Stories of the Black Count, Part I: Deathless Days

February 20, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Stories of the Black Count, Part I: Deathless Days

Credit: Michael Vrazitoulis

Waking Nightmares

January 22, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Focus on your breathing, silence your mind, drink warm milk, stay away from electronics, keep the room dark, take pills. All the ways the internet had told me to fall asleep. All bullshit. For most everyone else sleep is simple, really, just lie down and suddenly eight hours have passed. Those people don’t need to worry about what happens if they can’t fall asleep- not like me.
Our entire existence boils down to the constant string of thought weaving its way through our heads, our thoughts are what we are. But when you’re left all alone with those thoughts, for hours and hours cut off from all external stimuli, that ever present tiny little voice becomes something like torture. Very much like torture, in fact, I likened it to Chinese water torture; the practice of tying someone up and having a drop of water fall on their head at fixed intervals. Drip… Drip… Drip… It becomes a certainty, all that they can really focus on is the next drop of water. That’s what it was like when I would try to sleep, one thought, and then another, and another… And another… Never letting my mind rest.
It had been like that for as long as I could remember, even as a little child I would lie awake in bed silently conversing with my stuffed animals. As I grew older, however, my insomnia became more of an issue; it held much more weight in my life than my old conversations with Mr. Teddy Bear. Of course, there were the obvious side effects; I lived like a zombie, only half in touch with the world, my mind- in its ceaseless need to think- jumped around, never able to focus on one thought. I was honestly fine with that part.
The part that I was not fine with were the things that stood in the corner of my bedroom when I couldn’t sleep. People who sleep normally sometimes experience nightmares, their own sleeping minds work against them to create terrifying situations. Monsters, spiders, murderers, there are no limits. The thing is, though, that those people wake up and their nightmares are gone. But my nightmares were real, physical, things.
They were different every time. I’ve had the typical fears: giant spiders, clowns, chainsaw murderers, and such. But every now and then I got creatures, horrid abominations that were particularly unpleasant. They had ways, beyond my understanding, of keeping my room dark, of preventing lights from working. So I never got to make out more of their images than the moonlight would allow.
The… occurrences, my own twisted version of nightmares, had been happening ever since I moved into my own apartment. Nightmares are generally a result of stress, so my theory is that the stress of moving out on my own caused these nightmares. But somewhere along the line something went wrong, my nightmares were not confined to my head. I didn’t know why, I just knew that they were very real.
The memory of the first time it ever happened is permanently engraved into my mind, how could I forget? It was the first week in my new apartment, I hadn’t even unpacked, and I was swamped with work from my new desk job- accounting. All of the stress led to another of the all so familiar sleepless nights, but it was distinctly different. Rather than tossing and turning I found myself to be lying quite still under my thin covers, unable to focus on anything other than my newfound headache.
Headache is probably not the best way to put it, hammering migraine is a better term. Pulsating waves of pain radiated from my skull, even the soft touch of my pillow was enough to set my teeth on edge. I had let out a groan of agony, and that seemed to be the start of it all; a crackling chuckle, similar to that of a smoker- raspy and dry- came out of the darkness in my room, responding to my pain.
And just like that my headache was gone, but it was replaced with a skin chilling fear that led me to sit bolt upright. The chuckle continued. It came from the far corner and I very much knew that I was not alone in my own bedroom.
It had been a cloudy night, so all I could do was squint into the darkness. Eventually my eyes managed to make out the dark outline, it was a person. Sort of. I could make out two struts of curly hair shooting off of the side of a bald head, all topped with a very tiny top hat. I didn’t need to turn on my bedside lamp- which I was far too afraid to do regardless- to know that it was a clown. There had been a clown standing in the corner of my room, chuckling continuously.
Hours went by as I watched him, but he never moved, and he never stopped that damn laugh. I hadn’t slept much around that time; perhaps as little as four hours of sleep in the previous forty-eight hours. And that lack of sleep is what nearly got me killed. My thoughts were numb and out of focus, which is why at some point in the night I managed to write off the clown silhouette in the corner as a fatigue induced hallucination. With that conclusion easing my mind it had been easy to eventually slip off into sleep.
That sleep was short lived. I was forced awake by a pair of gloved hands around my throat. And all I could manage to do was flail my arms around, doing absolutely nothing to remove the weight from my windpipe. My entire body burned, desperate for air, and I felt that I was not going to see the morning; until a dim light briefly illuminated my window. It was a lone car, a solitary set of headlights driving past in the night- it saved my life.
For the briefest of seconds I could see the face of my assailant; all the paint of a clown with none of the charm, the entirety of his flesh was white as sheet, completely contrasting the horrid splash of red around his mouth -blood or paint, it was still disgusting. The eyes were the worst part, the cold pupils were almost impossible to make out under the murky layer of darkness covering the surface, but I could still tell they were looking directly at me as he crushed my throat. But the moment I saw him, in the flash of headlights, his grip released; all I could do was stare and try to suck in narrow breaths as the clown climbed off of my bed and backed into his corner.
Shakily I sat up, never looking away from the clown, and I reached over to flick on my bedside lamp. The room remained dark. I hit the switch again, and again, but the room remained dark; the clown once more began to chuckle. There was no way in hell that I could bring myself to move, to run, to call the police, all I did was sit and stare. And I could feel the clown stare back. It wasn’t until the sun shone through my window that the clown disappeared. I just blinked and he was gone.

I didn’t want to acknowledge it as real, I just wanted to dismiss it for what it was- a nightmare- but the bruises on my neck would allow me to do no such thing. Yet if I went to a doctor I’d certainly be labeled insane- not to mention that if I called in sick so early in my career I’d lose my job. So, I went in to work, made up some tale of getting jumped by a vagrant to explain the bruises, and tried to get on with my life. Which was very difficult considering I was met by a different creature the following night- a large spider, and the night after that- machete murderer, and so on; which is what led me to begin drinking.
My first visit to the local bar was two weeks after the first… visitor. The only sleep I’d had in that time period were the few minutes at a time I was able to get away with at work and forty minutes during lunch. Of course at first I didn’t take it lying down. No technology would work when they were present, and they only appeared during night hours- but I never had time to sleep during the day. I thought of everything a sensible person would think of. I thought about moving, about trying to sleep other places (A visit to a hotel yielded negative results), getting an exorcism, and even briefly about ending my life. Those weeks were hell and I was quickly losing motivation to push on.
But on my first night of trying to drink the trouble away, almost as soon as I entered the bar I became a cliche. I fell in love. The bartender, a soft spoken, lanky, brunette- Kathleen- was the most attractive woman I’d ever seen, so of course I made a fool of myself trying to talk with her.
I was sleep deprived and drunk, yet for some reason she took an immediate liking to me. She was quick to laugh at my poor jokes and didn’t seem off put at all by the excessive complaining I did about my job. Even drunk I managed to avoid bringing up my nighttime companions. Although by the end of the first night with her I felt as if I could trust her with that knowledge. But I held off. It’s probably a good thing I did too, seeing as how she asked for my phone number before I left the bar.
That night was the first time I’d been happy in weeks. I’d almost let myself believe all of my problems had gone away. A pretty girl and a stomach full of beer was all it took for me to let my guard down. And I paid for it.
That night I climbed into my bedside chair- with no intention of sleep. I’d let my guard down but I had in no way allowed myself to forget the creatures in the night. Even if I didn’t mean to sleep it became quite difficult to focus on staying awake when my mind wandered to thoughts of Kathleen. Minutes, maybe hours, passed as I replayed our conversation. I’m not a witty person when I’m sober, and I’m even less witty while drunk. The last thought I had before losing the battle with my eyelids was that she must have been twice as drunk as I to be laughing at my jokes.
Searing pain in my legs woke me up screaming. The normal light of my window was blocked by a hazy figure, tall with jagged arms that bent in too many places, and the entirety of its skin writhed with needlelike protrusions. I figured that part out because they were being used to shred the skin on my legs.
Not ashamed to admit that I screamed bloody murder. It didn’t deter the nightmare at all, it just leaned further over me and reached towards my face with a razored tendril. The movement was slow and mocking, it was drawing out the anticipated pain. I was so focused on that one tendril it almost drowned out the pain in my legs. The creature slowly drew closer, and it towered over me as it finally connected with my cheek. There was only a pinprick of pain. The moment the monster touched my face my phone buzzed and lit up. Once I could see it, and its entire horrifying figure, the nightmare receded to its spot in the corner.
My floor was soaked with the blood seeping from my legs, and probably urine as well, but all I could think to do was grab at the phone. I didn’t understand at the time, normally nothing electronic worked when the nightmares were watching me, yet the phone lit up when I hit the button. And in the screen flashed a text from Kathleen:

Sorry to text you so late. I couldn’t sleep. I know you’re probably in bed but I just couldn’t wait to ask if you’d like to have dinner some time.

I called her. I was completely incoherent, sobbing, and raving. I told her about the the monsters in my room, the cuts on my legs, and how she just saved my life. All at two in the morning the night after I met her, but she did not hang up. She listened. And- bless her perfect heart- she asked, “Where do you live? I’ll come over.”
I told her to let herself in, and when she arrived I don’t think she expected me to actually have torn up legs. There was a lot of freaking out and rushing around. I imagine I lost a lot of blood which is why it all seems to hazy, but I know that Kathleen forced me to go to the hospital. Or rather, she called an ambulance without consulting me, but I’m glad she did.
I woke up in the hospital to her smiling face. I was so confused, “Where am I?”
“The hospital- you’ve been asleep for two days.”
“Asleep?” The word sounded so strange coming out of my mouth. Sleep was something for normal people, a fairy tale far beyond my grasp. Sleep was something that came in fifteen minute flashes here and there- never in hours.
“Yes, asleep. They’re still trying to figure out what happened to you- they think some psycho broke into your apartment. But I’m glad you’re okay. I’ve been here with you the whole time.”
“Why…” Far from the best choice of words to show gratitude, “Why are you being so nice to me?”
Kathleen gave a tight grin in response, “You just seem… so lost. When I first saw you it was like you were calling out to me for help. I don’t really understand either, but I already feel so connected to you.”
“Oh,” Was all I replied, but in my defense I was still groggy, “Thank you so much.”
We were quiet for awhile until she softly asked, “Hey, when you called me… You said I saved your life. What did you mean?”
The memory of the creature flashed through my mind and I must have grimaced, she glanced down at my cuts, “You weren’t planning on killing… on suicide, were you? Did you do that to yourself?”
“Oh no, no, it’s, well, it’s worse than that,” I responded, “It’s just… I have… nightmares.”
For some reason she didn’t question that.
“Well, you’re in no condition to be in your own. How about I spend the night with you and try to get rid of those bad dreams,” she offered and then seemed to understand what she had just said, “Woah woah, I mean just be there. Nothing sexual-”
“No no no,” I cut her off. The thought of how she might react to the monsters, or how they might react to her, I wouldn’t have it, “You’ve done so much, and I still don’t understand why to be completely honest, but I don’t want you to get hurt by this.”
She placed her hand on my cheek, opposite to where the nightmare had prodded me, “I’m doing so much for you because your eyes are the saddest I’ve ever seen. Whatever it is you’re facing, it’s time to stop trying on your own. I’m coming to your place once you get out of here.”
There was no arguing beyond that. The cuts my legs were many, but not deep, so I was actually able to walk out of there on my own feet- with Kathleen refusing to let go of my arm. We made it back to my apartment and I insisted upon cooking for her- then we simply sat at my little kitchen table and talked. We made small talk about everything and anything yet there wasn’t a single subject in which we had opposing views. She was the perfect girl, which is why it was so difficult for me to ask her to leave. Our conversation had been effortless and warm- but I shattered the mood, “I… I need you to leave now. It’s getting late and you shouldn’t be here overnight.”
She ignored the request, “Ahh, time for the meat of the matter. So what are these nightmares that would compel you to turn away a pretty lady offering to spend the night?”
I suppose I just didn’t want her to leave, so I figured screw it and tried telling the truth, “They’re not really nightmares. They’re monsters. I know I sound crazy, and I probably am, but for the last few weeks I haven’t been sleeping. There have been these things in my room at night. Watching me- waiting for me to stop watching them. If I look away they… they come for me. I was almost strangled… and now my legs…”
“You’re not lying, are you?” Her question wasn’t patronizing in the slightest, she genuinely believed me. Which led me to believe that perhaps I wasn’t the crazy one, but I no longer had the strength or desire to refuse her as she said, “Let’s go to your bed. We’ll face them together.”
A few minutes later and we were doing something that few adults had ever done before- sitting in bed with a stranger that they just met at a bar yet doing absolutely nothing other than going to sleep. I made sure to leave every light in the room on, and Kathleen didn’t seem to mind. Not like it mattered though- as soon as we both settled down under the covers the lights flicked off on their own.
Her breath caught at the same time as mine. The two of us slowly sat back upright in the dark room, and I had the unshakable feeling that I should not have allowed Kathleen to stay. My voice was a hoarse whisper, “They control the lights… They don’t let me see them.”
She remained silent and I followed suite as it became clear that we were not the only ones in the room. An all too familiar rasping arose from the far corner. My first waking nightmare- the clown. She could see it too. Kathleen’s voice was faint even though she sat so close, “When did this start?”
“When I moved in here and got a new job,” I replied dimly. My blood ran cold as the clown let out its humorless chuckle and my mind ran rampant with newly formed fears, it was one thing for me to face the monsters- at least they ignored me when I focused on them- but what if the clown attacked Kathleen?
“There are more,” She pointed out. I kept my eyes plastered on the darkness of the room, and dim moonlight leaking through the shades illuminated the awful fact that Kathleen was correct. More creatures lined the walls of the room, surrounding the bed, all staring at the two human occupants.
“What actually happened to your legs?” She asked faintly.
I was too absorbed in our surroundings to realize the oddity of the question, “I fell asleep- one of them got to me.”
And with a sinking realization I saw the very same buzzing outline of the needle creature that had torn apart my flesh. But Kathleen continued to press on, “What stopped it?”
“You. You messaged me.”
“And you said one of them tried to strangle you, what stopped that one?”
“Someone’s headlights,” I responded numbly as my eyes further adjusted to the darkness and revealed the four foot tarantula clinging to one of the walls. More of the creatures appeared with every second and all I could think about was the horrible things they would do to Kathleen if I didn’t keep my eyes on them.
Then one of them took a step forward. I whipped my head towards it- the machete murderer- but when I faced it one of the other creatures drew closer. I couldn’t watch all of them. Somehow Kathleen managed to keep talking, “They started when you had a big change in your life, and human interaction made them go away.”
“We need to make a run for it,” I had replied, only half listening to her as the mob of nightmares closed in on the bed, “There’s never been more than one…”
I looked to my right and the spider was no longer on the wall, but on the ceiling overhead. And when I looked back down the needle monster was almost within arm’s reach. No matter which way I turned they manage to draw in closer. The clown stood at the head of the mattress, staring at both of us head on. All I could manage to do was whimper, “You go- maybe they just want me-”
She cut me off with a kiss. Her entire body weight flung against mine and pinned me against the pillows. My mind was a panic, I couldn’t see a single nightmare they so I figured they must be about to pounce. But still, she pressed against me, and I guess I also kissed back- might as well enjoy our last moments. But nothing happened. She broke away and we both drew in breath, and then I gasped as I saw the empty bedroom around us. The lights flickered on as she rolled back to her side of the bed. “How…?”
“You told me yourself,” she replied with a relieved giggle, “Interaction makes them go away, be it a stranger driving by, or someone texting you in the middle of the night. Or maybe the most intense kiss of my life.”
“They’re gone,” It’s all I could think, and then, “How are you so amazing?”
“I’m not. I’m really not. I get lonely, I do stupid things- like call crazy drunks I just met- and I work in a bar to make a living… I’m anything but perfect.”
The monsters were gone, and I got the impression they weren’t coming back- not as long as Kathleen was with me. Now it was my turn to kiss her, and when it was over I said, “Well you’re perfect to me.”
She just grinned and curled up under the covers, somehow ready to go to sleep, “Come on, you need some sleep.”
And for the first time in weeks I was able to let my head sink to my pillow without worry. The end to a horrid chapter in my life, all thanks to the amazing bartender at my side. She was my hero, and I had to find a way to put it into words. I needed to express my true gratitude, and it took awhile, but I got it. I wrapped my arm around her and said, “You’re a dream come true.”

Credit: Teddy

Desert Dream

January 21, 2017 at 12:00 AM

The human brain is an odd thing. Your memories, mostly from your childhood, are vague and ambiguous. Is what you remember even real? Could it be that you’ve manufactured your childhood memories from the stories your parents tell you about yourself? Think about it for a second, do you actually remember? For me, I don’t think I do. Why? Well, my story, the story I’m telling, will explain why. I have had this recurring dream since I was a child. Maybe around 8? I can’t exactly recall when it started.

This dream is, well, simple. I’m standing in the middle of the desert, alone. Isolated from humanity. It’s always daytime when I come here. I say “when I come here” because this is where I always am in my dream. It’s really hot. There’s beads of sweat trickling down my forehead, the sweat lingers for a minute at the tip of my nose and drops onto the sand. It’s so quiet that I can hear the sizzling sound of my sweat as it hits the scorching sand. I look down and I see that I’m standing there barefoot…Not just barefoot…completely nude, but the sand isn’t burning me. I just stand there, in isolated silence for the entire dream. That is until the end. A giant wave, yes, a giant wave, in the middle of the desert comes out of nowhere. I try to run from it, but I’m firmly planted into the ground and I can’t move. The wave hits me with such force, I swear, I can feel it. I can feel the water going into my nose, my mouth, my ears. Then, suddenly darkness. I’m laying there, I don’t know if I’m in my bed, or if I’m somewhere else. There’s a cloth of some sort covering my entire body. I think I’m dead, but I can hear my heart beating, “pump, pump, pump”, a steady, healthy beat. I can feel the blood coursing through my veins. Except…I’m not breathing. I take one giant gulp of breath in and I wake up. It is the exact same every time. I know what to expect, when to expect it, but I can’t control the dream.

I know what you’re thinking…go see a psychiatrist. You don’t think I have? Of course I have. That is why I have been prescribed everything from sleeping pills to anti depressant medications. None have helped. And wanna know something else that’s odd? I don’t dream, except for that dream. Sometimes I don’t think this “dream” is a dream. I think it’s real, but I have to gather my composure and tell myself that I’m just paranoid…right?

I am a single 30-some year old woman with no husband, no kids, so yes, it is possible that I might be slightly depressed, but I can assure you that I’m not crazy. Something happened to me a year ago, and ever since then, I’ve never been the same.

I was driving home from the grocery store when I fell asleep at the wheel. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, I just suddenly got extremely tired and couldn’t keep my eyes open. I blacked out.

When I opened my eyes, I was, where else, but the desert. The exact same desert as I had seen so many times in my dream. Except, this time it was different. I was inside a tube filled with liquid, like a fetus. I freaked out and started touching my body to see if I was still an adult human, thankfully I was…not that it made me feel any better. I was in so much shock when I first opened my eyes that I didn’t notice what was around me. I, floating in this glass jar filled with a mysterious liquid, could barely see what was out in the desert, but as I squinted, I could not believe what I saw. I saw millions, if not billions of tubes…like the one I was in. There were people in them. Strangers. Small, medium, big, female, male, young, old, people of all colors. I immediately got nauseous. I stuck my face to the glass to try to get a better look at these strangers and all of their eyes were closed, they looked dead.

I closed my eyes and kept repeating over and over again “this is not real, this is not real, this is not real…” I probably said it a hundred times, but I still felt the liquid caressing my body. I started to cry, not that anyone or anything would’ve noticed. I frantically started punching the glass, but liquid makes the force of movement much slower. I had no success. It was then that I realized there were wires sticking out of my head. Oh god, they were inside my skull, attached to my brain I would assume. I touched them gently, and shuddered. Chills ran down my spine. I didn’t know what to think. Can I rip these out? Will this kill me? Would it matter? I’m probably already dead. So I said fuck it, and ripped the wires out of my skull. FUCK it hurt so bad. Crimson red filled my entire tube. I thought…this is when I die, just accept it. So I floated there waiting for the darkness, but then suddenly I heard a noise. I looked around, but I didn’t see anything. I looked up and I saw a glimmer of light shining through. That’s when I realized that the latch closing the tube had opened itself at the top. I popped my bloody head out and there it was, that hot sun beating on my face. I had never been so happy to breath in air…that is until I started choking on it. I was gasping and coughing and gasping and coughing. It was like my lungs had never breathed air before. After a good 2 minutes of pain, my lungs started working again. I plunged out of the tube onto the hot sand. That sizzling sound filled my ears, except this time, I could feel the heat. I could feel the hot sand against my skin. It felt like a freshly heated griddle against my body. Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it, this isn’t real, this is a fucking dream, I’m dead, just go. I got up, burned, bloody, and naked. I started running towards the closest tube. I didn’t know who was in there, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I knocked on the glass, screaming and crying.



I sat down on the sand in front of this stranger’s tube. Hopeless. I put my face into my palms and started bawling. This is what my dreams have been warning me about. I’m going to die one day. I’m going to end up in my own hell, and this is it. Then, something came over me. I don’t know what it was, but I looked up at the stranger in the tube and I felt that this was not the end for me. I felt that there was something more to this place…not that I am special or anything, but that I was meant to come here. All those nights waking up, wondering what the hell this dream meant, led me to this point. There must be a deeper meaning to this. I stood up, wiped the mixture of blood and tears from my face and climbed onto the top of the tube. I started pulling at the latch as hard as I could but it would not budge. Not one bit. I sighed, and as I was about to jump off, I saw this circular impression on the top of the tube. I touched it, nothing. I pushed it and it opened. It opened just enough for me to stick my arm through.

“What the hell?”

I stuck my arm in and swish around, trying to feel for the wires. The top of the tube is black so I couldn’t see where my hand was going. I felt something so I just grabbed it. I think it was the stranger’s shoulders. As my skin touched his, I felt this surge of electromagnetic energy. My muscles started cramping up and I felt my entire body stiffen. I couldn’t control my body, my eyes began rolling into the back of my head. I heard a loud sound, an alarm like sound…it went “BEEEEEEEEEEEP” and didn’t stop.

I wasn’t able to take my hands of the stranger, I was stuck here. I began to freak out, and then I saw it. I knew his name. He lived in Moscow, Russia. I saw his life through his eyes. I knew his every thought, his every move. Things I didn’t want to see, I saw. I started screaming, but no words came out, just cries of despair. When the vision of his life finally stopped, I flew about 100 feet and landed in the sand. The loud sound was still going – it was deafening. The life had just been drained out of me. I laid there gasping for air, my mind racing a mile a minute. My muscles were still cramped and I could feel the air escaping my lungs. I started to come in and out of consciousness. I was groggy, but I heard inaudible sounds coming from around me. It sounded like people, real humans. I felt relief for a brief moment, like I was going to be okay. I felt them…there was definitely more than one…they grabbed me. They were carrying me. Thank god, they’re taking me to get help. Then…I felt my body get dunked back into the mysterious liquid. That’s when I realized. Nope. I’m not going to be okay. Before I completely blacked out, I heard the latch above me close and lock.

Pitch black.

Next thing I remember, I woke up, and I saw one of my girlfriends, a strange man, and 2 strange women standing there staring at me. I was so confused. My friend started tearing up, but I had no time for emotions, I was confused as fuck.

She started whimpering, “I can’t believe it…you’re a-.”

I immediately cut her off, “what…what…what are you talking about? I need to talk to the police, I need to talk to someone.”

“Calm down, you are in good hands. Do you know where you are?” The strange man came closer to me.

That’s when I saw the name tag. DOCTOR. I realized…I was at a hospital. “The hospital?” I said reluctantly. As confused as I was, I was relieved.

He smiled, “Yes. You have been in a coma for 2 months. You were in a bad crash, but you’re going to be okay. We are just glad to have you back with us. We almost lost you a couple times. Your lungs collapsed, you had burns all over your body, and severe swelling in the brain. We thought there was a high possibility that you were going to be a vegetable for the rest of your life, but it looks like you will be fine.”

“I…uh…thanks.” I didn’t know what to say. I just wanted to get home.

“Let’s fill out the paper work and get you out of here!” The Doctor said as he waved for the 2 nurses to follow him out of the room.

My friend held my hand and asked, “Promise me you’ll take care of yourself?”

“Yeah.” I looked at her, “Hey…uh thanks for being here.”

“Oh my god. Of course! The others visited you too, but you weren’t awake. I came on a good day.” She smiled.

I looked around my room. There were flowers, cards, chocolates, and balloons everywhere. I’m not gonna lie, it felt good to know that people still cared about me. I was relieved that I was okay, but more so that I was no longer in that tube…in the desert.

Now, yes, this might just be another one of those, I was in a coma and I saw some crazy shit because my mind was tripping for 2 months, kinda story. I honestly laughed when I got home from the hospital.

There was just one thing, one little thing I tried to explain away, but couldn’t. It always nudged at me, so recently, about a week ago I went onto Facebook and searched for the stranger’s name that I had seen in the desert (keeping it anonymous for the sake of this person’s privacy). I was pretty confident I wouldn’t find anything, but there was glimmer of doubt, so I wanted to be 100% sure. As the browser loaded, I anxiously watched the screen. The results popped up. I didn’t recognize any of the faces. Thank god. As I was about to exit the browser I saw that there were 2 more profiles that I needed to scroll down to see. My hands shaking…I began to scroll…the first face…nope…I felt slightly better…now down to the last profile…nope…SO MUCH RELIEF. But wait…the face on the last profile. It looked familiar. It wasn’t him…but…I stared at it for a minute.

I felt my stomach drop. I’ve seen this face…it’s his…kid. I clicked on the profile and quickly clicked through the pictures he had available to the public and there they were. Pictures of that stranger’s face, although he no longer was a stranger to me, I was to him. I kept clicking through, yup, that’s his wife, that’s his house, that’s the restaurant he always eats at on Fridays…Holy fuck. I slammed my laptop shut. Denial. I had been in denial for a year.

That is why I’m writing this. I can’t explain to you why it happened to me and not you, but it happened. Believe me, don’t believe me, I don’t care.

All I can say is that I have come to understand, that my time in the desert was real. It was not a figment of my imagination, but a genuine experience. I don’t know what I discovered, but what I believe is that the lives we are living right now, are fabricated lies…the experiences we perceive as ours, aren’t ours at all. We are just one of billions of strangers trapped in a tube…part of a bigger experiment – something more mysterious than any of us could ever understand.

Credit: Christinaa Danks

Kway Mool: The Monster

January 10, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Returning from the vending machine, I would often linger outside of my grandmother’s hospital room and watch my family before joining them. Dad usually stood by the window silently looking out past the treeline. My younger brother, Son-Ook would read a weathered comic book in a chair by the partition curtain. Mom sat on the edge of the bed crying and watching my grandmother make strange hand gestures in the air and mutter garbled words under her breath. Every so often, Mom would lean towards her and say in a broken voice “Hey, 어마. It’s me. Your Han-Eul. Remember me?” But each time, my grandmother’s stare remained drugged, glassy, and fixed on her withered hands that danced above the sheets.

From where I stood, I’d ponder This is what Alzheimer’s looks like. After a certain age, a grandmother’s mind starts lying to her. It pulls the worst sort of trick, swapping out the faces and voices of everyone she ever loved for those of strangers. The trick doesn’t stop at the grandmother, though. It’s also felt by those closest to her (stoic son-in-law, ambivalent grandson, devastated daughter). With the onset of the paranoia, the bed-wetting, and the hallucinations, the helpless bystanders also begin to forget the sort of woman that the grandmother was before the disease. She too becomes a stranger.

The task, then, becomes a kind of mental surgery, a separation of the gentle pre-Alzheimer’s grandmother from her diseased counterpart or, as I like to call it, “the monster.” Only after eight long years was I able to separate the two. Until recently, I would get just close enough to remember the way she smelled or how her cheek felt against mine before memories of the monster invariably muscled their way back to the front. I blame most of these intrusions on one particular memory from a night many Octobers ago. It was the night when I first met the monster face to face.
I grew up in a small fishing village in South Korea called Jinhae. The town is currently undergoing a building boom as contractors look to accommodate growing numbers of men commuting to neighboring Busan for work. However, as a child, I remember Jinhae for it’s narrow shadowy streets cluttered with fishing nets, barrels, and dirty dogs. Brightly-dressed grandmothers chattered at the thresholds of corner stores, waving their arms with hands full of roots and herbs freshly-picked from the mountainsides; withered old grandfathers peeked from dark windows and smoked forlornly; and brown young men squished over the docks in pink galoshes with cigarettes between their cracked lips, sloshing sea water from buckets to wash away the fish guts. The whole village was hunkered down before an emerald curtain of misty mountains that sent regular gusts of wind groundward, relieving residents of the lingering stench of squid and mackerel.

It may all sound picturesque on paper. But when I was young, I hated it. It was boring. I often begged my mother and father to move somewhere less rustic, to a town that had an arcade or, at the very least, a movie screen. Before even opening my mouth, though, I always knew what answer I’d get: We’ve been over this Eun-Young! Your grandmother doesn’t want to move. We can’t very well leave her here alone, can we? This, in turn, would send me running over to my “halmoni’s” (Korean for “grandmother”) house where I’d ask for perhaps the hundredth time why she wouldn’t consider living in a newer nicer place. As I saw it, the case practically made itself. My halmoni’s house was tiny. It was a one story concrete tin-roofed edifice with a sliding glass door and a bank of weathered windows along the front and side. She often spent her nights in one of the three rooms huddled by a smoky old charcoal heater changing out buckets that caught leaks in the ceiling. It was a dive and I couldn’t see why she wouldn’t want to live somewhere more comfortable. But, like my parents, halmoni always gave the same answer: “Eun-Young, you know that I want you to move to a place that will make you happy. I have told your mother and father so. But I cannot come with you.” When I asked her why, she would mutter some platitudes about old people being stubborn before scuttling into the kitchen. Even at a young age, I sensed that she was deliberately hiding her true reasons for not wanting to leave Jinhae. But in Korean culture, it’s disrespectful to question an elder’s wishes beyond a certain point.

Eventually, I just stopped asking. I resolved myself to the inevitable and buckled down for a tedious life that would likely culminate with a marriage to some sad forlorn fisherman. Ok. So, I could be a little melodramatic, but from the mind of a 10-year-old, this was honestly what my prospects looked like. Day and night I thought about little else besides getting out of Jinhae, getting to that place beyond the horizon where everyone was a stranger and the neon lights buzzed ’til dawn, where women wore dresses and men smoked European cigarettes. The city. That’s where I wanted to go. Seoul. Not Busan, the closer and smaller of the two. Seoul. That was the one. The Holy Grail, the full house, and the hole-in-one all wrapped up in a million dollar bow.

I had never been to Seoul. Only seen photos. That was one of the main reasons I liked to visit my halmoni’s house, for the “Photo of Seoul.” Despite becoming a borderline recluse later in life, as a young adult, she had done a fair share of traveling. This was largely thanks to a traditional Korean musical instrument called the “gayageum.” From a young age, she had excelled at this large wooden instrument played by plucking 12 thick strings. By middle school, she was one of the top players in the region. By high school, she was one of the best in the country. It was during her junior year of high school that she won top prize in a regional contest, thereby making her eligible to compete in the national competition held in Seoul each year. In the end, my halmoni didn’t place in the contest. Yet, that didn’t stop her from becoming a sort of celebrity both within the family and around town. So proud were Jinhae residents of little Eee Seul Bee’s trip to Seoul that blown up photos of her performing on stage were plastered all over town, everywhere from the post office to the sashimi restaurants down by the docks.

This is the same photo that I’d pore over for hours whenever I’d visit my halmoni’s house. Although framed and covered in glass, she always kept it in the lowest cabinet of a large dresser in her living room. I’d pull it out and hold it up to my face, centimeters from my nose. I’d note every detail. The V-shaped cut in the end of her “hanbok” (traditional Korean dress) ribbon. The ripples, shadows, and edges of the heavy gold curtain behind her on the stage. Her fingers forming cryptic signs, captured in mid strum by the camera lens. The fragile but set and certain eyes cast downwards towards the strings. More than anything else, though, I’d focus on a hidden look of pure joy in her face. She looked nervous, yes. Excited and confident, too. But there was also the unhindered starstruck joy of a country girl who had finally made it to the city. The photo itself was taken inside a large auditorium. It could have been anywhere. But what made it a “photo of Seoul” was that look on my grandmother’s face of being young and out of her element. I’d stare into the fragmented photographic grain of her eyes and share in her joy of escape from wind and salt and mackerel guts.

From the photo, I’d wander over to a tall dark wardrobe on the other side of halmoni’s living room and squeak the ancient doors open. Pushing past the blouses, coats, and slacks, I’d come to one garment wrapped in plastic. Her hanbok. The same one she’d worn at the concert some 40 years before. The skirt was rose pink. Iridescent gusts of wind swirled across its folds. The sleeves were of soft ivory and the vest and ribbon were a milky blue adorned with geometric symbols the meanings of which I’d never know. At that age, it was the most beautiful piece of clothing I had ever seen. I was convinced that it held magic powers. Were I to put it on, I somehow knew that it would transport me out of Jinhae back to the stage in Seoul where it had made its grand debut so many years before. I never never seemed to have the chance, though. My halmoni was a generous woman, but for whatever reason, she was particularly protective towards her hanbok. I could look at it all I wanted. But like the prized figure of a toy collector, it never left its package. Still, I often dreamed about wearing that hanbok. Luckily (or so I thought at the time), I got my chance a few months later.

It was around this time when halmoni began displaying some of the early signs of what everyone thought was run-of-the-mill dementia. She’d forget the names of ingredients while cooking, wear different colored socks, and confuse relatives with one another at Chuseok (Korea’s equivalent to Thanksgiving). Nothing all that uncommon for a woman in her 60s, we thought. But then the memory loss got worse. For instance, upon visiting her one evening, my mother found halmoni sitting in a dark kitchen with the table set for two. In a dazed way, she asked “언제 우리 아빠 가 집에 올거예요?” which in English translates to “When is your father coming home?” Not such a strange question, right? The problem was that my mother’s father (halmoni’s husband) had been dead for ten years. When my mother explained this to her, halmoni’s eyes contorted in disbelief. Her head drifted downward like a birthday balloon short on air, until she glared lost and bewildered into her lap. Within a month, she couldn’t be left alone for fear that she’d set fire to the house or wander off during the night. My younger brother and I gradually took over more chores at home as my mother started living at halmoni’s place. I would still see hamoni every now and then. Only now, those eyes that had once been so pleased by my presence had grown glazed, indifferent, and at the worst moments, even suspicious. My “hi, grandma” would be answered with a prying and guarded “너누군니?” (“Who are you?”). Eventually, I started going over to her house only when my mother needed me to bring something. And even on those occasions, I wouldn’t see my grandmother. My
mother said that it was for the best until my halmoni “got better.”

It was on one such visit to halmoni’s house (delivering eggs) when my mother met me at the door, clutching a bloodied dishtowel to her thumb. She had cut it while preparing dinner and needed to run to the doctor’s house to have it stitched. Looking pale but calm, she explained that my halmoni had taken her nightly sleep aid and was now sleeping deeply in her room. “Sit in the living room,” she said. “Color or listen to the radio. Just keep watch over the house and I’ll come back very soon, ok?” Before I could say anything, she was already around the corner, clopping down the street in her house shoes.
Inside, I did as my mother had told me. I sat down in the living room and tuned the transistor to a music station. There was a creased coloring book and a rusted coffee can full of crayon stubs on the bookshelf. I pulled them down and started coloring in the the few remaining patches of white. But after about 20 minutes, I got bored. My mind drifted to the “Photo of Seoul” over in the bottom cabinet of the dresser. I took it out and inspected it as I always did, noting the long lacquered plank of the gayageum, my halmoni’s lustrous eyes, and the hanbok, that dazzling gown of pink and blue.

It was while looking at the photo that a truly blasphemous idea popped into my little 10-year-old brain. Chalk it up to all children (even the best-behaved ones) being opportunists at heart. But by combining the two factors of my mother’s wounded thumb and the sleeping pills that my halmoni had taken, I, little Eun-Young, made a startling discovery. I was alone. I mean really alone. At that moment, there were technically no adults in the house. In other words, there was no one to stop me from engaging in the one activity that was strictly forbidden in my halmoni’s house, namely, the wearing of her hanbok. Upon having this epiphany, I sat motionless for a few moments just staring in the direction of the tall dark wardrobe. It seemed to stare down at me, judging me for the crime that I was yet to commit. I switched off the radio, got up, crossed the room slowly and silently like a tight-rope walker and pulled the doors open. And there it was, already separated from the other garments, down at the end of the closet rod, in full sight, as if it had been waiting for me. After taking one long look at the door of my grandmother’s room, after listening harder than I ever had in my life for a footstep or a rustle of sheets, I unhooked the dress from the rod, pulled the plastic up over the top and slid it from its hanger. I got undressed and stepped into the hole of floor surrounded by the skirt, splayed out in rosy ripples across the vinyl floor. I pulled it up, resting the straps on my shoulders, then adorned the ivory blouse, and finally the blue vest. I tied the ceremonial knot in the ribbon on the front, then rustled over to open the bathroom door, the other side of which had a full-length mirror.

My initial reaction upon seeing myself in the glass was mixed. It didn’t fit perfectly as it had in all of my dreams. The sleeves were too long. I couldn’t even see my fingers. And the dress was pooled all around my ankles. Yet, there was still a sense of magic in wearing something so precious, so charged with memories. It had been to Seoul. The city lights had shone upon it; perhaps taxis had splashed puddle-water on its skirt. Dropping my nose to its hem, I imagined that I could even smell the steam and grime of the subway. What I’d give to go where you’ve been, I thought as I nuzzled the giant collar with my chin. With eyes closed, I swayed there before the mirror, lost in my daydreams and the –

“너누군니?” (“Who are you?”)

I spun around to find someone (or something) standing in the doorway of my grandmother’s bedroom. It wore no pants or shoes. Only a large baggy diaper and a floral shirt with stains all across the front of it. Its arms and legs looked to be nothing but bone, covered in thin layers of bruised sagging skin. And the face. My God. The bottom row of gray crooked teeth jutted out from between two cracked and scowling lips. Red scratches and brown scabs covered its cheeks and forehead. One of the eyes was blackened, making the great staring orb in the center all the more piercing. Tilting its head back, it stared down the length of its prominent nose at me with that one large eye. My breath caught in my throat. I remember thinking that it was the most frightening creature I had ever seen.

“What are you doing in my HOUSE?!”, it wailed. The final word crackled with spit. It lisped as if there was something wrong with its tongue.

My house? I thought. What does it mean by my house? At the time, I was too frightened and shocked to put the pieces together (the diaper, the familiar shirt, the past month of not seeing my halmoni even once), to realize that the thing I was staring at was none other than my own grandmother. Because I couldn’t make the connection, my young mind came to the quick conclusion that this “kway mool” (and, indeed it was a “monster”) had broken into the house. What’s more, it seemed convinced that it belonged there. Not only was it a monster. It was also insane.

It took one step over the threshold of the bedroom, never taking its eyes from mine. “What do you want?!,” it hissed. “Money?! Jewelry?!” It dragged its bare feet forward another step. Instinctively, I backed up, but the bathroom door was still open behind me. I couldn’t go any further. Another step. “My dress?!,” it screeched. “Is that what you want?!” Its large wrathful eyes drifted down and ran greedily along every line and fold of the hanbok. Long ragged breaths broke from its chest. The smell of urine and decay wafted across the room from where it stood.

It stopped for a moment under the fluorescent light in the middle of the ceiling. The electric glare lit its withered limbs, but a wild nest of hair atop its head kept any light from reaching its face. Mouth, nose, cheeks, and chin seemed to disappear, leaving only the eyes…eyes that I’ll never forget until the day I die. They were the eyes of a creature that had strayed beyond the boarders of reason, sanity, and hope. Eyes that had seen hell and wanted nothing more than to do harm, to share the pain that was too great for them to carry alone.

“That dress,” it said, pointing a twitching finger at me. “TAKE OFF THAT DRESS!!!,” it roared. Mechanically, my fingers shot down to my chest and began fumbling with the knot on the front. But having never worn a hanbok before, I had tied the knot incorrectly. I couldn’t get it undone. No matter how I burrowed my fingernails under the folds, it wouldn’t loosen.

I looked down for just a second. When I looked back up, the thing had started to charge. With both arms outstretched, it ran towards me screaming. But at the last instant, I ducked to one side. The thing crashed full force into the mirror, hitting its head and shattering the glass. It bent forward, clutching its face and whining. When it took its hands away, I saw that the mirror had sliced it across the forehead. Blood dribbled down, covering its eyes, nose, and cheeks. It looked around for a moment, dazed. But when it caught sight of me, cowering in the opposite corner of the room, its bloodied face curled into a grotesque scowl. With another scream, it ran at me. Fortunately, a door leading to the back yard was just to my left. I flung it open and ran out behind the house. A path lead off into the woods to a square of cement where my halmoni kept rows of “onggis,” large earthen pots used for storing kimchi, daenjang, and other types of food. Having played among the pots for years, I knew that most of them were full. But a few particularly large ones near the back were empty. My halmoni kept gardening supplies in those.

I heard a snap of branches and a thud somewhere behind me. Looking over my shoulder as I ran, I saw that the kway mool had tripped and fallen, likely from blood running into its eyes. That gave me time to run to one of the three largest onggis, remove the heavy ceramic lid, pull out all of the shovels and gloves, and lower myself into a crouched position inside before replacing the top. From a chipped section in the lid, I was able to see out onto the path and the rows of pots in front of mine. Within a few seconds, the thing stumbled into view there on the path, in front of the onggis. Its face, hands, and shirt were covered in blood. After making a tentative glance further down the path, it turned its attention to the pots. Growling and breathing hoarsely, it began lifting lids from atop the onggis and tossing them onto the ground. There were about 20 pots altogether and I knew that it wouldn’t be long before it reached the back row and discovered me. I clasped a hand to my mouth to stifle the sobs that broke from me uncontrollably. Another lid crashed onto the concrete. And another. Wiping blood from its face, the kway mool grunted, lifted the top of another pot, and checked
inside. Crash! Then another. Crash! Another. Crash! Another.

Then there were only the three large pots remaining. I reached down near my ankles, feeling for any object that I had missed while clearing out the onggi, anything that could be used as a weapon. But my fingers came up with only dirt and sand. I prepared to spring out as soon as the lid was lifted off.

Then, just as the kway mool prepared to lift the lid of the onggi beside mine, a cry came from down the path, near the house. “어마!” (“mother!”), it screamed. It was my mother’s voice. “Eun-Young!,” it cried again. Footsteps thudded down the path. My mother arrived at the pots and screamed when she saw the filthy bloodied creature. But to my surprise, she cried out “어마!” again and ran to it. She embraced it, stroked its face with her bandaged hand, and checked the wound on its forehead. And all at once, the kway-mool that had shown such ferocity and rage moments before became dazed, bewildered, and docile. Its thin mud-spattered legs shook as if they’d give out at any moment. The diaper it wore was sagging and over-saturated. Its cold white feet matched the color of the concrete upon which it stood. Suddenly, it became the most pathetic thing that I had ever seen.

Stumbling towards my mother like a child wanting to be held, it suddenly sobbed “My hanbok! How can I compete without my hanbok?” It reached my mother and the two held one another. A cold wind whistled around them through the tall moaning trees. The orange sun dipped behind the treeline and the forest darkened. “Please!,” it begged my mother. “Bring back my hanbok! How can I win the competition without it? How can I win and get out of this horrible town?!”

At that point, in a state of exhausted confusion, I straightened up inside the pot and lifted the lid off of the onggi. My mother caught sight of me. When she saw the soiled hanbok, her teary befuddled eyes settled into a troubled stare of realization. Without being told, she seemed to know what had happened. “Are you alright?,” she asked over the creature’s shoulder. I nodded. “Then run to the house and call an ambulance for your halmoni.” And at that moment, as I clambered out of the pot, my young mind made the connection, arrived at the realization that had been blooming since my mother had called the kway mool “어마.” Before running to make the call, I stopped in front of my mother and the “kway mool.” Our eyes met. Mine and those of that shivering injured beautiful woman whom I’d known my entire life. My halmoni. My very sick halmoni. When she saw the hanbok, she crumbled into fresh sobs and pointed towards the garment with folded hands as if begging. Fingering the now dirty dress, I looked up at her. “I…I’ll wash it for you,” I said, “and return it in the morning. I know that you need it for the competition.” She nodded. Sobbing, she whispered “내”(“Yes”). And with that promise, I dashed down the path, letting the tears come as I ran.
My grandmother would never return home from the ambulance ride that evening. After having her forehead stitched up at the hospital, she was placed in a special facility where she’d be less likely to harm herself as per the doctor’s recommendation. She stayed there for three months. Often she’d be in a medicated state of sedation, usually following a particularly violent episode. When she wasn’t sedated, her moods would shift between two extremes. There were the fits of rage and bouts of agitation, sure. But as she approached death, her disposition during the final month became characterized more by a heavy look of loss and sadness. She’d spend hours by the window, her watery eyes squinted and darting about as if trying to piece something together. Speech eventually left her. When she did speak, it often came out as a jumble of incoherent sounds. We looked to the tone of what she said to determine its meaning. Most of the time, it was sad or inquiring. Asking a question or commenting on something or someone long since gone.

There was, however, one thing that was always sure to raise her spirits. Her hanbok. From the morning when I first brought it freshly-cleaned to the facility, until the day she died, just looking at that dress put a smile on her face. All of the anger, sadness, or bewilderment that she might have been feeling would melt away at the sight of it. Even after she lost her grasp on the names of people and things, my halmoni’s broken mind showed enough mercy to afford her one memory…her trip to Seoul. Even a week before her death, you could lean close to her lips and distinguish single soft words whispered on the air of her breath: “가야금”(“gayageum”). “대회”(“contest”) “이길요”(“win”). And as she spoke, her small thin fingers would strum invisible strings in the air over her hospital bed.

Upon halmoni’s death, my mother let me in on a secret that my grandmother had told very few people during her life: She had never really gotten over losing that contest in Seoul. She had seen it as her ticket out of Jinhae, a town which (like me), she had found a bit too small for her dreams. Placing in that contest would have meant automatic acceptance into one of the top traditional music conservatories in Seoul. It would have meant escape from the life of a fisherman’s wife, a fate that was likely to befall her were she to stay in Jinhae. She may have held her head high upon returning to Jinhae after losing the contest. But she cried at night for months afterwards over her perceived failure. With her parents having no money to pay for a university education, my halmoni did end up staying in Jinhae where she married my grandfather, a kind but close-mouthed fisherman. She gave birth to four children and, over the years, she seemed to obtain what some might call a sense of happiness or at least contentment.

But with the onset of the Alzheimer’s, my mother in particular discovered how haunted my halmoni had been most of her life by that missed chance in Seoul so many years before. “That’s why she’d never move out of Jinhae,” my mother told me, looking down. “After losing that contest, she became terrified of failure to the point where she refused to try anything new. Although you never saw that side of her, Eun-Young, she was a hardened pessimist at heart.” At that point, my mother walked over to the closet in our house and unhooked my halmoni’s hanbok from within. It had been kept there since her passing. My mother brought it over to me and laid it in my lap. “Your halmoni and I both know how much you loved it,” she said. “I think she would have wanted you to have it, Eun-Young.” It felt so heavy sitting there on my legs, so full, thick, and charged with memories and meaning.

I won’t lie. The dress also inspired a degree of fear in me. At that young age, I couldn’t help but continually associate the dress with that night, the night I had seen my halmoni deranged and deformed into something ugly and unrecognizable. Seeing the hanbok, I invariably saw the “thing” that had taken the form of my beloved grandmother. Though the memories grew duller over time, my dreams were haunted well into my teenage years by the “kway mool” and the wide watery hate of its eyes. I’d dream that it was hunkered in a dark corner of my bedroom at night, mumbling something as it slid blood clots and strands of hair between its dirty fingers. Suddenly, it would grunt and shoot a glance over at me. As it started to stand up, I’d try to squirm out of bed and realize that I was wearing the hanbok. And for some reason, the hanbok was heavy, so heavy that I couldn’t move with it on. Once it had reached its full height, the kway mool would just stand there for a moment, looking at me with those big mean eyes ringed in bruises and blood. A bestial screech would break from its lungs and it would stomp across the room at me. And just before it reached my bed, I’d wake. I never told my family about the nightmares. But for eight years, I never took the hanbok out of my closet…never even looked at it for fear that it would bring back memories of the monster.

Then, during my senior year of high school, I received a letter offering me a large scholarship to a prestigious university in Seoul. For some reason, the moment I opened the letter, my halmoni’s hanbok came to mind. And all at once, I knew what needed to be done with it. I packed the dress and brought it to Seoul with me when I moved into my dorm. On the night when my final exams ended for the semester, I took the subway out to Bukhansan National Park. There, among the pines, I gathered some stones into a circle and filled the center with leaves and branches. From a duffle bag, I pulled out my halmoni’s hanbok and placed it there in the middle. Within two minutes of lighting the kindling underneath, the ivory sleeves of the dress were winged with flame. After the gauzy undergarment of the skirt caught, the fire poured up over the vest and engulfed the entire dress.

As it hissed and cracked, I looked up above the smoke, above the treetops, and imagined a young woman starstruck and giddy, thrumming the heavy strings of a gaygeum before a stern city audience. I saw her years later as a sad gentle woman with graying hair who stole glances at a photo kept in the bottom cabinet of a dresser once her children had gone to bed. Then came a spindly old woman warped and contorted by disease and age. So mangled became she by her own mind that her own granddaughter didn’t recognize her and mistook her for a monster. Finally, I saw her withered and dying in a hospital bed with the garbled remnants of a dream murmured on her breath. To all of these women, I said, “I’ve brought your hanbok home, Halmoni. Jinhae is far behind. I have escaped that dirty old town for the two of us. And here I will live for you and me both.”

And with these words, the monster died.

Credit: Daniel DuBois

The Asylum

January 9, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Far beyond the reaches of our Earth, amongst the eternal aether of the cosmos, lasts beings of true power and magnitude who lay beyond the comprehension of our minds. Beings that shape and warp the fabric of space, and distort the reality in which we live. To gaze upon their eyes is to gaze upon the eyes of infinity. To describe their figure is to describe the universe. To witness their power is to witness the power of the cosmos.

I was but only a young man when I was first stricken with the devilish fever that had previously claimed my family. I was to be considered lucky, as the great Plague of Bloodletting did not bring about my end. It was only the insanity and fear of the cosmos that came with it that ailed me, and that insanity ails me to this very day. To my kin, the true fever and pain of the Plague would be their end. My mother was the first to go, she had sliced her wrists in a fit of hysterical madness while my sister and I were away at school. It was my father who found her, falling to her body in a futile struggle that some divine interaction would bring them back together. As it turned out, that divine interaction would simply be the contact of my mother’s tainted blood.

On the night that my father expired, the swelling of blood to his brain caused, what I had first believed to be delusions, visions of great cosmic and aetherial horrors. Fearing their awesome power over the mind of man, he too took to the blade, ending his life face down in a pool of plagued blood. My sister was awoken by his fit of insanity and treaded barefoot into his room, but before the light of her candle could illuminate the void of the room, her feet felt the blood, and she knew.

I was the only one who could care for my sister, as we had no other family. Having turned fourteen the month prior, my sister was a small, frail child who could be frightened merely by the sight of her own shadow. She did not last as long as mother or father, who fought the Plague for nearly a week. My sister hardly last beyond the third day, and a part of me wishes I never witnessed the fourth.

I shall refrain from describing how my sister passed, as the brutality and gore of the event left me in such fragile mind that I was admitted to the Providence Asylum of the Insane. It was here that I first began to experience the true nature of the Universe and its unforgiving forces. As I mentioned, I was stricken with fits of madness and insanity, but not by the Plague. If such were the case, I believe this manuscript would not be here, to unleash the knowledge of horrors that it holds.

It was during the first month of my admittance into the hospital that I met an artist by the name of Joseph B. Wilcox. I never learned the reason that Joseph too was admitted to the hospital, only that he felt the need to be there to protect someone, be it himself or family. He was a tall, skinny fellow, a neatly cut head of brown hair, and a pair of delicate blue eyes. His hands were soft and slender, like that of a woman’s, a clear sign that he prefered the intellectual arts of painting and clay sculpting over the more physical and manual labours of other young men of his age.

We became quick friends, realizing that we were of the more stable bunch within the hospital. Joseph would tell stories of life in the small village outside of Providence, whose name escapes my thought, and would often gift me with small sketches to decorate the drab and numbing room in which I stayed. I would tell stories of working in the family shop behind the counter to help reach the jars of sweets that neither my mother or sister could reach, or of the kind old woman who often came to purchase candles and soaps, and how she would always find my youthful exuberance a charming quality I should not let go of so easily.
Twas the night of March 8th when Joseph entered my room, his footsteps slow and monotonous as he crept to my bedside. I did not hear him enter, I only felt has he laid one of his feminine hands on my arm and shook me. When I awoke to see him standing over me, I shot up, frightened by the scarred and blood stained face that stood before me.
In his madness, Joseph had crafted a shiv from his bed frame and carved queer sigils along his face and arms. His eyes were bloodshot and his mouth curled into a sinister smile. He placed the shiv on my lap and laid his hand on my shoulder, whispering some sort of terrible mantra into my ear. His hand drifted to the shiv and he beckoned me to join him in a Paradise lost a millennium ago. Blood drained from my face and I felt my arms grow cold as I witnessed a wretched abyss manifest beyond him, and what seemed like that which is beyond the normal world.
A rush of hatred and anger overtook me as I plunged the shiv into his gut, the gargled and raspy voice of my once-friend slowly fading as he fell limp on the molded and rotting floor. Fear overtook as I was too terrified to remove my eyes off the body before me. When I finally broke the trance and looked up, the asylum of which I was confined had warped and twisted into a vista of blackened skies and gray earth below me.

Above the vast Purgatory that I stood floated a being that still haunts me in my thoughts and memories of it, and maddens me in my dreams of it. Swirling, churning, gurgling, and writhing like a mass of blackened earth worms in a rotting corpse was the Daemon Sultan, who so repugnantly controlled the Skies and Cosmos as one. I was amongst a land of predators, and I was not worthy enough to even be thought of as prey. I felt as the frail mind of mine shattered, my eyes rotting from the sight of such an eldritch terror that no man would ever know.
The wardens found Joseph’s body and the shiv under my cot, and there was no fighting what was already apparent. The horrors I witnessed remain with me in life, and when my body shall soon convulse in the noose place around my wretched throat by the hangman, so too shall the horrors assault me in death, for Earth is not our home. Our Earth is merely an asylum of the fragile minded who are too weak to gaze upon the awesome terror and power of the Universe.


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