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Volatile Routine

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It began with a mildly annoying itch when Eric awoke. A small, nearly invisible to the naked eye, bump appeared almost in the center of his left forearm. It was a discolored white surrounded by a circle of red, much like a rash. It almost looked like a tiny burn. It seemed innocent enough. Eric scratched his arm and thought nothing more of it as he began his daily routine.

Eric made his morning coffee and sat at his dining room table, and ate his piece of toast while reading the newspaper. He got up from the chair and poured himself a fresh cup of coffee. As he sat back down in the chair he noticed two almost black marks on his toast as it sat on the plate. He picked up the toast as if to take another bite and noticed, the spots were exactly where he held the toast with his index and middle finger. He flipped it over to see there was also a spot where his thumb sat.

Eric looked at his fingers, they appeared clean. There was not a spec of black on them. He stopped eating for a moment continuing to look at both sides of the toast flipping it over and over in his hand. The black spots seemed hard and flakey. 'How very odd,' he thought to himself as he sipped his coffee. Eric shrugged, laid the toast back on the plate, and headed out his door to work.

His ride to work was uneventful. He took the train as usual. Just like every other day, it was packed. You nearly had to be a linebacker to get on and off somedays. This was one of those days. Upon arriving at work he promptly went to the newspaper stand just outside the door. Charlie always greeted him with a smile and a handshake. At around 9:30 Eric made his way into the bank, where he worked. Once inside he stood with Carol every morning and waited for the elevator, which was almost always packed with people from the parking garage below. Eric never minded any of this though, he liked routine. As an accountant, routine made his job easier.

By 10:15 he was sitting at his desk reviewing the day's work load. Eric's day was already planned out several weeks in advance. He had a meeting with Karen, his boss, at 11:00, lunch at noon, the rest of the day he verified transactions. Karen walked into his office at 10:57. Eric was moderately annoyed with her being early, but raised no issue as he finished up the remainder of his morning work.

"Well, someone got some sun this weekend," Karen said with a smile as she sat down across from him.

"Umm, yea, I suppose," Eric replied in a mildly confused tone.

"Just be careful, the last thing I need is to lose a person due to skin cancer."

The rest of their conversation consisted mainly of new accounts and monitoring guidelines. Typical boring routine stuff. After she left, Eric pondered what she had said. He wondered what she meant by "got some sun". It rained all weekend and Eric had stayed in the house, and only left once to go to the grocery. Her comment seemed strange. He couldn't shake the thought. If he had "got some sun", as she put it, this would not be in his routine. He stood up and stepped out of his office and headed towards the mens' room at 11:46. This further break in routine made him a little angry as he usually waited until lunch to go to the mens' room.

The lights flickered on as he swung open the door of the bathroom. Eric stopped, surprised at what he was seeing in the mirror. His face was a bright red, as if sun burned. He slowly approached the mirror with his eyes squinted, focused hard at his own reflection. He stopped just in front of the sink and leaned over. He gently touched his face with his left hand, and quickly drew it back from the pain. He looked down at his forearm and realized it was now covered in tiny blisters, from his wrist to his elbow.

Eric bolted out of the mens' room and headed straight for the elevator. He gave no thought to his job, his boss, or his routine. He knew something was wrong. Bumps like that don't just appear. People stared at him with concerned looks as they exited the elevator. He charged through the crowd knocking Karen to the floor.

"I'm sorry!" he exclaimed grabbing her hand and helping her up. She began to ask what he was doing but Eric cut her off, "I...I have to go. I will be back."

Sweat was pouring down his face as he nearly leaped into the elevator. Rapidly, he pushed the lobby and close door buttons at the same time. His fear grew as each second passed. Finally the door shut. The elevator dinged as it descended the sky rise. Eric looked down at his arm. The pain was becoming more intense with every floor. He rubbed his arm gently trying to alleviate some of the burning. As he did his left forearm burst into flames. Eric thrashed around the elevator, waiving his arm frantically, trying everything he could to extinguish the fire. The elevator dinged one last time and the doors opened.

Eric ran out into the lobby with his arm in an indelible blaze. The flames started spreading as he ran towards the door. He could feel his flesh melting away with each step. People outside watched as the inferno raced out of the building and onto the street. The human bonfire dropped to the hard cement, motionless. A crowd gathered and watched as the fire died down. Small pieces floated gracefully in the wind throughout the street. As the ambulance arrived, nothing remained of Eric but black ashes scattered about the city street. The flames had become so hot, the city street where he landed was melted and scorched.

The next day at the office, everyone was talking about the incident. Though she was heavily shaken up from losing Eric, Karen made her way to work. Just outside the bank she stopped to see Charlie. Eric's picture was on the front page. The headline read "Banker Ablaze". She picked up the paper and reached into her purse pulling out a fresh $20 bill. Charlie peaked out from the booth with a look distress. He began, "Crazy thing what happened to Eric isn't it."

"Yea, some people say it was a terrorist attack, others are saying spontaneous combustion. I don't know if I believe either of those theories," Karen said with a look of disbelief. As Charlie reached for her money she noticed several small blisters on his arm, "how did that happen?" she asked.

"Well, when I woke up it was just a small bump, I guess it's spreading. Probably should see a doctor," Charlie replied dismissively.

"That's really weird," Karen said showing her forearm with the same bumps, "I think I have it too."

{by Demuerto}

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