Austin James

Flare-Up

There’s blood in the spider ivy by the bay window when Dale gets home. Blood splotches on the jamb, blots on the carpet. Boisterous blood drowning out the mechanical drone of television from another room.

“Charlie?!”

“Dad?” an adolescent voice calls from the bathroom.

Dale drops his hardhat and lunchbox, hurrying to the bathroom. His son’s sitting on the edge of the tub, naked, back to his father, ankle deep in lukewarm bathwater. It smells like raw porkchops turning seasick green. “Charlie? What’s wrong?”

“The armpit rash,” Charlie says, speaking towards the pale tiled shower wall.

“From that new deodorant?”

Charlie twists towards his father, his torso warped with blood and abscesses. A deep hole stretches from chest to shoulder, exposing muscle and sinew.

“Oh my God, son!”

“It started burning so I tried to open a window to air it out, but it’s getting worse.”

Dale flips on the shower. “Rinse it off, we’ve got to get you to the hospital!” He reaches for his phone, but it’s not in his pocket. Fuck. The lunchbox, it’s still in the lunchbox. “I’m calling an ambulance.” He scrambles to his lunchbox, fumbling with the piece-of-shit latch that hasn’t worked right since he dropped a hammer on it a few years back.

Come on, open! You fucking thing.

He crushes it open, lunch wrappers spilling out onto the matted carpet. He snags his cell phone, slams the 9-1-1 emergency call button.

Beep—beep—beep.

Fucking busy signal?!

Charlie screams—a hideous squeal. Dale crashes back into the bathroom, finding his son squatting and whimpering in the tub. The armpit rot’s spreading, revealing bare shoulder bone, flesh turning putrid and flaking away, muscles withering and peeling from tendons like carved meat.

“We’ve got to get you to the ER,” Dale says, grabbing a nearby towel. “Come on.” He pulls Charlie to his feet, fetid skin shifting when touched like it’s a sheet draped over muscles, and helps him pass the barrier of the tub, cold shower ricocheting everywhere, fleshy pulp spattering all over the walls, floor, ceiling—morsels of his little boy dripping from Dale’s face.

Portions of ribcage start to show, seeping pus and muscle mucous. Chunks of Charlie flopping into the water below.

Dale’s stomach whips as he covers Charlie in the towel, wrapping tightly to keep his body from crumbling. The rot has already crept up his neck, part of his jawbone now visible. They hustle past the spilt lunchbox towards the door, towards the old Chevy work truck, towards help—Charlie slowing with each step.

“Dad?” Charlie’s voice sizzles, his breath like vocal cord decay.

“It’ll be okay son, you’ll be okay!”

Slices of Charlie’s scalp shed from his skull, bloody crumbs of cartilage from his nose and ears stick to the towel. His legs stop responding as the rot rips towards his feet. Dale drags his son towards the door. “Come on, Charlie. Stay with me!” Charlie doesn’t respond. Teeth tumble from his mouth, flesh drizzles off his fingers.

Dale’s dragging a corpse by the time they get to the entryway.

“Charlie?” he yelps, eyes gushing with grief. He coils into a fetal crouch near Charlie’s body as the world twists and compresses, strangling the breath from his lungs. Bile and stomach acid surge up his throat, rupturing from his mouth.

Dale pleads to his God.

Wrapped in tears, blood, and vomit.

Until the tingling on his palms start to burn. Carnage and boils consume his hands, skin-rot sinkholes slashing through intrinsic muscles and tendons. He sways to his feet, towards his Chevy, towards the hospital—ignorant to the newscaster’s warning from the TV in another room.

…pheromone-induced chemical reaction to a new deodorant product…flesh-eating fungus…highly contagious…hospitals overwhelmed…stay inside…keep away from others…

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