Robert R. McCammon's "The Thang"

The Thang

by Robert R. McCammon

Originally published in
Hot Blood
1989
Japanese Illustration

It was nothing like what he'd expected. No skulls on the walls, no dried bats, no shrunken heads. Not even any of those glass vials with smoke bubbling out of them, which is what he'd looked forward to seeing. It was just a little room that looked like a grocery store, with faded green linoleum tiles on the floor and a ceiling fan that groaned as it turned. Needs oil, he thought. Ceiling fan'll burn itself up without oil. Heating and cooling was his business, and right now he was sweating under the collar and there were wet rings beneath his arms. I've come over seven hundred miles to a grocery store with a creaking fan, he thought. God Almighty, what a fool I am!

"Help ya?" There was a young black man behind the counter. He wore dark glasses with white music notes on the frames, and his hair was cropped short and dyed with blue lightning bolts. He had a razor blade hanging from his left earlobe.

"No. Just looking," Dave Neilson said, in his flat Oklahoman accent. The dude behind the counter went back to reading his copy of Interview magazine. Dave wandered among the shelves, his heart pounding. He had never in his life felt so far from home. He picked up a bottle full of red, oily liquid: King John's Blood, the label said. Near it were bags full of white dirt that bore the labels Aunt Esther's Graveyard Dirt This Is The Real Stuff.

I'll bet it is, Dave thought. If that was graveyard dirt, his pecker was as big as Moby Dick. And that, of course, was the crux of the problem.

He'd never been to New Orleans before. Had never been to Louisiana, even. Of that he was glad; the wet August heat down here was enough to roast toadfrogs. But he liked the French Quarter all right, with its racy nightclubs and strippers who watched themselves in full-length mirrors. A man could get in trouble down here, if he had the right equipment. If he had the devil-may-care attitude. If he dared.

"Anythin' you lookin' for in particular, cousin?" the young black man inquired, staring at him over a photograph of Cornelia Guest.

"No. Looking, that's all." Dave scanned the shelves with frantic intensity, saw Lover's Tears, Hopping Fever, Uncle Teddy's Holy Bricks, Friendship Cream, and Intelligence Powder.

"Tourist," the young man said with a grunt.

Dave continued along the shelves, passing bottles and jars of such items as Lizard Gusto, Know-It-All Root, and Manteaser Drops. His eyes didn't know where to go, and neither did his feet. And then he came, abruptly, to the end of the shelves—and face-to-face with an octoroon woman who had eyes like polished copper coins.

"What may I sell you?" she asked, her voice like velvet smoke.

"I'm ... I'm just—"

"Tourist is lookin', Miss Fallon," the young man said. "Lookin' and lookin' and lookin'."

"I see that, Malcolm," she answered. Her gaze remained steady, and Dave had a dumb, nervous grin on his face. "What interests you?" Miss Fallon asked him. Her hair was long and black, streaked with gray at the temples, and she wore not a robe or cloak or a voodoo costume but a pair of Guess? jeans and a bright purple African-print blouse. "Long life?" She picked up a vial and shook it before his face. "Harmony?" Another jar. "Success in business? Love secrets?" Two more vials, filled with clouds.

"Uh ... love secrets," he managed to say. "Right. Love secrets." He felt a fine sheen of sweat on his face. "Kind of."

"Kind of? What's that mean?"

Dave shrugged. He'd come a long way for this moment, but his nerve failed him. He stared at the green linoleum. Miss Fallon wore red Reeboks. "I ... I'd like to talk in private," he said. Still couldn't look at her. "It's important."

"Is it? How important?"

He fumbled for his wallet. Showed her a glimpse of fifty-dollar bills. "I've come a long way. From Oklahoma. I've ... got to talk to somebody who knows ... " Go on, he told himself. Get it out, once and for all. "Who knows voodoo," he said.

Miss Fallon stared at him, and he felt like a lizard that had just crawled from beneath a rock. "Tourist wants to talk to somebody who knows voodoo," she said to Malcolm.

"Lord have mercy," Malcolm said, not looking up from his magazine.

"This is my place." Miss Fallon gestured around at the shelves. "My stuff. You want to talk to me, I'll take your money."

"You don't look like ... I mean, you don't look ... " His tongue twisted.

"I only wear my warts at Mardi Gras," she said. "You want to talk, or you want to walk?"

This was the tricky part. "It's ... kind of a sensitive problem. I mean ... it's a personal matter."

"They all are." She crooked a finger at him. "Follow me." She went through a doorway over which hung the kind of purple beaded curtain Dave hadn't seen since he was a Hendrix freak in college. That seemed like a hundred years ago, and the world seemed a lot older. Meaner, too. He went through the curtain of beads, and heard memories in their soft clicking. Miss Fallon sat down, not at a round table on which were spread various potions and dried mysteries, but behind a regular wooden desk that looked as if it belonged to a banker. A little sign said: Today Is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life. "Okay," she said, and laced her fingers together. Just your everyday friendly neighborhood voodoo doctor, Dave thought. "What's your problem?"

He unzipped his pants, and showed her.

There was a long moment of silence.

Miss Fallon cleared her throat. She slid a drawer open and laid a knife atop her desk, "The last fella who tried this with me," she said calmly, "wound up shorter. By a head."

"No! That's not what I'm here for!" His face reddened, and he pushed himself back in and hurriedly zipped up—and caught a piece of skin in the zipper. He made a face and hopped around a few times, trying to shake loose without ripping skin. God knows he didn't need to lose any precious flesh from down there!

"You a maniac," she asked, "or you always show your doodle to ladies and jump around like a one-legged grasshopper on a hot skillet?"

"Wait. One minute. Please. Ouch ... ouch ... ouch!" He got himself unzippered, and everything back in its proper place. "Sorry." Sweat was dripping under his arms, and he thought he might just pass out and give up the ghost right here and now. Miss Fallon was still watching him with those burning copper eyes. "My problem is ... you know. You saw it."

"I saw a man's thang." Miss Fallon said it with a Southern drawl. "So what?"

And here, he felt sure, was the turning point of his life. "That's what I mean!" Dave leaned over her desk, and Miss Fallon's chair skreeked back. "I'm not ... you know ... I'm not big enough!"

"Big enough," she repeated carefully, as if listening to a retarded fool.

"Right! I want to be bigger than I am. I want to be ... really big. I mean big! Like ten, eleven ... twelve inches, even! I want to be so big it makes my pants bulge! You see what I'm talking about?"

"I see. I don't care for it, but I see."

"All my life," Dave said, his face flushed with the excitement of finding a confidant, "I've been little down there. These things matter to a guy! If you don't feel you measure up, then everything's lousy! I've tried all those things in the magazines—"

"What thangs?" she interrupted.

"The enlargers." He shrugged, and his face flamed anew. "I ordered a pecker stretcher once. From Los Angeles. Know what they sent me? A stretcher with a red cross on it, and a letter that said they hoped my sick bird got better."

"Oh, that's wicked," Miss Fallon agreed.

"Yeah, and it was twenty dollars down the tubes! I've tried everything I can think of And I'm still just the same as I was, only smaller in the wallet. That's why I came here. I figure .. . you people ought to know how to do it, if anybody does."

"We people?" she asked, her eyebrows arching.

"Yeah. Voodoo people. I've read about you folks, and all those potions and spells and stuff. I figured surely you had a spell that would help me out."

"I knew this was gonna be one of those days," Miss Fallon said, and raised her eyes to the ceiling.

"I can pay you!" Dave showed her his money again. "I've been saving up! You don't know how important this is to me."

Miss Fallon regarded him warily. "You married?" He shook his head. "Got a girlfriend?"

"No. But I hope to have a lot of girlfriends. After I get what I need, I mean. See, it's always held me back. I ... always felt like I wasn't up to par, so ... " He shrugged. "I just stopped trying to get dates."

"That's the thang up here workin'." She tapped her skull. "You haven't got a problem. You just think you do."

"You ought to be on this end of it!" he said, a little testily. "Please. I really need help. If I can get just maybe two or three more inches, I'll go back to Oklahoma a mighty happy man."

"Oh, Marie Laveau is gonna roll over in her grave." Miss Fallon shook her head. Then paused, reconsidering. Her eyes glinted. "Hell, Marie Laveau probably would've done it herself! I believe in pleasin' my customers, just like she did." Miss Fallon sighed, getting it straight in her mind. "Do you have three hundred dollars?" she asked him.

"Sure." Three hundred pinched him a little, but it would be worth it. "Right here." He counted out the money, then held it back as Miss Fallon reached for it. "Hold on. I wasn't born this morning. How do I know I'll get what I want?"

"Because I'm good at what I do. If I say it'll happen, it will. You pay me half now and half when you see the ... uh ... results. That suit you?"

"Fair enough." His hand was trembling as he gave her the money. "I knew you people could help me out!"

Miss Fallon left him in the office while she went out to the store. Dave heard the clink of bottles coming off the shelves. She told Malcolm to go see somebody named Aunt Flavia and bring back some of "the gunk." Then Miss Fallon took a cardboard boxload of bottles and bags into another little room next to the office, and Dave heard her pouring, mashing, and stirring. She began to sing as she worked: "Love Potion Number Nine." Malcolm returned in about thirty minutes, and Dave heard him say "Sheeeyit!" in an unbelieving voice as Miss Fallon used whatever "the gunk" was in her mixture. Dave paced the room. An hour went past. The high, sweet smell of something cooking began to leak into the office. It reeked of burning horseflesh. Stallion balls, Dave thought. And then, abruptly, the door opened and Miss Fallon came in carrying a steaming, dark, and muddy liquid in a Mason jar.

"Drink it down," she said, and put it in his hands.

Dave smelled it, and instantly wished he hadn't. "My God!" he said, after his fit of coughing had ceased. "What's in it?"

She gave him a faint smile. "You don't want to know. Trust me on this."

He brought it near his lips. His heart was hammering. He paused, weak-blooded at the crucial moment, "Are you sure this is going to work?"

"If you can keep that shit down," she said, "you'll be a man, my son."

Dave lifted the warm Mason jar, took a breath, and drank.

Oh, there are times when a human being reaches beyond the mortal coil and grips the fist of a power beyond the earthly realm. This, however, was not one of those moments. Dave spewed up black liquid, and it went all over the walls.

"Drink it down!" Miss Fallon shouted. "You paid for it, you drink it!"

"I didn't pay to be poisoned!" he shouted back. But she grasped his wrist and shoved the Mason jar toward his face, and Dave Neilson opened his mouth and the elixir flowed in like cesspool sludge. He swallowed it. Images of polluted rivers rioted in his brain. He smelled overflowing garbage cans and thought of the black crud that slides out of drainpipes when the plumber breaks them open. A mist of sweat seemed to leap from his face, and hung like humid haze in the air. But he got all the stuff down his throat without puking, and then Miss Fallon took the Mason jar and said, "Good boy. One more jarful to go."

He did it. He never would've believed he could, but he did it. And then the mess lay in the pit of his stomach, gurgling noisily and as heavy as three hundred thousand pennies.

"Now listen to me." Miss Fallon took the drained Mason jar from him. The whites of his eyes looked tinged with brown. "You're to let this settle for forty-eight hours. You throw it up, and that's the end of it."

"Oh, Lord." Dave pressed his hand to his face. He felt feverish and unsteady. "What am I supposed to do now?"

"You stay in your hotel over the weekend. See me Monday mornin', nine o'clock sharp. No cigarettes, no alcohol, no nothin'. 'Cept gumbo, and I guess some raw oysters'll be okay." She was already herding him toward the door. His legs moved like pillars of lead. Dave staggered out amid the shelves, and Malcolm looked up with a grin. "Ya'll come again real soon!" he chirped merrily as Dave went out the front door onto sunbaked Prince Conti Street.

Night fell, fast as a crash of cymbals. Dave slept like a swamp log, in a Bourbon Street hotel room with a chattering fan and humidity fit for alligators. The damp sheets had a way of coiling around him, and he had to fight himself free on several occasions. And then, as the music of a jazz trumpet curled like steam from a nearby bar and a bass drum beat in a strip joint, Dave sat up in bed, his pulse racing and sweat on his face.

I feet different, he thought. Somehow different. Stronger, maybe. Was that it? He wasn't sure, but his heart was pumping hard and he could almost hear the blood racing in his veins.

He pulled aside the sinewy sheet and looked at the thang.

His euphoria burst like a soda bubble. It was still shrimpy. The damned thang even appeared to be smaller than when he'd gone to Miss Fallon's. My God! he thought, panic-stricken. What if ... what if she screwed up the spell and gave me a reverse potion?

No, no, he told himself. Steady, boy. Give it time. He found his wristwatch and peered at the luminous hands. It was twenty minutes after eleven, only eight hours since he'd drunk the gunk. The room was as hot as a bayou prison, and Dave got up with the sludge sliding in his belly. He walked to the window, overlooking the gaudy neon signs and flesh parade of Bourbon Street, and stared down at the throng of sinners. The bass drumbeat pounded at his attention. His gaze found the red neon that said Kitt's House. Beneath that sign was painted Lovely Belles Totally Nude. He watched as a couple of college boys went in, and three Japanese men, came out grinning.

Go back to bed, he thought. Sleep. Wait for Monday morning.

He stared at Kitt's House, and sleep was far from his mind.

What would it hurt to go over there? he asked himself. What would it hurt, if I just sit down and watch a few dancers strut their stuff? I don't have to order a drink. What would it hurt?

It took him maybe fifteen minutes to decide for sure. Then he got dressed, and he went down to where the action throbbed.

Kitt's House needed a fumigator. The smoke hung in heavy layers, the red lights pulsed with the jukebox music, and a ham-handed palm demanded five dollars cover charge. Dave found a table and sat where he could watch a brunette girl gyrate in the red glare, her body gleaming with a faint sheen of oil. The place wasn't crowded, but there was enough hollering and laughter to let you know it was almost midnight. And then Dave smelled musky perfume, and a blond girl with very large, very firm-looking breasts came close to his face.

"Uh ... I'll ... uh ... nothing, thanks," he managed.

"Dude, honey, it's a one-drink minimum. 'Kay?" She popped bubble gum, her lips red and moist. Dave stared at her breasts, his eyes almost crossing. They didn't have anything like this in Oklahoma.

"Beer," he said, without thinking. His voice trembled. "Just beer."

"You got it." She put a napkin in front of him, and smiled. "I'm Scarlett. I dance, too. Be back real soon." She walked away, and he watched her go. The music was thunderous. He took a deep breath to clear his head, but it just got cloudier. It occurred to him that he was inhaling the smoke from twenty or so cigarettes. He began to cough, and it came upon him to get up and get out, but blond Scarlett appeared with a Miller on her tray. She smiled again, a smile that nailed him to his seat. "Here y'go, dude," she said, and plunked it down in front of him. "Three-fifty." She held the tray down for him to put the money on, and as he stared at her breasts she looked up into his face and said, "You like what you see, dude?"

"Oh ... I ... don't mean to ... "

She laughed, blew a bubble, and popped it. Then she went on to entice the college boys.

Dave started to drink the beer. Quickly put it down again. No! Miss Fallon had said no alcohol! But all that seemed so unreal now, though there was an unreality to Kitt's House, too; it was as if he'd traded one unreality for another. I threw away one hundred and fifty bucks, he thought. Plus swilled some of the foulest stuff I ever—

"Hi again," Scarlett said, all blond hair, red tips and bared breasts. "Want me to dance for you?"

"Dance? For me? I ... don't ..."

"Table dance. Right here." She stroked the tabletop. "Five dollars. You like this music?"

"Yeah, I guess," he said, and Scarlett climbed up onto the table and he stared at her red G-string that had So Many Men So Little Time stitched across the front in purple.

Dave didn't know what the music was. He only knew it was rock'n'roll, and he liked it. Scarlett stood above him, her eyes locked with his, and she began to circle her hips round and round as she teased her fingertips in swirls around her nipples. I'm a long, long way from Oklahoma, Dave thought, and he took a deep swig of beer before he knew what he was doing. Scarlett's flat belly writhed. She turned around, clenching and relaxing the muscles of her behind. Dave drank more beer and watched wide-eyed as Scarlett hooked her thumbs in her G-string and began to work it down, inch-by-inch, over her oil-glistening thighs. And then Scarlett whirled around, in time with the beat, and there it was. There it was, right over his face. There it was, there it was, there it ...

He felt a pulsebeat between his legs. His mouth was dry and open in an astonished 0. Scarlett's hips went around, and he followed their progress. Another pulse, startlingly strong, between his legs. He thought: What the hell is—

Something surged in his crotch. Something twitched and pounded, burning with heat.

He gasped as his pants bulged. And bulged. And ...

His zipper exploded. Something huge and freakish burst out of it, still expanding. Scarlett danced and blew a bubble, unaware, as the thang grew beneath the table and thunked against the table's bottom like a flesh-covered baseball bat. Dave's eyes were wide, and he couldn't speak. The thang was still growing, veins blue and huge. Scarlett felt the table shake, and then the entire table began to rise up off the floor. "Hey!" Scarlett shouted. The bubble burst over her lips.

"What're you do—"

The thang, totally out of control, overturned the table on its rigid ascent. Scarlett went over, too, and as Dave stood up he saw with a mixture of horror and fascination that the thang protruded at least fifteen inches from his burst zipper. Scarlett started to get up, furious and beautiful, and she saw it. Her face blanched, going fish-belly white under the red glare. She made a soft moaning sound, and fell backward to the carpet in a dead faint.

The brunette dancer screamed and pointed. Dave was trying to grasp hold of the thang, but it was writhing back and forth like a cobra, and he realized with fresh terror that his testicles had swollen to the size of small cannonballs. Somebody hit the jukebox, the needle skidding screechingly across the tracks. There was a moment of dead silence as Dave grappled with the thang. It had grown two more inches, and was still pistoning itself outward bound.

"Good God A'mighty!" a hoarse male voice yelled. "The sumbitch is possessed!"

People rushed for the doors, overturning tables and chairs. Dave's thang was monstrously thick, the size of a small artillery piece. Its weight careened him around the room in crazed circles, and behind the bar a Latin-looking guy held up a Crucifix and dived for cover. Dave caught the thrashing head; he ran for Bourbon Street, turning the thang like a rudder before him.

He was sure that in all the generations of its existence, Bourbon Street had seen many sights. He doubted, though, that any of those sights had caused such commotion: shouting, laughter, shrieks, and screams, fainting from some of the women. The thang's head could've fit in a combat helmet, its twenty-two-inch length throbbing with menacing intent. The French Quarter revelers parted before him, and Dave saw a red-eyed drunk salute him and keel to the concrete. A carriage horse reared up, pawing the air, its own equipment puny in comparison to the thang.

Shouts and screams followed him down Bourbon Street. Two tall, big-boned women in glittery dresses yelled, "Glory be!" and "Lord I'm havin' a heart attack!" Dave had staggered several paces beyond them when he realized they were men dressed as women. A group of people who wore white makeup and frightwigs began to chase him along the street, and whether they were men or women Dave didn't know. He gripped the thang, ruddering it in the direction he needed to go, and he prayed he could get to his hotel before ... well, just before.

He ran through the dimly lit lobby, leaving the guy behind the counter gawking and frantically wiping his glasses. Then Dave hoisted himself up the stairs, the thang's head banging on the risers before him. He fled to his room, slammed the door shut, and threw the latch.

He pressed his back against the door, gasping for breath.

The thang began to shrink. It rapidly deflated, along with the bulging blue testicles. Dave felt his center of balance shifting, and he staggered around a bit before he could find his equilibrium again. The thang went down through seventeen inches, fifteen, thirteen, eleven, nine, six, four ... choke! ... three. And then the devilish thang hung like a boiled shrimp again, the testicles the size of small river stones. The pounding of his pulse had subsided, and all that blood had been re-routed to the main currents once more.

Dave laughed. It had a crazy note in it, because Dave had realized Miss Fallon's elixir certainly worked—but if every erection was gargantuan, what woman would welcome such a monster? His head spun; he got to the telephone, tore open the phone book, and turned to "Fallon." There was a baker's dozen. Feverishly he began to dial the first number. A roan answered and immediately slammed the phone down when Dave asked, "Does the woman who has the voodoo shop live there?"

And so it went, hang-up after hang-up. One woman scorched his ears with salty Cajun expletives. Dave sat with the phone in his lap after he'd called the last Fallon and an elderly man had told him to go to hell. It was going to be an eternity before dawn.

Dave took a cold shower. The thang slept, deceptively small. Dave got in bed, pulled the sheet up to his neck, closed his eyes in the steamy room, and counted sheep. He found himself counting moist-lipped strippers, dancing on tabletops. The thang gave a little twitch that made the hair stand up on the back of Dave's neck. He thought desperately of having a tax audit, and the thang settled down once more. Dave turned over on his stomach and finally went to sleep.

He opened his eyes. It was still dark. The noise of Bourbon Street had quieted, but his heart hammered. What had wakened him? He lay still, listening.

From the street came a woman's shout, a voice that was sultry and perhaps more than a little intoxicated: "Hey, anybody want a freebie? Last call, fellas! Ginger's givin' it away!"

Oh, my God, Dave had time to think, before his body began to rise on a fleshy, throbbing pole.

"Hey, you studs!" Ginger called. "Come on! I need a man, baby!"

Dave grabbed hold of the iron bedframe, locking his fingers. The thang wriggled out from under him, already seventeen inches long and rapidly expanding in girth. The huge head twisted toward the room's door, and it began thrusting with a strength that wrenched his grip from the bedframe. The thang pulled him with it, onto the floor, and as Dave landed on his belly the cannonball-sized testicles quivered and marched toward the door like alien pods. The thang was in control now, and Dave reached up, grabbing a table; it crashed over, along with a lamp. The thang strained upward, trying to grip the doorknob.

"Come on!" Ginger called impatiently. "Anybody got six inches he wants to get—"

Oh, Lord, Dave thought; if she only knew.

The thang's head rammed against the door. There was no pain, but the door cracked. Dave grabbed the thang, as if he were choking a snake. The thang twisted loose from his hands and battered against the door. With a single, violent thrust it smashed through the wood, a fleshy battering ram, and sent nerveshocks all the way to the top of Dave's skull.

"I want to paaaarrrrrteeeee!" Ginger howled, like an outcast animal.

"I'm in charge here, dammit!" Dave shouted as he grabbed the writhing thang with both arms and dragged it back in. "I'm in charge here, you dumb piece of me—"

The thang turned, reddened as if enraged, and twined itself around Dave's throat.

He could see the headline of the newspaper when they found his body. That image gave him strength; he grappled with the thang as it squeezed his throat, servant against master, and his testicles pulsed like renegade brains. He got his hand in the coils, forcing some breathing space. The thang twisted away from him, almost disdainfully, and crashed against the door. The hinges creaked, one of them tearing loose from the wall in a flurry of paint and splinters.

"Aw, ya bunch of cockless bastards!" Ginger said; her voice was fading as she drifted on along Bourbon Street.

The thang thrashed wildly back and forth, pistoning against the door. The second hinge broke, and the door crashed down into the hallway. Another door opened, an elderly man and woman peering out; they saw what appeared to be a naked man fighting a pale python, and they retreated into their room and began to drag furniture against their door.

Dave caught the thang in a strangling grip. The head turned crimson, the veined length coiling back and forth in muscular fury. "No!" Dave shouted, sweat on his face. "No! No! No!"

He thought he heard the damned thang whimper. It shrank, and the testicles almost instantly decreased. In another moment the thang had contracted to its usual tiny self, and Dave was never so glad of anything in his life.

He was about to struggle up off his stomach when he saw two shoes on the floor in front of his face. Standing in those shoes was the desk clerk, whose eyes had bulged behind his glasses. "We don't permit," he said coolly, "this kind of behavior in our establishment."

The desk clerk and a security guard stood watch while Dave dressed and packed. The door was paid for—MasterCard to the rescue—and in about ten minutes Dave was standing on deserted Bourbon Street with his suitcase in his hand and his shirttail hanging out.

The sun was rising over New Orleans, and already the heat shimmered in waves off the cobblestones.

He was sitting on the curb in front of Miss Fallon's shop when Malcolm came along to open up at nine-thirty.

"You done screwed up, didn't you?" Malcolm asked him. "Yep! I knew it. You done screwed up."

Dave went inside, sat down in a corner like a dunce, and waited for Miss Fallon.

She arrived, wearing pink jeans and a paisley-print blouse, around ten-thirty. Malcolm hooked a finger toward Dave's corner. "Tourist messed up," Malcolm said, and Miss Fallon just sighed and shook her head.

"Okay, okay! So I drank a beer!" Dave said, once they were inside Miss Fallon's office. "Nobody's perfect! I wanted two or three extra inches, not extra yards! You gave me something Frankenstein would've been proud of!"

"Is that so?" She couldn't help laughing behind her cupped hands.

"Don't laugh! It's not funny! Hell, no! I can't go through life busting doors down with this ... this monster! Change me back! Hell, keep the money, just change me back!"

Miss Fallon, seated regally behind her desk, looked up at his inflamed face. "Sorry. I can't do that."

"Oh, you want more money? Right? Hell, I'm down to my last few pennies! You take Visa? MasterCard? That's all I've—"

"I can't change you back," Miss Fallon said. "There's no spell or potion for somebody who wants a smaller thang."

"Oh." It was a small whisper, and he felt the wind gust out of him.

"Sorry." She shrugged. "If you'd let it settle like I told you, you'd be okay. But ..." She trailed off; there was nothing more to be said.

"I can't ... I can't go back home like this! Lord, not I mean ... what if I got an erection on the plane?"

Miss Fallon thought about that for a moment, her brow furrowed. "Hold on," she said finally, and picked up her telephone. She dialed a number. "Hi. It's me. Come on over, and bring the works." She hung up; merry good humor sparkled in her copper eyes.

"What is it? Who'd you call?"

"My Aunt Flavia. She makes the gunk. Part of what you drank." Miss Fallon tapped her fingertips on her desk. "You want to get back to what you were, right?"

"Yes! I'll do anything! I swear to God!"

Miss Fallon leaned forward slightly. "Would you let us experiment on you?"

"Experi ... " The word clogged in his throat. "Like how?"

"Nothin' painful. Just tryin' an elixir here, an elixir there. You'll have to grow a cast-iron stomach, but we might be able to come up with a cure. Over time, that is."

"Time?" Ants of terror crawled in his belly. "How much time?"

"A month." She flicked a bit of dust off her desk. "Two, maybe. Three at the most."

Three months, he thought. Three months of drinking sludge.

"Four months, tops," Miss Fallon said, Dave felt light-headed, and he wavered on his feet. "My Aunt Flavia's got a guest room at her place. I see you're already packed." She nodded toward his suitcase. "You could move in with her, if you like. Won't cost you more than a hundred a week."

Dave tried to speak; a raspy nonsense came out.

Aunt Flavia arrived, lugging a suitcase. She was a husky octoroon woman with copper eyes, her long-jawed face like a wrinkled prune. She wore a red-and-gold caftan, and she had little mouse skulls dangling from her earlobes. "Oh, he's handsome," Aunt Flavia said, showing a gold tooth as she smiled at Dave. She put the suitcase atop Miss Fallon's desk and opened it. Inside were vials of dark liquids, dirty roots, coarse powders, and a bag of Aunt Esther's Graveyard Dirt This Is The Real Stuff. "Brought the whole shootin' match," Aunt Flavia said. "We gonna start now?"

"Soon as your new boarder's ready," Miss Fallon said. Dave had turned a little green around the edges. "Oh, I forgot to tell you: my Aunt Flavia's a widow. She's always liked big men, if you understand my meanin'."

Dave saw it then, as Aunt Flavia brought out some of the bottles and bags: something loose and fleshy was brushing against the front of her caftan, down between her thighs. Something that ... seemed very large.

"Oh, my God," Dave whispered.

"Like I say"—-Miss Fallon smiled—"I believe in pleasin' my customers."

Aunt Flavia poured black liquid from one bottle to another and stirred in powder that smelled like dead bats. The liquid began to bubble and smoke. "He's the handsomest one yet," she said to Miss Fallon. "Kinda skinny, but it's the size of the thang that counts, ain't it?" She laughed and jabbed an elbow into Dave's ribs.

He stared at the little sign on Miss Fallon's desk: Today Is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life.

"Here's to a long life!" Aunt Flavia said, offering him the potion. Something rustled against her caftan.

Dave took the bottle, smiled weakly, and felt the thang give an eager little twitch.


Copyright © 1989 by Robert R. McCammon. All rights reserved. This story originally appeared in the anthology Hot Blood, first published in 1989. Reprinted with permission of the author.
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