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Imprint of Insanity
I’d known that I was crazy when the face wouldn’t leave; it was imprinted in the back of my mind, flashing to me every time I dared to shut my eyes. It was the image I’d found on the Internet, a photo taken by a brave reporter trying to make everyone understand the extent of the carnage that was ‘over there’. ‘Over there’ was what I called the war zone; it was where my husband Josh was, in whatever condition he was in.
The bus turned a corner and sun shone into my eyes. I blinked, unable to open my eyes because of the fierce glare; unable to escape the picture swimming in my mind. A mangled body nested inside my head, and as far as anyone could tell his uniform identified him as an American soldier. His skull from the bottom jaw up was missing, and cauterized flesh and bone made my stomach turn. Yet in what remained of his hand, he seemed to be holding something. Something that even in death, he had refused to let go of.
The sun chose someone else to torture and I opened my eyes with relief, suppressing tears. Josh is fine; you know that. But I didn’t, and that was the problem. They refused to tell anyone anything. The death toll was becoming so high that it seemed to almost put the army to shame to inform the families of those lost; they would be informing entire cities, something I guess they didn’t think they could find the time for. So I sat in the dark, as did so many others; I sat on a bus, so that someone else could choose directions for me when I was unable to do so alone.
“I remember how the pen touched the paper.”
Don’t turn around. Whatever you do, don’t look. I caught myself before I turned around to see who had spoken. I didn’t want to know. Somehow I knew that if I turned, I would see what had been living in my head; I would see what had escaped when I had put my guard down. So, as calmly as I could, I spoke back.
His voice was ragged, and somehow hollow. No… not quite hollow. That wasn’t the right word. His voice was a sigh that echoed inside my mind, just like his picture.
“It was a black pen. Black pens have black ink. Black ink never fades.”
I looked to the seats in the front of the bus and found that there was no one there. I assumed that no one was in the back either, and it seemed that the bus driver was oblivious to everything other than the busy city streets below.
“What color was the paper?”
My voice was shaky, despite my efforts to calm myself.
His was shakier.
“It was white, like the eyes of those that watched.”
“The ones that couldn’t die.”
I was silent for a moment, trying to steady my breathing before I answered.
“Why couldn’t they die?”
“The pen touched the paper. It made its mark on the white like the fire made marks on their skin.”
“The ones that couldn’t die.”
I let silence come between us, willing myself not to think. If I thought, I would turn around; if I turned around, I would face the root of my insanity. I would be forced to come to terms with the fact that I was no longer a part of the same world as my friends and family. But regardless of my silence, the voice kept talking.
“You don’t understand the wires. They come in the night and they tear the veins from your eyes so you cannot see. The wires blind you; they make you happy to be so close to the shadows. So close to the ones that couldn’t die.”
“Why couldn’t they die?”
I felt a hand come forward and gently grip my left shoulder; a fist made its way in front of me, right inside my peripheral vision. I glanced down before I could stop myself, instantly regretting it. Most of the skin was peeled back revealing the rotting flesh beneath, but the muscles were in plain sight, tightly holding his fingers shut.
“They couldn’t die because they never let go.”
His breath lightly tickled my ear; breath that shouldn’t exist coming from a mouth that was no longer there. I watched as he slowly opened his hand, revealing a piece of paper that fell into my seat as he disappeared. Somehow, I never saw him leave; just noticed his absence when the sighing left my mind.
I grabbed the crumpled piece of paper and opened it slowly, watching the black ink unfold on the white paper. I’d known I was crazy; but now I had proof.
He cannot see you, it read. The wires have given him freedom – the freedom of ignorance. He no longer sees his friends slaughtered, as others do; the blood running from his eyes makes him laugh. And yet you cry, don’t you; you howl in the night like a lost child.
Goosebumps rose on the flesh of my arms as I read the last line, my eyes beginning to sting with tears.
Laughter makes the blood turn to soothing ice in the eyes of his ignorance.