F3.late – The Time Before I Turn
Two days late is still better than never.
THE TIME BEFORE I TURN
When I cross my arms against my chest I feel skin and bone, not muscle. I feel frail. My lungs rasp as I breathe.
Is it breathing, or merely the semblance of life, a diaphragm and ribs that refuse to accept that they are no longer necessary?
No. No. I’m not gone yet. I’m still here. I look up at the sky and blink at the sunshine that pieces the clouds overhead. It’s not a habitual reaction; it’s instinctual. My eyes hurt at the brightness.
The rash appeared a month ago. At first it was just bright, and pink, and itched like a healing graze. Within a week it had spread and was a searing red, and when touched produced a stinging sensation. I visited a doctor at that point.
“There doesn’t appear to be anything actually wrong with you,” my GP told me. “There’s some inflammation of the skin but that’s all.”
He gave me a subscription for a topical steroidal cream and recommended a temporary course of ibuprofen. I demanded to see a skin specialist. My GP looked doubtfully at my file, and said I should come back again in a week’s time, and then he would consider referring me to a dermatologist.
Within a week the rash had grown, covering half of my body, and the centre of the affected area had turned first a pallid white, and then a lurid yellow-black. My entire body was turning into a gigantic bruise. Despite the summer heat I eschewed short-sleeve shirts, unlike the rest of my workmates. At first I smiled politely at their ribbing, tried to force a laugh here and there to feign normality. Even this soon became too much. After that it felt like a waking dream: entering the office, wincing at the twinges of pain that ran through my feet, calves, and thighs, forcing me to limp, and then staring blankly at a flickering LCD screen for hours on end.
I could no longer make sense of the numbers and words that appeared before me, and even resting my fingertips on the keyboard stung like frostbite. I retreated further inside myself, not eating or drinking, just sitting at my desk for eight hours until it was time to leave. After several days of this my manager took me to one side, enquired as to my health, my wellbeing, was I on any medication, had I lost someone, I could talk to him it was okay he was here to support me as I was a valued part of the team-
At some point during his well-meaning spiel his gaze strayed to my collar and his words trailed off as he caught sight of the traffic-light coloured rash creeping upwards toward my jawline. After that I was hurried out, assured that sick leave would be paid, but that I must go to a hospital, see a doctor, get treatment and a note.
But by then I was already too scared to go back to my doctor. The day I saw the look of fear in that man’s eyes was the day what remained of my brain put two and two together.
I’ve seen the movies. I’ve read the books, the comics, heard the jokes and played the videogames. They’re everywhere, these days, everywhere but in fact – until me. Although my flesh had yet to turn green and stink of putrefaction I knew what has happening. I was turning into the living dead. I am becoming… zombie.
I confined myself to my home, pausing only to struggle through the maelstrom of a convenience store, collecting tinned foods with hands that burned with pain. I dropped money in front of the clerk, mumbled an apology, and left. She didn’t pursue me with the change. Other customers watched as I left the shop; several must have made remarks about my being drunk, but my ears felt too thick and heavy to hear. I fled as quickly as I could.
After three weeks had passed my appetite waned and vanished. I’ve not eaten in five days, having confined myself to my home. It’s fortunate that I live alone, given that after two days of not eating a terrible hunger began to set in. I know what that hunger is. The idea of it circles around my conscious mind like a predatory shark, and I fear what will happen once my consciousness is no longer there to keep it out.
I raise my arms towards the sun, trying to feel its warmth on the palms of my hands. My dying skin feels nothing, as though heat were alien to it. I moan in despair, lower my arms, and move back, away from the sunlight and towards the comforting darkness of the garden shed.