Veils, Shadows, Minds, Hearts…

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You feel it coming before it hits you. Did you know that? Insanity, in the true sense of the word. That feeling of not being “all there,” or separation. It doesn’t wash over you like a tidal wave. It rises, from the feet up, it’s hot at first, but it cools down and freezes over your head. You can’t move, you’re too afraid to move…. “what if I make a mistake? what if I hurt someone?” You can see faces, but you can’t see PEOPLE.

How does one like me explain… there are no words in any language created by man. Only analogies and allegories. You’re walking with your loved one, the sun is warm, but it’s overcast, a pleasant kind of overcast and there’s a light rain that feels good on your cheek. You come to a fork in the road and you go right. Your loved one goes left, ’cause she realizes something that you don’t: there is no right. But off you go anyway, you hear her words, but not her voice, and you think she’s still near to you. The path is treacherous, it rains so hard that it starts to flood, you whistle a familiar tune to calm yourself, even though you didn’t realize there was anything wrong in the first place. But when it finally hits you… when you feel the water rise over your head, when you’re drowning, when you see “him” standing in front of you… you know, him, you, but the you that went left… that’s when reality sets in. That’s when you KNOW that you’re different, that the world you thought you knew is not as tangible as you thought it was. That the “reality” isn’t very “real” at all.

At times like these, I just have to separate myself from everything, watch the universe go round and round through a window. I can’t step outside. It’s dangerous out there… that would be suicide for sure. People may forget me… I may forget them, perhaps… I may forget how to walk and speak and pray and love… but I’ll live.

Survival is a talent forced upon all of us, and one I dearly wish I did not have.

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Misery Lane

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“Misery Lane” is a strange story I wrote back in my freshman year of high school.

Misery Lane

Gloomy, drawn faces peer out of the gray windows as I pass by, their eyes shrouded by a mysterious fog. The rain is falling hard, but quietly, drenching the cobblestone streets and trickling off of the gutters onto my head. The streets here are narrow and twisted, making it such that one cannot see more than ten feet in front of his nose at any one moment. This particular street is very long and especially curvy. It is called “Misery Lane.”

I used to avoid the place as much as I could. Misery Lane branches off of a much wider road called “Blissful Ignorance Street,” where it is always sunny and bright, and people wave at me and smile whenever I make eye contact. It feels surreal. Walking Blissful Ignorance is like walking through a dream, and after a while one might notice that the happy couple actually has holes where the hearts are supposed to be, the boisterous barber actually has cut wrists, and the cocky kids all have shadows under their eyes. Truth hidden beneath lies. Not so on Misery Lane.

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I continue my walk, slowly and without any real purpose. I step to the side to allow a large black dog to pass. I notice fleetingly that he has a human heart in his mouth. I can hear the pounding begin to fade away as the dog trots on quickly. A clap of thunder makes me look upward for a second at the cloud-filled sea of gray hanging over my head. For a moment, my mind melts into that sea like ice in the warmth of the sun. I close my eyes and I am floating in the sadness. Hands reach out to touch me, icy, bony hands, but I do not recoil, because I know they only want to be loved as I do. We are a family, and for a moment, I feel “alright.” A soft moan brings me back down to earth much too soon.

The girl is tottering towards me very slowly, her hands up against the sides of the buildings. She looks to be quite young, and she is moaning and weeping quietly. When she reaches me, she stops. Her long, red dress is drenched. I cannot see her eyes, which are covered by a mass of long, dark hair that falls over her face.

“Save me.” She whispers, reaching out to me. “Save me.”

I take her hand lightly in mine, concerned, but not perturbed. “What is wrong, dear?” I ask.

“I have come from far away, from a town called “Abuse.” She replied. “I have tried to be good and to do as my parents ask me to. But I am never good enough. They warned me that if I could not see their way I would not see at all.” She parted her hair then with her free hand and turned her head up to me. Pits. Deep, dark pits of gloom, from which blood had flown freely and was now dried on her cheeks, leaving red stains.

Images begin to form themselves within these pits, rippling as if I were looking into a pool. I see the angry face of an abusive father and the stern expression of a disappointed mother. I see the knife pulled out of the top drawer where she cannot reach. The knife draws closer. “We warned you, honey. Don’t struggle.” I hear a scraping noise. A terrible, terrible scraping that resonates within my soul as her eyes are pulled out forcefully. A scream, and crying. “Don’t daddy! Don’t, please!” Crack. The pool turns a deep, blood red.

“What is your name?” I ask, my eyes filling with tears.

“Alma.” She says, lowering her head again. “Please save me. I am frightened. They are following me.”

“Who is following you?”

“Them. Daddy. Mommy. Them, them! They will hurt me.” Alma begins to sob more emphatically. I wrap her in my arms.

“Walk on, Alma. I am escaping too. We are all escaping here on Misery Lane. We have the choice to stop, any of these people will let you in and ease your pain.” I gesture around at the faces that are peering apathetically from the windows. “But you can never come back out once you have gone in. You have a long way to go yet. Walk on.”

Alma let me go and stood still, saying nothing. I hold her one last time and continue my journey, feet slapping against the wet stone. After a couple of seconds I hear a knock. Glancing back, I see that Alma is being taken in by one of Them. A tear slides down my cheek, but I press on. Her choice is not a weak one, but a disappointing one nonetheless.

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The night never begins nor ends on Misery Lane, and the daylight never shows itself. One might think of it as a kind of false hope. The sun is always shining, but the clouds obscure the face. The result is a dull, heavily saturated image, in which everything is more pronounced and more real than anywhere else I have ever been. One can really “feel” on Misery Lane. The wetness of water, the blackness of shadows, the slap of shoes against stone is… these are things that one has never truly experienced until he has walked down this winding street. Lies and Deceit are not welcome here, only the cold, hard Truth. It is a frightening reality, and for this reason, very few people will face it.

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Here comes the Faceless again. I have never understood how I may pass him so many times when we are both going opposite directions, but by now I have stopped wondering. I could not ask him anyway. He crouches and he hobbles along quickly on his toes, making hardly a sound. He does not hear. He does not smell. He does not speak. He does not see. The Faceless has only smooth skin covering his head, and he lives what I think must be a lonely and unusual existence, wandering around without any sense of what life is other than what he can touch. For him, life must be a miserable and un-enjoyable thing. Either this, or he simply moves and touches on instinct, lifeless and essentially dead. My heart is filled with sorrow to see him. I say “hello” as he hobbles by, even though I know he cannot hear me. I do not dare to touch him, for fear of what gross disturbance may then taint his innocent soul.

A window opens a couple feet ahead of me on the right, and a voice cries out in a deathly monotone: “As this life is hollow, as the sun has gone, as the shadows stretch far beyond the dawn! As the death-bell tolls, as the blood begins to flow, let the Darkness grow. Let the Darkness grow!” The window closes as I come close and another opens farther along on the left, a similar voice reaching out from within: “Bleed through the night and bleed through the day, the end has come, now take us away! Cry for the loss and cry for the rain, the end has come for those in pain!” Again, the window closes and a chorus of haunting voices rises from within every house on Misery Lane, a sound like the whisper before death: “We will watch you. We will watch you.”

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The rain has stopped; a rare occurrence on Misery Lane. I find an odd pleasure in the sound of my footfalls, the only escape from an otherwise deafening silence. My mind wanders of its own accord. I find myself pondering the wisdom of taking this long, sad road, the end of which I could not describe for the life of me. It is never understood until one has committed himself to the street that there is no halfway point and there is no turning back. The trek will be just as far in either direction. Everything begins to blur, and the realism that at first had been so profound trickles away like the last drops of water from the windowpanes. My legs move, I inhale and I exhale, my heart beats; automatic, without purpose. I do not comprehend my surroundings or my existence, life becomes as meaningless as the sky and the tears and the chronic misery. I feel alone. For the first time in a long time, I wish someone would smile at me. I wish someone would just pretend.

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I have never, in all my travels, encountered a side street that falls off of Misery Lane. Today, however, I stop to look down one such street, the darkest and most obscure of any in the universe. It is a very short street. I can see the end of it. A single streetlight illuminates a brick wall some 50 yards down. Other than this wall, it is pitch black, the buildings on either side stretching far above the houses of Misery Lane. Silent guardians, blocking out any potential light. I notice a fallen sign on the other end of the street and bend down to read the name: “Suicide Circle.” The rain begins to pour again. I jump when I hear several shrill screams coming from the blackness of Suicide Circle. I strain my eyes to see, in vain. The screaming envelopes me and for a moment I am too scared to move. A detached head rolls into the center of the circle of luminescence cast by the streetlight. I turn my head and walk swiftly away.  I will never know what exactly was happening on that road. I never want to find out.

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A knife is a curious thing. The attachment one feels towards a knife is comparable to the attachment a son has for his mother. Or vice versa, rather. As hurtful as a son can be, a good mother will always cherish him, always attempt to convince him that she knows best, and always care for him. He will cause her pain. He will cause her great pain. Pain. Perhaps the metaphor stretches a little thin in my case. Unless the mother in mind happens to enjoy pain and blood. Pain is a curious thing. A son is a curious thing.

The son’s name is Fred. Fred has pins in his eyes and nails in his forehead. His mouth has been sewn shut, probably a measure taken by frustrated parents to prevent obscenities from slipping out. He is very bony, and most of his skin hangs off of his skeleton like drapes. I find him gnawing at his knife, trying to take out the stitches, but to no avail. When he sees me, he cocks his head a little bit a makes a strange, disturbing guttural sound from somewhere inside his stomach. I find that Fred frightens me, but I cannot take my eyes off of the blood-stained knife in his hands. We stare at each other for a long moment. In that moment I come to an understanding with Fred, without speaking a word: namely that I hate him and that I cannot live while he breathes. I grab the knife from his hands and push him to the ground, raising the knife above my head. I hear Fred moan, a muffled vibrato in his throat. The pins pop out of his eyes, and dark blood oozes out. I thrust the knife into his neck three times before I am satisfied. Fred’s corpse becomes limp. A pool of blood flows down Misery Lane, a river of life for all who come this way to see.

I look at my hands, covered in another man’s life. I am surprised to discover that this does not concern me. The knife is what concerns me, beautiful and loving as it is. It creates death. But it spills life.

A knife is a curious thing.

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The time has come. The truth now presents itself. Misery Lane has no end. The Faceless passes me again. The screams from Suicide Circle rise out of the darkness to plague my thoughts. Nothing ever changes and the sun never comes out. We pursue life in a vain attempt to find a way out, to do what no one has ever done before, to find happiness. The way out is right here, in front of our noses. I knock on the door. It opens and a woman with a smile like grace incarnate steps out to greet me. She takes my arm, and I realize that I have found my home here on Misery Lane.

Gloomy, drawn faces peer out of the gray windows as we pass by, their eyes begging us to understand.

We live for death, and in death, we find true life.

Me Part 4: Misery

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that we are all very much alone. There’s some comfort to be taken in that. Knowing that you are in control of your fate (hopefully) and that technically your actions and feelings are something you control yourself is comforting in a way. At the same time though, loneliness is completely miserable. Loneliness has bred sociopaths, killers, liars, cheaters, and philosophers since human life began, and in my case, it brought back something I’d hoped never to see again…
It started out with Sarah’s pregnancy and our engagement. I tried so hard to convince myself that this was something I could handle and that I would never leave her. So many pregnancies lead to break-ups, but I loved this girl enough to stick by her side through the whole thing, I was sure of it. Consciously, I was right. Sub-consciously, I was fooling myself from the beginning. Things just began to slip. I would get angry for no reason, she would throw insults at me out of the blue, suddenly that honeymoon phase was over because we had to be responsible parents. I remember every “good time” we had after learning that she was pregnant was always shrouded over by the darkness of a previous argument, or the knowledge that one was soon to come. It was miserable. I still loved her, but I started to hate her at the same time.
It’s so difficult to describe the dynamics of a relationship like this. The best I can do is to compare Sarah’s pregnancy to marriage, it was like a label telling us that the fun and games were over. But I was 18, and she a year younger, and we weren’t prepared for that. It resulted in some of the worst and most depressing fights I’ve ever been in before. I don’t know how we lasted so long. The real clincher though was after the baby was born. Seeing her face when little Rebecca was put in her arms, knowing that our relationship was over. And there was Fred, again. At the worst possible moment he decided to show up and I lost control. I ran out of that room, tears streaming down my face. I ran and I ran until I couldn’t run anymore and then I just kept walking, trying to get as lost as I possibly could and as far from that baby and that girl as I was able. And then I just sat down, my head in my arms, for what seemed like an eternity before Sarah’s parents found me and brought me back to their home.
Life, for me, became dream-like. I felt numb. I didn’t feel like a dad, I felt like a failure. My father had practically disowned me, and my mother (bless her heart) was disappointed beyond what I thought I could bear. I was disappointed in myself. Fred was constantly tormenting me, having the time of his life because he’d known all along it would never last. He was right. He’s always right. Loneliness would always rule my life from that point on, and there was nothing I could do about it.
The day Sarah and I broke up, I think a little piece of me died. I haven’t ever been able to get it back.

Me Part 2: Secrets

It wasn’t long after Fred’s initial appearance that I began to see him everywhere. It was a weird sort of relationship Fred and I had. Sometimes he could be perfectly charming, he would tell me things I needed to know or, ironically, give me ways to help me deal with him when he was in a bad mood (which was most of the time). His bad moods typically came at nighttime, when he would stow away in my closet and scream all night, and if I tried to leave or sleep somewhere else he would stand at the foot of my sleeping area and stare at me until I moved. It was frightening. It really was. I didn’t know what to do about him.
During the day he would make it impossible to focus. Sometimes it would just be repetition of words or counting in my head, and sometimes it would be chasing me across the high school campus, making me look like a retard to all of the people around me who couldn’t perceive him. And I never sought out help for this. I think it’s because, and I still believe this, Fred truly was real. I don’t know what he was, maybe a physical manifestation of that dark side that all humans posses, maybe a demon that I was unlucky enough to be possessed by, maybe something else, but he was real, and I can guarantee that. If Christians can have faith in an unperceivable God who makes supposedly perceivable changes in their lives, then surely I can have faith in a completely perceivable demon who made perceivable changes in my life.
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In any case, I kept him a secret. I visited a psychiatrist at one point in 2009 at my mother’s request, because she believed I was suffering some kind of mental trauma. The doctor’s concluded there was nothing wrong with me except that I had Bipolar Disorder Type I (a disorder I still struggle with today). Of course I never told them about Fred. But regardless, if I had schizophrenia or something like that, wouldn’t they have found that in the MRI’s or the various other scans I can’t remember the names of? Another reason I have to insist that Fred truly was there.
I stopped writing in my journal at this point. The final pages are filled with chicken scratch and “Shut Up” written in large all over them. The only things I remember from that period of my life are the fear and the paranoia that followed me everyday. That’s until I met her, of course…

Fred

I wrote this story my sophomore year of highschool. It is all based on real events except for the end, which I wanted to be happier than it would have been had it been exactly true.

Fred
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A calm stream, trickling softly over jagged rocks… I sighed with pleasure as the cool water flowed down my arm, its touch like that of an angel. The only light was the thin beam that shone in under the room door, illuminating the puddle on the floor. I could see my dark reflection staring up at me from that other world, somewhere between heaven and our own. He was crying tears of joy that created little resonating waves of happiness, visible to the earthly observer.

“This is unreal.” I said blissfully, choking on my joy like it was poison.

“I told you, Troy.” said Fred, smiling his I-told-you-so smile. Fred was my best friend. He was trustworthy. He never taunted me for being myself. He was just the best. Fred had always backed me up through the good times and the bad, ever since I’d met him two years ago.

Before high school I would always convince myself that I was innocent, kind and honest. Troy: the nicest kid around and the perfect home-schooler. That’s what everyone would say about me, smiling when they saw I was listening. I would laugh inwardly every time… partly because I enjoyed the praise and partly because I knew it wasn’t true.

My friends all lived close by. I didn’t exactly get out much in those days… there was nowhere to go, no one interesting to see… nothing to do outside of my little, 3-mile-radius home school world. It got boring sometimes. It got so boring that one year my friends and I decided to spice things up a little bit. ‘Nothing bad.’ We all agreed. ‘Let’s meet up, at midnight, once a week. Just for fun.’ So we did. Once a week, at midnight sharp, we would roam the streets, treading softly and pretending to be ninjas on a mission to assassinate some unknown, middle-eastern tyrant. “Watch out for the spotters!” I would always say, referring to the dim, green circles cast on the ground by streetlights. I was 12 years old at the time.

One rainy, February night, everything went completely awry. As we walked carefully down the street, we noticed a faint humming sound followed by two bright, pupil-less eyes that glared at us mercilessly. They had found us. Someone shouted “scatter!” and off we went, caught up in the moment and the thrill of finally being discovered. I ran without thinking until my legs could no longer carry me farther, down alleys, over fences, through bushes, still careful to avoid the lights.

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I stopped, panting, the rain chilling me to the bone in the frigid winter breeze. I looked up to survey my surroundings carefully before making my next move, as per ninja protocol. But the ninja very quickly disintegrated into the little boy named Troy when he realized he had no idea where he was. I turned slowly in a circle, hoping to find something recognizable. After a few moments, I finally admitted it to myself, in a whisper: “I’m lost.” I blinked a few times, with intent, vaguely hoping that the image in front of me would become replaced by somewhere familiar. Everything became blurry. “You’re lost.” The words were written on the stop sign, reflected in the puddles, shouted out to me through the car horns: “You’re lost.” I realized I was crying. My legs felt weak and I awkwardly brought myself down to hug my knees, drenched in rain. I shut my eyes, trying to think and decide what to do next, but my thoughts were constantly interrupted by a deep voice. I couldn’t hear what it was saying at first… “Waffles and fries?” “Awful to lie?”

“Open your eyes… open your eyes.” I did as I was told.

And there was Fred, smiling his I-told-you-so smile, reaching out his hand like an angel sent to guide me home. That is exactly what he did. In essence, it was what he had always done for me whenever I felt down… or lost.

Two years later, there I was in my room with the lights out, Fred grinning down at me. “Troy!” I heard my mother calling from downstairs. “Troy, are you up there?”

“Clean this up.” Fred said quietly. I grabbed the towel hanging on the closet door for this very purpose and mopped up the puddle on the floor, then quickly threw on a hoodie and leaped onto my bed.

“Troy?” my mother said again, being a rather repetitive person. She deftly opened my room door and flipped on the lights. ‘Oops.’ I thought, frustrated. ‘The lights.’ I stared blankly at the ceiling, ignoring mom’s suspicious eyes.

“What’s going on?” She asked. “I thought you were having a friend over?”

“Yah.” I said, keeping my eyes glued to the ceiling. “Me and Fred were just hanging out. What’s the big deal?”

“Fred and I.” She corrected me. “And I wasn’t making a big deal out of anything. I would like to know who Fred is, though. You keep on talking about him and I’ve still never met him.”

I shrugged, glancing around surreptitiously, surprised to see Fred gone. This was the first time I’d actually had him over. I thought today I would introduce him. “I guess he left.” I said quietly.

My mom just shook her head. “Sometimes I worry about you, love.” She said. “Come down for dinner, I made you pasta. And leave the lights on, please.” She left, leaving the door slightly open. I sighed and rolled out of bed, wincing a little at a pain in my arm. I groaned when I saw a stain on the wood floor, thankful that my mother had not seen it.

As I ran to get a wet rag and came back to clean up more thoroughly, I almost fell. The world flipped upside-down for a split second before twirling me back up in a flash of light. I blinked a couple of times, trying to clear my eyes and my head as I scrubbed the floor. That weird pain in my arm began to throb. “Troy.” said a deep, whispery voice from behind me. I glanced back quickly. There was no one there. “Troy.” Louder, in front of me. I fearfully twisted my head back around. Nothing but the wall. “Troy… Troy…” I kept my head down, whimpering, scrubbing harder than ever. Liquid was oozing out of the floor, spreading out over the whole room, drenching me and bubbling up to splatter in my eyes. “Troy…”

“Shut up.” I whispered, closing my eyes. “Please shut up.” My hand slipped and I fell face first into the liquid… straight through the floor, into a freezing, dark sea, where I floated helplessly and unable to move. “Troy…” I wanted to scream at the voice to leave me alone, but there was no air. I felt a hand reach down and grab mine. An icy-cold, bony hand, like the hand of Satan. The last thing I remember is being jerked up violently through the pitch black. “Troy…” Then there was silence.

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“These symptoms are indicative of mental trauma and intense adolescent stress.” says Dr. Child in his choir-of-hell monotone, as my mother nods and gives me sympathetic looks. “It could simply be an episode, a way for the mind to cope with the emotional distress of some past event. It could also be something much more serious, I’m afraid…” I stop listening.

‘This is unbelievable.’ I thought to myself, frowning inwardly. ‘The dumb quack thinks I’m crazy! Dr. Child…’ I shook my head, inwardly again. ‘Sounds like “codename: pedophile” to me.’ I chuckled and my mom gave me a sad look. It must have been a bad time.

As the adults droned on, I occupied myself with a drawing of a brontosaurus on the wall, right above Dr. Child’s head. It was a large drawing, colored deep red (almost maroon). The dinosaur had a stupid smile on its face that I recognized from somewhere. Its head was pointed up towards a clock, as if it were trying to read the time… I heard the clock ticking and subconsciously began to bob my head to the beat. The brontosaurus began to count, “1… 4… 17… 2… 6…” I didn’t blame it for being a little off; it was just a dinosaur after all. “7… 9… 11…” I traced the numbers quickly with my finger through the air as I heard them. “3… 21…” Dr. Child and my mom were looking at me. Their mouths were moving but I couldn’t hear anything except for the brontosaurus’ terrible counting skills. “90… 73… 42…” Mom looked a little angry with me. ‘I can’t hear you.’ I thought, a little glumly. But the counting suddenly stopped.

“Did you hear what Dr. Child said, Troy?” I heard mom ask, as she reached out to grasp my hands. There were tears in her eyes. “Are you alright with the tests, honey?”

“They won’t hurt.” said Dr. Child apathetically. “They won’t take long. It’s very important that we make sure before beginning medication.”

“Make sure of what?” I asked quietly.

My mom looked confusedly at Dr. Child. “Weren’t you listening, dear?” she said softly, gripping my hands more tightly. “There might be a… a problem with your brain. Dr. Child is not sure, but he’s afraid that you might have-“

“6… 8… 14… 18….” I felt my mother’s hands slip out of my own as she covered her face with them. That conversation was getting boring anyway

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A bright, white light. Not bright like close-your-eyes bright… just illuminating. And white men as well, all around me, whispering words that brushed over my ears like a breeze. I cannot see them very well. They blend in with the all-white backdrop. “Troy…” I hear them say. “Troy…” Their faces become clearer… wait, those are masks. All I can see is their eyes, most of them bright blue like the sky. One of them has a pair of green eyes. He motions for the rest of them to leave, then turns to look straight at me. He removes the mask.

“Hi Fred.” I say.

“Hi Troy.” Fred is frowning his I-told-you-so frown. “Why did you let them do it? Why did you let them tear us apart?”

I shut my eyes. “I don’t know what you mean.” I say softly. “I really don’t.”

“Yes, you do, Troy.” Fred says, a touch of anger tainting his calm voice. “You let these men kill me.”

“I didn’t know.” I say, shaking my head slowly. “It all happened so fast.”

My eyes shoot open in surprise when Fred grips my throat and draws a knife, his face twisting into a raging, grotesque form. “You left!” he screams. “You left, Troy!”

“Shut up!” I scream back, pulling his hand off my neck. “Leave me alone, Fred!”

“I’ll be back, Troy! You know I will!”

And then everything turns blood-red.

It has been four years since that day. I haven’t seen Fred since then. Occasionally I can still hear that brontosaurus counting, still see the liquid oozing up from cracks in the ground. Apart from that, life is just a dream of normality. I walk through it with no great degree of caution, knowing that one day I’ll wake up. That’s when Fred will return, smiling his I-told-you-so smile, holding a knife behind his back.

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Me Part 1: Hallucinations

I started out as an energetic little kid, like most little kids, full of life and ambition. I always wanted to be a rockstar when I grew up (I still do). I was a popular kid, good at pretty much everything (relatively speaking), did well in school, all that good stuff. It’s unfortunate that what happened ended up happening.
I still remember the exact day because I wrote about it in my journal… September 25th, 2007. That’s the day I saw him. I found a picture online that looks a lot like him actually: Image

Faceless underneath all the bandages, with stitches running up the left cheek. I called him Fred. Fred was fear. He ruined everything. Relationships fell apart because of him, grades slipped, and I became introverted and paranoid all the time. Fred was everywhere. In my head, in my closet, behind my back. He would scream at me sometimes, telling me about how worthless I was. Other times he would whisper to me the secrets of life that no one else knew, things that I can’t repeat here (at least not yet) for fear that he will return. Was Fred a hallucination? Maybe. I was under the impression that hallucinations are not real. But Fred was very real for me.