Archive for July, 2018

Malignant

Posted: July 18, 2018 in horror, writing

(Short fiction originally published with the Kindle version of The Waning.)

Cancer made me beautiful.

During one of my numerous appointments following my diagnosis, my doctor informed me, along with a blur of medical terms and statistical percentages, that sugar grows tumors. Strangely, staring stage four death in the face, I was suddenly able to forsake my heroin-level addiction to Snickers and the like. I was able to unearth every stashed candy bar and introduce it to the nearest trash can. Previously, I could only gluttonously shame eat the diet infractions alone in the car before picking the children up from school. It was the only way to avoid having to share the treats.

Somewhere between clean, organic, grass-fed eating and radiation, I wasted away to the slender, lean, emaciated body I always wanted. Everyone raved about how amazing and great I looked. Friends and acquaintances spouted those superficial compliments I had been craving since my first pregnancy. Yet none of them had any idea of the hideous decay blooming under the surface, of how ugly I was under the beauty I had always coveted.

I did not look like I had cancer, even as it was literally eating me alive. I made the mistake of confessing my diagnosis to someone. Once. A stranger, of course. I was not telling my family or friends, women in my yoga class, parents in the PTA, my children’s teachers. I got on the bike in spin class and peddled away with the other early morning gym rats, none of them able to see Death sitting on my handlebars, staring at me as he waited. It was my dirty little secret. Except I had told a hair stylist as if her chair was a therapist’s couch.

She could only respond with, “But you’re not losing your hair.”

My hair. Because that was the concern with terminal cancer. As if you had to be a bald zombie to be suffering. As if every cancer patient underwent chemo. As if my still full head of hair negated the perversion of my own cells against me.

It was easier to keep my fate to myself. I was not going to spend my last days as a charity case; I was not going to listen to a flood of false sympathy until it all went black. I was not going to watch my babies cry for me.

There was no saving me anyway. After radiation only seemed to accelerate my tumor growth, after the cancer had infiltrated the very marrow of my bones and every lymph node I had, the doctor even advised just enjoying the time I had left. I abandoned the small shred of hope I had been absentmindedly clinging to in his office at that last appointment.

There was no point in returning for a follow up.

Where did the cancer start? What did it matter? The first time the doctor told me, I did not hear him. Once the word “cancer” leapt off his lips, I could only hear a high-pitched ringing. The entire world was enveloped by that hideous sound, so loud it made my head swoon and the edges of the world seem fuzzy.

When the ringing receded somewhere as I stumbled to my car, it was replaced by the one resounding question: why me? What had I done to warrant this painful death sentence? What karma had earned me this level of punishment?

Shock struck me first, seizing me as I sat blank-faced in my car in that doctor’s parking lot after he so nonchalantly informed me I was dying. The words washed over my brain in waves that caused them to lose meaning. The sun blazed into my pupils, but my eyes were so out of focus and so swelled with tears I could scarcely notice. My keys were tangled in my fingers, but I could not find the strength to lift them to the ignition.

This shock was painfully temporary though. Then the heat started, the anger. There is no other word for it. First, it was a smoldering in my belly. My sickly, tumor-ridden belly. The warm radiated up beneath my skin; each of my nerves coiled and pulled taunt. My mind hardened as I felt the rage blossom across my very core.

Fucking cancer.

I felt betrayed by God, Fate, and every power in between. I felt ransomed by my own flesh that sold itself over all too easily to the will of the disease. Not a symptom, not a sign. Just a death sentence mere months before my fortieth birthday.

Happy birthday to me.

There was anger in every stage of my grief.

The anger changed me. The rage sustained me, fueled me. At some points, I was able to function on fury alone. Yet it perverted my mind; it was the cancer in my brain to match the cancer in my body, eating away at me one day at a time. I had more animosity than I had outlets to deal with it. It was violent, welling, and without direction.

I even started to feel a poignant resentment when I looked at my angel-faced children with their entire long lives sprawled out in front of them. When I screamed at my daughter for wanting to stay out past curfew for a movie with her friends, I knew I had to regain control over myself; I knew my defect was starting to show.

I could not waste my remaining time flailing around in my anguish. I just needed a focus, some way to consummate all the anger relentlessly pounding through me.

It was not fair. I did not deserve cancer. I could think of so many people just in my little life who had earned this demise much more exquisitely than I had. Like my coworker who slipped twenties out of her register and into her pockets every shift. Like my son’s math teacher who clearly spiked his coffee all day long and shepherded children while drunk.

Like my asshole husband who was pumping his dick into his personal trainer twice a week and strutting around our house so proud of getting away with it, as if I was stupid enough not to notice. As if he had ever invested a single second on self-improvement for me.

He deserved cancer. He was cancer, a tumor on our life, the malady infecting our marriage.

I decided I would feel much better about meeting my untimely end if he met his first.

I wanted to give him my cancer. I wanted those malignant growths eating away at his body like they were mine. Unfortunately, cancer requires such an orchestration of physical and environmental variables that I would be dead and rotting long before I could figure it out. I could load him full of my cancerous little cells, but his body might not react; they might not take root as swiftly and fully as they had insisted on doing inside me. If I reached the point I could give him my cancer, actually make him suffer as I was suffering, I could probably cure myself of it.

And then what would it matter?

But he had to suffer. His death had to be slow, painful. Like mine was going to be. It also had to be indirect. Getting caught didn’t ultimately matter in the scheme of my timeline, but I wanted to exit my children’s life with angelic light, not as their father’s murderer. They were going to be mad enough that I never told them I had cancer.

Poison. It was all too perfect of an answer. I would poison him the way he poisoned my life, the way he poisoned our marriage.

Focusing on his death made it easier not to think about my own impending doom. I could ignore the pain blooming from the depths of my nerves by concentrating on the misery I would finally be administering to him. It was the answer, and I felt in my tainted guts that it was right. He would get what he deserved, and I would get to vent all the wretched hate, resentment, and pain trapped in my cancerous little shell.

I had no idea how to go about poisoning someone; however, I did have the common sense to not jump on the internet and Google it. Search history and whatever my son would babble about before shutting the door to his bedroom, only the glow of the computer screen spilling out from under the door. It didn’t necessarily have to be untraceable; I would not be alive to question and detain. With the speed of government, even if someone suspected, I would probably be cold before they got around to really investigating.

It just needed to work and be easily acquired. I kept it simple and cliché. I found old rat poison that still had arsenic in it. I didn’t even have to buy any; we had some stuffed in the back corner of the garage from that one spring early in our marriage that rats decided to take up residence in our ceiling. He had bought his own poison those years ago, and now it had come full circle. And I knew exactly where to put it.

I sprinkled this ancient rat poison in his protein powder, the bullshit supplement he drank religiously after “working out” with his personal trainer sex toy each session. I did not add a lot. Not enough to taste through the fake chocolate peanut butter flavoring. I was sure once he mixed it with almond milk or whatever the hell she told him to suck down, he would have no idea.

With any luck, he would share his delicious protein shake with the taunt little bitch.

And he didn’t notice. Day by day, he just got a little weaker, a little paler. His cocky strut deflated the more he began to double over with the nausea and vomiting or around the cramps from the diarrhea. I watched him brush his hair in the morning, squinting as he lifted the brush to the light in front of his face. A tuft of his hair had fallen out. I smiled out of the corner of my mouth as his eyes began to grow more and more sunken into his sagging face.

He looked like he had cancer more than I did.

I could not stop smiling. To myself, of course. After he had gone to another doctor’s appointment to find out why he couldn’t kick whatever flu or virus must have been going around. When the kids were at school and I had the house to myself, mixing up more special protein powder for my loving husband.

My anger seemed sated, my soul calmed. My life felt, at its core, righted. The sicker he became, the more alive I felt, and, ironically, the more acceptant of my incoming departure. I could go happily into that good night knowing he would not be having sex with a twenty year-old personal trainer on top of my grave, knowing my sister would be raising our children rather than him and my infantile replacement.

I cried at his funeral, of course. Such an unexpected cardiac arrest in such a healthy middle-aged man, especially one who used the gym so frequently. I called the tears out of my past. I thought of our wedding day long ago, when I actually loved him and he, perhaps, actually loved me too. I thought of him looking down with such full eyes when he held our first child swaddled in his arms. I thought of the life we were supposed to have back then when we started, before we all became cancerous.

And I cried for my own approaching death. I imagined my children here again so soon, my rotten body in the coffin instead of their unfaithful, poisoned father. I let the tears rain down my cheeks for the life of which I was being robbed, the high school graduations I wouldn’t see, the grandchildren I wouldn’t meet, the places I would never travel.

Only one destination remained for me, and that exit grew closer by the day. I felt my body growing weaker, more infected. I could feel the cancer itself as it spread deeper and deeper toward my center.

I just had to wait. I just had to let it come for me.

The tranquility did not last though. With my husband’s cheating body cold in the dirt, the anger returned. As I marched down the last aisle of my life, that same rejection, that same contempt at the injustice of it all flared up to consume me again, to eat at me more effectively than the cancer itself.

It took my husband one month to die. According to the doctor’s math, I had about three more months left. That gave me enough time to dispatch three more people who deserved an untimely death more than myself, three more times to find that justified peace before it all just went black.

Christina Bergling

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