"Edward? What are you doing up there? Dinner's ready!"
His grip on the pen tightened at the sound of his wife's voice, causing the loop of the six to end abruptly before closing. He rocked forward in his chair and jabbed the tip of the pen through the paper and into the old roll top desk. Why was she talking? Why wouldn't she just shut up?
"Edward?" She was at the door now, peering into the bedroom, the look on her face matching the worried tone of her voice. "Edward? Are you alright?"
Shut up! Shut up!
His skin itched. They were crawling again. They were everywhere, crawling just beneath his skin, burrowing deeper and deeper into his body. He could feel them. He could see them. He could fucking hear them. He could hear them chew on his flesh, feeding, growing bigger, leaving behind patches of dying skin. They feasted and they grew and they dug deeper into his body.
"Edward?" she asked again, much quieter this time as if afraid he would jump up and scream at her for interrupting whatever the hell he was doing. She took a step into the bedroom, their bedroom, then another before she stopped. Her legs felt as if they had been cast in lead and something in her stomach flipped slowly. It wasn't a good idea to get any closer. She didn't know how she knew that, but she did.
He paused, neatly one lined his last entry and printed 11251974 next to it.
They were stinging him now. No longer content with eating him from the inside out, oh no. They were stinging him with their awful barbs, poking through the top layer of his skin. Poking through his dying skin, angering the reddish-brown rashes that covered him. He could see their stingers, blue and red and white and black, as they punctured their way to the surface.
He brushed at the barbs puncturing his skin, enjoying how easily they were broken from those horrible beasts that feasted on his insides. He could hear them in his head, chittering…angry and pained. They wormed their way deeper inside, the remaining barbs disappearing from sight. Still they ate. It sounded like someone tearing a piece of paper slowly in half as they pulled pieces from his body. It was so loud and he wondered if she could hear it. She had to. Right?
He could feel her looking at him. She had taken a few steps into the room but had stopped because she was frightened. What was she so frightened for? She wasn't the one being eaten alive.
Could she hear them? Could she always hear them? Did she always know? Why didn't she tell him?
Why didn't she tell him? Couldn't she hear?
She didn't tell him because she knew. She always knew. She was them, wasn't she? She was always them.
"Edward?" she whispered. He couldn't hear her over the sound of the chittering in his head. The chittering clashing with the sound of his own voice screaming inside his head. Screaming that she knew, she was one of them, she would tell on him, oh yes she would. She'd tell and he'd disappear. Like the others. Well, not like all the others.
But he would finish. Oh yes he would. He would finish and that would be that. No longer would the bugs feast upon his flesh. No longer would the watching continue. No longer would he scream inside his own head, keeping him awake.
"Edward, please talk to me." Her voice echoed in her mind, distorted as if she were underwater and faint as if she were a million miles away. "You're scaring me, Edward."
Shut your whore mouth, woman!
Deep inside his bodies, the bugs fed. They had reached his lungs now, tunneling deep, laboring his breathing. His heart, which thumped rhythmically in his chest, would be next and then he would be dead. But they wouldn't get him. Oh no they wouldn't. He would win this game. Oh yes he would.
His skin itched, the redness had spread. She had to see it. Why didn't she see it? Why didn't she say anything?
She's them. She's always been them.
He set his pen down gently next to the notebook in which he had been writing and pushed the chair away from the desk. She took a step back as he stood, her brown eyes wide upon her face, her narrow bottom lip twitching. She wanted to cry, he had seen that look dozens of times during their 45 year marriage, even though he had never been the one to cause it. Until now.
"Edward…" she whispered meekly, slouching away from him without even realizing it. He jumped toward her, his skin itching, his mind screaming, the bugs eating. She let out a scream and turned to run, but the ponytail she wore would be her downfall. He grabbed a fistful of hair, his fingers intertwining with the salt and pepper locks, and yanked backward with a force that surprised the both of them. She fell to the ground with a heavy thud, the reverberations knocking over the small desk lamp he had switched on before writing. She screamed again and he picked up the pen he had so gently placed next to the notebook. His mind screamed, the bugs ate. He thrust the pen deep into her shoulder before his mind pulled him from the scene. He could hear her screams, he could feel the blood, warm and wet on his hands. He just couldn't see her anymore. Their bedroom was gone, replaced by blackness as she continued to scream.
Finally, the screams stopped. His voice in his head was finally silenced. The bugs even stopped their buffet for a few moments. The pen slid unnoticed from his hand. The room was in focus once more. There she lay, still at his feet in the darkened room (the light bulb had busted when the desk lamp tipped over). His shirt stuck to his body, held tight against his skin with sweat.
He stepped over her, toward the bed, their bed. He slowly lowered himself to the edge, reaching for the nightstand as he sat. Inside was the nine millimeter he had purchased back when those break-ins started happening up the street.
His hand touched the cool metal. His mind started hollering once more. The bugs resumed their feast, happily munching on his body. They won't get to finish, he thought happily.
Teresa Acari shifted in her seat, her sling actually, and closed her eyes. Only that seemed to make the rocking of the plane worse. She brought her hands up to her eyes, careful not to bump a sleeping Regina Lloyd seated next to her, and pressed her palms against her sockets, wanting the pain deep inside her brain to go away, knowing it wouldn't until they were back on the ground. That would stop her stomach from doing the acrobatics, too. She had been up for nearly thirteen hours now since as the most junior member of the team she had the last watch before leaving, and it would be another seven before the C-130 would land in Reykjavik and they would be shuffled to another plane—this time a real one with adequate cabin pressure, heat and real seats—bound for JFK. Her headache wouldn't go away completely in a real plane, but her stomach would settle and maybe she could grab a few winks before their arrival in New York.
She took her hands away from her eyes and shifted again. She scanned the crowded cargo/seating area of the C-130, surprised to find so many of her colleagues asleep. No matter how many times this plane took her into and out of the Arctic Circle, she would never feel comfortable enough to fall asleep.
She glanced to her right, where Ian Huang sat, disappointed to find him asleep as well. Ian had been one of her closest friends since college and had been to one to mention her name for this project a year ago. She had been too excited for words and eternally grateful. She blended with the rest of the team quickly, and had loved every minute of her life since. The cold never got to her, the hours of sleep lost never bothered her, and the occasional loss of power and water never hindered her. She loved what NASA had sent the team to do and was a little sad to see it end after sixteen months. She would be transferring to the Cassini- Huygens Project, which lessened the hurt a bit. The thought of unlocking the secrets of Saturn intrigued her more than anything could have on her current project.
She was pulled back into reality when a lightning bolt of pain shot bounced around inside her skull. It made her eyes water and a heavy pressure build just behind her eyes. She moaned and leaned forward, resting her forehead on the bag. She could feel the blood rushing in her ears, drowning out the roar of the C-130's motor. The bolt of pain had turned into a dull pounding, which gradually began to increase. Her heart felt as if it were in her throat and her stomach sat like a heavy weight in her gut.
She didn't notice the constant background noise of the plane's engine had vanished, replaced by a nothingness, a complete lack of noise. The pounding worsened and the sound of the blood rushing in her ears became deafening. She vomited without realizing and pitched forward as the plane hit turbulence. The bag in her lap tumbled to the floor. She would have been thrown from her seat had she not been harnessed into the wall of the plane.
At once the pain was gone. She raised her head, noting everyone was still asleep, not at all bothered by the bouncing plane. A need to look out a window, any window, hit her and she twisted violently in her seat to find one, which was unsuccessful. She reached for the buckle to her harness, breaking a nail as she tried to unclasp it. She stopped just as she succeeded, aware for the first time of the complete silence in the cabin.
"No." she whispered, her entire body trembling with a fear she didn't know she had. "Not now. Please. Not now."
A blinding light poured in from the open cockpit area, filling the cargo area with a blue light that would have been painful for anyone else to look at. She twisted her body away from the harness and stood, grabbing Ian as he slept next to her, shaking him in an effort to wake him. His head lolled to the side and a hand reached up to brush her off.
She noticed the turbulence had disappeared, too. The plane beneath her feet felt as if it were suspended in mid air, hovering over what still had to be the Arctic, god she hoped they were still above land, held in place by a set of invisible hands. She grabbed the netting surrounding their equipment and luggage stationed in the center of the cabin and turned to look into the light. She could see the silhouettes of the two US Air Force pilots in the cockpit, seemingly unfazed by the whole ordeal.
She sank to the floor to the plane, her fingers still intertwined with the heavy netting, her legs suddenly no longer able to support her weight. The blinding light that washed over everything and everyone in the cabin, giving it all an ethereal glow, brightened suddenly. She lowered her head into the crook of her arm and waited.