Symbiont

Dexter's storyverse

‘You could become stronger.’

The first time he brought it up, the boys from Class A had beaten you up in a way likened to a rag doll gifted to that one nasty child to care for, who drags it across the mud, sun and in apathy when no one is looking. This was the first time your swollen eyes and disjointed facial outline were setting sight on him in six days.

He’d not fought nor screeched at them, not like someone would when they were too weak to fight and have to result in a fallacious scream of aggression, hoping it is both and conflict is avoided. It was unlike the Ubong you knew, who would jump in with reckless abandon and would end up beaten too, in a bid to protect you. Instead, he stood there, both hands tucked into his pockets, his face sunk in the dullness of the still wind and lethargy of the dead.

For some reason, the boys from Class A, all five of them —delinquents, a group of walking mistakes who nature managed to pull off just for the torture of the likes of you— stood over you still reeking of the pain they’d drawn from your delicate skin and the thrill they had relished in such exercise, yet they appeared deterred by Ubong’s presence. Their leader, the mean boy named Akan, who was tall and thick to the bones, muttered words you didn’t understand at first, then absconded with his clique.

The first time he’d brought it up, he had helped you to your feet and watched your injuries with a face taking disappointment to bed. His countenance had been different, raw and alluring like a sun dipped into a bowl of chocolate. He had looked unusual and dispelled a fashion of reliance that made your feet shudder and your heart envious.

“Orie, I won’t always be around to defend you, you know?” he had said, smiling. You’d always known this but for the first time, his words had struck a chord you never knew you had.

“It’s not like I can help it,” you had told him, disappointed in your strengths as they didn’t amount to anything worth a mention.

“Sure you can. I have, and I can show you how.”

The first time he’d brought it up, you had been anxious. You had placed a mouth rich of trust in the boldness of his voice and the old bond of your friendship, even when he likened what he had done to vampires and werewolves.

And on the second night that he brings it up, saying tonight is perfect and the other children are gathering in an old hall you didn’t know is just behind the town’s cemetery, your heart races with anxiety and a rushing sense of adventure.

By the pitch of the night, when everyone has bowed to the reign of their subconscious, you can sense the strength of his hold as he helps you to your feet to get dressed. And from your window, without alerting the other kids at the orphanage —or your guardians for that matter, you sneak out into the night. Once the moonlight hits his body, you feel as though there is a fire lit within him, beaming and making his skin glint.

“You can see it, right? Well, this is all I’ve accumulated today. And the more I do, the stronger I become. And I know it’ll work for you too, Orie. I’m sure.” He alludes to what you reckon was an imagination. A broad smile sits on his lips like one proud of having you around as he wraps his arm around your neck, pulling you along.

No one ever smiles at you like this. Not even Jessica, the girl you like, who all the boys like. The reason you had been beaten twice in two weeks. So, having Ubong around makes your heart swell. He is the best thing you’ve also had since you met, even if he doesn’t know it. Even if you don’t say it as often.

“What do you think would work on me too?” You look confused, knowing something is up but not what.

“You’ll see.”

 

***

The hall is really not a hall but a large room with an ambient light that makes everywhere look blue. Many children, boys and girls, are standing around, and you can count thirty of them. Some look as confused as you are. You realise that just as Ubong had brought you, others who’ve had what he now does have also brought their friends and family. And presiding over you all is a man and a woman, both smiling, dressed in black and dispersing a bold and exquisite sense of confidence even greater than those of the other children around you, like Ubong, grinning.

The room is behind and beneath the cemetery. It houses machines with chambers within them; each one large enough to contain the tallest child here. You slowly count the chambers till you reach the fortieth, most of them empty. And you can see the shapes of people through the glass screens of the occupied chambers. You tremble at first, but Ubong whispers that he’s been in one a week ago. You know at the end of the day, you’ll be in one too, but you can’t tell why.

Smart people are meant to don glasses. This is the belief. This is why you’re always bullied both in school and at the orphanage. Everyone thinks you are smarter than you are and vent out their frustrations on you as though you are an incarnation of their defective genetics. Yet you wish you had their visions, not so they stop teasing and excluding you, but so you don’t go blind once your glasses get taken by them as an object of amusement.

This man, poised and with a warm smile on his face, moves forward and takes a long glance at all the children. Then he nods and widens his smile.

“Beautiful children,” he says, spreading his arms towards everyone. “I can only imagine what each one of you must have been through and had to endure to the point of seeking me out for help. I have been there, in crueller situations, but I made it, and so will you.”

You notice that the others feel as comfortable as you now do. Like doubts that you didn’t know you had in you are all gone. Something about him, the way he moves his hands, the fix of his gaze on everyone —like a predator who is also a good friend you can relate to— the way he smiles, all make him attractive to you.

“A lot of you are weak. Of course, it’s no fault of yours. You are weak because the world is a disaster designed by a few to benefit from that weakness even at your expense. Most likely, I plan to benefit from it as well by breeding you into an army of good men. Of soldiers who were weak but strong through what I’ve given a lot of you. A generation that is our future.

“We all benefit from something the other has, positive and negative alike. But a benefit that hurts their source is just parasitic. So what I’ll offer you is a product of my discoveries of human frailty and the one way to resist this finite flaw in man’s design.

“Some called it a curse. Others spoke of it as immoral. But I believe it is what you make it to be, and what that is, is our future. It won’t work for all of you, but all it’ll take is…a bite.”

A bite? You wonder. Ubong had mentioned it once when speaking of being like vampires but better.

Then you wince, almost screaming to the shock of what stings your neck. Like a hive of insects exposed to pesticides, all the new children reacted the same. Murmuring and groanings begin, followed by questions. It is after a few seconds that your interior begins to boil like a drum of oil sitting on hot coal.

You clasp your hands around your belly, the screams of others flooding your ears. A cough pulls so much blood from your lungs. Something seems to come to life within you. It bites and scurries around your system, then seems to multiply, taking different routes, biting at your organs. When you look at your hands through the ambient light dulling your vision and see nothing, yet you feel your flesh stretching to its limits, about to rip apart. And it forces you to your knees like a god in demand for a bow.

“What is happening to me?” you cry to Ubong, yearning for him to do something. To say something. To once again, save you. He squats beside you, and when you look up to him, he isn’t sad or worried. Rather, a smile sits on his lips.

Ubong shakes his head and pats you on your back. “Endure it this time and I’ll never have to defend you again.”

You can’t bear the pain, so you scream out into the air. You can’t help but wonder through the excruciating hurt what curse has been given to you, and if it’s less bad than the pain that had brought you here. You question Ubong’s decision. You wonder if he is right. If a friend who loves you can watch you suffer. And before the second sentiment fully forms in your head, you collapse to the ground, like all the new children. Dead.

 

***

Orie can’t open his eyes. He desires to but the threat of gazing into the bright light burns through his head. He winces and turns to his side. Every part of him is on fire and a mild pain sits in his abdomen. A distant voice to which he first can’t identify due to its distortion calls out to him. And after the first four times, he realises who and what’s being said.

“Orie, can you hear me? Are you okay?” Ubong’s voice floods the dams of Orie’s ears.

Orie probes for the words to utter, but it feels as if his tongue has been slashed in half. His mouth feels muzzled by a strong type of metal just as his body feels confined, strapped into a lock. The room is bright and blinding, almost as if he is standing in the face of the sun.

“You are taking a longer time than the others due to some complications. So you’ll have to stay here for a while longer. But when you step out of it, I’ll be waiting for the new you.”

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