Cheryl’s breath quickened, growing shallow. Her skin assumed a rosy tint as the blood rose to the surface, her capillaries opening all the way. A few wisps of hair had fallen loose from her barrette, trailing across her bare shoulders. The small gold medallion of Saint Margaret of Antioch lay nestled in her bosom, an ever-constant companion intended to ward off family trouble and devils. I ceaselessly derived wry amusement from this as the charm has proven ineffectual in my presence during our weary years together. Her knees spread a little wider in a manner which would have been nigh imperceptible to the average unobservant male. She spoke volumes without parting her lips.
“You look ravishing this evening.” I told her as I turned the final corner winding us out of the ritzier arts district and into the decay of downtown. It would take one hour and twenty-five minutes to return home from this old yet modest city, the nearest civilization containing an iota of culture. Cheryl insisted that we partake of these entertainments at least once a month. She had been born into a modestly well-off family, and thus required a few basic luxuries despite an otherwise textbook existence. As it’d been a couple of months since I’d last done my husbandly duty, I knew it would smooth over the next leg of the year should I acquiesce to her unspoken wishes. Her maidenly blush indicated that she hadn’t yet grown sick of my general disinterest. She still hung on my praises as she had for years. I suppose I yet remained a curiosity to her.
“I paid the babysitter for an extra hour,” she began suggestively in a soft lilt. Her painted lips parted momentarily, but she reconsidered her words and trailed off with a glance toward me in askance. Cheryl was hardly adept at reading my expression, yet she valiantly attempted it every chance she had. Popular culture had instilled in her the belief that as my wife and long-time lover she should be fully capable of peering into my soul with the merest glimpse. Ironically she hadn’t ever stopped to notice that I didn’t have a soul.
Without another word I pulled into a local motel of questionable repute. It was the sort of place that screamed “hourly rates.” This fine establishment was notorious as an unholy yet necessary stomping ground for discreet love trysts, affairs, one-night stands and anything else requiring the room be scrubbed with bleach from top to bottom prior to admitting the next client. The particular flora and fauna of each compartment was likely a colorful mixture that would overwhelm any petri dish, yet it was specifically because of its seedy reputation that Cheryl simply adored it. I conjectured that it was the element of taboo which aroused such enthusiasm. She consistently grew angry and ashamed when I inquired after her reasoning, thus in order to preserve my quietude I’d abandoned pursuit of that particular knowledge. We’d frequented the place upon our initial arrival to this region, and still partook of its perennial glory here and there over the course of the years. For whatever reason Cheryl was almost adverse to propagation in our own bed. I believed that this fact more than my overwhelming apathy was the cause of her failure to play the part of a good Catholic and fill the streets with little wild-eyed, God-fearing holy rollers. Not that I was complaining.
How, my colleagues queried amongst themselves any time they saw her, had I managed to both bed and wed so lovely a creature as Cheryl? Though I possessed a moderately attractive countenance, it was often devoid of warmth and attached to the gangly body of a naturally long and thin individual who spent most of his time in one spot. I’d never been poor, yet I’d similarly not been rich either. While Cheryl and I had once shared some common interests, I did not inconvenience myself to include her in my doings. The truth of the matter lay in my powers of observation and tireless, dispassionate modification of my methods of pleasing her. My relationship with her was treated like any other form of research I undertook, and thus I would attempt innumerable techniques aimed at engendering good will and catalogue her response to each. Some had a consistent effect; others only seemed to work under specific conditions; still others were considered absolutely repugnant at all times. Occasionally the results surprised me. The lingering wisps of her religious pretense often deterred her from less socially accepted forms of sexual gratification despite her obvious pleasure, for example. This love motel, however, was one reliable vice which she’d eternally preserved.
Her hand began petting my thigh the moment I’d pulled into that familiar parking lot. She opened the car door before I’d put the vehicle in park, barely clearing the curb with the tall heels of her dress shoes. She stumbled and fell into my arms as we mounted the stairs in our pursuit of the appropriate room number. While Cheryl adored romance with the inborn, wanting hunger of the dispossessed, she’d legitimately tripped in her childlike eagerness. This afforded me no small amusement, and for this I tilted her chin and kissed her so deeply that another couple – under the influence of any number of mind-altering substances – guffawed and whooped at the sight. The man tossed his short-skirted companion onto the hood of the nearest car with the intention of mimicking my apparent eagerness only to find the alarm tripped and the sharp, insistent wail piercing their ears. They yelped and guiltily scurried off around the corner, chased by the foul curses of those disturbed by their plight. I couldn’t resist a rare chuckle as Cheryl and I ascended, and I felt the stirrings of desire rousing from its stupor of disuse. It may have been triggered by a spike of testosterone: a primal need to compete with another male in the presence of a ready and waiting female. Regardless of the source, we hurried off to our room and allowed our humanity to overwhelm us.
The ride home was taken in that sleepy and sated fashion reserved for creatures who’d eaten their fill: cats with cream, snakes with entire rats bulging noticeably along their sides, buzzards with whole carcasses to themselves. Cheryl dozed lazily with her head lolling against the window, her gown disheveled and her makeup faded, revealing puffy lips swollen from “kisses and lovemaking,” as she preferred to call it. The miles whirred by as I sealed my mortality away for another month, mind filling with formulae and theory. I still had a few more adjustments to make to Fred’s kin at the Company lab before I could release the little horrors for examination and ultimately mass production. Mr. Dovak had the FDA in his back pocket. Every man had his price, and that genial southern gentleman had a way of finding it. I’d been an easy sell. What of the government? After its approval stateside, the Company would seek worldwide distribution authorization. Foreign nations would be trickier to handle, and in particular foreign news sources would have to be treated with the utmost respect. Bad press could make or break the whole enterprise, but if Mr. Dovak and his cronies could sell this product to the public as a more compassionate method of meat production – the creatures only had brain stems rather than fully-developed brains, after all – and spin some line about ending world hunger while tossing some donations to a charity or two they could likely pull it off. My case study of Cheryl provided me invaluable insight into the selfish and self-righteous dispositions of the general populace, thus it was with no small confidence that I’d embarked upon this particular voyage of employment anticipating its success.
The babysitter placidly took her leave upon our arrival at the house, indifferent to my wife’s disarray or our atypical tardiness. Darren had already gone to bed, and thus after seeing Cheryl off to sleep I retired to my study, the creaking of the floorboards left unnoticed by the unconscious members of the household. Flicking on my desk lamp, I noticed two astonishing things: first, Fred had fallen over, apparently having struggled to alert someone to his starvation and dehydration; second, a small tendril hesitantly squirmed in response to the light, protruding from what would have been Fred’s belly. The thin tentacle had looped itself around a spider and was pulsing, apparently squeezing the dead creature.
My creation seemed to have rapidly modified its structure as best it could in order to survive. The spider was decayed as though dissolved by digestive juices, even though there was no visible mouth on the tendril. I could only conjecture upon initial observation that the skin secreted the juice and perhaps reabsorbed the dissolved arachnid. My mind whirled with possibilities and I immediately withdrew my notepad, jotting rapturously. Some facet of Fred’s genetic makeup afforded him the capacity to evolve at an unparalleled rate. Rather than altering generationally, he created a new mechanism for obtaining food in a matter of days. I smiled, my face a hellish wasteland devoid of compassion. The darkness shifted around me as my gloating laugh reverberated lasciviously. I would uncover the nature of Fred’s change and exploit it. Visions of what I could do with this knowledge wracked my body with the throes of desire and ecstasy, the Company’s goals forgotten.
I was God.
I was the Devil.
And I had only just begun.