My story “Shockley House” was published in this year’s Halloween anthology The Yellow Booke.
I now spend the majority of my day caressing the walls – they are so clean that the shadows roam freely over them. I just sit and hum, and sing, and listen to the things they say.
The wisdom in their whispers is earth shattering. I see so many things that I never saw before. I’m beginning to realize that this illness wasn’t something that originated in me, but was planted in me by the ones out there.
I can only paraphrase their messages to me. I now see that one must sometimes pass through the fire to emerge on the other side as a new creature. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes after being burned alive. Like a butterfly awakening from a cocoon after a long period of transformation.
I see now that my life encased in this place, encased in my neurosis, my disease, my isolation, was all meant to be a cathartic process. Now, thanks to the shadows engulfing me, I have been purged. Leached of my sickness and given a clear path out of here.
They showed me worlds that shimmer and places of abundant peace where my new form will roam free. Free to wander those other lands only hinted at in their dim, ghostly visions. I know now that my flight above the guitarist was but a prelude to a journey I’m now ready to take.
Across the vast gulf of space and time there are worlds waiting to be seen. But before I can mount up with wings, I must set right the wrongs leveled on me by Dr. Kaplan, Angela, and Jeff. My preparation for tonight’s dinner has been meticulous but I must not falter. I must face this last obstacle with resolution and a steel will. My new friends have counseled me and taught me and opened my eyes to so much new knowledge that I sometimes feel an amazing sense of awe at the things the shadows say.
Awoke again last night hearing that tune in my head. While I hate the song, I find myself humming it as I clean. I tried to go back to sleep but it was useless so I just watched the wall. As I watched I noticed that the shadow seemed to move. It wasn’t anything startling or even very specific. It was more like breathing. A pulsing to the rhythm of the tune playing in my head and my own breathing.
Now that I’m fully awake I know that it was the tune playing in my head that caused my own breathing to match it and that the shadow only appeared to be pulsing to the rhythm of my own breathing – just an optical illusion, right? But at the time I was certain that it was the shadow leading the whole thing.
I’ve become obsessed with the shadow on the wall and I actually caught myself just staring at it as I was sitting on my bed putting my shoes on.
I spent the last several days researching memory lapses and became quite overwhelmed with all of the information. I’m sure that the incident with the homeless guitarist wasn’t real. I believe I had an episode of dissociative amnesia brought on by the stress of my doctor’s visit.
I also believe that the hallucination with the man in the alley was of a dreamlike nature – a waking hallucination dredged up from my subconscious. The part that really has me perplexed is the tune he was playing. Did my mind concoct that too? Is the repeated playing of it in my head because I created it, or did I hear it somewhere else?
There’s now another shadowy spot that commands my attention. I can’t say if it’s a completely different spot or if it’s connected to the other spot on the opposite corner of the wall. I spend what seems like hours in my room cleaning the walls or just sitting on my bed humming that melancholy melody.
Angela called last night to see how I was doing. I told her about Jeff’s visit and how irritated it made me. She claimed to have no idea but I’m not so sure.
She seemed to be pleasant but now I distrust her and Jeff. I tried to be nice back to her but wound up making an excuse to get off the phone. I’m just so confused these days. I miss the times when we were close and could talk.
I had all of these conflicting emotions about the whole thing so I went to clean the wall and became so engrossed in the scrubbing and humming that I began to hear a chant. It had to be a figment of my imagination but it seemed so real.
The lyrics to the weird song were frightening to me too. But now I’m beginning to see Jeff and Angela for what they really are.
I’ve made a concerted effort to quit washing my hands at least every hour but it’s so hard. The urge consumes me. It’s so bad that I feel I have to wash to release the pressure.
I found myself humming the melody to that damn tune while I was cleaning the kitchen and when I realized it, it scared me. I don’t know what happened or how to explain the incident in the alley, but I think it might have just been a dream. It’s so unlike me that it couldn’t have been real.
I started researching memory lapses and blackouts and I’m relatively sure that’s what happened to me. It’s the only reasonable explanation.
Last night I had a strange dream. At least I think it was a dream. I think it was like when you awaken in the night and you’re in that zone between sleeping and waking where you mix reality with your dream. I must have been dreaming about a mold or some other type of discolored spot on the wall that just wouldn’t come clean. This makes sense because I have such a fear of disease and filth that my nightmares tend to be about my inability to be clean enough or be healthy enough.
Nevertheless, when I awoke I instinctively looked to the wall where the spot was located in my dream and saw, to my horror, that there was in fact a spot on the wall. Groggily I arose and went to inspect the spot but it was only a shadow!
It was so weird because then I lay in bed and watched the spot wondering if I saw it in waking and unconsciously incorporated into my dream, or if I dreamed it first and then it just so happened that the shadow took on the shape of the spot in my dream?
Jeff came to visit today. At first I was so glad that he had made time to come by. Having my brother visit is such a rare thing that I was quite literally giddy. As it turned out, though, he’s about as much of an ass as Dr. Kaplan.
I knew the visit was bad the moment I let him in the apartment and he said, “Jen, you look terrible, are you getting any sleep? And this place smells like a swimming pool!”
I mean, what kind of greeting is that and how am I supposed to respond? Did he really expect me to be all cheerful and happy after he waltzes in here and starts in on me?
Things didn’t get any better from that point on, either. All he did was chide me for being such a recluse and obsessing over how clean everything is. He has no idea what I’m going through.
To be honest, I don’t even know why he came by. He claims that he was worried about me after he and Angela hadn’t heard from me in so long. He acts like it was my doing but it was he who put an end to Angela’s and my relationship. Does he really think I don’t remember that? And do you show your concern for someone by barging in their home and berating them about their lifestyle?
I was so furious by the time he left that all I wanted to do was work out. I figured a good sweat would burn off some of my anger. I went up to my room to change into my workout gear and noticed something strange. The place on the wall where the spot was in my dream was really discolored. At first, I thought it was a trick of the light, but as I got closer, I saw that it was true. There is something odd about that patch of wall.
I never did my workout. I wound up venting my anger into cleaning the wall.
My Health Anxiety began with my mother’s illness. I was only 8 years old when she found out she had Lupus. The disease affected her in numerous ways and she battled it for a long time. I was 17 when she died. When she passed away, I felt a ton of guilt. A part of me believed that it was partially my fault. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it was how I felt, nonetheless.
I became so familiar with her disease that I began to believe I was suffering the same symptoms. A rash on my face, fatigue, painful joints, headaches, hair loss – the lists goes on and on. And each time one of those symptoms popped up, I immediately knew it was the worst case scenario. I had my mom’s genes that meant that I, too, was destined to die of Lupus.
As each test came back negative, I refused to accept it. I just deftly attributed it to either the doctor’s error in accurate diagnosis, or the fact that I really had another disease.
Even today, I still believe that I’m carrying some new strain of a debilitating disease that leaves doctors baffled with how to categorize it. Logically, I know this is crazy. In reality, my days are consumed with worry and despair over my health.
I’m finally getting around to writing about my doctor’s visit the day before yesterday. I meant to do it right afterwards, but it has left me so exhausted that I’m just now feeling like writing about it tonight.
I made it to Dr. Kaplan’s office without incident. Even with the heat of summer, I still put on a thin wind-breaker and hold it tight about my neck as I dart to the doctor’s office trying to avoid any contact with the throng of humanity on the sidewalks and streets. Still, I managed to navigate my way there without brushing into anyone.
It wasn’t until I saw Dr. Kaplan that things went south. He was the worst and I don’t care if he reads this next time, although I don’t think I’ll be going back to that horrible man! We began with small talk, which was alright, and then he asked about my journal. I handed it over and waited while he read the entries. Then, he removed his glasses and hit me with the most condescending look. From then on it was horrible. He’s so judgmental it just gets right under my skin!
He began by telling me how I pushed Angela away by making her mother’s condition about me. The nerve! I did no such thing! And then he had the audacity to critique my daily routine and tell me it was unhealthy and abnormal! He has no idea!
Oh, there was more. More than I care to vent and fume over. I shut down after we had strong words and let him go on lecturing me while I just sat there seething. In the end, I walked out of there with a script in my hand for some medication called Lexapro that he wants me to try out. I don’t think so. Just some more crap to pollute my body and alter my mind.
But all that wasn’t the real bad part; I mean it was bad, but not bad in the same way. The thing that has really left me shaken is the man from the alley I encountered on the way home.
As I rounded Pikes Peak Avenue headed towards the park I passed an alley and heard this homeless man playing his guitar. Even though I was walking at a brisk pace, I found myself slowing down. There was something about the tune he was playing that was so captivating. It’s hard to describe now, but I just remember that it was so melancholy yet somehow soothing.
What happened next is really beyond my faculties of reason. I literally fell into what I believe to be a state of hypnosis. Somewhere deep in my mind I still had some type of awareness, but I was lost as if in a dream landscape.
The melody continued to wash over me as I stopped and retreated to the alley’s opening. Soft, dark waves of gloomy notes flowing one into the next lulled me into a trance. God knows how long I stood there and my eyes closed as I descended into the music. It was so sad, yet so beautiful. How could such a creature as this make such music?
I had the impression of floating high into the air – maybe it was an out-of-body experience; a dream-state roving composed of bits and snatches of sensations. Whatever the case, I beheld the city from high above as a hive of activity moving at high speed in blurry pandemonium while directly below me in a tiny circle of calm slowness I saw me and the guitarist alone with the music.
I began to descend ever so slowly while I watched myself walking towards the man. He was so engrossed in playing that I don’t even think he saw me. The music still came in soft, undulating waves as the haunting melody pulled me along. Closer and closer I descended still mesmerized by the song and watching the entranced me walking in a languid gait towards the filthy guitarist.
And then I saw, to my horror, that the real, physical me below was intent on approaching and touching the vagrant! But the part of my consciousness that was displaced – the rational me – was not going to re-enter my body in time to stop my hands from touching the horrible creature spinning that wicked, diabolical tune!
I strained with all my willpower to reach my body before it happened, but it was no use. Just as I reached my body there was mad mix of sensations. A chaotic swirl of noises and images and feelings all churned up into a quick torrent that sent a shock through my soul. As I came to myself, the first thing that hit me was the sadness in my heart. The song still swirled in the air about me. Through the hazy blur of my tears I saw that I had reached my hand out and was caressing the man’s face!
The most horrible part of the whole thing slammed into me then. The man quit playing and turned his face up towards me with the most saturnine smile I have ever seen. It was then that I beheld his face. He had four long scabs running diagonal across his face and my hands were caressing those grotesque, encrusted sores!
I screamed. I ran. I made it home, locked the doors, and then I must have showered and scrubbed my hands for hours. Even after that, I returned to the bathroom at least every hour to scrub my hands again and again and again. Just writing this makes me want to wash again.
As if that all wasn’t bad enough, now I have that cursed melody sounding in my brain over and over.
I have an appointment with Dr. Kaplan in four days and I’m already preparing myself for the trip. It’s not far; the office is only ten blocks away. Still, it might as well be across the Brazilian rain forest as far as I’m concerned. There’s just so many things out there that are waiting to attack me – germs, filthy hand rails, infested door knobs, diseased beggars, street urchins, ruffians, people jostling me on the street, the riff raff of society all spreading their pestilence. All it would take is one miniscule bacterium to do me in.
I know it is irrational, but that doesn’t change the way my mind works. Hypochondria is not a rational disease. Actually, Dr. Kaplan has requested that I call it Health Anxiety – that’s the new term for it. I still like Hypochondria, though. Did you know that Hypochondria originally meant “below the ribs”. It was a reference to tummy aches. Over the years it became synonymous with symptoms that a doctor can’t cure.
Even though I’m freaking out about the trip to my appointment, I’ve refrained from calling Dr. Kaplan. See, I don’t need to call him every time I have a suspicious looking mole or some door-to-door salesman comes by. I can fend for myself.
Today I’m going to write about my daily routines since this is something that Dr. Kaplan wants to focus on at our next appointment. To begin with, I must explain that my number is five. This only makes sense to a person with OCD. Everything I do ritualistically, I do in fives. I wake up at 7:05. I should clarify that I set my alarm to 7:05 and that’s when I get out of bed. It’s not like I ever have a full night of uninterrupted sleep. I toss and turn and worry all night long. Many nights I will just lie awake in bed for hours at a time. Nevertheless, I get up at 7:05 regardless of the amount of sleep I actually got during the night.
When I get up I immediately brush my teeth and clean my bathroom – not a thorough cleaning like I do later in the day, but just a cursory cleaning so I can use the bathroom, brush my teeth, and shower. I brush my teeth five times throughout the morning while showering and getting dressed. I do not shower unless the tiles are sparkling clean and the whole bathroom smells like chlorine.
During my shower I perform a thorough examination of my body for any lumps, lesions, or changes to my skin. Anything new, I’ll document on a piece of paper so that later I can research it on the internet.
After I shower, I wipe down the shower and begin to wash whatever clothes or towels are dirty from the previous day. I never have dirty laundry sitting around. After that, I go and check the doors and windows to ensure they are locked. I’ll do this routine throughout the day at certain times. Then, it’s time for breakfast.
My food intake is exclusively Vegan. I will not eat cooked meat because it can lead to disease, especially if improperly cooked. Animals are disease carriers anyway, so I just avoid them. I also refuse to eat any processed food. Again, it just leads to illness and disease. I realize that vegetables are risky too. I subscribe to a whole foods delivery program so that I don’t have to leave the house to shop. The company delivers all my fruits and vegetables and any other Vegan foods I need to my house once a week. Still, I soak all of my fruits and vegetables in a solution of vinegar and grapefruit extract that naturally removes and chemicals or bacteria that might be on them.
Anyway, my breakfast is mostly an acidic-based meal and then the rest of my meals for the day are generally rich with vegetables. For breakfast I’ll have a glass of purified water with lemon, a half of a grapefruit or oranges, a bowl of grapes or raspberries, and an English muffin with jam.
I wash my dishes and utensils before and again after I eat. This can turn into a ritual cleansing quite easily and many days I wind up cleaning the kitchen five times.
After the kitchen is spotless and has a nice chlorine smell, I turn on the T.V. and catch the latest news. After the news I like to listen to a talk show on the radio on homeopathic medicine. I know Dr. Kaplan will not approve of this – nor, especially will my Primary Care Physician Dr. Ramsey. Still, I enjoy the callers’ questions and Dr. Weiland’s philosophy.
If I’ve discovered any unusual bumps or blemishes, I’ll take the time to research what they might be on my computer. This typically turns into a lengthy bout of reading about diseases all the way up until time for lunch. Before lunch, I’ll clean the kitchen and then usually have a salad with a side of potatoes or rice. After lunch, it’s time to clean the apartment.
Once the apartment is thoroughly clean, I’ll work out, shower again, and then take a nap. My workout usually consists of Pilates or Yoga with some type of aerobic video – I have several that I’ll rotate through. Exercise is very important to good health.
After my nap I’ll have a snack and watch a movie or T.V. show. It just depends on what I’m currently into at the moment. I pretty much spend the evening after dinner either watching T.V., reading, or surfing the internet. I’ll do that until 11:00 or 12:00 at night before finally going around and checking all the windows and doors at least five times before finally going to bed.
So you see, my daily routine is not that out there even though I know that some of the things I do might be considered a bit eccentric.
I had a visitor today. Looking back on it, I should’ve just hid and let him believe that no one was home; but I didn’t know what he wanted and it could’ve been important. In the end, he was only a door-to-door salesman and I wound up mumbling apologies through the cracked door before shutting the door back and locking it. And now I have become obsessed with checking the locks.
I phoned Dr. Kaplan – of course, he was with another client and didn’t call me back right away. When he finally did, we talked about the salesman and the distress that it caused me. It was his idea to start keeping a journal so that at the next session, we could address the frequency of my calls to him. You see, he thinks I call him way too much, but I don’t think so. Sure, I call him from time to time, but it certainly isn’t an abnormal amount.
Since the salesman left I’ve checked the locks and cleaned the door eight times. I know that is too much. I know that. I can judge what is too much even though I can’t stop myself from checking. Dr. Kaplan is just a busy man and any interruption from a silly woman with OCD is too much for him and his busy schedule.
I miss having a pet. I used to have a cat named Ajax, but he was too dangerous. I don’t mean that he was aggressive or anything of that nature; he was just too much of a risk to my health. Cats – well, any animal for that matter – are either carriers of disease or attract other vermin that carry disease. Jeff was kind enough to find Ajax a good home, but I still miss having someone else around – even if it is just a pet and not another human.
Dr. Kaplan assures me that my Hypochondria is all in my head just like the OCD is, but I don’t care. I know my body and I know when unclean things in the environment affect my wellbeing. When Jeff took Ajax and I cleaned the house, I felt better almost immediately. Still, I get so lonely here with no one to talk to. I wish it were easier to just get out and go but the world is so fraught with danger and disease. It takes all of my courage just to make it to Dr. Kaplan’s office for therapy. And after I get back safe and sound to my apartment, I’m so exhausted that it takes me days to recover from the venture.
Angela used to call me at least every other day but I’m afraid that her mother’s illness has consumed her. Jeff is certainly a good brother and tries his best to keep tabs on me, but he never called as much as Angela. I’m really glad that Jeff found such a good girl as Angela to marry – she and I really became close until her mother found out she had cancer. When she called and told me, I became obsessed with her mother’s symptoms. I was only trying to help. But, eventually, it led to me becoming obsessed with seeing the symptoms in myself and all I wanted to talk to Angela about were the similarities between her mother’s illness and mine. I mean, I believed I really had breast cancer too.
Then I got the call from Jeff. He was nice about it but I figured out that Angela couldn’t talk to me about the cancer. It was too hard on her. I went to the doctor and demanded all the tests that could diagnose breast cancer but they didn’t find anything. I’m still not convinced.
The point is, I guess, that I miss having Angela check in on me and I miss having someone to talk to. It’s not like I don’t have anyone at all, just not someone who is regular. That’s all.
Hi! If you’ve read any of my blog and my weird writings, please take the time to post a comment about your thoughts and impressions. I’d love to hear what you think!
Also, here is an interview that I just did that delves a little deeper into my artistic vision.
“So, what do think?” Claire said. She and her neighbor Mike sat watching the video of Lucius playing guitar in the isolation room. Claire lived in an apartment complex and her neighbor Mike, who lived across the hall, was the first person Claire had thought of who played guitar. Claire had wired the camcorder up to her television so that Mike could see the playing better.
“Wow! Even though you can’t hear it, you can see how well his playing is,” Mike said as he sat on the edge of Claire’s couch and leaned forward to study the playing of Lucius. “And you say that this guy attacked you and escaped the asylum?”
“Something like that. Attack might be a pretty strong word for it. He tackled me and took my swipe card, then he ran out before anyone could stop him.”
“I’m so confused, Claire. Why were you taping him and then he just ‘tackled’ you and fled? There’s something you’re not telling me.”
“What? You think I helped him escape?”
“No. I didn’t say that. It’s just all so weird.”
“Oh, it’s weird alright. Before he tackled me he literally clawed his own face. I mean diagonally across his entire face he dug all his fingernails in and just gouged long cuts across his face. He told me to stop and that he wanted to see me for what I was; then, I just watched in horror as he did it. The blood just started pouring from the wounds and then I started screaming. That’s when he tackled me and knocked me out.”
“What the hell! He knocked you out? Claire, I thought you said he just tackled you?”
“Would you relax? I’m fine. And I don’t think he was trying to hurt me or single me out. I just happened to be the one who was there when he decided to escape. He was just trying to go, ya know?”
“Do you think he was upset about you recording him?”
“No. He didn’t know I was recording him. At least I don’t think he did. Besides, he didn’t take the camera. He just took his guitar and my card and left.”
They sat in silence for a moment while Mike thought about the scene Claire had described. After a moment Claire said, “So, do you think you can learn what he’s playing?”
“I doubt it. Claire, I just plunk around on the guitar. I can’t even play fingerstyle without a pick, much less execute some of the things that guy is playing with his right hand.”
“Oh,” Claire said, her dejection evident in her tone.
“But I bet there’s someone who could.”
“I don’t know. I mean I know a guy who probably can, though. I work with a guy named Ted who plays in a band. He’s a much better guitarist than I am and I bet he could do it. If not, I bet he knows someone who could.”
Lucius Rivers had made it to the Springs. It was a hard couple of weeks following his escape. He had no food, no money, no warm clothes, nothing but the guitar slung across his back. But the Baron had provided. Still, it was hard going and his spirit faltered.
He had crossed paths with other vagrants and homeless folks who had helped him to improve his situation ever so slightly. A ragged coat here. A worn out pair of shoes there. A scrap of food to stave off the gnawing pains of hunger.
This particular day had been the best so far. He arrived at the mission for the lunchtime doling out of hot soup and bottles of water. It was like a feast to Lucius. Afterwards, Lucius wandered the nearby streets looking for a secluded alley in which to rest. He found a spot off the main path within an alley and sat down. His belly was actually full and he proceeded to unsling the guitar from his back.
Lucius ran his hand over his face feeling the long scabs from where he had finally peeled away the mask for the last time. Naked to the world and to the new reality he now inhabited, Lucius tuned his guitar and prepared to play his first real performance of the suite.
Claire and Lucius walked down the hall of the South Wing to the small, padded isolation room. A chair and Lucius’ guitar sat in the far corner.
Lucius smiled at Claire as he entered the room.
“Alright, Lucius, you have one hour and then I’ll be back to escort you back.”
Claire shut the door and then proceeded to go into the adjacent room. This room was dark but Claire didn’t turn the lights on. Instead, she left the door ajar so that light from the hallway could illuminate enough of the room.
In times past this room had been used as an observation room. The shared wall with the padded cell was a one-way mirror. From Lucius’ point of view, it looked like a large mirror, but for Claire, it was a window. She could see Lucius adjust his chair and then almost lovingly pick up the guitar.
The room was equipped with a microphone and speaker so that Claire could have listened to Lucius, but that was unnecessary – she knew he would meticulously tune his guitar only to skew the tuning before playing. Besides, it wasn’t the audio she wanted to record, it was the visual performance.
Claire had already deposited a camcorder on a tripod in the room. She turned it on and ensured the angle and focus were correct, then she pressed the red record button and left.
Lucius wasn’t the least bit surprised that Claire had been the one to retrieve him and escort him to his playing session. The Baron had already told him that today was the day of his escape.
His patience and practice had finally paid off and he was ready to spread the performance now.
The Baron had requested that before he help Lucius escape, that Lucius play the entirety of the suite one more time. At the end of the today’s session, Claire would help Lucius leave Rathbone Asylum for good.
And so, Lucius poured his heart and soul into his final practice within the walls of the asylum. And his performance was incredible.
After he had finished, he placed the guitar back against the wall and sat waiting for Claire to return.
Shortly, Claire opened the door and smiled at Lucius. “Okay, Lucius, are you ready to head back to your room?”
Lucius merely smiled pleasantly and followed her into the hallway. They took no more than a few steps when Lucius said, “Oh, Claire, one moment, please. I must look upon you for what you are.”
Claire turned confused and Lucius proceeded to peel the mask completely from his face so the he might behold her in her true form.
What Lucius saw was shocking – almost too shocking for him to believe, but the Baron had not lied. Claire was one of the insect things just as the Baron had warned him. He stood transfixed as the human-like covering finished sloughing off into a pile in the floor. Her head reminded Lucius of the head of some great praying mantis. If was triangular with two enormous compound eyes. The antennae wiggled, testing the air and then the strange, sideways mandibles opened and a horrendous screech issued forth like the forest erupting with the sound of a host of cicadas.
Lucius’ hypnotic stare was broken and he realized that now was the time to act. He lurched into the Claire-creature and struck the thing exactly how the Baron had told him. There was a brief struggle where the creature tried to use its insect appendages to fend off the attack, but Lucius persisted through his revulsion until the creature was still. Then Lucius took the swipe key from the body and returned to the isolation room to retrieve his guitar.
After that, it was a relatively easy task to use the key to exit out of the little used and empty South Wing.
Lucius Rivers was now free to introduce the world to the Baron Shadowmancer’s grand Suite Insanity in E minor.