Arlen Hogarth is- oh felch, he’s an artist and a writer, and a newly-formed feminist and is still a masochist pervert. He’s not nearly as clever as he thinks he is, and he knows that for a fact. His favorite things are women over 100 feet tall, insects, cartoons, and being secretly drunk at public gatherings. When he’s not being a bubbling drunken fool he’s a cowering introvert. You can ask him anything you want and he’ll probably answer you truthfully because truths are more thrilling than lies. Someone once pestered him asking if his mom was domineering. He couldn’t stop laughing. He creates in any medium if he thinks it might provoke some emotion in somebody who sees it. If you put something edible in front of him he will consume it. Be warned.
Find all his art and writing at capnectoplasm.deviantart.com and delve deeper for secrets if you’re a curious cat.
You can also catch updates and see all the things that make him go “haha wow” at lunglessblogwonder.tumblr.com.
“How old is this kid again?” Ashton asks.
“Three. I think,” Misaki says, drifting down the toy aisle.
Ashton sighs. She runs a hand through her silvery-blond hair. She has trouble trying to even focus on all the bright colours of the toy packaging. She picks up a purple box at random and examines it’s plastic contents. It’s a makeup kit for toddlers. She tosses it back on the shelf.
“See anything?” she asks, sidling up beside Misaki.
Misaki places a small brown tab on her tongue.
“Hey,” Ashton says, “you just drop acid?”
“Mm,” Misaki says, not turning.
Ashton stares at her for a moment, her brow knitted. She puts her hand on the smaller woman’s shoulder and gently turns her to face her.
“Misaki? You okay?”
She just looks at the wall of toys.
“…Your dad do something again?”
Misaki takes a quick breath. She turns to Ashton with a big, tight-lipped grin.
“It’s fine,” she says, “I just want to do acid. Today.”
She spins away and her black hair bounces around her shoulders as she skips down the aisle.
“You can tell me…” she says, but Misaki has already disappeared around the corner.
She stands there in the aisle for a long moment, staring cloudy-eyed at her tattered Converse. Slowly the sounds of excited children and weary parents carry her back into the present and she stops clenching her jaw and starts stretching out her fingers from the fists she was making. She sighs deeply and starts walking after Misaki.
“BARBIE!” Misaki says, jamming a pink plastic box in Ashton’s face. Then she cackles and drop kicks the doll down the aisle.
“What’s her name again?” Ashton asks, and blows smoke out the narrow opening of the car window. November wind blows it right back in as they sit in traffic. The sky is a pale grey, and the tall buildings seem almost to blend into the clouds.
“Who?” Misaki says, texting.
“Dell’s kid. The one who’s birthday party we’re going to right now.” Ashton says.
“Oh. It’s uh, Braiden.”
“Huh,” Ashton says. “I’m shit with names. I’ll never remember that.”
“No it’s easy. It’s like your name, Ash. Ash-ton. Brai-den. See. Aren’t you freezing? You’re crazy. Why don’t you wear a jacket, it’s November for fuck’s sake.”
“Nahhh.” Ashton flicks her cigarette out and rolls up the window of the little blue Carolla.
“You have goose bumps,” Misaki says, grabbing Ash’s arm. Her skin is pale and freckled, and her arms are muscular.
Ashton stares at the cars in front of her, her arm resting on the steering wheel.
“Sure you’re okay?” She says. “I mean, thought you were done with that stuff.”
Out of the corner of her eye Ashton can tell Misaki is staring at her, but she keeps her own eyes forward and just squints in the blueish smoke. Then she feels a quick peck on her cheek and Misaki resumes texting.
“You don’t hang out with kids much do you?” Joel asks.
Ashton shakes her head, realizing she was staring at the child again. Braiden wanders contentedly through the party. Most of the guests are young adults.
“I was the same way,” he says. “Yeah, she’s beautiful isn’t she? Always full of surprises.”
Ashton nods as they study Braiden floating around the room.
“Do you want a beer?” Joel asks, with a sly smile.
Ashton glances at Misaki, who is fondling a ceramic sculpture of a cat.
“Yeah. I mean, yes. Sure.”
“I thought so,” he says, and twists away through the crowd.
“Oh my God, what is this music?” Misaki says, suddenly at Ashton’s shoulder. “It’s fucking fantastic.”
“Think he said Alt-J.”
“He’s a good guy,” Misaki says.
Ashton nods, then looks at her. “Kicked in yet?”
“Mmmuh yeah. I think so. Did I tell you Braiden is a test-tube baby? I told you right. Joel’s not the real dad.”
“Can never tell with you. If you’re high or not. And yeah, we talked about that, Misa.”
Joel returns and pops the cap off a bottle of Blue Buck.
“Help yourself, there’s more in the fridge and another case in the pantry.”
“Aren’t these twist off?” Ashton says, taking the bottle.
“Oh, yeah. Totally. One time I cut my finger opening a bottle though. I’m hemophobic.”
Ashton stiffens, her wide shoulders tensing.
“You’re, homophobic?” she says narrowing her eyes.
“Hm? No! Ha, no I’m hemophobic. I faint when I see blood. Yeah it sucks.” He laughs and swigs his beer.
“Are there any more presents?” Dell says. The guests are gathered around her and Braiden in the centre of the living room. Wrapping paper and presents are scattered over the carpet. There’s a familiar purple box of fake makeup.
Misaki squeezes Ashton’s hand and shakes her gently but firmly.
“Go!” she hisses, grinning.
Suddenly everyone at the party is staring at Ashton. She swallows and shifts her weight. Dell peers at her curiously. Eventually Ash puts her beer bottle down on a coffee table and shoulders her way through the crowd until she’s standing in the middle. She runs a hand quickly through her hair. Then she pulls something out of her jeans pocket and squats beside Braiden.
“It’s Batman,” she says, holding up the toy figure.
For a moment the room is very quiet. Then Braiden grins and takes the toy.
“Baman!” Braiden says.
“No please, just let me see her! She’s my kid for God’s sake, my blood! I’m Marcel Danser, I just need to check-”
“No! I told you, this is the last time, we’re going to call the police!” Dell says, barring the way into her house. “If you have ID we can talk, but not like this, you can’t just fucking barge in and demand to see my child!”
“You don’t understand, it, it’s important, oh God I just need to see if she, if she’s changed like me,” the guy says, standing on the porch stairs.
Marcell’s hair is dark and matted. His grey business suit is torn and stained, and he reeks of something like rotting food and hospitals.
“Dude, what are you on?” Joel says. “She’s fine, now get the hell out of here. I’m calling the police right now.”
Joel pulls out his cell phone and starts dialing. The guy moans and clutches his sides. Before Joel can answer his phone, Marcel shoves through them and runs inside the house.
“Oh my God, stop him! Don’t let him fucking touch my child!” Dell yells.
Misaki enters the hallway at that moment and collides with Marcel. She bounces off into a coffee table, smashing a small flower vase. Joel comes running in behind her and stops when he sees Misaki’s hand, dripping blood from the smashed porcelain. His jaw opens slightly and his face goes white. A second later he collapses on the carpet.
“Oh my God,” Dell says hopping over him, “Why is this happening now?”
“Why is this happening now?” Marcel says to himself as he bursts into the living room. Immediately he doubles over, clutching his sides and groans. Amidst the shocked murmering of the party-goers, sounds of muffled crunching and splitting be can heard. Shrieks burst from the crowd as the stranger writhing on the ground starts to break apart from in the inside and rearrange himself. His skin shreds and a carapace erupts from within his warping body. Marcel’s screams turn into gurgles.
Hearing the smashed vase and the following commotion, Ashton stares unblinkingly at the door of Braiden’s room. Fluidly, almost as if in slow motion, she stands and heads for the door. Her arms are at her sides, her back and neck straight. Her strides are long but measured. She doesn’t notice as she treads on the Batman figure, doesn’t hear Braiden’s dismayed cry.
In the scattered living room is a monster made of human and cockroach. Rags of clothing and skin slough off of a blood-smeared carapace, and a pair of insect legs unfold from the abdomen. In obscene motions it stands up on its hind legs. Its torn shirt and pants reveal thick wiry hair and inexplicable muscle mass as it’s genitals dangle pointlessly. Deep between what was once shoulders, Marcel’s face howls and clicks as it’s jaw splits open to become two mandibles. It’s eyes bulge and weep but remain human.
“Oh my God,” Misaki says, looking from her bleeding hand to the monster, “Oh my God I am really fucked up right now.”
Beside her Dell is screaming, screaming for her child and screaming at Ash as she enters the room, but house guests are dragging her away from the horror.
The thing that was Marcel lunges toward Ashton. The torn remains of it’s pants fall to it’s ankles and it trips face-first onto the carpet. Ashton does not break stride as she approaches the monstrosity. She doesn’t remember picking up the fire extinguisher but as she stands firmly on one of the creature’s clawing legs, she lifts the metal tank above her head with both hands and smashes it down on the creature’s shell. It breaks through the carapace and sinks into the middle of it’s back in a spray of yellow pus. A rattling scream comes muffled through the carpet, and the creature starts flailing. It’s body detaches itself from the arm trapped under Ash’s foot and scurries into the bathroom.
Ash goes after it, but the room is already empty, only a trail of pus leading to the tiny window above the bathtub where it had squeezed through.
Standing in the bathtub and peering out the window, Ash hears a quiet, wet clicking noise from behind her. She turns slowly.
This smaller monster holds a Batman toy.
Ashton sits on the front porch steps, beer in hand. Sirens wail in the distance. She stares across the street as she half-listens as Dell struggles frantically to explain to Joel, now conscious, what happened.
Misaki sits down beside Ash, her wounded hand wrapped in a dishcloth and masking tape.
After a few moments, she asks “Are you okay?”
Ash nods and then says, “You?”
“Yeah I’m okay. I’m still not completely sure that was real. But I trust you.”
As the sirens get closer, neighborhood dogs start howling all down the street.
“So…” Misaki says, “Braiden…?”
“Fine,” Ash says, and runs a hand through her hair, slowly. “Just a little girl again. Put her in her room and closed the door when she was… Heard her change back. Heard her crying again. Went back in and just held her. She’s okay.”
Misaki sighs. The cops pull up on the street, red and blue lights flashing in the dying daylight.
“What did you with that… leg it ripped off?” she asks.
“Put it in the freezer. Maybe it’s a human leg now, I dunno.”
Ash finishes her beer as the cops approach the house.