Bob Robinson took his nose out of the newspaper and glanced over at the turning door knob from his recliner. The door opened before he could get out of his chair, so he did the next best thing and set the newspaper aside as he watched his girlfriend, Tracey Plinket, enter the room.
“Hey, hon! How was the pool?” he offered as his eyes trailed from her dark-haired head and down to her blue floral-pattern decorated swimsuit.
“The locker area smelled awful, but overall it was fun. I really wish I could have stayed longer, but work...” she let her words trail off before letting out a sigh.
“You spend so much time in the water that I'm surprised you haven't turned into a lily pad.”
“Oh, now I'm a plant? Speaking of water, I need to shower and get ready for work.”
“Nah, you're a flower.” Bob teased to Tracey as she left the room.
A decent-sized portion of time had passed before –a fully-clothed with the exception of socks– Tracey re-entered the front room causing Bob to look up from the western he was watching.
“Bob, my feet,” Tracey stated in a melancholy voice as she sat next to him and placed her left foot on the recliner.
Bob lifted the foot up and examined it, a white callus had formed on the heel of it. Although a bit grossed out, Bob ran his left hand across the callus in an effort to let Tracey know that it didn't change his opinion of her in the slightest.
“It's just athlete's foot, hon. Probably a little fungus that you picked up at the pool grounds. There are a ton of anti-biotics that can clear that up,” he said as he gently set her foot back down and reassuringly placed both of his hands atop hers.
“Thanks. I'll see you tonight!” She exclaimed with a smile and gave Bob a peck on the cheek before quickly ascending the stairs to retrieve her socks and shoes.
With a quick descention from the stairs and a wave goodbye, she was out the front door. After a lengthy walk to the bus stop and a twenty minute bus ride, Tracey had arrived at work. Miss Plinkit worked as a cook at a famous all-you-can-eat buffet chain, 'Clanking Plates' (an aptly named buffet chain if there ever was one. The joke was that people would be clanking their plates against the table in a hurry to get more). The young lady hustled to the kitchen and began her eight hour shift in earnest. She handled everything from lettuce to steak, she truly was a busy-body.
As her shift progressed, she began to notice a white substance that was hardening on the top of her hands. Despite her best effort, the bathroom sink water, soap, and sanitizer had no effect on it. She thought back to earlier in the day and realized that it looked like her freshly acquired athlete's foot. She went in a stall, sat down, and lifted up her left pant leg, so as to undo a shoe and to examine her foot for comparison, when she spotted that her leg was crusting with white. She poked it with her left index finger to discover that the crust was as hard as a shell.
A flurry of tears left her eyes as she worried about her beauty being permanently ruined. Tracey's depression session was interrupted by screaming from the restaurant dining room. After she had properly re-aligned her clothes, she cautiously exited the bathroom only to see people screaming, families crying, and a host of deceased people with the same white leaking out from their mouths as was crusted on her body. As her eyes scanned further with great hesitance and terror, she saw that a large portion of the food on the people's plates and the buffet had turned white and was coated with the same callused shell that she and the deceased customers had. After a few moments of shock, Tracey brought her eyes back down to her right hand and realized that the unwelcome anomaly had begun to spread up her arm. Try as she might, she was unable to peel off the shell with her fingernails.
Whether out of hysterics or a fear-driven sense of logic, one cannot say, but Tracey headed to the kitchen, grabbed a steak knife and stabbed it into the barrier that was forming around her arm. She dug the knife in until it wouldn't advance any further due to the fungus's hardness. The white crust responded to the intrusion by oozing and spraying crimson onto Tracey's face. The smell confirmed her fears, the liquid was blood; most likely hers.
The entirety of her right forearm was now covered with the mysterious white, even the bloody indention where the knife had punctured and the knife itself. In a bid of desperation, the chef walked over to a blender with tears streaming down her face. Her right arm had to come off, lest she die. She slowly brought her left index finger to the blend button, while she balled her right hand into a fist and stuck it into the blender. Her mind raced as it pictured her arm turning into a waterfall of gore and chunks as the blender spun round and round. Tracey was unable to commit herself to the act and removed her arm from the blender and brought her finger away from the buttons.
Drunk on fear, frustration and the need to live, she staggered over to the fryers and dove her consumed forearm into the grease with a blood-curdling scream. She lifted her, now yellow-crusted, arm out of the 375 degree with a wail and placed it on a near by cutting board as she brandished a cleaver from a nearby knife rack. “The shell had been considerably softened,” she would have noted had she not been washed in waves of pain and blood. And that had just been the first swing, which was barely enough to loosen the arm. Five swings and a lot of hesitation in between each later and she was down a forearm. Her balance became the equivalent of one who had consumed too much alcohol as dizziness overtook her. The poor woman practically fell toward the stove and stuck the bloody remnant of her arm onto the open flame causing the wound to cauterize.
Tracey fell to the ground soon afterword. Unfortunately for her, the job was half done as she still had a fungus-caked leg.
Bob walked into 'Clanking Plates' with the widest and stupidest of grins on his face. He was going to treat himself to a nice buffet and visit his girlfriend at her job at the same time; Bob doubted that many people could claim that. Bob's expression changed to its polar opposite on the turn of a dime. One might find it comical in how quick it had changed if not for the circumstances.
Before dear old Bob, sat, lie, and stood a great many people who were all encased in a white substance. More unsettling than that for Bob was the sight of his girlfriend crawling out of the kitchen and into the dining room with one arm and some change for another. The caring boyfriend ran over to Tracey leaving a trail of tears as he did so.
“Wh-What Happened?” he managed in between sobbing breaths as he reached out to help Plinket to her feet.
“Don't touch me or it'll get you too,” she cautioned in between gasps of pain and with great effort.
“I-I... I need you to cut off my left leg.”
“Hold on, I'll call an ambulance.”
“No time. I need it done now or I am going to die.”
Bob sunk his head down toward the ground, half-expecting it to sink in between his shoulders and disappeared to into the kitchen. A couple moments passed before he returned with the sharpest of knives that he could find; a butcher's knife. He set the knife down on the floor and cradled Tracey's head with his left arm as he pulled up her left pant leg with his right hand and glimpsed into her blue eyes.
“I love you,” he said as he continued to roll up the pant leg.
The left pant leg reached the point to where it wouldn't roll up – a little bit passed the knee– so he went to take her pants off in an attempt to locate the point where he needed to cut at. However, as he pulled her shirt out of her pants, he saw that her stomach had crusted over. The white abnormality had traveled up her foot and to her stomach, maybe even farther than that. Regardless, Bob realized how pointless it all was and sat there cradling the love of his life.
“I was too late. I'm sorry,” he sobbed.
Tracey tried her best to respond with a smile, but instead produced a pained gasp. Bob started to say something in reply, but then thought back to earlier in the day when he had touched her infected foot and then her now missing hand. The man slowly brought his right hand up to his face and starred at the small callused spot on it. Bob Robinson sat in silence as he recalled taking a trip to the supermarket and handling food with that hand; food he didn't buy and was still sitting at the market awaiting purchase.
Some of the descriptions and details in this simply feel off. A good example being the description of "Clanking Plates", something which is a term already known by anyone that lives in a city, seemingly being described when it really didn't have to be. Another case of this would be a lot of the background characters having completely flat one-word dialogue. They come across as flat and emotionless.
The (what I suppose to be a) soldier's conclusion, especially in identifying the growth of the infection, is completely unrealistic, and done in what would be a time of shock for most, and confusion for others. It seems as if he has been through this sort of thing before, which, mind you, is being told from a character that pretty much exists just so that he could make this description.
As for the description of a Biological-Organic Weapon of Mass Destruction, this would be an extremely ineffective method of warfare. It also misses the science behind fungi. Fungi are decomposers, true, and they do grow in hot areas as well, but they grow in hot and damp areas.
A laser strong enough to slice a human open for examination would not meet this requirement at all, and would, in fact, destroy the fungi and stop growth because of burning and intense heat. Fungi grow in warmth, not temperatures enough to combust them. It also never states what sort of fungi.
It's apparently parasitic, or some sort of infector like Cordyceps (which I couldn't help but think while reading this story; thanks, The Last of Us), but it acts like a decomposer, which is a completely different variation of fungi.
Overall, I understand this is a short story, so it has to be lacking in terms of detail when compared to longer ones, but the characters all came across as flat and generic, whilst the plot description felt almost absurdly rushed. I was disappointed with this story, as Doom usually writes good stories as a whole.
I feel as if this story should be turned into a much longer one, as it could then provide the details and character development necessary to make this a more compelling story. If you've ever wanted to write a novella, Doom, let this be your start.
As it stands, I am not a fan of this story, but I see the potential it could have if converted into a longer story, or perhaps even a series (story focusing on Bob and Tracey, another on the Soldier's POV).
I hope I helped in some way by reviewing this story.
Thank you for the review. Something feels a bit off to me at the hazmat suit part, so I think I'm going to take the story completely back to the drawing board from that point onward. I am confused about what you mean exactly by the 'Clanking Plates' description being unnecessary, do you mean "(an aptly named buffet chain if there ever was one. The joke was that people would be clanking their plates against the table in a hurry to get more)." If so, that just goes to show that I'm from a town and hardly ever travel to a city and thought that I was making a funny and clever joke, oops XD
The using it as a weapon was simply an offhand comment by one of the hazmat guys, so I wouldn't put too much weight behind that. Though it does undermine the thought that the event might have come about as it being placed to be used as a terrorist weapon.
Ah, my bad there. I just assumed that a laser strong enough to cut something would give off heat. Right, the fungi was an unidentified parasitic type strain.
I don't know how much longer I'll be able to make it as I ended it when I felt that I had nothing left to tell, but I'll be completely reworking/removing the hazmat scene for sure.
Thanks again, hopefully the rework is a lot better!