I really just wanted to write an urban werebear origin story, OK?
The phone rang quietly, but with a tone that split the silence of the bedroom sharply. A dark brown hand shot from beneath the covers, fumbling on the nightstand until fingers closed around the small silicon rectangle. They both disappeared back beneath the blankets, where a muffled voice mumbled. “Hello?”
“Is this Alvin Washington?” The voice on the other end was far too awake. There was a hint of urgent agitation that tugged the brain closer to consciousness.
Alvin flopped the covers over his chest with his free hand and sighed, glancing at the alarm clock. 10:45 AM. “Yeah,” he said, resigning himself to wakefulness. “It’s Alvin. Who’s this?”
“I’m calling from the lab at Kaiser Permanente. Uh, your results are ready and I wanted to go over a few things with you.”
Alvin blinked. Usually, lab results were dropped by email. If someone was calling, that meant something was wrong. He felt the tingle in his fingers and the dull throbbing in his head as adrenaline shot into his bloodstream. “Uh….OK. Yeah. What’s going on?”
“Well…uh…” the voice on the other end hesitated. “We got some really strange readings and…I know this is highly unusual…but I wanted to call you directly and ask some questions.”
Alvin scooted up in bed and tried to ignore the almost dizzying thumping of his brain inside his skull. “Yeah? Strange how?”
There was silence on the other end of the phone.
“Are you there?”
“Yes. Yes, I’m here, sorry. I’m trying to…figure out how to say this.”
“Just say what you got to say, dude. Don’t just call somebody up and freak ’em out about their lab tests.” Alvin huffed, gracelessly kicking the covers down towards the foot of the bed. Now that he was awake, it felt way too hot.
“You’re right. Sorry. Uh, I guess it’s best to just rip the Band-Aid off. We found levels of iron and cholesterol in your blood that would indicate a life-threatening issue. Frankly, there’s no way you should be up and walking around.”
“Huh,” was all Alvin could manage. He knew something was wrong with him, but what he was being told didn’t make much sense. Ever since coming back from the field trip, his body felt like it was going haywire. His skin itched. His blood boiled. His bones froze. He was hungry all the time, and he ate until he was sick. It was hard to keep anything down. His head ached; sometimes it was a dull throb, but other times it felt like his skull was coming apart and his teeth were loose in their sockets. For two weeks, he had been laid up in bed, sleeping until the sun went down, stumbling to the store for food, devouring whatever he bought, smoking pot to dull the ache in his head and his joints until he could sleep again. It wasn’t any way to live.
His cousin took him to the emergency room two…no, three days ago now. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him, but they thought he might have contracted something from the nasty-looking wound he had gotten on the camping trip. A bear had gotten into the food and he tried to scare it off by banging two pots together. Instead, it charged. He leapt out of the way, but got tagged by a claw that ripped him open from forearm to elbow. It took 35 stitches to close. It still itched like hell.
“It’s not the only weird thing,” the voice on the other end continued. “We were very concerned about your bloodwork, considering how you presented to the emergency room and given the fact you were the victim of an animal attack. Uh…bear, was it?”
“Yeah,” Alvin said. He was having trouble focusing on the conversation. “So just tell me what all this means.”
“Can you confirm that the blood we received was yours and yours alone?”
Alvin squinted in confusion. What kind of question was that? “Uh…yeah? I was in the hospital, the nurse took like, eight vials of blood from my arm. If there was a mix-up it had to be you.”
“No, I mean…I…look, what I saw didn’t make any sense, so I…sort of took a sample and showed it to a couple of…specialists I know.” The voice on the other end got quiet, like he was whispering.
“O…K…” Alvin wasn’t sure where this was going any more.
“They found the blood had a mixture of human and bear DNA. I mean, not like, some cells were human and some cells were bear. Like, the DNA we took from the blood had genetic markers found in both species. At the same time.”
“What the fuck?”
“I know, it…that shouldn’t be possible. I’d like to see you.”
“Who the fuck is this?” Alvin had had enough. He looked at the number on the phone; it wasn’t one he recognized. “You have to be fucking with me. Did Shum put you up to this?”
“I don’t know who Shum is, sir. Listen…you can just meet me at the lab tomorrow, right? Just look for the tech with the brown and black lab pin. We can meet my friend at the cafeteria.”
Alvin sighed. “Look, dude, I just want to find out what’s wrong with me so I can get better. I’m not interested in…whatever this is.”
“This is about what’s wrong with you. I swear, I wouldn’t be talking to you like this if I didn’t think it was the best way to get to the bottom of it. Will you meet me?”
Alvin considered this. He would be at the medical center regardless, so if he decided that whatever this was didn’t smell right he could always find a supervisor to talk to instead. “Yeah, all right. Tomorrow. What time?”
“2:30. Please come alone, and don’t tell anyone about this. Not even your doctor.”
The line went dead before Alvin could say anything else. He looked at his phone in bewilderment. Trying to think through this headache was like wading through molasses.
He got out of bed, slow and grunting. He’d figure all of this out tomorrow. For now, he wanted to see what was in his fridge.