There was an outbreak at the county prison farm. Inmates were dying violent deaths, their bodies splitting open, their innards ejecting into the atmosphere. Being new to the Department of Health and Human Services, I was assigned the gruesome task of finding a cause.

The prison doctor took me down to the infirmary to look at his latest admitted patient. A man in his late twenties serving fifteen years for armed robbery. He had watched his cellmate die before his eyes, and they had immediately taken him in, assuming he’d been infected. They’d tested his blood, urine, and saliva, and found no trace of the parasite responsible for killed nearly three dozen prisoners. Still, they kept him under observation for he had been suffering from intense abdominal pains, wrapping his arms around himself, curling into the fetal position, and screaming uncontrollably. It might have been just shock, but if he had been infected, they couldn’t risk spreading it to the remaining inmates.

“This is Daniel, Ms. Ryan,” the doctor said. “Daniel, do you think you can sit up for us?”

Holding his stomach, Daniel pushed himself up, sliding against the wall. His orange jumpsuit and the white bed sheets were drenched. Sweat dripped from his nose, and he breathed heavily as he stared into my eyes. I recognized him instantly.


“Sabrina?” His eyes widened. “Oh my god.”

I reached out to touch his soaking face, and he rested his head on my gloved hand. His breathing slowed.

“Do you two know each other?” the doctor asked.

“An old friend,” I said, but he was more than a friend. I was madly in love with him in highschool. And graduation night, as we lay together naked on the cold, wood floor of his stepfather’s work shed, he finally admitted he felt the same. I hadn’t seen him since the day I left for college. He’d told me that he didn’t get accepted into the university we’d been planning to attend together. He didn’t even apply. We’d promised each other to make the distance work, but D.C. had more promising men who lied much better. I broke it off two weeks into my first semester at Howard University.

“Doctor, do you think I can talk to the patient alone for a few minutes?” I asked.

“Certainly.” He nodded, and left the room. I shuffled my feet in my hazmat suit, unsure of where to start. Daniel started for me.

“You look nice. From what can see at least.”

I gave him a weak smile. “What happened to you? How’d you end up here?”

“You always said I hung out with the wrong kind of people. I should have listened to you. Maybe I wouldn’t be here. Maybe I’d still be alive.”

“What’s going on here? What is this thing?”

“I wish I knew,” he said, shaking his head. Tears started to stream down his face. I couldn’t remember a time I’d ever seen him cry. “Reggie,” he said between sobs. “One minute he’s fine, the next, he’s throwing up this huge, black worm, and it’s cutting him in half.” He started to scream, cradling his stomach and drawing up his knees. “I can’t! I can’t!”

I took his face in both of my hands. “Shhhh.”

“You have to get me out of here. I can’t die in here.”


“Promise me! Promise me you’ll do whatever you can to save my life.”

For the next two weeks, I tried to use all my contacts in the justice system to get him transferred to another prison, but no one would have him. Everyone on that prison farm were assumed to be infected. They needed to contain the parasite, ensure that it wouldn’t spread to the general population. A month after my visit to the prison farm, they set the entire facility on fire, incinerating its occupants, Daniel included, with it.

© 2015 Nortina Simmons

I often have strange dreams about exes—most of them ending with the exes dying violent deaths. What does that say about me, I wonder?

Let me know I'm not talking to myself.

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