Blood coursed from his fingertips, escaping first the confines of the veins, then the boundaries of the fingers, all to plunge downward to the growing puddles on each side of Joe. The man himself stood motionless, looking in despair at the grisly scene around him. ‘This is ridiculous’ thought Joe;‘all I wanted to do was play some Judas Priest.’
Joe’s pride and joy, his previously pristine Alpine White Gibson SG, was now a bloody mess, looking more like a murder weapon than a musical instrument.The fretboard was streaked with blood, the mother of pearl inlays more crimsont han white. The body of the guitar fared only slightly better, blotted withpockets of mixed puss and blood. Still, the guitar looked better than hisFender Jazz Bass, previously sunburst, now gore-blurred. The bass strings were just too rough, ripping open his sensitive fingers. Hoping the smaller gauge guitarstrings would be a relief, Joe didn’t count on them just slicing his already wounded fingers to tatters. Ringo once famously moaned about having blisters on his fingers, but what would he say to this? Bryan Adams sang about playing until his fingers bled, but this could not have been what he had in mind. This gave new meaning to the phrase “shred metal.”
This destruction of Joe’s existence had begun so subtly; two weeks ago,Joe began to notice an aching over his entire body. Although his playing became increasingly painful, Joe was still able to persist, recording his successful cover songs, but still struggling to compose his own material. As Joe experiencedincreasing physical pain, he diagnosed it as psychosomatic pain, attributed to his fruitless struggle to compose his own music; he had won great acclaim as a session player, even to the point of securing an independent record contract,but all his efforts at personal composition were in vain. However, Joe became seriously concerned about his physical condition when the constant, dull throbbing was quickly accompanied by shooting pains when pressure was applied to an area;picking up something as trivial as the TV remote would virtually cripple him,his tendons transformed into seething barbed wire. Shortly thereafter, Joe beganto suffer from excessive bleeding, brought about by cuts which would emerge when he applied pressure; his barbed tendons began to shred his insides, theblood virtually bursting through his skin.
Alarmed, Joe finally visited the physician. Unfortunately, the resistance of the pen on the paper as he signed-in caused his finger pads to tear open,smearing the pen and saturating the form. Upon examination, the prognosis hadbeen grim: “Joe, I’ve never seen anything like this. It appears to be a mutated strain of necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh-eating bacteria. However,this is a highly resistant and unusual strain, its genetic attributes unlike that of any known species of the disease. With this strain, there is no proven course of action. As your disease progresses, you will be a welcome home to infections with your constantly open sores; you will need to be placed in a clean room and administered appropriate antibiotics.”
Despite this medical advice, Joe refused to live out his last days in a hospital, listening to muzak. Instead, Joe elected to take his chances and go home, taking his prescriptions of broad-spectrum antibiotics to attempt at retarding the progress of the disease and Tramadol for pain, trying to salvage some enjoyment from the end and to see if he could pull a Mozart and compose in his mind while his body decomposed.
Since then, things only continued to deteriorate. Unlike every case he managed to find online, Joe didn’t develop lesions on his skin, with patches ofthe skin darkening as they were eaten away. Instead, his affliction continuedto be gushing gashes, his skin splitting open into gaping mouths spewing his scarlet vital fluid into the cold outside world. The antibiotics failed to yield results, his skin seeming to weaken, separating at the most minor of infractions, preventing him from working, or even leaving his house. He was literally thin-skinned, vulnerable to the constant barrage of abuse present in the external world. Joe had long worked to develop a figurative thick skin,withstanding the barrage of criticism from journalists deriding him as aparasite in the music world, feeding on the vitality of more talented artists but contributing none of his own original artistic work. In the physical world ,Joe also became alarmed by a new development; when pressure was applied to large areas, such as the length of his arm, he could feel his skin sliding,ripping a seam along the limb, threatening to pull completely off. Joe’s entire frame became like a bolt of imitation silk, unable to stay collected in one central location, flaps dangling, pulling more loose, streams of blood flowing like loose threads of the fabric. When the flesh would pull free, Joe was presented with the grisly sight of his exposed nerves, a roiling purple masswith brief, tiny flashes of light as microscopic dust motes struck the naked,sensitive tissue, sending short, minor spasms of pain throughout Joe’s body.
Despair quickly set in as Joe was left in isolation. ‘This is going to be a bloody end. I’ll look like I was murdered and flayed, just like Bartholomew —too bad I’m not dying for anything.’ A cramp seized up in Joe’s thigh, forcing him to roll over in bed. Turning over, Joe felt his entire epidural suit pull free from his body, thrusting his raw nerves into direct contact with the coarsefibers of his Egyptian cotton sheets, his death bed also the instrument of hisdeath, the shrieking pain literally unbearable. Joe had long since finished his prescription of pain killers, now learning the term’s second, more morbid definition, his nervous system’s brain synapses pushing Joe beyond the realm ofsanity and even humanity, ending the song of his life in a discordant minor key.
©2011-2012 Justin J. Roberts
Justin J. Roberts is currently an unemployed literary scholar specializing in mid-to-late twentieth and early twenty-first century literature, particularly as it pertains to adaptation. Inaddition to writing literary analysis, criticism, and fiction, he is a devoted musician – clearly choosing the most lucrative and accessible career fields.