A hard-learned lesson about body hair removal.

wax

My trouble started when I realized I was out of razorblades and waxing supplies and my crotch looked like the Amazon rainforest before the mechanization of the logging industry. My date was due to arrive in half an hour. So, I resorted something unconventional. Something, I now realize, was not the best idea.

I’m going to give a little backstory first. I’m not ashamed to say I enjoy sex. The widespread belief that a woman should suppress her sex drive because society finds it “improper” has always disgusted me. Sex is great. Safe sex is wonderful. I respect myself and I respect the men I sleep with. All I ask is that I receive the same respect in return. It’s just two people making one another happy.

Now, I’ve known this since I was 15. Two decades of positive experiences have only strengthened my feelings on the subject. That said, there are a few personal responsibilities I feel I have, such as keeping current with the shaving trends. I’m not a huge fan of the concept behind shaving myself, to be honest. If you think about it, it’s actually kind of creepy, but I’ll still admit I enjoy the sensation of hairlessness. I guess it’s a tradeoff.

I prefer to shave, but I’ve waxed myself a lot, too. I have to be careful, though, because I’m allergic to some of the waxes on the market. I don’t know what particular chemical or fragrance it is that causes the irritation, but the itchy rash it produces keeps the downstairs out of business for over a week while it clears up. No one wants to pull off a thong and see that staring them in the face.

So, back to the other day. I found something in the apartment I thought would work like wax, so I tried it out. It hurt like hell and was an absolute bitch to wash off, but it did the job. My date arrived when he said he would. We hit it off at dinner and we ended up back at my apartment, where we both managed to achieve orgasm despite being so full from our meals that we were like two beached whales slapping against one another. Since we both had to get up early the next morning, we said our goodnights and he went home.

The itching woke me up before dawn. It started with my armpits, but then moved to my, if I may use the medical terms, box and asshole. I got out of bed and went into the bathroom. The mirror confirmed my assumption: that damn allergic reaction again. Welts were forming in extremely sensitive areas and it looked like I was already getting a bunch of ingrown hairs. I braced myself and doused the affected areas in rubbing alcohol, hoping none of the ingrowns would get infected. I showered and scrubbed, then went back to bed. I still itched.

When I got up to shower, the swelling looked pretty nasty and the ingrowns, despite my best efforts, were starting to get whiteheads. I got up and left for work. I sat in my cubicle feeling utterly miserable. The itching was way worse than any of the reactions I’d had before. When I got up to use the bathroom, I checked the damage.

I almost threw up. A nearly perfect triangle of densely-clustered whiteheads occupied the entire area I’d waxed. Even worse, and this is going to be gross but there’s no real way to talk around it, they’d been popping the whole time I was sitting at my desk. My underwear was soaked.

After cleaning myself up as best I could, I talked to my boss and told her I needed to leave early. She said it was no problem, so I left and headed straight to the walk-in clinic.

I lucked out and got seen right away. The doctor raised her eyebrows to the ceiling when she saw the reaction I was having, but quickly reassured me that she sees people who get skin irritation from hair removal all the time. She gave me some kind of ointment to rub on it twice a day and said if it doesn’t improve in a week, she’d give me something stronger.

I cancelled the date I had with the nice guy from the other night. I felt pretty bad, but he was understanding. He said was that he had to go on a business trip the next day and would be gone for a week. I told him that I looked forward to his return, assuming a week from then I’d be in the clear.

Spoiler: I wasn’t.

I applied the ointment diligently for a few days and most of the whiteheads stopped appearing. The swelling, though, persisted. Same with the itching. My armpits weren’t particularly bad, but my, well, perineum, and the surrounding area, was a disaster area. It was super swollen and it hurt to walk and use the bathroom.

The other night, six days after I’d seen the doctor, the itching turned to flat-out pain. It wasn’t unbearable, and if it had been, I would’ve gone to the emergency room right away, but it was enough to keep me tossing and turning in bed. The clinic started seeing patients at 6am and I was planning to be the first person there when the doors opened.

As the night dragged on, I felt steadily-intensifying pressure on the affected area. It got bad. I scratched through my pajamas and felt small pops under my fingernails. When I pulled my hand away, my fingers were wet. I gagged. Off to the shower I went.

Because I like you guys, I’m not going to be as graphic as I could be. However, I can assure you this will be extraordinarily unpleasant to read. Before I jumped in the shower, I used my phone to take a quick picture of my perineal area. No, I won’t share it with you. But my God, I wish I hadn’t seen it. The small whiteheads in the area had clustered into a few very large ones. They bulged out of the skin almost half an inch and I knew right away that they were the cause of the pressure I was feeling.

I deleted the picture, got in the shower, and squeezed the biggest one as hard as I could. Its contents splattered on the floor of the bathtub like a pasty spitball. I watched as the water washed away the gooey parts. I bent down to look at what remained, screamed at the top of my lungs, threw on my clothes, and drove myself to the hospital.

Don’t worry, I’m going to be fine. I got to speak to a lot of specialists, though; lots of smart doctors whose curiosity was obvious. They kept me there for a few hours and cleaned up my crotch and armpits pretty thoroughly. Then I was discharged with a bunch of medications and tasked to share a bit of hard-learned advice. So here it is!

Always make sure the skin you’re about to remove hair from is clean. Be mindful of the sharpness of your razor when shaving, and if waxing, do your best to avoid any chemicals you might be sensitive to. Stay away from depilatory products that haven’t been evaluated by the FDA. This includes, but is not limited to, creams, lasers, and waxes.

Further, homemade depilatory products are discouraged. That was my mistake. Well, one of two. No one should ever, ever use flypaper for hair removal, especially flypaper that’s not right out of the box. This is because no matter how clean it looks or how meticulously you picked the flies out of their sticky confines, they may leave pieces behind. In my case, those pieces were eggs.

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Assisted Suicide

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He’d wait until everyone was asleep before starting. I’d lie still and feign unconsciousness, but his voice would persist, weakly howling in terrible desperation, as he pleaded with me. Begged me. Implored me to help him take his life.

In the garish brightness of daylight, I’d talk to my loved ones about our sleepless nights. The pity on their faces was obvious; so too was the resigned helplessness. They knew there was nothing they could do. All the suffering had to be endured by him, and, by association, me. I was his confidant; the only other person he felt comfortable speaking to. Sobbing to. Screaming to.

There was no mistaking the effects the stress had wrought on me. I’d gained weight; I’d gone on disability; I’d grown depressed. Our doctors knew he had problems. They knew something – that was the word they used: something – was wrong with him. They just couldn’t pinpoint what it was. That meant they couldn’t do anything.

Last night, we reached a breaking point. For hours, he screamed with impossible, earsplitting power. He regaled me with detailed descriptions about the pain he was enduring. Pain that my inaction was forcing upon him. The screams grew quiet as his energy evaporated. Just like every other night. But rather than sobbing pathetically and begging, his tone grew sinister. His words became violent.

“I’ll kill you,” he whispered. “I’ll tear you in half.”

My breath caught in my throat. He’d never said anything like that to me before. All the venomous contents of his words had always been directed toward himself. This was new. Terrifying.

“You’re going to bleed to death,” he informed me around a series of wracking sobs. “Do you know how you’ll feel knowing you could’ve ended this but didn’t? Knowing you left the girls alone?”

The mention of the twins caused me to jump out of bed with rage and indignation. He knew what he was doing. He’d finally figured out what it would take for me to acquiesce. The thought of Dominique and Shonda in foster care because of his hatefulness and my cowardice was too much to bear. Too much for any mother to bear.

I started to cry while making the preparations I’d dreaded since the first night he began begging me to take his life. I didn’t say a word to him as I got ready. Every so often, he’d call out and ask what I was doing. I didn’t reply. He was too weak to scream. Too exhausted. All he spoke were pathetic words and phrases like, “please…” and, “it hurts so much.” Words I’d heard over and over and over, but with them now was a sinister element of “or else.”

I knew if I did what he wanted, I could be thrown in jail. The twins would be without their mom, just like he’d threatened. But this way, at least I’d be alive. Also, if I was careful, I could get my close friends to help me hide his body. They’d all but said they would in the past – in the darkest moments when I sought their comfort after months of restless nights.

By the time everything was set up, he’d realized what was happening. He’d won. I felt sick. Part of me knew I was doing the right thing – that the suffering he’d endured was too much for anyone to have to experience. But another part – a larger part – was doing it for another reason. I wanted him dead. I wanted him out of my life and out of my daughter’s lives and out of the periphery of my friends and extended family. I wanted my autonomy back.

We went into the bathroom where everything could be scrubbed clean. Some time later, our eight months of sleepless agony were over. The screaming had stopped. The pleading had stopped. The agony had stopped. Nothing remained but me and his corpse and the blood. Blood in the tub. Blood on my hands. Blood on my thighs. Blood on the coat hanger.

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The Bleakness Before Our Old Eyes

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For decades, my sweetheart stared straight ahead. Before him, always, stood an expanse. Even if his eyes weren’t weak, he would have stared through the hopeless blankness of the cosmos across innumerable light years, past dying stars and decaying time, and have his gaze forever land on the back of his own head. Staring outward brought him nothing. Brought us nothing. Brought the world nothing. Billions of pairs of eyes staring at the back of the heads which imprisoned them.

Last night, The Universe slipped Her tongues inside my sweetheart, turned his eyes around, and allowed him to see the beauty hidden inside himself. His screams of pain and indignation turned to gasps of ecstatic transcendence. He became the first man in the history of men to see who he truly was. Who we truly are. Who we can truly be.

My sweetheart regaled me with stories about the man I thought I knew. Sounds passed through his lips and suffused my skull; syllables and sentences and syntax and semantics; introspection that would have been impossible before Her intervention. Her gift. The Universe continued Her manipulations as he spoke. My sweetheart’s eyes drooled their assent and he enthralled me with his enthusiastic tales.

His descriptors grew complex and the words became punctuated by, then gradually incorporated into, thick, harmonic buzzing. It was obvious he’d reached a point in his discussion that was beyond my capacity to understand. The blood vessels traversing his inward-turned eyes throbbed and their optic nerves trembled. I imagined the sights he must be seeing, despite knowing, with a feeling of ever-increasing futility, that even my wildest, wide-eyed fantasy, if extrapolated to its fullest extent, would still terminate at the back of my head.

As if sensing my dejection, my sweetheart caressed my belly. His touch was no longer familiar. In Her wisdom, The Universe had reshaped my sweetheart’s hand and arm. Long and segmented and annelidic with soft, rubbery protuberances, I gasped with alarm as its bulbous tip split and revealed a sharp, chitinous tip. The rubbery bits began to vibrate and I felt my bones humming in tune. I stared in horror as the keen end slid from the bulb and entered my abdomen. Expecting an onslaught of agony, I screamed.

There was no pain. I should have known my sweetheart would never, ever hurt me.

I felt a system of roots spreading throughout the interior of my body. Rising higher, the system grew up my neck and into my head, feeling like ten thousand tongues tickling the inside of my face. A flicker of blurriness in my right eye confirmed my assumption and unspoken prayer: my sweetheart would share with me the gift The Universe had given him.

An intense sensation of suction and a loss of depth perception caused me to swoon forward, but my sweetheart’s grip on my body ensured I remained upright. My ears itched almost unbearably and I heard crackling and stretching sounds as the little roots reconfigured and augmented my anatomy. Moments later, I understood my sweetheart’s words. I understood my sweetheart’s buzzing. My right eye, its pupil devouring the iris as it glared inside the mind which fed it, fixed itself on the sights inside while my visual cortex struggled to correlate the images of the outside word and the multiverse within me.

My sweetheart buzzed, and I found myself buzzing back. We effortlessly shared ideas and concepts and experiences in cascades of autoharmonic exchanges; his perspective of solipsistic mind-gazing melding with my half-world, half-mind dichotomy to create something new. Something blissful.

The Universe, in Her endless beneficence and gentle guidance, has directed us to bring the world into our new relationship. This account of our transformation is designed to serve as an invitation.

See us. Look upon the newness of flesh qua flesh, mind qua mind. Know you no longer need to be content with staring into space – into blankness – with no hope of seeing the richness of existence. We are here to bring hope. If these words seem insignificant, see us. If these words seem ineffectual, see us.

We, for the first time, have seen us. Us as individuals – now us as one. The bleakness before our old eyes was an outward-facing abyss of loneliness and uncertainty. Now we see everything. We feel everything. And there is so much more to see. So much more to feel.

Please, see us. See us to feel us. See us to feel us to see one another and feel one another. Show us, and yourself, what you look like on the inside. And let the countless tongues of The Universe taste our union.

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My Brother’s Fall

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While stationed in Iraq during operation Desert Storm, my brother, Gerald, was lost for two weeks. Officially, it was claimed he was captured by the Republican Guard and tortured before managing to escape. The condition of his body when he was found helped lend credence to the explanation. Lacerations, broken bones, and all sorts of other physical damage covered him from head to toe.

He never recovered from the experience. He was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps after six months in a military hospital. When he was sent home, he began to display signs of Gulf War Syndrome. Years passed and his wife, Leah, cared for him as he weakened. His cognition, memory, and communication skills evaporated. Before he died last year, the brother I loved had been reduced to a gibbering husk. In his final moments, as Leah and I looked on, we were ready for his suffering end.

Then something happened, causing me to jump and Leah to gasp.

For the first time in eight years, Gerald expressed clear, articulate words:

“I fell in a hole.”

He went on, his voice clear and strong, as Leah and I listened, spellbound.

Gerald had been patrolling the outskirts of a village when the ground beneath him gave way. He fell for a very long time. He landed at an angle, his right leg plunging into soft moss and dirt while his left struck a rock, shattering the femur. He couldn’t believe he wasn’t dead. The pain, he told us, while indescribable, took a backseat to what he saw.

He’d fallen into what he assumed was a cavern. As deep as he was, he expected to be in pitch darkness, but the cavern was anything but. Bioluminescent vines and lichen and fungi covered the walls and stalactite-studded ceiling far above. He heard water flowing somewhere nearby.

Gerald did his best to extricate himself from the moss while trying to avoid losing consciousness from the pain of his broken leg. Some of the glowing vines which adorned the walls were very long and within his reach. He pulled himself up and out, then crawled on his belly down the small hill where he’d landed, onto the main floor of the cavern.

The floor was covered in feathers. Silvery-white and iridescent; they left streaks of dust on everything they touched, like the wings of moths. Gerald was surprised by their scent. It wasn’t unpleasant. Not at all, in fact. It was warm and spicy; entirely uncharacteristic of what one would think of when hundreds, or even thousands, of feet underground.

The dust, despite its enjoyable odor, grew thick and choking as he crawled in the direction of the rushing water. He came across an ancient-looking branch, which he used to haul himself onto his healthy leg. Using the wood as a crutch, he continued to move.

The bioluminescence intensified as the cavern narrowed. The pinkish light was coming from all directions. Gerald realized its source was some kind of mold that blanketed nearly everything in the cavern. The closer he got to the water, the more mold there was.

After walking for a few minutes, small patches of mold began falling from the ceiling like glowing snowflakes. The surreality of the cavern, the mold, and the feathers instilled a feeling of awe in Gerald, which clashed uncomfortably with the overwhelming pain in his leg and the fear that he’d never find his way out.

Not long after, he reached the river. It was slow and shallow but quite wide, stretching easily a quarter-mile across. Mold flakes floated in thick clumps on its surface. No feathers, though. Whatever the river’s source was, the feathers were from elsewhere.

He followed the river for a while. Despite the coolness of the water nearby, the cavern grew warmer. Narrower, too. The wide, tranquil river narrowed into frothing pink rapids. Gerald worried the bank would give way and he’d be plunged into the rushing water.

It did.

He was.

For countless minutes, Gerald was carried by the current and tossed into rocks, further damaging his leg and carving lacerations all over his body. As he struggled, he glimpsed tunnels on either side of him, some too narrow for a man to crawl through, some wide enough to fit a parade of elephants. Many of the wider ones were choked with feathers, which joined him and the glowing mold clots in the turbid water.

A roar filled the air, echoing off the stone walls and ceiling and drowning out the sound of the river. Before he knew what was happening, Gerald was airborne. As he tumbled through the air, he saw the waterfall he’d fallen from. He slammed into the water below and lost consciousness.

Gerald regained his senses some time later on the bank of a wide lake. He was on his back with his broken leg twisted underneath him. Screaming in agony, he didn’t notice the movement nearby. Not until it was on top of him.

Something wrapped around his ankle and hauled him into the air. The lake below him shrank as he was pulled ever higher, over a ledge, and stuffed upside down into a crevice in the ceiling.

At this point, as he told the story, Gerald began to cry. Leah held his head against her chest and did her best to console him, but his sobs were unrelenting. Gasping for breath and leaking tears, he continued to choke out words.

The view below him was no longer one of water and feathers and bioluminescent mold. The view was now one of horror and depravity.

Piles of mutilated bodies lay in writhing heaps on the floor. Some were dead, but most appeared alive. Their open mouths produced no screams, but agony was obvious in their expressions. Their wounds gaped and wept. The majority of the damage was to their backs, but many chests and bellies had been flayed and left to leak their contents onto the flailing victims trapped underneath them.

Gerald did his best to take it all in and think rationally. Craning his head and neck to look over his shoulder, he saw something massive in the distance. Something alive and moving in strange, circular patterns around a stationary central point. There was less light in this part of the cavern than where he’d initially fallen. There was no bioluminescent mold covering the walls and ceiling. Even if there was, it would have been coated with blood and gore. No, the only light around him was from fire.

Innumerable torches stood inside holes bored into the stone floors and walls and ceilings. Flames gouted and flowed within their osseous confines, illuminating the killing floor of violence and torment which stretched all the way to the leviathan far behind him.

The rock in which Gerald’s leg was stuffed cracked. Gerald began to fall, headfirst, toward the pile of bodies a hundred feet below. He knew this was one fall he wouldn’t be able to survive. As he imagined his spine splintering as his head struck the head or face of someone below, his ankle was grabbed again. The force of the grab, combined with the velocity of his fall, snapped his pelvis. The pain was immediate and unendurable. Gerald saw dark stars blooming in his vision. His consciousness waned.

He traveled in a gray fog toward the colossus he’d glimpsed while trapped. Part of him was aware of the thing which held his ankle. It was thin and tentacular; a living vine or organic cord or serpentine whip. Something he couldn’t understand. He was dropped at the floor in front of the huge creature.

Whatever it was, it didn’t have his attention. The fog of his semi-consciousness was burnt away by the sight of incredibly-bright white light. It was light unlike anything he’d ever seen; the radiance should have been blinding, but it caused no pain at all. It didn’t etch auras into his retinas like when he’d glimpsed at the sun, despite being thousands of times brighter. It didn’t travel, either – it was confined to one particular area. It produced no blazing heat or discomfort whatsoever. Only calming warmth. He felt overwhelming serenity as he locked his eyes on the man-sized light source.

The serene calm was punctured as tens of the organic tendrils erupted from somewhere above and raped their way into the brilliance. Gerald experienced a sense of hideous, disembodied violation, as if he were watching the assault of a loved one while feeling every moment of their pain and indignity with his own body. He cringed and retched, tears filling his eyes, as he watched the tendrils pull a man from somewhere inside the light source.

The spicy, warm smell from earlier in the day filled Gerald’s nostrils. The man from the light struggled against the grasp of the tendrils, his nude, muscular body completely helpless against their strength. As the man was pulled into the room with Gerald and the tendrils, Gerald gasped.

The man’s back was home to a pair of enormous wings. They flapped and sent violent currents of wind across the floor, blowing dust in all directions. While the man struggled, more tendrils came down from the ceiling. With practiced meticulousness, they uprooted the appendages from the man’s back. The sound of heavy shrubbery being torn from the ground filled the air. The man’s face contorted into a shriek of abject, torturous agony, but he made no sound. The only noise was the nauseating tearing as the man was disfigured.

Feathers broke from the wings and floated to the ground. With one final tug, the wings were separated from his body. Their stumps leaked dark blood which puddled on the dirt floor, contrasting obscenely against the magnificence of the white light just feet away.

The man stopped struggling against the tendrils. He slumped, his muscles relaxed, and stared at the ground in front of him. A series of much thinner tendrils descended and plucked all the feathers from the wings and shuttled them away, leaving the bleeding amputations in the dirt. Another tendril whipped downward at a blinding speed, striking the man’s abdomen and splitting the flesh. His intestines bulged from the wound and the tendrils holding him pulled him through the air toward the countless other bodies I’d been perched above moments before.

Leah and I watched Gerald with horrified amazement as he recalled these events. We had no idea if he was telling the truth or if it was all just a manifestation of the illness which was about to take him from us.

The three of us wept while Gerald looked around, as if trying to determine whether or not we believed him. I felt like I needed to say something, so I asked, “what happened next? How did you get out?” Leah nodded, encouraging him to go on.

Gerald’s voice dropped to a whisper.

Disoriented and in immense pain, Gerald tried to look around. The room was too big. He couldn’t get a good idea of what he was seeing or where he was, but he knew he was right in front of the creature he’d seen. He tried to struggle to his feet, but the injury to his hip and leg was too great. The fractured bones ground against one another and he screamed so hard he felt his lungs might burst.

He was grabbed again. This time, by his shoulders. Two tendrils hauled him up and up and up. He saw the thing in front of him. The colossus. The leviathan. The serpent. The head of an impossibly large snake bulged at the apex of a body of thick trunks. Each trunk had bifurcated into a series of thinner trunks. Each thinner trunk had bifurcated into a series of tendrils. Each series of tendrils had bifurcated into more, thinner tendrils. And so on.

The thick, spicy odor filled the area again. He knew it meant more wings were being destroyed. The snake stared at him, it’s yellow eye full of hideous intelligence and unknowable age. They gazed at one another, and Gerald heard words in his head. Words that were not spoken to him, but thought at him:

“Tell everyone what you saw. Tell everyone what I am. Let them know I’ll be coming soon.”

The next thing Gerald knew, he was on his back, staring at the unforgiving sun of the Iraqi desert. He was found by locals hours later.

Gerald’s whispering tapered off and he closed his eyes. I was terrified he’d passed away. Leah shook him and said his name a few times, panic rising in her voice. Gerald’s eyes opened. His lips parted.

“The serpent,” Gerald whispered.” He coughed and stared at the ceiling, a tear trickling from the corner of his eye.

“…was wrapped around a tree. The tree was filled with apples. Millions upon millions of them.”

Leah clutched his hand and I held his shoulder.

“I watched as tiny snakes crawled into the ripest ones. Pieces of him. Then the apples disappeared. They went into a hole in the air. And I could see what was on the other side of the holes. Orchards. Trees all over the world. His apples are filling them.”

His eyes fluttered closed and he breathed the last words we’d ever hear him speak.

“We’ve been eating them for millennia. He’s inside us all.”

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Update on the blog migration.

I’m working out how to best keep links functioning between WordPress and Tumblr without having to force users into going back and forth more than once. There’s just a LOT of content that needs to be transferred and SO MANY links to be changed. It’ll probably be a month before it’s done, and that’s not including the new design. Bear with me 🙂

For Lena and Clair

After the earthquake, we were trapped. We assumed rescue efforts were underway, but it’d been three weeks. No one came. There was more than enough for us to drink, thanks to a burst pipe that trickled clean water through the ceiling. But that just meant we were dying more slowly. Starvation seemed imminent.

Liz thought all the other floors of the hotel had to be right on top of us. All 60 of them. How the two of us managed to avoid being crushed seemed like a miracle. Well, at first it did. As the days dragged on, and we came to the gradual realization we might not get rescued, the miracle soured. After two weeks, it was more like a curse.

We couldn’t give up, though. I constantly coaxed Liz down from hysterics which, during their worst periods, had her threatening to slam her throat onto a jagged piece of rebar. Talking about Lena and Clair helped. If we were going to get out of this, they’d need their mom. They’d need both of us.

Talk was cheap, though. No matter how much we held one another and cried, praying that the catharsis would diminish our agony, our stomachs growled. After the first week, I’d started to grow dizzy. Had I not been sitting, I know I would have passed out. But we both sat and maintained an atrocious lucidity about where we were, what was happening, and how the likelihood of our escape was dwindling.

A few times, off in a distance blocked by hundreds of feet of concrete and steel debris, we heard the sounds of rescue equipment. Saws, bulldozers, all that. Not one voice, though. That’s how far inside we were. The day it happened, we’d been getting on the elevator, which was in the center of the hotel. Once the quake started, it just shuddered and began to fall. Somehow, as the building swayed, the plunge of the elevator car was arrested by the angle of the shaft. We still came down very, very hard, but had it not been for that slight angle, no one would have survived.

Since a couple days after the earthquake, the air had been growing ripe with the odor of putrefaction. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how many people were dead in the rubble. The hotel seemed packed to the gills that day. I’ll admit, I was jealous of those who were crushed and died instantly. I know Liz was, too.

Toward the end of the third week, our desperation had reached its peak. All Liz talked about was how she’d abandoned the kids at home. She called herself a failure, even though she knew this whole, terrible thing was out of her control. It was only then that I broached the subject of Kevin.

I flicked my lighter, illuminating the carcass of our eldest son, who stood like a twisted, decaying scarecrow on the other side of the elevator. He’d been impaled and crushed when debris fell on top of the car after we hit bottom. I crawled over to his body and told Liz to close her eyes. I bit, spit into my palm, and moved back over to my wife.

“Keep your eyes closed,” I instructed, “and think about getting home to Clair and Lena.” In the dark of the elevator car, her sobs quieted as she chewed. I went back and got her more, as well as some for myself. The moment I heard her swallow the last piece, the rubble above us started to move. I was ready for the cave-in. Almost happy for it. Seconds later, we were blinded by a flashlight.

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Something horrible is happening to me on Pokemon Go.

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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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