This story is by Brian Noonan and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The waning sun casts its dying light on the small bottle. Perched atop a stack of unread books, the translucent, brown tube shines like a temple on a mountain top. In it, the unfinished doses of Haloreperzine beckon me, and as I have for the past two years, I resist.
I am up with the sunset, another day of broken sleep behind me. Daylight is a scourge. I’m forced to try to sleep. I can face the night, I’m awake, I’m alone, I’m alive, and I am free of Halo. I stopped taking the experimental drug two years ago. For that reason, I don’t sleep well, my anxiety attacks are back full throttle and I see the face of the beast in every shadow. But, I no longer have the blackouts that the drug brings, and I don’t wonder how I spent the lost time.
I work at night. Alone, I make my way through bustling streets. I don’t meet eyes with anyone, I blend into the mass, fall into the torrent. Not so much unseen as unnoticed. The city consumes me, day by day, but I don’t leave. The thought of shedding artificial light for the darkness of the countryside incites my panic attacks. It is a dim light this city provides, but I stay within it.
Alone, I visit the corner hour store for a pack of smokes. Every night, the clerk eyes me suspiciously. He doesn’t like queers, I can see it on his face. Every night, I turn down the same alley and open the back door to Langhert Law offices. I step into darkness and in the moment before I find the light switch, I see the face of the beast.
I find the switch and flip it up. Breathing so rapidly I almost faint. I collect myself and start my work filing cases. I work alone.
I leave before the sun comes up when the city seems smaller, more intimate. The avenue is nearly empty. A few lost souls’ bed beneath doorways and the mouths of alleyways. The city presents the sunrise to me alone. These are the moments I almost feel at ease, and I let myself forget the face of the thing in the woods. Until, I try to sleep again. Halo helped with that.
My therapist says I shouldn’t shun the flashbacks. She’d told me to “embrace the fear,” meet it “face to face”. She also suggested I find closure with Dante.
I was going to marry the guy, I should at least be able to talk to him about the incident that led to the demise of our relationship and left me emotionally scarred. I explained to her that he simply will not talk to me. I am dead to him. Whether it’s his way of trying to forget, or punish me, or whether he just fell out of love with me, the result is the same.
She is a sweet, very cute lady, whom I’m sure is qualified to shrink my head. But she doesn’t understand the magnitude of the incident. How it changed Dante and I forever. Not only as a couple, but individually. “Embracing the fear” only accelerates the trauma. I’m better off shunning it.
I wonder how Dante deals with it. The incident was much worse for him. He blamed me for that. I tried to talk with him about it at the doctor’s request. I called him one Saturday night after I was well into my bottle of whiskey. His voice went cold the moment he realized who was calling.
I told him I needed closure. He told me to never call again.
For him, closure was a phone call the day after returning from vacation, telling me we were over. The encounter with the thing was harder on him, but the break-up was shockingly easy for him. For me, the pain of both lingered.
During our hike down the hills of Lost River, West Virginia, we found a small cave. It was set back behind some brush, barely visible from the thin trail. Dark, inviting, perfect. Dante and I were at the peak of our clinical trial with Halo. He was a responsible user, only taking prescribed dosages. I however, was taking increasingly higher amounts. One of the less troubling side effects is an increased sex drive. We made out. Then made love. We were lost in each other.
Our passion culminated with a crack of thunder. We had lingered too long in the grotto and a storm was erupting. We considered making our way back up the steep hill, but the darkness and the fact that Dante had left his glasses in the back seat of the SUV, made that impossible. With my phone as our only light, we sat on the cold floor of the cave and waited for the storm to pass. Dante sat beside me. He was forced to wear his prescription Ray-Bans to keep from being totally blind. I stared at my reflection, pale and ragged in his lenses. I was cold, tired and felt light-headed, as though I may black out.
There was a sudden, horrifying shriek from behind us. A sinewy, clawed hand swiped through the air and catapulted Dante into the side of the cave. Pale limbs jutted from the shadows, reaching for Dante as he lay stunned. The creature stepped from the gloom and hovered its bat-like head above his face. Its gaping jaws revealed a mouth full of daggers, ready to feast. Dante looked frantically into the monster’s red eyes and screamed until he was hoarse. Struggling in desperation, he broke free from the monster and fled into the storm. It turned its monstrous red eyes to gaze at me. Paralyzed with fear, I blacked out. The last thing I remember was its hideous face, ready to strike.
Dr. Witt listened to my account of the incident then asked if I had stopped using Halo. I said I had, but that wasn’t the point. The catalyst of my anxiety and depression was the encounter with the creature, not the drug.
She believed Halo was to blame for the hallucination. I assured her that it was no hallucination. The beast had crawled from the shadows of the cave and destroyed my life. She dismissed the monster, as she always did.
“YOU should embrace the fear, doctor,” I said. “Come face to face with the fact that there are things that can’t be analyzed, or even explained.” I angrily left her office and never went back.
Last night, I called Dante. He answered the phone without a hello.
“I’m only answering this call to tell you that I am blocking your number,” he said flatly. “Something I should have done years ago.”
“No need,” I said with a thick tongue, “I won’t be calling again.”
“Drunk dial?” he laughed, hearing the slur in my speech. “That’s classy. You’ve said that before. I hope you mean it.”
“It shouldn’t have ended like it did? We should be happily married and living in an overpriced condo somewhere. I can’t explain what happened in West Virginia,” I said. “And I don’t understand why it caused you to leave me.”
“Seriously?” He laughed.
“I blacked out. What could I do?” I pleaded. “Do you think I wanted to black out the moment the man I love was in danger? I was horrified! Overwhelmed! Am I supposed to suffer for the actions of…”? I paused. “God Dante, what was that thing?”
“Oh my God,” he laughed. “You really don’t remember.”
This time, I was silent.
“You attacked me.”
“No,” I said. “The monster attacked you.”
“Ha!” he laughed. “Listen to yourself, Dylan. Monster? You were the only monster that night. You went…” he paused, “insane! You attacked me like an animal, shrieking and clawing me. I escaped with my life only because I ran up the hill, away from you.” I could hear the fear in his voice as he recounted what happened.
“That’s not true,” I insisted. “You’re lying. I saw the face of the monster!”
“So did I, Dylan,” he said. “It was you, and It was horrible. You’re lucky I didn’t have you arrested, you piece of shit. Get help!”
Silence. He ended the call.
Alone, I watch the sun rise above the city, and I stare at the bottle of Halo. I no longer resist.
I see many things clearer now. I see my pale limbs reaching for Dante as he lay stunned that night. I see his face, full of fear and disbelief as I overwhelmed him. I see my red eyes and hideous face in the reflection of his Ray-Bans. I no longer have anxiety attacks, and I sleep very well.
Although, I do wonder how I spend the lost time.