Yesterday morning I woke up, and there was a large spongy blob of flesh attached to my arm.
I threw the bulky comforter off the bed and sat up on its edge. I stared down at the bulging patch on my forearm in disgust and disbelief. Where the hell had it come from? It was bulbous and irregular. It was a bubble of swelling flesh, an unnatural, hideous protrusion mocking me and nature. It looked wrong. Looking at it made my insides shift around within me.
With morbid curiosity and fearful trepidation I slowly pressed my index finger down on the top of the fleshy mass. My skin felt like my skin. The muscle beneath felt like my muscle. I pushed and the surface of my flesh bubble dimpled beneath the pressure. I pushed harder but my finger only went so far – it was solid beneath, like my muscle had swelled outward in the night into this deformed lump, and stretched the skin above it. I pushed again. And again. My flesh dimpled again, and again. I was disgusted but simultaneously fascinated; it was like watching a pimple being popped or lancing a giant blister and seeing the fluid drain out.
The protrusion on my arm didn’t appear malignant. It didn’t ache under my touch and didn’t appear to be a blister or wound. Then, a thought jumped into my mind and I panicked – what if it was a tumour? Could you even get cancerous growths on your arm? I didn’t know. And would one arise overnight? Could that even happen? I didn’t know. I was worried now, and so decided to play it safe.
I went to the clinic.
As usual the line at the clinic was long, and sitting in the waiting room was a special kind of discomfort, its own unique purgatory. The dry, stale air lit by too-bright fluorescent lights overhead; the horrible feeling of other people inside of your comfort bubble, and sick ones at that; an old man hacking and coughing too loudly; a bratty little kid in diapers crying and running around while his parents sat idly by – it was all awful.
Finally my number came up and they called my name. I followed the nurse (clad in hospital pants, but oddly also, an H&M t-shirt) back to the examination rooms and sat to wait in the one she indicated, Room #3.
I am a person. I am an individual that matters and that our healthcare system will do the best to fulfill the needs of, and keep healthy and happy. But I was also just the person in examination Room #3. A person with a problem waiting to be fixed, as quickly and cheaply as possible. A piece of meat to put through the factory line.
I stared at the various objects populating of tiny, antiseptic space: the black examination table with that weird tissue paper pulled across it, cylindrical glass containers on the counter full of cotton swabs and tongue depressors, and tacky ancient floral prints on the unsightly turquoise walls.
I sat on the examination table and the tissue paper fluttered beneath me, kicking up a tiny ruckus in complaint. I heard footsteps from down the hall and a doctor entered. She was middle-aged and wore a white lab coat like the doctors do in movies and the dentists do in toothpaste commercials. She entered the room in a hurry, then slowed when she saw me. She leaned against the counter. Her physical manner was relaxed but she asked a lot of questions quickly, and I could tell she was all business, trying to get me the hell out of there as fast as possible. On to the next piece of meat.
She rattled off questions in a rapid interrogation: diet, allergies, exercise, family history.
“So, what is it?” I said, as she continued to examine the fleshy bulge on my arm. “Do I need an MRI? Is it a tumour? Please tell me it’s not a tumour.”
The doctor paused and stared at the ground. She poked the fleshy mass on my arm again with her finger.
“You may,” she said, answering my first question noncommittally, “but I can’t say for sure. I’d like to send you to a specialist first as we’ve been seeing… a lot of people with this lately.”
Something about the way she said the last part wasn’t quite right, and made my insides shift around again.
“What the hell does that mean? Is it viral then, or what? I want to know what this is! Do I need an MRI? Do I need surgery? What?” I started to become agitated and the questions just spilled out. I had raised my voice. When I finished my face was red, half flush with agitation, half with embarrassment at my outburst.
“I can’t say for sure,” she said, again, noncommittal. Controlled. “The Gunny is a specialist. He’ll be able to sort you out.” She walked over to the computer and opened the drawer beneath it. She pulled out a card and handed it to me.
THE GUNNY, M.D. – Specialist
And an address with a suite number. No phone. No email. No name of the practice. No indication as to what kind of specialist. My insides shifted around more.
“So… can I see him today?” I said, despite myself. It was already about 5 PM by then, and I’d wasted the entire day waiting in that stupid clinic.
“You sure can,” the doctor said, sitting down at the computer desk. The keys of the keyboard clacked as she entered in the details of my visit. “It’s 24 hours.”
“A 24 hour clinic?” I pushed myself up from the examination table and hopped down to the floor.
“No,” clack clack clack “he’s 24 hours.”
On the way out of the clinic, I rubbed the fleshy growth on my arm and it warmed. In the waiting room, the old man bent over in his chair again and coughed his phlegmy hacking cough. The sound echoed behind me, as I made my way past the other waiting pieces of meat, to the outside.
By the time I’d headed downtown, grabbed a bite for dinner, and found the building that matched the address it was close to 8 PM. It was dark out, and cold already.
It was completely nondescript office building. The revolving glass door to the high-ceilinged lobby was open despite the late hour at which I arrived. I pushed and with a whoosh the glass spokes of the rotating wheel ushered me in from the cold. The security guard at the front desk didn’t so much as look up at me when I headed over to the brass doors of the elevator bank.
I pushed the button with the little triangle on it and it glowed red.
DING. I entered the mirrored box of the elevator and pushed the button for the 45th. The doors slid shut, encasing me in the tiny rectangular universe. It hummed as it carried me upward and I stared at myself in the glass. I stared into my own eyes and saw in them worry. I stared at the mysterious fleshy mass on my arm, the cause of that worry, and its mysterious fleshy brother in the mirror world next to it.
DING. The doors glided open metallically and I stepped out onto the marble floor of my destination.
It was long corridors carpeted in forest green, bright white lights illuminating the drywall from triangular sconces, and imposing dark brown wooden doors. It looked like part of a fancy apartment building or condo. It did not look like where you would find a doctor’s office at all, unless that doctor happened to work out of his home.
I rounded the corner and followed the numbers down until I found Suite 4502. It was the very last door at the end of the hall. I knocked and the door opened immediately and then stopped, held shut by the chain on the inside. In the gap I saw the face of man, muscular and masculine, staring back at me. His head was shaved. The room behind him was dark.
“Yeah?” he said, making no attempt to hide his hostility. Well, this was not what I had been expecting.
“I’m, um, here to see Dr. Gunny,” I said, stumbling on my words. I pulled the card from jacket pocket and held it out, into the gap in the door.
“Alright,” his hostility softened, but only slightly. “No problem. And it’s not Doctor.” He receded back into the shadows and I heard the metal of the door’s chain scrape as he undid it.
“It’s THE Gunny.” The door opened and I could see now the man wore dark jeans and a tight black t-shirt. He looked like a bouncer at a nightclub. He looked like he could beat the living shit out of me if he wanted to. He stretched out his arm to the open darkness ahead, indicating the way: after you.
I made my way forward. I could see the hall stretched far back and ended in glass doors to a balcony. From around the corner near the end I could see bright light pouring up onto the ceiling and casting dark shadows all around.
There was no closet. There were no pictures on the walls. The corridor was completely black and the walls bare. This was no doctor’s office. This was no one’s home. My mind screamed for me to leave, to run, to get the hell out of there, but the muscular man that had answered the door had also closed it behind us and was following me, forcing me deeper into the room and cutting off my only route of escape.
Having no choice, I proceeded forward into what lay ahead of me. I rounded the corner and the hallway opened into a square room offset from the main entrance. The illumination came from two high-powered construction lights on a stand placed in the back corner. The room was completely bare of anything else save for two men. One was another body-builder type wearing the same nightclub bouncer uniform as the man who’d greeted me at the door. He stood in the back corner opposite that of the lights.
The other sat nearly dead center of the room on a simple folding metal chair. He was clad in a trench coat, and even though he was sitting down, I could see that he was exceedingly tall. The chair on which he sat was enveloped by his lanky form and the cloth of his bulky outer garment. The shadows of the room and the harsh backlighting made it difficult to see his face; it was hidden in the shadows but I could see his head was shaved.
I started to sweat. What the fuck was this? What the hell kind of doctor was that at the clinic who had sent me here? Was I going to be robbed at gunpoint, or worse? I wanted more than anything to run but I was in too deep now, plus that other bald meathead blocked my only way out. I was committed.
The dark man swathed in the shadows had not moved. I could feel him staring back at me from beneath the beams of the construction lights and the darkness they cast onto the side of him facing me. No one was saying anything. I stood there for probably a full minute in absolute silence with the stranger staring at me from within the shadow.
“Um…. hi.” I finally said. My voice sounded infinitely loud. It echoed in the emptiness of the room.
“Hello,” came the voice of the dark stranger, The Gunny. His voice was low, and coarse, and cruel. “What brings you to me?”
“I… I…. went to a clinic. The doctor, she sent me here, sent me here to see you.” Every sentence came out of my mouth a question.
“Why?” said The Gunny.
“Um, my arm, it, I…” I held it out in front of me. The fleshy mass looked bigger now, redder in the strange lighting of the cold room. God, was it pulsating, ever so slightly?
In one slow, terrifying movement, The Gunny rose from his chair. The metal legs scraped against the hardwood of the floor, squealing terribly like nails on a blackboard. He stood, towering above me, his face still hidden in shadows cast from the harsh light behind him. He was the most frightening thing I had ever seen.
“The flesh.” he said.
“Wha… wha… what?”
“The flesh,” he said again, louder. “You have the affliction of the flesh.”
“Yes, my arm,” I said, stuttering. God man, keep it together, don’t panic, I thought. “There’s something wrong with it. The doctor, she sent me here, she said…” I held out my arm further toward him.
“THE FLESH!” he said, raising his voice, yelling now. “THE AFFLICTION OF THE FLESH! YOU ARE CURSED WITH THE AFFLICTION OF THE FLESH!”
He was screaming now. I was fucking horrified. He raised his long arms above his head and waved them as he yelled.
“YOU SHALL SUFFER! YOU WILL DIE! YOU WILL BE ONE OF MY HARBINGERS! THE END OF MAN! THE END OF MAN!”
In a rage he ran to the back corner of the room, lifted the lightstand and threw it toward me. It clattered to the floor, and then everything was awash in brightness and The Gunny’s face was illuminated in the harsh starkness of the floodlamps.
“THE FLESH!” he screamed again. “THE FLESH! HARBRINGER OF THE FALL! THE END OF MAN! THE AFFLICTION OF THE FLESH!!!”
In horror I looked into the face of The Gunny. I could see now his eyes were black pits without white, sunk deep in his skull. His bony face was long and angular and tapered to his pointed chin.
The Gunny’s face was covered in bulging growths like the one on my arm.
He continued to scream, nonsense now, some strange language I didn’t understand. His mouth opened wider and wider with each scream. His jaw detached and slackened. It sunk downward and his mouth opened wider than a human mouth ever could. His eyes grew larger and darker. Their blackness was the depths of the darkest ocean, of the deep cold of space, of my most horrifying nightmares. All the terrors of my childhood and what awaited me after death lived within those eyes.
He screamed and screamed in that vile language and the growths on his face pulsated and began to expand. They inflated outward from his face, like blisters filling with fluid, with pus, with blood. Frozen in fear, I watched as he screamed and the fleshy masses enveloped him, swallowing his head, then his raised arms, then his torso.
I watched the other men run toward him. The fleshy mass of The Gunny grew ever larger and they became trapped in it. It swallowed them, sucking them into the crevices and cavities of its ballooning grotesqueness. I heard their blood-curdling screams as the expanding mass of skin and muscle smothered them.
Finally abject terror spurred me to act, to run. The way out now clear, I turned and bolted for the door. I slammed the hard wood of it behind me and from beneath I heard the dying cries of those other men and the horrible screams of The Gunny. I tore down the hall to the elevator and did not look back.
I didn’t stop running when I reached the lobby. I didn’t stop running when I reached the street. I ran out into the cold uncaring night, my eyes wide and my soul still gripped with terror. I sprinted down the street, beneath the bright lights of the streetlamps, past the dark alleyways and the closed-up storefronts of the downtown.
I ran home and locked the door behind me and pushed a chair under its handle. Still panting, I ran to my room and collapsed into bed and hid under the covers. Eventually, my breathing subsided and my terror faded into exhaustion. I felt drained and I fell asleep. In my feverish dreams I saw the ravenous expanding flesh of The Gunny and heard his horrible cries of THE FLESH THE FLESH and the screams of his two bodyguards as they were swallowed up in it.
When I awoke this morning the sun was bright and spilled in through the long blinds. I looked down to my arm to see that the fleshy mass that had so troubled me yesterday was gone. In disbelief, I pinched and rubbed the spot where it had been. It was gone. My arm was back to normal.
I went to the clinic again this morning, to find the doctor I spoke with. There was a different girl at the counter today, and when I described the doctor she said no one like that worked there. She couldn’t find my paperwork either.
It was as if everything yesterday never happened, as if it were all part of some horrible nightmare. But I know it was real. I know it all really happened. Even though I can’t explain it, nothing will convince me otherwise.
I know the nightmares will keep coming. The Gunny will haunt my dreams, his unnatural towering form beneath that trench coat, his dark angular face hidden in shadow, his horrible cries of THE FLESH echoing in my subconscious and it ballooning to envelope me. I’ll run but be stuck in place, as you are in dreams, and this time, won’t be able to escape.
I can’t logically explain what happened to me. I can’t understand what I was a part of, or what it means. But two things still bother me, two niggling little doubts that cause my insides to shift like they did when I awoke to that growth on my arm. If The Gunny was real, what happened to the other patients the doctor mentioned? And what did he mean by being a harbinger?