LNH20/ACRA: NHOP # 1 [repost]

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Sun Oct 11 09:55:29 PDT 2015

Tyler is dead: to begin with. Maggie had been there when it happened.
Maggie was the reason it happened.
   They were friends. Best friends from the first year of high school
until the night he died. Why they were friends, she had no idea.
Maggie was a big fat ugly nothing with no personality and no friends,
except for Tyler. Tyler, on the other hand, was charming, extroverted,
and "normal", apart from his penchant for pedantry and semicolons and
stupid hats and suspenders and Velcro shoes and pince-nez glasses and
Deanna Durbin and eight-hour board games about trains and pronouncing
robot so it rhymes with butt and, well, okay, she can see why he
didn't have many friends.
   But why he spent so much time in her orbit, she couldn't
understand. It wasn't even that he was into fat girls. And if he had
been, there were certainly fat girls who didn't hate themselves, who
weren't always sad sacks, who were actually fun to be around. Outsized
body, outsized personality. Bold 'n brassy, full-figured gals. Maggie
wishes she could be one of those. Nobody likes a fat girl who's mopey;
it's like being fat twice.
   She wasn't the only one who wondered why Tyler Bridge was best
friends with Maggie Bernard. There was rampant speculation that they
were lovers. That wasn't true, though Maggie wished it had been. But
Tyler never showed any interest in her that way. Sometimes she'd
imagine that he was just shy, and that she was tired of waiting for
him to build up the nerve, so she would just lean in and kiss him full
on the mouth. Then he would look at her, his hazel eyes tender and
softening. Then he would kiss her right back.
   Or he would just pull away, embarrassed and horrified. He would
pull away and keeping pulling away, and then she'd be really alone. So
she never built up the nerve to do it. If she was one of those other
fat girls, the kind that smiled, she would have. But she wasn't. She
wasn't even human.
   That wasn't the usual self-pity talking. It was a fact. The night
of her twenty-second birthday, and every night after, she turned into
a giant pink blob. Her skin and muscle and bone all became a kind of
sticky, corrosive gelatin. Her eyes burned off and her mouth closed
up. Her hair sizzled and her clothes were absorbed into her mass.
While she still had a head, and arms, and legs, everything sort of ran
together, and it was nothing that resembled a human being.
   Every night at midnight (eleven from November to March, hurray
daylight savings time) until dawn, Maggie's body is thus transformed.
And every dawn, the gelatin falls away, and she is herself again. She
understands it now. She doesn't like it, and doesn't really accept it,
but one trip to Netropolis later, she understands what is happening,
she plans for it, she deals with it, she takes precautions.
   But that first time, on her birthday, she thought she was dying.
She tried to scream but she had no mouth. Tried to hear what Tyler was
saying, but she had no ears. She tried to reach out for him in her
panic, to hug him, but.
   "Did you hear about Maggie Bernard and her boyfriend, Tyler? She
got hungry, so she ate him."
   He burned up and fell apart in her arms.
   Which brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt
that Tyler is dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing
wonderful can come of the story I am about to relate.

 !!!!  !!! !!!   !!!  !!!!!!!  !!!!!!!!
 !!!!!!!!! !!!   !!! !!!   !!! !!!!  !!!
 !!! !!!!! !!!!!!!!! !!!   !!! !!!!!!!!
 !!!  !!!! !!!   !!! !!!   !!! !!!
 !!!   !!! !!!   !!!  !!!!!!!  !!! # 1
             ~IN WHICH~
 The band gets back together. (Sort of.)

It did not take long-- a handful of weeks-- for Maggie to be legally
cleared of all culpability for Tyler's death. Not that she was ever
seriously in danger of being arrested, brought to trial, or
incarcerated: "Clearly an accident, sad and tragic of course, but not
without its precedents. Young person, like yourself, suddenly
manifesting all nature of supernatural powers, as you did; another
young person gets in the way-- well, that's two-thirds of half of the
good origin stories, innit? Which comes to one-third, by-the-by, but
that's not here nor there.
   "Point being, Miss Bernard, no one's going to hold you responsible
for what happened to your friend. Me and mine just got to go through
the motions of due diligence, et cetera, crossing t's, et cetera,
before we can just file it away under 'accident'. The wheels of
justice, miss, they turn slowly, but the wheels of bureaucracy, they
turn slower still."
   But he was wrong when he said no one would hold her responsible.
After all, she held herself responsible, first and foremost. As did
Tyler's family. She used to feel almost welcome there, "Tyler's friend
   "Tyler's friend Maggie, how've you been? How's school? Did you pick
a major yet? No? Then your nose, how about your nose? If you haven't
picked a major, you should at least pick your nose." (Tyler's father
was a fierce advocate of nose-picking.) "Why not do both? Why not pick
nose-picking for your major? Or is it snot being offered?" (Also,
inordinately fond of mild puns; the milder, the fonder.)
   There was a warmness and a playfulness to the man, even to his
teasing, that his son had shared. It was something that at first was
completely alien to Maggie. In her family, teasing always had a bite,
and the bite, a crass venom. Tyler's people would often pepper their
meals with quotations and light, breezy conversation. In Maggie's
family, the height of wit was calling someone a faggot. Whenever she
had her druthers, Maggie spent her time with Tyler's family instead of
her own.
   But that was when he was alive. After she had killed him, his
family didn't want anything to do with Tyler's friend Maggie. And so
she was stuck spending her spare time in her parents' house, which she
hated, and in that room, ditto. That room...
   Her room. The room that Tyler died in. It used to be the only place
in that house where she felt safe. But after she returned to Detroit
from the hospital in Netropolis, it didn't feel like her room anymore.
It still doesn't. Everything about it feels unfamiliar somehow, and
out of place.
   And not just because of the floor space her new sleeping tank takes
up. The tank is a gift (she guesses) from the LNH, designed by
Configuration Man to safely contain her corrosive blob-form. It looks
like it's made of glass but it's actually some kind of transparent
high-tech alloy. Beyond being Maggie-proof, it also monitors her vital
signs and sends them electronically to her doctor. It makes her feel
vaguely like a fish, and also like she never got out of the hospital.
   Her room feels like a hospital now, and sometimes she feels that
that's why she can't seem to be comfortable in it. But at other times,
there's something more to it than that. The feeling that the room
isn't empty. That something is watching her, staring at her. That the
room is staring at her. She doesn't feel comfortable. She doesn't feel
safe. Sometimes, as she crawls naked and human into her tank, she
feels absolutely terrified of the room outside it. Then she turns into
a pink ooze and doesn't feel frightened anymore-- doesn't really feel
anything, emotional or otherwise.
   What she does "feel"-- the only thing-- is something intensely yet
indescribably physical. With no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, or
nerve endings, blob-Maggie doesn't see, hear, smell, taste, or feel.
Yet there's something going on, something she struggles to put it into
any kind of words. And that something is different here, in this room,
than it was in Netropolis, or at Oakwood, or anywhere else she's been
poked and prodded. And that difference scares her half to death.
   Scares her so much, in fact, that she decides she wants to move
out. Usually a full-time college student up to her eyeballs in tuition
fees would find a classmate or friend to room with, but Maggie's
classmates are cruel, and her only real friend is gone. And so, she
writes a notice to post on campus and online.
   It's difficult for her; writing has never been her strongest suit.
Whenever she had to write a paper, she had often depended on Tyler to
make sure it was coherent. Most of the time-- sometimes to her
irritation-- he did more, turning her chintzy little house of words
into an ornate piece of architecture buttressed with semicolons and
parentheticals, pillared with footnotes, and decorated with slight,
charming little almost-jokes. "Not a full joke, Maggie Bernard; just a
little smile to keep it lively." And yet it wasn't just a layering-on
of needless and endless details, for even as he embellished, he
adhered with an almost religious fervor to his "S and W": Strunk and
White, Elements of Style, the one true Third Edition, can I get an
   Sometimes, Maggie would try to get him to take it down a notch.
After all, it was her paper, with her name on it, so there should be
something of her in it. She did not want Tyler writing her papers for
her. But Tyler always had a way of crowding people out of their own
things when he was ostensibly helping them; it was the risk you took
when you asked him to help.
   But he's not here, and so she soldiers through it, clumsy as ever,
taking most of an evening to put thirty-five words and a handful of
punctuation marks next to each other:

   Female music major looking for place to stay
   in walking distance from campus. Don't drink,
   don't smoke, allergic to dogs, loves cats.
   Small talent for cooking. Turns into flesh-
   eating monster at midnight, otherwise affable.

She's not even sure if she is "otherwise affable"; it's the kind of
thing that Tyler would end that sentence with, and so she includes it
as a sort of good luck charm. It doesn't seem to do much for her at
first. Calls are few and far between, and most of them-- and this
pitfall only became obvious in hindsight-- interpret "turns into
flesh-eating monster at midnight" as some kind of pervy sex thing.
Those that don't make that mistake know exactly what she means and
exactly who she is, and want exactly nothing to do with her.
   After a fortnight, she stopped getting responses. After a month,
she resigns herself to never getting out of that house. Two weeks
after that, she had actually forgotten that she had ever put the ad up
in the first place. And that's when she gets an email from someone
named Lily with a spare room, and the long and short of it is that
Maggie finds herself waiting in a White Castle to meet her.
   The first thing Maggie notices about Lily is how very tall and very
thin she is. Lanky-leggy and gangly, tiny little pipe-cleaner arms
stuck on a torso that's only a little thicker. Maggie would describe
her as a stick with breasts, but she's not so sure about the latter.
Really, Lily's built like a boy: flat hips, flat chest, sharp angles,
zero curves. Her hair's a short and sloppy tomboy's mop, but streaked
with three different colors, only two of which Maggie recognizes as
part of the spectrum of visible light.
   "Maggie? I'm Lily. Pleased to meetcha. What d'ya play?"
   Lily reaches into the top of her shirt and presumably from her bra
pulls out a crinkly-creasy piece of paper. "Female music major," she
reads. "What do you play?"
   "Well, it's actually more that I'm studying music, like music theory?"
   "But I do play. Not very well. But I play the oboe."
   "Hey, how about that-- that's what I play."
   "Oh, neat," says Maggie.
   "Woodwinds forever!" says Lily. She brings one foot onto the bench,
her impossibly long leg pressed between her body and the edge of the
table. "Yeah, I play semi-professionally with a couple of the smaller
symphonies. Like, as my job." That makes sense; she looks to be in her
late twenties, too old to be a student.
   "Is there a lot of money in that?"
   Lily snort-laughs. "Not really. If there was, we wouldn't need a roommate."
   "My girl and me," says Lily. "She'd be here now, but she's in
France." She throws a thumb over her shoulder, presumably in the
direction of the continent. "She's French. Pro-tip: French girls, not
that big on French kissing. Surprising, right? She likes my tongue
mind you, just not in her mouth."
   Maggie blushes suddenly and redly. "Um..."
   "Oh, one of those," says Lily. "I don't always think before I talk.
Sorry about that, Maggs. Can I call you Maggs?"
   "I'd really rather you..."
   "I'm going to call you Maggs."
   "So I guess this is the part where we talk until we both decided
that neither of us are serial killers."
   "This is that part," says Maggie. "Uh. I'm not very good at this part."
   "Always the quiet ones!" says Lily in mock suspicion. "Well, I
don't know: anyone who plays an oboe can't be all that bad, right?"
   "Does your girlfriend--"
   "Does Michette play an instrument?"
   "Yes," says Lily, dropping her voice two octaves: "The viola. Boo, strings."
   "Woodwinds forever."
   "She's cool, though," says Lily. "Even if she's in strings. She's
got, like, focus. Not just focus, but Focus. Uppercase F. Like a
German noun. She really has got it together. Me, I'm all over the
place. Do you want an example?"
   "Here's an example. E-dot-G-dot." She reaches back into her shirt
and pulls out another, crinklier-creasier piece of paper. "This is a
list that Michette made for me before she went to France five weeks
ago. It has three things on it. Precisely." She passes the list to

  (1) Fix the leaky faucet.
  (2) Find a roommate.
  (3) Miss me. (This one is struck from the list.)

   "And she's coming back in three days," says Lily as she takes the
list back, folds it, and stuffs it back into her non-existent bosom.
"From France, where she was doing French stuff. And I really need to
cross these two things off my list. I actually meant to email you
about your ad a month ago, so I'm actually pretty glad you haven't
found a place yet-- wait, that sounds mean and selfish, and I'm pretty
sure I'm only one of those things, pretend I didn't say that. Anyway,
my hope is this: my hope is that you will not only want to rent our
room, but you will also know how to fix a leaky faucet. What d'ya say,
   Maggie smiles awkwardly. "Well, maybe. But there's something else
that you and Michette would need to be aware of. It's, uh, it's in the
   "Oh, don't worry," says Lily. "We hate dogs. Dogs are dumb. Your
allergy is not a problem."
   "It's not that," says Maggie. "It's the midnight thing."
   Lily shrugs. "So you turn into a flesh-eating monster. It happens."
   "But I mean, I really, it's an actual, I have a thing. Like, they
sent me to Netropolis and everything."
   "Okay, great, so you turn into a flesh-eating monster," says Lily
with another shrug.
   "I don't think you really are grasping the..." Maggie stops
talking; a spot on Lily's bare arm burbles and boils, and then
explodes with a soft red pop. In its place, protruding through her
skin, is a jagged little stone.
   "They sent me to Netropolis, too," says Lily, nimbly wiping away
the blood with one of those horribly abrasive fast-food napkins. "I
also turn into a flesh-eating monster, though in my case, it's my
flesh that gets eaten. Seriously, it's not a big deal."
   While she's talking, she's digging out her phone. She pulls up the
photo gallery and shows Maggie a picture of herself.
   "This is me every twenty-eight days or so," says Lily. "In case
you're wondering, not a single flap of skin. Pebbles all the way
down." She takes the phone back. "Bright side is, I'm pretty much
indestructible in that form. Lots of fun at parties; lots of lulz.
Then all the rocks fall off and I have skin again, hurray, but then
I'm puking all over the place and can barely get out of bed, boo. And
then the whole lovely cycle starts over again, and that's me." She
tosses her multicolored mop with her fingers.
   "When did that start?"
   "When I was twelve," says Lily. "When I started puberty.
Menstruation metaphor, for the win. I used to be real sore about it,
Maggs. Just kinda wallowed in my misery. But after a while I figured I
didn't much care for the person this nonsense was turning me into, and
so I stopped being sore about it." She noisily siphons her soda
through her straw. "Most of the time, anyway."

The apartment is small. Tiny kitchen, tiny living room, tiny dining
room, tiny-tiny-tiny. Actually, there are no walls or archways to
separate the living room from the dining room. The only thing that
demarcates one from the other is the presence of a couch and a table,
respectively, and Maggie can't really place where one room ends and
the other begins. Off of the living room there's a hallway with a
bathroom in the middle, and a bedroom at each end.
   "That would be you," says Lily, pointing to the left. "If you want it."
   Maggie looks at the room, then at Lily. In the half hour since
they've left the restaurant, two more little bubbles of flesh have
popped and been replaced by gray little stones. These two are on her
face, and yet she still looks strangely beautiful. It's the smile, she
realizes; the crinkle of her nose and the twinkle of her eyes. She's
turning into a flesh-eating monster, and is totally punk-rock about
it. Maggie wishes she could be like that.
   She says yes, and I guess this is as good a spot as any to say see
you next time.
   See you next time. In our second installment, the band that never
was together (at least in this Looniverse) continues to get back
together. There will be lulz, and also sads, and also spookiness.


Character Credits:
Configuration Man: Andrew Perron.
Tyler Bridge, Maggie Bernard, Lily Paschall, Michette Duclos: me, but

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