In all of this, Eric hadn’t bothered going to class, or even getting on his computer or using his phone. He had missed all of his teachers’ messages, and the texts from his friends, wondering where he was, and what was wrong with him. On the rare occasion when Eric thought about the life outside of the house, he was a bit worried, but it seemed so…uninteresting to him. It caught him, and Mr. Fields off guard, when Raury and Sam arrived at the house, demanding to see him, and refusing to leave when Mr. Fields told them that Eric didn’t want to be disturbed. Still, it was clear that something was going on inside. Raury and Sam had never once seen Mr. Fields dressed in anything other than a full set of clothes, shoes included, in his house, and here he was standing, gut out, wearing just a pair of boxers, which it looked like he’d put on backwards.
They pushed their way past him and into the house, which was in disarray, something else that was very much unlike him. They shouted for Eric and raced upstairs, but his room was empty–all that there was, was the lingering scent of some odd smoke, an odor they both noticed through the rest of the house as well. Mr. Fields raced up after them, agitated and furious, trying to force the two young men out of the room and out of his house before they disturbed his Master. Neither one of them knew what to make of that, so they ignored it, and demanded to know where Eric was, and what they had done to him, before they called the cops.
Mr. Fields didn’t know what to do. It had been going so well, just him and his Master in the basement, but his mind was slowing and the idea of making a decision was paralyzing. He…wanted to be with his Master. Master would know what to do about these two strangers. Master would take care of everything. “Alright…Alright, he’s…down in the basement.”
“Whatever you freak, you probably killed him down there or something,” Raury said.
Mr. Fields shook his head, “I didn’t! Master is fine! He’s…We’re fine here, and you should just leave, but I can show you if you want to see for yourself.”
“Look, you keep saying Master–we’re looking for Eric.”
He nodded, “He…is my master.”
Raury and Sam exchanged a glance of confusion, and then looked back at Mr. Fields. “Alright, take us to him them, and we’ll see for ourselves whatever you’re talking about.”
So they followed him back downstairs, back around to the messy kitchen, a massive slab of roast out on the counter, and then down into the basement, where the smoke they’d smelled before was thick and cloying, weaving up the stairs as they descended. It was so thick at first that neither of them could make out much beyond blurry shapes in the room. Raury coughed and doubled over, fumbling for a wall, while Sam squinted, the smoke burning his eyes, but there, reclined on a couch in the center of the room was a person smoking a pipe, but it couldn’t be Eric, could it?
No, he was much too large, with a thick gut and broad shoulders. Eric was much smaller, the smallest of all of them in fact. He stepped closer, still not quite sure why he was approaching the stranger still, now that he knew it couldn’t be Eric, but something nagged at him. Something about the curve of the jaw, the hands in his naked lap. Now just a few feet away, he could make out the man’s face, and he felt a chill slide into his bones. It was Eric–or at least, whoever it was was wearing his friend’s face…sort of. Parts of it were distorted, like something seen through a curved piece of glass. The ears were small, his cheeks a bit pointy, most of the hair pulled from his head, that…disturbing rash covering half of his face. “Eric?” he asked, “Eric, what is going on? You’ve been missing class, and you never responded to any of our messages. Why…what in the hell is going on, Eric? Where have you been?”
Seeing his friends roused something inside him, and Eric felt a bit of his old self rise back to the surface. “Sam? I…” Eric didn’t know what he was supposed to say, though. None of this made any real sense, and yet it also seemed perfectly natural. But how could he even begin to explain what was happening to him, and what he was feeling? “I don’t know, I started smoking the pipe that Jamie gave me, and…and I know this must look so strange, but really, I’m fine. We’re both fine. You should go–don’t worry about me, just…just forget about it.”
“Are you fucking insane?” Raury said, coming closer, “Look at yourself, what’s wrong with your skin? And is that…what is that around your mouth? It looks like blood or something.”
“I just ate is all, I get…really hungry now.”
Sam and Raury looked at one another, and then Sam grabbed Eric by the hand and tried to pull him up from the couch. “We need to get you to the hospital, both of you. Something weird is going on and you’re acting crazy.”
Eric yanked his hand away from him. “No! Didn’t you hear what I said? We’re fine!”
“Yeah, we’re both fine, we want to be here,” Mr. Fields said, still standing by the stairs. “Look, you’re…you’re upsetting him, and it’s almost time for his dinner, so I think it’s time for you to leave.”