The dream that left me behind

I knew I was almost at the end of my dream.

Almost. I’ve been in this dream and it’s variations so many times before, that I can tell that it’s ending, where the part about his history is revealed, where the promises are finally broken and where all hopes slowly die out. He would now start the fight, make those awkward statements and we would slowly begin accelerating towards a definite end.

Most of the ends would be sad, as the Weaver knew that the user’s runtime was nearing it’s end. Like every other common dream addict, I would wake up, frustrated and hungry for more, log in my required hours of dreamtime and sink into another misleading, beguiling fantasy. That’s the problem with addicts. We love to be lied to.

We are completely disconnected from reality, at least until the cruel Weaver counts down every millisecond unto the ending of the dreamtime. But then again, the Weaver is benign enough to let us refill our hours, so I probably shouldn’t complain.

I’ve dreamed many times, so many times that I think there’s a special circuit somewhere in the Weaver that saves runtime logs and dream-theme variations just for me. I can tell when the Weaver is being creative, or when it’s just borrowing another cliché.

Though, if it’s a question of creativity, I can’t claim much for myself either. Whatever the story is, whoever the background characters are, it’ll always be about him. He and I will prevail. Just the two of us.

The Weaver keeps me trapped in an electronic vortex of recycled emotions. A cycle that ends only until dreamtime runs out.

Different people deal with their first Weaver experience differently. The Weaver creates beautiful, credible, charming fantasies, which start off as mundane. By the time the story peaks, the viewer is completely in the Weaver’s reality. Before the viewer knows it, situations begin to go downhill, and soon enough, the viewer is rudely interrupted to ask for more dreamtime hours. A person can either be devastated by the end and never return again, or hold on to the illusion of further happiness and refill their hours. That’s how it works.

I don’t remember the last time I woke up for dreamtime hours. Could have been hours ago, or years. I don’t know. I don’t care. As long as the Weaver can serve my emotional needs, I will always be here. As a matter of fact, I don’t even know which dream I’m in. I’m a terminal addict, one step away from being the last stop before absolute assimilation. That’s probably when there’s no hope left for me at all.

But this dream is not like the others. I don’t know if the Weaver is malfunctioning or if I’m cascading into the last stage. Earlier I used to write down my dreams to get over my obsession. Today I write to record an anomaly.

I know I’m at the end of my dream. I can sense it. The fights have already started; the fairytale is slowly starting to show some cracks – all symptoms of the last stage of normal execution.

Usually, what would happen now is that things would get worse. Except that’s not happening this time.

We fought once last week, we argued about our relative differences yesterday morning. The veteran that I am, I know that this is the stage where I would completely be apathetic to his whims, remind myself that he was only an illusion, and that my dreamtime hours would be ending soon and just wait for the Weaver to finish the formalities before I woke up again.

However, this time, the awkward moments are being unusually spaced out. The disagreements are a lot less frequent. And that worries me.

According to prior experiences, we should have been angry this morning, continued on about yesterday’s issue, defended our stances to the effect where the rebuttals would get personal, and then started heaping insults at each other, till we knew that our relationship had shattered into many irretrievable pieces. That’s how it has been for all this time. That’s how it’s always supposed to happen.

In this dream, this morning, he showed immense reserves of maturity and forgiveness. We talked over what happened yesterday, he was patient, I understood what was expected of me, we soon arrived at a mutually agreeable solution and our relationship was just as strong as ever.

The surprising part is, that this is not the first time this has happened. After the second time or so, when this happened, I was telling myself that the Weaver was probably meandering around, trying to get a jaded viewer like me believe it’s immaculate lies.

No, no. This is the ninth time. The ninth time, the cracks in our relationship have shown and still, the Weaver hasn’t come to the part where it disintegrates completely. Usually, the dream would end after the third. At most, I have experienced four such incidents before the dreamtime runs out. But this has been the ninth instance and my wake-up call is extremely late.

I can somehow see through the Weaver’s pretense. Apparently, every relationship gets stronger with greater number of issues sorted out between them. I was completely numb the first three times, the fourth time made me want to laugh at the Weaver for its ingenuity. By the sixth time, I was beginning to grow fond of him. By the seventh I was truly attached. By the eighth, I was able to feel those emotions that every new viewer feels about the dream experience. I felt young again, and in my own way, I wanted to thank the Weaver for bringing out that part of me which I thought had died.

But the ninth time? By the ninth time, I am worried. I am scared. Either the Weaver has concocted some twisted torture for me towards the end or a cascade failure is in progress. I want to remember this dream, but then again I want the complete comfort of my fantasies.

I don’t know if this dream will let me hold onto him.  Though, some part of my mind, despite all these years of conditioning, is ignoring that, and holding on to him for real. I know it’s going to end.

Maybe, just maybe, this time, we will be together for real? The Weaver has never crafted such dreams before. So maybe this is not a dream?

It is so absurd to even suggest something so beautiful could be real…. and I mean really real, not just Weaver real.

I guess the more time I spent musing about this malfunction, the more dreamtime milliseconds I waste. Well, I paid for this, so I might as well enjoy it…

Personally, I hope the Weaver has crashed. If, after all these years of lies, I can finally sense the truth, then the Weaver’s circuits have truly evolved into something worthwhile.

But then again, if the Weaver has crashed, then how will I ever get to experience the pure joy of initiating another dream? How will I even wake up?

I don’t want to forget. I don’t. But I want to wake up. It’s just a question of time before I decide or more accurately, it’s just a question of dreamtime…

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Nightmare diaries: Awake

I woke up to the sound of Kenny’s whisper.  She seemed to have been calling me for quite a while.

“Finally, you’re awake,” she said, sounding more frustrated than usual.

I suppressed a groan. I thought I had earned the right to sleep after nearly forty eight hours. Just when I was about to doze off to a deep, peaceful slumber, Kenny comes along and ruins it all. I can’t imagine what she wants from me now.

“Go away, Kenny. It’s late and I’m tired.”

I was angrily shushed in loud whispers for apparently rousing the rest of humanity with my question. I was beginning to grow resentful. Not only did she not let me sleep, she didn’t even let me ask why I was so brutally deprived of it.

I stared around at the darkness, trying to get my eyes used to the idea that there might just be a light, around here, somewhere. I fidgeted around my bed, trying to reach out for the switch to my bedside lamp. Kenny’s cold hand firmly grasped my wrist and she didn’t let me switch the light on.

“Kenny, what? I don’t want to go anywhere today. What….what are you even doing here?!”

“Shut up!”

I must have been really groggy to let Kenny get her way with me for this one. Too tired to ask any questions, I was about to sink back into my warm bed, when Kenny put her cold lips to my ear and said, “I know you’re tired. Just stay awake for a while more. Just for a little bit more.”

“Why? For what?” I asked, shrugging her cold, annoying grasp off me.

“Stay awake and you’ll find out.”

I decided then that I was about to curl back to sleep, feeling more annoyed with Kenny than ever. I was too tired to deal with her new mysterious demeanor.

“I don’t want to find out.” 

She held my cheeks in her cold hands. I still remember the fleeting impression I had of her fingers when she touched my face. It felt like frost growing on my skin, numbing my face. Kenny had always that effect on me.

“Listen to me,” she whispered, suddenly gentle. “I know it’s hard, but don’t sleep just yet. In a few minutes, let the nightmares will come by. You can sleep peacefully after they’ve gone. I promise.”

“Wha…? What nightmares?”

“Not just nightmares. Night-mares,” she said, carefully pronouncing each word separately to make a clear distinction, which I didn’t understand at all. I didn’t need to be protected from bad dreams.

Kenny waited for something.  In the distance, there was a growing sound of the clatter of galloping hooves. I was sure that whatever Kenny was referring to had arrived.

The rhythmic sound seemed to grow increasingly louder, until after a while I thought the entire house shook in resonance of those apparently powerful hooves. Things on the shelf began to rattle, the window panes quivered and I was a little too painfully aware of the dull crashing sounds coming from the kitchen — cutlery, no doubt — and the slow clouds of dust that seemed to be appearing from every corner of the house I had been too lazy to clean in all this time.

 The sound of this stampede succeeded in waking me up, and for a while, I was glad that Kenny was there. Though I didn’t want to openly admit that to her. What if I had gone completely to sleep, and not managed to wake up, when this pseudo-earthquake rocked the house? I clung to the edge of my bed tightly, marveling at this phenomenon.

Then, finally, all was still and quiet again. Kenny laughed softly, disrupting the silence.

“Well, they’ve gone, for tonight. They were much softer than I had expected.”

I was too shaken, almost literally, by what I had just witnessed. “Wait. What? What just happened? I mean, here you are in the middle of the night, waking me up to watch an earthquake?!”

“Night-mares,” she said, sounding smug. That word again. Night. Mares. Not just plain simple nightmares.

“You should be grateful to me. I saved you.”

“From a bunch of horses?”

“From Night-mares. They aren’t just ordinary horses. They’re looking for riders.”

Right. Bad dreams needed riders. Got that……somewhere in my head, at least.

“And this involves me how?”

” They choose the innocent slumbering people as their riders, and then lead them on to the world of all that is twisted and disturbing. If I had let you sleep, you would be hurtling into the abyss of your own subconscious, led on by a creature that feeds off your imagination.”

My sleep was returning to me now, and my eyes were almost closed. I vaguely registered parasite and dream somewhere in my head. My head, strangely enough, was beginning to throb. I really needed to sleep now.

“Can I please go to sleep now?”

Kenny laughed her soft, musical laugh again. I was too stupefied to register any sensible emotion.

“Yes, you can sleep now. Your dreams will now be yours to keep,” she said, gently caressing my face with those fingers.

I snuggled back into my blankets without further encouragement. What was all this? My puzzled brain kept asking itself. There was a mish-mash of coherent thoughts in reply. Big horses. Dreams. Cold. Kenny….

Wait. Kenny.

“Hmmph,” I struggled to say, before Kenny left, “how did you even get in the house?”

More musical laughter. More of the implied smugness. Some corner of my tired mind was feeling increasingly stupid.

“Who d’you think has been watching over you all these nights?” She asked.  She claims to be sneaking into my house everyday. Voyeurism. Or burglary, whichever way you wanted to look at it. My eyes were giving up. “Goodnight Kenny,” I said, and then willed my mouth with whatever feeble control I had left to keep it shut before I said something random, impolite and that would evidently reflect my sleep-deprived state.

As my head touched the pillow, I vaguely registered that Kenny’s goodbye was drowned out by the howling of the wolves.

Plaything

You close your eyes and try to shut out the cold, sterile light of the room. Every movement is stiff, painful and unnatural. You are sick of waking up. All you want to do is roll over and die. Even death is a privilege that you are denied.

“You can’t die,” says the familiar gleeful voice in your ear.

The voice confirms her presence. She giggles at your feeble attempts to fight the frayed sheet off. That singular sheet was supposed to be your sole defense against the snow. Just as how this room was supposed to be your defense from her. The stray threads of the cover clings to you, trying to comfort you, to embrace you. It feels like they are suffocating you.

The little girl laughs when you wince to sit up. “You look tired and ugly!”

She gloats as she skips around in front of the bunker. She personifies joy. She stares at your charred, scarred, wounded body, in fascination, almost as if intrigued by the depth cast by the shadows. She bobs up in front of you, her singsong voice echoes off the cold, brutal walls.

“Is that a new one?” she asks, reaching out for a particularly deep gash on your shoulder.

You shrink from her image. From the touch of her soft, small hands. You cannot bear to acknowledge her presence. Almost as if in empathy, the wounds begin to hurt all over again. She is surprised to see you back away from her.

“You’re scared of me?!” asks the little girl, barely taller than your knee. She finds this amusing, as she does about everything about you. You cannot help but suppress an involuntary pang of terror as you hear her innocent, childish laugh. The laughter echoes around the room. Maybe it’s just you, or maybe it sounds louder than the last time. You cannot deny the truth to yourself. You are scared of her. She haunts every living memory and every dream that plagues you.

But this emotion, is it fear? No. Not just fear. It’s awe as well. Overwhelming awe. You have been reduced to her plaything. She laughs at you. She mocks you. She controls you. Her innocent face knows every thought in your head. She manipulates you in ways that are so subtle, so insidious that you are torn between wondering if you were listening to her or acting out of your own volition. Of course, you’re scared. Wouldn’t anyone be if they had to acknowledge the absolute and complete loss of self-control? You have long since surrendered the right to live, especially when confronted with the intensity of the power she wields over you.

“Come on,” she says,perched at the edge of your cot,” let’s play one of your drawing games.”

Your body protests. But it protests in vain. Your aching, throbbing hands automatically pick up a sharp, jagged edge of a stone lying at the corner of your room. Your back hurts violently as you stoop over, on your unbending knees on the floor. Even on your knees, you tower over her. Your eyes water as she holds your gaze.

Then the cramps come, and all the scars hurt and your body registers its displeasure by forcing you to collapse. It’s a struggle. It always has been. You pick yourself up until you are back on your haunches. It’s a wonder how you manage to live from one moment to the next. But you do, don’t you? If this can be called living?

Your hand marks out a large, smooth ellipse on the floor with the sharper edge of the stone. It is a practiced movement. A closer scrutiny of the floor proves that the ellipses and circles of previous games are already caked with years of dirt. How many times have you done this before?

“Now, fill it with pictures of your life,” says the little girl, sounding more authoritative than her age betrayed her to be.

It is a command. Not a request. You close your eyes for a moment, wishing this world, and this girl would just go away and maybe you would open them up to some infinite ocean of darkness. Maybe that would have sounded terrifying in any other context. But the void is soothing. The nothingness would save your soul from bearing any more scars of this world.

“Tell me the story,” she giggles, reverting back to an adorable child.

You try to ignore the cold pit of fear in your chest. No! She cannot be doing this to you! Your body and soul urge you to defy her power. Your tired eyes try to focus on her bright image, staring at her. Your voice doesn’t have much to go on. Why does she keep asking more from your broken soul? You try to tell her that you can’t play her games anymore. You don’t want to play her games anymore. The wheezes and the coughing are incomprehensible, and they crumble to silence in the dust.

“What happened? Why aren’t you playing?” asks her voice, louder than the truth of reality, itself.

You must resist. Hold strong, with whatever you have. You cannot let this go. Your stories are all you have of yourself. You cannot relinquish them without a fight. Even if this struggle leads you onto death, sweet death, you cannot let go of them. They are your last anchor.

She senses your pathetic attempt to acquire self-control. Anybody else would think that a child liker her would burst into tears or throw a tantrum. She merely smiles. It is sneering, derisive, contemptuous. Strangely enough, it looks cute on her, as she stares back you and says, “Play.”

Your fear is too strong. It takes you hostage and forces you to behave. You have failed yourself, again. Your strength must not dwindle. You must go on. Your hand continues to fill the ellipse with lines and shapes. Your tortured throat must narrate the story of your life. Reliving the entirety of your once wholesome experience in the shadows of hoarse words…

You don’t remember when the game was over, or when she was gone or when the cruel floor had been colder, or when the walls had shrunk so much around you. You are sprawled on the floor, wracked with some unknown agony, so real and yet, so intangible, that you feel a little bit more of your soul give up inside. Your body is devastated.

But, there is a silence. Your brain wants to soak it in, drown itself in this fragment of an eternal, soothing silence. Random thoughts, which had never before resurfaced, flit through. Thoughts of a normal life. Breakfast. Pancakes. They used to smell so warm, you know? So warm. Like colors, like the reds and oranges of an existence passed by. Children loved warm colors. Toys and games, so brightly colored, so vibrant with life, with being. Games.

“Miss me?” asks her voice again, soft, persistent and dreadful.

She is back again, to take away another part of your memories, of your stories. You can taste your hate and fear at the back of your throat. Your mad scramble for some semblance of sanity gives you strength. Strength to pound the floor, strength to attack the walls, strength to force life into your abused body, for however short that moment may be. You beg, you plead, you screech for mercy. Doesn’t matter if you feel your voice break up. Dying now would be better than continuing her games. This cannot happen again. No, no,no, no, no, no, no, no, no……

Arms pick you up and strap you to something. The handcuffs they place are cold, yet the touch of the cold metal is reassuring. This is not a story. This is not a dream. This is not one of her game. This. Is. Not. A. Dream. This. Is. Not. A. Game.

Or is it?

You are escorted out somewhere that is illuminated in a blinding white. You want to instinctively shut the world outside. And for that moment, for that little while, she is silent. Your head throbs as though a million angry thoughts were pounding on the skin of you walls, trying to break free from a desolate realm. You are made to walk. Your feet stumble, unable to grasp the motions of actual, real motion, unable to believe in how alien that familiar motion had become.

Your eyes open into the darkness. You are too shocked to believe your final wish will be granted. Is this death? Was all that walking, the restraint of metal all the route to death? It felt too bland, to painless to be death. Your eyes get accustomed to the light. A voice begins to speak. You almost cry out in delight for it being the voice of the Interrogator instead of the little girl. Anything, anything is better than the little girl.

“It’s been three months since we last met. Has your story changed?” the Interrogator asks.

The same voice which forced you to lie, the same voice that refused to believe you. Everything that you said was a lie. Nothing that the voice asked of you could be satisfied with the truth. This is that voice. The voice that laughed as you cringed in pain, the voice that demanded answers, the voice that warned you of dire consequences. Now, it is asking for another fragment of you soul, in that unflinching clear voice. Hesitation is a liberty for liars.

Your fractured mind cannot comprehend the depths to which you have sunk. This is the person who has tortured you so much. Your body bears evidence of his wrath. You are disgusted at yourself for being delighted at hearing the voice of someone who has scarred you beyond measure. You wonder why. Why is it that you seek an almost rabid attachment to this voice? Probably because the Interrogator is the last tangible thing in your reality. No matter if the Interrogator attaches those painful cables again, no matter if you must scream till every vocal cord is ripped apart, no matter if another bone is shattered, no matter at all. As long as the Interrogator is there, the little girl is not. That is all that matters.

The Interrogator tells you a story. It is one that will inevitably bring you a sense of déjà vu. It speaks of you. It speaks of a horrible crime. The ghastly details are accurately described, and your mind attempts to paint a picture in your head with the knowledge coming in from your bleeding ears. It tries and it tries, but it is so tired, it fails. Then the story goes on about a little girl. The little girl who died. The Interrogator describes her funeral, wishing to evoke more emotion in you than you possibly have to give. It is pointless to deny. That girl is not dead. She is alive. She is so alive that she feeds off you. She is a parasitic memory, draining you more powerfully than any physical torture possibly can. How can she be dead when she’s right there in your cell, before your very eyes, in that small, cramped, claustrophobic room?

The Interrogator laughs at your refusal. The voice that demanded so much of the truth is reduced to spouting lies and laughing at you for denying them.

“…..solitary detention?” finished the Interrogator. You don’t remember when that blow came, and at any rate it was too fast for you to react to. The lower jaw is the first to feel the impact and the shock travels through your body, combining the shattered whole together for one instant till it leaves behind a million new fragments in its wake.

You do not want to surrender. You do not want to accept defeat, even as the blood streams down. In the midst of this pain, your brain slowly realizes the meaning of the little girl’s game. The ellipses you scratch out on the floor are her stories, but now they have become yours. You earnestly try to will your mind to stop existing. But you cannot. You are too weak.

The Interrogator continues with the regular routine. It is surprising why he expects a different answer to the same question every time. Each jolt of electricity, each bone-crumbling blow and each excruciating slice gives you something to hold on to. For that while, your mind numbs itself with enough physical pain to stop itself from seeing that girl. Such relish.

Initially, these sessions seemed too long. But now, they are too short. You do not know how many days, weeks or even years will pass before you are blessed with another touch of reality. You cannot even try to protest as you are knocked out cold, muttering your supposed lies. Some dim thought at the back of your head registers that you will be dragged back to your eternal hell. How could a body that was designed to resist death to such a degree want it so intensely? You hope that this time, maybe this time, perhaps you are so weak and their force is so strong that you do not have to ever wake up again. You do not have to wake up and play the little girl’s games again.

But you cannot choose your torture. You are left to crawl on the cold floor, sinking deeply into the silent terror of being alone. Can you live with yourself in the supposed silence?

Your body has forgotten how it returned back to the floor, or how it overcame the fresh wounds to begin again. Dread and the little girl are your constant companions. You are back on your haunches, your fingers desperately grasping onto the stone edge, holding edge smooth from use and ready to scratch at the floor in some futile exercise. Your cursed eyes look up to the little girl at the edge of your cot.

“Play with me,” she says sweetly, gently, almost persuasively.

Your hand obeys by drawing out a fresh ellipse on a floor etched with infinitely many. You cannot stop. As long as her memory lives, as long as death doesn’t come to rescue you, you cannot stop. You have to play her games. You are her plaything. So you must tell your story again and again and again and again……

 

Nightmare diaries: Greyscale Lessons

The last echoes of the child’s scream faded away into the bustling metropolis of the city. While he screamed, the sounds of the traffic, the skyscrapers and the unspoken voices of the multitude drifted in and around him and did nothing to save him.

Cauchemar prepared himself for a second round. He needed to prove himself to be a good nightmare.

At least he had started by choosing the right victim. Children with wild imaginations were such good targets. They were so fragile, and so filled with fear that they could spontaneously generate the most horrible fantasies of their own. Cauchemar wove in and out of the recesses of the child’s mind, pulling out horrible secrets from the subconscious, absorbing all the violence and pain and anguish that the child’s mind had registered from his immediate environment. Cauchemar crafted them into shapes, characters and scenarios and let them wreak havoc upon the sleeping child’s eyes.

The screams became progressively louder. Very encouraging. Maybe this time, he would frighten out the very soul of the child.

“Stop,” said Karabasan, watching his protege at work. His command interrupted the continuity of Cauchemar’s work and the child woke up and wept into his pillows. Immediately, his parents and guardians rushed over to him, calming him, comforting him, telling him that it was just a bad dream.

Cauchemar watched in seething dismay as his victim wept into the arms of his mother. “Why did you stop me, Master?”

He almost had him. Almost. In a just few minutes, he could have scarred the child forever. But now, the dream was interrupted and no more could he claim another soul.

“You’ve been doing well,” noted Karabasan casually. A little too well, he wondered.

“Thank you, Master” bowed Cauchemar, confused and flattered at the same time. How could an incomplete task prove that he had done his job well? As long as the Master was satisfied, he was pleased.

“I think it’s time we take you to the next level,” said Karabasan, the older, deadlier vision.

Cauchemar paused to consider the consequences. He was no stranger to ambition, but then Karabasan had a reputation for escalating matter rather quickly. But then again, he had not been asked. It was a command. Subtle, but assertive. Nowhere had Cauchemar been given a choice.

“Come,” said Karabasan, deciding for Cauchemar. He pulled up a new portal to another world. “You’re going to find this interesting, I promise,” he grinned, somehow adding more evil to a face that embodied it. And Cauchemar was whisked away…

They appeared in a gloomy, forgotten lane. It was now surprisingly quiet, and appropriately horrible, just as the nature of their deeds should be. There was black muck that slithered along the drains and the road was a shabby city of grey.

“Where are we?” asked Cauchemar, arriving after his Master.

“Telling you would spoil the fun,” countered Karabasan. Cauchemar wondered if it was appropriate to press further for a response.

The sky was white, but as they moved into brighter regions, the environment blurred around them. They were still in the city, the skyscrapers were still there. But the environment convulsed and quivered often.

“I’m going to wait here,” said Karabasan pointedly, finding a sacrifical altar that sprouted from the middle of nowhere and sitting on it.

“Well, go on. Creativity counts.” he suggested to Cauchemar, gesturing over the dried black blood that coated it.

Cauchemar paused. This was a test. He had better not fail it.

He started with looking for a victim. For a while, he let his mind search for someone with passion, someone with secrets, someone who had something they were earnestly trying to run away from. He turned around to look at Karabasan, who wasn’t there anymore. The altar, the shrine, the cities had disappeared. Black grass sprouted from a grey forest instead. It grew in huge incoming waves and swept over the terrain, over running civilization, pushing out the remnants of sanity.

When Cauchemar finally realized what was going on, he couldn’t help but smile. Of course, Karabasan wasn’t going to let him find a victim. He was already in the mind of a victim.

Cauchemar waited until he had the victim’s attention. He had finally found it. He had found the victim’s subconscious. He was a man curled up on the center of the ground. Asleep and completely at Cauchemar’s mercy. As he watched the grass take over, random black vines sprouted over it, poisonously grouping the grass together, spawning into more hideous shapes.

Good, now he could begin weaving the images and characters.

He started with horror of death, and the fear that followed. Images and memories of death sprouted all around him. Titans of gore, grey blood dripping from their black fangs appeared from nowhere and sought to rise the man from his sleep. He awoke and gazed at them all around. But he did not register fear nor surprise. These were expected demons of his head. He yawned and went back to sleep. Cauchemar conjured up more blood and gore, each new phantasm taking on a more hideous role than another, and yet he was not afraid. His fearlessness seemed to breed from intimate familiarity with the subject.

Cauchemar was confused. For the first time ever, he had encountered a victim who was not afraid of death, not afraid of murder or crime or any form of violence. He had utilized every possible terror in his sleeve. Who was this victim, so unafraid? So corrupted by horror that he owned it as the brainchild of his own?

Karabasan appeared beside Cauchemar. “Making progress, are we?”

Cauchemar floundered. He did not want to fail this test. From having his last victim lost in residual nightmares, this one appeared to simply yawn and go back to sleep. Beyond a point, he wasn’t even roused.

“You can’t frighten a killer with death, because he already owns it from within,” Karabasan sniggered.

Right, or course! That would explain everything. Cauchemar cursed himself for not seeing the obvious. Well, it was an unfamiliar environment and this wasn’t a victim of Cauchemar’s own choosing, so he felt that he was allowed to make a few mistakes. But then again, he had been upgraded to this level for a reason.

Then the next target of his attention moved to guilt. If it wasn’t fear, it must be guilt. Cauchemar scanned for memories. As he searched for them, he realized that the victim had seen images of such evil in his waking life, that there was no nightmare that could hope to instill fear by conjuring up images of the same. More so, he relished those images. He had relived there motions several times, without once hesitating at the sight of violence again.

Guilt, guilt. He searched for guilt. Motivations as to his crimes would have worked as well. The closer Cauchemar penetrated to the victim’s fear, the more restless the victim seemed to become. Finally, he had some progress to show the non-present Karabasan.

It struck him as very odd that all the memories were black and white. From his mind, Cauchemar could see the entire city relived in black and white and shades of grey. A life without color. But wait, wait, from this panorama of grey, a shadow peeked out at the sleeping figure splaying restlessly in the middle of it all.

Day would be here soon. Cauchemar was running out of options.

Instead of waiting for her to come to him, he chased her. He found her memory watching the victim, and she flitted in and out of his grasp. Cauchemar chased, pushing her out of the woods, out of the weirdly morphing scenery that changed from the city skyline to an overrun forest and had shortly been a butcher’s warehouse. With every change in scenery, the victim flailed in his sleep as Cauchemar approached nearer. It was so easy to create nightmares in a mind that was so filled with them anyway. If there was any way he could automatically harness this spontaneity, he would be the terror of all nights very soon. But ambition follows later. First, the task at hand.

Cauchemar morphed into the girl and watched her as she approached the victim. She had a soft, sweet voice and the terms she used to address the victim were loving, almost endearing. The victim seemed to be sensitive to the sound of her voice. Cauchemar egged her on to the victim. She reached out a pale, fragile hand and touched him, rousing him instantly. He was already terrified.

It struck Cauchemar as somewhat odd that something so innocuous as a girl who addressed him lovingly could incite so much fear. When the entire spectra of horror had been splayed in full view, the victim hadn’t even flinched. Cauchemar had used up every single trick in his book to incite fear and failed. But this girl was the key.

Cauchemar waited for her to sprout into a monster or something more hideous. Perhaps she was something else . A phantasm in disguise, a horrible memory masked by a pretty face? But no, she stayed the way she was, harmless in comparison to any other terror that Cauchemar had conjured up or seen or dreamed of.

The victim was now literally shivering as she approached nearer. Cauchemar crept up behind the victim’s back to watch their physical interaction. She didn’t even do anything.

That was when Cauchemar noticed it. Color dripped from her lips. The only form of color in a world that was black, white and grey.

The victim was now driven to a wild screaming frenzy, desperately trying to escape that vision in his dreams, hopelessly thrashing for some form of assistance, any form. Interrupted for the second time in the night, Cauchemar waited between dimensions, dizzy and wondering what cataclysm had struck his victim. The victim awoke, just like the last one, but no comfort came to him as the time-pressed Cauchemar slowly sucked his soul out of him.

Karabasan was also leaving the mind environment. “Well done,” he beamed at Cauchemar, who was still tidying up his business. He pulled Cauchemar out into the real world and they watched as their victim woke up, picked up a loaded syringe lying beside him and pulled the plunger as deep into his arm as it could possibly go.

They watched as he died a quiet death.

Karabasan broke the silence. “You have passed the test. I’m very proud.”

 “What did you expect me to learn from this, Master?”

“Evil doesn’t take on traditional forms always.”

“How does the memory of a harmless girl….?”

“….Not so harmless. Remember, she had color dripping from her lips.”

“Color?”

“To someone who sees the world in stark differentiations of black and white, the idea of color is something else entirely….You are still a young nightmare, Cauchemar. We have more souls to conquer,” said Karabasan indefinitely, shrugging his shoulder.

They watched the victim’s soul drift up into the stars. They were back in the city, surrounded by the pressure and heat of the metropolis. But now, the streets were empty. Even to the callous Cauchemar, they seemed a bit cold. Too cold.

She Waits Softly

In her childhood, she was warned it might not last long. The world had enough children as is, what they needed more of was more mature adult citizens. So she was asked to grow up. The world was tired of her supposed immaturity. The generation before needed great successors, for as they were accelerating to age, the young ones were exhorted to adolescence. She had abandoned her childhood and watched it fall to the floor and crumple in on itself, like the soft fabric of a former lover. Indeed, they had been well-fitting times, but now all that the fabric could be used for was wrapping up memories.

It was hard to get used to. Far away from the comforts of childhood, she had stood bare and exposed. She watched the world leer, and take away everything she held precious, values of love, morality, ethics, and absorb them like one giant unclean globule of oil on the surface. Death was spilled along the way. She screamed and begged for help, and none came. Not even death. You’re too young, they still said.

The world didn’t value her innocence. It’s ignorance, they claimed. They thought it was their job to make her aware of specifically all of those things that made the world an unpleasant place to live in. Watch our mistakes with your adult understanding, they said, wanting justification as to the horrible deeds of the world. Still not quite sure of herself as an adult, she watched. Battle, bloodshed, death and abuse colored the new panorama of adulthood in many awful shades. She tried to keep her canvas clean, of all the filth of the world. But it was insidious and so it persisted anyway. These are the ways of the world, said her predecessors. Get used to it.

For a while, she paused and wondered if death indeed was the solution. Death did not come. So, she continued on her journey, understanding that the reason for surviving these trials and tribulations was that she could someday enjoy a great magnificent departure from them. She would have earned the right to die.

Clothed in the sparse remains of what were once lofty and cherished ideals, she now accepted the humble attire of the more mature person. Wisdom was indeed shabby, for without the persisting quality of time, it would not have been so coveted as it now is. Even then, many people do not recognize its true shape. So, it started with one layer, and then as time moved on, she found other grubby bits of value to add to herself and thus the layers grew, until she was well-protected from the cold and dark. Though she felt prepared for Death, it did not come.

The other aspects of the world caught up with her as well. Fortune and wealth changed her clothes back to cheap imitations of childhood. Lovers, or people who had attempted to be them, had come as well and shown her to respect and value not just her emotional vulnerability, but also her corporeal being. For the body was a carrier of the soul, and required it’s own needs to be met just as much did the yearning lost soul. Fortune changed sides way too often for her liking and love was as transient as the soft satin blouse that appeared to be there but did not actually cover her. The world proceeded to sully them both and she was once again, left with the grey scraps of nothing. Her heart ached intolerably. Once again, she asked Death to appear and claim her. But not yet, whispered the cast off identities. Not just yet.

Then she wore huddled under the grey shades of responsibility. She was expected to tell of a younger generation of what the world comprised of. Responsibility cut into her, deep and heavy, expecting her to continue the very same cycle of which she had been a victim. They chipped into the wisdom of her time, expecting more from her than she could provide with no hope whatsoever with reciprocity. Thus she waited for death to come, relieving her of her duties. But it did not come. Probably, she hadn’t suffered enough. Probably she wasn’t courageous enough to deserve death.

Now a frail woman, she shrank within the physical body she had successfully called her own. Fragile to the extent that even her skin refused to clothe her properly, she smiled. Soon, it would be time. Shadows of death leaped and jumped around her. She watched its offspring play, and the adults mislead. Come to me, she asked, as though t was the same forgotten lover who had once adored her.

Yet the shadows gleefully played beyond her reach. Patience is the final skin, my dear. The world echoed with Death’s opinions. Not just yet. Almost there, but not just yet. Thus she waits softly, hoping for the reunion with her final lover, a creature who’s perpetual fear had colored her panorama and yet never quite touched her in the way it was supposed to. In her state of repose, she smiled as time tried to avoid the gap between Death and her. How is that Death was so ashamed of meeting her now?

So, she waits softly. Death understands.

Cracks In My Armor

This may just be my most honest blog post yet. I’m going to talk about why I’m scared to be myself. I’m going to talk about why I have this perpetual need to keep comparing myself against other people, and how I resort to punishing myself for simply being me. As it is, dear reader, I don’t want your pity or sympathy, even though you may be humane enough to give them to me. I don’t want them because I’m going to tell the story of me unadulterated, to remind myself that I have conquered several demons, most of whom have lived inside my head for years and whom I battle even now.

There was a time in my life when I was afraid of being alone. I was always scared of new people who interacted with my friends because I was terrified that my friends would always abandon me for that new fascination. As a kid, it used to be the new resident with the shiny toy. Over the years, this perpetual fear of isolation has morphed into a judgment of not being worthy enough. But I have come to love solitude. I have come to respect the fact that even I need space, if I am to search for truly worthy companionship. I have build my self-esteem to the point where I don’t have to feel like I hate myself.

Sometimes, I have this desperate need to be understood. I talk to my friends and family and they all advise me, and they make my problems look so small and stupid that I feel as though I’ve been a burden on them simply for existing.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m not interesting enough for a person. I am surrounded by so many talented brilliant people that I feel hollow within. It frightens me that other people can see through my facades and tell what’s going on because they know they have me at an advantage. So they do take advantage. Once that ordeal is done and their utility satisfied, they leave and I am left to wondering about the pieces of myself. I don’t play sports. I don’t watch TV, or at least I don’t watch what everyone else likes to watch. I don’t listen to the kind of things or read the kind of material that “everyone else” likes to do. I was given to understand that in this large world of people, I would surely find that one niche of people who would be like me.

It wasn’t school. Or High school. I was deluded when I thought that admission to an Ivy League institution could mean something. I haven’t yet found those people who like me enough to spend time with me.

My best friend rarely spends time with me because she’s always busy and because she’s in a relationship. Granted, we all have that phase when we are deeply enamored and therefore deeply vested into that one solitary person and his/her quirks. She doesn’t realize that I miss her. But then again, I’ve made these demands to her and somehow I am not important enough, so looks like I’m just going to have to accept it. This is probably going to sound incredibly whiny and you can heap scorn on me as much as you please (World lesson: people love to do that), I’m not important enough for anyone.

I’m a repository of other people’s dreams and expectations and their extremely fickle standards and somehow, anyhow, I am searching for that one answer to what my self worth is truly worth.

I would have talked more about relationships, except that’s probably not a Pandora’s Box I want to open just yet.

Or maybe I do. I live in constant terror of rejection. By friends, by that one crush, by that family who loves me so much. I feel as though I’m not doing enough to make these people proud of me. It makes me tear up every time when my parents say that they’re proud of me because deep down inside I wonder if I have truly earned the love and admiration of such people. I am trapped in my own convolutions. I have a problem with not getting enough love and not feeling I’m worth it when I am getting it.

I live in constant fear of being “annoying” and “lame”. Because that was what led to my abandonment several times, and I consciously try to fit in so hard that I don’t have to be seen as the weakest link. There are times when people around me don’t extend the same courtesy to me. For the most part I grin and bear it. For the rest, I run away.

Most of the time I don’t feel good enough or funny enough or anything enough. I read this very insightful post the other day about how people who are truly funny are people who have survived emotional wounds in order to recognize the true value of humor. The humor I’m surrounded with is merely pathetic wordplay and lame puns, and somehow everyone in the world loves those. I feel as though they are eroding away at my sense of self-worth. Have I stopped understanding people to not be funny anymore?

The other day I went to a friend’s party and two friends complimented me on looking “pretty” and “hot” respectively. One was a stark sober acquaintance. The other was a very drunk best friend (same one as above). I thought the former was being too kind and the latter was too drunk to know what she was saying. My friend is superficial at times and it bother me very much, but I’m coming to terms with it. The world has told me enough times that I’m not pretty or attractive and I’ve managed to deal with it by telling myself, “I don’t need to be pretty or attractive to be a successful, happy person.”

I can’t tell you how pathetic it feels to be unrecognized or deemed ugly. This is one of the reasons why I vacillate between extremes. Universe, either make me beautiful, so beautiful that there is no doubt as to my true worth. Or make me ugly, so horribly ugly that I can revel in the fact that I am this way and that nothing can compete with my ugliness. My best friend, when sober, claims to be a good judge of such aesthetics and I have always been labeled with the “Not Bad”. Almost as if an afterthought, as though catering to that desperate hungry overwhelming need to be accepted and recognized and loved and appreciated. Isn’t that what everyone wants? To be happy?

Let’s now ignore this very large chunk of reality and focus ourselves onto more practical and necessary ideas – such as academics, a career and so on and so forth. Recently I got a 0/150 in a programming assignment where out of five files (four of which were solid code and the fifth was a little tool to stitch them together), I submitted only four (forgot the fifth). Without that one two-liner of a file, the rest of my code doesn’t work. It compiled but it didn’t “work”. And voila, a 0. I had several opportunities to re-check my work.

I am terrified of being careless. It’s not that I don’t know the material or that I’m not smart enough to understand it. Luckily, that’s one of the few things working in my favor. But the very fact that everything hinges on that one small detail which I missed. It might cost me a letter-grade, which might me a cost me a research position, which might cost me a job, which might cost me the disappointment of my immensely loving and caring family who do not deserve this for their efforts.

My father says I worry about the future too much. I know this thing for sure. Even though it wears my mental energy down significantly, I have this obsessive compulsive need to worry and it eats into my health, my sanity and moreover my happiness.

I worry that I’m not resourceful enough. That I’m not justifying the $60,000+ that my parents have invested into me in order to make something of myself. There have been times when I simply break down and ask them why did they choose such a futile endeavor and they justify by saying that they know this investment of their time, love, emotions and money is not going to fail. That I am molding myself into something worthwhile, even though I don’t know it.

I used to be scared of growing up. Because I didn’t want to abandon the love and joy of childhood for whatever it was. I remember being the melancholy little child wondering about the Big Bad World, and now that I am in the Big Bad World I have no way of going back. More so, I know that if I do go back I’ll end up repeating the same mistakes.

Tonight I have finally finished 6 hours of continuous finals. A decisive battle has been complete, but not won. I am so exhausted after last night’s weeping about my self-esteem. But more so, I have finally found a reason to be proud of myself. My parents tell me that one of my strongest attributes is the ability to pick myself up and continue. Today, I feel as though I might have accomplished that. Despite all my fears, I have come to moving beyond them. Solitude has become my friend. There are times when I need self-reflection, not self-criticism, but reflection. I am not as ready to chastise myself for the smallest things as before.

I’m still fighting the hardest battle yet, and that is to hold on to my sanity and somehow love myself.

A Place For My Head

Wake up in the morning. Wear my work face.

She is strong and driven and determined. She is on her way to get things done, and do them right. She’s the face that’s hardest to keep on and also the most fulfilling. In a strange way, it feels good when she’s clamped on me. But in other ways, the hinges refuses to clasp when I need it on me the most. She’s a temperamental face. But she makes me the happiest.

I feel like I’m worth something when I can be productive, which eventually results in me being happy. “I’ve got my life under control, ” I tell myself. Work face allows me to schedule some self-awards as well. The small kind, the one that only you can provide for yourself. Maybe I’ll have a Teriyaki Chicken lunch special instead of bland dining hall food. Maybe I’ll go say hello to that random stranger who needs help holding the door open. Maybe I’ll just lock myself up in my room and let my playlist drown me. But only for a while. Beyond a point, Work face wants to get back to the grind and I am obliged to obey her.

Work face is slipping off. More frequently than I want to, but I’m grateful for those days when I can keep her on long enough to call it a day.

With my friends, and their lives, I give Work face a break. Human beings are not rational, methodical problem sets that they can be dealt with in segments or in logical ways. I wear my Watching face.

She’s the one who notices how the grass sway and how people interact. She’s the one with hawk eyes. She’s the one thinking up of story lines and blog post ideas, about things to write about and things to do and ways to be creative. She’s also the one who is willing to do more than necessary. Like listen, contemplate, think and maybe even indulge in philosophy. I’ve found that my friends frequently need this side of me. But she is a heavy face to wear sometimes. She comes with her own emotional baggage, anxiety and the redundant results of far too many over-analyses and an unforgiving memory. She’s the first to jump at the sight of panic, but she’s also the one who is my storehouse of kindness and empathy. She’s all about poetry and aesthetics and the transient spiritual nature of the equation. She’s worried about the larger details of life.
I can’t tell if she’s at conflict with Work face. But that’s okay. Watching face needs her time as well. Though heavier, she fits me more smoothly than Work face, so I have no choice but to carry her everywhere.

There are several other faces that I wear and I would love greatly to expand on them all, but I don’t think I could be explaining the entirety of myself very well just by these vague descriptions and metaphors of what each face helps me do.  I have seven listed, which may be a variable number and often times, every other face besides Work switch roles.

Because this is not a conversation about faces. It’s about the medium that hosts those faces.

When I want to do something that cannot be filed under the functionality of any face, the information persists in my head. It’s sort of like a crash dump for when a compiler comes across an error in the code. All operations, whether valid or otherwise, that need to be processed after where the error is detected are forcibly written out to some remote inaccessible buffer and the program exits. Unfortunately, my brain cannot exit the confines of my head, and thus those ideas and memories lurk somewhere, waiting for a face to claim them and execute them.

I am now at such a point in my life that the random misfits have overcrowded the capacity of my limited brain. My head hurts. It wants to be acknowledged, to feel like it belongs. Unfortunately, time and fatigue are not exactly working in my favor. So I keep pushing things out. Procrastination on a whole other level. Work face has been a bit overused the last few days and she’s showing signs of wear. But I have to let her condition go by unnoticed until this endless, almost infinite stream of duties that are expected of me become something worthwhile.

It’s 2:00 AM and Work face has literally registered her protest by slithering off me and lying like a smoking hulk on the table where I have a problem set due tomorrow and I’m still at question 3 of 6.

This gives me an opportunity to dump everything into this big white box here so that I don’t go to sleep and dream. I don’t like dreaming when I’m asleep. My brain believes in combining the random elements of my existence from the real world and from the residue of shadows and phantoms into some utterly believable illusion, which keeps me trapped for the rest of my slumber. Luckily that’s been approximately five hours each day for the last week or so. Every evening, when classes end, I come back from work and I tell myself that I’m probably going to need to pull an all-nighter. My roommate, who is under comparably equal pressure, laughs and says that she should start keeping a count of how many times I say that and then proceed to crash at the relatively early 2:00 AM. No, not early in the morning. Where I’m at, this is early in the night. At this time, I can still text a normal person and know that they will reply to me within their time, because everyone is up and about.

But I can’t. My body and bones are tired. My brain is not doing the simple functions right. I’m walking into glass doors that have the letters CLOSED in capital letters on them. I’ve forgotten that I need to sign the white slip before my credit card payment gets processed. I am trying to use a pencil eraser on a pen mark. The list is endless.

And I can function like this no longer. So, I  thank all my faces and my weary head for doing their job right.

Next weekend, I will make the time to go spend at least an hour in solitude at Sakura Park. It’s quiet for the most part, has several cherry blossom trees and I think the scenery is beautiful. I’m usually not an outdoors person, but in my head, that’s a designation for a place where I need some kind of detachment from this world. I want to play on the piano for at least an hour. I want to write a story for my other blog.

My faces need rest and my head needs to breathe. Goodnight.

Merchant of Dreams

A creative post from co-author Gayathri Raj.

What lies beyond and within. Image credits: Lighthouse dreams by tohadryl at http://tohdaryl.deviantart.com/art/Lighthouse-Dreams-144935263

What lies beyond and within.
Image credits: Lighthouse dreams by tohadryl at http://tohdaryl.deviantart.com/art/Lighthouse-Dreams-144935263

Merchant of dreams, billowing screens,

This pallor of mine is lifted

When my mind is occupied

With your deeds full of happy deceit

Never have I been this pleased.

Merchant of dreams, whispering schemes,

Delusion is such sweet despair.

The melisma of existence, changing notes

Even as the rain pounds on the leaves,

Even as this day is darkened by pregnant clouds,

You still haunt my wet, sodden nights

(Or is it the day? I cannot quite tell)

I find myself wondrous and buoyant

(An existence rare in me)

Indeed merchant you sell

Your wares rather very well

Merchant of dreams, your sorrowful keen,

Nay, it is my sadness that intrudes.

Your happy mid-afternoon crooning,

That intervenes unapologetically,

Your call for my attention wretched, believe.

Wretched to be a distraction from my pity

On my own soul, so inflicted and vengeful.

You, tradesman, employ the cruelest of ploys.

But, merchant of dreams, you who please

The monsoon in my heart and so charmingly do,

Forever calling out the child in me,

With your colorful din and loud tableau,

Each alluring as a rainbow colored candy

Merchant of dreams, I do beg thee,

Stay here forever and fool me as you please

Never have I enjoyed

Such innocent, beguiling trickery

Stay, indeed, merchant of dreams

-Gayathri Raj, 7.20.2013