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Outside of God's Shadow
When the veil of imperceptible fuzziness was lifted from my vision, the first things I saw were the leaves on the branches. The amorphous green masses I had come to recognize as trees had become spotted collages, each leaf articulated against its brother in an irrefutably clear outline. This sweet memory of rediscovery engulfed my exhausted mind with soft pillows of comfort. I presumed this was my last subconscious effort to shield myself from some unimaginable horror. The image of an old oak, bursting with healthy emerald foliage, burned in my mind as the veil of imperceptibility returned to plunge me into blurriness. I closed my eyes for the last time as I slipped into the dark abyss.
I had been a patient at Riverdale Asylum for six months when the tremors began. Each attack would commence in a shiver, which would grow and blossom until I fell to the floor, my body convulsively bending at painful angles, my bladder releasing, and my bones cracking. My shrink told me the seizures were the result of unresolved guilt. I could understand that. I hadn’t chosen to be locked in the nuthouse; I was forced into the asylum because one day Razer, threatened by her oblivious power over him, stabbed my wife. Razer was the name I created for the insane entity that lived inside me. He came forward whenever he damn well pleased, and I was powerless to stop him overtaking what came to be known as “our” body.
Razer didn’t exist until I was twenty-five years old. On February 2, 1998, my twenty-fifth birthday, my baby brother died of a sudden and still unexplained heart attack. The next day, my mother unexpectedly died of kidney failure. Because my father had died when I was two, I abruptly became a kinless orphan. I had to plan two funerals. Actually, Razer planned the funerals. He pushed me out of my own head and made the necessary arrangements when I couldn’t handle it. For two weeks, I sat in a filthy, locked room in my subconscious mind. When Razer finally unlocked the rigid steel door, I saw his face for the first time. His dark eyes were manic, his hair jet-black and disheveled, and his thin face was sallow and vaguely serpentine. He hissed hello and shoved me back into the driver’s seat. I woke up in my dirty apartment, my head aching and my body sore.
I attributed Razer’s first appearance to a nightmare, and went about my lonely life. I sank into the mundane routine of daily existence. I woke up every morning, got dressed, went to work, came home, went to sleep, and repeated the whole process the next day. The world had become gray and rough, and in every person I met I saw Razer’s face, a visage that had been cut into my optic nerves by a gangrenous knife. Thoughts of Razer bloomed in my mind like an infection; each day I found myself thinking about him more. Razer was never far from my thoughts, until the day I met Caroline. Caroline was the only woman who removed Razer from my mind completely; she was soft, kind, and she offered the kind of company that I had so sorely needed and so lamentably forgotten. We were married five months later, on April 5, 2004.
For two years we lived in a state of marital bliss; she completed my soul, and I hers. I had a wife I loved, a job I adored, and a comfortable home in Queens, New York. The demands of the work I so enjoyed were anything but excessive. I earned my living as a contributing journalist to the New York Tribune. My specialty was community and local events; every week I got to view a play by an up-and-coming theater company, or attend a wine tasting at the new hotspot restaurant in east Manhattan. Each new day brought exciting new challenges that I met with energy and exuberance, always knowing that Carrie was right by my side.
On June 26, 2006, Razer made a reappearance. I was buying a pretzel from a street vendor outside my office building when I began to feel curiously light headed. I hastily paid the vendor and ran to a nearby bench, where I dropped my briefcase and the newly acquired pretzel and collapsed onto the seat. I felt the sensation of being pulled by my toes; it was neither pleasant nor horrible, but a nauseatingly unbearable tingling tug. This agonizing sentiment endured for what must have been no longer than fifteen seconds, but it felt like fifteen minutes. Before I was jailed once again in my own mind, Razer exploded into my field of vision like a pack of fireworks, and his countenance burned in my brain similar to the fiery particles as they float back down to earth.
When Razer thrust me back into my own consciousness, I was back in my cozy home, with my hands covered in a dried maroon substance. I smelled vomit and an odor like burning hair. Carrie lay at my feet, her eyes pale and glazed, covered in the same substance that was drying on my palms. On the floor, next to the gaping wound in her stomach, sat a knife. None of my neurons were firing properly; I dumbly associated the horrific scene with a feverish nightmare due to my earlier fainting episode. I picked up the knife, and in its mocking mirrored surface I saw not my own face, but that of Razer. I began to scream.
For a long, indeterminate period afterwards, I retreated inside my own mind, and for the first time, I voluntarily pushed Razer into the forefront of my consciousness. I stole short peeks every now and then to see where I was and what was happening to me. I saw the crusty bars of my holding cell, the dull toupee of my big shot lawyer, the furrowed brows of the judge, the stunned faces of the jurors, the nameless beige glop of prison food on my gray lunch tray, and the fist of a fellow inmate rushing to greet my left cheek. During those dark times, I was thankful to have the jail cell in my mind, where I at least could be alone. Everyday, in my tiny mental prison chamber, I thought about Carrie. I searched perpetually for a reason why Razer had decided to kill her. Perhaps it was because she was such a force of calm, balancing good that his force of chaotic, insane evil could not reach me. Whatever his wicked justifications, Carrie was still gone and I was still enchained, mentally and physically.
Razer didn’t want to live in prison. It wasn’t right for his schemes. The next time I peeked into the physical world, Razer was conferring with my lawyer about entering an insanity plea. He accessed all of my memories and feelings from our shared brain and recounted my struggle with an extra soul living inside of me. My lawyer rubbed his gray-brown stubble and sighed.
“Another one I’ll have to resort to the insanity plea,” he whispered under his breath.
The verdict day finally arrived. I pushed Razer out of the way for a while; this turned out to be much harder than I had anticipated. When I tried to come forward, Razer bared his yellow teeth and growled at me. I momentarily pacified him by assuring him that he would be back in control by the end of the day.
The judge banged the gavel, releasing a chilling, hollow sound into the tightly compressed air of the courtroom. Beads of sweat condensed on my brow, but I did not wipe them away. Sweating reminded me how it felt to be physically alive.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?” the judge queried, rather sleepily. He had presided over hundreds of trials; a guilty verdict or an innocent verdict would not impact his mundane existence.
A middle-aged African-American woman stood up, a paper clenched between her fists. “We have, your honor. On the charge of murder in the second degree, we find the defendant NOT GUILTY BY REASON OF INSANITY.”
The judge fluttered his eyelids in an attempt to stay alert. “Julian Human, you will return tomorrow at eight a.m. for sentencing. Court is adjourned.”
I retreated to my cell.
Five days later I came forward briefly, only to find myself stretched out casually on a hospital bed, the white starched sheets chafing my elbows. Stark white walls and a barred window completed the picture of my room at Riverdale. I lifted my head to inspect the austere dwelling, only to find empty space and blank partitions. I realized the insanity plea must have worked. I closed my eyes and resigned myself to think about Carrie. The eternal sorrow and grief was my cross to bear, my way of punishing myself for Razer’s behavior and his very existence. A knock at my door startled me from my reverie.
The knob turned and an anxious, mousy man stepped inside.
“Hello, Julian, how are we feeling today?”
Razer remained unusually quiet, so I used my own vocal chords. “I feel fine, Dr. Kranken.” I must have looked surprised at my knowledge of his name, because he took one small step backwards. I guess the memory sharing works both ways.
“Julian, Nurse Wendy says you’ve been throwing things again,” Dr. Kranken nervously tittered, “You know you mustn’t do that.”
I took a closer look around my room, and on the floor I noticed small bits of broken material scattered about the edges of my suffocating lodging. “Dr. Kranken,” I offered, “I don’t remember throwing anything.”
“Come now, Julian, let’s not play this game. You must listen to the rules or you’ll be put into the jacket again. I know you hate the jacket.”
“I’m sorry, Dr. Kranken. It won’t happen again.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t, Julian. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but I can’t have you destroying this hospital.”
Dr. Kranken flitted out the door and left me in silence. Razer pushed me out again, and I put up no fight.
Several months later, on October 18, 2008, a date I remember because it was the first time I’d seen a newspaper since Carrie was murdered, I met the tremors. The tremors were the first physical manifestation caused by my divided mind. That afternoon, I tried to peek out to see how my life was failing. I received an unusually rough and forceful push from Razer. He spoke to me that day, in a voice thick with malevolence and fire. “You are no longer welcome here. It is time for you to leave,” he spat. My mental body quivered. “This is my mind, and my body,” I stated tentatively.
Razer’s eyebrows knit into a hideous mask, his back arched into a primal pose of attack, and his eyes narrowed until they were fierce yellow slits so devoid of any humanity or sanity that I could not stop myself from shrieking. He loaded his legs and sprang forward towards me, scratching me with his fingernails everywhere he could reach. He had become more canine than human at that moment, with his lips bared back to reveal yellow, pointy teeth and his jet-black hair bouncing in crazy patterns of disarray. As we fought, our physical body shook. This physical symptom of a divided mind mimicked a seizure. As our body lay convulsing on the floor, Dr. Kranken, Nurse Wendy, and several others rushed in to allay whatever imagined psychological horror plagued me. I could see Dr. Kranken’s rodent-like face, his long nose sniffing anxiously for the cause of the trouble. On the stage of my conscious mind, Razer took a swing at me and darkness swallowed both of us.
When I returned from the brink of the abyss, I found myself sitting in Dr. Kranken’s office, ripping apart a tissue in my clenched fists.
“Now, Julian,” Dr. Kranken began, “you’ve had six of these seizures in the past three months. What do you think could be causing them? As you know, we’ve already tested your blood for anything that could be causing a physical illness. We’ve ruled out every reason for your issue except for psychologically induced seizures. In other words, Julian, you are doing this to yourself. Now, why would you do that?”
“I don’t know, Dr. Kranken.” My lips moved, but I wasn’t moving them. Razer wanted me to watch whatever insane plans he intended to carry out.
“Come, now, Julian. In our therapy, you’ve never revealed much about your life before the death of your wife. Could something about that be troubling you?”
“You know, Dr. Kranken, there is something troubling me. You see, I’ve never had the chance to give my true side of the story about my wife’s death, not really. The truth is, I wanted to kill her. She was absolutely awful. She nagged me everyday, she burned every meal she cooked, and she was a cold b****.”
My heart—the heart that had loved Carrie—screamed in excruciating pain and a yelp escaped my mental throat. Dr. Kranken listened intently, wide-eyed with his mouth agape.
“One day,” Razer continued gleefully, “I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I went home, snuck in the back door, and saw her chopping carrots in the kitchen. I crept up behind her and grabbed the butcher knife from the counter. She turned around and saw me standing there, and she had the nerve to pretend that everything was okay. She told me we were having beef stew for dinner. She knew I hated beef stew. So I stabbed her. I just took the knife and punched it into her gut. She screamed and puked blood onto those damn carrots. She fell on the ground, and I stabbed her again in the gut. She didn’t have time to say anything else.”
The corners of my physical lips were upturned in a devilish grin, but my real mouth was set in a grief-filled grimace.
“Um,” stuttered Dr. Kranken, “That’s a v-v-very violent story, J-Julian. Do you think that these m-memories are causing your t-tremors?”
“Not at all,” Razer snarled, “But I know what will be causing yours.”
“Wha—“ was all Dr. Kranken could gasp before Razer leapt at him, slashing the doctor with his nails like talons, pumping his fists wildly, and thrashing his feet into Dr. Kranken’s bony shins.
The weak and mousy doctor screamed for his nurses, but his shrieks were muffled by the sounds of Razer’s attack. I knew I had to come forward to save this man from Razer’s insanity. For the first time, I pushed Razer as hard as I could. In our joint mind, he turned to face me with an icy, empty look. His eyes were not warm enough to be human, and the only light that burned in those beady orbs was thin and unpredictable. As our physical body continued to beat Dr. Kranken, Razer unleashed the same animal on me. He clawed, thrashed, flailed, beat, punched, and kicked. At first, I tried to beat him at his own game, meeting his fists with my own. I knew I could not sustain that level for much longer. I began to retreat back to my mental cell when a tender memory unlocked itself and pushed itself to the forefront of my mind. The memory showed Carrie and me, laughing while walking around Central Park, licking big pink ice cream cones and admiring the lush beauty of spring in New York. We were so happy, and the world seemed a warm, safe, secure place. I turned from the memory to Razer, and noticed that he, too, had retreated. He stood panting at the edge of our consciousness, the wild light in his eyes continuing to crackle and spit. I understood the significance of the memory, and fished for more. I brought forth four more happy reminiscences, all involving Carrie and the overall sense of warmth and goodness she brought to the world. Razer howled in pain, but refused to be beaten down by a woman of whom he thought he had rid himself. He pulled forth the memory of Carrie, dead, at my feet, blood pooling around her cold limbs as rigor mortis began to set in. With this, Razer took several steps towards me.
In the physical world, the nurses came into Dr. Kranken’s office and shot our body with a heavy dose of tranquilizer. They then transported us to our room, where they confined us to a straitjacket strapped to the bed.
Razer unearthed the memory of Carrie’s funeral, which I did not know I had attended. Carrie lay in her coffin, her pale skin glowing in the spring sunshine that seemed to mock my sorrows. Razer took four steps forward and began to beat me again. As we both continued to unearth more and more conflicting memories of Carrie, a deep rift appeared in our subconscious. We were drawn closer and closer to the edge with each memory we pulled from the structure of our psyche. It was as though we were throwing knives; each recollection cut a little deeper towards the heart and bone of our enemy. We wrestled closer and closer to the edge of the dark crevasse, biting and punching and kicking and clawing.
At the very precipice of the cliff, we stopped momentarily. We viewed the blackness silently, perhaps both in awe of its infinity. Razer had his insane musings on its purpose and significance, and I had my sane ones. Razer grabbed my arm and threw me over the edge, whispering “There are monsters down there oh yes monsters you can’t even imagine I’ve seen them I’ve seen them I’ve seen them down there.” As I fell, I gripped Razer’s ankle and yanked him down into the chasm. He screamed a lunatic’s scream and plunged with me. In trying to make the divided mind whole again, he had killed the only thing that bound us together. In the end, I saw the emerald oak tree, its ancient wood hard and wrinkled. Carrie was sitting under the tree, beckoning me to join her in the idyllic oasis. I rushed to greet her, and Razer’s frantic shrieks faded into the background of the infinite abyss.
When Nurse Wendy found the body, she immediately recognized it as comatose, and moved it to the coma care unit of the neighboring hospital. What a waste of money to vitalize an empty shell.