Our prompt for the April 2018 writing contest has been:
Three strangers meet in a surprising location, only to discover they all have something in common…
And the winner is: Petra Scott!
Petra wrote a creepy story that, alas, is based on some scientific facts. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to pass! Read below to find out what we found deliciously disturbing.
By Petra Scott
It starts out as a mosquito bite on my left forearm. Small, swollen, and stinging. I scratch at it every other moment, between typing out furious lines of programming code on my laptop.
The next day, the itch worsens, and long swollen tracks cover my arm where I dug in. I slather the place with aloe and resist the temptation to scratch again. I’m working under a tight deadline, and I don’t have time for distractions, anyway. Our company has an upcoming huge reveal that will revolutionize the internet. We’re all working like crazy to make it happen in time. I fall asleep at the keyboard, not even bothering to go home.
My lab-partner’s voice wakes me up in the morning. “Long night, Peter?”
“Ugh,” I answer and peel myself off the keyboard to rub at my eyes. That’s when I see dark purple welts crisscrossing my left forearm. I stare at them aghast and feel bile in the back of my throat. What the heck? I touch a raised line gingerly. It’s warm and throbbing under my fingertip.
On impulse, I get up and pull on my long-sleeved jacket. “I’m out for breakfast, okay?”
“Sure,” my co-worker says, already hard at work.
I leave the building in a haste. The nearest hospital is ten minutes away. Car or taxi? I dart a look at my covered arm and feel the dark purple lines throbbing ominously. Taxi. Definitely a taxi.
It’s a frozen, snowy day, and the ER is packed. Some massive car accident on the highway. I try to approach the staff, but they redirect me to the sitting area.
“I’m not sure this can wait,” I say to the receptionist.
“What seems to be the problem, sir?”
Instead of answering, I pull up the sleeve of my jacket and display the swollen dark lines. They have spread all over my forearm, wrist to elbow.
The receptionist gapes, but before she can recover, a passing nurse latches onto my shoulder. “You need to come with me, sir, right away.”
I follow her through long winding corridors, into the deep reaches of the hospital, where few people wander. She shows me into a small room with a single bed.
“Take off your jacket and shirt,” she instructs as she leaves the room. “Doc will be here in a moment.”
I sit on the bed, dizzy, and do as she said. I can’t bear to look at my arm. I look around the room instead. It has no windows, no glass walls. Just solid concrete all around, a small pane in the door, and the single bed. With white restraining straps.
My breath shortens. Nauseated, I get up and pull the door open. Or try to. It’s locked. I rattle the doorknob and get nothing. I peer outside and see only my own reflection.
“Step back from the door, sir,” a female voice calls from outside.
I retreat and try to breathe deeply as a doctor opens the door and enters the room. I’m probably going crazy over a poisonous mosquito bite. Possibly my nervousness is an effect of the poison. I just need the antidote, and I’ll be back at my laptop, typing furiously, in no time.
The doctor looks nervous, too, for some reason.
“Does it hurt?” she says.
Like a heart other than my own. Oh, yuck.
She fishes out a capped syringe from her uniform pocket. “Let’s give you something to relieve the pain, okay?”
“This is just a mild analgesic,” she says as she administers the medicine. “You’ll feel better in about ten seconds. Count them out with me, okay?”
I try to, but I fall unconscious at six.
When I wake up, I’m lying on a bed in a room made of glass or some other transparent material. I shake my head and pull my hands to rub my face. I can’t. My hands are tied to the bedframe at my sides. My legs are bound, too. I thrash, but the restraints hold. Panting, I look down over my half-naked body. The purple lines have spread to my torso as well.
“Hey!” I call out. “What’s going on?”
A motion at the corner of my eye makes me turn. Beyond the glass wall is a naked woman with purple lines similar to mine all over her body. She’s writhing soundlessly on the floor. I whip my head to the other side, where in another room, a likewise-marked naked man is staggering around in pain.
“What is this place?” I yell at him.
The glass walls must be sound-proof, because I can see his lips moving but can’t hear a thing. Panicking, I fight against the restrains until I’m breathless and my heart booms in my ears.
“Calm down,” someone says at the foot of the bed.
It’s the female doctor from the hospital, only she’s wearing a white hazmat suit and her voice sounds hollow.
“You’re kidding me, right? Let me go!”
“I’m sorry, I can’t do that. You and your friends have to remain here.”
“They’re not my friends—I don’t even know them!”
Her smile is soft. “Co-workers, then. You all work for the Tomeb Group.”
“I don’t care! Let me go!”
“You’re here for a reason, Peter.”
I go still, breathing hard, but I know what she means. “The New Web revolution.”
I laugh, short and hollow. “I don’t know much about it. You kidnapped the wrong man. I just write code.”
“You mistake me. I’m not here to extract information from you.”
“Then what do you want?”
“What do you know about the New Web revolution?”
“You just said—”
I glance at the writhing women in the adjacent room and back at the doctor. “Let me go, please!”
“All right, I’ll tell you what I know.”
“I don’t care, I just don’t want to suffer like that—”
“The lead scientist at Tomeb,” she says over me, “who happens to be the man on your left, has found a new model for super-fast organic connectivity. The New Web. He explored this model and thought he could replicate it with technology. Do you know what this model is?”
I shake my head frantically. She doesn’t seem to care.
“Fungus. Fungi form organic webs on their own, incredibly intelligent and advanced. In fact, they make us look stupid and clumsy in comparison. Some types of fungus can map out a rat’s maze, remember their way through it, and then climb the walls and traverse it in a direct line. And some types of fungus can overtake an ant’s mind and compel it to climb a tall tree and die there, where it becomes food for the fungus.”
I swallow thickly and gaze down at the purple web of lines on my body.
“Exactly,” the doctor says, as if I’ve spoken. “I’m afraid your co-worker was less than cautious in his work. In a short while, our team will descend on the Tomeb building and seal it off. We hope to stop this spread of hostile fungi before it overtakes the world. We hope we’re not too late.”
“Then what do you want from me?” I say desperately. “Make it stop! Can’t you give me some anti-fungus medicine?”
She shakes her head gently. “We tried. Nothing works against this infection. Infiltration, rather.”
I steal another short glance at the man on my left. He seems to be howling with pain I can’t hear.
“Kill me,” I tell the doctor. “I don’t—I can’t—just put me to sleep, okay? If there’s nothing you can do for me, at least—”
“There’s nothing I can do for you, but there’s a lot I can do for the government. Imagine, if we could control this type of fungus and unleash it on our enemies…”
“No, no, no!”
“Only in dire need, of course,” she continues as she proceeds to cut off my trousers. “And we’ll have to find a cure to it, first, or we might suffer from backlash. You may still be alive by then. Not that you can ever go free, with this knowledge in your mind…”
She leaves a few moments later. I feel the fungus burrowing deeper into my body, and the pain begins to intensify. It’s not long until I scream out in pain and fear and rage.
Not that it matters.
No one can hear me, anyway.