(Image taken from: cutcaster.com)
“Nghh, ughh. Mm.”
Joe cracked the bathroom door as he sat on the toilet. He saw his girlfriend squirming beneath the covers.
“Charlie horse again, babe?”
She shifted and then clapped her hand to her forehead.
“Do you need anything?”
“No, it’s just…”
“It’s just… Harold again.”
She drifted back to sleep, making pained, guttural noises from the other room.
Joe closed the door and stared blankly at the wall.
Jesus. Not again.
He hit the roll of toilet paper angrily. He wrapped it around his hand and wiped his ass.
Joe and Gladys had been going out for 9 years now. In a few days, he planned on proposing to her (And not chicken out this time). But now, this had to happen? Oh, God. Their relationship had been mostly good with a few break-ups along the way. But they always found one another back in each other’s arms, hoping they didn’t sleep around too much in the interim while they were apart.
But the one thing that was consistent in all the years Joe knew Gladys was that she was haunted in her dreams by a man named Harold.
By her description of him, he was a tall, black man plagued with pockmarks around his nose. She couldn’t remember ever meeting him in real life. He had sunken in cheeks and greasy black hair, parted to the side. And his eyes were yellow with jaundice. But the part that scared Joe the most about him was his tongue. Whenever Harold talked—and Gladys said his voice was high and garbled like a chicken’s—a red centipede would wiggle between his lips.
Joe was tired of this crap. He thought it was over. But now, here it was again showing its ugly, pockmarked face.
The doctor said the frequent pain in her legs was merely a Charlie horse since she was always on her feet all day at the hospital. But Gladys believed otherwise, as it was the same pain she remembered having as a child. It was a stiff, cold feeling, “Like icy fingers pushing out from the inside.”
Joe shook his head. He cracked open the door again and saw Gladys still squirming beneath the covers. She was like a snake in the grass. He wanted to wake her but he wouldn’t dare try that again. Not after the last time he did that. He still had the scar on his wrist as a reminder.
Two years ago, after some pleading, he finally convinced her to go to a psychiatrist. His name was Dr. Naviello. But that didn’t last long. After she went to a few sessions, she had to stop. Her dreams with Harold were getting ridiculous. She was having them almost every night.
But ever since she stopped seeing Dr. Naviello, Harold had vanished.
It was a miracle. The longest she had ever gone without him. It—
Joe pulled up his pants and threw open the door in time to see Gladys rip the covers from her legs.
He ran to her but stopped and backed away.
Even in the slim light, he saw that her eyes were piss yellow. She screamed.
Joe watched her shaking foot and saw her middle toe flip down freakishly as if it were broken. He nearly vomited. A crevice went from her cracked toe to her knee. And then, in one sick motion, her leg split apart like a giant mouth. Joe ran back into the bathroom. He slammed the door behind him and locked it.
Gladys screamed. Joe covered his ears.
“Oh, my God!” She shouted, “Oh, my God! Joeeeey!”
The bed posts banged against the wall in the other room and Joe stared at the door. He pawed the sink and stumbled across the small space. He slumped into the bathtub.
There was a tearing noise, like ripping paper and then, footsteps.
They were loud and heavy and they came to the foot of the bathroom door. Joe held his breath. He stared through the crazy shapes made by the shower’s glass door and waited until he couldn’t take it anymore. But when he stood up, the footsteps began to walk away down the stairs. He closed his eyes and heard the front door slam. He let out a sigh of relief but also cried.
He let her die.
And Harold was real.
He stood back up and crept out of the bath tub. He cracked open the door and on the other side was a single, jaundiced eye, staring back at him.
Joe tried to close the door, but it swung open. Joe screamed, and the tall, black man with the pockmarks screamed with him. With Harold’s mouth wide open, his tongue, a long, red centipede, leapt out of his face and flew into Joe’s mouth. He felt it scrambling around his tongue. It clawed at his teeth and stung his gums. He couldn’t breathe as he fell backward into the glass shower door and banged his head. The last thing he heard was the sound of Harold coughing.
I’m tired. So, so tired.
I hope that poor girl’s alright. The last time I saw her alive she was only a babe. Her father was so nice to me. I worked for him for over 14 years, driving him around the city. He was a good man. Everybody cried at his funeral. And he loved that girl of his. He used to show me pictures of her sometimes. She had such beautiful hair. It was blond.
The afterlife is cold and endless. The stars are close here and they sparkle like diamonds. I wonder if they’re angels. They gotta be something. They can’t just be stars. I won’t allow myself to believe they’re just stars. Not after being stuck in that poor girl’s body for all those years. That damn centipede. It jumped in my mouth and followed me into the afterlife. It brought me to the girl. I don’t know why or how, but it did, and it wouldn’t let me leave. Not until it was ready. And it wasn’t ready for years.
But you want to know the strangest thing about all of this? I actually miss him. I’m happy that I’m free of him, as you didn’t feel like yourself with him in you, but at least he provided me with company.
Now, I’m all alone.
And I can’t get that boy’s eyes out of my head. He looked like he saw a ghost. And I guess that’s what I was to him.
I sure as hell wasn’t a man anymore. Hadn’t been a man in years. Decades, even. Who knows how long?
God, it’s cold out here. I thought it would be warmer. It was a hell of lot warmer in that poor girl’s legs. But it was tighter, too. I couldn’t breathe. Not ever. It was hell.
All the same, I sure hope she’s okay.
I didn’t mean to hurt her.
It was that damned centipede. I wonder where he is now.
I kind of miss him.
Gladys lay in a hospital bed. Her lower body was beneath covers.
She shifted and groaned. A heart monitor beeped by her bed. She didn’t know where she was.
As her eyes fluttered open, the area spread apart in front of her like fog drifting. Behind her right eye, she saw what looked like a man looking at her. He felt like Harold but he looked like Joe. He stood with his hands in his pockets, watching her.
“Good morning,” a woman said. Gladys wiped her face.
The nurse offered a small, feigned smile and walked by her bedside.
“You had an accident….with your legs. How are you feeling?”
Gladys shifted and squirmed. Her back itched and her legs were numb. But…she felt different for some reason. Like she just threw up and was completely empty. It was a refreshing feeling, invigorating.
“I feel dizzy,” Gladys said.
“That’s normal. Are you in pain?”
“Yes. My legs.”
The nurse chewed her lower lip.
“Well, there’s a morphine button by your bedside.”
Gladys padded around until she found it and tapped it a few times.
“I don’t feel anything.”
“Give it time. You will. I’ll be back within the hour to turn you over. I’m going to need assistance.”
Gladys nodded and blinked. The warm embrace of sleep returned to her. She lay her head against the pillow and saw Joe again. He had his head down and looked sad. He opened his mouth and the centipede wiggled between his lips, just as it had with Harold.
Just as it had with Harold.
And that was the last she ever saw of the centipede. It was the last she ever saw of Joe, too.
For the remainder of that day, she slept.
And she didn’t have any more dreams.