Hi fellow indies,
It’s been a fun week. I took my daughter, Rosa, to see her grandparents, auntie and cousin. It’s going to be her birthday soon, so she basically ate sugar all weekend, sprinkled with a few pieces of macaroni and cheese. I can’t believe she’s going to be nine. Where did eight go? She looks so tiny, until she gets next to really young kids, then she looks so grown up. And the way she speaks, man, it’s like listening to another language. ‘Tots cray-cray’. I don’t know whether to sigh in resignation and mourn the English language, or laugh. I think it’s because it’s my own kid that it sounds cute when she says it, with her little eye-roll. I imagine that it won’t be as cute when she’s a teenager and referring to me. I have to ask my mom if we sounded as alien when we were kids.
But i don’t know when this all happened. I blinked and the world was different. Neil de Grasse Tyson must be right about time being relative and related to speed. Maybe time is speeding up as the universe expands. And I’m going to be…older too, in a few weeks, a lot faster than I’d like. I think since I turned 40, my warrantied parts are expiring…just the small annoying things, like knees. I’m going to be like a Toyota. The body paint might get dinged with hail and start pitting, the inner lining of the ceiling fabric might get holes and start hanging down, the stereo might start sounding tinny, but the engine’ll keep turning over, I hope…maybe I should start thinking about cutting down on the Big Macs and Twinkies.
Speaking of physical changes, my next story is about transformation. You might not look at that those stuffed mushrooms the same again.
by Rachel Coles
Kallie Sangiovi tossed a few packets of mushrooms in her cart and lumbered along. She loved mushrooms, of all kinds: thick meaty portabellas, delicate shiitake, plain white. She ate them on everything from salads to sandwiches, in sauces on steaks, raw or cooked. They were good for her diet. She patted absent-mindedly at her cushioned belly.
Mark made his usual face and comment. “Fungus.” As they approached the checkout line, Kallie felt a tickle and then a sharp pain on her arm.
Then Mark yelped and slapped his leg. “Ow! What the hell?”
There was a crushed ant under her hand. They looked down at a cluster of several ants running helter-skelter over Mark’s leg and over Kallie’s shirt.
“Yipe!” She shrieked and swiped at them as Mark frantically brushed at the ones on his leg.
“Agh!” He wiggled and jiggled and ran for the bathroom as a daring ant made it into his pants.
After every last ant she could see was dead and Mark returned, they inspected the food. “Must have come from the veggies,” she remarked, handing them to the concerned cashier who had come running.
“See, veggies are hazardous to your health. That’s why I never eat them,” Mark quipped. Kallie rolled her eyes.
“I’ll see to the problem in Produce,” the girl inspected the veggies. “And I’ll get the manager.”
After profuse apologies by the paunchy manager, and a ten dollar gift certificate for groceries, they checked out and wheeled to the car. A gust of wind almost blew the cart over, and Kallie’s sun hat flew across a few parking spaces while she shoved the groceries at Mark and caught up with it.
“Holy Moly!,” she exclaimed, peering into the navy bruised sky. “Summer storm coming.”
Mark finished loading the groceries, hopped in the car, and popped open the passenger door for her.
“Maybe it’ll be a tornado,” she said, peering at the sky hopefully.
He rolled his eyes. “We don’t get tornadoes in Denver.”
“Oh, like the tornado we didn’t get last year. That funnel I saw in the sky was just God scratching his ass?”
He grinned, “Look, if it was a major storm, we wouldn’t be over-run with bugs, would we? Don’t animals go into hiding before a storm? Unless we’re dealing with the morons of the ant world.”
“Could be they’re running ahead of the storm,” she reasoned.
He grimaced and brushed another ant from his shirt. “Dammit! Piss off! I’m not food!” He scowled and put the car back into park. Then he flicked an ant into the windshield and did an anti-ant dance, shaking his head back and forth, swinging his arms and stomping his feet on the floor mat.
“I can’t tell whether you’re head-banging or having a seizure.” She remarked and cranked the stereo on the heavy metal station. “Ok, go ahead now, you’ve got theme music.”
He grinned, threw a bag of rice at her, and resumed the drive.
The next day, as Kallie pulled pots out to start dinner, and edged around Mark who was emptying the dishwasher, he sneezed suddenly and caught Kallie with the spray.
“Jeez, Mark!” She wiped her arm, making a face.
He choked a laugh. “Sorry, Honey. It came on quick. Allergies.” He wiped his Romanesque nose on his wrist.
She wiped his spray on his shirt, “Don’t infect me with your allergies, bastard!”
He dropped the silverware in a drawer and chased her around the house, trying to lick her. “Come here, I wanna give you asthma too.”
She squealed and ran into the basement, giggling and slamming the door behind her.
He held up his hands. “Ok, you can just stay down there with all the spiders.”
The door burst open and she ran out, squirming and brushing away webs and crawly things. “Ants. Ants too, dammit! We’ll have to go get a bug bomb.”
Mark coughed and blew his nose next to her. He threw the covers off and wandered to the fridge. She followed him and felt his forehead. It was cool and clammy.
He muttered and brushed her hand away and tossed her a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer.
“Probably a reaction to the bug bomb,” He muttered. “I think we were supposed to be out of the house for that. But just in case it’s a summer cold…”
“What, you can’t handle a few chemicals? Wuss. What did the can say? You were the one who read it, Mr. Asthmatic.”
He looked sheepish.
“You didn’t read it.”
“Not precisely, no.”
“Good job. Are you ok?”
He nodded, “Yeah, I think actually that it is just a summer cold. I don’t think the bomb would make me feel tired like this. So you should probably keep your distance. Otherwise, I’ll have to hear you bitch and moan for the next few days, and blame me for giving you the plague.”
“I think it’s too late, I’ve already kissed you, and a number of other things that I think qualify as person to person contact,” she smiled languorously.
He waggled his eyebrows. He’d been frisky enough only four hours ago, but now his Mediterranean complexion looked washed out. She sidled close to him and drew her finger down his cheek. He breathed in long and slow, grasped her fingers and stroked them and then tried to muffle a cough as he sagged back against the fridge in fatigue. His eyes roamed her body.
“You’re sick, how can you think about sex?” she marveled.
“I’m a hot Italian. I always think about sex. It’s a cultural thing. Just like wanting my women with some meat.”
“Yeah, well, you got a whole deli,” she slapped her thigh.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” He grabbed her around the waist, and then wobbled.
She frowned and tugged him by the hand into the bedroom and pushed him onto the bed.
“Shut up and go back to sleep. You’re sick. Don’t make me worry about you.” She got him a water bottle and made him drink. He laid his head back on the pillows gratefully, and was asleep within minutes.
When she woke it was morning, and every muscle ached. She squeezed her eyes shut again. Summer colds, ick. But this had emerged too fast to have caught it from him, so it must have been brewing in her already. She glanced at her phone, and realized with a small shock that they had been asleep for over a day. She shook Mark and went to turn on the television to the news. The morning sun lit the room, and brightened the putty-colored walls.
The newscaster for Channel 4 News looked tired and her eyes were red. “No word has come yet from the CDC on the nature of the illness that appears to have over a third of the workforce home today. Reports indicate that hospitals and medical offices have experienced a surge in patients complaining of a respiratory infection, with more serious symptoms among those with chronic illnesses such as asthma. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has issued the following message from James Miller, the department’s Chief Medical Officer:”
The screen switched to a view of an older physician with mouse brown hair in a plain suit. “We want to assure citizens of Colorado that we are working with the CDC and local health departments to gather more information about this health event. Investigations are being conducted to learn more about the cause to determine appropriate treatment.
“In the meantime, we urge people who are sick to please stay home from work to avoid exposing others. We also urge people to wash hands frequently with soap and water. And we want to encourage people to call the following number if you or your family members experience flu-like symptoms, high fever, muscle aches, fatigue, or nausea and vomiting. The Colorado Health Hotline number is 1-800-445-4325. People with more severe symptoms or who are in high risk groups like persons with asthma or heart disease should seek medical help if the symptoms worsen.”
“Huh.” She listened to the rest of the report. At the resumption of the talk show, she switched off. She coughed into the crook of her arm the way the swine flu posters all said, then wiped the slime from the inside of her elbow with a tissue. Her appetite was shot, so nothing in the kitchen was really appealing. Now she knew she was sick for sure. But at least she could get a kick start on her diet, which she kept renewing every day that she screwed up. Her phone rang and her mother’s voice echoed across the room, always a decibel louder on the phone than it needed to be.
“Hi, Dear! How are you? I was just calling to see how you were. I’ve been hearing on the news about your outbreak there. We’re having some of that here. I said that it wasn’t any use getting the flu shot. See, everyone I know who’s gotten the flu shot is sick now. I didn’t, and I’m healthy as a horse. It’s that mercury they put in it. I don’t care what they say about it being safe. Whoever heard of safe mercury? Just you see. So how are you and Mark?”
Kallie coughed into her arm again. “Mom, it’s not the flu. And the flu shots don’t make you sick. Neither of us got flu shots and Mark is sick, Mom. Me too. But we’ll be fine. Is Dad ok?”
“Well, he’s sick too. See, flu shot!”
Kallie pressed her fingers into her eyes. “Ok Mom. Well, I hope he feels better.”
“You want to talk to him? He’s right here.”
“Actually, I need to see to Mark. I’ll call back in a little bit.”
She trudged back into the bedroom and flopped back onto the bed. Mark didn’t move. He lay face down on the bed and groaned as she wrapped her arm around his back. He turned over, raised his head slightly and opened his eyes. She gasped in shock. The whites of his eyes were bright yellow. “Oh God, Mark! We need to get you to a doctor!”
“Why?” he mumbled. “They’re only going to tell me to go home, get rest, and drink fluids. Oh, and gimme fifty bucks. Next!”
“No. Most people don’t have day-glow eyes.” She grabbed a mirror from the bathroom and held it in front of him.
“Huh,” was his remark. He rolled over to go back to sleep.
She tugged on his shoulder, “No, no, no. You are not going back to sleep until we get you in the car. You’re going to the doctor.”
“The doctor’s offices are full up, I heard the report from the other room.”
“But this is worse, Mark! Besides, you have asthma, you’re in one of those susceptible groups.”
He sighed into his pillow. “You aren’t going to leave me alone about this, are you.”
He dragged his legs up under him and slowly put his clothes on. He moved so slowly and stiffly that the chore took ten minutes even with Kallie helping him. “I feel like crap.” He doubled over on the side of the bed, his arm across his stomach.
Kallie shouldered some of his weight and got him into the car.
The parking lot of the hospital was a zoo, if all the zoo animals had eaten ipecac laced with tuberculosis. People trudged from their cars, towards the emergency department, about half of them drooling the remains of vomit, or laboring to breathe. Some lay in their cars, too sick to move.
The parking lot had already filled up and some cars even blocked the ambulance entrance. So Kallie pulled the car up along the street in a No Parking zone, which was also quickly filling. Damn the ticket, she thought, though it looked like the police might be a little too busy to issue them.
People were coming from the residential streets by foot. Masked ambulance attendants yelled and pointed at cars. Staff in N95 masks ran around trying to corral the obviously sick. There were a few police around trying to direct sick people to the triage and isolation area that had been completely overwhelmed. But there weren’t enough officers either, since the police force itself had been reduced by sickness.
A holler caught Kallie’s attention. A police officer was pounding at the head of a man who had his teeth latched onto the officer’s arm. Kallie sat up, alert. The man was still hanging on with his teeth. Other officers rushed to the scene and were pulling at the biting man trying to get the two separated. The man’s face was a bloody mess, as was his victim’s arm. The biter had gone limp, all but his teeth. Finally, they were separated as a patch of the officer’s uniform and skin came loose. He covered the raw hole with his hand and screamed. Kallie, finally tore her eyes away from the bizarre scene with a shiver of alarm. She glanced over at Mark. His eyes were closed. He had missed the whole thing.
She turned off the car and left him in his seat. She headed for the emergency entrance to find out whether there was any use in bringing him in. There was not likely to be any help in this surge. And while the biter could have been an isolated incident, it could mean that people were starting to lose their sanity. The guy attacked and bit a police officer! The alarm blossomed into fear as she peered at the people around her.
She didn’t even get as far as the door of the ED. It was blocked by clusters of people. The police and other hospital staff were trying to disperse them to allow for movement in and out.
The people in the crowd muttered incoherently at the attendants, or completely ignored them. She’d last seen a dead gaze like that in drunks who were so sloshed they couldn’t even form sentences. But all of these people were varying shades of yellow. Some were hunched over. One man urinated on the sidewalk before sinking to his knees. A few of them had patches of blotchy and fuzzy skin. Whatever this illness was, if it was what Mark had, he was going to get much worse.
She coughed and doubled over as sharp pains lanced through her gut. Oh God, not me too? What the hell is this? She was jostled by the crowd into a woman with patches all over her face and arms. Kallie saw what they were, up close. There were tiny tendrils, like little shoots less than a millimeter in length covering these patches. She backed away as fast as she could, bumping into an adolescent girl sitting behind her. The girl stared at her dumbly with yellowed eyes, then went into a hacking fit. Dark blood spattered down the girl’s shirt. Without warning, she lunged at Kallie, grabbing Kallie’s leg and snapping at her with bloody teeth.
Kallie screamed and kicked at her before teeth met skin. The girl landed on her back, her watery yellow eyes blinking up at the cement overhang high above. Kallie ran back to the car.
There was more commotion at the scene of the police biter. Kallie overheard the situation as she skirted the circle of officers, their isolation area forgotten.
“He’s not breathing.”
“I didn’t hit him hard! Bastard was biting me!”
“You did what you had to do. I think he was just too sick. Hey, look at this? What the fuck is that?”
“What is that sticking out of his head? Is that bone?”
“Augh, it just came off in my hand. No it’s not bone, unless bone is all spongy and wet. Those of you that don’t have your PPE on, get it on now! Get Hazmat over here!”
“They might not have any units free.”
“We have to try.”
Kallie got into the car, started it with a rev, and swung the car down the street, narrowly missing clots of the wandering sick.
She dragged Mark back inside. He was constantly hunched now. When she led him through the garage he threw up dark bile all over the cement floor. Well, it complements the garbage smell perfectly, she thought, chasing away panic. Her voice shook, “God, Baby–”
“I’ll be ok. Just need some rest.” He waved her away and finished lugging one foot in front of another into the house by himself. He grabbed a roll of paper towels from the holder, stumbled and unrolled half of them. He wiped his mouth and flopped onto the bed. Kallie took off his shoes and pulled the blanket over him. He was shivering violently now. As she tucked him in, she saw the patches on his skin. She scrutinized them. They were smaller, but there were the same tiny shoots she had seen on the girl at the ED. He was getting sicker.
So was she. Another sharp pain lanced across her belly. She staggered to the bathroom and nearly missed the toilet as the contents of her stomach splashed into the bowl, laced with dark liquid. Her red-rimmed eyes were now jaundiced. She limped to the television and clicked it on. Channel 4 and three other channels she flicked to in the Denver area were full of snow. They’d lost signal. She cast a quick prayer to the satellite gods that she remembered to pay them their sixty-dollar monthly tribute, and switched to a national news channel.
This newswoman looked none too healthy either. She had the telltale red-rimmed eyes and her voice was dull through the congestion.
“What began as a flu-like epidemic has shifted into a pandemic of unknown character. Symptoms begin with a flu-like illness, what the World Health Organization calls a prodrome, and the symptoms progress to hepatitis-like illness. In addition to these symptoms, there is sometimes disorientation and behavior change. Severe cases become agitated, and have on some occasions attacked other people. Anyone who experiences symptoms should not go in to your medical provider, but should shelter at home. Assistance can be given by calling the hotline 1-800-445-4325. Press 2 for interpretation services if English is not your primary language.
“Public health agencies have said unofficially that there may be a link between the widespread ant infestations and illness. There is speculation that the illness may be caused by a mutated form of Cordyceps, a fungus that affects brain function in ants. In ants, the fungus can be passed by biting. In humans, other means may be possible, such as transmission of body fluids. Ants can be eliminated by common pesticides from the supermarket, though stocks have been limited due to employee illness. The World Health Organization and public health agencies continue to work on isolating the organism, and creating vaccine and treatment. Once again the help line number is 1-800-445-4325. Press 2 for interpretation services. Para Español…”
Kallie flipped the set off and crept into the bedroom.
Mark hadn’t moved from where he lay, in fact she couldn’t see him breathe. Her heart started lurching as she hurried to his side and gently laid her hand on his arm. He inhaled deeply and opened his eyes to her. “Stomach feels better,” he murmured and extended his muscled arm. His skin in the sliver of sunlight had a more olive tint than usual and the patches had spread to over one quarter of his skin that she could see. “Lay with me,” he whispered. There was a brief flash of fear in his eyes, that he covered quickly by closing his eyes. When he opened them again, his stoicism was firmly set in his face.
Tears flowed down her face as she looked at him. She flinched and backed up for an instant, remembering what had been said about biting.
“Hey hey, Baby, don’t do that. Don’t cry. We’ll get through this. This ain’t gonna take me down. I’m from the Roman Empire, I’m too sexy to go yet. I haven’t had had my orgies and vomitoriums yet,” he grinned.
She barked a laugh. Whatever was happening, he was still clearly his usual self. “Ok, Caesar, I think we got the vomitoriums covered in the last day.” She laid down and put her arm across his chest. He shifted onto his side and flipped her onto her back with surprising strength. Instead of mounting her, he lunged at her face with his teeth.
She dodged her head to the side and screamed, struggling to get out from under him. She kneed him in the orgy-maker and slid under his torso and off the bed. He turned over and bared his teeth, and then fell back to the sweaty sheets. The look on his face as she fled the room, sobbing, was bestial.
She collapsed on the kitchen floor, after grabbing a knife. Has it come to this?, she thought. Am I going to stab my Honey? What the hell is this? What the hell is happening to us? She dropped the knife and wailed into her hands. After the spasms subsided, she examined the whitish itchy patches that were beginning on her arms and belly, and silently wiped tears away. How long is it going to be before I’m turned into a human pit bull? Why aren’t there hordes of people looting and attacking, like in the movies?
All had been quiet, for which she was grateful. Until she thought about how sick she felt. Even if she turned into a crazy biter, she wasn’t going to be chasing anyone. Her relief turned to ugly realization. The silence from outside no longer seemed calm, but sepulchral. This epidemic had come and conquered with almost no resistance from its victims. She swallowed down the remaining lump in her throat and laid there for a long time as the light faded.
Finally, as the light grew again, she crawled into the TV room. All of the channels were snow now. She tried her mom on her cell phone, but the voicemail answered. She crawled into the bedroom.
Mark lay face up on the bed. His breathing was shallow and he just stared at her. His dark eyes were like holes surrounded by glowing yellow of jaundice in the dawn light. From the top of his head sprouted a thin whitish stalk with a greenish bulb. The tendrils emerging from his arms and legs had lengthened into a network that looked like roots or rhizomes. His voice was thick and furry, deep in his throat as he spoke, “I love you, Kallie. I’m sorry.”
She covered her mouth to muffle more sobs, and sat down at the edge of the bed, not caring now whether he rushed at her. He didn’t. She laid down, as more stomach pains wracked her frame. His hand in a shroud of web touched her back, “The pain’ll go away.”
“Why aren’t you freaking out at all this? Do you want to die like this?”
He smiled gently. “I don’t feel like I’m dying now. Something’s happening, something else besides dying. Besides, since when have I ever boo-hooed about something I couldn’t change. No sense in worrying about it. That’s a chick thing,” he wheezed a laugh. But she felt to weak to swat him.
When she woke as Kallie Coleman for the last time, two days later, she noticed that he had been right. The pain was gone. In its place, there was a rooted feeling in her belly, and a fluid coursed through her veins that sensed every particle in the air around her, the warmth, the sunlight in the room, the moisture. And she could feel Mark too. Not just his hand covering hers, but the fluid in his veins and the cells of his body feeding, multiplying, creating energy like lightning. Light itself was a cascade of brilliant spectrums that blanketed and seeped into her. And she drank it. Her eyes wouldn’t open. The tendrils had sewn them shut, but she was seeing anyway, patterns of surging energy everywhere, especially in the mass of growth that had been Mark. She could feel him in her.
Sun. Feel the sun, he said into her mind somehow. Feel the city. And she could. Her snaking rhizomes were everywhere. Her stalk extended high above, having pushed through the ceiling to meet the outside air. The city and its network of roots and stalks that had been people were alive and awash with energy and hunger. They devoured the damp organic matter in every body and corner and drank the sunlight.
Across the city, country, and world a silent forest stood. The greenish caps reached for the sky, and the lower rhizomes wove through anything they touched. In what had been Denver, two of the stalks stood entwined, sharing the sun.
Post and share if you have any wild transformation stories!