I woke up in pain. All over. It had been a very rough night. My brain felt too big for my skull. There were nails driving at my temples and my eyeballs felt like they might pop. Basically, your typical Sunday morning.
I had drunk more than usual. I drink more than most people. So for me, drinking more than usual is the type of thing you need a full-function calculator and a working knowledge of higher math to tabulate.
I had the type of evening that lasted from daylight to daylight. It felt like afternoon now, but I couldn’t be sure. The loft’s harsh overhead lights were blazing. I was sprawled out on the couch fully clothed.
The light hurt my eyes terribly. I screwed them shut and buried my head into the back of the couch. Down between the cushions. It smelled rank, but I couldn't be bothered to care just now.
A horrid heartburn sensation woke me. My stomach gurgled uneasily. Nevertheless, I wasn’t about to disgorge the contents of my stomach simply from some funky aroma buried in the recesses of the sofa. No, that would be too easy. That would provide too much relief from the wrenching feeling in my gut and the bubble of acid that had formed up under my chest.
I had a vague recollection of eating very late in the evening. We had ended up in the back of the swank new BBQ joint with the hostess. She was raving about the meat.
It wasn’t even real. It was some lab created substitute. Something she had called a “humanely produced organic biomass.” This restaurant was going to be the very first to offer it in the city.
It smelled worse than the dark soul of this sofa. Not rancid exactly, more like an old, wet, stank leather boot. Elements of foot odor, cow sweat, dirt and burnt rubber. It looked like a child’s plush version of a steak.
I had eaten a “raw” cut. She had assured me that it would be fine. That the term “raw” didn’t even apply. The young, exotic-looking, dark-haired woman had rattled off some science-y mumbo jumbo that she clearly didn’t understand. As such, she could hardly impart anything meaningful to anyone else…even if I had any affinity for chemistry or biology, which I don’t.
It didn’t matter. I would have eaten it regardless of what was said. Whatever that “steak” looked or smelled like. In my inebriated condition, I thought it would grease the wheels with the hostess. I didn’t want to argue with her. I didn’t want to spoil any chance I had to get closer to her straight, silky hair and her dusky, dark skin.
It didn’t work. I don’t really recall what transpired after our illicit taste test. More drinking and a little good-natured carousing, I’m sure. However, I woke up alone. That was not in dispute.
At this point, I didn’t give a fuck. My world was tilted, I had sore spots that ached and aches that were sore. I would have paid money to have my head removed, just to have it stop pounding.
There was something else. An irritating itch.
I reached down to my stomach to scratch. To find some measure of relief amidst all this agony. I felt the tiny bumps all over my stomach. Some kind of rash or allergic reaction, was my first thought.
I rolled over on the couch and lifted my shirt. My stomach looked slightly distended. My abdomen was reddened and sore to the touch. Worse, there were a number of small dark bumps in the area around my navel.
I rose from the couch in a mild panic. Thoughts of a sexually transmitted disease received from a conquest I didn’t even recall racing through my brain.
Such sudden movement drove a spike through my skull. After a pause to collect myself, I came to my senses. This was something else. I was being irrational and foolish. Liquor addled thinking wildly careening off the tracks.
I went into the bathroom and turned on the blinding lights above the mirror. The pustules were small, like pimples, with a whitish center. Like a cyst or an abscess. Looking all the world like ingrown hairs. I thought it likely that I had come in contact with something. A poison ivy; or perhaps some kind of chemical.
I couldn’t resist squeezing one. An opaque discharge oozed out before a thin, black hair protruded just the tiniest bit from the center. Something between curiosity and compulsion took hold of me.
I pulled open the drawer to my right and grabbed my tweezers. With two fingers pinching the cyst-like, darkened node, I tweezed the hair in its center and yanked.
It hurt like a motherfucker. A quick, sharp, electric jolt with an accompanying burning sensation that I felt to my core. Like the hair was rooted somewhere far deeper than it should have been. I managed to pull the thin hair a mere few centimeters out, but the pain was unbearable.
My head throbbed. I felt like puking. I couldn’t focus my eyes on the task for very long without glossing over. I felt a bone-deep ache and the desire to pass out. To slump onto the tile floor and forget about it.
I heard the tweezers clink on the floor at my feet before I even realized I had lost hold of them. I looked down at the hair that I had just released. It undulated slightly. Then it slithered its way back out of sight. Back into my abdomen.
I vomited in the sink.
What splattered into the sink caused overwhelming panic. Amid a pile of half-gnawed, sponge-like, ruby red organic material were hundreds of tiny, wire-thin, wriggling…things.