I’m currently seated at a computer terminal in a little, white, sterile room. There’s about a half dozen other computer terminals here, all facing the same way like a classroom. There are posters on the walls with medical information. Everyone in em looks happy and complacent. Zombies. This place is called Sleep HealthCenters, just outside of Boston. It’s a clinic for people with sleeping disorders.
I’m feeling a little loopy from the eszopiclone, so if my writing gets all garbled just deal with it and I can edit it when I’m clear-headed.
The doc wants me to do a little writing. He said that repetition can help with insomnia, and I gotta admit, if things were normal, this room and the clack of these keystrokes would probably make me pass right the fuck out.
Things aren’t normal though.
It’s not that I can’t sleep, it’s that I don’t want to sleep. I actually doze off pretty frequently, but then I realize I’m falling asleep and I snap myself out of it. When I don’t, when I drift off and can’t stop myself, I dream, and that’s what I want to avoid. If I could control what I dream about, I would sleep right now and not wake up til fuckin October. But I can’t control it. And ever since May, ever since—
That house on Black Pond Road—
Fuck, just thinking about it makes my skin crawl. And writing that makes me see it all again in my head. I don’t wanna relive it. But Dr. Kirsch– he’s my doc. Nice guy, smiles a lot, practically whispers when he talks– Dr. Kirsch said that if I write about the experience, it might “release me” from it. Like there’s some sort of mental hold on me, torturing me. Guilt? I was as much a victim as Tom was.
Tom was my friend from college. We both attended BU. Freshman year, his room was right across the hall from mine. I remember running into him on a bench late one night when my roommate was spending too long talking on the phone to his girlfriend from home. Tom bummed me a smoke and we just sat and talked about our roommates’ idiosyncrasies for a couple hours. After that, we just hung out all the time. Even after college we stuck together. Both got jobs in the city, lived near each other in Somerville.
When was it? It was May. Right. Friday the fucking 13th of all days. And Tom called me up after work and said, “Whatcha got goin on this weekend?” and I said, “Nothing.” and he said, “Any chance you can help me clean out a house?” and I said, “Who are we robbing?” and he said, “My dead aunt.” and I said, “Friends help you move, good friends help you move bodies.” and he said, “Unfortunately somebody already moved the body, but she’s got a lot of other shit in her place and I need to clean it out so it can get sold.”
So he picked me up that night and we drove and listened to tunes on the radio, stopped and ate and chilled and just drove and drove. And I asked him as we were going, “How’d she die?”
“She hung herself.”
“Well I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Don’t be, she was batshit insane.”
“I’m sure she loved you, too.”
“Hardly. But she loved her brother, and he just happened to be my father. He needs to get the house sold but they live out in Washington now, so I agreed to clean the house.”
“What a good son.”
“Well, I’m gettin paid for it.”
“Oh, I see. I help do the work and you get all the reward.”
“You get the reward of my company for a weekend in some rat hole.”
“I guess that’s better than what I had planned.”
Black Pond Road. That’s a hell of a name. Her house looked like it was going to collapse. It was one floor, one large living room connected to a tiny kitchen and two tiny bedrooms. The bathroom was practically a closet. There was a screened porch off the side looking out into woods.
It was after 1 in the morning when we got there. I remember suggesting we sleep in the car just in case the house collapsed. Tom pulled out a flashlight, we gathered our bedrolls and backpacks and went inside. I was—
the floor moved—
It was dark, but when Tom shone his light in, I swore it looked for a moment like the floor… moved. Fuck that floor. It was the kitchen. Greasy, stained white tiles. Everything in that room was greasy and stained. Even the windows. They were so gross, the reflected light from Tom’s flashlight came back like a mustardy puke yellow.
Was it clicking? Tapping. I can’t describe it, but the feeling when we walked in was like a couple crashers walking into a chatty party and everyone stopping what they were saying and looking at us. Almost the faintest echo of a final sound, like a hundred fingernails tapping on a tabletop and then quiet.
“Did you hear that?” I asked.
We should’ve slept in the car.
My room was like a prison cell attached to the living room. Tom’s room was only accessible from the screened porch. I took a look in and told him we should switch.
“If I’m not getting paid, at least give me the nicer room.”
“You don’t want this room, this is the room she hung herself in.” We just stood there for a bit.
“The only thing missing from my room are bars on the window.”
“That’s so you can escape when her ghost comes for us.”
“A ghost wouldn’t be caught dead here.”
I went and unrolled my sleeping bag on the tiny bed in my room, then climbed in and lay there in the dark. After a while of everything being quiet, I started hearing this sound. It was like chittering. And buzzing. Fucking mosquitoes, that’s what I thought. I pulled the sleeping bag over my head and tucked it under me to keep anything out.
God… If I hadn’t been so tired.
Something bit me. On the web of skin between my fingers. I woke up and was instantly in pain all over my legs, like a hundred needle pricks. And my feet felt like I was standing in the sand at the beach with the water coming in and the mud squishing between my toes. I jerked out of the sleeping bag and fell on the floor. I hurt my chin on something, I don’t know what. I got up yelling and checking my hand. There was a tiny red dot of a bug bite between my index and middle finger. And then I looked at my legs and they were dotted like a bad case of chickenpox. Hundreds of little bite marks. And I looked at my sleeping bag and—
just skittering out of the bag like—
It was a stream of them, crawling over each other. Earwigs. Hundreds of earwigs slithering out of the bag I’d been sleeping in. And house centipedes with them, wiggling along. This just tide of glistening bodies crawling out of the bag with me. I felt like I was going to puke and I ran from the room, slamming the door shut.
It was morning. I went out through the porch and into Tom’s room and shook him til he made a sound.
“Get out. You gotta get out of your bag.”
“Dude, what time is it?”
“It’s morning time and you need to get out of the fucking sleeping bag, dude. My bag was full of bugs. I’m covered in fucking bug bites. Get the hell out of the fucking bag!”
“My stomach hurts, just give me a second.”
He didn’t have any bugs in his fucking bag. I almost hated him for it. But then he complained again about his stomach hurting and pulled up his shirt and I saw these swollen marks all along the waistline of his pants.
“What the fuck, dude?”
“We’re not sleeping in this fucking house, man. Look at my legs.”
My bites weren’t swollen but they itched so bad. I wasn’t taking my bedroll home. No way in hell I was keeping it after seeing all those bugs crawl out of it. Burn it. Burn the whole house.
That’s my dream. When I fall asleep, I’m back in that fucking bag, only I can’t get out, and the earwigs and the centipedes are covering my feet and my legs and crawling up into my underwear and all over my chest and then they’re on my neck, on my arms, in my ears and wigglin toward my nose and I can’t scream because they’ll be in my mouth and no matter how much I thrash the bag won’t open and they just keep crawling back over me. I can’t dream that anymore. I spent a week telling myself it was just a dream but I know they did crawl over me. They had to have been all over me as they slithered into the warm, dark comfort of my bag.
Maybe I wouldn’t dream it if Tom hadn’t—
I’m getting off track.
We didn’t find any bugs in Tom’s room. He gave me his car keys and I went into town and bought some Cortisone for him to put on the bites. When I got back, Tom was outside. He had his flashlight and was looking under the porch.
“Come here.” So I went. I looked under the porch at what he was pointing at. The porch was raised on these concrete blocks because of the tilt of the ground, and we could see all the way under the house. On the far side, there was this gray shit. It looked like crusted, packed mud.
“That’s a hive.” Tom said. I remember it felt like I just hit the peak on a rollercoaster and now the world was flying down at me.
“It’s huge.” There’s no way I can do the enormity of this thing justice. It was spread across the underside of the house from the edge of the base on deep into the darkness. Nothing was moving on it, but I looked at it a long time and I could see the little passage holes in it. Hundreds of holes.
No shit we were leaving. I wanted to be home already. I waited while Tom used the cream I’d bought on his bites which I knew now were stings. It was unnatural, I swear, the aggressiveness of the insect life in that house.
I ended up driving us back. Tom got awful cramps—
He eventually had to lie down in the backseat, doubled over in pain. I pulled over at a rest stop and made him let me check the spots out, but the swelling had gone down. He had these stabbing pains in his gut though. I told him we needed to take him to a doctor. I wanted to see one myself. Fucking bites all over my legs.
“You gotta tell your parents to burn that fucking house to the ground.”
“Believe me, I will.”
I went and had the bites checked on Sunday. I was fine. I had my first nightmare that night. Back in that bag, being consumed by earwigs and centipedes.
I called Tom to see if he had gotten checked but he didn’t answer. I called him again on Monday. When I talked to him, he sounded … he sounded distant. Like he was thinking bout something else. I asked if he’d told his folks about the house and he said he hadn’t.
I took the day off and went to see him on Wednesday. I buzzed him, but he didn’t answer. I got into the building when someone else came out, and found his door was unlocked. He was sitting on his couch, staring at the far wall. He looked gray. His skin, it wasn’t pale or rotting or anything, but he did not look healthy. He hadn’t cleaned up in a couple days, the place stunk. He just sat there.
“Tom, we gotta get you to a doctor, dude.”
“I’m fine now, thanks.” he still sounded distant. I don’t think he even saw me.
“You’re not fine, dude. This isn’t fine. I’m getting you some clothes and we’re going to the hospital.”
Oh god, I let him out of my sight. This is my fault.
I’m so sorry, Tom.
I– when I came back, he was gone. His door was open. I went outside and looked for him, but he wasn’t anywhere. I waited for hours on the step to his building. Finally I went home.
I went back after work on Thursday, but his door was shut and locked. I buzzed him but got no answer. I called his cell and was directed straight to voicemail. I didn’t know what to do. I was struggling to think. I’d been having the nightmare for days and had started refusing to sleep. I couldn’t think straight. I shoulda called the police, but when I got home I fell asleep on the couch and dreamed of being trapped in the bag again. I swear, when I woke up it felt like the bites on my legs had returned.
Friday. It was a week after that awful day. I was a zombie the whole day. My supervisor told me to go home. I was so tired I missed the stop for Davis Square and found myself wandering out of Alewife, not even thinking about where I was going. The walk helped me think though, and when I got home I called Tom’s folks. I told them Tom was sick and I was worried about him.
“He did sound odd when he called last night.”
“He called you? Did he tell you about the house?”
“Well I assume that was a joke.”
“No, Sir, you need to have that place razed.”
“Razed? No, he didn’t say anything about that. He joked about going to live there.”
I honestly don’t think that was Tom. I don’t think he was in control at that point, and whatever was in control intended to take him back to the house to live there. Poor Tom.
I went back to his place that afternoon and got in again. His door was unlocked, but he wasn’t there. He had left a note on his fridge. You could tell he was fucked up, it was so hard to read. It said:
i can feel them moving
i can’t stop it
i don’t want to
My friend Tom shot himself that weekend. They found his body in Cambridge with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Just a body in an alley with a hole in its head. I didn’t even know he owned a gun. The police don’t suspect foul play, but they did an autopsy because he looked like he’d been on drugs. When I called his folks to give them my condolences, I asked them if they’d found drugs. They told me that the coroner had found dozens of large wasp larva living inside him.
They had been feeding on him from the inside, burrowing through his body.
I told his parents to get that house burned to the ground. I wanted to add that they should piss on the ashes. I wanted to piss on the ashes. I don’t know what they did about it. It may still be there. Buzzing with life.
the floor moved—
The house took Tom’s life. The bugs. And I can’t sleep. I’m trapped in a bag and they’re getting in my mouth and my nose and my ears. They’re moving across my skin, consuming me.
I don’t feel better. I just want to forget. How do I post this thing I can’t stand this room anymore.