's 2019 Horror Write-off:

One-Day Cold

Submitted by Erika Warne-Coles (email)

            Val felt and heard the popping in her ears as she blew her nose again. She tossed another balled up tissue into the pile by her bed. Her nose was still a little wet, but by now her nostrils were so raw that it stung to wipe them. She felt a headache coming on. After more than five days spent mostly in bed, it was getting kind of hard to focus on the TV playing in front of her.

            “Val? Can I come in?”

           “Yeah,” came the strained reply. She didn’t turn her head until the door actually opened, and even then only a little.

            “Hey, honey. Feeling any better?” Flo asked like she already knew the answer. They were making the most of those neglected wicker trays the past few days. She carried in one with a bowl and cup, to be swapped out for the dirty pair in Val’s room, and bottle of children’s cold medicine.

            “Not really,” Val answered. Already another greenish bead was starting to seep out one of her nostrils.

            “… We’ll go to the doctor tomorrow, I hate to see you sick for so long.”

            Val didn’t like the taste of the cold medicine, but it didn’t taste quite as strong now.

            Flo heard knocking. She lifted her head and looked at the clock with bleary eyes. 2:12 A.M.

            “Mommm…” Val sobbed from behind the door.

            Flo got up, stumbling a bit, not fully awake or accustomed to the dark. “Val, what’s wro-“ Flo was distracted by the state of her daughter. Greenish, red-streaked mucus had poured down her mouth, fading to a yellow crust on her neck and around the collar of her baggy pajama shirt. Her eyes were red and wet. Despite the snot on her lips, her mouth was open slightly, with shallow breaths audible from it.

            “I cann breeb, ‘n’ my hea’ huh, ‘n’ I cann seeb-“ Flo swooped down to grab Val, who started crying again, bubbles forming in the snot beneath her nose.

            “Oh, my God… I’m- We’re gonna get you showered up and then I’m gonna take to you the E.R.”

            “The hothpital?” Val asked as Flo carried her into the bathroom.

            “Yes, but it’s okay. It’s- it’s just a worse cold than we thought, honey. You need to be treated right away,” Flo pulled the soiled shirt off Val and turned the shower on. Steam started to suffuse the room.

            Val cried out after stepping into the shower, quickly stepping back out. “Ith too hot!”

            “It’ll loosen your sinuses, okay? Please, just get in for a little bit.”

            “Okay…” Val stepped back into the shower, wincing as she did. She closed her eyes tight as the showerhead beat down on her. The film of mucus stretching from her nostrils to her collarbone started to fall away.

            In the car, Val got in the back seat, holding a box of tissues. She felt like the pressure had lessened somewhat, but her nose was still running. She did her best to keep it clean so the scalding shower wasn’t for nothing.

            “She’s staying overnight?”

            “Yes, she should be fine but we would like to monitor her. She had- well, the worst case of runny nose I’ve ever seen, frankly. We used an aspirator to clear out the mucus so she can breathe through her nose and put her on a decongestant that’ll help maintain that, although it won’t stop the runny nose so she might need irrigation later during the night. She’s also dehydrated, not enough to need an I.V. yet but we want to watch that, too. The lack of a cough is strange, but it does make it less likely to be an infection. Does she have any, uh, allergies…”

            “N-no, I mean, she didn’t before…”

            “Huh. If she did, antihistamines and steroids would be our next treatment option, but since she doesn’t have a history of hay fever we’ll hold off on that for now.”

            Sleep eventually found Flo again, in her chair. Already the sun was rising outside, but Val’s room was kept dim. She was already asleep before Flo. Still red-eyed and drippy, but not in quite as horrible a state as she had been a few hours before. Stress made Flo feel sick herself, but as she drifted off, seeing her daughter asleep and on the mend put her at ease.

            This time, a loud snap roused her. Her eyes wouldn’t open right away, the stupor of interrupted sleep arresting her. More sounds, wet sounds, slapping onto the floor. Then she felt something weakly grasping at her side, soaking through her clothes. She finally looked.

            It was a brain. A brain, two eyeballs, and some sparse nerve bundles were suspended in a sickening, translucent yellow-green slime clouded with blooms of red. The slime wobbled in a clumsy pile, like a young creature learning to walk. It was… a little shorter than Val. It stared at Flo.

            Flo wanted to scream, but she didn’t. Gears were turning in her mind. Is this a nightmare? If it isn’t… do I want to look away from this thing? If I see… the bed…

            I can’t… I can’t let myself look at the bed…

            Still returning to the stare of the creature aside her, she heard a staff member enter the room, give a short, sharp wail of horror, and after a pause, rush back out. Flo’s gaze stayed fixed. But now, the nightmare was seeming less and less like a dream. And she cried. She sobbed to the slimy brain.