2,1 - Bradley ledler
out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out let me out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out out.
Can’t remember. I can’t remember anything. I don’t know where I am.
Bound. Arms bound. Legs. I’ve been tied down. Who did this to me. I’ll kill them. I’ll kill them.
Don’t know who they are.
How did this happen to me.
Am I in a hotel room. Then who would have tied me down.
Am I in a prison cell. Then why is there no sound.
Am I in a hospital. Why is it dark like I’m deep underground.
The moment I get free I’ll kill them all.
There is a scrape, a heave. Opening of a heavy door. A tube of light clicks on above me. Buzzing whine that stops and starts.
Slowly, someone pushes the door closed.
Then a girl’s voice, sing-song sweet. I think I know the voice but I can’t remember.
“Told you we’d be seeing each other soon,” she says. “I really don’t think you believed me.”
Her name is Elle.
She comes into the room to sit with me, to be with me. Opens the door, closes it. She talks about the outside world. Her words become my thoughts, swimming in the murk, in the depths. She talks about Disneyland. She talks about Ding Dong cakes. She says that she loves to dance and then she pirouettes like a ballerina underneath the on-off-on of the one fluorescent light. Elle is very young, twelve or thirteen years old. There are two blue streaks in her short dark hair.
Each new thing she tells me about the world outside this room is something I despise.
I believe that many days have passed. Not once has Elle said my name to me. She doesn’t know my name. I don’t either.
Elle is not alone. There are more of them. Sometimes, when she opens the door to come into the room, I see the others walking past in a hallway, I see their shoes. Later, alone in the dark, I hear their voices, far away, above, in other rooms.
This room, my room, square, empty. I lift my head. A bare concrete floor with a drain. Dead wiring trailing out of naked concrete walls. I’m tied down to a cot, a bare metal frame. Smells like rust. There is no mattress.
When Elle is gone there is nothing.
I can’t speak.
There is a wall. Inside of my head my thoughts are multiplying and I know that it is me, I know that I am the one who is ordering them, setting them in a pattern so that they make sense—yet when I try to remember, when I search for who I am, everything is extinguished.
And I can’t speak.
“You will,” Elle says. “You’ll find your voice soon—I know you will. We took you out from where you were but that’s just the start. It takes time to get back all the things that were eaten away, and you might not get everything back. I’ll tell you what though—you weren’t down there that long. We were ready for you. We knew you were coming. Sometimes,” she says, “when we take someone out from that place, nothing goes right. It can be very bad. It can be horrible.”
She washes me with a sponge. I don’t think I’m wearing any clothes. How is it that I don’t feel cold.
Up and down my chest, Elle pushes the orange sponge. Cold water sluices out of it.
When the sponge is dry she lifts it away from me. She brings it up, then back, then presses it against the side of her face. Nuzzles it. The light in the room goes off. On. Off-on. There is water, running water, a thin sheet of constant water that trickles down her face. It streams from her chin to the floor where it swirls in a slow spiral down to the drain. Clear, cold water. There is no source of it, in the room, no faucet or hose. It soaks through her shirt, her hoodie. It runs down her arms and drips from her fingers.
She soaks the sponge in the water that flows from her body.
She moves the sponge across my skin, up and down. Up and down.
The first thing I remember about myself is a girl.
Not Elle. Someone else. Older than Elle, a young woman. Long blond hair. A sharp-featured face, severe and beautiful. I can see her clearly, especially when I’m alone in the room. What I’ve received, this image of her, it’s bright inside the darkness.
I know that she is a part of me, this beautiful girl. She is the only part of me that I have. She is the heart of who I am as who I am returns.
There is a place. It’s part of what I see when I see her. A garden, at night, there are lanterns. Golf-course close-clipped grass that smells dark green. The girl is wearing a strange straight dress, all one piece, fit to her form, showing too much thigh.
She falls. She faints. A man catches her, eases her down onto a low stone bench.
Am I the man. Is her body in my hands as I lay her down, shift her by the ankles so that one leg lies next to the other. Do I fold her arms in an x across her body, underneath her breasts.
If I’m not the man. Can I move up silently behind him. Snap his neck. As he turns to dust can I take his place.
The girl wakes up. She rises. Stands above me.
I kneel. I press my face into the grass.
I kiss her feet.
A man comes into the room with Elle. A large man, wearing a stained white T-shirt that doesn’t hold the weight of fat that overhangs his jeans. The skin of his stomach, bulging between his shirt and his belt, is a color of gray like an uncooked strip of spoiled bacon.
They stand at the side of the cot and look down at me. I don’t know what it is that they think they see.
Then he reaches down with a knife.
It flickers in me. Like a reflection. The blade of the knife like a piece of light, the shimmering shape of a fish that darts through water, the brightness of a lure for a fish.
The man cuts the straps that hold me down. He takes them all with him when he goes.
“Thanks for that, Otto,” Elle says.
My intention is to rise from the cot and put my hands around Elle’s neck and choke her until she dies.
But I can’t move. Even a little. I think that maybe I am paralyzed.
Elle crawls into the cot with me. I’m lying on my back in the cot but there’s just enough room for her to slide in beside me, her arm across my chest, her right leg on top of my leg.
“You’re cold,” she says. “Cold cold cold. It’s very nice.”
She is quiet. Still. Asleep, maybe. But then, after some time, suddenly she says, “Have you had your first memory yet? I hope you have. Or if not, I hope you have it soon.
“It’s wonderful. Do you know what it feels like? It’s like when you were little and it was your birthday. Your mom and dad told you to blow out all the candles on the birthday cake and you blew and blew, your eyes were squeezed shut from blowing so hard, and finally you sat right back, out of breath completely, so out of breath you almost fainted, you could have suffocated from blowing that hard, and you opened your eyes and there it was, one candle, still one candle that you couldn’t blow out. You adored it. That candle. You were happy that it wouldn’t go out. You were supposed to make a wish but you never made wishes and you knew that a candle that wouldn’t go out was better than a wish.
“Because that candle was a boyfriend. That candle meant you were loved.”
Another memory. A badge; a gun. Casefiles in the out tray. My partner is a woman. She’s new to the force and we’ve only been partners a few days. The last one, my best friend, was killed in the line of duty. Last season. I don’t like that m y new partner’s a woman. I don’t like that I have to have a new partner at all. But the Chief makes the rules.
My new partner looks familiar. Her long blond hair is incredible. She’s way too young to be a cop. You must have been fast-tracked through the Academy, I tell her.
I have abilities, she says.
Like what exactly, I say.
I read minds, she says.
So what am I thinking, I say.
She says, You’re worried I’m going to find out that you have a tiny… revolver.
Gotta give her marks for moxie.
Turns out her abilities are extraordinary. In episode two of the new season she saves my life. A possession demon exits its host and fixes on me. It’s a battle of wills and I’m losing. Then she’s there, in my head, adding her strength to mine. Together we force the demon to assume its Unmasked Form, a honey-colored light that pours out into the air. I raise the Ancient Ankh and speak the Aramaic words. The demon is obliterated.
I turn to her. She’s weakened from the fight.
Welcome to Midnight Division, I say.
Fast forward several episodes. We fall in love. It’s inevitable.
An intense and difficult case. She had used her abilities to their max and it’s stretched her to the point of exhaustion. I’m walking her up the sidewalk to her apartment from the squad car. She stumbles and starts to fall. I catch her.
We are in a garden. I lay her down on a cold stone bench.
I don’t know your name, I say to her. You’re inside of me, I say. You’re a part of me, forever, but I don’t even know your name.
She tells me her name.
I’m sitting up. Don’t know when that happened.
First I was tied down, then untied I lay on the cot, now I’m sitting and I can see the shapes of my hands in front of my face, even in the thickness of the darkness. My hands look strange without black gloves on. Is that a memory.
Elle comes towards me. I didn’t know she was here. She takes my face in her hands. She kisses me on the mouth. Her lips are cracked, dry.
“You’re doing great,” she says. “Everyone here is excited.”
I open my mouth. “Can I—can I leave?” I say.
“Wow,” she laughs, “you just made the creepiest sound I’ve ever heard. It was like the Devil was speaking out of you.” Her expression changes. “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything.” She snuggles against my side. “I hurt your feelings and I feel terrible. You’ll be able to speak clearly soon. And then you’ll have your meeting with Dad. Don’t worry about a thing. It’s all going so well. You’re already my favorite.”
I remember being in the woods. I remember the feeling of darkness falling. What was I doing there. I was waiting. A piece of a broken mirror in my hand. Waiting for a miracle to breach the surface.
There was a hunger. Not of the body. A yearning for perfection. Completion. That was it. How much of my life was weakness and sin and mess. How much of who I am was a tar-black smear. Only a desperate act would exalt me. Only a purification.
Then an eclipse. An embrace. Blond hair like a curtain falling across my eyes. The girl’s slim, smooth fingers caressing my face. Her slender body pressed against me.
I remember driving the streets of the city. My camera, telephoto lens. Women and girls, captured in my photographs. I was looking for something but when I printed the pictures and put them on the wall of my apartment the thing that I was looking for was no longer there, it was spoiled. It was destroyed by exposure. I was looking for a girl who couldn't be spoiled.
And I thought I found her, didn’t I. I followed her from the city to a town on a hillside. I can’t remember. This girl, she wasn’t what I thought she was, but she led me to the woods. She led me to my future.
To that moment. To her. The blond girl. Her legs wrapped around me. Her fingers sinking down through the bone. Fingertips into my head.
I belong to her now.
She claimed me.
Wasn’t that what I was looking for. Wasn’t that what I never found in my life, before her. Wasn’t it the source of all my anger, that I had never been chosen.
I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter.
Our union is everything now.
I belong to her.
“Call me Dad,” he says. “Well in fact my name’s Renner, but everyone just calls me Dad. On account of the fact that I take care of all of us. Or maybe it’s because I’m old.”
When he came into the room he brought a chair and he occupies that chair where he left it, just inside the closed door, facing the cot. He has long hair, a hippie’s surfer mane that hangs down to his shoulders. I thought it was blond but I see now that it’s gray-white. He wears a dark blue jumpsuit, the letter “E” embroidered on the chest.
“Where… where am I?” is the first question I ask. I’m sitting up in the cot, my back to the bare concrete wall.
He grins. I would guess that he must be in his 60s; when he grins like that he looks just like a little boy. “Elle is right,” he says, “you’ve come a long way in a short time. It’s impressive.”
“What happened… to me?”
Dad gestures to the room, to the hallway behind the closed door. To himself. “You’re in the Circle.”
“The Circle,” I say like an echo.
He gets up from the chair, turns around, drags the chair across the floor. Closer. He sits back down.
“You died,” he says. “You were dead and we brought you back.” He grins again. “I’m sure you think I’m full of shit. But what I’m telling you is the truth, so it’s best if you listen.” He waits. “Are you listening?”
“Good. That’s good. Here it is, then.
“Life, death. They’re not so disconnected as you think. Sometimes it can be like flicking a switch.
“Life. Death. Life. On, off, on.
“You’re returning. But you’re not the same. Dying takes something from you, always. Of course it does. Some part of you has been devoured. We can’t change that. Often, when someone returns, there’s very little left of what they were. It’s never the same. I think Elle’s told you that you weren’t gone long, which helps us. To be honest I can’t remember seeing someone return so completely, as quickly as you have. It has something to do with strength of will. A desire to come back into the world. Not everyone has that. I don’t know much about you yet, so I don’t know what it is for you. Maybe you left someone behind. Maybe there’s work you left unfinished. Whatever it is, your will to return is strong.
“But I’m going to say this again. You’re not going to be the same as when you were alive, before.”
I interrupt him. “I know who I am. I’m the same. My mind is the same.”
“Is it?” he answers. “You have all of your memories back? Is that what you’re telling me?”
“That’s right. No. You don’t remember much. Maybe you will, in time. Maybe you won’t get much of that back at all.” He leans forward. “And I’m not just talking about memories. There will be other changes. You’re going to have… appetites… that weren’t there before. We’ll help you with those. But we have to take it slow. That’s why you’re here, down in the 101 Wing sub-basement. For safety. When you’re ready, you’ll come upstairs and meet the rest of the Circle, and you’ll join us in the work we do for the people.” Suddenly he slaps the palms of his hands onto his knees. “And that’s that.”
“That’s that,” I echo.
“So.” He grins. “Any questions?”
“Why is one of my memories a TV show.”
“I don’t know the name of it.”
“Another time you can tell me about it and we’ll find out what it is. You must have really been into that show, before.”
“What does the letter ‘E’ stand for on your jumpsuit.”
He reaches up and touches the “E” on his chest. Then he says, “This jumpsuit isn’t mine.”
“I don’t feel anything. I’m not cold. I haven’t eaten anything since I woke up and I’m not hungry. I haven’t had to urinate, or defecate.”
He laughs. “No piss or shit, huh?”
“How can that be possible.”
He throws his hands up into the air. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens. Every time we do this, it’s different.”
“Why are you doing this. What is the Circle for.”
“Now that. That’s a question.” He closes his eyes. Opens them. The fluorescent light above. Off. On. Off. He says, “Were you a Christian, before?”
“I don’t know.” But there’s a memory. Fingernails scratching at a wooden door. The darkness of the basement. An old woman’s voice. Pray to God to let you out.
When Dad speaks, the sound of his voice flickers in a whisper. He says, “Revelations 20:13. ’And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to his works.’”
Once again, I’m alone. The door is closed.
I’ve tested my strength. I can rise to my feet. I can stand, a little. I stand, then I topple.
When I am no longer weak I will kill everyone in this place.
Then I will set out.
I will look for her.
The girl who was in my mind.
Her name is Linna.
I remember. It’s dark. I remember what happened.
A knife. It goes into me. I was stabbed again and again.
The girl, the one from the city. I followed her to the town on the hillside. I went into the woods and found her there.
That’s where she killed me.
I move my hands down. No feeling when I touch my chest with my fingers.
I look down. The paleness of my skin. Like I’ve been underwater.
There are holes in me. Five holes, descending from my ribcage in a line down across my stomach. Five punctures where the knife went in.
I put my index finger inside the slit of a cut. Its slanted opening flexes like gills. A fish pulled from the water.
I don’t feel anything.
The finger comes out black.
Smeared in a thick black sludge. Wet, viscous tar. It smells like garbage.
I pull at the corners of the wound. The skin rips.
The skin peels away in a sheet.
Underneath. The black muck, discharging.
“Let me out!”
I try to hold it in with my hands, the black tar, but it oozes out between my fingers.
“Let me out of here! Please!”
I rise up from the cot and I fall forward onto the concrete floor. The drain is next to my right eye.
Then a whimper. My voice. A sobbing. As the pitch-dark slime seeps out of me.
“Let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out let me out.”
© 2018 by C.D. Miller