Tonight at exactly 5:30 pm, Mom started screaming.
“Make it stop!” Her voice was shrill and hung heavy with fear.
I dropped my dinner plate on the table, startled by the sudden and terrified cry for help. “Mom, what’s wrong?” I spun around to see her bent over the kitchen counter, holding her head tight between her hands. She was crying and shaking. “Mom, what happened?”
“I… I don’t know.” Mom looked up at me, tears in her eyes. “It. It just hurt.” She was still shivering but I didn’t see any injuries. She continued, “Everything pinched at the same time. It was terrible.”
“What pinched?” I examined her again. Mom was a small woman, but she didn’t seem hurt. “Is it something internal? Do you need to go to the doctor?” She seemed to be hunched over, or maybe bending at the knees. Either way, she seemed smaller and more terrified than I had ever seen her.
“No… no babe. It’s fine.” She wiped her eyes with her shirt, and then motioned to the dining table. “Help me clean up, okay?”
“Okay?” I said, hesitating. “If something’s wrong, I’m taking you to the doctor, though.”
At 6:30 pm, Mom screamed again. I was in my bedroom with my headphones on and face buried in a pile of homework, but despite the distractions, I couldn’t ignore the sound. The shrieking lasted for about 5 seconds and by the time I dashed into the hallway to investigate, it had stopped.
I stood in front of the bathroom door where the sound had come from. Mom was sobbing. Pounding on the door, I demanded to be let in. “Mom, open the door. What’s happening?”
“It’s okay!” She said, choking back her tears. Her voice sounded quiet and distant. “Just do your homework and leave me alone.”
“Just let me in, Mom. You need to go to the doctor.”
“No… I can fix it, okay? I just need a few minutes.”
“Honey, just listen to me and leave me alone. Just for a little bit.”
I returned to the bedroom and grabbed my homework. Then, I sat myself down outside the bathroom door. Cross-legged, I waited. When she finally decided to come out, I was going to get her some help. Mom was stubborn, but so was I.
At 7:30 pm, a horrifying squeaking noise crawled through the crack under the door. “It hurts! It hurts!” Mom yelled. Her voice was quieter and sounded strained.
I dropped my papers and pounded on the door. “Open up!”
“No honey, no… you can’t see me.”
I kicked the door. “If you don’t open it, I’m coming in.”
“Stop it, honey. Just stop, please,” Mom begged. She didn’t sound right. Her voice wavered and squealed with each syllable.
I kicked the door as hard as I could, driving my heel through the cheap plywood. It splintered and a jagged hole appeared.
“Stop!” Mom pleaded.
I ignored her protest and reached in, feeling around for the door handle, then opened it. Yanking my arm back out, I winced as a tooth of freshly broken wood bit into my arm.
The door swung open and I stared into the small bathroom. Mom was nowhere to be seen. There was only a pile of clothes sitting by the toilet and the shower curtains were drawn. I yanked a towel off the rack and then flung it over. “Mom, get out of the shower and get changed! I’m taking you to the hospital.”
“I’m not in the shower,” a tiny voice squeaked from behind me.
I tripped over my feet, grabbing ahold of the towel rack to steady myself. “Mom?” I asked.
“I’m right here.”
I looked down at my feet to the pile of clothes. The shirt moved and a tiny head peered out from the bundle of laundry. The face staring back at me was no larger than the head of a mouse, but I recognized Mom in an instant.
Was this a nightmare? I slapped myself across the face, then looked back at her. She was still there, tiny and frightened. I couldn’t tell if my eyes were playing tricks on me or not, but she seemed to be shrinking.
I knelt down and looked at her again. “What the hell happened?”
She looked up at me with sadness in her eyes. “I don’t know baby. Just leave. You can’t see me like this.” Her head disappeared beneath the pile of clothing, and then she screamed again. This time, it was quieter but still as jolting as before.
I grabbed ahold of the shirt she had been hiding under and searched. There, in the folds, she was clinging desperately to the fabric. She was no larger than the size of a grape now, but I recognized her blonde hair. I grabbed her and held her in my hands, looking in disbelief at the shape.
Mom fell on her back, writhing and shaking in my hands. “It’s crushing me! Make it stop! Make it stop!”
I dashed outside, carrying my mom in the palm of my hands. Grabbing my car keys, I bounded down the steps towards the car. I had to find help!
A whisper washed over my wrist as Mom tried to cry out. “It’s all around… it’s crushing me.”
I looked down at my hand. I could barely see her anymore. Her writhing and tossing tickled my palms. “Mom!” I said. “We’re going to get help!”
The tickling sensation stopped. There, in the palm of my hand, I watched as Mom’s tiny, frail frame melted into my skin. I closed my hand and clasped my fingers together. If she was still there somewhere, I had to make sure I didn’t lose her.
Then, I felt it. The crushing weight of some invisible force surrounded me, twisting my skin and tightening around my bones.
I started screaming.