Saturday, October 31, 2009

Seven-Year Itch

by Joshua M. Reynolds

The itch started on a Thursday. It was a tiny thing at first. A tremble in the meat, just below the skin. Greene barely noticed it, as he scratched. And scratched. And scratched. But the itch didn’t go away. Instead, it became a bone-deep squirm that no amount of clawing satisfied.

By Saturday, the itch had spread and grown, a virus of sensation spreading under his skin. Like rot through the frame of a house. It was warm. His skin flushed red where he laid fingernail to flesh and he scratched harder, faster.

Greene tried to ignore it at first. But it only got worse, digging at his mind, always there, wriggling just out of reach, a nagging sensation that made it impossible to sit down. Or stand up. Or do anything but scratch.

He wasn’t allergic to anything. Not a blessed thing. Poison oak maybe. Or poison ivy. Those were his first and second thoughts, respectively. The source of the itch.

His doctor said no. The doctor prescribed a lotion. Another doctor, a second opinion, prescribed a pill. Nothing worked. Greene could only scratch and scratch and scratch.

It wasn’t an irritation of the skin, the doctors swore. There was nothing on the skin. No cause. His third opinion recommended him to a psychologist, a specialist in the ’it’s all in your head’ school. Greene ignored the recommendation. Just another dead-end he knew. By then, the itch was unbearable. He couldn’t eat. Couldn’t sleep. He could only scratch.

By the following Tuesday, he had discovered the cause of the itch. Something under his skin. Something rubbing against the underside of him. Spreading. Growing. Carrying the itch with it. He knew it. Knew it was there. He couldn’t sleep for the tiny explosions of irritation that blossomed between his pores.

On Wednesday, his fingers clawed strips off his arms and legs and head. Tiny, curled rolls of white, dead skin that flaked to the floor of his apartment. Blood streaked him like some garish decoration, painting him in red zebra stripes. And still the itch echoed along his bones, fleeing deeper and deeper from his questing fingers.

His fingernails cracked and split and he turned to mechanical aids. Backscratchers, forks, hair brushes. None of them scratched deep enough. Hard enough. The itch remained where it was, tantalizingly, agonizingly out of reach.

The steel wool, however, worked beautifully.

Blood burped and welled as he scraped it across his bare skin. He had stopped wearing clothes on Tuesday. He gritted his teeth against the pain, the excruciating, scraping pain that sent fire rippling along his nerves and up into his brain, but it was still better than the itch. Anything was better than the itch.

So he grasped his handfuls of steel wool and flayed himself, rubbing himself crimson, digging for the itch that hid under his skin. His flesh came away in ragged sheets, sticky with blood.

The first hairs, wiry black things like bristles, popped up through the blood on the third pass with the wool. Bobbing like buoys on a red sea. More and more hairs sprang out of his wounds, hidden beneath his skin. Dozens, hundreds, until the rough surface of a pelt was visible. Black patches of stiff hair that grew thick and wild beneath the surface of him.

And the itch began to subside. The more hair that was visible, the less he itched and Greene knew he’d been right, that it wasn’t in his head at all but under his skin. And so he scratched and scratched and the itch grew less and less as he sloughed away.

By Thursday morning, only a bit of him was left. He had stopped using the steel wool when his fingers fell away and resorted to using his tongue. Long and wide and beppled like sandpaper, he licked the last of his skin, the last of the itch, away. Until there was nothing left of him at all.

Then the wolf that had been Greene trotted out the door.

__________


Joshua M. Reynolds is a freelance writer of moderate skill and exceptional confidence. He has written quite a bit, and some of it was even published. For money. By real people.
Feel free to stop by his blog, Hunting Monsters, and cast aspersions on his character.

6 comments:

Jodi Lee said...

Very interesting premise, nicely done!

Cate Gardner said...

Excellent... And I'm left with itchy arms. Yikes.

Michael Stone said...

Artfully done!

Natalie L. Sin said...

Phenomenal : )

Karen from Mentor said...

Liked this a lot. Transformation can be so hard but it usually doesn't take steel wool.
Karen :0)

Tonymaczzz said...

Nice work, and you got the Halloween spot.