Disturbed Dreams

One of my final courses before wrapping up my degree is Music Appreciation, and it has been, by far, the best course I’ve taken in all of college. And it’s not even related to my degree.

Anyway, one of my assignments for this course was to choose one of the three pieces my teacher offered and make some creative project based on it. Any medium. Obviously, I chose writing.

Obviously, music this time is the piece I chose.

Apparently, the piece was based on a book called The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is about a love triangle. So I just kind of took that basic inspiration and did my own thing with it.

(I’ve never really written anything close to a “love story” and, since I really don’t have much experience with such things, I’m not sure how “real”, exactly, it is. But I think it serves its purpose.)

~

He walked into his room and glanced at his bed. He didn’t feel like sleeping, he didn’t feel like doing anything, but at least in sleep he would be away from this world. He could escape reality by slipping into his sleeping mind. A jab of memory stabbed him for an instant and faded so quickly he doubted it had even been there in the first place. At least hoped it hadn’t been there in the first place.

The thought of that was concerning to him, in a way. As preoccupied as he was right now with what had happened, perhaps his unconscious would be too fixated on that to truly serve as any kind of respite. Perhaps his dreams would be worse than waking. But he was tired, and it was worth a try, at least. Another piercing memory surfaced in his mind and disappeared as he walked toward his bed.

His body was heavy, weighed down by his mind. His arms felt sluggish, his steps regular but faltering and slow, his mind in a haze. He laid down under the covers and closed his eyes, simply trying to not think. He knew the racing thoughts would come soon, but perhaps he would be able to fall asleep before then.

He was exhausted enough, both bodily and mentally, that soon the bed fell out from beneath him with that familiar feeling of falling out from reality.

The definitions between his body, mind, and the world blurred. Pieces of him began separating and meshing into the void around them, he was no longer defined by some arbitrary name like “William”; his consciousness, for that one moment, lived purely in the moment in a completely abstracted universe.

Then he felt a tug on his mind and he was pulled out of this nonexistence into – in a shocking change for this fragile state – existence itself. He was running, the sky dark in front of him and his path unclear. He wished to look behind himself to see what it was that pursued him, or that which he was running from, anyway, but found his head immovable. His consciousness was simply locked into this ride that his body provided. It seemed as though he could spectate but little more in this moment.

He felt it nearing in on him, he felt his body straining itself to speed on faster and faster, then a sharp pain on his shin and gravity shifted, landing him on his face.

He had tripped on something in his path, difficult to see in the darkness. But now the urgency had faded, he no longer felt the need to run. He got up slowly, casually, and found himself standing on a wide field with a short covering of oxeye daisies. The field overlooked a high valley with another mountain on its other side.

That fearful state, aside from just fading, had been replaced with joy and relaxation. He was at peace, here. He sat down, cross-legged, and brushed his hand through the flowers.

Looking up, he saw a woman approaching him from afar. She seemed to glide through – or perhaps above – the flowers, her dress concealing any movement behind. She made her way to him quickly, more quickly than he would’ve expected.

Her appearance, one that he didn’t explicitly recognize but still felt familiar with, filled that previous feeling of relaxation to overpouring. All traces of his previous panic had vanished, even memories that it had happened were gone. Her presence took control of him.

It took control of him enough that for one moment, merely the vague thought of her eventual departure turned the mood sour. But, looking at her again, the thought was gone and happiness filled him once more. He stood up next to her and they locked hands and began walking through the field, without a word, as though that had been their plan all along.

As they walked, he began to feel that the two of them had always been there, always walking together on this beautiful plateau. They skipped through the flowers, still hand in hand, then stopped, turned and faced each other, and clasped their previously empty hands and began a slow, graceful dance. They danced for what felt like hours but could have merely been moments, he closing his eyes and soaking in the feeling.

However later it was, he opened his eyes and found his hands empty, dancing partnerless on the field. The sun had dimmed, whether from setting or going behind a cloud, and the field felt suddenly much emptier. He stopped and stood in the middle, looking around helplessly.

A memory slid into his mind. It was only partially formed, intangible, but its emotion filled him. He slumped down onto his knees on the daisies below. Was that… Had that been… Carole? Who “Carole” was, exactly, still wasn’t quite certain to him, but he felt the significance of the realization and was pulled back, for a moment, to his mood before sleep.

A doubt and mystery filled his mind. Who was she, really? Why did he feel such an automatic connection with her here and instant despair at her departure?

Then all lucidity of his dream slipped away as the ground fell out from underneath him and he landed on the top of a train barreling down its tracks, set in a small artificial valley cut out of a forest. He recovered and stood on the roof of the car, arms outstretched to steady himself. He looked forward and the area in the edges of his sight blurred, smeared onto his vision by speed.

He lost his footing for a moment and crouched on hands and knees. He looked up in the other direction and thought that he saw just a small flash of motion near a door leading into the car behind his.

He stood up again and the mystery faded for a moment in the exhilaration of the train’s speed. He stood there, his feet set carefully and his arms outstretched – now emulating wings rather than for balance – and enjoyed the wind whipping through his hair. He savored that moment before turning and, crouching to keep his center of gravity slow, made his way to the end of the car, climbed down, and entered the following car.

It was Alexander. All of that earlier exhilaration drained out of him as soon as he saw Alexander there, now replaced with depression and dread. Who Alexander was, precisely, was again unclear to him, but he still understood the significance of his existence. He wished to say something to Alexander, to ask him who he was, why he was the source of his misery, why he was here.

But he couldn’t. Again, his body refused to respond to his demands. He was wholly an observer, once again, all but his eyes sheltered away from the influence of his mind.

Alexander did nothing. He wasn’t standing stock-still, still moving around slightly, leaning from side to side, looking around, but didn’t seem to see William standing there.

William turned around as the door behind him opened. The woman – Carole – from earlier walked through, paying no heed to him as did Alexander. His consciousness screamed at his motionless body to move, to go up to her, to take her hand once more, but it made no difference.

She walked past him and up to Alexander. He responded to her presence, back straightening and stepping forward to take her hand when she approached. They embraced and Alexander kissed her cheek. She looked happy to see him, certainly, but there was a slight hesitation.

When he looked at her, she pulled a smile back onto her face, and they began walking to the door at the other end of the train car. Alexander opened the door for her, but just before she stepped through, Carole looked back over her shoulder for an instant and locked eyes with William.

One last struggle to get his body to move, his vocal chords to work and shout out to the two of them, but it was futile. The two of them disappeared through the door and vanished from his sight. Only then was he granted movement once more and the energy that had been pent up inside of him was let out in a quiet groan. He rushed forward to the door, threw it open, and walked through.

He was standing in the sanctuary of a church. Pews were lined with people in formal clothing, and there was, standing at the front, Alexander in a tuxedo. Down the aisle, Carole was walking forward in full wedding gown.

The scene may have continued, for all he knew, but he closed his eyes and collapsed on the ground, blocking it out. He felt his body drift but kept his eyes closed, trying to forget the previous scene but, in the very act of focusing on forgetting it, continuing to replay it over and over.

He waited, his chest heaving. He focused on breathing and it steadied, and he slowly opened his eyes.

He was taken back to that moment of relaxation and happiness, of walking through the field with Carole, now from a spectator’s view. But it was short-lived. In that period where he had danced with her with his eyes closed, focusing on the feeling of being with her, he saw now that Alexander had approached and stolen her away from him.

And again he was thrown into that darkened setting afterward, sitting on the daisies, filled with pain. The lucidity stayed, this time, though, and he remembered who she was. Who both of them were.

Images flashed before his mind, once more pulled out of his body and floating in the dark, formless void. Images of he and Carole first meeting long ago. Images of the two of them at that ball when things had been so perfect; images of them smiling, embracing, dancing, laughing with their group of friends. Images of them kissing and whispering to each other. Then images – darkening now, and starker in his memory – of a young Alexander coming up to her during that dance and asking to take her from him. And images of her going with Alexander.

There were nice images after that, but it was never quite the same again. He and Carole enjoyed time together still, but it was always overshadowed by the presence of Alexander. He was always there – if not bodily, at least in thought – like a dark cloud over the two of them.

But then the happy, or at least partially happy, images were gone for good. Alexander proposed, the wedding was shortly thereafter, and of course he had gone. How could he not? He couldn’t show himself to be the complete failure that he felt.

The flickering of the images built up to a climax and then there was only dark. There was nothing to see in the void, and the only thing he could feel was pain and regret. Regret at not making some move before Alexander, even though he wasn’t entirely sure what that move could have been. Regret at not having made some choice that, in all likeliness, was never presented to him or even possible.

And pain at the result.

He floated there in nonexistence, pondering all he had seen. He felt distraught, at least, he felt that he should feel distraught, disturbed, hopeless. But for some reason, it was fading. He still certainly didn’t feel happy about it whatsoever, but there was a note of resolution in his mood.

As much as he longed for and appreciated the reprieve that resolution offered, it didn’t seem right to him. He automatically grasped for those awful feelings, trying to cling onto them further, trying to wallow further in his misery. It wasn’t natural to recover from those emotions, right? Not so quickly, at least?

But maybe, before now, he had been looking at things as they came. Only comparing the present moment to the previous. But here, he had been witness to it all, with all the pain that that came with. It seemed to have given him a larger perspective over it all, though. It still hadn’t been a positive experience for him, but he didn’t think he would avoid it if he had the choice to do it all over again.

It wasn’t positive, but it was whole. He wasn’t whole, at least he didn’t feel so, but it was complete. There was nothing he could do about it any more, and that thought – while perhaps a grim one – comforted him and set a final, resolving tone.

While still reflecting on this, his consciousness began to fray again. The void, paradoxically, began to dim and disappear. His head swam, his spirit floated through the ether, all thoughts ended and were replaced with only a dim knowledge of existence.

A bird was chirping outside his window, and a slant of sun shone from under his partially-pulled shade, illuminating the space behind his closed eyelids. A dull, throbbing headache from the previous night’s drinking began. Slowly it dawned on him that he was awake once more, but he didn’t open his eyes. He laid there for a minute, surprised by the peace in himself. Only fragments of his dream remained, but the overall effect had held.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

I’ve been wanting to write a story in this kind of setting for a while. It’s one of the few kinds of things I find genuinely revolting and instinctively horrific. (By the way, if you think something in this story is a reference to something, it is.)

Music this time is something I’m sure everyone knows, but I actually sat down and listened to the full album for the first time while finishing up this story.

Oh yeah and, fuck you, internet.

~

I hadn’t seen George in a while. It wasn’t exactly my job to keep tabs on him. I mean, maybe it was included in the tasks assigned to a landlord, but I didn’t remember signing anything that said I had to do it.
George wasn’t one to get out that much. He wasn’t much to really interact with people, either, but I saw him go out every week or so to get his weekly store of Mountain Dew, Monster, potato chips, frozen pizza, and hot dogs. I always got the feeling he returned with a couple grams of weed as well. Maybe just a faint scent making its way out from the overall miasma of body odor, piss, and semen that emanated from him at all times.
I had talked with him maybe a handful of times since he had first come to the apartment. Because of the aforementioned smell I generally avoided him, and because of his aforementioned antisocial tendencies, he generally avoided me and anyone else.
But I hadn’t seen him in a while. Probably around a month. And despite my apprehension to make more of an effort than necessary and my utter loathing of the thought of entering his apartment, I felt it necessary. I found my copy of his room key and took the stairs (which I was certain George had never taken, he favored the elevator) up to his level and found the door to his apartment.
Room 217. I hesitated going in, but if he was having a problem of some sort and I didn’t help, that might end up imparting some legal problems on me and the apartment, which I wanted to avoid for several reasons.
I unlocked the door and went in and the wall of stench hit me immediately. It was like…
You know how Indian food is? Like so dense with flavors, such a multi-leveled taste, dozens upon dozens of herbs and spices blended in perfect ratios to create one whole, powerful experience, things that on their own would not be that unique but in combination with the rest became greater than the sum of the parts?
It was like that, but in a bad way.
I could definitely make out old beer and cigarette smoke over it all, but they were only the most evident notes in the cruel symphony of smell. Deeper was a heavy musk of a body that had gone without bathing for months, or more, a smell of piss that emitted from all around me, the sulfuric skunk scent of weed, decaying meat, a scent I hoped was flatulence but feared originated from shit smeared throughout the room, and a few other things I couldn’t quite place and wished would stay that way.
I coughed as I tried to take a breath. It was like breathing in exhaust, it was so thick and concentrated that my lungs tried to reject it. I cleared my throat and forced myself to breathe in.
“George? Are you here?”
I knew he was here. Well, if he had left sometime night before last and stayed out the entire time, he could be gone, but I knew for a fact he had been here since then. Unless maybe he jumped out of one of his windows. But George didn’t strike me as the kind of guy with that sort of athletic ability. Or an ability to even fit through a window, even.
I began making my way through the narrow path. Walls of greasy boxes, used and suspicious-looking towels, socks, and underwear, magazines, newspapers, empty cans, and nearly anything else surrounded me. I was honestly surprised George was able to navigate this passage himself. The carpet below, what I could see of it, was brown-grey with splotches of black and small stains of other shades. I felt it impossible that the carpet had at one day been a standard off-white color.
I continued calling out to him as I crept through the valley of shit. I felt foreboding, every step was hesitant. I wanted to leave, to lock his door and return downstairs and try to forget George or this room existed. But again, the problem of possible legal issues.
On an angled, unstable shelf sat a sealed jar of some nasty, thick-looking, yellowish opaque substance, and next to it a leaking fleshlight and dirtied butt plug. Nearby on the shelf was a pill bottle – vardenafil – and a small ziplock baggie with some partially-crushed crystals. A binger, it seemed.
I gave a start as I heard a sound behind me. A small cat – too small for its frame – was walking behind me. In terms of its skeletal structure, it was a normal sized cat, but starvation and neglect had turned it into a feline version of one of those impoverished African kids you see on charity advertisements. Its hair was matted, eyes gooey and hazy, and a slight twitch with each step implying a damaged leg.
Motherfucker, this was a pet-free apartment complex. Motherfucker. He was getting kicked out in any case, now. But that was just an unspoken – aside from the explitives – thought at the back of my mind. I was focusing too much on my progress through the “Valley of the Shadow of Death”. The intensity of my concentration and growing dread was inexplicable, but it took the center of my attention nonetheless.
The key to surival here was to take a breath with an attempt to filter it through my shirt collar, hold it for as long as possible, then exhale slowly while steeling myself for the next cycle. It was toxic, unbearable. It was thick, closer to a liquid than a gas.
After walking for a moment more, I found a nest. Dirty clothes, pillows, blankets, and anything else that seemed reasonably comfortable piled on what I guessed had once been a bed, with a hollow in the center. In the indentation lay George, his fat almost seeming to have melted and cemented him in place. He wasn’t moving, a belt tight around his neck and half-naked. A laptop, keyboard and screen smeared with grease and dried semen, sat nearby his body, three tabs open. The currently-selected one was on RedTube, the others on Reddit and 4chan.
I was loathe to touch him, but felt it necessary to determine whether he was dead or not before calling 911. I grimaced as I reached toward him and winced as my pointer and middle fingers pressed into the side of his neck, under the belt, to search for a pulse.
As it happened, I had to search for a vein for a while before I could even manage that. I had to press through a couple of inches of fat before encountering the atrophied muscle of his neck. I focused, trying to find a beat, and George’s body moved.
I stepped back in surprise, my hand pulling back to me in disgust. Had I moved him without noticing? Was it some postmortem seizure or something? That kind of thing happened, didn’t it? Or was he actually, somehow, actually alive? I hadn’t felt a beat, but then again, the amount of fat and the belt might’ve masked it somehow.
There was no more movement, no sound, so I tried to find a beat once again, gingerly pulling the belt loose and feeling like I needed to crawl out of my skin. My eyes narrowed, I put all focus on anything from my fingers.
And there. Was it a beat? I couldn’t be sure, but then, there it was again, another beat.
“George?” I said loudly.
A slight tremor from him, and I pulled out my cell phone and tried dialing, but I was entranced, watching him. Why would his body even bother trying to keep him alive? He had abused it for so long, why did it even bother serving him any more? I would’ve mutinied long ago.
I snapped out of it and went back to dialing, but before I had managed to press dial, his hand shot out and locked onto my arm, gluing itself to me with an adhesive I attempted to ignore. I instinctively tried to pull away, but the immense weight and size of his hand, compounded with the horrendous makeshift glue, held me back.
His eyes opened, bloodshot and dilated, and his mouth gaped. A smell of rotting flesh issued out, many of his teeth completely eaten through with by cavities and his tongue a nasty greenish black color. He pulled me toward himself viciously and began groping around my pants, trying to remove them. As I struggled with him a pizza box with one remaining moldy decaying slice fell out of his nest.
I was fucking done. With my free hand I reached into my breast pocket and grabbed my Zippo, light it, and threw it onto the nest underneath where he had risen slightly to get at me. The oil-drenched cloth ignited instantly into an intense blaze and he released me, writhing in the flames.
The fire spread quickly, quickly enough that I had to start walking away to avoid catching on fire myself. I pondered the gravity and potential consequences of what had just happened, but knew things would get worse if I stayed around.
I began running, or rather, walking as fast as I could through the unnavigable path. I glanced at the baggie of meth, debating about grabbing it as a repayment for my experience, but knew I didn’t want to touch anything more in this hellhole.
The cat was still in the path, curled up in obvious discomfort, and I grabbed it as I ran past. I clutched it in my arm as I opened the door and locked it from the inside, wiped my fingerprints off it, and left the room.
Once I was out, I ran back down the stairs and into my office. I sat down, breathing heavy, and set the cat on my desk. I recovered for a moment, then rushed to the bathroom and washed my hands, arms, everything vigorously. I splashed some cold water into my face as the fire alarm went off, the sprinklers showering every room as I returned to my office and opened a can of tuna for myself and the cat before heading outside with the rest of those who lived in the apartment.

Eleven Cents

True story. Or, it could be. It’s a possible story?

edit: I actually decided to leave out the backstory of this story until after the story, since it kinda spoils it a little bit.

Music this time isn’t an album, it’s just one song. One seventeen-minute song. I’ve been listening to this band a bit recently and I really love them. This is a fairly ambient, soft song, but they do some pretty sweet progressive metal stuff as well.

~

Little two-year-old Lance had been saving up. If he “helped” his mother with the dishes after lunch, she gave him a penny. And now he had eleven pennies, enough to buy a black licorice wheel at the corner store, including tax.
He walked with his mother on his still-slightly-unsteady legs and up the stairs to the shop. And while he walked, the penny and dime (his mother had let him trade in ten pennies for a dime for ease) jingled around in his pocket, slowly slipping closer and closer to the small hole at the bottom of his pocket. And there, just at the top of the stairs, they fell out of his pocket and onto the pavement below, unbeknownst to either Lance or his mother.
In the store, after choosing his licorice wheel and going to the cashier, Lance’s little heart broke when he put his hand, still thick with baby fat, into his pocket to retrieve the coins and found them missing.
His mother covered the eleven cents, saying that he had probably just left them behind at the house. Lance tried to smile without much success, but by the time they had returned to the car and he began eating the licorice, his spirits had risen.
Back at the house, though, Lance and his mother couldn’t find the coins. Another eleven times washing dishes for Lance.
But Lance isn’t the subject of this story. Not even his mother is the subject. The coins are.
The coins laid there, one on the pavement with the other still on the stairs. They laid there until a woman named June, probably around her mid sixties, saw them sitting there and bent over to pick them up with some difficulty – her back had been so stiff for the past few years you know, she had gone to the doctor but said they couldn’t prescribe anything for it, it was caused by her weight and posture, but she says that’s garbage, right, because they handed out opiates like candy to her husband while he had been alive, what was the difference between back problems caused by the war and a mixture of bad posture and excess body weight?
She picked up the coins and put them, stacked, on the stairs. She didn’t need coins, she never liked carrying change around, so she left them there and hoped their owner would find them if they were missing them.
Several other people passed after that, some going into the store, some just walking by, and a few saw the pennies. Most didn’t care about a penny and dime, some thought about it for a moment and decided that bending down to pick them up wasn’t even worth the eleven cents.
Then I picked them up and threw them in my pocket along with the assembly of other coins already in there. I didn’t need eleven cents, sure, but hey, it was free money. Stores take coins, even if it’s a bit of an inconvenience. Mostly just for them, I wasn’t the one who had to count it all out and sort it into the register.

~

edit: Here’s what I mentioned earlier.

I found a penny and dime sitting on some cement stairs and, of course, grabbed them. Always pick up any change I find. Then I began thinking of a possible “backstory” for the coins. They were purposefully stacked on the cement, so someone had put them like that. How had they gotten like that? The owner of the coins hadn’t done it, or they would’ve taken them back.

Thus this story was born.

The Long Wooded Road

Been a while since one of my dream stories, eh? This recent dream of mine stood out to me in how much of a narrative it really was. Most dreams are just kind of chaotic, randomly switching setting and whatnot, but this one was quite cohesive.

And had a horror that struck me as, well, rather realistic.

Music this time is another album I got in Philly, Punishment Room by Rise of Because. It’s noise, which is probably a rather… divisive genre. You’ll love it or hate it. But I love it.

~

I was walking down one of those old New England roads. The kind of road that no one but those who live on it know of. Dirt, gravel, and flanked on both sides by thick forest. Forest that could hide anything.

I had been walking down this road for a long time. It seemed endless. I didn’t know why I was there, why I was walking, but it was my one aim in life. Stop in and meet the residents of any houses I passed, few and far between.

I passed a man in the road. He was having trouble with something. Perhaps carrying a too-large bundle of firewood. I offered to help, took half of the load, and followed him to his house, exchanging pleasantries as we walked. His name was Travis Wentwood. He was typical New England stock for this kind of place: thick beard; scraggly hair that wasn’t exactly unclean, but unkempt; a gruff voice and demeanor but well-intentioned.

When we got to his house, I made as though to continue on my path, but he welcomed me in. It was cluttered, not exactly dirty but certainly messy, and it was immediately evident that he was a single father. The smell of something baking filled the air.

An adolescent girl sat at the table above a book and looked up as we came in. “This is Sophia,” Travis told me, and turned to her and said “This is Julian. He helped me with some of the firewood.”

She looked up and, while perhaps not exactly smiling, gave a friendly expression, then turned back to her reading. “Busy studying for a test,” Travis said, and another girl, a few years older, came into the room and, after taking a moment to look at me skeptically and with a questioning look to her father, came over and introduced herself as Sarah. She went over to the oven and opened it, poking a toothpick into the cake that was inside. She analyzed the toothpick, judging whether it was finished yet, and closed the oven door and walked away back upstairs where she had come from, setting a timer for a few more minutes.

Travis led me into a mudroom to the side, where there was already piled a stack of firewood. He placed the fresh wood on top, and led me back through the kitchen and into the living room. On the way we passed by a large glass jar of jellybeans, the kind that candy stores sell them out of in bulk. The inside was fogged with age and sugar residue, and the jellybeans had merged into one indiscernable yellowish mess of color.

Various newspaper clippings were pinned to the wall, all centered on one subject: a child molester in the area named John Jenkins. He had a stereotypical pedophilic appearance. Thinning hair slicked back with too much grease; a forehead that looked permanently covered in sweat; glasses that would’ve been in style thirty years ago; hints of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in his facial structure; an attempt at a smile that had turned into a sneer, and so on.

By the dates on the clippings and what I could skim of the articles as I passed, it seemed that he had been active around this area for several years now, had been arrested but no conclusive case had yet been made about him enough to send him for a long-term stay in prison.

Travis noticed me looking at them. “Rat bastard. Can’t believe he hasn’t been locked away yet.”

I thought of asking why he had so much information about him on the wall, but decided against it. This guy had freely welcomed me into his house, I wasn’t going to pry. Once in the living room, he motioned to a seat for me to take, and asked if I wanted a beer.

“Sure.”

“We’ve got PBR.”

“Sounds just fine.”

He came back a minute later with two cans and handed one to me before taking a nearby seat. I cracked it open and took a sip.

“Thanks a ton,” I said. “I was getting a bit thirsty.”

“So what were you doing out on this road?. You don’t live around here, I know everyone nearby. And people don’t usually just come through here to pass the time,” he said with a laugh.

“To be honest, I’m not sure. Just needed to get out for a bit. I’ve just been sleeping in the woods as I go. Saying hi to anyone I pass. Met a nice woman a little ways up the road earlier today.”

“Ah, Lucille. Yes, she’s a charm.”

A door behind us opened and I looked over the back of my chair. A little girl, probably no older than eight, had emerged from a darkened door that I assumed led to the basement. She looked at me in shock, then looked worriedly over to her father.

“Don’t worry, Suzanne. This is Julius, we’re just talking for a little.”

Her eyes were still wide and she looked deeply horrified. I noticed that her hands were red and a splatter of blood had dried on her forehead.

“She always gets a bit squeamish when she’s preparing meat,” Travis said by way of explanation to me. “But I say, get them started early! As you might have guessed, I’m a single father, and I’ve actually grown to depend on my little girls a bit. They help out a lot around here. Don’t know if I’d be able to manage without them.”

The timer went off and Sarah rushed through and into the kitchen again. I heard the creak of the oven door and a clank as she presumably set the cake on the stove.

“Like Sarah, what would we do without her treats?” he said to the other girls. Sophia nodded without looking up, and Suzanne managed a smile.

I ended up staying at their house through the afternoon and into the evening. It was nice being able to have more of an in-depth conversation than the little snippets I had had with most people on my journey. Around sunset I noticed the time and apologized for staying too long, but Travis stopped me. “No, no, it’s just fine. Stay for dinner! Hell, stay the night! It’s probably been a while since you’ve had an actual bed to sleep in, right?”

I shrugged and half-smiled. “Yeah, it’s been a bit.”

“We have plenty of space. And food! How’s the cake look, Sarah?” he called into the kitchen.

“It’s all ready,” she said in return.

Travis and I joined the girls at the table in the kitchen, where rice, green beans, and pork were set out on plates. The girls and Travis all held hands and bowed heads and I followed suit.

“Lord, thank you for this food and for this family. Thank you that Mister Linnover was able to join us tonight. Thank you for your help in the challenges we overcome every day and pray for help in the ones we must face in following days. Amen.”

The girls, and I after a moment, repeated the “amen” and Sophia began serving out everyone’s plates. I thanked her for mine and began eating. The pork was prepared well, the pieces all cut perfectly. “You did a great job with the pork,” I said to Suzanne.

“Huh?”

“The pork that you prepared. Assuming that’s the meat you were getting ready.”

The horrified look washed over her face again and her skin blanched. “Yes,” she said, her voice weak, “Thank you.”

“Yes, indeed,” Travis said, “You did very well. Good job, Suzanne.”

His voice held a slightly unfitting tone. It fit the words just fine, but not the context. He was praising her for her job, but it didn’t quite make sense for helping with dinner. It was spoken with much more weight than that would.

Travis got he and I another beer, and after the meal he cleared the table and began working on the dishes. Once they were finished – Sophia had resumed her studying, Suzanne was drawing, and Sarah had returned to her room – he brought the cake over to the table and cut it. He called the girls down and they took their places at the table again.

He set out five small paper plates for us and began putting a piece on each.

“What’s the celebration for?” I asked.

“Celebration?”

“The cake. Or rather, the writing on it in frosting. ‘It is overcome’.”

“Oh. Not particularly a celebration, as such, but it is our way of enjoying the happiness that comes after a hardship.”

I had another urge to ask him, but held back. This was clearly a family that had had troubles, and I didn’t want to pry into them.

After the table had been cleared again and the remaining cake was wrapped up, the girls said goodnight to their father and went upstairs. Travis led me back to the living room and reached to the top of a shelf for a small wooden box. “Cigar?”

I shrugged. “Why not? Thanks.”

After trimming and lighting them, we sat and smoked in silence for a minute. His eyes were distant; his expression was worried, showed years of pain, but a mellow, self-satisfied happiness emerged from underneath it. It was almost too contradictory, I didn’t think he could be that internally happy with that much weight apparent on his mind. Too happy, to almost a disturbing degree. It wasn’t self-satisfication, it was deviousness. It was the maniacal grin of a madman. It was a shaking, chaotic smile filled with hatred and glee. His eyes glinted, shone too-bright in the dim light, a fire behind them that frightened me.

“I like having a cigar every once in a while as a treat,” he said, turning to me. The look was gone. Utterly and completely gone. He was a completely different person.

Well, I was tired. And I hadn’t had a drink in a while, and couldn’t think of the last time I smoked. Maybe it was all just messing with me.

I rubbed my eyes and yawned. Then, realizing I hadn’t responded to his last sentence, I spoke. “I can’t think of the last time I had one. Probably my eighteenth birthday or something,” I said with a little laugh.

“Well,” I continued with another yawn once I had finished the cigar, “I think I should probably go to sleep. Thank you so much again, my back appreciates not sleeping on the ground.”

“No problem at all, it’s nice to meet someone. Here, let me show you to your room.”

We passed the door to the basement, only slightly ajar. For just a second as I passed I smelled something, something I recognized with almost animal instinct, but couldn’t really place. My heart rate increased, I felt a rush of blood flow to my head, and my body tensed, all autonomously. I forced myself to relax, the smell had faded, and went to my room.

The house was old, as might be expected for this area, and quite large. It was the kind of house that I’m sure wasn’t nice to be in in the winter. Large, with entire sections of the house completely empty, and with very little insulation. The bed was already made up, and I thanked Travis again and got in after turning the light off.

I fell asleep instantly. Very deep sleep but with troubled dreams. I couldn’t remember them upon waking, but I did remember the sense of surprise, disgust, and fear that they instilled in me.

I awoke in the morning to the smell of sausage. It took me a moment to remember where I was, between the surreality of the previous night and the dreams, I wasn’t sure if this house and family had actually existed or not. I went down and joined them for breakfast.

“Where do you think you’ll go now?” Travis asked me.

“Not sure. Just.. further down the road, I guess.”

“When will you ever head back to where you came from? Or will you not?”

“I don’t know. I don’t even really know where I would return to.”

I helped them clean up from the meal and gathered my small bag of belongings. I stood in the kitchen for a minute as Travis helped Sophia with something for her school. I looked at the fridge. Several photos and drawings were held onto the fridge by magnets.

One drawing in particular drew my attention. A bright red splash, a disembodied hand, a knife slicing through the red wave.

“That’s the one Suzanne drew last night,” Travis said, joining me. “I think Sarah started reading her some stories by Poe. Not sure if I’m happy about that or not,” he chuckled.

I tried to smile, but couldn’t quite do it. There was something itching in the back of my mind that was irritating and concerning me.

“Poe was a skilled writer, for sure,” I said, unsure of what else to say. “Well, thank you again so much for having me.”

I said goodbye to the girls right before Suzanne headed back down to the basement and headed outside and began going back down the direction I had been walking the previous day. A moment later, though, I waited for a minute, taking a deep breath of the fresh air. It had been slightly stifling in the house but I had gotten accustomed to it, and it was nice to be out in nature again.

I walked again. The woods on the left side of the road, the side their house had been on, were less dense than on the right, and in the early morning light I could see quite easily into them.

I was walking slowly, enjoying the crisp air just slightly dampened by the morning’s dew and the occasional chirping of birds, looking at the woods as I passed when I saw some movement on the left side. I paused, watching, and assumed that it was just a squirrel or something.

But a small girl in a bright pink jacket was there, dragging something large behind her. My eyes weren’t great, so I couldn’t quite make it out, but I thought it might have been Suzanne.

She stopped and crouched behind a fallen log for a few minutes, then walked away again – without the thing she had brought with her.

I was curious. And who could it hurt? I had wondered about the family, about some of the strange, out of place things with them, so I decided to go check it out.

I waited until she was far out of sight, then made my way to the fallen log. As I approached, more motion came, this time from a small group of foxes. I made my way carefully, keeping an eye on them to see if they’d do anything, but they just looked around at the fallen log as well, one of them approaching and sniffing around.

They backed up as I came up to the log, looking from me to whatever it was and back again. I crouched beside the log and searched for whatever it was she had brought.

I found one of those large clear plastic bag-cube things with a zipper, the kind that they sell sheets and comforters in. It was full of a chunky, red mixture with clumps of brown and grey. From here, I could already smell the stench of it.

I didn’t care. I wanted to find out. I pressed on it.

A mixture of blood, bile, and liquidated fat squeezed out from the gaps in the zipper, running over my hand. I pulled it back in horror. The stench had grown exponentially.

The foxes had evidently gotten over their fear of me and approached. With one last cautious look at me, they began lapping up the repulsive mixture, one of them even licking it off of my hand.

I noticed some crumpled up papers shoved underneath it. Wishing to leave but feeling as though I had a need to know, I pulled them out and shook the clumps of fat and coagulated blood off, then spread them out on the ground. One of the foxes tried licking them off, but I gently pushed its snout away.

They were the newspaper clippings about John Jenkins. I understood the horror in Suzanne’s eyes and Travis’s pride in how well she did her job. I doubted she had done that job of her free will. I understood that glimpse into Travis’s true expression the night before, that maniacal happiness and fulfillment. I understood the challenges they credited God as having helped them with in the prayer the previous evening.

I stood up and took a step back. My journey had come to an end. This had been a long journey to get away from those things that I found horrible. I thought rural New England might hold some peace and good will. It was time to go back.

 

The Death of John Witmer

Finally got off my ass and finished this up.

Honestly, this story hits… a little too close to home for me?

Like, a lot.

But whatever. I thought it would make a good story, so I wrote it down.

Music this time is Care by Temporex. Free download on his Bandcamp, by the way, it’s some great stuff.

(update: I edited this story for submission in a few magazines, and updated it here with the edited version.)

~

His fingers cramped, his bloodshot eyes bulged, and sweat lightly dampened his forehead. His hands felt like a bundle of old, snapped rubber bands, now floppy and useless, refusing to follow his commands. The light from the computer created a perpetual stinging in his eyes, but he was used to it by now. It had combined with the vague ache of eyes that hadn’t blinked in far too long into a blurring dulled pain.

John Witmer had finished it. The final chapter of the final book of the Gillopher series. It was completed. There was a brief moment of elation, which was swiftly replaced by the void of soul and life. He had felt it time and time again, but now this was the deepest pit his mind had been plunged into. And with good reason. This was it, this was the end. There was nothing left.

Sure, he had other ideas of things to write, but his project was finally completed. The project was finally completed. The project that kept him alive.

And now, just as he had been becoming accustomed to the level that was continually present, a fresh wave, a typhoon of the perpetual hopelessness and exhaustion washed over him, brought on by the completion of his task.

Just… Just a little something to relax. He grasped the pill bottle in his fist and flicked off the cap with his thumb, shaking two pills into the palm of his hand. Dry swallow as he procured his pipe and what was left of his eighth. Crumble, light, hold. Exhale and feel that licorice sensation. The cannabis controlled his fall into the opioid puddle.

Just something to relax. Just something to celebrate. That’s what people would do. That’s what John emulated, thinking that he could fake it till he made it, all the while knowing that was utter bullshit.

He had finished the book forty-five minutes ago. By now he was melted into a self-reflectory pool. It lubricated his mind. It let him consider things he wouldn’t usually.

It also let him consider things he would usually, just deeper. Comparing the likelihood of success and the pain required. A balance was necessary. He couldn’t otherwise.

On second thought, he could. That really didn’t make much of a difference to him. He was beyond pain. Once you’re at the point of only feeling comfortable when unconscious, every waking moment a screw of torture being twisted into your mind, pain doesn’t matter any more. All that mattered was reliability.

That, and availability. Jumping off a high bridge wasn’t an option. He’d have to travel a distance, and he knew his pussy self would talk him out of it by then. He needed to get past that weakling emotion, he would beat it down till it was quiet.

That was the pathetic, cowardly side of him. The powerful side was logic. Logic would always win. Logic didn’t back down from a challenge. Logic was the only way to go.

He ignored that voice of logic that told him he was being irrational, that this wasn’t what was best for him. Stay on logic’s side, claim to be rational, but ignore what it tells you. It had worked well enough for John.

His eyes slid across his desk, halting on the bottle he had opened earlier. “Hydromorphone”. Another bottle, “Diazepam”. Another, bigger, bottle, “100 proof”.

His face completely flat, the corners of his mouth drooping and his emotions and mind following suit, he glanced back at the completed manuscript. Still looking at it, checking for any errors, he took one of the bottles and popped it open as before. He dumped its contents onto the table and repeated the process with the other bottle.

Ctrl-S, three times to be safe. An email to a few people who would use it. He picked up six pills and downed them with a shot. He took a deep breath as he realized what he was doing, then another six pills and shot.

No hesitation now. Six pills and a shot. It was too late to turn back. He finished it off with ten pills and a larger shot.

He waited, his insides quivering – partially from nervousness, partially from the amount of liquor and drugs that had just hit his stomach. Then, slowly, it began fading in.

He turned on Cigarettes After Sex’s first EP, raising the volume of his headphones higher than usual. It was almost enough to drown out his thoughts. But he didn’t need to worry about those for much longer, would he? He smiled, took solace in that simple thought. He wouldn’t need to worry about that any more. He wouldn’t be able to worry about that any more.

The EP finished and he started the second just as the corners of his vision began blurring to black. A heavy blanket had been lowered over his mind and body alike, his brain suddenly warm and floaty, his body soft, edgeless, morphing into the chair below him. But at the same time, he was so cold, so unbearably cold.

Some tea. He’d drink some tea. It would keep him warm until it was over, and make things even nicer. He stood up from the chair and the room took a nasty twist and he was on the floor. His brain sizzled, his vision obscured, blurred and marred with static, a screaming in his ears like an engine had been pressed up against them.

Then it faded. It all faded. He didn’t know if his eyes were open or not any more, he couldn’t see. He couldn’t feel.

He couldn’t breathe.

One last release, his body finally letting go of those cords keeping his spirit tied down, and he was gone. A postmortem release of neurotransmitters caused a flash of sparks and patterns to his unconscious mind, but he was gone. Utterly gone.

Almost utterly gone. A cry from above him, pressure on his chest and the touch of another’s lips on his own, his lungs forced to fill and empty, and he was brought back. He coughed, his vision blinded by the light of the room, and consciousness slowly returned to him. But not all of it.

Catherine was crying above him.

There would be no full return. The universe was not so forgiving.

Cather…

It would not be allowed.

Who…

No matter if it had been against his will, he would not be allowed a full pardon.

A woman was crying. Tears dropped onto his face.

“Oh my god, John,” she said, “What were you trying to do?”

“I…”

“We had talked about this. I though you understood. I thought you understood how much it would hurt me. You promised.”

The final words were cut off with a sob.

“Let’s get you to a hospital,” she said once she had wiped the tears away and tried to steady her voice. “And then after that, a therapist. For both of us.”

John remained quiet until they were in the car. Then, breaking that awful silence that hung over them like a cloud of poisonous gas, he spoke.

“Who are you?”

~~~~~

He was cured.

He had been completely and utterly cured.

But the universe had always been fair to John. Cruelly, unforgivably fair. His cure came at a price, a heavy one, whether or not he was able to comprehend it.

Catherine knocked at the door. “Who is it?” came from inside.

“Me,” she replied.

A moment later John let her inside. But not the real John. Not the old John. He smiled at her sight, welcomed her inside and offered her some tea.

“I’ve just been getting into all these kinds of tea recently, you know,” he said from the kitchen while she sat in his living room. “I get them on eBay. This seller in China has all sorts of organic fancy tea for great prices.”

“Huh,” she said, internally uncomfortable and almost feeling dirty in her reinforcement of his lie of a life. But if he didn’t know it was a lie, did it count?

He came back into the room a minute later with a teapot and two mugs. While they were sipping the “Dongting Lake Biluochun” he was excited about, she decided to ask the question she already knew the answer to.

“What are you up to?”

He set down his mug and looked around, thinking. “Not much. Have you seen Mr. Robot? It’s this show. Amazon has it. I’ve watched a lot of that. And I’m rewatching Adventure Time. Oh, and I got that new Nintendo console. Been playing a lot of Zelda. Then again, that’s one of the few games they actually have on it now, haha…”

He continued talking but Catherine had already zoned out. It was always the same. Consumerism. Lethargy. Procrastination. Procrastinating what? She couldn’t say. His life, maybe. But now, ironically, his life was almost worthless. Before, sure, he had been miserable, but he had done something with it. Created something out of that misery that entertained others.

It was a trade, of course. She had never seen him smile as much in his entire life than he had in the past month. She had never seen him think life worth living. Before, it had all been killing time. Always killing time. Trying to escape from reality enough to pass time until the next thing he could escape with, all chaining together to kill time until he was dead.

She still couldn’t quite make up her mind on it.

Maybe it was his life? Maybe that was what had created the misery and resulting creativity? He had lost that all, after the overdose. Complete retrograde amnesia. He could speak and function, but couldn’t remember his past, anyone he had known, or much else.

Catherine sent the manuscript of the final Gillopher book to John’s publisher. He had plenty of money beforehand, but now he was set for quite some time. Maybe that’s what began it? Perhaps knowing that he didn’t need to do anything had led him to simply do nothing?

She had tried to get him to write. She and others had filled him in on some of his past. Nothing bad, just the important stuff. But maybe the bad stuff was, for the old John, the important stuff. Maybe without that… he was simply someone else.

He hadn’t been able to write. Not at all. She had given him a writing prompt but the result was something like what would come from a fourth-grade English assignment. He lacked variety of vocabulary, he lacked a rhythm of prose, it was just… nothing. Empty, emotionless writing with no style. She had tried several times, thinking he may just need to get over a hurdle with it, but it was always the same. He had lost it.

John had died that day. The John who was in continual pain. The John whose only reason to live was his writing, and once that was finished… That John died. Maybe it hadn’t even been from the overdose. Maybe it was simply from his completion of the series.

But, at the same time, this was still John. He looked like John, he spoke like John, he sounded like John. And she knew that as long as he was here, she wouldn’t be able to abandon him. Even if he lacked that spark that the true John had, she knew she’d never be able to bring herself to leave.

He had continued talking about inane subjects while she thought. Food, drink, games, movies. Sure, they’re all fine on their own, but when that’s all you survive on… It was an empty life.

But he was happy.

Elizabeth Smith, Part Two

Man, it’s been a while. I was surprised to find that I had actually only posted one section of this story so far.

Music this time is a demo by Disappearer, a band that I could find literally nothing about online. I found this demo at a record store in Philadelphia for a dollar and absolutely loved it since the first time I heard it.

~

This first major act of Elizabeth’s was important to her and the rest of her life for obvious reasons. As far as we can tell, though, she had no ill mental effects from committing murder. Her relations with her family and friends was the same, no one would’ve guessed the charismatic young girl was responsible for Monty’s disappearance.
There was an investigation, of course. Teachers, students, parents, and anyone who might’ve been nearby were questioned, but no one had a clue what had happened. No one except Elizabeth.
She was questioned, of course. Many of the students in the class, after all, had been involved in passing the note back to Monty, which came up in their retellings of the day of the murder (though we didn’t know that was what it was at that point).
She said, through shaking and tears, that she had waited behind the school for him to come meet her but he never arrived. She got tired of waiting after a while and left. She hadn’t a clue where he had gone. She thought maybe he just didn’t like her the way she liked him.
The police involved in her “interrogation” (of sorts), bought it. This pretty, friendly girl, straight-A student, lots of friends… She couldn’t have been involved.
Around the end of her high school years she began volunteering at a nearby humane shelter. She had a certain fixation on animals, as is already evident in what has been said so far, and it served her well as a way to spend time with and help them.
That, and gain information on people who abused the animals who ended up there.
~~~
“There you go, all cleaned up and ready,” Elizabeth said to to dog in front of her, giving him a pat. She had just given him a thorough wash, cleaned his wounds and splinted his broken leg.
“You really have a way with them,” said one of her coworkers, Natasha, from behind her. “No one else was able to get near him without him trying to bite, let alone touch him.
“I think he should be fine, now,” Elizabeth said, “He was just hurting earlier.” She lifted him off the table he had been standing on and put him on the floor, put a collar and leash on him, and handed the leash to Natasha. “Keep an eye on him with the other dogs, though. I have a feeling he might not get along well with them.”
Natasha nodded and walked out of the room with the dog. With her out of the room, Elizabeth went to a clipboard on a nearby table and flipped through it, looking for the page for the dog she had just taken care of. She found it and memorized the information.
She didn’t always take action. Not for every animal. But this dog had come in in an exceptionally terrible state. Cigarette burns all over his body, including some on his face near the eyes, a couple gashes on his torso – some still fresh, but some that had scarred over long ago, so this had been going on for a while – and a broken leg. She had felt his other legs, and felt a slightly malformed bone in one of them, so she thought that had been broken at one point also.
She cleaned up the room, waiting for the clock to strike five o’clock, then left the humane society. Her parents were, well, oddly normal. No alcoholism or drug addiction, abuse, affairs, or really anything. But they were pretty relaxed, and both of them worked quite late shifts, which gave her plenty of time.
Plenty of time to go to a movie.
She walked to the theater, bought a ticket for the longest movie running at the time, and went inside. She knew the guy who ran the counter, somewhat. They went to the same school, had a few classes together, and had spoken a few times. He had asked her out on a date once or twice, but she had turned him down. He wasn’t the kind of guy to give up, though, and always looked hopeful when she came in to the theater. She thanked him for the ticket with a smile, then went into the showing room.
She stayed long enough for the lights to dim, then made her way out. She had gotten good at leaving the room without anyone noticing. She left the theater through a back door that it seemed everyone had forgotten about, then headed out toward… “154 School Street,” the image of the clipboard in her mind said.
This could go any number of ways, depending on what he ended up being like. He, “Brent Schumer.”
She arrived at the house and, quite conveniently for her, he was working on his car outside. That made the first step easier. She strode up to the front of the car, where he was working underneath the car on a mechanic’s creeper. She leaned on the car and nudged the creeper with her foot.
“Listen, Jen, I’m not…” he said, sliding out from under the car, freezing when he saw Elizabeth there.
“Who are you?” he said in a gruffer tone than before.
“I dunno, who do you want me to be?”
She saw Brent’s eyes dart across her body, then he got off the creeper and stood up in front of her.
“What do you want?” he said, evident to Elizabeth that ideas were already forming.
“I dunno, what do you want?”
He paused for a moment. “How old are you?” he asked, his paranoid eyes telling more than his words.
“I dunno, how old do you want me to be?” she said, the corner of her mouth turning up into a sly smile.
He leaned in closer to her, speaking quietly in her ear. “Are you sure you want to do this, kid? I don’t want to… I just want to make sure you’re okay with it.” His eyes darted from side to side.
“Only if you are,” she said.
Without saying another word, he scanned the surroundings, no cars driving near, then took her by the arm and led her inside. He let go of her once they were in the living room, then walked away, saying over his shoulder “I’ve got a lot of grease and sweat on me, I’ll just clean up a bit first.”
“Sounds even better to me,” she said, then leapt to him, pushing him backwards by the chest, kissing him intently. She saw a door leading into a bedroom beyond, and kept walking back with him until they reached the bed. She pushed him back onto it, still kissing him, felt him unzip his pants and start lifting up her shirt, felt the buckle on her bra release, watched it be thrown to the side, and laid down on him, hands down, slipping off her pants; and setting something from within them to the side on the bed.
He let out a soft groan as she mounted him, then began thrusting, his eyes closed and head stretched somewhat upward, all outside awareness diminishing in the moment. She kept her eyes on him, playing along and planning when she’d proceed.
She could tell he was close. His neck flexed back further, pushing his head down and upward, his thrusting increased, then she leapt off him and grabbed the knife she had set aside.
He looked up, first unaware of what was going on, thinking she was just trying to prolongue it, then saw the knife and glints paralleled in her eyes and the blade.
He smiled nervously. “I didn’t know you wanted to get so, er, freaky.”
She said nothing, but smiled. She grabbed his penis, put the knife below his testicles, paused a moment to capture the look on his face, and sliced through them both.
They say damage to the genitals is the single most painful experience a man can have. And that’s generally just physical force, not slicing them all off in one go.
His screaming instantaneously broke through the ceiling of what his vocal chords could handle, it devolved into a slight hissing of air escaping his mouth combined with occasional gurgling.
After watching him like this for a few minutes she dragged him outside, making sure no one else was around, and put him in the driver’s seat of his car, covered him with a cloth, and started the car with a pair of keys she found in his house. She sat on him, making sure to slam her body down onto his blood-drenched crotch, smiling at his increase in muffled screaming, and began driving.
She had put on a pair of gloves after slicing off his genitals and had made sure to note everywhere she had touched beforehand and wipe them down after.
She drove down onto a little-traveled road along the edge of a steep cliff. The guard rails were broken and twisted in areas where others had lost control. She pulled up in front of one of these gaps in railing, felt a slight drop in her stomach when the front wheels dropped over the edge, then put the car in neutral and got out with the cloth, locking the door. The car crept slowly toward the edge. She stood to the left, watching Brent’s expression of pain and terror, incapacitated to do anything other than fling his arms, desperate and weak, to the door, trying to open it. She gave him one last, cruel smile, then went around to the back of the car and gave it a push.
The car teetered, she gave it one last push, and it tumbled off the edge, crumpling and smashing before it even got to the bottom. With an explosion, sound muffled by the distance, it burst into flames.
Elizabeth sat watching it for a minute, her legs dangling over the side, then began her journey back, trying to stay relatively hidden by the side of the road. It would be hours if not days before anyone noticed, but there was no harm in being careful.
She arrived at home just in time to have lasagna with her parents, telling them eagerly about her enjoyment of working at the animal shelter.

The Falling Crosses

Not entirely sure what this is, actually. It came to me as I was falling asleep and was interesting enough to me (at the time) that I got up and wrote it down.

I guess it was more just something to write than anything else. But I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.

Music this time is 3001: A Laced Odyssey by Flatbush Zombies. I just found about it a couple days ago but have listened to it many times since. It’s pretty great.

~

There was that ominous, building hum, with the occasional hoots and yells of that certain kind of person who finds making their existence known to others quite gratifying. The stage lay mostly in darkness, although the indistinct bodies of staff could be glimpsed once in a while.
A tuning guitar and bass, microphone feedback punctuated by a handful of drum taps and the crowd flared up like fanning dying coals. But the stage stayed dark, perhaps with a faint trail of artificial fog, and their screams died down a minute later.
There wasn’t even quiet conversation between audience members by this point, the atmosphere was tense, stifiling any speech like heavy snowfall. The air was heavy, like a layer of gasoline vapor lay throughout, ready to burn. Then the stage lights burst alive in blinding illumination and the gasoline sparked. The instruments screamed into life and the crowd felt a physical wave of sound crash over them, their insides reverberating with the music.
“Are you all fucking ready?” Adrian Buckner, lead of The Falling Crosses, yelled. The crowd had already been screaming but it doubled in magnitued at his prompting. The music of the background picked up in temp and viscousness, and the concert began.
After the first couple songs Adrian went offstage for a moment and came back, sniffing and wiping his nose with the back of his hand. His eyes were open wide, darting around.
The music began again with even more vigor, his singing jumping from yelling to screaming to a hoarse whisper and back again. Song after song they continued, the audience now at a continuous peak of excitement, only quieting somewhat in the short pauses between songs when Adrian went backstage for a boost.
The last couple tracks had been more mellow, slower and more poetic, brooding songs, but after his last return from backstage it spiked up again in fervor. Adrian’s eyes were crazed and his singing was manic, and during an intense guitar solo in the middle of one song Adrian darted offstage for a moment and returned with two gasoline tanks. The instruments continued, gaining in speed, and Adrian grabbed his microphone off the stand and held it in his right hand along with one of the tanks.
“Are you all fucking enjoying this?” he screamed as the music continued, and the crowd peaked again with excitement. He set down one of the tanks and unscrewed the top of the other and began dousing the crowd in front of him with its contents. Despite seeing what was happening, the crowd continued with their cheers, even the ones being covered in gasoline. Once that tank was empty he opened the second and began flinging it about, trying to cover those further back in the crowd. Still, no one quavered.
Adrian took a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, tapped one out and gripped it in his mouth, then returned it and pulled out a matchbook. He lit one, inhaled the sulfur fumes and paused a moment, staring at the flame, then flicked it out into the crowd.
It caught immediately, the fire spreading throughout the gasoline-soaked crowd and even to some beyond within seconds. The screams were still of excitement and fervor but now with a tinge of terror, edging gradually towards the latter over the time. Adrian removed the cigarette from his mouth and reached out toward the flaming head of an audience member in front of him.
“Could you spare me a light?” he said, lighting the cigarette of the burning person.
The instrumental solo had finished so Adrian returned to his microphone stand and finished his lyrics. When that song had finished, the instruments trailed off and the band members stood, watching the burning crowd in front of them whose screams continued but were now entirely of horror and pain. Adrian took a drag of his cigarette and exhaled a cloud of smoke into the pillar that was now rising into the air.