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Recently, Kirsten and I caught the new Netflix documentary Devil at the Crossroads about the life of Blues legend Robert Johnson.

In June of 2004 I had to attend a class at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi for four weeks.  Keesler is located on the Gulf Coast in Biloxi, Mississippi right down the road from Gulfport – a very popular vacation spot.

My weekends were free and I spent my time going for runs on the boardwalk, swimming in the ocean, playing some classical pieces on my guitar, catching up on reading, and writing a story churning around in my head. But one particular weekend a series of strange occurrences beset me and left me with a rather bizarre story to tell.

Friday after class I returned to my hotel room a little tired and decided to take a nap before dinner.  During this nap I had the strangest dream.  I was driving in a big convertible Cadillac down a country road when I came upon a black man running down the side of the road.  As I approached he turned and I could see terror sprawled on his face.  His wide eyes saw me and he thrust his thumb in the air indicating he needed a ride. I slowed down and noticed in his other hand he was carrying a worn guitar case.  I stopped to pick up the man and he removed his hat to wipe the sweat from his brow as he hurriedly climbed in.  He thanked me and introduced himself as Robert.  I started driving again and I noticed he kept turning to look nervously behind us as we drove and made small talk.  Obviously something was after him and he kept searching to see if it was behind us.  Finally, as we passed a sign which said Union Church, the dream ended with a large dog racing into the road ahead of us.  As I slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the animal he screamed something about the hellhound.

I awoke from this dream with a start and was momentarily confused as to where I was.  As I regained my bearings I thought about the dream.  The dream was easily interpreted as a meeting with Robert Johnson, the infamous blues guitarist and native of Mississippi.  It struck me as a strangely vivid dream and my thoughts kept returning to the story of how Robert Johnson had supposedly met the Devil at a crossroads near Clarksdale or Rosedale in order to make a deal with Satan. Supposedly he had traded his soul for fame – it was an old myth which had been retold many times, in many different forms.  The story of Faust and Paganini were probably the most famous versions; but the Robert Johnson story had spawned similar stories about the members of Led Zeppelin and was recounted by other artists including Charlie Daniels.  There was even a movie made in the eighties called “Crossroads” about the legend in which the protagonist avoids losing his soul by playing an arrangement of a Paganini violin caprice on the guitar.

I went to get some dinner and thought more and more about the story of Robert Johnson.  The details were sketchy but the legend had prevailed.  Johnson had been an untalented blues guitarist who hung out with notable bluesmen Willie Brown, Charlie Patton, and Son House.  He left Robinsonville and returned home to Hazlehurst where he met Ike Zinnerman.  Zinnerman, an Alabama native like me, used to proclaim he had learned to play guitar by sitting on a tombstone in an old graveyard late at night.  Most people believe it was under Zinnerman’s tutelage Johnson became such a good guitarist.

But rumors began to spring up it wasn’t Zinnerman at all which caused Johnson to become so suddenly good.  When Johnson returned to Robinsonville his old idols took notice of his marked improvement and Son House began to tell of how Robert had met Satan down at an old crossroads in order to sell his soul in exchange for his blues playing abilities.

Robert himself never denied this rumor and, in fact, wrote several songs such as “Me and the Devil Blues”, “Hellhound on My Trail”, and “Cross Road Blues” that seemed to confirm the story.

Supposedly, according to another blues guitarist named Tommy Johnson, a person wishing to make such a deal with the Devil would sit at the crossroads about midnight and play their guitar until a strange black figure would arrive.  This black figure would, of course, be Satan himself.  Satan would take the person’s guitar, tune it, and give it back.  This would be the end of the deal and the person would suddenly possess supernatural skill and whatever fame and fortune they so desired.  But in all such tales there is never a satisfactory end and the poor individual who pays their soul usually is haunted by tragedy and pain.  In the case of Robert Johnson, he died of poisoning from one of two possible people in a jealous love triangle only a few years after tasting a little of the enormous fame he now possesses.

Just where this notorious and mystical crossroads is, is also a matter of some speculation.  Most accounts place it somewhere around Clarksdale and Rosedale in the northwestern corner of Mississippi.  But this doesn’t really seem to fit with Johnson’s sojourn back to his hometown of Hazlehurst.  Something in my dream kept gnawing at me.  It was the place name of Union Church – I had never heard of this place before in my life.

After eating I returned to my room and proceeded to peruse the road atlas of Mississippi.  I quickly found the cities of Clarksdale and Rosedale.  It took me a few more minutes to locate Hazlehurst off of I-55 and Highway 28.  And then I saw something which gave me a little bit of a shock – southwest of Hazlehurst was a town called Union Church!

Suddenly, the sign in my dream flashed back into my mind and I could see there was a number alongside the name of Union Church and the number was nine.  I looked at the map and calculated nine miles outside of Union Church coming from Hazlehurst would place the location of where the hellhound stopped the car in my dream inside of the Homochitto National Forest at the crossroads of Highway 28 and Highway 547.  For several moments I sat in bewilderment wondering what the dream could mean.  The similarity of the dream to the map was eerily accurate.

The dream and my following discovery on the map kept buzzing around in my head.  As I sat in my hotel room and strummed on my guitar I wondered how long it would take to get to the Homochitto National Forest.  I sat down with the map again and did a rough calculation of approximately 180 miles.  If I drove 60 miles per hour from Gulfport to Highway 28 and then 50 miles per hour on the smaller highway till I reached the forest, I concluded I should be able to make the trip in four hours pretty easily.  I looked at the clock and it was almost 6:30 p.m.  That would put me at the crossroads this very night at around 10:30 p.m.  Plenty of time to make it before midnight.

Before I had time to question the absurdity of my actions I had grabbed a few articles of clothing, some toiletries, the road atlas, and my guitar and was pulling out onto I-90 from Biloxi to Gulfport.

As I drove the two-door rental car along the coast I pondered just what it was I was hoping to achieve on this trip.  Would I really meet someone claiming to be Satan at the crossroads?  If I did have a chance to trade my soul for fame, fortune, and guitar virtuosity, would I do it?  I used to dream of being a well known guitarist but that had faded over the years. While I still enjoyed music and worked hard at improving my playing, I really had no desire to be known for my playing ability.  I still entertained dreams of being known for my compositional ability on the classical guitar but that too was secondary to my real passion – writing.  If I had to choose what posterity would remember me for it would be as an author of short horror and weird fiction.  Now, if I had the chance to trade my soul for fame, fortune, and writing virtuosity, I would definitely do it.  That’s how badly I wanted to be a well known author.

I recall the drive very well.  I grappled with the urge to smoke on the drive is why.  I used to be a very unusual smoker.  I never really was a true smoker by any stretch. I never smoked during the day for one. When I did smoke was when I had a few beers in the evening.  I would smoke when really bored or when stressed out about something, too.  I always exercised fairly regular to ward off the bad effects of smoking so I didn’t really over worry about my habit. I did want to quit completely because I knew it was unhealthy.  I had been doing pretty well on the trip so far at quitting but the drive was really boring.  Finally, I gave in to my desires and stopped to buy a pack of smokes.  After having the first wonderful cigarette I cursed my weakness and vowed to quit after I finished the pack.  I had done it many times before but this time it really stuck in my memory.  You’ll understand why in a moment; but first, let me tell the rest.

It was about 9:45 when I reached Hazlehurst.  I briefly entertained the idea of stopping and seeing one of the town’s Robert Johnson tourist attractions but decided it would take too long.  No, I was being driven by an inexplicable force and my only concern was my dream-revealed destination.

The rest of the drive was over quickly and I soon was entering the Homochitto National Forest.  The crossroads was immediately inside the forest and before I realized it I was upon the Highway 547 sign.  I stopped quickly and pulled over on the shoulder of the road staring at the sign which said Union Church was nine miles down the road.  I looked at my watch and it read 10:27 p.m.  I sat for a few minutes and smoked another cigarette. The traffic on Highway 28 was light – only an occasional car passed by.

I waited until there was no traffic coming in any direction and then I retrieved my guitar from the back seat and found a spot to sit. It was a nice night – hot but clear. A slight wind blew from the west which served to make the heat at least tolerable.  It was fairly dark but I could see well enough to find a dead log at the edge of the woods on which to sit.  I was close enough to the road to see it but hidden enough where passing cars wouldn’t notice me.

I opened my guitar case and pulled out my guitar.  I felt a little weird about the whole affair but I thought it would at least make for a good story to tell my friends.  At first I started playing some blues licks but I felt the need to play something a little more challenging.  So then I started playing Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 for the Guitar.  This was a rather difficult piece I had been working on recently and it somehow seemed appropriate at the time.

I played this piece and then played a few others then took a break to smoke another cigarette.  Then I got up and walked around for several minutes and returned to the log to sit and wait.

It was getting close to 11:30 and I was growing bored of this whole ordeal.  I decided to play the Paganini piece one more time before calling it a night.  My attention was completely focused on my guitar when a voice made me jump and scared me so bad I dropped my guitar as I rose and retreated from the voice.

“Whatchoo doin’ out here this late at night, boy?”  I recovered enough to regard an old black man standing at the edge of the road about 20 or 30 yards away.

I really didn’t know what to say in reply so I made up a lie. “I’m just passing through and was getting sleepy at the wheel so I stopped to get some fresh air and wake up a bit before continuing on.”  Was this really the Devil coming to make a deal with me?  The old man sure didn’t look like the Devil to me.

“What kinda music you playin’?” he asked walking a bit closer.

“Oh, it’s classical music,” I said by way of explanation.

“Uh huh,” he mumbled as if not really caring.

“What are you doing out here this late?” I asked.

“On my way home.  My name’s Esau,” he said.

I introduced myself as I walked over to meet him and shake his hand.  “Do you want to tune my guitar?”  I couldn’t believe the words came out of my mouth as I spoke them.  It sounded so ridiculous and I cursed myself before I had even finished the sentence.

“Tune your guitar?” he said in confusion.  “Tune your own damn guitar, boy.  I don’t know how to play no guitar.”

“I’m sorry,” I said uncomfortably.  I produced a cigarette and lit it.

“Mind if I get a smoke from ya?” he asked.

“Not at all,” I said offering the pack and my lighter to him. He took a cigarette and lit it, took a long drag, and made a face as if he were relishing the taste.

After a moment he looked at me and said, “Well, I guess I best me moseyin’ along.”

“Yeah, me too,” I said.  I remember thinking if he were the Devil then he sure didn’t make me feel scared; and he sure didn’t seem to care about making any kind of deal for my soul.

“Well, it was nice meetin’ ya,” he said as he headed back to the road.

“Nice meeting you too,” I returned.  I picked up my guitar and began putting it back in its case. He made one last comment before getting too far out of earshot which completely changed the harmless little encounter into something I swear made me think he was actually the Devil.

“Thanks for the smoke, boy.  I’ll settle up with you when I see you again.”  This last comment struck me as so strange I couldn’t formulate a response.  Before I realized it, he had disappeared into the darkness.

You might well think this chance encounter was just a coincidence and his comment at the end meant nothing at all.  I would’ve dismissed it too if the story had ended there.  But it didn’t.

I had planned on spending the night in my car and heading back to Biloxi the next morning but I was too rattled to sleep – especially at the crossroads.  So I drove back that night.  I had pretty much convinced myself my imagination was running wild trying to attach some weird meaning to an otherwise harmless encounter by the time I reached Hattiesburg.

I smoked as I drove and promised myself that after this pack was finished, I would quit again.  The pack was getting low and just after I went through Gulfport I pulled the last cigarette out of the pack and nearly had a wreck at what I beheld.  The cigarette was a solid black cigarette with one white marking on the side – a skull and crossbones.

I had to pull over to the side of the road to catch my breath.  My heart was thundering inside my chest.  My mind reeled at the meaning of the cigarette and just how it could’ve gotten in the pack.  Did the old black man use some slight of hands or was he really the Devil?

It took me several minutes to regain my composure. I drove back to my hotel room and sat on my bed looking at the cigarette wondering what to make of it.

Finally, I decided it was the Devil I had met and he knew it wasn’t virtuosity on the guitar I wanted.  No, he knew it was virtuosity in writing I desired.  That was my passion; my weakness.  I also knew the deal would be made if I smoked the black cigarette.

I can’t say how long I sat there struggling over whether or not to smoke the black cigarette.  I won’t tell you what I finally did but one day you’ll know…one day, you’ll know.

 

I am super excited about one of my stories from The Other Side of Despair being featured on the latest podcast episode of Random Transmissions. This podcast is super cool and you should go and check out all the episodes!

Random Transmissions

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My new book is out! So, what exactly is it about? Ever since I was a teenager I’ve loved to read Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. If you’re not familiar with these revolutionary authors, well, frankly, you should be! Anyway, my love for their work spread into other authors within the genre of short horror stories. This genre also includes other short works that aren’t exactly horror, but overlap with it nicely – a better term might be short dark fiction, or even short gothic fiction. This includes stories that are weird, strange, bizarre, suspenseful, or scary. Think of most any episode of The Twilight Zone and you’re on the right track. This genre actually influences much art today. If you’ve seen the first season of True Detectives, there were numerous references to a work by the weird tale writer Robert W. Chambers. This work, called The King in Yellow, was actually the basis for my current book. It is a set of stand alone short stories that all share a common trope, or story arc thread within them. In the case of the King in Yellow it is a play called The King in Yellow that drives people mad. In my book, The Other Side of Despair, it is a mental institution that is the backdrop for the protagonist of each story. BTW, the title comes from a quote by the playwright T.S. Eliot: “Where does one go from a world of insanity? The other side of despair.” So, if you want to expand your mind by exploring the minds of the mad, check it out.

The Other Side of Despair

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Infinity.  The human mind cannot even grasp the meaning of such a word.  To contemplate it during the brief snatches of sanity in the depths of Hell drives one right back into the screaming jaws of insanity.  But it’s not an insanity of senselessness.  It’s not the insanity of blank-faced oblivion.  Not an empty mind defunct and destroyed behind vacant eyes.  Oh No!  It’s a cold, calculated insanity where chaos runs amok and logic is only allowed in to heighten the misery to the apex of suffering.  It’s an insanity designed by pure, malicious evil.

The torments of Hell are a creeping, crawling evolution with no end in sight.  Like mad scientists the demons react to the specimen’s actions with sterile precision.  A torture may go on for years extracting every ounce of suffering from the doomed individual with only minor tweaks in administration.  Each variation is a carefully calculated and shaded nuance that prevents the damned from building the least bit of sensitivity to their unique ordeal.

The longstanding formula of Hell is nine parts suffering, nine-tenths part chaotic insanity, and one-tenths part logical sanity.  The latter being the small, finite hope needed to contrast and compare infinite damnation.  But it is abundantly clear that the spark of hope is the real thing in each person that is being tortured.

The longstanding maxim of Hell:  Hope be damned.

*

Thargus Ramuntula swept into the dingy cell like a flitting shadow and poured into the empty chair against the darkened wall.  Thargus was a lithe and dramatic demon.  He nestled into the darkness, unseen except for his slit-like, red eyes.  The two malevolent eyes studied the grotesque fiasco at the center of the room with mirthful intent.

Stephan Iskander was Thargus’s current subject.  A neon light projected a wavering, sometimes flickering beam of light on the form of Stephan who was strapped into a rusty, filthy, blood-caked dentist’s chair.  Fat leather straps secured his arms, legs, chest and head to the chair.  Stephan’s eyes were inhumanly wide with terror as he strained to look at Thargus hidden in the shadows.

It was difficult to see just what Stephan really looked like due to the large strap across his forehead and the bloody pulp that used to be his mouth.  Metallic hooks were anchored at various places within that pulp; cables, stretched taunt, radiated out from Stephan’s mouth into various places around the ceiling.  In life, Stephan had had a horrible phobia of the dentist and Thargus had chosen to spend the next several years playing upon this fact.

Thargus had grown bored of the most recent bout of torment and this day a profound sense of melancholy had settled over him.  It was rare that he felt these saturnine moods covering him like an oppressively heavy cloak, but today he found himself in need of sharing his dour mood with his subject.

“You probably spend a lot time regretting raping those little girls, Mr. Iskander.  And I’m sure you wish you could go back and change your life.  Knowing what you know now you’d probably be a model saint, I’m sure.  It’s funny, huh?  Why doesn’t He just show you all this beforehand and then you’d all be so good.”  He said the last word as if it caused pain to his tongue.  Stephan only groaned and continued staring wild-eyed towards him.

“I shouldn’t be telling you this but I’m feeling rather philosophical today.”  And with these words Thargus sat forward into the edge of the light as if he were about to impart some vast secret that would forever change the workings of Hell.  His skin was blackish blue and his lean, red tongue momentarily worked its way over his needle-like, yellow teeth.

“You shouldn’t beat yourself up about any of it because there is no such thing as freewill.”  He paused a moment for the dramatic effect, but it was lost on Stephan.

“That’s right, Stephan.  From the very beginning it was determined that you would do every single thing you’ve ever done and that you would wind up right here.  You might have thought you had a choice but it was always known; every little thing you would ever do.  Now isn’t that a kick in the ass?  The great, good, all benevolent, Big Guy created you knowing that he was sending you on a one-way street to Hell.

“Doesn’t sound like a very nice thing to do, now does it?”

Thargus paused to pick at his teeth with one long claw before settling back into the darkened chair.  Just then the door to the chamber opened and a lesser demon entered.  This demon wore a long white apron smeared with blood.  His head was hidden behind all manner of devices including a jeweler’s loupe and a doctor’s headlamp.  Stephan began to struggle and moan at the presence of the demon whose task it was to administer the excruciating tortures.

The demon paused and looked over at Thargus.  Thargus grunted with annoyance and waved his hand as if swatting a fly.  The demon squealed in pain and then scattered into thousands of tiny particles that disappeared into the darkness.

He continued as if there was no interruption.  “The supporters of The Great and Wonderful Oz would have you believe that there is a loophole that preserves your freewill.  They say that He doesn’t influence your choices; He just knows what you will choose when you freely make a choice.

“What a load of shit, right?  I mean, even your addled brain should be able to see the flaw in that logic.  He still knows what you will choose way before you ever existed and, yet, He still created the whole thing knowing that you would choose to be a pitiful little sex pervert – a slave to your drives and desires.”  Thargus rose suddenly from his chair and began to circle Stephan, his large, clawed hands clasped behind his back.  Stephan squirmed as his wild eyes tried to track Thargus’s circuits.

“Did you really have a choice, Stephan?  After all, His knowledge of your choices existed before you did.  Do you see the absurdity of the whole tragedy?”

Thargus stopped, grabbed the top of Stephan’s head in his huge hand, and shoved his face a fraction of an inch from Stephan’s face as he exclaimed, “Do you see, Stephan!”

Tears began to stream from the corners of Stephan’s eyes.

“The secret is this, Stephan:  God isn’t the great guy he’s cracked up to be.  God is a real mean sonuvabitch.”  Thargus released Stephan’s head and once again began to circle the chair.

“And still, He likes to keep this whole charade going; pretending he is good and we are bad and that all you mortals have a real choice between the two.  He cast me into this shit hole for all eternity because I point out his flaws – now that’s childish.  And he makes you think this is all your fault, when you never really had a choice – now that’s just evil, Stephan.”  Thargus stopped and stared piercingly into Stephan’s eyes.

“Wouldn’t you agree, Stephan?

“Well, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.  Call it a rebellion, if you will.  ‘Cause, even from Hell, I can still piss Him off.

“How, you ask?  By bucking the rules.  Going against the establishment.  Upsetting the status quo.  By turning Hell into a little slice of Heaven!”  And Thargus began to roar with the most malevolent laughter Stephan had ever heard.  It was a deep, hearty laugh that erupted from Thargus’s abdomen.

“I’m giving you the day off, Stephan.”

With the wave of his hand the chamber transformed into the facsimile of a filthy bedroom.  Stephan found himself standing there, nude, his face no longer mutilated.  Thargus stood beside him, his huge form dwarfing the bewildered Stephan.  Stephan’s hand shot to his mouth and he felt his jaw for damage but there was none.  Stephan felt perfectly whole.

But there was a third person in the room, too.  Cowering in the corner on the floor beside the bed was a girl no more than eight or nine-years-old.  She was sobbing and curled into the fetal position.

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My story “Shockley House” was published in this year’s Halloween anthology The Yellow Booke.

July 2

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.

July 8

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.

June 24

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.

June 27

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.

June 28

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.

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June 21

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.

June 22

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?

June 23

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.

June 16

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.

June 19

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.

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June 13

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.

June 14

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.