He sat naked in a rocking chair in an almost dark room. The door was closed. Three windows were open. The wind blew crisp air into the room and made the thin white curtains flow into the empty space. Outside, the moon played hide and seek with the clouds in the sky. Their play made shadows dance on the bare walls.
The chair creaked on the hardwood floors with every forward motion. Some panels were loose from years of use. It was as if they had a memory of every footstep that had ever touched them. The man kept moving. The same movements, over and over again. The repetition was somewhat meditative. Soothing. And he needed that for himself. Calmness. Stillness. He wanted to close his eyes and escape the earth and all its noise for a while, but he couldn’t. He was scared. Scared that the demons lurking in the shadows were finally there to steal his soul. No, sleep or rest of any kind was not an option. No matter how tired he was or how much his eyes hurt from squinting in the dark, he needed to keep them open and stay alert. Awake. Everwake.
The man’s mind was at once empty and overflowing. His body was in flames from the heat surrounding his heart one moment, and it was freezing cold the next from the gushes of air, raising goosebumps on his exposed skin. Everything was the opposite of how it was supposed to be. But he kept rocking back and forth on his wooden rocking chair.
In the dark, the red cushions weren’t visible. But he knew that they were there, supporting his weight. There was a tear on the back and a couple of stains under his bottom; he knew every blemish by heart. Like the scars or tattoos on his skin, every stain and every tear, every hole had a story. And he remembered them all. Memories. Remembering meant either torment or bliss. Tonight every flash of the past equalled agony.
The moon kept travelling across the sky, closely followed by a thin layer of clouds. An owl was awake in the tree under his window; it called for someone in the dark night.
He needed a drink, and he craved a cigarette, but he couldn’t leave his chair. He was trapped in his own darkness, not only the darkness of the room but the darkness of his mind too.
The partying shadows on the walls and on the ceiling kept mocking him and his life in captivity. If he were strong enough, he would have tried to fight every single demon. But he was weak and afraid of the dark. He was lonely. Alone.
Another flash of the past made him remember the woman he had loved. He had only loved once. Genuine and honest and raw. He had been able to feel love, to give, and to receive it too. Those times were long gone. There was nothing loveable about him anymore, and if someone tried to be affectionate toward him, he had the unique gift to ruin it every time. No one was allowed to see past the image he had decided to show of himself. No one was allowed to see his vulnerabilities and his weaknesses. No, showing those only ever resulted in pain.
As the middle-aged man kept rocking back and forth on his chair, the voices in his head grew louder and more insistent with each creak of the wooden frame. From soothing to aggravating in a matter of moments. He hit the side of his head with his flat hand. Left hand. Left temple. “Stupid,” he muttered. The ghosts had not left, but no one answered him. Behind him, the curtains made a swishing sound. He stopped moving. He was convinced they were here to take him away, to make him vanish into thin air. He held his breath. He reasoned that maybe they couldn’t see him if he stayed still.
The owl was calling him from the shelter of her tree. And from the walls, shadows tried to catch him. He was paralysed with fear. There was no escape. The sheer terror of all his sins was staring into his pale red-rimmed eyes and tried to pull him under. If he had been able to do it, he would have closed his eyes. But he couldn’t. His body did not belong to him anymore; it did not obey his silent pleading orders anymore. The man tried to scream for help, for someone to save him and wake him up from this nightmare, but no sound got out of his mouth. There was no sound but the wind and the owl. The man was lost in this weird dream, knowing full well that he was not asleep. He was trapped in a cage of fear.
He gasped. For a moment, everything became clear. For a moment, he understood that it was all in his head and that his mind was playing tricks on him. Nothing was real.
His face turned into a painful grimace, and then he chuckled. His shoulders moved along with the sound. And he started laughing until he was scratching at the door of insanity. He was rocking in his chair again. Back and forth. Over and over again.
The moon was slowly fading, making room for the sun. The shadows on the walls began to become invisible, and the owl stopped calling for her lover. The wind had let up, too, leaving the curtains to rest after an eventful night.
He tried to exhale deeply, but because he was still laughing, he only made a wheezing sound. The ghost of the night was still lingering in the sweat covering his naked body. The man was drenched in fear. But he kept moving. Back and forth. Back and forth. In his mind, a film was replaying the worst moments of his life. He was convinced that he deserved the punishment the darkness brought upon him every night anew. There was nothing left fighting for. No redemption in sight.
The man finally closed his eyes. A grin was spread on his face. Maybe the next time, he would start to fight the madness residing in his head. Yes. Next time. Or maybe… not.
(1048 words, written during the early hours of August 25th 2021)