It started years ago, a flashlight beam crossing my window. I saw no one in the small front yard or the expansive pasture beyond. I flicked on the floodlights for a few minutes hoping to scare off whatever intruder or drunk teenager was out there. I was pretty sure it worked.
A season or two passed. I brought a pitcher of mojitos and my laptop outside to the front yard to work on my taxes and spotted fresh boot tracks in the dirt. Too small to be mine, too big to be my son when he came to visit every other weekend. I stared at them for a while, perhaps trying to divine their secrets from the earth. Then I poured a drink and got to work.
The footprints began to show up everywhere. Every. Where. In the front yard, the backyard, muddy tracks on my porch and patio, in my garage, even once in my house. I bought a security system pretty early on, but the tapes never showed anything but shifting shadows. I had people stay with me, but we never heard anything. Even if I stayed up all night long – every light inside and out blaring – I would still find at least one set of footprints somewhere. Usually somewhere impossible. I asked my ex to stop bringing Tim over, worried something might happen when he was there.
I saw the first one three months ago. Just a person out in the pasture. People have gotten lost before and wandered into the area. They have to jump a fence, but I think they’re usually spooked that they’ve completely lost the main road. Those people are on the move, though. This one was stationary. Not a waver from tired foot nor a twitch from cramping calf.
It had to be related to the footprints.
I grabbed an empty wine bottle and chucked it as hard as my old pitcher’s arm would let me. The path was true, but the standing person managed to jerk out of the way at the last second before resuming its stolid pose. I hurled more, but my anger – and the alcohol – got the best of my aim. The figure didn’t even have to dodge.
I charged the asshole, running full speed and letting loose a battle cry that likely pissed off my neighbors. By the time I reached its location, it had disappeared. Faded into the dark. I didn’t even see it move.
This continued every day with different numbers of people. The exact number was either more or less, but the trend was always for more. When they took me, I counted 17 stationed around my house.
I never saw their faces. One or two grabbed me from behind while I was screaming at those arrayed in front of me.
I awoke in the pasture, nude. The muddy ground gushed around my flesh, small rocks scraping my tender areas like a sandpaper-wrapped worm. Thin, slippery mud seeped into me, chilling my anus and filling my ears until it was almost impossible to hear.
I felt pressure at the base of my stomach, right above my pelvic bone. A sharp pinch, then darkness.
In the morning, I found myself back in my house. I was curled in the bathtub, cold water raining down on me. A quick check in the mirror showed that I was completely clean. Even a q-tip came out of my ear in pristine condition. The only evidence that something had actually happened was a small scab over my pelvis. It was small, syringe-sized, but twinged pain deep into my body when I pressed on it. I felt like Jackie Chan had given me a dual nut-gut kick with all the force he could muster.
The scab healed and I started to wonder if the whole incident was some weird sex dream. Minus the sex and plus a whole lot of creepy. Shadows no longer crept through my pasture and footprints stopped materializing in the middle of my foyer. I threw out all my alcohol, burned my salvia in a pit outside with some yard debris. I’d decided to go clean.
My ex took notice of some of the changes brought about by ditching the booze. My eyes looked more awake, my stomach got flatter, I stopped getting angry at nothing. She invited me on a trip to California to take Tim to Disneyland.
Of course I said yes. They were driving over, but I had some work meetings I couldn’t change and opted to fly out the next day.
I had to jump out of the TSA line once to pee. It was a trickle but, good Lord, did it feel urgent.
A handful of times before I boarded the plane I had to run off to the stinky little toilet behind the airport sandwich shop. A small speck of blood dribbled out of me on my last visit.
Bladder cancer? Intense UTI? STD? Diagnoses whirled in my head until I felt dizzy. My pulse was racing.
As I boarded the plane, I felt a stab of pain so intense that I could almost hear a crunch echo through my body. A burning hot coal detonated in my bladder and stripped my lungs of air. I ran to the airplane lavatory against the admonishing glance of the attendant.
I felt like I was trying to blow a sunflower seed through a straw, snaps of painful relief punctuating each millimeter the obstruction moved down my urethra. Tears flowed from my eyes unquenched, drenching the collar of my shirt. Blood, first watered down by urine and trickling, then rushing dark and fast into the toilet, poured from my penis.
With an almost comical plunk, I passed what felt like the biggest kidney stone known to man. I clutched my bleeding member in one hand, willing it to scab up. The pain, mercifully, had mostly gone.
I looked into the murky, pink water to see what had come out of me and watched several black worms with pale streaks on their front ends wriggle through clouds of my blood.
I panicked. I flushed, wrapped myself with toilet paper, and returned to my seat.
“By the time I get to Anaheim, everything will be fine.” “I just had to pass a parasite.” Those were lies I told myself to keep my sanity until the plane landed. Deep in the back of my mind, I remembered being held down in the mud, feeling that pinch.
What did they do to me?
I dashed out of the plane without my carryon, running for the nearest restroom. The pressure had returned. I could feel the mass squirming and ripping its way through me, the toilet paper sopping up hot, wet blood. Drips began to fall from my soaked pants.
Before I could reach the toilet, the lump of tangled bodies poured out of me. I sighed with relief, drawing the attention of a man who was washing his hands.
“You need help, man?” he asked, eyes wide at the crimson streaks on the ground.
“I’m sorry,” I grunted. “Parasites. From fish.” I pointed to the wriggling streaks moving toward the floor drain like hair on a plastic shower curtain.
The man bent over to inspect the mess. “Jesus, man. I’ll call someone for you. I think you need to go to a hospital.”
Under the now-closed stall door, I could see his loafer step right in the thick of the mess of worms. I was glad to have him gone. I needed to clean myself up and meet Annabel and Tim. I couldn’t waste time at a hospital.
I sat on the toilet, resting my head against the stall wall for a good fifteen minutes. By that time, the blood seemed to have stopped gushing and most of the sharp, urgent pain had faded. I cleaned up as best I could and left the little, bloody prison to wash my hands.
Gasps gave way to screams outside. Pounding footsteps yielded to urgent radio calls and deep voices demanding calm.
I pushed open the bathroom door to find the man who had offered to get me help on the ground in a pool of dark blood. His eyes were dark, dripping holes. Holes about the size of cigarette burns scattered his exposed arms and face and long, stringy bumps moved haphazardly under the skin. One of the black worms erupted from his nostril in a small cloud of snotty gore. It had a pale streak on its front end.
I joined the crowd away from the dead man, then snuck off to exit the airport.
I should turn myself in, but I don’t know to who. I’m worried the CDC would think I was a freak and the local PD would think I was some bioterrorist. I just want this to stop.
Worst of all, I can feel another mass welling up inside me.