With the world descending into chaos, and panic flooding the streets, solitude became a welcome relief. In my time and training in the United States Army, I learned to find comfort in the silence. While most raced to various forms of media, I went back to my roots.
I had bought this house after my second tour in Afghanistan. It was large, roomy, and built in the 1800's. If you listened closely you could almost hear the history in it's walls. It's two most adorning features were a large, antique, oak bookcase in the office, loaded with various first editions and literary classics, and a large fireplace that was the focal point of the living room.
On this occasion, it happened to raining outside. There was a slight, crisp chill in the air, typical of late spring in New England. I loaded some dry, seasoned wood into the fire place, and lit it. The flames crackled happily as the fire consumed the fresh birch and pine I had given it. As the room filled with that warming, campfire aroma, I slipped into the office, and searched for a book to captivate my mind.
The bookshelf offered many familiar options. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Moby Dick, to name a few. On this day however, my mind craved something new, something fresh. As I scanned the leather-bound collection, a peculiar spine caught my eye.
It was large, faded red, with strange looking brass hinges reinforcing the its spine. I raised myself on the very tips of my toes, and reached to the very top shelf, where it was perched. I wrestled it down, and took a look. Oddly, this book had not title, and no author. Eager to turn the pages to see what the book contained, I sauntered back into the living room, got comfortable on the old couch in front of the fireplace, sprawled out, and opened the cover. I don't even remember what the wording on the first page said. As I opened the book, the whole world suddenly went dark.
I awoke sometime later, I'm not sure exactly how long I was out. I opened my eyes to find nothing but enveloping blackness. Wherever I was was cold. Not the sort of cold you would expect either, but sort of a deep, numbing cold I could feel in my bones. I struggled around, digging in my pockets looking for my Zippo lighter. I pulled it out, and after a few failed attempts, finally produced a flame.
As the dull flame from my lighter cut through the murky darkness, I finally got a sense of my surroundings. I was lying in a cold dark hallway. The walls were covered in cheap, white wallpaper that was starting to peel. Somebody had taken a black marker, and scrawled across the wall. The scrawls were mostly unfinished poems, or general thoughts, all of them angry, and frantic. I held my lighter up to one portion of the wall, and read the inscription.
"I am tired, I am alone, I am isolated, and I am trapped on this island that I built myself, with no one to blame but me."
Somehow, as I read those words, I felt something resonate deep within myself. I held the lighter up, and began walking down the dark hallway. After what seems like an eternity, I came to an old wooden door. I took a deep breath, and pushed it open.
The door led into a large, concrete room. A single small, rectangular window, near the top of the wall, let in a small ray of light that illuminated my surroundings. In the middle of the room, sat a large, iron cage. In the corer of the cage, whimpering, sat a young boy. I approached the cage, and spoke to the child.
"Hey there are you alright?" I asked him.
He sat there and continued to whimper. I went to the door on the cage, and attempted to open it. It was locked. An old padlock hang from the creaking, rusty chain holding the door shut. I looked around the room, and spotted a piece of rebar sitting abandoned in the corner. I retrieved it, and used it to force the lock open. The chain fell to the floor with a loud, echoing "clang."
I opened the door. It creaked loudly s I pulled the heavy cold metal forward. I took a step inside, and knelt next to the child. I gently stroked his head. To my surprise he began to make a loud, gutteral growl. He looked up at me, and my heart nearly skipped a beat in terror. He looked exactly like I did as I child, yet, in some twisted, demonic way, his eyes had grown read, and his teeth were long fangs. He lunged at me, and I bolted out of the cage, slamming the door shut behind me. He just sat there, looking t me for a moment, before launching himself at the cage and shaking violently and snarling. I looked behind me and found. Without taking my eyes of the demon in the cage, I slowly backed away, opened the door, and slipped inside.
When I stepped inside of the next room, the whole aura changed. Instead of chilling cold, there was a warm effervescence that flooded the room. The smell of roasted chicken and potatoes permeated the room. I turned around, and my hear nearly beat out of my chest. I was in my old kitchen, and my ex fiance', the only girl that I have ever loved, was standing there, staring back at me.
"Ello darling! How was work?" she said, in her lovely British accent.
In my mind, I knew this couldn't be real. She has left me 3 years or so ago, and I still wasn't over it. But the euphoria I was feeling made me never want to leave. Her blue hair, her warmth, her pale skin, her collection of tattoos, even the way she smelled brought back such a strong wave of feelings. Being with Samantha was the happiest time in my life.
"Hello Samantha," I responded. "Dinner smells great!"
"Thanks love," She replied.
I took a seat at the table. I ran my hands over the rough, unfinished oak. I had become accustomed to every imperfection in this table. I had spent may a dinner here with Sam, eating, talking, laughing. This was before the injury. Before I turned bitter. angry. I had let the alcohol consume me, and it was one of my deepest regrets. I had heard that she had found someone else, and that she was happy. I was grateful for that. She deserved nothing less.
Samantha joined me, putting plate in front of my, and kissing me a kiss on the cheek. If I died today, and there was only one thing I could take with me to the afterlife, it would be the memory of her. Just as I was thinking that I could stay here with her forever, the lights began to flicker. After a moment, they cut out completely. was back in the dark.
The lights kicked back on moments later, and I was still in the same place, but the surroundings with different. The lights were dim. Dirty dishes were piled in the sink, and empty liquor bottles lie strewn about.
I turn my attention past the open kitchen, and into the living room. There I see myself, though younger, passed out on the couch, an empty bottle of whiskey beside me. My counterpart must have felt me staring because he suddenly sat up and began talking.
"This is your fault. You drove her away. You should just do the world a favor and eat a bullet."
Even though I am much more stable now, his world, or more accurately, my words, hit me deep. I could feel the undeniable sadness creep through my bones. He was right. Like some sort of emotional vortex I could feel him pulling me back in. Before I knew it I found myself with a gun in my hand. He was staring at me, smiling and nodding. I could hear his voice, which was my own, echoing in my head. Like whispers of despair they were reminding me of my every sin, every misdeed. The voice was loud, and convincing, drawing back memories of every person I had ever hurt, mistreated or let down. The voice was right, it was my fault, and it was time to atone for that.
In what seemed like an instant, I found myself standing, with the gun in my mouth. The cold, oily, metallic taste was familiar. I had found myself in this exact position a couple of years earlier. I struggled to remember how I got out. There was something almost romantic in my mind about going like this. For a long time I had lived by the gun, it would only be fitting if I died by it. I could feel my finger moving toward the trigger, but it was as if I had no control over it. I felt it slide over the mechanism, my thumb cocking back the trigger. My finger began to slowly squeeze down the trigger. I closed my eyes, and prepared for the bittersweet silence.
Suddenly a gentle feminine voice cut through the moment. I immediately recognized it s my mothers.
"Hey kiddo, it's not your time yet. I'll be with my little "snugglebunny" again someday, but today is not that day. I need you to live, for both of us."
I had lost her last year. Cancer. I'm not ashamed to admit that I am a "Mama's boy." She was my rock. Even when the rest of the world stopped believing in me, she never did. I focused on her voice, held a picture of her in my mind, and wrestled the gun out of my mouth. I took one last look around the nostalgia of my old house, and I headed for the door.
The next room I found myself in looked familiar. After my break-up, and my injury. I fell on some hard times. I ended up living in the basement of a friend. I recognized the cheap wood flooring, and the sad, unmade bed, with clothes piled up in the corner. I didn't know what was coming, but I knew I wouldn't enjoy it, so I headed for the door.
To my surprise, when I pulled on it to open it, It wouldn't budge. I quickly scurried to the bulkhead door. As hard as I pushed, it would not budge. I was trapped. I heard the familiar creaking of the upstairs door opening. I heard footsteps descending the stairs. In walked an old acquaintance, complete with a beer in his hand, clearly drunk. I knew all to well what happened next.
There are always people in life who take joy in kicking you when you're down. Tom was one of those people. The more he drank, the worse t became. My life was in shambles, and he took every opportunity he could to remind me of that, especially in front of an audience.
He gleefully glided down the stairs.
"I told you you'd come crawling back, you useless piece of shit," said, his words dripping with drunken venom.
"I'm not back, just passing through," I say, with my usual cooling, calm tone.
Suddenly I hear the door open again, and footsteps begin stampeding down the stairs. The room begins flooding with hundreds of Tom's. They quickly surround me, hurling insults and obscenities, their beer soaked breath in my face. I retreat to the corner, looking for safety, but they continue upon me. They begin to squeeze me in, suffocating me. The block out all the light, as I keep shrinking into the corner.
Almost on pure willpower, I charge my way out of the corner, pushing past the drunken mob of Tom. They grab at me, desperately trying to pull me back. I fight my way to the bottom of the stairs, and attempt to climb out. Every step is heavy as the masses try to drag me down. It takes every bit of Strength I have to get up to the top of the stairs. I finally reach the door, and pull, but it wont open. I yank again. Nothing. The horde continues doing everything in their power to drag me back down to their hell. I summon every ounce of strength I have, and I pull for dear life. To my relief, the door cracks open, and I wiggle through.
I fall out on the other side, on a beach. I look around and realize that I am back in Santa Monica. I still own a home there. When I left Maine to chase my dream, I ended up here, working as a line cook. This was before I became a Hollywood screenwriter. Before I had overcome everything, and achieved my dreams. I remembered sitting on the pier, and just writing from my heart. I had come a long way since then.
Something inside me told me that this was the end of the journey. The ocean had always centered me. This is where I came when I needed to remember my past. he good and the bad. The small lobster fishing town that I called home. It became clear to me what the final step was. I walked up the pier, past the Ferris wheel, and carnival like atmosphere, past the bustling crowds watching the street performers dance, and play their instruments. I walked to the very end of the pier, overlooking the ocean. The warm, salty air brought me peace. I climbed the rail, and jumped. As my feet hit the icy, cold water, a swirling whirlpool suddenly dragged me under. I struggled to hold my breath. My heart was beating out of my chest. Suddenly, everything went black.
I awoke on the couch, with the mysterious book on the floor next to me.
"My God, what a dream! That felt so real!" I said to myself, still shaking from the trauma of my journey.
"I wonder what was this book was about that elicited such emotion" I wondered to myself, as I realized I had no recollection of what that book was even about.
I reached over and retrieved it from beside the couch. I flipped the pages to discover there was no text. As I continued rifling through the pages, I felt something odd in the middle section. I thumbed my way to the abnormality, and uncovered something peculiar...
There, embedded in the book was a mirror. the only thing that this book had contained, was my own reflection.
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I related so well to this story. I think that's why I loved it.... and hated it at the same time...… (Anytime any story evokes such strong emotion in me, It's very good.) My son did 5 tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. When they say that PTSD is real, believe them. The character in your story epitomized the struggles my son had upon his return. He is constantly reliving everything that happened there, constantly questioning his actions, blaming himself for things that happened to his friends. You captured this critical introspectio...
Very descriptive! Needs more proofreading as there are quite a few grammatical errors and typos. Dialogue could be more realistic.