Love Scars

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A Short Story by Niels C. Quackernaeck

 

LOVE SCARS

 

October 13, 2016, 5:35 pm

“You’re one of the many, you know?” I said, dancing my cigarette between my fingers.

She stopped picking up pieces of scrub suit from the ground and looked at me. Her silky skin shaped the light that pierced through the venetian blinds. Oh yes, she looked good—in fact, better than I’d ever seen ... but marriage?

“Melissah, come on,” I said, “don’t tell me this is new to you—you’re not even the only one in this hospital.”

She didn’t blink, she just eyed me with those big dark orbs. “So ...” she said softly, “this is you and me forever?”

“Did I say that? I don’t believe I said that.”

“Yes you did, just now, before we—” a sudden gleam went through her gaze, and in awe she covered her flesh. “You are such a selfish rat, you know that?” 

Putting my bare feet on the desk I watched her leave. I couldn’t suppress a smile when I heard the panicky stilettos in the corridor. Few things were as sexy as an angry brunette on high heels.

The door opened. 

“What was that about?” Dr. Peters said, looking behind him into the corridor. His eyes turned to me. “And you shouldn’t be smoking in your office, let alone sit in your underwear—what’s wrong with you, man?” 

“What’s wrong?” I said, scratching behind my ear. “Harold, I’ll tell you what’s wrong. Respectively: one, Melissah popped the question; two, the epidemic gains ground, so I needed a good drag of nicotine to pit myself against stress … and three,” I tapped the white around my femur, “I fancy my legs.” 

“You have no idea what you’re doing to these women, do you? You know, I have a sister who—”

“Ah, she’ll get over it, they always do.”

Harold sighed. “That’s what you think, David.” 

He was about to lecture me when, suddenly, he frowned. “What are you doing?” 

“Harold, I want you to stop drooling on about—”

“You’re scratching.”

I looked at my fingertips and saw blood under my nails. My stomach turned; in fact, the whole room turned. 

“I’ll call for an immediate briefing,” Harold said.

 

In the corridor our soles joined an echoing crescendo of footsteps that sped to the briefing. Soon our medical staff was gathered.

“We have to know what causes it,” my assistant said.

“Oh Claire, honey,” I said, “I’ve always admired your clearness of mind.” 

Claire glared to the carpet. “We can’t all be geniuses.”

“Indeed ...” 

I brooded, observing the worried faces around the briefing table. In recent weeks people with minor rashes flooded the hospital; now all the beds were taken by men, women and children blemished by peeled off skin and rotting muscles—and despite the brilliant brains collected in the room, there was no lead to an answer … Great minds that shat in the same pot. 

“Now I face my impending death, I want you guys to accelerate the research—figure out the pathogen, isolate it and find me the damned cure.”

 

October 15, 2016, 10:22 pm

I’ve always loved the long corridors of the hospital, where many seemed to admire me. Look, the professor of the surgery department, I heard them think, such an important man—and brilliant, too. But now, when I walked this hall of fame, there was a deadness inside me. Every room was filled with suffering people, and within weeks I would be one of them. 

Peeking into one of the rooms, I saw a solicitous graybeard talking to a wretched young man in a bed I thought of Dad. I wished I had written one paper, article or book to please him—or made one discovery worthy of his attention. I made it through med-school, no approval—promotion after promotion, no proud looks. If it were me in that bed, would he have cared?

I must have stood there for minutes—gazing at this bond of love—before I went in. I grabbed the file from the cabinet and leafed through it. 

“Since when does he talk again?” I asked.

He mumbled through his beard, “Yesterday he couldn’t utter even one word, but he looks lots better now.”

 

I hastened to the next room and looked inside. Again, the same spectacle. I ran to the next room, and the next—the same, again and again. I saw lonely people with swollen eyes, unable to utter a word while they decayed to death. On other beds I saw people with concerned relatives and spouses—they all had their eyes opened, some were even talking. 

This had to be the answer.

 

October 19, 2016, 11:15 am

“How are things going?” Harold asked me when I entered the briefing room. It was the fourth day since my discovery.

“Not good,” I said, turning to the gathered doctors. They looked worried. I knew they expected me to die. “The findings concerning the improved abilities of the socially favored did not yet lead to the isolation of one single molecule.”

“What do you propose we do now?” Claire said.

“We’re not giving up,” Harold said. “I think for now our best chance is to hand it over to the psychology department.”

I sniffed. “The ugly little brother of the real sciences.”

“You can’t just prescribe love to patients,” Dr. Sarah Verreth said. “For your information, they don’t sell potions anymore since the middle ages.”

Harold strolled around the briefing table. “No,” he crossed his arms, “but what we can do, is promote social activity. Allow visitors at all times.”

Silence fell. All of us were thinking the same thing. There was nobody for me.

 

My wounds had gotten worse, and the pruritus became unbearable. On my way to the office, nausea had turned my stomach. I made a run for the men’s room and filled the toilet with retched blood. I washed my face and looked into the mirror. My irises were blue, but what used to be white was stained with red. Soon all would be bloody and blistered, and after that— … I dared not to think of it.

Suddenly it dawned on me. I had no one; no mother, no father, no siblings—only women, and one of them wished to devote herself to me. 

I needed Melissah.

 

I knew where to find her—she worked as a nurse at the pediatrics department. She was a loving and caring person—adored by many. She didn’t have the best papers, but this one I would have dared to introduce to Mom and Dad ... well, to Mom. 

I looked through the window, and there I saw her, bowing down to hand one of the children a set of crayons. My body began to ache with desire. She wore most of her hair in a bun, the rest of it waved to her shoulders like thin strings of brown silk. Needlessly they flowed over her tall and slender body. 

What should I say to her? The last time wasn’t exactly pleasant. Our eyes met and, indeed, she didn’t look happy. Trapped in her vision, I felt nailed to the ground.

 

“So, I guess you thought about it?” She said. 

“Ah, well, indeed ...”

“David, you’ve hurt me. More than you can imagine.”

“I know ... I know.” I felt my hands sweat in my pockets. “I’m sorry I’ve been so mean to you. I guess I just don’t know how to deal with situations like this.” I involuntarily inspected the ceiling, awfully aware of myself. “I was afraid to bind myself, you know? I’m so sorry.”

She emptied her lungs and her shoulders hung low. “I don’t know ...”

“You’ll be my everything—my princess, my queen. I will never hurt you again ... I mean it ... I just want you.” I made myself believe it, and tears began to burn in my eyes. “I’d do anything to make you happy.”  

The corners of her mouth went up and her cheeks rounded like grenades below her eyes—oh, she was pretty. And she loved me. 

“Does that mean you forgive me?” I said. 

She threw her arms around my neck and kissed my lips. Her face turned back to sadness as she studied my countenance. “I was so angry with you … when I heard of your infection, I was delighted.” She caressed my cheek. “How are you doing now?”

“My skin hurts and itches, and my muscles ache. If my boys don’t find the cure ...” 

“Oh, honey ...” she held me tighter than comfortable.

 

In the succeeding weeks I met Melissah daily, but we didn’t get physical, for the slightest contact was hurtful. The relationship grew wider and deeper, as did my wounds like cracks in an iceberg. The epidemic spread throughout the continent and the life or death of the infected was determined by their loved ones. 

It didn’t work for me. 

 

November 8, 2016, 7:49 pm

My feet couldn’t carry my weight anymore. I was laid on a stretcher in my office. Softly Melissah sang to me. 

The virus had eaten its way through everything. Shades of red and brown stained the sheets at my knees and toes, and the horrible smell of decaying flesh made me nauseous. 

As I reached for Melissah, I was reminded that I wasn’t myself anymore. Those hands weren’t mine—mine were delicate and fit for a surgeon. These reaching for her were purple, swollen, and—worst of all—the nails were black and pushed out of their bands, like tectonic plates underneath the sea. Looking at them disgusted even me.

“I’m here, sweetheart,” Melissah said. I saw a tear dangling under her upper lip. She licked it away, yet more were breaching her lashes. I wanted her to leave, or didn’t I? I wasn’t sure anymore. I felt my skin burst as she caressed my cheek, and the lid of my eye pulled loose. She pressed a painful kiss on my lips. 

“I love you,” she said, while the salt of her sobbing irritated my wounds. 

I began to feel something new, something I had never experienced before … guilt. I raised my chest to draw some air.

“Melissah,” I said with much effort, “go away. You have to go away.”

“Honey, I won’t leave you,” she said, grabbing hold of my hand, “I’ll stay here and take care of you.” 

“You don’t get it,” a burning tear rolled down to my ear, “love is the cure.”

“Then let me love you.”

“No! I found out that people who are loved heal, and people who are lonely don’t. I used you to get better. It didn’t work, because I wasn’t sincere. I lied to you and I misused you. Now, go away!” 

I knew that look, and I couldn’t take it—those big dark eyes again. It was like I tumbled off a cliff and screamed, but there was nothing to be done, except to surrender and fall. Why did I allow myself to hurt her again? I deserved every bit of pain I felt in my rotting body.

“Go!” I whispered. And she was gone.

There I was, lonely on a stretcher, waiting for death.

 

November 10, 2016, 8:30 am

“This is amazing,” Harold said. “Claire, come take a look at this.” 

Both of them stared down at me, as though I was an outstanding lab result. 

“Unbelievable,” Claire said. “I was sure he wasn’t gonna make it, but this scarring is miraculous. What happened?”

I succeeded in opening my eyes. “I think I’m in love,” I said. “I couldn’t force it, but it happened nonetheless.” 

 

November 12, 2016, 12:45 pm

Again I stood peeking through the window of the children’s department, and I felt more nervous than ever before. And Melissah looked more beautiful than ever before. She gave me more than I’d ever experienced—nobody ever loved me, but she did. With small steps I moved toward the door.

I knocked three times. Melissah opened the door and looked at me, her watery eyes reflecting the fluorescent lights on the ceiling.

“Melissah,” I said in a low, shaky voice, “this time I come to you with real, sincere regret, and … I beg you to forgive me.” I fell down on my knees. “What you’ve shown me in the past weeks is something I’ve never experienced before. And I’ve never loved before, but I love you with everything I have—and with all that I am. Please forgive me.”

She covered her face, and her shoulders began to shake. 

“Please marry me,” I said.

She turned her back to me. I dropped myself to the ground and I hid my face in my arms and cried like a little child. All the tears that were locked inside found their way out. 

I felt warmth in my ear, it was the breath of a whisper: “My dad told me forgiveness heals many wounds. I believe he’s right.” 

I felt her soft lips kiss my cheek. I turned around and held her, never to let go.

 

I’m no longer the handsome man I was, my beauty decayed—I’m scarred for life. Yet in these blistered hands I hold a beauty I could never have imagined.

 

 

 

 

© 2014, 2016 by Niels C. Quackernaeck

Author’s note: This story started off as a traditional horror story; decaying flesh and eyelids tearing off eyes formed the core of the story. After sending the first draft to my teacher at Long Ridge Writer’s Group, I decided to give the story more of a personal character—a transformation for the better. The original story I wrote in the winter of 2014, I reedited the story for my blog in 2016.

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