For days I drifted in a sea of delirium. My dreams were queer, silent-picture affairs: abstract shapes blooming in fits of color; my deceased brother trying to speak to me, only before he could talk, his jaw broke off and floated away; children eating away at my flesh while I sang a silent tune.
It was the fever, I think, that did it to me. Asleep, my dreams were nightmarish, but awake….awake, the nightmare was alive and well and real.
When I was reeled back into consciousness, a tall, slim man stood beside my hospital bed. I recalled enough to assume that anyone who entered my room would be all done up in masks and suits and whatnot, but here this fellow with a long, lopsided grin stood, dressed in plain clothes.
Hello, Starla. His teeth gleamed at me.
I was very weak, so I just blinked at him, fearing that any move I made would cause great pain. Pain was definitely present, but instead of being localized, my whole body throbbed.
How are you feeling, Starla? Tell me, tell me, dear; I am on pins and needles.
A chill zipped through me, and I shuddered. His brown eyes widened in…was that excitement? Anticipation? I opened my mouth and realized I was wearing an oxygen mask. He threw his head back and cackled.
That bad, huh? Oh, dear, it is more than I hoped for. I feel so indebted to you, Starla. You are an incredible woman, to have made it this long.
Desperation electrocuted me into motion; I lifted my arm and shoved the mask halfway off of my face.
Fever….is it gone? I croaked.
He shook his head “no” and clasped his hands over his mouth. When he removed them, his lips were stretched so far across his face that he looked like a mutant.
No way, Jose. It surely is not gone, dear. Maybe you’ll pull through this after all, though.
I’m….still very sick? My voice was hoarse and raspy.
Yes, it’s a nasty little bug. So interesting and awe-inspiring.
I tried to lick my cracked lips, but couldn’t summon any saliva.
H-how did…. I couldn’t produce anymore words.
He clapped his hands together so suddenly that I flinched.
How did you get it? I am such a fool–of course you’d be wanting to know how you contracted it! He smacked a hand against his forehead and stomped a foot.
A tear glided over my lower eyelid and down my flushed cheek. He leaned over me and wiped it off with his index finger.
You visited the ER for a broken rib. While you slept, I sneaked into your room and injected you with a loaded syringe and–YAHTZEE–you became very ill!
He chuckled and howled. When his noise-vomit tapered off, he became very stern, all business.
Don’t fret, dear–you’re in good hands. I’m your doctor, after all. He tapped the I.D. card hanging from his shirt and winked.
On the inside, I released a scream.