His abdomen was engorged, stretched like a balloon fit to burst. The hairy flesh was stretched taught over the swell, and he was covered in mottled patches of ashen white and flushed scarlet. Though his breaths came quick and short, his ribs creaking with effort, his pulse skipped and fluttered beneath clammy, butterfly skin.
It was only a matter of time now. Soon the screams and groans would stop, the frantic twitching of his eyes would cease, and those heaving ribs would stop straining under taut flesh.
Kat lifted a hand to shield her eyes from the brightness of the New York summer sun, then glanced down at her watch.
“How much time is left until the monotony of daily life continues?” John asked from the bench beside her, muffled from a mouthful of sandwich.
“Twenty minutes.” Kat glanced sidelong at him, smiling. “You have food on your chin,” she said, and laughed when John’s cheeks flushed crimson and he hastily swabbed at his face. “What’s Mom got cooking for you today?” she teased. She knew it was mean to mock the poor guy, but any man over thirty who blushed like that had it coming.
“Honey,” he muttered, eyes cast down at the wrapping on his lap. “She’s convinced I’m still ten.”
“Oh, Johnny Appleseed,” Kat said in her best Jersey accent, “I’ve got a honey sandwich for my honey baby.”
“And your mother is any better?”
“My mother makes me eat borscht until I’m sick,” Kat said, shrugging and toying with the end of her ponytail. Something shot across the sky above them, and she followed the flight of a large white bird.
John followed her gaze. “Oh. Look who’s come to say hello.”
Kat bit the inside of her lip to keep from grimacing as the white bird descended and she caught sight of the brown cape and green accents. “He means well,” she said, shrugging again.
Norman landed with absurd grace and jogged over, face flushed and beaming. She smiled as he approached, and wondered for the millionth time how his hair managed to stay perfectly in place when he was shooting around the city in the jetstreams. “Babe!” he called, grinning as he waved. “How much time do you have left on your lunch?”
Kat glanced at her watch again. “A little under twenty minutes. Why?” she asked as he stopped in front of them in all his ridiculous muscular glory.
He grinned and tapped the pouches at his belt. “Twenty minutes? Neat. I’m gonna rock your world.”
Kat felt her face heat up and heard John mutter obscenities under his breath beside her. “Norman, you remember John?”
Norman looked at John, eyes round and startled as if he hadn’t even noticed there was another person next to her. “Oh. Hi. I’m Landman.”
“I know who you are,” John said, glaring narrowly up at him. Kat wondered if the scowl was from the sunlight or Norman’s presence. “Your symbol looks like a pile of shit,” he mumbled, too quietly for Norman to hear.
“You’ll catch more flies with honey,” Kat reminded him, and was rewarded with a small smile. “Can you rock my world later, Norman? I have to go back to work soon.”
Unfazed, Norman beamed. “Sure thing, babe. Catch ya later.” With a sloppy salute, he backed away, bent his knees, and fumbled into the sky, leaving Kat and John on their bench in the park surrounded by the remains of a honey sandwich.
Cupping hands around a mouth, whispering to emulate screaming crowds. An air-guitar held aloft; a single chord strummed and the arm brought up. Hands patting the metal post of the monkey bars in a frenetic drumbeat. The crunch of gravel as feet land heavily and the devil horns are raised up in defiance.
“I’m gonna do it today!”
“Yeah! I’m ready. The fans are ready. It’s time.”
Feet crunching across gravel. A hissing audience calling encore! encore!
Metal clanging as hands and feet clamber up to the peak of the playground. More devil horns. More enthusiastic hooting and laughing.
A grin. An excited twinkle in innocent eyes.
Another air-guitar; another chord.
Thud thud thud with each eager step—then knees hit plastic and for a moment they scoot smoothly, like a rock god across a stage. Then denim catches on a bump and with a shout a little body tumbles down the slide and lands face-first in the gravel at the foot.
Mountains silhouetted in the sunlight, erupting from the earth in majestic pyramid peaks. They pierced the blue summer sky and parted the clouds, and feral beasts lived in the shadows at their feet. Hooting and screaming, filthy and tangled, these small, gangling beasts ran and loped around the bases of the mountains. Tiny feet kicking up clouds of dust and sending rocks clattering; hands with sandy backs, grime shoved beneath nails; faces freckled and brown by the sun, wide with smiles that exposed Chiclet teeth, bracketed by lines of joy caked with dirt that aged them like miniature geriatric chimpanzees. Laughing and running and kicking and shoving until the sky turned from clear blue to a haze of orange and purple, and the dark forced them to leave the empty subdivision still in construction—their mountain range of gravel and sand.
The silhouette was little more than a shadowy blemish behind the protective shroud of linen. Stained as the sheet was with previous inhabitants of the room, it should have been difficult to see those little things that made her unique, but things that should be are not always so. The rogue curl that grazed the slope of her brow. The stern, sharp edge of her nose. Those elegant hands, tucked together. All bathed in moonlight as the rope creaked and the silhouette gently turned behind the curtain, as feral voices called for more blood.