Clank. Clank. Clank. You hear the heavy metal echoing through the brick of the walls around you. Something is being struck or dragged. No, not dragged. It doesn’t sound quite like that. It sounds like someone is breaking rocks, perhaps. It’s curious that you are so interested in identifying the sound, given the predicament you currently find yourself in.
You woke up here with no recollection of how you arrived. Cliché, of course. Drugged? Kidnapped? Does it ultimately matter at this point? You are strapped with thick leather bands to a chair that is less rickety than you would have preferred. Well, you would have preferred to not be here at all, but we can’t always get what we want, can we? The room around you is dark, dingy, cold, and smells faintly of antiseptic. Not like a room at a hospital that is always sterilized. More like a room that is…cleaned after usage.
No use thinking like that right now. You don’t need to panic more than you already are. It’s tough to fight back the swell in your chest, but you have to try. You have to think. Where are you? Why? How do you get away? These are pressing questions, all of which need answers immediately.
You hear the clank again, but this time it doesn’t sound like it hit rocks. It sounds like it hit something more organic and you hear a scream pour into the room. That is significantly worse than you first thought. If it were just you being held, there was probably a ransom in play. From whom, you would have no idea. Nobody you know is anywhere close to rich, even in more intangible qualities. Still, a ransom could be justifiable. If someone is being hit and screaming, that makes the situation seem more random and, thus, more terrifying.
You hear the scream again and it sounds like it’s getting worse in that room. Another slam of whatever is making the sound and now you hear a splatter of something on the other side of the wall. Definitely worse. Definitely need to get out of here now.
You start struggling, fighting with your bonds. Maybe, just maybe, the chair is not quite sturdy enough to resist against constant pressure. You rock back and forth, forward and back, trying anything to get the chair arm to break. No result. Whoever put you here thought of everything, including well-kept furniture. Bastards.
The clank in the next room starts another scream, but this one cuts off mid-shriek with a wet gurgle. Damn it. You strain and pull, trying desperately to get away, but there is no use. You are attached to this chair as tightly as you’ve been attached to anything else in your life. You hear the sound of the metal being dragged now – this time it is dragging – as it approaches the door. Ice freezes your veins as the door, heavy and rusted, creaks open.
You see the hammer first. Covered in blood.
Vibrating. Vibrating inside me. Can’t hold it back. Have to. Must. Cannot allow it to escape. It has to stay inside. Has to. Alternative is much worse.
Feels like boiling. Bubbling. A cauldron. Feels like heat inside me, steaming up my eyes. It’s foaming and roiling. It’s clouding my vision, but I have to stay strong. It has to stop.
I choke it down. I try. Bitter in the back of my throat. Tastes like battery acid. Burns. Stings. An acrid taste and smell. It’s necessary though. If even a morsel crawls out of my mouth…no. Best not to consider that option. Best not to give it life.
It's so difficult, though. They won’t stop talking. They won’t stop nattering on and on like flies. Flies with loud, echoing voices and piercing laughs. They won’t stop, even when others politely cough to get their attention. Rude. They are rude. I do not like rudeness.
Pressure now. Pressure behind my eyes. It feels like air is filling my head. Steam maybe. A kettle! Like a kettle heating up. Warming. Becoming hot. Hot. Hot. So hot. Like fire in my head.
I open my mouth to say something, but I stop myself. I can’t. I need to not. I need to maintain my presence. I need to stay silent. Quiet. A hidden un-person in my seat.
A piercing laugh from the Wicked. It is a particular kind of laugh that just cuts through all the chattering of people around. It slices and dices any sense of decorum and stabs like a pen knife into one’s ear. It’s a howling, shrieking laugh from a harpy. The kind of laugh that elicits hate where there was none.
I already had hate, though, so it does nothing but amplify the thoughts in my head. I picture myself slashing them with the steak knife at my right hand, carving their faces like turkeys. I see myself smashing one of the dozen champagne flutes sitting on their table and using the stem to pierce a throat, letting the laughter bubble out of them as the stream of blood does so as well. I see myself beating them with a chair, splinters of wood and bone bursting into the air with each heavy impact.
I want to do it. So bad. I want to do it and I feel my muscles clenching with the desire. I want to do it and free this restaurant from the screeches and braying of these demons tormenting us all. Nobody would stop me, would they? I can see their faces. The faces of the other diners. They are restraining themselves. They are visualizing violence, just like I am. Why should it not be me freeing us from this torture?
The knife is in my hand, unbidden. I feel a release within me as I stand up. Screams fill the room as I let myself act on my impulses. People are running now. But do my ears deceive me?
Do I hear clapping?
Owner of a Lonely Heart
Breakfast for one. Lunch for one. Dinner for one. No brunch. No dates. No spontaneous days off work to just lay around in bed and snuggle. No road trips. No flowers. It is so difficult being alone sometimes. Too long, in fact. Years. More than I can count or care to count, rather.
I’ve gotten used to solitude. Quiet nights by myself, curled up in my big, cold bed. I’ve gotten used to sitting at the coffee shop, drinking my solitary latte, seeing couples coming in and out. Sometimes laughing, sometimes quiet, sometimes arguing. I’d never argue. I wouldn’t take that risk.
For so long, I’ve just accepted that isolation is my lot in life. That I’m the single person in a booth at a diner on Sunday mornings, choking down scrambled eggs and wet hat. I’ve tried to come to terms with it. It’s a tough pill to swallow, honestly, but you do get it down eventually.
I have a secret, though. Ironically, I can’t keep it to myself. I’ve finally, after all these long years, started seeing someone. Before you think I’m getting all creepy and ‘seeing’ is a literal description of my stalking, no. It’s not that. She’s a living, breathing human being. She pours me coffee in the mornings and makes me lunch to take to work.
She makes me feel like I’m not alone.
I met her by accident. Isn’t that always how these things go? We were at a bar, I made a joke, she laughed, and we got to talking. She said I was funny. That was a new one. It was a strange feeling. Like my chest was wrapped in a blanket.
We’ve been on a few dates now and I can feel myself going head over heels. I know it’s early. Way too early, in fact. But I can’t help it. It’s been so long since I’ve had any kind of affection that even the slightest bit of interest is like walking into an open flame. A flame that I am okay with being burned by, no less. It sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s true.
So, I have a surprise for her. It’s time, I think, that she knows how I truly feel. When she gets home, I have it all planned out. I’m going to make us her favorite dinner – chicken and rice, simple and tasty, just like her – and pour us a bottle of wine and we’re going to sit and talk and laugh and enjoy each other’s company. When the time is right, I’m going to tell her how I feel and I hope she accepts it.
Well, ‘tell’ is not a grand enough word. I’m going to go into the other room and call her in there. When she enters, I’m going to do the only thing I can do to truly show her how much she means to me.
I’m going to literally give her the heart from my chest.
I hope she accepts it.
I Like Chopin
Classical music just hits a different chord, pardon the pun, with certain people. While most people tend to feel a sense of relaxation or excitement while listening to it, others – a scant few – have a different relationship with it. They use the music to see beyond and into worlds that are not our own. Something about the bend and sway of notes can bring them into something entirely new.
Therein lies the case of R. Spector. No first name because, well, it no longer matters. Spector had an obsession with Romantic period composers. Schumann. Liszt. Mendelssohn. Berlioz. All of them brought him to new places where he could explore to his heart’s content. None, however, could hold a candle to his absolute favorite: Chopin.
Spector exulted in the etudes. Was nourished by the nocturnes. Was pleased by the polonaises. Everything he could find was a vacation for him. He would spend hours, days, even weeks at home, letting the music waft through his house like breeze through a meadow. He would sit in his easy chair and drink brandy and let the notes settle on him as if butterflies alighting on a flower. To him, it was paradise.
But, with all things, even those we love, there comes the inevitable desire for more. New. Things we have not discovered before. Such was the case with Chopin and R. Spector. He knew that Chopin had posthumous music released, even going against his deathbed wish, and he needed to find it. Yes, there were the unpublished piano pieces that had been compiled, but there had to be more.
Rumor spread quietly about a piece for piano that Chopin had tried to burn after composing it. Something about opening doors. It was difficult to parse, as Spector did not speak Polish, but money talks sometimes more effectively than actual language. Through backroom dealings and exorbitant sums of case, one day a record arrived at Spector’s home, the entire box encased in wax. Had he understood the language, he would have known that the attached letter warned him to not open the box or play the record. That something different would happen. He did not understand, though, and cracked the wax with unsubtle glee in his eyes.
He sat down in his favorite chair, poured his favorite brandy, and leaned back as the music began to play. Right away, Spector was confused. Chopin’s music was normally elegant and lilting. This was atonal. Even harsh, in a way. He wondered if he had been ripped off.
That thought lost its importance, though, when the purple-gray hole opened in his wall and the long, thin, black leg reached through and pierced his chest with a sharp spike. Spector blinked as the lifeblood left him and he vaguely remembered how Chopin had died.
Pericarditis. Something to do with the heart. The irony there did not escape him, even when he saw his own heart pulled from his chest and into the hole.
What a way to go.
When you’ve been intimate with enough people, you start to pick up on little tricks, twitches, and signifiers of what they are feeling. Not to brag, just a fact. For instance, if someone’s face crumples up and looks like they are smelling something bad, that means you’ve done a good job. If they are grabbing the sheets, you’re doing work but you need to keep going. Pushing you away means to stop for a moment to give them time to recover. Things like that.
After a while, picking up on those signals becomes second nature to you. You know what to touch or kiss or lick when and where and with what frequency. You learn what little spots on the neck send them into paroxysms of pleasure. You learn how to bend and shift. You learn what means what. It’s like a cheat code for getting dirty.
It’s more difficult when you start getting mixed signals, though. Sometimes they tell you to stop and then get mad when you do. What are you supposed to do there? Context, I guess. Sometimes they pull you close and won’t let you go and then get mad when you do the business somewhere they don’t want. Things like that can be frustrating, but that’s why communication is so important with your partner. The more you talk, the better your experience is likely to be.
That’s sort of the trouble I’m having with my current paramour and, if you’ll indulge me, maybe talking it out with you will help me figure things out with her. I’m stumped as to what I need to do to make her feel comfortable, so maybe an outside perspective can help. You know, an academic exercise of sorts. Ready?
Okay, so I met her the other day in the park. We were both jogging so I asked if she wanted to run together. She didn’t seem opposed so we started to run as a team. She would speed up, so I’d speed up. She’d take a random left, so I’d follow. It became a kind of game in a way and was exciting, I don’t mind telling you. She even sprinted across the street, which was dangerous and thrilling at the same time. I mean, I followed but it was a trip.
As we ran, she started yelling at me. Incomprehensible things because she was breathing so hard. I guess she hadn’t run very much because she was gasping for breath. I started to get worried when I saw tears on her face, but looking back at it, I’m pretty sure it was just sweat. Well, eventually, I caught up with her in some alley she took us down – I don’t know why she did that – and we went back to my place for a drink and dinner. She seemed fine. Hell, right now, she’s just sitting downstairs in my man cave, resting on my couch.
My question is this: what do I do to make her stop screaming?
Everyone has their own ways of unwinding. Some people fish. Some people make stained glass or pottery. Some people drink, sometimes too much. Ride bikes. Go on hikes. Visit new places. Play games by themselves or with others. All wholesome or mostly wholesome. Some, though, prefer a darker route. It’s not often and it’s not common, but it does happen.
Karlo was one of those. Over the years, he had found a sort of release in hunting. It didn’t matter what. Deer, pheasant, elk, moose, bear. The bigger, the better. The more dangerous, the better. There was a primal thrill in dancing with death and coming out the victor, he had found. He had moved from rifle to pistol to bow to trying to get up close and kill things with a knife. His success rate had dropped, but the moments where he actually won were beyond words. There was simply nothing like managing to get the drop on an animal, tackling it, and cutting its throat, watching the crimson gush from the wound. Every forest floor he soaked with life fluid was a floor that he claimed as his own.
It was boring, though. Once he figured out the patterns and behaviors of the animals, it became easy to find where they were going to be and surprise them. It’s one thing to pit yourself against nature, but when you know the code, so to speak, of what you’re competing against, winning becomes a cakewalk. He was pinning squirrels to trees with knives. He was stabbing bears in their caves as they hibernated. It was easy.
The only time he came close to losing was against a mountain lion up in the Rockies. He had gotten turned around and came face to face with the cougar. It had reacted faster than he had and nearly took his throat out before he slipped his knife into its side. As he sat there, panting and treating his wounds, he felt only one thing. He felt alive.
He needed to feel that struggle in order to relax. He needed that fight. He needed that battle of wits and nature. He needed more.
It was when he found that hiker, then, that a whole new world opened up to him. He had gone up to the man, chatted for a bit, mentioned some hiking trails a little ways away, then handed the man a knife and told him to run. The guy had laughed before it sunk in that Karlo was serious and thus the game began.
It was over disappointingly fast. The man was panicked and didn’t give him much of a challenge. By the time Karlo was squeezing the life out of the hiker, he was already thinking about what to do next. Campers? Families maybe? What would be the biggest challenge? It was coming across the group of fellow hunters, all armed with rifles, that finally gave him that thrill he had been waiting for.
It was time to play.
It is so hard, sometimes, to have one’s voice heard in the crowd. The bustling din and the conversations and simple noise overwhelm one person trying to be present. Often, the only way to make one’s presence known is to yell and try to get above the commotion. With that comes other consequences, though. A person runs the risk of distracting others from their lives. A person could be seen as rude. A bother, in fact.
This was the dilemma of Mitchell Boynton. He did not like interfering with others. Had a crippling fear of doing so, actually. He worried about making himself heard and inconveniencing someone else in any possible way. His entire life, he had been told to keep his voice down and to let others speak. He had been told not to raise his voice because it was rude and dangerous. Rude, he understood. Dangerous, less so, but he was nothing if not obedient.
It was a Thursday morning in September when Mitchell Boynton found out why he needed to be a church mouse. He had gone out to get his favorite breakfast – an everything bagel with plain cream cheese and a medium latte with a swirl of caramel – and was looking forward to sitting at home, reading through the stories of the day, and enjoying his meal. However, he had left five minutes later than he usually did. As a result, the sidewalks were packed with commuters and businesspeople struggling to get to work in a timely fashion.
Mitchell was bumped and knocked around, but he kept his cool. Don’t make waves, he remembered. Let people be people. They have their own lives, after all. All the maxims drilled into him since he was little came to mind and calmed him. It was when a businessman went above and beyond the call of rudeness and took his meal from his hands, half-heartedly throwing back a ‘thanks for the food’ as he walked away, taking a bite of Mitchell’s bagel.
Mitchell called after him, but no response. He called a bit louder and the windows shook. The man didn’t turn around. Then Mitchell did the one thing he had been taught never to do: he yelled.
A blast of something tore from his throat and raced down the sidewalk, obliterating everything in its path. Windows shattered. People shattered. Blood and flesh burst and rained down as the shout ripped through humanity and metal alike. The ‘Hey!’ that had come unbidden to Mitchell shredded the mass of people ahead of him and struck the back of the breakfast thief. The man froze in his tracks before he was lifted into the air. He did not move as he was taken apart piece by piece. Fingers, toes, hands, feet, legs, bones, nerves, muscles. Every single component that made him a person was pulled a different direction before he splattered to the sidewalk, a pile of meat.
In the carnage, Mitchell walked forward and picked up his meal. And smiled.
Eye in the Sky
I don’t know of anyone that remembers life before The Eye happened. Most probably can’t. Many weren’t born. Some simply choose to forget. Whatever the case may be, I guess it doesn’t really matter in the end. There’s no use in talking about what reality had been or could be in the future because, well, those are just thought exercises. And they’re ones The Eye doesn’t like.
See, it watches us. Sort of. It’s less like a Big Brother sort of watching and more just passively gazing at anything and everything on the planet all at once. It surveys its domain with a kind of nonchalance, I guess. I mean, if a massive, sky-spanning eye could look nonchalant, anyway. It doesn’t really seem to care all that much what people do or say or anything like that. That’s nice in a way.
It's when people start thinking about life without it that it starts to get…upset. That may be a nice way of putting it. When it gets the sense, somehow, that someone is planning or plotting or thinking in some way of getting rid of it, The Eye stops being passive and stares directly at the person. And I mean directly. Its focus is completely diverted and the pupil shifts to fall on whoever was considering the action.
The scrutiny alone would be discouragement enough, but there’s something in that gaze that makes things worse. It makes a person’s blood boil in their veins. Hair stand up straight and then fall out. Skin grow tight and split. It’s almost like they are being cooked, although by what force, who can say? Minor offenders get off relatively lightly. They may be sick for a few weeks, but when they recover, they understand their transgressions and don’t repeat the actions.
Those of us that continuously consider what it hates, though, get a more drastic punishment. If you’ve never seen a person burst like an overcooked hot dog, I can assure you that it’s much worse than you could possibly imagine. It’s not something I want to repeat. You learn quickly what you can do and what you cannot do. Basically, the unspoken rule is that if you behave and accept that The Eye is there, you’re not going to have any problems. Sure, you may feel like someone’s watching you the rest of your life – because it is – but you get to live what passes for existence as unmolested as possible.
There are some, though, that long for freedom and have devised a plan underneath the watch of The Eye. See, they get around planning by retelling The Odyssey to one another. Specifically, the part with Polyphemus. You know what I mean. They call themselves Nobody and discussing literature isn’t a crime against The Eye.
But Nobody is planning. Nobody is thinking abstractly. And Nobody just got its hands on a nuclear missile. They call it The Stick. The problem is they need a distraction.
And my name just got called.
It was our dream, wasn’t it?
We found the house – the home – seemingly out of nowhere when we were desperate. We couldn’t afford to live downtown anymore. It was just too pricey and they wanted us out of there. They did everything they could to get rid of us and, finally, it became too much for you. I was on the verge of snapping, myself, but you went first. You screamed that we needed to leave, needed to find a new place to live, and I couldn’t argue with you even if I had wanted to do so.
So we looked. We scoured the websites and the papers and everywhere that had houses available. It wasn’t easy. There weren’t many, to say nothing of any with a reasonable price that we could afford. We started to panic. I know I did, at least. We couldn’t live where we were, but we couldn’t find another place to live either. It was terrifying.
Then, as if a gift from the universe, we came across The House. Old, yes. In need of a bit of TLC and fixing up, yes. In any other time, we probably wouldn’t have looked twice at the creaky, spooky place. But in our time of need, it was perfect. The owner had recently died and put the house on the market with explicit instructions to keep the price reasonable.
We put in a bid as soon as we could. Even with that, I know we weren’t hopeful. We had had that hope beaten out of us with rejection after rejection. To our surprise, though, the offer was accepted! No negotiation. No haggling over who would pay for what costs. Just a yes and an agreement to cover everything involved with the moving and exchange process. An absolute win for us, wasn’t it, darling? Suspicion didn’t even cross our minds once during the whole process. We were too happy.
We moved in as soon as we could and found that, despite the slightly-creepy aesthetic, the place was well-kept inside. No dust on ancient portraits. No spiderwebs clogging the corners of houses. It was neat and clean and a bonus we had not expected. Somehow, someway, our luck had changed in the biggest fashion.
We believed that, didn’t we, love? We truly believed that we had been blessed. It was only when we found out why the house was so cheap that it became clear to us what we had gotten involved with. The reason why the house was so immaculate inside without a speck of dirt anywhere. We found that once we entered, we could not leave again. Ever.
I remember your thoughts on that first horrifying day. People will miss us! We have lives! They will come looking for us! They were my thoughts as well. It’s why, when I see a version of myself that is not me leaving the house, I feel that hope slip away.
We will not be missed because ‘we’ are not absent.
Glamour. Fashion. Glitz and glitter. Dresses and skirts. Hair and jewelry. Makeup. Shoes and stockings and belts and purses. Anything that Mazie Jay did, anything she wore, became a trend. She was beyond a trending topic. She was beyond an ‘influencer’, for whatever that meant. She was an Icon.
She had her own lines of whatever items were fashionable. She had a brand that was instantly recognizable, even if someone wasn’t in tune with popular culture. She was building toward a surprise – a physical store of her very own. She did not possess what could be called an empire quite yet, but she was accumulating assets to do just that.
Where she went, people had to be there, taking pictures, begging for autographs, wanting to spend a single moment in the presence of radiant beauty and fame. She would always play along and play nice for the ‘little people’. She would smile and hug and take pictures and hold brief conversations that she would forget in five seconds but they would remember for the rest of their lives.
She continued to rocket up the public consciousness as she went about her business. Tabloids begged for pictures of her doing something inappropriate. She was on the cover of magazines, would appear on talk shows, and was in talks with E! to have her own reality show as well. There were even rumors that a Hollywood movie project was interested in bringing her on as a cameo or even more. Her star could not have been brighter.
But all stars burn out and so did she.
One night, one fateful night, she grew tired of the attention and the flashbulbs and the demands on her time. She was weary of maintaining her persona in public and wanted nothing more than a break. So, in the middle of the night, she hopped in her car and drove off into the darkness. Away from the prying eyes of neighbors and ‘journalists’. Away from stalkers and those looking to ‘cancel’ her. Away from everyone.
She could be alone.
She drove for a while, singing along to one of her own misguided songs on the radio, and let the feel of the open road relax her. She felt herself beginning to lose the constant tension in her back when her lights flashed and revealed the man running in front of her car. It was later found out that he had followed her and wanted an autograph.
She screamed and instinctively swerved and found the biggest tree on the side of the road. Her car hit. She hit. Both were totaled. When the police and ambulance arrived, they didn’t bother checking for a pulse. There was no need. She had clearly gone on to a better place, although to them, what could be better than the place she had been living in?
It was odd, though. When they found her, she had an expression on her face they did not expect.
She had a look of relief.
Here is where I''ll post random stories that aren't, as of yet, in a larger book. Call it a free ride into the mouth of madness, yo.