A Minor Side Effect
by Christy Brown, 3.24am July 10th 2021
Leaning back in his old and deflated office chair, John propped his feet up on the desk and closed his eyes for a moment, imagining the beach. He was on the beach, maybe in... Bermuda?
A slim, tanned, bikini clad woman was kicking back white sand beneath her feet as she carried the rum and coke: a tiny umbrella peeked over the top of the glass. John tossed a quick grin at her and winked. She returned his grin, handed him the drink, and said… “John! Wake the fuck up and get back to work!”
His eyes popped open, and his feet hit the ground with a thud, the startled movement almost dumped him out of his chair.
“Jesus Christ, Larry. What the fuck’s your problem?” John’s face flushed red and he felt the urge to turn and deck Larry one. Right in the fucking face. That’d teach him to quit popping his fucking head over the cubical wall. He really was about sick of seeing Larry’s shit ass face over top of that cubicle.
Larry laughed and shrugged, “I just like fuckin’ with ya man. It’s all in good fun. Hey, have you made your appointment yet to go get that vaccine? Better schedule it for the weekend. People are saying you might get sick or whatever. Don’t wanna waste your sick days, ya know?” John’s face contorted into a grimace: he had considered not even getting the dumb vaccine.
He’d never gotten a flu vaccine or anything silly like that in his life. But lately, everyone had the pressure on full blast about this dumb virus. You really couldn’t go anywhere without people talking about this damn thing. “I dunno, man. I heard a bunch of shit about it. Risks and stuff. People are saying it hasn’t really been tested and anything could go wrong. I don’t want to end up blind or something.”
Larry’s smile shifted to a grimace and he rolled his eyes, “Ah, you’re one of those,” he said.
“Na, I’m really not... I just haven’t made up my mind yet. I just don’t know.”
“Alright, man. I’m out. I’ll see ya tomorrow, bright and early!”
Larry’s head disappeared below the cubicle wall, and John was once again alone in his crackerjack box.
Sighing, he grabbed his keys, phone, and work badge, shoving them into pockets as he lifted himself out of the raggedy ass office chair, and headed out of his daily prison.
Directly across from the cubicle door was a large poster reading: “Have you gotten your vaccine yet?” The poster showed a sexy blonde nurse administering a shot to a smiling, older woman. Both women in the poster seemed to be happy, but also overly excited about mundane medical procedures.
‘Fuck it,’ he thought, ‘I guess I’ll just go and get it over with.’
The shot itself was no big deal. He had been in and out of the clinic in a matter of ten minutes, but by the time he’d gotten home, John was growing tired and was sure the fatigue was caused by the vaccine. He took some vitamin C, drank a glass of water, and lay down for an early bed.
John came awake, one blink at a time, an opaque film covering his dormant eyes. Blinking away the film, his room came into focus, and he noticed the bright light of the sun gleaming in through the window coverings. The blinding light stung his eyes and radiated pain through his head. “Shit!” he said.
He tried to reach for his phone, but there was an immense pain in his arm that shot through his entire body as soon as he moved. Every muscle was on fire, and there was a severe pain coursing through his back.
He was laying on something hard, something sharp. Whatever it was, he had been laying on it a while and it was digging into his back. Carefully reaching over one shoulder blade, he felt around for the intruding object and his fingers felt a rough, leathery surface. It was firm and clearly the object that he’d been laying on. Grasping this leathery protrusion, he pulled to remove it from underneath him, and pain shot through him like electricity.
“Fuck!” he shouted, “What the fuck?”
He needed to see what was causing this pain in his back, he needed to get to the bathroom mirror, and he sure as fuck needed some motrin.
John eased into a sitting position and swung one leg at a time out of the bed. Looking down at his feet, he noticed his toe nails were turning black and beginning to ooze a putrid green substance from the front of each nail. He wiggled his toes and could feel the sore pad of each nail grasping loosely to the skin of each toe.
‘What the fuck is wrong with my feet?’ He thought, as he lifted his aching body to a stand and took a step forward. With that step, one of his black toe nails fell off, releasing the green oozing puss as it dripped down onto the carpet.
John reached out to grab the bed railing as he doubled over and felt his stomach begin to curdle. Raising a hand to his mouth to hold back his bile, he noticed that the veins along his arm were now a dark green, almost black. The arm looked like it had been drawn on with a sharpie. He’d never seen anything like it.
‘Was it blood poisoning or something?’
Forgetting momentarily about reaching the mirror, John decided he needed to call the ambulance. It was blood poisoning. It had to be. He needed help, and he needed it fast.
Reaching for the phone beside the bed, he dialed emergency and relayed his symptoms to the dispatch, who said someone would be out soon.
He sat back on the bed to wait, but seconds became minutes, and in his mind, minutes became hours. He couldn’t just sit there and wait. He decided he would try to make it to the bathroom once more because he needed to see how bad he really looked. Inching towards the bathroom, he lost two more toenails, and the smell of the green ooze reached his nostrils: a stench of days old rotten meat.
Those were his toes that smelled like that: the smell of decaying flesh.
Reaching the bathroom, he flipped on the light and was mortified by what he saw in the mirror. His complexion was a palled green, black veins stretching across his chest, up his neck, and throughout his entire face. His sunken eyes were dark: skin drooping. He would have sworn he was a ninety year old man! His hair had thinned out, bald spots throughout the top of his head, and the hair that remained was so thin that it wouldn't be long before that was gone as well.
He felt a tear drop down his sunken cheek.
A sickening dread built up within his stomach as he prepared to turn around and discover what had caused his back pain.
He took in a deep breath and turned his back on the mirror.
Letting out a loud gasp, he doubled over and hurled into the sink; he couldn’t hold it down any longer. His reflection had revealed two small, leathery wings. There was no doubt what they were. They couldn’t possibly be there, but regardless of the possibility, there they were.
John vomited into the sink once more, and grabbed the hand towel from the wall to wipe his mouth.
There was a knock at the door, then a loud bang.
Eyes wide, John leaned both hands on the sink and studied himself in the mirror.
‘This must be a dream,’ he thought, “None of this is happening, right?’
He closed his eyes, shook his head, then opened them back to the same reflection.
He heard a voice from the living room: “Sir, we’re here to help. Where are you?”
Relief fell over him as he realized it was just the paramedics. They were there to help, and he was going to be just fine.
“Here,” he said, “I’m here, in the bathroom. I can’t walk very far. I’m in a lot of pain.”
Within seconds, men in white hazmat suits filled the room.
John was confused: ‘Aren’t these supposed to be paramedics? Paramedics don't wear hazmat suits. What’s going on?’
Two men flanked John on either side and hauled him up under the armpits. He let out a scolding cry as the pain radiated throughout his body. They tossed him onto a gurney and strapped him down securely: arms, legs, and torso.
He howled in pain as they tightened the restraints and paid no mind to the large leather-like projections growing from his back. No one said a word to him, or even met his eyes.
“Hey! Stop! It hurts!” John shouted.
No response from the medical team.
“Hello? Can you hear me? I’m injured. Something is wrong. Are you the paramedics?”
John began to feel hot liquid seeping down the sides of his face: he was crying. He was scared, he was hurt, and he was alone.
At that moment, one of the men came forward and rested a hand on John’s shoulder, easing him back into the stretcher. Through the hazmat suit, John noted a smile and kind eyes.
“Calm down. We know you’re scared and we know you’re hurt. Everything is going to be ok. We are here to help.”
“But what’s going on?” John shouted, “I have… I have wings, I think. Or... something is on my back! Can you check my back? What’s wrong with me?”
The man in the suit gave John a relaxed smile, then explained the situation: “This is not terribly uncommon,” he said, “We have had a few reactions like this. The vaccine has reacted with your bloodstream, and you’ve begun to grow bat wings. I know it is alarming, but everything will be fine.”
John had a momentary period of lost time.
He had absolutely nothing to say, or even to think.
“Ah... oh... ok. So, now what? Where are you taking me? How long will it take to fix this?” John
“Fix it?” Questioned the man, “Oh, no... we can’t fix it. But you’ll be ok. Most people make a fairly total transition into a bat-like state, and we have housed them in a confidential facility in Arizona. You will be taken care of quite completely for the remainder of your life. Not a thing to worry about, sir!”
The man in the white suit flashed a large smile at John just before they whisked him away on the gurney, out the door, and off to Arizona.