Dan

Epidemiologic

Disclaimer: NSFW, body horror, not mind safe. I recommend maybe you don’t read this one. First in a cycle of horror stories, it does have a point. But right now, this part is just… yeah.

K falls through wispy sheets of pink and purple satin, floating down the side of a monstrously tall skyscraper. The breeze in his face is languorous, slow, and scented like strawberries on a deep path through an old forest. As his winged form passes gracefully down past the panels of waving cloth, K tilts his head and listens carefully to the wind. A scratching sound. No, many tiny scratches all around. Hey, wait, is that the ground? He opens his mouth to scream, and then wakes up.

Jerking back awake to reality, mouth hanging open, K quickly chomps his jaw shut, glancing around to see if anyone noticed him drifting off. Nope. The dude at the desk at the front of the room who handed out the surveys is staring at a screen. And all K’s lovely cohort are hunched over their clipboards, dutifully filling out the questionnaire. Thus the scritching sounds of pens all around. Sometimes. At least once a week. Never. Sometimes. Daily. What a bunch of crap.

Sipping on the bad coffee, K tries to wash the long-lingering taste of unemployment out of his mouth. Wake up, idiot, he thinks. Next time, don’t stay up late drinking whiskey and watching infinite streaming TV the night before you’re about to finally make some decent, easy money. He looks down at the survey in front of him, and his eyes start to glaze over. But better keep filling this damn thing out.

“How many alcoholic beverages do you consume?” Better lie and circle “2-3 a week.” That seems like a normal, healthy number. Or is it just one a week? Who even knows.

“How many sexual partners have you had in the last year?” Zero. Angry circle. Thanks for reminding me, he thinks.

“What medications have you been on in the last year?” What medications haven’t I been on in the last year? None of your damn business.

The coffee’s getting to him. He stands up and sets the clipboard down, before awkwardly grabbing it back up. Don’t need anyone seeing my embarrassing answers, he thinks.

Just as he’s stepping out to find a bathroom, they call his name. “K____ ____?”

K turns, clumsy clipboard in hand, and gives a little wave. “That’s me.” His eyes are suddenly stuck on the speaker. She’s stunning, he thinks.

“Right this way, K____. I’m D_____. I can take your paperwork.” She reaches a hand out, and for some reason he can’t stop staring at the way she holds herself. Her wrist is perfect, like a statue. “I guess that’s why they say ‘statuesque,'” he thinks to himself, stupidly. So elegant.

So of course he almost drops the clipboard as he hands it over. “Hey, uh, sorry. I didn’t quite finish it…”

“Ha! No worries. Most of it is optional. They just have to give you busy work so you’ll feel important.” She flashes him a wink and a smile that seems sincere, and his knees almost buckle. “Follow me.” She turns and misses the starstruck look on his face.

Before, he didn’t care about the damn questions, but now he wishes he could have impressed her with his survey-taking capabilities, or at least a good joke. Too late. And the bladder’s getting worse, compounded with some intestinal groaning. Double damn. As he follows her down the long hallway, he clears his throat. “Umm, excuse me, is there time for me to use a restroom quick?”

“Oh, this’ll only take a few minutes and we’ll get you right back out. Just a formality for the board.”

Forcing a laugh, Kevin nods. “Formality. Okay.” He squeezes his legs together for a second, scratching his cheek with nervous energy, and then unglues himself to follow her.

Opening one of the many nondescript doors, she motions him into a boardroom with a long table. “Sit anywhere you’d like.”

K picks the first chair he sees and sits down, feeling uncomfortable all over. As she walks around the table, he doesn’t notice much of the paraphernalia on it. He’s too busy watching her. He doesn’t see the camera on the little knobbly tripod pointed at him. He doesn’t see the carton of little orange pill bottles. He doesn’t even notice the other person sitting at the end of the table, observing him with a false smile. When D____ sits down, he breathes out finally without realizing.

“Well, alright, Mr. _____. Let’s get this done.” She slides a stack of forms across to him, smiling and nodding, and he shakes himself away from the eye contact. “You just have to initial each page, and then sign the last one. This is the medical responsibility form with the included non-disclosure agreement that we sent you via email.”

K stares down at the forms, shaking his head. “Yeah, yeah. I guess I remember that.” And he begins to scribble his initials on each page, looking up at the beaming woman across from him for encouragement.

She nods, gentle hands steepled together, and he has to stop himself from trying to make an inappropriate joke to break the quiet. Dazed, he’s still unaware of the man in the suit watching carefully.

“Good. Thank you mister… K____, was it? We appreciate your help.” The man nods. K glances at him, surprised. The man nods, gesturing to D___.

She stands up and hands K an orange bottle of pills. “Take one daily, and you come back next week Monday for tests.” She briskly shuttles him out of the room.

“Uhh, okay,” he says, trying to get his brain to catch up. “Got it. Can you point me to a restroom now?”

“Certainly. Just down there and to the left.”

“Thanks.” He wrenches his gaze from hers and starts shuffling down the hall, barely able to contain himself. When he finds the door, he flings himself inside and frantically flails at the lock.

She steps back into the room. “Have we got him on camera?”

“Yes indeed. Prepare for release.” The man in the suit has his chin in his hands, carefully watching the tablet in front of him.

K is filled with relief, sitting on the toilet. He rifles through the pants pockets around his shoes and pulls the pills out. He twists the top off and stares into the bottle, shaking them around. The pills have a blue waxy sheen. Looks like candy.

Meanwhile, in the meeting room, the suit says “Ready?”

D___ checks a display in front of her. “Yes sir.”

“Kind of exciting to finally test it, after all this time, no?” He looks at her with a spreading smile on his lips. “Release it.”

“Ready.” She pushes something. “I’m not sure I uhh… I’m not sure I want to watch this, sir.”

“Squeamish at the last moment? Fine, fine then. Go ahead and prepare for the next subject.” He waves her out, fixated on the video feed of K.

K turns the bottle around and around, relaxed finally. The only text on the label reads “ONCE DAILY.” “Never seen a blank one,” he mumbles out loud. He turns over the cap. Tiny red text says “WARNING.”

And then he jumps with sudden adrenaline at a splash below him in the toilet. Something dark and greenish has whipped out of the piss and water and latched onto his dangling balls.

“FAAAAA–” he screams wordlessly, as the thing, like a finger of animate seaweed, climbs up and around his crotch. It grabs and pinches him with centipede legs like tiny rotting branches as he jumps up and hurls himself against the wall.

K falls over, sliding down the tiles while frantically swatting at his crotch, his pants tangling his legs. “What in the shit?” he gets out. The damn thing is slippery, slimy like a leech, and its little legs are sloughing off as he slaps at it. It braces itself around the tip of his penis, it’s heaving and breathing with him somehow now, “Shitshitshit,” he tries to grab at it, he tries to pry it off, he manages to break off some of its spidery legs, are they growing longer? No, shorter, are they jaws, wait what is it doing, “OH GOD,” the tiny legs are prying open his urethra, NO, whatnogodnofuck–

And it slithers inside him.

The man in the suit watches, emotionless. “Well. Our first host. The experiment has truly begun.”

K stares down in horror, unable to stop shuddering. The little blue pills are scattered all around him. He’d try to write it off as a dream, but the little broken legs are still clutching his skin in various places. Some of them are still moving. He begins to mechanically pluck them off, trying not to think too hard about what just happened.

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