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My diary is a day ahead of me
After the incident, my therapist urged me to keep a diary. The incident occurred last year, and, long story short, involved me attempting to burn down the local Catholic Church in the middle of the night. The fallout from that adventure was handled discreetly, as such things usually are when you have wealthy parents, but I did not get off scot-free, and had to endure various forms of punishment. Chief among them: having to keep a goddamn diary.
"Kate," my therapist (who happened to be my father's chum) had said. "Your reluctance to talk about your feelings, I believe, is a large part of why you act out. And since you clearly have trust issues, perhaps we can kill two birds with one stone, as they say, and you can keep a journal where you talk to yourself about what happens every day and how you feel about it. Perhaps once you learn to trust yourself, you can start to trust others, and then you can talk to them about your feelings."
All I ever wrote in that diary was a bunch of bullshit that I thought would make my parents (who snuck into my room every day to read the thing) satisfied enough to leave me alone. That’s all I ever wrote in it, anyway, until the day I met Red, when I recorded that experience with breathless awe… with complete earnestness… and then hid the journal away where nobody could find it.
Before I share that first entry, I want to be absolutely clear that I wrote this account after I experienced the events it discusses. I clearly remember sitting in my bed, opening the drawer of my night stand, withdrawing a pen and the diary, and writing the following:
Sunday, October 18, 2020
Holy shit! Red. Where did he come from? Where has he been hiding my entire life? It doesn’t matter. I found him. Standing there in Heritage Park, in the most ridiculous outfit. Now that I think about it, he didn’t have a scrap of red on him anywhere. Every other color, though… a patchwork of all the other colors of the rainbow, and many more besides, stitched together as by the world’s most deranged grandmother… and his hair, long and thick and black… but no red.
“My name's Red," he said, as I was walking past him, on my way to the coffee shop. I hadn’t paid him any mind yet, and at the time, he seemed just another desperate performer... same as anyone. "What's your name, sweetheart?”
“Fuck off,” I said.
“Fukov?” said Red. “That sounds Russian. Are you Russian, young lady?”
I stopped walking and turned to face him. He had deep blue eyes. “Nope,” I said. “I’m American, through and through.”
“But you were rushin’, weren’t you? Off to the coffee shop, perhaps? I suppose that’s rather an American thing to do… always rushin’ around. It's all perfectly consistent. It all makes perfect sense.”
I looked to the ground, where Red had placed a top hat, upside down, which had three or four dollar bills inside of it, along with some loose change. “Alright, what’s your deal then? You just stand here and do dad jokes?”
“No, that’s just how I draw them in. A little buffoonish humor.”
“So what do you do?” I asked, deciding that if he didn’t give a good enough answer, I’d keep walking.
“Many things, young lady. Many things. But for you? For you, I will show you things as they truly are. Not as people pretend them to be. It's not a talent I use often… but something about you tells me that you are ready to see through the facade. Am I right?"
I supposed that I was in for a cheap magic trick or something like that, but had to, sadly, admit to myself that this was already the most interesting thing that had happened to me in several weeks. “Sure,” I said.
“Good. Now, look over yonder.” Red swung his multicolored arm out and pointed at a man jogging through the park. There was nothing unusual about the man; he was very fit and attractive, dressed in a tank top that barely contained his bulging muscles, and he was dripping with sweat… listening to music of some kind, Or maybe just an inspirational recording of his own voice saying, “You are an incredible specimen. Nothing can stop you.” In short, he made my stomach turn… but then, most people did that.
“So?” I asked, turning back to Red.
“Did you really look? Try again.”
I sighed with disappointment – don’t know what I thought would happen – but looked again at the jogging man. This time, he was quite different.
Now he was simian, looking for all the world like a giant monkey, with a monkey face and monkey limbs. He was dressed in the same sort of absurd garb that Red was wearing, with tattered bits of blue and yellow and pink flapping around, as he moved along in a waddle, lifting each leg high and bringing it down somewhere off to the side, like a big awkward crab monkey clown. I laughed, partly out of shock, and partly out of delight.
“How did you do that?” I asked. “That man is your sidekick, no? And you had a monkey hiding in the bushes that he switched out when I wasn’t looking.”
“Not at all, dear. The monkey is the man. I have, as promised, merely shown you things as they really are. Or rather, things as they are beneath the first layer. It’s what you’ve always suspected, isn’t it? That the world is full of people pretending to be something they’re not. That, once you strip the pretence away, people are simply dumb monkeys waddling through life in a comically exaggerated fashion, without any real purpose. You can sense that it’s true, but the deceit is great enough to trick your very eyes. You see men and women, dressed to the nines, approaching life with a deadly seriousness, and you begin to doubt yourself. Well, doubt yourself no more! You have seen the truth.”
An eerie feeling passed over me, and, for a moment, I believed what he said. But when I looked at the jogging man for the third time, he was only that: a man, going on a late morning jog. “No, really. How did you do that?”
“Would you like to see even deeper?”
“Yes,” I said, without hesitation.
“Then come back tomorrow. Same place, same time.”
“I will,” I said. Then I remembered that I had school. I was down to my final final warning, and couldn’t afford to miss another class. “Oh shit. I can’t. Will you be here later… in the afternoon?”
“I will certainly try to be. For now… I must move on.” Red bent down, scooped the money out of his hat, and stuffed it into an enormous pocket. I felt a sudden pang of guilt, as I didn’t have any cash with which to reward this man for so thoroughly entertaining me.
“I… I’m sorry,” I said, “but I don’t have any money on me. Just a credit card. I’ll bring some tomorrow, I promise.”
“Think nothing of it, young lady,” said Red, flipping the hat through the air and catching it expertly on top of his head. “I do hope to see you tomorrow.” Then he turned and waddled off through the park.
I stood there for a long time, full of wonder, trying to figure out how he had done it. In the end, I decided it didn’t matter, and went ahead to the coffee shop. As I was waiting in line, I began to picture the people around me as clownish monkeys, the same as the jogging man in the park. I had to hold my hand over my mouth to keep from erupting in laughter.
Now I am here in bed, and I have not stopped thinking about Red all day. His magic trick was, quite possibly, the delight of my life. Certainly the best thing that’s happened to me in years and years… a splash of colorful paint across a dull and dreary canvas of lifeless grays. I absolutely cannot wait to see him again, and discover what else he has in store for me. I truly doubt anything can top what he’s already done… but we’ll see.
Meanwhile, I have no choice but to contain my excitement, and wait until after school tomorrow. Unless… unless I don’t? I’ll get in trouble, but what does it matter? It’s a world full of monkey clowns. What’s the worst they can do to me? Throw a pie in my face?
And so I concluded my first real diary entry, hiding it inside of an old stuffed bear I found in the back of my closet. Then I settled into bed and tried to go to sleep. My excitement made that difficult, but I also felt a deep and easy peace that I hadn’t known for a long time. I had a friend. Somebody who understood the world as I understood it, and was delightfully entertaining as well. And so I finally sunk into sleep, and dreamt of a carnival deep in the wild, primordial swamp, where reptiles crawled out of the murky depths, and devoured mountains of cotton candy.
The next morning, I woke up full of energy, having resolved to ditch class and meet Red at the park. I did not want to miss him, and whatever wonderful trick he had in mind to show me.
Predictably, my phone started to buzz a few minutes after I was off school grounds, so I switched it off and shoved it into my purse. Then I walked to the park, feeling light and free despite the certain punishment I would face at the end of the day.
Red was standing in the same place as before, but when I approached him, I saw that he was sad. Now, at last, he had some red to him, though it was where his eyes should have been white. He had obviously been crying.
“What’s wrong?” I asked when I was close enough.
“Oh, sweetheart, I did not expect to see you at this hour!” he said, sniffling and wiping his nose with his colorful sleeve.
“Catherine,” I said. “My name is Catherine. Why are you crying?”
“Catherine! A wonderful name! Ah, forgive me my dear. I was only lamenting the fact that I’ve been robbed. Every hard earned penny… gone. It wasn’t much, but I came by it honestly… or maybe I didn’t. I forget! It doesn’t matter one bit though, now that you’re here.”
I’d come prepared with two 100 dollar bills, pilfered from my father’s wallet. He wouldn’t miss them. I dropped one into Red’s hat. “This is for yesterday. And I’ve got another for today… assuming you have a new trick for me.”
“You’re too kind, Catherine! Too kind! Ah, ah… I’ll have to conjure up a good one! But I’ll remind you… they’re not tricks. Not tricks at all. I would never trick you, Catherine. The others? Yes, of course. I will dazzle them by pulling a rabbit out of nowhere, or making a ball jump unseen from cup to cup. Cheap illusions. But for you… only the truth. Only things as they really are. One minute now… hold on. Okay. Here comes our jogger. Same one from yesterday. Are you ready?”
I turned my head, expecting to be delighted again, but what I saw shocked me with its grotesquerie. The jogging man now appeared not as a comical monkey, but as someone long dead, with rotten flesh sloughing away from the bone and feasted upon by swarms of squirming worms. This alone was enough to make me retch, but what sent my mind spinning to the edge of madness was the way the thing moved. It wasn’t as in the movies, when the dead come back to life, and lumber around awkwardly, with crude control over their bodies… but at least some control. And that certainly would have been terrifying enough. But the uncanny corpse that I saw now appeared to be moved by several pairs of invisible hands… one set lifting a limp leg in the air here, another giving a shove from behind there, a third holding the body up from under the arms, in order to prevent the entire show from collapsing. The effect was of something truly and finally dead – and not somehow reanimated – moving around in the world of the living.
“Catherine?” asked Red. “What’s wrong? Are you not delighted?”
I snapped around, with a rush of anger crashing around a sense of implacable dread. “It’s awful,” I said.
Red frowned. “My darling, you’re going to make me cry again. I thought we shared an affinity for the truth?”
“That’s not the truth,” I spat, pointing behind me, but unwilling to look in that direction again.
“But it is! At a more fundamental level, these people you see all around you are nothing but worm food, temporarily controlled by unseen forces, being moved witlessly from point A to point B until they grow too heavy and bloated to be moved around any longer, and the showrunners find fresher meat. I… I thought you would like to see this.”
“Fuck off,” I said, and I crumpled up the other 100 dollar bill and threw it in his face. Then I walked away, keeping my eyes on the ground and trying not to break down. In my mind, I could still picture the dead jogger, being forced to jog along, as he decomposed into pure rot.
At one point, I looked up to see Red bend down and pick up the wad of money. “Fucking fraud,” I muttered, and went to bring my vision back down to my shoes, but, along the way, I caught sight of another dead person… this one looked to be a woman… her clothes stained black and brown with her own fluids… jerking forward down a path in unnatural, floppy fits and starts.
Then the stench hit me, and I surveyed the park head on, and saw that it was filled with the dead, going about their mindless business… dozens of them… heads bouncing on limp necks, from side-to-side or front-to-back, as they were shoved along by invisible hands.
I ran home, as though myself being poked by some unseen prod, and when I swung the door open, I was greeted by my mother… though mercifully she did not appear dead.
“Kate…” she began, in a voice hung between anger and relief.
I wrapped my arms around her and started to sob. “I’m so sorry,” I wailed. “About the way I’ve acted… the way I’ve been. About everything.”
“Shhhh,” said my mom. “Everything’s going to be okay. Mommy’s here. Mommy’s here for you.”
After a long session with my mom, in which I kept details sparse, I headed up to my room. I was going to spill my guts out to my diary… not just about the awful things that Red had shown me, but about all sorts of things that I now realized were true about myself. In the course of a few hours, I had suddenly shed years’ worth of carefully constructed defense mechanisms.
I went to the closet, felt around till I found my old teddy bear, and pulled the diary out. I took it over to my bed, where I propped up some pillows and settled in to write my epic confessional. I flipped through the pages of lies – lies I had felt so clever in creating – until I got to the previous day’s entry. Sunday, the day I met Red. I cringed as I glanced over those words, then hurriedly turned the page….
It was already filled in. What the fuck? I lifted the journal up to my face and squinted. It was my own handwriting… my own style, too:
Dear diary, Today was fucked up.
That was exactly how I intended to begin the entry. Absurdly, I turned my eyes to my right hand, as if I would find some kind of answer etched into my palm. I didn’t, of course… there was just the usual pattern of creases and whorls. I stared at it for a long time, until it began to look strange… like an alien creature onto itself. Then I snapped out of it, took a deep breath, and read the rest of the entry.
It described my day exactly, starting with the excitement I had felt in seeing Red again, and ending with me coming up to my room to write it all down. When I had finished reading, I closed the diary, got up, and replaced it in the teddy bear.
I tried not to think about it.
For the next three days, I was a model citizen. I groveled at the principal’s feet, in complete earnestness, for another chance. I did all my homework, and ate all my veggies. I refrained from making sarcastic remarks and even from smoking weed. Seeing those corpses, jostled around by invisible masters, had shaken me to my core. Suddenly, life seemed worthwhile to me, even if it meant doing all of the things that had appeared ridiculous and pointless before. Maybe especially if it meant doing all that. The mundane was a talisman to be wielded against death… if only because going through the motions meant avoiding thinking about it all.
At the end of the third day of my reformed life – Thursday – I decided to revisit my diary. I had brushed aside the previous incident as a trick of my overstressed mind… I must have written that entry in a daze, and then, when I came back to myself, forgotten all about it.
But there was no rationalizing away what came next.
I opened the journal and flipped to the last entry. It was for Friday, October 23... which is to say: the future. It was, again, written in my own hand, in my own voice. It was a long, rambling chapter about how my father had had a heart attack. It had been a non-fatal one, I wrote, but it still fucked me up. I’d visited him in the hospital, during meal time, and he had been eating a fruit cup. But he looked like all those people in the park… dead… crawling with worms, with some force lifting his dead hand and awkwardly shoving a spoonful of fruit into his mouth. The food fell out directly, and slid down his chin in a river of various fluids that had poured out of him. I blinked, and he was alive again.
I had written at length about how I didn’t want my dad to die and how I didn’t want anybody to die and how scared I was.
I read all of this in a state of shock, but even by the end of it, it was possible to explain away… if I tried hard enough. Red’s cheap magic trick had simply gotten too deep in my brain… I was imagining things that hadn't happened… writing things about these imaginings… and then forgetting having written them.
But when, on Friday, my father had a non-fatal heart attack, and I visited him in the hospital, where he appeared dead to me for a moment… like I said… there was no rationalizing that away.
My father returned home on Saturday and, despite him just having come within an inch of death, I do think that he was in better shape than me. To put it mildly, I had a lot on my mind. There were the visions of corpses that Red had shown me, which haunted me at random moments throughout the day and in my dreams. Then there was my father’s cardiac event, which just drove it home even deeper how fragile and precious everything was, despite the layers of gristle I had piled up around my psyche to protect me from this realization. Next, of course, there was the fact that my fucking diary was somehow filling itself in a day ahead of time. These added together were bad enough… but there was something else, too, on top of it all.
It was a feeling, in my stomach and my throat… a thought clawing at the back of my mind… that what Red had shown me was more real that the reality I saw… and that there were things more real than even that… and that it was all terrible. I would look at a shadow, and it would seem to hold more substance than whatever was casting it, and I sensed that it contained depths that nobody understood or was capable of understanding.
I spent the better part of Saturday in my room alone, trying to hold it together, but feeling always on the verge of cracking apart into jagged pieces of incoherence. I dug out some pills that I had been prescribed, but declined to take, and now swallowed two of them. When those failed to have any effect, I snuck down the hall to my parents’ bedroom, and rifled through their medicine cabinet until I found something stronger.
And if it had all ended there, I think I might have been able, in time, to cope. The pills did their trick and knocked my ass out. I awoke late in the morning on Sunday, still feeling the pleasant haze of the drugs. I felt protected, as if nothing could hurt me. It was then that I decided it would be a good idea to look through my diary again. It can’t hurt you, I told myself.
And now I have been sitting on my bed for hours, trembling, dead sober. Or am I? Is this really happening? It feels as real as anything that’s ever happened to me… but has that all been real? I don’t know. All I know is that when I opened my diary, this is what was waiting for me on the last page:
Monday, October 26, 2020
I don’t think it matters what you do. Red will find you. And when he finds you, I would suggest not trying to escape. Maybe you will be luckier than I was, but if you’re not… you’re better off not fighting. He tells me that our suffering is in proportion to how much we struggle against it.
He is going to take me now to the church… the same one that I tried to burn down last year. He thinks that’s very funny. He says that flames dance everywhere all the time, and that they define the limits of the world, and that once I see them…
once I really see them….
He is going to take me past the flames, he says, and show me something more beautiful than I can comprehend. He says that there is nothing to be afraid of.
But I’m afraid. I'm really fucking afraid.
I am too, Kate. Jesus fucking Christ, I am too.
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