“Ever since the day I walked into that specialty shop, a dark fury has twisted in my gut, weaving threads of poison through my body. I’ve been gnawed to a papery shell. Stomach, lungs, liver, kidneys, heart; all have fallen to this festering termite. Now I’m a puzzle with missing pieces.”

I pause and glare as a nurse checks the machines I’m wired to. Her patronizing smile waves over me, but there’s no eye contact. They’re all like that, waiting for me to die already. It’s been months since I fell ill. My gaze returns to my ghostly guest as soon as she departs.

“See what I’ve become? A rag doll with no substance. Death rings, but runs when I answer its call like an auto-dialer. I’m tired of waiting, tired of all the well-wishers who hover with painted grins. Their pity is more torment than the evil inside me.

The ghostly figure tilts its head. “What are you saying, Barry?”

“I want to live.”

“You could give in to it.”

“And become a shade? Never.”

“There’s a price for what you ask.”

“There always is. I’ll pay it.”

Laughter rings out as a glowing hand touches my forehead. Heat rushes through my body. When my eyes clear I’m back in the shop. A young man reaches for a package. I move without hesitation and smack his hand away.

“That’s concentrated Carolina Reaper juice, you idiot! It’s stronger than a habanera pepper. It’ll destroy you.”

About A. L. Kaplan

I am a writer, artist, and parent.
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