Hollow as a Jack-o’-Lantern
By Melissa L. Webb
“I think I’m coming down with a virus, or something,” Tim said to his wife as he walked into the kitchen.
She glanced over at him. “Are you okay?”
He nodded, pulling a chair out from the table. He sat down slowly, his muscles burning from the strain. “I don’t feel well, Mary. I was up all night.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t offer this to you.” she said, sliding a plate of food in front of him.
Tim shoved the plate away as his stomach protested the sight. “I can’t eat it.”
Mary reached out a hand, placing it on his forehead. “You’re burning up. You should stay home today.”
“No,” he said, shrugging off her hand. “I have that meeting. I have to go.” He stood up, giving his wife a week smile. “I’ll see you later.”
Tim sat at his desk, staring blankly at the paperwork in front of him. It was pointless; all his mind would focus on was the gnawing ache in his stomach.
He took a deep breath as pain flowed in waves. “What is wrong with me?” he muttered, mopping sweat from his brow.
He felt something somersault in his gut. His eyes widened in disbelief as it wiggled deep inside of him, causing fire to engulf his abdomen.
He stood up, grabbing his desk for support. Something was wrong. A virus didn’t make you feel like this.
Tim took a deep breath as the pain subsided and grabbed his coat. He needed to see a doctor.
“Tim, buddy, are you going somewhere?”
He turned to see his boss standing in the doorway. “Yeah, Carl. I’m not feeling well,” he told him, scooping up his briefcase and keys. “I think I’m going to head home.”
Carl stepped forward. “You can’t. The meeting’s starting and I need you there.”
“I can’t. I really have to go.”
“Please,” he said, placing a hand on Tim’s arm. “Do this for me. Give me twenty minutes and then you can go. Hell, you can even have tomorrow off. Just don’t bail on me now, okay?”
Tim frowned but set his stuff down. “Okay, twenty minutes. After that, I’m gone.”
A smile spread across Carl’s face. “Thanks, pal. I owe you,” he said, relieved as he turned and walked down the hall.
Tim followed him into the conference room and took a seat. The pain had dwindled into a dull ache and the slithering sensation was gone. Maybe he could wait 20 minutes.
Other people started to trickle in and the meeting got under way. Tim sat there listening to the others as he tried not to focus on his stomach. He knew whatever it was; it was nowhere as bad as what his imagination was trying to tell him. The meeting was the only thing that mattered at the moment.
One of the Senior VP’s turned and looked at Tim. “So, Tim, tell me, where do we stand with the Honeycutt account?”
He took a deep breath and looked around the room. “Well, I believe we’re looking good on it. The figures are close to what we projected and I don’t think….” His words cut off as another spasm rocked his abdomen. His hand flew to his mouth as he tried to catch his breath.
“Tim, are you okay?” Carl asked, concerned.
He couldn’t respond. He couldn’t do anything. It felt as if his whole body was frozen.
“Is that blood?” someone screamed from across the room.
“It is,” Carl gasped, standing up. “Tim, are you okay?”
Tim’s body relaxed and he could breathe once more. He brought his hand away from his mouth and gasped in horror. His palm was covered in blood.
“It’s dripping from your eyes and nose too,” a man on Tim’s left spoke softly.
“Someone call 911,” Carl shouted, finally coming out of his shock.
“No, no,” Tim said, jumping from his chair. “I need to go.” He sprinted out of the room and down the hall.
He sat on the bathroom floor of his house, a bottle of water in his hands. He’d cleaned up and the pain was back down to a slight ache. He was waiting for Mary to come home from work. She would know what to do. She always did.
He brought the water to his lips, but before he could draw the water into his mouth, the twisting pain in his gut took hold once more. His stomach slithered upward and he leaned over, retching into the ceramic bowl.
Blackish bile poured from him violently. The oily substance kept coming until he was sure every last bit of him was now in the toilet.
He fell backwards as pain seized control of his body. It twisted and danced on its own as if he was in some deep stage of a seizure. His limbs flailed around him, contorting in ways that seemed humanly impossible.
His fingers bent backwards, twisting like snakes and started pulling at his skin. It was as if the bones themselves wanted out of their fleshy prison.
Tim screamed as his legs bent backwards, his feet kicking out at his tormented stomach.
“No, please. Stop,” he screamed, his voice growing horse. He kept on screaming until the world faded to black around him.
“Tim, wake up. What are you doing on the floor?”
He raised his head from the cold tile, his cheek sticking where saliva pooled. He stared up into worried eyes. “Mary?”
“Are you all right?” she asked, grabbing his arm.
He let her help him to his feet and looked down at himself. He looked okay. Nothing was bent in some unnatural way. “I…think so.”
“What were you doing on the floor?” Mary asked, concern still clouding her eyes.
“I don’t feel good, Mary.”
She took his arm and led him into the bedroom. “Let’s get you into bed. You need rest.”
He didn’t have any strength left to fight her.
She pulled the covers around him as she felt his forehead. “You’re burning up. I’ll get you a cold wash cloth.” She leaned down and kissed his forehead. “Don’t worry. Just sleep, my love.”
“Okay,” Tim muttered. Maybe everything in the bathroom was only a fever dream. He’d sleep for a day and then be back to his old self.
She leaned back, staring down at her husband. Her eyes widened in shock.
“What is it, Mary?”
She shook her head. “Nothing,” she told him, heading for the door. “I must be coming down with a fever too.” She let out a little laugh as she went through the door. “For a second, I could have sworn there was a pair of red eyes looking at me from the back of your throat.”
Tim awoke to a light pain in his stomach. He looked around at the darkness in the room. Faintly, he could see Mary asleep in the bed next to him. He didn’t want to wake her over nothing.
He got up slowly from the bed and headed out of the room. The pain was so slight he figured he could walk it out this time.
He headed downstairs to the kitchen, realizing he hadn’t eaten anything in the past twenty-four hours. It was nothing more than hunger and a little milk might do the trick.
He reached for the refrigerator door. As he did, his hand bent backwards and pulled at his shirt, ripping material from his body.
Tim clawed frantically at it with his other hand, but it was useless. He lost control and found himself lying on the kitchen floor, his body contorting uncontrollably as the pain tore through him. His organs jerked against his skin.
The pain swelled like the last few bars of a symphony. His body twisted and contorted until he thought he’d die right there or succumb to the insanity of the situation.
The fire inside him ripped through his guts, causing an intense urge to vomit.
He crawled to his knees as best as he could and heaved, more black sludge pouring from him. It pooled around his body as it kept coming.
Something caught in Tim’s throat. It felt as solid as a cement block. He couldn’t breathe. Whatever it was, it was going to kill him.
He clawed at his throat, his nails leaving bloody gouges along his already tender skin. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t dislodge it.
His vision swam before him as the lack of oxygen reached his brain. Darkness crept in from the edge of his vision. He was going to pass out and die in a puddle of his own vomit.
The blockage squirmed, pulling itself up.
A soft popping sound came from inside his throat causing him to breathe again. He sucked in air even as the thing crawled higher. As it did, it triggered his gag reflex. He vomited out a squishy pink mass of flesh.
He didn’t care what it was as long as it was out of him. Air slipped back in his lungs as he realized he was pain free, but as he lay on the cool kitchen floor, he realized he felt empty. His insides felt as hollow as a jack-o’-lantern’s, scooped out and tossed aside.
There was a crunching noise in front of him, like bones snapping.
Tim opened his eyes and stared in horror as the mass pulsated and grew. It rose up on two legs off the floor and turned to look at him, his own face staring back at him.
“Thank you for hosting me,” the creature who looked like Tim said.
“Thanks? You were inside me. You used my body as your own,” he cried in shock at the reality of what happened.
It blinked as it looked down at him. “Births are often a painful transition.”
Tim felt tears in his eyes. “What are you?”
It tilted its head as it knelt in front of him. “I am the future and we are more common than you think,” it said, eyes flashing red. Slowly it smiled, showing jagged teeth. “Now, I must feed.”
He didn’t even have time to scream as his doppelganger ripped into his ruined flesh.
© 2015 Melissa L. Webb