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It’s funny, novelists, how they reserve certain words for certain people, certain characters. I never really thought of it until now. Strange, how on the edge of a knife’s blade these things can occupy my mind. They’re taking me over – clouding over my thoughts. I don’t really know what to think… So, for now, I’ll just think of whatever demands to be thought, those strange little things that you soon forget and never really pay much attention to... Before I lose my last and only chance. And right now, as I suddenly jerk ever so close to this precarious little cliff edge of mine, I suddenly find it rather amusing, how in a series of books or one of those modern thrillers, words are reserved, as if particular words have some sort of power or nobility over others, for a particularly... how would I put it? Potent character. Strong. Authoritative, I suppose. Or disgusting... but some are almost unheard of. Some more shocking than others - "Monster".
A word rarely used but rather saved. Monster, a word kept hidden away in a writer's locker, saved for their most brutal of characters, striking fear into readers' hearts! So little does it ever appear... so little.
Then one day, you notice it, subconsciously, in the corner of your eye, just more writing in a sea of words that somehow form a book. Nevertheless, for just a minute it throbs and pulses, beckoning for your attention and all of a sudden this character is a whole other person. It goes from your average psycho super villain to some demonic work of another being, a sick mess not meant for this earth, a waste of a man searching for any shred of light to tear it from the very words on the freshly pressed pages and turn your skin a sickly grey. Monsters are works of fiction. There are no true monsters in this world, surely?
"You'll be in by seven then, darling? In the morning?" she croaked, acting all "family" yet obviously mildly suspicious of me, as per usual. She never really trusted anyone. It didn't matter how many promises I kept, she would always be a typical old woman. Suspicious of the youth, strict, stern and just a little bit scary. I smiled, weakly.
“Yes, yes, of course, Natalie, that’s fine!”
I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. I spent so much time with her, she essentially was family.
“I’ve got some of my old books for Laura, okay? I’ll bring them in tomorrow - she'll love these ones! I’ll be here early then, alright, to help you bake the rolls.” The old lady nodded to my words slowly, clearly doubtful.
I put on my sweet, "see you later" smile and drifted off towards the door, letting myself out with a friendly wave.
“Have a lovely evening, Natalie!” I shouted as I skipped out of the door, arms full of bags of fresh cakes and bread from the bakery and some old, neglected books of Natalie's she had thrown my way.
When I was shortly out of sight, I sighed, frustrated.
Why did I always sign myself up for this stuff? Always saying I’d do other people favors! It was in my nature. Had to be that I was just too nice a person: coming into work early in the bakery at Natalie's beckoning call for no extra pay; helping set up displays during my only break to please the boss, a seemingly sweet old lady (of course, Natalie); giving away my old novels (I love my books, they're family to me) to Natalie's spoiled granddaughter, Laura, to keep her out of my way; advertising; doing other people’s dirty work and running lazy, little errands like buying milk for the neighbors on my way back from town.
How ridiculous! Natalie... A sweet old bird really, just a little out of it sometimes, grumpy too to be honest, but I deserved a raise at this rate! An extended holiday at the least.
I kicked a dirty puddle, sending plumes of grey water into the air. The streets had been quiet all day. Odd. They were usually deafening with the buzz of everyday life, particularly with everyone coming across the sea at the moment, looking for opportunities. America is currently "The Big Thing!" Yet, no one.
It felt cold in the heavy, afternoon mist, unusual for this area, and unnerving silence of the streets. In the distance I heard the gentle drip of a leaking pipe. I had never noticed it before - must be new damage from last weeks' storms. The air felt like it was pushing down on me, weighty. There was no sweet smell in the breeze, like usual, from the fresh, warm bakeries and welcoming food stands. Everything was shut away, curling themselves into defensive balls like frightened animals. It was sad really. Seeing the darkened windows - so lonely. No life, no busy shops or loud crowds. Weird.
I approached my street, winding down a small back alley, as always. It’s eerie back there. Always was. My gut told me not to go back there in case you meet a stranger or get trapped or stuck or hurt. It's a scary little place. Always another load of junk dumped back there, seemingly lurking in the dark, dark, dark corners, ready to jump out and grab you, apparently coming from nowhere.
At the same time I couldn't help but find it interesting, how some fears are stronger than others. For all the money in this world, I wouldn’t dare waltz with an armed murderer - But to shave off a few minutes, I’ll happily dance through the putrid sea of garbage, a haven for danger, to get back to the comfort of my home just a little bit quicker. How different are they really? Even against that little flicker of instinct, why do we still take that risk, that almost invisible little risk? People are hardwired to fight or flight. In this case flight. Why would you stick around in such a shady space? But, after years of all this pushing and pressure on society to keep to your deadlines, to cut corners, it’s become a normal part of life to deny these little, innate behaviors, fears. So we push them down. Shave off time. Take the dark alleys. Hide fear. Convenience.
Dear God, do I wish I'd listened to my gut now.
I woke abruptly. It took me a moment to shake the tightening hands of my lungs. My chest felt as if it was on fire, I was swallowing blades, my throat seething with pain. Blood. Lots of blood, in my mouth, on the back of my tongue. What was that taste? Metal? Must be the blood... but it couldn’t be - too strong. It tasted familiar, of those strong iron supplements you put in drinks. It made me gag. I took a long, dragging breathe. My eyes were blurred. It was like a smoke screen hung over my face. It took a second to blink the sleep out of my eyes and finally get my bearings… I wish I had never looked. Just slept. Kept sleeping… forever. I wish I had never looked.
“Oh God…” I murmured.
He was there. There in the corner of the room. This empty room. All white walls, stained with unknown marks. Blood? Chemicals? There was one door. Even that was a dirtied white. Nothing but us remained in that desperate little room, not even windows.
My eyes fixed themselves on the strangers scuffed, leather shoes, too frightened to meet his glare. He remained still. Just standing. The man in the alley. The last face I saw before it all went black. The one who brought me here - wherever this was. A man of fear, a man who had learned to take advantage of society's little pressures. Pressure to deny small fears. He waited, in a shadowy corner of the alley. Clever. And he’d done well. He knew what he was doing. Grabbed me on my way home from work, unsuspecting, in a quiet, hidden place and held me tight until I blacked out completely. An alley leading to my home and so close to safety, when my confidence was high. Clever.
He just stood there, gazing at his prize from under his dark black hood. My hands shook uncontrollably as they searched behind me for a weapon, door, window, anything, only finding a wall. I began to sob and weep, begging and praying under my breath, heaving deep painful breaths, hauling my sore body to the back of the room. I couldn’t stop myself. I was breaking down.
“No… Nooo!” I began screaming, suddenly possessed, overpowered by dread.
The dread that that hood, lingering just over his brow line, shadowing his eyes, would drop back, that I'd have to face those cold, bitter eyes. Dreading he would look up, hold my stare, directly at me. I dreaded he would laugh. Something ugly. Finding pleasure in my pain, I dreaded the worst would happen.
After some alarmed debating, I forced myself to glance up at him, ready to throw my hands out in defense, to protect myself. My head felt a ton! It hurt to move. I could hear it creek with strain and tension in my neck as I lifted it reluctantly, like some rusted, grating lever. But he didn’t move. Even when I looked him straight in the face.
‘Oh God, show mercy!’ I thought.
I panicked and began to hyperventilate uncontrollably.
‘Help me! God help me please!’
All I could feel was the intense burning of his eyes on me. On my face. I was waiting for him to reach out and grab me… To end me! The hair on my arms stood on end. Why didn’t he just finish this? End this torment! Stop this torture! It took some time after that, for me to notice it.
His knee length, hooded coat sheltered his face. A few silky black locks hung from the sides, hiding his ears. His neck was encircled by a wide leather choker, oddly out of place on his lanky body. He was roughly dressed, no care, very tall, slim, intimidating. Smart clothes. An expensive coat in fact – but awkwardly shaped, pointed up at the shoulders. Lopsided. His shirt hung all over the place, his undone tie of blue and pale yellow stripes, draped round his shoulders, just covered by his open coat. His trousers had no button and were held together with string. Yet, none of that shocked me the most. None of that made him as horrifying as he really was… It was the mask. Encasing his face was what looked like a second world war gas mask.
Olive green, beaten and well used. It was haunting. It struck fear into the pit of my stomach, tightening my chest. It was shocking. I was choking! I hadn't even seen it, that horrible thing, my vision too impaired to make it out. I barely noticed him chuckling evilly as my eyes fixed on the metal canister he held tightly, grasped in one fist. He lifted it slowly, dramatically into the air, chest height. He held it, laughing, so it pointed straight at my sorry, quivering face. The dread set in.
“P-please…” I stammered, heavy sobs as I begged, begged for my life, suddenly changing my mind, not to end it. Not to end me! I didn't want to die! He took three long, slow, deliberate steps in my direction.
“Please, no!” I shrieked and wept as his hand, clasping the handle of the canister, pointed towards my eyes.
He pulled the lever.
I ran blindly, shrieking as sections of skin apparently melted away, throwing myself into the door at the back of the room. The pain was unbearable! It was dissolving my flesh! I could feel what I could only imagine were my eyes shriveling and rolling in their sockets, extreme stinging pains taking over my entire face. What was that awful stuff? My lips began to blister as the door burst open and I hit hard into the opposite wall of the corridor outside.
In a blind panic, I sprinted down to one end of the hallway, hoping for some sort of release. I couldn’t think… Too much pain. I just ran. I madly clawed at my face with one hand, running the other along the walls, feeling my way through that hell. Screw society. My flight instinct kicked in, no longer frozen by dread.
What was that horrible stuff? My skin felt like it was peeling from my face. I could feel my sore, open wounds weeping and bleeding, running all down my eyelids and cheeks, sitting on my top lip before pooling and rolling off. Huge, red blisters plastered my delicate face. They hurt so much! But it didn’t stop. It felt like I had been doused with oil and set alight. It didn’t stop. It just didn’t stop! I could feel my tongue begin to swell in my mouth until I was literal choking on it. I could barely breathe as I panted, distraught, begging for air.
What was it? Gas? Some sort of colorless gas. It stung. A lot. Destroyed me. My skin. Eyes. Mouth. It was eating away at me.
Almonds. I’d heard of this before, in my books and novels. From wars. Used in world wars. World War 2. The smell, bitter almonds. I had read about it so many times, over and over... Cyanide? I choked, urging and gagging on my own tongue, struggling to force tears from my slowly swelling eyes.
I didn’t have long. This stuff would kill me. I knew it would kill me. If he had given me enough… Unless that was his intention. Had he given me just enough to cause me this pain? Yet, leave me alive, scarred?
I thought of my books. Of the soldiers and all the men that would die... But all of those that would survive too, blinded and hurt, but recovering in hospital. I tried to scream, emitting only sorry gurgles. I couldn’t fathom what must be going through that sick man’s mind. I didn’t have time to.
Finally, after what felt like forever, my hand slammed into the raised edge of a door frame. I brought myself to a halt, anxious to escape. I still didn’t get it. I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t caught me yet. The dread that he was standing right behind me was just too much but I had to keep moving. I couldn’t stop! I had to put it out of my mind… but I couldn’t help but wonder if this was all some big game to him, if he was letting me get away. For the chase.
I fumble anxiously for the handle, blinded by the gas. When my reddened hands eventually found the freezing metal I swung it open, frantically searching for escape. Little did I know I would be greeted by bricks. I found myself pressed squarely up against a red brick wall, coarse and thick.
A door… with a brick wall behind it! I scream in frustration, kicking out angrily. It's then I feel a twinge of pain in my leg. It felt like fire ants gnawing and crawling under my skin, pinpricks of pain all down my calf. They were bruises, like those caused after an injection. Injections? Drugs... Had he experimented on me as I slept? What was this? I pushed off the wall, furious, and continued on frantically.
A wall. Behind a goddamn door.
It didn’t take me long to discover they were all like this. That, or rusted shut, locked, some jammed from the other side; one or two seemed as if they were painted on, stickers, teasers just to raise up your hopes before they drop you down again; others were even chained, padlocks and all! At times, I could have sworn I heard quiet cries coming from behind them... and where were all the windows? Not one! Godforsaken corridors! They just seemed to loop back on themselves. Never ending, like a maze.
Over and over and over and over! The same thing. Turning me in circles. Every now and then, just to mess with my head, a ghost-like cackle would echo from behind, sometimes in front, stopping me dead, pushing me back. Occasionally, whispers, just by my ear, spinning me on my heels so I found myself blindly thrashing at thin air. He was messing with me! That sick piece of trash was messing with me! I’d lost it… I had lost a battle. He had almost won. I couldn’t even cry anymore, my face too deformed to give any impression of a smile or frown, just melted skin.
That house of hell was enough to twist the most sound of minds. Even mine.
After what had felt like hours, I found myself at the bottom of a staircase. Too tired, too sickly to go on. Where would I go anyway? Believe it or not, the teasing did not cease -another wall! A dead end staircase! It just stops! It just stopped there, where it should continue... but doesn't.
My last hope of salvation, I had lunged towards them, so promising, only to find another dead end and a crumpled me at the bottom of a staircase. More dead ends. Story of my life I guess. I lay there hopelessly. Last thing I remember is the dark of a freezing shadow looming over me as I drifted off hopelessly.
That’s when I finally lost consciousness.
I have come too now. I don’t know where I am but I smell blood, chemicals, salt and sweat. The air is damp and stagnant. The musky smell of rotting wood is a sure sign of still, sitting water, eating away the supports of wherever this dank place may be. It's pitch black here. I see only faint shadows around me… But it’s hard to turn my head. Impossible almost. I wanted so hard to get out. To escape… And I know. This is it. I’m here now… I know it. This will be my final resting place. The last thing these tired eyes shall see.
I can reach below me to feel my surroundings. My back is arched over some sort of heap. Something soft, warm. 'What’s that, fabric? Clothes? I can feel buttons… Shirts, trousers. That… That’s lace. A dress? I feel something… Oh God. Oh dear God, no, no. No!' Thick, damp and knotted. Strands of something thin and wispy… 'Oh fuck, no, please.' Hair. Human hair.
I lie there helpless, my back arched over a pile of limp bodies. Human bodies. Lifeless bodies. 'This is it. Definitely it. I go no further, I must accept that now.' After some time, a tear forces itself from my puffy, pink eyes. 'I’m here now. I know it. This will be my final destination.' I close my eyes as a tall figure leans over the selection wielding a glinting, silver scalpel. 'I refuse to live through anymore pain. I'm sorry, but I will not live any longer to see this happen.'
It’s funny, novelists, how they reserve certain words for certain people, certain characters. I never really thought of it until now. I suddenly find it rather amusing, how in a series of books or one of those modern thrillers, words are reserved, as if particular words have some sort of power or nobility over others, for a particularly... how would I put it? Potent character. Strong. Authoritative, I suppose. Or disgusting, but some are almost unheard of. Some more shocking than others - "Monster". A word rarely used but rather saved. So little does it ever appear... so little. Then one day, you notice it, subconsciously, in the corner of your eye, just more writing in a sea of words that somehow form a book. Nevertheless, for just a minute it throbs and pulses, beckoning for your attention and all of a sudden this character is a whole other person. "Monsters" are works of fiction. At least that’s what I used to believe.