Thursday, July 21, 2011

Friday Flash: The Darkness That Grows Within

The Darkness That Grows Within

or, Even Hypochondriacs Get Sick

or, It Isn't Just Depression

"You're just depressed."

"I am a little depressed, but it isn't just that."

"It makes sense," Don continued, ineffectually trying to slice through an apple with a plastic knife. "You spent a relaxing week backpacking through Vancouver, and now you're back at work. On a Monday. And it's raining. How was Vancouver, by the way?"

Arnold sighed. "Gorgeous."

"See?!" Don exclaimed. "As soon as you started thinking about your vacation, you smiled. Your face lit up. You weren't so depressed anymore. That's all it is: You're just sad to be back at work."

"It has been hard to get back into the swing of things. I can't get motivated to do anything at my desk," said Arnold, staring into his cup of warm soup as he stirred the spoon around and around. "But it isn't just that."

Don had given up trying to slice his apple and was spreading peanut butter directly on the apple's bright red — and now mangled — skin.

"I wasn't speaking metaphorically before," Arnold continued. "I really feel like there's something . . . black . . . inside me." He spread his fingers out on his chest. "And it's growing."

"Black," said Don through a mouth full of peanut butter and apple.

"I don't know how else to describe it. It's just . . . black. And growing."

"And it started before work this morning, right?"

"No. I first felt it Friday morning, the day after we got back. It only felt like a little, I don't know, annoyance then. Like the feeling that you've caught a cold but haven't really started feeling sick yet." He returned to staring into and stirring his soup, which seemed now the most unappetizing thing in the world. "By Saturday afternoon, I thought maybe I really did catch a cold, but I still wasn't showing any real symptoms."

"So you think you caught something on your last day of vacation, eh? Just in time for you to call in sick and put off coming back to work?" Don took another crunching bite of apple.

"I'm here aren't I?! I didn't call in sick!" Arnold let go of the spoon and pushed the bowl away. "Besides, I still don't have any symptoms. I'm not coughing or sneezing. No fever. I'm not bleeding out my ass or anything."

"Are you sure? Have you checked?" Don asked, grinning sarcastically.

Arnold rolled his eyes and gave Don the finger. "I just feel . . . I don't know . . . like there's something . . ."

"I know, 'something black inside of you that's growing'." Don rolled his eyes. "You're just depressed."

Through gritted teeth, Arnold growled, "It isn't just depr—"

With a sound like a sledgehammer smashing a watermelon, Arnold's chest exploded. Bone, blood, and flesh covered the table, mixed with the soup, and splattered the jar of peanut butter, Don's surprised face, the walls, and the floor of the nearly empty employee cafeteria. Arnold's body arched backward over his chair, his torn shirt absorbing the warm fluids that oozed from his open, mangled, empty chest.

On the table, a creature the size of a coffee mug shook itself clean, sending fresh drops of blood, bits of bone, and globs of Arnold's lungs around the room and causing its inscrutably black hair to bristle. One impossibly large yellow eye opened and stared up at Don, who, frozen in shock and surprise, still held his blood-and-peanut-butter-covered apple to his open mouth.

The creature's lips parted, revealing two rows of tiny, sharp teeth. "It isn't just depression," the thing said in a high, gravelly voice.

Don finally found the voice to scream, but the black thing that had grown inside Arnold didn't allow him to scream for long.