Sleep…sweet, sweet, sleep…let it come…the soft fog lowering among the white pines…black waves hissing against the sand…in, and out…in, and out…the unblinking moon in the mist…a sea bird trills gently, distantly…the bird cries…how sad, it says…how beautiful…its voice goes an octave lower…two octaves higher…it gurgles…hiccups…what’s wrong with that bird?…it makes a sound like a rachet…getting closer, louder…rasping like a ruptured air hose…now shrieking and swooping…gibbering and — and laughing!…flapping horribly — that thing was never meant to fly…oh God, it’s not a bird, not a bird but a bug…a great, hideous, jabbering insect…all swirling tendrils and swollen abdomen…a thousand eyes, a thousand mouths — all staring, screaming…blotting out everything…
I bolted upright, gasping. My wife lay next to me. Her snores filled the room with a wash of sound, an alien symphony of whistles, grunts and nasal blasts. When I nudged her she mumbled and turned over, muffling the free concert. I lay back thinking, Where did she get such talent? From her Uncle George, the one who could smoke cigarettes through his ears? Or the grandfather she wouldn’t talk about — what was his name?…
“Jah?” He raised his lidless eyes and looked through me. Hard to believe a gaze that tranquil could hide a broken mind.
“Your soup, Grandpa. Finish your soup.” I pushed the bowl toward him and he looked through it. I placed the spoon in his hand and he smiled. He began warbling a little song, accompanying himself by tapping the spoon on his water glass.
“In heaven dere iss no beer, dat’s why ve drink it here…” He coughed into his soup.
“Jah, jah sure,” he said. He peered into the bowl. “Hello in dere. Anybody home?” When no one answered he dipped his spoon, took a long sip followed by a long breath and, liking the rhythm of it, finished his soup that way — sipping and breathing. The obscene slurping noises he made complemented his cadaverous wheezings, and I found myself listening for which would stop first. But they didn’t stop.
He reached the bottom of the bowl and kept going, licking the bowl when his spoon failed to bring up any more. His tongue was incredibly long. I wondered why I had never noticed it before.
“That’s enough, Grandpa.” The slurping got louder. There was no more soup but he kept sucking frantically, pursing his thick lips into a pulsating “O” like some monstrous pink lamprey. How could he keep inhaling without exhaling? I shivered suddenly and backed away. The slurping was deafening — he held the bowl to his face by sheer force of suction — and then the bowl vanished inside him. His unblinking eyes bulged swiveling from his head as the wind from within him tugged at everything loose in the restaurant: knives, forks, napkins, saltshakers, tablecloths — all flew into the widening hole that had been his face. A busboy screamed, waved his arms and tried to run, but Grandpa got him, sucking him in like a piece of lint.
Then he turned on me. His gaping orifice emitted sounds that should never be heard on this earth. Just as he was reaching for me with his shuddering snout he inhaled one of his own arms. There was a terrible screeching of torn fabric and flesh, and in a moment he sucked himself out of existence, disappearing with an audible pop.
I sat up yelling his name before I knew where I was. I didn’t want to be alone then. Shaking my wife to rouse her enough to share my misery, I noticed she wasn’t breathing right. She was sleeping on her stomach — something I had never seen her do — and her face was buried in the pillow, twisting back and forth. I turned her over but the pillow came with her, and I had to pull it out of her mouth.
“What are you doing?” she snapped. “Leave me alone!”
“You tried to swallow the pillow.”
“You were making a noise like a vacuum cleaner in molasses.”
“So you woke me up.”
“I woke you up? I was only trying to cover my ears. I haven’t gotten three minutes of sleep all night with your snoring. You sound like a French horn being played by a rabid howler monkey.”
I hit her with the pillow and got up to look at the moon.