What I’ve Seen

Chapter 8

My name is Joy. My brother, James, whose account you’ve been reading over the last couple months, asked me to contribute this portion of his story before I die because he has no memory of the events I’m about to describe. I feel strange having to narrate a period of time that might as well never have happened for him. My concern, which I’ve articulated to him as best I could, is that I’ll give skewed depictions of the time he was gone. He told me it was better than nothing.

Since I wasn’t even a year old when James disappeared, I don’t remember him being in my life. I grew up with our late aunt, Emma, and had a happy, albeit lonely, childhood. She homeschooled me and helped me understand how certain members of our family, herself included, had the ability to perceive things others couldn’t. Sometimes those perceptions manifested themselves as visions, sometimes as sounds. Tastes and smells, too. Rarely, like in the case of my brother, the perceptions could be detected by all their senses. She hadn’t told any of that to the police, who, after James seemingly evaporated into thin air, scoured the property and surrounding areas for weeks before officially declaring him gone.

That’s what she told me, at least. I was way too young to know about any of it. Still, I grew up in the house with his pictures decorating the mantles, along with photographs of our parents, who were also dead. Emma was the only family I knew. I hate how it sounds like I’m making this all about me, but it’s pretty important to have some background – especially in the face of what happened.

Emma died on my 20th birthday. She left me an incredible amount of money. Far more than I knew she was worth. It allowed me to embrace the new sights and sounds in my life without any financial hindrances or any other obligations. I had no doubt they were real. And the day James came back, I told him about it all.

I watched his small face as he listened the woman who, to him, was his infant sister just a few subjective hours ago. Emma had always talked about how intelligent he was, but back then I only could understand it as an abstraction. That day, though, as I saw him process everything I told him, I was struck by his perspicacity. He’d not only accepted the fact that he’d somehow traveled nearly 20 years without aging a day, but as I spoke to him about the things I’d seen, he actually believed me. Empathized, even. But then I mentioned the white man.

I started seeing the white man when I was six. He never wore clothes, he never spoke, and he never did anything except follow me. But Emma couldn’t see him. She didn’t deny his existence, though. Whenever I mentioned him, she always said there had to be some purpose for him in my life, but I hadn’t gotten to the point where that purpose could be actualized.

As I grew older, he changed. At first, I was terrified. His skin began to drop off; first in small flakes which whirled around him whenever the wind blew. Later, the flesh began to slough from his muscles. It collected in baggy folds around his wrists, hips, and ankles. That which fell from him entirely sat where it was dropped, decaying over the months with no hint of odor or material presence. The process took years. When I was 11, the house was littered with rotting flesh. It was just part of my life.

Here, James interjected. He told me about the black woman. He mentioned how he could touch her; how she spoke and gave him comfort; how she protected him. As he spoke, his eyes kept darting around the room. I knew he was seeing things, but I wouldn’t ask what. In time, if he wanted to tell me, he could.

I went on, filling him in about the white man’s place in my life. By the time I’d reached 17, he was hardly a man anymore. While I’d expected him to decay like a normal corpse and leave behind a desiccated heap of skeletal remnants, the white man grew soft and wet. It was almost as if his bone structure had grown gelatinous. He could no longer move like a bipedal human, but like a fat, wriggling larva. While I still thought of him as the white man, he no longer resembled either. He was blood red and streaked with purple veins. Chunks of yellow matter which had to be fat clung to portions of his body, remaining unsettlingly stiff as the rest of him moved through peristaltic heaves. If anything, he looked like a disembodied organ. A stomach, maybe. It was the form he occupied for the next few years.

One year before James came back, the white man changed again. And so did I. For the first time in my life, I could hear him. He whispered wet, rasping seductions I found both nauseating and intoxicating. His shape, still that of viscera, began to extrude tentacles. No, not tentacles. Intestinal tubes. They grew quickly and soon crisscrossed the house in an elaborate transitway of bowels. Part of me was surprised I wasn’t revolted or frightened by my home being overtaken by what looked like a surrealist’s nightmare of an abattoir.

James interrupted again at that point, telling me he could see them. It’s what he’d been watching as we talked. And he wanted to know why the thickest one was connected to my mouth.

It’s the part I’d wanted so desperately to bring up. It’s what I’d been so excited to mention to someone who finally would understand. My own, beautiful brother would be the one who’d share in my elation.

Shortly after the white man finished growing his tentacles, about 8 months earlier, he did something else entirely new. He didn’t follow me around anymore. Instead, he floated above my bed. It was there he’d whisper to me about my great potential. About how, if I stopped eating, he’d give me all the food I needed. And he did. Every night, with his intestinal tube snugly down my throat, I watched as portions of jellied fluids trickled through its translucent skin and disappeared into me. I felt none of it, but I knew I was being nourished. I felt incredible. And when I woke up every morning, the feeling remained.

I lost interest in my friends. They never could understand what I was accomplishing with the white man. Why even bother telling them? I lose weight quickly, but I didn’t care. It felt like I was making room for something great. Something bigger than myself.

While I’d hoped James would be appreciative about what I’d seen and experienced, he surprised me by expressing fear and worry. For the first time, I felt anger toward him. Of all the people I’d met, it was he who should have recognized the beauty of my relationship with the white man. His description of the black woman sounded no different to me. Yes, the shapes and forms of the white man and the black woman were dissimilar, but surely there was enough of a connection between the two of them for James to feel comfort, rather than fear.

I was devastated. And as I write this, I remember the venom in the betrayal I felt. If I’d realized the reason for his fear was his countless experiences with incomprehensible, otherworldly atrocities, so much could have been saved. Maybe even my life. And while I’m happy I had a chance to meet my brother and spend the last ten years watching him grow and overcome so much, I wish he never came back to see what I’d initiated.

My remaining time is short. I only hope James will remember me as someone who tried to do her best in the face of overwhelming evil. Still, I fear the worst. And while I doubt I’ll live long enough to read the remaining parts of his memoir, I’d rather die thinking he’ll write about the adult me in a positive light, rather than as a pathetic girl who was seduced into the actualization of her hideous purpose.