“My shoulder’s itchy,” Steph said, and scratched it. We were sitting out on the balcony, having a barbeque and enjoying some drinks.
“Baby, if you’ve got an itch, I’ll scratch it!” I grinned roguishly at her, and took a swig of my beer. I laughed.
“shaaaa-daaaaaahup….” she smiled, all flirty, and hit my arm.
Steph and I had been living together for just over a year. We weren’t married or anything, but neither of our families were particularly religious so it wasn’t like were we ‘living in sin’ either. What’s the neutral, god-awful legal term for it again? Oh right – cohabitating.
We continued to sit out on the balcony and enjoy our drinks – I tried not to think about the fact that it was Sunday night and having more than a few beers was probably something I would pay for tomorrow morning at work with a hangover. She on the other hand, didn’t have class until the afternoon and so would be able to sleep in. Ah well, small sacrifices for small pleasures.
Besides, it really was a beautiful sunset. We laughed and chatted and watched, and when I looked into Steph’s eyes with the sunset off in the distance I thought about how it was just one of those perfect moments and about how much I loved her.
The sun dipped below the horizon and it got darker out so we went back inside.
“Don’t worry about the dishes,” Steph said, smiling. “I’ll do them in the morning.”
“Yer damn right ya will!” I replied in a drawl, and gave her a look. She giggled. “I mean, I love you sweetie.”
“You’re cute, you silly boy,” she pecked me on the forehead. “Let’s go to bed.”
We went to bed, made love, and fell asleep.
In the morning as I collected my hung-over self to head into the office. Steph, naked and still-half asleep, mumbled from under the covers. “I’m still itchy…” I watched the sheet move where she scratched her shoulder beneath it.
I went to work.
“It’s getting worse,” she said, when I came home that evening. We were making dinner. “I think I might have a rash or something.”
“Lemme see,” I pulled her sweater down, revealing her left shoulder and black bra strap. “Hmmm… it’s kinda red but I think that’s just from you scratching it. I can see your claws marks!”
“Shaaaaa-dddddup!” she hit me. She did that a lot. “I’m serious, it really itches a lot.”
I really just wanted her to stop complaining. I loved her to death, but she would get hung up on little things like this, and honestly, sometimes she was a bit of a hypochondriac.
“Okay, well if it doesn’t get any better by tomorrow maybe we should go to the clinic or something,”
It did not get better.
“It’s really really bad now….” she said the next evening. “Awwww it hurts so much.” she scratched and scratched the spot vigorously. scratch scratch scratch
“Stoppit!” I said, and slapped her hand. “You’re just going to make it worse. Come on, let’s going to the clinic then – it’s only 6 and they’re open ’til 10.”
Surprisingly the line at the free clinic wasn’t bad. We were admitted within half an hour and I went into one of the exam rooms with Steph. She sat on the exam table on that disposable paper they drape over it that always weirds me out.
Our doctor came in – he looked very undoctor-y – no white lab coat like on TV, just a wrinkled dress shirt and mom jeans. He fired off a lot of questions. Why are you here? The itch. How long has this been occurring for? About two days. Any history of disorders or skin ailments? No. Pregnant? God no. Any drugs or changes in diet? No. Pets, exposure to animals or wild plants? No. Finally he took a look.
“Yes, it’s quite red and inflamed,” he stated. He was like a robot. “But that’s almost entirely due to all the scratching you’ve been doing.” He continued peering at the red area on Steph’s shoulder.
“I told you!” I blurted out. Steph shushed me. I could see she was really uncomfortable, and trying not to scratch the itch, even now as the doctor examined her.
“Hmmm, well normally I’d attribute a prolonged itch to either a skin condition like a rash, psiorasis or eczema,” he cleared his throat. “or possibly an environmental factor like a food allergy, exposure to poison ivy, or pests like fleas, ticks, or scabies.” He got out his clipboard and scribbled away in doctor scribble. “Given what you’ve told me though, and the absence of any visible surficial symptoms, I’m just going to prescribe a general antipruritic.”
That sounded scary. “What’s that?” Steph pulled her cardigan back on over her tank top.
“Anti-itching medication,” Guh. “Topical corticosteroid, anti-inflammatory. Just apply to the area and the itch should subside. Oh and try not to scratch it too much if you can help it.” He tore off the prescription. “If the itching doesn’t subside within a week come back and we’ll run some tests. Before then though, I’d recommend monitoring the humidity in your home as well as getting it checked for pests.”
The humidity in the apartment was normal. The exterminator couldn’t find any signs of pests. The medication didn’t help, no matter how much, or how often, we smeared it on growing red patch on Steph’s shoulder – the itch would not go away.
I was beginning to become worried.
“It’s getting SO much worse!” I could see tears forming in Steph’s eyes. She assured me she was trying her damnednest not to scratch but I could always see her doing so, and making little whining noises. The other day she had been in tears. “I know it’s crazy,” she cried, “but it feels like the itch is coming from inside. It’s like it’s under my skin.”
scratch scratch scratch – that sound was beginning to burrow its way into my mind. “oooooo… this is so terrrrrrrible…it’s spreading down my back now too… a-huh a-huh a-huh” she sobbed. Her shoulder was raw from the scratching and beginning to bleed. I could see gouges from the sharpness of her fingernails.
“This isn’t right,” I hated to see my baby in pain. “It’s too late now, but let’s go back to the clinic in the morning.” It had only been a few days.
“Ohhhh honey, it hurts…” scratch scratch scratch “maybe we should go to Emergency?”
“I know it hurts baby, but it’s just an itch,” I hugged her and stroked her hair. She continued to scratch at the raw patch beneath her shirt, her arm crossed in front of her, between us. I pecked her on the forehead like she always did to me. “We’ll go back to the clinic in the morning and get this figured out.”
We didn’t go back to the clinic in the morning.
scratch scratch scratch I tried to sleep despite the sound burrowing its way into me and Steph’s incessant tossing and turning. I must have finally managed to doze off, because I was awoken around 3 AM by her leaping out of bed. She was in hysterics.
She ran out to the kitchen, screaming and sobbing and scratching. Still half in a daze I got up and followed her. She was running around the island scratch scratch scratch sobbing scratch scratch scratch blood spilling from the raw wound on her shoulder scratch scratch scratch her face all hot tears.
“Steph! Steph! Steph! Stoppit! Get a hold of yourself!” I grabbed her by the arms and stopped her forcefully in front of the sink. She broke down into tears.
“It hurts! OHHHH it hurts! OHHHHH its trying to get out!!! AHHHHH!” scratch scratch scratch the itch. More blood, on her fingers.
“Steph! Fuck, get a hold of yourself!”
And then I saw it. As she turned away and scratched compulsively at the gaping wound on her shoulder, I saw. It was tiny and black.
“Steph! What the fuck is that?” she froze and her hysterics were suddenly swept away for a moment. It was wriggling.
“OH MY GOD!!! OH MY GOD!! GET IT OUT!!! AHHHHH!” she was a ball of blood and tears and elbows now.
The black tendril got larger, now it looked like a leech on her shoulder. It was writhing. It was a fucking tentacle burrowing its way out of girlfriend’s shoulder.
She screamed and then the tentacle burst out of her. Flesh. Blood. Everywhere. Steph screaming getioutgetitoutgetioutkillitkillitkillitkillitAAAAAAAAA then another, from her abdomen. They were as big around as my arm – writhing, wriggling, flailing – black as ink, thick and wet.
“OH MY GOD KIILL IT KILL IT AHAHUHAHUH”
That’s when things got a bit hazy.
As I grabbed the butcher knife from the block one of the thick black tentacles wrapped itself around my arm and pulled me towards her. I brought the knife down, over and over again – hacking, slicing, stabbing at anything. I heard an unworldly shrieking separate from Steph’s screams and saw black blood mix with all the red.
I brought the knife down over and over again. Over and over again. Until I began to realize that I was on my knees. Until I began to realize that the noise had stopped. Until I gazed upon the bloody heap of flesh, human and otherwise, on the kitchen floor of my apartment.
There was blood everywhere.
Stephanie was dead. It was dead. The image of that bloody pile, hacked to bits, would forever be set deep in my mind, having tunneled its way in through the depths of my perception.
I buried the body in a shallow grave I dug in an abandoned lot outside the city.
I drove home, a zombie lost in the headlights of oncoming traffic. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t feel. I couldn’t comprehend what had just happened – what I had just done.
I stripped off my clothes and fell back onto the bed.
My chest started to itch.