Author’s note: I don’t know if this story needs a warning with it or not. Most of you probably have a higher tolerance for “horror” than I do. That said, it goes briefly into that territory. You can use your own judgment about reading it (or tell me how tame it was in the comments.)
“I am told your name is Lucius.”
“I can’t see,” Lucius replied in a panic.
“Hmm. That is to be expected,” the voice reasoned aloud. “I do not suppose it is a darkness?”
“It’s, it’s bright. Why can’t I see?”
“Hmm,” the other replied, ignoring the question. “That is to be expected. I do not suppose you are in much pain?”
The man named Lucius felt pain all over his body but did not know where to begin describing it.
The voice, ever nonchalant, asked more questions. “Do you feel your arms and legs?”
“That is good. They have been horribly mangled.”
“What? What happened–“
“About your arms, though. I will be needing that jacket when you die.”
“When I die? What–“
The voice continued. “Unfortunately, it seems to have melted to your skin. Tsk. I will take the coat, I do not want the skin. I do believe I will leave that in the cacti.”
“It appears that any move you make will just bring you more pain.”
“Why does it feel like there’s something on my chest?”
“Because there is something on your chest, Lucius. Rather, someone I suppose. If you would just open your eyes I am sure all would become clear.”
Lucius did not know if he wanted to do that or not. If what the voice said was true, he might go into a state of shock upon seeing the damage done to his body. The heat that had bonded his skin and coat together was obviously bright as it was hot since his eyes were hard to open too. He might regret it but it might have ended up like a band-aid being ripped off. With much effort, he forced his eyes open.
The sight that greeted him was different than he expected. A pair of bloodshot yellow eyes sized him up and looked deep into his very own. It was no human. If anything, it looked like a bird close up. That must have been the someone on his chest. The bird was heavy and looked like he might feast on his eyes if he made the wrong move. He closed his eyes again and attempted to sit up but sure enough, the cacti and his mangled body worked together in the worst of manners. “Open your eyes, Lucius,” the voice bid calmly. “Do not be a coward.”
“There’s a hungry bird on me!” Lucius cried out.
“Open your eyes.”
He opened his eyes and saw that the bird was still staring into his gaze. He could see a little better now and could make out what kind of bird it was. He lifted his own voice a little higher to speak to the other one. “It appears to be a buzzard!”
“A vulture, more like,” the voice said, coming from the bird’s beak. “I never did understand that nomenclature.”
Lucius closed his eyes again. Hot tears tears painfully streamed from them. After a moment, he worked up the stamina to ask, “Am I dreaming or delusional?”
“I suspect or is the operative word. Also, you are a bloody coward.”
“You’re not talking to me. This is a trick of some sort.”
“Yes, most brilliant one. That accounts for all the pain.”
“What happened to me?”
“That depends, oh wise one. Are you talking to me or with me?” The bird’s eyes and voice spoke different languages.
“Shut up!” Lucius yelled at the cost of piercing pain shooting through him.
“Regardless,” the bird said. “I will be needing that jacket when you die. Do you suppose that might be soon?”
“Who says I’m not already dead? This is hell for all I know!”
“You would beg for this place if you knew hell.”
“Then what? Where? Why?” Lucius struggled to get each word out. “Is it a dream?”
“You would beg for a nightmare if you knew it be a dream.” He paused for a moment and then Lucius felt something new. Another creature was nearby, slithering, rattling. It slid up his arm and then across his neck. It made its way up to his ear and it flicked its tongue against it. “You would feel pain in a dream, but even that would end. You would feel nothing but pain in hell, but that would never end. Here, Lucius, you can only feel the world around you. What would you call that? Where would that be? Why? You ask the questions you think you want to know, but I think you already know the answers.” Then he clicked his tongue.
The snake snapped at Lucius’ neck and its fangs plunged deep. The venom worked straight away and his neck and throat grew tight. He could breathe less and less between that and the weight on his chest. His body convulsed and he was stabbed by the cacti, drawn closer to whatever was providing the light and heat. The snake, upset by the movement, struck at him more.
The vulture mostly sat still as Lucius fought against the elements. He reached down with his beak to pull at the jacket but it would not budge. He ripped at it but it would only stick tighter to his skin. “This is quite tiresome.”
Lucius opened his eyes, now bulging out from choking. The snake seemed to have given up and left the two. There were bits of cactus in his mangled and now blackening body. Burn marks were visible where his skin was exposed. The jacket had shrunk and seemed to be a part of his skin now. “It is so warm,” the bird opined. “Why are you torturing yourself?”
He jumped down off of Lucius’ chest. His voice did not give any hint of victory or defeat. He waddled away from the burned and broken body.
Lucius did not see the bird look back at him. He did not see the hefty thing take flight. It was growing dark. His eyes could stay open only for short periods of time. His own vision grew dark. He could only hear sirens, then several voices.
“Probably rattlesnake, knowing these parts. Get the IV ready!”
“What are you doing over here?”
“The kid is a little shaken up but he’ll be alright.”
“There’s some cuts on this one too. Get that stretcher closer.”
“Shame about that car.”
“Where are the kid’s parents?”
“Over there. Police or Fire had ’em all together.”
“Hey y’all, it was a rattler. Looks like he got his head bashed in too.”
“We need to hurry up, guys,” a stern voice chided them all, obviously annoyed at the chatter. “He needs surgery and that damned buzzard over there really stinks.”