Monday, February 4, 2013

Two Percent

Genre: Horror/Fantasy

Daniel Skye A.K.A. Randy Benivegna

         One crucial fact they neglect to inform you of when you sign up for law school: In order to do this job, you have to be willing to abandon your soul in the process. That’s what they really should be teaching you.
         They should be teaching you how to digest the lies. How to live with the guilt, the secrets. How to silence that annoying voice in your head. You know, the voice of reason. Your conscience.
         And over the years you’ll have to do plenty of things that disagree with your conscience. Basically, you need to forget you have a conscience.
In the courtroom, the truth is secondary to victory for a lawyer. Win your case, earn a huge payday. Lose your case, and you’re one step closer to losing your cushy position at the firm. Lose the firm and no other firm will want to hire you. Then your only career option from there is the dreaded public defender.
         Nobody warned Adam Keller. No one told him this career would peck and gnaw away at his spirit. The impact it would have on his health, the toll it would take on his body. They let him pay the tuition and learn the hard way.
         At the age of thirty-two, Keller’s hair was already falling out. Each year his hair grew thinner. His bald spot grew wider, forming that horseshoe-like pattern. In the pit of his stomach, a gastric ulcer had developed. The searing pain was often debilitating, and left Adam dependent on heavy duty painkillers.
         The pain became so intense that Keller’s doctor opted to try a new drug that just hit the market: Ex-Algos. Top of the line stuff, two hundred dollars a bottle. Since the drug was fairly new, they were not aware what, if any, long term side effects the drug carried. And due to its strong potency, the doctor recommended use in moderation.
         Once Adam was made aware of the basic side effects, his doctor alerted him of the two-percent factor. Two percent of patients who have taken the drug experienced seizures, strokes, blood clots, or abnormal changes in vision.
         Keller was a gambling man, and he liked the odds. And it sounded no worse than anything else available on the market. Go figure, the cure is potentially worse than the affliction.

         Adam’s home was a high-rise apartment in the downtown section of Ocean City. It’s a fifty-story storage facility for widows, divorcees, singles, and lunatics of all varieties. The walls were disappointingly thin and provided Keller with little solitude from his surrounding neighbors.
         It was around eight o’clock when Keller strolled into the lobby with his briefcase in hand. He greeted the doorman with a twenty dollar tip and strutted to the elevator like he owned the place.
         Adam bumped into his neighbor, Milton Snodgrass, on the way up. Milton was a cartoonist for the Daily Buzz, and a total dweeb in Keller’s eyes. He had a penchant for gaudy neckties and cheap aftershave lotion. And he sported horn-rimmed glasses that only served to reinforce his nerdy status.
         “What’s the difference between a lawyer and a prostitute?” Milton quipped. He didn’t wait for Adam to guess. “A prostitute only screws one person at a time.”
         Adam sighed. “That joke was a lot funnier when you told it last week… and the week before that.”
         He found himself counting the floors, silently cursing the elevator for not moving faster. Fifty floors and they had to stick him on the same one as Milton Snodgrass. Talk about the harsh luck of the draw.
         The elevator buzzed and the doors parted. Adam said his farewell to Milton and bolted. He had his key in hand when he got to the door.
         Adam entered his spacious two-bedroom apartment, tossing his briefcase and thick wallet aside on the Formica countertop. He changed from his two-piece Armani suit to his basic attire. Then he fixed himself a stiff glass of whiskey.
         Sitting on his suede couch, Adam massaged his throbbing temples with his middle and index fingers. His skull was pounding like a drum, which made him head for the medicine cabinet. There, he swallowed two aspirin with a swig of Jameson to alleviate his headache.
         He was aware that aspirin can actually cause or worsen an ulcer. But Adam was a risk taker. And aspirin was the only thing that helped with the migraines. He also knew it was not good to mix alcohol with his medications. Another risk he was perfectly willing to take.
         Though, it was a dangerous game to play with the ulcer. The alcohol often exacerbated the pain. He returned to the couch, sipped his Jameson, flipped through the channels of his forty-inch flat screen.
The sharp pain in his gut flared up, which sent him scrambling frantically for his pain pills. He twisted the cap off the bottle and shook two small oval pills into his hand. He downed both and prayed for them to kick in soon.
Half an hour and one awful sitcom later, the pain was still there. In fact, it was getting worse. He decided to throw caution to the wind and take another pill. He placed it on his tongue and swallowed it dry, no alcohol or water.
The third time is usually the charm, and this was no exception. This one seemed to do the trick as the burning sensation in his stomach quickly subsided.
It put Adam in a tranquil state. His eyelids fluttered and he couldn’t stop himself from yawning. Next thing he knew, he was sprawled out on the couch, eyes ready to close. He drifted off to sleep in moments.

Adam awoke around midnight to find himself in a cold sweat. He was nauseous, dizzy. His skin was beet red and itchy. The inside of his body felt like it was set ablaze. He tried to pull himself up, but in his disoriented state, collapsed back on the couch.
Then he heard the noises. The faint skittering sounds across his hardwood floors. He rolled to the left side of the couch, where the end table was placed. Atop the end table was a lamp.
Adam reached out and yanked the chain dangling from under the lampshade. The light popped on and Adam twitched at the sight. He let out a loud wail and proceeded to scream at the top of his lungs, “Spiders!”
An entire horde of them crawled through his living room. Each one was easily the size of a fist. Hideous black pear-shaped bodies with a tint of red in certain spots. Long angular legs like flexible needles.
“Oh God,” he exclaimed. “They’re everywhere! Spiders everywhere!”
The spiders were crawling up the walls. On the ceiling. Coming up from the sink drain. Bursting through from the fixtures. They really were everywhere.
They were crawling up his shirt. They were inside the legs of his pants. He even felt a few crawling around on his head.
Writhing in terror, he swatted away as many as he could. Brushed the eight legged beasts from his hair. Then he undid his belt and shook off his pants. He smacked away the little monstrosities that were creeping up his thighs.
Stomping through the living room in his briefs like a madman, he killed as many as he could with the soles of his loafers. But the more he snuffed, the more would appear. His whole floor was a canvas of black and red. He couldn’t take a step without hearing that nasty crunching sound under his feet.
He wailed again as the pain shot up his leg. Out of this mass of spiders, one of them had managed to sink its fangs deep into Keller’s ankle.
Adam collapsed in seconds as the toxic venom went coursing through his veins. He watched helplessly as the light fixture in the ceiling gave way, releasing a cascade of spiders that flooded his open mouth. He choked, gagged as they crawled down his throat, filled up his belly.
His stomach stung and swelled like an air balloon. The pain was relentless. The pressure was unbearable. His body twitched, convulsed involuntarily. He was too weak, his throat too hoarse to scream. But if he had the capacity, all fifty floors would’ve heard his final screams echoing throughout the halls.
His belly swelled and stretched to such a degree that it could no longer endure the pressure. He burst from the inside, and the horde came pouring out just as they had entered.
A fist pounded against the outside of his door, and a familiarly unpleasant voice chimed through. “Adam, it’s me, Milton. Are you all right in there? I thought I heard screaming.”
Adam tried to respond. Tried not to focus on all the blood, the pile of entrails below his feet. Tried to keep his eyes from closing. But sleep was too big a temptation to ignore. His eyes shut and all he could see was black. He embraced it, and slipped deep into a world of darkness.

Milton Snodgrass spent the next several hours chatting with the police. Once they managed to bust the door in, the cops found Keller sprawled out on the living room floor. A large kitchen knife was grasped tightly in one hand. His body was split open from the sternum to the waistline.
“You’re positive you heard screams?” one of the officers asked.
“I’m sure,” Snodgrass replied. “He was ranting and raving about spiders.”
“We’ve searched every inch of this apartment and we haven’t found evidence of a single spider.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Milton shrugged. “I know he was under a lot of stress and he was on some heavy duty meds.”
“What kind of meds?”
“Painkillers. You think that might have factored in?”
“Could be,” the officer responded. “We’ll know more when we get the toxicology and autopsy reports back. In the meantime, it looks like this is a clear case of suicide."
“Shame,” Milton sighed. “He was so young. Am I free to go?” The officer gave him a dismissive nod and sent him on his way.
As he walked to the door, Milton felt something squish under his shoe and heard a dull crunching sound. He suddenly felt itchy, and had this strange sensation shooting up his spine, like something was crawling up his back.

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