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Soulmate

March 1, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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The night is especially silent and the moon is missing the company of its alluring stars. Sitting on the edge of a dusty old mattress, Evelyn Parker holds on tightly to the agate necklace her grandmother gave her less than a year ago. Tonight feels different than most nights and the overpowering feeling of distress overcomes Evelyn’s spirit.

“Are you ready?” The voice of a friend echoes through the abandoned house. Sarah Tipton stands at the bottom of the rotten old stairs with her hand gripping the end of the banister. “Hello? Are you ready or what?”

Holding the agate stone closer to her chest, Evelyn’s response echoes her uncertainty: “Yes- I’m ready.” With one last look at the night sky, she makes her way down the creaky stairs.

The girls’ five year tradition of coming to the abandoned cottage was getting a little old for Evelyn…at least, that’s what she hoped her mixed feelings were about. Telling ghost stories in an old house in the middle of the woods at night doesn’t exactly sound like a perfect slumber party.

Evelyn makes her way into the old dining room where all the girls sit around in a circle. She passes a cracked mirror on her way to the girls and jumps at the sight of something reflected in the mirror behind her.

“Come on Evie,” Sarah says. “Now is not the time to be scaring yourself. You have to share the terror with all of us.” She winks.

Evelyn looks at the mirror one last time before heading towards the circle.

“Come on,” Tiffany pats the floor beside her. “You can sit next to me.” Tiffany leans forward and lights a lavender and sandalwood incense in the center of the floor, then sits back up.

A cold breeze flows through the eerie home as it makes the worn curtains on the windows dance to the dark hymn of the night.

“Beautiful,” Tiffany whispers.

“Come on ladies,” Sarah says. “We need to get started before it starts to rain. I don’t want to get stuck in the mud when we’re back outside. Evelyn, it’s your turn to start off with a ghost story tonight. It better be a good one too, or else you’ll have to stay the night in this old hell house.”

Evelyn nods in agreement and clears her throat. “My ghost story for the night is about a dream a young girl once had.”

A questionable look forms on Tiffany’s face. “What? A dream? How scary can a dream be?”

“Tell me about it,” Sarah feigns a yawn. “I’m already bored out of my mind.”

“Well, just because it was a dream doesn’t mean that it’s not scary. Believe me, anything that comes to you personally through a dream should be considered scarier than a made-up story,” Evelyn argues.

“Alright,” Sarah waves her hand in the air. “You may continue.”

“Ok, as I was saying…”

The sound of footsteps make their way towards Evelyn’s back. “Boo!” Brittany Harrington screams in Evelyn’s ear in an attempt to scare the living daylights out of her.

The only thing she gets out of Evelyn is a slight jump.

“Oh, come on!” Brittany says, dissatisfied. “I didn’t scare you?”

“No,” Evelyn responds. “But I kind of was expecting someone else to appear behind me, since I saw the reflection in the mirror when I came downstairs.”

“What reflection?” Brittany asks.

Evelyn rolls her eyes at Brittany’s attempt to play stupid. “I saw your reflection in the mirror over there,” She points towards the mirror. “You were standing in the kitchen.”

“Um, no…I was never in the kitchen. I was hiding behind the stairs,” Brittany responds. “This better not be your attempt to try to scare me. You’re not really good at that.”

“Ok, whatever,” Evelyn smiles. “Sit down so I can continue my story.”

Brittany makes her way through the circle and sits down, crossing one leg over the other. She winks at Evelyn making an unnecessary yet suggestive comment: “I’m very flexible.”

The room fills with laughter for a few seconds and then back to silence as the girls sit up straight, finally preparing themselves for the story.

“Well, like I was saying before being rudely interrupted,” Evelyn glares at Brittany, “There’s a girl who has a dream scarier than any other dream she’s ever had. If I were to name her dream, I would call it, Soulmate. In her dream, her soul comes out of her body and interacts with her like a normal human being; they act like best friends. They dance around together and laugh at how silly they are acting. She couldn’t help but feel blissfully happy. In a way, she feels like she’s getting to know herself, inside and out. The only thing she finds odd about her dream is the fact that her soul is of Asian descent, and she was white,” Evelyn laughs as she shakes her head. “Either way, they are both happy to be together.”

“Ahem,” Sarah clears her throat as if trying to rush Evelyn’s story. Everyone could tell she was at the point of becoming inpatient. Knowing how bitchy Sarah can be when impatient, Evelyn skips to the interesting part of her dream.

“As they dance around they hear a voice. She can’t explain how she knows this, but she can tell it’s the voice of a demon, so they start to run. They run as fast as they can. They can’t tell where they are going, they just want to get away from the demon. At one point, she can feel her soul slowing down, lagging behind her and, well, eventually coming to a complete stop. She doesn’t know what her soul was doing, but something tells her to keep running. Visions start running through her head like a movie. She can see her soul speaking to the demon, making some sort of pact with it. Now she finds herself running away from both her soul and the demon. In her dream she already knows what her soul wants and how the demon is willing to help her out. It turns out that her soul wants to be her own person, she wants to have her own body, her own life. The demon tells her he will help her fulfill her desires. All she needs to do is find her way back inside the girl’s body and tear her way out through her stomach while killing the in the process. See, she can’t be her own person if the girl is still alive. Her body is considered to be a prison, and her soul was her captive. The sad part is, she really thought her soul was happy with her.”

“A lot of people think they’re happy together,” Brittany chimes in. “until one finally finds who they really are and wants out of their so-called relationship.”

“Yeah, exactly,” Evelyn agrees. “Well, either way, she continues to run in her dream. Finally, she comes up to her bedroom, her real bedroom in the real world. She tries hiding under her bed but she can’t quite fit underneath. She starts using her feet to push herself further and further beneath the bed. As she’s finally able to hide more than half of her body, she sees her soul’s feet appear at the foot of the bed. Her heart pounds like crazy in her dream and she can feel it, it feels so real. Her soul runs to the side of the bed where the girl is hiding and throws herself on the ground, slamming her left knee down first and then her left hand. Her hair touches the ground as she lowers her head to the side ready to show her face. She’s found her…”

“Well?” Tiffany asks. “What happened?”

“Nothing,” Evelyn responds. “The girl wakes up before she’s able to see her soul’s face, but she still wonders what would’ve happened if she had seen her face in the dream.”

Sarah rolls her eyes. “The girl already saw her face, duh.”

“Well, yeah,” Evelyn says. “She saw her face at the beginning of the dream when they were happy together. Something tells me her soul’s face was different after making the pact to kill the girl. Her soul had been tainted and there’s nothing she could do about it.”

“Oh please,” Tiffany laughs. “You’re saying that as if it were all real. That girl’s soul is fine, which makes this story not scary at all.”

“You seriously thought that would scare us?” Sarah laughs. “Maybe I’ll have my grandmother tell us a story next time. At least she has a shaky voice and can make anything scary, unlike Evelyn.”

Evelyn looks down at the floor slightly embarrassed. “Sorry to have disappointed you guys.”

“No worries,” Brittany replies. “You just need some practice.”

Positioning herself closer within the circle, Sarah lights two purple candles then moves to light two green candles in the center of the three circles drawn in the center of the floor. “Alright girls,” she smiles. “Time to call the spirits.”

The girls bring themselves to their knees and sit in upright positions.

Sarah extends her hand to Evelyn. “Agate necklace, please.”

Evelyn holds the gemstone as tight as she can before taking it off. She hands it to Sarah and immediately feels a sense of regret.

Sarah places the agate in the center of the altar and lights the spirit candle. The sandalwood and lavender incense lit a few moments before by Tiffany is taken by Sarah. She then takes the Lavender and Willow Bark incense that was previously lit by Evelyn and holds both up in front of a bowl.

“I’ve already marked this bowl for divination,” Sarah says while showing the bowl to the girls. “I have also brought the three casting stones.” She holds the stones in her hand, then casts the incense into a burner.

“Ok, girls,” Sarah says in a soft voice. “It is now time to open your mind, body, and soul…” she smiles at Evelyn. “Join hands as we welcome the spirits into our presence. Spirits of good will, I bid thee enter…The outer circle, the second circle, the inner circle. I am protected by this pentacle upon my breast.”

Evelyn squeezes Brittany’s hands as she starts to fear for her life.

“What’s wrong with you?” Brittany whispers. “Chill out.”

Sarah opens her eyes from her incantation. “Shh,” she says. “You know we can’t break our concentration. Now close your eyes.”

Brittany and Evelyn lower their heads and do as they’re bid. Sarah continues to repeat her incantation two more times. Tarot cards are used to introduce the spirit willing to make its appearance.

“Why is it taking so long?” Tiffany asks Brittany. Before responding, Brittany glances at Sarah to see if she heard Tiffany’s question. “I don’t know. Now shut up and concentrate.”

Evelyn can hear the girls speaking, but a pressure on her head gets her attention. She squeezes Sarah’s hand letting her know to look. “Sarah,” she whispers. “Look…” Evelyn looks upward hoping Sarah can see the hair at the top of her head being pressed down.

Sarah looks irritated when she responds to Evelyn. “What are you doing?”

“Can you see it?” Evelyn asks.

“I don’t see anything,” Sarah snaps. “I have to finish this or else I can’t make contact!”

One by one, Sarah pulls out her tarot cards and holds them firmly in her hand. Evelyn’s stomach starts to cramp up. She fears that something is trying to attack her and no one believes her.

“I-I can’t do this you guys,” Evelyn finally speaks up. She stands up and backs away from the girls, instantly breaking the protected boundary between the living and the dead.

“What have you done? Are you insane?!” Sarah yells.

Evelyn shakes her head.” I can’t sit here anymore,” she says.

“Why not?” Sarah asks.

“I just don’t feel comfortable. I need to get some fresh air.” Evelyn stumbles her way out of the abandoned cottage and rests against a wooden column on the porch. Brittany soon follows to check on Evelyn. “What’s going on?”

“I’m not sure,” Evelyn responds. “Tonight is just not a good night for me, I guess.”

Brittany looks down at Evelyn’s hand, which is firmly placed on her stomach. “Why are you holding your stomach?” she asks. “Are you not feeling well?”

Evelyn looks down at her stomach and responds, “It kind of hurts. I guess my nerves are really bad.”

Sarah bursts her way out of the house onto the porch. “Are you kidding me?!”

Evelyn tries to respond but the cramping in her stomach worsens making her bend over forward. The pain is becoming unbearable to take.

“Evelyn, are you ok? What’s wrong?” Tiffany fretfully asks.

“Oh, don’t pay her any attention,” Sarah snaps. “She’s just doing this for attention. Her ghost story wasn’t scary enough so she’s trying to scare us all now. Isn’t that right?!”

“No…” Evelyn responds through her tears.

“Leave her alone, Sarah!” Brittany pleads. She doesn’t know if Evelyn is lying or not. Evelyn isn’t known for pulling off bad pranks like this. She knows something is honestly wrong with her.

“Come on!” Sarah yells. “You can’t tell me you don’t see what she’s trying to do! She’s pretending to be in the stupid dream she spoke of.”

“No-No, I’m not…” Evelyn cries.

*tap, tap, tap…*

“What was that?” Tiffany asks as she looks over at the living room window. “Did you guys hear that?”

“Give me a break,” Sarah mumbles under her breath.

“Seriously.” Tiffany walks towards the window. “I thought I heard someone tapping on the window from inside.”

“There’s no one else here with us,” Brittany says.

“Great, are you trying to scare us too?” Sarah asks. “Let’s just go back inside and grab our stuff. This stopped being fun when Evelyn started crying out for attention.”

“Alright,” Brittany agrees. “Let’s go grab our stuff.”

“I-uh, I guess I’ll go back inside too,” Tiffany hesitantly agrees.

“Please don’t leave me alone out here,” Evelyn pleads. “I don’t feel so well.”

The girls make their way back inside the house while Evelyn remains outside alone. “It was my dream,” she whispers in hopes that one of the girls can hear her.

“Do you really think Evelyn is making all of this up for attention?” Tiffany asks Brittany.

“I don’t know,” Brittany responds. “All I know is that I don’t feel right being here anymore.”

Tiffany feels a cold chill overcome her body making her rub her arms. “I don’t feel right either.”

The sound of something moving in the kitchen catches the girl’s attention.

Sarah pauses from picking her tarot cards from the floor. “What the hell is that?” She looks at the girls. “Do you hear that?”

“Yes,” Tiffany responds. “I told you I heard something tapping at the window!”

“Calm down!” Sarah replies. “Let’s just get the hell out of here before more crazy shit happens.”

The girls grab their belongings as fast as they can and make their way towards the door. Before reaching the door, Tiffany sees a reflection in the mirror through the corner of her eye. She stops and looks straight into the mirror hoping it’s just her imagination.

“Ahhhh!” She lets out a terrifying scream when she sees what’s being reflected in the mirror.

“What?! What’s wrong?” Brittany calls out to Tiffany.

Speechless from what she is seeing, Tiffany points her finger at the mirror. Her face is pale as a ghost and her response sends a shock to the girls. “d-d-demon…”

Before the girls can react to what Tiffany has just said, a shrieking scream is heard from outside.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!”

In the midst of the terrifying confusion, they had forgotten that Evelyn was still outside alone. Brittany and Sarah disregard Tiffany’s statement about seeing a demon and run to Evelyn’s rescue just to find her squirming on the ground in agony.

“Help me! It hurts!!!” Evelyn cries.

Before Brittany is able to reach Evelyn on the ground, Sarah holds her back. “Look…” She says.

“Look at what?” Brittany desperately questions Sarah.

“There’s blood on the ground next to Evelyn,” Sarah points.

The girls stand there in shock at what they are seeing. Evelyn’s stomach is being torn from the inside out. They watch as the skin from her stomach is ripped apart. Evelyn’s desperate cries for help are faint as blood fills her throat. The tapping sound returns once again from the living room window. The girls look at the direction where the sound is coming from and see the horrible sight Tiffany had seen less than four minutes ago. It’s a demon and the smile on his face expresses how pleased he is by what is going on.

“This can’t be happening right now,” Brittany cries. “What did you do during the ritual?!” She screams at Sarah.

“I didn’t do anything!” Sarah cries out. “I’ve never done this before! I thought it would be something different…I didn’t mean for any of this to happen!”

“You don’t even know what the hell is going on!” Tiffany yells. “Oh my god!” She points in Evelyn’s direction. “What is that?”

All at once, the girls pause in terror at what they are seeing. A hand appears to be forcing its way out from Evelyn’s stomach. One hand, then another. A human is making its way out. The head appears after both hands touch the ground. It’s covered in blood, but the girls can tell it is female. Her head comes out, then her neck, then her shoulders. She crawls out slowly from Evelyn, whom is still alive. The unknown woman turns her head towards the girls and shows a sadistic grin while whispering two words, “Soul…mate.” Knowing nothing can be done to save their friend, the girls start running into the woods away from the demon, away from the house, and away from their helpless friend.

“Help…help me….help…me,” Evelyn continues to plead as she extends her arms out to the girls that have now disappeared into darkness.

As her eyes glaze over, she falls with her back to the ground and releases her last breath.

Credit: M.S. Rivera

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Arrival

February 8, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I met Cassie for the first time when I started high school. She was in my art class, and the teacher, Ms Perez, was always giving her a hard time. She was talented, but lacked motivation, was what she used to say. Cassie didn’t seem to care, and seemed more focused on whatever music was blasting in her earphones than on her art assignments.

We started talking, and found out we were both interested in the same kind of music. I had played the piano for a couple of years, and she was taking guitar lessons. We both dabbled in songwriting, and it didn’t take long for us to join forces to start a band together. There were only the two of us in it, but we were young and mostly just spending our time daydreaming about making it big.

Something… changed in the middle of our sophomore year. Her family had been away over the holidays, and when we met again in January I could tell that something was off. She looked tired in a way I’d never seen her before, and she seemed unfocused. I asked her about it, and she just told me that she’d been having trouble sleeping. I kept prodding, and Cassie described having weird dreams of traveling through vast, empty spaces. They weren’t nightmares, as she weren’t scared, but when she woke up in the morning she didn’t feel rested either.

Days passed, and she didn’t get better. In fact, every morning the bags under her eyes seemed deeper in hue, and nothing could hold her attention for very long… except for art class.

Looking at her as she was then, it was hard to imagine it being the same Cassie I’d seen roll her eyes at Ms. Perez in our first year. As soon as she got a brush or pencil in her hand, suddenly she came to life again. It was amazing to watch her as she worked, filling canvas after canvas with force and precision. Her paintings were like if Pollock had been an astrophysicist, bringing you into a different world as a lone explorer. From darkness and emptiness came lights, worlds, destruction, and silence. I was impressed, as everyone seemed to be, but I worried about her. There was something I couldn’t help but notice that troubled me about her painting: her expression. While writing songs and playing guitar, creating out of joy, she was always leaving a trace of herself in it. Watching her paint, I didn’t feel that. I felt determination, urgency, and fear.

In our senior year, Cassie got offered a scholarship to some art school. She didn’t have a lot of options; her dedication to painting, and listless approach to anything else, meant her grades had dropped significantly. I asked her if she intended to take it, and she shrugged and said that it ”didn’t matter”. I urged her to go, telling her that she had a real talent, and that I knew she could make it big like we used to talk about. She looked at me then; the tiredness in her eyes, bringing a hint of nostalgia to the surface, and a ghost of a smile. I hadn’t seen her smile for so long, no matter how little.

As graduation neared, Cassie told me that she was having a showing of her art. She’d found the ”perfect place”, and wanted me to help her set everything up. After school, she brought me to a small, abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of our district. It was pretty clear that no one in their right mind would think that the place was fit to act as a gallery, but Cassie didn’t seem deterred. ”Were we trespassing?” I asked her, as we headed back to the car. ”Yes”, she answered, ”But it’s important”. We spent the next week driving back and forth between the school and the warehouse. A few days before graduation, she asked me not to come anymore. She told me that she was grateful for my help, but that she needed to finish installing the pieces on her own.

”When the rain comes, meet me here” was the last thing she said before we parted ways. I wondered what she was talking about; the forecast had said that it was likely to remain sunny for at least a week. I didn’t ask, though, but I wish I had.

She didn’t come to school those last few days.

We were listening to the principal speak when the first drops started falling. The skies had turned a dark grey, and thunder rolled in the distance. The wind was picking up, and a few graduates shouted as their hats blew away. As the rain intensified, they started moving the rest of the ceremony inside. I got up from my seat with the others, but headed further out as they headed in. The weather got worse by the minute it seemed, and I started running to my car. Cassie’s words were ringing in my ears, and I couldn’t help but feel that something was horribly wrong.

When I arrived at the warehouse, it was a full-blown storm. The rain seemed almost horizontal because of the wind, and by the time I got inside I was soaked to the skin. ”Cassie?” I called out into the darkness, but I received no answer.

In the light coming in through the door I could see lit candles set up in a line. I closed the door behind me, and walked toward the flickering lights. As I separated myself from the tempest outside, I started to make out the trail Cassie had made for me; candles set up to illuminate the right path along the story she wanted to tell. I started walking at a slow pace between her paintings, letting her guide me.

Before, I’d only ever seen her paintings as individual works with a common theme. Seeing them this way, lined up in their proper order, it became clear that they were much more than that. They were a journey. As I passed from one work to the next, I felt as I was traveling across some vast expanse of space, through the deep of our universe. I saw solar systems, galaxies, stars, planets pass me by. I saw world after world collapse and be destroyed, leaving fragments and moving on to the next. It was both amazing and terrifying.

I wandered along the journey Cassie took me through, when something started to dawn on me; recognition. This was no longer a just a brilliant visualization of the enormousness of space… it had a final destination. I felt myself grow cold. For each painting I passed, I grew more certain of what I would find at the end.

I gazed up at the wall bearing Cassie’s final work, as I held her close. “When?” I wanted to ask her, but I knew it would be impossible to wake her. She had been laying on the floor below the painting, sleeping, when I found her. I had picked her up, but felt somehow how far away from me she was. I wondered if she’d ever wake up again, before it came. Looking down on us from he canvas were the remnants of the destruction it would leave behind. She had truly done a masterful job of capturing the End.

Credit: LateNightWritersClub

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Lifeguard

February 5, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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My name is Lifeguard. There is a lot of thinking that takes place atop the seat overlooking the pool. I spend most of my days there; watching others play. Watching them have fun. I see grandparents bringing their toddler grandsons and granddaughters to the pool to splash around. Young parents bring their infants to adapt to the life aquatic. High school sweethearts hang on each other, faux-drowning and whispering the deep secrets of their hearts into the ear of the other.
Time on the stand passes slowly. If you’re not careful, you can waste a whole day and not have thought about anything. The day can slip away into an ebbing tide of lusts for the barely-clad swimmers your age, or you can simply retreat into the room inside your brain where nothing happens. No thoughts are produced, and no ideas are conceived.
Lately, I have entertained my attentive brain contriving a man who follows me home after work each day. It’s a twenty-four minute ride to and from work on my bicycle. I think about a man following me home in his turquoise sedan.
He rolls down the window, arm hanging limply on the door, and shouts, “Ey, Lifeguard! I know where you sleep! Open ya window tonight and I’ll give ya a surprise!”
I think about how fast I’d have to pedal to outrun him every day. Of course, to eradicate all of his knowledge of my residence, I would have had to have done this from the start. I would need to pedal 9% faster, and lose him through the path behind Kum & Go, 4 minutes out of the way.
These scenes play out behind my eyes as I sit on the edge of the pool. It’s not a huge pool. It has a straight slide with a weak drizzle of water peeling down its shoot. Rust grows from the base of the object and is progressing upwards. The zero-depth zone is where the babies come and sit, joyfully splashing in the ankle-deep tide because they are unaware of what this place really is.
The center was built in the seventies and has not been maintained well. Patrons pay a base price of two dollars apiece, or five for a family, and come splash around for a little while. I work with two other guards on a double rotation. There’s Lindsay, the apathetic snob who clicks her gum loudly while her eyes are magnetized to her phone. Jerry is the other guard who lost his job three years ago when the economy tanked. He lost his wife with his work, and has been obsessed with conspiracy theories and UFOs ever since.

“Hey, Lifeguard,” Jerry says to me one slow day while the pool is empty, “you ever see the license plate of that dude you think of following you home?”
I don’t want to think about it, so I keep scrubbing at the scum line and pretend I didn’t hear him.
“Lifeguard, hey, you hear what I said?”
I looked up and sighed. “I haven’t noticed it, why?”
Jerry shrugged and went back to looking down at his cleaning. The truth was, I can picture it. It’s out of state, but I don’t know which one. I only know the colors were different.

Today is a busy day here at the pool. My eyes have glazed over and I have lost myself once more in deep contemplation. I picture the man who follows me home as working for a government of a different country. Or maybe I’m just making him up in my daydreams. Possible. It happened before. These hallucinations begin with a simple question, such as ‘what if there was an old lady who became a serial killer because she was so afraid of dying she killed everyone who talked to her? Now that’s paranoia.’
Thoughts like these lead to images in my brain that play themselves out. Often they become entire narratives. I have only shared a couple of them with another human, and that human has only been Jerry. He is the only other one who understands the brain-numbing boredom of working at this pool. He reads books on the stand. I can’t bring myself to, though, for fear that I’ll miss someone drowning. At least if I look like I’m watching, they can’t blame me for the oversight.

My brain thinks too much. Sometimes, it even makes up its own words. Like ‘slentor.’ That is, a being that can pass through walls. It originated one day while I was thinking about the concept of neutrinos, the sub-microscopic particles that travel so fast they pass through anything, and have only been seen twice. Or rather, the place where they just were was seen.
As my brain wanders, I’m at home and a slentor drifts into my bedroom as the television plays. It cannot speak, but it can point, and move metallic objects. It readjusts the antenna on my set and changes the channel to a ballet recital. Piano sounds fill the room and I drift to sleep. The slentor leaves. ‘What a crazy idea,’ I think as I drift off. ‘Things that can pass through walls…’

The pool has been busy in waves today, which makes the day crawl by even slower than usual. It fills up, then empties for an hour. The hands on the clock don’t even look like they’re moving. Maybe they’re not.
Lindsay is working with me today. I picture an electric can opener that operates by slicing the can in half and pulling the two halves apart and pouring the contents into a bowl. It’s all automated of course. It produces a knocking sound, like a knuckle on a giant, thin tin wall. The knocking continues and I realize that it’s not the imaginary object in my head producing the sound, but someone standing outside the back door of the pool.
This door is never used. It was originally installed as a back door for taking trash out to the dumpster. However, the pool doesn’t even generate enough trash to warrant a dumpster these days, and garbage is collected out front on Tuesdays. I don’t even think I’d ever seen the door opened before.
Two parents were in the four foot section of the pool with their baby, who cried every time they tried to put her head underwater. I figured they wouldn’t miss me for a minute as I went to open the door.
The knocking returned once more. It was very gentle still, but more urgent than the first round. I fidgeted with the lock and finally got it open. As I pulled it open, the rusty hinges creaked, and I looked at them. Before I could identify the knocker, my head was slammed with a drained tequila bottle and I fell unconscious to the ground. I picture no one reacting, and the family of three continue cooing at their infant daughter.

I tell Jerry about the daydream the next day. He shrugs and tells me he doesn’t know what’s on the other side of that door either.
We worked the whole day and at closing time, Jerry asks me if I’ve ever taken narcotics. I haven’t. He says maybe I should talk to someone about these daydreams. I tell him I’m not sure if they’re all daydreams.
I walk out the front door to where my bike is chained up. A turquoise sedan with a blue license plate is parked across the street with the engine quietly humming. I rub my eyes, look up at the sky, and back at the street. The car is gone. Figures.
I begin pedaling and ride to the edge of the town, down the shortcut path, about halfway to my flat. A slentor suddenly slides out of a tree to my right. It takes control of my bike and swerves the handlebars so violently to the right the I fly off and hit my neck on a baby tree to the left of the path.
I lay there for a while until I hear footsteps approaching from the street. I see old cowboy boots walk right up to my face as their owner inspects my busted frame.
“Nehh,” the man sighs and turns and walks away. I try to reach up and scratch my arm to see if this is a daydream and I’m really back at work seated on the stand. Neither arm stirs.
As my vision blurs more and more, and the setting sun fades the objects of the day into ambiguous dark shapes of the night, I hear a car come to a stop on the street, a baseball toss away from where I lie. The car door slams, but the engine stays on. In the dim light, I can tell it’s the man who follows me. Thought he’d be here sooner.
“What took you so long?” I gurgle out as my consciousness fades.
In place of an answer, he lifts a cigarette to his dry lips and cups his hand to light it. Still not sure if this is real. I mean, I don’t feel much pain. I just wish I could move.

I wake up in a basement next to a pool table with the green felt torn in several places. I am seated in a metal folding chair. I can move my arms slowly and clumsily, but my neck is frozen in place, tilted severely to the left. I turn my entire torso from side to side and inspect the room I am in. Old Playboy centerfolds pepper the walls, held up by tape over the corners. It smells like stale cigarettes and spilled beer. Empty booze bottles cover every surface. There are literally hundreds of them. The place is spurdent—another word I invented.
Even in my helpless state, I still make up words. Incredible. Most people would be extremely afraid right now. But my name is Lifeguard, and I have to think. Fear would only interfere with that right now.
I hear footsteps descending the stairs.
“Lifeguard!” the man shouts when he has neared the bottom.
I turn my body to look at the man. His left arm still hangs limply by his side, just as when I see him in his sedan. He stares at me for a second, and my mind races.

My training prepared me for this.

He didn’t bother to check me for weapons. No one ever expects an old lady to be packing heat. I pulled the 50 caliber out of my belt and blew a hole in his stomach. Another in his chest. His facial expression changed little, since the porn and drugs had left him looking dead and glazed over already.
A pitbull upstairs began barking at the sound of the shots, and as he raced down the stairs, testicles in full swing, I popped a hole in his side as well. I went up the stairs and out into the bright morning sun. I got in the man’s sedan, found the keys under the seat, and turned the ignition until it kicked to life. Driving back to my flat proved more difficult than expected, thanks to my now sideways neck.
When I got home, I made sure to reload the three rounds I had spent.
My name is Lifeguard, and I just might be the old lady who is so paranoid she kills everyone else.

Credit: Ethan Renoe

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The Soft Nowhere

December 31, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Hi. I’m Caitlin and I’m eleven years old. I think. I may have been here for ten minutes or ten years. Every second in this place feels very long. Who I am isn’t really important, but if you must know, I’m a girl who loved school, cartoons, and pop music.

I’m floating in a big black emptiness. I can see my parents and friends in the distance. I want to be with them. They probably want to be with me, but I can’t reach them and they can’t reach me. We’re all stuck in this big, black place and we’re all floating and unable to move. I think everyone from Earth is here. There are probably all the celebrities, religious people, police men, teachers, and everyone, but none of us can move or interact.

It reminds me of Purgatory, which I learned about in Sunday school. It’s supposed to be like this, only everyone is here, instead of just the unbaptized babies and occasional sinners. I always imagined Purgatory being scarier than Hell anyway. At least in Hell, you can hear your loved ones scream beside you and the pain is physical. With this place, and I guess Purgatory as well, you’re paralyzed and trapped in your own body. The darkness is kind of like a cushiony straight jacket, holding us all in place.

Some might think it’s beautiful. All of us are together, in the same place. It blows my mind to think that Taylor Swift and the President of the United States are probably floating here with me. Nobody is too good for the end of the world.

I should say how this all started. It was going on New Year’s Eve, and everything was kind of scary. Everyone expected the world to end, but I don’t know exactly why. Something to do with global warning, or space. On the news, they’d talk about more and more people disappearing. Large holes leading to nothing started appearing all over the ground. In some spots, it was hard to avoid falling into them.

The nights were pure blackness, even out in the country where my family lived. There were no stars, and there had always been stars before. Towards the end of December, the sky was just as black during the day as it had been at night. It was like a light bulb that was on its last legs and finally went out.

The crazy stuff happening was all anyone talked about. The boys tried to scare me and my friends at school, telling us the martians were clearing the sky to come get us. I didn’t believe them, but I was still just as scared about the unknown situation as everyone else.

One day after school, I overheard my teachers discussing how to educate us on what was happening, but they were just as clueless as their students. Mr. Jameson said they may as well tell us kids that we’re all “fucked”. I couldn’t take it when I heard him say that. I ran into the classroom crying. They comforted me and told me everything would be all right, but how could I believe them?

My parents told me that the people in charge would figure things out, but I didn’t believe them either. The same went for one of my favorite TV shows, which had a message at the end of an episode telling us to be brave and that everything would be okay. I was disillusioned. Nothing was okay. Everyone on the news seemed scared and baffled too.

It was all supposed to come down at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. My parents told me there’d been some similar scare about fifteen years ago with something called Y2K. Y2K turned out to be a hoax, but there were no signs that it would happen. The thing we were dealing with now had warnings, and they were scary and like nothing anyone had seen before.

On New Years Eve, my family all huddled in our living room. We spent most of the night hugging and saying how much we loved each other. I could barely keep from crying the entire time. I mostly remember my dog, Bella, looking at me really sadly. Dogs always look sad, but she almost looked ready to cry herself. It was like she knew what would happen, and she wanted to tell us she loved us and would miss us. If I could cry in this place where I am now, I would bawl like a baby just thinking about that night. I wonder if Bella is here, but it really doesn’t matter.

At midnight, everything went black. I heard my mother scream. My entire body went numb. My tongue felt like a sock. My limbs all went limp. I was still awake through all of it.

After what felt like forever, I could see again. My parents were floating off in the distance and I was in my place. The terror was still there, but there was no way of expressing it. I’m not scared anymore, just sad and hopeless.

I’ve called this place the Soft Nowhere because everything feels so neutral and pillowy, but pointless. I can only hope that one day, everything will go back to normal, but I know it won’t. This is our life now. We are strung amongst the blackness, unmoving, just as the stars had been. Everyone is equal. Nothing matters anymore.

There is still one thing that gives me hope, though. From the corner of my left eye, I can just make out some kind of light. My greatest wish is that it’s some sort of salvation. It’s the only thing holding my mind together, other than the knowledge that my family loves me and I love them.

Love isn’t visual, though. Especially here. It’s not something you can hold or show. The only thing this place is good for is displaying humans.

I wish I could tell everyone to try moving. It feels so impossible, but I think that maybe if we all tried, this place couldn’t take it. There’s no way of telling people to move, but I’ll keep trying. Hell, if I could, I’d be writing this down, rather than reciting it in my mind. For now, I guess, we all have each other, anyway.

Credit: Traumatized Kitten

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No Rhyme, No Reason, No Explanation

December 28, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Back when we were six, my brother developed a notorious sleepwalking habit among his various other disorders. So much so that dad child proofed the doors to our room and closet (after an unfortunate pissing incident involving a soiled pile of clothes) so that when we were awake, we could leave, but asleep, no dice. It was one of those plastic coverings that you had to squeeze and turn simultaneously, y’know, the ones that are impossible for anybody under the age of 18 to possibly hope to open due to the sheer amount of pressure it took to turn the damn knob. I’m being facetious now, but I really hated that damn child proof bullshit.

But, due to his sleepwalking, he was kept on the bottom bunk.

Some nights, he’d wake up and try to leave the room, tugging on the door and only succeeding in making an unnecessary amount of racket, only to fall back asleep at the foot of the door after his failure. Before the child proof door, there were only a select few places he’d go, but it became a game of hide and seek with him. I found him inside the toy box once, and I just remember thinking… “how did he even fit himself in there?”

When these incidents happened – and that was at least three times a week – I took it upon myself to get him safely back in his bed when I actually caught him, so long as he didn’t wander past the stairs, which thankfully now wasn’t very possible.

I hated the stairs. Well, not so much the stairs as the hallway that my room was at the end of leading to the stairs around the corner. That place was hellish at night.

Yes, I was terrified of the dark. More so of my own wild imagination spurring the darkness to life with monstrous intents. I was sure we were plagued with a closet residing boogie man or a homicidal shadow dweller, maybe even the neighborhood serial killer. My father, God bless the man, every night before bed, he’d open the closet door, reach up and pull the dangling string to turn the light bulb on, – the switch had shorted on our sixth birthday- and search the closet for my own reassurance. Sometimes, he’d even make a show of it and enter with a baseball bat or a plastic gun, threatening the monster hiding in there. Every time he did it, there was nothing in that closet.

There never was.

My brother wasn’t afraid of the closet like I was. On the lower bunk, sometimes he’d climb the ladder and sleep with me after I’d been sitting up and staring at the closet for what seemed like hours. It was like my fear woke him up.

They say twins have inexplicable bonds.

I always had this strange sensation like I was being watched, or perhaps the feeling of knowing someone’s talking about you… I knew I held something’s attention. And that thought kept me up in such discomfort for what seemed like hours. In reality I probably had the attention span to stay up thinking for half an hour before succumbing to sleep. And stranger still, it wasn’t every night.

In hindsight, that made me feel uneasy. If a child is afraid of the dark, weren’t they afraid of it every night? Don’t get me wrong, I feared the dark, but obviously I was safe under the covers. Most nights, it was merely a childish fear. And some nights, that fear evolved into uneasiness I can’t explain… like violation of my privacy. And no amount of blankets made me feel better.

Something was there. And it was watching. I knew it was. I always expected to see a pair of glowing eyes behind the blinds of the closet door. But I never did.

One night in particular stayed in my memory all the way into adulthood.

The first detail that’s strange in hindsight is that I was already asleep. Something woke me up, not violently, but suddenly. And I still have no idea what.

There was this cold that had settled on the room. And not like a winter cold that could freeze water, but this stale, stiff cold – like an abandoned house.

The same stillness and cold I would feel several years later when grandmother died in her hospital bed and how her skin felt just minutes afterward.

Lifeless.

And a smell wafted through the air like really burnt steaks and rotten trash cans.

I grimaced and said groggily “Geeze, did you fart?” Waving my hand in front of my face.

There was no reply, so I dangled my head over the edge to peer at the lower bunk. Not surprisingly, he wasn’t in his bed.

Illuminated dinosaurs chasing each other endlessly around our room projected from our spinning night lamp was the only source of light – a disco ball of dinosaurs if you will. I traced them around the room to find it empty with the exception of me.

I knew that wasn’t true.

Climbing down the ladder, my feet slapped against the wood floor sending an uncomfortable shock of cold up my legs.

As I turned, the room seemed to widen. It was the moment that makes children gulp in uncertainty. The sudden loss of familiarity. I was in my room, but I felt uncomfortable, the same discomfort when you stare off of a cliff, knowing that one false step and you will die. Completely exposed.

But I trudged on, searching for my misplaced sibling.

He wasn’t on the floor in front of the door, he wasn’t on top or inside of our toy box… I dropped to my knees to find the space under the bed empty. Was it possible he somehow got out of the room?

When he used to leave the room, there were three places he typically was. The hallway bathroom – notably curled up in the corner between the vanity and toilet, in dad’s old red chair in the upstairs living room right down the hall and to the left, or somewhere downstairs, a place I dare not tread in the darkness alone.

I padded to the door and squeezed the plastic covered door knob with both hands, struggled with the damn thing for a moment and pulled it open. I was greeted with pitch blackness. The dark hallway now looming ominously in front of me. There were no windows, the only source of moonlight would be around the corner where a window was beside the staircase.

The hallway wasn’t just dark, of course not. It was never that easy. No, it had to be pitch black.

It made me even more uncomfortable, staring out into that blackness with my pulse steadily rising, I could hear my heart beating in my ears. Anything could be out in that darkness.

I felt like I’d see a pair of eyes staring back at me.

Whatever was in that darkness had no eyes, or at least, they didn’t glow like in the movies.

But I jumped at the sight of a long, black shadow cast from behind me, freezing in terror as it disappeared.

It happened again, casting my shadow across the hallway’s floor.

The nightlight on our dresser that cast dinosaurs the walls of our room, and now out in the hallway.

On the bright side, I had a source of light now.

I was transfixed, staring out into the dark hallway as it lit up with the distorted dinosaur.

I looked down, my toes were barely behind the baseboard that separated the wood flooring from the carpeted hallway. Before I crossed that line, I needed to make sure there was nothing hiding in that darkness.

Anything could hide in shadows that black.

The dim light flashed from behind me

My eyes caught something unnatural… I could’ve sworn someone was pressed against the wall at the end of the hallway to the right, like they wanted to plaster their back to the wall. It didn’t really register until the light had already passed.

I gulped, my body tensed uncomfortably, eyes locked on the darkness where that person had been standing. In this darkness, they could’ve moved wherever it saw fit to move. It could be five feet in front of me for all I knew.

With that thought I was dreading the next pass of light. Did I really want to see this thing?

Before I could even answer myself, the light passed over again, and the shadowy figure remained, unmoved.

Because it was the shadow of the open bathroom door resting door knob length away from the wall.

Just my imagination.

I released a shaky breath, satisfied that the hallway was empty, and lifted my foot, slowly, unsteadily crossing my perceived line of safety out into the unprotected blackness of my house made foreign by the nighttime.

My toes curled into the carpet, tensed like the rest of my body like I was holding onto the railing on a roller coaster.

The light passed by again, and I kept my eyes peeled, stopping my movement completely as it did, just for safety. If I could just get to the bathroom, I could turn on the light.

The hallway light was beyond the bathroom, so that was out of the question.

I had to be brave. I traversed the darkness, taking long steps on my tippy toes just to stay quiet in case something were actually in that darkness. My whole body would stiffen when the light passed behind my back only to continue and try and cover as much distance as possible while I was still hidden by the shadows.

The whole time I had that feeling of being completely exposed in this hallway, as if I were actually being hunted. I kept thinking; what if I’d missed something and now whatever it was was in the hallway moved behind me.

I dare not turn. I pictured a vile creature staring right into the back of my head, breathing down the back of my neck. If I turned, I’d only be greeted by sickly, glowing eyes and a wicked smile.

So I didn’t.

But finally, I made it to the bathroom without incident, but my joy was short lived as I peered into the pitch blackness that was the bathroom. And this time, there was no dim light to chase away the shadows. If only for the brief moment.

The light switch was on the left inside, right above the counter and under the medicine cabinet. I had to tippie toe to reach it.

I gulped down my fear. Now or never. I strode inside with purpose and ignored the chill of having my back exposed yet again but to a completely unknown abyss.

Even then, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched.

The light flicked on.

And my worst fear was realized in full. Just like I had pictured, it was behind me. A black mass I barely caught a glimpse of in the mirror because I jumped and spun almost immediately.

I was being watched by a dark colored towel hanging on the rack behind me.

My breath slowed as my near heart attack was avoided. Just my stupid imagination.

There was nothing in here. I had peeked my head behind the shower curtain just to be safe.

Disappointingly, the bathroom was empty, which meant I was still alone in the night.

One place left to look outside of my room.

Dad’s chair. Which meant a trek further into the unknown worse than that, this journey involved a corner.

That might not seem significant, but something could easily hide around a corner and jump out without warning. Corners at night time were terrifying.

I peeked out into the hallway, looking both ways and seeing only what I saw during the day thanks to the bathroom light.

My fears were unwarranted, the hallway was empty. Thankfully, I didn’t even feel like I was being watched anymore.

Just my imagination. Just like always.

But my heart stopped in the next moment.

There was a sound, like a light thump coming from my room, as if somebody was knocking on the walls.

My face warmed uncomfortably as my head turned slowly back toward my room.

All those other times I only felt watched or was afraid of seemingly nothing.

This was a sound! This was a tangible sense!

It was waiting in my room! It must’ve snuck passed me while I was in the bathroom.

But… could I have possibly imagined that? Maybe just a pipe or something?

Another thump that caused my legs to stop working.

I definitely hadn’t imagined it.

I stared down the hallway into my open room intently, my eyes must’ve been the size of the bathroom doorknob that my hand squeezed so tightly.

I was unable to move. Even a little bit.

I knew it was waiting. I just didn’t know what was waiting…

The silence was defending, I could only hear my own heart beat faster and faster, and a buzzing in my head that got louder and louder the longer I stared.

There it was again.

Thump.

I jumped into action, quickly spinning around searching frantically for some sort of weapon. I took the head off of my electric toothbrush leaving only a small metal tip that I could jab into the monster.

Now that I knew where it was, I didn’t mind shutting the bathroom light off and walking back toward the room. In fact, I thought I’d be able to surprise the fiend.

I made it to the baseboard once more, reluctant to pass back into my room. I stared inside, waiting with bated breath for any signs of movement. Surely it would try and take me, right?

The cartoon illuminated dinosaurs dancing on the walls suddenly seemed to more feral with jagged teeth that threatened to eat me. They were no longer comforting as they were meant to be. And the shadows they left took shapes of horrifying creatures of the night just waiting for me to step inside so they could pounce on me. Inanimate objects now seemed to move ever so slightly on their own accord.

The heater sounded like a monster in the vents, the breeze pushing tree branches against the windows looked like clawed monsters scraping to get inside.

And then there was a sound that took all of my attention away from everything else.

A long scratching, as if this monster dragged the tip of its claw along the walls. It came from the closet. The one door that freezes every child in fear. Fear of the unknown, of what could be behind that door. Of what your imagination puts behind that door. The boogie man, and I knew he was in there. I knew it. I stepped inside of the room and stood in front of the closet, both hands gripping my toothbrush so tight that my knuckles were white.

That shuddered, white door seemed to stare back at me. It has to be standing behind that door, which meant that it was only a few short feet away from me. This thin piece of wood was all that separated me from my nightmare.

“I promise there’s nothing in the closet.”

My dad’s voice rang in my head. There never was. Every time he checked the closet, nothing was in there.

But this was different. I was alone now.

I felt as though the boogie man was daring me to open the door. To see what would happen if I did.

Heart pounding like a machine gun, face hot like the stove, throat scratchy and dry like dirt… I found it hard to move my limbs like they had all fallen asleep.

And then my heart froze over as dread descended down on me like a bucket of water. There was a soft click and light flooded from the shudders of the door.

Something was in there, and it turned on the light!

I needed to get dad! That was the only thought in my mind.

I wanted to scream for him but my voice didn’t work. I wanted to run as fast as I could away from that closet, but my feet were glued to the floor. .

I heard a light shuffling on the other side of that door, and my body stiffened even more if at all possible. My eyes must’ve been popping out of their sockets. This was it! It was gonna take me!

Suddenly my legs were working again, stepping backward, feet clumsily stumbling over themselves. I landed on my rear, my toothbrush clattering along the floor. Was that… self preservation kicking in?

Was this what fearing for you life felt like?

“Luke?” I heard my name spoken in a small, muffled whimper that accompanied the shuffling.

I blinked.

“Luca, i-is that you?”

It was my brother!

Oh God it was only him!

Just Tyler! I thought I was gonna cry from the relief. I pushed myself up very quickly and struggled with the child lock, pulling the door open. He was sitting in the back of the closet hugging his knees beside some clothes that had fallen. Queue the hangars scraping the wall, and my brother thumping around.

Oh thank god! He looked just as terrified as I had. I ran in the closet and hauled him to his feet as he asked me how he got in there.

“Sleepwalking you doofus. I thought you were a monster!” My hand stayed clamped on his as if I’d lose him if I let go, still shaking from residual adrenaline.

He had a look of uneasiness, trepidation and pure confusion. “I… opened the door?”

I had to pause.

How did he get in the closet? I had to squeeze the plastic with both hands and actively try to turn the knob. No way he did it in his sleep.

Well, he had to have. How else would he have gotten in…

Though at that moment, I didn’t really care.

I just shrugged.

This little night of horrors was done and I just wanted to sleep.

I helped him back to his bed before turning back to the closet. I stood on my toes to flick the switch down.

Only… it was already down.

I gazed up to see the cord dad always pulled to turn the light on dangling, swinging lightly back and forth.

The tingle at the crown of my head shot through my entire body as cold realization struck me.

“How did you turn on the light?” I shakily asked.

“…I didn’t.”

Credit: In Me Lies Divinity

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A Vision of Hell

December 26, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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I saw Heaven. In my dream, I was sitting on a bank of a snaking river. On the other side were houses made from large stone blocks. They resembled medieval castles. They had crenellations, too, but they had never been besieged. The Gods were frolicking there. It was an enchanting scene. I sat alone, with a wide open field behind me.

My hand rested on the grass. In Heaven, they eat the grass, along with a variety of flowers and other flora. The soil can also be eaten, and tastes something like a buttery chocolate. All the Gods are vegetarian. They never eat meat. The grass has, in all its various shades, different subtle flavours. Even the sunshine in heaven has a delicious taste to it, too.

In the distance, a golden trumpet sounded out across this utopia, growing louder and louder until my head rang full of its clarion call.

I awoke to the droning of my alarm clock, and fumbled around to turn it off. There was, after all, no trumpet, no idyll, and no Gods whose skin radiated a golden light. My mind was back in the earthly reality of the everyday world. I showered, shaved, ate breakfast, and went to work.

The day passed uneventfully, but I was in luck again at night. As I lay asleep, the dream continued. I saw that the Gods had a game they liked to play. One of them would climb a tree, and some other Gods would wait below, with their hands outstretched. The God at the top of the tree would gather some leaves from the branches, and drop them. The Gods at the bottom would try to catch them.

It was, of course, a banal game by an adult’s standards, but the Gods found their own innocent amusement in it. Most of the Gods had garlands of flowers around their neck. There was one God, Surti, who gathered up some of the leaves that had fallen to the ground. He had spotted something unusual.

One of the petals from his garland had shaken loose, and fallen to the ground along with the leaves. This seemed to cause him considerable anxiety. When the other Gods left to play another game, Surti remained behind. Secretively, he gathered up his petal, put it in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed it. It tasted bitter. When he inspected his sarong, he saw that the white garment had a patch of mud on it. He wiped it frantically until the stain was gone. This seemed to be a deepening cause of concern for him.

That was all I recall from the night. The dream seemed more vivid this time. When I woke up I went about my usual daily activities: morning ablutions, commute to work, and so on. Now that I had seen heaven, or at least what my imagination told me was heaven, I had a mounting sense of dissatisfaction with my normal everyday life. I longed to re-experience the heavenly world.

A couple of days passed, and I had no dreams that I could recall. I was beginning to think that that was the end of the matter until, once again, I had a dream of that heavenly world. It was about Surti again. As is the way of dreams, I identified with him as if he were me. The flowers on his garland had withered visibly. The stain on his sarong had returned, and was a little larger this time.

Intuitively, I understood why: although Gods appear as being eternally youthful, none of them actually live forever. There still exist marks and signs that they are ageing. The Gods do not count their age in years the way we humans do, but count through a succession of “stages” of their lives. Surti was, in fact an elder God. He had even begun sweating, something that deities generally never do. His time was drawing near.

Surti went to the Akkhana. It was a circular shallow pool, almost as wide as a God is tall. It was only an inch deep, and filled with magical water. Gods have many supernatural abilities; being able to hear sounds far away, walk through walls, fly, to name a few. Surti peered into the Akkhana. It enhanced his divine sight.

He wished to know where he would be reborn after he died. As he stared into the pool, the water’s reflection warped and swirled. The water became inky. Momentarily, an image crystallised on its surface. Surti saw his fate, and wailed in anguish. The horror of the hell that he would eventually encounter was plain for him to see.

I awoke from the dream, troubled deeply. It was still the small hours of the morning, and I needed to get some sleep for the day ahead, for it was still a workday.

I sat glum-faced at the office that day. As I plodded through my paperwork, I glanced out the window. There was a tree outside, and the winter sun shone through the leaves, dappling the light. I looked at the sun, and a strange waking dream overtook me.

In heaven, there is a special garden for the dying Gods. Gandharvas, celestial musicians, play sweet harmonies continuously, and the garden is particularly beautiful, even by heaven’s standards. It distracts the ageing Gods from the distress they feel at the prospect of their own demise.

Surti’s halo flickered, like the sun through the leaves in the tree that I saw outside, or a light bulb that is about to burn out. In an instant, Surti’s body disappeared from the heavens, like a ghost vanishing before one’s eyes. None of the other Gods noticed, for heaven is a place of revelry, not for the contemplation of mortality.

Surti felt a giant mist surround him, and cosmic winds howled all around. His senses were stripped from him, his mind faded, and all that he had been, no longer was. Up ahead was a light, which pulled him in as a magnet to steel. It was a portal to the next world. He crossed its threshold, and then … nothing.

Outside my office, the tree shook in the wind, leaves were blown from their branches, and they danced in the breeze. There was no God at the top of the tree dropping them down, however, nor expectant Gods at the bottom waiting excitedly to catch them.

Then it dawned on me. The dreams of mine were a vestigial memory, a glimpse of my past. I returned to the paperwork in front of me, now understanding the vision of hell that Surti has seen in the Akkhana.

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