I’m slowly going through my backlog, and I thought the title poem for this post was particularly apropos. These poems were from my “Bowling Alley” period and the first is a short one titled “Self Help.” It’s fairly self explanatory so I wont wax poetic, but it comes from the dark angry brooding mind of a early-mid twenties single man, angry and scared for what lay before him.
Sitting in the cafe
with coffee and toast
laying the cheese on thick
I see the smile
and the sly coquettish gleam
that only encapsulates courting
I ponder the point of three little words
I wonder about aspects of hygiene
It’s just one more dame
to waste more time
I need to get a new hobby.
Late night regret
a tasteless hubris
that only works in fiction
Drinks at the bar
and bottles of vain candor
which boorishness sweeps away
If I could just have some time
and a little restraint
I might obtain that trust.
I’m going to add one more, but remember that it comes from an angsty place. All of these poems did. So be ready to be angry at me, or be angry with me.
Once Rich, Always An Emotional Pauper
I’ve come to this place
and it’s all been said before
married for a time
so I can start a war
I just dont care
what you think is pertinent
or what we are fighting for
I know my mind
and my star is fading
so come here, my sick and poor
I’ll hand you a rifle
and set you free;
kick you out the door
Your bruised, broken
aphroditic desire for death
leaves me wanting more
But it’s ok, never fear
I’ll have a little letter sent
to your mother
To settle the score.
I wrote this one for a college creative writing class and strangely enough it’s semi-autobiographical. The first five or so pages are actually true (though pieced together through multiple different experiences). There is a video out there somewhere of me boxing one of my buddies in the street and he hit me so goddamned hard I flew out of the camera shot and into the bushes. He would always get me with that punch. Cocking that right arm back while jabbing with his insanely long left. I remember one time we boxed and he hit me so hard I just sat on the ground, dazed. And yes he did, in fact, box prison guards. The institution is also true, though it was really just an abandoned building that was rumored to be haunted. A couple of friends and I went to check it out one day, but there were crazy markings on the walls (looked like blood) and a strange string on the ground. We took a step in, heard a rustling noise (which in retrospect was probably just a rat), turned tail and ran.
The first version of this story was much longer and much more supernatural. There were ghosts hiding around every corner, but when I brought it to class the TA (who I thought was a pretentious pompous ass at the time, but have since changed my opinion) said it was disjointed, there was too much going on and the ghosts took away from the point of the story. I whittled it down, using his recommendations and when I turned it back in it looked somewhat like the story below and he gave me an A+. He also hated the title I had for it at the time which was “Teenage Wasteland” which for him didn’t match up with the story. I still think it does, but the new title gives the reader a warning for what is to come. This also has one of the themes of all my earlier writing. It’s ultimately a coming of age story, just told in a little more brutal light.
The four boys sat on the side of the river quickly downing their Jack Daniels and Coke. They came to this spot often because it was really the only place they’d found where they could be free to drink and smoke as they pleased.
“Hey Tick, send over some more Jack man.” Colin said. “We ain’t got all night man, come on.” Colin often made fun of Pete, calling him the Tick and demeaning him, Colin’s favorite past time was giving the Tick noogies.
“All right, its coming over, hold on, I’m a little buzzing here. I don’t want to drop it.” Pete was more of the loser of their clique. He was often taking orders and requests from the other three, trying to stay in their good graces.
Both Colin and Tom were typical jocks. They spent their time talking about pussy, how to get it and where and Pete always sat by intently listening. Matt was the only one of them that had carnally knew a woman, but Pete was the only one that admitted to never losing his virginity and he loved to hear Colin and Tom talk about it, rampant adulation in his eyes.
Pete slowly made his way to Colin, trying to hold his balance, but not succeeding very well. He saw the rock sticking out of the ground, but it failed to register in his alcohol-ridden brain. Pete took a staggering step into the rock and all his weight shifted forward over his wavering legs making him fall forward towards Colin.
None of them saw Matt reach out and grab him. They rarely saw Matt under the bridge. He always seemed too contemplative to approach. He rarely said anything, mostly sticking to his drink, downing one after another, and looking off into the distance. He almost always drank more than the others and never seemed to show any effects of the alcohol. This night was no exception; he quickly sat up and reached out snagging Pete from mid-air.
“You better watch yourself, my man. Them snipers’re gonna kill ya.” Matt said trying to sound like John Wayne immediately and completely exiting his introspection.
“Thanks Matt, I was just trying to get the JD over to Colin.” Pete said looking up with a guilty smile at Matt’s six-two stature.
“I know, pilgrim, you best run ‘long.”
As soon as Pete tore his gaze away from Matt, Matt grabbed the Jack Daniels bottle from his hands, quickly spun the cap off and took a deep swig from the bottle, wiping his mouth with his sleeve afterward.
“Any a ya care to take me on?” Matt tossed the bottle over to Colin who jumbled it and screamed as the bottle shattered on the hard pan under his feet.
“Relax the bottle was empty.” Matt said smiling over at Colin who was still looking wild eyed at the ground where the bottle had broken.
“You drank the rest of it? There was still a quarter bottle left!” The boys, as most boys, were prone to hyperbole.
“Relax Colin, you dad’ll give us more later. Now, who’s on for a little one on one?” Matt held up his fists for emphasis. Matt loved to box. After school he would get any match he could. There was a rumor going around school that he fought a prison guard…and won. Behind his back the others called him psycho.
Tom was the only one that would ever fight Matt. It wasn’t that he was the only one that was big enough; it was that the other two were too scared. Colin fought Matt once and after some big talk was knocked flat on the first punch. Pete tried to fight Matt once, but Matt punched him in the stomach and Pete ran away screaming. That was where Colin got the nickname from; he said Pete looked like a tick running away from a flame. That and that he was small and annoying.
“Sure, I’ll take you. You’ve drunk enough I ought to be able to take you down.” Tom said shrugging.
“It’s on. Hey Pete, you wanna get the gloves?” Matt was the only one who called him Pete. The rest of them called him Tick.
“Yeah, hold on, I’ll get ‘em.”
“You ready to go down big man.” Matt said taking his boxer’s stance and dancing around Tom.
“Oh, the little man scared he gonna get hurt, he’s gotta pump up his ego.” Tom spouted, flexing his arms and taunting Matt.
Pete came running back with the boxing gloves in his hands, trying to keep his balance but failing and crashed down to the ground once again.
“Hey Tick he told you to watch out for the snipers.” Colin laughed.
Matt, ignoring Colin’s banter, picked up the gloves and put one on. “Minute rounds? That to long for you?” Matt gave Tom a sly smile.
“Anything you can handle bean pole. Bring it on.” Tom reached down and took up his gloves.
“So what do you want to do after Matt beats you Tom? Run off to be consoled by Palmela Handerson?” Colin made a masturbation motion as he said it.
“Best sex I ever had.” Tom said getting the second glove on.
“Alright, you gonna time us Pete?” Matt asked punching his gloves together.
“Sure, how long you guys gonna go for?”
Tom stopped dead in his tracks and looked over at Carl.
“Dumbass, didn’t you just hear him say minute a round.”
“Well, yeah, but I wasn’t sure if that’s what you guys were going for or…”
“Minute is good Pete, just time us.” Matt said.
“Ding, ding.” Tom said pulling his fists up.
The fight was short. Matt kept his right arm back, slowly cocking it as he jabbed Tom with his left. Tom kept his arms up, determined to win the fight and only jabbed when he got the chance. Then Matt made his move. He dropped his left hand to his side, as if tired and Tom, seeing his opening, swung his right fist wildly trying to gain momentum in a roundhouse aimed at Matt’s head. He never got there, Matt’s cocked right hand descended and smashed Tom right above his nose, knocking him backward into the slow moving creek.
When Matt finally pulled Tom out of the river, Colin was still laughing and Pete was still gaping in awe.
“Jesus, man. That was strong. Fuck.” Tom shook his head briefly. “Fuck!”
“You always fall for my tricks. I figure one of these days you’ll figure it out.” Matt said smiling down at Tom.
“So you gonna go wack off then?” Colin wheezed struggling for breath through his laughing.
Tom didn’t respond, just took off a dripping glove, and flipped him off.
“Hey you guys want to go do something?” Pete said abruptly and surprised them all. He’d dropped his gaze and was looking at his shoes, perturbed. “I know this place.” He slowly looked up with a worried look on his face.
They pulled up to the building at about a quarter after two in the morning. It was an old mission hospital, previously used as a mental ward for the State. The building was now condemned and awaiting demolition crews to arrive. Tom drove up in his truck and parked three blocks away.
“So this is it Tick?” Tom asked looking back to the crumpled figure shoved behind the seats. Pete cocked his head so he could see around the seats and above the dashboard. He slowly nodded his head.
“Yeah, that’s it. Hey listen; maybe this is a bad idea. I mean what if the thing falls down when we’re in there?”
“Don’t be such a pussy Tick.” Colin said shaking his head.
Tom opened the door and stepped out of the truck, turning to see Matt jump out of the bed.
“You cats ready to go?” Tom said smiling, his eyes floating from the alcohol.
Matt and Colin answered by walking toward the building; Pete was still trying to climb out of the back.
“Hey guys wait up! Hold on, don’t leave me back here, come on.”
Matt turned around and grabbed Pete’s arms pulled him out of the truck and threw him over his right shoulder. “You ready to go? This ain’t gonna be a walk in the park.” He said it with jest in his voice; as if he was expecting trouble.
“I guess, I just…” Pete drifted off.
“Hey, if you wanna stay back and take watch duty, that’s fine Pete.”
“No, I have to go in. We better get going; they’re going to get there before us.” Pete said motioning to Tom and Colin.
Matt put Pete down and watched him run to the other two, shaking his head he sauntered after them.
As Matt approached he could see fear in the other’s eyes, and knew he’d have to walk them in or they would never actually go. They would talk about how they thought the place was lame and how they didn’t really need to go in there, that the place was deserted anyway. Matt knew the truth…it was a terrifying edifice. It didn’t matter that no one thought of the place as haunted, when he stood there and saw it in person at almost three in the morning, he knew the truth.
The building was menacing.
He knew what the others were feeling, because he felt a little of that fear himself – though he was loath to mention it. He knew the other three looked up to him. He knew they would follow him and despite the fact that he really didn’t care about going in, he knew it would be a story that would impress on Monday during free period.
“Well then, did we come here to wait outside?” Matt questioned the building and let the question hang in the air. They all turned and looked at him wide eyed. This was one of the biggest reasons why they loved Matt; he took them beyond their means. He brought excitement into their lives.
He was taking them in.
Matt walked forward, grabbed the handle on the door and quickly pulled it open.
“Shall we?” Matt said walking in, never looking back.
“So why did you bring us here Tick?” Colin asked his voice shaking with fear as he looked straight ahead and slowly walked into the entryway. “I mean was there a specific reason you wanted to come here, or was this just some place you jack off.” It was supposed to be funny, but Colin’s voice wavered.
“I just thought it might be cool to come in here, you know, hang out? It might be cool. Might be better than under the bridge smelling the crap float by us.”
“Say it man,” Tom said looking ahead the same way Colin was, trying to include some humor into his inflection but failing. “Shit, just say it man. Watching the shit float by us. Shit! It’s easy see? You need to get over your goddamned swearing fear.”
Matt continued up ahead, walking down the dimly lit hallway slowly looking back and forth between the walls, inspecting them. He knew Pete’s reason for coming in here was to show he wasn’t afraid. He wanted to show his friends that nothing could scare him, maybe get a little respect. Matt thought it commendable, but there was something about this place and he knew Pete wouldn’t be able to handle it. There was just something in there, something that compelled Matt to keep moving forward, as if he were meant to go in there.
The other three followed leaving the door open as they entered, relishing the extra light flowing in from the streetlamps. They saw Matt walk in and turn the corner. They heard the empty echo of his footsteps and for a second, nothing, but then, just when the boys were wondering what Matt was up to a bloodcurdling scream permeated the air. Tom gave Colin a worried look then looked back at Pete.
“You think he was serious?” Tom could barely get the words out of his throat, it came out as a squeak.
The answer came from down the hall. Matt screamed again, but this time angrily. Tom broke into a run, tearing down the hall, dreading the corner just yards in front of him, knowing he was going to see something that he didn’t want. Knowing Matt was in trouble.
He looked back right before the corner and saw Colin and Pete waiting back at the door. He couldn’t believe they would just stand back there and wait to see what happened to their friend. Tom gave a wave, indicating them to follow him, then plunged around the corner.
At first he didn’t see anything, only dark, but he could tell in the dim light that there were dark stains on the walls. Ahead of him was another hallway with numerous doors on either side spanning what seemed like hundred of yards, to a window. The only illumination seemed to come from the blue moonlight flooding in that window.
“Matt? Hey man, you down here?” The statement floated out before him in the murky blue light, with only silence as an answer.
“Tom you see him?” Colin called from behind him.
“You want to come down here and check fag?” Tom spat back under his breath as he tried to stem his anger toward the loneliness of that dark hallway.
Tom took a few more steps into the hallway, trying to focus his eyes in the dim light. He squinted and felt a shudder run through his body. The dark splotches on the walls. He understood what they were…blood. They were everywhere. That can’t be from the hospital, Tom thought, but he didn’t want to imagine what that thought really meant.
There was an open door halfway down the hall.
“Matt! Matt, you down there?” He understood the absurdity of the statement, but he couldn’t give up the hope that Matt would jump out and let the joke end. He got no answer.
Tom moved to the open door and leaned up against the wall and craning his neck to see into the room straining to bring the room into focus. Then he heard shuffling from the other side of the hallway. He snapped his head around and saw a figure walking slowly towards him. It was a small figure but in the shadows he couldn’t see any features, but then it raised a hand and beckoned for him to approach. Tom shut his eyes and leaned up against the door jam of the room, terror freezing him in place. He stood there willing the figure away when a hand wrapped around his mouth and another wrapped around his stomach and before he could fight against it he was dragged into the room.
Pete slowly moved into the hallway. He thought the figure down the hallway was Tom, but he couldn’t really tell, the light was just too dim. He tried to wave to him, hoping that Tom would recognize that it was Pete coming to help. It was Pete and not Colin. Colin had turned around and ran when they were standing outside. Without a word; he just turned and ran the other direction. Pete knew the only thing that he could do was to go into the hallway and see what was wrong. He couldn’t just stand outside and wait to see could he? His bladder pressed against him as he walked further into the hallway, freezing him in place. He took a deep breath and tired to forget his fear. Colin was the one who ran. Colin was the one who was scared. Besides they were probably just trying to scare him. Somehow they came up with a plan on the way here and were tricking him. The figure quickly turned and disappeared into the room and Pete’s bladder released.
Matt lay on the ground next to the girl. The knife wound in his side burned him ferociously. He could see the little girl was still alive and that was a good sign, but he didn’t know what to do. He had screamed as soon as he saw the man on top of the girl. The man got up and zipped up his pants as he did so. Matt screamed the second time. He had never known himself to be so angry with anyone. Especially because he didn’t know exactly what was going on. He just saw the girl lying still and the man grunting and moving. Only one thought came to mind. Matt raged and charged the man. He knew it was a mistake, he couldn’t even see his adversary very well and he knew to never let his anger take control, but it had. He charged at the man and threw a punch, not seeing the blade in the other’s hand. The blade flashed a dull blue light and in an instant it was hilt deep in Matt’s side. Instantly he fell. He heard the man cough slightly and suck saliva back into his mouth. Matt looked at the girl, trying to gather his thoughts, knowing that his friends were in trouble, knowing that this girl was hurt. This small, innocent girl.
Tom was twirled around by the strong hands and felt something very hot thrust into his stomach making his legs go weak. He looked up into the man’s face and saw dark eyes, unshaven face and rotten teeth. His breath smelled like a sewer.
“You here to join yo’ frien, ma’ facka” The man hissed into Toms face with a heavy drawl.
Tom could do nothing but groan. His legs started to give out and his stomach blossomed in pain. He felt the blade inside of him, wiggling around, sending searing pain every time it moved.
Tom looked away from the man and saw Matt lying on the floor next to a girl on the ground and his legs finally gave out. He felt himself falling to the floor. He felt the knife slide out of his body, slowly expanding the wound with its serrated edge.
Tom’s knees hit the floor and the man cackled from above him, then turned back to the girl lying on the ground.
Tom let out a wheeze and raised his arm, unsure of his own intentions, just hoping help would come from somewhere. The man noticed Tom raising his arm and without turning he mule kicked him Tom the face. Tom fell backward watching the room spin, wondering why he agreed to come here.
Matt watched as the man pulled Tom into the room and fresh anger flushed back into his veins making his blood flow faster and making his wound ooze with renewed vigor, but despite the free flow of blood he felt his mind clear. He watched the man stab Tom then turn and kick him. The man turned to look at Matt then he unzipped his fly and took his pants back down, looking straight at Matt while he slowly masturbated and got down on his knees in front of the girl.
Matt fought back the anger and waited for the man to stop looking at him.
“Tom? Matt? Are you guys down here?” Pete said in a meek voice from down the hall.
The man turned around and bared his teeth like a feral animal letting out a grunt of disgust at the voice. Matt took his opportunity. He quickly rolled to his back, and kicked both legs out putting all the force he could behind them, trying to make contact with the man’s testicles.
Matt extended his legs with as much force as he could muster ignoring the flaring pain that blossomed in his side. Unfortunately the man moved at exactly the right moment. Instead of connecting with the man’s disfigured testicles, Matt hit his right thigh sending the man off balance and making him fall backwards onto Tom.
Matt staggered to his feet as quickly as he could, trying to beat the man to his feet, but when Matt finally got standing he noticed that the man was already up, ready, with knife in hand.
“We got’s a fighta, huh?” The man hissed.
“Bring it on fucker.”
Matt took his boxing stance, with his left arm forward, throwing a few exploratory jabs at the man. With every jab the man attempted to slash Matt’s wrist. Pete entered the doorway and squealed when he saw what was happening in the room; a stranger with no pants on, holding a knife, fighting with Matt.
Matt kept jabbing at the man taking the slashes to his arm, ignoring the flashing pain, but with each jab his raised right fist cocked back even further.
“You likin this, pretty?” The man said smiling showing his rotten teeth.
Pete stood in the doorway amazed at the sight when he felt something pull on his pissed soaked pants. Carl looked down at Tom, blood running from his nose and a glazed look in his eyes.
“Get help.” Tom whispered before he fell back down to the ground.
Matt jabbed the man one last time, comfortable with the power he’d generated with his right arm, and then dropped his left arm letting the man into his open chest. The man lunged with the knife at the same time Matt his sledgehammer of a right arm. They made contact at the same time, the knife gently sliding into Matt’s chest, while Matt crushed the man’s nose spraying a fine mist of blood in a halo around the man’s head. The man fell backward in conjunction with Matt.
Pete watched the two fighters fall then he ran off, terrified of the knife sticking out of Matt’s chest and the glazed look in his eyes.
Matt lurched on the ground, listening to the rapist’s growls of anger. Pain flared in his lungs, and when he looked down he saw the cause. The six inch Gerber blade was still sticking out of his chest. Matt slowly reached for the knife, while turning his head towards Tom.
Tom reacted to the man falling by trying to roll on top of him, laying the rapist out with punches. Matt watching in pride as Tom valiantly pinned the man down and raised his fists in fury.
“You’re gonna die, fucker!” Matt could see the fire blazing in Tom’s eyes and realized they weren’t going to make it. The rapist, somehow, already had another knife in his hand.
Tom swung his right fist down and the knife came up to meet his neck. Surprise blossomed in Tom’s eyes and his limbs went limp. The rapist threw him off, ripping the knife out in the process, a fountain of blood pouring from his neck.
“Na, pretty, time fur you. Not niiice to enteerupt whilst one’s fuckin.’”
The rapist began to rub his penis, his hands wet with blood. Then he got down on his knees and crawled toward Matt, the knife clutched in his free hand.
Matt said nothing waiting for his opportunity. He knew he would only get one. He closed his eyes and waited.
A hand on his foot. Knife slowly scraping the skin.
Up to his thigh. Matt twitches his arm.
The hand grabs his belt and Matt erupts into a flurry. He whips his hand to his chest and rips the knife out, screaming and coughing blood while doing so. The rapist smiled, relishing in witness to Matt’s pain, until Matt kicks hard and upward into the rapists genitals.
“Fookin’ Aghhh, Fook!” He grabs his testicals and falls to his side, while Matt swings the knife up hard straight to his temple. A wet scraping sound echoes in the room, to Matt it sounded like a butcher preparing a steak, and immediately Matt felt sick.
The only sound the man made was a clicking in his throat. Then he fell, the death rattle continuing as he hit the ground.
Matt looked at the fading light in Tom’s eyes and smiled, intently listening for the wail of sirens.
Tom smiled back and in the hazy malaise of his memory he thought of all the times he had spent with Matt and Pete and Colin. All the time they joked about sex and girls and fighting. All the boasts and lies about their prowess. None of it was wasted. It was all meant for here and now. They had done something grand together, the four of them. The ones who got into trouble for being drunk at school. The ones who snuck liquor and pills from their parents. They stopped this man. They were heroes.
In his last moment Tom felt pride in being Matt’s friend and pride in his actions. Pride in wandering through the teenage wasteland and coming out a man on the other side.
The tenth story from Sean McBride’s published short story collection, A View of the Edge of the World. This episode is read by Shannon Nelson and produced by Ed Robinson.
This is the oldest of the stories in this collection. The premise comes from my old back yard in Boardman Ohio, where we had a huge (at least to my 9 year old eyes it was huge) forest in the back yard and in front of that forest was a large stone fire pit, which almost looked like it was part of some archaic house. So the image of this and my fascination with dreams created the story. The twist at the end is a little juvenile, but hey, I wrote this thing over 12 years ago so I’m still fairly proud of it.
“Don’t worry about it son,” Justin’s father said, “Some people like to believe these dreams are a premonition of events in a persons life. This, however seems to be just a single ordinary, garden-variety nightmare. People have this type of dream all the time. All it means is you’ve been sitting in front of the T.V for too long or you spent too much time playing on the computer. It’ll eventually go away, all you have to do is try and ignore it. Try and wake yourself up while when you have ‘em and they should fade out.”
“But every time I have one of these I die. It’s really starting to freak me out dad! Especially ‘cause it keeps coming back.”
“Think very hard now son. At the end of the dream do you really die? You may think you do but if the dream cuts short, right before anything happens to you, you should be okay.”
“Well, I guess I never really die in it, it’s just that it is really startin’ to scare me. I’ve had this stupid dream for five days in a row and I don’t want to deal with it anymore.”
“It’ll go away, don’t worry about that. If it doesn’t we can always take you to the clinic and they’ll process the dreams and tell us what the underlying message is. One thing that you’ve got to be careful for though. If you keep getting this dream, right at the point where you’re captured and you fear death, do whatever you can, but don’t die.”
“Why? What’s the big deal?”
“If you are in a situation where you die in your dream, that means that in real life you’ll die.” His father finishes showing a small, almost imperceptible smirk.
Here it was again, the terrible dream that’d been haunting his every turn the past few nights. It started out innocently enough. He was hiking in the trail behind his house, no big deal, but though it was just a flat short trail he felt tired careening through the twists and turns. Everywhere he turned he saw birds lying dead on the ground giving him an omen for the events yet to occur. He could see his house in the distance and he could tell something was wrong. The house had been tainted somehow, there was some angle that was different, or maybe it was some brick laid wrong. There was just something about the house that was wrong, but still he moved toward it getting to edge of the woods, passing the brick fireplace and entering his back yard.
With each step fatigue grew in his muscles even though it was clearly a dream. His vision got blurry around his periphery, making it seem like one of those cheesy flashbacks he had seen so often in the movies.
Despite the knowledge that it was a dream the fireplace still scared him. Even now when he was almost seventeen the fireplace haunted his thoughts. He knew there was nothing there. Nothing that could hurt him. That it was just something the previous owner thought would improve on the house’s looks, but he still couldn’t shake the feeling. On top of that the dream seemed to deepen his neuroses of the brick structure. He looked at it and couldn’t help but think that it was some remnant of an ancient house which burned to the ground. Something from the civil war era, with the ghosts of the soldiers haunting it, bound by some unbelievable desire to right past wrongs.
He had always given it a wide berth when passing it, but in the dream, he wanted to go to it. He wanted to see what was in it, what it was made of, what was burnt in it. It was an antique, not meant for human contact.
But what if there were something from the other owners in the ashes of the fire? What if there were clues of the inhabitants still hanging around this place. He could be the one to find out. He could be the big hero. The headlines would show his picture with something like “Local boy finds out the mystery of the lost soldier.”
He walked up to it, feeling the absolute strangeness in the atmosphere; there was something wrong about the fireplace. It was the same feeling that he got from the house, something was wrong with it. But still he moved slowly along the small brick wall towards the deadly quiet fireplace.
There was some kind of vibe coming from it, as if it were a natural fan gently blowing air away from it, warning him to turn back before it was too late. He had come too far though. Curiosity killed the cat they say; apparently it could kill seventeen-year-olds too. He reached the hearth and put his hand into the ashes. He could see them sift around his fingers but couldn’t feel them. As though they were made of air.
Then, he realized what was wrong with the fireplace and house. They weren’t real. They had a presence of transparency, even though he couldn’t see through them.
Then the fog around his peripheral vision tightened and the whole world seemed to shift. They were transparent, he could see through them. He could make out the features of his surroundings, but there was something dramatically different. They had an aura of blackness surrounding them that seemed to be quickly spreading, dissolving the world. He felt his heart drop as he remembered what happened next.
The ground and his surroundings disappeared leaving him to freefall through the darkness. All he could see was the blackness of space. Just falling through the void. He experienced this same kind of feeling many times. Whether he was in school during one of his boring lectures, or just when he was lying on his bed watching the T.V buzzing in and out of reality. But it was a familiar feeling and every time it happened he jerked himself awake. He had even done this in English class, when their sexist teacher was lecturing about how Mary Shelley had not actually written Frankenstein, but her husband, Percy Shelley had. He had never totally understood the sexism, but it wasn’t a subject he cared about so he just shut down to get another half hour sleep. He started to dream fall again and jerked himself right out of the desk.
This dream, however, was completely different. He could make himself jerk around but he would never wake. He even knew he was dreaming, but when he tried to wake himself he would just keep falling.
He would just fall, and fall, and fall. After some time the blackness around him would begin to clear and he could see he was in trouble. He was falling into his back yard, only about thirty yards from the fireplace. He could see the house, as normal as ever, and he could see the old brick fireplace was normal as well, but he still felt apprehension. There was something menacing about its visage. He kept falling, and as he looked down he could see that he was going to land in the pool.
Every time he flew down at what seemed faster than terminal velocity into the pool sending him down into depths deeper than the pool was capable of creating. He was sinking into the earth not just elevated pool.
When he finally stopped he tried to break for the surface, but everything was black. He was back in the void, suffocating as it gently held him. This world was struggling to be created, not struggling to stay alive.
He swam and swam; not sure if he was going in the right direction, but every time he made his way to the top. He felt panic seep into his heart and brain, and fear of making it out of the dream alive ate at him. Then, just before he lost hope and gave up to sink back down into the void he breached the surface…just as he always did.
He reached up for the wall of the pool and pulled himself out. The blur came back, covering the outside corners of his field of vision and more powerful than anything was the pull to the brick fireplace.
He distinctly knew he wouldn’t fall through it like he just had. He was on a lower level of Hell, there would be something worse. He walked to the brick structure feeling no fear, as if the events he knew were about to transpire didn’t effect his thought process, as if he thought he were just out for an innocent walk.
The fatigue imposed itself again. Making it hard for him to reach his destination. His body was trying to tell him something. There was danger up ahead and he knew it. But his brain didn’t seem to want to listen. He pushed himself through the pain, sure he could get there, that he could uncover the mysteries that lay in that forlorn structure.
When he finally made it, he collapsed, sending ash from past fires into the air. He looked at them, with the backdrop of the dusk sky, thinking about their beauty as they flew. They were the lords of all creation; they could do whatever they wanted. They planned out their lives, their futures, and their pasts. It was amazing how so much beauty could come out of destruction. He made the effort to roll over to his stomach so he could look into the fireplace, to hold the ash and the burnt wood, to hold that destruction. He felt himself begin to cry for no reason. He knew it would happen but he had no control over it. It really was quite silly, to cry over burnt wood and ashes, but at that moment it was as if he could feel the pain the wood felt as it was burnt. Laying there, unable to move, as someone dosed you in lighter fluid. To watch them strike a match and throw it on you. To feel the flames burn through the fluid and catch a hold of you.
He shuddered, feeling goose bumps spread about his arms. He rolled over unable to look on the destruction in the fireplace and looked to the ash floating in the air. They all seemed so happy despite their horrible births. He caught his gaze on the largest as it floated down into reach. He reached up for it and felt its silky texture, but as soon as he grabbed it something grabbed him.
The tears immediately stopped flowing, and the goose bumps stood on end. He looked down to see another hand grasping at him, coming from the ground. He immediately jumped up despite his aching muscles and pulled an arm out of the ashes. The skin attached to it was rotten and flaking away leaving mostly dirty bone. He tried to pull back but all he succeeded in doing was pulling the arm out to the shoulder.
He changed efforts and worked on the fingers instead, peeling them off one by one, but he wasn’t strong enough to hold them because each one he pulled off went back down into the death grip as he tried to pry the next finger off. He backed away again, forcing a head to pop out of the ground. The head rotten just like the hand and the arm leaving mostly flaking skin and smiling skull.
The rest of it body came out on its own. Another hand shot through the ground grabbing his leg and pulling him off balance. As he tumbled to the ground he saw the thing pull up. It seemed to be a zombie, but nothing like the walking dead from legends. They had most of their skin. They seemed like normal people in a trance. This was much different. The garb on the creature was a union uniform from the civil war and the stink on its breath was almost unbearable, like his father when drinking. The teeth chattered together and the zombie crawled toward him.
He was too tired to get up off of the ground though so he just lay there and wait for his fate. Wait for the creature to do him in. To kill him.
When the zombie reached him, it slowly slid its boney hands around his neck and began to squeeze. That was when he always woke up, with the stench of death in his nostrils.
“It happened again last night.”
“The dream that I was telling you about! It happened again! The zombie got out of the ground crawled over and started to strangle me! I could feel the air cutting off! There has to be something I can do to stop this! I’m afraid to go to sleep at night because every time I have the dream I feel closer to death! I don’t want to die like this! I’m only seventeen years old!”
“There’s nothing that can really be done for dreams, son. I’m sorry but I don’t know what to tell you. I lied to you before though; you can’t actually die from dying in your dreams. I was just trying to scare you a bit and I guess I went a little overboard. You have nothing to worry about. The next time that you have this dream…”
“Tonight, the next time will be tonight!”
“Tonight then, the next time that you have this dream, let it span out. I didn’t mean to scare you as much as I did but the past is gone. So let it finish, try to stay asleep and you’ll see that you’ll get away from the thing.”
“Zombie. You’ll get away from the zombie and you’ll probably even beat he thing to a pulp. Dreams are the place you can be a hero. Where you save the day and come out all right. Even nightmares have their soft side. Think about it, no matter how bad they can get something good always happens. Or even if everyone else gets hurt or dies, in your nightmare you always come out all right. Whatever’s going on inside of your head just let it flow out, don’t stop it. That way you can let it play out and hopefully tomorrow it’ll be gone.” Justin’s father says as he takes another drink.
Things never turn out how they’re suppose to. The dream proceeded on with the unnatural slowness that was its course. The same events took place, in the same order, with the same lucidity. The zombie had a hold of his throat, the stench of death creeping in around him. He felt the evil invade his skin. The bony hands squeezing and squeezing his life out of his body. He felt like it was the last thing he’d see, this fireplace and the dying embers flying around him in the stillness of the night air. This zombie was going to take his life and take everything that was so beautiful in this place from him. Justin suddenly got angry and reached up to grab onto the zombies old decayed hands and pulled with all of his might…to no avail. The thing still held tight to his neck. The thing still squeezed his neck. He couldn’t stop it. The hope he held a second earlier was gone and he could smell death and vodka as it permeated his lungs. No air could get in, just that smell, that impending destruction of his human form. Tears fell from his eyes as the world around him slowly slipped into blackness.
“Help, please.” He said with a little voice. “Don’t.” He got this out more assertively. He somehow managed to look back into the gaping eye holes of the monster that was slowly taking his life for its own. He saw the grin on its face the thinning hair falling over its face as it applied more force squeezing his neck.
“I’m sorry,” it said to him. “I didn’t mean to do this.” He could hear the sorrow in the monster’s voice, pain it was experiencing. Though the monster was still grinning. “This was the only way it could be, you must understand Justin.” The grin widened and the grip faltered for a second, it was enough for Justin to get one breath of fresh air. With that one breath he felt his life and hope return, but the zombie gripped down hard again, settling into the bruises on his neck. “You just aren’t as good as me,” the zombie whispered into his ear. “I just can’t let you carry on my name.”
Justin looked back into the zombie’s face and for the first time noticed it had deep blue eyes. Those eyes penetrated his own, torturing him, for he knew the monster didn’t really feel bad. The monster was enjoying every moment.
The last thing that Justin saw was a name plate on the zombie-soldier’s coat. It said Frank. Then everything around him faded to complete blackness. Everything that was beautiful around him had faded out of existence. He felt himself wake for just a moment, saw the posters in his room, saw a shadowy figure before him, then his life faded away.
“Police,” The frantic voice of Justin’s father said. “I found my boy lying in his bed this morning dead. He’s dead. Someone came in last night and killed him in his sleep. All I heard was a whimper that sounded like “help.” I couldn’t really tell but when I went in he was dead, his face was blue and his neck had a line bruise around it. Please help me. Please.” He paused for a moment to take a drink before he gave them the address.
At the funeral Justin’s family stood around and mourned the loss of such a nice, if not a little special, young boy. They said how nice he always was and how cute he always was and how he’d always made them laugh.
At the end of the procession every one left but Justin’s uncle and his father. They were the closest to the boy. They stood there in silence for minutes until Justin’s uncle put an arm around Justin’s father and said, “I’m sorry that he had to die so brutally Frank.” The thinning hair fell down onto Frank’s forehead as he looked up and smiled with his blue eyes into his brother’s face. “Thanks. That means a lot.”
The eighth story from Sean McBride’s published short story collection, A View of the Edge of the World. This episode is read by Hector Berube Foote and produced by Ed Robinson.
I think fondly upon this one. The three bums, Scary Larry, Red, and Milton are all real; they all hung out on the corner and everyone in the SET (This is what my apartment was known as at the time) frequently talked to them. The whole story takes place in a fictional land (The setting for a compilation with Ben Lilly, which still has yet to spread its wings), however the landscape is all the Sunset district in San Francisco. The lake in the story is a lake in Golden Gate Park which I wrote the story at with my laptop. The office in the story was an abandoned office on top of the then JT’s restaurant. So to say the least this story has a great nostalgia for me. The premise of the story was to play with form and mess with the reader when they’re reading. There are many points where nearly the entire page is word for word a previous page and the imagery gets more and more disjointed as the story progresses. The point was to expand upon and give homage to “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a very short and disturbing story. The kind I like best.
“I had a dream about this room.” I looked about the room, but despite the intimate knowledge I have of it and its inhabitant, I felt odd here. There was something off about the room. Cold ambivalence, amplified by the empty stare of the psychiatrist. I thought mentioning the dream might elicit more of a response from the doctor, but par for the course, all I got was an indifferent nod.
“You,” I said waggling a finger at him “were not in the room,” I looked up at the psychiatrist expectantly, but the doctor was lost in his notebook. I felt a flash of anger, imagining a notebook full of doodles of women with big breasts on far off islands. “It was all empty,” I decided that if the doctor was indeed doing this, at least he was a pair of ears. He was something to talk at, if not necessarily to. Relief abounds through disclosure, even if no one’s listening. “Only the couch where I’m sitting and the picture on the wall.” I raised my hand and pointed at a painting of “The Scream” on the wall. I often mused at the thought of it. How indicative of a psychiatry office to have a painting so disjointed from reality, with a person lost in dark colors, screaming, holding their head in torment of a future horror. It’s something so ingrained in popular culture that you don’t even have to be a connoisseur to recognize it. I think, however, the juxtaposition of fantasy and reality caught so conclusively in the painting, was lost to most. Maybe even the doctor.
“Does that make sense? That painting in my dream? Why would I be here, in this room instead of in my own? Or in the park? And why would there be only this couch and that painting? Is my subconscious trying to tell me something? Am I unhappy with my life and is the screamer is supposed to indicate that I need change? Is that how I feel subconsciously?” I leaned back on the couch as I talked almost forgetting the doctor was sitting across from me; in fact I didn’t even think about stopping, I was on a roll, monologuing my problems out, but when I paused to start a new direction, something about women, about loneliness, the doctor cleared his throat.
I snap my head up to query the doctor. Not a word spoken, but enough was said. Time was up and the doctor would hear no more.
“You know, you could be a little more cordial when I come here. I spend a lot of money on you and all you can do is point at a watch or clear your throat.” I again look expectantly at the doctor, who says nothing, just crosses his legs and smiles, pedantically. “Fair enough. Same time next week I hope? If I’m not boring you too much?”
I chuckle as I walk out of the office. I knew the doctor wouldn’t respond, but it was the kind of therapy I was looking for. I’m not sure if I could handle someone trying to analyze me, silence seems to work best for me and somehow the doctor knows this.
I’d been going there for over a year; long enough to wonder if the doctor could even form a coherent phrase. I felt tired and worn down, like someone is taking a nail file to my soul. I would wake up in the morning and go through the motions, gather the paycheck and pay off another month’s rent. Dire times for the uncertain.
My entire life I’ve dreamt of other places. A day dreamer by trade, retail by necessity. What could be greater, I think, than for a disaster to happen in the world, something catastrophic. A cacophony of whining birds, screaming metal, and moaning people. This would be a place where I wouldn’t have to worry about progress reports and being seven minutes late for work, ducking the boss. This would be a place where I could be a hero. I could lead.
I looked around the intersection when I got to the bottom of the staircase. It’s amazing that a psychiatry practice would be atop a Hawaiian barbeque, however I swear by the results. Since coming here I’ve felt less pressure, less stress and my mind feels more at ease.
Busy intersection. A slight waft of ocean air, the salty breeze with a modicum of fish thrown in for good measure. It always amazes me that living in a city like this there would be such a minimal amount of smog, the ocean air transporting the chemicals across the bay. That breeze did wonders.
I lived three blocks away from my shrink’s office; another reason why it’s so easy to come here. Proximity makes the world go ‘round, but often I feel a longing for farther off. It appeals to my dreamy nature. Dreamers are always travelers, just not necessarily doers.
Ambling down the few blocks was always an adventure. There were four homeless men that live on my block. Two of them, however preferred to be called bums; the differentiation is miniscule to most people, but they laid hints periodically that they had an apartment. I laughed out loud the first time I was told this. I’d been giving the two of them, a tall angular black man named Red and a smaller emaciated vet named Milton, money for years now and when I found out they not only had jobs, but they actually had an apartment together, I was shocked. Almost. It takes a lot to be shocked in this city. They’re an original odd couple. I often ponder what social gatherings would be like at their apartment. Everyone panhandling the next person to walk in the door. If you’re fashionably late you’re broke.
The third bum is a much more annoying individual. Scary Larry as he’s known to the locals. An old short white pederast who blames the world for his psychosis. I often mused when I saw Larry walking down the road in a beat up old suit, as if he was attending a spellbinding rendition of “Cabaret” at the trash can on the left.
Then there’s a fourth, much more sinister character that wanders around aimlessly wearing a beanie down over his eyes, and baggy clothes encapsulating the waif of his body. He’s known to walk around the streets and follow women. There was even a rumor that he had attacked a woman in her own kitchen. Spooky, but it was all part of the area’s charm. Serious, yet playful; sophisticated, yet naïve.
This is my world. This is what I call home. This neighborhood, with its fascinating inhabitants, however, I have a place much more sacred to me than any place I could call home. A place almost as significant as the doctor for the sanity he lends me. A park. They call it “The Skinny” for short, but its real name is Tamskinelli. A quiet park that people frequent, they just pass through. A park where one can be alone with his thoughts. A wonderful place to gain perspective.
Dusk descended upon my neighborhood, placing a red musk on the small mom and pop businesses. Relief washes over me while I take a deep breath, stuff my hands into my pockets and saunter down the three blocks. A comfortable feeling, I know my surroundings, the buildings, the people. I stroll like I have no cares, pushing everything to the back of my head. I had finished work and I didn’t have another shift for 54 hours. I had no other obligations for the evening. Just me alone with my thoughts.
When I got to my corner I saw Red and Milton hanging out in front of my doorstep. A small smile crept across my face; these two were always a riot.
“Fuckin’ lady!” Miltonspits out. “Bitch don’t know what’s good for her. All I did was go up there and ask her for change!” He took a step back and sat down in a rusted old wheelchair with bumper stickers on it. I always wondered why Miltonwent to the trouble of putting those things on there. They don’t seem to make any rational kind of sense. There’s “Baby on board” plastered nearby “Honk if you’re horny” (This one always tickled me. Miltoncornered me on more than one occasion and proceeded to tell me how much he loved pussy) and the ever popular “I EAT SHIT” in big bold letters by the right wheel.
“Whoa, man, cool. Be cool, man. She’s just a lady!” Red was eloquent in this way. His lower jaw jutted out at you when he talked as if he was constantly tying to catch an afternoon drizzle.
“Fucking bitch. I wheeled up to her and was like ‘hey got any change, babe?’ and she turned on me like an eagle and was like…” he raised the pitch of his voice and, strangely enough, does indeed sound like a scorned woman. “’you lazy, lazy man, I saw you walking around, there is nothing wrong with your leg!’” I descended to them and raised my eyebrows inviting conversation. Miltonhad eyes that burrowed inside you. He looked through you rather than at you. Everything was intense withMilton; even if you’re only talking. He had a way of looking at you, as if he were imploring you to like him, which in turn made it hard not to. But there were these times, when the anger had boiled over in his system and he looked like a ravaged tiger ready to spring. As small as he was he didn’t seem like a problem, but if you saw his eyes, a blue and red fusion of hate and anguish, you’d feel his pain, and it’s impossible for you to turn away.
“What you say to her, man?” Red had a way of speaking as if he were both very drunk and stoned at the same time. His cadence was slow and rhythmic and his physiognomy was that of a retarded twelve year old boy. He was, however, as sharp as a knife.
“I says to her, I says, ‘Fuck you lady!’ then I showed her.” Miltongrabbed his pant leg and slowly lifted it as if both Red and I had never before seen the grotesque. His shin actually looked as if someone made a bowl out of it. Three inches deep. It’s a wonder he can stand at all. “And she screamed and went running off, the bitch. I tell ya, people are fucking stupid, the bitch, no idea what the fuck she’s saying, the bitch.” Then Red chimes in with his phlegmatic wisdom.
“Here, man, have a cigarette.” His jaw jut out, bottom teeth showing, but the most caring eyes a person could ever see.
I smile down at Milton and Red. The world is right today. I feel at ease. No more tension built in my shoulders.
I tapped Red on the shoulder and moved past without saying anything.
“Hey, man, you got any cigarettes?” It was Red.
I turn around and look directly at the cigarettes exposed forMilton’s consumption. Red follows the gaze and smiles.
“You know,” Red says with a chuckle. “One for the road.”
“One for the road, right.” I said and popped a cigarette out for Red, pause, then give him two. “One for the road.”
“Hey, alright, man! Take it easy!” Red takes what I like to call Red’s Jazz pose. Right hand outstretched and right foot extended and upturned.
“Night guys.” I say as I enter my building.
Nights were always the worst. Nothing to do but think about what you’ve done during the day. Who you’ve loved and who you’ve hated. It could be a wonderful time if you’re happy, but it isn’t a wonderful time for me. Downtime creates residual restlessness.
I fancied myself an insomniac, though clinically probably no more than a poor sleeper. I didn’t go nights without sleeping, it just took a long time for sleep to take over. It didn’t matter the bed, or the pillow; it didn’t matter what comforter, sleep was always just a hard time coming.
I thought of many things while trying to sleep. I thought of girls and friends, I fantasized of being a hero and saving some baby from a burning building. I dreamt about being a famous writer and traveling the globe, writing my world famous books. I did this while staring at a spider that made my ceiling his roost. I ignored the dust that carpeted my room and webs that encrusted my walls. No point on dwelling on the present when you can be wishing for a future.
I sighed and scanned through the books lined up against my walls. What to read today. I searched through my endless library and decided, that night I didn’t have much attention span. I settled on a short story collection; “Cthulu and other Oddities.” I always had a fancy for the fantastic. Otherworldly thinks appeal to my dreamer nature. I laid down taking note that for the night, thank God; there would be no setting of an alarm clock. I had that freedom. The book cracks open and my eyes scan across the title of the first story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I read it though I didn’t really understand it. I think I fell asleep, but I may be just that disjointed.
Dreams are enigmatic. Short jolty scenes where aberrant images clash. I saw the park, or rather the area of the park I frequent. There’s a lush almost swamp like pond with a clearing complete with a fallen tree trunk carved into a bench; a perfect place to write, nothing but all the time in the world to create.
In the dream, though, this scene wasn’t the serene venue that I wished it to be. The water was like pitch, motionless and menacing. There was a slight breeze in the air, usually indicative of an ocean zephyr. I glance up at the sky expecting the usual opaque navy, and instead it’s scarlet.
I want to keep looking, intrigued by the oddity, wanting to know more, but instead my head whips down to see someone crawling out of the brackish water. It’s a tall man who seems to be impervious to water. It rolls off him as if he were a duck. He’s wearing a red beanie and a black trench coat. I immediately recognize him and thank god I’m not a woman in my kitchen. Strange I seem to understand what’s happening so intrinsically, I wonder how it could be a dream.
He crawled, jerking, up the incline towards me and raised his head. The beanie was pulled down over his face, but I saw his mouth. Teeth big enough to split both lips. I slap my hands to my face and scream. The world fades and lines streak like running paint. I feel wallpaper underneath my fingernails.
I sit up in my bed and the book falls to the floor with a thump. I resolve to stop eating spicy food before bed.
In the morning I decided I must face my fears and my dream. I must go to my spot and contemplate.
The day was windy and gray. My breath burned in my lungs as I pumped my legs on the bike pedals to reach my destination. A cold burn. I feel despondent about my lack of exercise. This shouldn’t be nearly as hard as it seems to be.
Every time I saw the park I’d be amazed. It seemed to have a glow about it. A separation from the downtrodden cobbled neighborhood. It had a resplendent warmth, a golden aura. Just being able to see the park made me more at ease.
I laid my bike down in the grass and trod to my destination, weary of the conjured creatures of my mind. Obviously I was being paranoid, right? Dreams are just dreams, but reality had a terrifying thinness to it; as if the cold I embrace the lucidity of my surroundings. No if this were a dream I wouldn’t be cognizant of the burn in my lungs, which consequently has not receded.
The pond has a light green tint to it, and the bark bench has a soft worn feel to it. I stare down at the spot where the creature ascended in my dream. A frog, nothing more.
I see strange things sometimes. Solid objects wave, like air rippling across water. I mention this now because it’s what the dirt is doing. Previously I have told people of this oddity, thinking it wasn’t abnormal. All people must get this from time to time. Apparently this is not the case. I have been accused of being a burn out. Too much acid they said, but this isn’t the truth. I’ve never done drugs. My perception is too vapid to even try it for fear of it deepening.
I pull my gaze from the quivering dirt and cast my eyes to the houses in the distance. Business as usual. Pause, a car passes. Pause, a car passes. Pause, a car passes. People doing their daily thing, furiously and frivolously going from point to point.
The only divergence I see is through my peripheral vision. A man standing in the shadows of an oak at the precipice of the park. His hand is resting on the trunk and he seems to be looking at me. I try and take a better look at him, but when I peer closer he’s gone. A shadow person.
This is another thing that happens to me periodically. They pop out of the corners of my vision, as if I’m lonely and my subconscious is creating a partner for me to commune with. They’re hardly ever there and when they are it startles them much more than they startle me. I have scared many an elderly lady. Still wonder about drugs?
Goddamn its time to see the doctor again.
I pounce up the stairs and reach his door. Closed and locked. Damn. I stand there for a minute and wonder what good it will do to knock. Chances are he isn’t here, after all I don’t actually have an appointment, however I have come before unannounced. It’ll have to be another day.
Red and Milton are standing in front of my door again. Déjà vu. Routines are done to facilitate memory. It is far easier to remember what you did yesterday if you do it everyday. This is my curse. I try as hard as I can to avoid the mainstream. I work because I have to, but small talk doesn’t ease the mind it collapses it. Right?
Miltonseems better today; he has a big grin on his face, his cheeks wrinkling up around his eyes. I don’t think I could bear talking to them again today. I feel dizzy, probably from riding my bike up a hill, going all the way to the park, but I still don’t feel good.
I jump down from the bike and walk it over past the two vagrants to my house. They notice me, but seem too involved in some kind of conversation, as I pass I turn and wave. This was a mistake.
I run right into someone. Square into his chest, and though he has a small frame he doesn’t move. I turn my head with an apology on my lips and I see Larry. The crazy asshole. And now he has something to yell at me for. Shit.
“You see ‘em too! I seen ‘em on the corner! They sneaky. They hard. They haunt! They always there aint they? Just round the corner! Waitin fer ye! They’ll get ye.” His eyes are on fire. Normally gray now sunsets. Waving bright colors flow like water. His mind is gone.
I was expecting him to scream bloody murder to me. I was expecting to feel a barrage of fists, but no I get the Larry with an eager face, wanton, imploring. It scares me.
“Goddamn it, you need to sleep more.” The same thing I tell myself. “They’re only your imagination, bad food and sleep deprivation.” The same thing I tell myself.
“Naïve, boy! They comin for ye.” I don’t see humanity in his eyes anymore. I’m not sure if I ever had; all I see now is a wall. I see bricks that he has lain throughout the years adding to this persona. The façade became real. Larry as he was, whatever he was, is no more. He is behind that wall. This is what remains. I imagine this is what happens to people when they go crazy; they put themselves behind a wall to protect themselves.
“Good for them.” I hear the disdain in my voice. I hear the anger. It’s not real anger at him though. It’s his mannerisms. They terrify me. They have a swagger of a man who seems to have something so heavy on his conscious that it drags him to hunch. Big waving arms for emphasis on his statements. They terrify me. They remind me of me.
I slip past Larry and ignore his imploring shells that were once eyes and glance back at Red and Milton. They are both looking at me, not at the combination of Larry and I, our little quibble that we always have, but at me. Red lifts his head a little and whispers something to me. I think I understand the concern in his face and the darkness of his eyes. His broken lips wording “be careful.”
Too much. I’ve had too much. I have to go inside. I’m getting loopy, dizzy. I need to sleep. I slam through the doorway and take the steps two at a time, my bike forgotten in the hallway. Forget the bike. Two at a time. I gotta get to sleep. I feel even worse. Everything is spinning, two at a time. Can I take three? It’s getting dark. Two at a time. The front door seems so far away. Two at a time. Two at a time. Two at a time. Door, Room. Bed. Sleep. Déjà vu.
I’ve woken to find that I haven’t slept at all. I feel like I’ve run a marathon. Exausted, lying in bed watching the shadows of a nearby tree snake across my ceiling. I need air; I’m being suffocated, a thick ephemeral haze covering the room. I’ve woken in a cloud.
I feel dizzy and out of sorts. Everything around me almost seems like it may be a dream, as if I’m sleeping now, but I can feel the pins and needles in my right calf. That slow and warm crawl back and forth. Sporadic patterns laced in the leg. I need a walk; fresh air will clear my head. It’s too muggy in this apartment. Its suffocates you to sleep it doesn’t lull you.
I sit and collect my thoughts with my head in my hands. I can’t do it. I feel crazy, shaken, buzzed, except I have a cognizance of my actions. I stand and sway making my way towards the door, rubbing my forehead. I feel slimy, greasy, coated in a sheen of Crisco. The more I wipe the dirtier I seem to get. I can’t believe I’m walking outside like this.
Outside I near the park. The air helps, I feel a bit sharper. However I can never go back inside, I couldn’t stand the claustrophobia. Tight lungs desperately stretching to try and get air. A burning sensation.
There are Shades here. Shadow people; peering from behind trees, out lines, shapes. If I was alone on the road I’d be scared, with people here I know that they’ll stay there. At the edges. Irrational thoughts for sure. Who wouldn’t? What would you think if you saw people at the edge of your vision? So what if you knew they weren’t real. What if one time, one was?
There is so much clean air in the woods. I think maybe I could take a nap out here. I must be tired. That’s why the Shadow people are coming out. That’s why they’re creeping so close. I thought I had slept. Did I sleep? Did I dream the whole thing? I thought I slept. Maybe it was a day dream. How sad, daydreaming about dreaming.
Clean air. I can breathe out here; full of oxygen, moving the toxins out.
I need to go to the doctor.
They pump oxygen into casinos to keep people awake. Keep their senses clear, so they could gamble longer. I can’t sleep out here.
A shadow person just ran across the field ahead. Am I dreaming? Wait where did everyone go?
There’s another one.
I thought people were around? Oh, I’m dizzy. Another one.
Am I dreaming? Or are they real? Another one.
It’s getting dark. No my eyes closed. Another one. Maybe the fresh air is working.
I wake into a dream. I’m still in the park. No shadow people around now. Is it a dream? I just lay down. Feels like a dream. Feels warm. The park at night is not warm. I must be sleeping! The walk worked.
“Ya must run now. It won’t take ‘em long. They’s found ya tonight. Ye best be careful.” Behind me.
I turn into Larry. With him standing in front of me. He smiles at me; winking. Oh, it’s getting dark again. Or…
No my eyes were closed. I’m still in the park. I feel agoraphobic. I have to get inside.
I need to see the doctor.
In the street I see a man. He looks angry.
“Psychotic punk! Did you think you could get away with it?”
Is he talking to me? He isn’t looking at me.
“Pull that wallet out! I know you have a knife! Where’s the gun?!”
He grabs my hands; pulls them to his chest. What the hell?
“You fucked my wife! Drug addict! Pilferer!”
Why won’t he let go of me?
“Let go of me!”
He looks crazy!
“You’re holding on to me!”
I’ve very confused.
“Leave me ALONE!”
He screams like a woman.
I let go and he runs away. I shake my hands and…it’s getting dark. Again.
I wake on the street. I’m clothed and walking. I’m not wearing the same thing I was before. Different clothes, different day I guess. I see Red and Milton in front of my house.
Miltonseems better today; he has a big grin on his face, his cheeks wrinkling up around his eyes. I don’t think I could bear talking to them again today. I feel dizzy, probably from riding my bike up a hill, going all the way to the park, but I still don’t feel good.
Wait, did I ride my bike today?
I see the guy from my dream in the distance. He’s wearing different clothes too. Different clothes different day. It’s a gray hoodie with a black beanie this time. He’s following a girl too. I make a step towards them and I see Red out of the corner of my eye. He’s trying to tell me something. I squint my eyes. His lips create the words “be careful.” I frown and look back to the guy from my dreams.
He’s close to her now. He’s walking fast and she looks worried. I try to move toward them, but I’m dizzy. I see her reach into her pockets, I presume keys. Get the keys. His hands pull out of his pockets. Get the keys. His nails are long, ugly. Dirty. Get the keys. How can she pause? Get the keys! It’s getting so dark. GET THE KEYS! He’s a demon! Grab. The. Keys!
Too slow. He took her. Jumped over her shoulders. Nails digging into her shoulders. Those teeth. Big enough to split both lips. They bite. Tearing and ripping. She screams. She never got the keys. Its so dark. I see people walking towards me through the darkness. Shadow people I know. I can see them clearly. A hand on my shoulder. I turn and see Red standing there. He looks sad, but I’m so dizzy. A hand on shoulder. I turn and see Red standing there. He looks sad, but I’m so dizzy. A hand on shoulder. I turn and see Red standing there. He looks sad, but I’m so dizzy. Hand on shoulder. “Be careful.” Déjà vu.
I find myself in the doctor’s office. It’s cold. I think one of the windows is broken. What day is it?
“What day is it?” He looks at me and shakes his head. I think of the park. The skinny they call it. The skinny. There is a glow there. It’s a glow of gold. It feels good there. Feels thin. “Why am I here today? Did you agree to meet me?”
The doctor shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head. He’s skinny. He’s thin. He seems familiar. Déjà vu.
“Why the scream? Am I screaming?” The painting. Paint. Scream.
His hands go to his face. Screaming. Thin. He’s paint. He’s running. The paint, leaking. The room is bare. No scream, no doctor. Why am I here? I need the park. It’s getting so dark. All the time. Must be winter. When do I work? Friday. I like Friday. It’s skinny. Oh, yeah the park.
It’s cold here. I can only see through a pinhole. Shadow people blur the vision. They’re so close. Do I have keys? I NEED TO GRAB MY KEYS! Déjà vu.
I rip the doctor off the wall. The painting. The Scream off the wall. It’s too much. How could you put that in a doctors office? I feel something under my fingernails. Yellow wallpaper. Déjà vu.
The pond. I look to my pond. It’s so cold. I look in my pond. I see myself crawling out of it. Déjà vu. I wear a red beanie and my teeth split my lips. I crawl into it. The pond is skinny. I reach the bottom fast.
The bottom is the doctors office. I see the scream on the wall. The doctor is too. Screaming. It’s so dark. Déjà vu.
Larry entered the room with a wide eyed expectancy. He was being followed by a shadow person. He felt the shadow person pulling at his brain, stretching his sanity like taffy. The room was cold and dark, soap covering the windows.
The room was bare, nothing covering the walls, not even wall paper, only a dingy brown mold. The hardwood floors were pulled up at points leaving small protrusions that were perfect for stubbing a toe.
A stiff breeze flew into the room and Larry shivered when he saw the man lying over in the corner. He was curled up into a ball with a red pool surrounding him. The window was smashed in, glass sprayed everywhere. The man had a piece of glass grasped firmly in his right hand. Larry took note that his fingernails were either bent back or torn off, he had been digging in the walls.
Larry shook his head and turned back to the door. He saw the gouges next to the door on the wall. Deep and with blood spattered periodically within.
Larry respected the man, he had seen the shadow people, he had run from the shadow people and now he had stood up to them. He had fought.
People around the neighborhood called him Scary Larry, people thought he was crazy. They were afraid of him, but there was something that the people around the neighborhood didn’t know about, something they would be much more scared about.
The shadow people. They came from the park. They took this man. They had been coming for him for years. He just knew how to run. He moved past the gouges in the walls and out the door to the old office. It amazed him that no one ever saw the man going up the stairs. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn’t care. Maybe they thought he was crazy. Just another bum.
Larry reached the bottom of the staircase and saw light traffic at the intersection. Two shadow people, one on his right periphery and one on the left. Time to run.
The eighth story from Sean McBride’s published short story collection, A View of the Edge of the World. This episode is read and produced by Ed Robinson.
Sorry for the late post guys! Work got crazy and I forgot to post on Friday, but since there is a dark week in the podcast, I thought I’d post a monologue from the “Bowling Alley” poems. This could be dedicated to many, but it originally was spawned from seeing a young couple at the bowling alley, obviously on a date and just as obviously scared shitless. I remember what those feelings were like and even now when you’re out with someone new, there is still that anticipation…
or Young Love
“Now here comes the most interesting part, eh?
“See now, imagine this: you are standing on the porch of a date that went moderately well. You stand smiling at beleaguered conversation. The contrivance of hospitality and general politeness. You come to a conclusion. You must take action! Things are brisk, people are fickle, derisive. you are expected a move.
“You feel jumbles of chaos and confusion in that moment. The person before you is perfect; an eloquent goddess perfumed with the scent of the earth. You need to be impetuous; how else can you ensnare a goddess? This is how you feel though; to an introverted, pensive onlooker you need ensnarement. The only thing that runs through your mind is that this being before you has to be charmed with equal measures of chivalry, honor, and audacity. The thought of love in return, at least in that moment, is but a fools dream, a fable told to children to ease and induce dreams of portentous avarice. You want it all.
“So standing in front of you is your catch and instead of dazzling, you’ve only made due. So the move that’s expected is pulled scratching and clawing from that reclusive, banal corner of your brain and saunters forward with pretentiousness of a despot ruling a land. You see an opportunity, so you reach out with your right arm and cradle the soft small of her back, holding her weight while decimating the space between you. Enter a wicked grin.
“Two things happen at this point. Number one is, not only are you surprised by the sudden and definite intimacy of the situation, suddenly conjoined,but number two; she is surprised as well. There is warmth and feeling in an otherwise empty void. A slight gasp of air escapes her…anticipation. That air is the seed of dread and doubt that threads into the synapses of your brain. ‘Did I move too quick?’ you think, but then she smiles.
“you cradle that warmth and you need more, you crave more, surprised gasp or not. The thirst has been triggered, the worm is on the hook and the fly is being cast. All that is left is to reel in with your left hand. You feel it raise of its own volition and your heart beats so fast you are almost lightheaded. Your arm is raising yes, but of the levity of the situation, not of your cognizant action.
“Yes, but see, the most dangerous part is coming. When the left hand touches her hair and slides it back over her right ear, smiles fade and heads tilt. Your heart does a peremptory flutter and your breath gets interchanged. An intoxicating combination of carbon dioxide, making each party, just that much higher.
“your left hand slides through the soft silken tresses and caresses the back of her head; almost perfectly ergonomic. But then apprehension takes hold, what if she pulls back?
“The fallacies of form and soul belie the synapses. This girl. This Goddess. Is here. Why me? What far reaching disturbances could she mistake as eccentricities in your insipid form?
“Then she does something totally unexpected. She makes the move while you console your ego. So taken aback, so incredulous at the action, so mirthful, you return her action with vigor.
“Though it takes no more than three seconds for this interaction it stamps on your soul the intonation of love and it is apparent and remembered.”