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scott stambach

New Fiction


by Scott Stambach

                                                                                                ~Day 1~

      He awoke on the third day of an irrelevant month to an unforgettable burning sensation on his chest. It was a typical morning, sunlight streaming in vicious rays from the cracks in the swaths of cloth and brittle tape spilling over his windows. He slowly shuffled out of bed, down the hallway and into the bathroom where he stood in front of the vanity mirror to examine the area from where the pain was coming. He saw an unalarming red splotch just above his left areola. It was the size of a quarter, only not circular; it was distorted, and jagged, but the shape subtly reminded him of lips. He felt electricity pulsate from the center in deep canals, like spider legs, and when he closed his eyes he saw green fire. You are my little treasure, was his first thought.
      Crimson. That was the color. Pure crimson. Darker than any rash he had ever known. This can’t be a rash, was his second thought. But if not a rash then what. The possibilities were limitless so he decided it wasn’t worth contemplating. He left his apartment and drove to a job that most parts of his brain told him he should love. On this particular day, he ran statistical models while the pain from the skin on his left breast teased and taunted him. Several times he walked to the bathroom and lifted his shirt, and every time he saw the crimson becoming firmer and more vivacious. Audacious, was his third thought. This is going to pass, was his fourth thought. He went back to work.
      He arrived at the door of his home at an irrelevant hour after the sun had gone down. The door opened with an innocuous squeal, as the knob drifted away and collided with the wall. The gentle fire on his chest had not gone away. Somehow he knew it had spread deeper, possibly flirting through the soft sub-cutaneous tissues. He ran to the bathroom and pulled his shirt off. Just as he expected, it had grown. But it was worse than he imagined. The rash was now a tender sore, concave and moist. He touched it and inspected his finger, which now had an oily glint through which he could see the reflection of the room’s ambient light. He knew he shouldn’t have tasted it, but he couldn’t resist. It tasted like salt and lead. He did not even know what lead tasted like, at least not consciously, but he was certain nevertheless. He thought the sore might need to be dressed, so he took a roll of gauze from his cabinet and dabbed it. It left an orange ornamental design that reminded him of writings that he had recently seen in a book on Mayan cryptology. He pushed the gauze deeply into his sore and ripped himself a piece of medical tape so that he could secure it. The hairs around the sore glistened with the metallic secretions. With precarious feet he shuffled back to bed. Tomorrow this will be over, was his last thought.

                                                                                                ~Day 2~

      When the streaming rays of morning sunlight burrowed through his closed, helpless eyelids, he tried to lift himself out of bed with a laborious pushup. Searing sensations lit up his synapses as he noticed that his bed sheet was stuck to his chest, and the higher he lifted himself, the higher he dragged the sheet. What if I feel this way for the rest of my life, was his first thought. He sat up. The dressing had fallen off and the bed sheet was glued to his sore. He attempted to peel it off. Unbearable pain — pain that seized his face — flowed from his chest to his extremities. When the sheet was finally peeled away, he saw that the glue was made up of purple blood and discolored congealed globs of lymphatic fluid in various stages of clot. The sore itself had doubled in size. It sunk a half-inch into his breast. The tissue was raw. He saw muscular striations. The heat that emanated from it was barely visible. He could feel it radiating onto his cheek as he tilted his head to inspect it. It had a smell. It was the smell of rot, of something already dead. He needed to vomit. He ran to the bathroom, slammed the toilet seat open, and heaved air. Vomiting was always difficult for him. Nothing ever came out right away. Not until several violent contractions properly squeezed the juices from his stomach. Eventually the juices flowed and he filled the bowl with his insides.
      When the vomiting stopped he noticed the sore had broke open and a torrent of blood was gushing from it. He reached for a green towel hanging from the wall, but slipped. He tried to pull himself up using a blend of friction and fingertips. He managed to rise just high enough to pull the towel off the wall and press it against the flooding sore. The towel turned black as it filled with blood. Bloody handprints began to appear on the floor. The world through his eyes was a spinning centrifuge, pressing his back to the wall, with speckled black filling his vision.

                                                                                                ~Day 3~

      He was unconscious for 24 irrelevant hours. When he woke the bleeding had stopped. The floor was clean. He couldn’t see the bloody handprints, which were the last things he could remember. The towel had returned to green.
      He stood up and looked in the mirror. The sore was now 4 inches in diameter and at least 3 inches deep. But it was dry and frozen. He could see the vague outlines of sections of his rib cage. He saw the rhythmic bulging of the tissues surrounding his heart. When he touched it, he felt a surge of fear mixed with an atrocious love. The sensations overwhelmed him and he stopped. The door was open to his right. He exited the bathroom, went to his closet, and dressed himself for work, carefully so as not to aggravate the sore, which was now calm. I should probably see a doctor, was his first thought. I can’t show this to anyone, was his second thought.
      As he started work he realized that thoughts were spinning through his head at astonishing speeds. From this moment on they never stopped. He sensed that he could not possibly be the man he was before the first irrelevant day. At the time he didn’t know it, but by the end of this day he would forget that man entirely.
      The image of the sore pushed itself into his mind frequently, and when it did he could feel the burning in his chest expand. When the thought stayed longer than a few seconds, he could see a burgeoning dark stain, as the discolored puss soaked through. I need to tell them I’ve spilled something, was his third thought. Sometimes it was faint, almost imperceptible enough to ignore it, but more often it was loud and cruel. It demanded his attention, lest he be ripped apart by the emptiness that polluted his chest. But the more he thought about it, the more the tissue dissolved and flowed.
      On the third day it was 11pm and he knew he would not be able to sleep. I can drink myself there, was his fourth thought. So he opened a gorgeous bottle and sipped away at tolerable impulses. He noticed a new burn, more noxious than the others. He looked down and saw the alcohol slowly stream from the raw wound. But he knew that not all of it dripped out of the hole because he could see the lines of the outer world blur, while those of his inner world became dull and transparent. He closed his eyes and became unconscious with the gorgeous bottle in his hand.

                                                                                                ~Day 4~

      11:00 am. I missed work, was his first thought. There is nothing worth moving for, was his second thought. He could not feel anything at all in his chest, but he felt the deepest suffering knowable, an unbearable, unutterable loneliness, surging from a place that was both inside and outside of him. He thoughtlessly, but frantically, left his bed and returned to the vanity where he lifted his shirt to find that he could see the wall behind him straight through a ragged hole in his body. It’s gone too far — I’m over, was his third thought.
      What would they think, was his fourth thought. He couldn’t bear the notion of someone picking up on the hole through the fabric of his shirt. He fled to a drawer in his kitchen and rummaged through it until he found a roll of masking tape. He began tearing away piece after piece, stretching them over the fissure in a series of haphazard criss-crosses. He stretched his arms desperately and did the same to the backside. He stomped to his room, threw open the door to his closet, violently pulled an acceptable shirt from its hanger, slipped his arms down the sleeves, ran back to the mirror, and watched as he buttoned every button. His torso was ordinary. Everything was okay.
      He could not remember his drive to work. The moment he pulled into the parking lot was the first instant he realized he had even left his apartment. A mist, a shuttered spontaneous appellation of drivel, one big giant, endless, sticky, intractable thought. The stairs. They were infinite, but over in a moment. Then the desk, the fearful hellos, the incomplete faces, the nonsense poppycock, the treasure inside the whole. The glistening teeth, and mild hands, and tusks, unending unapproachable tusks. Tongues wagging like fierce and bothered feathers. Why can’t I find myself in anything, was his sixth thought.
      The day fell perfectly silent. But there may have been a siren — a simple, multi-tonic, disphonic siren, just loud enough to make itself known. I know you sweet siren, I know you, was his seventh thought. The siren got louder and so did the burning, which by now was an unimaginable shade of incendiary. There is a limit to how unbearable a sensation can be, a limit beyond which all neurological structures are overloaded, was his eighth thought. And he basked in the crash of every firing axon. Intoxication would not be necessary tonight. This was its own Novocain, sweet, warm susurrus, cascade of rolling, melodic love. Where did my heart go, was his ninth thought. But he was already perfectly seduced, and the warm bath took over so sweetly, so unapologetically. He never minded. He lost consciousness.

                                                                                                ~Day 5~

      This is the day everything will make sense, was his first and last thought. The morning had a warm, moist breath, and behind it a rhythmic heartbeat. The thudding was all that stood out from the perfect stillness. The inside of his body was gone, but he didn’t need a mirror to tell him that. He couldn’t leave his bed, and he knew why. The structure of his body wasn’t sustainable. The hole had grown so large that only the faintest, most irrelevant outline of his body remained. He knew that if there were a mirror on the ceiling he would be able to see the white fabric of his sheets obscured only subtly by the dim corona of flesh and blood. He closed his eyes, which by now were thin wafers of cornea. Set against the black, adorned with distant, diffuse fireworks, he saw distinctly what was left of him. No concern to be had, everything in its right place, the outline continued to thin, fading away to nothing, like the remaining sliver of a setting sun.

A physicist, turned activist, turned educator, turned raconteur. Scott plays with words every night to neutralize his left-brain, which overflows all hours of his mathematical day. When he sleeps, the different personalities throw parties and commingle over cocktails, though the details are always murky in the morning. This cycle has left him with dozens of short stories, several of which have been published in both online and print journals, including Wild Violet, IdeaGems, and Blood Moon Rising.

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