“What’s this about? I ask Shawn.
“I can’t explain. Just follow me,” he says. We walk out to the alley behind my dad’s restaurant. It smells like grease and rotten vegetables and cat feces. A pleasant combination.
“But why out here?” I complain.
“We need privacy.”
“We could literally go anywhere else.”
“Will you stop? We’re already here. Deal with it,” he says. “I promise it’ll be worth it.”
I sigh. This is typical Shawn behavior. Overly excited about everything. I’m almost positive it won’t be worth it. Shawn has a way of aggrandizing everything. Once he woke me up in the middle of the night and dragged me to Best Buy because the “best video game ever” was coming out and he just knew there’d be people camping out. We got there and the only other person in line was a homeless fellow named Gregorio who had two and a half teeth and spent the evening lecturing us about the collapse of democracy.
“Well, what is it?” I spit.
He steps back, tripping over a mountain of garbage bags. Tomato sauce splatters all over his pants, but he ignores it.
“Okay, remember how I said the other night I was sick?” he asks.
“I wasn’t! Not exactly. Something happened.” He stops, obviously waiting for me to ask what, but I don’t really care.
He sighs. “What happened, Shawn?” he asks, imitating my voice (poorly, I must add). “Soooo glad you asked, Gus. Something crashed on my lawn. From the skyyyy!”
He stops again.
I glare. Kinda bored. A lot annoyed.
He continues, “Dude, it was like a meteor or something.”
I give him nothing.
“Like from space,” he says, as though this will pique my interest.
It doesn’t, yet he goes on.
“You know I had to check it out. It was huge and shiny and black and super alien-looking. And I touched it.” He giggles like a 5-year-old. “Full on palmed it. And then, well, watch this.”
He extends his arms. And nothing happens. Of course, nothing happens. He does this a lot. He wants his life to be some kind of fantastical story or something, but he’s just my annoying best friend with an overactive imagi—
He begins to shake. Like too fast to be humanly possible. And he’s smiling this dorky smile.
“Oh wow, you can shake!” I mock, though I am a bit impressed. And all together confused.
“I know, right!” He laughs again. “But that’s not all. Keep watching.”
The shaking continues. And he’s almost crying with laughter. And then his body collapses on the ground, falling into what looks like days-old vomit.
I’d be worried, but he’s still laughing, so I just watch like this is completely normal behavior. And now he spins on the ground, totally break dancing, but he’s too uncoordinated for it to be by his own doing. And while he spins, his body starts to twist and morph into something different. It expands and contracts. Expands and contracts, until finally, it shrinks to the size of a mouse.
Then some kind of goo spews from his mouth straight into mine.
It’s rancid. I spit, trying to get it off my tongue before I add to the vomit mines on the ground.
“You still watching?” His voice now a tiny squeak.
I spit again, but admit, “Yeah, I’m watching,”
“Good! Pull out your phone. You gotta record this part.”
I do and hold it up past my face, trying to film and watch the strangeness through my own eyes at the same time. Because now, he’s hopping up and down. Well, something is hopping up and down. It sure doesn’t look like Shawn. It doesn’t even look human anymore.
It’s slimy all over, total Ghostbuster vibes. And I’m not sure, but it looks like Shawn’s limbs are gone, replaced by smooth skin or some other sort of smooth body covering. And his eyes bulge from the top of his head, while the rest of his facial features seem to disappear.
And the smell oozing from his body is detrimental to my health. Like a terrible combination of months-old tuna and pickle factory. I plug my nose.
What. Is. Happening?
But I keep watching because this is weird, and I like weird stuff. I guess that’s why Shawn and I are such good friends.
Now Shawn makes one final hop, but instead of falling back to earth, he floats. He actually floats, a few feet from my eyes. And there’s this strange mist surrounding him, making it difficult to see clearly.
“Dude, I can fly!” He sways back and forth in the air, doing a flip.
“I see that.” I step forward, pointing my phone closer at him. And as I do, the mist begins to dissipate and Shawn, or whatever he is now, takes a clearer shape.
“Well? You impressed?”
But I’m speechless. Because what’s staring back at me is not what I would’ve imagined. Ever. And I’m a bit confused why Shawn is so proud of himself. This thing staring back at me is less impressive than a decaying tooth. Sure, flying is sweet, but changing into this form? Really? Where was that meteor from? Some place—I can’t think of a comparably ridiculous place—but someplace dumb. Obviously.
Because floating in front of me is something so underwhelming it might as well be a white wall.
Okay, so this is Shawn. I don’t even want to say what he is now because it’s just too lame. Shawn, my most annoying and beloved friend is now a….
I sigh. “You’re a slug.”
Yeah, a slug. Not even a snail with a cool shell. Just a slug. A somewhat-large slug, but still a slug. Perfectly sized for stepping on.
But Shawn doesn’t see himself as just a slug. I know this because he basically shrieks and exclaims, “A totally awesome, flying slug with super awesome powers!”
“Yay!” I try to fake enthusiasm. But it’s impossible.
He floats to the ground, chuckling to himself. There’s one thing about Shawn, he’s optimistic. And not always on the same plane as everyone else.
“I guess I can like keep the streets safe now. You could be my sidekick. It’ll be awesome,” he suggests. His miniature voice cracking.
Now I can’t help but laugh. “What are you gonna do? Slime the bad guys?”
It’s hard talking to a slug because I can’t really tell how he’s reacting to my words, and the stench is still burning my innards. But I hear his voice cry out, “Maybe my slime is poison or something! Maybe I can—”
The door swings open. One of the line cooks, Lassiter, steps out with a bag of trash and takes a big step.
A big step right onto Shawn.
There’s a splat sound and my heart drops.
“No, no, no!” I shout.
“No, what?” Lassiter jumps back, the trash bag flying out of his hand.
“You stepped on him! You killed him.”
“I what?” Lassiter asks.
He searches the ground, lifts his foot, and there Shawn lies. All smooshed and slimy. All kinds of dead. Lassiter shakes his head and wipes his foot on a pile of banana peels. “Gross,” he complains.
“You’re a strange kid, Gus.”
I laugh nervously, just wanting him to leave. “Yeah, the strangest.”
He walks back into the restaurant. I rush to where Shawn’s crushed body sits like jelly on bread. Tears welling. Heart pounding in my chest.
“I’m sorry, Shawn.” And the splattering sound replays in my mind. I shudder.
But then I hear an odd sound. It’s like a strained laugh. High-pitched.
It’s Shawn. His flattened, slug body begins to inflate. Bigger and bigger until it’s back to its “normal” size.
Somehow, he’s okay.
“I guess I’m indestructible too!” he yelps with joy.
I scratch my head, thoroughly perplexed and inexplicably jealous.