Marianne sat up on her bed and screamed. Her arms and legs flayed wildly about her. Alice rushed over to her mother, trying to contain her before she hurt her leg further, but Marianne's fright had given her all the strength age had stolen from her.
"They're going to eat me! They're eating me!" she yelled, kicking. Alice hugged her mother and pressed her against the bed until Marianne calmed down. Marianne's chest heaved against Alice's, almost pushing her away with the strength of her gasps. Her eyes focused on the room around her, and then on her daughter.
"Mom? Are you okay? Were you having a nightmare?"
"I'm fine," Marianne said. "I must've been dreaming... I don't remember now. How's my leg doing? Why are you still awake? It must be past midnight." Alice had already hidden the digital clock, which marked 3 a.m., on her mother's bedside.
"It's not even eleven o'clock, mom. Your leg's doing great," Alice said, but the cheerful tone was too much of an effort for her to add a smile to it. Marianne nodded and leaned back on her pillow.
"You should get some more rest. That's the key, rest."
"It's the medicines." Marianne mumbled something, but sleep had wrapped around her even before the words escaped from her mouth. Alice kissed her on the forehead; somehow, the irony of the moment made her uncomfortable. She was sure that her mother could see through her pathetic attempts at cheerfulness, but Marianne was behaving like a model patient, and Alice was glad for it.
She curled up in the sofa that had been turned into a bed with some sheets and a pillow. Two nights on that couch had accustomed her to the position, and her back was no longer sore. However, she still found it difficult to fall asleep on such an alien location. With no room to toss and turn, she kept still, staring at her mother's legs.
Alice dozed off. Dreams intertwined with reality and played with her perception of the room, if she was still semi-conscious and not merely dreaming of the room. She watched as the sheets at her mother's feet blew up and rose back down. The billowing movement gave way to a steady waving back and forth, as though something walked over her mother's feet, beneath the sheets.
The sight startled Alice into a sitting position. She rubbed her eyes and looked at the vision. It didn't feel like a dream, the walls around her were too well defined, the room too full of excellent details she barely registered, and even through the drowsiness, she had a rock-steady sense of here and now that was always absent even in the sweetest dream. No, that had to be the kind of nightmare that doesn't allow for the solace and insanity that is the world of the subconscious.
She stood up and went to the bed. Whatever walked on her mother's leg was larger than a crow, although it hunched over as it circled a specific area of the leg, stopping every now and then and making strange splurging noises. Alice let out a sharp gasp that made her chest hurt when she realized that 'it' was circling the hole in her mother's leg. Unable to restrain herself, Alice grabbed the sheets and pulled them away.
There was nothing beneath them. Alice looked around, hoping to find an escaped rodent with lightning-fast feet, but there wasn't even a thud to betray it jumping from the bed. Alice was about to chalk it all up to an overactive imagination she didn't possess when she noticed her mother's leg. The hole had just grown bigger; the skin stretching over it sagged into the depth of the hole. When she turned on the light, she could see, clear as day, the unnatural redness of the skin that covered the hole.