“Another one,” he whispered, half in shock, half in doomed resignation.
John looked at himself in the mirror. Specifically, he stared at his abdomen. A few days earlier he had found a pimple inches from his navel. A pimple—at his age. But, it had not been like the pimples he could remember from thirty years earlier. This one’s head had been hard and brittle—blackish. Disgusting.
Now, to his horror, he had found another. Also near his navel. In fact, almost an equal distance to the left of it that the first one had been to the right. What did such symmetry mean?
And the spots, he thought, running his fingers over his arms—feeling each one of them. The damned, damn spots. Red, purple ... some large, some small, all of them unsightly and horrible. Horrible.
It was bad enough when they had only been on his back, his shoulders and upper arms. But then they’d started to spread. He’d found them in his hairline one day, still mostly out of sight, but threatening to expose themselves to all who saw him—to expose him. How long would it be before they started appearing on his
hands? His face? How long?
I can’t stand this, he thought. Although still staring at the mirror, John no longer saw himself. His eyes had glazed. Instead he saw the way he had looked when he had just graduated from college—twenty and a few years earlier—the distant past.
He had been perfect then. Not model perfect, but perfect like a human being was supposed to be. With smooth skin and a full head of hair. With arms and legs that could work all day, eyes that could read a street sign two blocks away. Not a half dead carcass covered with ... with whatever they were.
John had gone to his doctor. After he’d found the first few spots, he’d showed them to the physician during a routine examination. The doctor dismissed them as nothing, “just merely the first signs of old age, that’s all,” he had said. But John had been suspicious the man was merely putting him off—that he actually didn’t know what the spots were. He wished he had the nerve to question the physician’s authority—drawn from years of practice and a wallful of black-framed degrees—but he could not. Besides, it was only a few spots.
Now, it was not a few spots. It was scores of them. Scores. So many he could not see them all, but he could feel them when he ran his hands over his back. Scores of spots, and pimples. Pimples.
Over the last year he had found pimples everywhere he found the spots. He would break them open, drain them, then scrub them with cleanser and hope. But they came back—over and over—rough, scaly skin filled with blood and pus. Damning him.
What were they, he wondered fearfully. What was happening to him?
At first he had ignored the growing infestations. But now it seemed like there were more every day. More spots, more pimples ... more waggles. That was his name for the strange, minute excess pieces of skin that had started to grow out of him. He had no idea what they could be. They were not like the spots—hard and dark. They were still pink flesh, still moved like skin. But they simply were not ... right.
They were just growths. They were small, easily hidden, but they were not anything John could explain. They looked like tiny fingers growing out of his body. Tiny, boneless, nailless fingers poking out of him.
He had seen so many things on the news and in the papers over the years—viruses that ate a person’s skin away; diseases that blotched the flesh, then killed the host; flies that burrowed under the skin to lay their eggs, leaving their young behind to eat their way to freedom. A hundred countries had poisons that killed and mutilated humans. And the rumors you always heard that the CIA was experimenting with germs and viruses on the public at large. John did not want to be paranoid ... but if there was a normal explanation for what was happening to him, he did not know what it was.
And his wife ... she was no help.
She was older than he was by several months, but she could not grasp what he was worried about. She had tried to understand, to be supportive, but finally, she had snapped, yelling at him,
“For Heaven’s sake, John ... it’s just old age. You’re just getting old!”
Just she had said. Just getting old?
How could she not understand? She was older than him. Couldn’t she feel it? It had to be more important than simple old age. It had to. He was ... he was ...
John could not think of the right word. Everything he tried—special, important, worthy—they sounded so empty, so vain, as if he were ... as if he were not any of them. As if he was just some ordinary mortal.
Turning away from the mirror, from his wife and her shallow understanding, John hugged himself, rocking back and forth, trying not to touch those spots on his arms.
How could his doctor not understand? How could his wife be so blind? How could she not know what it was like for him? Old age? Just old age? Why was he the only one that felt the horror?