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The Monster That Lives In My Soul
They say eyes are the windows to the soul. Look me in the eye, we say in an attempt to pry the truth from a particularly defiant someone. When you gaze intently into those lapis-blue pools, those thickets of ivy-green, or even those deep black pits as empty and dark as night itself, you plunge inside, pushing back the walls to his guarded soul as far as you possibly can. Carelessly, you toss aside the fallen bricks and mortar like breadcrumbs, leaving a wake of disaster behind you. Let’s just hope you can find your way back...
You can still hear his sobbing voice, pleading you to let matters go, just to worry about yourself. It was so uncharacteristic of him to break down and fall to the floor, tears streaming down his face like tiny rivulets. Leave me alone, he had muttered between sobs. But how could you let him suffer when there might be something you could do to help? His words still haunt you as you catch your breath in awe.
Inside, it is like nothing you expected. Behind that false, cheery facade - the same mask he had just let fall - lies a chaotic realm, so dark yet so beautiful. It’s something from a nightmare, something you never dreamed possible. Tall, scraggly trees rise up forever, towering over you like celestial guardians. Only, these guardians originate from the deepest, most feared pits in Hell, so black and burnt on the inside that they are coated with the color - leaves, bark, and roots. Beneath their dense foliage is a maze overshadowed by caliginosity.
You take the first step into oblivion. The ground is so flat, it extends far off into the distance for miles and miles, marred only by the trees that loom formidably over the land. Another step, and the Dark Forest engulfs you; the walls you broke down earlier disappear behind you, the trail to the outside world along with it.
There’s no turning back now.
The inscrutable tenebrosity is so oppressive, you can barely stand it anymore; it’s palpable, alive, thrumming against your skin like a heartbeat. A thought pops into your clustered mind like a bullet, ringing in your ears. The sun should be shining right above you, obscured only by the dense canopy overhead. Unable to help yourself, you take a running start and charge the massive trunk of a nearby tree. You cling to the bark like it's your lifeline, but within moments you fall foolishly on your back, trying to catch your breath.
Is this how they felt? you wonder somberly. Like they were being throttled by the night? Did-
No. You blink back tears you didn’t realize you had shed. No. You refuse to cry. After all these years of putting on a smile and pretending that the white-hot pain inside wasn’t slowly tearing you apart, you refuse to break down. Not now. Not after you’ve held it together this long.
Besides, you remind yourself, he needs you now. You will not let him down, even if he’s as twisted and bent as this nightmarish realm in his soul suggests. You will not be responsible for another death, another shattered heart.
Deliberately, you pick yourself off the forest floor and throw yourself at the tree again, still to no avail. Each attempt is more of a failure than the last, a sick reminder you may never see the beauty of light again. Just when you are about to give up and lie helplessly in the darkness, you hear the sound of what you can only guess is the scraping of wood on wood.
The trees are shifting.
Their trunks seem to turn in spirals as the branches way up high crawl down to the tree’s base, widening and contorting themselves. By the time they freeze up again, they are arranged like stairs, leading all the way to the tip of the sky. Kind of like a stairway to Heaven.
You ascend the staircase, bounding up the wooden steps, a smile plastered to your face. You yearn to feel the soft kiss of a light ray bouncing across your cheeks, warmth flooding your face with color. Already you know that this is his problem, why he was a weeping mess; a lack of light can destroy a person. All things can be repaired with a little bit of fire if the flame is allowed to burn away the decay. Even someone such as yourself could be fixed if someone found the time to light the candle inside you.
The overbrush parts as you crest the top. A sliver of light blooms through the slim spaces between the lush green foliage, enveloping you in a halo of white light. And for a brief moment, you see the light at the end of this gloomy tunnel you’ve been trapped in, a ray of hope guiding you to victory. Finally, the world is proving itself to be the paracosm you knew it was at heart.
Suddenly, you hear a shriek from down below, echoing across the seemingly empty forest. You had thought yourself to be alone. The sound is horrible, filled to the brim with unbearable pain and agony. It doubles, triples itself, each new sound more hollow than the last, until each wail develops its own unique sound. Before you realize what is happening, hundreds, thousands, millions of things swarm out from under you - butterflies, each one entirely black. They scatter, the trees around you slowly disintegrating as each butterfly takes flight. An ashen gray light pours over the land, and you can’t help but feel as if you’re in an old black-and-white movie; everything in this demented place is so monochromatic. You have just enough time to notice this phenomenon before the sky releases you and you plummet head-over-heels to your imminent death.
Freefalling had always seemed so exciting. The rush, the exhilaration, the knowledge that you could defy the odds and survive a plummet from the sky, all of it had seemed to be such an exotic, enriching experience to you. Once, when you were younger, you had gone bungee jumping. The face of the building clouded together in one long streak of grey as the tiny cars and throngs of people mulling through the streets grew closer and closer and closer, until it seemed you would surely flatten against the sidewalk, a human pancake. Falling from the height of the trees, the butterflies nibbling at your skin, gravity pulling you down into his long, bent arms, it felt like you were bungee jumping, only the cord had snapped and there was nothing to pull you back up again.
This is the end. Your only regret is that you'd die without saying goodbye, without saying sorry for everything left undone.
A blinding white light burns your eyes, and everything goes silent. Time seems to slow, and suddenly you can’t feel the wind ripping at your clothes, deafening you with its whispers that you wish you could understand. Am I dead? You begin to wonder.
The yelps start up again, and you realize with a pang of misery that you were still trapped in this monstrosity. Desperately, you look around for the source of the noise, begging it just to stop but the voice seems to be coming from thin air. A chorus of agonizing screams echo across the now desolate field, and you come to find out that you had landed safely. You cower over, sick to your stomach, hoping and praying that someone will find you in wherever you are and bring you back home. With a pang of regret gnawing at your side, you begin to wish you had never left home, never dared to venture into these uncharted territories. If only you hadn’t been so obsessed with trying to solve everyone’s problems, then maybe you wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.
And then a child’s whisper cuts through you, shattering every bone in your body that hasn’t already been crushed by the fear pounding through your veins.
You turn around abruptly, and then almost immediately turn around to be sick. Never will you be able to unsee that repugnant image. It will haunt your dreams for the rest of your days. Still feeling ill, you can’t help but conjure up images of flesh-eating monster with fangs, poison oozing from their open maws. Only a beast could do such things to a poor innocent child.
His arms are chained painfully behind his back. Blisters encircle both wrists, fresh blood oozing out where the shackles dig into his skin. Where there should have been haunted eyes, there was only a pair of burned holes, empty and hollow. Somehow, they don’t seem out of place in this surreal dimension. The child’s clothes are worn and tattered. Pockmarks left by what you can only guess are old stab wounds disfigure the child’s body. Grotesque wounds percolate pus, coagulated blood covering almost every inch of his flesh; it was as if somebody – or something – had painted the child with red paint. His feet are also chained together, but rusty nails have been staked through them and into the ground. The veins around the nails are a sickly purple, the flesh beginning to turn a faded gray.
Memories of that night long ago flash across your eyes, but not even the blurred images of your loved ones strewn haphazardly across furniture, their eyes blank and empty, can compare to this ghastly sight. Those images turn to dust as they are replaced by something more sinister and scarring.
“What happened?” you ask, horrified beyond belief. Somehow you have found a voice to speak the words tumbling incoherently in your brain, caught in a whirlwind of frenzy. Adrenaline kicks in and you begin to pry at the manacles. “Who did this to you?”
The child begins to laugh.
Dumbstruck, your mind begins to reel. This is not the whimpering response you had been expecting. All you can do is stare into those unseeing holes and lean as far away from this mentally disturbed child as possible. Your fingers stop fumbling with the chains, unable to touch his ice-cold skin.
He leans in closer, though, his empty eye sockets hypnotizing; you can no longer move an inch, for you are rooted to the ground. “You did.” The child’s voice reaches a crescendo, and suddenly the manacles unlatch. The nails spring out of the child’s feet and drop right through yours as you scream for help. But there is no one to hear, with the exception of the child. He will not help you. Instead, his laughter grows, and then there are chains wrapped around your ankles, your wrists. Invisible knives carve intricate patterns into your chest, white-hot pain singeing your nerves. It courses through your veins, lighting each and every cell on fire. It’s like a nightmare, only nightmares you wake up from.
“You did this to me,” he repeats. “You destroyed me.”
Abruptly, the child’s laughter fades away. A maniacal grin stretches across his face. He walks over to you and traces the open cuts on your cheeks; they burn where his fingertips graze your skin. Then he stalks away towards a pinprick of light far away - the way out.
As you sit prisoner in someone’s soul, you realize that the child wasn’t just a child. It was the monster hidden from sight, the reality that had been shielded by a paracosm. To make matters worse, that nightmare was now set free, free to roam the streets of the outside world. Screaming through the pain, a hushed voice in your head speaks in an undertone. And it’s all your fault. You failed.