A strange day in the brief but eventful life of Arthur Bates

Arthur Bates awoke scratching. He had entertained troubled dreams; dreams in which he had attempted to peel off his own skin, making the sight of his nail-scratched wrists all the more alarming. The nail marks were deep, had drawn blood, and some of the tracks had already begun to scab over, blood coagulating and turning brown in the warm morning air.

Arthur, or Artie as his late mother had called him, attempted to alight his bed, whereupon a painful onset of cramp attacked both of his thick, hair-matted calves simultaneously. Arthur emitted a raspy bark of pain, rolled from side to side and vigorously massaged his calves in an attempt to assuage the pain. After a few long minutes of agony, he finally laid his long, stiff legs upon the green carpet of his bedroom floor and hobbled slowly towards the bathroom.

The mirror was not kind to Arthur this morning, the furrowed lines on his forehead looked to be more deeply etched, his skin darker, more weathered. Arthur opened the cabinet door and reached for the antiseptic cream. Were his fingers longer than normal? He twisted the cap, squeezed a liberal amount of the cream onto his left wrist and began to rub it into the wounds, grimacing as the antiseptic touched the open sores. A strange yellowish puss began oozing from his wrist and Arthur dry retched – this would not do at all, he had a date with Regina Ashley this evening and must look his best. He’d call the doctors straight away

As Arthur creaked painfully downstairs, an unbelievable thirst overtook him. He entered the kitchen, poured himself a large glass of water and drank it hungrily, spilling half the glass down his chin and neck, soaking the hairy undergrowth that covered the trunk of his chest. Arthur poured and drank another glass. He did this four times.

When Arthur went to move he found himself rooted to the spot, his legs had seized up entirely. It felt as if his knees had fused together. Panicking Arthur managed to stretch across to the landline attached to the wall to his right and dialled 999. The operator’s voice appeared on the other end, but when Arthur went to talk he found his mouth had dried up entirely, like a cracked riverbed, unwatered soil. Arthur brought his hand to his mouth and touched his tongue, it felt like a dried up leaf, dusty and dry. He pulled at it and it came away in his hand, then crumbled into small bits onto the floor. The voice on the other end of the line was still speaking.

Arthur stared incredulously at the remains at his feet, and also at his toes. His toes were definitely getting longer, they had gnarled and twisted and were splayed out in different directions, digging into the floor. The same thing was happening to his fingers, except they were angled upwards, towards the ceiling. The wounds on his wrists had spread all the way down his arm, and had scabbed over – scabs on top of scabs – forming a hard new skin, rough and ridged. Arthur felt the paralysis from his legs crawl slowly up his spine, and then down his arms to the very tips of his fingers. His arms were outstretched, rigid, unmoving. The last thing Arthur saw, before his eyes crusted over, were small green shoots begin to bud from his fingertips.

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Tim Waltho

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