“Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
He shivers while sweat dries on his naked back. He puts his pen down. He stares at his trembling hands, while red blinking light hides them in the darkening night, only to expose them again as blood stained instruments. A dog jumps up when the man gets up with a grunt from behind the desk to get a shirt and close the window. His pack leader, master and friend is all right, satisfied he lays down again with a sigh. Why not go for a walk? The thought makes his tail wag, but when master sits down to stare on a piece of paper on the desk in front of him, there is nothing to do but to turn around and close his eyes. The dog’s sigh breaks the silence, then a desk-light clicks on, replacing the red blinking light with a bright spot on the paper in front of the shivering man. His nightmare in words, seconds after, now as if a lifetime ago. Fragments of thoughts float away as wisps on every breath, but framed in virgin white jump at him the words in deep, deep black:
I am under the surface under the crust of the earth. Above there are people walking, people living. Above there are people eating, working, fucking, sweating, killing, dreaming, stacking one day on top of the other. They do not know that I am here. They do not know that I try to save them. Ungrateful they crawl over my back while they do what they do without reason. It is hot. It is very warm here. Strong arms are working here, and also I. Occasionally I utter a command, but mostly work silent. It is very noisy here; there is a lot of noise. The surface is not strong. Above me there are people walking, people living. Big steel beams are supporting the surface, but sometimes they fall. It is very gray here and sometimes fire shoots past me. The beams fall sometimes, we work, I work. We repair, we take care that the surface does not fall; we know that otherwise the whole planet will fold and disappear. The walking people do not realize, the living people do not realize. I am tired, but more beams are falling. We are with too little, even though more join in. We may be too late, even though time stretches forward. Beams are always falling, always small parts collapse, but it happens more and more; it happens more often. It gets warmer here, we are working harder. More beams are falling and take more beams down in their fall. I look down and see the infinite structure underneath me, while beams take our beams in their fall. More deeper, more deeper than life it feels.
Fire shoots past me. I command more, more beams are falling. Fire flares and burns those besides me, while commands are thrown at me, like flicks of a whip. Blood does drip from my head. People above do not realize. I am moving in all directions and everywhere beams are falling. The pressure from the top is increasing and more beams fall and fall, “we cannot hold it anymore”, someone screams. He is supporting beams with his back. Steel on flesh, blood in-between. More people have to support. More beams fall. People who walk, and people who work sink sometimes. People who live do not know, and pray. Do they pray to us? More beams fall around me and I want to catch them and to support them. It does not work! Slowly around me the structure crumbles, it collapses. People who walk and live do not understand and panic. Beams are all around me, “we can not hold it anymore”, so much yelling, screaming, pain, “we can not hold it anymore”. Everything caves in, we fall; darkness crushes my final light.
The man pushes the paper away and his chair back. There it is: the words to the illusive dream impossible to grasp the first three times around. He shakes his head. From these words he does not get the same urge to act as when he woke up. A flick of the wrist, a habit practiced numerous times as day, presents his watch. Ten minutes after 2. “In the fucking morning”, the man informs his dog. The dog gets up. The poor thing thinks is walky-walky-time. It is not. It is time for a leak. In the bathroom mirror a grey face stares back at him. “Come on, fucker, snap out of it”, he mumbles at his reflection, which just seems to grin back at him. What does he know that he himself does not?
Not enough sleep shows on his face the next morning. It shows while shaving, it shows while brushing his teeth, it shows in the shop windows on the morning walk. The worn out, pounding headache replaces the feeling of well-being. The smell of fresh bakery-bread is hidden by the smell of rotting vegetables from the restaurant’s dumpsters. The feeling of an unsteady pavement gives the feeling of a soft rubber fun-house floor. It brings out the images of the dream.
“Hé watch out dumbass!”, a blur hits him in the shoulder, the master-dog-leash disconnects. The dog waits while his master gets up. The walk is great! Such nice smells, such great weather. But master is not well, so it seems. Better give a lick for support…
Later at work, the blare of radio-sounds shelters the music so well hidden. A daze of tasks hides the words equally well. “Wow Anderson, did you get no sleep last night? What was her name?”, boss Palmer is snickering. Anderson can muster a smile. Some normality fills the day. “Didn’t catch he first name, but I am sure her last name was Palmer”, and grins while the wrench hits the wall behind him. A siren. Break time. Coffee and a smoke. Fresh air and concentration, it all pushes away the itch, the scratch, and the evil that lurks. But the light wanes, the lurker is patient and walks in shadows. The day passes fast, it is filled with things to do. The empty space in Anderson’s brain, the place where no thought passes is a fortress, strong and lined with curtains showing skulls and bones to scare the evil from the outside world. White noise. Anderson whistles while he works, a tune not unlike the call of the banshee, but he does not know it. Co-workers shiver when Anderson walks by, the creepy tune and dull stare supported by dark circles invades their space and pushes away the normal, the comfort.
“What has happened to him? A few weeks ago I talked to him and everything seemed fine”, whispers in the corridor.
“Did you see he is wearing the same pants now for 2 weeks? No really that stain behind his knee was there for at least two weeks. Just pay attention to it from now on”, rumors at the lunch table.
“I have heard he lost his wife recently”, lies while fetching coffee.
Anderson is oblivious to whispers, rumors and lies. It is the final siren that signals the end of something and the start of something else. Most co-workers smile and are happy to leave to go home. Family, their cats, a contrast to work in the factory, but Anderson stands at his bench, until Palmer shunts him out with kind words that repel Anderson from his location, as water on wax paper.
“Come dear fellow, it is time to go home. I know you had some trouble sleeping lately”, Palmer scribbles something on a crumbled piece of paper, “here the number of my physician, he did wonders for my wife when she had insomnia. Visit him, it’s an order. I cannot have accidents here due to zombie brains.” The good intent sends shivers of revulsion up Anderson’s spine: “thanks boss, I will make an appointment as soon as possible. See ya tomorrow”.
Outside the light fades, soft pinks and reds grill the clouds and a melancholy enters Anderson while he watches this event. He puts up his hood and hands in his pocket, and walks to the train station. People avoid him instinctively as if he is wearing a leper’s bell, but Anderson’s brain does not think of charity or a rotting disease. His mind is on the white noise space, when he spots a face across the street. To Anderson the universe is quickly dipped in molasses, to the universe Anderson just stopped dead in his tracks. Other occupants of Anderson’s universe flow around Anderson as a leash of deer around a rock. Across the street a man mimics Anderson’s moves, his face grey with dull eyes. Then Anderson recognizes him, the ‘steel on flesh, blood in-between’ guy from his dream. Is it possible? How is it possible? Anderson slowly raises his hand, slow motion in slow motion that crashes down in an instant like a glass pane shattering on the concrete sidewalk. One small step, a horn, a loud thud, screeching tires, screams of people, Anderson with his hand raised, a streak of blood and more on tarmacadam, the smell of burning rubber from the city bus. Everybody halts while time has its normality.
Anderson’s falls to one knee. The absurdity of the situation is filled with the rational response: a vile mixture of vomit finds the gutter. His head spins. He needs to leave, get out. The dog needs a walk. “I.. I need to go…” The rock moves away from the ‘food-plot’ through the stagnant leash of deer. All staring at the headlights of death displayed before them. Unable to move. Anderson boards a train, finds his apartment, and closes the door. The vault shuts out the noise. A happy dog puts his wet nose in his hand. Is this home? On the desk under a spotlight lies the letter from his brain. How does evil sprout?
“Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature’s delight.”
– Marcus Aurelius
The dog looks up, a sudden sound and he gets up. It is master who woke himself up again. He tilts his head to see how master walks in. The vacant look in master’s eyes says enough and after a few circles the dog lies down. Master should get some sleep. It is dark.
A sound, a sharp inhale. Anderson sits up fast, it is his spring-loaded back drenched in sweat. Anderson woke himself up again. He gets out of bed quickly and even dog knows, it is late and time to sleep. Anderson cannot sleep, again the dream. So many nights the same dream. Anderson clicks on the spotlight to see the piece of paper. He sits and reads the text over and over again. There he is. “please please, do not forget him”, Anderson is whispering. Even the dog does not care, and the outside city life’s mocking sounds are faint efforts this night. Anderson taps on the paper, “there he is! I remember him. He stepped…”, but Anderson does not finish his sentence. He had gone missing, always he had stood there: the hero with the beam on his back, steel on flesh, blood buffering the pain, but not this night. Not for many a night the bloody tarmacadam-smear, once man, once his friend under the surface was not there. He is not there. Again in his dream he is not there. Anderson moves sluggish into the bathroom. A splash of water on his unshaven face, a grimace reflection knows more than he does. Anderson swats a fly away from his face, and annoyed with the buzzing sound he gets a large towel. With a yawn the towel becomes a new under sheet, for the remaining hours a new sponge.
Morning. The city greets them warm, jolly the dog is walking next to master, fresh smells in the air, other dogs to sniff, wet dew on the grass, bright morning sun and warm weather, a bounce in his step. Life cannot be more wonderful. Come master, do you hear that! And did you see that! Wow did you smell that?
Anderson’s eyes are on the pavement, the warm heat already this early in the morning annoys him, the city reeks of decay and the three-day strike of city workers does not help. “Who should do their job already and clean the goddamn streets, I get paid for something I do not like to do”, Anderson talks to his dog or random people on the street. Anderson sees no faces of people, and people do not want to see Anderson’s face or smell his smelly smells, then a tap on his shoulder.
Anderson looks up. They are under a bridge along the river, not his normal route, although he had been here before. Anderson sees a man. His mind groggy is full with painkillers. Through teary eyes blinking against the light all he sees is a dark coat. “Get the fuck away from me, creep”, Anderson is a delight in conversation these days. The man shakes his head. His raspy voice sounds familiar. Images of flames shooting by come to mind. “No, no, I am not a skulk, it is you. You do not belong here, come down, we do need you; the struggle is not over. Your solution will not work. I cannot be here, but you need to be warned!” Anderson pinches the top of his nose with one hand while his squeezes his eyes. Dog is barking at something. A damn squirrel? That guy! Anderson looks up. Phantoms, snippets of light, shadows in which to walk. Where is that damn shadow walker? “Who the fuck is HERE!”, Anderson squads down, dog nuzzles up. Some homeless people ignore him, they know better. Anderson’s headache is back and pounding his skull jack-hammer style. Time to go home. The day is a blur.
The dog looks up, a sudden sound and he is up. The hairs in the neck are up. Who is that man, where is master? Come! Come master! Danger, danger!
A sound, a sharp inhale. Anderson sits up fast, it is his spring-loaded back, again drenched in sweat. Anderson is up. He gets out of bed quickly and sluggishly enters the room. Dog is out of his fucking mind. Anderson stares at his dog, a snap of teeth, loud barks. Ready for the attack. “Quiet stupid dog, it is me. I swear the whole fucking world is going fucking insane. Quiet!”, Anderson kneels down and then dog calms down, there is contact. They know each other and all is well. Anderson is up for the night, again the dream.
Anderson clicks on the spotlight to see the piece of paper. He sits and reads the text over and over again. More small things are changing, voices, angles of the beams, the faces around him ever more sharp, while faces in the street are ever more a blur. Anderson’s cliché-move into the bathroom, his face wet now. Swatting away flies. Morning. Day. Night.
A sound, a sharp inhale. Anderson is standing in a vacant lot drenched in sweat. Left, in front, and right are blind walls. A building ripped out of the city with force, amputated. It is dark, behind him noises of the city, a far away siren. A barking dog. Cats going at it. Anderson woke himself up, again. “Where the fuck am I?” Anderson kneels down in the mulled sand. Streetlights kiss his hands, his red blood stained hands. Anderson mind’s eye sees himself at his desk, the first night, red blinking light. Now he sits alone, drizzle covering his skin.
It must have taken him hours to drag his body out of that field and his head out of the fog. Anderson finds a muddy puddle and washes his arms and hands. In a fury he rips of his shirt and rips it to pieces. His singlet tie-died with dark red stains. Anderson takes it off and flings it away. Blood on his pant. “Fuck”, Anderson’s feels the earth move under his feet. Is het sinking? “Or I’m fucking losing it”, Anderson rubs mud over his jeans to mask the blood. Shirtless, wet, covered in mud Anderson is more invisible than a legless beggar at the train station. It takes a few blocks before Anderson recognizes where he is. Only blocks away from his apartment, but he is more on the wrong side of the tracks. Even badass gang members do not see him, hidden from sight, walking in the shadows. A walker of shadows to indicate where light is. The contrasting color of happiness.
“Ssss”, a hissing noise travels with Anderson who halts. “Now what”, talking to himself give him more breathing space and less of a crowd. The man stands over him, ready to attack. Then he speaks. That guy! “Motherfu…”, Anderson is cut off. “ssss, listen”, the dark coat darker than the shadows, the contrasting color of shadows is even darker, “you must listen, come with me. You took his place, your dog knows what you know, and you need to come back”. Anderson halts, frozen. Is this really happening? Adrenaline pumping, sounds dim, the focus is on escape. Anderson blinks only to dash off an instant later. His panic fueled sprint is terrifying to the side-walkers in the bright city lights. ‘Why can the meth addicts not stay hidden in the shadows where they can die away from our happiness’? The door, keys on the floor, his growling dog, more comforting words, and the long man-dog hug hides away the world, the deep feeling of truth that feeds panic to the heart. Roots take hold in blood filled sand.
“Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy.”
– Sigmund Freud
Anderson wakes up and to his surprise it is morning. Cold air flows into the apartment through the open window. It flows over his exposed legs while he cannot remember if he had the dream last night or not. Somewhere from very far a super annoying sound, it drills deeper and deeper in his head, into his brain, while it grows louder and more intense. “Fuck, my phone”. Anderson gets up groggily, enters the living room, and digs around under some pizza boxes to find a pile of clothes, a couch and under all that, his phone.
“Yeah ‘allo. Who is this on the most ungodly hour?”
“Anderson? Is that you? Are you ok? You have not been at work for over a week.” Palmer’s voice sounds genuine and sincere. Anderson tastes vomit in his mouth, this compassion is killing him. In the background factory noises and voices, sounds like break-time. Anderson walks to the kitchen in the hope to find some food.
“Yeah listen, eh, boss, I got this horrible infection… Eh… you know it is to embarrassing to talk about it over the phone. I meant to send a doctor’s note, but … walking is hard so… You know I got to go really, I got to put some cream on it, ok?”
Anderson holds his phone away from his head as if this call is giving him brain cancer on the spot and while Palmer whispers from afar: “Get well, I will call you in a few days…” Anderson dunks his phone in a pan filled with water and some week old spaghetti something. “Fucking dick, calling me like that”
Palmer blinks while he listens to the disconnect sound. “And what did he say?”, Sally from HR is eager to get rid of Anderson. Palmer grunts while he puts the phone down, “I know this is my call, but he said he is on sick-leave and he can hardly walk. He said something about an infection and a doctor’s visit, so let’s wait for that doctor’s note. I will swing by his place in a few days to check if he is ok. Just put him he on sick leave and I will let you know then later what to do.” Sally’s expression as always reenact all her internal turmoil and projects her feelings as a Broadway play going for a Tony award. Palmer nods his head. “I know, I know how you feel about him, but he has been at the plant over 5 years now, and I never had to tell him anything twice, and up until now, I had never any problems with him”. Palmer got up. That was that. He could have sworn he had seen Anderson in the streets the other day. Moving over the sidewalk with that scruffy dog of his, moving like a water droplet moves through oil. Sally just stared at Palmer, waiting for instructions and Palmer’s daydreaming did not help. “That will be all Sally, thank you.” She left, and Palmer hacked at his computer in the same way a city slicker would attempt to make fire with sticks for the first time ever, during a hailstorm. “Damn reports”.
Night. The darkness is a blanket that itches and hides. Anderson, spade in hand, looks to the left. “What the…” a dog, it comes out of nowhere. Its hair is up, its teeth exposed through its visible breath. A low growl, head down, it is ready for the attack. Anderson is invading its space. The tension is mounting. A standoff is as likely as the universe ignoring entropy. Swirls of steam come of Anderson’s body, hot, sticky and sweaty. ‘A great, I even have time to observe this bullshit’, then it leaps teeth first. Anderson steps back and swings. A dull plunk is followed by a whimper. Anderson moves fast, he is over it now, and it will suffer, this asshole dog will be turned insight out slowly and suffer. Anderson shifts the spade and drives its blunt tip into the skull of the dog. A sickening crack, a last loud whine, and its high pitched sound echoes between the three walls around him.
The field, Anderson finds himself in the field and can just barely muster the willpower to pull out the spade. Dark blood slowly pools out of the caved head while the dog falls back on the mud. Anderson kneels down and cradles his puppy, his dog, his companion, while tears streak his dirty face. The body is still warm, the memories fresh.
Infinity bestowed, a timeless hug is interrupted by that small shift. The earth moved. A small sinking feeling in the stomach wakes Anderson up. Anderson looks around him, still dark, but far off grays, desperately longing to be purple, red and gold, knock on night’s door. Move on! Time for a new age. Anderson drops his dog in disbelieve, again he finds himself in this field covered in blood, but with proof this time of its origin. Anderson crawls away and vomits. Vile deeds evoke vileness. Anderson stumbles to his feet, barely remembers to cover himself in dirt and finds himself in front of his apartment door. Silence with the rhythmic buzz of TL-tubes surrounds him. Mud tracks up to here, and a key in hand; Anderson waits a while before he goes through the door.
A sound, a sharp inhale. Anderson sits up fast, it is his spring-loaded back, again drenched in sweat. Nothing changes and everything changes always. Static flux gives pounding headaches. Anders gets up, groggy as always and does the routine move to the bathroom, a move so imprinted in the memory of the universe it has become a constant: the ‘Anderson constant’. “Where is that filthy dog”, Anderson mumbles his way in to the living room. TV is on, static, “some fucker cut the cable”. Garbage, pizza boxes, used coffee filters, clothes, and a clean desk. Spotlight on a piece of paper: the highlight of the room. Anderson opens the door to the bathroom, loads of flies, a grey unshaven face, and cheeks sunken in. A version of Anderson is staring at Anderson. “What the fuck is that smell”, Anderson is Anderson, clear and sharp. The putrid smell of a rotting rat and Anderson is back. Anderson slides back the shower curtain, and instantly vomits all over himself. There proof of the smell: another person. No, it is the memory of person, or maybe almost a homeopathic memory of a person. A bodily imprint on the space around Anderson, but mutilated, gory and the breeding ground of flies. Anderson vomits again and backs away from the horror. He hits his head on the sick, and claws his way out of his bathroom into the filth of the living room. A mouse runs of, the city outside alive and noisy, and the fresh air a reminder of everyday things.
“Have you seen the news? They say it may be serial killer”, whispers in the corridor.
“I have heard from a friend of a friend who works at the police station that they found the bodies next to a dog, its head caved in. What sick bastard does something like that?”, rumors at the lunch table.
“I was walking there the other day, and I thought I’d seen something, if I had only called the police then”, lies while fetching coffee. Anderson is no longer a topic of discussion.
Palmer pitches in: “I have heard that the dog had his tag on still”. The people that work do not know, the people that eat do not know. Ungrateful they huddle while they do what they do without reason. Then Sally runs in. Something astronomical is happening, like a comet will hit the earth in 5 minutes or she is giving birth to octuplets right now. Palmer raises one eyebrow. Silence enters the break room. All hold still to see the play. She holds up her phone: “they got his apartment, they know where he lives.” No questions asked, hands go in pockets, and the room is filed with clicks and clacks of mobile phones. Then the volume increases, people talk, rumors fly, speculation builds up until the siren silences them. It is time for work. Normality must prevail. Obedient all move out of the break room to the floor and the chatter dies out. Palmer remains, but gets up fast to go to his computer to read the news again.
Anderson wakes up on his stomach, under his face damp cardboard. He blinks to see that he is not in his room. Cold air flows over him, Anderson is shivering, his grand view a dumpster against a brick wall. The smell is horrible. Anderson wipes some drool of his face, out of his beard and gets up. Anderson stumbles, his knees are weak. That smell. Images of his dog, his dead dog’s crushed skull, that body in the bathtub, and of his dream, that damn dream, flash by. They are there with him in the shadows, when he blinks, when his eyes are closed. That putrid smell again. With a chill around his heart Anderson approaches the dumpster, the chill chokes his heart when he opens it, then bile almost chokes him while the smell gets into his brain. His disrespectful way of saying “fuck, I am sorry”. Anderson stares at the pile of garbage and in it the handy-work of Anderson. He knows it now, it was his doing. Anderson’s heart skips beats and races as he stares at another mutilated body, then at his hand and he falls to the floor. His knees buckle, his chin bounces of the edge of the container, and splits open his lip. Blood in the alley-of-filth, blood on his hands. Again Anderson finds himself on his knees staring at his blood stained hand. “Jesus…fucking…Christ, that hurts…”. Anderson holds his chin and breaks down. Anderson’s wails and loud crying adds to the picturesque feeling of the grime, filth filled alley, complement by the smells of garbage and a rotting body. Self-pity washes over Anderson. Of all the places he ended up “why here”? The forgiving alley approves in silence, the outside world of the outer-alley-city mocks them both.
No mud to cover up here, no water to wash the hands in innocence. Guilty as charged. The burning sun peaks slowly into the alley to judge Anderson’s evil soul. Anderson crawls towards it to accept its judgment and bumps into a pile of old newspapers, still bound, tossed aside by a paperboy’s fraudulent ‘delivery’ to his loving customers. It is through teary eyes that Anderson stares back at himself, that smug face from the mirror, now sneering at him from the front page: “Who has seen W.Q. Anderson, a.k.a. the Westside torture killer”. The hammer falls, the burning sun on him, the spotlight is on him. Anderson stumbles to his feet and scuffles out of the alley, into the light of the sidewalk. There where the people avoid him ever since the letter came. Anderson looks back. Was that the man in the black coat, did he hide into the shadows again? Anderson blinks his eyes into the sun. People avoid the skinny, filthy moving thing that hinders their important movements. Anderson foamy mumbling from his cracked lips does not help either.
“People walking, people living. People are eating, working, fucking, sweating, killing, dreaming, stacking one day on top of the other. I am here. I am here. Don’t you see I am trying to save you! It is so hot in the sun. See me, I am here. The world will end I am telling you. You ungrateful bitches. People are walking, living. You walking people do not know. I am so tired. More beams are falling. It is too late. It will be too late. We are so deep, so much deeper.”
People move around him, do not recognize him, do not listen, do not want to see him, and the people they do not care. Then Anderson spots a face across the street. Déjà vu, Anderson’s universe is dipped in molasses, to the universe Anderson just stopped dead in his tracks. The people that do not know, the people that do not care flow around him. Across the street a man mimics Anderson’s moves, another grey face with dull eyes. Anderson slowly raises his hand, slow motion in slow motion that ends in an instant when Anderson steps in front of a speeding delivery truck. It is evil’s flower that makes us fruit.
– Helsinki, 2014. Marco G. Casteleijn
Written for writing prompt ”A Nightmare Alive.”
To learn more about Marco G. Casteleijn, please visit Meet the Writers.