by Ronald Schulte
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
After hitching a ride home that night, I decided enough was enough. While I was concerned about how badly I had lost control at the quarry, I was scared to death by what had happened to me physically. When I had come trotting out from behind the boulder, I had been moving on all fours. This had only lasted a few seconds; the blast from the explosion had knocked me back into normalcy. However, I was certain that I had changed physically, if only briefly.
I also had the migraine and ensuing trance to consider. The vision had lasted only a few seconds, but had been incredibly detailed. I wasn’t sure what to make of what I’d seen, but for now these seemed like lesser concerns.
One thing was certain: I had no desire to drink any more of the beer. I threw the bottles into the trash, then went to the basement and threw out all of the beer-making equipment. I slept better that night and awoke the next morning feeling refreshed. I got up, put on some coffee, and opened the fridge to grab the half and half.
The beer bottles were back, displayed proudly in two perfect rows on the top shelf, blocking the half and half.
I blinked. This wasn’t happening. I ran over and checked the garbage; empty. A quick inspection of the basement revealed that the beer-making equipment was also back, fully assembled, as if it had never been disturbed. Convinced I’d lost my mind, I tried to remove it all several more times, but to no avail; it always came back.
After a week or so of this game, I gave up. The kit, apparently, was here to stay. Still, I was determined not to drink any more of the beer. This strategy worked for a few days. When I came home on the fourth night, however, there was a beer waiting for me on the kitchen table. I simply returned the beer to the fridge and walked away. When it happened again on the fifth night, I again returned the beer to the fridge, only to find it sitting on my nightstand when I went to bed later that evening. The beer was pestering me, tormenting me, and the message was clear: I had to drink the beer in order to make it stop.
I finally gave in at the end of the second week. On one particular evening, I had been scheduled to have dinner with Jen, but she ended up working a double shift and canceling. I found myself unexpectedly home for the evening with nothing to do. I ordered out for pizza, took the pizza and a beer into the bathroom and sat down in the tub. I was hoping that the pizza might dampen the beer’s effectiveness, but figured the tub would be the safest place if things went downhill.
I closed the shower curtain to limit my range of vision; I didn’t want to accidentally destroy my toilet or sink. I slowly drank one of the beers with dinner. After three slices, I was down to my last sip; maybe this time nothing would happen. I crossed my fingers, lifted the bottle to my lips and emptied it into my mouth. As the beer flowed down my throat, a tidal wave of pain washed over me.
The camera begins to pan to the right, then slowly moves upwards, revealing the top of a bed. The covers are disheveled; the bed has not been made. There is a little blood on the sheets, and some more broken glass, including what looks like the neck of a broken beer bottle. The camera moves away, towards the nightstand, towards...
And when I came out of the trance, I was on my back in the tub. The splitting migraine was gone, replaced by a much duller pain on the back of my head. I reached around and poked gingerly at the large bump from which the pain was radiating; my fingers came back wet with blood. It wasn’t a terrible wound; I’d likely bumped my head as I’d slipped down further into the tub.
I got myself back up to a sitting position and was about to climb out of the tub when I noticed a second beer sitting on the edge of the tub next to the bottle I had just emptied. I don’t know what came over me; before I knew it, I had chugged the second beer.
I was feeling angry again, like I had at the quarry. And although I’d already finished three slices, I realized I was starving. I tore into the pizza like an animal; one slice at a time was not enough. I was soon covered in sauce and cheese. As I licked the box clean, I realized that at some point I had stopped using my hands: I was once again on all fours. My hands looked like a grotesque approximation of canine paws. I had heavy, tangled black fur all over my arms, and my fingernails had transformed into gnarled, yellowing claws.
I was just below the bathroom mirror. Had I seen my reflection, I’d probably still be having nightmares. I couldn’t think rationally. I was consumed with rage and hunger. I had an overwhelming impulse to leave the bathroom, to leave the house. I opened my mouth and shouted my intentions. I don’t know why I did this, but it seemed necessary. What came out instead was a roar and a small fireball. Luckily, nothing ignited this time.
I leapt through the shower curtain and tore off down the hallway. When I was almost to the kitchen, my running became suddenly uncoordinated. I looked down at my forelegs and saw that the fur and claws were gone; I had hands again. I stopped my now awkward four-limbed gait and stood up, panting heavily.
I returned to the kitchen, got some ice for my head and sat down at the kitchen table. That had very nearly gotten out of hand. It was a good thing the effects were so short-lived; I shuddered to think what might have happened had I left the apartment in my transformed state. I wasn’t sure where I had been going, or what I had intended to do, but one thing seemed clear: The rage and hunger were a combination best kept far, far away from others.
I thought about the new images that I had seen while passed out in the tub. Clearly, these had been a continuation of the scene I had experienced in the quarry. There was definitely something familiar about the setting; something resonated deep within my subconscious, but I couldn’t quite make the connection. I was starting to suspect that these images were the source of the anger I felt while transformed; I wasn’t sure why, but it definitely seemed to fit.
I wondered why the second beer had appeared. Wasn’t it enough that I’d caved and had one? I almost had the impression that the batch was getting desperate; that it wanted to be consumed as quickly as possible. It had to have something to do with the images. The beer was feeding me a story, a story it wanted me to hear, and the climax was fast approaching.
I did some quick math; there were four dark beers left. I grabbed them all from the fridge and placed them on the kitchen table. I then rummaged through a few cabinets, eventually emerging with a large pitcher. I emptied the four beers into the pitcher and sat down at the table.
This ends tonight. I started chugging the beer. I came up for air about a third of the way through; no weird stuff so far. I drank half of what remained before taking another pause; I remember stifling a burp in my mouth. It didn’t burn me, but it did send some smoke billowing out through my nostrils. The final third went down easy, because I was starting to feel the hunger. As the last drop hit my tongue, the show began.
The camera moves away, towards the nightstand, towards a large picture frame. The camera focuses on the photo, and I’m looking at a picture of people I know. They are friends from college. The photo was taken at a wedding a few years ago. I know because I took the picture. I know this picture...
And then I was back in the kitchen. My hands — still normal — were shaking, and I’d broken out in a cold sweat. I bolted out of the chair, grabbed my keys — I’d already procured a new truck; thank you, insurance — and ran out the door. I was in no shape to drive, but I had no time to think it over.
I knocked over a garbage can as I peeled out of the driveway, but all I could think about was making sure Jen was okay: The photo I had seen in the last vision was located in the bedroom of Jen’s apartment, on the nightstand by her bed.
My tires squealed as I turned into the parking lot of Jen’s apartment complex — I wasn’t on two wheels, but I was close — and skidded into a visitor’s spot. Jen’s car was parked in her usual spot. Not a good sign; she was supposed to be at work. I raced up the stairs to the second floor. I paused outside her door to catch my breath, then pounded on the door.
“Jen!” I yelled. No one answered. I slammed on the door a few more times, then reached down and checked the doorknob; locked. I yanked my truck keys out of my pocket and searched frantically, seeking the key Jen had given me a few months earlier. I finally located it, stuck it in the lock, and opened the door.
“Jen!” I yelled again. At a quick glance, everything seemed to be in order. I saw no signs of a struggle. But the visions had focused on the bedroom, and I couldn’t see that from here. I moved slowly down the back hallway towards the bedroom door. The door was closed. I put my ear to the door... I could hear music playing inside... some muffled voices... a few giggles... rhythmic squeaking... is someone jumping on the bed?
All at once, I realized what was going on. Rage overtook me, and the door exploded. Directly in front of me, Jen and some guy had both frozen like deer in headlights. I vaguely recognized the guy; it was someone Jen worked with. The name Paul came to mind; I don't think that's quite right, but it is good enough for our purposes. Jen screamed and threw herself over the side of the bed. "Paul" had turned very pale; he didn't move a muscle.
“Sorry to interrupt,” I said to the pair. Or, at least, tried to say; what came out of my mouth was a low, guttural growl. Smoke was issuing from my nostrils as I approached the bed.
Paul half-hopped, half-crawled off the bed and made a break for the window. His boxers were tangled around his feet. He didn’t make it far; he went down hard after a few graceless hops.
I leapt towards Paul. He managed to deflect my attack just enough to avoid my teeth, which had been aimed at his throat, but my skull cracked into his face, breaking his nose and knocking him unconscious. Blood sprayed everywhere. A little got on the sheets.
The blood pouring from Paul’s nose started pooling on the hardwood floor. I went for his throat again, but now Jen was attacking me from behind, kicking at me, trying to pull me away, pleading with me to stop. At the sound of her voice, my rage shifted from Paul and focused on Jen.
I stood up on my hind legs and howled, sending a small fireball careening into the ceiling. How the drywall managed to withstand the blast without igniting is beyond me. This eliminated what little fight she had left; she stood there, petrified, as I advanced on her. Still on my hind legs, I placed my forelegs on her shoulders and clamped onto her neck with my teeth, crushing her windpipe. I choked her with everything I had. She started turning blue... she was losing consciousness.
Then, out of nowhere, she had an empty beer bottle in her hand... I have no idea where it came from. She smashed the bottle over my head. Shattered glass flew everywhere. My lights went out.
There are three bodies on the floor. One — a young man — sits up gingerly. He wipes blood from his eyes and nose, stands, pulls up his pants. He bends down to examine one of the other bodies, a woman; he keeps his distance from the final body, which is just a normal man now, if he would bother to look, but he is terrified and keeps his eyes averted. He stands back up and walks toward the door, but stops abruptly: he has stepped on a piece of broken glass. He stoops and picks it up — looks like the neck from a beer bottle — and tosses it onto the bed. He tiptoes, carefully avoiding more glass, and makes his way out of the bedroom, running for his life once he is through the doorway.
And when I was myself again, I was staring first-hand at the scene from my visions. Jen had passed out after striking me with the bottle and had landed facedown on the hardwood. Her head was only a few inches away from the pool of blood that had seeped from Paul’s nose.
I stood up and walked over to Jen. I was ashamed and terrified of what had happened. I bent down and turned her over; she was breathing. Thank God. I grabbed her robe from the closet and draped it over her body. I pulled a few pieces of glass from her tangled mess of hair, then stood and turned to leave. That was when I noticed the large piece of glass on the bed. I picked it up and looked at it, and nearly fainted all over again.
The glass was etched in a very unique way, and I immediately recognized the symbol. It was the same symbol that adorned the keg and bottles from my home brew kit.
I tossed the piece of glass back onto the bed and got out of that apartment as quickly as I could.
* * *
There have been no more transformations, explosions, visions, or fireballs since that night. Neither Jen nor “Paul” realizes that I had anything to do with the strange assault that will forever haunt their dreams. Jen and I have since split up, but she’s not seeing the other guy either, so I guess we’ll call that one even.
I still have the home brew kit. I wasn’t surprised when the mix canisters mysteriously replenished themselves. Nor am I surprised that all of the bottles are once again present and accounted for. The bottles continue to torment me at all times, appearing in the damnedest places.
I won’t drink. It’s a standoff.
I do have reason to hope that this will all be over soon. I’ve created my own listing for the kit on eBay and, just seconds ago, somebody placed a bid. I feel bad to do it this way, but I’ve carried this burden for long enough.
I wish I could warn the buyer, let her know what she’s getting herself into. But somehow I know that if I do that, the package will just end up back on my doorstep, marked “Return to Sender.”
Copyright © 2018 by Ronald Schulte