“I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies in a fight. But my friends, my goddamned friends, they’re the ones who keep me walking the floor at nights!” – Warren G, Harding

The alarm buzzed Matt awake from a dreamless sleep. Smiling as he rolled over he checked his watch. He wanted to get to work early and begin further testing. Showering and getting dressed at record speed, Matt leapt into the car. He knew that the lab would have breakfast for him. Matt sat in his car, focusing on his problems with Veronica and his other friends. To his relief he found the perfect solution. He would call Jason up and ask him if he was interested in Veronica, then he would tell him to go for it if he did. Matt had finally moved on.

Rock and Roll came out like waves of the ocean from Matt’s Geo Metro as he pulled into the Research Facility. Enrique smiled down at him.

“You certainly look chipper today Dr. Smith.” Good nights rest?” Enrique asked pushing the button to have the security post rise into the air.

“No, simply peace of mind.” Matt smiled broadly at Enrique and pulled into the parking area. Matt noted that Rick’s car was already parked. He was shocked that Rick had gotten up on time to be at work. After all it was only 9 in the morning.

Matt walked down the white halls of science. No longer so dismal with outside worry, he noticed the little things. Namely the fact scientists do not know how to decorate. White walls with large Picasso paintings. Shielding his eyes he continued walking to the main lab. Today he was going to begin fervently testing Mickey the mouse. Knocking on the door he heard Rick say come in.

Matt walked in, Rick was in the control room busy as Suzanne looked around examining an X-ray machine. Matt slowly snuck behind her.

“Boo,” he shouted making her jump and drop her clipboard. She playfully slapped him on the arm.

“You idiot, you made me drop all my notes. She smiled and bent down to scoop them up.

“Idiot huh? Keep talking like that I will call you my Mom. Come on we got a lot of work to do. I want to get Mickey prepped for testing but before that I want to check out the actual experimentation room.” Matt said laying his briefcase over his desk.

“Why is that Matt?” Rick said coming out of the control room.

“Well, Rick, I want to get our data from when we actually did the experiment. Besides, you have to go down to our supply room.” Matt said while walking towards the door.

“Supply Room, why?” Rick asked looking at Suzanne who looked at Matt.

“We need a control mouse, one who had the treatment done on it. Its called comparison Rick, are you sure you passed high school?” Matt smiled at Rick. Suzanne suppressed a giggle while Rick scowled at both of them. Matt just shook his head and left on his way to the experimentation room.

As Matt approached the room he felt, excited. Hours ago he had used it in a desperate measure of relief from his inner pain. Now, any trace of that pain was gone, a miracle in his time. Opening the door he looked at the room. Its gray interior lined with macrocomputers. The testing chair, adorned with restraints in their dormant state. Three ray like devices that were the Gamma Emitters. A refrigeration unit int he back for his special hormones. To his right the control room, where scientists stood to watch the results. Smiling he strode to the control room and turned on the computer, accessing the test records for days before. Pushing the print button he looked out into the room. He could almost see himself int he chair, a total wreck of a man suddenly cured. Smiling he picked up the printed notes and walked out of the room, switching off the lights.

As Matt returned to the lab he saw Rick’s face in a state of worry. Rushing over he saw the note he was holding, it said that the animal testing area was currently locked down and would be back up later tonight. It meant that Mickey wasn’t able to be tested on till later. Rick had a mouse cage on his desk with a mouse in it, the control. Matt saw the frustration in Rick’s eyes. Suzanne also looked frustrated.

“Ok guys, here is the plan. We examine the test results from Mickey and compare the results to the control’s. We flag any difference we see. Then when we are allowed to test on Mickey we do a through examination and see how they both react to different situations in the testing lab.” Matt said collecting his notes and handing them off to Suzanne to catalog. Rick began running tests on the control mouse, drawing blood and hair samples. Matt quickly went over to his desk.

Picking up the phone he looked at his watch. It was almost noon already as he dialed Jason’s number. Matt hoped he answered because he probably would be busy later with the mice. Jason picked up thankfully. After a moment of small talk Matt stopped him.

“Jas…I gotta know. Do you have feelings for Veronica?” Matt almost laughed at how ludicrous he sounded.

“Uh…yeah…kinda…” Matt noticed a nervousness in his voice. Probably embarrassed thought Jason to himself.

“Are you going to go for it?” Matt asked seeing Rick waving to him to come over. Matt put up his finer indicating to give him a minute to finish up the conversation.

“I was thinking about it yeah.”

“Well, man, I think you should go for it. She obviously digs you and if you like her too then its fate.” Matt smiled. It felt good to set up a friend, two friends in fact.

“Uh…ok”

“Great! Well, man I have to run and do some tests, maybe we can talk this weekend or something. Go to the beach as a group.”

“Hey that sounds great. Talk to you later Matt.”

“See ya Jason.” Matt hung up the phone and hurried over to Rick and Suzanne. For the rest of the afternoon they catalogued the control mouse’s vitals and DNA. Matching it up to Mickey’s tests before he received Matt’s treatment. Around six at night Matt’s phone rang. Matt sprang for it, excited that maybe Mickey was ready. It wasn’t, simply was a friend of his. His car had broken down and he needed a hand.

“Hey Rick? I gotta run and help Gregg with some car trouble. It’s pretty far away so I don’t think I will be able to come back tonight. If Mickey isn’t ready by 8 you guys should go home and we will finish this up tomorrow.” Rick nodded his head as Matt grabbed his briefcase and rushed out. It took 45 minutes to get to Gregg and Matt helped him fix his problem. A lose spark plug. Gregg almost slapped himself but thanked Matt for coming. Matt just smiled and got in his car and zoomed off.

At 7:45 the testing lab called and Rick answered, Mickey was ready. Rick and Suzanne rushed down to pick him up and decided to go without Matt on this. Excited they began their tests and found nothing abnormal in every scan. Then they began the emotional response testing. The control mouse was still afraid of the chime, and Rick knew that Mickey hadn’t been after the test. He smiled at Suzanne as he placed Mickey in the test cage. Suzanne looked at her watch, it was nearly 9:00. She prepared for a long night.

Outside Matt was on his way home, still smiling about the incident with Gregg. Matt wasn’t a car person but he had learned from his dad a lot about cars. Gregg was probably frazzled by the accident, Matt thought to himself as he parked at home. He glanced down at his watch and noticed the time, it was 9:15, more then 24 hours after his test., and still no ill effects.

The chime rang and Mickey looked scared, but didn’t budge. Rick was confused, the mouse hadn’t been scared before, why now? Ringing the chime again Suzanne pointed to the mouse.

“Rick…look at its eyes!” Rick’s mouth dropped open. The mouse had pushed its face against the cage mesh and its normal black eyes were not a bright cherry red. Suddenly the mouse chirped frantically. Its body began to pulse, as its hair began to change color and texture. It was now a deep black, thick as wool and just as rough looking. It had grown at least twice its size and was now growling. Its teeth wrapped around the cage and pulled, yanking the cage wall with it. Tearing through the metal with its claws the mouse ran, almost like a blur to the source of the chime, the speaker outside the control panel.

Tearing into it with a great fury the chime stopped. Rick hadn’t realized he had been pushing the button to sound the chime the entire time. With the noise stopped, the mouse began to waver, as if dizzy. Its size diminished, as well as its thick black hair into its normal grayish color. Finally the red eyes turned to their normal black. Suzanne and Rick looked at each other.

“What the hell are we going to tell Matt?” Rick asked sweat pouring down the back of his neck.

“We tell him in the morning, lets clean this up and get the hell out of here.” Suzanne said pulling Rick to get out.

Matt noticed his answering machine was bleeping. Pouring himself a drink he sat down and played the 2 messages. The first was an add for anger management, through hypnosis, Matt smiled broadly as it played. The next was from Veronica…

“Hello Matt, its Veronica. I wanted to say regarding Jason…yes he asked me out. He asked me out last night before you had dropped by the Mexican fast food restaurant. So yeah we are dating. I hope you are the first to know unlike the other times. I hope your ok and if you want to talk…just call.”

Matt felt his chest grow tight. He…he had called Jason. He had called Jason to be a standup guy and help a friend. Matt felt the old pain come back like a car hitting him head on. His hand clenched the glass of water and in a fit threw it against the wall. Jason had asked her out…and he didn’t give a damn how he felt, in fact he couldn’t even tell him. Last NIGHT! Matt’s head was spinning out of control, as his thoughts from the pervious night came back. They had acted so…guilty asking if he was all right and avoiding any but the most neutral conversation with him. Before he had been there they were officially a couple. An image of Jason and Veronica pushed into his mind…and in anger he swung his arm out wiping the end table clean…including the answering machine.

“Hello Matt, its Veronica. I wanted to say regarding Jason…yes he asked me out. He asked me out last night before you had dropped by the Mexican fast food restaurant. So yeah we are dating. I hope you are the first to know unlike the other times. I hope your ok and if you want to talk…just call.”

“GRAGH!” Matt screamed. The pain in his chest felt like he was erupting, the worse it had ever been. His mind was screaming at him, remembering the night before. He remembered why he had that flash of rage at Jason. The moment before, he had pictured himself with Veronica…then he saw Jason…then he felt the anger build…and for a damn good reason Matt thought.

“Arg!” Matt fell to his knees, his head on the floor, his ears buzzing; almost a ringing but more ominous. His eyes felt red hot from the tears, but also his vision seemed somewhat blurred. He felt his breath starting to go ragged. He tried to breathe but only coughed. Dragging himself up he reached for the bathroom. Barely able to stand he used the wall to crawl up. His body felt like he was ripping in half. Flicking the light on, Matt saw his reflection and nearly fell on the ground. His eyes were a bright cherry red and wide. His face was turning, changing in color.

Suddenly shooting pain shot through his muscles. It paralyzed him as he fell to the ground. His muscles felt strained, almost to the breaking point. His feet began to feel too large for his shoes, until he heard a popping sound. The shoes were coming apart. His breath was ragged as his shirt seemed to shrink and then explode off of him. His pants stretched to their limit, but they held. Then…the pain was gone. Matt got up his body feeling perfectly fine, better then fine. He felt powerful, not weak like before. Looking in the mirror he was amazed.

His eyes were the same bright cherry red, but his skin was a tanned rust color. His hair was the same length and brown color but his size was huge. He easily weighted 300 pounds and was at least 7 feet tall. His muscles were incredibly defined and large just like his body.

His mind felt free, no more torment. The answering machine was still repeating the message of Veronica’s. With a smile Matt lifted his foot and crushed the machine into electrical bits. Tearing off his shredded shirt and discarding his ruined shoes Matt went into his closet. He found a wife beater type tank-top, which stretched to its limit to fit and a pair of clown shoes,a gag gisft from years before. Matt decided that barefoot was the way to go, he didn’t need to look like a moron, like his friends.

FRIENDS. The word reverberated in his head. They needed to be dealt with, permanently. Smiling Matt went to his door and left the apartment. He felt awesome power in his legs and knew he wouldn’t be able to fit into his car. The coffee bar was a short distance away. He started to run.

His legs were pumping and the ground shook a little as he began to run. Matt felt like the wind as he ran faster then a car beside him. It was so exhilarating to feel this power. He felt such joy at having it he did a little hop, which carried him into the sky about as high as a light post and as far as a block he landed with a crunch. Jumping the rest of the way Matt couldn’t help but relish the freedom, the solitude and lack of sadness that just a few minutes earlier had dominated him into submission.

Landing in the back alley, Matt calmly walked down the sidewalk. People gawked, but Matt didn’t care. After all they looked like idiots as well, scrawny with their snooty attitude. Let them stare at a real man. Matt calmly strode to the coffee shop and looked around. Nothing, there weren’t here…the one time he is looking for him he thought, figures.

Matt turned and noticed some women staring at him, not out of lust but more from fear. They backed away as he approached but he put his hands up.

“Hey babes, I ain’t here to hurt anyone, I am just looking for a friend.” Matt smiled. His voice was much deeper, confidant. In fact he felt confidant, more then he had ever felt. Striding up to one attractive lady he smiled.

“I saw you staring at me, I guess you want to see if everything is as big as my muscles,” he winked at her as she got a repulsed look on her face. Matt shook his head, what a tease.

“Hey!” Matt turned to see a few men standing behind him. “Get the hell away from our girlfriends, especially mine.” The girls ran behind the men as Matt smiled.

“Look, I was just being friendly with the lady and she gave me a look. Personally I suggest keeping her home, she seems to be a tease with me whose to say she wouldn’t be with other men. Like your friends behind you,” the leader of the guys turned around and then back at Matt.

“Believe me pal,” Matt continued. “Women and friends just ain’t F*ckin worth it. Especially the ones ya got around you.”

“You got a name big mouth?” The guy said looking up to Matt’s red eyes.

“Yeah, M…Tony…Tony Stearns.” Hey a new life, a new name. Matt smiled down at the man.

“Well, Tony, you should know…you don’t talk about a mans girl like that.”

“Sorry, I didn’t see any men here and I only saw a bunch of sluts. My mistake.” Matt smiled as the main raised his fists to attack. His fist hit hard but simply created a loud thumping noise. Matt didn’t even feel it and smiled. With quickness more akin to a cat then a 7 foot monster he backhanded the leader into his groupie friends.

“Look peeps. I didn’t have a problem with you, but if you continue to breathe my air I am going to send you back to where you came from in identical body cats and for the ladies I will throw in some coupons at beauty school, they could use it.” The men charged at Matt. With a mighty clap of his hands they flew back into the fountain. The leader wasn’t finished though. Grabbing a bat from his friends he broke it in half, his rage evident. Matt looked at the metal table bolted down nest to him. Putting his hands around it he shrugged and the table was unbolted, and with barely an effort he lifted the table and tore it in half.

“Guys…lets get outta her!” The leader turned to run and catch up with his friends. Matt moved quickly and was in front of him

“Sorry, you hand your chance.” Matt lifted his foot and had it careen down at an angle on the mans shin quickly, breaking with ease. The man hit the ground crying in pain. Matt smiled and picked him up. Seeing the friends in a pack a distance away he yelled to them, “Catch!” and threw their friend at them making everyone tumble down.

Matt let out a roar of triumph and leaped up into the sky with all his might. Three leaps later he was home. The mans face as pleasant image to his brain. Opening the door he saw the tattered remnants of the answering machine and the broken glass from the water. Doing a slight hop he landed on the couch, which broke from the fall. Matt sighed and laughed. The mans face appeared in his mind again, he smiled. The jerk got what he deserved and when he got the chance, so would his friends.

Getting up quickly he went over to the bathroom, switching on the light. In the mirror he saw himself, this time he saw next to him the man he had beaten and bloodied. The satisfaction was gone…as an erupting pain seemed to stem from his very center, his soul.

“NO…I didn’t…I…” Matt roared in agony. He felt his muscles contract. The image of the beaten man repeated in his head, each time making him feel worse, regretting what he had done to him and to his friends. The things he had said rang into his ears, how could he have been so mean. Flopping onto the floor, Matt dragged a pillow down, the pain sending convulsions through him. Tears ran down his face as his muscles continued to strain as the guilt ate at him. Sweat covered his body as the pain continued.

“God…make…MAKE IT STOP!” a half human roar erupted as Matt flopped down. The guilt and pain making him weary, his tears soaking into the pillow and his sweat collected by the carpet, and sleep finally overtook him, and when the morning came, it was as normal Matt Smith, not Tony Stearns.

[i]”It is when power is wedded to chronic fear that it becomes formidable.” – Eric Hoffer (1902 – 1983), The Passionate State of Mind, 1954

The Monster Within Us All – Chapter 7

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