Fungal Halo

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I attack myself more with the exfoliating scrub, putting my whole arm into the effort until fatigue precludes continuing.

It hardly seems to make a difference in the hard, scaly patches developing across my arms and legs.

Slathering the moisturizer on, I finish my routine.

Long sleeves and jeans hide the flaking skin. Mostly. I tug the sleeves lower to better cover my wrists.

What else can I do? Sure, it’s been a dry season, but my skin never reacted quite so poorly before.

At work I settle into mechanical routine. It’s easy enough to push my thoughts and worries aside to just do what is expected of me.

The hours of my shift pass easily until a coworker comments that I should consider upgrading my facial moisturizer.

I dash to the bathroom, and in the mirror I see it: the skin in the center of my forehead is flaking. Touching that spot with my fingertip confirms it has the same rigid texture as the patches spreading across my limbs.

I want to run home, but…I finish my shift, somehow.

No skincare product seems to help, no matter how many I try. Each morning I wake up and see how much farther the problem has spread.

Some of it hardly looks like skin at all anymore. Scrubbing at it feels like trying to exfoliate a tea cup.

What else is there to do? Give up?

Makeup helps conceal what I cannot cover. I have to lay it on thicker than I used to; the spreading patches are much more pale than the rest of my skin tone.

At least the texture underneath—once the flaking stage passes—is smooth and unblemished.

I don’t know how my skin will ever recover from this affliction. The morning makeup routine increasingly feels like I’m simply painting my old face atop my new one.

The ritual is pleasantly meditative, at least, and it helps me silence my thoughts in preparation for the day.

When I arrive at work my coworker warns me of a creepy customer who’s been hanging around the store since before my shift.

I see the customer, and somehow she doesn’t strike me as creepy at all.

Her face is like mine under my makeup.

She looks beautiful.

Much of her face is covered in glossy white like a half-mask. Instead of concealing it with skin-tone foundation, she’s added pretty accents and decorative swirls.

Her gaze feels like it sees right through my disguise. She smiles brightly and asks to meet me after work.

When we meet, she doesn’t even say a word. She just holds my hand and takes the lead, pulling me along.

Following her feels like the most natural thing in the world. The thought of questioning or distrusting her doesn’t even cross my mind.

She takes me to her place. She brews tea for me and brings me scones she baked earlier. We sit and bask in each other’s company. It is the most at peace I’ve felt in ages.

She says little, but she radiates comfort. I feel like I could stare into her eyes all day.

Before long, we find ourselves wrapped in each other’s limbs, kissing like long-separated girlfriends. I’ve never known such hunger for someone as I feel for her.

We lose track of the hours as we kiss, articles of our clothing getting cast aside one after another.

Somehow I don’t feel nervous at all about showing her the parts of myself I’ve been concealing. She takes my arm and gently plants kisses up the length, as though the pale, rigid patches replacing my skin could be something precious rather than shameful.

Her own body is covered in so much more of it than mine. It is beautiful in its own way, like snow-white porcelain coating her limbs, her breasts, her belly. She’s so proud of the decorative flowers she’s painted all over herself.

So few spots of ordinary skin remaining.

I stay the night with her.

In the morning, she shares with me the colorful paints she uses for herself, and I decorate my face with vibrant swirls of color rather than the muted skin tones I had been covering myself with.

We don’t even look human at all anymore.

I never bother to return to my old home, my old job, or my old life. I am content to spend my days in her quiet company.

She does speak from time to time, and when she does, she tells me such wonderful things.

She says that I grow more beautiful every day.

She says it won’t be much longer before we are both complete.

She says that when we are ready, we will join the others, and that the Goddess who gave us this gift waits for us there.

She says we will know our Purpose soon.