No More Lifeless Horror

[Spoiler alert: this post reveals the ending of Oculus and The Shining – though you really should have seen that one by now]

The last time everyone in my immediate family was in town we all sat down to watch a horror movie. My family loves a good scary movie. We live in an old wooden Victorian home that seeps at the seams with the creaks and rustles that build tension in ghost stories. Fear has a fun and almost playful dimension to it in a good movie. But sometimes horror gets too hung up on fear and forgets itself. Horror movies often ignore the hallmark of a good story in favor of some cheap thrills. So many mediocre horror films butcher their own themes to manufacture fear and end up lifeless because of it.

Trying to think up a good horror film to watch, I recommended Oculus. It is a very well put together film with solid acting and camera work, but it was ultimately mediocre. “It has a pretty bad ending.” I’d say, but it was more than that. It was a potentially great movie that chose to be mediocre.

In the shiny new horror title Oculus, a pretty standard scary movie plays out with an interesting psychological twist. Two siblings pit themselves against a satanic mirror that essentially killed their parents. The sister leads the charge and eventually recruits the reluctant brother who mostly wants to move on. The novelty of the movie comes from the way the mirror twists the reality around the siblings until they have to find cues and create signs of sanity to avoid getting destroyed by it. Bone piercing dread slips into what would otherwise be another dull battle with demonic forces. It isn’t a perfect movie, with some twists and reality bending moments feeling fairly predictable and some standard horror overacting.

The two siblings standing next to the possessed mirror. Photo courtesy of a review of Oculus from the film focused blog The Movie Guys.
The two siblings standing next to the possessed mirror. Photo courtesy of a review of Oculus from the film focused blog The Movie Guys.

However its biggest failure is not in cinematography or acting, but the mismanaging of a great theme. Like any good scary movie protagonists, the hubris of the two siblings lead them into trouble. They assume they can handle the mirror. Obviously they can’t. The movie plays out with perfect pace and little problem as the mirror brings back the trauma it inflicted on their childhood. In the final moments Oculus shatters its own momentum and dismantles motifs just to keep the audience on edge.

In the last thirty minutes of the movie the siblings uncover repressed memories of the reality behind the death of their parents. Possessed by the mirror, their father kills their mother and turns on them. With almost no chance of survival and the end nearing the kids cower near the mirror. In one tiny act of defiance the dad turns the gun to himself – against the will of the mirror – and shoots. His body smacks the corner of the mirror and gives it the only blemish it ever had in its centuries long history.

What builds is a human theme that a sense of love creates reality; that this familial, human love is the only thing that could fight back against an inhuman, monstrous force. Even if it is just a scratch, it is the only injury on an otherwise indomitable force of dread. This theme gives real meat to an otherwise just well executed fear fest. In the end love renews sanity and brings clarity in madness. The message is incredibly hokey, maybe even gauche, but simultaneously timeless and sympathetic.

When the ending arrives and Oculus promptly picks up the theme like a prized vase it just made and smashes it against the wall to draw some shock from the viewer. The mirror lures the brother into murdering the sister by distorting reality so he can’t see where she’s standing. He ends up carted off to an insane asylum screaming about how the mirror did it, and it goes back on auction presumably to claim another victim. Where was the love the film painstakingly built up to? Where did the lucidity of family go? The end of the film drowned it out after explicitly telling the audience that it was the only thing that could not be drowned out. The end of the film weakened it as a form of resistance after explicitly showing it as the only thing that could fight back against the mirror.

Out of fear that the audience won’t feel afraid, Oculus contrives an awful ending that betrays its own themes in the ultimate low-risk horror move of killing off all but one lone, knowing character to clear way for a sequel. This is what’s truly gauche about horror. This is the turn off. Nothing horrifies mediocre horror more than sincerity to a theme. Without a theme any story becomes directionless and hollow. Unfortunately horror movies often ignore themes and motifs to pound fear into the viewer, but this just cheapens the genre to what many people complain it is now: lifeless, heartless, corporate creations with rehashed stories.

Horror should hit home. Horror should stick with you in good endings and bad for the way that it drives at a point – just like any other type of story. It takes the courage to stick to a theme and deliver on it to actually hit home. Instead, horror chickens out. It gets scared of commitment and the cold feet scary movies have to their own themes turn anything memorable in them to something immature and fleeting. The problem does not end with Oculus. The dilemma extends to movies like Sinister – that also forces a bad ending on the audience likely to pave the way for its recently announced sequel – and so many others that have a glimmer of greatness and settle for the alright.

Jack's insanity memorialized. Taken from this blog post./a=href>
Jack’s insanity memorialized. Taken from this blog post.

Thematically well made horror is not an impossible dream either and The Shining shows this by endlessly building on themes of interior versus exterior and pure delusion. The Shining ends with the father of the family, Jack, alone and frozen in a maze, a smile plastered on his face. Overlook Hotel seems fine on the outside, but it is a malevolent place trapped in a terrible time. Engulfed by the hotel, Jack takes on its character so completely that his smiling façade belies a twisted interior, all of which is frozen in place. The end of the movie completes Jack’s delusion by directly putting him inside an old, black and white photo of the bar he saw in his insanity. The themes of façade versus interior and delusion to even the time period play out in simultaneous perfection at the end of The Shining. If The Shining were made with an ending like Oculus’s Jack would butcher his family and snap out of it as the cops wheeled him away. It would feel cheap and it would lead to a sequel that would feel even cheaper.

Modern horror with a completely bad ending can also capitalize on themes to create a more memorable experience. Let the Right One In – an austere vampire flick – thrives off of soul-sucking loneliness that every frame of the cold, empty Scandinavian scenery compliments. The trials of a lonely boy with an ever working mother provide the basis of a sense of solitude that does not end until the curtain call. Let the Right One In paints a dreadful, ageless child vampire that hides behind an aging and dying thrall. With every moment the white as snow vampire girl further seduces the lonely boy. Her warmth to him radiates amidst his cruel classmates, absent mother, and the snowy Swedish landscape all around. The contrast of the vampire’s simple warmth to the boy’s cold life stirred up my stomach for a week. Through themes Let the Right One In creates a vampire that is simultaneously frigid beyond belief and the warmest thing in a boy’s whole world. I slept fine after the movie’s end, but I never forgot it. Stills of the film stick to the lining of my subconscious like paintings in a museum. The tremendous use of solitude had captured me.

The lonely boy sits bundled and guarded next to the vampire, who is warm even in the cold. Taken from the film's trailer.
The lonely boy sits bundled and guarded next to the vampire, who is warm even in the cold. Taken from the film’s trailer.

Films like The Shining and Let the Right One In make me want to return in earnest to horror. Yet each time I want to embrace the genre it rejects the sincerity of its own messages and motifs so suddenly and purposelessly that I have to deny the genre. I have to refuse it for something bolder. I have to find genres that have the guts and gore to say something real at the cost of pulling back on some emotional punches.

I am not calling for the end of all modern scary movies. I really want to love horror. Nor am I lobbying that all horror must be fine art. Slashers can deliver on themes too, and I don’t want to live in a world without them. Rather, I want to rally against what makes horror lifeless: the way it murders its own messages, motifs, and themes.

Myogenic Dream

This is a story I did a while ago and took a liking too. I liked it enough to run with the premise and try to make into a short story book. I hope you all enjoy it just as much, though I will warn that it leans towards horror and can get a bit weird.

Myogenic Dream

The gates were blown off their hinges. They stooped low on the ground. Their bars flayed apart with animal like force, twisted out and upward in jabbing motions. finely tuned iron twirled and formed spires spinning off into an abyss. The sunlight glowed gently now. Orange radiation blanketing the land filled with incomplete silence. “This place, this place…” he thought.

            The metal boots crunched down onto the cracked streets. Little dark veins shot down the street. The sidewalks of dull grey stood a mockery now to something long lost, simple in its time, beautiful when bathed in the years now faded from memory. Everything now seemed a piece of Imagery that bathed deeper in glory the further it lost itself in unseen terror. A lack of completion characterized it, like the arms of the venus de milo. The man in the metal boots recalled a time not so far gone where those sidewalks once held feet like his. The memory pressed his mind hard, and caused an acute pain. He stood now amongst the draining silence, in his armor, brimming with lighted lines that ran smoothly across him, veins of light. The cold grey plates of armor reflected the sunlight outward. Two jagged blades with similar white veins hung downward, attached to his wrists. Two pistols sat in his holster. He clutched a rifle in one hand, advancing through the street with marked inability to suppress his desire to view all around him.

            The graveyard triumphantly stood untouched through the years. The metal bars of those gates gently flowed back and forth with the wind. A slamming noise echoed in the distance, and the man brought his rifle to bear against the noise. A shutter slammed open, then shut, open then shut, open then finally eased into a closed position, as if a force inside the building latched it shut. He walked on slowly, his legs did not want to advance rapidly in this place. He could feel the shadows in the cracks ungulate about, the churning stomach of creatures disturbingly familiar. This playground stood out shattered and empty in a pit of cement. The merry go round tilted over on the ground. The swing set stood up perfectly. The jungle gym caved inward, depressed from all the years lacking maintenance. It all stood next to the school building. Every single window of the building shattered open with brute force. The doors swung open now to any. A violated hull of a learning facility, gathering not even moss.

             A child laughed. The man swung about, turning to the playground. The swing pushed and pulled back and forth. No more amusement. An unsteady breath overwhelmed his chest as he faltered backward. That swing swung back and forth. His eyes darted away from the swing set. As soon as his eyes returned to the playground, it filled with the void of stillness. Nothing moved. Swallowing the murky pools of saliva in his throat seemed a necessary chore now. He moved past the playground now. For a moment, he stopped and peered into the doors of the school. In the hallways a black emptiness ran rampant. The facility lit up with fantastic lights, beautiful oranges and greens and blues. All of the colors elegantly mashed about in the place, the smooth plaster of the walls invited him. He took a step towards the threshold. The school drained of color, leaving only a blackness deep inside punctuated by lights emanating from the windows, illuminating the floating whisks of dusk. He smiled. When he was a kid he used to play in those beams of light, gasping at the simple brilliance nature brought. He stepped forward, venturing into the darkness. His legs quivered uncontrollably. He forced himself onward until he reached arms length of one of those saintly halos of light. He extended his arm, and smiled sadly. He choked back a staggered sob. He lacked the moisture to cry. The sadness left him with an acrid throat pain. He retreated from the building, returning to the street.

            For the first time now, he looked upward. Already the sun started to retreat. He exhaled sharply, and pressed the dull end of his forearm against his forehead. The manor sat in the distance. The manor, it shined a beautiful glowing white. The curtains flowed out in silky fashion from the shudders left open. Ivy wound around the porch beams, while the finely kept lawn’s green hue radiated outward in overwhelmingly vivid fashion. The lights pulsed neon, the colors blended together, then flashed out of existence. A raven crowed, the wind rushed through the wayward traveler’s hair. He re-examined the manor. The manor slouched inward. Its white paint now dull deprived of its shine. The paint fell off the surface as if a demented leprosy now consumed its facade. The shutters were all broken off, lying on the dirt lawn. He looked away, a pain gripping his chest. His eyes swung back up; he saw a man. A man in a brown trench coat. His features were rugged, his boots had spurs. His expression looked worn and gaunt. The traveler waved up to him. No response given. “Help.” The traveler did his best to yell in a depleted and clawed out voice. “Mister, I….I….”

            The tall and dark figure slouched over, looking at his hands. The palms of the figures hands bled now, they bled a crimson so strong the traveler fell back. The time stretched out on the horizon while the traveler sat on the dull ground. He lengthened out his arms, and exerted a physical force, lifting himself up from the ground. Inch by inch. Inch by inch until he knelt. Then until he stood. There was no man? Will there be a man? He panted. Was there ever someone there? Was there ever…

He clasped his head for a second, and contorted inward. His heavy panting echoed off his own frame.

            He straightened out and moved on. The sun started to make its departure, he felt the warmth start to vanish and picked up the pace, his legs swinging out now in increased motion, muscles extending, joints stretching out, bones being dragged along. Suddenly a cough resounded in the distance. He stopped and lurched forward – irked backward. He creaked back and forth unstably like a tree cut at the base, ready to tip over. Slowly his head turned skeptically towards this cough, shaking with brief and powerful twitches left untamed. He clutched his rifle now. He looked now towards the steps of the hospital then at the hallway. There was nothing. It was dark. Then. Then, the light flickered on. The light flickered on! Inside the hallway the burning neon glow of artificial light struck the white tile. Oh dear god! Oh dear lord! Oh heavens, oh hell! He could see it! He could see that gold aura emanate from the building. It rung out to him with the promise of shelter He started to make his way toward it.

            A child. There was a child, small, terrified in expression, hair uncombed and untreated, face dirty. The darkness faded but her eyes remained visible to him. They pierced him. He turned now and extended his hand, “Child…” like a lump in the throat squeezing forcefully upward, punching a hole, “Dah Darl…I…” He thought. He felt, he felt like she was something to him. He could have sworn… but now he lost it. Whatever it was.

            The light flickered on again. He saw the visage, her tiny curled fingers and toes. The lights flickered again now. He saw now. He saw now. This child its flesh cold and black. Twisted feet turned to talons. Fangs dripped, it panted heavily. Little tears welled in the side of the creatures eyes. It pounded towards him, with hungry claws. He raised his rifle. He could not aim through his trembling. The tears flew back as the very ground moved him towards whatever this was. It leaped up on him, and the shot sounded off in the distance. The light flickered from the barrel. The light shattered the emptiness. If only for that second, the light shattered the emptiness. The creature fell to the floor and started to moan and jaw out in terrible pain. He stared at its small and crunched frame. He could identify its limbs, its face, its little human hands, and its strange talons. He saw it reach at him with its small hands before accepting that its efforts were futile. It started to fade and whimper. The creature’s large eyes blinked slowly now, as tears flowed freely from the deep and colored iris. It creaked back and forth in its motions, like a tree cut at its base, ready to tip over. The man looked back. The beasts formed out now in his periphery. He heard them grunt and cavort. They spoke out to each other. They would look into the eyes of another and, make physical contact. He saw it now. He saw them shaking their long limbs. They stretched out as if readying for a sprint. Their glowing eyes pierced him. Those beautiful, inflated green and blue irises stared him down. They offered an unremitting look of regretful obligation.

            He turned and ran. He ran as fast as his muscles would push against the turbulent ground. Panting, he had no option to look back now. He jumped through the gates of the manor. He slammed them shut behind him. A piece of wood, stripped off the building lie at his side. He grabbed it, and slammed it into the two holes lying parallel to the gate, shutting it off from outsiders. The beasts charged down the beaten path, stirring up a whirlwind of dust behind them. He witnessed their triumph ant gallop. One stood towering above them. Its huge talons stuck out like razors on its massive flat feet. Those feet extended from its small legs, bulging with muscular activity so fierce as to be gripping and morose. Its torso exploded out in size. It hulked out in towering substance. Its giant chest formed out of dark sinewy vines wrapped and wrapped and wrapped onto one other. With each breath it took that chest inflated and those sinewy ropes seemed ready to snap from the pressure. The arms, they stretched out in unreal proportions. It slammed them against the ground and shoved itself forward, causing the earth to shake with each explosive stroke of movement. Its face molded in just above that chest, bearing a giant mouth with a bladed tongue that swirled about recklessly. The tongue dangled out of the side of its mouth due to a lack of a jaw. Its eyes distorted in color while the irises and pupils inflated and deflated mesmerizingly. It gasped and breathed heavily and occasionally seemed to snort and vomit out a filmy black bile

            Underneath it ran smaller creatures, the size of dobermans. They ran on the hands of a human with burnt flesh, scurrying about, their spine loping out in C formation, the boney bulges ready to pop out like spikes. They sprung forward with the dynamic motion of rockets, spiraling about and surpassing the speed of that great thing behind them. Their little wrinkly necks expanded out, to connect with their heads, that bore the flat faces of man. Only a pair of eyes and a human mouth with an extended jaw characterized the face of such a creature. The mouths held no darkened flesh to cover the teeth, no pink lips to block the shine of the white teeth. The teeth, sharp as blades, shined outward. They did not breath, they just stared, their eyes tearing under the pressure of the wind. They just stared . Their Piercing razors of eyes let off an unrelenting gaze. He looked into those eyes. His mind flickered, brief little colored images of humanity filled his mind for split seconds. A lazy creature limped along behind them, two huge, broken wings of blades spread out behind it, flickering pitiably, as if trying to lift into the air. Its head sloped out of its neck, like the fat and unmolded countenance of an infant. It drooled helplessly, and tried to cry out, no noise could be heard.

            Then there was one last one, just one. A single shapeless woman, She did not seem to move. Just a shadow. It lacked eyes, just two spaces hollowed out in the skulls. Its figure stood refined, purely human in structure, like a being clothed a stretchy black film. At first it appeared to have no mouth, but then it stretched apart its lips, and the filmy black covering split apart gradually. It dry heaved for a moment, nothing coming from the empty hole. Then it just roamed aimlessly, groping at this world, grabbing on to things, clutching them with some heartfelt desire. She clutched them close to her heart as if in an embrace. She clung now to a little stuffed bear with an arm torn off. She stroked the bear’s open wound while the others raced off without her.

            The traveler steadied his hand, and readied the rifle to fire another shot. The ground shook him. The colors and the lines blurred together. He blinked fiercely to bring shapes to the endless darkness, but had no such luck. He pulled that rifle, and aimed into the charging commune. That bullet slammed into the chest of one of the smaller running beings. The thing skid along the ground in a final windless sprint. The stain of its blood stretched along the ground. The white stain, the explosion of pure white color poured out of the open wound. The creature moaned and cried out. The blood swirled around it, its heart pushing out all that filled it with each beat. It jawed and stretched about, praying for some distant thing to help it. The comrades glanced at it, their eyes creased upward with sorrow, and those dark frames shook with blue tears. They blinked ferociously to rid themselves of this manifestation of sadness. The tears receded, yet they still slipped out of the corners of those deep white eyes. The man, he could not see their frames well, in the blur of the black abyss, yet he saw those eyes, he saw them as if from separate beings, floating now, staring and crying at him. A wrathful mourning directed now at him.

            It took every inch of resolve to raise that rifle to his shoulder again. He shut his eyes tight as he fired. Another one of the small beasts fell out of the following. The front left leg shot off at the knee, causing it to collapse and spin out. The white blood formed another winding trail, reaching out to the pool pouring out of the knee of the creature. It moaned now, whining and yelping harshly out for assistance. It tried to stand, and collapsed into the pool of white, which splashed up about it. It jawed out breathlessly, panting, ribs and chests expanding in and out in a sad and final furry, a delirium suffered from the intense pain. He fired the rifle again. It clicked impotently. He rummaged into his pocket for any shell of any sort. Nothing now. He hurriedly strapped the rifle to his back and drew his two pistols.

            They closed the gap, just a few feet away from the bars that kept them way him. He could see their shapes now. His eyes burned from the definition. That towering behemoth struck a deep awe in him. He looked up as the beast raised its arms upward, as if it were touching the giant moon. Two more of those little creatures were still there. They gnawed right at the gate. They were so close, he could feel the heat radiate from their bodies and seeing the sweat slide down their sides. He planted three shells right into the side of one. That white blood sprayed out as the beast tried to cling on to the gate with its teeth. Its strength waned, as the blood shout wavering back and forth. The bullet wounds charmed the streams to dance like snakes in the air. He looked at that last little beast gnawing dutifully at the gate. It locked eyes with him as he raised the gun. It winced in anticipation, its sharp teeth still grinding. Then it started to tear up, water pouring out in a deluge from its eye, sniffling silently. Its ribs could be seen, its stomach looked empty, depleted, churning now on nothing. As he locked eyes with it and image of a tree, a beautiful and towering oak tree, coated his vision in temporal flashes. He saw the tree as if it were there, its leaves gliding down gently on the ground.

            He wavered and flickered while holding the gun to that thing. He grit his teeth and shut his eyes as he fired; the ground shook and he fell to the ground with the beast. That mighty armed beast grappled onto the walls surrounding the manor, and heaved himself upward, pushing everything else downward under its weight. He watched it plummet down at him, a powerful avenging comet. He scuttled off to the side as it landed, just narrowly evading the thick talons of its feet. As it raised its feet, the man now acted. He planted the pistol into its thigh and fired three more times. Three geysers of animated white blood shot out in streams from the wounds. He turned to the other leg and flailed and thrashed wildly, cutting violently with his blades. He cut and gashed deep into the black skin of the beast. The white blood sprayed out and embraced him, removing the color with that white, returning the painting to the blank canvas. Frantically he shoved his way out from underneath the creature. It swayed out violently, trying to hold itself with its arms, until it collapsed on to its pounding chest, breathing heavily, gasping and clutching at all the air it could. In pained delirium it swiped at the blurring target around it. That armor, it glowed so beautifully. It reached for that glowing armor

            The man witnessed as the creature furiously swung and reached at him. The first blow was a glancing hit. It knocked the wind out of him just as he got out of range. He looked at his blade dripping with the white blood. One pistol now lacked ammunition. He grabbed the other with both hands. The beast started to pull himself towards the warrior, dragging himself along the ground, the beast felt that heart pound within him, the final heat. He saw a blaze, and everything ceased.

            The head collapsed under the force of the bullet. The white blood formed a powerful fountain that gradually subdued itself. The traveler fell to his knees. He coughed out onto his arm. He coughed out white. A deep shade of white. It seemed pure to him, like paint. He looked at the baby faced creature gnawing at the gate. It made some progress now, but it would not bite through. The moon now started to fade. The creatures melted off in the distance. He watched as the sun rose. It emanated an arc of colors. They poured out over the land. He now saw from the manor, the sunlit village. The open road splintered open. The sidewalks were now falling to pieces. That hospital, that horrid hospital stood unlit and corroded. The playground remained devoid of play. He heard voices in the wind. He did not give a damn. Not anymore, he did not give damn anymore what the voices had to say. Painted white with blood, he did not give a damn for hollow words.

            The traveler irked and groaned, shoving himself upward with deliberate force. His legs ached. It all drenched him in fatigue. He reached out to the doorknob. He jiggled it, and placed his hand against the wooden frame. He felt it for a moment, before pushing inward. He pushed through the threshold, his force causing specks of the ceiling to fall to the floor.  Stepping through the broken chunks, he looked into the sunlit room. The red rugs stood on the wooden floor. The white lace curtains fluttered a bit. He smiled just a little, looking over to the old purple armchair, the bookshelf filled with multicolored spines of literature and culture. He walked past, the floor creaking underneath him. He pushed up against the door of the parlor. He rotated the golden doorknob, but the door fell and shattered before him. He stepped in. A woman sloped herself up against the wall, where she sat there sobbing. She had skin all blackened to ash like those creatures. She looked up at him, with just one big peering eye, an empty socket right next to it. She let her arms fall to the side as she gazed at him. Unclothed, she stood upward slimmed now, inhaling air in unwieldy emotional gulps. She opened her arms to him.

            “Please,” She called out, “Please, I need you now…”

He stumbled back through the threshold. He raised his bladed arms tentatively. “No..” he whispered out to her hoarsely, “No, please I…I…” Her arms flowed around him. He felt the warm embrace, then shut his eyes and grit his teeth. He plunged the blade into her stomach. She bled that white stirring color. She clutched at the wound, and looked at him. She fell backward, grabbing at the doorframe. She toppled downward, and into a heap, sobbing thoroughly now. He fell back, and put his leathery hands over his face, sitting on the hard wooden floor. His gentle moans ceased and he removed his hands. Something was shriveled, lying up before him. It was some human frame, distorted now. He thought it wasn’t her. He could not tell if he thought or hoped that. He could not tell…

            He stood up. He looked into that room. The table in the middle collapsed in half long ago. The plaster on the ceiling chipped off and fell now to the floor. The bookcases now filled only with cobwebs. He moved his hand along the wall, supporting himself. The chairs, they were all overturned. Those still standing seemed only a mockery of normalcy now. The carpet was nothing more than a torn mess of colorless fabric.

            He walked on and spotted a side door. Planting his hand against it, wearily he pushed it open. It swung out. A cacophonous slam ran through the air, he jumped back. The whole house creaked out, releasing a desperation cry. The door merely struck the wall. The tiles on the bathroom now caked over with mud and filth. The sink crashed out onto the floor much earlier. It was dark inside. No windows, no sunlight. He stepped into the little cave. The toilet shattered earlier too leaving just a base. He stepped over to the tub, still preserved. He smiled a little. He peered over it. He placed his hand in it. He felt the depths. Cold water. Fresh water engulfed the hand, moving around his hands with gentle nudges. Immersed now in a lighter gravity. A less heavy place. He reached down further pushing his arm in to spread that sensation. He felt a warm grasp on his arm, and recoiled backward, crawling quickly out of the bathroom. He coughed out a painful gust of air. Daggers in his throat cutting at him. He brought his hand up to stifle that gust of air, paying a nonexistent courtesy to an invisible person, flattering a custom retained long past the functionality.

            He looked at his hand. He felt the wet warmth on it even now. He stood up. The darkness of the bathroom beckoned him. He stood outside, his chest heaving up and down. He stepped slowly inward, the wood creaking with each step. He stood now, shutting his eyes as he approached the bath tub. The warmth engulfed his chest. He looked into the tub. He stared into an empty and dirty basin. He stood there for a moment, his eyes starting to blink rapidly, feeling the irritation of a warming scratchiness. His nose inhaled sharply. He stuttered out in his breaths now. Finally. He pulled himself together, steadying himself. He exited the bathroom.

            He limped now, pulling the leg that simply refused to keep on moving. It was too tired now, too fed up with it. He dragged it along the floor, scraping heavily against the ground. He reached another door. This one stood half off its hinges, still clinging to the frame with bronzed and looped fingers. He entered now into the main ballroom. The room lit up with the brilliance of sparkling bulbs, filled with the happy chatter of dancers and talkers alike. The large circular tables sheltered the merriment of all. They were cut of such fine wood, polished to shine. Persian silk rugs with fantastic patterns covered the floor. They knotted off into white strings at the end. The massive chandelier towered out above all of it, cascading light down upon the joyous crowd.

            He felt an aqueous mixture begin to irritate his eyes. He blinked sharply and fiercely. When he opened his eyes, everything faded. No rugs or chairs. Just the wooden floor, busted up in spots, and a chandelier fallen to the ground. Its crystals, they reflected little specks of rainbow across the walls, the dead cold walls. Something welled up in his eye now, it distorted his vision. His face wavered between smiles and frowns, looking at the rainbows dancing across this desolate and barren landscape. He dragged himself along. He saw the stairway now, it spun and swirled up to where he was headed. The cast rod railing had shattered and curled up now, broken and torn into cruel spikes. He slammed up the stairs in hasty motions, stopping and starting in choppy fashion. He nearly reached the top of the stairs. He smiled now. He clasped his hands against the railing, and looked down at the old ballroom. Suddenly, a clarity overwhelmed his vision.

            A dead body slouched up against a wall. A bullet wound in the side of the corpse’s skull explained just how it reached the afterlife. The corpse wore a faded brown trenchcoat, cowboy boots, as general’s hat, and a worn, gaunt expression. The corpse’s hair looked frail and thinned. The body began to decompose in its position. Surely, this body did not exist. He shut his eyes and refuted its existence. He opened them once more. The body still leaned up against the wall. He shut and opened his eyes again and again and again, until he finally gave in and fell down to his knees. He pulled himself back upward and entered the upstairs hallway.

            His lips parted open slightly, and his teeth showed. The air forced its way out of his chest, causing a pain. He laughed now. He laughed. This place was left untouched. They could not reach into this sanctum. The walls still adorned in a vibrant orange. The brown doors shined with all due fervor. The lights shined in the hallway. That one window out on the end of the hallway let in the sun. The banner, the family crest with the saying it stood out now. It was such a distinct purple, so deep. The saying was written in gold underneath the crest. “Preserve The Dreams of The Future.” He laughed familiarly. He heard chatter, familiar voices speaking out in the distance. He sought them out. He stepped now towards the door of the master bedroom. He grasped the two fine gold handles and pushed open.

            His eyes opened wide. His legs now both straightened out. Two gaunt bodies. Two gaunt bodies, eyes closed lay on that bed. They were motionless, worn now into to grey, cold, lifeless structures. He knew them. He knew them so well. He looked around now. He looked at the room, torn up, decayed, left deprived of energy. His whole frame trembled with his breath. He turned around, gazing into the hall. There were no glistening doors, no orange, only that light from the broken window out in the end. It illuminated the crevices of poorly and sharply carved lines in the walls. Those lines, they presented a fading message, cut deep into the wooden wall:

“Preserve The Dreams of The Future In Eternal Sleep”

            he began to whine, then cough. He looked up at his hands, blurring images now. They were opened up with abrasive cuts, leathered from age. He rubbed his scratchy hands against his burning eyes. He jogged down the hallway. He looked up through that window. The moon, the moon it shined now. They were gnawing now, he could hear them scraping against the gate. He walked back down to that master bedroom. He lurched into the room and fell sharply to one knee. He looked up at one of those figures in the bed. A man, silent now, not breathing. He clasped the pruned hand, feeling the very bone underneath the freezing skin. He felt a chilling sensation in his core.

“I…I…I…”he choked over those blades he felt in his throat, “I am sorry…So…so…sorry.”

He stood up now, His legs welled up that final bit of courage. He threw his gun across the room. He grabbed his armor and unbuckled it. It fell now to the side. Blinking a brilliant light. Now, down to his robes, he shifted over to the far side of the pillow. There was a third pillow, left there for him. Just as it was in childhood, just as it was when he feared the dark.

            He slipped over to the third pillow. On the bed stand, there was a bottle, and a glass. The white pills in the bottle, they would cure his insomnia. The water, the water was the final comfort. With reckless abandon he poured out the bottle and grabbed whatever pills his leathery hand could catch. Many fell between his grasp, as his fingers moved lethargically. He crammed them into his gullet, and poured the water into his mouth, gulping. The sweet cold liquid immersion scattered down the sides of his cheek. That cold and clear substance. It ran down his throat, dulling the edges of those knives that prodded him as he spoke. He coughed a little. He heard the gate creak open now. His eyes, the images they all blurred.

            He smiled a little, breathing heavy now. His limbs swayed back and forth in the cold night air. He slipped into the warmth of the covers. He rested his head against the pillows. He turned his head. A woman, younger now, looked at him. A man too. They smiled at him lovingly. He smiled back at them. The woman extended her hand, and he grabbed it. The tears subsided, he put his head down against the pillow. And then he dreamed.

            A boy returned home, once, just to rest. The boy returned home once more, to rest on familiar ground.

~Austin R Ryan