Jack leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes, random blots of colour swarming in the darkness behind his eyelids. When he opened them the words on his monitor swam disturbingly, a small… absence… following the focus of his vision as he tried to read. It was as if something had punched a hole in his reality, leaving the edge puckered, scarred, distorted.
He felt a surge of panic, his heart accelerating as he blinked furiously in an effort to clear his sight, little worms of absence crawling out from the hole to wriggle across his field of vision.
Jack got up from his chair and staggered out of his bedroom, almost tripping on yesterday’s trousers as he made his way to the door. He blinked again and again as he stumbled down the stairs to the front door and fumbled with the latch, hoping each time that his vision would clear.
He opened the door and stepped outside, his arms prickling with goosebumps in reaction to the sudden chill. He breathed deeply, hoping against hope that the crisp air would clear his senses, make the disturbing visual symptoms go away.
He looked up at the steel-grey October sky and watched the edges of the absence ripple with a silvery hue. The absence itself was not black but rather transparent or colourless, matching the background of his visual field but obviating any details in that area like a badly focussed lens.
As he looked into the cloudy sky a crow took flight, its caws echoing across the rooftops. He watched it go, the black wings an animated scribble against the sky.
Then it flew into the absence in Jack’s vision and at the same time he felt a sharp stab of pain just behind his eyes. He winced and tightly closed his eyes as the pain seeped away.
When he opened them the absence was gone and the crow was lost to sight.
Jack blinked a few more times to be sure, relief surging through him. He wasn’t going blind or having a stroke as he had initially panicked. And yet… what else could cause a symptom like this?
He went back upstairs and returned to working on his chemistry report, nervous at first in case his monitor started to swim once more into the absence he had recently experienced.
About half an hour later, Jack’s first migraine hit.
Once the excruciating pain, nausea and desire to do nothing except lie down in a darken room had passed, Jack dragged himself back to his computer and started searching.
Terrified that something was seriously wrong with his brain, he searched for “holes in visual field followed by severe headache”. As his head continued to pound with an aftershock headache he read page after page about migraines and found out that the visual distortions he had experienced were called “Aura”, and acted as the harbinger of migraine for some twelve percent of sufferers. The absence in his vision that had so scared him was called a scotoma.
Somewhat relieved by his research, Jack went back to bed.
Jack was in the lounge watching Formula 1 on telly a few weeks later when he began once again to see the disturbing visual symptoms of aura. Rather than fear this time he felt a sense of inevitable dread, knowing that a debilitating headache would be following hot on the heels of the aura.
He tried to keep watching telly, but after awhile the hole in his vision grew severe enough that it was almost painful to watch. He stood up, mumbled something to his father about having a headache coming on, and went up to his bedroom.
He sat down on his bed with a sigh, slumping with his head in his hands and his eyes closed. He opened them when he heard a soft ‘”Mrrew?” from the door, a smile already forming on his lips as he reached out to encourage his cat, Smoky, to come see him.
The silky grey cat approached eagerly, making another soft noise of concern for her master, and Jack gave a little laugh.
“Here girl, there’s a good kitty. Come to help your… uh!”
Pain knifed him behind the eyes as Smoky crossed the silvery boundary of the scotoma, and Jack winced his eyes shut. He heard a soft thud followed by a gush of liquid, the sound of cat-claws scrabbling against carpet, weakening, stopping.
Jack swallowed nervously and slowly opened his eyes, intuitively afraid of what he might see.
He made an involuntary sound of disgust and shock and stood up quickly when he saw half of Smoky lying on the ground in front of him, blood spread out in a wide puddle from the bisected cat. Some of her guts had come loose in her death throes and now lay on the carpet like fat red worms, all soaked in blood. The point of severance was horrifically smooth, as though his cat’s front half had simply ceased to exist.
He saw all of this far too clearly, because the scotoma had gone.
Jack cleaned up quickly, knowing that he would soon be incapacitated by the migraine itself. He cried as he put Smoky’s remains into the liner of his wastepaper basket, horrified and scared by what had happened. He mopped up the blood as best he could and put the sodden handkerchief in with Smoky for later disposal.
As the migraine set his brain pounding and tied his stomach in knots, Jack slumped in bed with panicked thoughts about what to do whirling around and around in his head. Eventually thinking grew too painful and he let himself switch off, slipping into darkness.
In the end, there wasn’t much he could do. He buried what remained of Smoky out in the garden while his parents were out, and he went to see a doctor about his headaches. The doctor told him that he was lucky to have aura with his migraines in a way, as if he took a certain drug when the aura started it might entirely prevent the headache from taking hold.
Jack didn’t feel lucky, but he could hardly confess that his aura seemed to be… eating… things.
He thanked the doctor, took the prescription and got it supplied by the pharmacist. He decided that, if it happened again, he’d just have to avoid looking at anyone until the aura passed.
What more could he do?
He was in an English Literature class a week later the next time the aura began. As his teacher lectured about Hamlet he squeezed his eyes tightly shut, terrified of what might happen if he let them open.
His teacher paused in what he was saying, sighed, and walked quietly over to Jack.
“Are we keeping you up, Jack?”
Mr. Peterson’s voice was loud and right in his ear. A few of the other kids laughed at Jack’s expense.
“No Sir,” Jack replied, a tremor in his voice. “I was listening to you Sir, but I’ve got a migraine coming on, Sir.”
“Open your eyes when you’re talking to me lad, migraine or no migraine.”
Jack swallowed drily, his eyes squeezed so tightly closed that he could feel his skin wrinkling “Please Sir, I really can’t.”
Mr. Peterson sighed. “Well then, I suppose you’d better go and see the school nurse, hadn’t you? And after that you can see the headteacher.”
Jack swallowed again and slowly stood. “Yes, Sir.” he mumbled, and started to blindly make his way out of the classroom.
He almost tripped several times as he fumbled his way to the door, and from the sniggers he heard he was pretty sure that at least a couple of these were deliberate.
When he got outside he listened carefully to be sure that nobody else was in the hallway, then opened his eyes a tiny sliver and made a run for the boy’s toilets. It should be safe to hole up in a cubicle there and wait for the aura to fade, he reasoned.
The toilets were empty, and silent apart from the gentle drip, drip, drip of a loose tap. Jack poured cold water into his hands and splashed it on his face, relief flooding through him that he had managed to avoid looking at a teacher or other student while the scotoma waited hungrily.
He reflexively looked up from the sink to check himself out in the mirror.
Or rather, most of himself. The scotoma blotted out half of his face.
Pain knifed into Jack’s frontal lobes, and then…