester and swell. It dripped a bit too.
Clenching my teeth, I urged her, "But on the inside of the house…It's happier because you can change your form. Like you did for me."
Maggie kept staring at a place in the floor with her eyes still. "Mom never knew…any of it about me. I was…too gutless. I could never tell her. Or dad. They would always yell at me…think I was gay. I would yell back. Even in the darkest moments, we would fight…over and over." I held Maggie's shoulder. The mass had swelled just as large, but it was turning black, like something necrotic.
I said, anxiously, "I had a lot of good moments. With both of them. More than bad. Really. There was yelling. A lot of yelling. But uh…good too. I'm sure they accept you. They…loved us."
A faint bit of music emerged, like from far off.
She's the one they're going to miss in lots of ways.
Maggie covered her eyes. "They didn't love me. They loved what they wanted of me. Mom especially… They loved what they said I would and could be. But they never fucking cared what I was. And I knew…if I breathed a word of myself to them…unthinkable things would happen."
The blackness ate further, churning with all the terrible things that slipped in and out of it.
I held tightly to Maggie's hand. "There were bad things. I took care of everything towards the end. For many years. And they didn't care how much I gave. It's like they were just eating it all up and there was more and more…a dark, consuming pit. More and more. I cared for them but it just…took so much. I felt like I was trapped, but I could never complain…"
The refrain from that song returned.
Our house…in the middle of our street.
Maggie yelled at the music, "SHUT UP!"
But this time it didn't listen. In fact, as she spoke, the blackness seemed to crystallize. It became like glass. Cracks formed along the top of the room and radiated downward.
The music continued.
I remember way back when everything was true
And when we would have such a happy time.
Pieces of the room fell away from us, the blackness too. It tumbled into a new abyss. The walls dropped, leaving us with a fracturing floor like melting ice on a river. I held onto Maggie as tears flowed around her eyes. I held her and said, "I'll hold onto you. It'll be okay. No matter what happens."
We moved to try to cling to the few islands of dirty floor that hadn't dropped away. The areas beneath our feet quivered. We stepped around but were eventually left with just two pieces suspended in space.
And I remember how we'd play…simply waste the day away
Then we'd say nothing would come between us…two dreamers
I clung to Maggie and she clung to me as the last pieces finally dropped and us with it. The abyss was endless, but we could still hear the words echoing in the dark.
Our house…our house
We fell for a long time, the wind whipping past us. Then, we were on the ground with no more of a fall than jumping off a curb. I looked down at myself. I had my normal body and clothes again.
The room twisted and revealed itself. I knew it immediately. It was the living room as it had been towards the end for mom. Her hospital bed was set up where the couch used to be. An old painting had cobwebs at the corners. The pump for her oxygen sat to one side. There was that pile of assorted things she needed as well, with the extra blankets at the very top.
There were masses in place of where mom and dad should've been. In dad's couch was a mottled mess with Swiss cheese holes through the head. Still, I could recognize his face, dipped and snoring. Mom was splayed across the bed. Her mass had brown spots like dried areas when I needed to change her sheets. Otherwise, her flesh was a mix of red, pale skin, and oozing blackness.
Maggie stood and looked around with me. She softly said, "It's…just like it was…"
We crept along and watched until mom burst out yelling at the top of her lungs with a gurgle and bellow at the same time.
"ANDY! I NEED YOU! I NEED YOU! ANDY! I NEED YOU, ANDY! I NEED YOU! I NEED YOU…" Her words kept repeating in the same cycle.
Dad, bulbous eyes still closed, roared, "GET OVER HERE NOW! RIGHT NOW!"
Maggie winced and staggered back, as though the words had struck her. I took a breath and approached. I said, "I'm here, mom."
But her yells continued. She added the words, "I HURT! IT HURTS SO MUCH! I HURT! IT HURTS SO MUCH! I HURT!"
"What do you want me to do, mom? What can I do?" My answer felt automatic. Maggie mouthed some words to herself as well but let me speak alone.
Mom continued with her same cycle, the same words. She screamed over and over and then started moaning. Then, she said, her voice lower, "I want to die…let me die! I don't want to live! I want to die! God, let me die! I want to die right now! I need to die! Kill me! I need to die! I want to die! Let me die!"
I tightened my mouth. Words left me for a moment. What could I possibly say?…I never knew in these moments. I could only come up with calm reassurances that she was fine. That she would be okay. That she didn't need to die. That we needed her. And things were going to be better. I said it the same way every time.
I started to say it again, but I stopped myself.
Instead, I took a breath and told her, "Mom…it's okay. The pain is past. You're not suffering anymore."
Dad belched words. "What the hell are you saying? You want her to die!? You don't want to be responsible for ANYTHING!"
I turned and looked at my dad. I hated it when he was angry most of all. I took a breath and told him, "No, dad. But she's gone. I took care of her for a long time. I did my best but people die."
Maggie looked at me with wide eyes. Dad's mouth bulged and pus erupted from it. "You're selfish! All the time! All you want is for yourself! You don't want to do anything for us!"
I stared dad down. "Sometimes, I need to be selfish. Sometimes, what I want is important. I shared a lot of my time with both of you. And I'm glad I did when I had the chance." I didn't dwell on the fact I contributed so much of my paychecks to help with the household and that every time I got paid, my parents would salivate at what money I had. Those were arguments I'd run through so many times to no effect.
Mom moaned. "You don't love us. Why don't you just leave! And let me die."
I took a breath. There was plenty about my parents I didn't love. But there were the memories of when I was young.
"I love you both. I just hate how you can be sometimes."
A gnarled mass of hand reached up from mom's bed. I looked down on her with a calm face. She could rage and slash and attack, but I'd learned quiet ways of responding to her. She flailed against my quiet but soon receded. Her eyes darted away from me, to where Maggie was standing.
She took a breath. "My beautiful boy. There you are. You need to cut your DAMN hair. It's too long."
Maggie grimaced through her teeth. She clenched her hands into fists. "I like my hair the way it is. In fact, I want it longer. And…don't say…that!"
Gurgling came from mom and dad seemed to add a whisper to her words. "But it's too long. And you never take care of it right. You don't know anything about hair. No fashion sense either. You're such a boy."
With a lowered head, Maggie panted. I wanted to say something, but I knew she had to do it for herself.
The words caught in her throat. I moved so she could see me. Her eyes flicked over. She panted again and then blurted out, "I AM NOT A BOY! I AM A GIRL!"
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Bio: I'm MajorKerina and I love to collaborate creatively with a group of friends to make tales where people have their genders, identities, and very realities questioned, contorted, and turned upside-down. I like slice-of-life with a spicing of the supernatural, strange, or surreal. Reality with a scent of the impossible. You can find me on DeviantArt, Twitter, ScribbleHub, and other places.