The stabbing pain behind my eyes pierced my brain like frozen spears. The painkillers were a joke. Take two every four hours. Do not exceed the dose. Blah blah blah. After three days my living room floor was a waste ground of crumpled boxes and cracked squares of white and silver popped tablet holsters.
Sleep has eluded me ever since I saw the footsteps.
When I closed my eyes to block out the light I saw them still, climbing the walls, leaving their icy white prints everywhere. I had to write this down to keep my sanity from slipping. I needed proof. Proof I wasn’t insane. Who would have guessed that a guy like me would wind up like this? Reduced to a smelly, unshaven mess of nerves and fear.
I haven’t looked at myself in the mirror since yesterday.
Once was enough.
That first night when they appeared on the wall behind my TV I thought it was a moth seeking the glow of the lamp. It had been the longest day, phone in one hand, coffee in the other, keyboard covered in ash and crumbs. I get shit from my boss for smoking in my office. Fire risk bullshit. I’m a salesman, his best salesman in fact. I thrive on caffeine, nicotine and that lovely sexy commission.
What am I going to do? Set fire to my keyboard? Do me a favour. He caught one of the juniors having a sneaky smoke in his cubicle a few weeks ago. Poor kid was propelled out of the building like a frightened bunny rabbit being dragged from its mother. My boss looks the other way mostly, even if he does grind my gears for influencing the rest of the herd. Tough shit. They’ve got brains, apparently, they should use them.
Gotta love the perks, right?
When I leave my office I leave my work in search of solitude. I swap one world for another. I leave the world of fast talking, coffee gulping, bullshit, hype and image behind. The suit comes off and the slouchy track suit bottoms go on. My phone goes away, not silent but off. Don’t think for a second that I hate my job and all I look forward to is my home time. Fuck no. I love my job. It’s my drug. But I protect my privacy with equal passion.
My wife took the kids after she discovered my affair so my home is my refuge. I can’t say I blame her. Fair play. I deserved to be treated like a scum bag. I haven’t seen them for over a year. I had a text from my youngest, Bethany, about nine months ago. Something about going skiing in Canada.
I didn’t reply. I was busy. Big deal on the table and it was a make or break thing. I couldn’t let family, well, ex-family, side track me on the biggest day of my year. Nothing was going to stop me from landing that fish. I pulled it off and got my biggest commission yet.
I shared a high-five with my boss and ignored the sneers from lesser sales reps lounging around the office. They don’t understand it takes hunger, drive and determination to do this job. Most of them are barely out of college and still living off Mum and Dad. With that safety net they’ll never need to push and hustle and sweet talk anyone. Naive fuckwits.
Not me. I wasn’t born with a college education in my pocket. I worked hard for my own shit. I bought my new apartment with that win. It’s a sweet place, or was until three days ago.
When the moth wasn’t a moth.
When I saw the first set of footprints on the wall.
I was watching The Goonies on Blu-ray, slouched on the sofa, glass of Glenlivet, smokes, bowl of pistachio’s, good times. I’m an 80’s movie fan and nothing gets in the way of my nostalgic moments. I paused the film and trudged over to the wall to squash the moth. I figured it had dropped behind the TV. Nothing. A flutter on the lamp caught my eye and I reacted by slamming my palm against it.
The lamp fell over and when I put it back I saw tiny footprints on the shade. I didn’t realise they were footprints at first. That would be weird right? I’m not crazy. I rubbed them with my hand and they faded away. No big deal. Just dust caused by the moth. I settled down to watch Chunk give Sloth a candy bar. Ugly dude and Sloth isn’t pretty either.
That’s a joke. It’s not funny. Fuck it. I’m not a comedian.
So I’m at the bit where the Mexican cleaner lady is rummaging through pockets and I see patches of dust on the TV screen. Except it isn’t dust because they keep fading and re-appearing. Must be the TV. This is a top of the range Panasonic. No shit me for me. It had only been out of the box a week and it was broken already. I pause the movie and examine the screen. It’s too bright to see clearly. You know the bit where the pirate ship is sailing away?
I turn off the TV expecting the patches to vanish. Only they don’t.
I run the cuff of my sweat top over screen. Some fade away just like before but more appear.
So I figure it might be static or something. I unplugged it from the wall.
They were still there. My face was pressed up against the screen at this point. That’s when it dawned on me how these things look like tiny footprints. One in front of the other. Walking diagonally across the dark screen. I’m a rational kind of guy. I see things in black and white. There was probably a good explanation for this. I sat down on the carpet and watched the footprints walk around and around the screen.
There were only ever a dozen or so of them at any time. They just faded away like soggy prints on the floor after I take a shower. Or perhaps like those on a beach and waves cover them over. TV set was definitely broken. Fuck it. I’ll have take it back to the store in the morning. It was late and I could feel a headache coming on. I left my shit on the sofa and went to bed.
Cold, Flue & Bullshit
At 3:16AM I woke up with a cold burning sensation behind my eyes. Tiny stabs of hot ice. I lay in bed rubbing my eyes. Maybe I got pistachio dust in them. I read somewhere that pistachio’s are poisonous before they’re cooked. I flicked on my bedside lamp and jumped in alarm when I see white footprints scamper across the shade. Ignoring that, whatever is was, I rinsed my eyes in the bathroom.
Cold water hurt my skin. I tried hot. The same thing. I checked my pulse. It was a bit racy. I prodded the temperature thingy in my ear and spat into the sink. My saliva looked weird. Opaque. Tongue fur. No big deal. The thing beeped and I checked the display. 98.4. Slightly below normal. I popped a couple of painkillers and close the bathroom cupboard.
For a second I saw footprints on the mirror.
I rinsed my eyes again and slouched back to bed.
It had been a tough week. I was exhausted. Caffeine and nicotine are my basic diet. I know that too much of either isn’t a good thing. I lay in bed and stare at the ceiling waiting for the pain to subside and I could drift back to sleep. An hour later I glanced at my bedside clock. The pain was hanging on in there. In fact it felt as if it had increased.
Maybe I was coming down the flu or a virus caught by one of the dickweed kids in the office. They always looked snotty and pale. Too much time spent in front of their XBox’s or watching porn all night, not enough sunlight. I swear we’re breeding a generation of sickly fat kids who’re going to die before they reach 30.
In the kitchen I poured a glass of orange juice. No caffeine in that right? I gulped it straight down. I started to wonder if I had a premature hangover. I glanced into the living room. I’d only had two glasses of Glenlivet. Had to be a virus then. I placed the glass in the dishwasher and glanced at the clock on the oven. 4.40AM. If I spent any more time pondering I’d be a waste of space come the morning. I needed my sleep. Like I said, I take my job seriously, not like the other morons who party all night and make no commission because they’re too tired the next day.
I dressed and headed for my car. At the all night drug store I bought a sack of supplies. Cold remedies. Painkillers. Stuff to stick up my nose. Sachets of powdered bullshit for hot drinks. The works.
Back in the kitchen I popped more painkillers and sipped the disgusting so-called raspberry flavoured Cold, Flu & Weakling drink. Looking back I realise it was just a placebo effect that made me feel a bit better. I had a few hours before sun up so I crashed out on my bed again.
My alarm shook me from a dream of ice and blood. Sun light crept through my curtains and I dragged myself into the shower. The bathroom light pounded my eyes. I was so shocked I yelped. I pulled the cord and showered in the dark. The drugs had done nothing to stem the pain behind my eyes. I couldn’t bear turning on the light over the sink so I excused myself from shaving.
I dressed in the half-light of morning. Slow and clumsy. I chugged down a cup of coffee and gazed at my TV set. I felt like cold sweaty shit. Fuck it. I’ve had worse. I was going to work and the flu would have to wait it out till I got back home.
I slid sunglasses onto my face and dropped my car keys on the floor. Excruciating pain exploded behind my face when I bent down to pick them up. I almost fainted. My knees gave way and I sank to the floor. Deep breaths. In and out. I wasn’t going to let a cold beat me. I was the master of my body, not some fucked up virus. Sweat rolled down my face. I wiped it away and tossed my sunglasses to one side.
Footprints scampered up the front door.
From top to bottom.
Right before my eyes.
I’ve never been one for dramatic reactions but I held my breath and gripped the leg of the table next to the door. Tiny white footprints ran up and down the door. Up and down. Up and down. Like children racing around a garden. I rubbed my eyes. Big mistake. The slightest touch was unbearable. Doubled over I dug my fists into the carpet.
Okay. So it wasn’t the flu. That was when I started to worry. I mean seriously worry. I’d heard about these virus’s that can fuck up your body in hours. They screw around with your immune system, leave you with hallucinations and turn you into a zombie right before you puke your lungs up.
I needed help. I called for an ambulance. All I had to do was wait and the docs would fix me up. I called my boss. He was pissed that I was taking a day off. I reminded him I’d not taken a day of sick for years. He owed me. By the time I had crawled into the kitchen I was drenched in sweat. It was like I had showered with my clothes on. I ripped off my tie and shirt and lay on the floor gasping for breath.
I gobbled another set of painkillers and climbed to my feet. My kitchen counter tops are polished black granite. The highest quality. I tore open a packet of sickly raspberry drink remedy. With a shaking hand I poured some of it into a cup. The rest spilled over the counter top.
It tasted like crap. Hot sweet crap. But I forced it down.
Tiny footsteps appeared in the powder. They carried it right across to the coffee maker. I slammed my hand down and they vanished. It was just a hallucination brought on by the virus or too many drugs or both. Where were the medics? They should have arrived by now.
Holding on to the counter I levered myself into the living room. The distance to the front door was vast. I lurched and grabbed the back of the sofa. So far so good. All I had to do was wait by the door. When the medics knocked I’d call them in. They would do the rest. Stretcher. Drugs. Whatever. Should I warn them I might be contagious? Was I contagious? They’d figure it out.
I lay on the carpet next to the door watching the footprints scamper up and down. They didn’t alarm me, not like before. I accepted them as part of the virus. They’d soon go when my body got some good solid drugs inside it.
I don’t think I slept. Not in the dreaming, cosy sense. I came to when I someone pounded on the door.
I called out but my throat made a pathetic croak.
“You sure this is the right address?”
“Apartment 81. Sure. This is it. Hey. Anyone home?”
Another croak. Jesus. I was going to die because my throat had wimped out on me.
I threw my keys at the door. The footprints scattered around it.
“Come on. Open up.”
“We got a call from someone…what was the name?”
“They didn’t say. Something about a virus.”
I kicked against the door. That would get their attention.
“It’s a faker. Probably kids.”
“What’s all the banging? Jesus Christ. Will you keep it down?”
Mrs Jenkins. Thank fuck. She hated loud noises.
“Sorry Ma’m. We had a call from this address. Do you know if anyone’s home?”
“No I don’t. Last time I saw him was yesterday morning.”
No it wasn’t. What the fuck was she talking about? I spoke to her in the elevator the night before. We chatted about the weather and then shared our disgust about the amount of dog shit outside the apartment block. Jenkins is a prissy stuck up snob. She loved to gossip and complain.
“Okay Ma’am. Thank you. Come on Jerry. This is bullshit.”
I hammered my feet against the door. I could barely speak but they had to hear that noise.
I heard them move away. One of them talking to dispatch about a fake call. I rolled onto my stomach and dragged myself up just far enough to grab the door handle. It was locked. Footprints ran around the handle. I batted them away and fumbled with my keys. Dropped them again and collapsed beside them, struggling for breath.
Stretched out on the welcome matt I watched the footprints dash up and down. I didn’t dare move. The slightest effort wiped me out in seconds. From the corner of my eye I could see my phone. Maybe if I reached it I could call for help. But then I doubted if another ambulance would come out to the same address again. Prank calls get logged. Too many and the cops would come calling. That didn’t sound like a bad idea. Even so I rejected it. My boss wouldn’t be too happy if he knew I was involved with the cops, especially if he found out why. The company I work for are touchy about their employees and the law.
It felt like hours passed and I finally managed to squirm over to my phone. With clumsy fingers I dialled my boss. Answer phone. I left a message, well, I croaked what sounded like Yoda gargling with soup. He had to call back. He wasn’t about to let his number one salesman die.
What if he didn’t return my call? What if the busy prick was out of reach all day? I couldn’t stay on the floor hoping. Instead of hurrying I carefully got to my feet. My breathing was ragged and quick but the effort wasn’t so tiring. It still took all my strength to walk to the living room. The sun was beaming through the gaps in the curtains. It stung my eyes and I pulled the drapes together.
Flopped on the sofa I powered up my laptop. I would find answers on-line. I dimmed the screen when the glare of the desktop shocked my eyes. Google gave me no answers. Search results scared the shit out of me but I couldn’t find anything to match my symptoms. Hemorrhagic fever looked promising but I turned it down in favour of food poisoning or meningitis. Cold sweet. Eyes sensitive to light. Skin extremely sensitive. But that didn’t explain the hallucinations.
I spent most of that first day searching the internet for answers. That and popping pills and pissing like a dinosaur. That couldn’t be good for my kidneys. I ignored the footprints that walked over the sofa and the screen of my laptop. I assumed there was a logical explanation. As the sun set I came across an obscure website where oddballs and weirdo’s ranted about demons and devils leaving footprints in their homes.
One story frightened me. A student in Berlin blogged extensively about little white footprints that appeared in his bedroom for months. He suffered from a constant fever and hypersensitivity to light. His student buddies said he was a strange guy, into the occult and listened to thrash metal. The tone of the report suggested something horrible happened to the student. When I reached the part where he was finally admitted to a mental hospital I turned off the laptop.
I wasn’t some head case. I was a normal guy. I liked 80’s movies for fucks sake, not thrash metal.
Too weak to leave my apartment I curled up on my sofa. I tried to sleep but my eye lids hurt my eye balls when they shut. Even blinking hurt. It had to be a fever. I wasn’t going crazy. I wasn’t going to a mental hospital to dribble and rock back and forth. I would stay put, dose up on pills and be right as fucking rain the next morning. Maybe it was just stress. That seemed to fit. Sort of.
Sleep was a slippery eel. Try as I might I couldn’t even close my eyes. I had never been so tired.
Then I remembered I had a bottle sleeping pills left over from when my wife suffered from insomnia years ago.
The bathroom may as well have been a thousand miles away. But I had to try. Anything to stop watching the footprints running across the walls and ceiling and furniture. I couldn’t help it. I knew they weren’t real but I kept watching regardless.
It was after midnight and it had taken 2 hours to reach the bathroom. Walking, crawling, squirming, crying. Yeah I cried. Wept buckets in fact. I’m man enough to admit that. I turned on the lamp in my bedroom to throw just enough soft light into the bathroom. The harsh neon glare above the sink would have blinded me.
Bathroom cabinet detritus dropped into the sink. In my search I swallowed more painkillers. I’d probably exceeded the dose a long time ago. Providing I didn’t knock back the whole bottle in one go I’d be fine, constipated like a mouse trying to crap out a whale but essentially fine. The sleeping pills were thin pink things, very feminine, they reminded me of my wife. She liked pink shit. I chuckled when I felt my junk stiffen at the memory of her wearing her naughty pink underwear.
I lobbed two sleeping pills in my mouth, swallowed and shut the cabinet.
Footprints hurried across the mirror, evaporating like mist.
I turned my head to the side. My eyes were red and blotchy.
Something touched my face.
I batted it away.
The footprints hurried back and forth.
Not on the mirror this time but in the reflection.
I shot backwards and screamed.
I came to on the bathroom floor. My head was filled with cotton wool and lightning. The soft glow from my bedside lamp slammed into my eyes and I pulled a towel over my head. I don’t know how long I been out. A storm raged inside my skull but the rest of me felt reasonably okay. No way was I going to risk removing the towel so I crawled into the living room on my hands and knees.
On the sofa I risked a peek. It was dark and calm. I tugged the curtain aside. Watery moon light filtered into my apartment. I could live with that. My eyes adjusted to the gloom. I imagined thrusting my finger tips behind my eye balls and scooping them out. I could plop them in a bowel and wash away the dirt and grit and tiny icy thorns. Then I’d rinse out my sockets and jam my eye balls back in.
If only it were that simple.
My apartment was peaceful for once. No sign of footprints. Not that I could see. No way was I going to look in the mirror again. I shuddered. They could walk all over my place as much as they liked but not on me, not on my face. That was too much. Too weird.
But if I couldn’t see them it meant…
No. I stopped my train of thought before it pulled into Ape Shit Crazy Town.
If I even considered the possibility that tiny footprints were walking all over my face I would welcome insanity with a smile and a hug. The footprints were gone and I was hungry. I zapped a tub of noodles in the microwave and slumped on the sofa. The food tasted of plastic but it was the best plastic I’d ever had. I scoffed the lot and set the tub on the coffee table.
A loud burp erupted from my mouth and I laughed. Fever and tiny footprint hallucinations aside, burps are funny. I licked my lips and pulled a strand of noodle from my chin and dropped it on the table.
The footprint stumbled backward from where I had dropped it.
I stared down at the coffee table.
No. That wasn’t real. No way had that thing been on me.
As if deep in thought the footprints walked around my empty noodle tub and came to a stop back where it started. Whoever or whatever was making the footprints was looking at me. I couldn’t move. I questioned whether I really had gone nuts.
As we stared at one another a new set of footprints strolled across the coffee table and stood next to the first set. They shuffled back and forth like they were having a silent heated debate. But what? And why?
I sensed they were related. Can you believe that shit? There I was watching two sets of tiny white footprints on my coffee table and all I could think about was how alike they were. If that isn’t the first item on the short sanity check list then I don’t know what is.
Twins. These guys, or girls, were twins. They were family.
Regardless of my fever and questionable sanity, I felt pleased for them. Up to that point there had been one set. And now it had a friend. That’s nice. At least they had each other.
That wasn’t the way to look at it.
Crazy people think like that. I’m not crazy.
After a while they walked away.
I reasoned that if they were real they couldn’t mean me any harm. I’d done nothing wrong. I couldn’t sense any malice or anger but then how could anyone measure an emotional state from miniature footprints?
I stayed on the sofa for the rest of the night, waiting for them to return.
Sun rise on my third day came and went and I was still sat on the sofa. I’d used up all my painkillers but my eyes were worse than before. I shut the curtains and covered over gaps with towels. I called my boss and threw my phone across the room when the answer phone beeped.
How long was this going to last? The guy in Berlin had blogged about it for months. Jesus. I was a mess after a few days. I couldn’t cope with this shit for months. I felt much stronger physically. The fever had taken its toll and I wasn’t ready to leave my apartment. I’d likely collapse in the lobby and end up on the evening news, and then spend the rest of my life dribbling in a padded cell.
Crazy or not I needed proof that something fucked up had happened to me. I grabbed a pen and pad and started writing. It felt weird to explain what had happened. Some of it felt like a dream, well, nightmare actually. The footprints have been racing around my apartment all day. I can’t decide if they know I’m here or not, or if they care.
I’m pretty sure I’m not crazy.
Okay, maybe a little.
But not much.
Normal people don’t see footprints everywhere do they? I have to prove I’m sane. I’ve followed them and taken over a hundred photos with my phone.
Evidence is the key.
When the men in white coats ask me to explain I’ll just show them the photos.
See? I’m not crazy after all.
Now are you going to let me go?
I’ve got commission to earn.
Why can’t they just leave me alone?
It’s night time.
I can’t close my eyes.
The green digital clock on the cooker hates me.
It glares at me.
It wants to burn my eyes.
There are more now.
Everywhere they run.
Across the ceiling.
On the walls.
Over the furniture.
I hate them.
They hate me.
I feel them on my face.
Icy and tingly.
I scratch them off but they just come back.
My phone is dead.
I took photos of my face.
The flash exploded in my head.
I feel them in my eyes.
Writing blind sucks but at least I can’t see footprints any more.
But I still feel them.
Under my skin.
This short story was inspired by Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press – a challenge to write between 50 and 1500 word piece of fiction using one of 6 photos as a prompt. This weeks prompt was entitled “Halloween and Hiatus.” Every single picture prompt screamed out for a story so I’ll be writing 6 this week!
I actually wrote an extra scene with Jerry the medic and his partner in the ambulance but deleted it. I wanted one of them to ask if they could see a footprint on the dashboard or somewhere in the cab, and the other to say “No, don’t go all Twilight Zone on me dude!” But it felt a bit cheezy and too similar to that scene with Dan Aykroyd in the Twilight Zone Movie.
This picture prompt is by Matthew Beall matthewgbeallphotography.blogspot.com and when I saw it I couldn’t help but imagine those tiny slithers of light on the lampshade as footprints made by some invisible creature or person. Spooky!
So this is story 1 of 6 for Indigo’s SPP. I didn’t intend for it to be so long but I got carried away, again! I have some cracking ideas for the other picture prompts so I best get to scribbling!
Excellent picture prompts from Indigo. If you want to join in and write a short piece of fiction clicky-click Indigo Spider’s link above and wrap your imagination around one of the pictures.
A quick word about stories and fictional adventures, a moment of your time I beg. In November I’ll be joining the masses in National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo - and have joined a special support group set up by Indigo Spider to help us on our journey through the writing frenzy.
If you fancy joining us and penning that novel you’ve been dying to get out, find us on Twitter at #NaNoTeamIndy or via NaNoWriMo – search for Writing Buddies Dave Farmer or Indigo Spider. If you want to join the team you can get a badge for your blog at Indigo Spider.