A PAIN IN THE NECK
I was on my way home from a movie when the dark thing fell on me. I’d been walking quickly, hurrying to the safety of home. Lewington isn’t a dangerous place to live, but I’d just watched the late showing of Creepers from the Crypt. I couldn’t fight the urge to rush through the empty streets. Images from the film chased me as I went, threatening to leap from my mind and become real.
Just one block back, I’d split up with my friend Norman. He headed left on Maple. I stayed on Spruce, walking past that huge oak whose roots were slowly breaking up the sidewalk by the vacant lot.
I heard nothing. I saw very little. Later, thinking back, I remembered the eyes and the teeth. At the time, I just knew darkness was dropping toward me. And the darkness wasn’t only in the night; it filled my mind and took me away.
The darkness inside me lifted as I woke, leaving me wondering why I wasn’t in bed. I was somewhere hard and cold. There was dirty concrete beneath my fingers. I sat up slowly, feeling the world spin. I held very still, waiting for it to stop.
I stood. The world spun again, but with less force. I put one hand out and touched the rough bark of the tree.
The tree. Something dark? Something falling? I couldn’t quite remember.
I turned toward home, unsure of what had happened. I’d passed out or fainted. No. “Guys don’t faint,” I mumbled to myself.
Behind, I heard the scraping slap of sneakers on the sidewalk. Someone was calling a name. Someone was calling me. I turned, moving cautiously, afraid that the world would follow my motion and start to spin again.
It was Norman. He was running toward me, one finger pushing up the glasses that were always sliding down his nose. “Splat, hey, Splat, you okay?”
They call me Splat. It’s a long, stupid story. My name’s Sebastian. Sebastian Claypool. That name is a short, stupid story. Before I was born, Mom and Dad were listening to a lot of music written by Johann Sebastian Bach. Dad thought Johann would be a strange name for a kid. So, blam, they hang Sebastian on me. Thanks, Dad.
It could have been worse. They also liked the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Norman reached me and stood there, taking deep breaths like a catfish dragged onto shore. Running was not a big part of his life. The night had grown chilly, and the air turned to swirls of fog as it left Norman’s nostrils. “I looked back and you were on the ground,” he said. “Did you trip?”
“I don’t know.” I tried to remember. “Don’t tell anyone, but I think I passed out.”
“Wow, that’s bad. It could mean all kinds of things.” He pushed up his glasses again. “You should probably get a CAT scan. I wouldn’t rule out a brain tumor, though of course blood sugar is generally a factor in these cases, and the glucose level by itself isn’t always enough of an indicator to determine—”
“Norman.” I tried to stop him. Once he got going, he was like a bus rolling down a hill. If I caught him while he was just inching along, there was hope. But after he picked up some speed and really started barreling along the Highway of Fascinating Facts, there was no way to slow him down. “Hold on. I just got a little dizzy, that’s all.”
“What’d you eat?” he asked.
I thought back. That part of my night was clear enough. I’d had my usual popcorn—the Tub-of-Fun size that lasts about a quarter of the way through the movie. I’d washed it down with a cherry cola. Then I’d had a pack or two of caramel chews and as many of Norman’s gummy eyes as he’d let me steal. Nothing there to make a kid lose touch with the world. I told Norman the list of snacks.
He seemed to be in deep thought. I imagined him running some kind of chemical tests in his mind, looking for a reaction between the assorted snacks. This could take all night. I just wanted to get home. “Look, thanks for coming over, but I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?”
I nodded. Except for the dizziness, which had almost totally faded, I felt perfectly normal. Actually, I felt pretty good. Everything was starting to look very sharp and clear. As I nodded, I noticed a slight tingling on the left side of my neck. The skin below my jaw felt numb. I rubbed the spot.
“You probably should see your doctor if it happens again.”
“Yes, Mother,” I kidded him. Having Norman for a friend was almost like having a third parent. I noticed that the tingling in my neck was going away.
“Okay.” He started to leave, then said, “See you tomorrow?”
“Sure. Maybe they got some new comics at the shop. We can check that out.” The tingling was completely gone. Everything felt fine.
“Great,” Norman said. “I’ll see you then.” He turned and walked back toward Maple.
“Thanks,” I called after him. As he walked away, he seemed, for a moment, to stay in sharp focus. It was almost like my eyes were some kind of zoom lens. But as soon as I was aware of it, the illusion snapped away.
I headed home. Whatever had happened was weird, really weird. I took my hand from my neck, squinting as I walked into the glare of a streetlight.
My fingers felt like they were still sticky from the movie snacks. That was strange. I looked down at my hand. For a second, I couldn’t tell what I was seeing. The light was so bright. Then I saw it.
There was blood on my fingers.
Copyright © 1997 by David Lubar