I could sense something was off when Bradley stayed firmly on his side of the bed. He’d said nothing since coming home, but he could be quiet, so I figured he’d shake out of it eventually, however, as we got into bed, he still hadn’t spoken and immediately turned off his lamp. When I switched mine off, I could feel him staring into space.

“What’s wrong?”

After a long pause, he quietly said, “We’ve been studying necrotising fasciitis.”

“Which is?”

Despite still being in the dark, he turned to face me, his voice getting closer. “Well, that’s the thing. They call it the flesh-eating disease. It doesn’t actually do that. But this strain did.”

I felt relieved. “Yeah, but in this town, of course it does. Jane from my job left to sell baby tapeworms as the new diet fad.”

He reached behind him and turned on his lamp. “Mateo, there was a rat. Infected with the tiniest amount of the new NF. Its skin was eaten in seconds, completely gone. All we could see was bleeding muscle. Dan went to check the cage and I prepped a solution to put it out of its misery. By the time we returned—we were gone a minute, at most—its skin had started to grow back in spots. It was vibrating, like static. The skin was somehow simultaneously growing and being eaten. A tiny perpetual food source to whatever was eating it.”

“Okay, and what was eating it?”

He sighed. “We don’t know. That’s why I was late last night, left early this morning. We still don’t know.”

He sounded exhausted. I leaned over, kissed the back of his neck and put my arm around him. “You’ll find out. Get some rest, honey.”


I woke to a scream from the bathroom. Bradley, in just his underwear, was pawing at his body. “My stomach. It’s gone.”

He turned to me and his chest—normally ample with a thick belly—was flat. We were both happily overweight, or had been a few hours ago. There wasn’t one ounce of excess fat on his body. I wasn’t one for skinnier guys, but he wasn’t that now—his frame was still his, just tauter. It was strange to see him like this.

He was looking at his new body with a mix of horror, humour and morbid fascination. He slowly rotated to see himself from all angles and laughed, astonished.

“Bradley, if you figure out how to replicate this, you’re going to be rich.”

In his smile, right at the edges, he started to wince. He still turned, peacocking, but the pain was clear.

“Are you okay?”

“It hurts, Mateo. Everywhere hurts.” He turned away from the mirror and faced me. “I’ve no way to control it.”

“But you look…”

“Great. I look great.” He smiled a rictus grin. “But that’s if it stops. And why would it when there’s so much left to eat?”

At the word, my stomach rumbled. “I’m starving.”

“Me too.” He moved towards the sink. “Can you give me a minute?”

I went outside and sat on the bed. I scrolled through my photos looking at pictures of Bradley and I could see clearly how much he had lost: around a third of his body weight.

Bradley shouted through the closed door. “I just Postmated a microscope from Lloyd’s. I need to get a closer look at what’s going on.”

“Jesus, they deliver that late?” I checked my phone; it was a little after 1am.

He came through the door, his own phone against his ear. “Fuck.”


“Dan’s not answering.”

“I’m sure he’s just asleep.”

He threw his phone on the bed, picked up his clothes and started to dress. He pulled a T-shirt on. “Dan weighs about 60 kg. He’s probably dead.” I tried and failed to speak. Bradley got into his jeans and closed the button, but when he let go, they fell right off him. I went over and held out the edges of his top, which now looked like a tent on him. He took off the T-shirt and started rooting at the bottom of our closet. “I’ve told them to leave the delivery on the doorstep. When it comes, I need you to go and get it. In and out, quick as you can. Don’t talk to anyone. Don’t touch anyone.”

He pulled out some clothes that hadn’t fit him in years, which I thought he’d thrown out, and put them on. He checked his phone to see how long the delivery would be. I went to the bathroom and stared into the mirror. I looked great. I hadn’t noticed the change in the commotion. I was still overweight, but my face was thinner, my belly smaller.

Bradley saw me looking. He put his arms—now muscular, defined—around me. “Mateo, I’m so sorry. We didn’t know. We followed every possible procedure. I would’ve never put you at risk.”

“I know. What do we do now?”



After weighing us both to gauge how much we’d lost and how quickly, Bradley ordered the entire menu from Al’s. They rang twice to make sure it wasn’t a joke.

Bradley took skin samples from us both and examined them with his supermarket microscope, but they told him nothing. The food was taking a long time, but then, it was a lot of food. He turned on the TV to distract himself. Wanting to do something useful, I washed the dishes in the sink I’d meant to do earlier.

When the app said the food was near, I gathered some clean plates, condiments, and drinks. From the other room, I could hear a distinctive ping.

As I laid the table, I playfully reproached him. “Of all times, now is when you’re on the apps?”

He had the good grace to be bashful and sputtered forth the start of a few sentences, all of which he tripped over.

I took out my phone and opened the app. There he was, half-turned, in his underwear, headless. Notifications flooded his lock screen. “Mightn’t be the best time to meet someone.”

“I know. I just—”

He didn’t need to explain. To look like those Greek gods that lorded their way through the apps. I understood.

The doorbell rang and the bewildered delivery driver had a handcart for all the food. “Having a party?”


It took us a good hour to eat everything. A few minutes afterwards and I was hungry again, like a bad fast food meal. We headed for Bradley’s lab. As he drove, he spoke aloud, trying to chase down the problem in his mind. “It can’t be airborne. The whole town would have it. It must be skin-to-skin contact.”

I felt a flush of jealousy as I involuntarily imagined Bradley and Dan together. No work colleagues was one of our rules.

“That’s how you got it, from me. And I got it from Dan, he was upset and I hugged him—Lisa moved out. For good this time.” His face fell in thought.

“He could still be alive, Bradley.”

He didn’t respond. A few minutes later, we pulled up to the lab. When we got inside, we saw the rat, still half-covered in skin that was in a state of flux. On the ground was skeleton that looked like it was dressed as a human for Halloween: it had a shirt, jeans, shoes, a lab coat, glasses, even a watch, but no flesh or skin, just bones picked clean.

Bradley stared at it and his face went slack, like he’d flicked a switch in his head. He moved to the counter where he leaned up close to stare at the rat. I joined him and saw its flesh growing and being eaten, the muscle underneath, blood pooling and disappearing as the flesh reappeared. The rat was juddering as if being electrocuted and foaming spittle at its mouth, which flecked everywhere as it screamed like an animal ten times its size.

With the unique frustration of a scientist who doesn’t understand, Bradley snarled “Why is the rat alive and Dan isn’t?”

“I don’t know, Bradley.”

He sighed. “Neither do I.” He went over to the glass office door and looked at himself. He pulled at his gaunt face and stripped off all his clothes. Despite all the food, he was thinner than before. He seemed almost undernourished but just about pulled off looking like someone who never had to go to the gym, who was just naturally in shape like an athletic teenager.

He stared at himself. “I never dreamed I could look like this.” He lowered his hands to his hips. “And to have these, to have cum gutters, they were all I wanted when I was younger. I thought if I looked like this, men would want me.”

I knew I’d be unable to fix that old hurt but felt compelled to try. “Men wanted you as you were. I wanted you like that.”

He turned and stared at me. “We’re both going to be skeletons soon enough unless we figure this out.”

“We? I’m an accountant. What can I do?”

He kissed me. “I love you, you know that right?” Pain was flooding his face. “It’s hurting to even move.” He sighed. “I can’t even this enjoy this body. Or yours.” I was still fully clothed. “Are you in pain, Mateo?”

“I ache everywhere, but it’s not too bad. You?”

“It hurts a lot worse than that. I can feel it eating the muscle. This is the last stage.”

“What can we do?”

“I love you, Mateo.”


Every test was inconclusive. Every sample useless. A couple of hours passed and my handsome Bradley looked like an AIDS victim from the 1980’s news—a paper-thin layer of skin holding together a mess of bones. I looked, frankly, great—if a little thin—but knowing how fleeting it was, seeing my skeletal future across from me, it was impossible to relish in, unless you were Bradley.

He smiled at me. “Damn, you look good.”

I didn’t smile back. “This is going to kill us.”

“I’d be afraid I’d break you now, though.”

His phone softly trilled away with unread offers. “You can talk”. He laughed. “Bradley, this, I—” I started to cry. “I’m really fucking scared.”

“We’re still here.”

“For how much longer? How do we stop it? You’re the scientist. Think.”

“I don’t know, Mateo.” He could barely move.

“You do. Think. Why is the rat alive and Dan a skeleton?”

“I don’t know.”

I moved closer to him. “Bradley, the rat should’ve been gone hours before Dan—less mass, less skin, less muscle, a smaller skeleton.”

“Well no, it hasn’t progressed in him.” He jerked up in realization. “Bring him over here.”

I did. “What now?”

He opened his mouth as wide as possible. He shut his eyes as tight as he could and when he felt fur, bit down as hard as he could.

The rat’s horrendous screamed filled the room. Blood smeared across Bradley’s face. He held out the still twitching rat to me. “Quickly. Eat.”


“Eat the fucking rat, Mateo.”


We spent a week in a quarantine chamber—a horrifying week where our bodies were in constant agony, withering down to nothing, our skin breaking open, being eaten and growing back at speed, now that we had acquired the second infection from the rat that had kept it alive. We were stick-thin, growing and then losing skin and muscle to the other infection that ate it. We screamed ourselves hoarse at Bradley’s colleagues on the other side of the glass who worked night and day trying to fix us.

Necrotising fasciitis is usually stopped by removing the infected tissue, but that was all we had. They would have to remove all our skin, they said, every last bit and graft transplant after transplant hoping that the infection had died out with the removed skin. There were no guarantees that it would.

The team scrambled, pumping us with drugs to slow everything: the skin growing, it being eaten. At one point, we were left with sheets of skin hanging off us. We could barely stand. Bradley stared at himself in a mirror they’d provided. It hurt to talk. “They’re not trying to keep us alive for our sake. They want to make something out of this.”

“With us in all this pain?”

“Think of the money, Mateo. Even if we die, they’ll keep going.”

“Well—” I winced, the skin on my lips was splitting and being eaten. I licked my lips, coating the skin, a tiny momentary barrier of defence. “Why are they trying to save us?”

“To understand their new product.”

Like a flame spreading across an oiled room, our excess skin evaporated into invisible mouths and then started to grow back. The team were interrupting the growth/consumption ratio to try and figure out how to stop it, seeing if one big feed would pause it. It didn’t.

Bradley looked down at the temporarily flat skin of his stomach. He stared at the cum gutters and ran his fingers down them. “I wanted these so bad. To not be the fat kid anymore. The boys at school made my life hell.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“I know. I didn’t want to talk about it.”

“They were wrong. You’re beautiful. You always have been.” He smiled. “I miss that beautiful body of yours.”

He nodded at the mirror, “I’m beautiful now, Mateo.”


Neither of us worked anymore. The pain was constant. I stopped leaving the house unless absolutely necessary. Bradley spent more and more time out in the world and when he was home, his phone buzzed endlessly. When our health insurance—who were baffled and angry but still paid out—dried up, the company checks started to arrive. A settlement and dividends from the hot new diet product, now 100 percent safe, rolled out everywhere. Bradley said that we were lucky to get anything, that we were the equivalent of mould growing on bread. I shook my head, unable, unwilling to respond to yet another one of his insults. I retreated into what was essentially now my bedroom.

A few weeks later and we were finally done. He’d come back after nearly a week. He checked the post and grabbed some things before heading out again. Despite the pain we were both in, he was determined to be adored. We never actually spoke about ending it. One day I came home and his stuff was gone.

The recovery, if you could call it that, was interminable and very little progress was made. They could slow, but never stop, the metastasising or the nerve damage it caused. My skin regularly split and ruptured and I had to endure regular and very painful skin grafts. Presumably Bradley did too, but he wasn’t there when the team worked on me and they knew not to mention him now. When the surgeries were successful, there were days, even weeks sometimes, where I looked normal, but the pain was still, always, there. And it became the main thing in my life, a companion who insisted there was nothing out there for me, drowning everything else out until I willingly listened.

I stopped going out completely. I started getting my shopping delivered. I left the blinds closed. One day, under the bed, I found my phone completely dead and charged it. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d used it. When I turned it on, there were no messages from him. Why would there be? My phone beeped. That app I rarely used. That part of our relationship that I assented to but never really wanted. I opened it and found him, his picture the same as it was all those months ago. Fit for fit, it said. I got a message from someone looking to hook-up with my old body. Hey sexy, u looking? I scowled and threw the phone against the wall.

I ordered more and more food, all grease and sugar and fat, getting deliveries daily now, and I spend my days eating, chewing, gnawing and hoping, despite knowing it won’t, that it will overpower the bacteria, that my body will be itself again, that I’ll stop being hungry, that maybe I’ll choke on the food. I look in the mirror and see skin and bone, thin flesh stretched across a scrawny boy with toned muscles and cum gutters. I smash the mirror, the house’s last reflection of me. There is nothing else left to do but eat.