By Scott J. Couturier
On a cool evening in late October, Harold felt the Calling.
It stirred in his blood like the call to drink, but stronger. He moaned and clutched at his head, fretted at his clothing, rose and paced back-and-forth restlessly in his kitchen. He’d been feeling strange for a month now, ever since the accident at work. Things moved under his skin, tingled in the roots of his teeth: Harold was convinced something was breeding inside him. He was drinking too much water, eating too little. The liquor cabinet was getting dusty. Yet, he was gaining weight. His waist had ballooned out in the last two weeks, until all his belts were strained, creaking when he walked, which (since he was an interdepartmental courier) was a lot.
His co-workers noticed. Some urged him to report it to Management. It was important, after all, to document any potential fallout from the accident. Harold promised he would, even grabbed a report sheet as a pretense. But he never filled it out. Management would scapegoat him; he’d seen it happen to too many of his coworkers. They were either fired (virtually a death sentence) or, in cases of extreme mutation, dissected for preservation in the Company records. Harold respected and feared Management, and he didn’t for one instant think they had his best interests at heart.
His waist grew wider and wider. He got wraps and braces to conceal the bloating, and eventually his fellow workers stopped pestering him. Management questioned him, and he reported no ill effects. The interviewer eyed him suspiciously, but stamped his work clearance. This was all before Harold felt the Calling.
It was cold that October evening, wind howling off the lakes. Harold was back home. He, like many of the Company’s lifer employees, could afford a private residence. He’d done his time in the work/sleep tubes in his 20s and 30s, was glad to finally have a place of his own. The Calling! He felt a sudden overwhelming urge to go down to the basement, to the hidden room he’d excavated behind the furnace. There he kept his workshop, his sole secret place. He spent a lot of time down there, tinkering with the neon-colored wind-up toys he assembled as his Company-designated ‘hobby.’ They went to entertain children in the birthing orphanages—or so he was assured by the drivers of the black van that came to collect them every Thursday.
Harold flicked on the basement lights and went downstairs. He’d been having ‘visions’ lately—images of outré cosmic vistas and god-like acts of creation. For Harold (an unimaginative man in an oppressively unimaginative era), this barrage of psychic scenery was overwhelming. He felt like he was changing irrevocably into something else or Other, a state infinitely more profound than mere human. The thought obsessed him as he slid inside his workshop, shut the secret door firmly and nestled himself into a corner. Harold drowsed as he began to excrete a sticky fluid from his pores, mouth, and anus, quickly engulfing himself in a viscous cocoon.
He had dreams in his womb. Fields of star-fire crowned him as he soared among the firmament, every exhalation seeding the spore of life onto lonely, abyssal planetoids. Sentience was his to destroy or bestow. Meanwhile, he could feel his body changing. His bones melted into mush, contorted and reformed into an intricately inhuman frame. His brain split into seven distinct hemispheres, and each developed individually, thinking separate thoughts. New sensory organs sprouted, inroads of wholly alien sensation and dimension. Harold shivered in his cocoon, the skin of the thing pulsing with his delight. Eyes sprouted on the pouch’s exterior so he could peer out at the dark basement room. They came to search for him, of course, but failed to find the secret door. Really, it was a cursory examination. Management was used to workers disappearing suddenly. Usually, Management was responsible for such disappearances.
Harold gestated in the dark, damp, moldering room. Months passed, and new occupants moved into the house. A family. He could faintly hear them shuffling around boxes in the basement, the call of child to parent. Girl, boy? He couldn’t tell, he was no longer possessed of such gross dichotomous discernment. What he knew instead was a singular hunger. Inside his cocoon, the body salivated.
Often, he dreamed of the accident. When this memory came, all eyes on the cocoon slid shut as one. The shattering of laboratory glass, a fume of fluorescent green mist: it went up his nose, down his throat, clung to his skin as he scrambled back. He’d never even been in that sector, had been dropping off a requisition of data-tapes. The cloud burned as it inundated him, and the first itching sensations began soon after. He could recall bizarre etchings on the floor… It almost seemed like that black-robed scientist had pushed the flask over on purpose. What were they working on down there, anyways? The Company had fingers in every pie. He remembered the scientist smirking at him as he choked and gagged. Really, who ever needed spare data-tapes?
Wincing, Harold tried to scratch at himself in the cocoon, but his new body wouldn’t obey his commands. It’s not time yet, he reasoned with himself, returning to half-lulled senescence. The eye-studded sack quivered, resembling something like a sigh. When my metamorphosis is complete, I will bestride the world! And the cosmos beyond… Idly, he wondered if his new body would have wings.
It had to be an accident. They wouldn’t have done this to me—given me this immense power—on purpose.
Once again, it was late October. The wind was warmer than the previous year; storms on the lakes blew even fiercer and stranger. In his cocoon Harold watched as Management deployed puny weather-sifters to do something about the gale-force winds. Harold’s cocoon (he no longer thought of himself as ‘he,’ much less human) was psychic, omniscient. Each eye on his cocoon saw to infinite infinities. His body sprouted wings and seven barbed phalli, a synergy of tapeworm and penis. He throbbed with readiness and virility: it was his time to burst forth into the world. In babbling arcane languages, he thanked the universe for its blind favor—to think, he’d just been dropping off data-tapes! Right place, right time. The first thing he’d do (after despoiling and devouring the family upstairs) was lay waste to Management.
Freedom…the very concept was long-forgotten, stricken from the Company genome. Harold had re-learned it in his long astral traveling. He recalled with shame trembling as he took up spade and trowel to excavate his little illicit hideaway behind the furnace… This shame infuriated him. Harold pulsed with rage and potency, rupturing his cocoon at the appointed time.
He felt pain.
Horrific, tearing, mortal pain. His flesh—the cocoon’s flesh—tore asunder as an impossibly long black limb thrust from its wetness. Acidic embryonic fluids gushed, steaming upon contact with the concrete. Harold tried to scream but could not: he was a mere weeping sack of membrane and eyeballs, consciousness rent alongside his viscera. Gone were the visions of spiraling nebulae, the boundless eternal gaze of godhead, replaced by a subhuman torment. Harold quivered as he understood these perceptions were never his own, but belonged to the foul being he had gestated unknowingly, unwillingly. It let him think he was changing, parasitically sharing its ulterior relativity to lull him into cooperation… That body was never mine!
Suppurating, his myriad eyes weeping afterbirth, Harold beheld his offspring. A jet-black god-abomination from the void between stars: ebony-muscled, hundred-mouthed and thousand-eyed, hungers acute as the cold of space. Then, mercifully, he was devoured.