A tale of unknown worlds between the cracks
Through The Cracks
The first time Rachel Peck fell through the cracks she realized she was in total darkness. Fear gripped her as if it was her only friend, and at that moment it was.
Rachel hated the dark. It was her greatest fear. Pure black. Being blind. She wondered where she was, and how she had gotten there. Then there were these voices and the sound of her thudding heart and strangled breath.
It began as a faraway crowd, thousands raging like an angry, destructive mob. Voices. Definitely voices. Hundreds or even thousands of them. She thought she could hear grief-stricken wails, pleas for help, panicked cries, anguished groans. The voices were creepy--but curiously compelling and mesmerizing.
Behind this whispery muffled roar of the multitude rose a garbled bass voice of something else . . . someone who sounded infinitely strange and demanding. It was a low, wet voice, less than human, spitting out not-quite-decipherable words as if they were wads of phlegm. And it sounded . . . hungry.
She rapidly blinked her eyes against the blackness, and then suddenly fell out of the crack and in the grasp of a full-blown seizure. Her body bounced and squirmed on the floor as if she were plugged into an electrical outlet. Which is where her husband, David, found her, twitching on the linoleum like a dying bug. He tried his best to help her, he cradled her to his chest crying for her to come back to him until she finally stilled. His eyes wept anguish.
At the hospital, the news that came next almost stopped her heart, but such an easy end was not her fate.
As she and David sat in the office of Dr. Mattos after weeks of tests, blood work, and x-rays, she asked, "So, what's wrong with me?"
"Ok, Rachel," the doctor began. "This is what we've discovered. Now I don't want you to be frightened, it's just one-of-those-things."
"One of what things?" she asked.
The doctor sat back and steepled his hands together. "You have a rare, aggressive type of cancer in your brain. It's called pineoblastoma and unfortunately it is very difficult to treat."
"I have cancer in my brain?" Rachel asked. "Like what, a tumor or something?"
"Yes, and the best way I can describe it is that it's very much like a spider located in the center of your brain, in the pineal gland. This gland produces melatonin in your body which plays a big role in your natural sleep-wake cycle. But as the spider's legs extend and reach out, and as its body continues to grow, it could cause painful headaches and subtle changes in the way your eyes move. In the latter stages, you may even go blind."
The news set her ablaze as if her bones were made of kindling, her heart burning down to ash in her chest. Then she asked, "This is going to kill me, isn't it? I'm going to die from a spider growing inside my head. I hate spiders! Now you tell me one has taken up residence in my brain?"
"It's those legs extending out into the other areas that we can't get at," he said. "We could cut and cut and never get it all. It would leave you brain dead."
"How long?" she asked. "How long . . . do I have?"
The doctor sighed heavily. "Let's see, if this is March and we start an aggressive chemo-therapy-plan, you've probably got about a year, but worst case scenario . . . six months."
David jumped out of his chair. "Six months? That's bullshit!" he yelled. The look in his eyes was agony. "There's gotta be something else you can do."
"I'm sorry," the doctor said. "Those are your only options."
As time passed, Rachel walked around as though her life was already at an end. When you're told you have brain cancer, the first thing you want to know is why? Why me? Suddenly she realized she'd never build that cabin in the mountains, and all the things she ever wanted to do were gone. It was over. Dark waited at the window.
All of her routines changed. Since she wasn't sleeping, she started walking her black lab, Alfie, in the middle of the night. Who walks their dog at 2am? But it wasn't for the dog. It was for her. She needed that fresh air to clear her head. Because it wasn't the 'certain death' she was facing, it was the memory of having fallen through the crack; the knowledge that there was this other place that existed hidden inside of this one.
As the days went by, Rachel found herself just staring off into space. As always, her left eye pounded. She shut it and rubbed it hard with her palm then opened it again. For a moment she thought she could still see the crack, or a kind of afterimage of it. But the image didn't last and her left eye was streaming tears. She didn't know what she was looking at anymore. When her vision cleared again she'd say, "A chair. That's just a chair." Turning her head, she began to identify other things in the room, as if without her giving them a form and a name, they wouldn't exist.
Fighting her throbbing headache, she'd relax her eyes, staring at nothing in particular, until it blurred and became nonexistent. She would do this for long periods of time, because she was bored, and also because she was upset with how unfair it all was. Eventually her eyes would quiver from the strain, and when she closed them they still wiggled as if they had a life of their own. She couldn't make them stop. She knew she was losing her eyesight; the spider was winning. She was going blind.
It was on just such a day, as her eyesight failed, that she caught another glimpse of what was between the cracks.
Rachel didn't sleep, and lack of sleep can make you hallucinate. Her eyes would shudder and twitch, keep her awake. As she lay awake in bed, she saw the crack in the ceiling. Her eyes instinctively followed it. The more she stared at it, the longer it became, and the wider it grew. Eventually the entire ceiling opened up like a lady's pretty, little handbag and sucked her inside.
She landed in a meadow of brilliant green, in fact the entire world was a carnival of colors. The air was fresh and filled with the smell of rich earth and flowers. Insects made a buzzing noise off in the high brush. At the edge of her vision, Rachel saw flashes of light, glimmers of brightness out in the trees. It shined. It glistened as if someone were holding a kaleidoscope in front of the sun.
This crack was completely different from her first episode. Here there was what Rachel could only assume was a piece of heaven. Her headache was gone too, her vision crisp and clear. In the distance she saw a cabin of black and brown, green and shadowy in the last light of the afternoon. She stood on unsure legs, and then smiling, started walking toward it. With each footfall, she felt more sure that her surroundings were real.
She hadn't walked far when she felt her eyes blinking again. The wind whipped all around her but she couldn't catch her breath, and then 'BAM' she was back home. She was standing in the kitchen looking up at the light. Her left eye fluttered and the light hurt to look at it dead-on.
"Rachel!" yelled David. "Are you all right?" He rushed to her side and grabbed her by the arm. "Babe, what's happening? You were looking a little wobbly there for a moment. Can you walk?"
"I'm fine," she told him. "I'm just going to lie down for a minute." She didn't mean to lie down right there, but her legs collapsed and she hit the floor in a full blown seizure. This time, she flopped around like a bird with one wing nailed to a board.
When she awoke her mouth was so dry that her tongue had stuck to her palate. Her frantic heart hammered hard and then her vision blurred at the edges with each beat. She felt as though she were having a stroke. Maybe a blood vessel had popped in her brain. Or maybe her cancerous tumor had grown to that critical stage at which it was exerting disabling pressure on her brain. She was hearing things -- auditory hallucinations -- something. That was the only creditable explanation.
She was back in the dark place.
In her peripheral vision lay only a gloom so perfect that it seemed to be an abyss, vast and perhaps bottomless, into which light could not penetrate. In the icy silence of this tomb, Rachel stood motionless, deaf now even to the pounding in her chest, as if her heart were suddenly dry of blood. This was the quiet at the limit of the world, where no air existed to be breathed, where time ended. It was the most terrible thing she had ever experienced--until she heard a more alarming sound, that of something approaching from the blackness beyond her sight.
Ticking, scraping, muffled rustling: This was either the blind but persistent questing of something large and strange beyond the power of her imagination . . . or a hoard of smaller, mysterious creatures like an eager swarm. Either way, she had to move. A shrill keening, almost electronic in nature yet unmistakably a voice, quivered through the blackness, a cry that might have been of hunger or desire, or blood-letting frenzy, but certainly a cry of a most urgent need. She could see nothing and backing away from the sounds was all she could think to do. Whatever approached, it wasn't friendly.
Something lightly touched her hand, prodding, probing. She started to blink, tried to blink it away.
She was back in bed.
Her head was swirling. Slowly edging her way out of the bed, she found herself staring into the bathroom mirror.
The mirror revealed a person she hardly recognized: a haggard, bloodless, sunken-eyed fright. Her face was lunar in its paleness, except for the hollows of her eyes, which were bruise-colored. Then the longer she stared, her face began to change. Black, poisoned veins crawled beneath her skin, as if her arteries were filled with ink, not blood. Then her face was a tattered skull with rotting skin stretched over bone, and burning red eyes. A disgusting cluster of maggots clung to her left cheek and to the corner of her left eye, feeding off her.
Her body was covered in a film of perspiration, her mouth dry and sour.
Then she was back in the meadow, walking toward the cabin.
Then back in the dark place, fleeing for her life from a multitude of spiders.
Then back home again, dying of cancer.
Realities flashed around her in a blink of an eye.
When she entered the meadow again, everything just stopped.
She was still walking and had almost reached the cabin on the hill. Home, she thought, this definitely feels like home. Home at last.
Alfie came running toward her, tongue wagging, barking wildly. She dropped to one knee to greet him, and he nearly bowled her over. David walked out of the front door with two bottles of cold beer. "Hey there, Rach, how was your walk?"
She smiled up at him, reaching for her beer, and then she blinked.