| They thought I was crazy, they always had. I could hear them whispering in the hallowed silence of my lecture halls, hiding in the darkness near the back of the room as if they could hide their ignorance from me. I'd ignored it of course, these petulant children not worth my time. I was there to spoon-feed them knowledge like a wet-nurse and I was paid well for it, let them have their giggles. It had always been like this, ever since I could remember and I imagined it would be like that for the rest of my life, now I can only wish for that date. I'm getting ahead of myself though and I suppose anyone reading this will need the whole story before they can see the truth. You'll excuse me if I seem a little long-winded of course, I don't have much else to do these days and even I'm not sure whether these are the confessions of a sane man, or the ramblings of a lunatic.
I was born with a rare disorder; my parents told me only 1 in 125 million children were born with it and insisted it didn't mean I was broken, only special. My nervous system, the core of a person's being, was malformed from birth; special indeed! Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis is what they called it, a clunky term for a delicate problem that left me without a sense of touch. I never missed it of course; I'd never had it so how could I miss it? I've been told it's fantastic. The feel of the breeze on your skin, a lover's touch, the warmth of a fire on a winter evening; which I'm told are quite cold. Poppycock of course.
I've lived for 54 years and I'd been doing fine without any of that until recently. Because of this I've spent my life focusing on the pleasures of the mind over the body, exploring the world without the distractions of superficial sensations and fleshly pleasures. I would have called it a grand success as well if it hadn't led me to teaching classes in a rather humdrum University. They were lucky to have me of course, god knows someone needed to try and keep semester after semester of overgrown pre-schoolers from dribbling down their chins. There were also the shadows, the reason I'm where I am now and the reason I'm writing this.
I had first seen them, or at least realized they were there, when I was 10. I told no-one of course, but as I grew I began to see them more and more. At the time they had been nothing more than a faint grey haze, like a wisp of smoke wavering in the sun, hovering above the heads of those around me. I'd thought nothing of it at first of course, why would I? I was just a child, though no doubt smarter than most I knew, and was easily distracted by the flights of fancies that capture all children of that age. Soon, I grew used to it, accepting them as a fact of life and allowing them to slip from my conscious perception of the world around me. They were there but I found myself simply disregarding them.
As I said, I was prone to flights of fancy and sometimes ignoring something unbelievable can be just as foolish as acknowledging it. I did not learn this lesson until several weeks ago and it took a tragedy to reveal to me a greater tragedy, though I'm getting ahead of myself and it would be improper to bare my insanity before it is prudent to do so.
I had long aided a colleague of mine with his bevy of eager-faced, slack jawed Chemistry students in their extra-curricular endeavours; a boon of our friendship for him and a veritable curse for me. Still, I did not complain as it gave me ample time away from my own classroom. It had been a Saturday when he'd called them into the lab, insisting they help him with some theorem of his on the effects of something or other; I can't be bothered with the details. No doubt his theories culminated in the invention of some new form of Tupperware, eagerly bought by the masses only to be discarded when it was revealed the new chemical was toxic, as they are generally found to be.
As I recall I had been attending to a recent batch of midterm papers when the problem arose, my irritation at such an interruption still fresh in my mind. One of the students had strayed from the directions of the experiment and with his professor out of the room it had fallen to me to correct him. My knowledge of such things being limited I still hadn’t been able to help but stare at the young man as I made my way to his station. Before him an assortment of beakers had caught my attention, I remember that quite clearly. The student’s explanation however is lost; no doubt some rambling explanation of how God himself had come down to mess up the incompetent young man’s task. That was not the tragedy of course, though some may see it as such; the tragedy itself coming shortly after.
The rest of the day’s work had gone smoothly; the botched concoction the student had been mixing safely moved from the work area for disposal. It was promptly forgotten in the bustle of bodies attempting to make up for lost time, however. It was only as I made to leave, the last to do so, that I noticed it once more. The small beaker had held a rather viscous green fluid within it, in the low light in the laboratory it seemed darker than it no doubt was. It had looked harmless but had I known then what I know now I would have thought it was laughing at me, as if it knew what was to come.
Fatigue perhaps was the final straw in what would become the defining moment of my life, a tired carelessness that had prompted me to forego the need for safety equipment as I'd picked up the beaker. The scent it had given off had been pungent to say the least, a cloying odour that had reminded me of the lingering scent of formaldehyde that was common in the labs of the University; an unfortunate side-effect of using cadavers for study. It sat in its beaker, rivulets of condensation glistening on its surface. What had this young man stumbled upon? Perhaps my mind had already begun to slip, I cannot say why I did it but I had breathed in that odour almost curiously, as if in a masochistic desire to fully comprehend just how bad it had smelled; A poor decision. I had disposed of the chemical mix shortly afterwards but the damage had been done.
It wasn’t until I’d reached my home that I noticed anything was amiss. My wife had prepared dinner; my darling Anita was always making sure I was well fed whether I wanted to be or not, and the aroma which should have filled me as I entered the small Victorian townhome had been missing. The sight of the pot roast which rested on our oak dining table had made the fact I couldn’t smell it all the more alarming. Anita had greeted me with her usual smile but I hadn't returned it, I hadn’t even been able to muster a simple good evening. Even had I greeted her the red blisters that had already begun to form beneath my nose would have silenced her. As she'd stood before me, mouth aghast in horror, I’d realized I couldn’t smell her perfume either; a wonderful scent of flowers that still brings a smile to my tired lips should I bring myself to think of it.
Had hours passed as we stood there? Me, with my red blistered nose and her with her mouth opening and closing, as if she'd been trying to find her voice to ask me what had happened. Looking back now I know it must have been only seconds, but still I wonder. What hadn’t seemed to pass so slowly however was the frantic rush to the hospital that had followed, the poking and prodding from doctors as they tried to determine what had happened, and my wife’s tears glistening on her cheeks as they gave her the results.
My sense of smell was gone, olfactory receptors burned away in a wave of noxious fumes that my existing condition had left me unaware of. I’ve been told it should have burned and that burning should have warned me and now thanks to my… specialness, it was unclear whether the extensive damage would heal. The blisters faded, the skin lost its redness, but the damage to the receptors themselves was substantial. To this day my sense of smell has not returned and I have accepted that it will not. The smells I love live on within my memories, and through them I have not lost that which I love, but only learned to love it more dearly. I save my regrets for where this tragedy led me.
For the first time in years I had begun to notice those shimmers which I had dismissed in my youth. They were as I remembered them, wavering patches of air following a foot or so above and behind each person I saw. Something had changed though; they seemed more tangible, as if they had been clearer to my eyes. They still eluded direct sight, existing on the periphery of my vision no matter how hard I'd tried to focus on seeing them.
My career had begun to suffer by this point. The administration distanced itself from my accident, excusing themselves from any responsibility and making sure I hadn't tried to argue otherwise. My job was still safe of course but I'd still caught the rumours floating through the hallways of the university campus. The fumes had affected me, or so I’d heard; in one case it was said that whatever had destroyed my sense of smell had also begun to rot my mind. These rumours were not helped by what I'd been seeing, either. I told no one, but I still had to keep myself from staring at what seemed to be empty space above the heads of my students. These things, these manifestations of my own uneasy mind, they haunted me. I found it hard to focus on my work; deadlines became secondary to discovering what this phenomenon was. Something about them filled me with a dire dread that demanded I find out whether they were real, so I set myself to discovering their origin. After all, I’d spent my life in and amongst books, forsaking the physical world for that of the literary; save for the love I felt for my wife and daughter, God rest them.
Perhaps it had all been building towards this single task. What had changed though? Why, after all these years, had they decided to re-appear now? That they appeared stronger than before did not escape my notice either. At first I had believed it was simply due to stress, the after-effects of a strained mind suffering through a traumatic change in its functioning. As I write this I can spare you the tired tedium of the processes that eventually led me to the answer, an answer I found in an urban legend. Most have heard of the idea that the loss of a sensory modality can strengthen another and it became clear to me over time that there must be some basis for this. I have found nothing since to debunk this initial theory, in fact, I feel I have verified it through my experiences; a bittersweet victory on my part.
It was around this time that my sense of taste had begun to weaken. The doctors had assured me this was normal for someone that had sustained the damage I had. The effect of my nasal scarring had deadened my ability to taste much beyond bitterness, saltiness, sourness and sweetness itself. The delicate nuances of a finely cooked steak were lost to me save for the most basic of taste sensations. Through this loss the mystery of these aberrations was made clearer to me. They no longer hovered in the periphery of my vision; they had grown bigger, rounder, as if trying to take shape but unable to hold it together. I made out edges of forms in the wavering light that marked them. Other things had begun to change as well.
The sky itself had grown darker, more cyan than blue, as a noticeable tinge of green had crept into the long familiar air around me. Flowers which once passed beneath my notice had begun to creep into it, vibrant colors filled my vision as they lay sprawled out in a carpet of beauty which had seemed to stretch on, as if my mind had been trying to hold onto their beauty for even a second longer. I swear that during this period of transition I even saw several plants that I had never seen before, mingled with the average tulips and flowering shrubs which littered my garden. I would hazard a guess that no man or woman had ever seen those particular flowers before. They were wild things of purple and gold with veins a color that I could spend the rest of my life trying to describe and still fail. Amidst all that beauty the sense of dread still filled my lungs, begging to be released in a scream that once started would assuredly never stop. That wavering light beckoned me, demanding I continue my search for what it was; I'd felt I was closer though. I had lost two of my sensory modalities, I had been born without a third, and with only two remaining I made the decision that the truth was all that mattered.
I do not expect you to understand the need for the truth that I'd felt, a deep-rooted need to understand no matter what the cost. No doubt there are those that would claim to understand it, though what had they ever sacrificed to earn the truth? I'd given up my hearing for my truth. My wife and seventeen year old daughter, Carol, had long since given up on convincing me to slow down my research; though they were never told what that research was meant to uncover. Still, my feelings for them were all that tethered me to reality by then and it was that feeling which had prompted me to spare them from what was to come.
I’d decided that I would finish my journey in private. This decision is how I found myself in my office alone one night, the glow of my table lamp sending shadows playing over the paintings and bookshelves that loomed menacingly from my walls. My stomach had clenched as I held the slim pen that would grant me the last piece of the puzzle I'd needed. The same lack of sensation that had once cost me my sense of smell would now allow me to rob myself of my own hearing. A growing pressure followed by a sudden end to it had marked the end of my tympanic membrane, my eardrum, as the pen’s tip slid into and eventually through it.
The process was repeated and I'd realized I'd not even flinched in its execution. The silence of my office had been replaced with a silence of a different nature. I would do well, I’m sure, to avoid the tired clichés of stating that this was surely the point of no return or that I had crossed the Rubicon, for such clichés are always uttered when their point was wholly obvious to begin with. I will restrict myself to simply saying that the final step had been taken, for surely now I'd earned the right to the truth. I'd stayed in my office for a time, cleaning my neck of the blood which had trickled down it like tears wept for a poor decision made for poor reasons.
It was when I'd left the safety of my office that the curtain went up on the final act of my lurid little adventure. The campus had been deserted of course, midnight long since past as I'd made my way back towards the parking lot. My world had changed once again; the stone grey walls of the old building that housed my office were alight with life. Small creatures of the most spectacular colours had found their way onto them. Their bodies glowed with gentle phosphorescence that seemed to be tinted by the color of their exoskeletons rather than the light itself. They had crawled in silence, their beauty only heightened by my inability to hear them. I’m unsure of how long I stared at them, how long I'd been lost in the palette of colours splayed out before me. When I'd broken myself away from them I'd once more moved towards the parking lot, anxious of what may lay outside the, now, colourful walls of my department.
The night had been ablaze with moonlight, glistening like diamonds from the leaves of the trees which circled the parking lot. I knew then, as I'd looked at the beauty that had been unleashed upon my eyes, that I had achieved what I'd sought. My ears still bled however, and exploration of this new world would do well to wait until I had seen to them. It was when I'd reached the hospital, no easy feat given my eye’s insistence on wandering to the new sights that had passed the car, that I saw the reason I sit here now, writing this.
It had hung above the triage nurse like a bloated, rotten bladder filled with air. Round, or rather bulbous, it seemed to hover above her, though I'd seen no form of propulsion that could have achieved this. Grey mucus covered its body, or what I'd imagined to be its body. It bore the trademarks of a face however, no mouth but a cavity below two more that seemed to resemble a nose. It was its eyes that had struck me though, like two carrion black pits which seethed with their own emptiness. There had been nothing behind them, nothing before them, simply two holes that opened into the dark eternity lurking beyond them. A series of bone-sheathed tubes ran from the balloon-like form of the creature, dropping the foot or so to the nurse’s head before they'd pierced into her body along the stretch of her neck and spine. Despite this somewhat appalling situation, the nurse had looked up from her work and simply smiled at me, her lips moved as she spoke but my ruined ears ignored her. That smile had faded, no doubt due to my inability to tear my eyes from the monstrosity which had floated above her. It was then that I'd realized every single person in the lobby had their own hitchhikers floating above them.
They followed each person, like dogs on leashes, bouncing through the air with that dead look plastered to their damnable mockeries of human faces. I hadn't screamed though, no, I know I didn’t; not until I'd seen the mother carrying her newborn baby. The baby had a creature of its own, tubes spiked into its soft pink flesh, fluids exchanging between the two even as I'd watched. I could not hear it, but I could feel the vibrations of my screams as they ripped from my throat, the lobby’s attention turnied on me seconds before I'd ran from the hospital like a madman. I will not bore you with the trivialities of how I mustered myself to reach my home, suffice it to say I was glad when I'd arrived.
The beauty that had assaulted me on the way from my office to the hospital had been replaced with a tumultuous horror show of shifting colours and hideous life scrolling by around me as I'd moved. This is the state my wife found me in as I'd barrelled through the front door of our home. A sweating man, face red with exertion and mouth open with a gagged scream which had fought to escape me. Her lips had run a mile a minute; I could tell she'd been yelling, the fear on her face no doubt as obvious as the mania on mine. I find it hard to recall much about her besides that look however, my memory of that final fateful night dominated by the repulsive grey mass that hung above her head. What were they? Invaders? Monsters? Parasites? For the first time in my life I’d found myself wondering if my quest for truth was truly worth the risk of finding something unpleasant hiding within it.
You’ll excuse my briefness when I recount what followed; the memories still burn within me yet refrain from consuming me, as if torturing me by forcing me to remain sane enough to hold onto them. Perhaps it was seeing that devil tethered to my wife that drove me to grab the butcher knife, I prefer to believe it was an attempt to save her rather than destroy her, if necessary. Regardless of the intention, the result was the same. I cut the cords and in doing so killed my screaming wife. I hadn't cut her, I know I hadn't, but she died nonetheless. The scream of the creature had been as unheard as my wife’s as she too died while fluids sprayed from the severed tubes. My daughter, Carol, Carol of the golden hair, my little Carol, had raced down the stairs when her mother had screamed. I—well, I did what I felt I'd had to.
They wrote for me later that I must have poisoned them, as surely I was responsible, who else could be responsible? If one finds a man screaming of the most unreasonable eccentricities as he stands over the bodies of his wife and daughter, one does not feel the need to investigate too thoroughly. As I'd read the transcripts of my trial I was informed that it was as if their brains had simply shut off, despite no signs of internal or external trauma; as they said, poison. I knew differently of course, though I'd spoken the truth to no one after it became clear they were simply not listening. Perhaps the creatures tied to them blocked out any ability to believe they were there, perhaps I really was insane.
I was eventually found guilty of their murders, a story that I’ve since learned lit up the media with wild theories on what had driven me to such an act. My colleagues were quick to point out my foibles to greedy interviewers, desperate for a tidbit of gossip that would give them their cover stories. I was sentenced and here I sit, serving that sentence. I was afforded the dignity of avoiding prison, deemed insane and unable to fully appreciate what I had done, if only that were true. So they locked me up in the proverbial padded room and threw away the key. I have spent the last three years of my life here, trying to make sense of what I’d seen, and what I still see.
Sometimes the bugs crawl in between the bars of my window, their rainbow ambiance bringing some light to the world of white walls and grey floors I’d found myself in. It is only during these times that I am able to find peace, however fleeting. It was during one of these times that I believe I stumbled upon the answer. The nature of the creature’s attachment to their hosts, the way my family had died, they became the focal point of my theories on the creatures. These theories were always greeted with the greatest humour from my guards and though they treated me as if I were telling them a work of grand fiction,stories told by a doddering old fool, I still told them if only to speak them aloud without doing so alone in my cell. The creatures, for I still call them such as an attempt to deflect the impact of what I believe I have uncovered, were not parasites. That is to say, they are not attached to us. I write this with the greatest sincerity, the creatures in fact ARE us.
I know the scorn that you must be reading such a statement with, but allow me to explain. Science has long sought to uncover the great divide between the brain and the mind, and I believe I have their answer. The creatures are in fact our mind, they are us and we are them. We assume that because our bodies are the focal point of our existence that they are us. The eyes, you see, it was the eyes that made me realize. These creatures had no senses; they had no connection to the outside world. They existed solely within their own thoughts, creatures of a mental reality that had no knowledge of what lay beyond those thoughts. They used the bodies we believe to be us to see beyond the scope that they were able to see. We, that is, the bodies, are little more than tools for the ‘us’ that those same bodies cannot see. The division between brain and mind has not been solved simply because of science’s inflexibility to the idea that what it doesn’t know may still exist.
Though I have not seen a natural death with my new perception, I surmise that when the body dies the creature simply seeks out a new one. Babies born without a soul are given one through the cruel infection that is our consciousness. Reincarnation, but not as we previously thought. This would change everything; it would destroy everything. That is why they will not listen, they don’t want to face that it may be true; so they locked me away, stamped my hand and declared me insane.
Its been said that writing out ones fears and traumas can help one overcome them, but I fear I in turn have been overcome. These writings are nothing more than a final attempt to vindicate myself and perhaps as a warning to those that would listen. I know they will not listen of course, they will not believe, so my fears about sharing this story remain just that, fears. This journal will be locked away or, God willing, burned, and humanity will continue onwards blindly, blessedly unaware.
I now know the order of our perceived universe and I fear I have come undone in learning it. All that is left to me now is my sight and my memories. I weep over the loss of my family but I know it would have been far crueller to allow them to hear the truths I have uncovered. An author once stated that "We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far" and I know now why he said this, perhaps he knew what I know but perhaps what I know would have destroyed him too. All I know is I have long since stopped questioning my sanity, for I know that whether blessing or curse, insanity can only be found in sanity; and I have so little of that left.
I've scavenged a knife from the mess hall, a present to myself. I intend to finish what I have started. I know that the truth which lives in my head now must remain there. I shall trap it, lock it away in my mind, and pray that in the darkness that is to come it can be forgotten. The world must not know, and I must not be able to teach it. As I look for the last time at the world around me I can't help but smile; the bugs are back. They flicker like candles in that black sea of infinity of which the author spoke, their glowing colours bathing me in their delicate light one last time like a visual symphony that will usher me into darkness.