Using a prompt from a writing group I’m a member of on DeviantArt, I created a short story. As usual, I don’t know where this came from, but there you have it. I should probably add a content warning, as well. It might be triggering on these topics: self-harm and suicide. You can find it here: Seven Devils.
Sometimes I can still convince myself that they were just a dream. Well, I would believe they were if not for the scars. I think I’m safe now. After all, it’s been nearly seven years. Unable to let my guard down completely, I still lock both safety bolts, and attach the chain to my door as I arrive home.
Turning to survey my studio apartment for movement and seeing nothing out of the usual, the tension in my shoulders finally relents. I hadn’t realized how tight my neck had been until I released the breath I’d been holding. Seven years ago tonight they had marked me, and I’ve been looking over my shoulder ever since.
I hold up my wrists to look at the fourteen scars there, lines across the veins that make me appear more interested in death than I have ever been. They match the seven lines across my throat, the seven raised strokes on the inside of each of my upper arms, and the seven scars on each of my inner thighs. I don’t know why I sat down and counted them. I guess, I had nothing better to do in the asylum. When they found me, apparently suicidal, the asylum is where my parents took me – left me.
“What do you want?”
I’ve never been able to answer that question, but I’ve never been able to stop thinking about it. What do I want? I thought of women first, but at the time I’d had a girlfriend who I craved constantly. Thought I had her, but… well, I guess I should’ve seen it coming. She was the first one to call me crazy, and back out like she couldn’t wait to move on with her life or, maybe, like she already had.
I thought of money next – thought about that one for a long time. It’d be nice not to have to work again; no more pricks telling me what to do. Then I wondered what I’d have to do to get it. Looking around, the whole thing started to feel like a trap. There were seven of them, and they kept distracting me whenever I wanted to leave.
At least… well, that’s what I remember, you know? I think I remember. I don’t know. I could’ve dreamt the whole fucking thing.
“What do you want?”
I said, “Nothing.” It was a lie, but I was afraid of them. When I woke up the following morning, there had been blood everywhere. I felt like all the strength had been sapped from my arms and legs. My muscles shivered inside my skin. When I finally sat up, the room tilted around me, before going a blank white. I’d never felt that weak before then.
The shrinks said I did it for attention. They said I did it to release some pain inside me. They said I had a disease that made me a danger to myself. They said a lot of things. Most of it had nothing to do with me so, after a while, I stopped listening to what they had to say.
Medications made me high. I went inside my head, and stayed there. Sometimes I’d just sit and think for days at a time. I’d ‘wake up’ to find that whole weeks had gone by without my noticing. Had I eaten recently? Surely they wouldn’t let me starve to death. I wouldn’t let me starve to death, either – would I? I felt so thirsty sometimes I thought they’d left me in the sun for hours. My tongue was fat, and scratched the roof of my mouth like sandpaper. I had to get out of there.
So I lost faith in my own mind. I had to have been seeing things. I had to have imagined it all. I had to have been the one who cut my wrists, my neck, my arms, my legs. I had to have wanted to die.
Thing is, once I got out, got sober, I remembered all of the things I used to have to live for. It didn’t make sense that I’d’ve done it to myself – it just didn’t. I didn’t remember being in pain, secretly or not. I worked out, I had a girl, and I had a regular life. Yeah, my manager was an asshole who made me want to quit my job, but so what? I wouldn’t’ve killed myself over him. Nah, I’d’ve just quit my job instead. I hadn’t felt powerless or depressed or whatever those shrinks’d claimed.
My room is cold and dark. I prefer it that way. I rinse out a bowl in the sink, open a can of soup, and pour it into the bowl. Shoving it in the microwave, I press the start button four times out of habit. Then I walk over to the couch, click on the TV. I flip through the channels, find something I don’t mind listening to, and go back to the microwave. It’s beeping when I get there. I pull out a spoon and my bowl, and take it all back to the couch.
The blankets tossed across my couch make it look like the bed I never made when I lived at home – with my parents. I don’t consider this place home, but it’s a roof over my head. I pull one of the blankets over my shoulders, and dig into the soup. It’s one of those hearty, meat and vegetable ones, so I get a lot in one mouthful. It warms me up inside. I didn’t know how cold I was till I felt warm again.
On the TV, the man’s face makes me uncomfortable, I change the channel. Click. An actor’s blank open eyes, she’s playing dead – she’s covered in blood. Click. A news-caster introduces something about a murder-suicide in a nearby neighborhood. Click. Tires screech in a car-chase scene. I put the remote back on the table, lean back, and take another big, warm bite of soup.
Cold air brushes against my neck. I freeze. The windows were closed. I mute the TV. I look around, blinking as my eyes adjust to the darkness around me. Staring down a few shadows around me, I make sure they don’t move. They don’t. I check the windows, they’re closed.
My neck twitches, and I jerk my head to the side a couple of times. Stupid. I’m being stupid. I press the ‘mute’ button. The rattle of gunfire goes off on the television, and I take another big bite of the rapidly cooling soup. Lukewarm broth doesn’t warm me inside the way it should. I consider reheating what’s left in my bowl, but decide against getting up again. Nah, I’ll just eat it the way it is. I pour what’s left in my mouth, leaving the spoon on the table.
The good guy wins in the end – in the movies, that is. He shoots all the bad guys, wins the fight against the main enemy, and rescues the girl… against all odds. They never mention the people who die on the way there. All those other good, innocent – well, what passes for innocent these days – people just died, and are never mentioned again. Everyone left standing smiles at one another; he kisses her. The main titles start rolling. I’m left with a mindless happy ending. Whatever. I leave it ‘cause I like the noise.
I set the bowl down, kick off my shoes, and put my feet up on the couch. There’s another blanket there, and I roll it over my legs before lying down. I turn my back on the TV. It’s just there to keep me company; I don’t care what’s on next.
I’m lying there for a while, almost out, when the cold air hits the back of my neck again. Goosebumps prickle my arms and legs as my consciousness jolts; I’m wide awake. Some announcer voice in the background shouts from the TV, and a very bright light flickers around my apartment.
“You can have the life you’ve always wanted,” he shouts. “Just three low installments of …”
I tune it out, sit up, look around. There’s not a lot to look at in my studio apartment; a couch, a TV, windows, a stove, refrigerator, cabinets, a sink. Everything is slightly old or somewhat yellow or a little bit broken. The only exception – and the only hiding place – is the bathroom.
I decide to visit the tiny room, flip on the light; no one there. I investigate more thoroughly, before flushing the toilet and turning off the light.
When I walk back into the main room, all of my lights are on. Did I turn them on? I don’t remember doing that. I look at the TV. “…for a limited time so pick up the phone and call us now!”
Static flicks on then off. “We need your answer now,” add several soft, otherworldly voices in unison.
“So call, right now,” shouts the TV announcer.
“…before your time’s up,” echo the voices.
“…in the next ten minutes…”
Back to the bathroom, I slam the door between me and the TV. I step into the shower, just to be safe, and close that door, too. What the hell? Seven years ago tonight, I thought. What, one year each?
A shiver forces its way down my spine, and I look down at my scars. As soon as I look down, they go from looking white and faded to looking puckered and red, like they had the day I got the stitches out. I squeeze my eyes shut, opening them again. There’s a line down the middle, splitting the skin apart. I stare, afraid to blink.
“Seven minutes left,” sing several voices in unison. They all sound like they’re coming from the other end of a tunnel, echoing and far off, but also like they’re whispering right in my ear. I can practically feel hot breath on the sensitive skin. Goosebumps poke at the back of my neck, before rippling down my body. I need to run or hit something, but I’ve locked myself in the smallest room of a small ass apartment and there are no weapons in here.
A breathe in – once, twice, three times – tensing my body. I growl deep within myself, readying my body for a fight. Turning the handle and flipping the lock at the same time, I slam the door open and charge out. The room is filled with fog.
That stops me short. What the fuck? Hot, wet air that I cannot see through is hovering around inside my damn apartment. Bang! I jump and turn around. Ice floods my veins. The bathroom door is closed behind me. My chest is throbbing, my heartbeats coming fast. What is this?
“Ryan,” several voices sing. I jerk my head to the right. Nothing.
Their whispered voices echo, as though in some concrete tube far away.
“What do you want,” I shout.
“What do you want, Ryan,” they sing.
They start talking on top of one another, overlapping, whispering, singing. I drop to my knees, and press my hands to my ears. I’m surrounded by grey. It’s all I can see. Soft, wet, hot air swallows me. I can’t block them out.
Movement catches my attention. Out of the corner of my eye, something shifts. I look. The fog sweeps away, swirls, like water pushed aside by a boat. Another shift, another glimpse – I turn my head to the other side; more swirls.
Bracing myself with my left hand, I look around me. I begin to make out shapes, human-esque but gray and blurred around the edges. They circle me. They’re all different, but they’re all the same. I can’t make them out clearly enough to count them. They’re all different – all grey except for one feature; red. Blood red. One has a red mouth. It moves, but I can’t make out what it’s saying. One has red eyes that stare, wide and amused. Another has red nails, sharp and long as knives. They float toward me, and I flinch. The mouth laughs. Red hair dances. Red nipples bounce. Red genitalia gyrate.
I feel dizzy. The floor won’t hold still.
“What do you want from me,” I choke out. I inhale, swallow, shout. “What do you want!”
“What do you want,” asks the mouth.
The nails point to my chest.
“What do you want, Ryan?”
The eyes stare, amused, into mine.
“What do you want?”
Everything red leans toward me – surrounds me. I can’t escape.
“What do you want?”
Body parts brush my skin. Blurry, gray hands press against my chest. Red lips breathe against my mouth.
“What do you want?”
Trapped – I’m trapped.
“What do you want?”
Warmth spreads across my skin, but I feel colder and colder. My head starts to spin, and my vision goes white – lightheaded.
I can’t move my head.
My mind won’t clear – won’t settle.
I can’t close my eyes. They’re wide open. I stare, victim to the images around me.
The word leaves my throat raw and aching as I scream it. Air escapes me; I gasp for it. Inhale once. “Peace,” I whisper – an exhale. “I want peace.”
Silence closes in on me, as the bodies press against me. Whispers rise up and hover around my ears.
“He wants peace?”
“…just a concept, not a specific-”
“He wants peace –“
“…seven years to think of that?”
“He’ll get what he wants – whatever he wants.”
Slowly, the pressure around me begins to dissipate. The fog is beginning to fade. I can see the shape of my couch, a silhouette. The flickering light of the TV penetrates the fog from across the room. I’m so cold.
I can move my head again, but I focus on the retreating forms. The mouth is smiling a wide, wicked smile. The eyes are watching round and intent. The body parts are reacting, perking up. I sag, fatigue seeping into every muscle; I fall backwards and my head hits the spongy carpeted floor.
The fog is lifting, but I’m seeing more and more white, as though my eyes are absorbing it. My head weighs a hundred pounds, I can’t lift it. The watchers shift, solidifying at the edges while everything around them begins to blur. I’m so tired.
Rolling my head, I look at my body. I see red – so much red. It spreads from my wrists. It warms my thighs, pools in the crooks of my elbows, spreads over my chest. I’m too weak to be alarmed.
The figures around me become more focused – begin to look corporeal; solid. I’m fuzzy around all of my edges. I’m floating. My mind is fading.
They’re all naked; they all have one feature that matches the color of my blood. They are all the same, but they are all different.
“What do you want?”