“Ouch!” Jane realized she had been biting her lip, enjoying the taste of the blood a little too much. She grabbed a tissue and dabbed at the wound as her boss rounded the corner to remind her of the staff meeting.
“Crap, I’m late.” She grabbed for her notebook hastily and bound around the corner to the meeting room. The room was so packed full, no one would have imagined a round of layoffs had just finished. How many more rounds would there be before she’d gain the momentum to approach the boss and ask for relocation? Or just quit this rat race all together? That internship at the dance studio was still up for grabs. If she could only get herself to write that stupid entrance essay.
The boss started describing figures, salaries, overheads, underheads, blah, blah, blah. Jane checked her phone a little over four times before noticing the slow ticking of the clock nearby her head.
“And here we have the ratio of sales to staff…” Tick, Tick, Tick.
“We are going to have to let go of another round of newbies, if not today, then next month.” Tick, Tick, Tick.
“So it just makes better sense to get it over with sooner than later.” Tick, Tick…
The air around Jane’s body seemed to grow frigid and stale with the next Tick. She tried to think of something else, anything else, besides the incessant ticking next to her head. She turned her head to face her adversary, but no clock decorated the room.
That’s when she felt the first pull. It started downward, from her chest, creating a heaving from within her, and she wretched all over the carpet.
“Jeez, Jane, take a day!”
She rushed towards the bathroom, hand over her mouth, and the next wave landed just in time in the sink.
Lucy, from the cubicle next to hers, popped her head in the bathroom and approached tentatively, hand soft on her back, “Jane, you OK?”
“I’m not pregnant, Lucy. I guess I’m just….” Bile spewed the mirror, chunks and blood dripped down, creating shimmering streaks in the recently windexed reflection.
Lucy removed her hand, “Shit, Jane. Go to a doctor.”
Jane didn’t come into work the next day. Or the next. Or ever again. Her boss sent Lucy over to check on her and to give her the news that she’d been one of the casualties of the impending layoffs.
But, no one was home. Everything was as it always was. Dirty dishes in the sink. Bed unmade. Shoes in a row in the closet. The bedroom window was open, but, that wasn’t necessarily unusual. It did get hot on this side of town.
A police report was filed, the scene (her apartment) was roped off, and statements were taken. Was she unhappy at her job? Did she have any known enemies? Did she have any family? Routine questions, all leaving more questions. Not unhappy, but not happy. She always wanted to be a dancer, not a receptionist. No enemies, no family. Just her.
Another week passed. No funeral yet. That would be insensitive. She might still be found.
The police tape was removed. Another week, and the apartment was cleared and rented to a darling little couple just in from the country.
Sweat glistened at the corners of his mouth as his secretary read him the numbers from the last round of layoffs.
“Damn. We’re going to have do go for round three!” he muttered.
His cuff was now turning gray from the constant dabs at the pooling sweat.
“Get me some water, Lucy.”
He had been hesitant to take this job in the first place. Management was never his strong suit. He’d been content to skate by, undetected, just him and the computer. But once his dad’s Alzheimer’s hit, someone had to step up to the plate to salvage a legacy of work.
He didn’t like telling people their livelihood was lost. He didn’t like feeling the blame, the searing burns of hate as the employees hastily (and sometimes violently) gathered their belongings and exited.
And yet, here he was, another guilty boss, holding his guilty head in his guilty hands.
The cramping started down deep in his abdomen. A slight, giddy like sensation, at first. Butterflies? Then the ripping started. First, a slow, searing gash, just under his skin, traveling up from the pubic bone, into his ribcage. He let out a moan and fell to the floor, clutching his stomach.
I’m being ripped open, he thought. There is something inside me, it wants out. It wants to come out. Get it out. But the words wouldn’t come, only a slow trickle of blood, creating an off angular pattern in the dusty carpet.
When Lucy got back, the boss was gone. She let out an annoyed sigh and left the water on his desk, where it would continue to sit until the janitor cleaned it up for the next boss weeks later after the investigation was complete. The carpet was never cleaned, and the blood stain was never found.
In the hubbub of office activities, who stops long enough to contemplate their surrounds, let alone get down low enough to notice a tiny trickle of dark blood in the carpet?
Lucy was next. Then, the courier who came on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Then, Bob from accounting, the one with the twins. All, gone.
The connection was in the lab work of a child, the recycled tissue of an assistant, and on the carpet of the boss’s office.
Once it was determined the disappeared weren’t coming back, lives continued on, as best they could. Thoughts of people from the past were interrupted by cell phones, reality shows, and parties.
People tried to forget the disappeared, but there was still that question. That mystery. That bite, that first taste of blood when a person realizes something is wrong.
They were all becoming infected now, with this new genetic anomaly, this questioning change that would continue to grow inside all of them until it burst-leaking out new life, alongside putrefied flesh, bleeding color for the very first time.