I was kidnapped by my girlfriend and what she did to me was beyond comprehension.

About ten years ago, I dated a masseuse named Valerie. Well, masseuse in training. She was passionate and enthusiastic and she practiced as frequently as she could. That meant I got a ton of free massages. Obviously, since we were a couple, those massages would escalate and turn into that usual thing couples do, but it was only after she felt she’d gotten in a good practice session.

After one of our, ahem, “sessions,” Val looked a little confused but also relieved. I asked her what was up. She told me the sores she had on the inside of her mouth didn’t hurt anymore. We’d talked about those things before. She said they weren’t contagious, thankfully, but she’d had to endure them for most of her life and they were intensely painful; sometimes even debilitatingly so. Doctors prescribed an ointment for her to put on them when the outbreaks occurred, but they barely took the edge off. Plus, she was deeply attached to the ideas of natural healing and homeopathy and all that, so she very, very rarely used the medication. But that night, for the first time in a while, I could tell she wasn’t powering through her pain. She genuinely felt good and had no idea why.

Her pain returned a few hours later. As always, she did her best to ignore it. Fast forward a couple days – another massage, another occasion for sexy times. Midway through, she stopped kissing me and exclaimed, “that’s it!” I didn’t know what she was talking about. She rolled off me and stuck her finger in my mouth. Not really sure what the hell was going on, I just sat up on the bed and let her do whatever she was doing. She pulled her wet finger from my mouth and stuck it in her own. I saw her rubbing the inside of her cheek. Her face brightened and she informed me, with complete certainty, that my saliva was taking away her pain. I laughed and said something encouraging despite thinking she was nuts. Then she hopped back on me and I completely forgot everything she’d said.


The next day, I was lying face down on her massage table. She was doing her usual, outstanding work while I stared down at the floor through that little padded hole where one’s face goes. Without any warning, there was a blinding pain in my head. I passed out. I have no idea how long I was unconscious. When I came to, I tried to get up, but I was completely immobilized. I couldn’t turn my head or lift my arms. It felt like I was taped to the table. Not only that, but there was something metal in my mouth. I couldn’t close my jaw or even dislodge the thing with my tongue. I yelled around it. Valerie, who’d apparently been standing next to me, simply said, “shhhhhh.”

I saw her hand and arm appear in front of my down-turned face. She held a small, glass baking dish, which she placed on the floor under my mouth. “I’m sorry if the speculum is uncomfortable,” she said. At the mention of the word, I gagged. A thin column of saliva drooled from my gaping maw and landed inside the glass container. She reached under and gathered a dollop of the fluid onto her fingertip. Her hand disappeared from my field of view, but I knew where it was going. I heard her moan with relief.

“I’m not sure how long I’ll keep you here,” she informed me. “But don’t be loud.”

In response, I yelled. A hideously sharp pain erupted from my lower back, right around my left kidney. “That’s a 3 inch long pin,” Valerie said. “Please don’t scream anymore. I hate hurting people.” I shut up.

As the hours went by, the bottom of the pan grew slick with a cloudy puddle of my saliva. I heard Valerie walking around the house, doing laundry, washing dishes; basic, everyday activity. The clatter of pots and pans told me it was almost dinner time. I was ravenous; I estimated it’d been almost 24 hours since I’d had any food.

Glorious aromas wafted from the kitchen as she cooked. My salivary glands went into overdrive and I drizzled their secretions into the waiting container. I heard Val walk in and she placed a plate piled high with spaghetti carbonara and what appeared to be a pork chop directly next to the collection pan. My mouth oozed.

“You can’t have this,” she whispered in my ear. “But feel free to enjoy the smell.

She walked away and turned on the TV. The room filled with sitcom banalities as my body leaked its desire for the meal into the waiting dish. I wanted to cry.

At some point, I fell asleep. When I woke up in the morning, the plate of food was gone. The house was quiet. I assumed Val had gone to class. I gargled out a weak yell, but there’s no way anyone would’ve heard it. I was so incredibly thirsty. The smell from the collected saliva was absolutely horrendous. I could see particulate matter dotting the glass bottom, probably old food that had detached from between my teeth. My mouth felt terribly dry. Saliva still leaked from the glands, but it was thick, almost like corn syrup. The color was milky gray. When it hit the stuff that was already in the pan, it separated like salad dressing. Oily liquid swirled to the top. I couldn’t believe how much I’d produced over the last couple days.

The sound of the front door opening heralded the return of Valerie. She walked over, putting her sneakers in my narrow view. I felt her scratch the top of my head. “You doing okay?,” she asked, sounding genuinely concerned. I muttered something obscene from around the speculum. She bent down and picked up the pan. Saliva sloshed thickly against the sides. “I’m going to let you go today,” Val informed me. I choked out a sigh of relief.

I saw a knife for a second and was certain she was about to cut my throat. Instead, she sliced through the duct tape that was holding my head to the table. I craned my neck upward and tried to shake out the awful muscle cramps. In front of me, I watched Val carefully pour some of the accumulated spit into a glass. She brought it to her lips and took a tiny sip. I almost threw up. She didn’t swallow right away. I could see her swishing it around her mouth and aerating it as if she were a disgusting sommelier sampling a fine Brunello. She smiled at me as she swallowed.

Valerie reached into her purse and pulled out a small handgun. Of course she had a fucking gun. I didn’t move. She calmly told me she was about to cut me loose but if I ran before she could talk to me, I’d get shot. I nodded.

She cut the tape away. I was suddenly self-conscious as the smell of my old spit was replaced by the ammonia odor of when I’d pissed myself those two times. “Don’t worry about it,” she whispered. After everything was cut away, she apologized in advance before pulling the tape off my head to unsecure the speculum still violating my mouth. Chunks of hair came with the tape and I winced. I let the metal instrument drop to the ground. My jaw felt like it’d been pummeled by a prize fighter.

I stood up and Val pointed the gun at my chest. I stretched, slowly, then sat back down. She took another small sip before she spoke.

“When you leave, I know you’re going to call the police. And I know I’ll get arrested. But I just want you to know how much I appreciate you for helping me.”

I didn’t say anything. She was nuts. Obviously. She gulped down the rest of the cold saliva and put the glass on the coffee table. The pan was still 75% full.

“You can go,” she told me.

I grabbed my car keys from the table and left. As soon as I closed the door to her apartment, I sprinted as quickly as my cramped legs would allow, got into the car, and drove away. As I went home, I called 911 and did my best to explain what happened. They said they’d stop by her place and see what was going on, then they’d visit me at home. Sure enough, a few hours later, the police visited my apartment. They told me Valerie was dead. Self-inflicted gunshot wound. She’d left a note, but all it said was, “you’ll understand soon enough.”

A year later, I started getting sores in my mouth. The pain was indescribable. They’d last for a couple days before bursting. They’d eventually heal, but two weeks later they’d just reappear. I was missing work because I couldn’t even breathe through my mouth without searing agony. The doctors gave me some awful-tasting ointment to put on them, but it might as well have been water. Nothing helped.

I didn’t want to, but I started sleeping around. Men, women, it didn’t matter. Partner after partner crossed my bed. Finally, I found one. Then another. Then another. Seven years later, they’re up to a gallon of production per day. The flavor took some getting used to, but hey, the taste of medicine doesn’t matter much when it actually works. The trick, I learned, was to keep my producers hydrated and fed just enough so the quality doesn’t drop off. Early on, my little cows (that’s what I call them) used to be pretty boisterous in the mornings when I went to collect their “milk,” but they’ve calmed down over the years. I just hope they know how much I appreciate them. Deep down, I bet they do.

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I should have never ordered that acne cream from China.

July 5th, 2015

I can’t believe how long it’s taking. Yeah, I get it, things that ship from China are going to take longer to get to Rhode Island than if they shipped from Canada. IDC. I paid so much money for this shit I’d expect the people who sell it to actually care about their customers. Such bullshit.

The tracking info says it’s in fucking Rotterdam. I thought it was going to be flown over here because it needs to be refrigerated. If it’s just sitting in a hot cargo ship next to baby clothes and ballpoint pens and dildos I’m going to be so mad. $155!

July 6th, 2015

So fucking pissed. It’s going to be another week. I sent an email to the company and they got back real quick and told me, “yes, it’s refrigerated” and, “yes, it will be perfect when it arrives.” But I have to wait SEVEN MORE FUCKING DAYS. That’s cutting it so super close to Carlotta’s wedding and I need my skin to be PERFECT for all those pictures. I’m not going to look worse than my sister, even if she’s bride. I want people to look at her wedding pictures and be like, “yeah Carlotta’s beautiful but Rachel is the one in the family with the looks.” Because I am.

July 10th, 2015

Another three days of waiting. My skin is AWFUL. I don’t have a ton of zits but the ones I have are huge and they don’t just look gross but they hurt. None of the stuff I’ve gotten at the store works. Yesterday, I went to Whole Foods and found some natural coconut oil cream that people online said was good. I put it on last night and this morning I woke up with another massive pimple right in the left corner of my nose. I did a test with my camera and I stood 15 feet away like how the photos will be taken for the wedding. The pimples were so obvious. Even with makeup, you can see them underneath. Especially if one starts leaking. So fucking gross. I’m so mad.

July 12th, 2015

IT’S HERE IT’S EARLY THANK GOD!

The package came in a really well-sealed box that looked like it had some weird refrigeration packs inside. It was definitely cold. The acne cream was in a clear tube. The stuff looked almost exactly like the Neutrogena scrub I use every day but instead of being blue with gray exfoliating beads, the Chinese stuff was yellow with white exfoliating beads. I have no idea what the writing on the tube says but I’m texting a pic to Mei so she can translate.

Update @ 11:25am

Ok, Mei said the writing just says “skin care” and “for use on blemishes.” The instructions say: “Keep refrigerated, use a thumbprint-sized dollop on the face immediately after getting out of a hot shower, let sit for a half hour, then rinse off with warm water. For best results, use twice a day for one week. Mild swelling may occur, but it is normal. If severe peeling occurs, stop using immediately.”

I jumped in the shower and turned it as hot as I could stand so my pores would open up. I squeezed the pimples that were ready to blow and almost threw up when the biggest one popped so hard i heard the glob of pus hit the shower wall. That one bled a lot. I hope the new acne cream won’t sting too badly.

I got the cream out of the little dorm fridge I keep in my room and started to spread it on my face. It stung SO BAD. I thought it smelled pretty good, though. Reminded me of Mei’s mom’s perfume, although there was something weird in the background. Not chemicals, either. Just…weird. Whatevs. I left it on for a half hour like it said, washed it off, and went to work.

Update @ 10:50pm

Work sucked as usual. My face felt nice, though. The stinging went away pretty quick after I scrubbed the stuff off and my skin feels smooth. Definitely less greasy. I could see in the mirror at work that my pores were a bit larger than normal. But they didn’t look or feel oily. The blackheads were gone, too. So far, so good.

I got home and took another hot shower and put on the stuff. I rubbed the exfoliating beads over the worst of the remaining zits, hoping to erode them down. One of them popped and hit the mirror like a mashed potato javelin (I’m working on my similes for English 102 next semester) and the cream stung like crazy when it touched the open sore. I gritted my teeth and rubbed the beads across the bleeding crater, working them into the skin to bring down the edges.

After a half hour, I cleaned it off and went to bed.

July 13th, 2015

My face looked SO MUCH BETTER this morning. The big pimples are still there but I can tell they’re starting to shrink. None of them have whiteheads. The skin’s a little swollen and feels hot, though. I’m glad the cream’s still working even after it’s been washed off.

I’ve got a lot more confidence today even though my face still is way worse than I want it to be for the wedding. I’ve gotta go to work now but damn it feels good to not want to cut my stupid skin out of my head.

Update @ 10:30pm

Apparently the cream helped me grow some balls because I asked out Todd from the deli department. I’ve wanted to fuck that dude for two years. I’m so going to, too.

July 14th, 2015

Last night after I showered and did my face, I started peeling a little bit. I’m not too worried because all the acne stuff in the past that stung going on always made me peel later on. I’ll keep an eye on it just to make sure it doesn’t get really bad, but I can’t believe how happy I am with how well it’s working. I take back everything I said about that company and the Chinese people in general. I’m glad Mei hadn’t heard me. Jeez.

Update @ 9:19pm

Todd looked so good at work today. I can’t wait until we can go out next weekend. Mei came in to see me and I pointed him out and I think he noticed but he didn’t say anything. She agreed he’s hot as fuck. She told me if I didn’t hit that this weekend she’d be on him an hour later. No way she’d have that chance lol.

My face feels pretty okay but it’s definitely more swollen than I’m used to. The biggest pimples are almost all gone, though. I dare say my complexion looks almost GOOD for the first time in 10 years. Jesus, I’ve gone from 12 to 22 with fucked up skin. No wonder I’m such an asshole. Oh wait, I’ve always been an asshole lol.

July 15th, 2015

My skin is smoooooooooooth! It’s not peeling anymore and even though it’s still swollen and the pores look way big, I’ve got no new pimples. Not one. Hasn’t even been half a week. I’ll be recommending this stuff to everyone once the treatment is finished and I’m in the wedding pictures looking like a total goddess. You’re so screwed, Carlotta lol.

July 16th, 2015

Nah, nothing. Same ol’ shit.

July 17th, 2015

Face is smooth as a baby’s buttcheeks. Still swollen, still big-ass pores, but not a single zit. Two more days of my skin treatment, five more days until date night with Todd, and eight more days until the wedding. Things are pretty damn good right now.

July 18th, 2015

Tomorrow’s my last day of the acne cream. I started peeling again just a little bit, but everything is still pretty damn smooth. I used the exfoliating beads in the cream to get off the majority of the peeling skin, anyway, and I don’t think anyone but me noticed. That said, my housemate said something about my cheeks being swollen and I told her it was just my acne meds. She nodded and said I might want to stop using it. I just laughed and told her I’d be stopping it tomorrow anyway.

After Olivia mentioned that, though, I’ve become pretty aware of the swelling. I can feel it when I smile and furrow my brow. When I poke my cheeks, they’re still smooth but they feel a little hard underneath, kinda like my ankle did when I sprained it and it swelled up. I’ll write the company tomorrow after I finish with the cream.

July 19th, 2015

Done! Today was boring as fuck ‘cause that’s how I roll but I just finished my last application of the acne medicine. I just looked at the “before” pic I took of myself the day before I started, and it’s RIDICULOUS how much better I look. I was fucking HIDEOUS last week! Omg. Yeah, my face is a lot rounder and stuff right now but it’s clear and smooth and TOTALLY awesome for the wedding AND my date with Todd. This is going to be awesome.

I’m writing an email to the Chinese company about the swelling just to put my mind at ease. I think it might have gotten a tiny bit better overnight but I really can’t tell. Neither could Olivia. I’ll ask some of the people at work later how it looks to them.

July 20th, 2015

Holy shit Todd texted and wanted to see if I could go out with him tonight instead of when we’d planned because something came up. I’ve just spent the last hour showering and shaving every hair below my eyebrows. I have to admit, I’m a little self-conscious about the swelling in my face. When I got out of the shower, I pressed on one of the larger pores near my nose and one of the damn exfoliating beads came out. That made me worry. I’d pushed those beads in pretty hard when trying to get the flaky skin to go away. The last thing I wanted to deal with was an infection. Everything I’d read about those was how bad they are for the environment. They can’t be good if they’re trapped inside your skin.

I’m going to go on our date and maybe tomorrow I’ll go to the walk-in clinic just to get looked at. It really doesn’t hurt much and I pressed on a couple other pores and got more of the beads out. There wasn’t any blood or any gross pus or anything else that would make me think my face was infected, so it’s probably fine. Whatevs. I’m getting dick tonight.

August 13th, 2015

I’m in the hospital. And fuck it, I’m going to write what happened because I missed the wedding and Todd thinks I’m a freak and I’ve got nothing else going for me but this story. And Todd told everyone already. I’m done for.

The first part of our date went so well. Dinner, drinks, then a romp at my place. I was riding him and leaning forward and sucking his tongue when my face started to hurt REAL bad and he opened his eyes and yelled. Then he threw me off him and ran out the door with his clothes in his arms. My skin hurt so bad I could hardly breathe but I got up and ran into the bathroom. I almost died.

My pores had erupted with thin, white worms. And they were still coming out. Each pore released a few cracked exfoliating beads. No, not beads, I realized. Eggs. As each broken egg came out, a thin, pure white worm slithered out behind it. They slid and dangled eight inches out of my face. I screamed as I grabbed a handful of them and pulled. Hard. I felt them stretching out of my pores from deep inside my head. From behind my neck. From my scalp. I reached arm’s length and they were still in me. I dropped what I held in the sink and used both hands to frantically yank the things out.

As I pulled, they curled up in the sink like vermicelli noodles. Finally, after what must have been five feet of length, that group was out. My pores oozed gray and yellow pus that smelled worse than anything I’d ever encountered. It was then I understood what the underlying smell of the acne cream had been. I vomited into the sink as I kept pulling, but more of their bodies poked out of the pores.

I ran out of my bathroom, feeling the things slapping against my neck and naked chest as I scrambled to find my cellphone. I could see them dangling when I reached down for the phone. And they’d started to move. No longer did they just slide out, but they wriggled and thrashed, finally sensing they were in some sort of danger. I screamed over and over and eventually was able to dial 911. Somehow they were able to get my address from the cell phone data and they said an ambulance would be there ASAP.

While I waited, I stood in my kitchen, puking and crying, snipping the things out of my face with a pair of scissors. They squirmed over the linoleum, dripping the same yellow and gray pus that was squirting from each gaping pore. As a crop of worms, a fatter ones than I’d seen so far, started to crawl out from underneath my left eyelid, I knew I was losing my mind. And I did what anyone who loses touch with reality does: I carved underneath the eyelid with the scissors. Immediately, everything in the room blurred and lost some level of dimensional perspective. I shrieked as the pain of the injury exploded through me, but I couldn’t stop.

I snipped down the eyelid, down my cheek, and unzipped the side of my face. I took my fingernails and dragged them under and through the incision, feeling unwound masses of the things buried within the muscle. I pulled and pulled, not feeling any more pain, and I watched the blurry, blood-soaked bodies drop to the kitchen floor with a wet sound.

Some time later, my door was being kicked in and I saw firefighters and EMTs staring at me in abject horror. I said something like, “be careful, there’s worms in my face” before I fell forward and cracked my head on the counter.

Two weeks later, I woke up. I wasn’t allowed to see my face for another few days, either. I could tell I was really messed up but apparently I’d be fine aside from some pretty bad scars and a damaged eye. The doctors had no idea what kind of parasite was in me, but said they’ll be taking the rest of the acne cream to run tests on it. They said that while it was refrigerated, the eggs would have been dormant. They figured once they got into the steamy humidity of my skin, they were able to gestate. And gestate they did.

Once Carlotta learned I’d survive the whole thing, she went and had the wedding anyway. And she had a great time. The wedding pictures were in an email attachment I got after I woke up. She looked amazing. Most gorgeous woman at the place. Before her email, though, was another one. The mail I sent to the Chinese company about my facial swelling had bounced back. No such recipient.

Fuck everything.

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I found a diary while I was out hiking in New Hampshire. I have to admit, I’m thoroughly creeped out by what was written inside.

The diary was from a while ago; 21 years, according to the dates. It was sealed really well in plastic wrap and stuffed in a watertight bag. It I hadn’t hit the thing with my shovel when digging a hole to take a dump, I never would’ve found it. I wish that would’ve been the case because I can’t stop thinking about the stuff I read. I’m only going to share the fucked up parts, but all I’m leaving out is the lady talking about how she and her husband were spending the month camping and having a good time. There, I just saved you 5 pages. Here’s where it got weird:

————————————————————-

7/2/1994, 7:00am

Last night, James and I got woken up by a ridiculously bright flash of lightning. There was no thunder, either. James said it must’ve been heat lightning. He’s probably right because it was disgustingly hot and muggy all day and once the sun went down it got even more humid. We eventually got back to sleep and this morning the air seems a little less like a wet sponge. We’re hoping to do 12 miles today.

7/2/1994, 8:00pm

I don’t even want to write this down because it’s so gross. James asked that I do it anyway so we’ll remember to report what we saw once we get to a ranger station. Like I could forget something like this. Anyway, here: all day, while we walked, we saw animals. Deer, birds, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and a black bear. That’s pretty par for the course out here. But when we went off the path for a little bit because, well, James was staring at my ass for the last hour while we walked and I guess he got some ideas, we were stopped by the sight of something awful about a hundred feet off the path. Well, many somethings. Strewn across a wide area that I estimated to be a couple thousand feet were miscarried animals. They were all at different stages of development. It was horrible.

7/3/1994, 2:45am

I’m not able to sleep after the events of yesterday. James, of course, is snoring like a buzzsaw despite the big flashlight lighting the tent up. What the hell could’ve caused something like that to happen? I’ve heard about animals going to find a safe place to die when they’re sick or old, but I’ll be damned if something like what we saw is in any way normal.

That heat lightning just happened again. This time it was three flashes clustered together within a couple seconds. No thunder. Fuck that’s creepy. James is mad that I just kicked him to wake him up and tell him about it. Sorry hon.

7/3/1994, 7:30am

I got to sleep about an hour after the lightning. Thank God we brought some good coffee to brew over the fire. We’re going to do 10 miles, although it might be a little less because the map says we’re getting into a pretty hilly area. Good for the glutes!

7/3/1994, 9:15pm

Pretty good walk today. We’re both going to be sore tomorrow, though. The map does a decent enough job telling us where the hills are going to be, but it’s shitty at indicating how steep they are. On the bright side, and I never thought I’d be at a point in my life where this sentence would make sense, we didn’t see any more fields full of animal fetuses. Whee.

7/4/1994, 6:10am

My dickhead husband smuggled some fireworks in his pack and decided to wake me up by setting them off right outside the tent while screaming, “Happy 4th of July!” Of course he was naked as he did all this and was presenting himself to me through the tent flap while holding a sparkler in each hand. I’ve come to the conclusion that I love his sense of humor between 8am and midnight, and anything from 12:01am until 7:59am makes me want to choke him. Waking up to explosions and his dick and balls is not quite how I envisioned our mornings together. Take away the explosions part, though, and I’m pretty okay with it.

It looks like it’s going to rain today. The clouds are low in the sky and it’s pretty breezy. Gusty, too. The rain gear we bought before we started our hike kept us dry during the storms last week, though, so I’m not too bummed out about it.

7/4/1994, 6:30pm

No rain while we walked. James shot a rabbit an hour ago and he’s about to skin it and get it ready for the fire. He’s making me learn how to do it, too. It’s pretty much the last thing I want to do, but there’s no reason why he should have to be stuck with the job every time we want to eat some cute forest critter. Ugh. Here we go.

7/4/1994, 7:30pm

I just finished throwing up. As soon James started working on the rabbit, we saw how sick it must’ve been while it was alive. Again, I’m only going into detail so we can report it at the ranger station, but for fuck’s sake James, if I have to learn how to skin a rabbit you can learn how to write clear, descriptive sentences. That’s a fight for another day. Under its fur, the rabbit was absolutely covered in what looked like big whitehead zits. They were under a lot of pressure, too, because when James poked one with the tip of the knife it burst and flung grayish white pus like 10 feet and onto the tip of my shoe. Cue me throwing up for a half hour while he apologized and tried not to laugh.

We still have a good amount of beef jerky and stuff in the food pack, so it’s not like we’re going to go hungry, but it would’ve been nice to have something a little different. The rain finally started and we’re stuck in the tent.

And here’s the lightning again. It’s flashing over and over and over. Sometimes it’s a few quick bursts, others it’s just single ones that last upwards of 4 or 5 seconds. It’s those long ones that scare the shit out of me. I’ve never seen lightning like that before. James keeps telling me it’s unusual but not unheard of, especially at this time of the year. It appears to be tapering off a little now, and I’m pretty glad it coincided with rain this time. I guess it really is just plain lightning. James is a pretty reassuring guy. Early bed time.

7/5/1994, 10:10am

I’m freaking out because James is trying hard not to freak out. We’ve been up since 6 and when we opened the tent the ground outside was covered in dead birds, dead bats, and dead bugs. And I mean covered. I guess we didn’t hear them hitting the ground because of the rain that started up again while we slept, but we still have no explanation as to why they’re all fucking dead. That’s not the worst part, though. They’re ALL covered with those zit things like the rabbit.

We’re deciding to cut the trip short and get the fuck out of here. The map says there’s a ranger station about 40 miles to our west, and James said we can get there by tomorrow afternoon if we really move. Both of us are at the point where really moving sounds like a great plan.

7/6/1994, 12:30am

We walked fast and we walked far. The whole way, we saw dead animals. They weren’t as tightly clustered together as they were around our tent, but we still saw a lot. I remember walking under a tree where the ground was littered with dead wasps. When I looked up, there was a huge nest with nothing flying around it. The forest is almost silent, too. No birds. Only insects. And even their sounds are few and far between. I never realized how omnipresent their din was until it was nearly gone.

Fuck. Just a minute ago, the first live deer we’d seen in all day walked into the lit area around our tent. It stared at us for a while on the outskirts of where the light fell, and when it turned around, I saw a dead fawn hanging halfway out of her body. As the deer trotted away, the fawn slid out and hit the ground with a wet thump, still connected to its mother by a tangle of afterbirth that stretched until it, too, slid out a few feet later. Fuck everything. Good luck trying to sleep tonight, Mel.

Okay something just happened while we were sleeping and I am freaking the fuck out and can barely breathe and I don’t know what to do other than write it down to make it make sense. The lightning came and just…stayed. The whole forest was lit up. James and I tried to convince each other it was just the weather. But it stayed lit for a whole minute. Then two. I begged James not to go outside but he unzipped the tent and went out. I panicked and didn’t want to be alone so I followed him and the entire sky, not just one area where lightning might be, was white. Brighter than the sun at noon. It hurt my eyes really bad to look at and James was squinting hard, too. I squeezed my eyes shut to recover a little and when I reopened them, he was gone. I ran around and looked and didn’t see him until I turned back around and he was right there again, staring at the sky. Except, he was…wrong.

He didn’t answer me when I screamed his name. He didn’t even blink. And I could see bumps starting to form on his neck and face. The light was so, so bright. I pushed James to try to get his attention and when I did the area under his shirt where I pushed got soaked with something. Well I know what it was but I couldn’t look. I couldn’t. I can’t. He is still outside and he’s not moving. Just standing and staring at the terribly bright sky. His pupils are gone and all that’s left is the blue and white. He’s different. He’s wrong. His skin is getting worse. And I am fucking terrified.

Little bumps are popping up on my hands while I write this and they’re coming to a head and now one of them just broke open and that’s my blood on the page. I know the wetness I feel on my thighs is blood, too. Blood signifying the end of what I’d been waiting to tell James on our anniversary next week. I keep thinking about the dead fawn sliding out of its mother.

I’m going to wrap this journal up in a bag and run in the direction of the ranger station. I don’t know what else to do. I’ll leave it under a tree or in some safe spot right off the trail so someone can find it if something happens to me on the way. This page is soaked through now. I have to go before I get worse. Before James gets worse. The light is so bright.

————————————————————-

And that’s what was in the diary. As soon as I read it and typed out what was inside, I mailed it to the CDC because I have no fucking idea what was wrong with that lady and her husband and I sure as hell don’t want to catch anything. That last page she wrote on was disgusting. I wish I’d been wearing gloves when I touched it. It was encrusted with dried stuff, probably that pus she wrote about, and it smelled awful. I washed up real good and left a note for the CDC guys to be careful with it.

I’m pretty reluctant to go back in those woods again, but I’m just being stupid. I bet the whole thing was a prank by some high school assholes and I’m going to waste the time of some pretty important guys when they get what I mailed over. Still, I’m more than a little creeped out. Everything that lady wrote about is just so far-fetched. But I still wonder. I wonder because I vaguely remember hearing about some massive animal die-off back in that part of the state in the mid 90s. It was probably something else though. It had to be.

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Something horrible is happening to me on Pokemon Go.

pokemon

Pokemon Go is a fun game when you don’t live in an area devastated by industrial contamination and toxic waste. Pokemon Go is a fun game when the Poke Stops aren’t at local landmarks steeped in mercury and lead. Pokemon Go is a fun game when innocent gamers don’t congregate in areas where the grass no longer grows because of carbon tetrachloride and dioxin and radionuclides in the soil.

For the kids in this city – and even for the adults in this city – Pokemon Go should be the kind of game to help them through the hell of their day-to-day lives. It should be a distraction from the omnipresent horror of living in a place that’s no longer on anyone’s map – a place that the outside world thinks is better off forgotten. If only playing it wasn’t killing them.

At the community hospital where I work, we’ve had a substantial increase in the number of patients displaying some effect of being poisoned: skin deterioration, pregnancy complications, respiratory distress, etc. – all consistent with the various environmental pollutants in different parts of town. Nearly all of those admitted have been Pokemon Go players.

Our city council had a meeting with officials from the police and fire departments, hoping figure out a way to keep those dangerous locations off limits to visitors. Lots of ideas were floated, but they all got shot down. The city has no money to erect barriers or police the areas. There’s simply far too many of them.

Signs started to go up. That was the one thing everyone on the council could agree on. The signs explicitly mentioned Pokemon Go and featured the frightening biohazard and radiation warning symbols.

No one was deterred. The poisonings continued.

I’d never played Pokemon in my life. I didn’t know anything about it. As more and more people started to show up at the hospital, though, I got the impression I should get at least a basic grasp on what everyone was obsessed with. So, when I got home, I downloaded the app.

Right away, three of them showed up in my living room. I tapped a turtle-looking one and threw a ball at it. It was mine. Pretty cool, actually. Simple mechanics. There was a radar thing on the bottom right and three pawprints under silhouettes of other Pokemon I hadn’t seen yet. I didn’t have any idea where the things were in relation to me, and it seemed stupid that the radar was so worthless, but as I walked around, I’d eventually run into one. Not one on the radar, mind you, but still one I hadn’t seen before.

I started to understand why people enjoyed the game so much. I found myself wishing the residential areas had more Pokemon to catch. When I zoomed my map all the way out, in the distance, I could see those spinning blue towers – many of which were shooting out pink confetti. From what I’d read online, that’s where all the good Pokemon were.

It’s also where all the industrial contamination was.

When I got to work the next day, I was shocked to find one of those blue towers in the hospital. When I clicked it, the little blurb said it was in the children’s wing. I never go on that side of the building, but I figured “what the hell” and walked over. Once I was in range, I spun the wheel and all this stuff popped out: balls, potions, and even an egg! It said 10km on it. I threw the thing in my incubator, knowing it’d probably hatch at some point on my shift. I do tons of walking.

Halfway through my day of walking up and down the labyrinthine halls, I checked my phone. Less than .4km. God damn it. A familiar alarm sounded and I rushed to the ER. Before I saw what had happened, I could smell it.

A group of teenagers had jumped the fence of the old battery factory. Apparently there are three Poke Stops inside, two of which are overlapping. The third, though, is inaccessible unless you go through the basement. The spot is a memorial for the company founder, and is located in the viewing area above a group of vats. As the factory deteriorated, the catwalk leading to the memorial had fallen. To reach the Poke Stop, the kids had traversed the profoundly toxic basement. They reached the Poke Stop without incident, but then one of them saw something called a Lapras on his radar.

One kid, David, headed in one direction, while his friends went in others. Whoever found the Lapras was going to yell and his friends could come catch it for themselves. It was David who found the Lapras. But it was also David who, in the process of yelling and gesturing to his friends, slipped.

When David slipped, he crashed into an unlabeled, rusty container. His friends saw the whole thing. The container, filled with contents that had corroded it over the years, burst. From the waist down, David was completely covered with a viscous, caustic combination of concentrated acid and various, unknown industrial toxins.

The friends received severe burns on their hands and arms when they hauled David out of the building and into the car. After they pulled the car up to the ER doors, a very kind, but very dumb, samaritan, who’d been nearby, rushed to help. He made the mistake of grabbing David by his foot and ankle. He degloved David’s leg all the way to his crotch. The sloughed skin splashed onto the pavement as the samaritan screamed with horror, and then pain, as steam began to rise from his own hands.

Long, terrible story short: surgeons had to amputate everything below David’s ribcage. The rest of his skin was damaged beyond repair, leaving him covered with an otherworldly patchwork of hard, gray burns. His friends, as well as the dumb samaritan, lost their hands. Two of the ER rooms needed to be closed for 48 hours so they could be decontaminated. Of all the Pokemon Go accidents we’d had in the short time following its release, it was the worst.

One might think the accident would deter other people from going to the industrial zones. Quite the contrary. Once people learned they could catch a Lapras near that factory, despite warnings and promises to arrest trespassers, trainers swarmed. They knew no one would be there to arrest them. Cops had better things to do.

Two days later, we had a handful of patients with burned lungs, a few with debilitating fatigue, and two pregnancy complications, both of which ended in miscarriages. The remains of the fetuses were indescribably deformed. How such deformities could occur in such a short period of time was beyond anyone’s guess.

I needed to take my mind off everything I’d seen, so what did I do? I played Pokemon Go. I used the Poke Stop at the hospital frequently. Whenever I had a spare moment, I’d go into the parking lot and catch pidgeys and ratattas. I yearned for the bigger, better Pokemon that I knew could be obtained from the old factories. I even drove up to the fence outside one and saw something huge on my radar, but I was too afraid for my own safety to get out and investigate. In the brief period I was sitting in my car out front, I watched six people hop the fence and run into the factory. I admit, I felt a little jealous. I forced myself to get over it.

Last night started like all the other nights since the game had been released, but turned into a tragedy felt hospital-wide. Lenisha Davis, who’d undergone successful fertility treatments a few months prior, was expecting sextuplets – a first for our hospital. She was in excellent health and only a month away from her due date. She’d never played a second of Pokemon in her life, but her husband and son had. Lenisha never knew they’d frequented an abandoned factory that once made herbicides. Over the few days they’d gone and come back, Lenisha was walking barefoot on the toxins they’d tracked into the house.

The pain and bleeding that caused her to come to the hospital ended the same way as it had for the other pregnant women exposed to the toxins. The deformities of her miscarried sextuplets were hideous. Their complexions were albino and their limbs were gone. All that remained were round, hard blobs containing lidless, glaring eyes and fully-toothed, gaping mouths. Lenisha had to be sedated. She wouldn’t stop screaming.

The image of the sextuplets stuck with me. I was scheduled for an overnight shift, and there was a free bunk where I could’ve slept, but that was out of the question. I wandered the halls aimlessly, watching for Pokemon, and gathering supplies whenever I passed the Poke Stop.

Around 3 this morning, I saw a shape on my radar. It was a big one, and I think it was nearby. Two other, smaller ones, were also showing up. I speed-walked in all directions until I finally saw them appear on my map. I felt pretty lucky to have them all come at once. Seven balls later, I’d captured all three. A horsea, a kakuna, and the big one was an exeggcute.

I looked around. I’d walked without paying attention to my location in the hospital. When I realized where I’d gone, I shuddered. It was where abnormal specimens were dissected and tested. Dr. Ahad was working on one of the deformed miscarriages from the day before. To his side, about to go into the refrigeration unit, was a large biohazard bag containing Lenisha’s sextuplets.

Sorrow suffused through me as the scenario played out again in my head. As I stared, a feeling I can’t explain pricked the hair on the back of my neck. My phone vibrated in my pocket. There was a Pokemon nearby. I checked the radar. It was the silhouette of a big round thing with two arms. I remember seeing that online when I was learning about the game. A geodude.

I did my best to shake off my misery as I trawled the halls until the geodude showed up. I caught it, had a little moment of excitement from adding another entry to my Pokedex, then returned to my weariness and sorrow. I checked where I was. I was right in front of David’s room. He was on a ventilator and he was covered in bandages. Fluid kept seeping through his gray, cracked skin. A nurse was getting ready to change his gauze. I felt such sympathy for the kid. My eyes blurred with tears.

While my eyes welled up, I stared at the shape of David on the bed. Gray, with a round, hipless torso and two long arms. My breath caught in my throat. Before I knew it, I was running back to where Dr. Ahad had been working. The room was dark. He’d gone home for the night.

I scanned my keycard and let myself in. I opened the refrigeration units and removed the two bags of the miscarriages from the days before. One was shaped like a seahorse. Another looked like a cocoon. I thought back to the three I’d caught right outside the room.

My hands shook as I opened the larger cold box housing the remains of Lenisha’s sextuplets. The inside of the bag was coated with grayish-red slime and I couldn’t see the contents. I put on gloves and made the sign of the cross. As tears ran down my face, I took out each horrifically-deformed fetus and arranged them on sample trays. My weeping turned to wracking sobs as I examined their features. Pink. Limbless. Wide eyed.

Egg shaped.

Six in a row.

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