Leonard Larkin stared at his mother’s puffy face as she asked, “What do want for your birthday, Leonard?”
“Not to be fat.”
His mother hugged him tightly with her heavy arms, “Why, you’re not fat. Just big boned.” She squeezed him hard. He could smell the bakery oozing from her pores. “I brought home lemon meringue and coconut cream pies for our desert tonight,” she added. “And some cream puffs for breakfast.”
Leonard’s stomach grumbled.
“Now what do you really want for your birthday?”
* * *
About the time Leonard was less assaulted by fat jokes, that being the last year of elementary school, fate stepped in and threw him a curve ball, that being the first year of middle school.
The hazing started all over again: Fat Ass, Bubble Butt, and Disgusting Fat Body being the most popular insults. One of the worst, however, coming from a cheerleader, Leslie Champ, that Leonard had developed a crush on.
“Want to come to my birthday party Saturday?” he had timidly asked the perky redhead.
Leslie had actually stuck a finger down her mouth and pretended to gag. The other girls standing by the lockers had burst into laughter.
“Piggy wants me to come to his party. Or is it sty?” the redhead had chortled loudly; loud enough for a bigger crowd to gather. She poked Leonard in his sagging gut and oinked. “I don’t do pork!” she exclaimed, leaving Leonard with his head down as he shuffled away.
Leonard’s best and only friend, a skinny, pimpled, bespectacled, brainiac kid named Larry, had witnessed the incident. Larry always sat with Leonard during lunch, the two being the only occupants at the table.
Larry stirred his yogurt and looked up over his heavy lenses at Leonard.
“Wasn’t that Leslie Champ? Doesn’t she live close to you?”
Leonard nodded. “One block down. Her house has a fake wishing well in front.” Leonard frowned and looked away.
“Don’t let it get you down,” Larry said. “At least you don’t’ get all the wedgies like I do.”
Leonard’s lips drooped as he bit into one of the leftover creampuffs. The corners of his mouth were crusted with dried cream.
“My butt’s too big for them to reach under,” he stated flatly.
Larry shrugged. “Your mom invited me to your birthday party,” he advised.
“She always does. You and her are the only ones that ever come anyway.”
“What about your dad?”
“Aw, he and his wife are doing something else.”
The two finished their lunch in silence. One muscled, hulking boy passed by and slapped Leonard hard on the head.
“Listen, Fat Ass,” he said with a sneer. “Keep your bubble butt away from the cheerleaders.” For added emphasis the ape tugged roughly on Leonard’s ear. “Got it!?”
Leonard grimaced and nodded, a large, half-chewed, creampuff pastry shell dropping from his mouth. It landed with a messy ‘plop’ on the table.
“Disgusting,” the ape said and pulled his fingers away sharply from Leonard’s ear. He gave one extra shove to Leonard’s back before leaving.
Larry was terrified. He kept his head lowered until he thought it was safe to look up. When he did, he found Leonard’s face to be beet red. Two hot trails of tears snaked over Leonard’s fat cheeks.
“It’s okay, Leonard,” Larry said. He waited a minute and then asked, trying to lighten the mood. “What do want for your birthday?”
“Not to be fat,” Leonard blubbered.
* * *
The following Saturday, Leonard’s mother took him and Larry to the Pizza Palace, one of Leonard’s favorite places. The patrons not only got pizza but also had a myriad collection of video and other game machines to play there as well.
Leonard was still a bit downtrodden from the incident with the cheerleader and her brutish protector, but he warmed up to the occasion after eating his meat lover’s pizza and challenging Larry to a game of foosball, which Larry let him win, it being Leonard’s birthday after all.
When the boys came back to their table, Leonard’s mother said, “Don’t you want to open your gifts, Leonard?” She positioned a German Chocolate cake, Leonard’s most favorite cake, in the middle of the table top. “We can have cake afterward.”
There were only three wrapped gifts on the table. The first one Leonard opened was The Lord of the Rings DVD trilogy his dad had sent over, the second a one hundred dollar gift certificate to a local electronics store.
She smiled and hugged him from across the table. “You can get any video game you want,” she said and planted a wet kiss on Leonard’s cheek.
The last package was a small one about the size of a penny match box. It was evidently from Larry as he wiggled in his seat next to Leonard as Leonard tore off the diminutive gift wrap.
Indeed, it was a small box. Leonard curiously slid the middle open. It was crawling with bugs.
“What the . . .?”
Once Larry had pleaded with Leonard to close the box so the insects couldn’t escape, and once he calmed down Leonard’s mother who had pulled away from the table in disgust at the crawling bugs by telling her the little beetles were only one part of his gift.
“It’s going to be a skeleton. A rat’s skeleton,” Larry explained. “I have the dead body at my house. Leonard will put the beetles in with the carcass and they’ll strip the rat’s flesh and organs away, leaving a whole skeleton.”
“How awful,” Leonard’s mother said with revulsion. “What kind of gift is that?”
But Leonard’s eyes were wide with delight. “Only the coolest ever.” He held out his fist for a bump from Larry.
After the boys had demolished the cake, they went to play games on the video machines.
As she cleaned up the crumbs, Leonard’s mother could only shake her head and say under her breath, “Boys. How weird they can be.”
* * *
“You said you didn’t want to be fat.” Larry closed the door to Leonard’s room. “That’s the gift you wanted. Remember?”
“But you said there was a rat.”
Larry shook his head and sat on the front of Leonard’s bed. “I had to tell your mom something, didn’t I?”
Leonard opened the small box slightly and glanced at the writhing bodies inside before closing it again. “I don’t get it. What are these for then?”
Larry took off his heavy glasses and wiped the lenses on his tee shirt. He put them back on and said, “For your belly.”
“Your belly. They’ll eat the fat right off.”
Leonard shoved the box back to Larry. “Nu unh. That would hurt!”
Larry gently pushed back Leonard’s hand. “Think about it for awhile. It’s just a few weeks ‘till summer vacation. Think about it ‘till then.”
Leonard looked confused. He shook the box gently. “They’ll be dead by then, won’t they?”
“Just hide them in the freezer. Gardener’s do it with Ladybugs all the time.” Larry reached in his pocket and took out what looked to be a tin of salve. He opened it and a sickly sweet odor wafted into the air. “Freeze this along with it,” he said as he closed the tin and handed it to Leonard.
Leonard took it with his free hand. “What is this? It stinks.”
“Dead flesh. I let it putrefy. If you decide to use the beetles, rub that stuff all over your stomach then put the beetles on. That’ll get them going.”
Leonard felt a tinge of nausea. “Gee, Larry. I don’t know.”
Larry pointed to Leonard’s window. “Leslie Champ. One block down. Got It?”
* * *
It was a week after school let out for summer vacation that Leonard took the beetles and the tin of decomposed flesh from the back of the freezer. He had hidden them behind clumps of ice crystals covering old boxes of frozen peas and corn. He felt safe with the knowledge his mother had never cleaned out the freezer. The past few weeks had been no exception.
After his mother went to bed that night, Leonard took the soggy box of insects and the tin of putrid mush out from under his bed.
“Bet they’re not alive,” he said to himself.
He slid the box open and found an amorphous black clump. He emptied it on his nightstand and turned on the lamp there. He poked at the lump and it started to pull apart. Thousands of lethargic legs began trying to crawl.
Leonard took off his clothes. He opened the tin of rotten flesh and started smearing it on his stomach. The material was cold and hard to spread, but once it sat long enough on his warm skin, it proliferated easily under the guide of Leonard’s hands. It also started to stink as well.
Leonard lay on his bed. He covered his mouth and nose with one hand and picked up the squirming mass of bugs with the other and placed it on his belly.
Then, he braced himself for the pain.
* * *
But there was none.
The American Carrion Beetle, a.k.a. Necrophilia americana, does not eat the dead flesh. It lays eggs under the skin. When the eggs hatch, it is the larvae that eat, and they do it voraciously.
In Leonard’s case, the process took less than twenty four hours.
That first night, with the insects busy laying their eggs under the skin, Leonard felt only a strange itching sensation. The next morning he found the beetles weirdly immobile and clinging to his stomach. He decided to stay in bed and pull the covers up over his body.
“Not feeling well?” his mother had asked.
“Just didn’t sleep good. Want to stay in bed.”
“You just be lazy today then. I’ll leave a covered plate of scrambled eggs in the fridge you can warm up later in the microwave.”
And then she was off to work, and so were the hatching larvae all day long.
By the time Leonard’s mother got home from the bakery, the sun was almost down. She was surprised to
find the plate of scrambled eggs untouched in the fridge. She was even more surprised, shocked really, to find large clumps of a bloody, squirming, mucous material clumped all around Leonard’s bedroom and trailing out the window, causing her to worry about her son.
She yelled out his name. She searched the house.
But there was no Leonard to be found.
A block away, Leonard stood on the lawn of the home where Leslie Champ lived, his stomach fat dissolving away, sliding in plops to the ground as the larvae ate and ate.
Leonard was ready to proudly announce to Leslie that he wasn’t fat anymore.
By now the beetles had moved up to his chest and throat and down to his legs and were busy laying more eggs. Before they found the soft gelatin of his eyes, tears flowed down Leonard’s face. His eyes were wide with despair as he read the letters FOR SALE on the sign spiked into the ground by the replica wishing well that stood in front of the recently vacated home.
© Copyright 2012 Timothy C. Hobbs
MUSIC BOX SONATA BY TIMOTHY C. HOBBS
At the top of a steep cliff a derelict church serves its congregation of dust, cobwebs and birds roosting in the rafters. One human occupant lives there hidden in the cellar. He is cursed never walk in the tortuous sunlight, but to roam the woods on the cliff at night in the form of a hideous beast struggling with the violent desire to kill while striving to preserve remnants of his own humanity.