Berny Hayden stepped out of his beat-up Volvo, grunting as his weight shifted to over his feet. He was a heavy guy, but that never really concerned him. Berny valued the pleasures in life, and he wasn’t going to let a little thing like cholesterol stop him. He waddled to the end of his car, stopping to make sure no cars were coming. As he crossed the parking lot, he looked at the building ahead, his mouth watering. He was entering the nearby Golden Corral, one of his favorite restaurants. It wasn’t his favorite for the food, of course. Rather, he relished it for the quantity. He felt that it was his personal duty to get the best deal possible, and so he would get as much food he could, sometimes consuming as many as ten plates at a time. Today would be no different.
Berny was on his fifth plate when he decided it was time to go to the bathroom. After he had finished, he turned on the faucet and stuck his greasy hands into the water, only to pull them out a moment later, wincing at the cold. He pushed the knob on the faucet to what he thought was the hottest setting, but it made no difference to the temperature. Cursing, he decided to tough it out while he scrubbed his hands clean. He looked around for a paper towel to dry his freezing hands, but as usual, he saw none. He glanced behind him. There was a hand dryer available, but it looked so grimy that most guests figured it gave you more germs than you had before you washed your hands and refused to use it. But Berny wasn’t worried about that. He just wanted to warm up.
He banged on the knob until he broke through the rust. The machine started with a cough and then began to emit a dull rattling sound. Berny thrust his hands into the warm air current, sighing with relief. He stood there for the full two-minute cycle, and then returned to his table.
Just before Berny left, he started wiping his hands with a napkin. He paused though, as his skin felt strangely irritated. Berny grunted, reminding himself to put on cream when he got home.
After he rushed through the door to his apartment, Berny hastily slathered his hands with cream. The burning sensation was becoming really bad now, and he had struggled to even drive home. He decided that if it didn’t go away by morning, he would have to visit the doctor. But for now, he tried to sleep, hoping the cream would soak in and relieve the searing pain in his hands.
Berny woke up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat and shaking in pain. He screamed as the burning sensation in his hands reached a new level, and disoriented, he stumbled into the hallway. As the light of the lamp in the hallway touched his forearms, he gasped.
Berny’s hands were completely black, and his skin had shriveled into a charred crisp. Shaking, Berny lifted his left hand to his face. His fingers, normally fat, were now horrendously thin, and the skin had shriveled back so much that the bone was exposed past his knuckle. Berny, the edges of his vision turning black, tried to move his pointer finger. He stared as, with an ugly crumbling sound, the tip fell to the floor, a yellow puss slowly seeping out of the hole. Now in shock, Berny stood stock-still, unable to comprehend what had just happened. As his vision faded, Berny watched the blackness slowly creep up his arm.
The doctors were completely befuddled by what they saw. They had found Berny in his apartment that morning, when the neighbors began to complain of a vile smell coming from his part of the building. When they arrived, Berny’s arms were black up to his shoulders, and his forearms were nothing but bones with shriveled globs of black flesh clinging to them. One of the paramedics had thrown up at the smell of the pus oozing out of him. Eventually they had mustered up the nerve to move him, with great effort, to a stretcher, and now they were standing in the hospital’s quarantine room. The doctors weren’t sure what to do. They knew they needed to amputate, but they had never seen anything to this extent before. After taking a swab of the flesh for analysis, they wheeled Berny into surgery.
The surgeons hovered over Berny, unsure of how to start. They were all terrified. What had caused this horrible flesh erosion? Did he injure himself? Was it a disease? Was it contagious? The surgeons had covered themselves up even more than normal. They each had their suspicions. If they were right, they were all in grave danger. One of the surgeons leaned in for the first cut. As his scalpel sliced the skin on Berny’s shoulder, a jet of blood and puss shot out. The surgeon screamed as it splattered into his eye.
The local news was in a frenzy, and even the national news was starting to take notice. The city’s people were taking shelter in their homes as news of an epidemic of a so-called flesh-eating bacteria spread through the town. It was like nothing scientists had ever seen before; it had a 100% fatality rate, and it was more contagious than the plague. Even patients whose limbs were successfully amputated began to suffer seizures and extreme anger outbursts, and eventually succumbed to the disease. It was found that their brains had holes in them where the flesh appeared identical to that of Berny’s arm. The source of the outbreak was traced back to the Golden Corral Berny had visited that one fateful evening, and a team of government approved officials was sent to investigate and quarantine the premises.
Everyone was nervous. They wore head-to-toe hazmat suits, but nobody could be sure that even that was enough. They had told the public that it was a flesh-eating bacteria, but in reality they still had no idea what was causing this massive outbreak. There didn’t seem to be any identifiable organism or poison in any of the victims. Indeed, some of the more loony of the staff began to call it a curse.
Eventually, one of the staff entered the bathroom. A burnt and metallic smell singed the insides of his nostrils even through the gas mask he was wearing. At first, he couldn’t see anything wrong, but eventually he noticed a square-shaped stain on the wall and a pile of rusty ashes beneath it.
What could this mean? What mysterious force of nature is behind this? Is it biological warfare? Or, indeed, is it some sort of curse? Lucky for us, Berny isn’t the only person to suffer from the horrors at Golden Corral…