It had been forty-six hours since Alice had last fallen asleep. The tremors on her hands from drinking too much coffee kept her from even using the computer to catch up with her work. Every time she dozed off, the image of something moving under her mother's covers flashed into her mind. In her near-delirium, Alice thought she saw the covers move a couple more times. But in spite of her watchful gaze, the hole kept getting bigger every night.
"Miss Hamilton, you need to get some sleep. You're not doing your mother any favors," a nurse told her. Alice, so tired she couldn't even move her head, glanced at her from the corners of her eyes. She didn't want to waste precious energy with a reply, and waited in vain for the nurse to leave the room. "Is everything okay? Do you need anything?"
Alice shook her head as if in a trance. How could she explain that, through sleepless nights, she had gotten herself to believe the tale about the monster under the covers? She'd even given it an appearance: covered in brownish fur, with huge red eyes and teeth that could somehow eat the muscle but not the flesh. As soon as the thought of sharing her ludicrous secret with the nurse crossed her mind, Alice burst into tears.
The nurse rushed over to the sofa and, sitting beside Alice, put a plump arm around her shoulders. Alice tried to lower the volume of her sobbing so she wouldn't wake her mother. She would've given everything she had to be held by Marianne, but the nurse had a certain soothing, motherly quality about her. She looked at the nurse's huge brown eyes, wondering if the woman would dare make fun of her.
Alice needed to tell someone about the creature that she'd imagined under her mother's covers. Keeping her madness to herself would only build up inside until it made her explode. Having someone to confide in would at least cement her imagination in reality, where common sense would be able to beat it into oblivion. The nurse looked like the kind of person who'd take anything seriously. The crosses hanging from her neck at least identified her as a superstitious person.
"I..." Alice fell silent. How could she arrange the right words in a sequence that did not end up sounding like a lunatic's invention? She couldn't afford to be taken away from her mother's side.
"You can tell me, dear."
"It's just... something strange. The doctors are baffled... they're fighting among themselves because they don't know what is causing my mom to lose her leg... some of the bone has even been chipped off and they don't know why... But I saw something the other day. Something like a creature this big, crawling under the covers, right over my mother's leg." The nurse stared a couple of seconds.
"You mean... like an evil spirit?" In spite of herself, Alice let out a snort. She'd been toying around with the idea for a while, but couldn't believe how ridiculous it sounded.
"An evil spirit?"
"Miss, you lose nothing by always being protected against evil spirits," the nurse said, letting go of Alice as she put her index and middle finger over the gold crucifix that hung from her neck. Alice shook her head.
"I'm just sleep-deprived, that's all. I don't even know where I got the idea for that story, but I'm sure that no amount of supernatural protection is going to cure my mother." Alice sighed.
"A little faith would do you good," the nurse said. "Sometimes, it helps to believe in a higher power that gives us strength. You have no idea how many patients I've seen that were saved by their unwavering faith." Alice rolled her eyes. She'd been looking for sympathy and instead was going to be treated to a cathecism.
"I'm sorry I mentioned it. I don't know what came over me, but I simply will not believe a demon has been chewing my mom's leg off. It's too ridic-" Her sentence was cut short by the shattering of the window, raining pieces of glass over both women.