He was sleeping in the long grasses by the side of the road when they found him. The lights from their headlights bleached the grasses white. He was bundled, dewed and shivering, into a black pickup truck. The blast from the furnace seared his skin, stung his eyes.
He looked around the cab at the three men that filled it. Their faces were shut tightly. They didn’t look at him.
“We gotta sick kid, Preacher,” said the driver. The reverend leaned forward, folded his arm on the back of the seat. He waited. The silence stretched on, long, into the night, until one of the men leaned forward slightly and switched on the radio. “The voices that did comfort me, furthest from my sanity, come from places I have never seen,” it crooned, and the reverend nodded slightly and leaned back.
The boy they brought him to was groaning on his stomach. His bed lay on the floor frameless, the sheets a twisted tangle about the foot. A thing grew on his back, round and pustulous, hard as a carbuncle. The reverend put his hand to it gently and the boy twisted and wailed. “Careful, Preacher,” said the driver, his voice wide open.
The reverend hissed air in through his teeth. “To exist is to suffer,” he said, and grabbed the thing firmly. One pull and it came loose from the boy’s back, trailing long, bloodslick threads behind it that twisted and tangled in the air. The boy screamed until his throat was raw. There was a wet hole in his back, its lips ragged and pursed.
He handed the thing to the driver, who cringed away from it. “Bandage him,” said the reverend. “And watch over him. It is not an easy thing to have lost.”