Watching the ground with every step, he walked back to Gord’s Spot and through the side door which led to the breakroom. There he opened a closet door and flipped on the light switch to the maintenance room. This gave him his first look at his bubbling fingers.
The bubbles were small and hard like tiny pebbles. They were an unusual shade of blue that appeared almost black when he held them closer to the light.
“This ain’t good.”
Forgetting all about the flashlight, Gord ran back into the breakroom to the kitchen sink and started to wash his hands under hot water.
“Oh, come on!” he shouted as he scrubbed harder and harder.
No matter how hard he scrubbed or how hot the water got, the blue color wouldn’t wash off.
“I need to—”
As his tongue brushed against the roof of his mouth Gord felt a series of tiny bumps. This sent him into an instant panic and he rushed to the locker room in a frenzy. The heavy steel door slammed shut behind him and reverberated throughout the open locker section. Gord swiped his hand along the wall until one of his bumpy fingers caught the light switch.
Fluorescent tubes began to flicker to life revealing the musty dented lockers, stained yellow tile floor, and old wooden benches. Without further hesitation, Gord rushed through the locker section to the backroom where the sinks were located. He practically threw himself at the mirror, opening his mouth wide and sticking out his tongue like one would during a medical checkup.
“Oh, no, no, no.”
Stunned, the reflection in the mirror showed Gord’s normal—or rather, normal for him—round face and too close together eyes. But his mouth. It was… stained blue. Around his mouth, the tip of his nose, his lips, and as far as he could see inside his mouth and throat were all stained the same color as his fingers. Even more worrisome, his tongue and lips were covered in those hard little bumps.
Gord knew he needed help, but in his mind, he couldn’t get help if he didn’t know what had gotten on him. So he decided he would go back to the factory floor to find out what the substance was.
He hurried back to the maintenance closet and grabbed a flashlight. Flicking the switch on, he flashed the bright light over his hand. The blue stain and tiny bumps were now spreading down to his palms.
“Oh, sweet Mother Mary.”
He needed to make a quick decision; something he’d never done in his whole life. If he left the factory and went for help, whatever was spilled on the factory floor might spread like a plague. If he went and cleaned up the mess and contained the problem before anyone could get infected, he might die before seeing a doctor. Numbers didn’t agree with his way of thinking, which meant phoning anyone for help was out of the question.
“Oh, boy.” Gord scratched the back of his head with his normal hand. “Why me?”
Opting to solve this problem the same way he solved all of his problems, he pulled “Ol’ Lucky” from his pocket; a grimy and tarnished silver dollar.
“Heads, I go. Tails, I clean,” he whispered as if hiding from someone.
He set the flashlight on a metal shelf in the maintenance room. His fat thumb caught the underside of the coin with a ping and it went sailing high into the air. With unusual quickness, Gord snatched it mid-fall and slapped it hard against the back of his opposite hand.
A cluster of bumps on the back of his hand exploded like greasy pustules when the coin connected.
When he tried peeling the coin off his hand it was adhered to his skin. The purplish goo that oozed from the freshly popped bumps was like super glue.
More frustrated than worried, Gord grabbed a flathead screwdriver hanging on the wall and began working at the coin. His skin gave way with unexpected ease to the metal edge, and as he pried the coin off, the skin underneath peeled away from the rest of his hand like he was pulling a grilled cheese sandwich apart.
Gord’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head at the sight. His whole hand was a deep blue except for the spot with the missing skin. There, the exposed meat, veins, and tendons were a grotesque purplish black. This frightened him so much he forgot what side of the coin he had called before the flip.
He held the coin near the flashlight and examined it. The top showed the stoic face of Dwight Eisenhower. The bottom, though, had a thick blue hunk of leather stuck to it. And that leather was made of Grade A Gord Stimpson.
Gord pulled on a loose edge of the skin with his fingers until it ripped away with a dry tearing. But even after that, there was still a small, thin piece plastered to the coin like one of those annoying price stickers they put on discount canned goods. Guess it’ll have to be heads or skins, he thought.
Figuring it would be good enough, Gord flipped the coin once more. “Skins,” he said as he snatched it out of the air—this time catching it with his blue hand and slapping it on the back of his normal hand.
When he pulled his blue hand away, Ol’ Dwight E was facing him once more. Only, Gord forgot what the stakes were on this self-made wager. Heads was stay and clean, skins was leave? Or was it skins was clean and heads was…
Too much thinking and not enough action was the conclusion Gord came to. So he decided he’d do both. He’d go clean up whatever mess there was and then go to the hospital. But just as he picked up his flashlight and started heading back to the factory floor, he stopped mid-stride.
Wait, why am I supposed to go to the hospital? Ain’t nobody sick, he thought. And with his last spark of brain power used up, there came a great crash out in the blackness of the factory. The perfect distraction to make him forget all about his rotted plum of a hand and lumpy mouth.
Grabbing the flashlight, he made his way back to the factory floor with that rushed shuffle he was known all over town for. Whenever people heard the familiar scuffs of heels dragging against the ground, they knew Gord was off to pet a stray dog, or talk to someone about fixing his late father’s broken Chevy pickup, or offering to carry a lady’s groceries. That’s just how Gord was. He’d get excited about something or other and rush off—dragging his feet like anchors on the bottom of the ocean—and completely forget about what he was just doing. If the term “having a one-track mind” ever applied to anyone perfectly, it was him.
That night he found himself rushing again. Only, he had no idea what he was to encounter. But as soon as he walked back out onto the pitch-black factory floor, any last remnants of going to the hospital had vanished. The only thing that mattered was a curious set of blue pawprints leading toward one of the great machines.
Breaking the rule about leaving Gord’s Spot was the furthest thing from his mind because now, his mental state was deteriorating at a rapid rate. A normal person might’ve noticed what was happened, but not someone like Gord. So he didn’t hesitate to run past the bright yellow line and back to where the broom hid in the dark. Instead of picking it up this time, though, Gord crouched down and shined the light over it. Beneath the handle was a goopy, viscous blue liquid that formed a circular puddle around it. The spots on the handle were making a strange and almost inaudible hissing. It was as if the blue liquid was burning through the wood.
At the broom’s base was a small red bucket tipped on its side. It must’ve gotten knocked over when he tossed the broom earlier. When he scanned the light upward, an oddly placed metal shelf was revealed. On the shelf were four more identical red buckets and one empty space where the fifth had been displaced from. Each bucket had the same letters printed on them with some sort of warning label underneath. Gord was able to make out the words “MILITARY GRADE” and “DANGER,” but they didn’t mean a thing to him. There was a small US flag stamped on top which reminded him of his school days. He always took pride in being the best of his class in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Of course, it was the only part of school he enjoyed aside from lunch. And just like in most of his classes during his school days, he opted not to attempt reading the longer words in front of him.
Gord stood and pondered what to do about the mess. Gus had always told him there was a certain way to clean up chemical and or paint spills; one couldn’t just mop it up with dingy water and call it a day. And this mess certainly called for some sort of proper cleaning procedure.
“I better walk down to Gus’ house and tell him about this. He’s gonna be awfully sore ‘bout havin’ to come up at this time.” As Gord spoke he could feel the fleshy bumps inside his mouth rubbing against each other. It was like trying to talk with maggots stuck to the roof of his mouth.
When he turned around to head toward the exit, the blue pawprints came back into view. He had already forgotten them; his brain was faltering faster and faster. The prints were going across the factory floor toward Gord’s Spot but turned away before hitting the yellow line and went back off into the darkness of the factory instead.
“Now where’s that cat gone to?”