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Claustrophobia

May 24, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Things have simply not been the same for Dalton Whitworth since the carriage accident. Colors are not as vivid – music not nearly as pleasurable. Every meal he consumes is bland and leaves an unsavory aftertaste. Days filled with sunlight are no longer warm, enjoyable experiences. On the contrary – he finds the light to be oppressive, causing his eyes, head and neck to be in a constant state of discomfort and torment.

Dalton had previously enjoyed these simple pleasures in his life – even as recently as last month – until the accident that took away his beloved Rachel. Now he feels as if he spends all his effort avoiding everything. He dreads having to eat yet another tasteless dinner. He stays indoors as much as possible, only daring to venture out long enough to acquire the necessities for survival. He goes out of his way to avoid human contact. Even though his circle of acquaintances showed great care and sympathy for him upon the loss of his wife, he would much prefer to be left alone now.

If, by chance, he did encounter a familiar face in public he knew the conversation would invariably turn toward his tragic experience, forcing him to relive the nightmare. He would again see in his mind the spooked horse on its hind legs – the carriage, jolting harshly – Rachel letting out the briefest of screams as she is thrown from her seated position atop the open-air coach – the cobblestone pavement – the blood pooling under her lifeless form – his helpless inability to alter the outcome. Dalton cannot bear these images any longer, and he is frightened of closing his eyes for fear of being accosted once again by these horrific visions.

He passes the days in his apartment reading by dim gaslight anything he can get his hands on – novels, textbooks, newspapers and other periodicals, packaging for common household products – anything that will help him to escape. When he is not reading, he extinguishes the gaslight and sits in his armchair near the only window in his tiny quarters. He pulls back the heavy, dense curtain just enough for one eye to ingest the world outside. He is careful not to allow an overabundance of sunlight into the dark room. People outside go about their happy lives, content and oblivious to the dark matters that one who has suffered a loss must endure.

On one particular morning when Dalton awoke, he was immediately confronted with an odd sensation. Something wasn’t quite right. He was in the habit of standing at the foot of his bed every morning and facing the mirror as he dressed. He did so this day as well, but with the exception that the image being reflected did not appear as it had on other days. He wasn’t able to pinpoint its inaccuracy until he attempted to button his jacket – the same jacket he wore most days. This day, the button second from the top was no longer visible in his reflection. This had never been the case before, and Dalton was uncertain of how such a discrepancy might have occurred.

Have I grown shorter overnight? Has the mirror been raised on the wall? Nonsense! These options were impossible!

All throughout the day as Dalton made his way around the apartment his rhythm seemed to be off. After years of living in the same rooms, amongst the same unmoved furnishings, one develops a sense of rhythm to their comings and goings – eight steps to the armchair – five more to the front door – a slight inward turn of the left foot while entering the bedroom, lest one’s toe be stubbed on the protruding dresser again. These are all subconscious, of course. There is no actual counting or calculation involved, but the human mind takes note of these nuances internally and builds its own map of the landscape. Movements are subliminally adjusted to achieve the utmost efficiency, to the point where it is possible to flawlessly navigate the surroundings even in complete darkness.

Dalton was not in complete darkness, and yet he continued to stumble throughout the day. The sides of his shoes bumped corners of walls. He approached the bookshelf from his armchair in seven steps instead of eight. His top hat grazed the overhead gas lamp in the main hallway. At dinner he slid his chair out from under the table, to the point that it was touching the wall, and yet he was still barely able to squeeze himself between the table and chair in order to sit for his meal. Later that night after he finished his reading in the dim light, he reached up to extinguish the lamp and clumsily jammed his finger against the brass fixture. It hadn’t been so close last night, he thought while rubbing the pain away.

Sleep did not come easily that night. Dalton tossed and turned in a feverish heat of sounds and images in his mind – the horse neighing loudly as it bolted away – Rachel helplessly tumbling from the side of the accelerating carriage – Dalton lying next to her on the ground, calling her name, trying to rouse her, fighting his tears.

The following morning Dalton noted his red eyes and the dark circles underneath them as he dressed in the mirror. However, this was not the only startling revelation. As he buttoned his coat, he also noticed that the top button was no longer visible in the viewing pane. A rush of adrenaline flowed through his body, leaving him with a brief pain in his chest and a sweat beginning to emerge on his brow. He took a step backward, but it was not enough to bring the button into view. One more step backward and he stumbled against the foot rail of his bed. This can’t be! Am I going mad? he pondered. He became lightheaded and was overwhelmed with the urge to sit. He made his way down the hall to the armchair and fell into its velvety comfort. After a time of rest and catching his bearings, Dalton proceeded to the bookshelf (he could have sworn it only took six steps this time!) to peruse for an item to read. Once he selected his book, he settled into the chair once more to immerse himself in a world far from his own.

Dalton awoke abruptly. He had no idea how long he had slumbered in his reading chair. The remaining light in the apartment was dim, and one quick glance behind the thick curtain revealed a deep indigo dusk sky. To his astonishment, Dalton realized that he’d passed the bulk of the daylight hours unconscious. He had even forgotten that he had been reading until he found the book face-down on the floor next to the armchair. He arose from the chair and stumbled a bit, still unstable from his lengthy nap. Upon making his way to the bedroom, he nearly ran full-steam into the wall at the end of the hallway. He had reached the end a full three paces sooner than before.

Suddenly, he felt fully awake. His annoyance at this scenario having grown to its peak, he decided to investigate further – to prove once and for all that he wasn’t going completely stark raving mad. He retrieved a broomstick and laid it on the hallway floor with its end touching the wall. He marked the other end with his finger pressed tightly against the floor and then slid the stick forward until it aligned with his marking finger. Repeating this process all down the corridor, he determined that it took six full lengths of the broomstick with a remaining space of about ten inches (that last portion he estimated in his mind) to reach the front door. He noted this dimension on the inside cover of the book he’d picked up off the floor, and vowed to measure again soon.

Before going to bed that evening, Dalton paused to have a look at his reflection in the mirror once more. He stood with the back of his calves touching the footboard of the bed. He almost broke down into tears when he saw the sickly man in the reflection – a shadow of the man he was before losing Rachel. Aside from his startling visage he also took note of the truncated image. Now, his face was only visible down to the chin – no neckline, no buttons on his coat. He reached his arms out before him and was able to touch the wall with his fingertips – something never before possible as the wall had always been a good seven feet away from the foot of the bed. Defeated, he hung his head, removed his outer clothing and crawled into bed, hoping to sleep indefinitely – not minding if he never awoke again.

But awaken he did. He had slept soundly all night long, only stirring momentarily when thoughts of the accident attempted to encroach on his dreams. It was morning light now, and the first thing that Dalton noticed was something pressing against his bare foot. Still in a fog, he bent his already-stiff neck downward to catch a glimpse of what it was that had come into contact with him. A swell of panic and fear overtook him when he determined that it was the wall with the mirror on it – pressed all the way up against the foot rail of his bed. Dalton jolted his neck the opposite way to see the space behind the headboard. It was still snugly against the opposing wall. His heart raced with dread at this unexplainable event. His mind did not know how to process this information. He exited the bed on the left side and squeezed past the pressing walls and through the doorway into the hall. After retrieving the measuring broomstick, he employed it to measure the hallway a second time. His hands shook, but he was careful to line up the stick accurately at each interval. Upon reaching the front door, he nearly fainted to find that he’d only counted four and a half lengths of the stick.

“What is happening to me?” he cried out, to no one as he collapsed onto the floor. He sobbed openly. Not only because of the strange predicament, but also for his current condition, and for Rachel, who had brought such peace and contentment to his life just a month prior. Oh, how things could change so quickly. After regaining his composure, Dalton was overwhelmed with the desire to flee – to get out of that oppressive apartment, even if only temporarily. As much as the idea frightened him, he decided to pass the daylight hours outdoors. Where exactly he would go, he did not yet know. He picked himself up off the floor, found his hat and overcoat, and made his way to the front door, noting how it took fewer steps to approach it.

Dalton walked along the cobblestone path through town. He stared at the ground as he walked, hoping that no one would try to speak to him or even make eye contact. No one did. Turning the corner near a leather tanning shop, he had to divert his path as the store owner came bursting from the front door of the shop and threw a bucket of wastewater into the street, nearly wetting Dalton’s shoes. How completely rude and insensitive, Dalton thought, though he did not speak to the man. He continued on toward an area free of businesses, buildings, and the commotion of life – a park-like area with benches, a pond, and trees displaying their colorful autumn foliage. Dalton sat on the nearest park bench upon entering the clearing. It was relatively calm and peaceful since it was mid-morning on a weekday. The only other patrons were a mother feeding ducks in the pond with her toddler son, an elderly gentleman sitting on a bench opposite Dalton reading a newspaper, and the occasional passerby, on their way to more important things.

Dalton sat and observed until he felt his eyelids getting heavy. The breeze and the silence lulled him. The cloud cover was a thick grey blanket preventing any harsh sunlight, much to Dalton’s delight. Even so, it was unseasonably warm which only furthered his sleepiness. As he was on the verge of crossing the threshold into dream territory, he saw a woman in a pink dress pass by in front of him. He was startled and followed her with his eyes as she approached the pond. Jolting to full alertness, Dalton’s heart began to pound as his mind guided him toward this inevitable thought: My God, she looks just like Rachel! He could feel his pulse throbbing in his neck. He stood, and slowly approached the woman from behind. When he was standing just adjacent to her, he mustered the courage to speak.

“Rachel?” he asked in almost a whisper, his voice weak and quivering.

The woman turned and looked him directly in the eye.

It’s her! By God, it’s her! he thought.

“Dalton!” Her voice was filled with relief and longing, as if the wife of a military man being reunited with her husband after long months apart.

They immediately embraced. Rachel’s head pressed tightly into Dalton’s shoulder. They both wept. Dalton repressed the confusion in his mind of how this could be possible. It didn’t matter to him. His precious wife had returned to him and he wanted to revel in that fact, plausibility be damned!

The longer the embrace lingered, the more Dalton noticed the heaviness of Rachel leaning on him – the slackness of her body. Soon it felt to Dalton as if he were supporting her entire weight. She had gone completely limp in his arms. Still holding the embrace, they collapsed to the ground together, Dalton attempting to ease his wife’s descent. It wasn’t until they reached the ground that her head fell away from his shoulder revealing the truth. Dalton recoiled in horror upon seeing the decaying face of his once-lovely bride. Her eye sockets were sunken and deep, her jaw slacked open to an impossibly wide angle. Her complexion was grey and flecked with dry, cracked areas. Her hair, previously beautiful and one of Dalton’s favorite features about her, was now thin and stringy, matted to the shape of her head.

Rachel’s lifeless body fell away onto the stone walkway as Dalton pulled his arms away in disgust. He felt the pain of losing her all over again – fresh as the day it first happened.

Dalton jolted awake to find himself still sitting on the park bench. He nervously looked around to see if anyone had noticed his startled awakening. He hoped he had not screamed out in his sleep. He was relieved to find that there was no one around. The woman with her young boy – gone. The old man reading the paper – gone. The sky was now a much darker shade of grey. The clouds had thickened to the point that it appeared it may rain at any moment. How long had he been sitting there? What felt like minutes could possibly have been hours. As Dalton stood to make his way back to his apartment, the first raindrops began to fall.

He was thoroughly soaked as he stood in front of his apartment door and fumbled with the key. In his haste, he dropped it into a puddle then bent over to retrieve it. Once he finally managed the lock, he pushed the door open, but was dumbfounded when it hit a hard object after having only opened up a third of the way. He backed the door up a few inches and pushed again with the same result. Dalton turned sideways and stuck his head and right shoulder into the dark foyer in an attempt to observe the obstruction. Pressed up firmly against the door was his favorite velvety armchair.

“This is madness!” he said aloud, still standing in the soaking deluge. He took several steps back out into the street. The building appeared no different on the outside. He returned to the doorway and pushed hard enough to slide the chair a small amount – just enough to squeeze through and into his apartment. What he found was completely astonishing. The size of the space inside had diminished to the point that the furniture was gathered in the center of the room – walls pressing in on all sides. He’d had to remove his hat and crouch down, lest his head hit the ceiling. There was no need for Dalton to measure in order to confirm his suspicions. The room was so small now that he could not even walk through it without stepping over furnishings that had once been placed feet apart from one another. The hallway was practically nonexistent and he reached his bedroom in only three steps, turning sideways to squeeze between its walls. He had to step up onto his bed as he crossed the threshold into the room. The walls touched the bed on all sides, and the mirror had fallen onto the foot of his bed, face-down.

Dalton sat on his bed and turned the mirror over. He did not recognized the man staring back at him. Pale. Gaunt. Sickly. Haunted. Not knowing what else to do, he lay on his bed and waited. Waited for what? He didn’t know exactly. For the walls to consume him, he supposed. For the ceiling to drop down and crush the last breath from his lungs. He was ready. He was resigned.

There was rumbling when the walls and ceiling shifted again. This was the first time Dalton had witnessed the movement himself. It was alarming at first, but he knew it was inevitable. He accepted the dust that flaked onto his face as the ceiling dropped inches more. He welcomed it, even. The head and foot boards of his bed cracked and splintered as they buckled under the pressure from the wall on either side. The gaslight fixture mounted on the ceiling touched the mattress next to him. He held the mirror flat against his chest. There was no longer room enough to stand it upright.

More rumbling. The mattress bent and formed a tomb around Dalton. He closed his eyes and waited. He waited until he lost consciousness and all was black.

– – – – –

Dalton’s eyes slowly opened. He was enveloped in complete darkness. He felt groggy and his head was pounding. It took several minutes for him to come out of the fog, but once he did, it was as if he hadn’t felt this clear-minded in quite some time. He was alive. Not only that, but he wanted to live. He felt the energy of revitalized life flowing through him. Memories came rushing back. In his mind’s eye he saw a lovely day with Rachel. He saw them mounting the carriage together after their evening meal at Dupont’s Bistro. He saw the spooked horse rear up. He remembered the severe jolting of the carriage. He saw his wife plummeting to the ground. He saw himself also falling harshly onto the pavement stones, his head slamming against them violently. Everything after that was blackness.

Dalton was barely able to move. When he finally regained a small amount of control over his limbs, he felt around for his surroundings. He was lying on his back – on something plush and soft. His hands found the edges of his confines quickly. There were soft, satin-like walls up against his shoulders and inches from his face. The ceiling directly in front of him felt as if it had an arch shape to it. Awakening further, he determined that he could not move his body beyond this position, as he was lying in a depression that fit snugly against him. The air was thick and musty – barely breathable. It hurt his lungs to inhale it too deeply. Sweat formed on his brow as he realized the full extent of his environment.

Panic set in.

“No!” he yelled, using up some of the remaining stale air inside. “I’m not dead!”

He banged his fists against the lid as best he could within the limited space, but it only created a muffled thud on the soft interior. Dalton screamed and began sobbing. When he tried to take more air into his lungs it felt like someone had placed a pillow over his face. He labored to inhale again.

Approximately six feet above him was a marker which bore two names: Rachel A. Whitworth on the left side; and Dalton G. Whitworth on the right side. Below each was inscribed a date of birth and a date of death – the dates of death being identical. In between the names was chiseled into the stone, “Together in life – Together in death”.

– – – – –

Two days after the burial, two lone mourners – coworkers of Dalton’s – visited the grave site to place flowers. They stood in their top hats and overcoats, staring solemnly at the headstone.

“It’s a shame he didn’t recover from his coma,” one grieving man said to the other.

“Indeed,” the second man responded.

“I do wonder though…” said the first coworker, “Do you suppose someone in that state knows? I mean, are they capable of thinking? Or dreaming?”

After some thought, the second man dismissed the idea. “Nah. I doubt it.”

But Dalton Whitworth, if he were here today, would beg to differ. “Yes,” he would say, “We are capable of thinking and dreaming. And it is as vivid as life itself.”

Credit: moonlit_cove

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The Blood shall open the Door

May 17, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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The Blood shall open the Door

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Credit: Michael Vrazitoulis

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Empty and Endless

April 25, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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It was approximately 4:00am. I had been driving for a very long time. The long stretch of road cutting through the desert landscape was seemingly endless, and completely void of any signs of life. There weren’t even any cacti on the side of the road where I expected them to be. Then again, it wasn’t exactly bright enough for me to see very far. Without any differentiation on an almost perfectly straight route, I found myself dozing off periodically. The monotony was beginning to get to me. The only thing keeping me from falling asleep was an overwhelming sense of terror. I was being chased – chased by something. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was gaining on me and I had to get away. My fear and sleep deprivation levels were now equal. I could feel myself losing the fight. The fight that is, to survive.

It was at this point that I woke up, drenched in a fear induced sweat. My anxious and soaked state was caused by a nightmare. This was the same nightmare I had been experiencing for weeks now. None of it made any sense. I had never even been to a desert, let alone driven through one. I lived near the beach for crying out loud. I spoke to my physician about my state of affairs, but he just blamed it on an overabundance of stress. He told me to relax and take a few sick days off from work. Work, however, was the only thing keeping me awake. I found myself nodding off at odd times during the day, sometimes even while driving to and from my workplace. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense seeing as I was not an insomniac; not even in the slightest. Despite my troubling dreams, I still managed to get at least eight hours of sleep each and every night. My doctor didn’t really shed any light on this either – simply telling me to take some caffeine pills during the day to keep from falling asleep at the wheel. The situation at hand was my burden and mine alone to bear, seeing as nobody could offer me any form of valid insight.

After another long day of work, I ventured home to inevitably get some rest. Before finishing my commute, I unsurprisingly found my eyelids growing heavier. I tried to keep my eyes on the road, but I could feel my mind yearning for sleep, just begging me to close my eyes and drift off. Seeing as this was not exactly a good time to catch some shut-eye, I figured that I should pull over before endangering other people’s lives, not to mention my own. I would have done this, had my insatiable desire for sleep not taken over in a matter of mere seconds. These were anything but ideal circumstances.

In a seamless fashion, I went from driving home from work, to driving through that long stretch of road located only in my nightmare. It was dark out, as was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was a pair of lights off in the distance. I could barely see them, but they were definitely there. I still had an unnerving sense of being chased, but something didn’t feel right. I kept driving nonetheless. After what felt like maybe ten minutes of driving, I could make out what the lights were. They were headlights! They belonged to a truck driving in my direction on the opposite side of the road. This was astonishing to me because my recurring dream never contained anything within it, other than myself and the landscape. As the truck grew closer, it started honking it’s horn. The sound grew louder and louder until finally, I awoke from my untimely slumber.

Without even a proper moment’s notice to react, I swerved to the right, avoiding the oncoming traffic. My car had wandered onto the wrong side of the road while I was asleep. The honking I had heard in my dream was actually that of on oncoming car. I looked back to make sure I hadn’t been the cause of some sort of pile-up in the middle of the highway. To my relief, I was not. Even so, I was lucky to be alive.

After adjusting myself onto the proper side of the road, I realized where I was located. I was in almost the exact same spot that I had been before drifting off. My dream may have felt like it had lasted ten minutes, but in actuality it only lasted an instant. Thank goodness for that, otherwise I could have very well died. With my newfound understanding, I drove the rest of the way home, successfully avoiding sleep’s unyielding grasp.

After getting undressed and putting my things away, I let myself fall onto my bed, completely missing my pillow. Even still, I fell asleep almost instantaneously. My dream commenced once again. I was driving down that all too familiar desert road, when I once again noticed something. The headlights from my previous dream were back again, off in the distance. I was perplexed, as I had assumed the fast approaching truck had only leaked into my dream before, given my setting at the time. I let the dream continue as it normally did. I could still feel the fear instilled in my fast beating heart, knowing that something was still out there, chasing me. After roughly ten minutes of driving, the headlights came into view, revealing the very same truck. This was then followed by the sound of a car honking its horn. I then woke up.

Upon waking, I found myself in my car driving into oncoming traffic. I swerved to the right, mimicking my motions from earlier in the day. After doing so, the confusion set in. What was going on? Where was I? The answer to this would only leave me with more questions. After looking around and getting my bearings, I knew exactly where I was. I was back in the exact same spot where I had been driving before – the same spot where I fell asleep and almost collided with another car. My next course of action was to look at my clock. No, this couldn’t be. It was not only the same spot, but it was the same time as well. How? Was I still dreaming when I woke up the first time? If so, then how did I predict exactly what would happen when I awoke? I could feel a large amount of anxiety setting in, as well as more fatigue. I decided to discard my questions for the time being and simply focus on driving home.

I made it home safely, but as puzzled as ever. I would have delved deeper into the problem in a search for answers, but I was far too tired. I simply assumed that the entire ordeal was nothing more than a strange, somewhat premonitory dream. In accepting my theory as truth (just barely), I undressed and put my things away. I walked over to my bed and fell onto it, completely missing my pillow. After a moment or two, I fell asleep once more.

I was greeted with the very same desert landscape, and the very same straight and narrow road that I was now accustomed to. Sure enough, off in the distance were those very headlights I had seen twice before. I drove onwards, giving in to my dream’s lackluster narrative. Surely I wouldn’t wake up in the middle of oncoming traffic a third time, right? Ignoring the possibility of what I presumed might be another false awakening, I pressed on. Though fearful, I was curious as to what would happen when I reached the truck this time. As it came closer, I heard the usual honking sound and woke up. What I awoke to was anything but alleviating.

I swerved onto the right side of the road, almost hitting the same car for a third time now. This couldn’t be happening. There was no way that this was a dream. Even as weary and tired as I was, I could tell the difference between fantasy and waking life. I was stuck in some sort of repetitive reiteration of my day, unable to escape from a constant cycle of the recurring events at hand. I could neither explain what was happening in any logical sense, nor could I seek help for what was occurring. I not only didn’t know who to go to, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open long enough to do so. I was in a rut, seemingly of my own creation.

I drove to the “safety” of my home yet again, managing to elude the clutches of sleep along the way. It was easier this time, as anxiety and utter panic kept me going. I was scared and bewildered, not to mention mentally exhausted – unsure of what to do next. If only I could stay awake long enough to figure everything out. This is what I told myself in my head over and over again, but after I undressed and put my things away for a third time, I walked right over to my bed, knowing that I had no other choice in the matter. Right as my head hit the soft blankets, I inadvertently slept once again.

Just as before, I was driving down that same desert road, staring off at those same ominous headlights in the distance. This was completely mad. How much longer would I have to endure this torment? In a fit of rage, I hit the brakes, and to my surprise, the car stopped. I had never done this before, afraid that whatever was behind me would catch up. I didn’t even know if it would work. Even stranger, once I stopped, the feeling of being chased ceased. It was almost as if that sense of being hunted only existed so long as I fed into it, unwillingly giving life to the plot of my dream. How peculiar.

I was relieved to be without fear for once in my recurring nightmare, but I still felt overtired, even though I was asleep. I still needed answers too. I got out of the car, and looked towards the headlights in the distance. I estimated that I would have about twenty dream minutes before it caught up to me and jolted me awake in the middle of traffic again (considering it reached me in ten minutes while I too was driving). Without a moment’s hesitation, I headed off into the desert scenery, on the hunt for a solution. I didn’t know if it would harbor one, but I was running out of options.

I had to walk, not only because I was oddly tired, but also because I didn’t want to make any hasty movements that might awaken me earlier than expected. As I walked, I could see rock formations in the distance. One in particular caught my eye, as it had what looked to be some sort of opening on its side. It appeared to be a dwelling of some kind – maybe one that contained a way out of all of this. My wishful thinking got the better of me and I started running. Luckily, I remained unconscious.

After a minute or two, I reached the stone dwelling, hoping it would have within it the key to this bizarre mystery. As I stepped over to its opening, I noticed a flickering light from within. There must have been a fire, and if there was a fire, there must have been a person to make it. I told myself that, but this was a dream, and a dream fire did not require a dream person to make it. I just let myself believe this for the time being, so I would at least have a shred of hope to hang onto. I turned the corner to see where the light was coming from, and to my surprise, there was indeed a fire. Not only that, but there was something else too. Not something, but someone.

In facing the opening on the side of the rock formation, I could see two things. There was a small fire illuminating the dwelling. There was also a person, sitting by the fire on a makeshift wooden stool. I say person, but it wasn’t really. It had skeletal legs and hands, and wore a purplish tattered cloak, hiding all of its other features. It was very small too. If it stood up, it probably would have only come up to my waist. I saw no face, as the cloak was hooded, and within it was pure darkness. Not even the fire could light up its face – it’s almost like it didn’t have one. Before I could examine the being any further, it looked up at me and spoke.

“It’s about time.”

I didn’t even have a chance to converse with it. After it spoke, I woke up. Where did I wake up exactly? You guessed it – in the middle of oncoming cars on the highway. How marvelous. I must have run out of time. I swerved to the right, narrowly avoiding a collision. With a new sense of focus and motivation, I drove home again. I knew that whatever that thing was in the desert, it must have had the answers that I so desperately desired.

I reached my house once again, still feeling as tired as ever. I went in, undressed, put my things away, and went to bed. Much like before, I fell asleep in an instant. My dreamscape remained unchanged. Thinking more clearly now, I took a sharp turn to the right and drove off into the desert. I reached the rock formation rather quickly, almost hitting it with my car. Luckily, I slammed on the brakes before I could do so. I got out of the car in a haste and walked over to the dwelling’s entrance, seeing the familiar flickering light. In arriving at the same spot I stood in before, I saw the same exact scene, to my delight – the fire and the cloaked figure. Now was the time to speak with it properly.

“It’s about time.” He repeated, as if my dream had reset itself.

“Who are you?” I asked bluntly.

“I am an apparition of the mind and a warning of things to come.”

“A warning of things to come?” I asked in confusion.

“Yes. You are vulnerable. The problem at hand must be confronted at once, otherwise you will cease to exist.”

“Cease to exist? Confront my problem? Isn’t that what I’m doing right now?” I demanded specificity.

“Not in here. Out there.”

“I don’t understand.” I didn’t have the will to argue with it. Fatigue and exhaustion were taking over, and I knew the truck was getting closer. My time was running out.

“You must. Your brain is at fault. Look within. A solution will be found.” I didn’t say anything. I just looked at the creature in defeat, unable to decipher its meaning.

“You are very sick. Face this sickness and reveal its cure.”

I awoke, once again in oncoming traffic. I swerved automatically, relying on my muscle memory to do so, for I was preoccupied with my own thoughts. The creature’s words stuck with me, especially ‘brain’ and ‘sickness’. My dream was trying to tell me something, but I was just so tired. What was I to do? In a fortunate moment of clarity, the puzzle pieces clicked into place. Without a second thought, I sped to my destination. I wasn’t going home this time. I was going to my doctor’s office.

I peeled into my doctor’s parking lot with so much ferocity that I scared a few people walking out of his office. I opened my car door and jumped out without even thinking to take my keys out of the ignition. I ran into the building and up to his office, slamming his door open, startling the hell out of him and his staff. I didn’t care. It was imperative that I spoke with him now.

“It’s my brain!” I yelled.

“What? What are you talking about?” He asked, clearly looking angry that I had barged in without so much as notifying him first.

“It’s my brain! You need to look at my brain…”

I was told at this point that I collapsed in the middle of his office, though I can’t remember doing so. My doctor rushed me to the nearest hospital, and with my words in mind, asked them to take a look at my brain.

After making sure that my vitals were stable, they did so. What they found was surprising, mostly to my careless doctor who never cared to look into my problems before. After running several tests, it was revealed that I was suffering from a brain disorder; one that caused it to overheat sporadically. The brain naturally overheats when sleep deprived, but my brain was doing so even when I was asleep. This explained why I was always tired. My brain needed sleep to combat its overheating, but with the disorder I suffered from, it wasn’t helping. My brain was unknowingly heating itself to death.

In revealing this disease, the doctors at the hospital were able to treat it, much to my satisfaction. My doctor told me all of this when I woke up a few days later in the hospital. After briefing me on the situation and assuring me I would be fine now, he then told me that I was actually lucky to be alive. The doctors caught the disease just in time. I could see the guilt in his eyes. He simply apologized and walked out. I could see that he was tired, having probably been in and out of the hospital constantly over the past three days. I was thankful, but it was probably time to find a new doctor.

After one more day of tests in the hospital, I was free to go. It’s been a few months now, and not only have I felt refreshed every time I wake up in the morning, but I have not had a single nightmare since. It would seem that my brain was trying to tell me something all along, through my dreams. Maybe I was being chased in the beginning – not by something tangible, but by death itself. Either way, I was happy to be alive. Maybe my subconscious was able to communicate with my conscious mind when I slept, or maybe I’m a little bit clairvoyant. I can’t be sure either way, but one thing is for certain; my nightmares unquestionably and inexplicably saved my life.

Credit: Christopher Maxim

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The Night of the Glass Eyes

April 22, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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*Jenny, short for Jennifer, is a feminine given name, a Cornish form of Guinevere/Gwenhwyfar adopted into the English language during the 20th century. It may mean “white enchantress” or “the fair one” (from Proto-Celtic *Windo-seibrā “white phantom”).

I heard this story from my grandma when I was, like, seven or something. She was already getting kind of weird and forgetful, otherwise I don’t know why she’d tell this to a little kid.

Well, my mom sent me to her house, which was only a couple blocks away from where we lived at the time. Nana could still move around and do basic household chores and stuff, but since Grandpa died she’d kind of seemed lost and not really with it. But a lot of times she was smiling and normal and glad to see me, so I liked going there. Most of the time. Until she started talking about Jenny.

Nana was looking out the windows one day when we were up in the attic cleaning. I’d been helping her go through old boxes for a few weeks, since I was on summer vacation at the time. Sometimes it was really boring, just old mail and bills and newspapers, but sometimes we found old photographs of Nana’s parents and grandparents, which were cool and super creepy. I found some journals Nana had written as a kid a really long time ago, like seventy years back when she was my age. It was funny, her handwriting at the time looked so much like mine, all sloppy and loopy and sloping down to the right side of the page. If it hadn’t been so similar to mine I probably wouldn’t have been able to read it, but I knew how to translate the weird scrolls and scratches. So I started flipping through a diary–April 17th, 1927 was Nana’s seventh birthday and it seemed her uncle Sam had given her the diary as a gift. So that was the first entry. About her birthday celebration, her mother baking a cake, her father coming home from work with a box tied with a string, her uncle coming over for dinner and giving her the diary, etcetera.

Anyway, a few months of diary entries go by and they’re pretty boring, little girl stuff like drawings of horses and complaining about her baby brother and getting a red ribbon at the county fair, blah blah blah. But then something strange started appearing in the entries. She started talking about a little girl named Jenny and what she wrote about Jenny sounded really creepy. It seemed Jenny was the local apothecary’s daughter and lived in town.

Since I didn’t know, I asked Nana what an apothecary is. She said it was the town pharmacy, run by Mr. Terrington–you’d go to him to get medicines and elixirs and stuff. Whatever elixirs are. There were rumors about him among the children in the town, that he put poison in some of the bottles or that he did experiments on people late at night in the basement of the apothecary. I guess he was nice to everyone but he and Jenny kept to themselves a lot, since there was no Mrs. Terrington. Jenny was home schooled and generally didn’t come outside much, and when she was spotted it was usually just a passing glimpse when Mr. Terrington opened the back room door of the store to fill out prescriptions. The back room was where all the pills and syrups and heavy duty medicines were kept. That’s where Jenny seemed to spend all her time. Back then nobody monitored that stuff. They’d give heroin to a child if they had a cough back then.

So the story was Jenny was sick a lot, and needed to stay inside where she wouldn’t get a chill or whatever. So Nana and none of the other children in town had actually ever met Jenny, they’d only seen glimpses of her, flashes of her long black hair and blue dress. They sometimes overheard their parents whisper things about the Terringtons. Rumors.

Like, that Mrs. Terrington had had an affair and Jenny wasn’t really Mr. T’s child but was the child of the devil and that’s why he kept Jenny away from everyone. Or that Mrs. Terrington had taken pills in the back of the store and killed herself and that Jenny refused to leave her dead body, which was still back there to this day.

I don’t think anyone really thought that. Nana said small towns get their excitement from gossip based on nonsense, and that none of those rumors had any basis in reality. And that the townspeople couldn’t have possibly guessed what the real story was and that it was good they never knew. What was the real story?

That Jenny didn’t have any eyes.

Jenny had glass eyes. Both eyes were made of glass, but just the whites. No irises, no pupils. Jenny was blind. They found this out when Nana’s friend Peter dared her to sneak into the back of the store and snip a lock of Jenny’s hair.

Nana was kind of a tomboy and wasn’t about to let Peter tell everyone she was too scared to do it. So one night they snuck out and headed into town. The last entry of the diary was that evening, with a now eight-year old Nana writing about what she and Peter planned to do when everyone else was asleep. The rest of the journal was empty, so I asked Nana what had happened that night. What happened with Jenny.

I asked Nana, what did Jenny say?

She kind of stopped sorting through the trunk she’d been organizing and looked at me funny. Her eyes glazed over, and she turned her head toward the one window in the attic and looked out, not really seeing anything. I thought she’d gone to her “other place” as my mom called it when Nana spaced out and got confused. But she hadn’t. When she spoke her voice was clear and strange. “It was the night of the glass eyes.”

Nana went on. “She spoke to us. Jenny. She wasn’t asleep like we thought she’d be. She was sitting straight up on a little cot, facing the door, as though she was expecting us. She told me things.” Nana stopped talking then, so I asked her what things did Jenny tell you? Then she said, still in that clear, strange voice, “She smiled at me. Patted the cot for me to come sit next to her. I didn’t want to but I felt myself compelled to do it anyway. I sat next to Jenny and I saw her white, glass eyes, her long jet black hair. As she beckoned me her hair swung a bit to the side and I saw she was naked. When I sat next to her, Jenny began to stroke my hair. She kissed my cheek and nuzzled me, like a horse would. She took my hand in hers and then she told me about the end of the world.”

I asked Nana what she meant by that. She said, “How it was going to happen. Jenny giggled and whispered in my ear things I will not tell you. Things that I locked away in my mind so I wouldn’t know and no one else would know but these things are still locked away. Jenny kissed Peter on the lips, patted his head and whispered into his ears too. But some of the things Jenny said have been escaping lately. My mind is unlocking them now and they are getting out. And I know they were real. Whoever, whatever Jenny was, the things she said were real and are going to happen, exactly as she said they were.” I didn’t want to know but I also did want to know.

I asked her what was she remembering.

“What Jenny said. She said time would rip, and we’d all see what the universe really was. We’d see past the curtain. We’d see insanity and we’d laugh and scream and tear out our own eyes, just as she had. We’d see dimensions where triangles had twelve sides and two plus two equaled nothing. She said so many more things but those things are still locked away. But they’re going to escape too. I know they are. And when they do I’ll tear out my own eyes too.”

She died in the dementia wing of a nursing home. Eyes intact. And after that day in the attic she never mentioned Jenny again. But sometimes her eyes would glaze over and she’d gaze out the window and I’d wonder. I’d wonder if another one of those locked-up things had escaped.

Nana wouldn’t tell me so I had to look it up at the library archives. It took me a long time but last year I found an item in the local paper from the summer of 1928. Turns out they found Peter in his bed the next day. After the night of the glass eyes. He was lying there, smiling, naked.

And he’d cut out his own eyes.

Credit: M.B.

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I Am The Fish King

April 1, 2016 at 3:00 PM
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I am the fish king stalking the waters to fill you with fright
I am the fish king you’ll never leave my sight
I am the fish I am the night

I am the fish king you see
there is no other fish king only me
I am the fish king blood will soak the walls
I see you running down the hall
I watch you stumble I watch you fall
I am the fish king I see it all

I am the fish king you’ll never be free
I am the fish king and terror ill bring
I am the fish king
and the last thing you’ll see

I am the fish king stalking the waters to fill you with fright
I am the fish king you’ll never leave my sight
I am the fish I am the night

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6:30

April 1, 2016 at 9:00 AM
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It was happening tonight at 6:30.
I checked the watch on my wrist.

6:26

I was beginning to get antsy. It has been a long long time since something of this magnitude occurred. I watched and waited as the second hand moved little by little. Inch by inch. Time had never seemed to move so slowly. Suddenly, I began sweating profusely. Reaching for a nearby cloth I wiped the beads of moisture from my forehead.

6:27

Maybe I should call it off. Maybe I should run. Maybe I made a mistake. No. I had to. Had to stick to the plan. Did I? It wasn’t too late. Yes. Yes it was. I can’t go back. There was no other option.

6:28

Crunch time. I stood up. There was no way I could keep still any longer. I started pacing. Thoughts zooming through my mind left and right. Was I sure? Is this really what it has come to? I was positive. Yes, I was positive. There was no going back. There was no doubt now, only determination. I was ready.

6:29

Here we go. Just a few seconds away. My heart was pounding like a drum in my chest. I tried to relax, but with no avail. I felt prepared but weak and powerless at the same time. There was nothing else I could do to ease the tension. Nothing. I had to power through. I’ve been waiting for this moment for too long to let it slip away.

6:30

Finally. It was finally time.

Nothing happened. I didn’t understand. How could nothing happen? 6:30 was the time. 6:30 was the time. Am I insane? No I’m not insane. 6:30 was the time. I know it. I’m not insane.

Am I?

I glanced at my watch.

6:31

Why. Just WHY.

I remain motionless. I didn’t know what to do. I thought that maybe… I thought… I couldn’t think. All of a sudden I couldn’t think, because of a ringing. I hear a ringing, quiet at first, growing in volume. The sound, all of a sudden very loud, was penetrating my ears, to the point where I thought my eardrums would surely bust. It wouldn’t stop. The constant ringing in my head followed me down as I clawed at my ears and crumpled to the floor. The ringing continued. It continued for what seemed like an infinite eternity of pain. Pain in which was impossible for me to endure any longer. I started to lose consciousness. I felt myself slipping from the real world, and strangely, I was ok with it.

6:31
Everything was dark.
My mind and body numb.
I heard nothing.

Wait.

I didn’t hear anything. There was no ringing.
My eyes opened. I heard pure silence. Pure, beautiful silence. Slowly I rose to my feet. Brushing myself off, I reached forward and grabbed the handle.

I turned it.

The door flew open and a bright light flooded my vision, then a voice spoke…

“That’ll be $12.75”

The pizza had arrived.

I paid the man and closed the door. Smiling to myself, I walked to my seat. Pan pizza with thick cheesy crust and extra pepperoni in hand I collapsed into the recliner.

I was at peace.

Credit To – Cole Christian

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