by Usagi Anami (兎あなみ)
Adam liked Carpenter because he had a first name that should have been a last name; because he wore rimless glasses; because he raised his hand a lot and never said anything stupid, and when he spoke he said a lot of words Adam had to look up in the library’s big red dictionary later, words like “paradigm” and “juxtaposition”. Carpenter did more to help Adam’s grades in English class than a tutor ever could.
Carpenter liked Adam’s silence. He liked the way the lanky, blond boy would follow him like he was caught in Carpenter’s gravitational pull. He liked the way he would punch anyone who called Carpenter a faggot or a pussy, liked his dangerously long lashes, liked the constellation of freckles on his arms, and for a while that was enough.
One afternoon no different from any other afternoon they spent together, Adam sat wordlessly listening to Carpenter bubble over with literary theories that no other boy his age would stand listening to. Carpenter talked as much with his hands as his mouth, and now his hands moved like a symphony conductor’s as he gushed. Adam watched Carpenter’s fingers, long and perfect, while nodding sagely at anything Carpenter seemed especially excited to say. Adam watched Carpenter’s lips shape the words, the tangled syllables Adam always tripped over spoken with such ease that they became a different language.
Adam listened, nodded, smiled, and took the other boy’s tie between his fingers and tugged, reeling in an unresisting Carpenter in until their lips collided. That was enough.
Two years later, when they were juniors at the Red Ridge Preparatory Academy for Boys, it was no longer quite enough for Carpenter. Two years had worn off the charm of messy kisses inside broom closets and sports equipment, grabbing at each other’s cocks through their school uniforms while jumping at the sound of every footstep, laughing at each other’s fear. Two years of one-sided conversations. Carpenter liked the silence of thoughtfulness, but Adam’s silence seemed to him to be absence of thought.
One afternoon no different from any other afternoon they spent together, Adam was trying to get his hands under Carpenter’s shirt. Carpenter was trying to find his place in The Stranger, and made a little noise of irritation in the back of his throat. Adam, either oblivious or deliberately ignoring the hint, kissed the back of Carpenter’s neck. Carpenter growled and turned around.
“Knock it off.” Carpenter said.
Adam blinked his big blue eyes. “What?”
“I’m trying to read.”
“Sorry.” Adam scooted to the edge of the bed and smiled ruefully.
Carpenter sighed. “Adam, why don’t you go back to your room?”
“I promise I won’t bother you.” Adam answered, and then sat on his hands to prove it. If Adam had a tail, Carpenter thought, it would be wagging.
“You are bothering me.”
“It never bothered you before, me watching you read.”
“It’s just kind of weird. I mean you just sit there and stare at me and…”
For once, Carpenter found himself fumbling with words.
“And?” Adam prompted gently, after a beat.
“Do we have anything in common?” Carpenter blurted.
“Do we have anything in common? Common interests? Sometimes I think I don’t know anything about you at all except that you play rugby and you like me. You’re flat.”
“Flat?” Adam said the word like he wasn’t sure if it was a bad thing or not.
“Flat as in you are one-dimensional. Flat as in you’ve got no depth. Flat as in there’s nothing to you.” Carpenter knew he should stop, he wanted to stop, but the moment he started talking he had uncorked himself and the words flowed out of him. “Flat as in you sit there and stare at me and listen to me and parrot back what I say without really understanding anything that I’m saying. That is what I mean by flat.” He held his hand out horizontally to demonstrate. “Like a flat and round characters, you remember that from English? Flat characters just have one defining feature, and that is all there is too them. They are boring. Is that clear enough for you?”
Adam nodded and wiped the wetness from eyes. His chin trembled. “Then I’ll be more…I’ll have more depth. I’ll be less flat. Less…boring. I promise.”
Carpenter shook his head. “I don’t think that’s going to work.”
“So is this it?”
“I guess so.”
“But I love you.” Then Adam went off, oozing tears, spouting declarations of love, of need, making promises to change into whatever it was that Carpenter wanted. Adam couldn’t change from a lovestuck silent jock to someone Carpenter could actually have a conversation with – and Carpenter suspected that deep down Adam knew this fact just as well as he did. But Adam begged as if begging could change anything, as if it could somehow turn what was no longer enough into enough once more.
“You’re everything to me.” Adam wheezed.
“I know.” Carpenter sighed. “That’s the problem. Could you just leave me alone right now?”
The next day Carpenter bumped into Adam in the hallway. Adam was walking slowly like he was in a daze. There was a deep gash in Adam’s wrist.
“Adam, did you hurt yourself?”
“Huh?” Adam looked at Carpenter as if he was seeing him for the first time. Recognition slowly dawned on his face and he smiled. “I went out into the woods behind the school last night. I tripped on a root and fell on a rock.”
“You should go see the nurse. It might get infected.”
“Yeah. I’ll do that.”
Carpenter, feeling guilty, thought that maybe Adam really was enough, for now – and that there was a kind of harmony between his sound and Adam’s silence. Besides, it was said that still waters ran deep, and two years was hardly enough time to fully discover the depths of another person.
They reconciled, they fucked, and Adam was an entirely different kind of fuck – it was like Adam had never seen Carpenter naked before, never touched him. Adam’s unhurried exploration of every angle of Carpenter’s body, wide-eyed wonder, and his slow little kisses, were something more akin to making love than sex. But being seventeen, Carpenter felt that under no circumstances could you call the act that unless you happened to be a girl or a romance novelist.
“I want you to do me too.” Adam panted. Their bodies were hot and sticky from sex.
“Really?” Adam had never made the offer before and Carpenter had never asked..
“Yes.” Still waters, indeed.
Things were all right again, for a while.
Carpenter walked into the geography classroom, carrying a few maps. He saw thin white tendrils sprout out of Adam’s hands and shove themselves up their geography teacher’s nose. Carpenter was too startled to scream. The maps made a hollow sound as they dropped to the floor, bounced, and rolled away. Adam continued with…whatever he was doing, the tendrils quivering. Their geography teacher’s eyes rolled into the back of his head.
“It’s all right.” Carpenter heard someone behind him and spun around. He saw Mr. Cronenberg, his math teacher, in the doorway. “I won’t hurt you.”
“What? What the hell is-” Carpenter sputtered, when Mr. Cronenberg walked inside, followed by a thick knot of boys.
“I’ve become so many things before,” Mr. Cronenberg said. “So many worlds. I take and I become. But I’ve never…taken anything like love before. You are the only thing I could never take, I could never want to take.”
Dozens of voices called his name. Teachers and classmates advanced on him with outstretched arms. Someone grabbed him from behind, hooking arms under his to restrain him. Four, six, eight, ten, hands fell on him, pinning him, unraveling his tie, pulling his shirt up and his pants down.
“I’ll take-,” What used to be his history teacher, Mr. Gunn, said. The voice was his and not his. The eyes were his and not his.
“-care of you.” What used to be a senior named James said.
“You won’t have to-” What used to be a freshman said.
“-worry about anything-” Another voice. And another. And another. And another. Too many voices to count, sounding out in terrible harmony.
Carpenter screamed, but the hands continued to touch and stroke, with fingers soft and calloused, with fingernails long and short and smooth and jagged, pinching his nipples, cupping his cock, squeezing his ass. Eyes of every color fixed on him. Strange lips, some smooth, some wet, some dry and brittle kissing his neck, his forehead, his legs, his stomach, opening and tasting him, licking, gently biting, biting hard.
“You are everything to me, Carpenter! And-”
“I’ll become everything-”
“-and be everyone to you.”
He couldn’t recall exactly what happened after that, only a blur of bodies pressing against him.
Carpenter woke up in his own bed. He felt raw and his body was covered in bandages and gauze, no doubt raided from the nurse’s office.
He heard someone say, “I’m so…so sorry.” The voice cracked. “I’ll never do anything like that again. I didn’t even know that I could do that. Not with how – how could I?”
Carpenter recognized the boy but could not remember his name: a short kid with freckles. The kid’s eyes were red and raw and his lower lip was covered with snot.
“How could I?” The kid-that-was-Adam asked again. “I would do anything for you, I love you, and yet…”
“It’s okay,” Carpenter said, biting his tongue before he could say how he really felt. “You aren’t used to….uh, to being human. I understand. I forgive you.” He added quickly, neither understanding nor forgiving the creature in front of him.
Adam sniffed. “How can you forgive me?”
“You are still Adam. I love you.” He wiped snot from Adam’s face with his sleeve.” You didn’t mean to hurt me and you won’t do it again, right?”
Adam nodded quickly. “Never, never, ever. I’d rather die first.”
“Adam…I want to be with you. But I need you to promise me some things.”
“You’ve got to stop…being other people. Just be in one body, okay? Be Adam, be in Adam’s body. That’s how I like you.”
Adam frowned. “I can’t. I’m sorry. I would if I could.” He pointed to his chest. “This body,” he spread out his arms, “and all those other bodies, they are all me. They aren’t just puppets I can take my hand out of.”
Carpenter shivered. “You…you mean you killed them?”
“I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry. I would undo it if I could, Carpenter. Before I became Adam, before I learned how wonderful you were, I lived only to consume and become. I lived such a meaningless life and I didn’t even know it. I’m Adam, but I’m still…I’m still what I was before I was Adam too. I tried so hard to deny that part of myself, but in the end I couldn’t resist it.”
“How many have you become, Adam?”
“The entire school, except for you.”
“No one else? Nobody outside of the school?”
“Promise me you won’t become any more people.”
Adam bit his lip and looked at his feet. “I can try. It’s really hard not to.”
“I need you to do more than try. I need to you stop. Then I’ll be with you. You have to promise me. If you love me you’ll stop.”
“Alright, I promise you I’ll stop.” He said, voice cracking and lacking conviction. “It’s just hard.”
Carpenter hugged Adam. “I know it’s hard. But I know that you can stop.”
Fresh tears sprang from Adam’s eyes. “How do you know? I’m so weak…I can’t control myself. I’m pathetic.”
Carpenter was startled to feel his heart ache for a moment. Just what was it like – suddenly being human, struggling between human and inhuman desires? No, Carpenter told himself, don’t go thinking like that. So you’ve got sympathy for the devil, but you’ve got to remember he’s still the devil. He held Adam and let him cry on his shoulder.
“It’s okay. Shhhhh. It’s okay. We’ll take it one step at a time. Do you think you can not become anyone new for today, just for the rest of today?”
Adam brightened. “Yes, I can do that. I know I can do that.”
So far, so good. “Can I see you as Adam? I mean, in Adam’s body?”
“You won’t like the way I look now.”
“I don’t care. I want to see you as Adam.”
“Are you trying to escape?”
“No. You…I mean, the body that’s in the room with me can stay right here while you bring Adam’s body over here. Then have that body leave and Adam’s body stay. That way I’ll have no chance to escape.”
“This body. His name was Jonathan Winters.”
The door opened and Adam-in-Adam’s body walked into the room and Adam-in-Jonathan Winters’ body walked out. Adam’s body had changed. The whites of his eyes had gone completely red. The skin around his wrists looked inflamed, scaly and purple-red. More white tendrils like the ones that came out of his wrists had sprouted out of his shoulders, poking out of his shirt collar.
Carpenter kept his face blank, so as not to betray his disgust. He went over to the creature and kissed him. Adam kissed back and allowed himself to be led back to the bed. Carpenter opened the drawer where he kept the lube, and the letter opener his father gave him last year.
“I’m sorry, Adam.” He hugged Adam, and with as much force as he could muster, shoved the blade under his ribs. Adam’s eyes widened but he did not cry out in pain. Blood flowed out of him, over Carpenter’s hand and onto the bed. “I guess it was your nature. But I can’t let you eat the world.”
Adam simply stared at him, neither condemning nor condoning. His eyes went blank, and there was a great cracking sound, a sound that must have been hundreds of bodies falling to the ground at the same time.
Outside he found the body of Jonathan Winters and countless others. He felt strangely numb as he made his way down the hallways and looked at the faces of the dead. He made his way to the principal’s office, stepping over a few bodies, found the phone, and called the police.
He wasn’t sure what to say exactly. That he probably saved the world wasn’t the best choice, even if it was closest to the truth.
“Hello, police? There’s been an emergency at the school…”