“… by cutting the umbilical cord with God, our source of ethical vitality would be gone. Morally we would become nothing better than a species of fantastically clever monkeys. Our ultimate fate would be too horrible to contemplate. For the truth is that we humans are all Jekyll and Hyde creatures, and the monster within each of us is always striving to take over.” – Paul Johnson- Jun. 1985 – from an essay in Readers Digest
Matt stood leaning against the metal wall. He looked inside the room with disgust. Their it stood, the chair that had made him into this thing. He had thought himself so smart, he had known so much that he could tamper with the forces of nature. The macrocomputers still calculated, the Gamma Emitters still stood still, awaiting to unleash their rays of radiation upon another poor soul. The refrigeration unit that held his experimental hormone treatment, still holding the keys to hell on earth.
Matt strode inside the control room, looking at his creation through plated glass. Matt typed in the security commands and deleted his files on the experiment. Stepping out he went to work taking apart the delivery chair, each piece falling to the ground…compounding his failure. Finally there stood only the refrigeration unit. The files were purged, the chair in pieces…now to destroy the hormone. Taking out every sample, Matt took it to a biohazard waste basket and dumped the tubes. Calling a lab janitor to quickly dispose of the bag, Matt went outside the lab, giving it one last look, and then went down the hall to meet with Rick and Suzanne.
“Matt?” Suzanne asked seeing the grave expression on his face.
“It will never happen again. Mickey and I are the only ones who will have to live with the effects of my failure.” Matt lowered his face to the cage that Rick was holding, the cage that held Mickey. “I’m sorry pal, I wish I could make you feel better, but it seems you and I are cursed.”
“Don’t say that Matt, we might be able to find a cure someday.” Rick said as Matt got up from looking at Mickey.
“Someday Rick, but until then I have to isolate myself. Any kind of negative emotional response can trigger the transformation, I simply cant risk going out in the open.” Matt began to walk to his office when Suzanne grabbed his shoulder.
“Let us take you to dinner. Before you object, consider it one last night to think things over and maybe we can think where you can be safe and keep your ‘friend’ secure.” Matt began to shake his head no, but he couldn’t resist both his friends nagging. Relenting he nodded his head.
“Alright, one last night. Just let me get dressed and I will meet up with you at the restaurant.” Suzanne and Rick nodded and left Matt alone to contemplate. Matt walked into his office and turned off the light, and drove home.
Quickly changing his clothes Matt looked in the mirror. He studied his face, touching it. That night he had seen himself, the red eyes, the changing of pigmentation. It had been frightening and fascinating. Total loss of control had exhilarated him. After months of shoving every negative thought about his life down his throat, releasing it and not worrying about it felt like a gigantic weight had been lifted. That was what scared him most, that it felt that way. Matt grabbed his keys and went to his car, the restaurant wasn’t far so he wasn’t worried about being late.
The place was crowded, probably due to a new movie premiering at the theater. Matt quickly found Rick and Suzanne who smiled as he approached. Soon they were ordering and talking, mostly small talk.
“So Matt, what are you going to do now?” Rick asked sipping at his coke.
“I have to find a cure, somehow I have to find it. That and I have to avoid my former friends. I once thought I should clear the air with them but I don’t know if I can do that. The slightest emotion might set me off. Bad enough Suzanne’s boyfriend saw me.”
“Actually he didn’t, he simply thought ‘Tony’ was a friend of yours. Your secret is still safe.” Matt breathed a sigh of relief. One less thing to stress about.
The rest of the dinner was a happy affair. The three friends talked about life and love, and Matt found that he had missed this. ‘This’ being the closeness of his friends. It was only a short time ago he had been with Veronica and Jason and Chad on her birthday. Had it been so long ago? While it wasn’t as fun as now, the thought of his former camaraderie made his mind drift.
“Matt, its time to take off. You ok?” Rick asked. Matt nodded his head and smiled. The three friends exited the theater and began a walk to the car.
“Hey Matt, lets go by the fountain and throw some pennies in there.” Suzanne said. Before Matt could protest she was dragging him and Rick along to the fountain. I sure could use any luck I could get, thought Matt to himself.
“Hello Matt.” Matt turned around and at the outdoor table sat Chad, Jason and Veronica. No…not now, Matt thought to himself.
“We can leave if you want.” Rick said, Veronica and her clique gave Suzanne and Rick a questioning look, surprised by his hostile voice.
“No, Rick. Its OK, I want…I have to clear some things up. You and Suzanne wait up a sec…ok?” Rick nodded and moved with Suzanne to another outside table.
“Well, what did you mean by clearing up?” Veronica said, her voice angry.
“I don’t think you guys understand why…or how you hurt me.” Veronica opened her mouth to protest, but Matt raised his hand. “First I want to know how I have hurt you guys.
“Well, I just don’t understand the reason you are mad at me.” Chad said, his eyes looking sad and lost.
“I don’t like how you just cut us off like that.” Jason snapped his fingers, indicating ‘that’ being instantaneous.
“I told you, you hurt me by saying our friendship meant nothing, and how long you held on because you ‘cared’ for me even though we both know that is bullshit.” Veronica looked angry and Matt understood. His head was sweating and his stomach felt knotted, but he had to do this. He had to beat the Monster Within.
“Chad, I am mad…I am mad because you told me from the start I had no chance with a woman I loved. One of my best friends, someone who called me his brother…didn’t even try to help me. You might not have been able to help, but you could have tried. You also were the first to hint at Jason and Veronica being together, yet you couldn’t tell me straight.” Matt felt his palms get sweaty, but so far so good.
“Jason, I have known you for a helluva long time. Sometimes as best friends sometimes not, but always friends. When I found out about you and Veronica, it made me think how you should have at least talked to me. But you said that you didn’t care, saying that in high school I had little crushes all the time. Jason, its been years since then…and 2 years isn’t a crush. I…I would think you would have cared enough to at least tell me.”
“But you told me to go for it.” Jason said, confused.
“Yes, I did. I thought I was helping a friend, being a friend. In reality you had already asked her out, and had an opportunity to tell me. Instead I called you and basically humiliated myself after finding out.” Matt remembered the answering machine. The anger in him began to build. Closing his eyes Matt fought back, not this time Tony, I will beat you.
“Veronica. We have known each other for 2 years. A year and a half I was in love with you. Unrequited love, but still love. When I ditched, abandoned, left you it was because I couldn’t play the charade anymore. Being a friend was awesome, and I will never forget it. Standing back though, as you went out on dates. Meeting your boyfriends, it was too hard, I had to move on. Did I handle it bad? Hell yes. I regret it everyday.”
“Then why did you want to become friends with me again?” Veronica asked.
“I thought I had grown out of it, that maybe it was just a crush. I missed our friendship, and yes our talks. Before you say anything I admit, I lied to you about things. Facts about me, bragging about myself. As I did to all my friends, but in my head I thought I had to…to be worthy of your friendship. When out friendship restarted it was great, then you went out with Robert. Then you criticized my relationship after I tried to accept yours. Then…after I asked if you and Jason were interested in going out you said yes. You asked if I would be ok.” He swallowed down his anger.
“You said yes to that.”
“Yeah I did, but what else would I say? No? Then I would be the sap, and then I would be the bad friend that couldn’t be happy for you guys. The simple fact is that no matter what I said, you would have gone out with him. Yet…both of you couldn’t tell me that night we saw each other. Why? Because you didn’t give a damn!” Matt felt the rage boil out of him. NO, eh thought to himself. He felt the buzzing in his ears and when eh opened his eyes, they felt warm, his vision was blurry and his former friends gasped in shock.
“I have to go,” Matt ran to the alley, he couldn’t hurt them. They were his friends. Chad, Jason and Veronica got up to follow. Suzanne and Rick intercepted their path.
“You cant go to him, he needs to be alone right now.” Suzanne said.
“Please, we just want to help, he…he is our friend.” Veronica’s eyes pleaded. Then all heard an inhuman roar erupt. From the alley a man ran up to them. His smile was devilish, his chest bare, his skin red. He lifted his arms in defiance and roared to the night, an inhuman laugh erupting from him.
“All right kiddies, its GO TIME!” The creature ripped up a table from its hinges and threw it to the tight congregation of Matt’s friends. All were able to dodge out of the way. The creature seemed to zero in on Veronica. Jason leapt to his feet to intercept the creature. Throwing a punch, Jason was astounded when his fist was caught midswing.
“You may have a good thought process Jason, but you fight like a dead chicken.” Jason felt himself going up and thrown against a wall, falling unconscious. Veronica screamed and went after the creature, Rick knew Mat’s hidden anger and pushed her aside. Tony raised his hand and swept Rick away. Rick flew and landed on a table shattering it into splinters.
Tony looked around and saw Veronica. Finally, she was at his mercy. Months of anguish and anger and rage and rejection filled his face. Veronica was helpless as she saw the monster approach her. Her face, it was…NO, stop. Tony grabbed his head. Flashes filled his head of the day Matt realized his true feelings. Her wearing that red sweater on that December day. Her eyes and perfect skin…so beautiful like a Christmas angel.
Tony broke into a run…he had to get away from her. Suzanne was about to go after him but a security man stopped her. He asked her if she was all right, but Suzanne was speechless. Through it all, Matt still loved Veronica enough to beat the monster within.
Inside his apartment Tony screamed. The thoughts of Veronica swarmed into his head. The painful guilt of having hurt Rick and Jason. Tears welled into his red eyes as Tony fought to stay in control. It was better this way, he thought to himself. This way he was free of the pain. A thought in his head responded, it was better to feel the pain then to hurt them. Tony screamed as his body convulsed and tightened. The pain made him fall to the ground in his own tears of frustration and guilt.
A hand rose from the counter, a white hand. Pulling himself up Matt looked at the mirror, the red eyes still piercing and with a blink…gone. He breathed a sigh of relief. He had won, but he couldn’t let this happen again. At any time he might grow anger against his friends…he needed to leave. Matt’s mind was heavy as he fell to the ground. The floor was cold but the comfort of doing one last act of friendship rocked him to sleep…as his mind raced over what tomorrow would bring.
“True friendship ought never to conceal what it thinks.” – St. Jerome