Fearful’s Traveling Journal, day 1 and 2: A Short Story instalment (1750 words)

– All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental, except Death, he’s very real.  – 

valleyofdeath

Death is an intimidating bastard. Older than dirt, he roams around threatening whoever crosses that invisible line in the sand. And you have never any idea if you’re close to the line or not, not really, you just know that it’s there. There are times, though, when you think you are staring him right in the face. I can’t tell you what it’s like to stare into his very real eyes, all I know is the face of his ghost. The one you can imagine you’re staring into when fear has taken a hold of you and you truly believe in the core of your being that this might be it. That’s as close as I’ve got. Let me tell you, it’s close enough. And it doesn’t matter that you know in your mind that whatever is the cause of your fear is harmless, if the heart fears it there is really nothing you can do to avoid the apparition.

This ghost becomes clearer the older you get. It’s contours start showing more clearly and you can almost tell the color of his eyes. Dark as night, blue as the sky, green as the ocean, red as blood and scary as hell.

And you start each of your journeys by staring into the face of this monster, we call death. For two days you stare at him and the only way to defy the fear that rises within, as you try to face the beast with courage, is to tell yourself that it doesn’t matter, that he can become a full-figured, real as day, being, that you don’t care. Not at all.

It’s a depressing state of mind, and leaves the mind blank and foggy.

It makes you forget to pack a bra, and toothpaste or even worse, your hat.

Then suddenly you’re driving in the dark, it’s raining and it’s cold and you feel your heart thumping in your chest and the sign reads: “last exit” and another sign, more vague, reads: “abandon all hope”. And then a little later, as if by magic (or maybe it was that little white pill you took when you woke up) you can feel the heart slowing down, the mind-fog starts to clear up and although it is still a bit dim, you do feel in control of your brain again. The darkness turns to light and the world suddenly seems a little nicer. The tiny mouse at the train station doesn’t seem to mind the dark world. That mirage of Death becomes vaguer, albeit not absent. The kid does like the other kids, jumps around where she’s not supposed to and talks louder than you’d like, but that’s alright. The man volunteers to find something to drink and you find yourself thankful for his levelheadedness in the face of your walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And then you’re staring at the runway, it disappears underneath you and your heart is still slow and relaxed. The contradiction between mind and body becomes apparent, surreal even and you wonder if you are still you, and not someone else entirely, dreaming a strange dream of a traveling family. Maybe you’re a Tibetan monk, or a catholic priest, a nun in The Monastery of the Traveling Agnostic or perhaps a child not yet born. But the dream is too vivid and you are you, at least in this moment, and the contours of Death are clearer now, his hair tufts and grey eyes crystal clear. You shake, but not with fear but something else and suddenly you realize that you can hardly see Death at all. Instead you see things in the clouds. Elephants and lions cuddling, a giant squid swallowing a giant squid swallowing a giant squid and you wonder if it is one of Lovecraft’s creatures. There are white fetuses of monsters not yet born and small baby dragons sleeping under their mothers wing. Over France every cloud seems to transform into people with sharp noses and defiant smiles. There are small frost roses on the window, a deer, an elk, a beautiful butterfly and strange alien creatures come from far away to examine our behavior. They are not impressed, but too small to do anything about it.

Thankfully. Or not.

And as Death becomes unclear, almost vanishing entirely, the kids in the seat behind you become increasingly annoying. You realize that the reason you are shaking is because they are kicking your chair, constantly, and when they are not kicking your chair they are kicking your kids chair. And you find yourself thankful that your kid is perfectly behaved, watching The Smurfs and painting colorful images. And the fact that you can imagine what it’s like to be the parent of the kids behind you doesn’t mean that you cut them any slack, you find yourself wanting to stand up and ask if they would like to sit in your chair for a while so you can sit beside their kids and tell them off, because they don’t.

But you don’t, of course you don’t, you are after all, almost (and yet not at all) Swedish.

And then you’re down on the ground, magnificent ground, and you find a new respect for the pope who kisses the earth frequently. And the ghost of Death has suddenly vanished, not even a vague vapor left. And you find that you can forgive the parents, and that you don’t mind waiting in a line forever to get the car you have already paid for, and you don’t mind waiting in another line at the hotel, this one larger than life itself and you don’t mind getting a room two meters from the room you had last time you were here although you were hoping for one closer to the ocean. Nothing can rub your moment of zen.

Nothing.

You haven’t been in paradise for more than a few hours when you realize that everything seems like a mirror image of itself. Everything is just as you remember it, and it hasn’t been that long, except it’s the mirror opposite. The room has the closet on the other side, the mirror opposite the TV like before, but on the left. A surreal feeling of screaming tranquility comes over you as you see the clowns have changed sexes. Two bald men with red and a blue hats, but otherwise the same clothes as the girl clowns wore. They jump around and seem too tall to be clowns, but they do a good job of entertaining the kids who laugh when the clowns fart loudly and pull coins from each others noses.

And you suddenly remember one of the writers you follow online speaking about Thomas Ligotti and how he had written the preface to a new edition of some of his stories and you can’t help but pick up the kindle and make a purchase. The first story turns your flesh into a living, crawling thing – or maybe they’re just goosebumps.

And during the first show you see the people who are there with you, in this Lovecraftian paradise. Because there is something lurking underneath, something crawling underneath the surface of everything. There always is in these places. A quiet calming, something, lurking waiting and biding its time.

The men who used to be boys who danced to Michael Jackson songs are now fathers who teach their kids the same moves. The entire family wears a matching jogging suit and you wonder if the kids will be just like their parents, or their mirror opposite.

Just like you sometimes wonder if your kid will become just like you, or the mirror opposite. The kid who dances with frenzy with the other kids as the same songs as last time start playing. The Fox Song is a favorite, except out of the mouth of these people it does seem like the mirror opposite. It’s not the same Fox they’re wondering about, singing about, but another Fox. And it’s not the same Macarena, although the moves are the same. And you think The Truth is Out There and can’t help but to laugh at yourself.

And then there are the men who look bored. They don’t move a muscle during the Forever Young, 80’s pop medley show while everyone else is moving just a little. The kids dance, but the grown-ups move their legs up and down, up and down, or their heads are bobbing back and forth, back and forth to the rhythm of the music. But this guy is just sitting there, with his arms folded, looking like he’d rather be on his yacht, or golfing. Or perhaps he’s just sober, but then you are too and your head is still bobbing, you’re even mouthing the words to every song. Because you do know every word to every song they play. Forever Young, I want to be Forever Young – do you really want to live forever….? Forever?

And then it’s time to sleep. The sun is down for the second time. The night is quiet. A child screams bloody murder in the distance. You imagine the kid standing on the porch screaming with his hands stretched out like Jesus on the cross, while the parents run around like headless hens trying to figure out how to calm the kid down and you remember that this is a part of it too. The kids who never seem to get to sleep, because they’re up early for breakfast and there is something exciting happening until late in the evening.

And so they scream, like there is no tomorrow, they scream.

But you’re still hopeful that there is a tomorrow. Because although there is something strange lurking underneath the surface, of that I’m sure, there doesn’t seem to be any immediate danger. The ghost of Death is absent, not visible at all and although that line in the sand is just as invisible as it was before, you’ve now become like before, it’s not that you don’t care but Death is the price of living and you can only do just that: live.

At least until you start to see his silhouette again. 

To be Continued: Unless whatever is underneath the surface gets you first.

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