Chapter One: I'm Not Sick but I'm Not Well

Chapter 1 Part 1

They say the human brain can survive for three seconds after decapitation. I'm talking full-blown cognizant thought, where you can move your mouth and blink your eyes. It makes you wonder what goes through a person's head at this point, especially when they're able to see their body lying on the road beside them. And hopefully it's not one of those situations where your head goes rolling across the asphalt, because then your final moments are nothing but dizziness as you try to puke from a stomach no longer attached to your mouth.

But seriously, what kind of thoughts would be going through a person's mind? What would be going through your mind? Fear? Regret? I want you to stop right here and think for a moment. Put yourself in that situation and wonder what you'd do. The last person you'd think about before darkness swallows you. Your final string of curse words as your head bounces down some stairs. Me? I have a list of obscenities armed and ready on my tongue for when my final moment arrives. Do you?

I gotta wonder, do those few seconds last an eternity like the clichéd light flashing before your eyes, or is it just enough time for you to think, "Oh sh—" after your neck is sliced in half by a hungry guillotine?

I had this very conversation with one of my psychiatrists a few weeks ago. She asked me what I think about when I have nothing else on my mind, most notably when trying to fall asleep or when I'm taking a shower. According to her low brain activity is like a subconscious beehive ready to burst. She believed my inner musings might be to blame for my tipping sanity, and it was only a matter of time before I was stung by a violent impulse.

She said, "Maybe we'll finally figure out why you're a total nutjob, Eric," and proceeded to pat me on the knee, laughing.

She was such a nice lady.

But I digress. We're here to talk about the night I tried to commit suicide, right? It happened about six years ago, so the minor details are a little fuzzy. I still remember what I did and what I saw, though to this day no one believes me.

No one who isn't already buried six feet under, anyway.

It all started with me lying in bed and counting the lines on my ceiling, begging my brain to let me go to sleep. You probably assume this is the part where I go off on another tangent, tell you this time I was wondering how long it would take for the cops to gun me down if I went on a murderous rampage through the retail store where I worked. Or maybe I was thinking about the porn I finished watching a few hours earlier.

Actually, I was thinking about the monster sitting across the room watching me from inside my closet.

Yeah, that definitely put a damper on my plans to masturbate.

His eyeless sockets hadn't once turned from me since he appeared there about an hour ago, shortly after I had turned off the lights and got my lube ready. At first I thought it was a lion, but what would a lion be doing in my closet? I always made sure to keep my room clean so it didn't attract bugs—which made me wonder if I should've invested in some lion-spray instead. I don't think he would've fit into a roach motel.

Then I noticed his black fur and his mane made out of snakes, that the tail of a scorpion loomed over his shoulder, its stinger flashing in the moonlight burning through my window. I don't know what was more horrifying after that, his rump covered in scales and spikes, or how half his face was decomposed, maggots wiggling in the rotten flesh.

In the beginning I thought it was another figment of my imagination, something similar to all the other hallucinations I'd grown to tolerate. When you spend your entire life listening to people telling you you're crazy, you eventually start to believe them. But all the things I'd seen before that night were nothing: ghosts walking down the sidewalk, maybe some disembodied glowing eyes, the occasional voice telling me to do things I knew were wrong. Some vivid nightmares here and there.

But this…this thing, this demon, was different. It took me a few moments to realize it, and at first I denied it, thought if I closed my eyes long enough he'd be gone when I opened them. Then I saw how his claws had chewed into the tile of my floor and left behind deep marks like he was plowing a field. There was a pool of drool between his front paws, dripping from the tip of a forked tongue. Some of the maggots had fallen from his face, were crawling across the floor toward my bed.

That's when I finally understood he was real, and my heart raced. My palms became sweaty, and I gripped the sheets so hard my fingers ached.

Until that night, demons were never able to touch me or hurt me. Until that night, they were never able to interact with the real world—my world.

Until that night.

When the lion opened his mouth and let out a low rumble of a growl, my world was reduced to anxiety and fear. I lifted the covers, contemplated pulling them over my head, but I knew if I did I wouldn't be able to see the monster anymore. Contrary to what some people say, what you can't see can definitely hurt you.

Covers held up to my chin, I matched his stare. For now he seemed content enough with sitting there and watching me, which was totally fine by me. But the tense quiet didn't last forever. I had drank a bottle of water before getting in bed, and after having a staring contest with a zombie-lion who looked ready to gnaw on my face, I was on the verge of pissing myself. It took about ten minutes for me to finally convince my legs to move. I think me sitting up was what finally pissed him off, though. He probably thought I was going to try and run, maybe turn on the lights—who knows?

As soon as I sat up, the lion jumped to his feet. I went still, too afraid to breathe, knew I wouldn't have to hold my pee much longer if he kept this up—because I was pretty sure I just peed a little.

He took a step closer, claws scraping carpet.

Knowing I shouldn't, I closed my eyes.

The end of my bed dipped under immense weight.

My fingers clenched tighter on the sheets.

Something wet, I'm guessing drool, dripped onto my shoulders and ran down my bare chest.

I sucked in my lip, tried not to sob.

A puff of hot air brushed across my cheeks.

His breath smelled like nothing I've ever smelled. Picture a dead skunk lying on the side of the road, his intestines having burst out of a hole in his side after being ran over by an eighteen wheeler. Then imagine it sat in the sun for about a week, collected flies and maggots, was pretty much cooked by the black asphalt, his pink organs dried and shriveled. Now add a vulture who happened to stumble across this delicious dinner, and think how his breath must've smelled after he turned that skunk into a pile of bones. Picked it clean all by himself. And not only that one skunk, but dozens of other skunks, too. And raccoons and opossums. Years of devouring sick shit that would make me puke just smelling it.

The stench of that vulture's breath was nothing compared to what I experienced that night. If my heart wasn't already in my throat, I would've vomited all over that fucking lion.

That was the pivotal moment where I decided I'd seen, heard, and smelled enough evil. Way too much evil. I could barely hear my own whimpers over the constant rumbling of the lion's voice or the buzzing of flies circling his mane. I squirmed out from beneath the lion and jumped to my feet. On my way out the door, I grabbed the half-empty bottle of Risperidon sitting on my dresser.

I barreled down the hallway, through my bathroom door, slammed it shut and did my best not to swallow my tongue. I backed away, watched the door, waited for the lion to burst through—but I only heard laughter. A weird kind of laughter, too, like what you'd hear while watching a sitcom. But demonic. Twisted and dark, like someone was speaking in tongues. It was coming from a couple rooms to the left of me, multiple voices all congealing inside a single throat. But I was home alone, and I didn't live in an apartment building.

Was it the lion?

Whatever—it didn't matter. I glanced at the bathroom mirror, already having forgotten how much I needed to piss. I surprisingly didn't feel the need to use the toilet anymore, but that could be because my boxers soaked.

I popped the top off my medication when I decided the lion wasn't going to give chase. I lifted my trembling hand to my mouth, slipped two pills inside, then almost puked when I smelled that lion's breath all over again. At first I thought he was behind me, but I realized some of his spit had dried on my hand.

Back pressed against the wall, I tried to settle my heart by swallowing mouthfuls of air. Hyperventilating wasn't going to help, though, so I turned on the faucet and splashed my face with cold water. When I looked up I expected to see fear, anxiety, or tears in my eyes, you know, something typical of a pussy like me.

But instead I saw rage. Anger. Resentment.

I gritted my teeth and tightened my hold on the rim of the sink. I bit my cheek until I tasted copper, growled and shook my head. I threw a fist into the mirror. Too bad I wasn't strong enough to shatter it—all I did was crack the glass and break my index finger.

"I can't do this anymore!" I screamed at my reflection while cradling my injured hand. "I can't fucking do this!"

Yep. There I was in all my angst, not once thinking maybe the worst had still yet to come. Most normal eighteen-year-olds only have to worry about work or college or how they're going to get laid later that weekend, but me? I worried about demons. I worried about being stalked in my own fucking house—and it wasn't by something I could have the cops come chase away.

I thought it was me, honestly. I thought there was something wrong with my brain, something that couldn't be fixed. And as I looked at my bottle of pills, the green capsules laughing at me through the brown, semi-transparent plastic, I finally realized it was something no amount of medication could cure.

That's when I decided to take all those pills at once. I popped the top off, swung my head back, and filled my mouth. I lowered my face to the running faucet, cupped my hands and did my best swallowing as many as I could. When afraid that might not be enough, I opened the medicine cabinet and found the sleeping pills I was prescribed a year ago but never took. There was another bottle as well. And another one. I had no idea what was in the last two, but I decided to take them all for good measure.

I felt like a junkie at an all-you-can-eat narcotics buffet.

Pop!, went the fourth cap. I poured some of the unknown blue pills onto my palm, and I suddenly envied how Morpheus gave Neo the choice between experiencing the truth or living in ignorance.

I wasn't given that choice.

I'm forced to see these things whether I want to or not.

Four empty bottles tumbled around the sink's bowl, tousled by the running faucet. I looked into the mirror again to see a few pills stuck to the corners of my mouth, but it wasn't cute. Not like a baby when she gets her first birthday cake and has icing smeared all over her face. Those pills were as cute as bullets.

With back pressed against the tile wall, I slid down until I was on my ass. My heart thumped, nerves just as frayed as my hair, and I wondered what would happen first. Would I fall asleep and never wake up? Would it hurt? Where did people go when they died?

Thinking back on it now, I probably should've used a gun or a knife, you know, something that would've really gotten the job done. But I didn't want to leave another mess for my mom to clean up. She already had enough to worry about. Still does, in fact. Being a single mom with a fucked up son, working late nights as a cop? Fuck, her life was stressful enough. I already put her through enough shit, and I wasn't about to—

"Aiya, whatcha doin' down there on the floor, laddie?"

My whining was interrupted by a beautiful young woman standing in the doorway of my bathroom. I looked up at her and blinked, speechless. At first I wondered how she had gotten the door open without me noticing, especially since it was locked. But after all the strange shit I've seen, I guess that was the least impressive. If I were to rate her from one to ten on my 'Weirdest Shit Eric Has Ever Seen' scale, I'd give her a two.

I watched her for a good, long pause, then said, "Uh, excuse me?"

She tilted her head. "Are ye daft? I said, 'whatcha doin' down there on the floor?'"

That was what I thought she said, but you see, I wasn't too sure. It was hard to understand her when she was speaking with a Scottish fucking accent.

I lifted my hands in front of my face to make sure I wasn't seeing double, wondering if this woman was another hallucination induced by either madness or pills. She sure looked real enough, all the way from her boots with nails sticking out of the toes, to the knife-like hairpins jutting out of the blonde bun on top of her head.

When I didn't answer a second time, she huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. She leaned further into the bathroom and picked up two of the four empty bottles still battling the faucet. She turned off the water, looked back at me, and lifted an eyebrow.

And that's when I noticed her eyes were red.

Okay, honey. I guess I can bump you up to a four.

"What the fuck are you doing in my house?" I asked, voice cracking and not sounding as intimidating as I wanted it to. "And what the hell are you?"

My second question made her brow lift even higher. She glanced over her shoulder, put down one of the pill bottles, and dried her hands on her leather tank top. She leaned against the sink and looked down at me.

"Now thare's a question I dinnae often hear," she said. "Usually folk ask 'who,' niver 'what.'"

I pinched the bridge of my nose, because I had no idea what the hell she was saying. "Can you speak, uh, I don't know, fucking English?"

"Oh, sorry." She cleared her throat. "Is this better?" she asked, her accent much more manageable.

"Uh, yeah. Loads better."

Not really.

"What are you doing here? Why are you in my house?" I asked.

"Just doin' some lion huntin'."

She walked over and stood next to me, then leaned back against the wall and slid down until she was on her ass. I scooted a few inches away, kept my attention on her hands. No, I'm lying. I was definitely checking out her tits. Her cleavage was banging. I'm talking D-cups, easy, maybe even DD, and perky as hell

Um, right. Sorry.

She smelled strangely of smoke, like that special scent you get when you first light a cigarette. Normally I wouldn't be able to speak coherently when sitting next to such an attractive woman, but considering the circumstances, I guess my social ineptitude was the least of my worries. Besides, I wasn't really attracted to demons, just her boobs. Oh yes, I could've had some massive fun playing those bongos—

Focus, Eric. Focus!

She held up the pill bottle she found in the sink. "Havin' a hard night, ay, laddie?"

"You could say that."

"Ye know, normal people ask 'who' someone is afore they ask 'em 'what,'" she said for the third time. "But somethin' tells me yer used to seein' women like me."

"Women with huge, fake tits, or women with red eyes?"

But what I really said was, "Yeah, well, I'm not exactly normal."

"Not very smart either, are ye?" She tossed the pill bottle into my lap. "I thought men were supposed to kill themselves with a gun or a rope, not pills. What are ye, a wee lass? Too afraid of pain and blood?"

Great. Getting emasculated by a demon, now. A hot demon, nonetheless.

"I thought about hanging myself, but considering my last name is Lynch, I thought it would be a bit too predictable," I said.

I picked up the bottle and sighed. My cheeks felt hot and my palms sweaty. At first I thought it was due to embarrassment, but when the room started to spin and the walls began to breathe, I understood. I took a deep breath as my stomach lurched. Flashes of light punched the backs of my eyelids.

"A bad idea on yer part, though," she said. "Do ye want to end up in hell?"

"Hell?" I swallowed over a sudden lump.

"Aye. Where did ye think ye was gonna go if ye killed yerself?"

I rested my head back on the wall. "Fuck, I don't know. I just want to stop seeing all this shit all the time. I'm tired of it, you know? I want to be normal. I'm fucking tired of being crazy. Sick and tired of seeing ghosts and demons and being scared and hating myself and having to talk to a psychiatrist every fucking week and not being able to sleep and putting my mom through all this shit and no one believing me…"

There was a short pause (I think she was waiting to see if I'd continue with my rant) before the demon said, "Crazy folk don't know they're crazy, laddie. Did ye ever think the stuff ye been seein' was real?"

I scrunched my face. "I… well, no. I didn't. Because I don't want it to be real. What are you, anyway? You never answered my question. Are you another demon? Usually I can't talk to them like I'm talking to you. Shit, maybe I really am jumping off the deep end."

"Not a demon, no," she said, laughing. "A devil. The name's Despair."

"Despair? That proves it, then."

"Proves what?"

"That you're not real. Only someone like me could think up such a clichéd fucking name for a demon." Were my words beginning to slur, or was it my imagination?

"Devil," she corrected me.

"Whatever. You get the point." I tried to look at her, but it was hard to focus. In that state of mind, the only thing able to anchor my attention was her cleavage. "Plus you're fucking smoking hot. I mean, I think of women like you when I'm jerking off, ya know? Which is what I was about to do before that fuckin' lion showed up—so you're just a projection of my inner most desires, right? Feel like takin' off some of your clothes while you're here? C'mon, sweetheart, touch my penis before I die—hey, wait, where are you goin'?"

She patted my knee and stood, reached into a pocket of her suede pants and fished out a cell phone. After flipping it open, she looked at me over her shoulder from the entrance of the bathroom. A chill swept down the ladder of my spine, because I got the feeling it was the same mournful look a person gives to a corpse, like she was looking down at me while I was lying in a coffin. It was the same way my mother would be looking at me a few days from now.

"What are ya doin'?" I asked, but I already knew.

"Callin' ye an ambulance."

"No! Fuck!"

"I'm not going to stand by and watch ye make this type of mistake," she said.

I tried to stand up, but the world was tugged out from underneath me. My head hit the floor before I realized what happened. I heard a loud crack!, and then red spots were stinging my eyes, making it impossible to see. Next came a tightening in my chest, like my lungs were playing tug-o-war and my heart was the rope. An ache began in my fingers and toes, spread to my forearms and calves. That's where I think I started to scream, but I'm not sure—I had trouble hearing over the buzzing in my ears.

Bees. All I heard was a swarm of bees.

I rolled onto my side and vomited, felt like I'd swallowed a throatful of glass. Despair stood there and watched me the entire time she was on the phone. I heard her conversation with the emergency operator, her voice a deadpan with not a hint of concern or pity. She recounted for the operator everything that was happening to me, how my puke was gradually turning into blood and how my screams were getting louder and louder.

So much for not making a mess.

How long did I lay there before help arrived? I have no idea. All I know is that I stopped hearing Despair's accent, and instead heard other voices. Normal voices. One of them was familiar, and through the black haze I caught glimpses of my mother screaming and crying, blaming herself for what was happening to me, saying she spent too much time at her job and didn't notice her son was becoming suicidal.

Oh, mom. Don't blame yourself. Please don't blame yourself…

Sight, smell, touch, taste—all my senses were jumbled together in a thick goop I couldn't escape. But I could suddenly hear people—I could hear everything.

The last person I remember seeing as the paramedics lifted me onto a stretcher, was Despair. Her smile peeked up over my mother's shoulder from inside the bathroom mirror, like she was watching me from the other side of the looking glass. And then again came that laughter I heard earlier, followed by a disembodied voice.

'Get ready, Eric,' it said. 'Because when you wake up, that's when the real fun is going to start.'

And boy, was it fucking right.