It was the middle of July when Kevin got the idea to go out on a limb. Literally. He had been eyeing that particular limb for weeks, seeing its size and shape and noticing the odd bumps at the end of it. They weren’t bulbs or anything else that would be normal and tree-related that Kevin could think of. Now, he admitted he didn’t have a great grasp of tree biology, in fact he spent an afternoon debating if it was “tree biology” or “tree herbology” or some other tree-related -ology he simply didn’t know the name of. Arbology, he thought, might be it. But that wasn’t the point.
The point was the limb.
Those little bumps confused him. They seemed to be made of metal, the way they would glint in the sun, and Kevin really wanted to find out what was up with them. He wanted to touch them and sniff them and yes, if the truth was told, lick them.
When Kevin was only five his father had explained that in order to truly know what something is you had to lick it. Kevin’s mother started yelling and waving her hands and shoving his father right out of the room but, sadly for his mother, the lesson stuck. Kevin spent the winter of his fifth year licking many things: his baby sister (once repeatedly until the top of her head wrinkled), a dog, trees, his blocks (a splinter in the tongue almost put an end to licking but didn’t), a goldfish (with the side effect of winning a buck from Marty Feldman) and old Mister Hawthorne. It was Mister Hawthorne that put an end to things.
Kevin licked the old man’s hand while the old man was asleep on his porch. Snap! opened Hawthorne’s eyes, right before he grabbed his cane and swatted Kevin soundly about the thighs and butt.
Kevin tried really hard to stop licking things after that. He failed quite a bit but he did make a good solid effort. Strange, metal-looking, un-belonging tree branch knobs though – those would get licked like nobody’s business.
So Kevin climbed the tree and started to shimmy out down the branch. It was a bit smaller than he thought and bent some under his weight. Kevin trembled and start to reconsider his plan, but then he found the core of his resolve and inched forward.
One inch at a time he went. Knees shuffling up and then hands scraping along bark until everything wobbled too much and Kevin grasped at the branch too tightly to let go. A breath, a count to five and then his knees would shuffle forward again.
The knobs, or whatever they were, drew closer. Now Kevin could see that they really did look like metal. They looked, and here Kevin laughed as he had the thought, like tiny little Jiffy Pop containers. Puffy and silver and wrinkled and begging to be explored. Kevin forgot himself for a second and moved too fast. The branch quivered. Kevin shook. Creaking and snapping and slamming sounds followed quickly with the end result of Kevin on the ground, a broken tree branch on top of him, the tip of it, with bulbs shining brightly, a tiny fraction of an inch from his face.
Kevin laughed and took a deep breath. He sat up and poked and rubbed the knobs on the end of the branch. They felt cold to the touch. Impossibly cold. So he brought the whole branch closer and darted the tip of his tongue out – the knobs were ice cold and tasted like aluminum! He tasted them again and nodded. That was, in fact, the exact taste of…
Something was wrong. Kevin froze. He thought really hard and swallowed harder. His whole mouth rang out with the taste of aluminum and ozone. It spread like wildfire and Kevin lay down to get his bearings, suddenly dizzy. He stared at the sky and turned his head to spit, trying to clear the taste out of his mouth. Instead of spitting, however, what came out with a long strand of drool. Silvery, shiny drool.
Kevin screamed and leapt to his feet. He ran in circles, not knowing what else to do. He cried and beat at his head with his fists and ran and ran in circles. Nothing made sense. Would he die? Become metal? Something entirely different? Kevin did not know and did not want to find out.
Exhausted, cried out and with a throat so sore he could only sort of croak his own name out, Kevin sat down and rocked, hugging his knees. There he saw the branch again. He grabbed it, flush with anger, and smashed it, metal knobs first, against a nearby rock. It sparked and started to smoke. Shocked, Kevin dropped the branch and sat back, jaw slackened.
But it was too late. Kevin felt himself harden and crinkle as slowly he became the same cold, strange metal that the knobs were made of. He clawed at it, while he could, and wailed, while he could, but nothing helped. Soon there was a boy, with a branch in his hand, made of metal in the backwoods behind the town.
No one noticed for quite some time, until a dog happened by. Something seemed interesting to him (Gruntfart was the name humans had given him but he, in his heart, knew his true name was Awooooorafrafrafwooga) and he licked the frozen boy. Shaking his head in anger and distaste, Awooooorafrafrafwooga ran off back toward home, intending to lick the humans who laughed at his gastro-intestinal problems until the taste was firmly off his tongue.
The metal spread. It took its time. No need for hurry.