Tuesday, August 03, 2010

There are Worse Fates

It started as an itch. The bottoms of her feet and the palms of her hands. She tried various creams and unguents to no effect. Then the bumps formed, like warts, like rings and swirls of warts. Piles of warts, strands of warts.

She could no longer bear to have shoes on her feet. She tried dissolving the growths, had them frozen off, had them cut off, had them burned off. They always grew back, faster than before, thicker than before. She became despondent. She stopped going out at all.

The bumps grew from her hands and feet in thick strands. She couldn’t close her fingers for the dangling fleshy protuberances. She walked on mounds of skin that matted together under the soles of her feet. Eventually, she had to be fed and cleaned by a hired nurse who wore an environment suit for fear of catching the strange disease.

She was finally quarantined. Studied. Placed in a harness that allowed her feet to dangle off the ground and kept her arms stretched away from her body. Waited on constantly. Her strands of flesh would flutter along the tile and undulate in the air like the tentacles of some sea creature searching for food.

One day they wheeled a man into the room across the hall. She could see him through the observation windows between their rooms. He had stiff, bark-like structures growing out of his shoulders and the back of his head. He didn’t walk around much, just stood by a window in the sun. Tests showed the dark material was very similar to fingernails. It grew in stalks that the nurses would trim back every week. He couldn’t speak to her, nor she to him, but the medical students who studied them often carried messages back and forth for them.

She learned that his ailment had started as an itch. He had seen doctor after doctor, seeking an explanation. It appeared he was transforming into a tree, much as she was becoming some kind of anemone. The government worried that it was the beginning of a new plague, a genetic mutation. People were being tested, but no one really knew what to look for.

They heard a rumor about a girl down the hall whose body was producing stiff hairs all along her arms that split into growths that looked for all the world like feathers. And one nurse whispered about the boy whose body secreted calcium deposits that, overnight, sealed him inside a rocky cocoon. An MRI of the pod showed that he was still alive in there, hibernating.

She wondered what he would be when he came out again.

She wondered what she was becoming. It couldn’t be worse than what she was before.

Before, she was alone.

(c) 2010 by Tony Simmons
from the '366 Days' project

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