Kon did not like to leave his apartment. He didn’t like to be around other people very much. He didn’t actually hate it, as long as they weren’t talking to him. The thought of having to smell and listen to other people was worrisome, but most people didn’t smell too bad, and the majority left you alone when you went outside.
What Kon disliked most of all was when people that he hardly knew tried to have a conversation with him. When the cashier at a grocery store said, “How are you today?” and Kon answered, “Fine,” well, that was okay. And when she said “Did you find everything you came for?,” and he said, “Yes,” well, that was okay too.
But please, he thought every time, don’t go any further. He didn’t want to talk about his day. He didn’t care if the weather was nice outside, and she was stuck there for a nine hour shift. He certainly didn’t want to attend the party her friend was hosting this weekend. There was nothing to do at parties full of people you didn’t know except try to hold conversations with them. The thought make him sick.
Kon disliked the dentist for the same reason. Why, when the man had his hands in Kon’s mouth, did he constantly feel the need to ask Kon questions? He didn’t want to hear about how the dental hygienist just took her kids on vacation, either. The barber had the same problem, and even the doctor. Everyone but Kon seemed so discomfited by silence that they needed to fill the air with blather. So Kon avoided those places as much as he could.
Kon cut his own hair, in a utilitarian style. He brushed his teeth and flossed avidly, so that he felt like he only had to go to the dentist once every two years. He avoided the doctor completely unless he felt like he might die. It had worked well for him, so far.
His friends were all similar, in varying degrees. He had never met most of them, face-to-face, but that didn’t bother him. They communicated primarily through message boards and chat channels. He even had two friends that he texted. He didn’t know what any of them looked like. With the exception of the two friends he texted, he didn’t even know most of their genders. It didn’t matter to Kon. He wasn’t driven by a need for social interaction.
Luckily, Kon worked from home. He had trained himself as a programmer and found himself a salaried position at Auengate City Bank. He rarely had to go into their offices more than once a month, if that. Like his friends, he couldn’t put a face to most of his co-workers’ names.
Though he told himself he didn’t care, sometimes Kon wondered what the few people who did interact with him thought of him. He had begun to have most of his groceries and meals delivered after he realized the cashier at the grocery store was flirting with him, so only desperation drove him to the store or a restaurant. Kon wasn’t good at noticing how people reacted when they looked at him. He knew that he was tall, thin, and pale, which made his dark hair stand out like print on paper. He knew that at least one woman, the cashier, had found him attractive, though he didn’t understand why.
Did others? Did people look at him and think, “oh, he’s handsome?” Did the delivery people say, after they had left, “what a weird looking loser?” Kon didn’t know. He didn’t know how to gauge his own attractiveness, because he didn’t know how to gauge the attractiveness of others, either. It was that part of human interaction that mystified him more than any other. People were just people, to him. The way they looked never drew him to them, and it rarely repulsed him.
Kon was putting together a bookcase he had ordered when he got the sliver. It was in an odd place: down low on his left forearm, close to his wrist, on the outside. It was a fairly large sliver, from the edge of some wood that hadn’t been cut well. His left hand was his dominant hand. He hoped that the sliver’s large size would make it easier for him to get with his right hand and his pair of tweezers.
It did not. Kon dipped his tweezers in boiling water and then in rubbing alcohol, to avoid infection, and dug after the little needle of wood as best he could. He spent nearly three quarters of an hour in the bathroom, where his lighting was best, attempting to retrieve the sliver. It seemed like all he managed to do was drive it deeper into his flesh.
Kon leaned back against the wall in frustration. The tiny wound he had made with the tweezers pulsed angrily, but there was little blood. Kon was actually surprised by that, because his vigorous digging had opened up the skin far wider than the pin prick wound caused by the sliver.
With his back sore and his feet going numb from sitting on the toilet, Kon decided to give up. He hoped that his body might eject the sliver on its own, if given time. He had heard people say that was possible. Kon put a bandage over the wound, picked up after himself, and went to bed.
When Kon awoke the next morning, the pain was gone from the wound. He noticed only because he accidentally struck the bandaged spot on his door handle as he was stumbling out of his bedroom, groggy from sleep. He swore before he realized that the blow had caused him only mild discomfort.
Kon removed the bandage before he stepped into the shower. The wound had sealed itself shut over the splinter, with no visible scab. Kon frowned. He thought, perhaps, that the splinter had come out in the night, though when he checked the bandage afterward he didn’t find it. Kon decided to set his thoughts of the splinter aside and continue his day.
Two large work projects occupied Kon’s time recently, both of which required a good deal of his attention. He found himself in mid afternoon before he realized he had forgotten even to eat breakfast. He ordered a sandwich for delivery and continued to work.
That evening, as Kon was lying down for bed, he had another belated realization. The site of the splinter was itchy, and it had been for hours. He had been idly scratching at it without registering his actions. He turned on his bedside light so that he could observe it more closely. It was a bit red, where he’d scratched it, and there was a tiny pucker in his flesh where he’d dug around at the splinter’s entrance. His arm had a bump in it just past the sealed wound, over where he imagined the splinter now rested. Well, it didn’t look sickly or infected. He decided to ignore it unless it worsened.
Over the next week, the bump on Kon’s arm grew larger. He grew increasingly concerned, but his mind was so occupied with work that he told himself that he didn’t have time to worry about the lump. The skin of the site was taut and smooth, and the growth was a rounded ovoid. It reminded Kon of the pictures he had seen of people with goiters, though of course, it wasn’t on his throat.
On the eighth day after the splinter entered his body, Kon’s lunchtime delivery girl commented on the growth.
“Oh my gosh,” she said. “What is that?”
It had grown quite large by that time. It was almost half the size of Kon’s clenched fist. “I’m not sure,” he answered, hoping she was leave the topic alone. He found the fact that she even commented on it to be incredibly forward and rude.
“You’re not sure?” She looked worried. “You should really get that checked out, if you don’t know.”
“You’re probably right,” he said.
“It could be cancer, or something.” She shook her head. “You just don’t know. You should really go to a doctor.”
Kon shut the door in her face. At this point, he knew he should be going to the doctor. He knew that he should have gone to see a doctor days ago, when he first noticed that the wound site had begun to swell.
He knew that the fact that it begun to twitch two days ago was not a good sign.
The first time he’d felt it, he had believed the movement to be a muscle spasm in his forearm. That alone was cause for some concern on his part. Given the location, he worried it was some sort of muscle problem caused by an infection. After careful observation, however, he realized the truth. The little ovoid bulge on his arm was, in fact, moving of its own accord.
Kon was actually more nervous about seeing a doctor now than normal. Now he feared that the doctor would judge or ridicule him for not coming in sooner. There was obviously something wrong with his arm, something for which he was going to require medical attention. Kon’s insecurity wrestled with his desire for self-preservation. Within a half hour of the delivery woman’s concerned advice, self-preservation won out.
He decided to use the toilet before he left, since he hated the idea of using one in a public space, where he could hear all those noises that other people made while they expelled their waste. As he was washing his hands, the ovoid twitched again. No, twitch was the wrong word. It spasmed.
“Shit,” Kon whispered. The growth began to convulse, pulsing in and out, almost like a heart. Kon put his fingers to his throat. The rhythm of his heart and the pulses didn’t sync up.
A spear of pain lanced through the growth. Kon shut his eyes against it, as though it were a blinding light. When he opened them again, the pucker where the wound had once been had… opened? It was spreading further apart even as he watched. The opposite side of the growth contracted inward. Clear fluid poured out of it.
Kon swore again, holding his arm over the sink. Behind the fluid, a round, chestnut colored object was forcing its way out of the wound. “Oh, shit,” Kon said. “What in the world… What…”
The wound continued to open, and the growth contracted and expanded, forcing the rest of the… thing out of his arm. It began with a head. A round head with small, circular ears and eyes that were held tightly shut. Its skin, in contrast to Kon’s, was a deep chestnut. With horror, Kon realized it was the exact same color as the the splinter he had left inside of him.
With smooth motion, the rest of the thing’s body came free all at once. Reflex forced Kon to catch it in his hand before it struck the hard edge of the sink. It looked like a very, very small baby. Kon blinked, clearing the tears from his eyes that had begun to cloud his vision. Its skin wasn’t just wood-colored. It had the texture of smooth bark.
As Kon stared at the creature, its eyes opened. Kon fought the urge to throw it away from him. The eyes were leaf-green and overly large for its face. No whites were visible around the vivid irises.
Kon sat down on the toilet, cradling the new little being in his hands. A wave of understanding and remorse washed over him. The laws that required all newborns to be submitted to a check for Powered status had been passed after Kon was old enough to be exempted from them. He had never been checked for excess life energy. He had never had his soul shape analyzed.
For this, he was grateful. He was grateful he hadn’t gone to the doctor. He couldn’t tell anyone about this, now, or the government would find out. The tears rolled down Kon’s face. He wondered how he had never known before. He wondered why this had never happened, with another sliver —then realized he had never given up on removing one. He wondered what would happen if he put other things under his skin — then he buried that thought and destroyed it.
His grip tightened on the little creature. It struggled against his grasp, but he was stronger. He looked down at it, and wondered if he had the strength to destroy it, too.