(Content warning: this story contains descriptive body horror.)
“Stop poking at it,” she said. “Do you want it to pop?”
“Maybe it needs to,” I replied.
She huffed. “Not in my car, please.” She rolled down her window for her cigarette smoke.
I wrinkled my nose and let go of the hem of my tee. “It doesn’t even hurt. It’s all hard.”
Mom slowly exhaled the pungent smoke from her lungs. “Let’s see what Dr. Mark says.”
“You’ll think he’ll have to cut it? I don’t want him sticking me with anything!”
“If he wants to test it, Tom, he may have to cut it! You need to grow up; I’m around sharp shit all the time at work but I still go to work.”
I frowned at her. “Those things’ll kill you.”
She rolled her eyes and took a long drag. “Don’t start that shit again, Tommy.”
“You’re a nurse. You should know better.”
“Mind your business!”
I bit my cheek and crossed my arms. The tips of my fingers brushed against my bump and a rush of warmth flowed into my stomach.
Three days ago, I woke up and noticed a bump on my left side. I thought it was a rash because it itched and burned. Mom said it looked like a spider bite. I hate spiders.
“We have house spiders, Tommy,” she had said. “Those aren’t venomous. It probably got trapped in your bed and you rolled on top of it. Just put some cream and a band-aid on it for now.
I stripped my bed after she went to work and didn’t see a squashed spider, let alone any trace of its guts. I didn’t tell her, though.
No matter how much ointment I put on it or how clean I kept it, the bump got bigger. Its redness turned pink and became round and smooth like a marble, and I swear I saw it move once.
Mom looked at it again yesterday. She’s a wound care nurse and said she’s never seen a growth like mine.
We got to the clinic and I signed myself in at the front desk while Mom found a magazine in the waiting room. She didn’t get a chance to get comfortable because I told her they wanted a co-pay.
She groaned as she dropped the magazine and stomped to the desk.
“Dr. Mike is in our network,” she told the receptionist in a firm voice. “We’ve never paid a co-pay in the past.”
The receptionist wasn’t phased by Mom’s tone. I’m sure she hears it from everyone.
“Ma’am,” she said calmly. “I ran your insurance and there’s a co-pay. Did your employer change insurance recently?”
“Well, yeah, they did,” Mom said, “but I didn’t know we had a co-pay now! They didn’t tell us that!”
“Well, ma’am we have to go by what your insurance says and it’s asking for a $30 co-pay.”
“Thirty doll — !” She stopped herself and took a breath. “Okay…fine. I’ll be talking to my boss about this; we were not informed of any co-pays.”
“Do you take cards?”
I watched Mom take out her checkbook as I placed my hand under my shirt and poked the bump.
I know it’s weird that I keep touching it, but I like the way it feels. It’s warm and moves under my fingers, just barely though. Enough to let me know that it feels me.
Okay, that does sound weird.
I hope Dr. Mark doesn’t cut it. I don’t mind having it. It’d be a cool thing to gross my friends out with. We do that a lot; it’s a game we’ve played since we were kids.
Jamal used to fold up his eyelids and we’d pretend to gag. Gabe used to wiggle all of his loose teeth with the tip of his tongue, and one time Brian popped out his innie belly button. I almost threw up.
But my bump would top all of that. I could imagine them staring at it as they touched it and freaked out when it moved.
I pulled my fingers away when I felt pressure under my ribs. My side cramped as I took a breath. Everyone in the waiting room was watching me. The woman next to me picked up her purse and moved to the other side of the room.
My bump was throbbing so hard I thought it was going to pop right there in the waiting room.
But cramping stopped when I touched it again.
Is it bigger? It felt like it. It’s like the size of a golf ball now.
I took another breath and sat up when Mom came back. “Ridiculous,” she whispered, picking up a different magazine.
“Mom, something happened.”
“Tommy,” she groaned, not looking at me. “Just wait your turn.”
Dr. Mark didn’t cut it! He just gave it a few pokes with his finger and said that it was probably a boil, but it would need to be popped eventually.
“Just leave it alone,” he said. “Keep watching it, though. You’ll know when it’s time to pop.”
I noticed that my bump had definitely grown, but I didn’t tell them. It didn’t matter now because I knew what it was now. A boil! Not a spider bite!
Wait, what’s a boil?
I looked it up later and found gross boil popping videos. Holy shit, the guys are going to freak! I sent a picture of it and they responded like I thought they would, with comments like “Sick!” “Ugh, dude!” and “That’s messed up…”
I laughed. Mom said that I was losing it and then lit another cigarette.
“Don’t smoke in the house,” I snapped. “You want to kill me, too?”
The pressure in my ribs came back when we had dinner. Mom noticed my heavy breathing and asked if I was okay.
“Yeah,” I sighed as I sat up straighter. “Food’s good.”
I don’t think she believed me, either about her food or if I was okay.
I took a shower and saw that my bump was the size of a baseball.
I cupped it with my hand and felt something like a kick behind my ribs. The pain made me gasp and I accidentally swallowed some water, and coughed so hard Mom pounded on the bathroom door.
“Tommy! What’s happening?”
I didn’t want her to see my bump because I knew she would freak out again. She would probably take me to the hospital for emergency surgery.
But I wanted to keep it. I felt like it belonged on me because it gave me a good feeling when I touched it.
I stayed in my room the rest of the night. I knew Mom would be up late watching TV and that she wouldn’t bother me, so I didn’t put on a shirt. I looked at my bump in the mirror and stroked it. It moved again.
I opened my laptop and typed into Google “do boils grow?”
The results showed that they could grow as big as golf balls before they started to emit pus, but mine was bigger than that now and it didn’t look like it was going to pop.
Did I have a tumor?
Over the next few days, he sprouted three small bumps on the underside of him, and he was the size of a softball.
Oh, my bump is a ‘he,’ now. I named him Trevor. It just popped into my head when I was holding him one night. That’s how I felt his fingers.
That’s what I’m calling them because they move like fingers even though they’re just tiny nubs.
I’ve been able to hide him from my friends. He wasn’t much of a boil anymore and he definitely wasn’t a tumor; I was sure of it. I don’t know if I want to see the guys’ reactions to him now. They may not want to hang out with me anymore.
Trevor moves his little fingers a lot, like he’s saying hello. I touch three of my own fingers to his. It’s our secret handshake.
Mom’s been working more hours, so she hasn’t noticed him either. When she’s home, I keep my big red hoodie on and tell her I’ve just been cold lately. She felt my forehead yesterday and said I had a fever and I should probably go to Dr. Mike.
My ribs ached when she said that. I pretty sure by now that it’s Trevor doing it. He knows about Dr. Mike because I told him that he had called him a boil. Trevor’s fingers flapped. That’s how he laughs.
I told Mom I was fine and took my bowl of spaghetti up to my room. I eat in my room a lot now. I know it worries Mom, but she doesn’t say anything; just stays downstairs to watch TV.
Trevor’s eye opened today. It’s brown, like mine.
I saw that part of Trevor’s skin was looking like it was folding. It flinched whenever I touched it so I left it alone. He would show me when he was ready.
And today he did! I was looking at him in the mirror, at his new fingers (he’s got two more now) when the slit on top of him opened.
He looked at me and I jumped a little, but then I laughed and said hey. I felt him move behind my ribs as he blinked.
Trevor doesn’t like that Mom smokes in the house. The smell bothers him and makes him squirm inside me.
“Mom, please don’t smoke in the house…” I told her at dinner one night. “It makes everything stink.”
“You smoke too much.”
“Will you just fucking stop it? You’re like a damn broken record! Every night I come home from work and want to relax. It’s help me unwind.”
I felt a burning in my throat and my tongue stopped moving.
“You’re lucky,” she continued. “You’re a kid; you don’t have to worry about money or taking care of anybody.”
That’s not true. I have to take care of Trevor.
“I pay the bills and put food on your plate, so you can cut out that whining.”
The burning was in my tongue now and I closed my eyes. Trevor was pressing hard into my side and I felt my skin pull. I thought he was going to come out of me.
Mom noticed me finally and her tone changed. “Tommy, you’re sweating. What’s wrong with you?”
I took a deep breath and opened my mouth to answer, but it wasn’t me who spoke. My throat burned as another voice came out. It was loud and scratchy.
“You’re what’s wrong with me, you tobacco-stained bitch!”
She dropped her fork. “Tommy! What did you — ”
“You’re going to choke,” the voice said. “You’ll make us choke, too!”
Mom’s mouth dropped. “Us? Tommy, something’s wrong. Tell me what’s wrong. Please!”
“You deserve to choke!” the voice shrieked. “You deserve —”
I forced down the rest of my glass of milk and sighed. Trevor started kicking me and I closed my hoodie tighter.
“Mom…” My own voice was back but I felt weak. My throat was still burning. I got up from the table and made for the stairs.
“Tommy — ”
“I’m fine!” I shouted before slamming my door.
I couldn’t sleep. Trevor wouldn’t stop kicking me.
Mom walked in on me and Trevor. We were sitting on the floor when she barged in and choked out a scream.
I told her not to come in; I warned her but she did it anyway. She knew I was lying about being sick so I could stay home from school, but it was so I could be with Trevor, and she had come up to my room to tell me grow up, like she always does.
It was his arm that she saw first. It’s not long but it’s bent backwards at the elbow. He also has both eyes open and a little bump between them. I think it’s his nose. He’s also got a few strands of hair, brown like mine.
He’s almost two weeks old.
She fell against my wall and screamed, and we watched her in silence, four dark identical eyes staring.
When her screaming stopped, I said, “I told you not to come in.”
Trevor kicked my ribs. It’s how he talks to me. I’m used to it though because he does it a lot, especially when Mom is nearby.
He doesn’t like her.
“Oh my God, Tommy!” she shrieked. “What…what is that thing?!”
“He’s not a thing, Mom.” My voice is calm as I cradle Trevor’s head, his eight fingers wriggling.
He’s pressing against me. It feels like my whole left side is bruised; broken ribs, probably.
She pointed at Trevor, her eyes wide. “It’s looking at me! Dear God, Tommy!”
“Mom, please, stop screaming,” I said. “He won’t hurt you.”
Tears poured down her cheeks as she took her cellphone from her pocket.
Trevor kicked me again, harder this time. Without thinking, I got to my feet. His stubby legs inside me were pounding against my rib cage, like I was his personal drum.
I opened my mouth again and Trevor hissed, “What are you doing, Mother?”
She gasped as more tears rolled down her cheeks. “Tom…my…” she whined.
I gulped down Trevor’s voice and said, “Mom…it’s okay. It’s just Trevor.”
A tear fell down my cheek. I was in pain, but I gave her a warm smile. There goes another rib, I think.
“Tommy…” Mom was trembling. “It’s hurting you, isn’t it? Oh, Tommy, baby…”
“His name is Trevor, Mom.” My voice was weaker as I took a step forward. “He’s just like me.”
She shook her head as she unlocked her phone. “No, baby. Nothing like you. That thing is evil!” She sniffed and dialed a number. “We’re going to the hospital. I’ll call Dr. Mark and tell him what’s happening. We’ll get it cut out, baby, we’ll make you all bett —”
It was all a blur, but when our sight cleared again, Mom was on the floor at our feet. Blood was spilling from her head into the white carpet and soaking our socks.
Her cellphone was in our hand, and the screen was cracked in one corner from the multiple blows it had made against her skull. Bits of skin and blood stained the yellow phone case.
Trevor stopped kicking.
We tossed the bloody phone onto Mom’s back and, in total silence, we washed up, got dressed, and packed a duffel bag. We went into the kitchen where Mom kept her purse on the island and took the cash from her wallet. We climbed onto the kitchen counter to open the tin coffee can on top of the fridge and took the emergency cash.
And then, after throwing our bloody socks in the dumpster down the street, we walked.
When we made it to the highway, we got a ride from a trucker. She was nice. She didn’t ask why we were walking or why we were wearing a big hoodie in the middle of summer. We rode quite a ways with her, no radio playing, and we didn’t talk much except to say thank you for the McDonald’s dinner and the ride.
I think Trevor slept for the first time ever because he wasn’t kicking anymore.
We must be hundreds of miles from home now. We went through another town and bought some snacks for later.
We were in a diner when we saw the news on the TV that was hanging above the bar. It was about Mom’s death and how her son went missing and they showed a picture of him.
We covered our head and pulled the drawstrings and slipped out of our chair, wrapping our burger in a napkin.
Now, we’re in a shed behind someone’s house. It looked like the owners weren’t home because there was a stack of newspapers on the front step. Maybe they were on vacation.
Our feet hurt and I stretched out our legs to rest. The moment I closed my eyes, they started to burn. I don’t know why, but I wanted to cry.
So I did. But Trevor kicked me, and I stopped.
I reached under my hoodie, wincing at the pain in my side. I put the tips of my fingers to his.
I have to take care of him. He’s just like me.