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Unnamed Forest Road in Eldingdown State Park - P2
The next morning, reeling and nauseous from hangover, he had gone around to the side of Ethan’s jeep and pounded on the window to rouse him. That was when something glinting near the front tire caught his eye. Glass, shattered in the leaves. The front windshield was in pieces.
“Fuck, dude,” Ethan was rolling over; he hadn’t seen the damage yet. “Do you even remember what happened last ni—what the fuck.”
“Dude,” Brandon said, “What happened to your car?”
“Fuck, dude, I don’t know. What the hell? Were we that drunk last night?”
Sobered by the damage, they walked around the car and examined it for more. There was nothing other than the fractured windshield which had shattered outward from a central point centered over the driver’s side of the car. They did a thorough examination of the interior and found that nothing was missing, nothing was misplaced. By now Chris and Eric had risen and come over to investigate.
“Guys.” Chris said, “You got too freaking drunk last night.”
“Shut up, man. How would you know, you slept through half of it.”
Ethan was in a foul mood, so they made a hasty cleanup of their camp while they waited for AAA to arrive. They drove home in the back of the AAA tow truck, spirits low.
That was last weekend.
“A strange story, to be sure.” Father Paul said. “But I sense this isn’t all you came here to talk to me about. The forest road in these dreams you’ve been having. Do you think it’s the same road as the one you took to the campsite?”
Brandon nodded earnestly. “I know it is. And that’s what I came to talk to you about. The dreams are, well they’ve been getting worse. I’ve been trying not to sleep, but it creeps up on you. I told you about the last one I had.”
He had called him at 5 AM, one day ago, in hysterics. “The one with… with Eric on the side of the road.”
That dream had started on the same road, with the same unseeable presence in the passenger’s seat. But that time, something on the side of the road caught his eye in the high beams. He’d driven up on it thinking it was road kill, until he got close enough to see the unmistakable shape of a human spread out on the asphalt. It was Eric. He was dead, and flanked by tire tracks.
“You told me about that one, yes. I agree, it is troubling.”
“Last night, I had the same dream, but I didn’t wake up right away after seeing Eric, like before. And whoever was in the passenger’s seat seemed to be watching me very intently. You know how sometimes you just know when someone is. It makes your skin prickle. So I just drove past him.”
And then something had caught the corner of his eye. A demon mask held in a lap. Suddenly, the paralysis keeping his eyes locked on the road disappeared and he turned his neck to look at her. A human face, just inches away, staring at him with blank eyes from the passenger’s seat.
He had a moment of panic and then he realized. It was not a human face at all. It was stiff as though made of wax. He could see a crack running from its jaw-line up to disappear beneath the hairline. Its eyes were as lifeless and shiny as if they’d been plucked from the skull of a dead man. It was the girl who had joined them at their campsite that night, but her face was a mask.
He was frozen with horror. Where before he couldn’t turn to see what was beside him, now he was powerless to look away as a pale hand reached up and started to peel back the edges of the mask.
And then there was a thump, and the car shuddered and skidded and he slammed his foot on the brake. Whatever spell had been put on him was broken, and his eyes snapped back to the road where he had come to a halt with a spider web of cracks spreading out on the windshield. He opened the door to see what he had hit, but some part of him already knew. It was not going to be a deer.
It was Ethan. The right side of his face had been scraped off by road burn, and his neck was twisted at a right angle to his body. He looked just like Eric had.
Father Paul sighed and sipped his coffee, which Brandon could smell through the divider. “A troubling dream indeed. I can see why you would be uneasy about it.” Another sip. “I can’t help but think there’s more to the story of last weekend. Perhaps these dreams are the manifestation of some guilt that’s been eating at you. Dreams are a window into the conscience, and subconscious, you know. And, I can’t help but notice we are meeting in the confessional, instead of in my office or anywhere else otherwise sensible. It seems you need to meditate on what really transpired that night.”
He wracked his brain. “No, there was nothing else. I told you everything I remember.”
“And you’re sure of that?”
No, wait, there was something else, he realized with a pang. It had been in the early hours of the morning, an island of memory between two seas of drunken black. He had opened his eyes to see Eric and Ethan pressing close in to the girl’s lawn chair, cornering her. He remembered the utterly impassive look she had on her face, like it had been made of rubber.
“C’mon,” he remembered Eric saying. He saw his hand tug at her blouse. “Be chill.”
“Yeah,” Brandon had slurred. “Be chill.”
“C’mon, babe. I’ve got a nice warm jeep just over there. Heated seats…”
Brandon went home after his meeting with Father Paul and drank boxed wine and watched Netflix until night came. He started on the fifty Hail Marys Father Paul had prescribed. He left a few messages on Ethan’s cell phone.
Hey dude, I wanted to talk to you about something that happened last weekend. Do you remember—well, do you remember a girl walking up on our campsite? Random, I know. I just wanted to ask about it. Just call me back, man. He waited for an answer, but none came.
He called Eric, who didn’t pick up, and left the same message. He sat on his recliner, feeling more and more uneasy. Eric always picked up.
He worked his way through half a season of Full House and finished his wine. He fought sleep but he was drained, and it came up on him anyway.
For the first time, the dream began not driving, but walking along the road towards the campsite. He knew the road well—it was narrow and winding, wide enough only for one vehicle at some points with old oak trees that grew right up to the side of the road. If it were daytime, he would have been able to see the colors of their leaves changing.
He knew that if he turned around and walked back he would be able to see the body of Ethan spread out on the pavement with his neck at a right angle to his body. And, if he walked further back than that, he would see Eric spread-eagled on the road. But he was powerless to do anything but keep walking forward.
After not too long he heard the sound of a car approaching. He turned around to look at it and saw the distinctive headlights of Ethan’s jeep. But it wasn’t Ethan at the wheel, it was Chris. And he wasn’t looking at the road, he was looking at someone in the passenger’s seat. A woman with a mask for a face, just starting to peel it off.
Before he could see what was underneath, the headlights blinded him. For a moment the world seemed to collapse in on itself as down became up and left and right became meaningless, sight and sound and smell and vision was all the same loud coppery cold sensation of pain. Asphalt rushed up to meet him, but he was still looking upwards towards the windshield, straining to see what was under the mask.
This time, he did not wake.
May (pt. 1)
"Achoo! Excuse me."
The soft, squeaky voice of the cute Asian girl in the seat next to me was pleasant. I was on a plane to Melbourne to visit my parents, and flying from New Jersey was hell. Whenever I made the trip (annually), I was always saddled with some overweight man who respirated like an air-conditioning unit or some weird older lady that seemed desperate to make a connection with a "young'n" like myself. Therefore, this petite body with a quiet voice was a treat in my eyes.
"Bless you." I smiled at her. She smiled back a little.
"Thank you." She nodded and turned on a gameboy. I smiled more and turned away, enjoying the atmosphere of the plane. I've always loved the sound of being in an airplane. The gentle shaking. However, I could tell that this girl was very nervous. Her feet were fidgety, and every minute she took a swig from her water bottle, even when it was empty.
"H-huh?" She looked over.
"Is this your first flight?"
"Yes..." She said quietly once more.
"I was like that when I first flew!" I wasn't.
"I'm just not very...enthused about being so high in the air."
"You know, statistically you're more likely to die in a car crash then a-"
The fasten seatbelts light popped on as the intercom buzzed in, followed by the friendly and always over-enthused voice of the pilot.
"This is your pilot speaking, we're hitting a bit of turbulence here, so it's going to be a little bumpy at the moment. I'm gonna ask you all to please follow the 'Fasten Your Seatbelts' light that just came on, and not to worry, it's only for a little bit."
Just then the plane shook and the girl quickly fastened her seatbelt. Perfect timing.
"Woops!" The pilot laughed, "Guess it's going to be more bumpy than I thought, not to worry, we'll be out of it soon. Thank you for flying InterAir!"
The intercom cut out. I looked over at the now shaking girl. Poor thing.
"Y-you were saying.."
"C'mon, it's just a bit of turbulence! Always happens."
The plane shook again and she whimpered. I felt a little awkward, I didn't exactly have anything to soothe her anxiety. She didn't even look like she was old enough to drink. I wasn't even old enough to drink.
"So...what's your name?"
"Your name, let's make small talk so you can focus on something else."
"I'm Liam. How old are you? I'm 19."
"A year away from freedom, eh?"
"I'm already living on my own."
"Oh yeah? How'd you swing that?"
"Graduated early, made it into Princeton University...my parents live in Texas."
"So what brings you to Australia?"
"My cousins live there, and I'm going as a Christmas gift."
"Nice, I'm visiting my parents."
"Are you from there?"
"No, I grew up in California. Moved to Utah for a few years, then Dad's work took him over to Melbourne."
"What does your father do?"
"He's an IT guy."
The plane violently shook as the poor girl shrieked.
"Hey, hey!" I put my hand on her arm. "It's okay. Yeah?"
She threw on headphones and wiped her eyes, "It's been nice talking to you." With that, she threw a blanket over her shoulders and closed her eyes tightly. Oh well, you can't win them all. A few other people were complaining and making "Ooooo" noises as well.
About ten minutes later, the shaking ceased and the light went off. May was asleep and I was exhausted. A boy who looked about a year or so younger than me made a "PSST!" sound at me from across the aisle. I looked over and was nearly blinded at the light reflected by his braces. He was wearing sunglasses too. Jesus.
"What?" I looked over.
"She your girlfriend?"
"She's pretty hot, eh?"
I turned away and he laughed a squeaky laugh.
"You should totally try to hook up with her, bro. You know like, she looks like she's scared and stuff, she'll probably be all clingy and-"
"Have you ever had a real relationship before?"
He laughed and turned away, not answering me. I'm guessing it was a no.
About five or so hours later, May awoke. She wiped her eyes once more and looked over at me.
"Hi!" I tried to play off what had happened earlier.
"Hi." She looked embarrassed. "Sorry about freaking out earlier. I don't really manage my anxiety too well."
"Oh, pshh - it's nothing. Promise."
"You're pretty cool, Liam."
"Thanks, you too."
We ended up chatting a lot of small talk. I found out her favorite color was red, that she preferred Spring to Summer and Fall to Winter, that her favorite fast food joint was Wendys, and her birthday. It was today. That made me feel extra bad that she would be spending the majority of it in flight.
"Well, I don't think they'll allow us to blow out candles in this place."
She laughed, "It's okay, I already had my celebration about a week ago."
She got up to go to the bathroom and then that stupid kid had the nerve to pinch her ass. She squeaked and slapped at his shoulder as he laughed with his buddy.
"Hey, what's your problem?"
"What? Pfft, don't tell me-"
"No seriously buddy, what's your fuckin' problem?"
"Andrew, what's going on?" A frail lady's voice came from in front.
"Uh, nothin mom! It's all-"
"Oh, is this your mom?" I laughed. "Your son just pinched some girl's butt."
"Ahah! This is bullshit!" He smiled. "I'm gonna go to the bathroom." He quickly ran off as I was forced to remain with the lady.
"I apologize for him." She spoke.
"He gets it from his father. I try to tell him to respect women, and well, everyone in general. If he keeps doing that, he's going to get sl-"
A horrifying shriek came from the restrooms. Silence. Then another shriek, that intensified into bloodcurdling and horrific cries of pain and anguish mixed with banging noises on the bathroom door. Everyone on board heard it and a few men ran to the restroom amidst the confused chatter of the passengers. My mouth was open. What just happened? I ran over to the restroom and saw the men prying with all of their strength to open the door.
"Kid you gotta unlock it! Unlock the door!"
"She's eating me! She's eating me!" A voice cried, and the words were almost unintelligible. Blood started to flow under the door and the men launched back, repulsed by the sight.
"Holy shit!" One of them cried out as the other began to kick the door in. Only moments after the screams subsided, the door caved in and the sight was unfathomable: There were chunks of flesh scattered about the restroom. Intestines and what looked like fragments of bone were in the toilet. Right by the sink was the worst display: His head had been ripped off and half of it was utterly destroyed, parts of brain had been exposed and played with as if it were a high-school art display - and directly on the other side, his teeth had been ripped out, braces n' all.
It was a revolting sight, the two men who had attempted to intervene started to throw up. I even got a bit queasy and I backed off. The panic on the plane was in full effect as a lady had caught sight of the gruesome scene and began shouting her lungs out, "He's dead! Oh-my-fucking-god, he's dead!"
Immediately the co-pilot ran out to see what was causing the ruckus. Unfortunately there was no way they could just land. The plane was over the ocean. Nobody knew what to do. Incredulously, the decision was made to refit the bathroom door back on and cordon it off. Throughout all of this commotion, I had forgotten to ask myself: May. Where was she? Where was May?
May (pt 2)
I opened the adjacent bathroom and I found her. She was cowering down and crying softly to herself.
She wouldn't answer me. I closed the door behind me and I knelt down.
"Are you okay?"
"Did he die? Did the boy die?"
"Y-yeah, he's dead, I don't know what the fuck is going on. Something just...ate him...and tore him apart."
"I heard the screaming..."
"Yeah....Did you just hide in here?"
She nodded and miraculously gave me a tiny hug. I took her back to our seats and stared out the window for hours as people began shouting and trying to figure out what happened.
"This is ridiculous!" A man shrieked, "Something ate this boy!"
"What is it, a monster?"
"I've never seen anything like it!"
"God, help us! Please!"
"Lady, God ain't real anymore!"
I felt very inclined to agree with him. I was never big on spirituality or religion, but after looking at what happened in that bathroom...yeah, I was certain. What kind of God would ever allow this?
What kind of God could forgive this?
After a few announcements to keep calm by the pilots, the shock and panic stopped and weeping commenced. A lot of the passengers were convinced that this was the End of Days. Others were attempting to rationalize it, but they got absolutely nowhere. Then came the inevitable moment where people began to accuse.
May continued to stare out the window, uninvolved in the matter. I poked her shoulder and she looked over at me.
"Yes. When are we going to land?"
"I don't know...do you...want to talk about it?"
"Why? What good would it do?"
She held her stomach and groaned.
"Are you going to throw up? Should I get you something?"
"No, I'm fine.." She burped and held it again.
I gave her a weird look and attempted to go find out about potential landing times from the pilots. It was grim, we wouldn't be able to land for, at minimum, several more hours. More seriously, it seems as if all of their communications had been severed, so they'd been talking to static for the past while. People were vomiting from the smell and it made the air more thick and tangible. Some poor lady attempted to spray air freshener, but it made no difference.
People were screeching over the sudden failure of their phones, and an air of terror hung over the place.
Who killed him? Who was next? Would the plane ever land?
"Liam..." Her small voice chirped.
"What do you think of me?"
I gave her another odd look, "Well I..I've not known you for too long, but I think you're very nice. And you look very nice, and you seem all around...well, cool!"
"Yeah, you're certainly not bad, by any means.."
"What if I was? Would you still think I'm 'all around cool'?"
"Depends, I suppose."
She turned around, and it was that moment that I'd noticed a speck of blood on her neck.
"Is that blood..."
She gasped and turned around, "No, what are you talking about?"
"Is that fucking blood on your neck?" I hissed in a hushed whisper. I was in disbelief and...come on, no way this girl could've done THAT to the guy! Plus she was in the other bathroom!
Her eyes filled up with tears and she started to cry again.
And then...I don't know what it was. I just knew. The way she was crying and the way she held herself for comfort...it said everything that I'd been wondering.
"What the fuck are you?" I hissed again.
"I don't know what I am." She whispered back and opened her mouth. It was red. Her teeth were sharp and I don't know how I'd not noticed them before. Her eyes flickered orange and when I, in my disoriented and amazed state, reached my hand out - one of her tears fell upon it and it burned for a brief second. Scalding tears.
I gasped and she hugged her knees, crying harder.
"What are you?" I repeated again.
"I told you I don't know...that's why I'm here. I'm not visiting my cousins."
"Did you kill-" I looked around and lowered my voice before leaning in, "Did you kill anyone back in the States?"
"Yeah...I killed some guy."
"He hit an old lady with his car and just drove off...I killed him in a field by the highway..." She coughed and gagged, her tears flowing out. I made the mistake of wiping one away, and it hurt.
"How.." I gulped and licked my lips. They were dry as all hell, "How did you get like this?"
"I've been this way always. My mother told me I was different from the other children, but I didn't expect anything like this. It's just...this eternal bloodlust, and I've spent so many years of my life repressing it with medication and training...I allow myself to eat and kill bad people, but that boy...he didn't deserve to die."
My head was spinning. I ran to the bathroom and I vomited more than I ever have in my entire life. What was she? Was she a demon?
Maybe this was the End.
Dawn cast its way upon the plane and I noticed the clouds looked marvelous. It was such a peaceful sight, and in a way, it was funny- funny how such peace could have a bird of fear and terror in its midst. May had stopped talking about an hour after she told me she ate people. I was conflicted, and by all means I should've ratted her out to the others and we would've killed her; but I didn't. I didn't want to.
She was so conflicted, it was almost as if she treated her life as a curse. Maybe she was going to a secluded place where she could live without having to kill anyone anymore? I questioned my own sanity and my judgement, and in reality, it probably wasn't very good on a biological standpoint. I hadn't gotten any rest, and I was fucking exhausted.
The foul odor was overwhelming. People were miserable and the pilots had been in contact with authorities all night. Someone I hadn't thought to check up on was Andrew's mother. She was standing by the bathroom door in a state of shock. Her eyes stared at the floor and her expression was blank.
I went back to the aisle and I found May praying. It didn't sound like normal prayer though. It sounded like a hushed chant, and I noticed her eyes flickering.
I chose to ignore it - and I fell into a sleep. A desperately needed sleep where my dreams could blanket me and tell me everything was okay. Instead I saw darkness. Uncomfortable, silent darkness.
A violent shaking swept over the plane and I awoke in the bathroom with a gasp. May was sitting very still and looking at me. The plane was in full panic mode. Screams and cries were heard from nearly every person outside.
"May...? What's going on?"
She looked over and bit her lip.
"I can trust you that you'll never talk about this, right?"
"May, what the fuck is going on?"
"I cant let anyone talk about this. I'll keep you safe, though. Because I know you won't talk, right?" Her eyes flickered again.
And with that she let out an ear-splitting shriek that caused me to yelp and cover my ears before I noticed my vision failing and then blackness set in. The last thing I heard was the screams of the passengers that grew louder and louder until finally it all stopped.
May (pt 3)
I awoke in a hotel room. May was in the bed next to mine and she was still asleep. Had the whole thing been a dream? Did I end up just...bunking with this girl for the night somewhere? I got out of bed and stumbled over to the TV, turning it to the news. Every station was the same:
Airliner crash. 165 dead, 12 missing.
A gentle hand touched my shoulder and I looked at the petite girl who stared at me with a sad and vacant expression. It wasn't a dream.
"Did you do that?" I croaked out.
"Are you going to kill me now?"
She shook her head as I exhaled sharply and collapsed to the floor, feeling tears flow out and my breathing starting to evolve into hyperventilating.
"Because you were nice to me."
I crawled back into bed. What were my parents going to say? My friends?
I looked at her once more and she frowned. Her eyes flickered again.
"What do you truly believe, Liam?"
"I don't know anymore."
"I'm sorry I put you in this position."
And with that I closed my eyes.
I don't know what I believe.
I don't know if belief really matters anymore.
When I first saw her, I felt she was the perfect embodiment of innocence.
And then I realized it was a demon that was sharing a room with me.
Here's my entry:
In Light of the Darkness
Jack’s a good boy. I haven’t been in his company too long, but I feel as if I know everything about him. It’s a shame what happened to him really. It was so unnatural and sinister, but I suppose all great things are. Jack didn’t deserve it. Nothing he did in his entire life brought this disaster upon him. No curses, no sins, no anger, and no vain wishes brought his demise. Life is merely a game of fortune and misfortune with no direction or preference; the people picked at random of are always unsuspecting of their approaching end and are often times innocent.
Jack was in his college dorm room. Everyone else had either gone home for the weekend or went to one of the many Halloween parties. Jack wasn’t interested in parties because he wanted to write a horror story. He turned off the lights in his room, leaving only the glow of the computer facing him. The entire dormitory was silent; the perfect environment to focus on writing. He slaved over the computer for hours, typing away like a mad man, sometimes stopping to correct a mistake. He finally finished his story and tomorrow, planned to edit it further. He turned off the computer and got himself ready to go to bed. Honestly, it wasn’t really that good anyway.
Jack laid down in his bed and covered himself up, mentally drained after finishing the story. It only took him a few minutes to fall asleep. There was complete silence. The silence remained even when the shadows of the room began to shift. As Jack laid still, lingering between the world of sleep and reality, his eyes suddenly opened to see a void of darkness before him. Due to his incoherent state, he thought it was just the darkness of the room. He didn’t notice that the light of the hallway that was always on could no longer be seen shining under the crack of the door. The darkness grew in size and approached him. Slowly, part of the darkness descended upon the covers of his bed, creeping along like a snake, eclipsing the entirety of the furniture. When it had finished, it touched his feet, as if it were testing a swimming pool to see if it was warm enough. It ran over the skin of his leg like water, covering every inch, moving its way passed his waist. He began to gasp for breath as it encircled his chest like a cobra, bringing him to complete consciousness. The shadow covered his throat like a turtleneck collar yet felt ice cold and sinister. It slithered into his ears and all he could hear was silence and the faint whisper of an intimate beckoning call, asking him to come closer. His mouth filled with darkness that began choking him. He couldn’t call out for help before because of the lack of air and now, not a single word could escape from his lips. His limbs, veins, and muscles all became numb as the shadow rushed over his eyes and all that was left was darkness.
How much Jack wanted to enter that contest on Newgrounds. He never got the chance to send in the story. I think I’ll write my own story and send it in for him, as a parting favor for a friend. Of course, if any good comes of it, I’ll be the one who gets the recognition while Jack sits back and watches as life plays out before him like a television screen, all his screams muffled inside the darkness. Jack is a good boy, but I’m sure no one will really miss him. To me, he’s never truly gone. We’re so much alike. Jack’s ambitions are my ambitions, his dreams are my dreams, and his body is now mine.
Okay, the week before school started, my boss came to my classroom to talk about the budget. He was arguing that he couldn’t OK the class trip to the District Thespian Competition, because he had to wait and see if my drama kids could work up enough money for that (his words) three-day field trip. I didn’t argue anything. I just sat in my chair, nodded, and made affirming sounds through my nose until he said something about looking forward to the school year and left. At some point he threw in a “gonna be a great year, Jim” for good measure.
I’d been expecting that talk for some time. There are worse things to worry about in the scheme of things. One time my flask fell out of my jacket during a pep rally. Nothing came of it, so I guess no one noticed, but for the rest of that year, any time my boss wanted to talk, my adrenal would shit itself.
So anyway: classes started, and I let my kids know that the public school system had forsaken them, that they’d likely be selling candy to their peers to raise money, and that righteous anger is a good thing. With twenty-two kids in the class, each with one box containing forty pieces of candy at one dollar apiece, each student would have to sell Christ, I don’t even fucking know. Before the end of the day, I nixed the candy idea. When I was in school, we raised money by performing plays. That’s why we were in the class. Call me an old fashioned gal, but I thought it’d be inappropriate to do anything else.
In the back of the room sat the school’s prestigious dramatic library: an ancient five-tiered bookshelf, found in some colonial Puritan’s home by the looks of it. I skimmed over the shelves. At the top were the mainstays: Damn Yankees (kitsch), Little Shop of Horrors (overdone), The Music Man (ew). The middle was crammed with dime a dozen, hyuck-hyuck scripts, mostly fairytale parodies. The bottom shelves were nothing but Marlow, Goethe, Bill Shakespeare—all those guys. I was hard pressed to find a show. When you do popular modern plays, audiences have an expectation of how songs ought to be done, how characters ought to be played. The prestige hurts more than it helps. None of the hokey scripts caught my attention. Acting is getting an audience to believe a collective lie, and cutesy plays about Hansel and Gretel set in suburban Arizona don’t exactly make the task any easier. And the accepted classics just ooze pretension at the high school level. Though Gale Shudders of Columbus High did a one-act version of Orpheus and Eurydice set in space a few years back. I haven’t been able to look her in the eye since. What’s more, the show claimed first place that year, something Columbus High’s Drama Department was well known for doing.
There was a time when my school brought home trophies. This was years before I showed up. Sitting on top of the bookshelf were the plastic idols themselves: tokens from the mid-’80s through to the early 2000s. I was going through the bookshelf during my planning period one day when I stopped to admire the trophies. I told myself “It Just Takes Dedication.”
I stood on a chair to get a good look at the trophies. Engraved on the base of each of them were the year, the various student performers’ last names, and the title of the pieces that had been judged. I noticed that the same play was on almost all of the trophies: The Comedie of Amphiktyones. I’d never heard of that—could much less pronounce it. I figured maybe it was some sort of tradition from way back.
I saw that the tallest trophy, first place ’94 (it was also the most recent first place), was set on top of an old, brown booklet, which I took in my hand. The title was faded on the front, but the spine had spindly, handwritten letters. It was The Comedie of Amphiktyones. “I’ll be damned.” I decided to read the play. Worst-case scenario: I end up choosing another play.
My free period was practically over, so I read the play at home that night, scotch in hand. It was an anonymous translation. “From the original Greek”. Good start, no royalty check. The play itself was OK. A foreword, To the God, still in Greek; overwrought dialogue; hubris out the ass; and Dionysus himself as the deus in the machina. Nothing that hadn’t been done before in other better plays. Still, for whatever reason, it was The Comedie that kept popping back into my mind any time I went perusing other scripts.
Back then, I was all about making schedules, and the time was coming for me to choose a show for the fundraiser. It was too late for me to write an original piece. Also, the last of my plays the kids performed was skewered by the judges (one of whom was Roy Weiss, who just can’t get over things in the past, so really it’s no surprise it bombed). I thought for a bit about the class, about how athletes are exalted and artistes patted on the head, about the whole damn totem pole of attention. If my kids had to earn their keep, they’d do it with the same material that other kids in their position had.
One night after a few drinks, I tore into the play. I outlined the structure but couldn’t figure out the tone we should aim for. Tone is that all-important element that dictates how seriously an audience will take your piece. Every high school that does a Greek piece invariably dresses the kids up in white togas and shiny ribbon. No thank you. But what, if not bed sheets and sandals? Then I remembered the foreword, To the God. After much googling, I’d sort of translated the piece, and found a linguistic guide for the Greek. By this point I was pretty warm, and decided to give the original foreword a try. I stammered the words out, and wasn’t entirely sure if I’d gotten them right. Then a chunk of my ceiling collapsed onto the carpet in front of me, and I spilled watered-down scotch all over my lap.
I stared at the plaster on the floor for a bit, then at the hole in my ceiling. About the time I decided it was alright to move, a lime colored glob fell out of the hole and onto the plaster. It looked about as solid as Jell-O, and I could see through it. I went for my phone, which was in my pocket. Then the blob formed into a kind of squat popsicle shape, about as tall as a barstool. It sprouted fucken tentacles, and I forgot how to move for a few minutes.
All of a sudden this wave of warm air hit me. This is hard to relate, but thoughts were coming to me. I’ll say I was gaining knowledge, but it felt like I’d already known this stuff. I suddenly knew that this thing was the god of the play’s foreword, and that the reading of the text was what summoned it from some place outside of this reality (whatever the hell that means). It had last been summoned at the Lenaea Festival over two thousand years ago, and was bound, per the invocation (the foreword, I guess), to delight our audiences during every performance of The Comedie we gave. Should we perform the play in a contest, like the Lenaea, we would be guaranteed a victory. If we performed for royalty, we’d be honored like nobles. I thought I was gonna throw up. I blinked, or my attention shifted, something, and the glob was gone.
I awoke from a blackout this evening to the sound of a clock’s ticking. The ticks resonate so perfectly in my head. “Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.” 9:45 it read to me. The sun shined on my eyes through the open blinds and I pulled myself up from the floor that was damp with still warm sweat. And upon entering the bathroom, I stood there looking at the mirror. A lifeless face stared hard back at me. Focusing was difficult. Every breath weakened me. I turned on the water but washing the stench away from these hands deemed impossible. I wanted to vomit knowing what I had done but with each day being worse than the last, how was this not for the best? The past couple years have destroyed me, tore me down and skinned off any ounce of sanity I might have had left. After seeing the mess I had created in their room, I kissed my boys goodnight, and confessed how much they meant to me. Teary eyed and shaking, I dragged myself to the living room where I sat alone and admired the crooked old portrait I had nailed to the wall for one last time.
You won't be able to tell now, but it was of a family, a happy family, a loving family. And I would just sit there and drift away around this wondrous portrait we had. So many memories. My wife's death changed me, broke me. And after her passing, I would come to this very spot and just stare at the picture, thinking. Day after day. Enjoying this picture’s company. Her laughter came from this picture. Hearing it was so relaxing. Worry free, not a care in the world. Mind blank, body melting. I became calm. And I didn't feel quite so alone around it. With what was left of my conscious though, could I possibly look at it the same way again? Their joyful faces faded, their bent smiles blurred. This is what we once were and what we will be again.
But before I could finish everything, there was this urge, this itch. I got up and just had to get a closer look at the picture. It was so enticing, so inviting. Like it had something to say to me. And wondering what it could of wanted, I leaned in closer gazing upon it with open eyes. My palms touched the cool glass and I tried muttering out some form of words or another, but I felt choked up. I pushed my cheek against the picture and tried to think of something to say. Moments passed and all that would dribble out was a modest apology. But the picture stared at me with no response. I said it once more and in turn, it just looked at me like I had something to hide while the faint laughter continued. My guilt. My shame. I didn't want to think about it, but I understood. I did the right thing though. I want to be a family again, so how was this not the only option? After confining to it, the only thing the picture could do was taunt both me and my actions. I argued with the damn thing but the laughs just intensified and directed itself upon me. It may have been disappointed in me, but I won't regret what I did.
Maybe these actions were not pure at heart but were my intentions at least? If doing this was in fact for my family, why would they look at me in such a way? Why am I being treated in such a manor that I feel such shades of self-pity? Shouldn't they be happy? Was this burden not placed upon me? But the portrait continued to ignore my calls. It was infuriating. And when it finally confronted me about the smell on my hands, I grabbed the frame and tore it from the wall letting the picture fall helplessly to the ground. Crouching over breathing heavily, I reached out picking up the picture. Cries leaked from it's crinkled edges. It begged me to stop. My eyes widened and my fear swallowed me. Is this what I did to them? Is this what I have become? The sobs became louder and louder as moments passed. I begged for it to quit. I straitened out the picture as smoothly as I could and placed it back on the dustless square that lied upon my wall. Gently putting in the rusty nail that laid on the matching colored carpet. But it didn't help, what's done is done. I understood that. The crying wouldn't stop. It just wouldn't fucking stop. I told my children this was the right thing, that I was doing this for them, for us! I paced back and forth until I couldn't take it anymore. The shrieks were hideous. My ears rung, I felt cornered. And like a wild animal, I punched a hole through the saddened picture leaving my arm halfway through the now crimson painted wall.
Blood dripped from my knuckles. I screamed and yelled at that damn picture but it still wouldn't end. Without hesitation, I once again ripped it from the wall, except this time tearing it apart little by little. With each strip slowly falling it’s way down, I began laughing to myself. I tried blaming the picture for what had happened. Over and over, yelling insult upon insult. I kicked and stomped as I couldn't grasp these feelings any longer. My shouts became more and more obnoxious, just trying to drown out everything around me. I sat down trying to calm myself, snickering to myself, telling myself not to think about the smell, about the blood, about the bodies. Because I did this for us. I know these voices. The picture’s presence was gone, but the cries continued. The only thing going through my ears were the cries and the sound of that hellish begging. Cries I've heard and begging I know. Sitting here, I cradled myself back and forth into tears, continuing to convince myself that what I did was for them, that this is what they wanted. But I knew deep in the back of my head. I knew that those cries, those begs, those screams I've heard clawing at my ears from that retched old portrait, were my those of my darling children and their pleads as they drew their last breaths by my hand. And even though these memories may never leave me. With a pen in one hand and a blood glistened knife in the other, I write my final words knowing with one simple stroke we will all be reunited together again. Forever and always. Eternally and whole.
I did what I like to think anyone in my position would’ve done and had my kids perform The Comedie before an audience of their peers, their parents, and my boss. I had no idea how the glob would do all that it said (if it would at all), or if anyone would be able to see it. I worked up a weak story about the glob being a mail-ordered prop in case it made its appearance before the crowd. I told my kids to plan for anything and work with it. I set up the donation bowl by the door, went outside, had a drink, read the foreword aloud, and then took my seat inside at the back of the house.
The lights went up and the show went on. For the entire performance, the crowd was dead, and the show suffered for it. No laughs, no Mhms, no nothing. I’d begun composing my pep speech for after the performance. Yet when the curtain closed on the chorus, the crowd, like one giant amoeba, stood together and cheered like it was the New Year. I’d never seen anything like that in a Podunk theater crowd. The whoops and hollers stayed just as excited for all the bows. Then, when the cast went backstage and the curtain closed again, the cheers died away.
The parents and a good number of the kids in attendance gushed over the show to me. That was all par for the course. The curtain could have caught on fire, or an actress could’ve broken a leg. They just like seeing people they know on a stage. What caught me off guard was my boss shaking my hand and asking me specifics about the district competition. “Now what exactly happens there?”—all that. I motioned at the trophies in the back and talked about how it’d be an honor to bring home another one for our school. He liked that idea a whole hell of a lot. When the crowd left, I went to collect the donations. The bowl was spilling over with twenty and fifty-dollar bills.
We did five more performances, each to larger crowds, and each with larger reactions. The money for the trip was raised by the fourth performance. The kids were proud. My boss gave us the go-ahead for the trip. I decided we’d be doing The Comedie for the competition. Why break the habit?
So cut ahead to the competition. All the high school theater troupes in the district huddled in an eight hundred-seat auditorium. Gale Shudders was making her rounds before the first play of the day, smiling that fake smile of hers, telling everyone to Break a Leg in the same empty way an acquaintance tells you Happy Birthday. According to the program of events, Columbus would be going on right after us. I couldn’t help but imagine what Gale’s smile would look like when she’d hear that she lost for once. I didn’t even care if my kids came in first. So long as we put a dent in Gale’s armor, I could go home happy.
The competition had all the usual fare: a couple quirky comedies, an adaptation of a short story, a smattering of “let’s change the world” plays. It’s surprisingly easy to sneak a flask into a theater. Near mid-afternoon, a stage manager gave us the high sign to go backstage and prepare. You could feel the buzz between all the kids as they unloaded their set pieces and props from the storage spot offstage. The competition allows a troupe forty-five minutes for their entire presentation, including assembling the set, performing the piece, bows, and disassembling the set. The students had to do it on their own. I took that time to pace in the hallway backstage. I could hear the Columbus kids in their dressing rooms, chatting away, unaware of their impending doom.
Gale came out of one of the rooms.
“Hey, Jim” she said almost convincingly.
“The Comedie of… Am-fik-toh-nees?”
“Yeah it was just—sittin’ on the shelf in the back a the room.”
“I’ve n—and it’s anonymous?”
“As far as I can tell.”
There was a silence between us.
“So your kids gonna win this thing?” She made a go get ’em gesture on “win”.
“Never know. They’ve got nothin’ but cheers back home.”
“Oh.” Translated: “Have they now?”
I had a good buzz. Fuck her. I told her about my ritual of saying “a corny li’l ‘actor’s prayer’ I found online.”
“Wull say it for me, love to hear it.” She was just humoring me now.
I took the foreword out of my pocket and cleared my throat. I took special care in reading the thing this time, pretending I had any idea of what I was saying. I felt I’d gotten it right for the first time.
Gale laughed as though she found the thing drolly amusing.
“Mine’s in Latin.”
A quick pause.
“Yeah” and she pulled out a sheet of paper and read off a short Latin passage.
“It’s kind of like my mantra—”
“I, I know what it is, Jim. Has yours reappeared to you yet?”
Honesty is the best policy.
“Ah. So it’s a new thing? It’ll reappear. It has to sniff you out first. Did it tell you its name?”
“Weh—uh, no. Uh not yet.”
“Mine says it’s Dionysus himself!” She laughed.
I wasn’t a bit sure what was happening, and Gale could tell. She said:
“I’m sure it’s told you all about—the Lenaea Festival, blah blah blah.” I nodded. “This is just what they do. They—you’re gonna hear all about this, believe me. They have been with us since, ya know, since—time began, somethin’ crazy. Dionysus told me that he thinks of us as children. Not in a condescending way, but it’s because he’s just so much older. Whatever. They like watching us, and they like all the things we do. They’re not evil or anything. They’re just there.”
“What the hell…”
“I asked the same thing, more or less, and Dionysus said that there’s this ‘Grand ol’ Scheme’ we’re a part of, and that life as we know it is this, uh, ‘cosmic whisper’, something like that. Basically: do what you want, it’s inconsequential. Is what I got from it.”
“And you just use it to, for the, for the competition? So you can win?”
“Yeah” she shrugged. She sounded like a mother confessing the truth about Santa Claus.
“How is it, uh… How did you get the—Dionysus to do his, his ‘thing’ with another play?”
“What do you mean?”
“Mine said it could only uh, affect an audience if we were doing The Comedie of Amphiktyones. Yours lets you do any play?”
“Yeah. You know, that’s probably a lie. They also lie. I don’t why, but they’ll fib and they won’t mention it again. One time, Dionysus told me that within an hour, I would be dead. I called my husband and told him I loved him. Chatted for a bit. An hour went by, two, three. Nothin’ happened. It was weird.”
“I don’t know. But it keeps showing back up, and the uh, the ratio of lies to truths is pretty good. I trust him, in a general sense.”
Neither of us said anything for a while. Eventually I checked the time and knew the show was nearly over.
“’Bout that time, I said.”
“I’m sure they loved it,” she said with a plaster smile.
“I’m gonna meet ’em at the door. Break a leg, Gale.”
“May the best god win!” she called out to the hall. What a cunt.
I pressed my ear to the stage door and heard the final lines of the play. There was a moment of silence, and then raucous applause. I thought To hell with competition, I love my kids.
"Dirty" Part 1
I may have screamed first, or I may have opened my eyes then screamed. Either way, very soon after regaining consciousness, I am wide-eyed and screaming. I know I’m in danger, I didn’t expect to be naked, reclined, and neck deep in a bathtub of freezing, dark water. I can’t move my arms and legs, strapped as they are to various grounded towel racks and the foot of a stone sink. My waist is free and as much as I can, I thrust it this way and that but the resulting waves climb into my shouting mouth and I choke. The gagging and coughing calms me down somewhat though I am still panicked by how blurry my vision continues to be.
The bathroom is dark, so dark that I can only tell that it is a bathroom because I’m imprisoned in a tub. My eyes refocus slowly, and the only light is a feeble stream of streetlamp through a smoky foe glass window. I hear hard falling rain on the side of the building. The images in front of me begin to solidify and I gasp at what I am now seeing clearly. Myriad barbed wire covers the walls and ceiling, dimly shining. My vision is blocked by the rim of the tub, so I don’t see how far the wire extends. As far as I can tell, every other exposed surface of the room is covered by tightly looped razor wire.
What is this? Why am I here? The fuck is going on?
My adrenaline shoots up. I scream again. I shout for help. On and on, I go. I thrash around. The leather cuffs tying me down are so tight that I see the arteries of my wrist bulge from the effort to get blood through and my veins never looked bluer. I gag several times on the choke collar around my neck, but it can’t stop my hysterics this time. I have total disregard for my comfort. Water gets into my ears, nose, eyes, and through whichever tube down my throat it finds most convenient. I hack in despair and slam my shoulders into the back of the tub. I clear my throat of water and take a deep breath. I let loose a single sentence as loud as I… fucking… can.
“LET ME OUT!”
A sheet of lightning and a tremendous clap of thunder sounds as if to say, “Shut up.”
My voice gets raspier on subsequent yells. It hurts so I give up. I lean my head back and sob. The water swishes around the tub sickeningly and the faucet drips slowly. Drip.
My head reels. I realize that this must be it. The end of the line.
Too much trouble has gone into this insane fucking trap. This is too much.
This is a killing pen. This can’t be the work of someone who wants to just fuck with me. It feels too personal. I have an enemy. But who doesn’t?
What can I remember? The last thing I can remember?
Pulling into my driveway. The yellow motion-sensing light turning on, exposing the hard shadow of someone creeping behind me. The blunt strike on the back of my head before I can turn around.
Waking up as I'm being dragged along the driveway. Not being able to speak. Moaning.
I yell again to shut out the noise and send my thoughts scattering. A violent lightning strike and roar drowns my cries out again. My voice freezes. My heart freezes. My mind...
I have seen something. Out of the corner of my eye.... I am not alone. I have not been alone at all this entire time.
I cannot turn my head to see over the edge of the tub, but I am certain I have seen the outline of someth-
Another wreath of the outside fire and suddenly I have never been more scared for the brief light has revealed the crouched silhouette of some creature or person, sitting on the toilet bowl. A shorted, but twisted obstruction in my vision.
"What-what the fuck!?" I yell in surprise. A series of quick electrical assaults illuminates the bathroom as the figure sits. It is quite still. I calm down enough to not stammer. "Hello?" I ask. "Who are you? Please-please let me go whoever you are."
I hear creaking, as if bones long-separated are snapping back into place to move in unison. More light provides the strobing image of the hunched figure lowly supporting itself to a standing posture. The last chance lightning bolt allows me to determine that it is slowly moving towards me. I hear the slide of its footwear along the tiled floor, along with some tears of cloth. It stumbles slightly. It bends and appears to relieve itself of barbed wire that has caught onto its pant legs.
I still cannot see it clearly from my angle, and the lightning has ceased. But I can feel its looming presence now over the tub, breathing rhythmically and softly. I feel tears budge into my eyes.
"There's been a mistake. Please..." I moan. I flail with an air of futility, pathetically.
The shadow falls to its knees. I feel the dry coolness of rubber-gloved hands grasp the leather collar on my neck. I am surprised how gentle the hands are. The shadow loosens the belt and for a moment I am able to my head toward my captor. Suddenly rough, the hands tighten the belt and I cannot turn my head away from the water, which fills my mouth as I start screaming again. And I can't stop. I CAN'T STOP.
Oh my God!
Over the rim, two eyeless hole stare at me out of a head covered entirely in medical tape. Twined from the crown down the neck into some kind of industrial cleaners jumpsuit. I cannot discern speck of skin. The dark patches serving as eyeholes are covered in the sort of material one sees in costume masks. In the lightlessness, it must be impossible for it to see my face. My screaming startles whoever is inside the mummified cast. Its hands rise indecisively, flexing and unflexing its fingers with an elastic squeak.
"P-p-p-p-please, LET ME OUT! LET ME GO! PLEASE!" I yell, feeling my shoulders almost dislocate themselves as I struggled.
The bandage head staggers to its feet in agitation. It reaches for a something on the sink counter. More barbed wire catches its jumpsuit and it cannot shake it loose. I cannot what it now holds over me.
"No! Stop!" I yelp at the shock of dozens of small ice cubes clacking and knocking against my skull and then hitting the water. I feel the water level rise slightly and become even colder than before. The restrained areas of wrist grow numb.
"Who-who are you?" I whimper as the last cubes drop and the ba is tossed aside. The terriying specter kneels once more. The bandaged head turns as if on a swivel. It says nothing. It reaches for something behind my head. My eyes strain and pop, following the hand as it returns with what appears to be a completely ordinary looking large sponge. A splash and gurgle murmurs in the bathroom as the sponge is plunged into a bucket out of sight. I release my tongue, which I had been biting.
"Why are you doing this?"
Again, it says nothing. I wonder if it can talk, as of yet having seen no evidence of slits for it to even breathe through. Yet I can hear a strange, irregular patterns of grunts and pants coming from inside the tape, as if the breather was light-headed from reblowing up the same balloon too many times. The bandaged head tilts down toward my legs. My body tenses as the sponge makes contact with the skin.
To my astonishment, it begins, very lightly, to wash my feet and toes.
My eye opens and I find myself watching these dimly-lit events take action.
"Yo-you're washing me..." I say in disbelief. This terrifies me more than perhaps if the bandaged head had started on my skin with a carrot peeler. I am, for a moment, fearful that the barbed wire on its arm will stab me as well, but it is caught too far up its sleeve.
Stop, stop, stop thinking like that. Find out what he wants.
"Listen, I have a lot of money... I can..." I trail off. I am about to indulge myself in more pointless questioning when something in particular strikes me about the figure's breathing. It isn't just breathing. It's speaking...chanting...or coughing.
coughing. cough cough.
"Dirty" Part 2
Something like intelligence and truth begins to dawn on me. A conversation between my sister and I six months ago about her husband's health. I don't think I have ever got his name right without first asking he or Elena to repeat it a couple of times. But suddenly, this revelation comes to me in panicked urgency. His face surfaces. And that face is desperation itself.
"I asked her why she did it and she said... 'I didn't want to do anything else.'"
I had just been about to move on from Dad's death and now here was some new shit to darken my doorstep six months later. My sister followed me up the stairs of my house, shivering and clutching her coat sleeves as if each hand hung to the edge of a cliff. Rose was stopped on the Drive on her way to pick up the twins from a birthday party. Had Elena walked her way through the snow? I didn't ask. I inhaled and brought tears to my eyes. "Whatever that means... Stupidity. Even at her age, suicide is not an answer."
"I don't think she's trying to kill herself."
We entered the living room and sat down on comfortable chair. I expelled a quick whiff of deadened air. I glanced around and then made a bit of a show picking up a picture of mom from the marble coffee table. I stared at the shape of a face I hardly remembered nowadays. I put it aside and said, "Hey Elena, do you remember the winters when we were kids? The ones where it snowed hard and we would go out and play?"
"Yes, I do."
I continued, "Some years there was no snow, but sometimes there would lots of snow just as the temperature started rising." Vivid memories of torrents of water flowing down sheets of blue ice played through my head. "And my favorite part of all that was we played in the brown, muddy snow and just... just didn't care."
"I remember them a lot. Especially in winter." She stifled her tears with her eyelids.
I gave a small laugh. "And when we walked into the house all muddied up, mom would get all mad and whatnot. You're going to ruin this floor!" Elena smiled. "But then she would calm down, of course, and give us a shower together. Remember that? She used to clean us at the same time."
I narrowed my eyes at the short table separating our chairs. "The days used to be simpler. And its all about the memories like those, Elena. That's why we can't let this situation tear us apart."
Elena straightened up, bemused. "Then... then just give me the shares, Danny. Don't set your probate counselor on me." The color in her face, which had been returning the warmth of my home, drained away again.
"I can't just do that."
"But selling the company would mean millions, tens of millions!"
Hundreds, I thought.
"There's still potential though, and you can't slam on the brakes where there's potential," I said cooly.
My sister always did have a temper. She leapt up from the seat her hair flaring out like startled ravens. "You were in the room!" she cried, "You were in the room when dad told me to take the company to help Manprasad! I shouldn't have to ask you to feel this sort of obligation."
"COPD is incurable. All the money in the world wouldn't save Man-Manpranu." I trailed off. My hands grew clammy with tension. I coughed and raised my voice slightly. "We're not going to waste dad's life work on research and whatever... that won't be around in time to save the life we care about."
She swiped away her bangs from her pink nose. "We have about as much power now as anyone can have to do something. Every day, every minute....Every breath Manprasad draws is wasting him. I can see it more and more clearly every day. Me, digging a hole to put him. Please, Danny," she begged, "Manprasad can't live out his last days on a oxygen tank."
I stared at the ground, trying in vain to untie the tight knot in my stomach that was my patience. "He's not going to be living at all soon enough, Elena," I said.
A long pause followed. "That's terrible," I heard.
"I know. It is," I said.
"No, you're terrible."
I looked up, my head aching with annoyance. I stood and said through gritted teeth, "Whatever you think dad meant by what he said, that's not what the will says. No court is going to take your word over that. Now, I've tried to be civil. Now I'm going to escort you out of my house."
My sister clutched her face much in the same way she had her coat sleeves. "Danny...my husband...I can't...I love-"
"Love!" I said in disbelief. "Listen to me. You go off to another continent, to a country filled with more smoke and chemicals than air, you pick up a slumdog and bring him home." I crowded her face and she recoiled. "You show no hint...not a hint of regret for your own actions, no shame for not expecting what in the end is all that can be expected. You are like a cat, Elena, dragging into the house whatever pitiful creature you can find like it's a gift, without consideration of how the master will feel."
Elena slowly released her faced. "And you're the master, Danny?" she asked quietly.
I swept away from her, my footsteps shaking the floor. She followed me down the stairs. The front door lock was jammed. My face got even hotter.
"What are you going to do about mom?" She asked. I swung around.
"You know what kind of people cut themselves? Hmm? Insane people cut themselves. Mother is insane."
Her scowl lightened. She now appeared quite timid and unsure, like when as a kid, I would close in on her with a tight-packed iceball. "If by that you mean she needs help, then yes, I agree."
"I'll figure it out."
"Please do. She's had it harder than any of us. Part of this is probably her lashing out at memories of dad. His death...It's like an evil kind of freedom for her. To be rid of him."
I put my hand on the doorknob and turned it. "Don't say that. He helped a lot of people. He was a good man. She was always on his case."
Elena stared for a long while like...yes...like I was the crazy one. "Out of all the things you've said today, that is the one that finally convinced me this was a waste of time."
I twisted my head away from her and open the door, letting the winter wind, stark as chilled blood, hit her full on. She barely seemed to feel it. She walked forward.
"The way you talk about family, Danny."
Not really listening, I said, "And you know what, Manuel is an asshole, anyway."
"-is beautiful and ugly."
"Dirty" Part 3
"Man-Manprasad," I say, not knowing why I am so certain, but I am. "Manprasad, let me out." I pant hard, my restraints cutting into my body. "I'm not-I'm not mad. I understand completely. But this isn't the answer. It's not."
The bandaged head pauses and so does its rubber hand. It squeezes the water out of the sponge and tosses it behind its head.
"We're family, Manny. We got to help each other. And I will help. But I can't from here."
Manprasad seems to consider my words for the first time this night beyond screaming and superfluous noise. His head stares at the opposite wall. The figure stands and tears the barbed wire from its sleeve.
"That's it. Let's help each other, bro."
Before I can say anything more, Manprasad bandage head dumps another bag of ice into the water. The water rises such that I can't keep my mouth and nose above it without a continuous effort.
"What..." I sputter.
No longer acknowledging my shouts and flailing, Manprasad bandage head again drops to his knees. He picks up something else behind my head. Seconds later, I am howling in pain as Manprasad scratches and claws at my chest with an abrasive clump of steel wool, in much the same movements he had used with the sponge. I start to see nicely tiny specks of dark blood dot my sternum and stomach.
"AHHHHH! Manny, stop! Manprasad!" I yell, "Please,"
Manprasad's next move is to drag the steel wool from my neck down the right side of my body, thankfully forgoing my crotch, down to my foot. All superficial wounds, but the insanity of it all is unbelievable. The hand continues to scrub me hard on the top of my foot, searing into my skin like a hot rash.
Suddenly, I notice how close Manprasad's bandage head is to my knee. My ankles and waist are restrained, but I have just freedom of movement to level a hard kneecap into the lower part of Manprasad's cast.
The pain I feel is overcome by pure pleasure as Manprasad groans and falls over out of sight.
Got him, the fucker!
The room quiets considerably as I control my breathing and let the water settle. I strain to see over the tub rim but cannot. There is no movement. Then I hear a voice, high and shrill.
"Dirty... dirty... dirty.." There is urgency in the voice. And rage.
Wildly, a hand slams on top of the tub side and bandage head pulls itself up. I gasp at the horrible disfiguration I am met with, unsure if what I was seeing what my doing, or had already been there.
My manuever has knocked a piece of the facial mask off the wearer. It is now hanging like a broken scrap of papier-mache. More horribly, the mouth it reveals is bleeding heavily. The pained grin bandage head displays reveals broken teeth and torn up gums. As it rises it continues repeated a single word like a mantra and I realize this is what I had mistaken for Manprasad's coughing.
"Dirty... dirty... dirty." It rasps.
Bandage head throws itself at my legs and scrapes at my knee caps with the steel wool it still has in hand, as if determined to wear it through. I kick away but it has a strong grip now.
I close my eyes, trying to think of what do next, but unable to think of anything except what I am hearing.
A mere month ago:
The finish of the conference table always reminded me of a canoe I once used on a trip with my sons. I stood next to the chair closest to the door and gazed down at my city, my Chicago. I liked the silence that came with the office on Sundays. I briefly glanced across the room to a plaque awarded to our firm. The length of the table was about that of a canoe as well.
Rose entered eventually, shoulder to shoulder with her lawyer. She went to the opposite end of the table and didn't look anywhere but the floor. Her lawyer took out a paper and pen, motioned me to step over. The force of will it took to do so was exhausting and broke the silence in my mind. I glared at Rose as I signed. She never looked at me.
"How's Alice, Danny?"
"Mom is doing much better. Thank you," I growled.
"Hmmm. Well, I don't know how you know so much about Alice these days, Danny. You haven't been in that terrible place since you moved her in. Your...Your sister told me.. Your mother won't see you.
"Shut your mouth."
"Your mother won't even speak to you."
"She's insane," I said, putting down the pencil.
So quietly I almost couldn't hear her, Rose said, "You're going to win, Danny."
"I know." I walked back across the room, feeling much better.
"You're leaving already, Danny?" she asked. Tears slid down her drooping face.
"And you're taking my children with you? You're taking my children from me?"
"You'll see them on weekends." I picked up my briefcase.
"I can't remember but I swear..." And finally, she raised her head and looked at me with shining blue eyes. "I swear there was a time you treated my like a human. Like I had rights. But for the life of me I can't remember when that was last."
I surprised myself by letting a smile form cracks along my face. "Listen, if your rights were like your bottles of sherry, it wouldn't matter how many I left you with. You'd have none by night's end."
I turned to leave. But before I could close the door, I heard, "You're filth."
Rose screamed, "You're a dirty man, Daniel. A dirty man! Dirty...dirty...DIRTY!
"Dirty" Part 4 (Final Part)
"R-R-Ro-Rose?" I stammer, my blood running colder than the tub water, slowing like the drift of a frozen river. I feel the hand scrubbing my breast with the steel wool gradually come to a stop. It lifts off me. I quickly stare down my body, at the rivulets of darkness forming a pool in the concave of my sternum. My eyes trek up to the bandaged head and almost choke again. For the first time, the two blackened holes are turned towards me.
The bitch! The bitch! The bitch! The Bitch!
Rose tilts her head at me. She continues to make the shapes for "Dirty, dirty", but no sound comes out. She brings the wool to her chin and rubs.
"Rose, don't do this to me," I plead trying to keep my body as still as I can to avoid waves, "We can talk this out. There is a way. There has to be."
Rose's head starts to shake and, to my surprise, she starts to sob audibly. She drops the steel wool onto the sink counter.
"Please, honey, let me up."
Rose bends down and places a finger to my lips. "Sh-sh-sh-shhhhhhh," she weeps. I gasp as the bandages below the eyeholes suddenly darken with red. Rose is crying blood.
"Honey, you need me to help you."
She straightens up and places both hands in the sink. She heaves and lifts another gallon bag of ice.
"Rose, what are you doing...please...no." I shout out as cubes rain down on my head, shoulders, and chest, splashing around me, bobbing up and down like buoys. Rose collapses to her knees and rests her head on the side of the tub, sobbing. Once again, she is too close to my knee, though far enough such that my blow barely glances of her forward. She falls backward. As she struggles to a standing position, I explode. "Listen, if you're going to kill me Rose, you're going to have to show more spine than that. I don't think you have it in you. In fact, I know you don't have it in you, Rose. So go ahead, do it, go ahead, kill, tear me apart. But I'm not dying at the hands of a mouse. You look me in the fucking eyes when you do it!
She sways on the spot. A single note spouts from her as her hands tremble. The burnt holes of her mask cannot mask her indecision.
"And stop fucking moaning!"
Rose brings her hands to her encasement. Starting at the top of her, she lightly pulls on a tab of white cloth. My skin crawls as she begins to peel the head mold away as a single strip of bandage. Each wind around her head uncovers half an inch. Strands of Rose's hair stick to the adhesive interior, snapping off her scalp. She does not have the same problem with her eyebrows, because she has none. Suddenly, the wrapping loosens and falls away to reveal Rose's face fully.
I stare and my jaw locks, unable to scream.
It is not Rose.
It is the shape of a face I can hardly remember nowadays. It is the shape of a face I did not recognize anymore.
“Mo-mo-Mom?” I breath, unable to… just unable.
My mother has no color in her skin. She is covered in dead, gray folds of waxy wrinkles. Two long scars with stitches run from her lidless eyes to the corners of her mouth, which, due to my kick, is torn open on one side. Her expression is not just joyless, it is a condemnation of joy.
"Mother? What-what is this?" I yell. "I'm your son! It's Danny!"
"Danny?" She lets my name hang like a disconnected dial tone.
I cannot bear to see my mother in this state. I look around the room and realize this is the bathroom to my parents' house. I had abandoned the place before moving mom into the home. It is completely dilapidated now.
"Mother," I wheeze through the water, "It's your Danny. Please, don't you know your Danny boy?"
"Danny boy?" she repeats.
"That's right!" I plead.
"Danny...Danny boy...dirty boy."
"You always were a dirty boy, Danny." With that, mother bends down and picks up a handful of barbed wire. She squeezes and red falls from between her aged fingers. Barely visible the razoe I could do nothing to prevent what happened next.
She climbs into the bathtub with me, muttering, "Dirty... dirty... dirty," and begins hooking the wire into my fucking legskin. I try to scream but the buoyancy of the water completely submerges my head. For ten seconds, I am underwater. Blood loss be damned, I'm am about to drown right then.
Suddenly she stands up. I still hold on to hope that she could be ending this. She bends down to my left foot and begins to drag the barbed wire. I somehow manage to not make a sound... until the wire catches and hold onto my scrotum. The barbs will not let my mother proceed up my bottom. I scream underwater with unheard pleas and promises, as my mother yanks and stretches my scrotum, trying to get the wire loose.
JUST RIP IT OUT! FOR FUCK'S SAKE!
And rip it, she does. She tears it right out. The next time the wire catches is on my chest and my mother just cannot pull enough of my skin away from the muscle and bone to get it loose. So instead, she reaches over the side and pick up a bundle of razor wire. This will not catch on my skin, this will slice right through. Mother presses the bundle hard on my stomach, slicing it oven and mangling her own right hand in the process. With her left, she pulls my submerged head up for one last gulp of air. I gulp. Her head shakes above me. And now, I know just what to say.
"MOOOOOMMY!" I let her tears of blood fall into mouth like milk.
"You always were SUCH a DIRTY... BOY! DANNY!" Screaming my name splits the hole in her mouth further. She brings the bundle to my face and as the first layer eviscerates my cheek and eye, I hear her cry, "You've made such a mess. Now I'll have to clean the whole house again!"
I still have some pride. Though it wouldn't be completely false to call me a gutter rat, I'll admit. And I've done some terrible, and downright, evil things throughout the years; but there is a little part of me that still has it's soul. At least I like to think so.
It happened a frosty night a while ago, I was walking back and forth from the gas station on Lexington Street to the Warehouse on 51st street. Walking kept me warmer, since it was nut clenchingly cold. I passed a few of
the 'working girls' standing beside the road, each of them had to show their legs no-matter the weather. I quietly laughed to myself when I noticed that none of the women shaved their legs tonight, a few had natural leg warmers.
This stretch was lined with liquor stores, pawn shops, gun stores, and dark alleyways. This was called the 'bad part of town', in a city that was dangerous to begin with. But I'm not afraid, I grew up in this part of town. I'm the guy that people are afraid of. They know I'm a good shot. I'm walking these streets selling
what people call 'the junk'. Other kinds of drugs will get you higher, with less side-effects, but 'the junk' is cheap. And the people here only care about price. But I do have standards, I don't sell to kids or pregnant women. That's what messed up my baby brother, may he rest in peace.
I start going home early for the night, none of my usual customers are out in this weather. I guess they would rather go through withdrawal than freeze. Half way to my place a car pulls up along side of me. It's a new Limo with tinted windows. The back window rolls down and I see Jimmy, a guy I used to work with. Back in the day, Jimmy used to be just another grunt; but somehow he started making major money.
I say, "Are you lookin to buy something?"
He says, "No, no. You must be freezing your ass off out there. I wanted to know if I could hire you for tonight, were shippin' something and I want some extra
muscle with some brains who's also good with a gun."
I asked, "What are you moving?"
He replied, "We'll pay you ten-grand for one night of work, how does it sound?"
He didn't answer my question. And for that kind of money for a night, it must be something nasty. Jimmy always hated to get his own hands dirty. But it's too much money to pass up, so I agree and I get in the vehicle. The driver is blocked by a divider, Jimmy is sitting in the back wearing a new suit with a cute girl sleeping in the corner. We drive in silence for a few minutes. I'm looking outside the vehicle watching in case someone is tailing us. A limo going through this part of town is way too flashy in my opinion, especially if you're trying to haul something. Jimmy is drenched in sweat, and he seems twitchy. Plus he keeps looking at the girl in the corner, he looks more nervous each time he sees her. I figure that a little small talk might calm him a little.
"This is a nice ride. You must be doing something big to be making this kind of money."
"I guess you could say that."
"Someone must be paying a lot for you to hire me for ten-thou a night."
"Some people are willing to pay anything for things they want."
I smile and say, "So what are we hauling then, is the trunk full of gold or some shit?"
Jimmy simply looks at the sleeping girl, "Her. She's what we're hauling."
We keep driving, there has been silence for a few minutes. And even I know this is wrong, I know I'm not a Saint, but fuck. Looking closer at her, she looks
about nineteen, long dark hair, and pale skin like an albino. She's wearing dark jeans and a ripped T-Shirt that can barely cover her tits. What a shame, I pity the
poor girl. I thought she was drunk or on drugs before, but looking closer, I see a few signs of struggle. I believe she was chloroformed or something.
My mind keeps screaming at me that this is wrong. Every time I did something over the years, I had an excuse for myself. I could steal food if we were hungry, or do shit for cash when we were broke. But this time there are no excuses. This girl is innocent.
'THUMP-THUMP-THUMP' My heart is beating like it wants to explode, and my hands are covered in sweat, and my eyes can't move from the poor girl, so I try to calm down and figure out the situation. "Won't it be a problem if the girl remembers what we look or sound like if she gets to the cops?" He just scoffs and says,
"We're not stupid. A dealer I know told me about a hot chick who's never talkin' to anyone, she lived like a fuckin' recluse with her freak little sister or some shit.
The dealer said her apartment was full of headless-fucking-pidgeons they collected in cages, they always wore sunglasses and jackets indoors, and it smelled like a morgue. So anyway we got her dealer to drug her while her back was turned. It could knock out a herd of elephants, it's like a mini coma. We tailed her until she collapsed beside the street and picked her up."
My gaze goes from the girl to Jimmy, and I ask "So what's her name?" After a moments pause Jimmy coldly responded, "When I was little, every year I went to my grandparents farm for the summer." My expression clearly insinuated 'what the fuck does that have to do with the knocked-out chick', but he went on. "I liked playing with the chickens and the pigs, but I was never allowed to name them. It always made it harder to finish 'em in the end." A chill crept down my spine and I responded,
"So what'll happen to her?" "The clients buy em to fuck em. After the girls leave my hands they're none of my concern. She's about the three hundred and fiftieth girl, you can't keep track of everything."
I said, "That's fucked up, I didn't sign up to sell sex slaves." Jimmy's eyes filled with anger, "If you feel that way, then give her a fucking name. Call her whatever the fuck you want. This is the reason why you're a nobody. There are two types of people in this world, the people that get fucked in life and the people who do the fucking. And I'm the biggest mother-fucker around, so who do you think you are?" We stared at each other, and I said, "Maybe I'm the guy who'll kill a mother-fucker." Jimmy replied, "Maybe you're the moron who'll die trying to save a junkie." We both stared at each other, we both twitched when we heard a small sigh, we turned and saw the chick's eyes start to open.
Jimmy and I are stunned silent as she starts to wake up. In the Limo's dim light we could see her eyes, they were as dark as tar. Jimmy kept mumbling to himself, "How is she awake, the drugs always work..." The chick looked out the window and said, "I love snowy nights, the snowflakes shine like little stars." My mind is racing, instead of screaming she's just making small talk, those drugs must have rotted her brain. She looked at me and said, "My brain thing is working just fine, thank you. I never used the drugs, my birds were always in pain. The birds couldn't sleep without th-." She froze for a second, then she went on, "They found me now, they're coming." Quick as a flash, Jimmy raised his gun towards the girl, "You've seen my face, and I can't have that. Nothing personal." She's strangely calm, as if a water gun was pointed at her instead.
My hand almost moved on its own, my pistol pointed at Jimmy's head. I'll never get work in this town again if I shoot him, and one of his friends will try to get revenge. But I'm not backing down, I say, "Just let her leave, who's gonna believe a crazy girl anyway? She's just an innocent girl." After the yelling, we feel the car accelerating faster and faster. Jimmy slowly points his gun towards me. Neither of us wants to shoot the other, we used to be friends a long time ago, back when Jimmy still had a soul.
"Heeh," the chick laughs and starts moving towards me. "You're risking your life to save a girl you don't know, like a hero or something." She slides up against me, I try not to pay attention to her while Jimmy and I are still in a standoff. "You're a sweet-talker aren't you, I've never been called innocent before. Too bad this is almost over, they can always follow me. They'll be here soon." She slides her lips up to my ears, getting ever closer, her skin is cold to the touch. She is really cute, even her creepy eyes look kind of cool, too bad she's crazy, but now is not the time to think of this. I don't know what to say to make her stop, but I don't completely want her to stop. But it's hard to focus on pointing a gun at someone while a hot girl's breasts are rubbing against you, the blood rushes away from your brain. Then the girl quietly says into my ear, "What if I don't want to leave yet? It's always annoying to bring people back into the apartment every time we get hungry. You smell tasty, but I like you too much."
I try to ignore her crazy nonsense, but Jimmy starts looking terrified and he points the gun from me to her. I finally look to her. Her skin is solid gray and her eyes, just aren't even human. She leaps across the back towards Jimmy and bites a chunk out of his shoulder, he starts firing shots into her torso. I jump up and stand on my seat and screamed so loud I almost shit myself. I yell to the driver to stop the car, but by now he is going a hundred miles an hour. I bang on the divider. The sounds of gunshots were almost as loud as Jimmy's screams as he loses a chunk out of his side. I pray for the police to stop the vehicle, and I think about shooting the driver through the divider, then listening closely I hear a muffled scream coming from the front.
Jimmy finally runs out of bullets, but they seem to be meaningless against her. Half of his left arm is mangled by her teeth. I was paralyzed, I wasn't sure which monster to help. Jimmy lept and reached a hand towards me, he grabbed a few visable needles from my jacket. Then he jammed the junk into her neck. She slowed down to a crawl, writhling on the ground. Jimmy looked up at me, "You're as fucking useless as a dick at a lesbian convention." I didn't understand the comment, but I still wanted out of this limo. We both start banging on the divider for the driver to slow down, Jimmy yells to turn around towards the driver.
The girl on the floor starts giggling, and I felt a chill down my spine. Jimmy tries to find a way to forcefully open the divider, while I look out the window. I see a car side by side to the limo, it's being driven by a little girl, with black eyes. The girl, or now drugged up monster, in the floor slurs her speech, "L-lover-boy, you have to meet my sister-r, but sh-hes probably aaanngry." The limo shook as the other car slammed into it, and the little monster climbed out of the window and onto the roof of the limo. Her car quickly drifted to the right into traffic while Jimmy finally broke through the divider.
I started screaming and firing rounds into the roof. On the ground the monster, now looking more normal, said, "Wwhy are you doing that silly, wegrfgg back with the jjjik for the bbbiiirrds." I could now see her little sister's eyes through the bullet holes, she was angry as fuck. She started climbing towards the front and I heard a crash, then everything went black.
I think I died then. Everything went black, or at least to nothingness. But that's a misnomer. When you die, you don't have eyes so you can't see and you have no ears to hear. But I could still FEEL the screams.
Then I felt jerked and felt the cold air against my skin, I opened my eyes to see the limo's wreckage in the distance. I couldn't feel my left leg, then I noticed the younger sister walking towards me with it in her hands. The older one slid up to me and said, obviously still drugged, "I-I toold her not to kiiillf you. You're going to like the bbirds." I could see my reflection in her eyes, my eyes are black.