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All the rooms in the castle except this one,
- says someone, And suddenly,
- Suddenly only darkness.
When I first saw it, I refused to believe what I saw. Yet, the scars were there, clear as day, physically on his wrist and psychologically on mine. I didn’t care to not be caught staring; I inspected the wounds closely. They were fresh. Not ‘fresh’ as in he’d had a breakdown in the bathroom and found some blades, but fresh enough to be reminiscent of his acts last night.
And I was disgusted, to be quite honest; disgusted and angry. Perhaps it was the strange, selfish part of me that wanted him to be the person I thought he was, but I hated him for it. I counted three, perhaps four cuts, near enough to the mark but not quite; -he was a coward in both ways, then. I didn’t care, and I cared far too much. If I might be honest about myself, for the sake of an introduction, I’m a bundle of complication and controversy. I also have anger management issues. I've had them since I was rather young. Mum used to keep telling me that; she'd say that anger fills your head with hay. I was old enough by then to know that nothing of the sort actually happened, but I understood her point clearly.
Until I became angry. Then nothing else really seemed to matter.
I started reading literature and listening to classical music to cure this, because I was young and my mother didn't think it right to appoint a shrink for me. She was right, mostly. It was a phase that would pass eventually. I feel I've read far too many classics for my own good, and it makes me a bit of an overreacting drama queen, because I relate tragedies to a simple ugly truth. I did this now, and it made me feel indignant.
Another little thing I know all to well about myself but am too proud to change, is that I've always assumed everyone felt this way, because I've always assumed everyone was like me in almost all ways. I like to think that humans have a similar mindset, just like they have a similar anatomy. It makes the world seem less complicated. It isn't a very appealing idea because it seems to defy the famous thought that everyone is unique. I could be wrong, but it was a theory, and I was no exception.
That's enough of an introduction, I think. Perhaps even too much of an introduction? Whatever, I'd like you to know me before you know my story, even if I'm not the main character. This will be a long read. I'm sorry.
Back to the point? he was overreacting to a minor situation. At least that is what I thought. We all exaggerate sometimes. Nothing a small talk can't cure. I was up for the job, and I felt like some sort of hero or life-saver, but when it actually came to it, I couldn't find myself to bring it up.
It must have been the coward in me that told me I had to accept the fact that it was his life, and he could do whatever he wanted with it, even if it meant throwing it away. But for the short while that his sleeve shifted, I wanted to cut him myself. Because that’s what he wanted, wasn’t it?
Why couldn't he keep his goddamn hands in his goddamn pocket like he always did, and not offer to get me any coffee? He’d always wear shirts that seriously needed ironing; he’d always leave the topmost button open. His collar would always be folded the wrong way, and he’d stubbornly refuse to wear a tie (what’s the point of depicting superiority by tying a noose around your neck? He’d say). But never would he forget to button his cuffs. Why couldn’t he be that careful today? How long had he been trying?
Anger dominated the wave of emotions in my head, and I know, because it’s still there. Steven, or rather, Steve here, was a friend and colleague of mine. I suppose I should have begun with that, but like I stated before, the anger is still there. I knew him to be a fine, young man; Dark hair, dark eyes, tall (pretty damned tall) and slightly tanned. He had a great sense of humor, and a pleasant personality. I, on the other hand, was quite different. I was, I am, a person who likes tasks executed in an orderly fashion. I am almost obsessive-compulsive about it. It makes me, me.
A few paragraphs ago (not the bit where I was grumbling), I said that I liked thinking that everyone was alike. It was different with Steve. He was nothing like anybody.
After completing my SATs with a very good score, I had got two degrees in fine arts and a PHD in astrophysics. Mass of controversy, yes. But Steve had half of my qualifications, and he was superior in rank in the university where we did research. Why? His ideas were fantastic, and his observation even more so. I was his acquaintance for only a few days before we became good friends, despite my introversion. He wasn't the first friend I had, however, that was Emily (brilliant professor in astrophysics). But he was the first one to know how much I like coffee. And he'd offer me a cup everyday.
I feel my description isn’t doing him justice, because he shall be the main character of the story, and his mental image is the only thing left of him with me now. But I’ll get to that. I’ll skip the unnecessary details right to the bit when the camera pans to where the action is.
I’ll cut to the chase.
"Your hand." I finally spoke, after being quiet for most of the day. It was lunchtime, and he had asked me simply and clearly what had been bothering me. I decided to mirror his attitude.
"Well, legs don't cut easily."
"Seriously, Steven, why do you do it?"
I was annoyed at this point, particularly at his careless satire. It had taken me enough courage to ask; now I needed an answer.
"You could be simply overreacting," I said quietly. "There's always another option. You can talk to someone. Me, for example."
"Well, it's not-"
"Don't tell me it's not easy, because it sure as hell isn't and I know. But your mind is making it harder. Analyze the situation and what you have to lose."
But I had begun the conversation late enough, and now it was time to go back to work. I did not wish to do so. I glared at him for the longest time I could manage. This was rather uncharacteristic of me. What made it harder was that his eyes refused to move, too. You must know that strange feeling you have in the pit of your stomach when you make eye contact with a complete stranger for a tad too long? It's like two strange psychic powers colliding. I'm a person of science, yes, but I do believe that the human mind has many yet unsolved mysteries, and cannot be underestimated. Maybe not psychic or telepathic; that's a strong word that makes me seem like a heretic, but a mental connection of a sort. The psychic collision here was too strong for me to handle. Eventually, he spoke.
"I have nothing to lose, Chloe. And maybe I can show you why soon enough."
This is frustrating. It was frustrating then, too, but right now, it's a whole different reason. It's because I remember. Writing is an ordeal when you're restless. I'm nowhere in this story, -you are nowhere in this story. And there's so much more to write.
So, in a nutshell, I went to work, found out my much esteemed friend was suicidal, didn’t like it, came back home.
It was about 7:00 in the evening. It was June at the time, so it wasn’t dark just yet. If I were to describe the color of the sky, I’d say it was blue gone wrong. The kind of off-blue you get before a wash dries across the canvas; too much water in the color, a muddy color on the sky. It makes the whole painting look dreary. No brightness in the neighborhood to give the color of the sky a purpose, but already, dull yellow incandescent bulbs were lighting up windows like the neighborhood were a beehive. I was standing outside Steve’s door after an hour of driving. It wasn’t too late to turn back, and that was the only logical option right then, but something kept me there in the bleak atmosphere. I needed to vent this out.
Maybe I can show you why soon enough.
I’d been there only once before; it was autumn then, and he had called me over for a reason I can’t quite remember. The place didn’t seem to have changed at all since then, except perhaps that the trees had been beautiful shades of orange and yellow, and they would crunch under my feet as I walked, making everything seem more welcoming than it actually was. It might have, however, been the state of mind I was in, but even with the sun still up and shining, I disliked his neighborhood.
Steve lived in a small flat in a community called ‘’something’’ garden. I've been having trouble remembering names lately, but I'm sure it was something along the lines of that. I'd made a mental note at the moment, but memories fade.
It was rather big, with a park and a few small fountains that never worked. They must have, some years in the past, but not anymore. It was an old place. In the garden, the paint on the slides and swings was chipping off, and apparently nobody had bothered to pay any attention to it or repaint it. The buildings were quite evidently subject to acid rain, and they were left unfurnished, just like the park. I was walking by the park, which, like the society, was quite large and useless. Half of it had a concrete floor and pipelines that dug into it. I could see a child, all alone, playing on one of the pipes; trying to keep balanced as he walked on it. There were many trees that surrounded the park, though, and I couldn’t quite see the kid very well. The other half of the park had more trees. Well, perhaps not the whole half. There was a muddy place with swings and slides and a few patches of grass here and there, and then a piece of land where tiles had been scattered clumsily. There was more grass there, and, as I said before, trees growing wildly. An open drainage system ran around the park and under the stairs that led to it, but it was mostly dry, and so it didn’t really stink. There was a slope, though, and as I walked down, I noticed the milky water accumulated there. Some leaves had fallen in, stirred by the mechanical wind. It was rather humid and uncomfortable, unlike the rest of the city. For a while I wondered why. There was not a bird in sight.
“Oh hello, Chloe!”
This made me jump, and snap out of my thoughts. I was at Steve’s door already, and he had opened it just a little to see who it was. He did that; he was a bit of a paranoid person at times. Not excessively, but considerably so. It was fully open now, as he had recognized me. There was no turning back.
“Hi! I, uh…” I stammered, looking for an excuse to be there.
Thank you, Steve. That helped avoid a lot of unnecessary talk.
His living room was rather pretty. The walls were in a dichromatic scheme of blue and green, and the lighting was delicately low, even though there weren’t too many windows. Everything was rather well planned, considering the heat in the summer in the area. It reminded me of my own home back in California, where I used to live with mum. It didn't last very long as we kept moving, but it was the one place I remember very well. It was rather lonely, and I didn't have many friends, and mum didn't let me have a dog.
Dad? At the moment I don't think I thought I had a father. Things have changed. I cannot explain it just yet.
Steve didn't have a pet, either, but I think he had a bird when he was young. I was simply guessing, though, because I've noticed that he knows how to take care of pet birds. It could simply have been a random hobby.
Steven was hospitality at its best, and I was glad, because he didn’t focus our conversations on me, but something else entirely, which reduced the pressure of my having to explain why I was there so suddenly, after such a long time. I didn’t really want to explain; I was feeling stupid enough. I had that suffocating feeling in my stomach, but then it faded. We spoke for hours, and it was a good conversation, because I almost forgot all about the scars and the dead bird.
The Dead Bird? I woke up on the couch the next day. I felt rather embarrassed, but I remembered nothing. It was like a hangover without the painful side effects. I checked the clock. 5:38. Well, I was a bit of a light sleeper when I was not on my own bed. I wanted to leave ASAP, but first I had to apologize. I wasn’t sure what for, but I had to.
I decided to take his leave after he woke up. It was only proper. But I couldn’t sleep at all, so I had to find a way to kill time. I wondered if it would be okay if I took a shower. Then I wondered some more, and chastised myself for being a terrible person. Ugh.
Apparently I didn’t need to kill time. Time took care of that. Soon enough, as I was heading to the bathroom, I heard a soft groan from inside. It was very faint -faint enough to be simply my imagination. I was debating over the possibilities with my own mind when I heard it again. It was definitely Steve in the bathroom. What the hell was he doing?
Another groan; louder this time. It sounded like he was calling for me. It sounded like my name.
The door was open.
Would it be an intrusion to his privacy if I opened the door?
But I was going to do it anyway.
I stepped in.
He was sprawled on the ground, writhing in pain. For a while I just stood and stared, paralyzed by the sight. There was a little blood smeared on his clothes, and spilled on the ground. No attempt had been made to wipe the bleeding cuts on his wrists and ankles. The incisions were deep; deep enough to kill him.
But he lay there, barely moving, muttering to himself time and again, reminding me he wasn’t dead. I think he knew I was there, because he might have said 'Chloe' once or perhaps twice. His expression was distant, and that’s the only word I can use to describe it, other than ecstatic. It was like he was on drugs, but I saw nothing but blades. This was his daily dose of pain. Here was a man so detached from reality, he simply didn't care who knew.
It was difficult to think straight; everything was hazy. I didn't do the obvious. I never screamed. I didn’t call the police, or the ambulance; in fact I doubted he even needed an ambulance. I had only enough sense left in to not ponder, but turn and get the hell out of there.
In the living room, in the broken yard,
- in the back of the car as
- in the back of the car as
- the lights go by.
And most of them useless.
I didn't want to talk about what had happened at Steve's house. In fact, I didn't want to talk to anyone about anything at all. Not at this hour, anyway. I had tried to re-read the largest book I could find (Great Expectations, for that matter), but I couldn't get myself to focus. Finally, I had decided to spend a few lonely hours on the Internet, until it was 7:30 and the weekend began for the rest of the town. Everything was quiet at the moment. I found it rather disconcerting. I didn't want to talk, but I needed human company. I knew there would be some on the Internet (because, revelation! The world is round), although I didn't trust online chats. I found a small search engine and began looking for answers I hadn't got a few hours ago. There was nothing so far, and I was looking up 'self harm' at the moment so I was pretty much out of keywords already.
Self-harm-Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Cutting and self harm: warning signs and treatment
Self harm increasing amongst girls - study
How to support someone who self harms
No; nothing worth reading, indeed. The final link on the page seemed to have a live chat, but I wasn't up to it. Besides, I didn't think anyone would be able to help me in my situation. Yet, to kill time, I kept looking. I was somewhere around the 30th page, blankly staring at links, when I found it.
I've forgotten the name of the website, but I think it was on the 'Webs' network. It was rather small; in fact it comprised of four pages which were blogs made by anonymous users. The creator of the website (Fluttershysomething, [Bronies, bronies everywhere!], I think she was called) was the only auto-confirmed user. The other anonymous users had no IP addresses, when I checked later. This was possible, of course, with the use of websites like no-IP.com (did I mention I'm also an amateur hacker?), but what made me wonder was why people would go through all this trouble. Perhaps it was only a single person or maybe two who contributed to the website. I'd never know for sure.
The link had brought me directly to one of the blogs on the website, which spoke about people cutting themselves in the wrists and ankles. It was quite bland, really. I'd post it here but I haven't been able to find the website ever since, as I didn't remember its name. What had brought me there, though, was the picture of a person, sprawled on the ground with his wrists cut, looking just like Steven did then. He was a different person, though. The blog claimed that this person was trying to contact a higher state of reality by trying to rise above mortal pain.
The other blogs spoke about gods; I think it had a few Aztec images of humanoid creatures with freakishly long legs. Everywhere was mythology -although somewhere I saw aliens- and it all pointed at these creatures with strange, swirly limbs and a few other, taller creatures with scythes. Apparently logic didn't exist around these creatures or in their plane. It was simply life, death and fear.
I sat back in my chair, and sipped some strong coffee. At times like these, you really need to keep your head together. I had stumbled upon some sort of website for theories on a certain religion. Worse, I had seen it in practice so I was compelled to believe every word.
Was Steve part of this esoteric cult that wanted to remind followers of their mortal and inferior self every day? Call me crazy, but it seemed to make sense, and it was all the theories I had on the matter.
"I can't, I just can't..." I closed my eyes tightly. I had to let this go and live my own life. I had to pretend that this had never happened. Over involvement was never a good thing. In fact, I didn't think I'd thought of anything other than suicidal tendencies since the previous day. I couldn't let this be an obsession.
But I'd gone too far already.
My bedroom is rather large for the size on my house. I live in a small bungalow in the quietest part of the city, which makes getting to work an ordeal. But getting back here has always been comforting at the end of the day. In my bedroom, there is a large window on the wall opposite to my bed, next to the desk where my computer is, where I was sitting right then. Out this window, was the figure of a man.
I almost fell off my chair when I saw Steve standing in my backyard. He was still in his pajamas, an old T-shirt and long, baggy pants, actually, and he was looking right at me. Mine was the only light at this hour, and it illuminated his face in a terrifying way. I could see his eyes, still distant and his wrists, still bleeding. His ankles were covered, but I knew they were bleeding too. The generation would call him undead, a zombie if you will, but I knew that he was very much alive. I was shocked, but somehow not surprised. He had said that he wanted to show me why, and perhaps he was here for that reason.
Not today, though. I banged the switches with my fist and the PC went out with a pop. I wasn't going to use logic here, no, an aura around him wouldn't allow me to. I was going to go lock myself up in the closet and hope he went away. The telephone lines were dead, anyway. He obviously didn't want me getting help or running from the house. He could come get me, but I was ready to put up a fight. Or hide while I could.
He didn't come. Maybe he had just been waiting for me to make the wrong move. But I found myself alive till the morning faded into the night. I barely ate or slept for three days, although there was no sign of Steve the whole time. The university was getting worried by the time I went back there, and when I did, I realized that Steven had gone missing. Somehow I was glad, somehow I wasn't; but it didn't matter. Not anymore. It was all over.
I carried on with my life, but I was still searching for Steve's little secret. And now I had some idea what to look for. Eventually, my search led me to a researcher in Sweden, who claimed that he had some idea on the basis of these bandy-legged beasts.
I couldn't meet him personally, of course, but I managed to converse with him through email.
I'm going to get right to the point in this message to you, so pardon me if I come across as a little short. Besides, there isn't much information on the matter anyway, and I'd rather refrain from giving away too much.
My theory for the so-called bandy-legged beasts? It's simple; they thrive in an animalistic way, and hope to rise above it. You see, after everything, all the education and work and ideas of pure genius, this is what we all boil down to. Death. Nothing matters in its presence. The people with the bandy legs wish to accept that, and that's why they are said to have a realm of pure fear.
Not mortal fear, though. Fear of material things. The realm is created out of their most torturous memory. And all this is supposed to make you feel happy; it's supposed to keep you in this constant state of euphoria. It sounds twisted, yes, but that's the lore.
And to be fair, it isn't a famous idea either. This 'religion', as I shall refer to it now, was one of the most brutal and fascinating, but also very esoteric. There's barely a mention of it anywhere, in any book or old text. Now all that is left is the idea. An idea that has been derived from various others, thus making it impossible to pin down the source.
There is a talk about returning from this land. Most of their rituals involve a blood sacrifice, -and your question about cutting one's wrist? It's to get in and out safely. Because everyone needs to be sane for some time. The euphoria will consume you if you find the part of the realm especially created for you.
Why did they feel happy in a realm created out of their fears? We are yet to know. Or maybe not. Some things are best left to themselves.
I do hope you're not indulging in any activities described in the rituals, though, for I fear for the health of anybody who knows of the bandy-legged beasts. Remember that it is but an idea, and most of all, it is history.
I assured him I was doing nothing of the sort and that he had been a most valuable source of information. I hadn't told him about Steven, for that was something I needed to keep to myself. I could tell that he, as a historian, almost believed that this realm could exist, but he wouldn't admit it, just like me. And just like me, he was too afraid to know for sure but curious enough to want to.
But time goes by, and thoughts drift away. Three months had passed and there was still no sign of Steven. The police had decided to stop looking soon enough; perhaps even too soon. I went back to stargazing, and Emily shared my office now. It was a rather large office, so I was okay with it. Also, I liked working with her, and I soon found myself becoming rather close to her. I trust people easily, it's my little flaw. I'm not a very likable person, though, in my opinion (and a few others'), so I don't have many friends anyway.
I almost forgot about Steve. I knew my little domestic search wouldn't lead anywhere, so I slowly managed to quit. The implications of what the historian had said were still embedded in my mind, but they were stowed away safely. They'd come crashing back someday.
This day came soon enough, in a candlelit room with the man I thought I loved as he knelt down and pulled out a ring from his pocket. It took me a while to realize exactly what was going on, but as soon as I did, I simply had to refuse.
I've never known myself to be physically attracted to him. But he'd managed to get into my mind. I refused plainly, and chose a possibly mental man who had been missing for about four months now over a person I'd spent quite some time with as my 'boyfriend'. I could tell he wasn't expecting a refusal; not after such a spectacular dinner; not after such a big ring. But I chose insanity, and it was my life's decision. What do we all come down to? Survival. That is all. I somehow had managed to convince myself that it didn't matter. I somehow managed to convince myself I was the one who could rise above it.
So I came back crying that day, unable to understand just why I had done such a terrible thing. And after the painful breakup, tears and arguments, through cold showers and a stormy night, I'd come to Steve's house with a false hope of finding him there. The door was unlocked, as this house was not owned by anyone anymore. I sobbed into my palms as I sat down in the house now devoid of furniture and the warmth it once had. Outside the door, a bit to the right, a dead bird lay just where it had been many months ago. I almost forgot all about it again, but I was keen on observing every detail of the house and what it had been like the last time I was there. Outside the widow that stood bare, without any curtains, I could see some children playing in the park I so despised. Some trees had been cut, and the grass was more abundant now. It looked freshly watered. I wanted to walk on it barefooted, and feel the spray of water on my feet. I've always loved that feeling.
"I thought you'd come back."
"I thought you'd be gone."
"I cannot work with restrictions; I've got two worlds to walk the lands of." He held up his wrist, still bleeding but more than before. The researcher had told me about blood sacrifices. "Besides, I've been here a long time."
"The euphoria's consumed you, has it?"
"Ah, no, I wouldn't be here then."
He looked at me sternly. His eyes were glazed, and mine watered as I looked into them. I'd come here a while ago for answers, and then he'd come to give them to me. This was my third chance, and I knew it wasn't simply chance.
"Come with me. I'll finally show you why."
So I did.
- In the airport
- bathroom's gurgle and flush, bathed in
- bathroom's gurgle and flush, bathed in
- a pharmacy of
Happiness. Extreme happiness.
It was all I felt in the beginning. Beside me, a familiar figure lay chuckling. My eyes took a while to adjust. It felt as if they had rolled all the way back into my head, and it hurt, and I liked the pain. Scratch that. I loved it. It was the strangest feeling ever.
I lifted my arm. Then, swinging it hard, I slapped myself across my face, savoring the stinging feeling in my cheek as the blood flushed it red. I lay back for a while, not moving; not feeling; completely unaware of my surroundings. I blinked a bit.
Then, after perhaps too long to be completely healthy, my eyes adjusted. Everything was a swirl of shades of green. There were trees with blood red leaves, and barks covered in yellow mosses. The wet, fresh, green grass sprayed my face with water. I stared right up into the void. The trees seemed to stretch to infinity too, as I looked. Nothing ended here. Nothing but sanity.
Hanging down by ropes from the outspread branches, were corpses of birds. The ropes were probably jute, though it was difficult to tell. They hung rather low; the ropes must have been very long; and I could see the dried, clotted blood on the fibers of the rope. They were rather thick too, perhaps the width of a thumb, and they were tightly coiled about the birds' necks. As I saw, another bird fell from the endless distance of the trees, and came to an abrupt stop and bounce in midair as the rope held it up. I tried to trace the rope, but there were so many now, falling from infinity. It was raining dead birds.
The figure beside me had broken into a hysterical laughter now. This was his realm, then. His tortured memory that haunted him every second of his life. As for me, mine was there too. Already I could remember the forest. A wave of recognition swept over me. A mental conflict over whether to laugh or cry tormented me from within. The struggle was endless, just like the sky.
I tried to get up, chuckled again, and fell flat on my back. My hands were bent in an unreal way. As I tried again, I realized that so were my legs. They were, rickety for want of a better word. My bones had simply bent at places they were not supposed to, and had elongated a few inches. I held on to a tree, chuckled again, and hoisted myself up.
"Steve..." I whispered over and over, chuckling occasionally as I did so. "Steve, I can't take it. I don't think I can..."
I felt a stream of tears escape my eyes as I laughed again. This was worse than torture. This was like being forced to be happy in the memory you've suppressed for most of your life. And yet most of the happiness I experienced was genuine. I cannot explain it, not until they have a new word for this feeling.
He got up, more expertly than I had, and led the sobbing mess that was me out the forest. I'm not sure how he did it. All I know is that we were walking. Well, he was walking, I was taking his support and stumbling. I think I remember a door, but that could just be another strange modification in my memory as a result of trying to use my head. This place didn't have any laws. Everything was fluid; so fluid that it messed with you. I knew that I simply had to accept things, no matter what. This was my worst nightmare unleashed into reality. I say 'reality' because it was all too real. More than reality itself.
"Birds. Why birds?" I turned to Steve with my overly long neck.
"Why the forest?"
"You must have guessed already. Memories."
"I'm not asking you to state the obvious, Chloe. I want to know what memory it was that linked you to that forest, for I sure as hell don't remember it as my memory."
The forest was the place where I had run away from a certain incident that involved my father. Everything seemed so inescapably wide, and tall. I was seven, then, and I was afraid. The forest had been my shelter. A frighteningly dark one, but it was a shelter in all conscience. And it was alive. I could feel it.
I didn't run too far. I waited on the border, in fear of getting lost. But I had to stay hidden for long enough. Long enough being a very precise while, because everything depended on it.
Back to the point, my father, pardon my reverence, was a drunk. I didn't hate him for it; he was my father. And he was fun to be with. I've forgotten where we lived at the moment -we moved a lot, really- but the place had a lot of pubs. It was like my father's paradise. I don't remember his being around very often, but here, he was always outside with his 'friends' from the bar. He'd just won them over by bying them free drinks, and I knew it.
He'd take me to these pubs occasionally, when mum wasn't around, and even offer me a drink or two. What kind of responsible father offers a little girl a beer? Ugh. I'd never accept anyway; it was too bitter for my taste. I liked food that was sweet or sour or both. I still do, but I can never mind a drink.
We were at the pub, as usual, when it happened. The bartender knew us all too well. So did many other people -my father's so called friends. But that day, something happened, and a fight broke out. My father was involved before I knew it.
I started crying, as I often did around fights. I'd never heard my father raise his voice before. Not in anger, anyway. But he was drunk, and he didn't care if his daughter was watching. He wouldn't have cared if someone took me away. I know that much, because someone tried.
In the commotion, a little girl sat crying, and from behind her came a man.
He held my hand and pulled me away. I knew at that moment that it wasn't to take me back home. The men quarreled on, and the fight became physical. The sober held my father back (in vain, of course, my father was very strong) while the drunk helped him beat the man. I remember my father pulling out his trusty switch-blade, and I remember blood.
It was a blunt blade, but I'm sure with my father's fiery (fueled by alcohol, mind) passion and strong arm, he must have injured the man badly, if not taken his life.
The sheriff was soon to arrive, and I knew my father would have escaped by then. I would have gone too, with the man who was pulling me away and to the door. My father would have hid, and not understood why his clothes were stained red and his daughter was missing until and he was in a dark, cold place until the headache that the next morning would bring forth. I was on my own, here. Nobody would listen if I screamed, or they wouldn't care. The ongoing events were too interesting.
I broke away, and ran to the forest, through the hedges and over the fireline. But the other man didn't follow for long. He was too drunk, or too weak. He gave up at the hedges, eyeing me as I ran away. And this was the forest, making me live it all over again.
I've always had a fancy that my father wasn't my real father. At least I did after that incident. They never found him, and I never told them where to look. I don't know why, actually, I think I do, but I couldn't.
I hated my father for it, and so many more things. Well, no, that's the only memory I have of my father. Strange how I had never noticed that before. Strange how I didn't remember him being around before.
And then it came, the doubt; the realisation.
Did I... Even have a father?
Who was that man?
"It didn't look like it. You're still shaken, I can tell."
"Can you, now? Maybe it was the whole endeavor," I snapped, "of birds falling out the sky."
"Ah, yes," He regarded me thoughtfully for a while. "I'll get to that."
He didn't. Not yet, anyway. We simply kept on walking. We were on a road now; a highway. It was dark, and there was actually a sky. I was grateful for it. I could see stars now, and even planets, perhaps bigger than they should appear. Oh my, the sky was apocalyptic. Planets with rings, so close to the earth; stars burning at a seemingly spitting distance, and yet illuminating not more than a centimeter of the night. The moon was absolutely huge, as compared to the giant planets and stars. It felt like any moment now, everything would crash onto us, leaving the world scattered across the cosmos, its fragments making blazing impacts on stranger sands.
Probably the manifestation of what I do for a living.
And then, in a flash, a star exploded. It happened in a second, but I could see the whole phenomenon in what seemed to be slow motion, and it added a strange, unreal, dramatic quality to it. The old, blue star shrank to a blazing, lonely blue flame, then a shell of fire seemed to cover it. This shell expanded to twice the size of the star and maybe more, until it dissipated into space. Then, simply darkness where it had once been.
Then it happened again.
A bike whizzed by, an inch from my left shoulder. Then, as the sky burst into a splendid firework of exploding planets and stars, more bikes came, their riders clothed in shiny black jackets and dark helmets that I doubted they could see through. They went straight, along the way, and a few almost hit us. They didn't seem to see us and all they seemed to care about was getting to wherever the hell they were getting to. One passing so very close to me made me stumble on my bandy legs. Steve's support saved me from being run over. The road, when I looked, extended as far as the eye could see. This wasn't anything that could have evolved from my thoughts. Steve gave me a meaningful look. This wasn't his memory, either. It seemed to me that this was the resultant sum, a world, of somebody else's thoughts, dreams and fears. This was what that person roughly came down to; his most frightening memory. Bit strange though. Almost being hit by a bike? All of these seemed to brush past me at a frightening speed, but never knock me over. Steven seemed calm about it too. -Well, as calm as one can get when almost being hit by motorbikes under a blazing sky. This person's life seemed rather happy so far, if this was his most frightening moment. For as far as I'd known, this place was forever in a state of flux and unforgiving. Bad combination. Very bad.
But no, it wasn't simply being hit in a accident that had frightened this person. I'd find out soon enough.
Behind us, more explosions as vehicles rolled over in slow motion. The white markings on the road turned blue momentarily, and before I could wonder if what I'd seen was a hallucination or not, they turned green. Just like this, they kept on switching colors as we walked, and the bikers kept dying again and all over again in a terrifyingly symphonic fashion, all around us. Finally, I saw a shed in the distance. The color of the markings became darker, and browner, until the asphalt was painted with blood and we couldn't see them. We had arrived.
The shed was placed roughly a yard from the road, if you could call it that. I saw a manhole, leading to another dark place. For a while I thought what stirred in it was water, but then I found that it was bugs. Another realm, another nightmare.
Outside, the shed was a small, squat, square structure made of wooden planks put together as an excuse for building something. Outside, it had a window, a simple affair, actually; it was a hole in the wall with two sticks crossing it. But nothing could be seen through it. Outside, it was a normal little old shed, purposed for nothing in particular.
Outside, it seemed like the only normal thing in the realm.
Then we stepped in.
We were greeted by a long corridor, winding away to oblivion. It was rather narrow, with barely enough place for three people to stand side-by-side. I couldn't see much as the light was rather diffused here, but I knew that this was not the shed I'd seen from the outside. This was much more, to the point of being a threateningly long void of space.
I placed my hand on the wall. The holes and flaws in the wall were tufted with dry grass, and it pricked my hand. I realized how everything was so sickeningly real: the wood, the nails pierced into it, the rust, the hay, the slight smell of decay in the air, the greasy liquid oozing from between the cracks...
I noticed a hole in the wall; it was big enough to see through. I took my chance.
"Steve, go outside and pop your finger through this little crack."
"It doesn't make a difference, it's just-"
"Just do it, okay?"
"I've been here before. No point trying to understand any of this."
"I want to see for myself. I want to be able to think. I have to."
He obliged at last. He walked out the door (surprisingly, there was one; it was old, of course, but functional. It didn't even creak. Probably lubricated by the grease) and stuck his finger though the little hole.
Behind the wall, at the other end of the void, I could see his finger. I leaned ahead and pinched it, wondering if this were an illusion.
"Oh, uh, sorry." I said dreamily. Steve's voice sounded so close, as if the source were on the other side of the wooden wall, not far away beyond the division of the worlds. He came back in. I noticed how his index finger seemed a tad longer, about enough to make it seem like he had two middle fingers placed side by side. It had deformed, of course, but yet, it wasn't long enough to penetrate the void that was between the outer wall and this one. I remembered the window outside; I still wonder what would happen if I'd asked him again, but I didn't. I don't think the window was even there anymore.
We walked forward in the dim light, that seemed to emerge from no apparent source. I traced my hand along the greasy, old wall as I walked, feeling the texture I the wood. It reminded me of home. The grease made me uncomfortable, but it was strangely a comfort I had never embraced before. Steven seemed repelled by the walls, on the other hand. I supposed he was simply too detached from what I called home, and he didn't want to remember it again.
"You said you had been here before. This isn't your fear, or your mind."
He didn't answer.
"Whose is it, then?"
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence that preceded my question. Steven looked around in the dark for a while, at everything but me. Then he stopped.
"I will?" I raised my brow.
"Yes. Soon enough. Some worlds are irreparably intertwined. This is what brought me here."
I started to walk again, rather abruptly. Sometimes awkward silence is better that awkward conversation. I was determined to see where this would lead me. Us. Sometimes I seemed to forget Steve was even there. It was the feeling of helplessness, I suppose. Perhaps it was just the fact that he was so quiet. I felt alone, anyway. And there was a knot in my stomach that made me nauseous. After a while of walking I started to wonder whether there was an end to this shed. This tightened the knot, of course, because it reminded me of the sky I'd fallen under; the sky of nothing, that I'd been sucked into. It reminded me of the birds, and the ropes, the loose jute sticky with blood and stiff like a murderer's weapon, as if the bird had weighed more than it seemed to by merely looking at it. It reminded me of the forest, and all my fears, and the person I thought was... My father. I turned around to a dark passage that led to nowhere. I looked back ahead to the same passage recreated with minor differences. I knew I was caught in limbo, and the only way out was past this unspeakable place in the depths of this 'shed'. The thing that had brought Steven to all this, and then myself. The source.
A painful smile crept on my lips. I was afraid, and happy; so very happy.
Finally, after hours of walking, we were there. Although at the moment I cannot truly define hours; it was simply a very long while. Time is but an illusion, isn't it? It's all about relativity. I didn't know we had arrived, though. At least not instantly. It was when I felt something hard and sticky by my leg, and I traced it with my toes. It was leaning against the wall, whose greasy texture had evolved to something membranous: I had spent a while pulling this layer off. It wasn't paint, of course. It was an uneven coat of something like dried glue, but not quite dried, if you know what I mean. I looked down at what I had found in the little light there, and found a corpse. It was mostly decayed, like a stretched skin on a skeleton, and it had been decapitated. I could make out the silhouette of the backbone protruding from the neck. There was a pool of dried blood around it and under my bare feet, on the wooden floor, which felt like the wall I had been tracing the whole time.
Repulsed, I withdrew my hand from the wall and backed away. Almost suddenly, I noticed the overwhelmingly pungent smell in the air; perhaps I was used to it by then, but I could withstand it. I decided to walk around the corpse, and to Steve, who had stepped over it and gone ahead. I traced its legs. They curled and twisted at impossible angles, and covered a large area of the floor as they did. I realized that there was no walking around this, so I stepped over it.
My leg landed right on the corpses' leg. It sank in a bit and then I could hear a faint, sickening crack. Damn my terrible judgement. But that wasn't the worst bit. The worst bit was when my foot was still there, I was trying to retain my balance, and I realized the 'corpse' was not a 'corpse'.
I didn't want to be alone? Perhaps I'd wished too hard.
I fell, right onto the not-so-dead body as the leg wriggled under me. I felt around in the pool of dried blood, scrambling to get away from the being. Its legs slithered in its own sticky fluids like snakes. I managed to crawl ahead and away from it, occasionally slipping on the sticky, membranous floor. There was still dried blood in my nails from when I had pulled of the coating on the wall. I didn't care, though. I scampered ahead, laughing like a maniac and screaming in unequal turns, avoiding as many of the corpses lying there as I could, and failing to do so. There were just too many, and my legs wouldn't allow it. By now they were longer, thinner, and bendy. I accidentally tripped on a person's leg and caught his neck once (they were all headless), and his arms flailed around restlessly, hitting me quite a few times. I was utterly terrified, and so happy. I was drooling and crying and possibly bleeding, but I didn't feel any of it. Steven was running, too, in my direction. I found his hand in the dark soon enough, and pulled myself upright.
"YOU. HAVE. TO. REMAIN. CALM."
I looked at him, then nodded slowly, wiping my tears and saliva with my overly-long hands.
"I'M SERIOUS. DO YOU WANT TO END UP LIKE THEM, CHLOE?!"
Everything was whirling; I could barely understand him. I managed to let out a giggle before I collapsed.
I should have absolutely blacked out, but I didn't. I lay there, leaned against the wall beside another of those dreaded creatures-no, people. They were people, who were simply not dead.
"Come on, we're close."
I didn't want to walk. After all this, a sense of tiredness took over me. I turned to the headless person beside me, and closed my eyes, willing myself to Just. Faint.
Steven dragged me along for the rest of the journey. He was strong, yes, but couldn't carry me, not with his disproportioned limbs. My dress was torn, covered in flakes of blood clots. My legs were too long for it. Funny, how just a while ago, I was with somebody else, all dressed up for the occasion. I wondered where Steven was, before this. I turned to him; white shirt, cuffs done perfectly, no tie. This made me smile-and genuinely. Bit of a first, actually, now that I think of it.
He dropped me off (literally) a while later. There, was another one of the decapitated people. 'Only one that's real,' he informed me. All the others were figments of this girl's mind; they were people she knew, people she didn't. Ships that passed through the night, but stayed, I'd say. This particular girl was mutilated beyond recognition; parts of her body were cut out and the wounds were still bleeding as if they were fresh. Perhaps they were. She was holding a book which was years old and still damp, and the contents were probably illegible. I picked it up and flicked through. I was right; the sentences were a single illegible scrawl. These were the answers I needed.
I tried to stand up, but her hand shot up and held my shoulder. I didn't care about getting dirty again, really, but the gesture shocked me. Her neck began spluttering blood. Seemed to me like she wanted to convey a message.
But I pulled away, tripping on chains as I did, and she fell back, defeated. Why the hell was she in chains? I turned around to Steve, who was regarding her with some thought. He laughed a bit, then turned his back to me. I followed his gaze to a pillar, somewhat out of place in the shed. It was large, and broad, and it's head touched the roof. I hadn't realized it, but the roof had been gradually tilting upwards. Now it was triple our height. That was one large, out of place, pillar. Beside it, another, thin pillar.
"No... It isn't harvest season yet," He mumbled. "It's alright."
And then I saw it through the darkness. The pillar had a humanoid shape. No features, but a torso, limbs and an oval head. It was holding a scythe, it seemed.
"Just be very quiet, and we'll be safe, okay?" He whispered without turning.
I was in no condition to ask questions. I stood there, waiting for him to tell me what to do.
"Come, let's get out of here."
Out of here? I was honestly beginning to believe that there was no out. I was more than ready to be convinced otherwise. I followed him as he led me again, and as it turned out, the end was pretty close.
'The end' was a door, just like the one we'd entered the shed with. What it led to was a mystery. We simply stood there for a while, in the blackness, wondering whether to open the door or not. I could tell that he hadn't any idea what would happen if we did, either.
I could still see the silhouette of the dismembered girl at the corner of my eye. A question about her was bothering me. I was afraid to speak, so I whispered, "Why was she-"
And from behind us, a sound like a steam engine bellowed. The earth shook. The wind howled. It was the girl, screaming, but like a train, the chains that held her down causing an unnaturally high pitched 'clink' as they were dragged and banged against the walls, and the pillar, moving steadily towards us.
We closed the door behind us, and I could feel it as Steven dragged me along as he ran as fast as he could manage. I got up, and shrugged him off. He turned to me, uncertain for a while, but left as soon as the earth shook again, leaving me alone in the part of the realm that was especially created for me. Slowly, closing my eyes, I let the euphoria consume me.
Yes, I was there at last.
- My hands looking weird, my face
- My hands looking weird, my face
- weird, my feet too far away.
As a child, I couldn't sleep without a nightlight. We used to shift a lot though; it was a part of my mother's job description. She was a military officer, and my role model, for I had never heard of a female soldier in the many books I'd read or anywhere else, for that matter. She's the reason why I'm a bit of a feminist. Her job, like I said before, required us to move a lot, and because of this, I couldn't always hold a sentimental value to anything I owned. I got attached easily, and I still do, but I could also let go.
I've forgotten where we lived at the time, but I remember we didn't have a nightlight then. Must have forgotten it, I guess, while moving. Putting up a nightlight had become a bit of a tradition by now. We'd be living in a rented apartment for not more than a year, till school got over, so mum thought it didn't really matter. I couldn't sleep without her beside me, though. But sometimes, she'd be late, and I'd have to leave the lights on till she came home. Monsoons were the worst, because the lights would go out at times.
We didn't have a nightlight after that, because my mother thought I'd have got over it by now. And I did, but it took me a while. As I grew and evolved, I found that there was no logical base for my fears, and by analyzing the thoughts I'd had as a kid, I came to realize that it wasn't really darkness I had been afraid of. I had been afraid of not seeing what lay ahead. I had been afraid, in short, of going blind.
And now -then- I saw nothing of what lay ahead. Everything was swirls of black. I felt like if I just reached my hand out, I would be able to cause a ripple in the pool of darkness that had enveloped me. Was I blind at last?
Light blared into my eyes. It was blinding -yes, blinding. It was another swirl, white this time, and it made me feel just as blind as the blackness had. A shrill note lingered in the air as the whiteness blazed brightly. It was faint, and yet, loud enough. In the distance, I could hear someone's voice, calling for me. I fell to the ground, covering my eyes and years the best I could with my long, stick-like fingers, but I couldn't see them anyway. All I saw was white, creeping in through the now-wide spaces between my fingers. I couldn't blink, I don't know why. The shrill note became louder and louder until I couldn't take it any more. I burst into tears and hysterical laughter, that of a madwoman, and pulled at my hair, tearing them from my skull as I did. Every time I got a handful out, I'd do it again, and again, and again.
And the blackness and the silence would be back, too, periodically, leaving nothing behind but ghost images of things that weren't really there, and the same high pitched note in my imagination. The silence was more deafening than the sound, the blackness more blinding than the light. What was better, it amplified each time. The lights went out, and back on, gaining frequency until my eyes would drop off from their sockets in exhaustion.
My realm was only two things.
And black -I saw something red, blurred up and dull. It looked vaguely like two narrow slits placed end to end
And black -Its eyes were open, a dull, red glow emanating from them.
And black -sorry, Chloe, that it had to come to this
And black -but you knew it too, in your subconscious,
And black -He's coming, now. And there's no point talking,
And black -but these chains look good on you. I've always loved that dress, too
White. -And I felt a piercing pain in my wrists as he drew my blood. I tried to move, but chains confined me. I wonder where he found them, or if he had them ready in the shed.
And black -I'd expected to get out at the shed, really,
White -it all came together, why she was in chains, why she had been torn apart. Own blood sacrifice to enter. Another's to leave. Good to have a reliable supply caught up in a world of fear. Her deepest fear.
And black -but what can I say? All's well that ends well. He laughed.
No, this is not a good ending at all. You're my main character, Steven, but this is not your ending. It's mine.
Another blaze of white, and I saw clearly, out of my will to survive, I think. The large creature with the red eyes and the scythe was coming towards us. I hadn't read the girl's journal yet, but I will to him as a harvester. Steven was drawing some of my blood, as it fell to nothingness, and I was lying there, chained up like his damned bird.
My smile died out. So did my vision. I heard my father -I still refer to him as father for lack of a better term- laugh into my ears, his laughter as shrill as the whiteness. I didn't want it to end like this. And now I wasn't afraid. I knew how close the harvester was, and I looked right at him; my sunken, unseeing eyes burning into his dark red eyes and whatever was left of his soul. I had found what Steven hadn't. I had found the true purpose of this realm, and we both knew it.
I heard a muttered oath as Steve cut deeper, and frantically. But the knife couldn't cut my rubbery flesh. I reached out my long, bandy legs and wrapped them around his hand, gently putting them down. I could feel him looking up at me, terrified and awestruck. I told him.
Then the harvester came. Following my motion, Steven bowed down to him. The scythe found its mark. Steven didn't even protest. Perhaps his body flinched a bit as I dragged him away, but nothing more. The harvester dropped, too, and merged into the ground. His scythe was now mine.
I knew well enough that things would never be the same since then, although I'd like them to. Every morning I wake up to the fact that it happened, and that it'll happen again. Perhaps Steven wouldn't have met his death (or half-death) if he were in his realm of fear. Perhaps that is why he lost his mind when I told him what it all meant.
I wake up to fall asleep in another place. I can't help it, it's become a part of me now; my scythe, my proportions... But it's something I can use more effectively than what I had. I come back, and I do not need Steven for it, actually. I come back, although I don't really need to. So I'm putting this out here for the same reason, even if nobody knows me any more.
I don't think I know any one anymore; that I can say with surety. I can't trust memories, because they might not be mine. Maybe everything I came to realize in the other place was a false implanted memory. The only thing I'm sure of about my past is Steve, because I see him every day. But it doesn't matter.
I'm just here to say that if I do go away, and not return because I finally accept that I don't belong here, somebody will know about me and my story. And maybe my story will help him when he finally realizes the implications of the two worlds.
And then the airplane, the window seat
- over the wing with a view
- of the wing
- of the wing
- over the wing with a view
- And a little foil bag of peanuts
I arrived in the city and you met me at the station,
- smiling in a way
- that made me frightened.
Written by WaveDivisionMultiplexer
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