Strangled Awake

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The door creaked open and an anxious face peered in. He looked around, inquiring if anyone was in, then entered, taking in his surroundings. He slid a finger along the table, glancing at the dust that rode up on it, he wrote his name in the dust. He walked through the narrow entrance into the kitchen, flailing at the cobwebs that ensnared him, heading for the sink, the water faucet. It spluttered to life, some rust colored water splattering the sink. Shrugging his jacket off, he ran his fingers through his long and stringy hair. He glanced down, taking stock of his grimy clothes and disheveled appearance, he was beyond exhaustion. He needed rest.

He pulled open the kitchen cabinets; the rusty water, the dust and the cobwebs appeared not to have killed any expectations he had of finding something edible within. He found a can of spam, sending armies of cockroaches scurrying away as he reached for it. He twirled it in his hands; he still needed a can opener. He opened up all the kitchen drawers trying to find one and then he saw it, the dagger. His body went still and then he picked it up. He looked at the intricately filigreed cover and then unsheathed the dagger to examine its edges. Then he plunged it into the can of spam.

He walked up the stairs then and into the bedroom which looked out upon the woods. The previous owners had left behind a four poster bed. A shimmering veil appeared draped over the four posts. He examined it, perhaps to draw it aside and test the mattress. The veil couldn’t stand his touch; it crumbled, leaving a stringy film around his hands… more cobwebs. He pumped the mattress next, it seemed firm enough but one of the legs gave way as he stood there, taken aback. Then he kicked off his shoes. He was going to turn in, even if it meant sleeping on a three-legged bed surrounded by cobwebs. He would write the next chapters of his life tomorrow. Tomorrows always arrived in twenty four hour intervals unless… they had transformed themselves into an endless stretch of eternity.

Rosa would be here soon, just like her mother… all those years ago. I had stumbled into the shack then, down on my luck, seeking cover from a world that sought to destroy me.

The reviews had all been bad. It had taken me five years to write my 900 page epic. I had given it my all but in the end it just took that one word, a word I had dreaded since my youth: MEDIOCRE. That one word in one scathing review from the most vicious and feral critic in the land and my novel didn’t stand a chance. Every paper, every literary rag, every journal had picked up on that foul word that rang in my ears every waking hour, accompanied by that gruesome image of a black cloaked, hooded figure shoveling dark and slithery sludge onto a boat…Modern Short Stories…required reading for 11th grade English, and the only short story I could never forget… about the ambiguous fate of mediocre souls, shoveled into nothingness, made to set sail on a boat to nowhere.

I dreaded that word and had dodged that label all my life until the day my worst fears were realized and the world branded me thus. I slipped into an alcohol induced haze, became a walking disaster area. My wife took the kids and left me. I slid deeper into the bottle and then a few good friends forced me into rehab. But the cloaked and hooded man, the shoveler of mediocre soul piles, never stopped tormenting me, gaining on me. So I ran through the woods behind the sprawling grounds of the rehab center. I ran for three days straight, from myself, from the dark shadows behind me and finally to this shack in the woods. I had entered it twenty years ago, just as the young man did today, his insecurities and fears etched as clearly in the lines of his face as they must have been on mine. He was running from himself.

Lily, Rosa’s mother, had strangled me awake that day. Sometime during the early hours of the morning I had felt a crushing weight descend on me. The room was swimming, my windpipe was being crushed. I felt the cold fingers of death around my throat… and then it was all over. There was peace, a glorious silence, the demons were gone. The room was filled with fragrance and I glanced up to see Lily, a vision in red, a red hibiscus tucked behind one ear. She appeared to float around the room and then I saw her sitting on the ledge of the window in the room with the four-poster bed and the view of the woods. She smiled, welcoming me to a new world, a world where the colors were sharp and rich, a world of light and fragrance. I was drawn into her arms; I only had eyes for her. And then I turned my head and glanced back at the room. The bed I’d been on was now shrouded in grey and appeared far away, in black and white, seemingly encased behind a glass wall. I glanced at the mirror on the dresser against the opposite wall. I wasn’t casting a reflection. I opened my mouth to speak but I felt Lily’s cold breath upon me, silencing me, whispering in my ears that I never again needed to worry about mediocrity and its consequences. She had rescued me.

The shack was suddenly full of music and people. I recognized a few of them myself. There were many writers here, some painters, their gaunt and hungry looks unmarred by the wholesome effects of the rescue. They welcomed me. There was a stunning looking young girl there too, a vision in purple. She was introduced as Rosa. Rosa was Lily’s daughter. She had failed to earn a scholarship to Harvard. No other university was good enough for the school valedictorian. Her dad had urged her to consider other colleges but his pleas had fallen on deaf ears. Rosa had locked herself in her room where she lay on her bed clutching her dead mom’s picture close to her heart. Her mom had always pushed her to do her best, coached her, ridden her, had demanded her very best, until the day she was fired from her CEO position. She had been found dead in her bed the next day. Young Rosa was now here with them, just as she was a gilt-framed picture on a wall in her dad’s study in her old home. Her mom had gone back for her, had rescued her.

Death became this crowd.

Rosa would appear soon enough. Word had been sent. Her lonely days were about to end. I had Lily- Rosa would have this young man. We had overcome mediocrity and now we had to address loneliness; they often went hand in hand.

Rosa’s young man was waiting for her. I heard the kitchen drawer being opened, the dagger being unsheathed, and there she was, in violet, the dagger poised right above the sleeping writer’s heart. Tomorrow the young man’s debut novel would still be in the bargain bin at the front of every bookstore but his hands would be in Rosa’s.

1 Comment

  1. beautiful, scary and not at all mediocre…

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