It started with a small nick.

Johnny was walking along, and hit his leg against a door.  A splinter stuck into it, and soon he had a nick of blood showing.

He looked down, and, in a rush, he grew a piece of crust to cover it.  It took too much time, you see, to do anything else, and he needed to get moving.  No time to heal or fix.  So, he covered it.

Soon, Johnny learned how to grow crust on himself more and more.

Every time he’d get hurt or he’d want to cry out in pain, he’d shiver, shake, and move, and soon there would be a new, small tiny, crust that would cover the spot that hurt.

Johnny loved the pieces of crust.  They were quick and painless and they allowed him to get straight back to work.  They were so light, almost like dried pieces of skin, and they would attach ever so lightly to the spot.  And while, sure, the place never perfectly healed, he never had to look at the spot again after that.  Every now and then a crusty piece might fall off, showing the bloody place again, but he’d just cover it up with a fresh piece of crust.  It was perfect.

Now, Johnny also had a job and a family.  And you might be surprised to hear this, but poor Johnny was also subject to some pain in those places too.

But that pain, it didn’t cause blood or aches or anything physical.  It was a pain he’d feel in his heart.  Sometimes his boss would say, “No, no, Johnny! Bad, Johnny!” and Johnny would feel that pain in his heart.  It would ache and swell.  And sometimes his wife would say, “Oh, Johnny, how could you?!” and Johnny’s heart, oh, it would be in such pain from hearing the way her voice rose like that, and sometimes even his eyes would hurt and soon tears would come out, it got that bad.

And to Johnny, this kind of pain was so much worse than the bloody knees and scraped body parts.  It was a pain from within.

In the past, Johnny used to have to learn how to deal with the darts his boss and wife used to throw into his heart, and he’d have to extract each one, one by one, and examine it and learn from it.

But each time he did that, he got so exhausted, and even more pained.  And while the dart was gone, the pain of fighting with Authority and with Love just seemed like too much.

And so one day, at work, with his boss’s finger wagging over him, and tongue flailing from side to side, saying things like, “Now, now, Johnny, you know better than this…” and Johnny’s heart beating like a hurricane, he wondered if maybe his crust could help with the pain he had inside.  And so, as the boss wagged his finger at him, and the tongue kept jumping in his face, he tried to put some crust on his ears, right where all the pain seemed to come from.  And a bit more over his chest, over his heart, which was beating in pain.

And it worked!  He wasn’t sure if it would, but it did.  The boss’s voice seemed to soften, the pain eased from his heart, and he was able to nod and smile at what the boss said, and while the dart kept going in, he hardly noticed and when Authority’s voice had finally slowed down and the finger stopped shaking, Johnny looked him straight in the eyes and said, “So sorry, Authority, I will do my best in the future.”

And that was that.  He turned back to his computer, with a bit more crust and a lot more confidence.

That night, Johnny came home.  And while Johnny was a good man, he tended to make mistakes when it came to Love and her needs.  You see, he didn’t totally understand her, the poor thing, and so sometimes he would buy her a bowling ball instead of flowers because, geez, that’s what he would want.

And that night, Johnny made another mistake, and Love looked at him with eyes of red, and he knew he was in for it, he was in for a fight, for the sad voice of Love, and he steeled himself, ready for another dart to enter his chest and stab his heart.

And as her voice bounced up and down and into him, stabbing him over and over, and he felt the pain again and again, and he started to feel the tears in his eyes again, he remembered something.

He remembered the crust.  The crust that worked with his boss.  And if it worked with Authority why not with Love?

And so he let a piece of crust grow right on his eyes, right where he was crying.  And the tears stopped up, you see.  And then he put another piece of crust over his heart.  And over his ears.  And it seemed like the more crust he put, the better he felt.

The dart was still in there, he knew.  Stabbing his heart.  But that was okay.  The crust softened the blow.

And by the end of her speech, he gave Love a big smile, a big fake smile like he gave to Authority, and said, “I understand” even though he didn’t, and she smiled back, and said, “Oh, thank you, Johnny, thank you!” and they had a romantic night of checkers and lemonade.

Soon, Johnny was using more and more crust.  It seemed like every time he would be at work or with his wife or anywhere else, that the crust he had on didn’t seem like enough, like the darts found new ways of getting in, so he’d start to cover more and more parts of himself with it.

Pretty soon, his entire body was covered with crust.  It was so light, though, that he hardly noticed it.  He could tell that the sun seemed darker and the world was a bit heavier, but he hardly thought twice about all that.  It was worth it.  The crust was just so normal now, so necessary.  How did he ever live without the crust? he wondered.

Soon, he was using the crust for even small things.  Even things like getting a parking ticket or someone cutting him in line at the local cafe.  He would just smile, let a piece of crust grow, and move forward.

It became so normal for him to grow crust that he started forgetting about it.  He started forgetting that it was even there.  Forgetting that he would automatically let it grow now in all situations where he felt pain or annoyance or difficulty.

Layer by layer, the crust grew.  Faster than you might think, he had a whole new layer covering him.

The funny thing was that the more the crust covered him, the more problems it actually seemed to create.  The crust not only protected him from pain from the outside, but it also made it harder for him to feel the world around him.

And so now, he wasn’t as disturbed as he used to be when he did the things that would hurt Love.  He would come home, sit on the couch, and watch TV without saying hello to her.  She would show him the dinner she had pained over for an hour, saying, “I made it special for you,” but Johnny’s ears were covered with crust and he could hardly understand what he said.  And because even his nostrils and his tongue were covered, he could hardly taste the Sweet Affection she had sprinkled on the food and he would just say, “Needs salt.”

And poor Love, she’d start crying, and Johnny didn’t understand what he did wrong.  But he had long ago learned the strategy for these situations, and so he grew some more crust, sat on the couch, and watched more TV.

Even Authority had to deal with the new, crusty Johnny.  All the crust on Johnny’s head and fingers made it hard for him to focus.  While in the past, he would fail a lot, he always seemed to work hard to try and do an excellent job in the future, now he just seemed do a mediocre job every time.

His fat, crusty fingers hit the keyboard all weird.  His fuzzy mind made it hard for him to think.  And so he would just try and do a good enough job to get Authority off his back.  And when Authority would finally come knocking, Johnny would put a piece of crust on himself and move forward.

Day by day went on like this.  One after the other, until it became routine.  Until Love herself started growing a bit of crust and Authority gave up on Johnny.

But what Johnny didn’t realize was that even then, even during the routine, his crust continued to grow, continued to multiply and cover his body.

And soon Johnny was almost like a huge fuzzy animal, covered in what seemed like ten feet deep of crust.

Johnny didn’t realize it, but the crust started to become so heavy that he could hardly walk.  Every step was an excruciating pain because he was carrying a ton of crust over his body, like a huge overcooked loaf of bread.

He could hardly see the sun anymore.  In fact, the whole world seemed dark and empty from through the vision of the crust.  The crust covered his ears so completely that even beautiful music sounded like a cacophony of crappy sounds and he would just say in a cranky voice, “Turn that off!” to whomever was around, usually Love.

Food lost its taste completely.  Museums no longer interested him.  All of his passions seemed empty.

The weight and girth of his crust meant he would run into people almost everywhere he went.  He would get irritable, put on another piece of crust, and move on.

Soon, Johnny was in so much pain that he started crying.  It was a quiet, slow cry.  The kind that happens over days and days.  Johnny was crying like that, over and over.  All day and in and out of nights.

But the problem was that Johnny was so crusty that he didn’t even realize when he cried anymore.  The crust sucked up the tears immediately, and absorbed them, growing more crust to accommodate all the tears.

And so Johnny just continued on with his life, and while he would go to work and talk to Love and eat and drink and pretend he was a normal person, inside he was crying and crying.

It wasn’t long before Johnny was so completely overwhelmed with his crust that he stopped doing anything besides the most essential things.  He would go to work, punch in, Authority would shake his head, Johnny would go back home, eat the food that tasted empty, kissed Love, and then he would watch TV.

Over and over this was Johnny’s life.  Day in, day out.  And whenever the tears or the pain started to show, he would add more crust.  More and more crust until he could hardly walk out the door and each step was like carrying a ton of bricks on his foot.

Months passed.  A year.  Two years.

Until one day, Johnny was driving.  He was on his way to work, on his way to another day with Authority, when some crust got on the window.  He tried to rub it off, tried to clear it out of the way so that he could see.  But when he rubbed it, more got on.

Johnny tried to clean it more, harder and harder, and his car started to swerve.  A car beeped at him, but for some reason, he couldn’t stop himself.  The crust bothered him.  Why wouldn’t it come off?  He rubbed harder.  The car swerved more.  Another beep.  The window became so covered with crust from his rubs that soon he couldn’t see anything.  He tried looking out the side window to see, and that’s when he saw it: a truck.  He was about to…

Crash.  Crunch.  Turn turn turn.

And then his vision went black.

 

Johnny blinked.  All he could see was light.  It was the brightest light he had ever seen.  He blinked again, his eyes adjusting.

As his eyes took everything in, he realized he was staring at a ceiling.  And he was looking right into a fluorescent light that hung on top of him.

He heard a beep.  And another.  Beep beep beep.

He turned toward the noise.  It was a heart rate monitor.  It was his heart that was making those beeps.

He was in a hospital.

He groaned.

He heard steps, fast steps.  In came a man in white.  He looked serious, with light glasses that were aimed down at the clipboard he was carrying.

“Ah, Mr. Johnny, I’m glad to see you are awake.  Yes yes, it was a scary few hours with you, but I’m happy to say we took care of you, yes indeed.”

Johnny tried to say something but the moment he opened his mouth, a stab of pain shot through his whole body.

“Oh no no, Mr. Johnny, I’m afraid you won’t be talking for a few weeks.  Broke your jaw, you see.  Well, shattered really.  It was a real mess, I’ll be honest.  Yucky really.  But don’t worry, Mr. Johnny, we took care of it all, cleaned you right up.  Yes, you almost died there, yes you did, it was a close one.”

That’s when Johnny remembered the car accident.  He wondered what had happened, if the other person was okay, where Love was…

“Now, we had to cut through quite a bit of crust to get to you.  I hope you understand.  That might be part of why the light seems extra bright to you.  Don’t worry, you can grow the crust back if you want.  Not that I would recommend it.  Frightful stuff, that crust.  Truth is, through your time in here, it’s possible it will all be gone.  Might take you years to get it back to where it was.

“Now, let me see, I believe there was a lady by the name of Love that wanted to see you. I’ll call her in, if that’s okay with you.”

Johnny’s eyes lit up.  Love!  She knew about him.  She cared about him.

The doctor left the room.  And in a few minutes, Johnny heard footsteps.  And somehow, he knew they were Love’s.

She ran in, ran at him, and hugged him.  It caused so much pain that Johnny screamed out, which caused even more pain.  Love jumped back, her hand over her mouth, aghast at what she did.

“Oh no!  What did I do?” she asked.

Johnny was crying.  But he realized it wasn’t from the pain.  It was as if it was the first time Love had ever touched him.  As if he hadn’t felt her touch in ages.  And it felt so good.

But he couldn’t tell her.  All he could do is show her his shining eyes.

She understood.  Her hands went down from her mouth, and she smiled and said, “I’m so happy you’re okay!  I was so worried.”

And Love smiled into Johnny’s eyes, and he did his best to smile back.

And he felt this warmth, a warmth he hadn’t felt in so long.

It took him a few minutes to realize why he was feeling so much.  Why he was smiling and happy and so grateful.

The crust.  It was gone.  A lot of it, at least.  When she put her hand on his hand, he felt her actual skin.  He didn’t feel it through a foot deep of crust.  He felt her warmth, felt the way her delicate hands made an impression on his.  He could see her smile, not through the gauze the crust had had over him, but clearly, clear as day.

 

For weeks, Johnny had to stay in that hospital room.  The doctor would come in with reports, and tell him all about how he was progressing, the trainer would come in and help him recover from all the horrible injuries he had received.

But in between it all, Love would come in.  Love with her warm hands and her soft smile.  She would hold his hand and look at him and they would gaze at each other like it was the first time, like it was the first time they had ever seen each other.

And every day she came and held his hand, more crust would fall off of him.  Every time he gazed into her eyes, the crust on is own would fall off.

When the hospital finally released him, he had virtually removed all the crust on his body.  He was back to the same self he had been since before he started his whole adventure into crust.

As he walked out of the hospital, holding the warm hand of Love, squeezing it, realizing how delicate it was, how far away he had been, he promised himself that the crust could never come back.  He saw how the crust had taken him so far from her, how the accident had brought her back by forcing him to remove the crust.

And even when he returned to work and had to deal with Authority, he promised himself that the crust could never be used again.

When he had a problem, he would talk to Authority or to Love.  He would work it out.  He would think it through.

And even though it didn’t make for a good story, Johnny was the happiest he had ever been.

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