Down the Hatch

So…Halloween is coming. The most wonderful time of the year. And of course, I’m getting ready ridiculously soon. In my excitement, I cannot help but write horror. So here’s a flash fiction story I wanted to share with all of you!


Down the Hatch

By A. R. Meyering

There’s always a pause before I place a brand new medication on my tongue. I wonder, what could this tiny tablet do to me once it’s flowing through my system? How does something so insipid perform its promised miracles?

I’ve tried so many different drugs now and weathered my way through a storm of side-effects. That hesitance before swallowing a new pill grew shorter every time I opened up a vial.

I unscrewed the cap and fished out one of the tablets, pinching it between my fingers. It was a salmon color and my mouth drew into a frown. Behind my eyes, my brain was pounding, aching with intense pulses. The incessant pain had only grown worse in the last few weeks. It began eight months ago, and I had tried to kill it with the usual suspects: acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin. I must’ve worked my way through every over-the-counter painkiller on the market.

Nothing seemed to make it stop. If anything, it got worse. Light seared my eyes. Sounds made me cringe and moan against the agony. There was no rest, just worsening torment. My doctor and I started sampling new synthetic cures: almotriptan, eletriptan, frovatriptan. I tried beta-blockers, calcium blockers, anti-depressants, and even anti-seizure drugs. With each new chemical, my body seemed to be changing, growing weaker. The feeling of ants under my skin, numbness, muscle weakness, intense fatigue—all of these were my new daily challenges. Homeopathic remedies also proved to be a pointless waste of my time.

The pain grew so unbearable, I had to quit my job. I’ve been rushed to Urgent Care several times when it got so bad I thought I was dying, but they couldn’t do anything to help me. None of the tests or x-rays proved there was anything wrong with my head.

I had a plan to kill myself just to escape the agony, but I wasn’t able to go through with it.

Recently, I fought my way through the nausea and the sunlight that stung my eyes like shards of glass for one more try at the medication route. There was an experimental drug, Hexamil, undergoing clinical trials. It was a last-ditch effort to help me, even though all of its adverse effects were not yet identified. It was a gamble I was willing to take.

I placed the Hexamil tablet on my tongue and washed it down. Sighing, I flopped down onto the couch and laid my head down. It was very dim in my apartment; I couldn’t stand anything brighter. I sat watching the walls blearily through the gloom. I lay there for hours, in too much pain to fall asleep. Television would only make my head hurt more—the flashing lights and blaring noise was torture.

At long last a veil of exhaustion washed over me and I fell into a pseudo-sleep. As I was drifting off, I had one of those strange dreams where you feel like you’re falling. I jolted awake, my eyes snapping open.

Only I wasn’t in my house anymore. I was in a house, but not my own. It was crowded with nondescript furniture. I rose off the couch, my head foggy. I realized with a small start that the pain had stopped and I couldn’t help but breathe out in astonishment. As I was crossing the room, my whole body abruptly froze. I fought against the paralysis, but my limbs wouldn’t budge.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something starting to bloom in midair. Geometric patterns in hideous combinations of color spread out through the thin air like ink spreading through water. I couldn’t scream and I couldn’t even fully look at the burning, twisting mass of colors. Something was coming out of the center, something with long arms.

I jolted forward, covered in sweat. I was back in my living room, panting and gripping the sides of the couch. I leapt up, trying to catch my breath. With a little rush of joy, I realized the headache was still gone. I remembered that vivid nightmares were one of the side-effects the doctor mentioned. I grabbed the Hexamil bottle off the table and hastily read the label.

May cause drowsiness, vivid dreams, joint pain, visual hallucinations, I read, my eyebrows furrowing, then turned the bottle and kept on reading.

Seek medical attention if any of these symptoms worsen. Call you doctor if you’re scared. Call your doctor. Call someone for God’s sake will nobody help them they’re halfway there they cannot—I blinked, and realized that all the text on the bottle was made of strange ciphers. I could still understand it, but it wasn’t English. As I turned the bottle again, blinking furiously, the text completely disappeared.

My body froze again and a sharp, high whine filled my apartment. The patterns erupted in the corner of my eye again. The abominable sight of that creature was almost in view.

I woke again, on my couch. I wiped off the sweat, panicking. This time for sure. This time I had to be awake. I felt so awake. I pinched myself, touched my nose, looked at myself in the mirror. I was awake.

I heard someone crying in the closet. I knew that voice: it was my friend Gary’s voice. I shouted out to him, demanding to know what he was doing here. I ran down the hall and threw the closet door open. He was there, huddled over, facing the corner. As I reached out to touch him, my hand froze. This time the patterns didn’t come, but I stayed frozen for what seemed an hour.

When I woke again on the couch, I was already in a state of panic. I tried to leave through the front door, but when I opened it, I only found an empty, cavernous hall that looked like an airplane hangar. In the middle of the room was a shaft with a ladder leading down into the ground. My heart leapt and I made for it, sensing a way out. I flew down the rungs and the darkness became impenetrable.

My eyes blinked open. I was back. I tried to sit up, but I was just so goddamn tired. My head felt like it was full of needles. My eyes shut again and I allowed myself a single moment to rest.

Then I felt the falling sensation again. I sat bolt upright. When I realized my headache was gone, I wanted to weep in utter despair, but couldn’t move.

I’m still here, navigating my way through brief spurts of dream consciousness. Those patterns and the awful thing they give birth to follow me through this labyrinth. I see it outside of my window, I see it coming from the ceiling, I see it when I’m reaching for the phone to call my doctor. Every time I wake I try to mark it on the wall, to count how many dreams I’ve passed through. It’s over a hundred. It has to be. I see the marks on the wall every time. I’ve seen other things too. I see my body sleeping on the couch in the mirror’s reflection sometimes. I can’t reach myself.

And sometimes, when I open up a door I see that airplane hangar and the ladder that leads downward to freedom. I run for it every chance I get, but the patterns always stop me, spreading out in the corner of my eye, reaching out to keep me frozen.

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