by Mark Cusco Ailes
Ethan Richards stared at his image in the mirror. He didn’t like the image staring back at him. It was a painful reminder of how lonely he felt. His existence was determined by the only goal he had set for his pathetic life. He wanted to be wed to the love of his life, a famous actress named Danielle. She was all he thought of as he collected trash every day for the town of Valparaiso. He worked alone with his thoughts. They were the ones driving him insane with both desire for her and jealousy for the leading men who had the good fortune of kissing her on the silver screen.
He ran his fingers through his graying beard. He had told himself he would shave it off the day she promised to take his hand in marriage. He turned off the bathroom light and made his way to his bed. He dreaded bedtime. It always took him to the place where they were together, raising a family of their own. At least it used to be that way. Recently his dreams about her had taken a darker road, leading him into a world of chaos and misdirection.
They walked along a red-colored beach holding hands and making their way toward a forest filled with smoke. They seemed oblivious to the imposing danger and kept walking toward it.
The air was hard to breathe, causing him to choke, but he kept moving forward until he was no longer holding her hand. Instead, a slimy green arm made of tentacles was clamping onto his arm. He tried to see through the thick smoke to see who was with him, but all he could see was a mass of greens, blues, reds, and oranges swirling in front of him, masking the imposter who stole her hand. He tried to scream, but his throat was silenced by the thick smoke surrounding him.
He ran toward the burning forest hoping to free himself from his captor, but it held firmly to his arm. His eyes were now burning as he made his way into the fire.
The fire was now gone. It had receded, and he was left standing in an empty void with a large pencil in his hand. The imposter was no longer with him. He looked around fearfully, but to his dismay, he was completely surrounded by nothingness. He turned in a clockwise direction, hoping to find a way out of his predicament.
A bright light appeared from nowhere, blinding him, causing him to fall to his knees and lose the pencil he was holding. He tried to stare in the light’s direction, but its brightness made him feel nauseous, so he stared at the ground and watched the pencil continue to roll away and vanish.
A hand reached out to him. He looked up and it was Danielle looking lovingly at him. He let her help him up and watched as she opened her mouth to say something. Instead of words, a high pitched noise emitted from her, shattering the nothingness surrounding him.
The nothingness was replaced by darkness. He could hear monstrous noises in the distance, reminding him of his deepest fear of the dark. He fearfully looked around, but he couldn’t see anything. In the distance he could hear his name being called, and he recognized it as Danielle’s voice. He moved toward it until he came to a closed door. He approached it and turned the knob and opened it. He found himself inside a crowded theater watching one of her movies. It was the one he dreaded the most. It was the movie where he witnessed her kissing different guys throughout it. It was the one movie driving him into madness. No matter how hard he tried to forget it, the images of the kissing scenes were burned into his brain.
He felt a cold hand touch his arm, and he turned to look who was touching him. Danielle was once again standing by his side with tears in her eyes. Her tears streamed down her face, leaving black streaks. She was slowly turning into a lifeless corpse, filling the air with a foul aroma. He felt sick to his stomach as she decayed and fell to the ground in a puddle of warm blood.
He woke up in a panic and went into the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror. He looked as though he had seen the devil. He switched off the bathroom light and entered his bedroom and made his way to the television and switched it on. The image of Danielle appeared wearing a white wedding gown. He wasn’t aware she was getting married. Distraught, he glanced over at the nightstand where he kept his gun. He no longer wanted to live in a world where he couldn’t have her. He slowly walked to the nightstand and opened the drawer. Tears ran down his face as he grabbed the gun and held it against his head.
The gun went off, showering the television screen with blood as Danielle explained the wedding dress she was wearing was the one she was going to wear in her new movie about being married to the wrong man. He slumped to the floor.