BOYS, BEASTS & MEN by the award-winning Sam J. Miller preview: “When Your Child Strays from God”
In celebration of the release of Sam J. Miller’s debut collection BOYS, BEASTS & MEN, Tachyon presents glimpses from the new collection.
The very best horror in all its ghoulish, glorious humanity.—Deborah Miller, two-time winner of the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award (and also Sam’s mom)
When Your Child Strays from God
Sam J. Miller
Everyone says it but no one believes it: attitude makes all the difference. People parrot the words but the words don’t penetrate, not really, not down to the core. That’s why Carolina Bugtuttle has all those lines on her face, always scowling when I reach for that third or fourth cookie after Sunday worship, always emailing me LOW FAT RECIPES and MIRACLE DIETS peppered with those godforsaken, soulless smiley-face things. That’s why she’s always stressed out about six hundred things that don’t have a smidge to do with her. Because she has a bad attitude. She needs to worry less about my weight and more about that degenerate son of hers, if you ask me, but you didn’t, so.
My smile isn’t just on the surface. That’s why I knew, Wednesday morning, when I woke up and Timmy still hadn’t come home, when I checked my phone and he still hadn’t replied to my texts and voicemails, why I knew I had the strength to go find him—wherever he was. And bring him home. And get started on a new installment of The Deacon’s Wife for the church e-bulletin. Write it raw, rough, naked, curses and gossip intact, more a letter to my sweet, wise husband Pastor Jerome than anything else, so he can go through it with scissors and a scalpel before sending it out to the four-thousand-strong flock of the Grace Abounding Evangelical Church.
What To Do When Your Child Strays from God.
Timmy’s rebellion had spent a long time percolating. By the time Timmy vanished I had seen the signs—seen him in Facebook photos with That Whore Susan; seen him sketching the Spiderman logo that webheads were so fond of—and had armed myself with knowledge, courtesy of the Internet. I knew more about spiderwebbing than any God-fearing mother has any business knowing. I had logged enough hours on websites and wikis and forums to bring me to the attention of a couple dozen law enforcement agencies, places Carolina Bugtuttle would never in hell have spent a single second. Not even if it meant the difference between saving her son’s soul and losing him forever.
I climbed the steps slowly, aware of the sin I was about to commit. I paused at the door to his room.
Let me tell you something about the bedrooms of teenage boys. They are sovereign nations, islands of liberty hedged in on all sides by brutal tyranny. To cross the threshold uninvited is an act of war. To intrude and search is a crime meriting full-scale thermonuclear response: neutron-bomb silence, mutually-assured temper tantrums.
So I did not enter Timmy’s room lightly, and panic seized me in the instant that I did. Fear stopped me in my tracks, threatened to turn me around. The smell of stale laundry made my head swim—the bodily odors that meant my little boy had become a man. I summoned him up as the smiling boy he had been before puberty caused him to declare independence, defy us as righteously and violently as America spurned its colonial overlords.
I searched swiftly, joylessly. Praying, somehow, that I’d get caught. Desperate for him to come home, no matter what the cost to me might be.
And that’s when I realized I was in over my head. I missed him, my boy, my son, the obedient, wide-eyed one who loved his father and loved me—as opposed to the cruel and sullen thing with a heart full of hate he’d become. I’d built walls around the Bad Timmy, moats and turrets to protect my heart. Against Good Timmy I had no defense.
I found plenty. Sperm-stiffened socks; eerily-empty browser history. A CD that looked Satanic. None of it was what I wanted.
Permit me a digression here, fellow congregant, beloved pastor.
You probably know none of this, because you’re a good churchgoing Christian who’d never dream of Googling illegal substances. Nor have you ever had need to learn about the complex moral codes of conduct common to drug dealers and other criminals.
Thanks to the 60 Minutes and the Dateline and the nightly national news, you already know that spiderwebbing is a hallucinogen—but you don’t know what a weird one it is. The basic legend of its manufacture goes like this: in top secret farms run by the Taliban or the Chinese government or some other Existential Threat, Amazon psychovenom spiders chimerically combined with God Knows What get dusted with US mindmeld pharmaceuticals, then fed a GMO protein ooze that makes their web-producing glands go into overdrive, producing webs that get sprayed with wonky unstable Soviet-era hallucinogens intended to induce extreme suggestibility, then the spray crystallizes, the crystallized web is broken down into a dust and put into solution, which, after various alchemical adulterations, is dripped into the user’s eye with a dropper. All of this is speculation, of course, since the origins of the drug are so shrouded in mystery. For all I know they just dissolve LSD in liquid Ativan and sprinkle it with fairy dust and boom.
Two or more users who drop from the same web will experience a shared hallucination. If one of them sees the ground open up and an angel with a centipede face fly out, they all do. No matter how far apart they go, as long as the drug lasts they’re in synch. Like, they’re in each other’s minds. Psychically linked. No one knows why this is. No one knows much about anything when it comes to spiderwebbing. We made that stuff so illegal in the early days of the crisis that no lab in the country can legally possess a shred of it. Wise Pastor Jerome says you can be damn sure the government’s doing research on how to use it against traditional-minded Americans, but it’s his job to scare people about What The Government Is Up To.
So. Invading someone’s webbing experience is a potentially fatal act of aggression.