His nose was wider than before and greener. That wasn’t all. His eyebrows were thicker, blacker, the hair looked more like what was on the back of his hand. And what was happening to his ears? They looked calloused, swollen. There were new bumps and twists in them. He wasn’t surprised, or was less surprised, to see they were also a sickly shade of green. Actually, his whole face had started taking on that colour. What the Hell?
Strange though, that the bartender hadn’t reacted at all; perhaps he thought it was just how Andy looked. Or maybe it was the dim lighting in the bar. At any rate, after he left here he’d go to the hospital on his way home. What else could he do? He looked like some kind of monster.
Shaking his head, feeling self-conscious, he left the bathroom and went back to his seat. There was still a few minutes to go. Andy glanced around, killing time and trying to keep his mind off his own predicament. His eyes passed over TV screens and the faces of the other people there. Their faces…
Every one of the other people waiting, at least the three within his line of sight, had a green cast to their skin. And, hell, their eyebrows looked pretty damn thick. He looked to the hands of one man as the guy lifted his lager. Bingo! The skin on the back of the hand was dark, blotchy and covered in thick hair. The gnarled fingers had wart-like bubbles around the nails. And, of course, that same green.
Andy stood and went to the man’s table.
“Hey, can I join you?” he asked.
“Hmmm,” the man said, looking up. “Oh, yes, sure.” He smiled wider. “We’re all here for the same thing.”
“Right,” Andy said, sitting down. “Can I ask you a question?”
“I don’t know how to put this…,” Andy said, trying to find a way to ask the man when he started turning green without it sounding insulting. He decided there was no way. “When did you start turning green?”
The man’s eyes widened in alarm — someone had noticed! — but then relaxed a little when he studied Andy and realized that he was also afflicted.
“Shit,” the man said, shaking his head, “you too?”
Andy nodded. “I started noticing yesterday.”
“So, what’s causing it?”
The man shook his head. “Who knows?” He took another swig of his lager. “Probably some GMO garbage in our canned peas. You know they’re putting that stuff in there without having it on the label, right?”
Andy nodded. “Oh, I know. It’s about the only thing I agree with those fucking libtards about.”
The man laughed. “Hahaha, right? I’m Trevor, BTW.”
“Andy,” he said, holding out his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“You too man,” Trevor said, shaking his hand. “You know what I think it is, this shit happening to us?”
“It’s some university lab. They engineered some disease targeting certain people. They’re trying to thin the population, kill off all the ones against their globalist agenda.”
Andy was nodding. “Sounds about right.” He glanced around the room, taking in the other two people he couldn’t see from his previous seat. They had symptoms too. “Have you noticed that everyone else here also has symptoms?”
Trevor looked around. “Sheeeit! That’s a mighty coincidence.” He glanced toward the door.
Andy did the same. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think it’s time to get out of here. This is looking too much like some pod people shit.”
“Agreed, let’s…,” Andy started but trailed off when he saw the bartender leave the bar and walk to the front door. What was happening?
The bartender had a key in his hand, which he used to lock the front door. He didn’t notice six sets of eyes follow his every move and open wider. The bartender next moved to the counter, to the wall there. At a panel he moved some sliders, dimming the light in the room. All the watching eyes went a little wider still.
“Hey, what’s going on?” someone asked.
“Nothing to worry about folks,” the bartender said. He had a remote in his hand now. He pressed a button and the TVs all went black. “We’re about to start. Our hosts are a little light sensitive is all.”
No one said anything but everyone was looking everywhere, seeing how everyone else was reacting. The tension was palpable. Andy didn’t know what was coming but his pulse raced. Was he about to die?
“Looks like we missed our window,” Trevor said.
“Yeah, I think so. Guess were in it now, whatever it is.”
Trevor nodded and downed the rest of his drink. Andy thought that was a pretty good idea and did the same.
As he laid his empty glass down two men lumbered into the room from a side door. They were huge, hulking, with broad everything — legs, arms, feet. While not tall, no taller than Andy himself, they were bulky. Their heads were wide and square. Both wore expensive tailored suits and shiny black shoes. However, Andy couldn’t see any detail, their faces were lost in the shadow of the dim room. They stopped at the opposite side of the bar from where the bathrooms were. Andy still couldn’t see their faces in the darkness.
“Good morning my patriotic gentlemen!” The man’s voice was clear without being sharp and loud without being harsh. He reminded Andy of a guy reading an audiobook, one you didn’t want to put down. “You have answered a call and we couldn’t be more pleased. You want to change the world; a noble endeavour if ever there was one. You want to recapture what has been lost. And you shall!”
The man stepped forward, into the beam of dim light coming from the top of the bar. There were gasps from all around the room. It wasn’t a man at all.
The gentle voice belonged to a beast. A literal beast. The brute’s wide head was domed with thick, black, wiry hair, slicked back with some kind of pomade. Below that his eyebrows were an inch thick and appeared to explode from his heavy brow. His skin was like dried, cracked paint. But, worst of all, it was green. Not pale, not a hint, not a tinge, no. It was full on lime green.
The man reached up one giant paw — the skin there was the same, the hair along the back of it too — and scratched the side of his wide nose. The large nostrils flared as he exhaled. Andy couldn’t help glancing at his own hand. What the hell? Was he going to become like that? Were they all? He looked at Trevor in the shadows. Trevor was studying him the same.
“Now,” the gentle, oily voice continued, “I know our appearance may be a little unsettling.” He laughed a little. “It was to me, too, at first. But rest assured it is for the best. This body has power! And you know what we can do with power, don’t you?” He let the question hang there, apparently waiting for an answer.
One of the guests, over near the window, said, “Change the world?”
“Damn right,” the monster said, his lips curling in a smile that revealed huge slabs of yellow teeth beneath. “Your power was taken from you. But we’ve given it back to you, and more to spare. This is the dawning of a new world! A new time! You shall remake the world in your image.” Again he paused, letting it all sink in.
The only thing sinking into Andy was fear. Again, he looked to Trevor. But his new friend didn’t meet his gaze. He was facing the beast man, staring, enthralled. All around the room Andy saw the same thing: glazed eyes, gaping at the speaker.
Suddenly the room erupted in applause. All of them — except the speaker and his partner — were clapping. Andy joined in; he knew better than to be the odd one out.
“Thank you, thank you, my friends. My brothers!” the speaker said. “Now, we want to meet you all. Tim,” he looked at the bartender, “OxPower for everyone!”
“Coming right up, Cyril,” the bartender said.
The bartender knew him. The bastard knew! Andy found himself thinking. It was all a damn conspiracy. He watched Tim put nine familiar cans on the top of the bar: OxPower Cola. A conspiracy. Andy had just started drinking the stuff and now he was turning green, turning into… one of them. He glanced at the two broad men… but not men.
They moved like men, but it was wrong. They wore expensive suits that hugged their huge forms, but it wasn’t right. Beneath those movements and clothing were monsters. There was a word on the tip of his tongue but he couldn’t get it. Andy had other, more important, things on his mind.
Like getting out of there.
“Come, my friends, let us celebrate the coming new order!” Cyril the beast exclaimed.
Everyone stood and started moving toward the line of cans on the bar. Andy stood too but hung back, skirting left, around the moving mass. Toward the bathrooms.
As cans were snatched from the bar he slipped along its left side. When he was fairly sure he was out of sight he started to run. At the emergency exit he shoved hard on the large metal bar; the door swung open. A siren started wailing in the room — the door was alarmed!
Andy was through the door, heading down some concrete stairs toward another door, to the outside. As the emergency exit slammed shut he thought he heard a booming voice issuing commands inside. He didn’t wait to find out. A moment later he was outside. The cold, early morning air slapped him in the face. It was the best thing he had ever felt in his life.
He didn’t look back, didn’t stop, just ran, toward the parking garage. About a block down the street, passing several taxis parked there, it occurred to him that his car was probably compromised. He stopped, eyeing the taxis. Why not? He climbed into the back of one of them.
“Hey,” he said to the cabbie, giving her the address. He was so preoccupied that he didn’t even stop to consider her sex and how that might reflect on her ability to do her job.
“Sure thing,” the woman said, putting the car in gear. She shifted her rearview mirror and studied him a minute. “You alright? You look a little green?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said, a little sharp.
The woman said nothing, just shrugged and drove on.
By the time the taxi pulled up at his house the cabbie was acting strangely. She seemed very nervous and sighed with relief when he paid and got out. Getting out was harder than getting in, the door seemed smaller than he remembered. The cab pulled away, screeching its tires.
Andy unlocked his front door, looking over his shoulder the whole time. He dropped the keys twice, he was shaking so bad. And his fingers felt awkward; it was probably just the cold. Once inside he locked the deadbolt and the knob lock, not taking any chances.
Were they coming for him? Did they know where he lived?
Come on, that was being paranoid. Or was it?
He went to the little spare room and sat in front of the computer. The chair creaked under his weight; that was new. He reached out to open the laptop and froze. His hands! They were thick and drawn, the skin cracked and green.
Andy jumped up and ran from the room, toward the bedroom across the hall. Inside he still had the wherewithal to try and be quiet — Becky was sleeping — but hit his leg against the dresser. Had she moved it? It seemed like it was in the wrong place.
“Shit,” he mumbled in the dark. His voice sounded different. “Mi, mi, mi, mi,” he whispered to himself, testing it. He did sound different. His voice was smoother, with more range.
“Andy?” Becky asked, half asleep, from the bed.
“Sorry, go back to bed.”
“Are you okay? You sound different.”
“I’m fine, just gotta go to the bathroom.”
He slipped into the ensuite and closed the door, though he didn’t lock it. In the darkness of the bathroom he stood before the mirror. His finger was on the light switch but he had to work up the courage to flick it. Inhaling deeply he turned it on.
The scream came before he knew it was happening. It was pure reaction and pierced the quiet of the night.
“Andy?!” Becky called, alarmed, from the bedroom. He heard her moving there, getting up. His voice wouldn’t come; he wanted to tell her to stay away.
He looked at himself in the mirror, squinting against the bright light. But it wasn’t him, no, it was Cyril staring back. Andy’s shoulders were wide, his arms and legs and hands were swollen and broad. And his head was square. He looked like a Neanderthal, a brute. No, he knew what he was. The word that he hadn’t been able to find at the bar came to him then.
He was a troll.
It was the OxPower. He knew that now. They were changing people into trolls using energy drinks. Devious, ingenious.
“Andy?” Becky said, turning the knob, opening the door. “Are you alright?”
He turned, really seeing her for the first time in a long time. She was beautiful. But, more than that, he remembered how witty and intelligent she was. And, most of all, he realized how much she must love him to stay with him all this time, no matter how he had treated her. He wanted to tell her all of this.
But he couldn’t.
Her screams filled the night.