Open Your Eyes. Start the Adventure!

The dream was strange. He was lying in bed with a sensation almost like he was floating, but could still feel his weight on the mattress. It didn’t feel the same though. Lighter maybe? He imagined that’s what sleeping on the moon would feel like. He wiggled his toes happily.

Little non-existent needles poked into his skin. It didn’t hurt, only tickled, and gave his fingers and toes the feeling of being mildly shocked. It felt warm, tingly, and fuzzy. It felt like being tucked in as a kid. The feeling slowly crept into his arms and feet, and further up and into his body. After an excruciatingly blissful few moments, the needles and fuzz embraced him. He vibrated in place on his bed and wiggled his toes some more. The lamp next to his bed shut off and the medical equipment that he didn’t even notice in his room stopped their incessant beeping. Weren’t those supposed to mean something to him? Something important? No, that was when he was awake. He didn’t need them now, he was dreaming.

The lamp was out but there was a glow in the room. Was the sun coming up already? No, the window was as dark as ever. It was night. He was sleeping. And dreaming apparently. He rolled his head around trying to find the source of light, a pale bluish glow that seemed to radiate from the walls themselves. Slowly he realized it was him; a glowing ball of energy on the bed tingling his entire being. He raised his hand and it was radiant like a full moon beaming onto freshly fallen snow. In December, it was obviously December snow.

It all faded into another deeper sleep and there was nothing.

Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. It was his heartbeat saying it in his chest. He had heard it his entire life but never noticed it before. It almost sounded like a woman’s voice if you listened hard enough. There was nothing to do but to listen, so he listened. The voice became clearer: Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! The voice was gentle, more asking him if he’d like to wake up, coaxing him to open his eyes, than being a strict order. She said, “Don’t you want to wake up? You’re ready to do this. You don’t think you are, but you are. Open your eyes. Start the adventure!”

After an eternity of nothing that passed in an instant he opened his eyes. 

There was still nothing. The room was black and his eyes saw nothing. He blinked a few times to ensure his eyes were actually opened and they were. He sat up, or tried to sit up, but all there was was a sensation of movement like he was floating in a pool. He moved his head to the left and right but it only moved his consciousness around. He went to move his arms and there was nothing to move. He felt around for his body but not having arms made this a pointless gesture.

He lowered his consciousness down a foot or two and there was no bed. He shot forward ten feet and there was no wall to stop him. He traveled further and no matter where he went there was nothing.

There was nothing but he never felt alone. All around him were people — things, spirits, entities — that were just like him. In the silent and still nothingness around him he made friends with everyone. One Black Thing smiled and laughed at him as if it told a joke, or if he was the joke, and then he laughed along with it. A vibration rang out amongst all of them: You’re the joke! And I’m the joke too! And what a funny joke it all is!

Love, passion, humor, wisdom, yearning, and longing, every possible mix and matched mismatched emotion was around him. He was nothing but he was nothing with all the other nothings around him and he was whole. He was fine. It all made sense. What made sense, he didn’t know, but it made sense. He was there amongst all the things he loved.

WAKE UP!

This time the sound was an alarm clock mixed with angry yelling. “Wake up! You need to get your ass ready for school! It’s already 7:15 and you’re going to miss the damn bus again! And I’m not being late to work again because you woke up late!”

She opened her eyes, rubbed them, and smashed a button on the alarm clock. It was 7:15 — 7:16 now — and it was going to be a rough morning indeed. A flood of memories came back to her in the early morning sun. She had a paper to turn in for social studies. And they were going to learn fractions in math soon. Ugh, all her friends were scared of fractions. And maybe she’d play with that one cute boy during recess if only she could get the courage to do so. Maybe that could wait until tomorrow though…

As she sat up something clicked in her brain. It was only a flash — something she had forgotten about, something really important — but it made her think. Did she forget one of her homework assignments yesterday? Did she leave her art supplies strewn about the living room? Did she forget to do the dishes? Feed her pet doggie? No, it wasn’t any of those but, dang it, she just couldn’t put her finger on what was tickling her memories.

Before she stood up she wiggled her toes and giggled.

The Virus (Part Two)

A typical trip to the store during a pandemic.

Note: This is a continuation of The Virus (Part One). I orginally planned for this to be a two-part story, but it looks like it’ll be a three-parter.

Who is infected? Who isn’t? You can’t tell: treat everyone as a hazard. The six-foot rule? No, give people ten or twenty feet, as much as you possibly can because your life is at stake. The virus is small, invisible, and deadly. Walking corpses of the future pumping respiratory failure into the air with their still-functioning lungs. I picture the air currents and the wind stirring the invisible death into the air, swirling and making beautiful unseen vertices mixing virus and atmosphere together.

A man is riding his bike along my side of the road. I’m upwind of him, and picturing the air leaving his mouth and swirling around his cheeks and chin, around his neck, and into the slipstream he’s dragging behind him. He’s not a threat with the air currents today. Any death he might be carrying blows the other way and I’m safe. As safe as can be in this world at least.

The rest of the trip to the dollar store was uneventful, at least as uneventful as you could expect in these times. A few gunshots and screams rang out in the distance, punctuating the silence of our new world with reminders of the horrors occurring nearby. A drive-by shooting a mile ahead on the road I was walking along; I could see the car slow down and the crack crack of gunshots delayed by five seconds, and the small group of people walking on the side of the road fleeing and collapsing. I couldn’t tell if murder was involved from this distance.

And clouds of smoke rose up to the east, near downtown. More fires, more rioting, more unrest. It was all so uneventful that I didn’t pay it much mind. This was the world now.

Finally I arrived at the store, but as I reached the front corner I noticed something. Blood, a lot of blood on the sidewalk and road that led around the side of the store. The blood smeared towards the back as if someone was dragged away; the streaks leading around the back corner of the store.

My choices were laid out in front of me in a mere fraction of a second. Continue on into the store and pretend that I didn’t notice the blood, cower my head and flee, or investigate the scene. My heart started pounding and I began to shake with adrenaline once again filling my body. Fight or flight? Decisions had to be made even if adrenaline cripples logical thought. Before I realized it my knife was out and I was turning the corner to the back of the store. The choice was made, but seemingly not by me.

The path of blood led to the store’s dumpster area, a tiny fenced-in area to hide the trash the store accumulates daily. The gate was slightly propped open and the path of blood welcomed me through the gate. One new problem now; there was a second path of blood leading from the other side of the building, two streaks of blood from each side of the store. What awaited me along with the pungent smell of trash and refuse?

I slowly peered around the gate with knife in one hand and pepper spray in the other, my body permanently shaking from what might greet me. I was relieved to find two bodies, one with their neck slit wide open and one with a myriad of gunshot wounds in the chest. Relieved because dead bodies weren’t a threat to me, only a sign of a threat, a threat that wasn’t in my immediate area. The shaking still continued though; the mystery still hadn’t been solved.

A weapon, a gun, anything? The man whose neck that was slit open — both of them armed guards popularly employed to stop robberies and hostage situations in these troubling times — had no gun on him, with his holster strangely empty with the strap open. The other man, the one with the gunshots, still had his weapon. I quickly changed my gloves and took the firearm. It would serve me better than it would serve him. Crouched down, I noticed bloody footsteps leading to and from the dumpsters and back around to the front of the store.

Another conflict arose within me between fighting or fleeing, but the new weapon in my hand urged me on. I took a guard’s gun which was a crime itself, and what if I was charged for these murders? Nothing to worry about though, more crimes were more important to investigate even if the law could eventually catch up to me. Once all of this shit was over they could charge me. That was later, in the indefinite future, and I was determined to survive until that day.

Once again, before I knew it I was standing next to the double glass doors at the front of the store. The world was silent — too silent — and time seemed to stand still. I could feel the sun creeping slowly across the sky, my shadow passing as a sluggish sundial on the sidewalk. More choices — act or flee — but here I was: why run now? Everyone fantasizes about these do or die moments where logic doesn’t apply; what you think you’d do you’d never do and my intuition to flee was countered by this chance encounter to finally do something. Face your fate. Confront the demon in the store whose bloody footprints lead directly to his lair, because the alternative was boring everyday life. Escape it even if it means likely death.

The first door opened quietly as I gently eased through it. And the second door? One of those damn bells to notify the store employees when someone entered. Even though I tried to open it slowly, the bell still jingled making a piercingly loud sound in the silence of the world. No sound answered the bell in return. Everything was silent, still, and oppressive.

But not totally silent as I discovered upon entering the store. Strange muffling arose from behind the counter. I stood there for a moment to gauge the layout of the store and listened for any sounds from the beast that might be lurking in here. Still and silent. Only the rustling behind the counter gave my senses something to latch onto. I glanced over and an employee was seated on the floor, gagged and tied up with the look of sheer panic on her face. She appeared unharmed and nodded her head towards the back of the store, with unintelligible grunts accompanying each motion. The beast was back there, she was saying.

More oppressive silence. It was lurking, hiding, stalking me. I crept forward with my finger on the trigger ready to defend myself and the helpless employee if I needed to. Creeping forward step by step until I reached the end of one of the aisles where I hid on the other side of the end cap. 

This time faint footsteps were heard. Cautious footsteps at the opposite end of the aisle. I looked around trying to formulate some plan of attack, some plan for defense, shoot to kill or shoot to wound? Too many thought racing through my head to make sense of anything. And…and above the door was a mirror: one of those spherical mirrors that allows you to see nearly the entire store in a tiny glass ball. Distorted perspectives but the human eye is sensitive to motion, and at the end of the aisle I was lurking at, a shape moved.

I waited until the shape was halfway down the aisle and peered around the racks to get a glimpse of whoever was stalking me. Gunshots immediately rang out in my direction, some missing down the aisle and shattering into the main door while others slammed into the shaving behind me. This man was unhinged, not even paying attention or deciding if I was a threat or not. Instant firing to kill, reckless firing, and my mind was made up: Kill or be killed. There was no reasoning with this person. Shoot first and enjoy your life if you still had it after time ceased to be frozen.

More creeping from the man towards me. I cleared my throat and said in a weak and shaky voice, “Alright. Let’s talk about this. Okay?” There was no reply besides the footsteps creeping towards me. In the mirror he was three-quarters of the way down the aisle, about fifteen feet away from my location. In the distorted mirror I could see his arm extended with the firearm poised to fill my body full of lead.

“Come on, let’s talk. I’m not a cop. I’m…nobody.” No reply. Unhinged. Unreasonable. Off the rails. And he was almost here.

I shot out from behind the endcap with my arms extended. The man with wild eyes seemed surprised, as if he could sneak up and kill me and I wouldn’t bat an eye or fight otherwise, the finger on his trigger poised, but I was quicker. Filled with adrenaline from the past ten minutes of stopped time, my body was as tense as a compressed spring, and at the tip of the spring ready to snap was my finger. The trigger jarred back and forth an indefinite amount of times before time unfroze and the moment was over. The man lay on the ground ten feet from me, slightly quivering extremities until all motion ceased.

And I realized I had killed a man. A fellow human being. Kill or be killed, right?

More footsteps sounded from the rear of the store, somehow quieter than the man’s careful steps moments earlier. I held the gun up again, unsure of how much ammo was left, but there wasn’t time to do anything about it. Bluff if necessary; the gun looked fully-loaded anyways. Recite the mantra again: Kill or be killed.

Around the end of the aisle shuffled a girl, maybe five- or six-year-old. She looked at me, down to the man on the ground, and then looked back at me. She walked over to the man and sat down cross-legged next to him. There were no tears or cries or shouts or curses, just a glazed look on her eyes. The same glazed look the man on the floor had.

“Da…daddy?” she asked the man bleeding on the floor.

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The Demon Tree

The tree wants me dead.

The tree is a malicious menace. The tree is a dark demon. The tree is an evil entity. The tree is after me. The tree wants me dead. I don’t even know why but the tree wants my soul.

I never had these thoughts sober. I don’t like using the word “sober” here because “sober” is usually used in regards to alcohol usage/abuse. I think words like “fucked up” are more appropriate here. I don’t even remember what I was on at the time and does it really matter? With the drugs pulling apart reality, removing the facade that is always over the actual reality, I could see beyond. And the tree was a demon. It was such a simple and obvious realization that I’m surprised it took my body being loaded with chemicals to actually notice it.

Sober, as much as the word didn’t apply to the concoction within, the tree never bothered me. It was only a minor irritant in my life, nothing threatening to my very being. When it would storm or was windy I was always terrified of the bastard falling over onto the house. Somehow smashing and killing me as I was on the toilet or walking up the stairs. You know, dying one of the mundane deaths that I’m perpetually terrified of. People are killed by buses — I know they’re dead and don’t actually care about how they died — but in the moments before they die, I always wondered if they’re able to think, “Is this really how I go? A bus? Really?!” A fleeting moment of disbelief that their life is over due to such a silly chance occurrence. It has to be demeaning in a way. Or fitting. A perfectly mundane, hilarious, and chance encounter marking the end of a life filled with the mundane, hilarious, and chance encounters. Glorious deaths are only fitting for glorious lives, and to be honest there are none outside of books/film/video games.

Sometimes the tree (when it was windy, the tree couldn’t do much on its own so relied on the wind to assist in tormenting me) would shed its pine needles all over my car. It’s not that I’m one of those people that were obsessed with my vehicle, but a stray pine needle or two sticking out from the crevice between the hood and car’s body would incessantly bother me until I removed it. Sometimes they would get caught under the wiper blades and instead of a perfectly wiped window, I’d have tiny streaks due to the needles that were wedged under the blades. Stuff like that. Not threatening by any means, but still something to slightly ruin your day.

And the sap, let’s not forget the sap. The tree itself was about thirty feet from where I parked my car, but somehow sap would still find its way to my vehicle. Sap on the windows which was smeared any time I rolled the window down/up or used my wipers. And tree sap is something unique that is almost impossible to remove once it finds its way somewhere. You need to make a dedicated effort to remove pine sap from a vehicle and if this happened in the winter it was going to stay there for a long time hardening. I would also walk through the yard and have sap stuck to my foot. Once again nothing to really ruin your day, but still an annoyance.

In my drug-fueled state I seen the tree for what it was: a demon. A menace that did all of these things on purpose. It had only been gently toying with me in regular day-to-day life and I had never caught onto him until that day. It was in the evening, well after sunset where the sun lights up the upper level clouds against the darkened but still star-free sky. The clouds took on an ethereal light against the dark navy of the sky above it. And the tree? It looked not as a thing but an absence of something against the clouds. A spidery, tall, and looming presence that was black and only black. A shape that you could see only because it blocked out material things behind it. It wasn’t so much a thing or an object as a void. A huge, looming, void presiding over the porch.

I wasn’t sure if it hated me alone or people in general. Trees are generally terrifying to me, at least when I think about them for too long. Trees are so old and plants in general have been around on this planet millions (if not billions) of years before animals, let alone us shitty humans. Ever present and ever looming. Forests of them covered the planet silently for millions of years before any conscious human ever was around to think about them.

And what did us humans do once we showed up? We figured out how to fuck the planet up in ever more efficient and dangerous ways with every technical advancement we developed. Agriculture. Smelting. Metallurgy. The industrial revolution. Trains. Coal. Oil. Fossil fuels. Cars. Airplanes. Burn down the forests because we need to eat beef. We need farms. In the blink of an eye (geologically speaking) a holocaust of trees had occurred, and you can’t help but understand why this tree wanted me dead.

As the drugs ripped apart and rearranged the overlying world and universe I was able to see thing I didn’t normally see. The trees roots went deep, down hundreds of feet just like any other tree, but where the roots ended? A big black mass of void, evil, and malice. The roots entwined and fed off the darkness drawing it up into the trunk and distributing it to the rest of its limbs. The other trees weren’t like this even if they had some deep and underlying fear of humans; they were innocent trees that simply grew and enjoyed their lives, but this one was different. The rest of the trees even seemed to be slightly leaning away from this large demon I was staring at. As if even they wanted to get away from him even fixed to the ground as they were.

As for where the darkness below me came? I have no idea. I didn’t want to think about it very much, especially in my state.

The tree reached for me as a tree would try, but it was still bound by physical laws. I could see a dim reddish light glowing at the core of the tree, it was his anger for me. The branches hung listlessly and swung towards me when wind gave it a reason to do so. The branches nearest to the ground sort of bowing down and upwards like a beckoning finger.

The tree wanted me dead. Maybe it wanted everyone dead, I didn’t know for sure. But the joke was on the tree: most of the time I wanted myself dead as well but wasn’t courageous enough to go through with the task of bowing out of life. But I looked into the heart of the tree, the glowing red heart of hatred that it had, and I held my glass up to him.

“I tell you what, old sport. If I ever do decide to exit this awful realm, well, you can help me.”

The tree swayed slightly even though no obvious wind was about.

“If I ever decide to bow out, maybe I’ll use a noose, I’ll toss it right over your branch.” I pointed to one of his low-hanging and thicker limbs. “Right there. Would that make you happy?”

It swayed again.

“But I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll hang around for as long as possible. Hell, I might even chop you down. Burn you. Maybe take up paper making for a hobby? You know, do what my ancestors have done for centuries. I bet you would make good charcoal to grill with.”

It leered at me in a way that only a tree could do.

“Don’t be too upset, I’m only joking. I bet we will be best friends in the end, after everything has been said and done.”

The tree nodded in eager agreement.