A baptism of stains

Imagine something with me, if you will.

Visualize a gigantic crowd — a great big festival, let’s say. A modern version of the World’s Fairs that were held in more innocent times. A showcase of technology and cultural advancement. It’s jam-packed with people of all nationalities, mixing and mingling. There’s food and drink to be had, entertainment of varying sorts, and people are queuing up for popular options and grouping together around their favorite spots. The mood is euphoric. Everyone is happy.

Now visualize a sudden wave of nausea passing through the entire assembled crowd. Most people seem unaffected at first. Any twinge they may have had isn’t interfering with their enjoyment. A few get really sick and vomit, but the festival staff clean it up.

However, the nausea doesn’t go away. You’re keeping your shit together, but it keeps hitting you. Slowly, inexorably, as the waves of nausea keep coming, more and more people lose their lunch. It’s hard not to. But the entertainment is great, so you soldier on — so many interesting people to meet and wonderful things to see!

After a while, you get used to avoiding the sick people and the pools of vomit. It doesn’t even stink anymore; your nose has slowly accepted it as the normal background scent.

The festival’s multifarious delights keep you fascinated. It’s easy to lose track of time in a place like this, with so much to do. Then, at some point, you look away from your task — whatever it is that has beguiled your senses — and you begin to see the horrorscape you’ve been shuffling around in.

Puke is everywhere, puddled up and smeared. Half-digested chunks of meat. Acidic slime. Even though you’ve held yourself together pretty well, it’s all over you. Squelching in your shoes, splattered on your shirt…

Some people, a very, very few, still seem to be going about their business almost unaffected. They’re just as drenched in puke as you are, but somehow they’re ignoring it, soldiering through the muck to accomplish whatever it was they came here for.

But you’re no longer able to ignore it. Suddenly the sheer intensity of that putrid, biting stench knots your stomach and sends spasms of bile into your throat. And even then you might have stayed for just a little longer…if you hadn’t seen the rest of them.

As you look on in horrified fascination, unable to tear your gaze away, entire groups of people dip into the noxious effluvia and consume it. They gorge upon the mushy globs, lick their plates clean, and pile on some more. They chug the viscous liquid like beer from party cups and drink it with the satisfaction of a cool glass of water on a hot day.

They’re enjoying this.

Even worse are the people who, not content with the filth that already surrounds them, are forcing themselves to produce even more. They’re so empty that they can vomit nothing but blood-streaked slime, yet they pass it on in goblets to a waiting multitude, who savor it like fine wine and caper about as if intoxicated and then beg for more.

Now you really can’t hold it together any longer. Your gorge rises and you’re sick all over yourself. When the spasms pass, you look down at your hands… You’re holding a plate and a party cup, just like everyone else. Licked clean and now splattered with something new to consume.

It begins to dawn on you that you’ve been in here far too long. You don’t have to be here, you don’t even really need to be here and aren’t entirely sure why you came, but somehow, despite yourself, you wanted to stay.

With a sick, wrenching feeling, as if you’re losing a piece of yourself even though anything you left behind would be insignificant compared to simply being clean…being you again without all of…that…you run for the exit and burst out into another world.

A cleaner, better world, the way it was before you went into that terrible place.

Breathing the fresh air, walking clean streets, wearing freshly laundered clothes, you’re a new person. A bit sadder and wiser, maybe, and even if you do sometimes miss the fun that could only be found in the old festival before it all went sour, you feel so much better now.

Some time later, as you run an afternoon errand, a familiar smell transports you back in time.

A stylish couple walks past. Absorbed in conversation, they don’t notice you — but you notice they’re holding a familiar set of plates and party cups. And on the plates… A wave of nausea hits. Your stomach involuntarily clenches.

“Isn’t this great?” they say. “Now we can get it anywhere!”

By the time your errand is done, that familiar, noxious smell is inescapable. Half the people you pass on the street are eating from a full plate. And they look at you like you’re the crazy one.

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