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Empty and Endless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s about time.”

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

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

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

“Who are you?” I asked bluntly.

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

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

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

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

“Not in here. Out there.”

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s my brain!” I yelled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Christopher Maxim

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The Night of the Glass Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Jenny didn’t have any eyes.

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

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

I asked Nana, what did Jenny say?

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

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

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

I asked her what was she remembering.

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

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

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

And he’d cut out his own eyes.

Credit: M.B.

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I Am The Fish King

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

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

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

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

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6:30

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

6:26

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

6:27

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

6:28

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

6:29

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

6:30

Finally. It was finally time.

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

Am I?

I glanced at my watch.

6:31

Why. Just WHY.

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

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

Wait.

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

I turned it.

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

“That’ll be $12.75”

The pizza had arrived.

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

I was at peace.

Credit To – Cole Christian

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The Musician

March 19, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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“Name?”
*cough*
My mind had been wandering again. The man looked at me patiently.
“Name.” he repeated again.
“Edwin.” I replied. “Edwin Stroud.”
The man pursed his lips slightly as he checked the papers in front of him.
“Occupation?” He asked.
“Musician.” I replied.
His eyes looked up from the papers.
“S-sorry?” he said
“Musician.” I repeated, smiling innocently.
“Hmmm, musician.” The man replied. Patronising? Maybe just a bit. I was finding it a bit difficult to concentrate.
“Well Mr. Stroud, why don’t you tell me about your ‘music’.”
The man was definitely patronising me now. I wasn’t sure why. I wasn’t even sure who he was.
I struggled to focus my thoughts back as far as I could.

“It’s kinda strange. When I was a child, I suffered with extreme Melophobia. You know what that is?”
The man nodded. He was looking at me very intently, not looking at me so much as looking into me.
“Well, all through my childhood, I had this fear. I would freak out if I heard music. Any kind of music. Do you know how difficult that is? How hard it is for your family? T.V. with the sound off. We used subtitles. No kids parties or days out, I was home schooled, because I would just go berserk at any tune. I had panic attacks, music sounded like dragging nails down a blackboard, it had a physical presence, stifling me, battering me with its rhythm. I guess my home life was pretty stressful; My parents started drinking a lot. I can’t blame them, who would want a child to ruin their life. A child that, by one way or another, you love unconditionally. Yeah, I guess it was tough. Anyway, as I said my parents used to drink quite a bit, and I’d hear them shouting as I would go to sleep. That became normal. No lullabies, just tension and anger and fear.

One night I remember, the usual bedtime routine. Trying to give my father a hug, him not being able to look at me, and me hugging his leg, his whole body tensed as though it took all his willpower not to lash out at me. My mother, smelling of raw alcohol, smothering me with sarcastic cooing and forced affection. I went to bed, and the usual nocturnal arguments began. They soothed me. Then I heard something, I guess it was music. I was half asleep, but the music seemed beautiful. I soon fell asleep, and the music was just a memory.

The next day, I asked my father about the music he was playing last night. He said that he and my mother had decided to split up, because it was a ‘self destructive’ situation, that her drinking was way out of hand, and that he had put some music on after she’d gone, I guess it was a kind of parting ‘fuck you’. He never played that song again.

I figured I was over this phobia, but after never hearing music as long as I could remember it took a huge amount of willpower to actively seek it out, do go against everything that my brain was telling me not to do, like skydiving or bungee jumping. I remember I must have been about twelve, my dad was out and I turned the TV on. I turned the volume up slowly, tentatively. The saccharine advert jingle shot like electricity down my spine, it sounded discordant, metallic, it was jarring in its ferocity. I couldn’t move. I wasn’t over it. I started to panic, I collapsed on the floor. My father found me about an hour later, in the foetal position, rigid with fear and covered with sweat. We got rid of the TV.”

I blinked, the memories fading fast, and I was back in the room. The man was still staring intently at me, the fluorescent lights reflecting in his glasses. He pushed them up the bridge of his nose slightly and leaned forward, almost imperceptibly.
“Then what.” He said.
As he finished the sentence, his mouth curled in the corner as if he was somehow humouring me by listening to this story.

“By the time I was fifteen, my dad was hardly around. He would be out drinking all the time, and doing whatever else he did now that my mum had left. I found I could go out at night, There was less of a chance of idiots with loud car stereos, or TV noise, even people singing used to make me feel weird. So my dad would be out, and so would I. I was pretty much nocturnal, I would sleep in the day, and used earplugs in case the local ice cream van came round and sent me over the edge with its tinny, feedback like howl. I would casually observe people from the safety of the darkness, Not like a peeping tom, I’m not a pervert or anything, I’m nothing. No-thing.

I should say at this point, that where we lived was not far from the edge of town. About half an hours walk away, and I used to head out on my own, in the dark (doesn’t that sound crazy nowadays?) and just listen to the night sounds. One night I was out laying on my back, looking at the stars when a car drove past and stopped. It was about quarter of a mile away I guess. A man got out, and I could hear the music again. It was sublime. I wept, the melodies were incredible. The car drove off, but the singing remained. I walked towards where the car seemed to have been, but the music had stopped. I was alone in the silence again.

I decided to carry a tape recorder with me, just in case I heard it again. I mean, I couldn’t listen to most music, but this was somehow different. It didn’t terrify or smother. It comforted, it soared, I had to find it again. It was a few months later, I was heading out on my usual night time walk, when I heard it again, it was somehow different than before, quieter too, but still good. I took out my tape recorder and hit [rec] hoping it wasn’t too low to register on the rubbish built in mic. I wandered around, trying to find where it was coming from, but it just seemed to hover on the air. I looked around, but my only other witness in this search was an old dog resting under a bush. But before I could trace it, it was gone. Over the next few years, I managed to record some more tunes, but they were so rare and fleeting that I started to treasure each cassette, and hid them away from my father in case he smashed them like he smashed all the records when I was young. This was my music.”

“So you hid this music from your father? Why was that?” The man didn’t even seem to be blinking now. He was completely emotionless.
“Yes” I replied.
“ He wouldn’t have understood. All these years of not having music in the house, then finding my cassettes with beautiful music, it would have been to much for him. He got angry when he was drunk, and he was usually drunk.”
“I don’t think that’s the reason” said the man. “Is it.”
These last two words were very deliberate. ‘Is. It’. Maybe he thought I was lying about my father. Maybe he thought I didn’t have these wondrous tapes hidden away.
“We found your tapes” He said. “There were lots of them.”
I knew I wasn’t lying.
“When did you start making your own music”
Again, the sarcastic tone. I didn’t understand why he was patronising me.

I smiled.

“You know, it took a long time to figure it out. I was having to make do with finding these songs just floating on the air. They didn’t happen very often, but I would treasure them when they did. Then I found out how to make this music myself. It was not as hard as you’d think. The tricky part was finding musicians up to the job. Like they say about stories, everybody has one good one in them. Some have more than one. The trick is to get them to make music for as long as possible. That was where I needed to study, to tease these songs out of the chaos of thought, to write longer songs . At first, like any musician, I was clumsy, hours of work might only produce a few chords, maybe the beginnings of a melody. I did learn though, and became more productive. The songs started to flow, and I began to fall in love with music. Because of my condition, I could only work with one musician at a time. I would record what they had to offer, then move on. I would mix the separate recordings together to make whole songs. I had to travel around to find people to work with, and I found talent everywhere.”

The expression on the man’s face seemed to change for the first time. He still looked ‘into’ me, but now he didn’t like what he saw. He was done humouring me now.
“You know we also found your recording studio….”
The statement seemed to hang there, unfinished. Was he waiting for me to add something?
“Really? Impressive, isn’t it.”
I smiled again, hoping to diffuse the tension that was quickly rising in the atmosphere.
“You were certainly busy” The man replied through gritted teeth.
“For the record, I am showing Mr. Stroud the photos we took at his recording studio” the man spoke into a tape recorder, just like mine.

He placed one photo after another on the table in front of me. All taken in a darkened filthy room. In the middle of the room was a sturdy wooden chair with leather straps hanging from the arms and legs. There was a dark patch on the floor. A microphone hung at about head height in front of the chair. One photo of a small tin containing teeth of various sizes. One photo of a severed finger. One of a metal table with various tools. One of a tape recorder.

“And now, the musicians” He said.

The photos were falling faster on to the table now, as thought the man didn’t want to even touch them in case he was somehow tainted by them. Photos of bloodied bodies, people of all ages, brutalised beyond recognition.
“This poor bastard,” He said as he threw the last photo down.”This poor soul lasted for three days after we found him. He died the day we got to you.”

“Ah yes. He was very resilient.” I replied. “I had a weeks worth of music from him”
I smiled again. The man looked at me and I could see his jaw tense.

“Take him away” he said.
Two large men walked in through the door and hoisted me to my feet.
“It’s such wonderful music” I said. “Beautiful, beautiful music.”

I was dragged down the corridor back to my room. I fell asleep to the sound of music drifting down the corridors.

Credit: Sludgieboy

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Any Day Above Ground

March 9, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I open my eyes to absolute darkness and to a stale woody smell just inches from my nose. I don’t remember being here, how I got here. I don’t even recall where I was last. My amygdala is setting off internal alarms. I’m not in full-blown panic state yet but I’m getting there. I have a tendency to succumb to claustrophobia in a matter of seconds. I always have. I remember that. I turn my head left and right but that tells me squat. I move my arm to feel around. In just a few inches, my knuckles hit wood all around me. So close. I push on the sides. The sides are so close. “Hey! Someone! Let me out!”

Calm yourself, James. Caaalm.

James. My name is James McKinney. That’s a good start.

This wood is so close – right in my face. My breath bounces right back to me. Do I have enough air in here? Stop it. Stop it. Don’t hyperventilate. Figure out where you are. Think. Think. Think. Think.

I bite my lower lip to take my attention off the panic. Grit is covering my mouth and I spit. Well, that wasn’t too bright, James. It dripped right back onto your face. I move my hand up along my body to wipe off the spit and…dirt. It feels like dirt. Tastes like dirt. Where the hell am I?

I hear muffled voices.

“Hey! Help me!” But, then, they are gone. “No! Come back!”

I feel around and the damp wood is enclosing me on all sides. I can barely move my arms. That means I can’t move. I can’t move around. I can’t turn over or sit up. Let me out, let me out. I thrash my body around in hopes of, what, breaking free? But it doesn’t do anything. What is this? “Hey! Where am I?”

I feel sick. Oh my God. Don’t get sick in here, James. Don’t get sick.

I take a few calming breaths and talk myself down. Don’t become hysterical, now. I slide my right hand back up my chest and rub my eyes. My hand swipes something long hanging above my face. Is it a worm? Bugs! Oh, my God! What is it? What is it?! My hand brushes it again and I hear a faint tinkle. My fingers search for whatever the hanging thing is. It’s not slimy; it’s a string. A string hanging in a box. What the…?

Well, pull it, you moron. See what it does!

I yank on it and I hear a bell ring far away like. “Heeey!”

A string in a box – with a person. I know why this is familiar. Yes. This is like those Scare-the-Shit-Out-of-You nighttime stories I read before bed. They used to bury people with a string attached to a bell just in case they weren’t really dead. Someone would sit by the grave and the person in the coffin had three days to ring the bell to let them know they buried an alive person. After three days, I guess they supposed you were actually dead as dirt and – whoop – they’d yank the string out and well, there you have it.

I wrap the string around my fingers several times.

Is that where I am? Am I dead? But I’m not dead because I’m here. Here. In a box.

Oh, boy. Oh, boy. Here it comes. My hands are tingling. Don’t think about your breathing, James. Don’t think. Ignore it. Don’t take short breaths. In through your nose, out your mouth. Someone buried me thinking I was dead. I don’t remember being in an accident. I wasn’t sick, I don’t think. I feel around my body. No pain. All in one piece. Why would they think I’m dead? I’m not! I’m not!

I pull the string again and again, “I’m here! I’m alive! Let me out! Please! Please!”

But they don’t hear me out there. And the air is getting thinner. Less for me to breathe.

Ha! If I wasn’t dead when they put me in, I will be soon, and I start to laugh. Laughing uses more oxygen. Don’t laugh. But I can’t help it. I keep ringing the bell. Why don’t they hear it? I can.

And then I hear them again. Closer this time, clearer. Tight. It’s so tight in here. I pound on the sides, “Hey, out there!”

“He’s dreaming again, Doctor. He’s pulling at the restraints.”

I’m not restrained.

“He’s not supposed to be doing that. Give him another dose of pentobarbital and fix his earphones. And keep playing that Buried Alive recording. His incarceration is well deserved.”

Incarceration. I remember now. Fifty years to life.

“This one’s not eligible for parole, is he?”

I hear the doctor laugh. He laughed. “That’s what I was told.”

“Wow. We’ll all be long gone when he wakes up, huh?”

But I’m awake! And I pound on the sides. “I’m here!”

“You bet. At least my tax dollars won’t be going to his cable or food, and he won’t play basketball all day like he’s at some resort.”

A buzzer goes off. “Bed 735C is waking, too.”

“Which way is that?”

“That way. At the front of the building.”

No! Don’t go!

“God, I hate all this walking…”

Rows and rows. Rows and rows.

“Who thought making this warehouse so big was a good idea? All right, come with me, then. Which one is C? Top or bottom bed?”

“Top, Doctor. And this one should be back in coma-state in a few.”

Coma-state.

I wait, hoping unconsciousness would kick in and this will disappear, melt away like they promised. The stale air is suffocating. Minutes pass that feel like a forever wait.

And then I hear the nurse, “Okay, he’s out.”

Out? I’m not out. I’m not out! I’m still here, in this box! Coma people are not supposed to think anything, feel anything. That’s what I was told at sentencing.

“After the next one, Kate, you wanna grab a bite at Finnegan’s?”

“One of their juicy burgers sounds…”

And they’re gone again.

“Wait! No!” I yank on the bell. The more I scream, the more air I use up. Less and less air. The dark is oppressive and liquid tar fills my lungs. I can’t breathe. There’s nothing left!

Check off all the boxes that apply: I am most uncomfortable when… Psychological profile, my ass.

“Mr. McKinney, the prosecutor has given you the option to forego your prison sentence for Alternative Sedation, which you have taken. Congratulations.”

Congratulations, the judge said.

“Piece of cake, Judge. You bald bastard.”

Ha! Ha-Ha! Hold it together, James. You’re starting to lose it.

Joke’s on me, isn’t it? They know. They knew all along what a coma person goes through. A permanent state of elsewhere.

Hold it together. You have a long way to go, James.

This is my fifty years to life. Fifty years in a box, underground, covered in six feet of dirt, ringing a bell no one will hear. Oh, my God. No air. No air. No air.

Credit: R.B.Frank

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