THE RECORD SCRATCH February 2, 2024

I Appear Missing

After the pill that wrecks your life, you wake up poisoned on the salt flat of yourself. Your body no longer works the way it should but instead spasms, tears, throbs with the pain of cellular dissolution. There is no blood to wipe off your face, no open wound to tend or bandage. Instead, a path of destruction too chemically subtle to image on CAT scan, MRI, PET: mitochondria with non-functional DNA, GABA receptors damaged to the point of anxious hallucinations, cells incapable of performing the most basic management of oxidative stress. An adverse reaction to a prescription antibiotic: one pill, 750mg. The brand name was Levaquin, three syllables that seemed, at first, to invoke a dubious, harlequin grace and then, later, a fine Victorian murder weapon, delicate as a needle inserted between two vertebrae. The doctor prescribed it for an infected cat scratch, but within twenty minutes of swallowing that single pill, your entire body is on fire. You are twenty-six, a writer, a former ballet dancer, and your life is not supposed to go like this. Until, of course, it does.

When the pain culminates, you will say it and say it and say it, then mix it in with the generic: Levaquin, levofloxacin. The Latin root “levo” means to lift, a verb derived from the noun “levitas,” lightness. See also the words levity, levitate, and then their antonyms, gravitas, gravitate. Overnight, your body grew impossibly heavy; one ounce in the wrong direction, at the wrong moment, and you might snap a tendon.

If this were a music video, and thank god it’s not, the song in the background would have a limping beat. This is the way you walk, now: one foot in front of the other, clinging to the bedroom wall for support as you hazard the six feet from the end of the bed to the bathroom and hyperventilate between steps. The first two doctors you saw insisted there was nothing wrong despite the fact you suddenly needed a wheelchair. But, after a week of frantic, at-home research, you were able to track down two specialists who study your condition, a rare but catastrophic reaction called fluoroquinolone toxicity. They can tell you only: “There is no treatment.”

Levaquin, levofloxacin.

When Joshua Homme wrote “I Appear Missing,” for the Queens of the Stone Age album …Like Clockwork, he was emerging from a stint in the hospital that had left him suicidally depressed. The surgeon had botched a routine knee surgery so badly it sent Homme into cardiac arrest and then a coma. “I died on the table,” Homme told NME magazine in 2011. In the aftermath, he was confined to bed rest for three months. Mostly, you wonder if this song was his out-of-body experience, but sometimes you suspect it contains his desire not to be embodied at all. It’s a feeling you’re getting to know quite well.

Levaquin, levofloxacin.

Feel yourself lifted, marionetted, and pulled forward, boots dragging in the dust of the parched landscape. Through no power of your own, you hover, you levitate, at the mercy of sun and orange sky, the birds that peck and draw blood. A flat, arterial red splatters out behind you and hangs off beaks in glutinous strings. No one can tell you what lies ahead in this uncharted and bastard place; you know only that your time here will be unpleasant. That there will be rats along the way, coyotes and their teeth. Cactus spines, treacherous rock formations, damage, and heat.

Levaquin, levofloxacin

Past the hollowed-out gas station, take the cratered highway into the city and its ruin. You do not want to be here but you have been given no choice: the power that raised you drives you onward, inexorable. A body is a thing you possess, a thing you haunt, but there is no escaping it, except, perhaps, for the brief and nebulous spaces conjured by art and dreams. You come to imagine your soul as a dybbuk, riding your body by its shoulders, pulling strands of hair to direct its movements. You imagine the pain this way, too.

Levaquin, levofloxacin

In the bridge section, vocals and guitar fade out. The song becomes thready bass, rollicking drum beat. The keyboard takes the lead, chimes the mechanized breathing of Homme’s ventilator, of levaquin, levofloxacin, levaquin, levofloxacin. Feel your feet leave the earth, feel the rhythm draw you up, watch the ground below grow distant, disappear into a haze of dust and smog. When gravity kicks in again, this is where the pain will leave you: sixteen stories high and ready to drop.

Sara McKinney holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona and is former editor-in-chief of Sonora Review. She is also the current managing editor at The Milton Review. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the PEN/Dau award and was awarded second place in Uncharted Magazine's Horror/Thriller Short Fiction Contest. Her writing can be found in Jewish Fiction .netRubbertop Review, Uncharted Magazine, and elsewhere. Website: