My #WedPeeks post for this week is chapter 1 of my new novella, scheduled for release this coming October. Desiderium is a dark fantasy/horror and is for mature readers. There is violence, sex, and a lot of profanity in these pages – you have been warned!
~ TWO ~
The sobbing has stopped and there isn’t a sound to be heard from the bedroom. I wait on the couch, my heart pounding in a slow panic until I feel certain Sophie has fallen asleep. It seems I have convinced her, once again, that all is well in our world.
I am not so lucky. I feel sick at what’s happened, and afraid. I don’t remember the dream really—only a dark and twisted desire, a need to hurt, and the fact that I had taken an intense pleasure in it all. I can’t remember anything more, but am deeply rattled that it made me hurt Sophie, and scared that it might happen again. That next time it might be even worse.
I consider briefly going to a shrink. I promised Sophie I would, but I don’t really think that anything so mundane can help with what I’m struggling with. I sit up, lean forward, and drop my head into my hands, fighting the lump in my throat. How did I end up here? How could I have wandered so far away from the man I’d been only two years ago? I don’t want to be fixed. I used to, in the beginning. But I’m tired of fighting, I just want to float off into the darkness and leave all this behind me, and the reality of that scares me more than I can articulate.
I get up and throw on some clothes, aiming to head out into the pre-dawn gloom. It’s only 3 am but I need to get out of the house. The weight of it all—the happy smiling pictures, the furniture that Soph and I had bought together, the promise of everything in this place—is more than I can bear right now. I lock the door behind me and head out for a jog, hoping the rhythmic thud of my feet against the dark backdrop of night will dull my worry and free my mind. But the repeating patterns of shadow and light as I jogged through the light of street lamps and the leached-out color of night somehow remind me of the dream, preventing my escape.
Sophie thinks that my ongoing concern over Blake’s death, now two years past, is unhealthy. Maybe it is, hell if I know. All I know is there are moments in life that mark us. Moments that force us into a new shape, leaving us forever changed, wounded, and incomplete.
A person may survive such a time, but you don’t come out whole. On the far side of the dark there may be light, but inside you’re left broken, empty, and alone. The flavor and heady scents of life fall away. The brilliant hues that once surrounded you are leached into somber shades of grey, and no matter where you go or who you’re with, all the colors of life just keep fading.
You never recover. Not really. Folks who’ve never been in that place think you do. They believe that at some miraculous point in time you simply “get over it.” They’re wrong. You never get over it. The innocent and simple glory of life before never really comes back. From that moment on, you simply learn to live with the missing parts. You learn to live the new shape that life or fate or God has forced onto you. If you’re lucky you learn to appreciate what you have left, diminished though it may be. If not, you may find yourself adrift with no anchor to hold yourself to the world, lost in the dark.
I struggle every day not to lose what color I have left in my life. Some days I feel I’m winning that fight—days when I’m able to find refuge in Sophie’s smile, the laughter of my nephew, or in my work, and hours can go by without a single thought of Blake.
Other days—days like today—I feel the battle is already long lost and the good days are only echoes from before. Not real, just memories from a time when I knew happiness and wholeness.
Some days I long to stop the struggle and just embrace the anger, the frustration, and give in to my desire to self-destruct. I never understood addiction or other forms of expressing self-hatred before. Now, though, I understand all too well. My despair—my impotent rage—drives me to hurt the people around me, and then I loathe myself for hurting them. The cycle feels unstoppable—it’s like trying to wade out to sea when a tsunami is crashing to shore. No man can succeed against such odds. It’s stupid to even try, I know. So much better to simply lie back and let the wave carry you, even if it’s to certain death. At least in death the suffering will end.
The truth is, I can’t get over Blake’s death. It haunts me. Every night when I lie down in the warm bed I share with Sophie, instead of being there—being present with her like I used to be—I think of him. I dream of him too most nights. Not as he was in life, but as he was in death. His eyes—shrunken, dried, and blackened peas in overly-large and now-baggy sockets so loose that I kept thinking his eyes would roll right out of his fucking head as they tried to bag his unruly shape without snapping his limbs off like dried tree branches. The thought of some future tenant finding a dried and wrinkled eyeball at some point in the future had sent me into a hysterical and perverse fit of choking laughter that had earned me some odd looks from the paramedic team and coroner.
They couldn’t fit him in a body bag—his body had dried into the most disturbing of shapes, legs wide and hips thrust forward, his arms extended as if holding something above him. It looked like he’d been frozen while fucking someone, and goddamn if that wasn’t the most disturbing thought I’d ever had. His dick was even still erect. You didn’t hear that shit in the news, but I saw it, and now I keep seeing it night after night. They had to roll him out on a stretcher with a blanket covering him instead. His skin looked like thick tanned leather, and had shriveled tight like a plum left in the sun to prune for too long. He was a modern-day mummy, stretched and hollow, but the fascination I’d felt as a boy when I’d learned about the ancient Egyptians definitely did not extend to the desiccated corpse of my brother.
How the fuck does every drop of moisture get sucked out of a human body? He wasn’t mummified and buried in some fucking desert for 800 years, for Christ’s sake. He’d been missing for only a week. Not even a full week—only five days.
I think about the tinny voice transmitting across the air when they called and asked me to come down to the old St. Marks Hotel on 18th Avenue, the dispassionate drawl hammering in my ears like a jackhammer as my stomach lurched and twisted in my gut. I remember the sound of Kate’s voice, the barely contained panic, the dirty-sharp edge of hysteria jutting into her normally smooth voice when I called her to tell her they had found her husband. The soul-shattering sobs breaking out of her small body as she wept in my arms later that morning when I explained what they had found. And perhaps worst of all, the small, wounded, confused expression on my nephew’s innocent face as we tried to explain that his daddy wouldn’t be coming home anymore. I had 28 years of blissful ignorance about the hostilities of life before having to deal with this sort of loss. He had only five tender years before his innocence had been snatched away. Jesus, but life can be a cold, heartless bastard.
My breath is coming harder, and I can see steam rising off my sweaty body as I run down the sidewalk. It’s still, of course, considering it’s 3 am, and I find the quiet and the dark comforting. Ghosts are real—for me, they take the shape of memories, visions that I cannot stop from running through my head. All the therapy in the world can’t wipe those memories out of my head, can’t save me from the damage or restore color to the world around me. Even Sophie, as much as I love her, as much as she could be a balm to me, cannot help me with this.
When Blake’s body was discovered, the medical community had jumped into action impressively fast and the orgy of medical investigation that ensued continued well beyond any level of decency. Doctors and forensic specialists flew to the city from across the globe to get a look at the corpse that had once been my brother, forcing those of us who loved him to wait to lay him to rest, to wait to finish our mourning and begin rebuilding our lives. For almost an entire year we waited while they took samples and ran tests and tried to figure out how a body could desiccate so quickly.
All in the interest of human welfare and medical progress, they said. They had believed, or maybe hoped, that this was some new disease and had wanted to get a jump on it before it began infecting others. See if they could develop a cure or at least begin to understand how the disease progressed. I think they just wanted to be the first to invent another billion-dollar-a-year miracle drug to save the world. But nothing useful was ever found. No indication of any physical ailment or problem aside from the general physical state they’d found him in. And no other desiccated corpses were found to indicate the next great epidemic. Once the hope of a money-making opportunity was crushed, the glamour wore off, and we were finally able to lay Blake to rest.
But far worse was the media. They were there, of course, trying to report on what they at first believed was a murder. But once the uniqueness of Blake’s demise became apparent they’d snatched onto it like an enraged pit bull, and the media has a long memory.
Blake’s death was so goddamned odd that everyone wanted a piece of it. For hours and hours, day after day, they showed the same video footage of his body being rolled out of the ruin of the building they found it in, the white sheet covering his remains falling askew to offer the whole world a glimpse of a modern-day mummy. I still get asked for interviews, the bloodsucking pricks. They have no regard for what it costs us, what remembering does to me, to our parents, to his wife Kate and her kid, for Christ’s sake. Every request opens the wounds afresh. Those bastards will burn for their callousness if there’s any justice in the universe.
As irrational as it may be, I am convinced that someone did that to my brother. Not something. But no indication of foul play was ever found, either. Never mind his agitated state of mind in the months before his death. Never mind his increasingly erratic and bizarre behavior—the late nights spent wandering the streets of the city far from his wife and children as if he sought something, or someone. And never mind the fact that his body was found in a filthy room on the sixth floor of a tumbledown tenement inhabited primarily by crack whores and their blank-faced, wide-eyed, waif-thin children.
Never in my life have I felt so helpless, so impotent. First we waited to lay him to rest, and then we waited for the detectives to tell us what the hell had happened. We waited for some sense of justice, some semblance of closure. And we wait still. We know as much now, two years after his death, as we did five minutes after his death. The certainty that someone did this to him, that he had gotten mixed up in something really fucking weird, and the not knowing or understanding how it could have happened is eating me like a cancer.
The truth is, the tears and the pain aren’t really the problem anymore. It’s the fear that keeps me up at night. The fear that whoever got to my brother could get to me as well. That whatever led Blake into that tenement would lead me there too, and goddamnit, I don’t want to go out that way. But he was my brother. His blood is my blood. All our lives I followed close in his footsteps. Whatever happened to him…could it happen to me, too?
The tears have dried, and the pain is muted now from the thick layers of scars around the empty space inside of me that used to be occupied by my brother. It is the fear that haunts me still. The fear of the unknown. Of the faceless, nameless threat that lurks somewhere out there in the darkness. Unknown, undiscovered, unquestioned. And I can’t deny the appeal that holds for me, the desire deep inside to find the source of that darkness and lose myself in it just as he did.
Someone killed Blake. That dark and unknowable truth keeps me awake at night. It chases me out of the warmth of Sophie’s embrace, out of the safe confines of our beautiful home, and out into the cold, hard streets of the city. And now these dreams…Is this the start? Is this how it started for Blake?
Blake always went first to pave the way when we were kids, but he isn’t here anymore. I’m alone, and alone I now seek the mystery that stole my brother from me and cut his wife and child adrift in the world. Helplessness has defined me for two endless years, but it will not for even one day longer. I can’t sit back and let whatever happened to him happen to me.
I stop and lean forward, placing my hands on my knees, and watch the sweat drip off my forehead and splatter darkly onto the light concrete of the sidewalk. I need to go out and find it. Go on the offensive. I need to seek out this mystery and kill it before it kills me, before I give in entirely to the looming dark.
I turn and look back the way I have come. The streetlights are spaced far apart, and the houses are dark and asleep. I wonder what secrets those placid homefronts keep. What the people who live inside them do or think about or desire from life. Are any of them haunted by their own mysteries, or do they live in blissful ignorance of the random violence and heartlessness of life? Do they go through their days never realizing just how close they are to complete devastation?
I consider the stretches of dark interspersed with sections of brilliant light that run up the road into the distance. For some of us, it seems the stretches of dark are much, much longer and the patches of light so much smaller.
I straighten up and start running again. This time though, I am running towards, not running away. But towards what, I don’t know.