By P.L. McMillan

(From Issue #8)

My eyes hurt from being so wide for so long, as I stared, unseeing, at my computer screen.

I had already washed my hands. I had already scrubbed down my desk with one of the sanitizing wipes I kept in the bottom drawer. My stomach tightened, twisted, roiled. I stared, yet could take nothing in. The computer screen was just a blur.

I had already washed my hands; I could still smell the soap. I had already wiped my desk; I could still smell the chemicals. My palms tingled. My eyes flicked down, escaping my control for a moment. Maybe I let them. My whole head felt fuzzy and my scalp was tingling now. I looked over my keyboard, over my hands which lay poised on top of the keys, over the still glistening surface of my desk, over the mouse that sat beside my right hand, over to the corner of my desk where Jordan had sat as he blathered on and on about some report he’d wanted me to start before releasing a sneeze so wet that I had physically seen the specks of internal Jordan juice spray out onto my desk.

What kind of barbarian didn’t cover their mouth when they sneezed?

He’d laughed and apologized and I had kept my calm face on, waited until he left, then wiped down everything, then washed my hands, once, twice, three times in the bathroom—smiling at Carol as she entered, pissed, then briefly rinsed her hands under water without soap. I made sure to use twice the amount of paper towels to open the washroom door.

That meant I was clean. I had washed my hands. I had sanitized my desk.

My traitorous brain asked me, what about your clothes?

I was suddenly very nauseous.

I looked at the time displayed on my computer screen. 3:51.

I opened a browser and began typing in, “can germs survive on clothing,” and forced myself to close it.

I looked down again. My hands were shaking over the keyboard—just slightly. My face felt hot, but my body was cold. I looked farther down, to the bottom drawer where my sanitizer wipes were hidden. Would they damage the fabric if I were to wipe them over the shirt I was wearing?

I could hear my own breathing, ragged and harsh. I sucked in a breath and held it. Could Lee hear my racing, thunderous heart through the cubicle wall we shared? I forced my eyes back to the computer screen and tried, in vain, to focus on the report I had been working on when Jordan had disrupted my day.

Caught in the white noise cycle that my brain refused to leave, I found myself leaving the office before even realizing I had decided to flee. My mind whipped around and around: germs on my clothes, in my hair, my face, how far could a human sneeze spread, how much could it coat?

My phone rang when I was three blocks away, just entering the little park at which I sometimes ate lunch. It was Sanjay. I slipped past a group of school kids, roughhousing in the middle of the path, and found that my favourite bench beneath the old poplar tree was empty. I sat. I answered my phone.

“Sanjay,” I said, a part of me hoped he could hear the tremble in my voice, hear how close I was to crying, so that he would know how serious this situation was.

“Babe, what’s up? You sound upset.”

“Jordan, that asshole. He sneezed all over me. I mean all over me, I had to leave work—”

It all got out of control when I said it out loud and my voice cracked. I clenched my free hand into a tight fist to stop its trembling.

“Take a deep breath, Paige. You’re okay. You’re going to be fine,” he said.

I could tell he was annoyed. He never understood. He used to take me seriously, when we first started dating, but now he just fazes me out.

“Listen, I was calling because my mother is going to be in town—”

“I think I should go home and wash my clothes. I think I should shower too, you know, just in case?”

He sighed. Loudly, deliberately. He wanted me to know he thought I was being silly.

“Aren’t you afraid your boss is going to get mad at you for skipping out early? This is what? The third time this month? Doesn’t he notice?”

“I—”

Had I left early three times this month? I looked at my watch. 4:18. It wasn’t really early. I got off at five usually anyway. It was only an hour.

“Do you think I’m okay?”

“With your boss? I don’t know, hun. You shouldn’t be leaving early so often. I know germs freak you—”

“No, I mean about the fucking sneeze, Sanjay. It got on me, I know it did.”

Another dramatic sigh. I realized I was biting my thumbnail. If the germs were on my hand, then I’d just put them in my mouth.

Isn’t the tissue of your mouth more susceptible to absorbing toxic material? Something about being a mucus membrane of some kind? my brain whispered.

“You washed your hands, right? Then you’re fine. Humans have immune systems for a reason.”

I opened my mouth to confirm. Then stopped. Had I washed my hands? I tried to reel in my memories, recount my actions from when Jordan sneezed to when I ended up here on this bench. My thoughts whipped away from me; it was like trying to grab a hold of a wet bar of soap.

“I can’t remember. I don’t think I did, I don’t remember doing it.” My heart was racing again.

I looked down at my treacherous hand as it lay, clenched on my thigh. It was tingling again. Why hadn’t I washed it?

“You did, babe. You definitely washed your hands, you’re always washing your hands,” he laughed, such an easy-going sound.

I stared at my fist as it pressed into my thigh. If there were germs on my hand, wasn’t I spreading it to my leg? I jerked my hand off my thigh and placed it on the cold metal bench seat instead.

“I didn’t,” I breathed into the phone. “I don’t think I washed my hands. Why didn’t I wash my hands? I need to get home, but if I touch my steering wheel, I’ll have to sanitize the inside of my car and my housekeys too.”

“Paige, listen to me.”

White, sharp pain sliced through the storm inside my mind.

“Babe? Paige? Are you okay? What happened?”

I hadn’t realized that I’d cried out in that moment. Everything seemed to freeze as I unfurled my fingers from where they’d wrapped around the edge of the metal bench. All sounds filtered away, even Sanjay’s voice in my ear. The park filtered away, lost in the tunnel vision I had on my right hand. There was the tiniest spot of crimson on my middle finger. Just above the middle crease.

“I have to go,” I gasped.

I didn’t hear his response. I hung up the phone, still staring at my finger.

I’d cut myself on the bench. I looked at the dark green metal slats. In some places, the paint had chipped away, revealing rusted metal. Was the underneath as rusted as—tetanus shot, when did I have one? I had to have had one, right? —digging through my purse with my left hand—hand sanitizer would help? Or was simple soap and water best? That pain in my jaw, could it be lockjaw already or from clenching it?

I was out of the park, my finger stinging as I rubbed hand sanitizer over it. I wouldn’t run. I could feel people’s eyes on me and could only imagine what I must look like. My eyes were stinging as sweat ran down my forehead. I raised my arm up so I could rub at my eyes with my shirt sleeve.

Now the germs are in your eyes. Did you forget? Jordan sneezed all over you, my mind said.

I couldn’t hold back the sob that exploded from my throat. I didn’t stop trembling the whole way home. To break through the whirling frenzy, I began to plan out my steps. Over and over again, like a mantra.

Get home. Strip. Clothes in washing machine. Shower. Clean finger. Bandage. Sanitize car. Sanitize car keys. Over again. Home. Strip. Washing machine. Shower. Clean. Bandage. Sanitize. Sanitize. Sanitize.

That’s what got me home.

I could ignore the hot flashes dancing across my skin. I could ignore the way my limbs were shaking. I could ignore the taste of copper on my tongue. I could just concentrate on my mantra and I would get home.

My phone was ringing. Loudly. Right next to my ear.

My eyelids scraped like sandpaper as I opened them. I stared up at a darkened ceiling. I shivered on the cold floor, straightening my aching body. My phone went silent, then immediately began to ring again. I pushed myself up into a sitting position. I was in my front hall, still dressed in the clothes I’d worn to work that day. My purse was lying by my feet, its contents spilled out everywhere. Only a faint light filtered in from the front door’s window, a false mellow light likely from the streetlight in front of my house—night had fallen.

The ringing stopped, then resumed. I picked it up, flipping it over to reveal a newly cracked screen. The screen brightness blinded me but I managed to answer it.

“Paige? Where the hell have you been? I’ve been calling all night!”

It was hard to concentrate on Sanjay’s voice. My head was throbbing so hard that I could hear it. A low rush of tide that filled my ears with static, then receded with a wave of pain. I reached up, fumbled, got the light switch, clenching my eyes shut against the enveloping light.

“Paige? Paige? This isn’t funny!”

“Sanjay, I think I’m really sick,” I rasped.

“I can’t believe this. You need to start your sessions with Dr. Cage again. You’ve regressed so much since you quit therapy, I just can’t handle it. You know I’m extra stressed with this new project,” he said sounding exasperated.

I put my hand down to lean on it and immediately recoiled. There, just beside me on the floor, was a small pool of brownish, chunky bile. I retched a bit at the sight of it.

“— you have to know you’re being irrational, right? I know you’re better when I’m at home, but I can’t leave work just because you might have a panic attack. I told you this morning I might have to pull an all-nighter with the team. You have to get in control of yourself for once, be more self-aware—”

“I have to go, I’m so sorry, Sanjay,” I said and hung up.

I raised my right hand with the intention of pressing it to my forehead to check for fever but froze. There was a small amount of dried, crusty blood on my palm and fingers and where the cut was, my skin had discoloured into streaks of green, purple, yellow and was mottled with tiny bumps. The colouring and bumps ran around the middle joint of my middle finger like a ghastly ring, and streaked downwards to the middle of my palm. I pressed my left index finger against the palm of my right hand. The bumps were hard and firm, my skin was tender and hot. Touching it, even gently, caused a prickle of pain to dance over the entirety of my hand.

I stumbled to my feet, rushing to the kitchen. I turned on the sink, the faucet turned as hot as it would go, and scrubbed my hands beneath the water, dousing them in disinfectant hand soap. When I dried them with a dish towel, I saw that the rash had spread to my wrist. It had moved so fast. How was that possible? The angry buboes on my arm were twice the size as those on my hand and finger. I grabbed my phone and dialed.

“911, what is your emergency?”

I spent the time it took for the paramedics to get to my house rubbing hand sanitizer all over my hand and arm. The panic had subsided, replaced by a terrible chill and a strange rushing feeling, like an internal undercurrent, in my head. I couldn’t remember what I’d said to the dispatcher. I had no sense of time between the end of the call and when my doorbell rang.

Holding my right arm out from me to avoid it touching any other part of my body, I opened the front door. A man and a woman, wearing blue uniforms and solemn expressions, stood on my stoop.

“Ma’am? You called in for assistance?” the man asked.

“It’s my arm!” I held it out, the dark discoloration had crept up my forearm to the crook of my elbow in jagged trails.

They stepped across the threshold and into my narrow hall. The woman glanced down briefly but no reaction crossed her face.

“I’m Rick and this is Emma,” the man said, setting his bag down. “Can you tell us what’s happened?”

“Yes, I—this afternoon Jordan sneezed on me and—but I don’t know if that matters. I went to a nearby park and cut my hand on the bench. It was a metal bench; I think it was rusted. I can’t remember when I had my last tetanus shot,” I started.

Emma held a hand up.

“Calm down, ma’am. Why don’t you sit down? How about in the kitchen?” she nodded at the open doorway.

“I am pretty sure it was rusted and I rubbed hand sanitizer on my hand, but I don’t know if that would have helped. I don’t think it did,” I continued in a rush, leading the way into the kitchen and sitting at one of the chairs that encircled the small wooden table by the fridge. “I think I passed out when I got home. I woke up on the floor. And I saw—I saw this!”

I laid my arm out on the table so they could see. Emma had sat across from me, Rick sat by my side. He took a blood pressure cuff from his bag.

“I’m going to go ahead and take your blood pressure, okay?”

“Ma’am, are you currently on any prescription drugs? Have you missed any doses today, maybe?”

“No, I am not on anything. I think maybe I need antibiotics, yes? I think I need to be taken to the hospital!”

I couldn’t understand why they weren’t examining my arm. The infection or whatever it was had widened to the point that it covered the width of my forearm and the entirety of my palm. Maybe this was a regular reaction, something they’d seen before?

“Look at me, ma’am,” Rick said and I did, squinting at the bright pen light he held at my eye level, flashing it in and out of my vision. “Dilation seems normal.”

“What about this? You need to examine my arm!” My voice was rising in volume and pitch.

“Your arm? I thought you said you cut your hand?” Emma said.

“I – I did! I did! But it’s spreading! It’s in my arm now!”

“What’s in your arm, ma’am?” Rick had leaned back to pack his light and blood pressure cuff away; he wasn’t even looking at me.

Not even a glance at my arm.

“This!” I gestured at my limb.

Emma sighed and the two paramedics exchanged a look.

“Ma’am,” Rick said and reached out, taking my arm in both of his hands before I could pull it out of his reach. “You arm looks fine. Now if you did cut it on that bench, I would recommend going to your primary care doctor tomorrow and they’ll check when your last tetanus shot was and all of that.”

“That’s not true, there is something wrong with me! Look—look at my arm!”

He sighed and forced a smile.

“There’s nothing wrong with your arm, ma’am,” he said. “Look for yourself.”

He lifted my arm off the table, squeezing it slightly in his hands. At the pressure, several of the larger bumps on my forearm burst, spilling a clear viscous material speckled with rust-coloured flecks. Instantly I could smell the faintest citrusy scent, it was almost pleasant. I jerked my arm away from him, the burst bumps stinging. My mouth gaped as I watched the paramedic lean back in my kitchen chair and run a hand through his thick blonde hair. I could see the drops of thick liquid glistening on his head. The red flecks caught the light and seemed to spark a brighter crimson.

“It’s a really awful thing to waste our time. There are real emergencies out there that require our attention,” Emma said, standing. “Come on, Rick.”

I looked back at him. He was staring at his hands with a wide-eyed look of bewilderment. His partner walked past him, unaware, and stopped in the hallway.

“Rick?” she said.

I looked at his head. Where the goopy discharge used to be were now holes. I thought I could hear – just faintly—a sound much like frying meat. Then he began to scream. He kicked back, flipping himself and my chair back onto to the kitchen floor and then he rolled onto his side, seizing. His partner scrambled to his side, rolling him onto his back, struggling to pull his clawed hands from his face.

It was insane how fast it happened. The skin on his head slumped downwards, pulling away from his skull like jello, sliding down the sides of his face, and revealing bone. His eyes, naked orbs, spun in their sockets as he continued to scream. Globs of skin dropped from his hands, dripping like a fleshy rain until they went limp, lying in their own pools of gore on my kitchen floor.

The room was filled with the same strange sweet smell. Emma shrieked when she saw the naked skull where his face should have been. His feet beat a soft tempo on the floor before going still. She scooted away from him, shaking, then she looked at me. I tore my gaze away from his skull, his unseeing but staring eyeballs, the pools of pink flesh that haloed his head and lay in pools around his skeletal hands.

“What the hell? What the hell did you do?” she shrieked and lunged at me.

I tried to dodge her grasp, I tried to jerk my arm away from her, but she was faster. She grabbed my arms, tightly, her long nails digging viciously into my flesh. Dozens of plump boils burst along my arm, coating her left hand and wrist, but she didn’t seem to notice—or see.

There was so much of it, it was dripping off my arm in great slimy dollops to land with small slaps on the floor. I gagged, trying to pull away.

“What is wrong with you? What did you do to him?” she was screaming.

“I don’t know – it’s the rash! Don’t you see? You have to wash your hand! You have to get it off!” I stood so fast, I almost knocked her to the floor.

I ripped my left arm free and used it to grab her wrist, pulling her to the sink. She jerked away from me, slamming against the counter, and her hands flew to cover her mouth as she looked at me with such a frightened expression that I froze. We stood perfectly still for a moment, locked together in fear. I watched the clear fluid sink into the flesh on her hand. Her skin wobbled, then sagged lower and lower before it dropped to the floor with a thick sound.

Her eyes followed its plummet and then she jerked her hands away from her face, holding them up to eye level. Side by side, she examined her whole hand and the one reduced to glistening bone. I think she would have opened her mouth to scream except that she must have gotten some of the liquid on her lips, her left cheek, her chin. The bottom half of her face dripped away from her skull, joining the rest of the jiggling flesh on the floor. With a low keening sound slipping from her throat, Emma’s eyes rolled back into her head and she slumped to the floor.

Then the kitchen was quiet except for the humming of the fridge and the soft susurrus of flesh being softened, separated, stolen from bone. My legs threatened to give out so I sunk to my knees, wrapping my left arm around myself while holding the right as far from me as I could. It had spread. While I’d been watching Emma’s face fall from her skull, the disease or the infection—whatever it was—had crept up my upper arm. It had spread far enough to disappear beneath the rolled-up sleeve of my shirt.

With trembling fingers, I pulled my collar down and revealed more tainted flesh across my chest and bordering the base of my neck. The bumps that had burst had closed already, had grown larger, full again to the brim with the clear, thick, poisonous brine flecked with crimson. I moaned and let my head fall back with a thud against the counter, tears threatening.

Somewhere in the hall, my phone began to ring again.

If I called the CDC, what would they do to me? Quarantine me. Keep me locked up until they figured out how to help me or I died.

What if you don’t die? Would that be worse? My mind whimpered and I shivered in answer.

Still, I couldn’t let it spread any further. I had to see a doctor.

I planned it out in steps. Clean the infected flesh. Wrap it up in bandages to avoid leakage of any kind. Drive to the ER. Explain it all, explain everything.

I ignored the phone and whispered my mantra out loud as I walked around the cooling bodies on my kitchen floor.

Clean. Wrap. Drive. Explain.

Clean. Wrap. Drive. Explain.

The sterile smell of chemicals that saturated the air at St. Joseph’s Medical Center helped steady my nerves. The bored looking nurse in pink scrubs behind the desk did not.

“And you say you got some kind of an infection from a park bench?” she repeated in a monotone voice for the fifth time.

“Please, you have to help me! It’s not normal! Paramedics came to my house and when they touched it – when they —” I knew crying wasn’t helping, wasn’t making me seem reasonable at all, but my nerves were fully shot through.

“Can you quiet down, Miss?” the nurse sighed. “You’re being disruptive.”

“You have to get a doctor to see me now! I can feel it leaking! I don’t know if the bandages are thick enough, it’s all I—”

“Fill this out. A doctor will see you in a while.”

She shoved a clipboard across the counter at me.

“It has to be now! The infection is spreading!”

“You have to fill this out, Miss. Everyone does. Please sit down and return it once it’s done.”

She swiveled in her seat to turn her back to me and began to peck away at her laptop. I took the clipboard in my uninfected hand and gingerly made my way to an empty seat as far from anyone else as I could.

Though I had only just wrapped my arm in bandages, damp patches were appearing in the cloth. When I sat, I felt one of the larger abscesses pop and the thick, warm liquid began to trail down my ribcage and onto my belly. Everywhere was the smell of lemons.

I stared down at the form. My right hand—the dominant one—lay swaddled in an inch of bandage. I put the back of my left hand up against my forehead. No fever. No aches in my joints. No shivers or cold flashes. No sore throat or cough. Even the infected skin felt the same as the rest. There was nothing to show that I was sick, possibly dying, except for the marks, except for the toxic growths that laced my limbs like weapons.

I yanked myself out of my thoughts with a snap at the sound of a scream and looked around the waiting room, my heart in my throat. A heavily pregnant woman had just walked up to the front desk, three children orbiting her legs as she did. She shooed them away as she spoke to the nurse and they dashed into the waiting room like snotty comets. I grew tense, watching them circle the seats and the other people waiting to be seen. I shrunk into myself, back into the chair, curling my legs under it. One of them, a little girl with long pigtails, ran past me with an ear-piercing giggle. Then her brother raced after her and tripped over his own feet, landing right in front of me. He began to howl. The dozen other people in the waiting room looked up from their phones, their magazines, the TV mounted to the ceiling. They looked at him and then set their stares on me. My skin prickled.

They’re wondering who that cold woman is, letting the kid cry and cry, and not offering to help, my mind whispered.

They stared. I stood. The mother had turned and was watching me. I stepped over her son, stumbling in my haste to get far from him. She made a clucking noise on her tongue and began to waddle over. They were all staring. All staring as she stumbled, off-balance due to her magnificently bulging belly, and fell against my right side. Out of instinct, I reached out to steady her even as I felt every single pustule pop along my arm, shoulder, and side. The bandages were soaked through. My clothes were slimy. I stumbled away from her with a shriek, falling to the floor in front of the nurse’s desk. As I scrambled, I left a glistening trail along the floor.

“What is your problem, lady?” the pregnant woman asked as she knelt awkwardly and yanked her son to his feet, leaving sticky handprints on his arms.

The nurse was at my side. She reached down and grabbed my arm.

“Miss, if you’re going to cause a fuss, I’m going to have to call security and you don’t want that, do you?”

She gripped my forearm, oblivious to the rivulets of ooze squeezing out from between her fingers.

“Oh God, you have to wash your hands now! You have to get it off! It’ll kill you!”

I felt lost, swept away, completely out of control. The nurse dropped my arm and raised her hand between our faces, spreading her fingers apart.

“There’s nothing there. Look! There’s nothing there. Do you understand that? What kind of medication are you supposed to be on, anyway?” she said as ribbons of clear, liquid infection stretched between her fingers.

“What’s going on here, Angela?”

The nurse and I looked up. A doctor in mint-coloured scrubs stood in front of us.

“Nothing, Dr. Tanaka —”

“They’re going to die! You have to listen to me! Her, and her, and— and the kid! It’s all over my body and if it gets on you—”

“Now, now. How about we let Angela take care of everyone out here and I take a look at you, okay?” he said with a smile, completely unfazed.

“Doctor, I—” the nurse started and then stopped when he flashed her a look.

She stood and made her way to check on the pregnant woman. The doctor watched me stand shakily and then led me around the front desk, down the hall, and into an examination room. I was babbling. I couldn’t stop. My words flowed over the stolid doctor like rain drops, unnoticed.

“Take a seat, Miss…?”

“Paige MacDonald, but—”

“Medications?” he pulled on some gloves and set to work, unravelling the sodden bandages from my arm, letting them fall into the biohazard disposal bin by the counter.

“None, none at all. I’m not crazy, it’s right there!” I gestured at the raw, gaping holes that ran the length of my arms—ruination from the pregnant woman’s fall against me.

He hummed to himself, turning my arm this way and that.

“And you think you have an infection because you cut your finger? Are you experiencing any fever? Aches? Sore throat?”

“This! This is the evidence right here. Right here!”

“Do you have someone we can call?” he said, staring at my arm as if all was perfectly normal.

The screams started. A part of me was waiting for them this whole time so I didn’t even flinch. Dr. Tanaka did, jerking upright, ramrod straight and eyes wide.

“Just wait here, all right? Just wait, wait one moment.” He was out the door before I could say a single thing.

I didn’t wait. It was clear to me that he didn’t understand what was going on. The paramedics didn’t take me seriously, the nurse hadn’t, and now the doctor. The more people who didn’t take me seriously, the more people that would die.

The screaming had ended abruptly, but I could hear a panicked babble of conversation. I slid off the examination bed and slipped into the hall, running past the mob who were crowded around the three prone figures on the floor – two adult-sized and one child-sized. They didn’t even see me escape the hospital, clutching my right arm to my chest, and dripping ichor the whole way out.

I drove home, hardly aware of the streets I took, my head was crowded with thoughts of what steps I should take next. Nothing seemed plausible. Everything seemed hopeless.

I didn’t even notice the front door had been unlocked, until I was already in the front hall. It wasn’t until I saw Sanjay standing in our kitchen, his face pale and drawn as he stared down at the two bodies lying on the floor, did I realize I had parked next to his cheery red sedan when I’d gotten home.

“Paige,” he said, breathlessly. “Oh, Paige. What the hell happened here?”

“You have to get out of here, Sanjay! You have to leave. It’s not safe. You can’t be near me, I’m sick!”

He turned haunted eyes to meet mine.

“You have to go; you have to get far away from me. Please, Sanjay,” I pressed myself against the wall, wishing I could push myself through it, wishing I could disappear.

“Paige, calm down. Tell me what happened. How all of this happened,” he made a sweeping gesture with a shaking hand.

I forced myself to take one deep breath, and then another. If anyone would believe me, Sanjay would. He loved me.

“It was the park bench. The one I always sit on. I cut my hand—this one.” I held out the offending limb. “And it made me sick. I passed out here, on the floor, and when I woke up, I was covered in this.”

I held my arm out, stretched it out so he could see the extent of it, all the while wondering how much farther it had spread beneath my clothes.

“I called them, I wanted help. I thought they could help me. But, when they touched me—when they came in contact with the stuff, the infection, they…they died. You can see it with your own eyes. Their skin—like acid and—”

It was no use. I was crying. Sobbing so hard I was choking. He took a step towards me and I reeled back against the front door.

“No! Not any closer!” I cried out, sinking to the floor.

“Paige,” he stepped out into the hall. “There’s nothing on your arm. There’s no infection. You know that, right?”

I tucked myself into the corner next to the door, feeling more and more of those cursed abscesses pop and leak their poison all over my skin. The poison that—somehow—turned everyone’s skin into soup but mine.

“It’s all over me, Sanjay, it’s everywhere!”

I held my arm in front of my face. The green, purple, and yellow was deeper, darker. It blazed within my skin like a sickly storm, ready to let loose a rain of toxic pus.

“Paige, let me help you. Please.”

I looked up and saw, to my horror, that he had come closer, that he was reaching out to me.

“No! Get away form me!” I cried, recoiling as much as I could.

“Babe, listen to me. You’re just having a panic attack, okay? There is nothing on your arm. Nothing. Now let me help you!”

“Get out! I hate you! I hate you, Sanjay, I hate you! I never want to see you again! Get out! GET OUT!” I screamed, every lie breaking my heart as I saw him flinch at the words.

Still, it had the effect I wanted and he backed away, his hands held up as if in surrender.

“I can’t leave, Paige. There are two dead bodies in the kitchen. We have to call the police.”

I knew he wouldn’t leave. He wouldn’t leave as long as he thought he could fix things. He never listened to me. He always thought he knew best and, in this case, it would get him killed if I didn’t do something. I stood so suddenly that he flinched back.

He’s afraid of you, my mind cried out mournfully, he thinks you did it.

I turned, yanking the front door open with my good hand and ran out of the house, slamming the door behind me. I was in my car by the time he made it out to the front yard. I squealed out of the driveway, steering with just one hand, and sped off.

The car was quiet except for the sound of my heavy breathing, of the humming tires on the road, of the rushing wind. I’d left my phone back home. My shoulders slumped with the weight of the day. I found my way from the streets onto the highway. The road stretched onward forever into the night, lit only occasionally by pale buttery streetlights. The moon hung as swollen as that pregnant woman’s belly in the black sky void of stars.

I switched hands on the steering wheel, using my left to scratch at a slight tingling on my left cheek. I felt a few of those damned bumps, still hard and small, only just gestating. Still, I felt fine, as healthy as ever. I felt perfect. I would be fine. Everything could be fine. As long as I kept away from people, away from everyone. Sanjay was safe and I could keep others safe. I felt like I’d been preparing for something like this my whole life.

I took a moment to turn the radio on, filling the car with noise.

Now, scratching my neck and popping some of the riper abscesses, I drove on.

End.

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