Just Beneath My Skin I’m Screaming
Linus King, or Lingus Dingus as his meagre collection of friends called him,stared at his journal. The empty pages mocked him. He was scared to put the nib of the pen against the paper because once he started he didn’t know if he could stop. He fought against the urge scrawl words about the darkness that sought to consume him.
Yet as he gripped the pen in his hand he realised he had no choice. He had to write about it. About them. He didn’t want to but he felt compelled to trap his dreams between the pages in desperate hope the nightmares would dial it down for one night. That was all he begged for. A single night of emptiness and solitude. With a shaking hand he touched the nib of the pen to the page.
How can I change my world if I can’t change myself?
If I change myself will they leave me alone?
Can I change the way I am? Can I change them?
I don’t know.
I don’t think I can hold them back much longer.
Not unless I change.
Must I change? Must I fit in?
Linus watched the words curl and slip across the page, mesmerised at how they appeared without effort. There was no forethought or plan, his hand moved and the words came. Alone in his bedroom the silence was etched with fuzz and static, not directly audible – a subtle sense of sound rather than random noise.
A bathroom and hallway separated his bedroom from his parents. Yet he could feel them breathing. Slowly in and out. The gentle thrum of air filling their lungs, a catch of saliva in their throats or wheeze in their noses.
I feel sounds. Black. Itchy. Serrated.
When I sleep I look at the world behind my eyes.
I see smells and touch colours. Dreams chase me.
And when I wake that sense of something stirring remains like a hidden undercurrent.
Why do they come for me? What do they want?
The dreams had been the same for months. Until he started reading books on dream science he took it for granted how he could manipulate anything in his dreams. He wasn’t an observer but a participant. Linus never found sleep to be refreshing or rejuvenating in the same way others claimed. He passed from one level of consciousness to another, no rest, no away time from his thoughts and feelings.
Last year he’d had his appendix removed. He’d waited patiently and eagerly for the warm sinking sensation to fill his mind when the gas entered his lungs. The bright lights of the operating theatre faded and the voices dulled, just as he’d read about. Seconds later he awoke inside his head. He listened to every word the surgeons said. Their voices were distant, tinged with metallic resonance and a distant hollow feel. He was thankful that the anaesthetic had worked.
But the freedom he expected and longed for never came.
Linus slipped into his bleak dream world, populated by swirling fog, distant dancing lights, muffled voices and at the edges…something else. Something he couldn’t quite see but knew was there. Uninvited.
Gloom and bile shelter behind frozen featureless faces.
Every night they came. Silent. Whispering. Talking without speaking.
They want something but never ask.
Are they drawn to me?
Linus hadn’t been aware of them until his operation and he questioned whether they had been there at all before that. Had his unique foray into a new level of consciousness attracted them? He felt like a light bulb, dazzling and beautiful, and they were moths bouncing around it as if looking for a way in. Linus wasn’t a bright and cheery teenager, he wore black clothes and had a pale complexion. Colour and cheer wasn’t in his nature and yet every time he looked in the mirror he was surprised by his reflection.
Dozens of times a day he’d check his reflection to make sure his face was still in place. Long lectures were the worst. After a couple of hours he would sneak out, hurry to the nearest toilet and press his face against the mirror. If he went too long without checking he was still there he started to feel transparent and detached from his body.
They only way he could describe it was to compare himself to a store-bought sandwich. Seeing his reflection was like picking up a ham and cheese, fresh and ready to go. After a while he’d feel the bread start to dry out, shrivel up and hunker down away from the packaging. He would fold into himself, shrinking back from his skin and the real world.
Mirrors revive not sleep. Dreams dry me out.
I can feel the movement inside.
I am slipping away. Fading.
In the mirror I examine every nook and cranny.
I sense them watching me. Waiting.
Whispering without words.
Ghost faces that hide terrifying intent.
What do they want from me?
Linus stared at the question mark. It consumed his every nerve, his every emotion. He needed answers like breath in his lungs. The question must be answered before they get a real taste for reality because… Linus derailed his train of thought before it could reach Conclusion Station.
His bedside clock ticked to 03:47. Moments before it had been just after midnight. How had it taken almost four hours to write a few lines? He couldn’t hold sleep off forever. Despite never feeling refreshed when he awoke, he still became weary if he didn’t sleep.
He longed for a night of emptiness and a morning where he didn’t have memories of being haunted or chased. Sometimes when the sun crept across his bed he’d feel so exhausted the mere idea of tugging back the bed sheets and sitting up was enough to bring him tears.
His parents took him a psychiatrist six months after his operation.
“You need help, son,” is dad had told. He scooped soggy breakfast cereal into his mouth and glanced over the morning papers. “You don’t want to talk to us about…whatever it is. So a head doctor is the best we can do for you. You know. Get all the weird out of your system.”
Linus argued he wasn’t weird. He was perfectly normal. But he knew that was bullshit. He wanted to talk about it. In truth he wanted to scream until the bubble burst so he could scrape away the icky black grime that festooned his mind. Linus wanted nothing more than to change. He felt trapped behind a wall of darkness, pinned down by years of constant memories, a none stop existence with no rest.
Head doctor talks at me. Not to me. Righteous prick.
Grinning fool. Hands clasped. Fingers folded across his fat stomach.
Pen close at hand. His voice penetrates me. Uninvited.
Asks me questions and frowns at the darkness.
I see them in the shadows behind his chair.
Cold white faces watching him watching me.
They hunt everyone. Through me they ache.
Doctor Whatever pokes and prods.
Teenage angst he calls it.
Identity issues. Separation anxiety. Psychosis.
Schizophrenia. He has no idea.
Endless questions burn my eyes.
Hunger and desire. Dreams unfulfilled.
Don’t talk to me about dreams.
My dreams would fuck you up for life.
Linus was given pills. Lots of pills. There was talk about weekly therapy sessions and worried looks thrown anywhere but in his direction. Linus flushed the white slugs of bullshit down the toilet each morning. They weren’t the answer. Neither was sitting on a sofa for one hour every week. He’d talk about his life, freely and without shame or embarrassment. He didn’t care if the doctor thought he was nuts. Linus knew the truth and there was nothing he could do about it.
He’d read that human beings take in billions of memories during their waking lives and that sleep let the mind filter out the important from the irrelevant. When Linus slept he continued adding one memory after another to the unlimited cavern of memories that consumed his mind. Every night it grew larger, pushing aside precious room for simple things like happiness, hope, fun and smiling.
Once I smiled. Long ago. Caught on film forever.
A single snapshot on the mantle piece.
Pride of place. Centre stage. A reminder of one good time.
Before the dark. Before them.
I remember the day well. At the beach. Sunlight and colour.
Buckets and spades. Sand castles. Ice cream. Blue.
My own laughter. Once. Happy.
Before they came and ruined everything.
I hate them.
Linus dropped his pen and journal on the bed and took a photo of his face with his phone. It wasn’t as good as a mirror but he didn’t have the energy for the long trip across the vast expanse of bedroom floor to the mirror on his wall. A photo would suffice until the morning. He studied it carefully. His skin was pale and ghostly like the porcelain faces that followed him.
He switched off his phone and slipped under the sheets. His hand touched his journal, still open, still within reach. He didn’t think of it as security blanket, as his mum called it, but a shield against the nightmares that wanted to encroach on his waking life. His mind didn’t have a filter and the only way to keep the overflowing cavern from bursting was to write.
One memory after another had to be trapped in swirling lines of ink.
With reluctance Linus let his eyes close. He stepped into his other consciousness and felt the cool swirling fog wrap around him. He was aware of his bedroom, of his laptop on the desk, the shelves lined with hundreds of journals and his shoes at the foot of the bed. On a chair by the door sat Perky, his threadbare stuffed pig he’d had since he was six.
He couldn’t see any this. His bedroom was just out of reach, smothered by the darkness that rolled all around him. Linus waited. They would come whether he wanted them to or not. Sometimes he would seek them out. An attempt to pry open a crack of truth behind their mystery. It never worked. They evaded him, hung back, always just out of reach. He could go anywhere and change anything, such was the power of lucid dreaming, but he couldn’t change them.
Linus pulled his eye lids open. They were there. In his room. Two cold silent faces. Impassive yet gruesome. The thin membrane that kept them trapped inside his mind was close to breaking. In the darkness they swam back and forth, invisible hands caressed his face and the sound of insanity raped his ears.
They vanished when he blinked and he gripped his pen. He could sense the brink nearby. After so much torment they had pushed him to a final confrontation. There were no specifics. He didn’t know what would happen if they escaped only that they would spread out like a wave riddled with darkness and horror. No one would be safe.
Without looking he wrote. Feverish words ripped on the page to stop their desire for reality.
I hear myself sleep. It’s like drowning. Dark and tight.
They come again and again. Following me. Chasing. Taunting.
My imagination is a conduit. A pane of fog.
It is a window for my spirit. A hook to catch dead ghost fish I can’t throw back.
I feel their soundless noise tapping inside my head.
Like a crowd. Like zombies. Like locusts.
I wonder what it feels like to be dead.
To be free. So deep beyond sleep. Beyond pain and torment.
Is that what they want? To die and join them?
Maybe it’ll be quiet.
Because the noise inside my head is like a silent riot.
Muted. Dark. Hostile.
I could join them. But I won’t.
My words thrust them back. Keep them trapped.
I want respite but more than that I want revenge.
It will come.
Words will save me. Words will punish them.
Soon I’ll see them in my reflection.
Biting. Scratching. Yelling in silence to be free.
The world won’t be their playground.
I know. I can taste their need.
I will deny them. Hunt them. Murder them.
I am their drug and their salvation.
Just beneath my skin I’m screaming.
This short story was inspired by Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press – a challenge to write between 50 and 1500 word piece of fiction using one of 5 photos as a prompt. The twisteroo this week was to write a piece about letting the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks.
I didn’t want to give too much away, or anything really. Make your own mind up about what was happening to Linus. He’s certainly a troubled kid but whether he’s really holding some ruthless hungry evil at bay or if he’s simply nuts, well, make your own mind up!
NOTE: Indigo Spider’s blog has had a bit of a face lift recently, with a new easier layout, forums and live chat! Well worth a visit!
This picture prompt is unnamed and was found via Vejde Gustafsson Pinterest board.
Excellent picture prompts from Indigo. If you want to join in and write a short piece of fiction clicky-click Indigo Spider’s link above and wrap your imagination around one of the pictures.