Shore Bound Gramophone

(A farewell to Memory Lane)

There is no degree of sorrow that can completely overshadow the beauty of the stars. When I awoke that night, I was still laying on the pavement in the middle of the cul-de-sac. Memory Lane was just as it had been this morning, just as cold and unwelcoming. My suit had seen better days, and there were stains all over my white button up. To where my tie had flown off, I hadn’t the slightest idea.

The time for lying on the ground was coming to a close. It took a few minutes, but I finally picked myself up and headed back down the street. I didn’t think while I walked, I just let my feet carry me along. There was nothing left to think. My insides felt raw, like a fresh wound, as though the snails had eviscerated my internal organs as I passed through them. As I approached my house I began to feel a strange sensation near my chest. There was a warmth that shouldn’t have been there, a little ember. Reaching up, I patted my chest and felt the lump of warm energy.

Standing in the middle of my street, my house stood to my left and the forbidden place on my right. I looked from one house to the other. In the end, there really wasn’t much of a choice. No matter what was on the other side of that door, it was better than spending another day stuck on Memory Lane. I walked up the pathway to the front door, and stood on the porch.

Only now did I remember the first time that I came here. It was on the day I moved in so many long years ago. I’d walked up to the door and knocked. There wasn’t a reply, but when I placed my ear to the door I heard noises. There was a little whispering sound, saying things that I couldn’t make out. Again I knocked but there was no response. Still, when I placed my ear to the door, I could just barely make out the whispering.

It had scared me, the whispering, perhaps more than it should have. I ran back to my house after that and I ransacked it looking for something to lock the door with. I finally found a lock. The key for said lock was nowhere to be found, and at the time, that suited me fine. I ran back to the house and latched the door, telling myself that I’d never venture inside. After a year I came to regret my decision, as I realized that any sort of company would’ve been good company. Alas, the lock remained without a key that I knew of, and no matter how hard I searched my home, I couldn’t find one. So I told myself that only bad things could be behind that door, and it wasn’t long before the house became forbidden.

Now I stood on the doorstep, and the fear was gone. I didn’t believe that there was anything worse in there than anything I’d already seen today, and if there was, I didn’t care. I reached into my jacket and pulled out the envelope from Mailman. Breaking the seal, I dug inside and pulled out a rusty brass key. It fit the lock perfectly.

I opened the door and stepped out onto a beach.


I was framed by dunes on either side. In front of me stretched the ocean, running on infinitely in either direction. There were clouds in the sky, and while the climate was a lot warmer here, a soft breeze blew salty air across my face, cooling me down. I could hear the sound of the waves crashing against the shore, and then gently retreating again.

Also, I could hear the whispering.

The source was an ancient gramophone resting upon a wooden stand. The old horn let out a sound that carried downwind to my ears about fifty meters away. It wasn’t music that was playing, or at least, that’s not what it sounded like anyway. More like a voice, like a recording of a phone call being played.

As I walked towards it, I picked out some of the words that were being said. It seemed like the record was stuck, repeating one line over and over.

“David, I just want you to know that- David, I just want you to know that- David, I just want you to know that-”

It was the voice of William.

I ran the rest of the way to the gramophone. Picking up the needle, I lifted the disk and wiped off some sand that had gotten over the record. Replacing the record, I played it from the beginning.


David,

I want you to know that I remember.
I remember all the times we spent together as kids growing up.
I remember how you were always there to go along with the adventures. Even when we got older and the stakes got higher, I could always count on you.
I remember the good times and the bad times. Even when we fought, I knew you’d still be there for me when I needed you most.
I remember how much you cared, no matter how bad I fucked up.
I remember how you never said a word against me.
And while I remember the bad things too, I need you to know something.
David, I just want you to know that you’ll always be my best friend and that I forgive you for how it ended.

Thank you,

William


Through the tears it was hard to see the world around me. I was on my knees with my head still pressing on the side of the stand. Though, once I cleared my eyes I could see that it wasn’t a stand anymore, but a table leg. My knees weren’t in the sand anymore, but on cheap carpet.

Around me I could hear voices.

“David, are you okay?” Thomas asked.

I looked up into his eyes. I couldn’t believe where I was. There was no way.

I smiled and started to laugh. I laughed and I laughed, until I could barely breathe. Thomas took me home after that, against my insistences that I really was okay. In fact, I told him, I was feeling better than I’d felt in a very, very long while.

As he dropped me off, he asked what it was that I was laughing about so hard back at the party. I told him that it was a joke that I used to myself.

“Well, what was it then?”

I smiled back at him.

“Another time.”

Mail

You can’t be serious.

NO.

THIS IS NOT HAPPENING AGAIN.

I was back. Back on Memory Lane. The door that I’d just come from was the front door of (hell) Mailman’s house.

I screamed.

GODDAMMIT      

                            WHY?

HELP

and slammed my hand against the door,

BAM

                                             BAM

BAM,

               I gripped the knob in my hands and threw open the door

WHERE ARE YOU!

WILL!

On the other side was Mailman’s house, just as empty and decrepit as it was when I’d left it.

I walked into the house and sat down at the table across from Mailman (NO! HE DOESN’T EXI–). For the next couple of hours I wept. The memories (William…) had come back, just as raw, just as tender as the day I’d first received news of his death.

Later I emerged from the house. The sky was overcast, per usual, which was fine by me. It suited my mood perfectly. I stumbled through the barren street like a drunkard, with my suit half-undone, calling out to the sky, asking the world to answer for the injustices of this fucked, misfortunate life. I screamed and holler’d, trying the past and willing the gods to hold it accountable for its crimes. Wishing desperately for a chance to go back (Please let me go back. Please oh please oh plea….).

However, if truth be told, it was really myself that I was angry with.   

At length, my fit subsided. I was lying on the ground toward the bottom of the cul-de-sac. My house was down the street a-ways and now I lay opposite an edifice that I’d given a once over not once, not twice, but a hundred times before. On any other day, there was nothing of interest inside, just the usual assortment of ruins and fading effects (memories). Today, however, was different to say the least. Today I heard strange sounds coming from within. They began mechanically, like the jagged wail of rusty iron on iron, soon followed by the sound of compressed air being released in great, billowy steam clouds.

I picked myself up and walked down the pathway to the front door. Not that I was getting my hopes up on this most lucky of days, but I thought that maybe, just maybe, he would be on the other side of that door. Taking a deep breath I pushed against the wood and stepped inside the house. Instead of being greeted by the usual creaking sound of wood, I was met by a cacophony of inorganic sounds. Pressurized steam being freed from within the web of interconnected metal pipes that surrounded me like a cocoon, and the deep reverberating echoes of metal beating against metal while I stood on a grated iron catwalk.

For a moment I forgot my own troubled state of affaires and took some time to explore my surroundings. It was as if I had crawled inside the belly of a great metallic god, the whole chamber contracting and expanding as the divine being respired. Looking below me, it seemed as if the factory or whatever this was extended on forever. The same could be said for everything above. The house had become a kind of paradoxically industrial column.

At first, I believed that I was alone inside the improbable abiotic construct, being that there were so many other distractions going on around me, I didn’t notice the other occupants that glided slowly along every surface.

I noticed the first snail. It was right in plain sight, but never having seen a snail this size before, I suppose I didn’t understand what I was witnessing. There it was, on one of the catwalks suspended above me: a giant snail, with its shell about chest high on me, sliming its way across the metal grating. As I looked around me, I began to notice dozens of other giant snails, and still more–there were many snails of all sizes roaming around here, some of them on catwalks, while others clung to the walls. Some of them crept up ropes that dangled from the infinitely distant ceiling.

Attached to all of their shells by little bits of string were envelopes.

My best guess was that each snail was carrying these envelopes to some far away, centralized location. I hadn’t the slightest idea how they were going to drop off the letters once they reached their destination, but alas, they carried onward regardless. On a railing next to me there was a tiny snail with a single envelope being tugged along behind it. I reached over and plucked the letter off of the snail. Upon doing so, the snail shrunk back into its shell, and it floated off the railing and drifted up into the vast empty space above me.

I opened up the letter and dropped it to the ground immediately, my blood freezing in my veins. The letter shattered like an old rum bottle upon the ground and fell as shards through the perforated catwalk and down into the abyss below. Now, in a state of near panic, I knew that I had to make sure that what I had seen was real.

“Oh, you’ve got to be joking me…” I muttered under my breath.

Running to the next little snail, one that was hanging from a rope by my walkway, I snatched the letter off it. Like the snail before it, this one floated up and away.

It was the same letter.

“NO!” I screamed, enraged. Crumpling up the letter, I threw it against the wall where it shattered.

“Who is doing this?” I called out into the factory, “Why would anyone do something like this?”

I ran down the catwalk and climbed up a ladder leading to another walkway.

“Is this funny to you? A joke?”

Level after level, ladder after ladder, I continued to pick up letters, sending snails of all sizes up into the darkness above. Every letter was the same. For ten minutes I navigated the factory before finally giving up and coming to rest against one of the railings.

Next to me, a tiny snail was making its own way along the walkway, trailing across the metal beam I was leaning against. I reached over and plucked the envelope off it, not even bothering to open it, just tossing it over the edge. The snail retreated into its shell and started to rise. This time, instead of watching it drift away as I’d done before, I reached out and palmed the little creature. The shell pressed against the inside of my hand, struggling to get free– to continue its journey into what lay beyond.

That gave me an idea. Releasing the little one, I moved to the next walkway where there was a more sizable snail. Saddling up next to it, I mounted it– or, well, tried anyway. I wasn’t sure whether or not I should just wrap my arms around it, or straddle it, or what. So I gave both a try. Ultimately I ended up being one human sized band aid, but the desired results were mine nonetheless. The snail turned one of its stalky eyes toward me and my tomfoolary, then continued on with its crawl.

Reaching behind me, I yanked off the bushel of letters that was attached to my mollusk. As you might expect, it withdrew slowly into the recesses of its shell, and we both began to rise through the air.

To those who may not know this, floating snails are not the most stable steeds of all time. This one was certainly no exception: at times I found myself upside down, clinging on for my life to the grooves along the sides of the shell. The snail didn’t appear to obey any sort of set laws of physics and would rotate periodically in random directions, seemingly on its own accord. We rose through the factory for a while, all of it looking pretty much identical. In time, I saw the end of the column, which we rose over, revealing that this was but one in a collection of columns that lay adjacent to one another in a grid-like fashion. We seemed to be drifting over a sea of these strange constructions, like a never ending industrial beehive.  I saw a few of the other snails that I’d released into the sky floating just ahead of us. We were all heading in the same direction, like a group of balloons caught in a breeze.

We came to what looked like a giant black honeycomb. It was suspended by a series of dark grey cords that didn’t seem to be arranged in any particular fashion. I couldn’t quite say what they were made of, only that they appeared to be dripping a mysterious liquid down into the columns below. I saw the shells drop off one by one from the flock to enter the honeycomb through one of many thousands of holes. Soon it was our turn to pass through it.

I wasn’t sure exactly what the liquid was that dripped from the honeycomb, but as we moved through what turned out to be a very long tunnel, I became drenched in it. It felt like water, and it had a slightly salty taste to it. It made me think of the many times I would go with my family to the beach as a child–the taste of the air by the sea was very similar to the taste of this fluid. It gave off a slight bluish glow, and servedas a very minimal source of lighting in these ominous depths.

After a couple of minutes floating through the tunnels, my shell entered a large cavern. The base of the cavern held a sea of vacant snail shells, and running from one side of the cavern to the center of the sea of shells was a rickety wooden dock. Unfortunately, my snail took it upon itself to land about fifty yards away from said dock. Slowly, and as carefully as I could, I crawled my way through the shells, occasionally falling on my face when the shells shifted under my weight. In time I made it to the bridge, and pulled myself onto the wood before starting towards the wall of the cavern.

At the end there was a door. It opened to reveal an unexpectedly bright room. As my sight slowly adjusted to the influx of light, I forgot, if only for a moment, my anger at the letters.

I was standing on carpet. Not wood or metal grating, but a plush carpet. The walls were plastered with floral wallpaper–it seemed to me as though I’d walked into an office.

Across the room from me, sitting at a desk, was one of the more peculiar apparations I’d encountered yet.

Perched in a black office chair, staring back at me, was an improbable sight: a snail wearing a business suit. Or rather, a man’s body with a snail shell for a head. I wasn’t sure whether or not it was alive at first, but then I saw that it was twiddling its fingers as it looked at me. Or perhaps it wasn’t looking at me. The eyes may not have been eyes, so it was entirely impossible to tell.

Now, as weird as this figure was, it didn’t do anything to quell the anger welling up once more inside my gut. I stormed up to the desk, producing a copy of the letter that I’d saved and slammed it down on the desk, where it cracked, but did not shatter.

“What is this?” I hissed at it.

The only response I received was the tilting of the being’s head. It seemed to be looking down at the letter now laid out upon the desk.

I repeated myself, “What. Is. This.”

Around me the room contracted slightly. It was as if the walls themselves were about to speak. Then came a voice, emanating from what may have been the air itself–there was no placing it. It spoke in a deep, reverberating monotone. It did not at all sound like the kind of voice that a snail would have.

“Dear William,” It began.

I stepped back from the desk, “Stop…” I exhaled, trying to distance myself from the voice. It couldn’t be done though; it was everywhere.

“I’m sorry that I took so long in responding, things have just been so busy.”

“Shut up! You can’t do this to me!” There was no stopping it though. I ran into the door, breaking through, and landed in a heap on the dock. It just got worse, though. The voice echoed through the entire chamber, rattling all the snail shells, as they bounced along to its deep bass notes. It sounded like an orchestra of bones clicking and clacking away.

“I meant to come by the hospital, but you know how it is with work and all. It’s tough to make time, I’m sure you understand.”

The dock was shaking beneath my face. My brain was jarred around my skull, making it difficult to think about anything other than what the voice was saying. Though, through my suffering, I did manage to formulate a plan to end it all.

“I hope you’re doing okay. I got your letter, but I just don’t think the army is right for me. But power to you, I hope things work out.”

I was crawling along, aiming for the edge of the dock. If I could just pull myself over the edge and into the sea of shells, maybe I could drown (myself.) out the sound.

“I’ve been meaning to write to you for some time now. It’s just that every time that I write one of these letters it doesn’t sound right, and I end up throwing it away. But I’m definitely mailing this one, that’s for sure. I finally got your address, too; you wouldn’t believe how hard that was. I was surprised your mom didn’t have it.”

At the edge now I could see the shells rattling just a few feet from my face. I didn’t have any fear for what was coming to pass: the only instinct left was one of flight.

“Anyway, what I really want to say is that I miss you, Will. I hope you know that you’ll always be my friend and-”

My face collided with the shells, but contrary to what one might expect, they gave way almost like water. There was an intense rushing feeling, and I must have descended a hundred feet before I felt my body come to rest gently on something solid. The world around me was changing too quickly for me to comprehend what was going on, but the next clear picture that I could make out was that of cool concrete stretching out in all directions. There was a brisk breeze against the one cheek that wasn’t pressed against the ground that soothed my pounding headache, and just before I passed out, I muttered a single pair of words under my breath.

“I’m sorry.”

Next Chapter

Divergence

I walked down a flight of stairs onto a dry, sandy cliffside. The hospital was nowhere to be seen. Behind me was the set of stairs with a hollow doorframe at the top. Across from me, at the edge of the cliff was a dock. It was metal, with steel beams molded into curves and organic shapes that held up a platform anchoring something like a ship. It was a ship that looked as if it should’ve sailed the oceans during the 18th century, but here it was, not in the ocean, floating alongside the metal dock.

At the edge of the dock was a Young Man. He looked familiar, but I knew that I’d never seen him before, or at least, not like this anyway. He looked strong and healthy; his body adorned with a tan uniform and his hair cut close.

“David! You got my letter!”

I walked over to meet the Young Man. As I walked I became aware of another presence behind me. There was another door that had appeared in the middle of this plateau atop the rocky cliffside. I felt drawn to it, but for all the world, and like everything else as of late, I didn’t know why.

“I’m glad you made it, I was starting to get worried.”

“What are you talking about?”

He furrowed his brow at me, “Didn’t you get it?”

“What are you…” I thought for a moment, trying to remember what letter he was referring to. Why couldn’t I remember what he was talking about? What letter did he send me?

“Here, I think I’ve got a copy of it. I’ll let you take a look.” Said the Young Man, reaching into his back pocket and pulling out an envelope. I took it in my hand and turned it over. The handwriting was (burning my mind) familiar, and there was a picture of a (hisssssssss (Wait, that doesn’t sound like a-) ) snake on the postage stamp.

I broke the seal on it. When opened, the envelope let out a cloud of ash (hissssssss) and scraps of burnt paper. Catching the wind, they drifted off into the sky.

“Oh. Right.” He said, disappointed, “That’s why you don’t remember it.”

“I…” I started, my hands trembling. The sky was turning a deep orange and dark crimson color. On the horizon I could see other ships floating through the air. There was the sound of cannon fire and splintering wood. The sky looked like it was on fire (hissssss, YOU SET IT ON FIRE! DISLOYAL BASTARD! ).

I felt the pull from the door even more now.

“You burnt the letter. That’s okay, I understand. You were angry with me. But you’re here now! You can come with me. We can go together.”

I stared at my hands for a moment. They were still shaking. I turned my head and looked at the door. It was calling to me.

“Ah. I get it.” He said.

I turned and opened my mouth, but he cut me off.

“It’s okay. Seriously, don’t worry about it. You’ve got your life. Don’t let me hold you back.”

I looked at him, hopelessly lost at what to do. My mind felt like there was a heavy fog clouding it.

“Go on, it’s time for you to open the door.”

I nodded, still in a daze. Walking over to the door I saw that there was an inscription upon it.

David
1994 –

With my hand on the door knob I looked back at the young man. He was boarding the ship and setting sail for the skies. As his ship turned to face the fires I caught sight of the side where there was an inscription similar to the one on my door.

William
1994 – 2018

At long last I remembered it all, the fog lifted from my mind. This would be the last time that I’d see him. Once that ship flew off into the distance I would never see my friend again. Not alive anyway. I ran for the edge of the cliff, just as the ship began to sail off for the horizon.

WILLIAM!” I called out as I reached the edge, “Will! Don’t go! You won’t make it back–this is it! You can’t go!”

As it turned out, in spite of my pleading, he could go. And for the second time in my life he did go. Into the fray he would sail, and while his body would return, this would be the last time I would ever talk to my Best friend.

The familiar emptiness filled me. Losing him again was just as incomprehensibly terrible as the first time. I walked back to my door and grasped the handle. I didn’t want to continue, not in the slightest, but what else was there to do? I didn’t have much of a choice.

Turning the knob, I pulled open the door and walked through the portal. Immediately I regretted the decision.

I should’ve stayed on the other side.

I should’ve just thrown myself off the cliff.

Next Chapter

Regret

I turned around and there he was.

A Young Man now.

Lying in a hospital bed.

“No…” I breathed, walking around the perimeter of the bed, making sure that it really was him. The room was surrounded by pastel walls and held up by a linoleum floor. There was an EKG machine that beeped periodically, and a dreadful array of IV’s pumping a menagerie of colored fluid into him. There were other people standing around him, a few of which I recognized, while the others were faceless relatives and friends.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

“No! No, No, NO!” I fell to my knees beside the bed, “This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening again.” I felt my cheeks flush, and water collect at my eye.

“Hey, David.”

Came a weak voice from above me. I turned to see the Young Man’s eyes half opened, looking down at me. He tried to smile.

I stared at him.

“You came to visit me.” He said, with a sort of genuine happiness that made it so much worse.

“I-” I started, but I couldn’t make any sound come out.

“I’m just glad you came. I knew if anyone would, it’d be you.” He looked up at the ceiling, “Though no one else did.”

The people that were standing around him disappeared like ghosts fading in the light as he spoke, leaving the room barren aside from the life (beep • beep • beep) support.

“It’s no big deal, at least you came.”

“But… I didn’t.” That was the truth. See, this was the part that I remembered (I… remember?) clearly. I never came. This never happened.

“Oh.” He said, kind of disappointed. I felt as if my insides were twisting into knots, but then he looked at me, his expression brightened, “Well, you’re here now, I guess. That’s what counts.”

I offered a half smile from under tear-filled eyes.

“I guess I messed up pretty bad this time.” He said, looking back up at the ceiling.

“I mean, yeah.” I said, laughing a little at the understatement, “But it’s not like this is the first time.”

“No, I suppose not. Rehabilitation doesn’t work for everyone I guess,” He said with a smirk. Then he looked at me with a strange expression, “Damn, how did we even end up here?”

There was silence for a moment as we both reflected inwardly. There was a lot that had happened to us, enough to spend hours thinking about, but after a minute he spoke up again.

“Can I ask you something, David?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Do I ever straighten myself out?”

I sat there for a moment, unsure of how to answer that. I said:

“Yeah, but…”

“But it doesn’t end well, does it?”

I looked at him, wishing that there was someway that I could let him know how sorry I was. Running my hands through my hair, I took a couple of paces back and turned around, holding my hands behind my head.

“Did I ever tell you that I was considering going into the army?”

“NO!”

I snapped back around to look at him but he was gone, the (coffin) hospital bed completely (full) empty.

Behind me there was the sound of a latch closing. I turned and saw an out-of-place lookin’ door. It was old and wooden, obviously not a part of the hospital’s original infrastructure. I walked up to the door and grabbed a hold of the knob. It was warm, like someone had just let go of it.

I braced myself on the door and turned the knob. That being said, there was nothing that could’ve braced me for what I saw on the other side.

Next Chapter

Youth

As we walked through the tunnel, I started to notice little lights along the wall (snakes, they’re winding and twisting (hissssss), weaving and turning (hisssssss).) I wondered at what they might be (They’re coming for me (hisssssss). I can hear them). The (impossible) Child didn’t seem to notice; rather he continued on down the tunnel (What do you mean impossible?). Twas not long though before I realized that these were not little lights but (SNAKES, YOU DESERVE SN-) cracks in the tunnel.

“I’m not so sure this is a good idea,” I said, weary of a collapse in the tunnel.

“We have to keep going!” Said the Child, undaunted by the growing cracks in the wall. For they were indeed growing, and quite rapidly, too. Before my eyes the cracks doubled and tripled in length, connecting to form webs of light. I heard the sounds of dust and debris falling to the ground around us.

I wanted to run, but the child held tight to my hand.

“We’ll be okay,” He assured me.

It was a strangely comforting thing, those words. All the same, I jumped when a chunk of the ceiling collapsed a few feet from me. Light came pouring through, but I couldn’t tell where it came from; my eyes were not yet accustomed to anything apart from the dull basement lighting.

“Maybe we should hurry this little adventure up,” I suggested to the child, who shook his head in response.

“We can’t rush it here.”  But all the same, the tunnel was falling apart around us and I moved ahead, trying to pull the child with me.

“Come on, we have to go!”

“No! We can’t rush it here! Everyone always says you can’t rush it here.”

“Rush it where? Where are we?”

I struggled with him, but he held fast, slowing me down.

“Come-”

Just as I was about to pull the child off his feet, a support beam fell down behind me, falling right where I would’ve been had I run ahead. It didn’t land though— the support beam, that is.

It stopped about two feet from the ground and hovered.

All of the debris from the collapsing tunnel had stopped falling, and now hung suspended in the air.

“Let’s go.” Said the child, pushing the floating beam out of the way with ease. It floated against the wall and bounced off, like it was in outer space, making a hollow sound as it knocked the tunnel wall. I followed hesitantly behind the child, pushing rocks and clumps of dirt out of the air as I went.

As we walked, the walls of the tunnel fell away, floating off into the light. The dirt floor of the tunnel soon turned to asphalt, and the light became a sun hanging in a pale blue sky, dotted with clouds. I had to shield my eyes from the glare as we walked up a parking lot to a little park behind a school. I turned my head to look for the tunnel, but all traces that it had ever existed were gone.

“How did…” To say that I was at a loss for words would be an understatement.

“Come on! We have to go before the teachers notice that we were gone!” The child stood at the edge of the park. I picked up the pace to a light jog as I came up on the child, and when I arrived at the edge where he stood, I saw that we were at an old schoolyard. All across the green grass, flocks of children ran about.

Grabbing my hand, he led me to a swing set, where an eclectic troupe of kids were hanging out, playing tag and laughing about existence. We took to the swings, where I sat with my legs bent at an awkward angle. Children’s swings are just that: swings built solely for a child. We sat there, swinging back and forth, and some of the other kids eventually came over and started to talk to us about things that were going on in school. When the Child I’d come with reached a respectable height in his swing, he let go and arced through the air. He landed and rolled, coming up smiling with his hands waving in the air. All the other kids applauded and cheered.

I felt a tear fall from my eye.

The Child came up to me.

“What’s wrong?”

“I- I don’t know…” I replied, truthfully. I had no idea why I felt so overwhelmed with emotion. This place felt so familiar, yet it was as if my mind wouldn’t allow me to remember it.

“Tell us a joke!” Said The Child. A few other kids gathered around at my feet, scooting closer so that they too could hear the Joke.

“A joke? I don’t know, it’s been such a long time since…” I trailed off because all the kids were laughing at something that I’d just said. Not in the mean way that kids will sometimes laugh, but as if I’d just told them a funny story.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

Time!” exclaimed one of the kids, “Tell us another one, mister!”

“Time? What’s so funny about time?” I asked, though, while I was still terribly confused, part of me wanted to laugh at the word as well.

The kids all piped up, calling out answers to my question.

“It spins!”

   “It loops!”

                           “Sometimes it stops!”

“One time it repeated? Remember, mister?”

We were all laughing now. I too began to think of all the things that Time did.

Time, children, does a great many things. It runs, it jumps, it evens races. But you know the one thing that it does not do?”

The kids all stopped laughing, and scooted even closer, leaning their ears in to hear the secret.

“Time does not tic.”

                                        Tic…

         

            Tic…

             

                      Tic…

Again we all laughed out loud. We laughed because it was horrible, because if we didn’t laugh we would cry. We laughed because if we thought too hard about it we would surely die.

Time is a joke I tell myself, because if it wasn’t, it would be the hell where I’ve trapped myself.

“Come on, I want to show you something.” Said the Child, once the laughter had abated.

He lead me across the playground and then— looking cautiously around to make sure the teachers weren’t looking— quickly dashed into the woods at the far end of the playground. I followed hurriedly not wanting to lose him, but also feeling that familiar feeling of exhilaration in escaping out from under the watchful eye of the teacher.

We passed through the trees, coming to a clearing littered with bits of trash. There were wrappers and old soda cans strewn around the ground. However, what the child had come for was lying upon a little stump, next to a lighter.

“Look!” The child held up a half-smoked cigarette, and putting it in his mouth, smiled confidently at me. I heard myself saying how cool it was.

Heard myself encouraging him.

He grabbed the lighter and held it up to the cigarette, about to light it.

Aren’t those bad for you? I heard myself saying, though it came unbidden by any will of my own.

“Sure, they might be,” Said the child, “But they’re fun.”

But won’t you not live as long?

“Maybe, but it’s not about how long you live,” He said, lighting (No, wait-) the lighter, “It’s about how much we enjoy living.”

He held the flame (hisssssss) to the end of the cigarette. That’s when the fear struck me. Years of regret and self-loathing came back in an instant as I remembered who the Child was.

“Stop!” I yelled as I lunged for the cigarette. But it was already too late, for my hand was met with the smoke as the Child stepped back from my grasp. The Child just smiled back at me, as more smoke began to surround us on all sides.

“Put it down! Please, just put it down!” I called out, almost in physical pain with anguish, “You don’t understand, you don’t-”

I tried to lunge for him, but as my hands made contact, he disappeared, his body becoming smoke (No No NO). I started coughing, and my eyes burned from the fumes that were consuming the forest’s oxygen around me. I could feel heat radiating from all sides, as if I were trapped inside an oven. There was a fire somewhere in these woods, but all I could think of was the child who had just disappeared into smoke. Then I heard my name.

“David!”

Someone was calling my name. I could hear footsteps coming from somewhere in the smoke; someone was running toward me, calling out to me all the while.

“David! We have to go!”

Then I saw him. It was the child, but he was older now. Now he was a(live) teenager, maybe seventeen years old. He ran up to me and grabbed me by my suits lapels, pulling me close.

“We’ve got to go now, we’re going to be late.” (But I was already too late…)

Half-suffocated from the smoke, I could only nod my head and feel the wave of relief wash over me. The Adolescent pulled me along, through the smoke, with haste. Soon the dense clouds began to clear and the straw covered ground became concrete. We were running down a sidewalk in a bustling city, and he was dressed up in a button down shirt while I still had my dirty, soot-covered suit on.

“You’re okay, you’re okay…” I kept repeating under my breath as we ran. My mind was racing, but I was still too lightheaded from the smoke to form any concrete thoughts. Then it hit me.

“You’re alive! I can’t believe it, you’re alive!”

The Adolescent looked back as he dragged me through the crowded streets. He had long hair and a handsome face, unmarred by the usual acne that accompanies puberty.

“Hah, not for long if we don’t make it to the place in time.”

I looked around, startled. We seemed to be in a big city, one that looked a lot like the one I grew up by.

“What do you mean?” I asked, concerned, but in a weird way. It was the memory of concern mixed with a nervousness I couldn’t explain, “Where are we going?”

“It’s a small restaurant— you’ll like it. It sells that fish stuff you like,” He called back, weaving through a group of other youths.

“Tilapia?”

“Yeah, that’s it. I tried some the other day, did I tell you? It doesn’t really matter, we need to get a move on.” He pulled out his phone and checked the time, “Damn, this is cutting it pretty close. They’re probably already there.”

“Who’s already there? What’s going on?” I couldn’t quite grasp what was going— what were we doing running through these streets? It all seemed vaguely recognizable, a distant memory, yet I couldn’t quite figure out why.

“Oh don’t tell me you already forgot their names?” He said with a laugh.

I was at a loss for words.

“Jamie and Helen, yeah? Jamie’s yours, if you’ve forgotten that too.”

“What are you…”

The Adolescent stopped in front of a glass door.

“Here we are.” The glass was tinted, so I couldn’t see the inside, but it looked like a nice restaurant. I felt something flutter in my stomach. It took me a moment to realize that I was feeling increasingly nervous.

“I’m nervous. Why am I nervous right now?”

The Adolescent threw his head back and laughed, “You’ll be fine. Everyone gets nervous. She already thinks you’re cute, though, so this will all be smooth sailing.”

I nodded, feeling reassured. Then I remembered the Child in the woods with the cigarette, and the old regret flooded back. I looked at this Adolescent, and waves of other images started to come back. There was a high school, and there were other friends. There were late nights in the attic watching movies and playing games. There were summers at the beach and long days at the pool. Then there were the dark days at the end of high school. At the end of it all, though, there was a coffin.

“Wait! I have to tell you something,” I said, grabbing hold of the Adolescent by his shoulders, “It’s really important, I just-”

“I know,” He said, smiling at me as if he really knew what was to come. He grabbed hold of my arms, “You’re going to be okay.”

Then he opened the door and pushed me inside.

“I’ll be right in behind you.”

Next Chapter

Breaking the Loop

There was a bump.

Barely audible, but even that was a treat to the ears. I froze in my seat, cutting myself off in the middle of telling Mailman about the neighborhood. Then came the most desirable of all sounds:

A Voice.

“Help.”

That was all it said. Help.

I got up from my seat and walked around the corner to where the stairs were. At one point the stairs may have lead upstairs, but now they only lead to injury and frustration. Underneath them was a crevice of sorts, partially obscured by the collapsed infrastructure. I heard the voice again.

“Help.”

I could hardly focus, I was so excited. The fallen lumber was quickly cleared by my hand, and underneath I found a H

                                          O

                               L

                     E.

“Help.”

I saw him. Inside the hole there was a child. The first child that I’d seen in seven years. He looked so innocent. I’d forgotten that; how innocent children looked.

I reached for my camera, but it wasn’t there. I felt fear. There was a child, the first of its kind to enter Memory Lane, and here I was without a camera.                        

tripdownmemoryblah.jpg                             

                                   

“Please, help me.”

It was an    | IMPOSSIBLE |    decision. I needed to get my camera (*snap, click* Forever and always (TIME! A joke? It’s wearing thin, you need to find another- ), but what if he wasn’t here when I got back? What if he disappeared.

“Wait a minute (Forever, did I say forever?), kid. I need to go and get something real quick.” I said, backing away from the hole and making my way toward the door.

“Don’t go! Please don’t go!”

“I’m sorry,” I said, more to myself than the child, almost at the door, “I just need to get this one thing. I need it. I–Just wait a minute (tic-tock,  a joke I tell myself).”

“Help me, please!”

I was just about to turn my back to the kid (and leave him (forever? (NO!) ) only for a moment). My anxiety was peaking and I was getting the ~ shakes ~ This was more mental stimulation than I’d had in a long time, and I don’t think my brain was ready for it. Then the child said something that held me in my place.

“Help me, please. Please, David.”

David.

My name.

(David?)

For the first time on Memory Lane, I heard my name.

I felt it in my blood (David), such was the sensation of hearing one’s own name (David?) that I could hardly keep my footing. I returned to the hole and stuck my hand inside.

“Okay, I’m here. Give me your hand, I’ll help you out. Then you can come with me and I can get my camera.”

I waited, but he didn’t grab on.

“No, David, you have to come in here. I don’t want to come out.”

Confusion. That was a refreshing feeling. I was very confused. And conflicted, for I still very much wanted to get my camera. Alas, I climbed into the hole anyway.

(What am I (DAVID) doing?)

It seemed that the hole lead into a basement. It was dark and glum. It smelled like wood; it smelled like a hardware store. The Child came up to me and grabbed my hand. A shiver ran through my body; no one had touched my hand in a long time.

“Come on.” The child led me to a tunnel in the side of the basement. It was obstructed by fallen support beams, but as we moved towards them, they lifted themselves up and pressed against the side of the tunnel. Now they appeared to be holding up the ceiling.

(I wish I had my camer-)

“Let’s go.” Said the child.

He tugged me along toward the depths of the tunnel. I was excited: I hadn’t been on an adventure in a good long while.

Next Chapter

Sanity

Today is a special day here on Memory Lane.

Today is the day that a new neighbor moves in. Words can’t express my joy. I packed a gift basket of my favorite things to give to the newcomer: my favorite empty lighter, my favorite dead flower, and my favorite broken record among other treasures.

I still had on my Visitor Suit from yesterday. The front was a little damp, and there was a bit of dirt on the knees from when I fell on my way back to the house. It had taken me a couple of hours (days?(time?)) to get inside.

I walked out into the street. I did my best not to look at the other house across the way. It was forbidden. The door was locked and it was bad. (No, Because it was bad.)      

             tripdownmemorylane1.jpg

Days where I looked at it by accident were bad days. The house next to it, on the other hand, was very good.

It belonged to my only neighbor. That is, until today.

I walked up the walkway to the door and knocked.

“Come in.” My neighbor (I) said to me (myself- help me).

The door opened and I walked inside. The house was barren. Salesman was a minimalist, I think.

In the kitchen there was a table, where I sat across from another chair. Upon the backrest of that chair, sat Salesman. He was starting to get old, and his colors were beginning to fade. In spite of the years (Years, days, time: the joke I tell to myself) of age, I could still make out his emotionless gaze.

“Hello, Salesman. I have big news for you today.”

It’s an odd thing, Insanity. Where does it come from? (From time? HAH, a funny joke, I tell myself) Is it the natural condition of humankind (I miss humans (Oh, don’t be rude to Salesman) SHUTUP HE’S NOT-), held at bay only by daily social interaction? When we talk to one another in passing, are we keeping ourselves from that which lays just beneath the surface (Decay? Food for the worms?) ? When left to its own devices, does the mind fester? I sat and mulled over this, while I talked to a photograph.

While I talked to a photograph.

I’ve lost it. I’m insane.

Insane.

My world spins on an axis around that word.

It’s not just a word, though. Words don’t take your

                          Reality

    and split it                     ||                     in two.

Insanity is at the center of a fear that makes me claw at my head as I try to ease the waves of fear. Have I really lost it? I plead with myself under my breath (NO, please, no. I WON’T DO IT AGAIN, BREAK THE LOOP, DAMMIT), reaching out for something to ease the anxiety.

                            I’m in

                                    Control?

Please.

This isn’t real.

                Why?

No. I can’t be insane.

My breathing is back to normal and I look back at Salesman.

“I’m sorry about that. Anyway…” (Where was I?) “ Oh yes! The good news!”

Silence.

“You’ll never guess.”

Silence.

“Alright, I’ll tell you. We have a new neighbor.”

Silence.

“I know, I’m excited too. Perhaps we can all have dinner tonight? Yeah. Of course, we can do it here, but only if I get to cook. I haven’t cooked in so long…”

I reclined back in my chair. There wasn’t a sound to be heard for… for any amount of distance, really. That’s how it was there on Memory Lane. Completely silent.

“Anyway, I should be going. I’ll let you know about dinner tonight, alright? Good, talk to you later.”

I left the house and made my way to the street once more. Crossing the road, I walked to a domicile down the ways from my own, on the same side of the street. It was a little house, with faded blue paint and a defunct doorway. It was perfect.

I walked up to the door and gave it a push.

Nothing.

I gave it a go once more.

Nothing.

I backed up a few paces and scrutinized the door.

Then I ran head first into it.

Results were attained.

I walked through the portal into the decrepit abandoned house. There was scattered debris laying around that I had to awkwardly shuffle by as I made my way into the kitchen area. In there I found the perfect spot for my new neighbor. I pulled out the photograph and my old roll of tape. Scooting out the nicest of the worn out chairs from the dining table, I placed the photo against the front of the back of the chair. Then I applied tape.

Mailman was finished moving in.

Next Chapter