Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
Erica hated the lack of hygiene.
Erica absolutely despised unhygienic people. Just thinking about the slightest chance of her physically touching a “dirty” person chilled her spine.
She refused to drink from another person’s cup. She avoided sharing food with others. She would be utterly disgusted by people who talk loudly, whilst sprinkles of food spew out from their mouths. People with coughs, colds, bad breath, stinky underarms, smelly feet; are amongst her list of worst habits an unhygienic person could have.
But out of all the disgusting things in her list, she hated saliva the most. Why? First, there are millions of germs and diseases one could get from ingesting a drop from another person. Second, just thinking about that warm, sticky texture made her feel sick in the stomach.
One time she was in an elevator with a stranger and as his face morphed into a semi-yawn, nose red, nostrils enlarged, eyes watery— she knew what was going to happen. She half-ran to the farthest corner as the man exploded to a sneeze. Snot and spit strewed in all directions.
When she looked back at him he was staring at her, disbelief apparent on his face due to her overreaction. Finally, as the elevator door opened she hurriedly walked to the nearest restroom. Her palms covered her hot-red face.
And because of this people had a snobbish perception of her. Sure she worked hard to be the smart pretty girl in class to make up for this little anomaly of hers. But she did not really have someone to call a true friend. Not one soul dared to be close.
All her life she had hated this body fluid (as if she does not have it, and does not need it for digesting food). She is aware of what people think of her. But she just can’t help it. So instead of trying hard to be normal, she avoided making friends. Until she met a boy.
Erica instantly liked Caleb. A wide-eyed city boy with a nice smell and didn’t talk when he has food in his mouth. Though she didn’t like him only because of those qualities though. He listened intently to everything she said, and she felt that he was truly seeing her for who she is.
They got to know each other better when she toured him around campus on his first day. The second day they ate lunch together. The next few days they hung out after school, sharing each other’s taste in literature, movies, and music.
Before she realized it she was falling for him. Hard. But until then he did not thoroughly understand her distaste for germs.
It was a Friday afternoon and their last class just ended. Caleb taps Erica’s shoulder and whispers to her ear.
“Can you come with me somewhere? I want to show you something.”
She wanted to scream internally. She has been waiting for this moment all along. Is he going to confess? Will he finally ask me to be his girlfriend?
Excited girlish thoughts ran through her mind but she exuded modest behavior. As much as she likes him, she didn’t want him to think that she’s an easy girl.
She agreed to come with him. They rode Caleb’s truck and drove off to a somewhat secluded lake. Like a gallant knight, he escorts her out of the vehicle. Leads her to a beautiful spot. He puts his jacket on the ground for her to sit on. They picnic by the waters.
Caleb thanks Erica for everything she’s done for him. He tells her adjusting to a new town and school was pretty scary for him. But with her being there, he said he could cope. Erica blushed. It was far from a confession but it was enough to strike a chord in her heart.
Caleb, although not much obvious, was dazzled to be with this charming girl. A mischievous idea formed in his head. He stands up, takes off his shirt, pants then dives into the water. Erica was dumbfounded at first. She watched him swim, his lean torso coming in and out of the water. He calls out to her, saying how fun it was.
“The water’s great, Erica!” Caleb chimes at her.
Erica wanted to go to him but she didn’t like getting wet. Plus she did not think the lake was as clean she wanted it to be. She watched as he swims further away, her heart mildly stopping whenever Caleb did not pop out of the water quickly enough.
“Caleb, is it deep?” Erica yells. But he cannot hear her underwater. To get a closer look she goes knee-deep into the water, pulling her skirt up. Gosh, it’s cold, she thought. She calls out to him again. Nothing. Then she realizes it has been minutes since he last went up for air. Is he… drowning?
Erica desperately calls out his name, sprinting closer until the water’s at her chest level. Still, Caleb would not emerge from the water. She shouted and shouted, her voice half-cracking. Warm tears threatened to slide down her face when a figure from her peripheral vision lunges at her.
Erica screams as Caleb tackles her down, giggling. She cried out in shock. Seeing that she’s genuinely annoyed and terrified, Caleb’s overcome with guilt. He apologizes to her. He shows her a drinking straw he used to breathe underwater.
Knowing he’s safe and relishing the feel of his hands on her arms, Erica calms down. Soon the two teenagers were swimming and splashing at each other. For the first time, Erica was genuinely having a good time without a care in the world.
When it was time to go home, Erica was the first one to come out of the water. Caleb, on the other hand, was still swimming. She remembered how his eyes sparkled when he told her he loved to swim. He said he hung out with his dad on a nearby beach, where they used to live, before his parents got divorced. She smiles at the thought of him sharing this piece of his life with her.
Her eyes search for him in the area. She spots him pretending to drown. “Erica! Erica! Help, I can’t swim!” She chuckles at his silliness. He continued shouting like he’s really drowning.
“I’m not gonna fall for that one, Caleb!”
Erica picks up her phone to see what time it was. 5:45 pm. Great, my mom’s gonna kill me, she thought. “Caleb, let’s go!” He, on the other hand, is still “drowning.”
She decides to wait and see until when he’s gonna put up with his prank. She sits down idly watching Caleb “drown.” Sure enough, he’s gonna sink and use the drinking straw to breathe underwater.
Erica sighed contentedly. She fantasizes about what the next day would be for both of them. She can’t wait to get home and text him a good night. Hopeful that whatever feelings they have for each other will be taken to the next level. Tomorrow will be different, she thought. Much different.
The colors of twilight borders into the distance. Erica stretches her back and as her palms supported her against the ground she touches something. Something long and plastic. She picks it up. A straw… Caleb’s drinking straw.
Erica stands up. She couldn’t see him. Not a splash or a gurgle. She goes into the water, shouting, “Caleb! Caleb! Caleb!” Then something brushes against her thigh.
Erica stumbles back. Fear, shock and confusion have frozen her. He’s not moving — his eyes shut, mouth slightly open. A couple of seconds pass before Erica twitched a finger. She gathered what little strength flushed out of her to pull Caleb into the land. He’s not breathing.
Placing an ear on his chest, she hears his heartbeat. He’s still alive, thank God, Erica thought. Recalling what she knew in a first aid training class, she compresses his chest multiple times. But her hands are too timid and she didn’t have that much energy anymore. Nothing. The water just wouldn’t come out. Wait, I didn’t check his mouth, she realized.
Yet before she could even touch his face, what she saw appalled her. There are weeds inside his mouth, and they looked sticky and covered with… saliva.
Erica held her breath. I-I need to save him. But he— his mouth, just looked so, so… disgusting. She takes a deep breath. One by one, she started removing them. She also noticed how some of his teeth were crooked. There are also yellowish. Did they always look like that? She never noticed that before. Probably because she only saw his beautiful brown eyes.
This is no time to be noticing that now, Erica, she scolded herself. As her fingers plucked out each weed she felt that warm, slimy feeling she hated. Erica felt like gagging.
Suddenly Caleb opened his eyes, and began wheezing and coughing. His eyes flared red, and they bored into hers. Like a fish stranded on land. Erica was surprised, backing away on instinct. Greenish water drizzled down Caleb’s mouth.
Erica looked away. She wanted to help him let all the water out but she cannot move. She cannot bear to look at him. Erica stayed still as a statue until Caleb could not purge out any water anymore.
She peeks and her gaze automatically lands at his mouth, disgust evident on her beautiful face.
No, this can’t be happening. Please, no, she agonized internally. She shut her eyes and covered her ears. Seconds passed. Erica shuddered not because the cold wind blew against her wet body. Because Caleb stopped moving at all. He was now absolutely still, and yet, his eyes never left where she is.
That’s when she started crying.
* * * * * *
News of a teenage boy drowning in a quiet suburban town caused an uproar amongst media channels. Investigators believed the boy had cramps while swimming. The locals, disregarding whatever the real cause was, blamed the parents for the lack of supervision. Some questioned why the girl did not call for help when the boy was in the process of drowning.
For weeks, Erica did not get out of the house, due in no small part to her family’s fear of being caught up in the storm that the tragedy has brought upon their town. Her parents were especially worried. Whereas before she was a top student, now she’s falling behind her class.
During all this, she spent most of her time in her room, sleeping or listening to music.
Physically, the trauma emaciated her. Mentally, it caused her to become disinterested in things she usually liked. And she often spaced out. Every night her parents tucked her in and reminded her how much they loved her. She would pretend to fall asleep fast as to not worry them.
Tonight, like other nights, her parents kissed her goodnight. Only after they had turned off the lights and left the room did Erica open her eyes. If only she could fall fast asleep, she imagined, she wouldn’t have to see Caleb’s lifeless body lying on the ground.
If only she protested against going to a lake unsupervised.
If only she did not laugh at his pranks, thus encouraging him.
If only she could forget how despicable she was for not believing him.
If only she wasn’t so scared to touch him.
If only she wasn’t little-miss-germaphobe, Caleb wouldn’t be–
The sound came from her study desk, as if a leg chair creaked due to its occupant’s weight shifting to another side.
Erica held her breath for a moment and listened. Pure silence. She had trouble sleeping, and thought possibly her tired mind was just playing tricks on her. She sighed, displeased with herself for entertaining such horrid thoughts. How could she think of Caleb in that way?
All she has now are memories of him. She remembered his expressive eyes, the little creases in the corners that appeared when he laughed. His lips that formed a half-grin when he talked, yet how earnestly they would shut firmly when it was her turn to speak. She loved those lips. And often she dreamed of how they would feel against her own.
Something wet dripped on her cheek.
With her eyes still closed, she brushed it off with the sleeve of her shirt. But then it was followed by another, and another. Something liquid kept dropping on her face. As she touched her forehead she felt that familiar, slimy, sticky feeling on her fingertips.
“I never got to tell you, Erica,” a voice overhead said to her.
She opened her eyes. From what little light the moon shone through her window, she saw his bloated face, all features of a charming boy gone. Erica opened her mouth, but a wet, clammy hand muffled her screams. Caleb hunkered down closer to her, almost covering her entire body.
He hovered over her, his whole body soaking wet as the greenish lake plants soiled her bed. She gasped for breath under his huge hand that covered her lower face.
Caleb lowered his face to hers. Placing his mouth close to her ear, he whispers, “I never got to tell you that I like you…” His icy breath raised all the hair on her sensitive neck. Erica struggled against his weight. She tried to scream for her dad, but every time she did so he held her mouth even tighter. It hurt her.
“I know you liked me back too. Then why…” He looked at her with such confusion and pain. “People told things about you, but I didn’t listen. They did not know you as I do. Still, why couldn’t you… Why didn’t you?” Erica desperately shook her head. She tried to tell him it wasn’t like that. That she was sorry, truly sorry. If only you knew, Caleb, she wanted to tell him.
A tear fell on her cheek. Caleb wiped it. What he says to her next sends a wave of pure terror across her entire being.
“I never got to kiss you, either.”
Caleb looked deep into her eyes. He further lowered himself until his face almost touched hers, firmly pinning the girl down the bed. Erica squirmed and thrashed, but it was no use. She fought against him but he was far stronger.
“A kiss from a fair maiden,” Caleb said, removing his fingers from her full lips. Before she could protest, he covered her mouth with his.
She tried to push his face away with her hands. Her fingernails clawed at his face, peeling off decayed flesh, while his slimy, sticky tongue forced its way into hers. A kiss so passionate it nearly killed her.
Credit: Mary Bueno
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