The feeling wasn’t quite nausea, but the contents of her stomach ebbed and flowed all the same, sloshing around thick like hot compost.
It started around 9:00 a.m., right when she began her shift at the call center. She took the elevator to the twentieth floor of the cramped high rise that housed so many attorneys and accountants, poured the first of ten or eleven coffees and deposited herself onto the exercise ball she used in lieu of a chair.
Computer already switched on, she attempted to navigate to the company portal but was struck by the feeling, as if her insides were solidifying. She sat for a moment and looked straight forward, ignoring her coworkers who were by now five calls into the workday. Counting backward from 100, she shut her eyes and breathed deep, in and out, until the pain retreated to the back of her mind.
Feeling marginally better, she picked up the phone and selected a lead from the dialer. It rang three times before someone picked up.
“Hi, this is Constance with --”
She went no further. She couldn’t. The horrible stench emanating from her mouth made her eyes leak.
She slammed the phone down on the receiver and walk-ran to the nearest restroom. Only one other person was inside, locked in a stall. She approached the mirror and stuck out her tongue.
It was normal.
She examined her uvula and tonsils, checking, hoping, for stones.
There was nothing.
She let out an exasperated scoff.
A phone clattered to the tile, cracking and sending microscopic glass shards into the grout. Two legs with stockings crumpled about the ankles shot into the air, shins connecting with the underside of a stall door. Then, a whole body smacked the ground head first, seizing for a full minute before stiffening.
The smell was unbearable.
Terrified, she ran from the bathroom with a hand over her mouth and charged back into the main office.
“Please, someone help me.”
If it was coffee breath, the hand might have done some good. But as soon as the word “help” left her mouth, the five people sitting at the desk to her right jolted up as if stunned by an electric current. Their eyeballs filled with blood, foam billowing from their mouths before a final violent lurch sent them all to the floor.
More bodies fell. Coworkers across the room ran to help the others and walked right into the wall of stench, the electric odor smiting everyone in its path. She wept, praying for it to stop and sending more and more of the otherworldly bouquet into the air.
The whole office was dead within the hour.
Outside, a week later, the city devoid of life, the remains of military vehicles and police barricades littered across the streets, she wandered. She didn’t know what else to do.
Then, the greatest pain of all, a lightning strike in the pit of her stomach that sent her to her knees. She let out a guttural moan that lasted for an eternity, eyes wide, mouth agape and aimed at the sky. It all came out in a torrent that rocketed heavenward and never came back down.
Once it was all over, she felt much better.