It started with a spot; nothing special, just a little black spot, on the back of his left hand. If he tried to think back far enough, Brad might have been able to convince himself that he had always had it. He hadn’t of course; he had checked the baby photos. He had rechecked them again the next day, and the next, scratching at the intrusive little bump absentmindedly.
When he had asked his mother about it, she had shaken her head and told him to put a bay leaf on it. Her answer for everything was a bay leaf, whether a soup for his allergies, or a poultice that time he broke his arm. After much convincing, Bea had taken her only son to a hospital to have his arm properly set. As dispassionate a person as she was, she was suitably concerned about the state of his skin over the weeks he would spend in the cast. She quizzed numerous doctors over his skin integrity and the healing process, and scrutinized each and every answer for anything unsatisfactory. Bea had still been nattering away when Brad was finished being plastered up, smoothing back her bright red corkscrew hair in a distressed sort of fashion.
Brad noticed the little brown spot on his first day of eighth grade, when he noticed the itching. It was unbearable, like little critters crawling around inside of him, and he had the sudden urge to scratch right through his skin, to find whatever was inside and cast it away. He was horrified by this thought process and tried his best to squash it as he went about his business. The itch was distracting though, and he found himself unable to concentrate on his lessons, or even on his friends as they chatted away about their breaks. He forgot names, dates and even faces. Everything in his mind seemed to be replaced by the urge to scratch that damned itch. He felt rather grown up, to be thinking swear words like that about something that was severely bothering him.
By the time ninth grade rolled around, the spot had got wider, and gone black. If he looked closely enough, he could see some faint blue lines in a circular shape around it, almost as if something was seeping out of it. This was a ridiculous thought, and he refused to allow himself to entertain it. Even with that decided, he could not stop himself from showing his mother again. Bea had aged considerably in a year, though Brad attributed that to her losing her job in entomology. She truly had been fantastic at it – something in her demeanor always seemed to be able to understand even the most aggressive of bugs. This had held especially true for the local wasps; they had allowed her to disperse their nests without any trouble for years on end. Bea had dismissed him again, attributing the spot to too much time in the sun.
It wasn’t until tenth grade that Brad seriously started to worry. With another year under his belt, he was well aware that skin abnormalities were a big problem. The spot was no longer like an annoying little freckle; it now held the sinister look of a rather large and comfortable blackhead. He demanded that Bea take him to a skin specialist, but she smoothed back her hair and told him firmly that he was fine, just overreacting. Brad bit his tongue until he tasted copper, but he did not press the issue. Bea was more stubborn than a standard mule and did not like to be pressed on things. Still, Brad was tired of being ignored, so he decided to take action himself. That night, with only a torch to see by, he took to the spot with a pin and squeezed with all his might. A fat droplet of black blood slid out and stained his sheets.
“Damn,” he whispered, and felt even more rebellious. He kept squeezing his spot; he could feel something firm sitting just below the surface. The tips of his fingers went numb from the pressure and the back of his hand ached something terrible, but he was determined to find out whatever this spot was made of. After several agonized minutes of squeezing his skin mercilessly, something green came forth with an audible pop. A feeling of immense pain and relief came over Brad all at once, and his vision went grey for a moment. When it cleared, he found himself leaning against the wall for support. He had never felt such pain in his life, even when he had broken his arm.
He scooped up the sticky little green ball with one finger. It was roughly the size of a pea, but totally transparent, like clean bottle glass. It felt squishy too, like a slippery chunk of jelly. Brad stared at it for a moment, shone the light on it. He couldn’t see anything inside it. It wigged him out that this had been inside his skin, and a shudder passed over his whole body, along with a sense that something was very, very wrong. He placed the little ball beside his bed and shut off the torch. The next day, the ball was somewhat diminished in size, and had taken on swirls of muddy brown throughout its surface. When Brad showed his mother, she looked grievously alarmed, and asked who he had told. He replied with the truth – no one. He had lost all of his friends whilst combatting the itch. They had thought him a freak and possibly diseased, especially after he explained what it felt like. Bea had herself comforted him, and covered his hand in bay leaves to relieve some of the symptoms. They had actually seemed to work.
Over the course of several more weeks, Brad continued to squeeze little green balls out of his spot. The ring that had once been faint was now fresh and blue with bruising, and he kept a little dish next to his bed in which he collected the fruits of his labor. Bea scolded him furiously every time she saw that another had been added, which became a daily ritual. As soon as she walked into his room to wake him up, she noticed, without fail. More often than not, he was woken by her cursing a blue streak.
More and more of the balls were popping out of him, and worse, they were getting bigger. The pain was incredible and made him grit his teeth to the point of chipping. One of his front bottom teeth was coming loose at the root. He had amassed a small mountain of the little balls in the bottom of the bowl, enough that he had lost count of how many he had extracted.
He could not take his mind off the little balls. The image of them felt burned into the backs of his eyelids and thoughts of them possessed him every few moments. Brad wondered what they were, where they came from, why they were popping out of him. When he could not find the answers he was gripped with a chilling, frightful sense of fear. It clamped itself over his mouth and breathed icy cold air down into his lungs. Pain spider-webbed across his chest and could he have breathed, he would have screamed. The feeling passed after only a matter of seconds, only to reoccur every few minutes. It was a special kind of agonizing torture.
Brad became thin and drawn, unable to eat or drink much without throwing it weakly back up. He spent more and more time with his head over the toilet bowl, caught between suffocating and vomiting. He refused to leave the house – the light hurt his eyes and the wind chapped his skin. He missed school for weeks on end, but he didn’t care and it didn’t even surprise him that he didn’t care. Bea brought him ice water every half-hour, and bay leaf soup five times per day. It was her favourite, and he had grown up on the ghastly stuff. He gagged and choked on it, but it seemed to bring his skin and muscle to life. As he faded away, he noticed how thick his body still was, with deposits in his arms, legs and belly that had not yet wasted.
He felt stretched, like a sausage about to burst out of the skin. His own skin was raw and tight, and glowed with painful heat. His hair fell out in clumps, even his eyelashes and the hair under his arms. It occurred to him that he couldn’t remember when he stopped feeling the itch. The burn was so intense. He rubbed his eyes furiously with his knuckles and felt them crackle awkwardly, like old paper. He vomited again, nothing but bay leaf soup-flavored water, mixed with bile. It hurt and he was exhausted. Brad called weakly for his mother, but even he wasn’t sure if any sound had come out. He felt as if he may collapse at any moment.
Bea came around the corner, and then fell to her knees beside her son. Her hair seemed to slip sideways and she immediately moved to smooth it, before shrugging and pulling her hair… off. She was smoothly bald, like a baby and her skin was a light, clear shade of green. Brad’s mouth dropped open in shock and he tried to move away, but his body wouldn’t cooperate with his instructions. He could clearly see her brain through her skin; it was small and shriveled and black.
“Now, now, darling,” she clicked. The words didn’t seem to be coming from her mouth. She reached out to him with dirty fingernails and gently stroked his arm. The touch seared him and he let out a weak moan as his arm split open, right to the bone. There was no blood, only little green balls, thousands of them and they poured out of him like they had been waiting. There was no part of him left that was in control, and the tiny part of his brain that still functioned was blinking in alarm, as the creature he thought was his mother clicked in apparent satisfaction and leaned forward to extract the rest of her eggs.
“Thank you, for taking such good care of your brothers and sisters.” She raked across his belly, and Brad’s worn, used body disintegrated into nothingness, leaving behind only the millions of tiny eggs.