Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Antacid Soda Pop

by Jared Woods

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Antacid Soda Pop, Chapter 1 - With his nose a bottle cap’s distance from the bathroom mirror, Nathan didn’t even notice how his hyperventilation steamed the reflective glass into a distorted blur of obscurity.


With his nose a bottle cap’s distance from the bathroom mirror, Nathan didn’t even notice how his hyperventilation steamed the reflective glass into a distorted blur of obscurity. Rather, Nathan was absorbed by doubt as to what his own vision was reporting back to him. His usual shimmering skin plagued by an unfortunate dose of puberty’s army of acne, now appeared as smooth as laminated marble no matter how often he adjusted his thick-rimmed glasses. His complexion’s pasty colour had deepened into a healthy hazelnut-brown, and his features radiated in their new surroundings, even while his golf ball eyes betrayed their frozen awe.

His brain scrambled together the absurd details of the night before, yet no matter what order he strung them in, his strict belief system would not allow the memories to be anything other than that of another surreal dream.

There he was lying in bed, and like every other night, his intrusive thoughts taunted his sleep into hopelessness. As per usual, these thoughts were exclusively and irrationally concentrated on Fia. It was not uncharacteristic of Nathan to cry out in frustration on a nightly basis, as this pre-slumber torture did appear to grow stauncher per each bedtime passing, but this particular struggle did differ, mostly in the words that escaped through his own teeth, entirely without his permission. They went like this:


Whoever was listening, according to his skeptical memory, revealed themselves in his curtain, which blew so high into the air that they brushed the ceiling, indifferent to the windows which were closed behind them. And then there stood a small figure, no taller than two feet and with limbs as brittle as a malnourished tree. It had two tiny egg-shaped horns protruding from its forehead and a cliché set of horse hooves poking from the bottom of a coffee coloured robe, proudly swaying in the centre of the boy's room. If this was indeed a hallucination, then Nathan knew he must have a fever worthy of killing a man, and wasted no time in opening his mouth to scream any which phrase found the desire to burst out. But before his throat had even revved its chords, the being raised one twiggy finger to its exposed fangs, signalling a silence, and Nathan no longer felt the yearning to squeal anymore.

After this, a conversation took place, one which was so fresh in Nathan’s memory pouch that the dreamlike ridiculousness of the scenario was tainted by a quality so vivid that it was difficult to disregard. And, as the creature spoke, its ever-changing eyes and snapping jaw seemed nothing but amused, dominating the discussion with a cockiness of a reporter who already knew more than its subject.

The predominant theme of this casual interrogation was the query over how serious Nathan had been about his offer. Would he, a teenaged misfit male, be willing to surrender his soul for one moment of mutual love between himself and Fia, a female he knew only from a distance at his high school, regarded by many as the most attractive and popular girl the establishment had to offer. Naturally, Nathan had never considered this proposal as a reality, but he did not need any time to think his answer though.

Fia was the water within his breath that kept his brain alive, yet drowned his stomach in self-pity. The countless daydreams where she had simply registered his presence usually ended with his dick in his hand, making Nathan hate himself even more than usual. He kept a small cardboard box underneath his cupboard, filled with the dead hair he’d secretly plucked off of her chair after classes, and he frequently sprayed said box with the perfume she liked the most, cherishing the item as the closest he had ever come to her. If he could trade his soul, his worthless, pathetic little soul, for the possibility of Fia knowing his name, intentionally touching his loser hand, actually feeling love for his non-existent existence ... then he would sign every agreement presented to him.

Which, as any storybook will tell you, is exactly what it took. This creature produced a multipage document with a font so tiny that it was almost illegible, and requested Nathan’s signature on the dotted line with an antique feather pen “if you’d be so kind”. Nathan did so without even touching the binding text and with that, the little monster-being thanked his cooperation, gave a miniature bow, and turned towards the curtain to exit.

“Wait!” Nathan remembers calling out. “Are you the Devil?”
To that, the creature laughed, and responded, “The Devil is far too busy for jobs like this one,” an instant before the boy fell into the deepest slumber of his whole life.

And now, here he stood, admiring his face and skin and hair in the mirror, wearing a smile so wide it exposed the full width of his braces, yet slightly concerned as to how much older he suddenly appeared. A tiny bit of stubble had developed on his usually prepubescent texture, and his whole jawline seemed squarer without the previous distractions of blemishes erupting white dots throughout his cheeks. Hell, even his frame appeared sturdier as if, overnight, puberty had evicted all the bad parts and he’d been dropped off on the other side, ready to join the physical age group so many of his more mature high school participants were already envied members of.

Certainly, the pesky flashing images from last night’s dream disturbed the welcome change, but Nathan was a committed follower of science and did not believe in such worlds where souls and demons and trade-offs existed. No, that whole ordeal was surely nothing more than a coincidental nightmare, probably an onset of the hormones that undoubtedly flooded his system the night before. His grandma had always told him how he was probably a late bloomer, and here he was, fully bloomed. Maybe this is what happened to all boys, anyway? How would he know?

The only thing he did know was that he looked more handsome than he ever had, and felt absolutely revitalised as a human being.
“Maybe,” he thought. “Maybe things will finally be different now.” And for the first time in his life, he found himself eager to go to school.

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Antacid Soda Pop, Chapter 2 - He sat with his head resting dopely in his hand, spinning a pencil absentmindedly in the other, listening meditatively to her beautiful words.


But, of course, nothing changed. Nathan became all too sorely aware of this in chemistry class, the only daily lesson where he experienced the blissful suffering of sitting within earshot distance from his love, his life, Fia. He sat with his head resting dopely in his hand, spinning a pencil absentmindedly in the other, listening meditatively to her beautiful words aimed towards her lab partner, Drew. Who also happened to be the biggest wanker jock in the school. And who also happened to be Fia’s macho boyfriend.

Nathan always writhed internally as he analysed their conversation like a wildlife narrator. Fia, with her insights and opinions and troubles; and Drew, with his disinterest in anything that wasn’t football or keeping up the popularity façade with his trophy lady by his side. Nathan knew that they didn’t belong together. It was as though they simply tolerated one another to remain the poster couple of Sourbean High. And he was always so disappointed by this. She was better than that.

Today was no different to any other. Nathan lovingly eavesdropped whilst Fia spoke her mind and Drew nodded without any response in his eyes.

“It’s called the Bechdel Test,” she was explaining. “It’s how feminists judge whether a piece of film or literature falls within the boundaries of equality, an easy way to measure sexism in ... hey, are you listening to me?”
“Uh-huh,” Drew answered unresponsively.
“Ok, well, how it works is like this: there are three rules. The first is that the story has to have at least two female characters in the plotline. The second is that they have to actually talk to each other. And the final rule is that their conversation has to be about something other than a man. Any article of media which...”

“Fia!” a voice struck through the air so fierce that even Nathan snapped out of his snooping slumber, shoving his pupils out towards the front of the class where Mrs Dobsin tapped her desk in fury. “Did you hear what I just said?”

“Uhm, no Miss, I’m sorry...” Fia began in embarrassed submission, so feeble that Nathan felt his love guts ascending into an automatic stance of defence for the girl of his everything, even though he would never dare rise himself. Instead, he breathed rapidly through his nose as the teacher continued her assault.

“I was saying, that the next assignment you are required to submit must explore reaction speeds and is due in two weeks. This will count towards fifteen percent of your final grade, and everyone needs to decide on his or her lab partners by the end of play today. Do you have a lab partner for this project, Fia?”

“Uhm, well me and Drew always...” Fia began before she was abruptly cut off by Mrs Dobsin’s barbed tongue once again.

“You and Drew? Ha, I don’t think so! You two experiment with enough chemistry after hours, I imagine,” the teacher returned with an aggressive prod, and the class laughed at the blood tinting Fia’s cheeks. This, once again, hurt Nathan by proxy. Who the hell did this lady think she was anyway? She had only recently been transferred to this building from Budstop Preschool, and she had not yet earned the right to talk to Fia in that way, as far as Nathan was concerned. I mean, she had taught little kids! What did she know about the complexities of teenagehood? Nevertheless, his fury remained sealed as Mrs Dobsin marched her authority forward.

"Let's see..." she pondered, scanning the class. "Ok, Drew, how about we put you with Edwice Jordan at the back there..."

"Aw, Miss! Edwice? That narc? Can't we just..."

"Drew, you're on thin ice as it is, my friend. I wouldn't play a game you can't win, if I was you. Pack your stuff, not another word. And as for you Fia, let's see... I think we'll put you together with Nathan over there, that sounds like a good move."

Nathan’s entire upper body collapsed within itself. Did she just say my name? Did she just partner Fia up with me? His palms burst with instant puddles as his sockets stretched outwards. He searched the room frantically for confirmation or perhaps a quick death, but all he could see was Fia. She had turned her head ever so slightly towards him to offer a one-eyed look of dismay with the undeniable scent of annoyance, and then turned away just as quickly in defeat, the first indication that she even knew who he was.

In a panic, Nathan looked straight ahead towards Mrs Dobsin again, hoping for an escape, but instead swore that he saw her throw him a sly little wink.

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Antacid Soda Pop, Chapter 3 - Here we see Nathan sitting in the cafeteria, stroking patterns into his hard mashed potato with a water-stained fork.


Two bells later, and here we see Nathan sitting in the cafeteria, stroking patterns into his hard mashed potato with a water-stained fork. His energy had introverted deeper than ever, but the three individuals he shared his table with did not notice his unusually distracted presence or his newly clear-faced appearance.

In a school of exaggerated cliques, their group was affectionately dubbed ‘the loners’. This was not only because they were such community rejects that they were forced to share their lunch space out of necessity, but also because they were so awkward that they could hardly even bear the company of one another, spending their food time in silence and never associating beyond the wooden surface holding their lukewarm lunches.

Like some routine teenage movie, Nathan always thought, the stereotypes of high school became the most obvious during this break time. The nerds sat in close proximity to the loners, not only in the context of this designated eating area, but also on the social ladder, perhaps a rung or two above Nathan and his counterparts. At least they got good grades, participated in intense games of afterschool chess, and had their own superstars in some relative manner. In the midsection, we had the giggling stoners, the smelly fish-breeds, the gothic emos, and the enthusiastic Christians, who may have been closed niche groups, but still had the numbers and unique characteristics which earned them some level of respect from all sides. And then, of course, we had the kings at the top of the hypothetical pyramid. The wannabe rockstars. The theatre primadonnas. The football heroes. And the cheerleaders who piggybacked to the social apex using their looks alone. Which was where Fia was seated right now, laughing at something, not thinking of Nathan.

That's because nobody thought about the loners. They were the dust beneath the ladder. The soot scraped onto the floor after the rest of the participants had climbed above them and nested into their spots. The bullies didn't even pick on them, they were far too insignificant and invisible to even notice, for which a part of Nathan was grateful. He wouldn't know what to do if anyone spoke to him. He wouldn't know which words to use.

Nathan analysed this tired segregation often, and this was usually the point of the contemplation where he cursed the hell out of adolescence and considered the most painless ways of simply vanishing out of the world once and for all. But today, he did not get that far, for his stream of negativity was broken by a thundering choking sound followed quickly by a mass commotion of frenzied voices.

Chairs scattered in all directions as students jumped to their feet in a panic, everyone bouncing around a certain boy who was producing more clamour than anyone else. It took a few moments for Nathan to figure out what the cause of this upset was, but soon it became apparent that one of the stoner kids was choking on something, waving his hands as if he was drowning while his face turned as red as his eyes. “Somebody help!”, “He’s choking!”, “Oh my God, he’s going to die!” were some of the phrases bouncing around the room without a single person actually doing a goddamn thing.

Nathan couldn’t tell you what happened next, but I can. He casually stood up, strolled over to the frothing stoner victim, embraced him in a bear hug from behind, placed two thumbs beneath the vibrating ribcage, and jabbed this hands as hard as he could into the poor bastard’s guts. One shot, and a chicken bone blasted out of his throat like a pistol, full speed into a nearby overturned chair, and ricocheting at such a high speed that it knocked a hole into the ceiling. When Nathan’s consciousness returned, he was surrounded by applause without any idea of what had just happened.

“Dude, you saved my life!” the stoner gasped.
“What?” responded Nathan, eloquently.

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Antacid Soda Pop, Chapter 4 - But somewhere between his chest and his stomach, he knew it to be true. This was her sound. It harmonised with the face.


For the first time since Nathan could recall, he felt more depressed going home than staying at school. After he understood what he'd done during that lunchtime, the remainder of his day sped along, his face continually greeted by a stream of smiles as the feeling of heroism elated his demeanour. Normally, his bedroom was his sanctuary and his mom was his only companion. However, during the course of his championed day, he had started to realise how small his room seemed; that there was a slight damp stench to his house; and how emotionally cold his mother felt, especially when she refused to inform him who his dad was over yet another burnt dinner.

Which is why his mood sank deeper with each step into his house, the proud aura of his unusual day dampened into obsoleteness, and by the time he passed by his mother he was in such a state that he didn’t even greet her, instead ducking off up the stairs. She didn't seem to notice. He slammed his bedroom door behind himself in an anger he couldn't quite establish the midpoint of, and turned to hurl his skinny body onto his mattress. But then he hesitated. There, neatly folded and stacked upon his bed, were a pile of clothes he had never seen before. He cautiously approached the garments, and found a note placed on top of them that simply read ‘Wear These’. The smell of newness wafted into his nostrils, and he struggled to comprehend where such a gift had come from. He never got new clothes. They couldn't afford them, as he had been reminded of time and time again.

"Mom!" Nathan called down the stairs to question, but his shouts were disrupted by the sound of their house phone ringing. This was an unusual event, sure, but not unheard of, as pesky call centres or money scammers had their ways of calling everyone's number now and again.

He heard the muffled sound of his mother's timid voice answering suspiciously, and he turned to retreat back into his bedroom to patiently await his chance to query the new additions to his wardrobe. And that's when he heard his confused mom squeak out to him in all her feeble glory. "Nathan!" she quivered. "Nathan, the phone is for you."

A phone call for Nathan? The idea was so far beyond foreign that both his mom and himself would have had a hard time remembering if it’d ever happened before. As if today hadn't been weird enough, who would be calling him? Who even had his name and number paired together as one?

He descended the creaky stairs slowly in apprehension, but by the last step he had substantially upped his pace, suddenly overwhelmed with excitement as to who had something so important to tell him that they had called his house at this late afternoon hour. He skipped up to his equally perplexed mother and hastily grabbed the receiver from her hand, slapping the contraption to the side of his face and blurting out "hello??" a little too eagerly.

"Hello? Nathan?" a female's voice crackled into his ear.
"Yes?" Nathan responded, frantically trying to piece together a name that matched these vocal sounds. Was it a teacher? A relative?
"Hey! It's me. It's Fia."

A part of his mind presented the word 'impossible'. Another part laughed at someone's idea of a practical joke, good one. But somewhere between his chest and his stomach, he knew it to be true. This was her sound. It harmonised with the face. It was the voice he'd heard from a distance so many times before. And it had said his name.

Now, Nathan was never very assertive at the best of times, but on this occasion his vocal chords had imploded and blocked his windpipe, obstructing any air from entering his system, and there he stood for the longest time known to man, convinced he was about to faint on the spot.

"Hello?" Fia spoke again, louder and more awkward this time. "Are you still there?"
"Y... yurp. Here..." Nathan forced out whatever words he could from his lungs into a whisper, thankful as she resumed her speech.
"Hey! Uhm ... I hope this isn't a bad time or anything, uhm, I just, I got your number from the phone list at school and just thought, you know, we should talk about the chemistry project?"

The sudden purpose of the call relieved his nerves a bit. She wasn't here confessing her love, like he'd dreamed so many times before. She wasn't here to call him a freak who must stay away from her either, which was even more likely. No, this was merely a call to deal with a school agenda. They were lab partners now somehow, and it was only normal that lab partners spoke to one another.

"Yeah," he began slowly, gaining confidence. "Yeah, of course, hi Fia! The project, we need to discuss the project, of course that's what we must do."
"Great!" her enthusiasm returned which stiffened his bone marrow once more. "Well, stop me if you think is dumb, but I was thinking we could maybe look at how different particle sizes of reactants may change the speed of their chemical reactions, maybe? Or something like that? Do you think that’s a good idea? What do you think?"

He wanted to tell her that he thought she was the smartest girl in the world. He wanted to say that he'd always thought that and, for some unfair reason, she was also the prettiest girl in the world, and she was wasting all these precious offerings on a guy like Drew. He wanted to release all the things he'd held hidden for the past several years, but in the end, he did not have the guts. Which was probably for the best, I'm sure you'll agree.

"Yeah, that's a nice idea," he managed, and her voice opened from the encouragement.
"Great!" she said again. "Because, you know, I got an A on that antacid soda pop assignment last year and I feel like it's a topic I really understand. I think we could really impress Mrs Dobsin with that one," and then without waiting for a response, she trailed off and paused. And when she continued talking, her voice had lowered into a new subject. "You know, I saw you in the cafeteria today. That was really something. You saved his life, Nathan, you really did."

The memory of today's events re-exposed the hero seed only recently discovered, and his confidence shrub sprouted once again.

"Oh, that? Nah, anyone would have done it. And I'm sure he would have been fine anyway."
"Don't play your courage down, dude," she informally instructed. "You were the only one who didn't panic like the rest of us. You took initiative. That takes a lot."

The conversation went on for a bit longer and although it was brief, it ended with the plan to meet up after school the following day. Once he'd hung up the phone, Nathan felt his soul elevate onto a giant podium of love, as he once again truly contemplated the idea that maybe things would actually be different for him from now on.

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Antacid Soda Pop, Chapter 5 - Sticking its split tongue out of its frothy rabid mouth, as if politely greeting him.


This notion was short lived. For it didn’t matter that when Nathan awoke the following morning, his skeleton was slightly larger, he was an inch taller, his muscles had ever so noticeably tightened, and his vision had sharpened to 20/20, rendering his glasses useless. It didn’t matter that he now donned new expensive clothing, which drifted with the scent of potpourri freshness, and came complete with those brand labels you saw on the Orbit Street fashion screens. It didn’t even matter that when he walked down the halls of Sourbean High that morning, he was considered to be a hero and everyone suddenly knew his name.

No, what mattered was where he stood right now, face-to-face with Drew, who had one fist scrunching Nathan’s modern silk collar beneath his Adam’s apple, and the other fist hovering in the air like a wasp, ready to jab into Nathan’s face.

It’s such a pity, really, because that day had gone so well up until this very point, with Nathan placing some books into his locker, basking in the warmth of his new celebrity status and trying to plough through these welcoming distractions just to remember what class he had to attend next. And that’s when he heard his name blaring down the corridor like a foghorn: “NATHAN!”. The aggression of the sound straightened his spine, and the sight of Drew charging towards him like a tractor with knives in his eyes was enough to evaporate any personality he may have grown over the last 24 hours.

And then there they were, the still relatively scrawny Nathan pulled up onto his toes by the much bigger football superstar, Drew, with the threat of a punch still lingering in the air. As is the monkey nature of high school, a crowd of students had already swarmed the scene, a buzz of excitement as all phones were set to record, the suggestion of a fight filling the air with testosterone and hyper-electric murmurings.

“NATHAN!” Drew shouted for the third or fourth time, despite the fact that they were less than a cigarette’s distance apart. “What’s this story I heard about you chatting to Fia on the phone last night, huh? Oh Lord, when I heard this, I knew it surely couldn’t be true. You talking to my girl, no, not this fucking loser.”
“No, I...” Nathan stuttered. “I... we were... we have the chemistry...”
“N... n... no... w... w.. w...” Drew mimicked, encouraged by the approving laughter of his surrounding chums. “I bet it was the best moment you’ve ever had, wasn’t it, boy...” (it was) “...talking to the hottest girl in school—my girl! Bet you felt something real for the first time in your fucking life...” (he did) “...and I bet you luuuurve her...” (oh God yes, he did) “...I bet you want to fuck her...” (he’d had that terrifying thought before) “...isn’t that right, you little asswipe? Huh? You want to fuck her, don’t you? Answer me!”
The fist by his throat tightened its grip, and Nathan began to choke. “I... no, I...” he wasn’t even sure what the correct answer to such a loaded question would be. He was certain either one would end in a pummelling anyway. It was inevitable.

Once he came to that conclusion, Nathan surrendered to it. He closed his mouth and looked down, away from the murderous eye contact and the eager fist lingering like a brick ready to kiss his face. And that’s when he noticed a lower locker by his left ankle that had slowly started to creep open...

“Everyone! I want you all to take a long hard look at Nathan, this pathetic stuttering mess. I almost feel sorry for the guy...”

...and out slid a small egg coloured snake about the size of a chopstick, moving forward ever so cautiously. Nathan had no fear of snakes, but the sight of this one definitely sent a spark to his heart, which thudded loudly off beat just once, and then reset as the snake appeared to lift its head upwards and look directly into his eyes, sticking its split tongue out of its frothy rabid mouth, as if politely greeting him...

“...but we have to teach the nobodies in our school that they have no place talking to someone of such a high stature as Fia...”

...the crowd were getting antsy. Bloodthirsty people began to chant for Drew to deliver the deathblow, but Drew was having too much fun bathing in the attention to call the curtain just yet. All the while, nobody but Nathan noticed the snake. It looked back down, faced ahead, paused for a second, and then struck out like a dart, injecting its fangs into Drew’s foot in a move so sudden that by the time Drew even registered the prickly pain, the snake had already disappeared back into the locker like an extinguished candle.

“...there will be consequences and OUCH!” Drew felt the nip and instinctively lifted his foot up, shooting a concerned look down towards his right shoe where no mark betrayed an entry point and the offender was nowhere to be seen. The momentary lapse in his speech was saved as Drew quickly regained his composure like a professional stage act and concluded: “And so, Nathan, my friend. Please do not take this personally. But you have to learn... have to learn... you have to learn that... a a lesson... here...”

Nathan first noticed it in Drew’s eyes. The whites began to glaze over with a shaky beige, and it didn’t take long for his face to follow, the regular healthy pink flush of his cheeks had slipped down his features, turning his skin grey as if he was aging decades before this confused crowd. Nathan felt the grip on his collar weaken as the raised fist trembled slightly, the mere act of holding it up now a weight Drew could no longer bear. His expression showed more fear at each syllable he couldn’t pronounce, all of which came to a grand finale when someone shouted “Everybody, look! Drew’s pissing himself!”

The crowd’s head, and Nathan’s head, and Drew’s head, all bowed in unison to witness the wet patch blossoming in the crotch of Drew’s shorts, followed soon enough by streams tearing down his legs, producing a yellow puddle of urine below his trainers. Drew looked up at Nathan in shock, a gaze which almost begged for help, and they both stood there, sharing this moment, fumbling over speech, two mouths swallowing air and looking ridiculous as the laughter screamed into the heavens until no words could even be heard, only fingers which shot like swords towards Drew’s expanding liquid waste in hysterics.

Eventually, even football legend Drew Amberson knew when he had been beat. He felt like he was going to vomit, he had been left a sudden mute, and rather than stand here in his own musky bladder juice, he let go of Nathan and ran, pushing passed a naturally repulsed crowd who split as fast as they could in order to avoid any contamination from Drew’s pee, the words ‘euw’ and ‘gross’ vibrating in his ears as he made his comical escape.

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Antacid Soda Pop, Chapter 6 - Eventually they concluded that they were already far ahead of their schedule, and spent the following two hours exploring one another’s conversation.


Not even the absurd events of the previous day were enough to prioritise themselves over the pure euphoria of spending three hours in the presence of Fia that evening. They had met in the school library after the final ring and despite Nathan’s initial vocal crippling anxiety towards Fia’s every mouth movement, fairly soon he relaxed into the swing of normality, as surprising as that was to even him.

Within the first hour, they had managed to harvest more than enough information to pursue an already hefty topic, working in unison like two arms, an incredibly cooperative duo, each applauding their corresponding working style more than once over the duration of their exchanges. Eventually they concluded that they were already far ahead of their schedule, and spent the following two hours exploring one another’s conversation. A few days ago, the very notion of such a magical interaction would have spiralled Nathan into a panic, but in this moment he felt completely at ease, allowing his speech to flow almost better than he would have managed with an old friend—if he ever had any of those, of course.

If you gave him a chance, Nathan could probably recite the entire dialogue word for word, but the part that dominated his interest was when the topic turned to Drew himself.

“Ugh, I’m so sorry for that imbecile,” she started with an apology. “Sometimes he is the stereotypical jock, you know? So concerned with his reputation. It can turn him into a genuine ass at times.”
“So why are you with him?” Nathan inquired, exposing the question he’d fantasised about for so many years.
“I ask myself that often enough,” she sighed. “And I wish I had some articulate answer to that, I really do. Habit? Familiarity?” she laughed. “I have my doubts every day. I’m not entirely convinced we even belong together. Sometimes it’s like we simply tolerate one another to remain the power couple of Sourbean High. I am pretty sure he’s only with me to fuck me, if I’m honest.”

This response was unfathomably identical to what Nathan had always imagined, and his brain cogs whirred with a million more questions intended to break down any walls of affection Fia may have developed for this Neanderthal, but his thought train derailed when this angel mentioned the F-word. It didn't suit her, like a crack on a frame, but in that way was even more attractive. Worse still was the context, this idea of Drew and Fia trading bodily fluids drowned him with a tearful rage and he shifted painfully in his seat. Fia noticed his discomfort, and laughed.

“Haha, sorry, I know how that sounds, and don’t worry, we haven’t done ... that. We’ve done ... stuff, but not that. I haven’t done it with anyone.”

Nathan found this information hard to swallow, but knew she had no reason to be insincere. Having a sexless relationship was not exactly a badge of honour in this school. But the fact that this flawless creature was still untouched made her appear so pure that a light radiated from her head like a halo within his imagination, and before he contemplated any repercussions, he blurted out: “Me too! I’m a virgin too!”

He coiled backwards at the sound of his own voice. Of course he was, and of course Fia knew he was. But rather than laughing or swearing, she nodded as if deep in thought, taking it in.

“I think it’s for the best, you know,” she concluded. “My mom got knocked up real young when she had me. They never said so, but I’m pretty sure that’s the reason they got divorced in the end. Because of me.”
Nathan smiled at this, in a daydream. “Yeah, that’s crazy.”
“What’s crazy?” Fia’s tone turned sharp. “Are you even listening to me?”
“Yes, of course!” Nathan slammed back into reality. “It’s just ... crazy. My parents also had me really young, and my Dad left us shortly after, I never even met him. I just find it crazy how similar our stories are, that’s all.”
Fia’s temperature reset to default, and she smiled too.
“Yeah, I guess they are, huh? Both of us just pathetic virgins with a dysfunctional upbringing,” and at that, they laughed in unison.
“Oh, Nathan, if only I had a guy like you,” she said between giggles, and a sudden lump of disturbance choked Nathan’s laughter as needles shot down into his diaphragm and mutated into a hiccup. He had a fleeting urge to ask Fia all the questions he’d suffocated on for so many years, but she ripped the floor from right under his momentum with a sigh. “But instead I’m stuck with old jocky Drew himself.”

In hindsight, Nathan was glad he didn’t prematurely blow his love load onto their special conversation, and smoothed his poise relatively quickly by veering the topic elsewhere. “Is he ok? Drew, I mean. He seemed really sick earlier on, just before...”
“He peed himself?” Fia half laughed as she rolled her eyes. “He’ll live. He says he’s fine, he’s just really ego-bruised, which isn’t surprising. Hey, as long as he makes the Summer Dance next weekend, I don’t really care how he feels,” she laughed heartily to that, and then moved on to: “Are you going to the dance? Do you have a date?”
“Me? Oh, yeah, sure. I mean, no, but I’ll get one,” he lied.
“I’m sure you will, now that you’re the school hero!” Fia stated, ruffling his hair as she did so, which sparked electricity down every follicle and straight into his skull, turning all of his serotonin pockets upside down, pouring happy juices like honey through every crevice of his brain until the roof of his mouth tasted like peppermint ice cream.

“Say, that gives me an idea,” Fia continued. “There’s a massive party at Julie’s house this Saturday. You wanna come?”

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Antacid Soda Pop, Chapter 7 - Nathan looked down to find a card facing upwards from his crotch area, and he picked it up to inspect it closer. There he found himself staring at an image of his own face.


The rest of the week felt uneventful for Nathan in comparison with that meet up, but for us average viewers, it still had its fair share of miraculous moments. For example: Nathan’s deep sleeping routine, awakening each morning a little more chiselled, a little more defined, and a little more handsome. Or that one daybreak he awoke to find metal in his mouth, and was taken aback to spit out tiny bits of wire until he realised his braces had literally slid off during the night, leaving behind perfectly straight, glistening white teeth.

Another even more interesting afternoon was when one of his newly acquired female admirers cut and styled his hair for him, serving to frame his already improved face even better, the whole favour ending with a quick kiss to send her home. Or the Thursday, when he found a significant amount of money had accidentally been transferred into his bank account, which he decided to keep quiet about for now.

People spoke to him and weren’t repulsed by his nervous speech and awkward mannerisms—on the contrary, they seemed to respond to it with a friendly endearment. The physical changes were alarming, as his muscles exaggerated outward to push their definitions to the skin, while his height stretched a few inches, and his whole body darkened without a pimple or rash in sight. Yes, it’s safe to say that Nathan had started to feel really blissful in recent days, but the miracle of these personal and social transformations were almost lost on him, as these improvements seemed trivial in comparison to the degree of longing he ached for Fia. The moments they had spent together and the smiles they exchanged during school hours drove him mentally unwell, his love amplifying to such volumes that they disintegrated all interest in anything else, his only focal point on the days left until Saturday.

Time is a mischievous concept, but no matter how much it toys with your emotions by slowing down when an exciting event approaches, it always ends up where you are going, and Saturday did arrive eventually. Nathan wore the most expensive button-up shirt from his new collection he could find, sprayed himself with Super Casserole’s Damp™ Cologne which he’d recently purchased, and left the house with a dance when the car finally pulled up to take him away from the hole he called home. However, when he climbed into the backseat, he wasn’t greeted with the happy faces he had expected.

“It’s a damn tragedy, Nathan,” Fia overstated as she nervously rode out of his driveway. “Julie’s booze connection fell through, and now the party has no alcohol whatsoever!”
“And what’s a party without alcohol?” the girl to Nathan’s left whined. He recognised her as another member from the cheerleading squad, and was pretty sure her name was Diane. Riding shotgun was Cleo, who Nathan knew very well by reputation as one of the bitchiest and sluttiest girls in the whole school. He had always secretly tagged Cleo as ‘evil’ and a ‘whore’ in his mind, but he had to admit that riding in this cardboard car with the highest quality of popular specimens, he suddenly didn’t think any of them were that bad anymore.

They pulled up onto El Diario Street and then turned left onto Orbit Street, reluctantly aiming their journey towards Julie’s dry home in sad silence, when Cleo shattered the air.
“Fukkit! Fukkit all to Hell!” she swore. “I knew I should have got that fake ID last summer, I just fucking knew it!”
“I know!” Fia echoed the sentiment. “If only my mom hadn’t have found mine in November, then we’d all be laughing!”

The conversation continued at those increasingly higher pitches that only girls can reach, while Nathan did not have the first clue how to contribute. He was out of his element. Fake IDs? Alcohol? What kind of criminal activity did these girls partake in after hours? He felt uneasy and tried to look busy by gazing out of the window, dreaming of his vintage second-hand toy car collection and softcore porn magazines under his bed.

They stopped at a red light without ceasing the fire of complaints, when a bicycle pulled up alongside Nathan’s door. He admired the wheels connecting to the silver frame until his eyes rose and met the rider’s, which were staring right back at his own. It was a man who looked far too old to be safely exerting himself by cycling in the busy Orbit Street traffic, but he had not even broken a sweat, rather his relaxed face was mouthing something calmly at Nathan himself.

The sight of this elderly gentleman granting Nathan attention offered him a sense of serenity, and his hand automatically wound down his window to greet the man with a smile. Instead, as soon as there was enough of an open gap between them, the bicycle rider threw a tiny object through the space, which landed perfectly onto Nathan’s lap, and then he rode away with a wink into non-existence. Nathan looked down to find a card facing upwards from his crotch area, and he picked it up to inspect it closer. There he found himself staring at an image of his own face.

It took a few clicks, but he quickly realised what it was at the exact same time his backseat partner did too.

“Oh my God!” Diane exclaimed as she snatched the card from his hands. “You have a fake ID! Holy shit, this looks so real! Why didn’t you say something, Nathan?”

The mood erupted into hysteria as the girls passed it around, all astonished by its condition, as well as chuckling at the fake ‘Jonas Standard’ name, which they all agreed suited Nathan perfectly.

“Where the hell did you get this?” Fia queried when it was her chance.
“I really can’t say,” Nathan responded in all honesty, and the girls oooh’d at his unintentional mystery.

A quick detour, one effortless bulk purchase of beer and vodka later, and the saviours of the party arrived to much cheer and celebration.
“I can’t believe you pulled it off, Fia! Thanks!” Julie praised as she helped carry a case inside.
“Don’t thank me,” Fia responded. “It was all Nathan. He even paid for it too!”
“That’s amazing, you’re a legend, Nathan!” Julie teased a blush into our protagonist's cheeks. “I guess Fia was right about you all along.”
“Shut up, Julie!” Fia shot at her friend, and then awkwardly turned to Nathan. “Ignore her, please!”
What did that mean? Nathan wondered. He wasn’t sure, but it felt good.

The party flared upon their entrance and, despite Nathan swearing to never drink (especially at some typical red-cup beer-pong downing-competition type of teenage pathetic scene party), he ended up right in the centre of it. He had only consumed three beers (which he hated the taste of) and a shot of something, but as it was his first meeting with alcohol, he definitely felt somewhat altered. And the deeper down the rabbit hole he slid, the looser he became, talking to everyone with full self assurance, most of whom knew him as ‘the hero’—the guy who saved lives, bought beer, and beat Drew in a fight—or so the rumours had intensified by this point. Naturally, our slightly intoxicated Nathan didn’t protest his reputation, and at times maybe even fuelling the flames with a few half-truths of his own.

What he didn’t count on, however, was when Drew turned up to the party, fashionably late and hearing these reports himself for the first time. “He fucking said what?” were the last words to come out of Drew’s mouth before he went on a mission to have a little talking to with Nathan. It didn’t take long, as Nathan was in the middle of the lounge, dancing like an 8-bit octopus which slammed on brakes and practically turned to stone when he noticed his archenemy approaching.

“I’m gonna fuck you up, you little prick!” the storming jock-tank spat as he tore down the carpet, leaving a streak of rage behind him. But he was quickly intercepted by a wall of defence.

“Leave him alone, Drew,” one student ordered.
“Haven’t you pissed yourself enough already?” mocked another guy Nathan didn’t recognise. More and more of these people came to the rescue, linking arms to hold Drew back while his face vibrated like a teapot, steam and all. It was in this instant that Nathan realised something. He was suddenly the most popular kid in school.

“Let me go!” Drew demanded. “This little shit has got it coming, I swear to fucking God, I’m going to kill him!” Drew struggled as saliva abandoned his mouth, and he didn’t stop viciously inching forward until once single voice shut him down completely.

“DREW! STOP!” It was Fia. She was blatantly beyond tipsy, and had her full-mode anger expression on. “You stop that right now, you hear me!?”

Drew was disarmed. “Fia? Don’t tell me you’re on this loser’s side too? This is bullshit! What the fuck is going on here? You’re my girlfriend, Fia!”

“Not anymore!” she barked, as the room fell silent. “I’m sick of you! I’m sick of your jocky-bullying! I’m sick of your football and your hair and your ... sweat glands! I can’t put up with this anymore! And I won’t. It’s over.”

Drew hesitated in disorientation, allowing this information to make home in his stomach, then snapped back into gear. “Oh really? Just like that?”
“Just like that, Drew. It’s over.”
Never one to display weakness, Drew just sneered. “Pfffft, well that’s fine by me. I was going to break up with you after summer, anyway. Good luck with the rest of your life, virgin,” and with that, he spun 180 and marched for the door, all the while shouting at everyone else along the way. “And good luck to the rest of you too, really! You’re all a fucking waste of my time!”
And that was it, out the door, Drew humiliated and evicted, Nathan all too aware that he had been spared a beating twice now by some miraculous intervention.

The relief stepped effortlessly into more celebration and by the eleventh hour Nathan was so drunk that he found himself hanging outside with various members of the stoner crew, giggling as they passed around a blunt which Nathan inhaled deeply like a professional, the only indication of his amateurism from the soggy lip mark he left behind on the smoking end. He fell beneath his own thoughts and was so engulfed by a conversation with the boy he had saved from choking, that he didn’t even register when someone yelled “Cops!” and by the time a giant spotlight had focused directly upon him with a marijuana cigarette drooping sadly from his mouth, it was far too late to run.

The remainder of the party hid and watched in horror as the cops reprimanded Nathan, loudly announcing that this kid had been found with an illegal substance in his possession and would be going straight to jail. They cuffed Nathan’s hands behind his back and assisted his wobbly legs towards the door, which was about the time his disabled brain managed to arrive into the weight of the situation, as he slowly reverted to his old self, pleading for freedom.

“Wait, no officer, please don’t...” he slurred as tears threatened to split his ducts, but his sentence was quickly severed by the cop to his left. “Listen, boy! You’re going down, you hear me! You’re going to do some hard time as an example to these other kids! Don’t make us arrest everyone here!” and then that same policeman shot Nathan a hurried wink.

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Antacid Soda Pop, Chapter 8 - Consisting exclusively of spectacularly ripe warm coloured flowers which spilled the air with the aroma of cinnamon.


When Nathan blasted through the doors of Sourbean High the following Monday morning, he was impervious to the whispers behind his every step. As far as the hallways were concerned, he had spent the weekend in jail so that no one else got busted, perhaps for selling weed, or robbing a liquor store, or even beating Drew to borderline death—when in reality, the cop car had simply dropped him off at his house without a word exchanged.

And now he walked with a furious purpose as the crowd peeled out of his way like a stripped orange, fearful yet intrigued by this boy who had swiftly risen to the very pinnacle of the foodchain in just over a week. But these meagre stirrings did not even fall upon his radar. Instead, he navigated each corner with his eyes biting forward and his hands hidden behind his back, until he reached his destination and found what he was looking for. Fia.

She was searching within the depths of her locker when she noticed him approaching.
“Hey, Nathan!” she cheerfully greeted, but he had no intention of formalities, rather producing a skilfully organised bouquet, consisting exclusively of spectacularly ripe warm coloured flowers which spilled the air with the aroma of cinnamon. The corridors slowed to a halt as the aura of suspense reached even the students who were nowhere near the locker area, and no one dared to speak until Nathan addressed the only person in the world.
“Fia, would you please do me the honour of going to the Summer Dance with me?”

Their roles had reversed. A tranquil confidence exuberated from his skin whilst her head had hit a dead end, her mouth stuck on one shape like the centre of a vinyl. Nathan waited patiently as she gradually gained her vowels one by one, and eventually connected the dots to fervently spurt out “Yes! Yes, of course, I’d love to!”

She threw her small arms around his neck and their lips met in a deep kiss, blessed by the clamouring sound of applause from an army of hands approving from all corners of the Universe.

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Antacid Soda Pop, Chapter 9 - And were in each other’s arms on the dancefloor before the first chorus had kicked in, still continuing the same conversation which had already lasted for days.


The sun set itself on the night of the Summer Dance, and Nathan’s driver picked up Fia in a pink limo he couldn’t quite explain. They drank litchi juice until they arrived at the school’s shabby red carpet, and between his cocaine-white suit and the yellow skin-tight dress he’d gifted her, it was safe to say that they were the hottest couple on the scene.

But neither curious eyes nor jealous cusses could penetrate the bubble that surrounded them. Nathan, now the personification of serenity, donning his new status like a second skin, head high in carefree awareness of his admirers. Fia, glued to this boy who strolled around his room, honoured to be the one on his arm, floating like the luckiest lady in all the world.

They had spoken and texted everyday since his proposal, and by now their rapport was so quick that any bystander would have had difficulty keeping up. They shared in-jokes at which they laughed to tears and had an array of pet names to suit any occasion. They spoke exclusively to one another without interest in anyone else, only offering polite greetings when they filled their cups with fruit punch.

The DJ’s selection slowed from danceable chart hits down to quiet classics to aid the adolescents into intimacy, much to the students' gratitude, and much to the teachers’ mistrust. Nathan and Fia required no further persuasion, and were in each other’s arms on the dancefloor before the first chorus had kicked in, still continuing the same conversation which had already lasted for days, extracting every detail from one another’s thoughts as fast as possible.

“So, tell me,” the girl took the lead. “When did you first notice me? When did you decide you had feelings for little old Fia?”
A fleeting glint of his old self fluttered into his throat and he was briefly at risk at uncovering his ancient desperation which had stalked the thought of this girl from the moment he saw her many years ago, but he swallowed it down fast enough, and gave the wheel back to his new composed character.

“Chemistry class. I noticed you once accidentally spill calcium carbonate onto your skirt and it was love at first sight.”
“Haha!” she erupted. “I remember that day! Haha, you weirdo!” She gave his arm a pinch.
“Ok, my turn,” he chuckled. “When did you notice I existed? The cafeteria, I suppose?”
“Hmmmm,” she squinted. “No, it was before that. I guess it was, like, two or three years ago? You made that science fair project of a model train which electrocuted everyone, didn’t you? I thought that was hilarious.”

This response naturally took Nathan by surprise. All this time, she had known who he was while he lived in certainty that no one in the school had any idea he was even alive, least of all her. He smiled at this recent information as his love pushed their roots even deeper into his already cluttered heart, and he responded the only way he knew how: by leaning in to give her a kiss of appreciation.

His lips smacked nothing but air, and when he opened his eyes in bewilderment, he was falling backwards from her arms, confused as to what was happening until his back collided into the floor. Dazed, he looked up from his new angle only to find Drew’s face towering above him, with a smirk pulling the corners of his mouth but hate distorting his face.

“Get up, you prick,” he demanded, and Nathan obeyed, disorientingly getting onto his feet whilst just enough kids circled the episode to obscure the view of any adult supervision, as Fia tried her best to intervene.
“Drew, enough is enough!” She cried, but was shushed by the severity of the football star’s stern voice.
“Enough is enough is correct! This has all gone on for far too long, and I’m sick of it, you hear? Sick. Of. It. I mean, look, I’m a reasonable guy, am I not? And I want to end this once and for all, just like we all do. It’ll only take one shot, okay Nathan? One fist to your little faggot jaw, and then the debt has been paid, and there will be no further issues from me, I promise. What you say, Nathan? You want to put this behind us? Just one punch. Do we have a deal?”

“Deal!” Nathan responded as he forced his own fist directly into the jock’s nose. A sound resembling the snapping of celery cracked louder than the music, as blood appeared instantaneously down Nathan’s wrist and Drew turned white before crumbling like a rickety wall, smashing into the dancefloor in time with the beat. The ooooh of the crowd echoed as Drew’s friends rushed to assist their fallen leader, while Nathan casually turned to finish that kiss with Fia, who could barely move her tongue as she was erased blank from the previous few seconds.

And as they stood there with the slow jams drifting around their ears; the bustle of people trying to drag Drew out of the building; the warm blood drying on Nathan’s cuff; and this very kiss of victory, our protagonist became profoundly aware that nothing supernatural had taken place here. The coincidences that had lead up to this point had been eerie, he could not deny that, but this punch had come from his true self—his soul. He knew he had officially crossed over now. The old him was dead and gone, and this new person he had transformed into was in utter control. Things were truly going to be just fine from here on out. He knew it.

“Alright, settle down,” the loud speaker commanded, drowning out the fading music and bringing Nathan back to the real moment. “Is everyone having a good party? Yeah? Wonderful! Well, the event we have all been waiting for is upon us, and it is time to announce the summer king and queen of Sourbean High! I have the winners right here in my hand, is everyone ready?”

Amongst the cheers to the principal's words, Nathan leant over to Fia’s ear.
“Do you think we’re going to win?” he asked.
“I don’t care,” was Fia’s reply. “I don’t even want to be here. I just want to be alone with you.”
“Me too,” Nathan agreed. “Should we just get out of here?"

Fia smiled and nodded, and they left the party without hearing that they had, in fact, won the crowns.

The Goat's Nest Short Stories Presents: Antacid Soda Pop, Chapter 10 - The smell of mustard drenched the night.


The netball benches were infamous for the unsavoury acts of underage affection they had so often witnessed, as the notorious hotspot for school kids hoping to snag a quick make-out session at school. Which was why it was so surprising to Fia that no one else was currently occupying this cold space, especially on this designated night of romance, but the solitude was absorbed by her gratitude. Already attached by the lips for the last few paces, the anticipation of each other stalled as Nathan lay Fia down on one of the wooden slats with his hand behind her head to cushion her skull from the hard surface. Legs and arms and faces rubbed up against one another, their expensive outfits irrelevant to the task at hand.

Fia briefly separated their tongues to confess that “my virginity doesn’t feel so important when I’m with you, Nathan,” and the kissing resumed even thirstier after this admission, both quick to register this as the perfect moment in the perfect space at the perfect time to offer themselves to each other. The scent of lustful impatience spurred Fia to move more quickly, but Nathan counteracted the urgency by delaying each movement, his fingers lingering around Fia’s wettest area without entering it, only gently massaging the softness with his fingertips, allowing his kiss to symbolise his own hunger. And there they lay on the solid wooden bench, the cool wind the moon provided caressing their skin, Nathan’s hand movements restricted by Fia’s underwear, their soft sighs expressing their intentions.

Fia soon understood that she would have to make the move to complete the trade, as Nathan was too cautious and taking far too long for her preference. She clumsily unbuttoned his trousers and reached down into his underwear to locate his penis, which wasn’t difficult to find, as it was already hard and responsive, ready to do her bidding. Her cold hands wrapped around the organ like it was the end of a pool cue, and she began a slow but repetitive movement that she hoped she got right. His breath shortened and his previously concentrated kissing wavered with distraction, and she knew that this was exactly what she had been dreaming about for so long. The connection she had been resisting, was now ready, to be let go.

“Hold up,” she instructed, as her left thumb found the elastic between her panties and thigh, and then after some shuffling, were swiftly pulled down over her ankles, discarded onto the sandy concrete to the side of their spot. “Now, come over here.”

He nervously lay on top of her, the first time in his young adult life that his dick was fully exposed in front of another person, and she guided their entry points together while their kisses disclosed more than either of us could ever imagine. He kept his body still as she rubbed his favourite body part against hers until there was no friction, only a warm sliding motion between the two, and then she whispered, “just push”. And he did.

His manhood penetrated into the depths of her innocence, and in that exact moment, his skin began to bubble with warts the size of footballs. He yelped into the air like a wolf cub, and she screamed in a fearful response. The smell of mustard drenched the night, and a mere second later, Nathan exploded. Bits of blood and guts and meat immediately burst all over her dress and up her vagina and all over the surrounding netball walls. A few days later, the cleaners would be unable to explain their report, stating how they had needed ladders to scrub bits of skin off of the ceiling, but for now, there was only this moment where Fia was coated head-to-toe in Nathan’s muck, stuck to the bench by fear and the weight of human syrup, sobbing as her arms held onto nothing, her love completely gone like a popped balloon while Hell sucked his spirit downwards to the bottom of eternal suffering.

I guess he should have read the contract.

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