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Cracked

            It was a strange light coming from the closet.

            All she could do was pull back the covers and slip out of bed. Marla stepped on a square thing. Her books lay strewn on the floor. She kicked them aside, and for a moment thought herself very brave.

            She reached the closet door well before morning.

            Turning the handle wasn’t the problem. It was the darkness inside that bothered her. “Damn,” she said. It was a very bad word in her language, and she seldom used it. Flipping on the light, she found that everything was normal.        The closet held her clothes, practical wear for the climate of the world, as well as a few frills for those who liked her. There were so many of those, the ones who liked her, that she seldom knew what to do about all the attention…

            “What’s this?”

            There was a small cylinder on the floor. It was a roll of film. Ever since she had opened her drapes that afternoon and seen Mr. Evers being treated in that awful manner… Ever since that moment, nothing had gone very well for her. Her throat still hurt from screaming. A small roll of film was little consolation.

            She stepped around the books. In her dreams, she often thought about burning them.

            The sun was bright. She always put strawberry powder in her cornflakes to turn the milk pink. On the radio, a man reminded her of a broken fish bowl, all elongated and perfectly whole in its ugliness, but really very useless after it was broken. She lived in a sort of fish bowl, too, but it never bothered her. The only thing that really bothered her was what had happened to Mr. Evers.

            When she opened the drapes, memories stirred. There was a spot on the sidewalk that

glared back at her. She felt like apologizing, to Mr. Evers himself if only she could. Instead, she turned her attention to the roll of film. “What are you doing here?” she asked. Opening the grey cap showed her an intact spindle. There was a small brand label off to one side, the likes of which she had never seen. “You’re an old one, aren’t you?”

            Marla went to the closet. The house was old, over sixty years or so. A lot of the boards were cracked and things were sometimes not as strong as they should have been. Sometimes…

            “Sometimes…”

            She ran her hand over the top of the closet. There was a small gap in the boards, and fresh wood spears. Why the roll had chosen to fall now, Marla did not know. All she knew was that someone had chosen to hide a roll of film up there, and that she was now the rightful owner.

*****

            It was universally true that a Saturday walk to the mall was enchanting in any season. Marla whistled. Inside the mall, she noticed, people were bent on buying things no matter what the circumstance.  Occasionally, she would latch on to the hems of a family for a minute or two, just to see where they were going. But there were other things to see, too. A fountain roared up in the centre of the atrium, diverting her attention for the better part of an hour. A few kids tried to steal coins from the water, but stopped when she looked at them.

            When she walked by the photo shop, she paused.

            “Yes? How can I help?” asked a lady.

            “It’s all digital, isn’t it? It’s all gone that way, hasn’t it?”

            “I’m afraid so, but it’s not a bad thing.”

            “I have a roll of film,” confessed Marla.

            The lady had pink hair. Glasses sat on the edge of her nose. “We don’t get many of those anymore. But we get some. We’re one of the few that still has a lab.”

            When Marla tried to explain just how old the film might be, the lady smiled. “It’s okay, we’ll take care of it. No problem at all. We deal with these things all the time.” She tagged the roll and dropped it in a bin. “In one hour, come on back.”

            “Thanks,” said Marla. The lady was already talking to the next customer. Marla found herself on the main concourse, looking for ice cream.

            Luscious vanilla swirl was her favourite. In that way, she ate up half an hour. For the rest of the time, she shopped for books. Not text books, but real books. When Marla walked back to the photo shop, she was chewing on her hair, wondering why older married men would risk the wrath of their wives by looking at her.

            The photo shop lady didn’t say much when she handed over the package. On the way home, Marla tried to walk at a reasonable pace. At the apartment, she slumped on the couch.

            The pictures were black and white.

            On the first one, all she could see was a wall. At first, it looked very plain. But as she looked closer, she could see a crack in it, almost from top to bottom.

            The second picture was the same, only the crack was bigger. Marla began to shuffle through the photographs. In each picture, the crack was wider. She could almost smell what was coming through. Somehow, the crack didn’t break in the proper way, almost as though it were the grin on something horribly tilted. They weren’t exactly teeth at the edges, but they were close. Marla slowed down as she went through the last of the photos. Her heart was beating alongside the sick sensation in her stomach that usually came from having eaten too much sugar.

            She slid to the last few photos. The crack in the wall couldn’t have been more than three inches apart, but she could feel the vileness coming out of it. Eventually, she began to see a stirring in the darkness back there. Wasn’t there always something bright on the other side of a wall? She had learned that in a text book, one she had burned long ago. When she got to the last photograph, it was the afternoon, and she froze at what was happening in the gloom within that crack. The smell was unfathomable.

            Then the screaming started outside. She jumped from the couch and ran to the patio, the last picture still in her hand. The drapes flew open – she was on the balcony, watching a figure on the sidewalk below her. There, Mr. Evers was melting.

            People started to flock around him. Some wore the white smocks of doctors, others the nondescript clothes of people who wanted to be nondescript. But they were all talking to him, holding his arms. Three vans pulled up to the sidewalk as a ruckus started to build from the apartments and houses along the street.

            “Mr. Evers!” screamed Marla. “Mr. Evers, over here!” She didn’t know what else to do or say. She didn’t understand. She couldn’t understand.

            Mr. Evers was hoisted onto a stretcher and was suddenly in the back of one of the vans. There was still something left of him, enough to be a pair of arms. Marla could tell, because those arms were upright and rigid during the last few moments that she could see him.

            Then the people jumped into the vans and vanished down the street. They had left some tire marks on the pavement, nothing more. Mr. Evers was gone. In the spot where he had started to melt, there was a small glare of red with black fingers running through it.

            Marla went inside crying. She put the photographs together, and burned them in the sink. The smell of chemical was in the air to stay. She didn’t know what to do about it. She just didn’t.

            She cried for three hours, then tried to study. To take her mind off poor Mr. Evers. She spread her books on the table, started to read. But the connections were fuzzy, and by the evening, the floor and desk were littered again.

            She went to bed. She had to go to bed. There was nothing left to think about. There just wasn’t.

            She was disturbed, finally, by a feeling that rested uneasily on her black hair. She woke slowly, opened her eyes, wanted badly to close them again. Kept remembering all those things she had seen, the pain that she didn’t like to remember. It was dark, and she was in the gloaming, caught between two slips of wall. As she stared hard, she saw something coming from the corner of the room, a light from the back places that she never travelled. It came from her closet, and with it were hands reaching, tendrils that slipped out to take understanding away. She pulled her covers close. The grin in the crack stretched, wider and wider – it stretched, and then it grew, telling her to come closer, whispering that something was waiting for her in that blackness, something she had to find. In time, it said, it would explain – it would explain everything. All she had to do now was sleep, and then wake to a strange light spilling from the closet.

57 thoughts on “Feedback

  1. And this will be the reason I don’t sleep well tonight. So…. thanks for that?

    Though, in my youth, closets were never as terrifying as mirrors. Perhaps because my closet at home never had a door on it. Perhaps because I knew the ghost who walked our hallway had no use of a closet anyway.

    Well done, as always.

  2. Terrifying and sweet and wonderful, Lewin. You startle me, with your sudden posts. I love them.

    This one, in particular, how the prose and the perspective and the out loud speaking moved back and forth. I could hear the narrator, and then I could hear Marla — well done.

    Gave me shivers of just the right kind.

    • “startle … with your sudden posts. I love them”

      Couldn’t agree more. Just when I begin to wonder when I’ll see another Lewin masterpiece … there it is.

    • I think that’s my favorite part, Jones. Playing with perspective. Her talking to herself and then us, and then someone else talking to us. Sometimes I think I’m clever (I’m not, not really at all, but I like to think so at times). Glad you got some shivers, cause shivers – they are fun.

  3. Have you been playing video games with monsters in them recently?! Talk about the monster in the closet! Lots of unanswered questions added to the suspense and intrigue in this one. You made melting sound like it was just a “thing” in the world you created. Marla seemed like a clairvoyant of some kind to me and quite tortured.
    I liked your line about going to the mall and the ice cream flavor… nice touches of levity!
    Guess this would be considered sci-fi horror, correct? If you were going for unsettling, you succeeded!

    • I dunno, is sci-fi horror a thing? I just wanted to write about a bit of a feckless girl, and this is what came out. Think I probably was going for unsettling, so if I got there – excellent. And thanks Kelly.

  4. Twilight Zone of the 4th kind! I found my brain stacking those photos and flipping them really fast (like we did with drawings eons ago to make a moving picture) and that crack scared the shite outta me!! Well done NB…this one has teeth!

  5. OK. This was possibly 10 million times scarier because my maiden name is Evers. (Long E like Eve, not like ever). I’m going to call and make sure my brothers haven’t melted now. Thanks for the warning.

  6. The hairs are standing up on the back of my neck. I’m pretty sure I will be one of the ones not sleeping tonight and there is no way I am going near a closet. You are a very dark man sometimes, My Friend. And for the record , I love it!

    • I may attack mine, actually, but more with a view towards purging them of accumulated detritus. I may also catch a nap in one when the opportunity presents itself.

  7. Yes, the snatches of the untangible are good literary hook Trent. To wake up to the strange light reminds me of either post apocalyptic imagery or, revelation of the psyche. In this case either, the protagonist’s or perhaps yours Trent. Either way intriguing & unsettling.

    • I confess to nothing as complicated as a psyche, Talia. But my characters sometimes have a liveliness to them that defies my ability to control. They almost seem more human than I do, at times. I wonder what that says about them? Or me?

  8. Probably one of the scariest questions for a writer is “where do your stories come from?” I know that it’s a question that I find impossible to answer. And it’s rarely a question I want answered by another writer. But, you … you, sir, write stories that just cry out for me to sit down with you and say “how” and “where” and I’ll never do that because I know how hard those questions are to answer. But I so wish I could sit with you and have a couple of beers and talk about where stories come from. I think it may just be the conversation to end all conversations and I would start with this story.

    I would love to know your process (and that assumes there is a process — and I think that’s why the question is so scary for writers because the reality for a lot of us, I think, is that there is no process. it’s just one of those things that happen, you know) … so, lacking a process, I’d love to know the how of a story like this. How did you see those things that happened in the mall, for example, and then write them so poetically … and … well, there is so much in this one story that I want to know the “why” about.

    Just very well done, sir.

    • Such a good question, and as you know, without an answer. I’d love to have this discussion with you, Mark – I think we could talk for a very long time on the subject. But in short, I think it is a scary topic, especially when you ply your craft by putting yourself in the place of characters who don’t exist. It’s scary to think that there might be a limit to what you can do.

      Tell you what – I’ll cool the beer. You come on over. We’ll talk, and maybe we’ll figure something out, but if we don’t, that’s okay too.

  9. Oh, and I meant to add, if I were to show up on your doorstep, maybe around Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, you wouldn’t think I was a stalker, would you? I’d buy you a beer, or two, or however many it took to convince you otherwise.

  10. I can’t be afraid of this even though fingertips danced through the hairs on my neck. This reminds me of a “dream” I could have. The darkness with the tendrils and the grin…and the closet with beckoning light…I love the little humanizing things like the strawberry powder that turns cereal pink.

  11. Well now,where do we start? Excellent writing Trent – felt like I was watching the damn crack widen and smelling the foul odor. But that’s what you do, you write well. Definite shades of Stephen King’s early writing (pre Gunslinger) like IT and Pet Sematary. I used to truck through the black forests close to Bangor, Maine, when King was writing IT and I can recall visions of the black slatted spaceship appearing in the dead of night. Whoooo.

    What you are writing is non-rational Trent – and believe it or not that is a compliment, especially when directed at an engineer. Some of humanity’s great literature has been non-rational : Alice in Wonderland, Greek Mythology, Life of Pi, etc. As an engineer, your life and value and social standing and wealth and safety and security and power and ego are all built on rational logic – using rational thought and logic to make money to buy what your family needs. It is rare to see a person so solidly embedded in rational thought produce such a non-rational gem as you have in this story.

    You see rational thought is to humanity as Newtonian Physics is to the space/time continuum. That said we all know that Newtonian Physics depends on Euclidean geometry as one of its pillars of support. Now Euclidean geometry is based on some assumptions like : “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” These assumptions have never been proven and in an attempt to do so circa 1813 a French Mathematician tried assuming that the assumptions were NOT true – and he came up with non-Euclidean Geometry which was internally consistent but apparently useless. The math was abandoned for many years until the 1900’s when a smart physicist realized that this math exactly described a brand new type of physics – Quantum Mechanics. And Quantum mechanics described the interactions of sub-atomic particles where, in fact the shortest distance is NOT a straight line but rather an apparent journey through an alternate universe.

    It turns out that quantum mechanics is to the space/time continuum as non-rational thought is to describing humanity. And that rational thought is built solidly on top of non-rational thought without any commonality between the two. A mind bending and obscure perspective that we live every day. And yet we intuitively understand that and, in a way, crave it. One of the major differences between rational and non-rational thought is the same as the difference between Newtonian physics and Quantum physics – rational thought and logic assumes that every thing and every situation has a precursor and the current state of the universe is a direct result of forces acting on those precursors, Non-rational thought and quantum physics assumes that all possible outcomes already exist in some way and that we choose an outcome which then becomes reality when it is actualized.

    The use of these two concepts in say a story, then boils down to the fact that rational assumes that all factors acting are known (for instance a Sherlock Holmes mystery where the characters struggle to know all the facts)- or the outcome is not predictable. The non-rational assumes that there are an infinite number of possibilities any one of which can be chosen to be actualized. So rational is what I call convergent thinking and non-rational is divergent thinking.

    This story is a delicious example of non-rational, quantum, divergent thinking. The horror is in knowing that nothing currently exists that matches the observed action and that no precursors exist. It is non-rational and we believe it and it scares us. As did King’s stories. Nicely done Trent and as an aside, God is non-rational. 😀

    • Paul, I think I have to ask permission to use this comment as a post – I think it’s more thoughtful than most anything I’ve ever posted on this blog as a whole. Which makes complete sense, as you are an exceptionally thoughtful soul.

      I’ve never heard the parallel between non-rational thought and quantum physics. In reality, I’m more scientist than engineer, so I appreciate the theoretical nature of that comment – and I’ve never felt the least bit rational while writing. Doesn’t bother me, in fact it feels wonderful. I wonder if in a world of rules (both natural and human-made), if the ability to subvert them (ie. to jump across space via that other dimension), we find a certain kind of truth – an alternate truth, or a world where that we glimpse for a moment where everything does make sense even if it couldn’t exist here. No less real, really, if perhaps a little more temporal.

      I’ve never really read Stephen King, other than The Stand (which I liked), but I think his strength in that book was making the absurd and incredulous utterly real. I think that is his trick, that’s it’s less about the absurd than it is about the perception his very believable characters have of that absurdity- how they react perhaps as we would, and it becomes about their reactions and perceptions more than it does the fantastic. Because we are all faced with the fantastic at times, and how we respond is so very interesting.

      As for God being non-rational, is it God that is non-rational or the belief in God? The belief even in my stories (via the conviction to write such nonsense) is non-rational, too, and for a fleeting moment while being created, no less real than the solution to a differential equation. Let’s say it’s there but not-there. As Mark notes in this comment thread, the question is where do these things come from, how does the idea originate? Well, it’s always been there, and sometimes it comes out, occupying a place of being and non-being at the same time, just as those pesky subatomic particles from which we are made. Maybe God is like that too, a universe-sized collection of subatomic particles that occasionally coalesces into a livable planet, and then organic life, and then human beings who write stories that come from essentially no where (while being utterly right there, especially during the moment) that we debate and try to understand. Maybe this is the point. Maybe this is God’s intention.

      • I agree, although I am not sure about differential equations – for they truly have a physical meaning: a perspective of reality that requires a bit of mind-bending but are very real. For instance they are the underpinings of an MRI output which gives a presentation of reality that matches reality so well that the imaging can be used to create 3-D perspectives. That is but a trivial note on your comment – all the rest I am in 100% agreement. Much as the physical universe is built with Newtonian physics supported by Quantum mechanics even though there are no shared principles,so too human existence seems to be rational logic supported by the non-rational and we are all both. I don’t get much into pop psych except tangentially, but this seems to suggest to me that the essence of our individuality is not a function of our intellect or even our faith but rather of some external combination of both. The Talmud (the Jewish collection of wisdom) says (to paraphrase) that when there are two equally valid but contradictory perspectives, then there is always a third overlaying umbrella concept under which both can co-exist. This seems to work for physics as well as human behavior and even foreign policy. Therein, I suspect, lies your truth Trent that is accessed when jumping from one to another – the implication that both are real and valuable and exist under the protection of a third truth.

        As far as the belief in God goes, when you think of non-rational existence wherein all possibilities exist simultaneously, that really is faith. In other words if you can accept Quantum mechanics then you have faith – by definition. perhaps not the capital “F” faith, but none the less faith. And, as weird as this sounds,I think we humans have the capability of “feeling” unactualized realities or non-rational possibilities under certain circumstances. It is not something we do consciously but rather “intuitively”.

        Anyway, thank you so much for your compliments on the comment Trent. I would be honored if you wished to publish this (or any edited version of this) as a post. I’ll be in your neighborhood around the end of May if you want to send me your phone number at paulccurran@hotmail.com I’d love to have a coffee with you on the way through if you are available.

  12. Trent, is this to celebrate spring cleaning? Ooh, now I’m going to just skip it. This definitely is eerie. Poor Mr Evers. She will have to live with that one forever. You inspire, Trent. Where have I been?! You’re on a roll. Are you drinking some magical potion? Can I have some?

    • Yeah I don’t know, possibly some magic potion of some kind… feels like a good one. Goes down easy. I got a bunch of ideas and words floating around, going to try to expel them in the next few weeks. Some are pretty cool, I hope.

      Thanks for the comments – figured you’d like an eerie one, you seem to do that genre very well.

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