T J Price
You catch yourself staring off into the distance.
You’re not really thinking of anything in particular. The last thought you had was something involving needing to get up, an urge to motion that has now gone queerly still inside of you.
You wonder why this is, passively. You’ve always been the sort of person to whom things happen, rather than the kind of person that takes action, and you think that maybe that’s it. Perhaps your desire to move at all just finally stopped.
The sun is almost directly overhead, and absolutely everything is hot to the touch, is impressionable; feels as though it will melt away if the slightest amount of pressure is applied, like putty.
It seems that your eyes can still move; can flick from left to right, up and down. Even the insistent, irritating buzz of the phone in your pocket is not enough to rouse you from this strange pause.
The air is thick and heavy, saturated with humidity. To pull it into your lungs is a chore, and you willfully hold your breath to see how long you can go without inhaling. The amount of time surprises you — it’s as though you’ve somehow learned how not to breathe. After a while, it’s less that you’re holding your breath and more that you’re simply not breathing.
It occurs to you, now, that this might be a dream. Everything is covered in a light sheen, curtained in a diaphanous haze. You can see each individual drop of moisture on the iron rails of your bench, on each blade of grass in the park.
Other things move, are in motion. You can see a black bird of some variety, nearly iridescent. Its pale blue eye is fixed on you. It’s ambling closer.
You really wish that you’d worn something a little more breathable. You’re in khakis and a plain blue button-down shirt. You look like you’re dressed for your own wake.
Out of curiosity, you try to lift your left hand. You can see where it lays, pudgy and fleshy, a white-pink lump, quiescent, on your thigh. You communicate with your brain to your fingers, to your pinky, to twitch, to spasm, but nothing happens.
You relax. Contemplate. It doesn’t disturb you that the connection between your brain and your hand has been, somehow, mysteriously severed. If anything, it’s more of a detached curiosity that you feel.
The black bird is hopping closer. It seems to have zeroed in on you as a target, as has a particularly plump black fly. The fly zithers around your head for a few passes, then lands on your cheekbone, rubbing its forelegs together greedily. You can just barely see it by rotating your eyes down in their sockets — it registers as a smear of shiny, oil-slick black and a blur of transparent wings.
You feel a headache starting to bubble underneath the skin of your forehead, like a straining sensation; something pulling away from something else. It rises in intensity like a wave, cresting, before falling away a murmuring echo of itself. You’d pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger to make it cease, if you could, but you can’t. You’d grit your teeth, but your jaw is unpleasantly slack.
The fly is crawling down your face, beyond where you can see, but you can still feel it as it makes its way towards your upper lip, like a travelling itch that you’re unable to scratch or swat away. It encounters the bristle of your mustache, and pauses, as if in thought. A moment passes. The wind desultorily lifts, providing a brief, sweet solace to the intense pressure of the humidity, tickling across the skin of your face and hands.
Your scuffed wingtips are pointing to opposite directions, you notice idly, and there’s a few cigarette butts, stubbed out on the concrete. You have yet to see another person, you think to yourself, and the belief that this is just a dream strengthens.
The only problem is that you’ve never had a dream this intensely rooted in sensation. That, and the fly is creeping over your upper lip now, is investigating with caution the wet, dim hollow of your open mouth. You feel its bristled forelegs palpating the soft, ridged surface of your palate as it navigates the ridge of your teeth.
The listless which characterized the initial process of the dream is fled now, burned off like mist. You will your brain to engage the masseter muscles and clamp your mouth shut, so that you can spit out the invader, but your traitorous body refuses to obey.
The fly is moving swiftly now, towards the back of your mouth. It hesitantly brushes against the dangle of your uvula, and you feel your gag reflex begin to engage.
The blue-eyed bird is tilting its head at you. It opens its mouth to caw, but instead emits no sound. You feel vaguely threatened, as though the bird is expecting to be fed, and you know have nothing to feed it. It is much closer now.
The fly is stuck to the back of your throat, now, and is fluttering its wings in deathly fear. You can hear its buzz coming out of your mouth, as though your voice has been replaced by the electric, insectile hum. The tickle against the mucosal membrane of your pharynx is stimulating the hairs in your nose. You feel as though your entire self is knotting up, and you are elated to feel the sneeze building, building …
And then it dies, just like the hot wind as it expires around a corner.
The fly unsticks itself and takes another step down inside of you, its noise vanishing in the close, slick quarters of your esophagus.
The sensation isn’t so bad, anymore. It’s a little like having something stuck in your throat, a frog you can’t cough out. It’s the knowledge that’s worse — that there is something making its slow, determined way down into the secret, dark interior of your body, its mouthparts moving and its bristled, hairy body squirming.
You are desperately trying to think of something — anything — to take your mind off of the fly in your throat.
Memory is something you can still access. You fight to remember the morning: waking up, throwing the sheets back in your cool, air-conditioned bedroom. Driving to the office. Arriving at your office. Shrugging on your white lab coat, the one with your name embroidered in blue thread over the chest pocket:
Dr. Murray T. Spiegel, MD
You race through the number of patients you’d seen that morning. Their symptoms, their complaints, were always the same. Ear infections, rashes, coughs. You remember the uncannily fixed gaze of one child, whose mother had brought him in, with the complaint of a stomachache. No matter how much you had tried to engage him, even going so far as to stretch your face out into grotesqueries, the child had remained staring at the far wall, as blank as parchment.
“He’s just like that,” apologized the mother, who had been a frowsy sort of middle-aged woman, brow knit permanently in either a look of consternation or surprise. “Not all the time, but once he gets locked in, you just can’t shake him out of it.”
You had nodded, and performed the perfunctory examination, assuming that the child, whose name was Adam, suffered from some sort of autism. You can still remember how cold, how clammy Adam’s flesh was to the touch, especially compared to the warm, enveloping handshake of his mother, all ruddy and flushing with distraction.
He continued to evince nothing but a stony lack of expression until the very end. “Probably just something you ate,” you proclaimed as diagnosis. Idiopathic gastritis, you thought to yourself in the sclerotic lingo of medical parlance.
Adam’s eyes suddenly flicked to your own. They were a pale blue that almost disappeared into the whites of his sclera, and his pupil was pulsing, you thought, meanly. As he met your gaze, electricity lit down your spine, leaping from vertebra to vertebra, and you felt keenly the scalpel-like chill of the air conditioning.
How you long to feel that cool, razoring touch now, sloughing off the sweat and the heat. The repulsive sunlight seems to cook your flesh as you sit there, immobile, your thoughts hammering at the insides of your skull.
You try again to convince yourself that it’s all a dream and fail. The black bird is now at your feet, mouth still gaping. You can see into its gullet, past its vile, white-splotched tongue. The tube of its throat is pulsating eagerly, the same rhythm as Adam’s pupils, back in the icebox memory of your office. It seems to be saying
The veil of madness is starting to drape lazily over your brain. If you could laugh, you would titter, like the sound of a china cup rattling on its saucer. Every muscle of your body would seize at once. Maybe you just need a jump-start, you think wildly, and imagine someone hooking up cables to your still hands. There would be one red one and one black one, connected across the sidewalk to the idling purr of a big black car, its tinted windows drawn tightly shut against the swelter of the day.
There would be a short, sharp, shock as your heart seizes, and then maybe your eyes would close. How you wish so badly for your eyes to close.
You become suddenly aware of the fly’s motions inside of you again. It has reached the hiatal region of your esophagus, and it is burrowing. You feel searing pain all the way up into the roof of your mouth, as though the track of its passage has been illuminated in neon red.
Inside of your own mind, there is a gigantic shattering. You see it as a plate-glass window, like the ones they install on skyscrapers, exploding inward as if shot by a bullet, and there is an endless, prismatic rain of fragments in your mind.
Then the burrowing ceases, and the insertion begins.
T. J. Price writes primarily weird fiction that either leans on the shoulder of horror or outright grabs it by the hand, but he also writes poetry and has a novel in a drawer.