He never smiled
I never understood why he cried. I would see him everywhere I went, he would cry over everything I did, he would always be sad.. like he just lost some one he loved. His hysterical sobs would fill my senses and I could never block him out. His woeful eyes, dull and glazed over would stare in my direction, but never directly at me as he heaved for breaths between his trembling tears.. he.. it… never smiles.
The first day I saw him, my mother had just past away. I was 17 years old. I had lost my mother to a fire at my high school, which claimed 9 lives including that of my mom. It was a cold day in November, the kids were eager to leave for winter break and there was a nervous buzz in the air because we were all tasked with taking our semester finals.
My mom worked as the English teacher in the lowest level of the school. We all liked to call it the dungeon because the class room was really in the basement where all the waterlines and gas lines line were exposed against the concrete walls, but our teachers and school staff insisted we call it the lower level, due to the terms that “the dungeon” caused a lot pencil and sharpie grafitti being left on the staircase down. “Going to the dungeon” “Beware the monster that lurks here… EDucATIoN!!” and my favorite that always made me chuckle; written in big bold letters “SOLITARY CONFINEMENT”.
I was in my science class that morning, working in a small team, dissecting baby pigs and identifying their key organs; this was our semester final for the class. I was working with 2 other class mates who thankfully weren’t squeamish. We all thought it was actually kind of cool once we got past the overwhelming smell of formaldehyde.
We were removing the heart of the piglet when the school shook, immediately followed by a deafening explosive noise and and a shower of water. Our teacher, Mr. Smik, rushed us out of the class room and tried to get us down the hall to the left, past the dungeon. I rounded the corner of the science rooms door and my heart sank. I was greeted by ‘the dungeons’ door blown off its hinges, it laid against the opposing wall. The space between the door and door frame was filled with an inferno, raging from my moms class room.
I don’t know what I thinking when I ran into the fire.. I don’t know if I thought I could save her or if I was just running in there to see what happened.. I don’t know.. but I descended the staircase through the flames.
Immediately past the door, the fire was no longer burning.. it was actually almost cold once I reached the bottom step. I heard someone crying in the room.. though it was pitch black aside from a small window that lit the desk where my mom would sit while she taught class.
I searched for this crying person in the dark for a short time, gagging on the smell of burning flesh and hair before I recalled my cell phone had a flash light app. I opened the app and immediately wished I hadn’t. Burnt bodies and their unattached limbs littered the floors, some were smoldering like paper, a thin line of bright red crawling up the blacked skin and turning it into ash.
I heaved at the site, that mouth watering feeling crept into my head as it does when you’re about to throw up.. but I held it in. I averted my attention to the crying, which seamed to be coming for the over turned desk in the corner of the room.
That has to be my mom.. she’s still alive!
I ran to the desk, almost tripping over the chest of one of the victims of the fire. I heard someone yelling at the tops of the stairs for me to come out because they had detected a gas leak.. I wish I had listened.
I almost reached the desk when I looked down at another body.. this one was slightly larger than the rest. It didn’t take long for me to see this was my mom.. missing the right side of her face.. her eyes a milky white and her jaw opened wide.. she.. she had no arm.. or leg.. Dead.. my mother was dead at my feet..
The crying erupted from behind the desk again, no audible words.. just sobbing. I left my moms side to help this person. I hadn’t fully dawned on me at this point that no one could have survived this disaster.
The crying was filling my head, it blocked out the sounds of the fire alarm, everyone screaming for me to get out.. it was like I was lost in a daydream and the crying was the forefront focus of such. it blocked out everything.
I got to the desk, shined my light behind it and illuminated a figure curled up in the corned. he had blackened skin like the rest of them, almost no hair. he trembled, facing the corner of wall, his body lightly convulsing like she was being electrocuted, arms beyond his side with his hands limply hanging from her forearms.
“HEY’ I yelled, “We have to get out! There’s a gas leak!”
He didn’t respond. I thought maybe the explosion damaged his hearing.
I reached over to him and grabbed his hand. He stopped crying immediately when our skin touched.. the trembling stopped but his body kept jerking. He slowly turned his head towards me.. it limply followed his neck as it turned. And then I saw his face.
Leathery skin stretched across his bony skull, his wide eyes where like my mothers.. a milky grey and white. Browned teeth shown through a slacked jaw, no lips.. a withered nose sat unevenly on his face. He was naked.. the leathery skin continued down his nude frame, some of the skin was pealing off.. from which an infected looking yellowed fluid oozed from.
I looked at him in shock, his body jerking and heaving… he shuttered…took a breath.. and screamed. I ran.
For the next year.. I became reclusive. I dropped out of school that winter and moved to Florida with money I got from my mothers death.. never wanting to feel the cold on my skin again. I thought maybe I could continue my life where no one knew me or my past.. and maybe… just maybe I could escape the screaming in y head from that thing in the school.
Florida was great for a short time, I lived in an RV by myself on a private lot in the everglades. I established myself as a transfer student waiting until “Next year” for my college courses to begin online. no one lived around me for miles, my lot was on private property which was owned by a rich couple who were never home. A dense swampy forest surrounded my place. This was reat for me, because i gave me time to confront my thoughts and ultimately lead to my road to recovery from that night.
Until I heard the crying again.
A few times a week, I would wake up to his crying in the woods near me late at night, his lonely howls would penetrate the thin walls of my home on wheels. Why didn’t I just drive off you ask? Well.. my RV was a fifth wheel.. meaning it didn’t have a motor. It needed to be hauled by a truck. I had a moped I would use to run to town but I couldn’t get it to start. Thankfully in that regard I had plenty of food to get me by for a few months.
I thought maybe the crying was just a relapse of depression.. like PTSD in soldiers.. so I stayed and listened to it.
But It kept getting closer.. every week it would get louder.. I would lay awake in bed and beg for it to stop, it was the same way it was in that school.. it fills my head and blocks out everything..
A few nights ago.. I saw him.. curled up as he was before, with his hands slightly away from sides.. trembling… shaking just beyond the tree line no more than a few feet from door. He grew visibly closer every night from then on.. the uncontrollable sobbing creeping ever closer to my home.. the wailing filling my nights to point of me no longer being able to sleep. I could only sleep in the day.. the day was safe…
Last night.. he was looking in my window.
I had fallen asleep late that day. about 3pm.. I was working on a project all morning, setting up a classic tin can trip wire to let me know if something or someone.. or if he.. was within 5 feet of my door. I had it put together and set up by lunch time.. I ate some canned hamburger soup thing that tasted more like potatoes and salt than actual food. I showered and slept, setting my alarm for 6pm, just before it got dark. I laid down… shut my eyes.. and slept.
I awoke to the sound of makeshift perimeter alarm going off.. it was dark out.. my alarm clock hadn’t went off.
I looked at the time.. 1:26am.. the middle of the night.. no crying.
At this point, I quickly got out of bed and looked outside of my bedroom window.. nothing.
“Maybe.. it was just a raccoon trying to get into my trash” I thought. I made myself some coffee to help keep me awake through the night. Coffee had become the only thing I would drink. I made some food.. well.. canned salted potatoes with a hint of chicken dumplings and went back to my room. I sat down and addressed my fears at this point.
Lately.. I’d been convincing myself that just maybe I am seeing.. him.. because I haven’t gotten over the images of that night.. like he was a symbol of the worst day of my life that my subsonciense had unintentionally held onto and manifested in my day to day life. I became brave in this moment and told myself “Go open the front door” like this was going to make the fear end.. I figured if I had confronted the thought to be mentally created monster that I could make it go away. I set my food and coffee down and walked to the front door.. and there he was.
An eruption of screams shook my house.. his face was clearly visible against the glass of my window.. my kitchen light shown through on his face… his jaw was chattering.. gaping and closing between breaths… his breath left a fog on my window.. his eyes staring straight ahead at nothing.. he quivered violently against the outside wall.. he was real.
I screamed at him.. no real words came out.. but I was angry. I was sick of not sleeping.. not having my life.. I moved across the country to get away from this and here it was.. seeming dying on my front door.
“LEAVE ME ALONE!!” I yelled and sobbed at it. “LEAVE ME ALONE PLEASE!!!”
It kept screaming outside of the house.. but it started to move… standing upright it walked in slowly sporadic movements towards my door.. it arched awkwardly backwards.. tearing the skin as it stood.. yellow liquid seeped from the wounds.
LEAVE ME ALONE I yelled again.
It reached my door
In my panic, I had grabbed my fire emergency ax I had hanging above my table.
YOU WON’T KILL ME!!
I kicked open my door, the sticky night air struck me and that.. thing.. was hit by the door. It well backwards, a feral gasping yell emitted from behind its teeth. I was going to kill.. it.. now
I stumbled outside, falling down the steps in my rush. I quickly got up.. face to face with.. it… still it cried and screamed and heaved and shook in front of me.. its milky eyes still looking beyond me.. hands out stretched.
I swung my ax.. burying it deep in its side, pus spewing from my ax. it stopped crying… and looked at me.. I froze in fear and we stared at each other.
“I killed it.. I KILLED IT!” I thought to myself.
It reached it’s hand up to me.. gently gripping my arm.. and it spoke.. “Please… kill… me…” It removed the ax with it’s other hand and brought the blade to it’s neck. “Kill.. me… now..!” and put it’s hand on my face
Everything went black for moments… and I swung my ax.. “Kill it” Was all I could think
My ax hit something… solid.. I regained my vision.. I was in “the dungeon”. I looked to my left and saw my mother.. teaching her class, and she saw me.. the entire class saw me. I looked at my .. buried in the gas line now leaking propane. On my moms desk sat a single burning candle. I let go of my ax and ran to the desk to put it out.. but I was too late.
The class room exploded.. it shook the entire foundation… I fell behind the desk… my body was immediately charred from the blast and bones broken but… I survived… my mom.. laid there blown to pieces… but still alive, too… I walked the best I could to her… my body burning.. I took trembling steps towards her.. and held her hand.. her only hand…
“Mom!” I sobbed “Mom… I’m sorry!” I cried over her.
“I.. love… you…” She said… she tried to smile… but she was missing most of her face.. A flame from her lept off of her clothes and seared my eyes.. I couldn’t see..
I curled up in the corner of room behind the desk… my arms at my side because they were covered in my moms blood.. I didn’t want to touch anything… my hands.. me.. I killed my mom! I shook in the corner.. screaming in pain and sorrow
Someone spoke from behind me.
“HEY’ he yelled, “We have to get out! There’s a gas leak!” and he grabbed my hand. I turned towards him and realized he was me.. and I am the monster… I screamed.. and he ran.