Afterwards, Adam only remembered a weird smell and an uneasy feeling, like the worry of having left the stove on, then waking up on the kitchen floor with an EMT crouching over him.
‘It was totally epic!’ his younger brother Iggy told him later, while they were at the hospital. ‘You busted your head open on the table and there was blood everywhere –’
‘That’s enough of that,’ their mother said as she all but carried Iggy out into the hallway, but she couldn’t keep him from continuing:
‘Hey, Ad, reckon you have superpowers now? I bet you have superpowers. What number am I thinking? Come on, what number?’
When they stopped at the pharmacy on the way home his mother muttered something about drug companies and child addicts, but she still filled the prescription, read the little information leaflet before handing the pills off to him, and even though she said he was old enough to be responsible for his own health she brought him a glass of water when they got home and watched as he swallowed the first dose. Then she went to clean up the blood on the kitchen floor while dinner was in the microwave.
He’d made plans to hang out with friends that evening, but instead he stayed home. He felt odd still, and he wasn’t sure if it was because of the seizure itself or because of how weird the day had been, how he’d spent part of it unconscious in the hospital or his head split open but now he was rolled in a blanket on the couch watching a movie with Iggy, everything back to normal except for the pills and the fact that his brain might go crazy again.
It was a relief when bedtime came, but after brushing his teeth and getting comfortable in bed he found himself watching the tracks that the headlights of passing cars made across the ceiling of his darkened room, caught himself wondering how long he’d been doing that and wondering if maybe he’d had another seizure in the middle of it, because he wasn’t sure when the numbers on his alarm clock had switched from eleven to two. He’d been drowsy all evening, had been looking forward to closing his eyes and then opening them to a normal Sunday morning. What else was sleep good for, other than letting you skip the boring bits of life?
The bedroom floor was cold under his feet, and he put on his socks from earlier that day before padding down the hall to the kitchen. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been awake in the middle of the night, moved through the house with everyone asleep. Not since he still believed in monsters at least. He used to wake with his heart pounding, run across the hallway and leap from the door to land on top of his mother so that whatever lived under her bed couldn’t grab him. That fear was still there, the fear of the things that lived in the dark, that couldn’t be seen.
He drank milk directly from the jug, but wiped the spot where his lips had touched with the dishtowel after. He regretted not going out now; maybe if he’d done something with the day he’d be able to sleep. Something more than going to the hospital, that is.
As he trudged back towards his room he noticed that his brother’s door was open, but as he stepped forward to pull it closed the beam of passing headlights slid by, cast the room in a brief blue light. A shadow gained body and grew, looming over the bed, and he caught the impression of long teeth and many limbs, smelled something claylike and vegetal.
The sound he made was, frankly, embarrassing. He jumped back and flailed for the light switch and the yellow glare of the ceiling lamp blinded him. But when he opened his eyes there was only Iggy, sitting on the floor by his bed with his pajamas tangled around him and eyes squinted shut against the light.
‘Adam, what on earth –’ His mother was behind him, her hand over her eyes.
‘I thought I saw . . . I don’t know what I thought I saw,’ he said.
‘Were you both sleepwalking, or just Iggy?’ she asked, and helped his brother to his feet.
‘I couldn’t sleep.’
‘Well, try again.’
He went back to his room, got back under the covers, turned out all but the bedside lamp. The doctor had warned him that he might see, or even smell or hear, things that weren’t there, but he couldn’t shake the impression that there had been something other than Iggy in that room, something that he wasn’t meant to have seen.
The next morning he waited until he was alone with Iggy, then asked, ‘Ig, did you see something last night, you know, before I turned on the light?’
His brother shook his head, not looking up from the cartoons he was watching.
‘Are you sure?’
‘There was just you when I woke up. Why?’
‘I thought I saw something in your room, standing over your bed.’ Adam hadn’t wanted to say it, but his brother seemed unshaken.
‘Maybe you were sleepwalking too,’ he said, and began spooning up cereal.
Adam decided to keep close to home that afternoon, though he couldn’t say if it was because he was worried about himself or about Iggy. The doctor had told him to keep a journal, not just of seizures but of all of his symptoms, and when he opened the notebook to the first page and wrote it down the whole thing seemed ridiculous. The thought of watching someone read, October 9: Last night I hallucinated a monster in my brother’s room, made him almost pull the page out of the notebook.
In the days after it felt as if he were walking on eggshells, waiting for something awful to happen. He was preoccupied with smells and sounds, with anything that might give him a moment of forewarning, hoping that he’d recognize a seizure and be able to get to somewhere private, or at least sit down, because the only thing worse than having another seizure would be having one in public, falling and bleeding and freaking people out. His mom didn’t say anything, but it was obvious that she was worried about him not going out any more, not seeing his friends, spending all his spare time moping around the house.
A week after hitting his head he was again lying awake at two in the morning, eyes closed, with the vague idea that if he pretended hard enough that he was asleep it would actually happen. Then he caught the smell of cold earth and cucumber vines, and felt his skin prickle with goose bumps.
It was a hallucination. He kept his eyes closed and let his muscles go slack, hoped that if he relaxed the smell would go away.
But the impression that someone was in the room with him only grew stronger – someone big but cold-skinned. The faint rustle of an indrawn breath.
It wasn’t there. No matter how scared he was, it couldn’t hurt him. He focused on his heartbeats, drawing his own breath in as slowly and deeply as possible, letting himself sink into the bed.
Then, as light as air, he felt something prickly touch his face, like a bed of pins had been laid over his eyes and mouth.
His first thought when he woke the next morning was that he must have had a seizure in his sleep: he remembered the smell and the fear, but besides that, nothing. At least he’d kept all of his bodily fluids on the inside this time.
He waited until he was alone to dig the journal out of the first aid drawer in the kitchen, found a pen and flipped to the second page to make a note of the night’s experiences.
Except there was already writing on the second page, and the third. All of it was his.
He skimmed the entries:
October 8: Had a seizure in the kitchen, fell and hit my head. Was taken to the hospital, mostly for the head. Started taking Phenytoin twice a day.
October 9: Last night I hallucinated a monster in my brother’s room
October 10: This time I saw it in my room, had a long, scaly body, eight legs, big eyes. Was gone when I turned on the light.
October 11: Got up in the night. Ig wasn’t in his bed. Went to Mom’s room, the thing was standing over her. Like watching a lamprey give CPR. Got out before it knew I was there.
October 13: Suspect seizure in sleep; when I came to write it down had no memory of what I wrote down yesterday and before.
October 14: Saw it again in Iggy’s room, standing over his bed.
He debated for a moment, then uncapped the pen and added, October 15: Suspect seizure in sleep again; no memory. Again.
After his brother and mother fell asleep that night Adam slipped out of his room and wandered the house, picking things up and putting them down again, flicking through magazines, surfing the Internet. He didn’t know what scared him more, that he might be seeing things that weren’t there, that he might be seeing things that were there, or that whatever he was seeing he was forgotting it.
The heavier his eyelids grew the less he wanted to go to his own room. He was too old to climb into his mom’s bed, but Iggy still jumped in with him sometimes when he had nightmares. It was after one in the morning when he gave in, slipped into his brother’s room and gently shoved Iggy until he made space on the bed. Adam settled in and the younger boy shifted, threw an arm across his chest.
As his eyes closed and sleep rolled over him he smelled it, clay and greenness, caught the impression that Iggy had grown and wrapped around him with many legs, that something spiny was covering his face.
When he woke up the next morning Adam was on the floor of his brother’s room; Iggy was looking down curiously at him from the bed.
‘Did I have a . . .?’
‘Yup. It wasn’t as good as the last one, though,’ Iggy answered. ‘Want me to go get your book?’
‘Yeah, sure,’ Adam groaned.
Iggy brought a pen, too, and a glass of orange juice, and as Adam opened the notebook he thought that maybe it wasn’t that bad. Some people had seizures every day, even several times a day.
The book was blank; he must have forgotten to write down the one that landed him in the hospital with the busted head. He scribbled down, October 8: Seizure in kitchen, hit head, taken to hospital. Started drugs, then paused for a moment. Was this morning only the second time? It felt like he’d been dealing with this, with the fear and uncertainty, for weeks, if not months. But if he’d been having seizures for so long he would remember it – and he would have definitely written it down. Maybe it was a side effect of the medication, maybe déjà vu. Maybe he just couldn’t trust himself. He wrote, October 16: Seizure in sleep, confirmed by younger brother.
At least he hadn’t been alone this time.