Symptoms by Author Karen Alley

The alarm jerked Susan out of a sound sleep, as if she had never even been awake seven minutes ago to hit the snooze button. She slapped the alarm off and rolled back over, snuggling up under the covers for some uninterrupted sleep.

“I can’t go to work like this,” Susan thought. Dehydrated from a night of sitting on the toilet, again, she was too weak to even think about getting up to get dressed. The doctor had said it was irritable bowel, but Susan wasn’t so sure. Wouldn’t that medicine be working by now? Shouldn’t she at least see some results? She was sure it was cancer. The blood work just wasn’t showing anything yet.

Three hours later Susan emerged from her room still in her pajamas to make a pot of coffee.

“What are you still doing here?” asked Beth. “I thought you would have gone to work by now.”

“Sick day.”

Beth knew not to ask for any further details. She was tired of hearing the litany of illnesses Susan seemed to constantly be suffering from, and she’d only been living in this apartment for one month. Desperate for a place to live after being evicted from her last apartment, she had jumped on the first “roommate wanted” ad she found. It wasn’t long until she regretted signing the lease agreement with Susan, committing to a full year. The only time Susan talked to Beth it was to ask her opinion about a headache that could be a brain tumor, a stomach ache that must be cancer, or a bruise that would surely lead to an aneurysm. It was all Beth could do not to scream “You’re only 25 years old! You’re not dying!!!”

Susan took her coffee back to her room and Beth turned back to her computer, debating whether to keep working here or not. Sure, Susan usually kept to herself, but she generally tried not to be actively working when anyone was around. It was just too risky.

“I’m going out for a while,” Beth yelled out, and slammed the door behind her.

The beeping of the alarm made Susan bolt upright in bed. This morning, there would be no snoozing.

“I can’t miss another day of work,” Susan said, giving herself a pep talk. “At this rate my boss might actually follow through on his threat to fire me.”

She got out of bed and went straight to the shower. Taking yesterday off must have really done the trick, today she was feeling great. She put on her scrubs, grabbed a protein bar and headed to the hospital for her shift. Sure, it could be hard getting up early every day to be at the imaging center by 7 a.m., but Susan found her work rewarding. Helping with mammograms and ultrasounds, she felt like she was helping save lives.

On the way to the hospital, Susan hit the usual traffic. Waiting at the stoplight, she started thinking about Beth leaving yesterday. It was fine for a roommate to have her own life, but Susan knew Beth worked from home. Why couldn’t she work when Susan was there? Susan didn’t really know Beth, even though they’d lived together a month. She was always on her computer, and usually in her room. What exactly was she doing? Was she addicted to video games? Chatting with friends?

Lost in thought, Susan arrived at work and a friendly voice call out as she got out of her car.

“We missed you yesterday,” Janice said. “I really hope you’re feeling better, we’re all worried about you.”

“I know, I am too,” Susan said. “I’ve never been so dehydrated, it made me absolutely weak. I wonder if I’m anemic.” Janice was one person who listened to Susan without rolling her eyes or second guessing her symptoms. And just like that, Beth was forgotten.

Susan only made it through half of her work day. She’d been so worried about anemia that she started looking up symptoms. She convinced herself she had it all: Tingling in the hands and feet, extreme fatigue, headaches. She wondered if she had kidney failure. She was so worried she couldn’t keep her mind on her work. It was a slow day anyway. “I really hope Beth is home when I get there,” Susan said. “I’ll need to have someone around to call 911 if I happen to faint.”

By the time Susan reached her apartment, she was sick with worry. She barged through the door in search of Beth, taking her roommate completely off guard.

“Do I look pale to you?” Susan asked.

“No, I don’t think so. You look okay, considering it’s the dead of winter.”

“I don’t know, I’ve just felt so weak and tired lately. I’m worried I’m anemic, maybe I even have kidney failure!”

Susan walked weakly to the table behind the couch where Beth was sitting to put her keys down and look through the mail. As she sorted through the bills, she glanced up at Beth’s computer, curious about what sort of work this roommate could do from home. Expecting to see a word document, or a web browser open for research, Susan was confused at the screen full of text. It looked like just lists of names and numbers, something you might see on a banking site.

Beth slammed her computer shut and jumped up. “I just remembered I’ve got a meeting, I’ve got to go.”

“Oh, okay,” Susan said, wondering again why Beth was in such a rush to leave.

“What will I do now?” Beth thought as she rushed out the door. What had Susan seen exactly? “I should never have been so sloppy, working at the apartment.” Beth drove to a park, empty of its typical walkers and joggers due to the dreary weather, and finished sending her stolen credit card numbers to her boss.

Hacking into websites had always come easy for Beth, but these days it was harder than ever to find people who paid good money for her stolen information. The glut of data available was driving down prices. She knew she was taking a risk when she started working for the new Russian contact out of DC, but he was the only person she’d found who was willing to pay 2 bitcoin per social security number, double the going rate on the streets.

Now, thanks to Susan home sick again, she was running late. If she didn’t get her files uploaded to the drop site soon those guys would be knocking at her door. She logged on to the dark web and finished the upload that she’d started back at the apartment.

“Why don’t you let me fix you a cup of tea?” Beth asked Susan when she returned home from the park, trying to smooth things over from her abrupt departure earlier.

“Sure,” Susan said, launching immediately into a description of the details of anemia and what could be done about it, glad to have another person around in case she needed to call an ambulance.

Susan had done some research while Beth was out, but not just on anemia. Seeing all those numbers on Beth’s computer had raised her curiosity about what exactly her roommate was doing. She’d always just assumed Beth was a freelance writer or something, but she wouldn’t be looking at numbers and codes for that type of work. Susan dug around on some websites, something she was pretty good at from researching all of her symptoms over the years. All she had to go by was an onion on Beth’s browser, but it wasn’t long until Susan found that exact same image in a website about how to access the dark web. What exactly was her roommate up to?

Scared to ask anything too personal, Susan drank her tea and excused herself to her room to go lay down.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Susan hit snooze for the third time. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me this morning,” she said. Her stomach was cramping like it never had before, and she was so tired she could hardly open her eyes. She looked at the clock. 7:30 a.m. “What? I laid down for a nap at 4:00 after the tea. How is it morning already?”

“Looks like I’m taking another sick day,” Susan called out to Beth, who she could hear messing around in the kitchen.

“Oh no,” Beth said. “Let me fix you a cup of tea.”

Maybe the tea would soothe her stomach. Beth was nice enough to bring it to the bedroom. “I don’t know what is wrong with me, I feel horrible,” Susan said.

“Just take it easy today. Get lots of rest, I’m sure you’ll feel better tomorrow,” Beth said.

“I’ll just take another little nap, and see if I feel better by lunch,” Susan said.

Drinking the warm tea seemed soothing, and instantly put Susan to sleep. Hours later she opened her eyes, making an effort to look at the clock. 11:30 p.m.  Shocked, Susan looked again, just to make sure it was p.m. and not a.m.

“What is wrong with me?” Susan thought. Her cramps seemed to be getting worse, not better, and she felt so tired. “I’ve never slept this much, even when I had all those headaches that I thought were brain cancer and it ended up just being an allergic reaction to my new detergent.” She made her way to the kitchen to take some ibuprofen, making a mental note to call the doctor first thing in the morning. She had to get to the bottom of this before she lost her job to more sick days.

The next morning the cramps were gone, but the memory of them was not. Before getting in the shower to get ready for work, she grabbed her cell phone and made an appointment at the doctor.

After a quick shower she was getting her keys and purse together to go to work when Beth walked u behind her.  “You loved that tea so much yesterday, I wanted to make you some today to get you going for work,” she said.

“Sure, thanks,” Susan said, sticking the thermos in her purse.

On the drive to work she glanced at the thermos. “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” Susan said to herself.

Susan volunteered for the early lunch break, and was able to get to the 10:30 doctor’s appointment just in time. She told the doctor about the past two days, the cramps and the extreme fatigue. Then took a deep breath before launching into the next part, which she’d gone over in her head a million times on the drive over.

“I think my roommate is trying to kill me.”

Susan took another deep breath and held up the thermos for the doctor.

Dr. Jones looked at Susan with tired eyes.  She’d been patient with Susan and her many made up symptoms over the years, but this one had to be the most far-fetched yet.

“Susan,” Dr. Jones said calmly. “Why in the world would you think your roommate is trying to kill you?

“Well, I’m pretty sure she’s hacking websites and doing things on the dark web. I don’t even know who she’s working for, but it has to be illegal. I saw her computer the other day, and ever since then she’s been extra nice to me, making me tea all the time, and I know it sounds crazy, but I think the tea is poisoned!”

“Susan, I’m sure what you saw on your roommate’s computer was just her work. I really don’t think she is trying to kill you. You probably just have another UTI, or maybe your endometriosis has come back. Let me do a quick urinalysis and we’ll get you some antibiotics if needed.”

“No! I know my headaches weren’t a brain tumor, and I’m sure my fatigue the other day was just stress and not kidney failure. But this time I’m not making things up! There’s something off about Beth, and now I think she’s out to get me!”

Dr. Jones patted Susan’s hand. “Having roommates can be tough. See if you can work through these problems, or maybe it’s time to ask her to move out.”

Driving home, Susan decided that’s just what she would do. It was time to ask Beth to leave. Sure, it had only been one month, and there really wasn’t a good reason to kick her out. She was going on gut instinct, but how could she live with someone who was trying to kill her?

Susan drove into her apartment’s entrance, so busy giving herself a pep talk about evicting her roommate she almost ran into a man wearing a dark suit and sunglasses crossing the parking lot. “That’s strange,” Susan thought. “It’s so dark from the clouds I can barely see even without sunglasses on.” Then she noticed he was getting into a black sedan parked next to Beth’s car.

Susan’s instincts burst into full gear. She was right all along, there was something going on with Beth, and it wasn’t just typical roommate quarrels like the doctor has said. Susan ran up the stairs and threw open the door expecting to see Beth lying on the ground in a pool of blood. Instead, Beth was alive and well, sitting calmly in the chair waiting for Susan. With a gun in her hand.

“Don’t take another step.” Beth said. “I know you saw something on my computer the other day. I can’t have my work compromised. I’ve put in too much time building my career. I thought I could trust you to keep to yourself, but I guess I was wrong.”

“Please don’t,” Susan whimpered. “I don’t know anything. I promise.”

“You saw my computer,” Beth said. “You know too much already.”

“No I don’t! I promise! Please put the gun down. I promise I won’t tell anyone anything! You can live here as long as you need to, I won’t bother you at all.”

Just then an arm reached around Susan and pulled her out of the doorway. At the same time a gun shot blasted through the quiet apartment. “You’re under arrest.” Susan heard the words coming muffled to her ears through the ringing. “Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered,” the cop muttered in her ear as he let her go. “We’ve been trying to track down Ursula Myers for months now. Your visit to the doctor this morning was the final evidence we needed.”

“What?” Susan was confused and shaken. Just a few seconds ago she’d faced sure death from a roommate she hardly knew.

“Your doctor called the police as soon as he found arsenic in your urine this morning. He apologized profusely for not believing your story, but thank goodness he called us in time.”

Susan watched as the two officers led Beth, or Ursula, away in handcuffs. She took a deep breath, and realized for the first time in months she didn’t have a headache, a stomach ache, or any aches anywhere in her body. “Nothing like actually having a near death experience to bring it all into perspective,” she said to herself, before turning back to her apartment to call Janice. “It’s time I tell this girl a story about something besides my sicknesses!”

About The Author

Karen Alley is a freelance writer and editor in North Carolina. When she’s not working on editing and ghostwriting jobs for clients she’s often attending one of her kid’s many activities or enjoying the beauty of the foothills with her two boxers. This foray into fiction writing was originally a submission for the NYCMidnight short story contest, and the start of a passion for writing fiction. Learn more about Karen at

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