I’ll never see her face again. If my blindness only meant scrubbing this dirty world into an ocean of black mist, then I think I could learn to accept that. Stealing my wife from me before her time though — that I’ll never forgive. It’s bad enough she’s sick and fading from me already, but not being able to see her to say goodbye is killing me as surely as it is her.
I suppose it’s my fault though. I spent the last few nights leading up to my accident shifting around the rigid hospital chair beside her bed. I was so tired that I could barely walk straight, and all it took was a patch of black ice in the parking lot to pitch me to the ground. My head slammed into the asphalt and everything went dark. The black mist didn’t lift, but next I could remember I was sitting in my own hospital bed with a nurse explaining what had happened.
“…post-traumatic cortical blindness,” she was saying. “It seems like there was some damage to your occipital cortex when you hit the ground.”
“Where’s Sarah? Where’s my wife? I want to see her.”
The nurse just coughed, giving me time for my own words to sink in. “There’s a chance your vision loss is being caused by pressure on the optic nerve, which can be potentially corrected with surgery. The doctor doesn’t want to get your hopes up though. You should be prepared to adjust to life without sight.”
It’s true that I couldn’t see the nurse, or the hospital room, or even my own hand an inch from my face. But the worst thing was I could still see. It just wasn’t the same world I had left behind. I fumbled for words trying to explain the black and purple vines which dangled around me from unfathomably tall trees. How they swayed gracefully in an unfelt wind, bending across their hundreds of joints like fingers bending back and forth upon themselves. I pointed at the greasy orange sky and the swarms of softly teeming insects which obliviously paraded towards me from all sides.
“Hallucinations aren’t unheard of after acute vision loss…”
It was hard to take her seriously when her voice seemed to be coming from a giant blue flower whose bell-shaped petals seemed deep enough for me to stand in. If this was a hallucination, then it was clearer and more vivid than anything I could have possibly imagined. I tried again to explain the infinitesimal detail of the insect’s uneven carapaces, but she excused herself to leave without letting me finish. I never even got the chance to tell her that I could feel the thousands of tiny legs crawling up my body as the insect parade passed through the origin of disembodied perspective.
I was stuck somewhere between worlds. I could still feel the coarse fabric of the hospital blanket, but so could I feel the smooth gloss of each leaf and barky tree in this sudden jungle I was mired within. I pulled on one of the purple digits only to see it coil around my arm, inquisitively feeling me in return. I tore away from and tried to stand, leaning on a cold metal IV pole that I couldn’t see.
I felt like I was going insane, and there was no amount of reasonably toned nurses or insightful doctors that would convince me otherwise. I knew instinctively that I had to find my wife — Sarah was the only real thing left to ground in the world I was supposed to be in.
It wasn’t easy navigating two worlds at once. Even when I shuffled around until I found the door to my room, I still had to push myself through a thick curtain of fingers which had inconveniently infested the portal. It was slow going navigating the invisible hallways while plowing through the thick jungle foliage, and to make matters worse the blue-white sun was beginning to smolder and set in the orange sky. My hearing remained fixed to this world strangely enough, so at least I was able to hear people approaching and not run into anyone.
Once someone pointed me to the main elevator, I had no trouble from there. I had visited Sarah so many times that I could find the way with my eyes closed. It was disorienting to feel myself rise in the elevator, seemingly flying directly into the air, ducking and dodging branches as I did. I hesitated before her door to ask the passing footsteps:
“Are you sure you should be out of bed? Let me go ask —”
“Is my wife in here?”
“Yes, but she should be resting too. She had another grand mal seizure last night. Hold on, I’ll go see if I can find the doctor.”
Footsteps. My hand was on the door, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to push through. Sarah had been in the hospital for the last three months, growing weaker each passing day. There had been a number of tentative hypothesis, but there has yet to be a definite diagnosis to the underlying issue. I guess that’s why I’ve been holding out hope for so long: if she could get sick without a reason, then she didn’t need a reason to get better either. All those nights I’d spent beside her, watching her pale face and listening to her shallow breathing — it was all some kind of cosmic misunderstanding that would sort itself out on its own.
It was only now when I knew I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. The black and purple fingers protruded thickly like sprouting plants on the wide branch beyond, converging on a recumbent form the exact size and shape of a human. Some of them reared their sensitive tips only to plunge directly back into the mass, pulsing and squirming as they did fought one another to penetrate farthest. All too clearly I could imagine them puncturing her body or forcing themselves down her where her throat should have been. If this wasn’t a hallucination, then it was explaining an illness that an entire hospital couldn’t decipher.
“Sarah?” I opened the door. “Are you in there?”
Her gentle moan. That’s all I’ve heard from her the last week. It hadn’t made any sense to the doctors as she appeared conscious, but it made sense now. How was she supposed to speak this whole time with those things lodged in her throat?
Sickened and furious, I flung myself at the warped vines, carelessly clattering through her invisible bedside table as I did. I seized one near where her head must be and pulled with all my strength, feeling it go taunt to resist me as I did. Other vines were reacting, unwinding themselves from her to seize me by the arms and legs. I fought through it, clutching and tearing, even sinking my teeth into the rubbery thing. More fingers crawled from the branches above, circling around my arms, up my shoulders, slithering around my neck…
“Someone help! Get them off her!” I shouted.
The fingers were constricting around me, but I didn’t let go. I threw my whole body weight backwards, heaving and straining until something finally gave. Sarah was coughing and retching, the beeping of her vitals going berserk as I struggled. She was shaking so bad that the whole bed rattled, each increment of progress agonizing to watch as I knew the finger must be relinquishing its hold of her stomach and lungs, or however deep the corruption spread. All the while my bondage was secured, ruthlessly tightening to cut off blood supply to my arms and crush my throat into a collapsing pinprick.
“She’s having another seizure. Get a doctor in here!” One of the nurses. I was held so firmly in place that I couldn’t even turn toward her, not like I could see her even if I could.
“What about him?”
“He’s not responding. Get him on the ground and keep his airway clear.”
Hands unwittingly pushed their way past the swarming appendages to ease me down. The pressure slackened, some returning their attention to the knot which surrounded my wife. Blood was beginning to return to my limbs. I could feel, and as soon as I could breath, I could fight again. I was still gasping on the floor when the doctor entered the room.
How could I tell? Well there were certainly auditory clues as a gruff voice barked commands to the nurses, but more prominently was the knot of interlacing fingers which formed the shape of a human. They were spread so finely that every artery and vein must be filled, and I could clearly see them pulse and twitch as they tightened and relaxed, moving the doctor through the room like a puppet.
“Another seizure,” the doctor said. I could see the strum around his head as the things inside him opened and closed his mouth, with smaller ones inside maneuvering his tongue and vibrating his vocal chords. “Check her mouth. Make sure there isn’t any vomit or obstruction.”
“The fingers!” I shouted, aware of how mad I must appear rolling on the ground. “Get them out of her! She can’t —”
“And give him something to calm down. Diazepam, 400 miligrams should do it.”
“They’ve got him too — don’t touch me — don’t let him touch Sarah —”
I tried to sit up, but someone was squatting on top of me and pinning me to the ground. I jerked as a needle slid into my thigh, but the pressure only increased. Something scoured through my veins. The humanoid network that was the doctor dropped to his haunches beside me, and I felt a warm hand run down my face to cup my chin. It was getting too dark to see anything at all.
“Just a nasty hallucination, that’s all. Let’s get you back to bed and see if we can’t do something about those eyes.”
They had good news for me when I woke up. Not only were they able to alleviate the pressure on my optic nerve, but my wife had made a miraculous recovery during the procedure. I actually wept in relief when I opened my eyes on the hospital room and saw Sarah anxiously sitting over my bed. Just Sarah and the room — no fingers, no unfamiliar jungle, no crawling sensation of the insects or dodging alien trees.
They told me Sarah was talking and eating and even walking on her own, although they warned me she was still stiff and slow to react. “Stiff” isn’t how I’d describe her lurching movements though. She seems more like a marionette doll to me, tethered by unseen strings from the inside and out.