The Sound

The beat was always in her head. She could hear it while she drifted off to sleep. It flowed through her while she worked during the day, syncing up to her footsteps and the rhythm of her heart. Her words were shaped by it, and her thoughts danced around to it.

The sound wanted desperately to get out, and it made her feel like a caged animal. She felt pent up, wound up, and torn up inside. If she didn’t set it free, it would destroy her; it would consume her like a bird in flame. The sounds and the words only her soul seemed able to express demanded to be released from within and set loose upon the world.

She couldn’t hold a conversation, and people told her she had a problem. She was constantly changing the subject, her thoughts and words being swept away and guided along hither and yon by the beat inside. Few seemed to care, and fewer still seemed to understand. It was a curse, a sickness, a weakness to those who saw her, judged her, cast her aside. It was deemed a handicap, though it would prove to be her greatest strength.

It was the look in her eye, it was the way she walked, it was the syncopation of her words; it ruled her, and was involved in every aspect of who she was, woven through every fiber of her being. She heard the sounds in utter silence, and could not drown them out in the greatest of noise. For the beat, the sound, was living deep within her, and commanded her attention.

She kept mostly to herself, confused and embarrassed by this gift. She wore it like a cross, and hid it like shame, unaware of the power it truly gave her. Never having an explanation or a reason for why it coursed through her more thoroughly than the blood in her veins; it was closer than the air in her lungs, so real and tangible in her thoughts, she almost saw it when she closed her eyes. Such a powerful sound that it shook her awake in the middle of the night, and kept her awake for days, pondering ways to let this unrelenting force free from its cage within her chest.

She filled the pages of empty books with its words, and transcribed the sounds that transcended words in the best way she could. She began to seek out others who were also possessed by the Sound, so that she could further understand it, and how to control it. But they said it could not be understood, tamed, or controlled. It is a wild, unbridled force, unyielding and beyond comprehension.

Like a wildfire, it burned through its hosts, causing them to say and do things most would or could not. It made them bold, and it made them strange. When the Sound made itself known, there was no way to anticipate what would happen, or what would be created.

And that was the only thing anyone knew about the Sound: that it was a force of creation. It took silence and wove it into a symphony. The Sound flashed like lightning from the fingertips and thunder from the tongue, forcing its way out through even the very pores of its host, for it refused to go unheard. The magic inside could not, by its very nature, remain unplayed, the song unsung. The Sound will not be unnoticed, and it will not move on until it has shaken the host, and the audience, to the core.

Hangover

“Ugh…”

The noise came forth unbidden from somewhere within him as he rolled over in bed. He knew he needed to drink something, something other than the fire water that had brought him to this point, if he wanted to feel better at all today. Alcohol is a sneaky one; your first few times, you can get completely obliterated, and then you’re ready to run a marathon three hours later. After you’ve had your fun with her, after getting to know what drunkenness tastes like, she’ll turn on you; crashing headaches, queasiness, stiff and sore muscles…you feel like you’ve been hit by a train. You’re not sure you could run to the bathroom if you needed to, let alone a marathon.

He pulled the pillow over his eyes. “I’ll just sleep a little while longer before I take care of myself,” he thought. “No need to move just yet…”

The pillow may have been blocking all light from his eyes, but it was unable to block the sounds as they assaulted to his ears. Children were playing, birds were singing, and dogs were barking. It seemed the rest of the world took no pity on him in his pathetic state.

He sighed. Why did he do this to himself?

He chuckled. “Because getting to this point is fun, right?”

Well, not really. Sometimes, yes, but most of the time, there was a different reason…

“I was just trying to find the genie,” he thought. “I rubbed the bottle and he never came out. After a while, I decided to go in after him.”

The voice in his head sighed; if his internal monologue had eyes, it would have rolled them. “Did you find him?” he asked himself sarcastically.

“No, he must have moved; made it all the way to the bottom before I realized he wasn’t there…”

It dawned on him that he was still drunk; he was having a full-blown conversation with himself, and to top it all off, he was giving himself sass.

He sat up gingerly, suddenly noticing how incredibly parched he was. He sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the door, willing himself to have the strength to walk downstairs and to the kitchen.

“One of these days, this is going to kill me,” he said.

The sarcastic side of his brain responded immediately.

“You know, you’re never going to be able to drown your demons like this. You can’t kill your enemy by drinking the poison yourself.”

True; there would have to come a day when he at least pretended to be an adult and faced his fears head on instead of popping the cap of a bottle of whiskey and shoving them inside it. That day, however, was not this one. At that given moment, he needed to hurl; personal growth and self-exploration would have to wait a while longer.

Remember Me As A Time Of Day

There aren’t very many up-sides to working the overnight shift. Your sleep schedule is always out of whack, when people want to do stuff and hang out you’re usually working, and it is damn near impossible to eat healthy, since your body never knows when you’re supposed to be hungry. However…there is a moment every morning that somewhat makes up for all the slight inconveniences that come along with being awake all night.

It’s a short period of time that I eagerly await. After my duties are complete, there is a span of about an hour where nothing needs to be accomplished, and I can sit in the parking lot and watch the sky. The air is still brisk, and the world is quiet, as the sun begins to rise. As the first beams of bronze and gold burst forth into the sky, and the darkness that has settled in on this dirty little town flees, the world appears peaceful. You can feel as the dawn approaches, and then suddenly, it arrives with royal grace.

Birds sing quietly amongst themselves, the earliest of the early risers just barely begin to shake their slumbering heads, and things are…good. The cacophony that seems to never end is strangely absent, the orchestra of anarchy that rules this world pauses to take a breath; it is as if the universe takes a moment each day before the onslaught of man to remind itself that not all its beauty has been stolen or tarnished, and that there is still good left within.

It reminds me that, despite the madness that runs rampant, and despite the hyper-destructive tendencies of our disgusting species, there are beautiful things that cannot be snuffed out. There are things that even we, a race hell-bent on obliterating anything we cannot enslave, are not able to wipe out. It lends me hope that perhaps some of that untarnished, immortal beauty still rests somewhere within each beating heart on this planet.

If there is a heaven, this is what it will be like, because this is the closest thing to holiness and perfection I will ever experience in this life.

Under the Top Hat

Pull up a chair and pour yourself some tea; we have much to discuss. You see, I have had you all fooled; I am not who you think I am.

My mind is splintered, broken far beyond repair…yet…my madness is both my weakness and my strength.

On the surface, I say nothing; within, a cacophony of voices ring out, all clamoring for my attention. Thousands upon thousands of fractured souls, all bound up within my own; voices yearning, desperate to find a listening ear. They call to me, at all hours of the day and night. They make it hard for me to pay attention, difficult to keep my focus. They distract my days and they arrest my dreams, forcing me to listen to them even while I sleep. They wake me often, driving me to write down the things they say as I come rocketing out of a dream and back into what I am told is the real world.

They torture me, shredding my mind and pulling my attention in a million different directions at once. And yet…

I put them all to the page, one by one, planting them all in their proper places. I assault the keys, arranging letters and scribbles on the screen until each of them is given a home outside my head.

And what does this make me; who does this make me? My ego says I am the architect, the creator, the Weaver of Dreams, the ALPHA AND THE OMEGA! But…no, I am nothing. I am simply a scribe, carefully putting to the parchment the words of those who occupy my mind.

I have never had an original thought; they have all been handed to me by one of my visitors. My imaginary friends tell me things; they tell me fantastic stories, and I feel the unquenchable desire to share their adventures. The things they do and the places they go, they are things worth hearing about…or at least I like to think so.

I do not live in this world. I am never here; my body is present, but my mind is rarely resting in reality for very long. Often I find myself spirited away by these gripping tales, my eyes glazed over, open and yet blind to what is around me. I live in places where dragons breathe fire, gods wage wars in the skies, and someone is always unexpectedly caught up in the storm.

I am these voices. I am the most evil of men, hell-bent on crushing all living beings under my boots. I am the bravest of heroes, facing the darkness with nothing but a blade and my wits. I am the people passing by, in one scene and gone the next. I am the story. Bound up in every dot and tittle I write is a piece of me; the words might as well be written in my own blood. Each voice, every character, is a small part of me, each one a little shard of me. When gathered together, we are a right mess, a terrible sight to behold. However, we are more than the sum of our parts…that is what we would like to believe, anyway.

I am broken, I am fractured, and I am many. Without these words, without this medium of expression, I am a disaster. With pen in hand, however, I am whatever I choose to be.

I like it this way. It is never boring inside my skull.

You may see a man who is, for the most part, holding himself together. You are utterly mistaken. You may see a man whose mind is powered by the sparks of insanity. You have not the foggiest idea how far down the rabbit hole I reside. I am off the map, wandering uncharted territory, in places unknown yet somehow familiar.

The fact of the matter is, the madness within is barely contained under the brim of this big top hat; you simply have not realized it yet.

 

What is Forged Through Force and Fury

“Have you ever broken in a horse, Mr. Caplan?”

The man who asked the question had no known name; he was known as the Breaker of Backs, the Bender of Knees, the Enslaver and Manipulator of the people…he called himself the Forge.

The Forge stood several feet from Mr. Caplan, wiping blood from his hands, wearing a sly, wicked grin. Caplan was suspended from the ceiling, hanging from straps around his wrists. His toes barely brushed against the floor as he swung ever so slightly. At least he wasn’t spinning anymore; the last hit he had taken had sent him on a twirl that would make an ice dancer dizzy. His left eye was swollen shut from a punch earlier in the day. He could feel his hair was matted down, though from sweat or blood, he was unsure. He could feel broken bones shifting and grinding, and sockets stretched beyond their limits. It surprised him that he was still conscious; then again, the Forge was a professional.

The Forge stepped forward and roughly grabbed Caplan by the chin. He leaned in close, his rage burning like the flames of hell behind his eyes.

“I asked you a question,” he snarled, teeth grinding on edge, his fury barely contained. “Have..you ever…broken…in…a horse?”

Caplan jerked his head away from The Forge’s grip and refused to reply.

The Forge closed his eyes and cracked his neck. He then took a deep, slow breath, and the sickening smile from before returned to his face.

“Well, let me inform you,” he said quietly as he pulled up a nearby chair and sat down.

“You see, there is a method to breaking in a horse. You must form a bond with it, make it trust you, teach it that it does not have to fear you. At the same time, however, you must break him of his wild tendencies. You must find a way to break the wilderness, as it were, without breaking his spirit.”

Caplan trained his one good eye on the Forge. He remained silent, but the silence asked his questions for him, betraying his thoughts as though he were shouting them aloud.

The Forge sighed dramatically. “I suppose I should let you in on our little exercise, shouldn’t I? Alright, allow me to break it down for you. You are here because you are in need of some serious retraining. You have not been eliminated because, despite your innate ability to be a thorn in the Archduke’s side, you have shown yourself to have an extraordinary set of skills. We have decided that you have the potential to be of significant use to our cause…with a little bit of retraining, as I mentioned before.

“Your reconditioning will be incredibly painful. I must extract all sense of individuality from you, taking away everything but your abilities and your willingness to fight. This will be a difficult task, and it will be the most excruciating process you have ever endured, but…that is the price we must pay. In the end, it will serve as a resource for you, a bottomless well of pain and pent-up aggression from which you may draw.

“You see, it is my responsibility to take you, a man of the people, and turn you into a man feared by the people. I must take all that raw talent and that drive to ‘fight the power,’ and turn it around. I must erase and eliminate your current reasons to fight, and make you into a machine. You have the potential to be one of the greatest soldiers we have ever put out, but there is a lot of work to be done. I must burn you, bend you, and burden you…and then…I must break you. I will take great pleasure in stripping you down to nothing more than a seething, furious mess of hate and blood. You will be my crowning achievement, my prize dog in this fight.

The Forge placed his right hand lovingly over his heart and gazed whimsically up at the ceiling. He sighed once more and looked back to Caplan.

“The things we will accomplish together, they will be the stuff of legends. We shall live on forever, our names will be remembered and recited by school children for thousands of years to come. We shall rule the world, instituting a reign of fire; we will usher in an era of peace the likes of which the world has never seen as long as man has walked her green surface. There will be no war, for the masses will be too afraid to lift their eyes, let alone their fists, against us. There will be no riots, no crime, no violence, for we shall place a fear in their hearts that keeps every man, woman, and child in line.

“The future, it is magnificent. Before we reach it, however, we must suffer; well, YOU must suffer. I have no need to. I am already on board with the plan. You, my future friend and slave, will need some…convincing. Now, I ask you once more, have you ever broken in a horse? Because this will be NOTHING like that.”

The Forge’s face twisted into a demonic image of malice and hate, and in one lightning-fast motion, he stood, lifted the chair he was sitting on, and broke it across Caplan’s face. The beating, burning, and breaking had begun. In the years that were to come, those who knew the tale would say that was the day Caplan died; in his place, wearing his clothes and walking around in his skin, was only the Executioner.

What Sarah Said

It’s been two and a half weeks so far, this time. It’s agonizing; this hospital room seems to shrink with every breath I take. With as many times as we’ve been here, you would think I would be used to this by now. The sad fact is that I feel the same restless anxiety every time we’re here; I think I’ve simply found a way to hide it better. I have realized I have to at least pretend to be the strong one, for both of them.

I rub my face and sigh, trying to shake the weariness from my soul, and I glance over at the bed where my wife is cradling our daughter. My wife…my god, Megan astounds me every day. When Emma first got sick, we decided that I would keep working, and she would handle as much of the day-to-day medical stuff as she could. She’s been such a soldier for the last five years. Doctor’s appointments, referrals, second, third, and fourth opinions…all the way from the diagnosis, through the chemo and the radiation, and now…here we are again. I could not have asked for a more graceful woman to walk through this with. In everything she does, she carries this royal air, like a strong, quiet queen attending to her business, holding her head high, no matter what.

And then there is our little girl. Oh, Emma; sweet, bubbly Emma. It kills me inside that she has to go through this. She was first diagnosed when she was only three years old. We fought the cancer for almost two full years before she went into remission. My baby girl…she’s…she’s such a strong-hearted little one. Only eight years old, and able to go into every appointment and treatment with a smile on her face, regardless of how sick she might be.

In and out of treatment for the last couple of years after her relapse, I hold onto the hope that she’ll recover and that we’ll beat this, but…ugh, I shouldn’t even let myself think like this. I have to be strong. I have to be their rock. Megan can’t carry all of this by herself; I feel atrociously guilty that I let her be the one who was there for Emma through all of this. I know she’s her mother, and she would have been there no matter what, but I am still conflicted. I should have been here; unfortunately, hospital bills add up quick, and one of us had to work…

I look out the window for a moment and try to clear my head of the thoughts that are constantly swirling there; I can’t even get away from them in my dreams. I am at least able to calm myself down a little bit, and I blink away the tears that are forming in my eyes. No time for crying. What else I should be doing, I don’t know, but I am fairly certain there is no time for crying.

I take a slow, quivering breath and shiver. It’s a strange feeling, sitting in this chair again. It’s familiar, and in an odd way comforting, but at the same time, it is unnerving. I feel anxious and on edge, but I know there is nothing I can do. If I had to fight someone or build something, or if some amount of force could heal my daughter, I would not be sitting here. Instead, I must rely on the medical prowess of the doctors and nurses here. I must rely on the medicine, and in some cases, the poison, to do their job.

It destroys me, inside. I can’t do anything for her, for either of them. I am supposed to be their provider and their protector, but I cannot save them from this. I cannot whisk my little princess away from this evil disease; she must endure it. I cannot wash the pain and the fear and the confusion from my wife’s heart; I can only hold her as she weeps. I must tell them that everything is going to be okay, and make them believe it, even though I myself am beginning to lose hope.

I have cried, I have screamed at the sky, I have begged whatever god might hear me to take it all away. I have driven my truck into the middle of nowhere and vented my frustrations by beating the ever-living snot out of a tree stump with a baseball bat. Broke the bat clean in two. It didn’t change anything; I thought maybe it would make me feel better, or at least not as pent up. Instead, I was left lamenting the fact that I only brought one bat, and I was once again alone with my thoughts.

I look back over to my girls, cuddled up tight in that tiny little hospital bed, and I almost wept again. I thought I was too much of a man to have my heart broken, and now it has become a daily occurrence. Every time I see Emma and she smiles at me, sick as ever, I break. My soul is just…crushed. We have watched her wither away slowly over the last five years. We have slowly watched our little girl die.

I’m not going to blame god or the universe or fate; unfortunately, this is life. These are the cards we have been dealt. It is far from fair, but I am at least sound enough of mind to realize that life is not fair. The world does not owe us anything. However…what the hell is this mess? A three year old gets cancer? Why was it that this beautiful girl had to suffer so much at such a young age? Why did my wife have to watch helplessly as it all just…happened to us?

Even with all the stress, and with all that we have been through, it warms my heart to see the two of them like this. They are asleep, holding each other close. They are so tranquil, unencumbered by the weight of the world outside their dreams.

I walk out to the waiting room where the other fathers in the oncology ward are gathered. This little room has become our sanctuary; we come and sit here, sipping absent-mindedly on instant coffee, breathing in the sickening scent of disinfectant cleaner and aerosol spray that has become so normal to us all that it is both comforting and disgusting at the same time. This room, this scent, this atmosphere, it is the perfect cross-section of what our lives have become. We are trapped here, enveloped in both solace and chaos. The world outside these walls knows nothing of our circumstances. Occasionally, we will watch the cars go by on the highway through the waiting room window, imagining what their lives must be like; wondering what normal life feels like.

The nurses here are fantastic. They understand what we are going through, to some extent, at least. They are with us through it all, walking us through the various visits; they have become almost family, in that way.

A year or two back, I overheard one of them consoling a family that had just received the news that we all dread; it was actually the first time I heard the “T” word used. Terminal. The thought of it sends shivers up and down my spine.

Her words were honest and blunt, but to someone in the middle of a place like this, they were oddly encouraging.

“Love is a painful thing,” she said quietly, stroking the mother’s shoulder. “It is a wonderful thing, but sometimes, it leads us down paths that we would rather avoid. Loving someone can be absolute hell, especially when it brings you here. Sometimes love means helplessly standing by and watching as that person you are so desperately holding on to slips away. It can be utterly devastating, but…it is surely still worth it. Every second, every slight memory, becomes a treasure. As time goes by, those memories mean more than anything else in this life. I am so sorry that you are here, and that this is what your fight has come to. I wish things could be different. Sometimes, the cards you’re dealt can’t be changed, and you have to find a way to live with that fact. It’s a shame that the greatest things in this world can lead to the most painful tragedies.”

At least that’s how I remember it. It was probably a lot shorter, and maybe not quite so eloquent, but it struck a chord in me. It reminded me of a song.

“Love is watching someone die…”

Dear god, is that what I’m doing? I certainly hope not…

Shadows on the Cave Wall

He was laying on his back in the driveway, eyes closed, slowly breathing in the late-night air. There was no wind, the birds had all gone to sleep, even the crickets were quiet. If not for the sound of cars going by several streets over and a train horn in the distance, it would have been absolutely silent. It was peaceful, unlike the turmoil in his head.

He was struggling, quite honestly; what does it mean to be truly human? What is expected of us as a species, as individuals? What is the point of all of this?

He couldn’t bring himself to accept the “truths” that were placed before him. He could not bring himself to believe that this life was just a holding pattern, or that it was nothing more than a random collection of carbon and rock.

He couldn’t stand in either camp. The more he thought about it, is seemed that there were more than just the two. There were political camps, religious camps, race, class, national lines separating everyone. No two people could even stand together anymore; there was always some sort of distance between them due to all this…nonsense.

That’s not to say that the quest for purpose, identity, or truth is nonsense. Everything that surrounds it absolutely is, though. It was the noise that surrounded the issues, the clutter lying all about, that made it such an impossibly difficult matter for him.

“What am I?” he asked himself silently. Not who; no, who was an even more pointless question. He would settle for simply knowing what he was.

He thought back to his walk through town the day before. So many signs in windows, saying things like, “Come as you are,” and “All are welcome here.” None of it was true, though, was it? Come as you are, leave as what we turn you into. All are welcome here, until they do something we don’t like.

Some would tell you that purpose was innate, and that everyone was born with it, or that some power in the sky determined it before time began. Others would say that life was meaningless and purposeless, a series of random, worthless events. The wisest people he knew said that purpose was chosen, that things and people have no purpose or value until someone gives it to them. He wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but it rang true for him. It felt right; then again, maybe he shouldn’t trust his gut in matters such as these.

So much division, so little communication. Everyone fights, and no one wins. So many voices screaming, so many people forgoing peace and instead giving into the chaos.

He smirked to himself. “No chill” indeed.

“I don’t agree with any of them, and I trust even fewer of them,” he mumbled.

How does one determine the truth when there is so much that they hold in question? Untethered and washed out to sea, it felt as if there was nothing to hold onto. The waves that crashed all around his mind wished only to suffocate him further as he drowned, falling deeper and deeper into his own doubts.

A rain drop splashed on his forehead, breaking his concentration. He gasped in surprised, and his eyes flew open. Above, the stars had hidden themselves behind the clouds, and a slight sprinkling began to drip down to the earth below.

He sighed and closed his eyes once more. He knew he would never find a satisfactory answer. He knew he would always be seeking something more concrete than what he held on to. Tonight, the time had come to let it all go and simply rest. He continued to lie there as the sprinkling became a soft downpour, washing away his anxiety and self doubt, if only for a while. He released the pent-up worry within and simply…existed…for a while.

When the clouds went away and he was once again alone with his thoughts, these questions would rise once more. Thanks to the calm provided by the storm, however, he would be ready. He would be prepared. And so it would go, day after day, until…well, until he knew for sure, one way or the other.