Rubbing his temples, a young man of around nineteen stumbled unto a brick curb. He pushed his way into a convenience store, nodding at the store clerk before making his way to the back of the aisles.
The young man grabbed a bottle of Tylenol, breaking the plastic around the cap with his fingernails and quickly unscrewing the bottle. He emptied a few pills into his hand, and then grabbed an energy drink from the cooler to down the tablets with.
The clerk at the front of the store craned his neck so he could see over the aisles. The young man swished the drink back and forth in his mouth before he finally swallowed it, waving hello at the clerk as he walked back.
“Is there anything else I can get for you?” the clerk asked, carefully scanning the already-open energy drink.
“No, thank you,” the young man said, scratching the top of his forehead.
“You got a headache?”
The young man looked up at the clerk. “Yeah, I just studied for, like, eight hours.”
The clerk nodded, proceeding to scan the pill bottle.
“Also, I’ve gotten migraines since I was a kid,” the young man added on at the end, uncomfortably drumming the front desk with his fingertips.
The clerk printed out a receipt, handing it to the young man.
“Sorry man, school’s tough. If you could sign that little slip at the bottom for me, that’d be great.” The clerk said, digging around in the register for the young man’s change.
The young man scrambled around in his pockets, finally finding a click pen. He signed Charlie M. on the receipt with a tired flourish, handing it back to the store clerk.
“Ok,” the clerk said. “You have a nice night, alright?”
“Yeah, thanks,” Charlie said, taking another swig of the energy drink and grabbing the pill bottle as he opened the front door.
In his peripherals, Charlie noticed a large red truck skidding down the street. It swung too far onto the left side of the road, and then quickly tried to correct itself, sending the front end into a spiral, screeching until its left side slammed into a light post.
“Oh-oh shit,” Charlie said, looking back at the store clerk, who was leaning over the front desk on his palms to see what was going on. Charlie looked back at the wreck, seeing that the airbag had deployed, inflating to an almost cartoonish extent. Parts of the bag was pushing itself out of the car window.
Charlie put his energy drink on the sidewalk, breaking out into a run to the truck, feeling the bottle of pills shaking in his pocket as he ran. He looked both ways as he ran across the street, seeing no other cars in sight. The airbag was appearing to increase in size, pushing itself into the back of the car.
As he approached the truck, Charlie realized that it was no airbag.
A hulking mass of fat was growing, growing, growing. Expanding, putting spider-web cracks in the windshield until it finally shattered. He watched as the truck’s suspension began to sag, and as the side doors finally gave way to the layers and layers of cellulite and skin.
Charlie took a step backward, finally switching direction and sprinting back to the convenience store. He pushed the front door open, looking at the store clerk.
“You need to call an ambulance. There’s something really wrong with that guy out there.”
“What do you me-” the clerk started, but then trailed off.
Charlie felt himself begin to unbuckle, his legs turning to cottage cheese. He fell onto the ground, his skin wriggling upon impact with the linoleum. He felt his body quickly begin to lose shape, expanding down and out. The sides of his fat began to cut into the doorframe, eventually squeezing so parts of him were sticking out both sides of the door.
Charlie still had his vision, though it was blurred and unfocused, he could still see in a general direction. He could still hear.
And so Charlie the blob witnessed the clerk’s transformation, too.
The clerk formed a more droopy, bulbous shape. The clerk’s face bulged, losing all recognizable facial features in the expanding mass. His clothes ripped apart and he continued growing until layers of fat were flowing over the front register.
Charlie’s initial thoughts were panicked and afraid:
What do I do?
What is this?
Will I be stuck like this forever?
Will I ever see my family again?
I have a midterm I have to take tomorrow and if this makes me miss it I’m going to be really pissed off.
Charlie ended up missing his midterm.
Charlie missed a few midterms, actually.
He sat there for months, with nothing to look at but the clerk. The other blob. His only companion.
The power in the store eventually went out, flickered back on for a few days, and then went out again, making the nights unbearably dark. Charlie could sometimes hear the howling of coyotes in the distance, making his creamy flesh quiver.
A few weeks after that, the gallon jugs of milk they kept in the back went sour, wafting its way over to Charlie. He thought about moving out of the way of the stench, trying to roll somewhere else, somewhere where he could look at something else. But an overwhelming sense of futility had placed itself in the back of Charlie’s mind, constantly reminding him that there would be no point to moving, even if he could move.
Charlie’s panicked thoughts were gradually replaced with cynicism and apathy. He accepted the fact that this was his life now, the frame of a convenience store door cutting into his body, getting more and more sore as they days went on.
And one day, months after the night Charlie turned into blob Charlie, a brick slammed through the convenience store window.
A young woman, maybe only a few years older than Charlie, carefully slipped her way through the hole in the window, stepping over the broken glass in her tennis shoes. Her shirt still had the tag on it, and the shoes were plasticky and relatively scuff-free.
She ran into the view of Charlie, who looked at her tiredly. This was the first normal human being Charlie had seen in months.
She looks like Diane from Cheers, Charlie thought vaguely.
“Listen to me,” the woman said, glancing back and forth at Charlie and the clerk. “The both of you. I’ve figured it out. You need to think about being a human again. And it’s the only thing that you need to think about.”
I wonder if she has a boyfriend. Charlie thought.
“It might take a while. Like, a few days. But you need to focus. Keep all of your energy on that one thought, and you’ll go back to normal.”
Charlie tried to remember if he had a girlfriend, but quickly got a headache.
The young woman stayed for a few more minutes, talking to the both of them, Charlie couldn’t lock onto anything she was saying. Her voice was distorted and distant, like she was trying to talk to him through a toilet paper roll.
She left after that, and Charlie went back to trying to say his alphabet backwards. The farthest he ever got was Q before he had to start over again.
The young woman came back the day after that.
Charlie hadn’t noticed until she pointed it out, but the swelling mass that was once the store clerk had gone down a bit. The clerk’s fat had receded back behind the register again,
The young woman focused on Charlie, a sense of urgency in her voice.
“I know it’s hard, thinking only about one thing. But it’s something you need to train yourself to do. You’ll get into this mindset, this rhythm of thinking, and from then on, it’s the only way you’ll be able to think. You need to think about the people you’re doing this for, and most importantly, you need to think about yourself.”
The young woman’s words struck a chord in the mounds of flesh that had once been Charlie. He was filled with a sudden warmth, his heart grew three sizes, that sort of thing.
It was a slow process that was continuously halted by dread and self-hatred. The clerk had turned completely back to normal within a few days. By that point, Charlie was still pushing into the sides of the doorframe, although he was noticeably smaller.
The clerk looked around nervously for a second, and people quickly arrived through the hole in the convenience store window, wrapping the clerk in a towel and giving Charlie earnest glances. Charlie never saw the store clerk again.
After that, Charlie was fuelled by his loneliness.
What kept Charlie from losing track of his thoughts was the young woman. She’d reappear day after day, giving him words of encouragement.
One day, when Charlie’s mass was forming the vague, lumpy shape of a human, she brought a fresh set of clothes, laying them in front of him. She set a pair of sneakers on top of them.
“These are for you when you become a human again. Not if, when. You’re going to do it tomorrow, and I’m going to be there with you the entire time.”
Her words were cloudier than ever, but Charlie didn’t need to understand them. He now had only one thing on his mind, one pure unadulterated purpose.
Turning into a monster was easy. Turning out of one was jolting and uncomfortable.
He felt his eyes slide out of his skull and into their normal position, he felt his mouth open, skin that had grown between his lips tearing away. He used his lungs for the first time in months, the oxygen burning his throat like it was carbon monoxide.
His muscles and bones locked back into place, and the shroud that had covered his brain for so long was finally lifted.
He looked up, the young woman standing there with a crowd of other people.
And Charlie was lying on his stomach, naked.
“Could you, uh, hand me those clothes over there?”
She handed him the pair of sweatpants from the pile.
“Could you turn away, please?”
The crowd of people looked at each other, and then slowly turned around. The woman smiled and turned with them.
Charlie quickly stood up and slid the sweatpants on.
“Are we good?” she asked.
“Maybe let me get the shirt on too,” Charlie said, grabbing it off the floor.
When the woman turned around, Charlie was leaning against the door, trying to put his sneakers on.
“I think they’re a little too small,” Charlie said, finally giving up.
The young woman hugged him. “I knew you could do it,” she said.
“What was that?” Charlie asked, looking at the crowd in front of him.
“We don’t know, but it happened to everyone,” she said. “We’ve all reformed, we’ve gotten better. We helped each other.”
“What- What’s your name?”
“Oh- uh, Alyssa.”
Charlie smiled at her, starting to feel a sudden trembling in his arm.
He looked down at it. It was starting to bubble and expand, and he was losing focus of where he could move it.
Charlie’s heart rate began to raise, and he cover his arm with his other hand
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Well, that’s the other thing,” Alyssa said. “You have to keep thinking about it. Or else you’ll turn into one of those things again.”
. . .
Charlie and Alyssa did their research when they moved into a new neighborhood. It was at that time that Alyssa was pregnant with the baby, and the doctor had warned her and Charlie to avoid any mental fatigue, on the chance that she’d lose her focus.
Thinking about staying a human was a second nature to Alyssa; she never showed any sign of struggling with it. She could watch movies, listen to music, exercise, and even read books with that thought constantly humming in the back of her head: stay human, stay human.
She’d even admitted to Charlie about going for hours without thinking about it and not seeing so much as a ripple in her skin.
Their neighborhood was nice, very low people-to-blob ratios, and it received little rainfall, to the point that there hadn’t been a storm in years. The realtor offered them a sizable suburban three-bedroom, two-bathroom residence.
They made their life there. Alyssa had the baby, Charlie finished school and went to work at a local construction firm as the bookkeeper.
Alyssa wanted a girl more then anything, already planning on the name Cecilia. She was going to call her “Sissy” for short.
Things never really worked out the way she wanted them to. After a few more months, Christopher was born.
The name was Charlie’s idea.
“We can still call him Sissy,” Charlie said as the doctor handed the baby to Alyssa.
“The kids at school are going to kick the shit out of him.”
“He can always change it back to Chris.”
. . .
Charlie pulled one of the blind shades down, looking across the street at the Hagan residence. Matty Hagan, someone Charlie had gone to school with, was being removed from his front yard. The removal crew slid his flippery body on top of a forklift, attempting to load Matty into the back of a garbage truck. The job ended up taking three people, one to operate the forklift, and two more to hold the edges of fat that were attempting to flop off of the lift.
Charlie felt his hand begin to lose its shape, so he quickly closed the blind and thought about how much he loved being able to see with his own eyes and breathe with his own lungs.
“Charlie, dinner’s ready,” his wife called from the dining room.
Charlie turned and walked away from the door, tentatively glancing back at the blind shades and thinking about the time Matty got caught in high school with a fake ID.
His wife had made Asian chicken in the oven and put some rice in the cooker they had gotten as an anniversary gift. Heaping some onto his plate, he noticed that it looked dry, almost wishing she’d fried it in a pan.
“Can you get Sissy?”
Charlie was just setting his plate down as she said it. “Oh, um, yeah.”
He turned and walked down the hall to Sissy’s room, turning the door knob.
Sissy was sitting in a chair, staring at a white wall in silence.
“Hey, bud, it’s time for dinner.”
Sissy turned and looked at him, smiling after a quick moment of confusion. “Ok.”
Charlie was right about the rice. He needed something to give it a little bit of flavor.
“Honey, do we have any soy sauce?”
Alyssa looked up, taking a minute to finish chewing her food. “No, I threw it away. We need to cut down on sodium.”
Charlie clicked his tongue and then nodded, clanking his fork against his plate when he tried to get another bite.
Sissy was holding his fork like a shovel, attempting to scoop a piece of chicken over and over again, but continuously having it roll off, his father watching him do this.
“Let me get that for you.” Charlie said, plucking the piece of chicken with his fork and holding it out for Sissy to eat. The boy ate it whole.
Alyssa glared at Charlie. “You can’t do that with him. He needs to learn how to do things on his own without losing focus.”
After a beat, Charlie said, “Is that why we make him stare at a wall all day?”
“The school recommends we do it. They need a clean slate to work with so they can work on his attention skills.”
“I like the wall,” Sissy said, still chewing his chicken.
Alyssa looked at Charlie. Charlie looked at his rice.
“Matty Hagan’s getting removed.”
“A guy from my old high school. A friend.”
“I mean, hopefully they can get him the help he needs.”
Charlie nodded. “Well, it’s just that, I don’t know, I think it was wrong, what they were doing to him.”
“What do you mean?”
“They just looked like they were disturbing him, you know? It’s not like he lost control at work or in the bathroom or anything, he just did it in his front yard when he was taking out the trash. He seemed fine there. Hagan was never a happy guy; he had all kinds of loss in his life, and I always thought the only way he could be happy was if he lived simply. But when they removed him, it didn’t look natural.”
Alyssa did a half-smile. “We still have procedures for that kind of thing, honey. This is what we pay taxes for, this is what we teach our kids.”
Sissy picked up another piece of chicken and popped it in his mouth. “Where do they take the people who turn into monsters?”
Alyssa and Charlie looked at him.
“It doesn’t matter as long as you don’t turn into one,” Alyssa said, “so make sure you never, ever give up, okay? Never.”
“Ok,” Sissy said.
. . .
Charlie stayed at home for his job. He found himself not leaving the house nearly as much as he used to, and when he did leave the house, it was primarily to pick Sissy up from school.
His job consisted of long hours sitting at home and going over paperwork, memorizing people’s names without losing his focus, and quickly stopping the bubbling when he did.
Alyssa was pressuring him for another kid. He understood why she wanted it, but making the first one was hard enough for him. He almost lost his focus and crushed her a few times.
He almost expected something different from getting Sissy, like having a kid would make his life easier somehow. He knew having a kid was stressful, but when Alyssa was pregnant with Sissy, Charlie always thought the stress would be helpful. Cathartic, in a way. Having a kid would take his mind off things.
But it turned out losing his mind was the last thing he needed.
He got a call from the school one day.
“Yes, that’s me.”
“I’m Madison Connolly, the principal at Simmerson Elementary.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes, everything’s fine. We just need you to come pick up your son.”
. . .
Sissy’s blob was a bit more flaky, and a lot smaller than Charlie’s, but it was still heavy. When Charlie arrived at the school, they were forklifting his son out into the parking lot, tiny flecks of his pale skin peeling away in the sunlight. He looked like a giant raisin.
“Can you just put him in the trunk?” Charlie asked the removal crew, putting a hand to his forehead.
The supervising crew member handed Charlie a clipboard. “You need to sign this form stating that you took possession of your daughter after this incident.”
“It’s a boy,” Charlie said.
The crew member looked at him. “Pardon?”
“It’s my son. He’s not a girl.”
“The- uh, school told me the kid’s name was Sissy.”
“Never mind,” Charlie said, signing the document.
The crew member took the clipboard back from him, taking a quick look at the other workers loading Sissy into Charlie’s car. “One more thing,” he said, grabbing a small pamphlet from his back pocket. “This is always an option if, you know, you have trouble turning him back.”
It was for one of the rehabilitation facilities.
The worker handed it to him. “You aren’t obligated to take the kid to it because he’s a minor, but it’s still an option for you. And personally, as a parent myself, I think it would be the best thing for him.”
Charlie looked at the pamphlet. “Thank you.”
. . .
It took Charlie half an hour to get Sissy out of the trunk and roll him through the driveway. Pieces of gravel and dirt clung to the bloated mass, and Charlie was reminded of when he built snowmen as a kid.
The front door was just wide enough to squeeze Sissy through. Charlie wanted to roll him into his room, but was completely out of breath before he left the kitchen. Charlie felt his own arm start to expand, so he quickly ran into the living room and laid down on the couch. He looked over at the edge of Sissy’s blob, only a little bit visible from the edge of the kitchen.
“I’m so sorry, buddy,” he said.
. . .
“We have to take him,” Alyssa said, pacing around the room and taking frantic glances at the blob sitting in their kitchen. “It’s the only way we can help him.”
Charlie sat at the kitchen table, glaring at her. “I keep hearing that word; help. ‘We have to help him, Charlie,’ ‘It’s the only way to help him, Charlie.’ Why can’t we help him? Like when you helped me when we met?”
“Charlie, that was before we had systems in place. Systems designed to rehabilitate the debilitated. He needs professional care.”
Charlie raised his voice. “Do you know what they do to people in those facilities?”
“Oh god!” Alyssa shouted, putting her hands on her hair, tugging at the roots.
“They leave you there. They lock you in a cell- as if you could move at all- and they leave you there. There’s a queue of thousands of people they have to treat, they do it one at a time, and you’re always signed as last on the list. It could be years- decades, even- before we see our son again.”
“But it works, Charlie! It works! People come back completely fixed and never have another incident again. We could live our lives with our son, and never have to worry about becoming one of those things again.”
“Why is that so bad? What are you so afraid of?”
Alyssa looked at him, incredulous. “What aren’t you afraid of?”
Charlie looked at Sissy, whose swelling hadn’t gone down at all. Sissy didn’t even know (or maybe didn’t care) to try.
“I’m not afraid of living. I’m not afraid of turning into a monster again or of losing you or of my sodium intake or of any shit like that. I’m just not afraid anymore.”
Alyssa said nothing.
Charlie continued, “I was thinking the other day, when they took Matty and loaded him into a garbage truck. I was thinking: What’s even the point of living in fear of becoming this thing, when being the thing itself isn’t nearly as bad as thinking about it all the time?”
At that moment, Charlie felt his one chin sag and turn into several. He clutched desperately at his gullet, but his arms started to turn to paste and drop down to his hips. The seams of his shirt were beginning to rip. Charlie fell to his knees, quickly losing the capacity of his own lungs.
He quickly got a hold of himself, thinking about those long nights he spent alone in the convenience store.
He regained control of his arms, pushing himself back up onto his feet; his face and chest swelling back down to normal size.
Alyssa gaped at him. “Does this happen often?”
“No,” Charlie said, looking at his arm.
After a pause, Alyssa said, “Maybe you should both go there.”
“Oh my god.”
“No, seriously. This could help the both of you.”
Charlie turned away from her, beginning to push Sissy out of the kitchen and down the hall. There seemed to be a slight imperfection in the hallway; it had a small incline that caused Sissy to roll backwards whenever Charlie stopped to catch his breath.
Alyssa followed behind him. “Stop, Charlie! Stop it!”
Charlie ignored her, his muscles aching and his brain pushing against his skull.
“You need help. You need serious help. The both of you,” Alyssa yelled, gesturing at Charlie and the blob that used to be his son.
Charlie finally got Sissy to the end of the hallway, putting him in a position where he couldn’t possibly roll away. He turned to look at his wife, who was hunched over with a look of desperation on her face.
“Why did you keep coming to see me? At the convenience store.”
Alyssa squinted at him. “What?”
“Why did you come every day to talk to me?”
“You were tired, and after the clerk guy left, you were alone. I knew you couldn’t stay there forever.”
“So then why did we get married?”
“Why did we get married, buy a house, and have a kid together if our relationship began and ended in that store?”
“Because we loved each other.”
Charlie lost control at that point.
For the first time in 25 years, Charlie turned into a blob again.
It was instantaneous, like someone had hooked him up to a helium tank. He was bigger than he had ever been in the convenience store, the sides of his body pushing into the walls. He expanded outward, a tidal wave of flabby, watery fat that almost crushed Alyssa, who was running back down the hall.
The last thought Charlie had before a shroud of apathy was thrown over his brain was:
Wow, look how big I’m getting.
. . .
It took the removal crew seven days to get Charlie out of the hallway. They discussed with Alyssa the idea of bulldozing the house to try to get an easier way to Charlie and the kid. She kindly declined.
The best solution they had was bringing in a tub of grease and lathering up shovels with it, trying to dig him out of the wall. The process was long and grueling, but they eventually got him out of the hallway and into the kitchen. They then quickly rolled the kid’s blob out the same way. The hallway walls were stained black with grease and skid marks from the shovels.
Alyssa watched as they loaded Sissy into a garbage truck, already most of the way full with the blobs of other people.
One of the workers gestured at Charlie. “This is the biggest one I’ve ever seen. There’s no way we can fit him into this truck.”
“Just roll him into that ditch over there. We’ll send a truck for him over the weekend,” the supervising worker said.
The workers pushed the behemoth into an irrigation ditch, their chests heaving after their work was done. They walked back over to the truck, shutting the back and grabbing onto the railing on the side as it started to pull away.
Charlie watched them pull away with his son.
Alyssa put her head in her hands, rubbing her eyes over and over again.
When she finally looked up, the sun was gone.
The blob pushed itself out of the ditch, blocking out the sun and towering over the power lines. A flock of birds broke its path in order to avoid it.
The blob rolled down the street where the truck had gone with a certain determination, its flesh sticking and unsticking itself from the pavement.
Alyssa watched, her mouth open, feeling uncomfortable, terrified, and for the first time in a little while, just a little bit happy.