Chapter 24: Monster

     PRIEST LAKE STATE PARK, ID

     1:35 A.M.

     Isaac lays awake long after his tent-mate starts snoring.

     He’s already read the paperback novel he brought twice, and, for lack of anything better to do, he opens it a third time, but closes it again after a few pages. The story no longer holds his attention. He tosses the book down, wishing he had thought to bring his iPod.

     They probably wouldn’t let me keep it, anyway, he thinks, glum. They’d take it away and hand me a tinfoil hat.

     Without anything else to distract him, the black thoughts come flooding in.

     My mom is dead.

     The words are mere syllables, lacking coherence or meaning in the midst of denial. He repeats the phrase over and over again in his mind, trying to make it make sense, until it becomes a dark, sing-song chant, like a nursery rhyme turned foul.

     Just one more test, sweetie. They need one more test. Then you can go home.

     She didn’t understand him, and they didn’t get along most of the time…but in a moment of clarity that is strikingly adult, he realizes none of that mattered. She was still his mom. She’d been the only person he could count on.

     Isaac, take your medicine. You’re mama’s brave boy, you need your medicine.

     He remembers how she cared for him when he was sick—and he’d been so sick, sometimes he thought he’d never know life outside the confines of a hospital room. The tests were the worst. His doctors assured him he would feel better, but the tests made him hurt, made him tired and weak.

     Just one more. Just one more shot, then we’ll get ice cream.

     His mother was always there, fussing over him, arguing with his doctors in her shrill, overbearing way. He hated it, hated how she fought and never won; her life was a constant battle, but she died without a victory to her name.

     …and now she’s gone.

     I killed her.

     My mom is dead, and I killed her.

     Shame rips through him, tearing at his insides, curling him into a fetal position in his sleeping bag. What kind of monster is he?

     An alien monster, his mind chimes in, cruelly. An alien freak.

     He turns, wrapping his slight arms around his body, trying to get warm, but the cold goes deeper than skin or bone.

     If you’re such a monster, Isaac, why did you save that woman today?

     It’s his father’s voice, so clear that he can’t help but sit up, head snapping back and forth in the small, dark tent. No spectral figures, no ghosts hovering…just himself and Mulder, still snoring.

     He settles back against the thin bedroll, ignoring the rocks jammed under his shoulder blades, listening to the sound of his blood moving through him like poisoned tar, the ungrateful churning of his heart against his ribs.

     He knows the FBI agents are keeping secrets, but he can’t focus enough to read their thoughts; truthfully, he can’t bring himself to care. He doesn’t understand why they seem to care, either.

     He knows what happens to orphans, especially older kids like him. He’ll spend the next six years shuffled along from one family to another, to one school after the next, until they set him free at eighteen to…to do what? Did they have a checkbox for “Extraterrestrial” between “Caucasian” and “Other” on the college application form?

     Even if they made it out of this alive, he has nothing to return to.

     No future. No hope.

     He tries to picture her face, but already the details are slipping away; all he sees is the darkness swallowing her, replacing her features with a black, angry mass. He can’t even bring himself to cry, to mourn the loss of the only person in the world who gave a damn about his sorry excuse for an existence.

     Because you’re a monster, Isaac.

     He curls in on himself with his hands tucked under his chin, the way he used to when he was small, and falls asleep to the inner echo of his own self-punishment.

     A monster.

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