Once Bitten Twice Shy by Dan A. Cardoza
If you have been diagnosed as having Zika, a strain of the Bubonic Plague, like the one they’d discovered at Kiva Beach in Lake Tahoe, or a malady analogous to Lyme disease, chances are you’ve been bitten by a mosquito, a flea, or a tic.
Once bitten, twice shy. But at least the odds of recovery favor you.
A bite, a nip, or an insecticide-resistant tooth is not required for a few idiosyncratic diseases. Unfortunately, Reno won’t give you any odds on your survival.
Melvin Beckham had something worse than cabin fever. He could have died had he not bailed out of his companies Zoom meeting hell. He’d scheduled a short holiday. Hiding from COVID in his house had brought him within an eyelash width of insanity.
He’d planned the short trip months ago, booking the lakeside view through his timeshare. It wasn’t Europe or Tahiti, but it was something, the twelfth-story view facing the gorgeous Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side. There had been a lot of vacancies. He’d assumed folks were still scared of catching death from traveling.
Beckham paid big money for his illegal injection, though he hadn’t been a Vaxhole about it. He’d refrained from bragging to his colleagues and the one or two friends he didn’t have. There had been none of his usual insecure boastings after he’d received the two Pfizer doses. He’d kept how much he’d paid a colossal secret in a small black hole in his mind. It wasn’t easy. Beckham was a narcissist.
Beckham reasoned he was relatively young, thirty-two, and had suffered enough confinement. After all, his dating app had lapsed, and he’d dumped a shitload of Canadian blue pills down the toilet bowl. Enough Viagra, he mused about his giving each fall salmon in the American River a tiny hard-on.
Cash talks, M.D.’s listen, R.N.’s understand. They all have families to feed. After all, money, not love, is the universal language of record he was certain.
He’d arrived at the condo complex, with its columns of balcony patios, late Monday.
The first few nights, Beckham felt warm, slept naked. He’d kept the patio door open. Who or what was about to complain, he’d convinced himself?
Fish a mile deep in the lake, he giggled? Beckham determined that the Lake’s Coho Salmon were welcome to stare at his blurry, pale sexy ass all week if they had a mind to.
Wednesday had been sailing into the stiff winds of his first week. It was early evening. Beckham had felt a little uncomfortable. His appetite had been waning. Uber Eats had delivered supper again via Robbie, the lobby clerk. Robbie was the best. He was new at the timeshare, a 49’er gold nugget that had dropped out of somewhere above. Beckham thought him a saint.
Earlier in the day, Raleys, the local supermarket chain, had delivered Beckham’s subsistence balance for the entire week. Jesus, he’d stuffed the jowls of the fridge.
Beckham’s judgment had been a little clouded. He’d binge purchased. Inside the fridge, he’d prepared for fall’s hibernation, tee-bones, celery, a couple of six-packs of silly water, butter lettuce, a bag of bagels, and some top roman, mainly for quick lunches, and carrots, bags of carrots, and a large beet.
Several cans of mixed soup rounded out his impulsive hoard in the cupboard above the dishwasher. The dishwasher had been the machine that washed his dirty laundry the night before. It was a simple mistake, he’d thought.
Beckham couldn’t make himself sleep Thursday night. He’d gotten hot and sweaty again, become a little depressed watching the local news go on and on about the summer’s algae bloom and COVID. He’d retired early. Too many invasive species, viruses, and germs these days, he’d concluded.
Beckham had woken around at 3:30 A.M. It was early Friday morning, according to his digital bedside clock on the nightstand at home. The old-school hands were running backward. He’d gotten disoriented.
Friday night’s insomnia punished him like a seasoned dominatrix, slapped his cheeks so red they burned. Beckham couldn’t keep his left eye from twitching. He’d taken a long hot shower. After, he soaked in a warm bath, passed out. After a couple of hours, he’d woken from a sound sleep. He’d pruned himself up pretty good, but all that wrinkly water had damned sure cured his crazy belly scratching.
After, he nibbled carrots and watched a few Oprah Winfrey reruns. Beckham needed all the carrots he could ingest. His sight was dimming, and the world around him too. Soon, he wouldn’t be able to keep anything inside to save his life.
By the following Monday evening, Beckham had nearly lost his voice. He’d been out on the balcony, doing jumping jack calisthenics. All he could recall was that he’d given the neighboring balcony guests the finger as they shouted for him to put his clothes on. He’d cussed them back. Beckham didn’t have any clothing. He’d thrown all the linen, his shorts, and three Hawaiian shirts, as well as his new sandals, over the railing.
Later, after the beautiful western sunset had darkened the sky, and long after the other guests had stopped complaining, Beckham fell into a deep sleep on the patio lounge.
As Beckham dreamed, his dreams grew wrestles, European electro tech. His delusions had begun as a backdrop of warehouse music. He would truly miss his music one day soon.
The vocals were from an old playlist, his favorite, Sad Transmission. The song was by one of his favorite Indie Bands, the Raveonettes. The Danish duo of Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo had been thrumming over his body’s entire electromagnetic nervous system. Slowly, the beautiful sound, effortlessly, had taken over his being. Beckham gladly let go.
Beckham’s mind had been turned into a radioactive Chernobyl Meltdown Farris Wheel, whirling away with his ability to reason in minuscule megabits. He’d felt as if he were his timeshares antenna. Beckham had slept until around seven AM the next morning.
Ding-dong–Beckham stumbled toward the bell at the room’s door. First, he’d covered himself with a nautical motif shower curtain.
The peep-hole said It was the new lobby clerk, Robbie. He was acting as a special delivery courier. Beckham unlocked the door and let Robbie in.
“Robbie, right, that’s what your name tag read in the lobby when I arrived? Thanks for shooting up here in the elevator so quickly, by the way.”
“Yes sir, Robert, ah, Sherman at your service, sir.”
Beckham wasn’t thinking. He’d grabbed Robbie’s clammy right hand and shook it. It flopped around in his palm, a damp fish dying on land. Robbie had placed his left hand deep in the mucky bottom of his left pocket.
“What say we book another week, Robbie Sherman? Howza bout it?”
“Sir, kind sir, terrific, I’ll make another bundle of invoices and text you a copy.” Robbie noticed that Mr. Beckham was drooling if only a little.
“You can do that?” Beckham asked. He sort of knew he could.
Robbie moved his thumb slowly, deliberately. He looked down on what Beckham had assumed was a nervous thumb on an iPhone keyboard.
Beckham’s cell phone tinged against his loin. It felt like Phantom Limb Syndrome. When he’d arrived, Robbie had agreed to lock it in the lobby’s safe.
Beckham had said, “Let’s bury the fucking thing in the safe so deep I’ll be forced to get some real rest and be able to entertain myself!”
Robbie had agreed with a grin, “Good choice, sir, we’ve done that before.”
Beckham had winked.
There appeared a flashing yellow light on the room’s landline telephone messaging button.
“Sir?” Robbie asked permission. Beckham nodded yes. Robbie held the phone next to Beckham’s blooming cauliflower ear. Beckham hadn’t wanted to let on that everything he lifted weighed as much as a rusty, sunken ship anchor.
It was Robbie or someone who sounded a lot like Robbie. It was a message from the lobby, “Kind sir, as requested, I have sent you and an updated invoice straight to your iPhone for good keeping.”
“Ah, Robbie, I thought you were quick, but Jesus Kee-Kee-Christ?”
“Fast?” puzzled Robbie. Robbie bobbled his head, “Not really sir, is there anything else we can do to make you comfortable, bottled water, sir?”
Beckham wagged his head yes, but lied. He’d gotten so used to taking in his life. “Wait,” he’d said. Beckham struggled to the fridge. He snatched the bottle. And then Beckham slowly returned to engage Robbie at the other end of the room.
Robbie observed Beckham’s shuffling as slow as blackstrap molasses off the side of a yam.
“Robbie, take this complimentary bottled water. It’s making me hydrophobic just to look at it?”
Robbie cracked up. He moved his thumb over his iPhone again, texting the lower lobby, “Hold the complimentary water; please, Mr. Beckham is no longer thirsty, LMAO!”
Beckham had thought Robbie brilliant, his thumb an electronic bow over a Silicon Valley violin.
“Will there be anything else, kind sir?” Robbie had politely inquired.
“No, hell and no,” Beckham slurred. “Oh, just the timeshare password. I intend to do some righteous online gaming.”
Robbie removed a pen from his pressed pant’s back pocket. He imagined himself a New York City Bell-Hop in the age of the Roaring Twenties. Everything had felt similar. He was in room twelve hundred at the Algonquin Hotel. Somehow, he watched himself from above as he scribbled the note. After, he’d placed the note on the room’s desktop. The message was intended for his famous guest, Ms. Greta Garbo.
“There, sir,” Robbie said. Beckham thanked him for the code he’d placed on the desk.
“How about we stop slipping the complimentary U.S. Today papers under the door each early morning, sir? It looks as though the newspapers are piling up?”
“Robbie, no, no, I may be vacationing…” Beckham paused, rubbed his lower lip. It had been bleeding again. He continued, “I may be vacationing, but just having them thatched there, in that damned pile makes me feel that I’m still tethered to reality if just a little.”
“I see Mr. Beckham, sir. We shall continue then.”
“Robbie?” asked Beckham, “aren’t you going to do your movie magic over the phone again?”
For the first time, Robbie looked dead serious. “Sir, kind sir, there are some things around here we do the old school way. Like you, kind sir, we need to hook ourselves to some sort of reality, even if it’s as simplistic as attaching a monofilament trout fishing line to a rusty hook.”
Beckham guffawed so violently, he gassed himself, blew a snot-bubble. He would have maintained his usual grin, except the left side of his face had been sagging.
Robbie watched over Beckham. Robbie’s anatomy was as still as onyx marble. He perused over Beckham as David might have watched over Michelangelo.
Beckham composed himself and dragged his right foot along as he let Robbie out. He thanked Robbie kindly. With great effort, he poked a five-dollar bill in Robbie’s shirt pocket. Beckham had thought his effort worth a million bucks.
Beckham chained the deadbolt shut, but methodically, so Robbie could sense how much he trusted him. Robbie walked casually down the long dark corridor and disappeared into the vault of an elevator.
Another knock, the hallway had been emptied, the lights had dimmed.
As the sun heated the living room, Beckham found himself in the Mojave Desert. He’d thought it the holy land, not a river, a creek, or a dribble for the rest of his life.
Beckham searched his way into the bathroom. He opened the stainless steel medicine cabinet. His ham sandwich and a Fuji apple were missing. He slammed the cabinet doors. He hadn’t been hungry anyway.
Later that evening, the T.V. remote had broken. The God-damned garage door wouldn’t open. “Hell, it’s only three years old. I just changed the batteries two weeks ago, maybe three,” Beckham yelled at the big screen T.V. as if it had mule ears.
It had to be three weeks. That’s when he and his neighbor Harry couldn’t turn on Dancing with the Stars for the longest time.
Harry had gotten under his skin that night. Beckham having enough of his neighbor’s antics, had escorted the twentieth-century charmer to the front door. It was about 10:23 P.M.
Beckham was a flexible man and a chill sort of guy, but not after all that shadow dancing shit by Harry. And after, Harry had commenced calling himself Fred Astaire and meant it.
Harry Clingman had been sent to the hospital shortly after Beckham had left for Lake Tahoe. Beckham had lied to his friend Harry that night. He’d said he was heading south, maybe L.A. By the time they’d attempted to reach Beckham, Beckham was an afterthought. But really, it hadn’t mattered. Beckham’s phone had been placed in solitary confinement in Robbie’s lobby iron vault.
Sometime during the second week of Beckham’s short stay, he’d morphed into a newt. You know the slimy lizard types that live in creeks, behind rocks, and under the mosey bottom of lakes and rivers?
Thankfully there wasn’t much carpeting in Beckham’s unit. It made for easier wriggling.
Beckham had seen and heard the coolest hallucinations. He’d turned paranoid as the result of the high fever. Those damned fish had been stocking him.
His brand new manic reality had cost him most of his 401-K on South Lake Tahoe’s virtual slots and craps tables. Beckham’s laptop gaming appl had asked him for everything “Just pick a pretty color and turn, turn, turn that damned Russian Roulette Machine, Mr. Beckham?”
On the last day of his intended short stay, Beckham’s strength had failed him.
A final invoice had been slipped under the room’s door, along with another copy of USA Today. The newspaper pile had become a thatch of pitchforked paper alfalfa.
His painful progress was serpentine and exhausting as he wrangled toward the door. That day he used his belly ribs to crawl. He crawled to the horizontal crack of light under the door that had shown into his darkened room. To Beckham, the light represented life itself.
Beckham’s breathing had grown deep and laborious. His crape paper lungs had withered into an accordion that wheezed a dry melody. He listed, rolled on his back as if he were a shipwreck. He struggled to wrap his upper torso in newsprint to absorb his lake of sweat.
Beckham’s paralysis had taken over after only a few wraps of newspaper.
It had come toward him swiftly, his complete paralysis, as if a fast-moving locomotive off the slopes of the Heavenly Valley Ski Run, now a dry strip of broken granite. He’d been tied to the tracks. Whatever he’d caught, it was intent on running over his humanity.
Buried deep in the mesh of his newspaper was an important article. The article was dark print, over a yellowing recycled paper backdrop, a story in itself.
USA Today–Sacramento Area Man Dies from inhaling rabies virus–Mr. Harry M. Clingman, a long-time resident of Placer County, has died from the rabies virus. Rabies lyssavirus, formerly Rabies virus (RABV), is a neurotropic virus that causes certain death if untreated.
Placer County health authorities have asked anyone who has been in contact with Mr. Clingman to call (530) 889-7274 immediately. Several friends and family members exposed to Mr.Clingman have been given the first dose of the four required injections.
A forensic autopsy has concluded that Mr. Clingman hadn’t been bit by any animal. However, of the six bat boxes removed from the family’s two-story cedar-shingled home. Two of the bats tested positive for the rabies virus and had to be destroyed.
Years earlier, a Wyoming resident had awoken during the night, with a fluttering feeling on her neck. She flicked off the annoyance and discovered it was a bat. In horror, she elbowed her husband, who woke, captured the bat, and set it free outdoors. Three weeks later, the woman died. A pathologist could not find any bites or scratch marks during the autopsy has concluded that it is scientifically possible to contract rabies without a skin abrasion–The Centers for Disease and Control.
Beckham lay motionless. Fear and anxiety had nearly completed their running of all the red lights in the corrosive intersections of his synapse. He’d become a hebephrenic blob stuck in a block of concrete. His mind had been tortured into a Vitamix blender, unwittingly pureeing his thoughts into some sort of cilantro salad dressing.
Beckham suffered horrifically, the balance of the day and evening. He died the following early morning, about the time bats return to caves.
In the Lobby, Robbie listened to Beckham’s phone as it rattled and buzzed in the safe. To him, it was the phantom limb syndrome that Beckham’s ghost had been feeling.
Robbie spoke kindly across the lobby’s white marbled counter, “Hello Ms. Harris, I’m Robbie. I intend to make your short visit a most wonderful stay.”
Dan’s most recent fiction has been published in the 45th Parallel, Allegory, honorable mention, Aphelion, BlazeVOX, Black Petals, Across the Margins, Bull, Cleaver, Close to the Bone, Coffin Bell, Dark City Books/Magazine, Door=Jar, Dream Noir, Entropy, Flash Bang Mystery, Gravel, Literary Heist, Mystery Tribune, O:JA&L/Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, New Flash Fiction Review, Overstock, Spelk, Variant, Visitant, Your Impossible Voice, The 5-2. Dan has also been nominated by Coffin Bell for the Best of the Net Anthology, 2021, and best micro-fiction by Tiny Molecules.
To find more about Dan’s work @cardozabig