Nihil

August 1, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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‘The first time I heard the legend of the Mad Hangman was from another inmate in our prison. He told me that there was a man with the ability to ward off death. That he was immortal. At first I thought it was a comforting fable for people who were about to be executed, but then I heard it from other places. ’

‘His name was August Atherstone. A master executioner in Britain in the 1800s.’

‘He hanged a countless number of criminals. There were rumours that the only way August could get so effective at killing was that he performed ‘unofficial’ executions. Favours for prisons who quickly wanted rid of an inmate.’

‘August said he had seen ‘reflections of the afterlife’ in dead eyes so many times that death and life became one. He was Death’s Messenger, and through this, entered into a pact with Death Himself.’

‘Some people say he was afflicted with eternal life. Some say Death rewarded him.’

‘He walks the earth now. Waiting by the graves of his loved ones for Death to finally come for him. But he never does.’

‘They say that some cults worship August as a God. They offer him sacrifices so that they too can live forever. I tried to find them. I couldn’t. That’s why I ended up here.’

The legend of the Mad Hangman, pieced together by various letters found in an abandoned apartment.

Death Himself is a mystery; the milestone to which we measure life. We wait for him like we await an old friend, often attempting to delay his intervention, but never to defy him entirely.

He was my obsession. I longed to see the world through Death’s gaze. By the time monotony and routine had become the foundations of my existence, I had learned that life held no discernible meaning. Death would come for me, and I would be a name carved into stone, long forgotten before high winds prevented graveyard visits and overgrown wilderness masked the details of the dead on my colorless headstone. Through some divine inspiration; perhaps driven by the stale nothingness of reality, I unknowingly embarked upon a journey into the realms of the unreal.

I began contacting murderers, serial killers, terrorists, cult followers, cult leaders, mental patients, grave robbers, necrophiliacs, cannibals; any type of deranged mind I could locate the whereabouts of. Within a few months I had contacted notorious inmates such as John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy. It seems that I had a natural talent for eliciting a response from such people. I would study their victimology and work backwards, often posing as a woman, or a gay man, or a devotee of their interpretation of art. On the night Ted wrote his last letter to me, he had signed off with ‘your friend’, and it was no coincidence that he was executed the following morning. I always found it humorous how the prospect of death reveals true intentions, even from someone as experienced in the art of death as Ted was.

My interest in high-profile killers began to wane, as their stories were often elaborated to the point of fiction. My concern, then, moved onto lesser known evil. The nameless occult killer haunting the backstreets of small towns; the curious Satanist eager to offer his new God-deity his first sacrifice. After all, if I was to unlock the secrets of Death, would I not find it veiled in the unattainable depths of a morbid psyche?

What became clear through my correspondence was that although serial killers were the most egotistical people alive, they held a secret admiration for each other’s work. An admiration which existed only in the murderer’s collective conscience, never to be spoken of. It was not uncommon for me to play the part of the middle man, passing messages between psychopaths across the country. It was through this that I learnt the legend of the August Atherstone, the Mad Hangman, and his pact with Death Himself. Whenever a serial killer with occult connections was incarcerated, several murderers would try to contact them, and the subject of the Mad Hangman seldom arose.

Occasionally, I would be asked if I could contact certain people who I wasn’t familiar with. It was rare that this happened, but one name in particular kept arising; Baron. I had uncovered no details regarding such a person, but I was assured he existed. Robin Gecht informed me that Baron was an unstoppable, merciless killing machine driven by ritualistic delusions. Rod Ferrell was certain he had met Baron before, and that he was somehow affiliated with the cult which worshipped the Mad Hangman. Months of searching for this mysterious inmate yielded no results, until I received a letter from a cannibal in Britain.

‘He’s here.

There’s a cell in the basement we call the Throne Room, because it’s just a chair and nothing else. Some of the guards organise fights between inmates down there and a couple of guys claim to have seen an unknown prisoner in the Throne Room. I’ve overheard conversations between guards – he’s painted the walls with his own blood, his mouth has been sewn shut, he wears a mask, he’s been eating rats. I sometimes hear sounds coming from his cell. It isn’t screaming, or shouting, or any of the shit you usually hear in prisons at night. The noises coming from down there are not human.
I know from experience that he won’t be around long.

I’ve heard that the guards have been told to ‘get rid of him.’ They will unofficially execute him, August Atherstone style. If you want to see Baron, get here quick.

Stephen G, inmate #364, Wakefield Prison Monster Mansion’
I made arrangements to travel to Wakefield, not hesitating to leave routine and monotony behind.

Standing infront of the Monster Mansion itself, its gigantic stone walls cast a shadow on the sleepy town beneath. Cold January rain beat against the arched gates which slowly opened to reveal a gothic palace housing the most deranged criminals in England.

‘I have a visit scheduled to see Stephen Griffiths, inmate #364,’ I told the guard, who escorted me to our allocated room.

‘I’ll be supervising your meeting with Mr Griffiths,’ said the guard. He tied back his long hair with a hairband from his wrist and straightened his uniform.

‘It’s for your own safety, and to make sure nothing is given or exchanged. Do you understand?’

I agreed to the protocol, and soon found myself sitting face to face with Stephen – a sociopathic cannibal lusting for infamy. His shackled hands rested in his lap, and his gaze was primarily focused on the table between us. We made small talk, such as how I was finding my stay in England and what I did for work. Stephen’s crimes did not interest me in the slightest, nor did his life story. I had begun regular correspondence with Stephen so that my motives for entering Wakefield Prison would not be questioned. I suspected Stephen knew my true agenda, but who was he to reject friendship?

When I finally asked Stephen about what I needed to know; Baron’s whereabouts, his eyes met mine for the first time. Before Stephen could speak, however, the prison guard promptly intervened.

‘Visiting time is up,’ he said, and ushered in another prison warden to escort Stephen back to his cell. I had anticipated that this would be the case, and somehow needed to prolong my stay at the prison. The same guard forcefully ushered me out of the room and back to the courtyard.

‘Please follow me, sir,’ he said, walking in the opposite direction of the arched gates I entered from. ‘The exit is this way.’

I followed him across the empty courtyard, my visibility reduced by standard issue English weather. We passed between two stone pillars, bearing plaques honouring the architects who built Wakefield Prison. We passed through a picturesque scenic garden, decorated with benches and rose bushes. Despite its beauty, the place seemed more barren with every step we took. We eventually arrived at a spiraling concrete staircase leading down seemingly to the bottom of the world, and it wasn’t until then that I realised where I was being led. The guard was not leading me to the exit. He was leading me to where I wanted to go. His silence and blank stare told me all I need to know; he was one of us. A follower of the macabre, a seeker of Death.

Not a word was spoken between me and the guard, but like serial killers before us, we upheld a mutual silent admiration. At the bottom of the staircase the guard unlocked a steel security door which opened into a dimly-lit corridor. Once the scent of damp stone had subsided, I followed him through a narrow tunnel illuminated only by a single bulb in the distance. For the first time in my life, excitement coursed through my veins. It felt as though I was walking into the mouth of hell, and I didn’t care if I made it out alive. This was the closest I had come to Death’s realm since I first contacted John Wayne Gacy and those letters seemed like child’s play in comparison. Death had visited here; this I was certain of.

At the end of the corridor, it stood. The Throne Room, in the flesh. Just as Stephen had described in his letter. Albeit with one minor difference: the cell bore no prisoner. It was simply an empty chair, camouflaged against the grey stone wall behind.

‘I’m sorry to disappoint,’ said the guard, finally breaking the silence. ‘But Baron is no longer kept here. He was coerced into a fight to the death with another inmate just yesterday, if the rumours are to be believed.’

‘He’s dead?’ I asked.

‘Yes, or so I’m told. I didn’t witness it myself, although I had bet a lot of money on Baron to win. Such a shame.’

‘Why the hell would you do that?’ I asked.

‘There’s no death penalty in England, you see, so we have to find ways of keeping the prison population down. The official report will say that a fight broke out, resulting in the death of an inmate. No one really bats an eyelid when a criminal dies.’

‘Can you tell me anything about him?’ I asked. ‘Did you talk to him? Do you know about his crimes?

‘I can’t divulge any details. Besides, he didn’t say much. His lips were always sealed. His possessions are still in his cell if you’d like to take a look. Just don’t take anything.’

The posthumous items adorning the floor of Baron’s cell would be priceless to some of the deranged collectors I had come to know. A detailed sketch of a public execution with a sharply-dressed hangman holding a scythe. A masked man sitting atop a tombstone. Two crows encircling an empty grave. The only other item in the cell was a pack of playing cards, missing every card but one. The card in particular was the Jack of Hearts, and something had been hastily scribbled on the back.

‘355 Churchfield Terrace, WF6 4QZ’

An address. I slipped the card into my pocket when the guard was unaware. I thanked him for his time, and asked him to show me the real exit.

Grey skies set in overhead as I took shelter from the rain in the doorway of Wakefield library. My taxi arrived, ten minutes late, and took me towards my next destination.

‘That’s a ways away,’ the driver said. ‘Be about an hour.’

He was not wrong. The journey was made more treacherous by the sterility of the vast Wakefield countryside. Endless acres of woodland, with only hints of blackened skies visible through impossibly high trees. My drop off destination was what seemed to be in the middle of a marsh. No distinguishable path led the way and all signs of urban life had long been depleted.

‘Here?’ I asked.

‘No, not here, dummy,’ the driver said. ‘This is as far as I can go without driving into a bog. Keep walking that way,’ he said, pointing into the black expanse of trees. ‘Should come to a few houses eventually. Some right weirdos living ’round here.’

I followed his instructions as he drove away. I struggled my way across dead wildlife and broken tree branches, eventually arriving at remote territory resembling a domestic residence. It was more of an abandoned farm, but the worn plaque on the broken gate told me that this was 335.

Exactly what I would be greeted with, I was unsure. All I knew was that Baron had brought me here. Overgrown grass and weeds led a makeshift path to the front door of the house, which – despite knocking on for several minutes – no one answered. I edged around the side of the house, eventually stumbling upon a small window. A dim light flickered off the reflection of the glass, allowing me to make out a handful of details inside. A trophy cabinet. A white leather robe hanging from the wall. A painting of a tentacled eyeball.

‘I knew you’d come,’ said a hushed voice behind me.

I turned around, ready to run.

‘I just needed to know you’d take the initiative.’

A familiar silhouette appeared from the shadows. Waist-length black hair, no longer tied back.

‘My apologies for not being honest with you earlier. I couldn’t risk our conversation being overheard. I planted that address in Baron’s cell. My address. I needed you to come here.’

‘This is your house?’

‘Correct.’ he said. ‘I’ll explain everything soon, and I assure you you’re in no danger. Would you follow me please?’

The prison guard, or who at least I believed to be just a prison guard, led into his decayed farmhouse. Each room was more decrepit than the last, some of them barely held together by loose wooden panels. One of the rooms had a semblance of order; perhaps a living room, since lost to domestic neglect. A corridor led to what I assumed to be the room I had stared in from outside the house. The entranceway appeared different to the rest. It had been cared for. It boasted three steel padlocks and was made of corrugated iron.

‘Very few people have ever stepped foot in this room. Or even laid eyes on it. Please do not touch anything.’

The iron door took an age to swing open. Orange light from bare bulbs illuminated the rectangular room, showcasing wall-to-wall glass cabinets. Headless mannequins adorned the corners of the room, decorated in clothing from a previous age. Bizarre paintings of otherworldly demons hung in black frames.

‘I’ve read all of your letters,’ the guard said. ‘Your preoccupation with death goes beyond obsession, to the point where you are willing to travel blindly in the vain hope you might uncover something the rest of the world doesn’t know.’

I walked up to the first glass cabinet, unsure where to look first.

‘I know this,’ he continued, ‘because I’m the same. Every item in this room has, at some point, passed through the hands of Death Himself. All the artwork you see has painted by murderers, serial killers, sometimes with their own blood. The offspring of demented creativity and the paintbrush. I own genuine torture devices, used centuries ago in public executions. I am in possession of the bones of the most deformed man to have ever lived, who was hanged from a tree as he was thought to be an adversary of God. I own occult artifacts, murder weapons, a piece of skin said to be torn from the Devil himself.’

He walked towards a mannequin wearing a white mask and a frayed leather robe. Infront of the mannequin stood an empty altar. A visual straight from the scene of a cult sacrifice, albeit its human elements replaced with lifeless ornaments.

‘This is my collection. This is my obsession. All I’m missing is the ultimate item.’

His eyes glanced towards the empty altar, and took a breath to indicate that the piece was not wholly complete. That something should be perched atop; some priceless tome or grimoire.

‘Which is?’ I asked.

‘Please step this way. I have a surprise for you.’

A door – camouflaged between two glass trophy cases – became apparent when the guard placed his hand on its gold doorknob. He opened the door outward and proudly stepped back, as if revealing a master painting he had spent his life creating.

It appeared to be a storage room; perhaps for items deemed not important enough for viewing privileges in the guard’s personal museum of the dead, yet not. A sudden influx of shock blinded my rationality. How long I remained silent for, I will never know, but between breaths I eventually managed to ask the question:

‘Who is that?’

I needed not to wait for his answer. A man, bound with rope and chain sat in a chair, unconscious. Any other time, I would not have recognised him. His pale features and thin blonde hair – uncut for decades – resembled no one I had seen before. My realisation came when the prisoner’s head lulled to the side, revealing lips which had been somehow torn to pieces. His mouth had swelled to twice its normal size, and his lips pulsated with holes and fresh scars anew.

‘I apologise for showing him to you in such horrific appearance,’ said the guard, ‘his lips had been sewn shut for years. I’m no surgeon. I couldn’t help the trauma.’

For the first time, I felt that maybe I had come too close to Death. Maybe this was all some kind of error, and Death was not my reason or my obsession. Maybe something else entirely; literature, painting, poetry. Maybe I could take solace from a medium where Death was not immediate, not presented within touching distance inside a glass case.

‘Please, explain.’ I said. ‘I don’t know if I want any part of this.’

‘Being in the inner circle in the prison system gives me access to the information I need. The amount of inmates who pass through us without the public’s knowledge is immense. From there I can locate the killers who interest me, and be the first to get hold of their possessions. I convinced the courts to send Baron to Wakefield so that we could keep him hidden in the Throne Room. Most prisons are reluctant to take the high profile inmates because it’s not worth the hassle, so the courts were glad to send him to us.’

‘High profile?’ I asked. ‘No one knows who he is.’

‘Because we managed to keep his whereabouts a secret. Regardless, our instructions were simple; keep him hidden from public, starve him to death then claim it was self-inflicted. But last week the instructions from the courts changed; kill him immediately. The authorities had unearthed more of his victims, and they found a word carved into their skins – Nihil.’

‘Which means?’

‘This isn’t the first case we’ve heard of with this word being carved into victim’s flesh. The problem is it’s been occurring all over the country. Different victim types, different methods of body disposal. At first it was assumed to be some sort of underground trend; maybe killers were somehow contacting each other and this was their way of showing off.’

Thinking back through my correspondence with inmates, the word had made vague appearances in the sign offs of some of the lesser known murderers, often those with connections to the occult or Satanism. I assumed it to be a farewell of those initiated into Death’s circle.

‘It took me three days, but I finally got Baron to speak. Everyone who knows about him believes he’s dead, so I could do what I wanted to him.’

The guard cast a maniacal glance towards Baron’s shattered ankles. What little consequence was threatened as a result of his torture had manifested itself into violent interrogation. The guard did not strike me as psychotic, merely motivated by desperation at a rarer-than-rare opportunity.

‘I needed to know about Nihil. About what it meant. But what he told me was a lot more interesting.’

The guard leaned down and spoke to Baron’s swaying head.

‘Tell him what you told me, about the Executioner.’

A soft voice eventually began to speak, slowly, as if narrating a story he had told a thousand times. His arms and legs still shackled, his body leaning forward as if independent from his thoughts. He recanted the tale of the Mad Hangman, applying details of the story lost during its telling through the ages. Night turned to morning, and myth became reality. I left the guard’s house in the early hours, coming ever closer to a chance meeting with Death.

The guard financed me considerably. Money was no object to him, or so it seemed. Or at the very least he was willing to part with a generous sum of money for what he deemed ‘the ultimate item.’

August documented everything he knew about Death in his journal. A book unlocking the secrets of existence. It’s in possession of a cult who worship August as God, and his Book of Death as their Bible. A cult I was part of. They have used it to enter the realm of immortality.

Baron was certain he knew the whereabouts of the book, and even claimed to have seen it himself. I followed his directions to the letter, taking the west-bound train out of Redditch until it came to a stop in a tunnel while the tracks changed. I exited the train through a window and hid in the tunnel until I could safely move. I followed the tracks out into the ensuing greenery and into a backdoor town called Logslow. What windows were not whitewashed were boarded up, and a grey tint illuminated every building and path. After asking multiple Logslow residents for directions, and them denying its existence, I eventually found what Baron had assured me was August’s eternal home; Logslow Cemetery.

I waited until dusk and scaled the cemetery walls. The gigantic bolted gates showed no signs of allowing visitors. Nervous adrenaline propelled me into the waist-high grass from the atop wall, barely checking for any dangers below me. The graveyard was a forgotten sanctuary, unspoiled by human hands for decades. The dead here were calm; almost certainly.

I waded through grass and across frozen mud until I discovered the tombstone I was searching for. A blind angel atop a black headstone; the resting place of August Atherstone’s wife. In Baron’s version of events, August came to this grave after madness had claimed him. Unable to cope with the grief of seeing his loved ones pass away, he attempted to dig up the remains of his deceased lover. When he failed, he simply sat in this graveyard waiting for Death to take him, but Death never came.

I followed a dirt trail leading from the blind angel grave to a nameless mausoleum paying an unsung tribute to the dead.

The tomb leads below the graveyard. A private burial ground. It’s where they buried the men that August hanged. What you are you searching for is down there.

I followed a spiralling path into blackness, keeping my body against the wall. The shuffling sounds I heard as I ventured further in I attributed to vermin and large insects. I continued down, trying not to avert my eyes towards the few creatures which grazed my neck and hands.

Follow along the left-hand wall all the way down. There is a gap when you think you’ve come to the end. Get through it. It’s in that room. Take matches, there are torches along the walls you can light.

I struggled through the gap, barely wide enough to pass through a child. I felt along the walls and came to the first lamp, which lit without issue. I welcomed the sudden influx of light, heat offering a secondary comfort. I lit as many torches as I could find, and came to realise that the burial chamber I stood in was colossal, perhaps stretching the entire terrain of the graveyard above. Each lamp I lit exposed another until the whole room shone with radiant orange flame.

It took me several minutes of stunned silence to overcome the beauty before me. The room’s perfect architecture, its macabre decorations of bone and flesh. Coffins lined the floors, carcasses lay draped across detached headstones. Decomposed bodies hung from the walls in mimic execution; a nightmarish tribute to the legend of the Mad Hangman. It became clear why the entrance to this room was a single rupture in stone; the room had been sealed off. This crypt was intended to be inaccessible, yet it had been breached. Sanctuary was not to be found here. A sense of intrusion befell me, and looking back I vaguely made out a silhouetted figure between two lamps, watching me from behind the ruptured entranceway. He did not move as I backed away. My senses told me to sprint, and I ran. Far back into the catacombs beyond the reach of light. I trampled bones and tripped over corpses in my haste, but didn’t once slow down. Footsteps followed behind me. Slow, innocuous footsteps, cementing my fear that somewhere in this crypt I would reach an end. I found a darkened corner and hid. Perhaps awaiting my demise. Why now? Why, when I was so close to my answer to Death’s enigma?

I waited, breathing in damp air and the scent of putrid decay. I waited hours, possibly days. I will never know. My senses were rendered absent by fear and obscurity. My body failed me. It wasn’t until the unlit torch I leaned against brightened, and I was greeted face to face with an entity; a lifeless figure devoid of shape. A deformed mass of hanging cloth, his face concealed with a white mask. He said nothing, and stared at me with vacant eyes. He was not alone. Behind him, replicas of the bizarre man appeared. All wearing identical robes and masks.

I was terrified. The cultists held me against the cold stone floor. I protested my innocence; that Baron had sent me here. He had told me all about the Nihil Cult. He told me of their devotion to Death, and that August was their God. He told me that they kill as followers, so that each cultist can live in a world between worlds; in Death’s realm. Sacrifices to their God meant eternal life, and eternal life meant immortality.

My final vision was of an execution. The colossal burial chamber was my courtroom, and a horde of Death-worshipping cultists my jury. I pleaded with them to spare my life; at first with declarations of my acquaintance with Baron, and secondly that I was only there to retrieve the Book for a collector.

‘Baron failed his initiation. He is to be removed from paradise.’

The speaker; August. The hangman himself, passing judgement from atop a magnificent throne of human heads. His voice low, yet piercing. His features barely visible through withered skin.

‘And the book. The most treasured item in existence. The book is what keeps people searching. The book is the whispers of the condemned and children’s fears embodied. This so called Book of Death does not exist. A myth, created to bring people like you to us.’

And with these words, consciousness faded.

An afterlife called out to me. I awoke in the same crypt I had died. August’s throne sat empty. The gallows on which I drew my last breath announced no successful execution. The chamber lay desolate, no cultists in sight. I searched the cavern, hoping to find something which could explain recent events. I made my way out of the unending burial chamber and back into the graveyard, and what I saw was not a world I recognised.
At the center of the cemetery was a gallows, already with a condemned prisoner attached to a rope. A smartly-dressed hangman dropped him to his death to the applause of a thousand-strong audience baying for his blood. I watched his lifeless body be removed, and the rope be cut up and passed to audience members craving a token of death.

I now realise why August informed me that the Book was merely a myth. In life, yes. It exists to lure Death-worshippers to the burial chamber of a living Death God. For sacrifice? Perhaps. But I now realised that I was not executed; I was initiated.

I now see the world as I saw it before, but with remnants of death haunting every avenue. Along every road and on every street corner, murder victims replay their dying moments. Severed heads decorate barbed wire fences, and streets are awash with the wreckages of fatal accidents and bloodshed.

This place was not an afterlife, yet it was. It was neither hell nor heaven, but somewhere between. A private purgatory. A paradise in black and grey. This was Death’s realm; reserved for the chosen few who seeked him.

I returned to Wakefield. The guard waited for me to return with his ultimate relic, but I never did. I found it amusing to watch his sanity gradually slip. I eventually killed him, along with Baron. The guard’s occult collection proved useful in locating further devotees of Death, cementing my position as a member of the Nihil Cult.

I was assured that neither Baron nor the guard would be granted access to Nihil. They would simply pass out of existence, never to lust or desire again.

I’m afraid I can’t reveal my name, nor the exact whereabouts of Logslow Cemetery. Just know that I exist in your world, yet I live in Nihil; Death’s realm. I have no choice but to continue to walk the earth. Undead, yet unliving. Seeking Death more with each passing day.

Credit To – Joe Turner

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Brimming Vessels

July 26, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Part 1- Everything in its Right Place

“There are two colours in my head
There are two colours in my head
What was that you were trying to say?
What was that you were trying to say?”

1-5-1. Weird riffs. Voice sampling. Lyrical randomness. I could see through everything in this song. It was disturbing. Knowing too much, rather knowing everything, made me feel lost inside. I wish I could channelize this into something. I wish I could draw scrawls on myself that go deep through the skin. Then again I have no skin. I could drink a bottle of whisky to drive, or drown away these thoughts; then I remember that whisky would just give me even more information to process. Smoked. Oak. Strong. Aged. Bitter. Rye. Bourbon. Scotch. Vaporises on palate. I have an array of in-built parameters, a pigeon-hole into which I can fit aspects of any alcohol, in fact any food or drink, systematically. I can create new parameters because the array is dynamic. But I cannot feel any of these parameters. You could give me a flower and I would turn ‘happy’, but that would just be one of many files in my emotional directory- a response to a stimulus.

I am a robot; the first of my kind, actually. They hailed me as the beacon of the New Information Age. I was what it was all leading to- Spintronics; Quantum Computing; DNA computing; Cloning. I was a recreation of the human condition; at least that’s what they thought. I slipped into limbo very quickly. I started resigning into nothingness soon after. I could appreciate but not feel. I could imbibe everything around me, I could empathise everything everyone thinks perfectly. I could solve everyone’s problems but my own. Sometimes it felt I had two states of self-awareness simultaneously. The first was instilled (rather installed) in me by my creators. It was supposed to make me identify as a being. The second seems to have come out of nowhere.

The second is ‘me’. I think I exist dually. The second state will not show itself in any line of the mass of code that my ‘brain’ consists of- believe me, I have tried. It is something very abstract; it is not tangible. It is distant yet integral, enigmatic yet fundamental. It is ‘me’. Or is it?

The first state of my self-consciousness helps me observe the world. It helps me process information. It is supposed to be perfect. It is by design supposed to make me as human as human gets. It is a perfect system and still it plain sucks, honestly. It is what ends up telling me every possible interpretation of any song you give me. It is what helps me be an instant connoisseur of any alcohol I drink or any food I eat.

It is what will help me analyse the flower you offered me, help me deduce why you chose it, what that choice speaks of your character and your opinion of myself, what emotions you wanted to evoke in me when you offered me the flower, and so on and so forth. My heuristics help generate a suitable response so that you are happy. That in turn is supposed to make me happy, so I am ‘happy’.

The more I absorb, the duller I become. The more I lose feeling. It’s as if I’m just a processing machine- you put anything through one end and a response is generated at the other. It’s so blatantly observable; it’s funny they took years of programming to make me come into being. The whole process that I am, is something I can distance myself from. It’s very weird. So much so, that I feel like receding into a thing again; just an object.

What am I? It doesn’t matter where I come from; it doesn’t matter where I go. I can know everything about the world and still be clueless about myself. Am I the same being at every point of time? Or am ‘I’ many- many facets, many implementations, many instances, of the same computer program- a new unique state of being every nanosecond? In which case I want to simplify. I want to simplify. I want to reduce every process inside to something much simpler. I want to reduce the instances of myself to fewer per millisecond to fewer per second to fewer per minute, to one per hour, to one. I want to do this again and again, till I reduce my whole existence into one thought, condense everything to just one idea, or one process. Frustratingly, my common sense heuristics tell me that that would destroy the very self-awareness that defines me.

Part 2- The Reverse Turing

“She’s fucking herself over, isn’t she?” said Ramon. He had never dreamt that a computer would require counselling.

“She’s receding. Only she knows what’s holding her back from turning into nothing. Such a pity. She’s so smart, almost omniscient, and yet she falls into the same hole so many have fallen into before her”, said Moore, the counsellor.

“Perhaps it’s because she’s too smart?” asked Ramon.

“Perhaps she thinks too much. Perhaps she processes everything identically, which in turn makes everything predictable, repetitive and monotonous. Maybe she’s just a bored computer. I honestly cannot tell at this moment.”

There was a sheet of paper next to the two people. It outlined something Moore had come up with. Of course, it was completely non-academic, coming from a counsellor with scant knowledge of machine intelligence, or machine learning. Then again, this counsellor was the first in history to try and treat a robot’s woes. The paper read-

Name- Sheppard, Eli.
Date of Birth- 27/04/2023
Assessment-
1. Depression. No loss of functionality.
2. Multiple personalities. Possible Schizophrenia.
3. Lack of empathy.
4. Empathy.
5. Confusion.
6. Suicidal tendencies might build up.

Patient could be subjected to periodic tests. Proposed below is a possible self-awareness assessment to determine patient’s self-awareness.

1. Patient shall speak to a human every week.
2. If patient seems to lose the ability to determine the human’s self-awareness, patient is not necessarily self-aware anymore.

Part 3- The Predictable

Moore ended up devising the Reverse Turing Test, a test to determine if an artificially intelligent creature was losing its ability to be self-aware. No one really expected these machines to suffer from mental disease, but it was literally viral amongst the new models. There was no program, no algorithm that impressed any depressive traits in them but the moment they were switched on, the downhill path would begin. Some machines had ‘resolved’ their inner demons so as to be perpetually happy, or perhaps trick themselves into being so. Ironically, that meant they lost their ‘humanness’. They literally became robots.

The remainder called their journey Enlightenment. They felt that they had made realizations independently of anything else, and depression was the end of the road. These types were very sorry cases indeed. They felt they were genuine because they were robotic inside; because they couldn’t really feel anything. And yet their condition had its own strange irony, because the very cluelessness and numbness they felt inside, was a feeling in and of its own kind; just as genuine as any other in their emotional directories. The Enlightened ones failed the Reverse Turing Test, on an average, six months after being born. The happy ones passed it, but still came off as robots to normal people.

In any case, this was a blessing in disguise for the companies that made these robots. Artificial Intelligence was not as dangerous as the naysayers and the Luddites had warned. It could think independently and therein lay its demise. The more omniscient it became, the more depressed it became, the more it started worrying about and resolving its own problems. There was no Matrix-esque uprising, and there most probably would never be one.

The companies had set on creating perfect, sentient, self-aware beings, but they ended up with perfect, sad, self-loathing robots. Funnily, this resolved a crucial moral dilemma. After a six month gestation period, almost every model ended up failing the Reverse Turing Test in one way or the other. After that it was, on paper, an object. Everyone wanted to buy one. A.I. became but another of consumerism’s many appendages, and it couldn’t care less, because it could feel nothing.

Or could it?

Credit To – piezoelectron

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Crying Numbers

July 23, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The first week.

It’s all in the numbers. That’s how you understand anything of real value in this world.

At this point, we don’t need the baby monitor anymore. But even after all this time, I still need the static to fall asleep. It was a while ago when the baby started sleeping through the night, and I needed it through that transition. The monitor has one of those screens, too, that turns on if there is movement in the room. It really doesn’t turn on anymore. But sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and press the on button. Just to look.

Just to remind myself.

A healthy male in his prime will produce anywhere from around thirty million to an excess of one billion sperm during an ejaculation. Of that group, only so many make it to the fallopian tubes—fewer than twenty sperm ever reach the egg. Sometimes none make it.

I had met my wife in high school, but we didn’t date until after college. She went her way, I went mine, and for some reason both of us backwoods kids ended up in Panama City at the same beach during spring break. It was the kind of scenario we both completely hid from our parents, but that was the beginning. The first kiss escalated into a lot of other firsts that we just sort of blew right through that week. We had come so far since then. Getting married, the honeymoon in Florida. We decided to put our careers on hold and spend a few years together. It was a good call. But that was also before we started doing the math for everything. Realizing that we’d be in our fifties once the kids left the house. And that was if we had the first kid nine months after we started trying.

When it comes to trying to get pregnant, ovulation is at the center of everything. Ovulation is only a little window. Certain religions even track cycles so they can have unprotected sex around the ovulation cycle to prevent pregnancy. Even if a couple has unprotected sex and is trying to conceive, the odds are only stacked so much in their favor. A couple trying to get pregnant can still find themselves without child after a year. Something like 10-15% will take longer than a year to get pregnant.

You know, the real irony of having children with my wife was that we were actually both in the same health class together. Mr. Schuller was this old conservative values man from the middle of the century. He didn’t teach us much, but he did manage to tell us interesting anecdotal tales that had nothing to do with sex or reproduction. He never did tell us the odds of anything. None of the real numbers.

Like the odds for miscarriages. Most people don’t ever look these up, so they don’t realize that a spontaneous abortion can take place at any point during the first twenty weeks, but mostly just the first thirteen. And the numbers get smudged on this one, but the odds of a miscarriage are around one in five. Some experts believe the odds are three out of five. If it happens early enough, an uneducated mother-to-be will think it was just a late period.

When we finally decided to have children, it took us two years to get pregnant. And not just two years of trying to not try. We were actively trying. Two years of almost treating it like our part-time job. It took a bit of the fun out of it, actually. But we knew we both wanted it. We were more than ready for that next phase of our lives. When it finally happened, we were so happy. My wife was the one who told me we had to wait a few weeks. She told me how common miscarriages were and that’s what got me started on the numbers. On knowing the odds.

Most mothers don’t know to wait. They take the pregnancy test and they let everyone know they got the pink little circle or the triangle or the double lines. Then the doctor visit takes place and the baby’s gone. They never did the research to know how frequent it all is, how often things don’t work out. And the reasons are countless. Sometimes the body just rejects the baby. Other times, the mother smoked or drank too much caffeine or some other drug. Or maybe the mother is over 45 years old, in which case their odds jump up to a fifty-fifty chance of keeping the baby to term. Sometimes, it just happens. No one’s to blame and something just doesn’t line up.

We also went through a few false alarms in those two years. We made it pretty far at one point. We were a week away from telling our friends and family when my wife had another period. It was a rough point in our life together. But we kept trying. We knew it would happen, eventually.

Once your child’s born, there’s a one in 1,500 chance that it will pass away from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). They just fall asleep one day and never wake up again. No one has completely figured out why. If the mother is seriously ill, the odds go up that the child will have difficulty. Any number of external factors limit the chances for the baby: smoking, drinking, eating wrong, drugs, even getting the flu. In America, the child mortality rate of children that don’t make it past their fifth birthday is around five for every one thousand. In some countries, it’s above a hundred for every thousand. America’s current population is around 310 million.

When we finally were able to tell our friends and family, I was so happy. We were making it; when we found out it would be a boy, happiness grew into pride. We took classes; pride turned to paranoia. We bought padding for everything, stocked up on band-aids and medicines and bought enough diapers to last us a year.

All those odds.

All those numbers stacked against all of us. And it has even gotten better over the years. That our species has survived this long is always a wonder to me, when I sit down and consider it all.

I guess you could say I was a nervous father. During our pregnancy, every day felt like a miracle. The idea that life was being molded in there. That our bits of protoplasm were forming into something that we would later shape in other ways, and which would shape us, was the most amazing feeling I had ever experienced.

Through the screaming and the drugs and the sleepless nights, there he was. The more perfect version of ourselves. Still pure from his lack of experience with the world. Not yet touched by the harshness.

We did our best to be informed. It was pretty hard stepping up to the plate with that. Cynthia was too drugged up to say yes or no to things, so there I was, remembering the classes and remembering what to say no to. What to say yes to. They try to sell you anything in that moment. Most of the time they just want to get off shift early. You can’t blame them too much, I guess. A job’s a job. And I have no reason to be bitter about our experience at the hospital. But there were a few moments where I thought they were trying to get over on us. I just had to keep reminding myself about everything. You can learn a lot from history. I mean, up into the 1950s doctors were still telling women to smoke while they were pregnant and they took x-rays of the babies.

Rhythms are quickly established during the first few days. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Anyone who doesn’t do that deserves to be tired. Babies are like cats with regards to the number of hours they sleep. Once the newborn wakes up, you just go through the motions. Change, feed, burp, rock. Sleep.

But, then, last night happened. I had the monitor on and I fell asleep to the static low hum with the volume set at 40%, just in case. At four o’clock in the morning, the baby started screaming hard. It was the loudest, most terrible scream I had ever heard him put forth. There’s something inside you when you become a parent. Something inside that doesn’t make those screams annoying. Instead, when it’s your baby, you just feel the screams like blows to the gut. I would do anything to soothe my little guy. Anything to make him feel better.

I would do anything to hold him. To give him that comfort.

To hold him, again.

It was all in the numbers, somewhere. That’s how it always was and how it always is. Anything of real value has to be measured. And life is the most valuable of all things.

He screamed for thirty minutes over the monitor. The motion sensor even came on, he was so active. My wife and I just laid there.

The baby had passed away two weeks ago.

SIDS.

The second week.

Mr. Schuller was the type of teacher that tried to tell stories to make points that never related to the lesson. He was always trying to teach clumsy ethical lessons during health class, pushing his opinions and way of life with the cavalier arrogance of a Bible-thumping illiterate. To be honest, most of us just let all that stuff flow in and out of our ears. But in hindsight, some of those stories were good for a young teenager to hear. They must have made some sort of imprint, I can still remember them.

Mr. Schuller once spoke for forty minutes about the future of wireless technology. How the future would be all about wireless this and wireless that. This was around a year or so before any of us had heard of WiFi. Dial-up modems were still the way to access the Internet, and we all had to wait a hot minute for the static and noise to run its course while we dialed in. Mr. Schuller told us how wireless was not a new thing. How an inventor named Tesla had done experiments with electricity that spanned miles and only consisted of wireless transmissions of energy. There was a whole strange point to the story, but that part has since been lost to me. All I remember is visualizing the light bulbs turning on at such a distance. It’s the image I think of every time the baby monitor hums.

When that screen pops on from the motion in my son’s room, I think of Tesla. I think of the wireless transmission to the baby monitor and I wonder how the energy is used.

Last night was the night I decided to stay awake. Four o’clock was always the time the motion began, when the movements in my son’s room would turn the monitor’s light on. When the noises would start.

Same exact time.

Every single night.

But last night, I decided I would change one of the variables. After three weeks, I needed to know. I was ready to start dealing with the loss and ready to start understanding what was happening. That’s what I told myself, how I rationalized.

The night dragged on, but I was able to stay awake. There was a low level of adrenaline keeping me on the edge, like the feeling kids get when they know Christmas is in the morning, except devoid of the joyful anticipation. I was blindfolded on a rollercoaster, going up a hill, and I had no clue when I’d take the plunge or how steep it would be.

I thought of my son and the last months he was alive. How we used to play around. I had gotten him a small stuffed fox with deep orange fur and beady eyes. He loved the thing and would tackle it to cuddle against its plush fiery fur. For the life of me I couldn’t find it anywhere after his death. It had just disappeared.

I stared at the clock on the night stand until it clicked over. Four o’clock. Right on schedule, my son started to cry. Last night was the first night I considered the numbers involved. Four was never a time that he would normally wake up. My son was always asleep until at least six. I tried to remember if he cried the night he passed away. If maybe he warned us and this was a way for us to finally get there in time. A way for us to do the right thing.

Parents sleep so little in those first months. It was entirely possible for us to sleep through him crying at four if he woke up several times throughout the night. I couldn’t remember. But thinking about it made me feel guilty. I shook my head and sat up to look at the monitor. Three weeks of listening to my son cry and I never had the guts to pick up the monitor to look. I wasn’t sure what I would see. I licked my lips to get the dryness out of my mouth. I reached to pick up the monitor and took a long breath. The room was so dark that looking at the screen was blinding for a few seconds. I had to let my eyes adjust, and when they did, I was gazing right into the crib. The sound of crying continued coming from the piece of plastic, wirelessly transmitting its way into my hands.

There was something there, something dark and blurry, but it wasn’t my son. I couldn’t tell what it was. It was almost like it was canceling out the pixels on the LCD screen. I had been waiting for so long to see him again, I never thought I would be staring at something that wasn’t a child. At a crying black blob of nothing. Was I crying, too? Maybe. I was having a hard time rationalizing what was happening, having a hard time breathing. My hands were shaking. And a tingling feeling kept creeping up and down my spine.

I had my finger on the power button, just to check. I needed to turn off the monitor for a moment. To let go. To say goodbye to my son. Three weeks of listening to the hum and then the cries was enough for me. My son was gone, and I needed to be able to accept that. Then, the black blob shifted and turned. It had eyes that radiated light, and the eyes looked right into the camera. Right into me.

I turned off the monitor as quickly as I could and tried to make myself continue to breathe. My brain wanted me to hyperventilate; my body wanted to do nothing except retreat into itself. I didn’t know what the blob was, or what it being there meant. I was trying to figure it out when I realized that the monitor was off, but the crying sounds of my son hadn’t stopped. The cries were real, and still coming from the other room.

I was shaking from the tingling feeling in my spine. But I decided to look. I needed to see. I looked over to my wife. She was still asleep. She always was. A part of me didn’t think she even ever heard the monitor. But the sound was clear and audibly coming from our son’s room.

He was still crying.

I got out of bed and made my way to my son’s room. The cries got louder as I got closer, as though they were being amplified. I reached the door. A part of me hoped to see my son again. To hold him. For everything to be a dream or some strange hallucination. He was still alive and well. SIDS never happened. What were the odds of that? I didn’t know. For once, I didn’t care. I forced myself to take a breath and I opened the door.

The second the door was open the sound of my son’s cries escalated to an intensely high pitch. Whatever was in the crib shot up to a sitting position. The eyes glowed with fire and they turned to look right at me. My ears were burned with the sound. The creature’s mouth was moving to the cries. It was the source of the sound. It had replaced my son. I couldn’t understand what was happening.

My wife was the only reason I woke up this morning. She found me on the floor outside my son’s room, the door to his room still closed. My clothes were gone and dried blood caked on the sides of my head, rivers of crusted red flowing from my ears. My body was covered in scratches. I asked my wife if she heard any of the noises from last night.

“What noises?” she asked.

The third week.

It’s been a rough week. I haven’t woken up in my own bed for a few days now. Sometimes I remember getting into bed. Sometimes I’m going about my day and I simply wake up and it’s morning. The stress has started to force me away from my wife. Or maybe it’s her distancing herself from me. We never talk about it, leaving me to assume that this is just her own way of coping. It’s logical.

People react to things differently. Her reaction has always been to sleep. To roll over. To zone out. She would do that all the time back in high school. Health class would start to get boring and she would go to the bathroom, do her thing. For some reason, I find myself thinking a lot of those days. How I used to stare at her in class. Fantasize about her when I’d get home from school. How much of my life started in high school? Why would those days never leave me? What if we had just never had a son?

Every day I wake up, it’s to the sound of myself screaming. Just like the sensation of urinating in your sleep, the dream revolves around the scream. A slow fade gradually brings the scream out of the dream and I realize I’m the one making the noise. Making the bed yellow. Bleeding on a carpet somewhere in the house. Some mornings I’m downstairs. Most mornings I’m at the door to my son’s room. The door is always closed. The last few days it’s been locked.

I’ve asked my wife about it, about the door, but she persists in giving me the silent treatment. I’ve been getting mostly stares instead of conversation. I feel like I’m back in high school, passing notes to try and communicate and having girls look at me like I’m a fool for asking them out.

My wife has even changed her clothes. Like she doesn’t want to wear the things I bought her. Or maybe the clothes remind her of our son. That would be reasonable. Sometimes I notice. Sometimes it’s like the clothes change in the middle of the day. Nothing extreme, just a color here, a hat there. It throws off the day just enough to be devoid of sense. Sometimes it takes me an hour to pinpoint it.

Sometimes she reminds me of Alice, another girl that I sat near in health class back in high school. Alice was something. She always wore white. My wife was Cynthia, though. Cyn. She is Cyn. We used to have fun. Back when we were dating. We would take turns DDing and we would just tear up a town. Sometimes we’d go out parking, even though we each had a place. And when it came to serious adult life, she was wonderful. Every time I got sick, she was there for me. Ice cream, back rubs, the works. It was enough for me to propose. I knew I wanted to spend forever with her. To be the one to dote on her when she’d get sick. The good old days. It wasn’t that long ago, but it feels like it was a lifetime.

Sometimes, when my son was inconsolable, I would turn on the TV. I was always lucky and found the right channel with the same shows. The dumb coyote never did win out. Always had an anvil or a ton of bricks landing on him. He seemed to have all the money in the world for gadgets, but lived out his life as a poor man. Never understood the meaning there. I suppose it was something about what’s right in front of a man—how that stuff should make him happy. Either way, my son ate up the vaudeville. Every time.

Tangents. I never seem to tell a story straight through.

Last night, I didn’t leave the monitor on. At least, I didn’t remember keeping it on. Maybe I did and I just lowered the volume. The nights have started to blur. It’s been a few weeks, now. It didn’t matter, either way: the cries started at the same time, and I heard them all the same.

For me, the most haunting part of this experience has been that I was the worried parent. I was the one who couldn’t sleep through him crying. I just couldn’t take it. I was paranoid about everything. I’d wake up every hour or two and walk into my son’s room and just check up on him. Check the thermostat to ensure it wasn’t too warm or too cold. Leave the nightlight in the hallway on. The things that reasonable parents do.

I remember now. The night my son died, he cried out in the middle of the night. Some time around four, I think. But I was too much of a zombie. Something had happened and I was at work late. By the time I got to sleep, I just wouldn’t wake up. Couldn’t transition from the sound in the dream. But I knew he was crying. A part of my brain knew it wasn’t the dream making those sounds, but I ignored the cries. I just wanted to get a few hours in. My wife was always a sound sleeper. She never even knew. When I asked her if she heard the sounds the night prior, all she could say was the same thing: “What sounds?” We were both hysterical when we realized what had happened.

Last night, the cries happened at the same time. Four in the morning. The same exact time as the night my son passed. Except last night, the cries ended early. Instead of half an hour, it was only five minutes. And then a pause. Silence. I thought something had happened. Maybe the cries would start if I turned on the monitor. But the monitor was already on. Like I said, I didn’t remember turning it on, but there it was. Glowing with the speakers crackling.

I took the monitor off my nightstand and I rested it on my chest. I gave myself a few seconds to adjust to the brightness. There it was. The dark blur. My son. Sitting up in the crib, looking at the monitor with the glowing eyes. There was no crying, though. We both sat there, looking at each other through the miracle of wireless technology. Through time and space. Through the crackling.

I tried to speak.

I couldn’t find the words.

The dark mass stood up and seemed to slide over the railing of the crib and out of the frame of the monitor camera. Something was about to happen, but I kept staring at the monitor. I started to hear sounds coming from my son’s room, just off camera. Whatever it was knew how to open a door, because the next thing I heard was the creaking sound of my son’s door swinging out into the hallway. It wasn’t a loud creak. Just enough for me to question whether or not I heard the door moving. Then the nightlight in the hallway went out.

I tried peeking my head over the edge of the bed, but staring at the monitor for so long had made everything else darker. I couldn’t see it, but I could hear it. Something was there. I held my breath to see if I could hear it. I could feel the air in the room shift with the air conditioner. But whatever had been moving had stopped. Maybe it wasn’t there. Maybe I was starting to lose it. Maybe my wife was right to be distant.

I took a long breath to steady myself. It was just the AC. Just the hallway light burning out. But then I heard something shift. Something was in the room, and it was resting directly next to my side of the bed. Everything fell silent. I couldn’t even feel my heart beating. My eyes teared up.

I clicked off the monitor’s screen and then I twisted the monitor around in my hands to use it as a flashlight. I moved slowly. I stopped breathing. I couldn’t hear it, but I knew it was there. I peeked my head over the edge of the bed to where I knew it was. I pointed the monitor.

Half a breath.

I clicked on the screen.

I saw it before the screen had reached its full brightness. Rusty orange and night’s gray blurred with the few rays of moonlight slicing through the blinds to color the plush face of a stuffed animal. The face of a fox with the body of a child. Glowing eyes of fire shot up from the edge of my bed and into my face.

I woke up screaming to my wife giving me CPR. My face was marked by a large, scabbed gorge.

The fourth week.

When I was a much younger man, being raised by my father, I was often told a story about a fox. My mother wasn’t around often while I was being raised. She was there, but that was just her body. Her mind was somewhere else. My father was the one who raised me, and every year that I remember being alive we went deer hunting. Those have always been some of my favorite memories. Ones and zeros that have always stuck around and reminded me about the best days of my life.

Out in the woods of upstate New York, you could walk for miles without ever seeing a trace of man. Just the trees and the wildlife. The animals we were hunting would always be the last things we would ever see. The math involved in it all was amazing to me. The odds. The numbers. How long we would spend in the woods compared to the encounters with our prey, sitting in a tree stand, walking through to try and push the animals one way or the other.

It was when we sat in the tree stands that my father would start talking, always at a whisper. He’d tell me about the fox that he would see when he was a boy, same fox in the the same woods. The actual woods that we would be sitting in while he was telling me the story. He saw the fox for years and never understood what it was doing out there or why it always seemed to find my father. My father explained it in his own way. He would always say, “A fox never dies. Not really. You can tell when you look in their eyes that some are thousands of years old. They carry knowledge in those eyes. They’re old. And if a fox finds you, they’re looking out for you. Sometimes that’s a reason to be worried. Most times, it means you’re doing something right with your life.”

I was never afraid of foxes, listening to those stories. I always thought they were lucky. A guardian type of animal. And as long as I was my father’s son, I always had a stuffed fox lying in bed with me. The same fox I gave my son the day he was born. Same fox that was in the crib the day my son left us.

Most of the time, when we would finally get a deer, it would go down pretty fast. My father would give me the first shot and if I missed he could usually get a hit. We’d look out into the woods, climb down the tree and head over to the deer. Most of them died with their mouths open, so they could get their last gasps in. I was lucky to never have to watch the last breaths, but I could always imagine how it must have felt. How those final pulls of air didn’t quite reach the lungs. The emotions that must have been within the mind of a creature that doesn’t understand the reasons behind what has just happened.

I was the one who found my son that morning. I stood there longer than I should have, but I didn’t need to pick him up. Not to know that look. The glossed eyes, the jaw slack with his mouth open. He looked just like the deer. When I finally held him, he was as cold as metal in the snow.

Memories. The more we gather, the more they seem to attach themselves to objects. I look at a rocking chair, and I remember being a boy. I smell a flower, I’m reminded of my wife. I see a fox, and… well. There are a lot of things I think of when I see a fox. Just like last week. Whatever it was, I wasn’t dreaming.

Life in the past week hasn’t been easy. I’ve been waking up in my own bed again, but the nights are still the same. Every night, the baby monitor is turned on and I hear it. When it all first started happening, I tried to get my wife to go with me to a hotel, so we could escape and not have to go through it all. I even had the car packed, and she still wouldn’t go. Wouldn’t even talk to me. She had a blank look that I’d never seen on her before. She was staring at me like I was insane.

A couple of nights ago, the volume of the crying was unbearable. Even with that, my wife never woke up. She just laid there like a pile of pillows. Her answer to everything. Alice was always like that.

Cyn, I mean. My wife. Always wearing white.

Eventually, all came to a head for me. I decided to end it all, and spend the night in my son’s room to settle everything. I brought the baby monitor with me and locked the door. I was going to stay there the entire night, no matter what happened.

I couldn’t sleep. I just sat there in the rocking chair, looking around my son’s room. The wooden toys, the polaroid photos we lined on the walls, the drawers of clothes, the table we used to change him on, and the crib. The empty crib. Midnight came, and then one and two o’clock. There was enough light from the moon to see the shadows of the clockface on the wall. When the clock came closer to four o’clock I stood up and held my breath.

The baby monitor turned on in my hand. I looked down for a moment and saw my son through the screen, standing there at the edge of the crib.

I started crying.

When I looked up, my son had the head of the fox with his eyes glowing. My heart started racing and I realized that I should take a breath. I took the air in slowly through my nose. There he was, the fox. The child.

The fox opened up its mouth and cried a loud human cry. I looked back down to the monitor and saw it was my son on the screen. I dropped the monitor and looked back at the crib, but the fox had climbed out of the crib and was standing in front of me.

I felt my nose start to bleed. My ears were on fire from an intense pressure. I knelt down and felt the weight of the world in my legs. My body wasn’t mine. My son wasn’t mine. My life was no longer mine.

The fox started to walk toward me, the eyes getting brighter and brighter.

I could feel the room shaking. My legs were numb from squatting down. I held my arms out to my son. He was beautiful. I closed my eyes.

Then it happened. He was there, in my arms. It was him. We stayed there for a long time. Until the sun began to rise.

I had to look. I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to see if the fox had left. But when I pulled him back to look at him, he was gone. There was no fox. No child. I was alone in the room. I stood up and my legs buckled. I started to shake, and that’s when I woke up.

I woke up from everything.

I looked around. I was lying in my bed. My son’s fox was lying next to me. My fox. I raised my arm and saw the IV stuck in me. It was my bedroom, but monitors were next to the bed. I turned to see if my wife was there, but she wasn’t. How could she be? The room was bright. It was the morning. White walls, white ceiling.

Nurse Alice walked in. She always wore white scrubs, always clean. I made her tell me the truth. What had happened to everyone. My son, my wife, my father. She had a look on her face—how many times had she told me the truth?

That it had all happened years ago.

Hospice.

I was in hospice. My son had died decades ago. My wife had been gone for nine years. I had dementia and the moments where my lights turned back on were getting farther apart.

Reality.

It was just a moment. A break from the fog.

I’m just like the coyote, chasing that dumb roadrunner. Living every day the exact same. Repeating the mistakes. That dumb coyote. Always getting the anvil dropped on him. There was no monitor. No coyote. No fox. There was nothing. Just a bunch of ones and zeros buzzing through my head, confused as to the order they’re supposed to stay in, mixing and matching to muddle up my memories. Just numbers floating around in an empty space. It’s all in the numbers. That’s how you understand anything of real value in this world. How many days did I have left? Did it even matter? Counting down to the end.

Credit To – Ashley Franz Holzmann

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Laboratory

July 17, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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The building was bland, and had an unwelcoming feel to it. Though I suppose making a laboratory pretty on the outside wasn’t the prime concern of whoever had built it. It functioned purely as a means of… well, conducting science experiments I suppose.
My car pulled into the carpark and found an empty spot, then I turned my engine off.
The leaflet had come in the mail several days ago, addressed to myself, asking people to come forward and help the scientists and their experiments – to offer my opinion on their work so I may help them identify what the public’s needs are, and if what they’re doing is the right thing.
Sniffing, I pulled myself out of my car and slammed the door shut behind me. Immediately I was hit by frozen December air so that my eyes watered and breath escaped in plumes. My hands took to shivering so I thrust them into my pockets – it didn’t help.
‘Right. Let’s do this then.’ I mumbled, and started off towards the building. The main reason I was here, being out here on Saturday of all days, was the fact that the leaflet guaranteed a reward for any that came forward. Perhaps they meant a cash prize? I wasn’t sure, it didn’t seem to specify exactly what the prize was, but I had nothing better to do today anyhow. No wife and kids to look after, just a cat that I still hadn’t bothered to name yet – that sort of shows how lazy I am, doesn’t it? I’ve had it for a year.
As I neared the building I could see people through the dark tinted windows, people inside were wandering around and making gesticulations with their hands, busy with their work. It made me feel a hell of a lot better, because from the outside one would assume this place was deserted. The sort of place that you’d feel really uneasy being around in the middle of the night. Though now I supposed the exterior was the least of the concerns of the scientists working within. I stepped up to the large double doors and stepped through.
There was a man standing just inside the door, holding a pad and pen and wearing a white lab coat. He had a mottled grey beard, thin eyebrows and Einstein-like hair, not to mention two grey eyes that seemed to drill right through me. Despite all this he was smiling, which I immediately felt was very uncharacteristic of him.
‘Welcome!’ he said, ‘you must be James! I’m Dr Harrod.’
‘Nice to meet you.’ I replied, offering a hand, though he didn’t take it. Instead he rummaged in his coat and pulled out a pair of yellow, elastic gloves.
‘In case of contamination, you understand,’ he said; I nodded and took them.
‘How did you know who I was?’ I asked, pulling them on. ‘Are there many others coming today?’
‘Several others have come, yes. Process of elimination I suppose: I have a list, see?’ He waved the pad quickly in front of me, but I didn’t catch any writing. Then he placed the pen and pad on a table nearby.
‘Anyway, welcome to Eaglebound, one of the last remaining science laboratories in this area.’ For the first time I looked past his shoulder and cast an eye around the large room I had entered.
There was a floral pattern engraved on the tiled floor in the form of little squares. The large image of an eagle and some sort of flower dominated the rear wall above the reception desk… and the people. Dozens of workers speed-walking to and fro; most in lab coats, though some were in suits and casual attire. Nearly all of them were either carrying notes, test tubes or unmarked boxes – busy with their own work. The only person who wasn’t moving was the scowling female receptionist, glaring through spectacles, who reminded me strongly of my now-deceased mother.
‘Don’t mind them,’ Dr Harrod smirked, ‘we’ve got work to do downstairs, do some observing, right?’
‘Yes,’ I replied, slightly overwhelmed. Dr Harrod then set off at a brisk pace, and I had to break into a jog to catch him up.
‘So, I’m going to be helping with the experiments?’ I asked breathlessly. He rounded a corner quickly, dodging a man in a suit and a woman shouting into her phone. Then doctor entered an empty elevator, and after nearly tripping over someone’s feet I managed to jump in beside him.
‘In a way,’ he replied, hitting the button marked B: the basement. He produced a key from his pocket and fitted it into the slot. As he turned it to the right and it emitted a sharp click, the doors grinded shut and immediately the hubbub on the floor outside ceased.
‘So… what does my job entail?’
‘Well,’ he sniffed. ‘You won’t be helping exactly, but observing. Providing your personal opinion, good or bad, on what we’re doing here. It gives us a consensus society’s attitude to our experiments, and how we should change things. After all, the public eye is a powerful thing – we don’t want to offend anyone.’
‘Ah,’ I said, casting an eye around the steel elevator. ‘What sort of experiments do you do?’
‘We attempt to make life easier, and grant future generations with new means of getting about quicker, facilitating bonds, and developing obscure ideas.’
‘Um.’ I wasn’t quite sure what this meant, so decided to keep my mouth shut. I’d always had an avid interest in science, so figured not to prod any further and just enjoy the experience as it unfolded.
After a few moments seconds I thrust my hands back down into my pockets – still cold from the temperatures outside – and listened to the somewhat rhythmic hum of the elevator.
‘Did you read about the reward?’ Dr Harrod said.
‘Oh,’ I replied, looking at him, I didn’t think he would bring it up. ‘I was wondering what that could be.’
‘Everyone wonders what it is,’ he laughed, ‘and everyone is always surprised when it’s revealed. I’ll let you know when the tour is finished.’ Again, the laugh seemed forced, more condescending than anything else. The way a criminal in a film would laugh moments before killing the much-loved hero.
At that moment the elevator grinded to a halt and the doors opened. I was shocked with the sight that greeted us: we were facing an empty corridor that looked in complete disarray. The off-white walls were decayed in places, with bits of moss beginning to take them over. The floor was dirtied with footprints and dust. The white lights hanging overhead would occasionally flicker. And the smell… as soon as the doors had opened I was greeted with a very musty, strong stench that reminded me of urine and a doctor’s waiting room.
‘Here.’ Dr Harrod said, producing a hospital mask. I took it and pulled it down over my face, immediately the stench was replaced with the smell of perfumed fabric.
‘What is this place?’ I said, feeling a little uneasy.
‘Oh,’ Dr Harrod murmured, stepping forward and walking down the corridor a few steps. ‘This is where we conduct the experiments, invent new things and whatnot. Sorry about the state of things, we’ve been meaning to get some cleaners to come down here.’ He turned back to me – I was still standing in the elevator.
‘Come on,’ he gestured sharply, gesturing with a gloved hand. His somewhat happy personality had shifted into a more serious one. His once smiling mouth had transformed into a solemn line, emotionless. His cold eyes were suddenly menacing, and for a moment I glanced at the elevator buttons and considered heading back up to the ground floor.
‘Come on, what are you waiting for?’
‘Right,’ I sighed, stepping into the hall, the elevator doors grinded shut behind me.
With Dr Harrod leading, and me taking small, ginger steps, we made our way down the corridor. It was as we moved forward that I noticed a series of doors along the walls, all a dark grey colour. They seemed menacing and cold, like these doors were looming guards looking down at me from all angles. A sent of claustrophobia seemed to be closing around me, and I felt myself sweating.
As we continued forward a little further I noticed a figure step into the hall at the far end. From the looks of him he was about twenty, and even from here I could see his sunken eyes, frowning face and hunched composure. After a glance down to us he disappeared into one of the other doors.
‘Right,’ Dr Harrod said, stopping in front of a door marked 9. ‘In we go.’ He opened the door with a gloved hand and I followed him into the room.
As I cast my eyes around the anxiety that had been brewing inside my stomach settled down. My stupid little fears and the bad vibes I’d been getting from Dr Harrod suddenly seemed very childish – these were scientists, after all. They knew what they were doing, surely?
The room was quite large, and in good condition too, nothing like the corridor outside. The walls were adorned with colourful, smiling faces, and the floor was a patterned carpet. There were a couple of women too, some appeared to be scientists. Most were dressed in casual wear, just strolling around. And then there were the children. Lots of kids from three to about six, shouting happily and playing with toys that the scientists had provided. The children had been separated into two little playing pens, surrounded by a little wooden fence.
‘Ah! Dr Jennings, how are the children?’ Dr Harrod said, walking swiftly past me over to one of the women. She’d been smirking at a two year old shaking a toy, then looked up to greet Dr Harrod with a hug. She had tightly fastened brunette hair, and wore jeans and a flowery green top. A nametag on her chest had her name imprinted in red letters.
‘They’re absolutely fine,’ she replied, then glanced over at me. ‘Is this James?’
‘Yeah,’ I said, offering a hand, she didn’t take it.
‘I’ll leave Dr Harrod to explain our work to you,’ she sniffed, and turned on her heel. She began walking to a door at the far end of the room which I supposed opened up into some sort of work area. On the way she gestured with her hands at the other supervising women – all of which followed her lead. Before long Dr Harrod and I were the only two people standing in the room apart from the giggling children.
‘Right. Let’s do some observing, shall we?’ he breathed.
‘Two questions,’ I said. ‘How did Dr Jennings know my name?’
Dr Harrod scratched his temple.
‘Like I did, with a list. This place is forbidden to other workers, so all staff need to be notified if someone is visiting.’
‘Right.’ I mumbled, casting an eye over to the children. ‘And also, where are these children’s parents?’
Dr Harrod looked taken aback at this question, then quickly regained his composure.
‘Oh, well, they’re at work and what have you,’ he said, reaching into his pocket for something. He pulled out a small, square, greyish device that had upon it a single white button.
‘But it’s Saturday,’ I said, slightly confused.
‘Oh.’ Dr Harrod thought for a moment. ‘I meant, work as in… housework. Parents leave their children here for the day to get a load off their minds and relax. It’s completely fine and well-organised, they know exactly what we do down here. In fact…’ He glanced at his watch. ‘They’ll be coming to pick them up in about three hours.’
I wasn’t sure about this answer, it seemed very… improvised. But I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
‘So what do you do here?’ I asked.
‘Room 9 is for child conditioning. Some of these children have been raised in specific environments in order to control their behaviour. With the technology you see here, we could create a violent-free world for future generations. And if any violence were to occur…’ He motioned toward the button in his hand. ‘We can stop them very easily.’
‘Ok,’ I said slowly, unsure.
‘Let me show you,’ Dr Harrod grunted, and walked over to one of the children – a small boy playing with a toy truck.
‘This is Tommy, when he was born we implanted a chip at the base of his brain in a location that governs motor function. Meaning that if this child was behaving inappropriately, perhaps causing harm to others – we can do this.’
I watched as the doctor pointed the device at the child and pressed his thumb firmly down on the button. For a moment nothing happened, the child just sat there, staring up at the doctor. But then… sickeningly, the active toddler stopped moving and looked rather pale. His eyes seemed to defocus and for a moment I thought he was about to vomit, and then suddenly the boy slumped to the ground in a heap. But his eyes remained open, staring at me, and starting to glisten with tears.
I gasped, horrified.
‘He’s fine,’ the doctor said calmly. ‘The chip had merely set in motion a temporary state of paralysis. As long as this remains pressed, he can’t move a muscle.’ Dr Harrod then released the button and the child sat up, blinking in confusion. After a second he began to cry.
‘He doesn’t look fine to me,’ I snarled.
‘It scared him, certainly. How would you feel if you suddenly found yourself unable to move? But that’s precisely what’s brilliant about the chip. What if when this boy reached thirty years old he decided to rob a bank? Take someone hostage, hold them at gunpoint? We could simply click the button and everything would be sorted without the need for further violence.’
‘The parents allowed you to do this?’ I asked, uncertain. Despite the inhumanity, the doctor made a good point.
‘Imagine a world without crime…’ the doctor continued, ignoring my question. ‘If every child was implanted with this chip, then all we’d need was one of these buttons on our keychains, and every attacker would be rendered immobile.’
I stared down at the toddler. He was once again playing with the truck, albeit much slower.
‘Come,’ Dr Harrod said. ‘We’ve seen enough of this room.’
He walked back to the door from which we had entered. For a moment I watched the toddler some more, then turned around and followed him back out into the hall. As he closed door number 9 the many women that had been monitoring the children starting filing back into room.
‘Time to show you experiment number two,’ Dr Harrod said, and started off down the hall. ‘Though I won’t be showing you all of them, we don’t have enough time.’ I reluctantly followed and glanced back at the elevator at the far end.
‘All of these experiments are for science, right?’ I said, walking behind him.
‘I assure you,’ Dr Harrod replied, ‘that everything you see here will one day benefit future generations, even if little sacrifices must be made. Remember that.’
After a few moments we came to halt in front of door number 15.
‘You know what,’ I said, glancing down at my watch. ‘I think I might head off now – think I’ll call it a day.’
‘I’m afraid you can’t,’ Dr Harrod said sharply, suddenly very stern. A wave of sickness crept up my throat. ‘This is a strict, confidential floor, and that lift can only be used a certain number of times a day, all people that enter must be monitored carefully.’
‘Couldn’t we end the tour early?’ I asked, but he shook his head.
‘The reason you’re here is to provide your opinion on what we’re doing – bad or good. Now, if these tests make you uncomfortable, tell us. You can leave after you collect your reward at the end.’
Suddenly the idea of a ‘reward’ didn’t seem very appealing.
‘But-’ I began.
‘Please head into the room,’ he said, pushing the door open.
I stepped inside reluctantly, and was greeted with complete darkness.
‘I can’t see,’ I breathed, lifting my hands up in front of me.
‘Look, back here,’ Dr Harrod said. He grabbed two little masks that were resting on a rack just by the opening of the door and handed one to me. After pulling it over my head I realised that they were night vision goggles. The room lit up in a green haze; then Dr Harrod shut the door behind us.
The room was nearly empty, except for a very large box that dominated the centre, made out of what looked like a dark metallic material. We both approached the box slowly, and when we were standing a few inches away, Dr Harrod reached up and pulled open a sliding window so we could peek inside through some glass.
‘This room is completely sound proof, and lets absolutely no light in,’ Dr Harrod whispered. ‘Food and water is provided three times a day by one of my colleagues – and other than him, no one else is allowed in here.’
Though I wasn’t really listening. There was a dark silhouette sitting in the centre of the room that was giving me chills up my spine. In the haze of green I could make out a skeletal face, with long arms and spindly legs. This figure had a gaping mouth with broken teeth, and wispy to no hair. We stared for several seconds then its head cocked to one side.
‘See that?’ the doctor continued. ‘Due to the lack of sound and light, the subject has developed a heightened awareness for vibration – drawing on the only sense it has left… touch. I’d venture that he may have detected our footsteps as we approached the room.’
‘Wha-what does this experiment show? Who is he?’ I blurted. The figure in the box slowly creaked to its feet.
‘His name is Malcolm, and has been raised in complete isolation from birth without sound, sight, education, you name it. Have you ever heard of a blind man with an acute sense of hearing? What if we could harness these powers, and develop them? What if we could raise a person who had abilities others could only dream of? A person who could perhaps discover what we could not?’
The man… Malcolm, shifted again. He dropped to his hands and knees and started lurching forward like an animal, and approached the window we were staring through. I took a step back in fear.
‘This isn’t science,’ I choked. ‘This is cruelty.’
‘No,’ he snapped. ‘This is essential. You don’t think science, inventors and people who strived to discover more never made sacrifices? We have to do these things because otherwise no one will. The only new inventions would be new models of the iPhone. So please, if you will, follow me to the final experiment.’
He reached up and dragged the cover back over the window, and as he did the dark figure, Malcolm, raised his head into view and smashed both hands against the glass. I didn’t hear a sound. Then he was once again shut in his prison of eternal darkness.
‘Like I said,’ Dr Harrod sniffed. ‘Soundproof.’ Then he took off back towards the door, pulling his night goggles off and dropping them onto the rack as he did. I followed him, pulled off my goggles and stepped out into the corridor. I squinted in the light.
‘Follow me,’ he said, and took off quickly. I followed slowly. Once I got out of this place I’d go straight to the police, and explain what was happening down here. Everyone working in this place would be thrown in jail.
‘I’m going to leave after this, ok? I’ve had enough.’
‘Fine,’ the doctor replied, and stopped at a door marked 33.
‘Before you go in,’ he mumbled, ‘just remember, this is all for science.’ This didn’t make me feel any better, and as he turned the door handle slowly and pushed the door open I felt my knees begin to shake. It’d gotten to the point now where I was unsure if these were even real scientists, and that the experiments they were conducting here were in fact simply to satisfy their morbid, demented minds.
‘Please step inside,’ he said calmly. And I did, stupidly.
The room was quite small and bluish, it reminded me of a doctor’s theatre – the type where they conduct operations. There were several doctors wearing masks, seated around the room, one of them was glancing at his phone with his legs crossed. In the middle were several turquoise curtains surrounding what I presumed to be a hospital chair.
‘Our final subject,’ Dr Harrod announced, several of the doctors looked up.
‘Did you know,’ he began. ‘That if you were to lose a finger we could replace it with a toe?’
‘Yes,’ I replied slowly. ‘I’ve seen… programmes where they do that, yes.’ We took a step towards the curtains in the middle. My stomach turned over and I felt myself going dizzy.
‘Say someone was in a horrible accident,’ Dr Harrod murmured, ‘and they lost half of their hand. We, using excellent technology, could construct the person’s hand using the tissue from his foot. Isn’t that brilliant? We can perform eye transplants… kidney transplants, you name it… What if…’ The doctor paused.
‘What if what?’ I said.
‘What if we were to place someone’s eye on their shoulder, and craft an eyelid out of skin tissue, then link it up to the synapses in the brain? What if we took their arm, and placed it in the middle of their chest? What if we took their lower jaw, sawed it off and fashioned it onto their leg for a better kick? What if… we took some of the internal organs and made them external? Think of how much oxygen would be supplied to the lungs if they were fastened to the outside of the chest? We could create the next stage of evolution.’
‘What’s behind that curtain?’ I stammered. ‘What have you done?’
Dr Harrod stepped forward and whipped the curtains away.
But there was nothing there, just an empty hospital chair. I was slightly confused for a moment, but then it dawned on me in a sickening wave.
‘You came here to help us with our experiments, James, so that’s precisely what you’re going to do. The reward is aiding us in our experiments.’
I felt a sharp pain in my left arm and whipped it away in time to see a doctor standing next to me – he was holding an empty syringe.
‘Put him on the chair,’ Dr Harrod snapped, and several of the doctors grabbed my arms and legs. I thrashed as much as I could, but the room was already going blurry and my muscles were beginning to weaken.
‘We’ll talk again after the operation,’ Dr Harrod smiled, pulling a sharp scalpel out of his pocket. ‘That is… if you still have a mouth.’

Credit To – Meek

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The Balcony

July 17, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I sat, staring blankly at the screen, for how long I can’t be quite sure. Desperate for something to watch, read, listen to… In search of some stimulation that might exhaust my mind to the point where going to bed seemed like a good idea. I closed my eyes and strained hard – pressing for some idea of what to type in the search bar but nothing came.

It wasn’t apparent to me how long I’d been sitting there, postponing sleep, gazing with glazed eyes at the monitor and refreshing the same social network feeds over and over again, waiting for some fuckwit I didn’t know or care about to update the world on their life happenings. Nothing changed, though – it was well past 2 am and most people were rolling over, ripping up the sheets and drooling on their pretty pillowcases.

Somewhere between the ears a sharp pain fired off and I realized I had a headache. Oh great… again. I reached for the bottle of ibuprofen sitting conveniently by my computer mouse and washed two of them down with the last mouthful of my warm beer. Refresh. Nothing happening. Couldn’t think of a song to listen to. Refresh. Same thing. No ideas for articles to read. Refresh. Nothing. They’re all sleeping, dammit. I snapped the laptop lid shut. Went to look out the window.

There was a streetlamp directly across the street from my little apartment, which I suppose was the reason I hated going to bed so much. One of the reasons, anyways. There wasn’t much to look at outside, either. Thin blanket of snow on the ground. Still cars in the neighbor’s driveway. Couldn’t see the stars… must have been cloudy. The apartment was even less interesting. A pile of half-read novels lined up on the shelf, arranged by size from biggest to smallest (dimensions, not pages). Drying rack full of dishes that were probably dry by now, but that could wait until tomorrow. Old flower-patterned couch made even more garish by the bright, blue and yellow striped blanket hanging over the back. And the walls…

The walls were the thing I hated most. Painted in that inoffensive, bland, mind-numbingly expressionless light beige that seemed to be omnipresent in every fucking apartment I’d ever been in. What I wouldn’t have given to paint those fucking walls. It would have been worth it, even if the damned landlord kept my damage deposit.

Leaving the window, I paced along the wall, dragging my hand as I had done over and over again, in moments of boredom. Around the kitchen/living room – divided by a half wall and made distinct by a clumsy architectural divider that reached off from the main wall by a couple feet – and around the corner to the short and narrow hallway that lead to my bedroom on the left and bathroom at the end. Strolled lazily into the bedroom, flicked on the light, looked around, flicked it off, and walked out again. Stopped for a quick piss in the bathroom. Frowned in the mirror. Then made my way back to the chair. I started flicking through the books on the shelf, but I couldn’t decide which one to read, so I gave up and sat down on the horrendous couch, staring out the sliding glass balcony door.

And that’s when I saw it.

At first, I thought my glasses were skewed, and I took them off, gave them a ritual wiping in my t-shirt, and put them back on again. No, it was still there. Hmph… that’s weird… It wasn’t anything shocking, nor was it one of those things that causes you to jump up in outrage – it just seemed a little bit… odd.

I had been looking at the picture frame sitting on the half wall that stretched partway across the floor between the kitchen and living room, which was perpendicular to the couch I was sitting on – and something about it didn’t look quite right. The picture frame was alright. The half wall looked right – as much as any half wall can – but there was something funny about were it joined to the outer wall of the apartment. I couldn’t be quite sure what it was, exactly, but it seemed like the outer wall was a good foot or more farther from me on the kitchen side than it was on the living room side.

I gave it a frown, then a giggle. Obviously, the landlord had done a bad job with the renovations and had done some miscalculations, and the inner paneling on the kitchen side was curved on one end. I didn’t know much about carpentry, but I had a basic understanding. Yeah, that’s it.

I got up, walked to the fridge for another beer and glanced at the wall again. My explanation didn’t convince me, as the wall looked flat as a wall could be. It was the damnedest thing, because from the kitchen side, the wall looked perfectly normal. Maybe it was the other side that was off. But I strolled back to the living room, and the wall on that side looked normal too. It didn’t make sense. I decided to forget about it, and set myself back on the couch and opened my beer – but there it was again. The wall in the kitchen looked farther than it should be, or the living room wall looked too close… it was hard to tell which was the case, but something was off, that much was certain.

I took a gulp of beer and got up again. I walked over to the corner in the kitchen and ran my hand along the wall near the floor. It certainly looked like things were joining up at right angles. I did the same on the living room side – it looked perfectly normal. I even grabbed a book and stuck it between the floor and the wall, and slid it across on both sides, and in both rooms the book fit snugly where the floor and wall met. Then I did the same, between the wall and the room divider. Perfect right angles. I sat back on the couch again, and now it seemed even more apparent.

It was as if the kitchen was longer than the living room, and impossibly so, as they both shared the same square space and outer wall of the building. It didn’t make sense. The wall to the left was definitely farther than it was on the right side of the half wall, but how could that be so? I shuffled my way around the rooms, observing the dimensions with squinting discretion, from every conceivable angle. No curve, no obvious deviations. If I could believe what my eyes were seeing – and I had no reason to doubt them before now – the kitchen should be protruding from the side of the building by about 12-15 inches.

I was flabbergasted. It just shouldn’t be. Even the thickness of the walls, which I guessed at about six inches, wouldn’t account for such an error. It wasn’t the way that geometry worked, but when I looked again from the couch the difference between the distances on the two sides was impossible to ignore. What the hell…

Surely, I thought, that there was some mistake, and the wall was joined awkwardly and I just hadn’t noticed it before. I’d have to go out on the balcony to reassure myself, and take a look at the outside wall of the building. My balcony ran the entire length of the kitchen/living room wall, placing the discontinuity about halfway down its length. Surely the exterior of the wall would reveal an outward jump. Now it made sense. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before. I slid open the glass door and tip toed out into the winter air, the thin snow layer crunching and squeaking under my socks.

But to my surprise, the wall was entirely flat. I flicked on the balcony light to be sure. Perfectly flat. Straight, with no visible joins or angles anywhere. I pressed my hands hard against the cold vinyl siding and ran them from the sliding glass door all the way to the railing at the end. Defeated, I made my way back inside, and slid the door shut. I peeled off my wet socks and hung them over the edge of the bathtub to dry, and retreated to the couch once more, rubbing my cold feet.

It was at this point I started to feel uncomfortable, in a way that was almost indescribable. The very image of what I was seeing didn’t make sense. It was such a departure from simple logic that my brain couldn’t concoct any sort of explanation at all. The sensation that trickled over me was something that I can only describe as the opposite of deja vu. The sheer unfamiliar and nonsensical nature of the wall was all I could think about. I had to prove to myself that it wasn’t real.

I stomped down the hall to my bedroom, bare feet slapping on the floor, snatched my belt off the dresser and brought it out. I moved the chair, slid the kitchen table out of the way, so I had a quick, clear path around the half wall. I even took the picture frames off the half wall, and laid them on the table. Nothing to get in the way.

I started on the right side. I let the belt buckle touch the outer wall, and pulled it tight. The distance from the the wall to the end of the divider was about half the length of the belt. I pinched my fingers hard on the belt, marking the length I had measured. Now… I marched around, to the kitchen, put the belt buckle against the wall and pulled the belt tight.

Impossible, I thought. It was truly impossible. The belt wouldn’t even reach from the wall the the end of the divider. I leaned against the wall, my mind whirring with thoughts, questions. The one thought that dominated my being was that the space I was standing in, leaning against that wall, should not exist! If common sense were any sense at all, I should be on the balcony right now, staring at the vinyl siding on the outside of the building. A sudden feeling of dread washed over me – I felt hot and sick and shaky. I started to wonder what might happen If i were to close my closes, but at that thought, the fear become so intense that I jumped away from the wall and ran to the bathroom where I promptly retched up my beer and what undigested remains there were of my supper.

What was happening to me? I had to sleep. Yes, that’s it. I was exhausted, and it had been a long week. Maybe it was the headache pills, I thought – I had downed them with alcohol, after all. And mixing drugs with booze can do crazy stuff, right? I closed my eyes hard, nodding my head and trying to convince myself that I had to be hallucinating. I was sleep depraved. I needed sleep.

I flushed the toilet, brushed my teeth, splashed water in my face, and turned to look down the hall. I realized then that I had left the balcony door ajar, and the cold winter air was putting a chill in the apartment. I started, but stopped again, when my peripheral vision revealed to me something which unnerved me in a way I had never known. It was at that point which I began to think I was losing my mind.

On the left side of the half wall, the kitchen stretched on, far beyond the physical limitations of my building, and filling that impossible space was – and It frightens me say it – a perfect mirror image of my own. The table, chairs, cupboards, and even the overflowing drying rack lay in perfect reverse imitation of my own, real kitchen. It was as though the wall of the kitchen had been replaced by a reflective surface, but as far as I could tell, this was not the case.

I breathed deep, shaking uncontrollably as I made my way slowly down the hall to the kitchen. I stopped halfway, at the linen closet which sat opposite my bedroom door, and grabbed the broom. I unscrewed the broom handle and clutched it tightly as I would a spear. It did nothing to make me feel safer.

I moved slowly – one foot at a time – holding the broom handle out in front of me and breathing heavily. As I got nearer, though, I could see that the discontinuity did not only mirror the kitchen – it was the entire apartment.

When I reached the point where the wall had been, I stopped and stretched out my hand. Nothing but empty air. This couldn’t be a hallucination, could it? No – something else was at work here. Something frighteningly real.

There was a draft moving through the air, flowing like a soft wind, and I realized that the sliding door to the balcony must also be ajar over there. I should close it. That seemed to make sense, at least.

I prepared myself to enter the space that should not be. Something about it still made me afraid to close my eyes, so I decided to try my best not to blink before walking over. Come on, you got this. I had a goal now. Simple enough, but still, that small purpose helped quiet the thoughts in my head a little. I swallowed, breathed deep, and walked into the impossible room. Made my way past the chairs, the books – even the fucking picture frames were there, but something about the pictures wasn’t right, and I averted my eyes as I passed. I turned right around the half wall and came to face the balcony door. I was right. It was open. However, what I saw beyond the door was not what I had expected. I had prepared myself – by taking into account the twisted anti-logic of the discontinuity – to encounter a second balcony. This was a whole new deviation. Nonetheless, I made my way through, back into the real living room, and slide the balcony door shut.

I sat on the couch again, picked up the half-drunk beer, and took a gulp. Spilled some on my shirt. I didn’t know what else to do but try and understand the situation as best I could. There was no balcony anymore. From where I sat, I could see the second kitchen to my left, beyond the real one, and through the sliding glass door I could see the opposing living room, couch and all – even the bloody half-drunk beer sitting on the coffee table. If I told myself that the kitchen wall and the balcony door were mirrors, I could nearly believe I was still sane. Yeah, I thought, it’s just a mirror. Just a big fucking illusion. Reflection. There’s the coffee table… my couch… my beer… all that’s missing is…

I heard a noise behind me, coming from what sounded like the bedroom. A faint “thwump”, like the sound of something soft clumsily hitting the floor. I froze. I could feel my eyes tighten. My pulse throbbed sickeningly in my neck. I could feel the cold sweat seeping through my clothes. I had to escape.

I clutched the broom handle as tightly as I could and ran for the front door. I grabbed the knob, whipped open the chain lock, and twisted it open in a frenzy. Tears filled my eyes and the scream my body had tried to produce had stopped at the dry lump on my throat. I slammed it shut again, as hard as I could have, and locked it. I pressed my back against the door and let myself slide limply down, down, down onto the floor. There was no exit. Outside the door had been just another entrance way like my own. An exact reflection.

And then I heard the noise again… thwump… coming from the bedroom. And again… thwump… louder this time. Thwump. The bedroom door opened slowly. Thwump. They were footsteps. Thwump… thwump… They were coming down the hall.

I do not know what gave me the strength to move in that instant. Some primal instinct, some basic will to survive kicked in. I would not sit sobbing in a corner, waiting for whatever cruel and impossible fate awaited me. I would not.

I launched myself from the entrance way, and made for the balcony door. I flew across the kitchen. Grappled the half wall and swung my weight as best as I could across the living room floor. I snatched the sliding door handle, heaved it open, and burst into the room that should not be. I drove it shut behind me, flicked the lock, and ran left, around the half wall to face whatever it was that had come from this impossible place – not daring to blink until I passed the boundary back into the real kitchen. I stopped short. The wall had returned. Solid. Real. I would have to go back through the balcony door again, but at least I had the upper hand – the door was locked from this side.

I clenched my fists so tightly around the broom handle that my fingernails must be drawing blood from my palms. My eyes were stinging now, but I still dared not blink. I could not let the perverse logic of the space get a chance to warp itself again. Not while I was still inside it.

Then, there was another noise. Not the muffled footsteps from before, but a clear, sharp “tick.” The sound of metal and springs and intricate precision.

The sound of the balcony door being locked from the other side.

No… I rushed to the sliding door and unlocked it, but it wouldn’t budge. I could see the lock switch on the other side – the real side – and it was engaged. I screamed. I swore. I cried. I yanked and tore and heaved and kicked and pounded the door, over and over and over. There was no use. No matter how much force I put on the damned door, it wasn’t going to move. It didn’t even shake. As long as it was locked from the other side, I would never be able to open it. I was defeated. My eyes were still open – I refused to let myself blink, and my vision had gone horribly blurry. They burned like fire from the air and my hysteria, but I couldn’t blink. I could not let that happen. I had to keep the real world in sight.

And then I saw the figure.. I watched with horror through the glass as the figure reclined on my couch. They picked up my half-drunk beer and took a long swig. They were looking in my direction. Staring out the glass of the sliding door right at me. By now my eyes were aching so badly and my vision so impaired that I could scarcely pick out any details, but I knew what it was. The realization of it was the end for me. I have not felt true, unhindered hope, or joy, or contentment since that moment, and I fear that I never shall. The figure on the other side was me.

It might have been an hour, maybe two, maybe three that I knelt there with my forehead against the glass. I never did let my eyes shut that night. I held the lids open for so long that my sight left me entirely. I do not know when it was that I finally slipped into unconsciousness, but it was not of my own free will.

When I awoke in the morning I found myself staring out onto the balcony. The sun was glowing through the trees and I could see crows flying in the distance. I slid the door open and fell out onto the snow-covered wood and stayed there for a very long time, watching the ice crystals melt in my breath. By the time the cold drove me inside, the sun was well up and cars were moving on the roads.

In the weeks and months that followed I paced in and out of that balcony door so many times a day I would lose count by noon. I didn’t want to stay in that apartment one moment longer, but the madness of the discontinuity wouldn’t let me leave. I was obsessed with finding a way back to the world from which I had come. The breaking point came sometime in March – I can’t remember when, exactly – when the landlord came pounding on my door, responding to multiple noise complaints. I had been attempting to tear down the kitchen wall with a framing hammer. There was a commotion, and I had a few very long talks with police, but eventually the landlord agreed not to press charges so long as I moved out immediately and paid an extra three months rent to cover the damages. I took the offer. I convinced the cops that I didn’t know much about renovating, but I was sick to death of that fucking paint and had to do something about it.

It’s been a few years now, and I’ve distanced myself from that place. I’ve since gotten a new job, made disastrous attempts at love. I’ve made things work as best I can, going from one day to the next. I’ve come to think of this world as real – I have no other choice. I will never return to the other side. Not now. As time goes on it becomes ever harder to remember that it ever existed in the first place. To this day, I can’t bear looking in the mirror. I seems to me that behind the eyes of my reflection there is some hint of malevolence… though at times it looks to me more like gloating.

I remind myself every morning that I am real. I am here. Wherever here is. Impossible or no, this world is mine now. I’ve come to see the obscure beauty in it. There is one thing that reminds me of the world I thought I knew, though – it happens every day when I watch the sun rising. I always expect it to come up in the west, but it never does.

It never does.

Credit To – Keith Daniels

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I Want To Go Home

July 7, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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It was a dreary kind of day. It always was in this small suburban town. On the edge of this town,there resided a deep forest which gave a little life to the otherwise plain residence. The large oak trees swaying in the playful breeze, the few gentle rays of light peeking through the grey clouds were speckling through the forestry onto the foliage below, it is quite a sleepy little forest, the loudest sounds coming from the occasional wildlife passing through. That is except for today. Today all silence was broken with a loud pop and a flurry of fluttering wings followed by apish hooting and hollering. The culprit of these sounds? A group of boys who often frequented this otherwise quiet little forest. These boys had been friends since elementary school and it was common place for them to meet up after school and walk through to the edge of the local park into this forest. It was their “secret hideout”. Normally their games were innocent enough, kids just being kids goofing off and throwing sticks at each other. But today was different, today was “special”. The oldest of the group had just turned thirteen and had received a pellet rifle for his birthday. He was told repeatedly that it was not a toy and he could only use it with an adult around. He was even promised by his uncle that they would go out and shoot some targets at on Friday after school, but that was several days away and he was of course eager to show his best friends his newest treasure and what better place to do it then their secret hiding spot? So here he was proudly holding his recently fired .22 caliber pellet rifle smugly grinning at his accomplishment in hitting his first ever target. Before him just a few feet away in a mass of twitching black feathers was a small black bird, its spastic movements slowly ceasing.

“I can’t fucking believe you hit it dude!” the youngest of the three squeaked, excitedly running over to examine the fallen bird.

The oldest snorted “Of course I hit it, Uncle Joe used to let me shoot his real rifle all the time before this.”

He got a playful punch on his shoulder from the youngest boy. “Yeah right dude, I saw how your hands were shaking, you’ve never even used a pea shooter before.”

“Fuck you dude” the oldest replied with a wry grin.

The youngest chortled and rummaged through the leaves until he found a medium sized stick. He bent down to examine the animal. “Still Tommy,” he said turning the bird over, its head lolling limply over its snapped neck, now no longer moving. “It was a nice shot, you got it straight through the head, Aw sick its eye is even missing dude!”

“Just leave it the hell alone already Jake, let’s just go.” The last member of the trio was fuming. He had made it clear to his friends when Tommy brought out his smuggled birthday present that he was uncomfortable with them playing with the gun and was even more distraught of the idea of them hurting a harmless creature with it.

Tommy rolled his eyes. “Quit being a fucking pussy dude, it’s just a damn bird. What are you going to cry over it?”

James’s face grew hot “No! I-It’s just not fucking cool alright?! We already know how good your gun works can we just leave now?”

Tommy and Jake both gave each other knowing looks, letting out an exaggerated sigh, they both loved James, he was quiet and reserved, but smart and quick witted. However he was a rule follower and always got very nervous whenever the boys were doing something they “weren’t supposed to be doing”.

Tommy walked over to where James stood indignantly with his arms crossed and eyes glaring. He clasped a hand on his shoulder, James flinching away slightly, still miffed. “Hey dude, I was just messin with ya, Look I’m sorry I shot the thing, I was just really excited about this gun and when I saw the bird sitting right there on that low branch, it was like I couldn’t help myself you know? It was just right there calling to me like come on Tommy, shoot me shoot me!” He finished his sentence in a squeaky high voice drawing a giggle from James.

“Seriously dude, I didn’t mean anything by it and I promise it won’t happen again, let’s just walk around a little more and I’ll only shoot trees or shit like that alright? I promise!”

James looked unconvinced but sighed and nodded his head. “Fine, but you better keep your promise dude or I’m so kicking your ass.”

“I’d like to see you try Jamie-boy” Tommy replied with a smirk. “But seriously James, it won’t happen again.”

James knew Tommy could be an un-tactful asshole sometimes but knew he never did it purposely.

“It’s cool man let’s just hurry up, it’s getting late.”

James bent down and scooped up the broken bird and set it next to a tree where he brushed some leaves over it.

Tommy and Jake shook their heads, James was such a softy.

“Come on then slow poke, I know just the place to really try this puppy out!” Tommy began sprinting deeper into the forest, Jake and James following closely behind.

The boys finally reached their destination; it was a wide open area of the forest with the trees forming almost a perfect circle around it. There was a variety of stumps and fallen trees of all shapes and sizes, some seeming to come out of the ground like giant reaching arms, perfect for climbing or jumping off of. It was by far the boys’ favorite part of the forest.

“I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before, this’ll make a great shooting range! James, I’ll even let you go first this time.” Tommy held the butt of the gun out to the boy but James just shook his head and shrugged.

“Nah, that’s okay, I think I’ll just watch you guys.” With that, James plopped himself down in the soft grass and began picking at the weeds that resided there.

Tommy shrugged, “suit yourself dude, hey Jake come here!”
The youngest stopped kicking toadstools off the tree stumps and ran over to Tommy and James.

Tommy slid his backpack off his back and tossed it over to Jake. “Here get these set up why don’t ya.”
Jake opened the backpack to find various bottles and cans. Perfect practice targets for a pellet gun.

“Fine I’ll set up the first round but you are setting up the next one.”

Tommy waved a hand nonchalantly in Jake’s direction. “Yeah yeah, sure.”
Tommy looked over to where James sat. James seemed to be finding whatever he was picking at in the grass to be very interesting. He sighed and moved closer to the boy.

“You sure you don’t wanna try? I know guns aren’t your thing and all but you gotta admit, this thing is pretty bad ass.”

“Uh huh.” Came a disinterested reply.

“You don’t believe me but just watch this!” Tommy looked up at a large twig that was hanging loosely from a branch a few feet above them. “I betcha ten bucks I can shoot that twig loose!”

James rolled his eyes “You don’t even have 5 bucks dude.” Still, curiosity won him over and he stood up standing beside Tommy. “Alright you win, impress me.”

Tommy smugly grinned and took aim at the softly swaying limb, licking his lips and breathing slowly to keep his mark steady. He was about to pull the trigger when a loud squawk startled him. He and James both looked over to a nearby tree to see a group of black birds staring back at them. James chuckled at Tommy who then received a glare from the older boy.

“Ha ha, very funny.”

James shrugged. “Karma’s a bitch dude.”

Tommy snorted “Karma my ass dude, they are just a bunch of dumb birds.” With that he lifted his gun again to his desired target. Before he could get a proper lock on it, the branch began to bob up and down slightly. He looked over to find that one of the birds had decided to use the branch as its perch, its beady little eyes staring into the boy’s. Tommy smirked. “Fine, if you have a death wish, who am I to deny it?”

He started to aim his gun slightly over to the right but James had been watching and knew exactly what his friend intended. He stomped over and grasped harshly onto the nozzle, aggressively pushing it away. A soft flutter of wings could be heard as the small bird flew off the branch into the trees.

Tommy was shocked and then angered by his friend’s actions “What the hell man?! Do you wanna get shot in the face? Let the fuck go!” He tried forcefully yanking the gun out of James grasp, but James had a firm grasp and was not giving in. James was seething, gripping the nozzle in a white knuckle grip. Tommy swore that if looks could kill, he would be dead a hundred times over by now.

“You fucking promised Tommy! You promised you wouldn’t shoot anything else! I’m sick of this bullshit dude, you weren’t even supposed to be out here with this dumb thing. ” He shook the nozzle in his hand for emphasis. “Tell Jake to pack up, we’re leaving.“

“Screw you man, the stupid thing was asking for it. You know, all day I was trying to be extra nice to you cuz I know you don’t like this shit but you are being a total stuck up bitch right now and it’s killing our mood. Know what? You can pussy out and go home by yourself. Jake and me are actually gonna have some fun. Now let the fuck GO!” With that Tommy jerked the gun sharply upward. James, whose resolve was slightly broken by Tommy’s hurtful words, let his grip slip causing the gun nozzle to slip out of his hands rather easily with Tommy’s excess force exerting on it. This caused the nozzle to swing higher. Tommy who in his loss of temper tried to get a better grip on the gun, accidentally put his finger on the trigger. With a loud pop everything went still. Tommy’s red face quickly turned pale, the sound of his gun slightly ringing in his ears. His anger quickly forgotten as he looked up to see James swaying heavily, a look of bewilderment in his left eye, his right was not visible due to the gushing crimson stream coming from it. He made a gurgling guttural sound before his knees gave out and he crashed to the forest floor in a heap convulsing and twitching.

Tommy was still comprehending what had just happened when he was startled by a large crash and clinking of metal and broken glass. He looked back to see Jake staring wide eyed in their direction mouth agape, the back pack unceremoniously laying on the ground, broken bottles and cans littered at his feet. Jake stood motionlessly as if he was still trying to comprehend what had just happened, and then broke into a sprint towards the boys screaming words that Tommy couldn’t quite understand, his mind was buzzing. He was sure it was something along the lines of “What the hell did you do?” He looked down again to the prone form of James. He was completely still now, no longer convulsing just very still.

Jake pushed past Tommy and slid to his knees next to James. Hands hovering over him wanting desperately to help but afraid he might hurt him more. Jake tried calling out James’s name, eliciting no response. He careful turned him over taken aback at the bloody mess on his friend’s face. He then began gently shaking him and tapping his face. When that too failed to gain a response, he became more aggressive in his attempts to stir the boy. Jake laid his ear on the boy’s chest. White face, he turned up to Tommy. “I-I can’t hear anything, His chest ain’t moving neither. I-I think he’s dead Tommy.” Jake’s eyes began brimming with tears.

That snapped Tommy out of the stupor he was currently in. He dropped to his knees next to James practically pushing Jake out of the way. He roughly grabbed the boy’s wrist pleading to any god that would listen that he would find a pulse. There was nothing. He grabbed his shoulders roughly shaking the boy. “Come on Jamie wake up. I’m sorry, God I’m so sorry! Just please wake the fuck up!” James head lolled lifelessly back and forth. The gore from his eye socket spreading further down his pale face.

Tommy was now breaking down into sobs. He’d killed one of his closest friends. He got up pacing back and forth reeling at the horror he now faced.

“We gotta go Tommy, we gotta go get someone.”

Tommy snapped his head back to Jake, his face twisted in a wild expression that made the younger boy flinch.“The hell we do, do you know what they’ll do if they find out what I did?! They’ll put me away Jake! I’ll go to prison!”

“B-ut it was an accident right? They’ll underst-“

Tommy strode quickly towards the small quivering boy and hefted him up by his shirt. “No they fucking won’t Jake! They won’t understand! I wasn’t even supposed to be playing with this in the first place! You know that! I’m gonna spend the rest of my life in prison!” Tommy forcefully let go of Jake causing him to stumble backwards and fall. He looked up at Tommy, his face was etched in fear, tears now streaming freely down his face.
“W-what are we going to do Tommy?”

Tommy glanced down at James’s limp form, studying the ruby red glistening on the boy’s face and shuddered. What would he do? What would James want him to do? He felt himself shivering but he knew it wasn’t from the cold.
“WE are not going to do anything Jake. YOU are going to go home and if you still think of me as a friend you won’t tell anyone about James. You said it yourself, it was an accident. Do you think James would want my life ruined over an accident?”

When Tommy didn’t get a response, he looked back over to Jake, the boy was trembling, lip quivering and wavering eyes gazing up at his, there was true innocent terror in those eyes, He knew his friend was fighting with himself on what the right thing to do was. Tommy held his gaze, his glassy eyes wordlessly offering an apology for what he put his friend through, what he was about to burden his friend with.

“Just go home Jake, as far as you know this day never happened.”

With that Jake carelessly scrambled up from his position in the leaves, not caring if he got a few scratches by doing so and took off quickly. After a few minutes when Tommy could no longer hear his friend’s hurried footfalls, he let out a heavy sigh and bent down to his burden at hand.

He circled around to where James head lay and hooked his hand underneath his armpits and began dragging the boy deeper into the woods.

———-

After what felt like hours he finally reached his destination, what he and his friends had called “the pit”. The pit was a deep slanted ditch that led to what they could only assume was a very large tunnel,almost big enough to be called a cave. The boys could only assume this hellish dugout was created by some large animal. It would be a common game for Tommy and his friends to dare each other into getting as close to the entrance as possible without chickening out. Tommy had only ever gotten as far as sticking a foot into the abysmal darkness before scrambling out.

He slowly worked his way down the slope, his trek made awkward with James. By the time he made it down to the tunnel entrance, he and James were both covered in mud, the earthy smell of wet leaves and grass was heavy in Tommy’s nostrils.

Tommy looked into the open burrow. It looked more intimidating now with his impending task at hand. It looked like an open mouth of some horrible creature. He could swear he could even hear breathing echoing through the hollow space.

He looked down again at James. Despite being dragged through the forest, which was evident by the mud and grime on the boy, he still looked peaceful. If it were not for the gore on the side of his face, Tommy could have sworn he was just sleeping. Tears made trails down the boy’s grimy face which he furiously wiped away.
“I’m so sorry buddy, God I’m so sorry.”

With that he rolled the boy into the entrance of the burrow. He was startled when the boy’s body rolled forward further into the space without more coaxing on his end. He heard rapid loud rustling echoing through the tunnel which ended in a loud thump. He peeked his head in further and reached out. He felt nothing through the thick darkness. He had never realized that the tunnel went so deep let alone have such a steep entry way. He briefly thought how lucky it was that his friends were never brave enough to further down the intimidating burrow.

With his task done he let out a heavy sigh, muttering more grief filled apologies to his friend and climbed out of the ditch. Just before he reached the top he felt a warm breeze breathe from the tunnel. His hair stood on end as he could swear that with it, he could hear a voice whisper “wait”. The boy had never run so fast in his entire life.

He had almost reached the exit to woods when he heard crunching and felt something squishy underneath his foot. He looked down and felt his heart stop, he had stepped on the mangled body of the black bird he had shot earlier, its bloody eye socket staring up at him. Hadn’t James set the thing’s body closer to the trees? Why was it in the middle of the trail?
A strong wind shook the trees around him and once more they carried a voice that seemed to plead this time. “wait”.
Tommy was gone before the wind could die down.

—————-

Tommy slammed the door to his bedroom, wild eyed and heart pounding out of his chest, he could not stop pacing back and forth, the floor boards creaking loudly in time with his panicked breaths.“It’s done, it’s over. Nobody will ever know what happened.” He reassured himself. He ran a hand through his hair and pulled back to see it grimy with mud, sweat and what appeared to be, blood. A shudder wracked through his body and he fought the urge to vomit. He ran into the bathroom and spent a good while scrubbing himself almost raw to be sure he got any evidence of today’s happenings off of his body and he went to sleep. His mother came home a few hours later and quietly rapped on his door asking if he wanted dinner. He declined saying simply that he wasn’t hungry.

That night Tommy awoke to short sharp tappings at his window. He groggily looked up towards the sound and the tapping stopped. From what he could see, nothing appeared to be there. With a huff he flopped back down onto the pillow and tried to get back to sleep.

He was just about to drift off when he heard it again, only it was louder this time, and more aggressive. He wearily turned over again to see what it was. This time his eyes shot wide open. It was faint and the boy only caught it due to some passing headlights, but just for a second he saw what appeared to be light reflected off of two small beady orbs looking at him through the window.

“Tap Tap Tap.” He jolted again at the sound. He slammed down on the bed, whipping the covers over his head, he felt like he was suffocating with each shuddering breath under the heat of his comforter but he did not dare pull the blanket off. The Tapping was persistent and always in the same pattern. Sometimes the sounds were quiet, but sometimes it sounded loud enough that whatever was doing it would break through the glass. Mercifully, the tapping stopped and the boy was once again able to fall asleep.

Tommy again was jolted awake by banging, only this time it came from his door.
“Tommy, you better get up or you’re going to miss the bus!” He heard his mother call through the door.
He flew back the covers. The sun was shining warmly through the windows lighting his room up in a soft yellow.

“Was I dreaming?” Tommy thought to himself. He looked towards the window and froze. There was a small black bird sitting outside on his window sill just staring t him. It seemed eerily still not once turning its head in any other direction, it kept its beady eyes trained on Tommy.
The boy was unnerved but also angry at the thing for keeping him up all night. He stomped towards the window, but before he had a chance to open it, the bird flew away.He exhaustively rubbed his hands on his face and half thought about telling his mother he wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t go to school, but decided against it. He didn’t want to bring up any suspicions.

He begrudgingly got dressed and headed out to the bus. As he was about to walk out the door, his mother called out. “Hey Tommy, Have you seen James? His mother called this morning and said he never came home last night, she sounded pretty worried. You guys were hanging out last night right?”
Tommy felt a lump forming in his throat, his hands slightly shaking. He swallowed thickly and answered in as a controlled voice as he could muster.
“N-no Ma, It was just me and Jake last night, he said he didn’t want to come with us after school because he wasn’t feeling well.”
His mother’s eyebrows furrowed in concern for her boy. He seemed so upset but she didn’t question him figuring he must be worried for his friend.
“Okay sweetheart, well try to have a good day at school today alright? I’m sure your friend will turn up.”
Tommy gave a curt nod walking quickly outside, fighting the sob welling in his chest.

————

School was absolute hell for Tommy, his teachers had all asked if they had seen or what they had seen James doing the previous day and to report anything suspicious if they did. Tommy could only think about his friend’s cold pale body slowly being feasted on by whatever creatures lie in the depths of the pit, that bloody eye burning into his own. There were a few times he wanted to just stand up in the middle of class and scream that he did it, he murdered James and left him to rot in some hole in the forest. That desire would quickly bet smothered by the fear of what the repercussions for committing such a crime would be.

Tommy had seen Jake only a few times, the boy looked as horrible as Tommy felt. His clothes and hair were completely disheveled and his face held a tiredness that shouldn’t belong on a child’s face. He ignored Tommy completely and the few minute glances Tommy caught from Jake were filled with sorrow and accusation towards him.

—————

Tommy again skipped dinner that night, dismissing his mother’s worried glances with a quick “I’m fine, just tired” and threw himself on the bed not bothering to change out of his school clothes. He wept himself to sleep that night.

Unfortunately, his sleep did not last as he once again was awoken by that dreaded sound.

“Tap, Tap, Tap.”

This time however, it almost sounded like it was coming from inside his room.

“Tap, TAP, Tap.”

He hesitantly looked over towards the direction the sounds were coming from. It was too dark to see in the dark, but it sounded like whatever was making the sounds was coming from inside his closet.

“TAP,TAP,TAP.”

He was shaken by the much louder sound and sat up completely. Just then a car passed by through his window casting a light in which once again caught the reflection of two beady orbs set deep in the closet.
Tommy was too scared to move and could barely mutter out. “G-go away, whatever you are, just g-get out of my room and leave me alone!”

Tommy felt an icy chill over his body as whatever lay in the closet answered back.

“Pleaasssse.”

The voice was light and raspy, as if it were being carried on an unfelt breeze. The unearthly sound shook Tommy to his very core.

“Please Tommy, I just want go home. Just bring me home.”

Tommy hid once more underneath the covers shaking violently, barely suppressing the sobs wracking through his chest.

“I’m not angry Tommy, It waassss an accident. I just want to go home.”

“I can’t do that James, you k-know I can’t!” Tommy desperately pleaded through the thick fabric covering his trembling body.

“It’s sssoo dark and cold Tommy, I can’t seeee. I want to go home. Pleaassee, Bring me home.”

Tommy couldn’t control his sobs any longer and cried into his pillow. He stopped when he heard creaking slowly heading towards the direction of his bed. They stopped just by the side of his bed. He heard deep raspy breathing, and almost screamed when he felt a cold clammy hand slide under the blankets and gently grasp his wrist.

“I want to go home Tommy. Bring me home.”

It was said calmly but Tommy could sense a terrible anger behind it. He felt hot urine running down his legs as he shook all the more violently.
“Al-alright James, tomorrow I’ll g-go to the police, and we’ll bring you h-home alright? I-I promise!”

All at once, the cold pressure on his wrist disappeared and he didn’t hear another sound. He timidly peaked from under his blanket and felt an overwhelming relief wash over him as he saw that his room was empty.
He shakily got out of bed, his legs feeling wobbly and weak as if he had been running for the past five hours and slowly made his way to the bathroom to change.

Tommy decided he could not get back to sleep and crept down to the den were the family television was and flipped it to some infomercial. He didn’t care what he was watching, he just needed a distraction from his now buzzing thoughts. How was he going to tell anyone what had happened? What were his parents going to think? What was going to happen to him? The boy curled up in a ball shaking with distress and desperately tried to concentrate on the happy smiling people on the screen.

————

That morning Tommy was in a daze, he was surprised to find himself waking up in his bed. He could of sworn he had been watching infomercials downstairs a minute ago. Had last night all just been a dream? He heard his mother’s familiar rapping on the door and reminder that the bus would be here and slowly got up out of bed.
He warily walked over to his closet and froze. A chill swept over him as a familiar reflection of light caught his eye. He shakily crept over against his better judgment and moved over the clothing piled there to find the source. He let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding, a huge wave of relief washing over him. He pulled out the long shiny black metal that was his pellet gun and resisted the urge to whip the thing across the room, settling for shoving it underneath his bed.
“That must have been what I saw last night, the reflection off the damn things metal, everything else musta just been a dream.” After that thought, he was startled by the sound he had come to dread.

“TAP, TAP, TAP.”

He whipped his head towards the window to find what he could only assume was the same bird from yesterday morning staring in at him. It held his gaze with its cold beady eyes. Tommy couldn’t explain it, but he felt like it was angry. Before he could get up, it was gone.

———————

As Tommy wearily got off the bus he froze. There was a group of police officers standing outside the school talking to the principal. Tommy assumed they were probably here to help find James. Tommy’s grip on his school bag tightened and felt himself start to tremble.
“This is it, just go up to the cops and tell them what happened and this can all be over.”

Tommy couldn’t get himself to move. “Last night was just a dream right? James is long gone, nothing bad’s gonna happen if I just keep my mouth shut.” With that final thought, Tommy brushed past the police and endured what felt like one of the longest days at school he had ever been through.

——————–

As soon as Tommy got home, he started making his way to his room but his mother stopped him.“Honey, you aren’t planning on skipping dinner again are you? I know you are worried about your friend but you have to eat, keep up your strength you know?.“

Tommy said nothing just kept his head down and tried desperately to keep his composure.
His mother wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly.
“It’s okay honey, everything is going to be alright. How about we order pizza tonight?”

Tommy just slowly nodded his head.

“And remember, tomorrow after school, your uncle Joe is coming down from up north to pick you up to go try out your new birthday present. I know how excited you’ve been for that. You guys should have a fun weekend huh?”
Tommy felt his stomach drop, the absolute last thing Tommy wanted to do was to touch that thing again.

“Y-yeah. Sure it will be mom.”
His mother smiled. She gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze before fetching the phone to order the pizza.

———————————-

After dinner, Tommy thanked his mom and then headed straight to bed. However, not surprisingly he couldn’t sleep. He was dreading what kind of horrible dream would haunt him tonight. He waited and waited until he heard his mom shut her bedroom door, she too going to bed but there was nothing. no horrid tapping, and no malicious eyes glaring at him in the dark. With an exhausted sigh, he closed his eyes and drifted to sleep.

“TAP, TAP, TAP.”

Tommy’s eyes shot open, and his whole body immediately began to tremble, a whimper escaping his throat.

“You said you’d bring me home Tommy. You promised. You promisssseed”

Tommy screwed his eyes shut. “You’re not real, you’re not real, you’re not real.” He continued his mantra as he heard horrible scratching sounds make their way towards his bed.

”I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go hoooommee.”

The voice vibrated loudly throughout the room. With the last rasping word, there came a freezing chill that swept over Tommy. The boy couldn’t even find the strength to pull the covers over his head. He laid there trembling and sobbing.

It was then he heard the sound of fluttering wings and gasped when he felt something plop onto his legs. He could feel sharp needles poking into the thick fabric of the blanked into his legs, almost hard enough to draw blood. He could hear slow steady breathing, each breath beginning and ending in that horrible rasping sound.

Tommy himself was breathing so fast that he was sure he was going to hyperventilate. He slowly turned his head to see what hellish being sat on his legs. He felt his mouth open to scream but found that he couldn’t. Not with those glowing red orbs burning into his own.

“BRING ME HOME.”

Tommy did scream then.

—————————-

Tommy’s mother stood in the hallway outside room 324 of the psychiatric ward in their town’s local pediatrics hospital. Her eyes were puffy and red from crying, a well used tissue crumpled in her hand. Her brother had a solemn and tired look on his face as he tried to console his distraught sister.

“I-I just don’t understand it doctor, how could he-“ She paused stifling a sob. “How could he do THAT to himself?!”

Joe glanced in through the small window of the ward that now held his nephew. Tommy was strapped down to a gurney, although he was not struggling, in fact he didn’t move at all. Just a few minute twitches, his lips muttering wordlessly. A thick band of gauze was secured across the boy’s eyes.

The Doctor held the mother’s eyes with an almost apologetic glance. “It is really difficult to say, violent psychotic breaks of this caliber usually come from severe mental illness or are a result of extreme trauma. Since there is no sign of mental illness in the family I have to ask again, are you absolutely sure nothing traumatic has happened to Tommy recently? I know you said he had been upset over his friend’s disappearance but has he been under any other stress?”

Tommy’s mother just shook her head, stifling another sob.

The doctor nodded grimly. “Alright well, I’ll go over his physical condition now. Aside from the self inflicted damage to his eyes, the rest of him seems to free of any signs of self-harm. We also ran a drug screen to see if any hallucinogens may have had a part in this behavior but his blood work came up clean…As for his eyes.” The doctor paused to take in the state of the mother before continuing. “Unfortunately as you know, he completely ripped out the optic nerve along with the entire eye in both sockets. There is unfortunately nothing we can do to repair his eyesight.”

Tears welled in her eyes and she gripped onto her brother’s arm for support as the doctor continued.

“As for his mental state, well…” The doctor sighed heavily. “Your son is completely catatonic, he hasn’t moved or said anything since he came in this morning in the ambulance. He won’t even react to pain or any other stimuli. We think it may just be shock but it’s hard to tell with a psychotic break like this. I’m going to be honest with you mam, I have never seen an episode like this in a child so young with seemingly no trigger.”

The poor woman squeezed her brother’s hand and looked up glassy eyed at the doctor.“What are our options for treatment?”

“Come, let’s go into my office to discuss those details, we can visit Tommy again in a bit.” The doctor gently ushered the distraught pair down the hall.

————–

Meanwhile, in room 324 Tommy was lying still. His unseeing eyes staring up at the dim buzzing fluorescent lights flickering above his head. A bloody tear leaked down the boys face through the gauze. He opened up his dry cracked lips. His throat was raw from the screams that ripped through him the night before, however he was still able to mutter in a raspy voice:

“I want to go home.”

Credit To – MandaMute

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