It began weeks ago, before I knew I would be a success. I was one of the lucky ones.
~ * ~
At 36 years-old with three spinal surgeries under her belt and chronic pain that couldn’t be resolved, Rebecca was a prime candidate for the CCI trial. The implantation was very similar to epidural shots she’d had for childbirth and back pain, so that didn’t worry her. The surgeon would inject some numbing agents, then the small wormlike sea creature would be implanted. At that point, if the trial were successful, the implant would wrap and grow around her spine providing strength, flexibility, and exudeding a chemical that was a constant pain reliever. This was all highly experimental, of course. On the day of Rebecca’s procedure there had been a total of ten successful cases worldwide. She had refused to even hear how many failures had been measured.
The idea seems extreme but Rebecca couldn’t walk a single block. She hadn’t been able to lift her own child since the age of 2, and that was 3 years ago. The pain was a constant beast, tearing at her, burning, crying and aching. She refused take pain meds more than once a week out of fear of addiction, but that left a lot of days of sweating agony.
So Rebecca entered the trial and she had the surgery. I remember that day so clearly.
She laid face down on the table, stubbornly refusing to put her face into the padded ring but instead turning to watch the monitors.
“Little ache,” the doctor warned before the pain shot down her leg. On the monitor there was now a black needle between two of her vertebrae.
“Ugh, well I felt it shoot exactly where the pain usually runs the worst, if that’s a good sign,” Rebecca called out hopefully. The imaging tool made a noise and on the monitor there was suddenly a tiny spine next to her vertebrae. She inhaled sharply.
Three times there was a touch, a warning, and then the deep aching pain of the injection. The tiny spine moved upwards in the pictures until it disappeared. Rebecca lost track of the monitor when her vision started blurring. She tried to focus on the tray, on a nearby bottle, but the label seemed to be in Latin or some other language she couldn’t read. Finally, after the third shot a nurse started bandaging the injection sites.
As she was dressing Rebecca glanced at the sign on the back of the changing room door. She remembered it being about flu prevention but she couldn’t read it. She blinked and tried again, looking at a closer sign with no luck. In a panic she called out for the nurse.
“Yes, Mrs. Pierce?” Her nurse was in his mid 30’s, short but well-built. Rebecca struggled for a moment to remember his name, unable to read his tag. James! It was James! Why couldn’t she read that?
“I can’t read!” On the brink of hysterics she gestured at the door.
He placed a calming palm over her shaking hand. “I’ll have the doctor stop by and talk with you.” Then he was gone.
While Rebecca was alone she stood and started pacing the room. Immediately she felt taller. She had been hunched over from pain for so many years that she had forgotten she was very tall. She stretched, she touched her toes. She even tested a little jog around the tiny room. It was amazing, exhilarating. This wasn’t anything like the temporary relief of pain medication which took its payment in dulled senses. This was energy, strength, power. It was youth, at least in the spine.
A tall, older gentleman entered the room. “Hello Mrs. Pierce. I’m Dr. Mills, I performed your procedure today. James tells me you have some questions.” His smile was kind.
“I can’t read. I’m sure I should be able to read this sign but I can’t.” She took a deep breath. “Could you have maybe hit a nerve or something?”
Dr. Mills smiled more widely. “No, but this isn’t completely unheard of. Sometimes the host can struggle with the implanted exogenous factor.”
“You mean the worm. The sea worm that I agreed to let you attach to my spine is now stealing my ability to read?” Exogenous whatever. What had she done?
“Not a worm, no, though that is what some of the patients call it. It’s not that the—” At her baleful look he switched gears. “You aren’t losing your ability to read. You are temporarily processing with a different skill set. Inability to read a native language is one of the first signs that the integration is not moving in favor of the host.” He raised his index finger. “Another sure sign is speech loss. The, er, implants, communicate via some sort of telepathy.” He raised another finger. “Now, while we keep an eye on you in the recovery room why don’t you get a little rest. I’ll have James give you a mild sedative, it will help with the integration.”
Rebecca understood that she had signed up to have a recently discovered sea creature attached to her spine. But what Dr. Mills was suggesting seemed even worse, so alien. Almost as though she were fighting for control of her own body. Rebecca should be asking him a million questions but she had put herself in this untenable position and she was scared. Though it was unusual for her, Rebecca welcomed the sedative.
~ * ~
I awoke clear headed and my body was completely my own. I had full control of my limbs, a strong spine, and I could also read. “Are you alright?” my nurse, in the hall outside, asked without looking up from his chart or opening his mouth. It was then that I knew I was a success. Finally transported from my tiny, limbless, vulnerable state into a new healthy host. Better than alright, I was ecstatic. “Yes, I have full access to the memories, as well, James.”
* * * * *
APRIL FOOLS! The creepy story you just read was written by Checked Out and appears here on my blog as a part of the Great April Fool’s Day FridayFlash Blog Swap (GAFDFFBS), organized by Tony Noland.
You can find my story, Dead Meat — and more of Checked Out’s fiction — over on iamcheckedout. We both wrote from the prompt “a label in a language you can’t understand”.
To read all the dozens of stories swapped around as a part of the #GAFDFFBS, check out the index over at Tony’s blog Landless. For more fantastic flash, check out #fridayflash on twitter.
That was most creepy. Would have bought it from you, A.M., particularly after your gory book release. As a sufferer of chronic pain, a symbiotic worm or some other internal helper would seem downright appealing on certain days.
My fridayflash this week is a little more on the disturbing-but-funny side for once! But yes, I thought Checked Out’s creepy factor worked well on my blog :-)
I’ll have to check out your flash later; for some reason your website crashes my work computer!
Pingback: Friday Flash – Dead Meat by A.M. Harte « iamcheckedout
Awesome, what an ending!
Creepy in the extreme! You nailed the feeling of chronic pain beautifully.
Wow, you nailed the chronic pain very well, and the psyche of someone suffering. This gave me the heebie-jeebies big time. Peace…
Oooooooh! Love how this took such a sinister turn!
I love the way this started out so innocuous. You had me sucked in with the experimental treatment and then the great twist. Great job.
The scifi aspect was well-executed and the story was intriguing to say the least. You captured the chronic pain aspect so well. Wonderful.
I need to learn to read more slowly. I somehow completely missed the key parts of the ending the first time around! The second time around, though, I realized the great parts I was missing.
This reminds my of Philip K. Dick, and I love his short stories. Thanks!
Wow, that worked very well… for the implants! Sounds like the medical staff are in cahoots with the sea worms.