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8-ball

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8-ball

            I have been haunted by demons. 

            Not the kind of demons featured in popular horror movies or in the typical, paranormal sci-fi genres.  I mean Daemons, very real, very concrete.  The sort of concrete where, as a child, one knows that the images appearing before one's eyes, breathing at the doorway of their bedroom, standing erect along the interior walls of rooms and hallways, hovering over their body in the blackness of night, are more real than the very matter that holds together the child's universe.  Those kinds of demons.

            “Have you ever told anybody this?”

            “No.”

            “Why not?”

            “Because . . . ”

            “I don't understand.”

            “You couldn't.  You didn't see them.  They'd think . . . they would think . . . ”

            “That you're crazy?”

            “Yes.”

*          *          *

            The first ones were vague, illusory, appearing only in my dreams as a five-year-old boy.  They played with my spirit as pool players play with billiard balls, shooting them across the thin fabric of my conscious mind, where below the veneer of idyllic, child-like green pastures lie the strata, the multiple layers, of my underdeveloped subconsciousness.  They would come and go as they please, chalking their cruel pool cues with fear and terror, watching and laughing as the little boy's mind tried desperately, ineffectually, to understand what was happening, to attempt to process through the mind's eye of lost innocence and abuse the very fear which gripped his heart many, many nights.

            “They are not real.  They are in your head . . . ”

            'Then why did I hear them, see them, even feel them, sometimes?”

            “ . . . you were so young.”

            “Don't patronize me.”

            “Oh, come on.  Even you don't believe in them anymore.”

            Sometimes silence is golden.  Sometimes.

            “Don't I?”

*          *          *

            What's that?

            The child's eyes opened wide, staring at the darkened ceiling high above his bed. 

            Did you hear that?

            Lifting his head from his pillow, the boy's gaze peered outside the doorway of his spacious bedroom into the shadowy hallway adjacent to his room. 

            There it is again!

            Slowly, ever so slowly, the child, perhaps seven or eight-years-old, heard a sound, slow, distinct, coming from the stairwell in the hall.  Mommy and Daddy traversed the stairs many times a day, and each time, the century-old house would creak and groan under the weight of its inhabitants.  So this night, when the stairs began to recite their old, familiar tune, creaking and groaning as if a heavy foot was treading each step, the boy was certain that somebody was on the stairs.

            Creeping from under his covers and tiptoeing across the carpeted floor of his room, Jimmy made his way toward the entry, intent on discovering the source of the sound.  His parents had been asleep for sometime, but as he stopped by the doorway, he heard it again.  Clear.  Distinct.

            Creeeeeeeeeek.

            “Mommy?” the boy whispered into the hall.

            There was only silence.  A long silence.

            Griiiiiiiiiiick.

            “Mommy? Daddy?” his call grew louder, panicked.

            Without thinking, Jimmy stepped out into the hallway and approached the top of the stairs, peeking his head just over the banister at the top of the stairwell.  He looked down into the near blackness below. 

            Crrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek.

            It wasn't mommy or daddy . . .

            Panicked, the child hesitated before finally turning and fleeing into his room, jumping onto the bed and hiding under the covers, his head buried just beneath.  And still, the being ascended the stairs, slowly, step by step by step.

 

            Urrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrk.

 

            Creeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek.

 

            Breeeeeeeeeek.

 

            Carefully pulling the covers down from his head until only his eyes appeared, Jimmy lie as motionless as he could, watching as the darkened figure appeared over the top of the banister, first its head, then its neck, then torso, until it came to the top of the stairs and turned to peer at the boy in an eyeless stare.  Jimmy shrank again under the blanket.

            Without looking, the boy knew that the figure turned toward his room and walked to the entry, then stopped.  Jimmy felt it, sensed it, in all its malevolence.  Slowly, the demon entered the room, moving steadily toward the boy’s bed until it stood beside it, leaning, towering ominously over the shaking, blanket-huddled, tiny figure beneath.  Somehow, Jimmy knew, it would have taken his very soul that night.  Yet it didn’t.  That was the first sign.  The first real sign, both of its power and of its powerlessness.  The child would not be able to understand the event – and others like it – until much later in life . . .

*          *          *

            “Did you see it?”

            “What?”

            “The . . . the . . . the Monster?”

            “Oh Jimmy, it was just a dream.  Go back to sleep, honey.”

            “No.  It was real—”

            “Jimmy . . .”

            “—so real!”
            “You are imagining things again.”

            “No.  No, I’m not.”

Silence

            “What did it look like?”

            “It looked . . . it looked . . .”

            “Go on.  Tell me, darling.”

            “. . . it looked like . . .”

            *          *          *

            The child awoke suddenly, panting and shaking as though the very foundation of his bed, his house, his very world would split apart, engulfing him into the Inferno of which he was certain could take his very soul.  His head was still rolling, still reeling, from the game being played with his mind, unable for a brief moment to distinguish between reality and imagination, between this world and the Other.  He felt like his heart itself had been rolling across a table, cracking into other balls, sending him careening uncontrolled.  Like peering down Alice’s rabbit hole from his world into another, the window between the adolescent child’s two realities was always blurred.

            With the onset of puberty at the age of twelve came the cessation of the night terrors, the dark dreams.  But one terror that still haunted the adolescent was the Daemon itself.  Without knowing how, the white, creamy fluid that pasted the young man’s palm and fingers that very first time, and many more after, were antidote to the terrors that rocked his nights.  The inner demons were laid to rest.

            The demons from without were another story altogether. 

*          *          *

            “Come here and help me carry some things out of the basement, Jimmy.”

            I followed my uncle down into the basement of his new rental home.  Even at the age of twelve, I was still “a good boy” and acquiescent to the will of adults.  Yet as I followed the originator of all my night terrors and visitations down into the very poorly lit lower level, I heard them.  Clear.  Distinct.  The creek, creek, creek of our footsteps along the old, wooden stairs which led into the basement threw my heart into a panic, and by the time we had reached the bottom of the stairwell, my very soul was gripped with that old fear, as the eyes of creatures all along the walls of the near empty basement stared in leering, twisted pleasure.  They had returned.

            My uncle walked ahead, then turned to look at me, bidding me to follow.  There were no boxes at the far end of the enclosure, only a furnace that stood in the middle of the large, musty-smelling, open room.  I took a few tentative steps, the sound of my shoes tapping lightly against the cold cement floor, reverberating ever so slightly off the dark, cinder block walls. 

            My uncle stood watching me from the shadows on the other side.  “Come over here, Jimmy.”

            I stopped.

            That’s when I heard them, too.  The hissing.  It was not the hissing like snakes but, rather, like myriad voices whispering all at once, no one voice particularly rising above the others.  Among the cacophony of sounds, my uncle’s voice stood out, calling to me softly, as he had once done years  before.

            “Look at this, Jimmy.  Come here and . . . help me.”

            I had expected the figures along the wall to come forth and prod me, pull me, drag me toward my offender as they had lured me nearly seven years earlier.  But I turned and ascended the stairs, slowly, step by step by step. 

            The Daemon was thwarted. 

*          *          *

            In my special place, that in which my Inner Child resides, that place where I enter to restore my spirit to faith, faith in me, faith in my world, faith in our shared humanity, no demons can enter.  There is a garden there, as lush and untouched as the very Garden of Eden itself, where no evil can touch.   Those demons which racked the recesses of my dreams, haunted the halls of my mind, and flew across the fabric of my soul throughout the dead of night no longer visit me.  They are there, still, to be certain.  They lie in wait along the corridors of reality itself.  Yet their power is stripped.  Time and introspection have robbed them of their ability to visit me, to torment my very existence. 

            I have healed. 

                                     I have survived. 

                                                                I have . . .

                                                                                . . . forgiven . . .

                                                                                                                . . . myself.

*          *          *

            “Can you hear that?”

            “What?  I don’t hear anything at all?”

            Jimmy looks up and smiles.

 

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