ANTI-MAN by Dean R. Koontz

When we reached the trees, I stopped and looked at His hands but could find no trace of the previous transformation. His fingers were back in place, five to a hand, all perfectly formed. “How much of your body can you—change when you want to?” I asked. I had been afraid, back there when I had fallen through the crust, that He would just leave me there. What did He need me for, after all? It seemed that, already, He was going to be too much for World Authority to handle, even with their superior fire power and all their cunning little think tank men. There did not appear to be any need for me, even though He assured me there was.

Of course, that was not His way, abandoning someone to die.

“I can change most of it,” He said matter-of-factly.

“Your face?”

“I’m working on that.”

“And how far have you progressed?”

“I need to be able to exert more delicate control on the bone tissue. It, too, must be changed along with the facial features of the flesh.”

“When you control that, we can stop running,” I said. “You can change your face and go unrecognized.” Indeed, He could assume a different face every few weeks, every week if necessary, and be always a few steps ahead of the authorities with no fear of their ever catching Him.

“Someone would recognize me sooner or later, Jacob. It isn’t just my face. It’s everything about me that singles me out, makes people suspicious of me. I’m— well—different.” He grinned that damned infectious, winning grin of His and spread His hands in a show of helplessness. All for my benefit. He was about as helpless as a full-grown bull elephant.

But what He said had some truth to it. He would always be an outcast. There was an indefinable, unscientific aura about Him that gave Him an indisputably alien air. I knew what it was. He was alien, in that He was a superman, a supergenius too, who could no more pass for a man than a man could pass for a monkey in some jungle ape society. “But a change of face could gain you time to complete your evolution,” I said.

“Get me to the cabin,” He said, gripping my shoulder in His mammoth hand, “and I will only need the three days you promised. Then face-changing won’t be necessary.”

I put on my goggles and mask, for my face was already prickled with numbness that felt like a huge injection of novocaine had been rammed into both my cheeks. I fumbled the compass out and read it, pointed straight ahead. He took the lead, breaking a trail, spraying the snow to both sides, tramping it down, charging through it at a brisk pace. As we walked, I noticed something new about Him. His hand, when He had gripped my shoulder, had been enormous, not just large. Now I saw that He was enormous in every respect. An insulated suit, meant to be bulky, was strained to bursting with His giant body. His head seemed higher, larger, with a much greater expanse of forehead. His footprints were half again as large as mine. He lumbered through the dark woods like a fairy-tale giant, crushing or thrusting aside all that got in His way, silent, somewhat mysterious. Again, I was conscious of that part of His personality that always remained shrouded, the eerie side of Him that I had never been able to understand.

It was not exactly the result of the wind or the cold, but I shivered.

Half an hour later, He stopped and squatted in a small clearing, wiping snowflakes from His face and looking about as if He were searching for something He had left behind on a previous trip through these same parts, though He could never have been here before. His head tilted, swayed from side to side like a pendulum through molasses, His lips compressed and bloodless.

“What is it?” I asked, coming up behind Him. “I’m not tired yet, if that’s what you’re troubled about.”

“How far to the cabin, Jacob?” He asked anxiously, His voice closer to a show of emotion than it usually got. It was the first time I had seen anxiety in Him; He was usually the pinnacle of patience, easygoing and willing to wait for all things.

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Categories: Koontz, Dean