Fierce Competition. Short Story.

His face was still creased with lines from the pillow, his eyes were dark and bruised looking, his hair spiralled off at weird angled as he walked slowly, almost like he was drugged, into the kitchen.
The cold of the tiles helped wake him up slightly, but not much. He had not slept well the night before and any sleep that was to be found was broken by long periods of wakefulness. His eyes burned and his body felt heavy. There were noises outside, the room was too cold, he couldn’t stop thinking, there were so many reasons why he couldn’t sleep it seemed as if the universe’s one goal was to stop a good nights rest.
He flicked on the kettle and stood, staring at it until it boiled, mind a blank and completely elsewhere. The rumbling boil and click brought him out of his stupor and reminded him what he was doing. Opening the cupboard, he reached in blindly and took out the first mug his fingers touched. He poured a few coffee granules into it and added the water. After stirring he added some milk and sugar, then took a sip. It burned his mouth but after a second he adjusted.

It only took a few moments to begin working, already he felt more alert, more awake, his body felt lighter, no longer like it was trying to drag him onto the floor for rest. After a moment, his stomach growled and he was hit with hunger pains, grabbing a bowl from the cupboard, he made himself cereal and hastily crammed a few spoonfuls into his mouth. Normally he’d try to cook something substantial as he wasn’t a fan of cereal, but he was too hungry to care.

He leaned on the counter, his empty cereal bowl sitting beside him, as he sipped his coffee. He glanced at the clock, saw the time “shit. I’m late.” he brought the cup with him as he left the kitchen, half jogging. He was halfway up the stairs before he remembered it was Saturday, he slowed, then stopped. After a moment he continued upstairs anyway, he needed to shower and he might as well do it now, besides, it would wake him up.

The bathroom was small and functional, the shower was crammed against one wall, while a sink and toilet were crammed against the others, taking a towel, he slung it over the side of the shower and turned it on. The hum of the shower and the noise of the water hitting the glass filled the air. Steam slowly drifted over the showers edge, he tested the water, then stripped and stepped in. The water, though warm, helped wake him up further. Being Saturday, he took his time in the shower, and when he emerged, it was through a thick cloud of steam, the mirror was covered and his reflection was hidden. Wiping at the condensation, a few errant drops formed and rolled down the mirror. He dried himself off and stepped into the hall, shivering at the sudden change in temperature.

He changed into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and went back to the kitchen, intent on making himself another coffee. As the kettle finished reheating the water, someone banged on the door three times. He picked up the kettle, filled the cup, then went to the door. When he opened it no one was there. He hadn’t thought he was that long getting to the door, he stepped back to close the door and saw the package. A non-descript brown box. Bending over, he set the cup down, then picked it up and, holding the box with one hand and the cup in the other, he carefully made his way back to the kitchen. He wasn’t expecting anything, but it was clearly addressed to him.

He opened the box, using a scissors to cut through the tape, and peeled back the flaps, curious as to what he would find. The box was empty. He opened it completely, to make sure he hadn’t missed something small, then reached in and felt around inside, just in case, but there was nothing there. He looked at the box for a moment, wondering why it had been sent to him and, after a moments examination, he crumpled the box and put it beside he’s recycling. He’d bring it out to the bin later. Obviously someone was playing some weird prank.

He kept thinking about the box throughout the day, trying to puzzle out its meaning. He had checked it again and saw there were stamps and post marks, someone had paid for it to be sent to him, but why? It was such a strange thing to send. At first he thought someone must have just dumped it on his step and ran away, considering how fast it was just left there, but no, it was delivered. The post office didn’t usually deliver on a Saturday though, maybe the marking on it were fake, but again, why? No matter how much he tried to push it from his mind, it kept creeping back, intruding on everything he did for the rest of the day.

That night he slept soundly and deeply, unaware of what was happening in his house. The box rustled slightly, as though something was trying to crawl through it, then, the box began to shake slightly. There was a squelching noise, then the movement stopped. The house was silent again, everything was as it should be, except for the thin trail of slime leading away from the box and towards the stairs.

He groaned in his sleep as his dreams became darker. Something was in his room with him, sliding over the covers, coming towards his face, he tossed and turned, moaning in fear. He could feel it, cold and slimy against his face, it continued to move upwards, towards his ear as he tried and failed to stop it. There was a brief, sharp sting of pain, then the dream ended. He settled down, returning to his restful sleep again.

He woke the next morning, refreshed and in a good mood. It was going to be a good day. The whole business with the box was mostly forgotten and completely out of his mind by midday, when he put everything out into the recycling bin never sparing the box a second thought.

He the rest of the day passed quickly enough, he managed to get some work done and cleaned around the house, he wanted to get more done, but he was feeling slightly sick and had begun to sneeze and cough. As the day progressed, so did his symptoms. Anything he ate or drank was immediately rejected, sending him fleeing to the nearest sink or toilet, his coughing became deeper, rumbling from his chest as he spat out great wads of green phlegm, his face was flushed as his temperature slowly began to rise, climbing steadily higher.

That night he lay in bed, miserable and trying to sleep. He tried to get comfortable, to find a way to sleep that wouldn’t send him into gales of coughs and splutters. He started to shiver, it was so cold in the house, even beneath the duvet. He snuggled down deeper, trying to get warm.

His breathing was slow and laboured, each breath gurgling from his throat. He had managed to fall into a light, dreamless sleep. Drops of blood fell slowly from his ears, sliding down his face, staining his pillow maroon, his nose bled freely, twin streams pouring down his cheeks, each cough emitted mucous mixed with blood. His body becoming slowly weaker. There was a squelching sound as a sudden wave of blood spurted from his ear, slowly, something wiggled from the small canal. It landed on his wet pillow with a meaty plop, before it wriggled off the side of his bed. He breathed one more, one final, laboured breath before his chest stilled.

The creature moved out of the room, full from its meal but pleased, it had done a good job. Its master would be pleased.

He was found a few days later, after not turning up for work. Janice was quite pleased when they made the announcement that he had passed on. She was a shoe in for that promotion now. She opened her drawer and, reaching in, she petted the strange creature gently, it squirmed happily beneath her fingers, happy it had served it’s master well.


About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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