Terrified, he found himself surrounded by his familiar bedding. He had made it out alive. He was convinced that with each nightmare he was coming closer and closer to not waking up. But each nightmare revealed a truth, so he knew he must persevere. Upon wake-up, the truth was never immediately clear, and this morning was no different. He remembered bits and pieces. He remembered an enormous building. He remembered doors twice a man’s size. He remembered enormous symmetrical staircases.
The lighting was particularly notable. From the outside of the castle, he believed he must have been in the dark ages, but the interior was lit up like a Christmas tree. Oddly, there were no light fixtures, just floating candles emanating tremendous amounts of purifying light. Nearly blinded, he had to hold his hand up to look toward the flames.
“What is this place?” he thoughtlessly wondered aloud.
“Right this way, Peter,” said a voice, startling him out of rationality. He followed a women whose appearance was that of a nurse, though her genuine warmness caused him to doubt his senses. She led him down a corridor. He followed her silent lead and soon began noticing the muffled sounds of whimpering. He was so focused on not losing sight of his guide that he failed to perceive that along either side of the corridor were doors. The whimpering was coming from behind those doors.
“Hey, do you think you can slow down?” he questioned. She only turned her head slightly, letting him know she heard him. “Fine,” he thought to himself. He resolved to jog a bit to catch up and then pause to open one of the doors. The jog took longer than he expected, but he finally was nearly to her, when he again heard a whimper. Twisting the door handle, he braced for anything. It was a couple. They looked at him with an uncommon determination. He could tell they were there by choice, and that the whimpering was simply their conviction manifested.
A loud cry caused him to look back to the corridor and realize the nurse was barely visible any more. It sounded like a child. He ran and he ran to catch her. The faster he ran, the louder the cry became. Soon, he heard many cries. Soon, the cries became familiar. Soon, he made sense of the scene and could guess where he was. Until this moment, he had only heard about the practice he believed he was witnessing. As he finally caught up to the nurse, she slowed to a stop and pointed overhead. The sign read, “Parents, thank you for your courage. You’ve done great so far, and we’re here to help with the rest of the process. Please leave your baby here and find yourself a comfortable room to wait in. When the process is complete, we’ll bring your baby back to you.”
Recalling the delightful smile she gave as she told him the inside joke, he finally stumbled upon this nightmare’s truth. She said, “Don’t tell anyone, but among the staff, we call this corridor the ‘Hall o’ Wean.’ Tee-hee!” In that instant it all became clear. Today’s witches were clearly descended from the nursing staff. The rarely seen doctors come to us, surely, as ghosts. But most certain was the development of trick-or-treating. A smirk formed as he pictured all those poor babies being carried from door to door in search of their parents.
In the end, with medical science’s resounding defense of weaning, he could finally see that this holiday, which he previously thought to be ridiculous, was well-founded and rightly deserved memorialization.
Her elbow as the hinge, her hand lowered the phone to the bed after she finished her morning dose of Dieter. She pushed the sheets off her body, bumping him, and climbed out of the bed.
Pulling her underwear followed by her pants over her hips, she remembered feeling the electricity of his fingers as he took them off only hours ago.
Fully dressed, she closed the door to his house and began her walk. Thinking about the night, she recalled her surprise at his home’s level of décor. At the bar, he was nicely dressed, but so were most of her other conquests. She discovered early on that not many men had the stamina to match the presentation of their home to the presentation of their body. But he did. She liked that.
She recalled that the wine he served her was remarkably smooth. “Then again at 2:00 am, (or was it 3?) what wine wasn’t?” she laughed to herself. They drank it in his wine cellar before he led her upstairs. She remembered thinking that she didn’t need the comfort of a bed. Loving how he was so in control, she willingly followed.
Already 9:00 am on a Sunday, she was sure everyone driving by could guess how she spent her night. After all, her hair was disheveled, she was in heels, and her clothing was not exactly the type women wear for a coffee run. Let them wonder, she thought. They would never guess everything. They would never know her feelings for him. They would never suspect that afterwards she turned his head–always heavier than expected–so the draining blood wouldn’t soil her half of the thousand count sheets as she slept it off.
Waking up, he kept his eyes closed. He was uncomfortable for sure. Besides feeling like he was sleeping on uneven ground, he felt a disabling heat surround him. It was a stifling heat. He thought back to the last thing that he could remember. He knew he was not alone. He knew they had traveled to this place, their destination. But where were they? And where was she? And why was it so hot?
Sweating, he could feel his pants clinging to his legs as if he had just climbed fully clothed from a hot spring. A curiosity overtook his movements and he reached out with his hand blindly feeling for anything. He felt something hot. That’s all he knew for certain. Suddenly he felt, not cool air itself, but the memory of cool air–the memory that cooler temperatures existed somewhere not too far from where he was.
Time taking effect, he began to remember where they were. It was a campground. They had setup their tent, and she wanted to take a rest. He couldn’t believe his luck, and so they both crawled in the tent, sun blazing. He remembered that before dozing off into a restful slumber he reassured himself that she couldn’t get into too much trouble within the confines of a tent, especially not a four-season, dual-door, dual-vestibule beaut like his. Still, she did have a sleeping bag, a water bottle that emptied at a rate equivalent to a sippy cup, and Pingu, her pink penguin.
Finally, he heard her whispering. It was unintelligible, so he made the decision to open his eyes and see she was up to. Looking towards her whispers, he was immediately struck by a fear brought on by the inexplicable. Her hair was soaked. Her shorts just below her waistline were soaked. In a moment, realizing she had not ‘rested’ but stayed up playing for who knows how long in a hot tent with no vents open, her sweaty hair made sense. But why were her pants wet? She was a potty trained three and a half year old. Then he finally heard a full sentence as she guiltily turned, pouring water into her hand.
“Okay Pingu, we’re almost done with your shower.”
A shudder rippled through his body. It felt visible, but no one seemed to notice.
He did his best to maintain his composure. He had only just turned away from it when “SNAP!” Without warning he had actually broken the pen he was holding. Exhausted, he realized he was tense beyond belief. His vision wasn’t focused as he sat contemplating everything, but the noise caused him to see that he was staring at it again. Why?
Symmetrical, he knew the round objects could be beautiful in other settings, if they weren’t paired together. Hanging on the wall just a few inches below the ceiling, they were menacing. The one on the right measured time. He wondered how many times it had tormented him before, only to transform as soon as the halfway point was reached. After that, he was always relieved. After that, it became a source of hope.
It wasn’t the clock, but what was left of the it that really gave him nightmares. When he was younger, all the time; these days only while he slept did it cause these nightmares. He felt a paralyzing fear. Who would invent such a dreadful device? Torturous, its design irritated him to this very day. An impenetrable grid of metal covering who knew what–for who knew what reason. He was curious if there had ever been an attack, or if the designers knew precisely the evil they were creating and preemptively bolstered its defensive systems.
He realized everyone was staring at him, just as he stared at the object. He would never know for how long he had been shouting profanities. Luckily, this time around, he was the teacher. This time around the speaker, that formless voice dictating orders as if by divine right, had no hold over him. This time he had no concern for, nor did he need to know, anything it issued forth. This time, he told himself, he wouldn’t be disturbed by it.
He feigned a calm, collected exterior as he and his students waited together. Everyone heard the familiar peremptory crackle of the P.A. They were only moments away now. He thought he could do it. He thought he was bigger. He thought he was more mature. He thought he was grown.
“Good morning school,” the speaker spewed. “This is your principal speaking. Welcome to the first day of the 2013-14 school year.”
Running as fast as he could, he arrived at his car out of breath. Keys in the ignition, the DJ’s giving away concert tickets, he was determined to leave. But he couldn’t. He started this journey, and he could never forgive himself for quitting.
I could see them clear as day, but it wasn’t his eyes. It wasn’t one feature. While menacing, his eyes weren’t what caused me to not look to my right. Or to my left. Or down the ladder. Or in my child’s room. His eyes weren’t what caused me to turn on the lights in the bathroom, which I never did at this early hour.
The thing you must fully internalize about my relation to my family members is that I have worn them down over the years. They used to put up a fight, but beginning as early as high school, their resolve weakened.
“Sure. Whatever you say. Can we just not argue about it?” had become their standard response.
On this night, I wanted to play with the Ouiji Board. That’s not quite true. I could care less about the Ouiji Board, it’s foolish. What I wanted was to make my mom, dad, older sister and younger brother uncomfortable. I wanted to see them squirm.
My brother had that same bone in his body, so we went first. The joy of playing a Ouiji Board with others comes from the fact that everyone wants to believe that you’re telling the truth when you convincingly declare that you’re not moving the planchette.
“Oh, come on. I saw your fingers extend!” could be heard from the peanut gallery.
“I swear I did not move it!” I responded. “What you saw was me trying to not break contact with it. It’s the difference between action and reaction.”
“Fine,” my sister conceded with a voice that betrayed her hope I was telling the truth.
Upon turning down the lights in the basement, the general mood in the room began to shift in my favor. My brother and I made sure that we offered no more than a good tease. Soon my sister wanted a turn.
I didn’t lose ground, but I didn’t gain much either. As a neutral participant, she proved a difficult partner. She lacked the intention of causing our parents fright, but her skepticism wasn’t perfect either.
My mom, never one to turn down a challenge, now wanted a turn. Despite bringing me in to this world, she had a capacity to revert to childlike wonder in a moment. I was in full control now. We asked our questions, the board answered them. My brother even flashed me a questioning look as if to ask, “You’re still just playing with us, right?”
My lying eyes bedded down his fear. My own fear, on the other hand was growing.
The truth was, I was no longer controlling the game. When I am afraid I usually want to cry. Right then, I had to muster all my energy to not begin to cry. Out of nowhere, a remarkable thought came to me, “Is my mom cool enough to turn the tables and fool me?”
I wanted the answer to be true. The thought was at least intriguing enough to hold back my tears. But there was still one more player.
You must understand that my father was literally an altar boy as a child. Only people who have a first-degree connection to an altar boy can really understand what this means. No matter what books he’s read, no matter what life experiences he’s had, no matter how hard he may try to convince you otherwise, he is a believer through and through. And believers don’t fuck with evil. Suffice it to say, he didn’t want to play.
Fear became an ancient memory; I couldn’t even remember tears as my resolve to accomplish my mission was renewed.
“Dad. For real. It’s just a game. What are you afraid of? If you really get scared…I don’t know… just call on Jesus to help you. Isn’t he supposed to rush down in your defense?”
I could tell that I pushed just hard enough, so I stopped. Just because he was a believer, didn’t mean he wasn’t still a man.
Mano y Mano. Father v. Son. I couldn’t help but feel pride. Yet again, I got everyone to do what they didn’t want to do. I had wore them down. They were so weak. Discreetly, as the board spoke to us, I gave my brother a quick smile which he replied in kind.
It was a singular feeling. A light pressure against my fingertips. I figured my dad must be moving it towards me. I released any tension in my fingers. The feeling did not go away. The planchette would not release my fingers any more than the board would release the planchette. My brother’s expression released my tears. My dad’s terrifying scream is what woke me.
Awake, I did not want to open my eyes. Exhilarated, I had to. Moments like these did not give themselves to me very often. Moments where I was awake only in the strictest medical sense. Darkness and fear still remained. A chance to test my manhood. Laying motionless, I hoped to ally the windows dim predawn light to my purpose. I turned my head to the right and opened my eyes. Shuddering with fear, I saw him beside me.
“This can’t be,” I thought.
Hoping that evil can only see motion, I laid perfectly still except for my widening eyes. Finally more light. Looking back now, I can’t blame the stuffed pink penguin my daughter had left in the bed yesterday morning for shedding a tear. I doubt poor Pingu had ever imagined the depth to which a man’s vocabulary would dive upon realizing he’s a fool.