Face Off: A Short Story
Ray Thornton walked into the office after lunch break, but there was no sign of Vince. He must have gone to get a cup of coffee and forgotten to lock the door — again. Ray sat down, slightly annoyed, and began to compile the report they were supposed to be working on together. Thirty minutes went by and still no Vince, so Ray called him. The phone rang and vibrated on the desk next to his own, Vince’s desk. Hey cock knocker, you’re late.
“Dumb ass goes MIA without his phone??” Ray got a drink of water and walked to the restroom. He stopped short of turning the knob when his foot stepped in a puddle just outside the door. Oh Jesus, what is that? Blood? Is that fucking blood?
“Vince? — You in there? Hello?” He turned the knob reluctantly and assumed a semi-defensive position. Only, he was without defense for what he saw next. Vince’s face lay in a limp pile on the floor folded over itself, eye holes looking up at Ray it seemed. Vince was on the toilet, dead, make that very dead, and holding a knife. At least he was pretty sure it was Vince… His face was mostly missing, revealing a gruesome mask of bone, blood and connective tissue. Ray stumbled back three steps and lost his footing, crashing into the water cooler, knocking it from its perch, then rolled to his hands and knees and vomited perhaps a few quarts…
Ray wiped the puke from his face with trembling hands and called 911.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“My boss just — he, he cut his face off…”
“I told you, he cut his face OFF; please hurry. 323 West First Street, hurry!”
Two weeks prior, Ray and Vince had been hitting the links, drinking cold beer and having a good time. Now he cuts his face off? Vince had been itching and scratching his face quite a bit as of late; complaining too. He said he thought it was probably allergies, but Ray had told him it was probably that flying devil bug that bit him that day on the golf course.
Vince had gone about half apeshit, dropped his golf bag and his beer, and fell to his knees, swatting his face and cursing in tongues. Ray had laughed and laughed — what a pussy! He had been bitten too, but you didn’t see him rolling around on the ground like a… Oh shit, he had been bitten too. Was it the same fly? The same kind of fly? The thought sent revolt through his mind and rolled his stomach. It couldn’t be, Ray reasoned; my face doesn’t even itch.
Ray sat at home that night, television on, trying to forget the horrors of the day. He clicked through the channels looking for something, anything to capture his attention if only for a few minutes. Shit, no dice. Maybe liquor would be quicker.
Ray found his reprieve in a bottle of Jack Daniels. “I don’t always drink like an alcoholic, but when I do, it’s after watching a friend cut his face off.” This struck Ray as particularly funny and he couldn’t help but laugh.
Vince and Ray were back on the golf course, soaking up some sun and whacking some balls. It was a perfect spring day; birds were singing, frogs were croaking and it was almost 70 degrees.
Ray was winding up his backswing when a shadow washed over him. That buzz, what in the hell was that buzz? He turned to see the swarm and Vince just standing there agape, transfixed on the dark cloud pulsating their way past Ray and onward toward Vince.
“What the fuck is this?” Ray said.
Vince just stood there, didn’t answer, gaze unbroken. He looked to be in a trance. The swarm began to take on a funnel cloud appearance, swirling overhead maybe ten feet above Vince’s head. The slow spinning formation above and the drone of their wings was somewhat hypnotic. Then horrific.
The whole mass of it suddenly plunged into Vince’s open mouth; his body shook and danced like someone had turned a machine gun on him. That went on for an agonizing thirty-seconds or so, and then he fell to the ground. Still buzzing. Full of the black, buzzing death.
Ray jarred awake, breathless and in a cold sweat. Oh fuck, man. Fuck… Ray wasn’t conscious of it just yet, but his face really itched, downright uncomfortable. It felt like something had laid eggs in there and they were hatching.
Ray had to be at the precinct at 10 am to answer a few more questions regarding Vince’s — incident. He drank his black coffee and ate his burnt toast, trying to forget that wretched dream. When the skin on his cheek began to burn, he realized he had been scratching it… Oh, Jesus… Is this how it starts? He put the thought out of his mind; it was probably his new aftershave irritating his skin. He walked to the bathroom, looked in the mirror and recoiled at his image. Raised welts with small, white, scratchy bumps on the surface. Oh fuck — he threw the aftershave in the trash.
Ray pushed through the doors of the station and asked to speak with Detective Gordon. He had better pick up a newspaper and check out the Help Wanted section after this, he thought. Ray wouldn’t be holding onto his fancy apartment much longer on his meager savings.
“Good morning Mr. Thornton,” Darrick Gordon said.
“Officer,” Ray replied with a nod.
“Of course, sorry.”
“Let’s start at the beginning, Mr. Thornton.”
“Ray, you can call me, Ray.” God, his face itched, he could literally just — peel it off…
“Are you all right, Ray? You don’t look like you feel so well.”
“Haha, thanks, just an allergic reaction to some new aftershave I think.”
Ray answered Detective Gordon’s questions as quickly as possible; he could not wait to get home and take a cold shower. It sounded like just the trick to alleviate the hellish creep he felt beneath his skin.
Ray fumbled his keys and they dropped to the floor just outside his door at the Northbrook Apartments.
“Goddammit,” he breathed, without pausing from clawing at his swollen face. Ray found it difficult to do shit left handed, but his right hand was fully occupied. A trickle of blood began its slow crawl and dripped onto his collar. He ran for the shower and cranked on the cold. Getting his shirt off was the hardest part as he had to remove his hand from his face, if only for a moment. He hadn’t told Officer Gordon about his plight, shit, DETECTIVE Gordon — whatever, but if the shower didn’t change-his-life, he was going to the ER. Something was very wrong. He knew what happened to Vince now, he knew. It was unbearable and getting worse. Next stop, bat shit crazy.
The cold water nearly stopped his heart for a moment, but damn it felt great on his face. With the itch slightly dulled now, he could take a rest and explore the new landscape above his neck with his fingertips, instead of his greedy nails. The fuck’s this?
His face felt like tapioca pudding, maybe with some popcorn kernels mixed in. The soft bumps moved around beneath the skin; he could manipulate them with his fingers. The hard ones, the popcorn, were stuck in place. They didn’t move, they felt — connected. Squeezing a popcorn bump between his fingers, he heard, he felt, a sickening crunch. Oh my God… He was going to need some tools.
He turned off the cold water and jumped out of the shower. The mirror wasn’t fogged up; an advantage of the cold shower method. Ray started digging with his pointy tweezers, usually reserved for ear hair and splinters. What came out resembled a nit, a pupae, a larva. Holy hell! He examined the wreckage on his face and to his horror, there was more to come. He squeezed out a small, winged, black insect covered in his own blood. So this is the tapioca…
Ray looked for a knife. The only one he could find in his semi-panicked state was a long serrated bread knife. He dug at his face with the tip, first gently, then more aggressively. The more he poked and prodded, the more bugs spilled out. They fell like rain to the countertop and Ray was mortified. They scurried and ran, into the bathroom cupboard, out underneath the door, into the tub and down the drain, out the open window. Ray wanted these devils out of his face and he wanted them out NOW.
He surmised if he just cut a little larger flap instead of these tiny holes, then the bastard bugs would be gone that much faster; so he began to saw. Holy fucking shit, man; I am cutting my own face off. In his terror, he had nearly forgotten about Vince. There’s just something about bugs crawling out from beneath your skin that tends to give a guy a single-minded focus. Everything else just tends to fall away — not unlike that hunk of meat that just slapped down on the Corian, he thought.
Thanks for reading!