“I’m sorry, Kevin. This thing is really solid.”
“But Mom, it hurts!”
“I know it hurts, but if you want me to do anything about it—”
Mom threw her hands in the air.
“I can’t do a thing unless you hold still. Although… maybe I could lance it.”
Kevin’s eyes widened.
“You want to stab this thing? On my neck?”
“Well, squeezing isn’t working. Besides, I don’t think that’s a pimple at all. It looks more like a carbuncle. How long has it been growing?”
Kevin stared into the mirror, at his neck, right above where it met the shoulder. The swelling was a little bigger around than a half-dollar, the flesh an angry red but for the white dot right in the center.
“ I swear there was nothing there a week ago!”
The reflection of Mom’s face bobbed as she nodded.
“There’s no way a pimple grows that big from nothing, not in less than a week. That looks like a carbuncle, except…”
She craned her neck to squint at it more closely.
“Did something bite you?”
Kevin leaned toward the mirror, trying to turn his neck toward the mirror while keeping his eyes on the glass as well, but found it impossible, no matter how hard he forced his eyes to the left.
“Bite me? What are you talking about?”
She extended a finger toward the side of his neck, but he shied away.
“Hold still and look.”
“You were going to poke it!”
“No, I was going to point to it. Look here.”
A palm met his back, straightening him up. She pointed to the white dot in the center of the throbbing mound.
“Right in the center of that dot, there’s a little dark spot, almost like a needle-mark. Or a stinger-mark.”
Her eyes met his in the mirror.
“You sure you didn’t get bit by something?”
Kevin shrugged, helplessly.
“I don’t know, Mom. It just hurts, and it’s getting ugly, and tonight’s the prom. What am I gonna do?”
“We’ll put some ice on it while I boil a needle.”
His eyes, already wide, nearly popped from their sockets.
“Boil a needle? For what?”
She studied the growth for a moment before answering, her mouth a thoughtful line.
“We numb it with ice while I sterilize a needle, then I’ll poke a hole in it and let some of the goo out.”
Kevin was backing away before she even finished speaking.
“Poke a hole in it? Are you insane? That’ll kill!”
“It already hurts. This’ll relieve some of the pressure that’s building in there and it’ll hurt less. Eventually.”
“Yes, and it’ll start to dry out and get better. Trust me.”
“No. After the ice wears off it’ll hurt pretty bad, right?”
“And it’ll have a hole in it. That sounds like it’ll be all leaky and gross.”
“It’ll leak some, yes, but that’s what you want. To drain it.”
He shook his head. Hard.
“No. It’s Prom night, Mom, and I can’t take Jessica with a gross, leaky neck thing. There’s going to be people. There’s going to be pictures. No way. Maybe after. Can we do it after?”
Mom looked dubious.
“If you want. But it’ll hurt all night, and it already looks… well… kind of…”
“Gross,” he finished.
“Yeah. Pretty gross.”
He looked back in the mirror. His reflection’s eyes were starting to look frantic.
“I can wear my collar high or something. Think that would work?”
“No.” She shook her head. “That would just hurt more. I’ll try some makeup, maybe cover it up some.”
“Makeup?” He wrinkled his nose at the thought as only a teen-aged boy can. “Think it’ll work?”
“Well, not much, anyway.”
~ ~ * * ~ ~
Guys in tuxes. Girls in gowns. Bright lights that still left the dance-floor dim. A harried photographer working by the entrance.
“Stand under the arbor and face each other. Now turn your heads to look this way.”
They did as instructed, smiling the whole time, though turning his head like that compressed the tight, hot mass growing on Kevin’s neck, making it throb.
“Nope,” the photographer said. “I’m not feeling it. Put your arms up around his neck, hon. You know, act like you like him. And you,” she added, indicating Kevin. “Smile like you mean it, okay?”
Fingers laced behind his head as Jess draped her arms about his neck. Her forearm pressed across the base of his pimple, or carbuncle, or whatever it was. He winced.
“Yeah,” she said with a grin. “Smile.”
She pulled him down suddenly, leaning in as if to kiss him. The added pressure sent a bolt of pain shooting through his neck-lump, the hurt so strong he nearly missed the faint pop. The side of his neck was suddenly hot and wet.
Jessica’s lip curled, eyes growing wide.
Oh God, he thought as she staggered away. The damn thing burst?
Jessica was staring at her hand, turned so he could not see.
Her shoulders began to jerk in time to the retching sounds tumbling from her mouth.
Jesus, did it burst on her hand?
She thrust her hand up for inspection. Kevin half-expected to see it spattered with thick, yellowish pus — but what he saw made his own stomach lurch.
He dashed for the restroom, people stumbling over themselves to get out of his way, assuming he was going to be sick. He burst into the white-tiled, fluorescent-filled room and staggered to the bank of sinks against the wall. He pulled aside his tuxedo collar and stared at the mound on the side of his neck. The white cap was gone, replaced by a hole like the caldera atop an active volcano.
Squirming blindly, crawling over each other in a sickening, endless mass, the maggots struggled out of the hole in his flesh and into the light.
Kevin began to scream.