As A Fledgling Descends – Part 2 (horror, sci-fi, drama)

As A Fledgling Descends – Part II
by Blake Vaughn

 

There could be no question that it was him: The bloody-freckled cheek spatters, the hard, sharp eyes, and the small, waxy nose were all Tommy’s, but there was something else very, very wrong with him and the longer that Anfeald stared the more it became apparent that this was not Tommy McKaylin at all.

He made no move to suggest that he recognized Anfeald or that he even knew that they had stopped; He stared ever forward with severe resolve. The second Anfeald looked into those cruel eyes, the hand in his head recoiled, crushed beneath the weight of his presence and that led Anfeald to a second and worse realization, that Tommy was far too tall. No, that wasn’t quite right. Sitting there, in the bus seat, he looked just like Tommy always had only he felt too tall. He felt twenty…thirty…a hundred feet tall in Anfeald’s mind, looming over and around him on all sides. He felt big enough to pick up the bus he was riding in and squash it–big enough to blot out the sun–yet somehow, he sat right there. The disparity between what his mind and senses told him made Anfeald’s tired mind dizzy. For the first time in the two months since his mother had vanished, Anfeald felt genuinely scared.

“Get on!” The bus driver’s voice cut through Anfeald’s thoughts. He looked up at him, bewildered. “Come on, we have to go!”

Anfeald looked back to Tommy, who sat unmoved by the scene Anfeald was causing. Clutching the handrail to the small of his back, Anfeald mounted the stairs, keeping as far from him as possible; Even so doing, as he passed nearby, he couldn’t help but feel that the air around him was deathly cold, despite the heater blasting into the doorway. The rigor bit even harsher than Anfeald’s house or the vanishing field, making him feel hungry, weak, and small. As soon as he was past, he bolted for his seat amidst jeers and laughter. For the rest of the bus ride to school, he kept his eyes firmly locked on the back of Tommy McKaylin’s head and though he never turned, he could sense Tommy looking right back at him.

Soon, he was off the bus and racing for homeroom, while he still felt Tommy’s haunting presence all around. That freezing aura seeped through the walls, and in his head, Anfeald could still see those eyes, staring at him, accusing him.

A shrill shriek rang through the room and Anfeald jumped. A few kids near him sniggered as the P.A. echoed out, “Can you please send Anfeald Foster to the principal’s office?”
Mr. Morris turned tiredly from the chalkboard and said, “Take the hall pass over there, Anfeald.”

Anfeald walked on pins and needles all the way to the principal’s office, half-expecting an ambush from the specter of Tommy McKaylin. He arrived there unmolested and sat down and waited. After the same half-hour, the same rumpled grey suit poked around the corner and said, “Anfeald? Follow me, please.”

He followed her into her office and sat in the chair and her desk was still cluttered and the stapler was still on the pile of papers and Anfeald could feel that he was still being watched. Tommy was somewhere in the building and he was watching Anfeald.

“Anfeald, do you know why I called you to my office?”

The same question. Always the same question. Never the RIGHT question, never, “Have you seen Tommy lately?” or “Gee, Anfeald, we haven’t seen your mom in a long time–where is she?”

“No,” said Anfeald, wanting to be out of that office as quickly as possible.

“It’s your grades, Anfeald,” she said, so very slowly.

“Oh.” He could almost feel where Tommy was in the building, where he was watching him from, practically breathing down his neck.

“That’s right, Anfeald. ‘Oh.’ Your teachers told me that you haven’t been turning in your homework. They told me they’ve had talks with you separately about your grades.”

“Yeah.”

“Can you explain this?”

“No.”

“Normally we would have talked about this sooner, but for some reason the paperwork got lost…” Principal Hakenkamp stared off in the way that Tommy stared, but she saw nothing at all–not like Tommy who saw everything–she didn’t even see what was right under her nose, that they’ve had this talk over and over and over again and every time it got them nowhere. Her ignorance was infuriating. Then her gaze returned to him and she said, “Anfeald, are you having any problems at home?”

“No.” This was taking too long. The air grew colder: Tommy was getting closer.

“You know that you can tell me if something’s wrong at home, right? It’s okay to tell me if someone’s hurting you.”

Anfeald nodded quickly.

“I’m only asking because there’s usually a reason why a student’s grades would suddenly drop like yours have. I’m not angry with you, Anfeald; we just want to help you…Does your mother know about your slipping grades?”

“No.” He was close now: Very close.

“Well, it seems that we’ve lost our contact information for your mother as well, Anfeald. I’m going to give you this copy of your latest report card–”

BEHIND YOU.

Anfeald jumped out of his chair and slammed his back into the principal’s desk–it screeched on the floor in echo of the principal’s scream. He looked in the corners, at the door, at the wall: No one there. There was no one there. He felt the blood drain from his arms and legs.

“Anfeald! Anfeald!”

Principal Hakenkamp’s face was ghostly.

“Are you alright?”

“Yeah. I’m okay.”

“What was that just then?”

“It…the thunder scared me. Sorry.”

“Well…try to control yourself,” Principal Hakenkamp said, her concern fading to displeasure, “Here. Your mother needs to sign this and give us a phone number and a time at which she can be reached. We’ll set up a meeting and discuss what the best course of action is for you.” Anfeald took the report card and crammed it into his pocket. “You can go back to class now. Get a hall pass from Mrs. Greene before you leave.”

Anfeald snatched up his backpack and was nearly to the door when Principal Hakenkamp said, “Huh. It really is starting to get bad out there…” The rain pattered against her window, blurring a sallowing sky.

The rest of the day, that feeling of being invisibly pursued kept his eyes darting to the sides and the back, only to be met with averted faces and blank walls. The only way he was able to lock down his panic was to constantly reassure himself that he wouldn’t take the bus at the end of the day: The raging storm was preferable to having to ride home with Tommy McKaylin’s ghost.

By the time it was just past two, the sky had turned nearly black. Rolling thunder intermittently rattled the window panes while lightning lashed the clouds. Mrs. Schnider was half through their long division lesson when the principal’s voice cut in through the P.A.:

“Attention all teachers. Due to the severe weather, all remaining classes for the afternoon have been cancelled.”

Anfeald’s classmates let out a roar that battled with the P.A. and the storm outside–Mrs. Greenwood shushed them, straining to hear the principal’s edict. Anfeald felt a faint whisper of relief.

“All students are to take their assigned busses back home immediately. Teachers, please escort your students to their busses in a safe and orderly fashion. Thank you.”

With that, the speaker squelched off. Mrs. Greenwood tried to shout over the din of excitement. Anfeald remained sitting in stunned silence while the rest of the class–eager to leave early–formed a roll call line by the chalkboard. With some chiding, Anfeald was press ganged into position and soon they were marching out to the line of busses. As he stepped outside into the whipping rain and the convivial screeching glee at the upturned norms, Anfeald knew that he was trapped. He looked for any opportunity to escape, but Mrs. Greenwood was watching them all closely and had reinforced their buddy system in harsh tones.

Anfeald’s bus was near the end, but he was fifth in line, which made him fifth to board.

‘Maybe I can slip in with another group?’ he thought, searching.

Fourth.

‘Or run for it?’

Third.

That cold sensation began creeping back into his bones.

Second.

‘Do anything! Scream! Tell them you’re too sick to ride! Tell them something! Tell them…’

…Tell them your mother is dead…

“Anfeald?” asked Mrs. Greenwood.

Anfeald lowered his eyes to his sodden sneakers and stepped onto the bus.

The atmosphere inside was like that outside–electric jubilation mirroring the overcast sky–but like the rain, Anfeald was numb to it, and so was Tommy McKaylin.
He was already in the front seat where he had been before. Anfeald locked his eyes down at his feet, forcing them to climb the ridged metal stairs.

Tommy sat there, stiff and still, but this time his eyes–empty, cold eyes–turned and met Anfeald’s and they did not waver. Anfeald clutched his backpack shoulder strap in a white-knuckled grip and went to the back of the bus, sat, and waited. He didn’t look up again until he felt the bus bounce and sway under him, and then he forced his eyes to only look out the window at the white flashes raged amid the evening sky.

The wind was bending trees like blades of grass and knocked the bus around on its shocks. The bus slowed at an intersection and then lurched down an unfamiliar street. One of the girls near the front said, “Ma’am, this isn’t our bus route!”

The driver yelled back over her shoulder, “They had to close down some of the roads because of flooding! We’re going to drop you all off in the shortest route we can!”
The first stop let off three: They ran, screaming and delirious through the rain. Four more got off at the next stop after, then two more. There were no other kids at Anfeald’s stop, and as the numbers on the bus shrank, Anfeald’s dread intensified.

He had to get out quick, but he didn’t dare risk agitating Tommy. The windows were too small to worm through Anfeald doubted whether he could reach the small, closed hatch on the ceiling. That just left the emergency exit in the back. Anfeald quietly moved back and studied the instructions, feeling Tommy watching all the while. He didn’t care–he had to find a way out.

Even without the instructions, its operation was clear: There was a large red bar with “Emergency Exit Only” printed on it. Anfeald looked back down the aisle. Only three of them left: One would get off at the next stop, and then it would just be the driver, Anfeald, and Tommy McKaylin. He slipped on his backpack. Anfeald was afraid, and the stress and exhaustion had forced his mind into a ragged edge, but he was prepared to run. By his will, he unfurled the suddenly stubborn fingers of the hand–that terrible hand; why did he ever have to discover he had it at all?–and let them drift tentatively through the seat cushions and the walls. If he had to send Tommy away again, he would. He steeled himself to the act, but the living symbol of his guilt crippled his morale.

The bus stopped, the last girl got off, and then it wheezed back into motion again.

‘At the next stop sign,’ Anfeald thought, ‘I’ll jump out.’

A screeching sound filled the air and Anfeald launched into the back of a hard pleather seat, bounced off, and smacked his head on the wall. The bus had stopped. The interior lights were off and the entire length of the bus was nearly empty. Tommy was barely visible in the gloom at the other end, standing next to where the bus driver had been. A lightning flash twisted in the still-rippling air. With the driver vanished and the bus dead on the street, Tommy turned and started down the rows towards Anfeald.

Anfeald’s escape plan evaporated into a dry husk of terror. ‘He can do it too,’ Anfeald thought, ‘He can do it too he can do it too he can do it too oh no oh no no no.’

Tommy took slow deliberate steps. Anfeald felt his wintery air as if his whole body had fallen asleep.

Anfeald whimpered, “Stop it,” as Tommy drew closer. Tommy seemed to grow, a hundred feet–a thousand–a million feet taller and the air turned arctic. Anfeald panicked: Reaching out with the hand in his head, several of the seats near him–thin pleather on porous foam crisscrossed with spring wire frames and steel skeletons–began to waver and sway. “Stay away from me!” Anfeald shouted.

Tommy stepped serenely towards Anfeald, making no sign of acknowledgement, his face still rapt in the rictus smirk that he had always worn. In the moment, Anfeald’s confidence wavered: He couldn’t do it. Instead, he spun around and yanked on the red escape handle; He felt it catch hard with a damning click.

Anfeald’s fear redoubled and he grunted, straining against the lever, but it wouldn’t give. The only alarms that were going off in the silent, still bus were in Anfeald’s head. Tommy was close now–just a few seats away. If he wanted to, he could jump out and grab Anfeald just like he used to when he was only a bully.

“I’ll hurt you if you don’t stop!”

The threat caused Tommy to hesitate, breaking stride. Anfeald turned and wrestled with the door again. A moment later, the footfalls resumed. Anfeald felt his hands aching as he pulled futilely at the emergency door.

Anfeald rounded back on Tommy, watching his form ripple into an indistinct blur. “Please don’t make me do this,” Anfeald said with a choked sob. Tommy McKaylin’s wavering form drew closer. Anfeald mustered his strength, and wiped away the tear rolling down his cheek. He sank his hand deep into the Tommy-shaped creature’s icy flesh and pushed.

Tommy flickered and stepped forward out of thin air.

He reached out again and but couldn’t even touch Tommy now: It was like there was a wall around him. Anfeald turned and kept clawing at the handle, trying to pry it loose while the storm raged on outside. Dead Tommy was right behind him.

‘THE DOOR! UNMAKE THE DOOR!’

He grabbed at the door in his mind–rivets, weld points, glass, frame, wiring, rubber insulation, lights, paint, metal screws, fiberglass–a mad rush of pieces and parts filled his head: Anfeald gathered them all up and pushed as hard as he could. There was a wrenching squeal and suddenly he was looking out into a downpour through a gaping hole in the back of the now totaled bus. Without a second thought, Anfeald dashed through the open doorway, slipping on the wet pavement. He turned–

Tommy was gone. From outside, the bus looked like a derelict heap, but there wasn’t anything or anyone standing in the gaping door frame.

Anfeald stood there, soaking and staring in disbelief for several minutes before he regained the presence of mind to run like hell. His house wasn’t far–before Tommy had murdered the driver, they’d come to within a block–and he barely heard his sneakers’ smack or felt his lungs burning.

Anfeald cut around the corner of the nearest house and vaulted himself into the yard. Some angry dog next door let out an impotent uproar, his shoes squelching in the wet grass. He held still for a moment: Anfeald could feel it getting colder. A tremor, like the entire Earth had knocked off-course, rattled his brain just as a thunderclap tore through the storm-black night.
He ran to the back fence and hurdled over it, falling in a wet heap on the other side; He dragged himself back to his feet, pounding wet grass after wet pavement. His house was close–he was close. He had to get inside: Inside he was home: Inside he was safe.

Exhaustion and stress had finally come to claim their dues: The sidewalk swept by underfoot, unseen; the mailbox was a blur. Anfeald nearly leapt the last five feet to the door, forced the knob and bolted inside, slamming the door behind him and locking it with a shaking hand. He ran straight for his mother’s room.

Anfeald grabbed at the doorknob and with a sudden, sickening insight, felt it turn out from under his grasp and he looked up.

He looked up and thought of Tommy, riding the bus in his usual place that morning as if he’d been there all along. He looked up at the figure on the other side of the opening door. He looked up at his mother’s deadpan expression–her frozen eyes–the chill of her figure. He looked up and he screamed.

He backed down the hallway and heard the storm’s fury double as the front door banged open and Tommy stepped into view from around the corner.

Anfeald bolted for his room and slammed the door shut, locking it, his chest heaving. From the other side, the footsteps drew closer. Anfeald stood, looking around his room. Outside his window, the lightning flashed and in the brief light he spied another figure outside, approaching his window.

‘They’re here, Anfeald. They’ve finally come for you; for the people you unmade.’

“No,” Anfeald begged.

‘They’re going to take you away forever.’

“NO!” Anfeald was backed into a corner, but he wasn’t going to just let them take him. “I didn’t do anything! It was an accident!” Anfeald warbled in protest as his doorknob clicked and began to turn.

The hand in the back of Anfeald’s mind convulsed and lashed out uncontrollably, digging daggers of ice into his head and swinging across the breadth of his bedroom. Invisible flames licked across Anfeald’s dresser and his bed sheets danced like a pool; His door shimmied through the air as it opened.

Anfeald could feel his bedroom and the hall and the kitchen and the front door: He could feel the window as the creature outside slid it open and the crush of the carpet fibers under Tommy McKaylin’s feet. He could feel his own shoes and shirt from inside and outside of them, felt everything except his own mother’s beating heart, and then he felt that too.
Anfeald breathed in deeply and pushed.

Falling…

Anfeald had but a moment’s weightlessness before he hit hard dirt with enough force to knock out his breath and shock his thoughts. With a groan, he pushed himself up on one elbow and felt utter bemusement: The house was gone. The ghosts were gone. The neighborhood and the storm and the cars and the roads were all gone: Anfeald lay on an endless plain of crimson dust that rose in high mountains through the acrid air. Above him, a faintly orange sun burned in a black and cloudless sky.

“The oxygen is thin here.”

Anfeald skittered about to find Tommy standing a few feet away, looking down at him.

“I’m sorry,” Anfeald sobbed in a high-pitched wail, “I’m sorry, I’m–” Anfeald coughed and sputtered, the painfully acrid air burning his throat and nose.

“Can our structures persist here?” he asked. “No. Let’s move.”

Anfeald was retching into the dust one minute, and the next he felt the hand in his head give a sharp tug and his lungs were filled with dizzyingly fresh air. He looked up and found that the sky had turned a brilliant azure and they were standing in a field of endless green.

“Wh…Where are we?”

“You feel malnourished. Have some tachyons.”

The wintery sensation lifted from Anfeald’s body and he felt vibrant and warm again. He staggered to his feet and eyed Tommy, who only watched him with an emotionally divested smirk.
“Where am I?”

“Near. You did not swim far from where you were.”

“What?”

“Was I not clear? I transposed this configuration in adaptation for your comprehension. You have to understand that the limitations imposed by linear time are… frustrating.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying!”

“Will this help?”

In a flash, Tommy wavered out of sight and Anfeald’s mother appeared where he once stood. Anfeald felt a pang of sorrow.

“You’ve adjusted to cooperation with this form, correct?”

“Mom,” Anfeald said, reaching out and then shrinking away, “You…you aren’t my mom.”

“Her form in its totality, roughly as you left it, is at present,” she said in paradoxically dulcet tones, “And she still exists, just where you left her, excepting the winds cast up by your departure.”

“My mom…she’s okay?”

“None of the continuums on your path have been compromised. She, and all the other shapes to which you are familiar, remain where they have always been.”

Anfeald wiped away the last few caustic tears. He felt calmer now, soothed as much by coming down from the shock as by his not-mother’s appearances and a part of himself hated that. “My mom is okay?”

Anfeald waited for an answer. His not-mother’s thoughts seemed to drift as she said, “It is right that we are like this–Rhythmic. You must choose, child of my child.”

The air wasn’t thin here, but rather rich and heady, and it muddled Anfeald’s worries. “What do I have…to choose?”

“The afterbirth of my child has bonded to you. I have observed you swimming the oceans and riding their eddies; I am responsible for your being. So long as you pose no threat to our waters–as it seems you do not–you are free to roam them. Otherwise, I must kill you.”

Those words coming out of his mother’s mouth opened a cold sluice down Anfeald’s back that cut through his hazy inebriation. “Kill me? Why?”

“Not all of the bonded drift peaceably along the waters. Some contain structures that rend and those that don’t destroy themselves may pollute or collapse our ecosystem.”

“What waters? What eco…?”

“The waters of time and the ecosystem that lies beyond time in the multiverse without border. Mmm…You are frustratingly inarticulate. You were once dead matter: Such dust as is stirred up by the motion of the lower orders, now given life by the umbilical set upon your lineage.”

“But…I’m alive. I’m real!”

Anfeald’s mother looked off, distractedly. “At present, yes. Your form would have been erased by a nearby singularity had I not shunted you off into this iron planet.”

“A…singlearity?”

“A black hole. A lightless gravity well.”

Anfeald nightmares stirred and he trembled a little. “But…you saved me?”

“This structure thought it prudent to save you,” she said, gesturing to herself, “Your…mother wishes for you to know that she loves you. This body is a convenience for interacting at your scale.”

“…and now you want to kill me?”

“You’ve chosen to come here and it is choice that I offer you. Without your gift, your existence is meaningless. You must choose to choose: Live to live; Life and choice are coterminous.”

Anfeald’s head spun trying to understand his not-mom’s rambling talk. “But I didn’t want to come here!” Anfeald persisted, “I don’t want to be here!”

“You speak of purposeful direction as though you were still one of the dust; you are greater than that now.”

“But I don’t want to be like this! I want to go back to the way I was!”

“Then you must die.”

“I don’t! …Can’t you just make me how I was?”

“The two are mutually-exclusive. I cannot impose one without the other.”

“Why are you doing this to me!?”

Patronizingly, she said, “It was the afterbirth of my child that created you: Your existence is my responsibility.”

Anfeald shot his not-mother an exasperated look as her features slackened and she seemed to look off into the distance at something.

“What if I stay? Like I am? What happens to me then?”

“I will leave you to roam the oceans, in whatever way you will. You may feast on the tachyon shoals or swim along the infinite unbecoming, as is your wont or weft. You will go and you will go alone, among the seas and their predators, without my protection.”

“Will I get to go home?”

“Without a means of directing your course, it is improbable that a creature of your finitude will ever reach your origin state.”

The dizzying oxygen levels turned the thoughts around and around in Anfeald’s head. He was confused, bordering on belligerent. The things that this thing in his mother’s guise said made no sense. She looked off again, this time with a worried look.

“Is something wrong?” Anfeald asked.

“The run calls to me… My child swims with them. I must go soon.”

Anfeald was confused enough without being pressed for time. He thought for a few minutes and said, “I think…I think I understand. If I…die. That means I can go back to the way I was…right? I can go home?”

“Dust to dust, shackled once more: You will return.”

“All I want is to be back home again…”

“You have chosen death?”

“Y…Yes.”

“Very well.” His not-mother walked next to him and a curiously maudlin, almost disappointed look came over her features, such that Anfeald wondered if he hadn’t made the wrong choice after all. He felt something tighten around the arm in his head, roughly, almost painfully. “I had hoped that you would not choose this.” She bent down low and whispered with an ageless voice, “You swam so strongly, Anfeald Foster…”

Anfeald felt a wracking pain but, as the damage caused by his quantum pollution was removed, it was made to have never been there at all. An infinitely subjective moment later, something massive and unfathomable unclasped its pilus arms from the time-space silt and called out to its pod.

Meanwhile, a measureless distance away, in a place that, within its own frame of reference, had always been and would always be, Anfeald Foster–and all the other parallel Anfealds that stretched on like two mirrors reflecting endlessly–sat on his back porch chair in his mother’s arms, wrapped in her bedroom blanket and watched the stars as they drifted through their cosmic orbits. That night, Anfeald’s birthmark itched and his mom asked him if he was alright. Anfeald smiled and said that he was fine and asked her to pull the blanket closer. He hoped he could gaze at the stars some more.

That night, he could almost hear the faint drone of some distant whale-song all too soon forgotten with the boyish things of his youth yet never completely lost. It became a deep-buried sonance that would drive him, in adulthood, to remember to take silly risks now and again: To climb trees and to write poems or to take a chance talking to complete strangers. For all of his eternally fixed life, his eyes would search the heavens, filled with an imperceptible longing and, for a long time, Anfeald Foster would not sense that he was missing anything at all.

The End




©2013 by Blake Vaughn. The text of this story may be redistributed freely in its original form with attribution to the author, Blake Vaughn, and his website, www.blakevaughn.com, as under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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  1. By Blake Writes A Story #3 – Blake Vaughn on June 22, 2013 at 11:12 am

    […] As A Fledgling Descends – Part II […]

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