I took part in a storytelling festival last night at the Coastars Coffee Bar in Lake Worth, Florida. The guidelines I received were that the story had to be "under 10 minutes long, true and not blue." Here's the tale I told ...
Let me tell you about the time I became zombie patient zero.
I was returning from Nevada. I’d been there to visit a mining project. I was at the airport early, so I ordered a large iced tea and breakfast sandwich from Burger King.
I know, I know, Burger King is crap. At 6 am, all airport food is crap.
I had finished the sandwich and was halfway through the iced tea when my stomach started to feel weird. So, I hobbled to the bathroom. I should mention that I’d fractured my kneecap a month earlier and I was still using a cane. And I REALLY needed the cane that morning after playing mountain goat on the mining project all the previous day.
Anyway, I went to the bathroom and had the runs. Then I went back again later for the same thing. Do you think that's gross? Gross hasn't started yet. If you're easily grossed out, now’s about the time you should stick your fingers in your ears and sing “la-la-la”.
So, I popped two Immodium, drank a lot more water, and got on my plane. Turns out I was stuck in the middle seat next to an old feller who was hobbling SO BAD – using a custom cane that I was very jealous of -- that the flight attendants were circling around him even before the plane took off, trying to pump water and food into him to make him feel better.
As soon as the plane took off, and the seatbelt light went off, I went back to the bathroom. To get out of my seat, I did a rub-along-creep over the old guy that a table dancer would be proud of. I didn't have to go to the bathroom, I was just making sure. Nothing happened. Hey, maybe I was all worried for nothing.
I got some TUMS antacid out of my backpack (I travel VERY prepared), friction-danced my way past the old guy, and tried to sleep. I actually slept on and off, but my dreams were strange …
• There was a casino in first class that I wasn't allowed in.
• There was some byzantine plot at work worthy of Game of Thrones.
• Someone was trying to infest me with a brain parasite.
I'd wake up from each of these dreams in a sweat, saying "What the F___!"
I now knew I was feverish. That probably wasn't good. Meanwhile, the old guy wanted to talk, and I tried to keep up my end of the conversation. I ate more TUMS, because my burps were getting more acidic and more serious. And suddenly, I knew I was going to throw up.
"I need to get out." I told the old guy. "Right now."
The urgency in my voice spurred him into action. Did I mention he was old and hobbled?
He started to get up. VERY slowly. I could have been out past him in three seconds, but this took at least 20, 25 seconds. All the while, my stomach kept rising in my throat.
I finally got out of my seat and looked down toward the lavatories in the back of the plane. The aisle was packed with passengers and food carts.
I REALLY knew the puke was coming now. So I turned and bolted into first class, to the bathroom that we economy-class plebes had been told not to use. "I really gotta use this," I told the startled steward as I ran past.
Luckily, the first-class bathroom was unoccupied. I got inside, lifted the toilet lid, and an enormous wave of puke rushed up out of my throat like an alien trying to get out of my body. The hot bile swamped my teeth and the roof of my mouth and tongue like tsunami victims in Thailand.
I was positioned over the toilet. It didn't matter. My mouth is so damned big it's less of a funnel and more of a canal lock. There was puke everywhere!
And then I did it again! Worse, this time, puke splattered over my pants, down into my cuffs, onto my shoes. And now we get to the scary part.
My stomach contents were an ichory soup of my morning's breakfast and last night's burger and sweet potato fries. It was awful! And it was pitch-black!
My vomit was black as the ace of spades, like I'd swallowed an octopus and it squirted ink in my stomach.
The only time I'd heard of black puke was in zombie movies, just before people turned. In my fevered brain, I wondered: “Am I zombie patient zero? Dammit! I don’t have time to turn zombie.”
However, I immediately felt better. I cleaned the bathroom and my clothing frantically. The floor was coated in black bile soup so thick, the vibrations of the plane’s flight sent little ripples through it.
Again, maybe it was the fever, but I started wondering: “Am I turning zombie? Do zombie victims feel better after they puke? Is that one of the signs?”
Finally, I realized it was the Immodium that made my stomach contents black. So maybe I wouldn’t be a zombie after all.
I finished cleaning up the room … and myself. I used up most of the paper towels.
When I left the bathroom, I couldn’t even look at the stewardess.
Funniest thing is, when I got into Atlanta, I called my wife in West Palm Beach. When I told her what happened, she said, “maybe you shouldn’t come home. Until you’re better. Just to be on the safe side.”
But I did go home. And I wasn’t bitey. But I did sleep for about 12 hours.
It just shows that a good laugh and a long sleep is the best cure for just about anything.