The Dead

by Mitchell Harding

written 4/8/98

I sit up in bed, heart pounding. A trite beginning, but this is how it always begins, with the violent, groping transition from sleep into stark wakefulness. A film of sweat covers my body, my hands feel clammy in the smothering darkness. I feel the substance of the darkness like an oppressive weight, a second blanket covering my tense form. Still lethargic from sleep my mind tries to take in the situation, although this has happened every night for as long as I can remember.

The doorway. That is where it always begins. The door lies slightly ajar, barely visible in the dim moonlight. Beyond the door is the living room. Again I consider, with grim humor, the name of that room. Living room. As always I reflect that, for me at least, such a name is wildly inappropriate. I've never done anything remotely close to living in that room. Nor had my parents, from what little I can remember of them.

Sometimes I tried to picture my parents throwing a festive dinner party. After the meal they would all gather in the living room and make small talk. Perhaps they would play charades. I've never been to a dinner party, but from the movies I gather that charades would be a likely diversion. I try to imagine such a gala, but inevitably the picture fades and darkens, like an old photograph, neglected and forgotten. There would never be a party. Not in that room. Not for me.

An alabaster hand, made nacreous by the uncertain moonlight, extends slowly from the doorway and comes to rest on the door. I've seen this happen countless times. Nevertheless my blood runs cold and I have the desperate urge to flee. To leap from the bed and throw myself out the window, bathe myself in the cold moonlight. Or to burst out the door, past the monstrosities that await me with the patience of the long dead.

I don't flee. I never do. I withdraw to the most distant corner of the bed, willing myself to invisibility. It fails. I am painfully aware of my visibility.

I've tried prayer. The only response is the faint echo of my hastily spoken words. The stygian gulf never answers, it only mocks me in its silence. What gods there be are dark and cruel, or have perished long ago and now lie rotting, their decomposition spawning horrific progeny.

That's probably nonsense. The poet in me. What I am faced with is not the unholy offspring of any deity, dead or living. I am the author of my own tragedy. Attributing it to an outside cause is a sign of weakness. I can't afford to be weak. Not now, not ever.

I've tried to record these events before, as though writing them down would reveal their impossibility and thereby eliminate them. I have a fantasy: Seeing it all on paper by the light of day. It is the only way to expose these abominations to the healing light of the sun.

I imagine what it would be like as I huddle in bed. I almost smile. But then I remember, as I always do. I will never see that day. Any words that I carefully entrust to paper will appear as madness in the morning. The ravings of a lunatic. I'll attribute them to fever dreams, to the whimsy of the capricious night. Gaily I will toss them in the fire. My message lost. My purpose undone.

The hand moves up almost imperceptibly. It comes to rest just below the doorknob. My knees feel weak. I can hear the walls of the room jeering at me. The faces in the ceiling taunt and laugh. I let out a whimper as my sheets constrict around my body. I am forced to lay down, to confront the heckling ceiling. They wink and leer at me grotesquely. My vision abruptly ceases. The pillow is resting gently on my face. Would that I could suffocate.

I feel more than hear the door swing open. I am alone and not alone. My mind has become a caged animal, yowling and bellowing at its restraints. My acute senses sear me deeply. Reality burns.

A cold hand closes on my foot. I scream. It begins.

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