Jeremy coughed, then cleared his throat, feeling the lump of phlegm work itself free. He spat it into the sink, it was a deep black, stark against the white porcelain of the sink. He took slow, deep breaths, ignoring the bitter, acrid taste of metal in the back of his mouth. When he knew the coughing fit had ended he took a slow, deep breath then turned on the tap. He watched the black phlegm as it was washed down the drain, he took a handful of water and splashed it onto his face. The coughing fits were getting worse, despite the doctors assurance that he would be fine. He wasn’t the only one coughing up this gunk, it was happening to almost everyone he knew and at times it seemed like the entire city were coughing up their lungs. They played reassuring ads on the television, telling people to drink fluids and get plenty of rest but the ads unnerved Jeremy. They seemed too clean, too wholesome, like they were trying to hide something. They explained away the gunk, something about natural toxins, that everyone would be fine in a few weeks, but the doctors had been telling him that for months now. The cough wasn’t getting better, but then it wasn’t getting worse. As far as illnesses went it wasn’t the worst, sure the cough was annoying and so was the almost constant runny nose, but beyond that he felt fine, just a little tired if he pushed himself too hard.
Jeremy took a deep breath of the cold air, the air seemed cleaner these days, more sunny skies and less overcast days too. That was all thanks to them finally shutting down those awful factories, all automated and spewing thick black smoke into the air. He didn’t know what the factory was making, no one knew, some government contractor, all hush hush. Seemed like large trucks were coming and going at all hours too. Then the war ended, and with it that factory. They always called it a war but Jeremy never saw it as that. It didn’t have the same awful impact, mostly just posturing and bombing of the automated factories. The official death count was only twelve people, four of which were from industrial accidents.
Jeremy lay in bed, shivering, he was freezing cold, but sweat was running down his face and his sheets were soaked through. He coughed again, great hacking coughs that tore at his chest, he turned his head to the side and spat onto the floor. He couldn’t swallow the phlegm, it burned any time he tried and he had knocked over the basin long ago. He reached around blindly for the towel and finding it, he dabbed at his runny nose. He had run out of tissues, he wasn’t sure when. He pulled the towel away, dark streaks joining the other stains. He was right, he knew the cough was bad, but that brought him little comfort. He had tried ringing the emergency services but no one was answering, same when he tried to ring the doctor. He had never bothered with those smart phones, seemed a bit pointless, but now he regretted it. He was too tired, too sick, to get to the living room to look at the TV. He felt like he was completely cut off from everyone. He had tried ringing people, friends, but they weren’t answering either. He didn’t know if it was because they were too sick to answer or if they were already dead. He took another breath, it was shallow, wheezing. He knew he was dying, he could feel it, whatever it was, worming its way through his body, draining his strength.
Jeremy could barely breathe, each breath was a struggle. He could hear a gurgling in his chest. He was still coughing up that damned phlegm. He could no longer taste it, that acrid metal taste, he had been spitting out lumps and his tongue was swollen and sore. He suspected the phlegm was eating away at his tongue, and the rest of his body. Somewhere there was a ringing noise, his phone, but he was too weak to reach for it. Soon the ringing would stop, it had the last time the phone rang. He didn’t want to die here, alone, in a soiled bed, but he was too weak to move. He took another breath, listening to that familiar gurgle. It almost felt like he was drowning, his lungs slowly filling with fluid. He let out another cough, this one was weak, painful. He struggled to get his breath back, the edges of his vision swimming with darkness. It was getting closer all the time.
It wasn’t peaceful. He had hoped it would be. He coughed again, but this time he couldn’t breathe, the darkness at the edge of his vision grew, clouding everything until there was nothing left. He lay unconscious, his body struggling to breathe. He took one last rattling gasp then his chest fell still. He lay like that, unmoving, for a long time. Then black liquid started to fill his throat and his mouth, there was a wet ripping sound as it burst free from his skin, coating the bed. Then, there was silence.