Author's note: This is an entry for ShawnCognitionCP's second Anti-Cliche contest.
There was something off. Stan let out a sigh, watching his hot breath blow away from him into the cool, December night. He’d always had a good intuition for things like this. He got the same feeling around the time Luke died. That’s what was worrying him. Even the smallest possibility that it could be that bad made him tense up. He doesn’t know if he could go through that again. The young pastor opened the door to his house and stepped back inside. His dog gave him a confused glance without bothering to move its head as he moved past. His bible laid on top of the marble countertop. Its white leather and golden seams brought back memories of his father. Thinking about his father stirred up some mixed emotions inside him. They were emotions that he tried to ignore to the best of his abilities. Stan made his way to the stairs in his post-coital haze, and crawled up them at an unsatisfyingly slow pace. This is not how he expected his night to have gone.
They had been doing this for a while now, but made a promise to end it. Stan couldn’t live with the guilt anymore. A pastor doesn’t really have many people to turn to when they’re the ones that’ve sinned. The only one he could talk to was God, who was about as useful as a silent watcher can be. Stan opened his bedroom door slowly and saw Anthony there, still stark naked on his bed. He had a book in his lap that he had pulled out from Stan’s bookshelf. After noticing Stan, he looked up and started to talk to him in the usual way.
“This book is terrible, Stan. So damn cliché. The opening’s too vague and cluttered. The whole In Medias Res thing only works if there’s something goddamn interesting about your character. Christ, can you at least make things a tiny bit interesting, you hack?”
“Tony, can you please get off the sheets. I need to clean them,” Stan said, slightly annoyed. He hopped off the bed, still concentrating intently on the book.
“Right, got to clean them before the missus gets back. My bad,” said Anthony. At this point he had just come to terms with the fact that Stan’s wife could find out about them at any moment. It probably made the whole ordeal more exciting for him.
“I thought the book was good,” Stan said while tearing the bed sheets off the mattress. “It starts off a bit weak, but that’s just the author getting his footing. You’ll see it’s really a good book if you give it a chance.”
Anthony was a writer himself so he was always critical of people's work: others' and his own... Anthony walked over to the shelf and put the book in an empty space. This made Stan a bit uncomfortable. He had spent hours trying to put all of them in alphabetical order and now Tony comes over and ruins it. Stan was a very meticulous person, and Anthony’s carelessness could annoy him sometimes. That’s what he liked about him. Tony was always there to remind him that he didn’t have to be so constrained to a boring life. Anthony offered Stan an escape from a life that he wasn’t happy living in. It gave him some comfort to think that with all the craziness in his life, Tony would always be the same. He didn’t know how he could cope without him.
“Ugh, I’ve got too many things going on to give everything a chance. Sometimes you just have to follow your gut. Take a leap of faith, so to speak. After all, you’d be the most educated person on faith, wouldn’t you, Stan?”
“Right,” Stan said while folding the sheets into perfectly symmetrical squares. He put the sheets and his dirty clothes into the laundry basket. Before he could leave, Anthony grabbed his arm.
“Wait, Stan. I wanted to talk to you.” Stan put down the basket and looked at him with a furrowed brow.
“Stan… I just wanted to tell you how I felt. How I really felt. None of this banter shit. I know you don’t want to hear it, but I have to tell you before… before it’s too late.”
Stan started to brace himself. A breeze blew past the both of them from the open window. At that moment, it was just the two of them. The chirping crickets outside felt light years away. There was no wife, no church, no regrets, just them. Tony looked at him with a look that Stan hadn’t seen in him in years. For once it wasn’t a look of a man who would take any opportunity to lighten the mood. It wasn’t the look of the friend he’s known since high school. It wasn’t even the look of an occasional lover. It was the look of someone who was intimate with him. For the first time in what seemed like forever, the look of someone he loved and someone who loved him back.
“Stan…” Tony paused. He caught his breath and in what seemed like a moment that they had both knew would come for years now, blurted out something he knew that he couldn’t take back.
“Stan. I love you.”
There was silence for a while. Neither of them spoke. They just stared into eachother’s eyes, not moving an inch. Again the world seemed to stop for those few precious moments. This wasn’t the casual thing he had thought it would be, the occasional catharsis that would make him a much purer man. For all his rationalizing and philosophizing, he realized that he was wrong. He knew it was wrong for him to abandon any remaining feelings he had for his wife, but was dragging her along really that much better?
While Stan stood there, contemplating, Anthony started to think that his words meant nothing to him. Maybe the young preacher wasn’t the good man he thought he was. Maybe this was all a mistake. While they stood there alone in that room, Anthony began to think that his words were whispers in the wind. They were something that Stan would never hear, no matter how much he wanted him to. Anthony looked up, hoping that this confession would be what really convinced him if Stan cared about him or not.
Stan moved his lips, trying to speak, but the words wouldn’t come out. His throat felt like it was closing up. Each attempt to tell him how he really felt only came of as a short grunt. Each was its own excuse from the pastor’s weary heart. He didn’t know if he could let anyone as close to him as he did with Luke. The real horror came to him when he realized that when he looked at Anthony all he could see was Luke. No, he couldn’t just replace Luke like that, it’d be wrong. It’d be horrible for him to do that. There’d be no one who could fill the hole that Luke left in his life when he died.
Luke had been his best friend since they were both kids, and when things escalated, Stan embraced it completely. Luke died in a car crash ten years ago. The suddenness of his death hit Stan hard. Stan settled down with a woman from his church and lived a full, boring life with her. There was nothing wrong with her in any conventional sense, but Stan couldn't stand being around her. Maybe it was the fact that his marriage reminded him of his lost love. For years now he realized any attraction he had for her was fleeting with every hour. He didn’t think he ever really loved her. But no matter how much he resented their marriage she didn’t deserve what this would do to her.
Stan took the laundry and left the room. He couldn’t deal with this. Before Stan left, he looked at Anthony one last time. Every part of him was trying to get enough courage to tell Anthony how he really felt. Stan looked at him with somber eyes and said something he knew he couldn’t take back.
“Anthony. I… love you too.” Stan closed the door. Immediately regretting what he said, he slammed his fist into his thigh. He didn’t know if this was right or wrong or thing to do, but he regretted it anyway. It wasn’t that by loving him, Stan was breaking one of his faith’s ideas. It wasn’t even that he was betraying his wife. The one thing that he was worried about was if it was genuine or not.
Stan loved God with all of his being, but this one part of him, something he was never able to control, means he's looked down upon by his community. He's had to keep it a secret since he was young. Luke and Tony never had any problem being open about who they really were, but for Stan, because of his line of work, it was a death sentence. He remembers all the hours of talking to his congregation about their friends, family, or even spouses possibly being homosexual. Stan would always mutter the same, empty phrase:
“God tells us to love each other, no matter our faults. Accept them for who they are and pray that maybe they're wrong.”
They always left disgruntled. Stan could always read the look on their face. That wasn't what I wanted you to say.
Stan composed himself and walked back downstairs. He threw his laundry into the washer and pressed the button, hearing the low hum behind him as he left the basement until it eventually became inaudible. Stan looked at the clock on the wall on the top of the staircase. He tried for a moment to read the time, but then realized that the hands weren’t moving. The clock was broken. It had stopped just a few minutes ago. He’d have to change the batteries when he’d get a chance. He opened the door to the basement and went into the kitchen.
While in the kitchen. He saw something odd. There was this silhouette of what he assumed to be a caterpillar crawling across his window. It was the middle of winter, but somehow the poor thing was still alive. He walked over to the window, but as he got closer, the caterpillar scurried out of sight. He opened it, but when he looked outside, he couldn’t see it anywhere. It must have been too dark. Stan slowly shut the window and heard a whiny creak come from the hinges. He walked up the stairs only to see the same caterpillar in the window. And again, as he got closer to it, it scurried out of sight. There was no way that thing could have gotten to the second floor window so fast. There was probably more of them than just one. But that didn’t explain how they had stayed alive through the fall and the winter. It was odd, but Stan had no time to deal with it. He had to get back to talk to Anthony. Maybe apologize for doing that to him. For leading him on even when he wasn’t so sure himself if he loved him.
Stan opened the door to his bedroom, but Anthony wasn’t there. He turned his head around the corner to see if he was sitting in the chair to the back of the room that wasn’t directly in the line of sight of the doorway, but he wasn’t. He must be in the bathroom. Stan walked over to the room next to his bedroom and knocked on the door. Sure they had both seen each other naked before, but he still had some manners. There was no answer. He knocked again, just double checking. Still no answer. He turned the doorknob and opened it, only to see Anthony standing in front of the sink.
“Sorry, Tony, I didn’t realize you were in here-” he cut himself off when he realized something was wrong. The water was running, but there was no sound coming from it. Anthony wasn’t moving an inch. He didn’t even acknowledge Stan’s presence. Stan looked at to sink and saw the water standing completely still. He walked towards it and touched it. There was now in indent in the stream of water that was in the shape of his finger tip. Drops of water trailed around the stream and hung in midair. This didn’t make any sense. He tried to get Anthony’s attention, but nothing he did would get Tony to notice him.
He stepped backwards, confused as to what was going on. But then he looked up at the clock on the bathroom wall. It was stopped at the exact same time, just like the other one. Stan thought for a moment and came to a conclusion that he wasn’t comfortable even acknowledging. From what he had seen it was almost like time was stopped. Nothing around him was moving at all, regardless of what happened to them. Stan opened the bathroom door and ran back downstairs. He turned on the sink in the kitchen. Nothing came out of it. Stan was baffled. He rummaged through his cabinets, trying to find his lighter so he could see his way in the dark, hoping it would still work. He grabbed a paper and threw it behind him. Stan found the lighter and tried with frantic hands to use it, but it wouldn’t work. He tried to drop it back into the cabinet, but it hung there in midair, not falling at all. Stan looked at it with confusion, turning around only to bump into the paper he had thrown behind him.
Just like the lighter, it was floating. Stan ran back upstairs to try to see if he could get Anthony to move, but while climbing up the stairs, he heard a shrill scream come from under him. He looked around him, but didn’t see anything. He lifted his shoe to see that there was something under his foot. A small creature that looked almost like a caterpillar was crushed under his foot. The thing almost seemed to have a face, with small slits where the eyes should be and a gaping hole for a mouth. Its blood trickled down his onto the ground. What the hell was this thing? How could it move when nothing else could? How could he move when nothing else could? He continued up the stairs, seeing another caterpillar. It crawled underneath the door to the bathroom. Stan ran to the door and threw it open.
There were thousands of them. Each one were different sizes and shapes, some as big as his hand. They crawled out from the sink, the drain, and small holes in the window which looked like they burrowed them themselves. Each one moved towards Anthony, creeping along the walls and the ceiling until they reached his feet. They crawled around his legs, enveloping Anthony slowly until Stan couldn’t see him behind the wall of flesh. Stan ran towards him and tried ripping off each of them, but as he grabbed them, they started to bite him. He tore them off, but they each ripped off pieces of skin when they were forcibly removed. Stan staggered backwards as his hand became completely red. Stan slammed the door behind him and grabbed a pair of gardening gloves from the closet. He put them on with shaky hands and ran back into the room. He again tried to rip them off, throwing them into the sink before they could latch onto him. But they just continued crawling towards Anthony.
After mindlessly ripping hundreds of them off, Stan felt a sharp pain coming from his hand. He looked down to see some kind of acid melting away the gloves and burning into his skin. He ripped the gloves off quickly, but the acid kept eating away at his flesh. One of the larger creatures hissed at him and spit the substance into his face. The searing pain was unbearable. He screamed in horror and fell to the floor as some of them broke off from Anthony’s body and crawled towards him. Stan tried kicking them, stomping them with every last shred of resistance he had. But they ignored him. They went around him and under the door. Stan stared at the pile of the things in front of them. It wasn’t even in the shape of Tony anymore. It was just a large pile of them, writhing and crawling over each other to get to the door. Each one crawled under, squeezing their way past each other to make it out.
Stan sat there in horror as they each crawled through the doorway. He studied their red and brown tinged bodies crawling their way through the crack in the door. As he looked, he began to notice that his vision wasn’t focused. He couldn’t concentrate. He stumbled to his feet and looked in the mirror in terror. Parts of his face had almost liquified or melted away. There was now a crimson cavern where his right eye used to be. The acid had eaten away at his face until he was disfigured beyond recognition. Stan screamed and knocked over a cup on his sink in his terror. The creatures were still squirming their way out of the room and with his one intact eye, Stan saw the lump of bones and skin that used to be Anthony.
Stan couldn’t catch his breath. The hyperventilating was getting out of control. He got a chance to look at his hands to see they were the same scarred, pulpy mess as his face. Stan tried to cry, but the pain was too much for him. He slowly groped his way outside, covering the burned off side of his face with his hand. The centipedes were crawling in the same direction, all flowing towards the same place like a river of worms. Stan followed them, drifting in and out of consciousness as the time went on. Eventually he reached the spot where they were all crawling to.
An amorphous blob of flesh rested in Stan’s garden. Its cylindrical head loomed over the congealed body. Each of the creatures nestled its way into the thing's flesh as it let out a groan. A bird sat above it, suspended overhead. Without a moment’s hesitation, a tendril of flesh extended from the main body and swallowed the bird whole, absorbing it into its skin.
Stan stood there, with every iota of sense left inside him telling him to run, but he couldn't gather the courage or even the strength to do so. The blob before him spoke in a hoarse voice that sounded all too familiar to Stan. It spoke in Anthony's voice.
“Food… hard to find… this galaxy… Many… times… find… none... Stan.”
The voice became more gurgled as it spoke. The thing cawed like a bird, spewing out a few more of the worms, who quickly crawled their way back into its folds. More of the worms appeared from the bushes and joined the others. The thing expanded slightly and then deflated with a wheezing noise. It then spoke to him more clearly this time, like it had refined itself in a matter of seconds, now speaking like an adult instead of a child.
“I… absorb… information… through… consumption. You… you are… Stan.”
Stan shook his head and stepped back from the blob. It began to drag itself towards him. The grass beneath it turned brown as it got closer.
“I… apologize… so… hungry... ship… out of fuel… hunger… for weeks…”
Stan pressed himself against the wall of his house. As the thing grew closer to him, he ran straight for the door. The creature dragged itself faster towards him, pulling with all its might, expanding and deflating as it got closer. Stan closed the door and locked it with his burned and shaking hands. His surroundings were a haze to him, but he pushed on. He prayed that God would save him from this nightmare, but for the first time in his life he felt God was not listening. He could see the worms crawling their way under his door frame.
Stan propelled himself up the stairs, hoping to escape in time. He ran into his room and barricaded the door the best he could. He tipped over the shelf next to his door and ran into his closet. He grabbed the bedsheets and used them to plug up the hole in the doorframe to be absolutely sure the things couldn’t get in. He sat there in silence, waiting to hear the sound of the creatures crawling towards him. But there was nothing. He sat there until he was finally able to convince himself they were gone. He opened the door, tearing off a piece of his burnt flesh on the doorknob. He looked around his room to see any sign of the monster from outside. There was nothing. Stan pressed himself against the wall and fell to the ground. The sound of the clock ticking could be heard all around him, taunting him. Stan grabbed the phone from his table and dialed 911. He waited as the phone hummed in his ear. The tips of his fingers moved across his still open wound were his eye once had been, just barely touching it. He looked at his hand to see his torn, bloody skin beginning to peal. Stan grabbed the white and gold bible from his table and started to read. Someone on the other end finally picked up.
“911, what is your emergency?”
The young preacher sat there. He didn't say anything. He did not know where to start. For the first time in his life he felt truly alone. Anthony was gone. The shell of what used to be his closest friend littered his bathroom floor. He could never explain this without looking like a lunatic or in severe shock. He laughed a little, hearing the monotone voice ask if he was ok. No matter what he said, his words would never reach anyone around him. They would be whispers in the wind.
Written by The Damn Batman