Saturday, January 26, 2013

"Paths Divergent"

They pulled him from the room with the padded walls. They forced him into a straitjacket, and pushed him forwards. He was silent as they marched him through the corridors and into the room. The door was firmly closed and locked behind him.

More guards remained in the room, not to keep him safe, but to prevent him from harming the other man.
The other man was small but sly, a psychiatrist. He sat in a swivel chair, while the man in the straitjacket had a small plastic one.

"So, how are we today, Charlie?" The psychiatrist smiled, his teeth an unnatural shade of white.

"Fine." The other man answered. His voice was flat, emotionless.

"Well then, let's continue where we left off last session. Do you feel ready to tell me yet?"

The man was surprisingly lucid, for the first time in months. "I'll tell you everything, but only if you send these men out. I don't want them to listen. Nasty little..." His hand clenched and unclenched reflexively as he muttered.

The doctor signaled to the guards to leave the room. He could always call them back. They unlocked the door and left, once again locking the door behind them.

"Good. Now, where do I begin?"


My name is Charles Richards. I am forty six years old and I have made some very bad choices. I had a job, working in an office. It wasn't much, it wasn't glamorous, but it was enough. I got by. My family got by. I had a wife, Milly, and three children, Jake, Beatrice and Jennie. They were the best family any man could have. Oh, they had their moments, but so does any family. When it came to it, we stood together.

Or so it had always seemed in the past.

One day, I came home from work and just slumped into a chair. I sat there for a while, letting myself relax and become calm. The next thing I remember is waking up. No, not waking up: there was no drowsiness. Perhaps I should simply say I regained consciousness.

I was in a bright white light. Looking around me, I could see nothing else. There was no indication of how far this light went on for.

I've always been quite emotional, and so naturally I began to panic. Who wouldn't have, in my situation?

I took a few steps forward. I could see nothing but this white light.

Suddenly I could see myself. Turning around, I could see myself there also. Spinning round, I could see myself in every direction. Reaching out my hand to one, I realized what they were. Mirrors. Hundreds upon hundreds of mirrors.

I began breathing fast. Looking down and above my head, I was trapped like a rat in a mousetrap. Until that moment, I had never thought of myself as claustrophobic.

A voice called from nowhere.

Hello, little one.

I tried to speak but something was preventing me. I could open my mouth, and breathe, but no sound came out.

Oh, you can't talk. Don't waste your breath, and don't worry. I only want to help you.

I was helpless; I had no choice but to listen.

You are not rich, but neither are you poor. Look into the mirror, and I will show you your future.

Staring into the silver backed glass, I saw clouds begin to form, and then clear, leaving an image of a person, a man. He was working at a desk, his head lowered. A voice called out, and the man looked up. It was myself. I was looking at myself.

I recognized my boss walking over, and shaking me by the hand. Straining my ears, I could hear him speaking. He was offering me a promotion! I could not believe my ears. This was no ordinary pay rise, but an entire new position. I would be the second most important man in the business.

The vision changed. I was at home, and I was arguing with Milly.

"You will not accept the job!" she screamed. "It's hard enough already, with you gone for hours as you are, leaving me alone to support our children, and you want to stay away for even longer?"

"I -- it's to support our family," I blustered.

"If you accept the job, I'll file a divorce." She was not shouting now, but whispering. Somehow it seemed more dangerous, more...venomous. "I'll take the children and have you removed."

"But -- Milly..." She had never acted like this before. "I can't leave you. You’re the only light in my life."

"Don't give me that nonsense," she snapped. "You're not taking that job, and that is final."

The vision faded.

The voice came again.

So, you see, what the mirrors show you is true. You will be fantastically lucky, a rich man, but you will turn it all down for your beloved wife. Or will you change the path of Fate itself, will you defy your Wyrd?

The light faded. As everything darkened, I heard the voice whisper one last time in my ear.

Only you can step off onto the less traveled path...


"So what did you do?" the psychiatrist asked. He already knew, of course, but he wanted to hear what Mr Richards had to say.

"I did the only thing I could." He smiled, grimly, not seeming insane at all. "I stepped onto a new path, the only way I knew how."


Court Case -- Charles Richards, #62750921

Subject placed on trial for the murder of his wife, Milly Richards. He was found lying in a chair, holding his wife's hand as she died, whispering the phrase "And now the paths diverge."

He was found not guilty on reason of insanity, and was transferred to Rothschild Asylum in Sussex.

Case has been closed.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"The Rag-picker"

The mall was so crowded and Bronwen couldn't stand it anymore, couldn't stand being surrounded by people, talking and shouting and moving and she had to get out, she had to get away from everything. She slipped out of the crowd and into a relatively empty coffee shop.

Feeling guilty about being at the shop and not buying anything, she approached the counter, intent on getting a bottle of water. Radiohead's "Creep" started playing on the speakers and she noticed that the barista had two different color eyes. The left was green, while the right was brown.

"A water bottle, please," she said and the barista blinked and the color of her eyes switched. The right one was brown now, while the left was green. Bronwen stopped and backed away.

"Two dollars," the barista said and placed the water bottle on the table. Bronwen looked closer at her, trying to convince herself that she imagined it.

The barista smiled and suddenly she had three eyes, a third eye stuck right in the middle of her forehead. It fluttered open and looked at her with disinterest. It was a strange brownish green color.

Bronwen turned and ran out of the door. She encountered the same crowd as before, but this time she tried to get lost in it, tried to escape from whatever delusion she was having.

She followed the crowd wherever they went, but occasionally she would catch a glimpse of something off, something wrong. Someone would have an extra arm or too many fingers or a tail...

She was on the second floor when she saw it. She had just followed the crowd, trying to shut off her mind, going up the escalator, when she saw it digging around in one of the mall's trash cans. Its hair was long and stringy and dark red and its skin was mottled. It looked up from the trash and straight at Bronwen and she could see its thin face and there was something crawling underneath its skin, something trying to escape. It looked at her and opened its mouth and it had no teeth, only gums and a tongue that stretched out at her and she ran, she ran down the escalator again, down past the people rushing upward, ran until she was out of breath.

It was on the bus back home, after she had convinced herself everything was a delusion, that she only needed to see a psychiatrist, when a man sat down next to her. She didn't like people sitting next to her, but there was nothing to be done until it was her stop.

"I call it the Rag-picker," the man said. She glanced at him and he looked back with sunglasses over his eyes.

She didn't say a word, just scooted away from the man and looked out the window. And she saw the thing again, red-haired and mottled, digging in the trash. She gasped and then heard the man say, "It picks at the rags, the discarded ones, the dregs and outcasts."

She looked as it dug deeper into the trash and then asked, "What is it?"

"It's a stain," he said. "A black mark on the world. A mistake, a defect."

It turned up its face from the trash and looked at her as the bus pulled away. Its tongue was still too long and was licking the inside of the trash and Bronwen closed her eyes and tried not to think about it. "What does it want?" she asked.

"To feed," the man said. "Probably. I'm not sure. But I know it won't go away. You'll keep seeing it. And the world around you will become riddled with mistakes, with imperfections and stains and weird mutations. Until you are living in the Rag-picker's world."

"And then?"

"And then I don't know. Nobody knows."

She turned to look at the man and asked, "And how do you know all these things? How did you know it was after me? Who are you?"

The man's skin was wrinkled and sagging. "I'm a remnant," he said. "An echo of a man. I'm just here to warn you." He took off his glasses and suddenly he had too many eyes. "Like I was warned."

He opened his mouth and his tongue was too long and then she was alone on the bus.

She left at the next stop and walked home. She tried to ignore other people, only catching the occasional glimpses, once of a woman with three mouths, one of a child with thorns growing from his skin.

She walked back to her home and tried to keep herself from going insane.

And the Rag-picker followed.

"The Shrouded One"

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful maiden.

Or, perhaps, a man.

Most likely of all, it didn't matter.

She – or he – or the Shroud (for that is what we call her, or him, or it doesn't matter) must have come to be through divine means. Brought down to Earth by angels, for they feared the beauty of the Shroud might lead them into temptation. The essence of Gaia, manifest, the purest beauty Mother Earth could muster. A wish given form, the most glorious imagining from the most brilliant artist, who gave his soul away with a handshake if He could bring her – or him – or it didn't matter – into being.

One thing we could all be certain of was, at a meaningless point in history, someone decided that they could not bear such loveliness in large doses. Hidden by a long, trailing veil of black, the Shroud was draped in the plainest mantle to be found anywhere and covered from head to toe. If the Shroud had a head, or toes. Most likely, it didn’t matter.

Loveliness of such high caliber was not to be shared so freely. To look upon the face of the Shroud was the greatest blessing one could ever receive; gladly, we slaved away, toiling ourselves to death for one more glimpse of what that veil concealed.

To look upon her – or his – or it didn't matter – the Shroud's face was an honor that not a single soul among us deserved. Beauty takes pity upon the ordinary.

We looked upon the Shroud's face, and felt inexplicable pain, something beyond all description. The sensation of our hearts being torn apart, nerve by nerve, breaking into millions of glass pieces. The feeling of every vein in our bodies singing, soaring being bliss and overwhelming us with so much awareness of ourselves that we ached. A burning, piercing, thrilling ache.

The clarity, the single-mindedness, the enveloping knowledge that something so beautiful existed, in our plain and ugly world. Our unworthiness made our hearts literally break, in our chests.

From that moment onwards, everything else seemed horrifyingly dull. Twisted. Hideous. We followed the Shroud, holding the long train of the mantle, kissing the ground she – or he – or it didn’t matter – walked upon. Every step was striking. Every sway and flutter, captivating. When the Shroud would speak, it sounded like a thousand ethereal songs being sung at once – the tinkling of chimes, the warm whisper of the wind, the lifting tones of music that filled us and made us believe magic could exist. Serenity, like a lure, audible even to the deaf.

It was enough to drive us mad.

Once upon a time, we believed there was a purpose to this world. A ridiculous notion, now. There is one purpose, one glory, one beauty, one reason to live.

We wish the Shroud to look upon is. Most likely, nothing else matters.


This is how my brother died.

My brother, James, and I always loved to play tag in the woods behind our house. Even though it was just the two of us, we had a blast! We'd usually give each other enough time to go hide somewhere in the woods, and then the chase was on - and boy, was there a lot of hiding spots. Sometimes, I'd wait for what felt like hours until I heard my brother trampling branches and leaves. Since I was a fair sport (and sitting in uncomfortable positions for a long time wasn't something I liked to do), I usually came out and said "You got me!"

But James wasn't like that at all. He used to tease me because I'd have walked past his hiding spot several times, and it was usually something you didn't know could be used as a hiding spot unless you looked closely. For instance, one day he managed to hide in a pile of leaves... and right below that was a small den that some animal must have used in the winter. You see what I mean? He was a master at our game.

On the first day of Spring Break, we rushed out into the woods, ready to begin a great day of tag and the other nonsense children get into. Like usual, we used "Rock, Paper, and Scissors" to decide who was 'it'. I lost, of course, so I closed my eyes and waited a few moments while James rushed off into the brush.

And the game began! I ran off in the direction my brother had went, and this time I was determined to find him. NowI was going to be the master at this game. But as time went by, I started to give up hope. That's when I heard it - a sneeze, coming from my left. Knowing there was only one other person out in these woods, I crashed through them and came face-to-face with James.

It wasn't the best hiding spot that he'd had: It was a small opening in-between some trees with a bush blocking the rest from sight. My brother was sitting under a tree, his eyes on this vine that was growing on it.

"Got you," I told him.

He didn't respond at first. I was about to ask again, but he turned to acknowledge me and said "Okay." And that was it, apparently. He closed his eyes as if he were counting, and I rushed out to find a hiding place. I hadn't noticed anything weird then, but looking back on it now... it wasn't like James at all.

Over the course of the day, James became more withdrawn, not saying anything. Around our third playthrough, he even started carrying a 'spear' with that vine wrapped around it...

The final time we played, I hid in a tree. My brother had never acted like this before, you see, and it was starting to scare me. I stayed still for several moments, looking out into the forest to see if I could spot my brother. But... there was nothing. I could neither see nor hear him.

I looked down at the bottom of the tree and saw him standing there, looking up at me.

I froze in fear, not knowing what to do. I hadn't heard him arrive!

He started to climb up towards me, so I climbed either until there was nowhere else to go. And he continued up towards me, that spear on his back...

I looked at him, fear in my eyes, as he reached my level. He was still for a moment, then took the spear off of his back and pointed it at me.


I was confused as he started to climb down. I guess on some level he wasn't that violent, but I half-expected him to push me out of the tree or stab me in the gut. But he didn't - he just disappeared into the woods.

I ran home crying. I didn't know what to do. Mom was in hysterics and Dad went out to look for James, but it was fruitless. He was nowhere to be found.

...Until a few days later when they found him walking along the highway. They didn't know what was wrong with him; he didn't respond to any vocal commands, and he would try attacking anyone that got close to him. They hospitalized him, got him to calm down, but... He's never spoken anything since that day.

Mom and Dad look after him now. He lives in his old room, not really doing anything except staring into space. I come and visit him, see if he'll awake.

But seeing that vacant expression on his face haunts me all the time, because it makes me think... did I do this?

"The Green Man"

I stood by her bed when she talked, day in and day out. My mother had been a strong woman, but the day had finally come when she'd been out gardening and she swore she saw a man made of leaves and flowers.

I told my son that it was natural. We didn't have a history of Alzheimer's, but sometimes you got unlucky. It wasn't a fun talk for him, but he's a good kid and he accepted it without much trouble.

I'd go visit her every day, too. She'd insist that she was fine, and we'd talk. I worked hard at keeping mentions of the plant-man at a minimum. The garden grew lusher than ever, and I supposed she was just perfecting her masterpiece while she still could.

Eventually she started forgetting things. It was weird, but reading went first. She'd never been a bookworm of a woman, but she kept a few favorite volumes lying around her house, and a couple of times she tried to flip through one, and she didn't understand a word. I tried to teach her the alphabet again, but it was just gone.

She kept saying she saw the green man wandering around outside, that he would stand in her garden. She kept saying this until she lost speech.

We hired an expert, a nice woman who said she could use pictures to help us communicate. FOOD. SLEEP. BATHROOM. YES. NO. and so on. She worked well enough for a while, but then the day came that my mother stopped using silverware and stopped understanding pictures and began to frustratedly gnaw on the one with a picture of FOOD on it.

She was moved to a hospital when she tried to attack me. Her nails hadn't been trimmed in a while, and she didn't recognize me. I could tell it in her eyes.

I sold her house a few weeks later to pay for her treatments, but on my last look around while I was saying goodbye to the old place, I saw that the garden was growing lusher than ever.

Every time I went to see her, my son and my wife wanted to be there with me, but I refused. I wanted them to remember her for all the great things she'd done and not for this. The doctors were considering putting her under, like a dog. They'd strapped her to a table and she just thrashed and screamed every day. Her hair was growing out too long, her body becoming frailer, but they fed her regularly and well. Her eyes grew sunken and her jaw began to jut.

One day I came in and I didn't see my mother but a spindly thing, squirming at the straps which had to be tightened further and further.

And one day, before I could go to see her strapped to her table in her enclosed cell, I heard the scream change. It fluctuated, higher and higher and then deeper before becoming... primordial.

They wouldn't let me see her body as they took her to the morgue, but her covered table was dripping with clear slime which pooled at the tiled floor in tiny puddles which shifted slightly in various directions. Then they seemed to dissipate, and the hall was empty.

"Notes Scribbled in a Ripped Page"

Was in the woods for many days, but coming.
Growing in the woods but done now and coming
Losing thought
It grows slow while I thought losing
Writing too hard but must tell
All green when first saw
Vines thorns leaves hungry
Green mouth not food
Not food
Outside door
Losing thought
Losing me
Green came took away thought took away me
Green here now
Not food
Thought food
[unintelligible scribbles]

"In Bloom We Grow"

Botany captivates my interests effortlessly.

I opened the door to the botanical museum to be immediately greeted by the rich scent of flora. I strolled in and admired the scenery, not noticing that the Dionaea muscipula I had planted weeks prior were curling up within themselves. The aroma of the plants surrounding me filled me with nostalgic reveries of ecstasy and life's beauty. By the time I saw my Venus Flytraps, I didn't care that they seemed to be wilting backwards; I had always thought they were ugly flowers. Hahaha, very ugly, not pretty like the new pods blooming around me.

Vines motioned out of the new pods, and I tried dancing for them but they didn't want me to dance. They just wanted me to bloom. Bloom with them.

In bloom we grow.

I like plants.