The morning was gray and cloudy; devoid of all sense of wonder. The clouds had rolled in during the night and the landscape was draped in a dense cloud of fog. From across the parking lot, Jay and Kristin could barely see their relatives approaching. The atmosphere was damp and cold: bland in all its definition.
All five of them had tasted the edge of madness' gourmet of flavor. The night had been rough, and they looked like the shambling dead. Little to no conversation came to them as they met up in front of the blue Chevy. Kristin sighed heavily. She seemed the only one who was still alive in spirit. But Jay, Jana, Eric, and Ryan hadn't slept a wink. The darkness was too overwhelming.
The sky wasn't visible. All sun coming to earth was stopped in its tracks. The gray day would reign supreme, as if the bland, drab feeling had flowed from the heads of the currently afflicted. They were gray, lifeless smoke machines.
On the road, all five remained fairly silent, still unsure of what exactly they would find in the file. Jana bit her nails nervously. The sudden revelation of the mental disorders her family blood carried made her scrutinize every action any of the Zippler family made. The utter fascination with psychological examination made her worry about herself as well. Something was wrong with all of them.
As they pulled up to the social worker's building downtown, Kristin turned around in the driver's seat.
I just want everyone to know that no matter what we find out, we're still family. She said, trying to sound brave. But the rest of the Zipplers knew she was just putting on a charade. They were all afraid. Everything had reason, and in a way, they already knew what they'd find.
Ryan's folder had only brought so much more knowledge. An intelligence report on the Zippler's showed that each member of the family had an IQ no lower than 130. Jay had begun to think the family had a history of mild autism, but that was shot down quickly by Ryan, who claimed that none of them showed any signs of being on the autistic spectrum aside from Kristin, who may or may not have had Asperger's.
Stepping out into the cold morning air, Eric shivered. Something felt off. The whole day just had that bad feeling about it. He guessed it must have been like Tokyo the hour before Godzilla attacked. A grave feeling of suspense was driving him forward; he was running on nothing but adrenaline, the dank feeling.
The door clanged heavily despite its lightwood build. Jana marched in blatantly, but bent over slightly so that her posture reflected the dark feelings brewing inside. A mirror on the outside, shining so coolly in the blank, boring office. Nothing could hide the true atmosphere: toxic.
Can I help you? the woman behind the front desk asked cheerily. Liar, they all thought. She's hiding the poisonous dread inside. All a charade; all a faade. Something to make you feel worth living.
Yes. Jana said plainly, plopping her birth certificate on the desk. The name is Jana Willmar. I'd like to see my file.
They had chosen a bland day to celebrate Harmony Hill's anniversary. The clouds were still full and thick in the air by the time the opening ceremonies erupted from the community pep band and the 5K run went about. Charlie found himself weaving in and out of the faceless crowd, trying to escape the cold reality of last night.
His hallucinations had grown more and more vivid. At this moment, he was still unsure of whether the festival was real or not. But the physical manipulation of the air and his active realization that he was subconsciously following random people awakened him to this fact: he was alive.
Barely awake, he wandered from tent to tent, and eventually found himself sitting on the waist high wall in back of the town municipal court, his head in his hands, almost asleep.
Face down, he could swear he was hearing voices in his head. But no, they were real. Female voices; a choir. No, just one. A girl's voice, speaking alone, almost beckoning him to awaken.
He opened his eyes, and to his surprise found a girl actually standing there. She was about a head and a half shorter than him with straight strawberry blonde hair and an adorable face. She looked probably two years younger than him. She was a stranger to him and yet, she seemed so familiar.
Yeah? Can I help you? Charlie asked, rubbing his temples. A throbbing headache had just begun, boring holes into his cerebrum with its metaphorical drill head.
No, but I think I can help you. The girl said in a lovely voice. This caught Charlie off guard. She seemed the type to be very PMS-y.
Oh? Charlie said pedantically. How?
Come on. The girl ordered, and, taking Charlie by the wrist, began to lead him through the throng of people in the crowd. Somewhere between the people around him, the pressure on his wrist disappeared, and he was left in the mass of moving men and women. The girl had long since disappeared, and he was left alone on a crowded street block.
The crowd surged with excitement; blending into a mass of writhing pre-corpses. A shot of music toasted the air in magnificence. Charlie turned to see a small makeshift stage in front of the municipal building. A small-time band was playing. They had no name, and, as far as he could see, it was an all-girl band. Then a thought came to his normally empty head. The drummer looked a lot like the girl that had dragged him through the crowd. But how could she get up there so quickly?
His imagination was out of control now. He could swear he recognized the singer, with her wavy brown hair and dying eyes. The sorrowful tone of her voice harmonized through the crowd. And now, standing in the mass of people, Charlie knew how it all came together: guilt.
Guilt over the vile things he did for self-purpose. To achieve his own goals he had meddled in the souls of others; violated the essence of another human being. Guilt. Punishment. The two weaving into a sweater lined with a sudden fear and loathing of himself. The monsters he had dreamed up when he was a child were now alive and inside of him, ruling him. He had become everything he never wanted to be. A blind man could see that.
Becky? he asked out in the blue, realizing the singer's identity. It was too loud for her to hear him, and he was too far away. The crowd surged, taking him away and shoving him further and further back toward the street until he finally tripped over the curb's edge and fell back first into the street. It was lucky that the cops stop traffic for the festival.
He soon decided, behind weary, tired eyes that he would wait at the back of the municipal building for Becky to come around. They had so much to talk about. He could still imagine her face, warm and inviting. Her angelic voice still rang through his ears like a familiar song. Something in him wanted to apologize and be frank; bear his soul. And yet, the other half wanted to blame her for everything that had happened all those months ago.
But he never got the opportunity. She never showed up. No opportunities to change the past. Charlie sat there for a long time. Night flowered over his head and he still didn't leave. He simply curled into a ball on the waist high wall and wept.
Becker sighed. Andrew wasn't answering his doorbell again. He rang it again, but still no response. It was like they dropped off the face of the earth.
G*ddman, Andrew. Becker muttered, hitting the doorbell again. He had a list of things to work on with La Migra in his hand, along with a copy of the CD. Last night, he had sat up and listened to all the flaws in Things Done In the Dark. It had been a VERY long night.
But damned if he would have to break into Andrew's house again. Andrew never bothered to lock the door, but today, it was purely locked up tight. Becker gave a monstrous grunt and backed up to get a running start. He charged and slammed his flat Nike shoe bottom into the door, snapping the lock like a frozen chocolate bar. The door swung open with a mighty CRASH! as it hit the other side wall.
Becker stepped in leisurely, looking almost bored with having to break Andrew's door. Something about the locked door made him feel unnerved. Andrew never locked the door. Not in a million years.
Turning down the hall to the basement, Becker noticed a distinct cleanliness about the place. Sure, it was still disheveled s always, but today, it seamed less so, almost as if Andrew had been pressured to tidy up by his mother. But Becker knew that was impossible, as Andrew's mother had thrown him out of the house years ago. Eventually, Andrew was able to save up enough for a small house on the outskirts of Harmony Hill, which Becker was now walking through.
The door to the basement was slightly ajar; just enough for Becker to see that the light was off downstairs. Nevertheless, Becker shoved the door open and began working his way down the steep dark steps. He was descending slowly into a pit of no return. A sinking feeling swept into his stomach, making him nauseas. It was that oh-so-familiar feeling he had gotten many times this summer.
Reaching blindly in the black abyss, Becker's hand found a pull string. He would soon wish he hadn't.
Clicking the light on, Becker found himself in the usual cold dank basement strewn with couches and dirty magazines. But there was a distinct loss of drug paraphernalia that was there the last time Becker had visited. With a curious glance to the wall, Becker found a terrifying reminder of the enemy.
Consider this your anti-drug. The green spray-painted message read. Becker moved like lightning, shooting up the stairs like a bullet out of a gun. He didn't stop running until he was outside the front door, panting heavily. He slammed the door behind him. The paranoia was back, full power. A raging headache burst into his head, throbbing against his temples, threatening to tear his mind in two.
You lookin' for that Andrew boy? a voice asked. Becker opened his swollen eyes to find a balding neighbor watering his lawn next door looking over at Becker. He was rather in shape and kind looking, but from his tone, this neighbor was obviously not happy living next door to Andrew.
Uh, yeah. Becker said slowly, his head still pounding. You know where he is?
Sure do. The neighbor said in a colloquial tone, spraying his lawn. House got raided. Guess yer' little friend was dealing.
Yeah, no sh*t. Becker thought. But his outward appearance remained calm. So the Shredder knew about their extracurricular habits. He was getting more involved. With La Migra out of the picture, nothing would stop the Shredder from finishing Chagrin. Becker shuddered. He was back on that brain wavelength. His thoughts were becoming co-mingled with the Shredder's. Everything had its way to go, but Becker began to believe the unbelievable. He knew everything. G*ddamn everything.
He quickly thanked the man for his information. He then sighed and began walking away from Andrew's house. He kept going down the road for a very, very long time.
There was no reason to anything anymore. No real choices; no consequences. Each and every action was defined by how it was meaningless. Anarchy would be a comfort at this point. Some form of chaos or madness would soothe the aching burn in Becker's stomach. A thrill aside from the fear of a man watching from the bushes, waiting for his moment. But they all lived in that fear now. As Becker rounded an elevated portion of road, he looked over the side railing at the grand view of Harmony Hill and sighed again. This was it. The very town he grew up in; where his father had left him years ago; where he first fell in and out of love; where everyone he knew lived their lives in apathy; where the Shredder first struck; and where it would end. As far as he knew, Harmony Hill was the very edge of the world. He waited and waited, but the town was never sucked up by some unimaginable black hole or rip in space/time. It stayed and rotted and died, slowly but surely like all its citizens. A poisonous valley of scum.
Becker looked down at the Chagrin CD in his hand and was suddenly disgusted. Everything he had worked so hard for, only to be wasted on such a hell town. With a grunt and a slight wail, Becker lobbed the godforsaken CD over the railing.
It flew for a number of feet, floating like a Frisbee before falling and disappearing into the black hole that was the town of Harmony Hill.
Charlie groaned and opened his tired eyes. Something had just hit him on the head. He gave a grunt and sat up on the wall, rubbing the spot on his forehead where the object had struck. He sighed and stood, looking down at the ground.
It was a CD case, plain and simple. But as he picked it up and examined it, he found it to be Chagrin's own demo CD. Confused, Charlie turned around to look up the steep incline that disappeared in craggy slopes and winding roads. What in the world--?
Charlie turned back around to find the same girl drummer from yesterday smiling sheepishly at him. She looked like she had known he had fallen asleep there from last night. Charlie coughed uncomfortably and scratched his head.
Ohhi. Didja sleep well? the girl asked, leading Charlie away from the wall and into the town square, devoid of life or motion. It was as gray and cloudy as it had been the day before. A single crow sat on the nearby clock pole and cawed mournfully. Charlie coughed again, still very uncomfortable.
I was wondering whether you would wait there or not. The girl laughed, tugging at her hair. You're quite silly.
What are youdid you know I would go there? Charlie asked, stopping just in front of the local Quik Check.
Of course. She smiled. I know everything about you.
What? Asked Charlie. Why?
Oh, just trust me, it's necessary.
No, dammit. You know Becky. You're her drummer, I swear you--.
You're still very silly.
Just, how can I find her? Charlie asked, his hands outstretched in a form of begging. The girl tilted her head curiously, then nodded.
Okay. She said, taking a pen from her jeans pocket. She silently grabbed Charlie's arm and write a short address down. With a grin, she placed the pen back in her pocket. You can find her there.
Thank you! Charlie said, exasperated and exhausted. But seriously, who are you?
The girl had begun to walk away, but she turned back to him and smirked again. Me? I'm you.
The scenery began to melt around him. The glass of his false reality shattered and fell at his feet. Then he too shattered.
Charlie woke with a start. He was in his own bed again, panting. A cold sweat enveloped him like a blanket, keeping him locked in and safe in his own skin. His own skin.
Charlie rubbed his head. What had just happened? His arm reached down for his phone, but his eyes caught his digital clock and calendar.
He had fallen asleep three days ago.
Harmony Hill Day had happened two days ago.
Then his eyes caught his own arm. There, written in plain pen ink, was a small address: 39 Armin Rd.
What the hell was real anymore?
Jana Zippler rounded the hall, following the nurse down the hall. No one was in the halls now. It must have been some sort of visitor hours, as not a soul dared to let the patients out. No one wants to see the sickness in society.
The nurse stopped at a plain door and waved Jana in. From down the hall, Eric and Jay watched in silence, arms crossed. They watched as Jana disappeared into the other room and the door slammed behind her, as if it would never open again.
You think she'll be okay? Jay asked. Eric had changed his gaze to the sign hanging above the nurses' station. Everything was gray and bleak here. No sanitary condition would be bypassed. The off-white had dissolved into the blank gray. A normal place wouldn't dare.
Yeah, she'll be fine. Eric said, nodding. His head was filled with notes of music, repeating in endless cycles. Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters, Nirvana
Think he'll be upset? Jay asked, still watching the door.
Eric snorted quietly. From the sign, the reflection of light faded away, and the sign was legible.
Saint Mary's Psychiatric Hospital.
I don't know. Eric muttered. I haven't seen dad in years.