Fiction Friday

It All Started With a Cough

“It started with a cough.

I don’t know where it came from but it was annoying, loud and croaky. I could control it at first, take a drink of water, suck on a throat lozenge, but I could feel it start to take hold in my lungs. It felt like a sea monster had a hold of my chest, it’s long, slimy tentacles wrapped around my body and slowly, slowly, squeezing the breath out of me.”

After about two days of this, my cough started to go away but I was having trouble taking a full breath and before long, I found myself panting like a dog just to try and fill my lungs and the simple act of walking across a room was too much and I had to sit down and recuperate before making another trek to the next room.”

I lost my sense of smell, taste, and I started feeling dizzy and disoriented, likely due to lack of oxygen. I had no idea what was happening to me but I’ve never experienced these types of symptoms before. I’m scared. I don’t know what sort of nasty cold this is but I feel different, I don’t feel myself. “

I know it sounds crazy, I feel crazy, but something, some darkness, is taking over my body. There are times I find myself doing something and not remembering how, or why, I’m doing it. There have been times I’ve been ACTIVELY trying to resist and yet, this darkness inside of me forces me to move my limbs and participate in simple activities against my will. My brain is screaming no, my body ignores me.”

That’s why I wanted to write this down. I don’t know where this is going, or why this is happening, but maybe someone will read this one day and learn from my experience. I know this sounds dramatic and I’ll probably laugh my fool head off when I read this back someday, but I feel like I’m dying. Not my body, my body doesn’t feel sick, but my mind, it’s slipping. I feel like I stepped off a cliff and I’m free falling, helplessly watching the world above me get smaller and smaller and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.”

Am I dying? I don’t want to die. I want to live! I want to graduate from college, travel, fall in love, have babies – is that too much to ask? Why is this happening to me? I feel like I’m writing a suicide note and if you’re reading this, I DON’T WANT TO DIE!”

I’m tired. I don’t want to write anymore. I want to sleep and I want to wake up and feel better. But I’m scared to sleep, what if I don’t wake up? Please God, let me wake up.”

Detective Gomez lowered the note and looked at the young girl on the bed. She was small and so very thin. He guessed the girl hadn’t felt much like eating at the end and if whatever sickness she had hadn’t kill her, malnutrition would have.

“How long has she been dead, Kingsley?” Gomez said, carefully placing the note in an evidence bag.

Doctor Kingsley paused in his activities and glanced up. “I would say, judging by the rigidity, about an hour. But I can’t be sure, I need to …” he continued to rummage in his bag. “Damn it, I forgot something in my van, I’ll be right back. Don’t touch anything.”

Gomez raised a brow and watched the man shuffle out of the room.

“An hour?” he mumbled to himself as he circled the girl’s body. She was laying in the center of the bed, her legs pulled up toward her belly, her arms over her head. Her long, dark hair was splayed around her. Her face was hidden.

“What did you die from? Talk to me,” he continued to mumble while studying the girl’s clothes. And why was there dried flowers, or weeds, whatever they were, he wasn’t a horticulturist, lying next to her. Did she inhale something that killed her?

She was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, like something you would wear under a blazer, definitely something you would wear to work, and shorts. Did she get home from work and kick off her skirt or pants and change into shorts? Maybe go outside and pick the weeds?

Her skin was smooth, young, flawless. She couldn’t have been more than mid-twenties. The soles of her feet were slightly dirty as if she had indeed just come from outside.

He clasped his hands behind his back and stared at her. “Talk to me, sweetheart,” he said quietly. He knew, if he stared at her body long enough, he would begin to pick up little things, little clues, as to what happened. He knew, from experience, that dead bodies spoke, you just had to pay attention.

A spot of color caught his attention and he leaned closer. Was that blood under her arm? He squinted in an attempt to get a better look. He saw a patch of dark reddish-brown fluid dribbling from her mouth. The blood looked sticky, tacky, like it hadn’t quite dried backing up Kingsley’s assessment that she hadn’t been dead very long.

He wanted to move her arm to get a better look but he knew Kingsley would castrate him if he touched her before he had a chance to do an initial once over.

Her hand suddenly twitched and he jumped back, startled.

“What the hell?”

Her hand twitched again and he abruptly spun around. “Hey! We need a medic in here, she’s still alive!” He turned back to the girl. He could hear a soft hissing sound. Was she trying to talk?

He leaned in closer, gently moving her hair from her face.

“Hey,” he said quietly. “Help is here. Don’t give up.”

He could see her lips moving as if she was trying to say something.

He leaned in closer to try and hear her words. He could hear air escaping her lips. “Don’t talk,” he said. “Save your energy.”

She reached a hand out and grabbed him with surprising strength. Her mouth was moving and he leaned even closer.

“D.d..d..” she began. Blood began pouring out of her mouth and he pulled back a bit. She tugged on his arm. “Dru….d…dru,” she stuttered.

He could hear help stomping up the stairs to her apartment. “Can you hear that?” he said. “They are nearly here. Just a few seconds longer.”

“Dru…Drugs…” she sputtered, then coughed, a huge glob of blood landed in the center of his face. It leaked into his eyes and mouth and he could taste the metallic zing.

“Fuck!” He jumped back and wiped his face with his sleeve.

“Get back!” A medic pushed him to one side to attend to the girl. He placed his fingers to the girl’s neck and started CPR. “We’re losing her. Get out the paddles!”

Detective Gomez moved toward the doorway when he met Doctor Kingsley at the door.

“What the hell, Gomez! I leave for just a second and all hell breaks loo…. what the hell is all over your face?”

“What does it look like?” he growled while using his jacket sleeve to smear the blood across his face.

“Stop!” Kingsley said with alarm. “What are you doing? Stop touching your face!”

Gomez grimaced. “It’s just blood, doc. Nothing I haven’t encountered before.”

Kingsley grabbed hold of his elbow and steered him out of the door. “Don’t touch anything and don’t breathe on me.”

“What is going on?” Gomez said while following the doctor down the stairs. Many of the girl’s neighbors popped their heads out of their own apartments, their expressions a mixture of curiosity, horror and dread.

“Stop talking, Kingsley growled under his breath. “Just keep moving. I need to examine you.”

Gomez sputtered a laugh. “Me? Why? I’m not the victim here. Shouldn’t you be in the room helping? You’re a doctor after all.”

“I can’t help that girl. I’ll see her soon enough in the morgue.”

A little girl gasped as she heard Kingsley’s words and her mother pulled her back into the apartment and slammed the door.

Kingsley guided Gomez to the back of his van and opened the back doors. “Sit.”

He hopped up into the back of the van and sat on the floor. He began to reach up to wipe a droplet of blood as it neared his eye.

“Don’t touch it!” Kingsley snapped and quickly grabbed a Qtip on a very long stick. He carefully swiped the Qtip over the droplet of blood and placed the stick into a long tube. He then reached over and grabbed a packet, tore it open and offered it to Gomez. “Wipe your face with this disinfectant.” Gomez took the wipe while Kingsley reached over to open his cabinet. He took out a bottle of water. “Then I want you to wash your eyes out with this water.”

“Okay,” Gomez began wiping his face. “Why are you freaking out? And why did you think that girl was beyond saving?”

“Wash your eyes out.”

Gomez sighed and hopped off the back of the van to stand to one side. He unscrewed the cap and poured the water over his eyes.

“Did you pay attention to the girl’s feet?” Kingsley asked as he handed him a towel.

“Yeah, so what? They were dirty. Like maybe she had been outside walking around in the dirt.”

“Wrong. That wasn’t dirt. She was in the early stages of developing lesions.”

Gomez coughed and leaned against the van. “Lesions? Like Leprosy?” He laughed at the idea.

Kingsley didn’t crack a smile. “Like Leprosy though I don’t know if it was Leprosy and won’t know until I get her on my table.”

“She’s not dead yet …” A paramedic caught Gomez’s attention.

Kingsley didn’t even turn around to see what he was looking at. He smirked.

“Doctor Kingsley?” the paramedic asked as he approached them.

“Yes. I’m coming.” He grabbed his bag and moved to follow the EMT.

Gomez started to follow.

“No, stay here. You might be contagious.”

“What? No I’m not.”

“The victim spewed blood on you. Until we know what we’re dealing with …”

“Screw that. I’m the lead detective on this case. I need to go in there.” He pushed past Kingsley and went back into the building.

“Okay folks, show’s over. Go back inside,” Gomez said to the residents as he climbed the stairs. “No one leaves the building until an officer has questioned you.” He continued up the stairs until he reached the fourth floor.

“Meadows, Stark, take some guys and start knocking on doors. Has anyone spoken to the victim lately? Did she have any visitors? Was she acting funny…?” He nodded, dismissing them. He re-entered the girl’s apartment, reached into the box of gloves another officer was holding and snapped them on. He paused to catch his breath.

He coughed.

“Hey old man. Can’t handle four flights of stairs?” Officer Stanton smirked.

“Shut up,” Gomez growled and crossed the main room to the girl’s bedroom. He searched around her bed and found her bag. “Have you taken a picture of this yet?” he asked a nearby photographer. He waited until the woman had taken several shots of the bag before picking it up. He began rummaging through it.

He pulled out a compact powder case, two eyeglass cases, a set of keys, a wallet and a passport. He flipped open the passport.

“Sarah Carter,” he said to no one in particular. He looked over to the girl. “Wow.”

Kingsley was bent over her. He had removed the hair from her face and was studying large bumps on her forehead. “She bled from her eyes, nose and mouth. These lesions ..” he pointed, “I’ve never seen bumps like these before. Interesting.”

“She didn’t make it?”

“Correct. She’s dead.”

Gomez’s stomach clenched at the girl’s bloody face. She was unrecognizable from the picture in her passport. She looked like she had gone several rounds with a prize fighter, and lost, big time. He flipped through the booklet. Several pages in the passport had been stamped, the latest being two weeks prior.

“Looks like she went to China recently,” he mumbled. “Turner, find out where she went in China. Where she stayed, who she saw, what she did. Nelson,” he turned his attention to another detective, “find everything out about this girl’s life. Where did she work? Did she have a significant other? Family? Go.”

He coughed.

Kingsley gave him a sharp look.

He shrugged. “I’m fine. Just got a tickle or something. Relax.”

He coughed again pointedly ignoring Kingsley’s stare. He continued to examine Sarah’s room, looking at various photographs, flipping through books. She had a jacket hanging on the back of the door. He checked the pockets and pulled out a badge.

He narrowed his eyes to try and make out the small print. He blinked several times and took a few deep breaths. He felt dizzy, disoriented. When was the last time he ate? He shook the feeling off and finally focused on the writing.

“Farris Drugs and Pharmaceuticals,” he mumbled. He looked back at Sarah’s body then back to the badge. “Drugs,” he muttered under his breath.

“What’s that?” a nearby officer asked.

He ignored the officer and stared at the girl. Was she trying to say something about her employer? Had she taken drugs prior to her collapse? He stuck the badge in an evidence bag and moved toward her bathroom.

He tried to suppress a few coughs as he opened her medicine cabinet. Other than the normal paraphernalia you find in a woman’s medicine cabinet, he didn’t see anything unusual. He closed the cabinet and caught his reflection in her mirror.

His nose was bleeding. He reached up to swipe it away before grabbing some tissue and cleaning his hands. He stuffed the tissue in his pocket and took off his soiled gloves. He also stuffed them into his pockets.

He started to exit the bathroom and fell into the door frame. He felt dizzy and he was starting to sweat. The room began to spin and he felt nauseous and disoriented. What the hell was happening?

He staggered into the room and Kingsley glanced up.

“Gomez,” Kingsley said in alarm. “Your eyes are bleeding.”

That was the last thing Gomez heard before losing consciousness.