The October People. Chapter Nine: Katabasis
“…. he who dares explore will raze
the beast of fear behind the door.
No Ariadne and no crone
will point the way. Each man alone
must thread his path, unreel his own
life spool and fumble to the lair.
Each man must journey naked there
nor arm himself with wing nor stone.
For he who goes his armor shed
and walks with all that once he fled
that man will face the horned head
the unimaginable eyes
And find there where the monster dies
the ichor that the terror bled.”
“The Minotaur” Isabella Gardner
DREAM JOURNAL January 31st
Melissa and I were in the upstairs hallway of a deserted house. Suddenly a powerful pulsating sound began. She put her hands over her ears, doubled up and moved quickly away from the noise, to the right.
“Oh my God! It’s that alarm again!” she cried out in terror.
I filled with rage: I would attack and kill whatever was threatening her. I focused on the door in front of me; a white, 4-panel, wooden bedroom door. The sound was coming from behind it. I swelled with strength and kicked the door open.
It flew inwards, hitting someone or something behind it and bounced closed again. Both terrified and enraged, I kicked it open again, harder.
The sound crescendoed and became deafening. It was inhuman, attacking, staccato, piercing, terrifying. Tremendous mortal danger was here.
I charged forward into the room. To the left, I saw another open doorway. The sound emanated from that room.
I could see a closed attic trapdoor there. It was bowing down under a strain; whatever was up there was trying to get out. The deafening sound was coming from up there, it radiated out in visible distortions of the air.
The trapdoor bulged out further; the wood giving way.
...THE THING IN THE ATTIC WAS GOING TO GET OUT!!!
I woke up with a grunt, sitting half-upright with a convulsive jerk. Sweat ran down my forehead, the sheets were soaked with it.
“What’s the matter?” Melissa asked sleepily, rolling over to face me. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah.” I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yeah. I’m alright. I just had a nightmare, that’s all.” I glanced at the clock: 5 a.m. I laid back down and closed my eyes.
The instant I did I was no longer in the bedroom. I was in another time and place and I couldn’t escape from it, couldn’t come out of it. In disbelief and terror, I knew I was not dreaming: This was real!
“He’s killing me!!” I heard myself yelling at the top of my voice in panicked terror in the distance. “He’s killing me!!”
“Who is!? Who is!?” Melissa cried out in alarm and confusion, sitting bolt upright.
“Al! It’s Al! He’s KILLING me!!”
I saw his face, my father’s face, right in mine, monstrously twisted and disfigured with rage, eyes bulging and teeth bared. He was throttling me with both hands and slamming my head into the Woodside apartment’s bedroom floor over and over and over and over, all the while screeching that inhuman staccato scream of hate and rage from the nightmare.
I was five: I felt it ALL.
It was MURDER!
Then…it was gone.
Stunned, I turned to her. Stammering, my whole body shaking like a leaf, I tried to make her grasp what had just happened to me. It was not a dream, I was not remembering it: I was there. I had somehow gone back in time and just re-experienced my father killing me.
I was shaken to the core of my being and as white as a ghost.
“That noise…Can you describe it?” she asked cautiously after a moment.
“YI-YI-YI-YI-YI-YI-YI-YI-YI-YI-YI-YI-YI!!”, a high-pitched chattering shriek from Hell.
She felt the down on her arms stand up.
Suddenly my terror was gone and an overpowering rage simultaneously filled its place, a rage from somewhere that seized me as powerfully as the horror had before.
“Never again!! Never again!!” I began to roar over and over, springing to my feet, shaking in anger, my chest swelling, every muscle bulging, fists clenched in white-knuckled fury.
Suddenly I realized I was alone. She was gone. I could hear her running for the back door. I knew what she was going to do.
“Melissa! Wait! Don’t do anything yet! I need time to think!” I called out. Shakily, I managed to get down the stairs, wondering why I had kept saying “Never again!”.
“I’ll kill him!” she snarled through her teeth, eyes blazing, when she came back. “I was going to call them up and let him have it, that son of a bitch! Then I realized words mean nothing to creeps like that. I was looking for the car keys when you told me to wait....Why do you need to wait!?”
“Because I don’t understand what’s happened to me. I don’t know what this is. Do you know what I mean? Can you understand? I…I don’t know what just happened.”
“I need to do something!” she sputtered in frustrated anger. She became coldly intent. “I know.” She turned and started up the stairs.
“Where are you going?”
“To tear the heads off every photograph we have of those two creeps! And to get anything they gave us out of this house!...That won’t take long either.”
“Good idea.” I thought numbly, nodding stupidly to myself. The rage was gone now too, leaving me drained, confused and lost.
My past had just crash-landed into my present, the bottom of my world had fallen out. Who I thought I was, what I thought my past was; what my family was…All wrong. Everything was wrong.
I was suddenly in unknown waters and some scattered, distraught fool in shock stood there in my place.
I kept seeing that insane hatred in his berserk eyes as he tried to crush me out of existence. “Mom and Pop”, “Mother and Father”: Those words were gone forever. I would never refer to them by those terms again. The anger and hate I had for them that had been unleashed in that instant after the terror astonished me. I suddenly understood that I’d always had that buried hate, especially toward him. It must have lain just below the surface of my mind; simmering and waiting, all these years.
Twice in my early teens he had provoked me with something or other and then made a move for me, seething through his gapped teeth. Without a split-second’s hesitation I had thrown my hands up in the guard stance, cocked and tense-ready. As soon as I had, he bounced back quickly away from me, hunching low in a defensive posture, fists balled before his face.
Both times I had had a rage like I’d never known before. My fists wanted to fly on their own like pistons. I didn’t just want to defend myself, I didn’t just want to fight him: I wanted to kill him with my hands, to pound him into unrecognizable pulp.
“C’mon! Ya think ya big enuf now!?” he had spat from behind his fists. He wasn’t acting like a 40 year old grown man fighting a skinny 15 year old kid. He was acting like he was going to have to fight someone he was terrified of, but hated and would love to kill if he dared.
Both times I was split in two as I stood squared off with him. Where had this rage come from? I had been in fights all my life, but I never felt anything like this before. He was my father, but I wanted to kill him. I was his son, but he wanted to kill me.
We stood like that, tensed, braced; bombs about to explode. Both times Loony Lily had watched us silently, like a cat.
“Okay, you two.” she said, stepping forward as soon as she saw nothing was going to happen. “Break it up.”
“Look at this!” Melissa cried out in disbelief as she hurried up to me, holding up a copy of Al and Lily’s wedding picture.
“Okay…It’s their wedding photo. What about it?” I asked confusedly, glancing at it.
I had seen it often enough. I never thought it a very flattering picture. It was the only photo they had of their wedding; there was no album or other photos. It looked like it had been taken in front of a cheesy backdrop in a cheap studio somewhere.
Al was in an ill-fitting suit and wearing a very forced, sick smile. Lily was not at all attractive as a bride. Her expression was disquieting, her smile somehow unpleasant; like an evil Mona Lisa.
“Look at her. Really look….She’s pregnant!”
“Well, look. I was just about to tear it up, when I really stared at it for the first time. Look at the size of her. That gown was made to hide it. She was even posed a bit behind Al to conceal the size of her stomach.”
“I’ll be goddamned.” I said softly as I examined it myself. “You know, I always thought she just had a fat belly. But you’re right, that’s not obesity, none of the rest of her is fat to match. She looks pregnant, even her hair. If I saw this photo and didn’t know anything about the woman, I wouldn’t hesitate to say she was pregnant, very pregnant, in her last trimester if this was her first. What the hell is this now? No wonder she could keep getting into that gown on those anniversaries all these years: It was cut huge. This has got to have something to do with that ritual of hers.”
“Did you have an older brother or sister?”
“What? No, that’s crazy! My birth certificate says I was her first child, and I was born 4 years after they were married.”
“And she would have supplied that information, that you were her first?”
“No, now wait a minute. I have no recollection of ever hearing anything about an older sibling who didn’t make it.”
“Okay: Then explain this.”
“I can’t. Not yet...Goddamn she looks pregnant.”
I was beginning to reel. Strange, insistent, intense images and thoughts crowded up, forcing themselves on me fast, too fast. They urgently crowded upon each other; I couldn’t think about any one of them by itself. Was it seeing the photo that prompted them? Or remembering Al killing me? How can I know Lily fooled around on Al? Why did I know he didn’t think I was his kid? Why did I keep seeing Lily’s mother, my Grandma Alter, giving Al the cuckold sign mockingly from her back stoop?
Was I making this up? No. I wasn’t making it up; it was coming up. But how? From where? What was going on inside me?
How could I remember…no…LIVE through an experience again like that? I knew it happened…and it was Al, and it was me there, and I knew it was Woodside…but WHY hadn’t I remembered it before? And where was all the rest of it? Was I hallucinating?
“Why are you rubbing your nose?” Melissa asked me the next day as we smoked by the woodstove.
“Hmm?...Ah, it’s nothing. It aches, that’s all.” I hadn’t realized I was massaging the bridge of my nose. It ached like a recent break does on a cold, damp day. I was still sick and empty feeling inside, at a loss to know what to do or think.
“Didn’t some kids break your nose?”
“Which time? In the City? Yeah. Twice. There was a bunch of them at the top of the stairs to some Duplex. They told me to come on up. But when I got up there, they pushed me and I fell down the two flights of stairs and broke my nose. No sooner did it heal, but the same kids called me back up the same stairs. I went up again and they knocked me down again: Broken nose number two. Pretty dumb, huh?” I smiled ruefully.
“I heard Lily tell that story. But are you sure that’s what happened?” she asked. “Do you remember it happening?”
I was irritated by what I thought a ridiculous question, but I thought about it for a minute. I had no doubt that what I said was the truth. I found I could pull up that memory. “Yes…There it is…I can see myself going up the stairs and…”
Everything seemed to freeze suddenly.
“Wait a minute. Something’s wrong.” I mumbled in stunned disbelief. “I’m seeing this from the wrong perspective!”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean; I’m watching myself go up the stairs, like I’d watch somebody else go up the stairs, from the side, from a distance. I should be seeing this through my eyes, not someone elses!...And there’s no details; not of the kids, the stairs, nothing.”
I looked at her in amazement.
“These aren’t memories. They’re visualizations of the story Lily told me a few times when I was around 10. You heard it too, remember? She said: ‘Ya jest kept goin back.’”
“It’s a ‘plant’! …What other injuries were you told about?”
“Hold on, hold on…Did I ever remember this before? I do remember getting busted in the nose. I was really little….I didn’t know how to play ‘catch’... I think I threw the ball wild; over a fence or something. Somebody ran up and punched me hard in the face. I went down….And I…I remember…a boy…He had a scar in the middle of his forehead. I can see it...Who was that? I can’t see his face, just his forehead. It’s like I’m looking in a mirr…”
I stood up and went into the bathroom. I returned a moment later.
“It was me. I just looked in the mirror. It’s there. Right where I knew it would be. But I swear to God I haven’t got a clue how I got it. I didn’t even know it was there until I looked.”
The next day I found myself unconsciously rubbing my aching forehead. This time I went right to the mirror and found more old scars. One started over my right eyebrow and extended diagonally up to the right into my hairline. It was deep enough to make a shadow. Two others looked like asterisks over an inch in diameter.
“What the hell?”
Then I recalled that I had noticed just last summer that the skin over my temples had a weird, dense spiderweb-like pattern that was a much deeper brown than the rest of my face. Now what the hell was that?
Next it was my cheeks that began to ache. More scars. On the left cheek 2 long, thin, white lines began in a glossy scar patch near my ear and furrowed down past my mouth onto my chin. My right cheekbone was ringed by a long semi-circular scar, like a 2 inch medallion of the flesh had been lifted off and then re-attached. A deep scar etched a gulley from the corner of my mouth halfway down my chin.
What could have made such terrible wounds?
“...Broken glass.” The words in my head startled me.
“Where did that come from? Why did I think that?”
More scars; under my chin, along the jawbones, up behind the ear.
“How come I didn’t know I had these!? Why didn’t I see them?”
For decades I’d known there were areas on my face that would grow no whiskers and ones where the hairs came in white from the start, but I just assumed I had a weird facial hair pattern...or something.
The back of my head was next to ache. Melissa took me outside into the sunlight, sat me down in a chair and began going through my hair to look at the scalp on the back of my head.
“Do you feel this?” she asked me after a few minutes.
“No. Why? What are you doing?”
“How about now?...Do you feel this?”
“I’ve got my fingernail sunk about a quarter of an inch into your scalp now. Are you telling me you can’t feel that?”
“I feel a slight pressure, that’s all. What’s there?”
“A round scar. About dime-sized. It looks like gristle.”
By the time she had gone over my whole scalp, she had found 5 more nasty looking scars; and a long reddish one on the back of my neck where it joins the head. She said some sections of my scalp weren’t white but red, and it was possible that there were more scars that she just couldn’t see through the thick mane of hair I had.
Over the next few days we went through the other ‘memories’ I had of childhood injuries.
“So: You don’t remember having your tonsils and adenoids removed like she said you did?”
“No. I have no memories of checking into a hospital. And you know what’s odd? I’ve had several doctors over the years tell me during physicals that my tonsils looked fine. Apparently there’s still there. When I told one doctor that was impossible, that I had them out when I was 5, he looked at me funny and said maybe they grew back. Well, maybe they did. But before they can grow back they’ve got to be removed first, and I don’t remember that.”
“So then that memory you do have of choking while tubes were being put down your throat and nose…Lily told you that was a hemorrhage?”
“Yeah. She said it was too bad, but I had to be awake for them to do that. She had told me once that they noticed a few days after the tonsillectomy that all day long I was gulping, swallowing something. Then all of a sudden I started throwing up blood, ‘Buckets of it. All ova da place”, as she put it.”
“Oh my God.”
“Yeah, but there’s a problem here now that I think about it. If I had been swallowing blood all day and then vomited it, it would’ve looked like coffee grounds because it would have been partially digested. There wouldn’t have been much fresh red blood. So if there was ‘buckets of blood’ it was from something else. Another thing: Your tonsils are at the back of your mouth, not down your throat. And the adenoids are on the roof of your mouth, nowhere near your throat...I looked it up.”
“So why were they putting a tube down my throat? And I remembered something else. I remember waking up slowly in a semi-private room, not a ward, wearing pajamas, not a hospital gown. A doctor came in and pulled something up out of my mouth from way down in my throat, past my Adam’s apple. Why would I hemorrhage that far down my throat, if my tonsils and adenoids are way up here?”
“I don’t know. It’s a good question. But you’ve got a scar that cuts right across your throat there. Do you think this has something to do with that creep choking you? All there is are questions. Here’s another one: Where did you get that scar on the corner of your eyebrow? It’s deep.”
“Ah, that must have been a beaut, because no hair ever grew there. But I don’t remember getting it. You heard Lily tell the story: How she was trying on her wedding gown on their 5th anniversary and I tripped over it, and cut my head on the corner of the coffee table.”
“There’s that wedding gown again. Yes, I remember her telling it. I thought she was awful. The only thing she said she was worried about was getting blood on the gown. She wouldn’t even hold you, just kept you off at arm’s length. But the point is: You don’t have any memory that fits what she said here either?”
“Nope. Nor about the monkey.”
“The monkey that supposedly scratched me. When I was about 10, I asked how I got these scars on my upper lip. They were the only ones I could see in the mirror. Lily told me that one day I was in the grocery store with her. They had a monkey in a cage as a promotional gimmick or something. Some kids had been teasing it and got it pissed off, so when I went up to the cage, it reached out through the bars and scratched me.”
“Scratched you? It left scars deep enough to last 50 years? Those were no ‘scratches’!”
“And it’s another one I have no memory of happening. You’d think I’d remember getting my face attacked by an animal. Here’s another one: I had a helluva purple goose-egg, right here…” I pointed to the left side of my head, just above the temple, “for our first Christmas on the Island. There was supposed to have been a car accident. Lily said a drunk broadsided us when we were stopped for the light at the corner of Larkfield and Jericho. But no cops were called, there was no damage to the car, and I was the only one injured.
I always thought I remembered it happening because I ‘saw’ the headlights coming, and I ‘saw’ myself flying through the air to hit my head….But I shouldn’t be able to see myself like that here either. And the goose-egg was on the wrong side of my head to fit the story. But the real smoking gun is that for that drunk to have hit us where she said, he would have had to passed clean through the Diner that was on that corner at that time like it was a mirage. It was physically impossible for it to have happened the way she said it did.”
“All her stories were lies!”
“Here’s another one: I have no memory of breaking my collarbone. But I do remember now coming out of the doctor’s office and telling the people in the waiting room that I felt like I was ‘made of wood’, because my whole torso and left arm were wrapped up tight in something hard and white.”
“What about the “Chinese Mustard’ story? Do you remember anything like that?”
On one of her last visits, Lily had suddenly launched into a brief anecdote: “Once, when ya was really little, someone asked why you’d been screamin so much at night; It was cause ya got hot Chinese Mustard in ya eyes.”
“Nope. Not a thing. I heard that one for the first time when you did. Nor do I know what she was really doing in that story she told about when Chesnek the Landlord burst in and yelled ‘Mrs. Novak! What are you doing!!?”
“These ‘people’ are really bad! You know; I never wanted to hurt your feelings, so I never told you I thought your mother looked like a cross between an old Saloon Madam and that witch in “Snow White”.
“I agree with the witch bit. No offense taken, believe me.”
“Did you think of her as a witch when you were a child? You know, I always thought you were being, well…weird…when you insisted that I never tell her when you were sick or going into the hospital for something.”
“I don’t know, some part of me believed it was critical that she not know until I was safely out of the hospital. I thought…no, thought isn’t the right word. I felt that if she knew, she’d interfere somehow, something would happen, and I’d die”
Wherever we looked on me, we found more scars. I stood completely naked in the kitchen while Melissa pored over me. I tried to follow with a hand mirror what she was finding.
These were old, old scars. Scars that were there, but shouldn’t have been, because I didn’t remember getting them. But there they were. I couldn’t believe how many there were. I quickly drew the figure of a man on a sheet of paper; front, back and side views, as well as 4 views of a face and head. We began transferring what we found on me to this ‘Scar Chart’. After 240 I stopped counting.
The most shocking discovery was that my phallus was scarred. If there is one piece of property a man knows, it’s his c*ck. Yet there they were, and I never knew they were scars. I mean, I just don’t look at other guys’ penises; so how would I know what a ‘normal’ penis looks like? I had known for years that the 90 degree twist to the right I had could have been caused by a trauma, but I assumed that in my case it was just a quirk of nature. I mean; I didn’t remember anything happening, and the equipment has always worked splendidly, so why would I think something had happened to me?
This was all blowing me away. How could this be? How could all these scars have gone unnoticed by me, not to mention my friends, lovers, or even ‘family’?
For her part, Melissa said she had just never looked that close before, and who looks for scars on somebody else anyway? She said she’d always known there was ‘something’ on my face, but just assumed I’d had some sort of scarring acne or something when I was young. I hadn’t.
Could they have just‘re-appeared’ after having faded away for decades? But how the hell could they do that?
There was no sign of them in any recent photos I had of myself. But then again, there was no sign of the ones that I had known I’d had all along, including the 8 inch gash on my right thigh. And most of these old scars were in places that I physically couldn’t have seen without a careful search with mirrors. And I didn’t even discover using a hand mirror in combination with a wall one to look at the sides of my face until I was in late High School.
The only ‘rational’ explanation I could come up with was that maybe they were re-appearing now that my skin was changing with age and was no longer so youthfully taut. That, and the fact that I had no tan at this time of the year that might hide them.
But what was really getting at me was that I had not one single memory to explain even one of these scars. This was unbelievable. What was going on? Was I insane? If I was, so was Melissa; she saw them too. What are they? Some kind of weird stigmata? It’s one thing to remember your ‘father’ strangling you to death when you were five. That’s perfectly understandable…if not normal. But this. All these scars…How?
“Nobody’s going to believe this. They’re going to lock me up somewhere.”