Surreal

Burden

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This post was originally published through Patreon on February 27, 2019.

I see them flitting through the shadows and I try not to be afraid. They don’t know that I can see them, that I track their every move, and they mustn’t catch on. So I avert my eyes, and from the corner of my eye, I watch, taking mental notes as they stalk the Earth, unseen to all except myself.

They’re phantoms, abstract projections of the dark. They move through our homes, through our places of business, watching us as I watch them. For years, I pondered their intentions, and I noticed that whenever I was sad, depressed, angry, or afraid, they would hover closer, and in their presence, my negative emotions would deepen.

My conclusion is that they’re hungry, that they dine on our hardship and our pain. I’ve observed people at their worst, and in those terrible, rock-bottom moments, that’s when they come out of hiding and open their mouths to feed. To them we are livestock. They’re the reason humans are so violent, the reason humans are so angry and afraid, the reason humans are always on the brink of war. It’s because of them, I am certain, that we’ve never moved beyond the tribalistic ethos that binds us. They sow discord and darkness, then rejoice in the blooms of evil that sprout from our corrupted hearts.

They believe humanity is defenseless. But all the while I’ve observed their behavior, and I’ve learned how they can be destroyed.

In the act of feeding, they become like us. The greater the evil, the greater the despair, and the greater the despair, the more physical they become until they’re almost humanlike, with contorted, unnaturally proportioned bodies and long, razor-sharp claws. The more physical they become, the more susceptible they are to attack. So I venture into the world, allowing my darker emotions to surface, and when I’ve reached the apex of my suffering, when I’ve engorged myself with the emotional poison that sustains them, they come, attracted to my pain like fish to a baited hook. Then, when they assume solid form, I attack.

My theory is that they were once like us, and I sometimes consider the possibility that what they’ve become isn’t entirely their fault, that someone or something might have transformed them into what they are today against their will. But in the end, I always reach the same conclusion, that eliminating them is an act of self-defense, and that, when all is said and done, it’s us versus them.

So far, I’ve killed nine. I cannot hunt them in groups, lest some escape to warn the others. Instead, I prey on them as individuals, a task that is agonizingly, painstakingly slow. Nine is but a drop in the bucket—the world is full of such creatures—but as the only human who can see them, the burden is mine to do what I can, even if it means sacrificing my own emotional well-being. My life is one of unending despair, but I cannot allow these creatures to destroy my human family, and if my own suffering means the world as a whole suffers a little less, I’ll continue the hunt until my dying breath.

I believe in justice. I have faith that there’s an unseen judge watching over us, and that, with an appraising eye, he examines my work. It is for this mysterious cosmic entity I labor, always with the hope that if I must suffer in this life, then perhaps I’ll be allowed happiness in the next.

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The Door at the End of the Universe

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When the door at the end of the universe came into view, the old man dropped to his knees and cried. How long had it been since he’d first set out in search of it? Across countless places and ages, he’d journeyed, and now, at long last, the door lay within reach, embedded in the side of a barren world-sized mountain.

The old man could feel the wind on his face, whipping the cracked and blistered skin that stretched over his ancient skull like parchment. At that moment, he bore the full weight of his age and dreamed of how good it would feel to be young again. But that great cosmic clock in the sky turned in only one direction, and while death might have spared him, time most certainly had not.

There was little vigor left in those rheumatic joints, but somehow, the old man rose to his feet; somehow, the old man stepped forward across the grass and the rocks, keeping the long sought-after door within his sight.

“Hello,” he whispered in a voice like windswept reeds. “I’ve come to meet with you at last.”

And with a gnarled, unsteady hand, he reached for the door handle and listened for the voice that had called to him so long ago.

Welcome, came the reply, profound and immediate, a soundless ripple across space and time. Long have you fought for your place in the world beyond, and now you may open the door. Now you may step over the threshold, and in so doing receive new life.

The old man reflected on his journey and on all the adventures he’d had along the way, and though his path had been fraught with endless perils and suffering, he was grateful for the change wrought inside of him, for it was a necessary precursor to the life yet to come.

What sort of existence awaited him on the other side? He didn’t know, but he wished with all his heart to find out. And so, with the last of his strength, he pulled on the door’s handle, and when it swung open, when the stars of that other world revealed themselves at last, the old man smiled, ready to embrace his eternal reward.

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Rental

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This post was originally published through Patreon on February 5, 2019.

The street was dark and empty, and aside from the tidal hum of distant cars, I was alone. I’ve always been open about my fear of crowds, but what only a few close friends know is that I find the opposite extreme equally unsettling. You never know who or what might be standing beside you, unseen.

I looked up and down the street, waiting, and soon enough I heard her coming.

It wasn’t just the chunka-chunka of her broken down engine, but the way the wind stopped to hold its breath, as if the night had been startled by her presence. Laura’s rusty ’58 Buick came into view a moment later, rounding the corner in a flash of headlights and a chorus of crunching gravel.

The lime green vehicle pulled up to the curb beside me. The engine sputtered and the lights died. The passenger side window rolled down, and a voice I’d been both waiting and dreading to hear sounded from the darkness within.

“Hello,” said Laura.

I peered through the window, hoping for a glimpse of the interior or the woman inside. But, of course, I was disappointed on both counts. The inside of the Buick was shrouded in darkness even though the streetlights should have set it ablaze.

“How are you, Laura?”

“I’ve been better.”

“Should I get in?”

“Please.”

I clutched a door handle that felt like it had spent a month in someone’s freezer and pulled. The Buick was a tank, and the door, solid metal, squealed when I opened it, revealing an inkblot of darkness. I reached in, trying not to think about how my hand seemed to disappear beyond the threshold, and felt for the seat. I took a deep, steadying breath and sat down.

The moment I did, the world outside disappeared.

“Are you comfortable?” Laura asked.

“Yes,” I said, even though the oppressive darkness clung to every inch of my body like tar; even though I had to fight the instinct to leap out and run far, far away. This was business, so I swallowed my fear and resigned myself to the void.

“The terms are, uh, fairly standard. The body is yours for 24 hours provided you do nothing illegal or defaming. Cash upfront. No extensions or refunds.”

“Cash upfront. Nothing illegal or embarrassing. I can do that.”

Something slid into my lap, and even though I couldn’t see, I knew what it was.

“Twenty thousand, just like we agreed.”

I didn’t need to count it. Her sort were a lot of things, but they weren’t liars.

“You’ll carry it into the house for me after the exchange?”

“Of course.”

Suspended in the void, I sat, terrified of what came next. It wasn’t something you ever got used to. Each time was like the first, a heart-stopping drop from the precipice of the infinite and down into the endless sea of oblivion. Still, Laura deserved a respite from her long exile, and let’s face it, twenty thousand dollars was a lot of money.

“Okay,” I said. “I’m ready.”

With my consent, the soul inside me came unmoored, and like a boat across a night-darkened sea, I began to drift. I felt the world outside, already invisible, recede further until at last, I could feel Laura, passing beside me in the opposite direction.

In the instant our paths crossed, I beheld the entirety of her being: the otherworldly resplendence of her former self along with a body that was now lost forever; a keen and cunning intelligence weathered by eons in this awful, soul-crushing prison; and, most heartbreaking of all, the crippling despair that had turned her into the dark and faceless creature she was today.

Then the swap was complete, and, trapped in the driver’s seat, I was doomed (albeit temporarily) to suffer exile in her place.

With the phantom sense of a man who’s lost an arm or a leg, I felt Laura flex my fingers.

“This is wonderful.”

“Yes,” I said, already mourning the loss of my body and counting the hours to its return. “It feels good.”

Laura slid from the car and slammed the door behind her.

I didn’t want to think about how many rentals I could endure before the darkness worked its awful madness into my soul just as it had with Laura. Instead, I focused on those parts of myself that remained apart from the void, and when I regained my composure, I pulled back onto the road and drove away.

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