The pain was nothing compared to the horror of seeing my welted, lesioned face in the mirror. Whatever virus or flesh eating bacteria or hell on Earth that had consumed that tiny Japanese town had spread to me. The skin on my cheeks where the woman’s blood had spattered had turned viscous, like jelly, sagging and sloughing off in clumps. Bits of dead flesh were stuck under my fingernails where I had scratched my face.
I ran. I don’t know where I intended to go, but I wanted to get as far away from the source of this disease as humanly possible.
I made it as far as the front lawn. I tumbled over a short, stone pagoda and fell into a rock garden just a few meters from the dead woman in the fountain. Her bare knees sticking out of the water was the last thing I saw before my vision went. I screamed as I felt my eyes liquify, and the flesh all over my body tear open, almost crackling, as if little bugs were chewing their way out.
The last thing I remember was the sound of my own voice, a hollow cascade of moans, each less pronounced than the last, growing shorter and shorter, softer and quieter, until even that failed, and there was nothing but darkness. And moments later, nothing whatsoever.
We’ve all heard stories of near death experiences. Tales of one’s consciousness rising up from the body, hovering over an operating table, or some bloody scene on the side of a highway, up and up, into the unknown, as images of one’s life flash before the eyes. Then inevitably one will pass into the long, swirling tunnel, as feelings of peace settle in, drifting toward the light, where a crowd of dead friends and loved ones wait with open arms. Time and time again we hear these tales, from those who turned back at the last moment, or were wrenched from death by the shock of a defibrillator.
All very pleasant.
Well that’s not always how it goes. Rarely do we hear of the other kind of tunnel, that swirling vortex of spiraling wraiths, where the only light at the end is the flickering tongues of hellfire. Seldom is retold the crowds of decayed, howling monsters waiting for the unlucky ones at the end of that mess of hell, dying for a taste of your soul. At least I’d never heard those stories. I guess that’s the tunnel you don’t come back from.
Most of the time.
The beasts’ gaping mouths twisted into horrific, angry scowls as my passage through the tunnel suddenly reversed. Sharp flashes of swirling red lighting and thunder claps exploded around me, then the hideous, whirling vortex suddenly vanished to a fiery red dot.
“We’ve got him back,” someone said.