Comfort. Peace. That’s what I wanted. I longed for it. Lurched for it. Cried for it. My tears matted the top of the dog’s head: the dog who gave me what I wanted, longed for, lurched for, cried for… comfort.
Shadow. It was such a common name for a dog… yet so appropriate. I didn’t name him such because of his black colour, although he was pigmented so. He followed me everywhere: always watching, always protecting, always loving, always comforting.
Another tear fell.
Shadow swallowed my sorrow, the pain disappearing into that mess of matted fur on his head. I didn’t notice him at first – my eyes welling up, body lurching, heart threatening to shoot up my throat – but he soothed me even then. He lifted one paw, resting it on my knee, and tilted his head to one side. He peered at me through sad eyes, not understanding what was wrong… but maybe he understood more than I did. I reached out, pulling him close, wrapping my arms around his frame.
Like a child in the body of a man, the tears would not cease. The pain was too great. The screaming voices in my head were too wild. The words were just a roaring wind, a crashing wave, a cacophonous mess: one indecipherable from the next. The screams of rage came first. I saw it plain on his face. My boss was red, blood fuelling his pigmentation, fuelling his words, fuelling the pain. There was no reasoning with the man. No explanation. I had to get out, had to chase the screaming from my mind.
Closing the door of the room behind me only muffled the words. I didn’t even stop to gather my things. Just walked, ran, tears beginning to well. A failure, and fired for it. I couldn’t remember what I had done, couldn’t remember… anything. Couldn’t hear anything, anything but screaming. The roar filled my ears, filled my head, crashed over me like a giant wave, drenching me in its wake. It didn’t matter any more. Nothing mattered. I wanted to curl up on the floor and cry, but that wouldn’t stop the screaming, wouldn’t stop the voices, the accusations, the ringing in my head.
Feet shook, climbing the front steps of my house. What would Larah say? What would we do? No job, no severance, no money… just screaming. That’s all there was left. Hands: cold and clammy. Door knob even colder with the winter chill. The keys had all but frozen together in my pocket, and I pulled them out, shaking the congealed frost loose. The lengths of metal broke apart, shivering on their ring. My hand reached for the door, shivering on its frame… but it was not the cold. I couldn’t feel the cold. I couldn’t feel anything, anything but shame. A failure. Those screams paralysed my mind, heart, and almost my hand.
The key bounced. I closed my eyes against the tears that started again. Hands shaking. It bounced again. My knees threatened to buckle beneath. I pressed a free hand against the door frame for support. The key bounced, but then found its place, sliding into the lock. One twist, one push. I stumbled into my home. Shadow sat waiting at the door, a question in his eyes. He tried to catch me as I fell to hands and knees. The screaming loud again in my ears. Pain shot through my head. I closed my eyes, sucked in a breath. I tried to breath. Shadow licked my downcast face.
The screaming came again. This time it was more real. More alive. It was not just in my head, not a simple memory. The shrieks were coming from inside the house. Shadow walked away as I rose to my feet. His head slunk low, tail between legs. He lay back down where he had been when I staggered through the door: at the foot of the stairs. His eyes peered at me, then glanced up the steps. The screams came again.
I’m sorry, Shadow seemed to say… but I hardly heard it. My senses came alive all at once, adrenaline rushing through me. Blood rushed to hands and feet. Feet rushed up the stairs. Someone was in my house! Someone was yelling! It was my wife.
The banister almost broke as I whipped around it in a mighty charge for the bedroom. The door was locked, but gave little resistance. Splintered wood speckled my shoulder as pain shot up to my head. A new pain. Physical pain. The door smacked against a bookcase, the wide-arc reaching only so far. So far, but not enough. Not enough to help me. Not enough to hit the man in the room, the man with my wife.
The smell of sweat and fluids mixed together as I stood there. The screaming came again. The screams of rage followed me home, screams of pleasure met me there, screams of shock followed. These three voices rattled through my skull, threatening to crack it. The pressure built inside my head, mimicking the pressure of sex I’d interrupted.
Sheets were raised with the cry of shock from Larah’s lips. I had seen her naked before without shame, but there was shame in this. She tried to hide the image from me, wrapping herself in bands of cloth, but the damage had been done. I still heard that second scream in my mind: the scream of pleasure.
One scream, two screams, three screams. The fourth was a scream of rage, followed quickly by the fifth: terror. Larah’s voice hit me, as I hit the man. He tried to rise and strike me back, but I was on top of him… as he had been on my wife.
Mouth bloody. Face split. Bones cracked. Wife screamed. The man was long unconscious when I was done. My hands were red and ruined. The sheets were red and ruined. His face… red and ruined. Those hands began to shake. The screaming came again. One scream, two, three, four, five. They fought for my attention, tortured me with the noise. There were no words: no words hidden in my boss’s scream of rage, no words in Larah’s scream of pleasure, no words in her shock, no words in my rage, no words in her terror, no words from the man… laying dead on the sheets. No words from the cops as they rushed into the room – nothing but screaming, yelling, voices shrieking at me.
I did my sentence; did my time. It passed by in a blur: a mass of screaming faces. In the corner of my cell there was me, me and a mattress stained with urine. It blocked out the others, blocked out the prisoners, blocked out the voices. With mattress on top and pillow pressed into my skull I could forget them, flee from them.
The pressure in my head grew, but not from pillow or mattress. Prison guards took those luxuries from me, leaving me with an empty metal bed-frame, and head filled with voices. I tried to fight them, but could not. The guards yelled, rushing in, ripping away my shield. They froze me with their voices, paralysed me with their screams: too many screams to count. Too many voices. Too many voices.
The rocking calmed me some, like a cradled child: the rocking and the drugs. They calmed my senses, calmed my nerves, left me dead and shaking. The voices dulled, the raging sea calmed to lapping waves… until the drugs wore off. The voices shot through my skull, bringing memories, cacophony, pain. Nightmarish blips popped through the drug-induced haze, breaking the static of my mind.
My shakes were violent. My screams were worse. Those voices had faces, the faces memories, and the memories… My own screams did not over-power those in my head. Instead, I added to the mess: the mess of screams, the mess of pain, the mess of torture. The guards forced me to the ground, forced the drugs down my throat, forced the voiced from my mind. I fought them, shook them, spat out those pills, bit the hands that tried to feed me. I desperately wanted the voices to stop, the screaming to stop, the torture to cease… but not like this.
Bile filled my throat, threatening to spill on that dirty hand in my mouth, dissolve the nasty pill it held. My teeth crashed against each other, knocked into submission. One hand pressed against my chin. One hand plugged my nose. Waves screamed in my mind, flashes of high-looming water crashed down on me. Those dirty faces that peered at me couldn’t help. The bile-covered drugs in my mouth couldn’t help. The rough hands holding me down couldn’t help. Nothing could help.
The men released my mouth and nose. Crusty air rushed through now open passages. I gulped for it. My lungs cried for it, screamed for it, added another voice to the storm in my mind… that storm that soon would break me. My shaking grew violent, like a spasmodic epileptic, but the guards still held me down. The screaming waves reached their peek, crashing down on my helpless form. Held in place and drowning: drowning in voices.
The waves began to settle, screams began to die, leaving me shivering in the aftermath. I went numb with the chill, skin prickling with the loss of life. I wanted to shake the blood back into my hand, snap my mind back into play, but no amount of shaking brought me life again. With life came screams, with screams came pain, with pain came the will to die.
I watched the ocean in my mind settle to a low hum, the guards leaving me in my stupor. The shaking and screaming left, transforming me into a rocking, mumbling madman. Knees pulled to chest, face pressed to knees, I rocked. Rocked with the waves. The mesmerizing scene spilled from my mouth in a low drone, a quick succession of words… or at least noises. I tried to mimic the waves with my voice, translate their words for my friends in the cell, those friends of my divination. They did not scream, did not speak, just rocked with me.
The days got easier as I made a friend. He mumbled replies to my own water-mimicking voice, and we shared that sense of peace. There was a reverence about the friendship, a special place, a near silence, low hums, still waters, and peace. We fought together when the waves threatened to rise. When screams blasted holes in our safe-haven, we shot back. Our voices rose continually until more drugs filled the holes: holes in mouths, holes in the sea, holes in our peace. The patches were magnificent. My comrade and I worked to fasten them in place, to block the water from screaming out, to block out the voices. Soon we were brought more patches before the holes even came, before the screaming even started, before the threats became a torturous reality.
Shadow. That was his name. He stayed with me as we fought by day, and followed me into the darkness of sleep by night. My ever-present watcher and friend. Ever-present shadow. When they moved me from that place, I was packing enough drugs to make a suit. Shadow and I strung the patches together, covering me with a waterproof encasing. We said goodbye to that shack on the rock. It wasn’t much – leather over sticks in my mind, stone floor and metal bars in reality – but is had been our home. Shadow and I shared a look, shared a rock, shared a murmur, before plunging into the deep.
That drug-induced suit of armour kept me calm. It kept the water from rushing in, kept the chill from shaking me, kept the voices at bay. The walls of that white van were nothing but water around me. I swam through the waves, diving suit in place. Shadow splashed beside me, pressing me to go on. He encouraged me with a water-mimicking hum. We rocked back and forth together: right arm, left, right arm, left. Our legs kicked up soft froth behind.
Eventually we reached the shore. The sandy paradise spread out with wonder, battling back the fatigue in our minds, arms, and legs.
“Come on, Shadow! We can make it!” I was tired, but excited nonetheless. Freedom stretched its mighty fingers toward me, and I reached for it, longed for it, swam toward it. I fought with Shadow again the final lapping waves: right arm, left, right arm, left. We rocked together, and sang together. Our voices lifted in triumph before settling to a low hum, resting on the sand.
The soft lapping of waves brushed against my feet, and I mimicked its voice. Tears of joy spilled from my eyes and across my cheeks, wetting the drenched sand below. Shadow lumbered over, licking my face, licking away the tears. I pulled him close for a mighty embrace and let the joy flow. It matted the fur atop his head, pulling together water-logged strands. We rocked together until the sun started to fade. That ball of fire in the sky melted away, leaving behind a sea of reds and oranges.
Shadow rested his head in my lap. We watched the sunset together. The screams would not touch us here. The shaking would not come. The sun warmed my once shivering form as I got up off the glowing sand – glowing beneath the touch of heaven’s flame. In my mind, this was a place or beauty, a place of peace, a place of comfort. Reality showed the men in doctors coats, the drugs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the man who walked the ward halls.
“Come, Shadow,” he said from time to time, running, skipping, playing. Sometimes he sat on the floor, rocking and mumbling to himself. He mimicked calm waters with his voice, mimicked the lapping liquid with his movement. Whether seen as ward or beautiful paradise, this place was his home. His new home. A place of comfort and peace. A place without screaming voices, left to drown in the waves of the past.