By Any Means
He heard Lucas calling out in the distance and his reedy cry, infused with terror, made the hair on Keith’s arms stand on end. Keith ran down a hospital hallway that seemed to stretch on forever, pulling like warm taffy into a horizon he would never reach.
“Daddy!” Lucas screamed, a word he hadn’t used since he was a toddler.
“I’m coming!” The walls shrunk, squeezing against him; impossibly, the cold hardness of the wall rubbed against his elbows, the air heavy in his lungs, the sour smell of worms and shit, the incline steeper, impossibly slow. He couldn’t move his legs fast enough.
Something followed him. Not a person; a presence. A darkness that swallowed even the dark, making it more than just the absence of light. Something malevolent, something he couldn’t even name. He dared not look back lest he give it form. He knew if he saw it, it would consume him whole.
His son wailed once more.
The hallway door was closer, and he grabbed onto the knob, fearing it would slip from his hands, and turned--
Inside, he looked up, the air leaving his lungs and thought from his mind—a monster. Under the green tint of lights, strapped to a vertical gurney, arms outstretched, standing on display, the monster was his son. Skin desiccated, wrinkled, tubes running along his limbs, pumping him like a human cow, viscous fluid siphoning from him, withering him to nothing, his life force draining into machines. His son’s eyes rolled back, and the top of his head—his head, what’s wrong with his head—a red seam ran along the skull and the rest, where his hair should be, was gone, removed like the top of a teapot. Lucas lifted his hand and reached toward his father, his lips parched, his voice like wet gravel, “Help me…”
Keith woke, his body wet with perspiration, the nightmare fading, his heart slowing to its regular rhythm, how silly, how stupid, I haven’t had a nightmare in ages, and he looked over to check on his son in the bed next to him.
Lucas was having a seizure.
For a moment he was tangled in his blanket, then he rushed to Lucas’s side. Not knowing what else to do, he held him. “I’m here, son, I’m here.” Keith hadn’t witnessed a seizure before, and it scared him, the uncontrollable movements, hands flailing, teeth grinding; the sound of sandpaper against metal, the body contorted, turbulent and twitching.
His son was stronger than Keith imagined; he could barely hang onto him. Lucas’s feet swiveled and inadvertently hit Keith in the shin. He held onto his son, feeling Lucas’s waves of muscle tension, releasing and tightening and repeating. Not since Lucas was a swaddled baby had Keith held him so long and so tight, body to body, embraced.
“I won’t let you go. I won’t let you go.”
The convulsions didn’t stop. They continued for over a minute, an eternity, and kept going. Keith didn’t know what to do. Instead, he whispered, “It’s gonna be all right, Lucas. You’re safe. You’re safe.”