by James Christon
The wood panelling denotes how old the world is around him. How history resides in the classrooms like bottomless pits found by scuba divers. Dan takes a deep breath and unwillingly ingests an obscene amount of wood dust. He takes a sip of water to keep himself from coughing.
His other classmates are all in the act of leaving the room. Dan is the only one to remain in his seat. He was unusually tired on this Monday afternoon, so he decided to sit a little bit longer to gather the energy to get out of his chair. Some people gave him nods, others exchanged chit chat, but it was all done quickly. Within a matter of minutes everyone but Dan had moved out of the room.
The last person out seemed to have forgotten about Dan as they turned off the light switch as they were walking through the doorway; their arm darting out underneath the closing door and slithering back away into the world beyond the door.
So Dan was bathed in the grey darkness of an empty classroom on a dull Monday. He wasn’t too bothered by the darkness. It was still light enough for him to see the details of the room, but still lacking in enough light to give off the impression that the room had been shrouded by an obscuring haze.
Dan is putting his things in his backpack. His laptop must go in first so that it gives the rest of the contents a backing spine from which to build off of. His books and notebook go in as an organized pile––a stack turned turned degrees. He look around the room as he puts his stuff into his bag. He swings his bag around his shoulders and walks out of the room.
Outside the classroom the hallways are also empty. He thinks that he really must have taken a long time putting his stuff away for the room to get to its currently barren state. The wood panelling of the walls are polished a deep brown. The hallway smells dusty when there’s no people milling around. His footsteps are the only sounds in the building it seems. Down at the end of the hallway, he can see the grey outside world. It looks like it could rain any second.
The doorway falls back from his view as the sky drapes the limits of his vision. There’s a soft haze of light on the horizon, like a nightlight underneath a bed. Out across the street, Dan can see the streetlamps casting the dead trees as black outgrowths from the dark ground. The light is duly reflected by the asphalt and Dan can just barely make out that there is a street below the immensity of the sky.
And the sky is immense. The moon hangs as a single slip of a slightly lit nail. It provides no illumination except for the soft glow that surrounds it. The stars shine bright, but only the brightest shine above the mists of the city. The sky is dark and expands all around Dan’s head. He can feel it rubbing against his recently ruffled hair. A cold breeze knots its way through the night and onto Dan’s face. He clutches his coat closer to himself.
The leaves that remain on the ground are frozen, stiff, and brown. Dan notices the leaves as he stares at the street with wide eyes. He can still feel the roar pushing against him. The way the night roars in his ears with silence. There aren’t even crickets outside anymore. Dan can’t get himself to look up at the night sky for more than a few seconds, and has to pull away from the view as if it were too bright to look at.
Dan arrives at the party and there are people smoking cigarettes outside. They stand on the porch. Their embers shed a little light across their tight lips. Dan watches them watch him. He wonders what high school they went to. He wonders if he smokes one tonight if he’ll get cancer later tonight. If the strain of carcinogen that might be fatal to him is found resting in a cigarette resting in a box resting in one of those person’s pockets. If it’s waiting like some beast of prey just waiting to be disturbed. If these kids will snap at Dan if he asks them for a cigarette, or if they’re already noticing him.
Dan is watching them for quite some time before one of them says “Hey man.” in a friendly tone, aware of how out of it Dan is.
“Sorry.” Dan’s friend says as he usher Dan inside, “He’s been smoking a lot tonight.”
The group of smokers chuckle. The one that was talking before says “We’ve all been there before.”
Dan, with his friend’s hands on his shoulders, glances around the world outside the door into the party: It is dark outside. The streetlamps only cast so much light and the smokers’ faces are covered in a smudging darkness. Dan thinks that if he knew these people beforehand, he might be able to distinguish them now in this dark haze.
His eyes find their way back to the door to the party that is constantly growing larger. He realizes after a second that it isn’t the door growing bigger, just himself getting closer to the door. He can tell that the door is white and wooden. The doorknob is golden. Four vertical rectangles detail the door. The door that he is getting closer and closer to. . .
Dan wakes up and the sky is grey in the window above his head. He’s been home from college for two days now. He’s been tired and jet lagged both days. The fatigue has seeped into his bones. He can barely get out of his bed in the morning, and he even begins to wonder if getting up is really even worth it. It’s just a break after all. He will have to say goodbye again.
Last night he ended up at a friend’s apartment. They talked about high school and reminisce about the times they used to share. It felt like a warm glow at first, but the further he drifts away from that night, the more Dan realizes that there isn’t anything inherent separating his then from his now. It still rained back in those old days and it still rains now. So he tries to keep his mind occupied and stays up late playing video games and reading books instead.
He will get up from his bed and go through the next two days. But Dan will forget one day of this break. The day Dan will forget entirely for this break, almost as if someone had come in and snatched the memory from the holds of his brain, is the day he went and smoked pot with another friend. The weed was supposedly “next level” but it just seemed adequate to Dan. They smoked it out of a pipe in his friend’s playroom, which was on the second floor of his house and overlooked the cold and narrow street that dead leaves fell into. This was a room that Dan spent entire nights in on weekends. This night, this night he will forget, he will end up sleeping on a couch that his body will find surprisingly familiar. The blue light of televisions backlit the smoke falling out of the window.
On this day that Dan would forget, Dan could feel the warmness creeping into his chest, and he could feel his head beginning to raise step by step as if it were on a tire-jack. Dan stares out the window for a long time. So long in fact, that his friend begins to ask him if he is alright. Dan keeps silently staring into the silent street. Dan’s friend notices that Dan’s face seems almost completely barren of emotion. It’s as if someone had just woken him up and he was still trying to figure out what he was seeing.
Finally, Dan says something.
“I’m somewhere else” creeps out of his mouth like a thought creeping through his head. Dan’s face changes. It looks as if he sees something he recognizes: a person perhaps. Dan is still looking into the street. Dan has a look of concentration on his face as if this person were trying to say something to him that he just couldn’t quite make out. The friend doesn’t think much of it other than it being a high thought and an odd sort of stoned concentration. The friend smokes some more.
Dan continues to look into the wet street. The past rains made the street so dark and so black that it almost looks like a wet mirror reflecting the night. He stares and stares and stares.
5. Party Lights
. . . and there are people there. And they’re touching each other. And they might touch him. They might reach out with their hands that have touched other people and they might touch him. He might feel a hand brush up against him and he would freeze. And he would know that he could hear that roar. A roar he had felt walking through the night and a roar he would hear again, later in the night.
He would hear it now. He would feel it coming on and he knew people would stop and look into his chest. They would move past his black coat and his dark blue shirt and they would see into his chest. He would hear it echo in his head and echo and roar until it was too late. And then they would look at him.
And then they would try to make him part of their ritual: they would reach out and grab his skin and plaster it to the walls of the party. They would make him feel ok here. Someone would reach out and touch his arm to make sure he’s all there. He would never be able to leave. He would never know anything other than them again.
He didn’t want their hands to reach out from the black and grab him. He wanted to rest in amber lights. He crowded around the measly strung up lights in the corner that gave off a light that seemed to shake and shiver. Like the light itself was sick. Dan’s vision would begin to warble in that light as Dan began to shake and shiver.
“It’s tearing me up man. It’s like I’m here, but I’m not.” Dan says later in the night, sitting on the cushioned couch. He thinks he has been talking for longer than he actually has.
The shadow does not look at Dan. He does not respond to Dan.
“I can feel it. It’s tearing at my head!” His eyes are wide and reveal the white that surrounds the ghastly windows. “I can’t feel anything else when it’s there. I want to scream but I can’t.” Dan throws his hands over his head. He can feel his eyelids pressing into the corners of his eyes, where his eyes meet the chalices made of bone. His fingers are pushing against his head firmly. He is squeezing.
The couch no longer feels soft and comforting to Dan as it does restraining: he sinks into the foam, but the shape he impresses into the couch holds him into that spot. He tries to shift but only creates a continual sensation of sinking into the once-comforting foam. The shadow looks down at Dan’s moving form.
Then, it says something:
“I had a nightmare once.”
Dan does not look up from having his hands clutch his head.
The shadow continues:
“I was in a darkened room. It used to be lit, but something had caused the light to retreat from the room. I remember thinking that the light had fled. It had not been removed, it had ran away.
“But I was still in the room. I was looking around trying to let my eyes adjust when I realized that the room was more of a hallway than it was a room. But there were still desks and chairs piled around the sides of the room as if it were a classroom. I wasn’t scared yet. It was cool to explore the darkened room: I felt familiar with the place. I felt like I was exploring it from a new angle.
“But then I must have walked too close to something for I felt a scratch upon my skin. It crossed over all of the boundaries that are on my skin. He cut through my clothes and went straight to my skin. It was on my stomach and it trailed upwards, slowly. It crossed over all the lines that were on my body.
“I walked away quickly from the scratch, but as soon as I moved my legs caught on something else and I felt another slow scratch against my calf. That was when I started to turn around to look for a door out of this room. I saw one behind me that had my attention. It was the only door that I could make out in any detail, it had one of those handles that’s like an L pressed against the door.
“So I start walking towards the door to get away from the scratches, but each time I take a step, more things catch on my skin and begin to scratch me. And then I realize they’re getting deeper and slower. The thing that was scratching me was pressing harder into my skin, and drawing its limb more slowly across my flesh.
“I reached the door and flung it open. Inside, taking up the entire room, was a bed. It was dark. The room was lit by a single light that only served to bathe the rest of the room in a dense darkness except for a single band of light that fell upon the bed. The scratches were all over me now. They were tracing their nails across my forehead––circling my brain. That was when I flung myself down onto the bed. And I fell, and fell, and I fell until I noticed myself falling and jolted upright in my own bed at home.
“That was when I realized that my fingers were clutched to my body, the nails digging deep into my flesh. One of my hands was clutching my head with my palm on my nose. The other was clutching into the side of my abdomen. I couldn’t move the hands for a little bit after I woke up: they were still in the dream. I had to wait a few agonizing seconds as the rest of my body woke up. During that time, I was conscious of how my fingers still seemed to move: how they circled my flesh with their nails.”
The shadow gets up and leaves. Dan did not hear a word of what he had to say: his hands had found their way over his ears.
6. Daily routine.
Dan wakes up in a blue bed below gray skies. His window rests above him; the window a gaping, gasping mouth.
It is not that warm outside. He gets up and goes through his mourning routine.
He leaves. He drives to school; this drive is the happiest part of his day. The path is smooth and channels him to the world of school. He is still waking up during the drive.
At school, they stand in groups. They all turn to watch him walk up to the group. They are Sophomores. They are standing outside their classroom, waiting to be forced into the rough plastic chairs. They are all awake; stimulated on something that isn’t caffeine. Sometime that makes their eyes grow wide and warm, as if they were anticipating something in their future.
They are all talking, some of their heads do not move from their phones. They are not ignoring one another; there is no malice between them. But something inside is in the air. Something that sticks to the pale, off-white walls. The time winds down, and the bulk of them find their way to their rough plastic chairs that are blue. Some wait until the big hand on the clock forces them down.
In class, the talking continues. The talking happens constantly. So constantly that there is no silence. So constant that Dan barely has time to think about anything other than what the school forces him to do. Dan does not notice.
That day is a Friday. There is a football game that night, a home game. It seems that the entire school has been lifted up and placed on the freezing metal bleachers. They all watch. Some of them are quite good. The home-team wins. Touchdowns receive cheers. Not everyone is watching, but the presence of the game can not be escaped.
Dan has friends over that night. They play video games through the night. TV screens illuminate sleeping dogs.
They try to stay up the entire night, fixated on their games. The night surprises them and throws its cloak over their eyes one by one. Dan is the last one to fall asleep. He turns the volume on the tv down out of respect. It is him alone playing video games in a silent house in the middle of the night. The house is dark except for the blue-light of the tv screen. Outside it is dark.
The next day is one of rest. That night there are parties. Dan stays home and relaxes.
One party happens on a college campus not far from Dan. People have a good time; drinks are consumed and passions are inflamed. A girl with long blond hair and warm skin looks at herself in a bathroom mirror behind a locked door. The mirror is coated around the corners with sticky discolored spots. She stares at the messy sink and then at herself and then she cries. She cries and her cries cannot be heard outside of the bathroom because of the music playing outside. Her cries do not get past the glossed window. Outside of the window, the tears cannot be heard under the orange light of street lamps and the dying leaves drained of color. It is dark outside.
The next day is a Sunday, Dan spends it doing work.
He wakes up in a blue bed with a gray world around him. He wants to toss himself back into the pillow and let his bed absorb him with it’s soft blankets. But he cannot toss himself back into sleep. He forces himself to get up and go through his routine. He sighs into the towel he wraps himself in after his shower. He listens to loud music on the ride to school and tell himself not to be so sad. He yells the lyrics to the songs.
At school, they stand in groups around desks. Their desks seem bare and grey like they sky. Their eyes are bright and tired. They listen and slouch when the teacher begins to talk. Dan raises his hand to respond to questions sometimes.
He wakes up in a blue bed against a grey sky. They watch him walk up with sad eyes. They stand in groups. Dan has thought about his conversation with his crush. He wants her. He watches her with concrete eyes. The walls are almost as grey as the clouds outside that block the sun.
At lunch, they escape from the the thing that sticks to the walls and eat food and make each other laugh. They drive in cars to places not too far away. Some girls go off and drive to a coffee place to get brightly-colored drinks, they yell out the lyrics to their music on the drive back. Others stay inside where the thing sticks to the wall and do their work.
Dan returns from lunch and feels the concrete walls wrap around him. The walls have no windows. His friends are there. Something else is there that he can not see. But it slowly seeps down his throat like the colorful drinks his crush is sipping.
Dan wakes up in a blue bed with his open backpack next to the bed. The sky is gray. He hugs his dogs before leaving. He finds himself on these drives to school. It is barely light out. The stand in groups and watch him walk towards them with their dulled eyes.
He talks to his crush. They joke about a tv show they both watch. Dan thinks about the tv show in class. He thinks of the girls on the show and then thinks of his crush. He looks at his crush with soft, defeated eyes. The thing that sticks to wall begins to whisper to him. It comes from some place behind his ears.
He wakes up in a blue bed. The sky is grey. They exit the school mindlessly once the bell rings. He drives away from the concrete. He cannot escape.
He wakes up in a blue bed. The sky is grey. They stand in groups; their eyes are hungry.
About the Author:
Jimmy Christon is a student at Vassar College where he studies English and Religion Studies. He was born in Pocatello, Idaho but was raised in Eugene, Oregon. He writes to explore his experiences of growing up, and how these experiences get to more universal realities imbedded in the American experience. Both of these pieces are just such explorations.