Crybaby - Editor
by Marius Dicomites
It was worse than she expected.
Nothing could really prepare you for the cold, irrefutable confirmation - the shock of the moment when all doubts and illusions were snatched away to be replaced by a suffocating and onerous grief. The final day for the dead was the beginning for those left behind. This was when the mourning truly began.
Rachel watched silently as the long procession gradually gathered around the graves. It was still raining heavily – it had been raining for most of the day – and as they held their umbrellas over each other, she felt they were closing themselves off from her. They were a close, impenetrable group, and she was not allowed to be part of them. But she understood; she was the one to blame for all this. She had no right to share their grief.
She lowered her head as the ceremony finished. The mourners passed her as they left. None of them spoke to her, and she didn’t attempt to speak to any of them. When they had all gone, she took a step towards the graves. But it was too much. Despite the stark reality before her eyes, she still didn’t want to accept the truth. The tears she had tried to suppress clouded her eyes. Falling to the ground, she began to sob uncontrollably.
And then they came. They wrapped their arms around her and took her into their fold. They held her close and tight. Whispering to her, they pressed their faces against hers; they rocked her gently and tried to soothe her as the reality penetrated her consciousness and she began to scream with grief. Holding her even tighter, they drew her away. She didn’t resist. She needed peace. Surrendering, she fell back against them; she hid within them as unwanted memories flooded relentlessly into her broken mind.
Willingly, she lost herself to them, and prayed that she would never recover herself again.
They had left her alone.
It didn’t matter. She had no use for them anymore. She had recovered enough of her sanity to recognise the distant pity they had shown her. Since the day of the funeral they had chosen to keep their distance - not one of them had spoken to her face to face. They hadn’t reached out to her again. They had been a hollow presence offering reserved consolation. Well, she no longer needed the forced solace they had shown her; knowing the contempt they really felt for her, she had no further patience for their cold compassion. She had depended on it in the beginning – it had been her only grasp on her sanity. Now she knew its worth, and she despised it as much as she despised them.
To be left alone; that was what she wanted. With the curtains closed and all the lights off, the outside world didn’t exist anymore. There had been phone calls for a while – incessant phone calls – but then she had ripped the phone cord out. Without day or night, without time, without even sound, she had kept to her bed; cocooned by the bed sheets wrapped around her, drifted in and out of a half-conscious sleep, where dreams with familiar faces waited for her – and she woke up crying. To be left alone; she needed to be left alone.
But there was someone in the house.
Unconsciously, she had been hearing it for some time; agonised, struggling to be heard, the intermittent murmur of a man’s voice from the room next door - their child’s bedroom. There had been so many thoughts running through her mind; broken, disjointed and irrational thoughts that she had been compelled to utter out loud – the man’s voice had been lost in the confusion. But the thoughts had stopped now, and it was there, it was definitely there.
And he had no right to be in her house. It was her house!
Swaying with rage, dragging her breath down her throat, she threw the bed sheets off her, and stumbled unsteadily, heavily, almost blindly, out of the door and into the passage. Fleetingly, it crossed her mind that it might be a burglar. But she didn’t care. There was too much rage inside her to care, and she was already giving voice to her rage when she pushed the door open.
The room had changed; everything had changed. Her child’s bed, the cartoon wallpaper they had taken days to put up, the toys that had filled the room – they were gone. Instead, the walls were covered with stained, faded wallpaper which was peeling off the walls at the edges; heavy pine furniture took up most of the space and dominated the room; and ingrained in every aspect was a gloom that seemed almost indelible.
And there was the bed.
Any rage she felt was dissipated at the sight of the frail, withered form that lay there, struggling to breathe but hardly moving, clearly so weak he was unable to move. It was a sight that instantly aroused pity in her; but it was also impossible. She was curious now. Expecting the incongruous vision to vanish at any moment, she moved cautiously closer and looked down at him. He saw her. His eyes widened with shock.
“Who are you?” he whispered.
He had asked the question she had wanted to ask him. Still unable to believe he was real, she reached out her trembling hand to touch the bed.
They both screamed at the same time.
They were pulled apart from each other. An invisible force swept over her like a wave; it was as cold as ice, and she shuddered involuntarily as it continued to move in ripples through the air. It was palpable - she was unable to resist as she was carried along with it. The man – the whole room – simultaneously moved away from her; she was thrown into a world of constantly changing visions of the familiar and unfamiliar; intrusive, pulsating, all-consuming visions which stole all sense of her physical body.
And suddenly she found she was no longer in the bedroom.
It was the materialisation of a memory that had burned every detail of itself into her mind. She was making her way down the staircase, struggling to see through the thick, billowing smoke which choked her every time she drew breath. She knew what was coming. She knew what was about to happen –
A tremulous moan of revulsion and disbelief fell from her lips. She shook violently with the next step, and then couldn’t go any further – it was too much. Not again, she pleaded inwardly, her body leaning backwards. She struggled to persuade herself it wasn’t real; but the smoke stung her throat with each breath, and the searing heat was beginning to burn her skin. It was real. It was happening again!
Knowing what was about to happen, she could feel her heart pounding as she stumbled blindly forwards. The cry had come from the living-room. She couldn’t see anything through the door; the thick smoke obscured everything.
“Amy,” she screamed out frantically.
“I can’t get out. Help me!”
“Stay where you are,” she ordered. “I’m coming!”
The words she had spoken before; they were exactly the same words she had spoken before. Tears began to stream down her face. “I don’t want to,” she pleaded faintly.
The voice jolted her from her hesitation. She couldn’t just stand there and watch. She had no choice. With clenched fists, she threw herself through the door; and felt the explosion from somewhere inside the room throw her whole body forcibly back through the door and against the wall in the passage. Her head struck the wall first; she could taste blood as her twisted form slumped to the ground.
She couldn’t move. Sitting with her back against the wall, she could only watch helplessly as the flames spread into the passage; and she could only listen to the cries for help as her sight rapidly darkened. Her strength was draining away from her. She opened her mouth to cry out for help; the sounds were stifled as they climbed up her throat. She could hardly focus her thoughts now. There was nothing she could do.
I’m sorry, she whispered inwardly, and everything slipped away from her.
Sooner or later, it was going to stop. It couldn’t go on forever. Nothing could go on and on forever. She had to endure and be patient. It was going to stop.
Shuddering with revulsion, she pulled the bed sheets over her head. A strangled cry escaped from her mouth as she curled into herself and wrapped her arms around her knees. But she couldn’t hide. The house had become a part of her now, and so every sound jarred harshly into her hearing, and every movement crawled through her with a violating, almost palpable sensation.
Nothing was hidden now.
“I can’t help you,” she cried out desperately, pulling the bed sheets off her and sitting up in the bed.
“I can’t help you,” she screamed, her body shaking violently. “I can’t – “
Her words were stifled as another low but distinct sound crept through to her from the bedroom next door – an insistent scratching, something heavy falling to the ground, and then beginning to drag itself across the ground. She knew what – who – was coming; she could hear him straining and gasping for breath as he struggled to push himself forward.
The realization that there was no key on the door threw her into a panic verging on hysteria. She was galvanised into action. She heard him coming out into the passage as she rushed to the door. Frantically, she made an effort to push the chest of drawers beside the door across it; but it was far too heavy – it refused to move. As the door shook and the doorknob began to turn, she twisted around with a shudder and held her back against it. It was futile. Her body sank convulsively to the ground as he repeatedly thrust against the door. He was too strong. This wasn’t the frail and elderly man she remembered – he was steadfastly exerting himself beyond his endurance.
The door began to open. She screamed as his hand came through the gap and clutched hold of her arm; without thinking, she pulled the rest of him through the door as she shrank away with terror and revulsion, and suddenly he was bent over her, his hands repeatedly reaching out to her as she tried to pull herself away. He was as cold as ice; she could feel the sharp cold in the air around him.
“Help me,” he pleaded hoarsely, his countenance suffused and twisted with agony.
“No,” she screamed maniacally. Her back came up against the wall as she recoiled from him again. Digging his nails into the carpet, he dragged his emaciated body across the ground; and she felt the cold emanating from him enclose her as he came over her. Its not real, she whispered inwardly, as his trembling hand touched her face. But she could feel his breath; she could feel his skin.
In a sickening shift, the palpable became impalpable. His twisted face penetrated her consciousness and burned into her mind. There were gnawing thoughts streaming inside her head – but they weren’t her thoughts. The world around them rocked back and forth before; and she could only feel relief as an impenetrable black quickly smothered everything around her and engulfed her consciousness.
Where was she?
The room had changed; the man was gone. It gradually came to her as her awareness of her surroundings grew. This was the room where she had found the old man. But there was something horribly wrong. There was one change.
She was the one in the bed.
In a half-conscious stupor, her thoughts were sluggish and struggled to find coherence. Making an effort to rise from the bed, she immediately sank back down again as a sickening nausea washed over her and made her crave sleep. It was then she grew aware of a dull but constant, slow-throbbing pain in her chest and abdomen.
“Help me,” she whispered.
There was someone in the room with her. Her vision was blurred, and at first all she could discern was a figure composed of shadows moving about. Whoever it was, they chose to ignore her plea; silently, with an unmistakable urgency, they moved about the bedroom. They were searching for something. Although her vision obscured the detail, she could hear drawers opening and been rifled through, objects been pushed impatiently aside.
“Who are you?” she choked out.
And suddenly they were looking down at her. It was a man in his early twenties. Tension tautened his face, but there was the barest trace of a smile on his lips. His eyes gleamed with familiarity, but there was no compassion or warmth.
“Who are you?” she said again.
His face convulsed with contempt. Before she could say anything else, he lifted a pillow over her; he wanted her to see it in his hands. A feeble moan crept from her lips as he thrust it down onto her face. Blindly, she reached out to try and push him away, but she was too weak to have any effect, and it only made him press the pillow down harder.
This wasn’t her death, but she could feel the pillow pressed against her mouth; she was the one struggling for breath. But this wasn’t her death. This –
The sight was ripped away from her. For a moment, she was sure she had been blinded; but then another sickeningly familiar vision bled into the dark before her eyes.
She shook her head with shock and held herself as she stood in front of the door again. Tears welled in her eyes. The past would always come back to her. There was no choice – she had no choice. She hurled herself through the door; and felt the explosion throw her body against the wall again. But something had changed; she felt it as she sank into unconsciousness.
She knew the truth now.
Dead things caught in the fragment of a past that would never release them; on and on, it would go and on – until they were driven insane, and then they would be lost in the moment of their deaths. There would be nothing but their deaths.
It was there in her mind - distinct memories that hadn’t existed before. Her husband had come home drunk. He had lit a cigarette and quickly fallen asleep on the sofa; the cigarette had slipped from his hand. Amy had entered the room to see him, and she had seen the fire starting on the sofa. She tried to wake him, but he wouldn’t wake up – and the fire had quickly spread out of control. She wouldn’t leave the room. She made an effort to pull Graham off the sofa, but he was too heavy for her – and she still wouldn’t leave the room.
And then she had played her part. It was the fireplace. There had been something wrong with the fireplace, and if she gotten there a minute earlier it might have ended differently. The fireplace had exploded just as she entered the room. It wasn’t the explosion that had killed her. It had ended for her when her head struck the wall.
It wasn’t her fault. The hole in her mind was gone – it wasn’t her fault. There was nothing she could have done to prevent what happened. The fireplace had been installed a week earlier – she now realized it had been faulty. If it hadn’t been for the explosion, they might have all survived the fire.
What was she going to do?
The truth could bring little consolation now. It was a living death. They would keep going back in time to die again – she would never see their faces. And in another time, in the same house, an elderly man would be suffocated to death.
What was she going to do?
The answer came to her as the old man’s labored breathing slithered into her hearing from the bedroom next door; it was the only thing on her mind as she climbed off the bed and, steadying herself, went towards the door and out into the passage. She heard him falling off the bed as she came to the door of his room. Her fear of him had gone; there was no reason to fear now. As she heard him beginning to drag himself across the ground, she opened the door and went straight to him, calmly knelt down in front of him as he reached his hand out to her, his agonised eyes holding onto her with a frantic desperation.
“Help me,” she said hoarsely.
He understood; she could see he understood. He crawled closer to her and held out his hand again. As she stopped down to him, a movement at the corner of her eye made her look up. There was nothing there, but she still had the sensation of an invisible presence repeatedly throwing its gaze at them as it went about the room. She remembered the old man’s murderer – what had happened before the murder. Time meant nothing in this existence. The past was waiting for them; it had been waiting for them all along.
She stretched out her hand.
It happened so easily this time. In an instant, she found herself standing in the doorway, looking down at the old man as he lay on the bed. There was a discernible, palpable change in the substance of her surroundings; she could feel the cold in the air and the ground beneath her feet; she could see the light from outside slipping through the gaps in the curtains, and hear the sounds of voices in the street. This time it was different. It was real, or as real as it could be. Why was it different?
She stiffened as she heard hurried footsteps from the room below her. The old man moaned with dread and made a feeble effort to lift himself out of the bed.
It was happening.
The trepidation thickened and pounded inside her as she rushed to the bed. At first the old man could only look at her with disbelief. And then he held out his hand.
“Help me,” he pleaded.
“Shh,” she hissed warningly, and for a moment could only stare down at him as her mind struggled to formulate a plan. They couldn’t go downstairs; he would be waiting. What was she supposed to do? What would be enough to change things?
It was in the corner of the room. It was large enough to fit both of them. Hurrying over to the wardrobe, she threw open the doors and returned to the bed. Pulling aside the bed sheets, she brought her arms under the old man’s knees and back. He was so light and frail – it was surprisingly effortless to lift him from the bed and carry him to the wardrobe. As she heard a door opening downstairs, she placed him inside in a sitting position against the inner wall. The footsteps were beginning to make their way up the stairs as she climbed inside the wardrobe to join the old man and closed the doors.
How could they die if they were already dead? What did they have to be afraid of? It was incomprehensible - there was nothing to fear, yet the fear choked them into a cowering silence as the footsteps came nearer. This was real. The old man was going to die, and what would happen to her when she was discovered with him?
The footsteps entered the room, and then they stopped. In her mind, she could see him looking around the room, trying to determine where the old man would hide. But she didn’t need to imagine. When the footsteps started again, they came straight towards the wardrobe; and when they stopped, she knew they couldn’t hide anymore.
She thrust the wardrobe doors open and threw herself blindly at him. Her hands found his throat, and she used the hold to push him back with all the force in her body. At first he was surprised – he hadn’t expected her to be there – but he quickly recovered his senses, and then his face contorted with a brutal rage. He seized hold of her arms, and they both writhed frantically against each other. He couldn’t get near enough to harm her; with her hands clutching his throat, she kept on pushing him away. But she was beginning to weaken; she couldn’t sustain the effort. If she lost, it would all be over, and the past would reclaim them. There had to be an end to this. It had to stop.
Her strength flooded back to her, and her frustration and rage drew on it as she pushed at him violently. They stumbled out through the door and into the passage; and there was a moment when they were both helpless and blind as they fell over the banister and down the staircase. In her mind, she was ready to seize control again as soon as she had the chance, but her head struck the wall as she tumbled down the stairs. The pain and shock caused her to loosen her hold, and she could do nothing as she was sent sprawling into the passage on the ground floor.
Her body wouldn’t move. Her consciousness was quickly slipping away from her. Hearing sounds from the living-room, she twisted her head sideways – and tears welled in her eyes as she saw her daughter going into the room. She could smell the smoke. She could -
“No,” she whispered, and caught her breath as a figure suddenly knelt over her. It was the old man. Had she saved him? Where was his murderer? If it was over for him, it was good. But what about her? What about her family?
“Help me,” she pleaded desperately. He stretched his hand out to her. Her vision was deteriorating, and as she reached out to him she found herself reaching out to darkening shadows.
And the world slipped away.
In the dark, she could hear crying.
The light started to trickle into the dark. There were voices now. They were familiar, but she couldn’t bring herself to open her eyes. There was too much to dread, and so she kept her eyes closed tight. There was nothing more she could give. If failure and disappointment waited for her again, she would hide from the voices and anything that reminded her of the past. She didn’t want to be hurt anymore.
Involuntarily, her eyes flew open, and she confronted the source of the voices. Her husband was sitting up against the wall, sobbing uncontrollably; their daughter knelt beside him, crying with confusion, and crying because he was crying. Shaking her head with a wary disbelief, she crawled slowly to them on her hands and knees. Hesitantly, she touched her daughter’s tear-stained face; her touch remained there, and when she was finally persuaded of its substance, her defenses slipped away and the uneasiness and doubts in her mind dissolved into relief. Looking at her husband, she could only feel pity. He was in shock. He realized what he had done, and it was too much for him.
He couldn’t bring himself to look at her. His body quaked as he tried to speak. “I’m sorry,” he sobbed.
There was no anger inside her. What was the point of recriminations? It was in the past. “I know you are,” she answered softly, resting her hand on his shoulder. She brought her daughter closer to her, and smiled as she hugged them both. In death, this was her existence now. They were all together, and they were all that mattered to her. The world was altering around them again. The visitants who had looked after her at the funeral, and after the funeral, grew into her awareness and surrounded them with warmth. There was no dread. She was certain that whatever happened it couldn’t hurt her anymore.
They would all be together.