The Last 21, page 1part #1 of The Last 21 Series
The Last 21
Copyright © 2017 by Donald Morrison
Dedicated to Mom, who no matter what, always pushed me to follow my creativity. I love you mom and can’t wait to share all my stories with you later. Miss you.
Table of Contents:
"I told you this trip was going to suck..."
The man speaking was holding his arm, his hand lightly covering the white of his bandage, still pristine from its application. His gaze was locked to the gauze but his words were directed to the other twenty something kid with beige cargo shorts and a Metallica t-shirt standing in the stagnant security line behind him.
"Dude," his friend responded while bending over to remove his shoes. "I told you not to get too close to the guy." He paused, standing up and placing his shoes in a grey plastic bin and unslinging his laptop bag to set it on the rollers behind it. "They told you that you shouldn’t have gotten too close. Tch…” he snorted. “You’re lucky it was only your arm."
"Yeah…” he replied, stepping in front of the large x-ray machine. "Still can't believe that son of a bitch had been unconscious for hours, but just decided to wake up and take a fuckin’ chunk out of my arm as soon as I leaned in."
“And not to freak you out or anything,” his friend replied, leaning forward in a whisper so others didn’t hear. “Did you see that guys eyes..?””
His friend shot him a dirty look.
“Yeah,” he replied with a sarcastic intonation, holding his bandaged arm up. “I think I got a pretty good look Tim.”
The TSA attendant gestured him forward and he stepped into the revolving machine. "Hands above your head," the girl said in practiced monotony.
He raised his hands and winced as a burning sting spread from the wound on his forearm down his back on the side, sending tingling tributaries outwards from the searing epicenter.
"Ok," the girl said blankly. "Step through."
He brought his arm down and flinched again, his hand instinctively moving to the fresh injury, covering it in an unconscious attempt to seal it away from further damage.
"You know what Kyle,” his friend said as he finished putting his second shoe on. “I say this every time I leave, but I can’t wait to get back to L.A."
He reached over and picked up the trays that had held their taxied belongings down the path through the x-ray machine. Kyle stared at his back as he turned and set the two grey trays onto a large stack that looked precariously close to tipping over, then let his gaze fall to the large hallway leading down the terminal. His friend walked up, lightly tapping his uninjured arm. He could feel the illness spreading through him, pulsing through his veins.
“Ready to go home?”
Kyle responded with a silent nod and started down the hall.
"Heat, bugs...” he said, his gaze still locked on the windows at the end of the long hall. “Why we picked this place for our assignment I'll never know."
He let go of his injured arm to adjust the strap on his camera bag. Sweat was building underneath his shirt and for a fleeting moment, though he could smell the disease seeping from his pores.
"I told you we should have done the Amazon," he said, his words falling out in a whispered croak.
"Screw that," his friend replied, leaning his head away to emphasize. "I don't do spiders and snakes man." He paused. "Or fish with teeth for that matter. And besides, one clinic’s as good as another."
Kyle slowed down, his gaze falling blankly to the floor just in front of his feet as the weight of the terminal pushed in against him and he felt his stomach tighten.
"You all right?" his friend asked, noticing that companion's face had become completely void of color and was an ashen white hue over a soft palate of slate.
Kyle’s gaze rose instantly, his eyes darting back and forth in desperation. Without a word he bolted straight for a bathroom thirty feet away.
As he hit the stall door his legs gave out and gravity yanked him to the floor in front of the toilet, his hands barely coming up in time to stop the porcelain from putting a large dent in his forehead. He retched—heavily. The fluid that came out was a swirl of black and burgundy; a viscosity somewhere between oil and house paint.
Kyle stared down into the toilet after the last of the dry heaves finished racking his body, his mind a swirl of worry and panic, and then, after a moment, he composed himself, got to his feet and made his way out of the stall towards the sink.
As he rinsed the rancid coating from his mouth he thought to himself, ‘I just need to get home. Once we get back, I can get looked at by a U.S. doctor. God knows I don’t want to end up stuck in some bullshit quarantine here…’
He ran some water through his hair and took one last look at himself in the mirror before turning and making his way out of the bathroom and back to his concerned friend that was waiting just outside in the hall. As he approached he realized that his arm was beginning to tingle, and that his hands had become clammy and cold. There was a slight tremble—the kind that wasn’t visible.
"You all right man?" his friend asked as he walked up.
"Yeah, he replied. “Guess this heat’s starting to get to me."
"Not that I think you looked that good to begin with, but you look exceptionally like shit right now."
"Thanks," Kyle replied with a fake smile, his head turning to look down the terminal for gate C12.
"You want an aspirin or something?" his friend asked, glancing past him at the duty-free store.
"Nah man. I just wanna get on that damn plane, and get back to sunshine and bikinis."
Forty-five minutes later a flight attendant began to call for boarding passes. The man's friend tapped his shoulder as he lay asleep in the chair next to him.
"Kyle," he said, tapping his arm again, this time slightly harder. There was no response. "Kyle!" he said just below a shout, grabbing his shoulder.
Kyle’s eyes shot open. His pupils dilated below the clear film that had begun to work its way across the bloodshot surface as he stared at the ceiling. Slowly his head turned to the side and his gaze fell to his friend, the crust around his eyelids flaked, where the seam across them had been broken as they opened.
"Dude, you really don't look so hot."
His friend’s mouth slowly opened and a deep groan fell from his lips… "Is it here?"
"Yeah man," Tim replied. They're boarding now."
Kyle slowly rose to his feet and staggered gracefully towards the woman scanning the passenger’s tickets.
"Nine more hours and we're home," Tim said, tapping him lightly on the shoulder.
Kyle coughed as he handed the ticket to the woman.
"Sorry," he whispered softly before taking the ticket back and making his way to his seat, the woman behind him wiping the spittle from her eye with disgust. Kyle reached his seat and struggled with his bag as he placed it in the overhead compartment. As he sat down his friend nodded to him, gesturing to his lip.
“You got a little something right here…”
Kyle brought his sleeve up and wiped away the thin crimson streak.
An hour later he was leaned back in his chair, his gaze locked out the window. The sky was shrouded in grey haze, or i
The air inside Natalia’s stuffy, one bedroom apartment had become thick. Her chest rose with short, labored breaths as she felt the humid warmth of the stagnant air coat her lungs before she quickly ejected it back into the still confines surrounding her. As her eyes slowly opened, they came to focus on the neatly kept dresser across the room. She took another difficult breath and felt a wave of nauseating heat work its way from her throat to her stomach. She rolled to her back and let her eyes trace the slowly spinning blades of the fan for a moment until the feeling of gravity pulling her sour stomach towards the bed beneath her, forced her push the remaining bit of sheet loosely covering her off and painfully rise to a seated position on the edge.
She had dealt with days like this before she thought, as the weight of her head fell heavy into her palms. As a flight attendant she was in contact with thousands of people a day, traveling from all corners of the globe. When you’re stuck in the cabin of a 737 with dozens of people for hours on end, the air filters tended to circulate bugs better than capturing them. Whatever it was this time she thought as she slowly rose to her feet, it was a doozy.
She staggered to the bathroom and kicked the sink faucet on. She let her head drop down and scooped three large handfuls of the cold liquid across her face, rinsing the sickness induced sweat coating her flesh away. She turned the water off and let her eyes raise to the oval mirror in front of her. She paused, staring at the reflection that loomed back at her. The woman in front of her was only a reminiscent shadow of who she had gazed at the night before. Her eyes seemed to have sunken back into her skull, an onset of crimson and violet shadows exploding their way outwards underneath. The skin she peered at was dull ivory, the colorless undertone of a winter’s sky and bleached bone. The thing that held her attention the longest—before what little liquid remained in her stomach came fighting its way violently to the toilet below, was her eyes. What had been the topic of many a conversation, and the opening line to countless layover affairs; her emerald green eyes, speckled with the blue of a spring songbird, were now covered in a milky film, like a plastic wrap faded in the beating sun; thin, jagged lines of red stretching out from her irises.
When she finally rose to her feet, wiping the residual acids from her lips, she turned to make her way back to the bed that was beckoning her from the other room, when her phone rang. She knew the tone well—it was her mother.
“Hey mom…” she forced out in a croaked whisper.
“Oh sweetie, you sound terrible,” came the concerned words, floating through silent space between the cellphone and her ear.
She coughed. “One second mom,” she said, holding the phone out in front of her and staring at it through a half-cocked squint in search of the speaker button.
“Can you hear me?” she asked, still staring at the phone, her eyes moving to the pale white skin at her wrist and the vibrant blue veins that ran beneath the Celtic infinity knot that adorned it.
“Yeah Natty,” her mom replied. “Did you catch the flu?”
“I’m not sure mom,” she answered as she slowly made her way towards the kitchen. “Started feeling this way last night. Some guy coughed in my face as we were boarding; I’m pretty sure whatever this is—”
Her sentence trailed off as she reached for the fridge door.
“Well you need to get some rest,” her mother said softly, her words floating up from where the phone hung limply in her hand by her waist.
“Yeah…” Natalia replied softly, pulling her hand slowly away from the fridge door as the thought of food made her stomach lurch again.
“Oh sweetie,” her mom said. “It’s your father on the other line, I’ve gotta let you go.” There was a brief pause. “You get some rest ok, and call me when you’re feeling better.”
Natalia nodded, not realizing her visual response went unheeded. She was alone again.
She turned to make her way back to the bed when her stomach erupted once more. She stepped towards the kitchen sink as vomit spewed from her mouth, splattering the edge of the counter and the cabinets in front of it.
She raised her hands in front of her to brace herself on the countertop, but the movement was too late; an afterthought. As her head rebounded off the solid formica, her body spun around and she dropped to the floor. Her eyes focused on the crimson bile that was pooled on the linoleum, just in front of where her head lay, and as darkness began to rob her vision, she could see flecks of black and what looked to be bits of flesh; the thin lining of her stomach.
An hour later the warm afternoon sun had begun to work its way through the window, slowly creeping past the coagulated mess that was splattered across the kitchen counter. The apartment that had fallen back into a silent tomb was awoken when the girl’s phone rang from beneath the table it had skittered to across the floor. It was the same ring as before. It rang for a minute before falling back into silence, then maybe from reflex, or purely instinct, Natalia’s fingers twitched in response.
A knock at the front door to Kyle Brovick’s apartment exploded through the still space, echoing loudly against the quiet interior.
“Kyle!” came a shout from just beyond the barrier to the outside world.
There was another knock.
Slowly the front door opened, the soft breeze swirling against the stagnant air that was held confined by the closed doors and windows.
“Yo Kyle, you home man? We’re supposed to finish this paper remember.”
Tim made his way into the living room, the unsettling quiet slowly wrapping itself around him.
‘Probably still asleep,’ he thought as he turned his attention to the kitchen, leaving the door open behind him to air the stale apartment out.
“I’m just gonna help myself to a beer then,” he called out to the empty space.
His friend had been sick since they returned, and he hadn’t heard from him since the day before, so he knew that the beer he had bought him for his birthday the day before they had left would still be sitting in the fridge, and with no obligations to work or school this morning, he obliged himself to the thought of an early drink.
He stepped across the linoleum and pulled the handle to the refrigerator, a cool blast of air flowing forward to meet him. It felt good in contrast to the summer Los Angeles heat.
“Yo, you maybe wanna open a window in here. Your place is starting to smell a little dank.”
Upstairs his friend stirred.
He closed the door and opened the bottle of IPA with the magnetic bottle opener that lived on the front of the fridge. He tossed the cap carelessly onto the counter and let the cold liquid wash the dry summer parch from his throat. A thin bead of sweat lined his forehead, caused by a mixture of the heat on the way in, and the still air that was baking the inside of his friend’s unit.
He walked over to the kitchen table and sifted through the small stack of mail that Kyle had set there when he got back from their trip; junk mail, a credit card bill and a letter from the financial aid department at UCLA. He exaggerated a shiver and let it fall with dramatic escape back to the surface of the table. He took another sip and then made his way back to the living room.
“All right lazy ass,” he called out as he started towards the stairs. “You’ve had two days, we need to get this stupid assignment finished…”
His words tapered off as he approached the bottom of the staircase. As his eyes fell to the wall just above the handrail at the base he felt a tingle run across his body and his skin tighten ever so slightly as it shrunk in a nervous tug. Just above the handrail was what appeared to be a handprint that ran upwards in a dark br
‘Is that blood?’ he thought as his steps slowed to a stop.
“Yo Kyle?” he asked to the empty hallway above. “You all right man?”
Slowly he started up the stairs, his ears straining desperately to pick up the absent sound that filled the air.
Something didn’t feel right.
As he reached the top of the staircase he saw another smudge slightly down the hall, as if someone had rubbed against a freshly painted pole and then brushed the wall as they walked past.
“Dude… If you’re fucking with me… I swear to God…”
Tim made his way slowly down the hallway, the beer in his hand now completely forgotten.
He quietly stepped towards the bedroom door.
“Kyle?” he asked in a normal tone. “You in there?”
Still no answer. But this time he heard shuffling coming from within.
He reached out and took the doorknob. It was cool to the touch.
“Hey man,” he said. “I’m coming in, I hope you’re decent.”
He twisted the knob and slowly pushed the door inwards. As the crack widened an acrid smell of sickness and rot filled his senses, causing his stomach to churn and his hand to dart to his nose and mouth, a handful of his t-shirt acting as a buffer to the putrescence.
He kept pushing and as the room opened up before him, he saw his friend.
Kyle was a few feet in front of him, standing still in the middle of the room with his back facing the door, his gaze locked out the bedroom window.
He stared for a moment, paralyzed in the vice of confusion and fear as Kyle’s form slowly started to turn at the sound of the room’s seal being broken. He stared as a mix of fictional horror stories and the reality of what he was seeing blended together as his friend stepped towards him. His mind tried desperately to make sense of what he was seeing, to rationalize the visage. By the time he realized what was happening, Kyle was already upon him, the sulfurous odor of carrion left in a stale room breathing down upon him as the first piece of flesh was removed from the throat that concealed a scream that never made its way out.