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Brief Story: 8%

The month of May is Mental Health Awareness month. Mental health is a tough subject. No one wants to talk about it because no one wants to be declared crazy or defective. The truth is, we have all suffered from some form of depression or anxiety in a severe form. Most of us still are.

My life has taken on many different aspects and the inspiration for this story came about in many ways. I have always wanted to try this style of storytelling as I think it relates to a lot of our every day lives for many of us.

I would like to preface that I do not condone any of the actions in this story. Communicate. Speak. Get help even when it seems useless.

8%

Tuesday

7:57AM

I jerk awake when the thud of the heavy back door echos through the house. My wife – leaving for work – again without saying goodbye. I hear the throttle of her twenty year old beater decrescendo as she left the house – most likely still frustrated from my lack of employment. I can’t blame her. Everything has crumbled in the last few months since one of the worst days of my life. Of our life.

I close my eyes to calm myself, letting the silence and the rhythm of Carl’s snoring fall in time with my heartbeat. He lied curled in the crook of my knees. Right where I’d left him the night before. He’s been exceptionally clingy as of late and complains if I’m out of sight for too long. I can’t even go to the back yard without it sounding like he’s being tortured.

I reach down to scratch his long ears. It’s nice to be wanted. I pull my phone from its cable; checking the time and charge.

Battery at 100%

8:31AM

I bring Carl back in from his walk around the block. His mood a bit more sprite. I envied his consistent happiness. As long as he was fed, scratched, cuddled and cleaned, he was more than happy to smile and lick your tears away. That seemed a lot more often these days. I wish I could return the favor, but I think he might get confused as to why I was licking his face.

I shoveled food into his bowl while he danced to the familiar chime of the kibble against the metal. I sucked down lukewarm coffee, giggling to his open mouthed munching. I’m not sure if my wife thought to leave me any, or if she just didn’t have enough time to finish. Either way, I didn’t mind. It was something to fill my stomach and I didn’t care for breakfast anymore. It seems like such a waste of time.

Battery at 98%

9:52AM

With Carl draped over my lap and taking his mid-morning nap, I had exhausted every aspect of online job searching. Applications, resume, email checks, phone calls – all of it!. I’d also sent a few texts to my wife with basic check-in questions. All were unanswered and unchecked. We’ve spent the last two nights with the silent treatment. Our argument on Saturday about hiding things from her and wanting to know the real reason I was let go from my decent salaried job. One that she had encouraged me to work for and pushed me over the finish line when I landed the interview.

“What was so bad that you can’t tell me? I’m your wife!”

She must be hearing rumors by now. I was stupid to think that no one would say anything.

I replied with frustrated silence. I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t reveal to her what a monster I’d been. So, in turn, she has been silent. I deserve it.

Tears flood my face like a busted water pipe while utter defeat poisoned my heart. I failed. I failed at everything and now I’m failing her.

Battery at 70%

1:46PM

After a few hours of distracted gaming, I check my phone to see no messages, no emails, no calls. It was like I had disappeared entirely, or was sucked back in to the 90’s where we weren’t so dependent on smart phones. The distraction obviously didn’t cure me ailment. I felt nothing but heaviness as soon as the adrenaline induced stimuli ended.

Carl whines and drops his paw on my arm. I think he sensed me spiraling. I looked at his honey colored eyes and could see the concern. I lent him a half-hearted smile and kissed his noggin. He blew air through his mouth, causing his over extended lips to flap before plopping his head back into my lap.

I want to feel something. Something good. Like a shot of adrenaline except… maybe… endorphins. And I only know one way to get it. The same one that made me into the trash that I am.

I step inside the bathroom and close the door on Carl. He objected. With the blank phone screen staring at me, I dive into the system folders.

“Vice” glared back at me, with the white letters burning into my eyes. I sat here for a minute, debating if I really wanted to give in to my demon. Do I want to feed the very thing that is a gremlin to my entire life right now? Why not? It wasn’t like that before. It has never had a hold on my like this before. What more damage could it do?

I tap the icon, enter the password, and there they were. Displayed for my pleasure. It doesn’t take long before I’m ready.

Battery at 50%

2:03PM

Carl scratched at the bathroom door. I can’t see him right now. I can’t let him see the monster while he is out. I couldn’t imagine every letting my wife see me like this.

With my hands clasped around the sink, I stare at the swirling water as it enters the drain. She’s left her ring by the soap. Does she not love me anymore? Is being married to me worse than ‘death do us part?’

I lean forward into the mirror and stare at the circles under my eyes. My scarred and wrinkled skin. My ten day face fuzz that grew in patches. What a waste you are, I say softly to my reflection. What a waste of a human, you scum! You can’t even contain your fucking self! You are weak! You’re so fucking weak! You can’t be strong for her! You can’t do anything! She’s done it all for you! Maybe you shouldn’t exist! Then you wouldn’t be such a fucking burden to society. Such a menace!

Carl cries loudly in protest. This snaps me out of my attack, but I keep staring at the ugly face I’ve turned into. I wipe the tears and mucus from the foreign facade, washed my hands, and reached to smell her bathrobe.

I miss her.

Battery at 46%

3:43PM

I’d just accommodated Carl in his demand for his afternoon walk. The smell of rain wafted through the house as I pushed open the door. It was one of my favorite smells. Images flash though my mind of earthy, wet dirt under my nails. It was the perfect time to dig. The perfect time to watch the mud squeeze through your fingers and toes, invading your flesh like soaked coffee grounds. If you dug deeper, you could almost see roots reaching for the sky to drink.

My wife loves the sound of rain. She always said it was like the clouds were putting on a show and the rain was their music. She’ll be home soon. It’s too bad she will miss it. I check my phone, but still no response. I don’t blame her. How could I? She has no idea about me. She has no idea what I’m capable of. But now, I’m pretty sure she knows that I’m a waste of time. I wasted her time. I’ve let everything take control and I can’t let go. Now I’m a burden and she has to carry the shame.

She wants me to go to a therapist. Or even couple’s counseling. Nothing can fix this. Nothing can cure it. I was born with a nefarious heart. It only warmed up a little to let her in. But it was greedy. It was jealous. And it has been most unkind.

I hear her wind chimes drum, calling for the audience to get to their seats. Carl obeyed, naturally. He loved the rain too. It was his idea, after all. Once the rain started, he begged me to go dance with him. And dance we did. I think he enjoys the mud too. We romped and played and yelled to the skies that everything was okay, for the moment. Just an ounce of pure joy.

Battery at 35%

3:59PM

Carl and I sat on the tile floor in the kitchen. We had had our fill of the rain and were enjoying getting ourselves dry. I wipe his paws gently, talking to him sweetly about the mud between his toes. He sat patiently, panting and cooling on the cold floor.

My wife likes things neat and orderly. I’m a little messy. These days, I try to make her happy by keeping things tidy. I’ve made a mess of Carl and rather than making more of a mess in the bathtub, I decided to treat him to a grooming. I’m sure he will be excited as he is well fed by all the assistants.

I mention his groomer’s name and Carl’s ears perked up. Rather than his normal tail wag and eyes widening, he whimpered and turned his body into mine. I’m not sure why he’s being so different today. I never turn away a good snuggle, so I wrap my arms around him and relax my chest on his back.

Normally, Carl would only tolerate this for a short while. As if to say, “If you need to get it out of your system, I’ll give you ten seconds.” But he made an exception this time. Maybe he was enjoying our day together.

Carl’s hug had a strange effect and I find myself relaxing just too much. I can’t let that happen. I can’t be any more weak than I already am. If I get too weak, the monster will take over.

After placing my clothes in the wash and allowing the fresh ones warm my skin, Carl and I walked the street to the groomer. The rain was gone, but that didn’t stop the occasional breeze from drying the trees along the way. When the groomer takes Carl, he again whimpers. He was refusing to go back, even when offered a treat. I apologized with the, “I’m not sure what’s gotten into him lately.”

I took a picture and texted my wife, asking her to pick him up on her way home. Rather than no response, there was fury. There was rage. All caps, long paragraphs. Mostly about not having money for the groomer. Not having money at all and not having any justification for it.

Oh, no. I’ve upset her again. What a fool I am. I can’t do anything right.

Battery at 34%…

33%…

32%

4:38PM

I’ve kissed Carl a hundred times in an attempt to reassure him. Meanwhile, my phone is vibrating to its death. I’ve warned the groomer that he has been super anxious today and to tell his mom when she picked him up. I prepaid for his cleaning. My wife doesn’t know that the money wasn’t hers. This money is dirty, but Carl is worth it.

I text her that I’ve prepaid. She continues to question where I had the money. She was the one in control. If only she knew what really controlled me.

As I walk home, this knot arose in my throat. I feel like a shell. I feel like I’m full of air and could blow away at any moment. And that I could be gone – missing and no one would care. They might even praise my absence. Praise that they were finally free from the extra weight I gave them. Tears flowed, my cheeks flushed, and all I wanted was to no longer exist in that moment. If I could evaporate just like the left over raindrops dripping onto the sidewalk.

I wish the rain could wash away all of these feelings. I wish it could rewind time and take me back to that first moment I gave in to my desire. The moment I jumped into the suit of a hideous creature.

In a split second, it was like someone had snapped their fingers, hypnotizing me. I went numb, my eyes dried, and the knot swallowed. Images of my life as a child, when the foundation for this dark heart was laid, inside the closet with a slanted roof. With the belt and the broomstick.

How I tried to say something, but was hushed and told to get over it. “Everyone was fucked up,” they’d say, as if this was just my rite of passage. Like an inherited sickness. My innocence was stolen and my monster was born.

I met my wife on a sunny day, wandering around a popular abandoned mansion. Just when I had covered my monster’s filth and finding an exit, the light beamed through colored glass and landed on her beautiful skin. We married when we were old enough. But I still couldn’t get rid of my urges.

Here we are now, married for a while. I’m unemployed and useless to her. There is no solace to our story.

I have a plan.

5:15PM

The wife is calling. I stare at my screen, tracing the number with my eyes. Her name already burned in my heart. I have to do this for her.

I find it ironic that now she wants to talk. It’s the twelfth hour. I can’t talk now. There’s nothing new she will say.

I swipe to send her a text, “The password is 8ight.”

I squeezed the volume button on the side of my phone. I only want silence. Let these last moments be quiet.

Battery at 18%

5:24PM

Steam fills the bathroom as the hot water sprays heavily from the shower head. I’ve removed my clothing, folded them, and put them on top of the toilet lid. After running my fingers around and around on her ring, I place it on top of my pile. I want her to know that I still love her. I still want to be close to her.

I scroll through the angry texts, the missed calls, and the muddy picture of Carl with concern in his soft brown eyes.

He knew all along. Of course he did. He’s my smarty Carly.

A new message popped up at the top of the screen, “I have Carl.”

Battery at 12%

5:32PM

I lay out towels on the floor in case water some how splashes out. I don’t want her to have a mess to clean up. I found a pairing knife in the kitchen. Razor blades are too fancy to own; a random kitchen knife will suffice.

My body went from numb and robotic, to warm and anxious as I stared at the folder once again. My monster was alive and demanded to be fed before the end. It will leave me when it’s over. It will migrate to some other poor soul with an unquenchable hunger. What’s the harm in satiating myself at this point? “Vice” is right. There is no escape.

I tap the screen, enter the password, and leave my hands to my nether regions.

5:40PM

I leave my phone unlocked and on the sink. She’ll see it when she needs to.

Battery at 10%

5:42PM

The hot water burns my skin. I hiss while moving the shower head to the lower end of the bathtub. My blood is still pumping heavily through my veins, so at least my skin is softened for the blade.

While sitting in the tub, I stare at my naked body. Every bruise, blemish, and freckle disgusted me. I examine the blade and handle of the knife, thinking of a good spot to penetrate. Which would be the fastest? The most effective?

I’ve got it. And with enough pressure to slice into a chicken breast, my plan is complete.

5:43PM

The water no longer burns, but warms my quickly cooling body. As the red rushes down the drown, I find it funny I’ve got what I wanted. The rain is washing me away.

I’m starting to drift now. Everything is fuzzy. I can’t help but think of my afternoon adventure with Carl. It played through my fleeting mind like an homemade movie. My little moment of happiness with my best friend.

It’s almost over. I don’t feel any pain now, just warmth. Soon, my misery will be completely gone. The burden I have made everyone else carry will be washed away down the drain.

I’m sorry. I didn’t want it to be this way.

Battery at 9%

5:49PM

She comes in through the back door, understandable upset. Carl pushes through her legs, running to the bathroom door and starts to whine softly. Hearing the shower running, she rolled her eyes, “Probably the excuse to not answering me or why dinner hasn’t been started.”

She puts down her things and braces herself on the counter. Exhausted from the day and her life, she exhales loudly.

Why is this so hard? Why hide anything from me?

She made her way to the bathroom, shoo’d Carl away and knocked on the door.

“We need to talk when you’re done. Don’t take too long. I don’t need a hefty water bill,” she noticed the steam coming from the bottom of the door, “And turn down the heat for fuck sake!”

No response. She huffs as she turns to start dinner.

6:00PM

She goes back to the door and the shower is still running. This time, she turns the knob, but doesn’t see much through the steam. She notices no shadow behind the curtain and the unlocked phone on the sink.

The texts from her were open on the screen with an unsent message.

I have only loved you.\ Please take care of Carl. Please take care of you. I’m sorry for everything.

She noticed her ring placed on top of the neatly folded clothes. She’d forgotten to put it on that morning because she overslept. She’d stayed up all night, applying for second jobs and working through a budgeting spreadsheet, but had gone to bed angry that everyone else was already asleep.

Carl let out a wail she had never heard before. Startled, she dropped the phone. He’d jumped up on the tub, whining and pawing at the plastic curtain. An elbow was revealed and suddenly, she feared what else she’d find.

Wednesday

2:14PM

A new type of exhaustion befell her. She hadn’t slept. She didn’t want to. If she slept, that meant that what happened would become yesterday, and she wanted to hang on to today for as long as she could. The love of her life was gone and she was inconsolable for the first few hours. She eventually became numb with random bouts of tears creeping in. She didn’t think that her heart could break any more than it had, but Carl was also mourning. She’d never seen a dog behave like that. Carl would crawl in her lap, whining and crying, burying his face in her neck. He was now at home with her mom and a vet approved anti-anxiety medication.

She’d been sitting in a room with detectives for most of the morning and afternoon. They were hounding her with questions that didn’t make any sense. What did they suspect of her spouse? Why was there a need for further investigation. It was a suicide, wasn’t it?

2:43PM

A new detective was in front of her. They had a folder with some kind of writing on it. Mostly codes to reference certain case evidence. It looked worn and old. Certainly nothing to do with her and nothing to do with this suicide.

Pictures from the folder were presented in front of her. Pictures that no one would want to see. The years were indiscernible, but the quality for some were a bit grainy or yellow.

Young children posed, some nude, some still dressed but had been beaten pretty badly.

“Do you know anything about these girls, ma’am?”

“Absolutely not,” she pushed them away and swallowed the urge to vomit, “Why would I? What does this have to do with what happened in my house?”

The other detective in the room presented her with the phone – now in an evidence bag. They’d turned it off to preserve battery, but had it on again and navigated to the “Vice” folder.

“Do you know the encryption password?”

2:44PM

Shit! Shit! Shit! Panic. Pure panic.

She made the correlation. She connected the dots. She did know.

Holding one finger up to the detectives, she retrieved her own phone. Navigating through her many hateful texts as she had the entire night – regretting every single one – she slid the device across the table and announced, “8ight.”

“You’re kidding…” The detective pushes her further, wondering why she didn’t bring it up sooner.

She could feel herself start to fall apart. Had this been the secret? Had this been what everyone else thought? Was this the reason for death?

2:45PM

After signing that she willfully gave the password and permission to search the device, the detectives unlocked the folder.

Their eyes widened the more they scrolled through its contents.

“Just as we suspected.”

Just before they turn to leave, she snatches the bag from their hand. Her heart folded in on itself and fear rampaged through her chest.

“Vice” was another name for a monster. The one who destroyed those children in those photos. For they were there, in the phone, only in much different angles and much different positions. None of them were alive.

Battery at 8%.

The plastic evidence bag began to melt and smoke billowed. The sudden heat burned her palm and she dropped it on the table. The screen went black, the glass cracked, and a hissing sound emerged. She wasn’t meant to, but she met the monster.

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