It’s always the things you don’t see that get you. That’s what my boss used to tell me. Of course, he was simply referring to that spot of dirt beneath the floor that we neglected to mop up earlier that day. Prophetic-sounding hogwash in the face of absolute normalcy. You get used to this, as a minimum wage worker. A manager acting like he’s the next great philosopher or herald.
He has no idea, however, what fresh hell he brought into my life.
I’d taken up the job several months prior, so I could afford textbooks for the coming semester. Of course, this wouldn’t do shit for the larger end of the bill I would one day need to foot. I’d just wipe down some tables, cart away some dishes, and that’d be it. Menial work for a bi-weekly pay. It put money in my hands, that’s all that mattered. Until, of course, it started to happen.
It was slow at first. Subtle. My middle finger, just below the cuticle, became very itchy and irritated. It persisted for a good week or so, even on the days I didn’t attend work. The skin grew flaky, inflamed, and necrotic. At first, I thought little of it. A simple infection from working with bleach, that’s all. A pair of gloves, from here on out, would need to be employed. A simple fix to a simple problem.
The gloves proved… ineffective. The infection not only worsened to the point of skin tearing and wounds opening, but began to spread to the other fingers on my right hand. It would itch and burn, like claws sinking into my flesh out of thin air. Searing hot claws.
I expressed my growing discomfort with the manager. He made mention that the local health codes mandated that all of these rags be cleaned with bleach, that which I believed to be the source of my rampant inflammation. Subtly, however, we agreed that I would no longer need to use bleach-soaked rags for my cleaning work. Hot water, very hot water, would suit the rags just fine. I was surprised to find him so cooperative. I was even more surprised when the infection still persisted, even after complete separation. Even worse, my flesh would feel as if on fire when working with the vegetables. Part of my responsibility, after all, was chopping up lettuce for the salad bar. For some reason, the would-be pleasant feeling of wet leaves more closely resembled a brush with a hot iron. I fought the urge to scream as much as I could, gritting my teeth whenever I washed my hands.
That week, I quit. It wasn’t a burning of bridges at all. In fact, the old man was surprisingly on board with the notion of me terminating my employment there. Perhaps it was the first look at my decaying fingers that persuaded him. Perhaps it was that I was so loyal and unquestioning in the face of ailment that he didn’t want me to end up getting killed over it. Shame it was too late for that.
At home, I tried every potential remedy under the goddamn sun. Ointments, creams, hot soaks and compresses. Bandages, disinfectant, anti-fungals, and even bloodletting from the wounded area. Nothing worked. It all just worsened in a haze that seems to blur between days. By that week’s end, my hand was completely covered in this godawful infection. By the second week, it covered most of my arm. Third week, it started crawling steadily upward and downward, reaching my neck. I didn’t stop fighting it for a single day. I fought alone, but I fought valiantly. Fruitless, all of it. But it had to be better than sitting there and letting it overtake me. I began to lose sleep amidst the discomfort, and what sleep did befall me would last for entire days at a time. At this point, I wasn’t sure if my eyes were sunken in because of this intense sleep deprivation, or because the necrosis had fully surrounded my eye sockets and everything in my face was beginning to rot.
My entire head was itching. Itching something fierce. I couldn’t help it. I scratched and I scratched and I scratched for a good long while. All of that medical shit I had been trying for the last month or so could rot in Hell, now. Scratching it was the only thing that felt good. Tension began to leave my skin like steam from a burst lobster. In my mind’s eye, my head exploded with the rushing colors of a psychedelic hocus pocus. As my fit ended, I collapsed onto the cold floor where it initiated. In that whole ordeal, I’d completely forgotten that I was in the bathroom.
I woke up, peeling myself off of the tile. I lost hours on that floor, and I wasn’t sure how many it had been. The thing that greeted me in the mirror was nightmare made flesh. My face was completely cracked and torn, deep with ridges of dried blood. My nose and upper lip had been torn off, baring the teeth within. Mushrooms sprouted out of the deep fault lines in my flesh in isolated, errant fashion. Most bizarre of the mutations, though, was my scalp. Where once a human head of hair was, there now sprouted a porous and putrid fungal spore. My mouth fell agape, confirming indeed that this monstrosity was my very own body. Feebly, I raised my hands into view. Repugnant masses of sores, both of them. I tested the physical integrity of the fingers on my left hand. The tip of my middle finger broke off. Light as paper. Ink-black smoke plumed out of the hole in my finger. I could not look away. I screamed, and screamed, and screamed, backing away from that which I could not escape. This was me. I was not human anymore. This had to be some mad hallucination. But clearly, inflicting a wound on myself didn’t snap me out of it.
Finally, resigned to my sudden ravages of metamorphosis, I took a seat beneath a tree in my backyard. I had no choice. Six chambers, fully loaded. I knew it had to be quick and it had to be now, before I resembled things that be not man or nature. I begged the soil to take me back and cleanse me of this filth. I fired a single shot, and my vision clouded with the putrescent black smoke as consciousness failed me. The infection, I hoped, died with me.
Thanks for reading!
This fan-story and the accompanying art were both submitted to us by the clever William J. Maitland, Jr.