Friday, September 27, 2013
I can’t help but wring my wrists over and over where the handcuffs used to be. The skin that was eaten away there is starting to scab over, but I keep rubbing them off. I don’t mean to, but the itching drives me insane. I pull my sleeves down to hide the marks, because no one needs to see that. It’s not important.
Being locked up in that dark room for two months was the worst hell I could ever imagine. No sunlight. No fresh air. Nothing but cold concrete under my legs, and black, stale air that tasted like steam off a swamp full of alligator crap.
I thought I was going to die in that hole. That’s what they told me when they threw me in there, and after about three days, I started to believe them. The desperate screeching sounds from the cells beside me were enough to make me want to end it myself. But all I had was a case of bottled water, a loaf of bread, and cuffs that were so tight they chewed my skin to pieces every time I so much as took a breath. Not much I could do with that.
I sat in my own filth for a good week before the first guard came back to check to see if I was still alive. That was the first time in my life that I’d ever begged for anything. Couldn’t he see I was fine? Couldn’t he tell I’m one of the ones who’s immune? But he didn’t say a word. He just pulled out his pistol and put a bullet into the head of the thing that was once a person in the cell next to mine. I can still feel the constriction of fear in my chest and the sound of his boots clanking on the concrete as he walked away, leaving me chained to the wall, alone. I begged for him to come back and shoot me too, but he left me there.
A door squeaks open behind me, pulling me from my memories. I immediately draw my dad’s gun and swing around with it aimed and ready to shoot. I always keep it loaded and tucked into the back of my pants now. It’s not like my dad can use it from the bottom of the six foot hole he’s been trapped in for the last six years.
At least he was already dead when they put him there.
My girlfriend, Carrie, gasps. She presses her back against the bedroom doorframe and raises her hands, wide-eyed.
“It’s… It’s just m—me…” she sputters. I can tell she’s trying not to burst into tears.
I shrug an apology and tuck the gun back into my waistband.
You can never be too safe these days.
“I just came to check on you,” she says, not dropping her hands. Her back is pressed so tightly against the side of the door, that I can imagine her shoulder blades turning white from the pressure. She watches me with a well-rehearsed calm face, but she never really looks me in the eyes.
I miss the way she used to look at me. I used to have to piece myself back together when she’d glance up at me through those long black eyelashes, and as soon as I thought I had my dignity back in check, she’d smile. She’d smile, and it would slice right through me, and I’d have to start the process all over again.
I never got tired of that.
Now she only looks at me with darting eyes, like she’s afraid I’m going to rip her throat out. She’s yet to actually look into my eyes since I came home. I don’t blame her, I guess. The bites hurt just as bad as you’d expect them to.
“I’ll be fine,” I say.
I run my fingers through my hair—a nervous tick that I picked up from my father—and Carrie’s eyes lock in on my wrist. I know she’s looking for the bite, trying to make sure that I’m still not infected. It was supposed to have either turned me or killed me weeks ago, yet here I am, still unintentionally scaring the shit out of everyone.
“It’s fine,” I mumble. She quickly drops her gaze to the floor, embarrassed that I caught her looking.
“I made you some lunch,” she says. “Why don’t you come eat it? And you can leave the gun.”
I nod and she scurries out of the room like a scared cockroach. I don’t blame her a bit for being freaked out, but a hug from someone—especially from my girlfriend—would be nice. At least she still cares enough about me to feed me. Maybe there’s still hope for us.
But there’s no way I’m leaving my gun.
I scratch an itching patch of skin on the back of my neck—probably a fungus I picked up in that disgusting hole—ignoring the handful of sticky scabs that fall off in my hand.
I follow her down the hallway to the kitchen, and we sit down at the table. She slides a paper towel-wrapped sandwich my way, and I nod in gratitude.
The day they finally let me out of the hole, she wasn’t there to take me home. They told her I died a few weeks before, I guess to ease her suffering. When I showed up at her front door, she didn’t think I was real. Apparently me being thrown into the hole for two months didn’t just screw me up.
Carrie lays her head down on the table and takes a shallow, shuddering breath. I take a bite of my sandwich and reach over to run my fingers through her hair. She used to like that, but she cringes away from me like I’m diseased.
“What?” I ask, a little too vehemently.
Carrie raises her eyes to meet mine, and for a split second, it feels like it used to. My lungs stop working. My heart stops beating. The entire world and everything in it freezes, controlled by her sapphire blue irises. But then she blinks all that away, and I feel dead again.
“I can’t let you stay here,” she whispers. “The guards… they told me they didn’t let you out…”
Shit. I sort of forgot about that. That day is hazy in my mind now. I vaguely remember the bodies littering the floor of the entrance of the hole, and wiping the blood from my chin as I climbed up the ladder to get out.
I couldn’t take the chance of something happening to Carrie. If I wasn’t going to die, I was going to get out of that hole. Something in me had snapped that day.
Carrie continues. “They were here a few minutes ago, looking for you. I told them you weren’t here, but they said they’re gonna come back with a warrant.”
Her blue eyes turn dark and her eyebrows crinkle in fear. “They said there is a mutation of the virus, and that you’re showing symptoms. They said I should be afraid to be alone with you.” Her voice drops to a whisper as she adds, “They said you’ve already killed some people. Tell me that’s not true.”
I can’t answer her because I can’t lie to her. I stare down at my hands. They’re not the same color they used to be. I compare them to Carrie’s and realize they’re not the same lively peach as hers. A grayish tint has started to leak through my veins and spread through my skin, like a bruise covering my entire hand.
No! I’m immune! That’s why I haven’t turned yet.
“I need you to leave, Aaron,” Carrie says, pushing herself up from the table. “Now.”
She crosses her arms over her chest and jerks her head towards the back door. The motion sends a rush of blood through her neck arteries, and for a split second, my mouth waters. Her skin smells so good. Delicious, almost.
I distract myself by scratching the itching patch of skin on my neck and come back with a palm full of scabs. Hmph. Maybe I’m not so “immune” after all.
“Carrie, that sandwich was disgusting,” I hear myself say as I inch towards her.
This isn’t me. What is happening to me? My vision is starting to blur and my skin feels like it’s going to crawl right off my bones and leave me a twitching skeleton on the kitchen floor. I stumble towards Carrie, reaching out for her to help me stand.
“I’m so sorry,” she sobs, as she pulls a small pistol out of the back of her pants. “It’s not him, it’s not him, it’s not him,” she chants to herself as she raises the gun and aims it at my head.
She meets my eyes one last time just before she pulls the trigger. And for the first time since I met her, I don’t even make the effort to piece myself back together.
Story by: Stefanie Marks
Picture by: George Hodan