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  Table of contents Issue Nine THE ANATHEMA

by
R. PATRICK WIDNER
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T



he waiting room was hell. He looked at the woman with the child, both dripping snot and wiping tissues, and the elderly man who didn’t seem to know where he was. They weren’t the worst though. There was a pregnant woman who was moaning and sweating and a semi-conscious twenty-something man with his hand wrapped in a bloody bandage. But none of that bothered him. The worst thing in the room was right there with him.



A door opened and he heard his name called. “Horace Brennan?” He stood, unsteady, and began to walk toward the nurse. Everyone stared at his unusual gait. As he moved toward the door, he swung his left leg out away from his body and took a small step with his right leg. Not knowing his affliction, one could only guess the cause of his odd lurching.



He quietly endured the weighing in and the blood pressure check, he’d long since stopped blushing or caring what other people thought. He knew he was out of the ordinary, he knew perfectly well. He knew he had a disorder and he was totally aware that it was, in fact, a mental disorder, and some people could be helped with therapy. He knew all of that. He also knew that none of it mattered. His affliction was as real to him as the sun in the daytime sky.



Settled in the examination room, he brooded. He was tempted to walk out. No, he told himself, I need to be strong. He had to at least hear his options. Who knew what would come about?



The door opened and Dr. Bruceis entered. Horace began to stand, but it was difficult without using his left leg.



“Sit, Mr. Brennan,” the doctor said. He closed the door behind him. Horace sat uncomfortably.



“I’ve studied the results of your tests,” the doctor said. “Your case is far outside of my range of studies, but I did find a handful of similar cases and I have some ideas on how to proceed. First, let me ask you if you have also done any research? Are you aware of your condition?”



“Yes,” Horace said. He was trying to stay calm, anxiety was gnawing at him. “I’m fully aware of my affliction. It’s called Body Integrity Identification Disorder or BIID for short. The internet has all of this. I’m aware of the standard treatments, and I’m also aware of how it appears to other people. I am sane and rational. I have done nothing but think about this for years until I . . . until I just don’t care and I could just die.”



Dr. Bruceis was silent for a moment. “Mr. Brennan, you’re a young man, you seem to be articulate and intelligent. I don’t see any way we can go forward with your plan. We just don’t do that.”



Horace felt his blood pressure rising and he could feel his cheeks redden.



“It’s the only solution, doctor. It’s the only solution. You don’t know the horror, the terror of living with it.”



The doctor sighed. “Let me have a look at your leg.”



Horace turned his left leg toward the doctor and he looked away at the wall. The doctor felt the skin and gently squeezed the muscles in his calf.



“Any pain?”



“No, of course not,” Horace said, exasperated. “I’ve told you that already. There’s no pain of any kind. No numbness either, just a normal feeling leg.”



Dr. Bruceis looked up. “It feels normal, yet it’s alien?”



“Yes,” Horace exclaimed. “It is not my leg. Like I’ve said a thousand times, that leg does not belong to me. I can’t stand to have it attached to me. It has to go.”



“Okay, let’s not get upset,” the doctor said. “I’m going to recommend that you see a specialist. I have a referral here for you.” He handed Horace a card.



“A psychiatrist? Are you serious? I’ve seen more head doctors than I can count. I don’t need any more help with my head. I just need this thing removed from my body. You don’t understand. I will not feel whole until this leg is removed from my body.”



“But, I-”



“No, doctor. It has to go.” Horace stood and staggered out of the room.



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The delivery man carried the foam cooler into Horace’s living room and set it on the floor.



“Early Halloween?” the man asked.



Horace looked at him quizzically. “How’s that?”



“Halloween’s not until next month. That’s usually when we deliver, you know, for haunted houses and stuff.”



“Oh,” Horace said, annoyed. “Here” He handed the man a twenty.



After the man left, Horace donned a pair of work gloves and opened the cooler. He removed the blocks of dry ice and set them on the kitchen table. He’d already fashioned a trench out of pillows on the couch and he lined it with plastic wrap.



On the table next to the couch was a bottle of whiskey and a prescription for a strong anti-depressant. He sat, had a drink, and downed two pills. He didn’t want to overdo it and pass out too soon. He would have to experiment and see how much pain he could take and how quickly he would become unconscious.



Finally, he figured that if he wrapped his leg in plastic he could withstand the real intense pain for about three minutes. Two more pills and two more shots and he was almost there. He set his leg into the ice trench and covered it with more slabs of dry ice. He could barely move the last one into place before he slumped over, passed out with his accursed left leg covered to the knee in blocks of dry ice.



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Craig Wells was getting burned out on the night shift. He knew there was nothing he could do about it. He was resigned to the shit detail until the end. His boss knew about his pending felony charges and only because he’d agreed to do the night shift was he granted permission to be employed until the cops came for him. He wiped his greasy hands on his work shirt and checked his list of menial chores for the evening.



It wasn’t all bad; the other poor souls stuck on night duty were mostly good people. And he did get to see the most interesting cases brought into the emergency room. The weirdness started after dark .



This was Thursday night and that meant that all of the bio-hazard waste would be delivered to the lab. Normally, it was not a big deal, just specimen bags and containers from local clinics, to be disposed of in the hospital incinerator. Tonight would be a little different because the incinerator at the next largest hospital was down for repairs.



Knowing that he would have a larger than normal load this evening, Craig headed down to the laundry room to procure a cart. He knew it was absolutely against health rules, but he also knew that nobody would care. He brought the cart up the service elevator and wheeled it into the lab.



He opened the first refrigerated locker and stared at the contents. He wondered what nightmare diseases lurked in the nasty looking specimen bags and containers. He scooped them out into a garbage bag and tossed them into the cart. There were more in a lower locker. Racks and racks of vials and test tubes. He moved to next case where larger specimens were kept. Here he knew there were amputated extremities of all sorts. The cart was almost full when he removed one last bag from the back of the cooler. He saw through the clear plastic that it was a leg that had been amputated above the knee. The leg appeared to have a mottled patchwork of blackened and bleeding skin that seemed to be moving, peeling away and then joining back together as he watched.



Weird, Craig thought, and tossed the bag on top of the other waste. He was used to seeing horrific things, but this leg just creeped him out. It was clearly an amputated limb, but it seemed to still be alive. He shuddered and shook off a chill. He explained the phenomenon away with thoughts of accelerated decomposition or possibly some sort of chemical exposure as he pushed the now heavy cart into the hallway and then to the service elevator.



In the basement, the incinerator created an uncomfortably hot, dry environment. Craig began to sweat almost immediately. He pushed the cart between stacked hospital equipment of every description until he came to the far end of the basement. He stopped at the yellow and black striped safety door that had to be powered up to gain access to the fiery inside. He pressed the red button and the door slid up, releasing a blast of even more heat.



Craig staggered back and considered just pushing the whole cart in. He decided against it, knowing he would need the cart again in the future. He started to grab some specimen bags and he paused.



He used his gloved hands to sort through the specimens on the top of the pile. It was odd. That weird leg was gone. He started picking up bags one at a time, looking under all of them. He was getting extremely hot and he knew he couldn’t take it much longer. He picked through the pile with both hands, tossing them into the incinerator as fast as he could. The cart was more than half empty and there was no sign of the leg. He tipped the cart and dumped the rest of the bags on the floor. It wasn’t there. It must have fallen off the cart somewhere, maybe the elevator.



Quickly he tossed the remaining bags into the flames, pressed the red button again and retreated from the heat. He left the basement and leaned against the wall in the hallway. He recovered after a few minutes and pushed the empty cart back toward the elevator. As he waited for it to descend, he looked back down the hallway to double check in his mind that he had searched everywhere. The leg had to be in the elevator. He remembered seeing it sitting on top of the specimens when he rolled the cart through the doors.



The elevator descended to a stop and the doors opened. Craig’s heart skipped a beat. The elevator was empty.



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Horace drifted in and out of dark dreamless sleep. He woke briefly, in fearful fits, not knowing where he was. The passage of time seemed distant. Sometimes the lights were on and everything was blurry and dizzying. Sometimes it was dark. Gradually, he forced himself to look at the place where his left leg had been. The bandaged stump, with drain tubes attached, gave him comfort, and eventually the remaining twinges of panic subsided and the numbing depression melted away.



He looked at the stump with bleary eyes. It had been three days since he had first awoken and his spirits has been steadily rising. He didn’t think it was at all odd that he now felt whole. It was a new sensation and he swam in it.



Horace looked out the window. The view from the fourth floor was mostly sky and the wall of an adjacent wing. If he lifted his head, he thought he could see the tops of trees in the distance. He knew that soon he would rise from this bed and walk away from this building. It didn’t matter how he got around from place to place, at least it would be without that thing. Crutches and wheelchairs bothered him not at all.



That night, he drifted in and out of a restful sleep. His mind was calm and the feeling was glorious. He knew he had a gauntlet of psychological tests to run before he’d be allowed to travel outside alone. That didn’t bother him. He relaxed, content to let the nurses and the orderlies tend to him. He was in a safe comfortable place, finally.



He shifted in his bed, wishing he could roll over, but he knew that would be too painful. He sighed and sunk his head back into his pillow. His room was dark and the floor of the hospital was quiet at this hour. The nurses drifted around in the background, mostly silent. People walking the halls spoke in hushed tones, their footsteps leaving hardly any noise. He was restless, having slept so much in the last few days.



He heard a sound and turned to look toward the bathroom. The light was off and through the open door he could only see inky blackness. Again, he heard the sound. He stared into the shadows, futilely straining to see the source of the noise. Something was shuffling on the floor. As he listened, he heard the soft squishing noises grow closer.



Suddenly, a thought flashed in his mind and he felt a rush of fear so strong he could taste its metallic bite. He tried to sit, but felt paralyzed, as if he were in a slow motion dream. He looked at his stump and saw a blossoming spread of red on the bandage. The drainage tubes seemed to dislodge themselves and fall out. His stump, tingling intensely, suddenly felt like it was on fire.



He pushed his head back into the pillow as hard as he could and clenched his teeth. He shut his eyes so tightly that he saw stars swimming. He heard the noise again, closer now, at the edge of his bed. He opened his mouth and tried to scream but only managed a raspy croak. He screamed in his mind instead, thrashing around on his bed, trying to move away from the sound, anything, even falling out of bed, he didn’t care. The harder he struggled, the more paralyzed he became.



He looked through panicked eyes at his stump. His entire body began to twitch and he felt as if he was gripped in a seizure. He saw that the bandage had peeled away. As he watched, he saw the end of the stump open up like a flesh flower. Dripping crimson tendrils poked from the raw wound like fast growing vines.



And as he watched in horror, a blackened object crept up over the foot of the bed. Red sinews crept from the object and met up with the bloody tendrils that were crawling from his stump, seeking. And as he watched, paralyzed with fear, he saw his missing leg, the alien, meet his stump. Tendrils caressed tendrils and then slid over and around each other. Just before his mind snapped, he saw the foreign thing move closer and reattach itself to his body.



   
   

 

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There are only two rules: 1. The hero doesn't always win. 2. Never kill the dog. R. Patrick Widner writes fiction stories based in science. And horror, lots of horror. Alien killers, time-storms, mutated viruses and future cannibals inhabit these worlds. Heroes die, the world is destroyed and everything is not all good in the end. You can find his works at rpatrickwidner.com.



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