Everything is temporary, even me.
This was my first attempt at a “serious” short story that I hope to get published one day. It’s about a 10-15 minute read, and is meant to be ambiguous. Any errors, discussion, or interpretations you may get I would love to hear in the comments. Enjoy:
The water burns my hands as it flows through the cracks in my interlocked fingers. I’m not used to this kitchen sink. It’s the first time I’ve actually used it. Realizing there aren’t any towels around, I use my jeans to dry off my hands and begin to set the table. First I set the forks to the left of the china dinner plates I retrieved from the side room, each with exactly one inch between them. Dancing around the chair I place the knife and spoon on the other side of the china, making sure that again only one inch separates them from the other. This is the easy part. Carefully I align everything in perfect symmetry.
I had spent the afternoon watching a video online that taught me how to fold napkins in the shape of a bird. I pick up the red silk and begin to fold it as I had seen in the video, smiling to myself. Earlier I had debated between using the red silk or the plain white napkins my mother had given me from her collection. Decisions are hard to make, especially something as serious as this.
I complete the first five steps of the bird before freezing, realizing this did not resemble what I had hoped at all. I unfold it immediately and grab the opposite corners. Using my chin I carefully pull them together and then fold it over again. The traditional triangle shape will have to do for tonight. I pick up the silverware and carefully lay the napkins down underneath. I got up with a feeling of relief but still felt disappointment. The birds would have been a nice touch.
I set out to finish the table, but I’m having trouble finding some of the things. This whole place is still new to me. I should probably start being more observant. I used to notice everything. But never mind that, I want to do this right. It’s been a while since I’ve had dinner for two, and I’m sure of that.
Scanning the table back and forth, I realize the wine glasses are missing. I walk over to the counter and open the first hanging cabinet on the far right. Plates. I swear that’s where they usually are. Moving to the left I try the second. Bowls. I must be losing it, I don’t think I’ve ever opened this cabinet before. I side step again to the last cabinet next to the fridge. Wine glasses. I reach in and grab two with my right hand, carefully shutting it with my left. I look at the fridge and stop for a moment. It’s blank and empty on the outside, like a broken man with no hope. It’s a depressing thought; I’ll have to change that. My fridge at home always had a calendar on it when I was growing up. Maybe I’ll get one for here, it will help me keep track of the time better.
What time is it?
Turning away from the fridge I stop and find myself looking in the bathroom mirror. I’m in an entirely different room. Stains and dirt blur my reflection and distort part of my face on the left side. A slight crack in the glass comes down from the top right and across confusing me even more. It’s as if two cars of different makes have collided head on, resulting in a tangled mess of metal and alloy. Leaving the two unrecognizable from their origin and even harder to observe together. I don’t mind it though. It makes it harder for me to look directly into the glass.
I’ve always had trouble making eye contact with people, even myself. It’s a shame really. I find eyes to be really beautiful. You can tell so much by just looking for a few seconds. It’s something more than a physical connection. A bridge we design through our contact lenses, from one soul to the other. They can radiate with a nuclear joy even when the mouth is still too shocked to smile. All while the same pair can cast a shadow that makes you feel as empty as they do. I experience it from time to time. As soon as the colors meet it’s like I’m in a trance. They trap me. Two hands reach out of their soul and seduce me into darkness. Together we dance to a slow tempo, step by step growing closer to the beat of a heart. The hands pull tighter and tighter until my breath is in rhythm with the heart’s beating. Slowly I sink. All while funeral songs are implanted in my head, despite the fact that they’re not looking anymore. You’re not here anymore.
The wine glasses are gone from my hand.
I push my palms into my eyes and fall back into the wall behind me. The friction begins to lift up the back of my shirt as I start to slide down, exposing my skin to the frigid wall. Each tile traces its shape into my back, but I keep my eyes closed while sinking down to the floor.
The wine glasses. Where did they go?
Were they ever here at all?
I try to forget that they have vanished. The white tiles are cold on my feet as I drag my knees to my chest. My head is spinning but I keep applying pressure to my forehead. Maybe the external will distract the internal. Tonight can’t come soon enough.
I make the decision to finally remove my hands from my face. The white walls and floors of the bathroom are gone, and I find myself sitting in my bedroom at the end of the bed. I slide my knees down away from my chest and put my feet down to the floor. The walls are bare all around me besides the thin coat of red paint that was probably applied two decades ago. This sight alone is depressing. I keep telling myself I’ll go and buy some paint but I still haven’t done it. I wouldn’t even know where to go.
As I continue to stare at the wall in front of me I notice that several outlines are present across its surface. My eyes trace the lines and begin to pick out the shapes that are crafted from the slight color difference. Several picture frames, some furniture. This room used to be filled with life. But it must be my imagination; besides my bed this room has always been empty.
I push my hands into my eyes again, trying to gather my thoughts. I slowly tilt my head to the right expecting to see the same results and emptiness as the front wall, but again I’m wrong. Propped up against the wall is my old writing desk I had while I was in college.
It’s exactly the way I remember it.
The desk itself is made of mahogany and is actually a very expensive piece. I got it from my grandfather as a moving-out gift. He knows I love to write. I haven’t talked to him in months. I really should give him a call, I mean, if I possessed a way to communicate with him. It’s been so long since I used my phone that I can’t even promise I still know how to use it. I’ve been out of touch for a long time.
That’s another thing that I haven’t experienced in a long time. That certain intimacy and excitement you get for the first time you touch another person. There’s a warmth and connection in that moment that’s so surreal. It turns an object into life, giving birth to a feeling of release. I imagine my soul jumping out through the skin to escape the prison it’s been stuck in, because when that warmth brings life you realize you’re not alone. This thought makes me smile a little bit.
Shaking my head I realize I’m still looking at the desk. As my eyes focus I realize the case of pens and pencils are still sitting on the top in the blue coffee mug. The chip is even still in the corner from when I slammed the television set I was moving into its side. I haven’t seen this desk in years.
Or it feels like years. I can’t remember the last time I wrote something down. The desk shows it. There’s a thick layer of dust on the wooden frame now. I used to write all the time. Some call it therapy. I do it just to keep myself sane. Lyrics, poems, stories. Anything that I can hide my real emotions under. I enjoyed crafting different ways to cover up my intentions. But no one, not even me, has read so many of the pieces after they’re complete.
I stand up and walk over to the desk as if some force is pulling me closer. Maybe I had left some kind of writing on top of it. I’ll read it if something is there today I think. The few times I have read a previous work the words on the page become a portal, instantly sending me back to the time I had written it. Reliving every word and measure. A constant body of mixed emotions and lives occupy my head, but it’s all only temporary.
I look down at the desk to find a blank piece of canvas. I find this confusing; I’ve never really drawn before in my life, aside from the random sketches I would draw on the side of my notebooks. I wouldn’t really consider myself that kind of artist. I sit down at the desk and grab a pencil out of the mug. Maybe I’ll try and draw something.
Before I have a chance to attempt anything, the paper begins to draw upon itself. Lines and curves begin appearing out of nowhere, slowly progressing from the top right corner down. My eyes are glued to the canvas as the picture begins to come to life. I scan the canvas back and forth as if I’m deciphering some sort of code until the drawing stops. I drop my unused pencil in shock when I observe the drawing in full.
It shows an elderly man, sitting in a chair with his two hands outstretched. In each hand is a brain, which appear to be dripping with blood into little pools on the floor below him. On each side are crowds of men and women grabbing each of the man’s arms, pulling him in separate directions. But the elderly man just looks straight down, ignoring both the brains he possesses in his hands and the crowds of people on his left and right. He’s alive but his body makes him look so lifeless.
As I observe the picture more I begin to notice letters being written on the bottom of the canvas.
Is this some kind of message?
Y…O…U…are the first three letters, and the font itself doesn’t look drawn with a pencil like the picture. It looks as if someone is scratching the letters into the canvas. V…E…B…E…you’ve be… what is this message? And who is writing it? I put my elbows on the table and push my palms into my eyes again.
I stare into the blackness of my covered vision for a minute before looking down again, only to stop and stare in amazement. The picture that was just drawn is gone, and the letters are nowhere to be seen that I just witnessed being scratched into the paper. I pick it up and hold it up to the light, expecting to see something but there’s nothing there. Out of the corner of my eye I see something on the desk that was underneath the canvas and look down.
Scratched into the surface of the desk are the words I saw being put on the paper. “You’ve been here long enough to know”. The words are scratched into my eyes as I read it off the desk. You’ve been here long enough to know…you’ve been here long enough to know.
I’ve been here long enough to know. You don’t think I know that? It’s been so long I stopped counting the days. But I still have no answers. I’m still trying to find a way. There has to be a way. There just has to be a way.
I begin to pace back and forth in front of the desk. I can feel myself getting worked up and my mind beginning to slip. I’m aware of what’s happening but this time I don’t think I’m going to stop it. The table is set and it’s almost time…no, it is time.
Reaching down to the side of the desk I open the drawer to reveal the blood stained knife wrapped in a towel. I pick up the knife and turn around, only to find myself starring back in the broken mirror in the bathroom. I look down to find the knife still in my hand and decided I’m not going to hide from the mirror anymore.
I look up and stare directly into my own eyes. A high-pitched screeching sound echoes through the room and the glass snaps down the middle, making me flinch. But I don’t stop. I search to find my eyes again through the distorted image, and stare right into them. Once I reestablish the connection I feel the room start to shake, making it harder for me to see the image showing back. I grab onto the sink to stop from falling over, but I keep on staring through. The screeching sound is back and getting louder, and the shakes are becoming more violent. I imagine that this is what an earthquake feels like. Then to my astonishment, the mirror cracks inwards and explodes everywhere, throwing me back into the wall behind me.
“I’ve been here long enough to know,” I mutter to myself while shaking off pieces of glass that have landed on me. I stand up and take off my shirt, revealing my arms and body that are covered completely with scabs and scars. I’ve been collecting them for quite some time now, my whole life really. But tonight, I’ll do more than just pick at them.
Tonight I finally have enough.
I raise my left arm across my body and take the blade I held in my right to the scabs. Lightly I lay the point of the blade on the skin, take a deep breath and begin to cut away.
My mother had taught me to sew at an early age, and with good reason. I was always ripping and tearing my clothes apart when outside playing with the neighbors. I’d give anything to go back to those days. It was so much simpler then, before all of this happened. Before I did this to myself.
I shake my head and quickly rid the memory from my head. Reaching down I pick up another piece of the flesh on the bedroom floor and place my needle through and continue to sew.
I’m still distracted. The past is speaking so loud. I can hear it whisper and yell. There’s no treble in the sound though, only bass. It’s so low. It drags you down with each descending note as it sinks lower and deeper. For months it’s been shaking my mind, smashing the bruised shell into the walls of my head. It’s becoming difficult to just hear the present. It’s so low. The bass is so low.
I’m having trouble remembering.
I look down and disregard the blood that’s staining my hands as I continue to stitch the pieces together. The blood stained knife is lying on the floor next to me, slowly dripping and making a pool underneath. I don’t think I’ll need it anymore after tonight. It won’t have any use where I’m going.
As if I have a choice.
Have you ever been aware of what you’re doing…but powerless to stop it? Like you’re watching a movie through a second pair of eyes that never blink. Watching the mistakes happen. Watching with full knowledge that what you’re doing is wrong? Not the small mistakes we all make. The ones we continuously do over and over while always expecting a different outcome. Wound after wound and scar after scar. Our mistakes become routine, and our routines become who we are.
It’s who I am.
I’m a mistake.
I can feel my hand begin to tire and decide to get a drink. Standing up I walk through my bedroom into the kitchen, only to freeze. The wine glasses are back on the table, filled with a red wine.
They disappeared from my hands in my bathroom. I could see them, no, feel them being taken from me. I couldn’t have done this myself, I would have remembered filling them.
I walk closer to the table to observe the drinks. They’re both exactly an inch from the silverware that’s on the right. The table is exactly how I had set it up before with everything still in perfect symmetry. Soon I’ll be sitting here. Soon I won’t be alone anymore.
I pick up one of the glasses and turn away from the table. I did come in here to get a drink after all. As I start walking towards the bedroom I raise the glass to my lips to drink, only to stop.
Something just moved through the doorframe of the bedroom.
I lower the drink immediately and slow my walk to a crawl. My pulse is becoming amplified through my entire body. I’m alone here right?
It’s just my imagination.
My mind must just be playing games with me. I know these shapes. I’ve seen them before. This is one of those games where shadows are cast into personified creatures. Haunting me through every hour like a bird in a cage that can’t escape the sight. It’s like they follow me. Then again, it’s not like I’m hard to find.
But I’ve been alone here for as long as I can remember. I close my eyes and look down as I feel my thoughts spinning out of control. Stop…no. It’s not that…I slowly crouch down as the thoughts keep speeding. Memories are fired at me so quickly I can’t even register them all. I can’t protect myself from them, there’s just to many.
No…it couldn’t be.
This must just be one of the memories that came back to me. That’s all this is. That voice can’t be here. It’s impossible. I haven’t heard that voice speak in what feels like an eternity. How long has it been?
It must be years now.
I stand back up and look around. Everything seems normal. I was right. It must have just been in my head.
I breathe in a sigh of relief and begin to walk again. Raising the glass to my lips I go to take a sip of the wine, only to find myself slowly tilting farther back until the glass is vertically above me. It’s only now I realize how cold the glass is and pull it down in front of my eyes.
The wine is frozen.
I turn around and start walking back to the table. It’s fine really. I’m not that thirsty anymore. I place the glass down in the same spot from which I retrieved it and decide to get back to work. Sitting back down in front of the bed I pick up the needle and begin to sew where I had left off.
Then I hear the smash.
It came from back inside the kitchen. What could it be now?
I walk into the room and see a bottle of red wine smashed into pieces on the floor in front of the table. Shards are reflecting the light from the ceiling as the red fluid spreads across the kitchen floor. This wasn’t here a moment ago. I’m sure of it.
Then I hear the laughing.
It’s hysterical, cynical even. It’s like the person has lost complete control of their voice. It’s getting louder and louder, bringing goose bumps to my skin as it echoes off the walls of the apartment. I’m afraid to turn around. I don’t want to know what’s behind me. It has to be in my mind. It’s just another game. It has to be another game. I can feel my pulse getting louder again. It seems the bass of my past has caught up with me.
I turn around to see no one in the kitchen. The laughing echoes a last time and fades away into the walls. But I can hear something else coming from the bedroom. I begin to make my way closer to make out the noise or a person sobbing very quietly and controlled. I freeze before I reach the doorway to the room.
It’s all in my head I tell myself.
It’s all in my head.
I walk through the doorway and feel my heart drop straight through my stomach. I realize instantly that this isn’t in my head.
This is real.
Sitting on the bed is a woman with her knees at her chest and head buried in her arms. She doesn’t acknowledge me as I cautiously step into the room, just continues to sob quietly. Her body steadily shakes, rising and falling with each breath she manages to steal from the surrounding air.
I start to rub my arms. The room is cold, borderline freezing. But there’s no window open. This room doesn’t even have windows. There’s just this woman. Crying on my bed wearing a black dress. Something seems so familiar about this. It’s like I’ve been here before.
Do I know this woman?
“Excuse me…” I stutter out while taking another step closer. No response.
The sobbing continues as I proceed closer to the bed. The dress is so familiar, but I can’t remember. My memory just isn’t what it used to be. I try to remember the memories that hit me earlier in the kitchen. But I find myself empty once again.
I reach the end of the bed and try to collect my thoughts. Should I say something else to her?
Before I have a chance to decide the crying stops and the woman slides one of her legs out forward. I hear her breathing come back under control and I feel myself getting tenser.
“Are you okay…?” I finally manage to say as I sit down at the end of the bed.
Still she remains silent. But slowly she reaches out her left arm towards me. I raise mine back towards her until our fingers are only a few inches apart. I try to look to her, but she’s still looking down. Her hair is falling over the front of her face, but I can still hear her breathe. I know she’s alive.
I take a deep breath myself and reach out for her hand. Only to feel a numbing sensation pass over me as my hand passes right through hers. I take it back immediately and cup it in my other hand. I can hear the woman sniffle, as if she’s still trying to fight back tears. Putting down her left arm she puts out her right, again reaching for me.
Maybe this makes a difference I think to myself. I reach out again for her right arm only to again pass right through her. I wait this time, expecting something to happen. Hoping something will happen.
But I only find myself getting colder. The woman pulls her arm back and pulls her knees back up to her chest. I let my head fall to my chest and close my eyes. I can’t help but feel I’ve made some kind of mistake.
Looking back up I realize the woman is no longer hiding her face in her arms. She’s staring right at me. But something is wrong. She has no face. There’s no mouth to co exist with the body moving to each breath she takes. There are no eyes staring back at me. There’s nothing but empty space. Nothing but emptiness.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“…I’m so sorry”.
She’s reaching out for me again. Using both arms to beckon me closer to her. I reach out with both hands to grab hers only to see her slowly fade as my hands pass through. The sobbing comes back, and I can see her faceless head fall slowly back into her own chest. I keep trying to grab her hands expecting a different outcome, but it’s no use. The sobbing is getting louder and it’s getting harder to make out her outline.
“Please don’t go,” I say as I pull my arms back.
“Please don’t go…”.
I watch as she fades away from the bed. The sobbing is now uncontrollable and is getting quieter as she slips into the darkness. As she fades away she never pulls her arms back. She never stops reaching for me.
The room isn’t so cold anymore.
Dreams have always been an interesting concept to me, mostly because I never remember mine. Sometimes I wish I did, but than again I don’t remember nightmares either. I like to think that my mind is so busy during the day because it never exercises itself while I’m asleep. It just goes to show that dreamers of the day are dangerous men.
I haven’t left the edge of the bed yet. In fact I can’t even remember how long I’ve been sitting here. It looks so comfortable but I can’t justify sleeping. No matter how tired I am. I don’t think I’d be able to fall asleep anyways. There’s just too much on my mind.
There always is.
I can admit I think too much for my own good. So much so that it keeps me up most nights. Every time I lie down it’s a battle just to silence myself. I want to believe it’s because I don’t dream. I can’t dream. I don’t know how. It’s difficult for me to accept that one moment I’ll be lying in bed trying to sleep and before I know it I’m waking up. Like no time has passed at all. Without dreams to bridge the sleep it becomes meaningless. It becomes nothing. Why would my brain want to stop working?
“Well that’s ironic”
The voice sends shivers down my spine. I spin my head around to look away from the bed.
I stand up and face towards the bed, expecting to see something lying on it again. But it’s empty, just a perfectly made bed tucked in evenly at every corner. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I actually fell asleep. A night where I didn’t wander the rooms of my home or stare at the ceiling believing there was an answer hidden there. How long has it been? I don’t know. All I know is I miss it. I miss sleep so much.
I miss you so much.
I turn away from the bed and start to walk away only to be stopped abruptly. I’m staring back at myself in the bathroom. There are huge bags under my eyes. I mean I knew I was tired, but not this tired. Gravity itself must be pulling down on them. Dragging them right into the sink below me.
This mirror was broken. I watched it happen.
I felt it happen.
A cold sweat starts to form as I see the drops form on my forehead. I can feel it dropping down the side of my face. My breathing has gotten heavier again and I bend myself over the sink. The knife. It’s still stained red and in my hand. I drop it into the sink that’s filled with blood and turn on the faucet. Quickly I wash off my hands like I have something to hide. If I’m being honest with myself I’m getting pretty good at it.
I’ve always found it amusing how much of myself I try to hide from people I don’t know. Even the people I do know. I bury my self-perceived flaws under fake smiles, wearing each one accordingly to any given situation. I find myself spending more time perfecting those fake smiles than I do searching for things that give me any real sense of pleasure. Leaving just a shadow of myself.
Just keep pretending.
Just keep hiding.
I stop washing my hands and hold them up to myself. Maybe it’s time I stop pretending. Maybe I shouldn’t hide anymore.
I pick up the knife again in my hand. It feels so heavy. How much weight can one blade hold? How much damage can one cut cause?
How much is lost when something is split in two?
“You’ve been here long enough to know”
The words echo around me in the bathroom. But I still have no answers.
I bring the point of the blade up in the air, tracing the blunt side with my finger as I move up to the point. It’s sharp. But I already know that. I’ve seen what it can do. My finger reaches the top and I apply a little bit of pressure. The blood pops out in a bubble and slowly drips down into the palm of my hand. I turn it and watch it fall onto the white tile floor, staining the color. I’m mesmerized by it. As if seeing the color red is all I need.
I spin the knife in my fingers and bring it to my hand again. Following the trail of blood down the blade reaches my forearm. The old scars are all visible. Piled on top of each other. With each one holding its own story, its own memory. The knife dances around them as I trace their outlines, trying to remember where each one came from.
“One cut” I whisper to myself.
One right cut is all it will take.
I feel my whole body become tenser as I tighten my arm. My fingers outstretch and shake before I tighten them into a knuckle. One cut is all it will take. Just one cut. I pick up the knife with my free hand and point the blade to my wrist. The room must be shaking because I’m having trouble keeping the blade sturdy. I try to make a movement and find that my body has frozen itself. My muscles have all locked up. I sigh and pull the knife away, shaking my arms out around me. My chest rises and falls in front of my eyes in a panic with each breath I take while staring down at my arm. I try to bring it under control.
In through the nose.
Out through the mouth.
The pattern continues until my breathing is calm enough for me to focus. I look up into the mirror and touch the blade to my neck. The light flickers off each side as I pull it back and forth to each side. Gently I lay the side to my cheek. The blade is cold. Ice cold. I slide down to my neck and feel it start to go numb. It’s not much of a sensation, but at least I feel something.
I continue to slide the knife back and forth across my neck, slowly adding a little more pressure each time. Staring into the mirror I can see faint red lines start to surface as the blade gently slices the skin.
I just need enough strength to make the cut.
I take a deep breath and look through the mirror again. As if I’m looking for something behind it. I’ll give myself a countdown.
Start with three.
And just countdown.
I’m speaking out loud now. Maybe hearing the words will give me the adrenaline I need to pull the knife across.
Closing my eyes I take a deep breath and push the blade into the side of my neck.
I keep my eyes close and tense my arm.
I can feel my heartbeat rising in the microseconds between the words. Time is slowed down and my breathing is becoming desperate gasps for air.
I open my eyes to watch only to drop the knife in horror. Something is staring back at me over my right shoulder.
I spin around to see nothing behind me.
But that face…
I look back into the mirror and start grabbing at it. Slamming my hands against the glass and pushing against it as if the thing I’ve just seen is locked inside. My hands are shaking. I look down at the knife that’s sitting again in the sink. My eyes refocus to see my hands, palms up, still stained red. The blood won’t come off. Why won’t it come off?
A sudden creaking noise comes from someone walking slowly in the kitchen. I turn to look out the door to see a trail of blood leading its way from the sink. My vision starts to blur as I keep staring out the door. The creaking is getting louder. I’m trying to remember what I saw behind me in the mirror. But it all happened so fast. All I know is it didn’t look human.
The door to the bathroom slams shut and I snap out of my thoughts. It’s only now I notice the few drops of blood have turned into a small pool, submerging my feet in the dark red liquid. The walls around me are shaking and pieces start to fall and splash blood up around me.
I have to get out of here.
The blood around me continues to raise as the walls crumble, but I keep moving forward. The door seems so far away. The bathroom has never been this big. I can feel the room becoming tighter around me as the walls continue to fall, and each step seems to bring me no closer to the door on the other side. I can hear laughing again, but it’s not the same cynical laugh I heard before. This one is a low voice. And it’s a slow laugh. It’s trying to taunt me. I can hear it coming from the other side of the door.
It’s waiting for me.
I push forward, dodging various pieces of debris falling around me until I reach the door. The room is filled up to my stomach now and the air is getting hard to breathe. I grab the doorknob and turn to look back behind me. The knife is floating behind me and I decide to grab it.
I may need it.
I twist the doorknob and push the door open, flying out of the bathroom as the blood and debris pours out around me. I’m thrown first into the opposite wall in the hallway as I struggle to keep my breath. I can barely stay afloat. The current created pulls me down the hall farther until the blood begins lowering as it starts disappearing into the adjacent walls. I’m thrown violently onto the ground and roll over several times before coming to a stop at the end of the hallway.
I pull myself up to my hands and knees while coughing up blood. I can’t even tell if its blood I drank or if the blood is mine. Rolling over onto my back I wipe my mouth and bring my breathing back under my control. I realize now that there’s a shadow of a person standing over me.
I turn to realize I had dropped it when I was thrown from the currents. Jumping I go to grab it only to see a foot step down on top of it. I stop dead in my tracks and slowly look up. Staring down at me is a mangled piece of flesh from underneath a shadow. Pieces of dead skin are hanging from its face, stitched together in uneven sections. The eyes are even in the middle, but it’s the only noticeable thing that makes sense. The mouth is crooked. The jaw is dented. There isn’t even anything that resembles ears on the sides of its face.
It reaches down to pick up the knife to show its hands are also made of old flesh and scabs. I’m still having trouble seeing the full character in this dark hallway. I push myself back and watch it step into the light from the ceiling.
I stare in horror as I instantly realize that I know this monster.
It takes another step forward and spins the blade in its fingers before stabbing it into the wall. A slow laugh starts to bounce off the walls from its mouth. Continuing towards me it bends down on one knee and looks directly into my eyes.
There’s no longer any doubt in my mind.
The creature continues to laugh and I feel my eyelids start to get heavy. I shake my head in an attempt to keep them open, but it’s no use.
I feel myself becoming light headed and sink back into the wall behind me. My eyes flutter as each blink becomes longer and longer. The laughs are echoing off the surrounding walls and into my head, dancing around inside me. The blinks become longer than seconds and I fight to remain conscious.
“You can’t hide here anymore”
The words burn through the cavities of my ears as I slowly fall into the surrounding darkness. I can’t fight it anymore.
…I can’t hide this anymore.
“Why do you act like this is new to you?
You’ve been here long enough to know you can’t have both.
You wander these rooms, surprised at what you see. Questioning everything. Observing nothing your own hands touch. You remember that don’t you? The touch of another human being, or has it been too long? One day your hands became rough. Stained a new color. How many times have you tried washing them? Wake up. And let me again be the first to welcome you home.
I slowly pick my head up from my chest and watch my vision fade back into picture. My head is swelling with pressure as I adjust to the bright lights coming from above the dinner table. Everything is in place. The plates and silverware are all still precisely set apart. The napkins are folded in triangles. The wine glasses are filled with red wine.
“I took the liberty to gather the wine glasses for you”
The voice comes from behind me and I turn my head as I feel a hand fall upon my shoulder. Standing above me is the mangled piece of flesh that I saw in the bathroom and hallway. Its whole body is stitched together with pieces of scabs and dead skin. Some of the pieces are still dripping with blood. The eyes are of uneven size on its face, with the left one half an inch larger than the right. The mouth is vacant of all teeth with lips made of stitches and the only trace of a nose I can see is a small indent in the center of its face.
“You seem to misplace them a lot.”
I try to get up and run only to realize my hands are tied behind me to the chair. While I’m struggling the creature laughs at my discomfort and continues to walk by to the other side of the table. It’s naked in its flesh, and I notice the entire body is disfigured as it slowly moves forward. It’s the size of a normal human being. If I had to guess I would say it was the exact same height as me.
The creature pulls out the chair on the other side of the table and sits down. Pulling itself forward and placing its hands over the plates I had set up earlier, interlocking its fingers. It says nothing, but picks its head up to look at me.
What does it want with me?
The seconds begin to feel like minutes. It just continues to stare. Not a sound has been made by either of us. The silence is deafening, and I fear it’s killing me slowly. In fact death is moving down my list of worst things that could happen.
“Do you think of death often?”
I jump in my seat.
How did it know I was thinking of death at that exact moment? Could that honestly be a coincidence?
I decide to play along.
“I suppose. It’s hard not to question it; it’s one of the most mysterious things in life. One that I’ll never have any answers to despite how hard I search. But if you were to tell me heaven is descending, I’d say that it would explain the weight on my shoulders.”
The creature smiles back and nods its head.
“I know you do.”
Why did it ask me if it knew the answer?
Who is this?
The silence is growing thicker this time and I feel it mixing with the air in the kitchen. I can feel myself getting anxious as I start to think of what all this could possibly mean.
Without speaking the creature throws forward some papers that fall on the table in front of me. They’re stained with the blood dripping from its many open wounds. Leaning forward I look down to observe the papers only to realize they’re my own. It’s all parts of my writing; different pieces back from when I was still in touch with my creative side. I haven’t worked on anything in so long.
“What’s it like to live life with no meaning? No purpose? Day by day, night by night, you sit asking the same question: where is inspiration? You’re just hoping it will find you. But are you really looking for it? Can you still say this is part of your life?
No. I can’t. I haven’t been involved in a project since I came to the realization of what I had done. It wasn’t just part of my life. It was my whole life.
All of a sudden I can smell food being cooked and turn over to look at the stove. Standing there is the woman in the black dress, shuffling around and gathering the ingredients for her to cook. Why is she here again?
“I think you’re forgetting something. In fact I think you’re forgetting more than you care to admit. Do you even remember her name? Can you remember what it’s like to trace your fingerprints onto the skin of another? To become one? Or are you still gasping for air, drowning in the oceans of apathy? Lost from human connection, with the land of life long abandoned? Is she still a part of your life?
I can feel my stomach dropping.
Of course I remember her. I know who she is. I know what she meant to me. She wasn’t just a part in my life. She was my whole life.
The creature stands when I say this and puts its hands behind its back.
I can smell food burning. I look over to see that the girl has turned to face us, but there is nothing for me to see. Her face remains empty, a blank canvas of skin. Her hair falls on both sides of her face and she’s angled towards me. If she can see, she’s staring right at me.
I look back over to the other side of the table to see the creature hasn’t moved. It just stands there.
“Who are you?” I finally say out of desperation.
“Who are you?”
“WHO ARE YOU?”
My shout echoes off into space as I realize everything besides the creature and I have vanished from the room. The table is gone. The girl is gone. But I’m still tied to the chair. I struggle to get my hands free from the rope burning my skin.
“You know who I am.”
The creature starts to walk towards me across the tiled floor of the kitchen. I look around to see the walls are gone. The tiles just stretch in every direction as far as I can see. The creature reaches me and I continue to move my hands around hoping to break free.
Kneeling down it looks directly into my eyes and reaches its hands up to the side of its face.
“You cut off these scabs every time they become visible again. Refusing to accept them to be part of who you are. So instead you ignore them, burying them deeper inside yourself, farther away from yourself. How can you expect to move forward when you keep cutting more of yourself away everyday? You’re empty. And one day you’ll wake up and be nothing, because you couldn’t make one decision. So instead you chose neither and watch yourself waste away. Is that what you want? You can’t keep going like this. You won’t make it out alive.”
Digging its fingers underneath the scab at the top of its face the monster pulls the skin of its face down.
My eyes widen before shutting tight.
It can’t be.
Staring back at me through the ripped skin is myself.
The face is torn down the middle. The left side remains scabs, while the right side shows my face hidden beneath.
“Why…” Is all I’m able to say, staring in disbelief.
My other self stands up and pulls the sewn skin back over the exposed face.
“How do you enjoy living between two worlds?” He says pushing the skin back into place.
“How does it feel to neither love or create?”
I shift in my seat and he starts walking around me in the chair.
“You couldn’t give her the attention she wanted. It’s not that you didn’t want to. You just got caught up in your work. It’s a perfectly normal reason. To create your mind must be somewhere else, right?”
I can smell the food burning more now.
“But the work suffered too. You wanted to be with her. I mean you loved her. So you dismissed ideas. Cut out time that you could of used to better yourself. But that would be selfish. A product that is only mostly complete is acceptable because you wanted to be with her, right?
“Stop it. Stop what you’re doing.” I mutter while looking down to avoid his eyes.
“So I guess it would only make sense to give up on both. To just rot away with all the time you wasted. Do you even know how much time it’s been?”
No…but there has to be a way.
There just has to be a way.
I’m just not ready yet. I don’t know how to do one or the other. I don’t know how to choose. I just need a little more time to figure this out. I just need a little more time here to figure me out.
He stops walking around the chair and stops in front of me.
“Who are you?”
“Who are you?”
I remain silent.
“WHO ARE YOU?”
“I don’t know.” I shout while looking up to finally make eye contact with him.
As soon as the words leave my lips I see everything return to the room. The dinner table is back and set. The cabinets and empty fridge are returned to the walls. The wine glasses are back filled with red wine.
“I can’t let you leave until you choose.”
“Please…” I say with my head buried in my chest.
“Just a little more time.”
The smell of food burning again fills my nostrils. I turn to see the girl in the black dress staring at me, disregarding the food that she has been cooking. It’s now while my head is down that I realize the dinner knife on my side of the table has been switched out, the bloody knife put in its spot. I twist my hands more and feel the ropes start to give behind me.
“This is your fault.”
Why won’t it just leave? I know this is my fault. I know I’ve done this to myself. I’ve been in this place for so long I can’t remember anything else. How long has it been? I couldn’t tell you. I failed. I messed up.
I let you down.
I let myself down.
I let everyone down.
“I don’t want to be like this.” I finally say looking at the creature.
“I don’t want to be stuck here anymore.”
Enraged the creature stands up out of its chair on the other side of the table.
“Only once you realize you’ll never be able to have both. You attempted and failed. Reached out both ways and took too much. It pulled you both ways, ripped you apart. You’ll never have both again. You need to accept that you’re never going to be happy like that.”
“But I’m not happy now.” I shout back from across the table. Wiggling my hands I can feel the ropes start to loosen more.
All of a sudden I hear the girl start crying softly in the corner again. The food is still burning and a small flame ignites on the stove.
“You’re going to kill us!” I say shaking violently in the chair.
“You’re going to kill me here.”
“You’re killing yourself.” The creature shouts back slamming it’s hand now clenched in a fist.
My head is spinning as the smoke starts to fill through the room. This is too much to handle right now. Everything I’ve tried to hide is coming out at once. I’m going to die here. I’m going to die here tonight if I don’t get out. The flames are beginning to rise all around the table and I can hear the girl screaming now. I continue to shake my hands and I can feel the skin being torn off by the ropes.
The creature takes a step back and I can only make out its shadowy outline through the fire and smoke. I start to cough as my lungs now fill with the smoke that’s been circling the room. I look down as I hear a crash as a piece of fiery debris falls on the table, setting all the pieces of paper on fire. The flames are right in front of me and I can feel the heat press against my face.
“Look at the life you chose. Is this what you want?”
I can no longer see where the voice is coming from.
“Embrace it. This is who you are.”
As the words find my ears through the flames I finally manage to get my hands out of the ropes that have bind me down. I reach forward and grab the bloody knife off of the table before I push it over, revealing a part of the floor not yet inhabited by the surrounding flames.
The creature begins laughing and I start spinning in a circle with the blade poised out in front of me.
“Where are you?” I shout into the flames.
I continue to spin as the vision in the room gets harder to perceive. The fire has now spread all around me, leaving only the small vacant area where the table stood. Where did the creature go? I know it’s still here. I can feel its presence. Concentrating through the sounds of debris falling and flames crackling I can hear footsteps.
“Is this really what you want?”
The creature starts laughing violently. The flames are closing in on all sides around me. I can’t breathe. I can’t see. It feels as if my skin is going to melt off my entire body. I keep the blade poised out in front of me. The laughing continues to get louder.
It’s getting closer.
“You can’t escape.”
I slow down to concentrate on where the voice is coming from.
“Not like this.”
I jolt around just in time to catch it jumping at me from out of the flames. Throwing the blade out in front of me I catch the creature in its stomach, allowing my eyes to connect to its one last time. It’s still smiling. Still grinning as the knife goes in deeper, still laughing as I twist the blade inside it.
“So now we know…” The creature says coughing out blood.
“Now we know who you are.”
I start stabbing it again to rip out the stiches, one by one watching them fall apart. Each piece hits the ground its own scar, the way it started, the way it left me. The remainder of the body collapses on the floor and I throw the knife away behind me.
I don’t think I’ll need it anymore.
It took me a while to realize that the fires in the room were gone.
I don’t know how long I’ve been staring down at the pieces left on the ground. Looking around I can see the kitchen is now back the way it was. There’s no burning, no stains. No mark of there ever being a fire in the first place. The girl is gone. The papers are gone. The blank fridge and the cabinets are aligned on the walls. The table is back standing on its legs.
But it’s no longer set.
I look down at my hands and see that there are still bloodstains on my hands. I walk over to the sink and turn the faucet on, carefully, so I won’t burn my hands. I don’t know why I’m even trying. The blood never comes off. I rinse my hands for a few seconds before looking down at them.
I can’t believe it.
My hands turn back and over again as I observe all the veins running through my palm. I can see my fingerprints. Each indent and bump on my fingers. The blood has finally come off.
I can see me.
I continue to look down to see that that the tangled mess of flesh is now on a pile on the floor, sitting in a small pool of blood next to the sink. But everything else is gone. Where did it go?
Hearing the doorbell ring interrupts my thought.
Is someone here?
I walk over to the door, my thoughts racing. Who could it be? I don’t think I’m expecting anyone.
I open the door to reveal no one.
My shoulders shrug but I don’t question it. Instead I turn and look over my shoulder back into the apartment.
The body of flesh is gone from the floor. The pile of blood cleaned. All the scabs and scars are gone. The stitches that held them together are gone. All I can see are the repeating patterns of the floor tiles. Square after square it’s the same thing over and over again with no variety. Doing the same things just make sense to some people. Finding comfort from safe and same. Then again some people never realize they’re lost. Never realize they’re losing grip. Never reach out for the hand when they need it most.
The apartment looks so empty. Maybe that’s why I was never able to be comfortable here. Imagine if the words “Goodbye” and “I Quit” could be produced into a place. It would be this apartment.
I think it’s time to leave.
I turn completely now to face the inside of the apartment one last time realizing I can’t stay here anymore. I place my hand on the adjacent wall, taking one last breath of the air in. Taking one last sight to remember, one last emotion to invoke. I don’t want to have to come back here again.
I don’t think I would make it out alive.
Clarity has befriended me for all but a moment. I don’t think I’ve found any answers. I don’t think anything has really changed. But something is different. Is it hope I have found or a path to despair? Have I found myself or someone else? I don’t know. It’s been so long since I’ve walked out this door I can’t even promise I remember what it’s like out there. But I know what’s waiting for me in here, while I can’t say the same about the other side of this door.
I take a step out of the apartment and close the door behind me. Forever asking the question: is reality slipping, or just finding me again?