Dreamed 1990/1/5 by Chris Wayan
I'm a student volunteer on an archeological expedition in the South American jungle, on the Guyana coast, in steep mountains above the sea.
But the others on the expedition treat me differently. I'm a girl, and pale-blonde, and too young, and too skinny, and... It's true my professor says I have great potential, but even he seems worried about me, advises "You push too hard, think you have to do it all perfectly. Catch all the little things, and you'll exhaust yourself getting the details perfect. Then when BIG things come along you'll be too tired to cope!"
He suspects it's connected with my looks. I'm fastidious, require myself to look good even here on the dig, and yet fear no one will take me seriously BECAUSE I look beautiful, which makes me work harder, be more perfect...
There's some truth to it all, I admit, but... aren't they still just judging me by my looks?
One day, we find what we came for. The Sunken Cathedral! I want to enter first, do the first mapping and cleaning, and our prof is hoping I will. But... I've been up ALL NIGHT handling about eight small things that anyone could have done. I'm exhausted. Sleep or excavate the Big One? Excavate. For me, no other choice. I won't be seen as the princess insisting on her beauty sleep.
But the fatigue must have lowered my resistance, for inside the moldy chamber I catch a mysterious jungle mold-virus... a virus that mutates and deforms people. I'm sick within hours. There's no known treatment, I'm the first case in centuries--but only the first. All of them catch it from me. We fight it with the full armamentarium of modern drugs, and nothing's a damn bit of help. We all turn greenish and moldy. Gain weird abilities, too, maybe paranormal ones (unless we're all hallucinating together) but we have no time to explore any possible side benefits--we're starting to lose human form as the disease progresses. And spores shed off us all--we're contagious.
Finally we become big geometric shapes, a bit like chess pawns and bishops--giant human parodies of the sporebodies that molds and mosses normally form...
My friends begin to go mad. Or do they? They fight one another, and mostly die, but they want to, for soon they won't have any sanity left to keep them from wandering down to the coastal plantations and starting a plague no one will survive. Gangs of kids come up here too, to loot the ruins of antiques... Quarantine is really not possible. And we feel so awful. Better to just die.
Now no one will ever touch me again.
After the kids are gone, we all come out to die--great green chesspieces stabbing each other, bleeding green poison. Yet somehow... I can't kill myself. I skulk round the edge of their suicide field, and flee into the trees. Vanity? Know I should die. Contagious, can't ever go back.
I live alone in the ruins. Keep changing. Can control the changes a bit now. Shapeshifting, in a way. Slow, but I improve, till at last I can approximate human form again. And with practice, I can shape a condorlike body. I start learning to fly. What would have been a joy now adds to my guilt and fear: if I go mad here alone--and I may be already--I could carry this plague around the world, flying.
In the end, I can't resist. I can't stand the loneliness. I glide down the steep forest slopes to the human world. I become human--more or less. I know I shouldn't.
People shun me. I look blurry and scabby and wrong, and I feel horror toward my own toxicity--and my own selfishness--and the self-loathing radiates a warning. Lucky for them. I wander the empty plantation fields, walk once through a small town, and watch them back away...
I fly back at last up to the empty site. The ancient church we dug up is dusty but the virus in it won't hurt me any now. I feel safe in a way--sealed in, can't hurt others here--can warn them even, I suppose. I fly around like a bat, practicing. Little colonies of mold/virus still around... And dust. and me. We all belong together. I could go out, even reach the world of men below, but why? No place for me, no one for me. I can't let them touch me.
I perch high up, like an indoor gargoyle, and just sit. And wait to die. And out of boredom try to learn to test my sporecount, using our medic's abandoned gear. But I can't; keep getting figures off by a factor of ten. Or so I think for months... until I notice it isn't just way too low, it keeps dropping. Could I be reading it right?
At last it hits zero. This is no calibration error! Takes time, but once the infection has run its course--and IF you stay alive--you're no longer infectious.
I start down the mountain. Shy, marked, a different face. No longer the glamor girl and hotshot archeology student: haunted by guilt, loneliness, memories of death. But alive. And able to make my way in the human world--no longer poison. And I can change--to whatever I need to. Even beautiful maybe, though I feel ugly still, and maybe always will.
"The truth shall make you free, but first it shall make you miserable."
As I see it, the only way out is forward... through our strange, tragic, gargoyle times. Until we reach sporecount zero.
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