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Stress Rash

Changing her mind came far more naturally than speaking it, though neither particularly so. Instead, her mind and voice and thoughts and feelings and wants and fears and half-imagined scenarios boiled about the surface until her skin itched all over.

We’re not talking about a rash, but a bevy of them. A full onslaught of hives, by the end.

Over the months since it first developed, she’d seen all the doctors, though none had seen her. Dermatologist, allergist, internist, digestive specialist, psychiatrist—each new ist saw only the possibilities they’d come up against in the past, or those they’d read in this journal or that. At the end of every tunnel-visioned appointment, the ists would deliver a long-winded one word diagnosis:

Stress.

The very letters became daggers. Hope-deflating daggers. She found it all so ridiculous, that palpable panic in people’s faces. If life and love and its inevitable loss had taught her much about herself, it was that she was anything but the contagious sort. Yet, every explanation of her condition met ears clogged with fear, and fear always led to flight. With each new utterance, the word began to stick to the roof of her mouth upon its exit, thick and clinging.

Stress.

She decided they were right to be uneasy. She did that a lot, making wrong into alright. Perfectly understandable things were easier to move past, even if you never really got away from them.

When the hives got good and irate, each countless bubble would announce itself and its undying need to be scratched. Not scratched at, but scratched out entirely. Ripped from flesh and world. Torn asunder. There was no placating, no staving of the itch would do.

One such night, as black and white film flickered before half-attentive eyes, she gave in to the searing desire. It started with a gentle rub before escalating to a full on scraping, skin beneath nails. The itch turned to a burn, under the constant mindless scratching, until she felt a bump, solid and unsettling.

Glancing down from the screen and damn near into the flesh of her forearm, she could make out a faintly H-shaped darkening below the layers of inflamed skin. It squished slightly about beneath the shove of timid fingers. Though this was certainly new, something new was nothing new to her. She found herself picking at it to the point of distraction, instead of being alarmed as one might.

After some time, it began to look more like an A than the H she’d first thought. Then she was positive it had been an N all along. Definitely an N. The more she nudged, the more letters it resembled. Now a V, now an M. When it slithered itself into an S, she pulled her hand away as though it had bitten her. Scrambling for a pen and paper, she began writing each letter as it morphed from one to the next.

The sun shone, now, first through a crack in the curtains, and then straight between her eyes. She sat up, refreshed, though she’d been up scribbling into the early hours of day. Her hand cramped. Her television still played movies from times gone by. Poking and squishing at where the letters had been, she found there was no longer anything lurking under her skin, or covering it, for that matter.

The paper had taken it all.