By Aaron Joel Lain
I am writing this as an exercise prescribed by my doctor, the good and capable Dr. Tracy Wei. The events that follow, though they only happened once, were not real and did not actually happen. I was under a lot of stress at the time as my girlfriend moved out two days after my cat disappeared for no reason and a lot of stuff at work. It has taken me four months of therapy and many milligrams of good old fashioned Haldol to be able to admit this. I don’t want to be found the way I was; missing for two months, starved, dehydrated, in the middle of I-65.
I woke up completely in a funk, and not what I would call a normal funk either. No, it wasn’t like the nights when you drink or eat something bad and it sits all night, roiling and fermenting in your guts until it crosses your bloodstream and into your head and clouds and makes it heavy. No, it wasn’t like that … this was different. It was like I wasn’t really awake at all. The world had a haze over it, more felt than seen. And I knew it wasn’t in my head because I felt clear and pretty okay. It was the world itself; the world outside me that set me on edge and blurred itself against my eyes and sunk into the pit of my stomach like a cold railroad spike.
I made tea and ate breakfast and thought everything was fine. I looked outside and saw a bluebird rummaging in the grass. It nuzzled at the ground then flew away. I couldn’t shake the haze, though. The bird moved too slowly. Like it was moving underwater. It felt like it took ten minutes for it to fly between the ground and the tree behind that showered the lawn with twisting yellow leaves. The leaves fell normally, even quickly, but the bird was slow, juxtaposed against the background of falling gold raining down like rogue embers from the sky.
I couldn’t shake the feeling I wasn’t there. Physically, I was in that house at the corner of Hamilton and Martin. But I wasn’t there. Or I was? But the house or the universe wasn’t. I had slipped somewhere else. In between one place and another.
I sat down to read for a while, but I grew restless after a few minutes. I kept thinking about that damn bird. Could that have been just my eyes? I put the book down on the table and moved to the window. There it was again moving slowly, nuzzling the ground, and shuffling underwater. Then it lifted off the ground like it was on fishing wire and floating to the tree behind it. I watched it this time, the whole way up. It sat on the branch and preened itself. The light of the sun was white on it, slanting against it’s face and it’s obsidian eye … it’s one eye like a drop of oil with a white dot of sun in it.
I was watching it, then it was gone. Like nothing happened. The branch moved, but the bird was gone. I didn’t see it fly away. I looked around for it. It was on the ground again. Nuzzling it again. Moving even slower now. It did this four more times, and I watched. Each time the bird disappeared, and then immediately reappeared on the ground. Each time, it moved slower than the last. I watched it until I heard an enormous splash from the bathroom. I jumped clear out of my skin.
I went to look at what had made the noise. The bathtub looked like a crime scene. Blood was everywhere. As if a body’s worth of it appeared in the air above it, splashing the walls, the floor with the horror and violence. It smelled awful. I could see it drying immediately. I knew it was blood cause I saw the plasma; the slick yellow stuff sitting on top of the red stuff. Jesus, if only I could describe this smell. Like metal and rot. Like something that isn’t supposed to come from a body. I sat in the doorjamb, completely beside myself. I can’t remember if I cried or not, but it’s possible. I gagged from the smell. I stood up and looked over it. I looked into the ceiling, I looked at the showerhead. There’s no reason for this to have happened, I said to no one.
I moved closer to look over the tub one more time when someone pushed me from behind. I felt hands, big hands, on my back, and then I was flying into the tub. When I hit, the floor gave way and I was falling for real. Down into a hole right below my tub. The walls were slick with something. I tried to stop myself, but I just slid down and down and down.
My fall slowed to the point where I could land on my feet. I landed amidst an insane, apocalyptic scene. Ruins everywhere. The sky was ashen. There was fog. It reminded me of black and white pictures of Dresden and London after the bombings. Spines of old buildings climbed high into the fog while the rest of their bones splayed around them, charred to carbon. There was only one road, and I had landed in the middle of it. I walked towards the city, or what had once been a city. I looked up where I had fallen and saw nothing. Nothing but ash and cold and the smell of sulfur.
I began walking through the buildings toward what I thought was the center of the city. I didn’t know what I was looking for. Anything, really. A door. A person. I tried like hell to wake myself up. This had to be a dream, I thought. But it was so vivid. I felt everything so acutely. The rocks under my feet, the cold air in my lungs, the taste of ash, the smell of sulfur. My senses were turned up so high. Everything was unbearable. Then, from the fog, a figure emerged.
I waved and ran to it. But it didn’t move. It stood in the doorway of an empty, destroyed building. The man was naked, but something was wrong with his face. He had no mouth and no nose. His eyes were too big and black. His hair was matted and singed. I walked up to him and said something I can’t recall. He looked right at me, right into me. I could see teeth beneath the skin covering his mouth and he let out a horrific and muffled scream. He looked at me and screamed through his skin and his teeth moved under his skin like he was trying to bite through it.
I ran. I ran into the middle of town. I ran until I was in an old building. A roar overtook me. It was deafening. The walls were marble and granite. The fog was gone, but it was replaced with this roar like a waterfall that hurt my ears with pressure. I was compelled forward by something. I became aware of the hands that had pushed me into the tub. There were now on my back, compelling me forward.
I came into a lobby with square columns going up about a hundred feet to darkness. There were more of the creatures I had seen earlier. Only these were robed in red and dangling from their hands. The pressure on my ears was their screaming. They were screaming and biting through the skin over their mouths. Their eyes were dark and shiny. A ten foot figure stood on a stage at the end of the room. He was wearing a yellow robe with a hood. His face was desiccated like a mummy’s. He looked dead, but he moved toward me. What I thought was a headdress were actually antlers like bleached bone sticking out about 5 feet in all directions from his head. A webbing of antlers emerging from the head of the corpse man. His booming voice filled the room. Blood came out of my ears. He was saying something in my head and roaring something outside of it. “Don’t come. Don’t come. Not your time.” he said. He came up to me, put his massive hands like dead spiders on my shoulders, and looked into my face with eyes like purple knobs. I could feel the cold of his hands as he peered into me and filled my head with the taste of rabbit fur and my skin moved like something was under it trying to crawl out.
Then I was on I-65 at the Armory exit. I was so hungry. My pants were falling off. My spine stuck out of my shirt. I saw blue lights, and I screamed into the bituminous black sky. I filled it with the water of my reborn soul.