Anal tearing. That’s what the doctors said. My son had anal tearing.

He’d come in from gym class complaining of a bad stomach ache, nothing out of the ordinary. The nurse sat him down in her office, turned around to get some a thermometer, and suddenly heard a big clattering noise. She turned back and he was on the floor, curled up in the fetal position. She’d bent down to help him back up and saw a pool of blood forming in the seat of his pants. The school called me, I ran to pick him up in a panic, and we rushed to the hospital.

At first, everything was just outright confusion. School officials were asking questions, hospital staff tried to root out answers, and no one could offer up anything useful. Tommy, my son, was silent. When I tried to talk to him about what had happened that day, he just stared at me; a big, doleful child’s stare, full of trusting love and wonder and admiration and nothingness. I’m a good mother. I attend every PTA meeting, frequently participate in school events, cater to even the silliest need without going overboard, and have never laid a hand on my child.

After three days of silence, wary eyes turned to me. Tommy and I live alone and I don’t have a boyfriend. There was no suspicion of abuse anywhere else. During church, I could feel stares lingering on the back of my neck, the pious turning clangorous gears in their heads. When I dropped Tommy off for school, whispers seemed to dance in between the cracks in the sidewalk and other parents spoke in hushed tones. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get Tommy to talk to me about what happened.

Therapy did nothing. I never believed in it myself, but I was running out of options. This reservation, it seemed, was reflected back in Tommy. It was all I could do to just get him out the door on the days of his sessions. Even when he opened up to Dr. Presbyzk, a stout but comforting man with a giant wiry beard and small half moon glasses, it was only about the inconsequential. His day at school, little stories about his friends, things like that. The few times Dr. Presbyzk tried to nudge the conversation towards his injuries, Tommy seemed to just shrug it off, almost as though he had no idea what was being asked

All in all, the good doctor decidedly cleared my name, but that didn’t stop the rumors. This is a small town with small people and they can’t help but pull at any loose threads they might get their fingers wrapped around. Even walking through the grocery store, I could feel the probing eyes of strangers giving me a once over and wondering what horrors and atrocities I must commit behind closed doors.

For what it’s worth, I did my best to ignore it. Tommy didn’t seem phased by anything. In fact, he seemed even more energetic than usual. From everything I’ve read (and I’ve devoured my fair share of parenting books), abuse is usually correlated with despondency in children. Changes in habits, but towards the negative. He just seemed happier. The doctors had suggested that I keep an extra close eye on him over the next few days in case his behavior changed any further, but other than that, everything seemed fine to them. This could have just been a freak accident, a stress injury from overexertion during gym. There was nothing else they could do at this point. The tearing had healed and Tommy didn’t seem to be in any more pain. I was still at a loss, but after another week or so, the rumors had died down and at least things hadn’t gotten any worse.

The incident at his friend’s birthday party sent things spiraling out of control again.

The day of the party, Tommy had a little more trouble waking up than usual. Fortunately, it had fallen on a Saturday, so there were no worries about scheduling with school and most of the parents were off from work. I had an early meeting, but I’d left Tommy bundled up in bed after checking on him that morning and had gotten home before 10 AM. The party wasn’t til 2. After calling out his name a few times to see if he was just up and playing video games or watching TV, I ventured upstairs. If he was going to get ready for the party in time, he needed to get up soon. Little boys can be even more difficult than girls to manage.

I knocked softly on this door. No answer. We have a very liberal policy when it comes to privacy, and being thirteen, I know what kinds of things children can get into behind closed doors. Nonetheless, after everything that’d happened, I was a little more on edge than usual. I gently opened the door, and peered into the room. The bulge in the sheets that was Tommy’s sleeping body was almost exactly where I’d left it. I walked over, sat on the edge of the bed, and lightly shook him.

“Tommy, wake up sweetie, it’s time for breakfast.”

No response.

I shook him again. “We really need to get ready for Addy’s party”.

Nothing. A sense of dread slowly crept over me. What if something was wrong? I reached to pull the sheets back. At the same time as I touched the comforter, a hand grabbed me from behind.

“RAHHHHHH”

My heart leapt into my throat and I spun around, falling off the bed.

“Tommy!” I shouted. He was standing there, a huge grin plastered across his face, the success of his ruse bright as day. I picked myself up off the floor and ripped back the sheets to uncover an extra pillow and a few stuffed animals.

“Gotcha” he said. I shook my head, a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth.

“You get your butt in the shower and then get dressed. We aren’t going to be late. And for god’s sake, don’t you ever do that again. You nearly gave me a heart attack.”

He stuck out his tongue and scampered away to the bathroom. So much energy. Such a little brat. He was never a lazy or easily bored child, but this behavior was definitely something new. I heard the shower turn on and got to fixing the bed. I tossed the stuffed animals to the side and started pulling the sheets up and folding the comforter. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a smudge of black on the fitted sheet, almost imperceptible against the dark violet shade of the cotton. Poking at it with a fingernail, a portion of it flaked off. I picked it up and brought it closer to my face; it didn’t look or smell like anything I could recognize. I shrugged it off.

Breakfast was uneventful. I made omelettes and Tommy and I talked about the party. I caught him staring off into space a few times. Nothing out of the ordinary, but the look in his eyes was a bit unsettling. Glassy, almost.  I nonchalantly brought up the black smudge on the sheet, and he readily had an explanation that he’d been drawing under the covers (he was quite the budding artist) and had spilled some ink. I accepted the story, but it did seem a bit too ready. Again, I shrugged it off.

We made it to the party at 1:45 on the dot. I always prided myself on being overly punctual. The kids were running around in the backyard while the adults sat on the porch and talked about sports, the weather, work – same old, same old. I left Tommy to go running off with Addy, the birthday girl, while talking to her mother Louise about an upcoming school event. Despite everything that’d happened in the last few weeks, things felt normal. I couldn’t help but smile and relax.

The birthday cake arrived, all sparkles and stars and three colors of frosting. Louise turned down all of the lights and Addy’s face beamed brightly from behind thirteen candles, tiny shadows dancing across her excited gaze. I was always blown away by the pure power of a child’s astonishment. We sang happy birthday, and as the last few echoes of “to you” rang throughout the room and Addy made her wish, a scream broke out from the far end of the table. Confusion, shuffling, and the lights were back on. All horrified eyes in the room were locked on Tommy, head down in a plate reserved for cake, with a pool of black liquid surrounding his face. I ran over as fast as I could, lifting his face out of the plate, only to find him completely despondent, a torrent of the sludge jetting out of his mouth with the speed of a sink faucet on high. The entire party dissolved into a panic.

That’s all I can really recall from that day. Or, rather, want to. The rest was a blur of ambulances and doctors, CAT scans and tubes and IV drips. So many tests, throughout which Tommy was entirely catatonic. The concerning thing, said the doctors, was that his brain activity was completely fine. All of his vitals, too. On the inside, he was functioning without any problems whatsoever. On the outside, it was as though he’d become a shell.

The party was just over three weeks ago. I took Tommy home from the hospital after a week had passed. The doctors said that there was nothing they could do for him, and recommended a specialist rehabilitation center in Chicago. On the third day of his stay in the hospital, i woke up at four in the morning. I don’t know what woke me, but as soon as I was conscious and had blinked the sleep out of my eyes I knew something was wrong. Looking around the room, I realized that Tommy’s bed was empty, and felt my entire body go cold. Before I could react further, in the dim glow of moonlight pouring in from outside, something caught my eye.

It was Tommy, out of bed, his face pressed up against the window. Given his previous state, this should have been cause for celebration; and it would have been, had he not been ten feet off the ground. I don’t know how I remained calm, but I did. I didn’t move an inch. I watched, my eyes heavy-lidded but my body shocked into a state of pure terror, as he crawled farther up the window, a wet smacking noise coming from some unseen source. I couldn’t see his face, and for heaven’s sake, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to, but it sounded as though he was dragging his tongue along the surface of the window, tasting it. A trail of the same black sludge I’d seen at the birthday party was following him as he ascended, dripping silently back to the floor. It was all I could do to remain calm. I slumped farther down in my chair and closed my eyes as tightly as I could, praying to whatever spirits might still be listening in the presence of this unholy abomination which had stolen away my son’s body. The smacking, sucking noises continued. Eventually, whether from the fear I felt or the absurdity of the situation or maybe just sheer luck, I managed to pass back out. My dreams were empty, an expanse of endless voided grace.

When I woke up again, it was morning, just past nine AM. Tommy was back in his bed, all tubes and monitors hooked up, still as an angel. One of the tending nurses came in and checked a few machines, changed a bag out, smiled at me, and left. No aberration  in the reports. On shaky legs, I hesitantly walked over to Tommy’s bedside, and gazed down upon my son who had, just a few hours ago, been doing his best impression of some hellish version of Spider-Man. Not a single hair looked out of place. The window, previously dripping with an unknown ooze, was sparkling clean. I’d wanted to believe that it was just a silly nightmare, something brought on by the ultimate stress of the situation, but I knew deep down in my heart that everything I’d seen had been real. This was wholly confirmed for me when I woke up to the same thing the next night, and then subsequently every other night that week. The wet smacking noises. The dragging of mucous on glass. The black sludge coating every surface he traversed.

By the seventh night in the hospital, I’d gotten so used to the sight that I almost looked forward to it. I had no clue what was happening, but at least it was some version of my son, something alive and alert and active. I don’t know what woke me up every single night to bear witness to this miracle, but whatever it was, I silently thanked it. By that seventh night, as I watched Tommy scamper across the walls and windows, it was as though every inch of the room was pulsating with a sort of sentient life underneath the sludge. I could feel it calling out to me, a physical pull from a formless beast, begging for mother. It was that night that I first touched it, that I even dared to move while watching these events unfold. As Tommy was busy sucking up the shadows in a far corner of the room, I gingerly reached out a hand to the wall closest me and dipped it into the sludge. It seemed to open around the point of entry and then envelope my finger, a hungry piglet connecting with the waiting nipple on a mother sow. It was warm and inviting, and the entire room seemed to throb. A strange euphoria crept up my spine and washed over my entire body. I would have held it there for the rest of the night had it not started burning. It felt as though I’d shoved my hand directly into open flame. I held back the scream begging to burst out from my throat and quickly ripped my hand from the wall, wiping the tender skin onto the inside of my jacket. The skin looked raw, almost boiled. My entire body felt as though I’d just run a 10k marathon. I shot a glance at the corner of the room where Tommy was still crawling, and he hadn’t seemed to notice the intrusion. My hand was sending jolts of pain throughout my entire body, but I didn’t care. I had regained some sort of connection with my son, and that’s all that mattered. The next day, it was as though everything fell directly in place. The doctors informed me of their inability to proceed with anything conclusive, handed me the information for the specialist facility in Chicago, and granted me full permission to take Tommy home until the initial appointment upstate, one week from that day. The hospital staff seemed robotic, almost as though they were running on a track. I’d even noticed, in the background of conversations, some doctors and nurses repeating the same motions over and over, their faces blank slates. But none of that bothered me, and none of it mattered. All that mattered was the fact that I had Tommy back, that I could take him home.

In the week since we left the hospital, things have become so much easier. Tommy is more active than ever and I’ve never felt prouder or more fulfilled as a mother. It was a bit disconcerting when I walked in on him in the midst of his “business”, but like I said, I’ve always kept a pretty liberal mindset when it comes to the surreptitious activities of thirteen year olds. I’d opened the door without thinking so I could bring in fresh sugarwater (it seemed to be his favorite now, no more ketchup and fries for my boy), only to find him bent over backwards, knees jutting at impossible angles, both hands clearly crammed into his rectum up to the wrist. He’d shouted at me, telling me to come back later. At least that’s what I imagine he said; the buzzing sound emanating from where his mouth used to be doesn’t make much sense to me. Thirteen year old boys can be so difficult to understand sometimes. I sighed, smiled, and backed out of the room, but not before he managed to fully tear open the hole he’d been working on, sending a finely-haired black barb jutting out from somewhere deep inside his body and splattering my face with a mixture of blood, muscle, and the familiar black sludge.

I’ve managed to avoid the sludge for the most part, as I still distantly remember the burning pain, but after the little mishap in his bedroom, all of my worries have faded away. Every conceivable space in the house is coated with it, creating a cocoon of eternal night, and it was only a matter of time. The flesh and muscle where the sludge had kissed my face had melted away about an hour after it’d made contact, and after the pain subsided, it was almost exciting to see the bone glistening underneath. What mother wouldn’t be excited to have a makeover taken care of by her son?

We’re a happy family. Whole. It’s becoming a bit harder to type with only one hand, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay. Tommy is a growing boy and needs as many nutrients as he can get. I’d give up anything to make sure he was happy; I’d give up the world. He still gives me that big, doleful child’s stare, full of trusting love and wonder and admiration and nothingness. Now, it just comes from a few more eyes. His entire body is covered in thick black hair and most of his bones are exposed, but they’re slowly blackening and curving into fine points; claws, almost. Anyway, who  am I to judge? I used to get a little wild when I was a kid. Trends these days can be so odd, but I’ll support him no matter how many stages he goes through.

As I sit here now, rocking my little boy on what’s left of my lap, I couldn’t be more proud. He’s gnawing away at a new hole just under my ribcage – so diligent and talented. A son always knows the way to his mother’s heart. Most of my body is gone, given to the sludge, but I can still bounce him just the slightest as he cracks open my ribs and slides the barb inside, laying the first round of eggs. Covering the hole with a fresh layer of membrane, he nuzzles my cheek, dissolving the skin and exposing my teeth. I would’ve smiled anyway. He skitters off, buzzing excitedly, and I lay my head back, feeling love and contentedness spilling from every inch of my being.

I’ll be a grandmother soon.