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I call it the Crawling Phantom Syndrome. I’m lying in bed and I suddenly feel something on my arm, it feels like a mosquito has dug in its needle to suck my blood or a fly has been tiptoeing over my skin. I shake my arm erratically and the itch is gone. Then it comes again. And again. No matter how many times I shake or scratch my arm, it comes back. There is no mosquito. There is no fly. My skin is playing tricks on me.

Not that night. Not in my dream.

After five minutes of helplessly struggling with the crawling phantoms, I fall asleep and I dream.

In my dream I’m lying in bed and I feel something on my arm. I reach to scratch it and my finger nails crash into hard shells and—squish! I look at my arm and I find swarming beetles and ants and mosquitoes and flies. I shake my arm violently but they won’t let go.

I scream but no sound comes out.

They don’t stop. The crawling insects cover my shoulders, neck, and chest. They creep over my entire body and I feel them sucking, scratching, stinging.

I keep screaming and no one can hear me. I can see my skin falling apart.

They gnaw through my skin and uncover my blood vessels and nerves. They creep over my chest and bite deeper through all my layers and expose my viscera. They circle my heart, invisible beneath their legs and needles, until they tear it open. Dark purple blood gushes out of it and drips down my naked muscles and bones. My empty heart is not red. It is black. They can see me now. They know me.

I cry and viscous red tears roll off my cheeks slowly, dragging every last piece of me with them.

The insects vanish. But they have seen me, they know me.

I raise my bony hands to my mouth and whisper a plea, “Please don’t tell anyone.”

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