The Hungry Family
By: Sam M. Phillips

I wake up in pain; my younger sister is stabbing me in the eye with a plastic fork. She is tossed off me as I shift my bulk, landing on the carpet with a thud. The audacity; she whines at my treatment of her. I'm up, growl like a monster, hands like claws, she flees. I'm not really angry—family—who cares what these people do to me any more?

Downstairs there is commotion and I want no part of it. Even the cat is meowing; everyone wants to eat. Am I hungry? Slipping past the hubbub, the tangled mass of limbs and shouting mouths, I grab a banana and leave my family behind.

There is no school today. I just want to get out of the house, sick of all the human interaction, being trapped there with nothing to do but fight. My bike is missing; I'm sure my older brother has sold it, last night I saw him counting money. Where does it end?

So I'm walking, out past the row of houses, three blocks to the store and then beyond it; I can't afford to buy anything. Why am I overweight? It makes no sense, really. It's not fair.

There is a reflection in the store window, distorted by advertisements. Who is that sad, fat kid in the white and blue stripped shirt, with his faded jeans and worn out sneakers?

Oh, right.

There are birds in the trees; yellow crested white ones. They gather in flocks on the power lines and shriek and screech. They remind me of my brothers and sisters. Other people are out walking; fitness people, workers going to work. I say hello and some of them say it back. Others ignore me and I wonder what it is about me which doesn't warrant a polite response.

I can smell the salt of the ocean. High in the air the circling seagulls point the way above the houses. Closer now—the cannon's roar of the surf thunders, building to a crescendo as I climb the sand dunes, shoes slipping and sinking in the soft, dry sand. Through the clumps of spindling grass, round the rocks, and over the crest, and here it is.

The ocean: a roiling turbulent mass which never ceases, so calm in its apparent chaos, permanent despite constant changes. The sun is up and the light glitters like diamonds, a million sparkling points to dazzle. The white crested surf tumbles and drowns all other sound out.

Here I am free for a moment. There is peace in the blue glass, stretching out forever. I feel both big and small. Perhaps I'm the last kid who will ever walk the Earth, alone here with the elements, all of it still going, performing just for me. Perhaps there is so much more than me, endless lives stretching out beyond the horizon, and I just form a link in the chain.

It all seems too much for a kid to be wondering; sometimes it's easier to just get a fork in the eye.

I lose track of my thoughts and they seem to leave me like a series of glowing bubbles, drifting off into the sky, gathering like a storm cloud. They turn into a rainbow patina like oil in water, caught by the sunlight, shimmering. They form a haze and I am lost in its beauty.

Then the cloud bursts and a sheet of rain falls, hanging in the air like a translucent force–field, a layer of plastic, refracting the light. I move forward, into it and through it. At first there is no change, or at least only a subtle one, like a slight static in the air.

Have I entered some other dimension? What is this? I still stand on the crest of the sand dune. In front of me is the beach, stretching out to the ocean. I turn and there is nothing there, just a dancing void of rainbow lights, blocking me off from my past life.

What is that sound?

I realise the waves have stopped their avalanche. In fact, they aren't even moving; frozen like ice statues, striated and layered like the delicate flesh of a salmon. The sun still shines, but passively. I never noticed how much the sun pulses until now, when it no longer seems to. It just hangs in the air like a bright spot. The seagulls are broken, they don't fly. There is no breeze and nothing except…

That sound—what is it?—a rustling, a shuffling of feet, someone moving on sand.

Down the beach a black outline. It moves towards me, growing in size. Is it a man? It seems too large, still so far away. I duck down behind the crest of the sand dune. Whatever it is I don't want it to see me. The waiting is torturous, everything frozen in place except the internal stirring of my breath and the slowly growing black figure.

Forever becomes now and I seem to grow old. For some reason it becomes apparent life is short. Aren't these strange thoughts for a kid? I look at my body and it seems bigger, not only fatter, but taller. Is this the future?

I check the figure on the beach. It is much closer now. If it is a man, he is massive, and the sound—the shuffling of feet across sand—has become louder, like an endless friction, rasping against my eardrums.

It grows as the figure grows, until both are gigantic. The figure is clearly visible now. I tremble inside and my breathing stops. It is a humongous monster, a blighted, misshapen thing like a person grown grotesque, flesh melted and reset like wax, flaps of it hanging loose like bundles of gathered seaweed.

I duck down lower, not wanting to be seen by such a horrendous being. It stares straight ahead, its face lost in some dark abyss, not turning or acknowledging me, for which I'm thankful.

It continues down the beach and I stand up, watching it go. Something, curiosity perhaps, compels me to follow. I feel so small compared to its bulk, so quiet compared to its feet grinding along the sand, that it seems obvious I can escape detection. Besides, it just stares off in the other direction, endlessly walking. Where is it going?

Needing to know, I tumble down the far side of the sand dune and onto the beach. Here are the great gouges in the sand carved in its wake. I look at the waves, the sun, the birds, all still frozen in place, and I wonder what makes this monster so special it can affect change in this world of permanence.

A sudden thrill runs through me as I notice my footprints in the sand. I drag my foot along and a crease is formed, the sand parting at my whim. Have I the power to change things too?

The monster is receding into the distance, becoming small again, so I hurry after it, its long, shuffling stride nearly outpacing me as I run. It continues to be oblivious to me as we travel along the beach, past a series of massive stones, rising like towers from the sand, around a rusting hulk of a wrecked ship and through the crackling bones of a long dead beached whale.

There is no way to tell time, my limbs should grow tired but they don't. The beach pinches around a rocky point and there are massive cliffs which rise up on either side, covering the beach in shadow. Pausing at the precipice between light and dark, I feel a moment of doubt and fear as the monster moves on, deeper into the darkness.

Should I continue? I've come this far. What is it I really want to know?

There is a burning sensation all across my skin, and my breathing becomes erratic. I desperately want to know what's to ahead of me. I can't stand this still world where nothing changes. I need to make a choice.

I take a step forward, across the chasm between this world and the next. For a moment there is even deeper stillness as even my breath stagnates, then intense cold which holds me in its grasp.

A spike of fear which penetrates my brain; I can no longer see the monster. When I could walk behind it, secure in the fact it could not see me, I felt safe. Now, I am lost in an abyss, with no knowledge, nothing to grasp onto, only shadow and cold, with fear making everything sparkle like stars across my vision.

Then I realise there is no noise. I pray for there to be something; something to sense, something to know. This goes on forever, stretching me thin as I strain against the nothingness. Finally, after many lifetimes, a single grain of sand tickles the inside of my ear. My whole body tenses, waiting for another.

Then it happens, and I wish I had never come to this place. The shuffling of feet across sand, first only small and far away, and then growing and growing in intensity. My mind is on fire, my soul screaming, my body a rigid rock, ready to shatter under the looming hammer's fall.

There is the monster, an unworldly presence, emerging from the darkness, its face no longer obscure, but bright and pulsing, baleful and red, with infinite pits for eyes, boring into me. But it isn't the full source of my terror—no—it is the little ones, the small giants gathered around it, miniature versions of their father, their eyes aglow with desire.

I feel doom overwhelm me, unable to move, a cry of terror frozen in my throat. There is nothing to do but wait for the end, and this isn't long coming. The little ones are hungry and their father has lured his prey to them. They gather around me, bicker and fight amongst themselves for a moment.

My world explodes in pain as they tear my arms off, tip me over and rip my legs. One of them burrows into my guts, pulling my intestines out and burying itself in gore. My world is nothing but horror and pain as everything goes completely black. The last thing I hear is the monster, his feet shuffling through the sand as he leaves, off on another weary journey to provide for his hungry family.

I wake up in pain; my younger sister is stabbing me in the eye with a plastic fork. She demands breakfast. I groan wearily. Downstairs, the door slams as my father returns from the night–shift, exhausted.


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