For this week’s flash fiction challenge, Chuck asked us to write about a new monster. I was lost until last night, when I remembered Ken Hite’s thesis in GURPS Horror that the reason why certain archetypal monsters are still with us — despite their cosmetic changes over the centuries — is because they embody particular fears we have. And made me start thinking about things I’m afraid of…
I step off the train into the station and he’s sitting there, mumbling to himself, his slept-in suit smelling like he’s pissed in it for the third time this week. The scrawl on his cardboard sign is illegible; I assume it says something like “Please help.” I lean down to toss some into his hat, avoiding eye contact as I always do with these types. That’s when he grabs my wrist and starts spitting syllables at me.
His words are just as unintelligible as his handwriting, but I can tell from tone and the look in his eyes that it’s something urgent that he’s trying to communicate to me. It’s too bad for him I don’t care what he’s on about. A crazy homeless guy has me by the arm, so I start shouting for the cops. One of them is on him in flash, pulling him off of me, forcing him to the ground, and all the while the lunatic is raving about something I can’t make out.
Backup arrives a moment later. She asks me if I’m alright and I say I’m fine. The guy still hasn’t calmed down; he’s still trying to tell me something. I feel kind of sorry for the guy. He must be off his meds or something. They start to drag him off, and I say, “I’m sorry, man. I just don’t understand.”
He locks eyes with me and clear as day says, “No one does anymore. You don’t know how it feels.” He gets this crazy grin on his face and says, “But you will.”
Somehow he slips out of the cop’s grip, and a second later he’s under a train. It takes them two hours to get the mess cleaned up and the line running again.
I’m telling Amanda this over dinner that night and she just nods. I mean, it’s not the most spellbinding story ever, but it’s not the kind of thing that happens every day either. She’s been working on this big project at work, so she’s probably thinking about that. I ask her if she can do the dishes tonight — I’ve got to finish the Hicks presentation for tomorrow, so I can’t do them like I normally do — and she nods. Two hours later I’m in the study, finishing my last few PowerPoint slides, when she comes in and asks me why I haven’t cleaned up the kitchen yet. I tell her I asked if she could take care of it. There’s a brief, spirited exchange that ends with her shaking her and saying, “Whatever.” The dishes are still on the table when I finally head to bed an hour or so later.
I’m in the shower the next morning when I notice the outline. It’s on my right wrist, where he grabbed me, and it itches a bit. Great. I put some Benadryl cream on it, finish getting dressed, and head out. Helen left before I got up, as she always does, though this time it was without saying goodbye.
The station has been put back in order by the time I get there, so there’s no delays in getting to the office. That’s good, because there’s an email for me from Rob telling me that some of the data for the presentation has changed. I drop that, run through it once more to practice, and grab a leisurely cup of coffee before the 10 AM meeting. Should be a piece of cake.
“What the fuck happened in there, Dan?”
It’s 11 o’clock, I’m in Rob’s corner office, and he’s screaming at me.
“You completely lost your shit. Those slides didn’t make any sense. If Ryan hadn’t been there to step in, we would have totally lost the Hicks account.” He stands there, arms folded, livid. “So I repeat: What the fuck happened?”
I tell him I’m sorry, I don’t know what he’s talking about. After a sentence or two he waves me off. “Look, I know you’ve been under a lot stress lately. Just get out of here for a while, okay? Take the rest of the day off and try to get your shit together.”
He slams the door behind me as I head for the elevator.
“Man, speak English.”
I’m down by the bay, trying to relax like Rob told me to, and this joker is messing with me. I look at the hot dog vendor and repeat my order. “I want two jumbo dogs with onions and mustard.”
He looks around for a moment. “Anyone speak whatever language this dude talks?”
I grab him by the shirt and scream in his face, “I speak English just fine, motherfucker! Stop playing dumb and give me my goddamn hotdogs.” Somebody starts shouting for the cops.
“There’s no neurological basis for it, ma’am,” the doctor says to Amanda, pointing to the output from the fMRI tests. His office is all stainless steel and leather, clean and confident. “His brain is functioning normally, and there’s no damage to any of his speech or language centers.” I sit on my hands to keep from throttling him. It’s the same thing they’ve all said for the last three months: the medical doctors, the psychologists, the neuroscientists. Sudden-onset expressive aphasia and agraphia. It means I can’t communicate, not through speaking, not through writing, not even through fucking charades. I’ve become a freak, a lab rat, a puzzle that no one can solve. No one understands me.
“So what it is?” Amanda asks.
“I have no idea,” he says. “The case is fascinating. I’d like to keep him here for another week or two to run some more tests.” The hell he will. “We need to understand what’s going on in there.”
I stand up and I grab him by the wrist. “Oh, you’ll understand it soon enough,” I said. His face goes white.
Then I crash through the thirteenth story window of his immaculate office, heading for the ground below.