“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.” – Philip K. Dick.
July 12, 2020
His eyes widened, a steely determination overcoming the jagged and uneven breath heaving in his chest as he thrust the shovel into the ground once more. He looked up and around — the grounds of Dan Ryan’s property in Texas sprawled out in front of him, descending into a valley to the West, where the sun was now setting.
He drove the shovel into the ground once more, and he hit something solid, finally. Falling to his knees, he clawed at the dirt until he saw it there, rectangular in shape, solid brass on one side and mahogany wood making up the bulk of the rest of it. He closed his eyes, squeezing them as hard as he could, and looked for the courage needed to do it. His eyes opened and he faltered there for a moment. He wanted to stand up and sprint away, to run from it, but the die had been cast. He had already decided it had to be done. The deal had to be struck, so he would make it.
He flipped it open, and his eyes went wide again. Everything within him at once rushed to the surface as if his entire psyche put a gun to its head and splattered itself all across the field in front of him.
He felt an agony, a destructive anguished cry rise from inside of him, and he could no more resist the building horror and despair than he could have turned back time. It started low, this guttural noise, and it exploded from within him and into the evening sky, the terror and pain screaming through his body. Looking down, he almost collapsed, unbearable torment on his face, and slowly… his breaths got more regular, normalized, his eyes, where terrible life had been crying out only moments before, went blank like an empty canvas.
He reached in and scooped his arms underneath, and rose.
Phyllis ran both hands over her hair, doing her level best to tuck the stray strands back into place. Her heart rate had barely returned to normal, and she had no idea at this moment where Dan Ryan might have run off to. Anywhere but here, that was all she needed, and she wondered now if she could possibly summon up the courage to do what she knew must be done.
She turned to leave the office, passing through the twelve-foot high oak door and into the main hall. The house was eerily quiet now, but she still kept her head down as she walked. She didn’t dare look up. He wasn’t there, but she feared it anyway somehow.
But it wasn’t Dan Ryan that shocked her as she turned the corner. The front door had been opened, and the last person she ever expected to show up was standing in the doorway. She saw Alaina Troy-Ryan there, a messenger-style bag over her shoulder, and she started to panic, picking up her pace as she walked toward the visitor.
“What are you doing here?! You should not be here.”
Alaina was nonplussed, looking past her to take in the enormity of the room and house in general.
“Maybe not – but I needed to see you. You’re the only one that can get through to him.”
Phyllis shook her head, a hint of sadness in her eyes. “I tried that already. I tried. If I say anything else… “
Her voice trailed off, and Alaina put a hand out on her shoulder. “Phyllis, listen, I was at the house in Chicago. I saw this on the counter…”
Digging into the bag, Alaina pulled out the thick manila file folder and handed it over to Phyllis. She opened it and looked at the contents, and the look of sadness in her eyes intensified. “Alaina, I…” She choked back tears. “I just… it’s just so much worse than it’s ever been before. So much worse.”
Alaina took the assistant in her arms, holding her as tightly as she could, and she could feel the wetness of Phyllis’ tears on her shoulder. She pulled away, just enough to be able to look her in the eyes.
“Phyllis, I understand the situation and I understand how you feel, I swear I do. But you and I are the only people on this planet that know about the full extent of his condition. I’ve been covering it up the entire time I’ve known him, but if we don’t do something now, I won’t be able to cover for him anymore.”
Phyllis closed her eyes tightly, trying her level best to regain control, and opened them again, but she couldn’t bring herself to say what she wanted to say.
“Phyllis”, Alaina’s eyebrows furrowed. “Phyllis, I won’t give up on him. I can’t.”
“Oh, Alaina….” Phyllis’ shoulders dropped, resigned, her voice warbled when she spoke. “It’s worse. It’s…. so much worse than you realize. I know about the divorce papers. I know he tried to use them to trigger something. I also know it didn’t work… so he tried something else… something that did work. Alaina you just…. Please, you just need to go. Please. I’ll try to figure it out, but you can’t stay here.”
Alaina looked past her, checked around for any signs of anyone else at all, and then looked back at Phyllis, nodding.
“I know. You’re right. I’ll go. But you don’t have to figure this out on your own. We’ll figure it out together.”
She smiled then, and Phyllis, usually not one for sentimentality, returned a meek smile of her own. Alaina took another glance around behind Phyllis as she opened the door, then turned and left.
I wish I knew how to convey this to you in a way you might understand.
I don’t even know who “you” are, because I assume if someone ever comes across these writings, something bad will have happened.
Bad things have been happening more and more lately.
I’ve been going in and out on whether or not that makes me happy or sad or anything at all, and right now this moment of clarity offers me a chance to get this out of my head.
I’ve sat in a place in my mind and I think it’s the only thing that’s real anymore. Am I losing my mind, or did I lose it a long time ago? I don’t know. I don’t think this is one of those trite little wrestling stories where you say and do some mean things and it makes you dangerous and intimidating. I think this is real. I think it’s more than a switch flipping. I stepped over the line on purpose. I don’t know if I understood the enormity of it. I think a door has been unlocked maybe, and there’s some new level here that I didn’t realize existed before. It draws me in, and I thirst for it, and I walk onward gladly.
If a word could describe what these months have been like, I think the best I can describe it is a slow, steady growth of vines surrounding me, climbing from the ground, up to my foundations, along the side of me, up to the doors and windows, and winding their tendrils into who I am. This has been happening slowly, so much so that I didn’t realize what was happening until it was far too late. One day I looked up and they were everywhere, these dark coal-colored vines reaching into every corner of me, enveloping me in a manner that defies any future extrication. They’ve added mass to me now, and I’m more, so much more than I ever was before.
I used to think that finding success would stunt this process. I thought if I worked hard and became powerful, became feared, became wealthy, that I could ebb the tide. But I quickly learned that people with money to hide were powerful, and powerful people were violent. It was reliable math: as the amount of money being conveyed increased, so too did the level of paranoia; the psychotic behavior increasing with every figure added to the sum. Money and power are amplifiers, you see. I thought I was poisoning the beast. I was feeding it.
I hate you.
I don’t even know who you are and I hate you.
You’re all my enemy. You always have been. Even my friends are my enemy, because eventually they come for what I have, or I have to come for what they have. It’s a circle of inevitability, no matter what we try to do about it. We can freely participate, resist, or do nothing at all. It doesn’t matter. Eventually, it comes to it.
Mike is waiting for me. I know this. I don’t know if he has a taste for the possibility of it, but I know he hates losing; he hates losing more than anything else that has ever existed in the universe. And he’ll kill me if I push him to it. He’s already done it once. He knew it would irreversibly scar him, and he let it happen anyway. If he couldn’t control himself then, can he control himself now? So I have to hate you on some level, Mike.
And I have to love you, too. Do you understand?
When I truly understand you, understand you well enough to defeat you, in that moment I also love you. You can’t really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them… I destroy them. I don’t have much power over that aspect of me, so I hope on some level you understand, should it all go sideways.
The thought of this has enraptured me. I know myself no longer. My original soul seems, at once, to take flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence thrills every fiber of my being.
I know more than most what you’ve had to endure, and I know I’m offering you even more, and I’m sorry, but I know you’ve suffered the words of fools who never had a fighter’s chance. Get what you can with words, because words are free, but the words of an armed man ring that much sweeter.
I’ve been thinking, I need a nice suit. I haven’t owned one in quite some time. I think it would be nice to wear a suit while committing these violent acts of retribution. Suits look official. It would add an air of credibility to my campaign of blood-drenched disproportionate responses. Senseless violence was the prerogative of my youth, which had much energy but little talent for the constructive. I mean to build up to something now, and I expect it will be terrible. But my thoughts wander, too. I had counted on having more power over it.
I write this, not because I want to make excuses or wish for it to act as penance. I’m trapped by the permanence of this existence. It’s a very empty and lonely existence – it’s painfully true. They may laugh and smile, and skip and dance, but behind all the faces there is hollowness like a bottomless pit. The living dead, depression is a terrible illness, so is psychosis, the mentally inflicted beyond cure.
I have no hope left for me.
I’ve been paying attention, and I know this life of mine will not end well. I’m no fool.
Maybe these scrawlings will give meaning to someone else. Maybe my life won’t end in vain. Poor me, poor me. Boohoo. I’m disgusted with my own thoughts. But I’m trapped here. I’m driven mad by the paradox. I don’t care if I care or not.
My control is slipping. I have to go.
Along the creek-front, two ducks stand near the water’s edge, using the sure footing to dunk their heads into the water and back out, shaking their feathers dry. The water, some three or four feet deep at this part of the creek, trickles along softly, rippling over the rocks which make a small man-made water channel next to the metal shed onshore. Grass has grown up around the structure and the weathered exterior still glistens with moisture from the rain that morning.
The metal door is closed, but no lock is evident, and inside, Dan Ryan is sitting in a small wooden chair, with a child-sized table in front of him.
Looking to his left, his daughter Cecilia is there in a chair of her own, hair brushed over to one side and legs crossed underneath her and smiling back. He smiles himself, then lets his head drop back and his eyes go to the roof of the structure, and he watches as a cricket flitters from the roof to the edge of the singular lightbulb hanging from a cord in the middle of the shed.
Looking back at her, he measures her face, its innocent eagerness obvious, and unconditional loyalty apparent.
“This is the biggest match of my entire HOW career, you know.”
She smiles again. “I know, daddy. I get to come along for this one, don’t I?”
“I don’t know”, he said, frowning slightly. “It could get pretty dangerous. I’m not sure it’s a very good idea.”
“But you promised!” She protested. Her arms folded across her chest and she pouted out her lips.
“If I let you come..”
She perked up.
“I’ll be good, daddy, I swear. I always do a good job when you need me to help, don’t I?”
Her arms raised, she squealed in delight. “YAY! I’m so excited! I finally get to help with something big!!”
Dan smiled warmly, knowingly. “I know you’re gonna do a great job, honey. It’s just…”
Cecilia smiled again. “What, daddy?”
The warmth pulled out of his face, and his eyes started to glaze over slightly, and he turned his head toward an until now unseen third chair, sat right up against an open black box. Propped on the chair sat a small human corpse, badly decayed and in an advanced stage of decomposition. The skin was pulled back from nearly every part of it, and tufts of scraggly hair protruded from the head. A filthy dulled-blue bow sat atop a badly caved-in skull where some traumatic blunt force injury had occurred, and a dirty blue dress in the same hue as the bow was fitted on the remains of the torso.
“Who’s gonna keep Danielle company?”