The Patreon campaign is live now and I have posted a free short story there. The story, Gnaw, was the beginning of all things Antitopia. I encourage you to head over and read it, and to consider becoming a patron.
Below is a short story I wrote last week utilizing the method I mentioned in last week's post. I was staring at the blank page, unsure what to write. I took a big gulp of my coffee and choked on it. The scent of coffee is associated with many memories, but the olfactory sense combined with the flush of liquid heat in your sinuses is a union of displeasure I have locked to one specific series of events in my life. Nothing So Bad as the Cure began with that one word; Coffee.
For your reading pleasure...
Nothing So Bad as the Cure
by M. Holcombe (2019)
Coffee never saved me. I had hope the dark brown liquid would fix what ailed me. Like all things hoped for, it drowned me instead. An accidental inhalation of exhaustion’s eliminator transformed my supposed savior into a weapon. A million stars danced before my eyes: my vision filled with electric purple-white.
I felt nothing for an eon. Vague echoes of off-time words and wails filled my consciousness. My body tingled like the static on an old television. Whatever the chemical soup was they were pumping through me these months, it made me weak. The disease tried to kill me, the doctors too, but my end was to come from trying to talk and drink at the same time.
Oxygen makes you cold when forced. The white fades and the world returns surrounded by auras of chaos and spectrum. The faces around you take on alien proportions. Around your eyes the universe stretches and bends. I want a blanket and a nap.
Who was I talking to?
The tumor’s tendrils had wrapped around my spine. It not only tried to choke me, it tried to incapacitate me. I had become a never-ending cycle of tubes, injections, and vomit. The tubes pumped the soup through my system. The soup attacked all the rapidly reproducing cells. This meant no new neural pathways could form. My brain short-circuited often.
Today was mean nurse day. She wasn’t mean so much as blunt, but she hinted often that her patients were burdensome. She laughed at me as she shoveled me back into the bed. I felt the rough knit and familiar pink blanket press down on my thinned body as she tucked me in. She mumbled something, and I faded into the warm black of sleep.
Chemo-dreams are always off. I dreamed a world filled with slanted static. It reminded me of wheat fields on a windy day and smelled of old pennies. A woman I used to know spoke only in hisses as she drove a car through the chaos. I dubbed the place “The Chaff” upon waking.
The phlebotomist woke me to drain more blood. She walked the line between symbiote and parasite: I knew she served a purpose, but no one ever told me what it was. She survived by sucking my blood and delivering it to some lab. This time she hit something weird and blood spewed from my arm. She didn’t even notice until I said something. One has to admire the clinical indifference of mosquitoes.
Several hours and a million episodes of some “cops and lawyers” show later, the nice nurse comes in. I’m still covered in blood but she shows nothing. I gave her the whole story about the resident leech. She told me they were cutting me loose in the morning and grabbed a washcloth to clean my arms and face. She called in housekeeping to swap out the bloody sheets and gave me a clean gown.
The lady from housekeeping shrieked when she came in and ran back to the nurses’ station. I was pulling out my eyelashes. The nurse ran in and asked me what was wrong. I showed her the lashes, and she giggled. We shouldn’t do that in front of the normal folks. I wanted them to stop falling out into my eyes. Housekeeping sent up a different person to complete the task. He was funny, at least.
Hospitals don’t let you sleep. The night before you leave is the worst. They have to check and double check they didn’t miss something. Every hour someone comes in to check something new. When the sun comes up, I stare out the window and watch the complex grow bright from the shadow plane. My friends arrive and fill me in on what I’ve missed at home. The nurse shuttles me to the front in a wheelchair and gives me all the same instructions she always gives. In two weeks I’ll go get the shot I always get. I’ll come in if I get a fever. I’ll rest. Promise.
The first thing we do is get hash browns and coffee at a crappy southern diner that does everything right. The faces are familiar and foreign. I am aware they are my friends, but their humanity escapes me. I’m a stranger in my skin and in their company. The cup rises to my face and take a sip of the stiff, brown liquid. Words try to come, but coffee has other ideas.
The scent of old pennies and burned dirt wafts from the cup. A million tiny stars dance across their faces. The world fills with bright purple-white. Coffee never saved me.