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. The why of my predicament is unimportant, let's just say an untouchable got caught in the crossfire of a deal gone bad and leave it at that.

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 short ride 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.

That pretty much summed up my life, living day to day, a nomad on the open road. I’d never had a bank account, didn’t understand the first thing about saving for the future, like I had one. Every dollar I took was wadded up and shoved into my pocket as I moved through life, staying among those I understood, and shunning what I couldn’t comprehend, like the schools of fish from that aquarium so long ago.

I thought I had it figured out, and for me I did, when my cash got low I’d check out a bank, measuring the distance from the street corner to the interior of the vault. That night I’d show up outside, slip in between, and walk into the vault. Most times I was right on target, emerging from the in-between inside the vault where I would fill my pockets with what I needed from the teller drawers stored inside, then be on my way before anything from the in-between got close.

I had to always be aware of that, those creatures on the other side, they were always on the prowl for me. Circling my last known location in a spiral that would bring them to the point where I crossed over. I never waited to see what they were, afraid if I did I might never escape.

I learned early on to ignore the blocks of new bills wrapped in plastic that were just sitting on the shelf in plain sight. Tried to bring one across but was unable to do so, and it fell to the floor of the vault where it lay until the following morning when the manager opened.  He must have been the suspicious sort as I learned later when the police pulled me in for questioning. It appears they found my fingerprints on the block of cash and wanted to know how I found my way into the vault.

There was also the matter of the missing cash from the teller drawers. Some of the bills had been marked and of course the police found them wadded up in my pocket. They hammered at me for two days, wanting to know who the inside man was, how did I circumvent the alarm system, and so on. Had I told them the truth they wouldn’t have believed me, besides that was my ace in the hole, when they locked me up all I had to do was slip across into the in-between and be on my way.

Or at least that was my reasoning. The reality of course turned out to be quite the opposite.

After a couple of days they gave up and charged me with grand theft, I’d taken nearly five thousand dollars. A mere pittance really when compared to what many of these banks made in interest and fees. I was tried, found guilty of course,  and sentenced to five to ten years at the state prison. The night before my transfer from the city lockup I decided it was time to go.

You know how they say some places give off a certain vibe? Like abandoned mental hospitals that years after their closure are still filled with the despair of their former patients. The terror and fear of these lost souls who appeared abnormal to the general public. In reality they were attuned to things beyond the understanding of the so called sane among us. Secret things and places that existed in a shadowy realm.

Jails are like that, the walls seem to absorb the energy of those incarcerated. Oozing with helpless terror, fear, and sometimes unimaginable evil. I didn’t know the history of the cell I was in, but there must have been some pretty bad shit that went down in there.

When I crossed over it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. The landscape around me was one of shadows dancing in an endless night with the screaming cries of past victims echoing all around me. But that wasn’t the worst of it. I don’t know who had been in that cell before me but they had been one evil son of a bitch. Their presence was in that dark landscape, a predator stalking its prey, and I felt it on a purely emotional level that made me feel like someone had kicked me in the gut.

It moved through the darkness, zeroing in on me almost instantly, scrambling towards me in a shadowy form that resembled a massive spider. It was and it wasn’t, if you catch my drift, I was looking at something my mind could not comprehend, so it created what it  was familiar with. It moved through the emptiness in a jerking motion, stopping and starting, then stopping again as it watched me with a multitude of eyes that all said the same thing.

We want you.

I felt its need like a thousand tiny hands clambering all over my body, pulling at my clothes, my flesh, my hair and face. It was the most frightening thing I’d ever felt before or since. I managed to get away, but I’ll never escape the memory of that nightmare landscape. It will follow me to my grave, and that is where the real problem lies.

When I take my final walk, and they strap me down to that gurney, as the fluids designed to kill me flow into my body, where will I go?

That’s the sixty four thousand dollar question. What will happen to me after I die? Those who believe in god tell us that after death we will either go to heaven, or hell, depending on how we lived our lives. I’d always figured there was a room reserved for me in hell, and until the moment I escaped my cell, I’d never given it much thought.

But if that’s the hell waiting for me I want no part of it.

And that was just some small town hole in the wall cell, now I’m at the Polunsky Unit in Texas, waiting for my one way ride to the death house. The guards keep pretty good track of that for us, counting down the days as they pass uneventfully, they‘ve even got a wall calendar out where everyone can see it, you know the kind you can pick up at any dollar store for a buck. It has a picture of a cat hanging by one paw, with “Hang In There,” printed beneath it in big letters. So you can see why I don’t like calendars.

The guards told me on my first day here that I should feel special. The cell I’d been assigned had once been inhabited by none other than Angel Resendiz also known as The Railroad Killer, and had been executed in oh six. That information was enough to keep me from stepping across, hell it was enough to keep me up at night, I know that evil son of a bitch left his imprint on my cell, and created an alternative persona on the other side that was patiently waiting for me to step across.

I wonder what he saw as he waited for his appointment with the death chamber? Was he even aware of what lived just beyond his view? Probably not, after all, he was considered sane by those who tried him, but I find that hard to believe.

I can feel his presence in the shadowy corners of my cell where the light from my only lamp fails to reach, watching me while I try to sleep. I can hear it at night while the others around me dream of life beyond the four dreary walls of their cells.

Like rats in a wall they scratch at the fabric between our world and theirs seeking a way over. Every night I listen to them and their incessant scratching, wondering what I’ll do if they manage to get through. I know what I’ll have to do, the only thing I can do, I’ll have to step across and run like hell.

So I just wait and listen, and watch. I know on one of those calendar pages there’s a day circled in red that’s meant for me. My lawyer told me the date while promising to do everything he could to have my sentence commuted, but I can’t remember what it is. Funny isn’t it, that I’ve forgotten what day I’m scheduled to die. 

But there’s always hope, maybe the lawyer will come through and get my sentence commuted, hell while we’re dreaming why not aim big, maybe the governor himself will pardon me. Or maybe while I’m being transported to the death house, I’ll just step back. I’ve never done it from a moving vehicle, but there’s always a first time.

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