Harold Herd – The Exploding Head

I lost my head when my wife died. My dearly beloved Barbara. She was buried in All Saints Church in Saltfleetby, a village surrounded by defences from the second world war: shelters, pillboxes, minefields. I’ll have you know I served in the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment.

Life without my wife proved to be a minefield in itself when my neurones began to fire in brain-racking bursts. EHS, exploding head syndrome, was a benign condition, much like having bad dreams. I had many a nightmare after my wife’s wake, when I would awaken in the middle of the night to the sound of a cymbal crash.

I celebrated our golden wedding anniversary with a trip to the theatre, the Grimsby auditorium, to see a smash-hit ABBA tribute show. That’s when my auditory hallucinations started again. Only this time, the noises were much louder, like gunshots. They startled me to such an extent I thought a terrorist had burst into the building and opened fire on the helpless crowd.

The frustrating thing was that no one else could hear the bedlam going on in my daft old brain, so I went to see the doctor. He looked in my ears, and surmised that the components of my middle ear may have been shifting, causing the phantom booms and bangs. The corpse of my dearly beloved Barbara floated along my ear canal.

I experienced countless sleep starts. Myopic jerks. One night, as I was nodding off, an ear-splitting explosion went off inside my head. The detonation was so powerful I thought my eardrums had burst. Deary me, it was like living in a wacky war zone. The clangour inside my cranium became so acute I suffered a seizure. My temporal lobe was severely damaged. Bleeding on my daft old brain. I was referred to a specialist who suspected I was suffering from a parasomnia event known as exploding head syndrome.

One can only soldier on in life. I continued to venture out and enjoy a glass of white wine at the Prussian Queen, the local pub that Barbara and I used to haunt. Then I would take a long walk along the seashore. One day, I spotted a natterjack toad on the sand, which had a yellow dorsal stripe down its back. The lonely toad must have escaped from the nearby nature reserve, which had hectares of habitats home to butterflies, woodpeckers, tree-creepers, dragonflies, red-eyed damselflies, and it was rich in flora, fauna, and flocks of finches.

The toad made a loud, reverberating mating call, and then it hopped away. Silly me, I followed it off the beaten track, and stepped on a sandy-coloured landmine. Now an anti-personnel mine was designed to injure, rather than kill, in order to stress the medical capabilities of the opposing force. Regrettably, the one I’d come across was for tanks, and far more powerful.

When I lifted my welly boot from the aluminium casing, the firing charge released, and the shock wave sent me flying into the sea air, causing multiple traumatic amputations. The loss of my legs, arms, and head, were no greater than the loss of my dearly beloved Barbara, and at least the non-stop noise had ceased to be. Peace at last. It was a true tranquility, like the softest quilt, so snug I closed my eye — the one still in its socket — and was sound asleep before my first body part hit the sand.