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New Fiction: The Promise: A Love Story

January 29, 2002

This new story is a bit unlike most stories written for WIDE AWAKE in that it is not of the super-hero genre. I hope you like it.

He stared at the charred, bubbled shape of what had once been a young, sculptured left forearm. The outstretched limb that had once, with gentle fingers, caressed his dear Vanessa. He stared at the bubbling ooze-flesh that dripped, candle-wax slowly, down upon the table. He stared at the waxy flesh--his flesh--in abject revulsion. Tiny soft tissue puddles danced upon the linoleum tabletop like acid rain upon a concrete pavement. He slowly turned his head to the right, confirming suspicion that his right hand had been similarly distorted. Slowly, he turned his right arm and extended his fingers. The fingernails were no more. The burned flesh had covered all trace of nails, fingerprints, and any indentations or impressions that had otherwise been distinct.
“What have I done?” Rodney thought.
He knew the answer. Knew what he’d done. Knew the simple truth: Rodney Jefferies had kept a promise, plain and simple.

The black, cotton shirt had been a gift from Vanessa. No special occasion had been associated with the gift, she’d merely given it as a sign of her affection--a symbol of her love for him. Rodney tilted his neck forward so that he could examine his chest. He lowered his head slowly, for he was unable to move it otherwise; even slowly, the sounds like rice cereal in milk were nearly overwhelming. The snap, crackle, pop of charred, mutated skin and hair were so unnerving that Rodney pushed his hands against his ears in a hopeless effort to suffocate the sounds. He did this and, too late, realized the error of the act. The goop that had become his palms and fingers fused to his withered ear flesh in symbiotic manner. As he cautiously pulled his hands away from his ears, the popping sounds resembling plastic bubble wrap became agonizing. He could feel particles of cartilage being torn away from his ears, particles that were now fused to his fingertips and palms. The fleshy ear parts adhered to his hands not unlike chewing gum. Rodney scraped his right hand against the side of the coffee table; the ear flesh finally dislodged. Once again he gazed at his chest and at the black shirt that had been given to him as a token of love. He realized immediately he no longer possessed the ability to unbutton the shirt; the fear that his finger skin would most likely simply stick to the shirt’s cotton fibers was all too real. Thus, he began to slowly remove the shirt by attentively pulling it over his head, unwittingly taking parts of his charcoal-infused skin with it. The pain was unlike anything he’d ever experienced, but he continued to remove the garment, hopeful that the anguish would soon diminish. It did, albeit marginally. With the shirt fully removed, Rodney walked cautiously toward the full-length mirror mounted onto the bathroom door. He stepped across various beakers, test tubes, detergents, canisters of oil and other liquids, assorted powders. He became aware of the background music which had been playing since he’d regained consciousness more than an hour ago. The Strauss ballet seemed to accentuate his every twisted step; as if he were the darkest personification of the ballet--a tragic character from Faust, dressed in attire befitting an Arthur Miller protagonist. His dance across the lengthy, hardwood floor continued, despite (or perhaps because of) the musical accompaniment.

The urge to scream at the distorted image that stared back at him from the mirror--an image that clearly was not (could not be) Rodney--was overwhelming. He suddenly felt as though he were but an actor portraying a role for the camera, and he recalled several films in which the lead or supporting character, upon making a horrifying discovery, would exhale in a scream that echoed into infinity. A loud, continuous, cartoon-quality “Noooooo!” that, through Hollywood, has become its own cliché. A ridiculously ongoing stream of protestation that might be shrieked by a skydiver who’d realized moments after steppin’ onto a cloud that he’d left his chute aboard the piper cut flying oblivious into sunny horizons; by a gambler who’d waged his soul on a roll of the dice, and realized too late that the di were being rolled by none other than the Prince of Darkness, cleverly disguised in a cheap Haggar suit with matching tie; or by a policeman who’d cornered a cannibalistic serial killer in a dark alley and only then realized he’d forgotten to load his service revolver as the killer advanced hungrily upon him.

Thus, Rodney did not scream aloud. Did not cry out in shock and horror. The very sight of his hands had forewarned him, the flesh that danced upon the tabletop had certainly been fair warning. In truth, as his eyes stared in realization at his disfigurement, what he saw was exactly what he’d expected he would see. Yet--yet it wasn’t supposed to be this way!--his mind cried out defiantly, and he found his fists beating upon the mirror, pounding at it with all their misshapen might--stringy, wet fleshy parts clinging to the mirror’s surface with each successive strike. He stopped, breathing heavily, and stepped back. And through the flesh that slid slowly down the mirror’s surface, he began to realize that his appearance was not without a certain charisma--was not without merit. Was it? Was Vanessa, the love of his life for whom he’d undergone this--transmutation--was she so different from Rodney? Was it not her own transformation that had prompted him to undergo this abhorrent physical change? Granted, the end result of his alteration differed vastly from Vanessa’s; however, in theory they were not quite so different that--
My God my bloody pulpy flesh is running down the mirror tissue and fat cells and plasma and my God it’s a part of me on the mirror it’s--
Besides, his motivation had been pure of heart. Love would conquer all, he was certain.

Rodney recalled the evening Vanessa had first spoken to him about it. The tiny advertisement had run in the back of Wake Up!, a revolutionist weekly newspaper filled with “insightful” approaches to strengthening the country, such as “abandon the school system, make parents teach their own,” and “abolish hospitals--injuries can heal without physician interference.”
The advertisement was written as if intended to be recited by flamboyant, side-show-medicine men of years past:

The next generation of humanity can be yours today! The amazing new Miracle Formula will evolve you and help you to reach your unreached potential! Guaranteed to change you forever! Not a gimmick! Real results instantly. Send $19.95 to:
P.O. Box 117
Yonkers, NY 11790

Rodney had been unable to deter Vanessa’s curiosity and excitement despite his many protestations. The parcel arrived two weeks later, on a rainy Friday, while Rodney was at work. She’d purchased two orders of the Miracle Formula; each was packaged in its own vial. She’d drunk the liquid, gagging on all four ounces of the bitter-tasting fluid. According to the instruction leaflet that had accompanied the item, she would begin to notice subtle changes in 30 to 60 minutes.

Her ears had altered 32.5 minutes later. The curvature at the top of the ears had stretched ever so slightly and had formed a gentle point. Other changes had followed shortly thereafter. Her fingertips lengthened. Her hair grew an additional eight inches. Internal changes unbeknownst to Vanessa also occurred. She grew additional vertebrae; her lungs became more efficient. The most astounding change, certainly the one that could not be explained away by science, had occurred on her belly.

Several years ago she’d had a tattoo etched onto her stomach, directly around her navel--a rose, which was surrounded by leaves extending on each side of her belly. Vanessa was, understandably, astonished to learn that her navel had begun producing its own roses. It was a scientific impossibility, but it was occurring nevertheless. A tiny bud had appeared in the center of her navel and had quickly blossomed into a lovely flower, the fragrance of which was as fresh as a dozen roses. No sooner had the flower fallen from her navel than had another started to form. When Rodney arrived at Vanessa’s at the end of the workday, her bed had been covered in roses and the air in the apartment was bliss. They’d made love on the flowers, and Vanessa had discovered an astonishingly high sexual sensitivity unlike any she’d ever experienced prior to ingesting the formula. Her climaxes were undefinable and boundless; she’d eventually collapsed from exhaustion. Later, Vanessa had handed the second vial to Rodney; he took it, but did not drink from it.
“Promise me you’ll drink this--that you’ll be like me. You and I--together,” she’d laughed, delighted with her newly evolved existence.
He’d promised, and had tucked the small vial into his inside jacket pocket.

His hesitation at drinking the mystery fluid was deep rooted. Fear of the unknown. Self-preservation. Reluctance toward change. Cowardice. Regardless of the label attached to it, Rodney was unable--unwilling--to step into the unfamiliar. Yet, in the deep recesses of his mind a voice began to nag with utter insistency. Thus, several days later, while Vanessa was visiting with family, he’d opened the vial of Miracle Formula. Before consuming the liquid, he’d poured several drops into a beaker, as if he’d somehow be able to analyze the contents of the fluid--comparing it with various household items. This endeavor proved useless and, 45 minutes later, Rodney finally consumed the vial’s magic contents. Its taste was bitter, like rotted vegetables ground into liquid, or vinegar that had been left in the sun for months. He’d swallowed hard, desperate not to spit out the bile-tasting fluid for fear that he would not reap the desired results, though he knew not what those results might be. He’d consumed several glasses of water shortly after ingesting the fluid. Minutes passed. He’d stood before the mirror, eyeing his body closely, looking for the slightest change. None could be found.
As afternoon had darkened into evening, Rodney, disenchanted at the elixir’s failure to elix, had sunk into the comfortable living room chair and quickly fallen asleep to the droning sounds of speeding cars from a televised NASCAR race being broadcast on channel 6.

He’d dreamed awful dreams--iconic nightmares, bold strokes of horror--burning, melting pain--base imagery with no association to the waking world--or so he’d thought.
As the cuckoo clock announced the 7:00 p.m. hour, Rodney woke from his slumber, at which point he’d become immediately aware of a feeling of wetness, as if water had been spilled upon his hands while he’d slept. However, he quickly realized it was not the wetness of water, but the subflesh of veins, arteries, muscle tissue, fat deposits, and numerous life fluids housed within the body--his body--that was producing this unnatural sensation. His outer flesh was all but gone--melted, dissolved away. Where lovely flowers had sprouted from Vanessa’s attractive navel, Rodney’s mutation was proving far less romantic.

He moved his frankensteinesque form back across the room.
“What would she think?” he wondered.
You’re a monster a horrible horrible monster kill yourself now kill and--
“Perhaps,” he thought, “this is only the beginning. A melting off of the old that would be replaced with the new. Perhaps I’ve merely she’d the flesh like the caterpillar who sheds its outer skin before undergoing its final metamorphosis. Perhaps--certainly--the mutation, if indeed that’s what it is, hasn’t yet ended.”

The six-car collision on 252 North had caused an eight-mile back-up of traffic. Vanessa had been part of the multitude of drivers at the mercy of the clean-up crews and emergency personnel who worked at clearing away the twisted metal, broken fiberglass, shattered glass, and mangled bodies from the interstate. The interior of her car smelled flower fresh.

She stepped into her darkened apartment, exhausted, at 9:03 p.m., her hand instinctively reaching for the light switch.
“Don’t,” he said, not altogether quietly, but soft enough not cause panic.
“Rodney?” she asked. His voice was somehow…different…rough like gravel.
“I did it.”
“You did what?” she inquired.
“I drank the formula, like you asked me to. But--something went wrong. Something--I don’t know what. But I need to know, will you love me no matter how I look--no matter how much I’ve been changed?”
She did not immediately answer his query.
“Will you?” he asked again, his patience quickly waning.
“Of course, silly,” she replied.
“Turn on the light,” he said.
No matter what she’d been expecting--despite her wildest imaginings or expectations, she was left aghast as the thing that was once Rodney rose from the sofa, sticky, fleshy parts remaining on the sofa’s fabric as he stood up. He walked slowly, clumsily toward her, for he could no longer easily move. She did not cower. Did not retreat in fear. The shock of his outward appearance was quickly diminishing, despite her utter revulsion of his appearance. The squishy sounds of his feet upon the floor, the throaty way he spoke the word “darling” as he walked toward her, the fleshy drippings upon the coffee table all served to define Rodney as he was and would always be.
“Why did you do it?” she asked.
“For you,” he replied, “You asked me to, so we could be alike.”
“Silly, silly man. I was only joking,” she replied, and headed toward the kitchen to start dinner.

NEXT: REUNION (a new super-hero story arc)!

Check out the newest Press Release for an exciting announcement about ALTERCATIONS.

And be sure to visit unboundcomics.com

Your feedback is highly encouraged be it good, bad, or indifferent. Write to: David
with your comments. Thanks!

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