Max had what you would call “episodes” or that’s what his mother had been calling them. They started when he was young and progressively got worse to the point where she considered having him committed. The things that happened to him even brought Child Welfare Services to their door. It wasn’t just the things he would say it was the physical marks all over his body. There were deep scratches and bruises, even some burns that perplexed the local physicians. This went on for years until Max learned that the more he told people about the things he’d seen the more difficult his life became. So he stopped talking about it and learned to hide the marks.
Max loved comic books and movies. He didn’t have a lot of friends so his days and hours were spent in front of the TV or with mounds of comics stacked in front of him. His mother thought that most of the problems with his vivid imagination stemmed from these two mediums of entertainment. She put an end to that by throwing all his comics in the trash and banning the TV. This only made it worse.
It always happened when Max went to sleep. At first he thought they were bad dreams until the things that happened to him were there when he woke up. It was like he was falling into a long tunnel of light. Off this tunnel were other tunnels of light that led to different places. He never had control over which one he fell into. He lost count after awhile. Each had its own unique environment and creatures.
Some worlds were devoid of anything, just empty white space you floated in. Some looked a lot like Earth but had trees that sported weird tentacles or flowers with petals made of different color flames. Some worlds were dark and full of creatures that you would see in horror movies. One of these worlds he called the Gray. The Gray was barren with jagged rocks and a hanging fog that never went away. He never saw any sunlight or anything of warmth. Everything was dark and cold.
There was one dominate species who ruled this realm he had come to name the Reavers. They preyed on anything that moved. They didn’t just kill, they stole something from each victim. Somehow the creature knew the strength of its enemy even before it engaged and after eating it its body would then be equipped with whatever strength it stole. He had seen them acquire poisonous barbs or harder skin right before his eyes. But it wasn’t just the physical parts it adapted. He watched it eat the parts of different creatures brains. It wouldn’t eat the whole thing just select parts and not the same ones each time. Max knew this because he had examined a few of the bodies after they had left. He wanted to know why it only ate certain parts of the brain but he thought it had something to do with its evolution. It was hard to describe them because they always looked different.
They were a brownish gray color and had elongated heads, no ears or nose, just rows or sharp teeth. The one thing they all had in common were the eyes. They reminded him of an Anaconda, narrow black slits in the center and a yellowish brown encasing the rest of the eye. The other thing that freaked him out was the sound they would make right before they attacked. It was a hiss followed by a TAT TAT TAT sound. They would do it real low, in the throat like a cat when it growls. Whenever he landed on this world he hid as soon as he could move. He managed to avoid them this far but with every visit they seemed to pick up on his scent or developed some new way or tracking because they became more aware of his position every time he showed back up.
They weren’t all bad though. There was one world where the beings there communicated with their minds. He liked this one because it made him feel like an X-man communicating like Professor Xavier or Jean Grey. They called themselves the Amari. They knew that other worlds existed and had the same ability as Max to visit alternate dimensions in sleep. They were small creatures, think Yoda but not as cute. They were only about 3ft tall with long white hair and blue skin and looked like they belonged in a resort down in Boca Raton. Now that he thought about it they looked like the Maltusians from Green Lantern. Why did everything remind him of comics? They warned him about the beings in the “Gray” world. If they acquired someone with the “ability” they would crossover into our worlds and infect it with death. This could not happen and if it did the rest of the worlds would fall one by one until there were none left.
In the real world Max was now old enough to live on his own and balance the responsibilities he had between his two lives. There was no girlfriend, no friends. Living a life like this required a responsibility. It wasn’t like he had a choice anyway. People thought he was weird. Most social interactions he had ended the same way, with the person walking away muttering: What a weirdo. He didn’t like living this type of life but knew it was what he had to do. When he got down he went back to the comics. Uncle Ben had always told Peter: “With great power there must also come great responsibility.” This helped in his dark times, knowing he had purpose, that he had something bigger than himself to push onward. It was still hard. No matter how many comics he read.
Sometimes he took uppers to avoid going to sleep. There were times were he stayed up 2-3 days driving himself to the brink of insanity. This helped in the short term but ended up being more of a problem because when he did sleep he slept longer and deeper. This balance also caused a rift with his job. He wasn’t a morning person so he took comfort in the night shift and any job where he had enough time to sort through his “issues” that occurred during the day. The only job he could find that put up with his quirky schedule was a graveyard shift for security at a local hospital.
It wasn’t so bad. There weren’t many people he had to interact with in the middle of the night only some of the nurses on their break. Every couple of hours he would see this one nurse who used to come out for a cigarette. Her name was Angie. She was young, fresh out of nursing school and couldn’t have been older than 21. She always used to play with her short, blond curls with one finger while flicking through her phone and alternating the cigarette in the other. The first couple times they interacted it was only a wave or a simple “Hello.” But over time she broke the ice.
“What’s your name?” Angie said sitting on a picnic table flicking her cigarette.
“I’m Angie. You’re pretty young for a security guard. I thought they were usually old and fat.”
“It pays the rent, besides I’m not much of a people person so it works out pretty well.”
“Well I can tell you there aren’t too many people in there worth knowing.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Max said with a smile.
“You have a nice smile. You should do that more often. You walk around here with resting sulk face and it’s kinda depressing.”
“Thanks I’ll give it a try.”
“Well it’s good to meet you Max. I gotta get back in there. I’ll see you around,” She said smiling at him as she flicked her cigarette before going back into the building
Max got off his shift and had slept most of the day. While asleep he travelled to the world of the Amari. When he arrived there were fires and smoke everywhere. The bodies of the Amari were scattered about, ther clothes torn and bloodstained. He walked through the carnage looking for any survivors or anything to make sense of the chaos he was witnessing. A hand raised into the air. Max ran over and cradled the small body.
What happened here? Max asked the Amari in his thoughts.
The creatures from the gray. One of the Amari had travelled there and was killed. They ate his mind and gained the ability to travel between worlds. The Amari said coughing up blood.
Is there any way to stop them? Max asked.
They do not like fire. We tried to it fight it off but it struck so fast that torches were dropped in the grass fields and everything burned. They are predators. They only know death and their hunger is never satiated. You need to go. They can find you now. Be prepared. They will come…. The Amari let out his last breath and Max laid his body down in the grass and walked off.
Max awoke in his bed and looked around the room. Nothing was safe now. In all this time of visiting other worlds he never thought something would ever threaten him once he awoke. The thought now became real and around every corner it could be lurking. He had to get to work and if he sat here waiting for that thing to come he’d go crazy so it was up and in the shower.
It was quiet for the first part of his shift. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just irate nurses and restless patients who couldn’t sleep. But around 2:30 there was a call for a disturbance in the ICU. When Max got up there there was no one at the desk. In fact there was no one around anywhere. Usually when he came through there were at least 2 nurses gossiping over coffee or at the very least someone sitting behind the desk. Tonight there wasn’t a soul in sight. The hair on the back of his neck began to stand up as he pulled the large Maglite flashlight from his belt. Not for the light but for a blunt instrument of protection.
“Hey, what’re you doing up here?” Angie said appearing from what seemed to be nowhere.
“Jesus, you scared me. Where is everybody?”
“I don’t know. I just got up here. They’re probably around here somewhere.”
A loud noise came from the intensive care unit.
“What the hell was that?” Angie said grabbing Max’ shoulder.
“I don’t know. We gotta go check it out though.”
“Now that you mention the lack of people around here and that weird ass sound the two add up to some bad horror movie math. I don’t like that shit. I ain’t going.”
“There are sick people in there don’t you have a Hippocratic oath to uphold?”
“First off, no, nurses have the Nightingale pledge. Totally different thing. Not even the same thing, not even close. So yeah, I’m exempt. I’ll grab some scissors and have your back. You know, from out here, way out here, outside that room.”
Max looked at Angie and back at the room and back at Angie.
“Really? You’re not gonna go with me?” Max said.
“Come on man, really? If something or someone is in there and you go down that gives me a good head start to the elevator. Can you blame me?”
“No. I’d do the same thing.”
He walked towards the room as Angie stood behind clutching the scissors ready to bolt to the elevator as soon a pinprick hit the floor. He pressed the automatic door button outside the sliding doors to enter the ICU. It was dark, which was normal because it was the middle of the night and that wasn’t creepy. It was the right type of lighting for this time. There were rows of beds and Max clicked on his Maglite and made a pass over each face as he made his way down the aisle. As he passed halfway down the rows he saw one of the bodies covered in blood. The head had been torn open and the brains had been torn out. Max knew as soon as he saw it what was going to happen. He heard the rustling toward the back of the room. Beds rattled, and random things were knocked over and he was ready.
Max looked back at Angie. That was the one sweet thing in his life, even if it was nothing, it was something for a brief moment.
Max went over to one of the oxygen tanks and pulled the plug off and turned up the handle. He walked to the door and opened it.
“Give me your lighter,” Max said.
“What are you gonna do?” Angie said taking the lighter from her pocket and throwing it to Max.
“Finish it. Get in the elevator,” He said closing the door and walking back into the ICU.
Max went into the room and ripped off the valves and opened every oxygen tank so the gas would flood the room.
“Come on you sonuva bitch,” Max said holding the lighter up.
“That’s it, come a little closer. Let me see that ugly mug.”
Max could see the eyes from the back of the room. Those haunting eyes of something in the darkness ready to take him. He was scared but he was also ready. It was a strange feeling of acceptance and defeat all in one fell swoop. But deep down he was happy. He was happy because he felt he had purpose. He felt that all his hardships had led up to this moment.
“I feel like I should say something like all those action stars like ‘Yippee-Ki-Yay’ or ‘Let’s make the chimi fucking changas’ but I’m not that tough so let’s just say: ‘Boom’”
Max lit the lighter and the whole room went up in flames.