“I feel like I gargled liquid rape,” Proponence Coolidge said to her friend, Ashel Bagtaster.
“What makes you think you didn’t?” Ashel replied coolidgely.
“Hey, don’t mimic my voice. No, I’m just sick. I bet I got it from tasting bags.”
Ashel screamed suddenly, “Hey, don’t mock my name!” Then he reined it in and continued, “I had an amateur writer who specializes in character name creation come up with it.”
“I don’t want to hear it. You’re always going on about your new identity lately.” Proponence shifted in her bean bag and flipped to the next page in her ghost spy novel. Books about ghost spies weren’t really her normal reading, but there were no more vampire lawyer books in her queue, and her friend, Keely, really wanted her to read this one.
Ashel studied his sick bookworm friend for a moment, then shook his head and said, “Well, I’m off to work. I take it I won’t see you there later?”
“No, you won’t, unless you count my likeness, which is prominently featured on the Employees Who Rule wall. You know, the picture of me where I’m pretending to meditate against the fake hurricane backdrop. I can’t believe they let us choose our own pictures for that wall, and I can’t believe Sears had a hurricane backdrop.” Proponence sighed. “I love the ravages of nature.”
Ashel shook his head again. “Uh-huh, so I won’t see you there. Bye.” He left.
Proponence was about to flip a page again when she coughed what looked like forced sex out of her throat and into her hand.
“Ewwww, godawful grossness!”
She ran to the bathroom pretending to be insane with disgust, belting out a few shrieks for the benefit of her neighbors who already thought she was crazy. She flicked the light on with her dry hand, then motion-activated the faucet and stabbed her sick-slicked appendage into the waterfall.
“Down the drain, foul disease,” she said in the lowest voice she could manage, cocking her head side to side as she squirted some soap into her palm and made the washing more effective. Suds!
She enjoyed talking when no one was around except possibly people on the other side of the thin wall. It made her feel like she was putting on a show. Either God or her neighbors could be in the audience. Frankly, both parties seemed like they could use a laugh.
After the Dyson Airblade was done drying her hands and placing itself conspicuously into the story, Proponence danced to the phone and pushed a series of numbers.
“Melora’s Bakery and Tanning Salon, may I help you?” Kristess asked from the other end of the line.
“Kristess! Just the person I was looking to give bad news to. Guess what.”
“Proponence? You’re pregnant?”
“Hee hee, no. Unless I’m pregnant in my throat and giving birth to ungodly sums of mucus. And no jokes about how I’m snotty, so it only makes sense I’d have a snotty baby.”
“My mind wasn’t quite there yet. So you’re calling in sick?”
“And how! I never saw such nastiness emerge from such a pure creature before. You should see the crud I just washed down the sink. It’s like there was a demon for every snake on Medusa’s head, and they all circle-jerked into the snakes’ mouths, and then Medusa threw it all up into Tobey Maguire’s butt, and he went into a walk-in microwave and let it sizzle off of him into a cup, and by cup I mean protective gear for a male’s maleness. That’s pretty much the consistency of what came out of me.”
“Oooh, then save me some. I have an ex who’s been asking for something like that. Anyway, I’d better get on the horn and see who I can get to replace you.”
“No one, but I love you for trying,” Proponence said cutely.
“We need to stop being so cute,” Kristess said, also cutely.
“You need to stop lumping us together! I feel like we’re two breasts in a single-cup bra.”
“Ah! You’re right. That’s the definition of our relationship. Good luck on the hunt.”
“Yeah, like it’s not going to be Bertrand working for you. I’ll tell him you’re really sorry, that you’re under the weather to the point that you feel you’re under six feet of earth.”
“All right, then. Thanks, Kristess. I’m going to go cough up more of my baby now. See you tomorrow, hopefully.”
“Screw that. I’ll stop by your place after my shift and check on you. Want anything from the store?”
“Yeah, go across the street to Melville’s and take a picture of yourself slapping Ashel. That will make me feel better.”
“Will do. Rest like the dead.”
“CHEESES, stop making references to me being dead! Under all of this mucus I have some good years left in me.”
“Click,” said Kristess.
Click, said Proponence’s phone.
Proponence ran and jumped, twisting so she landed on her back in her bean bag. The beans accepted her form with minimal complaint. It didn’t take long. Proponence tried to continue reading, but her body wanted to rest in the form of sleep. Even though the ghost spy was about to get his man, or at least try, with his limited influence on the real world, she couldn’t stay awake.
Not a good dream!
There were three brothers wrestling on the ground, but the ground was made of their three sisters who had been burned at the stake in a past witch hunt. Some of the ground was somehow still recognizably human, and as one of the boys rolled over an elbow, potentially once belonging to a sister named Bettany, he croaked in pain. His side was punctured, and robotic spiders started escaping from the wound. The spiders had really bad AI and were soon all collected in a writhing pile in the corner of the sandbox/family burial site. The other two brothers started licking the open wound after the spiders had finished pouring out, and it sealed up from their French medicine.
Finally, Proponence was in her own dream, and she was barking in Dogese at them, telling them to go lick their rooms. They pretended not to understand her and instead all turned their backs on her and bent over. The trinity of adolescent asses did not improve her demeanor.
Gathering power from her surroundings with an inhale, Proponence launched a cyclonic energy blast that saw the asses dispersing like so much dust. The ass-less boys fell to their faces, one whimpering, another weeping, and the last simply paralyzed.
Then the landscape tilted, and all of the stupid robot spiders that had piled in one corner of the sandbox slid over the boys and functioned like erasers, stealing their existence.
Proponence woke up. It was dark out now. In three seconds flat, she was angry.
“Rip-off! I think I had that dream before, only with more attractive people,” she spat in English to her empty apartment. “If being sick means I get knock-off dreams, I’ll blah blah blah…” and she trailed off.
There was a knock at her door, even though she knew she had a doorbell.
“Be right there!” she yelled. She forced herself up out of her bean bag with some effort and ran for the door. She liked to run around her apartment as much as she liked to talk aloud with no one around. “Open, magic portal,” she said, then twisted the knob and pulled it open to see a figure she would normally be unafraid of wearing a balaclava. When the doppelgänger failed to greet her, she prompted, “Please use your voice so I may stop soiling myself.”
“Oh, fine. Hello, Apropos.”
Apropos was Bertrand’s nickname for her, the only one anyone had given her. She didn’t know if it quite worked, but she had to forgive him for he had a damaged brain. At least, that’s what she would always tell him since she liked feeling superior to someone, and why not a coworker?
“Kristess said you were sick today, and she said I should bring this by for you.” He held out a framed picture of himself slapping Ashel Bagtaster. He pulled off the balaclava as she accepted the picture.
“Rock on!” said Proponence. “Where’s hers?”
“Oh, she’s coming. She actually has everyone who was on shift today bringing one over. She thought it would be great if you had a wall of shots of Ashel getting slapped, sort of an Employees Who Rule wall for home, only this way we’re ALL pretending that we rule. No elitist crap. No favoritism.”
“How exceedingly presumptuous of her. I take great care in choosing what goes on my walls,” she boasted, nodding to the bare vertical surfaces around her home. Bertrand humored her and followed her nods. “I know it doesn’t look like much right now, but I swear, if you flip off the lights and turn a black light on them, you’ll see a masterpiece in germs. I just hope my current illness didn’t fudge any of the details.”
As if mentioning her sickness awoke the beast, Proponence suddenly went into a coughing fit. As she coughed, she ran to the bathroom to wash off whatever vileness erupted.
“Yuck,” Bertrand pointed out.
“I know!” Proponence exclaimed from the bathroom.
Knock-knock-knock-knock at the door, even though Proponence was still certain there was a doorbell out there for the pressing.
“Be a deer who isn’t caught in the headlights and get that, would you?” she asked Bertrand, still from the bathroom.
“I already am,” he answered back, and the parade began.
Coworker after coworker spilled into the self-proclaimed germ artist’s apartment, all bearing pictures of mock abuse in varying sizes.
“Kristess here!” Kristess announced herself. “I brought medicine!” she said, her eyes sparkling.
Proponence came out of the bathroom looking like she’d coughed up Satan, which perhaps she had.
Everyone smiled, especially the ones who were uncomfortable being at a sick person’s house yet who were dragged along anyway.
“See? See?” Kristess proudly showed Proponence the throng filling her apartment. “I even called in the people who weren’t working. Look, there’s Radcliffe!” she said, indicating a young gentleman of compromised composure. “He NEVER shows up for work!” Everyone except Radcliffe laughed. He sat and took it since it was true. “And finally…” Kristess hyped with incredible mouth-trumpet, “the man himself, Ashel Bagtaster!”
Ashel walked in holding a poster-sized image of himself. In the picture, he was slapping himself Home Alone-style.
“I don’t know what to say,” Proponence said, starting to cry. “I feel a little like George Bailey. I mean, I know I’m awesome, but I never expected such a display, not while I’m alive. People are only supposed to appreciate you after the final skedaddle.”
As if mentioning her own death was enough to wake the beast, death swooped in and claimed her. Retaining her vitality even in sickness, her coworkers were unprepared to see her fall into a pile of horrifying inertness.
Pictures were dropped, and all rushed to her aid, but it was too late.
As it turns out, overdosing on medication that’s only symbolic can still be deadly.