Friday, August 5, 2016

Out of Office

Sean Keegan sprinted down the corridor with a single-minded determination he hadn't displayed since high school. Something small and dark buzzed past his head, but he didn't break his stride. His heart was pounding, his lungs burning, and his gut seemed to get in the way of every movement. He could hear the thing behind him, crashing into the walls as it gave chase. He was pretty sure it would have caught him by now if it hadn't been almost too large to fit in the hallway.

Two more of the buzzing things -- they moved like insects, but they were too large for any insect Sean knew -- were suddenly ahead of him, and coming straight towards him. He flung up a forearm to protect his eyes, and one of them slammed into it. The other one buried itself in his calf. He missed a step, recovered, and kept going: even the burning pain that followed their impacts couldn't compete with the sheer, adrenal panic that filled him.

He could see what was happening to his arm, and it wasn't possible. The insect wasn't biting or stinging; instead, it seemed to be dissolving into his flesh. Skin and muscle darkened and swelled, making a charcoal-colored lump on his arm. That was the source of the burning pain, and he could see it every time he brought his arm up to help propel himself along. It was spreading rapidly, and the burning in his leg said the same thing was happening down there, too.

He didn't so much open the door as slam into it so hard that he bounced off at an angle. That finally stopped his headlong flight. He landed on the sunlit concrete outside the office.

The thing reached the door a heartbeat later, and... stopped. It stood there, hunched over with one charcoal-skinned hand on the door frame, looking out through the glass. Sean lay helplessly on the concrete and stared back at it; he was too busy gasping for air and writhing with pain to move any further.

Except... his arm was suddenly cold, not hot. The dark lump was shrinking, smoothing out against the rest of his arm. He turned his hand, and the dark spot moved with the rest of his skin and muscle. It was still part of his flesh, just... darkened. Even the pain was fading.

His leg was still burning, though. It's the sunlight, he realized. The infection reacts to the sunlight.

He tore at his belt and unfastened his slacks, then shoved them down to his ankles. It worked: as soon as the sunlight touched the dark swelling on his calf, it stopped swelling, stopped expanding, and began to shrink. I'll be damned.

It was at precisely that moment that Sean looked up and realized that his boss was standing on the sidewalk, gaping at him. Some explanation was clearly needed, so he sucked in a lungful of air and gasped out the first thing that came to mind: "I forgot to set my Out Of Office."

(As a reminder: I'll be out of town all next week, and I don't have anything prepared. So, blogging will resume sometime after the 15th.)

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