“A great North American people believed that understanding the messages in one’s dreams would lead to a better understanding of oneself. A spiritual Grandmother guided dreamers, poking and prodding them until their minds opened to the truths within themselves.”
“He used to call me DN, that stood for deadly night shade.”
Carmen hustled through the doors just before they slammed shut. One hand snagged the pole next to her, the other continued holding her phone. Her thumb hovered over the double arrows. As if trying to influence her decision, the train lurched in that direction but to no avail. Her thumb retracted and she pocketed her phone.
“Cause I was filled with poison, but blessed with beauty and rage.”
The view of her boots was interrupted by the blade of a knife. She looked up.
The character before her was just that, a character, and dressed the part – though Carmen didn’t notice the mustard rain jacket and ketchup cowboy hat, she was lost in the woman’s grin. The grin was warm enough that the knife offered lost the sharp-edge of hostility Carmen had initially perceived.
The strange woman’s gaze weren’t the only eyes on Carmen, nor was her grin the only warmth now enticing her pores to sweat. The heat of a couple dozen sets of stares scolded the back of her neck. Carmen turned to look down the car.
It was completely packed but not a soul was sitting down. And all eyes were on her. And though the passengers came in all shapes and sizes, they bore one thing in common. Their lips were split wide as the blade on the butcher knife that dangled before. The corners of their lips came up to their ears as their smile continued to spread, revealing more and more pearly whites that looked more like fangs than molars. She wanted to look away but couldn’t as something else caught her eye. Behind the crowd was another figure. This figure, like the one that offered the knife, seemed not to be a member of the creepy grinners but he was so drenched in blood it took Carmen a minute to recognize him.
Suddenly, she noticed something else about the passengers. They all held knives. And unlike the knife the woman before her offered, their knives weren’t shiny and clean. Their knives had been inside Papa.
She lunged into the crowd and the smiles turned to frowns. The passengers pivoted. They surged upon Carmen. The blades came in from all angles. Like balled fists, the stabs took the breath out of her, but not through her mouth. As the metal slipped in and out, leaving tunnels in her flesh, her breathe poured out of these wounds, dragged out with the blood that gushed and gushed until there was less Carmen inside of her, than there was outside of her.
And still, they stabbed. And stabbed. And stabbed.
– – –
Carmen woke up.
“This is ultraviolence, ultraviolence…”
Lana was getting worse and worse at her job every day. Snatching her phone, she turned off her alarm then let her head plop face down into her pillow. Part of her wanted to think about the dream but she knew the quicker she got up and moving the quicker she’d forget and it’d be lost to oblivion, tucked away in some forgotten alcove of her consciousness. Good riddance. Dreams are pointless, she thought, I’m not going to let this nightmare get to me. She needed to get up anyways. She had two hours until school started and she wanted to look pretty incase Jim decided to grace 412 with his presence.
He did, plopping into the desk beside her almost a minute after the bell rang to usher in 2nd Block. Oblivious to the teacher’s glare, he turned to Carmen, saluting her with a nod and the pet name he’d awarded her.
See, Jim was a fan of Lana too, which made it all the weirder that his name was Jim and he chose to call her Poison. But, Lana aside, Carmen loved the nickname. She thought it was edgy. Plus, it was a blatant term of endearment coming from Jim because Jim was addicted to poison. Today, his poison went by the name of Satan’s Fountain and it was 160 Proof. Carmen believed Jim to be lying about the ethanol content until she leaned across the aisle so that he could whisper into her ear.
Not only could she taste the alcohol, she could hear it. His whisper made her gag but she bit her tongue and pushed through, allowing only a single tear to slide down her cheek.
“Tiran.” He said.
Unable to speak lest she reveal last night’s dinner, she nodded and sat back up.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” the teacher announced, “I expect the guided notes to be complete when I return.”
It was as if the universe was as big a fan of mischief as Jim.
Not long after the teacher slipped into the teacher’s lounge to enjoy some pre-urination snack machine window shopping, Jim and Carmen stood up and, ignoring the jeers of their peers, strode out of class. They didn’t care. Nor did their classmates, really. Their peers would be more appalled if they had stuck around and did their work. This was who they were. Carmen was Poison and Jim…well, even a Republican could see that his best chance for upward social mobility would require some sort of illicit activity.
Tiran was a park right across the street from 412. It was a beautiful burst of nature in the midst of the concrete jungle in which they lived, though Carmen had never noticed. Even though she lived down the street from 412 and Tiran, she’d only ever gone there during school hours with Jim to drink whatever creatively-labeled rubbing alcohol he happened to be sipping on that day. Satan’s Fountain was the worst yet.
“It’s a bargain, Men.”
No matter what Jim called her, he never called her by her full name. Taking the bottle in her hands, she winced. As if she’d already had her sip. It was supposedly vodka, but the liquid looked cloudy. Jim claimed that was because it was still cold but it sure as hell didn’t feel cold to Carmen.
He continued, “Twice the alcohol for half the price.”
“I think the damage it does to your liver covers the difference.”
Jim reclined, turning sideways to lay across the bench so that his head rested on her lap. The great thing about Tiran was the elevation. Though it looked small from Google Maps, the amount of cut back trails, bridges, and tunnels made it so that every visit seemed like your first. This was one element the two did appreciate about Tiran, it’s maze-like quality. They could find a bench, in the shade, with a view – especially in Autumn, though once again they never noticed – and not have to worry about any passerby’s that might decide to play parent.
“I’ll quit when I turn twenty-one.” Jim said, “Then it won’t be cool anymore.”
“You gonna drink it?”
She sighed. Licked her lips. Put the bottle to her mouth, stoppering it with her tongue – first mistake, that only gave her a sneak peak of the horrible choice she was about to make, but she committed to it nonetheless. She tipped the bottle up, Satan’s Fountain poured down her throat, she yanked the bottle from her lips and gulped. Stars came to her eyes, her breath suddenly bore pens and needles. It tasted like pain. As she reeled, she managed to whisper one word, one question, “Chaser?!”
Suddenly Jim was sitting up, holding the bottle, and his lips were on hers.
When it came to chasers, his kiss was literally the opposite.
– – –
Jim suggested they go back to 412 but Carmen refused. He may not have minded getting the entire school drunk every time he exhaled but Carmen, despite her already unfortunate reputation, would rather keep the rumors founded in assumption instead of actual empirical evidence. She wasn’t used to being a pariah quite yet. Besides, Carmen had more important things to do than guided notes. She wanted to visit Papa. The dream last night, which – despite her best efforts – continued to slip to the forefront of her mind, reminded her of something she’d heard Papa say before.
See, it was Papa that taught her to lucid dream. It’d been his way of justifying not buying her the video game console Mema had promised.
“Just focus, focus yourself to sleep.”
“Focus on what?”
“Nothing, just a feeling, focus on a feeling. Just one. Your strongest one.”
And back then, as it tended to be since, the raw emotion that flowed strongest for Carmen was hatred. It worked. Lying in bed, mulling over and over how much hate she had, not for anything specifically but for everything in general, she would eventually fall asleep. The dream wouldn’t immediately be lucid, they always began with her unaware, but soon something would happen, sparking that inner rage, and as she began to lash out consciousness would come to her. She’d gain control. She’d be able to do anything she wanted until Lana sang her awake in time for school.
That was just about the only positive impact Papa had had on her life, well, it had been positive until she found out she couldn’t stop – until these grinning Creepies started invading her dream-world playground.
Jim didn’t know about her lucid dreaming, but he knew about her Papa and he – basing all his knowledge of Papa off of what Carmen had told him – was not a fan.
“I can’t go in?”
“You smell like alcohol.”
Jim rolled his eyes, “Poison…”
“You reek as bad as me!”
“I could smell like sex and he wouldn’t care.” Carmen snapped, “You’re a boy.”
She slipped inside. Jim wasn’t wrong but Carmen wasn’t either. Foreign smells wouldn’t carry much weight in one of the cell-like suites of the Oleander Geriatric Center. Papa had lived there so long, he couldn’t even smell his own farts. But he could see just fine and, before Carmen could slip inside, he got a glimpse of the pouting delinquent standing in the hall behind her.
“Who was that boy?”
He sat at his desk, sitting sideways in his chair so he could face Carmen. The two bore a horrible resemblance, something that did not go amiss between them.
“He just wants your pussy.”
“Can you fucking not?” Carmen stopped by the bathroom and glanced back at the door, weighing the price she would have to pay in pride against her need for advice.
“You’re as ugly as I am, you know that boy is just using you.”
Carmen turned and walked back towards the door, knowing all the while she wasn’t going to leave.
“I don’t want them to hurt you.”
She stopped with her hand on the knob, whispering to herself, “Like you hurt Mema?”
Papa didn’t hear her.
He asked, “You brought some booze?”
She turned sideways, checking his expression. Blank. As if he’d completely forgotten the bastard boy outside and her apparently vulnerable vagina. There was something about his mental deficiencies – and that clueless look of innocence whether authentic or not – that always convinced her to forgive him.
Striding back into the room, she slid her backpack half off her shoulder so she could rummage through it. She found her flask, filled with the god-awful liquor she got from Jim, and handed it to Papa. He took it without looking up at her.
Papa shrugged, unscrewed the lid, and took a swig. He didn’t even flinch.
“Papa, I gotta question.”
Again, no response. He just sat, hunched over like his spine was made of rubber. His tits sat on his thighs and his belly seemed to bulge out between his legs, surely leaving no room for whatever shriveled tidbits of balls the old man had left. But Carmen knew he was listening.
“The dreams…I know you said it gets to where you can’t but…can you stop them-”
“Stop them?” He barked.
“I wanna sleep.” She lied. Since she started lucid dreaming, even since the Creepies showed up, she’d never slept better. But it wasn’t like Papa deserved honesty, “I feel like I never really fall asleep.”
He paused for a moment. Took another swig. Coughed. Then looked up at her and rattled the flask.
“This. This is your best bet. Drown yourself. Forget it all.”
She reached out to take it and he yanked it back.
He put it to his lips and rocked back, nearly falling backwards off his chair. In catching himself, his lips slipped off the nozzle and liquor poured down his chest.
“Keep it.” Carmen rolled her eyes as she turned towards the door.
“Are ya leaving?”
Carmen started walking out.
“Tell Mema I said-”
She opened the door, looked back and said, “She’s dead.”
“Tell that boy to go fuck-”
She shut the door.
– – –
She didn’t sleep. She sat by the window listening to Lana, sipping from the Satan’s Fountain, and smoking menthol cigarettes. She only stopped to sneak into her brother’s room and steal an Adderall. She took two such breaks, stocking up on the second. He’d notice, just like he’d notice his missing cigarettes. He’d never protest. What would he do? Tell the parents? No. He got vengeance by adding fuel to the rumor fire at 412.
The pills led her mind down undesirable passages. Memories that she kept buried while sober, surfaced, bringing waves of guilt with them.
A torn condom wrapper pinched beneath the seat and the buckle, shimmering in the sun light like pirate treasure.
Mema’s eyes when Carmen asked what it was, holding the greasy foil up for Mema to spot in the rearview mirror.
The muffled yells in the bedroom, unintelligible but audible to Carmen as she sat alone on the sofa pretending to watch cartoons.
The rising sun delivered her from her past, but her present was hardly any better.
412 was hell that day. She counted the minutes until second block but Jim wasn’t there. She left anyways. Walking around Tiran alone, she popped another Adderall. For the first time she began to really notice the beauty around her. She passed by the bench where she and Jim had indulged the day before. Behind the bench, the land dropped abruptly, revealing the field that lay beneath. Such open spaces, it reminded her of her life before the city, her life before what happened to Mema.
There was a couple doing yoga. A college student reading. An old lady trying unsuccessfully to keep her dog from yipping at passerby’s. Beyond them the land shot back up. It came to a peak at the roots of an ash tree. It’s leaves almost seemed to glow red in the noon sunlight. Beyond the tree she could see just a sliver of river then the rocky faces of the Façades on the other side. Intruding Autumn leaves warmed the cold bluffs.
Carmen jumped. She spun around, expecting to see someone else. There was no one else there. Was that me? She couldn’t help but chuckle. She’d forgotten the sound of her own voice. Sure, she spoke plenty, but she couldn’t remember the last time she’d said something, really said something. A statement. An opinion. An expression of actual self rather than a response or a question. It was refreshing.
“…beautiful…” she murmured again.
She spent the rest of the day wandering through Tiran, reveling in the nature around her. Only when the sun began to set did she head back home, returning to the bottle, taking another Adderall, and sucking on a cigarette.
– – –
The train jerked hard, her head hit the pole, and she bounced back into her seat with an acute, “Fuck.”
Immediately, she looked down into her lap to avoid catching a glimpse of the smirks or scowls of those who’d witnessed her mishap.
Sitting next to her was the woman in the pissy rain jacket and bloody cowboy hat, offering another mirror-bladed butcher knife. A voice in her head told her not to but she looked anyways. The other side of the car was packed with passengers, grinning wildly, paused nearly mid thrust, blood dripping from their daggers.
She didn’t look long enough to spot Papa in their midst, instead she shot to her feet. The train skidded to a halt, nearly throwing her to the floor had the woman in the rain jacket not caught her.
The doors snapped open and Carmen shot out.
The platform was packed – packed with Creepies. Their grins were stretching to such an extreme that they were beginning to curve yet again, wrapping around their brows. Their teeth grew longer and longer, slowly consuming their faces until their face was nothing more than crooked, spiraling incisors. The Creepies parted upon seeing her arrival. They had a new victim in tow. It wasn’t Papa.
– – –
Carmen was standing. It was Second Block. The teacher was at the white board, staring at her like a dog that just heard its own fart. Probably a similar expression to her own. There was muffled laughter from her peers, which she actually appreciated. Dead silence would’ve somehow been worse.
Jim tugged at her wrist as he stumbled over his desk then hers, dragging her after him as they hurried out of the classroom.
“I better get those guided no-”
He slammed the door shut behind them as he continued pulling Carmen down the hallway.
“What the fuck was that?” Jim lamented, “Shit, if we weren’t already the talk of school, now we’ll be.”
Carmen said nothing. She yanked her hand away from his but kept following him. They passed a security guard on the way out. He did his best to stop them – his best being an eye roll and a disdainful, “Mm, mm…” – but that only increased their pace. Even less effective were the honks and curses from the oncoming traffic as the King and Queen of Truancy jaywalked their way over to Tiran.
“Jesus,” Jim shook his head as they hustled to find a suitable spot, “if you’re going to have wet dreams about me, at least have the decency to have them at home.”
“You’re the one wanting to fuck, Men, not me.” Jim shrugged.
“Save the bullshit for after we start drinking.”
“No poison today, Poison.”
Jim continued a few more paces before noticing and spinning around. He frowned.
“I thought I was the alcoholic.”
“I thought you were too.”
Jim gestured her on, “Cmon, I gotta show ya something.”
She came. They continued in silence. The park was unusually popular, it took them a good while to find a spot in which Jim was confident they could have a few minutes of privacy. He sat next to her, upright, awkwardly stiff yet simultaneously twitchy.
Is this what Jim’s like sober?
He sat his backpack between his feet, grabbed both zippers, then paused and sat back up. He stared Carmen down for a minute before speaking.
“What was that though?”
“Just a dream.”
“You screamed my name.”
“Yea, it was a nightmare.”
His shoulders sagged and he looked at the rocky cliffside before them, “You’re a real bitch sometimes.”
“You’re a dick all the time.”
“Like…I mean…you didn’t even text me yesterday.”
Carmen was ready to leave. Last night had been as sleepless as the night before. Her head pounded. Her back ached. Her fingertips were ice cubes and the two Adderalls in her flannel pocket were glowing coals against her chest. She said nothing.
“When you’re gone, I text you. Shit. I was the only one who gave a shit about you after your grand-”
“What’d you want to show me?”
He scooted his bag under the bench with his feet.
“Jesus, Jim. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She got up.
He got up, “Wait!”
He snatched the bag out from under the bench, yanked the zippers apart, and dug about in the bag until her found what he was looking for, a small, black, flash drive.
“You’re giving me a flash drive?”
“No, I, uh…I actually need the flash drive back,” he handed it to her, “It’s got the whole discography on there. Everything. From 2010 to now.”
“Thanks.” She muttered.
He frowned, “That’s it?”
“What?” She snapped, “You want me to suck your dick?”
“That’d be a start.” He smirked.
“If that’s the case, then you can have it back now.” She held it back out to him.
“No, seriously,” Jim promised, “just been worried about you recently. I mean…I haven’t seen you like this since…You okay?”
“Go to the liquor store with me?”
She sighed, “Yea.”
– – –
“You bring that boy?”
She shut the door, “No, Papa.”
“You know he just-”
“Just shut the fuck up…” she slid her backpack off her shoulders, sat down on the edge of the bed – slowly, as if she might shatter if she sat too fast – and opened the bag, “…for once, just shut the fuck up.”
He acted like he didn’t hear her as he searched through the collage of trash on his desk until he found the flask. He extended it to her and she began to fill it.
“I don’t know why I even come here.”
“Cause we’re the same people, you and I.”
For a moment her agony subsided to provide room for the sting of his words. The liquor spilled over the sides of the flask, it was full.
“Makina fuckin mess.”
She was too tired to shoot back. She handed him the flask and took a swig from the bottle. He took a swig, lowered the flask to look at her for a moment, then took another swig.
“What?” He asked.
“I wanna sleep.” This time, it wasn’t a lie.
Her posture declined further than it already was. Now she not only resembled Papa biologically but also behaviorally. He squinted at her.
“These…these creepy…creepy people keep taking over my dreams and…and I’m scared to sleep, because I might…because…because maybe I don’t mind them so much anymore…”
She couldn’t look up at him. He began to straighten up, his eyes widening as he did so. His lips began to quiver and his hand shook, spilling more vodka onto the floor. When she did look up, she flinched. She’d never seen the old fuck look so alive. So present. When he spoke he roared, like a bear woken from hibernation a month too soon.
“YOU STAY AWAY FROM THAT BOY!”
“BITCH, YOU LISTEN TO ME!”
He swatted at her then fell back against his desk and the chair slid out from under him. Alcohol splashed all over him but he didn’t even seem to notice he’d dropped the flask. Carmen fumbled to shove the liquor back in her bag while simultaneously watching her grandfather.
“YOU STAY AWAY FROM THAT BOY!”
He tumbled forward onto his belly and began pulling himself towards her.
“YOU’RE ONE OF THEM…ONE OF US!”
She snatched her back pack and bottle off the floor and retracted her feet, rocking back onto his bed, but she’d been to slow. He’d caught one of her ankles.
“YOU AIN’T GOT NO-”
He pulled her off the bed. The floor knocked the wind out of her. Shockwaves of pain ricocheted between her temple and her nerve endings.
“-MEMA IN YOU, BITCH!”
She could feel him pulling himself forward, scooting over her legs like a walrus, crushing her feet.
“YOU ME, GIRL, YOU ME.”
“What the fuck!”
Yanking a foot free, she kicked at him but he batted the foot away. She kicked again, this time he grabbed her foot.
“AND ITS OUR FAULT!”
She’d pried another foot lose from the folds of his fat. She started kicking at the hand that held her other foot.
His head reared back. His mouth opened wide. She saw rows and rows of sharp, arrowhead-like teeth, but she was no longer scared.
Even as he bit down on her ankle. She was furious, but not frightened.
She sat up, lifted the Satan’s Fountain, and smashed it against the old man’s head.
Papa fell limp. She yanked her foot free, crawled backwards towards the door, then stopped short. “Our fault”? she thought, How is it “our fault”? Her top lip curled back as she began to snarl, looking at Papa’s sweat-slimed scalp. A shadow shifted over the old bastard’s skull, Carmen looked instinctively up. Though still too enraged to feel fear, a shockwave of a memory stabbed her consciousness and for a second she remembered what it felt like to be terrified, to be absolutely devastated, to be rendered dead while still being alive.
Mema hung above her. Pivoting in the air like a wind chime. Her head hung loose, dangling from the lip of the noose.
Just like Carmen had found her years ago.
The front door was locked. Her bookbag was heavy, so she went ahead and took it off and placed it beside the doormat. She could feel the tension like the static before the shock.
Carmen stepped off the porch. That chilly, Upstate breeze nipped at the nape of her neck, tugging her lochs, coaxing her forward. She abided, moseying around the side of the house, down the slope, and into the backyard. She saw something she’d thought was a piñata, hanging from the deck.
She knew it wasn’t, but her mind wasn’t yet capable of processing it.
She even giggled as she skipped over to stand below it on the patio.
It was like someone tied a bag of bricks to her soul then dropped the sack into a bottomless pit. She sat there, crumpled beneath Mema, until a cold shout shook her back to life.
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!”
Carmen blinked. Beside her, in the bathroom doorway, stood the woman in the golden jacket and ruby hat. Her smile warmed Carmen’s soul, just like Mema’s smile once had, but her wide eyes and furled brow reiterated the urgency of her previous statement.
“Wake up, Carmen.”
She looked back down at Papa. No longer was he lying face down. His head was turned sideways. It was vibrating. Not as if he was having a seizure but like a hornet’s nest seems to rattle after having been struck by a foul ball. His eyes were hidden in a thickening stream of sweat, vodka, and blood that poured down from his brow. His lips were curved in a crescent moon smirk. A smirk that began odd but grew into something far more than odd as the corner of his lips continued to stretch up past his cheeks. His arms slowly got into pushup position. He pushed himself up, making it about three inches before collapsing back down to the floor and starting the process over again.
She turned. The woman held two things, neither of which was a knife. In one hand, she had a bottle of the Satan’s Fountain. In the other, a box of matches. The woman nodded.
“What have I done?” Carmen muttered, taking the 160 Proof and twisting off the cap, “It’s our fault?”
She began to pour the putrid liquid out on Papa’s head. It hissed as it hit his flesh. Steam rose from his scalp. He squealed like a branded pig, squirming helplessly on the floor of the Geriatric Center. Satisfied, Carmen put the cap back on and stuck the bottle back in her bag before turning back to the woman and taking the matches.
“I didn’t do shit, Papa.” Carmen snapped.
Papa had managed to push himself up a foot or two and was just starting to get a knee beneath him. His maniacal grin was hidden in the goo that had become of his head as the vodka continued to melt his flesh.
“You killed Mema, Papa, you killed her.”
She struck the match and flicked it into his face.
– – –
For the third night in a row, she resisted the urge to sleep. Everything hurt. The liquor numbed the pain, but she could still feel it there, dormant. She snuck into her brother’s room but couldn’t find his pills or his cigarettes. She stood in her doorway for what seemed like an hour, listening to Lana’s lullabies.
“He hit me and it felt like a kiss.”
Her best efforts began to fail. Her eyelids drooped. Her knees began to wobble.
“I can hear violins, violins.”
There was a peck at the window.
She didn’t look, not at first. She knew what she’d see. She could already see it in her mind’s eye: the Creepies, loitering on her fire escape, leaving red polka dots each time they poked the window with their bloody daggers. A night ago, it would have terrified her. She would’ve ran, hidden in a closet or locked herself in the bathroom, but she was past that point.
Plucking the earbuds out of her ears, she took a deep breath then turn to face the window.
Jim stood on the fire escape, clunking the cap of Satan’s Fountain against her window pane. He gave her a wink.
She staggered over to the window, pressed in the tabs, and lifted the frame. It squealed in protest. She was hardly able to open it more than a foot before giving up, spinning, and collapsing on her bed. Jim pushed it open the rest of the way and slipped in.
“You waitin up on me?” Jim snickered, “Standing there like a statue-”
“I can’t sleep.” She mumbled.
“Let’s try turning off the lights, for starters.”
Jim closed the bedroom door and cut off the lights.
“No…” She murmured, the world reeling around her, a light show going off behind her eyelids “…I can’t go to sleep.”
Jim kept talking but Carmen stopped hearing. She had fallen into a world of darkness and silence. A split second before she succumbed to sleep’s seductive siren song, sound broke into the abyss that had consumed her consciousness. It was faint, but it was there. A low rumbling. Faint flashing lights bounced off and on in the distance. A storm is coming, she thought, but as the sounds grew louder and the sights came closer a moment of clarity pushed its way to the forefront of her fading consciousness: the Creepies!
“I can’t sleep!”
Her bedroom was dark.
“Let me help, Poison.”
His voice sent a shiver down her spine. She’d forgotten Jim was there. A nozzle wiggled its way between her lips. She closed her eyes as magma began to fill her mouth. She swallowed.
The fire inside her didn’t budge.
She opened her eyes. Even in the darkness, she could tell that it wasn’t a bottle she kissed, it was Jim. The lava was his tongue, prying her mouth open as it thrust deeper, poking and prodding her cheeks, her gums, her throat. It felt like a worm, a giant grub, searching for a place to burry itself inside her.
All the while, the universe was tumbling around her. She clung tight to the sheets beneath her, afraid that if she let go she might fall to the roof. I’m dying, she thought, I’m dying. She could feel Jim’s weight shift on top of her.
She couldn’t breathe.
She panicked, biting down. Blood filled her mouth. His hands clamped either side of her head, squeezing her temple, releasing a meteor shower behind her eyelids. The thunderous roars of a pride of lions battered her eardrums. Then silence and darkness. A spinning darkness. As if her bed was no longer beneath her. She was being sucked into a whirlpool, pulled through a dark hole, entering an existence beyond time and space. There was nothing to hold on to, nothing stable, nothing except the firm weight of the man on top of her – pummeling her, pounding her into that black ether that swirled around her.
– – –
It wasn’t sleep. It was more like a kind of paralysis or coma. Like she’d been awake the whole time, but her consciousness had looked the other way, acting as if it could ignore what was happening. When it came back, when she found herself able to move again, she was alone.
She sat up. Pain shot through her body like a lightning bolt. Every inch of her flesh was on fire. Even her bones were sore.
What happened last night?
Then she remembered her visit with Papa.
What happened yesterday?!
She remembered coming home after that. She remembered standing in her doorway, fighting sleep with what little will power she had left but, after that, she couldn’t recall much else.
Trembling, she got up off her bed and approached her mirror. Her face was rosy. It was a peculiar rosiness and as she got up closer to the mirror and turned on the light she saw why. It was blood. Her face was smeared with blood. Smeared so thin in some places it looked like blush but coalescing in other areas that it looked almost black, with a texture like cracking paint, and it was these smudges that gave it away. It wasn’t just on her face either. The nape of her neck. Her collar bones. Her upper arms. Her breasts.
Memory began to trickle back to her. And with them came the Creepies. They slid through her window as if it where but a liquid film. They crawled like crabs out of her closet, twisting their heads like owls as they appraised her. She didn’t look at them, but she wasn’t scared of them either.
“Second Block starts in fifteen,” the woman in the lightning jacket and lava hat stated, standing behind Carmen in the mirror.
When Carmen had come to, she’d had no intention of going to school, but there was something she needed to do. The Creepies followed her down the sidewalk. She couldn’t tell if the stares were directed towards her or the maniacally grinning goons stumbling to stay in her shadow.
She arrived at 412, by one of the backdoors, just as the bell rang. She was about to knock when the door was flung open. She had to jump back to not get swatted by the heavy metal slab. Jim stood in the doorway.
“Poison…” he muttered, with a slight lisp.
She strode forward and slapped him. He staggered back. She marched inside.
A crowd was beginning to form around the two, preventing Jim from his backwards retreat. Carmen walked right up to him, standing so close that their breathes collided. She didn’t say a word. Their peers around them snickered at first, looking at Jim’s paling complexion, but the laughs stopped short when their eyes fell on Carmen. She hadn’t showered before leaving home. Even if she had, without the blood, the bruises would’ve been revealed. They were no longer there to watch Jim’s humiliation, instead, they remained out of concern for Carmen. Finally, Jim broke the spell. He grabbed her by the wrist and walked past her in an attempt to drag her outside.
She didn’t budge.
“C’mon, let’s go to Tiran where we can talk-”
“Talk?” Carmen asked.
He continued to tug, pleading, “Yea, you know…about what happened…listen I wasn’t in my right mind…you know you didn’t…I mean…”
He kept rambling, yanking her wrist and leaning towards the door. Carmen watched the door open. The Creepies were coming in. They mixed in with the other students, standing unnoticed amongst them, their faces, completely contorted by teeth so much so that their fangs begin fall from their jaws as more came into existence.
The women was with them too. She broke the ring of peers and moved behind Jim. No one, not even Jim, seemed to see her as she slowly unzipped the boy’s backpack to lift out a bottle of Satan’s Fountain.
“I mean, what did you think I was going to think when you opened that window?”
The woman walked around Jim to present the bottle to Carmen.
“Take it.” She said.
“Poison. Men, let’s be honest. C’mon. We’ve gotta problem, you and I, we need to tone it down,” his eyes fell to the battle that she’d now taken in her hands, holding it by the neck, “Men?”
She swung. He brought his arm up and their forearm’s collided, knocking the bottle out of her hands. It crashed against the floor.
“You fuckin bitch!”
Jim shoved her then turned to run but the ring of students around him was even tighter. They were no longer students. They’d become something else. Their brows were no longer furled in concern nor where their lips curled into frowns. No, now they smiled.
Carmen had fallen on the floor after Jim had pushed her. She’d slipped in the vodka that pooled around the shattered remains of the liquor bottle. The neck was surprisingly still intact. It remained one solid piece almost halfway down one of the corners of the square-bottomed bottle, but where it finally broke, it broke sharp. She picked it up.
“C’mon Poison, don’t act like this.”
Carmen got to her feet.
“Men, chill out, it wasn’t like that!”
“Shut the fuck up.” She whispered.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t want it-”
His mouth opened but nothing came out. The wind was stolen from his vocal cords as it poured out with the blood that now flowed down the glass shaft of the broken bottle and out the mouth of Satan’s Fountain. Letting go of the bottle, Jim staggered then fell backwards. He continued to gape – like a fish out of water – as his wide eyes watched her.
She wasn’t watching him though. She’d looked up at her comrades, the Creepies. They leaned forward, twisting and bending themselves as teeth continued to spill out of their faces, their heads oriented towards Carmen despite the fact that their eyes were long gone. They were leash-aggressive dogs and Carmen held a metaphysical pair of scissors. She nodded and they swarmed in upon Jim, tearing him up into little shreds like a school of piranhas.
Ignoring his screams, she marched around the commotion, and out the doors. She crossed the street. She hiked up the slopes of Tiran Park. She was going nowhere in particular, just anywhere away from 412 – more specifically: anywhere away from Jim. Though she did stop in an area of some significance – beside the bench where Jim had first introduced her to Satan’s Fountain – it was not on purpose. She stopped because of a sound.
The noise had begun as a dull roar, behind her ear drums, not much more significant than the squealing buzz mosquitoes hovering around her head, but it grew. Like rolling thunder, it rose and fell. Rumbling louder then softer then rolling into big, rhythmic thumps. She began to fixate on the sound. It was so familiar yet so alien – not because it was unrecognizable but because it didn’t belong – it was the sound of a train barreling through the subway tunnels.
The sound was no longer inside her head. It echoed all around her. Bouncing of the cliff to her right and resounding through the valley that sloped down to her left. Her eyes followed the echo, running over the bench she and Jim had once shared, the ash tree on the crest of the slope far in the distance, and the leafy bluffs across the river.
“Beautiful…” she murmured.
Carmen wasn’t shocked. Shock was a sensation that had now been expelled from her realm of experienceable phenomena. She was, however, curious. Turning to the woman in the golden rain jacket and ruby cowboy hat, she asked, “Who are you?”
“The Therapist.” The woman tipped the brim of her hat and grinned. It was not a grin like the Creepies, it was a warm grin, one that somehow seemed to validate her claim.
“The Therapist?” Carmen murmured.
“Yes!” Having established herself to Carmen, The Therapist then posed her own question, “Are dreams pointless?”
Carmen was taken aback. It wasn’t shock, but it was something, part offense and part shame. Of course they are, she thought but, then again, if dreams were so meaningless then why was it that she refused to sleep?
She was saved from her own introspection as the world around her shifted. The pavement beneath her crumbled as blades of grass shot up through the concrete. The valley sprawling out to her left rose, leveling with the land she stood upon. The trees sunk into the ground and stone obelisks took their place, standing nowhere near as high but just as pale and bleak as the trunks they replaced. Amidst the miniature forest of stone tablets, was a quiet crowd of humanoid figures. Silhouettes. All dressed in black from head to toe. They clustered around an oblong box, listening to a man in polyester robes read comforting mythology.
The Therapist asked again, “Are dreams pointless?”
Carmen wasn’t listening.
Papa. She didn’t know why she thought it but that was her first thought when she saw the coffin. Jim. That was her second thought. The coffin was far too small for it to have belonged to her bulbous grandfather. Either way, Papa or Jim, she wasn’t sad. Granted, she wasn’t happy either. A third thought struck her.
Is this my own funeral?
“Are nightmares pointless – or fear, for that matter?”
The Therapist’s question pulled her out of her thoughts, this was an easier one to tackle than the previous question. Carmen said, “Fear keeps us safe. Keeps us from doing stupid stuff.”
“Stupid stuff like…”
“Like stuff that’ll getcha killed.”
“Stuff like smoking, drinking, pill popping and not sleeping?”
Shadowy faced loved ones began to lower the coffin into its grave.
The Therapist continued, “Nightmares show us the fears we have that don’t keep us safe – the fears that lead us to do stupid stuff – the fears we must overcome. Dreams console us, make us complacent. Nightmares terrify us, they test us.”
As the coffin slipped into the ground, the ground fell out from under Carmen and the Therapist. Blackness swept in to replace the world, the universe. They were in a freefall, sky diving through nothingness.
“You’re in a dream.”
Carmen rolled over, wind whipping the air in and out of her lungs, she couldn’t speak, she could hardly see, but she did her best to watch the woman falling beside her.
“Who is to tell you who you are within the confines of your own mind?”
A series of flashes caught her attention below them. Looking down, Carmen could see a worm-like shape shooting like a lightning bolt, jaggedly forward. Others soon joined it, criss-crossing the first, over and under. They thundered as they barreled through the earth, squealing like cats in heat and thudding like a drummer’s beat. Whatever the strange surging tubular demons were, Carmen and The Therapist would soon crash into the midst of them.
“Then why should you let them get away with it in real life?”
They slammed into one of the worm-like creatures only for Carmen to find it was hardly worm-like at all. It was a train. She was sitting in a subway car. Turning to look at the eccentrically dressed woman sitting beside her, she heard those words that had previously been so haunting-
-but this time she took it.
She took the butcher knife and, planting her feet firmly as the car rumbled forever onwards, stood to face the Creepies. They stood, frozen, watching with wild eyes that soon disappeared behind waves and waves of fangs. She stepped forward. They stepped aside. There was Papa, at the end of the train, eyes wide and body drenched in sweat. Despite his obvious terror, his lips curled in a spiteful snarl.
“It’s your fault, you stupid bitch, you killed her!”
Carmen took another step forward. The lights went out for a moment. She took another step. They came back on. Everything was the same – The Therapist standing watch behind her, the Creepies standing frozen around her – but Papa was no longer sitting at the end of the train. He had been replaced. Now it was Jim. Jim with that pitiful, puppy dog, guilt-provoking pout.
“You wanted it, Poison, you fucking slut!”
Another step. The lights went out again, but this time they wouldn’t come back on. This time, when Carmen took another step, the Creepies around her took that step too. And as she raised the dagger, she couldn’t help but grin.