All comments are welcomed. I got this idea from this bug we have in the South; "Chiggers".
Skin. Shell. Baby.
Smith was a pathetic louse of a man. He would drag his decaying body around his filthy matchbox sized flat, mumbling to himself what he did not have. No wife to love. No children to care for. No grandchildren to look proudly opon. No career to bury his miseries in. Just a small, roach infested flat, a stained mattress for a bed and a black and white television on an old soapbox.
He would watch that television set from the moment he awoke, yelling back to the programs with a "shit" and a "fuck" whenever it pleased him. Such an action made him feel like he was actually talking to someone. Made him feel normal. He once tried talking to some people outside his black and white world but they didn't want anything to do with him.
"Dirty old man," he would hear the voices behind the slammed doors say.
So he hid away in his little world of roaches and midnight infomercials, only coming out when he absolutely had to.
On this day, an echo of, no food, no food, bounced off the paper-thin walls. Smith grabbed a fistful of food stamps, brushing away the few earwigs that made their nest on top of them, and headed to his local grocery store. He didn't bother taking a shower or changing his stained clothes; such things were wastes of time. Taking time away from returning home to his television. Just get the food and return. No need to stay out in this world of color and humans. No need to stay in a place where you could get hurt.
A shopping cart heavy with bread, milk and almost expired meats made its way down the aisle with Smith behind it, always mumbling to himself about the state of carrots or some other nonsense topic. He stopped to look at a cereal box. A yellow box with a grinning, cartoon bear on the cover. Grey withered hands snatched it up, drawing the box close to Smith's chest.
"Money? Money, I must have enough money for this. This I must. Want, want, " he whispered to himself in a croak of a voice.
Last time he had a bowl of sugar laced cereal loops he was still a child. A plump happy child with memories of moss green fields decorated with poppy flowers. The sun above smiling down below. And there she was.still alive. A vision of beauty. He could see her clearly, standing there in that red, cotton sundress, with her long golden hair worn up in a french braid. Standing there with open arms, calling to him, "Son!" She was smiling at him. "Son, come here!"
Smith dropped the cereal box as his mind snapped back into reality. Gone was the happy memory, replaced by stale air and buzzing neon lights that flickered overhead. She's dead. A voice giggled in a familiar croak. Smith held his head. He wanted to be back home, now. In front of the television where he could drown out the voice that would not stop laughing. She's dead and you killed her. She slit her wrists because you were such a disappointment. Slit those wrists and laughed because she would never have to look on your sad, disgusting face again. Why did that voice always come to taunt him when he outside his safe place, away from his flat?
Smith began to bang his head against his closed fists, moaning for silence.
"Excuse me, sir?" hissed a voice of authority that shook Smith back into reality.
A young man in a faded, red store uniform cast down a glare at Smith. In his hands was the cereal box that Smith dropped, only it was now dented on one side. The young man shook it like a tight fist in Smith's face. "Can I help you?"
Smith snaked his way back to his cart. He wrinkled his brow in confusion at the young man's anger. But then he saw at the far end of the aisle, behind the clerk, was a young mother, babyface, honey sweet with a toddler in her thin as rope arms. Her face was twisted with a look of fear as she glared at Smith. Her lips were moving but Smith couldn't make out her voice from the buzz of the overhead lights. But Smith understood. She thinks you're a monster. And she's right.
"Oh," Smith croaked as he began to move the cart away from the young mother and the clerk, "No trouble, sorry.sorry. I am just shopping, moving along, away, far away.see, see?" He waved a fistful of food stamps, "Have money. Lots. Lots." He gazed back over his shoulder, past the dumbfounded clerk, to the young mother and the child in her arms. The boy was gazing up at him, with sharp blue eyes and sucking on his fingers. How innocent he was, not knowing what a potential threat Smith was to him. You're jealous, aren't you? You want to kill that brat because he has a chance and you don't. You want to smash that sugar face of his and eat his bones. Smith shook his head and smacked his forehead with a flattened palm. He looked back at the child and wished the boy that the Fates would be gentler on him.
At the checkout counter a tired looking woman pushed Smith's food along the belt. She groaned when Smith presented her with the food stamps. A person behind him muttered in a hiss, "Get a job." Smith just stared at his feet, hoping the woman wouldn't take long totaling up the stamps.
"Uhm, sir, sir.." Smith looked up. The woman was trembling; her hand was pointing at him and spilling a few stamps. She was white as a ghost. "You have something..oh, God, on your arm, you right arm. It's wiggling! What is it?!"
He quickly looked down, twisting his arm to see what had horrified her so. A small black dot, the size of a fly presented itself against his skin. And for a moment it seemed to dance. Back and Forth. Like the swishing of a cattail. Becoming smaller as the skin around it swelled. But then it was still. Still as death. He rubbed a callused finger against his arm and no reaction came from the thing. He covered it, realizing it was probably a chigger or lice or some other pest that he picked up from his filthy apartment.
Smith's milky eyes gazed at his feet again, "It's just a mole. A simple mole." And for a moment his croak of a voice became sane.
After a marathon of late night infomercials with endless supply of useless products and screen test patterns, Smith lied himself down on his cold mattress, praying to the Holy Mother to bless him. It was amazing how the Holy Mother looked like his mother in his dreams. She was always standing there, in the poppy fields with a gathering of cherubim around her. Her arms were out stretched, waiting for him. She was calling to him. Smith could feel himself move towards her. His heart beating like a drum in his chest as he ran through the fields. Running as fast as his feet would carry him. Oh, to be in those arms once more. To feel safe, again. Now, if you could only feel that safe again. Suddenly the Holy Mother vanished, replaced by a new vision. A nightmare. Gone were the poppies, instead a field of dried thorns had taken their place. The cherubs had become red eyed things with serpent heads and spider bodies. Smith fell to his knees, trying to control his dream. He could feel them, the things skittering over the thorns towards him. They were on him. Hundreds of tiny insect legs over his flesh. He waited for the sting of the fangs to come next.
Eyes snapped opened. Cloudy blue eyes snapped opened.
"Oh, God," croaked Smith as he awoke with a jerk. His arms flayed for the little lamp at the other end of the bedroom. Dull, yellow light bathed the room. But the light was still bright enough to hurt Smith's eyes and he covered them with his trembling hands.
"Who's there? No hurt me, please. Please, money no have. I have no money. Just go, go!"
Silence answered him back.
He lowered his hands to see that he was the only one in the room. The only one in the apartment, except for the roaches, which he could hear scurrying beneath the floor boards. Still there was something wrong.
Pain shot up his right arm with such a force that it pushed Smith backwards and into the wall behind him. His head hit with a dull thud. A screech escaped his lips as he flopped over unto his belly, grabbing the small lamp. He tore off the lampshade and brought the light bulb right before his arm. The mole or whatever it was that he had forgotten about from earlier was moving. Waving from side to side like a tail.
"Jesus Christ," he screamed as he scrambled to the kitchen, his old bones creaking under his weight. He flicked the light switch on and flurry of roaches from around the kitchen disappeared under the fridge and into the cracks of the wall. He threw opened one of the kitchen drawers. The whole thing fell onto the floor, spilling the contents like raindrops. Down on his knees he went, his hands tossing things from side to side. A rusty, tin lighter was snatched up and a white-blue flame appeared.
"Pain, no more," he bellowed as he bathed the mole-thing in fire.
A scream as loud as a banshee ran up his spine and choked his brain. The wind was knocked out of Smith as he slammed his hands over his ears. Another wail followed, sharp as razor. Smith doubled over, slamming his head against the hard floor, trying to bring silence to his mind. The gray tile was becoming stained red with his blood. His teeth chattered out the words, "Silence. Silence. Now. Now. Silence."
Silence did come. Instantly.
Smith froze, still hunched over. His battered head rested on the floor. Slowly, he sat upright, slinking backwards until his back hit the fridge. He threw the lighter into the other room. His breath was staggering all the while. All night, Smith sat there, not moving from that spot even when a roach raced across his bare foot. The scream never came back and the mole-thing remained still.
When first light came through the dirty windows, he tossed on his rag-clothes and raced to the free clinic.
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
The noise began again while he was waiting for the doctor. Only there was no pain. Just the strange sound and the feeling of emptiness, like someone or something were oh, so carefully scooping his insides out with a silver spoon. Still the sound terrified him and when he looked down his arm a large dent was starting to form around the mole-thing.
Smith tried to tell one of the few nurses that scurried around the clinic. But every time one of nurses dared to stick her head out from the doctor's office ten other ill people would rush up to her, moaning of fractured hips and bleeding ulcers. Smith was always shoved to the floor. He cowered back to his cheap plastic chair and kept on pushing the right sleeve of his shirt down. His eyes scanned the room, wondering if anyone else in the clinic was here for the same problem.
"Smith?" a nurse called.
"Here, Here," he answered, rising to his feet. He pushed the other people that were proclaiming they were Smith as well away and took hold of nurse's arm. A panicked look on his face greeted the nurse and she returned the look, trying to shake free of his grasp. He would not let go. "Must help. Please. Pain, me!"
The nurse sighed and guided him down the hallway and wished to herself that the workday would speed up so she could get home to her cats.
Smith, dressed in a flimsy paper gown, sat on the waiting table in the little 5x5 room. He could hear the crunching noises but refused to look down to see if the hole was becoming any larger. He just stared at the overhead lights until spots were dancing in front of his eyes.
The door to the room opened, "Now, Mr. Smith, what seems to be the problem." A doctor, freshly out of school waltzed in, with a stupid smile. His voice was choking with enthusiasm. He moved over to Smith patting the clipboard that was in his hands, "According to the nurse you have lice problem? Now, let's see what we can do about that!"
Smith's eyes narrowed. "Not lice. Bug. Creature." He presented the young man with his arm.
"Creature?" The doctor jest as he turned over Smith's arm,"Now, now, I don't think it's all that bad. Okay, here we are."
The mole-thing had grown. It was longer, more rope like and had wrapped itself around Smith's wrist. What looked like a vein or a tentacle was working it's way under the Smith skin towards the hand. In it's wake was a trail of hollowed out flesh. The bone and muscle had been eaten away. Still the tail was there; in it's original spot, with swollen, draping flesh around it. And the tail was wagging, back and forth.
The doctor covered his mouth to keep himself from throwing up. He shoved Smith away and scrambled for his clipboard to compare his notes.
Smith looked at the young man who refused to make eye contact with his.
"You fix? Remove, now?"
A hysterical giggle came from the doctor, "Oh, yes. I will fix." Sweat was starting to form on his forehead as he felt for the doorknob behind him. "Stay right here. I.have to check on something. We may need to get a.saw.or something." He cleared his throat, trying to keep his nerves in check. "Don't move, ok? Just don't move. I'll be right back."
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
Smith closed his eyes and sighed. The noise was so constant. He slid off the table, ignoring that he could barely lift his right arm. It just swung limp to his side, like a dead weight. He gazed around the room, examining the old doctor charts that had yellowed with age. They lined the walls like medical wallpaper. Smith touched one of them, gently, afraid that if he wasn't careful, the paper would crumble at his fingertips.
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
He gritted his teeth, focusing hard on the charts. "Stomach, heart, lungs."
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
"Kidneys, bladder, liver."
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
Smith closed his eyes. "Veins, so many veins."
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
"Jesus Fucking Christ! Will you stop it!" He screamed, grabbing his right arm and banging the mole- thing against the wall. He banged and banged as wails filled his head. The same wails from the previous night. But that trick was not going to get him this time. He looked around in the room for anything he could use. Rushing to the medical cart and looting it. The screams were becoming louder and Smith just laughed in return. "I want silence! Now and forever!" He snatched up a hypodermic needle and ripped it free from it's wrapping. Smith didn't care if he had to stab his arm a million times. He just wanted the thing dead. Destroyed for good.
The room became quiet. The wails had vanished as quickly as they had appeared. Smith still held the needle over his arm, unnerved by the sudden silence. He drew it up, ready to strike. His heart was thundering in his chest. Kill it! Kill the monster! His mind was shouting.
The word climbed to his ears in a harsh then soft tone as if something was trying to find the right voice to use. It rolled around in the cradle of his brain, struggling to make a connection.
The voice was as sweet as sugar.
Smith's back scrapped against the wall. His eyes focused hard on the objects around him, but nothing was out of place, nothing was there. He reacted with a "Who's there?"
"Father, help me."
The voice felt right next to him. He looked around in the small room, swearing that there had to be someone else in the room. He expected to see a snot nose kid at his feet but again there was nothing.
"Who are you?" Smith growled as something burned in his eyes. Something almost destroyed by years of turmoil; disgust. His face became a snarl as pounded a closed fist against the wall. "I will not be made a fool of. Who are you? Dammit, who are you?"
"Father. I am hungry. (crunch) Let me eat. (crunch) Let me live. (crunch) Please."
Smith's hand trembled as he brushed his right arm. The rope-thing was underneath his skin, vibrating. The tentacle had multiplied itself and was quickly wrapping around each of Smith's fingers. Hugging each digit with a hungry embrace. Smith's knees buckled under by the shock, his back slid down and his hair left a greasy streak on the yellow charts. His eyes closed to half slits. His breathing all but stopped.
"Father," the creature responded, still dancing.
"What are you?"
"Are you, are you.my child?" The words came forth, but Smith had no control over them. The disgust in his eyes had vanished, his mind was back in the world of disillusion. He licked his lips and continued. "Are you the child I was supposed to have?"
The creature giggled. It was childish and clear as crystal and echoed in the hollow Smith's brain. The heavy croak of a voice that had occupied that space had been destroyed and was replaced by something else. A sweet voice. A voice that didn't curse Smith's very existence. A voice that didn't turn every dream into a nightmare. The creature giggled again and cooed ever so slightly when Smith rubbed his right arm. Smith wanted to hold on to that giggle for dear life.
"I am hungry, Father, so hungry."
Smith sighed and smiled. "Then eat."
He held his arm out in front of him, watching the creature work at his fingers. My life is yours.
The door suddenly opened and in rushed the doctor with two nurses behind him, all wheeling in carts. Heavy, metal objects decked the platforms. Sharp blades and cold prongs. He was surprised to see Smith sitting on the floor, smiling. Smith looked drunk out of his mind for he was also humming and stroking his arm as if it were baby.
"Sm-smith?" the young man stammered. His body was still in shock. "We need for you to get back on the table, so we can.remove.the growth."
Smith gazed up, through half opened eyes. "Don't want it removed. It's mine."
The doctor stepped back, puzzled. He then signaled two of the nurses to bring Smith to his feet. But before they were able to get within a foot of Smith, he let out a blood-curdling screech that threw them off balance. Smith bolted towards the door, only to be grabbed around the waist by the doctor. The young man threw him up against the wall. The creature was screaming. But only Smith could hear it as his face twisted in horror. He struggled as the young doctor, pinning him with one arm, revealed the syringe that he hid in his other hand.
The whole room filled with Smith's high pitch shrieks. "You're hurting her! You're hurting her!"
"Please, sir, stop resisting," begged one of the nurses.
Smith became still. The creature was whispering to him. He looked at the doctor, forcing the young man to gaze back into his eyes. The doctor froze as he watched a smile grow across Smith's face, slowly until his whole face was a curled grin of broken, rotten teeth. The young man didn't even realize until after the fact that Smith had pounced on him and ripped off his nose with his teeth. Didn't realize the pain rushing to every brain cell. Didn't realize his white coat and blue suit had become an uniformed color of red. All he could see were those glassy blue eyes and the thing that lurked behind them.
By the time he snapped back into reality the doctor was on the floor with a half a dozen nurses hovering over him and Smith was no where to be found. The young man felt the hunk of hanging flesh that was his nose and laughed and laughed and laughed. And he didn't stop laughing. He couldn't.
Smith was father. Or at least that's what his mind kept on telling him over and over again, in soft giggles and sweet coos. And he acted like one, despite what was happening to him. His fingers on his right hand had been hollowed out, leaving the skin to dangle like an old stocking at the end of his hand. A few days later the bones and muscle of the hand was gone. And ever so often a thin, ropy tentacle could be seen moving under the flesh. And on closer inspection one could see what appeared to be fingers forming at the end of it. They grabbed and tugged at Smith's bones, shaking, softly like baby's rattle. Smith would look down at this and smile. "Oh, look how much you've grown."
There wasn't any pain. Just the crunch, crunch, crunch and sometimes a faint cooing noise.
And finally, when his right arm had been completely hollowed out and all that remained was the fleshy casing, Smith took the sharpest blade in his kitchen, tied off his arm and hacked it off. No use in keeping the thing. It just might catch on something and throw me off balance. And to hurt me is to hurt my child.
His child. He had given the creature a name. Emily. He didn't even know where he came up with the name. The child-like voice in his head suggested it and he obeyed. He was willing to do anything for the voice. And it rewarded him with dreams of green poppy fields and sunny skies.
"Emily," he began to say one night as he lied across his mattress. The creature, which was now working on his right leg, stopped chewing. Smith gazed down at what was left of his foot. A distinctive hand shape was wrapped around it. Smith reached down and stroked the creature that lived under his skin. "Don't forget me when I am gone. Grow up strong, marry and live! I was only a child yesterday and now look at me. All that I have left is you and this is reason why I live."
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
"Yes, yes, eat and grow. And forget me not, can you do this for your father?"
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
Days after, the living room was empty, gone was the television and the beaten up loveseat. Smith had pawned both of them off to buy savings bonds and a few sets of children's clothing. A pink as cotton candy, soft as lace dress rested across his mattress. Smith gazed at, lovingly. You are going to look beautiful in that dress. Visions of a blonde pigtailed girl with sky blue eyes dancing in the pink dress ran through his mind. And everyone will call you princess. No one will ever ignore you or be afraid of you.
Smith closed his eyes and fell asleep.
In the middle of night a roach crawled across the mattress searching for a place to lay it's eggs in. The insect crept up to the remains of Smith's foot and began nibbling a hole. Under Smith's skin, the creature stirred. It snapped itself out of the hole that the roach made and into open space. A hiss filled the room. A black as oil piece of muscle struck and wrapped itself around the roach's body, enveloping the insect until the bug disappeared in the slick casing. Crunch, crunch, crunch.sqwashhhk.sss. The muscle thing released the roach, dropping the remains on the dirty mattress. A few pieces of shell and a broken wing were all that was left of the insect. All of it dry as sand. The creature retracted itself back into the hole of Smith's foot and continued on with its meal of Smith's bone and muscle. After that night the flat was insect free.
With his right leg and arm gone and any possession worth anything pawned, all Smith could do for money was just hobble up and down the street and beg from passersby. The few pennies and nickels turned into quarters and dollars once Smith confessed that the only reason he was doing such a pathetic act as begging was for the sole reason of getting clothes for his daughter. He even had a blue dress stuffed in the folds of his jacket to prove that he wasn't just another common wino.
A teddy bear soon appeared next to the pink dress and fresh coat of blue paint covered the walls. The flat was starting to look like a proper living space rather than a slum. Smith leaned against the crutch he had stolen a few days earlier from Goodwill and gazed at all his work from the living room. He scratched at what was left of his right shoulder. "Isn't it lovely, Emily?" he said out loud. "This is all for you! Every bit! Now don't forget what I have done for you!"
The creature wiggled from within Smith chest. A gentle caress. Smith closed his eyes, happy that his "daughter" understood.
Two weeks had passed since Smith had discovered the mole thing on his arm. Gone were his legs. When they had became nothing more than fleshy casings, he had tied them off with packaging twine and hacked the skin stockings off. To get around Smith simply screwed on some roller skate bottoms to a plank of wood he had stolen from an old construction site. It wasn't easy moving about but Smith managed. He gathered up more money and bought a few more cotton-laced dresses and dolls. People came up to him for the first time and talked to him about his daughter. He was different now. No longer a monster in their eyes. He was human. Another human.
The flat looked completely different. Gone was the drab look of sorrow, replaced by store bought happiness in the shade of sky blue. Smith sat on his mattress, the only thing he kept from his old life. Everything he used to "love" was gone. But it didn't matter. He didn't care. A smile was always now on his face. Almost his entire body had vanished now. No arms. No legs. Just enough bones to keep him alive.
He knew the end was near. All he had to do was wait. His eyes closed as he felt his "child" work underneath his skin. "Remember me, please, my dear child, I don't want to be forgotten. You have given me so much and in return I give you my life. Live. Grow. Don't waste it. "
He could feel "her" moving around his heart with her thin fingers. Her hands slowly and gently squeezed, quieting his decaying organ.
A brief gasp escaped from Smith's dry, withered lips. "Yes." Eyes gazed up at the ceiling, unfocused. His body slumped against the wall, lifeless at last. Suddenly his mouth opened in a great yawn. Opening even wider, his jaws cracked and separated. The snap echoed in the room. The flesh around his lips ripped apart as blood oozed down his face. A thick black oil poured out from his mouth. And one by one, thin long fingers poked out and took hold of the sides of his face, pulling the skin apart ever further. Arms followed the fingers, snaking out, all covered with the black oil. Smith's face was unrecognizable. Slowly a head pushed its way out, covered by a mess of black oily, thick hair. Its mouth opened in a silent yawn, taking its first breath. A black tongue snaked over jagged teeth. It slid its body out from the casing and slithered off the mattress. The body made a clicking noise at it moved. The sound of insects scurrying.
Blue eyes blinked from under black lids. Blue eyes like Smith's.
The creature looked around the room as it climbed to its two feet. The black oil covering its skin began to dry and harden into a dull gray shell. Shaking its body, the shell crumbled to the floor revealing flesh the color of crushed snow pearls and straight silver hair. It stood naked before Smith. The creature was indeed a she. But it was far from being human. Her moments were quick and broken, like a roach running across the floor. Her body was too streamline, too flawless too much like the shell of a beetle to be skin.
"Fah-ther," a slow even hiss came out from her lips as she slid down to the corpse. Her fingers gazed over his skin, trailing up to his deformed face. "I won't for-ghet you. "
Emily smiled as she took the promise to heart and finished eating the corpse.