John Cleaver

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/megaskakos/2499751093/in/photostream/

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/megaskakos/2499751093/in/photostream/

How can you wake the dead? There is a point when we all must die, a point when life is a fading memory, when we have nothing left to hold onto, grasping at air but none will come. They say, in these times of darkness, weakness, and all that lies in between, that only one thing will draw us back. One thing, one thought: love. If we can reach out, find that thing that causes us to live, to want to life… the we can wake ourselves from the mighty beast: Slumber. Some may slumber until they sleep, slowly fading like a memory of past lives lived: there… but not really there. This is the way, though sad it my seem, we all wish to go. Some say they want to go out fighting, but

if we fight all of our lives, why then desire it in death? These people lie to themselves, trying to look strong for others, but flirting with weakness when they are alone.

Death is nothing pretty. It is the face between those fading memories that wills you to forget the love you want to hold onto, fights your will to go on… survive.

Many, without knowing it, are minions of the Great Slumber, servants of the beast. He causes emotions to battle each other until one prevails. Love is the enemy of our enemy. He does not battle against us, does not hate the living as it may seem Death should. No, death fights emotion with emotion. If love is that one thing that can bring us back from Eternal Sleep, that single thought to which we must hold for salvation, then Hatred is what drowns us.

We can justify many things. It always seems that the wrong is against us, at least this is the lie. Brother against brother. Sister against lover all vying for that last slice of pie as the plates come hurling towards us. When life gives you lemons, the trick is to make lemonade… but first you have to catch them.

For me, it was not a citrus circus from the sky, nor did the crowd throw stones. As a funeral director, death is a paycheck, though I don’t think of it that way. My opportunities are incredible, emotional times of final farewells, but also times when the worst of humanity comes out. It is as if the love of the loved one has run out, so those who remain have none left to give. If it is love that keeps us alive, no wonder so many people die, seeing the state of those that remain. Their canine claws pick over the remains, searching for scraps from the table of Death. (As if they didn’t have enough to feed themselves.)

My favourite funerals are those like my most recent final farewell. There is something special about sitting on the docks before the family arrives, waves laughing between your toes. They are so weak on the surface, yet great secrets swim underneath, power deep within. It is this taste of power that draws me in, the temptation of a little lap against my skin promising more further out to sea. It may be this that has, of late, caused so many to favor the waves over a dark, empty, lifeless pit for their dead. As the waves pull those pyres out to sea, it is almost as if they are alive again, slowly waving goodbye as they slip away. Then, once the waves have taken them over, the fire is lit. Flames explode in the distance to signify the power and glory of their final resting place. Not a dead hole, but living water, raging fire: not going out fighting, but the elements give the onlookers a taste.

But power is seductive. It sucks us in like those tiny lapping waves, tempting us to go deeper, deeper still until we are drowning in it. Then the fire erupts in our hearts, we burn for a while, die out and are forgotten.

I will never forget the power of that day: the eruption. It didn’t start until the whole family was gathered. So often, with challenging families, there is evidence of the danger before it comes—arguments over how to do the funeral: who will speak, how they will dress, what format to us, and (the more important) who will pay for it.

John Cleaver was known for being a quiet man, but went out with a bang. He planned it all down to a “T.” The letter was delivered to me at the moment of his passing by the attending physician. In Mr. Cleaver’s breast pocket was found two copies of a letter and instructions of where to mail them when that final sleep came for him. I received one, signed and seal, and its details were confirmed by the other recipient, John’s brother. He, as it happens, came into my office just as I was reading John’s final address for a second time. The letters were compared and confirmed to be holistically identical. From then on, there were no questions asked.

Mr. Cleaver left, in trust, a large sum of money to pay for all of the proceedings. And so it was that the late John Cleaver was attended by his family at the docks of Lake Lucifer. Not a word was said, save for the few between the brother of the deceased and myself at the delivery of the letter from John. I thought, as it seemed, that perhaps John was the father of their inherited silence. Slow to speak, thoughtful of the future, and the most humble endurer of long-suffering that I ever did know. Perhaps, if such had been the state of his family in its entirety, the funeral would have gone off without a hitch. As it were, however, there was another letter that Mr. Cleaver left with the attending doctor, one to be delivered a week later. Its contents, though I never learned their exact instructions, had to do with the matters of his estate. The postal system had been much improved since John first penned the letters, and so his intentions for the second letter arriving after his final farewell happened one day too early.

Each sibling pair (spouse and all) was the proud recipient of an identical letter insuring to the most minute detail who would inherit of the great wealth which he had accumulated over the years. It was not up to me to deal with such affairs, and all the better for it, yet in these moments of high emotions and low tides, I was the unfortunate recipient of the emotional results.

John never owed any debts. He didn’t believe in the concept, and as if such musings were enough to keep the claws of desire from him, John died as he had lived, no debts to be paid.

The proceedings began as usual, but there was something strange in the air. It was not simply the breeze from the west instead of the east. No, this was something far more foreboding, as if a cloud hung over me, though the sky couldn’t have been more clear. As I spoke of Mr. Cleaver, none seemed to notice me. I could have been speaking about an entirely different man and those in attendance would have made as much complaint as John himself. If the clouds had indeed decided to give way, the storm I felt coming made evident, surely the family would have drowned. Each and every nose in that place was up so high that the drink would have poured right in.

I kept my head down, secure in my notes about John. The more and more that I read them, the more I felt that surely this was the wrong funeral. I spoke of how loving Mr. Cleaver had been, how kind to all, always willing to give a hand. The man had more skills in his frail bones than everyone in attendance combined, yet more humility than a peasant. It appeared that the great Lake Lucifer would be more likely to reach up and pull me in than any of John’s family, would fate have it that I light myself afire when performing the final rights.

Slowly the event came to a close. With each word I wished that perhaps, this time, I had less to say about the dearly departed. But no, I could not slight Mr. Cleaver because of his family’s indifference towards the affair. The barge was waiting, John’s remains bobbing up and down with the rhythm of the waves. A soft drone began as the bagpipes picked up their tune. In and out, the waves matched cadence with the wind. In and out of human lungs, swirling, heaving a somber drone of farewell. The flutist began with a flourish, picking the notes carefully, as if plucking them from the water and drying them off before kissing the mouthpiece of his instrument and breathing out the tune. There was not singer in the group, but all knew the words.

I watched my lover float away
Beneath that moon of yor.
We’ll meet again on that day
Beyond the distant shore.

While the pipes droned and flute hummed, I pulled my arrow set with pitch. Two torches stood like mighty Gabriels, one to each side of the docks. Each guarded with swords aflame, grave robbers be warned. A nod to those pilgrim keepers and my arrow was lit. I drew back, fletching to ear, tail feathers whispering, one final message from them to beloved John Cleaver. I loosed the arrow. It flew, soared, the singer in those operatic skies whistling a farewell.

He lived with love and selflessness,
But now taken away.
No saviour from the selfishness
Of those crystal waves.

The arrow struck true, a tiny speck of light in that night so dark. Then, in the space between darkness and light, death and life, all was silent. The bagpipe drone faded, flute played out the tune, and I almost heard the wind whisper the name of the deceased. That single moment of silence was the culmination of the life of Mr. Cleaver. A moment that finally faded, yet not forgotten. The fire blazed, roared with its final farewell. A life well lived, death well reserved, soul taken to the clouds in flame. All that John once was burned with his body, the old dead and gone.

As a funeral director, the imagery gave me a blissful chill. What a beautiful sending off! I was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t notice the fire raging behind me, until it was too late. No, not a fire of physical proportions, but one of rage. A raging ball from the family of the late John Cleaver: the man who loved the world so much that there was nothing left in those Cleaver genes.

Some say they want to go out fighting. I have never said that, never been one to pretend to be something that I am not. But Death, though I spent much time with him, shared no sympathies. I was not on fire, yet Lake Lucifer came for me. For one with a profession such as I, and so attuned to the symbolism of the waves, it may be assumed that I shared aquatic aptitude. That assumption, however, would be as false as those which I thought were John’s family. My end was not glorious: dying in battle, but not the way that some imagine. The waves acted as minions of the Great Slumber. Choking, coughing, gasping. No saviour from the selfishness of those crystal waves.

Between blinks of life and death, Mr. Cleaver shone: a beacon in that night so dark and cold. Logs spilled off the barge as flames ate through the ropes which held them fast. Around and around they tumbled in the waves until the fire were all but extinguished. Those loose cannons rolled while the great pyre at the centre blazed on, warmer than the man whose body was there laid.

It might have been that I knew Death, but He knew me not. John, however, knew me well. My. Cleaver owed no debts, not even to me, yet in one final act of love he reached out. The pyre flames morphed as they rose, higher and higher, great Gabriels to the right and left. They sat atop chariots set ablaze, horse hooves smoking as they descended. Great clouds of steam bloomed from the deeps: fire against water. I saw, between the waves, a figure standing amidst the flames: the very image of my late friend, John Cleaver. His hand stretched out toward me, a flaming spectre on a chariot. His voice was a whispering flute, yet so loud that it droned through the noise of the flames.

A saviour from the selfishness
Of those crystal waves.
We’’l meet again on that day
Beyond the distant shore.

***

It is from a place above that I now write you. No, not even the greatest imagery of my past profession could describe this place. John’s sending, though glorious it was, held no comparison. But, it is not of this that I write to you. Instead it is the witness of a doctor who has joined me in this place. A doctor who, in John, held a common friend and saviour. A doctor who also received a letter at the point of John’s passing regarding the estate of late Mr. Cleaver.

“I owe men nothing but love. May that be the treasure of my inheritance. I instruct you, dear doctor, to sell all that I own and buy gold by the pound. Place it beneath my pyre and let no man take hold of such treasure.” Unbeknownst to myself or the doctor, the family was not made aware of these arrangements until that final day, one too early, with me at the docks, and the great treasure of Mr. Cleaver floating among the waves.

The greatest minions of Slumber are these: wrath, greed, and pride. John’s family showed all of them. I have no more time to direct the Dead, myself having joined their ranks. Whoever it might be that takes my place, I leave to you this one final word. “If it had not been for John Cleaver who was on my side, when men rose up against me, they would have swallowed me alive. The waters would have overwhelmed me, and the swollen waters would have overtaken my soul.” Pride comes before a fall. And, if you ever get a chance to meet the lost family of Mr. Cleaver tell them this story. Tell them that in these dark times, only one things will draw them back: love.

One Umbrella

Photo Attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/spyrospapaspyropoulos/11909724363/

Photo Attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/spyrospapaspyropoulos/11909724363/

For the lips of an adulteress drip honey
And smoother than oil is her speech;
But in the end she is bitter
as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death,
Her steps take hold of Sheol.

Proverbs 5:3-5


R

ain falls again, as if it never stopped. I hold but one umbrella, one flimsy shield between me and those storm clouds writhing in the sky. They roll like ocean waves, one enveloping the next, clutching like the fingers of a demon mob, fighting to reach me first. They are foreboding, those clouds above, a black blanket shaken by God, ripples travelling toward me.
And I hold but one umbrella.

I used to outrun those clouds, sprint in my younger days. It is not my legs that fail me now, not my heart screaming for release, not my lungs—dry throat choking on spittle. I’m old enough to have younger days, old enough to look back, but age holds not my end. The future is a blank slate, ready to be filled, but I know what it will hold. Darkness. Despair. Black clouds. Rain.

And I hold but one umbrella.

A rumble. A crash. Purple fire lights up the sky, a royal streak against the black. That blanket is finely woven, groaning as lightning shoots a hole in that once perfect fabric. Perfect for some, but not for me.

I hold but one umbrella.

The rain starts, a sad tune against my own black sheet, that flimsy shield above me. It begins soft—one peck there, another here. Like a lover, those lips are wet, kissing my one umbrella. She whispers in my ear, that taunting seductress: come play. But I am no longer a child: a man.

And I hold but one umbrella.

There were times that I played, listened to her calling. A child with rubber boots, splashing in the puddles. The mud discoloured my bright poncho, turned dull grey over the years. Free. Uncaring. Unknowing. Caught up by lust. Blind-sided. Naive. Innocent. Not like my poncho, long since warn holey, tattered, discarded with my youth. Now, I have less innocence: less protection.

Now, I hold but one umbrella.

Muddy water splashes up, my boot pressing into a puddle. I find no pleasure there, just memories from the past, such recollections that many avoid. I see them—polka-dotted coats and flower-pressed shields—hanging childhood on their shoulder, popping it in a spread above them, but dodging the puddles on the ground, dodging the memories of when life was perfect—innocent—when the world was better.

When there was more than one umbrella.

I tuck my arms in close, shivering with the chill. Those first tears of a rejected maiden roll down my one umbrella, drip from the flimsy posts like chin-fallen droplets. This moment is the worst, before the lady shows her face, as she taunts me with sorrow. I can deal with the monster behind those eyes, deal with the storm to come, but not this crying woman shaking like a child. I want to comfort her, but don’t know how. What can I give to calm those tears?

I hold but one umbrella.

The wind picks up her sorrowed tune, whispers more demanding. Come. Why won’t you play with me? The words are wet with her tears. My ears are wet with her seductive tongue. Breath spins floral kisses on the wind. She floats into the trees, laughs between their branches, then cries out. It’s fun to play with me. I set my feet; ignore her; walk on. Another puddle. Another splash. I do not care. I have a shield above my head, but my childhood poncho is no more.

I hold but one umbrella.

Now she shrieks, a school of bats descending on their prey. Those black wings flap with the wind, rush beneath my shield. The sky spews cracks of thunder between its teeth. The trees howl, knowing what is to come, itching for the storm.

And I hold but one umbrella.

Cold—skin tickled with seductive kisses, silent tears manipulating—but I prefer what comes. The blanket cracks, too much weight for that perfect weave. Water sinks into its pores, ripping through in droves, digs at my pores. Drenched, soaked with her sorrow. She ceases calling now, the beast revealed.

I fell not for her tricks, and now she has ceased the facade. I know her, that adulterous woman, but I stand firm against her cries, also knowing the beast beneath. Her kisses are sweet, poison soaked in honey. Sometimes, my lonely body wants her touch, longs to listen to her loving words, but to give in I would have to throw away my shield.

And I hold but one umbrella.

Other men on the road. They sit beneath tattered awnings, blankets wrapped up tight. I know the bite they feel, that bite of her poison. It pricks my skin with recollection, remembering when I was younger, innocent…

Without my one umbrella.

They shiver, those men, trying to hide from her face, trying not to hear her cries, lick the honeyed poison from her lips. Temptation sticks coat to arms, makes their blankets heavy. The woman pulls her mask off, beautiful skin flayed. Sun-kissed cheeks now red with lust, red with blood, red with her last victim. Those men curl up, close their eyes, a vain attempt to push her away.

They gave up their one umbrella.

I cannot help them, knowing what they do is wrong, yet still remaining soaked: trapped without hope.

I journey on, boots now water-logged. The sky flashes that smile again, this time no menace beneath the teeth. The beast is in those tears that fall: a sad dirge now. Her eyes have passed, the eyes of this storm. I felt the worst of her, despite that shield I hold. She sucked me in with life, with promise, but I fought back with what I have.

Fought with my one umbrella.

It stands between her and me. Small, an insignificant shield against her temptation, but my only protection. The vinyl-topped blanket shook as I passed through the eye, sweet tears of sorrow pulling at my heart strings. Sweet whispering lying to me, promising me all that I do not feel—cannot feel: love, respect, belonging. The maiden cares for me, but that poison beneath will kill. Those eyes are beautiful, but the beast beneath them is a mess of flayed skin and blood.

And I hold but one umbrella.

My shield took the assault, blocked me from those longing eyes. Now, it walks with me through the dirge, protects me from the falling drink. Children play in the puddles, unhindered by that lady’s calling, not hearing it through their rain-gear: the full protection of innocence. How I long for those days again, the days when I knew not love, knew not lust, but cared not for either. Those days were free, temptation just a shadow compared to this storm.

The days before my one umbrella.

I am especially wet today, more cold than from the storm before. My umbrella has leaked for years, and I lack the patches to hold it together. A tattered thread is flayed like skin, battered and whipped by the storm’s wind. The patches I have are soggy, water-logged with lust, adhesive long washed away.

And I hold but one umbrella.

I speak to her some days, try to work at the holes in her skin, holes in her heart, but my patches do not stick. They stay until the storm comes, until the seductress laughs, then my shield falls beneath her power. Hopeless holes appear again. I tell her I need thread and needle, need to poke her with tiny holes, affix the patches for good. She shivers at the thought, fights when I reach for her, thinking my aim is to hurt. A little pain, but a big help. Sadly, she will not give in, not let me patch her holes

So I hold my one umbrella.

Men sit in puddles, some deeper than others, umbrellas to one side. Their faces are aglow with passion, but hearts dead with lonely weight. Some of that cloth is more holes than umbrella. Some posts are snapped, broken heaps where protection once was. The men discarded them, water-logged patches sliding down faces. The water is warm where they are now, inviting in those puddles… until the rain comes again.

Now, they hold no umbrella.

I want to run to them, tell them it’s a lie, to show them the other men who sit shivering beneath their blankets, no longer warmed by that pool. I cannot reach them. They cannot hear me, ears filled with pleasant whispers. Her perfume is sweet, voice singing softly in spring trees. Her beauty shines beneath the sun’s radiance, as they walk with holey umbrellas. When the rain is stilled, those umbrellas do nothing but block her beauty. My umbrella does not even do such anymore, her holes too great, tattered skin too far gone.

But I hold my one umbrella close.

I know what it’s like to give in. I know what it’s like to give up, to throw my umbrella to one side like those men in pools at night. I know the feel of that beast’s stings, her maiden curls turning into dead strands, that pool filled with perfume’s delight fading into memory, skin raw, body shaking beneath a blanket.

My umbrella is full of holes, but is better than none. Today, I work at the patches, the sun giving me some chance to let the vinyl dry. My lady heaves sobs in my lap as I work needle and thread. Tears touch my face, drop from my chin, kiss my one umbrella. They slide down her face, over some new patches. No water falls between the cracks, no leaks where stitches hold. I smile at her, like a child in arms, knowing days will be better.

We have been through some rough times. Once I left her, discarded in the mud. Left to meet the rain, to feel her poisonous kisses, to warm myself with her body. Then, she left me for another, the maiden turning beast. I wandered the world with no umbrella, until I found my lady again. She was worse than when I left, but I picked her up. Sometimes she lets me patch her holes, sometimes it is too much when the rain comes, memories of what I did, where I went… that I left.

Memories of me without that umbrella.

Now, the sun shines. We cry. We work to fix those holes. Work for the storm to come. Life has its seasons, times of change. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes we falter. But I still hold her close, hold my one umbrella. I will not give her up again. With her, I still get wet. With her, I still hear the seductive whispers. With her I still feel alone and unloved at times. But without her… without her, I have nothing.

Not even my one umbrella.

The Legacy of the Fallen

In the city there is death. Motors roar to life, chopping down stocks, leaving us broken and bleeding. Slashed limbs stick up amidst the massacre, green chutes fighting the blades. Again and again the machines come, buzzing faster, spinning harder, cutting deeper. Again and again we fall, cut short, left to bleed on the broken blanket of green beneath. The motors die with the sun, and we are left to weep under the stars. Tears rise from our shattered forms, the dew of our sorrow sticking against dead grass and shattered limbs. Sometimes a single golden head pokes up, defying the roaring machines. The motors do not torture one, leaving it to flower, to seed, to spread. The wind carries more heads about. We take root in the grass, just to be cut down again. There is no escaping death.

The city pulls at us, chops us up, leaves us finished and broken. Iron cages are clasped around our stocks, squishing leafs and crushing flowered heads. An odd seed might escape between the bars, as we are ripped from lush soil beneath our feet, roots and all. Breath slowly disappears, life leaving us in the dark. The cage is thrown off, and we are cast aside, piled in heaps, raked away to decompose in a mound of putrid waste. Those cages rip life from us. No bleeding limbs remain. Nothing remains, nothing but death, no legacy for the fallen. We battle that inescapable monster by day and fight from nightly terrors.

We tuck our pedals tight, press the golden florets against each other, squeezing eyes shut as darkness falls. We tuck tight against the cold, squeeze, shiver, try to block out the terrors that will come. Death taunts us on the wind, and we suck in against the onslaught. Death hangs down from the stars, gleaming in the blackened waste above, and we pull close to block out the memories, block out the vision of what is to come.
Morning rises, dew-filled tears fall, and death comes again, those terrors of night being realized. Today there are no motors, blades, or metal cages. No tools fill hands of men and women, no slicing bars or chopping mowers. A soft mist rests on our pedals, caresses our shafts, running down to leafs and roots beneath. We bask in the glorious showers of death, soaking in the moisture, before realizing the deceit. The poison spills on us, soaks into our skin, shrivels up our pedals, turns our leafs crusty and brown. We can no longer breathe, suffocated by the death in those clothes of life, the watering-can in grim-reapers tattered clothing. His scythe slices into our hearts, spilling blood from the deepest parts of our growth. Death holds nothing back in this city that kills. Nothing is left but a field of waste: the legacy of the fallen.

My brothers, sisters, friends in the city are lost. Death fills them with dread by night, torturing their minds before the sun promises its physical mirror. It shows them death inside the glass, then dashes them to pieces by motor, blade, cages, poison. I feel their pain, but know not the experience, my life filled with freedom. Where urban meets rural there is some talk of death, light gossip’s on the wind, but those blackened hands, metal cages, motors, poison, none reach me in the field. Death keeps his distance, and I care not for his deceit. More heads of yellow poke up around me than I could dare imagine possible in the city. Row upon row, we stand, soaking up the sun, soaking up the rain, basking in rural freedoms.

I tuck my pedals tight when the stars come out, but it is not out of fear. I seek not to block out the tortures of death on my mind, blocking out the nightmares as my brothers in the city do. Out here, I relish the day, and savour its taste at night. I hold tight those pleasant memories, before unfolding again, the sun creeping up on horizon beyond. Tears of joy touch my yellowed fingers as they open, receiving the surrounding dew, that shower of spring’s delight.

Day after day I bathe in freedom, bask in the beauty if my rural existence. The field of flowers, that is my home, works in waves around me, closing and opening with the sun. No fear. No care. Nothing but freedom and the remembrance of peace. I sleep with promises of another day’s glories on the tips of every floret, moist with life’s emotions, messages of freedom on the tips of those tiny tongues, eyes wet with the impending joy as they close, expectantly desiring the beauty of tomorrow.

But tomorrow never comes.

The night is harsh, but I am unafraid until morning comes. I do not rise. I can feel the sun’s heat as it rises in the expanse of blue above, fading from darkened blues, through greys, to reds of sunrise, to cobalt. I see the clouds billowing with life above, life’s light poking through empty spaces to shine down on me… but they are only in my memory. I know the sky to be blue, but see only red. It is not the red of rising or setting sun, but the red of that unknown, gossiped about visitor. The whole field shivers with his presence, overcome with blood-red waves in mind’s eye. Death.

No blades, cages, poison: death holds no foul tools. He works hard in the city, daily crushing us with the varieties of tortures available to his blackened heart, deceiving us by day, and taunting by night. I am so far removed from such pains, sorrows, lies, that I missed the greatest deception. Death slowly trickled up my stalks, forced my eyes shut, the life surrounding me sealing my fate, gluing my florets together in an unshakable grasp.

I strain against the power of death, fight the poison continually working its way up the shaft into my head, clouding mind, skewing vision, blocking all hope, joy, freedom. The red sun continually beats down, torturing me with its presence. I feel the burn from above, but cannot see beyond my sealed lids. I feel the poison rising in my throat, but cannot open my mouth to retch. The vomitous pool within cooks under the sun. My pedals begin to shrivel, die, burned away by the acrid life turned death within.

Night comes again. I do not see the setting sun, or stars smiling down on me. The air around me chills, growing wet with tomorrow’s pregnant dew. The red burn in my eyes fades to a blackened darkness, shot through with ghosts of that beast on high. Memories of the pain flash past my eyes, spectre visions to torture my mind. I wish to close my eyes, shake off the death that has taken hold of me, forget the pain of yesterday – the pain now dormant, raw, and throbbing in my head. Death is not a blanket to be removed, or a monstrous machine left to rust, but it is in me. Inescapable.

I now know the pain of my brothers in the city, the torture my sisters endure, the screaming of my friends as limbs are cut away, roots are ripped up, bodies left to shrivel in a steaming, poisoned mass. I know the pain. It is in me. It is me. I give up, falling into the apathy that has become my life. Depression overtakes my mind: the will to die. I wish for bars to cage me in, grasp at my roots, pluck the remaining life from me, but the Reaper is not so friendly. He plays a sad tune in my heart, scraping it away one scythe-shaped shaving at a time.

The day, the night, it is all the same. One is filled with blood-red fire, the other torturous visions of what is to come, visions of tomorrow, memories of yesterday. All is death, but he does not come in full. Soon I forget the pain, day and night becoming as one, one lonely existence, one dead heart in an almost lifeless body. My florets seemingly fall away as that body decays, moulting within the impenetrable shell of my head. I want to dash my skull against a stone, let the blood run from that self-inflicted hole, keep the black emptiness of death, no more red days to taunt me.

No more red days come. The nights remain black and lifeless, but the days return to their former blue that I once knew. My head finally cracks, pedals spilling outward to receive the life of the morning. Dew sticks to my florets, but I can barely feel it. These are not the tears of joy that I once knew, but those of pain, sorrow, emptiness, death. This field that once was a beautiful patch of gold has fallen into decay. We stand tall, but not free as before. Row upon row of white fluff, we stand, the bright yellows of life sucked away by death.

He hangs over me, mixing with the wind, tugging at the shreds of decency I have left. One at a time, my florets-turned-spores are ripped from my skin, torn from my scalp like lifeless hairs from a lifeless head, my legacy ripped from dying stalk. The hair turned white with age, and now begins to fall out, but not with the grace of a slowly receding hairline. The process is sharp and jarring… but I hardly feel the pain.

Again and again the wind blows, death grasping at the wispy strands in which I once took pride. My golden tresses fall away, floating by one at a time as death comes like a thief. By night, by day, he cares not for my sorrow, continually plucking out those floret spores, leaving me to die naked and raw. That final strand of life hangs on, but I care for it no more. The rest of me is gone. My legacy is dead. Why care for a single piece of life when death holds prevalence? I let the wind pick it off, speaking no blessing as it disappears into the night air.

My head sinks low as the rain starts to fall. Those mounds of life in the sky have turned purple in wicked death. They lash out at the dead field below with the fury of a forgotten god. Drops of water push hard against my naked skull, crush my back in the downpour. When that final cry of the storm gives way, rumbling the earth beneath, shaking my dead roots from their life-long home, lighting the field with fire, I have nothing left to care for. The red fire rushes for my naked, broken, dying carcass, and I give in to its will. The burn of death is my only comfort, my only hope, joy, freedom, my only legacy. The red rages in my mind, fading into the blackness of lifelessness that I can finally call my own: my new home.

In the city there is death. Motors, cages, poison have all finished their job. The city is bloodied and broken. We are bloodied and broken. No hope, no freedom, no legacy, nothing but death all around. Wind whips through the shortened grass, tired stalks, broken limbs. Tufts of white stick to those tears of sorrow, the rising dew of the morning. The city of death is transformed into a field of white: field of new life. We burrow into the earth, hide from death, hide from the blades, cages, poison. They continue to assault our brothers, sisters, friends above, but death cannot touch us. We wait in patient expectation, germinating beneath the ground.

With a final burst of life, we shoot from beneath the well turned earth, death’s fertilization feeding our growing limbs. We suck in the flavour of a lost past, stretch out limbs to the sky, spread forth new tresses of golden life. The city is a glorious scene of beauty, golden tipped stalks rising above the death below.

I open to see the sky above, feel the wet dew of joy touching each eyelash, each floret, as I greet the morning. In the distant expanses of memory I hear shrieks of death, feel the wind carrying me, see blood-red, but none of it seems real. I stand tall and proud in the city, defying death in the new field of gold surrounding me. I know someday that I will close my eyes, never to open them again. I feel the death in my distant past, but see its results around me. Row upon row of golden heads poke up from the dead spores we once were, the remains of a dying body. Death is inescapable, but life is much the same. One death gives birth to many lives: the legacy of the fallen.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lorri37/5620085419/

The Eye of the Beholder

Scotomaphobia- Fear of going blind

eye of the beholderCount the whispers. Hear their silence. Count the specks of dust on that lens you call an eye. Clutch at the black spaces in between. Scream at the fingers that come slowly, reaching, taking those specks away one at a time: specks of life, specks of light as the lens is capped. Darkness.

I swim there in my dreams; drown in my nightmares. All is dark… but I am not asleep. I rip the caps from my eyes; lids spring up: open. My pillow whispers silently, draws me back into the nightmares, but my head is no longer there. I hear the wind creaking in distant trees; hear their sad whispers. They drift to me through window slats; play with the darkness; crawl up my skin. My hair stands up, each wagging a solitary finger at the cold air. My face feels its bite, breaking through the sweat already cold, resting there. I cannot see the wind.

Breathe in. Breathe out. The scent of my musty shack. Damp wood from last night’s rain is slapped together around me, above me, beneath me: a wet almost rich enough to taste… but not to see.

My feet swing round, hit the floor, body braced for the impact. Too late. Bare soles slap the cold, wooden planks. The chill rushes from feet to head, like the first crack of a lightning storm. My head rumbles in reply. It swims through the darkness, swims in pain. The blackened nightmare of wakefulness begins to spin.

One hand reaches to my head, the other for — the wall, a lamp, bed frame — something, probing forth in the ink. The world is rolling, my hand is waving, then, I am rolling. My head finds the wall before my hand: the second crack of this storm.

My heart beats the bass drum in this song, but not a steady beat. Like a spasmodic drummer, it knocks faster and faster, screaming inside its cage. My skin crawls. I sweat. I shake. I fall. I feel the cold wood against my face, hear my heart drown out the wind’s whispers, smell my own fear, see… darkness.

The lens caps have been polished and cleaned, all specks of life stolen. They have been worked at to perfection, my darkness complete. I reach for a cane, a walking stick, something to hold me up, to centre me, to direct me in the night. My eyes give me no aid; neither do my possessions. I am not ready for this darkness to remain, not ready, not ready… not ready.

I squeeze my eyes shut and open, shut and open. Blink, flash, dark, dark: no change in what I do not see. Not even a perceived change from red to black: the heat of wakefulness on closed eyes. Are they closed? Are they open? I poke. It stings. They are open. No darker spot appears where I have poked, no greater blackness added as I prod my eye, or close it against the self-inflicted pain.

I have never been afraid to sleep, never afraid to dream. Everyone must follow the gods of nature, Time herself the dictator. All sleep, all dream, all have nightmares as Time dictates. All wake. These truths are unchanged, and not to be feared. However, one unknown stands admits them all, a Judas in their ranks. Not all open their eyes.

Blink. Fresh tears gather in my lashes, the darkness shifting from black to wetted greys. My tears shift from those of fear, to those of joy, drying on my cheeks. I press one foot beneath me, then the other, hand on wall to calm my head. The rain in my eyes stops; the pounding of my head stills; the lightning shooting through my veins is no more. I leave the storm on the floor with nightmare whispers.

The switch flicks up, light-bulbs buzzing with new-found vigour. Shadows recede to the corners, leaving nothing but dust behind. The dust of my house. The dust of my home. Dust, those specks of light, specks of life, on a discarded lens cap.

One room still sits in darkness, waiting to be disturbed. It sits how it always has: alone and waiting. I turn the wick up on that oil lamp, the only light in that room. There is no electric buzz here, no distractions from that outer world to this still room. No voices from my pillow, no storm from the floor. It is a world of my own, lit by that single lamp, but coming to life beneath my fingers. Tap, tap, tap, the oil-wrought light illuminates those keys, but I need no aid from it. My mind, vision, slips into the world of taps, world of clicks, world where I am the only God. I am the God of Light, the God of Life, the God of Sight.

No one in my world, the one I control, will ever go blind. No one here needs eyes. Why? Because my finger clicks say it is so. My imagination makes it real. No eyes, no need: seeing with the mind.

Blink. My eyes flash: open, closed, open, closed. My fingers fly: tap, click, tap, click. This new world swallows me: a world without darkness to claim the light, without eyes to go blind, without that fear stalking from every shadow and screaming everywhere else.

The lights in that outer room blink, spark, flash, go out. The empty lamp bowl screams for more light, cries for my attention, a new bulb to be set in place, but I fear not its silent cries. They are pillow whispers to me. Tap, click, tap, click, light bounces from my fingers, but does not enter that outer-room. It sits in darkness now, in a world I do not control. The lamp is blind, but I am not. That room is blind, but mine is not.

~~~

My chair creeks behind me as I lean back, stretching life into my limbs. Elbows pop. Fingers crack. One final click from that typewriter at which I sit. My world lays silent once again as I press that final key. Full stop.

Light bounces through the window, a joyous morning greeting. It shatters my world of darkness, bounces off the glass clock-pane, spills down on my keys. A short crank and low gong breaks the silent morning: that clock face, bright and shining, chiming out its tune.

I turn the oil lamp down; shut off the artificial flame. A little oil from the lamp should be spilled on my chair wheels. They squeak out quick complaints as I stand, leave the room, leave my world in silence, blind to what might come with the next phrase: the next clicks from my itching fingers. The possibilities bounce about my tired mind, quickly shut out by a new pain: new, but familiar.

I clutch at the door frame, the blackened barrier of that outer world returning. A sharp pain, a quick flash, darkness blocks out all thought, all sight, all control. I stand on shaking knees, see the blindness fade as quickly as it came. My foot stomps down hard, grounding me. My head shakes, greasy locks sliding forth and back.

My coat is waiting, keys are waiting, lock ready to be clicked in place. The light in my outer room still waits for a new bulb, but I hear not the complaint. Light, darkness, sight? They are out of control in this world not of my creation. Here, I am not God. Just a man going blind.

The path greets my feet, and I offer my silent reply. Every step is cherished. Every moment is precious. I watch my feet, measure my steps, keep my head low. The high collar of my coat blocks peripheral, a vision too oft filled with darkness, curiosity turning my eyes to unhealthy places. I chance a twist, chance a glance, chance a look from the path. The sun shoots down from above, bullets to my eyes. Giant red splotches burst like flowers set to bloom, but these flowers hold no beauty. They expand, unfold, fill my eyes like caps on lenses.

I close my eyes, block out the sun, block out the headache arising. My hand shakes as it searches in my coat for darkened glasses. Throwing them on my face, they sit awkward on one ear, off the other. Those red spots recede slowly as my eyes open… too slowly. They creak from darkness into light like a door with monsters to one side. Will I be blind when they open? Will the world still greet me? Will the God of this world grant me one more day to glance at His wonders, touch them with my sight?

The doors creak open. Light pours in. Those red flowers close again. They are nothing but tiny specks now, memories of the sun’s assault… nightmares from my past. Gladness rushes in. I am not ready to go blind.

A stick cracks over my knee, the perfect length for my legs. It presses hard into my palm, firm against the ground. I feel comfort in its presence, some calm as we walk together. I cannot get lost, cannot stumble with this stick to guide my way. Open, close, open, close, my eyes laugh at me with each blink. In the world of my creation, men do not have eyes. No need for eyes, no fear of going blind. It is perfect. Blink. This world is flawed. Blink. I hope God does not curse me for such a thought.

~~~

His coat is white, a grotesque colour to assault my open lenses. They sit beneath my darkened glasses while his white stands, brilliant and glowing beneath those harsh lights above. I press into the cold chair, a machine swings into place, inches from my face. I flinch. I blink. It stops.

“I’m sorry Mr. Olar. You will have to take the glasses off now.” The white coat looks apologetic, though I can hardly see it beyond the stark flashing cloth.

“Can you dim the lights, just — just a touch?” I ask, but my hands are already reaching for the darkened lenses which shield me.

“I’m sorry, sir. These lights don’t dim.” He smiles, a customary response to my customary question.

I grunt, but feel worse that these lips can say. My protection comes off, slowly, but the speed does not help. The lights above buzz with delight, laughing at my squints. I clutch at the machine in front of me, wish for it to claim my peripheral sight, cushioned in special lenses.

It slides into place. The light fades. Nothing but harsh black letters against a white sheet to scream at me.

“Okay, Mr. Olar. What do you see?”

I read the letters off slowly, cherishing the moment. They get smaller. I squint harder. The page is a mess of blurry figures. One lens after another they come, sliding back and forth, adjusting my ability to see: an ability which I cherish.

The machine slides away. Those laughing lights above return to taunt me. The white coat of my doctor is nothing compared to what comes next. I want to close my eyes, but know he will just force them open again. His pointer shines, that wand of death seeking me out. I have no control, stuck in this chair, eyes growing wide. Right, left, right left, the light pierces both sockets, leaves my lenses screaming, red flowers appearing once again. As they recede I hear his words.

“You are doing quite well, Mr. Olar. No need to come in next week. Still no need for glasses.” He laughs, a poor attempt to calm me. His kind smile is better, but still unheard.

I pull glasses from my coat pocket and fix them once again to my face. He may think that I need no glasses, but my eyes lack such education. The world dims, those lights above softened, his white coat turning dull and grey. My short sigh sounds like a grunt, and feels little better.

“See you next week.” Another suggestion ignored. I can never be too careful. Not ready to go blind.

~~~

Shamblers. Fumblers. Men crying in the night. The sky has fallen, the moon a reflection beneath my feet, a reflection of the sun. I could run instead of shamble. I could flee instead of fumble. But I would be running blind, fleeing from the ground itself, an impossible feat indeed. Dark, light, dark, light, there is nothing but this change. The sun spins around this new earth-moon apocalyptic world like a gyro going wild. Spin. Flash. Dark. Light.

I blink… to no effect. Am I asleep? Am I awake? Too much is the same for me to tell: the fear, the pain… the darkness. My head hits the floor, and I know that wakefulness has me now. Cold wood, not rough moon stone.

I still shamble, still fumble, still feel that pain pounding a course in my head. I flick the switch. Nothing. Not even a red glow against my useless eyes comes to taunt me. This is true blindness like never before, and it is out of my control.

My headache fades, the pounding turning soft as I clutch knees to my chest. I shake: a man crying in the night. Open, close, open, closed: dark, dark, dark, dark. All is the same. All is blind… even me.

I get up, feeling the defeated fool. Crawling like a child – knee, hand, knee, hand – I find a cracked stick on the ground. It is nothing special, nothing great, not intended for the blind. I was not ready, not prepared, but it will have to do. I press it on the ground and try to stand. My legs shake. Heart quivers. I stand.

The stick swings forth and back, tapping the ground in an arc before me. It is not the knowing clicks of a blind man’s stick, directing his way, but the wild waving of a man-turned-child by fear itself. My knee finds a table edge, something my waving stick should have found, but our communication is unpractised. From table edge to door frame my knee travels, stick slapping forth and back against the jamb: a too late warning.

Everything in this room is right how it should be. My hands crawl along the table, walking stick resting against the door. The oil lamp radiates with light, with life, as I turn that nob… and I can see. Shocked, stunned, what other words can I use? Even a writer’s finger clicks and tongue clacks can grow heavy. The light outside my little room, little world, is still dark.

An afraid man? A curious child? One of the two (or both) finds me at the door again. Up, down, up, down, I flick the switch. The light is gone. The bulb is dead. Now I hear the silent screams. A laugh boils out of my lips, but not of joy: nervous energy crying for release.

I find a bulb amidst the dust in some oft used drawer, screw it into the slot, and those red flowers return. The light blinks on, harsh and white without the shade set in place. I shove the glass bowl against the bulb, twist it into place. Those flowers in my lenses die, wilted by the dim light, not enough to grow by. I stamp my foot, shake my head, ground myself again. Grunt: the most relief I will get.

My fingers fly against those keys, walking stick leaning lonely in the corner. I keep it with me now on such nights, all nights, when darkness threatens to hold me. I shape my world without a care, lost again in the magic my words create. Great black sheets are thrown against the window frame to block the morning when it comes. In here, I am in control. In here, I have everything I need.

Nights go by with finger clicks and days go by with my stick tapping against the ground. Practise, practise, practise. I must be ready for when that day comes… the day when I will go blind. Behold, it stalks me, around the corners, closer now; each day my vision seems to fade. Some nights I cannot close my eyes, not afraid of the dreams or sleep, but what will happen (or not happen) if and when I open those eyes again. Some nights I wish it will come, end my suffering, claim my sight once and for all. But I have no control.

I sit in this writing chair, wheels still creaking, in need of oil, fingers still flying, in need of control. There is one piece left to this puzzle of life, one thing left to calm my fears. My walking stick stands just inside my reach. Black lenses rest in my coat pocket. Closed, open, dark, light, it doesn’t matter: my gait is the same. Practise, practise, practise. I am waiting, I am prepared, ready to go blind.

My pens sit just to one side, black against the white paper like letters to test my vision. I pick them up, one at a time, reciting the letters from memory. I hum the letter-tune, my heart playing the bass. It is still, almost silent. Calm. Ready. One twist, one thrust, one jab, and it is done. I have the control. I am ready to go blind. I hardly feel the pain, numbed over my life by fear.

I tap, I click, I shape my world. In this world I have control. In this world no one has eyes, no need for them. In this world people see with their minds. Tap, click, tap, click. In my world, people see with their imagination. Tap, click, tap click. I never lose my place, never lose sight of those keys. The oil lamp has long since died. The lights outside my world have long since called silently for attention. I care not. In this world, I need no light, no eyes. I my world, I cannot go blind.

Credits:

Music (In order of appearance)
Metropolis Ruin by Fireslice at Jamendo
Ambient Darkness by DJ Chronos at Freesounds
Echoes of Fall by Razvan Veina at Jamendo
Now by Antonio Fiorucci at Jamendo
Limbo? by DirtyJewbs at Freesounds
 
Sound Effects (all provided by Freesounds)
typewriter22.ogg by tams_kp
BreakingSticks by qubodup
Crying 4.wav by ecfike
whispers and screams by Fyodore
Chaos & Screams.flac by qubodup
DSLR mirror slaps by satanicupsman
00888 gride 2.wav by Robinhood76
doctoroffice.mp3 by NoiseCollector
Whoosh Puff by Speedenza
Dbl Click.mp3 by 7778
Ringing in ears1.wav by Hardance
jacket zipping and rustling by Ownederd
keys_rattle6.wav by vibe_crc
Stomp.wav by 000600
chair_sitting_1.wav by FreqMan
Crack Knuckles Bones.wav by spenceomatic
Light Bulb Pop.mp3 by CGEffex
01582 installing light bulb.wav by Robinhood76
man walking away indoors with leather leathery shoes footsteps foley.wav by bulbastre
Igniting Candle Lighter.wav by baidonovan
Thunder Clap OWB KY 441×16.wav by Dave Welsh
00818 wake up 2.wav by Robinhood76
Thump.wav by Macif
Vinyard Walk.wav by digifishmusic
20080918.breathing.wav by dobroide
whispers.wav by thanvannispen
cap close.wav by whorn1
00984 wood hit 4.wav by Robinhood76
SonicSnaps-IDES-FR-white-cane-diff-surfaces.wav by thecityrings
Moaning Chair.aif by Housed1J
Hard HIT in the head.aif by amsempl
mild_surprise_breath.ogg by smcameron
buzz harmonic.aif by lukaspearse
Light Turning On & Off.wav by mookie182
Wind Houling 1 .wav by Bosk1
typewriter_type.wav by tjandrasounds
ClockStrikes12Remix.flac by acclivity
Ticking Clock by AntumDeluge
Heart Beat by thenudo
 
Cover Art
Created by Daniel J. Weber using the following images:
Eye see you 3 by Kit Keat on Flickr

Diving in Forever

It always starts with a dive. A foot dipped in, a harmless splash, like foreplay to the plunge. There is no harm in a little fun, no commitment, no care for the future. That paradise sitting beyond the plunge is waiting, ready. I want to arrive, but fear the decent, fear the plunge, the dive.

My fingers glide along the surface of the pool, those ever-broadening ripples inviting. I feel the warmth climb up my arm, the promise of pleasant temperatures beneath. Like a lover, it beckons me. The wet toys with my heart, down on one knee – a ring: willing me to take the plunge, caressing my hand as I reach down to clasp the diamond sparkling on its surface.

The promise of a better life spills from my lover’s lips. The beach behind me stretches wide, as I stand on my rock, this diving board of choice. Paradise is a vision on the face of my lover, a mirage turned real on the water’s glassy surface. I touch the pool again, the waves disturbing that image, that place, that promise beneath. I can reach for it, but cannot touch, see it as from afar. My hand is drawn back, wet, the scene beneath me unchanged, untouched, unaware.

The sky reaches toward me, my arms twirling in the air with a final wave. Left arm, right arm — they work together now — stretching toward that place beneath the waves, the promise of my lover’s gift. I take the plunge. It always starts with a dive.

The paradise image shatters, my hands breaking it in two, in three, in thousands of tiny shards: the broken dust of a diamond speckling the surface. The image is a mirage, my lover imaginary. I reach for the ring, seek to press it onto my waiting finger. The golden circlet of promise is wrenched from my hands and thrown far into the deep. I watch it sink, watch it bubble, the plunk of ring touching water inaudible beneath the pool’s surface.

A brief flash of light, a twinkle in my lover’s eye, speaks to me from the distance. From clear to murky the water changes, my limbs working to push me forward. The soft glint of that ring, that promise, speaks to me again, and I focus my efforts toward that goal. Looking up, there is no more sky. Nothing but solid rock. The ocean narrows. The ceiling lowers. The tunnel sucks me in. My ring continues to sink, pulled into the surrounding drink, falling down the drain. I reach with my arms, kick with my feet. The ring is closer now. The rock is closer now.

I follow that lonely light into the deep, press toward my lover’s promise. It starts with a dive, starts off blue, then murky, then black. The darkness crawls ever closer, clawing at my limbs, shivering up my spine. It passes over my arms like a cloud of ink, and I lose them for a moment — them and the ring: a brief instant, like a blink. It is enough to spur me on, fill me with the dread of losing that thing, that ring, which I seek. My finger brushes the edge of that golden band.

Blink.

My fingers fade into the black, granting me nothing, no purchase. One flash. Two blinks. Three. That lover’s promise is fading, fighting to hang on. It screams for release, blinking in and out like a dying light, a dying promise, a dying love. Those hands of the deep drag it beyond my reach.

Blink. The light goes out.

I reach into the darkness, spin in the depths of that dying water. My hand touches the wet stone beneath me, the wet stone above me, around me. My fingers climb up the tunnel’s wall, fingering at nothing, drifting through the darkness, reaching for the light. My lungs burn. Skin is cold and clammy. I flick the switch.

Blink.

I wake up on the floor. Wake up shaking. Wake up cold, wet with terror’s sweat. The darkness of that stone tunnel is pierced through by that globe on the ceiling, that switch in my hand, that switch on the wall. A drowned tunnel in the deep shows its face in my mind. The scratchy carpet beneath me scrapes my skin as I shake: shake with fear, shake away the dream.

I find my pillow wrapped between the sheets, clutched between my disfigured legs — those distorted limbs kicking at the water, kicking at the nightmare, kicking it away. That bunch of feathers stuffed in a sack are meant to give my head comfort, a forgotten commodity between my nightmares. I squeeze the pillow, tuck my legs in, searching for that comfort it is supposed to offer me: comfort my head, comfort my mind.

I lay there for a time, shaking the wet from my skin, shaking the water from my limbs, shaking the dream away. Shaking the fear away. Finally, I roll onto my back: tired, defeated. My chest rises and then falls in quick succession, the light above me burning those slits in my face, slits meant for seeing. I grab the wall, not covered with stone, but simple paint. It supports me in my trek, supports my tired limbs, my own weight taking some shivers away. I flick lights on as I go, burning the inky black from my mind and surroundings.

Dry mouth. Parched lips. A glass. Water. It shoots from those nozzles in the wall as I punch the desired button. A cool stream fills my glass, one reminder of the dream at a time. One drop, one trickle, one cold blast as the chilled liquid reaches me through the thin glass. A tremor runs through my body, water sloshing about, spilling on the floor, spraying from the wall, waves cascading from my hands. The glass drops.

A shatter. A pop. A flash. The light-bulb bursts. Darkness. I slip on the wet beneath my feet, lose footing with my shivering. My hand comes off that water dispenser, feet come off the floor, half-naked form lying on the cold, stone tiles. The wet, the stone, the darkness, they are too familiar. I want to curse at the stupid bulb on the ceiling, damn the water, the fallen glass, but am too afraid. Another shiver walks through me, and I cry as a piece of glass cuts my quivering legs.

It always starts will a dive. A dive under the covers. A dive from bed to floor where I found my waking, shaking form. A dive onto the kitchen floor. All these clumsy plunges worked of their own accord, taunting me. They taunted the crack in my skull, taunted my broken-half-mended fingers, taunted that first dive I took long ago. The water was too shallow, the stone bottom too close, my head too damaged, the blackness too dense. Unconsciousness found me swallowed by the deep, swallowed by the darkness. Now, the darkness swallows my dreams, the water ever-present, the fear ever-real. Now, the darkness swallows my kitchen, spitting out bits of tired glass from above. One flash, then darkness.

Blink.

I wait for my eyes to adjust some, or at least that’s what I tell myself. My nerves need more adjusting, more time, than my eyes. Finally, the shaking calms, the darkness barely traversable. The bathroom light shows that mess on the kitchen floor for what it is. I look back from the room, the switch, the light I just flicked on. Now I curse, though it’s more to hide the fear still haunting beneath my skin, hiding in that pool on the floor, than a damnation. If only I could curse my fear, damn that monster of my past, of my mind, of every drop and trickle, back to the hell from which it came: the hell where it belongs.

A broom, a rag, a mop, the mess is clean, but that shattered diamond from a ring, shattered glass on the floor, still tortures my mind. I know that sleep will not come again, and no longer want that drink of water. I choke down a mouth full of saliva, saliva mixed with tears. It tastes vile, doesn’t quench my thirst, only aggravates the chap of my lips, but I care not to try the nozzle again, care not to watch the terrifying liquid spill from that wall.

What to do with the night? How to shake my fright? Some find peace in baths with bubbles. I find nothing but water. Some walk off their fears, walk off their stress, crush anxieties beneath their feet. The blackened sky outside my window, out my door, down the street — darkness — not a friend to the frightened. There is darkness and water in my dreams, darkness and water in my kitchen, outside… just darkness.

I take the dive, take the plunge, wrap my form in a coat to cover the shaking half-naked child beneath. My door creeks its goodbye. A lock is clicked in place. I flick the switch. A flash. That light inside my house dies, this time of my own accord.

The streets are calm, streets are crisp. I focus on the feet beneath me, plodding a course of their own. Left, right, left, right, they carry me into the night, into the darkness, away from that place of fears, that place of fright. My trek settles into a rhythm; my heart settles, mind does not. It is not my intent, my fear, that carries me, but those shoes alone. Shoes are meant for walking. Nights are meant for sleeping. Water is meant for drinking, swimming, drowning, trapped, dying. It started with a dive those years ago, and replays in my mind every night, replays in every drop.

A flash.

The sky breaks open, cracks a wicked grin, then it starts to tremble, shake, shiver. I know the feeling well: the flash, the shivering… the water. Outside there is darkness… and water. I try to turn, try to run, but my will is not what carries me. Those feet plod on, picking up speed, running now. I can run from my dreams, run from my past, run from the puddle on my floor, run from the water, but not the sky.

A flash.

It sneers at me again, the thunderous laughter surrounding, shaking me. I shiver. A drop. I touches my nose, runs down to the tip, is sucked back into my waiting nostrils. The water falls again, one drop at a time, one fear at a time. One flash, one crash, one shudder at a time. One shiver. My eyes sting with the wet, sting with my tears, sting with the rain. The two forces work as one, blurring my eyes, but I cannot stop. I must run. I must fight. I left my house. I took the dive. There is no turning back.

That monster of the skies is chasing me, nipping at my heels from puddles, splashes from behind. I can see nothing but water. It laps into my mouth… one drop at a time… trickles into my ears… one drop at a time… sucked into my nostril… one drop at a time. A flash. A drop. A shiver. I stop.

A rock stretches beneath my feet, my diving board of choice. I look back and see the water rushing toward me. It crashed through the streets, topples tired buildings, breaks glass. Streetlights burst on contact, one flash at a time. Memory, imagination, reality, dream, how can I tell the difference? Awake, asleep, dead, alive, what is the difference? All is filled with darkness and with water, no escape after the plunge.

My hands reach to the sky, rain bleeding down my arms. What choice do I have left? Left arm, right arm — they work together now — stretching toward that place beneath the waves. I take the plunge. It always starts with a dive.

The world is silent beneath the water. A still calm overtakes me as I give in to the ghost.
It fills my nostrils, twists through my open ears, spills out my cracked and bleeding lips. The water works as it’s meant to: meant for drinking, swimming, drowning, trapped, dying. Darkness closes around me, that stone tunnel of my dreams. I see the diamond in the distance, that light dying beneath the waves, promise of a future, a destiny, someone to keep me safe. Fear cannot take me when in the arms of my lover. It cannot steal me from his grasp. With my final breath, final kick, I dive toward the ring. It spins about, playing in the drink, twirling in the circling drain of this sink.

A flash.

I blink, reaching out for that dying light, knowing it is my only hope. Darkness crowds me all around, inky fingers clutching my arms… the arms grabbing that ring. Warmth emanates from that piece, that promise, the lover in my hand, on my finger. I shiver with the excitement as darkness overtakes me, overtakes us both. Water takes over where air is meant to be, bubbles releasing their hold on me. My body floats on the surface of the pool, water tearing off those clothes, bleeding down my naked skin, filling it with fear.

I cannot leave the deep, cannot run from my destiny. This i my new home: my paradise. I watch that useless body floating above me, the body of a woman filled with terror, filled with fear, tortured by every drop. My face is wet with tears for her, but I am not afraid like she. I swim in the deep, laugh with glee, safe in my lover’s arms. There is no escaping him. No going back to those streets, that house, that kitchen, that bed, those dreams, that life… but why would I want to? I took the plunge, took the dive, and there is no turning back.

The Other Side

Every road has two sides. A clearing through the trees, a bridged lake, a winding path through fields: all these roads share one thing. Trees on one side mirror those on the other, water left and water right, grass plays sweet tunes with the wind on both sides of the road. Every road has two sides, as did the road before me now… but those memories were taken, vegetation was taken, life was taken by the storm.

Once things were better: the past a dying light in the darkness of my mind. Reach through that blackness, claw through the darkness, talons reach for that speck of light – speck of hope – beyond. Dig deeper. Scratch wildly at the ground’s surface for a wriggling worm, a seed, any life, any food, any hope. All these things lie in the past. I have lost all hope, my talons cracked and broken, yet no sustenance rewarded for their effort. I see nothing but despair, feel nothing but death, wish for nothing but to reach the Other Side. You, however, may find life in this wasteland – hope in this snow-scape – if you dig deep enough.

Dig deeper now. Reach for that light dying behind me. See the past as I once did. See the grass returning, the trees filling in dark and empty spaces in the snow. See branches stretched wide, leafs blotting out the dead sky. See the black terror above fade through the seasons, through the years, back to a time when it was blue. See the purple clouds shot through with electric power fade into puffs of white. Now, see a flock of birds. See me before this time of death, before they all left me, before… too many things happened.

I huddled there, beneath a low-hanging tree branch, the heat of many bodies blocking out the chill of the night. Spring had turned to summer, and summer was loosing its grasp. The flock worked as one, slept as one, lived as one. The sun finally crested the horizon. Warmth tickled my feathers, soaking up the morning dew. I stretched out my span with a mighty yawn, wings touched lightly by morning whispers on soft breezes. The whispers turned to shrieks as the head cock shook the forest to life with his beautiful call. It shot out from yellowed beak, red wattle laughing beneath it. The comb atop his head was the envy of many in the brood. The power of his voice and commanding appearance made all listen to him, follow him, trust him.

The rooster crowed again.

Stretched wings and fluffing feathers passed from one hen to the next like a giant wave. It sloshed one way and then the next, cushion raised, fluff exposed, feet ready to take the first morning steps. Spring was gone. Summer was fading. Autumn had come and soon… winter. Death was around the corner. Two things were on my mind, on everyone’s minds: food and shelter. It was a year of peace, a year of freedom. The barn had been restricting, but it kept us safe. Kept us warm. Too warm. The rooster crowed before those flames even started, but we were a large brood. My singed tail feathers were evidence of that. The barn, our home, died. God finally heard our pain, heard the hens crying in the night. He came to free us with a mighty fire from the sky… but what of that freedom now? The farmer and his wife, they fed us well… sometimes feeding on us.

I remember the screaming, the fighting, the clucking, the biting. Feathers were in a flurry, we began to scurry… and when it was all over. One of our sisters was gone. Still, a few losses a year was better than… this. Where would we go? The barn was just a pile of ash, the feed bags therein reduced to death instead of giving us life.

The rooster crowed again.

He would protect us. He always did. He saved us from the flames, fed us in the spring, provided in the summer, and led us in the fall. Surely winter would be no challenge to him. The days passed into weeks. Red leafs turned to crusty browns beneath our feet. Nights fell colder. Food grew scarce. Still, we pressed on. We passed through the dying trees, passed over dying blades of grass. They were dry and tasteless in my mouth, but at least filled my stomach… until they disappeared.

Strange noises came from up ahead. The wind whistled sharp and intense before fading. Then it came again. Whoosh. Whoosh. The sound filled my ears with hope. Hope for change. Hope for… something. Then another sound came.

The rooster crowed again.

It was not a morning call. I knew that sound well. It was not that three-times shout that shook me from slumber, shook me from warmth, ready for a long journey ahead. It was not that call that promised my legs more fatigue and my pallet more dry, tasteless grass. It was a new call, one none of us had heard since those days of morning feedings at the barn. A cry of hope: food.

Another sound passed through the brood, from one hen to the next. We cackled with glee and clucked with pleasure, almost tasting the food… whatever it was. I grabbed at the wind and pushed it under my wings. Frantic flapping gave me a short burst of flight, a burst of speed that my sisters mimicked. We all wanted to reach the rooster first, all wanted to share in the joy he promised us with his voice.

The rooster crowed again.

Whoosh. The noises grew louder. They were closer. Whoosh. A clearing stretched between lengths of dying trees. The rooster stood atop that strange floor. The black mass broke forest in two. Atop it stood the rooster… and the food. Whoosh. Strange beasts rushed behind him, but he was not afraid. They gleamed in the dying light, hummed in the distance, and rusted his feathers in passing. He stood like an immovable God, unshaken by their presence. Bread from Heaven lay before him: a feast for the brood.

He picked a piece off one hunk and crowed again, encouraging us to approach. We gave no hesitation. My sisters rushes ahead of me with giant leaps of joy. They fell on the bread like hawks to a carcass. The scene was a mess of feathers. Whoosh. They gave a brief pause as another beast went rushing by. A few feathers blew free with the hot breath of the thing, but soon it was forgotten. I struggled forward with the remaining brood, mouth watering with the promise of life just beyond my reach… and then it happened.

Whoosh.

Every road has two sides: bread on one, beasts on the other; life on one, death on the other. Whoosh. The two sides matched. Screams of terror broke out. Feathers flew. The beast screeched, enraged. Wind rushed ahead. The thing slammed to a halt, but not fast enough. It took off again a moment later. The beast roared with life, leaving nothing but death behind it. Death and terror. Death and feathers. Death and the rooster. The damage was done.

I wanted to scream, but found no voice. His body lay atop Heaven’s gift, blood soaking through the food. It added a new kind of warmth to that black scar through the trees. Lights above made the tar hot to the touch, made the blood boil. It bubbled with the last remnants of life, passing from one discarded piece of bread to the next, spelling out our fate. One by one, the bread was spoiled, and one by one, the brood fled.

I know not how long it took, nor why I even stayed. Nothing remained of that host of hens… nothing but me. Nothing left of autumn’s beauty, the trees dead and shaking. Nothing left of the tired grass, dead and covered with snow. The storm hit strong, came in a flurry from above, but I couldn’t move. The only warmth I saw was in the rooster’s blood… the blood that was now cold. The storm came. I remained. Winter came. I remained. Death came. I remained.

Now I sit to one side of the road, no warmth in my bones, no warmth in my heart, no warmth in the blood… the blood of a long-dead rooster. His carcass is long discarded, and no hawks came for the kill. I can find no food beneath the snow, nor find his body buried beneath the great stormy rifts. Snow piles high to either side of that black scar through the trees.

Whoosh. The beasts come rarely now, but I hear them in my mind. I see them in my head. See them on the road. Hear them laugh. See the feathers. See the death. See the blood soaked bread. My stomach reaches for it, but I know it is not there… or do I? The storm plays tricks with my mind, playing my memories out before me like macabre entertainment. I witness the death again and again, but have nowhere to go. No food. No shelter. No life. It trickles through my veins, barely keeping me in this place: on my side of the road. The trickle does not comfort me, but laughs at my pain. I see another trickle before me, dying between breadcrumbs.

No end, no end, no end to this road. It stretches left and right, grinning at me from blackened lips, taunting me with its infinity. There is no hope there. I work that trickle of blood into my tired legs. They scream a taunt of their own with each plodding step. My wings provide no aid. No wind rushes beneath them. They are too tired to flap, too tired to live. I reach the edge of that black scar and lean over the smirking lips. Infinity: left and right. No end, no end, no end to this road. No end to those images. No end to the macabre entertainment depicted thereon. I want to lash out at the face, scratch those taunting lips with my claws, or maybe lash out at my own face, scratch those deceiving eyes from their sockets. Would the memories still play in my mind? There is no fighting this face before me, no besting the infinite smirk. I have but one hope amidst this dying world, one hope to shake the images from my head. I must leave the road behind, must leave the face with its memories, must get to the other side.

I raise one leg to place in on those blackened lips. They shout at me – whoosh – and I pull back. There is no beast, no sound, just memories of that day. Each time I lift my foot to take that first step I hear the beast, see the death, and cower back in fear. I cannot cross the road, cannot get to the other side, cannot leave this face behind.

A feather shakes free from my dying skin. The wind gusts, twisting it, twirling it, taking it. It flies with the sky’s locomotive force, taunts me with the journey, laughs at me from the other side. It lands unharmed on the snow, briefly turning back to torture me, then takes off again. The wind carries it beyond the snow cleft, beyond my sight, beyond the road before me. There is no power in my tired wings. The wind fights against me as I raise them and begin to flap: a slow and desperate plea. There is no hope in the act, just despair. I raise one foot and then the other, pleading with the sky, reaching for those heights I know it can take me to… but never will.

Finally I give up, settle back in the snow and – whoosh – the images come again. I can almost feel the hot blood as it sprays the front of the beast, shoots into the sky, filters through dying breadcrumbs. There seems to be more life in that dying replay than my own tired body. No food. No shelter. No life. No hope. Just one thing, one desire, so close yet so far… get to the other side.

I lift my foot again, forcing myself to go on. Whoosh, but I am not afraid. The black scar laughs at me again as I take that first step. Whoosh. There is no beast. Step one. Whoosh. The beast screams at me, but then is gone. Step two. Fear chases me, swirls around me with the snow. The ground seems to open up. The rooster’s blood seeps into the crack, disappearing between those smirking lips. Step three.

The other side is closer now. Whoosh. The phantom beast shrieks at me, tries to get me to stop, tries to stop itself before slamming into the carcass already on the ground. The lips open up again, a yellow line of teeth cracking them open. Dot, dot, dot, dotted with yellow. Dot, dot, dot, dotted with breadcrumbs. Dot, dot, dot, dotted with blood. Dotted with death. Whoosh.

The beast comes for me again as I cross the yellow line, as I cross to the other side. I hear the familiar sounds, see the familiar feathers, feel the familiar blood. This time I can taste it. The hot mess rushes up my throat and out my beak, landing on the smirking lips below me. It speckles those yellow teeth with the taste of death, not the rooster’s death, but my own. That phantom beast put the real thing in its place… and I didn’t notice the change.

Every road has two sides. One side black, the other a mirror, yellow teeth in between. One side a dead chicken, the other a mirror. Once the sides differed. Once a rooster lay dead, the other side still holding hope. The two sides are now one, like an inevitably cruel trick of fate. Rooster dead, hen dead: the two sides meet. However, there is some hope in this scene of death, a shred of decency in the macabre entertainment there portrayed. I passed to the Other Side.

Shadows Scream

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.

I swallowed.

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.

Know Not What They Do

Know Not What They Do

The demon’s voices were thick: thicker than the blackness of the night, thicker than the clouds shrouding the stars, thicker than the death itself. They laughed at the sight of that broken body: the man on the tree. One beam tall, one beam wide. One arm right, one arm left hung gnarled, grasping at the mists floating beneath them. Hundreds of voices spilled from hundreds of mouths: shouting, jeering, laughing. Demons shrieked out from the many faces: faces he came to save, people he came to free.

The devils inside them approved. His enemies caused the pain while friends shared in it. Crying, weeping, screaming: clawing at the ground in their grief. Blood mixed with water dripping down his side. It mixed with the fog, crawling through the inky black before wetting the dust of the ground.

“King of the Jews.” That is what the sign said, that sign hammered into those rickety beams, but it meant nothing to the man hanging there. No label could hold him down; no name could cause him pain. He had heard his true name from above thousands of times… but not today. Today, his father was silent. The clouds hung like a thick blanket blocking him from father, lover, life. Sin weighed heavy on his shoulders, the heaviest weight he’d ever had to bear.

“My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” It was a cry, a plea, coming from cracked lips and a broken heart.

Jesus lifted his face. The shadow of death hung heavy, pushing him down: anvils on shoulders. Finally, through the pain, through the fire of blood ripping a course through his head, he managed to peer at the crowd that had formed. Through beaten, bruised, burning slits – slits that were once eyes – he saw them.

Spittle hit his face, stinging eyes, blurring vision, cutting his heart. Through the creamy mess he saw the demon. It peered out at him from a woman’s face, eyes glowing, piercing the surrounding darkness. The entire hoard was depicted in her eyes. The Son of God was dying. Father God was absent. Salvation broken. The demons rallied together, toasting their good fortune… but Jesus saw the pain behind their eyes. He saw the broken soldiers rolling dice, fighting for his clothes. The jeering and hooting of the crowd eclipsed the true pain beneath their masks. Some wore their pain openly, weeping for his death, his pain, his crucifixion: the hanging of an innocent man.

“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” The sky remained silent, that thick blanket of death sucking up his words and spitting them back in his face. The crowd did not know him – they did not understand – but Jesus knew the crowd. He saw murder in the demon’s eyes. The woman shrieked at him. Helpless, trapped in a body that would not bend to her will. A little girl sat weeping and dejected deep inside her, deep beneath the demon. The girl cried, shook, pulled at her hair to block out the images of what she had done. A demon tortured her by day with images of her nightly prowl, images of the killing.

“No! It’s not me!” The girl screamed at herself, convulsing, bodily functions attempting to shake off the memories.

I know, my child. Jesus tried to speak to her, but she was not listening. The demon overtook her, screaming, mouth frothing, lips spitting again at the man on the cross.

One of the Roman soldiers stood, holding the royal garment his dice had just won. The purple cloth was streaked with sweat and stained with blood: the remains of the beaten king who had once been draped in the fabric. Jesus saw the cloth and the lie it was, saw the man and the lie on his face. A shadowy figure spun around him, laughing and jeering with the rest. The demon whispered in his ear, prodded his arms, deceived him into this life he now knew. A family man at home. A loving man. A different man when eyes were watching, when his own personal demon came for him.

“Sssssscared little boy…” the demon taunted. “Nothing but a child.” The voice was hollow and dead, echoing through gaping ear canals and into his broken heart. He fought against the demon with the only weapon he had, proving the voice wrong. He slapped the demon across the face with his authority, power, and unrelenting ferocity. The whip of nine tails slashed the air, slashed the flesh, ripped at the royal garment. The taunting demon drove him to such an act, chided him until he had to prove himself. One lash, two lashes, three. The demon laughed, circling around tortured man and fallen saviour.

“Again!” It shrieked. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, the lashes continued to come, shredding skin, shredding cloth, and breaking hearts. The broken saviour now peered down with pity at the broken man, the man shaking that shredded garment, his mask depicting joy but heart depicting shame.

Demons rushed in and out, laughing at the mighty throng that gathered there. Jesus pressed his legs tight against the tree, wincing at the pain shooting up them from holes in his feet. He sucked in a breath, air mixing with bile and blood on the way down. His hands burned as the breath was released, pressure moving from feet to hands: one holey appendage to the next.

“IT IS FINISHED!” His voice was surprisingly strong against the backdrop of death. It boomed from shredded lips, spilling from the sky with a crack of thunder. The ground shook; lightning flared; the crowd fell silent. The sky began to cry, Father God grieving his son. Rain poured forth from gaping holes in the night, drowning out all the silent voices and all the raging thoughts. The mountainside became a soupy mess: mess of mud, mess of grief, mess of death.

All at once the demons left. A woman dropped to her knees, adding to the wet spilling from the skies. Where a demon once stood, a little girl now cowered: lost, broken, alone. Her clothes soaked up the mud, face splashed into the pool of grief, leaving a mask of its own. A soldier fell to his knees, face tired, heart dead. He stared at the man, turned carcass, on the tree. With royal garment in his hand and lashes before his eyes, the memories were too fresh. There was nothing left to say, nothing left to do, no demon left to fight.

Jesus’ blood soaked into the muddy mess, working like water-colour strands against the flow. It pierced the ground, spilling through layer after layer after layer. The fire of earth’s core approached the bloody mess that fell. The host of demons watched it, flew with it through the layers. They laughed at each other with glee, filling their hearts with fire. Earth’s core bubbled and spat, giant waves of lava warring with each other for the first lick of a king’s blood, the first taste of Jesus’ death: the failed Saviour of the world.

The host of demons gathered, feet burning on the fiery floor. Satan stood on a great dais: steps formed of molten rock, throne cracked with age. A giant goblet stood at the centre, defying the decay around it. Defying death. Light from the surrounding fire bounced off that glassy surface, the obsidian polished to a shine.

The Devil raised his arms, remnants of charred cloth hanging from bony limbs. A wave of hot death shrieked from the pool below, seemingly directed by gesture alone. It burned his fingertips as it fell, fiery pleasure coursing through his body.

“It is finished.” Satan spat the words. He mocked that form on the tree, laughing at the failure. “It is finished.” He croaked, but the sound defied his charred throat, wreaking havoc on the surrounding cavern. The tremor of God’s remorse punched through the ceiling, leaving a gaping hole of grief behind. Demons clawed at the forming canyon, desperate for their prize. With the tremor came the blood, filling up that blackened darkness in the sky of Hell itself. The red ink gushed forth, a cascade of death from above. It filled the obsidian bowl, spilling over edges of the finely crafted fountain.

With goblets drawn, Satan’s minions rushed for the alter. Every last drop was sought out, all of Hell drowning in that moment of victory. The freakish brew filled cups and throats, demons toasting and dancing in praise. The Devil laughed with glee, his eyes darkened with lust. Every drop of blood spoke of promise: the promise of freedom, the promise of victory. God tried his best, and failed. The Saviour came. The Saviour died. His blood rushed down the Devil’s throat.

Three days. No sleep. No peace. The partying was a glorious cacophony in his ears. Long had they fought. Long had they cringed under the weight of Heaven. Now, the Son of God died: day one. The people cried: day two. The demons won: day three.

His body was placed inside the rock. A giant stone sealed his fate. Day one: the soldiers sat alone, guarding his place of death. Day two: the stone sat alone, immovable, defeated.

Day three.

He guarded the place, protected the body, but who protected him? The corpse within was empty, but what of the man without? What of the Roman soldier standing duty by that giant stone? Tears fell in his heart, streaming down the outer surface, but his face remained dry. The demon came for him again on that third day.

“Failure!” It screamed, laughing through blood-laden lips. “It is finished.” The demon mocked Jesus, mocked the dead, mocked the living. The soldier had nothing left to give. No more tears to cry… but his mask began to crack. The demon lashed him in the face, dressed in purple robes. He whipped him once, twice; three times the torture came.

“You killed him!” The demon laughed, striking him again. The royal robe was tattered, blood-caked, finished. The man once beneath it was tattered, blood-caked, finished. The demon taunted again from within that purple robe, wrapped inside those tassels of deception. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, the lashes continued to come, shredding skin, shredding mask, exposing the man beneath. Finally, the soldier cracked.

Dry tears fought with wet blood on his face: head in hands, hands clawing the mask beneath them. One crack, two cracks, three. The man’s grief shook him like that mighty tremor of three days past. Those all-encompassing convulsions wracked his body, ripped his skin, tore giant caverns in his mask. At first they lay black and empty, like that death of three days past, but then they began to fill. Red streaks covered over the black of death and white of bone, the man’s cries of pain piercing the night air.

One more crack.

There was no more mask: no more room for cracks therein. This final crack came from the sky, shooting down with power from on high. First the skies split apart, the rupture filling with a shout not unlike three days past. The ground shook. The tears fell. That scene of death was repeating itself, tears of God pouring from the heavens. Lightning shot from cracks in the sky, causing another crack below.

One more crack.

The electric fire of God struck that mighty stone set in place by human hands. The sealed tomb was no more, defied by hands of God. The giant stone fell apart, one piece at a time. One of the soldiers fled in fear, but the other remained – the one with a cracked face and broken heart. The ground sucked in his convulsions, spilling them about the place, before relaxing with a sigh of relief.

All at once, the world relaxed. The sun shot through those heavenly blankets above. The soldier stood on shaky legs. He cringed against the pain as he walked to the open chasm, the open tomb, the discarded rock. Where there should have been a body – rotting with decay – where there should have been a man – dead – where there should have been a failed saviour… there was nothing. Peering into the maw of that mighty stone, there was nothing but darkness, the sun driving it away. Light cascaded through the shadows, brightening up the world, brightening up the tomb, brightening up the soldier.

He turned to shrieks of pain. His demon knelt in purple robes: nothing but tassels left on its back. The sun shot beams of power through its shadowed form. It screamed. It riled. Convulsed. The demon disappeared. Nothing but purple threads remained. As shadow and cloth fell away, the sun revealed itself. Those shafts of light did not come from the sun above, but Son that lived.

Jesus, the Son of God, stood before the soldier. There was no purple robe. There was no dead body. Holes in hands and feet showed where he had been hung, where he had been pierced. Stripes on his back showed where he had been whipped.

“I’m sorry.” The soldier fell to his knees. It was the demon, he wanted to say. His plea for forgiveness spilled from his eyes with new-found tears.

Jesus approached the man. He knelt before him, hand resting on shoulder. The soldier looked up, seeing tears in Jesus’ eyes. “I forgive you,” the Saviour said. “You knew not what you were doing.” The words seemed to come from all around him, swirling around the place. They floated down from on-high: from the mouth of God. They touched the lips of Jesus like feathers on a lake. They touched the heart of the soldier: a heavy burden lifted.

“King of the Jews.” He had pegged that sign above this man’s head, but it was not true. A new sign hung, hammered in by the voice of God. “Saviour of the world.”

A Storm is Coming

A Storm is ComingThis story won third prize at The Cult of Me August 2013 Short Fiction contest

Wind whipped through the grass at the base of the old shack. It played with each strand like tuning an orchestral throng before mixing with the clouds in a cacophonous storm. Greys covered the fading blue, the wind pushing them toward their destination. Corrugated tin popped out from old wooden beams like the patchwork of an amateur’s quilt.

“A storm is coming,” came the warning from above, but the field was not listening. The neighbouring blades of brown-tipped green screeched against each other with laughter as the wind took up their song. They gossiped with each other, excited at the prospective clouds. The wind carried their words to the old shack.

“A storm is coming.” The words were gossiped from sky to field to lonely shack, but it gave no reply. The old piece of shelter stood erect, defying the would-be danger. The wind buffeted the siding, rippling between steel sheets and wooden posts. Rubber-sealed nails began to lift from their homes on the ridges. Rusty nails creaked against the decrepit construction like being dragged against a board meant for chalk.

“A storm is coming.” The wind spoke louder now, desperately pleading with the building. It blasted through windows on either side, crashing against the rafters above. Loose shingles spilled onto the ground, and the grass from beneath it laughed.

“A storm is coming!” The blades cheered, twisting around the asphalt coated plates, consuming them with glee. God’s voice shook the field in a thunderous clap, but the shack remained mute against the assault.

“A storm is coming.” The wind swirled faster and faster around the little hut, attempting to raise it from poor foundations into the air. It repeated the words with each revolution, tempting its victim to give in. A length of tin sputtered into the air, screaming in pain as it mixed with the impending storm before joining its shingle-brothers.

“A storm is coming.” The building was shaking now, like a child beneath his covers: those covers being ripped off one at a time. The monsters of the sky loomed low, hands clutching at the frame, sending nails flying, tin shrieking, boards creaking. Snapping. Falling. The wind gathered for a final assault. The shack breathed out a cry. First. Final. Never before had a voice sounded so lonely, in that mighty field.

“A storm is coming…” Tears fell from the sky and trickled down the building’s cheeks, working between the slats of tin, landing in a pool on the ground. The grass reached up to claim its prize. The building acquiesced to fate. The wind joined with the clouds and released a final sigh at the shack… the field… the world.

A bolt of lightning shot from the mouth of God, blasting a hole through broken tin, crushed timber, and grass left askew. That field of green gossiped a new and final message as orange flames licked from blade to blade. Their warning travelled the expanse, but not fast enough. “A storm is coming.”

Pursuit of Reflections

I cannot tell you why I was there, for that would deny my very reason for being. There are certain things more desirous, and these are the things that men and women alike pursue. Is it for the pursuit of such things that I found myself in a cabin of humble construction, or is it simple rural sympathies which drove me to such an abode?

The thing about pursuit (the thing no one can get away from) is that there is always a pursuer. A hunter always stands behind those double barrels of powder-packed steel before the gun is fired. Winds may gust against the hunter’s frame, billowing his red and black checkered jacket like an over-filled balloon, but the man remains still. His long and tousled hair may fall as curly strands across his eyes – attempting to block his view – but the hunter is in pursuit. He has crept as a silent cat, dodging between potentially snapping twigs and crinkling leafs which blanket the forest floor.

Now the hunter stands – breath held in – and squeezes the trigger. The pursuit is over. There is nowhere for the doe to hide, but she nuzzles beneath the fallen leafs in an attempt to escape death. In vane, her blood speckles the forest floor, and the hunter has won. The pursuit is over.

Such are my thoughts as I sip roasted potatoes from a soup-filled spoon. The meal is been better with venison, but the doe is not yet ready for consumption. She hangs in a meat cellar, while the hunter sits in a rickety chair. My eyes glide to the corner of my shack as the big clock strikes one tone, two tones, three, and on. Seven I count in total, but the sun filtering through glass windows shows the rawness of time in all its glory.

After my meal, I sit on a bench held up by rope, but with no lover at my side. I watch time sink behind the treeline, sipping home-brewed coffee from the clay in my hands. For the deer, life was slow, until the hunter came. Her heart raced all at once before the buck from those two barrels rang out: the heart ringing out a final beat. However, my heart beats on. I can feel it rocking slowing in my chest, but pay it no mind. Time plods on, and my heart strums a simple tune as the coffee in my mug warms me against the impending night breezes.

I sit on my porch long past the sun’s decent, long past the reds turned to purples, turned to the starry wonders of the night sky. The moon smiles down at me, tickling my bare feet with the chill, and I return the favour before slipping back inside to cover those feet with a soft flame and softer slippers. A wood-fired flame in a wooden cabin may bother some, but I am not afraid. The hearth is set lower in the ground, surrounded by bits of the mountain scenery that similarly surrounds my cabin.

I watch the flames grow lower and lower as drowsiness overtakes them. They do not call out for more fuel, and I do not oblige. As the night from outside my home seeps in through spaces between nature’s crudely fashioned logs, slips beneath a creaking door, inking the air with darkness; I mimic the fire’s decent. Making my way to a feathered bed, I pass by that clock in the corner, spying the time. A face looks back at me, and I jump at the sight before realizing it is my own. There is a reason I don’t have mirrors in my house, and that reason stares at me now. With no one to impress but myself, I care not for the mess of hair falling from my chin, surrounding my lips, and showering about my temples. It keeps me warm when the night breezes do not. I cannot say the same for the crooked teeth I sport up front, but those hold little consequence to me. They yellow around the edges, reminding me of my religious forgetfulness to brush them.

“I’ll get to that tomorrow.” I say aloud, before picking a piece of parsley from between them and flicking it to the surrounding air. The blackness around me consumes it, and I care not for its destination. I was a handsome man once… and perhaps I am still. Some women fall over those rugged qualities that I now possess, but finding them would require social interaction: not something desirous enough for me to pursue. The sweet song of birds in the morning is the only voice I need. The only complaints I hear come from myself, or the shrieking of steam from my old cast-iron kettle. Hunting, fishing, foraging, living off of the land as God intended: that is my life, and nothing more can enhance it.

These are my final thoughts as I drift off to sleep, a smile spreading between reddened moustache and blackened beard (a unique combination to be sure). The crickets sing a friendly lullaby, and I let it glide over me like a blanket of mist lowering slowly to cool my skin. The chill of the song is comforting, contrasted against the chill of that look. Those eyes. The face within the clock watching me drift into the blackness around me.

 ***

Evenings are a precious thing, but mornings are even more beautiful. I rise from the feathered mass that comforts me most nights (the nights I opt out of lying beneath the stars, the thrill of nature surrounding me). The sun mirrors me, rising from the depths of night, blistering the sky with hot rays, burning away the darkness. I light a fire of my own to burn away the chill that still permeates that early morning air. The kettle is boiling, then it is steaming, then it is screaming.

“Okay, honey. I’m a comin’.”

She sighs in relief as I take her from the heat and pour the contents into a glass: my favourite brew. The smell of the coffee tickles my nose as I watch the clear liquid mix with the sludge at the bottom of my glass. The creamy, caffeinated sauce trickles down my throat – after adding a touch of milk – and I sit on that front porch again, enjoying the warmth of the stuff.

The only way to catch your prey is by standing still, moving slowly: silence. Time always aids me with my catch, whether it be out on the lake or in the trees. She has a way of getting ahead of me in this place, but I never hurry to catch her. She sits with me until my cup in dry and then beyond.

“Well. Best be off.” It is not my desire, but time is pushing me forward. She says there are things to do today, and I do not argue. The empty coffee mug is replaced with a jangling set of keys for the truck I keep outside. It would be an hour before I get to town, and time wouldn’t wait for me today.

“Don’t do anythin’ I wouldn’t.” It is a silly way to say farewell to a house, but habits are not often sane: though they are the little things that keep us so.

Gravel crushes beneath my feet as I approach the old rusty bucket I call a truck. The door squeaks as I pull it free from its matching frame. The key turns nicely in the slot, and soon she rumbles with life. “You’ll never quit on me, will ya, Old Faithful?” I slap the side of the frame and pop her in gear before checking my mirrors. The rear-view is askew, just the way I like it. If not for the law, I would rip the stupid thing right out. The ones at either side point toward the ground, sharing messages of their own. Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear, the one says, while the other shows object that no one wants to see. Strange things can happen in mirrors. Leafs can blow by, startling me. Rodents can spill across the road like tiny monsters before I identify their harmlessness. Faces can look out at me… before I see them as my own. Foolish disorientation: avoidable by those down-cast glass plates.

I peal out, leaving a cloud of dust behind. It does not follow, but remains where I once was, drifting toward the house like a shadow. If my mirrors had been up-right, I would have seen the face there. I would have seen those things that mirrors show: those things that no one wants to see. From clock to billowing dust, the face follows me… but I am long gone.

 ***

Glass doors on the Bank shoot sun into my eyes. I squint, looking back at Old Faithful, wishing I could just go home. I have no place in this city, with these people, in these buildings. I reach for the door, but someone brushes my arm as they enter. I pull back and begin to pace, working up the courage for another attempt. Cars whip past me on the street, honking at Old Faithful like she did something wrong. Every whoosh is deafening in my ears, every honk the sound of death. Idle chatter blankets the city, from the lowest pedestrian, to the planes overhead.

A group of women rush at me, like a herd of angry bulls. Horns protrude from the places where their thumbs should be, tapping incessantly on the cell phones they are holding. They careen blindly down the sidewalk that now tunnels my vision. Shoulders bounce as they pass on-coming traffic, paying no mind. Their voices are high-pitched squeals. Like a host of screaming emergency vehicles they grow closer, closer, closer, horn-thumbs tapping against useless electronic devices. They seek to skewer me where I stand, and I pull my elbow in tight. Shoulders bump and twist, leaving me lying on the sidewalk like a discarded cigarette.

I don’t know how long I sat there, my butt mixing with the others around me. The once glowing ends were as disoriented as I felt. They pointed every which way, uselessly scattering the cement slabs like fallen shotgun casings.

I resolve to not mingle with them any longer, and take my eyes from the ground. No one seems to notice my fallen state… no one but the glass Bank doors which stare at me, taunting me, mirroring my own look on their face. The man in the doors looks at me and I shudder as his face begins to stretch. It topples to one side, his lips spreading like a stream of blood across the glass – laughing at me. I watch in horror as the face snaps from my view, leaving nothing but a pair of shoes in front of me.

“Sir?” The shoes begin to speak, pulling me from what should have been a dream. But no, it’s not the shoes. A business-suited man rises in front of me as I look up past the things on his feet. “Are you okay?” Then I realize the man was the one speaking all along. He stretches his hand out to me in a gesture of friendship, and I grab it. He pulls me back to my feet. I see his other hand resting on the glass door, having pushed it open, thus skewing the face I saw therein.

I smile at him through my thick mask of hair, but the gesture is more directed at my stupidity. “I’m fine,” I say.

He steps aside to let me in.

My feet reply, finally clicking against the metal grating between the double doors of the Bank. I keep my eyes straight ahead, and close them when my hand hits the second set of glass panes blocking my entry to the building. No face stretches in the blackness of my mind. No streak of blood laughs at me as the glass yawns from its place in the door frame.

“Watch it, jerk!” I open my eyes to see a large woman standing in front of me, challenging me with her eyes.

“S-sorry,” I manage to stammer out, attempting to get around her. She does not block my way on her continued trek out of the building, but everything seems like a mad attempt while swimming through this sea of people.

The line of folks waiting to see a teller snakes out line a row of sardines. I squish myself into the line, trying not to touch anyone, though the effort is surely pointless.

“Hey! No butting!” Someone pushes me from in front of them, but I don’t know who it is. I never see them in the mass of faces swirling around me. As if by some trick of magic, I find my way to the back of the line. Even now, as I stand there, I can’t tell you what differentiates it from the throng surrounding me.

Things like cellphones and the nature of standing in line might be common to these city folk, but they are as foreign to me as I am to them. However, the new essence creeping into the scene at this moment is familiar to me. The trees around my cabin know it well. They know it as the embodiment of fear. The low hearth I keep well stocked knows it as well. It knows it as warmth, and I know it as comfort. It heats me on late nights, pulls the chill from my bones while the dew still hangs on early morning grass, but it does not comfort me now.

Fire.

Orange tongues lick at the room as people begin to scream. The sardines squishing together in front of me vanish as pandemonium ensues. I turn just in time to be blown back by an explosion of people. My head spins. Peering up from my place on the ground I see the glass-pane doors have shattered. No longer does a face smirk at me from within, but the flames taunt me with a face of their own.

I barely hear the robotic sounding voice coming over the loud speaker, but it is unavoidable. The sound blasts through the building as another explosion rocks it to the foundations. “Remain calm. Make your way to the fire exit at the rear of the building.”

I know not who speaks, but what does it matter? The only voice I can hear now is… everywhere. It hums in the floorboard as I stand, crashed from the ceiling as metal panels fall, and ricochets from the crumbling walls around me. I swim in the shrieking blob of people, being bounced and jostled along against my will. My body is thrown against the wall in that rear hallway we all funnel through.

I hear a crack, but don’t know whether it is my bones or something else. Placing my hands against the wall, I struggle to rise from the ground, closing my eyes against the pain. My hands climb up the wall, one step at a time, until I find my feet. My eyes creek open with fear at the horror I will soon see, but nothing could have prepared me for that moment.

Dizzying eyes jump at me from the shattered glass in mirrored walls. The mass of people behind me is a blur. I see nothing but the monster staring at me. Soon the blur is gone and I face my pursuer. His eyes bore into me as mine open wide in shock and terror.

I whirl around, dizzied by the experience, and almost fall over with the effort. Stretching my arms out to steady myself, I peer at the far wall of the hallway… and it peers back at me. Those eyes surround me, blinking from within the prism-embedded walls. Falling to my knees, I come face to face with my pursuer again. I stare at myself, the fear amplified by those mirrored eyes.

The fire is aglow around me, but it is not the monster. The walls push themselves towards me, straining against support beams. They work as one, but mirroring many. Many faces. Many eyes. Many monsters. My head begins to spin as I scramble to my feet, looking for the escape door. I see it, then again, then again, mirrored in every wall of the place. My own face laughs down at me from beside the door, and I move to the right in an effort to escape the madness. I find no door, only another face staring at me. Another mirror. Another monster.

I scream, and the world screams back at me. Alone, but surrounded by thousands of copies of myself. The hunter meets his prey. I stare down thousands of gun barrels, hear the sound of a million bullets: there is no escape. My pursuer is ever with me, that inescapable face of… me.

The world goes black, and I welcome it. The faces disappear into the flames as blood pours from my skull, shining against the reflective surface beneath me, beside me, all around me. I welcome the flames as they lick at my feet and run up my legs. The burn swirls around in my mind, fading into the inky expanse. I watch the fire sink lower and lower as drowsiness overtakes it. It does not call out for more fuel, and I do not oblige.

Death takes me by the hand, leading down a dark passage. I am led past row upon row of opaque glass in frames. Frames of metal. Frames of wood. Frames of mirrors. The dead mirrors do not speak. No images torture me from their depths, for they are not my own. My mirror calls to me from the end of the hall, that long hall of forgotten lives. Ghostly figures stand, sit, cry in front of mirrors of their own. Some of them scream and punch at the glass, but the remaining shards still speak to them.

The light at the end of this tunnel comes from the sun, rising above the tops of cedar trees. It looks out of my mirror at me, and I peer in at it. I see a lowly cabin, dust still hanging in the air from a departed, rusty truck. A man sits on the back porch, watching the sun make its slow trek into the sky. He hides in a cabin, hides in the trees, hides in the mountains, hides from his monster, but the pursuer is ever watching.

This monster haunts him from the glass in his clock, cranes its neck to see from downcast truck mirrors, laughs at him from glass Bank doors and walls. He can hide from people, alone in the mountains. He can run from society, run from life, run from sanity, run from many monster… but he cannot run from this. The pursuit is over. He nuzzles beneath fallen leafs in an attempt to escape… himself, but every time he looks up, that face stares back at him. His face. His monster. Himself.