Limbo

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Let me tell you about the outer edge. Its location is hidden from the waking eye. Its peace will never be disturbed. Its secret is taken to the grave. But the grave will reveal it to you once the physical life has ended and you enter its rain earth drenched silence. It’s a state of near death, when your soul reaches another dimension, a reality of spectral life. Somehow, I found a passage to that world. The world of never-ending nightmares and fulfilled dreams. The world that rotates parallel to ours.

 

 

 

Limbo

Al Ashcott

1

Let me tell you about the outer edge. Its location is hidden from the waking eye. Its peace will never be disturbed. Its secret is taken to the grave. But the grave will reveal it to you once the physical life has ended and you enter its rain earth drenched silence. It’s a state of near death, when your soul reaches another dimension, a reality of spectral life. Somehow, I found a passage to that world. The world of never-ending nightmares and fulfilled dreams. The world that rotates parallel to ours. It’s like looking in the mirror while talking inside a transparent tank filled with water. Your clamorous echo penetrates through the glass of the reflecting surface. The density of the water deforms and reshapes the words you’ve spoken, delivering a distorted message, creating a new reality once it reaches the outer side.

And that reality has just as much right to exist as the one we are aware of. We are here, with our daily activities, problems, successes, and failures, but at the same time we are there, living a different life. Not necessarily a good or a bad life. A different one. You may have another name and another occupation on the outer edge, but your core stays unaltered. I would even dare to say it enhances, upgrades your essence. If you’re a treacherous coward here, there your life will be centered and dedicated to your nature, organizing your existence according to it. If you’re a helpful and kind human being here, there you’ll be the living representation of the Good Samaritan, proving your benevolence while balancing on the edge of self-sacrifice. If you’re anxious here, there you’ll be petrified to death. If you’re jolly here, there you’ll be intoxicatingly euphoric. The social system there is the unattainable perfection we could only dream of. From the many visits to the outer edge, I’ve never noticed poverty or degradation, maybe because it was hidden from me or maybe because they managed to build and sustain that utopian society. But even if you had the choice between those two worlds, you’d never go for their ever-flourishing prosperity. And here is why.

As I mentioned before, their reality is distorted. Distorted in the sense that the line between justice and injustice is disfigured, if not altogether erased. Crime exists and prospers, but punishment never ensues. There are no heroes who will save you just in time, there is no police that will come in between. Even the bystanders will never lend a helping hand because it’s not the habit on the outer edge. The choice is up to you. You’re the hunter or the prey. That’s their only morbid rule. And this sad conclusion brings me to why I call that place the outer edge.

I was always obsessed with all things supernatural and esoteric. At a young age I started to collect books on the topic, studying them with a religious devotion, hoping that someday I would see a ghost or an alien, or at least a mermaid, and have the proof that all the speculative literature and insane witness accounts I’ve read were true. But the years went by, my sinister library expanded, I got older, but no sign of the mermaid’s tail. I didn’t give up the belief in the paranormal though. As a wise man once said the truth is out there. So, I kept searching for that truth. If it didn’t reveal itself to me, I would drag into light. Something like Mohammed and the mountain.

I don’t possess any psychic abilities and I never met any clairvoyants who could guide me on my eccentric quest. Using Ouija-bords, Tarot cards, Scandinavian runes and what not else I tried to gain access to that other reality. But all my amateur attempts to invade the obscure world of secret knowledge always ended with the frustrating and embarrassing comprehension of looking like an idiot. It took me years to understand that all that hocus-pocus was a mere act used by not so decent, fraudulent individuals to control superstitious minds. I was convinced that psychic abilities like mind-reading or telekinesis had to come from the brain. It couldn’t be attributed to vague mantras, the smell of scented candles, summoning of the Devil, the arrival of aliens or proclaiming oneself as the chosen one. In the end, we don’t use the full capacity of it. We don’t even have an idea what its great potential is hiding from us.

And then one night I accidentally discovered a new dimension. How I did that I still have no clue. I can’t describe the process; I only know it happens during the time my physical body is asleep. I guess if you focus your thoughts intensely on something you really desire, making your daydreams revolve around that unachievable illusion one day those chimeras will become reality. My advice to you; beware of your dreams. You don’t know what hides underneath its deceiving surface.

I was sound asleep, but something scared me out of my dream. Suddenly, I felt nauseous. There was a monotone ringing in my ears and my heartbeat was drumming in my temples. I kept my eyes closed, hoping I would soon drift away but the warm oblivion stayed out and my brain didn’t shut off. Its alertness wearied me. All my senses were in a state of alarming agitation. I felt my arms and legs tingle. That happened every night to me. I tended to turn my body in uncomfortable twists during my sleep, causing poor blood circulation. I abhorred those moments at night, especially when my legs felt numb, and I had to make the blood flow again. That sensation, when blood gushed vigorously through the narrow veins, piercing its way through, violently waking the benumbed body of its stony slumber, made me scream from frustration and pain. It was a nasty experience, but I was used to it. That’s why I panicked when I didn’t feel the vexatious stings in my legs, because once they started it meant everything was going back to normal. But something was wrong. I couldn’t feel or move my legs. They were so insensate I had to stroke them, but I wasn’t able to move my arms or hands either. I screamed for my Mom to help. The paralyzing nightly terror was too much for me to handle on my own. My Mother didn’t seem to hear me, although I shouted clamorously. Frozen in shock I finally realized my lips and my tongue were also numb. I didn’t produce a single sound, not even a hum. Somehow, I succeeded in opening my eyes and what I perceived almost stopped my heart from beating.

I looked upon myself, lying in bed. I was still soundly asleep and the serene expression on my face didn’t betray the dreadful inner struggle I was going through. I stared at myself the whole night through, overwhelmed by sadness, incapable of shedding tears that were welling up and filling the space around me. Only when I physically opened my eyes somewhere at daybreak and cautiously moved my fingers, I sighed from relief realizing I hadn’t died during my sleep.

The ever-lasting anxiety and the unfathomable sorrow I felt during that night thinking I had died still haunt me as I write these lines. It’s like a lump in my throat I will never get rid of, no matter how much water I drink. When I finally woke up that morning, I didn’t cry because my own death terrified me so much. I cried because I couldn’t bear the thought of my Mother walking in and finding me dead. I guess I know to some extent what happens after death. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it. It’s actually not half bad in comparison to the grieving your passing causes your loved ones. That’s why I call this phenomenon the outer edge. Your soul lingers between the physical life you’re only able to perceive but not alter and the ephemeral imperfective death you’re separated from and shielded by a mere breath. Another dimension you’d rather know nothing about.

The outer edge is the edge between life and death. I’m aware of it. I’m balancing on that edge. I sense the comforting warmth and the apathetic breeze coming from both sides, streaming through my soul, like two colliding trade winds. I’m not dead yet, but it doesn’t feel like I’m still alive. I walk over the asphalt and the earth, like any other human being. It demands concentration and exercise for the treading to become a habit. Floating feels more natural (whatever that means).

Little by little I learned how to detach myself still further from my body, my room, my house, the city where I lived. But there was nothing and no one else except for my thoughts in that other reality. The streets and buildings were lifeless and abandoned. There were no people, or animals, or sounds to fill that world with meaning. One night I was walking back and forth in the local park, enjoying its dreary dark emptiness. I lay down in the middle of the playground, encircled by the smell of night and mown grass. I looked up in the sky and, enchanted by the moon, lost my concentration for some minutes. I fought that languid longing for sleep and opened my eyes. How great was my astonishment to find myself sitting on a bench, in the middle of a long avenue bathing in autumn colors! The yellow, red, and brown leaves circled profusely around me, leaving traces of their dew on my clothes. I was far away from my house, but strangely enough I didn’t suffer from one of my usual panic attacks when I realized that. I didn’t recognize that place, but simultaneously I knew it was still the outer edge. I discovered a new realm in the unknown extensive dimension. Closer to the edge. Closer to death.

Allow me to interrupt my introduction here and gradually lead you further into the unknown, the somnolent, the marvelous and disastrous outer edge. The things you will see and hear will shock you, they will appear to you as ludicrous and irrational, void and impulsive, vicious, and horrendous. But just like a nightmare, it will all pass.

2

Everybody has been to the outer edge at least once in their lifetime. But not everybody can remember that and even if they do, they don’t know how to get back there and frankly they don’t really want to. The ones like me, who visit the outer edge frequently for reasons only known to God, are people you have never met and never will meet in your life. On the outer edge these strangers become your neighbors, acquaintances, maybe even friends. But it’s not the kind of friendship you think of. You don’t meet up with those people. Usually, you don’t know their names. You don’t even talk to them. It’s not like in our world. The relationships you build and sustain at the outer edge are based on the first emotion, the first impression, the first thought that comes up in your mind. You know when someone’s your friend when you see them. I guess you could compare the social interaction at the outer edge with that of the animal world. They can sense the essence of other animals and people from a distance.

Normally, you won’t find your real friends there, unless you have a special, spiritual bond with them. They are somewhere out there, but not in the same space and time as you are. Maybe that’s for the best. Just imagine what you could find out about someone you always thought was your friend, but then unexpectedly you saw their true colors while trying to keep your balance at the edge of death! And the most strikingly sharp comprehension at that point would be realizing that you are facing that person in their most sincere, true state. Or maybe it wouldn’t be that bad to know who you are dealing with in daily life? It would certainly come in handy in our world. However, not everyone’s core stays the same when they make the transition from their physical to their celestial body.

I did come across my Mother and my friend a few times. I think that not only a spiritual bond but also the proximity of that other physical body was at play to make that happen. Although, my friend had never stayed over at my place and one time we were even in different countries, miles apart from each other. There must be an explanation for that, but for now I don’t have enough insight in that world to fathom the full complexity of it. And as much as I liked to share the experience of being at the outer edge with them, an experience they would never remember, I’d rather keep them away from there. The concern for my loved ones in that nightmarish anarchy was at times too intense to cope with.

But not only friends can visit you in that realm. Somehow, even my enemy managed to spot me in the extensive landscape of the celestial world. Which places me in another enigma. There is no special connection between my enemy and me, except maybe for an inherent hate from my side and endless jealousy from his. And God forbid his physical body being somewhere nearby! Whatever might have happened between the two of us, I can tell you one thing: you don’t want to have anything in common with individuals like my foe. Not in our reality, not on the outer edge. I haven’t seen him in a long time, though. I have an idea of what might have happened to him, but I will tell you later about it. For now, let him be absorbed in the void of his black heart.

Purely visually, the outer edge is the most charming place I’ve ever seen. Whenever I visit that celestial kingdom, I’m always greeted by Autumn weather, somewhere around the end of August, but mostly in September. I don’t know if that’s the general climate over there, I am quite sure they are aware of other seasons too. Maybe Autumn is connected to me personally for reasons unknown to me, while other visitors probably arrive there during a continuous Summer, Spring or Winter. It gets cold over there and it rains from time to time. From personal experience and by observing others I can say that weather has no influence on someone’s mood. It serves merely as a background but looking at it from our perspective I think a lot of people would enjoy the atmosphere created by the bright colors and the gentle climate of the outer edge. The alleys are much broader than in our reality and the traffic isn’t dense because people use public transport only, namely tramways and busses. I have never heard of any street names. Locations and private addresses are indicated by the public buildings in the neighborhood or peculiar characteristics of the surroundings. Subsequently, that place, or the outer edge as I call it, doesn’t have a name. At least I’m not aware of a name.

The architecture of the outer edge is far less pleasing to the eye than its urban planning. It’s a disordered entanglement of different architectural styles, materials, unproportionate dimensions and negligence. Town halls, decorated with marble steps and columns, are encircled by decaying buildings. No one bats an eye at the sight of it, no one thinks of taking those buildings down. The reason therefor is inside the walls of those dwellings. What at first sight looks like a slum, is richly furnished from the inside, and inhabited by someone. The town hall on the other hand is abandoned and has never been used or regarded as an official government building. It’s a public place, like the local park or pool. Everyone has free access to it and can roam around for as long as he or she pleases. Every building can serve as a residence, no matter the size, the concealed flaws of the estate or your personal preference. You just get appointed to live in a certain house. And with one of those strange, abandoned buildings I’d like to start my narration. My experiences in that house were the first, unsettling flashbacks I can call to mind.

At arriving at the outer edge, I learned I inherited an old, deserted hotel. The building was five stories high, shabby-looking, moldering, cold, needing serious restoration work. And all that mess was mine. I can’t tell whether I was happy or disappointed with my heritage, but I do remember how I stood there with the real estate agent beside me, looking at that massive, brown block with the dark windows. I rolled my luggage up and down the driveway, trying to visually measure the size and value of my recently acquired property. I guess I was pleased with it. In the end, I didn’t know (and I still don’t have a single clue) who that secret relative was who so generously left me that dubious gift. I soon found out it was a poisoned gift. My life was endangered every time I walked inside my house. Now I can say it’s my house, but for many years that place didn’t feel like home.

The real estate agent didn’t inform me about the shortcomings of the residence. Why would he? I could see it for myself. No words were needed. He just handed over the keys, stood some time beside me looking at the building and left without saying a word. He could have told me that I wasn’t the only resident in that house though, but matters are never clarified or pointed out at the outer edge. You’ll find out about them sooner or later and hopefully you’ll have enough perseverance to deal with them. I realized that when I walked inside. It was a sudden revelation, an unpleasant sensation of not being alone in a house. The kind of certainty of danger you could only experience at the outer edge. I sensed an aggressive, destructive male energy somewhere nearby. Apparently, he also had rights on that house. There was no district court that could help us evicting one another or settle the meticulous case. We just had to deal with each other’s presence in our house. One side of the hotel was his, the other was mine. For the outer edge, that mutual settlement sounds legit and even reasonable. And everything would be simply fine if it weren’t for the man’s violent and psychotic behavior. Sometimes, I got lost while exploring the hotel or when cleaning up the mess in the rooms. Unintentionally, I ended up on his side of the premises while trying to find my way back. I didn’t even have to go deeper into the core of his dwellings for him to sense I crossed that invisible line he painted to separate my part of the house from his. I felt his rage growing as it vibrated from the walls. He dashed through the hallways, smashing everything that stood in his way, searching for me with the intention to knock some sense into me. Literally. He would have killed me if he ever caught me.

And so started my hide and seek game with him. I never knew peace in my house. For many years, that was my only pastime at the outer edge. Running and searching for a safe place to hide in the hotel, waiting for the man to calm down or give up the hunt for me. I got better in that game, finding new places to hide and new routes to escape. He got more furious, and his hunt got more prolonged and accurate. He never managed to catch me though. And then one day he just disappeared. Maybe his delirious stalking was meant as a test? They wanted to know if I could survive on the outer edge and after I’ve proven myself a worthy member of their anarchy the man left me alone. Or maybe my friend from the pharmacy solved my problem? I don’t know the cause of his departure, but I’m glad I got rid of him. I’m still here. It might sound strange, but you can die in the physical world if you get killed on the outer edge. I know of one such case. I was the witness and the unwilling participant of that horrible incident.

A house was on fire in the neighborhood. People gathered around and stupidly stared at the menacing flames, instead of calling the fire brigade or trying to extinguish the fire by themselves. That’s a normal thing at the outer edge. No one does shit around there. Things like that happened all the time, but I couldn’t just walk past that scene. The reason therefor were the bone-chilling screams of children coming from inside. The sound of their terrified voices sent cold shivers down my spine and agitated my soul, like the town siren in the middle of the night. The kind of sound you wish to never hear again. They reached their tiny hands out of the window to a woman standing outside. I assumed she was their mother. The woman was the only one who showed any emotions. She yelled at the bystanders for help, but no one moved. At that point in time, in that desolate, cursed place their mother and I were the only people in the whole universe who cared about them. Without hesitation, I dashed into the burning house. The flames were dancing around me, reaching out to me, and slightly touching me as if trying to draw my attention to them. That moment I realized that fire couldn’t kill me. That apprehension gave me the strength to push hot heavy objects out of my way to get to the stairs. I was relieved to hear the children scream. That meant they were still alive. I told them to keep screaming, so that I could find them, because the smoke was too dense to see in front of me. Finally, I reached a small nursery. The boys sat in their cribs, waiting for someone to save them. I put a grey blanket of coarse fabric around them and took them into my arms. I’m small and weak, I don’t know how I managed to carry two little boys down the stairs, but somehow, I got all of us out of that house.

I laid them on the asphalt and turned away to give the mother some space. As I was coughing my lungs out, I got aware of a sudden clamorous silence, resonating the echo of my cough through the stony streets. I brusquely turned around and pushed the mother aside. There the two boys, one blond and the other dark-haired, lay on the grey blanket, lifeless, pale, and covered in ashes. Apparently, they suffocated while I carried them down the stairs. I cried out in shock. It attracted the mother’s attention. She said I wasn’t to blame. Everything was fine. She thanked me for bringing them outside. She was disturbingly calm and reserved for a woman who just lost her both children. The bystanders encircled us and examined the dead boys with a morbid and inappropriate interest. But nothing was fine. I couldn’t stand my failure. I couldn’t stand their eyes fixated on me. I ran away from them. I ran away from that smoldering house. I ran a long time until I stumbled upon a church. I believe in God, but I don’t pray, and I don’t visit the cathedral or churches of other confessions, unless for touristic purposes. But at that point I needed a safe haven to grieve.

The outer edge is a passionless, unexpressive place. Tears and other emotions like fear or excitement attract the attention of other entities. Evil entities. It can get you into trouble. Usually, I could keep a straight face and stay self-contained during the most absurd, lucid nonsense. But certain circumstances were stronger than me. The death of those boys was one of those circumstances. I walked inside the church and sat on the bench close to the altar. The church was empty. It was one of those abandoned public places. I cried a long time. There was no end to my grief. I felt so miserable, so guilty for not being fast and strong enough to save those children. I remember how I looked up at the altar and through the curtain of tears saw the magnificent shining of the cross. I bowed my head and continued to weep. Suddenly I felt a Presence, greater and purer than anything or anyone I’ve ever encountered at the outer edge. I couldn’t see It, but I sensed It stood right behind my back. It laid Its hands on my shoulders and I felt Its immense healing universal force flowing into my brain. It was like a purifying drug that led to the most satisfactory climax of both body and soul. I felt that Force two times in my life, but the One in the church was the most memorable, One I cherish in my heart. It seemed as if that Force took up and carried the burden of the children’s death with me and relieved me of the unbearable pain, at least for the time It was there beside me. Was it God? I don’t know. Probably. The intensity of Its light was so overpowering I could only attribute such phenomenon to Him. Besides, I was at the outer edge. The closest one could possibly get to death without dying.

When I returned to our reality I couldn’t stop crying. It wasn’t just a nightmare that I would soon forget. It would stay there in my memory forever, lurking in the dark, like a polaroid picture in a family album. I didn’t want to get out of bed. Later that day my brother told me that some insane woman tried to commit suicide after her divorce that morning. She crashed her car into a tree with her two children inside. The car caught fire. The boys died. She stayed alive. She didn’t even have a scratch. You’re not the one to blame. Everything is fine. Thank you.

3

I must admit that my professional life at the outer edge is far more agreeable and adequate than the one I have in our world. I have a bachelor’s degree, I speak six languages, in general I’m an intelligent, creative person. But apparently that’s not enough for today’s society, so the jobs I’m able to obtain are the worst among administrative occupations. There are two extremes in my professional life: whether I get logistic jobs in the nastiest toxic waste companies or end up in private offices where my main occupation consists of repetitive movements on the keyboard or with the mouse, adding or deleting numbers, figures, or letters in a database. And that I do each day. At the outer edge they appreciate and respect my erudition. As a matter of fact, I got the impression they were anxious to finally welcome me in their midst. But before finding that out I got involved into a nerve-racking adventure.

I don’t remember what happened before or where I was going to, but suddenly I stood on the sidewalk of a long street resembling Nevsky Prospekt in Saint-Petersburg, but much broader and without the traffic. People passed me by, going back and forth in menacing silence. I didn’t recognize that place and it frightened me. I panicked. I got overwhelmed by a sudden desire to get away from there as fast as I could. My agitated breathing was too loud. People started to notice. They turned their heads and stared at me with soulless eyes. I yelled at them. Where is the bus stop? I need to get to my bus stop! They gathered around me, their faces blank and indifferent. They didn’t care about my distress. And even if they knew where that bus stop was, they wouldn’t tell. Finally, a woman with long grey hair parted in the middle, stopped, and gazed angrily into my eyes. She was different, there was a noticeable trace of intelligence and comprehension in her eyes. I didn’t feel any danger coming from her, she was rather upset and even afraid. As if she was trying to tell me to shut up and to stop attracting attention. She waited until I calmed down and the people around us lost interest in me. She spoke softly, she almost whispered. The bus stop was on the other side of the road, behind that building, she said. I took off without thanking her. As I turned around the corner, convinced of my escape from that dreadful place, someone rudely grabbed me by the shoulder. I couldn’t tell whether it was a man or a woman, but that person was extremely tall and clearly annoyed with me.

“Finally! What took you so long? They’re waiting for you!” hissed that person into my ear and dragged me into a basement-like office in the above-mentioned building. He (or she) pulled me through rooms filled with carton boxes and peculiar art objects. There were no people inside. We reached a small room where I got pushed into and the door behind me closed. A man and a woman in black suits sat at a messy desk, surrounded by heaps of files, leafing through some documents. I supposed they were job recruiters and realized that they had mistaken me for someone else. But out of curiosity I kept my mouth shut and waited for the outcome of that bizarre situation. The people took their time examining whatever application form was before them. At last, the woman looked up at me and spoke.

“We’ve read your CV and your candidacy suits our requirements. The job is yours, Al Ashcott.” They didn’t mention what exactly my job was or what my responsibilities were, but apparently, I was the best candidate for it. And they didn’t mind the fact that I didn’t look like an Al, I don’t even mention the obvious inconsistency between the Anglo-Saxon sounding Ashcott and my dark Eastern eyes. That’s how I got baptized Al Ashcott. That’s my name on the outer edge. Just like their architecture, their names are not based on personal preferences, sex, nationality, or even common sense. People can get names of inanimate objects, animals, or plants. I know one whose name is Chrysalida Carpus, but everyone calls her Chrys. She’s named after a palm tree. After some consideration and years spent in that other world, I concluded that the recruiters hadn’t mistaken me for someone else. I am Al Ashcott, my other self, my second half.

Gradually, I discovered my responsibilities on the outer edge, with each new visit I paid to that place. And I had many. I was a teacher, an antiquities dealer, I helped a friend in the pharmacy, I built houses. In short, I was a uomo universale. People turned to me with the most exquisite and extensive projects. It’s not like I have one sole occupation on the outer edge. I’m a Jack-of-all-trades. I wonder how they coped without me all this time. Although the working experience in the other reality brings me joy and satisfies me, it’s not less threatening. I was convinced that my demented roommate could harass me only inside my house, but as it turned out, he expanded his territory and stalked me to my work and other places. I remember one time he got awfully close.

The school board needed a substitute teacher. I instantly took the offer without hesitation. I’ve worked there before, and I loved it. It was truly a comfortable place of enlightenment both for teachers and students, not like the somber and suppressing schools in our world. The school at the outer edge did not only create mental challenges, but it also challenged your endurance. It started immediately on entering the building. You were exposed to a tantalizing maze of stairs, hallways, passages, doors, and rooms. Every room had at least four exits. All the four exits had several stairwells leading up or down, with corridors to the left or to the right. I have no clue how many stories the building had, but because of its complex architecture it had to be huge. I got lost frequently in there and had to ask people for directions, but usually I tried to orient on students and teachers I recognized, following them around like a stalker until I found my classroom. At first, I tried to memorize the halls, but that was a fruitless undertaking, because I was routinely transferred to another section of the building.

I devoted many months solely to teaching in that school. My unconsciousness associates that place with positive emotions and vague memories. There is only one occurrence I can vividly remember, and that one wasn’t even remotely pleasant. The school was out, the students gone, but I decided to stay for a few more hours. A colleague needed my help. I left my study hall for some time, but when I was done, I couldn’t find my way back. My colleague also disappeared into thin air as soon as I turned my back on him. I became lost once again. After giving up searching for the corridor I came from, I started to walk in every classroom on my way, hoping that in one of those rooms I would recognize the one I was teaching in that day.

Suddenly he appeared out of nowhere. That was the first time I physically saw him. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and shrouded in shadow so I couldn’t see his face. But I knew it was him. I felt his ill, savage essence. He stood at the top of a stairwell I was about to ascend. I was afraid my heart would explode because of the violent beating I could hear through the immeasurable distance between the two worlds. So terror-stricken was I when I saw him. I ran for my life. That’s all I can remember. The pursuit was a vicious circle. The hallways and stairs I raced through rotated like slides before my eyes, ever-changing, but still remotely resembling, here two corners more, there a few steps less. He never got tired; his bloodlust only increased. I got out eventually, as I always did. But back then, my ability of constantly barely escaping from death didn’t make my life easier. For me, it meant that as soon as I got back there, I would have to hide from him again.

From that point on he followed me everywhere. As if he caught my traces and went after my scent. One time I had to escape through a window and jump of a roof of a sanatorium I was staying in. The sanatorium was situated in the middle of a swampy forest surrounded by dunes. I don’t even remember what I was doing there, how it looked like from the inside and the people I met there. It happened so fast and unexpectedly. I ran upstairs, found an open window, jumped out of it, and stood on the parapet of the building. My insane neighbor found another way to access the roof and was already there. I had only one option: to jump. And so, I did. Thankfully, the sanatorium floated in the middle of a swarming swamp, like some spooky Venetian Gothic palazzo. But even my struggle in that dark, marshy water wasn’t as tense and savage as continuously being chased by a stranger.

I managed to get to the shore, where my friend from the pharmacy was awaiting me. I knew I was safe the moment I saw him in the calamus. He dragged me out of the water and silently scanned my face to understand what had happened to me, as if giving me the time to catch my breath without having to talk. He didn’t know about my continuous cat and mouse game with the dangerous stalker. I never told him about that. That was the first time he found out about him. Shortly after that, my irritating neighbor vanished from my house and out of my life. He never bothered me again. I suspect my friend was responsible for the sudden disappearance of my pursuer. I guess now it’s time to tell you something more about that strange and only friend I have on the outer edge and how I met him.

4

Unfortunately, the outer edge doesn’t relieve you from mental or physical sicknesses. On the contrary, it’s a fertile soil for the most unheard-of mutative conditions. As if you’re constantly exposed to radiation. For years I suffered from a condition way worse than being chased by a madman in my own house. And suffer I really did, because the gruesome feelings and memories of it followed me to the real world. It could happen everywhere and at any given time. There were no forebodings or any physical or mental triggers from the inside or the outside that could give me a sign it was about to happen again. Usually, I felt it with the tip of my tongue. It was something I couldn’t control or stop, no matter how hard I tried.

At first, I pushed slightly against a loose tooth, making it move back and forth. Then I pushed harder, moving my tongue faster until the tooth popped out and the blood gushed into my mouth. Sometimes there were more loose teeth, sometimes just one. Sometimes one tooth came out in pieces. There were times when I felt invisible brackets pushing my teeth together until the back teeth shattered under the pressure. In those moments I forced myself to come back to reality, crying, with the worst of headaches and covered in sweat, with a gnawing feeling that haunted me for the rest of that day while I was at school or working. And that nightmare slightly prolonged itself into reality. After waking up I felt the pain in my teeth for at least one minute. I was out of the nightmare, but the vivid nightmare was inside of me.

Every time when I returned to the outer edge, my teeth miraculously grew back, and everything was normal until it happened all over again. My condition worsened. Not only did they fall out, but they started to crumble into small sharp pieces or into powder, filling my mouth entirely and obstructing breathing. As I screamed, I accidentally inhaled the calcium dust, coughing and trying to spit it out but suffocating in the process. I tried to cope with that on my own, but that undertaking was more challenging than dealing with my psycho roommate. I wasn’t specifically searching for help or a remedy that could cure me from my horrible tooth disease, but one day I just stumbled upon a pharmacy. I haven’t been there before, and I wasn’t even aware of its existence. It was an unremarkable grey building hidden between trees. People constantly walked in and out. And so, I thought: maybe the pharmacist could help me?

When you walk into his pharmacy you sense a fresh and intense smell. The smell of rotting lemons. His favorite smell. His smell. The strange perfume he put on to seduce me. He became more than just a friend. In our world he would be considered my lover or husband, although we aren’t married at the outer edge. We never slept with each other. I don’t even remember if I have ever kissed him. But he is mine and I am his. We are soulmates. We don’t show any emotions whenever we meet, but I feel safe and peaceful by his side. He radiates this silent force that always calls me back home, letting me know I’m loved, cherished and that I’ll always be heard and understood. A comforting light that shines only for me. We don’t talk much, we understand each other telepathically, just by looking into each other’s eyes. And those eyes. What a handsome man he is. A man that suits me. He is tall and slender, with perfectly white hair. The funny thing is that I don’t know his name. He never mentioned it, I never asked. So, from now on I will just call him the Pharmacist.

He helped me to get rid of my tooth condition. I have no clue of the ingredients in that medicine he gave me, but it helped. That point was the start of our friendship. We have each other’s backs. We are partners in crime. Literally. And here comes the dark side of our relationship. There is nothing he wouldn’t do for me, including murder. He is one of those hunter-types on the outer edge, but oddly enough I’m the only one he doesn’t harm. He’s not the messy-bloody type though. That’s why he works in the pharmacy. His position grants him access to all kinds of poisons and toxins. Silent, but fatal. And he also possesses an excessive and detailed medical database of his possible victims. There is only one pharmacy I know of in the neighborhood, so everyone goes there. All citizens are convinced they receive healing syrups and wondrous pills from my Pharmacist. But they have no clue about his morbid experiments on them. Every day he makes new combinations of different types of toxins with the intention to try it out on one of his customers. People walk in, tell him about their symptoms and he prescribes them a medicine he developed and made himself to fight that specific nasty ailment. At closing time, he leaves the pharmacy and searches for the addresses of the people who paid him a visit that day and who were that unlucky to be the chosen ones for his tests.

First, he makes sure the coast is clear. He waits on the other side of the road, hiding behind a tree if there is one, watching the house and waiting for the outside activity to decrease. Rain or no rain, he can wait for hours if it’s necessary. Then, at a certain point, he comes out of his hiding place. He knows his customers follow his prescriptions minutely. That way he can estimate the exact moment when they will take those poisonous medicines. He sneaks into their garden and watches through the kitchen window what’s going on inside. His dark Fedora hat silhouette becomes clearer and more outlined with each second. But the obvious presence of the intruder escapes his victim’s attention, because by that time he or she writhes in agony on the floor throwing up, trying to call the ambulance.

He’s the man who’s cut in two. He’s the man who watches your choking. He doesn’t shy away from breaking into houses if the curtains are closed. He forces the lock, walks carefully inside, and listens where the screams are coming from. He sits on a chair or stands in the doorway, studying the struggle of the poor people he poisoned as if they were laboratory rats. But he’s not some madman who likes to torture people, he just wants to know what happens when someone takes a certain amount of a specific poison. He also tries it out on himself, but because he developed an immunity to certain toxins, he needs to test it on others. Probably, that’s also the reason why he lost all pigmentation in his hair so early.

He carries a small pocketbook with him during his grisly missions. He writes everything down. The exact moment when the patient felt pain in his stomach, chest, or throat. The color of the vomit or the blood they cough up. The color of their skin. The contortions of their bodies. The sound of their screams. The exact moment when the toxic intensity of the poison wanes. And then he leaves, just before the ambulance comes and his victims regain their consciousness. That’s an important distinction my Pharmacist has compared to other poisoners: no one has ever died. It’s a weak excuse and it doesn’t release him from his sins or justifies him from his awful crimes. But still, it’s a significant distinction I want to point out. An outstanding distinction at the outer edge.

The poisoned customers always come back to him to ask for another wondrous syrup that would help them to recover from the food poisoning, malicious allergy, or a sudden fever they experienced the night before. And I? Sometimes I help him making those poisons. I search for the necessary ingredients in the forest, the grocery store or in the hospital. I help him typing out his notes. I read the books he reads to understand his fascination for poisons better. I pick him up in dark lanes when he hides from pursuers. I take care of his alibi. Does this make me a monster? I guess it does. Maybe I’m even worse than him because I let it happen and cover up his crimes. But that’s the outer edge. You’re the hunter or the prey. There is no one who will judge you for that. We’re certainly not the worst ones out there.

That’s why I think the Pharmacist took care of my psycho neighbor, but he didn’t want to involve me in his plans. He knows that, despite my loyalty and silent participation in his crimes, somewhere deep down in my soul I have a bitter fight with myself each time he walks out of the pharmacy to fulfil his morbid perversion. He doesn’t want to make me sad or worried because of him. And I appreciate his love and concern for me. I suspect he also had a hand in the exile of my enemy.

I remember a light blue room. I sat on a simple wooden chair looking at my enemy. He wasn’t alone. He was with his girlfriend and his baby in a pram. He looked older, unsatisfied, fatigued and fat, especially around his face. His girlfriend was also older and thicker than I recalled. But she was a happy proud mother of a healthy child. And she had a man by her side. Something women of her kind really needed in their life to feel wholesome and successful. Being a part of the society. A society my enemy despised. A lifestyle my enemy abhorred. He swore to me one time that he would never commit to just one woman, I don’t even mention tying the knot with her. Children were never a part of his narcissistic future, at least what he pictured his independent bachelor future would look like. He would never be the law-abiding husband and father. And there he stood in front of me. The total opposite of the many lies and delusions he cherished throughout his parasitical existence. The type of men he looked down upon. But even then, after being exposed and ridiculed, he had the audacity to attack me. The contempt and mockery in his eyes are engraved in my memory.

Suddenly, I sensed the presence of the Pharmacist. It was like a distinct, cold breeze on a hot summer day. I felt it caressing the back of my neck. I turned around and saw him passing me by without saying a word, just smiling lovingly as he always did. I knew he had done something. Something twisted, but at the same time something I wouldn’t blame him for, knowing he did it out of love for me. When I looked back at my enemy and his woman, they were wearing gasmasks and the pram was covered under a plastic sheet. The room was filling with a greyish haze that seemed to affect their lungs but not mine. I saw them coughing in the gasmask, their teary eyes red and swollen. I observed them, just like the Pharmacist always did, only I didn’t write my observations down in a pocketbook. That’s what I was worrying about then, wondering whether the Pharmacist would need and appreciate those notes because he wasn’t there to see their symptoms. I didn’t feel any compassion, resentment, or evil satisfaction. I just waited until they completely vanished in the haze and I could peacefully leave the room. That was the last time I saw my enemy. He hasn’t bothered me anymore. The toxin penetrated the core of his vile essence, affected every part of his dark soul, disabling him to have access to the outer edge.

I guess I love the Pharmacist. My Mother always tells me that it’s not necessary to be head over heels with a man, as long as he is losing his mind over you. She’s right. That’s how it should be. But the Pharmacist is different than other men. He is near perfection. He lost his mind long before he met me, but only I can make him think clearly. I’m the only sane thought in his troubled head. An idea he cherishes, the representation of a mad love he’s willing to do anything for. And at the same time, he doesn’t demand anything from me. He’s happy whenever I have time to visit him at the pharmacy and help him with whatever he’s doing. Silently standing by his side, watching his beautiful veiny hands mixing toxins. The kind of silent love that heals and makes the rage inside lay down.

When I return from the outer edge and regain the full control of my thoughts and feelings, I often ask myself whether I would close my eyes to every other crime the Pharmacist committed except for poisoning? Would I cover for him? Would I let him live? The answer is no. I wouldn’t forgive him. I wouldn’t let him get away with it. The reality of that world is distorted, everything can happen over there. But strong-willed people like myself have enough strength to stand up against that lucid insanity that covers us like a black tsunami wave. We are even able to choose how we will live our life there and make our own choices based on what we would do in the real world. So, the fact I got attracted to the Pharmacist and mostly don’t mind his harmless experiments reflects the somnolent parts of my personality I’ve chosen to mute to be able to somehow function in our world. I also love the smell of rotting lemons. And if somebody knew how much I’d like to poison certain toxic individuals who in their turn, poison my life at work, in school, the queue in the supermarket, in the hospital …

5

Another interesting story from the outer edge I’d like to share with you happened to me recently. Although, interesting is not the right word. Rather upsetting and more psychotic than what I’m used to. It’s interesting in the sense that this time outsiders were involved. Before those events took place, I was convinced that the outer edge was a relatively safe place for sleepless sleepwalkers who brought their nightmares and dreams with them and lived them through on their own. Where no massive catastrophes or accidents occurred taking the lives of all present. A hidden quiet island in the middle of a stormy unnavigable ocean. Only accessible for those who were ready to embrace its dark reality. Nothing or no one from without could alter that reality and force a new, collective nightmare upon everyone.

But the outer edge has many secrets and no matter how many times you’ve been there, no matter how many years you’ve been facing its horrors, it will always surprise you in the most unexpected ways in the most random places. That random place was a remote outbuilding belonging to our school. Back in the days, which is a quite abstract and extensive indication of time at the outer edge, it served as a small sports complex. The building had a rotunda structure, interlinking the different halls. Most of those rooms were open spaces like the cafeteria, the boy’s and girl’s locker rooms, the showers, and a few storage rooms. In the middle of the building was a large sports hall, encircled by retractable seats. The kids called it the arena. I called it a panopticon, because the whole building was drenched in the strange atmosphere of a former prison.

That peculiar, abandoned place was chosen for the prom night. We had plenty of other, safe places where those kinds of events could have been held, that’s why I didn’t support that ridiculous idea. But I didn’t voice my doubts to anyone. Showing fear or other emotions could get you into trouble at the outer edge. Besides, it was a project for school, and I loved doing everything concerning it. I decided to make the best of it. I and five other teachers were involved in its organization. We were surprised to find out that electricity and heating still worked. We managed to revive the cold gym into an inviting dance hall, with disco balls, foods, snacks, and music. Everything was ready for a beautiful, fun evening. But just an hour before the start we received uninvited guests.

The principal introduced us to a group of young travelling entertainers who earned their living with performing musical acts and organization of events for cities and villages they visited. Apparently, they were known for their spectacular shows. Everybody wanted them. Despite the sudden interference in our modest, local party for kids, nobody (except for me) seemed to have anything against the idea for professionals to help us out. They didn’t charge that much for their services, which made our greedy principal their biggest fan. They soon took over the lead and made remarkable changes to our simple settings. Again, I experienced that nasty feeling as if something weren’t quite right.

The first, and most eye-catching thing that caught my attention was that the young entertainers as the principal called them, weren’t that young anymore. They guy who was in charge was the most experienced of them all. His hair was obviously dyed blond and deep wrinkles adorned his light grey eyes. I interrogated him about their shows, about the cities and schools they’ve visited and how the people received them. He replied on every question with a low, soothing voice, keeping eye-contact with me, constantly smiling, and telling jokes. But despite all his amiability and feigned openness I didn’t trust him. Something about his cold, almost white eyes, his constant chatting, and the contrasting silence of his partners made my neck muscles tense up. I suppose he sensed my hostility towards him, because for the rest of that day I felt how I was targeted by his companions.

Another obvious oddity was the equipment they used to decorate our gym. They transformed our simple, disco prom night stage into a theatrical labyrinth with black satin drapes hanging from the ceiling creating a nightmarish maze. The other teachers and I wanted to see where that maze would lead us to. After finding the center of the labyrinth we discovered some sort of a red stage. The curtains surrounding that stage were also red. The bright intensity of that color made me lightheaded. My colleagues felt uncomfortable too and finally voiced their concern. They couldn’t hide their fear and suspicion anymore or pretend everything was fine.

Suddenly we realized we lost track of time. We heard children entering the building. We had to be on time for whatever was about to happen. There was no doubt something would happen. But their whole setting was built in a way to make it impossible for us to escape. My colleagues started to panic, they got entangled in the black drapes. The more they struggled to release themselves, the more the noose tightened around their necks. A few others managed to avoid the drapes, running without knowing where, resulting in them breaking their legs under the retractable seats or hitting their head on the brick wall of the panopticon. Just before running out of the labyrinth, I got surrounded by four people wearing black and white animal masks. I figured out those were the silent companions of the grey-eyed creep. They danced around me, taunted me, pulled my clothes. They didn’t use any violence against me but were persistent in not letting me go. In the distance I heard the children scream in terror. That served as a motivation to fight back and get out of their circle. I got unexpected back-up from two other teachers who somehow succeeded in staying unharmed. We hit them with plastic chairs and everything we could get our hands on. Our ferocious resistance made them retreat back into the maze.

When we finally reached the rotunda, we were horrified to find blood stains on the walls and floor. We found the children hiding in storage rooms and lockers, silently weeping, and shaking uncontrollably. They told us that as soon as they walked in, the doors behind them were barricaded and they got attacked by masked people with knives. They killed the principal and a few other members of the school staff. A lot of kids got mortally wounded, others escaped and hid. We led the surviving children away but returned to the gym to catch the murderers. They were nowhere to be seen, as if they dissolved into the black drapes of the labyrinth. Although I couldn’t get rid of the feeling as if someone were constantly watching me while I was searching the premises. That feeling got stronger when I discovered the basement. No one was aware of its existence until then. I was descending the concrete steps when I thought I heard footsteps downstairs. I stopped halfway and listened. I knew someone was there, hiding in the dark, waiting for me to come closer. I decided it was too dangerous for me to go there on my own, so I went to get reinforcement but when we got back, we didn’t find anyone in the basement. We didn’t catch the predators and we still don’t know what the sick reason was behind the massacre. I haven’t visited that school since then and I think I will need some time before I can get back.

The pointless cruelness of the outer edge often leaves me sick. I try to find an explanation, a symbolism in the things I hear or see but the truth is, there is no meaning in whatever happens in that other reality. It just happens and you have no other option than to deal with it. You have little to no influence on the extraordinary circumstances, no matter how strong-willed you are. You can change certain details, but you can’t change the course of where everything is leading to. Eventually, the nightmare will manifest itself in one way or another. Maybe our subconscious unfulfilled desires are to blame for that, or our unintentional, harmless daydreams. Maybe that’s how we cope with unresolved issues in the real world. But even if it’s a way of releasing steam and dealing with daily problems, you can’t deny it’s ineffective. It leaves you more exhausted and confused than you already were. I don’t think that the outer edge is something you can explain from a psychological point of view.

I don’t know why I keep going back there. I don’t understand my longing for that place. Maybe it’s because of the Pharmacist. Although, we don’t see each other as often as one would think. Maybe it’s because of Its euphoric light I experienced in the church, trying to call It back and feel Its cosmic power rushing through my body again. Maybe it’s a morbid interest for a sinister lifestyle where everything is possible, and nightmare is the only driving force for its culture. Or maybe it’s just a way to escape from here. An exit out of the dragging numbing routine found so unexpectedly. Discovering a new terrifying world that doesn’t differ that much from our reality but is still better because you can fight the injustice done to you and all methods are allowed. The outer edge isn’t that bad. Once you enter the limbo, you learn to appreciate it.

FIN

 

 


Submitted: May 30, 2021

© Copyright 2023 Al Ashcott. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Criss Sole

It took me a few days to read this, because i needed to sit back and reflect after each chapter, but i really enjoyed it.
The idea of this outer edge, a parallel universe, is both frightening and very intriguing.
The relationship with the pharmacist, seems dark and twisted yet at the same time romantic and comforting.
I don't know if i would personally want to travel to the outer edge, but at times in this life, it seems like it would be a very appealing escape.
Great story!

Fri, June 4th, 2021 7:17am

Author
Reply

Hello Criss! Thank you for your reply and thank you for taking the time to read it! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I loved writing this story and bringing obscure nightmares and deams into reality. I also tend to see the outer edge as an escape, but not one that can make you relax :D

Fri, June 4th, 2021 12:49am

Vance Currie

That was quite an adventure you took me on, Al. I felt that you had unlocked a door to your imagination and let it all pour out. Within the setting of the Outer Edge, you included several stories that could have been complete on their own. Each story is well written as I am sure you already know. You have a remarkable ability to use words in a way that draws the reader right into the story and conjure up images that are at times beautiful and at times terrifying. Because I have a limited attention span, the story was perhaps a bit too long for me, but it was compelling enough for me to read it right to the end.

Sat, June 12th, 2021 11:41pm

Author
Reply

Hello Vance! Thank you so much for your comment and for taking the time to read my story. I also suspected it was a little too long , but you made me happy when you said it's intriguing enough for the reader to keep on reading despite its length. You're right, all the stories are based on nightmares and I could've made separate stories , but they would be too short. So, I decided to bring them all together under the denominator 'Outer Edge', a nightmarish realm were all of that takes place.

Al

Sun, June 13th, 2021 2:07am

Celtic-Scribe63

This is a story and a half! So well written and deep and thoughtful and full of atmosphere.
I enjoyed it immensely. You have a great talent for telling stories and drawing the reader in with your unique imagination.
Nice job
regards
CS63

Mon, July 12th, 2021 7:53am

Author
Reply

Hello CS63!

Thank you for your comment! I'm glad you liked it :)

Al

Mon, July 12th, 2021 1:23am

LE. Berry

I love alternate reality tales, you've portrayed the Outer Edge as both frightening and fascinating, well written. I really like the final line 'Once you enter limbo, you learn to appreciate it.' Nice.

Fri, July 16th, 2021 9:10pm

Author
Reply

Hello!

Thank you for your reply. I'm glad to hear people experience the Outer Edge I described as scary and fascinating, I was hoping it would evoke these kind of emotions! :) The last line of a short story is like the ending note of a music play. I'm not always satisfied about that 'ending note' in my works, but in Limbo I was very proud of it :D

Al

Fri, July 16th, 2021 2:23pm

CreativeMarauder

I enjoyed it. It feels like the best kind of lucid dream while simultaneously being competently written and well executed.

I don't really now how to respond to it without making assumptions or getting esoteric so I will just say "I believe you" and "well done."

Mon, December 13th, 2021 11:37am

Author
Reply

Hello CreativeMarauder (great name by the way) :)

I consider your "I believe you" the best comment/ compliment I could receive on my Limbo :) That goes for so many aspects of my work: my writing skills (English isn't my mother tongue), the depth of my characters, the story, the level of horror/ surrealism ...

Thank you. I'll be waiting to read your stories in the future :)

Al

Mon, December 13th, 2021 3:48am

llywrch

Al, another unforgettable story! This is what I meant in my critique of "Anthurium", that you can come up with amazing stories. This one reminds of another author I wonder if you have heard of -- Bruno Schulz, a Polish Jew who lived in what is now Ukraine & wrote in German, whose stories are considered examples of "magical realism".

Nonetheless, I find your stories distinctive & in many ways unparalleled. For instance, this one has an emphasis on buildings & architecture, labyrinths that emerge from nowhere only to dissolve once the minotaur is slain.

Looking forward to reading your next work.

Thu, January 27th, 2022 8:24am

Author
Reply

Hello llywrch!

Thank you for your comment (and sorry I've replied so late). I've read it but forgot to answer you.
I've looked up Bruno Schulz and tried to find his books in this famous online book store here in Belgium but I found something like 'New documents and interpretations', a collection of his letters. I'd love to read his works though. People told me once my works reminded them of magical realism, so it's extra interesting to find out others who write in this way :)

I'm working on new things and soon I'll post something new on Booksie :)

Thank you for your support, my friend!

Al

Sun, February 13th, 2022 3:28am

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