"I love you, and I'm home!"
But she doesn't reply.
When the man's scarred finger
puts pressure on the door, it swings open halfway, a splintered divide
between the twilight outside and the darkness within.
He stands outside, looking
in. Strange, he thinks, the candles should be lit, and a lantern or
two. Strange also: no scent of fat frying in the pan, and no snapping
of sausage. Quiet, but then a cool breeze stirs from the dark room,
wafting out bits of crushed rosebud, an air of stale incense. And beneath
this air, something slightly acrid, almost rotten.
If he didn't know it was safe,
he would be worried. He would have been worried, before. The November
sun had set fast, and now his eyes strain against the murky blue, struggling
to make out the stone doorway, the warped and bruised oak door.
Darkness inside his house.
An acrid air and a scent of incense... this would be bad news if he
didn't know it was safe. But then he calls,
"I love you, and I'm home!
I brought you flowers."
The flowers are meant as a
surprise. He brings mysotis: forget-me-nots. It is a sharp surprise
indeed, he thinks. Mysotis blooms in the spring. That means,
off to New Zealand and back by dinner, bringing her favorite flowers.
Clearly, she wants to surprise me too. Why else would the door hang
open a crack, and why wouldn't she light candles and lanterns? This
is a game, a trick. When I walk through the door, she will spring on
me, covering me with kisses, as I toss up the flowers. I love her, I
have passion, and I have to tell her.
The man steps inside the door.
She mutters something.
She springs on him.
But instead of being covered
with kisses, he feels he is covered with spiders.
The spiders seem to crawl from
the flowers, out of his hair, and up from the floor. Tiny and fast,
they scurry across him, biting, but they aren't even spiders anymore.
These spiders seem like sparks. Almost like the time he stuck a knife
in the toaster, trying to get the toast out. Like the time he was almost
struck by lightning when attaching the lightning rod to the roof. He'd
always had a foolish streak.
The sense ascends.
The spiders and sparks are
in a frenzy; they bite and tickle his skin. He can't stop from wailing.
And then he realizes this isn't her. He knows it's not a game. He remembers
where he felt this before. He can only pray it will stop. He knows it
cannot go on for long. If it does, he has to die.
Now spidersparks throb through
his being. It is nearly alive, the thing he is fighting, and it rents
his hair, scalds his back, stabs his tongue with a hundred tiny knives.
His eyes are all a haze, and bulge as the black room shimmers pink spidersparks.
He feels spit in his throat; it is boiling hot. He can't think, he can't
stop, while the spidersparks, the daggers, converge at his back, rending
his skin with barbs.
A moment ago, none of this
had happened. He stands at the door. He wears beaten boots, black leather,
torn in places, and the sole has started to split. But he could never
throw these boots away, not after what they have taken him through.
The flowers in his hand pull back in the breeze gushing from the open
door. They are unaffected by the breath of old incense, and ignore the
lingering rotteness. He picked them only hours earlier, in a bright
New Zealand meadow. Because he loves her, and wants to surprise her.
Because she needs surprises, after what she's been through. Because,
right now, the whole world needs to laugh and be happy.
The man's mind is clear and
serene. Flowers for his wife, for his true love. She is waiting inside
for him, waiting to pull her prank. So he lifts his foot, extends his
leg, and steps forward.
Time is bottomless,
he thinks, when you are scorched like this. Wasn't someone turned
inside out by a spell once? Wasn't that historically documented? Haven't
hundreds been killed? I wish I were they, and they were fortunate. Nothing
is worse than what I feel now. Because as soon as I step through that
door, a mutter, and spiders bite all over my body.
As he spasms he remembers the
past and the future. His son, the only son who laughed before crying.
His son that smiled on the first day. It seems... he remembers his friends,
his school days, long walks down by the lake, and butterbeer in Hogsmeade,
running down the Great Hall with her hand in his hand, or holding her
rose colored dress up to his nose, a scent of fresh incense, or fresh
rosebuds, nothing acrid... it seems... he remembers his father helping
build the treehouse, saying "We'll eat the apples that fall from
the tree." He remembers the day when the brass band played the
twist, and he was the only student who knew the moves. They all clapped
as he flipped, the clumsiness falling from his body as soon as he had
a tune to move to. And now he moves elegantly as well, with spidersparks
crawling down his throat. Crawling into his body. It seems...
It seems to be over.
He sits in a small room. There
are people present, in the background. He cannot see them.
He is middle-aged, balding,
with a straggly beard, and directly above him, someone speaks.
"-- wanted to tell you.
Um... it was the best. I... never expected to have so much fun."
A boy crouches before him,
extremely pale. The boy is speaking.
"School. It's June."
"And I just got home.
Made lots of friends. It was wonderful. I mean... it... was..."
A long pause.
The boy seems to be be straining,
concentrating on something.
A spiderspark crawls up the
man's arm, and he slaps it. The boy winces.
"Excuse me," the
man says. Why am I here? he thinks. Who are these people?
Where are my flowers? Where is my wife? What has happened to my home?
"Um..." says the
"Forgive me," the
man says gently. "You were telling me something."
"Maybe I should go."
"No, please. I want to
hear what you were saying."
A long pause. The boy buries
his face in one hand. The man watches him patiently.
When the boy stands up, his
face is still pale, but his eyes are red and swollen, his nose running.
"I just --" he stammers,
"I just, I just, I just."
Spidersparks crawl all over
the man's body. It seems they are running through his brain, smashing
his thoughts like bottles.
"Hey," said the man.
He reaches forward timidly, and touches the boy under the chin. "Chin
The boy sniffs for several
"I just," he said,
"I just wanted to tell you thank you so much because now there's
a place where I belong."
The man feels his heart pumping.
He can't explain why he feels this way, so protective. This child
is clearly alone, he thinks. And he looks cold, he keeps shivering.
But now, things are better for him, he has just told me so.
"I don't know who you
are," he says, "but I know that your life will be happier
than mine. I'm sorry that you're alone and cold. Take my blanket, it's
cold in November."
Trembling uncontrollably, the
boy stands. His fists and teeth are clenched, his elbows bent, and it
seems he might crumple at any moment.
"I'm sorry," gags
the boy. "I'm going now. Goodbye."
The boy hurries toward a distant
"Wait!" calls the
The boy turns around.
"Take care," whispers
the man. "Please take care," and his voice builds. "You
are very special, and your eyes. They sparkle like my wife's. Her eyes
sparkled the day I met her."
The boy stands at the door
for a moment, trembling harder than ever.
Slowly, he calms.
He never blinks.
He never takes his eyes from
Then, with sudden resolve,
he steps back into the room, embraces the man for an instant, and sprints
through the door to the hall.
The door is open. The man stands,
his flowers in his hand, before crossing that threshold into the dark
room. So he lifts his foot, extends his leg, and steps forward.
Someone mutters a word to his
But it's too late.
The hospital wardens are shutting
down for the night, washing the dishes, cleaning the linen, escorting
out the guests.
"Who was that boy?"
the man asks a warden.
"That was your son, Mr.