In mid-July of 1991, when Sam was six years old, he was holding his mother’s hand as they walked barefoot across the baking hot asphalt of the neighborhood pool’s parking lot. He had his other arm through the hole of his inflatable black inner tube, and was gazing off at an angle tangential to the sun.
Something was bothering him, and had been ever since school let out the month prior. Sam refrained from telling his mother about it (and his father was not exactly a prime source of emotional comfort) because he was afraid she would think he was going crazy.
The passage of time for the young always seems so much slower than for an adult, even in the happiest of days. With this secret weighing on Sam’s heart, the past month had felt like an eternity. Finally he screwed up the courage to speak.
“Mom, I’ve gotta tell you something.”
She looked down at him, a kind but apprehensive smile spreading across her face. She knew he was a good boy, but that was rarely a good way for your child to start the conversation. “Go ahead, sweetie.”
“Sometimes, I see things. Like some kind of squirmy bugs.” Sam said, “I don’t think they’re really there. I can kinda see through them, and they run away when I try to look straight at them, but they’re always there. I think they might be inside my eyes.”
Her smile widened and she looked off to the side so as to not let him see it, since this seemed to be a serious issue for him. So many nonsensical worries turned into serious issues for Sam, a trait he likely inherited from her. Most of his issues tended toward the ‘monster in the closet’ category – a battle she had finally won through countless subsequent nights in which he was not eaten by a grue – so she thought something with an actual medical explanation should be easily put right.
“I used to get those sometimes. Lots of people do, actually. I know they look weird, like squiggly little worms or something, but they’re really just harmless little specks in your eyes that people call ‘floaters’. They’re not alive, and they can’t hurt you. They come and go, it’s no big deal.” She ruffled Sam’s hair as they approached the girl guarding the entrance to the pool, and waved their membership cards for entrance.
Sam spent the day doing flips underwater, and sometimes just bobbing along the surface of the pool in his black rubber inner tube. He slowly began to put the visions – what his mother had called ‘floaters’ – out of his mind. She had seen them too, which alone would have taken most of their menace away from them, even if they weren’t harmless like she promised they were. He sometimes wondered if his parents understood how much less scary those closet monsters would have been for him if his they had only acknowledged the monsters existence. Knowing you’re alone with horrors that only you can see is always the worst part.
“But if mom sees the worms and still says everything’s fine, then it must be,” he thought to himself. He found it somewhat odd that she mentioned the worms but not the spiders, or the way they scream when you try to fall asleep – but he supposed it went without saying. Sam stretched out across the tube, and let himself float.
Ten months later, when Sam was seven, his parents took him to an Optometrist – Dr. Howard – for an eye exam. After reading off a series of letters, the doctor asked him to read another – smaller – series of letters. This and other tests went on for what struck his parents as an unusually long duration, before Dr. Howard finally stopped and stared at Sam thoughtfully. He leaned down to get to eye-level with the child, as adults tend to do, and said loud enough to make sure the parents heard as well: “Do you know what twenty-twenty vision means?”
Sam shook his head in negation.
“It means,” Dr. Howard continued, “That you see things from twenty feet away as well as most people see them from twenty feet away. That’s normal. Some people see things worse than most people, and they might see things from twenty feet away as well as most people see them from thirty or forty feet away. We call that twenty-forty vision, and that’s when people start having real problems with their eyesight.”
Sam’s mother and father both visibly stiffened, afraid of where this might be going. Dr. Howard glanced briefly their way, held up a hand, then returned his attention to Sam. “Yours, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. You have what I believe to be twenty-six vision. It might be even better than that, but I…” He shook his head slightly, bugged out his eyes, and turned his palms up, “That would be like describing an eagle. You might as well be walking around with a pair of binoculars in your head. It’s basically unheard of.”
Sam’s parents exhaled and smiled slightly, happy that the news was good, and their son was normal – exceptional, even. Sam, on the other hand, felt a spine-tingling ripple of unease wash over him at the comparison to eagles that Dr. Howard had made.
His parents limited his television time, except when it came to informative programs. So if it was raining outside and he was bored, his options were either a book or some educational show. Some weeks ago, he had seen a program on birds. He learned that contrary to what people once thought, birds caught worms not because of hearing or feeling their vibrations – but because of their exceptional vision. They would tilt their heads so their eyes were facing the ground, and watch for the most infinitesimal disturbances caused by a worm’s passing.
This tingle of unease was brought to Sam courtesy of the fact that the worms and spiders had become more well-defined in the past six or seven months, and screamed louder than ever. Worst of all was hearing the doctor tell him that his eyesight was above and beyond normal. Over the past few months his vision had become milky and clouded with the apparitions, causing him much concern. By the time the Optometrist’s appointment came, he could barely read even the largest of letters on the eye exam – making Dr. Howard’s proclamation of exceptional vision even more disturbing to him. Acting on a hunch, Sam had merely been repeating the letters which were being screamed to him inside of his own eyes.
By the age of eleven, the world through Sam’s eyes had become a grayish-white fog. He had summoned up the courage to initiate a tearful and terrified conversation with his mother and father. He told them everything, and his dad responded by silently retrieving a flashlight and shining it in his son’s eyes. He mumbled something about ‘cataracts’, but shook his head – he hadn’t seen anything other than Sam’s bright blue irises.
Appointments to Dr. Howard became a bi-monthly event, then had finally ceased. They were replaced by trips to a specialist, who was a two hour drive away, if traffic was moderate. The new doctor seemed increasingly agitated with Sam after each appointment. Sam didn’t know the word the specialist reluctantly told his parents – “psychosomatic” – but he did know that after four of these trips they promptly ended, and were replaced by a much shorter drive to the office of a completely different manner of doctor. This new doctor’s office had a couch, and lots of stuffed animals. All this doctor seemed interested in was talking about Sam’s life and feelings. He took lots of notes, and cast many sideways glances in the boy’s direction.
To make matters worse, there were dots now. Little milky punctuation marks which the worms and spiders left in their wake. While the worms and spiders kept squirming around, albeit slightly more sluggishly than they had before, the dots remained perfectly still. This essentially marked the end of Sam’s ability to view the outside world. Everything now revolved around the screaming circus conducting its daily performance inside of his skull. There was, however, a change in the condition which Sam regarded as horrible and merciful at the same time: They had begun to laugh. It was a terrible mixture of tittering and squealing, but it was undeniably laughter. At least they stopped screaming long enough to laugh, even if the shrill hissing sound did invariably cause his bladder to release.
Sam was twelve years old when the white specks which had erased the last vestiges of his view of the normal world began to split open and writhe, and everything suddenly made a horrible manner of sense to him. Eggs. They had been laying eggs. At this realization, whatever tattered remnants of his sanity had been hanging on by a thread simply slipped loose and flew away.
He squeezed his fingers against his palms but kept his thumbs stuck out, curled upward like dull fishing hooks. He raised them to his eyes, and began to dig.
As his thumbs met his retinas, there was a single distant screech – a polite but stern protest. This did not last long, once he began digging in earnest. The screaming became unfathomably louder than it ever had been before, which he allowed himself a moment to be surprised by. It was as if the creatures had discovered a bullhorn stashed away inside of his skull somewhere. He realized this was a noise which, had it been coming from outside his own head, would have been deafening. Deafness would have been a mercy, as it would have meant cessation of the hideous, wailing cacophony being orchestrated for its audience of one.
He dug until his milky-gray view of the world turned to fire, then ultimately blackness. As warmth rolled down his cheeks and ended in a quiet, sickening slosh on the wooden floorboards of his parents’ kitchen, Sam fell to his knees.
Horror and agony yielded to merciful relief the likes of which most will never know. Blindness came as a blessing, freedom from that which had so horribly oppressed him. There, on his knees, Sam tittered and ran his fingers along his now-vacant eye sockets. His laughter devolved steadily into screams as he began to feel a squirming sensation work its way up from the floor, ascending his form with frightening alacrity. Even without eyes, he could see the error of his ways.
The same documentary which taught Sam about how birds hunt worms went on to discuss the common goldfish – and how they could and would grow to match the volume of their bowls.
Upon achieving freedom from globes far too small for their goals, the floaters screamed in triumph through mouthfuls of their former host’s bloody flesh, and began to grow.