The ride was hard, even with the adrenaline pulsing through my veins and urging me on. With my brother’s arm around my neck, I could feel it squeezing tighter as I peddled, barely keeping us straight on the cracked and dried path.
“Hold on, Frankie. Hold on,” I choked out, coughing from the pressure of his arm and the dust swirling from long, languishing breeze against the dried lake.
He whined and cried behind me, sometimes muttering softly, “It burns…It burns!”
By the time we got to the houseboat, though, he was quiet, deadly quiet and my heart was pounding as I slung my leg over the bike to get off. His face was bone-white, sweat pouring down his skin and his eyes were wide and dark. He looked bad, real bad, and wordlessly, he held his hand up.
Whatever it was had spread, blackening his skin down to his wrist. His fingers were gnarled and the fingernails were blue and waxy. It looked dead and suddenly I could smell it. Like a smack to the face, it hit me so hard and so fast, my stomach turned before I can feel anything else.
Shaking, and vomiting, I could only smell it, could taste it in my mouth, that rancid, moist mixture of death and putrification. As much as I tried to breathe clean, fresh air, it wouldn’t dissipate. I got lungful after lungful of that sickening aroma. And it burned deep into me even after I had expelled everything and kept heaving.
After lurching back from him, my brother fell from the bike, landing on the ground. Limp like a moldy dishrag, he didn’t move.
“Fra-! Frank-!” I struggled to speak to him, to get close.
I threw the bike off of him and held my shirt to my mouth and nose, shaking him. “Frankie!”
“What the hell is going on?” I heard my mother say and I glanced to her, horrified.
“Jelly-!” I tried, feeling that seep of decay linger in my throat and sinuses, urging me to vomit again. “He’s sick! His hand!”
In an instant, she was at his side, pushing me away and looking him over. “What? Aiden, I don’t see anything. What’s wrong?”
I could only point to his hand, as it swelled in its purtification, creeping up his forearm. The fingers now looked dried and decimated like the clutched claw of a bird.
“What, Aiden? Where?!” She cried out, looking past his arm, past his hand, turning him over and over.
“His hand…” I whispered in disbelief as she held that arm, that disgusting and grotesque husk, and was unaffected. Even as she held it, I watched as some skin sloughed off in her hand, leaving oozing trails silver pus between her fingers.
“Damn it, Aiden!” She yelled, “Where?”
But she couldn’t see it, I realized, she couldn’t see what I could see. Couldn’t even smell it. Even as she was holding it, even as it was breaking apart in her hands, she just couldn’t see it.