Troubled Sleep

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Wildering Haven
My keeper points to the man below, smoking a cigarette in the doorway, and says to me in a very clear whisper, “That is your Father. He is the King of Death.” I am surrounded by darkness, I am terrified of darkness, but the darkness is also familiar to me. One distant day, am I going to become the King of Death?

Submitted: December 18, 2019

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Submitted: December 18, 2019

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THE IMAGINARY WEREWOLF

The air suddenly got really cold, which makes me more alert. I try to look at my hands but I can not see them, too dark. As I twist and look behind me I see a shadow on the opposite side of the room creep past on the floor, and I try to gather my forces to react and survive it again. I have done this before. I do it all the time in my dreams.

This always happens, so I prepared to fight back this time, instead of folding and giving in to it again. When I turned and was prepared to fight whatever it was, of course, there was nothing and I was mistaken. I started to relax and exhale, quietly releasing the energy of the scream that was building up inside and laughing just to calm myself down. But that moment is when I saw it much closer to me, right in front of me. Huge. It was standing tall and about to tear me to pieces. The claws were so close, and they reached out to pull open my abdomen again, it always goes this way. I turned to run but again I could not make myself move in any way like running. So I turned to face whatever it was, and there was nothing but my own madness, only the emptiness faces me now. I could feel that my hands were dripping hot sticky blood even though I could not see them. 

Why does this keep happening to me, endlessly? I know fairly well what is going to happen next, it’s going to come from behind me again. This time I laughed and pretended to bend down to tie my shoe, abruptly kneeling low and thus evading the blow. I could feel the air crush above me before I heard the swoosh of claws and sinew tearing the air where I was supposed to be. Turning I jumped and caught it by surprise. This time I grabbed the beast and dug into those eyes. I fought with everything I could muster from the floor of my soul. It screamed, but it was the scream of a young lady I know, which confused me. I knew it was trying to trick me so I squeezed, twisted and dug harder. I bit at it and tore pieces from it. The screaming diminished until it was only a warm wet gushing wind. I felt about and found the huge knife, I took it in my hand and I chopped at the neck and with great triumph I did fully slay my night monster, it felt like the first time, and I already knew I was wrong. I knew I was awakening and I tried to calm myself for what always happens next. Always the same question. Where am I now? Look at my hands. There is blood this time.

I lay still, enjoying that I was now awake, perfect peace, and I watched the night release that hold and the glorious blue sky of day assumed control of the world. Waking up can be the first celebration, from nothing and darkness to a silver new day. I have learned to give thanks for each new dawn. This is my only religion. It’s a new chance to make a good life from the ashes of yesterday. I lie here and listen and enjoy the transition into daylight. Tiny birds.

I can still remember the smell of her hair, nubile but just a naive young goddess; she also smelled of menses, not so pleasant, but with her glorious blond hair and blue eyes, and endless wet nymph kisses, the smell of menses is not so bad. The color of the sky just now reminds me of her eyes. So blue and holy and beautiful. So naughty and selfish. Of course I love her; I am helpless but to do so. The time is now and that is all there is, only now. Uninterrupted.

There is something slick under the blankets with me. I roll over away from it, ignoring it. The smell of her hair is really strong. I close my eyes and think about our newest sin, she is the rebellious age, wanting freedom from her father, and so I must play a role in that, it would be I or the young coachman. Lucky her, she has two or more dramas underway. She just waits for the next best minute and then reaches out and takes me when she wants me, I know better than to ever initiate any romantic encounters with her, because I don't need to! I am an actor, this is the role today. I also know that by and by I will be the next to be betrayed, the next that she rebels against, that list is already fixed. But for now, she is my secret heaven, such a bit of heaven on this horrible wretched earth. It is all so short.

The hair and menses smell is really strong now; I am going to look at my sticky hands. 

Already I know and I am sick. Not again. Do I cry to God? It’s slippery, it’s heavy. It is under the covers with me.

Her head, just her head, all bloody and torn, her eyes were only a memory blue, then she looks at me fiercely through the gore. “Kith me.” Her tongue emerges from her torn head. It’s a wet bubbling sound. I am holding her heavy head in my jumpy hands. “You don't love me anymore!” She weeps gobs. I do my best to answer her. “Sure I love you baby...” because I must mean it. I do mean it. “Nno No NO YOU DON'T” She is howling. Her words just gush and burn me. There is nothing more I can say, I gently return the bleeding severed head to the pillow. It continues to howl and weep. I tell her I am sorry but of course that does not help, instead the effect of my words are more like pouring gasoline on her reeling stubborn embers. I place another pillow on top, but the howling continues. I sit on it. Time goes by.

I do not know how I managed to get my boots on, my pants from yesterday are ruined and I just left them, I took another pair from somewhere, my jacket is in my hands and I am running through the forest, away from the road. Why is this happening to me? What have I done? Did I wash the red signal off of my face or is there some guilty evidence on my face that is screaming out to the world too? It was just her head, eyes so blue, but they are all that is left, the rest is crimson hell, chewed by an animal. How long must I run? Can I end this nightmare?

It’s still too early to find the path in the dim morning forest. I see a mound of leaves in a clearing just before me. Mostly forest darkness. I walk past it and her hand grabs my ankle. She pulls me down. Now her headless body is on top of me. “You don't love me anymore DO YOU?” I know there is no answer that will work. “DO YOU?” She is relentless but I have an advantage, I can see. I have a head. With eyes. 

How is she talking? No head. Maybe she is just thinking and I am hearing her thoughts. Or like any dream, what I am hearing is my own voice, using her form because that is how my mind works. Prove it. Is it her spirit or is it my imagination projected at me?

It took a bit of doing, but I got free from her and found a stream and washed myself again. I rested. I heard the dogs. I followed the stream keeping the dogs behind me. I have done this before. I never want to do it again, this is the last time. But I know how to do this. I am good at it. It has become time to be away from this place.

The first wagon I meet is the constable; he has just taken a prisoner to court in a neighboring community. He has no passenger for the return trip until here I am. His horse is tired. I accept the ride, and as soon as I look at my right pants leg I notice a large bloodstain in the shape of a human hand print on my pants leg where she grabbed me that last time, but the police man does not look away from the road, or especially towards me in any way, except to make casual conversation with me as the horse clips along wearily. I sort of lean that side of me away from him and continue the slow casual conversation with the tired policeman. Acting guilty is my only weakness, so I shift my thoughts from my bloody fiancée back there, to future travel.

There is a stage coach to the big city leaving in a few hours, so if I can just keep out of trouble until then I should be okay. Where next to? Where is this?

How about Boston? How about Mexico.

It’s dawn again. Small birds. Always small birds. Glorious. The sound of automobiles mixes in the distance. I am moving my toes, is there mud? No. It’s a relief. I roll over and let the breeze from the open window treat me to the early dawn. I look at my hand. It’s clean. It’s too early to think about getting out of bed. I am listening to the sounds of the cars and trying to figure out when this is.

It’s late November of 1963 and I am in Dallas, Texas. My first student arrives at 10 AM so I have lots of time. I am always early. Plenty of time to set the stage.

Then it turns out that there is going to be a big parade, so now I have the day off.

I went to the bar for an early lunch, had an argument about politics, then drank way too much, it was mid afternoon and then it was night. Somehow I got home but there was a problem. I woke up at home.

I had a hard time breathing. Officer Delbert Corin had me flattened to the floor, his .38 police side arm pressed to my forehead. His sweaty uniformed body sits on my chest. His partner calls to him. Trying to catch his breath, and he is charged up. He is fumbling with his handcuffs with one hand, gun to my forehead.

“Delbert, what are you doing?”

“I got him! (gasp) I got him red handed! Look at all that blood. (gasp) Good Lord!”

“Is he the man in the picture?”

“No, but...”

“That's your first problem, Delbert. You have a problem with that big ol “but” of yours. Let him go. Our orders are to find the man in the picture. This is serious business tonight, Delbert.”

“Aw, just looky here, this guy has blood all over his hands and face, he's done something bad, you can see it.”

“Delbert, is he the man in the picture?” There was no answer.

Delbert eventually let me go. The two of them set off again to find the man in the picture that they had. I got up and gathered my most precious possessions and got the hell out of the big house. I stayed in the tool shed and waited until I got a better idea. When it got light I washed up and climbed out. Once they find the man in the picture Delbert might just come back and look for me and I simply will not be around anymore.

Where will I be?

***

Betty Parris was one of my best students, and she was more frequently in the company of the older one, the more nubile one, the fair and spirited Abigail Williams, her spiritual sister, who was also showing great interest in the classics, particularly Shakespeare and Homer. They would come to me on lazy summer afternoons in the 1690s, and we three dreamers would sit in the shade weaving great complicated stories of darkness and terror. At that time there still were not many books in all of Salem, so they had no choice but to come to see me. Hearing of Circes and the witches of Macbeth was fascinating to the two bold young women. That was ten years ago.

What role did I play in the famous drama of their younger years? I brought them to the woods, I made arrangements with Tituba and I suggested to her where to make the ceremonial fire for the secret dance and gathering. It is now 1702, that was ten years ago. Now Betty Parris is nineteen years old and calls herself Elizabeth. We think she carries our secret child. The famous trial has long passed, but she is always eager to re-tell those details about those days during the trial, she is eternally troubled. Those people died because of what she said. She has since tried to make her own life more interesting and to erase all memories of her own sins. My sins? Nothing then, with Betty. Nothing all that time during the witch hunt. Now there is no time to waste, the child blooms steadily. The secret is soon revealed. Birth screams.

***

Another dawn. Birds. Listening for airplanes. No? Cars. No? Nothing. Men calling. Dogs barking. I cannot hear any motors, no traffic. I check my hands, they are clean. This is a relief, no blood. I check my feet, no mud, and no sticks. It’s safe this morning. I look further. Is there a clock? There are no clocks anywhere. There is the church bell.

I dress in the low light. Odd clothing. I figure it out. Boots. There is a pitcher of water, the mirror is horrible, it tips my stomach, this is not a fun house. My ugly face is even more distorted. Now it’s coming back. Three children. The children of the Lord of the Manor. There are strawberries.

The cook does not speak to me, so I just go about my business. Two can play that game, withered sister. Another day at the manor. Lessons will start after the children have their meal, the meal starts after prayers, they call it Morning Mass and they will ring their gigantic bell. I have time, so I walk about the village, it’s a wooden and straw village. Get to work you oaf! Animals and people, stinking together. Nobody talks to me; they grow quiet when I pass. I have clean clothes. It is early and I have time. I walk through the old stone gate. This part of the village was built by the Romans, long ago. The old stone road heading west was built by the Romans. As I get further out from the city limits and into the countryside I pass some old family crypts, they are so old now that the names are all worn off and nobody knows this family anywhere near here. I sit in the sun for a little while, and think about the day ahead. Today’s lesson will be about the Cymri, who live way out past the moors, on the far northern shores. The Cymri worship Tiu and Odin and Pan and Mithras. The children are always interested in strange distant people.

The morning bell in the English church sounds, it is time for me to return to the Manor. There are soldiers coming, I can see them in the distance, they are marching. Their short battlefield weapons are carried in a cart, pikes and banners are in their hands, so there is no cause for alarm. They are the fyrd, returning from their march with their King Harold. There will be news. The year is 1066. I wait until they pass and then follow them back through the old stone gate. It is nearing mid morning now.

Nobody talks to me. I like it that way. They let me pass. I give them nodding greetings in exchange for their awkward silence and occasional grunts. I am the perfect stranger.

The lesson went very well; the youngsters are very receptive, though they do find excessive amusement in my foreign accent. 

Another dream. The light is from fire. I am a child. I have a guardian, a keeper. We hide up in the shadows. In the courtyard below a dark man emerges from the lower chambers. He stops to light his smoke. He pauses in the shadows looking ahead quietly. My keeper says to me in a very clear whisper “That is your Father.” I know not to signal him, because that would most likely be fatal for us. He is the King of Death. He leaves this land without taking me along with him. I am almost safe now. We will leave this place to find an even better location. I am surrounded by darkness, I am terrified of darkness, but the darkness is also familiar to me. There is a vampire in the basement. One distant day, am I going to become the King of Death? Am I just waiting my turn, like he, my father, did once just now? A long impossible wait. A lifetime to comprehend.

I reach out my soiled hand. Again, the bloody remains of my wayward student, the first daughter, are decomposing in my bed, and I have just enough time to evade the cook and make it past the stone gate before dawn.

The long boats would take me far away. They are a moderate distance from here. I should be able to get away from here before the village alarm goes up. I walk past a man with his son. The son asks his father about all the blood on my hands and clothes, the man says that there are lots of reasons that people have blood on them. Perhaps I am a butcher, or perhaps I was helping somebody who had been in a fight, or perhaps I was in a fight, or maybe I was helping deliver a baby. Good or bad. They never talked directly to me anyway as I appear to be a foreigner.

I say nothing and keep heading towards the shore where I believe that the boats are waiting. They will need men to row, and I need to be somewhere else as soon as possible, and with as few questions as possible. I must go with them, to get out of this land. Before I am discovered and taken and kept in some wet stone darkness. I am eager to go with them, I see that they are my only hope now.

Why is it that every well meaning and honest and rewarding job I ever manage to land, why must it invariably come to blood every time? I am washing the blood from my hands and clothing, walking down the road, always listening for horsemen coming from behind me, I am trying to be as boring and unnoticeable as possible. The noblemen I have worked for all know each other, therefore now that there has been a murder of these children, it is time to go as far as possible. It is time to go into chaos.

In two days I came to a beach, at dusk. There is a fire and men are gathered, some kind of soup or stew is being ladled out to them. I am so hungry that hot sea water would have been welcomed like nourishment. I receive my share, no questions asked. Something causes our tongues to loosen. There is talk about the troubles stalking the land, plagues and witchcraft. In response, women are being burned in the square. There is laughter, then things do not make sense, falling down. I burp up the soup and ale, followed by sleep. 

Eventually I become aware of the pain in my arms. I am seated in a longboat, next to three other men, we are two to an oar and we sit and stare and work the oars. I notice that my beard has grown quite a bit, my hair is long, my arms scream with fatigue, but still I row on and on. I am so hungry and thirsty, but there is nothing. Nothing but the oar. Pull. Reach. Pull. Reach. Focus on taming the chaos. Do not overlook anything.

A thought forms. I have been rowing for a long time, the food has been drugged, but now they have run out of food and the drug is wearing off. I wonder what these men know about these drugs. They start to talk more and more, about magic and witchcraft. All they know about magic is that it ends by burning witches. Satan is afoot. Satan is a cat.

The other rowing men are also looking about as if awakening, but the master's lash keeps the men focused on the oars. The long silent men begin to awaken, and grumble aloud. They talk about witchcraft again. They know nothing about it except from the tales last night.  The answer to all troubles and mysteries and to our present predicament is always finding the source of the witchcraft, which would be Satan, to slay him. But Satan is clever, he gives up the witch to us and he is gone now. The only solution is to burn the witch. Drown the witch. Hang the witch. Banish the witch. It is always her fault. Nobody has ever seen her, but they feel strongly that they will know her. She will deny all and try to escape, which is always the most obvious sign of guilt. She will have Satan's mark somewhere. There will be satisfaction. There will be an end for this campfire tale.

I hear the master talking to his crewman, or is he a passenger, about some horrible crime that happened recently, a nobleman’s children were all murdered in the most gruesome way. The story is probably about me, and the man telling the story, he is familiar to me now, I remember him. He was one of the nobleman’s councilmen. He is called Phinuit. I see him watching me, but he does not say anything to me.

The driver’s beat continues. We row and Phinuit broods darkly.

I remember more about Phinuit. He is unusually competitive and vicious with his gossip, always suggesting conspiracies and getting servants he does not like into trouble. Usually these unfortunate people are accused of crimes and executed, based on the word of Phinuit. He is a dangerous man, because he sits with the kings, he can create his own way.

Phinuit spotted the tiny dot on the ocean's horizon first. Now I think he was waiting for it. There is another boat, and it appears to be coming in our direction. There is much trepidation, friend or foe? Will they rescue us and share food with us or send us into the sea after a brutal fight? Is he waiting for it, signaling it? I still must row.

Closer and closer they come.

They put up their colors. We put up our colors. They are berserker sailors from the north, the most ferocious of the sea warriors. We are all pirates here in this world. Adventurers. It is what men do at sea. This is bad, we are no match. We are exhausted and many days out of food, no precious water to drink. We begin signaling, attempting to begin  negotiations as they draw closer. They appear to be willing to hold their attack. We are no match.

Phinuit signals them, their leader hails him. They know each other. This could have the effect of removing the danger. We are blessed to have him, but our boat is clearly in trouble. We do not speak their language so we can only listen and try to make up explanations from the emotions in their voices.

The boats grow closer, now close enough to permit speech to be exchanged. Phinuit speaks their language. He laughs and shouts at them and they shout to him. They speak some kind of loud and ugly language that none of the others recognize.

Suddenly there is something huge in the water, and our boat is struck hard from below. The rowing master was standing and is knocked off the deck and screams as he hits the troubled black water. Huge jaws come up from below and he is gone. There is silence, none of his screams survive. Our boat is wounded, water comes up from new holes below. There is a groaning crack that extends through the middle of our vessel.

When the black boat gets close enough, Phinuit grins at me and then suddenly leaps from where he is safe, puts his heavy hobnailed boot right on my face, presses his stinking boot directly on my face with his entire body, and then uses my furious push back to propel his jump out to the black boat. The men at first cheer for his extraordinary feat.  Our boat is sinking, and we are chained fast in our rowing places. To save themselves from the sea monsters below, the men in the black boat use their battle axes and war tools to pierce us and to bloody our arms and faces as the sea swallows us, we are a sacrificial gift to the leviathan, a bait to please the sea monsters in exchange for the black boat’s escape.

As I am pulled under I see the swirling beasts below, ready to feed on our bleeding bodies. The merciless cold black water welcomes us all eagerly. The chains pull us down. The men scream and then there is silence after the water covers them. We sink in icy darkness. Together.

I awaken in a bloody bed, the dawn is here, I can't hear cars and airplanes. Her face is familiar to me, her eyes catch mine and her mouth moves, but nothing is heard, her head is detached, I wonder where her body is? The sheets are bloody and I am not going to just sit here, with her eyes looking at me so hard, she is thinking “Who has done this to me? WHY?”

I remember the face of Phinuit, as I hastily prepare to flee this bloody place. I am naked and bloody. I bathe quickly and find innocent clothing. What language do these people speak in this place? It sounds like German. Could it be Polish? It is a busy city.

The streets are narrow and there are hills, so many hills. Walking in any direction is a good workout. It is early morning. It is 1890. Pittsburgh. I follow the street to a market square, it’s not the main square, it is as if this were a small town within a larger city. I catch a tram, headed for the center of the big city. Around me I hear many languages, mostly variations of German. They have come to this place to find work in a foundry or digging in the mines. 

I was living in a very wealthy man’s mansion, high on a hill and hidden behind huge tall walls. The air is filthy, soot is everywhere. Nothing is not touched by the black air. Today there is no breeze, so breathing is particularly difficult, especially for the older and youngest citizens among us here. This deadly malaise is taken with humor as a sign of cultural prosperity and is regarded as a positive part of city life. We impose our will over nature and burn nature to make nature pay for us. This is wealth.

Soon there will be news of my crimes, so I hurry quietly away, it is very early in the morning and so most everyone is purposeful in their destinations. We cross the river, it’s the Ohio River, formed by the confluence of the Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers.

I roam the commercial district unsatisfied and head into the strip district for my morning meal and to make my plans for escape. I keep checking my reflection on the sooted glass, is there some smear of blood that I have missed? Right on my face? Right on my back? Like a chalk letter? I must remain calm in appearance. Boring and not noticed. Easy and good natured.

There is a riverboat heading for New Orleans, I have enough money in my pockets for the fare, once I get there I will figure out what to do next. Perhaps I can find another post as a tutor. There is a musical ensemble on board. We are chugging along in a steady manner, with a huge black plume melting into the grey sky.

That is when I spotted Phinuit, he is on board too. He talks so loudly, it is hard to miss him. He does not appear to have taken notice of me, as usual. I purchase a newspaper and head to a seat on the deck where I can quietly keep an eye on him. He is talking to three young ladies who are quite taken by his verbosity and wardrobe, as well they should be. He is talking about the crime, the headless body of the daughter of a wealthy man was found in a forested area near her house, on Observatory Hill. The police are investigating, which Phinuit finds amusing. He does not even look at me. Who is this man Phinuit? Why is he back? Why do I know to hate him? Maybe this time I can kill him first. Maybe this time I am safe. Never safe. Skittish to the end. It is him again, Phinuit.

Is he toying with me? Does he see me? It appears that he does not. Do I dare test him?
The temptation is too great. Time passes. Now it is late at night. The remarkable trio of young ladies have evidently retired. Now it is just he and I remaining on the moonlit deck, with some occasional crewmen passing by. He strikes an odd self-obsessed pose on the rail. I am behind him. I am quiet without being imposing with my silence. I am a pedestrian. I am working hard at being not noticed as I craft my revenge. I am invisible this close to my target.

My hate sharpens, it sizzles, and I am thinking about the incident in the long boat, where he stepped on my face to leap from the sinking ship to his safety. I have some old dark wet plans for him. Maybe I can just made some new plans on the spot. The band plays loudly. Men of brass and reeds, with our singer.

Somehow I get Phinuit to come to my stateroom, I make up some offer he might be interested in, a taste of some rare Absinthe. He accepted the ruse, but something went wrong. It was only the third round, I felt the floor pitch, he was laughing. I felt the hot vomit come up my throat and at first I held. I was buckling. I desperately needed fresh air and I reached for the door, but it was the wrong door. I am so surprised that I jump up again. In my closet, hanging upside down, are the headless bodies of the three young ladies who were talking to Phinuit earlier. There are three full basins of blood, one below each body. I spilled one and it went all over as I sank into my own personal night. He was annoyed at the mess, which I remember was somewhat satisfying to me.

When I woke up I was hanging upside down and Phinuit was laughing, twisting me. He is showing me the knives he is about to use. Each tool does different things, leave different marks, cause more or less bleeding. The band played loudly in the night, nearby. I felt the warm blood running from me, replaced by the shivering cold darkness. By candle light I could see the three headless ladies now piled, abandoned on my mattress. He roughly cut my right arm off with a surgical saw, then out the night window it went. He told me that the huge river catfish would enjoy my mortal remains, and that with my absence, the perfect cover for his crime was complete and he would be on his way. He wanted me to know this. He soon was on his way. He reached for my next limb, to toss, to leave no clue or evidence. He pulled and worked, it gave. To make me vanish and allow him to make his flawless escape one more time. If I am fed to the swamp and there is no clue, and since this all is in my own paid quarters, and since the other details can be rationalized by the living, then Phinuit is spotless and I am the missing criminal, the most evil one  he can describe to the authorities. The legs cut more slowly because of the big bones. Not much to remember after that. 

I am waking again. My hands are not sticky. There is nothing wet in the bed with me. Darkness. Chaos. Noise followed by silence. Strange new noises that I have never before heard.

People talking, news and rumors. Impossible facts. It has been a long time coming. Lots of talk, years of talk, and now they say it is time to stand tall. This is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the Republic. It is time for a war to end all wars forever. A war for peace. 

I am hiding on the third floor of an old five story hotel. There is a group of men wearing the uniform of the Union army, which this time around is signified by a blue badge. Two years ago when all this began there was not enough money for a real national uniform, so they use a brightly colored red or blue badge to signify the guerrilla soldier's allegiance. They are gathering outside, shouting at someone, I assume it is me. This place is ruined upstairs, no back wall, all open and once burned. They say they can protect me if I surrender to them, but it has got to be quick. It is clearly brag-talk and there is hooting from some of the men, but they have the numbers.

I sink back out of sight and move to a different window. These are my last minutes I feel. They are preparing to storm the building. Do I turn my self in or do I make for the back and try to exit? Or can I hide further up? Perhaps there is a trap up there. Or do I just walk out with dignity, head held high. Not hiding. Not armed. It is not my war. First choice: exit quickly and quietly to the rear.

I hear one man shout that they should burn down the whole thing, luckily the ranking officer would prefer to occupy the building and sleep up inside there tonight rather than return to the damp fields for another night. They take a long time with their siege and I am convinced that they are talking directly to me. I am not looking forward to being a prisoner of war. I have no weapons and no plan, no idea of where I am, or for that matter what year it is. Here is an old newspaper, 2063 but it is hard to read, the numbers are burned.

Just as I am discouraged enough to begin giving myself up, I see that they are focused on another man, on the floor below me, and he is surrendering and climbing down from the window. Immediately I decide I should get out of here while I can. I hear the volley of shots, when I look out to see what happened there was the man below, who was wearing his badge of course, they all wear their badges, his is a red badge covered in his gore, and he is gurgling his last breath “you lied to me...” And the blue badge soldier guffaws “Yep! We sure did! How about that!” That is more than enough for me, it is time to just get clear of this area. Checking myself, I find that I am not wearing any badge, blue or red, but that does not make me any safer. It probably makes me a deserter. They shoot deserters. Both sides shoot deserters. Both sides need new men.

Out the back, there is a dead boy, I take his rifle and ammo. He has a red badge and a blue badge, I take them both. He was clever. Well, evidently not clever enough to live longer. Well, who knows, there is no answer why.

***

In my dream I find Phinuit, after a long awkward prologue I manage to take him prisoner, Phinuit claims not to know who I am. He will not budge from that assertion. I know what he has done but I have no proof. I awaken frustrated and powerless. I can rethink things my way, give them new endings again and again as I retell my story in my own mind.

War is a difficult place to inhabit, things get complicated out there. We want to live now. We spend enough time to eventually effect an air of confidence and mutual support, the prisoner-captor roles grow weary and fade just so slightly at first. We want to believe that it is soon time to put war away and laugh with relief. There is no trust. Without trust there is no rest. With no rest there is no peace, with no peace there is endless argument and new bloody scores to settle again and again. Stories told and given new purpose. No commerce, only survival. A waste of opportunities. There is gold in the mountains! Why are we here?

I tire of such drama. It is not my war. Let the red group do red things and the blue group do blue things as they always have and always wish to do. It is not worth killing for. But they persist, with new bugles and signals. Rally! Rally around the flag! Take back the night!

When I awoke, it was quiet and I appeared to be alone in a big area. Blankets and bedding, warm and comfortable, secure, a good place to sleep. I did not want the first moment to end, before I figured out where this was, what had been left off and now commences. No sign of Phinuit. What date is it now? My hands are clean. It is still the war.

The war goes on, the blue against the red, some soldiers are resolute and focused, some are willing to adjust the terms because they want to survive. What does it mean to die for the cause? It is you that dies, the cause lives on. What a good cause it is to die for. What so many have died for already, we must protect their honorable death. And you dare to question my moral justifications? I have lost everything, and now you want me to kill with you? Kill for you? Kill you? Be killed by you? This is not my war. Finish your selves off and let us get on with our enterprise tomorrow.

The red say that they only wish to be absolutely free to create economic growth and are willing to extend their concepts of liberty from governmental intrusion as far as possible, but they are also contradicted by some kind of ancient business called abortion. 

The red wish to have unlimited capital and they value the reward itself, the blue wish to hang on to the existing agreements. The union. The blue wish to secure the edges of society, the poor and aged and infirm, and provide for everyone's well being and freedom. The red wish to extend themselves above the top. Freedom means being alive and not afraid or physically bound. The rich fight just as hard to stay right as the poor fight to survive. Somehow this sustains the reasons to kill. 

It is very easy for colors to be switched, any survivor needs to keep ahead of the current argument. Just like the official American Civil War of the 1860s, individuals were torn frequently between each side. Family groups as well as age groups often have dissenting elements. Those were provocative times. Just like in the first American Civil War, on some days nothing happened, but on other days, thousands died in a short time. Such pain. They say “Let us die for what we all believe in!” and I quietly back away, seeking my own escape.

I maintained no argument with anyone here, so I attempted to remain obviously unarmed, but eventually all that changed. I still have no argument with either red or blue, I have argument with the murderers. I keep my own company because I only want to let this time pass and get back to the way things were, ordinary days and boredom, easy work and endless varieties of food and companions. Now we hide and wait for the plague to pass. I have no argument with the plague, take what you want and move along.

One afternoon I blundered into a firefight and I grabbed the weapon from a dead female soldier. It saved my life. I was just behind a group of red soldiers attempting to secure their advantage by maneuvering somewhere unexpected, as I distanced myself I came upon none other than Phinuit himself. I put my gun to his head and bound his arms to his torso with a long long rope we found. His legs I had in the chains he himself carried. He was hobbled and unable to run, so with the leash I had him pretty well under control.

At first I could not believe that he had no idea of who I was. I tested him about the riverboat and about the longboat, but he acted like I was insane and he was the victim. I consider how this situation might be interpreted now. He is my prisoner, I hold the rope and the gun. He walks where I tell him. He is afraid to face the strangers and accepts the story that he is my prisoner, and out of the fight. Things turn ugly so quickly. We just want to get out of here.

True enough, I had him tight, but now my explanations were not holding up. Because of my curious questions to him (sea monsters? river boats?) he had something to work with in his own scheming, so I decided to add a few more distracting questions that would protect me and justify my own misplaced temporal landmarks. I framed my goals in religious terms and kept the questions pointed at him. I had him! After all these crimes, I had him! Justice in my hands.

What do I say to others, walking this way, he is comically bound around his torso with just his hands free enough to operate his fly but not to give himself water. He must bow to drink water. His clothing is otherwise ordinary, no badge or sign of allegiance, good footwear, and the chains are ordinary, sold in gun stores, commonly used in these times to keep a prisoner from easily running off. I hold the leash. He is my prisoner. If he were to shout and bring others, he could turn the tables with his tongue, spinning a tale that would end my freedom. 

So, what do I have. The landscape is ordinary midwestern, villages and small towns, agricultural outposts, rolling hills, long roads, endless cultivated fields, patches of forests, and a  deadly competition between two murdering forces unfolding. I have my villain captured and trussed, kept and lead. Where am I going with him and what should I do with him? Where is justice on the battlefield? How would I conduct my trial?

The man is clearly my nemesis and an extreme danger to me. His face his voice his manner, it is the criminal Phinuit, but he refuses to budge an inch as far as his side of the story. He is a photographer, long separated from his agency, lost his camera, and far from his homeland. He has no alliance with either the red army or the blue army. He has no idea of who I think he is, I know my story would be hard to support if questioned. A longboat? Sea monsters? Or how about being fed to the Mississippi wildlife, piece by piece, to cover his own murders of the three young ladies. I died in both of those adventures, so my own standing here is somewhat suspect. I had not shared those troubling details during my words with Phinuit, but if those details of my story should leak out, I would be the one in chains.

He has had many chances to shout out to distant soldiers, but he does not take them. Now we have come upon another group of stealthily maneuvering military elements, and he spotted them first, he tipped me off and the two of us escaped from them, while I kept my hold on his leash. From that point on I no longer jerked the thing so hard or so often. I let his neck wounds heal and I had us rest more often. 

Perhaps I should just finish him off, there is nothing else to it. My argument against him is unfounded, unless you include dream evidence and situations that I in fact did not survive. I want to get some satisfaction from that last time, cutting smaller pieces from him instead of six big slow chunks which is what he reduced me to.

So, I am deciding to wait until dark, and to find a place that is uninhabited, I might be making him scream some. Am I really going to do this? Maybe I should just shoot him in the head and be done with it all. Or should I look him in the eye and know that he knows I am doing this for his own previous crimes against me? There have been plenty of times I would have wanted to just practice on a passing stranger the things I should be doing to him for what he has already done to me. My rage knows no bounds.

He denies everything and keeps his side of the story intact. I am not about to say another word, nothing about the riverboat or the sea monsters. He has his tales of other wars and his photography, his assignments. He had a good life before the war, he traveled quite a bit he says. As I make my decision I feel myself softening. I have no evidence, just my own stories from other times, distant from this twisted world of civil war, heroic red against steadfast blue, but actually American against American. 

So instead of exercising my sense of vengeance, I allow time to go by and for this man to lead the discussion. We are two who are evading the combat, we have no sense of red or blue authority, the land is insane and with our theater, prisoner and capturer, we are trying to survive. He tells me of his work, the types of pictures he is paid to take, starting with snapshots and wedding pictures, to portraits and then to journalism. Then came the war. We all have the tools, the cameras and electronic means, anyone can take pictures, but only a few know what they are doing, and have made it a serious career. So here he is, bound and lead, by a mysterious but thoroughly hostile stranger with questions about dark and bloody crimes. Asking for satisfaction, if not revenge. Full and total revenge.

We find nourishment in abandoned farm houses, we feel trapped within walls, so we take our meals and then head out to find a hilltop for safety. The weather is perfect, warm and pleasant. The air smells burnt and there are dead people everywhere. The last battle was months ago so the wounded have long died off and no longer scream or weep. We can see men burning mounds of bodies and men chasing down other groups of men, skirmishes and ambushes, very little organization. The bigger armies have gathered in the heartlands, far from here, where they are settling their scores.

Today I awaken tied and a prisoner, and it is Phinuit who holds the weapons, and my legs are in chains. Tighter than I had his, of course. It was him all along. I had my chance, and I failed. He laughs. He has no hesitation, no patience. He hangs me upside down inside of the garage here and begins his ritual, showing me the knives and telling me what he will do to me this time. 

The last thing I saw was the look on his face as he began to cut. 

I woke up when they pulled me from my bed, I was covered in blood and they were asking lots of questions and screaming at me. As it turned out I had no marks on me, all the blood was from someone else as far as I could tell. I washed up clean.

Class begins in an hour, I have much preparation to do. I am always here early.

 


© Copyright 2020 Robin James. All rights reserved.

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