Friday, June 29, 2018

Stones from the Sky by Steve Gergley

Ally and Molly are "beefwatching" in a Thunderbird convertible when the sky starts raining extraterrestrial stones; by Steve Gergley.

It was the day before my high school graduation when the nuggets started raining down from the sky. It was a nice day. Not too hot or gross. Sunny. Clear blue sky, a few wispy strings of clouds like ripped cotton balls hovering somewhere really high above our heads. Me and Molly were cruising around in her mom's Thunderbird convertible, enjoying the nice day, the heat, the sun, the freedom. That tingling giddy feeling of being surrounded by infinity on every side, whether it was the curves and twists of the never-ending road, or the inexhaustible reservoir of time we had at our disposal to live our lives exactly the way we wanted. And all that time and space was exciting, totally, but it was kind of scary too. At least for me. I still had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life after graduation. But I tried not to think about that too much because on this day, we were doing one of my favorite things in the world. We were beefwatching.

Beefwatching is kind of like birdwatching only way more fun. Because instead of staring up at the sky like a dummy and straining your neck to stare at birds for some reason, a beefwatcher cruises around in a comfy car and looks for hot guys. And just like with birdwatching, there are all different species of beef to be spotted. You've got your Sweat-Glazed Runner clomping along the side of the road, you've got your Tanned Groundskeeper grunting in the dirt, and, if you're real lucky, you might even spot a flock of Bored Jocks playing shirts versus skins football on a front lawn.

It was around four-thirty when we turned onto Ten Rod Road. Once we did, Molly slowed down to like three miles per hour because she's an insane person. But with that body, I can't really blame her for acting the way she does. When a girl has never heard the word no from a single guy in her life, she tends to develop a messed up view of reality. She slowed down because this street is prime beefwatching country. Three hot guys live on this one street alone, including the guy I'm totally in love/obsessed with, Roger Horton. Rog. Or as I like to call him, "The Hog." The name started out as a complete joke after I saw him always hogging like half a lunch table with his backpack and gym bag and all the other crap he throws around when he sits down to eat, but after a while the name just stuck. Probably because of how my face turns bright red every time Molly uses it. And of course it doesn't help that she always has to say it in this hilarious, fake-sultry voice that almost sounds like a phone-sex operator or something ("Oh hey look Ally, it's... Thhhhhe Hooooog..."). I don't even know where she gets this crap, but it's funny as hell.

It was a little bit before we passed The Hog's house when the first nugget came down. I was looking down the road to see if I could spot his silver Range Rover in his driveway, and out of the corner of my eye I saw this black flash of something fly through the air and smash against the trunk of the car. And, insane person that she is, Molly yelled out some creative string of curse words and turned all the way around to look at the damage. This caused the car to veer sharply to the left and speed straight toward some house's living room window, so I had to quick-grab the wheel and jerk it to the right just to keep us from crashing.

After a while, Molly finally shut up and slammed on the brakes. My body jerked forward, hard, and the seatbelt cut into the side of my left tit, which really hurt. I was pissed at Molly for that, but I forgot about it once I turned around and looked at what had hit us. It was a blackish stone striped with bands of gray and sprinkled with a thousand glinting grains of shiny green sand, as if someone had ground up an emerald and poured the shimmering dust onto this rock back when it was still soft. Its surface was cracked all around and had interlocking layers, almost like fish scales.

Molly reached out and pried the rock from the warped body of the car. I let out a helpless little yelp and tried to tell her not to touch it, but my yelp just ended up sounding like a burp, so she didn't listen. She can be pretty stubborn a lot of the time.

She held the shimmering rock in her palm as we both looked down at it, but then she screamed and jerked her hand back, as if burned. The rock popped out of her hand, tumbled down her legs, bounced around at her feet.

"Are you okay? I told you not to pick it up," I said, trying my hardest to not sound like a bitch, but I did tell her to not pick it up.

"It stung me!" she screeched, rubbing little circles in the hurt palm with the thumb of her other hand. A big red splotch spread outward from the center of her palm, and a little raised ball of dull green poked up in the middle. She turned her head and glared at me, her perfect blue eyes narrowed with rage. "You didn't say anything! All you did was burp like a grubby little pig who only cares about her holy hooooog."

I looked down at her legs. They were red and splotchy where the rock had rolled across her exposed skin. More little raised balls of green were popping up in the middle of the red marks.

"I tried to tell you don't pick it up," I said again, as if that would make it true and undo all the weird stuff happening to her.

She shook her head and her silky bundle of gorgeous shining chestnut hair ruffled back and forth over her shoulders, the smooth strands melting around the contours of her skin like sheets of sand. She bent over and groped around at her feet for the rock and a clump of her gorgeous shining chestnut hair got stuck under the strap of her tank top. She shifted her shoulders to let her arm stretch farther and the clump of hair pulled out of her head as easily as flowers from a vase. She didn't even notice. "You snake. You're just a slimy little snake who only cares about boning your precious hog. Well guess what," she said, her voice growing thick and hoarse and froggy. She finally grabbed the rock and sat back up. The bald spot on the side of her head gleamed as white and shiny as a movie star's teeth. The whites of her eyes glowed a dull yellow. "Hogs don't bone little burping snakes!"

She screeched like a dive-bombing bird of prey and threw the rock over my head. I followed the rock's sloping path and noticed for the first time that we were sitting right in front of The Hog's house. The rock glittered like a gem in the sunlight. I watched as it sailed over the peaked roof of his garage and disappeared into his backyard.

That was it for me and Molly. We were done as far as I was concerned. I told her to drive me home. We didn't talk the whole way there. When I got out of the car, she started to say something, but I just slammed the door to shut her up. I didn't say a word as I walked away. I let my silence tell her how I felt.

Stories about the stones falling from the sky appeared on the news that night. The newscasters nicknamed them nuggets for some reason. They said they'd fallen all over the state. One person had been killed when a nugget flew through a window of his house and sprayed glass on him, but miraculously, that was all. The news warned anyone against touching the nuggets or breathing too close to them. They said that anyone who finds one should call the police immediately and then check themselves into one of the specially designated quarantine areas scrolling at the bottom of the screen. The nearest one was a hospital all the way up in Barrier, over an hour away. I didn't tell my parents about the nugget that hit Molly's mom's car. I couldn't afford to miss graduation tomorrow. That might be my last chance to ask out The Hog.

Later that night, I stood in the bathroom after my shower and thought about the nugget glittering in the sky as it flew over the roof of The Hog's garage. I grabbed a handful of my hair and tugged. Nothing came out. I'm sure it'll be fine. I never even touched it anyway.



The nuggets were the front page news on every newspaper and website the next morning. I checked the school's website like a hundred times throughout the day to make sure they didn't cancel graduation. They didn't.

I didn't go to Molly's house for lunch and pictures before the ceremony like our families had planned. Mom was pissed, like really pissed, and she tried to act all high and mighty as if I was being a dumbass because I was depriving myself of some beautiful, once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I knew she was just mad she wouldn't get to drink red wine with Molly's mom all afternoon and cackle like a drunk hyena at Molly's mom's terrible slurred impressions of her kids and husband. But that's just too bad. Because I don't eat lunch and take pictures with nasty stubborn bitches who call me a burping snake and who try to ruin my chances with the guy I like just because their mom's car got hit by some pretty asteroid from outer space. Sorry, but that's a dealbreaker for me.

A lot of kids were missing from graduation later that day. Leading up to the ceremony, the nuggets were all anyone talked about: whether or not they'd seen one, where they'd been and what they'd been doing when the nuggets started coming down, whether or not they knew somebody who got hit by one, what they heard had happened to someone who had picked one up. A bunch of the kids that did show up looked sick. Their skin was all red and dry and their eyes had that same yellowish stain Molly's eyes had yesterday. Molly showed up wearing a pair of giant, bug-eye sunglasses and a red bandana tied around her head. Probably to cover up that gross bald spot where the clump of hair pulled out. Her face looked red and scabby, as if she'd just got over a bad sunburn and all her skin had peeled off. Ha. Serves her right. That's what happens when you call your best friend a burping snake. That's what happens when you pick up rocks from outer space and throw them into the backyard of the guy your best friend is in love with. Ha.

Once the ceremony finally started, us graduating seniors filed into our designated seats in the middle of the football field while the proud parents and family members sat in the bleachers and cheered. The seats on my left and right were empty. In fact, there was only one other kid sitting in my whole row. That was pretty boss. I draped my arms across the backs of the empty chairs and listened to other kids whisper about the nuggets while Katrina Moss made her valedictorian speech about Machiavelli and his ruthless tactics we must keep in mind in order to survive in the hostile world we were about to step out into. I looked around for The Hog. His seat two rows behind and four chairs to the right was empty. God, that Molly. This is all her fault. She's the snake! She's the reason I'll never get to bone or kiss or date or even hug The Hog now. I wanted to pull the rest of her stupid loose hair out of her stupid white skull and shove it down her stupid snake-throat.

Some nuggets started coming down a few minutes after the principle began handing out diplomas. The people in the bleachers screamed and stampeded for the exit ramps. We seniors all ran in different directions to get away from the nuggets. Some people even ran into the woods behind the football field. I guess they thought the trees would protect them or something. As I was running back to the car, I looked back and saw the group of sick kids trudging across the field really slow, as if they were too tired to run away from the nuggets. Or maybe they didn't care if they got hit or not. Molly was with them. She looked sad and ugly and chubby and very tired. Her puffy cheeks looked like they were filling up with barf ready to spew. I felt a little bit bad for her, looking like that during graduation, but maybe she'll finally learn to be nicer to her friends in the future.



The nuggets came down pretty steadily for the next three weeks. No one really went outside during that time. Luckily, my family had enough food stored away that we didn't have to go out. We just stayed in the basement the whole time watching old Disney movies as we listened to the constant banging of the nuggets hitting the sides of the house like bejeweled hailstones. I thought about calling Molly to see how she was feeling and to maybe apologize, but then I remembered about her calling me a burping snake and throwing the nugget into The Hog's backyard and getting him sick. And anyway, I knew she'd just do that obnoxious thing where she acts all condescending and accepts my apology as if the whole thing was my fault, and then goes on like nothing ever happened, totally refusing to even acknowledge the fact that she's the one who should apologize to me.

By the end of the month, the news finally announced where the nuggets had come from. Apparently, two big asteroids had collided in outer space somewhere near the earth and the nuggets were the fragments of the blown up asteroids that got sucked into the earth's gravity or something. I know it's weird to say, but I was almost happy all this crazy stuff had happened. At least I wasn't worrying anymore about what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

After another month, the news said it was finally okay for the public to go outside again. Most of the nuggets had been cleaned up by the state, and the CDC determined that the people who had touched the nuggets and had gotten sick weren't contagious, despite their "superficial aesthetic variations." Ha. The second I heard that, I knew I was going to be walking outside into a freak show. No one uses such an absurd B.S. euphemism like that unless they're trying to hide something awful.

The next morning, while the rest of the family went out to the mall for a "We survived the apocalypse!" shopping spree, I borrowed my mom's dented car and drove over to Ten Rod Road to ask out The Hog. But before I even turned out of our neighborhood, I saw what the news meant by superficial aesthetic variations. And god, was it bad.

Everyone who touched a nugget must've had their damn DNA altered, because they were now walking around as horrifying lizard creatures. They still walked around on two feet and had the basic human shape - a head with two eyes and a mouth, two arms, two hands, a torso, legs of normal length - but now every finger was tipped with a crooked yellow claw. Every tongue was a forked red stick that shot out of the mouth every few seconds. Every eye had two sets of clear wet eyelids that looked like they were made out of the same gross slimy material as a jellyfish's body. Every eyeball was a black-yellow orb with a narrow vertical slit. Each face had a weird vacant space in the middle, right where the nose should've been, but wasn't anymore. Their black skin was striped with bands of gray and glazed with a glittery green shimmer, just like the nuggets.

The two-mile drive from my house to The Hog's took over an hour. Traffic was really bad in town. There were a thousand people walking the sidewalks, and the normal people kept frantically dashing across the street and running in front of cars just to get away from the lizard people. I started hating the normal people after a while. Not because they were making me late, but because they were being dicks. The news did say the lizard people weren't contagious. And it's not like they were vomiting up green slime and biting people's faces off. They were just minding their own business, going about their day. And did the normal people ever stop to think how that frantic dashing and those terrified expressions made the lizard people feel? Didn't they feel bad enough already, being turned into lizards? Did they really need to have their frightening otherness shoved right in their faces like that? Man, people can be dicks sometimes.

After a while I started to notice which lizards used to be guys and which girls. The guy lizards were a little bit shorter and heavier, and on top of their heads they each had this mohawk-looking thing of leathery skin stretched between three spiky posts of bone. Their necks were longer, and they seemed to have grown an extra finger on each hand. The girls were taller and thinner. They had flatter feet with these dull red webs between their toes that the guys didn't have. The tops of their heads were smooth and round and white, but some were smoother and rounder and a purer white than others. Some even had an extra sparkly shine.

After a few minutes of sitting in traffic and watching, some of the guy lizards started to look better than others. Some had mohawk-things on their heads that were really big and impressive, the leathery part shining with these cool colors that changed in the sunlight like the hologram baseball cards my brother used to collect. I saw a blood-red mohawk glittering like a ruby. I saw a neon-pink mohawk glowing with a slicing acidic sharpness so bright it stung my eyes. I saw a gold mohawk glinting like a polished bar of bullion. Some of the guy lizards were really handsome too, in the same way certain dogs and cats can be good looking. And some of them had really nice big arms, with hard lines of muscular definition sharper than I'd ever seen on a normal guy. That was boss. I was def liking the sight of that. Some of their chests were great too. Dare I even say beautiful. They had impressive hunks of thick muscle stacked underneath their rough skin, with almost no fat on their glittering bodies. Some of the best pecs I've ever seen. Wow. No nips though, ha ha. That's kind of weird, but I can totally look past that. I'm not some shallow bimbo like Molly. I can totally accept, and maybe even possibly someday love someone with no nips. That's totally cool with this girl.

Ha. This is almost as good as prime beef -

Oh no.

Come on. That's dumb. That's just plain stupid. That can't be what's happening here. It doesn't even - how would that... no. That wouldn't be physically possible even if for some reason I maybe thought I might be open to the idea of... come on. Jeez, are you serious, me? Are you really serious with this? Because it wouldn't work. And I'm not an insane person. I'm not one of those sickos on the internet who... see? I don't even... I've never even seen any of that. I know it exists, of course. In the most general terms. As in, yes, there is this thing called the internet where insane people post gross videos of people doing things with whatever animal floats their boat. Yes, of course I'm aware that that is a real thing in this world, but that's all I know. It's not like I've ever... well, ha ha, there was the one time Molly wanted to watch that video with the two girls and the rhesus monkey who looked like a scowling old man with a sunburned face, but that was only, what? Thirty seconds? A minute? Seven minutes and forty-three seconds I didn't even pay attention to? Yeah. That's all it was. It's not like I liked it or watched it or even had any idea of what was going on.

God. What the hell.

I looked straight ahead and noticed I was already driving down Ten Rod Road. When the hell did this happen? I don't remember the traffic clearing. I don't even remember making the turn off Main Street! I pulled onto the side of the road. I felt like I was burning up even though the air conditioner was blowing a whooshing bar of chilly air right into my face. My neck and chest prickled with tingling heat. Things were a soggy mess downstairs. Ugh. Okay. Let's think about this rationally: is this, whatever this thing might be, this feeling that's causing all these confusing and disturbing physical responses in me, is this somehow maybe something that could be... good? Useful in any way? A unique opportunity that could benefit my future in this new, post-nugget world we all now live in? Is this anything but some terrible gross perversion that has arisen out of my own unresolved attraction to The Hog? Is that what's happening here?

Goddamnit.

I pulled out into the street and drove down to The Hog's house. The driveway was empty. His silver Range Rover, his mom's black BMW, his dad's silver Lexus, all gone. Damn. I hope they didn't fly the coop. I hope they didn't leave for good, taking their money and their genetically mutated son to some special clinic where, for the right price, they'll try to turn him back to normal. Well, I mean, that would be great, for him and for them, just not for me. Because I'm pretty sure that would totally biff my chances of ever getting with him.

I parked on the side of the road a few houses down from his. I had to see if they'd left for good. I knew I'd never be able to let this go if I didn't find out for sure. I jogged across the road and strode down the sidewalk to his house. I walked up to his backyard gate as if I lived there. I fumbled with the latch until it opened. No lock. Love it.

My heart bucked in my chest as I slipped around behind the garage to where Molly had thrown the nugget like two million years ago. The place was quiet, still. It looked deserted. I hopped up the stairs of the deck on my way to the back door when I heard the sound of sloshing water. Oh crap. I spun around in an instant, smashed my toe against a deck chair, smacked both palms over my mouth before I could screech out in pain. I looked around and saw a hot-tub standing at the edge of the deck about twenty-five feet away from where I stood. And climbing out of that hot tub was no one other than The Hog himself. Fully transformed into a lizard person. And fully naked. And he somehow must not have heard my foot smashing against the chair, because he made no effort to cover up. And I saw everything. And it was incredible. It was magnificent. It was stupendous. Total schwing.

He grabbed a towel and covered himself. Damn. He looked up and finally saw me standing there. His lizard-face clenched into a vicious snarl of rage, which made him look a little bit like a person-sized version of the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, just without the big snout.

"Hey! What the hell do you think you're doing?" he roared at me, his voice phlegm-y and guttural. I barely understood what he said before he clambered in front of the steps and blocked my only exit. I waited and watched to see if his towel would fall down by accident, but he gripped it tight in his hooked yellow claws.

I held up my hands in surrender.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, Rog, I didn't mean to - it's me, it's Ally. From biology."

He looked me up and down, stared blankly for a few seconds, didn't say anything. Goddamnit. I blew out a sigh.

"Molly's friend?"

Oh okay, a real smile. God, that chick. Of course he knows that name.

"I'm sorry, I thought you were another..." he said, with a purring growl that sounded like a sigh. He crumpled down into a deck-chair and held his lizard-face in his claws and cried. The beautiful purple-skinned mohawk-thing on top of his head bobbed up and down. "I thought you were another one of those assholes taking pictures of me to laugh at on the internet."

"I would never do that. Especially to you. Rog," I said, cautiously reaching out to rest my hand on his glittering, muscled shoulder. I couldn't help myself. I had to touch him. He let me. His rough skin felt craggy and jagged, like old cracked pavement. The heat coming off him was intense. My hand started to sweat after only a few seconds of contact.

He shook his head and his purple leathery mohawk-thing rippled like a flag in the wind. "Just go away. You already got what you came for. Go back to your friends and tell them all about the disgusting monster that used to be Roger Horton. I don't even care anymore. Just leave me alone."

He jerked his shoulder to throw off my hand. He curled his body into a tight spiky ball and turned his back to me. I stifled a disappointed scoff. Jeez, I never knew The Hog was such a drama king. Still, I felt for the guy. Must be tough. It did feel like a bad time to ask him out though, so I tried a different approach.

"I know it's bad, and I'm really sorry this happened to you, but you're not alone. I know that probably doesn't help at all, but I've heard that a whole bunch of people from our school have had the same thing happen to them. I mean, it happened to Molly. So I know how tough it can be."

He laughed a throaty, clicking laugh and looked up at me.

"So what are you my therapist now? You're here to tell me that everything's going to be all peaches and cream? That the sun will rise tomorrow? That I just need to take it one day at a time?" I detected his sarcasm. He let out a short shrill screech that maybe was supposed to be a scoff. "Ha. Don't make me laugh."

"No, I'm not going to say any of that. But what is it that you wanted to do with your life that you can't do now, because of this? This isn't anything that's going to stop you -"

"Getting married? Having kids? Coaching my sons' peewee football team? I'm pretty sure I can't do any of that now. I don't see how anyone would want to marry goddamn Godzilla, let alone have kids with him. Those are some things that were pretty damn important to me that I can never do now because of this. Does that answer your little question? Good. Now get the hell off my property before I call the police," he growled at me. He stood up and clomped toward the door, his claws clicking against the wooden planks underfoot.

I took a step back. I tried to think of another plan, for one last try. At least this way I'll know I did my best. I remembered the gross video with the two girls and the rhesus monkey. I thought back to the number of views that video had at the time. I saw the number in my head: 2.7 million.

I suddenly realized we could do better.

"Why do you think no one will want to marry you now? You're even more gorgeous than before," I said. I felt my face and neck flush a hard hot red. I swallowed a dry gulp of air and waited for his response. He stopped in front of the back door. He turned his head to the side. I watched the firm hood of glinting scales on the back of his neck tighten and stretch into a matrix of warped hexagons and crushed pentagons.

"Get out of here. And don't ever come back. If you try to talk to me again I'm calling the police," he croaked. He pushed open the sliding glass door and stepped inside. He gripped the inner handle. The door started sliding closed with a smooth gliding whisper of lubricated steel against lubricated steel.

"I'm serious, you know. I bet people would pay good money to see someone as hot as you on the internet," I said, trying to sound as casual and indifferent as possible. The door stopped sliding. He stood there, frozen, gripping the door handle with his clawed hand, his silent profile imploring me to continue. I imagined myself with Molly's body. Her old body. The one that gave her permission to say anything she wanted to any guy in the world. I felt a warm fuzzy wash of irrational confidence. And before I realized what I was doing, my mouth was moving and words were coming out. Words she would've said in this situation. "I would pay to see you, but I don't need to anymore. I just saw for free. But I can't promise I won't want to see you again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. And as you can see, I didn't change into anything. I never even touched a nugget. But now that I've had a glimpse of you, none of the other normal guys out there can compete. And that's just me. Now think of all the other girls out there who haven't seen. If I sat in traffic for an hour and snuck onto your property just to get a look at you, what do you think they would do? What do you think they would pay? And now's the best time to take advantage of that. Before the rest of the other websites catch on to this. But you already said you're not interested. That's fine. I can always find someone else." I paused for less than a second and turned around. "Okay, have a nice life." I stomped across his deck, silently begging him to call my bluff.

"Is this a joke?" he said from behind. His voice was fragile, searching, uncertain.

"No, this was a test. To see if you have what it takes to make videos with me and Molly. But you failed." I clomped down the stairs and hopped onto the scabby yellow grass. Ha. Since when did I turn into such a badass?

"Wait. I'm really sorry. I've just been so overwhelmed with all this. Do you want to come inside and tell me more about your ideas?"

I stopped walking and stood in his lawn. I looked down at the ground and saw a rounded patch of exposed dirt, less than two feet across, sitting in the middle of the yellowing grass. I looked to my left, saw the light-blue wall of his garage. I scanned up to the triangular peak of the roof, then to the pale-blue plate of sky above. A satisfied smile stretched across my face as I realized it was finally the perfect time to apologize to Molly about the whole burping snake thing. It was totally my fault anyway. And I had a feeling she'd agree.

4 comments:

  1. An intriguing, frightening, and somewhat bizarre prospect. Some unequivocally vivid images; 'the hog' with his purple crest bobbing up and down as he sits and weeps in a deck chair, the warped hexagons and pentagons of his skin. Thank goodness it's not contagious!
    B r o o k e

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  2. A whirlwind of phantasmagoria - hellish and hormone driven - an interesting conceit. Thanks,
    Ceinwen

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  3. Very imaginative, with flashes of real humour, Steve, even if it's difficult to relate to a lizzard creature being attractive to a young girl, but then she was very lacking in self-confidence, so who knows?
    Beryl.

    ReplyDelete