Serial Saturday: Parasites by R. Minter, Part 2
Parasites: Part Two
Leila dragged herself to work the next morning with hair unbrushed and clothes rumpled. No one batted an eye. Everyone looked half-dead on Mondays, especially before their third cup of coffee.
Currently, Leila stood in the break room, pouring way too much sugar into her first cup of the day. The nightmare replayed in her head. She could still feel the creature’s slimy, chubby hand rubbing against her skin. The eyes, big and innocent, clashing with the mouthful of teeth and flesh. Leila shivered. It was just her subconscious freaking out. It had to be. After her evening procedure, it would all be over.
Someone bumped her on the shoulder. She jumped, splashing hot coffee all over her hands. The mug slipped from her grasp as she yelped, burning pain flushing across her fingers. It hit the marble countertop and bounced off.
“God!” Anne caught the mug, tossed it in the sink next to Leila, and turned on the faucet. She grabbed Leila’s hands and shoved them under the cool water. “Jesus, Leila. I’m so sorry.” She rubbed Leila’s hands with hers, which only made them sting more.
“It’s fine,” Leila said as she pulled her hands free.
“Fine? I just gave you third-degree burns.”
“Third? No. Look.” Leila held up her red, but otherwise intact, hands. “Scalded, at best. I shouldn’t be zoning out at work.”
Anne leaned in to inspect Leila, the scowl of concentration on her face deeper than usual. “You sure you don’t want some burn cream for that? Might as well get some use out of that dusty first-aid kit.”
“I’m fine. In fact, I think I’m just going to get back to work.”
Leila turned to go. Anne reached out, more protests on her lips. The words caught. Leila’s eyes grew wide as Anne’s face turned purple.
Anne’s hands flew to her throat, her mouth opening and closing in silence.
Behind Leila, someone yelled. She watched, frozen to the spot, as quiet, reserved Dan rushed forward. He wrapped his arms around Anne and squeezed.
A thick, purple and red glob flew from Anne’s mouth. It hit the floor with a splat. The edge of the mass looked jagged, as if many tiny, sharp teeth had torn it free.
For the first time in Leila’s three years of working a boring desk job in a boring cubicle, an ambulance was called. By the time the EMTs arrived, Anne swore she was fine, and hadn’t the slightest idea how she had gotten the ‘thing’, as she put it, lodged in her throat. Of course, the boss would have none of it, so off she went for a full check-up.
Leila went back to her organized, sterile, white cubicle and attempted to work. All she did was stare at her computer screen while images of torn flesh danced through her mind.
“Messed up, huh?”
Leila stifled another yelp. She really needed to calm down.
Kat frowned at her from over the white wall dividing their identically rectangular work spaces, her frizzy hair doing a good job of escaping her ponytail. “Mark said it literally looked like Anne coughed up a piece of lung.” She grimaced. “Talk about in bad taste. I hope she’ll be all right, and she’s not contagious. Wouldn’t that be great? I can see the headlines now — ‘data monkeys ground zero for new plague!’”
Leila forced a thin smile. Mark wasn’t the only one with poor taste, but she’d known Kat long enough to realize she wasn’t trying to be insensitive to Anne. She was just trying to distract her friend. Kat always seemed to know when she felt off. “Yeah. Even with getting the day off, I think I’ll pass on coughing up chunks.”
“Oh, speaking of which,” Kat’s eyes lit up. “You don’t know how much I hurled after Saturday night.”
“You’re right. I don’t.”
“What about you?”
Both of them paused.
Kat’s face scrunched up. “Not the hurling. The guy. How’d it go with that guy you were dancing with? Did you even get his name before he whisked you off for some extra fun? Actually, who cares. How was he in bed? He seemed pretty awesome on the dance floor.”
Leila’s mind stuttered, stalled. Guy? As usual, she and Kat had visited a local night club Saturday night. She remembered the loud music pulsating in her bones. The lights flashing, the acidic smell of sweat and booze. Too much booze. The details were hazy at best. Any guy she might have met melted into the faceless crowd in her memory.
“Leila?” Kat raised an eyebrow as she studied Leila.
“I… don’t remember.”
“What he was like?”
“Oh.” Kat’s expression soured. “Did he drug you? Because if he did, so help me, I’ll hunt him down and cut off his junk.”
“I… no. I don’t think so. We only drink things we order each other, right? So how would he?”
“You got pretty drunk, Leila. Maybe he… you know what, it doesn’t matter. I was an idiot for letting you go off on your own.”
“I’m not your kid, Kat.”
“No, I’m your wingman, and a piss poor one at that.” She clenched her teeth. “You think—”
A loud thunk followed by a gurgling cry from the cubicle in front of Leila cut off whatever Kat was about to say. She leaned over to look. Her face blanched. “Holy hell!”
She disappeared into her own cubicle. The sound of the landline phone at her desk being pulled from its cradle echoed back.
Bile rose in the back of Leila’s throat. Her body felt leaden, her eyes glued to the divider. She started to shake as Kat’s voice filtered through the wall. “The guy in front of us, I think he’s just stabbed himself.”