Jamie squinted up at the tangerine sun, feeling dumb for having even coming out today. The summer scorcher had converted the whole skate park pit into a giant oven burner that slowly cooked anyone who bothered to board there. Jamie himself had done more sitting than shredding, parking it on the bench most of the day with his board across his lap. There he was now, sipping bottled water while his face melted into sweat, wondering for the millionth time if he should call it quits.
Worst of all, he had even bought a brand-new board last Tuesday and spent all week decorating it himself. The bottom half depicted a screaming zombie face with a moonlit cemetery in the background, all done in dark colors and gory details. He liked to give everything a spooky, even psychotic personal touch. He had looked forward to coming here all week and showing the thing off to his park pals while grabbing air. Yet not only had he found the park empty, but the place resembled the innards of a volcano. He kept waiting for more of his buds to show up, but the heat had scared everyone away: he had been here alone all day. There was no use shredding and even being in the pit was a chore. Now that his only bottle of water was gone, he couldn’t see any way of surviving the next two hours before sundown.
Time to bail, he thought. He stood with the board under his arm, marching towards the exit. Waste of a day out. As he left, he tossed his empty water bottle into the trash and wished he could do the same with his empty day. Life was a crapshoot, and you had to save face when you came up snake-eyes.
He stepped through the gate entrance, trying to distract his mind from the disappointment he felt, glancing at his wristwatch and hoping the hour wasn’t too late. He certainly wasn’t in a hurry to get home, which entailed enduring one of mommy dearest’s blanched little meals anyway. The bus ride back to the townhouse tended to be about half an hour, which gave him time to pop into the greasy McDonald’s across the street if he wanted to. However, one glance at the faded arches made him realize he had no interest in picking over their menu with his spare change. Time to accept the day as bust, cut it loose, and move on.
He started down the sidewalk towards the bus stop, board in hand. He moved slowly, watching his Nikes, trying to think of something to lighten his mood. As he looked up from his kicks, his attention was unexpectedly seized by the building next door to the park. On the other side of the chain link fence surrounding the skate pit was a Quick Stop gas station that had been abandoned for years. Nowadays it served as a makeshift hangout for the boys from the park where they would chill when they weren’t in the pit. You could often, on a good day, find maybe six or seven dudes sitting around by the rusty pumps shooting the breeze and swapping stories. When they got restless, they would smash the windows with various projectiles and pepper the walls with spray can art. Jamie himself had been over there several times to try his hand at graffiti or to have a smoke around the back of the building with his pals. There was no one there today, and the corroded front stoop of the building was empty except for….
Perusing it now, Jamie saw something he swore on his life had never been there before. It sat by the Quick Stop entrance where the Coke dispenser would normally be stationed, except this clearly wasn’t a drink or snack vender as far as Jamie could tell. It looked more like an old penny arcade bauble machine, bearing a quilt of strange but brightly colored designs that even from a distance piqued his curiosity. No, he was almost certain it had never been there before, though the faded colors indicated it wasn’t anything new. Yet something about the patchwork of weird decorative symbols seemed to call out to him like a dulcet siren’s song. A quick glance showed him there was no one else around, which was confirmation of what he already knew. He had checked both the front and back of the gas station many times since arriving at the park, only to find it devoid of dudes. Bored and disappointed with his lost afternoon, Jamie decided it was at least worth investigating. He started to walk over, already glad to have a distraction from his own blues.
The machine in question turned out to be a large plywood vending cabinet with a black frame and a plastic see-through window showing an interior full of pastel-colored toy eggs. The cabinet body bore a myriad of neon stencils depicting a variety of creepy and disturbing monster faces. These were done in a simple and cartoony style, yet they maintained a grotesquery that instantly earned Jamie’s fascination. There were no mummies, vampires, or werewolves, but instead creations far more twisted and difficult to classify. The oozing and gory masks looked both mutated and misshapen, all covered in grievous wounds and unsettling deformities. Over the top were dripping crimson letters that reads:
The fiendish friends you can grow AT HOME
And below this, in small boogery green letters, it said:
These proclamations were likewise flanked by warty, disjointed faces, some humanoid, others a mishmash of features and appendages. As strange and bizarre as it all was, the cabinet proclaimed the same thing as every vending machine ever made: Buy. Try. Indulge. This is something new.
On the see-through window, in the bottom corner, was a little sticker, a single caveat, that read:
Each figurine comes with specific instructions. PLEASE READ CAREFULLY
Jamie had nothing in his pocket but a bus pass, an empty wallet, and two lonely quarters for a (possible) soda at the McDonald’s across the way. He decided then and there that the soda was irrelevant: he had to know what was in those plastic eggs. He was a long-time lover of gruesome geegaws and macabre memorabilia, a consumer of carrion comforts and ghoulish plastic goodies since a child. When younger, he had spent countless quarters on gumball machines to spring for sticky hands, gooey bugs, creepy-looking paper tattoos, the whole nine yards. Now older and farther along in his obsession, he was a collector of posters and comics that sported bizarre images and horrifying creations: the more chilling, the better.
A curious addict in need of a new fix, his reaction was almost instinctual. He effortlessly popped his change into the rusty coin slot and pushed the grimy VEND button, never mind the old parable about fools and money. The machine’s reaction followed the song-and-dance of corner store showmanship: a bloody red light flickered inside, followed by electronic maniacal cackles that concluded with an egg dropping into the slot at the bottom of the machine. A little extra bang for your buck, courtesy of your local purveyor of deranged doo-dads. Jamie eagerly leaned down and pulled out a purple plastic egg, feeling all the wonder and excitement of a kid on Easter. He popped the egg open and dumped a little monster figurine wrapped in paper onto his palm.
It was love at first sight.
The figurine itself was rendered in smooth plastic and stood about three inches high. Despite its small size and the cheap material that composed it, there was a surprising amount of attention to detail. The figurine depicted a gangly bruiser in a long green overcoat covered in red splotches. There was a huge belt across his chest, from which hung a variety of nasty-looking daggers and knives. In one claw-like hand, he held an enormous butcher-knife that also dripped gobs of red. But the face of the creature was the worst: long and jaundiced with shoulder-length white hair and an enormous forehead veined in streaks of blue. The creature’s lips were pulled back, revealing a mouth full of sharp red teeth twisted in an eternal snarl. The green eyes bugged intensely at the viewer in a look of bloodthirsty insanity.
The piece of paper that the figurine came with declared:
HI!!!! I’m FANG! I’m a great toy, and so are YOU!
1) Put me in water
2) Watch me grow
3) Let’s play!
Jamie laughed: it was just too perfect. He shoved the figurine into his pocket and headed towards the bus stop down the street, knowing that his mother would be expecting him for dinner soon. The figurine made the whole day feel like a victory, and its pressing presence in his pocket was a comfort to him on the bus ride back home. At the very least, it made his hysterical mother’s horrendous cooking and constant questions about his “skate friends” seem bearable.
Back at the house, Jamie got an old mason jar from the basement and filled it with water. He popped the Splatter Punk in and watched as it sank to the bottom. He then sat the mason jar on his desk between the reading lamp and the electric pencil sharpener, where he figured it would be safe. He still couldn’t get over how it looked, the vicious face tickling his blood. Those sadistically gleeful eyes and manically snarling lips were absolute perfection, and the almost heinous attention to detail was mesmerizing. Already, he was speculating in his mind how big it would get. He predicted major jealousy vibes when he showed the Splatter Punk off to his school chums at their next outing. If his allowance held, he would spring for a whole collection of the things, even decorate his whole room with them. A whole army of growing, slobbering monstrosities, what could be better? He was already curious about what the others might look like, and if the rules were any different…or what they meant, for that matter.
Jamie sat at his desk for a while and just watched the figurine get bigger and bigger. Its progress was slow, but he could see it expanding inch by inch over the course of maybe twenty minutes or so. He liked how the water seemed to get goopy and colorful as the Splatter Punk increased in size, as if the water were turning into fleshy tissue to nourish the growing monstrosity. All he could figure was that there had to be some polymer coating the figurine, which activated in water. The jar was now largely full of gelatinous glop, such that the Splatter Punk was suspended in colloidal ooze by the time it was eight inches tall. He would have watched it all night if his mother hadn’t come in and nagged him downstairs.
Dinner was the usual affair with dad stationed behind a newspaper, mom wiling away the time with endless pestering questions, and Jamie bored while he picked at his food. After a century, he finally got a reprieve and went to balm his wounds with videogames. He managed to kill zombies until past eleven, blasting the varmints to smithereens and relishing the splash of color they made as he did so. He found that the experience was enhanced by the figurine, which seemed to inoculate his imagination and make the overly familiar game seem more visceral. But in ended in the usual and inevitable way, with his mother barging into his inner sanctum and nagging him to call it a night. He did his best to protest about it being summer, but this of course was pure futility. He finally relented, tired and drained from his day in the heat, and sulked off to the shower before bed.
Before leaving his room, he paused to examine the figure. Something seemed very strange to him, not necessarily wrong but awry. The pink glop inside was starting to look strangely…well, organic was the word that came to mind. Jamie thought he saw strange red cracks or threads now webbing their way through the sludge that encased his figurine. It had to be a trick of the light, but the red threads looked as if they were throbbing, making Jamie think of pumping blood vessels. He leaned closer and peered long and hard at them, only to find that the figurine within also looked a bit strange. It was growing, sure enough, but it seemed to be deforming and losing its shape, as if it were melting. This made Jamie even more curious to see it once the process was complete. He felt like a mad scientist, waiting on some terrible experiment destined to give rise to a new ghoulish creation.
He took his time washing off, scrubbing the grit of the day away while humming songs from the power metal bands he liked. It felt good to get some cool water on him after hours of sweating like a pig. He hurried back to his room, knowing that he might be absent a jar when he got there. Given the circumstances, his initial assumption was that his mother had lured him out before blowing through and tossing the Splatter Punk into the trash. This wouldn’t be the first time she had committed such a gross injustice. It was typical behavior for her, she was always trying to eliminate his collection of horror sundries out of pure prejudice. Mothers are the natural predator of the cool and weird, with Jamie’s mother being a greater plague than most.
Back inside his room, Jamie discovered that the process had succeeded far beyond what he had expected. The jar had exploded and shattered, spraying the wall and floor with pink glop. He felt his heart sinking, wondering how in the world he would get the mess cleaned up before his mother discovered what had happened. Drawing closer, he saw that there was something lying in the pile of sludge and broken glass, though it wasn’t a figurine. Encased in crimson jelly was a large blobby thing that looked like a yellow slug. He moved closer to get a better gander, but all he could make out was what looked like a pulsating pile of snot. Amazed and a bit disturbed, he reached out, his hand passing through the slimy glop.
A moment of revulsion, and then his fingertips brushed against a soft, breathing body. It was a kind of phosphorescent, yellow slug with pulsating blue veins.
A squeal erupted from the slug creature. It twitched beneath his flesh.
Before Jamie could pull away, it slithered through his fingers, over his hand, and up his arm. Despite its small size, it was fast and moved over Jamie’s shoulder and up to his neck before he had time to realize what was happening. Disgust and fear registered only after it was too late and the creature was burrowing into his neck. There was no pain, just a tight, slimy feeling as it slipped under his skin neat as you please. He clapped his hand over the hole with a hiss as an explosion of endorphins burst inside of his brain. His thoughts narrowed to a dull throb as he heard his blood pumping furiously in his ears. He knew only a pang of panic before everything was eaten up by the furious beat of his own heart. Then he felt sparks flashing over his brain as his internal circuit board began to blow fuses. Jamie could almost feel the synapses reconnecting as a flood of neurotransmitters washed over him and brought both relief and a series of emotions both strange and yet tantalizingly familiar.
The red colors splattered across his wall fascinated him. He could smell the very air, and he craved a coppery scent of crimson that seemed to be lacking.
Jamie heard his mother calling out to him in her bawling voice, asking why his light was still on. He felt something inside of his brain snap and fade away like a popped balloon. There was a new need in him now, one that he had always known of but could not, until then, consider indulging in. He had to create art, to make something both messy and beautiful. The mysteries of the gory and the grotesque, that was what he lived for anyway. All his life had been repression, and now something had broken through the dam that was his mother’s expectations to unleash his true self. A myriad of urges worked together to create a tapestry of fresh desires that seemed to suit him just perfectly.
But first, his mother. She was down there, in the kitchen…where the knives were. He could picture it all in his mind now, the butcher knife, the huge meat cleaver with its glistening blade, the flashes of sticky red, they all came to him with cinematic clarity.
Jamie felt his lips split into a smile; his teeth suddenly felt too big to fit inside his mouth. With his mind considering the beauty of crunching bones and sutured flesh, he went to answer her.