Carl is drinking heavily—two bottles of gin and a bottle of Hennessey. He sits alone in his home with the television volume turned way up. He’s watching a funny sitcom but can’t remember the name.
He chuckles, takes another swig from his current glass and lets belches come bursting from his belly, traveling all the way up to his throat. He feels the carbonation burst raucously out of his mouth with a loud growl.
Carl is in his thirties; a man down on his luck, wearing his old wife beater that still carries the stench of old barbecue and musk. He gets up and stubs his toe on something forgotten. “Fuck, where’s the candle?” He squints, scanning the dimly lit motel-like room, but his efforts are fruitless.
Slowly, he gets up, grunting, heaving and spewing bile under his rancid breath. Heading precariously towards the kitchen in his habitual effort to find more booze he realizes he hasn’t felt this horrible in months.
He couldn’t bear to bury her—even though he had long ago grown weary of the stench her corpse had left in the drab and equally lifeless living room. He blames himself. “It’s been months now," he thinks to himself as he edges carefully past her rotting corpse still sitting where she died.
“Fucking paisley rocking chair!” he complains to himself. He stops, turns and stares at her, focusing on her mouth hanging open in an almost shocked expression of awe.
He rummages in a side table drawer and finds some half-burnt birthday candles left over from some less morbid celebration and lighted three pink ones to block out the smell. He tries not to look at the squirming maggot-filled eye sockets, perpetually moving like some ragged spermatozoa. Their backs covered in black spots—so grotesque they make Carl’s blood run cold.
“Dust to dust” he ruminates.
He doesn’t even want to look at the thinning light blonde hair that used to be full, thick and sexy. Finding an almost empty can of beer, Carl sips loudly and wonders why he let himself do it.
His eyes start to water, and a single tear rolls down his pale face as he remembers the last day he was not alone. He is alone now, but not lonely — feeling how heavy his aching heart has become.
He didn’t mean to kill her. He just did. The motive felt like nothing more than the need to rest your arm a certain way on the couch. It wasn't needed, nor had it been on his mind for a while. This was a murder of the second degree. He had never actually hit her, yet somehow he physically couldn’t help himself. It was a physical thing.
She wasn’t expecting it, oh no. She had no idea. Perhaps that was the worst part, blindsiding her, and him as it turned out. The depression afterward had been unbearable.
He started out going to the bars after the incident, not talking to anyone, just sipping his Fireball from a pot-filled shot glass.
"I need to turn myself in," he said out loud to nobody in particular.
He knew that. He also knew that some other entity had controlled him that day. With a sudden fury, he clenches his hideously dry fists and bangs them on the bar, his head throbs as he passes the counter, not noticing the phone until around two rings into the call. Annoyed, he rubs his eyes, picks up the phone and puts it against his ear.
“Hello?” His voice croaks like a frog. He looks concerned, under the circumstances, he’s not sure why.
“Carl, it’s time to pay for what you’ve done.” The phone burns his ear so badly he can smell his skin burning and pulls it away. The voice is high and raspy, like a child who smokes too much. It was monstrous.
One thing about Carl: whenever he gets frightened his blood pressure skyrockets to the point that he has to fart which is what he does now in that narrow, enclosed alcove.
He knows he has to go to the police and tell them everything. Or… he could—he drops the phone, stumbles out of the bar, forgetting to pay, or did he, and races home to their bedroom.
But, the bedroom is cluttered with blood stained clothes piled and scattered all over the heavily stained rug. He remembers pushing her down right here. He remembers it.
He remembers thinking “This is it; time to end this misery with the press of this little trigger." He steps over the remains of her crumbled life and stumbles to the safe standing guard in the corner with its impenetrable expression and an unbelievable amount of mold and dust as if some idiot decided to paint it using pale, bland colors.
He can just make out the smell of the ranch dressing he spilled all over it while standing up and eating at the same time. It is something he used to do at a constant when Margret was still alive, and it used to piss her off, so he kept doing it.
He racks his brain to figure out the code.
After five minutes of grunting, mumbling and twisting he opens it and pulls out a shiny silver nine-millimeter gun fully loaded.
“Here we go.” He picks it up slowly, puts it to his mouth but bumps his teeth on the barrel. It hurts a little but not as bad as the pain he’s going to feel for that brief second just before he shuffles off into the eternal.
He tastes the cold metal with his tongue and aims it towards his brain. The end. No more pain or misery. This is it. He smiles a half smile, shuts his saggy blue eyes and waits for the click into eternity.
He hesitates. It wasn’t his fault. Why does he think it’s his fault? A broken man, Carl does something he never thought he would do. He decides to use the gun on whatever and points it toward the wall.
“I didn’t kill her you son of a bitch! Come out; I don't want to play your fucking games."
He continues to point the gun towards the wall while reciting these words in a violent, aggressive manner. Nothing happens. He stands in silence, drops the gun onto the carpet with a dull thud.
“He’s coming for me now,” Carl mumbled.
His eyes shift towards the other side of the room until his head turns too. He hesitates to see what’s waiting for him but finally manages to look. It’s him—the man who would take him to God if he doesn’t repent. This man isn’t like an ordinary man, or even a spirit.
He’s like the bogeyman; a slimy, terrifying demon who sends shivers down Carl’s spine whenever he thinks about him. An otherworldly creature whose blackness is the kind abyss where, if you stare at it, you would see the color of your death.
His eyes freak Carl out, popping out of his cavernous skull like a demented Uncle Sam wanting YOU. He sees him now and gazes in awe and amazement.
His mouth drops open, but he can barely breathe or speak. He can sense how scared Carl is and grins at him. He is wearing red corduroy pants with a gray buttoned shirt that is sloppily hanging out. His long, sharp, dirty claw reaches out and strokes Carl on the cheek.
Carl feels the same burning sensation like he felt on the phone, but this time he’s too scared to fart so just stands still. Like a sculpture or a rotting corpse with salty tears running down his face. At that moment he is more scared than he has ever been before.
“You’re probably wondering why I have come to visit you, but let me introduce myself first,” he chuckles, but the sound he makes is hollow and cold.
He extends his claw slightly, stretching out from the rough, wrinkled skin, wrapping it around Carl’s neck.
“I am the nightmare; I am evil, cast to watch over your puny soul for all eternity. I watched you when you slept, ate, and when you drank your pathetic alcohol. I was looking for a way into your soul, and now I have found it. Remember last August? Of course, you do. That was fun, wasn’t it, wasn’t it, Carl? Killing your wife with the very hand that saved her from herself only a mere four years ago. You think I'm an illusion? You think I’m a result of your drinking? Carl, you’re a fucking idiot, my dear friend. I’m real, and we’re more alike than you think.”
“You are nothing like me.” Carl’s voice is low and surprisingly assertive.
The demon’s eyes bulge wider, his pupils an inch away from Carl’s. For a moment everything blurs but Carl, ever the thinker, isn’t sure if it’s because he’s choking, or if the thing is sucking his sight right out of his skull.
Carl feels very weary all of a sudden; he shouldn't have had all those drinks, but he persists.
“You killed her you fucking bastard. How dare you? If you are a part of me, then you know how close we were. You know all the things we’ve been through. You know I loved her, and you know damn well that I would happily die for her to be alive again.”
He closed his eyes, remembering one instance with her that he hadn’t forgotten to this day. He rather pointlessly wishes he had more time with her; that she was still alive. She is dead because of of...it. He opens his eyes and stares straight into his eyes.
“Go on. Do it. There is no point in living anymore. She’s already dead.”
“If you insist.” The S's are long and slither like a snake, wrapping around him in a slow, sibilant slide.
He wakes up on the floor. An extreme sense of familiarity washes over him like a wave of unwanted nostalgia.
He is in a room full of toys kid’s stuff; stuff he played with when he was a young boy. He sees his first toy—a stuffed gorilla. The gorilla slouches against the wall. The plush looks weak and spineless—Carl feels this way.
This was his childhood room, painted a bright yellow with red polka dots. He smiles. He thinks it is the present day until he realizes that his head is a lot closer to the ground.
Carl Plum is in his second childhood. He sits upright on his bed. He glances at his Fuzzy Bear alarm clock with the cord hanging down dangling at the edge of the bed. There is no plug— just some exposed wire that somebody cut.
Is this déjà vu?
Only one day in the midst of Carl’s jumbled memories contains these circumstances, and it isn’t a day he wants to relive. He scrambles to his feet, recalling his father, Jeremy Plum, who was the most depressive alcoholic.
He stumbles into his father’s room and nearly falls but then catches himself, balancing for a brief second up, his eyes shoot right into Carl’s. He feels what he felt on that crisp winter day; it is pure fear. He's even wearing the same clothes: an ugly Christmas sweater and some black faded jeans.
“What are you doing up? You know bed time is 9:30.” He sees his father come and sit next to the little boy Carl, with an arm around his shoulders. His arm is warm despite feeling unwelcome. The bed creaks.
He is confused.
Perhaps it isn’t how he got here, but why he got here. He blinks twice with his eyes fixed on his father in a look of surprise and awe. His dad is dead and yet here he is right next to him. He blocked out this day for reasons he can’t recall, but it appears he is going to find out.
His six -foot-three father, whose name is Jeremy, glances over at the alarm clock on Carl’s right and his half smile turns into a frown. Jeremy speaks through gritted teeth, “Why the hell is your alarm clock wire cut?”
Suddenly, Jeremy Plum slaps Carl across the face, "I paid 20 dollars for that stupid clock, and you let one of your little shithead friends ruin it. You know what? I should’ve put you in a fucking dumpster like I did to your sister.”
Carl raises his hand to his newly numb cheek, the pain subsiding but not the embarrassment. Then his father starts to cry. His tears are as much of a surprise as they were then.
“I’m sorry, Carl. Mommy had to leave. She was going to take you away. And besides, you know I love you, right? I did it for us.”
Jeremy looks at Carl who looks back and sees a broken man; a man who has had a lot of hurt in his life. He pulls Carl closer to him, the claw pushing painfully into Carl’s shoulder.
Carl flinches—he remembers everything and wants to sock him in the face. He doesn’t because he needs to play this smart.
The memory strikes Carl hard, like a branch in the face, remembering that he was oblivious to her needs then, but not now. Now he is determined to stop his father from killing his mother again.
Carl races to the door and yanks it open, pulling on the round brass knob that unlocks whenever the door opens from the inside. He runs down the wooden stairs, trying to get away because he doesn’t want to see her like that. Then he stops halfway down the stairs, grabs onto the banister and remembers that he never actually saw his dead mother.
When he got back to his room, he was too scared to come out. Edging around the corner so as not to be able to see her poor mother, he hears the squeak of his light up Skechers against the cherry wood floorboards and wonders stupidly whether she can hear him.
“Carl, HELP!” A woman’s voice in deep despair pierces the air around him, coming from what sounds like the kitchen.
This is where his mom died. This is where his father killed her. He walked into the living room where he sees her bloody body lying on the floor in what looked like agony. She reaches out to Carl, who stares at her thinking she looks like a scene he saw once late at night on TV.
Her right eye is a purplish black and swollen shut. Her lip is split open almost perfectly down the middle. A chunk of her dirty blonde hair is pulled out and lies on the floor, leaving a bald spot the shape of Rhode Island. Blood dribbles down the side of her temple to the floor, which will retain that stain for the next 30 years.
She tries to get up by pressing her arms against the floor, but to no avail. Carl moves towards her to help her up but suddenly feels a firm grip on his tiny shoulders and is flung back into the air, then slamming his head on the floor with a dull, sickening thud.
He lies there unable to move or speak. He feels helpless, destroyed. Lying there on the floor, he watches his mother as his father beats her. Jeremy’s weapon of choice is a hammer. Another tear rolls down Carl’s pre-pubescent cheek. His father is killing his mother.
He feels a huge surge of anger flood into him, forcing him to push himself up until he is upright at which point he opens his insubstantial mouth and lets out a loud childlike scream.
Jeremy stops, turns and murmurs “Stay out of it, Carl, or I’ll beat you too. Don’t make me do that.” Jeremy looks dead serious which causes Carl to think to himself that he has nothing to lose and that, if there is any chance that this is the reality of the past, now is the time to change it.
Carl pulls his Swiss army knife out of his sagging pocket, the one he always kept on him, even when he was a child and charges at his father with a furious force impaling his father in the eye. Jeremy’s thick maroon blood spurts through his fingers which instinctively, but in this instance somewhat late, rise to protect his face and grasp at his eye.
Jeremy looks comically hurt but has enough left in him to throw his hand forward and punch Carl straight in the face. Carl falls backward, feeling his nose broken, bleeding and swelling; he’s holding back the tears as he falls. Just as Carl is about to land, Jeremy kicks Carl square in the side of his torso. Carl struggles to maintain consciousness knowing that he must. Jeremy decides to take the knife out of his eye at that moment giving Carl just enough time to get up and grab the hammer, slamming it down onto Jeremy’s head with a loud crack.
Tears burst from Carl’s eyes. “I should’ve done this a long time ago, you fucking piece of shit.” Carl, who formerly was a broken man, calls the police and then slowly faints as blackness envelops him.
When he wakes up, there is a pair of familiar pair of eyes gazing down at him with an unnerving amount of interest. All Carl could see was the bulging eyes of a man with an evil grin which then was followed by a frown. It wasn’t a glare of anger; more like a grimace of fear. Then he wakes, and he is in a field.
“Come on, come on Carl, you need to see this.” The woman trying to rouse him is his wife, young and surprisingly beautiful. Her light blonde hair mixes with the sun perfectly. She is as beautiful as the day he met her. Her smile is priceless.
The tears, when they eventually come are tears of joy. Whether this is a redo, or if Carl is dead, he doesn’t care. This is his favorite memory of them; she is so beautiful, and he loves her so much that he will know not ever to let her go.
It is spring, his favorite season, his favorite time: the prime of his life. He runs with her, and when they get to the edge of the grassy cliff, they discover a huge waterfall. “Let’s jump off," she says. "Don't be scared; I'll go with you." Euphoria fills him, and he smiles a big smile, a grin. He jumped off the cliff, and into eternity.
Ryan gets his papers ready for the broadcast and stops to look in the mirror, aware that his light brown hair is showing signs of gray.
He is excited about his last report on a major news network—this is his time to go out with a bang. His hair slicked back in a greasy shimmer; he sits at the table, his lavaliere microphone clipped onto his suit jacket.
He puts on a sophisticated grin. Here we go, he thinks, while sipping his cup of water.
"It's show time."
His fingers tap impatiently for the camera crew to give him his cue. He’s sad for that man who committed suicide, has always had a sense of empathy for the people who kill themselves.
Whatever the case, he does feel bad except for one thing he can’t understand: the man was smiling. He seemed like he saw the world in full strokes—for everything it was, for everything it will be.