I was nineteen when he visited for the first time. It was very late and the bedroom was pitch black.
“Miles,” he whispered. “Miles. Can you hear me?”
My eyes were wide but only darkness met them. I couldn’t see who was talking.
“Yes,” I whispered back.
“A few more years,” he cooed into my left ear. “Just wait another few years and you’ll learn who I am.”
I reached out, trying to touch the producer of the voice. My hands grabbed the air. I turned over and groped for the bedside lamp and flipped the switch. Pale light poured into the bedroom. I was alone.
I didn’t realize at the time that that would be a constant. A theme.
It’s now been eighteen years since I was visited that night. I’ve spent it by myself.
I wish I could call those years happy and productive. They were, in fact, the opposite. I am depressed. Unemployable. “Mentally ill,” is the official term that lets me collect money for doing nothing but sit at home all day.
Well, not quite nothing.
I daydream. I fantasize about the man who spoke to me that night. I picture him swooping in and knocking on my door, bringing riches and surprises that would heal my ruined psyche. He’d be my guardian angel; a heavenly respite from my day-to-day misery.
For nearly two decades, those dreams went unrealized.
Until last night.
The voice woke me from my turbulent sleep. I gasped and batted at the nearby lightswitch. The room illuminated. No one was there.
“I know you can hear me,” the voice whispered. It came from what sounded like only a few feet in front of me. I blinked, trying to get my eyes acclimated to the brightness. It didn’t help. I saw an empty bedroom.
“Yes,” I replied. “I can. Please, where are you?”
“I’m here. I never left your side for all these years.”
Gooseflesh rose along my spine. There was a quality to the voice I recognized, but I couldn’t place it.
“I want to see you,” I insisted.
“Soon,” he promised. “But just listen for a minute. Can you do that?”
“Where I am, nothing hurts, Miles. There’s no feeling of not being good enough. No feeling of failure. Everything is peaceful. Everything is warm. Everything is soft. No edges, no harshness. I know how hard you’ve reached for those things – and I know you’ve stumbled every time.”
Tears fell into my beard. He really did know me. He continued.
“I want you close your eyes and imagine being warm. Picture yourself being loved and cherished, full of untapped potential. See yourself as someone who is adored.”
I closed my eyes and did as I was told. I pictured myself at the foot of my mother’s bed. I was six, maybe seven. It was winter. Warm air from the heater was drifting across the room and making me feel snug and cozy. I’d just woken from a nap. I stretched out and stared at the ceiling, an innocent smile forming on my young face. A kind voice broke the silence. Mom was calling me down for supper. I called back and told her I was coming. The bedspread smelled sweet, like her perfume. Like her embraces.
Cancer would take her from me a year later.
The fantasy collapsed. I began to sob.
“When you open your eyes, you will see something that may shock you. It might frighten you. But give it a second, because you’ll know what you see is the solution to all this misery you’ve been forced to endure. Are you ready for that?”
“I am,” I replied.
“Okay. You can open your eyes.”
My eyelids lifted to the sight of a decaying, hideously-disfigured man. My breath caught in my throat. The majority of his head was missing. A Y-incision spanned his grayish-green chest and torso. Insect eggs and larvae caked the puckered edges of the crater that had once been his face.
“What…what is this?” I choked out.
“It’s okay. I promise,” he reassured me.
I had no idea how he was speaking. His mouth was lost in the chaos of decaying gore.
“Listen,” came the voice. “And look at me. Look at my arms.”
He held out his rotten limbs for me to see. In the back of my mind, I was thankful there was no smell. I studied what he presented. The flesh was pockmarked and patchy. Things wriggled and spasmed beneath the surface.
Up at the top, near the shoulders, were three heavy scars. I gasped. The room spun violently, as if I’d been hit on the side of the head.
“There,” he said. “Now you see.”
I leaned back against the headboard and tried to regain my composure. He spoke again.
“I am not lying when I say this was the best and only decision I could have made. I had to get out. I had to find out if the other side is better than what I was enduring. And Miles, it was. It IS. And I needed to come and tell you because I worry you’ll remain as you are. Desperate. Lonely. Miserable.”
I traced my fingers over my upper arms and asked, “Is…is Mom there?”
“Mom and Dad. You can finally meet him.”
“But what happens to you?”
The flayed muscles on his shattered skull twitched and, after a second, I realized he was smiling. “Everything comes together,” he replied. “It all works out.”
“So I, just, do it?”
He nodded the stump above his shoulders. “Under the chin worked for me.”
I glanced at the shotgun I kept next to the bed. “Okay,” I said.
“I hope we can see you soon, Miles. I promise, it only gets better.”
He disappeared into thin air.
That was six hours ago. I’ve since cleaned my apartment and settled up a few things around here. For the first time since I was a little boy, I feel hopeful. Excited.
The scars on my upper arms tingle like they always do when I’m nervous. After last night, though, I don’t think I have any reason to be. I’ve wasted so much time being miserable and full of hatred for myself. I’m ready to change. I’m ready to make it better. Now is my chance.
Something tells me that in just a few minutes, I’ll be waking up at the foot of Mom’s bed after a long nap.