"By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes," said Mr. Martino, my English teacher. "Could anyone tell me who delivered this line and why?"
Most of my classmates were half-asleep. Their heavy heads rested on their hands and shoulders. Their books laid open but seemed to only serve as paperweights. My seatmate, Francis, was texting underneath his desk.
Mr. Martino studied the room with his permanent enthusiasm. He was old, with more wrinkles than hairs on his head, but he always stood up perfectly upright; he moved like clockwork. Mr. Martino was my father's high school English teacher and now he was mine. For over forty-five years, he's been stuck in time— repeating the same lessons, following the same routines, asking the same questions, and hell, even wearing the same clothes. It was almost eerie how Mr. Martino could be so...mechanical.
I yawned and nearly considered dozing off with the rest of the class, until I remembered this morning: After breakfast, Mom and Dad sat me down and gave me this talk about how I should get my shit together and "work for the betterment of my future." They told me that they had a parent-teacher conference with all of my teachers the day before and found out that my performance had "considerable room for improvement." So they freaked. Now, Mr. Martino and the rest of my teachers were giving weekly reports on my grades and conduct, and I'd be grounded if they found out I wasn't improving.
Though if I wasn't going to do shit, I thought, I might as well act like I was trying. With a sigh, I pulled out my copy of MacBeth from my backpack and skimmed to Act 4. A small, white note fell from the pages. It read in skinny, black letters:
HAVE YOU FED MARGA TODAY?
I held the note and scanned the room suspiciously. The note certainly wasn't mine. I flipped my book and checked the stickered name tag on the cover. Kevin I. Michaels. My name, my book.
I leaned over to Francis and showed him the note. "Did you do this?"
Francis looked away from his phone and stared at the piece of paper. "What am I looking at?"
"The note. Did you write this?"
"The note. It says 'Have you fed Marga today?' Who the fuck is Marga?"
"Joseph!" snapped Mr. Martino. "Perhaps you would like to share your little exchange with Francis to the class?"
I shut up and bowed my head repentantly: an acquired reflex. Mr. Martino walked up to me and took the note from my hands. He examined it and turned it back to back, as if he were searching for something.
"It's not even mine," I said. "I found it slipped into my book. I didn't write it, I swear. I don't even know what it means."
"Write what, Joseph?" he said. He showed me the piece of paper.
It was blank— a perfect shade of white — on both sides. For a moment, the whole class stared in complete silence at the white strip Mr. Martino was holding.
Suddenly, the school bell rang and my classmates, as if woken from a trance, headed for the door, eager to get back home. I stayed in my seat, dumbfounded.
I know what I saw, I thought. This was the kind of thing you'd see in a magic show, or in a horror movie. Words don't just appear and disappear in an instant. This is a trick. But how? Why?
The classroom was now empty except for Mr. Martino and I. We locked eyes. A malicious expression on his face revealed itself. He had what I can only describe as the eyes of a predator about to pounce on its prey.
Suddenly, a vein-like bulge slithered up from underneath the skin of Mr. Martino's throat, like a panicked centipede. It wriggled and disappeared into the wrinkles of his forehead.
A shiver crept through my skin. I turned away automatically, in primal fear. When I looked back, he was already moving out of the classroom, the note still in his possession.
My thoughts were fanatic and divided. Should I follow him and ask what the actual fuck that was all about? A part of me wanted an answer; another part of me was scared of what I may find. Before I could reach a consensus, I found myself going up to the door and checking the corridor. He was gone.
I made my way to the faculty workroom and nervously asked around for Mr. Martino. They haven't seen him. In fact, nobody has.
I quickly gathered my stuff and headed home. I walked faster and faster through the suburban streets, then I ran, like a lost child who sought his mother's embrace. The sun was setting fast. With each step, the blue sky drained more and more into an ominous red. I spotted my house about a two hundred feet away. Faster and faster, my feet hit the pavement; the sound mirrored my quickening heartbeat.
I entered the front door of my house, threw my bag on the floor, and saw Mom and Dad in the kitchen. Strange. The garage was empty. They must have taken the bus. But didn't they say just this morning that they would be coming home late?
"Mom! Dad!" I called out. "The weirdest thing just happened..."
Their backs remained facing away from me.
I slowly approached my Dad and tapped him on the shoulder. "Dad?"
Dad looked at me with an eerily stoic countenance. His eyes bored into mine.
"Have you fed Marga today?" Dad whispered between his teeth.
"What did you say?" I gasped in disbelief. He stared directly at me, completely motionless and silent.
The silence was immediately broken by the ring of our telephone. It rang once. Dad stormed towards the telephone and yanked the device from its wires just before the second ring. He violently smashed it to the ground and plastic pieces exploded all around.
I staggered back.
At that moment, Mom—with an unnaturally strong push—barricaded the front door with the adjacent cabinet. Mom and Dad then tweaked their heads towards my direction. I instinctively bolted upstairs and locked myself in my room.
What the fuck! my thoughts screamed in unison.
I opened my phone but the signal was dead. I turned on my computer and impatiently waited to get past the Windows start-up. Before my screen could fully load, all of a sudden, the power cut. My computer, alarm clock, TV, and bedroom lights all died simultaneously—in a flash, my room was blanketed in darkness.
The curtains! I flung open the massive drapes, which in effect illuminated the room with dim, maroon light. I looked outside: the streets were desolate and black clouds were approaching from the horizon.
But what about Mom? Dad? One thing was certain: those two downstairs were not who I thought they were. I decided I would barricade my door; that would at least buy me some time. I pushed my desk to the foot of my door then looked for a weapon.
My gun, I remembered. A gift from this crazy uncle I had who was paranoid I wouldn't be able to protect myself. Never fired it, but I knew how. I ducked underneath my bed to retrieve the box containing my semi-automatic pistol. Three bullets left, I checked. I loaded the bullets in the magazine, inserted it, and pulled the slide back, just like how my uncle taught me.
Three bullets, I thought. One for Dad, one for Mom, and if worse comes to worst, one for me. I took a deep breath when—
With the sound of high-pitched thunder, my window shattered into a million pieces. Mom climbed into my room and slowlyinched towards me. Her gaze moved from my face to the gun I was pointing right at her.
"Kev," Mom said affectionately with a tinge of sadness in her voice. She took a step forward.
"Take one more step and I shoot!" I yelled. Mom paused and smiled weakly.
"Kev," she crooned. "I didn't know you had a gun."
I kept my stance. A bead of sweat dripped from my forehead.
Mom took another step forward.
"I mean it!" I aimed the gun straight to her heart.
"Kev, my baby...You must be so scared," she fixed her eyes upon mine. "Don't you know who I am?"
Looking into her eyes, I saw the woman who used to spend the day making funny faces with me, who took care of me when I was sick, who prepared my food each day, who used to read me bedtime stories then wrestled me into bed every night, who held my hand whenever I rode roller-coasters, and who worked sixty hours a week to support the family. She was Mom. And yet, every fiber of my being told me something was amiss—a maddening feeling I couldn't quite put into words. She was Mom, and yet, she wasn't.
Mom looked intently into my eyes, then to the gun, then back at me. She took a step forward.
A deafening ring. I cringed at the sharp pain emanating from my ear drums. Mom stood stunnedbut then relaxed.
"Oh, Kev," she smiled, "I knew you wouldn't shoot your own mother."
I looked to the wall beside her and saw a bullet-sized hole.
I couldn't do it.
Mom took another step forward. She was now about six feet away.
"What do you want?" I cried. "What do you want?"
She grinned. One more step.
I shot her chest at point-blank range. Mom looked down. Her chest was bloodless. Unfazed, she picked out the bullet from inside her and flicked it to the ground.
"W-what are you?" I said, the words quivering from my lips. Mom took another step forward.
"Hungry," she said.
Before I could fire my last bullet, Mom rapidly dislocated her jaw and opened her mouth impossibly wide. She breathed an ashy gas directly to my face. My blood froze. I was paralyzed all over. I dropped my gun and collapsed. Mom held my wrists and pinned me to the ground. From the depths of Mom's mouth came forth a tongue—a black, needle-like proboscis—that protruded and injected its way directly through the center of my forehead.
I wanted to scream, but I couldn't. As I laid pinned to the ground, Mom penetrated my head like a giant, noiseless mosquito. I prayed for somebody to save me. With my remaining strength, I imagined a man wearing a black robe—a priest—who would raise his glowing cross and read scripture. Yes, he would exorcise the creature that trapped and penetrated me. I prayed he would come. I prayed he would save me.
But he never did.
I swam back and forth, in and out of consciousness, in a trance. It was the strangest sensation. It was as if every cell in my body was melting, liquefying. I felt like a decaying Pangaea: I rapidly broke into continents, then into smaller and smaller islands, until I was only ocean.
Then, a sharp pain. My spine felt like a lightning rod that shot electricity through my veins.
My hands rose to my face without and against my control. My legs walked around the room; they, at first, limped but then learned and slowly gained control.
In that moment, I understood.
They were vessels. Parasite-infected drones of a queen insect. Both a food source and an extension of...Her.
Something wicked, indeed. When he first read that note I got some serious chills. Such a simple phrase, but very effective. But for me, Mr. Martino swallowing the note was too much, too soon. It's overly bizarre in a way that takes some of the shock value out of the ending. I also think that the climactic showdown with mom and dad might be scarier if it was less about their berserk rage overpowering him, and more about his reluctance to attack his own parents (or at least, things that resemble his parents). I think the ending would be creepier if he couldn't even bring himself to swing the baseball bat. I think that's closer to how I'd react, if I suddenly had to defend myself against one of my parents.
The whole coming-of-age story in disguise angle is interesting, but I don't think I would have seen it on my own. I suppose it's true that the character begins with "room for improvement," and by the time the story ends he's found his purpose, so in that sense he does come of age.
-removed Mr. Martino eating the note; replaced it with something crawling under his skin
-removed Dad from the climactic showdown
-followed Xezbeth's recommendation (thanks, I owe you one) and drew out the encounter with the Mom
-Changed his name from Joseph to Kevin because I like the nickname Kev.
-Explained the ending further (both a food source and an extension...) for the benefit of those who didn't get it
-Improved formatting and some grammar errors
-Mom pinning down Kev parallels the first nightmare I remember, when I was about six years old. In my dream, my mom was a vampire who pinned me down and was about to eat me alive. I was saved by a priest who exorcised her with a glowing cross.
Great story! The concept of the Being 'Marga' is cool. Nice descriptions and analogies to. Really good job on them. However, I think you should have focused more on the reluctance of the boy shooting his mother. It seemed his reaction after the power went out was to grab a gun. Maybe you should focus that part more on the boys mind playing tricks on him and his thoughts running wild before reaching for a weapon. Otherwise, good job!
Elliot, you made a good point on how maybe he should have had his thoughts running wild before reaching for a weapon. At the same time, I think Kev reaching for a weapon almost immediately would could be justified with two points: 1) His parents were chasing him, so he had no time to think, and 2) Kev (seen when he bows as an "acquired reflex") could be characterized as a guy who acts before he thinks, usually upon instinct. Personally, I would have done the same thing Kev did, but I do see your point, so thanks!