02 June 2010

Brute, Part 1

The sun was nearly too warm to be comfortable, but every once in a while the breeze picked up off of the pool and it wasn't too unbearable. I was in long jeans and a t-shirt made of thick, unbreathable fabric, but I was determined to get some sun. Try spending a freezing winter indoors with nothing to do but shovel snow and fear for your hail-battered car, and show me a sunny day where you don't try to milk it for all it's worth.

I was sitting -- well, lounging, really -- in a cushioned deck chair at a house one of my best friends was watching for some friends. Leandra studied teaching in college and had a job set up, but it wouldn't start until August. So here she was, stuck in a mansion with a private lake of a swimming pool, and nothing to do but use the grill and giant flat screen in the theater in the basement. Of course, I couldn't let her die of boredom on her own, and I offered my entertainment services. This is why I was lounging.

I lifted my head and pulled my hair out from under my back. The dark, wavy mass was a great pillow, and I readjusted it so that the back of my head was cradled by a large coil. Leandra was inside talking on the phone to her fiance. I could just barely hear the murmur of her voice through the glass doors. Jeremiah had called about wedding music or something. Who knows. I was outside, I could feel the sun weaving between my toes. Listening wasn't really that high on my priority list.

"Meli?" Leandra was at the door, the phone still to her ear, the mouthpiece end held in her hair. I "hmm?"ed and squinted up at her. "Jeremiah wants to know if you can design something for the place settings. You could just come with me later today," she suggested. I shrugged.

"Sure. Swirlies?" I asked. Everyone liked putting swirlies on everything. I pretended to hate them, but there're very few things cooler than a well-designed vine swirlie. Takes talent, that.

"I don't know," Leandra said. She put the phone back in place and slid the door shut. Seeing her on the phone made me want to check mine, too, and I dropped my arm down to feel for it in the shade under the chair. After a couple of tries I felt it and pulled it up, though that was after scraping my knuckles on the concrete.

I pushed a random button and tried to angle the screen so I could see the screen. No messages, no calls. I sighed for no real reason and dropped the phone face-down on my stomach.

A couple of hours later we were at Jeremiah's house, which is, not gonna lie, probably the smallest house in the universe. For such a young guy, he was doing really well. Owned a tiny house in a cute neighborhood filled with children on training wheels and smiling, waving parents, had a pretty fiancee, a solid job...

I had followed Leandra to Jer's house, since I was supposed to be helping my sister move out that night and would probably have to leave before Leandra was done smooching Jeremiah. She was out of her car and trotting up to the house before I even had my car off. Since it was her fiance, I only rolled my eyes once. Twice would have been pushing it a little, I think. Reaching to the legroom area of the shotgun seat, I tugged on my bag, which got caught on a lever underneath the seat. Then I had to lean over even further, fumble around to find the lever, and slide the cloth away from danger. I'm pretty sure I strained an oblique muscle leaning that far.

Tossing my phone and keys in the bag, I got out, made it halfway to the house, and then remembered that I hadn't locked anything. Thinking of the happy families walking the friendly sidewalk, and of my collection of what they would probably consider devil music, I hastily searched for my keys in the recesses of my bag. I'd rather not come back outside to a bonfire in my backseat.

I was only just turning away from my car when Leandra burst out of Jeremiah's front door, screaming something worse than bloody murder. I mean, I had no idea she had that kind of lung capacity. Seriously. Luckily I had good enough ears to hear my name being screamed, and a good enough sense of appropriate reactions that instead of congratulating her on the horror film audition, I sprinted across the trimmed green grass and flew past her into the house.

The entry opened into a small den area, and straight across from it was a small eating area, which led to the small back yard via glass and screen sliding doors. From inside the house, I could see Jeremiah on the ground in the back, writhing with his hands clenching and unclenching in claw-like grips. Leandra was still screaming, but it was mostly for me to keep moving. I threw my bag on the couch, ran through the open back doors, and slid to my knees at Jeremiah's side.

It was... hideous. You know those sci-fi movies where someone gets a bug or an alien under their skin and it sort of rolls around looking like a freak bulging muscle? They scream and scream, but the only thing the other characters can do is stare in fascinated horror. This was one of those moments, and it looked like Jeremiah had allowed entry to about a million tiny rolling muscle bugs. The effect was a rolling ripple effect over his entire body, even his face. He wasn't screaming, but his mouth was wide open, and it looked like his vocal chords were trying very hard to come up with something like a scream. Every muscle was strained, every nerve was obviously being stabbed in the extremities.

"What happened?" I yelled at Leandra. I tried putting my hand out to hold down Jeremiah, but I wasn't strong enough to do anything. Leandra was crying now.

"I don't know! We were just talking! I didn't do anything!!"

"Was he eating something?" It was the only thing that came to mind, though I didn't think Jeremiah was allergic to anything; I didn't even think an allergic reaction could be this powerful.

"N-No! I don't think so," she said. Jeremiah's mouth suddenly snapped shut, so he was just writhing with his mouth pinched closed. Leandra reached out to do something, but one of his flinging arms knocked her hand away. "Should we call--" she began to add; but I stopped her.

Jeremiah had begun to stop writhing, but it was only barely noticeable. The boiling effect his muscles were going through subtly went from rippling to waving, and when he stopped arching his back, I gasped. Leandra silenced and we both watched, more than horrified, as Jeremiah's finger, wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints all came out of place. It was like the muscles had each decided to take his bones somewhere else, and they all jumped at the same time. I thrust my arm right in front of her face the instant it happened.

This time, Jeremiah screamed. Leandra and I were shocked to stillness. Looking back, I'm glad we didn't call 911 or something; even then, neither of us were retaining enough of our wits to get that far. Maybe it's sick to watch your best friend's fiance roll in agonizing pain in the middle of his manicured lawn, but I couldn't move, much less think or help. What in the world do you do in these moments? Unless you have combat training and experience working in a war hospital, I don't really think there is anything you're capable to do.

When his joints broke, Jeremiah finally screamed -- a tortuous cry straight from the depths of you-know-where. For the first time, I was actually afraid of what was happening. It hit me that all this rolling, screaming, and muscle-moving was not something that you hear about on the news. I had never gotten home from work and turned on the tube to hear about scientists who were steadily working towards a cure for Rolling-in-the-Grass-Screaming Syndrome.

And then, suddenly, Jeremiah's body went limp. It just flopped down and was still. I stopped thinking about the TV and everything and grabbed Leandra's elbow. She reached for my arm at the same moment, and we kneeled there, holding the other's arm, waiting.

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