Deathlight

I first saw the light when I was 6, when we were gathered around my 98-year-old grandmother’s bed in the nursing home, surrounded by stale air and signs of old age. It appeared above her head and danced ever so slightly back and forth, like a tiny firefly.

“Do you see that?” I asked my kid brother, Jamie. Mother was holding Grandma’s hand. Dad was crying.

“See what?” Jamie said. Then Grandma let out one final sound and left us forever.

That was when I first knew I was special.

I’ve seen the light many times over my life since then, always appearing just before. I saw a dot of illumination right above Tommy Conway in 8th Grade, right before he got hit by a speeding car as we walked home from school. I shouted but I was too late. My parents said it was a miracle I survived.

I saw the light over and over in Afghanistan; above a new kid’s head right before he took a bullet from a sniper, hovering over Lt. Austin’s helmet while he tried to defuse an IED – my right ear still rings with tinnitus from time to time, above countless men on the other side before I watched them shot dead or blown into millions of pieces.

I’ve retired now, after all that happened, gone back into civilian work but a line no less dangerous. Some of it’s easy and safe, and some of it isn’t, but either way it’s never simple.

Brink and I are standing next to my car in an empty parking lot, the meeting point. One lonely streetlight far away casts the only brightness in a sea of black. He’s a little shaky – the men we’re to meet were said to have Cartel ties.

A Hummer pulls into the lot from the other end, loud rap music blaring out of open windows.

“You ready?” I say.

“Yeah,” says Brink.

I look down at my hands, and see they are shaking too – and faintly illuminated in the darkness with a dancing light from above.

Backward

Do you remember the first day of your life? I do.

I was 32. I woke up on the street. There were police cars and firefighters and EMTs and blood and broken glass everywhere. I was lying on the tarmac. The first words I heard weren’t those of a doctor. They weren’t the cooing sounds of my overjoyed mother, having just gone through the ordeal of childbirth and basking in the beauty of her newborn son. They were of a fireman, buried beneath his brown suit and helmet and bulky equipment, standing overtop of me.

“Sir?” he was saying, as my vision blurred into focus. “Sir, can you hear me? Sir, are you alright?” He was waving his hand above my face, above my line of sight.

I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know how I’d gotten there. I didn’t remember anything.

Do you know what it’s like to be truly alone? To never really be able to connect with someone? I do. Because every conversation I have is disposable. Because no one remembers anything I say to them. And all the things they remember haven’t happened yet, so I stumble through life, confused and disoriented.

The first day is coming, the one day, in the future, of my birth. Or unbirth. I’m not sure what will happen. But I know now it’s true what they say – that every living creature is born and dies alone. I just wish it wasn’t that way for me all in between.

I know the day exactly. I just wonder if there’s any point in holding on until then.

500 sq ft.

I’m trapped in my apartment.

When I woke up the other morning and tried to make my way to work, I found the front door impassable. It wasn’t locked. It wasn’t bolted shut. It had simply ceased to be a door. The handle was there and would turn and I could hear the pieces moving within the lockset, but it would not budge. It was like a wall.

The door to my balcony was the same, and all the windows were sealed shut. I couldn’t even get a fingernail into the cracks of them.

Outside, rain fell, but the streets are empty, deserted. There wasn’t a soul to be seen. No traffic. Not a bird in the grey sky.

It’s been four weeks now. There’s new food in my fridge each day I open it. The plumbing and lighting and TV still work, thank God, otherwise I’d have gone out of my mind. But I’m trapped. Something is different, something has fundamentally changed. And what terrifies me is not that I am trapped, but that perhaps one day I’ll die in here without ever having found out why.

That Evening in the Restaurant

“It really does have atmosphere,” Cynthia Cruthers said, sipping her wine. “I can see what all the fuss is about.”

“Yes, I’m glad we finally got a chance to make it here,” Reginald, her husband of twenty years, replied. “It really is delectable. All the reviews I’ve read of the place just simply haven’t done it justice.”

“Yes, yes,” Francis said. Francis was a movie critic, and had joined the Cruthers only because they were the only way he’d ever get to eat at Le Chez des Desiree, given how new and trendy a restaurant it was.

Suddenly the garçon appeared, coming over while Reginald was in mid-sip of his chardonnay. He brought the tray, with one crisp white envelope upon it, sitting quite unnaturally in the center of the brown circular piece of plastic.

“Madames et Monsieurs,” he said, in an affected French accent. “This came for you.”

“Pardon mois?” Reginald replied, in an equally appalling fake French accent. “Mail? In a restaurant? How deliciously absurd! How could this be for us? Surely no one knows we are here?”

“Mais non, Monsieur,” said the garçon, continuing in the absurdity, “it is addressed to you and your wife. See,” he said, holding the envelope up to face them. “Le party Cruthers. C’est tu.”

“C’est vrai,” Mr. Cruthers replied, sighing.

“Knock it off, Reggie,” Mrs. Cruthers replied harshly. “Let’s see what’s in that envelope already. And garçon, bring me more of this pigswill you call wine.”

The garçon fumed and flushed a shade of bright red. “Right away, Madame,” he said, and turned, the coattails of his white tuxedo fluttering behind him. As he entered the kitchen he uttered a string of profanities reserved for Mrs. Cruthers and Mrs. Cruthers alone, mostly starting with the letter ‘c’.

“Open it, already, Reginald!” Francis said, lighting his pipe. “Whatever could it be? How unconventional, receiving mail in a restaurant while dining out, well I never!” He puffed and puffed.

Reginald Cruthers tore open the package as his fellow diners sat around him with expectation. Finally, the last bits of white envelope and came off to reveal…. a phone. A flat, candybar cell phone, the old kind that no one carried anymore these days and no one had for many years.

“How odd,” Reginald’s wife said. “Reggie, what is this? What does it mean?”

Suddenly, the phone rang loudly, its digital ringtone both oppressive and antiquated. Other patrons in the restaurant stared. A woman dropped her spoon back into her pea soup.

Reginald answered. “Hello?” he said, not knowing quite what to expect.

The voice on the other end of the line was cold and lifeless, and the words chilled Cruthers to the bone when he heard them.

“Reginald Cruthers,” the voice said, “in three days, you will die.”

Then there was the only the sound of the phone being hung up on the other end of the receiver, and the cold, heartless drone of its dial tone.

Shadowbanned

It started like a regular day at the office. But then when I went to the weekly team meeting, no one seemed to be paying any attention any to me.

I came in 5 minutes late and everyone just kept watching Darren make the presentation. No one made eye contact. And when I raised my hand to speak he simply ignored me. Later I started to talk – “Guys, I think…” – but no one noticed. Janet spoke right over me and the meeting continued.

“Guys, why aren’t you listening to me?” I said. The meeting continued as if I wasn’t there. This was surreal. “Hey, everyone!” I said, waving my hands. “What the hell, guys? I’m talking here!” Janet continued extolling the virtues of the new management framework she wanted us to adopt.

“They can’t hear you,” said a voice. I looked down to see a man sprawled out on the floor, dressed in office clothes like mine, only old and dirty. Where the hell had he come from? “Just like they can’t hear me.”

“What’s going on?” I said. “Why can’t anyone see or hear me? And how come you can? Are we dead?”

“We’re not dead,” he said, staring up at the ceiling. “Just different now. We don’t exist to them, only ourselves, and you’d never know it until someone told you. Took me a long time to figure that out. Guess you’re lucky that way.”

“How? How can this be happening?”

The man stood and stared at me. “You’re asking the wrong question,” he said. “There’s only question you should be asking and that question is not how, but ‘why?’”

Reflection

Yesterday I awoke
To find my reflection in the mirror
twisted
bloated
disfigured
monstrous

I feared the worst
but no one noticed
not one on the train
nor the drones at work
not even my wife
only I could see

Now each morning
I awake to find myself
the same abomination
or worse

With every lie I tell
each person I hurt
My face grows more horrible
disgusting
repugnant
inhuman

What I fear most now
is not the face in the mirror
but the knowing
that one day I’ll awake
and find
that everyone else
can see it too

Hindsight

“My chest!” I cried through the pain. “Oh God, it’s like something’s crushing my chest!”

A small white-haired man entered the room, clad in a tweed jacket and tortoise-shell spectacles. He hovered over the bed and peered down at me disapprovingly.

“Please! Help me! Oh god, I think I’m dying!” I reached out my hand out toward him, but could barely do so – the pain was spreading into my arm and numbing it. My chest felt like it was being crushed by a thousand tons.

“Yes, that you would,” the cross man said, sitting next to me on the bed. “But did you ever stop and really think? At all? Ever, in your life?” He made no effort to hide his disgust.

“Please…”

“Did you ever think about what it all meant, Sean?” How did he know my name? “Did it ever” – he stood again, his voice raised now, anger coloring his words – “occur to you whether every magazine you read, every beer you drank, every material possession you so carefully amassed, every minute of television you watched,” – louder and angrier, he paced furiously now – “every photo you took, every goddamn click and text and phone call and email and word you spoke ever really meant anything? Or did you just spend your whole life pushing everyone away while you focused on the things that didn’t matter?”

“Help me!” I cried again. “Whoever you are, please help me!”

“I can’t help you,” he said. “Your time is up. But I’ll be seeing you soon.”

He walked to the door and slowly closed it behind him, and the hinges squealed in protest.

Anybody Home?

“Honey, I’m home!” The door slammed shut behind me and I kicked off my boots onto the plastic mat.

“Maggie? Are you home? Hello!” I called out but there was no reply. The hallway was cold and the house empty and silent.

“Maggie?” I checked the kitchen but it was devoid of life. No note or anything either. The living room was silent and still as well. Oh, well perhaps she’s upstairs and just didn’t hear me.

“Honey?” Not in the study. The door to the bathroom at the end of the hall was open, showing the dark blue tile of the wall.

I entered the bedroom and froze. My blood turned to ice in my veins.

On the bed, draped beneath the white shroud of the sheets, was the shape of a body. It lay straight on the mattress like a soldier, head at the headboard, feet at the footboard, arms at the sides beneath the cloth draped overtop.

I found my voice. “M-m-m-m-m…aggie?”

The shape did not move. Slowly, with great trepidation, part of me not truly believing what was happening, I bent down and grabbed the base of the sheet and began to pull, terrified of what I would find beneath.

As the white cloth slid over the contours of what lay below it, the room distorted and bent around me. My cold blood suddenly sang in my arteries and roared in my ears.

The body beneath the sheet wasn’t Maggie. It was me.

Narration