"The Cause Of My Autoimmune Disease" By Bree Barkwell
I had been noticing it more frequently over the last couple months, but I never really thought anything of it. I was sure that most people were fending off assassin attacks both in the dead of night and the blazing light of day, and I didn’t want to seem like I was complaining for no good reason.
The first time it happened, I was walking home from a late shift at work. Passing the convenience stores that closed hours ago, with their clerks home and tucked in warm beds, I began to notice the unmistakable sound of footsteps echoing my own. Every step I took, a step was repeated. If I stopped, the footsteps also stopped. I tried to walk as normally as possible, attempting to use my peripherals for better scope, and clutching my keys in between my fingers. Finally prepared, I turned. Streetlamps shot snaking shadows across the streets and refracting off trees, but nowhere in the partially lit area could I see my stalker. Easing my tense fingers off of my keys, I relaxed and turned around to walk the last block left between myself and home. This is when the assassin struck.
Facing forward again, I jumped with shock at the figure of a large man in a cloak that stood before me. He reached into the dark folds of cloth and brandished a katana that looked sharp enough to cut through steel. I put down my bag and really wished I hadn’t done legs day at the gym the day before. I wasn’t going to waste my breath calling for help, so instead I drew a deep inhale and made the first move. I attacked to the left with a series of side kicks that felt like they were landing against metal. The contact sent reverberations through my body and I fell to the ground. The cloaked assassin raised his sword and swung with such force that I could hear the blade whistling through the air toward me. I rolled back on to my shoulders and flipped on to my feet just in time to feel the katana slice through the ends of my hair, leaving a tidy little dusting of blonde on the pavement. At that moment, feet apart, fists up, and ready to get my ass kicked, a tomcat knocked over some garbage cans in a nearby alley. My attacker was momentarily distracted and I lunged forward, neatly sidestepping the blade and pulling the handle from his gloved hands. I spun in a clean 360 degrees, rotating the sword in my hands until it protruded forward and when I faced my attacker again, I plunged the blade deep into his chest.
I had never killed anyone up until this point, but even then I was pretty sure that people were supposed to bleed when you stabbed them. Instead the cloaked man pulled the sword from his own chest, and both he and the katana flickered with electronic energy before disappearing completely. I was left alone in the night, a block from home with a sore foot and a shorter haircut.
A first assassin attack is something that never leaves you. It remains with a quiet nostalgia that the rest of the attempts on your life never quite replicate. The ninja twin sisters that left me a cozy throwing-star scar on my abdomen were lovely, but not quite the same. The giant half man half wolf was scarier than the cloaked man, but our fight lacked the quiet intimacy of my first encounter, and I felt no satisfaction as I sent the snarling, snapping beast to his flickering grave.
And so my life passed, going to work, hanging out with friends, and occasionally fending off attempts to kill me. I travelled the world and even though foreign assassins were nouveau and exciting, I never questioned as to why I was being targeted to such a degree. I figured that this was just what your mid-twenties were; having fun and trying not to die.
It was not until the kickboxing super nun that I really started considering where these assassins were coming from. But when you have the Mother Superior landing roundhouse kicks to your jaw, her black habit flapping in the wind, you really have to wonder how you got to this point. After enduring a difficult beating, I was kneeling on the cold pavement of a back alley downtown, blood dripping from my mouth and cuts above my eyes. The nun was staring at me with a look of such hatred as her fingers counted her rosary and I counted the seconds until my impending death. It was then that I really considered what I could have possibly done to receive this amount of negative attention.
Just when I thought she was going to bicycle kick my face into oblivion, the nun pulled out a syringe and a small glass vial full of neon orange liquid. She drew the radioactive substance up into the needle and plunged it into my neck, forcing its contents into my bloodstream. I screamed with agony as fire rushed through my veins. The pain was incomparable to any of the beatings I had taken from assassins. I fell writhing to the cement and rolled onto my back to look up at the nun.
“It is a mortal sin to take the life of another human being,” she said. “But I cannot let you become the person you were meant to be. This is the only way we could save the world.”
The last thing I saw as unconsciousness encroached was the nun flipping a USB drive at me before turning to leave. When I awoke, I felt different. As I got to my feet, I felt dizzy, and a little lightheaded. I chalked this up to the amount of blood I had deposited onto the concrete and made for home, just glad I was alive at all. However over the next couple days, I was noticing a high amount of fatigue, dizziness and emotional difficulties.
When I almost fainted at work, I finally decided to go the doctor. He took my blood and asked if he could feel my throat, after which he nodded with a grave look on his face. The tests came back and confirmed what he had suspected. I had an autoimmune disease. He couldn’t tell me how I had come to have this particular disease, but he didn’t have to. I knew it was the nun and I excused myself to rush home and finally see what was on the mysterious USB drive.
At home and making sure that my roommates would be gone for the night, I plugged the USB in to my laptop. It was sleek and black and hummed with an energy I had never encountered before. Once plugged into the port, my screen went black. The laptop became hot to the touch and a movie began playing on the screen. I recognized Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria through a montage of futuristic carnage. News reels flew by with my name mentioned again and again, in connection with the despair and devastation. I saw myself in photos and short clips of video, I had become more machine than person, cyborg and post-human, just like I wrote a paper on in University. I had become unstoppable, wreaking havoc on all of mankind.
Finally, when the video finished and I had absorbed the levity of the power I held in the future, a little messaged typed itself out across the screen:
“We sent our best assassins back in time to defeat you, but you were already too strong. Instead we have infected you with an autoimmune disease, so that the one who will eventually defeat you, is you. Your body will attack itself until you are no longer fit to become the totalitarian ruler you were fated to be.”
And that is how I came to have an autoimmune disease. Touché future post-apocalyptic society, touché.
Bree Barkwell is a writer from Edmonton, AB, Canada.
"I write to try and figure out my place in the world. Rearranging 26 letters endlessly, attempting to convey the exact depths of the love, hurt, or interest I see in the world. I hope that my words will spark a connection with someone else who is feeling the same."
On her work:
"When I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, I researched symptoms, treatments and alternative therapies endlessly. This just stressed me out, and I ended up writing fiction about an alternative way I could have developed this illness. It was fun, and made me feel better to depict myself and others as warriors instead of sick people."