What I’ve Seen

Chapter 5

The next week passed with shocking normalcy. My parents and Dr. Jessica noticed a gradual decline in my outward projection of stress, and they all believed the medication had started working much earlier than they’d expected. Session after session with the doctor yielded the fruit which she’d hoped for; I didn’t seem terrified, I didn’t speak of invisible monsters, and my smile had returned. The diagnosis of childhood schizophrenia, while terrible in its implication, seemed, to all observers, to serve as the catalyst for a series of treatments which allowed me to resume my normal life.

I didn’t mention the pain my father seemed to be in as he walked.

I didn’t mention the cracked, raw skin around Dr. Jessica’s mouth that was impossible for her makeup to adequately hide.

True to my word, I ignored all the abnormalities that I believed were real but couldn’t talk about. And the worst, apparently, was still ahead of me. As the black woman portended, an increase in the severity of my visions and the real-life effects of the creatures’ actions on those who couldn’t see them would all come to a calamitous head. But I waited and waited. And it didn’t happen. In fact, it was the opposite.

More time passed. Dr. Jessica’s mouth healed and my father seemed no worse for wear. Even the visions that I’d done my very best to ignore were beginning to fade. They occurred less frequently, and, even when they did present themselves, the potency was little more than a faded nuisance; an afterimage of bright, passing headlights during a nighttime drive. I was released from the hospital in early July. I began my summer like a normal, 7 year old boy. I played with my friends, all of whom were happy to see me. While my parents still felt concern about my wellbeing and were reluctant to let me out of their sight, even their mild paranoia diminished as the heat of summer cooled into a tolerable autumn.

I entered the second grade in September. After a couple weeks, I didn’t see a single, full-on hallucination. Every so often, I would see vague shimmering in cracks and corners or behind the clouds. I didn’t even pay attention. It had gotten to the point where I was convinced the medication really was helping me; that my parents and Dr. Jessica were right about my sickness all along.

I excelled in school. To me, my past troubles served only to give me a greater perspective on life and made me want to try as hard as I could to do well. Autumn begat winter. The Christmas season was a beautiful, loving experience. And when I thought it couldn’t get any better, my parents told me I was going to be an older brother. I was bewildered by the height of my joy at the news; I felt like I could really be a positive role model in his or her life. 1986 arrived with me feeling as good as I could remember. While I infrequently thought about the black woman in fleeting moments of strange nostalgia, I remembered that my real life had so many things going for me. Such positivity. Such potential.

On the 28th of January, I was sitting in class when a school aide came into the room and whispered something into Mrs. Carlson’s ear. My teacher’s expression became one of shocked sadness. Collecting herself with practiced, professional rapidity, she thanked the aide and faced her class. She announced to us that something had happened during the launch of one of the space shuttles.

The class looked frightened and upset. Our school was in Florida, about 50 miles south of Cape Canaveral. Students would sometimes go on field trips to watch launches with their science class; the space program was of deep personal interest to many kids and their teachers. Mrs. Carlson wheeled the television set from the corner of the room, pulled up its antennae, and switched it on. The class was greeted by the sight of a single, thick column of billowing rocket exhaust which had terminated in a large puff before forking out into two, thinner tongues of smoke which curled around in a serpentine arcs before disintegrating into small, burning chunks of debris which tumbled from the sky.

No one said anything. The poor television signal had barely enough potency for distorted audio, but we could all understand what was being said. The space shuttle, Challenger, exploded a little more than a minute after launch. The crew was not expected to have survived. As the class took in the horror of the disaster, I stared, wide-eyed, at the grainy picture. As the explosion replayed over and over, I watched as obscene, writhing tubes of impossibly thick, bloody muscle waved through the air like colossal earthworms. They’d pushed up through the ground and the water – hundreds of them – slashing through the smoke as if celebrating the shuttle’s destruction.

Far above, in the gloriously blue sky of that Florida winter day, holes of black space had opened as far as I could see. With all the strength I could muster, I tore my gaze from the screen and looked out the window. The sky above the school was also riddled with holes. Faint stars twinkled within the black maws, and a haze of red strings hung down like the tentacles of a cosmic jellyfish. I rested my head in my hands, pushing my palms with painful force against my eyes. The familiar lightshow of amorphous, organic shapes danced in my field of vision. I breathed with slow, controlled breaths, working with great effort to calm down. To regain control of myself. When I took my hands from my eyes and the blurriness gave way to sharp clarity, the holes were gone. The tentacular strings were gone. I looked at the television with its endless loop of destruction and the tubes of muscle were gone.

The bell rang. We were being dismissed early. Our principal made the call on a rumor that the space shuttle was carrying something toxic and he worried it could be carried by the wind to our area. The busses were already there and waiting for us. I got on and began the short ride from school. I arrived home and walked up the short front walkway. I opened the door and went toward the den where the television was blaring. My parents didn’t answer my yelled greeting when I came in the house. I yelled louder and walked into the den. They were both slumped down on the couch. Thick, crimson stains of what had to be blood covered the front of their jeans and had spread down to their knees. I couldn’t tell if they were breathing or not.

Wet coils of meat grew from the floor and slapped soundlessly against the gray carpet. I called 911 and just stood there, watching it all. I prayed for the black woman to show herself. But she remained absent. The coils grew longer and gathered around mom. They brushed her groin and belly with repulsive, seductive familiarity. At that moment, I knew she’d be allowed to survive whatever had befallen her. Instead of relief, I felt naked horror. I pressed my palms into my eyes. When I uncovered them a minute later, my view was no different. I wouldn’t let myself cry.