by Mike Dewar and Ellen
Harry giggled foolishly as we sat side-by-side on the picnic blanket, staring up at the blue sky. The elderly man handed our camera back to us. “There you go,” he said warmly. "A lovely family photo.”
"Thanks a lot,” she answered, smiling at him. The old man returned her smile, nodded to me, and then puttered his way down the beach. "Well, he was nice,” Harry said. "Wasn’t he?”
I could tell by her tone that it was one of those special wife questions that is always answered by “Yes, dear.” So to wind her up a bit, I frowned.
"I don’t know… seemed a bit strange to me…” I said slowly.
"Strange?” she asked incredulously. “We’ve both seen much weirder old guys than that. Remember that regular at the soup kitchen who kept trying to play the harmonica with his nose?”
I laughed. “Yeah, I remember. It never did work, but he never gave up. But handing our camera to the guy? He could have been a insane psycho-killer type, looking to collect souvenirs of his victims,” I chided her.
Harry snorted. "Uh-huh. An 80-year-old runs around killing people. What does he do, fall over on them?”
"Age doesn’t mean weakness,” I said as sternly as I could, already growing tired of teasing her. “My grandmother could do away with a professional wrestler, she could.”
Harry shoved me playfully, forcing me to lie down. It was a fine excuse for me to stop talking and do what I really wanted, which was grab her and hold on tight. I pulled her down next to me, and she pretended to resist, but not too hard.
We did the marital-cuddle thing, lying on our backs. It was nice and cosy, except for one thing.
"Ow,” I muttered.
"What’s wrong, Francis?” she asked, snickering as I blinked repeatedly.
"Harry, you’ve got me staring directly into the sun. It smarts a bit, you know?”
I could feel her smile as she pressed her head into my shoulder. "Poor baby.”
"I’m glad you find my agony so amusing,” I shot back. "If I go blind and fall off the edge of a cliff, it’ll be all your fault.”
"Francis, there are no cliffs around for miles,” she told me, snickering.
"Well… there are high rocks,” I offered, stroking her hair.
"Oh, the danger, Mr Doyle!” she said in a mock-scared voice.
"Never fear, Mrs Doyle, I eat danger for breakfast!” I replied, doing my best super-hero imitation.
"Is that some kind of crack about my cooking?” she asked tartly.
"Wouldn’t you like to know…” I said, glancing at her and waggling my eyebrows.
Harry giggled again. "You look like an utter idiot!” she gasped, between chuckles.
"I’m going to be a blind idiot soon…” I said melodramatically. "Because my cruel, cruel wife is making me burn my eyeballs out.”
"Oh stop being a baby,” she said, poking me. "Take the sunglasses.” I accepted the proffered black lenses and slid them onto my nose. "There, is that better?”
It wasn’t. Pain tore through me, and my back arched so sharply I thought it would break. I stared upwards at the blue sky and saw…
…Harry, sobbing with fear as something leapt on her, growling like a wild beast… blood spilling in a ruby pool across the floor of our living room… Her shrieks cut off abruptly. Everything seemed to darken.
"Harry…” I moaned, trying to bring back the images of her. What was happening to me?
But the picture darkened further. And then I became aware of something else, directly in front of my face, in the darkness. A strangely familiar set of features, greenish in hue with spikes sprouting from every inch of skin…
I screamed as it rushed towards me and the hideous face screamed too… and its voice was my own.
With a final jolt, the images left me, broken and tired, lying on the picnic blanket, Harry holding my trembling hand and staring at me with wide eyes.
"Oh, my God! Francis! Talk to me, are you going to be all right?"
As the jumble of flashing images slowly began to fade out of my mind, I could hear the note of panic in Harry's voice, and I tried to focus on a single goal: calming my wife. I wasn't nearly so certain that I could reassure myself.
"I will be... in a moment," I managed to gasp, with my hands still pressed tight over my eyes. "I'll be fine. Just... give me a minute."
The intensity of the pain had diminished now, but it was still throbbing angrily behind my eyes, and I was sure that if I opened them, the world would be spinning around me in dizzying circles, faster and faster, and I would surely pass out. Best to keep my eyes safely closed for as long as possible.
"What is it? What's happening?"
"Some kind of... migraine, I think. Never had this before," I muttered. "Maybe the sun... I don't know. I'll be fine in a moment."
"It will be all right," I repeated. "Just... need a little time."
A good stiff drink wouldn't hurt either, but we hadn't brought anything of that sort on a daytime picnic to the beach. For the first time, I wished that I were the type who always carries along a supply of my own liquid painkiller.
Her hands were stroking my forehead tenderly, and although the sensation itself wasn't pleasant, the feeling behind it made it tolerable. With my eyes still firmly shut, I reached up to take her hands away from my face, and pressed my lips lightly against the palm of each. She put her arms around me then, whispering, "Francis, please be all right."
"Gettin' there," I whispered back, hugging her to me, as the pain gradually eased. The memory of what I'd seen, or hallucinated, would take longer to go away.
Harry being attacked by something? A monster that turned out to be... me?
Was I having a premonition that I would do some harm to Harry?
I had heard stories that something vaguely called "the second sight" was supposed to run in the family, but I had never heard that "the sight" involved excruciating pain. If it did, I couldn't imagine anyone who had it ever surviving long enough to pass it on to another generation.
I wasn't sure that I'd survive another episode of whatever this had been.
Then again, if those flashes meant that I was going to hurt my Harry, that the blood I had seen spilled on the carpet in our living room was hers... better if it did kill me.
Of course, the picnic mood was spoiled by that mind-splitting headache, and as soon as I was able, Harry and I packed up our things. I was still a bit unsteady on my feet, but I put her off when she suggested a stop at the nearest Emergency Room.
"I'm better now," I insisted. "Whatever that was, it's wearing off. Do you really want to spend the next few hours sitting around with the overdoses and the stabbing victims?"
"I just want to make sure you're OK, Francis."
"I'll be fine. I just want to go home." I knew that there was still doubt in her face, so I looked away, hearing the tone of pleading in my own voice and hating it. "Let's just go home."
When we arrived at our apartment, though, the first thing that came to my mind was what a stupid idea it had been to hang that huge full-length mirror in the living room, directly opposite the front door. It gave me a perfect view of how terrible I looked.
No wonder Harry was still staring at me with that worried expression. I glanced at the pain-pinched face in the mirror, complete with red-rimmed eyes, and immediately got a flash of memory of the green, spiked face that I'd seen while I was having that fit.
I'd seen the monster's face in my mind only through a haze of darkness, but I was almost sure that I'd been seeing it reflected in this very same mirror.
Maybe I had a brain tumor. Maybe I was going crazy. Maybe I was dying.
Well, whatever it might be, I was spending the rest of this day with my wife in our own home. Tomorrow, along with whatever medical testing, poking and prodding it might bring, would just have to take care of itself.
"Hot water or cold?" Harry called out from the bathroom, after I sank down on the couch and closed my eyes again.
"I'm getting a washcloth for your head. Would hot or cold feel better?"
"Let's try hot first." In a few moments, she came out with a steaming-hot washcloth, her hands still red from wringing it dry, and placed it gently on my forehead. I winced at first, but after a moment, the heat did seem to help a little. I wasn't sure whether cold might not have done just as well, but I wasn't in any mood to experiment.
Harry curled up next to me on the couch, and I managed to put one arm around her. "I'm feeling better, really," I assured her. "It's almost gone now."
"Whatever it was."
"Whatever it was," I agreed softly, pulling her close.
For awhile, neither one of us said anything. The pain was finally gone, but the fear remained. Harry was holding on to me like she didn't want to let go, and I was feeling much the same way.
"Francis?" She whispered softly.
"I just want you to know..." Her voice broke off abruptly, and she traced the outline of my lips with a finger, instead. "Oh, God, you're only twenty-one," she blurted out. "I can't stand the idea of something happening to you."
"I'll be all right." I tried to sound reassuring, but my wife knew me better. She could tell that I was just as scared as she was.
"I just want you to know that whatever happens, even if you're sick... I'm not going anywhere. OK?"
"I hear you. I'm not plannin' on goin' anywhere either, sweetheart."
She pressed tighter against me. "You'd better not, because I'll never forgive you if you leave me, so don't you dare."
I laughed a little at her fierce expression. "Yeah, I know. Love you too."
She kissed me then, and I found that I was doing quite a bit better, after all.
The first time the doorbell rang, we ignored it. We had something much better to do. The second time, though, Harry sighed and pushed herself away from me, with an obvious show of reluctance.
"Hold that thought, lover, I'll be back," she promised.
"I certainly hope so."
When she first opened the door, I was looking toward her, not toward the mirror. A slight, blonde woman with a blood-streaked face sagged in the doorway, her arms dangling limply at her sides, held between a teenage boy and a large, muscular-looking man.
”Oh, thank you so much for answering! Can you help us?” the boy blurted out nervously “We were in a car accident and my mother’s been hurt. I think she hit her head. May we please use your phone?”
”You shouldn’t have moved her!” Harry exclaimed. “Yes, come in, you can call 911 from here. I hope she isn’t too badly hurt.”
I stood up, ready to help if I could, and my own movement caught my eye in the mirror. That was when I half-glanced toward the mirror, and then looked again. The mirror showed only Harry standing in the doorway, talking to... Nothing.
The woman and the two men standing there had no reflection in the mirror. At the same moment when I realized that, all three of them moved.
"Harry, no!" I shouted, too late. The man seized her by both arms, and the boy headed toward me.
At that point - if I was lucky - I would wake up, still screaming her name.