"You're not Mr. Mongo," said Ms. Finch, nostrils flaring underneath a hooked nose. Her small daughter peeked out from behind her dress and stared at Mr. Carter with nebulous doe eyes.
"I know, Ms. Finch," said Mr. Carter, "as I've said before, Mr. Mongo is out of commission now. He had to attend to family matters. The Pharmaceutical Board has asked me to fill in for him."
"You don't have a pharmacy of your own?" asked Ms. Finch in a way that Mr. Carter knew was bait for challenge. She did this every week.
"I'm afraid the Pharmaceutical Board had positioned me here. As I've explained before, my role as a floating pharmacist is necessary to fill in for temporary vacancies in our network. Otherwise, your local pharmacist would have to stay local, Ms. Finch."
The answer never satisfied her. Instead, she held her hands to her hip, akimbo-style, looking like a flightless bird. Her daughter never broke eye contact with the new pharmacist. "Mr. Mongo knows my prescriptions."
"Fear not," said Mr. Carter, pointing to the rolodex behind the counter, "Mr. Mongo left me very detailed instructions on your prescriptions. Speaking of," he slid a paper bag full of Ms. Finch's pills across the counter, "I believe you're all set. Thank you very much for coming to the pharmacy, Ms. Finch. I hope to see you next week for your pills."
Mr. Carter clasped his hands behind his back, felt his muscles strain underneath his lab coat. He tilted to the left to show the little girl he was directly engaged with her and offered a little wave that did not return.
When she left, Mr. Carter relaxed a bit and opened a small bag of cookies to calm his nerves. He had gone through the trouble to count Ms. Finch's pills not twice but three times to extend an olive branch of good faith. Not that Mr. Carter was unused to this tension. Pharmacies are local affairs, a half-life of a collective intimate nature. What pills your neighbor takes for indigestion, what grotesque ailments are hiding under the sleeves of the favorite son, birth control for the cheerleader, etc. etc. Mr. Carter knew his presence was already at a predisposition to be unliked, his first impression of the town was the files in Mr. Mongo's rolodex, an entire collection of people dwindled into blood types, diagnosis, weights. Imagine walking up to someone you've never met and knowing that they know you have syphilis, or are incontinent, or struggle with debilitating diarrhea. Mr. Carter knew it's not a good look.
Mr. Carter waved away Ms. Finch's aggression like mosquitos at a picnic. He walked into the back room and he geared his attention to the bulbous thing in the corner, listened to its swelled stomach rise and fall underneath the tarp. It stirred in its harness and whimpered in pain. Mr. Carter raised a spindly finger to his lips and went shhhhhh.
The bell chimed and Mr. Carter entered his summons behind the counter. A miniature skyline of prescriptions rested on a honeycombed row behind his back. He watched Mr. James walk through the aisles, his hands in the pockets of his ratty denims, his fisherman's vest dotted with little pin pricks. Mr. Carter already had his prescription ready: the week's pills to combat his blood pressure and to counter his eczema.
Mr. James did give his honest best at not being uncomfortable in Mr. Carter's presence. Small town folk do not like change. His lips were gifted with the natural cloak of a tinseled beard, but his thick brows, underneath the cap, moved like a dowser to anything that might be out of place. He gestured to a series of bottles next to the cash register.
"Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir. I don't remember Mr. Mongo having these here before."
"They're new, Mr. James," Mr. Carter said, taking a bottle from its egg carton shaped holder and placing it on the counter between them, right next to the bag of his prescriptions. "Mr. Mongo left me specific instructions to start offering them. It's a tincture created by the man himself."
Mr. James inspected the bottle. "Mr. Mongo vouches for this?"
"It's got his name on it. He was meant to sell them this week and told me that a death in his family should not stop the roll out. He asked me to record any interest, but so far, no bottles have sold. Mr. James, perhaps you could be first to try Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir?"
Mr. James shook the bottle as if expecting pills. His strong brows weakened. "Well, if Mr. Mongo created it ... what does it do?"
"It's a cure-all. One sip in the morning, one sip at night. You'll be twenty years younger."
"Can I take it with my meds?"
"Of course, it's merely supplementary. But it is with hope that you'll find it more than supplementary," Mr. Carter said, smiling.
"Why is there a picture of a bird on the bottle?"
Mr. Carter shrugged, "I asked the same thing. Apparently, Mr. Mongo likes birds. It's a cuckoo bird, you know, like the clock. Oh, and do not give to children. If you see anyone giving it to a child, tell them it's adults only."
Mr. James left with Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir. No one else bought any of the tincture, but one was enough. It would be an avalanche before Mr. Carter knew it. A couple of days later Mrs. Coolidge entered the pharmacy, seeming to float as if on a Macy's Day parade raft. She drifted from the boxes of tissues, aisles of candy, different kinds of band-aids, her jewelry jangling all the while. Mr. Carter had her prescription ready, but he knew, by her sudden change of disposition from last week, when she could hardly look at him, that she was not here just for her weekly dose of medications.
"Ah, what is this?" Mrs. Coolidge said, picking up Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir as if this was the first she had heard about it. She read the label aloud as if testing the words on her tongue.
Mr. Carter played along, allowed the woman her dignity. He knew that Mr. James attributed his sudden renewal of youthful energy to the tonic, and that he had done all the marketing that Mr. Carter needed in the pubs throughout the days, drowning his liver in cheap whisky as if he were fresh out of the military again. Mr. Carter gave the pitch, offered it just as bashfully as he had with Mr. James, and even tossed in Mr. James's experiences to establish ethos. With the idea firmly planted in her head that the decision to purchase the tincture was her own, Madame Coolidge left the store with a skip in her step.
The townsfolk came in like a leaky faucet; often one at a time, when the store was near closing or just opening. When more of the townsfolk started to accidentally bump into one another at the other side of Mr. Carter's counter like two lily pads they pretended to only pick up their medication and be on their way, winking at Mr. Carter as he placed the bottle of Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir in the lunch bag of their medicine, each person fully confident that their secret obsession with the elixir was their own little dance with the new pharmacist. Two weeks later the stigma got out and people started to speak freely of the tonic, half in nostalgia for Mr. Mongo himself who had still managed to supply the community even in his absence, and half because, for all their collective agreement, the tonic worked. Mr. Maroney claimed that he no longer needed glasses. A wound brought from a welding accident healed almost instantaneously for Mr. McGolrick. A series case of poison ivy rash in indecent spots on Mrs. Fois's body disappeared within two days. Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir was quite the catch.
The children appeared to be immune to the mania surrounding this new supplement. Whenever they would come into the store they would gaze at Mr. Carter cautiously, sometimes so obvious in their staring that they would be chastised and promptly told to apologize to Mr. Carter, who waved the awkwardness away. Mr. Carter never was that adept with children. They always seemed to keep their distance from him, always hiding from behind the barrier of an adult. Mr. Carter understood. Pharmacies are not very children friendly places, even when he offered them candy.
One day Mrs. Tannin walked into the pharmacy and, after some welcoming conversation with Mr. Carter, asked outright for a bottle of the tincture. No more shame in buying the strange medication. She claimed that it gave her red hair a youthful buoyance and her daily walks around the town square had graduated into jogs.
"I apologize, Mrs. Tannin," said Mr. Carter, "but it appears we are all sold out of the Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir."
"But Mr. Carter, you always have the tonic!" She started to glance around the store, never keeping eye contact.
"Fear not," Mr. Carter drew his lips into a smile, "There will be more tomorrow. Mr. Mongo is shipping them via mail."
"Mr. Mongo probably has loads of the tonic at his disposal."
"When is he coming back? Not that we don't all love you here in our little town, and all."
Mr. Carter winked. "No offense at all, Mrs. Tannin. It's my job to fill in for the local pharmacists and be on my way. As for Mr. Mongo's return, he did call ahead and told me he is going to extend his trip another two weeks. Looks like you are stuck with me."
With that Mrs. Tannin left the shop, but only after Mr. Carter promised to hold two bottles for her purchase when the new cache arrived. He waited patiently for her exit, and after waiting several moments floated to the front door and switched the sign to CLOSED. The sky had turned purple over the little town, the streetlights flashing cones of yellow on the cobblestoned sidewalks, the itchy piles of raked leaves. He drifted back behind the counter and pulled out a collection of empty pill bottles, each marked with the same Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir graphic. He went into the back room, navigating through the extra stocks of toiletries, snacks, shampoo, etc.
He reached blindly for the string and tugged it, ensconcing the supply closet with dim yellow light that moved like a pendulum, an orb of yellow swinging left-right left-right. The thing stirred awake. Mr. Carter held the door open with his foot and maneuvered the empty pill bottles onto a stainless-steel table. The thing padded the tarp with elephant's feet, swollen and sweaty. It groaned and wheezed, expelling noxious fumes from its pores.
"Now now, Mr. Mongo," said Mr. Carter, putting on a smock he picked up from Mr. Montgomery's arts and crafts store down the street and a surgical mask and goggles from Mr. White's hardware store just off Elm. He picked up a scalpel. "You're much needed now."
With two delicate fingers Mr. Carter unsheathed the bedsheet covering the hulking figure and tossed it aside. The thing had plumped and fermented. At first it was above the average BMI for a Human male in its late fifties, but Mr. Carter's paralytic agents had pickled its organs, swelling its belly to give the impression of a Human female about to breed. A bulging cyst connected its chin and its cervix with veiny, spongey material, like a frog mid-croak. Pustules lined its swollen and grey flesh, a legion of mayonnaise surprises. Repopped and reformed blisters flaked and crusted like craters on its ankles, crystallizing it to the tarp. Parts of a lab coat, found in the same closet that Mr. Carter had found the one he wore now, had fused together like little sunspots on its ballooning torso. Trails of urine and shit were tinted red with blood and cascaded down cavernous and scabby ridged legs, pooling in between its fused together toes. A semblance of a face looked at Mr. Carter, the phantom muscles of a now fallen off nose twisting and crusting with snot, the head attempting to turn to its best ears of which both have nearly failed and sunken into its jellyfish scalp, so its movements mimic a metronome. The thing blinked its sunken eyes, furrowed the remains of its brows. It groaned and creaked and wheezed. It stopped trying to flee from its restraints, which had grown into its flesh like the bark of an adaptive tree.
With surgical precision Mr. Carter sliced the pustules, opening the gelatinous sacks like a zipper. A thin, viscous liquid dotted with river stones of calcified bacteria floated in the current and into the funnel, filling up a large plastic bin at the edge of the tarp. Once one of the sores ceased providing its milk Mr. Carter targeted the neighboring crusty pustules on his thigh, slicing the bulbous pockets, filling up the container until he had several gallons worth. The thing stirred but did not fight him. Then Mr. Carter heaved the heavy container onto the table and took a smaller funnel and began to strain the excrement into the empty bottles of Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir.
The next day Mr. Carter had almost sold the entire new batch of the tincture, and before the week was over, he had struggled to keep up with the demands. The townsfolk's appeal had increased to a near zeal. Mr. James looked ten years younger. Mr. Conner was able to swim across the lake and back again. Arthritis was no longer a problem for Ms. Leann. The people had come to love Mr. Carter as well, bringing him gifts. Each townsperson thought Mr. Carter squirreled away a bottle just for them.
One day Mr. Carter was giving Ms. Rosa a bottle of Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir (one of the last batches before he had to stop milking the thing in the backroom for a couple of days to let the udders reform). She brought her son in tow along with a box of freshly baked cookies. The boy kept his distance, keeping several paces away from the counter, his little toddler body half obscured by a rack of different flavors of ChapStick. When Mr. Carter and he locked eyes over Ms. Rosa's shoulder he flummoxed and jumped behind the rack, attempting to obscure himself completely. Ms. Rosa noticed this and jumped in embarrassment, apologizing to Mr. Carter for her son's behavior and summoning him from his concealment. The kid slopped forward, grabbing at her pantlegs, his lip starting to tremble.
"He's just shy," she said, placing the tincture in her purse. She said to her son, "This is just Mr. Carter, filling in for Mr. Mongo. You remember Mr. Mongo, right? You liked Mr. Mongo."
The kid nodded.
"I'm a friend of Mr. Mongo, but he'll be back soon," Mr. Carter reassured.
"But hopefully not too soon," Ms. Rosa winked at Mr. Carter, and gestured to the bottles, pointing them out to her son, "Mr. Carter is even helping Mr. Mongo sell his new tincture. Remember how good it made you feel yesterday?"
Mr. Carter's smile dropped. He locked eyes with the kid and then recouped himself when Ms. Rosa made to wave goodbye.
"Wait," Mr. Carter said, careful not to overreact, "did you say that your son had some of the tonic?"
"Indeed," said Ms. Rosa, "he had cough and a headache, and I thought, well, I could always pick up another bottle for myself since you keep always keep a bottle handy for me. You liked it, didn't you son?"
The boy's eyes were wide and absent, like a caught fish. Placidly, he shook his head.
"It's not meant for children, Ms. Rosa. It says so on the bottle."
At once the boy started to cry, as if someone had jammed a battery into him. He buried his reddened face into his mother's pant leg again, keeping both eyes sealed shut and away from Mr. Carter's put-upon smile. With the crying kid now juggled in her arms like a paper bag full of groceries, she made her way out of the pharmacy, chiming the bell as she left. Mr. Carter's smile kept as long as it could. Then, with a slam of the door, his face crumbled and twisted and something underneath his flesh writhed like an eel, bulging just above his brow before receding. He escaped into the backroom and fumbled for the light string before shutting the door.
The thing stirred and attempted to lurch. Sunspots of blood and mucus encrusted it to the chair. Little flabs of blisters looked like used condoms on its swelled, hulking frame. He could not tell where the chair and the restraints started or ended. Surrounding the thing was a castle of gifts from the locals who had become so enamored with how Mr. Carter made them feel; boxes of pastries, knick-knacks, handmade scarves. These material Human items surrounded the leaking blob like a dragon's hoard.
"More more more," hissed Mr. Carter to the thing, "produce more! Who knows how many children have seen my face."
The thing opened its lips like a fish gasping for air. When it spoke, the voice came from deep inside its stomach, vocals produced through layers of ulcered insides filled with chthonic murk. "No ... more ... "
"You need more to make more," Mr. Carter said, moving now to the back of the room where he kept his fertilizers, his paralytic agents, his sweeteners.
He created a tonic in a blender and then attached it via a bedside drip and catheter, poking the blade into the thing's spongy flesh, exhuming a smell of rotting vegetables. His concoction was malleable; he had slipped some in the thing's tea one night after a long day of writing prescriptions; its eyes had gone weary with age and Mr. Carter could move quite fast when a back was turned. Now with the thing as an incubator, Mr. Carter needed only to wait a day. He could close the shop early and spend the rest of next afternoon restocking on Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir. Then he would fall back into the grace of the town. They won't listen to the children, especially if it's only that one spawn of Ms. Rosa's. The little gremlin can cower and point at Mr. Carter all he wants, but children have active imaginations. This lie had protected him before.
Mr. Carter sold the remaining few of the concoction in the first half of the day, as planned. He had little gift bags and gift cards and hand-knitted scarves to show for it. He was staying in the thing's old abode, just above the pharmacy, and in these last couple of months he had not needed to leave the building at all, entirely subsisting on the gifts of the town, where he looked out of the thing's bedroom (Mr. Carter did not sleep), with his hands folded behind his back, staring at the main street of the little town from his corner perch. But now, as the daylight was turning purple and orange Mr. Carter found himself strangely alert to some electric presence.
A police officer, clad in a brown fur down jacket, walked into the shop holding a bundle of papers in one hand and a resting the other on his belt buckle. His face was stern and monolithic, his chin carved from granite and his brows underneath a greying bush. Mr. Carter had not seen the man before. He introduced himself as Officer Smith.
"You must be Mr. Carter, taking over for Mr. Mongo."
"Mr. Mongo had taken leave. I'm here to cover until his return."
"Where did he go?"
"He had family matters to attend to."
"He didn't tell you where he was leaving to?"
Mr. Carter shook his head. "Mr. Mongo and I aren't close. We are more like colleagues. We belong to the same board."
Officer Smith looked Mr. Carter up and down. "Where you from, Mr. Carter?"
"A couple towns over," he said, "but as a floater for the Pharmaceutical Board I spend my time wherever I'm needed. We floaters are few, so I am always on the move."
"And this board, you have a license for it?"
"I'd like to see it."
"It's in the back. One moment. Have a free tonic while you wait. The town loves them. A dietary health supplement."
The officer shook his head and twisted his face underneath his beard. "I usually stick with aspirin."
"Are you sure, Officer Smith? They are quite popular."
"No thank you, Mr. Carter."
Mr. Carter's hand had readied to unpack the bottle and slide it over. It would have been easier for the officer to drink the tonic. It would have been easier for everyone. He went to the backroom, to find the thing tensing on its throne. He rummaged through a series of well-kept documents, pulling at the forged Board license. He walked out and showed it to the officer, knowing that his knowledge of pharmaceutical machinations was lacking, and that any artifact of proof is proof enough itself. He handed back the identification and looked Mr. Carter up and down again. With a steely, connecting gaze, he slid the ream of papers in his hands over the counter, spreading them apart.
"Do you recognize these, Mr. Carter?"
Mr. Carter looked down at the spread pages. Various drawings in marker or crayon or pastels illustrated what appeared to be giant bug, its scale twice as large as the ill-proportioned renditions of the children themselves, all with uneven x's over their eyes. The bug monster had many arms and a great thorax that shimmered like a drop of oil on water. Large mandibles positioned underneath a hundred eyes. He had to stop himself from unraveling at seeing a self-portrait. The problem had gotten worse than he thought. Children did not like Mr. Carter, but they could never place why. Mr. Carter had to restrain himself. Why, oh why, did the parents give them Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir? It was for adults. The lettering said so. Didn't they trust doctors?
"There was a school assignment the other day. Kids were tasked to draw a local figurehead. Being a small town, we have a lot of repeat options. The librarian, the butcher. I always use this assignment to visit the schools and teach them about stranger danger, D.A.R.E., things like that. I like seeing the pictures that the children draw of me. I hang them up in my office every year. This year we knew there would be no Mr. Mongo, but what we didn't expect was to see you as drawings, Mr. Carter." He gestured to the drawings. "Can you explain why they all look like this? Like monsters?"
Mr. Carter twisted his face, adopting features that he had practiced many times before in the sewage crusted mirrors of his actual abode. "Children can be cruel."
The officer did not buy Mr. Carter's façade. "How can all the children describe you like this?"
Mr. Carter remained silent. "I'm afraid I don't know, officer."
The officer gathered the papers and stuffed them in some pocket within his jacket. "I'm keeping an eye on your practice, Mr. Carter."
"I hope you keep an eye on everyone," Mr. Carter could not stop himself, "the town needs someone with your diligence. Care to take Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir for the road, just to see how it makes you feel?"
The officer shook his head and left without another word. He was a hard sell. Usually the more suspicious types are not ones to partake in Mr. Carter's altering elixir, but they usually come around when it was presented with ethos (Mr. Mongo's name a magic spell of security for the town, an easily exploitable pressure point on the collective psyche), and peer pressure (eventually the tide of influence wins over and Mr. Carter could feel confident that he will suck the town like an orange, even with the more stubborn folks who have resisted outside pressures). But this is not the same. With the officer not taking the medicine and the children somehow being served the tonic after being specifically told not to, Mr. Carter found himself in dire straits. The children not only could see his real face, which never had threatened him, but now in their stupid gremlin socializations they had corroborated in a way that only a small town can propagate.
Mr. Carter knew how to solve this. He returned to the backroom, patted the cuckoo on the head, and put on his smock. The thing was withered before him, like a drained orange, the juice sucked out. Small pustules had replaced the once large and viscous bulges, and the swelling on its crater-stricken body had deflated, leaving flabs of slimy blubber. At its most productive, the thing's neck fused with its collar bone with intersecting flakes of crust and pus, but now it looked more and more like a skeleton wearing the flesh of a larger creature. Mr. Carter milked as much as he could, dispersing the bottles accordingly and only managing half a new batch of Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir.
"More, damn you," Mr. Carter said, his voice rising to a crescendo.
He needed more of the tincture to make the town on his side, to make them addicted to Mr. Carter, to make them want to care for him. It was not like this in Ms. Iris's town before this, or Mr. Polter's town, before her. Then again, their towns never had a sheriff who never took medication, never needed this much of the euphoric social conditioner that has since dried up from the thing's open, scabby sores. He needed more. Trying to pull the tincture from the thing was like drawing sap, and after an hour of lapping up each drop the thing stirred and raised its head, its combined neck /solar plexus ripping like a torn balloon, shining underneath the exposed pendulum bulb.
In one final act of defiance, the thing wheezed no ... more ... before folding into itself and releasing a noxious gas.
Mr. Carter stared at the limp thing, a mound of meat and blubbery flesh. Particles of flaked skin fell off it like dandruff and it had the dry quality of a mottled and vacant wasp's nest. Mr. Carter clenched his fists, unable to comprehend, for the first time in his existence, the possibility of a cow unable to produce milk. With half of the bottles filled, Mr. Carter resigned to putting them on display. Something was better than nothing.
Soon enough Mr. Carter discovered that he could not keep up with demand. The townsfolk came and went, taking a bottle of Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir with them. Mr. Carter counted the bottles as they went, checking with each exit chime if the thing was conscious enough to produce more tincture, disappointed each time that it had degraded more and more, turning from a swollen fleshy mass to a brittle caved in gingerbread house. The dryness of its skin informed Mr. Carter enough that he was running out of time.
The final bottle was sold, and Mr. Carter submitted to his loss. He had tried his best to make his place in the community, but the logistics were not there. He gathered his belongings, which were not much, and made his way down to the pharmacy floor to take any extra lab coats he might have left behind and some heavy sedatives for when he would have to eat some bum at the bus station. He was reaching for a bottle when the bell chimed, revealing several of the townsfolk at the door, their eyes blinking and shaking, some with children at their heels, cowering at the sight of Mr. Carter.
"I'm sorry folks," Mr. Carter said, "but we are closing early today."
Ms. Finch wrinkled her nose. "Surely you must have another bottle of Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir."
"Or two," said Mr. James.
Mr. Carter shook his head, gesturing to the vacancies near the register. Already he was looking over the crowd, thinking who he could bring to the back and inject with a sedative for a quick bite. All he needed was one more ... one more.
The crowd had become irate now. They pushed forward amidst themselves, amidst the tugging of their children who wailed like sirens. More chimes signified a growing crowd akin to slime mold, and Mr. Carter took all his willpower not to scream and fight against the threshes.
"Where is the tonic?" Said Mr. McGolrick.
"I'm sorry, I --"
"It makes me feel so young," said Ms. Rosa.
"Please, I --"
"No, momma, no!" said Ms. Rosa's spawn.
"It cures everything, Mr. Carter. Everything," wept Mr. James.
"Please, don't go!" yelled another kid.
The crowd started to converge, moving closer to the counter, beginning to press against the register. Mr. Carter kept his stance, knowing that herds needed to be culled. It was their psychology. He stared at the children, hoping to use his many eyes that only they could see to break their fragile psyches enough to dispel some of the crowd. The mob clawed at Mr. Carter, incanting their necessary obtaining of Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir, their eyes mad with fervency, their jowls trembling with unsatisfied addiction. They groped now like zombies, pushing against the racks, grabbing at the hems of Mr. Carter's lab coats. Then, splicing through the chaos, the chime of a bell sliced through the air, and all the heads ignored the new entry, the additional organism to the growing mold.
Above the symphony of crying children and grabbing parents, Officer Smith jaunted over and without a word raised his pistol and yelled something about being a fucking pedo and
and Mr. Carter stumbled into the racks behind him, the prescriptions of the townsfolk falling from the shelves like raindrops, capsules opening like little pebbles. A blossom of ichor sprouted from his chest, spouting tar like tendrils that grabbed onto any surface for purchase, pulling him to a stand. And Mr. Carter yelled, and Gorgotha, the Queen of the Cuckoos, dislodged its jaw and screeched with enough acoustic force to shatter the windows of the pharmacy into diamond dust. Medicinal spittle flung from the rim of its dislodged jaw, showering the townsfolk. The officer's hat blew out of the exposed window and he cocked for another bullet, his eyes widened with terror as Gorgotha's knife-like hands crawled out of the mouth of its fleshy costume in a series of bending joints and clicks. The remains of Mr. Carter slumped down like a discarded dress and Gorgotha stared at the children hiding behind the hems of their parents, who had become so obsessed with Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir that they had not noticed the Cuckoo Queen standing before them, its many arms outstretched, waiting to be worshipped. Its large carapace was covered in pustules and craters of popped blisters. Mandibles drooled and collected at a puddle at its paleolithic feet. The adults hopped over the counter and began to bend down at the puddle, dipping their tongues onto the carpet like a litter of pups fighting for a single tit.
"Not for children," screeched Gorgotha, each eye focusing on a different child. It twisted it large head. "I am the child. You are stopping them from taking care of me."
Gorgotha reached for the collection of schoolkids now clustered by racks full of band aids and toothbrushes with a skeletal, insectile hand. Officer Smith shot the pistol again, blasting Gorgotha's arm into a painful angle that made her roar into the ceiling, causing the adults entangled over its drool to bleed from their ear. It stumbled backwards, picked up Mr. James and Ms. Finch by the hems of their shirts, and tossed them over the counter.
"Protect me. Protect your god."
They stood and started to reach towards the children, who were being pulled back by the Officer Smith, his pistol cocked again.
Mr. James said, "All we want is Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir, children."
Ms. Finch added, "Don't you see what a mockery you've made of Mr. Carter? He's only trying his best. You should be embarrassed of yourselves."
The officer fired into the crowd, careful to aim the bullet directly at Gorgotha's armored brows. He gathered the children behind him and in one motion opened the door and ran out with them in tow, the cluster of schoolkids packing into the police car that had not stopped running. With the children and officer out of the pharmacy, Mr. James and Ms. Finch returned to the sopping puddle of Gorgotha's saliva. Gorgotha watched the police car disappear down the street. It could not chase after the vehicle; two blocks down her body would weaken, its proximity to the pharmacy and the worship instilled in it severed. Instead, it slumped to the back room, its large body squeezing through the doorframe. Already it was getting weak, its worshipers of the euphoria from Mr. Mongo's Fanciful Elixir now beginning to pile into the room. They were nonplussed by Gorgotha's revealed form, still referring to it as Mr. Carter, so exact was their attention that the brittle remains of the thing's form did not bother them, that the truth of it all failed to leverage against the possibility for more of the addicting elixir.
Queen Gorgotha folded its many jointed arms into its skeletal carapace. It bowed its head as the mob screamed more more MORE! and began to claw at her hardened exterior, their tongues out to lap any spittle from its wretched mouth. A hundred arachnid eyes realized that their addiction would cause the destruction of its nest. When this happened, Gorgotha would starve. She must feed while she could. It would get her to the next town, and she could start over. Maybe.
* * *
Mr. Carter looked in the mirror. His stomach was bloated, and his skin was grey and sagging like a melted candle. He dusted a loose feather from his lab coat, his fingers brushing over the crust of dried blood and bone. He shambled over the broken bodies of the townsfolk and rested on the chair where the incubator had become as crisp as a cracker and hollowed out. Mr. Carter sat in the putrid back room, his eyes bulging, his head feeling like it was going to pop. Eating the meat was not enough to sustain him. He needed worship, and there was no one left in the small town. He had thought that the officer would take the children someplace safe and return with more people that he could influence, but the officer never returned, closing the door on the small town behind him and locking Mr. Carter behind for good.
Slowly Mr. Carter started to rock in the chair, his skin feeling a little too tight, each arm folded like a paper crane underneath the simulacrum of a Human.
And it began to weep: "Who will love me now?"
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