Long Way Down

March 29, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Long Way Down: Part 1

Recommended Listening: Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy

I don’t quite know why I chose to drink my coffee black. I suppose the sweetness of sugar or its substitutes didn’t suit me, nor did I find that creamy beige colour that coffee turned once mixed with milk or cream appealing. Bitterness was my dark passenger, one I kept trying to shrug off like a heavy coat.

My throat tasted like melancholy, the caffeine doing absolutely nothing to wake me up. I felt nowhere near as alert as I needed to be. I wondered if I could wash away the feelings of fatigue and lethargy with another cup of the dark brown liquid that had left a thin film of regret on the inside of my favourite mug.

I stared down at the empty ceramic mug that lay on the small table in front of me, my vision blurring as I let my eyes focus on something off in the corner of the room. There wasn’t anything there, just shadow and wood walls, but I’d grown weary of watching the embers of the fire in my hearth die out.

The ancient, leather armchair I sat in groaned every few seconds, even though I myself remained as still as they dry, winter air outside. The pale blue fabric of my shirt was dyed bronze and gold in the light of the weak fire, making me feel warmer than I actually felt.

My cabin, my home, may have been tiny, but it was all I needed to keep myself content. Solitude was acting as my solace, but today, I’d decided to give my solitude a break.

I stood up from my chair, pulling my cell phone out of my pocket as I rose. I approached the fireplace while dialing a number with my thumb, my opposite hand working on dousing the faint, amber glow that still burned on within the fireplace’s stone confines.

The phone presented me with a dial tone that rang only twice before the agitated voice of a woman replaced the harsh sound.

“Lieutenant Moser, Homicide Department,” said the woman.

“Good morning, Lieutenant,” I said, clenching my jaw shut to contain the yawn I felt bubbling up from within my throat. “It’s Detective Vikas. You’re aware that I’m not going to be in for the next few days?” I asked with a cough as a small puff of ash rose into my face from below.

“Indeed, Detective,” she responded. Her tone was clipped with supressed annoyance, so I quickly decided to end the call before she chose to vent her anger out on me.

“All right then,” I said, walking towards the door, “that’ll be all. Have a good day, Lieutenant.”

I hung up, and pocketed my phone as I pulled my coat off of the hook by the door. I pulled the thick, fur lined jacket around my shoulders, shoving my feet into my boots at the same time. Within minutes, I’d grabbed my car keys, and was out the door.

The front yard of my home was layered with grey snow and dry leaves, the driveway speckled with a galaxy of salt stones. It was brisk outside, not so much as frigid. My lungs burned with the sudden chill of going from the stifling interior of my cabin to the near frozen wilderness that surrounded it. I watched, stunned, as my breath formed a cloud in front of my face, one that dissipated only seconds later. The moment soon passed, and I trudged my way towards my simple, black car.

I disliked driving to the city, much less so in the winter months. The sides of my car got coated with a thick mass of blackened slush, and my boots never went more than a day without being painted white with the stains of melting road salt. I never noticed how much those small things bothered me. I suppose I was bound to notice. It’s not like I had all that much to keep me occupied anyway.

It took me just under half an hour to reach the hospital district of my city. It shouldn’t have taken me so long, but the roads were packed and icy, forcing me to take a few side routes into the city.

I parked across the street from the hospital to avoid paying those ridiculous parking lot fees.

I sat in my car for a few minutes, my left leg bouncing in mild anxiety. I shouldn’t have been having second thoughts, not at that point. I’d had this appointment booked for over a month. I’d known the day would come. I’d awaited it. I’d longed for it, and now, it was here.

I volunteered for this experience because they’d told me it would help me move on. I didn’t want to forget, that would be wrong, but moving on was something I needed. I could achieve true peace. I could be free of all of the things that refused to release my fractured mind from its grasp. Traditional therapy never worked, and I was just tired of feeling this way. I wanted to be whole again, and this study was giving me the opportunity to become so.

I exited my car, slamming the door behind me with a dull thud. I hunched my shoulders as a sudden gust of glacial wind rushed past me, whipping my grey and chestnut hair across my forehead as the air dragged across my cheeks. I exhaled in the gale, scowling faintly as I headed towards the hospital.

It was refreshingly warm within the hospital’s lobby. Everything was white and blue, the floors stained with the partial muddy boot prints of each and every patron. It was loud, as to be expected, with the sharp trilling of landlines ringing, and the hacking, wheezing coughs of the physically ill. I heard children wailing, and smelled a sickly-sweet blend of cleaning fluids and body odor.

I fought the urge to scowl in distaste, and instead turned to my right, following an overhead sign that directed me towards the psychiatric wing.

Tan carpets and felt sofas is what greeted me in the waiting room of the psych ward. The walls were covered with an olive and beige striped wall paper, the colours faded and dusty. It smelled of stale air freshener and perfume, and was unnervingly quiet, though that could’ve very well been because I was the sole occupant in the waiting room.

The second I sat down in one of the green, padded chairs, a woman’s voice abruptly called out to me, causing my heart to seize momentarily in surprise.

“Mr. Vikas?”

I rose from my seat, turning towards a petite female nurse in long, white skirt, and a startlingly red cardigan. Her expression was soft, caring even, her hair long and the same colour as milk chocolate, tied into a ponytail at the base of her head. Though she appeared kind, there was something about her eyes that struck me the wrong way. They seemed too blank, too empty, for it to be considered completely natural. I realized all too quickly that dwelling on every oddity would only succeed in causing me stress.

I disregarded my thoughts immediately as I stepped towards the nurse, allowing her to lead me beyond a pair of sea green doors, and down a long hallway lined with offices that appeared to be vacant.

She knocked thrice upon the wooden door with a single, curtained window that lay at the far end of the hall, never once turning to look at me. I stared straight ahead, making eye contact with my reflection, consciously trying to work the semi-fearful expression I wore out of my features.

I began to feel minute vibrations emanating from within my chest. It took me a few moments to gather that I was feeling the by-product of my heart calming itself down. I pursed my lips in self-doubt, the crease between my brows becoming more defined at my distaste. I didn’t understand why I was so afraid. I was trying to get better, to move on. I shouldn’t have felt anything but hope.

A muted, “Come in,” resonated flatly from beyond the door just as the nurse turned the knob. She opened the door, stepping aside as she motioned for me to enter.

I nodded to the nurse, and passed through the doorway.

It was dim within the room. The light was musty, an orange glow that came from fixtures along the walls, streaking into the darkness of the room.

There was a huge window on the wall opposite to where I stood. The great panes of glass were shrouded by a sheath of deep green curtains, held back at the centre by golden tassels. The walls wore the same outdated wallpaper, the floors donning oriental rugs instead of a standard carpet.

In front of the window lay a massive, wooden desk. There were papers, file folders, and ornaments scattered like broken glass along the top of the desk. In front of the desk was a long, velvety couch in the same, deep green colour as the curtains, the fabric appearing to be remarkably new in comparison to the rest of the objects within the room. To the left of the couch was an armchair angled to face the sofa, its brown leather as aged as my own. To the right of the couch was a series of machines, all of them leaking a haphazard tangle of rainbow wires, all of them faintly beeping or subtly blinking.

Behind the desk was a chair, and in that chair was a man. He looked older than I was, wearing a plain, grey suit with a nondescript, blue tie. He sat upright, his round face placid. He wore a pair of round-framed glasses, the lenses so thick they made his eyes comically large. His nose was bulbous, his chin wearing a mottled, grey and black beard. His hair was black with patches of ash and snow scattered here and there, and his face was lined the markers of spending time with other peoples’ problems.

“Please, take a seat, Mr. Vikas,” he said, gesturing with one of his thick fingered hands towards the sofa.

I nodded distantly, and shakily approached the sofa. I sat down as the man came around the desk, taking a seat in the armchair.

“Mr. Vikas, I am Dr. Philip Jacobi. I am in very grateful for your participation today,” he said, extending his hand.

I took his hand, shaking it as firmly as I could manage. “Think nothing of it,” I said, my voice sounding oddly far away.

“I suppose I should explain what it is exactly that this procedure will entail, no?” he asked, his tone as carefree as if he’d been inquiring about the weather.

I simply nodded, my mouth unable to form the necessary words of affirmation.

“I’m sure you’re at least aware that this is an experiment of the mind, one to help you come to terms with some rather…unpleasant memories? Hmm?” he posed.

I nodded once more.

“Very well, then,” he said, leaning back into his chair. “Let me begin by telling you just a small bit about your own brain.”

I felt the corner of my lip curl for just a brief second in the slightest expression of annoyance. I swallowed, trying to remain patient and focused on Dr. Jacobi.

“Your brain is an incredible, incredible specimen, as are all brains,” he began, his eyes glazed over as if reminiscing over a loved one. “The human brain is divided into several different parts: the hemispheres, left and right, the fore, hind, and midbrain, the lobes, et cetera, et cetera. The only parts that we shall be focusing on today will be that of the hippocampus, and the amygdala –” he said, until I felt my own lips moving.

“The hippo-what?” I heard myself say, my throat forcing down another thick glob of saliva.

The doctor blinked at me, as if he couldn’t possibly believe that I was questioning him, much less interrupting him. “The hippocampus,” he repeated, “and the amygdala are both parts of your limbic system. This is where your conscious mind, and your unconscious mind reside. Your emotions, memories, fears, desires, and instincts all come from this area,” he finished, his eyes locking onto mine.

“Recently, my colleagues and I have developed a most spectacular drug,” he said, his voice making me think of a proud father at a soccer game. “This drug is targeted towards amnesia victims, but not quite in the reason you’re thinking. No, this drug isn’t meant to bring back lost memories, but it is to help the brain compartmentalize and accept the ones that it already has. This can be such an onerous and painful thing to do, but this drug has the power to soothe the minds of even the most damaged patients,” he finished.

I opened my mouth to ask a question, but Dr. Jacobi spoke before I could.

“Now, this drug isn’t the traditional pill or syrup or serum that you would receive from the emergency room,” he added. “The drug is in a gaseous state that, once inhaled, stimulates the olfactory senses, more commonly known as your sense of smell. Scent is the most effective way of promoting memory recollection since all scent related information passes through the hippocampus on its way to the temporal lobe, therefore, scent should more than be able to aid in the storage of memories as well,” he stated.

At that point, any and all words I might’ve wanted to say had long abandoned me. I was alone, even in my thoughts, and all I could do was breathe a faint, “Oh.”

“Today, you will be given a controlled dose of the drug via a nasal pipe, much like what you would wear if you were being given oxygen, while being connected to a few devices,” he said, gesturing towards the noisy machines to my left. “One will monitor your brain activity, the others your heart rate and oxygen levels. There is no need for you to feel worried,” he said, his voice sounding genuinely assuring. “After all, the only fears you have are the ones you’ve created for yourself.”

I felt my lips unstick from one another as I felt a question forming on my tongue. “When do we start?” I asked softly.

Dr. Jacobi smiled. “Right now,” he answered.

“Try and relax now, Mr. Vikas,” said Dr. Jacobi as he stuck a final electrode on my right temple.

I was covered in them, electrodes. They littered my face and chest like a pox, making the machines beep and whir rhythmically beside me. I was laying on my back, my eyes staring at the plain, unblemished ceiling above me, trying to focus on my breathing.

“Your vitals seem normal, so, if we may begin?” asked Dr. Jacobi as he slowly began to untangle a long, transparent tube.

“Sure,” I responded, my voice hollow and distant.

“Excellent, excellent,” muttered the doctor.

He approached me seconds later with what appeared to be a standard oxygen tube, the kind that rests just inside your nostrils. I let him place it on my face, working to keep breathing normally.

“I haven’t begun to give you the drug just yet,” he said calmly as he lowered himself back into the armchair. “First, I need to get you under hypnosis, understand?”

“Yes,” I replied, not wanting to nod for fear of dislodging one of the electrodes.

“Very well, then,” said the doctor. “I want you to close your eyes for me, Mr. Vikas,” he instructed.

I shut my eyes, my ears scouring the air for the doctor’s next words.

“In a few moments, we are going to count backwards from ten together. I want you to tap your right leg with your right hand to indicate that you understand me,” he said, his voice now holding a sense of gravity that hadn’t been there previously.

I patted my right thigh with the specified hand, feeling the weathered material of the jeans I wore beneath my clammy palm.

“On my mark, we will begin counting. By the time you have counted down to five, you will be inhaling the drug. You will not detect any change in the air you breathe. You will not feel as if you are being given anything. Please tap your right leg once more so I that I know you understand,” he said, his voice sounding significantly softer, quieter, than it had been, as if he was standing on the opposite end of the room.

I tapped my thigh once again.

“Once you have counted from ten to one, you will lose consciousness. You will awaken within your own mind, as if in a dream, and we will have no further contact until you next gain consciousness. I strongly advise you to proceed with caution from this point on. You will be alone with your subconscious, with the memories of what has driven you to come here today. You will confront whatever it is that may be haunting you, and it will not be easy. Now, I want you to begin counting down from ten… now.”

I pulled my lips apart, trying to calm the wild fluttering of my heart within my chest.

“Ten, nine, eight…”

My breathing was growing steadily shallower, as if I were succumbing to a panic attack.

“Seven, six, five…”

I wiped my damp palms against the tops of my legs, squeezing my eyelids tighter.

“Four… three… two…”

I took a deep breath.

“One.”

It was deafeningly silent, save for the haunting creaking of old wood. I smelled rot and earth, scents I’d normally associate with a coffin.

I was on my back, lying with my right leg crossed over my left, my hands folded neatly on my stomach. Wearily, unsure of what else to do, I opened my eyes, and felt my breath hitch in my throat.

I was in a grand, old home, a mansion or a manor. It was old, ancient, and decrepit, filled with signs of time passing.

I carefully worked my way into a sitting position, looking about the room I was in. I was very surprised to see that the drug had indeed transported me somewhere else, but why to a manor? What purpose did it serve? What did it represent?

I rose off of the floor slowly, blinking in mild shock, observing my new environment. I took a deep breath, only to cough loudly as the dust polluted air suddenly filled my chest.

I was in the foyer of the mansion, the floors made of a dark wood that had been stripped of its varnish. A layer of grime coated everything, making every surface appear luminescent in the light that streamed from everywhere and nowhere at once.

There were the remains of a massive chandelier lying in the centre of the foyer, scattering a mist of light fractals and glass in all directions. To my left and to my right was a pair of identical staircases, both leading to a single, open door on the upper level.

The walls were bare, except for the few empty picture frames that were hung every few feet or so. The frames were identical, each the same large size and design, each devoid of a photograph or painting.

I turned around, expecting to see a door, only to stumble back a few steps in shock.

There was an immense painting on the wall behind me, one that was impossibly big. It rose from the mid-wall nearly to the ceiling, the frame covered in bits and pieces of pallid cobwebs. It depicted a Renaissance Plague Doctor holding a single, crimson rose, standing amidst a sea of wheat stalks, staring off into the distance.

My heart was thrashing violently, as if it were a caged beast fighting to escape by body. Something about the painting was stupendously off-putting. I had no clue as to what this entity could possibly be here to help me confront. I had never had an interest in history, and I was only aware of the Plague Doctors because of a few short novels I’d read. I doubted the image was there to alert me that I’d simply enjoyed those books.

I began to feel a faint trickle of nausea creeping up from my gut as I continued to gaze upon the painting, causing me to quickly turn away.

I gasped sharply, feeling quite confused, and much disoriented.

I was now standing on the upper level, facing the open door that I’d seen from the foyer. I hadn’t climbed the stairs, much less even considered entering the unlit room, but as I stood before it, I felt a sense of morbid curiosity urging me to proceed.

I quickly glanced behind me, only to be greeted with the same image of the foyer, the chandelier’s corpse, and the colossal painting. I was relieved that something had remained static.

I faced the doorway once again, balling my hands into fists at my sides. I looked to my left, seeing only an empty picture frame. I looked to my right, and saw the same empty frame. I had nowhere else to go except forward.

I felt my breaths escaping my parted lips, the air dry and thin. I swallowed, and passed through the doorway.

Long Way Down: Part 2

Recommended Listening: Seven Devils by Florence + The Machine

The door slammed shut behind me of its own accord, filling the still air with the dead thud of heavy wood falling into place.

Instantly, I was bathed in blackness. There wasn’t as much as a single pinprick of light before me. It appeared as if I were made of shadow, my body non-existent in this realm of pure darkness.

Aside from the absence of light, I became quite confused when I noticed the scent of lavender wafting through the air. I felt something tapping at my memory, something trying to remind me what the significance of lavender was, but I couldn’t remember what it was for the life of me.

I wondered if there was a chance of finding a lamp or a flashlight somewhere within the room, so I choose to take a single step forward in hopes of locating a light source.

My shoe clapped against the barren, wooden floor, as a single gas lamp illuminated on the opposite end of the room, followed by a pair on the walls to my left and right, and another, and another after that, until the room fully came to light.

I suddenly regretted entering the room.

I was surrounded by mirrors of all shapes and sizes. They were all pristine, all appearing brand new. They ranged in height from as tall as I was, to as small as the ones found in women’s cosmetic’s products.

The most eerie thing of all was that my reflection did not appear in a single mirror.

I turned around, only to come face to face with a floor to ceiling mirror, also devoid of my reflection.

I stepped back, a faint, startled cry escaping my lips as I turned back to the room, hoping to locate an exit somewhere within it.

I was horrendously confused. I didn’t have the slightest clue as to what my mind was trying to help me understand by showing me these, quite frankly, creepy, images. I wanted to confront my past, but what purpose did these mirrors serve? Was I to reflect on my past, on myself? But, if that was the case, where was my reflection? How could I possibly reflect on myself without seeing myself at all?

Did it signify change? But, change in what regard? Change in my home life, in my mindset, in my personality? It was all so frustratingly obtuse.

I walked forward until I reached what must’ve been the centre of the room. I saw an expanse of mirrors in all directions, none of them housing a reflection. It was unnervingly blank, and uncannily muted within the room, as if I were underwater.

I began to turn in place, trying to see a change in one of the mirrors, to see my reflection, perhaps.

I stopped, facing in some unclear direction. I shut my eyes, rubbing my face with my fingers, trying to just think about what exactly was going on.

I released my face, looking into the mirror immediately in front of me, and I screamed.

I finally saw my reflection, showing me in my pale blue shirt and black jeans, along with the expression of absolute horror I wore on my face due to what I saw. No, it wasn’t my own face that had gotten me so shook up.

Just beyond my right shoulder was the face of the only woman I’d loved more than my own mother: Vera.

I felt the air scraping past my lips as I inhaled, causing me to involuntarily step backwards, closer to my wife.

I remembered why lavender was so important. Vera grew lavender in our garden, and had sprigs of the plant placed all over the house. Whenever I embraced her, she smelled as if she were made of the plant itself.

I turned around, expecting to see her, standing in front of me, but instead I saw myself once more, and my wife just behind me, reflected in another mirror.

I stood still, listening to the weak rushing of the blood in my ears, the otherwise soundless room bearing heavily against the quiet noises my body made.

“Vera.”

Her name fled from my mouth like the dying breath of an elder. I stood there, staring at her, trying to see if the blank expression she donned would change.

Her soft, brown eyes remained glassy, almost as if she couldn’t see me. She blinked, once, twice, as a single tear raced down the side of her cheek.

I wanted to turn around, and wipe the moisture away, to try and be the husband I never was. I knew that if I turned once again, she’d simply be behind me again, so I chose to stay staring at her reflection in the mirror.

What good would a change of heart accomplish now? Years have gone by since the divorce. I doubted that making amends to a mental imagination of my wife would solve anything.

The second that thought crossed my mind, I watched, fear pulling my eyes wide, as my wife’s face transformed.

Her eyes filled with a thick, murky, dark liquid, as if she her eyes were being injected with a cloud of ink. The fluid pooled like tears at her lower lash line until it spilled over her cheeks, streaking her smooth skin with charred rivulets. Her jaw seemed to unhinge as a terrible, piercing cry ripped from her throat, making our reflections ripple in the mirror in front of us.

I felt my breath rush out from within me as I lunged forward into the mirror, shattering it, wanting to destroy the image of whatever I’d just seen. The moment her eyes began to grow black, I knew that the woman who I’d encountered was the farthest thing from my wife. It was a manifestation of my worst fears, embodied in one of the few people I’d managed to damage just a little bit more than myself. She was my guilt, my regret, my self-loathing, and my disgust. I needed to get away. I needed to overcome it.

I bit hard on the inside of my cheek to prevent myself from crying out in pain as I felt the shards of broken glass embed themselves into the flesh of my face, arms, and chest. I felt my blood soaking into the material of my shirt, staining it impossibly red. I tried to flee, screaming as loud as my vocal chords would let me, as the creature behind me raked her nails across my back, shredding the back of my shirt into tattered ribbons.

I lost my footing on a mirror fragment, and I felt myself falling forwards, almost in slow motion, as I collided with about seven other nearby mirrors.

The sound of breaking glass was nearly as deafening as the sound of our combined wailing. The burning sensations I felt radiated all over my body, even to places where the glass had failed to puncture.

I began to crawl forwards, using my forearms to drag the rest of my body away, towards the plain, wooden door I could see just a few feet in front of me.

I tried to ignore the thin streams of blood that I smeared along the floor as I moved, but the sharp red colour invaded my vision every time I tried to avert my gaze. The smell was too rancid to cast aside. The air reeked of sweat, metal, and bile, a combination which did my stomach no favors. I did my best to disregard the absolutely torturous feeling of something, something needle-like and acidic, pulling at the meat of my left calf. It felt like I was tugging a grand piano behind me by my leg, and the pressure did not let up.

A harsh scream erupted from my throat as the creature pulled violently against my leg, dragging me backwards, farther away from the door. I watched, my sight going blurry with unshed tears, as my fingers feebly tried to hook onto something, anything, along the floor, just to escape this nightmare. I couldn’t do anything more but watch as my fingers painted the floor beneath me in smears of my own blood.

The pain in my leg was becoming nearly unbearable, and I realized that my top priority should be to get that damn creature off of me.

I forced myself to roll onto my back, howling like a wounded child as I felt angular pieces of glass cut and dig into my back, each one breaking the skin instantly.

I felt the cup of coffee that I’d drank earlier in the morning churning within my stomach as I laid eyes on the sight in front of me.

The beast was at my leg, biting onto it. Its jaw was opened wider than any I knew possible, its teeth small, yellowed pinpricks drenched in the bloody streams that poured from the cuts on my calf. Though it couldn’t have possibly spoken, I heard it say, as clearly as rain on a sunny day, “You let me down.

I didn’t respond. I couldn’t have, but I thought to myself that no, I didn’t let anyone down, at least not that monstrosity on my leg.

I’d done wrong, I knew that. I had never been good at being there for others, but I knew, more so than anything else, how to be there for myself. When things went bad between me and Vera, I retreated, far, far away into myself, so that hopefully I’d be able to prevent myself from doing any more damage than I’d already done.

I never got to tell her how sorry I was.

My breath got caught in my throat then. I didn’t think after that. I just moved.

My free leg recoiled, and stretched out in a flash, slamming into the side of the creature’s head.

It roared in rage as its body rag-dolled away from me, its clawed hands clattering along the floor.

I blinked, and found myself on my feet. I didn’t care how, I didn’t care why. I wanted out, but there was something I needed to do first.

I stood there, watching the creature try and organize its tangled mass of spindly limbs, trying to slow the hammering of my heart.

I shut my eyes, and said aloud, “Vera, love, I’m so sorry. What happened to Christopher was hard on the both of us, not just me, and I shouldn’t have acted the way I did. I shouldn’t have hid myself from you, from us. I should’ve known that even when everything we knew fell apart, we still had each other, just like you made me promise back in college. It sounds stupid, cliché, whatever. It doesn’t matter. Vera, I loved you, and I still do, okay? I hope… I hope that one day I’ll be able to tell you this, and that you’ll forgive me. Please, I want nothing more than to make things right. Please, Vera, believe me!”

I didn’t realize that my voice was becoming louder and louder as I spoke, coming to a shout as I voiced the last sentence.

Tears slipped passed my closed eyelids, and I wiped them away before they had a chance to mix with the bloodstains on my face. I pulled back my hands, and opened my eyes.

I was staring a closed door, identical to the one I’d seen within the room of mirrors. I felt relief flood from my chest to my fingertips as I understood that I’d finally put that part of me at ease. I knew what I was supposed to do the next time I saw Vera. I knew how to make things right, not just in my mind, but hers as well.

 

Long Way Down: Part 3

Recommended Listening: What the Water Gave Me by Florence + The Machine

I turned around to see a long hallway behind me. The walls were blank, just plain white, save for the evenly spaced gas lamps that were hung every few feet or so. There was a door on the opposite end of the hall, which I took to mean that I was supposed to cross it.

I let out a deep breath, calming my body from the excessive amounts of fear that it had just experienced. I decided to sit, and take a moment to breathe before moving on.

I propped myself up against one wall, lowering myself gingerly to the floor. I then began to gently pluck any remaining glass fragments out of my skin, my face twisting into a painful grimace each time I pulled a shard free.

I went to examine my leg, where that monster had bit me, only the find the skin unblemished, and painless, as if nothing had happened.

Once I’d gotten all of the glass out of me, I leaned heavily against the wall to get back on my feet. I rubbed the back of my neck, exhaling slowly, and started forward down the hall.

I suppose I should’ve turned back the moment the gas lamps started to flicker, but I didn’t. I kept going, ignoring the almost undetectable gusts of wind that rushed past my body. I pretended that I didn’t smell the overpowering scent of stale seawater as I made it to the middle of the hall. That’s when I stopped.

The door I’d been heading towards was suddenly obscured by the presence of a shadow. It was humanoid in shape, and cast no shadow of its own, despite the numerous light sources that surrounded it.

I furrowed my brow, confused as to how I’d neglected to notice it from down the hall prior to this point. It wasn’t exactly hard to miss.

I took a step back, and saw the shadow blink out of existence.

It didn’t make sense, but despite my desire to cross the hall, I assumed it would be a wiser choice for me to just turn around.

Staring at the now clearly visible door, I began to back up, until I couldn’t. I turned around and was confronted by the sight of a wall. I didn’t know where it came from, but it was now very clear that I needed to go towards the door.

I pursed my lips, and turned back to the door.

As soon as I crossed the midpoint, the shadow reappeared again, but I kept walking. I neared it, watching as its fuzzy, black outline grew clearer and clearer, until I could make out the pale, cream coloured bird mask it wore on its face, the deep, black holes that marked its eyes, and the single, red rose it clutched in its hand.

I stopped, realizing that I was beginning to feel very, very nauseated. I was about five feet away from the Plague Doctor, watching it watch me, my vision growing increasingly blurry around the edges. The world seemed to tilt as I stared at it, unsure of what to do. It was so quiet, as if I’d jammed my fingers in my ears. My fingertips felt numb, my body shaking more and more violently as time ticked on. I couldn’t move, even though I desperately wanted to.

I could only watch, dread seeping into my gut, as it began to approach me.

The two lights to its left and right blacked out, dousing the entity in darkness. It came closer still, causing two more lights to wink out as it passed them. The mask it wore appeared to glow in the lamplight, making it appear ethereal as it continued its approach.

I felt my heart clench in my chest, my breath stop in my lungs. My legs tensed, and lunged back as I broke into a near sprint to get away from the creature.

The wall behind me was gone, but I didn’t care. I heard and felt the air scraping against the inside of my dry mouth, my palms suddenly sweat-soaked. I heard the far-away claps of the Plague Doctor’s feet as it treaded towards me, my own thundering footfalls not loud enough to drown out the sound completely.

I ran, and ran, trying not to think about the fact that the end of the hallway seemed to be just as far away as it was when I began running. The scent of seawater burned my nostrils, but I couldn’t afford to dwell on it.

I looked back over my shoulder, only to find that the Plague Doctor had disappeared. My eyes grew large in disbelief, but I didn’t stop running.

I looked forwards again, and screamed.

The Plague Doctor stood only half a foot in front of me, the rose missing from its hand. Instead, splashes of a violent red dripped down from above onto its robe, the colour almost too bright to look at.

I angled my body away from the Plague Doctor, getting ready to run the other way, when I heard the sound of rushing water.

It was a resounding roar, as if all of the feral beasts upon the Earth had chosen that precise second to cry out.

I saw it, a wave of pure red water speeding towards me, spraying blood-red foam along the walls as it passed. It was going to swallow up the Plague Doctor, but I didn’t give the idea much thought. By that time, I’d already turned and started sprinting down the hall.

I was panting heavily, though I wasn’t very tired. The thought of drowning in a bloody river was frightening enough to send my body into overdrive. Every point of sensation on my skin was alive, buzzing with my most primal desire: to survive.

I blinked rapidly, trying to keep the flecks of crimson water from getting into my eyes. It was between a few of these blinks that I noticed the Plague Doctor, once again barring me from accessing the door. I felt an enraged, frustrated sound burst from my mouth as I charged forward, not giving a damn about the Plague Doctor. I wanted out, and nothing was going to stop me from achieving that.

I wasn’t exactly surprised to find that the Plague Doctor was nothing more than a spectre, one I easily passed through in my desperate attempt to escape. I ended up barrelling into the thick wooden door, only to find the knob missing, and the door locked.

I beat and pounded upon the door, shouting out in fury to be free, as if the combined effort of my voice and my fists would manage to break down the door. The water was lapping at my waist, my blue shirt now completely reddened. It was so cold, the water. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t do anything except try to get the door open.

No matter how hard I punched, or how strongly I bashed my shoulder against the door, it wouldn’t so much as quiver under my battery. I was going to drown in a sea of blood, and there was nothing I could do about it.

As I realized my fate, I thought, is this what Christopher felt?

Seven years old, and left unsupervised during a trip to the beach, I remember losing Christopher every second that I continue to live. Part of that inability to forget led to the destruction of my marriage, along with a severe addiction to coffee and Valium. I figured numbness was a way out, the only way to function without feeling like I’d murdered a child.

PTSD, I think the shrink had called it. It was bullshit, but they just had to label me, to make me easier to treat.

I wish I could believe that I really wasn’t at fault, but I was.

I was the one who insisted on getting Chris in the water. I was the one who told him to wait for me while I got my camera. I didn’t pay attention to the screaming beach goers as they tried to alert someone that a child was being swept away by the tide. I didn’t even run to his side as the lifeguard towed his small body out of the sea, his pale, blond hair looking as white as the flowers we chose for his funeral. I couldn’t. I couldn’t accept that I was responsible for the death of my son, not that day, and not now, many years later. It’s an agony I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.

If only Christopher knew just how much I cared for him, how much I regretted my actions from that day. If I could turn back the clock, I would’ve done it already. If I could speak to the dead, I would’ve begged for his forgiveness, but, Christopher was gone, only living in the memories and photographs I carried of him. It wasn’t enough to soothe me. It wasn’t enough to help me move on.

A large wave of red water splashed over my head, finally pulling me under. I looked up, watching the light stream in through a hazy, scarlet filter. I hadn’t gotten a chance to take a deep enough breath to swim to the surface. I doubt I’d even try to if I had.

Maybe I was getting what I deserved. I didn’t deserve the live out the lonely life I’d created for myself.

As I floated there in the water, my breath escaping me in pink and magenta bubbles, my eyelids began to droop. My chest was scalding me with the desire to just inhale, and breathe, but my instincts wouldn’t let me. I just remained still, allowing the water to slowly pull me down, deeper and deeper still.

My vision blackened at the edges, and I blinked, trying to see. See what, I wasn’t sure, but I held this urge to keep my eyes open.

Blinking rapidly, I felt my heart falter like a bird with a broken wing within my chest.

In the distance, I saw a shape. It was small, humanoid, and approaching me. My lungs were screaming for air, my limbs too fatigued to move. I stared ahead, watching my dead son swim up to me.

His blond hair was floating wildly about his small, round face, his brown eyes glowing in the water. He was smiling, as if he were happy about swimming in this sickeningly red sea.

I couldn’t speak, but my mind called out to him. I said his name over and over in my head, and I watched as his eyes lit up in recognition.

He surged forwards, his tiny hands extended towards me. He reached out in what seemed like slow motion, and placed his hands on my shoulders.

If I could cry underwater, I would have been. I had no air left within me to produce any sobs, and the tears that fled from my eyes got whisked away by the bloody water that surrounded me.

Christopher wrapped his thin arms around my neck in a faint embrace. My nerves were dull, and I couldn’t make out much more than the brilliant glow of his hair, but I felt it. I felt him grab onto me, and hold me. I wanted to lift my arms, but my body wouldn’t respond. I wanted so, so badly to say sorry, to say something, but my lips were frozen, and my voice was long gone.

In my head, I screamed apologies, I wailed, rambling over and over to Christopher. I told him I was sorry, that I shouldn’t have left him alone, and that it was my fault that he was gone.

Out of nowhere, Chris lifted his head. I felt the strands of his hair brush the side of my face, the feeling not unlike encountering seaweed in the ocean, as he spoke.

“It’s okay, dad. I’m okay. You don’t need to do this anymore. Just let go, daddy,” he whispered, his voice muted by the water.

I couldn’t see him anymore, and I couldn’t feel my body. I was just a thought, strewn about somewhere in an endless expanse of red.

“Just let go, dad,” he repeated, the feeling of his arms fading away. “I forgive you, okay? Just let go.”

“Remember,” he said, his voice echoing through the chambers of my mind, “I love you.”

I felt my lips part as water rushed inside, filling me with fluid as I lost consciousness.

Long Way Down: Part 4

Recommended Listening: Lurking in the Dark by Masafumi Takada

It was because I’d tried to breathe that I woke up.

The water in my lungs burned coming up, making me cough and hack and sputter until my body was clear of the liquid. I heard it splatter against the floor as I spat it up, the spray flying onto my fingertips.

My clothes were dry, and my socks and shoes were missing, but my hair still dripped droplets of the cold water onto my forehead, cheeks, and nose.

I suppose I felt more at peace, more free of what had been haunting me about Christopher’s death. I felt shell shocked, like I couldn’t believe that I didn’t need to dwell on what could have been any longer. I know that the Christopher I’d seen wasn’t really him, but I needed to see what I did, to hear what I did. There was a heaviness that was missing from within me, and I didn’t want it back.

It wasn’t until I’d calmed my breathing, and soothed my faltering heart that I tried to look at the world around me.

It was very hard to determine just where I was. I couldn’t see very well, considering that the lights in the room, a few fluorescent panels above my head, flickered on and off every few seconds. I couldn’t see for more than two seconds at a time, the flashing lights creating almost a strobing effect. From what I could see, I was in a room made entirely of stone blocks. The room appeared to have no doors, and no windows. Just walls of stone, frigid even through the clothes I wore. It smelled of mildew and earth, like the soil in my backyard when the snow melts each winter. There was a breeze coming from somewhere, but each time I turned to find its point of origin, I felt it against my back, as if its source was simply behind me at all times.

I carefully stood up, looking around the room for a way out. I wondered if this was a transition room, one that I simply needed to pass through in order to find my way out of this giant riddle of a mansion my mind had set up for me.

I tried turning about, looking for a change in the environment, but my movement accompanied by the irregular, pulsating lights were making me feel disoriented. I couldn’t tell what side I was facing, where I was looking, or when I was blinking.

I felt a small bit of anger working its way through my chest just as a drop of water fell from my hair, and into my eye, causing it to sting harshly. I rubbed at my eye with the palm of my hand, trying to work the pain out of it, while trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing.

As I pulled my hand away from my face, I looked up, and felt my stomach drop straight to my feet.

The lights blinked a few times, illuminating the stark black figure of the Plague Doctor, standing just a few feet in front of me. He still casted no shadows, and was still holding that single, damn rose.

I didn’t move, and neither did he. We just stood there, staring at each other.

As the lights continued to flash on and off, I noticed something peculiar.

The Plague Doctor seemed to be standing slightly closer to me, each time the lights stayed on for long enough for me to see.

I felt my heart thudding like the hooves of an army of horses in my chest, my attempt at calming down proving to be useless.

The lights flicked off, completely this time. The room was as silent as death, my own labored breathing making no noise. It was as dark as spilled ink, with not so much as a glimmer of any light visible.

The lights suddenly blinked back on, and to my horror, the Plague Doctor had crossed half the distance between us.

I gasped in shock, my feet carrying me backwards as the lights blacked out once again.

I didn’t care that I couldn’t see. I needed to get away. I knew that I’d run right through him before, but I was getting very different impulses about the entity now. I just knew that I wouldn’t be able to bypass him the same way I had before.

I turned around and began to run as fast I was able to, which wasn’t very fast at all. My body still ached and creaked from nearly drowning, and my lungs weren’t letting me breathe as I needed to.

The lights came back on, and I stopped as quickly as I could to prevent myself from running into the Plague Doctor that had appeared in front of me.

I screamed, caught off guard by the Plague Doctor once again.

I turned and ran once again, my bare feet slapping against the floor.

“Stop.”

The word echoed around the stone walls, and I felt my legs stop pumping until I stood still in the centre of the room.

I couldn’t move, even though my fight or flight response was making it very clear that I needed to flee.

I heard footsteps from behind me, getting steadily louder and louder, as they came closer.

“You can’t run from death,” I heard a hoarse voice say from my right beside my ear. I was startled by how similar his voice sounded to my own.

The need I felt to run was more powerful than the fear I felt in that instance. I doubted I was in any real danger, but there was no mistaking the animalistic instincts I was experiencing.

I felt moisture seep over my toes, and I looked down, wondering if I’d managed to soil myself in my fear. Instead, I saw that I was standing in a large pool of a deep, brown liquid. I wouldn’t have realized what it was if it weren’t for the unmistakable scent of coffee that wafted upwards from the floor.

I felt confusion replace my unease, trying to understand what the spilled coffee meant, what the Plague Doctor meant, what this entire room what trying to get me to understand.

“You can’t run from death,” the Plague Doctor repeated.

“Alright, shut up!” I shouted as I turned around to face him, my legs finally responding to my commands.

And then, it all made sense.

I had tried to run from Christopher’s death by staying up late, pouring cup after cup of coffee. I didn’t want to sleep, I couldn’t, because I’d see Christopher in pain, crying, calling for me to help him.

I understood what the Plague Doctor was trying to tell me.

He extended his hand, offering me his red rose, the petals unnaturally vibrant in the dim, gray room.

I took the rose from the Plague Doctor, starting as I pricked my finger on one of the rose’s thorns. I watched a single droplet of my blood fall to the stone floor beneath my feet, the coffee puddle suddenly all dried up.

I looked to the Plague Doctor, only to find him gone, and to see that I was back in the foyer of the mansion.

The rose in my hand was now wilted, its petals shriveled and dead. There were no more picture frames along the walls, just plain, white wallpaper. The door on the second floor was no longer there, but a single floor to ceiling mirror hung in its place. I turned around and saw that the painting of the Plague Doctor was gone as well, leaving only a darkened patch where the painting use to hang.

I dropped the rose stem from my hand, and slowly sank to the floor. I sat, my bare feet sticking to the dusty, wooden floor, wondering what I was supposed to do next.

I can say that I felt much lighter, as if I’d shrugged off a layer of waterlogged clothing. I could sleep when I got home, and my dreams wouldn’t be clouded by the screams of a broken child. I could call Vera, and settle the mess between us.

I was free.

As I sat there, I started to feel drowsy, like I’d suddenly been drugged. My eyelids fluttered shut as my breathing evened out, my body gently falling back against the wooden floor.

The world blacked out as I started to smell moth balls and air freshener.

Long Way Down: Part 5

Recommended Listening: Long Way Down by Gary Numan

I awoke to the steady beeping of a heart monitor. My eyes blinked a few times, the tendrils of lingering slumber retreating away from me.

I looked around, and saw Dr. Jacobi going over a long sheet of graph paper with erratic, spiky lines printed on it, coming from one of the machines I was connected to. His face grew briefly displeased with what he saw, and he promptly turned to look at me.

“Ah, you’re awake!” he exclaimed, dropping the paper to the floor.

He rushed over to me, and began plucking the electrodes off of my body. Once there wasn’t a single wire left attached to me, he shut off the machines, and took his seat in the armchair across from me.

“Tell me first what you saw before I tell you what I observed,” he said, his eyes glowing with an eager thirst.

Still feeling fairly tuckered out, I groggily relayed what I’d seen, what I’d interacted with, and what I’d managed to understand from it all. By the time I finished speaking, Dr. Jacobi looked about ready to leap up, and give me a hug.

“Remarkable,” he said, awestruck, “absolutely remarkable. Well, Mr. Vikas-”

“Walter is fine,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck.

Dr. Jacobi smiled. “Walter, let me explain what I saw here on these papers.”

He stood up, and hurriedly returned with his arms full of paper. He rifled through the pile until he reached what appeared to be the beginning.

“See here,” he said, pointing to a line with very small peaks and valleys, “this shows you falling straight into REM sleep,” he said. “That is the deepest level of sleep, where your dreams occur. It’s very unusual for someone to bypass the other levels of lighter sleep, and go straight into the deepest.”

He pointed out a bunch more different wavelengths, and told me about how the brainwaves I displayed during my sleep were nearly identical to the ones I’d experienced while being awake. He said it was usually normal for those waves to look similar, but he had trouble discerning if I was asleep or awake for a majority of the experience.

“You didn’t move a muscle while you were under,” he said, “in case you were worried about that.”

“How long was I asleep for?” I asked, stifling a yawn with my hand.

“Two hours,” he replied, “which was half of the time I’d estimated initially.”

I nodded as I got to my feet, feeling more rested than I’d been in years. I reached out my hand, and Dr. Jacobi shook it firmly.

“It’s been a pleasure, Walter,” he said, smiling.

“Thank you, Doctor,” I said, “Have a good day.”

“Likewise,” he responded as he released my hand.

I left the hospital ten minutes later, and got back home in another twenty-five. I threw open the door to my home, locked it behind me, and leaned against the door.

I felt like I’d taken a long shower, and had washed all of my baggage away. I felt slightly hollow, like something wasn’t quite right just yet, but I didn’t think much of it.

I kicked off my boots, and hung my jacket on my coat hook, taking a seat at my kitchen table. The moment I sat down, I felt my phone buzz to life in my pocket.

I pulled out the device, and inhaled sharply when I read the caller I.D: “Vera.”

The empty feeling within me disappeared the instead I saw her name. This was my chance to make things right for good.

I looked at the vase of roses that sat in the centre of my table. An image of the Plague Doctor flashed behind my eyelids.

I knew what to do. I always did, I just didn’t realize that until now.

Pulling a single, red rose out of the vase, I answered the call.

Credit To – Sabrina S.

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Old Man

March 26, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I don’t know how scary you will find this, but I can tell you that I was horrified.

When I was around 12 years old, my parents rented an old shingled house in Massachusetts, about a mile from the beach. We were staying there for the summer, and we were all pumped for 3 months in historic New England.

The house was previously owned by a woman named Virginia. She was unmarried and lived there for many years with her elderly father, whom I don’t know the name of. She was a perfectly normal woman who rode horses and kept a beautiful garden across the street. My parents never met her father, and we only talked to her a few times, as the rent transaction was done mostly through a realtor.

The house was quite nice. It looked small from the outside, but once you went inside, there were countless small rooms. There were many cupboards and closets and two slender spiral staircases leading up to one of four tiny rooms upstairs. One of these rooms was mine.

Being twelve years old and having an overly active imagination, I was terrified of staying upstairs by myself at night. My parents slept downstairs in a room that was a new addition to the house, and I hated the idea that they were so far away. Finally, after a few sleepless nights and plenty of power tears, my parents agreed to let me sleep downstairs in the old living room, which had a fireplace and two doors:one leading to the kitchen and one to the new living room.

I was extremely happy with this arrangement and I felt sure I would finally be able to fall asleep that night.

That night, after saying goodnight to my parents, I lay down on the pull-out sofa, contented. But not for long. Immediately after closing my eyes, I felt the weirdest sensation. I felt I was being watched, or like someone was just over my shoulder. I opened my eyes, fearing the worst, but no one was there. The room was silent. I was completely alone. A little unnerved, I shut my eyes again, and once again felt the presence. It’s hard to explain, but you know how blind people are more able with their senses? It was like that. Even when I opened my eyes a second time and saw no one, I knew there was a man in the room. I can’t really explain, but I felt certain that there was a man watching me sleep. However, since I had no evidence, I just shut my eyes, curled in a ball, and fell into an uneasy sleep.

Fast forward a few weeks. One of my friends was sleeping over and we were, of course, staying at the house. Despite her protests that we should sleep upstairs, I insisted we stay downstairs. Even though nothing ever happened upstairs, I was still a little wary.

That night, after gossiping for a few hours the way only two 12 year old girls can, we fell asleep. I should mention that I never said anything about the man in the living room (that’s where we were staying). I didn’t want my friend to panic.

I slept soundly that night. I guess it was probably because I had someone with me.

The next morning, when I woke up, my friend was already awake and staring at me. Katie, she said, I’m like not crazy. But like last night in the middle of the night I woke up and I felt like-

Oh my God, I said. Did you feel like there was a man watching you sleep?

At first, she said, her voice quavering. But when I opened my eyes, there was an old man standing in the doorway to the kitchen. He smiled at me and then he left.

Our eyes grew wide as we stared at each other in terror, and then slowly turned to the door. We had shut it the night before. Now it was open just a crack.

I told my parents about about this after my friend left and they disregarded it, thinking I was letting my imagination get the better of me. But at the end of the summer, when I went home and had internet service again, I searched the history of the house. Virginia lived there for almost 20 years with her elderly father, a registered sex offender who was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 83. He returned to the house with his daughter and died a few months later in the house.

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The Piano

March 25, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The eerie house on the corner of the street isn't a place where I'd ever consider going. However, as the downpour that begun seconds ago intensifies I make a short sprint for the verandah of the creepy residence.

I look down the street, shivering a little because of the unpleasant temperature that’s come down with the water. I can see my house from here, but the violent rainfall prevents me from making any attempt to go there without getting completely soaked and, on top of that, likely catching a cold, so I stay put.

The woodwork of the house looks shoddy. It seems like it’s never really been maintained or properly cherished. It is how the rest of the house looks, as well. There are cracks in a lot of places and the paintwork is crumbly. This house is a wreck.

The sound of raindrops finding the roof above me in their way is deafening, but through the noise I can hear a few musical notes; the hint of a melody enters my brain and frustrates me beyond belief because I can’t hear more of it. As I put my ear to the shutters I realize I have no idea who lives here. I’ve never seen anyone; much less even heard about any potential inhabitants, yet it’s never been for sale.

I can hear the music better now. The sound above my head still partly drowns it out but I can make out the melody and most of the tones. There it is; a haunting piano tune enters my ears. It sounds dark, emotional, driving. It makes me feel sad. I push myself to the wall, curling up, trying to make myself somewhat comfortable while listening.

Some time has passed when I catch myself in a mesmerized state. It can’t have been more than a few minutes, but the music is captivating. I get up and shiver again. Maybe I should get out of the cold, I decide. It’s unhealthy. The door is a few feet to my left, so I walk over and use the knocker while trying to stay dry. The sound echoes through the house. Trying to imagine who could play such beautiful music, my brain paints me nothing less than a dark angel, gently stroking the keys to elicit the inspired tune from the fragile instrument.

The music builds up to a sudden stop which one might expect to end again after a few seconds, used to highlight the music even more. It however only highlights the opening of the front door. It creaks, but the figure behind it seems untouched by the state of disrepair into which the house has fallen. The man is in his thirties, it would seem, and dressed mostly in dark colors.

“Come in,” he says and steps aside. No ‘Why are you here’ or ‘What can I do for you’; I have to assume the violent precipitation hasn’t escaped even his attention. He leads me to the lounge. It’s mostly a large open space with a single coffee table, a couch and some chairs. Next to the fireplace is the grand piano.

Intrigued, I listen as he seats himself and continues playing. It’s as if he never stopped; as if it’s all part of the same musical score. Yet, all traces of such a score remain to be seen. The rack on top of the piano is empty; is he doing this from memory, I wonder? I can barely imagine this is improvised.

The music slowly dies away as my host carefully strokes the last few keys, leaving me on the edge of my seat. Only as soon as the faint hum of the last note has disappeared, do I dare raise my voice. “Impressive,” I say. The pianist gets up and smiles. “Welcome to my house,” he says. “I am Regar Fornley.”

Raising one eyebrow and leaning ever so slightly forwards, it’s clear that he expects me to introduce myself. “I am Jake Daniels,” I say. “I live at 209, just down the street.” I make a faint gesture with my hand. Regar walks towards me and sits down on the opposite side of the table, on the couch. “Jake.” He weighs the name on his tongue. “I don’t often get visitors. Why don’t you stay a while?” He grins.

He pours me a drink after I nod. It’s tea; that’ll do me some good after sitting outside in the cold. “I haven’t seen you before,” I say, “even though we’re practically neighbors. How long have you lived here for?” “Oh, years. I don’t really go out much.” He takes a sip from his own cup and smiles. I look down at my drink. Something about the man makes me feel uncomfortable, as if it doesn’t quite add up. “The music,” I try. “Is it from memory or improvised?”

Regar’s grin widens. “Improvised. My, you’re observant.” His behavior scares me. This is not the man who was playing the piano just then; I can tell. The grin seems to be glued to Regar’s face as if it’s a mask, worn to conceal what horrors lie beneath. His eyes, however, tell the truth.

I have to get out. I rise from my chair. “I’m terribly sorry, Regar-” “Sit.” His voice is stern and his command doesn’t brook refusal. His smile is gone; he frowns. I fall back. “Yes, you’re very observant,” he repeats. “Maybe you’re too observant.” A sensation of panic begins to come over me. What is he on about? “You’re not foolish,” he says. His voice takes a turn for the hostile. “Why don’t you just trust your gut and run away? Why don’t you RUN!” he snarls. “What’s going on?” I ask, scared by his sudden mood-shift.

He jumps up from the couch and violently paces back to the piano. He doesn’t sit down; instead he begins mashing keys. It sounds frightening, for amidst all the chaos I can almost make out a melody – almost, but not quite. The sound of it all deeply terrifies me; he’s not playing something random. It all sounds perfectly calculated and planned but it’s pure mayhem.

Regar stops and looks at me, breathing heavily. “What was that?” I ask. He walks back towards me, slowly, but something about the pianist’s movements makes me want to cower in a corner. He steps behind my chair and grabs my shoulders. “That was me you just listened to;” he whispers. “A window into my soul.” He tightens his grip and his fingernails dig into my skin. “Stop that, it hurts,” I say, shivering.

“It HURTS?” Regar grabs my collar and pulls me out of my chair, spraying spittle around as he yells at me. “Shall I tell you what hurts? Living every fucking day with a mind that’s been ripped to shreds!” He throws me on the floor. “Being unable to maintain a train of thought for longer than a few minutes is what fucking hurts!” he screams, kicking at the chair I just sat in. One of the legs breaks. I pick myself up but Regar pushes me to the wall. I hit my head and his face spins in front of me.

“Do you know what hurts most, though?” he says, holding me firmly against the wallpaper. “I want to mutilate your body,” he hisses. “I want to break your spine; I want to maim you until nothing recognizable is left!” He grabs my chin, squeezing my cheeks. “Do you know why that hurts me?” “Why?” I ask with a small voice. “Because somewhere, deep down I know it’s sick to want to do that to someone,” he whispers.

Letting go of me and sinking to the floor, Regar suddenly has an incredibly distorted look on his face, as if he feels many contradicting emotions and can’t decide what he should feel . I rub the back of my skull. There’s no blood. I shake my head a little to get rid of the wooziness. The pianist looks at me. “Run, Jake.” he says. “Just… fucking run away and don’t come near me ever again.”

I consider doing just that; it’s tempting. However, my compassion and curiosity make me decide to go against my better judgment and sit next to him. I rest my arm on his shoulder. “What happened to you?” I ask. “You can’t always have been like this.” Regar laughs. It’s the laugh of a madman; it doesn’t sound pretty. “If only I knew,” he says.

There’s a pause. “You should really go now, before I suddenly decide it’s a good idea to kill you for no clear reason,” he says. I slowly get up. “And that’s the worst thing,” he continues. “Asking myself why but coming up empty-handed.” I glance at the piano next to the fireplace. “Why do you make music?” I ask.

Regar gazes at me with a surprised look on his face. “Because it’s beautiful,” he says. “I never thought about that; I suppose that’s one question I now know the answer to.” He gets up and drags himself back to the instrument. He rests his fingers on the keys, but then he reconsiders and looks at me from over his shoulder. “Is the answer to one question enough to live for?” he asks. I remain silent; I don’t know.

Regar resumes playing. It sounds different this time. It sounds sad, with a touch of the anarchy I heard earlier. But there’s a bright thread of positivity woven through the music, hopeful, as if it’s all worth it in the end. It seems like he’s made up his mind.

I leave him like that. It has stopped raining and I walk through the puddles of water, escorted by Regar’s music until I suddenly realize that I can’t hear it anymore. It’s still playing in my head, not losing its grip on me, but my ears only pick up the rustle of leaves and city sounds. I look back. Over my shoulder, the house erects itself as if nothing had happened. I think Regar knows perfectly well how scary it looks, like he knows his music.

I wonder what will happen to him. One thing I do know is that his haunting melodies have anchored themselves into my soul, and every time I pass the street corner I’ll take a listen to see if I can hear any of them. Even a madman needs an audience sometimes.

Credit To – Kay

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To Dr. Henriksen

March 23, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I’m going to have to ask you to take a deep breath. By now, the orderlies have told you that my room is empty and I can only imagine how you reacted to that. The fact is, I’m gone. You can search to the ends of the Earth, turn over every stone and peer into every corner, but you’ll never find me. If you haven’t already, pour yourself a drink from the bottle you hide in the bottom drawer of your desk. Of course I know about it. After a lifetime spent under analysis, you acquire some basic skills in the trade. However, this letter wasn’t written to get you fired by the Board who will most certainly read it (even though there are many “secrets” of yours that would suffice to do so). I’ve decided that I’d let you have a peek into the skull you spent 6 long years trying to crack open. Don’t get me wrong, you’re a real bastard, and it gives me great pleasure to know that you’ll be driven insane by the fact that I’ve eluded you. But you weren’t like the others. You didn’t try to glaze my eyes and slur my speech with a mouthful of pills, and you only had me restrained when I truly deserved it. I know you saw something in me, and even though the others scorned you and said I was just a lunatic, you persevered (much to my dismay). What I’m about to say will sound crazy, but it’s not as if you’ve never heard the ramblings of a mad man before. The only thing you’ve ever done to earn any respect from me was trying so hard to break my will. You put up a good fight, and though this might not answer all of your questions, here’s your reward.

Try and recall your earliest memory. Go ahead, this letter isn’t going anywhere. How old were you? My best guess would be two or three, right? Anyways, it was probably pretty brief, wasn’t it? Maybe it’s just a few moments, or perhaps several memories glued together by the fabric of whatever goes on in a child’s brain. I’m guessing, for the most part, you don’t remember your own birth. It would be insane to even ask if you recall what the inside of your mother’s womb was like. So why don’t we have those memories, hmm? I’m sure you would say that the early brain isn’t developed enough to process that information yet. But do we really know? Of course not! Everything you think you may know about the brain, regardless of all of the hours you poured into unlocking its mysteries, is essentially nothing compared to what’s left to discover. The truth is, we haven’t got a clue of what we’re truly up against. I’m sure you’re well aware of this fact, it being your life’s work and all.
But I digress. Where were we, your earliest memory, right? So, try to recall what happened between your first memory and your second. Not what physically happened to you, I mean. Like, what you experienced. Something like a slip back into the ether, or what it must feel like to drift in and out of consciousness after a long night in Tijuana. You’ll hear a different answer from everybody, and some just straight out don’t know. But let me tell you something. That empty area, or oblivion if you will, is where you go when you die. I know you’re probably becoming pretty confused by now, so get used to it. We’re talking about the greatest mystery of life itself, and even though I may appear to be informed on the subject, I’ll be blunt with you: I’m as clueless as the next person. What I do have, however, is a perspective that most people will never experience. You see, I’m not a normal individual, or even a normal lunatic for that matter. But more on that later. Believe it or not, I’ve been trying to make a point here.
You might have picked up on the connection between that strange, empty place and the fact that it occurs both in between the earliest memories of your life and after you have ceased to exist. This isn’t to be confused with dreamless sleep, but it is similar. This area, simply put, is where your soul or spirit remains when away from a living body. For some reason or another, I hold one end of a tether between this realm and ours. This is what you spent the better part of a decade trying to find, Dr. Henriksen. It’s also the reason I killed that man in Lillehammer.

My earliest instance of consciousness was inside of a uterus. Even now, as I sit at my desk and write this letter, I can hear a unanimous murmur of “bullshit” from you and your superiors. Go ahead and believe what you will, because I know that’s what it was. Truth be told, it wasn’t much of a memory. If you think about it, there isn’t much to be had for stimuli within the womb. All of the things you would expect to experience: warmth, comfort, weightlessness and an overall feeling of love, well, I didn’t notice them. I mean, I had never experienced anything else, so it was just kind of a feeling of being there, nothing more than realizing the fact that I was alive. The only distinctive thing I remember were two steady pulses, which of course were my mother’s and my own heartbeat. It only lasted about the time it will take you to read this sentence, but it was and still is the defining moment of my life. But even when I was pulled back into the void, I could still sense my mother’s pulse. I had no body to feel it, but my mind was aware of a sort of impression of it.
Fortunately, I don’t remember being born. I’m sure that must have been an unpleasant experience on all levels imaginable. My second memory must have been around the age of one, one and-a-half maybe. This time, my consciousness was pulled back to it’s perch with a stronger feeling of urgency, as if the forces attracting us were becoming more stable. I opened my eyes to a world of sensory overload. You have to understand that the transition from being suspended in amniotic fluid in a world of pure darkness, to an infinitely bigger space filled with lights, sound, smells, emotions and the like, it’s about as huge of a shock that a fresh soul can handle. That feeling of awareness, of being alive was now amplified tenfold. My ears were filled with overly loud, grating noise. My eyes, completely blinded by the ceiling light of what I would eventually learn was my bedroom. I also realized that I had a body. This sensation in particular overwhelmed me completely, and before too long I noticed that this incessant, piercing wail was in fact coming from me. Suddenly the light overhead was darkened, and a woman’s face came into focus. Even though I had never seen her face before, and I had yet no concept of language, I knew this woman above me was my mother. This dawned on me in the most innate and primal way, the same way that I felt her heartbeat even though I was nowhere near.

Throughout my life, I’ve been able to travel back and forth from this area at will. I could always feel my mom’s presence there with me, and the older I got the more distinct the feeling. Eventually, I learned that I could peer into her mind without her knowing. Her emotions, thoughts, and desires were laid out before me to be observed; all the while she thought I was a quiet and neurotic child. By the time I became an adolescent, however, I realized there were others lurking about in the fog. My neighbors, my peers from school, and even the counselor I saw once a week to discuss my “social temperament” were all under my microscope to be examined. There were some that were more accessible to my ability, and others whose mind remained a wall I could not breach (to this day, I still haven’t the slightest on why this occurs).

One day, I made a breakthrough. I must’ve been about 19 at the time, as I was still in the process of turning the small cottage I’d rented in Lillehammer into my home. From the moment my car had pulled into the driveway, I could tell that someone nearby had a mind open for the taking. Luckily enough, it was my equally reclusive next door neighbor. After several nights of leeching off of his thoughts and memories (which came through in vivid clarity), I decided that I wanted to see how deep into his subconscious I could go. On February 15, 1992, I watched the dreams of that man as he slept. I’d always suspected this was possible, given the right subject. Eventually, it dawned on me that I was no longer just a voyeur, but was gradually becoming an active participant. I was having the dream of another person, essentially taking a stroll through the deepest parts of his mind. This was a level of control I had never even imagined, and as exhilarated as I was by my discovery, a nagging question burned at the back of my mind: “What would happen if I woke him up?”

Doctor, I think it’s important that I tell you something before I go on. While I had always considered the possibility that there were others out there like me, I made the assumption that I would be able to detect such a person had I ever encountered one. At this point, I’d never even found evidence that anyone I observed was aware of me doing so, much less looking back into my mind. I now know that the quiet man who lived next door was much more than he appeared to be. There was no way of me realizing it at the time, but I was not an intruder in that man’s subconscious. He was inviting me in.

When I finally decided to wake him, I received the shock of my life. I opened my eyes to the inside of someone else’s bedroom. At first I wondered if it was just a continuation of the dream, but in the same way I realized I had a body at the beginning of my life, it became certain I’d assumed control of my neighbor’s. It dawned on me that my body was still next door, and there was no telling what could’ve happened to it by now. Panic welled up from within, and before I knew it I was running outside. When I reached my cottage, the door was hanging open, my bed empty. The rest of the night was spent searching; my house, my car, back to my neighbor’s house and eventually the entire town of Lillehammer itself, but to no avail. With no other choice, I retired back to my neighbor’s bed, hoping to God I could take my body back through the void.

My hands were tied behind me, as were my legs. I struggled through two broken cheekbones to open my eyes, only to discover a potato sack over my head. The sack was removed hours later by a grief stricken father. From the bandages wrapped around his broken hands, I had a fairly good idea as to what happened to my face.

“This is him,” he stated coldly, “this is the man who killed my brother.”

You know the story from here Dr. Henriksen, at least what you heard from the court proceedings. I was dragged from the barn into a police car, brought to the station and charged with murder. There was nothing I could I say, nothing I could do. Blood from the farmer’s brother covered my shirt, and there were several witnesses who identified me as the attacker. I remained completely silent until I was able to talk to a lawyer, and when I tried to explain what had happened he grew disgusted with me.

“You have two options here. You either plead guilty to second-degree murder, or you can use your rather shoddy background as basis for an insanity plea. The latter will at least give you the possibility of release in the future, but your mind will picked apart by the State.”

He was right. I’ll never be able to forget the time I spent in court as the lawyer detailed psych evaluations I had been given in the past, my former counselor’s giving testimonies on my “mental instability”, and even my mother professing that I “needed help.” In the end, I was charged not only for the murder of the farmer’s brother, but for my neighbor as well, as he had disappeared mysteriously on the same night. With the drop of a mallet I was deemed a threat to society, and was discarded to an institution to be examined by you. Six long years later, and here we are. You’ve tried your damndest to untangle the mess inside of my head, and I’ve tried to rid myself of this ability. We haven’t done very well, have we?

But despite trying my hardest to explain this all to you, there is one thing that remains unresolved. Why did my neighbor do it? I dwelt on this everyday I spent here, and I don’t think I’ve found the answer yet. However, I might have a theory. I believe that man also holds a tether to this realm, and he had let me into his mind for the purpose of getting into mine. I also believe he’s been observing me ever since the incident. While it isn’t definitive proof, there’s been many times when I’ve had the feeling of someone else being inside of my head. I don’t know why he would kill that man, and I’m even more clueless as to why he’s still watching me, but the only way I’ll ever answer these questions is by going out and finding him again.

So, Dr. Henriksen, take this story as you will. I’m sure most will find it nothing more than a psychotic delusion, but I have a feeling that you won’t. Looking back, I’m just glad that I got it out. Don’t waste your time looking for me. We both know that I have what’s inside of your head within my hands.
-Yours truly
Mikael

Credit To – Will Waddington

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Clockworks

March 14, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I had a knack for fixing things. Trinkets, houses, and buildings, anything that needed fixing in my miniscule town. It wasn’t very ambitious, but at least my parents approved. It made me a modest amount of money that kept me ahead of my bills, but to me it was more than just a way to make a living. Tinkering, making something better with a few twists of my wrench, gave me a satisfaction incomparable to anything else.

Like all young people, I got bored of having it good. My life was broken sink after leaky toilet, and the monotony of it turned my thoughts outward, toward bigger rewards, and the hidden risks that accompanied them.

One Friday in April, 7 years ago, as I dragged myself home, ready for the weekend, something in the mail caught my eye. There was a letter resting on top of the pile, crisp and white. Written on it in looping calligraphy, my name and address.

I raised an eyebrow.

Nobody I knew sent letters anymore, and any family Christmas cards were long overdue. I opened it, and the letter inside perplexed and excited me.

Dear John,
Here at Mentona on Isilad Island, we have heard about your excellent craftsmanship and quality work. The historic Mentona clock tower has been malfunctioning for months. We have called every handyman in the region, but none have the necessary skills, so we have begun reaching out all over the country. If you agree to attempt to fix the tower, we will provide you with a temporary place to stay along with a payment of $10,000. Inside is a check for $5,000 and a plane ticket. You will receive the rest upon fixing the tower.
We will be waiting,
Edward, the Mentona mayor

The check was inside, just as the letter said it would be.

“It must be a scam,” I muttered to myself, but the words tasted bitter in my mouth. Suddenly, the idea of living off a tiny salary for the rest of my days didn’t sound so inviting. Just with five thousand I could do so much: take a vacation to the Caribbean, adopt a dog, maybe buy myself that nice massage chair I had been pining after. With the full amount that was promised to me, the possibilities were endless.

So I packed a change of clothes and headed to the airport to the town of Mentona, following the trail of money like a starved fool.

The first thing I noticed upon arriving was the forcefully cheery atmosphere. The buildings were trim and well kept, plastered with lively child-like paintings on the sides. The people were much the same, overly polite and maintaining constant smiles on their faces.

With the overly enthusiastic help of a few shopkeepers, I headed over to the town hall. There, I was lead to a waiting room, where I sat watching a janitor whistle to himself as he watered a plastic fern.

At last, a stout man with balding grey hair opened an office door and ushered me in. “Welcome to my lovely home town, Mentona.” He grinned. “My name is Edward, the mayor. I am so pleased you decided to visit here in pursuit of fixing the clock tower.” I nodded impatiently, eager to get to the payment options. “How and when will I…be paid?” I attempted to slide in nonchalantly. Edward’s eyebrows raised and he chuckled. “Oh course! If you manage to get the clock running again, you will receive another five grand, as stated in my letter.”

My heart soared. In the back of my mind, I felt a tiny pinch of suspicion tug at me– ten grand, for a clock tower? But my call to riches overpowered it.

“Here is the address of the hotel; it’s not too far, and it’s four star as well. Have a good night’s sleep. I’ll see you working away tomorrow, yes?” He smiled ecstatically, handing me a small piece of paper with his number and the hotel address on it. Frowning, I nodded slowly and exited the building, ready to walk to my hotel.

At last I arrived, checked in, settled down, and fell asleep immediately.

The next morning, I awoke with a small note near my bed. It was the address of the clock tower. Gathering my tools, I exited the hotel and was greeted by a tall, lithe woman with straight black hair hanging stiffly to her shoulders. She wore a long black dress that trailed to the ground, with thick sleeves covering her hands. Confusion blotted my mind; the weather was hot and sunny. A name tag pinned to her chest stated, “Mariyah.” Her eyes seemed to detached from the movement of her body, following me coldly even as the rest of her talked and laughed.

“Thank you for agreeing to do this for us,” she bubbled, her eyes piercing me with their hatred, “we were beginning to lose hope!”

I smiled and hurried to the tower, forcing a small wave over my shoulder and walked out the building as fast as I could. I could feel her stare burning into my neck as I sped away.

When I arrived, I met Edward again and led me inside, wishing me good luck.

“Be careful.” He hesitated, as if he wanted to say more, then smiled grimly and ushered me away. Chilled by the strange behavior of the people, I nervously walked up to inspect the tower gears. The stale air washed over me, the smell was dank and overly metallic. I let out a sigh, already questioning my decision to travel here. Frowning in concentration, I began my work.

I touched the main gear, prepared for the worst. This didn’t stop me from recoiling in disgust when the metal pulsated gently under my fingers. It had been quite a while since I had dealt with something this bad. As I glanced around the rest of the tower, I noticed all the gears were pulsating, deformed, with only a few places being rigid and metallic as metal should be. I couldn’t help but let the unusual mood of the town to get to me- maybe this wasn’t just a wrecked clock tower, that there was more to it. But my logic begged otherwise. It’s just the bad gears, I reasoned. Nothing else to it.

So I struggled through the day, checking gears, oiling, screwing in loose parts and replacing the destroyed.

My experience that day, to say the very least, was a downward spiral of madness. When I pushed any gear at all, a faint wailing noise echoed through the hollow tower. It was piercing, as though something was scratching its nails on a chalkboard. The distressed noises echoed throughout the day until they were desperately blasting in my ears. The sounds swirled around me, every corner of my mentality filled with the horrible cries. My mind was an incomprehensible mess by the end of the day and my ears thrummed with pain. Unable to continue, I raced out the tower, leaving the horrible siren noises behind. I stumbled through the main hall on the bottom floor, the tower around me a blur. Tears blinded me as I slammed the glass doors open, nearly crashing into another person. Breathing frantically, I passed out, faintly recalling black hair brushing my forehead as I cracked my head on the sidewalk.

When I awoke, I was greeted by the strange lady I met at the hotel, still wearing her oversized dress. She ecstatically waved at me.

“Oh good! You are awake.” She cocked her head with an eerie smile. I began to prop myself up onto my elbow, then froze in my spot, nearly choking with my mouth open. Her blank eyes stared into my soul, swirling aimlessly. “I-what happened?” I broke contact with her dead gaze and glanced around the blindingly white hospital room.

With a chirpy laugh, she said, “You passed out in front of me when your work was finished. The nurse deemed it fine that you leave, she said it was just a minor panic attack.” I spotted a flash of grey in the corner of my eye.

“How-I mean, why are you telling me this? Shouldn’t the nurse herself be letting me go?”

Her dead eyes hardened and seethed. “She said its fine. Now go finish your work. We need those gears to get to work again.” Her voice had suddenly changed. It was tinted with a rough screech, becoming demanding and forceful. Panicked, I stumbled off the bed and walked towards the front doors.

“Make sure those awful noises stop.” She called out, the suddenly sweet voice curling around my ears as I raced out the hospital.

When I arrived at the gears again, I tried to work, but the piercing screeches were always there, their mournful wails shaking me to the core.

As the day wore on, I could feel myself losing my sanity. Every time I blinked, I began to see faces in the gears, fighting to be free of the metal. The gears turning felt like quivering muscles of effort. I heard voices, terrified, pleading voices. “Work.” They seemed to say. “Push.”

What was wrong with this place? I thought dazedly to myself, what kind of horror had I let myself into?

Fingers trembling, I dialed up Edward on my phone.

“I-I can’t do this anymore.” I cried. “I won’t be fixing your tower anymore. I have to leave. I’m sorry.”

There was some crackling on the line, then: “Mariyah will be with you momentarily.” Confusion swarmed over the hot mess of emotions clouding my brain. Mariyah? Who was Mariyah?
Then I remembered. It was the woman, the one at the hotel and the hospital.

I dropped my phone and began to lift my hands to cover my ears. The wailing was ever so persistent, so filled with pain…

As I looked at my hands, I noticed were drenched in grey
slime and a red substance. Had I cut myself while working?

The faces, drenched in grey and specks of metal, were constantly appearing and disappearing. I saw them everywhere, always on the top of the gears, accompanied by the wailing, which had gained intensity. Huddled in a corner, I sobbed, my body quivering with every heave.

A mere few minutes passed before I heard the menacing clop of shoes coming to the gear tower. The wailing stopped at once, and the gears began to turn. There was an occasional screech of metal, but for the most part, it ran smoothly.

It was Mariyah. Her long, thin shape stood ominously at the end of the hall, rigid, with one arm behind her back and another holding a bucket of metal scrap. I whimpered, looking into her eyes. They were springing, dashing and swirling with excitement.

“Ah, you got them to work again– it’s been a while since someone’s been able to do it. Ed was right– you truly are special.” She cocked her head, her face devoid of a smile for the first time. She began to walk towards me slowly. I twisted and tripped over the wet floor in my feeble attempts to get away. “Oh, John, why are you afraid? You’re so perfect for this tower…”

“Leave me– I mean, how, I, why…?! What do you want? Please, please just let me leave! I dont underst-wha, whats wrong with this place? What is wrong with you?!” I screamed unintelligently, babbling nonsense. Mariyah’s strange behavior and the horrible situation surrounding had driven me onto the brink of insanity.

Her eyes flamed at my last remark and she snarled, “Wrong with me? I am the foundation of this damned town! This clock keeps us running.” She took a deep breath and twirled around once, gesturing to the straining gears and the ever so prominent faces. “And I keep the gears running.” She breathed shakily, the tone laced with an insane happiness.

“What is that supposed to mean?” I whispered. Oh why, why had I accepted this job?

Mariyah eased closer, her movements stiff and jerk. As I took in her full body, I was terrified by what I saw. She was no longer wearing the lengthy black dress as it was before, rather, the sleeves and most of the bottom had been savagely ripped off. Just like my palms, her legs and visible arm were doused in the strange grey substance. Her bare feet had rough, long scabs of past burns, and her arm was lined with rough bumps and something sold protruded at random location, hidden under the thick sleeves before. Her hair was stiffer than ever, snapping as easily as twigs as she brushed the tangled mess from her face.

She drew out the arm behind her back– what she held was a tool, unlike any other I had seen before. It was s sort of wrench-screwdriver melded combination, with a long, sharp handle and a rigid spiked edge, obviously meant for some serious metal working. My burning eyes streamed with tears again as the horrible stench hit me; the tool was covered in the grey liquid everything else in this damned place was.

I could barely breath as the pounding realization reached me: the giant tool, the metal scraps, the faces melted into the gears…

She watched me taking it in and laughed. “You like it? I made it all by myself.” Her body quivered, and her voice was rushed and cracked.

She smiled and bent down over me. Her eyes burned into me, those wild, crazy spinning eyes, so dark now they were nearly black. My body went stiff as I looked at them, frozen in their trance. Her crooked hand grabbed me with a deathly cold grip and settled the wrench piece of the tool upon my arm.

With a quick flick of her wrist, the tool snapped my arm in half, allowing the blood to spurt around me and the bone to stick out, glowing pale in the darkness of the tower. The pain was unlike any other, it completely overtook all my senses and broke my stare with her lifeless eyes. It was like a stampede of buffalo trampling my entire arm, jabbing their sharp hooves in the same spot over and over. I began to writhe and pound at her back, kicking and screeching fruitlessly. Mariyah wiped a spatter of blood off her face gently, then delicately picked a few pieces of the metal and eased them towards my lifeless arm.

“Someone has to work these gears.”

Now, it’s just darkness. And pain. So much pain. This body isn’t mine anymore, it doesn’t feel the same. I’ve been distorted, changed, no longer fully human, and it hurts, it hurts so badly. My mind is set to only one thing: push. work. Turn the gears.

I hear her now, she’s coming for me.

I can’t believe I didn’t see it earlier. The tower, it was lined with plans. Blue prints. How did I miss it? How was I so ignorant? I ask myself every minute: were all those signs not enough? But it’s too late to care. Just work the gears. Don’t scream. Whatever you do, don’t show your pain.

Someone’s got to do it.

Someone’s got to work the clock.

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My Grandfather Suffered from Dementia

February 23, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Grandpa was 97 years old when he passed away.

He lived far from where his three children had settled. Grandma died when I was a small child, and he ended up remarrying another woman a few years later who demanded that he move out west so that she could be nearer to her sons. She was a piece of work, was Grandma Hester. We all wondered how Grandpa could stand her. It turns out that perhaps he could not.

We’re not precisely sure when he developed dementia, but it was probably years before we noticed it. He’d tell us about people he was speaking to, or visiting with, or a trip he took. Years later, after we learned he was suffering from dementia, we’d learn that conversation, that visit or that trip never actually happened. For all we really know, any story he told us from the last decade and a half leading up to his coming back east could be a false memory. We would have no way of knowing. Hester rarely communicated with us herself.

Probably our first clue that Grandpa wasn’t himself anymore happened a few weeks after he came back east to live with my parents. Most of the family had settled in one area; my wife and I lived in the south end of our city, as did one set of cousins, but my father and his two sisters all lived in the north, within driving distance of each other. A few of my aunts’ children had moved out of town, and my brother had as well, but there were still enough of us around that Grandpa could visit with. We would often have gatherings at my parents’ house where Grandpa would either hold court with some story or would go to sleep.

One afternoon, my daughter Breanne, who was in her late teens at the time, came in from playing with my cousin’s kids and sat down at the table, where Grandpa had been napping. He suddenly woke and smiled at her.

“Well, hello, Claudia!” he said, brightly. Claudia was my aunt; Dad’s youngest sister.

“I’m Breanne, Grandpa,” said my daughter.

“No,” said Grandpa, almost sounding offended. “You’re my daughter, Claudia.”

Later that same month, he told my aunts and uncles the story of how he came out east after living with Hester got to be too much. “I prayed to the Lord,” said Grandpa. “And the next thing I knew, Martin was there.” Martin was my father. I remembered him driving out to the tiny, cold house on a hill in Colorado to get Grandpa. He had not come due to any divine intervention. He had come because Grandpa called him in the night and pleaded with him to come get him.

We all loved Grandpa, but caring for him was not easy. For one thing, Grandpa had gotten it into his head that he was a young, single man with many years ahead of him, and the only thing missing was a young woman at his side. If he spoke for any length of time with a younger woman, he became convinced that she was in love with him, and that perhaps she should be his new bride. Hester was even still alive at this point. He had forgotten her utterly.

The women he made advances on included my mother, two of my cousins and my own wife. Thankfully, he couldn’t do much more than talk, so it was just a matter of politely changing the subject whenever he would start with that, but it got worse when he decided he could do things like take walks on his own or try to drive my father’s car.

Dad and Mom didn’t let him go on walks by himself, but that didn’t mean he didn’t sneak away sometimes when Dad was away and Mom was in the basement. He had to use a walker to get around, and simply couldn’t do stairs, but refused to admit this to anyone, including himself, leading to a lot of falls. He would also get confused as to where he was, or where he lived. At times, during his walks, he would attempt to find the old family home that he raised my father and aunts in, despite it having been long gone since before I was born. Dad picked him up from a police station, where he had been taken after some patrol officers saw him wandering around, clearly lost.

The time he tried to drive Dad’s car was after that. He decided that the reason he got lost is because he had to walk. He managed to get the E-break off and rolled right down the fairly steep incline outside my parents’ house, crashing into a fence. The damage was minimal, but after that incident, my parents realized he needed to be in a full time care facility.

He got worse after that.

My father visited him three times a week. I have no idea how often my aunts went, or if they even did. I tended to only go when there was a family gathering, and increasingly I began to realize that he had no clue who I was. He’d smile and greet me as though I was someone he had just met. He’d tell me about his children, describing them as “little kids”, and even going as far as to invent a friend who was looking after them while he was in this home with “all these old people.” Grandpa was 93 at the time. He was much older than many of the others who lived there. But somehow, they were the “old people”, while he was not.

But when I say he got worse, I mean he changed. The false memories, the refusal to acknowledge that he was elderly, the attempts to chat up ladies and inability to remember that his children were grown and that he had grandchildren and great-grandchildren had been a part of who he was for years, ever since his early 80’s.

But he had never been violent before. That changed one night when Dad was called to come to the facility quickly. Grandpa had wandered into the wrong room, and had come out screaming, raising his walker up in the air and slamming it into the ground, taking a few swings at people who tried to calm him down. He began accusing the staff of stealing his things. He was bellowing as loud as he could: “Give them back! Give them back!”

I wasn’t there for it, and I still have a hard time picturing it. Grandpa barely raised his voice above normal volume during the last decade of his life, except to laugh.

When Dad got there, they had gotten him into his room, and he was somewhat appeased. Somewhat. He had a can of Ensure in a tube sock, and almost hit my father in the head with it when he came in. He apologized (Dad was one of the few people he always recognized), and said he had been waiting for “the thief” to come back. “A man who’d steal from me’d just as soon kill me,” he explained. The Ensure-in-a-sock was his weapon to fend off the thief. He told Dad about the men who had come to give him all his things back. “They put it all back, just like it was,” he said. “Didn’t take ‘em long.”

Later that night, he told Dad about how much it had scared Florence. He hated that she’d had to go through that. Florence was my grandmother; the one who died when I was six.

He finished by saying that Florence had gone somewhere, and when he went looking for her: “They told me she was dead. One day, they’re gonna come looking for me, and they’re gonna find me dead.” That was a jolt to my father. Grandpa had never, at any point before that, acknowledged his mortality, his advanced age, or the fact that he had probably no more than a handful of years left at best. Aging, and death, was something that happened to other people. But here he was, accepting that death was near.

That wasn’t the last night he mentioned the thief. He even gave the thief a name; Charlie Rosen. It was strange that he would invent a whole person, name included. He didn’t even name the friend who was looking after his kids. In fact, that person ceased to exist; Charlie Rosen had stolen his kids. Had killed Florence. Had come to his home in Colorado and routinely taunted him, beat him, and he even declared that Hester had been sleeping with him. He remembered her now, and was certain that she and Charlie were ganging up on him to make his life a living hell.

In the last six months of his life, he would become increasingly agitated. Dad could not have a single visit wherein Grandpa would not mention Charlie. And then the violence started up again.

In one visit, Grandpa accused Dad of being Charlie, and attacked him. After that, Dad’s visits dropped to once a week, and he didn’t stay long. Once, I went with him. It was the last time I saw my grandfather alive, and I will never forget it.

“Charlie was here again today,” Grandpa told us as soon as we arrived. “He told me I couldn’t leave this room anymore. He’s trapped me here.”

“Dad, this is where you live,” my father tried to explain. “See, here’s a picture of Mother. Why would Charlie let you keep that?”

“He killed your mother, you know,” said Grandpa. “Murdered her in her sleep.”

“Mother had an aneurysm,” said Dad. “You and I decided together to unplug the machine. She died in her sleep, but no one killed her.”

“No, no, it was Charlie.” Grandpa’s voice was not agitated. It was solid, like he knew for a fact what he was saying. “He poisoned her. Made something go wrong in her head. I didn’t know it then, but I realized it later, after he introduced me to Hester. Conned me into marrying her. He’s my personal demon, that Charlie.”

Dad finally had had enough. “There is no Charlie!” he said, nearly shouting. You aren’t supposed to correct people who have dementia; it just confuses them more and makes them upset. But my father forgot this in that moment. “Charlie is someone you made up! Mother died naturally, you met Hester at a coffee shop years after Mother died, and while she was not a nice woman, she was not unfaithful to you! Please, stop talking about Charlie!”

“Dear Lord in Heaven,” said Grandpa. “He got to you. He told you to say these things. You’re part of it too!”

“Uh, Grandpa,” I said. “Why don’t we start a game of checkers?” Usually he loved checkers.

“I don’t want to play any fucking checkers!” screamed Grandpa. I couldn’t have been more surprised if he’d hit me. Grandpa had never used profanity in his life. “By-words”, as he called them, were only used by bad men, as far as he was concerned. “Not with you! Not with him! Charlie Rosen’s pet demons! He comes to me every day. He talks to me about Florence. He taunts me. He reads my mind and he takes thoughts away and puts in new ones, worse ones. He tells me about how he rapes my little ones. How he and Hester keep them half-starved and chained in their basement. I can’t stop him! He can go inside my mind! He’s controlling me!”

We left after that, without saying goodbye.

Driving home, I almost wanted to cry. This kind, loving man was ending his days as a raving, violent lunatic. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. What kind of monster was this Charlie?

That thought stopped me cold. For an instant, I had accepted that Charlie was real. Giving my head a shake, I resolved to think about something else. But an image of Charlie had been forming in my mind, beginning a few months back, when Grandpa had first started talking about him. I only now realized that when Grandpa spoke of this demonic man, I was picturing him in my mind, and I could see him as clearly as I could memories of real people.

I thought of the last time I had visited Grandpa in that tiny house in the mountains of Colorado, when I was a teenager, sitting at that little round table while Hester served us some of her inedible glop, and I would see a man standing in the corner of the kitchen, watching us eat. A tall, gangly man with leathery skin stretched over sharp-looking bone and corded muscle. Shaggy grey hair hanging down, obscuring the upper part of his face, his smile stretching like a knife-slash across his jaw.

I thought of the wedding. I was twelve years old. I met Hester for the first time. And standing a ways behind her was that same man. I remember a family gathering at the facility Grandpa was concurrently staying at. Didn’t we pass that man in the hall once?

No, of course not. These were just images my mind had cooked up the more Grandpa talked about this shady character that never existed. The brain can do that; insert false people in your memory just because you decide, subconsciously, to remember them. It doesn’t mean you’re insane; it’s just another way for your brain to play tricks on you. Grandpa had invented a person who he talked about with such conviction, as though Charlie was real. So my mind had conjured up a Charlie Rosen. But there was no Charlie Rosen.

Grandpa died two months later. I remember the funeral like it was yesterday. I still wake up at night in a cold sweat, remembering.

Everything was normal at the start. My parents, my aunts and uncles, my wife and I, and our children, my brother and his wife, and their son, my cousins, their spouses and their children, we all gathered under the same roof for the first time in years. No one was missing. No one was out of town and couldn’t make it. Two of my cousins I hadn’t seen since they were children. It was nice to catch up with them.

The service was nice, as well. The pastor who served the spiritual needs at Grandpa’s facility was the officiator. Grandpa looked calm and peaceful, whole, so unlike what he had been in the last few months of life. I started to feel calm myself; Grandpa was where he belonged now, where the devils of his own fevered, decaying brain couldn’t get to him anymore.

And then we drove to the cemetery. The coffin was lowered. We all sprinkled a handful of dirt on the coffin and began our walk back to the cars. And then the gravedigger came out of the shadows to start shoveling the rest of the dirt. I could barely read the embroidered name tag on his coveralls. It looked like “C. Rose” or “C. Risen”. Or…no. It couldn’t be.

He was tall, gangly, with leathery skin, sharp-looking bones, corded muscle, long grey hair. And that smile. That smile that haunts my nightmares to this day.

I watched as this phantom dumped shovel-full after shovel-full of dirt on my grandfather’s coffin. He was laughing, softly, under his breath, but I have never heard such cruel laughter.

Today, I felt like I had to write all this down. To make sure I remember it all, before things get worse. Because today, my father called me to complain that Charlie was driving past his house and staring in his windows.

Credit To – WriterJosh

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