Bart Rawlins didn’t feel too good. He’d been off his game all morning. Because losers paid for lunch, he figured the bill for lunch at the clubhouse was going to set him back at least 150 bucks.
Rawlins took the all the ribbing from the other guys in stride. He put up with comments like: “What was Bart’s handicap today? Every club,” and “Maybe you should take up needlepoint, Bart.” Rawlins was a scratch golfer and he’d beaten everybody else at the table consistently despite having to give into overinflated handicaps. Even he would call it poetic golf course justice.
Bart laughed it off. He knew he’d come back strong and rub it in twice as hard. Right now, he just wanted to go home and get some rest.
When the waitress came for the lunch order, Bart passed. He waited until the rest of the foursome finished ordering then told the waitress: “Anna … put today’s lunch on my tab and give yourself a 25 percent tip.”
As Bart got up to leave his partner said, “Are you all right, you’re looking kind of pale, buddy.”
“I feel like shit. Like I’m fighting something off and it’s kicking my ass.”
“Do you have a fever?”
Rawlins hadn’t thought about that. He placed his hand on his forehead. It was clammy and hot. “Affirmative on the fever … Listen, guys, I’ve got to get out of here.”
* * *
Rawlins pulled into the garage. He rested his forehead on the steering then went in the house. When he pulled at his sweat soaked shirt it clung to his chest momentarily. “Time for a shower,” Rawlins said out loud.
The coughing started while Rawlins dried off as a tingling sensation in the back of throat. It grew into a wet, hacking bark.
Rawlins was trapped: the persistent cough burned his throat and pounded his temples. When it let up, a sharp pain accompanied the deep whirring sound rattling in his lungs.
The cough eased up but it took every bit of strength he had left to even lift one finger off the bed. Rawlins remained still. He didn’t want to bring on another coughing jag.
He fell into a deep sleep.
* * *
The dream came on slowly at first, like looking at a blurry blob the wrong way through binoculars. Dream time passed as one hundred years in a second.
The object came into focus as it neared. Slimy suckers on wriggling tentacles crawled up Rawlins’ belly. An elongated death’s head expanded and contracted on a pulsating body.
Rawlins found it hard to breathe with the full weight of the creature bearing down on his chest. He fought to get back the air lost on the exhale until all he could manage were weak gasps.
The pressure eased up.
Relief faded fast. The creature used its tentacles to push its body high. Fear gripped Rawlins as he watched a vertical fold of flesh part to reveal a pointed beak. As more of the beak came out clusters of thorns extended off the tubular shaft.
The tip of the beak broke the skin just under Rawlins rib cage. Fiery pain followed as the the creature pushed the curving beak higher.
The pain went away. Fluid building in Rawlins’ lungs had been drained. The sick man was back to normal with one exception: he was dead.