I don’t know what day it is but I’m in the kitchen cracking pepper on my eggs again at the bench. I look out the window briefly – it’s an overcast day and I can see the central city standing tall in the distance with trees and terracotta suburban rooftops like waves in the foreground.
I’m lost in thoughts of memories of all the places that fall within my view, pepper cracker inactive in my hands. That’s when I notice a presence behind me.
There is someone else in the kitchen. I turn around to see Shae sitting on the kitchen floor behind me.
I’m a little bit confused.
What is she doing here?
Shae is a girl I went to primary school with. We also attended the same high school for a short time. She grew up in Essendon too so until I moved out of home I would see her at different points and stages in my life. Down the street, at the tram stop and at IGA with her mother.
To be honest, I can’t say I’ve ever really spoken to her but she’s always been around. Though, there is one thing I can’t get out of my head every time I see Shae; the horrible things I heard other kids at school did to her because she had Down’s Syndrome. Kids would lure her to the oval under the pretence of wanting to hang out or be her friend and then jab her with their cigarettes or make her do humiliating things to win their approval.
It made me sick to my stomach. While I did get bullied quite a bit through the end of primary school and early high school, it was nothing like that.
The train of thoughts are leading me to dark places and it’s the last thing I need right now so I shake my head back into reality and focus on the situation before me.
Shae doesn’t seem to notice I’m here in the same room with her and I also notice she’s still a child. Shae is older than me and while this doesn’t really make sense I kind of just go along with it.
She’s even wearing the primary school dress with its blue and white checkers. Shae is distracted as she plays with some unseen object on the floor, humming a tune to herself. Tears start welling up in my eyes and I don’t know why suddenly I feel so emotional. My eyes sting and a stiffness takes hold in my throat.
I don’t need to be getting like this now, I’ve got things to do.
Get it together.
Turning back and looking back down at my work, my eyes fix on the bowl with the eggs. The white is flecked with little black unevenly sized chunks. A few of them fall off and it looks like they’re moving. I smile to myself and focus a little more.
The hairs on the back of my neck stand up as I see a few more pieces move, but this time they’re moving sporadically as if by their own volition. My face moves closer to the eggs in the bowl, now they look less like eggs and more like smooth, white alien planets with little people crawling on the surface – rushing around to nowhere in particular.
People running blind through life until they fall off the edge. Watching the eye in the sky watching them.
As I keep focusing I can’t help but think how the cracked pepper almost looks like ants from where my I stand.
A sick, cool-warm rush comes over me and a jolt of shock climbs up from my stomach up into my throat.
They are ants.
There are ants on the eggs.
Crawling all over the eggs, drowning in the condensation, along the sides of the bowl and making their way up my arms. My skin itches in a hundred places at once as the ants walk in every direction. There are too many to count.
Where did they come from?
I stumble back and drop the pepper cracker, the thing smashes on the floor next to me with a black mass of ants oozing out before crawling in every direction.
My knees feel weak and I fall to the ground.
There’s a dull pain in both knees and I look to see all the ants are gone.
Fuck. What’s wrong with me?
That’s when I remember Shae is behind me. My knees still have a dull pain as I use my hands to pivot myself in Shae’s direction.
She hasn’t noticed me.
I still can’t quite make out what she’s playing around with so I focus a little more.
That’s when I see them, there are ants on her legs walking really slowly. They stroll over her pale, nearly translucent skin with the veins like a network of roads for the ants.
Shae stops moving and goes quiet. And then so do the ants.
Time stops, the birds outside are frozen mid-flight, the trees do not rustle in the wind.
The world around me is quiet and I wonder if I’m frozen too.
Then everything starts again.
The ants spring into motion at this frenzied pace and Shae starts to scream. She’s scratching at her legs to get the ants off but more of them keep coming.
Her legs are turning red with scratch marks.
I can’t help her.
My mouth opens to scream out to her but nothing comes out, just saliva which starts dribbling down my chin and onto the ground.
That’s when I smell this sickly sweet meat stench in the air.
Her screaming grows louder and the pitch is insufferable. I stumble back and I’m against the kitchen cupboards under the bench not able to escape any further. Not even putting my hands over my ears blocks the screaming.
I’m going to be sick.
I grab my stomach as I feel the contents churning and attempting to escape from me.
My mouth wrenches open by reflex and at first that pre-vomit saliva comes out.
Shae is still screaming but I can’t see her anymore.
Something is moving up my throat now.
First a belch followed by some smooth form that comes up into my mouth and into the floor.
I stare in disbelief.
It’s one of the peeled hard boiled eggs.
I can’t stop, one after the other the eggs keep pouring out of my mouth covered by slimy saliva.
Soon the floor is covered with eggs and I find myself slipping in my own saliva unable to keep myself up.
And as I’m lying on the ground, the eggs just keep coming out of my mouth and onto the floor around me.
Shae’s screaming is louder than ever and I just can’t stop vomiting these goddamn peeled, hard boiled eggs.
I wake up.