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A Case of the Shingles
"You have shingles, Mr. Brower," said Dr. Long. Her long black hair was messy and partially covering her face. She seemed to be in a sour mood, and I don't blame her. After all she has to deal with people like me all day. I'm usually a little nervous about things I don't understand, but this has got me a little more upset than usual.
"I'm not saying you're wrong, doctor. I just don't think I have shingles. Of all the pictures I looked at on the Internet of shingles, none of them looked like this," I said to her. This is my second time to see the doctor about this issue, because the condition seemed to have gotten worse.
"Whatever. I don't care," she said turning back to her clipboard. "If you don't want to take my advice, fine! I'm just giving you an informed decision."
Obviously, she didn't want to hear anything I had to say. So I just paid and left the clinic. This is probably really confusing to you, so maybe I should just start at the beginning.
My name is Brian Brower. At the start of this story I'm 20 years old. I grew up in a white middle-class family in Richardson, Texas, and I'm a student at Nathan University, which is also in Richardson. I live in a small apartment in student housing on campus. I'm not that smart so I kinda have problems in school. I don't play sports, but I have a few friends on the football team. I've only known them a few months, so I guess they're friends. They're pretty much just guys I hang out with, because I get bored easily.
It started one morning when I woke up around ten o'clock. I was feeling a little dizzy, and there were shooting pains going up my sides. It was like my nerves were on fire, causing my muscles to violently twitch. When I got to the bathroom mirror I noticed several lines of red blisters running across the lower part of my chest on both sides. It looked like I wasn't going to class that day.
I got in the shower, and tried to get clean as quickly as possible, trying to ignore the stabbing pains and the mild vertigo. After the shower I stepped out and toweled off with the same damp towel I've been using for the last three days, then stared at myself in the mirror. I'm not really attractive. I mean I'm not fat or anything, but I just don't think I'm cute. I don't know why I do this to myself. Maybe I had an abusive childhood, but I don't remember that much of my childhood. I brushed my shoulder-length brown hair back, but it has a way of getting in my face.
I got out of the bathroom and got dressed. Black shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers. Since it was somewhat cold out I put on my black ski jacket with the turquoise stripe on the back... I don't know why I'm telling you this. It's not very interesting. I'm sorry for making you bored. Let me just jump ahead to my trip out to the doctor's office.
I don't have a car. In DFW that's practically unheard of since we crave convenience, and we're not about to actually have to wait for something. 'God forbid the bus is two minutes late, I simply MUST get down to the coffee shop!' Thankfully my parents pay for a monthly DART pass, and my dorm is right next to the university train station. It's on the Cotton Belt, which is a 60-mile stretch of rail going all the way from Wylie to DFW Airport to Southwest Ft. Worth. I took the train a few miles over to the Preston Road station. The doctor's office was conveniently placed right next to the station, which is good when you can’t walk more than a short distance without curling up into a ball from the pain.
"Just go ahead and fill out these forms, and the doctor will see you in a minute," the way too perky receptionist said as she handed me a large stack of papers. I thought we were in the digital age or whatever. I was already in physical anguish, so why did they want to put me in mental anguish too?
Name...address...phone number...Do you have a history of mental illness, diabetes, heart disease, colorectal cancer, chancroids, lupus, scrofula, syphilis, varicella zoster, crohn’s disease... my head started to hurt more.
"Brian? The doctor will see you now. Mmkay?" the perky receptionist squeaked out. "Just go down that hall to room 5." My body ached as I shuffled down the hallway to the little room.
The examination room smelled of disinfectant and fear. I'm not sure what fear actually smells like, but I'm sure it bears some resemblance to a doctor's office. It seemed like an eternity waiting for the doctor to arrive, and all the while I had visions of awful diseases floating through my head
'Mr. Brower, you have cancer,' he may say.
Or 'Mr. Brower, you have a flesh-eating virus.'
Maybe he'll just cut to the chase and say 'Mr. Brower, you have scurvy.' The possibilities were endless, especially since I had no idea what I'm talking about.
The doctor finally came in looking like she hasn't slept in days. She was slightly tanned with long black hair, that kept covering up part of her face. "I'm Doctor Long. Okay, what's the problem?" she asked, pushing back some of her hair.
"Um.. I got some purplish red dots on my side... and it keeps hurting there."
"Take off your shirt," she said. I quickly followed her orders, and removed my shirt. She glanced down at it, "Is the pain sharp stinging pain?"
"It's shingles. It's in the same viral family as chickenpox and herpes." she said with a defeated look on her face.
"Oh, that's bad. I don't want herpes."
She sighed as though I just called her a whore. "It's not genital herpes! It produces painful blisters that will eventually pop and drain, and it will go away on it's own in a few weeks," she said, rubbing her eyes. Even though this wasn't genital herpes she wrote me a prescription for the herpes drug, Valkavar.
"Valaciclovir!" Dr. Long said. Yeah, that's the prescription she wrote. She gave me the prescription, and I stumbled back onto the train. I had a few more stops to do before I could return to the loving embrace of my bed.
When you're on the train looking really sick people don't want to be near you, and I was obviously looking sick or crazy or violent. Nobody talks on the train, but if they did they would probably say something like 'I don't want to catch what you have.' or 'This is why I hate mass-transit.' or 'Please don't stab me in the face!' I had three seats all to myself, and I occupied all three curled up into a little ball. This would be rather funny if not for the fact I was in pain. There was a little old lady in a raggedy brown coat sitting across from me. Despite a look of complete disgust on her face, her eyes were wide open and completely fixated on me. Or maybe it was just her extremely thick glasses magnifying her already large eyeballs.
I decided I was in too much pain to get the prescription filled, and just got off at the university station. Strangely enough the pain quickly died down as soon as I stepped off the train. Maybe I have an allergic reaction to frightened civilians riding public transit, or maybe that little old lady was using psychic death rays on me. Whatever the reason the doctor said the problem would go away on its own, so I didn't think I needed that prescription of Vakalover.
"Valaciclovir!" a passing pre-med student shouted.
I don't know why people always want to correct my narration. I headed over to the cafeteria to pick up some high-fat college food to fill me up for the rest of the day. Burger and fries, and something with large amounts of bacon stuffed into it. Yummy. My sides were still hurting, but the pain was much more bearable.
I went back to my apartment. My apartment was a small one-bed one-bath wishbone-shaped efficiency hovel. It's like a bare dorm room, except I had a kitchen and bathroom. That's fine for me, since I lived alone. My entire furniture arrangement was an old fake leather couch, small TV on an end table, a large box fan, a computer desk, and twin-sized bed with nightstand. The walls were bare, except for a few family photos hanging in the living room.
Even though I wanted to just flop into bed I felt that I should eat my lunch first. The disgustingly salty sack of grease they call cafeteria food slid down my throat. It made me sick to my stomach, but I didn't feel like throwing up. Maybe I should have gotten the salad instead, although they probably coated that with grease too.
I stripped off all my clothes, leaving them on the floor where they fell, and crawled into bed. Slowly I drifted off to sleep, while I tried to ignore the gently stabbing pain in my sides.
I dreamt I was on a planet with a pink sky. There were several pools of purple water surrounded by fields of orange grass. I looked over to the left and there was a naked purple man, who had an octopus-like head. He pointed directly at me, and a pink beam shot out of his finger and hit me in my eyes. By the time I was able to see again I was floating off the planet, and flying through space getting faster and faster. I saw a big blue planet ahead, which I assumed was the earth. Of course I couldn't get a good look at it, since I was flying way too fast to see it clearly before I crashed into it.
I woke up lying on the floor, and things seemed to be out of place. The box fan was lying in the corner with the front grill removed. My pictures were on the floor and cracked. There were several dishes broken all over the floor in the kitchen. In the bathroom the medicine cabinet was open with its contents spilled into the sink, the mirror was shattered, and the toilet paper was torn in pieces all over the floor. My clock radio was on the floor with a cracked face, but I think the time said 6:39am. What happened?! Did I sleep through an earthquake, or a very destructive robbery? Maybe I was sleepwalking and systematically destroyed my own apartment.
I looked down at my chest. The red bumps had gotten worse, and more of them appeared on my arms. They looked more inflamed and there were small purplish fleshy tabs sticking out of them. Looking online at all the pictures of skin problems I could find, I did not see anything that looked like what my bumps have turned into. After showering, in the one part of the bathroom that wasn't destroyed, I got dressed and headed back to the doctor's office. I don't know why I went back to see Dr. Long again. She didn't seem like too competent a doctor. Maybe I'm just too stupid or too lazy to find another doctor.
And after a little domestic spat in the doctor's office here I found myself getting worse with nobody to turn to...or at least I thought there was no one I could turn to. I'm sure there's some government scientists somewhere studying this specific rare skin disease I seem to have been infected with, but I wouldn't know the first thing about contacting them. Of course that could be worse than the disease itself, because they may be mad scientists who would want to cut me up and probe me...I don't know. In a semi-unrelated note my sides didn't hurt anymore, so I guess that was one thing that was good.
I stopped at the cafeteria again to get some food to go. I looked around for even a slight resemblance to real food... and came up empty-handed. Everything there had been deep-fried, dripping with grease, and over-salted. But apparently that didn't matter, because that is exactly what my body seemed to be craving at the time. I got some chicken wings, chocolate pudding, and a small mixed basket that may be deep-fried organ meats. I brought the bizarre assortment of meat products to the cashier, who looked like he's been eating the cafeteria food too.
"How can people eat like this?" I muttered.
"Hey, I don't make the menus. I just make the food," the barrel-shaped cashier said.
"Well I won't starve," I said with a slight look of disgust. "Thanks anyway."
I took my heart-attack platter back to the warzone that used to be my apartment, and proceeded to quickly eat every bit of it. I should probably cut back on my cafeteria food consumption, as the ugly greaseball I called lunch was starting to taste good. I took my shirt off, turned on the TV, and stretched out on the couch. My eyes got heavy and I fell asleep again.
I didn't have any visual dreams this time. I just had a half asleep dream where I felt like there were worms crawling under my skin. I opened my eyes slightly. I must have been hallucinating, because I saw purple tentacle feelers coming out of my sides where the red bumps were. There weren't any suckers on the sides, and they were thin like purple whips. I rubbed my eyes, and hoped I was dreaming. I looked again, and the tentacles were gone.
*RING!* said the phone.
"Hello?" I weakly spoke into the handset.
"Dude, you ready for your big party tonight?" the voice on the other end of the line said. It was Tony, one of my... friends. My heart sank. With everything I had to deal with, I completely forgot I was 21 today. Happy birthday, dumbass!
"Aww... um I'm not feeling so well..."
"Come on, bro!" Tony said, "I know you may have cold feet about gettin' smashed for the first time, but don't worry. If you pass out we promise not to tease you, or play dirty tricks on you."
His level of sincerity was astonishing. "Really?" I asked.
"Scout's honor. Of course I can't guarantee any other time, but we don't want you introduction into the club to be a bad one." Tony said, using a lot more references than I could understand at the moment, "We'll pick ya up at eight," he said.
Well there was no talking myself out of this. Trying to convince Tony that something was a bad idea was like trying to convince... um... I'm sorry I can't think of a good comparison, but it's kinda like that, since Tony won't really take 'no' for an answer. I got up from my disturbed sleep and stumbled into the bathroom. My stomach was feeling strange. I wasn't nauseous, but I had that same feeling like worms were crawling around inside. I looked into the cracked mirror. I was pale. Not goth poetry pale, but I wasn't my normal rosy shade. Looking down at my stomach I saw something that looked like something crawling under my skin.
"Oh... god," I whispered, feeling my sides. "It's getting worse."
Now a sane person would be on their way to the emergency room by now, but I didn't want to go there. I hate hospitals. All those nurses with their evil eyes, and probing cold fingers. And that smell of disinfectant gives me a headache. My stomach was full of fear. I wanted to vomit. Vomit the fear, but I knew I couldn't get rid of it that way. What if this was some sort of parasite that was eating me from the inside? I didn't want to think about it. I got dressed, putting on a black T-shirt and blue jeans with black sneakers. I wrapped myself in my black with turquoise ski jacket and sat down on the couch. Eight o'clock was rapidly approaching, and I just wanted to get this night over with. I stared at the wall, focusing all my thoughts on the blank white wall. My mind was clear.
I must have zoned out, because I suddenly heard a pounding on the door. It was eight o'clock already?! I got up from my miserable sitting and went to the door to greet my miserable friends for a miserable birthday party.
"Sorry we're late," Tony said, wearing his trademark backwards cap.
"What time is it?" I asked.
"8:30. Toby, captain assmunch, had to take a dump," said Tony.
"Hey, it was either there or in your van, buttwipe!" Toby blurted back. Toby was a little chunky and a bit sensitive about his irritable bowel syndrome. Also being the token black guy in an area that had a history of racism didn't help either. Still he could knock the stuffing out of a linebacker, and I guess that's what counts.
"Hey, y'all calm down." the Texas twang of Angel's voice said. Despite having bleached blond hair, and looking like he should be surfing in Miami, Angel seems to fit right in with southern hospitality...or at least the college crowd in Big D.
"Hey, Brian. Happy birthday," said Dillon, the most calm and reserved of the group. And we were off. I just hoped I would survive the night without collapsing into a pile of organ meat.
Outside it was freezing cold, so we quickly ran over to Tony's van. It was a full size black van, with the words 'The Mysery Machine' painted on the sides. One day in a drunken fit Tony decided he wanted to name the van after the van on Scooby Doo, but with red lettering because it "looks cooler." So Tony writes down what he wants on the van, and hands the vehicle off to the detail shop. Three days later he gets the van back and realizes he forgot to put the 't' in Mystery. Naturally Tony busts a nut, and screams at the shop owner, saying that the shop owner should have known what he meant. The shop owner shouts back that he's not a mind reader, and Tony gets even more upset. After a good ten minutes of arguing the shop owner agreed to give Tony half-price. Since it was late, and Tony was tired, he just took the deal.
"Hey, Tony, why is the lettering on your van misspelled?" Dillon asked, as we were getting into the van.
"Misspelled? Naw, man. It's not misspelled. I just want to name my van after that really great Stephen King movie... uh Misery. But I want to do it in a better style, and cause they like copyrighted the word Misery." Tony blurted out trying to give his best cover up.
"You mean the book, Misery?" Dillon asked.
"Aw man! They made a book outta that? Sweet!" Tony said.
The van on the inside was never decorated. It's fairly simple with two seats in front, and nothing more than a carpeted floor in the back. And despite all the strict seat-belt laws Tony has no problem with the four of us piled up in there like some military refugees. I had no idea where we were going. I couldn't see anything from the floor of the van, and nobody else was telling me anything other than "It's a surprise."
About 20 minutes later the van came to a stop, and we all emptied out into a small parking garage. We didn't have to go far before I knew where we were. Addison Circle. Looking to my left I saw a roundabout with a very big blue metal statue in the middle. The statue had several beams sticking out in a circle, all connected to a funny-looking disc at the top. As soon as we got to the circle we turned left and turned into a little sushi bar sitting on the roundabout.
"Dude, we were going to take you to Hooters, but they looked really packed. So I thought we could get some good brewskis and sushi food here." Tony said. We opened the door and stormed into the place. The place was almost empty, and a woman in a black turtleneck shirt walked up. I think she was Chinese, or Japanese, or something.
"How many, gentlemen?" she said.
"Yo, there's five of us here for this guy’s birthday!" Tony said, grabbing my shoulders and trying to act all gangster for no apparent reason.
The lady smiled, looking like she was trying to hold back laughter, and showed us to a table in the middle of the room. They put me at the end of the table, because I was the birthday boy. Tony and Dillon sat to my left, while Angel and Toby sat to my right. I slumped in my seat with my jacket on, while everyone else took theirs off. The other four all had on stupid T-shirts. Tony's T-shirt had in big bold letters "DAOW!", which I assume is a catchphrase from that popular TV show I can't recall the name of. I didn't get a look at the other T-shirts. The waitress smiled down at me.
"How old is the birthday boy?" she asked.
"I'm 21," I sheepishly answered.
"21!" everyone else at the table shouted. I felt like I wanted to crawl under the table and die.
"Life's never gonna be the same for him," said Toby, pointing in my general direction. "Don't get him too wasted. We're going out after this."
The waitress took our drink orders. They ordered a round of beers.
"And some sake for the birthday boy!" shouted Toby.
"Ah.. no I don't really..." I said.
"Come on, dude, it's your B-day," Dillon said, "It's your right to get smashed!"
My stomach sank. I nervously looked up at the waitress.
She smiled at me and said "We have very good sake."
I smiled back. She gave us the menus and went into the kitchen.
"So, dude, uh... what do you want?" Tony asked, with a glassed-over look in his eyes staring at the menu.
"I dunno..." said Dillon, "Hey Brian, you see anything you like?" he asked. I wasn't really up to eating anything, for fear I might throw up all over the table.
"I don't know. Nothing sounds good," I said, "Hey what's that stuff that they served at that Japanese booth at that Earth event thingie?"
"Uh... California rolls?" said Toby.
"Yeah, that sounds good," I said, trying to find the safest thing on the menu.
"Okay, so like five orders of California rolls," said Tony.
"And this teriyaki steak thing," Toby blurted out, salivating on its picture on the menu.
"Okay, fine I'll take a teriyaki steak thing too," I said, apparently more hungry than I thought. The waitress came back with a tray of beers, five water glasses, and my sake. I don't know, but there's something to be said about a drink that burns as it goes down. That can't be good.
"You have your order ready?" the waitress asked, to which Tony promptly handed her the order sheet. She looked at the order Tony wrote down, and her smile turned to a look of disappointment.
"Two teriyaki steak dishes, and five orders of California rolls," she said. "If you don't mind me asking, why are you only getting California rolls?"
The table was silent for a few seconds, while everyone was trying to think up a good excuse.
Tony perked up quickly, as he was usually good at making stuff up, "You see. My bro's know what we like, and we like California rolls."
"Come on, it's a party. Try something different. We have something we only serve on full moons called the 'full moon roll'." she said.
"N-No." I said. I didn't want to take any chances.
"But it's just a Philadelphia roll with cream cheese spread all over the top, to look like a full moon."
My stomach turned at the thought of cream cheese, "NO!"
Tony raised his hand, "Well, okay I guess we can get something else... but nothing gross, and none of that gay sushi, mmkay?"
The waitress rolled her eyes, "Okay, I'll get you some good sushi, and nothing too gross. You try it, and if you don't like it you no have to eat it again," she said and casually strolled off to the kitchen. My head felt fuzzy, and the conversations at the table were starting to absorb into the background chatter.
"Dude, did you see the Cowboys® game last night?" Tony said.
"Oh yeah, it was sweet." said Dillon.
"Mwah mwah mwah, muh-mwah mwah.."
"Mwah mwah mwah ha ha ha hmwah mwah!"
I saw deep into the back of my brain. Hundreds of wires crossing all over the place, with electrical signals traveling through them at light-speed pace. pools of purple goo crawled all along the wires, covering them in a slimy texture.
I must have blacked out, because when I awoke the sushi was on the table and most of it was gone.
"Hey, birthday boy, HEADS UP!" a voice said, as a sushi roll flew past my head. Looking up, I saw Tony at the end of the table using his fork as a catapult to try to get some rolls into my mouth. I was not amused, but I decided to humor him for a bit. After missing wildly in his drunken state, he finally was able to fire a roll in the hole.
"WHOO!" the rest of the table shouted in inebriated unison.
Toby raised his bottle, "I just want to take this opportunity to say... You haven't touched your sake!" he said, smiling at me.
The sake scared me even more than the stomach turning cream cheese roll, "Look, I told you I didn't want to be here. I just don't feel well,"
"Come on, man. You can do it!" Dillon blurted out.
"No, I just think..." but I was cut off.
"CHUG CHUG CHUG!" the four of them chanted, pounding their fists on the table. I grabbed the sake bottle, and told my already weakened body 'Bottoms up', hoping this would be over quickly. I heard the waitress shout something about not chugging the sake, but I was already drinking the awful stuff. The sake went down my throat like I was drinking a bottle of fire, and it immediately seemed to trigger some sort of terrible pain in my chest.
My entire body felt like it was on fire, flaring up with extreme pain over and over again! I slammed my fists down, cracking the sake bottle on the table, "AAHHOOO-AHH-AAAHHOOO!!!" I howled. My muscles and skin felt like they were being stripped off my bones, and that same terrible feeling of worms crawling around inside me came back.
"Oh man! Here it comes! WHOO!" shouted Toby, "Time to party!"
It felt like the worms were trying to burst out of my chest! I started freaking out, "IT'S HAPPENING!!" I shouted. I don't care how crazy I sounded, "I GOTTA GET OUT OF HERE!" I kept shouting, but the others were holding me down. This may be a mutant version of shingles, or maybe this really is what happens with shingles, and that stupid doctor didn't know what she was doing. Maybe the doctor was in on it, and didn't want me to find out about the terrible secret of space! I continued to struggle for what seemed like an eternity, until finally I collapsed... exhausted.
I woke up feeling very dizzy, smelling the salty stench of soy sauce. Dillon was staring me right in the face.
"Hey, dude, you alright?" he asked.
"Take me home, NOW!" I growled. They flung my arms over their shoulders and they drug me out into the street. Sure, anyone looking at us would think that my "friends" were taking me home after a night of binge drinking, but I bet no one suspected my terrible terrible secret of the parasitic worm mutant shingles virus. They dumped me on the carpeted floor in the back of the van, and we all took off to destinations unknown. I couldn't tell how far we had gone, because the world seemed to keep fading in and out. My dorm at Nathan U wasn't very far away. Where were they taking me? After a while the ride got very bumpy, so maybe the van turned onto a dirt road, or we were in Oak Cliff. I still was lying on the floor of the van, and I was starting to get worried! That's when I really felt it! I felt like I had twenty long fingers, and they were rubbing the skin under my clothes.
The van skidded as it came to an abrupt stop, sending my body forward, crashing into the metal box behind the driver's seat.
"We're here!" Tony shouted as he shut off the engine. Something wasn't right... well besides the horrible feeling I had under my shirt. I looked up and the four footballers were staring down at me with big grins on their faces.
"Times up, chump," said Toby, "We're gonna make you squeal!"
"Hey hey, Toby!" Tony interrupted, "You don't want to scare the poor kid. Fear makes 'em all stringy."
Stringy? What the hell were they talkin' about?! This weird night was getting even weirder by the second.
"Allow me to explain, Brian," Tony said, now in a more formal way, "You see we are not like the others. We need a something... extra special to... lead our normal lives,"
"Just cut the crap and tell me what you are," I blurted out, now really upset.
"We're energy vampires," Toby said.
"Vampires?!" I asked.
"No, energy vampires," Tony responded. We don't drink blood... well not anymore."
"I drink blood," Angel interrupted.
"Shut up, dude! No you don't!" Tony barked at Angel, "Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. We were going to invite you into our club, but after the show you put on at the restaurant I don't think we want to get that kind of attention."
It suddenly came into focus now. These must have been the ones that infected me with that parasitic shingles worm thingie. That's why the doctor didn't know what was going on, or maybe she was the one who secretly infected me, because she knew I would come to her, because she knows I'm too lazy to get a better doctor... wait, that makes no sense! Or maybe Dr. Long is an anti-vampire freedom fighter, and she knew I had the evil space shingles so she prescribed the counter-agent known as Valasickvoker.
"Valaciclovir!" Toby hiccuped.
"Shut up!" Tony yelled, "I'm in the middle of my creepy monologue. Anyway, don't take this the wrong way. You're a nice guy, but we need your essence... okay, take his pants off."
The others mobbed me, trying to undo my belt buckle.
"What?! Take my pants off?! You're not vampires, you're just gay!!" I screamed. But as they were trying to strip me I felt a great sense of power surging inside of me. Suddenly a dozen purple whip-like tentacles ripped through my shirt and wrapped around their necks. Their eyes were like big dinner plates, as a look of shock and horror came over their faces. Trying desperately to grab at the choking feelers, they slowly watched their own lives slip away as this creature from inside me killed them. And that's when I felt it. The tentacles were sapping the life force from their bodies, like that cheesy movie from the 80's about space vampires in London. Their skin started to turn a dull gray color, and became all wrinkled. With every second they were in my death grip I grew stronger. I never felt more alive, as I took in their power. The tentacles released their grip, and what was left of the dumb jocks slumped down to the floor.
It took me a minute to take in what had happened.
I didn’t feel pity or remorse for them.
The world was better off without them.
I looked at the purple tentacles and a wicked smile formed on my lips.
My name is Brian Brower and I am a monster.
Have you ever had shingles?
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