It’s there again. I can hear it walking down the hall. It’s growing impatient, I think. Whatever it is. I’m lying in bed, the the door is open, and I can hear it lumbering through the darkness. Even though I haven’t seen it, I know it’s big. How do I know this? Because its footfalls sound like thunder against the hardwood floor. Because I feel the vibrations of its movements tremble up the bedposts and shake this fragile frame.
I want to get up and confront this stalker, this late night intruder, but the sickness has me in its claws. My fever is getting worse and tonight I can barely think straight. My forehead is thick with sweat and the sheets beneath my shivering body are soaked through. I’m freezing and yet my hair is damp against the pillow. I clutch my stomach, groaning, as the intruder storms down the hall and into the bathroom. I can hear it shuffling through the medical cabinet. I want to call out to it, to scream at it.
But my throat is tight with exhaustion and I can’t seem to find the strength to summon the words. I reach for my glass of water on the nightstand and my fingers find its cool edges. To my dismay, the glass is empty. My parched lips smash together, a filmy meeting that pulls at my flesh.
My hands go to my stomach. I clutch my ribs and moan once again. It feels like my insides have ruptured and fire is pouring into my guts. Why won’t this virus leave me? Or whatever it is.
As if on cue, the unseen visitor in my house begins to thump back down the hall toward my bedroom. I wonder if I’ll get it see it tonight.
I crane my head up off the pillow and stare out into the blank hallway. I shoulda left a light on. The gloom echos as the the footsteps draw nearer to the open door. Sweat rolls down my sickly face and I desperately want a drink of water.
My stomach heaves suddenly and I cry out. I wrap my arms around myself and curl up into a ball. I lie there, pitifully, as the cramps contract my torso. I grit my teeth and exhale painfully. It feels as if I’m dying. Like my guts are vomiting.
Like something is growing inside of me.
Of course that’s ridiculous and I remind myself of this fact. The footsteps have moved past the door and I have missed it again. Whatever is out there, stalking my home, remains a mystery. Somewhere in my addled mind, I knew I should be more concerned about this strange nighttime visitor, but the pain of sickness has dulled my concern to a blunt edge.
Please, make it stop, I thought wearily as another wave of nauseous discomfort twists my insides. It feels like I have been stabbed with the biggest knife in the world.
“Shut the fuck up!” I scream at the footsteps, now lurking toward the other end of the house. I immediately regret my outburst as an explosion of dizziness rattles my vision. I lean heavily back into my pillow and take concentrated breaths. I squeeze my eyes shut and count to ten. Beads of syrupy sweat drool down the sides of my face. I know I can’t afford another outburst like that without risk of passing out. And I don’t want to do that because of those goddamn footsteps.
Because through the haze of my misery, I fear them.
Get out of my house, I think sluggishly. Leave me alone.
I open my eyes in the darkness. I pull off the covers, suddenly sweltering hot. The footsteps were returning.
Determined to see what the source is, I prop myself up on my elbows, fighting against the biting discomfort in my stomach.
Three nights of this shit.
Just what the hell was stalking the hallways? Before, I was convinced it was some hallucination brought on by the overwhelming sickness and had chosen to ignore the creaking floorboards. But three consecutive nights in a row had changed my mind.
Something was really in here with me.
Something just beyond the veil of shadow of my bedroom door.
And tonight, I would see it.
My stomach rolled with agony.
None of this was right.
I didn’t see anything last night. The thing, whatever it is, never re-crossed my bedroom door. Maybe it will tonight. If it comes back. What am I saying? Of course it will. How do I know this? Because the pain in my stomach has gotten worse. And my uninvited intruder had arrived at the outset of all this.
I’m going to try and get up today, despite the pain. Just the thought is almost enough to bring tears to my eyes. I’m not looking forward to how that’s going to feel. But I need water. I need to refill my glass. I should probably eat something as well, but I don’t think I will be able to keep anything down. My gut shudders and I feel a cramp starting to develop, just below my lower ribs. I brace myself for the inevitable agony and wait.
It arrives without mercy.
“Oh CHRIST,” I shudder, moan, and then finally cry.
It takes a full thirty seconds to pass. It leaves me gasping for air. Whatever this is, it’s getting worse. I need to sleep. If I’m going try to get up later, then I’m going to need as much energy as I can. So for now, I sleep.
Night has fallen. The visitor is back. I can hear it downstairs, in the kitchen. Now it’s coming up the stairs. I need to get up, but I don’t think I want to if that thing is going to be wandering my hallways tonight. I shouldn’t have slept so long.
God, but I’m thirsty.
Something feels wrong with my ribs. I feel bloated. I feel like I have eaten and eaten and eaten and there is simply not enough room in my body for the sensation. And yet, I’m starving.
The thing is walking down the hallway toward me. I don’t even try to look up at it. What good will it do if I know the source? It won’t take my sickness away. I turn my head to the side and stare at the wall.
And then, without warning, I sense something standing in the doorway, looking at me.
Slowly, I turn to confront the intruder. Fear settles around me and my eyes go wide as I cast them on the figure looking down upon me.
It is completely colorless. Not transparent, but totally without color. My mind kept trying to associate a shade to the form, but it simply could not.
It filled the doorway, but it was not a broad thing. It was tall. It’s figure shifts, like moving water, and yet I can make out arms and a pair of thin legs. It’s head is just a blob, an ever contorting distortion of undetermined shape. It hosts no eyes, no mouth, no lips, no features, nothing. It is like a colorless ghost composed of alien compost.
My voice rattles, “What do you want?”
The thing does not move.
“What the fuck do you WANT!?” I howl, propping myself up. Immediately, my body revolts and I collapse back onto my pillow, moaning as my torso pulsates with pain. It feels like a boulder is being shoved down my chest and into my gut.
Blinking sweat away, I look toward the doorway again.
The thing utters a sound. Words. It’s voice is smooth and calm, almost pleasant.
“Tick tock…tick tock…how much time do we have left?”
And then it leaves, thudding dully back down the hall, leaving me in confused hysteria.
“WHAT ARE YOU?!” I scream.
Darkness takes me.
I threw up earlier. I didn’t even feel it coming. I simply leaned over the bed and discarded a mouthful of hot bile. It poured from my nose and throat like acid and my face ignited against the onslaught. The pain was enough to get me to stand and fetch water from the bathroom sink.
It took me the better part of an hour to do so.
Wave after wave of agony rocked my body as I shuffled toward my destination. I could hear the strange intruder behind me, down the hall, but didn’t care enough to look. I just had to get some water.
When I finally made it to the sink, I practically collapsed onto it. I fumbled for the knob and turned it on. Almost crying with relief, I lowered my chapped lips and greedily lapped at the cold stream. It was the most wonderful thing I had ever tasted. When I had consumed my fill, I realized I had forgotten to take my glass with me.
The thought of returning to the bathroom at a later time for more water made me want to weep. So, wincing, I lowered my aching body into the bathtub. I was shivering so hard by the time I did so that my teeth began to chatter. I clawed for the knob and flipped it. Water poured down over me from the showerhead. The first thirty seconds were frigid hell before the heat came. And when it did, I thought I was die of euphoria. I closed my eyes, fully clothed, and let the fabric soak through, warming me.
At some point, I looked up through the steam.
My nighttime visitor was watching me from the bathroom door. It was almost invisible through the rising vapors. It’s long body swayed slightly and its head dripped one way and then the other.
A sharp, stabbing sensation filled my stomach suddenly and I clutched it, screaming. Something…rolled…inside of me and then expanded.
It was the most unpleasant feeling I have ever suffered. I felt my insides pop, and then something sharp collided with the inside of my lower ribcage, an angular edge that I could physically see jutting out and stretch me skin.
“STOP IT!” I screamed, clawing at the odd, protruding shape in my body, “STOP DOING THIS TO ME! LEAVE ME ALONE!”
The intruder didn’t move from the doorway.
But it spoke again.
“One day, this world will die, just like all the others. But when? Tell me. Just tell me and all of this will be over.”
I writhed beneath the tide of hot water, “What the hell are you talking about!? What are you!? WHAT ARE YOU!?”
The shimmering shape didn’t respond. It just watched with eyes that weren’t there.
“Why are you DOING THIS TO ME?!” I screamed, feeling the thing in my body continue to grow outward.
“Tick tock,” The thing muttered, “Tick tock…how long before everyone dies?”
“FUCK-YOU!” I bellowed.
I woke up with the shower still running. I didn’t care. The water remained hot and my teeth still chattered. Christ, I wanted to die. My eyes traveled down my body and I felt like I would scream if I wasn’t so exhausted. What in the living fuck…?
Slowly, I pulled my shirt up to get a better look.
Something rose from underneath my skin, a blocky, square shape that occupied the entirety of my abdomen. It looked like a cartoon where a character eats something and it contorts the shape of their body in a comical fashion.
And not only was the abnormality shockingly visible, but I could feel it as well. With every beat of my heart, a tiny jolt ran through my torso. It was insistent and it was endless. Shock held me in its grasp as I gazed down at the jutting mass hidden beneath my skin. What the hell was happening to me?
“I need to see it.”
My eyes snapped up toward the corner of the bathroom. The intruder stood watching me, hidden behind a layer of steam. Its voice was eerily calm.
“What’s wrong with me?” I croaked as water splashed over me.
“I need to see it.”
I tried to sit up, failed, and then succeeded on my second attempt. I flipped the water off and felt my hair fall in strands across my eyes.
“What’s inside of me? What’s happening?” I hissed, gripping the jutting corners of my extended skin. Whatever was inside felt hard, tough.
“I need to chronicle it. Then I will leave,” the intruder said softly.
“Do you know what this is?” I growled, wincing as my head thundered, another heartbeat bringing with it that strange, jolting sensation.
“Of course I do.”
I gripped the edge of the bathtub, “What is it? How do I get it out?”
The intruder shimmered and his head shifted slightly, “It is the same as all the others.”
I felt myself growing furious beneath the pain, “Start talking some goddamn sense. Can’t you see I’m dying?”
“Everyone will die. I need to know when. I need to chronicle it.”
“What the FUCK are you talking about!?” I howled, slamming my hand down. Pain rocketed through me and I buckled beneath a shuddering dizziness.
“Every world has one. I go to find them. And then I chronicle it.”
I ran my hands over my alien pregnancy, “This?! THIS is what you’re looking for?!”
“That is correct.”
“Well what IS IT!?”
The intruder made an odd noise that sounded like a sigh. Then it spoke, its voice gentle and carefully measured, “It is the prophet of doom. It reveals how much time this world has before it perishes. And I need to see it. I need to chronicle it. Then I will leave.”
“Stop SAYING THAT!” I screamed, unable to understand what this thing was talking about. Prophet of doom? The world perishing?
The intruder didn’t acknowledge my outburst, “Sometimes the clock is at the bottom of an ocean. Sometimes it is hidden in a mountain cave. Sometimes it is buried beneath great cities. But this…this is something new. Never have I see one reveal itself inside a person before.”
“Well lucky FUCKING ME!” I yelled, knowing I shouldn’t, feeling myself buckle with sickness and fatigue.
The intruder came over to my side, its bizarre, colorless form shifting and swaying down at me, “I’m not supposed to interact with your world. I just need to chronicle how much time is left. Then I will leave.”
“I swear to god, if you say that one more time…”
“I’ve been very patient. I’ve waited. I’ve left you alone. Please. Help me so I can leave this awful world.”
“Go to hell,” I snarled, groaning as the mass inside of me expanded once more. I watched as my skin stretched, the protruding corners pulling my flesh tight against it. I felt like I would burst. The pain was almost unbearable.
The intruder didn’t move, “Go to hell? Why? Hell has no clock.”
“I’m going to die,” I gasped, “Can’t you do something to help me?” Tears of agony tricked down the corners of my eyes,
“I’m not supposed to interact with your world. Or any world. I just chr-”
“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” I screamed lashing out with my fist.
The intruder flew backwards, like a channel of colorless water, and then realigned, its form conjoining once again.
“You’re not going to die. The clock will keep you alive until it expires. Could be days. Could be millenia. But the clock is in you and you’re it’s pawn.”
My breath blew ragged, “Are you telling me that I’m stuck with this thing? That I’m going to be like this until I die?”
“I believe that is exactly what I said.”
“Christ,” I cried, “This is insane. This isn’t happening. This is some terrible fever dream and none of this is real.”
“I’m afraid it’s quite real,” The intruder hummed.
“I can’t live like this. The pain…Jesus, the pain is overwhelming,” I moaned. I felt as if I would pop, exploding open to reveal a belly full of knives.
“You will live until time expires.”
I looked up at the intruder, my eyes on fire, “You have to have some idea of how much time is left. You seem like you’ve been doing this for a while now, right? Tell me!”
“There is no way of knowing. Like I stated, it could be days or it could be millenia. Either way, you’re stuck until the expiration.”
I closed my eyes, “Get the fuck out of my house.”
“I need to see-”
“GET THE FUCK OUT!” I screamed. My world rocked, I felt my body expand once again, and then mercifully, I blacked out.
I gripped the bathroom sink. The weight in my gut pulled me towards the floor. Unbearable agony pulsed through me with every breath. My eyes watered and my throat felt raw. My knuckles were white against the sink as I tried to remain standing. My legs felt like jello and my knees trembled.
Horrified, I looked down at the abomination jutting from inside of me. It looked like I had swallowed a box made of iron, the sharp corners pinching the insides of my stomach and pressing against my ribs. How was I still alive? How could any of this be happening?
I heard the intruder wandering the house, impatient and frustrated. Heavy footsteps patrolled the hallway outside and I felt a sudden urge to scream. Had I the strength, I would have.
My eyes returned to the mirror over the sink.
“How much longer can you live like this?” I gasped. If only I knew…if only I had some kind of rational explanation for what was happening to me…
I could feel something counting down inside of me, each passing second bringing with it a quiver of sharp discomfort.
I stared into my bloodshot eyes. Sweat rolled down my greasy face in thick droplets. My skin was sickly pale and heavy bags clung beneath my eyes.
I fucking hated my life.
I hated everything about it.
I hated the pain, I hated the intruder, I hated the sickness that coursed through me.
I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to keep living either. The past couple days had been a conglomeration of madness and misery and I just wanted it to end.
You don’t hate your life, what are you talking about? My inner voice argued. You’re just miserably sick and you’re trying to cope with impossibilities. This will pass.
But it wasn’t passing. It had been over a week since my health had started to decline. Each day had brought new discomfort and agony.
Leave? Oh yes. I had tried that. But the intruder wouldn’t allow it. Not until it could see the horror growing inside of me. Not until it fucking chronicled it. I had tried, just this morning, to leave. To go see a doctor. But the intruder had stopped me. It never touched me, no, it had just stood in front of the door, unmoving.
I had wanted to push past it, to flee, but as I approached its form, stomach screaming, I felt something come over me. It was this feeling, this awful, terrible sensation that emanated from the intruder’s figure.
It was this suffocating negativity, this horrific desire to do harm to myself. I had stopped, almost completely overpowered by the sensation. I knew that if I walked any closer, then the feeling would overtake me and I would be powerless to it.
And so I lumbered back up to the bathroom where I stood now, contemplating the only option I seemingly had left.
I opened the medicine cabinet and retrieved the straight razor I used to shave with. It looked like it had been cleaned and oiled recently.
“Fuck you,” I cried, tears running down my face. I stared at myself in the mirror, a pitiful, pained man.
I placed the razor’s edge across my stomach. Just a peek. I just had to see how much longer I would have to suffer. I couldn’t take the mystery anymore. I would go mad if I didn’t know. Just give me an end. A date in which I could hope and pray for.
My hands shook and I braced myself.
I pulled the razor across my naked flesh, bringing with it a sudden, oozing red line. I gasped, the pain unexpectedly different than I imagined. I grit my teeth, body shaking with repulsion and fear, the razor blade traveling with terrifying finality.
“Gaaaaaahhhhh AHHHHHHH GODDAMN IT!” I screamed, crying, hand shaking so bad I almost dropped the razor. I could feel the folds of my stomach parting. I could feel the blood pouring down my body.
I could sense a sudden presence behind me.
I could see the intruder in the mirror, at the bathroom door, watching me.
“IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT!?” I screamed, ripping the razor blade the final distance. “YOU WANT TO LOOK INSIDE!? HUH!? DO YOU!?”
The intruder did not answer. It simply watched me through the reflection.
I cast the razor aside and felt something empty from my gut and spill onto the floor. It was a viscous, gray slime that splashed and coiled onto the tile like wet clay.
I vomited and slumped against the sink, my legs threatening to give way. I couldn’t go down. Not yet. Not until I had seen. I had to see. Just one look. Goddamn it, just one LOOK.
Crying, screaming, moaning, I pushed myself up to look in the mirror one last time.
I dug my hands into my parted flesh. Bellowing, I pulled my severed stomach apart.
Blinking from inside my belly, was a clock, it’s green numbers glowing vibrantly through the blood.
Sucking in a labored breath, I focused on the numbers.
My eyes widened and everything went silent. The intruder at my back vanished, its presence evaporating.
I continued to stare at the numbers.
And then, I began to laugh.