Excerpt

The Body Harvest: Cover Reveal and First Look!

Michael Seidlinger

The following is an exclusive excerpt from and cover reveal for The Body Harvest, by Michael Seidlinger. In the following passage, we witness the onset of symptoms when a couple infects themselves with a disease to get high. The Body Harvest is forthcoming from Clash Books in September 2024.

When it finally happens, they’re too nervous to enjoy the upcoming crash. This is what they wanted, the onset of symptoms. It’s like meeting someone new. There’s fear there, folding into every action. They worry and they wonder what might happen. Olivia wakes up around 7 in the morning feeling dehydrated. She rushes into the kitchen, shouting Will’s name until he stirs, roused to notice.

“I think it’s happening!”

Will seems jealous, “Really?”

The thermometer hangs in her mouth.

“Here, your turn,” Olivia says, handing him the thermometer. “99.7F.”

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He feels fine but uses it anyway.

Beep, the verdict is… 98.4F.

“It might take more time for you,” she says, trying to make him feel better. “Everyone’s immune system is different.”

“Yeah,” he says. He opens the fridge and pours himself some orange juice. “Tell me what you’re feeling.”

“I feel like I’m hungover, basically.” She thinks about how to better describe it. “There’s a slight throbbing, might be the onset of a headache. My mouth is dry, my nose feels itchy. Everything feels like it’s been rundown, you know?”

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“I do,” he nods. He downs half the glass and then looks out the window. There’s the ever-present worry that the landlord might be back today. Someone walks by and looks in the direction of the window. Will closes the curtains, afraid of being spotted. “You should go back to bed. It’s easier to feel the symptoms that way.”

She seems to agree, taking two painkillers. “Just in case.”

It’s not that they don’t want to feel the pain. It’s in many ways pleasant, especially when it’s so all-consuming that they can think of nothing else. It’s more like they take medicine because it’s all part of the charade. Her headache will pierce through the veil that the dosage will temporarily provide. Popping those pills, it gets her excited. She comes alive, a skip in her step, as she walks into the other room. Will remains in the kitchen, brooding with disappointment. He picks at the fresh scab on his arm, a trace from the other night’s syringe party.

Because there’s not much else to do, Will lays down on the couch. He stares at the television screen, not bothering to turn the device on.

*

He falls asleep and wakes up gagging. Dehydration. Onset symptoms. His heart skips. There it is! There it is! He induces a cough, playing sick, and Olivia walks back into the room.

“Oh my god!”

He smiles, “Dry mouth, dizzy.”

Naming the symptoms, it becomes clear that this one is Gregory. Their crash is on the horizon, and he gets in the same bed as her, the two of them taking their temperature again. The number has climbed, 100.5F and 99.6F respectively.

There’s a palpable sense of comfort, knowing that they will soon be sick enough to fade into an unconscious haze. Theirs is a discussion entirely about keeping each other abreast of every feeling.

“I feel warm, and then I feel so cold. Freezing. It’s getting worse too, not quite chills yet, but soon. I can feel the fever climbing. My voice also seems off right?”

“Right,” he says. “There’s a little congestion.”

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“Tell me what you’re feeling.” She extends her arm, a mere inch away from touching his skin, but stops short. It’s a gesture that’s made to say, I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.

He nestles around her, spooning her increasingly sweaty body.

“Headache. It’s dull right now but I can feel it getting worse.” He seems to know what she’ll ask next. “I’m not going to take any painkillers.”

“It helps,” she says. “Makes you feel the ache from a different angle.”

“Naw, Gregory won’t get the satisfaction,” he jokes.

“Ouch, I just felt a pain in my temples.”

“Your body is going to be very busy fighting Gregory off. I bet you’ll have full body aches.”

“Do you think we’ll get any nausea?”

“Maybe,” he says. “I’m hoping we come out in a rash.”

Her eyes light up, “Have you ever?”

“No,” he says. “You’d think I would at some point. I can’t recall a crash where my skin showed the full extent of the attack.”

“That’s so crazy,” she yawns.

“Go, sleep,” he says.

“What time is it?”

He looks over at the clock on the bedside table, “Not even 11AM yet.”

She’s already fading. He sings to her, a light melody, something made up. Her breath slows, becomes heavy. Asleep, he aims to do the same. He sings to himself, staring up at the ceiling. It’ll happen soon. Gregory will give them a hellish few days.

*

She wakes up screaming. Will’s entire body jolts, springing to action immediately.

“What? What is it?!”

Olivia doesn’t say anything, instead massaging her forehead. Headache has cut through the dosage.

He notices the sheets are damp. She’s sweating profusely, her clothes equally damp. “Damn you’re really burning up.”

The thermometer is back in her mouth, revealing that she is reaching 102F.

“The crash,” he says.

Olivia can barely speak, “Fever, aches, chills, splitting headache, dry mouth… nightmares.”

“Enjoy it,” he says. He still exhibits just one symptom, headache.

Tears well up and she tries to stand up.

“Don’t.”

“I need to…” She strips off her clothes, revealing her entire body.

Will doesn’t even notice, “Back to bed. You’re probably hitting the peak.”

He’ll notice it later, when he’s wide awake, watching her sleep. Her back will reveal a pattern of tiny red dots. There it is, worth the wait. A rash.

By then, he will feel the fever beginning to mount. Where she felt cold, his entire body will be on fire. He’ll be unable to stay awake. Both asleep, they’ll stay in bed until well after nightfall.

*

They don’t have much of an appetite. At some point, she pisses herself. The complete loss of bladder control is something new. Will helps her out of bed. The circular pool of dampness is unmistakable. The same could be said for the smell. The atmosphere of the apartment has been tarnished, a sensation of complete unease coursing through every corner. This is the site of a tragedy unfolding and they are the stars.

This is the site of a tragedy unfolding and they are the stars.

He has begun to sweat, his shirt wet around the armpits. He takes off his clothes too. Knotted into his chest hair is a fragment of a potato chip. When was the last time he showered?

They lay side by side on the couch, the television turned on to a random channel.

“My body is confused,” she says, her hand going south, between her legs. “I’m wet.”

He looks down at his own genitalia, limp and unaroused. “I wonder what that means.”

“I don’t know,” she groans. “But this is new.”

The rash has spread across much of her body. He points to her chest, “Do they itch or hurt?”

She shakes her head, eyes closed. Gregory is sapping all her strength. “No. They don’t hurt or itch at all. They seem to be just for show.” Another groan. “My head, ugh it’s pounding.”

“Mine too,” he says.

They remain on the couch, in and out of fever induced sleep.

*

By nightfall, they are already beginning to tire of Gregory. The spasms don’t last very long. The aching joints and body parts leave them both around the same time. Their fever remains, much like the rash. “You’re right. It’s for show,” he says, inspecting his arm.

She sighs, “Yeah.”

He starts itching the rash, hoping to aggravate it, make the most out of something that should have been more menacing. She seems to follow his lead, scratching her back. Really getting in there too, her fingernails leaving thin red streaks, cuts that would make anyone wince. Olivia breaks the skin, smearing blood across her back.

Congestion settles in, though absent is a cough. He snorts and swallows, but this is nothing like the others. It’s barely cause for any lost senses.

Around this time, they begin to inspect the crash itself, and what it has become. Kind of like a review, they talk about which symptoms remain.

“I still have a fever, some congestion,” he says.

“The rash,” she adds. “There’s that too.”

“Gregory has been an afternoon,” he muses. “But it’s now evening and I’m starting to feel a bit different.”

“Me too,” she says. You can hear the disappointment in her voice. “Incubation didn’t take long at all. But it’s also a quick crash.”

“I know,” he frowns. “I would have hoped it would have been longer.”

“This is the part I always hate,” she says.

She stands up and does a few stretches.

He stares at the TV. “I’m always hoping it’ll be the next one. The biggest crash… but then we get a string of minor strains, things that could never last longer than a few days tops. You could say I’m starting to get a little frustrated.”

“It’s this part,” she says. “Right now, when I feel so light, like nothing at all can stop me. I know this is it, this is the delusion. It makes me feel so confident and so happy, but really what’s happening is that I’m getting over Gregory. The details are the first to go, especially the particulars of the crash itself. They start to fade out and soon I’ll feel everything. It’ll feel the way it felt before. So many times before.”

Will crosses his arms, sinking into the couch, “You know what I’m going to say next, don’t you?”

“Ugh,” she stomps her foot. “No, not tonight.”

“We’re going out. Tomorrow.”

Olivia isn’t happy with the reality of their situation and decides to take a shower.

Will remains seated on the couch; something on television catches his eye, the playback of a movie he’s seen before. A man with nothing left to lose goes searching for the people that ruined his life.

“Isn’t it always that way,” he says to nobody, to himself.

__________________________________

From THE BODY HARVEST. Used with the permission of the publisher, CLASH. Copyright © 2024 by Michael J. Seidlinger.




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