Fiction · 02/20/2013

The Molting

And, then, the sloughing off of the lizard-boy’s skin, the abandoning of husks. With each shedding, the hardening of scales, the darkening color. The mother’s deepening fear of her only child, of what he was becoming, what he would become. Slovenly, wild dogs rife with mange roamed about the trailer, sensing the wild within. How the dogs would snap and snarl when the mother emerged, thirty-aught-six in hand. Mounds of refused skin piled in corners like soiled rags.

The mother nailed board after board to the doorframe and window panes at night: keeping the dogs out and keeping the lizard-boy inside. She would awaken, sweating, from her nightmares — the visions of her son — and go to remove the boards, tearing at the nails with the claw of her hammer. The possibility of escape. Each day and night this routine.

In the city, men refused her seductions, aware of what she would ask of them, how she would ask them to destroy this wretched child, how they would fail. The rumors of her son, of his monstrousness. The questions of her: how could she love this son? The answers she uttered: how can a mother not?

She trimmed Aurelio’s sharpening, gray nails, pulled away the unneeded skin, brushed away the ossified scales over the lizard-boy’s eyes. Old bones were pushed out through his skin and replaced by new, stronger ones.

And, when he asked why she would no longer let him outside into the world, how she said, this is for your own good, this is for all our own good.

And, nightly the dogs yapped and barked and howled.

The lizard-boy, haunted by the wild dogs, tore away at the boards and went into the night. And, uncertain of the wants of dogs, how he feared them, and they him, and how he attacked, constricting his tail around fragile necks, slashing at fur and skin, clawing and cracking bone. The mother awakening and going to the trailer door to witness the horror of bodies of once-wild dogs, her lizard-boy sitting among the bodies, calm, licking his wounds, gnawing on the meat of the dead.

How can a mother fear her son? The mother asked, burying the dogs by starlight. And, God would not answer her, she knew, and she tore the crucifix from her neck and tossed it in the grave.

The lizard-boy, Aurelio, sat by the grave, uttering prayers for the dogs. What have I done? He asked.

Only what we all do when we are afraid, the mother said, stifling tears as she scooped up a shovel-full of dirt and tossed it in the hole. She rose and went inside to gather up the robes of old skins and the rejected bones and returned to bury them. When the grave was filled in and the earth patted down and the mother and the lizard-boy went inside, she asked him to hand her first a plank of wood for the door, for the windows, then for the hammer, for the nails. She wondered who it was she meant to protect. She hammered. She drove nails deep into the splintered wood, doing only what she must to keep safe. The lizard-boy’s skin cracked and peeled even then, and the mother listened to the cracking of her son’s old bones and to his whimpering, and she placed her hand on his leathery head, there there, pain a temporary thing, a sign that life remains.

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Justin Lawrence Daugherty, winner of the 2012 Gigantic Sequins Flash Fiction Contest, writes in Omaha, Nebraska, spends too much time on Twitter, and runs Sundog Lit. “The Molting” is an excerpt from a novella composed of many shorter pieces. Other excerpts appear or will come soon from The Collagist and Metazen. Justin’s sometimes able to post things at justindaugherty.wordpress.com.