I woke to a burning pain in my arm. My forearm was bright red by then and scored with dozens of white lines from my fingernails. There were spots of blood on my arm that resembled a grisly dot-to-dot puzzle. My arm was throbbing and itching.
Idly scratching, I scanned the room. A dull yellow glow from a single bulb hanging from an unfinished ceiling was the only light. Thick shadows hunkered down in the corners like silent guardians. I was in a bedroom in a basement but not my room. I was in a strange bed but not mine.
I felt dizzy and my stomach was aching.
Dirt was scattered all over my sheets and my bare feet here blackened by mud up to the ankles, as if I were wearing a pair of black shoes. The walls were gray cinderblocks and the floor covered with peeling cracked paint, revealing a brick-colored surface underneath. There was nothing else in the room. Just this bed.
It was musty.
“Hello?” I called out.
I resumed scratching my arm. The skin was hot. I could feel my heart beat thudding in my head.
No one answered my cry. I turned and put my feet down on the cold floor. I noticed a wooden staircase leading up to a closed door; a bright line blazed from under the door.
Where am I?
I looked down at my arm and realized it was bleeding pretty badly. Blood was smeared all over the tips of my fingers and running down my nails. There was blood on the sheets. I didn’t know what the hell was making me itch so.
I stood up, stumbled to the bottom of the staircase, and stared up at the door. The room shifted slightly and I felt light-headed. I yelled up again but heard nothing from beyond the door.
I cradled my arm against my chest and kept rubbing it as I started up the steps.
My feet started burning and I looked down at my dirty feet. They were bright red and I could see veins straining and pulsing. They hurt. What was happening to me? I had to sit down right there on the stairs to itch my feet.
“Somebody up there!?” I screamed. I was confused and becoming increasingly panicked. I wasn’t sure if my fear was from the relentless itching or waking up in a strange basement.
Who am I? The thought stopped my hands from itching for a moment. I realized I couldn’t remember my name. Or where I lived. My brain was blank.
My arm exploded in pain and I cried out loudly. I decided I needed to get to a doctor fast, and then I could sort out my identity later. I looked down at my arm and the skin was slathered with blood, like a poorly painted fence post. It was smeared all over my chest where I had been holding my arm. There was even blood on the steps and more drawn on the wall like drunken hieroglyphs.
However, it wasn’t the horrifying presence of so much blood that freaked me out.
There were tiny black spots in the blood, like seeds on a strawberry. Except the seeds were wiggling. Like they were swimming.
I could feel the tiny things crawling in my hair and between my fingers.
I scrubbed the back of my neck with my fingernails but found no relief. I couldn’t take the itching and I started rubbing my entire back against the chilly wall.
They bitty bugs were tickling my eyelids and sliding down my eyelashes. Tiptoeing in the grooves of my ears. Dancing in my armpits and belly button.
The black dots were moving about and multiplying. The black was eating my blood. Hungry little beasts. I was turning black and the blood was disappearing.
Across the room, there was a bed that looked as if it were rocking and swaying like a boat on rough seas. The bed looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t place it. Was it my bed? My neck was bleeding and the black things were streaming down my side. The stairs started to shift and became fuzzy. I tried to stand but slipped and fell to the cold concrete floor.
How did I get down here on these stairs?
The black things were connecting and swarming, like a forming thundercloud. Gathering size and taking shape. I huddled into the corner of the basement, cowering and holding my hands up to my face.
The itch had fled along with all the creepy-crawly black things but I was too weak to care.
My eyes were nearly swollen shut from the frenzied creatures and obsessive itching that I could barely see as I peeked through my hands, but a solid blackness was hovering in front of me like a cobra waiting to strike.
From behind the dark shape, I saw a brilliant light shine down and thought I was dead until I realized it was the door opening at the top of the steps.
I stretched out my hand toward the light, but the weight of my arm was too great and the limb slapped down onto my leg. Help me, I begged and felt my lips move but nothing came out.
The black conglomeration towering over me and abruptly slammed into my body. In my head, it sounded like a train roaring by. I felt a gust of wind as the millions of tiny black monsters re-invaded my body.
My head cracked against the wall behind me.
My black eyes flipped open. I stood up, naked, and feeling refreshed.
I was reborn.
I examined my new body and was satisfied with their choice. Young and healthy.
I mounted the stairs, just as I had done a thousand times before, and warmly greeted my friends waiting at the top. I could see all the happy smiles peeking from the shadows of their red hoods.
Copyright 2011 Erik Gustafson