Earworm: Part 48 — The Crypt

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 47 — Ballooning

Joel grasped from the vague crypt of sleep for his surroundings. Water sprinkled on his face. Rain. Had he passed out? He was aware of something else. Not quite sure what it was, something at the end of his running current of perception, but the knowledge of where he was, and why he was there, remained out of reach. The rain patted on him. He wanted to wipe it from his face.

Just lie still.

Did someone just tell him to lie still? He wasn’t sure. There was the sound of many voices, stern tones like parents discussing something horrible in front of a child too young to grasp the meaning. He heard another garbled voice. It sounded like an alien robot speaking with hissing, static whistles. Blurs of light danced on the backs of Joel’s closed eyelids, a kaleidoscope of blinking, rhythmic flashes in his head like lightning illuminating a dark room. The alien voice spoke again. Joel thought it sounded familiar, Joel trying to turn his head, thinking, Just let me get this wetness off my face.

“Just lie still.”

Someone did say it. Joel reentered his body with the slow feeling one experiences when waking from a deep sleep, becoming aware of the lights and the voices, and the heavy idles of diesel engines…

An icy stake plunged into his heart—complete awareness of an unfathomable horror. The idling engine belonged to a fire truck. The blinking across his eyelids were emergency lights. The robotic voice, calling into the night with solemn urgency, was a police radio.

“Lie still.”

Joel opened his eyes. Strobe flashes of red and blue refracted off glistening, rain soaked metal and glass—the twisted, shattered remains of what was once an automobile. Joel’s eyes becoming accustomed to the lights and the rain, a thick, protective mental fog lifting, allowing more of the carnage to slip into his cognition. Joel saw Guard’s face looming before him. Guard’s eyes staring, mouth opened, the look of a person taking the initial plunge on a roller coaster. “Guard?” Joel said.

“Just hold on,” someone said. But Joel was unable to turn and see who said it.

“Guard?” Joel asked his still and staring friend.

Guard didn’t respond. Joel looked at the twisted mess that was his best friend’s body. A bent steering wheel wrapped against his friend’s chest, the dashboard seemingly part of Guard’s body. In some places, discerning flesh from car was impossible.

“Guard,” Joel yelled.

“Hold still,” someone said. There came the sound of a chainsaw starting—more like a table saw—the speeding rotisserie of a metal blade. “We’ll have you out of there in a minute. Just stay calm and hold still,” someone hollered over the saw’s whine. Then the banshee screech of metal murdering metal burrowed into Joel’s ears. Sparks combining with strobe lights into a terrifying fireworks display.

Joel ran—where?—hitting something. Something else toppling over in the darkness. He stood, unmoving in the black silence. He felt his heartbeat, his breathing, he held his hands out to his sides, steadying himself. “Okay,” he whispered. Feeling his desk with his hand, his eyes adjusting to the night. He picked out shapes and depths scattered about the familiar universe of his bedroom. He felt the wall beside him and slid down its surface to sit on the floor. Then Joel did something he hadn’t allowed himself to do in a very long time. He sobbed in heaving, silent gasps.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 49 — Dazed and Confused

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Earworm: Part 47 — Ballooning

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 46 — The Handoff

Night hung like draped, black velvet in the trees of the woods. Joel stood with his buddies, drinking beers in the wooded area behind the high school, Price Field in the distance. He sensed the field more than saw it in the dark, but still, he knew it was there. And he knew he made a complete fool of himself on it that morning. Now, in the darkness of the woods, his friends bantered about girls and football and school and sports and sex. But Joel just sipped his beer, letting the beer soothe, like balm on a burn, his ego’s injury. There was no physical affliction to soothe. After all, throughout the day’s game, Joel ran for cover like a deserting soldier in a firefight. He handed the ball off too quickly. He blindly tossed passes nowhere near receivers. He did everything short of dropping to his knees and begging the other team to please not hit him. And after the game, his teammates, including the three now standing with him in the wooded darkness, possessed an underlying tone in every word they uttered, a tone screaming loud and clear: You pussy. Joel’s coach even pulled Joel aside at halftime, his arm around Joel’s neck, asking, “What’s wrong, Fitchy?” Even his coach’s tone accusing: You pussy. And what was Joel supposed to say? I had a nightmare last night, coach?

“I heard about you bustin Willy Knightmare’s nose,” Jay Simms said. “Joel?”

“Huh?” Joel said. “Oh, yeah. No, I didn’t break it.”

“Too bad. Don’t know why, but I don’t like that kid,” Jay said. Joel chuckled. You’re telling me. The mentioning of William Knight’s name unearthed memories—more like images, perhaps feelings was the best word for it—something answered for a fleeting moment, but then reburied. Like trying to excavate an artifact in a sandstorm. Was William Knight in his dream last night? Joel wasn’t sure. But it did seem William’s name was nagging him throughout the day, popping up tandem with his memories. Memories of what? Of that dream?

“Where was Hope today?” Tommy Wilkes said. “Joel?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah, she’s sick.”

“Sick of you?” Jay said. The others laughed. Joel grinned and sipped his beer. He had mixed feelings about Hope’s absence from the game. He was relieved she didn’t have to witness his pathetic display. He could only imagine her cheers taking on that same underlying tone of: you pussy. However, Joel was becoming concerned about his new girlfriend. She was acting so… bizarre. Had she always been that way and he just never noticed before—blinded as he was by the desire for copulation—or was something really wrong with her mind? He had talked to her on the phone after the game:

How was the game?” she said.

“Sucked. I played like… I sucked.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. How’re you feeling?” he said, wanting to get off the subject of the game—although she’d hear about it Monday as the school buzzed about his humiliation.

“Better.”

“You sleep all right last night?”

“Actually,” she said, her voice more cheerful than it had been for days, “I did sleep pretty well last night.”

“That’s good,” Joel said. “Wanna go out tonight?”

Silence.

“Nah, I’m still pretty tired. Think I’ll take it easy again tonight. Is that all right?”

“Yeah,” he said with feigned casualness.

“Okay, well, bye then,” she said.

“Bye.”

When Hope had mentioned she had a good night’s sleep, Joel was tempted to mention his own bad dream. But he never wanted to relive that moment of helpless panic again. Not to mention, she didn’t sound interested in anything he had to say anyway. Her uninviting intonation having all the cadence of television static. As if saying, I’m finished with this conversation. Was she finished with Joel too? Jay tossed his beer can into the woods. “Anyone for another one?” he said, reaching into a case of beer.

The others grunted affirmations in unison. Joel drained the last of his beer can and tossed it aside. As soothing as that liquid was to his ego, the alcohol also cultivated a numb anger that inflated in his head like a balloon in a shell, his thoughts smearing with the first touches of intoxication. “Yeah, I’ll take another one,” he said, as if to himself. He took a can from Jay, and the four of them drank a few more “another ones,” talking about girls, school, sports and sex, until the clouds that had been blotting out the stars and moon began spitting drops of rain. The rain slapping and tapping the leaves of the trees and flicking the four boys’ faces.

“Ah, crud,” Guard said.

“Where to now?” Tommy said.

“Let’s go get something to eat,” Jay said.

“Where?” Tommy said.

“How about Island Pizza?” Jay said.

“Yeah, that’s cool. Guard, you guys coming?” Tommy said, nodding to Guard and Joel, who arrived together in Guard’s car.

Guard looked at Joel. “You wanna?”

Joel shrugged. “I don’t care.” Guard mirrored Joel’s shrug. Joel saying, “Let’s just finish playing that football game on your X-Box.”

“Okay,” Guard said. He turned to the others. “Hey, we’ll catch up with you guys later. I’ve got to go kick Joel’s ass at football.”

“Shouldn’t be too hard to do today,” Jay said.

“You got a problem, Jay?” Joel said, squaring his shoulders and snarling his lip.

“Huh?” Jay reeling slightly. “No, man, I was just kidding around.”

Joel let out a stream of breath. “Look, I’m just pissed off about the game today.”

“All right,” Jay said. “Like I said, I was just kidding.”

“Whatever. Let’s just get out of here,” Joel said to Guard. He walked off through the rain with his head hung low.

“I guess I’ll see you guys later,” Guard said in an unsure tone. He followed Joel. The rain coming down harder. The balloon in Joel’s head swelling.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 48 — The Crypt

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STUDENT VANISHES DURING SCHOOL LOCKDOWN

MIMS HallwayMysterious “Creatures” That Terrorized Students May Have Been Mass Hallucination

Police and school officials are baffled after a student vanished during a lockdown at the Mystic Island Middle School. Jacob Grist, an eighth grader at Mystic Island Middle School, disappeared “into thin air” during the emergency lockdown at the school, police said. The school was put in lockdown because of an apparent “hallucinatory incident.”

Dispatchers received a 911 call from the school around 8:00am. The caller, one of the school’s secretaries, reported that “creatures had overrun the school.” She went on to describe the creatures as “giant dogs,” “skeletons and zombies,” and a “gorilla.” Upon arrival at the scene, Police Officers Jordan Raymond and Andrew Mann confirmed that there were apparently “creatures terrorizing the school.”

“It was unbelievable. Literally unbelievable,” Officer Mann said, “I know it sounds crazy, but I was fighting off skeletons and zombies. I had to rescue several of the children from their grasps.”

Officer Raymond and the school’s art teacher, John Berkley, ran through the halls to direct students to safety. They reportedly came upon Jacob Grist and another student, Tommy Rogers, being terrified by what appeared to be a gorilla and a wolf. When Officer Raymond drew his gun, the creatures and Jacob Grist vanished. Tommy Rogers fell to the floor with apparent chemical burns from a magic marker someone used to draw on his arms and torso.

Police Captain Gerald Orvac said, “Needless to say, we are still trying to determine exactly what happened, which seems, at the moment, to be an impossible task. We can only assume that this was some sort of mass hallucination.”

Paintings of the creatures were found on the floors throughout the school. “Chemical analysis of the creatures show they are comprised of common acrylic paints,” said Captain Orvac, “but they are proving to be very difficult to remove from the floor. We aren’t sure what the paintings represent. Maybe, if this was a mass hallucination, they served as some kind of suggestive catalyst.”

Investigators from the FBI and Homeland Security were called in to be sure the event was not a terrorist chemical attack, but they could find no evidence of any chemical residue.

“I have no explanation at all for what happened,” said Principal Michael Cooper. “All I know is that I saw monsters attacking the school. And there must have been some kind of mind-altering property to whatever caused the incident, because I know I reacted in a way very unlike myself during a lockdown. I had a definite rare moment of confusion.”

Police are still searching for Jacob Grist. Police said that Jacob’s step father, Dennis Walsh, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound two days prior. Captain Orvac said, “We are not sure if Dennis Walsh’s death is in any way connected to Jacob’s disappearance at this time. The circumstances surrounding his step father’s death are still vague, but we can’t rule out that some kind of hallucinatory agent could have been involved in that too.”

Jacob’s mother, Joanne Walsh, is pleading with the public to provide any information at all that could lead to finding her son. Jacob is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. Police urge anyone with information on the incident at the middle school or to the whereabouts of Jacob Grist to call them immediately.

Earworm: Part 46 — The Handoff

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 45 — Just Crazy After All These Years

Joel remembered the huddle. He remembered calling, “Hike.” He remembered the ball in his hands. But then it all happened so fast, yet it seemed to unfold in slow motion. Turning to handoff the ball, no time for the play to develop, there was a giant thud. It seemed like he heard it, but it was more that it became him. He didn’t recall feeling the hit, only the air rushing from his lungs creating a vacuum within his body. And there was a sound, louder than anything he’d heard before, yet as subtle as a clock’s ticking. A snap or crackle or pop. Kind of like the cereal, kind of like crumpling paper. Feeling as if the spot at the base of his skull was that crumpling paper. But then he felt nothing. There was only the vacuum in his chest and a strong desire to cough. Bodies piling on top of him. Still, he felt nothing but that desperate, empty, gasping, grasping for air.

The bodies dispersed from the pile—the world moving in a disheveled speed—and as the bottom player got up, all the players looked down at Joel with odd, disquieting looks in their eyes. Looks seeming to say: that doesn’t look right. More players gathered around him, all of them with that look on their faces. Joel watched them with a distant unattached feeling, like watching them on a television screen. He wondered why no one offered him a hand to get up, and still, his breaths weren’t coming. He had a strange, floating sensation. Someone calling something, the words sounding like a tape recorder running low on batteries. “Co-o-o-oach! Co-o-o-oach!” And then the coach and trainer appearing above him, and Joel thinking he should let them know he was okay. He should tell them he only had the wind knocked out of him. But that wind didn’t seem to be coming back. The coach told him to stay still. Okay, coach, not a problem, I don’t seem to be moving anyway. Should I be? Joel thought maybe he should try breathing again—things were becoming dark and blotchy—and he floated a little more, as if falling into a sea of ink. But then the trainer said two words, and their meaning melted into Joel’s mind. The words raising a whole new awareness as Joel’s thoughts were drifting away. “Broken neck,” the trainer said. Whoa, what? Who? Me? Wait a minute. There was a horrible sensation as the coach leaned over him, and Joel saw the man’s grave concentration through the darkening fog of his perception. Then darkness took him fully.

Wait, was his body moving? He could move. He could breathe. He took long, deep, gasping breaths. But the darkness stayed. Was he alive? He tried to stand, but his legs were bound, and lunging, tripping, he fell hard onto a familiar surface. Carpet fibers digging into his palms and scraping his face. He blinked, lying a moment, cheek nestled on the carpeted floor, legs twisted and bound above him. He took another deep breath. There was the familiar scent of stale carpet and sweaty sneakers. He untangled his legs from his bed’s sheets and rolled onto his back. In a breathless whisper, neither desperate nor calm, Joel said, “What the fuck was that all about?”

Continued in: Earworm: Part 47 — Ballooning

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Earworm: Part 45 — Just Crazy After All These Years

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 44 — That’s It

Joel’s voice coming across the phone lines sounded distant and lost. “Why weren’t you in school today?”

“I didn’t feel well,” Hope said.

“Are you sick?”

No, just crazy, Joel, is that answer satisfying enough for you? I’ve finally snapped. And now the doctor says I need to be studied in a lab. Did you get that last part? A LAB. “No. I was just really tired this morning.”

“More nightmares?”

Oh, yes, more nightmares. About who? About you still. But instead of peeing on Daddy’s grave, this time you tried to roast me alive like a pig on a spit. And there’ll be plenty more nightmares, know why? I’m crazy—Yippee—doctor even said so—in so many words, anyway. So could you talk to me in slow, easy to understand tones like I’m fragile and words will break me, because that’s how people will talk to me from now on. And they’ll whisper about me, even when there’s no one around to hear, fearing that their voices might unravel me somehow. “I’m just tired,” Hope said in a curt voice.

“So are you like sick?”

Could you please speak up, Joel? You’re competing with the voices in my head. “Nope,” she said, “just tired.” There was a brief silence. “Look, Joel, I don’t want to talk about this anymore, all right?”

“You know, Hope…” Joel’s voice the careful tone people use with lunatics—Hope wanted to scream—Joel saying, “If you’re getting sick over dreams…” He paused, then continuing in his stable, neutral, you nutcase, voice, “you should probably see a doctor.”

“What would a doctor do?” Hope said. She didn’t want to tell Joel she’d already been to the doctor’s. It would only lead to her having to admit that she was off to the lab. Hope said, “The doctor would just say, sorry, there’s nothing we can do for you, oh well, too bad.” Or they might allude to the fact that I’m nuts and cart me off to a loony bin. She could hear Jennifer Waltson’s voice: Did you hear? Hope Ferretti’s gone cuckoo. They’re giving her electric shocks, and she tried to bite off an orderly’s nose because she thought he was a giant fish stick.

“I didn’t mean that kind of doctor,” Joel said.

“What’re you soliciting for your father now?”

There was silence.

“Sorry,” Hope said. “Look, I’m fine. Just tired because I didn’t sleep well. So can we stop this? I really want to talk about something else.”

“Okay…” Joel said with the careful tone used with people whose heads are wired like car bombs. Now, careful, cut only the green wire—snip—okay…

“So what are you doing tonight?” Hope said. She tried to sound open to conversation, but she longed to hang up the phone.

“Nothing. Me and Guard are going to play football on his X-Box. You know, relax and rest up for the game tomorrow. How about you?”

“I’m not doing anything,” she said. She then filled the impending silence, hoping to move this interaction a little quicker to its end, by asking, “Anything happen in school today?” She found relief in taking control of the conversation.

“No, not really,” Joel said, but then he added in his spontaneous way, “Hey, I gave that Willy Knight kid a bloody nose.”

“What? You hit him?”

Hope summoned images from the shadows of her mind, visions of Joel and William battling for her—Joel wanting her burnt at the stake, William wanting to save her. Did they really fight for her in school? Did the real William Knight stand up and profess his love for Hope, and then Joel clocked him?

Of course not. This was where things blurred in her mind. The William in her dreams was not the William in her school, and separating the two entities was becoming as difficult as getting the chocolate out of chocolate milk. So then why did Joel hit him?

“No, I didn’t hit him,” Joel said. “Well, not with my fist, anyway. I spiked a volleyball in gym and it hit him square in the face. Blood was pouring out of his nose. I felt pretty bad.”

“Did you get in trouble?”

“Nah, it was an accident. Kid didn’t even have his hands up.”

“Was he okay? Did you break his nose?”

“He was fine. I even apologized afterward, but he…” Joel broke off for a moment, “…he wasn’t very forgiving.”

Again, the visions of her nightmares stole into Hope’s mind—Joel with the torch, the pyre, the crowd cheering, William offering salvation. It’s you behind the nightmares.

Like a plane in a downdraft, the bottom dropped out of Hope’s thoughts. “I’ve got to get going,” Hope said, “I’m tired.”

“All right,” Joel said in his tentative way. “Then I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay.” There was a brief pause. “Bye,” she said.

“Bye.”

Continued in: Earworm: Part 46 — The Handoff

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With Drawn: Part 48 — Murals

Jacob's HouseContinued from: With Drawn: Part 47 — Out of the Maze

The television was on in the Walsh’s living room.

Actually, it wasn’t really the Walsh’s living room anymore, seeing as Dennis Walsh was dead and Joanne had changed her name back to the same last name as her son, which was Grist.

On the television in the living room, Lester Holt had already begun his news report. Lester Holt was a news reporter on Dateline NBC, which is a television show about current news events. Lester Holt was saying, “It’s been a year since the bizarre occurrences at the Mystic Island Middle School, and still, one year later, those occurrences remain unexplained.”

Joanne Walsh rushed down the stairs into the living room. She glanced at the television and said, “Damn.” She said this because she was running late. Joanne rushed into the kitchen, while on the television, Lester was continuing his report.

Lester Holt said, “And, although several possible explanations have been offered by countless experts, explanations that range from mass-hallucinations to paranormal acts, from black magic to divine intervention, none of these explanations conform to any logical human understanding.”

Joanne returned to the living room from the kitchen. She was carrying a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a two liter bottle of root beer.

Lester Holt was saying, “And to accept any of the explanations set forth by experts and novices alike, would drastically redefine our understanding of the human mind and even the physical world around us.”

Joanne said to the television, “Yeah, well, Lester, some things might just be too funky to understand.”

One might think it strange for Joanne to speak to Lester Holt, seeing as he was on the television set, and the real Lester Holt was thousands of miles away and could not hear her anyway. In fact, he wasn’t even saying these words at that moment, the show had been recorded at an earlier time. But Joanne was just being sarcastic, joking with herself, finding it funny that, even though it was her son at the center of all this mystery, even she couldn’t explain how it all happened.

And by the way, though one might find it strange that Joanne was talking to a television, even though she knew that the television would not respond back, just remember, she had spoken to a painting on a wall, and it did respond back.

Joanne turned off the television in the living room and she darted out the front door with the cookies and the root beer. She crossed the street to 42 Savage Street.

In the past, 42 Savage Street had been known to Joanne as both the “Hamptons’ home” and “the abandoned house,” but it could be called neither now. The house was now well maintained. There were lights on in the windows, even though the drapes were always drawn tight.

Joanne climbed the house’s front steps and onto the porch. With her hands occupied with the cookies and the root beer, Joanne had to kick at the front door instead of knocking on it.

John Berkley opened the door. He took the cookies and the root beer from Joanne’s hands, and he said, “You’re late.”

Joanne stepped into the house, saying, “I know. Sorry.”

A television was on in the living room. It had Lester Holt talking on it as well. Lester was saying, “And perhaps the biggest mystery of all is what happened to Jacob Grist, the boy said to be behind the mysterious paintings. The boy that is said to have vanished before the eyes of several eye-witnesses, including a police officer.”

Joanne turned to look at the wall running along the back of the living room, the wall still adorned with the stretching mural of a grassy field and tranquil sea. In the mural’s distance, Jacob and David Grist—David’s face since cleaned of the paint smears—were running along the field, father and son towing a kite behind them.

Joanne nodded toward the mural and said, “Jacob didn’t want to watch the report?”

John smiled, saying, “He said he knows what happened on that day, so why would he want to watch something featuring people that have no idea about what did happen?”

Inside the mural, Jacob paused from his kite-flying, spotting his mother standing in the living room.

Joanne waved to her son.

Jacob handed the kite string to his father, and Jacob ran toward the living room, popping out of the mural and saying to his mother, “Hi, mom.” He was smiling.

Joanne said to Jacob, “Hey, there, kiddo.”

Jacob took a cookie off the plate in John’s hand, Jacob holding up the cookie and saying to his mother, “Thanks.”

Joanne said, “I brought you your favorite, root beer.” She held up the two liter bottle.

Jacob looked at his mother for a moment, trying to work something out in his mind. He glanced at the mural and then back at his mother. He said, “Can I go back with dad?”

The word, dad, bit at Joanne for a moment, but she quickly covered this with a smile. She said, “Of course you can. Have fun.”

“Okay, thanks,” Jacob said as he popped back into the mural and ran off to rejoin the painting of David Grist.

The grassy field and tranquil sea was not the only mural in 42 Savage Street. In fact, elaborate murals stretched across all of the walls in the house, every inch of space covered.

And what’s more, miles away, in the Mystic Island Middle School, when the bell rings in the morning and the hallways fill with students, the students walk upon the paintings of several strange creatures. No one has yet found a way to clean the painted figures from the floor’s tiles, Jacob Grist’s mural forever spread throughout the school.

Go figure.

The End

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