It’s Not A Prank
He thought it was a joke. His daughter had always loved playing such pranks on him. After they lost her mom, she felt like it fell on her to make him feel better.
But then the sneezing wouldn’t stop. He knew things were serious when tears started streaming down her face. She began convulsing, reaching out for him as the sneezes continued coming. What was going on?
Lester rushed for her, barely catching her as she collapsed, one hand against her bleeding nose and the other clawing at her chest and neck. “Daddy, help,” she’d cried.
The dad couldn’t form the words to ask her if she was okay. He saw how contorted her face was and knew that whatever she was enduring was beyond painful. He didn’t know what had caused it. But he would as soon as he broke open the wall to her room.
A New Beginning
This was supposed to be a new beginning for Lester Shaw and his ten-year-old daughter Bianca. After a harrowing three years of doubt and unending heartache, the father-daughter duo were finally at a place where they could start life anew.
This house was supposed to be their new haven, a symbol of them letting their painful past go and focusing on a new chapter in their lives. Lester never knew it would be the reason her daughter would go straight to the emergency room.
Starting Out Early
Lester had always lived a simple life. A banker teller from Gillette, Wyoming, he’d managed to do many things in life before turning twenty-five.
Despite his young age, he had a great career and had married a beautiful woman, Cammy, who blessed him with the apple of his eye, an intelligent and equally resourceful little girl they named Bianca.
Good Things Don’t Last Forever
For seven years, life had been great for the Shaw family. Bianca was doing well in elementary school, Cammy had just opened a flower shop in town, and Lester had gotten a promotion at work.
But not all good things last forever. Just as things were starting to align for the Shaw family, disaster struck.
It came out of nowhere, the news. One minute, Cammy was healthy and laughing, and the next, Lester was accompanying her to countless doctor appointments.
Cammy had been diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, a devastating diagnosis that had hit the Shaw family like a bullet to the heart. Their lives would never be the same again.
Two Years Of Hell
What followed was a challenging two years of Lester and Bianca caring for Cammy. They went to each and every one of her chemotherapy sessions and stood by her as the doctors tried every remedy in the book.
But nothing seemed to work. Lester watched as the hope drained away from his once radiant and loving wife. He tried everything he could, but still, the inevitable happened.
A Harsh Truth
Everybody dies. To live is to know that you will be no more one day. For many, there is usually an almost cathartic feeling accompanying this knowledge. But for Lester, the concept of death had always been mythical.
He’d never lost anyone close in life. Not his parents, grandparents, friends, or cousins. So he didn’t fully understand its gravity. He couldn’t fathom the all-consuming pain when Cammy passed on.
The cavernous hole in his chest seemed to widen by the day, eating at everything he was. It was then that his daughter stepped in.
Bianca To The Rescue
Although Bianca was only nine and grieving after losing her mom, she put everything aside to help her dad return to form. She started helping with chores in the house, some of which were beyond her age.
She’d even insist on trying to make dinner and deter her dad from the habitual pizza and soda that had become a part of their lives. More than anything, she tried to make her dad laugh.
Back To Form
It took a few months for Lester to snap back to reality. The pain of losing Cammy quickly turned into guilt for neglecting his daughter, one of the greatest gifts Cammy had left him with.
Seeking to redeem himself as a dad, he tried to fix everything. He began by enrolling in therapy, anything to help him get through his loss. But although the sessions would help, they wouldn’t be what brought him back to his old self again.
Lester had been buried in grief for seven months before returning to reality. He started making amends for not being there for his daughter, helping her heal.
Although everything he did, like visiting a grief specialist, helped, Bianca’s presence is what made him feel hopeful again.
But all his hope would soon shatter as soon as the doctors would tell him what was happening to his daughter after she wouldn’t stop sneezing.
A New Home
As part of his starting afresh campaign, Lester decided to move him and Bianca into a new home. He and her mom had scoped out this place a few months after she got sick, hoping to move to a bigger, better house.
The neighborhood was safe and quiet, the residence a wonderful two-story building with all the best things that usually come with such great homes. But Lester should have known that it came with a dark secret.
Don’t Buy It
He should have seen it in the way the realtor was eager to sell him the house. The woman seemed too enthusiastic, overselling her pitches and trying to get Lester on board.
Cammy had once told him she didn’t like how desperate the woman appeared. To her, the realtor wanted to quickly pawn off the home because of some unseen flaw.
In that respect, she’d asked Lester to wait until they were sure the house had no issues. But now that she was gone, Lester didn’t have her guidance to lead him through the darkness.
She Hates It
He met with the realtor several times, even bringing Bianca along a few times. But where he loved the house, his daughter seemed to hold back. She said their other home was better, insisting her mom wouldn’t want them to leave.
But Lester felt like they needed a new beginning. His old house was so full of pain that just being there made everything in his life gray. But if he were smart, he would have listened to his daughter.
Just Like Her Mom
Among the things Bianca inherited from her mom were her intuition and a good judge of character. At her tender age, she seemingly could scent when something was wrong from a mile away.
But Lester didn’t listen to her when she asked him not to move them into the new house. He needed a fresh start, and for him, that took precedence over everything else. His beloved daughter included.
Lester and Bianca moved into the new house despite Bianca’s protests to stay in the place she’d grown up. The move was quick enough since their last home was only a few blocks away.
The father-daughter duo settled in, and for the first week, things went swimmingly. But as the second week came, something happened, a start to Lester’s nightmares.
It started with a few innocent sneezes at dinner. “Are you okay?” Lester asked his daughter, and she grinned. “I am,” she beamed.
Lately, she’d been pranking him to make him smile. “You rarely smile ever since we lost Mom,” she’d once observed. “Smile more. It makes life easier.”
Her pranks ranged from the expected whoopie cushion to more sophisticated ones, like switching the sugar and salt jars. She’d graduated to ones where she pretended she was sick, eager to see how Lester would handle the situation. But her pranks would soon take a different turn.
Is It A Prank?
The following morning, Bianca came to Lester’s room, complaining of her nose itching. Her mischievous smile lingered on her face, which made Lester question if this was another prank. But then she started sneezing.
The sneezes were watered down with her giggles because, at the time, she found it hilarious. Lester laughed, too, thinking his daughter was only testing him. She wasn’t.
Going To Work
The unsuspecting dad had breakfast with his daughter. Later, he prepared for work as he called her babysitter and left.
But he wasn’t away for three hours before the babysitter called back, claiming something was wrong with Bianca.
“She won’t stop sneezing, Mr. Shaw,” the teenager said. “I think you should come to the house.” Convinced this was yet another prank, Lester didn’t heed the warning. It would be too late when he did.
As evening came, Lester hopped into his car and drove home. He passed by the grocery, picking up ingredients for Bianca’s favorite meal, spaghetti bolognese. With everything in tow, he rushed home.
But he found the babysitter in a panic, with Bianca sneezing in the living room. The babysitter didn’t even wait for her payment. With a grimace and a huff, she stormed off.
“What’s happening here?” Lester asked Bianca. “Are you okay?” The little girl couldn’t even formulate a coherent sentence. With both hands against her face, she sneezed several times, all in quick succession.
She cried out before rushing to hug Lester. But she wasn’t even across the room before she braked, her sneezes taking over again. But this time, it was worse.
Fear And Concern
Blood tinged the edges of her nostrils, slowly trickling down to her lips. It stained her t-shirt, shooting a cocktail of fear and concern all over Lester.
Was this a well-orchestrated prank? He couldn’t tell. Tears started streaming down Bianca’s face as her sneezes resumed. Then, she started convulsing out of nowhere, twirling onto the carpet as her legs gave out.
Lester dashed to her. This wasn’t a prank! His little angel had been suffering throughout the day, and he thought it was a joke. “Oh Lord, no,” he cried as he picked her up. “Hold on, baby. I got you!”
Without removing his work clothes, he dashed back to the car, screeching out of the driveway as he called the emergency room. He’d already lost his wife. He wouldn’t lose his daughter as well.
At The Hospital
The drive to the hospital was quick as the highway was clear this evening. Lester carried Bianca into the building in a panic, screaming for the nurses and doctors to help him.
The medical practitioners rushed to him, wheeling the still-convulsing Bianca away. They asked Lester to stand aside, saying they needed to tend to the little girl before he could be with her. But Lester wouldn’t leave her side.
It took three security guards to pry him off the gurney. He watched as the doctors and nurses worked on her, bringing breathing apparatuses, among other scary equipment. Would his little girl make it?
A sense of cold deja vu washed over Lester. He’d been here before, helplessly standing on this side of the glass, watching someone he’d die for fight for her life. His heart shattered, and his eyes watered.
“Please, Cammy,” he whispered a prayer. “Help her. Help our girl through this.” He stood at the window for what seemed like hours, waiting for anyone to come and tell him what was going on.
It took three hours before one of the doctors came to him, asking him to sit down. With a notebook in hand, the doctor revealed what was happening.
The Cold Truth
“Mr. Shaw,” he said gravely. “I will be frank with you. Your daughter is stable at the moment, though barely.” His voice seemed to have an underlying anger, though he masked it well with a practiced neutral tone.
“We’ve found chronic inflammation close to rhinitis in your daughter’s nose, tracking back to her sinus passages — the small air pockets between the eyes and behind the forehead, nose, and cheekbones.” But that was only the beginning.
Never Seen Before
“While we are yet to discover what caused the inflammations, we think it might be a viral infection.” He took a deep breath and added, “We have never seen something like this, Mr. Shaw.
“The inflammations seem to be spreading at an alarming rate, which explains the endless sneezing you told us about. Is there any way your daughter might have made contact with something she’s usually not used to having in her life? It might be a plant, toy, clothes, or even a new room. Anything.”
Go To The House
Lester paled when the doctor mentioned the room. He returned to the window, looking at Bianca, lost in fitful sleep. With a last stare, he stormed off.
“Forgive me, Cammy,” he said as he stepped on the gas, racing through the night back home. He should have listened to both his late wife and Bianca and not moved into the house. Now this was his comeuppance.
Inside The Wall
Barely parking his vehicle in the driveway, Lester rushed into the house, heading straight for Bianca’s room. A stench that had never been there before flooded his nose, causing him to gag. He took a deep breath, eager to pinpoint the smell’s source.
A quick search landed him on the furthest wall, where the smell originated. Dread washed him as he rushed for his tools and started bringing the drywall down. He chipped at the white plaster, freezing at what he saw.
Nestled in the wall were fist-sized eggs covered in a slimy green membrane. The scene triggered Lester’s trypophobia, and he turned away. He couldn’t tell what eggs they were but knew he needed to call the authorities quickly.
Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.