Comatose or You Don't Know Where You Are

Comatose or You Don't Know Where You Are

You wake up in an unknown location and attempt to uncover where you are and to understand the oddities of this strange place.


Crime / Suspense / Mystery / Thriller


Psalm Pineo-Cavanaugh (United States)

You wake up. Are you dead? You don't know where you are. Look around. There is a wide dirt road framed by tall, dark pine trees. What is this place? Grassy squares. Old, worn cabins grown into the thick vegetation. Walk down the dirt pathway. You see children. Young children, maybe 12 or 13 are strewn along the road. They are wandering, and they are cautious, at unrest.
You walk up to someone. Calm the fear, running around and around and around in your stomach. Speak to him. Where am I, you say. What is this place. His face is a watery blur, like coffee stains dripped on old notebooks. He opens his mouth and words spill out, empty phrases, vacuous sounds. The only phrase that matters is his words about the being. He tells you that you are safe if you are obedient. You look to your right and you see a metal play structure, a playground of iron. Trees frame the sturdy beams, fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. You walk towards it, and begin to scale the cold bars. Be careful, the children whisper. You are ascending higher and higher, but still deeply engulfed by dark pine trees. You look at the landscape; the tan, gravely paths, the patches of grass by mossy wooden cabins, and again, the seemingly endless darkness protecting you and reaching so high that you think it will soon grown so thick that you are blind to the grey, grey sky.
Peering at the objects around you is strange. When you stare too long or too questioningly, metal beams and trees start to blur and dissolve into streaks of white. Your eyes dart quickly around you because you don't want to see those flashes.
Be careful not to stare too long, the boy had told you. And now you understand. You climb down from the structure.
You wander down the road. Your shoes make a harsh, jagged sound as they grind small rocks into the soft, red-orange dirt. You reach a field. The taller, denser grass here is dying; it scrapes your bare calves as you push through and burls become entwined with the fabric of your cotton shirt. In the center of the field is a single maple tree, solemn branches towering over the knee deep grass, painting scraggly, inky shadows. You begin to walk with curious trepidation around the thick base; you only reach half way around before your feet begin to slow. Maybe they know something that you do not. Or maybe the tree is somehow getting longer.
You step back and swivel around, only to see that the field is scattered with children, eyes boring holes into yours, frozen and silent with icy wonder. You have breached an invisible law, and you see the being in the distance. When you look behind you at the warped maple tree, you think that it's branches are like thin arms with spindly, broken fingers snapped at the joints. Look back at the children; there is the outline of a being hovering behind them, blindingly white yet somehow invisible when you look away, it's boney limbs wrapped in tattered cloth. You shout questions at it. You think the children's eyes widen, but when you look back, you see that they are, and always have been, still. You feel the being get closer. Feel it like an oppressive heat on a summer day with no where to shelter yourself, vulnerable and exposed, and you curl into a ball to hide, but the heat only builds in your legs pressed tightly against your chest and it scalds your back and paints you with salty sweat.
It approaches you. You see the blur of a limb rise up, sharp and quick, as if to strike you or perhaps suffocate you. But it reaches for you, soft and gentle. It's fingers feel feathery on your forehead and the inside of your wrist.
And you open your eyes, you really open them, and you see the being, but it is a boy, a small, slim boy with tufts of curly red hair and thinly rimmed glasses. I only wanted to protect you, he says. It's not your responsibility, it's not your fault. You shouldn't have asked so many questions. What questions did I ask? you wonder. Not of the voice, but of the mind, when you stared at the metal play structure, when you pushed through the field.
You look at the children, and you see now that they are angry with you. The tree behind you is covered with words. Messy black writing consuming the bark, the knots in the wood, the leaves. You think you hear it whispering to you as well.
You see your reflection in the glasses of the boy, and you are crying. You know that you made a mistake, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I never meant to hurt you, please let me go back.
The being is weary. You begin to remember what you have forgotten, remember glass, remember black and blue and clotted maroon. I'm so sorry, you whisper. I didn't mean to, it wasn't my fault. You shut your eyes, squeeze them so tightly and you drop into the sharp, dead grass, clutching your knees into your chest, and hot tears roll down your cheeks. You drift asleep. When you wake up, you don't know where you are.

Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Round 1



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