Andrew caught himself muttering on the way back to his car, frustrated that he’d shown any kind of emotion toward the subject. She was so sweet, though, he almost felt like he couldn’t help it.
It’s still unprofessional, he scolded himself. Unprofessional and it won’t help the cause.
Driving back to his house a few miles away, he thought about Jody and how long he’d been covertly searching for more people with Morgellons. The BQS would be happy to know he’d finally found another one, although it was a bittersweet find for him. Jody was his fiancée and had passed away several years earlier, and though it wasn’t directly caused by her disease, Morgellons did play a significant part in her death.
He pulled the car into his driveway.
Upon entering his house, he pressed play on the answering machine and listened as he took off his coat and set down his bag.
“Hey, man! Where are you tonight? I was really hoping to see you out for drinks with us. Call me back.” Andrew smiled despite his melancholy nostalgia moments before. Jake always managed to cheer him up no matter how foul a mood he was in, so he put his jacket back on and headed to the bar where he knew his friend would be.
“There you are!” Jake shouted, getting up to greet Andrew and give him a friendly half-hug.
“Yea, sorry,” Andrew said. “I almost forgot until I got your message at my house. I was seeing a patient so my cell was off.”
“No problem, bro. Come on! Have a seat, grab a beer.” Jake motioned for Andrew to sit down at a table where two of their acquaintances were also enjoying a beer and laughing about something.
“Jimmy, Derek,” Andrew greeted them, shaking each man’s hand as he sat down. They nodded in acknowledgement and continued their conversation, Jake sitting with Andrew.
“So who’s this new patient?” Jake asked with genuine curiosity. Jake had been a friend for many years, and though he didn’t work in the medical field, he always took an active interest in Andrew’s cases and liked to hear about what he was learning.
Andrew held up his index finger for a moment as he took a long swig of beer. It was that initial aahhh feeling that seemed to make all of the day’s stress melt away and allowed him to relax. There’s nothing like a cold beer after a long day, he thought, setting his bottle down.
“Well,” he began, turning his attention back to his friend. “Her name is Anna,” Andrew began. Jake’s expression immediately turned from interest to jest as he raised his dark eyebrows.
“Anna, huh?” he said jokingly. “What about Anna?”
Andrew punched his friend in the arm teasingly, already feeling better.
“Shut up, man,” he said with a smile. “She’s got Morgellons,” he added.
Jake’s smile faded. “Isn’t that—”
“Yea, it is,” Andrew cut him off.
Jake shook his head. “Why would you want to put yourself through that again?” he asked with sympathy in his brown eyes.
Andrew sighed and took another long swig of his beer. “I want to know what’s behind it,” he said after a pause, knowing he couldn’t tell his friend the whole truth. “I also want to be able to move on, but I feel like I can’t until I figure out exactly what this thing is.”
“It still won’t bring her back,” Jake offered.
Andrew smiled at him, finished off his beer, and promptly ordered another one.
“I know it won’t bring her back,” Andrew said. “But it’ll answer some questions and clarify whether she killed herself because of the disease or if there was something else going on.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Jake interjected. “I know her note was cryptic, but I thought we agreed to drop the conspiracy theories? You know that this disease has a tendency to go hand in hand with mental illness.”
“I just can’t get it out of my mind,” Andrew replied, shaking his head and taking a drink as soon as his second beer arrived. “I knew her, Jake. She wasn’t crazy, nor was she suicidal until after the disease progressed.”
Jake raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Alright, man,” he said earnestly. “I support you no matter what, you know that. I’m just trying to look out for you.”
Andrew smiled. “I know. I’ll keep you posted,” he added. “So, how are you and Tracy getting along these days?” he asked, changing the subject.
But in his mind, he was still there. He half-listened to Jake as he went on about his fiancée, who was 150% immersed in planning their wedding and driving Jake crazy with what he considered insignificant details.
Andrew knew that Jody’s note was nothing to be dismissive about. There was a nagging feeling about that note and Morgellons that just wouldn’t leave him alone and he had to figure out why. Even though he worked with the Bureau of Quantum Sciences, they wouldn’t give him any details. He had been a lower-level operative, knowing just enough to be willing to collect specimens and hand them over. There was a sense of relief about getting back to collecting specimens now that he was higher up in the food chain. Maybe he would actually get some answers this time.
He absently ordered another beer and tried to focus on what Jake was saying, but he couldn’t shake that irritating feeling as he recalled what her suicide note had said.
I can’t take it anymore.
They have to find another subject.
The crawling is driving me mad!
Andrew... please forgive me.
Andrew woke from his sleep with a start, gasping for air and soaked in cold sweat. Taking a moment to catch his breath and calm his racing heart, memories from a recurring dream flooded his mind.
It was eerie, like most dreams tended to be... flashes of images and emotions that he couldn’t quite place but always left him feeling disturbed. The two images that recurred most often were the sight of Jody’s wounds with protruding fibers and her suicide note.
He sat up in bed and stood, pulling a soft blue robe around himself and wandering into the kitchen for a glass of water. As he reached the bottom step, the phone rang and he jumped.
It’s 4:00 AM, he thought as he made his way toward the kitchen. He answered it.
“Hello?” he asked, his voice raspy from just waking up. He wandered through the kitchen and dug through the fridge absent-mindedly.
“I... I’m sorry to—to disturb you—”
The sound of Anna sobbing snapped Andrew to full consciousness.
“Anna?” he said softly. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“I—,” she began, her words interrupted by sobs of... what was that? Fear?
“Take a deep breath, Anna,” he said into the mouthpiece soothingly. “It’s okay... just breathe.” He could hear her taking deep breaths and exhaling slowly, trying to calm herself. “That’s it. Okay,” he continued, “now what’s going on? What happened?”
Anna took several more deep breaths before she spoke again.
“I’m scared,” she whispered softly into the phone. “I don’t know what’s going on,” she added. “I... I don’t have anyone else I can call who can help,” she said, her wavering voice laced with embarrassment.
“It’s okay, Anna,” he said reassuringly, his intrigue with her growing. “You can call me. I mean it is four in the morning, but for some reason I was awake anyway. What happened?”
She took another deep breath. “I was sleeping,” she began shakily. “I had these terrible dreams, they were so real....”
“What happened in the dreams?” Andrew asked softly. He began to wonder if he should go over there to keep her company for an hour or two, make sure that she wasn’t being psychologically impacted by the disorder. Unprofessional! a little voice in his head yelled. Ignoring it, he made his way back up to his bedroom to find clothes, just in case.
“There were shadows....”
Andrew furrowed his brows as déjà vu punched him in the stomach. He had heard this before.
“I felt like they wanted something from me, like they were there to take something away, but not to help me... to help themselves.” She paused. “I’m sorry... I shouldn’t have called you....”
“No, no, no,” Andrew interrupted her, trying to remain soothing. “I’m glad you called me,” he said. “I want to help. What do you need? Do you want me to come over?” he blurted before he could stop himself.
There was a pause. “I don’t want to be alone,” she whispered softly. “I’m afraid.”
“Okay. You sound like you could use some company,” he said, trying to sound positive. “I’ll be there in a few minutes, okay?”
There was another pause followed by a whisper. “Okay.”
By the time she was able to tell him the full extent of her nightmare, he was quite disturbed. He’d gotten similar accounts from Jody while they were together, before things had gotten really strange. He thought it was interesting—from a doctor’s perspective—that they both had dreams about shadowy figures wanting to take something from them. And they both worded it the exact same way: take something from them, not that the figures simply wanted something from them.... They wanted to take something from them. The question was what?
Another question was, were these shadowy figures a side-effect of Morgellons and could this side-effect be treated? He had no idea what was going on behind the scenes with the BQS wanting fiber specimens, but it looked more and more like he should be trying to find out more from them, or conduct some of his own tests and research on the fibers, which he thought was a better idea.
Andrew sat with Anna for a long time, listening to her stories about how things had been getting more and more bizarre over the past few weeks. It had been several days since he collected the last sample, but her situation was never far from his thoughts. This disease was just too weird, and the surrounding circumstances made it even stranger.
He wasn’t much for conspiracy theories and considered himself to be a fairly reasonable man, but since the BQS had approached him and everything remained secretive and classified with them, his suspicions had only grown. What were these people really up to?
Anna squinted against the bright light suddenly in her eyes. Was she still asleep? Dreaming? She was disoriented and felt like she wasn’t in her own body.
As she struggled to open her eyes, she got a sense that something was wrong. She tried to open them but could only manage to peek out through her eyelashes at her surroundings. The bright light was interrupted only by three tall silhouettes, shadows that loomed over her. Slightly alarmed but feeling numb, she wondered if she had been in some sort of accident and landed in the hospital again.
She couldn’t feel anything except for a pleasant haze... foggy. It wasn’t warm or cold... it was just there, a fuzzy feeling of blurriness similar to being drunk or on pain killers. Her mind screamed while her body refused to cooperate.
She suddenly felt a sharp pulling sensation on her legs, then more on her arms. She couldn’t cry out, but a tear slid down her cheek and pooled in her ear. She couldn’t move. That was the end of the numb haze.
What’s going on? she wondered, trying to focus on the fuzzy feeling instead of the pulling sensations and the growing sense of dread in her chest. The sensations continued and she felt herself rising to consciousness slowly, her eyelids becoming lighter.
Moments later, she was fully awake in her empty bedroom. Anna dialed Dr. Peterson’s number without knowing why. She thought about her dream as the phone rang and wondered how it could’ve been so lucid. It was as though she wasn’t really in a dream but somewhere between dreaming and awake. Why she had immediately—no, instinctively—called Dr. Peterson was beyond her understanding.
He arrived shortly after their phone call and Anna opened the door with a cautious smile.
“Hello, Doctor,” she said, beckoning him inside.
“Hello, Anna,” he replied with a smile. As he took off his coat, he reminded her, “Please, call me Andrew.”
Anna flushed slightly and turned away, walking toward the kitchen. “That’s right, you had said that,” she replied nonchalantly. What is wrong with me? she wondered. Her fear immediately dissipated and she was focused on how her heart fluttered instead of telling the doctor what happened.
“How are you feeling?” Andrew asked her as he made his way into the kitchen behind her. He graciously accepted a hot mug of chamomile tea and smiled as she gestured for him to sit across from her.
Adjusting herself on the bar stool at the island counter in her kitchen, Anna shrugged and lifted the cup to her mouth, blowing on it slightly to cool the tea.
“I’m okay now, I guess,” she stated after a small sip. “Aside from feeling freaked out, I mean. Then again, it really wasn’t horrible; no pain, just a drunk-like numbness.” She took another sip of her tea. “The shadows were there again,” she added.
“Again?” Andrew replied, pulling out a small memo pad to take notes. He glanced up at her. “You’ve had similar dreams before, then. Do you mind if I write some of this down?” he asked. She simply shook her head no. “Thank you,” he said with a smile. “It might help with my research.”
“Okay,” she said, watching him as he scribbled in his notepad. “There was something pretty weird that happened, though,” she said when the scratching of his pen slowed.
He looked up at her, eyebrows raised. “Oh?” He focused on her fully, his curiosity piqued.
“Well....” she began slowly, lifting up her left pajama pant leg slightly. “Look at this,” she added. He got up from his stool and stepped toward her on the other side of the island to check her leg.
“I don’t see anything,” he said, looking up at her with furrowed brows. “What am I supposed to see here?”
“Yesterday there were sores there,” she pointed to a smooth spot on her shin, “and there.” The other part was closer to her knee.
As he processed that information, Andrew’s eyebrows raised slightly, his blue eyes incredulous.
“That’s not possible,” he stated. “No one can heal that rapidly. Did you happen to take pictures?” he asked her.
She shook her head, frowning. “No, I had no idea they would just vanish. It’s never happened before.”
“Alright,” he replied, biting his lower lip as he considered their options. “Would you mind working with me on a system where we get pictures or documentation of some sort of your sores and where they are? This is very strange. I’d like to get to the bottom of it.”
Anna nodded in agreement. “I think that’s a good idea,” she said. “It will at least help me to feel more at ease if I know for sure that it isn’t happening... you know... just in case I’m not entirely sane anymore. I don’t know how this affects the brain, especially long-term....” she trailed off.
“I don’t think you’re crazy, Anna,” Andrew told her with a reassuring smile. “Worried and frightened maybe, but not insane.”
Anna smiled and Andrew sat back down in the stool across the island from her. They both sipped their tea in silence, each wandering through their own thoughts. After several minutes and leisurely sips of chamomile, they looked up and began to speak at the same time, resulting in a shared laugh.
“Ladies first,” Andrew said, still smiling.
“Well,” Anna began, slowly contemplating her wording. “This might be a little forward, and I hope you don’t take offense,” she continued. She paused briefly to take another sip of tea.
Andrew raised his eyebrows and smiled, his heart skipping a beat. Don’t do this to yourself, he scolded, composing himself quickly.
“What is it, Anna?” he asked, hoping his voice wouldn’t betray him but hearing otherwise as he spoke.
“Well... I feel like I already know you,” she said. “I don’t know if that makes any sense or not, but I feel like you’re an old friend or something.”
Andrew smiled broadly at her. “It makes perfect sense,” he said, taking one of her hands. “You and I met because you have a rare condition and I have an uncommon interest in that condition... not to mention experience with it. Makes sense to me,” he added, retracting his hands and finishing off his tea. He wished he could get involved, but the BQS and the hospital would both have a field day.
Anna’s expression faltered a little as she realized that they were mostly on the same page, just not completely. She held her smile, nodded, and replied, “You’re right. That must be it.”
With that, Andrew stood and put his hand on Anna’s shoulder in a comforting gesture. Looking at her intently, he said, “Don’t forget to write down your wounds every day, and take pictures as documentation. We need to know everything we can about this affliction. That can help us find a cure.”
Anna nodded in agreement and walked back to the front door with him.
“Thanks for coming at such short notice... and such a weird time,” she told him, looking down in embarrassment. “I know I sounded pretty out of it on the phone.”
“Don’t worry about that, Anna.” He folded his coat over his arm. “You’re a special case,” he added. “If you need anything, just let me know. That was why I gave you my personal number, after all.” He beamed at her again and opened the door, disappearing into the suburban dawn and leaving Anna alone with her cup of chamomile.
Thanks so much for reading! Want to find our what happens next? You can buy this novel on Amazon in paperback or Kindle formats: http://amzn.to/2xaYlfN
Twisted yet positive coffee enthusiast with an appreciation for blood, mystery, and Root Beer floats.
All content © Jennifer-Crystal Johnson.
For inquiries about speaking engagements, freelance work, or consulting, please email jen (at) brokenpublications (dot) com.