Infection

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I stamped out the fire with my foot and the sole of my shoe started to melt as the invasive smell of burning rubber filled the room with a sinister smoke cloud. I saw Amanda, my spastic roommate, viciously attack the smoke detector with a broom muttering as copious amounts of smoke swirled around her. I grabbed her bath robe and dropped it on the fire, the middle swelled up as if an animal was trying to escape from it and the burning rubber of the linoleum floor. I stomped on it again, a final plume of smoke escaped, a sigh of resignation.

After several insistent screeches from the fire alarm, Amanda silenced it with a blow through the middle. The doorbell rang. She went to answer it; Lily, our friend from the room next door, stared back at her. Amanda looked hysterical, sweat soaked strands of hair covered her face, the rest tied back in a haphazard bun, her pajama top covered in tomato sauce, and a singed broom in one hand.

“What?” Amanda exclaimed indignantly. Lily raised an eyebrow as she eyed the broom in Amanda’s hands and the burning rubber of my shoes.

Amanda tried to keep a calm facade as she exhaled. “Everything, is all right.” Lily smirked; Amanda slammed the door.

The dorm was a mess, the neat checkered floor had a large scorch mark in it, and somewhere in the middle I could still see the remains of an omelet, like the small rock that remains from a meteorite, the cause of the surrounding wreckage. The bathrobe hung dejectedly on a chair looking as slumped as I felt. I heard my bedroom door slam. I went to the door with a kitchen knife and cut a large notch in it; my seventh one, one for each fire.

A minute later I found her asleep on my bed with a Russian literature textbook under her left foot and a pair of my jeans made into a pillow; her jeans and other laundry strewn about her bed. I turned off all the lights, left, and fell asleep on the couch.

I woke up to an empty dorm. Amanda had already left for class. I stepped into our room, just looking at the mess made me tired. My bed was undone and at least a hundred grayish socks were draped all over. Amanda was probably looking for a pair that survived the wash. I moved onto the kitchen. I deduced she had a cold breakfast because nothing was smoking. The remnants of her cereal lay decomposing in milk, and the pitcher sat on the table. I rubbed my head and moaned. Where to begin?

Once the dorm was reasonably clean, I sat down and had breakfast. My mother would be pleased; she was the one constantly berating me to clean my room. The broken smoke detector glared loudly in my direction. I added “new smoke detector” to Amanda’s shopping list, as well as a bathrobe and eggs. As I left for English, I saw that Amanda’s key was still in the lock. I pocketed it and left. She would remember to take her key after sitting outside our dorm for 45 minutes.



Amanda should not really have this key. I don’t even know how it happened. I had agreed to lend her notes for a class, and the same day she pounded on my door saying someone kicked her out of their room. Before I could make heads or tails of the situation, she asked where she could put her laundry. After three hours of pleading for her to get out (the last hour more on the begging side) I just succumbed to it. She agreed to do the grocery shopping and laundry. I now realize that it was more of a punishment for me since she didn’t understand the concept or reason to separate the whites. After I ended up with 25 pairs of multi colored socks, I relieved her from laundry duty.



I slept through English class and, when I arrived at the dorm, Amanda was sitting in front of the door, her hair flaming with anger. She was about to yell at me for locking her out but promptly shut her mouth when I gave her the key she had left in the lock. I sat down to do homework, and she left to make soup. When she announced this I got apprehensive however it was just soup so it seemed less threatening. Before I knew it, the pot was releasing puffs of steam like an upset animal.

“I’m so sorry,” Amanda wailed as more puffs of vicious smoke billowed around her head. When she turned off the stove I realized it was eerily quiet from the silence that was now the smoke detector. The thick smog plowed over the edge of the pot with the elegance of cat and spiraled into the air silently. I opened the door and the thick smoke slowly exited with the air of one purposefully taking as long as possible.

“What did you do wrong this time?” I huffed while opening the window and displacing a stack of lined paper.

“I don’t know,” she moaned. “I did everything right, turned the stove on low, poured the soup in a pan, mixed it and it just…exploded!’

I laughed quietly to myself, it just….exploded. What could I say, she had a way with fire, maybe a fireplace would be a worthy investment, at least it was designed to host constant flames. I added another notch to the door frame. They looked sort of silly, like the kind of marks a kid makes as he grows. Or, like gills on a fish.

That night we ordered Chinese food and had a fire free dinner. How, pleasant, and then we retired to our respective computers. Amanda’s slow typing was accentuated with swear words muttered under her breath and the annoyed flipping of textbook pages. At least five of them were on her bed making the mattress sag.
She rubbed her head and a large portion of hair escaped from her bun. As she furiously typed it danced above her head like an angry halo, only seconds away from spitting fire. My arm accidentally brushed the top of her head and she shocked me, however it wasn’t a shock it was a pulse. As if a breath of fire flared at the connection.

“Ow, you shocked me.” I muttered to no one in particular. She stared at me, one meticulous eyebrow gently raised. I dismissed it with some casual muttering and mindless fumbling. A fork fell on the floor, the sound resonating in the absence of noise. Amanda picked it up and brushed against me again. That same pulse was now more distinct, as if it knew I was watching for it. I rubbed my finger, it was a bit red almost like a burn but before I could blink it faded.

“Oh, by the way, I sorted all my laundry. You need to do yours.” Amanda said while drying a cup with a dishtowel. I groaned, she smirked and took a bowl.

Sorting the laundry turned into a huge fiasco, socks and shirts were draped everywhere. The pile on my bed was growing. As I attempted to fold the laundry I picked up a pillowcase. I noticed a faint, black splotch on it that darkened into a little hole. I held it up to the light. Something was very disturbing about it, it had the kind of familiarity that you cannot place until it slaps you in the face screaming connect the dots you idiot! But now all I felt was the chill escaping from it, swirling in invisible spirals, so tangible they almost became real. I put it on my desk gingerly as if it was a dormant disaster, the way I coax Amanda into doing something; very carefully to avoid an explosion.
As I was sorting my laundry in my dresser I saw my hat shoved unceremoniously into a small space between my backpack and a shoebox. I pulled it out. Inside was a glove.

“Amanda” I yelled

“what?” she said indignantly, more hair flying all over her face. Her eyes strangely intense for writing an English essay. Almost red. Her carved eyebrows plowed together. Her lips pursed. Her hair was still but it seemed to be in constant motion, changing, flickering.

“Where is the other glove you borrowed?” I waved the one I had in her face, it flopped in a very accusing sort of way. She rubbed her head and closed her eyes, I almost felt reprieved from the stare.

“I don’t know, check under the couch, I used it to pull out this weird thing.” I was going to respond to the multiple things that were ethically wrong with that response before I sighed, realizing I was fighting a losing battle. As I left, I felt the weird stare of her flecked eyes following me into the room. I almost heard her hair swirling. However, all was perfectly still.

I folded the two gloves and put them in their respective drawer. Then, I was slapped in the face in that chilling sort of way. I looked at the inside of the hat. There was a splotch almost Identical to the one on the pillowcase. Without thinking, I threw the hat on the floor. I didn’t know what possessed me to, instinct twisting my normally sane mind with the same invisible cold spirals that emanated from the hat. Like confronting a snake, that split second when you realize its there and can’t move, only stare before you just scream.
I picked up the hat slowly and placed it at the other end of the room, feeling like the pillowcase would start conspiring with it. I laughed at myself, a shrilly mental laugh, one that acknowledges that this is nothing to laugh about. I didn’t move either one of them, I just left them there looking evermore suspicious. I left my room, still a mess.
Walking into the kitchen I saw Amanda throwing noodles into the trashcan. The large scorch mark glared angrily and the notches, like gills, flapped on the doorway. Every little detail of the accidents seemed strangely alive. Amanda’s hair burned; the gills started breathing air; and the scorch marks continued to pulse angrily. The darkest part in the center like the pupil of an eye glaring answers at me. What aspect of Amanda was suddenly strange, which part suddenly, wrong, which part staring answers?

That night, after I had gone to bed, Amanda had typed her paper far into the morning . Today, she was staying over at Lily’s room to study for a calculus test. I was pleased to finally have time to get a start on my own test prep. I started to heat the oven and went to the cupboard for some black beans. Before Amanda came it was a food cabinet, now it was a combination of that as well as a place for Amanda to dish all her stuff. As I displaced a stack of beans, I saw a pile of pillowcases behind the beans. I took them out. The whole stack was reeking with a chilled, stale air. Like secrets kept too long, past ripe and ready to burst.
I curiously opened the first one, it seemed normal, a bit dirty. I turned it over. I almost screamed. There was that same hole, the one that got darker and darker and turned into nothingness. I opened the next one; same thing. I went through the entire stack, crazed. Possesed. Then I spread them all out on the floor, about fourteen of them. They looked like some modern art exhibit, all of the pillowcases, eyes facing up, all looking in different directions. Eyes rolling like a rabid monster’s.
Something made me look down, I was standing on the scorch mark. The largest eye of them all. I could almost feel the realization perspire on my forehead and trickle down my face. What was she doing?

Then I just took them. Piled them up. Ran with them. Past the laundry room, past Lily’s dorm where Amanda was studying, to the garbage disposal. But as I faced it, ready to throw them away, I turned and I stiffly walked back to the room. I couldn’t. I successfully coerced the crazed part of my mind into a corner. I sat down and I opened the pillowcase. I traced my finger over the edge of the hole, it was so abrupt, the growing darkness and then nothing. As I traced the rim of the hole, I felt heat travel up the tips of my fingers. As I traced I felt flashes in my mind, so small they were like twitches of my memory. A toss and turn. A nightmare. Waking up frazzled, a small light passing, burning, marking, spreading. Contaminating. I almost overlooked the scenes, the afterthoughts of a dream. I put the pilowcase down. I wanted to forget the small flashbacks, of a life that wasn’t even mine and never would be.
I folded the pillowcases and tried to go back to work. I couldn’t. Work seemed like it was from a different era. I walked into my room, Amanda’s coat was lying on my white bed cloth, her shoes in front of the door. The presence of the coat and shoes scared me. As if Amanda was waiting for me. Stepping off my bed. Slipping on her shoes. Burning down the building. I backed out of the room and lay down on the couch. Always the couch. My new bed. My glove probably subjected to some vile concoction underneath me. Maybe all that was left by now was a pile of ashes.
I fell asleep.

I still don’t know how I ever accomplished that. Maybe that’s why there is a large hole in my memory. All the discoveries darkening, darkening then nothing. Amanda burning holes in my memory. Small things missing from my life, like sheets of paper torn from a file. Or shadows. All I see is the disorganization of my thoughts. She has to stop. She has to leave and get out of my life. Out of my room, take her coat and her shoes and go. I could have told her the day she came, or the first time she lit soup on fire,or the second or the third. Now it was the seventh, no the eight, plus fourteen more that happened unsuspectingly with every one of her bad dreams. Too late, I was already up to my eyes with her.

I lay down with my thoughts, just swirling in my head and leaking out my ears. The door clicked. I heard a small scuffle. I sat up, Amanda took off her coat. She was wearing my green shirt. It shouldn’t have been such a big thing after this afternoon but it was. It was the straw, no the match that broke the overworked camel’s back.

“When did I lend you that shirt?” were the first words out of my mouth. I had never gotten really angry with her, I felt that it was never really her fault. But it was. She and her problem barged in declaring to be the mistress of the house now their walking in through my door wearing my clothes and flopping down on my chair.

“Relax, its not dirty” she said flippantly.

“No, I won’t. You didn’t even ask, not for my shirt, my bed, my room, nothing! All you’ve done is come and burn down my kitchen, ruin all my socks, and, today I found out you even burn things in your sleep!” she stiffened at my last words and my tone, I had never yelled at her before.

“What do you mean?” she asked carefully, as if talking with pins in her mouth.

“Quit walking in circles, I found fourteen pillowcases with scorch marks on them, that’s not an accident!” I glared at her and forced her back into the chair. She tried to brush it off but I could tell my words fazed her, it was reflected in those odd flickering eyes. She couldn’t hide that from me. I swear I heard her mumble something under her breath that sounded like just like last time, fourteen, it must be spreading. It unnerved me when she said that.

“I-I’m-what do you mean?” she moaned. It was not a question, she knew what I was referring to. I held up one of the pillowcases, the blood drained from her face as she slipped lower in her chair.

“I think its pretty clear, there is not much more to explain!” the words came out coldly and harshly, I never knew myself to speak like that. Well, I had never been put in a situation like this.

“What is it then, would you like to tell me?” I asked mockingly, my voice surprising me again, ruthless, unfazed by the pleading in her eyes. I had pleaded too, though, for her to leave me alone, for small things. No, I was right.

“It’s, well, sometimes, no whe - you know when you’re really stressed and well..” her voice faded off, she was on the verge of tears.

“sometimes when I’m angry, things...happen.” she said ‘happen’ softly, the world slipped her tongue as if by mistake.

“It’s hard to explain but I feel as if there’s so much, energy around me and suddenly it’s all coursing through me and then, there’s a small flicker and...” I breathed in. I didn’t want to understand.

“No, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I said, every word measured and hesitant.

“I don’t really know myself, I think that, well. I sort of create the fire....” her voice trailed off, she was obviously embarrassed by what she had said. Suddenly I thought of something.

“You had a bad day on Wednesday didn’t you?” The change in topic scared her, she looked relieved from the diversion but her eyes were wary.

“Yes, why?” I retrieved the hat from the room, it was folded over to contain the scorch mark, like when I was little and wrapped up fireflies in my hands to keep them from flying away, holding it in my hands as if the burn would escape and spread into a flame. I held out my hat and flipped it inside out. She gave a trembling moan.

“You did this.” I accused.

“Yes..” The word stumbled out of her mouth. I looked at the kitchen, the burnt floor, the notched door frame the stack of pillowcases.

“Get. Out.” I said, I did not yell; the words were soft, infused with power. For the third time my voice shocked me.

“What?” her eyes were bewildered, but not weak.

“Leave, I’m sick of having you here.” She stared, now angry.

“You’re kicking me out, just because of this” she was walking toward me, I panicked. What have I done? I thought to myself.

“Just because of this?” Once again my mouth jumped to answer.

“This is not a small thing.” I was caught between the table and the window. Amanda stared at me and I felt my mind melt. No, I couldn’t do this. The stupidly brave part of my mind said sure you can, she never had a problem doing it to you, bossing you around and all. Amanda placed her hand on the paper strewn table.

“Get out of my room! Please,” I said, the last word betraying my fear of what was going on. Her eyes crackled. Before I even breathed it in, the all too familiar smell of smoke reached my nostrils, curling from the paper under Amanda’s hand. However, now it was empowering.

“Get out!” I told her. Before she could respond, I grabbed the pile of pillowcases, wrenched open the door and threw them out the door. Then I proceeded to wipe out all of Amanda from my room, the living room and kitchen and threw it all into the hallway. Everything Amanda had touched, owned, bitten or burned was hurled outside like was ridding myself of a plague. Somewhere in the process, I guess, I had thrown Amanda out as well for she was standing outside the door in a pile of her stuff, her eyes pleading. I couldn’t let her back in. I had just gotten her out.

I closed the door behind me. The room looked messy, but all the evidence from the fires seemed to have disappeared, all except the notches, my additions. Everything was, still. As I finally breathed out, the paper flared, caught fire then burnt to a crisp.





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