Originally published on October 28th, 2016, at AAEvil.net.
Republished at Sharonda.net on March 8th, 2017.
Added to SMWoodfin.WordPress.com on October 31st, 2017.
Michael’s body spasmed on the dining room floor. He seized often; more when excited. No one’s jaw dropped when he did. No one flaked when he flopped on the cheap, yellow vinyl, although Sister Howell tried to shoo the other children away.
What would have surprised everyone—barring Henry Badgley—was that Michael’s brain didn’t stay aboard for his body’s crazy rides. The ol’ noodle caused the grand mal, then ran off somewhere else. Seizure stages were slow places, according to Michael; “trippy”, to use a term he picked up from old movies and TV; meditative, even when they showed him bothersome scenes.
What the boy experienced during these throes happened elsewhere; either in space, or time, or both. He attempted to explain it to Henry, and Henry believed him; but Henry was dim, Michael knew, and couldn’t wrap his brain around it. Most convulsions overtook him without obvious reason in the palpable world. But sometimes, when he desired, Michael provoked the seizures. Turning them off was harder, but the ten-year-old could convulse at will, easy-peasy, like flipping a switch. A smart boy, he kept that detail to himself.
This seizure, though, skewed random. One strong blow over ten burning candles on the cake that Sister Howell had baked from scratch, then he looked downward, observed his right leg’s quivering madness. BAM! WHOMP! His head bounced against the floor!
As his mind explored that other, trippier place, his awareness of bucking around the birthday bash persisted. No one noticed the rush of blood coloring his cheeks, burning ever brighter while his carcass shimmied and shook. But it was there. It was always there.
Even when he wasn’t.
Michael moved beyond that, now, shoved it aside, stuffed it into his mental briefcase. Shiny, silver case clutched tight against his chest, he peered into an unfamiliar room. The enclosure vibed like Chapel Auld, but uglier, more desolate, and the boy didn’t recognize it. He looked in from a short stairway; one treacherous, wooden flight. While the chamber burned with a buzzing, warm light, the stairs stood in shadow, with black, open spaces between the steps. Michael didn’t care for those spaces, or what lay hidden inside them. He wanted to go back to his red-faced, twitching body; but an unknown motivation prodded him forward, drawing him into the scene.
A rat ran across where his foot should have been, and Michael screamed the silent scream of the disembodied. No real vocal chords meant no real vocalization, not even to vibrate his otherworldly ears. It was good, he supposed, that no one could hear him. Audible screams blew the cover smack off of astral-traveling, private-eyeing, invisible boys from the backwoods.
(He so freaking needed a phantasmal cape!)
Michael puffed himself up and took a step closer. Rusty concrete comprised the base and walls, and the chamber smelled of skunk weed. It stank of home at Fossil Hill before his mother and father had taken to cooking meth in the bathtub.
The notion danced through his mind that his parents’ tweaks ran parallel to his trips.
Further out on the periphery, he wondered if their tweaks caused his trips.
Images of his mom and dad, and the night that their home burned to its shell, emptied his enthusiasm for the basement scene. It was time to re-engage and reincorporate. Although the whole thing was ridiculous, he understood that getting back meant acting out each part. He’d have to retreat up the stairway, open the door, and walk through. Then he’d be in his body. This phantom world—the universe removed from his physical form—functioned on symbol, big time. Super big time. That jived. Nothing astral held the substance required in the physical world. And substance was glue. Without substantial glue, worlds ran on glue’s illusion. Pretend worlds stuck together solely by sticky pretension.
Michael pivoted to ascend, careful to keep his spectral sneakers on the aged pine boards, but halted when he saw what must have been the coolest freaking spectre, ever. A cat. A big cat! Catamount! Big as the astral world’s dependence upon symbolic glue. One of those cats who screamed in the trees. But huge! The cougar’s head appeared at least two feet wide, not counting the whiskers! Its eyes glowed bright in the stairway’s low light.
They bored right into him.
Holy shit! The cougar could see him!
“Whoa!” Michael said mutely. “You see me, catamount?”
“Oh, you bet I do,” said the predatory beast, its voice a velvet purr. An unmistakable tone of menace growled beneath the silky resonance.
Michael nearly phantom pissed himself in excitement, but moved with practiced confidence, unlatching his case and pushing it toward the enormous cat. He tried to shove its immense, furry head inside.
The animal didn’t budge.
“No way!” Michael spoke to himself in frustration, despite being deaf to his own soundless voice.
“I’m not that easy, kiddo,” the cougar said, advancing upon Michael in the narrow space. “You can’t keep me in your little bag of tricks.”
Michael’s arms flailed against his will, seized like his body, above. The briefcase clattered against the steps.
“OK,” the youngster said, holding his focus on the beast. “What do you want? Why are you here?”
“You and I should talk.”
“So talk!” said Michael. Then, softer, “You gonna eat me?”
“No,” said the cat. “Humans go down like wild boar. Tough and greasy and prone to disease. I’ve devoured enough of both species to last your tiny lifetime.”
“Wow. I wish I were OK with that.”
“Me, too. Now, sit. Creep your incorporeal self to the foot of the stairs and watch.”
Michael did as the cougar commanded. He saw Mary, but barely, and in silhouette. It sufficed for him to recognize her. She sat slumped, head hung forward, arms out to her sides, blood in spots and specks around her. Rats came to drink from those rust red pools, then dashed away, leaving ruddy rat tracks on the concrete floor.
Beyond the girl stood the minister, sharpening his axe via leather strop, occasionally arching a brow her way.
“Brother Chops is going to hurt her, isn’t he?” Michael asked the phantasmal cat.
“The brute already has,” the cougar replied. “Obviously. Chops will do worse, too—not only to Mary—unless we stop him. You know this, Michael. Don’t you?”
“Maybe,” the boy answered. “I know something. I’m not sure what.”
“You will be, and then you’ll need me. I’ll be waiting, Michael. I will. But I can’t incorporate on my own. You must help me. You help me cross the planes of existence, and I’ll help you stop Brother Chops. Do you agree, Michael?”
“OK. Yes. I hope.”
“You’d better wake up, soon,” Brother Chops said, eyeing the girl once more. “I’ve got such big plans for you!”
©2016 Sharonda M. Woodfin