THE UNCOMMON COLD
by Slava Heretz
I’ve been having these headaches recently. I pop Ibuprofen like an acid junkie. There’s a Costco sized vat of it in my bottom drawer. My girlfriend tells me it’s because I’m staring at the computer all day. Nothing’s changed though in the past twelve years. If, for, count, int. That’s all I see. That’s all I’ve ever seen. She’s telling me not to work so hard. That’s like me telling her not to go tanning so often.
We’re having a “Scrum” meeting this afternoon. I don’t even know where they get these bullshit buzzwords. My boss is a dickhead. No, sorry. My ScrumMaster is a dickhead. We have these asinine meetings about “the voice of the customer” and that “the team” is “accountable for ensuring the delivery of our core values.” I mean, what the fuck? I write the same functions whether I know what a “feedback loop” is or not. And then there’s always that one jackass who nods at everything that Sir ScrumMaster says, like his words are gospel.
God, these headaches are killing me! I don’t even think the pills are doing anything. Where’s my power drill when I need it? I’m ready to just do it –- instant lobotomy –- make the pain go away for good. I can’t even write a fucking line of code.
I picked up the shiny stapler on my desk and fiddled with it until I could see my forehead in the reflection.
My God, what is that?
I touched the middle of my forehead with a finger. There was blood forming around a sharp scab or something right there. I ran to the bathroom as quickly as I could with my hand over the spot. Everyone must have seen the blood though. I could feel it trickling down my forehead and onto my nose. Some of it ran into my mouth. I could taste that nasty metallic liquid seeping in through my lips.
“Mike, hey.” It was that nodding idiot, Jason. “Hey, woah, are you OK?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just ran into a nail on my cube by accident.”
“You can file a complaint, you know. If there’s any negligence you could get some compensation.”
I wanted to strangle him right there.
“I’m fine, Jason. It was a stupid accident. I’ll just wash it off and be fine.”
“Alright, man.” He paused. “Hey, you coming to that meeting this afternoon? I hear there’ll be brownies.”
I ignored him and pushed the door open to the bathroom. I looked in the giant mirror over the sinks and took my hand off my forehead.
No! I don’t believe it.
I started taking my shoes off frantically, then ripped off one sock and the other until I was barefoot on the tile.
I can’t fucking believe this.
I stared at myself in the mirror, the gash in my head growing steadily with the blood clotting around the edges of the wound. I looked down. I remembered my toes. About a year ago my middle toe started growing like crazy with bumps and weird skin rashes forming everywhere. There was about a week when it was almost as painful as the headaches.
No, that’s impossible.
I thought back to two years ago when I was short on cash. Some biotech company was looking for guinea pigs for some harmless common cold experiment. They injected me with something and told me I’d either feel nothing or slight discomfort in my extremities. They handed me a check and said to contact them in a month if I felt anything. I didn’t feel anything, so I forgot about it.
There’s no way this is related.
I looked closer at my feet. I only had three toes now and my middle nail was growing as fast as the gash in my forehead.
The door swung open. My boss. I panicked. I ran into a bathroom stall and slammed the door shut behind me, hands shaking as I tried to flip the latch shut.
“Michael?” The voice echoed through the white tiled room like a cavernous opera hall.
“What’s going on?”
I couldn’t help it. The pain was too much.
“Michael, I’m calling 911.”
“No. No, no. I’m fine.” I winced and clenched my jaw, holding back another primal yell.
“Michael, we need to get you to the hospital. Jason told me about your injury.”
Fucking tattle tale.
There was a sudden burst of pain in both my head and feet. I tried to hold in the scream but it only made it worse. I toppled off the toilet and writhed on the damp floor. I started feeling the world get cloudy. Woozy. Light. Then I felt nothing.
I woke up with my girlfriend by my side. I wasn’t sure where I was. Everything was still kind of blurry. She sat in a chair beside me. I was on a bed. I tried to sit up but a guy in blue scrubs rushed over and gently pushed my head back down on the pillow.
My head was no longer throbbing, but still sore, like a bad hangover after a night of shitty tequila shots.
I turned to Anna. “What happened to me?”
She frowned and put her hand on top of mine. She looked up at the doctor. He looked back at her with the same concern and pulled out a small mirror out of his scrubs and brought it towards my face.
I looked at my reflection and said nothing. I just stared at the thing on my forehead. It was jutting out a foot, maybe a foot and a half. I had seen them in nature shows and zoos, but never up this close. And certainly never on me. It was a horn. A bony, rhino, keratin horn.
I closed my eyes. I remembered what those scientists told me at the medical trials two years ago.
Rhinovirus — the common cold.