For Daniel, the sensations in his new fangs tugged on the same awkward, nascent wires as a variety of other hormones, so he didn’t realize at first exactly what was happening to his body. That afternoon, something amazing happened, but he wasn’t even focused enough to realize it: Lifting a glass of water from his nightstand, he brought it to his mouth, inserted his prosthetic fangs, and drank, sucking in as if through a dual straw.
Nancy hadn’t thought it was possible, but since school had let out for the summer, Daniel had started to get even weirder. He no longer sat for meals and had recently informed them he was to be strictly nocturnal. In addition, he’d begun shaving his head and applying a thin white cream across his face, neck, and scalp. “He looks like a clown with leukemia,” Nancy lamented to Chris.
“The sun hurts,” he told his mother, his fangs gleaming against the pale lakes of his cheeks. His diet had changed completely—he wanted rare meat, cold cuts, and juices with a tomato base. Nancy had offered him a donut one morning, and he’d looked at her as though she’d offered him a bowl of broken glass. He went on a long streak of beet-eating until Nancy found out why: Eating a large amount made his urine look red like blood.
“I’m not buying any more beets,” she told him. “Your body is not to be used as a magic trick.”
Nancy bit her lip. After all, she knew more about the body and magic, and blood, than Daniel realized. She could still remember the pleasant surprise at how much of it there had been, the lifelong hidden well she had tapped the day she’d cut herself. She’d meant to disappear, but instead found that the trick was on her: she was the hat they’d pulled a rabbit out of. Nancy had woken up with a scar on her stomach far larger and infinitely more tender than the ones she’d made on her wrists, and with Chris in a chair next to her, smiling despite everything, holding a baby that seemed to have materialized out of thin air.
For his fourteenth birthday, Daniel wanted bats. Not as pets—that was illegal, though that was the least of the reasons his mother wouldn’t allow it. Instead, in what Daniel considered the thinking-man’s solution to bat-keeping, many wildlife enthusiasts built enclosures for the bats that were affectionately known as bat boxes. As a present for his upcoming birthday, he wanted to build a bat box on his grandparents’ lake property.
He’d put a great amount of preparation into the pitch, gluing a collage of glossy photographs onto a poster board rife with hand-drawn fact bubbles meant to reassure his mother; facts such as “Bats do not attack humans and will not get caught in your hair.” “The hoary bat of Florida, which is furry and I know would freak you out, is rarely seen during the summer.” “Vampire bats don’t live in America. But even those bats don’t suck blood.” He omitted harsher truths, such as how these bats do lick it out of scrapes made on human flesh. And how the Brazilian free-tailed bat, the species most likely to move into the bat house, has a prominent odor gland and can often be identified by scent alone.
Breakfast, he’d ruefully accepted, was the time to strike, his parents’ objections somewhat softened by the haze of sleep. With great anxiety, Daniel watched the thin sliver of light gradually appear beneath his bedroom door. This was the only sign of daylight that still crept into his room; he was usually asleep when it did, but today he waited for it with a willing resignation that imbued his quest with a near-biblical significance. Like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, he knew he was about to place himself into the hands of his persecutor sunlight. The cause, Daniel assured himself, was worth the sacrifice.
To placate his mother, he hid the poster board with all the pictures behind the Second Phase poster board, which listed the raw materials needed for the building project along with their cost. Daniel had calculated this online with the help of a home improvement store’s website. He cleared his throat to begin the presentation when Daniel glanced his father’s ketchup-covered scrambled eggs and involuntarily licked his lips. Ketchup was by far the most addictive thing that Daniel ate; he suffered daily cravings.
“What’s with the poster board?” his mother asked, snapping Daniel back to attention.
“You mean this?” he asked, playing dumb. “Well, I’m glad you asked.”
When his presentation concluded, his mother began shrieking prohibitive arguments. It was during this tirade that Daniel realized he identified his mother as Loud. This was her greatest categorizer, the very first thing that came to mind when he thought of her, before any type of memory, relationship tie, or feeling. It was sometime after she’d lifted the poster board with the bat portraits, but before she began ripping it down the center that Daniel mentally assigned her the following taxonomic rank—:Domain: Loud, Kingdom: Sound, Phylum: Yelling, Class: Human, Order: Female, Family: Holmes, Genus: -Mother, Species: -Total Bitch.
Though his father was only a few feet away, dragging a forkful of eggs through a puddle of ketchup, Daniel didn’t look to him for help with his mother—he had learned long ago that was useless. Instead he gave his father the kind of look that asked a question; it begged to know why she was here, this Nancy, this sound, what good she was doing the both of them. Daniel’s father retreated from his plate of half-finished eggs and wished his wife and son a good day before disappearing around the corner.
Daniel turned back to his mother, on his own, as usual. “Think globally, mom. Bats are growing endangered. This is a way we can really make a difference. Plus they eat bugs. Like, a lot of them. You want fewer bugs, don’t you?”
Nancy picked up Chris’s plate and dumped its contents down the garbage disposal, which she ran for an extended period of time with a dramatic amount of water gushing down into the sink. It looked to Daniel like she was taking comfort in this violent, grinding display; it appeared to be a metaphor. Here is what I think of your hopes and dreams (switch flips).
“The way to get rid of a cockroach is not to invite in a rat, Daniel. I won’t hear of this one second longer. I absolutely won’t.” Nancy poured herself a glass of water and added three spoonfuls of a powdered fiber supplement, stirred, and drank.
“Fine,” Daniel whispered. He stood and shuffled over to the staircase in a defeated manner. “We don’t even have to celebrate my birthday.” Thinking he’d gotten the last word, he started up the stairs. But his mother was too quick, or maybe just too loud for him to escape her voice.
“An infestation of flying, defecating rodents is not really my idea of a party, Daniel. If you ever want to rejoin civilization, you should ask your father and I for some sunless tanning lotion and swim trunks.”
Daniel stopped on the fourth step, suddenly furious. His fangs pulsed in a way that made his mouth water. This ends today, he thought. Today he would not merely run to his room as he always had. Today he would give her a piece of his mind.
But by the time he got back down to the kitchen, he saw his mother shutting the door to the bathroom. Her fiber beverage was fast-acting.
The pains came in sharp, dizzying spells that were good at making Daniel doubt his own body. He’d begun to feel a tightening sensation all through his body that made him worry that he had some kind of rare cancer, or maybe he wasn’t growing properly. When the pain zeroed in on in his fang caps, though, he got a different idea—more hopeful, but much less likely than cancer—that it might be the ache of forming bone. The caps had displayed an uncomfortable pressure, as though they were perhaps on too tightly, or had trapped a cavity. He was reluctant to speak up or go to the dentist, however, for fear that they might be removed.
The most troubling development, though, was Pickle.