Silver tobacco fields streak by under a cloudless night sky. The road stretches on ahead, flat and straight. Hot air whistles in through the cracked window. My eyes flit between the rearview mirror, the speedometer, the road. Only a few miles left before the unmarked turn-off to Hooch’s trailer.
The euphoria has guttered out, leaving jitters, teeth-chattering — and this other thing.
“It’s gettin’ worse, Scott,” Jason moans. “Can’t feel my fingers.”
I glance over at his shadowy form, the skin glistening.
“Can’t flex ’em either.”
“You’re gonna be okay,” I lie. Eyes to the rearview. Faraway headlights spark out of the darkness behind us. Check my speed, maintain my lane. “We’re gonna find him. Gonna find out what the fuck he gave us.”
Those lights are growing.
“Burns like fire — like ice.”
Jason goes quiet. Whimpering, but quiet.
I hold my breath as the car closes the distance. Difficult to tell the make at night, but something about the headlights…
“Cop,” Jason whispers.
“Flag him down. I need a doctor.”
“No way. I stashed the half in my cigarette pack. If you want to stuff it up your ass, okay—”
“You said you’d flush it!” he shouts, an eerie resonance doubling his voice — like the hum of a glass harp. He bursts into a harmonic fit of coughing. Something dark and wet sprays across the dash. “Shit, Scott.”
“Calm down,” I say, eyes glued to the rearview. He’ll pass. He’s got to.
“What the hell’s happening to me?”
Blue lights flood the interior of the Mustang. Everything freezes, the blue vanquishing the engine’s growl and the whip of heat around us.
Jason stirs, starts screaming, fingers splayed out in front of his face. The things are sapphire, sparkling with the mazy dances of reflection and refraction.
Then the headlights shift. The cop car zooms past.
In the darkness the screams peter out — maybe he’s fainted — then the dirt road materializes on the right. I slam the breaks and spin the wheel. Too quick.
The world somersaults in a series of jarring flash frames. We jolt to a stop upside-down, tobacco creeping in through the windows. I choke down a broken tooth and, groaning, bang up against my door.
It falls off the hinges. The dome light flickers on.
I can make out Jason’s corpse beside me, his arms and one leg shattered into a trove of crystal, his face a fissured quartz geode, oozing a glowing pink substance onto the ceiling.
Even with my nose fried, I get a whiff of the stuff, of what he’s become — several hundred thousand dollars-worth of that poison Hooch is hustling.
I squirm out of the wrecked car, check my piece, my head, then take off towards the distant lights of Hooch’s trailer.
Halfway there the first flash of fire washes over my right arm and leg — a frigid burning, as Jason described it. If I’d been the one that sampled the crystal when we’d come here earlier, it would’ve been me to learn that first.
Sweat-soaked, heart hammering, I reach the base of the wooden steps leading up the side, pausing to listen through an open window — NASCAR rerun. Sprint lightly up the steps to the entrance and kick in the steel-skinned, foam door. Hooch is slouching on the sofa among a ruin of Little Debbie wrappers — half-naked, baseball cap pulled down over his eyes, cigarette dangling off his lips.
I raise the Glock.
“The fuck, dude?” He barely glances in my direction before turning back to NASCAR.
“What is it?” I snarl through clenched teeth.
“Seeds.” He stretches back, hands behind his head, grinning. “Sold out now. Bunch’a rich kids made my night. Goin’ to a party to spread the love.”
A Colt Python appears in his hands. I stumble sideways, crashing into the television set, knocking off several shots. One explodes into his knee, the other evacuates the back of his head.
Ears ringing, I struggle to my feet — then scream with the paralyzing agony of boiling liquid surging over my limbs.
The wave recedes.
The ringing in my ears dies.
With the television fritzed out, I become aware of an electrical crackling coming from the back of the trailer.
I limp down the hallway towards the sound. A white light glows around the edges of the bedroom door. With a rigid hand I shove it open.
No bedroom, just a gaping slash in space, a vista overlooking a mountainous landscape of faceted neon cut under a milky sky.
“Seeds for terraforming your planet,” a placid voice says.
I reel around to find Hooch lumbering towards me. His hat has been blown off with the top of his skull. Now, a flap of rubbery skin hangs down, peering at me from behind it a pink head, mouthless, its eyes rippling patches of fuzz. A pair of smaller arms have unfurled from Hooch’s flabby ones. They’re training the Colt on me.
I aim for the new head, but my hand fails me. Strange geometries are squaring off the fingertips, turning them lucent.
Hooch fires. The shot crashes into my gun arm, and a shimmer of diamond needles pelts my face and chest. My gun dangles on a crooked icicle that was once a finger. I snatch it with my stiffening left hand and fire. Two shots go wild. The third lands, the new head vanishing with a POP! of white liquid. Hooch’s body collapses in stages.
I steady myself on the edge of the portal, wracked with pain. When it ebbs, I explore my ruin of a face, but my dumb fingers convey nothing.
Need to find someone, anyone, tell them what’s happening before I’m gone.
I stagger out of the trailer and descend to the grass — by now my left arm fully crystalized — and when I gaze out towards the totaled Mustang and the surrounding tobacco, all I see is a glowing frostwork of crystal.
Tim Boiteau’s fiction has appeared in various places in print and online, including three other stories at EDF. He lives in Michigan with his wife and son.