Lester, for all intents and purposes, was walking his dog down a familiar trail at 8:21 pm. The first block was uneventful. The dog peed where he’d always peed millions of times before. Shat where he’d always shat before. Lester readied his green, eco-friendly poop bag, bent down with ease, and collected his pet’s droppings. At 8:35pm, Lester and his dog about-faced and were heading home when a giant flash of light enveloped the sky. He saw nothing but white, and his dog was an inverted shadow, blurring in his vision. When Lester was able to see again, all of the familiar surroundings took an interesting turn. A man whose feet never touched the ground, shrouded in orange garb with mandala designs, appeared before him. The man stretched his arm, opened his hand, and inside was a blue square with three rounded corners. Only one was sharply edged.
“What do you see here, Lester?” the man questioned, in a tone that would suggest a paternal relationship. “Not the obvious, but the abstract.”
Lester scratched his wrist, though it did not itch. He bent down to rub his dog’s head, though the dog was not there. He pursed his lips, rolled his eyes, and nodded.
“Got it,” he snapped his fingers. “This is a dream.”
“That was not the question,” the man in orange replied, as the square began rotating in his hand.
“Doesn’t matter. If I’m dreaming, none of this matters,” Lester said, sitting on the ground, realizing he was on a floating island of concrete, no bigger than the bedroom in his apartment. “All the answers are the right answers.”
“You are not dreaming. You are dead.”
“…right…so we’re going to a nightmare place now. You can’t dream when you’re dead. Everyone knows that. I feel like, somewhere in my subconscious, or whatever part of my brain that created you, should’ve known that. It’s dream etiquette.”
“You are not understanding what I am trying to show you. We have started wrong,” he floated closer to Lester. “I am Wane.” He produced a flower beneath the square, crushing the pedals. “This is the state of your life.”
“I thought I was dead.”
“You are, but I can save you. Once you tell me what you see.”
Lester stood up, and as he took a deep breath, he noticed the sky breathing with him. All the clouds were an odd mixture of purple and pink and crimson. “It’s a picture. Or, no, a metaphor for not stepping on leaves. Environmental.”
“Between the two things are your soul. It is being crushed by an odd shape. We can remove the weight,” he made the square lift from the flower, and below it was a single shining star. “When we unpack the heaviness, you will soar on, and you will live. Do you now understand where you are?”
Lester closed his eyes. A long pause came after. He then began picking at his nails. Slowly at first, then harsher, finally pinching himself on the cheek. Wane shook his head in disappointment, watching Lester advance to smacking himself in the face.
“Until the weight is removed, control is something you will not have. I suggest we start, as all lives do, at the beginning,” Wane waved away the image of the square and flowers.
He shrank himself and Lester to the size of a thumbnail, while their surroundings morphed into in a substantial body of water. In the center, where the ripples formed, was a small brown canoe. There were no paddles. Something inside was jumping up and down, causing it to bob on the water. Wane shrank Lester even smaller to fit in his already tiny hand. He raised his palm and stretched his fingers so Lester could peek over. Inside was an eleven-year-old boy encompassed by numerous rations, bottles of water, and snacks. His hair was disheveled. He bit into one of the foods and jumped up and down joyously. It caused more ripples to appear.
“The concept of being abandoned is much like what you see. For this child will not die, but he will befriend loneliness in such a severe way that he will come to understand abandonment as a way of life,” Wane explained with sorrow in his eyes.
“But…this is not me. I had family, friends, and girlfriends. Many girlfriends. I was never alone,” Lester rebutted, leaning on the edge of Wane’s palm, holding onto his pinky to get a closer look.
“Who you are, and your soul, are two entirely different things.”
Lester chuckled to himself.
“I must’ve drank before I slept. Because that is philosophical nonsense. That, is a way of sounding smarter than everyone else. How can you try to examine me, when you are me?”
“We are very different. I thought you were smarter than this as well. However, it seems you only respond in defense. Which is why we are in the state that we’re in.”
“And what state is that? New Jersey?”
“No, it is me…showing you…things you should already know about yourself. Although humans seldom see themselves in a true manner. Society won’t allow it. Too many distractions. Here. Let me make it clearer.”
Wane opened his other hand. Inside was a man in tattered clothing, leaning at the edge of a bar and nothing else. He had a mug in his hand, and when he poured it, a river of cider swept him up. Lester watched him cascade into the open body of water. Tainting it, adding brown to the crystal blue. The boy inside the canoe suddenly realized there were no paddles, and stuck his arm in the water, moving it frantically, only to go in a circle. He did it over and over, variations of using both hands, even his feet. But when he kicked too hard, and nearly fell into the water, a fright overtook him. He scurried back inside.
Meanwhile, the man in tattered clothes floated peacefully on his back, not sinking at all. Laughing, murmuring to himself, sipping from the same beverage that seemed never-ending.
“Your father was a jovial man. Like you. Eventually, in his departure, sadness would soon seep into your day-to-day life.” Wane tilted his hand so Lester could see the boy in the canoe ravaging his food. Emotionally eating, tearing into it with his teeth instead of hands, nearly eating the plastic. “Instead of madness.”
The man in the tattered clothes floated past the canoe. He gave no effort to speak. He focused on his arm that was holding the infinite mug, and made sure all the libations fell into his face. As Lester stepped back towards the center of Wane’s palm, he saw that all the water had transitioned to brown liquid. The little boy inside had devoured all his snacks. His belly protruding absurdly from his frame. He struggled to lift himself up, reach over, cup the brown liquid in his hand and drink it.
“Do you understand what you are seeing?” Wane asked in a delicate voice.
“Yes…the boy is me.”
“No. The person inside the canoe is your mother. For your mother is and will always be eternally a child. Sexuality is a spectrum. Do let gender fool you. All is and can be whatever it wants.”
Wane blinked. All the water imploded on itself, taking the child and man with it. A huge hole was born in the center, which grew, overtaking all Lester could see, until there was a black mass. A great chill ran through Lester’s body as he stared into the never-ending darkness. Wane blew out a gentle wind that looked to be a wisp of bright yellow. It swirled around the blackness in a circular formation, before being swallowed by it.
“A void. Unable to have or to hold any color at all. Far from gray, and worse than red,” Wane explained. “The void is incapable of change.”
A small pond of brilliant colors manifested itself in front of Lester. No larger than a dinner plate, pulsating and rotating with all colors known to the human eye.
“Try, see if you change what you see,” Wane offered. “Stick your hand in, and throw it.”
Lester hesitated, then placed his finger inside. The color caked onto his index like sand mixed with putty. He joyfully created a slightly open fist, creating a ball of colors. He packed it with both hands, tossed it up and down, and hurled it into the void. He watched it land. Somehow, a foundation was there. On a black ground the ball of color sat. Until a hellish mouth pushed through, and with jagged teeth, devoured it.
“What is that thing?” Lester asked.
Wane chuckled to himself. “I’m surprised you didn’t notice yourself.”
“I’m the monster?”
Wane let out a deep laugh. “No, you are the void.”
Suddenly, everything went white. Lester’s body, in whatever realm he was in, decomposed until his skeleton was showing. Which shortly thereafter crumbled into dust.
“What’s happening?” Lester spoke in his mind, the words echoing all around him. “Have I lost? Is this really death?”
A scene blossomed before him. He saw himself writing a note at the kitchen table in his apartment. He was disheveled, unkempt, wearing a hooded sweatshirt with no shirt beneath, and shorts he’d owned for years long past. There were several pictures turned face-down on the counter. Along with a pile of mail addressed to Mr & Mrs. Williamson. A ring mark on his ring finger. Lastly, two empty bottles of whiskey, and the top of a wedding cake. Feverishly, he wrote draft after draft, crossing out lines, forcing in punctuations. There was a name at the top that the letter was addressed to, but due to the pencil marks, the name was indecipherable. Out the window, he saw his neighbor, preparing his eco-friendly doggy bag, straightening out the collar on his pet.
“That’s my dog. Or is it? Do I even own a pet? Why is my apartment so dirty?”
“I’ll give you a hint,” a whiny, know-it-all voice responded. “You’re not a dog person.”
“But I remember…”
“…what you want to remember. Only the good, like that song goes.”
“Are you Wane?”
“Close enough. Pay attention.”
The clock on the dirty microwave in his kitchen blinked 9:54 pm. It couldn’t be trusted to be accurate since a power surge occurred throughout the early morning. Lester had yet to fix it. There were numerous things broken in Lester’s house. Near his sink were eight trash-filled garbage bags. He finished his letter, folded it, and stuffed it into his hooded sweatshirt pocket. At 10:03pm, he grabbed a shovel, went out his front door, and began shoveling near his front porch. At 10:15pm, he unearthed a large rock. He dragged the rock through his apartment, leaving a trail of dirt, and grass, and worms. He opened the sliding glass door which led to his backyard. After placing the rock near his wooden fence, he retreated back to the kitchen, reached under the sink, and pulled out a long rope.
Lester returned back to the fence. He tied a rope around the rock, then peeked over the fence at an outdoor swimming pool. A tight knot was tied around his waist, with the other end attached to the rock. He squatted to get a secure grip of it, but upon lifting felt a great sprain. He rubbed his lower back, cracked his knuckles, and tried again.
“Any of this look familiar? I’ve watched it maybe three times,” the whiny voice asked.
Lester let out a roar when the rock finally made its way over the fence, thudding into the earth on the other side. Stealthily, he climbed over it, removed the letter from his pocket, stuffed it between two planks of the wooden fence, and rolled the rock as best he could to the edge of the pool.
“This is the best part.”
Lester took off his shoes, and dipped his toes in the pool.
“Why did you take your shoes off?” the whiny voice laughed. “I mean, did it matter? Honestly, look at what you’re wearing? You think a coroner is going to sit there, tapping his pen to his lips, deep in thought, going ‘Well….he left his shoes off. Pure indicator that we’re dealing with a mastermind of the highest level.’ Good God. Don’t get me wrong. A lot of bad things happened to you. Unwarranted, is a better word. Dad split, Mom split, adopted parents died, which is kind of like splitting, but in a more permanent way. Your first three loves split. Even that one-legged prostitute ran out on you in Vegas, and quite frankly, she could’ve done better. The last one though…that was rough.”
“I don’t want to see this. It looks different from the outside.”
“I’m sure it does. If only half of you idiots saw what you looked like from the outside. The world would be a better place. Especially during the midnight hours. Balance of the ego.”
“Is this Hell? Forced to re-watch your death over and over?”
“Relax, do you see fire and brimstone? Besides, what’s the worst that can happen when you’re watching something that already happened? We got some ways to go. Doesn’t quite end here, does it?”
“Let’s keep watching. And no, I’m not the Devil.”
Lester dipped his foot into the pool, past his calf, halfway to his knee. He gauged that the temperature was comfortable. Afterwards, with both feet planted near the edge, he rolled the rock inside, and plummeted to the bottom of the pool with it. A great splashing sound erupted, as Lester straightened his body out, attempting the best way to stay underwater.
“Ok, so, first problem, right. Something like this…I mean it’s dark. Neighbor comes home, finds his divorced, anti-social, ‘Only-says-hi’ once a year next door buddy dead in his pool, with a rock that scratched up the ground. Different. Should’ve used a river. Or you know, jumped off one of the millions of bridges you people have. But sure, yea, creative, why not. However…you didn’t drown, did you Lester?” the whiny voice asked.
“No. I didn’t. I was supposed to.”
“And why is that, Lester?”
“Because…the depth was a few inches shy of my neck.”
“A few inches shy of your neck. Whether you forced your face down or not, that big, creative cranium was just bobbing on the surface. Let’s run it back. Imagine, your neighbor coming home, not only to find the note. But to find you, submerged to your neck, in HIS pool, with a big-ass rock tied to your waist. I digress.”
Lester panicked. The force of the rock dropping in the pool tightened the rope around his waist, squeezing his stomach. The more he tried to swim out of it, the more circulation was cut off. He tried to undo the knot but pulled the rope the wrong way, setting it even more. He even tried wiggling out his pants before realizing he’d tied it around his bare skin. Fittingly, a black cloud arrived above him. A few flashes of light, and rain began to descend quickly. Desperate to die, Lester began drinking the pool water, hoping the chlorine would knock him out.
“Takes a lot. Should’ve researched this ahead of time. No matter how much you drink, wasn’t going to kill you. Plus, with the rain picking up, it probably would’ve cleansed the water. Making it virtually impossible.”
Time went on as the storm raged. His neighbor came back home, but stayed inside due to the heavy weather. The letter was soaked, all the ink running over itself. It fell from between the two wooden planks, plopping on the grass. For an hour, Lester remained in the pool, getting soaked on both ends. His skin began to wrinkle and prune. Several times he spit up all the water he drank. Eventually, a mechanical sound boomed from the sides of the pool. An automatic cover was creeping in on both sides, to stop the pool from overflowing. Lester would now be trapped beneath it until the early morning. At this time, it was 11:30pm.
“I thought I was going to be trapped there. Forced to deal with myself, my decisions. My reasons.”
“We all did. Shit, we took bets on it. Thinking, ‘Lester’s going to emerge completely embarrassed, soaked, and half naked. Starved, discombobulated, unsure of what is and isn’t. Taken to a facility where he can get help for his issues. In time, he will recover, better his life, and look back on this with joy and laughter. Move forward, even find love again, and marry again. Perhaps own a dog at some point. An appropriate end to a dark tale. But that’s not what happened.”
“No that’s not what happened.”
Right as the cover was about to close over him, a thick bolt of lightning struck through the top of his skull, traversing his entire body, spreading through the pool. The sound was so monstrous that the neighbor opened his patio door. He clicked the button on his remote, removing the pool cover, and discovered Lester’s lightning struck body beneath. He called 911 at 11:35pm; they arrived fifteen minutes later. By midnight, Lester’s body was in the emergency room.
“Yep. That’s the end of it. Wish I had more to show you, but I don’t do well with hospitals.”
“So, am I…dead?”
“Uhhh, yea, probably. I mean you saw the lightning strike, right? You’re either dead or obtained super powers. However, since super powers don’t exist, and even if they did, you’re not really the lucky type so… Long story short. I won my bet.”
“Yea, we do this thing where we try to show humans their inner life, and their end of life. Usually, no one gets Wane’s approach. He swears up and down by it. But I find that humans enjoy seeing their demise played out like a movie. More startling that way. Direct, blunt, straight to the point.”
“Was the bet that I would die?”
“No…of course not. We’re not evil per se. I bet Wane that I could show you your demise, and you would never guess my name. I’d have to be some type of divine entity to do all this. Something that rhymes with rod, or pieces. Or whatever people believe these days.”
“What is your name?”
I just want to thank everyone at The Fictional Café. I was in the anthology, which was not only a huge honor, but a great piece of art. You guys love all my quirky stories, and I love you for it. That’s all. I have three self-published books: God Wants All Of Us, Ashovania’s Demon, and Red Chamber. I’m currently working on the fourth. This is Derrick’s third feature on The Fictional Café. You can read his first two here.