Written by Trey Briggs || Art by Kokab Zohoori-Dossa
Coming out of quarantine, I shielded the sun from my eyes and tried really fucking hard not to fall to the ground and scream. Like, rage scream. Scream until my throat turned itself inside out and all my mangled horns unraveled. I just stood and took a couple of deep breaths. Just a couple of deep breaths around horns growing backward into my lungs.
Sick of horns, sick of bone, sick of people trying to saw things off of me.
Old Bro waltzed up, as only he could, holding a large turtle in his hand. He bit off a leg while it struggled against him.
Not now. Please just let me go home and scream you unnaturally massive sack of shit…
He tapped one of my horns and shit, it hurt. They all hurt all the time, like a dull memory buzzing through each one. But most people don’t go around touching them for fun or even acknowledging my existence. I look too much like death to these animals, they don’t want to deal with it.
They avoid me as much as possible and I’m good with that. As long as they don’t stick me in quarantine again, I’m good with that.
Old Bro, the irritant, he never leaves me the fuck alone.
“This horn grew a little, Kitten.”
“Stop calling me that. Stop touching me. Did they really give you so much control over everything that you can go around touching girls younger than you? Perv?” Old Bro balked at that a little, his jolly face pouring out a type of joy I couldn’t get used to. One minute he was beating someone to death, the next he was giggling and stuffing his face. It made me uncomfortable.
Kill them with kindness or kill them with fists, Old Bro. One or the other.
I didn’t know how he had time to do anything else when he was so busy following me around.
“You’re not that young, Kitten. You’re at least grown and a half. At least.” He took an ugly chomp off of the turtle he was devouring. Straight through the shell.
“Take off the half. Any girl you need to meet in a school parking lot is too young. What do you want?”
“Hmmm. A grown girl out here dying like this. Shit’s sad. And this is a college parking lot, Smart Kitten. And the quarantine building. For you Rots.” He tapped another horn, this one sending a shrill whistle through my head that lasted longer than it should’ve. I tried my best to keep my face straight. Avoid entertaining him.
“What…do you want, Old Bro?” He smirked.
“I always want the same thing, Jewel. Talk to me. Tell me about your day. Shit, I’ve been waiting out here since I found out they were letting you loose again. I missed you. You should’ve told me they were thinking about it, you know I would’ve stopped it.”
I was quarantined about twice a year. Locked in that tiny room with the worse cases. The ones who died in front of you, their horns finally reaching a part of their brain. The ones that coughed up a ton of mucous and keeled over and sat there, dead, until someone noticed. And then they carted them out. They put me in and waited to see if I was going to die this time, to see if I’d make it through the days. It was too hard to think about so I just cleared my throat. The new horns growing around my eyes were worse than the others.
Ignoring the pain I might be feeling, ignoring the obvious death that was approaching, ignoring the fact that they were probably growing into my brain as well, my father had me quarantined again. Or maybe it was because of those things. My particular brand of Horn Rot wasn’t one you survived.
My family wanted this to be over, and I got it. But I was dying a slow, lonely death. If you ask me, no need to make it lonelier.
“‘Stopping it’ to you usually means beating something until it’s just blood. I don’t need you killing my family. I need you to leave me alone.”
“You keep saying that.” A sadness drifted from him that I didn’t want. I didn’t appreciate it. I just wanted to walk back to my house. To ignore my family and go to my room and adjust myself over and over until I fell asleep. Things were getting miserable. Even my wit seemed tired nowadays and I found myself more willing to just stop.
Just stop everything. Reverse it, if possible.
All my clothes were special made and expensive and, boy, did my father remind me of it every chance he got. So I worked when I could to pay for them myself. We had special courses about Horn Rot to help younger Rots understand what they might go through. I got paid to kind of put myself on display – this is the worst. If you couldn’t get rid of your horns in time, you’d be me.
My ‘class’ was filled with other Horn Rot victims of various ages. Junnie, Old Bro’s much more charming sister, was stuffed in there with me regularly. So was her best friend, Lewish. I ended up tutoring them in other things instead of going over symptoms they knew too well already. This was the only school left that hadn’t expelled them. When you had to accommodate for horns that went through ceilings, horns that went through solid objects from sharpness, and horns that were in so many places that you needed standing desks, you improvised or you shunned.
They weren’t thrown into quarantine, though.
Old Bro gave the turtle an annoyed glance and crushed the shell in more, slurping its head and meat through the top hole. We stood in silence for a moment while I fought back tears of frustration. It would be better if I couldn’t feel the pain every single fucking second. Dull and vibrating but there. Old Bro threw the rest of his twitching turtle into the grass behind us. Here, in the parking lot of the quarantine building, me trying to stand up straight but always twisting under my stomach horns, he looked at me just a little too hard.
“You’re going to die soon, little Kitten. Surrounded by a family you hate. Maybe even alone in quarantine. You’re going to die and it’s going to be painful and you’re going to wish it was over. Every second of it is going to feel like forever, Kitten.”
I just nodded. Tears brimmed my eyes but I didn’t move. As always, Old Bro beamed.
“I always liked you, Kitten. Always felt bad for you, too. A whole life wasted being sick. Sad. Sarcastic. All those ‘s’ words you put out in the air. But I can give you something no one else can if you stick with me. Or at least give me a chance.”
The sun was setting behind us. One day, probably soon, I’d watch the sunset for the last time and then all the pain would be gone. I imagined dying on the beach a lot. Or maybe a snowy mountain. Somewhere beautiful where I could forget that fucking BUZZ for a second and just drift into non-existence.
Old Bro moved closer to me and grabbed my chin. Out of nowhere, his expression was violent. Almost angry. The bones of my face reacted painfully but I didn’t try to pull away. My hope, my energy even, was drifting up from me and floating away.
“What can you give me, Boar? What could you give me to make any of this better?”
“Well, there’s the obvious. I can keep you out of quarantine. Your Daddy may be off-limits to kill but I’ll murder anyone else that touches you. I’ll scrape the ground red if anyone else tries to bring you here again. But, better than that…I can give you something better to destroy than yourself.” He kissed me, slow and careful. Slow and careful but always violent.
“I can give you a purpose.”