Word of the fight did not spread. Matt’s parents drove him to hospital the moment they saw his broken finger, but not before they informed him that he was to be grounded for the next two weeks. ‘Violence is never okay,’ his father told him. ‘Pray and God will look after you. Fighting is never justified.’
Jordan, Jimmy and Ray did not show up for school for two days, and when they did they explained their injuries as the result of a street fight with boys from another school. A few times, while they regaled crowds of awed students with a blow by blow of their imagined exploits, Brian caught a glance from Jordan, daring him to deny it. Brian never did.
Brian no longer thought of his changing body as a bad thing. The fight had shown him that it was as much a blessing as a curse. Yes, he had to cut his nails twice a day now, and they were getting so thick that he had to buy a pair of heavy duty garden hand shears (for those stubborn tree roots). He was convinced infection came from a scratch or possibly a bite, and he didn’t want to take the risk of infecting someone else. His teeth were harder. In the past week, four of them had fallen out and the remainder were spreading further and further apart. They were also becoming narrower, and he was sure they would eventually become fine points. He wasn’t sure how he’d cover that up short of finding a set of false teeth to go over them.
But it was all worth it. He remembered sinking his thick, heavy fist into Jordan’s face and watching him fly backwards. And he hadn’t even had bruises afterward! It was like having a couple of wrecking balls on the end of his arms. Which, by the way, were looking bigger by the day. He hadn’t been out of breath afterwards, either, and he was fitter than he’d ever been. The same night, to burn off excess energy, he’d run at a near sprint for two hours and had an ice cold shower, and he still hadn’t been able to sleep for a long time, twisting and shifting in his bed with repressed energy.
But there were the urges to cause pain. After the fight, he’d felt truly satisfied, a starving man who suddenly found himself with a belly full of steak and chips. Every time he’d hit one of them, it was like taking a big, steaming mouthful. Hurting himself was fine, there was nothing wrong with that, but compared to hurting them it was like the difference between grey gruel and a king’s banquet. The only thing better would probably be taking something weak and innocent like a small child and… No. Stop.
He blinked. He was standing in the bathroom at home, analysing himself in the mirror again. He was still pretty normal, he thought – at least on the outside. Leaner, and stronger, a bit denser overall. His bones had gotten thicker, mostly at the joints. He felt like he could knee and elbow his way through a brick wall, take a sledgehammer to the head and be fine. His veins were probably the most noticeable thing. Now filled with black blood, they showed up in stark contrast to his pale skin – though even that was becoming darker as the blood leaked into the capillaries. His upper body was covered in scars, cuts abrasions, burns, fresh and old. I guess just try not to take your shirt off this summer.
Inside, the burn was everywhere, raging hot, although he found his skin was always cold to the touch. So far, he kept it under control, but it was as hungry as a real fire, and as unpredictable, apt to flare up at the sight of soft flesh or the smell of fear.
He smiled a toothy smile and pulled a long sleeved shirt over himself, even though it was a warm day. He never felt the heat anymore, anyway. Whenever the sun shone on him, regardless of how hot it was, his icy skin only ever registered relief.
Sometimes, on his long runs, he wondered if he was becoming some kind of superhero. His power was a dark one, sure, but there was no reason he couldn’t turn it to good. The fight with Jordan proved that: he didn’t have to satisfy his needs by hurting innocents. He could target only those who deserved it, kill the killers and the rapists in the shadows of city alleyways.
If you become anything, it will be one of those things you saw in the other world. All claws and teeth and hatred. They were consumed by this parasite, and so will you be. Such thoughts came in whispers to him, but he dismissed them before they were even fully formed. He hadn’t hurt so much as a fly, had he? He cut his nails religiously, and didn’t bite anyone, so there was no danger of passing on what he had to anyone else. He was in control, and as long as it stayed that way, he could only ever be good. A fucking superhero.
He decided to call Elyse for another study session. He had so much to tell her.