Chapter 20/ Book of Worlds




Brian had convinced himself that there was still hope, and that his body might fight off the infection where the men in that other world had not. Failing that, maybe it would manifest differently in this world? In a different body? Maybe it would even improve him. Maybe maybe maybe…

A week or so after Dale’s descent into coma, the police had yet to find a suspect and everyone was hanging about in frustration, just waiting to see what would happen. Helpless observers. Brian felt as helpless as the rest of them, but he was concerned with something else entirely.

He had to cut his finger and toe nails three times in that first week, and the following Sunday (worried about Dale, the four of them had lost interest in other worlds for now) he stared in the mirror and saw a thin gap in his front teeth that hadn’t been there before. And there was the burn, that relentless, searing burn, now in both legs and a little past his hips.

By his own vow, he should tell the others and go about fixing things. Close the door. Hell, there were plenty of other worlds to choose from, after all. But maybe… he knew a way to make the burn go away.

While Matt was at church praying for Dale, and Steph and Elyse were talking in low voices at Steph’s house and wiping tears from their eyes, Brian was stealing tools from the large blue toolbox in the garage and taking them up to his room. He couldn’t help but feel a little excited, although he didn’t know exactly what he was doing, or how it would feel.

He locked the door, took a deep breath and lay everything out on his bed. In addition to a paring knife he took from the kitchen, he had: A screwdriver, a small hammer and nails, a box of matches, a rusty wood saw (good thing he’d had a tetanus shot recently), A pair of scissors, a pair of pliers, and, almost as an afterthought, his mother’s small first aid kit.

Looking at the long row of tools, it occurred to him that his eyes were bigger than his appetite. Appetite for what? What the hell are you really doing, Brian? But that side of his mind didn’t hold much sway with him, because right now the burn was getting bad enough that he was going to have to do something. And it was better he do it to himself, here in his room, then to something else out there.

He stood in front of his bedroom window for a long time, looking at a miserable day. It was overcast, the street outside stained with last night’s rain and the trees swaying almost constantly in the wind. He was home alone. Trying to ignore the frantic beat of his heart, he closed the curtains and stripped off all of his clothes.

Teeth gritted against the ever present burn, he took a few minutes to choose a tool, deciding in the end that the matches were probably the most appropriate. Fight fire with fire, right? Besides, they’d be the safest. Redheads, safety matches, the box said. A stylish red haired woman winked at him from the cover.

He’d laid out a bunch of wet cloth on his bedroom floor, and he kneeled on it. Slipped a match out of the box, and slowed his breathing. Just a boy in a dark room with the wind howling outside. No danger. He was in control, it was alright.

He struck a match and watched it, hypnotised, until it burned right down and guttered out. He dropped it onto the cloth and struck another, and this time the desire was too strong to resist. Moving with painful slowness, he brought the flame to the palm of his left hand and held it there.

It was the strangest, most bitter sweet feeling he’d ever had, and he was addicted immediately. It was like scratching the world’s itchiest mosquito bite with a cheese grater, or plunging a freezing hand into scalding water. The pain was there, yeah, but boy did it feel good.

After the first match, he lit a second and ran it down the longest scar in his right leg, sizzling the long hairs all the way and turning the skin red. He managed to stop himself after the fourth match, dropping the smouldering butt onto the wet cloth and then closing his eyes. He’d broken out in a cold sweat, his hand and legs stung, but the burning had receded almost completely. Now it was almost pleasant, an inner warmth.

He threw the matches onto the bed and lay on his back, staring at the ceiling. His breaths came easier now, and he let out a sigh of relief, a smile spreading across his face. He would have to tell the others. Eventually, he would have to, if the burn kept coming back and making him do things like this (or like the other things, the things he really wanted to do but hadn’t allowed himself).

He’d have to tell them. But not yet.

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