* * * * * DO WHAT YOU LOVE * * * * *
Damn, it was hot. Hotter than a witch's tit, but I was always hot these days. Hotter than most folks, anyway. Time stood still, and I did a lot of reminiscing. Not much else I could do now. I thought back to the day it all started. The day I’d heard the phrase “hotter than a witch’s tit” for the first time. I was in middle school, and it was third period Physical Education class. Me and my pals Fat Jake and Pudge were ditching class and gawking at the girls as they jogged around the track in those tiny P.E. shorts and sweaty see-through dingy t-shirts. We weren’t into things like fitness. More into watching the girls. It was supposed to be good for the constitution—running that is—Ma always said; but I just liked to see the way the girls' breasts bounced up and down when they ran. That was better for the constitution, I thought.
We were sweating our balls off, hiding under the old set of bleachers so rickety and splintery, they’d become a danger to society, when Fat Jake piped up and said it was hotter than a witch's tit under there. We started to laugh but then Mrs. Henry came round the corner and caught us peeping and I jumped up so fast, I banged my head on the underside of the one plank that was rotted through. I looked up when I felt the bench give way. Particles of sawdust and random bug carcasses rained down on my face and into my eyes and I said, “Shit,” and blinked like crazy.
“Jeeze, Jelly,” Pudge said, and we all broke out in a new round of laughter but then remembered Mrs. Henry’s presence when she told us to get to the office and she'd give us something to laugh about. I shut up quick. My tail-end had been introduced to Mr. Paddle one too many times; but I wasn't ready to let go of the “witch’s tit” phrase yet. I decided I’d try it out at the dinner table. See how it went over.
We were that rare family of three, Ma, Pops and me, who still sat down to family dinners at least twice a week. We had to talk about politics and our feelings, and it was always a bore and kinda lame, but I wasn't listening. I was so engrossed in trying to find an opportunity to work the witch tit thing into the conversation, that I actually forgot to eat, which was unusual. I didn’t get my nickname, Jelly, by starving myself. Ma finally noticed and asked if I felt okay. Spotting my perfect lead-in, I piped up and said, "Gee, Ma. I can't eat when I'm a sweatin'. It's hotter than a witch's tit in here." For that, I got sent to bed without supper, which kinda blew because I was hungry as a bear, but was also kinda okay, because my head ached and I was legitimately sweating bullets.
Later, Ma brought up a sandwich wrapped in a paper towel and even though my stomach was growling, I pretended to be asleep. I had a goose egg where I had smashed my head.
Concerned, she said, "You look like death warmed over, Jelly;" then she laid a hand that felt like ice cubes on my brow and yelped and jerked it back, her fingers already red and blistered.
After the touch, quick as lightning, the blistering worked its way up her hand and arm and the skin started to melt and drip like wax from a candle. I hollered for Pops, and he bolted up the stairs just before it reached her eyes. They bulged and turned red as a garden beet before they started to leak a tea-brown liquid. Pops thought fast, and running to the bathroom, he ripped the shower curtain off the rod and wrapped it around her oozing body. I helped him get her down the stairs out to the garage where he laid her in the backseat of the station wagon and sped outta there like the Devil was on his tail. By the time he reached the county hospital, she was a pulsating pile of lumpy goo, only held together by the vinyl curtain. County took one look and freaked out. They called the sheriff who called the FBI who called the CDC who showed up almost immediately in white spacesuits with Haz-mat gear and roped off a one-mile perimeter around our dusty town. It was uncanny how quickly they responded.
I was still nursing my aching head when they showed up at the house to haul me off, for my own safety, they’d said. But really, they threw me into a makeshift isolation chamber constructed out of some type of windowless steel. I was strapped to a gurney as nameless, faceless, guys in spacesuits silently poked and prodded and tested my blood, but other than having a temperature ten degrees above normal (which by all accounts should have killed me), I seemed healthy as a horse. The goose egg on my head had vanished and the allergic reaction my eyes had experienced after the rain of sawdust and dead bugs, had all but disappeared. The fever was a mystery. Did it start with the bump to my head? The spacesuits tried everything to break it. Plunging me into ice baths only to have the ice sizzle and melt. An I.V. bag was filled with a laundry list of drugs running into my veins, but nothing brought down the raging fever.
The spacesuits continued to try to figure out if and why a touch to my forehead could cause a perfectly healthy forty-year-old woman to turn into a mass of quivering goo. They tested my blood and tested the goo—that was Ma—and waited for any results that would provide a clue as to what had occurred. It was possible that it was just a freaky thing that maybe didn’t even have anything to do with me. They’d torn our home apart looking for tainted household cleaners. Just anything else. The spacesuits even weeble-wobbled to the football field and took samples of the dead bugs, sawdust and debris underneath the old set of bleachers—the crap that had rained down into my eyeballs—and sent it off to a specialty lab for testing, then they did the only thing they could. They waited as they watched the town…and me. They didn’t have to wait long. Once it started, it took off with a vengeance. Pops was next. Then Fat Jake and Pudge. Then Fat Jake and Pudge’s families.
Finally, as the bodies (now stinking blobs) piled up, the controlled burns started as one-by-one, the entire population of the town turned into pulsating gobs of goo. It was rumored that the gobs shrieked in terror as the flames engulfed and liquefied goo that began to thrum and turn into nasty septic puddles leaching deep into the soil. Once the spacesuits began to succumb, news of The Fever was leaked to the media and the world collectively held its breath and waited for it to migrate.
First, the spacesuits quit coming. Then the power went off. I now know what I am. I am The Fever. As I sit in isolation, I am evolving. I don’t know how long it has been. How long I have been here, locked in this quiet darkness. All I know is I have not sensed a living being in years or perhaps decades. Time has no meaning. I no longer require nourishment. Now I lie, pulsating and wondering how it is that a mass of Jelly-goo can still remember two friends, splintery bleachers and a silly joke about a witch’s tit.
Lisa H. Owens
Created for and rejected by "Step into the Fifth Dimension Anthology" (a nod to the Twilight Zone)