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Train

June 4, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Rating: 8.6/10 (237 votes cast)

Life is a cage. I realize this now. The worst part of this realization is that most people know it. But they never do anything about it. They’re content to look through the bars, as long as the cage has a roof and there’s food inside of it. They don’t dare attempt to escape, to risk something better. That, or they’re expecting someone to come along and open the cage for them. That never happens. If it does, you can bet that whoever opens it has his own plan for you. A plan you’re probably going to hate. I finally decided to open my cage. However, I didn’t feel like it had been a matter of pushing a door open and walking out. I had practically bloodied my hands trying to rend the bars, finally grinding them down so that I was barely able to escape. I came out with the scars to prove it. I fought for my freedom.

Outsiders understandably scared me. Homeless people, junkies, drifters, hobos. For some weird reason, I’ve always had a pathological fear of ending up like these people. I can’t tell you why. Maybe it was ignorance. These types always seemed naturally repellent to me. Instead of repulsion and fear, I now felt a completely different emotion towards them: jealousy. Some of them might have been mental, granted, but some of them just didn’t care. They lived life on their own terms, not their bosses’, not their parents’, not society’s. Theirs.

I wanted to live life the way that they did. I wanted to start riding trains. I started researching this mode of travel, my brain soaking up every bit of information it found. Hobos were nowhere near as honorable as they were depicted. They would sometimes kill each other by shooting, stabbing, or just pushing one another off of the boxcar while it was moving, not giving a care as they moved onto the next job out West. I learned about the current incarnation of freighthopping, which is basically a pastime of crust punks and bedraggled addicts, filthy transients who don’t have to ride a train. They need to. There are gangs on the rails – the Freight Train Riders of America and its bastard child, the Blood Bound Railroad. I didn’t feel that I had to fear them much. They were monsters that mainly slinked around trains in the Northwest, like ticks on a snake. I was in the South. Yet, I still felt they could be here. Even if they weren’t, there could be people like them.

I went through nearly every scenario in my head that could happen if I hopped a freight train. I’m a small female. Rape. I know nothing about hopping trains. My body getting dumped at the base of a ravine. Where would I find food? They might use you for food. These were concerns that I considered seriously, but I needed more knowledge of this beast before I attempted to bridle it.

There was a railyard a few miles from my apartment. I went there one summer day. It was glaringly sunny and around 90 degrees, sweat beading on my thighs, causing my blue jeans to constrict around them. I arrived at the railyard, a junky maze of boxcars in drab greens and maroons being taken apart by men with glistening, dirt-speckled skin. The crew change, I thought. As I approached them, my boots kicked up the yellow dust that swirled on the ground, wading through dead, scrubby plants that were choking on the surface.
The man closest to me turned to stare. He was missing the majority of his teeth, and his thinning hair was pulled back in a scraggly ponytail. While he had a more prominent nose, he lacked a chin, giving him kind of a dopey look.

“Can I help yew, ma’am?” he said in a strong, country accent.

“Not sure, but I’m willing to take my chances. I’m Emma.”

I extended my hand and shook his dirty, wet palm.

“Pleasure to heyelp. Watcha need?”

“Well, I was wondering if you would mind telling me a bit about the railyard and the trains that come here.”

The man introduced himself as Will. He was a motor mouth but thankfully an informative one. He told me all about arrival times, when crew changes were, and where the trains were headed. When he slowed his pace, he finally got around to asking me some questions.

“Yew doin’ this fo’ a school project?”

“Uh, not really. I-“

I looked around the railyard to make sure no one was listening.

“I actually wanted to hop a train.”
Will’s eyes widened, causing the skin on his forehead to wrinkle.

“Wah wouldja wanna do that?”

“To get away.”

“Ah see.”

He nodded his head intently.

“Is there any way you could help me?”
There was a moment of silence between us as Will contemplated what I had said.

“The best tahm to fahnd me is around 10 in the mo’nin. I can tell yew ev’rythin’ yew need to know.”

From that point on, every day at 10 AM, I would go to the railyard to meet Will. Before he worked in the railyard, he had hopped trains to get around, so he was a fairly reliable resource. He told me about the finer points of which cars I could get on, which were the safest. If he admonished me once, he admonished me a million times about cargo shifting and crushing me and to avoid the cars that held them. His advice to me about catching out of the yard was to wait until the train was completely stopped. Due to my inexperience, he wasn’t confident of my ability to catch on the fly – hopping on the train while it was moving.
About a week into my training, Will finally broke it to me.

“Ahm worried about yew,” he said.

“Why?”

“There’r a lotta bad people on the tracks. Some gooduns, mind yew. But a lotta… crazy people can be on the train.”

“I’ve prepared myself for that,” I said defiantly.

“No, ah don’t think yew have.”

Will’s voice had taken on a stern quality that I hadn’t heard before.

“Ah was one of ‘em.”

I stood there unmoving. He took a swig of Pepsi, looking me in the eye as his head came down.

“Ah pulled a knife on a man once. Ah was high on meth. Ah cut ‘im across the arm. Thankfully, he lived. Ah spent some time in jail. Lucky ah got straightened out. Listen, ah don’t think yew should do this. At awl.”

“Well, I’m going to. I have to leave. If you don’t want to help me, I’ll just get on the train while you’re not here. You know Tom is a lazy ass bull anyway.”

The look Will gave me was possibly the saddest that I had seen cross over his face in the short time I had known him. I felt sorry that I had put it that way, but I wasn’t going to be swayed. Will also knew that Tom, the security guard at the railyard was sleeping in his office most of the time. He absolutely wouldn’t be bothered with me.

Will nodded his head solemnly.

“When’re yew leaving?”

“Tomorrow,” I said.

Will remained silent for a second.

“Ah’ll see you off then,” he said.
***************************************
I arrived at the railyard early. It was still dark out. I had a backpack with me that held a loaded gun, some extra ammo, a bit of food, a knife, and a flashlight. In my hand I held a gallon jug that I had filled with water. I wore heavy, supportive boots. I was covered in layers despite the heat and humidity. Once the train got moving, the wind would be freezing. I met Will.

“Yew sure about this?”

I nodded.

He directed me to the last car on the train. It was completely empty, and the doors were open.

“Hide in the back. Yew got a rock?”

I leaned down and picked up a large weathered stone. I could wedge it between the doors in the event I had to close them, since they didn’t open from the inside. I scrambled into the dark corner of the empty boxcar. Will would sometimes lean against the boxcar and talk to me, but most of the time he was getting things set up. It came time for the train to take off.

“Yew know about the next stop? It’s a whiles away.”

“Yeah, Will, you’ve told me,” I smiled.

“Yew stay safe and don’t let anyone fuck yew over.”

“I won’t.”

The train started moving. I waved to Will as it gained speed. We stared at each other until Will’s image was obscured by trees. I was completely alone now. I sat in the corner of the train, contemplating my situation. I was scared, more scared than I ever had been. And I loved it. I was free. No one, except for me, knew where I was going or where I would end up. Food was going to be a bit of an obstacle, but I figured I could just go to a soup kitchen or work as a waitress somewhere. While there were challenges inherent with this lifestyle, there were also a myriad of possibilities. I was ready to take hold of them.

The first couple of hours in the train, I kept to the back. It was probably running at about 70 miles an hour, and I hadn’t yet gained the courage to move to the open area. I secured the gallon jug behind my backpack and slowly rose. I held to the sides of the boxcar and sat at the opening. What met my eyes was astounding. A dark gray mountain sat in the midst of a sea of green trees. Its vastness filled the land, as a fierce wind howled through the trees, exposing the silver undersides of the leaves. It was like an island fortress in an ocean of undulating greens and silvers, daring anyone to swim to its shores. This scene was gorgeous, but it also terrified me. My apartment, my cubicle, and the eateries in the surrounding area where I had lived were my familiar landscapes. They had been replaced with the dingy metal walls of a car and the fantastic, daunting views of nature you could only see by traveling this way. I left my crappy boss and co-workers, the bartenders who served me when they should have cut me off, and throngs of faceless people I didn’t care to know. I wondered who would be replacing them.

I stood up in the train now. The sun shone upon my face. I took off my coat and threw it in the corner with my backpack. My body pulsed with this unfettered freedom. For the first time in my life, I was happy. I must have stood there for what felt like hours, my skin growing taut with the cold. I drank in every image that nature had to offer. As ecstatic as I was, I was growing exhausted. Will had told me that the whipping wind would suck the life out of me. I now fully believed him. I carefully moved to the corner again with my backpack. I drank heavily from the jug and put my coat on. I closed my eyes and fell asleep immediately.

The positivity of my experience while I was awake hadn’t translated to my slumber. My dreams were plagued by all the horrors I had read about. Grimy, toothless men with jaundiced eyes leered at me through the jungles on the side of the tracks, stalking my every move. Gang members hiding behind black bandanas held knives to my neck as they tried to pull my pants down. A woman with stringy hair howled at me as she lunged at my body, trying to bite me.
I woke up in a cold sweat. I thrashed as I looked around the car. Night had fallen by this point, but the train was still moving. I hadn’t reached my destination yet. I pulled my flashlight and my gun out of my backpack. No one was in the car. No one but me. I took a deep breath and finished the contents of my jug. I would have to get more water when the train stopped. A couple more hours went by. I had shaken off my terrible dreams, dismissing them as my subconscious response to stress. The hobos and the gang members I could understand. I’d read about them exhaustively. The woman I couldn’t. Had she been a drug user? Maybe I had seen her on Google Images, one of those “after” pictures you see of addicts. If she was, she would have to have been one of the more intense cases. I remembered nothing like her. I didn’t remember her at all. My worry about this dissipated as I felt the train slow down. Will had told me to look out for a huge tower with a blinking red light nearby. I saw it in the distance. This was going to be where the train would stop. I could either get off at this place and find somewhere to stay, or I could wait for the yard workers to unload and sneak back on. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.

The train slowed. I could tell it was about to stop. I put my gun and flashlight back into my backpack and made sure my coat was zipped up. I stayed in the corner as I felt the train come to a halt. I was thrown forward, so I was glad that I had at least held tight to the walls. I grabbed all of my things and peeked out the open door of the car. I needed to stretch my legs desperately, but I didn’t want to encounter the bull. All I saw were other crew workers who had hopped off of the train when it was only going a couple of miles an hour. Will had told me that the yard workers here were pretty accepting of people hopping the train as long as they were nice. Luckily, there was a crew change going on, so I had at least a few seconds to get out of the car. I hopped off and breathed in the air. Thunder rumbled overhead, and dark clouds obscured the velvety, dark blue sky. Fat raindrops hit the top 0f my head, startling me. I didn’t feel comfortable walking in the rain in a place I didn’t know. Back on the train it was.

All of the necessary paperwork had to have been in order, because I saw the new crew hop on the train. I quickly got back to my original hiding place. It was too short of a rest, but I could live with it. I propped my backpack in the corner. I was worried about not being able to get any water. Maybe I could hold the jug outside of the train and catch water that way, risky as it was. For the time being, I felt fine. I was relaxed, warm, and I felt safe with the rest of the crew being relatively nearby. Despite my long sleep just a few minutes before, I had the urge to doze off again. The rain was falling heavily at this point, hitting the top of the car like little torpedoes. The thunder would boom at random intervals, making me jump out of my skin every time it did so. I hadn’t seen any lightning yet though. As if my recent connection with nature had grown to be psychic, a burst of white light illuminated the car. That’s when I saw it.

There was someone in the opposite corner from me. I had roughly been able to make out a body with a face. No, no, there couldn’t be someone in here with me. I had only been out of the car for a few seconds, and I hadn’t left it. I would have seen someone get into the car, felt their presence near. If someone had gotten in, they had to have been fast. And quiet. Had I hallucinated? I… didn’t feel like I had. The rain pelted the top of the car with a frightening intensity, and the wind howled. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see that I hadn’t just imagined something. A dark shape was huddled in the corner. I could see its head shaking as if it were having a seizure. I heard gurgling noises coming from it as its body quaked. It made this sound for a while – until it started laughing. It was a breathy laugh, the laugh of someone who was trying to conceal a joke. The laughter gradually became louder, morphing into a cackle, with the choked gurgles coming up in intervals.

I felt like my bones had separated from my muscles. I was paralyzed as I watched the thing heave up and down, and my throat had run dry. My mind raced as I tried to figure out what I could do. If I jumped out of this moving train, I would die. I was scared to even move, fearing that this thing would attack me. The person in the corner stopped laughing. It inched its head forward, as if it were trying to look at me. One arm extended in front of it, bones cracking as it did. A long, skeletal hand splayed on the floor in front of it. The thing’s shoulders were hunched like it was about to pounce. My fight or flight response kicked in, and I shoved my arm behind me to grab the gun out of my bag. I managed to pull it out and point it at the thing that loomed just a few feet away. I shook even as my finger was on the trigger. However, the figure never moved away. Instead, it cocked its head as if it were amused by my action. In my hurry to grab the gun, the flashlight had fallen out of my backpack. I saw it out of the corner of my eye. I don’t know why, but I felt I had to see what was crouched in front of me. I was prepared to kill this person, but I guess the human side of me had to fully recognize it before a bullet went through its head. I grabbed the flashlight and shone it at the thing. This was an action that I will regret for as long as I live.

Pale, translucent skin stretched across its skull, and greasy, stringy brown hair hung off of it in patches. One of its eyes was a pale corpse-colored blue, its pupil merely a quivering pinprick. The opposite eyelid was plastered into a deformed crevice, revealing the cavernous insides where an eye had once made its home. It growled through a clenched mouth, revealing jagged yellow and black teeth, some of them looking like they had been sharpened down to a point. Its body was grimy and severely emaciated, the outlines of bones looking like they had been carved into its flesh. Red, raised scars covered this thing from its arms to it skeletal face. It appeared to be covered in oily brown rags, one small, wrinkled breast exposed. This was the woman in my dream. This was the demon living invisibly among the drifters, the death goddess willing my destruction. Tears welled in my eyes as she heaved and growled. When the light hit her face, she let out a shrill, high-pitched wail.

Before I could pull the trigger, she lunged at me, pinning me into the corner of the boxcar. Her long, jagged fingernails ripped into my face as inhuman screams emanated from her mouth. I fought her, kicking and flailing, trying to push her off of me. She was stronger than I thought. She was able to wrestle me to the ground, her long fingers grasping around my neck. Her face was millimeters from mine. Her one eye, the hue of decomposition, bored a hole into mine. Her sour breath felt hot on my face, and her cracked lips spread into a wide leer. In a low, gravelly voice, she spoke to me.

“Eeeeeat you… send you to hell… make my house with your bones,” she screamed.

She sunk her teeth into my shoulder, making me yelp in pain. I thrashed as she dug deeper into my shoulder. The gun was to my right. I tried reaching for it while my other hand pulled her hair, trying to rend her off of me. I was able to slip my middle finger around the trigger guard and bash her across the head with the gun. It shocked her enough that I was able to throw her off. I pointed the gun at her and pulled the trigger, but it missed her, sailing out of the open door of the car into the darkness. She threw herself at my legs, still screaming, and brought me to the ground. I hit her across the shoulders and upper back with the gun and kicked her off again. She was too fast for me. If I was going to have a chance at life, I had to make a decision. I looked out the door of the car and saw trees in the distance. I lunged out of the moving train into the storm.

The side of my body hit the ground, and I rolled down a hill, rain pelting me mercilessly. I only stopped rolling when my body hit the bottom of a ravine. My ears stung from the howl of the wind. I clambered up the hill, trying to get to the tree line. A more piercing howl rang through the night. I looked back to see the woman running on all fours down the hill, shrieking with anger. I used all the strength that I could to run. Blood spilled from my shoulder, and the gun felt like a heavy weight attached to my hand. She was gaining on me, and I knew that my fate would be even bloodier than it would have been on the train. She wanted revenge. This propelled me up the remainder of this obstacle. I rain across a short distance and flung myself into the woods, never stopping to look back. My legs caught across blackberry bushes, and I had to push limbs out of the way of my face. I could still hear her howls in the distance, but I pressed onward in the dark. I could see nothing and felt like I was moving through jelly.

I finally came to a more open part of the woods. I had to stop due to sheer exhaustion, even though I didn’t feel safe. The only sound I could hear now was the light sound of rain hitting dead leaves and crickets chirping. Most of the rain was caught in the canopy above, forming a roof over my head. I was thankful for this slight reprieve. I didn’t want to look at my shoulder, but I felt I had no choice. It was covered in red, blood covering it completely and running in rivulets down my breast. I started crying. I was going to die out here, I would bleed to death, and there would be no escape. That woman would find me, finish me off, and eat my dead body. She would use my bones to make a house, whatever that meant. I was at the mercy of an insane person and far from any civilization I knew of. As I became resolved to my fate, I listened to the rain. I remembered the mountain and the trees and the wind through my hair. I didn’t want to die. Not yet. That’s when I realized the crickets had stopped chirping. Something was moving through the brush somewhere in the distance.

A surge of adrenaline burst through me, and I took off in the opposite direction. I ran and ran and ran, hearing her howl as she tried to find me. I kept running until I saw colored lights ahead of me. It was a diner, on the other side of a road. I started laughing when I saw it, thanking whatever force was in charge of the world for bringing it to me. I pushed the doors open. A waitress was behind the counter. I smiled and collapsed.
**************************************
I woke up in pain. I was propped up in a booth, with a woman staring at me. I jumped when I saw her.

“Shh,” she said. “You shouldn’t move.”

I looked down at my shoulder. It was covered in gauze, but it wasn’t bleeding anymore.

“I-I need to get to a hospital,” I said.

She looked at me sympathetically.

“I’m sorry, hon, but the nearest one is about an hour away. It’s pouring out there. I don’t want to risk either of us. I stopped the bleeding. You’re holding up just fine.”

I looked at her blankly.

“What happened to you?” she asked.

I was swiftly reminded of my terrifying encounter with the thing that stalked me like an animal.

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” I said.

The waitress nodded. She brought me something to eat. She introduced herself as Mae. She started telling me about herself. At any other time, this would kind have annoyed me, but anything that could take my mind off of the recent hours was welcome. Mae had had a fairly hard life. Her stories weren’t uplifting, but they felt like Disney movies compared to what I had just faced. She talked about how she and her siblings, a brother and a sister, and been moved from foster home to foster home. They weathered sexual, psychological, and physical abuse. She mentioned one home where a male pedophile had locked her and her sister in the closet while he sodomized her younger brother.

“My life was hell as a child. But, it did get better,” she said. “I have a pretty good life now. I make good money for what I do. I can go out and drink. I have friends. I can’t complain,” she shrugged.

“What about your siblings?” I asked.

She hung her head. Mae didn’t say anything for a few seconds, but she finally spoke.

“My brother couldn’t take it anymore. He committed suicide a few years later. My sister was placed in a psychiatric facility. She was supposed to stay there for the rest of her life. But she left eventually.”

I looked at her.

“So, she got better?”

“You could say that.”

“What do you mean?”

She gave a small smile as she looked at the gauze on my chest.

“I guess it would make more sense for me to explain further. The bastard pervert who raped my brother – my sister killed him. She took his eyes out and bit his nose off.”

I stared at her in silence, but she continued.

“They were going to lock her up, but a shrink determined that she wasn’t in sound mind when she did it. So, they sent her to the looney bin. She was only trying to protect my brother. He and I would go visit her. She talked about getting revenge on everyone who had hurt us. When she had bit that son of a bitch’s nose off, she said that she liked the taste of the blood. She told me that she was going to eat all of the people that had hurt us. She said that if she ate them and shit them out, that would be sending them to hell. God wouldn’t take them, because they were shit. Those people drove her insane. But she’s still smart. She escaped. I still see her sometimes.”

I was trembling. Mae looked up at me the same way that a lion looks at a gazelle. She zeroed in on my shoulder.

“You met her tonight, didn’t you?” She smiled with all the evil in the world, her pale blue eyes lighting up at my terror.

I remained silent. She laughed. Her voice dropped down to a whisper.

“She wants to send everyone to hell. I really do admire that in her. Sometimes, she’ll bring me something – an arm or a leg. I’ll cook it up for her. She’ll pull the meat apart like a dog. She takes the bones back with her. I followed her once. She sticks them in the ground around her. It’s like she builds a wall around herself.”

“You’re insane,” I choked out.

“Maybe I could find her. I’m sure she’s looking for you. We could eat you together.”

Mae cocked her head and grinned at me. I bolted from the booth and raced out the door. I looked back to see Mae grinning that evil sneer of hers. I ran down the road, hoping and praying that someone would pick me up. I put all my effort into getting away from this place, this experience, this life I had made. I ran into the night.

Occasionally, I would hear something in the woods beside me. Something walking. I wondered if it was her. After two hours, I had no choice but to slow my pace. My legs couldn’t take more than a sluggish crawl. To my left, a rowdy biker bar crackled like electricity through the night. Two men stood outside near their motorcycles under a yellow light. They laughed and threw back beers. They stopped their chatter when they saw me. They followed me with their eyes. One of them had shoulder length black hair. He smirked as he looked me up and down. At this, I disappeared into the woods.
**************************************
I live in a different place now. It’s an apartment. It’s not as nice as my other one, though. I do some odd jobs. They don’t pay much, but they get me what I need. I’ll work at the little corner store nearby. I sell watermelons to old people and act like I’m normal. After my day is done, I take the money and go to the bad part of town. I get the stuff from the man who can give it to me. I don’t want to do it, but it helps me to forget. Forget my life, my current situation. It helps me forget her. I go up the steps to the dingy place where I live. The other people who live there stare wide-eyed at me as I go by. I don’t know why.

When I get inside my place, I ready my materials. I tie a tourniquet at my upper arm and smack my veins so I can see them. The needle sucks the stuff from the spoon. I flick it to expel any air bubbles. When I put it inside me, I go away. I see the mountains, I see the trees, I feel the sun. I feel alive. The drugs don’t work when it rains outside though. When the thunder booms and the wind howls, she’s there. I can’t fight her with the needle. The sun is overtaken by black clouds and a hideous, killing cold sets in. I lay in the middle of the moving boxcar, my limbs severed. I can only scream. She lopes around the car, fastening bones together, always making sure her eye and my eyes meet. Her mouth pulls back in a wide smile, laughing. Life will always be a cage. You just have to make sure it’s one you’ve built yourself. I broke out of my cage, and I don’t have the means to build a new one. So she does.

Credit: thetreesshallfall

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Saccharine

June 2, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Ever since she was small, Patty Carson had been fearful of the dark. As was almost every small child, which is to be expected, since children tend to be afraid of things they don’t yet understand. Things that they can’t quite see with their eyes, but with their minds. Things that their parents can’t quite protect from, since they aren’t real. Things that wait until you’re alone, solitary, and left with your thoughts; they take the shape of the shadow of the dresser, the wind in the curtains, the rustling of tree branches on windowpanes, or the flickering of a streetlamp. They slip into the corners of your eyes, their eyes glowing, but not quite there. These are the devils that most children have to face when they try to sleep, as they try to ignore the shifting in the darkness by pulling their comforters over their heads.

This, however, wasn’t quite why Patty was scared of the dark. No, she was more practical than that. What she was haunted by, she didn’t believe to be real at all, which is extremely unlike most children. However, this did not negate the fact that it only took one night for a terribly deep and irrational fear of the darkness to be planted into her small head, there to stay for years. One night, in the summer of 1995, that was by most means an ordinary night to anyone else.

Even though it wasn’t.

“G’night, Patty!”

A small voice broke through the still dark of the bedroom, making Patty jump. She clicked her flashlight off from under her nearly suffocating position under her comforter, hoping to the heavens above that she hadn’t been caught reading after she was supposed to go to bed. She waited for a few moments, fiddling with the bottom of her nightgown in feverish anxiety as the seconds ticked by on the small alarm clock on her nightstand. It was one of those old-y looking ones, the ones that was in the shape of a circle, and was equipped with two bells that would, when the set time came, ring rather enthusiastically as they were hit mercilessly by the small lever that was sticking out of a hole in the top. Patty both loved and hated that clock, both for its cute blue and green design and its incessant ringing in the mornings when she had to go to school, respectively.

“Patty! Pst, Paaaatty!”, the voice called again, sounding a bit more agitated than before. With a small sigh, Patty lifted her head from her covers, seeing that her sister was wide awake and looking at her from across their shared and darkened room, her eyes twinkling with mischief and slight annoyance at the way her older sibling had ignored her. Her dark hair had been pulled out of its signature messy pigtails for the night, though there were still remnants of the scruffy mess it had been not an hour ago, if anything could be told from the one single crease in her mahogany locks that the elastics had left behind.

“Yeah, what is it?”, Patty’s voice was almost a growl, and she hunkered down once again into her sheets before her little sister could answer. A frustrated huff resounded through the room, but the elder of the two girls payed no mind to it. She didn’t often take kindly to people who interrupted her precious reading sessions, and that included her sibling. Sometimes, even more so than others, much to the annoyance of their parents.

“Nothin’. Jus’ wanted to say g’night.”, Patty’s little sister, whose name was, in fact, Celia, seemed to be pouting from across the room, her childish slurs making it worse than it should’ve been. Patty could just tell. There was absolutely no way she wasn’t. Celia was five, so she was going to pout and cry and scream and kick when she didn’t get what she wanted. Despite being only eight, Patty knew this. Luckily, there had been no tears this time. The elder of the two felt the crease that had formed between her eyebrows lessen a bit, and she let out a small breath of air. Almost a huff, but not quite. It could’ve been a sigh, but it was too quiet for that, too. Not that Patty cared. She finally let a small smile cross her plush, childish lips.

“Yeah, yeah, goodnight to you, too.” was the eventual response, and, without another word, Patty roughly turned herself away from the conversation, making a small show of rustling the covers and turning away from Celia. A small giggle was heard, and more rustling.

“I love you, sissy.”

Patty gulped heavily at that. She wasn’t used to her sister actually saying that out loud. It wasn’t that they didn’t love each other; far from it, actually. True, they had their quarrels, sometimes more often than others, but they were relatively close, for siblings, and Patty was proud of that fact. However, it wasn’t often where they would verbally admit their affections for one another, if at any time at all, so it had been quite shocking for Patty to hear it then, in such a random moment. It almost left her with a foreboding feeling of sorts, but, since she did consider herself to be rather clever and level-minded (despite the fact that she had no idea what exactly ‘level-minded’ meant), she shook it off, settling for another smile that would go unseen by Celia in the low light. The only witness of her sleepily happy expression was the bumpy surface of the now grey-ish blue-looking wall and a stuffed panda bear that her father had bought her at the zoo once. The bear itself was pink, though it couldn’t readily be deciphered in the shallow darkness.

“Love you, too. Now, go to sleep, or mom’ll be mad!”, Patty’s warning elicited a small gasp from the girl opposing her, and more rustling sheets were heard. Then, it was silent once more.

The clock ticked on ominously, though Patty only paid heed to the rhythmic sound to count the seconds, bobbing her head softly with each number until she reached sixty. It was a ritual of hers, to wait exactly a minute before trying to read under her covers after the lights had been turned off. Or, to put it more into perspective, when she was finished with a late night conversation with Celia. Most older folk would agree that only one minute was far too short to be waiting for the coast to clear, but even Patty, who was rather mature for her age, was still eight years old, and a minute was the absolute longest that she could wait before she got antsy. One minute, in her childish mindsight, was plenty.

Light snoring could be heard as Patty sat up, slowly and quietly, her round eyes locking on the sleeping figure of her sister in her fluffy pink comforter (though she couldn’t really see the pink; it was tinted to a more grey colour by the moonlight streaming through their shared curtains). It wasn’t really that she had anything to worry about, since she knew all too well that Celia was a decently deep sleeper; an incident with the stove had assured both her and her parents of that. However, she didn’t want to take any chances. After all, her book was waiting for her, and at a climax, too! There was no way that she’d let her sister catch her now.

A single, small hand reached carefully from the confines of Patty’s bed. Its small fingers groped mindlessly around the top of her nightstand, appearing almost like a large spider that can’t seem to locate its web. And though most spiders would indeed find their webs, if they were in the right place, Patty’s hand did not find what it sought. There was no book on her nightstand, nor was there any clunky flashlight. She was nearly absolutely sure that she had set them there, almost positive, but there was not where she had set them, apparently.

Patty didn’t tend to be forgetful, even at the worst of times. She never forgot her homework, nor where she left her lunch when she was at school, or even Celia’s ‘secret’ stash of black licorice. No, she liked to pride herself on distinctly remembering where she put each and every thing that she possessed (even though she sometimes failed in that pride). This was why a chill ran up and down her spine when her hand touched nothing but the smooth surface of her wooden nightstand and the cool metal surface of that cute but horrible alarm clock.

Her first worry was that her parents had somehow confiscated her book and ‘her’ flashlight (she may or may not have taken it from her father’s desk drawer) while she was saying goodnight to Celia, but that thought was quickly banished. How in the world could they have done it, anyways? They can’t teleport like in the cartoons they watched on Saturdays…

Patty’s mind whirled in a way that only a child’s mind would whirl, filling with irrational thoughts about her parents screaming at her once the morning came, telling her to ‘stop reading before bed, Patty! You know that you shouldn’t! You have school, and if you don’t get good sleep, you’ll get bad grades! Patty! You need good grades to read! Patty!’ It wasn’t as if they said these things to her on a regular basis, forbid the thought. However, the subtle glances had been enough. Worried eyes over the counter as she ate breakfast, nearly falling asleep in her oatmeal. Stern stares over the morning paper as she slowly got ready for school each morning, heading out the door with a small wave and a soft ‘goodbye, mom and dad. I’ll see you after school.’ Patty was sure that she knew what they were thinking. ‘Patty, you read too much for your age. You should play more with other kids. Patty. Patty, little Patty. We know you use our old flashlight at night to read until dawn. It’s not good for you, baby girl. You know it isn’t, Patty.’

A swift blink of her chocolate brown eyes put an end to those scenarios. Patty’s hand clenched as she practically yanked it back into her covers, swallowing thickly as her eyes scanned her room, not for the first time. She silently wondered to herself as she did this, watching as shapes seemingly wormed and swarmed across her vision, squirming in the shadows, hinting at things that would have any other child cowering under their bed sheets. Patty had long since taught herself not to fear these lying shadows, telling her overactive brain to ignore it and continue onto the next page, always the next page. At least she never got nightmares.

However, right in that moment, as her thoughts swirled just as the shadows did, her mind came to a screeching halt as it grasped an idea. An awful idea, truly, and one that she was afraid to admit to. Afraid to admit to being afraid of the idea.

If her parents couldn’t have taken her book and her flashlight, then who had?

It seemed like hours for Patty as she lay there, silent, frozen, under her comforter, which was actually rather warm and cozy. The familiar material did nothing to comfort her, her breathing shallow as her wide eyes tried to keep themselves from blinking. Who had taken her book? Who had done it? Celia was asleep, and all the way across the room; besides, Patty would’ve heard her if she had gotten up. There was no way that she would’ve done it. So, what had?

Wait…
What had done it?

Patty shook her head furiously, pressing her tiny fists against her forehead in an attempt to push the foreign thoughts out of her mind. What did she mean, what? It had to have been either mom, dad, or Celia, there was no one else who could’ve done it! Stop being so silly! Her eyes clenched shut, her knees curling together and her feet brushing against what felt like a sock that had been long lost within her bedding and had never been picked up. Patty tried to focus on that sock for a long moment, wondering whether or not she would’ve gotten a light but slightly scolding whap on the head for it from her mother’s rolled up crossword book. She probably would’ve…

‘Just go to sleep, Patty. You can ask mom or dad in the morning.’ Patty’s own voice resounded within her head, and she tried to calm her breathing even a little bit. Her heart felt like that of a rabbit’s, beating one hundred miles per minute. It wasn’t as though she actually knew how fast a rabbit’s heart beat, and she was sure that hearts didn’t beat in miles, but the expression seemed to fit the situation, and her father had used it in many different situations, all having to do with your heart beating out of your chest. It seemed appropriate, since it really did feel like her heart was beating in miles. She felt it in her ears, in her palms, in her throat. It seemed like the fright that the loss of a simple book was harder to escape that she had thought.

Ker-thunk!

A small squeal of fright pushed past Patty’s lips at the sudden noise, and she quickly buried her face in her hands. Somewhere in the back of her mind, a rational voice crooned ‘It’s nothing to worry about, Patty. It’s probably just some animal from outside, Patty. Just go to sleep.’

However, that part of her mind was cruelly stamped out once she managed to peek past her hands and into the severely darkened hallway.

The usually cheerful blue wallpaper that covered the interior of the hallway was nowhere to be seen, cloaked by the black shadows that now encompassed it. The light from her window could only illuminate so much, and that light only reached out so far, only about two feet outside her door before melting away, giving into the darkness of the night. That light, the usually comforting blue-grey of the moon, only served to frighten the poor girl more. And it wasn’t so much the moonlight, but what it illuminated, that brought on this new fear.

There was her book, lying face-down in the hallway. Looking innocent, as if it had been there the whole time. Patty knew for a fact that it had not.

Chocolate brown eyes snapped up from the ominous book, staring into the darkness as a deer stares at a wolf, just as it’s been trapped. A stare that held fear, pure and sharp, as it waited, patiently for the claws of its predator to close upon them, for those hungry jaws to snap around their neck like a rat caught in a trap. Waited for death.

It seemed as if Patty’s feet worked on their own accord, stepping from the safe and warm confines of her bed and comforter, her head abandoning her fluffy pillow. They slowly padded across the cold hardwood floor, watching for any familiar creaky boards. The only sound that Patty seemed to hear were her own nearly silent footsteps, her soft breathing, and the beating of her own heart as it pounded in her ears. Her hand shakily twitched as it reached down, down to the surface of the floor, sweaty fingers clasping over the slightly worn cover of her book. Her eyes staying upwards, watching for any movements within the shadows. That small, rational voice in the back of her voice chimed in once again, with calming words like ‘it’ll be alright, Patty. There’s nothing really there. It was probably just Celia trying to play a trick on you. Patty, you’re being silly.’

While Patty would’ve loved nothing more than to listen to that voice, pleasant and soft, and go back to bed like she should (after all, it was a school night), something told her that she wouldn’t be able to sleep, whether she liked it or not. It felt as if the darkness was staring at her, mocking her small and childlike form as she stood stock-stiff in the doorway. Her small fingers harshly gripped at the binding of her book, though the object had been forgotten in her hand almost as soon as she had picked it up. For a moment, she almost did listen to the voice, her feet twitching ever so slightly in the direction of her bed.

“Patty!”

The young girl’s mind seemed to stop as a haunting voice floated up the stairs, down the black hallway and to her unfortunate ears. Goosebumps prickled against the sleeves of her nightgown, and her eyes were the size of quarters, bulging out of her skull in barely contained terror.

The voice was her mother’s, it seemed. Soft as warm chocolate, as it was when the woman wasn’t angry with either of her daughters. However, something in the tone, as if there was an unexpected bit of spice in the mix, made chills run up and down Patty’s spine like frightened mice. It sounded… almost too sweet. Like her mother was using the sugary tone to make Patty come out of whatever nook or cranny she had managed to fit into to escape punishment.

It was a tone that her mother had never used, not once. That was what was so terrifying.

A shaky breath made it’s way out of the young girl’s lips, almost as if she had forced it out, and it was accompanied by a quivering whimper. If she had been anything but a child, most would have called her pathetic, despite the hypocrisy on most people’s parts, considering the chilling situation. However, Patty was, in fact, a child, and such things were sure to frighten her badly, even though she possessed a surprisingly mature mindset.

“… Mom? What is it?”, Patty’s timid voice called out despite her better judgement, her book now tucked securely against her chest. She took a hesitant step into the darkness of the hallway, her eyes frantically scanning for the nearest light switch. She knew for a fact that the nearest switch was all the way down the hall and next to the stairway, but some frantic and panicking part of her mind desperately wished for a miracle to occur, and for the light switch to somehow move to the wall directly outside her doorway, where she could see it and easily turn on the light. However, as any rational observer would conclude, no such miracle took place, and the hall remained shrouded in black. Patty almost wanted to step back into her room, but her quivering form didn’t seem to listen to her head. Her sock-covered feet took another tentative step from the safety of her bedroom, a decision which she almost immediately regretted.

“Patty! I need you to come downstairs, okay sweetheart?”, the voice crooned yet again, the saccharine laced tone floating into her ears like a sweet-tasting poison. Somehow, Patty’s feet moved further from the moonlight shaft that was cast by the window in her bedroom, her breathing quickening pace and her heart in her mouth. She felt her stomach flip uncomfortably as she lost her vision almost completely, one of her hands reaching out blindly for anything that might be in her way (even though she knew the hallway, and the rest of the house, like the back of her hand; everything seemed to be different once the sun went down). One foot after another, the eight-year-old padded ever so slowly down the hall, her face the epitome of panic and childlike fear. So far, she hadn’t managed to stub her toe on anything (especially that nasty side table her parents had placed next to their bedroom door for some odd reason. She had never bothered to ask them, but it’s legs gave some rather nasty bruises if you weren’t careful. Patty had learned early on to despise and be watchful of that table), which was surprising, but her mind couldn’t find the will to pick the joy out of that.

Patty almost let out a shriek when she stuck her right foot out and it didn’t land on anything. It almost seemed as if she was going to trip and fall into the infinite abyss of nothingness (so her young mind told her, with a certainty that she couldn’t ignore), until it slapped harshly against the wood of what she assumed was the staircase. She gulped harshly, her throat contracting in an almost painful manner as she paused yet again, her foot frozen on the top stair as she stared blindly into the darkness.

“Mom? Are you still there?”, her voice sounded pitifully squeaky, even to her own mind, as she called out, hoping for a positive response (and, at the same time, wishing that no one would reply at all). It was silent for what seemed like an eternity, and, for that moment only, relief flooded through Patty’s mind, her shoulders falling from their tensed position.

“Yes, sweetie, come on downstairs!”, the tenseness returned with a vengeance as her mother’s voice passed through her being like a ghost, chilling her to the bone. The darkness swirled, as it always had, before her eyes as her mind swam with thoughts, doubts, contradictions, anything that would somehow to convince her not to follow the directions that her mother had given her. Something was definitely not right, Patty was sure of that, but, as she was a young girl, and an inquisitive one, at that, she was almost forced to go and investigate, even though every part of her subconscious was screaming at her to simply go back to her room; she had her book, she simply had to go back to bed and pretend that none of this ever happened. Sadly, for once she deemed not to listen to such thoughts, and she crept cautiously down the stairs.

The cool tiling of the dining room floor caressed the pads of Patty’s feet as she descended onto it. However, it seemed as if it was nothing compared to the shivers running down her spine. Her mind spiralled, and she couldn’t seem to focus on anything. It wasn’t all that surprising, but it was slightly frustrating to the girl, who was trying to be at least somewhat calm. She wasn’t a baby, she could handle a little dark! She wasn’t like Celia, who would cry at a flickering light. No, she was older, she was braver. She’d be fine.

“Mom? Hello?”, her tiny voice echoed off the kitchen walls, her form shaking a bit, like a leaf about to fall off of a branch in the middle of autumn. Again, it was silent as the grave. Patty heard what sounded like an owl hooting outside the kitchen window, which allowed for some much appreciated moonlight to filter in through the half-closed blinds. She could see the stars reflecting off of the smooth, wooden surface of the dining table, and the glint of the many glass cups within their cupboard. They seemed to shine like stars themselves, and the peacefulness of such an observation did not escape Patty. She felt like she wanted to smile for a small moment, until she felt something grasp her shoulder like a vice, making her let out a shriek. The grip felt as cold as ice, though she could definitely say that it didn’t feel like a hand.

“Patty, sweetheart… you shouldn’t read so late at night…”, her mother’s voice seemed to be right beside her ear, though it seemed almost garbled, mixed with something else, something far more sinister than her mother’s soft and warm tone. It was then that Patty finally fully concluded that, whatever this thing was, it was definitely not her mother.

Nothing happened for a few seconds. The grip suddenly released, eliciting another squeak of terror from the small girl. It seemed the terror was over, and she curled into herself a bit as she breathed quick and heavy.

Then, suddenly and like a tidal wave, shadows, feelings solid and cold, encompassed her like an octopus closing in on it’s prey, or a venus fly trap finally closing on the fly which had been lead into its maw by the sweet bait the carnivorous plant had produced just for that purpose. Patty didn’t even have the time, nor the breath, to let out a screech of terror as the darkness covered her mouth like a gag, taking away both her voice and her air. Everything was cold, oh so cold, and Patty squirmed helplessly. It felt as if many sharp needles were being pressed into her skin all at once, and her skin itself was being pressed into her bones, her organs being smooshed together from the sheer force of whatever was holding her. Her breath was lost to her, and she felt herself gasping for anything to fill her struggling lungs with.

“Just hold still, Patty… just hold still…”, the fake voice cooed in an almost cruel way. Patty, who was struggling to simply remain awake (alive), her wriggling finally ceasing as she lost control of her body, finally found the resolve to simply open her eyes. What she saw, she simply couldn’t believe was real.

Two horrid, yellow eyes peered at her from what seemed to be a never ending darkness, and an invisible mouth full of sharp teeth grinned at her, impossibly white. There was something odd dripping off of the pointed canines, a thick, red substance that could almost be mistaken for paint. It was if it was something straight out of a storybook, or the horror stories that the boys at her school would tell her to scare her. She never had thought that it’d be so terrifying when it was staring right at her, with a smile so malicious and eyes so cold, as cold as the emptiness of space, the void. She knew, very well, that it wanted to kill her. She also knew that she couldn’t do a thing. After all, what could she do against a shadow? Patty felt something dribble past her lips as her stomach seemed to give way, an impossible pain filling her entire being.

“Just hold still…”

Patty was finally able to scream.

___________________________________________________________

A gasp slipped past Patty’s lips as she sat up from her bed, sweat clinging to her forehead and her bedsheets sticking to her thighs like glue. She simply lay there for a moment, trying to calm her breathing as she stared up at her darkened ceiling. She dazedly began picking out patterns in the bumpy texture, trying to find shapes in the randomness as one might in clouds. It always seemed to help after that nightmare, for some reason that Patty couldn’t quite explain. Maybe it was because it gave her something else to focus on, or it was just entertaining enough to be distracting from her fearful mindset. Either way, it was a welcome comfort for her.

It had taken years for Patty to get over her experience with that… thing that dreadful summer night. Her parents had actually found her after they heard her scream, only to find her laying in a quivering ball on the tiled floor of the kitchen, looking like she had just been thrown through a window. Neither her mom or her dad had had an explanation for what had happened to her, even though they did their best to explain it to the doctor they had taken Patty too almost immediately after she was discovered. However, Patty had insisted that it was a monster, a terrible monster that attacked her in the night, like a shadow that swallowed you up when you least expected it. She had been terrified out of her wits for months afterwards, absolutely refusing to sleep anywhere but her parents’ room for the entire period. It took even longer for Patty to learn to sleep without a nightlight.

It was only years afterwards that Patty, now much older, was able to convince herself that what had happened to her wasn’t real. Of course it wasn’t, since there was absolutely no way for a shadow to try and kill her. She had probably been sleepwalking and tripped on something. There was no other explanation that Patty was willing to accept, since she had found that holding onto that irrational fear of the shadow thing would not get her very much sympathy once she made it to high school. So, in light of that, she pushed the terrible night to the back of her brain, only to resurface when she had nightmares.

Or those rare instances where she found herself staring at the shadows as they swirled beyond her eyes, wondering what exactly they could be hiding.

Patty ran a hand through her hair with a heavy sigh, forcing herself to sit up in her bed and check the time with a weary glance. She winced harshly when she found the time to be 3:26 in the morning, and let out an annoyed huff. The nightmare never really went away, she found. No matter how many times she told herself that what happened that night wasn’t real, that it was just a figment of her imagination, the horrific dream would once again present itself to her subconscious as she slept terrorizing her until she woke up in a cold sweat, her heart beating out of her chest and her breath as quick as a rabbit’s.

“Just a dream, Patty… you’re fine. It’s fine.”, she muttered to herself, as she almost always did after the dream, and she rubbed her temple carefully with the tips of her fingers. After a moment of silence, she decided that she wouldn’t be able to get a wink of sleep any time soon, and that it was in her best interests to read the book that she had brought with her to bed.

Her hand stretched out towards her nightstand, fumbling around for a few moments and bumping her fingers into her small side lamp (that needed a new lightbulb, but she’d worry about that later. She had a flashlight, anyways). Patty’s face scrunched up for a moment at the thought, before shrugging nonchalantly and reaching blindly across her nightstand for the second time. However, her expression shifted yet again, turning from confusion, and possibly a bit of disbelief, to abject terror as realization dawned upon her mind, almost as if a light switch had been flipped in her head.

Her book wasn’t there, and she lived alone.

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Claustrophobia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The woman turned and looked him directly in the eye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – – – –

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

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

Panic set in.

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

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

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

– – – – –

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

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

“Indeed,” the second man responded.

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

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

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

Credit: moonlit_cove

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The Blood shall open the Door

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

This is a video pasta. If the embedded video is not loading for you, please click the link above to go directly to the video’s YouTube page and try watching it there.

Credit: Michael Vrazitoulis

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Empty and Endless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s about time.”

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

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

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

“Who are you?” I asked bluntly.

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

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

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

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

“Not in here. Out there.”

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s my brain!” I yelled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Christopher Maxim

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The Night of the Glass Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Jenny didn’t have any eyes.

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

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

I asked Nana, what did Jenny say?

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

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

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

I asked her what was she remembering.

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

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

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

And he’d cut out his own eyes.

Credit: M.B.

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