Harold first felt the pinch in his nose.
He jerked back from his computer screen, swiping at his upper lip. Shining like cherries, his fingertips fluttered under the blue light. A nose bleed? He hadn’t had one of those since he was a kid.
A reach for a tissue and a plug of the nostrils seemed to the do the trick, but the pinch returned. It pulled back behind his nose, high into his sinuses. His eyes watered when he felt a tweezer-like pull on the underside of his forehead.
He closed his laptop, the tickets for the coming fair over the weekend already purchased anyway. He just needed to lie down. He couldn’t be sick this weekend, he couldn’t. It was the first time he was seeing his kids since the divorce. The fair, the lakeside camping, the root beer floats — he had it all planned, it was going to be perfect.
One dose of medicine, he thought, swigging at his triangular flask from his desk drawer. That’d do the trick.
Harold took a cold shower, covering his eyes for most of the ordeal. Another intracranial poke nearly had him on his ass. His sight blurred like a film had attached his to eyes.
Maybe he needed glasses. Kady, his daughter, always said so. Though his son Cody always pointed out Harold would probably lose them. The twins would argue back and forth about it, teasing their dad, debating for debating’s sake. Nothing ever came of it. No glasses, no eye checks. It became a running joke.
Lying down in his cold, empty bed, Harold made a mental note to make an eye appointment for Monday. Losing his sight was the last thing he needed. He worked with computers ten hours a day.
Just rest, he thought. Then tomorrow will be perfect.
Pick up the kids. Relaxing weekend. Perfect.
Sleep came easy.
But he couldn’t rest, not with these nightmares.
He used to have them as a kid, too. Whirling tornadoes picking up his house. Dangerous devils sneaking out from under his bed. His parents had chocked it up to the terrible school system polluting his mind.
School systems couldn’t conjure tonight’s images.
Giant shining crucifixes slamming down on homes. Stormy skies raining rust-colored acid. Screams and screams echoing in his chest, but never releasing. Harold ran away from the apocalyptic scene as far as he could before he fell into a black swampy sand pit.
It sucked him in like a vacuum. His body couldn’t fight the pull. He swallowed the surrounding gritty ichor until his lungs wouldn’t expand anymore. They burst. He burst. His body was a lump of blood and tissue, eyes falling from his skull to watch it all. The black sand pulled his chucks of corpse further and further down.
He couldn’t wake up.
“I can save you,” a deep voice resonated from the sandpit itself, shaking his melting remains.
“Please,” Harold begged without a mouth left to move. “Wake me up.”
“This is not a dream,” the voice told him.
Not a dream? What kind of hell had he fallen into? This had to be a dream. Nothing like this, any of this horror, could truly exist.
“This hell is the Hell. The depths where souls fall to ashes. Where memories fade to nothing but pain.”
“Please, my kids… I just have to see my kids…”
“Harold Harker,” the voice bellowed, swallowing him in its expanse. “Do you grant me permission to enter your soul, mend you mind, and free you from this Hell?”
“Yes! PLEASE!” Harold’s eyes couldn’t hang on much longer, sifting through the black sands and his own innards.
But before he faded away, he saw light. White. Warm. Taking shape. An enormous figure rose above him as tall as the sky, clearing the dust and grime away with a single, hand as large as a house.
Harold lost his sight.
Had given up his soul to this creature.
Had managed to escape the true Hell.
What a dream… When he woke, he was definitely getting his eyes checked.
Except, when Harold’s alarm went off the next morning, Harold did not wake. He did not open his eyes. He did not leave to pick up his kids for their long weekend adventure.
The creature inside him did. It smiled, took his place at the wheel, used his body, his clothes. It had become Harold Harker, taking his eyes and filling them with pitch black ichor.
Harold was gone.