Stan scratched at the red mark on his skin. It was one of many small scabs that had been bothering him for a few days now. A minuscule, amber crusted sore that bordered his left thumbnail. Carefully, he picked, picked, picked at it. Getting a fingernail beneath it, so it would peel off, sending a small shock of pleasurable pain.
He took the hardened piece of skin and blood and crushed it between two fingers, prying it apart so he could examine what was inside.
"Please, stop that," a voice said. Stan glanced up to see a woman sitting across from him in the doctor's waiting room. She was homely, no older than 30, wearing a dark hoody one size too large, and spectacles. Her arms were crossed, and she wore a disturbed expression.
"Sorry," he muttered in embarrassment, putting his hands down on his lap. Before long, his fingers began to tremble, and he could feel himself yearning to pick at himself again. He felt the homely woman watching him. He could feel her eyes, judging him in disgust. He glanced at the pile of magazines on the table, none of which were of any interest.
Casually, he ran his hand through his dark hair, and allowed his fingernails to graze along his scalp, where he felt a new cluster of small, scabbed blisters. He let his hand stay for a while, and then scratched once, feeling two or three scrape under the nail.
The woman across from him rose and left, slamming the door behind her. Stan immediately brought his hands down again - staring at his nails. Digging out the grime onto his lap so that he could examine it.
A door opened and a nurse emerged, she glanced around and frowned. Most likely she was searching for the lady who jetted. "Stan Elman?" She called.
The nurse was pretty, but fatigued from working a double shift. She guided Stan into a small, plain, sterile room and had him sit on a bed with white paper on top. She took his vitals, asked questions, and then got around to inquiring about what was wrong with him.
"My skin is itchy all over."
She nodded, writing on a clipboard. "Show me."
He rolled up his sleeve, and pointed out several irritated places on his arm. She shook her head, unable to see at first glance. Then bent forward, and noticed several small red welts, barely perceptible.
"They're hard to spot, but I can feel 'em. They're all over my body - they're like little scabs or something. The way I detect them is by scratching. I trace them with my fingernails, and find openings where the nail can get under."
The nurse subtly shuddered, bit the bottom of her lip, and forced a smile. "Let me get the doctor."
The doctor didn't even bother looking Stan in the eyes. He was plump and bald, with the exception of a few black wisps of hair that comprised a comb over. He wore thick glasses along with a faux grin. Meizner was his name. Dr. Meizner.
"You don't appear to have anything wrong with you. It seems like it could be allergies."
"Allergies." Stan said, carefully rubbing the bottom of his arm with his thumb. "Are you sure it isn't parasites?"
"Oh, absolutely. If it were parasites you would know. But just to be safe, I'm going to prescribe you with a few anti-bacterial ointments." Quickly he jotted several prescriptions on a pad."
- Resinol, Topical Analgesic / Skin Protectant Medicated Ointment, 3.30 Oz.
- Cortizone 10 Intensive Healing Formula 1% Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Cream.
- Head & Shoulders.
None of them helped. Well, that's a small lie. The Resinol helped at first, but then made it worse. For a day or two, the scabs seemed to go away, along with the itching. And for a brief while, he almost missed the habit. But then, the next morning before work, his whole body flared.
Stan ran into his bathroom and saw that the small scabs covered his entire figure-- feet, legs, toes, arms, hands, face, and scalp. They were even on his nether regions. He couldn't resist, and scratched his body furiously, careful to pick the remnants of each scab and put them in a jar with a small growing collection of skin flakes, boogers, hair follicles, toe nails, finger nails, ear wax, and whatever else he edged off his body.
He knew the habit was gross, but there was some, newfound inner instinct that compelled him to do it, and from which he derived much pleasure. Already he had accumulated three small jars of the organic detritus which he hid on a small shelf in his closet.
Stan glanced in the mirror at his handsome face. He was a young man, in his early 20's, with aquiline features of a first generation Russian Jew from Brooklyn. He grew up in Sheepshead Bay, but quickly rebelled from his family culture - doing all that he could to assimilate, drop the accent and appear like all the attractive youth he saw on television. He brushed a thick lock of wavy hair and posed, taking in his strong, muscular body that genetics had gifted him.
He took a 45-minute shower, which staved off the itching during the duration, but as soon as the water shut off, the urge returned. So, he turned the water back on, hugged his knees and sat on the floor of the tub.
Just him and his thoughts. The way he liked it. At this point, he'd began to crave the company of a woman. There were many he had access to. Objectively Stan was model handsome, and he knew it. He was also charming, and knew how to talk his way in or out of a situation. In other words, he had Brooklyn grit. Streetwise, was the term. The problem was all those sores growing all over his body, and the inability to diagnose, or quell them. Infections had a way of halting one's dating life.
A subtle fear grew in his belly, slowly rising into his solar plexus. What if he caught something new? A kind of virus no one's ever had before? What if it wasn't a normal virus? What if it was a new kind of STD?
The thought made him shudder. And yet, it was not outside the realm of possibility. Stan had many lovers. He was, what's the word -- a slut. Up until he caught whatever it was afflicting his skin, he would have at least a one-night-stand a week. There were all sorts of reasons why he enjoyed the "hunt" as he and some of the boys would call it.
But, his theory, on why his hunger outdid his fellow man, was because at one point, he almost became an Orthodox Jew. The conservative background of the community had kept him repressed for years, unable to look at a woman the wrong way, let alone shake her hand. It all built up, and boiled over, and when the day came when he realized that the community, was just as flawed as any other - it released a floodgate of intense sexual energy.
In the span of just three years, he'd seen more women than he could count. Maybe he brought this on himself by being too slutty? If it were an STD ... or some sort of new skin-to-skin infection ... that would mean he'd have to do detective work of his own. He mentally went down a list of his last four or so lovers. If one of them gave this to him, should he be mad? He wondered.
Before he could jump to any conclusions, he was going to see another doctor. He shut off the water -- applied as much anti-itch cream on his body as possible, got dressed, called into work sick, using his last precious sick day, and headed out to find a dermatologist who would accept walk-ins. On his way to the door, he noticed a fast moving brown splotch on the kitchen counter that made him jump. Quickly it scurried into the sink. He walked over to the counter's edge - and could see two, thin antennas sticking out.
Stan's lip curled. A roach. A big one. He walked over to his bookshelf and picked out the largest text he could find. Then went back to the sink and tried to crush it, but the bug was too fast, scurrying into the drain. He ran the water, and then the disposal, scratching at his neck the whole time.
The dermatologist wasn't any help. He prescribed a few more itch creams, and a return appointment to check-in on the skin condition. It was a complete waste of precious sick day. Stan asked if he believed the skin problem could've been sexually transmitted? The dermatologist simply shrugged.
The problems with doctors is that some of them don't care about their responsibility, only the paycheck.
At that point, Stan decided it was time to go down his list of lovers. Maybe they knew something he didn't. Maybe one of them gave him this new problem. Also, if he was going to be honest, it was his responsibility to tell them he contracted something, and that they should get themselves checked out. Stan decided he'd start with the four women he was last with - and if he had to go further back, he would.
The last woman he saw was Nora. A tan skinned, beautiful lady in her early 30's. She was kind, sensitive and incredibly lonely. Stan spotted her on the train and was able to charm her into giving him her number. He gave her a buzz, and she picked up on the third ring.
"Hi, stranger." She said from the other side.
Stan paused. It wasn't until then, that he realized he'd actually have to tell someone, a lover, no less, what he was going through, and just how embarrassing that would be. There was also the added risk of losing said lover -- and he was quite fond of Nora.
"Hi." He said.
"For what do I owe the pleasure, Mr. Elman?" She said, in a rather bad impression of a British aristocrat.
"I -- I have to tell you something."
"Tell me. Tell me." She said, playfully.
"I'm not sure how to put this. But -- I think I caught some sort of skin condition."
There was a long stretch of silence from the other line. "Are you okay?"
"Think so." He sighed. "Listen, I just wanted to hear your voice, and to ask if you noticed anything strange about your skin? Any itching, or redness, or odd sensations."
"No ... I don't think so."
"Stan ... have you been to a doctor?"
"Yeah, a couple."
"What did they say?"
"Most of them don't think anything's wrong, but I do. I feel it."
"You're always so paranoid."
"No. Not this time. There's something wrong."
"Okay. Well, -- maybe we should get together. You sound like you need someone to talk to."
"Thanks, Nora. I'm sure I'll be fine. I want to see you. You know I do." They both laughed. "But, let me sort this out first."
"Okay. Bye." She was trying to be coy, but before he hung up, she blurted, "You'll be fine!"
The next three ladies weren't as understanding. Deborah, Kelly and Jenna were quite cold and angry. Though, all of them confirmed that they didn't have any of the symptoms before curtly hanging up.
There was a fifth lady who he'd been too scared to call. Scared, because he actually had true feelings for her. He hated admitting it to himself, but that was the case. Her name was Emelia, and they'd been seeing each other on and off. Hot and cold. She had all the power. As a matter of fact, there was a part of him that blamed her as the reason that he had so many lovers.
Emelia had broken his heart, multiple times. And she probably wasn't even aware of it. If she was, that'd be even worse. It was she that made Stan realize how sensitive he actually was. And he made great efforts to hide, or kill that part of himself. Ironically, the more he did that, the more attractive he became. Or, at least, that's what he believed. That indifference equated power. If you don't care, you can't be hurt. Rejections lost their sting, and he could go about, bar-to-bar, seeking women and their approval, without the fear of being hurt. But the fear was always there, waiting to emerge.
First he sent a text. No response.
Then he tried calling. Straight to voicemail. He waited a few days and tried again. Voicemail. He left a message. Sent her an email and even tried sending her chat messages online. Nothing.
Maybe she was avoiding him. Maybe there was something wrong? Maybe she went off grid, because she contracted the skin virus? If she was the one who gave it to him, she'd have been farther along its incubation period. Maybe she had better luck at pinpointing a diagnosis.
Stan took the subway into Manhattan. It was a cold evening, snow hadn't begun to fall yet, and the breeze had a nasty bite. It wasn't the chill that got you, it was the wind.
Emelia lived alone in an apartment on 83rd street. Her parents paid her rent, while she pursued an acting career. Stan chuckled to himself. He remembered when they first met. How naive he'd been, believing that all the kids his age, living in the city, had somehow figured out how to make a lot of money at an early age, and were paying their own way. And he was angry at himself for not being as clever as they.
Their parents were supplementing them. Or, they sold drugs, or they took massive college loans, and were using it to bankroll their apartments. There were some who had about five or so roommates, and two or three jobs, while going to school, and those were the brunt of 'em who did it "on their own." Stan wasn't judging anyone for accepting help from their parents, he was mad at himself for being so naive not to realize that that was the case.
He and Emelia had been casually seeing each other for two years. He was always pushing for something serious, but she never took him seriously. She'd been the one who took his virginity. She'd been the one who talked him into it, when he was ambivalent about staying religious. They'd gotten used to each other's company. He'd come over so many times that she had given him the passcode to get through the front door, not to mention an extra key to her apartment that he never returned, and that she didn't request back.
Quickly he punched numbers on a silver dial-pad, the metal cold against his fingers: 220.127.116.11.1.
There was a long pause. For a brief instant he was scared that the code had changed. He released a sigh of relief when the door automatically unlocked. Quickly, he slipped through and took the elevator to the eighth floor to apartment 804.
Stan knocked on the door three times, in three intervals. No reply. There was a neighbor, a Romanian middle-aged woman with curly hair who eyed him suspiciously. He smiled, and waited for her to go into the elevator before taking out the extra key and unlocking the door.
Quickly he stepped into a dimly lit corridor - the light was a dark blue hue. He quietly shut the door behind him, and glanced around. Everything was neatly in its place. Emelia was a stylish minimalist. Few items, but every one of them was nice, and high-end. The walls were covered with silver picture frames of her and her father, never with her mother. A small table leaned against the wall, with a vase containing dead flowers.
The air smelled acrid. And there was the feint layer of soot over everything.
Only silence replied.
A subtle fear began to form in chest as he slowly stepped deeper into the apartment. The urge to scratch himself arose, he rubbed lightly.
The living room had three white leather couches, a coffee table with a large Herynamous Bosch art book, and a Samsung flatscreen television. In the corner was a vintage record player. A phonograph sat in the player, "In the Court of the Crimson King," needle in groove. Beside it was a vinyl collection, all in pristine condition, protected in plastic sleeves. Most of it was classic rock from the 60's and 70's.
He smiled to himself. Remembering all the times she told him how she wished she grew up in those decades. That her soul really belonged in that era. Drugs, free love, hippydom - minus the body odor, of course. He always considered himself an 80's guy, though. And they'd joke about how that was one of many reasons they weren't meant for each other. There was a truth to it.
Everything was covered in a film of gray dust and no one was there.
The itching intensified, and he couldn't ignore it. He raked his nails across the back of his head as his eyes scanned the empty living room. There was a quiet sadness to it.
Stan turned his attention to Emelia's bedroom, the door slightly ajar. He pushed it open to find it empty. He walked in and sat on her queen sized bed with giant white sheets and glanced around. The walls were tastefully decorated with vintage foreign movie posters, flicks like Metropolis, and the Bicycle Thief. Against the wall was a vanity mirror, and a table with her makeup and jewelry. There was so much of it. Again he smiled, and deeply inhaled. Despite the strange odor, his nose could still make out the lavender scent - but there was something else. A sour stench lying at the base of the air.
He closed his eyes, and remembered all the wonderful conversations they'd had in that bed. He caressed the blanket, made of goose down feathers. Soft, and seductively comfortable. Yeah, a lot of great conversations, and a whole lot of lovemaking too. All the women he'd been with, all the whoring around, it was all done in vain, to forget about Emelia. Stan shook his head to himself, feeling the yin-yang of love and hatred orbiting within. And then sighed. Since he knew he still loved her. And more importantly, that no matter what, it would never work.
She was too selfish. Too "free." Often, she'd have bouts of anger, always directed at herself. She kept repeating that she never earned anything she had. She was racked with guilt over it. Or, at least pretended to be. Stan vainly tried to tell her it's not a bad thing. After all, if one had to choose between luxury, or struggle - what would any sane person pick? Nobody gets a medal for having a hard life.
But she knew, just as well as he did, that she was spoiled. And had let it overcome her in such a way that she, deep down, actually believed that she was entitled, and superior to others. That she deserved more than others. Both of them knew that she wasn't a good person. She was quite cruel, actually. There was a part of her that took great pleasure in hurting people. Stan remembered all the times she'd broken his heart - the subtle smile that would curl at the edge of her lips, as she tilted her head back in supremacy. Or, worse, the smiles she'd keep to herself.
He laughed out loud. How could he have loved someone so terrible? Someone whose exterior beauty was so totally eclipsed by the darkness within? How could he still be in love with her? He felt stupid, but couldn't help it. So, he kept laughing.
Where was she? Stan wondered. Was she okay? Knowing Emelia, she was probably fine. She was strong and savvy. Another ten minutes passed and he decided that he might have to speak to the neighbors, or call the police. Before rising, he noticed something on the floor at the side of the mattress....
It was a thin bed-sheet. He leaned down to pick it up and realized something -- the sheet had a face.
Empty eye sockets, and a toothless, crimson mouth.
A horrible new realization struck, it wasn't a sheet, it was the remains of Emelia. Not all of her -- just her skin.
He focused his attention on what lay on the floor, in utter disbelief. Her entire figure was a crumpled expended sheet with wisps of blonde hair.
He began hyperventilating. Emelia, the woman that he loved, was dead. He would never be with her again. And it hurt, more than he could've possibly imagined. All those walls he built to protect himself from caring, crumbled in that instant. He began to cry, lifting her skin to make sure it was real, and it absolutely was. She was like putty in his hands.
"Noooo... Nooooo..." He sobbed. "Emelia... Noooo... I'm sorry... I'm so sorry...."
As he helplessly held what was left of her, he noticed a rift along her back. Something pulled her skin off. Someone murdered her.
A KNOCK came at the door. Stan glanced around nervously, before carefully tucking Emelia's skin under the bed, and wiped his face as he walked out through the living room and to the front door. For some reason, her door didn't have a peep-hole. He was nervous. Maybe the police were knocking? Or, her killer?
Nerved, he stuck a hand in his jacket, and found a small Swiss Army Knife. It wasn't much, but at least it gave him the illusion of safety. He opened the door a crack -- it was the Romanian neighbor peering back at him. "Hi." He said.
"Why you here? This is not your home?"
"I'm just visiting, Emelia."
"She not home long time. You know where she is?"
He stared at her, unsure what to say. "No. She just gave me the key, and I was checking-in."
"She give you key? You just say you visiting her."
"I - I was. And she isn't in."
"I have to talk to someone. I speak to landlord. I don't think you should be here. What's your name?"
Suddenly, the itching returned. Fire hot. He quickly ran his finger-nails across his cheek, and felt something come undone.
The Romanian woman stared at him in horror, unable to speak. He could feel something wet trickling from his face, and looked down at his nails, where a flap of skin hung, with stubble protruding from it. He had torn off his whole cheek.
She screamed, as Stan brushed past her, grabbing his shoulder, but he pushed her away and ran.
On the train he was careful not to make eye contact with anyone, and sat at the rear of the car. He had his hood over his head and took out his cell phone, activating the camera so he could take a look at himself. It was devastating. His right cheek was gone. The flesh beneath was visible, blood cauterized. Oddly, it didn't hurt. It was just itchy.
Stan was unsure what he was going to do. No doubt, the Romanian neighbor would've called the police by now, and the NYPD would've found Emelia's remains.
The thought of her being dead hit home. She was gone, forever. But the question remained, where the hell was the rest of her body? And did she pass on a virus?
Inside, he knew the answer was yes. Whatever she had, he had. He shook his head, not wanting to believe, even though he did. He knew it was the truth. He was changing into something new, and had absolutely no control over it. Was his fate going to be the same as hers? Would he end up like an empty snakeskin on his apartment floor? Was he dying?
I don't want to change, Stan thought. I don't want to die. I like being me.
In that moment, something within, that wasn't him, spoke -- "I like being you too."
The voice, was gravelly, deep, and most certainly evil. Stan's eyes darted left then right, the car was completely empty. It was late at night, and the train was just making its way over the bridge. On the right side of the car, looking out, was the Manhattan skyline, across on the other side, were the glowing high-rises of Brooklyn.
His skin, all of it, suddenly shifted, and he released a moan as a terrible cramp rose from his belly. He hugged himself and screamed.
The next morning, he woke up in bed and felt like he had a terrible hangover, though he didn't drink a drop of liquor. He didn't remember much from last night. Just the highlights: Emelia was dead. Some terrible voice spoke from within - and a lot of scratching. When he went into the bathroom to look at himself, he wept.
His right cheek was still gone, but now, so was a chunk of his scalp. He glanced at his hands, most of the nails were missing, and the bones of three fingers protruded out from the flesh. Stan was falling apart.
It was 9:15 A.M. and he was running late for work, but it didn't matter, he couldn't go looking like this. He also couldn't skip. He didn't have any sick days left. It was the last week of the month, and he needed the money to pay rent, otherwise he'd be out on his ass.
He put on his hoodie and walked three blocks to a pharmacy, and bought some make-up, went back home and applied it. He used the entire bottle of foundation, and other accessories, even lipstick to paint some color, but it all looked wrong, though somewhat passable.
He swung the hood back on his head and took the subway to work.
At the high-rise on 50th and sixth, he ducked out the elevator on the 32nd floor, slapped his ID against the reader and went through the door, making a beeline for his cubicle. He glanced at his watch: 11:05 A.M., just over two hours late.
He kept his head low, didn’t take off his hood, and slipped into his roller chair, and booted his computer. So far, no one seemed to notice. He logged in, and opened Outlook to see a deluge of emails.
"Stan, can I have a word with you?" It was his boss, Steve. He kept his head down, pretending like he didn't hear him, and continued typing away, answering emails to customer queries. A full minute passed, and his boss returned.
"Stan ... did you hear me?"
There was no way around it, so he looked up at Steve, a gray haired fellow, with gray stubble, who dressed business casual. When they made eye contact, he was sent into a state of instant shock.
"Sorry, boss. I'm -- I'm not feeling too good."
"Oh -- uh, I see."
"I just, need to get through some of these emails, but we can talk now, if you like."
"No, go ahead. I - just, try not to be late, next time, okay?"
"Sure. Of course."
The whole day passed, and no one else spoke to him. Some took notice of his features as they walked by, and whispered to each other in horror. Already the rumors were circulating. It didn't matter, he didn't have time for gossip. He put in his hours, so he'd get the money, now he had to spend the rest of the night trying to fix himself.
On his way out, something overtook him. He didn't know what, but he couldn't bring himself to leave quite yet. Something from within, an instinct, forced him to hide out in the bathroom. Something inside, made him hole up there. "Just wait." The voice said.
"What are we waiting for?" he found himself asking.
After about an hour, he slipped from the stall and found himself on an empty floor with the lights out. From the pouch in his hoody, he discovered that he had subconsciously taken one of his jars of skin flakes. He went over to everyone's cubicles and opened it, sprinkling the flakes along their desks. Then, he went into the kitchen, and he tossed the flakes onto the counter, along the sink and in the fridge.
From somewhere within, he found the will to STOP. What am I doing? he thought.
Stan took a train back to Brooklyn, and again, that uncontrollable instinct forced him to get up and toss the rest of the skin-flakes on the empty subway car. He traveled, car to car, leaving a grotesque crumb trail, until the jar was completely empty and tossed it against the tracks, shattering it.
His foray had cost him the majority of the night. It was now late, and all the dermatologist offices were closed. Unfortunately, the closest hospital open was in Coney Island.
He found himself in the waiting room. It was a dingy, uncomfortable space, packed with strange characters; an old Spanish woman who had more facial hair than him, a cross eyed fellow with an oddly shaped head, and a fat man who was sprawled out on three seats, who didn't look like he was breathing. The woman at the front desk, didn't seem fazed by her environment. If anything, she was completely disinterested in the comings and goings, as were the rest of the staff.
Stan waited. And waited. And waited. Trying to remind himself of the news reports he had read in the Post about how people had died while patiently waiting for service that never came in this particular establishment.
All along, he found himself scratching at his skin. Larger chunks were shearing off his hands, he could see flesh and bone. None of it hurt, it just itched. He could feel, something crawling around inside his head. A bug or something, and he kept edging away at his scalp, taking out tiny fragments, clutched to clumps of hair. It was terribly irritating.
I know you're in there, he thought. I'm going to get you, fucker.
"Go ahead and try," the voice retorted.
The air-conditioning in the building, for some reason, was shut off, and his make-up had melted away a while ago. After two hours, he couldn't take it any longer. It was passing 1 A.M. and beside him, sat an elderly woman, who had been drooling since before he arrived. A large pool of dribble had accumulated on her lap, shining silver and viscous under the halogen lights.
The old woman, coupled with impatience made him snap.
Stan shot up and went to the front of desk. "Excuse me, Miss?"
The woman, an overweight white lady wearing thick spectacles glanced up. She was chewing gum and had been composing a text on her cell. "Yes?"
"I, and the people here, have been waiting for hours. We need to see a doctor, bad. This is an emergency."
"I understand, sir. Just be patient and your name will be called."
Stan slammed his palm on the counter, then pulled off his hood, revealing that half his face had transformed into a fleshy skull.
"Jesus! What the hell?!" She screamed.
"Lady, I have been patient! What kinda hospital is this?! We're in the E.R. for Christ's sake! I said I need to see a doctor, NOW!"
"Security!" She rose from her seat, calling. "SECURITY!"
The doors burst open, and two men in blue uniforms came out and grabbed Stan, dragging him out.
"Oh, great! When it comes to throwing people out, you're fast on the service, otherwise you let people die in your waiting rooms! That's very humane of you!"
Stan found himself on the street, out in the cold. The next open hospital was over 45-minutes away, and he didn't have the stomach to repeat the same predicament. He was feeling feverish, and yearning to get into bed and rest. He managed to catch a bus to the subway, which he rode back home. It took a very painful, hour-long ride, but luckily he'd gotten some sleep along the way. He dreamt warm dreams of his family, of growing up, and of Emelia. The few precious moments that they were actually happy together. He woke up just in time to get off his stop, and narrowly bolted out the doors, before they closed.
He sprinted home, feeling the flesh on his leg jiggle loose. When he got into his apartment, he sat on his bed and checked his phone. Three missed calls, all from Nora. She also left voicemails. Each was brief, so he listened.
Message one: "Hey, it's me. Call me back as soon as you can, 'kay?"
Message two: "Stan, I really need you to call me."
Message three: "I think I caught something from you. My skin, has been acting funny, and --"
The voicemail cut-out. The phone was ringing. She was calling again.
"Stan, what the hell did you give me?" Her voice no longer held the sweet tone of before. There was some care, but it was overshadowed by justified malice.
"I don't know. I'm - I'm trying to speak to some doctors, but I'm not getting any answers. I don't know what to do, Nora."
There was a long moment of silence, Stan could feel the precipice between them. The all-too-familiar one, where people found out who he really was. The collision of expectations meeting harsh reality.
"I think we should talk in person. Can I come over?"
"Okay. I'm coming over now. Answer the door when I get there." She hung up.
Stan's body began to burn. He went into the bathroom and ignited the light and wanted to scream. The flesh from both his cheeks were gone, as was much of the skin on his face. His nose remained somewhat intact, and he could see the flesh of his neck, just below a very thin sheen of skin. His eyes were crimson, and there were huge chunks of his scalp missing.
He ran the shower and hopped in, but it wasn't helping. More and more skin was peeling away. Realizing that he would frighten Nora if he saw her, he went to his phone to text her not to come, but it died. He plugged it into the wall and waited for it to charge. Scratching away.
I can get it back. He kept telling himself. I'll find a cure; I'm going to figure it out. But he knew, that wasn't the case. He knew, that he should --
"Just accept it." The voice from within said. That same voice that wasn't his own. The same one from before.
"What the hell are you?!" He said aloud. "Get out of me! Leave me alone!" I'm going insane, he thought. I am literally going insane.
"No." The voice said. "You're just phasing away. You're no longer going to be you. You're going to be me."
"Don't you understand? I'm you now."
His entire body lit up, sun-fire hot. Excruciating pain ignited in every cell of the body. A sharp ringing pulsed in the ears. Something was inside of Stan, and he had to get rid of it.
He rolled and writhed on the hardwood floor, ripping himself apart. Tearing out skin, fingernails, hair and teeth. And then quite suddenly, he knew that he was dead.
His last memory, wasn't anything of himself, but Emelia's face -- and the distant, distant sound of knocking at the door. At that point, whatever was within, took over at last. It took control of his motor functions, and stood upright with a hunch.
It scanned his hands, and began to peel off the fingers, one by one, revealing brown extremities beneath. It hunched forward, sharply, causing Stan's back to split apart. Something crawled out, something brown, alien and bug-like, with head, thorax, hardened exoskeleton and long darting antennas. It kicked away Stan's skin, shoving it beneath the bed, stretched its limbs and peered about. Cocking its bulbous head with ten thousand eyes.
Someone was pounding on the door, calling, "Stan! Open up, it's Nora. I need to talk to you, please!"
At first, the creature was frightened, and then decided she was no real threat. Instead it released a signal.
From all the cracks and crevices in the apartment, hundreds of bugs appeared. For so long they had been kept in hiding. Roaches, and flies, and ants and all of its distant kin, crawled into view. The creature continued pulsing its calm signal that telegraphed that there was nothing to fear. Their time had come, finally.
It lent forward, and from between its mandibles it spat a large hunk of white paste onto the ground. All the bugs came and began collecting a piece of it, and scurried away to spread the virus out further.
Swarms and swarms of insects heeded the call, while the creature went into the closet and hid, waiting for the time to lay eggs of its own. Sadly, it knew that its future children would devour her, but that was okay, they needed to live and procreate for the greater mission ahead. This world, would be their inheritance.
"Please Stan. Please." Nora cried from the other side of the door.
The girl was no threat; the giant bug knew. After all, she already had the Human Itch.
And all across the places that Stan had passed, from the subways, to the hospitals, and the cubicles at work -- many found themselves with a curious irritation which they couldn't ignore.