“Skreeeeeee!” My brakes squealed as they slid along the slick road. The rain had turned the roads into a slip n’ slide from hell. My high beams illuminated the bridge’s wall and before I even realized what had happened, my car crashed through and over the guardrail.
Airborne, I didn’t even scream. What could I do? Nothing. Just sat there as time slowed and the murky, black abyss of the Hornsdale river danced beneath my falling headlights. The impact shook me in my seat, but at least I was alive. Unfortunately I was also conscious. As the water began to rise and my car sank, I realized just how awful a death this would be.
As I stared out the window, looking at the full moon for the very last time, I realized just how avoidable this could have been. I had been stupid. Driving far over the speed limit. Reckless. Thoughtless. The water was already halfway up my window. It pooled around my ankles. I kept staring. I thought about her. I wanted that to be my last memory. I wanted to be thinking of her, before we were reunited..
No. Not yet.
I began pounding on the window, it cracked but stood firm. I kept pounding until blood splashed against the cracked glass. Still I went until finally, thankfully, it gave way. Water flooded in as I clambered my way through the broken glass. I swam from the wreck, quickly, and didn’t look back until I reached the river’s shore. In the distance, sirens broke the steady stream of falling rain.
“Doctor, please, I’m beggin ya.”
“I’m sorry Gerry but it just doesn’t make sense.” Doctor Anderson stood opposite me, leaning against a white wash wall in the small confines of this sterile hospital room.
He was an older guy, early sixties or so, with hair that matched the walls to a T. He had been my doctor for close to a decade now and we knew each other quite well. I myself sat on one of those awkward benches they always put you on. The kind with the crinkling paper under your ass. You could just never get even mildly comfortable on those things.
“Your accident was over a month ago. The EMTs checked you out, even brought you to the hospital for a full evaluation, but miraculously, you escaped without a scratch. Aside from your hand of course, but that was self inflicted.”
He sighed as I inspected my hand. It had healed pretty well. A couple faint scars marked my knuckles where the glass had sliced it open, but other than that it was perfectly fine now.
“Doc, these headaches are killing me. I’ve had to leave work twice this week because I couldn’t bear it anymore. They wake me up in the middle of the night and leave me in complete agony.”
“I just don’t know what to tell you Gerry. You don’t show any signs of a concussion, internal bleeding, or anything that would be associated with such horrible headaches. Considering you have no history of migraines or anything of the sort, I’m just as confused as you are.”
My head fell in dismay, I wasn’t lying, and he knew that. Doctor Anderson knew I wasn’t a crazed drug addict or that I was strapped for cash, so I wasn’t a prospective dealer. I think that’s why he took pity on me.
“Alright look, we have this new drug we’ve been trying lately. It’s called Phorcelanol. It’s a pain killer so it should take the edge off of those headaches. That’s the best I can offer.”
I smiled, “Sounds great Doc, I’ll try anything at this point.”
I stood up and gathered my jacket as Doctor Anderson filled out a prescription pad.
“Take this to Gloria at the front desk, she’ll send it to your usual CVS and you can pick up the prescription sometime tomorrow.”
I nodded, shook his hand, and closed the door with a simple, “Thanks Doc.”
The next day, after picking up my new pills, I headed home. It was a bright, warm, sunny, North Carolina weekend. The rain had stopped around Thursday but the sun hadn’t shown up until this morning, leaving Friday cold and cloudy. I had plenty of yard work to do, something I actually enjoyed on the weekends.
As I pulled up to the 80’s style ranch I had purchased less than a year ago, I sighed. As much as I liked working on the house and surrounding rectangle of green, it never seemed like enough. I bought it as a mild fixer upper, perfectly inhabitable, but still needed some love and care. At the time I wanted a project, something to keep my mind off of the recent and very ugly divorce.
Now, I realized just how in over my head I was.
I took a final look in my rear view mirror before I got out of the car. Soft, blue eyes stared back at a man with smoke black hair, peppered with new grey. He had a thin beard of stubble and skin somewhere between spring and dead of summer tan. A pretty big guy, a little over six feet, but not intimidating. I usually made it to the gym several times a week, but I wasn’t ripped like the young guys. I sighed, for a 34 year old I was looking worse for the wear.
I walked through the front door and climbed the short staircase to the kitchen. Filling up a glass of water at the sink, I retrieved the pill bottle from my jacket pocket and unscrewed the cap. A red, triangular but round edged, pill fell into my open hand with a simple white P on the front.
“Hmm Phorcelanol. Well, let’s hope you’re worth it.”
Over the past year I had started talking to myself more and more. Nothing creepy, I wasn’t insane, but that’s just what happens when a man goes from living in a house with a family of three, to being completely and utterly alone.
I popped the pill in my mouth and swallowed it with a single swig of water. I placed my glass in the sink, changed into some old, well worn, work out clothes and headed out the back door.
The task for today was clearing the weeds and thorns that had more or less conquered what was once, I think, a garden. As I went to work with the shears, snipping and removing the weeds and thorns that plagued my yard, I brushed up against a single vine of thorns and immediately pain shot through my arm.
I looked down and to my horror found my arm covered in massive, blood smeared, thorns. The pain was excruciating as I let out a howl of agony.
My neighbor, who had also been working in his yard at the time, came running over at the sound of my cry. He hopped the small stone wall that separated our yards and made a beeline for me.
“Gerry what the hell is wrong?”
“M-my ar-” I struggled through gritted teeth.
My neighbor looked down at the arm in question for a long second before staring at me quizzically.
“What are you talking about Gerry? What’s wrong with your arm? Did you break it or something?”
I couldn’t believe this guy. Did he think this was some sort of sick joke? Could he not see my blood covered arm with the three inch thorns protruding from it? Could he not se-
What the hell?
I stared at my arm and simply blinked.
They were gone. The thorns were gone. Not a trace of blood. I spotted a single, miniscule thorn sticking out of my forearm and simply plucked it out without even a hint of pain or drop of blood.
“Gerry, what’s wrong? You don’t look so good.”
I simply sat there, speechless.
My neighbor helped me to my feet as I muttered some sort of thank you and walked back to my house in a daze. Back inside I simply collapsed on my couch and eventually fell asleep.
The sun shone through my open windows all too early the next morning. I had slept soundlessly, exhausted from the previous day’s event. I figured my best bet was to shrug it off, as if nothing had happened and it had all been some sick dream. That was the sane thing to do, right? Or maybe it was the insane thing to do.
Regardless, it was early and I still had plenty of time to get changed and make it to ten o’clock mass at St. Michael’s. I was never much of a spiritual man. In fact I had only started going to church for Rachel, my then wife. She had grown up in a Catholic family and wanted Grace, our daughter, to be raised the same way. Naturally, to make her happy, I consented. Even though the two of them were gone now, I still found myself in the hard wooden pews of St. Michael’s any Sunday I wasn’t busy.
I guess old habits die hard.
As I adjusted my tie in the mirror, I looked at myself again, “Not too shabby Gerry, not too shabby at all. Maybe it’s time to take a stab at dating again.”
Talking to myself again, old habits really do die hard.
Of course I would never try dating, at least that’s how I’ve felt ever since and don’t plan on changing anytime soon. Anyway, I picked my blazer up off the bed and headed out the bedroom door when my head began to throb. I grunted in pain and held my temples, willing it to go away.
After a long minute I realized it wasn’t going anywhere and stumbled towards the kitchen where the pills sat on my counter from the day before. I fumbled with the lid before shakingly pulling out a single pill and dry swallowing it. I wanted the pain to go away so quickly I didn’t even bother getting a glass of water.
Finally, after about five minutes or so, the meds began to take the edge off of my headache and I could function again. I rose from my kitchen chair and patted my pockets as
I usually did, “Keys, keys, keys. Where are those damned keys?”
I walked through the archway that separated my kitchen from my living room and saw them resting on the arm of the couch. Not exactly where they were “supposed” to be, but then again they never were. As I reached for them, the phone began to ring in the kitchen. It startled me and I turned abruptly only to hit my left knee against the coffee table and crumple to the ground like a sack of rocks.
I started to get up when my left leg unexpectedly gave out and I fell down once again. I looked and to my horror found everything from my left knee cap down missing. It was simply gone. Blood oozed out onto the hardwood floors and for a brief second I thought I could see a trace of sickly white bone. I turned away, nearly vomiting as the pain rose up. The phone continued to ring in the next room.
I had to get to it. Had to call for help. Had to get someone to stop this bleeding. What the hell had happened? It was just the coffee table? My god this fucking hurt. As I crawled towards the kitchen, one agonizing inch at a time, my vision began to blur and darken.
Oh god, please no.
If I blacked out now, I was a goner for sure.
I looked up. There it was, my saving grace. My ancient, corded telephone, strapped to the kitchen wall. I had missed the original phone call but managed to weakly pull on the dangling cord. The phone clattered to the ground as I reached up and somehow dialed three very important numbers.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“There’s been an accident. Send an ambulance immediately. My le-”
I blinked in utter disbelief.
Where my leg once hadn’t been, it now was.
In place of the bleeding, bloody stump, was a perfectly functional leg with a simple, fresh, bruise.
“Sir? Sir? Hello?”
“Uh..n-nevermind.” I stammered, having completely forgotten about the operator on the other end.
“Sir, prank calling 911 is not funny. It is a federal crime an-”
I’m sure whatever she had to say was actually very important but I never got to hear it as I hung up the phone and pulled myself up to my feet.
My fingers plucked away nervously at the old desktop that sat in the lower level of my house. I sat completely in the dark, with only the light from the monitor illuminating my face. Finally, after several Google searches, I found it.
“Phorcelanol, a mild pain reliever, yadda yadda yadda.”
I continued scrolling.
I mumbled quietly to myself as I read, “Side effects may include depression, suicidal thoughts, nausea, fatigue, and lack of sleep. In severe cases, it may lead to liver damage, hallucinations, and even death. Consult a doctor before use.”
I sat in my computer chair, staring at the monitor in absolute silence. Well there it was, a side effect of the medication, that’s all. Still, in the back of my mind something just didn’t add up. Regardless, I wasn’t in the mood to worry about it.
I decided to skip church and just lay in bed for the rest of the day.
I hadn’t taken Phorcelanol in a week and as a result, had been perfectly fine. My headaches had come, but in weak and manageable doses.
It wasn’t until I went to bed Sunday night that everything went to hell yet again. As I lay in bed, trying to convince myself that this headache was manageable and I could just wait it out, I succumbed to the temptation of immediate relief. I was exhausted and just wanted to fall asleep.
I took the pill bottle out of my night table drawer (where I had put it last Sunday), and walked into the bathroom. Placing the pill in my mouth, I bent over and took a swig of water from the faucet before returning to bed. Almost immediately, I was asleep.
Almost immediately, the nightmare began.
I had had this nightmare before, it had plagued me for the past year and a half. My four year old daughter happily splashing in the bathtub as I washed her and played with the toys that floated around her. Grace was as beautiful as I remembered every time I had the dream. She had her father’s eyes and mother’s straight, blonde hair.
Rachel had worked late that night and so I had been given bath duty. In the nightmare, I could see it all from a bird’s eye view. Grace splashing, me washing her, the phone ringing in the kitchen. I watched myself get up to go answer it. I watched as my dream self stepped into the kitchen and picked up the phone. I watched as Grace slipped unnaturally under the water.
I remembered clearly what happened after that, I didn’t even have to watch. No one was on the phone, just some freak breathing heavily on the other line. I remember returning to the bathroom, ready to take Grace out and finding her motionless body under the warm water. I called 911, tried to resuscitate her. Nothing worked.
About a month later my marriage fell apart and Rachel left me. She always said she never blamed me, but I knew she did.
Of course, the nightmare never showed all that. It always ended with me crying over Grace’s lifeless body. This time however, Grace sat up. Instead of looking at my dream self though, she seemed to stare directly at me as I observed all that was going on.
“Daddy didn’t pay attention to me. Daddy, you were bad.”
I jolted upright in bed, breathing heavily and sweating profusely.
“It was just a dream, just a crazy, fucked up dream. Just a dream. Just a dream. Just a dream. Just a-”
Out of the corner of my eye I could see a small figure standing just in the edge of my doorway before quickly darting around the corner towards the kitchen and living room.
WHAT IN GOD ALMIGHTY WAS THAT?!?!
I jumped out of bed, trying to follow whatever that was. In the recesses of my mind I knew this was the exact opposite of what anyone was supposed to do in any horror movie ever, but after that whole nightmare I wasn’t exactly thinking properly.
I searched my house for the next four hours. I tore it apart to no avail. Finally, I retired to my bed, convinced it was just the pills again and promised myself to visit Doctor Anderson tomorrow.
It was eight in the morning when I strode through the glass doors of Doctor Anderson’s office. Gloria greeted me with a smile, “Hi Gerry, do you have an appointment today?”
“No, but it’s an emergency, I need to talk to him right now.”
I think she could tell I was distressed and that’s why she only smiled politely before saying, “He just arrived. He’s in the back.”
I thanked her and made my way towards his office.
I’m not crazy, it’s just these pills, just these pills that are making me see things, once I get this all straightened out and put on a different medication I’ll be fine, everything will go back to normal and it’ll all be ok again, I have nothing to worry about, Doctor Anderson will straighten everything out.
I stepped into Doctor Anderson’s personal office without so much as a knock.
He was startled to see me, “Gerry, um, hello. I had no idea you were coming in today. Is everything ok?”
I stood there, staring at him for a moment, trying to find words.
“I need new meds Doc.”
I could hear my voice crack. Sweat trickled down from my forehead as I swallowed spit and bile before continuing, “These pills, this Phorcelanol is messing with me. The hallucination side effect is in full gear. I’ve been seeing…things, terrible, terrible things. I can’t take it anymore Doctor.”
“Gerry slow down, just slow down.”
I fell silent, as did he. Doctor Anderson looked down at his desk before taking a deep breath and locking eyes with me. He looked…sad. Something told me that whatever he had to say next wasn’t going to be good.
“Gerry, all your tests came back negative. There were no abnormalities in your brain function, no concussion, and your MRI results were perfectly normal. That’s why,”
He took a deep breath that seemed to last a full minute.
“That’s why I gave you placebos.”
I couldn’t speak, I just stared at him.
“W-what did you say?” I finally managed.
From behind me, in the doorway of Doctor Anderson’s office I could hear a little girl’s giggle. I turned just in time to see a small figure standing the doorway.
She had her mother’s hair and her father’s eyes.
“It’s time for my bath, Daddy.”