When it began, I did not pay attention to it: one small red circle on my leg. It could pass off as a mosquito bite, no big deal.
I am no patient person. Soon after I discovered the bite I scratched it until it bled. It hurt, but it did not go away. The bite was sore for a few days before it came back to itch with a vengeance. I simply put it in the back of my mind. And there was this sick pleasure of scratching it until my blood slowly dripped out of it. It made it more satisfying, even if it did not make the bite go away.
We had been sharing a bed. We had done it for a while now. Freshly moved in together and spending way much more time together than before. We were completely unused to that. Sharing our lives so intimately with another person, not to mention waking up to the same person every morning.
And so, in spending so much time together, we ran out of things to say. We fell into monotony, and monotony led us right into a false sense of safety that our bubble would never be touched.
Would this have anything to do with what happened? Maybe. Who knows. Maybe it thought slithering into our monotony would go unnoticed. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but when she pointed out how banged up my leg was, I shrugged it off.
“It is just a bruise,” I said.
“Maybe you blew something while biking.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, maybe.”
“Does it hurt?” she asked and reached out to touch it.
“Not that I recall.” She pressed on the bruise, and I felt nothing. I shook my head.
“That is weird,” she said to herself, running a hand down my calf.
“What is?” I put my hand on her head and stroked her hair.
“You got a mountain chain of mosquito bites,” she made a pause, as if suddenly remembering something. “Very much like mine.”
She lifted her pants and surely, there was a chain of red, angry mosquito bites. I touched them, one by one.
“Do they itch?” I asked.
I leaned down and licked them, then I blew what I expected to be cold air. “And now?”
She stared at me intently. “Do it again.”
And so I repeated the motion.
I kissed softly along her leg and before I drew back, I licked the inside of her leg from her ankle to her knee. She sighed, and I felt how she leaned down on the bed. I knew where this was going; she knew where this was going. I crawled on top of her and pecked her lips. I felt her hands circle my neck and tangle on my hair to bring me down for a hard kiss. My tongue met hers, and the warm bliss settled all over my body — kissing her had always been the biggest pleasure I could ever encounter.
Her hands dragged along the front of my body and settled in the hem of my shirt. She pouted and batted her eyelashes at me.
“Take it off?”
I smirked and shook my head.
The morning found us taking a shower together. Showers always meant a gentle exploration of muscles, a worshipping of curves, a stroking of birthmarks and scars. Time was suspended on a thread during showers. Until it came back barreling into us. Her hands brushed my hips, halted, and ran again over the same spot, effectively stopping the spell.
“What is it?” I asked languidly.
“You got something there,” she said, lowering her head so she could take a look.
“What does it look like?”
“Like another mosquito bite. Come on, we have to wrap this up.”
And like that, our ritual was cut short.
We dried ourselves, and before I put my shirt on, she stopped me and looked at my side. She gasped and ran her hand along the space below my ribs and between my hips and the side of my leg.
“What is it?” I asked, now worried at her silence.
“Do you feel nothing?”
“It tickles a little.”
“Look in the mirror.”
I did, and in the mirror I realized my side was completely covered in angry, rounded, and big bites. “This is not a mosquito,” I mused out loud.
“No,” she agreed. She then showed me her leg, which looked bore the evidence of yet another overnight attack. “Our bites are identical.”
“Do you think there is something in the bed?” I asked, putting my shirt on.
“I have no idea,” she said, wide-eyed.
“Let us check.”
We walked to the bed and threw the cover and the sheets off. We took the duvet off. We used the sheets to beat anything out of the bed, and we left it there to soak in the sunlight. Any insect that has nested in a bed will be pulverized by sunlight. Sunlight cleanses.
After that initial scare, we moved on with our lives. She prompted me to look at myself in the mirror every morning, and also to use a homemade ointment she and her mother had made. The bites on my side would not go away; the bite chain that started below my ribs and continued all the way to my ankle looked even redder and bigger. I scratched them every morning for pleasure and at night out of impatience. They refused to heal, and they itched like hell.
“Spider?” she asked me one night.
“I have not felt anything very leggy,” I wiggled my fingers over her arm and she gave me a scoff, but the smile was there.
“I am serious. There is something somewhere and I do not like it.”
“Okay, let us change the sheets again and if it continues happening, we buy another mattress. Sound good?”
She nodded and looked pleased at the solution I offered.
That night, I had a weird dream. I dreamt I was somewhere with tall, impenetrable walls and something was stalking me. I could not run, my body felt heavy and tingly. It was dark, and I could not shake the feeling of being watched. Not even watched — that is putting it nicely. I felt like prey, and I could not identify the predator.
In this dream, I could not move. I was rooted in place, in the middle of a vast and unending darkness, because something was tugging me, tying me down to the floor. I struggled, grasping at nothing, touching some sort of fog that suddenly smelt rotten. I started breathing faster, the spoilt air filling my nose and lungs. I felt my insides turned rotten and velvety dark.
I looked down at my legs. I could finally make out the shape of what was seizing me. A parasite, a shiny black arthropod with a smooth head that resembled obsidian was clawing at my legs, chewing them, drawing blood from them. The head shifted, and its several deep green-and-black eyes stared up at me, and I yelled. I expelled all the foul fog I had been breathing and yelled myself hoarse.
She was holding me and rubbing my chest into consciousness when the dream fell apart. I was sweating and found my hand scratching madly at my right leg, where I felt a warm liquid. I could feel the vibrations of her voice against my back, but I could not hear her above all the white noise burning my ears. The dream still lingered in the back of my eyes and the hollow of my throat and I could not forget.
Something queasy sat in the pit of my stomach and burned all along my throat. I felt the sudden need to vomit, and I detached myself from her embrace and ran to the bathroom.
I barely made it before I started vomiting until my eyes watered and my stomach growled in response to the effort. The liquid oozing out of me was deep black and viscous. I recoiled the moment I saw it. I was feeling light-headed and collapsed on my side in a weird position.
“What is that?” She asked me, putting me in a sitting position and separating me from the toilet. She touched my face and her cold hands felt soothing and grounded me in reality.
“I do not know, but I dreamt about it,” I said, my voice raw and slurred.
“What happened to your leg?”
I mumbled something in response, and when I saw my leg I understood why I was feeling so light-headed. I was bleeding profusely from all the bites along my limb.
“It is not an insect,” I said.
“It is not a spider or a mosquito. It is something else.”
“What are you talking about?” She asked me, and I could hear her desperation in trying to understand what I was saying.
“I saw it. It was eating my leg. It is still in the bed.”
Her face was blurry, and my body was slowly shutting down. I felt her hands on my face and all around me, and I lost consciousness knowing for sure I was safe with her.
In the morning, the dream felt more like a memory than a passing incident my subconscious came up with. I also had a killer hangover, absolutely no appetite whatsoever, and a bandage around my leg.
I sat up in the bed, but she stopped me gently with a hand on my shoulder.
“You have to rest,” she looked worried and red-eyed.
“Did you cry?”
“You passed out in my arms. You would have cried, too.”
“I felt safe,” I said barely audible.
“What happened?” She asked, laying down beside me.
I explained everything. I recounted my dream with vivid detail — the darkness, the fog, being tied down — but when I got to describing the creature, I could not get the words out. The image was seared into the back of my skull, but somehow I could not find the words to describe it. I could not utter its existence. Stuttering and gesturing wildly with my hands, I was not able to conjure a picture so that she could see what I saw, and I only succeeded at worrying her more.
She insisted I stayed in bed all day, resting. She helped me stand up, but putting my weight into my right leg caused a great deal of pain and a burning sensation. She left for work and texted me constantly throughout the day to see how I was doing. I stayed in bed reading and taking naps, making up for the energy I lost after waking up from the nightmare. And when she came home I was feeling more like myself.
She went into the bathroom and came out with a fresh face, looking more than ready for bed. She bounced into the bed, cuddled up to me and burrowed under the covers. She smiled at me, sleepily.
“Will you be okay tonight?”
“I feel okay right now,” I said, running my pointer and middle fingers from her forehead to the tip of her nose.
“Charmer,” she smiled.
“Only for you.”
“I got you,” she said, dead serious.
I smiled back. “I know.”
I did not lie. I knew she would have my back any time and anywhere, I just did not know how far that would take us.
We laid still in bed. Me on my back and her on her side, hugging me, her hand under my shirt. There was nothing remarkable about that night. The crickets did not sing a song of premonition. The darkness did not feel inciting, and yet there was haste and no bullshit whatsoever in the take over. It took that thing only two nights.
The first thing I registered was that something was tugging at my arm. I opened my eyes, but my body did not register my wakefulness. I looked at my periphery, and I could make out her shape. I figured she was tugging at my arm, but I could not tell her to stop because I was already awake. I tried to ease her worry, to tell her everything was okay and there was no need to tug me so painfully.
Darkness surrounded us and my mind was foggy, barely registering what was happening. I tried to blink, but even that required extra strength that I suddenly was short of. It was as if my body did not belong to me anymore and I was at the mercy of this darkness and numbness and tingle that began in my hips and moved lower to my legs, but did not reach my feet.
Panic began seizing me. I tried to take a deep breath, but there was a pressure on my chest, pushing me down, contracting my lungs. And then I thought the inevitable.
“You are going to die here,” said a voice in the back of mind that did not quite sound like my own.
The bed shifted, and I could feel her warmth leaving my side. “No, please, come back,” my own voice whispered in my head.
I got sucked into the silence and the depth of paralysis. I went down. I was looking up as if I were underwater and I was being pulled to the bottom of the unknown darkness. I could not call out for her, could not breathe, could not come up. I was suspended in nothing.
And then I saw her come back; she looked down at me, concern and determination and fury all at once showing in her face. Whatever she was going to do, she was going to do it by force and deep down she was going to enjoy it.
Something cracked. Like glass breaking into tiny pieces. I looked around me, and I could see the cracks sprouting in the darkness — thin silver lines spreading through the endless wall. The only sound breaking into the silence was an insistent pounding, it became clearer the more cracks appeared in the darkness. And just like that I was being pulled up for air with a horrible and sharp screech following closely behind.
I inhaled and coughed. She tugged my arm and pulled me out of the bed. I stumbled and ended up on the floor. I felt how the blood flowed out of my leg, staining the bandage and my pants. The screech was still there, but I was too dazed to try to find the source of it. However, she was fast in locating it.
“Look! Under the bed,” she pointed with the tip of a knife dripping with something viscous I did not even see when she pulled me up.
And surely, under the bed was the arthropod that haunted my dreams. It was facing up, its disgusting legs grasping at nothing and screeching. There was blood in what I could assume was its belly.
“What in the fuck?” I asked, heaving and scattering as far away as possible from it.
“That was on your leg, sucking on your blood,” she explained.
“What is the black goo?” I pointed unhelpfully under the bed where she could not see.
“What black goo?” She laid on the floor and turned to look at it. The arthropod was thrashing about in a black, velvety substance, looking to draw strength from it.
“Help me move the bed,” she said, determined and dropping the knife.
I do not know how I stood up, and together we turned over the bed. Maybe we were pumped up in adrenaline. Maybe our fight response was stronger. But whatever the reason was, when we turned over the bed we saw the arthropod was not thrashing in just goo, but in a sort of obsidian black nest with pointy ends sticking out of our wooden floor.
“What in the fuck?” It was her turn to ask.
No sooner had we discovered the arthropod’s nest when it recovered part of its impulses and jumped towards her. I, on pure instinct, managed to swing my foot on time and kicked it out of her way. It crashed against the wall, leaving a print of red and black on it, unable to recover from the impact. She picked up the knife and went towards it, stabbing it and nailing it to the floor. The screech that echoed through the space was deafening.
“What do we do with that?” She pointed at the nest.
“We set fire to it,” I answered without a pause to think about it.
Dawn warmed us from head to toe. She had dropped the knife, my pants were changed, and the firefighters busied themselves inside our apartment.
One of them came out carrying a plastic box of evidence with a weird black amorphous thing inside. “Is this yours?”
“Not anymore,” she said.
This story previously appeared as the winner of Scary Story Contest 2020.
Edited by Marie Ginga
Adriana Acevedo is an editor, writer, and sleep paralysis demon. She's been published in magazines like samfiftyfour and Impostor. Whenever she's not reading horror stories or watching horror movies, she enjoys baking all sorts of goods with sourdough. Read more of her writing here.