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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2219274
Contest Entry. 757 words.
The creature couldn’t be trusted. I knew that much. I could feel him writhing, pleading to be free, his clawed and dirty fingers scraping at my face, pale flesh like boiling fat in its fury. Most of the time he could be controlled, but I feared what might happen if he escaped.
         My friends were going to the movies tonight. Casablanca was showing. Jon called me to ask if I wanted to come. I did.
         “Good,” he said. “Meet us at the burger place next to the cinema, we’ll get dinner first.”
         I hadn’t been outside in a few days. The woods up north had been burning for some time now, and the wind carried the smoke down here, where it settled in the city and covered the town in an even coat of ash. The smoke was thick enough that we were advised by the governor to minimize time spent outside. I was one of the few who took the guidelines seriously, more so because it was convenient than out of any respect to the problem.
         Everywhere in the town was within walking distance except the Madman’s Farm, which lay miles out west, and no one wanted to go there anyway. As I left my house I felt the cool breeze and breathed deeply, before remembering the smoke as I coughed it up. The twilight was diluted by the shimmering lights of shops to either side of the avenue, but it was not yet dark enough for the streetlamps to turn on. My shoes made patterned footprints in the ash with each step.
         Doug’s Burgers was the best place in town. It was connected by a wooden door to the bar that was always open. Normally around this time of year it was bustling and filled with shouts, screams, the tinkling of glasses, and the general hubbub of conversation, but tonight it was oddly quiet. A few lonely figures sat scattered about, brooding on their beer or finishing the remnants of a burger, and a family sat chatting away in the corner. Jon, Marie, and Felix sat at a booth near the door. They waved me over.
         “Hey August! We’re still waiting for Cam to arrive,” Jon said. “We already ordered you a special, we knew you’d be fashionably late.” He smirked and the others laughed. I punched him in the shoulder and sat down.
         Cam arrived five minutes later, and by then I had finished my burger and ordered a second.
         “Did you hear about Aaron and Jane?” Asked Jon.
         “No, what’s about them?” Cam said with his mouth full.
         “I saw them kissing at the bleachers.”
         Felix laughed.
         “I saw them at Doug’s together yesterday, too,” said Marie. “I didn’t realize they were anything more than friends.”
         I felt the creature rising.
         “They might not be, right Auggie?”
         I gripped the lip of the seat until my knuckles turned white. He couldn’t escape.
         “I think they’re too far gone to bring back, really,” Jon chipped in.
         I stood up. “I need to go to the bathroom,” I said through clenched teeth.
         Jon laughed. “Hey, man. We’re only joking.”
         “I know,” I said, and left them there.
         I sat there on the toilet, with the seat closed and the light off, for a while. He was speaking to me in frantic rhythm, but I couldn’t understand a word he said. I could see him there, up in the tree. He stopped talking. He grinned, widely, like the Cheshire cat, and he seemed to grow, and the tree seemed to grow, its leafless branches like metallic spikes upon which I might be impaled. His mouth was gaping wide, teeth like barnacles plagued with putrefaction, his tongue split reaching for me. It felt as if he were reaching through me, grabbing my heart and wrenching it like an unripe apple from a tree. I could see a light in the distance and I reached for it. It was so far away, and the creature was there, ever growing, ever closer.
         The light caught me and I could see the sink running. The light to the bathroom was on, though I hadn’t turned it on. I was exhausted, and my forehead ran with sweat. I flipped off the light, turned off the sink, opened the door, and left.
         I returned to the table and ate my second burger in minutes. I hardly paid attention to the movie or my friends. Jon thought I was sick, and drove me home. It started raining, and the ash turned to mud.
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