In the End, the Beginning

“Good morning, Alan,” it snarls at me in its high-pitched voice, speaking some foreign language I’ve come to understand. I blindly attempt to hit its snout, as if it would send it into the corner, cowering like a dog, but it eludes me. “Now, now, now. Let’s not be like that.”

Quickly, it leaps on the bed and stares at me with its glowing red eyes, chuckling, letting some slobber drip from the corners of its mouth and onto my cheeks. When I was young, I feared the monster living in my closet or under my bed. I read delightful children’s books about kids and their monsters, but the monster was usually likable in some way in order to help ease a child’s fear of the dark. This monster, however, wasn’t manufactured by Disney.

“Ah, yes,” it says, its voice turning deep and guttural. “I think today is the day I finally suck out your brains and rip out your soul.”

“Uh huh,” I casually answer, which makes the creature visibly upset. I see the loathing in its eyes, as it leans in closer. I’m hoping it doesn’t call my bluff, as I dare it to take action. It points its long, sharp fingernail at my temple and lightly scrapes down the side to my jaw, returning to the temple and tapping it.

“Right there,” it declares with a chuckle. “As good a place as any to make my incision.”

“Sorry, Jack,” I say, slithering out from beneath its weight. It hates that name, finding it belittling because it is too generic for a monster. I try to dismiss it further. “Can’t play now. Gotta get ready for work.”

It watches as I walk to my closet to find a pair of pants and shirt that appear to be pressed. Pure hatred seethes in its eyes. I wouldn’t be surprised if flames shot out towards my back, but I don’t know if it has that kind of power. You see, I’m not trying to instigate it into some kind of action. I’m not trying to purposefully piss it off.

As I reach my fortieth year, I never thought that the monster I feared when I was a child would manifest itself, finally making itself known. Maybe it has been watching me since my youth, waiting for its time to pounce. So far, I have sustained no injury, not physically anyway, because of the monster, even though it constantly threatens me each day. But, I see the evil behind its eyes, and I know it is capable of doing damage if it so desires.

I try not to let on just how much its presence scares me. On the outside, I brush off its insults and threats, but, on the inside, I fear it will finally decide to eat my brain and swallow my soul. I have seen its teeth, and I’ve seen its long fingernails. I think my flesh, muscle, and bone would be softer than butter under the power it could generate.

I can’t let on how much it scares me, though. I’m hoping the thrill for the monster is in the building up of tension and fear leading up to its kill, and my lack of interest may bore it, causing it to find some other poor fool to fall for its insults. I don’t know if it sticks around because it can sense what’s below my surface, hoping to allow the fear to break through, or if it sticks around because it thinks my surface is truth, liking the challenge of trying to wear me down. I hope it is not telekinetic at all because, if so, then it knows what I am planning. Maybe it’s waiting to make its move then. If I believed in some form of God, I would pray for It to hide my true feelings from this creature.

There are days the monster is absent. I think I went nearly a month one time without feeling its breath on the back of my neck. I was looking in closets, under beds, slowly opening doors, and taking deep breaths before walking around a corner, but the thing had disappeared. After I finally let my guard down, the thing re-appeared. If I remember correctly, I may have had four days of complete bliss when I thought it had actually left me for good. To be honest, it’s difficult to remember those days, even though I know they exist. I can’t envision my life without the monster.

I avert my eyes from my monitor at work, unable to focus on the electronic spreadsheet any longer. Closing my eyes, I cup my eyes with my hand, resting my head against it. The eye doctor had told me to take frequent breaks to increase the health of my eyes, suggesting I stare into the distance out the window, but I find myself closing my eyes more often, nearly asleep. I assumed this tactic is just as effective; I think the whole point is to take my eyes off the computer screen.

With my eyes closed and my head tilted downward, I feel the sharp fingernails again, one on each temple, digging in slightly, working its way back and forth in a twist. A part of me wants to end this. In one quick motion, maybe I can slam its fingers into the sides of my skull, putting myself out of this misery as the blood drains down the side of my head. I do feel a slight bit of fluid on my left temple. Is it sweat? Is it blood? Is something coming from the monster’s finger?

“You okay, Alan?”

Anthony’s voice brings me out of my stupor. I wasn’t asleep, but I feel like I’m waking.

“Do you need a band-aid?”

I tap my temple and feel the dampness. I look at my fingers, which are now thinly decorated with red.

“No,” I answer. “No. I’ll be fine. I guess I just scratched a little hard, that’s all.”

Anthony slowly backs up a step or two, looks like he wants to say something else, thinks better of it, and then turns and walks back into his office, offering a couple glances over his shoulder as he walks.

The chuckling fills my ears.

“You’re fucking crazy,” it hisses at me. “And you’re going crazier by the minute.”

I don’t talk to it while I’m at my desk. At home, no one is listening. Here, I’ll be ordered into some sort of psycho evaluation. It tries to engage me in conversations, trying to get me to break and answer it, but I’ve stayed strong this far, even though I feel the reigns on my psyche loosening. This is it. Today. It’s me or the monster. I debate taking a half-day, but I don’t want the creature on its guard by doing something unexpected. Then again, maybe it’ll think it’s finally wearing me down. Maybe it would be to my benefit. Maybe it will think I’m fragile and weak.

I exhale through my lips and place my hands, palm down, on my desk to push myself up. My back straightens, and my butt is just about to leave the cushion. I settle back in my chair and return my gaze to the electronic spreadsheet of, let’s face it, meaningless data. I have no preconceived notions of what I’m doing here. Nothing. Still, I better not risk it. I need to finish the day like normal.

Somehow, I get through it.

While sitting on the train, I have a little bit of peace. I think the monster has something against trains. Who knows? Maybe it was human once and met its fortunate end on a train or maybe a train track. For some reason, it doesn’t seem to bother me here. That brief fifteen minutes from when I board the train to when it reaches my stop is pure bliss.

I walk down the steps and out the front door of the station. The air is calm, quiet. Did it have other things to do this evening? May the confrontation not occur? Could it sense that it should fear for its own well-being?

“So much meat on that train,” it says, once again making my temples throb. “I don’t know why I spare your life. I could feast on all those zombies.”

I am about to say then do it. Either, leave me alone and go find someone else or just kill me and get it over with. I continue to walk ahead, my house in sight. Inside the sanctuary, I will be free to interact with this thing, scream at it, do whatever I need to do. No. That’s what it wants. Tonight, I will do nothing. Yeah. Nothing. I wonder how it will react if I show no visible signs that I recognize its presence. I mean, think about that. The creature is only seen by me. If I stopped validating it, would it start to wonder if it even existed anymore? Would it start to wonder if I could even hear it? Could I drive this thing insane instead? If I kept saying things like “ahhhhh, peace and quiet,” would it quickly know the tactic I’m trying to deploy? Even if it knows, could it still cast some sort of doubt?

“So, what’s going to be for dinner tonight?” it asks. “You probably wanted that chicken that was in your refrigerator, eh?”

I open the fridge to find the chicken breast I was thawing replaced with a dead rat. Check that. Replaced with an almost dead rat. Its whiskers are still twitching, and blood is still gently trickling from beneath its fur. I try not to notice, reaching past it and picking up the peppers and onion I was going to sautee with the chicken.

“Awwwwww, Alan,” it says. “Are you not recognizing my presence now? Are you wanting me to make sure you cannot ignore me? Okay, Alan. If that’s what you want…”

I peel the onion and chop off the ends. I cut around the center and slice the layers into some thin pieces.

“Do you want me to prep the rat for you?” it hisses just to my right.

I take it by surprise, turn on it, and plunge the knife into where I assume the heart will be. I push, push, push, until I can only see the handle sticking up from its scaley flesh. Orange liquid pours out from the wound. Its black eyes fix on mine. Its mouth is working, trying to form some sort of curse on me but unable to do so. Finally, the black eyes turn grey, and the pouring plasma turns into a trickling stream. Its hulking frame collapses to the ground.

I can’t believe it was that easy. Complacency will get you every time.

In celebration, I order a pizza and spend the evening in front of the television. I go to bed somewhat early, looking forward to what tomorrow may bring.

The alarm wakes me in the morning, or so I thought. Instead of an alarm, it’s that familiar voice I’ve come to loathe.

“Good morning, Alan.”

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Nothingness

He swirls the glass of red around, watching the flame from his candle flicker through the glass and liquid.  It is the only light coming from his apartment.  The moon is bright outside providing a little extra light, but one would be hard-pressed to see the man sitting on his couch if they were to peer in through a window.  Although, the sounds of the opera would give clues to the apartment not being vacant.

His friends (what friends?) are all out on this Saturday night, drinking and dancing, doing all those things he finds deplorable.  They offered him an evening of fun, but he kindly declined, making up some lame excuse about needing to be up early the next morning and being too tired.  It was all a lie, of course, but they didn’t need to know that.  He always figured it was easier to be civil than truthful.

It’s all a lie, he thinks to himself.  Everything.

He has no interest in being fake anymore, pretending to like people, pretending that he agrees with another person’s belief system, pretending that some idiot just said something revolutionary, when it was nothing more than moronic babble.  What is the point?  What is the purpose?  Why try to fool yourself into feeling good about who you are when, deep down, you know the truth?

The dark.  Something seems so right about the dark.  Nothing but a small votive flickering slightly in the gentle breeze, which is floating in from the autumn night, and that slice of moonlight.  Nothing but a comforting sip of red to put the mind at ease.  Nothing but a soprano in Italian, reaching notes his ears can barely pick up.  Nothing but a comfortable couch to sink into.  Nothing but becoming a part of the night.

Sighing silently, he takes a sip of the red wine, allows a gentle smile to crease his lips, closes his eyes, and sinks ever so far into nothingness.

The End

Drumming his fingertips on the notepad, he closes his eyelids, causing his brain to immediately swim. His eyes feel like lures bobbing in the water, trying to keep balance between sleep and awareness. The gravitational pull is stronger on the sleep side.

Voices come in and out of his ears like one-night stands, the conversations never sticking around long enough for any meaning or details, although some with a sense of urgency that goes unnoticed. The computer monitor displays its message – 5 unread emails, 6 unread emails, 9 unread emails, but closed eyelids cannot read, cannot be aware. His contact lenses fan out from his eyeballs, creating a seal behind his eyelids to make it even more difficult to open them once his mind rights itself.

The left side of his jaw slides down his left palm, his four days worth of stubble scratching his skin and causing enough friction to keep his head from bobbing downward like a reluctant affirmation. His head hangs on for dear life like a baby tooth not yet ready to detach from the gums.

Finish your work, his voice, lazy and slurred, even in his own mind, tells his brain. At the very least, check the time and start the countdown until 4 o’clock. Clean your desk. Organize your papers. Do something. Don’t give them a reason to stop issuing you a bi-weekly paycheck. You can kiss Patricia’s ass good-bye if you’re not bringing home the money. She already barely touches you as it is.

Forcing open his eyelids, he cannot tell if they opened or not, as he sits in darkness. He sees the outline of his computer monitor, the keyboard, the telephone. Sunlight no longer sneaks through his window, which is offering the slightest illumination from a distant street light.

Did Patricia call or text? No.

Did his co-workers really just leave him as is? They are probably having a good laugh at his expense down at Winking Lizard or Harry Buffalo or wherever their Friday drinking party took them this week. He is positive that Monday morning will be spent explaining himself or receiving a lecture about spending company time more wisely. The lecture is most likely because the explanation will be brief.

I was tired.

Would he be labeled a smart ass for that explanation? It was the truth, though. What else can he say? More importantly (and more urgently), he needed to find an excuse for Patricia. The truth would just confirm to her that he’s not worth the time and effort, and he would have a weekend of feeling worse about himself than he already does. No. He needs to find a way to keep those disparaging remarks at bay.

Simple misunderstanding, right? I got stuck in a meeting and didn’t notice the time. No. She knows, if anything, they will leave earlier rather than later on a Friday night. I decided to grab a quick drink with my co-workers and lost track of time. The former has happened before. Sometimes, he cannot get away, or the meeting sounds like it is wrapping up for thirty minutes straight. Again, it has just never happened on a Friday. The latter has never happened before. In fact, it’s rare that he has a drink, let alone socializing with his co-workers, but it’s a possibility, right? In fact, it may make him look a little better in Patricia’s eyes, right?

What time is it, anyway?

Hitting his mouse to exit the pitch black screen saver, he stares at the blank screen. He looks at his phone, but the display is dark as midnight. His cell phone offers no time, just a distorted picture of the Earth, as if someone mistakenly put a fish-eye lens on the satellite. If he would tap the email icon on his cell phone, he would see email after email declaring THE END! THE END! THE END! before all transmissions stopped. He doesn’t bother, though, fixated on the lack of text messages or phone calls from his wife.

For the first time, he notices the absolute silence engulfing him. He has never been sitting at his desk in silence, not even when he comes into work by himself on the weekend. A librarian would even feel discomfort in this amount of silence.

Shifting his gaze from side to side, he quickly releases his laptop from its docking station and shoves it into his backpack, along with a pen and pad of paper. He collects his keys off the desk. He always puts them next to his telephone to avoid getting jabbed throughout the work day. He slides his cell phone into his front left pocket because his wallet always occupies his front right. He doesn’t understand people putting wallets in their back pockets; he finds that terribly uncomfortable.

Slinging the backpack over his shoulders, he walks out of his cubicle, down the hall, down another hall, through a secured door, and then stands in front of the bank of elevators. Pressing the down button, it flickers on and then off, but no doors open. He rapidly presses the button a few times to the same result, staring down at the button, as if his gaze could somehow force the light to stay illuminated. Remembering the definition of insanity, he backs away from the elevator doors and heads into the stairwell, where the lights are out on every other floor, while the working ones are starting to dim.

After walking down six flights of stairs, he enters the lobby. Like the stairwell, every other light is out while the others dim. He looks at one of the lights just as it flickers and expires, which is strangely unsettling. The security desk is unmanned, even though it should be occupied at all hours of the day and night. The office building is never officially closed, with access given twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week, without exception.

Pushing through the doors, he walks onto the sidewalk, blinking yellow lights from all the working traffic signals are the only sources of light in front of the building. Where was that light coming from that came through the window by my cube? The night is completely still. No homeless. No cars. No wind. Nothing.

Have I gone deaf? He stomps his foot on the pavement, comforted by the echoing thud. Am I just thinking I’m hearing this? Do I just know what it sounds like and am fooling myself into believing it’s audible?

Shuffling.

That’s not from memory.

He turns in the direction of the sound to see a human figure ambling towards him. About to ask the figure what the fuck is going on, he stops.

There is enough yellow blinking light to illuminate the liquid streaming out of the thing’s eyes. He cannot be sure exactly what it is, but it sure as shit isn’t a tear. It’s thick. It’s dark. It opens its mouth in a sinister smile, with more dark liquid dribbling out the sides and down to its chin.

And then…