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I think I'm in Hell

A rough draft, of course (and no, this character is not me, but based loosely off of various aspects of my "Id" if you will...)

The space of time between the first rifle shot and Lieutenant John Sullivan striking the ground with his entire body was so narrow the best seamstress in Europe would’ve been hard-pressed to fit a thread through it on the first try. He didn’t know what he was doing next.

           A second shot howled through the stale air like a bloodthirsty specter, mourning for the life it was certain to take in place of its own. John quickly fumbled with his own weapon, struggling to get the hammer back and the bullets in place. The second shot was followed by a third, but after this, it fell silent.

           John finished loading the Lee-Enfield just as it did so, and the sudden – devastating – silence implored him to be as deliberative and scrutinizing of each and every single muscle movement from then on.

           Positioning his arm to support most of his weight as he moved to lift his body up onto his knees, he – slowly, carefully, but first and foremost gently – began to back up into a kneeling stance.

           A fourth shot rang out and John dashed to his feet and into the building he’d heard it originate from.

           As the echo stopped, so did John.

           He froze, his rifle trained before him.

           A moment of silence eclipsed.

           Then, another.

           John was unsure how long he’d been standing there.

           Units of measurement where time had no meaning, the pounding of the blood and parallel coursing of scenarios and outcomes, sifting through them as rapidly as possible to get to – physical action.

           The scuffling of booted feet on the floor above his head confirmed his instincts were correct, and John darted upstairs.

John fired a shot into the room.

           A scream answered him. The sight that greeted him inside was a pitiful one. The man gargled obscenely on a throat wound, dark ribbons of blood cascading down and cross his throat and chin in Red Niles.

           John felt sick to his stomach as he tenderly raised the rifle up to the man’s head – preparing himself just as much as his opponent for what was coming next.

           A second scream echoed throughout the town, but not from the man he aimed the gun at.

           Gunshots followed, then more screams. By the first sounds of gunfire, John was back on the ground, his head beneath his arms as the rifleman made himself as small as possible.

           Then, he heard something else.

           Growling.

The computer froze before I could get to the save icon, and I just about snapped my laptop in half on the spot.


“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuccccck!”


I’d spent weeks on the first draft, going on months, before I simply decided to shelve it and start anew. It was originally intended to be a rewrite of a 2016 book I’d written, set in World War II and featuring psychic superpowers – but it had been written in a different era, and I could only regard it as nothing more than a parody of my original intent, practically disowning it.


Notwithstanding the fact I’d been a different person entirely when I’d written it. A little over a year later, I’d had another psychotic break, and decided to write a series of unrelated short stories, one of which would be the rewritten horror novella incarnation – more of a modern-day retelling of ‘Frankenstein,’ but I was now contemplating giving up on it entirely.


The state of my life, my mind, truly my entire world, was beginning to dawn on me. It was only a matter of time before another anthology project’s teaser trailer would be released that was so similar to what I had planned any further attempts at success would be in futility. As a new film or book released every year, it grew closer, and in likeness, to what I saw in my head day in and day out.


Truly, the one upside of this mind machine.


And one of the few distractions from the madness of my own little world that got closer to home and ever more eldritch by the week.


Previously, it had been a yearly event.


Then, in 2020, it became months.


After my first psychotic break, everything seemed to go back to normal… for a time.


My uncle and then aunt, dying in 2014 and 2015 respectively, seemed to be the first two major events preceding the Big Crazy from 2016 on… and it just, kind of, never stopped.


It got worse.


Starting out as a little CPTSD, a form of PTSD usually incurred from a traumatic and abusive relationship, escalating to memory loss, such as misplacing things. I slowly drove myself as I struggled to keep up with socioeconomic expectations of a high-functioning mental case while simultaneously dealing with the side-effects of being essentially bipolar with schizoaffective tendencies and being single in a world structured around monogamous cishet straight couples.


The marriage/monogamy militant-industrial complex is very real, I came to find. All throughout school I was single until my senior year, and that was right before I graduated on top of it being mostly long-distance. She was thirty and I was eighteen. That was an incredible experience, but it didn’t last – as I found out she was even more batshit fucking crazy than I was.


So, it didn’t help me move on from Ellie.


But, eventually I did on my own, without help.


And even then, it wouldn’t be enough.


The young adult craze would dominate the literary world throughout the 2010’s, along with all the teenage angst and cheesy, hamfisted, ultra-forced romance subplots the industry could cram into these stories.


For the next decade, I relived that rejection on repeat, told an endless variety of ways – this great, amazing, incredible, uplifting and empowering beautiful thing called love that I could never have.


And they rubbed it right in my fucking face.


Every damn time, this species never failed to make its complete and utter repudiation of my very existence crystal clear. Something about it offended these drones profoundly, my inability to fit into their various boxes and their labels that they try to obsessively plaster across any and all solid objects.


I always wondered how many people would die from sheer stupidity if we removed them all.


---


There was no clear beginning, and I couldn’t recall everything.

The most salient occurrence had to be the noise. At first I couldn’t even tell what it was, it was so loud, and everywhere – all at once.

Crashing, roaring caterwauls and howls of machinery.

Towering reverberations and ominous thunder, too acute and distinct to be natural.

The next thing I noticed were my surroundings. There were men seated and standing around me.

One of them fiddled with a cigarette, another cleaned his M1A1 rifle, while others attended to a screaming man near the back of the metal box.

As I looked down at my own weapon, I realized who we all were – we were soldiers.

A marine fished a pack of cigarettes out of the mesh around his M1 helmet, unfazed by the casualty smearing his own blood across the alloy walls in the back.

The rhythm with which our surroundings rocked and swayed in tandem with what sounded like crashing waves outside enabled me to put two-and-two together.

The man who just lit his cigarette stood up.

“The monster is real,” he said.

“He lives inside of us all,” he said, shouldering his weapon.

“He appears to us, in many forms. He will come again, just as he did then, but this time in a form familiar to us. He will raise his hackles in the form of bayonets risen skyward, legions of marching men. Steel. Fire. Death!”

I recalled seeing a copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein on the soldier’s lap as he stood, falling to the floor below, and picking it up.

The next thing I remembered was being surrounded by water and fire alike. An orange glow dominated the skyline. Bodies both dead and on their way there peppered the beach, falling under a hail of lead and steel.

I spent most of my time here on my stomach, crawling across the sand and blood like an earthworm, trying to make myself as small a target as possible.

Bodies fell beside me. A disembodied head rolled across the earth. Sand and human anatomy blossomed in every direction. I ran as fast as every muscle and bone in my body would allow. Time contracted and expanded while all the colors of the rainbow drained from my field of view, leaving only black and white in their place. I dove for the only cover I could fine – a pile of dead bodies.

As I squirmed my way into the rotting pile of meat like a maggot, fighting against the urge to retch or move a muscle, a voice whispered in my ear, “after the war ends, after the killing stops…”

I held my breath, combating the putrid smell and trying to ignore the cold, wet lacerations of the dead flesh that surrounded me.

“Where do all the bodies go?”

***


Before I could find the source of the voice, I woke up, immediately scrawling every little detail I could recall about the disturbingly-lucid dream I’d had.


One thing that I couldn’t forget, that followed me throughout the rest of the day and until I started writing, was that question.


“Where do all the bodies go?”

Being a writer of horror was difficult, as was having a mental illness.


Having both was a chronic waking nightmare and a living hell.


I was constantly reminded of my failures to fully integrate into human society, the tattered remnants of a shattered world surrounding me. The soggy, deteriorating temporary ID that had been foisted upon me when my state’s backwards renewal policy stole my narrowly-attained “learner’s” permit, which I’d had since nineteen (and would’ve had at fifteen had my asshole driver’s ed instructor not psychotically accused me of being a pillhead) from me. The empty shelves where everything I’d collected over the first two decades of my life had dissipated in the fire over nine years ago... nine years ago already? Couldn’t be. The concoction of hand-me-downs and the few self-defining items of clothing I’d managed to gather from giveaways and discounts with what I could afford. The pile of unsent, crumpled hate-letters…


Gone were the video games.


Gone was the old CD player and collection that had followed me since the 1990’s.


Gone were my friends from before adolescence, all either moved away, been locked up or died. I couldn’t even remember anything from before the fire besides rough blurs and smears of memories that were incomprehensible. It was as though my entire world had turned inside-out, my dreams of developing video games or films were largely put on life-support, I still had time to write but most of my writing was spent on the new production company’s website that had hired me recently, not at a particularly comfortable wage, but… it was something to get my foot in the door.


Hopefully.


He needed the win, I thought, sitting down to type.


He needed the win, he couldn’t spend all of this time, all alone… sacrificing all of this, all of these relationships, all of these things…

Then it hit me, as I heard the machinery outside.


***


Days went by.


Then the days became weeks.


The weeks became months.


And before I knew it, a year had gone by. People had stopped checking in on me, no notes or messages for Ian from the neighbors, not even in the form of a note were people present in my life. One of my favorite past times of checking the news in the morning with a cup of coffee was also ruined, as I became more and more aware of the sheer magnitude in scale of the injustices carried out around the world. Even the sources I did rely on had become almost unbearable to watch as the fallout of the global pandemic began to erode at the last semblances civilization feebly rested upon.


What had initially been a neutral, sometimes unpleasant, but informative experience became an inescapable vortex of anxiety and psychic agony.


The helicopters and planes were becoming more frequent over my tiny home in the woods, although it wasn’t unusual to see the occasional military or police aircraft being right outside of the national park, it seemed to be happening three or four times a day every day now, instead of every other day, or – like it used to be – a few times a week at most. A couple of times, when I’d be all alone, it almost seemed like I was the last person on Earth.


Sometimes I wondered if I was part of an experiment, and there were government officials and scientists in the woods spying on me; taking notes, recording my actions and behaviors, and responses to the artificial environment they had imprisoned me in.


Like a human zoo.


Was that what the entire world was? A human zoo? Sometimes I thought so.


The actress I hated, Florence Jennings, was back in the news. It seemed like ever since the overhyped and overrated film adaptation of ‘The Famine Runners,’ which I’m sure the books are cosmic leaps and lightyears superior to the film (at least I’d hope), they cast in her literally… every… single… lead role. There are so many other talented strong women actresses that could play these parts, like – seriously? And why does she always play the protagonist? Does she fuck all the directors to get her roles changed? Even in that new ‘G-Men’ film, where she plays a character that is in nearly every single fucking installment of the comics a villain! An antagonist! Antihero at best!


And then in the newest films the character is one of the main protagonists – because she’s played by Florence Jennings.


I had to put down the remote to keep from throwing it through my television when her face popped up in the scroll. I decided to step outside, go for a walk as I smoked my cigarette. Maybe everything else that was being shoved in my face was getting to me, and I was just using her as a symbolic punching bag to take out my frustrations upon over this fact.


Gender roles and old-school romance came back in a big way during the COVID-19 pandemic, and one that particularly stuck out in my mind was that god-awful ‘Beasts & Beauties’ romcom action-thriller that I predicted the ending of with one-hundred-percent accuracy just from watching the trailer. Aside from the undeserved ninety-three-percent ‘marinated’-rating on SourGrapesCritic.org and the obnoxiously-in-your-face teen romance, the thing that stuck with me was the fact that the backstory was essentially a bad rip-off of a Terrortincture story I’d written back in 2017 called ‘Zoomorphosis,’ about experiments at Area-51 attempting to reverse the effects of human-source climate change, which instead tweaks all life on Earth to evolve specifically to kill humans. The plot of ‘Beasts & Beauties’ (even the title sucks) is basically the same, except it’s set in the future and involved a Space Shuttle ‘Challenger’ from another dimension traveling into the future with a gamma ray explosion that mutates all cold-blooded Animalia to become apex predators through space amoebas… or something.


And on top of that rank absurdity it never actually explains why it only effects cold-blooded organisms, a giant plot hole if ever there was one. So, aside from the tradwife subplot, the hamfisted time-travel subplot and the fact that they’re all cold-blooded ‘because reasons,’ it is essentially my fucking story, that has been shit on, eaten and regurgitated to infinitely-squared stupidity.


I decided to go talk to Briar, if he was home, which he usually was.


***


Sometimes, on my walk down, I mistook the babbling of the creek at the bottom of my hill for a strange language being spoken by two trolls sitting in the tunnel. The crickets in the trees sometimes sounded like they were screaming, and it were really the trees themselves making that sound.


Briar was banned from Nippur – the property across the street from the Keep, Briar’s – so he wouldn’t be attending the Samhain festivities there. Fortunately, the neighboring property – Cerren Ered – were having their own small gathering and ritual that Briar was invited to. There were quite a few people out to visit the Valley that weekend, so I didn’t have Briar’s ear like I usually did. And I didn’t have much to say at Talking Stick, beyond my name, and, “thankful to be alive, here and now.”


After ritual, I caught a ride up the hill with my neighbor and friend, Yeshua.


“I remember I went to see Jesse, Elizabeth and their son, Lil Marv… he’s gotten so big… and I got Jesse to help me get the sled and took it to the top of that big hill up beside our house, a few winters back,” he said. “And after we got done sledding and while we were roasting hot dogs, Jess told me Marv pulled him aside, and asked him – I shit you not – “Dad, has Grampy always been this… you know… ‘Cool’?”


Yeshua had told the story at least sixteen times in the last three years, Marv had been four at the time, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him. I could tell he really enjoyed telling that story, and the memory was clearly one of his favorites. After they arrived, Yesh and I parted ways, as I hurried next door to put on another layer and roll some more cigarettes. I didn’t realize I’d forgotten to ask him about practicing katas – again – until I saw my karate belts on my top shelf, underneath all my martial arts books.


I’d seen and talked to my sensei at the gathering, just before Talking Stick, and he’d confirmed what I’d suspected all along.


“It’s just been too dangerous to have class with the coronavirus,” said Tony, an older yet energetically-youthful man with a tall, lanky build. “Luckily, I’ve heard there will be a vaccine, any day now, in fact.”


“Well, that’s great news,” I replied enthusiastically. I’d felt so lost without my dojo, being alone with no real comradery apart from my friend in Mountain City over two hours away. It reminded me of my romantic relationships – or rather, lack thereof.


And how this path on my adult life had begun.


***


My head became the computer as my soul spilled into the wiring. I’d only wanted to check my AnaLog account, but what had intended to be a quick five to ten minute ordeal had deteriorated into a drag of hell. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten those mushroom chocolates, but with the power going out and myself left with no light to read by other than candle… it seemed like the rational thing to do.


Of course, that was before my high school friend Jerry and his drug dealer friend Bruce showed up in a stolen car (I didn’t know it was stolen at the time). I snuck onto the spoiler as they prepared to do donuts in the neighbor’s yard, hanging on as they swerved and whirled through the mud. And that was before they proposed smoking that “synthetic” weed, and we thought it a good idea to go by Jerry’s house while his parents were at work.


I vaguely remember Jerry and Bruce trying to calm me down, but to me it was like we all had the same …head – and were all the same ‘person,’ as our bodies converged at our mind. I learned how all of our names were lies, we all had the same name, the same mind… and as our consciousness coursed through the circuitry of the house and through the fields and hills to the power station, connecting to all homes and all people simultaneously, experiencing time backwards and forwards as we saw the past and future simultaneously… we couldn’t help but scream, “what the fuck, dude…”


Over and over again.


“Holy shit.”


As I realized Ellie, my mother, my aunt, my uncle, my friends, Jerry, Bruce, Briar, Yeshua… even what I thought of as, ‘me,’ were all a figment of our collective imagination. Not far removed from the rest of the world around us, as we thought, after all.


I… we… screamed as our computer-house-world-head turned inside out, countless bodies coursing in like a whirlpool of bone, metal and wood.


I didn’t realize this was happening at first, as at the same time it was all I could see were the past and future events of my life – along with everyone I’d ever known and would ever meet – expressed as a single, self-aware, fractal equation. For all intents and purposes, the holographic projection of reality – and the machinery producing it – was effectively transformed inside out as my mind slipped out of my left eye and into the computer it stared at.


I’d thought this was just some crazy drug experience, just an instance of taking too much to the point it screwed with my head.


But after waking up, to find our house burned down, to find out my uncle had tried to commit suicide and everything we’d known was gone forever, and that we’d be staying with him for a few months… I had a dream of a memory that night.


And that memory was of all of us at Jerry’s house, all discovering that we were a figment of each other’s imagination.


***


I dealt with this off and on for the next five to six years – an absolute experience so raw and so alien that my human brain had no way to process it. The fact that the first – what we called a ‘slip-out’ – occurred directly before a house fire didn’t help.


Not long after this, I was hospitalized. I had no knowledge of the process required to go to a facility during a psychotic break, or ‘slip out.’ The hospital we went to the first time had no means available to calm down a non-lucid, mentally-ill teenager.


The first time was mainly brought on by an unhealthy obsession with conspiracy theories, besides the obvious. What had initially been a source for writing material and an intriguing curiosity became a fixation.


I didn’t realize the lengths I’d gone to, the depths in which I’d fallen, to forget about this one person.


Was it the conspiracy theories I’d been fixated on?

Was it really?


But even then, something felt wrong.


There was a kernel of truth in everything.


***


Over the next several years the extent of corruption in the healthcare industry became more apparent.


Particularly with regard to the treatment of the mentally ill.


They had diagnosed me with undifferentiated schizophrenia after my first visit to the mental hospital.


This crippled a lot of my normal, platonic, adult relationships from thereon. Word had gotten out of a ‘schizophrenia diagnosis,’ to the community.

I’d even been referred to as “the Schizoid,” occasionally.


Between the almost daily crisis or escalation in the news, fleshing out my Futurepedia articles, and being an overall politically-active person – my immersion in an ultimately-cancelled historical fiction thriller set in World War II and the Cold War – I could sense things coming to a head. Both in the wider world, and my own…


“They will kill you,” bellowed Tony a second time, after finishing his fourth shot.


I’d picked a bad day to drop acid, as I hadn’t been in a good mood to begin with, and clearly neither was Tony.


“You millennials and your conspiracy theories, you honestly think you’re gonna change anything? We’re poor people,” he said. “Go ahead, take your fight to that darkest part of the Human Soul, you’ll LOSE.”


“Okay, you’ve made your point,” said Claire, his girlfriend and an old friend of my mother’s.


He didn’t seem to notice, and started ranting about martyrs.


“Whatever, I’m going home.”


Claire said she’d drive me, but seemed to have forgotten she’d said that.


Hitting the peak of my trip, and in a terrible headspace, I started seeing red lasers in the woods and pitch-black hell-hounds. As the darkness closed in, men in matching black uniforms carrying rifles scurried across the RV and empty buildings at the bottom of our driveway…


Needless to say, I didn’t make it home that night, and ended up crashing at the neighbor’s house.


And it hadn’t even been a month since the wildfires tore through Gatlinburg…


I still had a recurring nightmare about that day… the gale-force winds of flame, a hurricane of hell on earth, blanketing the entire mountainside like a glowing forest of rage.


And now I would be having another.


***


I didn’t end up going back down to Cerren Ered that night, although I’d intended to. Instead, my journey led me to Nippur, where acid and other hallucinogens seemed to find me in various forms. Tom had some left over from last night, which he offered pro bono.


“How much I owe?”


“It’s good, man, don’t worry about it.” He said.


I offered again, but he cut me off.


“It’s good, really.”


I didn’t hang out long, Tom kept getting hung up on trying to roll a cigarette, and Kim kept complaining about there not being any titties around the drum circle and everyone getting burned out.


“Just like last time, it’s always the same,” she remarked. “No more titties around the drum circle, and there’s not even any drumming!”


“Well, at least there’s not any wildfires,” I remarked half-sarcastically with a sigh. “I might go write some more.”


“What are you working on now,” asked Tom.


“Story I kind of derived from an interesting character I met at in-patient in Knoxville, as well as a nightmare I had while I was there.”


“Don’t you know,” Kim interjected, “you’re not supposed to base fictional characters off of real people.”


A waved my fingers and made a sarcastic spooky noise.


Later that night, alone in my cabin, I tacked the last piece of concept art onto my bulletin board… one of the many monstrous visages that had been drilled into my mind’s eye by forces beyond my comprehension.


They’d been in my life so long I couldn’t remember anything else, but I always knew they needed a story…


They needed prey to feed upon.


They were getting…


Hungry.


***


It’d been almost two years since my last near-death experience, having a tendency to leave my physical body in the astral form came with that risk.


Another unpleasant byproduct was the sleep paralysis…


…and what came to visit alongside it.


I didn’t actually start seeing him until my second hospitalization, and I never saw him on drugs.


He knows how badly he scared me last time.


I remember seeing the little goblins peaking over the side of my bed, trembling in fear of the towering monstrosity in the corner.


He usually hid inside pocket dimensions, coiled up within the other four we experienced on this planet. In addition to the three dimensions of space, and one of entropy, there were also six other dimensions consisting of memory.


In memory-space, life took on a form wholly eldritch in comparison to what we typically referred to as ‘organisms,’ for here – in this alien dimension that surrounded us both dreaming and waking – dwelled psychic-based life-forms… beings of the non-physical. They accumulated presence and consciousness from our own, and were just as terrified of us as we were of them – if not moreover.


Until now, it had hidden itself well. But, now…


I could see.


The television.


I thought for sure it was off as I lay there, in darkness, beside the goblins.


But, then I noticed it.


A dim red light emanated from it, so dark in hue it was almost too hard to see.


Numbers flashed before me, one after another.


“144…”

“89…”

That’s when I realized.

“55…”

“34…”

It was counting down by the Fibonacci sequence.

“21…”

But counting down to what?

“13…”

“8…”

As the numerals ticked lower, the light was getting brighter.

“5…”

The room was physically growing smaller.

“2…”

And the wiring and metal was growing out of the walls.

“1…”

The machinery assembled itself into a vaguely-humanoid form, and began to crawl out of the walls and ceiling.

“They…,” he croaked, crawling up to the bed as I fought with my restraints, as a black tree began to grow out of my spinal column…

“Will…”

I screamed as it grew out hundreds of feet, miles… lightyears…

“KILL…”

Images flashed by of soldiers marching men, women and children in torn, dirty clothing into boxcars. Explosions, some levelling entire cities… columns of armor, advancing technologically in decades over mere seconds… entire armies, legions… machines… all spiraling around a bio-mechanical tree of blood, bone and metal.

“You.”

Why wouldn’t they?

They lied to me about being able to go home.

They lied to me about being able to stay with my mom.

And now… here I stood, years later, barely able to relate to – let alone communicate with – the beings that surrounded me which I had become alienated from.

The beings that I should be familiar with, comfortable with… had been wrenched inside out, and exposed for the facsimile of people that they actually were. Reigning mad over a backwards world of upside-down morals, tyrants over all the plants and animals.

Killing the planet they lived on.

Just as they planned to kill me.

There was one more project that I had to work on.

I’d already started it, and it was coming along nicely.

I had my first shot of liquor in years, and then I did a few more. It took me a minute to realize I wasn’t pouring my own shots.

I looked up, through my stupor of intoxication, to see Screenface sitting across from me.

He stopped mid-pour as he saw me looking at him.

“What do you want?”

The thing laughed, setting down the bottle, an awful grinding sound that I could feel in my bone marrow.

“I want you to finish it.”

He held up a crooked metal finger to his… face.

“It’ll be our little secret.”

Screenface motioned for me to follow, and I did so.

He led me down the switchback path behind my house, the one I’d been meaning to walk along for years… never reaching the end.

Or so I’d thought.

Beneath the mountain my little house sat upon, was a chamber.

It was pitch dark, so much so I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. A faint smell of formaldehyde infested my sinuses.

Then, there was a blinding light in its place.

I found myself in a room filled with plastic curtains, a metal gurney and surgical tools.

I turned, but Screenface was gone.

I reached up to shield my eyes… but when I saw my hand…

I screamed.



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