~ The first night ~
Have you ever had your fingers smashed by a car trunk? Or maybe they got caught in a slammed door when you were a kid. Regardless, none of that compares to the intense pain to which you snapped awake this morning. You couldn't help but shout - or swear, if that's your thing - from the feeling of a pipe wrench squeezing down on the fingers of your hand.
During your dark and dreamless sleep, your hand had slipped over the edge of your bed. You yank it back and grip it tight with your other hand.
Lurching to your bathroom, you flip on the lights. As they warm up, they cast your face and torso in a pale red sheen of sweat.
Your hand throbs with pain and slowly you uncover it, expecting blood. There's nothing, besides the color rushing back from where you'd gripped it. Turning your hand over, you don't see anything that is causing the pain. Nothing is jutting out from any of your fingers. You check your other hand too – no obvious bug bites.
You grab a bottle of pain medicine and stick it under your arm, working it open with your pain-free hand. The bottle slips as the cap pops off. Pills cascade onto the floor, bouncing and scattering across the bathroom. DAMMIT! you can't help but yell.
Exercising more caution, you shake out four pills into your palm. You pop the four pills in your mouth, shake out two more, then wash them all down with water cupped in your hand.
You cap the bottle and put it back, glancing at yourself once more in the mirror. In horror movies, the monster always seems to appear right behind someone when they look in the mirror again.
As you'll find out later - the monsters don't always show up in mirrors.
~ Next day ~
Before going back to sleep, you had moved the bed which revealed an absence of spiders, bugs or even rodents that could have bitten you. Nonetheless, you opted to sleep on the sofa for the rest of the night.
A solid iron weight sits in your stomach and the world spins when you try to roll off the couch. You call sick into work and go back to sleep. It's a fitful sleep and several times, you wake up to feel as if you hadn't slept at all.
The pain that was in your hand has now burrowed just south of your wrist. It burns like a lit match held to your skin. You take more pain medicine, which only makes a small dent in your misery.
You try to sleep through the night, although you dread calling in sick again. It's not like your job pays you to not work.
~ The rest of the week ~
Somewhere in the night, the agony moves just below your elbow. You can't afford to miss another day of work, so you struggle to make it in on time. You notice a hard reddish bump that blossoms on your arm.
When he sees you, one of your less-professional co-workers compares your look unfavorably to excrement.
You attempt to work, but pain hammers away at your mind. The manager comes by, takes one look at you, and demands that you seek medical help.
Easy for someone else to say, who doesn't have to fork over the co-pay. Not to mention any cost of treatment. One more bill you don't need.
Fifty minutes later, you wait in the lounge for your primary physician who, the receptionist told you, will be running over an hour late.
Children run and play as you half-listen to the historical program that's blaring from the TV in the corner. The monotonic narrator drones on about the mythology of dreams and nightmares in ancient cultures. As he begins talking about the personification of nightmares who could appear in the mortal realm in various guises, someone gets up and changes the channel to a news program. You go back to reading the grimy and tattered magazines.
The nurse finally calls you, and the doctor breezes in moments later. Within all of five minutes, the doctor tells you that it's a boil that should clear up in two weeks. On your way out, the nurse offers a few home remedies to try, which you could have found on the internet.
The next morning, you wake to find that you're entirely doused in sweat. The bed sheets lie in a wet and misshapen pile off the end of the bed. You just washed them yesterday and now they reek of sour perspiration. At least, it's the weekend and you'll have time to rest and do household tasks.
Instead of shivering on your way to the bathroom, your skin remains hot, as if you'd laid on the beach on all day at the height of summer. Only the icy water pelting your skin provides any relief.
Afterward, you check the thermostat. The read-out tells you that your home is at the normal temperature. Your skin prickles with heat, so you turn the thermostat down fifteen degrees. No doubt that later, someone will complain.
You gather the soaked bed sheets and walk to the laundry room. As you feed the washing machine, your knees suddenly buckle as the world begins to swim around you. From deep in a corner, something stands there, staring at you.
Intense pain flares from your boil and when you look, it's no longer a pea-sized red bump. It wobbles on your arm, a soft translucent blob the size of a golf-ball.
Inside, a black speck floats in the middle of what looks like a sea of yogurt. You swear it moved.
The next day, you move into the coldest room in your home so that no one else will complain about how frigid you're making the place. Into this small room, you've pulled a futon, a single lumpy pillow, and only a threadbare flannel blanket to keep you warm.
About the room, you've arranged a menagerie of fans. They blow musty, cold air as you sprawl on the futon. Beneath the thin mattress, the frame presses into your back. Despite the cold front from the whirring fans, you shove the blanket off because it only adds heat to your baking skin.
Sleep finally visits and before it stays for the next couple of days, you hear low, faint murmurings of voices in the room. It's not just the reverberations of the fans...is it?
~ Day One ~
Your heart drops when you snap awake and realize that you slept through an entire workday. You scramble to your phone, and leave a message for your supervisor after listening to the voice message expressing concern, then questioning if you're coming in today.
A tremendous itching draws your attention to the boil. It hasn't grown – not noticeably – but the speck inside did and it resembles a bulbous horse-fly. Except that, it has the wrong number of legs. And something about its head. Your eyes ache when you stare at it too long.
Instead, you spread a generous wad of ointment on this abomination poking out of your skin, and it seems to feel better.
~ That night ~
Late in the night, heavy footsteps fall across the floor in a deliberate stride, as if searching for something or someone. The boil, like a shaken container of pus-filled gelatin, jiggles as if trying to signal whatever stalks throughout your home.
After endless moments, the front door creaks and then slams shut. When you finally check, the place is empty. But the front door is unlocked, and you know that you threw on the locks before bed. So far as you can tell, nothing has been disturbed.
Sleep does not come easy.
~ Next morning ~
Something is knocking against the boil, sending jolts of pain throughout your entire arm. You look over to see what is happening. You'll probably wish you hadn't.
Inside the yellowish-white boil, now the size of a baseball, the insect-like creature buzzes and careens like an angry wasp that's been captured inside a jar.
Your stomach heaves and you barely make it to the bathroom. Your head swims and the world wavers around you.
Hope fades that you're hallucinating when the papery whisper of wings draw your attention to your arm. The winged creature presses its globoid head against the boil and now you see its eyes. They are the second largest part of its body – white orbs like curdled milk that glare back at you. Then it opens it jaws which reveal the largest part of its body.
Fangs, two short on top and long, curved scythes on the bottom like those of a piranha, jut out from its mouth-parts.
Without thinking, you grab a pair of scissors and thrust them into the boil. It does not pop, but squishes while rewarding you with excruciating agony.
You down six ibuprofen and stumble to bed. You plan to visit the doctor again tomorrow.
~ Last Day ~
You never do make it to the doctor's office. When you wake from a seemingly unending and dreamless slumber, you're covered not only in a cold sweat but also in a foul-smelling viscous liquid that has soaked into the bed. The blanket sticks to your arm and when you peel it off, slowly because the area is raw and painful, you discover that the boil has burst. The pain is gone but you feel dirty - as if you had swam the length of the Mississippi River, except that it was filled with sewage instead of water.
You clamber to the bathroom and, after treating your arm, start the shower. The rush of water soothes your skin. The last two weeks melt away and you lose track of time. It's only when the water begins losing its temperature that you turn off the shower and pull back the partition.
Inches from you looms a shadowy figure out of your nightmares, towering over you. The creature that had lived inside your arm had been waiting, unnoticed over the blast of the shower.
The droning flutter of its wings fill the room and the last thing you see is the gleaming fangs rushing towards you.
No, not all monsters show up in mirrors.
Sometimes, they lurk in the places where your mind wanders between wakefulness and sleep.