Bernard felt things no one else did.
There were no cold fingers on anyone else’s neck in the movie theater.
They crawled across Bernard’s skin because his mind had birthed them into existence from the depths of his darkest fears.
Anybody else would have been able to say to themselves, “It isn’t real. Don’t be stupid. You’re just scaring yourself.”
Bernard’s mind didn’t work that way. He’d lost control of it a long time ago.
And right now, with Bernard sitting in the middle of a crowded theater, it wanted him to make a fool of himself.
Maybe he would scream “Get off me!” and jump out of his seat, dancing like a spastic aerobics instructor. Maybe the people around him would get angry at his jerking silhouette blocking their view and boo and hiss and hurl popcorn.
His mind could only hope.
That’s why Bernard sat perfectly still, hands folded in his lap, armrests surrendered to the giant woman with the X-large popcorn on his left and the equally obese man with three hotdogs on his right.
Bernard had nothing to eat or drink. He’d come here to watch a movie. He liked horror flicks. They made him laugh.
The cold, greasy fingers massaged his neck, secreting their own oil, but he knew better than to relax, no matter how good it felt. The moment he did, they would dig in with their inch-long nails sharpened like talons. He knew this from experience.
They were a fairly recent addition, emerging late one night while Bernard was watching TV. The fingers had crept up and down the back of his neck, and they’d started giving him chills—not because their presence was anything new; he just hadn’t been able to wrap his mind around how many digits there actually were, or whether they all were on one hand or on multiple hands or if they were a bizarre millipede of fingers, and that’s when he’d taken a deep breath to calm himself down and thought, “Well, at least they don’t have sharp fingernails.”
He never made that mistake again.
Bernard accepted things as they were because he knew they would never change. Just like he accepted the fact that he would be a cart wrangler at the local supermarket until the day he died, and that he would always live in his parents’ basement—or at least until they died and left him the house, completely paid off.
“Mortgage-free is the way to be!” they cheered.
And he accepted the fact that when he wasn’t wrangling carts, he’d spend every hour in front of the TV or at the movies. Alone.
Well, not alone. He had the fingers, after all.
There would never be a woman in Bernard’s life. No one would ever be able to understand why he had to sit so still at a movie and not make a sound, gritting his teeth together and curling his fingers, squeezing them into white-knuckled fists.
Because when the fingers visited him out of the void, he had to fight back. By not screaming. By not slapping at the back of his neck. By not imagining anything else ever again that could possibly be worse.
Except maybe for the sofa-sized slug hanging from the ceiling with its vacuum maw that could suck the fingers off him and drown them in abysmal darkness.
Which it did.
Just like that.
And Bernard sighed with relief.
Until the slug slopped onto his shoulders with its dead weight and started slurping on his head.
As the movie credits rolled, Bernard closed his eyes and cursed.
BIO: Milo James Fowler is an English teacher by day and a speculative fictioneer by night. His work has appeared in Cosmos, Daily Science Fiction, and Shimmer. Many of his stories are now available on Amazon for Kindle readers.