Sometimes you should listen and take heed.
An ancient evil filled the tiny cavern deep within the bowels of the earth. For how long it had been there even it could no longer sense. Time meant little for one that had no physical needs. Banished there by the power of a higher being, it boiled in the heat rising from the molten iron core of the earth. Yet, even as a vapor, it could not be destroyed though it was weakened. Ever its dispersed essence sought escape from its prison.
High above, yet still deep within the earth, a powerful rumbling jolted its abode. It grew in power till dust and then shards of rock pelted down. Then, a crescendo of rupturing stone. A crack snaked across the rock above. A joyous shout echoed off the walls and the cavern emptied.
Up and up, it streaked, till finally it reached a volcanic vent on the ocean floor. It moaned, for its hope for release seemed dashed. In its weakened state, it would not be able to hold itself together long in the crushing pressure of the ocean depths. Then, it became aware of a strange emanation of power. It keened its senses. There! A thick cord that lay on the floor and seemed to go on endlessly. With its last ounce of strength it slithered in. At once, it gained its full power and streaked away in both directions.
He was sitting naked on the ground with his hands behind him and his back straight against the tree. Something seemed to hold him there, yet no bond was evident. His mouth was gagged with a hard plastic ball that had holes for breathing. He was shaking his head and twisting his body. The trunk of the tree and ground were drenched red from his ceaseless attempts to ward off the mosquitos, yet dozens had their tubes inside his body. A hairy caterpillar clung to his chest. Crawling up the nape of his neck were a pair of mites. A colony of ticks had their heads buried in his scrotum. Beads of sweat were streaking down his face and into his eyes. An intolerable itch tortured the core of his being. His endless muffled screams and gasps for air seared his throat and lungs.
He cursed the abomination to come back and kill him.
Head Nurse Fong led the detective to the intensive care unit on the third floor of the Metropolitan Hospital. Her first impression of the man was negative. In general, she disliked policemen, especially if they towered over her, and at six feet five with a massive chest and arms, Detective Carolan fit the bill. But, his impeccable manners and gentle tone of voice had won her over. “Have you turned off your cell phone or any other communication device? The poor man can’t stand the sight of an electronic screen.”
Carolan nodded. “Yes, nurse.”
She stopped in front of the door. “Before you enter, I must remind you that he’ll ask you to scratch him somewhere. Don’t!”
“Yes, and thank you for reminding me.”
“Then, I’ll leave. But, remember if he becomes distressed, don’t hesitate to push the call button next to his bed.”
Yeah, yeah. “I understand.”
Nurse Fong grasped the door handle. “We’ve told him, that it won’t take more than ten minutes and that you’ve been briefed on his condition and how he was found. We’ve just given him his medication, so he’ll be a bit groggy.”
Okay already. “I promise not to take more than the ten minutes you’ve allowed me.”
Detective Carolan looked at his watch, then stepped into the room. There was the pleasant smell of hand cream and roses. He saw the odor dispenser on the small bedside desk. Carolan thought of mummies.
The patient was completely covered in gauze. He was wearing mittens and his arms and legs were suspended slightly above the bed. Carolan nodded to the face “Hello, Mr. Matthews. I’m Detective Carolan from the metropolitan police. I’ve been assigned to your case.”
Matthews took a sip from the tube hanging beside his mouth. “Did they tell you I’m a raving lunatic?”
Carolan took the chair next to the wall, unfolded it, and sat down next to the bed. Mathews didn’t seem a bit groggy. Taking a small notepad and pencil out of his pocket, he said in a gentle voice, “I’m sorry for what happened to you. We’ll do our best to bring those responsible to justice.”
There was a muffled laugh. It sounded a little hysterical. Carolan felt like he was treading on egg shells. He choose his first question with care. “How did it all begin?”
“Do you believe in the supernatural? I didn’t. Let me change that. I probably did. Deep down that is. Maybe, we all do. I’m not saying it’s a fear of the dark or those things we read in horror stories. What I’m talking about is suppressed memories deep down in that reptilian part of the brain when we ran from things that wanted to eat us.”
“You think I’ve lost my marbles, don’t you?”
“No, I didn’t mean that at all. I’ve done quite a bit of reading along those lines.”
“Oh, shit! It feels like a centipede crawling under my bandages.” Mathews pointed with his chin to his ribs. “Could you scratch along the ribs there?”
Despite the warning from the nurse, his curiosity was stronger; Carolan placed a hand on the bandages. He rubbed gently. There was a rough feeling, like scabs. “Here?”
Carolan felt moisture on his fingertips. Faint pink and green smudges were on the gauze. He raised his hand off the bandages and wiped it on the mattress. Despite his revulsion, he also developed an itch on his ribs. He scratched quickly.
Matthews took another sip of water. “Thanks. They’ve given me an anesthetic. It helps. I wouldn’t be able to endure this without it. If I could, I’d be scratching all day. That’s why the mittens. Yeah, well, where was I? Oh, fear. I was talking of fear. Rightful fear. But, this was from another dimension. Just totally wrong. Something that’s impossible to describe. It might look different for you, yet the effects would probably be the same. Total terror.”
Though useless, but because he’d been trained to get clues from facial expressions, Carolan stared at Mathews’s face of white bandages. “Mr. Matthews were you on any recreational drugs at the time?”
“I get stoned on weed occasionally, but I didn’t that night. I could use some now.”
Caroline almost blurted out, I bet you would, instead he said, “What happened just before you saw the thing?”
“I was on the internet playing a game like Dungeons and Dragons with three others.”
“Do you remember their names?”
“Pedro, Kenji, Bjorn.”
Carolan wrote on his notepad; considered his next question. “Do you know anything about them?”
“Only that their English was weird. You get a lot of that when anyone can jump into a game.”
A convenient tale. “Right. So, you were playing this game with them. And?”
“We were in a cave. We had torches with flames that flickered. We were armed with short swords, looking for the first treasure chest that, in these kind of games, contain a map. We couldn’t find it. Instead, we found that thing. It came out of the screen like 3D except there was an awful smell that choked and burned my throat. That thing laughed with such joy and hatred. I couldn’t breathe.” Matthews stopped, then a long wretched sob broke the silence. He took a deep breath. “Then it went up my anus.”
Carolan sucked the tip of his pencil; was it worth hearing more madness. It was all some queery sexual game that went wrong. He wondered what the face behind the bandages looked like; if there was a crazy smile. “Then what?”
“Then I woke up tied to a tree. Naked with bugs sucking my blood.”
Except you weren’t tied to a tree.“Your car was found not far from there. Do you remember driving or being driven there?”
“No, nothing. I told you I went from the game to the tree.”
Carolan glanced at his watch. Only two minutes left. It made him think of the Super Bowl. His mind wandered. He looked at his notes then scratched his head.
Matthews’s voice was muffled, but his rage tore into Carolan. “Don’t do that in front of me! What are you? A bastard inquisitor?” He squirmed. The bed springs rattled. “They’re crawling under my skin, looking for a way out, scraping their legs up inside me. Make it stop! Please, sir. I can feel them. Scratch me!” The bed shook.
Carolan reached for the call button. Pushed it. “I’m sorry. I’m leaving now.” Rising, he ran out the door.
In the hallway, he met Nurse Fong rushing in to answer the call. As she passed, she demanded, “What happened?”
Carolan turned and followed her. “I was thinking and scratched my head. He saw it and went berserk.”
“Yes, that would do it.”
He spread his arms wide palms up. “I’m sorry.”
“No more visits for you.”
That was fine with him. With a shiver, he watched her enter the room.
It was weakened. Over confident from its newly gained energy it had dropped its guard. Powerful magic from potions it had never encountered drained it of strength. Time had given these creatures new weapons. In its weakened state, escape from this body was not possible as long as it contained the spark of life to fight back. Yet, time was on its side. It would learn and find a way.
Detective Carolan was at the precinct. He had called the hospital. He had had other things to worry about, so it was news to him that Matthews had been cleared to leave three days ago and was probably home. He took a thick peanut butter sandwich out of his drawer. He was munching on a mouthful when Detective McCormack came in. He took a gulp of cold coffee to wash it down. “Hey, Mack, you got some free time?
McCormack flopped down on his chair. It sagged and creaked. “What’s up, Packy?”
“I checked at the hospital on the Matthews guy. They told me he was out, probably at home. I’d like to question him a little more. I called and he said it was okay for me to question him at his place. Wanna come with me?”
“That’s the case of the naked guy nearly getting sucked dry by mosquitos, right?”
“Yeah.” Carolan took a banana out of his drawer. Peeled it, leaned back, scratched the back of his head. “I got an e-mail from a cop in Sweden. Seems they had the same thing happen there on another day. And...the fruitcake over there is saying almost exactly what our nut is saying.”
McCormack raised an eyebrow. “What’s the world coming to, heh?”
Carolan took a big bite of the banana. Rolled it around inside. “There could be a scientific reason for this. Like global warming.”
McCormack considered the implications. “Blame it on the oil companies, is what I say.”
Carolan tossed the banana peel into the trash, stood up. “Yeah, well. You coming?”
“Sure. Sounds like fun.”
They got in Carolan’s huge Buick, a gas guzzling antique from the 70’s. Carolan squealed out of the garage and slid the car into light traffic. “Mac, whatever you do, don’t scratch your balls in front of this guy.”
“Whaddya mean? I neva scratch my balls. My missus does it for me.”
“Well, if you have to scratch anywhere else, do it discreetly.”
“You know what, Packy? I’m getting itchy already.”
Ten minutes later they pulled over in front of a modest house on a tree lined street. They got out and slammed shut the car doors which produced two impressive booms. They went up the walk and pressed the doorbell.
Matthews peered thorough the peephole, slid the chain off, turned the locks, and opened the door. “Welcome gentlemen.”
It was the first time for Carolan to see Matthews standing. He seemed shorter, as if all the wrapping had given him a few extra inches. At about 5’7’, Matthews was nearly a foot shorter than himself. He clearly saw a large scab on top of his head. His face showed newly healed scars and patches of dead skin.
Matthews stepped aside, swept open an arm. “Come in.”
The room was a riot of color and rectangles. The walls were covered with drawings on paper ripped out of sketch books and tacked on. They overlapped and hung askew. Subject matter seemed to be triangles, lightning rods, ovals, and waves. Drawn with colored pencils, they gave the room an unpleasant overabundant feeling of being in a cartoon jungle.
Everything else in the room was neat and wiped clean.
Matthews apologized. “Sorry for the mess. Don’t mind the drawings on the floor. I just need something to take my mind off the itching. I find drawing works the best.” He rubbed his face. Dead skin dropped to the floor. He had a feeling the detective had a fear of germs.
Carolan looked around. Holy moly. “You’ve done a lot in a few days.”
“Well, the itchiness is constant. The medicine helps, but it’s not totally effective. In fact, it seems to be wearing off.” He scratched an eyebrow. A few hairs came off. “Please, have a seat.”
Carolan and McCormack sat down on the sofa, Matthews on the armchair across the coffee table. Carolan took out his notepad and pencil. “Hadn’t you better be wearing your mittens?”
“I should, but it’s hard to draw with them on.” He moved his shoulders up and down then rotated them. Finally, he scratched just under his armpits.
Carolan looked at his notepad. Better get on with my questions. “I’d like to ask a few questions concerning the events of that night.”
First, a warm up question. “Had you ever played on line before with the three players, Pedro, Kenji, and Bjorn.”
“I could have. People often don’t use their real names. That game was at entry level, so they were probably casual players, like myself.” He stuck a finger in his ear. Twirled it around. Extracted it. Flicked off the gunk.
Nice, real nice. “How do you think you got to that tree?”
Matthews twisted his head while rubbing the back of his neck. There was the dry sound of skin crackling. “After it entered me, I don’t remember what happened.” He rubbed his eyes. “Maybe, I don’t want to remember. Maybe, if I do, I’ll go completely off my rocker. You said my car was there, yet I don’t remember being in it. I was alone at home playing that game, then I was in that field tied to that tree.”
Bull shit. “You weren’t tied to the tree.”
Matthews stared into Carolan’s eyes. “You’re lying. You’re trying to make me believe I did everything to myself. I’m telling you something came inside me.” He placed a hand on his head. “Sometimes, I think it’s still here.”
Carolan watched as Matthews scratched hard the scab on top of his head. There was the crack of an eggshell breaking. Fingers gouged. A slow green line flowed down Matthews face. McCormack jumped up. “Mr. Matthews! Are you okay?”
Shaking, Matthews mumbled. He tried to get up, but fell to the floor in a spasmodic fit. McCormack grabbed a cushion, and forced it between Matthews’s jerking head and the floor. There was one last shudder, then Matthews lay still.
“Packy, help me with this guy!”
Carolan saw it come out of Matthews’s mouth. It swirled under the ceiling, leered with a million eyes and laughed with killer teeth. It swooped down. Carolan shut his eyes. The muscles in his buttocks squeezed. He screamed and fell onto the floor.
McCormack knelt beside him. “Packy...Packy...Snap out of it.”
Carolan gripped his friend’s hand. “I can feel it, Mac. It’s inside me. I can feel it.”