Between the Shelves: The Year’s Ten Best Blood Diseases by Rhonda Eikamp

Between the Shelves is a showcase of Archive of the Odd stories outside of the main zine.

The following story is by the fantastic Rhonda Eikamp. Rhonda Eikamp is originally from Texas and lives in Germany. Primarily a writer of short fiction, she has had stories published in Lackington’s, The Dark and Vastarien, among many others. When not writing, she braves the labyrinths of German legalese as a translator for a law firm.

Editor’s note: The timing of this story is perhaps fortuitous, as the US is currently facing a national blood crisis, and all countries are in constant need for blood. Blood is lifesaving for many people with blood diseases or cancer, as well as victims of trauma. Look up “blood drive near me” and sign up for one, if you can! Cormack (the editor) just gave blood recently, and feels pretty great about it, as it gave him an excuse to eat cookies and convince other people to lift heavy objects, as well as the whole “save up to three lives” bit. Most donations are extremely uneventful and leave you feeling fulfilled- though the same can’t be said of Kelly-Ann’s experience.

Warnings: Blood (obviously), mourning, hallucination, past child death


With creative blood diseases trending for the third year in a row, our Living TissYou blog presents you once again with a countdown of the ten most unusual, eccentric and – sometimes – charming blood diseases wild minds have engineered or medically induced over the past year (and there’s a contest at the end!). There was one difference Kelly-Ann and I noticed this year and that was a proliferation of what you might call performance artists, those using the altered blood they engineer to create altered states in those around them, rather than just in their own bodies. In other words, lots more external manifestation (okay, let’s just say it – lots more blood sprayed around!). Here goes:

10. Riffing off last year’s Snaking Blood, (those tubules slithering along the ground still give Kelly-Ann and me chills, the good kind), we now have redkarma8’s Blood Medusa. This one was copied a lot once it came out, but never as creepily as ol’ redkarma8 manages to make it in their original video. If you clicked around at all this year in fact (or even just left your house) you’ve probably run into some guy or gal with a shaved head who thought they could pull it off. Believe me, the coagulation engineering needed to keep the “snakes” on your head and writhing down the sides and back (or in the air – again, check out the original!) is not something a rooky blood designer will get right.

9. Not all that original and not technically a blood disease (my better half didn’t even want it on the list, see below), in fact more in the category of a plug-in hack for wannabe blood designers, is Streaming Scarlet, a live-feed from an anonymous source that lets you hitch a ride through the creator’s veins via a nano VR camera. You’ll need VR immersion (never was a word more appropriate) yourself for this one – a flat screen just renders it into a square of viscous red and doesn’t do it justice. It’s the wrap-around, vertigo experience of being blood here – the flow – that counts. There are plenty of live-feeds that will take you down the esophagus or even up the mud road, if that’s your thing, but there’s always that sense of being the pinhead on the end of a camera, penetrating, eventually to be pulled back out. The Streaming Scarlet feed is different, brilliant and dizzying. If our anonymous contributor is telling the truth, their technology is new, with a camera that is virtually (pun intended) indestructible and will keep streaming until–and even after–the streamer’s dead. It’s that forever immersion factor that makes me toss it in to this year’s mix of our 10 best.

Hi, guys, it’s Kelly-Ann here: Sorry, Dan, but this one’s lame. We all know what blood looks like and maybe some of us want to “be” blood, as you put it, but it’s still just a camera. An intrusion, not an alteration. Nothing’s being done with the blood, there’s no artistic statement. What does it tell us about us? We can agree to disagree, but three thumbs down on this one!

8. The Captive Audience, or Not Another Bloody Flash Mob! (sorry, no link). This is Kelly-Ann’s favorite, probably because, amazingly, she came across it herself by chance. We both give blood regularly, but Kelly-Ann went without me a few weeks ago outside our regular schedule (remember, people, only donate every 3 months!) and encountered possibly the first occurrence of one of those creative blood-disease flash mobs (they’re popping up pretty much daily now in every city, just in case you’ve been living in a cave, so unless you’re very rural you’ve probably been close enough to a performance to have had a hallucination or two). I’ll let Kelly-Ann take it from here:

So – you’re all fam in a way and you know Dan’s and my back story. I won’t go into it again. The last three years have been hell for both of us and blood donation for some reason helps me cope. So …sorry, Dan, I go more often than you think. I was at the school gym where they set up, a larger crowd than usual, I thought, but I’d settled into my chair, about the middle of a row, and was happy knowing the blood slipping out my arm would help someone somewhere, maybe even a child, when I realized donors all through the crowd had started pulling out their drips and jumping up from their chairs all at the same time. Knives came out (this is where I started to freak thinking it was some kind of attack), but then I realized they were slitting open their blood-collection bags and flinging the blood around as hard as they could, in the air, over everyone, basically creating a nice little afternoon blood shower. Of course this is not the artistic part and it’s why Dan calls this the Captive Audience – people were just too shocked to move and who’s going to rip the needle out of their arm to try and get away?

And that’s when the hallucinations started.

The authorities know what it is now, sort of, after the mob had fled and the police took samples. After we all came to. A drug in the aerosolized blood, something akin to mescaline but quicker-acting, instantaneous in fact, and not necessarily needing contact with mucous membranes. One woman two seats over from me had managed not to get a drop on her, but her eyes – dilated and an odd ivy-green – said she saw. Her face said she was on the edge of that rapturous calm (some say apathy) that’s been associated with the flash mob’s victims (beneficiaries?) ever since. So yes, we know what it is, but that doesn’t mean we know how it works. This is a blog, meant to be a brief list – Dan’s reminding me – of the year’s best, but I’ve had these questions ever since this happened to me and there’s nowhere else for me to let loose on the subject. No one else online even seems to be trying.

Because the question is this – why does everyone in the crowd see the same thing? Because they do, those questioned right afterward always confirm it. That should be impossible. Why does every crowd see something different? At the donor center we saw – cities. Or it was only one city or it was one building, rising from the various points on our blood – drenched skin like lacework buttresses of cathedrals, black cobweb lines that built twisted towers that were so beautiful people were sobbing. Beasts that seemed made of stained glass were climbing in the works, headed for the tips of the towers. We all knew what would happen when they got there and then we forgot again. It lasted for ten seconds or twenty and the doctors and nurses and donor-center volunteers all stood with their necks craned and all of us in the reclining seats lay on our backs and watched and for a moment the world was one colorless tower.

You’ve been following this trend, I’m sure, so you know – other crowds surprised by a flash mob in the last few weeks have seen other things. The worm child is one, as long as a city block, they said. And there’s the honeycomb with teeth, that seems to swoop down and swallow the onlookers. No one can ever remember what the flash mobbers look like.

But here’s the thing, bear with me, family – I saw something else besides the city. Because I sensed eyes on me from the donor chair on my left, I looked across. There was a man in the chair staring back at me. He had red hair like Dan’s, that deep autumn-leaf red and the pale skin to go with it, and he looked familiar but at the same time he didn’t. Forty-something. His clothes bothered me. Too shiny. His fingers were long. Nothing of the flash mob’s blood seemed to have touched him. He paid no attention to the colorless city, though I could see the fractal lower edge of it in the air behind him. He smiled at me.

I don’t remember anything else. There was that huge collective sigh just then, because the effect of the drug was over. The city had vanished. People were starting to scream about the blood on them. I tried to sit up, get a doctor’s attention, but then everyone was. When I looked back of course the man was gone.

It’s me, Dan, again: So my wife flirts with strange guys during blood donation. Oops, I’m already in the doghouse for even writing that. But to get serious – she swears there was no one in the chair beside her before the flash mob started. So, if anyone out there’s had this experience – an “individual” hallucination inside the crowd hallucination – let us know. As far as we can tell, Kelly-Ann’s was a one-off, but it would be good to know if people are seeing weird smiling people like this.

7. Returning to a more upbeat entry, next in line is Rainbow Man. The idea behind this is the fact that the blood flush in the skin will alter depending on how the skin is reflecting light, so we both assume Rainbow Man is working with skin alterations here rather than strictly a blood disease. The “original” disease in this case is argyria, the silver poisoning that turns skin gray-blue, but Rainbow Man has engineered a spectrum of colors that change constantly depending on his circulation. Simple but charming! Check it out.

6. We’re not just here to report, dear reader. Sometimes we like to try these things ourselves and since her experience at the donor center Kelly-Ann’s become a little obsessed, for lack of a better word, with getting hold of some of the outlawed DIY kits. After the very recent emergence of Blood Pets, I was badgered (again, no better word) into finding this one for her and my dark-net buddies came through for me. The technique is simple: a finger-prick blood sample, dribbled into the black-box container about the size of a fist. The “pet” emerges about two hours later. Just a red blob to start with (I’m assuming the mechanism is the same as that used in Snaking Blood and Blood Medusa), but with a disturbingly greater amount of autonomous motion. By “feeding” the blob with more blood applied at various points, the user then shapes (and grows) it into the pet they want. You may not have seen these on the street yet. People seem to be keeping them in their homes away from the public eye for now. “Comforting” and “loving” are how the few online posters describe the creations, and in the rare videos their pets indeed appear to have taken cute forms I think of as puppies or cats or hamsters. Ours stayed fetus-like for quite a while and I dubbed it the Larva (doghouse time for me again), but it’s become more humanoid since, with stubby but discrete limbs that probably won’t carry its weight for a long time yet. Large head, a hint of facial features, wispy hair. It’s begun to cry at night. Kelly-Ann carries it around everywhere, feeding it. Recommended only if you’re very sure you know what you’re aiming for.

5. In the category of true performance art, we next have Blood Angels, by the artist known as Stephanalia. We all recall making snow angels as kids, and as a dad you can’t wait to show your own kid how to. Stephanalia has engineered her red cells to be repelled from one another like magnets the moment they hit the air. When she slits her fingers open and presses her hands to the canvas, the blood immediately spreads out in those intricate wing patterns, making a different “angel” each time. The paintings themselves might not be so compelling (a person could see anything in the patterns, they could just as well be hellish rather than heavenly), but the fascination is in the performance here, in watching the videos as the blood seeps from her fingertips (my tip: over and over and speeded up) for a truly hypnotic experience that will help you forget your cares for awhile.

4. Radiant Man may be radioactive or he may have found some other way (I hope for his sake) to make himself glow like that. This might be related to Rainbow Man, but this isn’t some color effect – it’s light. The lumen output is supposedly that of a 40-watt bulb. You could definitely read the instructions on your DIY kit by the light of this guy, but take care – we have no information on whether the effect can be turned back off.

3. Carrie Markham may be a name to you. Olympic gold swimmer, pretty, funny on TV, who for some reason last year decided she wanted tastebuds all over her skin instead of just on her tongue and found a designer who was willing to engineer the proteins involved. Again not a true blood disease but we like to be inclusive here and it does involve the circulatory system. And it’s another effect that experts say is irreversible. It means for Markham that she tastes every surface she touches, tastes everything in the water she swims in (mostly chlorine, I’d imagine – who would want that?). It means tasting the skin of anyone you touch – even a handshake – just as if you’d licked them. Her partner at the time, Rosalynn Hunter, wrote a very personal memoir about their sex life afterward. Markham claimed it enlivened her, made her a better, faster swimmer, before the news of her breakdown came out. Remember, people – this is a list of the best, as in the wildest, but not necessarily anything we recommend you try at home. This one’s for the adventurous maybe. I’m just happy Kelly-Ann wasn’t drawn to try this one out, and with that we move on to second place…

2. The Disappearing Act

The opposite of Radiant Man, so to speak. Not some kind of Invisible Man however, as the meme would have it. ImGregorSamsa may become invisible someday, but for now he’s just rendered himself translucent. This was another must-have for Kelly-Ann. It came in a 0.5-ml vial; application is by syringe (included). By the second day I was bumping into her when she stood in a certain angle of light. Not sure how this one works, dear reader, though I remember a lot of my college chemistry. Something in the blood interfering with the free electrons, erasing grain boundaries, the capillaries just beneath the skin modulating incoming light, changing the wavelengths so they pass through. This has to be affecting not just her skin but everything in her: blood, bone, organs. It’s the one best-of my wife’s tried that I would undo if I could. People don’t just fade away. Strangely, the effect carries over to the Larva whenever she’s holding him, which is almost always now. Last week she joked (this is a woman who can keep a straight face) that she and her blood pet are going away, to the place that guy from the donor center showed her, Mr. Flirting Hallucination, and I wish I could get my hands on the guy (you men out there can feel with me on this) because it’s gone past the stage of a joking matter. Her transparency is more transparent every day. Obsessive is one thing, irreversible is another. I joked back that she ought to try Radiant Man on top of it so I could at least see her by the glow, that if the two diseases worked together it might keep her from vanishing entirely, but it didn’t get a laugh out of her. If anyone out there’s tried the Disappearing Act and knows how to reverse it, contact me . I’m scouring the internet, no joy so far. Not recommended, no matter how adventurous you think you are.

1. And our winner is…drumroll please…

You and Me. Yeah, that one. Bet you guessed. Not a lot to say about this, since no one knows how it works or even if it really does. Except that, if true, it would have profound implications for our society as a whole, for everything that makes us human, and that’s why I’ve awarded it first place here. It would be utterly transformative. A simple formula, again injectable, that alters the electric charge on the blood cells of the two who take it, so that for a few hours they are telepathic with one another upon skin contact. The labs that have administered all those corny mind-reading tests on the couples who take this are obviously shocked by the 100% results. It’s the dream we all have, expressed in a thousand books and movies: to know someone completely, to understand their choices and what moves them, why they do what they do.

Boy, do I want this one. Place an order, my guy tells me, he can get his hands on anything. But Kelly-Ann says (her half-disembodied voice from behind me says) that she won’t take it with me if I do. That there’s a wall you don’t cross. That there’s a reason the wall’s there.

I need input on this one, people. Your comments, your impressions if you have tried You and Me, even your views on whether to go for it at all. Because it’s a divisive issue in the Living TissYou household right now. Not shouting-match divisive, don’t get me wrong. We’re quiet when we discuss it. Although she’s much quieter, her voice almost faded away along with her body now, like the transparency is having an effect on her vocal cords or she’s holding the Larva up in front of her mouth again, nuzzling.

To get the comments rolling, I’m making this a contest. The most helpful or insightful comment wins an NFT of their choice of one of the videos listed here. So, come through for me, guys. We need some clarity on this issue. I need talking points, some firm ground under my feet, because the selections this year feel like a seismic shift (for Kelly-Ann and me at least). Maybe for all of us. Risky business, earth-shattering.

So there you have it. Living TissYou’s Top 10. As you can see, we did a lot more of our own experimenting this year instead of just reporting, and we’ll keep you posted on that.

ENDNOTE:

Just a quick note here at the end. Kelly-Ann may not talk a lot about our story, but I don’t have those qualms. It’s exactly three years ago today that our beautiful little boy Lawrence died of leukemia at the horribly tragic age of 6 and we started this blog soon after. About the same time really that the creative blood-disease fad took off. In a way it hijacked what we’d set out here to do, which was create a space for others who’ d gone through the same thing. Still, even though only a few of you hail from the beginning when the blog was more an informational tool on naturally-occurring blood disorders, each of you has joined the Living TissYou family for your own reasons and we’ve done our best to serve all of you equally, even when it took Kelly-Ann and me places we maybe shouldn’t have gone in our grief. You see, there are good and bad ways to grieve, I’m convinced. One thing I never do is wonder what Lawrence would have grown up to be like – whether he would have resembled me, for instance, physically or in attitude. That way cray-cray lies. I’m practical at heart. I keep it in. Kelly-Ann has always been different that way and the diseases she’s tried on this year haven’t helped. There’s been such a change in her since the man at the donor center smiled at her. She keeps saying he had inhuman teeth and that she wanted to go to the colorless city with him. She’s become quieter, apathetic really, all that brashness and the strength I loved gone. Since yesterday the Larva’s been walking on its own, a real climber in fact, and it makes her cry to have to hold it down. I locate her by the sobs. I can see all the way through her now.

It’s all made me want to quit the blog at times, but then I remember the “you” in Living TissYou. I can’t know what creative blood diseases people will come up with next year and how it will change us – I can’t even know what tomorrow will bring (or take from me) – but I know I’ll be here week by week, blogging and recommending (or not), and I sure hope some of you will still be out there and that you’ll join me.

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