“Jesse, are you listening?”
“Jesse, are you listening?”
He could hear. He could feel. Everything was dark. What was happening?
His limbs stretched out in all directions. They pressed painfully against the confines of his tiny space. There was movement, give, but not enough. He opened his mouth to scream, and something filled it. Something dry at first, but soon it moistened and released its repulsive flavor.
Panic set in. He flailed, hopelessly at first, but with more violence came greater success. At last, he freed himself from the crushing weight that covered him, only to be chilled to the bone by the icy air and spitting moisture from above. He cleared his mouth of whatever was in it and inhaled sharply and deeply. The cold breath stung his lungs and stretched them out painfully. The exhale supported a keening wail that escaped him without choice or effort. He collapsed, exhausted from his ordeal.
“Jesse, are you listening?”
He opened his eyes. More darkness, this time with shapes. Long, tall shapes stood all around him, reaching high. His eyes followed one to its very top, where arms seemed to jut out from the center post, twisting in all directions. They appeared black against the dark gray sky.
As the sound entered his ears, an ache of a different kind overwhelmed him. This one was inside, and did not seem physical. Something was missing. He felt… incomplete. He looked down at his gnarled, elongated arms. It seemed wrong for them to be empty. The urge to wrap them around something… someone… was all-consuming.
He gathered his strength and pulled himself up off the ground. His twisted legs rebelled against the weight they were being asked to carry, but determination won out. He pushed himself forward, trampling and beating his way through the brush, every movement a herculean effort.
At last, the obstacles in his path appeared to lessen, and he could see what lay beyond them. A vast tract of land stretched out before him, at the end of which was a humble structure, still obscured in shadow from where he stood. Between himself and the structure, a figure loomed. It was deathly thin with a large and bulbous head, and appeared suspended from some sort of pole.
Apprehension struck at his heart and his pulse quickened, but curiosity got the better of him. Making no attempt at stealth, he tromped toward the figured, which itself stood still as death and took no notice of him. He reached it at last and laid his hands on it before turning it around to face him. The shape was that of a man, but so many things about it did not seem real. Its clothes were a patchwork of filthy rags. A strange, dry vegetation jutted out in several places. Worst of all was its head. It was large and round with triangles cut into it to serve as eyes and a zigzag for a mouth.
Apprehension turned to terror. None of this was what he expected. He cast the figure from him, wailing until the need for breath compelled him to gasp noisily. Filled up once more, he let out another wail as he made mallets of his fists and knocked the strange, dirty, round-headed grass man from his perch. Only when he saw it lying on the ground in pieces did he feel that the danger had passed.
He turned once more to the structure, toward which he’d come halfway. Instinct spurred him onward. Whatever his arms were missing was there. In there. He was sure of it.
He trudged all the way up to the structure and found entry effortless. Before him was a small room filled with all manner of intriguing objects. Next to the door stood a short piece of furniture on which a dozen small square images had been arranged. They filled him with a strange desire to look more closely, and he did not disobey.
The first image showed a figure, a woman, her face streaked with tears. In her arms, she held two infants. One seemed awake and lively. The other did not. From then on, the images appeared to progress through the years, but only one child, one little boy, was ever featured. Even when the boy smiled, there seemed something vacant and strange about his eyes. The sight of him warmed the viewer, stoking his inner ache all the more.
The word was muffled, but unmistakable, emanating from a door in the corner of the room. He swept the room with his eyes, but before he landed on the door, something else gripped him. In a far corner of the room, he saw a strange picture. It appeared to move, but only when he moved. He tested this, lifting and replacing his arm. Reliably, the figure followed suit. But the longer he looked, the more unsettled he became.
Stepping closer, he could see the figure in full. Large eyes bulged out of a small head. Translucent skin stretched over the sharp bones of the figure’s face and shoulders. Arms and legs looked more like long, contorted roots, and each appendage ended in long, dirt-caked claws. The sight disturbed him so greatly that his insides roiled to release another wail. What stopped him was the now familiar voice.
He whirled around, padded toward the door, and flung it open. Inside he found a man as naked as himself, but fleshy and plump. The expression on the man’s face was one of such terror that the whites of his eyes glowed in the room’s dim light. The man fell to the floor, landing squarely in the middle of the strange, five-pointed shape that had been marked there. A candle burned at each point, making shadows dance in the room’s four corners.
In the man’s face, the intruder saw someone he recognized. Here before him was the boy from the pictures. Older, rounder, and rougher, yes, but there was no mistaking it. That warmth and longing swelled once more and the creature lumbered forward.
The man on the floor yelped and tried to pull himself away, knocking over a candle in the process. The flame latched onto a curtain which hung on a nearby window, and started its climb toward the ceiling. The creature took no notice. He pressed forward and cornered the man. With a series of squeals, grunts, and whimpers, all of which merged with the man’s own screams, the creature wrapped his arms around the unwilling victim. The creature closed his eyes and squeezed tightly.
In his heart, emotion bounded. This was what he’d longed for. As he squeezed the man, his ache turned to ecstasy, and even when the flames began to lick at his flesh, he would not let go.
Jesse had come home.
Written by Jdeschene