The only interesting thing about Jeff Newman was his headaches. Never a particularly social animal, Jeff lived alone in a small apartment in a grubby city. He worked for a nondescript company doing largely irrelevant administrative roles and took his pay home every month to spend on DVDs, video games and take away food. He was boring. But he did get such headaches.
He could tell when a headache was coming on. He would start to feel nauseous, the back of his neck would tighten up and get hot. He would feel as though his right shoulder was hitched up a couple of inches and he couldn’t relax it, almost as if the base of his skull was trying to suck the rest of him up into his brain pan. Then the eye thing would start. Initially a kind of dull pinch behind his right eyebrow, it would grow until it felt like a sickening bruise all around his eye and he’d get a grabbing, stabbing compression, as if his brain had grown a hand, taken hold of his eyeball and started to squeeze. That was when he had to shut everything off. He would go into his bedroom, draw the curtains, turn off the light and lie in swimming, excruciating darkness, unable to rest, simply enduring. Eventually the vomiting would start, great deep heaves from the depths of his gut. Gasping, eye-watering retches until he brought up nothing but gobs of yellow bile and finally collapsed, exhausted, into blank, black sleep, not dreaming or stirring.
When he woke the headache would be gone, his brain releasing its hold on his eye, and he would feel purged. Weak, wobbly, trembling with the slightest effort. He would give anything to be rid of the headaches.
‘It’s stress, Jeff. The tension builds up and causes the headache. We’ve discussed this before.’
Jeff shook his head, looking at his doctor with disdain. ‘It’s not stress. I’m not a stressed person.’
The doctor smiled. ‘Everyone has stress. How often is it happening?’
‘It used to be only once or twice a year at most. Now it seems like it’s happening every few weeks. I can’t handle it.’
‘I’m going to prescribe you something to help you relax.’ The doctor held up a placatory hand at Jeff’s expression. ‘Process of elimination.’
Jeff shook his head but sat quietly while the doctor wrote the prescription. He passed the pharmacy on his way home and took a pill as soon as he got in. By seven pm his brain had a hold on his eyeball and he squirmed and thrashed on his sweat soaked sheets, cursing the doctor with every heartbeat that pulsed lightning through his head.
‘I’m sorry, you can’t see Doctor Steed.’ The receptionist’s eyes were puffy and red. ‘He... he’s not available.’
Jeff frowned. ‘When will he be available?’
‘I’m afraid he won’t be. He...’ The receptionist trailed off into sobs.
A female doctor appeared. She patted the receptionist’s shoulder. ‘Go home, Jennifer. It’s too much to ask you to work today.’
Jennifer hurried from her desk, grabbing bag and coat as she scurried, snivelling, for the door. The female doctor turned to Jeff. ‘I’m sorry. Dr Steed was killed last night. Home invasion. I’d be happy to see you if it’s urgent.’
‘No. No, nothing urgent.’ Jeff stared at the doctor for a moment then turned to leave. ‘I’m sorry,’ he added over his shoulder as he reached the door. The female doctor nodded once, lips pursed.
Jeff sat on the bus staring at trees whipping past. How many people did he know that had died? It seemed uncanny that so many people he was acquainted with had met strange, grim ends. His doctor killed in a home invasion, his last boss murdered while jogging at night, that stuck up bitch at the video store killed in a botched robbery... Jeff’s heart began to hammer as a hot fist pushed its way up his throat. His mouth popped open as he gasped for air. But he’d had so many more headaches than that...
‘Strangers are just as sweet.’
Jeff whimpered, stiffening on the rough fabric seat of the bus. ‘What the fuck...?’
‘Took you long enough to realise. But there’s nothing you can do.’ The voice was high and sharp, laced with malice, echoing through his mind. Each word was punctuated by the sensation of a tiny hand flexing its grip on Jeff’s right eyeball.
Alan Baxter is an author living on the south coast of NSW, Australia. He writes dark fantasy, sci fi and horror, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. Read his short stories, novella and novel extracts at his website - www.alanbaxteronline.com - and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.