The Man Who Sold Sugar Cubes
by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Dave slowly woke up from a horrible searing pain in his right inner thigh. This had been slowly building up for the last three days, but he thought it was just the effect of too much strain caused by exercise. He had been jogging a lot for the last month.
He rolled over in bed a few times before he couldn’t take it any more and sat up. He rubbed his thigh. There was something there. A lump. He turned on the light, and looked closer. There was some discoloration, but no protrusion.
Better go see a doctor, he thought and looked at the clock: 2:45 a.m.
Nice. He got up and went to the kitchen, where he kept his Panodil. He swallowed one, made some coffee for himself and went to watch TV. After half hour of some late night reruns of the day’s news, he took another Panodil with some coffee. That didn’t seem to help any, either. After the fourth pill, he decided it wasn’t working.
The pain held steady in his thigh, and he could swear something was writhing around in there. To his mind came scary stories of people who had been stung by insects, only to have larvae hatch from under their skin.
But those people tended to have been on vacation in Borneo or someplace exotic like that, and Dave could not recall having been anywhere more exotic than Denmark.
After a while, the pain started to increase, with a more pronounced sting, like a large screw was being slowly turned in the muscle, through the bone, and he passed out.
When Dave woke up again, it was 6:15, and the pain was just about unbearable. He could hardly think, but at least he wasn’t about to pass out. And the discoloration was far worse than earlier. He swallowed a couple more pills and some more coffee, He went to see a doctor.
When he arrived at the health clinic an hour later, he found out to his great dismay that it wasn’t open until 9:00 a.m. He stood in great agony, wondering how to pass the time. He spotted a fast-food shop, and figured he might as well eat something. The thigh pain distracted him from feelings of hunger, which he would be feeling about this time. He went there more assuming he ought to eat something than knowing it.
* * *
He managed to waste another hour at the fast-food shop. Then he went back to the clinic again, where he waited the rest of the time. Being early, he got in first.
“What seems to be troubling you?” asked the doctor.
“Pain. In my thigh. There’s a lump,” said Dave.
“Let’s have a look,” said the doctor.
Dave dropped his pants and sat on the examination bed.
“That looks like a bruise,” said the doctor.
“Hurts like it is filled with screws,” said Dave.
The doctor felt the bruise. “Does it hurt when I do this?”
“Marginally more, yes.”
“There is a lump, yes...”
“Maybe. But they don’t usually bruise like that.”
“It wasn’t as bad as that when I woke up.”
Dave told the doctor as much as he could recall about the history of his malaise.
The doctor rubbed his chin, and suggested they take an X-ray. He wrote something on a piece of paper, and handed it to Dave. “You’ll have to go to the hospital tomorrow and have an X-ray. I’ll get you an appointment. In the meantime, this should help you sleep.”
Dave looked at the prescription, but could not identify the stuff he was being prescribed. But then he knew nothing of such matters.
He was just exiting the clinic when his phone rang. It was work. They wanted to know why he hadn’t showed up. Dave had totally forgotten about work. He told them what the matter was. He was sick. Had come down with something exotic.
“I’ll have to get back to you the day after tomorrow,” he told them.
They understood. After all, he was a relatively reliable worker.
He hobbled to the nearest pharmacy and got his pills. He quickly swallowed one, and felt slightly better within the next half hour. So he took another one, and now he only felt like someone had hammered a nail into his thigh. Nothing serious then. He hobbled back home.
He spent the day in front of the TV in a strange, drug-induced state, never really escaping the pain, which nothing seemed to stop. And he was bored, unable to think clearly because of the drug and pain combination.
For dinner, he ordered a pizza, which he found he couldn’t taste. In the evening, he got to bed, dizzy and numb, but not really tired or sleepy. And there he lay, contemplating whatever it was that bothered him in his thigh.
* * *
He woke up very early in the morning from the ripping, tearing sensation in his thigh, just like the morning before. He sat up, found the pills on his night desk, took a couple, and checked out his leg.
There was a lump now. He could feel it, and he could swear it moved. And he was pretty sure it was ripping and tearing at the inside of his thigh muscle. His ability to walk had greatly diminished, and he hobbled into the kitchen to get his morning cup of coffee and whatever else he could scrounge together.
After breakfast, he decided to have a bath. He lay in it for an inordinate amount of time before he got out, got dressed and went to watch TV before he had to go and get X-rayed.
He took a taxi to the hospital, being too out of it and immobile to catch the bus. And he had to wait for half an hour at the hospital for his turn to be X-rayed.
“Just lie down here, and I’ll put this lead apron on you,” the X-ray technician told him. He did as he was told, and got a very heavy apron laid upon him.
The X-ray machine gave off a short buzz. Dave could swear he felt something, but was at the same time sure that it was just his mind messing with him.
“I’ll send this to your doctor, he’ll look at this closer,” said the X-ray tech in a dry voice.
The next day Dave visited the doctor, who showed him the X-rays:
“Of course you can’t see the muscle very well,” the doctor told him, “but there are definite outlines of something there, probably a tumor of some kind. But see here,” he said as he pointed at the image, “see how the bone is eroded here, right under your lump.”
Dave looked, and he did indeed see it. It was obvious. There were holes in the bone. Small holes, larger holes. Many holes. And a faint ghost of tendrils emanating from the holes and into the faint ghost of a lump.
Dave didn’t like it. Looked like a malignant tumor to him. A bone-eating tumor in the muscle. It was growing fast, and he didn’t like it, and he wanted it treated yesterday, but tomorrow... always tomorrow.
Dave felt uneasy as he limped out of the hospital. He was beginning to feel sick to his stomach now, and he got the notion that health had run away from him permanently. That made him feel depressed on top of all else.
He took the bus home, quietly considering his own mortality on the way. He almost missed his stop. But out he went and listlessly hobbled to his home. It was very cloudy, which helped his sense of foreboding doom about his plight.
He had a strange tumor, and how fast it was growing!
He took four pills and washed them down with coffee. Then he lay down on the sofa. The bedroom was just too far away somehow, and he couldn’t be bothered to undress. There he lay, unable to do anything but stare at the ceiling and wait.
* * *
Time passed, minutes, then hours. The ceiling wasn’t getting any more interesting, but the pain was intensifying. He felt the tumor writhe just under his skin. That scared him, but would have scared him more if not for the pills.
He pulled down his pants to have a look. He almost passed out when he saw it. There it was. Writing indeed, under the last layer of skin. Whatever it was.
It was a black thing, about a centimeter in diameter. To Dave it looked like a parasite of some sort. He flicked at it with hs finger, and it moved again. He felt it undulate in his thigh. He felt it drill into his marrow. And he saw it bite... he saw it bite through the last layer of skin.
He stared at it in horror, and could not look away. It looked like some sort of maggot had burrowed itself out through his thigh. A large, black maggot, surrounded, bathed in, oiled in sort of black stuff. Pus? Worm excrement?
Dave did not know what possessed him to reach out and touch it, but he did. And the thing immediately bit him.
“Ow!” he yelped and put the finger in his mouth.
And the world began taking on another hue entirely. The pain ebbed away, and the colours got brighter, somehow.
He looked at his finger. There were teeth marks in it, from the worm-thing’s three-piece jaw. He looked at the worm-thing. It floated in the goo, and the goo was leaking from the hole.
Dave had an idea, and wiped some of the goo up with his finger, and smelled it. It didn’t smell any different from himself, really. He tasted it.
The feeling of general well-being intensified. He felt he was floating on sunshine. He tasted it again, and the feeling intensified more. He lay down and admired the paint job on the ceiling for a while. It was really quite awesome; he wondered why he hadn’t noticed before.
But as awesome as the paint on the ceiling was, the gunk leaking from his thigh-parasite was more awesome. He only spent a quarter of an hour more on his back, taking in the ceiling, before getting to his feet, and wondering how to gather it up.
He figured he could sell this. That is, if it worked on other people as well. But who could he test it on? Who’d taste some ugly looking gunk when he offered it to them?
He mulled it over. He might try putting it in the coffee at work. If that worked, he figured that the stuff worked not only when diluted in coffee but also after being heated.
He looked back at the sofa. There was a black stain on it, not a very large one, though. There was quite a lot of goo on his thigh, and it was leaking down. He got a towel and wiped it off, and then wrung the towel over a dish. Then he set about trying to gather the stuff into a cup. He lay on his left side with the cup between his thighs under the parasite’s opening for until the high began wearing off.
That was easy enough. Now he had circular marks on his thighs, and a centimeter of gunk in a cup. He looked at it, thinking it didn’t look like much, but he also considered that just a couple of drops had gotten him seriously high for almost three hours, and it wasn’t quite gone yet. In fact, he felt fantastic, if somewhat less interested in the ceiling.
He wrapped some bandages over the parasite and got his pants on again. Now to experiment.
He got a glass of water, and carefully put a single drop of worm gunk in it. He stirred it and had a drink. He didn’t feel anything immediately, but he gave it time. Ten seconds. Twenty. Nothing. He put in another drop and tried it again. There was maybe something coming on in fifteen seconds, or he could just be imagining it, wanting it. The third drop produced slight results.
He looked at the glass. It was roughly 300 centiliters total, he figured. It should take about 250 centiliters without spilling. He estimated it would take five or six drops of worm gunk to produce effects that would be noticeable to an outside observer.
Now, the coffee machine at work held 2 liters. That was an easy calculation: just take ten drops and that would be that.
But how to put the drug into the coffee, he wondered. He remembered all those movies about heroin addicts, and how they use cotton for something heroin-related. He didn’t know how that worked, but it gave him an idea.
He got a teaspoon, scooped up some of the worm gunk, way more than ten drops, and put a cube of sugar in it. The sugar sucked much of it in. He removed the sugar cube and placed it on a platter. He placed another sugar cube on the spoon, and it sucked up the rest of the stuff.
That looked perfect. Dave took the cubes, wrapped them in cellophane and put them in the fridge. He put more cellophane over the cup with the gunk, and placed it in the fridge as well. Next up: show up at work and make some coffee.
He had some of that stuff himself before bed, it helped him sleep.
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Asgrimur Hartmannsson