Destination Unknown

Destination Unknown

Why anyone would want a calendar I have no idea, life is bad enough as it is without a constant reminder that another day has passed, and that you’ve taken one more step closer to the grave. My mom carried one of those day planners, you know the kind with kittens or some other cute shit on the cover, and all it ever did for her was serve as a constant reminder of the failure she’d become.

After all, every one of us are headed in the same direction, with the same destination waiting us at the end of our journey. Be you a rich man or poor, a loving housewife or a whore, it didn’t matter. In the end we all died, beyond that it was destination unknown. Some believed in heaven and hell, while others assumed they would come back in a different guise. The only thing we really had to give us hope were our dreams.

For my mother her life’s dreams had slipped through her fingers, her prince in shining armor had arrived astride a Harley, swilling beer and smoking pot, with the occasional side trip courtesy of a little purple microdot. The castle turned out to be a cramped two bedroom trailer that was no better than a meat locker in the winter, and a sauna in the summer.

The walls were so thin the pictures hanging on them moved in response to a stiff wind. They had come with the trailer when we moved in, and one in particular stood out from the others. It was a painting of Jesus with children gathered around him. The title had been written in white along the bottom. Suffer the little children to come to me. It always got me to wondering about religion and belief. From my perspective, if god really did exist, he was one fucked up dude to let the things that happened to children go on. Or maybe he just didn’t care enough to interfere.

To say life was hard would be an understatement, life was, life. School, when I opted to attend, only served to reinforce the fact that I had come from the wrong side of the tracks. While everyone else was wearing Levi’s and Dockers, with Nike, Adidas or North Face shirts, I would arrive decked out in the latest cast offs compliments of Goodwill if Mom hadn’t drank up all the money for that month, or the local rescue mission if she was in her cups.

But who could blame her.

One time, when I was much younger, she told me that when she was a little girl she wanted to be a dancer. All of her friends were hoping to get married to a good man and they spent much of their time planning weddings that had a snowballs chance in hell of ever happening.

She had been different, she told me that day, while she was about one and half sheets short of a full three sheets to the wind, and getting closer with every shot she took. She even tried to prove how good of a dancer she was by pirouetting through the living room. To be honest it looked pretty damned good to a scared seven year old kid worried she was about go off on one of her rampages. Then she tripped over the edge of the carpet and hit the floor with enough force to rattle the walls.

That was the day I learned the true meaning of suffer the children. I suffered because no one else was available to take the blame for not fixing the carpet. I was only seven, hell I was still trying to dress myself right so fixing the carpet was a bit over my pay grade.

But that didn’t matter to her, she needed a target for her anger, and since her prince charming had abandoned her the year before, that meant I was next in line. It didn’t help that the moment she went down I laughed, assuming in my innocence that it was all part of the show. She turned on me so fast I had little time to react. Transforming from a tipsy, good natured drunk, to a demon from the depths of hell in an instant.

I still carry the scars from that day, both physical and emotional. It was the day I stopped being a child filled with innocent wonder, and took my first step into manhood as I endured a torturous night that would have left many others begging for an end to their suffering.

I had no choice, there was no one I could call, no one who really gave a damn about some stupid seven year old kid from the wrong side of the tracks. If I ran from the trailer to escape from her, where would I go? The neighbors? Hell they had problems of their own with their own kids without me adding to their troubles. I was trapped with nowhere to run, and I knew if I turned up dead no one would shed a tear. Sure, my mother might face the punishment she deserved, but when you stepped back and looked at the big picture who would give a damn?

That’s what I did that night. I stepped back. As the woman who had given birth to me, she had lost the right to call herself mother, expressed her anger with the burning tip of a cigarette, I escaped the pain by stepping back emotionally, and mentally. I slipped through a door of sorts, into a nighted world that made little sense.

To a place I call the in-between.

The walls of my bedroom were still there, but they carried an ethereal, shadowy, quality. As if one could just walk right through them, which I discovered later that night was possible when I left my bedroom. The few posters hanging above my bed had been transformed into gloomy caricatures. The friendly demeanor of the teen age mutant turtles had been distorted, twisted into enraged sneers that were so like my mother’s angry features.

Was that where she came from? The in-between? Cast out into our world to live among us. Was that why I could slip across so easily? Because the in-between was really my home?

Here the sounds of the night were amplified, yet muted. It reminded me of the time I went swimming with my mom and wandered into the deep end of the pool, the bottom dropping out from under me as I slipped beneath the surface. I didn’t know how to swim and sank to the bottom like a rock. I could hear the people around the pool above yelling, but it was muffled by the water.

As I grew older it became easier for me to slip across. In no time I learned that a few steps in the in-between, translated into a hundred feet on the proper side of reality. After that first night, when I fled from my mother’s wrath, I awoke the following morning in Mrs. Ankers flower bed, her gladiolas and assorted other flowers crushed beneath my weight.

At first she had been angry, yelling at me to get out of her flower bed, but then she saw the burns on my arm and her features softened. She glanced at the trailer my mom was in and her eyes hardened, her lips pressed into a thin line. Then she took me inside to care for my wounds. I only remember all this with such clarity, thought it happened nearly thirty years ago, because of the in-between. You see every time I step back into my realty the details of the world around me come into sharp focus. Everything becomes crystal clear, as if I’m seeing it for the first, which in a sense I am.

There’s a price to be paid for everything. Stepping across into the in-between does not come without its share of risks. There’s things living on the other side that make little sense, creatures on the prowl looking for a way to slip through into our world.

Every time I stepped over these creatures emerged from the shadowy depths, stalking me as they circled in to get closer. I don’t know if it was the warmth of my body, my scent, or maybe it was the spark of life I contained that drew them to me like an iron filing drawn to a magnet. I never let them get close, I didn’t want to see what they looked like.

They were always there, getting closer with every passing moment, even when I stepped back across they continued their search. Circling my last known as they narrowed in on where I’d been. I made the mistake once of stepping back over from the same place a few hours after I had been there.

You know how it is with kids, they discover something new they have to experiment with it. That was me, experimenting as I tried to understand what it all meant. After all this special talent didn’t come with an instruction manual. When I returned that shadowy realm from my bedroom they were nearly on top of me, the sound of their approach coming to me like the echo of a rock skipping across the surface of a silent pond.

Everything had changed as well, the landscape no longer resembled a shadowy copy of the world I came from, the walls of my bedroom were gone completely, along with the rest of the trailer and the other trailers crammed around ours in the trailer court.

The landmarks I needed to keep myself tethered to the world I came from was gone. In its place were towering spires of rock, columns of massive stones stacked haphazardly atop one another against all the rules of logic and physics. They moved among that forest of stone, shadowy shapes whispering through the spaces between the spires, like blood slowly seeping through torn skin, a sight I was sadly, intimately familiar with.

Within their soul they carried the spark of nightmares. Unimaginable creatures that lived in the shadowy realm of our own sub-conscious, fed by our own fears, and the self doubt that plagues us as we struggle to fall asleep. What I feared most was what lived in those flowing clouds of eternal emptiness, and they were hungry. As they got closer I detected dark shapes flitting to and fro frantically within those gloomy depths.

I came to understand later what happened. You see when I first step across I’m not all the way over into that other world, it takes time for my essence to bleed through. When I move and step back across my essence follows my movement at the same slow pace. Aside for that one time when I conducted my little experiment, I’ve never stepped back through and remained still. You have to keep moving or they’ll find you.

It was only natural that someone such as myself, from the wrong side of the tracks, with little education coupled with little hope for the future, would find themselves in my current situation. After all my trip to death row was foretold on the night of my birth when my father managed to drag himself to the hospital long enough to see what his seed had produced.

Like father like son they always say, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree was another homily that pretty much sealed my fate. From what I was able to piece together my dad had been a drug dealing, pill popping, thrill seeker living along the shadowy edge of our ordered society.  A biker with little hope for the future who lived for the moment as that was the only one that mattered. In his world there was little need for 401k’s, bank accounts, or even jobs.

He and his kind lived day by day, feast or famine, constantly on the move, never pausing for a moment except when they were too drunk, or too high to function, and even then they pushed on. Always wandering, moving from one end of the country to the other, living by their wits, accumulating only what wealth they needed for the moment through wheeling and dealing, and in rare cases by sticking a gun in some poor saps face.

They didn’t take from the man, they kept their distance from the more ordered members of society, the nine to fivers who went about their daily lives unaware of the danger lurking just beyond view. They dealt strictly within the family, that loose coalition living in the shadowy realm between good and bad. The pimps, hookers, and dealers who fed on the darker needs of an ordered society that at times became too stifling for some.

They were modern nomads roaming the land in search of a freedom that no longer existed, and they welcomed me with open arms. After being held back for the ninth grade for the third time I decided that school was not for me. There were no scholarships in my future, no invitations to visit the campus of this college or that, and even if by some miracle a college did approach me, our financial situation pretty much ruled that out.

We were nomads in our own right, the woman who gave birth to me and I, living at the very edge of society as she wheeled and dealed her way through one government program after another, her hand always extended, never once offering more than a token effort and just long enough to get what she needed. In that time we moved from one crappy apartment or trailer to the next, each worse than the one before, as we spiraled down the drain to homelessness.

I’ve often wondered as the night grows long and the others on death row with me sleep as best they can knowing at the end of the hall their destination waited. How would my life have turned out if the woman who gave birth to me had been different. Would I be sitting in this lonely cell, counting down the days to my own unknown destination, or would I have built a family of my own.

A loving wife, a couple of kids, a boy and a girl, maybe more. A family pet a dog, or cat, and some fish of course, I’d always been fascinated by fish swimming in their ordered little world. One of my childhood friends had an aquarium when I was growing up and I could sit for hours and watch as they swam back and forth from one end of the tank to the other. Staying in their groups, some holding to the center of the tank while others traveled along the outer edges.

Never aware that there was a wide open world on the other side of the glass that imprisoned them.

To be continued!

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