GLASS- The Novel
By Jim W. Coleman
Eric Watkins tossed and turned in sleep, sucking his thumb like a baby, though he was on the down slope toward his thirties. He shivered uncontrollably as -
a splintering crash resounded through the confines of the dream, rattling his skull. He turned toward the sound apprehensively, moving only his head. Yes, it was William, his stepfather, known familiarly as Bill. He was the Tall Man, the six-foot-seven-inch demon loose from the pit of flame, on probationary leave from whichever depth of hell had spawned him. He was closing in, close enough now to frighten with his ghastly features and the aura of pure hatred emanating from his oversized, monstrous frame. Eric knew his stepfather was only a man, but he also knew him to be the ultimate essence of evil in purest form, a man wicked to the core. A colossal beast lurked in him, using his body as a vehicle to propagate evil. The Tall Man was a horrific coalescence of malevolence and heinous nefariousness, better regarded as an "it" or a "thing" than a man.
It swaggered toward him through a freakish panorama of twisted colors and shapes that comprised the barrier between consciousness and dream, straining the delicate--yet surprisingly resilient--fabric of the nightmare. The rapid advance of the monster forced Eric to search frantically for cover, but none could be found.
His surrealistic surroundings flexed continuously, skimming different and opposite dimensions as dreams so often seem to do, hurtling at breakneck speed through the seemingly limitless expanse of subconscious existence. It was as if he and the monster were trapped together in a violent universe within a universe--the space they shared limited by tangible boundaries and perimeter, but the other as endless and infinite as the consuming depths of a black hole.
THIS IS NOT YOUR DREAM, YOU SLINKING CHILD
Eric spun on both heels as the booming voice resounded with the intense cacophony of roaring thunder
and he scrambled for footing as hideous peals of laughter crackled through the cavernous depths of the dream. The din intensified, echoing from unseen barriers, back-lashing with heightened pitch as the crescendo shrilled to a point beyond the limits of tolerance -
and Eric cried out in sleep, clutching his head with both hands. The dream was all too familiar, but conscious wakening eluded him. Once again, he was forced to relive events from his past in yet another altered, variant form. It was hot beneath the sheets, and he rolled over -
as the scene continued to shift, making his footing precarious and uncertain. A stage materialized beneath his feet, coalescing from the fluid colors and nebulous haze swirling about and he stomped with a heavy foot to test its integrity. The resulting noise echoed back several times, but from what he couldn't tell. It all appeared to be real, but he learned long ago that the only thing real was the monster, the Tall Man--his stepfather. Everything else came and went. In this plane of existence, little could be trusted or counted on with any degree of certainty. The Tall Man pulled all the strings, he directed all the action.
Other players appeared, solidifying and taking form from the same nebulous ribbons of color that had birthed the stage. The ribbons, most of their energies spent, transformed into ropes and suspended the inanimate creations in midair. Eric recognized them immediately once they materialized fully: Mom was high up over his head, his brother was dropping down over to the left, and little sis was swinging back and forth as the ribbons of color finished converting to rope. He watched as they were lowered down onto the stage like lifeless marionettes, each limb suspended by the thin rope, their dull faces sporting ridiculous painted smiles and vacant, wooden eyes. Eric knew from past experience that they would soon be animated by the Tall Man--brought to life as if with one tremendous jolt of electricity, high-strung and animate thereafter.
The Tall Man halted as they took shape, and he watched with amusement as they were carefully placed into position upon the stage. An unseen band commenced playing a boisterous, sloppy rendition of Bach's "Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor." A mysterious sax player occasionally produced a sour note, and its horrendous squeal pierced through the accompanying cacophony from time to time at an earsplitting volume.
A full theater materialized row by empty row in front of the platform, spreading out lazily like the wake from a bobbing boat. The ceiling lights dimmed momentarily as several barely tangible shapes slithered over the stage, untying ropes and setting props into place. Warm auxiliary lighting ignited from each side of the stage to cast an eerie glow over the first few rows of empty seats.
Casting a sidelong glance toward the Tall Man's last known position, Eric hopped down to the theater floor, more confident now with the settings. They were familiar. He'd been here many times before. He took a seat as far back from the stage as possible.
The unseen band completed the Tocatta and launched into the Fugue with reckless abandon as ghostly images filed into the theater in search of assigned seating. All were transparent in form, and they all wore masks--cheap white cardboard faces with cutouts for the eyes and mouth. None filing in made a sound; they all moved with a stealth and silence Eric found quite unsettling. In past episodes, it had been more chaotic, boisterous. Now, their silence was almost louder than the music produced by the band.
Once seated, every member of the audience turned around to stare back toward the rear of the auditorium, to stare at him. Within a matter of seconds, he found himself gazing ahead into hundreds of dark, generic eye holes, and he settled down further into his seat in order to appear less conspicuous. After a while, some in the audience lost interest and turned away, but most continued to stare until the band reached its conclusion. And then they were all suddenly animated, whooping and hollering and whistling and screaming with thundering applause.
Primary stage lighting flickered into brilliance and the crowd settled down a bit, anticipating the opening. The familiar aromas of popcorn and watered-down cola hung like heavy smog in the air. An off-stage personality as anonymous as the band members announced the world premiere of the STAGE EVENT OF THE YEAR! He announced it that way, too--in capital letters--confirming Eric's quiet suspicion that something altogether different was about to happen. Spontaneous applause ripped through the building like a shock wave from an earthquake, and members of the privileged audience consulted programs in order to follow along.
Eric stirred again, totally oblivious to the tranquility of the night in the real world outside his bedroom window. He sucked his thumb fervently as he sat in the back row of a theater in a different world and worried over that which the announcer had said. Ghosts from his past reenacted grisly performances in his dreams night after night, hour after hour, and he was familiar with the routines. But this, though recognizable in some ways, was markedly different in many others. There had never been this much to-do in past episodes, and the audience had never been perfectly silent one moment, then so completely loud the next. What was going on? He sucked more vigorously as -
an off-stage drum roll silenced the crowd, and a man strolled out onto the stage. He scanned the audience silently and most waited nervously for his announcement, while some whispering to others about the delay. It was an obvious departure, for this was not listed in the program. A hush fell over the arena as the man hopped down from the stage and started up the aisle. As he passed, heads were bowed...or turned away altogether -
Eric paused, and the thumb slipped from his mouth. He dreaded the approaching man. Though this was a new development to him as well, he knew the man in the aisle was coming to get him, the missing actor. The Tall Man had somehow picked him out in the crowd, and directed the man to get him--forcibly, if necessary. He was very close. Some in the crowd were looking at him again; they'd had him pegged all along. There was little choice but to concede. He stood. The dream transformed to drama once again, and...
each row of masks tracked his progress up the aisle. Averting the eyes of the characters already in place on the stage, Eric clambered up and sought his position. There were several rooms built on the set and Eric walked into the one resembling, down to the very last detail, the room he grew up in as a child. The other players were in the adjacent room, a perfect replica of the dining room in the house on Morton Street, of the house Eric had spent twelve years in as a child--the house once possessed by the demon, the monster, the Tall Man. A smattering of applause from the audience signaled readiness for the action long delayed. The flying dinner plates were set.
Eric's thumb found its way back into his mouth and he sucked relentlessly, deep within the REM state of sleep. The stage was set and the Tall Man was prepared to spew his own special brand of fire over the platform. There was no turning back now. Mom, little sis, and brother were prepared to reprise their individual roles. Their sullen eyes haunted him. Screams silenced and distanced by the passage of time were resurrected; they shivered through the dreamscape almost subliminally, barely within audible range. The flying dinner plates were poised, ready for launch, awaiting the Tall Man's cue.
The flying dinner plates? He strained to remember the significance, but could not. After a moment of thought, it slammed home, as
his mom ducked as the first dinner plate flew. The opening action was replayed in endless slow-motion loops on off-stage monitors, for benefit of the paying crowd. The plate sailed across the room frame-by-frame on an intriguing slow-motion trajectory to finally slam into the dining room wall scant inches over the terrified woman and explode on contact--a stunning display of porcelain pyrotechnics. The subliminal background screams cranked up a notch in volume.
Little sis, whom mom had been trying to protect, took a shard in the left eye and a trickle of blood ran the course reserved exclusively for tears. The crowd went wild. All overhead spotlights pivoted suddenly to the Tall Man, beautifully synchronized, moving as one.
YOUR WELFARE MOM NEGLECTED TO BRING A FIRST AID KIT TO THE PERFORMANCE TONIGHT, LITTLE GIRL. HERE, HAVE ANOTHER PLATE INSTEAD!
On the other side of the wall, it sounded to Eric as if concurrent wars of nuclear dimension were occurring in the opposite room. One flying dinner plate had nearly sliced clean through the wall; its edge protruded out perpendicularly an inch or so, bearing recriminating testimony to the force with which it had been hurled. The Tall Man didn't bother with special effects, the blood and glass were real. They made for a spectacular show, and went straight to the bottom line.
Eric's little brother entered the room on cue, his eyes white and wild. Eric grabbed him by an arm and dragged him across the room as he searched for a suitable hiding place. The closet was overstuffed with broken toys, and the beds were too low to the floor to offer any refuge. Spotting a hardcover King James Bible within arm's reach, he snatched it up and threw it through the bedroom window, shattering the glass.
The explosions on the other side of the wall ceased as the glass tinkled to the concrete patio outside, and Eric clambered up and out, oblivious to the shards of glass on the ledge that sliced into his palms. Once outside, he turned to help his little brother, but it was too late.
The back door of the house splintered outward as the Tall Man smashed right through it, a dinner plate in hand. Splintered wood flew like shrapnel, and Eric was glad he hadn't burst through the sliding glass door instead. The monster advanced, sneering lecherously. Spotlights cast his face in wicked shadows.
YOU LIKE BREAKING GLASS, YOU LITTLE SHIT? DO YOU HAVE THE FIRST IDEA HOW HARD YOUR MOTHER WILL HAVE TO WORK TO MAKE ENOUGH TO REPLACE THAT? HAVE YOU ANY SENSE OF VALUE?
The monster advanced, jabbing at him with the plate as if with a lance. The spotlights followed him, changing the highlighted shadows on his face. As his evil black and white countenance drew closer, Eric could see saliva glistening on the his chin, leaking out from one corner of his mouth. The man's halitosis was nearly unbearable, reminding Eric of something infested with maggots. He was close, and Eric was powerless to move. His shaking legs had all the strength of broken rubber bands.
IF YOU LIKE BREAKING GLASS WINDOW PANES SO MUCH, TRY THIS OUT, YOU LITTLE BASTARD!
Eric landed with a helpless grunt in a pile of bleeding glass after being snatched up and hurled headfirst through the sliding glass arcadia door leading into the dining room. The roar off-stage was deafening.
Precisely at the moment of impact, the monstrous stepfather was inexplicably yanked into a straining upright position with his arms stiff, pinned down to his sides, his hands clenched into tight fists. It looked as if he were being electrocuted. Spittle flew from his mouth as his face contorted with agony and his eyes ballooned to twice their normal size, appearing ready to explode from their individual sockets at any moment. He turned toward Eric, unable to conceal the effort it took to do so.
"The day will come," the Tall Man hissed, his voice snagging in places, "when...when you will be held accountable for all you...for all you've done to this family. You will be found guilty...on...that day."
His hideous laughter transformed to a mysterious chirping and he began to convulse, writhing spasmodically as he chirped louder, louder, louder. There was no sound now from the audience; it stared quietly, mesmerized--collectively absorbing every element of the bizarre drama.
Eric shifted position on the glass to behold the spectacle. Dazed, he couldn't quite understand that which the Tall Man had said. How was he personally responsible for the problems besetting the family? Why was he to blame?
He became aware of mom and little sis to the rear, still cowered against the demolished dining room wall. All three gazed through the jagged sliding door frame as the rigid stepfather of two, third husband of one, continued to chirp. Little brother was nowhere to be seen; he, apparently, possessed the common sense to disappear. The monster continued to chirp. The audience tittered nervously. Someone in the back stood to leave.
Dreadful and hypnotic, the incessant noise continued while the monster man stood solid and motionless, as if equal and one with the stage concrete beneath his feet. Eric gained solid footing on the glass, mindful of the agony inflicted to his bare lacerated feet, and darted through the orifice, his fourteen year old arms making forceful contact with the chirping Tall Man. He'd never dared to do that before, but it was apparent that things were coming to a head, and he now had to try and gain some sort of upper hand. In order to defeat the Tall Man and get rid of him for good, he would have to become him. He would have to overpower him. He would have to find enough evil within himself to match, and thereby negate, that maintained by the Tall Man, so that only one would be left standing.
Inertia carried him into his stepfather, and then, inexplicably, through him. The Tall Man shattered upon impact, as if Eric had jumped through a giant eggshell rather than a living monster. His fragmented body imploded, collapsing into thousands of complex pieces, tinkling down into a neat conical pile on the concrete where a monster had stood only moments before.
The dream did the same and Eric awoke with a start, eleven years older now than he had been only moments earlier in the dream. Although the flying dinner plate episode was a decade behind him now, the nightmares continued to torment and torture, allowing none of his childhood wounds to heal. And though he'd not seen his stepfather in many, many years, he had the disquieting feeling that the dreams were a shared experience and that somehow, somewhere, the living, breathing Tall Man also dreamed of a play, complete with an offstage band, an off-key sax player, and a familiar cast.
He tore at the molten hot bed sheets, still caught up in the outer receding fringes of the dream. The chirping continued, despite the cessation of the drama, and he threw himself to the floor, naked and drenched with sweat.
CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIR--
A slap to the alarm clock silenced the steady noise, and he fled to the toilet, retching on the bile of his vomit, and his life, past and present. It was a mental, as well as physical, regurgitation.
THIS IS NOT YOUR DREAM, YOU SLINKING CHILD...IT'S MINE!
What had that meant? None of it made any sense.
Just as he thought he might be starting to understand, the implication sickened him, and he retched again.
IT'S OUR DREAM! OURS!
He didn't want to think about it anymore.
Five-fifteen in the morning found Eric Watkins on the couch in his dark apartment with a whiskey bottle in hand, and barely half an hour remaining in which to get ready for work. The memory of the dream was already like fog burning off late in the morning--only incomprehensible snatches of it remained.
But the main thing to remain at the forefront of his conscience was the certainty he'd felt that the only way to rid himself of the Tall Man would be to find enough evil within himself to negate the deep forces of darkness within the soul of the monster. He didn't think he had it in him.
Eric Watkins was frightened. To the best of his knowledge, he'd never so much as swatted a fly his entire life, but he was now engulfed with an urge to kill. And not only to kill, but to go on a murderous rampage with every intent to end real lives, not merely to maim and injure. He grappled with a nearly incomprehensible rage, one that clouded his every thought, and demanded release, like seminal fluid trapped in the hot confines of a swollen testicle. And killing would provide that penultimate ejaculation of his rage.
But there also was a sense of purpose, one that slithered just out of sight, like the murky form of a body through a shower door. It was tangible, but not well defined, and that added to his frustration. Kill? Kill whom?
He almost stood up to fetch the handgun he kept atop the refrigerator.
One quick shot, right to the temple -
He almost did,
There would be no pain...BOOM! That would put an end to it, an end to HIM!
but he stalled somewhere in the gray zone between thought and action.
He couldn't do it. The chance had come, but had quickly been categorically dismissed. That would be taking the easy way out, and the Tall Man would claim the victory.
No. No way. There was just no way he would allow the Tall Man to win. Not this time.
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