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Molting Season

There he is in the tub. Note the pores on his nose. Note the scarred cheek, the breakout here and there, angry ripe things red with a dot of white all ready to burst. Note the long hair, which I tried to wash last night; I’d put his head under the faucet, let the cold water flow. Part of me wishing for some response, part of me dreading it, the latter rewarded by the body’s silence. The unpleasant, oily feel of the old me’s skin. The limp yet still-alive warmth of him.

With soap and water I’d gotten the grease out of his hair. My fingers running through those locks, noting the familiarity of it, the shape of his head, the bumpiness that is mine too—how I’d woken up—there he’d been—there on the bed, the old me, the hideous thing that it was, nothing but a husk. How I noted the sameness as I toweled his hair dry, and blew it warm with the hair-dryer. How I nestled a pillow under his head, remembering the neck-pain that plagued me back then. How I hate him.

Note the beauty of the new me on the mirror. A handsome jaw, a proud nose. Eyes that pierce. Black hair which I’ve kept short on a weekly basis. A clean face. No scars, no breakouts. A handsome pale face. The new me, I practically glow under the light.

I am beautiful, though weak. It seems strength must be attained. But it feels doable now. I picture it: there in the gym, or at home, lifting weights. One by one the dumbbells perhaps, or a deadlift, the muscles straining, I certainly won’t skip leg day. I can see it now, my legs, you know, the definition of it, like cables stretched taut, from ground to limb to body. The pleasure of hard work. The pain of it, replaced later by a feeling of achievement. I remember it—I used to run—a few years ago—the labored breathing, the sweat, the feel of speed. I should do that again. I do need better shoes. Some new clothes. The old clothes no longer fit this new me. The colors and fit are all wrong, a little too baggy, a little too lose. I lift them up sometimes, look at what’s printed on them, think: that was me. That is the thing in the tub. The old me. Back to him I go. Again the stray thought—perhaps I should end it here, not me but him, not me but him, but I cannot, the thought horrifies me even as the logic of the situation plays out and I know I should, but I can’t. It’s me or him. Is he breathing still? Does he need another wash? Did he pee himself again in the tub?

A quick glance shows that he didn’t. With a flashlight in hand I get on my knees beside the tub. I click it on and direct it at his face and white light exposes the little valleys and craters that mar his face.

I am on my knees beside the tub, leaning in a little, and there below is the old me and his face is a ruinous thing and I take a deep breath, a surgeon ready to work. I am doing the old me a favor. I am as always a little terrified of the old me. Perhaps the old me will wake up one day. He will open his eyes. He will say: who are you? What then? What do I say? He will say: what are you doing in my home? And what will I say? What can I say? What can I do? What must I do? The inevitability of it. Why do I not take care of it now? The old me, just put a pillow over his face. Push down.

Let’s say I do this. What do I do then with the body? This body, the current body, the old me, it doesn’t rot—it is still alive, for now. A few days it’s been, and I keep it alive by feeding it milk and congee—if I stick a spoon in its mouth it sucks away the food, like a vacuum cleaner, its mouth a hose.

I clean off its excesses with the shower, run it hot with soap and water, and when it’s all gone I towel his body down, the sad thing that it is, that was mine, I can’t help it—I towel his legs and the pat his crotch dry and the back and the chest and the nape of his neck, my neck—the hair still too long, the fan is always on due to the smell, and again I think: it would be easier to simply dispose of the old me. Not with a gun, oh no. The pillow to the face. Or let the tub fill, and simply flip the body so the face is in the water. Or with a razor, slit the wrists. I will not be cruel. I will be swift. But the body—bury it? Where? As always it’s TV with the answers. Some sort of chemical, like bleach. God bless TV shows. The thought of it, it’s horrifying. The body dissolving there, the old me gone just like that, the thought of it. It reminds me of the little debate my dad had with me once, how he wanted to be buried whole, not cremated, and I understand his reservations now, despite me still being alive here as the new me. The thought of the old me just being destroyed like that, it’s a very uncomfortable feeling. Even now as I look at him I can’t help but think that I’m looking at a mirror.

Better to focus on the small things. For now I locate a particularly bad-looking blackhead, it looks overstuffed, like fillings about to ooze out of a burrito on the left side of his nose. I set the loop of the tool on top and there I gently push down and with a bit of resistance it holds until it breaks and there it seeps out in a little waxen lump, I feel the cartilage give under my strength, and I push down and down until nothing remains. I feel a warmth that I don’t want to investigate too much, just a certain sort of mental glow, and I locate the next one and pop that too.

I get another haircut. It had usually been a monthly thing for me, sometimes bi-monthly, occasionally tri-monthly, yet now I can’t help it. When I had first woken up to find myself detached from the old me, I’d gotten a new trim that day, and I’ve gone back now, the feeling is impulsive, and satisfying that impulse is satiating, like I’d just had a good meal. I wonder about what to eat; the old standbys still appeal to me. I could fry up some spam maybe. Or make a salad? I’d bought two heads of lettuce for that purpose yet they sit uncut and unwashed in the fridge.

When I get back home the first thing I do is check on the old me. I pour body wash over the old me and run the shower hot. One day, I think to myself, I will use the shower here for me, the new me, not the old me. Instead of just relying on the shower at the gym I will shower at home. But the old me must go.

Again I pat him dry.

The hair bothers me. From the kitchen I retrieve a pair of too-big scissors and I start trimming, haphazardly, not bothering with a comb or anything. Snip, snip, it’s satisfying. I like haircuts—I just never got them much because it was too painful to sit there in front of the giant barbershop mirror. Sitting there knowing the thing you see on the other side is the same thing that all the others see. Imagine the forced civility from the person of the barber. What would I do in their position? To have the thing, the old me, there in their chair. Better yet to slit its throat than to deal weekly with its hair. That’s what I’d think. But not anymore. Today I sat there and it was fine.

I keep cutting. I lop away big clumps of knotted uncombed locks and the old me looks a little better when I’m done. They lie in sodden lumps around the body and with some toilet paper I pick them up, one clump at a time, and deposit them in the trash and when most of the bigger chunks are gone I run the shower again. Now I look at the stubble on its cheeks and chins and the Norelco starts buzzing again and when I’m done there I remember how I must always specify that the back of my neck should be shaven and the old me is certainly full of hair there, a light straggling growth that comes away easily in a satisfying fashion.

I get the scissor again, and remembering how my barber does it I comb up a clump of hair and cut it evenly with the blades and chop-chop I keep going until the hair looks neat—and with the same comb I fashion it a little. I hate him a little less now as I look at him, it, it looks somewhat okay now, under this lighting.

I feed it afterward. With a straw I tip the cup of milk into its mouth and slowly it drains and a bit of it dribbles out past its lips. I wipe away the dribble and when I’m done feeding it I get the toothbrush and open his mouth and I scrub away at his teeth, the little pocket of cavity on the bottom back row too, and I remember the sick taste of my own tongue, and I brush away at that too and the body, it gags, reflexes kicking in even as the brain slumbers. I stick the shower head close to its mouth and let the water foam over before I turn the head a little to the side to let the rinsing wash out.

Perhaps I had been waiting, waiting for something to happen, something to just resolve itself, hoping, praying, as I always did, the procrastination not having been left behind with the old me, no no, it’s never so easy. To admit to myself: I had waited for the old me to die, but had been too much of a coward to let it die fast, so I had fed it, I had washed it, I had cut its hair, shaved its beard, brushed its teeth, treated its pores—as I daub tea tree oil on its cheeks—that’s when it opens its eyes. The eyelids are always much too fast. They snap shut and open again before you register their initial closing. That’s what it is, a blink. The eyes behind them still rather bloodshot.

The mouth opens. It closes. It opens again. Some sound issues out.

I am, during all this, rather terrified.

It tries to get up but there’s no strength in those legs. It starts crying.

I finish watching a movie knowing as I’ve always known that something is wrong with me. I cannot expend pity on the old me; no doubt the old me would have done the same for me, the new me, and I know this with the conviction of someone who knows the other completely. As the credits roll I listen for the old me there in the bathroom but all I hear is the fan. I find myself getting—find myself getting up—discovering how it moves seemingly of its own volition, not me, I’m thinking, perhaps the old body rouses some paternal instinct in me—regardless, I walk to the bathroom.

I open the door, wary. Logically, I know there is no way the old me can resist. I really should have killed him sooner. It would have been a mercy.

I remember then that I’ve been pushing off a call to the bank for about a week. Last week there was a charge I didn’t know about, not from me, from another state entirely. I had noted it, had intended on calling the next day, but on the next day it had become a thing to be done yet again in the next, and so on, until today, tonight, and I will call tomorrow for certain, I will definitely do it, after all is it not too late tonight? No bank would be open at this time. It is dark outside—I can do it tomorrow with no worries.

I stare at him, groaning in the tub, he a personification of the phone-call that must be made. I can do it tomorrow. Tomorrow, he might be dead. Dead, the thought of it, it makes me—happy? Terrified, perhaps. The thought of him dying is both. It toes the line, hops from one side to another. In the grip of one I hesitate, in the grip of the other I help him dress—that is, I dress him—his old clothes that I’d been too lazy to remove from the closet, the sweatpants, the black shirts. He moves a little, which only hinders the effort. He tries to raise his arms, and they shake just from that effort.

Getting him up takes much longer. In the middle I pause and leave and when I return an hour later he asks for more water so I give it to him and he has recovered enough by now, with me hauling him up he manages to stand.

I help him to my room. Or his room. Honestly I had not spent much time in it. It had depressed me. It was always dark; the only time it was bright—due to the orientation and placement of its single window—was near dusk. Otherwise, it was always in the shade, and could be reduced to near pitch-black darkness with the thick purple curtain. He—I—had kept it that way much of the time. The computer we had built—the case a cheap black Fractal Design with no optical drives—that had always hummed through the layer of dust caking its fans.

I help him sit on the chair. He’s so weak that when he leans over to turn the PC on, he stays like that, he can’t orient his body back to normal sitting posture. As the screen comes to life I must help him up and I hold onto his shoulders as his fingers—with enough life in them at least—tap out the password. In a few seconds he’s back in action.

I have a life to live! Something I have not lived. Now perhaps I will never live it. Do I kill him? Kill him, then retake my life—I can feel it sucking out, just by his presence alone.

As I do this, as I ponder this, his stomach rumbles.

“Are you hungry?”

Of course he is.

We go out for some Whataburger.

I drive. He sits there on the passenger seat. He keeps telling me that he is hungry, that he has never been hungrier. It’s only as I make a left turn down Broadway that I realize he’s not been talking at all. He’s very silent—he shudders a little. He picks at his skin. He looks ill. And he has not been speaking; his gaze is fixed firmly out the window. Where had the voice come from? The answer is obvious: me. Why had I brought him out? I could have gone out alone. He looks really sick. But the thought of leaving him alone there—it was maddening. Not necessarily out of concern; it was just the thought that maybe if he was there I’d return home a stranger. The locks changed, you knock on the door, and out peers someone you don’t know. Why didn’t I kill him? But the thought of it is horrible. I cannot dwell on it. I should have done it. But I didn’t.

At the drive-thru there’s a line of five cars. I ask him what he wants and naturally he wants the number four, just like me, with bacon. I ask for a diet coke and he asks for sweet tea.

A car advances and we advance a car’s length forward. There beneath the white light of the drive-thru lane I notice it—a bit of hair starting to grow again between his brows. I can’t help it. It’s like they’re growing between my own brows, right above the ridge of the nose where it sinks in a little.

“So,” I ask, knowing the answer. “So.”

“Yeah?” Looking away from me. I hate him because it’s this profile—of myself—is so hideous, angles you’d never take yourself, not in front of the mirror or framed in your phone.

“What’s the plan? You’ll have plenty of time, you know. I’m going to keep working—keep working out—get better at, like, life, you know?”

“That’s cool,” he mumbles.

“But what about you? I mean, you’re me.” I grin at him. Lips peeling back from teeth. “You must have big plans. I mean, I did. So we do, right? I’ll pay for the bills—you can do anything you want.”

I know what he wants. Give me a hole and I’d crawl into it, make it my own. Give me a hole with a nice pc and a good internet connection and I could—could have—lived there forever. So he wants to say, no doubt, that he wants something like that. A life spent playing videogames and whatnot. Something that I too want still, a little.

But I want him to say it.

“Come on, just say it.”


I poke the side of his head. No reaction, save for his terrified eyes staring directly forward. I poke him again. I tap now, with the palm of my hand. It’s enough to force his head against the window, a light thud and a bounce. Still he refuses to look at me. The lips sealed shut. I recognize it—I know what to look for, the shaking, the shuddering.

I push again. Bounce that head off the glass.

“Say it,” I say.

But he doesn’t say a thing.

I bounce that head off the glass again.

It’s like bouncing a basketball off the floor.

The way it just jumps back into your hand.

I keep bouncing that head against the glass. And he never says a goddamn thing.

About the Author

J.B. Park’s stories have appeared in Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and more. Find him online at