Gregory left his nighttime shift at the hospital with a slight feeling of uneasiness. He dreaded going home this early in the morning because he would occasionally find his wife's car to be missing. She never mentioned leaving in the night, and never called to warn him. She often left the kids alone in this manner.
The last time that this happened, Gregory waited. He wanted to know the
truth without seeming too suspicious, but his efforts fell in vain. The 12-hour shift had taken it's toll and left him completely drained.
Fatigue had taken over...
The children returned from school at about three in the afternoon to end Gregory's deep slumber. He did not need an alarm for they were slamming doors and screaming at one another—as children often do. He cursed the sun, his life, and everything around him as he slowly shut the blinds. He decided to take a shower, as it would grant him a little more time to himself.
He tried not to think of his spouse's late night departures, but his mind was too stubborn and refused to leave it be. And even though he was in a steaming hot shower, his skin crawled in a chilled suspicion. His surroundings fell and he was left in a sullen world of nonexistence. Nothing moved and silence spoke. His eyes were fleeting dreams. Indecision had become him.
Should I confront her? Will this ruin our marriage? What about the kids? His thoughts ran around that simple track for what seemed like innumerable days when his mind suddenly returned. A child's scream, preceded by the sound of shattering glass, traveled through the walls and pierced him in his confused state.
He quickly shut off the now freezing water, threw on his robe and rushed down the stairs.
Once down the steps, a strange friction in the air began to oppress him. He felt a needy warmth in his throat and started to gasp for air. Where are you? was the new thought, ever circulating through his mind. He wanted to shout the question in search for a reply, but his vocal strength had failed him.
He tumbled onto the floor of the kitchen, landing in a large glass-filled puddle of blood. Intense light beams shone about the house, casting their light upon Gregory's innocent face. The world had turned to shadows right outside his window, and now just light remained... It engulfed him. It swallowed all of his desires and fulfilled all his basic needs.
Nonexistence had returned.
When woken from the light, Gregory realized that he couldn't move. On a surgery table of some sort, he was held tightly in place by a series of metal bars. Round in diameter, they ran through the table to be locked at the bottom. All was dark again.
Gregory let out a narrow scream, but found it to be hollow. His lungs were weak and his heart beat slowly. Something flickered behind him. It sounded like someone typing on a typewriter, but had a distinct flowing quality to it.
Suddenly, an image was projected before him onto a massive screen. A photograph of his family was the first image he saw. His wife and two kids smiling, but he wasn't there. Another man stood in his place and held his daughter, yet they all appeared to be one big happy family. What's happening? and Where am I? kept crawling through his head as the pictures flashed.
This can't be true. That's my family! He could not comprehend the meaning of it all. Every moment in Gregory's life was being repeated by this dashing young man, and these photographs were hard evidence that supported it.
Has my whole life been a lie? The questions continued to rise as his head spun it's usual webs. The picture reel ended and with it the momentary sight. He was once more in darkness.
A shuffle of feet could be heard in the room. They were distant echoes, but they cut the silence. Louder and louder, the constant beat controlled his unsteady heartbeat. The energy was stirring; climbing upon his shoulders until, finally, the footsteps reached him.
About five feet to his right, the stranger came to stop. His breathing grew to a constant in-out tempo. Gregory heard a muffled thump and fluorescent lights came on—what he saw disturbed him:
A pile of organs lay rotting on the floor. Maggots crawled through the mass of tissue in a lofty manner. They were having a feast. And even though Gregory vowed no religion, he began to pray. To whatever God was up there he begged forgiveness. And it was while he was mumbling to himself in religious ignorance that he felt a slight graze on the back of his neck. The room was dark again.
He heard a door just in front of him open, and what sounded like a cage was rolled in. After a brief clashing of some keys, the cage was opened and a hissing sound could be heard. Not too long after, something long and smooth wrapped around Gregory's legs. His entire lower body began to fall asleep.
As they began to wrap around his midsection, He become one with their constrictions. His body had lost all sense of touch and identity. The snakes did not seem to notice the progressive thickening of the air. The room began to smell like smoke. The next half hour remained this way, as the air slowly grew heavier, until a faint red glow appeared in the open doorway ahead of him, slightly illuminating the putrid organs as their flesh began to fester.
The flames were now visible directly ahead of him. He saw the stranger clearly now as he ran to avoid the fire. He held under each of his arms both of Gregory's children, each one heavily sedated. The stranger wore no cloth, but only skin. Human skin. To be more specific:
The stranger wore Gregory's wife as a hide over his own naked body. He arranged the bodies of Greg's children on tables adjacent to his own, all while the snakes still had their grip. He was growing more pale as the tragedy unfolded. He would have puked too, had the snakes not begun to coil around his throat. This was it... In a few minutes it would all be over. He stopped praying at this point, for God showed no sympathy. The fires grew as the madman began skinning the children. He seemed to take delight in it.
The stranger whistled 'Amazing Grace' as he scalped Greg's oldest son. He worked his way down the body, stitching any possible mistakes in the formation of his new coat of skin.
When he finally finished, he called the snakes back into their cage. He left the room once more, but this time he did not return. At least not for a while. The flames worked their way into the room as Gregory's youngest daughter regained consciousness. He wanted to speak but could only watch.
She began coughing, lost in the wild heat, and started to cry after seeing her pale, tortured father. The flames were just behind her. She felt their white warmth lap against the back of her head. Gregory shut his eyes. He wanted it to end.
All he could smell was burning hair as she screamed in agony. His eyes were tightly shut. He did not want any mental photographs to take home, should he survive.
Her violent screeching continued for no more than ten minutes, progressively receding to a whimper, when the flames had reached his table. He thought his fate was sealed when something strange happened: water.
A shower poured down onto Gregory's face from a sprinkler system in the roof. Why had it taken so long to turn on? Perhaps it was manually controlled?
He opened his eyes and in the split second before the lights were shut off, he saw a steaming heap of cooked flesh and charred bones where his daughter used to be. He could not cry, his blood was barely flowing. In the darkness again, he now heard voices. Multiple voices, speaking in a language he could not understand.
They were far away, possibly behind a wall, and their speech filled the boundless all. Nothing remained but that foul stench. It was hard to believe that this was real. Just days before, he had taken his family out to dinner at a fine restaurant, but now they were all dead; mutilated. The lights came back on.
"Oh, what could possibly happen now? Are you gonna kill me?" he had finally found the strength to speak. A hidden door was then opened to his right. Men filed out of the secret opening. They seemed like men at least.
They all wore lab coats and seemed to be arguing in their mysterious language. They crowded around Gregory as one worked a lever across the room. His table was slowly being raised upright. It was already raised at a slight angle though, so this ascension was brief. The men continued to speak whilst observing Gregory.
One man pointed to the center of his chest and they all seemed to agree with him something. Gregory grew nervous. His heart began to beat faster. A tall man in the group walked over to the hidden doorway and shouted something inside, then resumed his position in the group. The men then fell to silence.
Moments later a woman entered the room. She held a syringe filled with some clear, bubbly liquid. She put the needle to Gregory's heart and pushed.
Birds could be heard whistling their favorite tunes as Gregory opened his eyes. Wrapped in clean, warm covers, he welcomed the sound and opened his eyes to the bursting light. The sounds of nature were full & glorious, yet something seemed to be missing.
He felt reborn in those first few moments when he realized he was still alive, but now a terrible emptiness filled his mind. He ran about the house checking all the rooms, but found not one living thing. His thoughts once again filled the boundless all.
What's happening? he asked himself but found no reply. He stepped out the front door as it began to rain and all was dark once more.