“Yes, my dear child, he would undoubtedly tell a terrified toddler tremulously seeking succor, monsters are real. I happen to have one hanging in my basement.”
― Rick Yancey,
I used to have nightmares as a kid. My father used to come into my room, sit on the edge of my bed and gesture me to come closer. Then he whispered “Tommy my boy, there are no monsters in this world. They don’t exist. And as long as I’m here, they never will.” I believed my dad, but a part of me still reached out to that part of my mind that believed in the monsters as well. The monsters stayed hidden at first, only under my bed or in my closet but after a while they got used to the surrounding, made my home their home and began creeping outside my door, and I saw their faces. Oh, God their faces! They lurked in every dark corner of every room.
Then, they were real.
* * *
9/8/2011 Chicago, Illinois.
You reached the voicemail of Tomas Byrnes. Please leave your message after the tone: BEEP!
“Hey Tom, its Neil. This is probably the tenth message I’m leaving. Where are you man? I’m worried.
Call me back when you get this. Hope you get this.”
- No answer?
Ann stood on the doorway, dressed and ready to leave for a weekend at her sister’s place.
I shook my head.
- He’ll call. He’s probably working on a painting and doesn’t want to be bothered.
I agreed with her with a fake smile.
I knew Tom for long enough to know that there is something wrong with this absence of his.
- I have to go. I wish you could come with me Neil. You need some rest. And some fun.
- I know. That’s why I’m staying home to finish the project. After that I’m all yours.
She placed a warm kiss on my lips.
- I’ll be back before you know it.
* * *
As soon as Ann left I called a cab and gave the driver Tom’s address.
I rested my forehead on the cold window and listened to the roar of the engine trying to shut off the fears in my mind. My eyesight traced the curves of the scenery. The weather was changing fast. Summer was preparing to leave for another 10-11 months and in her place autumn was starting to manifest with colors gloomy and dead.
I wondered what had happened to my dear friend Tom.
Had he faded just as summer, turning into a pile of rotten leafs blown by the rainy wind?
Minutes later my yellow carrousel from urban Chicago left me outside a four storey building of gray concrete and narrow balconies staring at a “Fletch and Skim” bookstore, a second hand clothes shop and a closed Chinese restaurant. I always wondered why he chose to live in this neighborhood.
I paid the cab driver and proceeded.
Tom lived on the second floor.
I took the stairs in one breath.
The bell was dead so I pounded my fists on the wood and raised my voice to call his name.
He opened the door; the ghost of someone who looked like my friend but who wasn’t. He was paler, wearing a stained white t-shirt and a worn out bathrobe covered in spatters of dried paint.
- Neil? Hey. I didn’t expect you. – His voice was no more than a whisper.
- What happened to you Tommy? Are you sick? I tried to call you a dozen times.
He tried to put on a smile.
- Really? My phone must be off. No I’m fine. I just have a lot of work to do. Painting you know. It’s a bit of a mess inside but come in.
He disappeared in the darkness and without a hesitation I followed.
The windows were tanned; only fragile bits of daylight entered to shine across the room but it was enough for me to observe. Dishes with leftovers of food were lying on the floor next to scattered clothes.
The air smelled like paint and dust, and it stuck in my nose and tongue, the smell pushing its way down my throat.
The sofa was occupied by a canvas still unfinished but familiar to me, and aligned on the wall facing me were a few paintings I had never seen before. I stepped closer shocked by the nature of the forms, the dance of the brush, the colors most of all. I was terrified and confused.
- Do you like them?
I averted my eyes.
- What is this Tom?
- My new Art. I just woke up and knew I had to paint them. I probably never told you this but when I was a kid I had nightmares. My dad used to calm me down and tell me monsters don’t exist. You’d say he was right. I thought so too. But they are real. Always were. Like you and me. Listen. I…I had a revelation. – His eyes glimmered with an ill sparkle – I needed to paint my monsters to prove myself they are fake but then they became real. I think I brought memory to life. Did I Neil? Could I? Look at them. You believe in something when you can see and touch it right? Right? … But you are afraid. – He had tears running down though I couldn’t tell if sadness or joy had provoked them. He spoke so fast and his mood changed with every word. His voice raised and then faded again – God Neil… if only you could see them as I do! They are beautiful. – He stopped – I need to finish another one…You must go.
- Tom you need rest. Come with me. Let’s go away for a few days. You can paint later.
The look in his eyes then crushed me with its coldness.
- If you understood. But you can’t Neil can you? Go now. I’ll be fine.
As I descended from his apartment I thought about the monsters on the paintings, and their faces starring at me as I went away; in the cab on the way home I thought about Tom not being Tom anymore.
What had happened?
To be continued….