Updated: Jul 23, 2020
Whatever dragged itself across Thurber Avenue that evening was surely not human.
I’d been speeding because I was already past curfew on the way back from my friend Jenna's house, and my Dad was going to kill me.
"I swear, Dad, we were working on our project about climate change and just lost track of the time." Well, that's what I was going to say. He could never know the truth; that we sat around playing MarioKart until the boys -- yes, boys -- came over to hang out. A perfectly innocent hang-out, but my Dad would hear the word "boys" and steam would come out of his ears. Best avoid that talk altogether.
I was stopped at a red light chomping at the bit to get going when the creature limped in front of my ten-year-old Toyota. My trembling hands fumbled the Aquafina I’d been sipping, and water sprayed onto my lap. But I didn’t even curse. I simply let the bottle fall, and gaped at the thing blocking my path.
The thing now staring through the windshield at me.
It was approximately human-shaped, bipedal. Its build seemed female. Those eyes boring holes into mine were oddly familiar, but I couldn’t place why.
That’s where the human traits stopped.
Its skin had a melted ice cream look to it, hair matted and peeling off a high forehead. Lips and nose grotesque and misshapen. Spikes lined its arms, like bone fragments punching through flesh. It raised its hand and I saw a crescent-shaped scar on its palm, aglow in my car’s headlights.
I looked around for witnesses. There were none.
When I turned back, the creature had disappeared.
There was the smell of ash and something chemical, a smell so strong I coughed and my eyes watered. A motion in my rear-view mirror drew my eyes to it. I looked.
The creature was in my backseat.
I shrieked. My heart thudded in my ears as I grasped for the door handle. Fumbling in the dark.The thing began to speak. Not actual words, but into my mind.
Stay calm. I’m here to show you.
A cold, gnarled hand shot out and grabbed my shoulder.
Instantly my head was filled with a vision, like I was peering through someone else’s eyes. There was a bloody hand. A crescent-shaped wound on the palm. In the background, I heard a buzzing. No, not buzzing. A news report.
“This is believed to be a terrorist act…” a male voice said.
In my vision, I studied the back of my wounded hand. Bubbling skin. Like a sunburn. Then a loud crash.
Suddenly, I was back in my car.
“It wasn’t terrorism. We think it’s in the water,” the creature’s raspy voice said into my thoughts. “They thought we would die. Many did. But some changed… evolved.”
“Why are you here?” My voice sounded small.
“For you, Evie.”
“How do you know my name?”
But then the smell of ash dissipated. I turned.
The creature was gone.
Mercifully, Dad bought my "climate change project" excuse, and let me go to bed without the thorough scolding I'd been expecting. He seemed preoccupied, which worked for me.
But try as I might, I couldn’t shake the sound of the creature’s voice in my head. The feel of its cold hand on my shoulder.
It’s in the water.
Complete baloney, right? I’d been reading too much science fiction. It wasn’t real life. The creature was just some vivid daydream brought on by... who knows what? Maybe those boys weren't so innocent, after all. I'd have to ask Jenna if she thought any of them slipped some whiskey in the punch. I'd never been drunk before. Did it cause hallucinations?
Shaking my head, I tried to force the thought from my mind long enough for sleep to come. But it plagued my dreams and stayed with me into the next day, marinating in the back of my mind like a rare steak begging to be grilled. I dialed Jenna's number, several times. But she didn't answer. Which wasn't like her, except for the time she got grounded and her phone confiscated for a whole week. Uh oh, maybe the boys spiked the punch after all. Her mom would be none too happy.
I managed to zombie-walk through the day, and the evening came in an uneventful blur. Soon, I was curled up on the lumpy couch in front of the television, idly flipping the channels as I caught the tail end of a special. The camera panned over a miles-long traffic jam in China, heavily obscured by thick smog. Flash to stranded polar bears. The Pacific garbage patch.
I heard my father rustling around the kitchen, cooking dinner. We usually split the dinner duties even though, in my very humble opinion, I'm the better cook. Dad was a bit hopeless, but he could handle spaghetti. Anyone could.
Distracted, I stared at the glass of water in my hand, eyeing it down. My stomach did a little flip when I realized I'd already drunk half.
It wasn’t real, I told myself again, for the hundredth time. But still, I couldn’t make myself bring any more of the liquid to my lips.
Just then, the evening special was interrupted by breaking news.
Bile climbed my throat.
“Scientists can’t place the strange symptoms…”
Hands trembling, I stood on wobbling legs, my mouth forming the news report I somehow already knew. Had already seen.
“This is believed to be a terrorist act…”
I balled my hands in fists.
The glass I’d nearly forgotten I was holding shattered in my hand.
Shattered, as though it had been made of sugar.
I used the bottom of my shirt to stave the flow of blood. Somehow, I already knew what I’d see when I examined the wound.
Oh God, what if…
It was then that I noticed the back of my hand. Skin bubbling, blistered up like the worst sunburn I’d ever had in my life, back when I was eight. Red and angry looking.
In the background, the news went on.
“Until we learn more we suggest you stay indoors, and if you experience any symptoms, report them immediately. The CDC has issued a statement…”
There was a loud clatter from the kitchen. I raced to find my Dad holding up his blistered arms in horrified bewilderment, the faucet behind him still running, the pot of spaghetti he’d been cooking a mess across the kitchen floor, splattered on his ankles.
“Evie, what’s happening?”
My stomach heaved and I drew a breath, because I already knew. Because I’d seen it the night before. The creature had shown me. The creature whose eyes looked so familiar.
Those same hazel eyes that stared back at me in the reflection off the stainless-steel fridge.
A strange sense of calm came over me. The sound of sirens outside was quickly swallowed by the sounds of chaos. I reached around my father and shut off the faucet.
It’s in the water.
Flashing lights from outside the kitchen window blinked across my vision, casting ominous shadows. Red and blue, blue and red.
“We're gonna be okay,” I said, unsure who I was trying to convince.
The lights went out. Tears sprang to my eyes as the truth set in. I hugged my father tight. Undoubtedly leaving a crescent-shaped mark in blood where my palm pressed into his shirt.
“It's okay, Dad," I whispered again. "We’re evolving.”