I first saw the light when I was 6, when we were gathered around my 98-year-old grandmother’s bed in the nursing home, surrounded by stale air and signs of old age. It appeared above her head and danced ever so slightly back and forth, like a tiny firefly.

“Do you see that?” I asked my kid brother, Jamie. Mother was holding Grandma’s hand. Dad was crying.

“See what?” Jamie said. Then Grandma let out one final sound and left us forever.

That was when I first knew I was special.

I’ve seen the light many times over my life since then, always appearing just before. I saw a dot of illumination right above Tommy Conway in 8th Grade, right before he got hit by a speeding car as we walked home from school. I shouted but I was too late. My parents said it was a miracle I survived.

I saw the light over and over in Afghanistan; above a new kid’s head right before he took a bullet from a sniper, hovering over Lt. Austin’s helmet while he tried to defuse an IED – my right ear still rings with tinnitus from time to time, above countless men on the other side before I watched them shot dead or blown into millions of pieces.

I’ve retired now, after all that happened, gone back into civilian work but a line no less dangerous. Some of it’s easy and safe, and some of it isn’t, but either way it’s never simple.

Brink and I are standing next to my car in an empty parking lot, the meeting point. One lonely streetlight far away casts the only brightness in a sea of black. He’s a little shaky – the men we’re to meet were said to have Cartel ties.

A Hummer pulls into the lot from the other end, loud rap music blaring out of open windows.

“You ready?” I say.

“Yeah,” says Brink.

I look down at my hands, and see they are shaking too – and faintly illuminated in the darkness with a dancing light from above.

Salt II

There was only one thing Kapil hated more than the cold and that was the salt. It ate into the leather of his slip-on dress shoes just like his job he so despised ate into him, slowly draining his soul away, melting it into briny runoff to flow into the gutter.

Crunch, crunch, crunch, went the thick white granules on the sidewalk under him. He felt a burning beneath his feet, a tiny fire licking the bottoms of his shoes. He stopped and lifted one sole, revealing the tiny white cubes clutching to it. He brushed them away with his hand, and the granules stuck to his glove. He watched in horror as they ate through the leather of it, then into his hand below, and screamed as his skin burned away and then the bloody muscle beneath. Kapil looked down and saw his shins being dissolving, melting into steaming piles of liquid red mush, and he screamed.

“Help me!” he yelled, as the salt consumed him.

But no one further down the sidewalk could. A heavy man in a fedora was liquefying into a fatty pile of goop. A woman and her young child clutched each other as they dissolved into the pavement, screaming and crying. A dog yipped and whined as it melted into the salt beneath it, its owner already a fleshy puddle at the end of the leash. People tried to run as their legs were consumed but could not, and they fell crawling to the sidewalk, the burning eating away their flesh down to their bones.

Kapil screamed as his entrails slopped out of his jacket in a steaming mound. A salt truck drove by, the spinning mechanism beneath it scattering grains of the white mineral everywhere.

The Perfect Drug

Tri-vexil-dimethyl-hexocycaline. Trivex. The Perfect Drug.

Like so many inventions, it was an accident, like the serendipitous discovery of matches; so many government scientists working so many late nights in so many labs trying to uncover the newest biological weapon to win the war on terror, only to find that they were high as fucking kites if they inhaled the smallest amount of fumes of one particular compound. Of course it didn’t take long for one of those aspiring chemists to take that recipe home with him, realizing it had far greater potential recreationally than it ever would for the military. And after that it was only a matter of time before the details leaked onto the internet and became public knowledge.

Vex. The Perfect Drug. It sold itself. Try Vex, the dealers starting saying after time. A beautiful high like none you’d ever experienced, no side effects, no bad trips, no addictive potential – and it could be manufactured by all from simple household chemicals and cough syrup. It was a blessing. A gift from God. And it took America by storm. Suddenly the American government began funneling so many of those precious millions of dollars from the military budget over to the DEA, who now had their hands full with this new little nuisance called Vex.

No one’s ever shot it in liquid form, at least not as far as I know. But I’m on the edge. I’m willing to experiment. I’ve had enough with sniffing this shit out of flasks and vaping it. I need something better. Something more.

The needle goes in my arm, and oh God, it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever felt. A million orgasms’ peaks all thrown into one second of absolute celestial bliss. An existential high. I want to die now so I never have to come down.

And then my arm is itching. I look over, and scratch my fingernails against the skin. Oh god, it itches bad. I’m scratching and scratching and then I feel something hard. Then the skin breaks and I see what was beneath the surface breaking through – a human tooth. Now my arm is being torn apart, exploding into hundreds of them; smoker’s teeth, yellowed and covered in plaque, sprouting from my arm by the crease of my elbow and spreading all down my bicep and up toward my shoulder.

With horror I see that my fingers are twitching and writhing, swelling with bloat and growing into turgid tumescence. They are changing into tongues, tangled in long trails of saliva and covered in moist drops of spittle. They are writhing like they’ve been stung with cattle prods and flinging the thick drops of warm liquid everywhere.

I can’t feel my legs but look down to see that they are engulfed in flames. Horrible grey-green flames, burning brighter than the depths of hell and every funeral pyre erasing the horrors of the Holocaust from human memory.

My fingers – those tongues – itch and I feel them peeling apart like the withered skin of ancient dried oranges. They crack and open and myriad of tiny black specks, millions of baby spiders, emerge from the shattered tips and crawl all over my skin. They engulf the toothy forests of my arms and swarm onto over my torso. Up my neck and into my mouth they scurry as I let out a scream that no one will hear.

Trivex is the perfect drug.


Yesterday I awoke
To find my reflection in the mirror

I feared the worst
but no one noticed
not one on the train
nor the drones at work
not even my wife
only I could see

Now each morning
I awake to find myself
the same abomination
or worse

With every lie I tell
each person I hurt
My face grows more horrible

What I fear most now
is not the face in the mirror
but the knowing
that one day I’ll awake
and find
that everyone else
can see it too

Compound Fracture

I’d never broken a bone before.

The pain was excruciating, it was all I could think about. I scarcely noticed the chaos on the soccer field while the paramedics came. I barely realized I was being loaded onto a stretcher and taken away. I didn’t hear the voices calling my name, or even my own screams of agony. I hardly noticed the exposed white of my bone, poking out from my skin and exposing the surrounding muscle. Because all I felt was the unbelievable pain of my shattered limb.

Once at the hospital and the unreal haze of surgery was over – my arm all done up in a cast, my body all done up with morphine – the doctor assured me everything would be fine. But I told him I still felt a strange sensation; an itching, no, more like something writhing, inside me.

“Itching’s normal,” he said. “It’s just a part of having a cast. Best get used to it.”
“No, you don’t understand,” I said. “The feeling’s inside me. Where the bone broke.”
“Yeah, they’ll be all kinds of sensations while you heal up. Wouldn’t worry about it.”

scribble scribble scribble on the chart. Release form. Out the sliding glass doors. Have a nice day.

The sensation is still there, and it grows worse each day. I can feel it inside my body: squirming, crawling, writhing. I can hear it while I fall asleep, scraping away my flesh and bone in the quiet stillness of the dark.

But lately what terrifies me these nights is not the thought of what’s inside my body, but what will happen when it finally gets out.

The Virulent Man

The first clue came when I was a child. All my family, everyone that lived in the house. Sudden, debilitating sickness causing their sudden, untimely deaths. Excruciating pain. Vomiting blood. Violent, explosive hemorrhaging. Red everywhere, on everything. It made the headline in the newspaper: FAMILY SUCCUMBS TO MYSTERIOUS ILLNESS, SINGLE CHILD SURVIVES.

They were the first, but certainly not the last. My uncle, who I went to live with. Children at my school. Teachers. Friends. The CDC was called in; there were fears of an outbreak, a potential epidemic: H1N1 but a thousand times more contagious, ebola but a million times deadlier.

Then suddenly it stopped just as mysteriously as it had started. All the men in hazmat suits left, shaking their heads in confusion. The quarantine was lifted. It stopped because I figured it out. Because I stopped myself coming into human contact with anyone else.

Somehow, I’m immune. No symptoms. No biological signs. But I am also the only source. It waits in me. I am the virulent man. I am a walking plague of biblical proportion. I am disease. I am death. I am the most deadly biological weapon in the history of mankind.

And this is why no one can ever know.

“Your bill,” says the bartender gruffly. The beer was warm and skunky, and he’d been rude to me.

I reach in my jacket pocket and feel the pen there.

“Damn,” I say, “do you have a pen?”

He grabs one from beside a pile of filthy glasses and holds it out to me, eyebrows pulled together and frowning.

“Thank you,” I say, reaching out to touch his hand.

The Invisible War

Nothing helps, and it’s only getting worse.

The dirt, the dirt and the germs, they’re everywhere. Hiding in every little nook and cranny of the house. I’ve scrubbed and I’ve mopped and vacuumed and disinfected everything but they’re just too strong. It’s an infestation. I can’t get rid of them. I can’t live in this cesspool. They have me surrounded and I can’t escape.

It’s only gotten worse. I could feel them spreading, their microscopic forms slowly crawling toward me in my sleep. They’d been getting stronger every day, and I knew it. All my disinfectants, all my arsenal was starting to become obsolete. They were evolving and now I’m losing the arms race. Last night they broke through my final line of defense, my last antiseptic perimeter, my ring of salt around my bed to keep away the little virulent demons. They are winning this war.

I’m infected. I could feel it when I woke up this morning. And I knew I had to do something.

The hot water pours from the faucet, boiling hot, too hot too touch but I know I must. The steam rises in my face and I put my hands under the scalding stream. The pain is excruciating, like nothing I’ve ever felt. I scream in agony but smile wickedly: die you little fuckers, die. I laugh as the liquid scorches my skin. Die, die, die.

No. No, it’s not working. They’re spreading too fast. I have to do something.

I run to the bathroom and turn on the shower. Hot. No hotter. Come on, faster. Hotter. Hotter. I can feel their little microscopic forms spreading all over me, multiplying in tiny little colonies. They’re raising their armies. They’re still on the offensive.


I step into the burning water and it is glorious in its destruction. I scream over and over as it burns my skin but I know I’m going to win now – I’ve mounted the offensive. Die you little fuckers, die. You picked the wrong man to fuck with. I scream and scream and in my screams of agony I can hear myself laughing but then I’m not sure whether I’m laughing or crying. But it doesn’t matter.

It’s still not enough. No matter how hot the water it’s not enough. I am torching the theatre of war to take the enemy with me but it’s not enough. I scrub and scrub and scrub, but it’s not getting them off. They are multiplying too fast. I just want them to die. I just want to feel clean. It’s not enough. It’s not enough.

My sobbing slows. With a shaking red hand I turn the shower off. The stream of inferno recedes to a dribble, tiny drips of lava dropping to the porcelain below. I stand in the steam. My skin is on fire but I don’t care.

It’s already too late.

They’re laughing at me. I can feel them. They’ve already breached the last beachhead. They’ve broken through the castle walls and are inside the city. They’ve osmosed through my skin. They are inside me.

Naked and red, I run to the kitchen. Again I turn on the scalding stream from the faucet. I grab a glass from the cupboard and set it down on the counter. Come on, hotter, hotter. HOTTER. Daddy’s thirsty. Come on. COME ON.

No. No, that wasn’t enough, remember? Stupid. So stupid. It didn’t work before, it won’t work now.

More. More firepower. I need more firepower to win the war. Complete and utter destruction. Total annihilation of the germ race. Genocide. Nuclear holocaust. Wipe them all out: little germ soldiers; little germ civilians; little germ men, women and children and crying germ babies.

In my head I see the image of the tall white jug, and I run to the laundry room.

How I Met “The Gunny”

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.


He was screaming now. I was fucking horrified. He raised his long arms above his head and waved them as he yelled.


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.


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?