2020 Handley Award Winner Name Redacted per Request
A LETTER FOR MATTHEW by Name Redacted per Request
Texas, December 2003
I remember my last day dancing in the academy with utmost clarity. The day bled blue and white as nebulous vapors drifted through and from the sky. I saw birds darting and I heard that long water feature flowing, a miniature river. I reminisce about those grey slabs of cement so perfectly laid out by men of engineering genius. And from the ends of the slabs, those planes of splendid, crystalline glass shot upwards diagonally, reaching to the heavens in angles of uneven perfection, destabilizing and dramatizing the environment. Refracting life and giving us a reflection.
Like a waking dream, the sprawling studio opened to beautiful angels pirouetting as an expression of grace and the ethereal, the one beyond our own. Beautiful, I thought.
The instructor called us to grip the warm wooden bar that stretched along those mirrors, plates that witnessed the fallen servants carrying out a higher will.
The elderly woman, who smelled of stuffy and forlorn rooms, sat down and placed her shaky and baggy hands against the white and black keys of the mahogany piano. She began her song. Prancing gazelles took flight, weaving in and out of each other. Like stars dancing over the deep intergalactic dark.
I moved, leaped, soared, and felt my physical body resisting, and then I let go, and for a beautiful moment, I forgot myself.
The rehearsal concluded and we tore the wings from our backs, returning to the mundane once again. The studio dimmed.
Across the street awaited my car, bent and dinged. I pulled out my key and went to unlock the driver door. Stopping in the street, a foot away from that red door, I noticed a dent I hadn’t seen before.
One second, a vehicle swerved around the street. The black blur hit me right side and I flew thirty feet. I broke all my bones and lost many teeth as my face stopped on black and rocky stretches of defeat.
Seven-day coma, trapped in a contorted and crippled body. The doctors subjected me to innumerable operations, and finally, a right leg amputation.
I sobbed I cried I felt dead inside. I futilely rejected the horrible fact, the maddening truth, of I, never to dance again.
A torture rack stretched my life out before me, from childhood to womanhood. All my dedication, passion, and potential; nullified, in an unforgiving instant. Years of practice down the drain, my life became a wingless plane.
My father and mother traveled day and night. In the hospital room, where a mounted TV broadcasted a cultural nightmare, my parents saw their baby daughter missing a leg, broken bones and twisted limbs and missing teeth. We sobbed together as a huddle of three.
“I’m so sorry,” my mother said, “if only…” and that was the end. There was no if. It was meant to be. An ineffable occurrence.
After some agonizing months in the cold and sterile hospital I moved back to my childhood home, out on the Texas sprawl.
Driving through my hometown, in the back of my parent’s car, stimulated a constriction in my heart. That hideous ball of light lowered over the horizon, beckoning me. The wrong-looking, blood orange and harsh yellow rays beamed across desolate industry. Black shadows stretched over red concrete. Children frolicked in a dirty playground, and a greasy leering old man watched over them, as a shepherd watches his flock. Black asphalt hurdled me into the past, carrying me through an inky sea of dead dreams.
In through the front door, white swung aside, my parents smiled and gently embraced my abnormal figure.
Teddy bears covered the top of my marked white wardrobe, and an electric fan spun in mechanical hypnosis. I crawled from the taught seat of my wheel chair, and lay in the familiar bed facedown. I sobbed like a newborn who never chose to be.
Three months vanished. A physical therapist worked with me to recuperate the muscles that fell soft over idle decay. One other professional, a psychiatrist, paid me visits and prescribed me medications: stabilizers, tranquilizers, nullifiers, dullifiers. The colored treatments shrank my brain. My personality disappeared.
I wished (wish being the key word) for a swift exit: pills (unsatisfactory success rate), firearms (not accessible, my father always was too liberal for a good old boy), rope (how could I, a former cripple, ring the belt or fibrous noose around a garage banister?), tall heights (no skyscrapers around the old Texas sprawl), a whistling train (the nearest track miles away), and the list of impossibilities never ceased in my cavernous mind. I could not leave the house alone and an amputee couldn’t possibly sneak out.
The pragmatic choices: a blade, a razor guided down the length of my inner arm, why not? Electrocution in a bathtub. Self-induced drowning (hah!). And the easiest, the most realistic? A peaceful infinite sleep in a reeking car.
However, the haunting image of my two loving parents finding their baby girl blue in the lips and with skin of cracked purple veins swayed me from action, at least in their house.
Eight months passed. I sculpted and cast a mask of acceptance and falsely surpassed grief. I painted the mask with the face of a tubby cherub.
My loving parents acknowledged my artificial mood, both oblivious to the carved-out skull beneath. Once worries extinguished, out of respect for my independence and age, the duo granted me a wish.
I moved out, only achieved by the promise of close communication and proximity. I found escape in a tiny apartment complex on the outskirts of San Antonio.
The apartment, red like an old mission, stood a humble three stories high. Even with depressive goggles I appreciated the earthen walls contrasted with the endless blue of the sky. I burrowed there, as did fifteen or so others, including the landlady.
Before I moved in, my parents and I visited the apartments twice. During the preliminary visits we gawked at the quaint atmosphere and comfortable layout. A vacant room on the first floor seemed perfect for my handicap.
After moving in and unpacking, the apartment began to display a sinister overtone. The tiny halls mutated from cute corridors to distorted and uneven tunnels. The landlady’s true nature manifested. A jolly butch debased into an obese diabetic who drank herself to sleep under the numbing propaganda of the television, every night. And for the residents? When did the apparitions come and go? I never saw them or heard their doors open and close. Nor did I hear the patter of footsteps on the crusty hallway carpets. If I knocked on their doors the thuds were met with silence. Some presence would have brought me comfort!
My parents hired a nurse who checked in on me every other day. In addition to the routine checkup, the old heavy black woman shopped for me, and endured other exterior tasks I could not. While the presence of another human helped, her vacant detachment did nothing for my welfare.
My lacking form limited my life to sleeping, rolling, reading, and elementary exercise. Rarely focusing, I often submitted to wallowing in pits of despair. Leave the world? Enter the void? A silent reprieve from the tortures of the human body and mind. Embrace myself again? Appreciate the only human perspective I will ever know? Harder? Yes. Better? Probably not.
On the night of a full moon, I rolled back to my room after a nocturnal expedition on the street outside.
On that night, I saw him. The skinny man plastered in alabaster skin and topped by jet black hair so tightly slicked back. He radiated an intensity of ancient royalty through his upright posture and custom garments. In the dimness of the hallway he looked like a glowing shadow. Unmoving and feverous, he glared at me.
I slumped down and moved on, avoiding eye contact. When passing, I thought I heard him whisper something strange. Something I wish I hadn’t heard, or even possibly imagined. He muttered, “Blood of youth.”
The voice haunted me for the following days. He sounded European, I assumed Transylvanian. I couldn’t pinpoint his tone, but he sounded desperate and starved. I started leaving my room less and less, yet I saw him more, and heard his footsteps in the dingy hall.
I avoided calling my parents as to not worry them. Two exchanging thoughts, “It might just have been my imagination,” and “Yes, definitely imagination,” told useless lies of no effect on my surging fear.
On a delirious night of kicking and turning, the man appeared in the darkness outside my room. Then I caught him staring at my door, directly staring and not moving, with the same frightening gaze I witnessed on the first night.
The next morning, I summoned bravery and I complained to the landlady. I’ve reconstructed our brief interlude here: “Hello, sorry to bother you, but are you familiar with a particular tenant? He is a man, who always dresses in finely tailored suits.” “That’s Mr. Raymond. He likes to keep to himself.” “Well… if I’m not mistaken, I saw him pacing the halls at night, and then, well, I saw him staring at my door, from maybe two feet away.” “Mr. Raymond won’t trouble you any, he’s an insomniac, been that way ever since we met.” “Isn’t is strange though? Wandering the halls and intruding on the space of others?” “Of course it’s strange. But I can’t do anything about it. He’s been here longer than you have and no one else has complained about him, he also pays his rent, never missed a due. I don’t even think he speaks English.”
The landlady’s impersonal words offered me no consolation. I was terrified in the isolated apartment, so far from bustling activity and city noise. All that was found in the walls of the damned place was mournful silence. From outside on the town streets—nothing, a ghost town, except the rare howl of a wolf, the Prince of Darkness.
The insomniac’s, Mr. Raymond’s, pacing drove me to the brink of insanity. His soft and horribly slow steps sounded supernatural, not of this earth. Every night he walked the same hallway, our hallway. He lurked far into the early morning hours. Sometimes he trekked upward to the other two floors, and sometimes he disappeared into the empty town. Other times I heard him dragging something (multiple objects?) behind his feet, I could never tell what it was.
In a fit of tears, I called my parents and told them of my plans to return home, never mentioning Mr. Raymond, and his unnatural nocturnal walks through the grimy, murky corridor. They would drive out to see me the next day. But instead of finding me, they would stumble upon a fearful scene.
After the call, I read, exercised, fasted, and stared outside. The vacant street of disparate apartment buildings, failed business ventures, and a transient in a drunken stupor caused my posture to tighten and crunch. Hideous heat waves rose high off that Texas highway.
My nurse stopped by and said “Hello.” I told her, with respect, to not come back as I would be gone by the next night. She frowned at me and said “Goodbye.” I never saw the distant woman again.
I took a nap, browsed an amputee forum, read more, regressed into wallowing, watered the only green in the apartment, then twilight struck.
The damned nap kept me energetic, and the digital clock on my night stand read 22:00, 10 pm.
In revulsed anticipation of Mr. Raymond’s pacing, I muttered to myself… “Silent night, holy night… all is calm, all is bright… hmm-hmm-hmmm-hm-hm…”
The hymn trailed off into… those horrible ugly STEPS! Now crashes upon the ancient, soiled carpet floor! The noise sounded like crying infants trampled beneath the black, leather boots of skeleton soldiers! The perverse symphony of hell contained and captured in the hallway beyond my door! The thunder of Baphomet and his followers! Lucifer’s fall! Horror, ugliness! Terror!
Darkness swung up and kicked my door in. I heard an alien sound, a pathetic whimper, an outcry of my own! Delirious and determined, Mr. Raymond wavered in the shadows of my apartment room. My nightstand lamp illuminated the bullseye of his target, my bed, me.
In slow, methodical steps, he, as if hypnotized, crossed the room toward me. I screamed but no sound came. I froze, seated upright on the bed. My mouth dropped open, my eyes shaped like uneven rings, my hands stuck in positions of dramatic agony. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t fight.
He picked up my bedside lamp. A spotlight flailed around the room, and then all went dark.
I withdrew from unsettling dreams into a hazy reality. The perpetrator had bound me with heavy ropes.
He emerged from a wooden door. The moonlit desert revealed itself behind him. The small shack around him, around me, consisted of a few candles dotting the room and a small table. On the yellow surface laid a ceremonial knife made of gold and bone. Strange and obscure sigils and runes were carved in the blade and an ancient cloth wrapped around the handle.
He looked me in the eyes, and I heard him speak for the first time since that passing whisper. “Blood of youth. Blood of heat. Blood of excitement. Repressed rage and vengeance flow through your veins. You want to die but you cannot take your own life. Instead you wallow in the broken body of a dead girl.”
My mouth blubbered and no words came out, just a gross, guttural sound.
“You are the perfect choice. I see the fire in you, the yearning for satisfaction, orgasm. You are completely imprisoned within the sad human body of yours. But with me, you can dance forever. You will be my faithful servant and I will be your caring master. I will help you, and you will help me.”
Trying to speak in between tears, “Please…” Continued, “just kill me.” Resignation.
He turned his head up to the moon above and laughed, “You prefer the void to eternal sensory and sensual pleasure? You would rather not see my gift?” He said, “You are naïve, but not for long!”
Howling, he swiped the golden blade from the table; screaming, I jerked back. Rapid successions like sawing a wooden beam in half rolled eyes into my head, dark red blood poured out like a waterfall, slurping emissions, he placed his mouth against the gory gape, and he drank almost till I emptied out. Violent jerking became erotic twists, motions, and gasps. I came.
I awoke, in the same apartment complex, in a different room. Mostly empty except for a kitsch porcelain lamb, and the bed I lay upon. The blinds were drawn shut, and a crevice of morning light sliced through the slit. My mouth tasted like sand, even felt like sand. I wanted sex. I starved for sustenance, not food. An enticing, hollow sphere floated inside my core.
I stood up from the bed and I couldn’t express or articulate a word or thought. I stood. On two legs. Not a hallucination, not a phantom dream, I had two legs, my legs! Mr. Raymond appeared in the bedroom doorway.
For the first time, his mouth slightly twisted into a semi-smile. “You see now, don’t you?”
He took my hands and we danced as two specters of the night. A ballad of darkness. We leaped, we soared, we performed on stages in bottomless depths.
We levitated and teleported around the room, and constantly spoke but never with words, a new telepathic power. I saw through the walls for the first time, and in every room laid one or multiple dried corpses, shriveled bodies lacking greatness. Mummies rejected by the vampire.
The moon rose and we escaped the building, flying high up into the sky. I saw my parents get out of their car and approach the lifeless sarcophagus. A bunraku theater in the distance. We continued higher and they grew smaller.
We now roam the Texas countryside in search of blood, especially of the young.
But you Matthew, you’re old. Old and already withered. You cave to drugs. Your preference: alcohol and cocaine, expensive but you find it. The combo gets you going, doesn’t it Matthew.
After beating your whore of a girlfriend into a pulp, you drank a heavy storm and snorted flaky lines of hate.
You swerved around the street and blasted my body across the pavement! You were the one who fled the state and went into hiding. You never paid any dues, not even a simple apology.
You took away my leg Matthew! YOU stupidly stole my life from me!
Now look, over to the vast window of that sniveling trailer of yours. Look deeper into the darkness, that same darkness that makes you shiver and makes your heart jump. Look deep into it, and you will see four red dots, two pairs of eyes. Two bats upside down on a wrinkled tree. You know who they are Matthew. You know what lies behind those glowing orbs.
You drop the letter, and the next words you’ll never see.
You can’t run, we are faster. You can’t hide, we are smarter. Just like the loss of my leg your destiny is foretold, laid in cement since the conception of the Universe. You are a mindless automaton without a will or a soul. Goodbye Matthew, we will drink you dry.
Letter for Matthew was originally published in PCCInscape Magazine Vol 74 No. 1 Print issue.
Name Redacted Per Request is a part time student at PCC. Besides school, he works as an apprentice at a fabrication shop. Erik enjoys reading, writing, and learning new things in a variety of subjects. Currently, he is using After Effects to create short animations in his free time. His beagle, Gwen, doesn't like lemons.