Bogleech.com's 2018 Horror Write-off:
Submitted by Shakara
Damn interview... How long is this gonna take? As long as I need?
Damn interview... How long is this gonna take? As long as I need?
Where do I begin…?
Well… You’ve probably seen those ‘Got Milk?’ ads on TV before. Been nagged by your parents. Heard about it in science class.
Milk. It’s good for you, you know.
It only makes sense. Calcium and vitamin D are vital for bone and teeth growth and prevention of osteoporosis. Cheese. Milk. Yoghurt. Skyr. Whatever.
I honestly never liked milk that much. It was a strange drink, pale and cold, not tasting of much. My parents would always get me to drink it, usually by adding flavoured powders like strawberry, chocolate, banana… without success. The powders always made it taste worse.
I didn’t eat cereal and milk, only sticking to yoghurts.
The first time I heard about milk being important for bone growth, I couldn’t have been older than 6. Or 7. Anyway, I’d heard it in science class. I didn’t pay attention to the explanation, I didn’t fully comprehend it at the time, but I was fascinated at the idea of growing taller, just from a drink.
If I hated milk back then, I could safely say my childish bias was swiftly crushed.
Once class was over, I stood outside in the playground with my friend Frans. That was his nickname, his actual full name being Francosie Lachance.
French, on his father’s side. He was a pale boy, with a black bob haircut. Most of the other boys made fun of his hair, since it was long, and they said it made him look like a girl. Of course, I would come in and threaten to tell the teacher, and they would scatter like roaches.
It was afternoon, so we were looking at our lengthening shadows as the autumn sun began to set. I’d begun to make shadow-puppets, pretending my arms were giant crocodile jaws, and I was going to eat Frans right up. He picked up a fallen stick from one of the many sycamore trees, and began to wield it like a broadsword, his shadow gargantuan.
We did that until the cloud cover arrived, shielding the sun and ruining our play.
“I wish I were tall.” I said, looking at the older kids in envy. I was a stocky 6-year-old, not the typical slender and fit build that most girls my age were. I couldn’t complain, though, as Frans was shorter than I. I was more squat than short, perhaps from eating all that cheese.
I had to be at least 115 centimetres tall, whereas Frans was 100 centimetres. I would have to help him get folders and pens down from a shelf. We each had set ‘project folders’ for certain classes, and they were at the top shelf of the ‘work cupboard’. Most kids could reach, but I had to help Frans.
“I can do it myself.”, he snapped, stretching as far as his stubby legs would allow him, standing right on the tips of his toes, fingers pointed out like daggers… but he couldn’t. I had to help. I didn’t mind. He is my friend.
Primary school passed. We did our work, we behaved, had fun in the playground… Just normal kid stuff. Well, Frans didn’t do sports. I took a liking to table tennis, but he never joined any of the sport clubs. He’d always preferred music and dance.
I distinctly remember us looking through the club applications, which were located in the gym. Tall white stands set out with posters, signs and related miscellanea. I was looking at two other kids playing table tennis, while Frans had been looking at a stand for basketball.
“Ha! Do you think you’re eligible to join? Look at you! You’re practically a dwarf!”
One of the older kids, a giant of 140 centimetres, was looking down at Frans.
“Come back when you’re taller.”
Frans just stared with a poisonous gaze.
I can’t say I blamed him. Back then, height was a sign of considerable status. You weren’t a ‘big kid’ unless you were actually ‘big’. Nowadays, it seems silly to judge character only on physical image.
After we filled out our applications for the clubs, the day was over, and we were free to go home. I was just packing up my schoolbag when Frans asked me if I had any pocket money on me. I said yes, and asked why. He said we were going to the supermarket.
Pound-Sound, the shop was called. Meant to be some sort of play on words, but honestly, I always felt it was a better name for a disco. I had gone to the sweet aisle, trying to decide between a pack of blue raspberry snakes and a bar of chocolate infused with dried raspberries and vanilla.
“Hey, Tess!” [My name is Teagan, I forgot to mention. But sometimes I’m called Tess.]
“I think they’ve put new products in the aisles. I don’t recognise those brands.”
“Where were you? I looked all over, even in the ice-cream aisle.”
“Just come with me.”
He led me to the dairy aisle. I had expected the everyday bottles of Blue Vale and Pureflow to meet me, but all of those ones had been removed. Maybe they had expired?
Somehow, I was able to know, without knowing, that all the other brands had been removed due to contamination in the milk.
Instead, there was only one brand. In bottles and cartons alike, looking out at us.
‘Happy Cow’. The bottles were standard, tall and white, and the label was of a blue sky and green field, with a cartoony cow smiling. There was a speech-bubble coming from it.
I looked at the label, trying to find a farm or company. I didn’t see any. I may had been six years of age, but I knew that there were companies who purified, bottled and sold off the milk. The only other piece of text I saw on the label was ‘Rich in Vitamins and Minerals! Maximum Growth!’
Frans immediately took it out of my hands. He looked through his pockets and counted his money, looked at the label and nodded. He then took an armful of carton packs, almost collapsing with the weight of them.
I watched as he walked up to the counter, almost unseen by the clerk, and paid for his items. He then tottered away with a plastic bag, trying not to drop it.
I paid for my sweets and ran after him, which didn’t take long.
“You know, being tall is overrated. Do you know how many times a day those tall dudes must whack their heads off low doorframes? And the clothes! Who’s going to find giant clothes for them? They’re gonna have to get sheep by the hundreds to make a single shirt!”
Of course, he wasn’t listening. Frans had always been my friend, kind and artistic, yet also tenacious. I walked him home as he struggled to get the door open.
“I’ve got Space Jam on VHS.”
He didn’t even listen as he pushed the door open, his mother’s voice greeting him.
“Frans, you’re home late! What happened?”
“Went to Pound-Sound with Teagan. Bought stuff.”
“What did you buy? I hope it’s not sweets. You’ll rot your teeth.”
“Actually, it’s just milk.”
The next couple of days, Frans’s mood seemed to improve. I suppose him drinking the milk gave him a sense of security that he’d be taller in the future. I honestly didn’t blame him.
He’d come to school with a carton of that Happy Cow milk in his lunchbox.
It became part of his routine. We all just accepted it.
Years passed. We continued to play together, talk together, make other friends, study, sit in the playground, etc.
I began to associated Happy Cow with Frans. I didn’t need to see him, I just had to see that carton, or smell it. That cold, white smell.
Frans actually did get taller, but slowly, of course. People just don’t shoot upwards.
As the years passed, I could see the frame he was growing into, and mentally projected how he’d look when older.
Eventually, the day of reckoning came. Eleven plus.
Fortunately, we got good marks, being the good pupils.
Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to tell each other what schools we were going to. I had wanted to tell him that I was going to St. Philomena’s grammar school, but I had come too late.
Frans had already moved.
Another school, further away. I remember it well, with me running up the pavement, past the lampposts and mailboxes up to Frans pale blue house, only to see a large moving van pull up. The mover-man had told me the Lachance family had moved only a week before.
With great sorrow, I entered St. Philomena’s.
Dread welled within me as I pondered the thought of essays, projects, reports, GCSE exams…
Uniforms were also there. How I hated wearing a uniform…
I wore a pleated azure skirt, paired with crisscrossed socks and plimsolls coloured in sienna and azure respectively. Short sleeved shirts, usually tucked into the skirts and covered with a blazer. Also, a tie, chequered in sienna and azure. I could never tie the ties.
In the winter, girls were allowed to wear thick, dernier tights, but not trousers. Even though I saw one girl who had broken her leg playing ice-hockey, limping down the corridor in crutches with trousers. Even though we’d been told girls cannot wear trousers!
Torture, I swear…
Alright, back to the story.
Anyway, my time at the grammar school was fine. I actually started to enjoy myself, joining the tennis team and making some new friends. I met a nice girl by the name of Sabina. I met her in the library when I was studying Geography. She was a second-year student, so often helped me navigate St. Philomena’s labyrinthine halls and to format essays correctly.
Being in St. Philomena was nice, but it still felt wrong without Frans. I had been so close to him, that it was quiet without him. Not that I’m slagging off Sabina. She’s nice.
Truly, I missed him.
Well, imagine my shock when it came to the annual school talent show!
First, there was the usual show of air-guitar show-offs or overly-egotistic girls singing the same banal pop-songs. I yawned my way through them. Several people from the music clubs came up, playing violins and flutes. Nice, but still not super.
There was a magic show that went horrendously wrong, which boiled down to the entire hall having to try and catch an escaped rabbit which may or may not have been in heat…
Finally came the last act: ballet. It must’ve been Swan Lake, or something. To be honest, I didn’t pay full attention to the name of the dance. I was just fixated on the performance.
There were a handful of girls, all in dark pink tutus. Some of them were wearing masks, others had makeup. Together, they all danced. I must say, I quite liked it. Then, another person came onto the stage. A tall boy in a dark purple leotard and white mask, much taller than the girls.
He danced, with more vigour than the other dancers. He hopped with a brisé, spinning dedans en. Many times, we thought he’d lose balance and fall, but he never did. No matter how much be span around or stood on his toes, he remained upright to the end of the dance, finishing off with a graceful cabriole.
Everyone applauded, and the dancers bowed. I didn’t know why, but there was something familiar about the boy.
After the show, I stayed behind to see who that was, telling Sabina I would meet up later. All the other performers left: the singers, the violin and flute players, the magician, until finally the ballet girls left. Now, only the purple boy remained.
I walked up to the back of the stage. I smelt something. It smelt cold.
The boy removed his mask and looked about in a schoolbag. He took out a carton of milk and checked his watch.
He turned around, looking for who’d called his name. Yes, that was definitely Frans. He was older and taller, much taller, but I’d recognise that face, and that hair.
I stepped out of the dark. “It’s me! Teagan!”
“Tess? It is you!”
“Oh my god! I thought you’d gone to a different school!”
“I thought you moved away for good!”
“Well… Once we got my results, my parents thought it’d be good to move house closer to St. Philomena’s. I had no idea you cared so much!”
“You’ve taken up ballet?”
“Eh? Yeah. I was always keen for music. They told me I could join the basketball club, but I really don’t like competition.”
“… Are they still selling that Happy Cow milk?”
He looked at the carton. “Yep. I guess it made me taller. Heh. If only everyone back at primary school could see me now.”
And so, my time at St. Philomena’s was enhanced by Frans presence. We had more fun, looking through the extra-curricular activities, swapping experiences, reading in the library…
Not to say I preferred Frans over Sabina. I liked them both!
The years passed, and together we faced every day that came. Even the daunting prospect of the exams couldn’t dampen our vigour! If anything, it strengthened us, making us more zealous.
The only truly sad thing that happened was that, since Sabina was a year ahead of me, she had to leave. We had one year before our big exams. Sabina had done hers, and was ready to go on ahead to university.
Her last day with us was a half-day. They were celebrating the seniors’ graduations. Very few classes were on, if any at all. Sweets and such were being given out, and most students were saying goodbye or wishing good luck to the leavers. Those with phones were busy switching numbers, and some were discussing universities.
Sabina was looking at pamphlets for universities, wondering which to choose. She looked bored. I kept looking around, wondering were Frans was.
Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen him the whole week. I assumed he had different classes that didn’t sync up with when I was free. I asked Sabina if she’d seen him. She hadn’t.
None of the teachers had even seen him.
I tried to phone him. No answer.
Was he ill?
I had no other classes for the day, so I left. I walked over to Frans new house. It was close to the school, so I didn’t have to walk far.
His new house was in a crowded neighbourhood. Each house was red brick with a small garden at the front. There was a small window-box of hydrangeas, probably planted by his mother. There was no car in the driveway. Perhaps I’d come too early?
There was a small cough from behind me. I turned around to see Frans. He was wearing a long coat and a baker-boy cap. “Tess? What’re you doing out so early?”
“I… had no classes.”
His face was almost hidden by the collar. I couldn’t read his expression at all.
“Huh. Well, I was going to get snacks. Do you want to come?”
He smelt strange. He smelt cold. … He lookedcold, even though it wasn’t even autumn yet.
I nodded, looking at his shoes. He must’ve been wearing high-heeled boots or something. I swear he’d had another growth-spurt.
I was less familiar with the shops around St. Philomena’s. I knew there was a tuck shop that some students would go to in the early mornings before class, getting sweets or fizzy drinks. I lingered in the aisle, pondering less about what type of chocolate I wanted and why Frans had been absent for an entire week. Had he been sick? Did something happen at home?
The labels of the sweetmeats all blurred into one homogenous mass of pre-packed, processed sugary goods. I grabbed a random one and took hold of my purse.
I looked through the aisles, from the biscuits to the ice-creams, but I didn’t find him. I saw him exited the dairy aisle, looking about for me. “Tess? I’m done here.”
“One moment. I gotta buy something for… Charlene.”
A lie. I know nobody named Charlene. I snuck back, looking to the diary aisle.
Was he still fixated with being taller? Surely that childish obsession would’ve faded by now…
I looked through the aisle, finding an entire section entirely empty. There was a lone broken carton. A familiar one. Happy Cow.
They were still selling that? Suspicion stirred in the depth of my gut. Was ‘Happy Cow’ even an actual brand? It didn’t look right. In all these years, that label hadn’t changed.
I took out my phone and snapped a picture of it. Surely this had to be some no-name brand.
I went online, trying to search for it. I only got results for smiling cows or cartoon pictures of cows. Not a single result to my search. I tried to broaden it out, entering words like ‘brand’ or ‘carton’.
I picked up the accursed item, trying to look for an address.
I looked back to where Frans was. He was at the self-checkout, filling a bag with at least a dozen bottles. The machine ‘beeped’ with each bottle scanned.
A wave of cold nausea swept over me. I looked back at the carton.
There was no barcode. Nothing. Not even a single QR code. Nothing at all except that damned smiling cow and it’s stupid catchphrase.
I threw it to the ground, went to the nearest till and paid for my chocolate.
I followed Frans home, still with that horrid information in mind. It couldn’t have just been a no-name brand. Even no-name brands had addresses and companies. Even independent companies had a code to them.
How long had he been drinking this for? What were we… 6 years old?
Now… 17? I’m sure he’d had his fill of calcium by now.
I entered the house as he unlocked the door. It was a nice enough house. Clean. Scented candles in the living-room.
I sat on the sofa as Frans filled the fridge. He took out a carton and made his way back to the living room, removing his coat. He looked less slender, but thinner. No joke, he looked stretched.
“Sorry I hadn’t done everything up. If I knew you were coming I would’ve made my home look more interesting.”
I wasn’t paying attention. I was still looking at that carton. Was it even milk? I’d heard so many rumours about the food industry, about all kinds of things that they put into food. Growth hormones and steroids in the meat. Chemicals to preserve food. Pesticides. Colourings. Flavourings.
I just watched as Frans kept on talking, watching as he emptied that carton.
White. Pure white. Far too pale, even for milk.
I don’t know how much time passed. He kept on talking. Books. Games. Classes. Neighbours. Hobbies. Whatever. All gossip regardless. I assume my autopilot responses, daring not to rouse suspicion.
“Well, it’s good that you’re my friend. I almost thought you’d gone to a different school. It’s nice that someone cares.”
Frans went upstairs as I headed to the front door. I waited for his footsteps to dissipate. I closed the door, pretending to leave.
I heard shuffling upstairs. Fluttering mumbling. I hear the rolling clatter of empty bottles.
Walking as silently as I can, I made my way upstairs.
I crept across the upstairs landing, footfalls muffled by the fleur-de-lis carpet. The door is slightly open. I saw bottles on the floor, paler than the face of the moon.
I heard an odd choking rasp. Enough. Worry overtook me, and I charge into his room. Privacy be damned, he could be hurt!
“Alright, you were gone for a week, Frans. I want answers and I want… them… now…”
Frans was crouched up on his bed, naked. His skin whiter than paper. It had an odd texture to it, with the same sheen as a snail’s shell, yet also looked hard, like stone.
His arms, legs, torso and neck were all so long. Much too long for a human. His hair was thick and black, shinier than normal. His head was down, a mere orb of black fibre atop a monolith of thin white mineral. I could count each and every single bone in his body. I even saw some new ones. New joints and ligaments where there previously were none. A second ribcage on his hunched-over spine, making him look like a stickleback. More fingers and toes, topped with blade-like nails, rougher and sharper than normal.
“F… Frans…?” I whisper.
He looks up at me, eyes unfocussed. “Ah. Tess. Back so soon?” he says in a far-away voice. He smiled.
His teeth. Oh, god. His teeth. Like pearls, they shine. They’re so clean. So square.
With creaking, clicking joints, he stood up. His head grazing the ceiling, he practically has to stoop to fit the room.
“I’m so tall. I’ve always wanted to be taller. … Heh. I guess I can finally play basketball.”
“How…” I gasp. Words have escaped me. All rational sense has fled me.
He picked up one of the empty bottles, trying to shake a last few drops into his maw.
“Must be the Happy Cow. I’ve got some more in the fridge. Do you want some?”
He laughed. A tinny, echoing laugh. “Got milk?”
I ran. I don’t remember how long I ran for, I just got my bags, opened the door and ran.
I sprinted desperately, away from that house, away from that neighbourhood.
I can’t remember how I got home. I must’ve got a bus. I remember the ride home only in snatches. I think I was in a café lavatory, vomiting. Yeah. I ordered a simple glass of tropical pineapple, orange and raspberry smoothie. Then I got hungry. I looked in my pocket, remembering the chocolate bar I bought. It was a Milkybar.
Then I rushed to the bathroom and vomited up all the contents of my stomach and more.
I do remember finally getting to my house. It was dark. Perhaps I walked home instead of taking a cab or bus.
My parents were worried sick, asking me where I’d been.
I think I said something along the lines of ‘Frans’ and ‘sick’. Then I cried. I cried like a baby.
I refused to eat dinner, instead spending the evening in the living room, bundled in an old fuzzy blanket, with a mug of black tea.
The next day, I think it was a Saturday… Yeah, because the other day was a Friday…
Yeah. They called the police, since I wouldn’t stop going on about Frans. I wasn’t even talking correctly. But I gave them the impression that something horrible went down at his house. The police found nothing but bottles upon bottles of Happy Cow. Nobody recognised the brand. Nobody in the shops new, and nobody in any of the farms within a 60-mile radius knew. A spurious hypothesis went around that the milk made by Happy Cow had been laced with some strange drug.
No, I don’t believe it to be true. I know what I saw, and that wasn’t made by any kind of drug. Nothing on earth could’ve done that to a man.
They didn’t find Frans. But there were several eyewitness testimonies that some people reported seeing him robbing the closest stores, stealing milk. There were no more bottles of Happy Cow. Just regular brands. The police tried to chase after him, but reports say that he was too fast? What do you expect for a boy with 2-metre long legs?!
His parents said that he’d been acting strange. Since puberty, he’d been wanting to grow taller and taller. He’d tried exercising endlessly, including joining dance-class. I guess they didn’t realise just how obsessed he was.
Ah. Another report says that some had seen Frans, not running or shoplifting, but… dancing. Doing that same ballet, brisé and cabriole, spinning fouetté dedans en…
… They never found that Happy Cow company. With no address, no barcode, QR code, zip code… Nothing. Zilch. Zero. Nada. Nobody ever managed to find the damned company that turned my best friend into a skeletal freak.
Of course, all this bull was covered up. Typical government, shushing the truth and sweeping it under the sodding rug… ‘Drugged milk’, my foot.
I need a drink…
Coffee? I won’t be able to sleep. … Tea’s good.
No. No milk, sir.