After a few moments’ search, Chris found the source of the noise. A kid, barely a teenager, was perched on the lip of a concrete retaining wall, overlooking the highway and onramp. There was a sharp glittering of reflected light as Chris approached, and it only took a moment to ascertain why: the kid’s upper body was covered with protruding crystals, a deep violet hue all.

“Yeah, I can see you staring,” the kid said, without looking. “I know I’m crystalizing. Stick around long enough and you’ll get to see how far it’ll go.” The words were half-choked by sobs, and in the flashes of gas station light, Christ could see tear-streaked eyes.

“They used to think you could catch it,” said Chris softly. “They called it a crystophage, gave everyone medicine to protect themselves against it. But you know what? They’re just scared.”

“Yeah,” sniffed the kid. He drew a sleeve across his oozing nose. “You’ve heard what they call folks like me.”

“Oh sure,” Chris said. “Rock salt. Prism. Crystal meth was a big one when I was your age.”

“My parents keep asking if I want to go away,” the kid continued. “They say there are camps…places where they can cut out the crystals before they grow. Make you…normal.”

“Horrible places, and they don’t even work for all the nightmares they inflict on poor kids like you,” said Chris. “You wanna be normal that bad?”

“Yeah,” said the kid.

“Really?”

There was a moment’s pause. “Normal is how they keep everyone in line,” the kid said after a moment. “Normal is how they make you feel how you’re the one who’s wrong, for nor being what they want you to be. Like you have a choice. And you know what? I like me. The crystals? They’re beautiful. They have this hum about them…it’s like music. When the light and the wind are right, there’s this hum, this tingle, and it’s the best thing in the world.” He paused. “Like being in love, only better.”

Chris nodded. “I know exactly what you mean, kiddo.”

The kid smiled a wan smile. “I’ve heard a lot of folks say that, but they never do. The school counselor’s favorite, even if she wouldn’t know what I’m going through if it bit her on the ass. I bet you think you’re helping, but you have no idea.”

“Oh no?” Chris rolled up a sleeve, exposing a lattice of brilliant heptagonal crystals. Beginning around the elbow, they grew in complexity and color until they were nearly black where the fabric cut them off again. “I cover them up.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because it’s easier. Because when I was your age there was nobody for me to look up to, nobody to sit down next to me and tell me it was okay.” Chris sighed, and looked out over the car lights on the highway. “Maybe I’m a coward. I don’t know.”

The kid was quiet for a bit. “You know what? That helps a little. Sometimes you forget that you’re not the only one.”

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