When the first one appeared on his hand that morning, he thought it was some kind of weird rash. The biggest part of the rash bubbled up to the size of a dime and was lodged into that soft fleshy part between his thumb and index finger. It might have been a blister, swollen and pink, except for the radiating redness he could see just under the surface of his skin.
His girlfriend, Lisha, took one look and shrugged it off. “Spider bite, most likely,” she said. “It’ll probably go away on its own.”
He kept examining the rash or spider bite or whatever the hell it was.
“Don’t pick at it,” Lisha called from the shower. She knew him too well. Whenever he noticed any little oddity, his hypochondria got out of control. In his imagination, he was always dying some slow, biologically bizarre death. A mosquito bite always led to a previously undiscovered strain of malaria. A deep papercut would undoubtedly lead to a twisted death of tetanus. In reality, he was rarely sick and ended up feeling like a moron whenever he visited the doctor.
He noticed the second one on the top of his foot in the shower. He noticed the pink lump on his instep before he saw any of the radiating lines wrapping around his ankle and down towards his heel. As he bent down for a closer look, he saw the angry red tendrils were actually moving underneath his skin.
“Lisha! It’s on my foot too!!!” As he jumped out of the shower he showed her, “Do you see? Don’t you see it moving?!?!”
“Um, not really, seriously, it looks like a bug bite of some kind to me. It probably IS infected and maybe that’s what you’re seeing in your veins or whatever. If you’re worried about it, just stop by the doctor’s office. It’ll ease your mind.”
By the end of the work day, he was headed to his doctor’s office. The blistery bite things had crept up in several other spots. Although it didn’t feel uncomfortable — didn’t even itch — it HAD to be something serious.
He checked in hesitantly, describing the weird skin rash, which might be a poisonous spider bite, and might be seriously infected, and might be affecting his heart because now it felt “funny” too, and this was definitely not in his head. Definitely not imaginary.
The nurse assured him that it was probably no big deal. It was likely an allergic reaction of some kind. The doctor wasn’t much more help. “Well, it’s definitely not a spider bite, not a bite of any kind actually. It’s probably just a rash. It just looks worse because you’ve been scratching and picking and worrying about it all day.” He went home, defeated, with a jar of anti-allergy cream.
He was reading about obscure and deadly rashes online when he noticed — for sure this time — the tendrils underneath his skin were squirming. Their red lines moved, swishing back and forth, around the blue lines of his veins and disappeared into the deeper tissues of his wrists. The part of the rash that bubbled up above the surface of his skin was pulsating with his heartbeat. Watching the lump beat unnaturally like that made him nauseated, and he just made it to the bathroom before he lost his dinner. They were all moving — the blisters on his hand, foot, neck, and stomach — the radials stretching farther and deeper into his body. Every once in a while, a long red line would resurface — just barely contained by the translucent film of his skin. He felt the rash was weaving itself together deep inside the soft tissues of his body.
He reached for the phone and called Lisha at work. Busy. Where’s the redial? Just keep redialing. Don’t look at your fingers. Everything will be fine. It’s just a mild rash. It’s all in your head.
He reached for a match and held the flame close to the blister near his thumb… Remember that swollen black tick? Mom burned it right off. Sucker pulled right out of the skin, curled up, and died. No big deal. This thing is moving like crazy! Don’t think about the pain. Heat kills infection — everyone knows that. This thing will curl up and die. I’ll take a nice cool shower.
He reached for a knife… This will be messy. I can do this. I’ll just make a shallow cut. Just to let the infection bleed out just a bit. I can barely curl my hand around. I can’t bend my fingers. I can do this. I’ll just pull this thing out of me. It’s moving in my chest. What if it’s attached to something in there? I won’t pull. I’ll just cut and bleed it out. They used to bleed folks out all the time. Cured them of everything and anything. Bloodletting. There’s so much of it. This is the logical approach. The whole room smells metallic. I’ll bleed this thing out of me. Like an old-fashioned leech treatment. That’s probably what it is. Some kind of mutant leech. Bioengineered. This thing is feeding on my blood. There’s probably a cure labeled in a tube somewhere. Maybe I should pull part of it out. I can feel it moving just inside the cut. I can do this.
Lisha came home around midnight. The thick coppery smell hit her before she turned on the lamp. He lay on his back with his shredded wrists flung out to each side hopelessly.
She went through the motions in a slow daze — making all the phone calls she had to make. Every time she said the word “suicide” out loud the scene became more and more real. People came. People went. She retreated to what had been their room. As she removed her shoes, she noticed one had rubbed a blister on the sole of her foot. A blister about the size of a dime.
Melody Beacham is an office worker in Memphis, TN, where she is best known for consuming large quantities of coffee.