Updated: Nov 17, 2021
A new morning and another opportunity to make things better. Derrick shaved the stubble from his face and combed his hair. It was nice to exercise and rest for the past three days, but he couldn’t stand being home all day. He needed to look sharp for his appointment.
After he put on a pair of slacks and a white t-shirt, he walked down stairs and walked into Mr. McCoy’s office.
“Good morning, Derrick,” said Mr. McCoy. “Ready for breakfast?”
“Please, call me, Will.”
“Thank you, Will. Could I borrow a collard shirt?”
“Of course, but food first. Sheryl doesn’t want you walking around on an empty stomach.” Will escorted Derrick to the kitchen. Sheryl was sitting at the table and was eating a plate of scrambled eggs. Mrs. McCoy was cooking sausages and hash-browns.
The food was sweet and savory, whenever Mrs. McCoy would cook. Derrick and William sat at the table and dug into the homemade meal.
As Derrick sipped his coffee, he sputtered when someone kicked his foot. He peered over the rim of his mug and Sheryl hid her smile by pressing her fork against her lips.
“What? Is the coffee too hot?” Sheryl put her fork down and drank from her cup. “Caffeine isn’t good for your recovery. Try the orange juice.”
“Juice is good, but I need to be extra alert for my interview today.” Derrick his raised his mug for a cheers, but everyone stared with stunned silence.
“Oh! I thought you were going on a date with Sheryl,” said Will.
“Dad!” said Sheryl.
Will shrugged, took his plate and mug, and shuffled out of the kitchen. Mrs. McCoy switched off the stove and scurried after her husband.
“Ok…” Derrick drank his coffee and scratched his chin. “Guess, Will is a romantic?”
“He’s… enthusiastic.” Sheryl dumped her plate and unfinished coffee into the sink. Then she sat next to Derrick and scooted her chair closer, until their arms touched. “It’s too early for you to work.”
“I write computer programs.” He flexed his arms and said, “I feel strong, but I’m not trying to be a construction worker.”
“I know.” She tapped his temple with her finger. “I’m worried about the stress. People expect many things on the job.”
“I’ve worked in an office before. Also, it’s a minor part time job. I need time to practice and refresh my skills.” Derrick tapped his fingers on the table top as if he were typing on a keyboard. His right hand slapped the table and the joints were stiff. The new hand didn’t give him any problems till now, but Sheryl didn’t notice.
“Besides, it’s only an interview.” He placed his hand on her crown and gently slid it down her silky hair.
She closed her eyes and leaned against him. Her hair was warm and, even though she didn’t smile, she didn’t reject his hand.
“Thank you for caring.” Derrick rested his hand on her head. “You’re a great friend and companion. If you were an animal, you would be a bunny or a cat.”
“What did you say?” Sheryl stood from her seat and looked down at him.
“I said you reminded me of a bunny and a cat.” He took her hand. “I’m sorry, if I insulted you.”
“No, you didn’t do anything wrong. I had a friend, who used to say the same thing…” She broke eye contact, pulled her hand away, and checked her watch. “I need to go. I’m going to be late for work.”
Before he could say anything else, she left the kitchen and rushed to the car. He tried to understand what had happened as he heard the car accelerate out of the drive way. After he finished breakfast, he walked to the office and Sheryl’s jacket was hanging on the coat rack. Although she was running late, the green jacket was a hard thing to forget.
Complications were expected, but I thought I would have problems with my body, not my relationships. Derrick knocked before opening the door.
Will was sitting at his desk with his empty dishes and a newspaper. “Good, you survived. Did Sheryl give a hard time?”
“A little, but it wasn’t a problem,” said Derrick.
“You can handle her better than I can. I’m too old to argue with anyone. It’s not good for my heart.” Will stood and hobbled to the closet. He slid the door open, picked through several shirts, and pulled out a hanger that was draped with a garbage bag. Then pulled away the plastic, revealing a nice old-fashioned tuxedo. “This will make things better for you.”
“I appreciate what you’re trying to do…” Derrick looked over the outfit and cleared his throat. “It’s a bit too much for a first date.”
“What are you talking about?” said Will. “This suit is for your job interview. The classics are always good.”
“I only need a collard shirt.” Derrick scanned the closet and saw something pink. “That one looks nice.”
“No, you wouldn’t want that. Pink isn’t your color.”
“I wouldn’t mind trying it on.” Derrick pulled the shirt out off the hanger. The collar was embroidered with swirls and the shoulders were studded with glittering stars. He laughed and held the shirt against his chest. “I guess you’re right, but it does leave an impression.”
“It’s ridiculous.” Will slapped the shirt and grumbled, “You look like a clown—”
“You’re right, but it’s your shirt.” Derrick held the shirt in front of him, so it would overlap Will’s clothes. It was silly, yet it could be a respectable outfit with the right touch. “This needs a hat. Do you have a hat?”
Will reaches into the closet and pulls a box from the top shelf. He pulls a cowboy hat from the box and places it on top of Derrick’s head.
Derrick grab’s a framed photo and checked his reflection. The hat had weight and it slid over his eyes. “I don’t think this is my style.” He took off the hat off, plopped it on to Will’s crown, and held up the glass frame.
“Fine, I’ll humor you.” Will ran his finger on the rim of his hat, scowled at his reflection, and chuckled. “I forgot how good I looked with this hat.”
“You could pass for an old-west action hero, maybe a field rancher.”
“Ha! In another life, maybe.” Will took the pink shirt from Derrick and dusted it off. “These were a gift from my daughter—” He paused and placed the shirt back in the closet.
“Sorry, Will, is there something wrong?”
“You can’t afford to lose focus, before your interview.” Will pulled the silk collared shirt from the suit jacket, shoved it into Derrick’s hands, and threw the suit on to the floor.
“I can fold that for you.” Derrick tried to grab the suit, but Will kicked it out of his reach. “Are you sure that you’re ok?”
“It’s the dust. This shit bothers me.” Will grabbed Derrick and walked him out of the office. Then he threw a black tie into Derrick’s face and shut the door.
Was something I said? Derrick returned to his room and put on the shirt. He tied his tie and removed it when it came out shorter than he wanted. His brain was stuck on Sheryl and Will’s drama while his hands tied random knots around his neck.
“Next stop, Coil Drive and Law Lane,” the automated announcement had been clear throughout the bus. But Derrick hadn’t understood a single word, until he missed his stop. The extra distance and afternoon sun wasn’t a problem, the entire trip to the office was a mistake.
He went through the McCoy’s front door, dragged his feet to the living room, and collapsed on to the couch. There were no sores in his body, yet he lacked energy and his movements were sluggish.
What a shit show. It’s been a while, but I didn’t think it would be this bad. The office he had visited was medium sized building among the other small businesses in town. When he had entered the office, a well-dressed woman invited him inside and confirmed his appointment with pleasant chit-chat and a hot cup of coffee.
The interview had started fifteen minutes after the scheduled time. A supervisor and a human resource manager had strolled in with no apologies or excuses. Then they had peppered him with questions and compliments that had no meaning. Derrick had given them an equal measure of soulless answers and fake positivity.
Although he had determined the interview to be a loss, the interviewers were ecstatic to give him the job and they asked if he could start tomorrow. He had used his recovery to dissuade them, but the company was willing to wait two weeks.
This was a solid opportunity, though he couldn’t appreciate it, because his interests and concerns were elsewhere.
It’s a rough job with demanding management. We need the money, but is it worth my health? Derrick didn’t to think about it anymore. If Sheryl were there, he could listen to her rants and feel better. Unfortunately, she was still at work, and Will didn’t seem the type to offer comforting advice. This day had the makings a disappointing lonely day.
“Derrick, is that you?” shout Mrs. McCoy from the kitchen. “Did you just come home?”
“Yes, I’m sinking into your couch.” He lounged one the cushions and stared at the entertainment system. The McCoy’s had a flat screen television and DVR, but he had no desire to watch it. There was an old VCR with a collection of video tapes on the bottom shelf, and a framed photo surrounded by bird figurines.
It wasn’t fancy or expensive. The display was distracting, and yet, Derrick couldn’t ignore the negativity and the sickening confusion.
“Oh my, are you all right?” said Mrs. McCoy.
“Yes, I’m just tired.” Derrick tried to turn around, but stopped when Mrs. McCoy massaged his shoulders.
“The interview was tedious, but I got the job.” He could feel the stress melt away. Then he smelled something burning. “Mrs. McCoy, are you cooking?”
“I burned a hamburger. Don’t worry, the smell will go away, eventually.”
The scent of burnt meat seeped into his nostrils. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the massage. Mrs. McCoy worked her fingers on his shoulders and back, deep rubbing her finger tips into the muscles that bordered his bones. His body was at ease, yet the smoky stench infected his tranquility.
This day was supposed to be great! I have my health, I got a job, and I have a family that cares for me. Why can’t I enjoy this? Derrick opened his eyes and the television greeted him with a man dozing on a sofa with a shadow lurking on top of him. He looked up and saw the ceiling.
Then he saw a pair of thin black hands touching his shoulders. The limbs were skeletal and pieces of charred skin soiled his shirt.
“Oh dear, honey, are you okay?” Mrs. McCoy’s voice deepened with her laughter and the cracking of her bones. “Shall I kiss you and make you feel better?” The impostor squeezed Derrick’s neck. He ripped off the creature’s hands, and it howled with laughter.
Derrick leaped from the couch, backed into the TV, and shouted. Mrs. McCoy screamed and dropped a pair of mugs.
“Oh no. Why didn’t I use a tray?” Mrs. McCoy struggled to bend and kneel to grab the spilled drinks.
He watched her for a second before grabbed them for her. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Likewise.” She chuckled took the mugs from him. “Trust me, I’ve seen you do more frightening things. We haven’t talked so much, but thank you for being here.”
“Marge, I—” Derrick paused and clapped his hands. “That’s right, your name is Marge! I remember, we first met when Sheryl gave you a tour of the college.”
“No, I think you need your rest. I’ll heat some milk for you.” Marge took the mugs and retreated to the kitchen. He hesitated, and went to the kitchen to grab a rag, but she strutted past him and began to clean the carpet.
What do I say? What do I do? Nothing? But I’ve been doing nothing without even trying! Derrick sighed and climbed upstairs. The fear had never left and the helpless confusion was waiting in the back drop of his recovery. He went to the bed and was frustrated by his ability to do anything.
All I can do is act responsible, and maybe everything will work itself out. Derrick finished the last bite of his pork chop and said, “Thank you, for dinner Mrs. McCoy. I’ll wash the dishes after you’re done.”
“No, I’ll take care of that.” Marge wiped her mouth with her napkin and snorted. “You will make dinner tomorrow, and you don’t have to be so formal. My first name isn’t forbidden.”
“But my study is off limits,” said Will as he chewed and spat. “No one enters unless you get my permission. Even if you hear me screaming bloody—”
“Dad!” Sheryl coughed and took a long drink from her cup. She slammed her cup on the table and said, “That’s a terrible joke.”
“Yes, it was, because I’m not joking.” Will stabbed his fork into his food. His plate screeched as the fork scraped the plate. “It’s hard for an old man to change…That’s all I can say.”
“Living changes how we see life.” Marge took Will’s plate and tried not to drop the loose utensils.
Sheryl carried her plate and grabbed Marge’s dirty dishes. Derrick tried to help, but Sheryl snatched his plate and dumped them into the sink. Before Derrick could respond, Sheryl stormed out of the kitchen.
Derrick looked to Will and expected him to do something. However, Will stared back and glanced at the door. Then he flared his nose when he swiveled his eyes back to Derrick. Marge sat next to Will and performed the same action, except, her gaze made him feel like a naughty child.
Although the McCoy’s were acting strange, Derrick knew what they were saying. Derrick hurried after Sheryl. He leaped over the sofa and dashed up the stairs. She went to her room and closed the door, but Derrick stuck his right hand into the gap. The door pinched his hand between the door frame, yet his hand reflexively grabbed and stopped the door.
He tried to open the door, but Sheryl continued to push it. “Hey, your door isn’t broken. That’s my hand!”
“What!” Sheryl opened the door and grabbed Derrick’s hand. She brought him into her room and they sat on her bed.
“Don't be reckless. You can't get a new hand from the mall.” She inspected his hand. There was a red line on his palm where the door made contact, yet the skin wasn't broken or bruised.
“I'm sorry,’ said Derrick. “I just wanted to see if you were all right.”
“I was upset and I overreacted. Don't worry about me.” She pulled out a first aid kit from under her bed and began to wrap his hand with a gauze bandage.
“Sheryl, something happened down there. Talk to me.” He stopped her and removed the bandage. Then he flexed his fingers and held out his open palm. “See? Nothing to worry about. I'm here for you.”
“You’re kind and strong...I envy you.” She rubbed her finger against Derrick's hand and kissed the fading mark on his palm. “It's nothing. Something small that doesn't matter anymore.”
“Well, it's obviously important to you. Please, tell me.” He wrapped his and her hands together.
“It's personal. I—” Her lips parted, but no words came from her mouth. She tried again, sighed, and shook head.
Something gargled inside of Derrick's head, and his eardrums popped. He tightened his grip around her hands. She spoke and struggled to break free. However, he couldn't understand what she was saying and he didn't care.
“Stop it! What am I? Your baby? Your dog? Am I your pet project?” He restrained her arms and burrowed his eyes into her face. Why were the parents so cold when they treated him as if he were their son? Was the surgery the cause of his hallucinations? Why did the McCoy family take him in?
Although the questions bounced around inside his skull, he couldn’t speak until his anger settled down. He shut his eyes, suppressed the urge to do something stupid, and said, “How could you—”
A soft touch locked his lips and a spark lit his mind. He opened his eyes to witness the kiss from Sheryl. She pulled back, there was a deep pool in her eyes, and a heavy weight to her smile.
They kissed once again, and the tension of the moment vanished. Before Derrick could realize it, his shirt was gone and her top was hanging on the edge of the bed. He caressed her back as they laid together. Their bodies were soft, firm, smooth, and rough—variations that coincided and formed overwhelming chain reaction.
“You’re my angel, now,” whispered Sheryl.
Yes, and you’re my…what are you? He was lost in the passion of the moment, but another emotion crackled into existence. Sheryl blinked and her eye changed from hazel to blue. Her hair shifted and shimmered with blond strands. Even as their bodies touched, Sheryl’s skin tone changed and the contours of her body moved beneath her skin.
Her body pats were transforming constantly—She had two pairs of eyes, a nose with extra nostrils, and a mouth with stacked rows of conjoined teeth.
As she morphed into countless combinations of limbs and external organs, Derrick couldn’t stop. His body refused to jump, speak, or scream, because their was a curiosity within the amorphous mass. The extra features were initially frightening, but there was a human familiarity in the phenomenon.
He didn’t know what this meant. Sheryl was part of it, and yet, she wasn’t the source. This person, place, and time were all wrong. What was she missing? Maybe, he was missing something?
“Are you all right? You feel cold and you’re shivering,” said Sheryl.
Derrick blinked repeatedly and saw honest concern on her face. He said, “Everything’s good…I’m just amazed. I’m lucky to have you.”
This is me and this is her. There’s someone else here. I forgot them, but they didn’t forget me.