Unopia

Adult deer tick, Ixodes scapularis.

Tick-tock goes the clock in Unopia. ... Image via Wikipedia

John discovered the thing – at a place halfway up his thigh – only because he looked down at his leg while drying off after an evening bath. Otherwise, who knows how much time might have passed before he realized that something was chewing into him?

That’s the strange thing about it – he couldn’t feel it; no pain, no weird sensations, even though the thing was boring into his leg, and that puzzled him more than the identity of the creature, which looked like an insect, but none that he’d seen before. Whatever it was, he couldn’t get it off him, or out of him, even though he made several attempts.

I don’t have time for this; I’ve gotta get back to work.

He got dressed and went to his room.

* * *

He’d been out in the fields earlier that day, roaming the sun-splashed countryside around his family’s old farm during a break from his writing. That’s what he did most of the time – write. He had scant profit to show for it, in money or prestige, but he didn’t care about those things. What he cared about was perfection, hoping to one day reach that place where the words flowed like a river during spring thaw, and everything else ceased to exist.

He wasn’t getting far at the moment, though; his flow was being interrupted by the smallest of objects – the tiny black thing embedded in his thigh. He would write for a few minutes, then look down at it. Then write some more, then look down at it. Then write, then look. And each attempt to return to his writing carried softer resolve and less concentration than the time before.

This is ridiculous.

He grabbed his hunting knife out of his dresser drawer and went into the bathroom. Sitting on the toilet with the affected leg propped on the edge of the tub, he slid the tip of the knife under the black thing and began working the knife in a back-and-forth twisting motion, like turning a car’s ignition. He felt the pointy tip digging into his leg, a biting sensation that yelled at him to stop, but he had no time to stop, and he only winced at the knife and the bit of blood that trickled out.

The black thing was latched onto him pretty well, but after working at it for a couple minutes, he got it out. He grabbed it between two fingers and studied it – and still had no idea what it was. He dropped it into the sink, then washed the blood off his leg and examined the injured spot. It was fine, would heal up in no time.

Takes care of that.

He flushed the bug down the drain and washed his hands and knife, then wrote for a while before going to bed.

* * *

When he woke up the next morning, it wasn’t to the tune of songbirds or the whisper of a gentle breeze through his window, but to an itch.

On his thigh.

He got up, dressed, and sat down to write. All day he worked, stopping only twice to eat and go to the bathroom. By nine o’clock that evening, however, he still hadn’t reached his daily quota – his leg had continued to itch (worse with each passing hour, it seemed), and he hadn’t been able to keep his mind from thinking about the fact that his leg continued to itch. He slammed his pen down on his desk and began pacing.

Go for a walk, he thought after a minute. That’ll help.

He took a step towards the door, then glanced out his window and saw that it was a cloudy, moonless night, too dark for a walk.

His pacing redoubled. He began running his hand through his hair and making other nervous gestures. He could feel the irritability eating at him, spreading from his chest into his clenched jaw and then into the very center of his mind. He flopped onto the edge of his bed, head buried in hands that pulled at his hair, screaming at himself on the inside. He worked hard to restrain a real scream – he didn’t want to wake his mother and sister – but he had to do something, so he grabbed his pillow and began mauling it, landing punch after punch in a giant wave of gnawing fury.

After a minute, however, he felt a sudden drain, like a plug had been pulled, emptying him of everything but exhaustion. He collapsed facedown onto his bed, not bothering to undress or shut the light off, and fell asleep.

* * *

It was before dawn when Margaret was roused by a terrible noise from her brother’s room next door. She came out into the hall and saw his light still on, and as she stood there listening a moment, the sound seemed to fill her veins with ice. She crept to his door, and with shaking hands she edged it open until she could see him. Then she ran.

She burst into her mother’s dark bedroom.

“Mama, come quick!”

“What is it, dear?”

“It’s John. I heard him groaning something awful, so I looked in on him; he’s sweating and shivering; I don’t know what’s wrong.”

Her mother was already up on her feet.

“I’ll get some water; you go make sure he’s covered good.”

A minute later Margaret rushed into her brother’s bedroom with extra blankets and wrapped him up tight as a drum, and not long after that their mother entered with a pot of boiling water. She wiped the sweat off John’s feverish face with a dry towel, then soaked a cloth in the water and dabbed his face before laying the cloth across his forehead. She repeated this process every few minutes.

“What’s wrong with him, Mama?”

“I don’t know.”

* * *

All day it was the same, and well into the next night. Then, in the latest hours, John spoke, startling Margaret and their mother out of a doze.

“Need … my paper.”

“John?” said Margaret. “Can you hear me?”

“Bring … my paper.”

“Mama, what’s he saying?”

“I think he’s saying he wants his writing paper.”

“What? Oh, he must be getting worse; he’s not talking any sense.”

“Maybe he is gettin’ worse, and maybe he ain’t makin’ any sense–”

“Paper.”

“But if he wants his paper, we’ll give him his paper. Go fetch it, please.”

“Yes, Mama.”

Margaret grabbed several sheets from the top drawer of John’s desk.

“Here they are, and I brought his pen too.”

“Go on and give ’em to him.”

Margaret laid the paper and pen in his lap, and then they watched to see what would happen next.

* * *

John opened his eyes and saw the paper and pen in his lap; he had no idea how they’d gotten there. He felt like he hadn’t slept well, yet a peculiar pleasant sensation was running through him. He looked at the pen and paper again.

And all he could see before his eyes were words, a steady stream of them flowing out from his mind towards the paper, and he realized where he was.

Not hearing the voices of his sister and mother, who had been calling to him since his eyes opened, he picked up the pen and paper with nervous hands and began writing.

* * *

“Mama, look! He’s writing! And he ain’t groaning anymore!”

“Yes,” said their mother. She snapped her fingers in front of John’s glazy eyes, but he gave no sign that he noticed. But where is he?

* * *

Time no longer existed for John Lewis Danforth. He wrote with vigor, his pace furious but not rushed, the words in his mind melting through his pen onto the page, solidifying there in perfect form. Without effort and without pause, they flowed like a river during spring thaw, and everything else ceased to exist.

* * *

For days this went on, nonstop. John’s mother and sister remained by his side, giving him regular hot-water treatments and feeding him blank page after blank page. He took no food, however, or water, or medicine, and he never moved from the awkward half-laying, half-sitting-up position he’d placed himself in.

And if they didn’t give him more paper in time, he simply wrote on his palm.

“Oh, Mama.” Margaret laid her head on her mother’s shoulder and cried.

* * *

In the end, as with all spring thaws, there did come an end. The words ceased, and John laid down his pen.

“Mama, he stopped!”

“Yes,” said Mama, placing her hand on his forehead, “and I think the fever’s broke too.”

“So he’ll be alright.”

“It looks that way. We’ll just give him some time to come around.”

Margaret smiled, glad that she’d soon be getting her brother back.

* * *

John opened his eyes and saw a pile of paper and a pen by his side. He had no idea how they’d gotten there.

He felt like he hadn’t slept well, yet the ember of some pleasant memory glowed in his mind. He looked at the pen and paper again.

Then he remembered.

It happened!

Not hearing the voices of his sister and mother, who had been calling to him since his eyes opened, he lunged for the pile and pulled it towards him.

* * *

Page after page after page. John couldn’t believe it.

I was there. I remember it. I was there!

He rifled through the pages, rubbing his eyes.

“John.”

At last he noticed one of the voices. He looked up and saw his sister, Margaret.

“John,” she said, her face beaming. “Welcome back.”

His eyes wide in horror, his very self plunging into despair, he gazed down at his collection of illegible scrawls.

“I never left.”

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