Black Petals Issue #103, Spring, 2023

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Editor's Page
BP Artists and Illustrators
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
All the Sky Is Waiting to Be Told: Fiction by Daniel I. Clark
Fire Sale: Fiction by Christopher Pate
Kregah: Fiction by Ron Capshaw
The Beauty of Machinery: Fiction by Hayden Seay
The Cold Sore: Fiction by Chris McGuinness
The Lake: Fiction by Harper Hargis
The Price: Fiction by Josh Hanson
The Tailbone Is Connected to the Hipbone: Fiction by Michael Fowler
The Thorn Tree: Fiction by Lawrence Buentello
They: Fiction by Tony Ayers
Work Experience: Fiction by Martin Taulbut
Burns: 3 Connected Drabbles by Hillary Lyon
Grandma Medusa: Flash Fiction by M. L. Fortier
I'm So Sorry, Computer: Flash Fiction by M. L. Fortier
Invasive: Flash Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
Jumper: Flash Fiction by Kurt Hohmann
Personal Things: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
The Good Doctor: Flash Fiction by Ron Capshaw
Another Tomato Invasion, Again: Poem by I. N. Shimabuku
Curse of the Crazies: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Ghosted: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Meteor Moon: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Halo Around the Sun: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Maker's Image: Poem by Bindi Lavelle
Specimen: Poem by Bindi Lavelle
Blood-stained Jupiter: Poem by Meg Smith
Cat Science: Poem by Meg Smith
Mortician's Powder: Poem by Meg Smith
The Pinups of the Afterlife: Poem by Meg Smith
Dark Gate Park: Poem by Meg Smith
A turntable fabricates hope during the apocalypse in 3 parts: Poem by Dennis Bagwell
Reverend Mother Munchausen: Poem by Sophia Wiseman-Rose
Whispers of Winter: Poem by Ashley N. Goodwin
A Man Is Nothing Without His Wife: Poem by Ashley N. Goodwin

Chris McGuinness: The Cold Sore

bp_103_coldsore_sophiawiseman-rose.jpeg
Art by Sophia Wiseman-Rose 2023

The Cold Sore

By Chris McGuinness

 

I can’t remember when I first noticed the cold sore.

But that's how it happens, isn’t it? They aren’t there and then, suddenly, they are. All I know is that I was taking notes in class one day and felt a sharp, stinging pain on the left side of my mouth. I ran my tongue along the upper half of my gums above the teeth and winced. I did it again and got the same result. I just couldn’t help it.

It wasn’t a big deal, just mildly annoying in the way that most cold sores are. I wondered how I’d gotten it and hoped it would go away before I got a chance to hook up with this smoke show of a brunette I’d been flirting with in my European agrarian economics class that semester.

After class, I drove it back to my off-campus apartment and made a beeline for the mirror. I wanted to see exactly what I was dealing with. I pulled back my upper lip and there it was—a tiny little crater of yellowish white against the pink of my gums. I grabbed a brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide from under my sink and gingerly applied it to the sore, cursing as it bubbled and burned. This was a trick an old high school crush had taught me. She insisted it made cold sores go away faster. I thought of the brunette and prayed she was right.



Over the next couple of days, I tried to forget about it, but the effort was futile. The fucking thing just didn’t want to go away. Every time I started to forget the sore was there, I’d accidentally jab it with my tongue or scrape it with a bit of food I was eating. I couldn’t go more than a few minutes without a painful reminder that I still had a cold sore.

By the third day, the low-level pain was near-constant. When I checked it in the mirror that night, the sore was the size of a dime. I gargled some diluted apple cider vinegar—advice I’d gleaned from a panicked internet search—then hit the little bastard with some more peroxide. I didn’t wait around to see if it worked, and ditched my classes the next day to run down to the drugstore to load up on over-the-counter remedies. I bought a box of condoms too in a sad attempt to lift my foul mood. I doubted I’d be getting nasty with the brunette in European agrarian economics with that goddamn thing growing in my mouth. Making out would be painful and oral would be absolutely out of the question. If she didn’t notice it in the heat of the moment, she’d sure as shit know when she got a cold sore of her own. She’d tell every one of her friends too; locking me out of future action with any of them and making me the campus leper for the foreseeable future. I couldn’t let that happen. I wanted to keep my reputation as a nice guy and a good lay and not some herpes-ridden asshole spreading his gross disease all over the university.

My phone buzzed as I was driving home. It was a text from the brunette asking if she could come over and “hang out”. I cursed my rotten luck and made some weak excuse about having a late-night study group for another class. She seemed to buy it.

“Another time then?” she wrote.

“Fo sho,” I responded, adding a thumbs up.

She answered with a winking smiley face. I should have felt horny and excited, but I was fuming. This stupid sore was ruining my sex life. This was more than a minor inconvenience. It was a declaration of fucking war.

I ran to the bathroom as soon as I got home and slathered on gobs of a creamy white paste I’d bought earlier. I used up half the tube in one go. It hurt a little less and I took that as a good sign. I fell asleep that night dreaming of the brunette. The box of condoms, a variety pack with brightly-colored foil packaging, sat lonely and unopened in my nightstand drawer.

I woke up the next morning feeling hopeful. As I yawned and stretched in the mellow light coming through the window next to my bed, there was a single glorious moment where I felt no pain and thought that maybe, just maybe, the medicine had worked.

Then I felt it.

It was the same dull pain I’d felt for days, but now there was also a strange new sensation. It was a nagging itch I hadn’t felt before. I instinctively ran my tongue over the sore. There was a sudden, sharp sting, worse than I’d ever felt before. It wasn’t just the sore that hurt, either. The pain was coming from my tongue.

“Ow! Fuck!”

I touched the tip of my tongue and my finger came away streaked with a pink smear of blood. I went into the bathroom and the strange itching sensation continued. I pulled my lip down.

The sore was bigger now. About the size of a penny. Its color was a deep, angry red, and it was oozing little rivulets of pus and blood. I leaned in and squinted to get a better look and that’s when I saw them.

Teeth.

Two uneven rings of tiny, sharp teeth set along the ragged edges of the sore. They gnashed hungrily at my finger. Their movement made the sore itch and burn. I pulled my shaking hand away and stared at my face in the mirror. I closed my eyes and shook my head back and forth as hard as I could. It was a thing I did in nightmares to wake myself up.

But I was awake. I got close to the mirror and tried to steady my hands before taking another look. The sore and the teeth were still there. I felt dizzy. My whole body started to tremble. I opened my mouth to scream and instead vomited violently into the sink. I stared at the soggy mess for a long time, trying to process what I’d seen. Each time I tried to come up with a logical explanation it felt as if my brain was trying to tear itself in two.

At some point, the numbing shock began to recede and panic took its place. It wriggled like a black worm in my guts. I ran from the bathroom to the little Ikea desk next to my bed and threw open my laptop.

 I searched. Google, WebMD, and even fucking Bing. I scoured the Centers for Disease Control’s lists of rare and exotic STDs. The internet spit out photo after photo of the very worst human biology had to offer. Massive sores and cankers. Lesions like leaking rivers of off-white discharge that looked like cottage cheese. I looked at an endless parade of gruesome pictures of people with their hands, feet, and even faces eroded into what looked like lumps of hamburger meat. I gagged and dry-heaved more than once but forced myself to keep looking. It was awful and ultimately worthless. Of all the horrors I could find, not one mentioned teeth, let alone ones that moved and tried to bite.

I should have gone to the ER but I had no insurance. And besides, the last thing I needed was some doctor marching curious med students from school into my room to gawk at the freakish thing in my mouth. They’d spread the news like wildfire while getting shitfaced at the local bars after their shifts. No way. The hospital was out of the fucking question,..

So I did what I usually do in stressful situations; I tried to ignore it. It's easier than you think. I was a master of denial. Pretending problems, no matter how serious, didn’t exist was a skill I’d developed over most of my life. Mommy drinks too much? Don’t think about it. Daddy spent a night in the hospital with stitches in his arm after mommy came at him with a boxcutter? Don’t think about it. I decided not to think about the gnashing little horror inside my mouth just like I chose not to think about the 15 pounds I’d packed on since starting school or my steadily declining GPA or the crippling mountain of debt I was racking up and would likely be unable to pay when I graduated. The cold sore was just another one of those things not to think about. Maybe, unlike all those other problems, it would eventually just go away.

No. Fucking. Dice.

My attempts to ignore the sore lasted until English lit class the following day. It was around noon and I was trying to take notes on a lecture when I heard a strange noise. It was very soft; a high-pitched whine I could barely hear over the professor’s voice. I assumed the classroom air conditioner was on the fritz. The whine got louder, becoming more audible. The professor stopped talking and I looked up to find him and most of the other students in the class staring at me. My head began swimming as I realized that the noise was coming from inside my mouth.

I jumped up from my desk, startling everyone. I grabbed my laptop,  shoved it into my messenger bag, and muttered something about not feeling well. As I stumbled out the door and into the daylight, I heard my professor call out to remind me to schedule a make-up for the quiz we were supposed to take after the lecture. I let the door slam closed without answering him. I hurried across the busy quad with my head down. I prayed that no one I knew, especially the brunette, would cross my path. I stared at my shoes and the noise continued. A few students turned their heads as I passed them, but I walked fast so they didn’t have time to ask me any questions.

Each campus dorm had a handicap-accessible unisex bathroom on the first floor. They featured a single toilet, and most importantly, a sink with a mirror and a lockable door. I lurked outside Masterson Hall until someone with a keycard opened the door, I followed them inside and found the bathroom. It was empty so I ran in and locked myself inside.

When I pulled back my lip the noise got louder. Unmuffled, the whine became a tiny mewling screech.

 It was coming from the sore.

It had grown again and was now the size of a quarter. My own teeth, the ones below the sore, were beginning to push outward at odd angles. I touched them and they felt loose. The sore opened its maw and let out another grotesque screech. It gnashed its little teeth. They were much larger and sharper and more numerous than the last time I’d looked.

It kept making that awful sound. I had to make it stop somehow, so I ripped off a tiny piece of toilet paper from the roll and shoved it into the sore hoping to muffle it. As soon as the paper touched the sore, the little teeth went to work tearing it up into a gray mush and gobbling it down before commencing to make those horrible noises once again.

That’s when I felt it for the first time: A sensation that was alien yet coming from within me.

“It’s hungry,” I said. My words echoed off the dingy white tiles on the floor and walls.

I opened my messenger bag and took out my lunch. It was a bologna sandwich I’d thrown together before leaving my apartment. I tore off a chunk of the meat and carefully held it up to the sore, which latched onto the scrap and consumed it with gusto. I watched with disgusted fascination as the meat disappeared into what I could only assume was its throat. It was revolting and I felt my stomach churn again. After a few more shreds of cold lunch meat, the sore stopped its crying. It seemed, at least for the moment, to be satisfied.

I left campus early. In the short time it took to drive back to the apartment, the sore had somehow grown again. As I pulled into the complex, I felt a soft, crackling pop as it dislodged the two crooked teeth from my gums. The pain was so searing and intense that I almost crashed the car. I ripped the teeth out as I sat in my parking spot outside the apartment. I spat a wad of blood and saliva into the planter by my door as I raced inside.

That night I felt the sore’s hunger before it even began to cry out for more food. I searched my near-empty fridge and found a pound of unopened raw hamburger. I rolled half of it into bite-sized meatballs and closed my eyes as I listened to the wet, chewing sounds as it fed.

Later, as I was cleaning bits of raw meat out of my mouth, I noticed a second cold sore. It was on my lower gums on the same side. It was smaller than the first but already had the same little rows of teeth. I stopped what I was doing and walked to the kitchen. There was a bottle of Old Crow on top of the fridge. I took it down, popped the plastic screw top cap, and guzzled as much of it as I could until, mercifully, I passed out.

I woke up early next morning before the sun was up. I could tell the sores had grown in the night. More of my teeth were radically askew and aching. I decided to be proactive, and, with the help of the rest of the bourbon and a pair of pliers, removed them. I threw the offending teeth into the sink and watched them rattle down the drain like gore-streaked dice. I felt a little proud that I was able to muffle my screams to avoid alarming my neighbors. But mostly what I felt was the sore’s hunger. It was far more intense than the day before. Soon it became urgent and voracious, so I fed it the rest of the ground beef. I knew it wouldn’t be long before it wanted more.

I got another text from the brunette. Was I free tonight? I told her I wasn’t feeling well and apologized, promising her we'd get around to hanging out.

“I have a cold or something.”

“Feel better soon. Don’t take too long!”

She ended it with another winking smiley.

The next few days and nights passed by in a blur. I remember very little except the great pain and endless hunger of the sores. I know that I took some time to run out to a nearby grocery store, filling my cart with as much meat as it could carry. Steaks, ground chuck, and anything else raw and red. I vaguely remember grabbing my receipt and running for the door as the sores began their bizarre vocalizations.

There were more sores. More teeth. Feeding them was difficult until they began to fuse together and the teeth became big enough to eat through my left cheek. There was pain, of course, but the hunger, that terrible and insatiable hunger, was so much worse. I remember looking in the bathroom mirror and seeing a forest of jagged, snapping teeth where the lower left half of my face used to be. I realized I was losing vision in my eye on the same side. It was the last time I bothered looking at myself.

More hunger. More pain. The eye went at some point. It ruptured like an overripe grape as the sore cracked through my cheekbone and lower socket. With my remaining eye, I watched as the stock of food in the fridge quickly disappeared. Pounds of raw ground beef and even bone-in steaks vanished into the sore’s threshing maw. Before long the fridge was bare. But the sore? It was still hungry.

I waited until the sun went down. I threw on an old sweatshirt and pulled the hood over my head. The sore gnawed at the fabric as I walked outside. In an alley behind another apartment building a few blocks from my own, I found an overflowing dumpster. It was just what I was looking for. I threw open the lid and let the smell of rancid, wet garbage wash over me. I found myself drooling as I tore open swollen trash bags, my fingers digging into the mushy detritus until I found a half-empty pizza box crawling with fat, black roaches. They skittered across the grease-stained cardboard and fought for hunks of moldy crust and the rubbery bits of cheese still stuck to the box’s interior. They too were hungry.

I scooped up a handful of the squirming bugs and fed them to the sore. I felt their frantic little legs brush against the side of my face before they disappeared with a frenzied, crunching sound. I licked my lips and took another handful of roaches, letting the dumpster’s lid crash closed with a loud, metallic thud.

An old woman poked her head out of a window above me and asked what all the noise was about. She had a flashlight clutched in her frail and shaking hand and its beam fell on me as greedily shoveled more bugs into the monstrosity growing out of the side of my face. I was already running by the time she started screaming.

Back at the apartment, I heard sirens in the distance as I slammed the door shut and threw the bolt to lock it. I sat down on the couch. My heart was pounding. As I tried to catch my breath, the sore quivered. Its razor-sharp teeth clicked against each other and another wave of its awful hunger washed over me. My skin crawled and I tried to fight the sensation. I tried to think of some way, any way at all, to satisfy it. I thought of the little filleting knife tucked away in the drawer by my stove. I wondered if I had the balls to cut my own throat and end it all. I was steeling my resolve when my cell phone started ringing. I held the screen up to the good side of my face.

It was the brunette.

“Hey, you.”

“Hey,” she said. “You sound a little weird. Are you still sick?”

“No. You caught me eating. My mouth is full.”

“Oh. Good,” she said. Her voice brightened. “You finally have some time to chill with me?”

I almost said no. I almost screamed into the phone that she should hang up and run. I almost told her to call the police and tell them to come over to my apartment and put me out of my fucking misery.

I almost saved her. But the hunger overwhelmed me. It wasn’t just the sore anymore. I was hungry. Starving, in fact. Its need was my own now.

I gave her my address. The sore began making its noises and I shoved the fingers of my left hand into it to quiet it down. I heard the snap of bone and sinew as it sheared most of them off. Something wet and warm ran down my hand. The hunger muted any pain I should have felt.

“Awesome.” she said. “I’ll bring some drinks and food if that's cool.”

“That’d be great.”

“I’ll see you in a few then.”

“Yes.”

I hung up the phone and threw it across the room. I walked to the door and stood staring at it, knowing that soon there would be a knock. I let the hunger wash over me and listened as the sore began its song. Some part of me felt guilty. Some part of me felt regret. But those emotions were only fleeting pangs. They were quickly swallowed up by a single thought. One that repeated itself over and over again inside my skull like an incessant drumbeat.

“I am hungry,” I said to the empty room. “So very hungry.” 

 

-The End



   Chris McGuinness is a writer and former journalist. His nonfiction work has been published online by nymag.com, Mel Magazine, and Decider. His short horror fiction has been published at Darkfire.com and he is the author of the short horror/humor poetry collection A Nightmare Diary.

He lives and works on California's Central Coast.

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