Cheryl Godwin inspected her full length mirror's reflection one last time. Shoulder-length brick-red hair: check. White T-shirt with happy sun on it: check. Blue denim shorts, check. Pink Converse All-Star high-tops, white ankle socks, and purple purse with cell phone, wallet, and keys: check, check, and check with check, check, and check. She nodded, with a smile. She looked good, and she was set.
Zipping out her bedroom, she bounced down the stairs through the kitchen. "Bye, Mumzy," she chirped. "I'm out!"
"Not without breakfast, young lady," her mother intoned.
"Aw, Mom!" she whined. "I wanna go enjoy my morning and summer before work and college kick in!"
"It'll still be there after you eat, Cherry. Sit."
She turned to the kitchen table. "Daddyyyy...?"
Her father put down the newspaper, stood up, and looked between the two. "How about grabbing something to go?"
"Great!" beamed Cherry. And she darted to the fridge, grabbed a half-pint skim milk box, an orange, and an apple. Then she reached up and hugged her dad's neck. "Luv ya, Daddy. You too, Mumzy, bye now!" And she dashed out.
Cherry's mom put her hands on her hips and shot her husband a withering glare. "She's skin and bones, Raymond!"
Raymond hugged his wife. "Oh, she is NOT. Five foot two and one-ten is NOT a waif." He gave her a peck on the cheek. "She's fine. Besides, something in me says that she's got a BIG day ahead of her."
Cherry jogged lightly, not exerting, but definitely at a good clip. She didn't push it that hard because she knew her small legs wouldn't cover that much ground anyway. No point getting hot and sweaty needlessly, she figured. She was just going to flit about in the park and enjoy it until 10, then hang around at the mall, buy some new clothes for the new Italian Restaurant job, then report for work this afternoon.
Then down the street, she heard a sobbing grunt accompanying what sounded like a 230 pound sack of wet cement splatting on the sidewalk. Concerned she dashed a little faster toward the noise past the trees...
...and she saw a tallish, beefy goth chick tormenting a short, fat guy with glasses and a plaid button-down short sleeved shirt, flat on his double-wide bottom on the sidewalk.
"Scientist, huh?" the goth girl jeered. Her black boot's pointy toe poked him in the tummy, making it wobble like gelatin. "What, your belly jiggle is the first ever perpetual motion machine?"
"Stop it!" the guy squealed.
"Stop it," Gothy mocked back.
"I agree," Cherry snapped as she stepped up between them. "Stop it!"
The goth girl blinked. "Hey, I wasn't talking to you, girl."
Ignoring her, Cherry offered a hand to the guy. He stared for a second, puzzled, but then took it. And leaning back with her whole body, Cherry grunted, hefted, and helped him to his feet.
Gothy put her hands on her hips. "Hey, mind your own business. We're just having fun."
Cherry still didn't acknowledge her. "That so, buddy? Are you having any fun?" He stood silently, apparently under the shock of a pretty girl actually being nice to him. And before Gothy could answer, Cherry asked "Hey, wanna grab a coffee or snack at the mall to think that over?"
That snapped him to attention. "Uh... sure."
And with that, they started marching over to the Capital Galleria.
The boy waddled, and hitched his pants back up to his belly button. "Uh, just get me to the mall; I'll be okay, I... sorta left my cash at home."
Cherry cocked her head as she walked. "I didn't ask... uh, never caught your name."
"Well, Doug, I didn't ask if you had any money, I asked if you wanted a snack or coffee. Do ya?"
"Uh... yeah, I guess so, uh... what was your name?"
She smiled brightly. "Everybody calls me Cheery Cherry." And she cranked up the grin to eleven. "Don't know why."
As Doug softly chuckled, Cherry felt a shadow behind her. Turning, she saw the goth girl was tailing them. "Uh, that's okay," she called back. "I got him now, I'll take care of him, you don't have to worry about him anymore."
The dark-haired girl didn't answer back. She merely glowered. They kept going toward the mall... and a couple of blocks later, Cherry checked behind her. Still being followed.
"Uh, hey," she said with a more serious edge, "people might get the idea you're trying to stalk or harass us. I don't want you to get in trouble with the police, so maybe you can work on your tan or... something."
Gothy glared sternly. "It's a free country. I can go where I like. And you can't stop me."
Cherry turned to Doug. "Can we walk a little faster?" she whispered.
He wiped a little sweat off his gleaming brow. "If I have to," he muttered.
"Think of a free frozen Itali-cino waiting for you," she offered.
And yes, that turned on Doug's turbos, and he sped up to her cruising speed.
As Cherry and Doug strode into the restaurant, the manager peered over his glasses at them. "You're way early," he said.
Cherry's boyfriend Jack strode up. "Hiya hiya, welcome to Italia! Italia! What can we do for ya?"
"Could you get us a table, me a cuppa drip, fat free cream, and Doug something to drink?" Cherry asked. And as Jack ushered Doug to a table and got his order, she discreetly told the manager what was going on. He promptly saw the goth girl hanging out at Hot Topic, but fairly obviously staking out. Cherry sat down while he quietly picked up the phone and called security, spying on her in the reflection of a framed picture's glass pane.
Just when she saw a uniformed guard orbiting in Gothy's zone, Jack brought Cherry's coffee and Doug's hot chocolate in to-go cups. "Don't worry, boss told me what's up," he said quietly. "She's not going to give you any grief." He then tilted his head. "You know, you might be able to stand up to her a bit better if you worked out or exercised. Ever think about taking up a sport?"
Cherry flinched, and Doug scowled. "No frickin' way. The jockstrap community dumps on me enough when I stay AWAY from 'em."
Cherry put her elbows on the table, clasped her hands and leaned forward. "Well, how about something that's more individual? Y'know, weightlifting, boxing, a martial art, that sort of thing?"
Doug shook his head. "I don't have the bod for it."
"Oh, come on. If I had a buck for every person that 'didn't have the bod for it,' I'd be Donelle Trump." She peered at Gothy in the reflection. The guard had moved on, but another was making a sweep. "I mean, hey, look. Bitty, bag o' bones, little thing here. Five foot two, and one-ten in clothes, sopping wet. But I exercise. And I stood up to Tall, Pale, and Gruesome."
"Yeah," Jack put in, pointing to Doug's belly, "you get all that down there, up there...." And he pointed to Doug's upper body. "Man, you'd be a hoss."
Cherry turned to Jack. "Cork it," she silently mouthed. Back to Doug: "But hey, I can do it, and you can do it too, or anything, if you just give yourself a chance." She spread out her hands. "C'mon, stand up to that skank. Go out for the team. Try out for the play, and go for the lead." She folded her hands and kept quiet for a second. "Ask her out."
She then saw that the Goth girl had seen the first guard come back, and correctly concluded that they were on her like ugly on an ape. With a huff, their stalker turned and stewed out of the shop, and out of the mall's side exit.
Doug peered at her. "If I asked you out on a date, would you go out with me?"
She stared back awkwardly, not sure how to answer that. Jack was about to say something, but Cherry's subtle finger up told him to be quiet.
Doug glared. "Yeah. That's what I thought." He folded his arms. "Already got a boyfriend. His name's Andy Bodyelse. Just like all the other girl 'friends' I talk to." He got up. "I outgrew summer camp snipe hunts years ago."
Cherry planted a hand on the table. "Look, Doug, you're being unfair, and with all respect, you're starting to act like a jerk!"
He leaned in, nostrils flared. "Why not?! Everybody else is!" He snagged a cup, and slammed two bucks on the table.
Jack started, "Dude, that stuff's on the house--"
"Use the cash for toilet paper, then! I don't care!" And Jack and Cherry watched him storm off.
Cherry shook her head sadly. "Great. I didn't know what to say to that guy." And she gave her beau a look, as if to say, you neither.
Jack muttered, "I was gonna offer to look around and hook him up with someone else."
On that, she sighed, wishing she'd let Jack speak. "Maybe if he comes back. I better buy some work threads for tonight, 'kay?" And she gave his shoulder a squeeze, and turned back to the other cup. Then she realized: "Uh oh... he took my coffee."
"Aw. Want me to fix you another?"
"Nah, don't really need it. Be back for work this afternoon, sweetie."
And Jack grabbed the hot chocolate to dump it as she set out for a shoe store.
Stepping through the back door of the long-forgotten, abandoned Down Home Grocery and Gas, Shawna Kitts marched to the store room and sat down on her hassock-sized carton. Striking her lighter, she lit the votive candles to set the mood, and stewed.
She perked her ears. Shawna was what her mother called her. Shakti was what she called herself, what she wanted to be called. Gothy, Emo Chick, That Marylin Manson Wannabe Dressed in Black, and other stuff too nasty for prime time TV were what folks actually called her.
Only one other... being ever called her that. "Yes?"
Shakti, dear... why do you sit there just sulking?
"That stupid Dougie can't take a joke. Stupid mall. Stupid security... and that stupid, happy-crappy Cherry."
Well, are you going to just sit there, be mad, and do nothing, or are you going you going to do something about it?
Heh. Glad you asked.
His streams of tears long since dry, Doug trudged over his home: a yellow, typical wood frame two-story house. He wished the basement had an outside entrance, but he figured he couldn't have everything. Just as long as... aw dangit, his mom's car was there. Entering the kitchen through the garage, he took off his shoes and tried to tread as lightly as his dumpy, heavy legs would let him.
"Dougie?" his mother called from the laundry room. "Is that you?"
He sighed. Not lightly enough. "Yeah, Mom, I'm back," he called back.
"Whadja do today, Dougie?" she asked chirpily.
He hated being called that. "Took a walk in the park and hung out in the mall."
"Ah, good," Mom called back. "Glad for once you didn't spend all day down in the cellar. Not healthy, you know. You didn't buy any junk food down at the mall, though, did you?"
He felt the now-cold cup. Hot cocoa's a drink, not a food, he rationalized. "No, Mom. Going down there now."
Satisfied with her silence, he opened the door next to the fridge, hit the light switch, and padded down the stairs. His bitter anger downgraded to a cold cynical sourness. Hitching up his jeans back over his belly, he snarled. "'But hey, I can do it, and you can do it too,'" he mimicked. Sniffling, he wiped his nose on his sleeve. "Miss Little Perfect, Goodie Goodie, I'm So Perfect, Never Get Poop on My Shoes... she's got no clue what it's like. Why should SHE get all the luck in the looks lottery!?" It almost made him as ticked at her as he was at Gothy.
He arrived at the bottom, nearby the circuit breaker, reached down, and hit a hidden switch at knee level. This powered up the lab. Electron microscope energized, computers brought out of sleep, DNA cultures lit, samples prepped... quite a set-up that would get the CDC's covetous attention. He chuckled. It was amazing what you could prep under your parents' noses with stolen credit card numbers, eBay, Amazon.com, time, and quiet patience. He raised his cup from Italia! Italia! poured it in a beaker, and got ready to reheat it over a Bunsen burner in true mad scientist style...
Then he saw what he had wasn't cocoa. "Huh. It's that girl's coffee."
And with that... he had a brainstorm. He grinned. A Category 5 brain hurricane.
He turned to the genetic identifier, and set the coffee beaker into a centrifuge compartment. Then he spoke into the mic.
"Isolation search. Target: saliva."
As the stuff spun super fast, he rubbed his hands. "I WAS gonna try this on Goth Chick, but never got that hair sample. It's OK, though. I could use a trial run first... and Ms. Everybody-Oughta-Be-Like-Me could use a walk in MY shoes." He cracked his knuckles. "Let's see how well SHE handles being big and heavy and fat!"
And he stopped. "No. Better idea."
Shakti sat outside the chalk pentagram with arcane markings around it, and cell phone with Cherry's sneaked picture in the middle. Basking in the votive candles' eerie light all around, she heeded the words the Voice whispered to her, and chanted them aloud lowly.
"Forces dark and spirits black
Once again I call you back
In this circle, this small fool
Earns my vengeance swift and cruel
Take her body and her flesh
With your talons mold and mesh
Make her thin form thick and round
Let it cling to every pound
Strike her down with hunger great!
Make her gobble ev'ry plate!
Make them lay upon her figure!
Make her grow yet bigger, bigger!
Folds of flesh upon her side
Blowing it up grand and wide.
Take that belly oh so flat
Bury it with walls of fat!
That cute chin? Well, that will morph
Into second, third and fourth!
On a couch shall she sit higher
Butt big as a Mack truck tire.
In her thighs we stuff, stuff, stuff!
Oak tree thick is not enough!
Jowls so thick she cannot talk
Legs so stressed she cannot walk
Body too wide for a door
And we still want more! More! MORE!
Make her body grow in size
Right before our very eyes
See her bloat like a balloon
So that we all very soon
See that she's so ghastly gross
With her body growing close
Till this blimp girl's one vast ball
Several hundred feet so tall!
Finally her limit's hit
She can't blow up one more bit.
Her stretched skin just plain can't take it;
Best run now, or you won't make it.
Those close to her share her doom
For at last she goes KABOOM!
And that sickening, sweet shrew
Is a widespread splotch of goo.
She's spilt Cherry Jubilee!
Spread all 'round for all to see.
And we all will shriek YIPPEE!!!"
Just then... WHOOOSH! Flames all around shot up from the candles clear to the ceiling. They held their level like focused blowtorches, then reared down gradually, back down to the wicks.
Shakti stared. Then she tugged on her collar. "Whoa. Didn't see THAT coming."
GPS/GENETIC DATABASE INDEX CALIBRATED
GEOGRAPHIC PARAMETERS SET
Doug rubbed his hands together. True, he had made a mistake when he popped open that jar of nanites in Hot Topic at the mall weeks before. He hadn't reckoned that more people went there than just the Goth set, like the guy delivering the goods, and that the money would get "infected" too. He'd been getting signals from Bangor, Maine to Bakersfield, California. But he kept the data on all the genomes that they scanned and recorded for him, and he hung onto each one; they might come in handy one day. Right now, he focused on the biggest concentration within the mall proper. It was simply a numbers game, and he needed just one to win it.
Of course, he had to get an original sample from Gothy, but he'd work on that later.
Bing! The monitor then read: POSITIVE ID MADE. And it showed a graphic representation of the DNA strand matching what he found in the coffee... and a location in the mall's clothing row: The Look.
He smirked. Hope they carry 3XL sizes or higher, he thought. Or thick veils. When her face gets all leathery, square-jawed, pointy-featured, and masculine, she's gonna need it. He then switched over to the nanite command system, and typed in the commands to speed up Cherry's metabolism, amino acid and protein processing, and "runner's high" endorphin production. Complete with a big spike on that last one.
"Ha. Let's see how cheery and Pollyanna you are when Andy sees the new you... and drops you like a hot pan."
Dropping the hangers, Cherry tumbled over in the dressing room and fell down to the floor. A saleswoman rushed up just outside. "Miss! Are you all right?"
She staggered up. "Yeah... I'm sorry, I just felt like... oh, I don't know, like an electric shock or something."
"Are you all right, miss? Should we call 911?"
Cherry picked up her shopping bag with her old clothes and sneakers. "It's all right... I'm good. I'm fine."
She swung the door open, and the saleswoman stared at her with furrowed brow. "Are you sure?"
"I'm not going to sue anyone, okay?" Cherry reassured. "Relax. Oh, and the blouse and slacks? I'll take them."
Much more amenable to that, the clerk then hurried over to the cash register as Cherry fished in her purse for the wallet and credit card. Her stomach sloshed a bit. It was very strange, she felt so hungry, and yet crazily energized. Like her body couldn't make up its mind on whether to hit the gym or Italia! Italia!'s buffet.
She shook her head. Job first. She just hoped she didn't devour the customers' dishes while bringing them out, though.
To Be Continued...