When I saw the above image in Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Prompt #360, I felt a strong urge to write a story. That’s probably from my enjoyment of weird fiction. The image strikes me as having an H.P. Lovecraft-kind of vibe.
Here’s my story…
by Dave Williams
Everyone has darkness in them. Inside us is the capacity for cruelty and kindness. It’s up to us to choose which we act with, in our hundreds of interactions every day.
These nuggets of wisdom were said to Collin Ebersole on a cloudy Thursday afternoon by his mental health therapist: Lucas Snelling, a man who had managed to keep slim in his mid-forties. No “dad bod” here. Perhaps part of Lucas’s attempt to appeal to clients was a fit body/fit mind approach. Not that either came easily. Both needed habitual attention. You exercised, you meditated. If this guy could do those, you could too.
In the beginning of this particular session at Lucas’s office, Collin Ebersole had told of visions he began having recently. Collin had said, “They come anytime. While I’m at work, while I’m walking to work or from work. When I’m at home. There’s no particular pattern. None that I can tell, at least.”
“And what are these … visions?” Lucas Snelling had asked, his face showing no emotion. Open to whatever came next.
“Lots of things,” Collin had said. “Wolves roaming the halls at the office. Their mouths open, showing fangs, dripping spit. And rats swarming out of sewer drains. Large ones, nasty-looking things. Octopuses — or is it octopi? whatever, either way — they’re reaching out of the doors of office buildings and stores. I see them. I actually see them. But then I blink a bunch of times, and they’re gone. It looks normal where those things had just been.”
Lucas had tilted his head a little to the side. Perhaps a practiced movement to attempt to appear thoughtful. Lucas had asked if Collin had been watching horror movies. Collin had not. How about horror TV shows? Collin had not. Reading horror books? Collin had not. Purposefully thinking of horrific events? Collin had not.
“This is curious,” Lucas had said. “Do you have an idea why your thoughts are dark this week?”
“That’s just it,” Collin had said. “I don’t have dark thoughts. These visions pop up out of nowhere. I’ll be standing at an intersection, thinking about what to make for dinner, and bam, I’ll see monkeys with red eyes, and they’re on the tops of cars, hopping from car to car.”
Then Lucas had dropped those nuggets of wisdom about darkness. As if gleaned from a self-help book chock full of quotations from famous people — Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and the like — and soothing illustrations. Collin said he was aware of the capacity in all of us. We can follow a path trod by Martin Luther King, Jr., or a path trod by a killer.
Lucas unfolded his crossed legs, so both feet were placed on the gray carpet. He asked, “What path do you think you’re on?”
“Neither,” Collin said “I’m not a saint, and I’m not a maniac. I’m somewhere in the middle.”
“As is everyone. Nobody’s completely a saint or a maniac. There are many complexities.”
Collin nodded, appreciating the observation — which, he thought, came to anyone who grew out of the youthful need for every movie and TV show and book to have a “bad guy” and a “good guy.” Reality was much more muddled.
“Something different did happen to me, though,” Collin said.
Collin described the events of the past Saturday. His friend Trish had invited him to a dinner party hosted by another of her friends, a woman named Willa Magness. Collin wasn’t keen on going, as he didn’t know this Willa Magness and felt anxiety in going to social functions at the homes of people he didn’t know. That was one of his jumbled anxieties. Trish knew of Collin’s social anxiety. She tried to put him at ease by saying Willa Magness was very friendly. Ms. Magness was a wonderful host who enjoyed meeting new people and asking their stances on a variety of topics. Not that Ms. Magness would interrogate guests. Simply that she was more the type to ask questions than the type to talk your ear off about the exotic trips she had taken and the meals she had eaten at ultra-expensive restaurants.
A swift debate inside Collin’s brain ended by agreeing to go to the dinner party. The experience would meet the suggestion by Lucas Snelling for Collin to “try stretching himself in small steps.”
On Saturday evening, when the car-service driver parked before the Magness estate, driver had whistled and said, “Man, I’ve got to get a friend like this.”
Indeed, Ms. Magness was very friendly and obviously wealthy. The fenced estate was large, as was the house, and it was tastefully decorated with antiques whose glossy wood shone in light from wall sconces.
Ms. Magness was graceful and welcoming. A widower in her sixties, her age was double the ages of Collin and Trish. The other guests looked to be around the same age as them. Six people attended the dinner party, which Collin was thankful for, since crowded parties made his anxiety worse. His medications had helped dull the anxiety a bit. Also helpful was the deep-breathing exercise Lucas had taught him.
Dinner came in five courses, each announced by one of the two black-jacketed waiters. Words from the descriptions seemed to float above the plates put on the table before every guest. Foie gras, carpaccio of tuna, herb crusted, loin of rabbit, morel stuffed, gingered pears. Collin felt he had strolled into a fantasy lived only by the rich.
All the guests were cordial, as if the food and environment caused them to be on their best manners. Collin sipped the silken wine that gave him a lovely sensation.
After dinner, the party shifted to a short tour of the house’s main level, nice to walk after sitting for a spell, then Ms. Magness led them through opened French doors to the back yard. Two fire pits were aflame. Glasses of scotch were waiting on a table. Chairs were arranged in an oval around the fire pits.
Each guest took a scotch and a seat. Ms. Magness said she enjoyed wrapping up parties while sitting outside if the weather was pleasant. The fresh air was therapeutic, and sitting near fire connected with something ancient within us.
“I’m wondering what all of you think of a view I’ve had for some time,” Ms. Magness said. “I happen to believe in other worlds. Back in the olden days, people thought the separation between us and the fairy world became thinner on certain days of the year. The winter and summer solstice were such days. But I believe that could happen on any day. The separations can be thinner, and openings can pop up. Portals, if you will. Then we could see strange creatures. Or people and animals that shouldn’t be there. What do all of you think of that?”
Trish was the first guest to reply, and she talked of having doubts about other worlds, how she believed them as a kid, then thought they were simply children’s stories when she was in middle school. But odd happenings caused her to change her mind.
Other guests volunteered information of sensations of being watched while they were alone at home. Or feeling a presence of someone. Or seeing movement out of the corner of their eye, then turning around and seeing nothing moving there. Every one of the five guests stated they believed in the possibilities of things existing outside our normal range of perception.
As the guests spoke, Ms Magness listened with clear interest. She took sips of scotch. Frequently, she performed an unusual gesture. Collin found it unusual, something not seen during his ordinary conversations. Ms. Magness held the scotch in her left hand. Her right elbow was on the arm rest, her right forearm sticking up, and her fingers would lower. First the pinky, then ring finger, then each finger in succession. Up and down the fingers went. Collin thought her fingers were mimicking a spider’s walk. Up and down, her fingers moved in a fan-like fashion. During the conversation, in which Collin contributed, his focus kept returning to the hostess’s mesmerizing finger motions.
Collin did not tell Lucas Snelling about the finger motions. Rather, as he told the story of Saturday evening, Collin reenacted the same motions, his right elbow on the armrest of the gray couch, his fingers walking. Lucas Snelling’s eyes shifted from Collin’s eyes to his fingers and back. Observing all.
“And how do you think the dinner party affected you?” Lucas said.
“There are creatures out there,” Collin said. “Things only some of us can see. I was worried about them when I started seeing them. But now I look forward to them.”
“Really? So they don’t bother you in anyway?”
“Why would they?” Collin said. “I’m lucky to see them. I wish more people could see them. It’s special. It’s like I’m in a club that most people don’t know about.”
“And why tell me if it doesn’t bother you?” Lucas said.
“Because I hope you’ll start seeing them too.”
copyright © 2021 Dave Williams