The Story Behind The Madness - Part One
I grew up normally enough. My mother raised me alone, save for a little help from my aunt and uncle. I never really knew my father; to the best of my knowledge he’s still alive and lives in a southern state, but I’ve never talked to him.
Anyway, I fell in love with reading and writing the moment I learned how, and I spent my childhood reading books that ought to have been much harder for me to comprehend than they were. By the time I was in 6th grade (when, I note, I should have been in 5th; I skipped second grade), I was reading beyond a collegiate level. It was at this point I actually read the dictionary for the first time – out of six.
Needless to say, I tended to distance myself from the other children, preferring isolation to socialization and knowledge to friendship. As a result, I was a relatively lonely (albeit disarmingly intelligent) child. To be fair, though, I was also exceedingly well-behaved. I can honestly say that it almost never occurred to me to misbehave or be rebellious. Indeed, I couldn’t even bring myself to be outspoken. Add that I was chubby and had yet a limited grasp of the word “style,” and I was just a walking calamity.
It was a blessing in disguise of sorts, though, for it led to my joining the Boy Scouts. Yes, I’m an Eagle Scout now. Surprising, isn’t it? Irrelevant, too, because it was in my first year of summer camp that my life was irreversibly and monumentally changed.
Socially awkward as I was, it didn’t take long for me to find myself in over my head. I’d never been around such a high volume of people before, and it was getting to be a little bit too much. My fifth day of camp was the turning point; I woke up around 3 A.M. and couldn’t get back to sleep. Not knowing my way around (but unwilling to simply lay in my cot and do nothing for the next five hours), I wandered off down a nature trail – I had hoped I could find a cliff or a big hill to sit atop and track the constellations.
I’d made sure to put on my uniform first, though, since I didn’t know whether I would be back in time to do it later. After grabbing my camp-issued walking stick (little more than a broom handle, but it was free and about the right size for a child), I picked a path at random and set off.
Naturally, I was thoroughly lost within mere minutes, and in a panic I veered off of the trail entirely and jogged wildly through the forest. After what seemed like an eternity, I broke through the trees and into an immense clearing - so immense that it didn’t end in trees or hills, but instead simply continued into the distance seemingly for eternity.
The point of interest wasn’t the meadow, though, I couldn’t have cared less if I tried. What captured my attention was the monolithic black marble sphere in the distance. As best as I could tell, it was as big as a house, and it looked like there was someone sitting on top of it. Veins of white streaked across the surface, mildly luminescent and… pulsating?
I walked apprehensively toward it, heart rate slowly increasing and breath becoming ever so slightly shallower. As I neared the great stone orb, my suspicions were confirmed; there was indeed a shadowy figure perched atop it, squatting and surveying the horizon disinterestedly.
I had almost reached the giant thing when a twig snapped under my foot. It remains to this day to be the single loudest, most terrifying sound I’ve ever heard in my life. In half a blink, the man whirled around and I caught the only glimpse at his eyes that I would ever receive – they were the iciest grey-blue that I’ve ever seen in my life, and they made me shiver with a fear that I’ve yet to fully understand.
The moment our eyes connected, the man vanished into smoke, the wisps disappearing into the wind in an instant. That did it – I was officially TERRIFIED. I screamed and turned to run, but only made about three feet; the man was standing directly in my path, eyeing me up like a hunter tracking his prey. I spilled forward onto the ground and scuffled backward as fast as I could, only stopping when I slammed into the hard marble statue. My walking stick had gone bouncing away when I’d fallen, it was at least ten feet out of reach. I tried to keep control of my face as I looked up at the man, waiting to see what he would do.
“So, you see me,” he stated as he closed the short distance between us. His voice was so deep, so… otherworldly. “Odd.” I didn’t know what he meant and I can’t say I really cared. I just wanted to wake the hell up from this dream. The man fell to one knee and thrust his face forward to within inches of mine. I would think he was studying me had his eyes been open, but they looked to be firmly shut. He didn’t even to seem to be smelling me, he was just… Sensing. Feeling or something, I’m not sure.
“Who- who are you?” I stammered, growing a little less afraid and a little more curious. He scoffed and stood up, looming over me as he gazed into the sky. His arms shifted beneath his cloak and I heard a near-inaudible click. I didn’t think anything of it; I figured if he’d wanted to hurt me, he would’ve already done so. Besides, it looked like he’d simply crossed them contemptuously.
“That’s neither here nor there,” he said, closed eyes still scanning the area. I stood up and brushed myself off as best I could, then tried to get a better look at him. I really couldn’t make out any details of his outfit, though, past his dark cloak – was it a cloak or a cape? A baggy coat? It was still too dark to see anything significant, and of his skin I could only see his face. I had a bit of trouble placing his nationality. His accent was thoroughly unfamiliar and his skin tone was hard to discern. Was he Hispanic? Native American? Indian? His age was no easier; he looked to be about 27, though I’d always been pretty bad at guessing ages. He carried himself like a man of at least 40, relaxed-yet-refined posture speaking volumes of his self-importance. If it hadn’t been so dark, I might’ve -
Wait a minute, what? I jolted a bit at the sudden realization that I’d surely been lost for hours, the sun should have risen by now! I searched the skies for Sirius, hoping that if I could find it I would know how far off dawn was. No… none of the stars or constellations were there. Scorpio, Virgo, Draco, Ursa minor – nothing.
That was weird to say the least. I debated in my mind for a minute before tapping the man on the shoulder. He turned to face me, still not opening his eyes, and his eyebrows twitched upward as if to say ‘what?’ What’s with this guy?
“Uh, do you know how to get back to the camp? I didn’t really pay attention to where I was going…” I nervously iterated, barely noticing the mocking smirk on his face before he held up a hand to silence my mumbling.
“Most that I’ve encountered have been blind to me. I’ve met less than ten people over the years able to see me, and all those… well, let us leave it at that.” The man sighed, a guttural rumble of a sigh, and uncrossed his arms under his cloak.
“Wait… You’re like… you’re like some kind of a ghost?”
“Some kind, yes. At least, I guess it to be so. It’s the best I’ve come up with so far. Whatever the case may be, I find it unacceptable. To what end am I locked here on this mortal plane? I can make no sense of it.”
Aaaand now I was freaked out again. This guy was clearly crazy. You can’t tap a ghost on the shoulder, they’re supposed to be ethereal. You’d pass right through them, wouldn’t you? I took a step back and immediately regretted it: ANOTHER twig cracked, instantly ruining any hopes of my sneaking away. I cursed the wilderness for being so full of dry, dead wood. His head snapped sideways, closed eyes locking on to me as a grim from crept across his thin lips.
“So, you would seek to abandon me here?” He whispered, turning slowly toward me. I froze – what the hell was I supposed to do? This guy was clearly faster than me, and he cut a fairly lean silhouette with his cloak. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he was a professional soccer player or something.
“I just need to get back to camp before anyone notices I’m gone. They’ll all look for me,” I said lamely. He shrugged and began to turn away, then suddenly whirled around and grabbed me by the collar. In one move, he lifted me off the ground, spun, and threw me through the air. It didn’t occur to me to scream or prepare for my impact with the ground. I was too shocked that I was OFF the ground in the first place. This guy definitely wasn’t muscular enough to casually lift and throw a 170-lb kid, and here I was airborne.
My thoughts were violently derailed when I slammed into the marble orb, all the air abandoning my lungs at once. My head spun as I slid down the side and collapsed onto the ground in a heap. I barely registered the sound of his slow footsteps getting closer, it wasn’t until he grabbed the back of my shirt and yanked me up that I remembered I was in danger. He pinned me against the monolith and stared intently at me, his eyelids twitching slightly as though he was having trouble keeping them closed.
“You aren’t blind to me, I know, and I suspect you’re not deaf, either. So after I explained that it was very rare for someone to see me, why would you simply leave? Have you no compassion, to abandon a lost soul in the wilderness? Have you no honor?” His voice was level, deep and quiet, yet aching to tremble with anger. His face communicated his despair all too well, twitching this way and that as he spoke, threatening to reveal the true extent of his emotion.
“I-I’m sorry!” I squeaked, trying to wrest my shirt out of his grasp. He growled and lifted me off the ground again, bringing my face up to the same height as his. My legs flailed beneath me, kicking back and forth without touching anything. In a flash of clarity I planted one in his gut and brought the other one up, connecting with his chin and sending him stumbling backwards. His hands released me and I hit the ground on my back, rolling sideways the moment my elbows made contact. I clawed the grass and scrambled away, feeling a bit like a cartoon character running on air, not going as fast as I felt that I should have been.
I spotted my walking stick, about fifteen feet away, but lamentably on the other side of him. I gritted my teeth; it was my only choice. I couldn’t run faster than a guy who could teleport and I certainly couldn’t overpower him. I needed a weapon.
He rushed at me as I leaped up, driving my shoulder into his stomach and sending him onto the ground. I jumped over him and dove for the stick, but his hand shot up and grabbed my ankle mid-air. I hit the ground again, but this time my reflexes kicked in and I kept my arm out as far as it would reach.
Contact! My wrist hit the hard wood of the staff and I quickly snatched it up and twisted my body around, cleanly bringing it across the man’s face. His grip loosened and I kicked my foot, freeing me from his grasp. I stood as quickly as I could and kept my eyes trained on him, holding the stick over my head and waiting for him to move. Nothing. He didn’t even twitch. It didn’t look like he was breathing. Oh shit, I thought. I killed him!
Nope. He disappeared into smoke and reappeared inches from my face; I didn’t even have time to scream before his fist planted itself in my gut. My body went limp, the staff slipping out of my hands, and I collapsed onto the ground. He dropped down with me, landing heavily on my chest, and thrust my head back with his palm. I heard a scraping noise and in an instant felt him plunge something into my chest. There wasn’t breath in my body to make a sound, I just gasped with the pain and coughed, feeling the warmth of my blood as it cascaded down my chest and over my neck, soaking the ground under me.
He said nothing as he yanked it back out and stood. I looked up at him, his calm face, his level breathing, the knife in his hand dripping with blood that should have still been in my body. No, I thought as my vision faded around the edges and my ears filled with a deep, fuzzy humming. No way. I was only twelve, twelve-year-olds didn’t die. Right?
I barely acknowledged it as his face grew panicked and he shook the knife. It didn’t strike me as odd that my blood was oozing up the blade and over his arm, picking up speed as it approached his chest. I didn’t give it another thought when in the blink of an eye, it forced its way into his mouth as he gargled and spat to no avail. And by the time he hit the ground next to me, hyperventilating and whimpering, all I could think about was how unfortunate it was that the sun was coming up. How was I supposed to see the stars now?