My Own Personal Horror
I'm really a science fiction author, but I've dabbled in horror a few times and sold short horror stories to a couple of different markets. One of those stories is due soon in a themed anthology about viruses and bacteria from Great Old Ones Publishing. The upcoming anthology, Pernicious Invaders, came along at a critical time for me. You could almost call it therapeutic, really. Because about two months before the call for submission came out, I nearly died from a necrotizing fasciitis - a skin eating disease.
It's February 17. 2014, a typical Sunday afternoon around our house. My wife and the oldest daughter were already out running their errands. I was going to take the little one so we could "divide and conquer" our list of things to do. Right before we left, around 4:30pm, I felt something familiar. I know what a fire ant bite feels like and I was sure something had gotten me on my upper right thigh. When I checked myself, and my jeans, I found nothing. No ants, no spider, no scorpion. Nothing except a spot of red, swollen skin the size of a quarter. I did what any reasonable adult would do. I assumed it was a bite of some kind, took a Benadryl, and went off to do errands.
Four hours later, I felt exhausted and decided to go to bed. An hour after that, I began to vomit. That phase lasted until around 2:30am on Monday, when it switched directions and I developed a fever. At 5:30am, weak and dehydrated, I told my wife that something was very wrong and I needed to go to the emergency room. Food poisoning doesn't come with a fever, and I was very hot. Now behind exhaustion, I fell asleep.
When I woke up two hours later, two things had happened. My wife had arranged for play dates and babysitters so she could get me to the hospital as soon as I woke up. That was the good news. The bad was that something was seriously wrong with my leg. The red area was now black in spots and the swelling had worsened. My fever was somewhere north of 103 degrees and I was in pain. Serious pain.
We arrived at the Emergency Room to find it amazingly empty. The nurses took me back for triage, took a good look at me, and sent me straight back to treatment. The attending physician came in, looked at my leg, and left shaking his head. He returned with an on-call surgeon.
The surgeon said, "That presents (looks) like a rattlesnake bite."
We told the surgeon it was no such thing. They started a morphine drip, told me that my kidneys had shut down, and placed a cardiac monitor on my chest. My heart was going crazy. I was on the edge of septic shock. They started pushing a lot of fluids (four liters!) as well. Unbeknownst to me, they had also done one very critical thing - they called an infectious disease specialist.
The man who saved my life.
When the specialist arrived, he looked at my leg and told the surgeon he was wrong, but said that he didn't know what it was, but he wanted to throw multiple strong antibiotics at it to see what took. They admitted me straight to the Critical Care Unit, and things got worse.
Within about twelve hours after admission, my temperature kept rising and the swelling on my leg took off. I won't detail what it looked like, except that any picture you can find of necrotizing fasciitis will show it pretty well. My right thigh was almost three times its normal size. The skin blistered and cracked, turning more black and impressively swollen that you can imagine. I joked that I could be a leg model for The Walking Dead. You get the idea, and I'll stop there.
When I woke up Tuesday morning, another doctor stood at the end of my CCU bed and told me point blank that they recently had someone younger than me die of something similar. A few hours later, my temperature crested above 150 degrees. The nurses packed me in ice, directed a large fan at me, and tried their best to smile. From one of my few lucid moments, I remember holding hands with my wife and promising her that when I was out of the hospital, we'd do things better. Parent our kids with more grace, be nicer to each other, and do more of the things we loved to do together. The things that got lost when there are two kids in the house. We were scared to death. My father was out of the country and nervously waiting for word. We weren't sure what to tell him.
To this day, I'm convinced that some members of my team did not think I would make it through the night. But my specialist did. My fever came down to 103, and then all the way down to 99 (over a couple of days) as the antibiotics began to work. They ruled out MRSA when they drained a massive water blister on my leg, but all of the blood cultures taken showed something very unexpected.
To this day, nothing has grown from those cultures. The infection responded to the drugs that treat a Group A Streptococcal infection. This is a good thing, because as my specialist put it "Even Lysol still kills Group A Strep." I came off the drugs for a staph infection and they moved me up to the medical ward to see if my leg would begin to knit itself back together.
Cleaning and deriding the leg was pure hell. The wound nurse would come for an hour at a time and just remove skin. Where my leg blistered and swelled is discolored and bruised to this day, and probably will be for life. I spent a total of ten days in the hospital before they released me to home care for another two months. I had IV antibiotics for part of that, and three times a week wound care to treat my healing skin.
At one point, in the CCU, they asked me to step on a scale. I weighed over 240 pounds from the swelling and the pushed fluids. That's about forty pounds over my normal weight. It was terrible. After a total of ten days in the hospital, I was went home to recover and let my skin recover. Mentally, I was shot. I'd just completed first drafts of two novels around the previous NaNoWriMo period and felt like I was cruising along. With all the time in the world to write, all I could do was look out the window and sleep.
When the submissions call for Pernicious Invaders came out, a friend of mine suggested I submit a story. I wrote Hungry in a couple of days and submitted it. Writing the story, and making the gory details worse than I could imagine, really was therapeutic. When the editors accepted the story, I had energy to finish polishing the second novel I'd ever written and try to get it published.
In October 2014, Red Adept Publishing contracted with me to publish my debut novel, Sleeper Protocol. This dystopian romantic thriller will arrive in early 2016, but it likely would not have been published at all had I not gone through my own personal horror. A call for submissions got me writing again - I just happened to have the required experience to make it work.
There's some scary stuff out there that's stranger than fiction. Trust me. Be wary, folks. There really are things out there you can't see that can kill you.
About the author:
Kevin Ikenberry's head has been in the clouds since he was old enough to read. Ask him and he'll tell you that he still wants to be an astronaut. Kevin has a diverse background in space science education and works with space every day.
Kevin's science fiction and horror short fiction has appeared internationally through Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Mindflights, Twisted Dreams Magazine and, most recently, in the anthologies Extreme Planets and Pernicious Invaders. His debut novel, Sleeper Protocol, is due in January 2016 from Red Adept Publishing.
Kevin is a member of Fiction Foundry, Pikes Peak Writers, and is an alumna of the Superstars Writing Seminar.
He can be found online at website.
About the books:
Genre: Hard Science Fiction, Adventure
Publisher: Soaring Leaf Press
Publication date: 2.21.2013
Atop the highest mountains in the solar system, death awaits.
Rope up. Hook on. Climb for your life.
Colin Barnes is the most experienced alpinist on Earth. After successfully ascending the Seven Summits, Barnes was the first human to climb Mount Huygens, the tallest mountain on the Moon, before being chosen to lead an expedition up Mount Olympus.
Three times higher than Everest, more than six hundred miles across the base, Mount Olympus is more than a daunting climb, it could cost Colin and his team their lives.
Genre: Hard Science Fiction
Publisher: Soaring Leaf Press, Kindle Worlds
Publication date: 1.24.2014
The summer night that the world changed, a few thousand people walked into the silos that would become, for some, their salvation. Looking down from the vulnerable International Space Station, three astronauts witnessed the cataclysm from the safest refuge imaginable without knowing it will reach them in the coming minutes. A Canadian station commander, Russian flight engineer, and an American rookie believe themselves to be the only survivors. But one of them knows the truth, and has orders from Senator Thurman himself to stop at nothing to ensure the survival of the human race.
Genre: Hard Science Fiction, Adventure
Publisher: Soaring Leaf Press
Publication date: 8.15.2015
"Reading this was a pleasure." -Gregory Benfold, Nebula Award winning author of TIMESCAPE.
Jaret Vralik is a household name, even on Epsilon Eridani b. Part scientist and part daredevil, Vralik's career of jumping a flying laboratory through the strongest storms in our solar system make him the perfect man to investigate the continent wide megastorms plaguing the only surviving colonists to land there. Will he survive the long fall into the maelstrom, or will his past come back to haunt him?
Originally featured in the EXTREME PLANETS anthology from Chaosium Press, Maelstrom features an introduction from EXTREME PLANETS editors David Conyers and David Kernot.
Genre: Thriller, Dystopian
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Publication date: 2.2016
Kieran Roark awakens in a wheelchair, unable to remember anything. As part of a classified experiment, he will have one year to learn his identity and recover his memory, or he will be euthanatized by the state.
Scientist Berkeley Bennett has one mission: manipulate Kieran's emotions in an attempt to bring back his memory. But when she falls in love with him, she is forced to make a harrowing decision that may cost Kieran his life.
What Kieran knows could save Earth from a coming war. Whether he believes the future is worth saving is another matter. Racing across an unfamiliar world in a body he does not recall, Kieran needs to discover who he was and, more importantly, who he is.