Jeeze, can’t this thing go any faster?” I yelled.
“It’s a Jeep, not a Maserati!” Jasper yelled back, pushing his glasses back up his nose. The Jeep was bouncing so much they kept popping off his ears.
“They’re going to catch us,” said Roy.
“What do you expect?” said Jasper. “They’re on dirt bikes. They have a decided tactical advantage.”
I looked behind me and out the rear window. Sure enough, those bastards were gaining on us. There were at least six of them, racing toward us across the open desert kicking up huge clouds of dust in their trails. I could just make out Bobby Bishop leading the pack.
“How did they find us?” I asked no one in particular.
“Don’t you get it?” answered Roy. “They hunt us. We’re like their hobby or something. And now they’ve got us right where they want us: right in the ass end of nowhere. You can’t win against these guys. We might as well just stop now and get the beatings over with.”
“Yeah, about that,” I said, “they might not stop with beatings this time, Roy. I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to die just yet.”
“I concur,” said Jasper. That was Jasper for you. I thought maybe under the circumstance he might start to talk like a normal human being, but no. Our lives were in danger and he still sounded like an encyclopedia.
Of course, he’d always talked like that, even back when I first met him in middle school. And I’ve got to tell you I was pretty lonely as a kid until I met Jasper. Growing up in a tiny hole in the wall desert town like Patch of Grass, Arizona, I didn’t think I’d ever meet anyone like me. Then one day in assembly I saw Jasper checking out Jack Spencer and I knew; I just knew I wasn’t alone anymore. I mean I checked out Jack Spencer all the time. He was one of those kids who had just blossomed all over with muscle as soon as he’d hit puberty. All I got was a bad case of acne.
The next day I saw Jasper sitting alone at lunch. It was late fall and one of those rare days when you couldn’t fry eggs on the asphalt. Jasper, like most of the kids, was spending his lunch outside. He was positioned so he had a good view of the basketball court where Jack Spencer was shooting hoops with his shirt off. Jasper was staring.
I quietly sat next to him. I don’t think he noticed me until I spoke. “Pretty hot, hunh?”
“Yeah,” he said. Then he caught himself. But he was way too late, and I think he knew it. “I mean, he’s an excellent sportsman.”
“It’s okay,” I said laughing. “I think he’s pretty hot, too.” He looked at me uncertainly for a minute, probably trying to guess weather or not I was baiting him. But I had a really open, honest, and friendly face. I just didn’t do that kind of thing and I think it showed. Then he broke into a grin and said, “He has a magnificent butt.”
“Oh yeah,” I agreed, “damned magnificent.” And that was the beginning. Jasper and I became really good friends. But we both liked the jocks and neither of us was inclined that way. So, we never went much beyond a little experimenting.
Except, of course, for now, when we might wind up dying together.
“Where are you going?” I yelled at Jasper, as we raced seemingly uncontrollably toward a line of a line of rocky hills.
“Those prominences ahead show some potential,” he said.
“Potential for what?” I asked, “A blind canyon? A gully?”
“First of all, the ground is rock, so they won’t be able to follow us by our tire tracks. Second, we won’t be visible for several hundred yards like we are now. Then maybe we might be able to evade them. But out here, we have no chance.”
Okay, Jasper had good reasons as always. He was probably the smartest guy I ever knew. Hell, he was probably the smartest guy in that whole mud hole town we lived in. Of course, he graduated top of our class in high school and then… stayed. No one was more shocked than me. I mean, he had the whole wide world waiting for him and he chose to stay in tiny insignificant Patch of Grass, Arizona. Of course I didn’t find out about The Project until later.
And me, well I was pretty ordinary. I wasn’t any great student. I didn’t have any major ambitions. My mom and dad owned a tourist shop along with a restaurant and a neighboring motel by the highway, and that’s how they made their living, feeding sheltering and selling useless junk to motorists. That’s all our town really was, a jumped up rest stop for people heading from Phoenix to Vegas. And believe it or not, our little place was the crown jewel. I started working at the store when I was 13 and I was still working there now, at 20. Eventually Mom and Dad would retire and I’d own our little kingdom. That was going to be my future and I’d pretty much accepted it. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t horrible. That is if I lived long enough to inherit it. And the way things were going, it didn’t look good.
I sat back and grabbed onto the hand holds and began praying like mad. We entered the hills and Jasper started steering us in a zigzagging random course around them. I could hear the growl of the dirt bikes echoing all around us, but I couldn’t see any of them. That was good, right?
Then suddenly there was a loud bang and Jasper nearly lost control. Christ, we’d lost a tire. We screeched to a halt and Jasper killed the engine. We all simultaneously hopped out and looked at the tire. It had been blown to smithereens. Of course, we had a spare but they’d be on us long before we’d have a chance to change it. Then Roy shouted, “Look!” and pointed toward a crevasse in the rock. It looked like it was just wide enough to fit the jeep. We never would have seen it if we hadn’t broken down right in front of it. Jasper put the jeep in neutral and the three of us quickly rolled it into the large crack. It went back quite a ways, much father than I would have guessed. We’d gotten about twenty feet in when I looked back and saw a dirt bike race past the entrance. That was close. The cave turned to the right and suddenly we found ourselves in a small valley. It was completely surrounded by rocky cliffs and it looked like the cave was the only way in or out.
But that wasn’t the oddest thing. We obviously weren’t the first people to come here. In the center of the small valley was what looked like a hut. And surrounding it on the compass points were four long flat boxes. Of course, Jasper headed straight for the structures. He had an insatiable curiosity, and I followed after, along with Roy. We started at one of the log flat boxes. The top was a door and Jasper started to pull it open. It didn’t come easily. Roy and I had to help. It was obvious the hinges were rusty and these doors had not been opened for many years. There was what looked like a mirror inside.
“Ha,” he laughed. “Solar cells.” He quickly opened the rest of the flat boxes and discovered that they were the same. The hut had a lock on it, old and rusted like the hinges. But Japer had some bolt cutters with him. He’d used them to cut the chain link fence that surrounded the army’s land we were on, and now he used them to cut the ancient lock.
“I’m not sure you should be doing that,” I said.
“Bobby and his minions may still find us,” said Jasper, “We may need to barricade ourselves inside.”
Well, there was no arguing with that. For the past year or so, Bobby Bishop and his gang had made our lives hell. Ever since Jasper and I saved Roy from them, it was like it was his personal mission to destroy us. I guess he felt the only thing worse than a fag was one who fought back.
Jasper pulled at the shed door. It was almost frozen with rust; so once again it took all three of us to open it. It was pitch black in there. This shed had no windows. Jasper ran back to the jeep for his flashlight (he had a full camping package back there) and we were able to shine a little light in there.
We were wrong. It wasn’t a shed. A long flight of steps seemed to lead down into a black, black pit.
“What the hell is this place?” I asked.
“It’s some kind of a bunker,” said Jasper, “probably built back in the days when they were still planning to conduct nuclear tests here.”
“It’s creepy,” said Roy.
“Let’s see if we can do something about that,” said Jasper, shining his light on what looked like a fuse box. He pulled open the rusty door, and flipped a couple of switches and suddenly the place was filled with a dim yellowy light. “Solar panels,” said Jasper. “You’ve got to love ‘em.”
“It’s still creepy,” said Roy. And he was right. All the lights seemed to do was create long dark shadows which reached out toward us from every direction.
Jasper turned and shut the door behind us, blocking out what little daylight there was. The door had a bar on it and Jasper slid it creaking into place—the sound sent the hairs on my back standing on end. “There,” he said. “That should help if Bobby comes calling. Shall we go investigate?” He flashed his light at the descending stairs.
“Why?” asked Roy. And I had to wonder that myself.
“If this is a shelter,” said Jasper, “It could be fully equipped. And since it’s so well concealed it might be the ideal location for our little gatherings.”
“Our little gatherings” were what had gotten us into this mess in the first place. Finding places where we could meet without the redneck patrol busting in on us had been getting harder and harder. For a long time Jasper and I had been doing okay getting together in secret. We frequently got together for jerk sessions with the latest Flex magazine or some porno we managed to secretly import.
But as low key as we kept things, there were a few facts we just couldn’t get around. It’s hard to be private in a town as small as Patch of Grass. Neither of us ever dated girls and we were frequently together. A couple of the good ol boys began to suspect. They began hassling us at restaurants and on the streets, calling us fag boys and sometimes shoving us around.
And the worst of these guys was Bobby Bishop. He was a big guy, about six two and naturally bulky. And he was just plain bad tempered and mean. If there was a bar fight in town, you can bet Bobby was at the center of it. And he had a group of guys, just as mean, who seemed to follow him around. These guys never seemed to be employed, so where they got the money for beer and dirt bikes was always a mystery to me.
Once Bobby and his gang caught Jasper out by himself at night. They beat him up pretty bad; put him in the hospital for a couple of nights. The law was largely unhelpful. I think they pretty much agreed with Bobby. So after that, Jasper got a taser and some pepper spray. And that, of course, was how we met Roy.
“Dude, there’s nothing sexy about this place at all,” said Roy, looking around the small, dank shed.
“Maybe, maybe not, let’s see what’s below.” With that Jasper started down the steps. I don’t know what made us follow. Was it curiosity or just the fact that Jasper had the flashlight? Whatever it was, we went down about three stories worth of steps before we came to the bottom.
To give Jasper credit, the room we found ourselves in was sparsely furnished, and much more brightly lit, but it was pretty plain and very dusty. There were some chairs, a table, even a desk with an ancient PC.
“Well,” said Roy, looking around, “I guess this place could work.”
“I suppose we could see what the rest of it looks like,” I said, encouraged by the brighter lights. There were a couple of doors in the room, plus what looked like a window with blinds on it. They were closed.
But Jasper was already examining the computer. He started looking for the CPU and the on switch but what he found was a bunch of cables. He followed the cables up and over. It looked like they went through the wall by one of the doors. Jasper opened the door and looked in.
“Merciful God,” he said. I looked past him into the room and saw a huge machine which took up all the available space.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s the computer,” he said. “No wonder I couldn’t find the on switch.” Then he headed into the room and started examining the giant machine.
Jasper never met a computer he didn’t like. And, in school, no subject had caught him up like computers. By the time we graduated high school, he had become an IT consultant for the local mining company. And they were glad to have him because finding competent IT people who wanted to live out in the middle of nowhere was no easy task. Jasper liked the job because he only worked when they needed him and it paid him enough to finance The Project.
Oh yes, The Project. I’d first found out about The Project a couple of months after we graduated high school. I’d gone over to his house for one of our standard jerk sessions and couldn’t help but notice all the new expensive computer equipment installed all over the place.
“What’s all this?” I asked.
“It’s my project,” he’d said.
“What project?” I asked.
“I can’t tell you,” he said. “Don’t be offended. I haven’t even told my own mother. I can’t tell anyone. It’s top secret. Until it’s done I can’t breathe a word about what it is to anyone. Ever.”
It took me another two months to get it out of him. He’s spent his college fund on all this computer equipment. He was designing the next generation of search engine for the internet. According to him, this search engine would do more than just look for a bunch of random word matches. His engine would be able to understand context. It would be able to find you exactly what you were looking for quickly and efficiently, rather than several hundred close-but not-quite-matches. And the more you used it, the more it would learn about your interests, and the better it would get at finding what you needed. It would be dynamic
“You probably don’t understand what that means,” he said.
Oh, I understood what it meant. It meant he was going to be a billionaire by the time he was twenty-five. Of course, he swore me to secrecy. But it didn’t matter. I didn’t know anyone in Patch of Grass who would give a crap.
“That’s got to be one hell of a computer,” said Roy, staring at the giant machine in the underground room. “I wonder how much it’s worth.”
“Not much,” said Jasper. “My lap top probably has ten times the processing power, but back in the day, this must have been state of the art.” He found a switch, hit it, and the antique whirred into life. “One thing’s for sure; this stuff’s a lot newer than the fifties.” He turned and headed back out to the first room. He sat down at the monitor and we both peered over his shoulder, but the screen was nearly blank. All there was, was a flashing curser and a C: prompt. “Yup,” said Jasper. “I’d say we’re looking at vintage eighties tech.”
“So, no Halo,” said Roy.
“Ha,” snorted Jasper, “we’ll be lucky if it has Pong.”
“Pong?” asked Roy. “What the hell is Pong?” But Jasper was too busy typing in strings of characters and I had no idea what he was doing. But it had some effect. The computer was spitting more strings of characters back at him. I had no clue what it all meant, but he seemed to.
“What are you doing?” I had to ask.
“Most of this stuff is password protected,” he said. Now there was a shock. “But a lot of the early programmers would create their own passwords and then hide them in the program code, so if they needed to, they could always get in.”
“So? Who cares what’s on some twenty-five-year-old computer?” I said.
“Aren’t you even a little curious what they were doing down here?” he asked.
“Not especially,” I answered.
“Well, I am,” he replied, and then he went back to examining his computer gibberish.
“What’s in here?” asked Roy as he tugged on the other door in the room, but it was locked. I went over and looked at it. It didn’t look like the computer room door at all. I was large and metal.
“It looks kind of like a walk in freezer,” I said.
“Maybe we found some kind of underground food storage place,” he said, grinning. “Too bad it’s locked, ‘cause I’m starved.” I looked and, oddly enough, I saw no sign of a key hole, not anywhere on the door or the handle.
“I wonder how you open it,” I said. Then suddenly I heard a loud metallic click and the door swung open a crack. Roy and I jumped back about three feet. “What the…?”
“The computer opens it,” said Jasper, laughing at our surprised reactions.
“You could have warned us,” I said.
“Not for all the tea in China,” he gafawed.
“So did you get that thing working yet?” asked Roy.
“It’s already working,” Jasper replied, “But I did manage to get some of the software up and running, if that’s what you meant?”
“Don’t pay any attention to him, Roy,” I said. “He gets this way around computers. You’re lucky you haven’t had to see that side of him yet”
“I don’t mind seeing that side, although I’d rather see his backside,” Roy said, leering.
“Come on, Roy, we explained that to you,” I said for maybe the millionth time.
“You guys worry too much,” he said. “I’m not some blushing virgin. I’ve seen a lot more action then either of you.”
Sadly, that was no doubt true. We first met Roy about a year ago. We were driving through town after dark, always a dangerous proposition, when we spotted two of the gang’s dirt bikes parked by the side of the road. We looked around to try and figure out where the ass holes might be, but there weren’t any bars or liquor stores in the area, and it was the wrong part of town for whores. Then we heard the cries. Someone was getting the shit kicked out of them. I saw Jasper go pale. He pulled over to the side of the road and grabbed his taser from the glove compartment.
“What are you doing?” I cried.
“Either come with me or shut up,” he said, and he headed toward the sounds of the ass whooping.
Why did I think this was a bad idea? But I grabbed the can of pepper spray and followed after him. The trail led us to a small, dark alley, and sure enough there were Jeff Spangler and Steve Jones, beating the crap out of a cringing pathetic figure.
“Back the fuck off!” shouted Jasper. I was a little stunned. I don’t think I’d ever heard him curse before.
“Oh look, Steve,” said Jeff, letting up on his victim and looking over at us. “Two more of ‘em.”
“It’s like a fag boy convention,” added Steve.
And that’s when Jasper charged. They weren’t expecting that. It took them completely by surprise. Hell, it took me completely by surprise. One jab with the taser and Jeff was writhing on the ground. I couldn’t let my friend do this alone. I ran up and hit Steve in the face with a blast of pepper spay.
“Oh fuck!” he cried as his hands went to his face.
I looked down and saw their victim. He was a kid, still in high school by the look of him. Bruised and bloody, he was staring up at us, looking like he didn’t know who to be more afraid of. He was half out of it and didn’t look like he could walk on his own.
I looked back at Jasper. He looked like he was about to taser Jeff again, even though the thug was out for the count.
“Jasper, can you help me with this guy? He’s in pretty bad shape.”
Sparing one last glace at Jeff, Jasper came over and helped me get the kid to his feet. Then with both of us supporting him, we got him out of the alley as quickly as we could. Steve was still shouting behind us. “We’re going get you fagots for this. We’re gonna fuck you up. Wait and see. Ah fuck, that hurts!”
We got the kid into the car and drove straight to the medical center. We really didn’t have a hospital. On the way, I found out his name was Roy. We tried to find out where his family was, but he said he didn’t have one.
The nurse at the medical center patched him up, and made him spend the night there. It seems she knew him. He’d been in there before, and there wasn’t any talk of insurance or medical bills.
The next morning when I stopped by Jasper’s to pick him up so we could go visit Roy, Jasper’s little brother Grant told me he’d been arrested. Apparently one of the Red Necks had filed a complaint. They’d confiscated Jasper’s taser and pepper spray and taken him down to the station.
I was off like a shot. When I got to the police station, I found Jasper’s mom in the lobby. She was crying. She said they wouldn’t tell her anything about Jasper and kept trying to get her to go home. She wouldn’t leave, of course. I sat with her for the next hour until Jasper finally appeared. He had a few bruises on him that weren’t there the night before. I tried to ask, but he said he didn’t want to talk about it.
We drove Jasper’s mom home, and as soon as we’d seen her safely into the house, he turned to me and said, “Let’s go see Roy.” On the way to the medical center he finally told me what happened.
“I’ve been released on a kind of probation,” he said, “unofficial, of course. I can’t own any weapons or be out on the street after 10pm. If I violate any of these conditions, even once, I will go to prison.”
“That’s crazy!” I said. “They can’t do that.”
“Of course they can. As I said, it’s unofficial.”
“Didn’t you tell them about Roy?”
“They didn’t seem particularly interested,” he said rubbing one of the bruises on his cheek. “They did, however, offer to drop the whole incident as if it never occurred. There’s just one condition.”
“That I leave town.”
“They can’t do that,” I said. “My dad knows people. We’ll get a lawyer. We’ll fight this.” My dad had worked in that store his whole life. He inherited it from his dad. He was president of the Chamber of Commerce. Our family had been here for generations. And in Patch of Grass, that counted.
“You don’t understand, do you? Your father is the only reason you weren’t in the next cell. He’s already used his connections to protect you.”
His words were like a hammer. I often wondered why they beat the crap out of Jasper, but never me. There had been opportunities. But I guess they must have known they couldn’t get away with it. Christ, I wouldn’t have given them credit for being that smart.
“What are you going to do?” I asked.
“I’m staying, of course. Another year or two and The Project will be completed. Then I’ll leave this shit hole in style.”
We pulled into the parking lot at the medical center just in time to see Roy stumble out the door. He was taller than I realized, he must be close to six feet. He looked horrible. Over night his bruises had blossomed into huge black and blue patches that nearly covered his face, which was already badly misshapen due to all the swelling.
He froze as soon as he saw us. He looked like a dear caught in headlights. It was like he couldn’t make up his mind to run or stay where he was. In the end, I was pretty sure it was his injuries that decided for him. Running was just out of the question.
“Roy?” started Jasper. “Can we give you a ride?”
“Nah, that’s okay,” he said. Christ, he looked terrified. Then I realized, oh my God, he thinks we’re going to rape him.
“Well, let us buy you breakfast, anyway,” I said, nodding at Rosa’s Dinner which was just across the street.
I could tell I’d caught his interest. He must be starving. But he still looked really undecided. “Come on,” I said. “No strings attached. Really.”
I think his hunger decided him more than my persuasive ability, and a few minutes later we were sitting across from him in the diner and he was shoveling eggs down his throat like he’d never eaten before in his life. I couldn’t help but notice how he scoped the place out as soon as we walked in. I realized he was identifying all the exits in case he had to make a quick break for it. What could have happened to this kid to make him like that?
Piece by piece we got his story. He was sixteen, and from Phoenix. About a year ago, he had come out to his parents and they had thrown him out of the house. He’d been wondering homeless pretty much ever since. He made his way in the world, traveling up and down the highway turning tricks for truck drivers. He’d been raped more times than he could count. The last time, he’d woken up bleeding by the exit to Patch of Grass. He decided he’d had enough of truck drivers, and wanted to see if the miners were any better. He’d been giving some guy a blow job behind McIntyre’s, one of the local bars, when Steve and Jeff had found him.
Jasper and I looked at each other and just from the glance we knew we were going to do everything we could to help Roy. Jasper offered him a place to stay while I promised to do what I could to find him a more permanent situation. Patch of Grass was no paradise, but it was a hell of a lot better than what he had now. Roy tried to tell us he didn’t have any money, that’d he’d been robbed the night before as well as beaten. It took us a long time to convince him that we didn’t care, that we didn’t want his money.
“Okay,” he finally said, shrugging. “Which one of you wants to go first?” It took us another ten minutes to convince him we didn’t want his sexual favors either.
Jasper’s dad ran off shortly after his brother was born, so at this point Jasper was pretty much the head of his household. His mother offered a token objection to taking in a total stranger off the street. But Jasper insisted and what Jasper wanted, he usually got. And that’s how Roy entered our lives.
Roy pushed the big metal door in the underground bunker open and peered inside. “Whoa! You guys have got to see this,” he said, stepping through.
I followed after him, and stopped. It wasn’t so much of a room that I found myself in but a cavern. The walls were all rough hewn rock, but the floor was smooth and flat. And positioned all around it was the strangest looking equipment I’d ever seen. Metal had been molded and bent and twisted into the strangest shapes. If it didn’t have a definite utilitarian look to it, I might almost mistake it for modern art. There were giant donut shapes ten feet across and tubes and cones and cylinders, all made from something that looked like a combination between metal and smooth, opaque glass. And they were arraigned in various positions all through out the room, on the floors, on the ceiling, everywhere. It was kind of eerie.
Suddenly the lights flickered and there was a loud electronic BUZZ! It seemed to come from every corner of the chamber simultaneously. Roy and I looked at each other and shouted, “FUCK!” and we bolted from the room.
“Did something happen in there?” asked Jasper as we rushed panting through the door.
“No,” said Roy, catching his breath. “Why do you ask?”
“It said it was warming up the equipment. From what I can see on here, that’s some kind of a test chamber. I wonder what they were testing.”
“Maybe it’s a new sound system,” said Roy.
“Let’s run it through the sequence and see what it does,” said Jasper.
“You think that’s smart?” I said. “What if it’s some kind of a bomb?”
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I’m going to start it.” And before I could object any more jasper hit a few keys. The door swung shut and we could see a countdown start up on the screen.”
“I’ll open the viewing port.” He hit a couple of more keys and the shutters on the window opened up and we could see into the strange cavern like room. Jasper came over and joined us at the window. “Weird,” he said. And we stood there silently while the counter ticked down. When it reached zero the word, commit, started flashing on the screen, but inside the room, it looked like nothing had changed.
We stood there for another five minutes or so, until Roy said, “Shouldn’t something have happened by now?”
Jasper nodded and went back to the monitor. He hit another couple of keys but nothing changed. “I can’t seem to shut the program down,” he said. “It looks like it’s frozen.”
“Well, after a quarter of a century, can you really be surprised?” I said.
“Let me see if I can open the door,” said Jasper. One again he punched some keys and the door swung open. He walked over to it and stepped through. I tentatively followed after him.
“You sure this is safe?” I asked.
“I don’t think anything’s working,” said Jasper. “Whatever this stuff is, time hasn’t been good to it.”
Roy followed us in and just started looking at all the weird objects.
“So how come you can turn this stuff on, but you don’t know what it does,” I asked.
“It was fairly simple to get the software running, but most of the documentation is encrypted,” he said. “If I were home, it wouldn’t be a problem. Hell, for technology this old, I could probably download the de-encryption software free off the internet. But not here.”
“What’s this,” asked Roy holding up a cable. The end of it had something that looked suspiciously like a plug.
“I don’t know,” said Jasper. “It might be some kind of a control cable.”
“Oh,” said Roy looking at another cable lying on the floor. “Here’s another one.” He picked it up and looked at the two cable ends. “I think they go together.” And before anyone could say anything, Roy joined the two ends and they snapped together with a click.
Suddenly the door slammed shut. The electronic buzz was back, only this time it was building, along with a strange crackling noise like high tension wires. I ran to the door, but forget it. It was locked tight.
“Unplug the cable!” shouted Jasper, barely making himself heard over the building noise. Roy was yanking away at it, but the problem was clear even before he said it, “They’re stuck!”
Jasper ran over to help Roy, but before he could get to him, there was a sudden CRACK, like a lightening strike, a blast of white, searing pain and then darkness.
When I came to it was dark, so dark it took me a minute to figure out if my eyes were open or closed. I tried to move but that was a bad idea. I had the mother of all headaches, a pounding thrumming between my ears. It was so terrible it made me want to vomit. I’d had a hell of a hang over the day after my 20th birthday. It was bad, but not this bad.
“Jasper?” I croaked. “Roy?”
I heard an answering groan, and working through the pain, I crawled over toward it, groping in the dark as I went. After a couple of minutes, I felt a foot. I wasn’t sure whose.
“Oh man, are we still alive?” asked Roy.
“Kind of,” I said, feeling my head throb. “Where’s Jasper?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “He was right next to me, but I don’t even know where I am.”
“We’ve got to find him,” I said, suddenly getting very scared. If anything had happened to Jasper, I didn’t know what I’d do. But I needn’t have worried. A couple of more minutes of groping and we found him.
“You know it’s just possible this equipment is unstable,” he said, as my hand found his shoulder.
“Jesus, Jasper, you should have said something. You had me scared out of my wits,” I said.
“I was just thinking,” he said.
“Well, stop it,” I said. “We need to get out of here.”
“That’s what I was thinking about,” he said. “I think I left my flashlight by the monitor.”
“Well, that’s fucking fantastic,” said Roy. “Where the hell is the monitor?”
It took us a half hour of groping in the dark to find the door. The angels must have been smiling on us because the door was ajar. Jasper said the door opening and closing must have been programmed into the sequence. I didn’t really give a crap as long as we could get out of there.
Once we were oriented, finding the monitor and the flashlight was relatively easy. Roy shined the light around the room. The lights, the computer, everything seemed dead.
“We must have popped a breaker,” I said.
“We popped something,” said Roy. “Can we just get out of here? I feel like shit.”
“Can you smell that?” asked Jasper. “Something shorted.”
“I think we should go,” I said.
“Sure,” said Jasper. “As long as Bobby and company are gone.”
“They have to be gone by now,” said Roy.
“How do you know?” asked Japer. “Let me see your watches, mine stopped.”
We held out our wrists and Jasper shined the light on them, but they had stopped, too.
“We might have been out ten minutes or ten hours. There’s no way to tell.”
“There’s one way,” I said. “Go up and look.”
We slowly climbed the steep steps up to the surface. Of course, there was always the possibility that when we unbarred and opened the door, they might be out there waiting for us. And even after we opened the door, we still couldn’t be sure because it was dark; night had fallen. But there was no sound either; I couldn’t hear a single dirt bike.
“Holy shit!” shouted Roy. “How long were we in there?” When we had entered the bunker it had still been late morning, about eleven or so.”
“I don’t know,” said Jasper, but this probably explains where the lights went. Solar power isn’t very effective at night.” He shown the flashlight around a little more, and we saw his jeep. “At least they never found this place,” he said.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“My jeep is still in once piece,” he said. That made sense.
“Well, come on; let’s go,” said Roy hopping into the back. “This place is seriously creeping me out.”
“Sure,” said Jasper, “we’ll get going, just as soon as you change the tire.”
“Oh fuck! I forgot,” shouted Roy. “Hey, wait a minute. Why am I changing the tire?”
“I don’t know,” said Jasper. “You just seem the most motivated.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Come on, Roy,” I said. “We’ll help.”
As it turned out Roy and I did most of the work while Jasper held the flashlight. Changing a tire by flashlight is no picnic, especially when you feel like crap, but we got it done.
Then we had a half hour discussion on weather or not we should turn on the headlights. Driving across the desert blind wouldn’t be very smart, but if we turned on the headlights and any one of Bobby’s crew was watching for us, we’d be pretty much screwed. In the end we decided to wait until dawn. The clock in the jeep was working fine, so we knew we had about an hour to kill. We climbed into the jeep, sat down, and believe it or not, fell asleep. By the time we woke up, it was well past dawn. None of us was really feeling any better for our sleep, so we were all a little groggy as Jasper steered us out through the cave and back out among the hills. Thanks to the GPS we were able to find our way to the road without much trouble, and there was no sign of Bobby Bishop and his boys at all. Still, Jasper chose a different spot in the fence to exit through in case anyone was watching the place we came in. We had to cut another hole, but what are you going to do?
Our first stop was a diner. We were still about an hour outside of town and we were all really dehydrated and despite our nausea each of us felt we could eat. I looked down at the menu and didn’t really feel like deciding, so when the server arrived, I just ordered steak and eggs, the Thursday morning special.
“Honey, I’m sorry,” she said. “We don’t serve that today. Why don’t you try this?” And she pointed to ham and eggs, the Monday special.
I wasn’t in the mood to argue so I just said, “Sure, that’ll be fine.” But Jasper leapt out of his seat and ran out of the diner. He was back in a second with a newspaper. He threw it on the table in front of us and said, “Check that out.”
I looked at it. There had been a fire in Phoenix. “So what?” I said.
“The date,” he said. “Check the date.”
I did. Holy crap, this had to be a mistake. It said it was Monday. But yesterday had been Wednesday. This couldn’t be right.
“We’ve been gone for five days,” said Jasper, “five whole days.” I suddenly looked at Jasper, I mean really looked at him. His beard was a little heavy, too heavy for just overnight. I felt my face; so was mine. Oh my God, it was true.
“We’re so screwed,” I said. Disappearing over night would have been difficult enough to explain, but being gone for five days… “What are we going to tell people? We sure as hell can’t tell ‘em the truth.”
“No,” said Jasper. “You know they’re going to think the worst no matter what we say. It might be best to go back just long enough to get our stuff and then leave town.”
That almost sounded like the best idea. The last year had been very hard for us in Patch of Grass. For me it started the morning after we saved Roy. When I got home, my dad was waiting for me. “We need to have a little talk,” he said. I wasn’t completely sure what this was about, but I had a suspicion it had to do with last night.
“It’s time you gave some serious thought to your future,” he said. “People around here are saying some mighty hurtful things about you.”
“I can’t help what people say,” I said.
“Yes, you can,” he said, “probably more than you know. I spent the afternoon talking with Pastor Roberts about you. And we both agreed you need to become more involved in the community, volunteer some time down at the church, stop spending so much time with Jasper and maybe date a girl or two. You’re a good looking young man. No reason why you should have any trouble in that department.”
I started to get a little angry. “What business is it of yours or Pastor Roberts how I spend my time?”
“Look, son,” he said, “If you want to spend your life among these people, it’s high time you started learning how to live with them. They don’t know you like I do. You’re a good person and eventually they’ll see that, but you’ve got to give them a chance.”
So that was it. Play straight and true until they learned to love me and would forgive my little fault. I didn’t much like what my dad was saying but I knew he meant well and I could tell I’d already caused him some trouble—although he’d never say anything to me about it.
The next day, I paid a visit to Pastor Roberts. It was partly to honor my father’s request and partly because I thought volunteering some time at the church was a good idea anyway, but of course I had another reason too. We weren’t going to be able to get Roy settled in Patch of Grass without some help from someone in authority. After all, Roy was still a minor and I knew there had to be all kinds of complications involved in that.
Pastor Roberts was basically a good man and I’d known him all my life. I still went to church practically every Sunday, so I was no stranger to him either. He was happy to see me and said so. There was plenty to do at the church and I spent the morning sweeping and dusting the sanctuary. When I was done, I knocked on his study door.
“All done, lad?” he asked.
I nodded. “Pastor, I have something I need to talk to you about.” And then I told him about Roy. I didn’t hold anything back. There were times for discretion but this wasn’t one of them. I knew if I wanted the Pastor’s help, I’d have to be very clear on exactly who and what Roy was.
When I was finished, he leaned back in his chair folded his hands and sighed. “It’s such a shame,” he said. “So young.” Then he looked me in the eye. “This is a great responsibility you’re taking on,” he said, “the welfare of another human being, especially one with such a tragic history. I want you to know starting out, that it’s possible he can’t be saved.”
“What are you talking about,” I said. “Of course he can be saved.”
“I’m not saying we won’t try,” said the Pastor, “but sometimes the damage is too severe.”
“But you’ll help?” I said.
“Yes,” he nodded. “To start, the boy must be brought here. He can’t stay with your friend, Jasper. As good intentioned as he might be, it would raise too many uncomfortable questions.” Then he folded his fingers and leaned back in his chair. “Speaking of uncomfortable questions, I hope you understand that I must ask you one. I have to know that your motives are truly altruistic, that there isn’t any other reason why you want this boy around.”
I was struck momentarily dumb. Obviously he thought I might want Roy for my own personal sex slave. My first reaction was anger. How dare he even suggest such a thing? Then there was a kind of shock and embarrassment. The Pastor knew about my orientation, but he didn’t come right out and say it. He was talking around it, just as my dad had done. I guess I should expect this kind of thing from now on, a sort of uncomfortable acknowledgement of a rather distasteful truth. Which brought me back to the question the Pastor had asked. I could tell he hadn’t liked asking it, and at the same moment, I understood that it was necessary that he did.
“No,” I said. “No other reason.”
“Good,” he said. “Then bring the boy by this evening and we’ll start the ball rolling. I can make him a ward of the church, but first his family will have to be contacted. We have to do this right. And we’ll need to get him back into school. I’m going to rely on you to break that news to him. He probably won’t like it. They never do.”
And the Pastor was right. Roy didn’t like it. In fact, he was talking about spending just enough time in Patch of Grass to recover from his injuries and then heading off to Vegas to try his luck there. And suddenly I understood what the Pastor had meant when he said we might not be able to save him.
Jasper and I spent most of the afternoon trying to convince Roy to stay in Patch of Grass at least until he graduated from High School. It might not be much here, but he had friends and people willing to look after him. He finally agreed to give it a week and see how it went.
True to my word, I dropped Roy off at the Pastor’s that evening. His wife, Jeanie, was truly shocked at his condition, all puffed up and bruised. She fussed over him continuously. At first he looked a little uncomfortable with the fuss she was making over him, but by the time I left, I think he was starting to enjoy it.
And there was also a little surprise waiting for me at the Pastor’s, Esther Quigley. Esther was my age and apparently had spent the day with Jeanie visiting shut-ins. The Pastor asked if I wouldn’t mind taking Esther home. Subtlety was not his strong point.
Esther was a truly nice person. I’d known her all my life, grown up with her, and now I knew I was expected to date her. It was during that drive to Esther’s house, while we made small talk, that I made my decision. In a couple of years, when Jasper left Patch of Grass, I would be going with him.
I didn’t ask Esther out, during that drive, but I knew I very well might in the next few days, just to keep people happy. After I dropped her off, I headed straight for Jasper’s. Things were going to have to change. It’s not like we had to stop seeing each other, we just needed to be much more careful about it.
When I told Jasper that I intended to leave with him, he was delighted. He told me he knew eventually I’d reach that decision. He just didn’t know how long it would take me. In the mean time, we had to pick random meeting spots and times. It was pretty clear we needed to arrive and leave separately, letting as few people as possible see us together. It all looked great on paper. There were just a couple of things we didn’t reckon on: Bobby Bishop and Roy.
We didn’t know it at the time, but thanks to the fact that we’d beaten up two of his buddies, Bobby Bishop had decided to target us, and he was a lot smarter than any beer doused red neck had a right to be.
And Roy… Well, I didn’t get back to the Pastors’ again for the rest of the week. Dad kept me pretty busy at the store, and I finally asked Esther out to the movies. There were also one or two illicit rendezvous with Jasper. When I finally did make it over there, I had a shock. The Pastor called Roy down, telling him he had a visitor, and when the kid entered the room I almost let out an audible gasp.
Roy was beautiful.
The bruises had faded and all the swelling was gone and what was left was a face angels would be jealous of. He had a strong chin, high cheek bones and eyes so blue they’d shame the Caribbean. Add in a slightly unruly head of light brown hair and holy crap, this kid shouldn’t be going to Vegas, he should be going to LA to become a model. Abercrombie and Fitch would have snapped him up in a second. However rough his life had been, it was obvious he hadn’t starved. He had broad shoulders and a toned athletic build. He had nice pecs and a six pack; that much was clear even through his t shirt. And his biceps were just large enough to pull his short sleeves tight around them. And now, all healed and cleaned up, he was the picture of health. He looked at me and smiled and I almost went weak in the knees.
“Well, hey, Roy, how are you feeling?” I managed to sound cheerful and normal, even though my hormones had just gone into overdrive.
“Okay, I guess,” he said. Had his voice always sounded so deep and rich?
“You start school, yet?” I asked, struggling like hell to keep my voice steady.
“Next week,” he said, not sounding at all enthusiastic. “I should be a junior, but I missed a year so they’re putting me in with the sophomores.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “Graduation will be here before you know it.”
“I guess,” he said shrugging. Man, did this conversation sound as stilted as it felt?
“Well, you’ll have to stop by the store sometime and tell me how you like it.”
The Pastor filled him in on our family enterprise. “Yeah, sure, okay,” he said. He actually sounded cheerful at the thought.
Then I made an excuse and fled the house. I broke the speed limit getting home, raced to the shower where, just a few minutes later, I exploded with the best orgasm I’d had in months.
Roy was going to be a problem.
Roy was a huge problem. We might be able to explain Jasper and me being gone for 5 days, but Roy… Roy was another matter. And Jasper’s plan to go back just long enough to grab our stuff and then disappear, that wouldn’t work either.
“We can’t just run off with Roy,” I said. “He’s a minor and a ward of the church. It would be kidnapping. And we can’t just leave him there either.”
“Well, what do you want us to do?” asked Jasper annoyed.
“I don’t know,” I snapped back at him, “something that doesn’t involve kidnapping might be nice.”
“Will you two ladies calm down?” said Roy. “Jeeze, you’d think neither of you had ever had to lie before.”
“What kind of lie is going to cover this?” asked Jasper.
“Easy,” said Roy, turning to me. “Last Wednesday you came home and found a note from me under your door. I was saying goodbye. I’d finally had enough of Patch of Grass and was setting out for Vegas. You grabbed Jasper, there, and the two of you came after me. It took you a few days, but you finally found me and talked me into coming back, and you were so sick with worry that you didn’t remember to call anyone.”
Wow, I was stunned. That might actually work.
“Roy, you are an evil genius,” said Jasper, grinning.
“What can I say?” said Roy. “Once again my deprived background saves my ass.”
And so that was our story. We sat at the diner for another hour. I think we each ate three breakfasts—after all we had some lost time to make up for—and then we went home.
Of course my parents had nearly wept when they saw me. They thought I was dead. Jasper’s family had thought the same about him. The Pastor of all people was the hardest sell. I’m not sure he ever quite believed us. In the end it was my reputation that sold our story to everyone else. I guess my dad had been right. All that community volunteering and dating Esther had started to alter people’s opinion of me. And there were even some who admired my attempt to save Roy. I wondered what they’d say if they knew about that first night Roy came tapping on my window.
That had happened a little over a week after Roy went to live with the Pastor, and just about midnight. I’d always been a light sleeper. And when I first heard the tapping, I wasn’t sure what it was. I was a little surprised to pull back my curtain and find Roy out there. Talk about being visited by angles, this had to be pretty close. He was so breathtaking I’d swear he was almost glowing.
“Hi,” he said.
“Roy, what are you doing here?”
“I wanted to see you. Can I come in?”
That was a dangerous request, but I knew my parents were sound sleepers so I stood back and let him climb in through the window. As soon as he got into my room, he went to the door and locked it.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I just want a little privacy. Living with the Pastor is okay, but none of the doors have locks and I never feel like I’m alone, if you know what I mean?”
I did know what he meant, but what I said was, “You don’t have to do that. My parents will never wake up until morning. They sleep like the dead.”
His eyes went wide. “Really?” It suddenly occurred to me that what I’d just said sounded like an invitation. Maybe it was my hormones overriding my brain. I don’t know. But the next thing I knew, he was saying, “Man, it’s so hot around here.” And then he reached behind him and pulled off his t shirt. Fuck, he had a body, a fair amount of muscle and he was ripped… but still slightly bruised.
“I guess you’re still a little bruised.”
“Oh these?” he said looking at his slightly purple side. “These are new. There’s a kid at school, a big kid, Nathan Bix. He doesn’t like me.”
He shrugged. “I’ve had worse.” He flopped down on my bed.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“What do you think?” He smiled impishly and tugged at his waste band, giving me a slight peek at his upper pubes.
“You’re just a kid,” I said.
“I’m over the age of consent,” he said, “and besides you can’t be that much older than me. What are you, twenty?”
“Nineteen,” I said.
“See, still a teenager like me.” Then he reached over and pulled me down on top of him and before I knew it, I was kissing him with a passion I didn’t know I had. Then I was wriggling out of my shirt and just the feel of his bare hard chest against mine was almost enough to make me cum on the spot.
“Slow down, Tiger,” he said, “or it will be over too fast.” He rolled out from under me, stood up and did this little striptease thing where he slowly shed his pants bopping to music only he could hear. I’d never seen anything like it outside of a porno video. And he was so much better at it, and so damn hot. In a minute he was standing there dressed only in his tight briefs which did nothing to hide his endowment, which now stood a good nine inches stiff, fully erect, and plastered against his groin. I was transfixed.
Then he leaned down and still bopping to the same music, began working on my fly. He slowly pulled it down, and then with one impressive jerk, yanked my pants half way off. He peeled back my boxers and my member sprang to attention. Then he was on it, licking it, sucking it, caressing it, and I was gone. I had left planet earth and traveled to some other dimension where excruciating pleasure was all that existed. I don’t know how long I was there, but the explosion that brought me back was enough to crack my world wide open and leave me ruined, exhausted, and scared I’d never get back there again. I’d gotten head from Jasper before but it was never anything like that.
When I looked up, he was wiping of his mouth and smiling at me. “Did you like that?”
I nodded, and he began pulling up his pants.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “What about you?”
“Don’t worry about me,” he said, “I’m pretty good at taking care of myself. It’s just that you’ve been so nice to me, I wanted to do something nice for you.”
“Teach me,” I said.
“Teach you what?” he said.
“Teach me how you do that.”
He looked uncertain for a minute but then he said, “Okay.” He let his pants drop again. “It took a while for me to figure it out,” he said “It’s as much instinct and intuition as anything else, but I’ll show you what I can.”
He stepped out of his briefs, and for the first time I saw the full glory of his cock It was only semi erect, but a couple of swift, skillful caresses from him and it jumped to full attention. If I hadn’t just had the orgasm of a lifetime, I probably would have cum again just watching that.
Then he began pointing out the different areas of his cock head, and explaining how some areas were more sensitive than others and how to tell when you’d struck the most sensitive area. “It’s different on everyone,” said Roy. “I know where mine is, but I’m not going to tell you. I’ll let you find it on your own.”
I had a feeling I was about to get my first quiz.
“Go ahead,” he said. “I’ll walk you through it.”
So I took his cock in my hand—
“Gently,” he said
So I took his cock gently in my hand and began to softly probe it with my tongue.
“That’s good. That’s good,” he said. “Keep going. Right around there. Just a bit harder. A little more… Oh God… A little more. Sweet Jesus. You’re really getting it. OH FUCK THAT’S GOOD! Keep it coming. DAMN! You’ve… You’ve… OH FUCK OH FUCK OH FUCK!!!!”
And then he came, in my mouth, on my face, on my chest, all over the place. When it was done he looked down on me and said. “You’re a quick learner.” And I laughed. I couldn’t help myself.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“We’re supposed to be curing you of your wicked ways.”
“And do you?”
“Want to cure me of my wicked ways?”
“I’d rather die.”
“Don’t do that. You’re, like, the only good thing in Patch of Grass. If we could do this once in a while it might make High School bearable.”
Well, our goal was to keep the kid in school…
The next time I saw Jasper, it was at a motel twenty miles down the road. To say I surprised him with my new skill would be an understatement. Of course I had to tell him all about Roy. And before long, we were trying to figure out how we could include him in our little trysts.
Of course, the thought did occur to us that we might just be exploiting a troubled youth. But then again there was no doubt he was gay, and if anyone knew how lonely being gay in Patch of Grass was, it was us. So we agreed no sex, just companionship, until such time as all three of us deemed it appropriate. Roy didn’t like that very much, but as the year progressed, Jasper and I decided to wait until he was eighteen, which, at the time we encountered the bunker, was only around the corner.
It was only a couple of days after we returned from the bunker that the flaking first appeared. I didn’t think much of it. You live in the desert, you get sunburned from time to time and a little flaking skin is pretty common. But it just seemed to get worse. And I was eating ridiculous amounts of food, maybe four or five times what I usually ate. I always seemed to be hungry. I kept telling myself it was just my body recovering from its five-day coma. Although I would have assumed I’d recover a little faster. I didn’t really get worried until Sunday rolled around.
I woke up that morning to find even more skin peeling off my body—all over. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong with me. I hadn’t been out in the sun that much, certainly not enough to cause this. I looked awful. I did my best to remove the dead skin, but that left large patches of raw red looking skin in its place. Yuck. I did not like this, but there wasn’t much I could do about it, so I just dressed, went downstairs and ate a monster breakfast.
“You spend too much time in the sun,” my mom said. “It’s not good for you.” I just shrugged and inhaled another waffle.
I went to church kind of hoping I’d run into Roy. I hadn’t seen him since we’d gotten back. The three of us had made the decision to stay away from each other for a while, at least until things had calmed down a bit. So, I was looking forward to maybe exchanging a couple of words with him at church. I saw him all right; he had patches of new pink skin all over his forehead and cheeks. He was peeling just like me. And then it clicked. This had something to do with that bunker. Suddenly, I was scared. What had it done to us? Did we have some kind of cancer? Were we going to die?
Roy took one look at me and I could see him making the same connection, but I didn’t actually get to talk to him until after the service when everyone was out front chatting. I tired to slide over to him as casually as possible.
“Tell me you fell asleep in the sun,” I said quietly.
“No, dude,” he said. “You?”
“No,” I said.
“Are you, like, really stuffing your face all the time?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, a little surprised. Was that part of this too? “You think, you know, we’ve got cancer or something?”
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Have you weighed yourself?”
“No,” I said. “Why?”
“I’ve put on 5 pounds in the past week,” he said. “I’m no doctor or anything, but if we had cancer shouldn’t we be loosing weight?”
That was a good point. And that’s all we really had time to say because the Pastor joined us, and we had to make small talk about the weather and how nice the garden looked.
As soon as I got home I weighed myself. I didn’t weight myself often, so I wasn’t really sure if I’d gained or lost weight, but a hundred and forty five pounds seemed a little heavy for me.
And then suddenly I needed to see Jasper. I had to know if these things were happening to him, too. I mean, I knew we were supposed to stay away from each other, but this was way too important.
When Jasper opened his door, I had my confirmation, peeling skin on his arms and face.
“Hey,” he said, “I’m glad you’re here. Come on in.”
I walked in and suddenly all my concerns just poured out of me. I told him all about my conversation with Roy. What was that bunker? Were we going to die? What was happening to us?
Jasper said, “I don’t think we’re going to die. Come here.” He led me into his workroom, a place that was constantly littered with computer components, books and note books. But today it had something new; today, it had a microscope.
“Where’d you get that?” I asked.
“The high school,” he said. “I borrowed it. Mr. Johnson always liked me.” All the teachers liked him. He was their best student. When he took a class, he didn’t just learn the subject, he obsessed on it. He would research every aspect of it, even things not covered by the class or the text. By the end of the semester, he knew more about the subject than the teacher. But that was Jasper.
“I’ve been looking at this,” he said, peeling a flake of skin from his arm.
“And?” I said.
“And it’s exactly what you’d expect it to be, dead skin. But,” he continued, “what’s far more interesting is this.” He pointed to a patch of the new pink skin. I could see he’d cut himself there. “It’s different.”
“What do you mean, it’s different?”
“It’s hard to say exactly with just this microscope, but it’s not like ordinary skin.” Then he reached over to his bench and picked up a scalpel.
“Borrowed it. Do you mind,” he said pointing to my arm.
“No,” I said. “Just don’t take too much. I’m losing enough as it is.”
“You’ll never miss it,” he said, smiling “Watch this.” Then he took up his scalpel and drew it across some of my new pink skin. Nothing happened. Then he began applying a little pressure and sawing back and forth a little. It felt funny but it didn’t hardly hurt at all.
“If you were going to borrow a scalpel, why didn’t you borrow a sharp one,” I said.
“I did,” said Jasper, finally coming away with a tiny sliver of my skin, and placing it on a microscope slide. “This is sharp.” Then he picked up a piece of paper and shredded it with three quick strokes from the scalpel.
“I don’t get it,” I said. “Why didn’t it cut me easier?”
“Because this skin is not like ordinary skin,” said Jasper.
“You mean we have some kind of skin disease?”
“No. No sign of disease,” said Jasper, “at least not that I could find.”
“You’re not a doctor,” I said. “How do you know?”
“No, I’m not a doctor. I wouldn’t be able to tell you what you had, but I could probably tell you if you had something.” He put the slide on the microscope and looked at it. “But I don’t think you do, and neither do I, and I’m guessing neither does Roy.”
“Then what is all this?” I said, pulling another piece of peeling skin from my body.
“I don’t know but it’s a pretty good guess it has something to do with that bunker. I’m going back there.”
“There was a lot of encrypted documentation on that computer. I’m prepared now,” He said patting his laptop. “I shouldn’t have too much trouble breaking into a bunch of twenty-five year old files. Then we’ll get our answers.” He started for the door, but paused. “But first, I need to eat again. I’m starving.”
“Yeah,” I smiled, “Me too. Come on, my treat, we’ll go to Hometown and clean out their buffet.” Hometown was about ten miles up the highway. We may not have cleaned it out, but pickings were a lot slimmer when we left, that’s for sure.
By the time I got home I was hungry again. Good thing mom was just about to serve dinner, and when I got up from the table, it was pretty much empty.
“You’re becoming quite the chow hound, there buddy,” said my dad. “Makes me wonder what you were doing up at Hometown with Jasper.”
“What?” I said. How the hell did he know about that?
“Lou Turgent was in here a while ago. Happened to mention he saw you. I thought you were going to give Jasper a little space,” he said.
“So, now you’ve got people spying on me?” I said, my voice rising to a shout.
“Not spying. He just happened to drop by the shop.”
“Lou Turgent lives 5 miles from Hometown—in the other direction. How did he just happen to drop by our shop? No, don’t tell me. He developed an urgent need for an Indian dream catcher.”
“That attitude isn’t helping,” he said. “Folks around here are just starting to like you. I don’t want to see you ruin it for yourself.”
I opened my mouth to answer, but he cut me off. “And if Lou Turgent can see you out with Jasper, anyone can.”
I was suddenly so mad, I couldn’t speak. It was like my life wasn’t my own, like I was living in some kind of dictatorship where my every move was being watched. I turned and stormed from the kitchen and went straight to my room. I was starting to wonder if I was going to make it until Jasper finished The Project.
The next day I was a nervous wreck waiting to hear from Jasper. I wondered what he was doing at the bunker. What was wrong with us? What could possibly be taking so long?
I stayed up until well after midnight, hoping Jasper would call, but he didn’t. I wondered he was sleeping at the bunker and if he was maybe still there, and even more, I wondered what he had found out. I tried to sleep once or twice but I couldn’t. There was too much running around in my head and not enough in my stomach. I was starving again. Around one o’clock I heard a tap at my window. I pulled back the curtain and there was Roy.
“Hey dude,” he said, “how about a lift out to Conocco’s?”
Conocco’s was an all night truck stop about fifteen miles up the freeway. “I’m starving.” Boy, I was starting to hear that phrase a lot. My first thought was we really shouldn’t go, but I was still angry about my father and Hometown that I decided to screw it all and go anyway. Besides, I was starving, too.
15 minutes later we walked into the brightly lit dining room at Conocco’s and slid into a booth. I looked around for anyone I knew, and didn’t see anyone. I hated that I even had to look. The server came by and we each ordered four cheese burgers.
“You sure?” she asked. “They’re pretty big.”
“Not big enough,” said Roy. She looked at us like she thought we were crazy, and walked off to place our order. Then Roy started looking around. He spotted someone at the other end of the dining room and nodded at them. “I haven’t been in here in a long time,” he said and he almost sounded wistful about it. I turned around to see who he nodded at and spotted this big truck driver staring at Roy like a hungry man stares at the deer he’s about to kill for supper.
“You know that guy?” I asked.
“Sure,” said Roy. “That’s Hank. He’s a teddy bear.”
“You sure that isn’t Grizzly?”
“No,” laughed Roy. “You want to meet him?”
“Okay,” he said. “Be right back.” Then he got up and walked over to Hank’s table. They spoke for a few minutes and then Hank got up and stepped into the men’s room. About thirty seconds later, Roy followed after him.
I was stunned. I mean, I knew what he was doing, and it was pretty clear he knew what he was doing. The smooth professionalism was amazing, and at the same time, a little chilling. I thought he was past that. And yet the ease with which he slipped back into roll left me wondering how much I really knew him.
Our burgers arrived ten minutes later and Roy came back not much after, but I was already half way through my food. The server had been right. They were pretty big.
“Hey, hey,” he said, his face lighting up at the sight of the sandwiches. “Burgers are here. Tell you what, foods on me.”
“I can’t believe you just did that,” I said.
“What?” he said. “I could use the cash. The Pastors kinda cheep. Besides, I’ve got urges, too, and you won’t put out.” Then he dove into his burgers. I couldn’t believe he was putting this on me.
Then the door opened and a couple more overweight bearded truck drivers came in. “Oh look, it’s Jessie,” he said. Then he turned to me. “You want him?”
“You wanna blow him? The money’s pretty good. I’ll set it up… for ten percent. Come on, you can do it. You’re pretty good. Not as good as me, of course, but I wanna eat.”
“What?” I was in shock, speechless for a second and then Roy broke out laughing.
“You should see the look on your face,” he said, guffawing. Roy had kind of a goofy laugh. “Dude, I’m only messing with you. I don’t even know who those guys are. But you totally fell for it, fucking hilarious!” He kept on laughing, while he was eating.
It took a second for it to sink in. I’d been punked. Then I started laughing, too.
Then the laughter died on his lips and he sank down into his seat.
“What’s the matter?”
“Remember that Grizzly you were talking about?”
“He just walked in.”
I turned to look.
“No, don’t look!” hissed Roy. But it was too late. I’d seen him and he’d seen me, and what’s worse, he’d seen Roy. And this guy was big; I’m talking six foot four at least. He had a slight gut on him, but it was dwarfed by his broad shoulders and a huge chest. And those arms… This guy didn’t spend all his time in a truck cab; that was for sure.
He had stopped in the middle of the dining room and was staring straight at us. He looked like a bull getting ready to charge.
“Fuck,” said Roy. “Let’s get out of here.” Then he got up and took off, not for the front door, but for the kitchen. Not really sure what to do, I took off after him.
The kitchen workers acted like they were used to their customers busting in and running for the back door. They pretty much ignored us as we quickly slipped through. But the big guy, there was no way they could ignore him. He was right behind us. I didn’t look but I could hear him knocking things over and shoving people out of his way. This guy was a bulldozer.
I flew out the back door and I looked just in time to see Roy’s bottom half disappearing inside a dumpster. With no time to think, I just followed him in, and the lid slammed shut behind us. Man, the thing stank. I didn’t want to guess what we were sharing it with.
“Wha…” was all I got out before Roy shushed me. We sat very still and quiet. It wasn’t hard to hear the slam of the door as the Big Guy came tearing through it. We heard his heavy footsteps as he ran a short distance and then stopped. There were a couple of moments of silence. I’m pretty sure I was holding my breath. Then I heard some slow footsteps and the door slammed again.
“Wha…” I started again but then Roy put a hand over my mouth, and held a finger to his lips. Another minute passed and then Roy dropped his hand from my mouth and seemed to relax. “Sorry, dude, but old Eugene there is a tricky one. I wanted to make sure he was really gone. We should stay here a couple more minutes just in case he’s still looking for us.”
“What’d you do to him?”
“What’d I do to him?” he snorted a laugh. “We entered into a transaction, standard BJ. But he decided he’d rather rape me. He beat me up pretty bad, and when it was over, he even refused to pay, said I was a lousy lay, and just left me there at the side of the road, bleeding.”
“That’s okay. A couple of weeks later I saw him at a truck stop. I knew he kept his cash in the cab. So while he was inside, I robbed him blind; figured he owed me. Only trouble was he saw me leaving. He chased me for about half a mile before he finally ran out of steam. But I can still hear him yelling, swearing to kill me if he ever laid eyes on me again.”
Just then we heard the unmistakable snarl of a semi engine.
“Fuck,” said Roy. He threw open the lid and we both looked out just in time to see a giant semi cab barreling down on us. There was no time to do anything. We were dead.
The truck’s headlights were blinding me, so I didn’t actually see it hit. I got slammed back against the rear dumpster wall. I felt oddly weightless for a second. I guess the dumpster must be flying through the air. There was a sudden, hard impact and then I was tumbling, rolling end over end, being smashed against the jagged broken sides of the dumpster and smothered in the unimaginable stench of rotting garbage. I finally tumbled out and slid about fifteen yards across the asphalt, before I stopped.
I lay there looking straight up at the night sky and the stars, amazed I was still alive and afraid to move, certain I’d discover some hideous mortal injury. But there wasn’t that much pain. I figured it was because I was either paralyzed or in shock. But in a couple of minutes, when my vision didn’t go foggy and I didn’t start to choke on my own blood, I decided to try sitting up. And to my astonishment, I could. My clothes were torn, I was bleeding and bruised, but otherwise I seemed okay—which was impossible. And there was Roy, not ten yards away from me, pulling himself to his feet. Christ! It was a miracle.
“Dude,” he said, coming over to me. “You okay?”
“I should be dead,” I said. “You too. What the hell happened?”
“Guess we got lucky.”
“No, dude, this goes way beyond luck,” I said. “This is something else.”
I got up and walked over to the dumpster. God, it was barely recognizable anymore. It had been crushed like a soda can.
How the hell was I alive?
We decided to get away from Conocco’s as fast as we could. It was a good bet Eugene wasn’t hanging around, since he probably thought he’d killed us. But we decided to play it safe anyway. On the way home, I brought Roy up to speed on Jasper’s skin experiments and his research trip out to the bunker.
“So you think that’s what saved us in the dumpster, our skin?” he asked, examining one of the pink patches on his arm.
“No, this is more than skin. I wish Jasper would get back.”
“What do you mean? I saw him at Druckers’ last night.” Druckers’ was our local grocery store.
“Druckers’? What was he doing there?”
“Buying food, lots and lots of food. Pretty much what I was doing, only on a much bigger scale.”
“You mean he’s back and he didn’t call me?”
Roy just shrugged. I was pissed. Here I was loosing sleep thinking about him at the bunker and he’d been home all this time! I was sorely tempted to drive straight over there, wake him up and find out what the hell was going on. But I knew Roy would want to go with me and I had to get him home before the Pastor woke up and found him missing. Plus I was getting a little sleepy myself, and my stomach was starting to growl again.
“Hey,” said Roy, “When you go over there, I want to go too.”
I knew it. “I’m not going til tomorrow morning and you have school.”
“Fuck school,” said Roy. “This is my body.” He peeled off a large piece of skin. “And if any more of it is going to start dropping off, I want to know.”
He had a point. “Okay,” I said, “Meet me outside of Druckers’ tomorrow at eight sharp. Don’t make me wait.”
I pulled up in front of the Pastors and Roy hopped out. “Have a good sleep,” I told him.
“I would,” said Roy, “except for one thing:” He paused and looked at me with this pained expression on his face. “I’m starving.”
“Yeah, me too, Roy, me too.” Then I went home and I raided the fridge. I felt a little guilty because it was almost empty by the time I turned in. But far more than guilt, another thought was gnawing at my mind: if the fridge was empty, what was I going to have for breakfast?
The next morning I woke with the sunlight streaming in my window, hitting me in the face. Damn! I sat up. What time was it? I looked at my bedside clock. It was 9:43! Fuck! I jumped out of bed and into the shower. I was feeling kind of weird, almost dizzy, but not quite. I chalked it up to lack of sleep. Then there was my peeling skin; it was worse than ever. And of course I was ravenous. I showered real quick, and hit the kitchen. If anything, there was less food in there than the night before. I’d have to get something on the way. I was pretty sure Roy wouldn’t object. Oh man, Roy! And I told him not to make me wait!
I ran over to the store. I’d have to tell mom and dad something. I was a little amazed they let me sleep like that.
“So, the sleepy head awakes,” said my Mom. “Did you have a nice sleep in?”
“I guess. Why didn’t you wake me?”
She just started laughing. “Why didn’t we wake him? Did you hear that, Frank? Why didn’t we wake him?”
“Well, son,” said my dad, laughing as well, “we sure tried. We shook you, shouted at you, turned your stereo up full blast. We did everything short of pouring cold water on you, but nothing seemed to work. We figured if you were that tired we ought to just let you sleep.”
“Really?” That didn’t sound right. I was a pretty light sleeper.
And there was something odd about my dad. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. He looked older somehow—no, not older, smaller. He looked like he’d shrunk a little. I guess age was supposed to do that to you, but he was only in his mid-forties.
“I’m sorry to have to do this to you, especially after sleeping in like that, but I have to go out for a little while.”
“That’s okay, son,” said my dad. “I think we can do without you for an hour or so.”
“Thanks dad, I shouldn’t be any longer than that.” And I took off, hopped into my car and made a bee line for Druckers’. When I got there, Roy was nowhere to be seen. Damn. I missed him. Well, I was more than two hours late. I wondered what happened to him. Did he just go to school when I didn’t show up? Knowing Roy, probably not. Then I heard him shouting.
“Dude! Hey, dude!” I looked in my rear view mirror and saw him running up, carrying his shoes in his hand. “Dude, I can’t believe your still here,” he said, pulling open the door and hopping in. “I just couldn’t get my ass out of bed this morning. Seriously, it was like ten before I even woke up.”
“It’s okay. I was a little late myself.”
“And then I couldn’t get my fucking shoes on. My feet must have swollen or something, probably from getting thrashed in that dumpster.”
“Yeah, probably,” I said. My shoes had been a little tight this morning, too.
That was funny; looking at him, he didn’t seem bruised at all. His skin was still peeling but other than that he didn’t have a scratch. Then it struck me: neither did I. When I’d showered earlier, I’d been blemish free. Weird. I started the engine. The sooner we got to Jasper’s and got some answers, the better. All the way over, Roy struggled with his shoes. He finally got them on just as we pulled up.
“Man, I hope the swelling goes down soon,” said Roy. “These things are fucking killing me.”
I rang the bell and got ready to give him a piece of my mind for not calling. But when the door opened everything I was going to say evaporated from my mind. Standing in front of me was a man who looked like Jasper, but simply couldn’t be. He was a little taller than Jasper, but had the same face. The rest of him, however, was completely different. He was standing there in one of Jasper’s button down shirts with the front was wide open, giving us a clear view of his six pack abs. And this guy had pecs, not huge or anything but definitely clear and present. To top it off, his short sleeves revealed a thicker pair of arms then Jasper ever had. Finally, there was no sign of peeling skin. His skin looked tan, bronzed and healthy.
“Hi, guys,” he said, pretending to stretch so he could flex and make those muscles bulge. “Nice of you to stop by.”
“Holy shit! What the fuck happened to you?” said Roy.
This shit eating grin exploded across his face and he said, “Come on in and I’ll tell you.”
“Is this a joke, or something?” I said, entering, but not taking my eyes off him. “You’re like Jasper’s cousin or something, right?”
“No, it’s me.” he said, chuckling, “but I can see your confusion. I don’t look much like me, do I?” He flexed his bicep and it bulged up into a ball. It looked round and solid, and as he looked at it, his face broke out in a huge grin once again. “I don’t feel much like me either, but somehow I don’t mind the change,” he said.
This was wrong. Jasper didn’t have any muscle. He didn’t even like working out. He said it was for dullards. And even if he had been working out, I’d have known. “I don’t understand,” I said. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know if you’re ready for this, but have a seat and I’ll tell you,” said Jasper.
Roy and I grabbed seats on the sofa and waited for Jasper to begin. Instead he just seemed to hover for a minute before he said, “I bet you guys are hungry.”
“Starving,” I said, “but it can wait. Start explaining.”
“No, no,” he said. “What kind of a host would I be if I let my guests go hungry?” Then he disappeared into the kitchen and came out again a minute later with a couple of milk shakes.”
“What’s this?” I asked.
“It’s a little protein plus shake,” he said. “Just the thing to take the edge of your hunger. Go on, try it.”
I took a sip. It was good, strawberry flavored, but a little gritty. In a second I had downed it. I looked over and saw Roy had pretty much done the same thing.
“Better?” asked Jasper.
“Yes, thanks,” I said. “Now how about the explanation?”
“So, you’re full?”
“Yes, I’m full…” It took a split second. Holy crap, I was full! I hadn’t been really full in days!
“Let me introduce you to my secret ingredient,” he said, disappearing into the kitchen. Then he came back in with a fifty pound bag of… sand?
“Sand? You fed us sand?”
“Dude I’ve been eating sand since last night, mixing it in with my food, and look at me.” He pulled off his shirt entirely and gave us a little flexing demonstration. He was ripped. He may not have been very big, but every little muscle on that skinny frame of his was well defined and bulging out. “Sand is good for us, really good for us.”
“I don’t get it,” I said. “How can sand do that? How can we even digest it?”
“Easy,” said Jasper. “Our bodies have been altered, not only genetically but also on the subatomic level.”
There was a moment of stunned silence while Roy and I tried to process this new bit of information.
“That sounds seriously intense,” said Roy, finally.
“It is,” said Jasper. “I don’t know what I expected to find at the bunker, but it wasn’t anything like what was there. They were into some serious Twilight-Zone-Outer-Limits-kind-of-stuff.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Like warping space. All that weird equipment in the testing chamber was based on alien tech salvaged from Roswell.”
“What you mean like the flying saucer?”
Jasper nodded. “Those guys had no idea what they had. They were trying to figure it out using trial and error, and what they wound up doing was opening a hole.”
“A hole? What kind of a hole?”
“A hole into another environment.”
“What does that mean?” asked Roy.
“I don’t know. Even they didn’t know. They weren’t sure if they’d found the gateway to another dimension or another planet or what The Environment was. They only knew it was totally hostel to human life. No way could anyone survive there. The extreme pressure and temperatures would have turned a human being into a fried mashed pancake in seconds. The scientists had to be in full survival suits just to be in the test chamber when the gateway was open. And even with the suits they could only stand it for five minutes at a time without passing out. The program lasted for 12 weeks. At the end of that period, the military could see no advantage to having a gateway to an incredibly hostel environment, so they closed down the project.”
“I don’t get it,” I said. “What does any of this have to do with us… and sand?”
I’m getting to that,” said Jasper. “I found a footnote in one of the scientist’s logs. He noticed there had been subtle changes to their bodies. Now this guy wasn’t an MD or anything; he was a physicist. But he hypothesized that the alien tech that created the gateway was also altering their physiology so they would eventually be able to survive in The Environment. He noted things like tougher skin, an increase in physical strength, endurance, things like that.”
“Holy crap,” I said. “That’s what’s happening to us.”
“Kind of,” said Jasper. “Remember, none of these guys was ever in the test chamber for more than five minutes a day for the entire 12 week period. That means they were each exposed to The Environment for a total of maybe seven hours max during the entire time they were there, and even then they were heavily protected by survival suits. As far as I can tell, we were exposed to the same forces for about 70 hours, and completely unprotected.”
“So, shouldn’t we be dead?” I asked.
“Apparently not,” said Jasper.
“So, like, what happened to us?” asked Roy.
“I think we’re changing,” said Jasper, “adapting to The Environment, and if that’s true…” He grinned and ran his hand over his abs. “…then this is only the beginning.”
“You mean we’re all going to get… bigger, like you?” asked Roy, flexing his arm.
“I should thing so,” said Jasper, “To live in that kind of gravity and atmospheric pressure, probably a lot bigger.”
“Kick ass!” said Roy.
Well that explained Conocco’s. I told Jasper what happened to us the previous night at the truck stop with the dumpster and the truck. But somehow knowing the reason for our survival didn’t make me feel better. In fact, I felt a powerful dread beginning to steel over me.
“And you survived that?” said Jasper, unable to keep the surprise and shock from his voice.
“Survived it?” grinned Roy. “There’s not a fucking scratch on us!”
And he was right. I mean, I thought there had been scratches last night, but now… nothing.
“Fascinating, we’ve obviously advanced even further than I thought,” said Jasper.
“Advanced?” I couldn’t help thinking. Is that what he’s calling it, advanced? The way a disease advances, or a… mutation? Holy crap, we weren’t even human anymore! I felt the dread advance closer to panic.
“But, if we’re all going through the same thing, how come you’re the only one with muscles?” asked Roy.
“Because I’m the only one who’s been eating sand,” said Jasper, once again flexing that bulging bi of his.
“So, what do we do?” I asked, the fear creeping into my voice. But Jasper obviously didn’t hear it.
“I suggest introducing sand into your diet; otherwise you’ll just be hungry all the time. Any hardware store will have it.”
“And where did eating sand come from?” asked Roy.
“Well, I speculated that I was always hungry because I wasn’t getting something my body needed. And if I was being redesigned to survive in The Environment, I needed to think what a living organism would have to eat in order to live there. It’s not like there’s any vegetation. You’d have to be able to eat sand.”
Redesigned? Did he even know what he was saying? I didn’t want to be redesigned. I was happy with my current design… or I guess that was now my old design… Holy crap! Holy fucking crap!
Jasper walked over had hefted the bag onto the coffee table. “Still, I wouldn’t go around just picking up sand off the ground. I’ve been using construction grade sand. It has a regular consistency, no pebbles or rocks.”
“Whoa,” said Roy, “do you think we could eat rocks?”
Rocks? Oh my god, he was talking about eating rocks!
“I wouldn’t try it,” said Jasper. “I don’t think our teeth are strong enough… at least not yet. Think of sand as a kind of baby food. We’ll have to eat it until… well, until we grow up.”
Grow up? What was he talking about? “You mean until we become monsters,” I said.
Again Jasper must have missed the fear in my voice because he just went on like he was giving some kind of mutant tutorial. Jasper never was the most sensitive of people.
“In a sense we already are monsters. The damage is done. You can either moan about it or learn to like it,” Jasper said flexing, and admiring his new body. “And I like this,” he said, “a lot.” And I have to admit, he looked pretty awesome. But that could just be this stage. Who knew where this was going to lead.
“You mean we don’t even try to go back, we just accept this and move forward.”
“Dude, I don’t think there’s anyone on this planet who could tell you exactly how we got like this, never mind how to undo it.”
“Undo it? Are you kidding? This is fucking awesome! This is the most fucking awesomest thing ever!” said Roy. “Jasper, can I have some more sand?”
“Sure, help yourself. But I warn you, eating it plain takes some getting used to. I mean, it may be good for us, but it still tastes like sand.”
“No problemo,” said Roy, and he grabbed a handful, started pouring it into his mouth, gulping it down like a thirsty man in a desert who suddenly discovered sand was as good as water.
“What if we start to develop claws or tentacles or something?” I asked.
“There’s no sign of that,” he said. “Let’s not worry about these things until we have to.”
Roy had finished his handful of sand and was smacking his lips. “That was… weirdly satisfying. You were right, though. It tasted like crap.”
“Try mixing it in with ordinary food. That worked best for me.”
“This is too weird,” I said. “This is just too damn weird. I can’t do this. I’m not some kind of mutant creature. I can’t eat sand.”
“Sure, you can,” said Roy, just before eating another handful. “I think I could actually get used to this. Go on, try some.” He offered the bag to me, but I couldn’t even look at it.
“I want to go home, now,” I said. “You coming, Roy?”
“Ah, no. If it’s okay, I’ll stay here for a while. I’ve got, like, a million questions.”
“Fine,” I said getting up to leave.
Jasper reached out and put his hand on my shoulder. “It’s going to be alright,” he said. “In fact this could be the best thing that ever happened to us.” He seemed so sure; I just wished I could’ve believed him.
I don’t even remember the drive home, or even much about the rest of that day. All I could think about was that my body had been altered and that I would be changing. What was I going to become? About two o’clock, I started to get hungry again. No way was I going to eat sand, no way. If Jasper was any example, it didn’t just satisfy your hunger, it also made those changes happen faster. I was heading down a road where I couldn’t see around the next corner. I figured speeding would be pretty stupid.
I ate a huge lunch but it didn’t really satisfy me, I was still hungry. But I suffered through it the rest of the day. Dinner was the same. That night when I was getting ready for bed, I took a good look at myself in the mirror. My skin was still peeling badly and there were other definite changes. There was no doubt I was taller now, maybe an inch. My pants were looking short, and my shoes were tight. And I could see my abs. I didn’t have a six pack or anything, but I could defiantly make out my stomach muscles lurking just below the surface. My shoulders looked broader, my chest protruded slightly more than it had, and my arms were just a little bit thicker. I resisted the temptation to flex. On the surface, it really did look kinda hot, but what was below the surface? That’s what scared me.
The next day wasn’t any better. Esther called and wanted to see a movie, but I definitely wasn’t in the mood. I was very hungry and irritable. A customer asked me if we had any Apache Tears when he was standing right in front of the display. I think I called him an idiot, or maybe it was a moron. In any case, we didn’t make the sale.
My dad pulled me aside and asked me what the matter was. I wanted to tell him, “I’m turning into a freaking mutant and I’m so hungry I could eat sand!” But instead I just said, “Nothing. I’m sorry I yelled at that guy.”
He looked at me and said, “Maybe you’ve been working too hard. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off?” So, without saying another word to him, I just turned and walked out of the shop. I went directly to my room and climbed into bed. Sleep took me and I didn’t wake up for hours. When I did it was dark out and I could hear tapping on my window. I didn’t want to look. I knew it had to be Roy. But the tapping persisted, and I finally decided to see what he wanted.
I pulled back my curtain and for a second I thought I had been wrong. It wasn’t Roy; it was some truck driver who’d lost his way. But I looked again and saw the face. I felt my breath catch in my throat. It was Roy, but Roy like I’d never seen him.
The face was just as breathtaking as always. But now, leading down from that angelic face, was a thick sturdy neck with a pronounced Adams’s Apple. On either side of that neck and hugged by his too tight t-shirt, were prominent, powerful looking traps. His shoulders had gotten bigger and broader. He had cut the sleeves off his t shirt so you could have a full view of his softball sized, striated delts and his thick, bulging bis, tris, crisscrossed by road map of prominent veins, and followed by amazing, broad forearms. His powerful looking arms were slightly arched. That and his burgeoning lats made his entire body wider. And those large pecs strutting out in front of him, gave his torso some formidable bulk. And there was no doubt he was taller. He had to have been about five eleven before, and now he looked like he was over six feet. He’d always been pretty ripped and now with all this new mass and that model’s face of his, he looked impossible, like someone you could dream up, but who could never really exist.
“Hey, dude,” he said. “Sorry if I woke you. I just wanted to see how you were, you know, coming along.” Then he pulled and double bi pose, and holy crap! His biceps bulged up into twin freakin’ baseballs. “The pastor is freaking,” he said, grinning. “He can’t figure out what’s going on. How are your folks taking it?”
“They haven’t really noticed yet,” I said.
“What,” he said, and he peered through the darkness at me. “Dude, you look the same. What’s the matter?”
“Nothing’s the matter,” I said.
“You’re not eating the sand?” he said. “Jasper said you might not.”
“That’s none of your business,” I said, “or Jasper’s.”
“Dude, look at me,” he said pulling off his shirt, and showing off his ripped muscular torso. He had big ripped pecs now and his six pack was exploding out of his stomach. And unlike me, there wasn’t a sign of peeling skin. He looked even more unreal, impossibly hot and I started getting really stiff.
“See?” he said. “No third eye, no extra arm, just a helluva lot of ripped muscle, about thirty pounds since yesterday. Thirty fucking pounds. And it feels awesome.” He ran his hand over his flexed bicep and grinned. “And I’m just getting started. Jasper said the atmospheric pressure in The Environment is, like, one ton per square inch. Is that like fucking unbelievable or what? One ton per square inch. Do you realized how fucking huge were going to get? Man, I get hard just thinking about it.”
My mind was reeling. One ton per square inch? That was impossible. People couldn’t live in that. …But maybe something else could. It gave me the shivers.
Roy brought his flexed arm right up to the window. “You want to feel?”
His bicep was beautiful and frightening at the same time. It was beautifully formed; the shape and lines were picture perfect. And the size of it, it looked like it was too big for me to cup completely in my hand, but it wasn’t normal muscle. What would it feel like? I couldn’t resist? I reached out hand grabbed hold of his arm. It was warm, hard and solid under my hand. And suddenly he was pulling me out through the window. I struggled for a second, but forget it, he was way too strong. “Let me go!” I shouted and he set me down on the ground.
“You see how strong I am already?” he said. “You didn’t have a fucking chance against me. Can you believe that? Against me! Every fucking truck driver’s punching bag. It’s fucking beautiful, and I’m just going to keep getting bigger. You too. We’re going to be fucking beasts! Come on, dude, what are you waiting for? You must be starving. Franklin Park is just down the street. It’s got a nice sandbox for the kiddies. We could have a picnic.”
“Do you know how weird that sounds?”
“Hey, weird’s been working for me lately.” Then he pulled a most muscular. Damn, I didn’t think I could take much more. He was looking pumped up and just astounding all over. “And after we eat, if you want, we could have a little roll in the grass, and I could show you something else that’s been growing.”
There was a brief second where I almost threw it all away and went with him. Just the idea of having, wild uncontrollable sex with the Adonis in front of me, was almost enough to do it. I kept thinking, “A little sand won’t hurt, just a little.” But then I remembered how Jasper and I had agreed hands off Roy, and how even a little sand would cause changes, changes that could never be undone.
“No, Roy, no,” I said, climbing back into my window.
“Dude,” Roy called after me,” Jasper says you’re going to grow anyway. Just the way you’re doing it’s going to be slow and painful. Why do that to yourself? Especially when going with it is so fucking awesome.”
“I don’t like it,” I told him. “I just don’t like it. It scares me, and I’m just not going to do it. I don’t want to be a freak.” As soon as the word left my mouth I could see I’d made a mistake.
“Oh, like I’m a freak?” He looked hurt and angry. I got the impression I wasn’t the first person to ever call him a freak.
“I didn’t mean that.”
“Okay, dude, whatever,” said Roy, and then he turned around and left.
I passed the next day in kind of a haze. I ate like it was going out of style and yet nothing seemed to satisfy me. And what was worse, that morning I’d looked in the mirror and I was just a little bit bigger. My muscles were just a little bit larger and more defined then they were the day before, and my height was slowly creeping upwards. It looked like Jasper was right. I was changing and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
On the surface, the changes looked good and they felt good. My body was harder now than it had ever been and I could feel there was new strength in my arms and legs. My dad noticed. He said it looked like I was putting on some healthy weight, finally filling out. “No wonder,” he said, “with all the food you’ve been packing away.” And he noticed I had gotten taller, too. Apparently he had spoken to our doctor about it, and the doctor had told him that I was probably just going through a late growth spurt. It was uncommon in guys my age, but not unheard of.
He actually seemed pretty happy that his son was inching past him in size. He confided in me that he’d always felt he could have been taller, but if he never could be, he was glad that I would.
I was glad my dad was happy, but it was hard for me to mask the dread that I felt. I just wish I knew how all these changes were going to end. I kept looking over my body, searching myself for anything… unnatural, but so far I’d come up empty.
And then I felt guilty about calling Roy a freak. So, I decided to go over to the school around lunch time, maybe see if I could find him. It was a nice day so most of the kids would be eating lunch outside. As soon as I arrived I could see there was some kind of commotion going on. A bunch of kids were crowded in a circle shouting. It had to be a fight. I walked over to see. There were two big guys slugging it out.
Holy crap! One of them was Roy! Jeeze, look at him. He was a big dude, not just tall and fit like he used to be, but… big, pretty damn big. He had to be at least six two, and in the past day his muscles had just exploded with even more size, giving his body a ponderous mass that even changed the way he moved. His chest was so broad, like two cantaloupes stuffed into his shirt, and his back was two thick slabs of undulating muscle divided by an indent where the spine was. He was wearing one of his favorite t shirts; but it was so tight now it hugged every curving bulging inch of him. And he’d removed the sleeves, probably because his arms were now huge, just packed with ripped bulging softball sized biceps and enormous bulky triceps, that they just wouldn’t fit inside them anymore. And every once in a while, while he was jumping around, the bottom of his shirt would flip up and give us all a view of his sculpted abs. … and with that beautiful boyish face… Man, he was hot, way hot. He looked like a muscle model or something. And he was dancing around his opponent, moving on those big, thickly carved legs with amazing grace and speed. I barely even noticed the other guy, who looked every bit as big as he did.
“Come on, Bix, hit me,” jeered Roy. “Come on hit me. Give it your best shot. What, you only wanted to hit me when I was skinny? Are you a big ol chicken? That’s it, isn’t it? Big bad Bixie’s a little chicken after all, just a little bitty chicken.” And then he started clucking.
“I ain’t afraid of any ‘roided up faggot freak,” said Bix. And like lightning, he hit Roy in the face three times like a jackhammer. My first thought was oh no not his face. Those punches would have knocked out most guys’ teeth. But instead I think Bix broke his fingers. He pulled them back and was waving them in the air. “God danm son of a bitch!” he yelled.
“Oh yeah,” said Roy ginning, everyone of his perfect teeth beautifully in tact, “didn’t I tell you? I don’t bruise as easy as I used to.” Then Roy treated Bix to a right cross, laid him out flat. One punch was all it took. As the former bully dropped to the ground like a sand bag, a couple of the onlookers actually booed. Roy turned on them in a second. He pulled a most muscular, making every one of his ponderous muscles explode with size. I heard the threads in his shirt snapping as entire body seemed to erupt with huge, bulging muscles. Thick veins stood out all over him as he turned red with the effort. “Who’s next he shouted? Come on! Who wants a piece of me next?” But they all turned away and wondered off. Roy snorted as he watched them go, relaxed his pose and then got this smirk on his face. “Wimps.”
“You okay?” I said walking up to him.
He looked down at me and his smirk didn’t fade. “You of all people,” he said, “shouldn’t have to ask.”
Then he sat down on a bench, leaned back, splayed out his legs and threw his arm across the back. I head the wood creek underneath his weight. Man, that wide, bulging body of his took up most of the bench. And those arms spread across the back, they had wide ripped forearms and large meaty biceps which gave his upper arms a ponderous mass even though they were relaxed. He gestured for me to sit too. I sat at the end of the bench, the only small part that he wasn’t occupying. “What’s the deal with you, shorty? Still sand-free? Don’t want to go walking with the freaks?” Then he stretched out, flexed his huge arms, then made every big muscle in his whole body bulge. His ponderous pecs and thick, wide lats were straining his shirt to it’s limits. I could hear the threads snapping, again. It was as if he were trying to force his body to explode even bigger. He stayed straining like that for a few seconds before he relaxed. “Nope, not yet,” he said. “But I’ll be busting out of this shirt by tonight for sure.”
“Oh yeah,” said Roy. “I’m always growing. I’m getting bigger every second. I’m bigger now than I was when I sat down. And when I get up, I’ll be even bigger. It’s fucking insane, but I love it. What about you?”
“Me?” I asked. “I just stopped by, to apologize for the other night. I didn’t mean to insult you.”
“No, that’s okay. You were right. I am a freak, but I like it. In fact, pretty soon I’m gonna be even freakier, and you know what? I can’t wait! I’ll be a genuine muscle freak, with muscles so huge and freaky no one will ever fuck with me again. And if they do, I’ll crush them like bugs, yeah, just like bugs. The ground will shake wherever I walk, and the people, they’ll shake too, and then maybe I’ll make them call me Mr. Freak.” He smiled at that thought. “Yeah… Mr. Freak.”
Whoa, that was pretty dark. I had no idea he was so angry inside. School must be a lot rougher for him than I thought. “I guess they don’t like you too much around here.”
“That’s not true,” he said, still smiling. “Some of the girls like me fine. They follow me everywhere. Too bad, they don’t have a chance.” Then he paused and looked at me meaningfully. “But you would.”
I can’t remember the last time I blushed. But if you had that face on that body say things like that to you, you’d blush, too. But Roy was always playing games with me. He was a master at casting his line, a professional, but no matter how tempting he was, I wasn’t about to exploit him.
“You know how that works, Roy,” I said.
He stood up quickly and stepped in front of me. There was a dark scowl on his face and he looked threateningly huge, towering over me blocking the sun with his powerful bulky frame. I realized I was trapped. There was no way I could get past him.
“I don’t really have to ask anymore,” he said. “If I wanted you, I could have you. Now. And there’s nothing you could do about it.” I felt a strange thrill run through me. On one hand I was outraged that Roy was threatening to rape me. On the other hand, I felt a kind of relief. I did want him. I had since I’d first laid eyes on him. But I had promised to abstain. If he forced things, it would release me from my vow, and I wanted release.
He let out a short laugh, and the threat vanished. “Sorry,” he said, “I’m not used to having guys turn me down. Figures it’d have to be you. And with this body…” he flexed and pushed those vein covered softball sized biceps up out of his rippling arms. “You must be a fucking saint.”
I swallowed. I was not a saint. In fact, I was pretty damn hard already. And if I stayed any longer I didn’t know what would happen. “I’d better get going,” I said. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Okay?” said Roy. “I’m so much better than okay.” And he flexed, bulging up his entire body again. I heard the snaps, only this time there was a little tear, as part of the seem on his side gave way to the heaving muscle beneath it.
“I’m fucking awesome.”
Fuck. I was so hard at that second it was a wonder my cock didn’t explode right there in my pants. I said an awkward goodbye to Roy and then hurried home where I knew I would find sweet release in the sanctity of my own shower.
It was right after my visit to the school that the cramps started. The first one came the next morning. It was a small stomach cramp. It came and went so rapidly, it was easy to dismiss it as indigestion—which it might have been, for all I know. But then I started getting muscle cramps in my legs and arms. Small at first, but they steadily grew in size and severity until by the next night I couldn’t move. My parents wanted to take me to the hospital, but I refused to go. After all, they might discover what I was, that I wasn’t… normal any more. I couldn’t risk that. I lay there in bed, spasming in pain every time another camp would hit. They were starting to come every few minutes now. I wasn’t sleeping, just laying there starving and writhing.
I think it was sometime on Friday—I couldn’t be sure; time had become kind of blurry—that I heard shouting in the hall. A moment later my bedroom door burst open, and in strode Jasper, carrying a small box with my parents bustling in behind him. Holy crap, now Jasper was getting big. My little five foot six friend was now about five eight, and he looked like he’d put on about 30 maybe 40 pounds. He had bulging forearms and biceps that pulled his sleeves tight, and I could see his pecs pushing out against his shirt front. And his broad shoulders made his whole frame seem wider. Fuck, he was hot.
“I warning you, if you don’t leave right now, I’m calling the sheriff,” shouted my dad.
“Call him,” said Jasper, “but I’m not leaving until I see your son.” Jeeze, his voice was lower, too.
“It’s okay, dad,” I said. “He won’t be staying long.” My dad looked from me to him, as if trying to make up his mind.
“Ten minutes,” he said. “If he’s not gone in ten minutes I’m calling the sheriff.” And then he turned around and left.
“You’re dad doesn’t like me much,” said Jasper.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m surprised he even let you in.”
“He didn’t let me in,” said Jasper. “He just couldn’t stop me,” Jasper’s lip curled up into a half smirk as he clenched his fists and made his biceps bulge. They looked, thick and hard as they stressed his short sleeves. And it was just so weird. He was like Jasper, but not. Jasper wasn’t the physical type. He never pushed his way through people like that. He was still Jasper, I could see that, still my friend, but so different.
A series of cramps hit me and I cried out and twisted with the pain.
“Jesus,” said Jasper, sounding exasperated. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Cramps,” I said.
“I don’t mean the cramps,” said Jasper. “Why are you doing this to yourself? You have to eat some sand. Just a little would take probably care of that.”
“No way,” I said, “not even a grain.”
Jasper threw up his hands and started pacing. He looked pretty upset, almost on the point of tears. Suddenly he stopped and looked at me. “It’s possible,” he said, his voice shaking a little, “that you could die without it.”
I hadn’t thought of that. But now lying here shaking with pain, I could easily believe it. I didn’t want the sand. I didn’t want to go down that road, but was I willing to die to avoid it?
“I’m scared,” I said.
“I know,” he answered. “There’s no need to be.”
“How do you know? We could turn into anything!”
“But we’re not,” he said. “If we were I think we’d have seen some sign of it by now. We’re just getting bigger… and stronger, and it’s excellent.” I saw him almost unconsciously clench his fists and make his forearms bulge.”
I don’t understand how you handle it so easily.”
“How do I put this? How do I make you understand what it’s like? I mean, I never really cared much about my body before. It just wasn’t important to me. I hardly ever even looked at it even when I showered or dressed. There wasn’t much to it. It was so thin and feeble. But not now…” He ran his hand over his large protruding chest muscles. I could tell he was feeling the hardness of them. “It’s so different. The way I feel about my body now, it’s like I’m discovering a part of me I never knew was there, an amazing part.
“You used to say you never wanted muscles,” I said, “that when you were rich, you’d have a cabana boy and he could have the muscles. You had better things to do with your time.”
“I know. That’s the way I used to feel. And then I started to get them. And that was pretty weird at first, almost like they weren’t a part of me, like they shouldn’t be there. They were hard, lumpy and kind of uncomfortable and I couldn’t shake the feeling that eventually I’d have to go someplace and have them removed.”
“Yeah, it does seem kind of funny now. Because after I saw myself in the mirror, it’s like I noticed I had a body for the first time in my life, and I kinda liked it. And as I kept getting bigger, I started liking it more. I enjoyed the hardness of it, how strong I was, how good I looked. And the bigger I got, the more I found myself thinking about my muscles, feeling the hardness of them, getting excited about the power in them.” He flexed making his baseball sixed biceps pop up again. “They are so amazing.” He was running his hand over his bulging flexed bicep, now, really messaging it. I could tell he was getting aroused by it. “And now it’s like I can’t get enough. I want more. And I’m getting it. And it’s incredible. I don’t know how to describe how I feel. I just know I want to be bigger, no, I need to be bigger, much, much bigger, with so much muscle that I can’t fit through doors without knocking holes in the wall. So, strong I could lift a house. And it’s happening. I can feel it. Right here as we’re talking, it’s happening.” I looked down toward his crotch and saw that he was rock hard, and that he had grown down there as well.
I gulped “But how is it going to end? Don’t you care? We could be monsters.”
“I don’t see monsters,” he said, “I see this.” He made a fist, forcing his arm to bulge out. The density of his forearm was truly impressive; you could see the thick cords and muscles writhing just under his skin. Veins snaked up around them to his rock solid biceps, which were so big they pulled his sleeves tight around them. “Look at that,” he said, almost in awe of his own body. “I used to be a stick, so weak. How could anyone not want muscles like these?” He flexed his arm and smiled as his tight sleeve strained and then POP POP TEAR, it split apart, releasing his hard, veiny, powerful-looking biceps into the open. And as he looked at them, his expression was almost hungry.
“And it’s happening to you, too,” he continued. “And it’s amazing. Once you see your body starting to swell up with hard, powerful muscle, you’ll love it; I promise.” Then he got very quiet and said in a voice that was little more than a whisper, “And if you don’t start on the sand… Please, you have to. I don’t want to lose you. I don’t think I could stand it.”
And I realized for the first time that I couldn’t lose him either, even if the cost was the sand. “Promise me you’ll stay with me.” I said. “No matter what happens, you won’t leave me.”
“I’ll never leave you,” he said. Then he leaned down and kissed me like I’d never been kissed. Then I wrapped my aching arms around his hard body, and suddenly I wanted him like I’d never wanted him before. But I couldn’t, not here, not now.
Another bout of cramps hit, and I yelled and pulled myself back into a fetal position and rocked back and forth, whimpering.
Then Jasper produced the box he’d brought in with him and opened it. I knew that smell, chocolate chip cookies, my favorite. “Here,” he said. “Try one of these.”
“Is there…?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, “a little, but you won’t even notice. I’ve gotten quite good at mixing it in with regular foods.”
I looked at the cookies, still uncertain, even after all that.
“There really isn’t much at all in them,” said Jasper. “But it will probably be enough to stop the cramps. And then we can proceed at whatever pace you want. There’s no need to hurry.”
I took one of the cookies and tentatively bit into it. It was delicious and I really didn’t notice the sand. I quickly finished it, before I could think too much about it. I felt relief almost immediately.
“Here, have another one,” said Jasper, offering me the box again.
I took one and as I bit into it, a thought occurred to me. “What did you mean, whatever pace I wanted?”
“Apparently the more sand you eat, the faster the process happens. And if you want the express route, stop eating regular food at all and just ingest sand. And it’s possible there’s an even faster route.”
“I don’t want a faster route,” I said.
“I guessed that,” said Jasper, smiling. “And to tell you the truth, I can’t take the stuff plain. It makes me gag.”
“What about Roy?” I asked realizing that when I’d last seen him three days ago, he had been bigger than Jasper was now.
“Roy,” sighed Jasper, “can take it plain. But we can talk about him later. For now, you should sleep, and I should go. I’m pretty sure your dad meant what he said about calling the sheriff, and I’m not ready for that confrontation, at least not yet.”
“I’ll talk to my dad,” I said.
“You really think it’ll make a difference?”
“Things are changing now,” I said. “It’ll have to make a difference.”
Jasper nodded and left. I couldn’t help looking at the box of cookies he’d left. They had been the most satisfying and delicious things I had eaten in days. I had one more of them before the urge to sleep overpowered me.
When I woke up, the early morning sun was streaming in through my window and I felt great. I hopped out of bed and as soon as my feet hit the floor, I knew I was different. First, I felt heavier, more substantial. Second my room seemed smaller and at the same time the floor seemed further away. I looked down at my arms. They had gotten thicker over night. The veins were standing out. I went to the bathroom to shower and shave. I couldn’t help checking myself out. There was hardness and definition to my body now. I weighed myself. I was 10 pounds heavier. What a difference a little sand made.
I went into the kitchen and my parents were happy to see me up and about. We had a normal breakfast which I was still hungry after. I still had quite a few cookies in my bedroom, and I snuck back to my room to have a couple. They filled me, but I realized I was going to have to find a way to get sand into my other food as well. Not too much, I told myself, just enough.
And after Breakfast, I broached the subject of Jasper.
“Dad,” I said, “you’re going to have to get used to him being around.”
“I don’t have to get used to anything of the kind,” said my dad. “What about all your progress? People were just starting to like you.”
“Things have changed,” I told him. “None of that really matters anymore.”
“Doesn’t matter? Your future doesn’t matter?”
“Dad, whatever my future is going to be, it won’t be anything like you expected… or anything like I expected. It will be different.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”
My dad didn’t like that answer, but it was the only one I had to give him.
It was inventory time at the store, so we were pretty busy all day. My dad didn’t talk to me much, but I kept catching him steeling glances at me. Of course the weirdest part for me was I could reach things on the top shelf without the stool. It was kind of cool being a couple of inches taller than I was used to being. Maybe that’s why my dad kept looking at me like that. And of course those large heavy boxes were easier to move, now. Maybe he noticed that too. And when Jasper stopped by, dad just disappeared into the back.
“You look so much better today,” Jasper said, giving me a peck on the lips.
“And you look bigger,” I said. That muscular body of his was straining this shirt even more than it had the one last night, and he had to be at least an inch taller. Jasper used to be about five six, now he was at least five nine, the height I used to be. But I’d grown, too so I was still a couple of inches taller than him. But he was much broader and more muscular than me. He seemed unnaturally larger than he was last night, even under the circumstances. I don’t’ remember the sand working that fast.
“That’s because I am bigger,” he grinned, “twenty five pounds bigger. It’s the New Sand.” Then he flexed his arms and with a loud RIIIP his large veiny biceps easily blew out his sleeves. “Damn,” he said looking joyous and perplexed at the same time. “I’ve got to get some new shirts. Or maybe I could just take the sleeves off the ones I have. Roy started doing that days ago. I thought it was just to show off, but maybe there’s a practical reason, too.”
“I’d go with the new shirts,” I said. “You’re straining the front of that one already. It looks like those buttons are about to go.”
“You think?” said Jasper, looking down at his strained shirt front. “Let’s see.” He flexed his pecs, and snap, snap, snap, three buttons flew across the room, leaving a gap in his shirt that revealed the valley between his two hill-like pectorals. He looked up at me for a second and then said, “What the heck,” and he ripped open the front of his shirt, finishing the job and sending the remaining buttons shooting all over the store and revealing his large ripped pecs and his chiseled abs. “I guess there’s something to be said for showing off,” he grinned.
I had to agree. I found myself getting a little short of breath at the sight of Jasper’s powerful torso.
“And what about you?” he asked. “You look like you’ve expanded a bit.”
“Ten pounds,” I said.
“How do you feel?”
“My body feels great,” I said, “but, you know, still worried. How’s Roy?”
Jaspers eyes shifted back and forth as if he were looking for the right words. “Roy’s… amazing,” he finally said. “He was pestering me to find a way to make the change happen faster.”
“That’s what he wanted. And believe it or not I came up with a way. I mixed a heavy concentration of the minerals found in The Environment’s soil into our construction sand. I call it New Sand. Roy’s literally been pouring straight New Sand down his throat for a week and the results have been… phenomenal. I tried some yesterday myself, and look at me.” He gestured to his shredded sleeves.
“How big is Roy?”
Jasper just shrugged, spread his arms wide and said, “Enormous. Every time I see him he’s bigger, a lot bigger.”
“Is he still normal looking?”
“He doesn’t have any mutant limbs or extra ears but you could hardly call him normal looking.”
“I want to see him.”
“He’d like that. He was glad to hear you were finally on the sand. He was going to come with me, but, you know, your dad was already having a hard time with just me.
“Yeah, my dad…”
“Did you talk to him?”
“You don’t hear any sirens, do you?”
“So, not exactly loving acceptance?”
I shook my head. “I think no sirens is the best we can hope for.”
“For now,” he said. Then, he lifted up the basket he brought with him. “Here, I brought lunch. If you want, we could have a picnic. You know, get you out and away from… things for a while.”
I opened the basket and it was filled with fried chicken, and coleslaw. Of course I was hungry. I was always hungry. “Has this got…?”
“Of course,” he said. “You’ll never notice it in the chicken, but it’s impossible to hide in the coleslaw. Come on, we’ll go down to Franklin Park. I’ll call Roy and have him meet us there.”
“Isn’t that kind of… public?” I said.
“You were the one who mentioned change,” he said. “Things around here are not going to change until we change them, and a picnic is hardly an orgy. Come on.”
Of course I agreed. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get a better offer all day. I called into the back room and told my dad I was going for lunch. I got a noncommittal grunt in return. Oh well, that would have to do.
It was a very nice day. Since it was Saturday there were a lot of kids in the park, running, playing, skateboarding. Jasper brought a blanket and we spread it out on the grass. I think I ate an entire chicken almost before I realized it. But it was okay. He’d brought plenty. But I didn’t eat much of the coleslaw. Jasper was right; you could tell there was sand in it. The texture was just all wrong. I was just about to tell him so, when I heard the unmistakable sound of dirt bikes.
Jeff Spangler, Steve Jones, and Toby Daniels were riding over the grass toward us, whooping and hollering as they came. Of course, Jeff and Steve were the same animals we found mugging Roy, and Toby was the guy who ratted us out at the motel—worse at a picnic than ants. In a second they were riding round us in circles.
“Look at this,” yelled Jeff, “it’s fag day in the park!” Then he ran right over our blanket tearing it up and smashing our food into mush. We barely got to our feet in time. The next thing I knew, Steve had a rope, an actual lasso, and he managed to throw it over my head. It pulled tight around my legs and then suddenly I was on the ground being dragged behind his bike. I was getting bumped around a lot but it hardly hurt at all. Then suddenly it stopped. Jeff had swung back around and was parked looking over me. I rolled over and looked up at him.
“Not in a fucking coma?” he looked amused, and bewildered. “You faggots must be tougher than I thought.” Suddenly, from somewhere behind Jeff, I felt a faint tremor like a distant explosion or a minor earthquake, except it seemed to be getting closer. I guess Jeff heard it too because he turned to look behind him.
“Holy fuck!” I heard him cry a second before a huge hand with fingers the size of kielbasa, wrapped around his chest and lifted him right up off his bike. The sun was in my eyes and for a second all I could make out was something massive. Then I heard the laugh. It was deeper, richer, but there was no mistaking it. Roy.
Then I saw him. Holy crap, he wasn’t a kid anymore; he was a mountain, a freaking mountain of rolling, ripped, bulging muscles. He was Mount Roy. I expected him to maybe look like a professional body builder or something, but this was so much more. To start with he had to be over seven feet tall, his shoulders were at least four and a half feet wide and looked like a rolling landscape that led from his tree trunk neck to his basketball sized delts, and his arms… . Jeeze, his arms. Layer after layer of bulging sinew crisscrossed and wove around each other, building his massive limbs out to gargantuan proportions. His upper arms were so thick with hard vascular muscle, I might just have been able to wrap both my arms around one.
He was shirtless, of course. No shirt made could possibly cover that mammoth torso. His pecs were two gigantic globes of flesh, sticking out about two feet in front of him overshadowing a range of eight massive muscle plateaus rising out of his stomach, which rippled in and out with each mighty breath he took. His back spread out behind him, wider than the hood of my car and about five times as thick. And his legs were two monstrous pillars, as thick around as an oil drum, with all the massive muscle groups visibly writhing and twisting with the slightest shift of his ponderous weight. And every vein, every striation of every muscle group was clearly defined beneath his bronzed skin.
And his face, it was still as beautiful as ever as it looked grinning down on the pathetic looking figure that was twitching in his insanely powerful grip.
“Hi,” he said to Jeff, “remember me?”
But Jeff didn’t say anything. He just hung there from Roy’s massive hand breathing hard.
“It’s okay if you don’t,” said Roy. “I wasn’t always this spectacular.” Then he flexed an arm. Oh my god. I mean I could see his arm was incredibly thick, but I was still not prepared for what rose out of it when he flexed. All that muscle swelled into a freaking soccer ball, and the veins running over it were thicker than my fingers.
“I’ve gotten a little stronger since McIntyre’s,” said Roy. “Wanna see?”
Jeff just shook his head.
“Oh you gotta see,” said Roy. Then he reached down and grabbed Jeff’s right leg. He twisted his wrist and there was a loud snap. Jeff screamed. Roy had broken his leg, snapped it like a toothpick. “That’s just so you don’t run away,” said Roy. Then he set Jeff on the ground. The idiot still tried to drag himself away.
“Stop that,” said Roy, “or I’ll have to break something else.” Jeff stopped. Then Roy bent down, grabbed the dirt bike in the center of its frame with one hand, and with his massive bicep barely twitching lifted it up as easily as if it were a toy.
“This thing’s a lot more delicate than it looks,” said Roy. He reached over with his other hand and grabbed the front wheel. There was a quick metallic creak and pop as he ripped the front wheel right off with no more effort than you’d use to pull a petal from a flower.
“How do you go riding around on something this fragile?” Then with a mighty twitch of his triceps and a grinding metallic clatter, he ripped off the rear wheel. Geers and broken bits went flying in all directions. He looked down at the wheel in his hand. “That tire’s pretty worn. It would’ve needed replacing anyway.”
Then he dropped the wheel, took up the frame in both hand and giving Jeff a death glare, began to crush it. Metal groaned and creaked and fiberglass cracked, as the sinews in his arms bulged and stretched and the dirt bike was quickly reduced to a shapeless lump and dumped on the ground. And all the time, his eyes never left Jeff. It was pretty clear from Roy’s fierce expression that in his head, it wasn’t the bike he was crushing, but Jeff himself.
“I think maybe you owe my friend an apology,” said Roy.
Jeff looked over at me and said, “S…Sorry.”
My first instinct was to tell him it was okay, but I really wasn’t sure it was. “Don’t do it again,” was all I said.
“No, no, absolutely I won’t,” he said.
“Are you satisfied?” Roy asked me.
“Yeah,” I shrugged. “I guess.”
“Then I’ll have to let you live,” said Roy to Jeff. “But I warn you. Stay out of my way. You’re on my shit list, and if I ever see you again, I’ll fucking crush you.” Then Roy, making his massive arms bulge out obscenely, ground his fist into his palm. The effect was not lost on Jeff, who let out a whimper and started to drag himself away again. This time Roy let him go.
Roy reached down and snapped the rope around my legs like a thread. I’d almost forgotten it was there. “Are you okay? Can you stand?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said pulling myself to my feet. I felt fine, but my clothes were all torn and grass stained. Then I suddenly remembered something that Roy’s dramatic entrance had driven completely from my mind. “Oh my God, Jasper!” I turned to look back where our picnic had been. What I saw shocked me almost more than anything Roy had done.
Steve Jones was lying on the ground unconscious and Jasper, who had lost his shirt somewhere along the line, had Toby Daniels by the collar and, muscles bulging, was beating the crap out of him. Never, in my entire life, had I ever imagined Jasper beating the crap out of anyone. It seemed so completely surreal and out of character, but also, at the same time, insanely hot.
By the time we got to him, Toby was lying in a heap next to Steve, and Jasper was examining his hands like he’d never seen them before. His skin was shiny with sweat and his big pecs were heaving in and out as he caught his breath. Damn, he was hot.
“Holy shit, did you see that?” said Jasper, excitedly. “I kicked their butts. I kicked both of their butts with my bare hands. That was incredible. I’ve never felt anything like it. I felt so powerful, so in control. What a high.” He brought both his arms up and flexed his big biceps, almost drooling as he looked at them. “There’s nothing like fucking muscle,” he said, looking down with unconcealed lust at his powerful body, “nothing,” he said and then paused. “I have to get bigger.” He turned to me. “I’m sorry. I was going to wait for you, take it slow, but…I can’t.”
He started frantically ferreting around on the ground near the remains of our picnic. “Straight minerals,” said Jasper, “I could take straight minerals—no sand at all.” He found the remains of the basket and starting ripping it apart going through it. “Yes!” he yelled as he picked up a couple of baggies of something that looked like fine dirt.
Then he tore open one of the baggies and just poured the contents directly in his mouth. He started gagging and coughing. I rushed over to help him but he held up his hand warning me off. Some of the minerals went on the ground, but gagging and hacking, Jasper managed to get most of it down.
“That was awful,” croaked Jasper, gasping for breath. “But I think… I think can feel it.” Then suddenly he grabbed his stomach and doubled over, and turned away from us and I found myself looking at his back. I wanted to help him, but I didn’t know what to do. And then his back started to ripple. “Oh yes,” he said, “yes, it’s happening.” And it was. I could see the muscles shifting under his skin and then they started to expand. “Oh fuck,” I heard him cry excitedly as his back muscles began bulging up out of him, striated slabs blossoming like mushrooms pushing their way up out of his body, stretching his skin, expanding wider, and in seconds his back was huge, ripped and powerful. “Yes!” he screamed, “yes!”. There was a popping and a cracking and—“Arrghh!” and he jerked up straight. Holy Crap, he was as tall as me! “Ahhhh!” he cried “I need more, more muscle!” And then his arms, held out from his body at a slight angel, just began erupting muscle. Horseshoe triceps exploded out of the backs, growing thicker and denser, while his forearms blew up heavier and wider. “Ah yes!” he yelled. “More!”
He turned around, and oh my God. His pecs, already two globes of hard striated muscle, were inflating like a pair of twin balloons and I could actually see his abs pushing out of his stomach and swelling up larger. His traps rose up behind him on either side of his neck which was now just as thick as his head.
I heard a ripping and a tearing, and Jasper looked down and grinned as his massive quads tore their way out of his light summer pants. And then he stood there, enormous chest heaving, flexing his arms in front of him, and displaying his grapefruit sized biceps. My God, Jasper looked completely different. So much mass and definition, he looked like a seasoned bodybuilder right out of one of those magazines we jerked over. “Yes!” he shouted “YES! I got fucking HUGE!”
Too bad for Steve and Toby that they chose this moment to wake up. “Oh my God,” gasped Steve.
Jasper looked down, saw them and smiled. “Yes, you may address me as your god,” he said. “For I will be your god. I will be the god of this entire shit hole town.” Then Jasper reached down and grabbed Steve with one arm and Toby with the other and with his incredibly muscular body bulging and heaving, he lifted them off the ground. They struggled but they couldn’t free themselves. “You feel my power? Do you?” There was silence as they just stared at him. “DO YOU?” he shouted, shaking them. Each of them started nodding their head and feebly mumbling yes. “And this is just the beginning,” he said.
Then he tossed them away. They flew about twenty feet before they hit the ground rolling. “Go tell your friends their Waterloo is here—No, never mind. They’re too stupid to know what that means. Tell them they’re fucked.”
Then Steve and Toby got up and ran, leaving their bikes behind them.
“This might be a lot easier than I thought,” said Jasper, still flexing for himself.
“Told you,” said Roy.
Suddenly I got the feeling I walked in on the middle of a conversation. “What’s going on?”
“What’s going on,” said Jasper, “is we’re going to clean up this town.”
“Clean it up? What do you mean clean it up?” I asked.
“I’m tired of being shoved around and treated like trash. I want to be able to sit in a public restaurant with you without being harassed. There’s no reason to put up with it anymore, now that we don’t have to.” And then he flexed and felt his pumped up bicep. “Like iron,” he said and inside his tight pants I could see his rod stiffening, getting long and hard. “I can’t wait to get started.” he said.
“You guys sound like you’re going to war,” I said.
‘The war’s already started, in case you haven’t noticed. I’m talking about fighting back… and winning.”
“Shouldn’t we get bigger?” asked Roy grinning.
“Yes,” breathed Jasper, clenching his fists and making his forearms bulge, “a lot bigger.”
“What are you going to do with that other baggy?” asked Roy.
“That’s all I’ve got for now,” said Jasper. “I got the minerals from one of the mineralogists at the mine. I’ll have to go back for more. In the mean time, this should go to you.” He held the baggy out to me.
“You’re the smallest of us. Things are coming to a head. You’ll need to start growing.”
“Wait a minute. What happened to “take this at your own pace?”“
“Sorry,” said Jasper. “They came at us a lot faster than I expected. We don’t have time for that now. Take the minerals.”
“No way,” I said. “I may have to go through this, but I’m taking it slow.”
“Well, if you don’t want it,” said Roy, and he reached down and plucked the baggie from Jaspers hand, and before we could say anything else, he up ended it into his mouth.
“Mmmm, tangy,” he said smacking his lips. Then suddenly he exhaled “Ooommph.” All the air rushed out of him like someone punched him in the stomach. “Phew, that stuff’s got a kick,” he said, sucking air back into his lungs. “But Damn, I can feel it working already.” The he closed his eyes and smiled. “Oh yeah. Oh fuck yeah…” Then we heard a weird kind of creaking, snapping noise. Roy raised his hand and we all saw his enormous paw stretch out longer and wider. “Whoa,” said Roy. And the strange noise got louder and we could see the same thing happening to his feet. “This is intense!” And then he began stretching up taller. Christ, he was already about seven feet tall, and in seconds he had shot up another two or three inches. “Wahoo!” he shouted, “and the view keeps getting better and better!” The veins all over his body started to pulse, and then Mount Roy started to erupt. His muscles, already huge by any definition, began bursting out of him. Heaving, swelling, bulging, his soccer ball biceps expanded into watermelons and his triceps, blowing up on the other side of his arm, grew twice again as big as that. His chest nearly doubled in size, each pec looking like it was smashed against the other until I heard that cracking, snapping noise again and his entire frame stretched wider, giving them room and making his mountainous shoulders impossibly broad with delts like hard veiny beach balls.
“YEAH!” yelled Roy, flexing his monumental arms, as his impossibly huge thighs ripped out the sides of those homemade shorts he was wearing. And then another bulge, this one at the front of those shorts started swelling and straining the cloth. A second later the shorts blew apart, as his mammoth member came tearing out of them. Damn, it was huge, more than a foot long and as thick as a coke can.
“Whadaya think?” He grinned, looking down over those monstrous pecs at me. “Am I the fucking sexiest thing you ever saw?”
Mouth hanging open, I nodded silently. What could I say? I was struck dumb by those impossibly blue eyes twinkling at me from that boyishly beautiful face sitting on top of a body that was a seven foot three inch tall, four and a half foot wide, heaving tower of muscle, with arms larger than a grown man’s body, and veiny biceps that bulged out twice the size of my head—not to mention a cock that could choke a horse. There couldn’t be anything sexier anywhere on the planet.
“Do you want me?” he asked.
I hesitated. I mean, who wouldn’t want him, but he was still Roy and he was still seventeen. And then there was Jasper, who I now knew I loved, and who was getting pretty damn sexy in his own right. But he’d never be a sexy as Roy. No, nothing could ever be as sexy as Roy.
When I didn’t answer straight away, Roy frowned. “Jeeze, I just don’t get you. Well, let me know when you make up your mind. I’m going for a moon walk.”
“Roy, don’t,” said Jasper. “It’s too soon.”
“Fuck that,” said Roy. “I’m outta here.” Then he turned and holy crap, he just leapt into the air. He must have traveled about fifty feet before he hit the ground again, and then he just leapt straight up again and went another fifty feet.”
“Whoa,” I said.
Jasper just shook his head. “He shouldn’t be doing that. He’s going to draw too much attention to himself.”
“I don’t get it,” I said. “What is he doing?”
“Just think of astronauts on the moon,” said Jasper. “His body is designed for a much stronger gravity now. Earth’s gravity is having less and less of an effect on him. Yesterday he could only jump about thirty feet.”
“Is he going to float away?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said Jasper. “It’s possible that eventually he’ll get strong enough to jump into orbit, but that would probably kill him. It’s something we’ll all have to look out for.”
“Are you serious?”
“Completely. I don’t think you realize what it is we’re becoming, beings of almost infinite strength. There won’t be much that’s beyond us when the change is done.” He was looking at his flexed bicep with that hungry expression again. “I’ve got to get some more minerals. You better go after him. Keep an eye on him. Make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.”
“And what if he decides to do something stupid? What am I supposed to do about it?”
“Are you kidding? He’ll probably do anything you ask him to.”
“And why would he do that?”
“You really don’t see it, do you?”
“Roy has a huge crush on you. He always has. Haven’t you noticed him hitting on you every five minutes?”
“But that’s Roy. He hits on everybody.”
Jasper just shook his head. “He once told me that you were the only reason he stayed in Patch of Grass.”
“Me? But I’m nothing special.”
“He thinks you are. So do I. And I promise you, he doesn’t look at me the way he looks at you.”
“And it’s a good thing, too, because I don’t know if I could keep turning him down the way you do.”
“But he’s still a minor…” I said.
“Maybe, but I’m not made of steel… at least not yet.”
“Would you really…?”
“Sorry, but yes. And I wouldn’t blame you if you did. If he were any hotter, he’d go supernova. Besides, he’ll be eighteen in two weeks. I think we can give you both a little time off for good behavior.”
“I… but… but… but…”
“You better hurry up and get after him,” Jasper said, pointing.
I looked over and saw the massive form of Roy hurtling himself through the air. He was already pretty far off. I gave one last look at Jasper, who was looking at the ground.
“Go on. Get going,” he said. And I did. I made a dash for my car, thank God, it wasn’t too far away, because Roy was getting further and further away every second. I took off after him wondering where he was going where was he leading me, and what would happen once we got there.
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