SALMONELLA • by Ryan Gregory Thomas

The lady reporting the news sits up, presses her ear, and says, “Breaking News. Atlantic Salmon recalled in San Diego for carrying salmonella. Early estimates suggest many will die.”

I’m on Wikipedia.

I speed read to discover 42,000 people contract the disease every year. 30 people die annually from eating the same fish I’m just now spitting back on the plate. There’s no time to do the math. Wait, maybe there is, I think. A computer calculator reveals a one in 1400 chance of an early death. Why me? Oh, why now?

Time to start a bucket list.

No, no, no. No time.

I strip down to my silk snoopy boxers, barge out the front door. If I’m leaving earth, I want people to know how Mother Nature did me, that her and her Mafioso bacteria poisoned a wild and free spirit. But more than that, I want to be noticed before I pass.

Mrs. Perrywinkle is very old, probably near ninety. She’s got grayish-brown hair, and spot-covered skin that’s all saggy and wrinkled like clothes left in the washer.

“Mrs. Perrywinkle,” I say, watching as she claps her mouth. “I’m going to die. Well, toodle-loo.”

I strut on to the pool area at my complex. Becky’s probably not going to jump in the water. There she is, cool as all can be, lying prostrate in the pool-chair with her blemish-free back to the sun. I see her dreamy sandy-blonde hair swirling like you see with ice cream in a cone, across the top of her head, something I’ll miss greatly.

“Becky,” I shout. “Hey, Becky.”

She lifts some designer shades over her brows. “Erik?”

“I love you, Becky. Okay. Goodbye. I have to die now.”

I know she’s dating a guy named Sam, just wanted to throw my hat in the race. A love triangle wouldn’t suit me, though. Especially, I decide, not with a one-way ticket to the afterlife in my belly. It’s a must I move on.

I walk to the parking lot and scan the area for other people, searching for someone else to deliver the bad news about my early departure. Nobody’s around. Bummer, I think. A few tears leave my chin and next plummet to the dark asphalt, dark like the infinite black abyss soon to be my new home. I sit on a curb, waiting for the end to arrive like my own personal Armageddon.

A lime green caterpillar with a fine hairy coat squirms along the curb by me.

“Any other day I might have squashed you like a bug,” I speak candidly. “Today is different. I’ve evolved. Life is too precious. I see that now.”

The caterpillar rears its head up like it’s upset.

“Oh, don’t worry. You will evolve, too. You’ll grow wings, fly off. You’ll see.”

I carefully lift its body up. I cradle it in my palm. Its many legs bristle my hand, tickling me. There’s no way to tell if it comprehends how fickle existence can be. One minute you’re eating a tasty leaf, only to discover you bit poison ivy the next. Then, what will you do, I think. I don’t tell my new caterpillar friend, though.

It is just in the opening stages of life.

It’s too young to think about death.

So am I.

Ryan Gregory Thomas is a film student, fiction writer, life-long resident of San Diego, and votes democrat.

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