The Blood That Binds Us

rating: +24+x

The black asphalt, heated by the beams of the hot July sun, burns Jeremy's feet with every step. In the horizon, air resembles water, as he realizes how clammy his mouth feels. He adjusts the straps of his giant backpack, the corner of a book pressing uncomfortably against his back.

His legs grow pained, and every step feels harder than the last, as if he's waddling knee-deep in the shifting sands of ancient dunes. All he wants to do is give up and sink. Allow his legs to buckle and let the sands swallow him whole. But he knows he must not, for salvation is only a few blocks away, and he must be home in time for dinner.

With sheer determination and force of will, he trudges along, putting one stubby foot in front of the other. His legs scream from exertion, and his clothes stick to his skin, as the sun sneers from above.

Jeremy makes his way through the winding suburban streets, until the cream white walls of his home finally become visible. Letting out a sigh of relief, he practically half-runs across the lawn to the door. The cold steel of the door handle brings the first relief to the heat, as the door clicks open.

Jeremy steps across the threshold, stepping into a hallway that leads further into the house. Dust, revealed by the sunlight coming through the door, hangs wearily in the air. Jeremy takes off his sneakers, setting them on the shoe rack, before closing the door.

"I'm hoooome!" he shouts, but there is no answer, aside from an uncomfortable mixture of clicks and hisses that echoes through the space. "Hello?"

The sound comes closer, as a figure emerges from behind a corner. At a quick glance you might mistake it for a hairless dog, until you see the milky orbs bulging from the sides of its elongated head, the wriggling tendrils of flesh squirming across its body, the third pair of limbs, grasping at the air, and the fanged maw that opens wide, too wide, as a long tongue lulls around, feeling the air.

Upon spotting Jeremy, it lets out an ear-piercing, primal scream, as it charges forward. Before Jeremy has any time to react, it pounces, pinning him to the ground with its sharp claws. Its three nostrils flare, as it brings its jaws down, and licks Jeremy's face excitedly, its little stub of a tail wagging wildly.

"Chompyyy! Stooop!" he laughs, gently pushing the creature aside and stroking its long snout, as it presses it against his hand. "Good to see you too buddy."

Chompy in tow, Jeremy walks into the joint living room and kitchen, where a woman in a green dress and a petticoat is busy chopping something. Hearing the boy come in, she turns, revealing her mutilated and fingerless hand and a bloody knife held in the other.

"Welcome back!" she says with a wide smile, tendrils of flesh extending from her hand as her fingers knit themselves back together.

"Ooh, are you making mince pie?" Jeremy asks, while peering into the fridge in search of lemonade.

"I sure am! Should be ready in just an hour," the woman says as she continues to chop on her own hand, humming a happy tune all the while. The boy pours himself a glass of lemonade, as the creature known as Chompy seats itself next to the woman's legs, hoping that a piece of her fingers would accidentally end up on the floor.

"You just ate, you're not getting anything," she says to the creature, which promptly decides to not listen. "How was your day at school?" she asks towards the boy.

"Okay, I guess."

"I can tell when you're lying. Did that Matherson boy pick on you again?"

"He said that we're freaks. He said Chompy is ugly and called Chloe a bad word."

"I see," she says in a blunt tone, clearly distraught with her brow furrowed. "Well, who would want to be normal anyway?" She takes the chopping board and pours her chopped fingers on a frying pan. The boy takes a sip of lemonade and walks to his room.

"Oh, Jeremy! Don't forget that the Smiths are coming for dinner tonight, so clean your room before then!" She calls out after him. Jeremy lets out a pained sigh as he droops his head backwards, suddenly feeling very tired.

"Fiiine," he groans as he walks into his room and begins to hide anything made out of flesh.

Later that evening, the Miller-Yahontov house is filled with chatter, as two families surround a dinner table that is covered in steaming pots and pans. Forks and knives scratch against plates and glasses jingle, as everyone is taking turns shoveling food on their plates with watering mouths. A strategically positioned Chompy lays under the table, snuggly in its new pink dog sweater that just so happens to hide its third pair of limbs.

"Don't! Stop it!" Jeremy whines as a young woman with auburn hair kicks him repeatedly under the table, preventing him from enjoying her mother's casserole.

"Chloe, stop bullying your brother," a burly man with a thick Russian accent says from the other side of the table, mouth full with vegan steak.

"I was just testing how well he works under pressure," she chuckles, but stops nevertheless, refocusing her attention to the plate in front of her.

"Mom, my stomach hurts…" a boy from the other family whines to a woman with frizzy hair.

"Oh no, honeyy. Braelynn, was there anything unusual in the meat pie you had in the fridge?" she asks, turning to Jeremy's mother.

"You- you fed your kids the leftover pie in the fridge?" she asks, her eyes wide.

"Well, Jacob was hungry, and you said the food would still take a while, so I gave him some to shut him up. Why? Why do you look so shocked? What was in it"

"Oh- no reason. It was just regular meat pie," she says, letting out a small, nervous chuckle. "It's just that… you really should have asked me first."

"I know, I'm sorry. Aren't you guys vegan though?" the other woman asks, furrowing her brow.

"Yes, but… Adrik's… brother has a farm, and he gave us some meat when he came to visit. Couldn't let it go to waste," she says, shrugging as she lies through her teeth.

"What's up with your dog?" asks a young girl from the other family, who has been curiously staring at Chompy for a few minutes now.

"Don't be rude!" says the woman with frizzy hair, scolding her daughter. "I'm sorry Braelynn, kids are always so forward."

"No it's fine," Braelynn says. "Chompy has a congenital skin condition. It doesn't affect his quality of life at all, it just makes him a unique and very handsome boy," she says as she pats the flesh beast's back with her foot, causing it to flop on its side and sigh contently.

Meanwhile. Jeremy hangs his head on the table, cool wood pressing against his forehead. He has already eaten, and the droning of the adults is causing his eyelids to feel like they are made of lead.

"Mom," he says, tugging on Braelynn's sleeve. "Can I go play outside?"

"Right after you've eaten? Don't you want to wait for Trish and Jacob so you can all go play together?"

"But I don't want to wait! You know my stomach won't get upset."

"Fine, go ahead."

Jeremy smiles and pumps his fist, as he scampers off the chair and hurries outside, grabbing a basketball on his way out. The sun has nearly set, and there is a pronounced chill in the air. The pleasant smell of frozen grass hits his nose, as his skin rises on goosebumps. Jeremy forces them down, closing his eyes for a second as he commands his heart to bump faster, increasing his blood circulation and keeping him warm. After he feels pleasant again, he walks over to the driveway and begins throwing his ball at the basketball hoop attached on top of the garage doors.

After only a few throws, Jeremy severely overestimates the amount of force necessary, and throws the ball over the hoop by a large margin. With a loud clonk, it impacts with the roof, and begins to roll down the shingles. Jeremy watches with anticipation, hoping that it will just roll of the side and not get stuck.

The ball rolls and rolls, until it impacts with the snow guard. The momentum of the ball makes it go partway up the snow guard, but it isn't enough, as it eventually rolls back and gets stuck behind it. Jeremy feels anxiety rise up in his throat, as he realizes the ball isn't going anywhere.

"Damn it," he says, fearing that his parents will get upset and that they won't let him play with the ball anymore.

But maybe they don't need to know, he thinks as a thought crosses his mind. Maybe he could get it down all by himself.

He reaches up towards the roof, as he recalls what he's learnt watching his parents and his sister. He closes his eyes, focusing on every sensation he can feel. Every breath, the movement of his diaphragm constricting his lungs, the beat of his heart, like a drum in his chest, the wind ruffling through his hair and the pressure of the earth pressing back against his feet.

"There is power in the Flesh. This is what Ion said to the people of blood and snow as he stood atop the spine of the world," he recites, as his mind expands to encompass every single cell in his body. He can feel the blood rushing through his veins, the neurons firing in his brain, the churning of his bowels and the filtration of water into his cells through osmosis. He is aware of every cell, every protein, every molecule within his system, and he can feel the power within.

"There is power in the Flesh. This is what Ion screamed as he showed the people of blood and snow the divinity within himself as he became a dragon of meat and bone that blot out the sun." His mind reaches out even further, now feeling the cells and chemical processes within the life around him. The grass and the insects within it, the people inside, a bird on the sky, he can feel them all as if they are a part of him. His arm begins to tingle and creak.

"There is power in the Flesh, Ion roared to those who understood…" Jeremy's eyes shoot open. "…and it is for you to harness. Consume divinity. Become God." Jeremy is nearly thrown off his feet due to his center of balance shifting, as his arm suddenly elongates. The filaments within his muscles elongate and their structure becomes more complex. The insides of his arm tickle, as new bones and ligaments and joints come into existence. The structure of his arm, now several feet long and wrinkly, muscles rippling and shifting under its skin, reminds him of a noodle, as it can bend and turn in angles that his normal arm could not. He had expected this to hurt, but instead it felt pleasant. Powerful. Like a part of him that he didn't knew existed was missing, but now he is whole. He grabs the ball on the roof, and lets his arm retract and shrink to its original form, just as the door opens.

"What on Earth are you doing?" Braelynn screams as she storms out. Jeremy drops the ball, as he feels the color drain from his face and his blood go cold. Braelynn kneels down and grabs tightly on the boys shoulders.

"What the hell we're you thinking? We've told you that we can never show our abilities outside! We have guests for crying out loud! What if they saw? What if…" she rants, but chokes on her words as she watches a car drive past with baited breath. After it disappears behind a corner, she turns back to Jeremy and continues, but her tone is no longer angry, but worried, almost pleading.

"Listen to me carefully Jeremy. There are people out there who hate who we are. They think what we do is a danger to society because they don't understand it. They will never understand it, and they have no mercy. If they found out what we can do, they would lock us up forever… or worse, and I can't lose you to them. Do you understand?" she says, looking her son straight in the eyes.

"Yes, mother," he says quietly.

"Promise me that you will never use your abilities in public like that again."

"I promise." She draws the boy into a hug, holding him for a few seconds, sniffling quietly.

The next day, Jeremy is sitting in the school hallway, a textbook in his lap. An exam is coming up, but he cannot concentrate on reading, when there is something way more interesting to study. He can hear the heartbeats of everyone in the school. No, not hear. Feel. As if they are his own. Since unlocking the power of the Flesh, he has felt more connected to the world, more present, and that makes him happy. A heartbeat approaches him. A heartbeat he does not like.

"What's up, nerd?" says the owner of the heartbeat, one Will Matherson, as he snatches Jeremy's book away from him, dangling it in the air in front of him. Yesterday Jeremy would have said nothing against Will who is bigger, stronger and tougher than him. But today he no longer feels inferior. He knows he is more powerful. He can feel Will's heart beat, and he knows that if he wanted to, he could stop it. He recalls something he's heard his sister say.

"Fuck off," he says with confidence. The other boy laughs.

"What did you say to me?" he says, smiling like a fool. Jeremy stands up and takes a step towards him.

"I said: fuck off." Will drops the book and takes a step back, cracking his knuckles.

"I'll show you how to fuck off." He leans back as he throws his fist in a wide arc towards Jeremy's face. Jeremy sees the fist, clenched so tight that the knuckles are white, approach rapidly. For a second his confidence wavers and panic kicks in, as he reaches with his mind into Will's body, wrapping it around his muscles and telling them to stop. The fist stops just a few inches of his face, as Will stands still, frozen mid-swing.

"Huat did you do to he?" he asks through paralyzed lips, slurring his speech. His eyes dart around wildly, and his muscles contract in a futile attempt to escape the arcane grasp they are in. Jeremy laughs, as any slightest hint of fear that he used to have towards Will fades away.

However, a panic from another source lifts its ugly head once again, as Jeremy hears the clanking of heels from an adjacent corridor. He releases Will as a teacher rounds the corner, just in time to see a confused and scared Will scamper away from Jeremy.

"He's a witch! He's a demon! Get him away from me!" he shouts as he runs past the teacher who is starting to look more and more pissed by the second.

"Jeremy Miller-Yahontov," she says sternly. "Principals office. Now."

Just a few moments later, Jeremy is sitting and staring at his lap again, but this time there is no book there. Instead, a middle-aged man sits behind a mahogany table, his stare burning a hole in Jeremy's forehead.

"Mr. Matherson says that you 'froze him in place'. Is this true?" he says.

"No," Jeremy responds, unable to make eye contact.

"We don't tolerate bullying in this school, and lying neither."

"He's the one who bullies me! He was about to hit me!"

"So you admit you're guilty."

"…No. What Will is saying isn't even possible!"

"Is it not?" The man cracks a half-smile, but it quickly fades. "Regardless, you clearly did something to him. The boy is terrified."

It is at this moment, that Jeremy realizes that he cannot feel the principals heartbeat. In fact, as he inspects deeper, he cannot sense a heart at all. No blood. No lungs. No… brain. Jeremy thinks he's sinking into his chair. The ticking off the clock becomes deafening, beating against the insides of his skull and scattering all of his thoughts.

But wait… this room doesn't have a clock.

Something moves behind the man's eyes. "Don't."

Does he know? White as a sheet, Jeremy draws his mind back, slithering his intangible tendrils back into his head. It feels confined now. Claustrophobic. He thinks he's suffocating.

"This is going on your permanent record, but you can go now. I have a few calls to make," the man says, a smile on his face, but not on his eyes.

Walking home, Jeremy's mind is infested with thoughts. Like mosquitoes in the night, they buzz around his head. You don't know where they are and you can't catch them, but you know they're there. However, like mosquitoes from bug repellent, all his thoughts scatter and flee as he sees the black, featureless van parked in his driveway. Dread takes the place of the mosquitoes.

With heavy steps, like waddling in water, he walks past the van as it towers over him. An alien monolith of obsidian dropped in the middle of everything he deems dear. He can hear the voice of his father from the inside.

"What's this about?" he asks in a polite tone, but it is clearly forced.

"We got an anonymous tip that you might have illegal contraband," says another deep voice that Jeremy does not recognize. I need to make a few calls echoes in his mind. "Don't worry, this is just a routine inspection. We need to check these things out, but it's usually nothing. There's no danger to your family." Jeremy senses the man's blood pump faster as he says those words. It had been a lie.

Jeremy steps inside as quietly as he can, trying to observe the scene before he becomes a part of it. The rest of his family is stood to the side of the living room, as several men and women rifle through their house. They are all dressed in black suits, and their jackets have a gun-sized bulge.

"Ah, little Mister Miller-Yahontov. Glad to meet you," says one of the men, offering a hand towards Jeremy. Begrudgingly, he takes it and lets the man shake it vigorously.

"Honey come here," his mother says, gesturing him to come closer. Jeremy complies, and his mother wraps her arm protectively around him. Pressed against her, Jeremy can feel his mother flinch as one the people in suits steps on a squeaky toy.

"Do you have a dog?"

"Yes, but he is currently… on a playdate with another dog," Braelynn says. Jeremy closes his eyes, trying to focus on Chompy. He senses him hiding in an air duct close by, his tendrils wriggling in barely contained anger.

Another intruder stops to look at an old picture framed on top of the fireplace.

"Where's your other son?" he asks, furrowing his brow.

"Daughter now, actually. And that's me," answers Chloe, shooting a cold look at the stranger.

"Oh, my apologies," he says and goes back to invading their privacy.

One of the intruders walks up to the family, trudging confidently like it's her house. She looks over the four, finally setting her eyes on the smallest. A smile spreads across her face as she kneels in front of Jeremy, bringing herself to his eye level. Her expression is warm, and for a moment he thinks it's genuine, but there's something else under the surface. Something dead. The eyes of a vulture.

"Hey there, kid," she says, her words dripping honey, sickly sweet. "What's your name?"

"J- Jeremy," he stutters. He tries to look her in the face, but her eyes, cold blue like the winter sky, pierce into his brain and Jeremy can't help but turn away.

"Jeremy. What a lovely name. Is there anything you'd like to tell me Jeremy? Any secrets?" she asks, play-whispering the word 'secrets'. Jeremy's lips suddenly feel like the trigger of a gun. He doesn't say anything.

"Any information you could give us would make this go a lot easier, you know."

"You're scaring him. He's just a kid for god's sake. Do you have no integrity?" his dad pipes up. Jeremy notices that he's nervously tugging down on his t-shirt sleeve, trying to hide a tattoo depicting a tusked skull with a single eye socket. The one he's always refused to talk about.

"As much as I appreciate your concerns, Mr. Yahontov, I suggest you just let me do my job," the woman says, getting up and refocusing her attention on the man.

"Do your job? You mean break into my home and terrorize my family? You expect me to just sit by as you traumatize my child?" he says, his voice rising as he steps forward. Jeremy sees a vein on his arm slither unnaturally beneath his skin like a snake in water. The woman does not seem to notice this, but takes a step back and puts a hand on her weapon nevertheless.

"Step back. Right now." All of the pretentiousness in her voice has faded. It is as cold as her eyes.

Jeremy feels a wave emanating from his father. Something powerful and old raising its head for the first time in ages. Quick snapshots of images flood his mind. Teeth, claws, chains, a giant eye staring back at him, its pupil constricting in recognition. His father cracks his neck, as more veins bulge and slither. He can feel his heart forcing itself to its limits, as he begins to huff like a bull seeing red. He goes to take another step.

Metal rattles against plastic as the woman draws her weapon. The bones in his fathers hand crack from sheer force as he curls it into a fist. Cloth shuffles as Jeremy is nearly thrown to the side by her mother, who surges forward. She places herself between the two, her other hand pushing her husband back, and the other placed defensively in front of them. The woman in a suit stops, her finger having pulled the trigger halfway through.

"Adrik. Don't," Braelynn whispers to her husband. Something that had been gone for a second, comes back to his eyes as he hears his name. Jeremy feels the power fall asleep once again. Adrik takes a step back, and the woman holsters her weapon, slowly. Keeping an eye on the man as she walks away, she goes back to rummaging the house. Jeremy lets out a sigh he didn't know he was holding.

Seconds turn into minutes, and minutes feel like hours, but eventually, one of the intruders lifts up his arms defeatedly.

"Looks like it was a dead lead. Sorry for the trouble. Lets go folks," he says and walks out, the others in tow. The family waits for the van to start and drive off, before anyone says anything.

"We need to move," Jeremy's father says matter-of-factly, as they all embrace each other. Chompy slithers out of the air duct, and joins the hug.

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