A wave of fear ran through my spine like a tremor. The air was foggy, obscuring what those unblinking eyes were attached to. The sound of a hundred murmurs floated around my head, but I couldn't tell if I was actually hearing them or if I was imagining it.
"Who's there?" It was in desperation that I called out, but I wasn't sure what else to do. All around me, the creatures stared, watching me like the beady eyed man had done years earlier. Was he there, too? Was he laughing at my anguish, my frustration? As if in response, the murmurs grew louder. They were being repeated over and over, like a mantra, crowding my brain and penetrating my heart. Clasping my hands to my ears in a vain attempt to block the sound out, I knew the creatures were getting closer. I squeezed my eyes shut, praying it was all some horrible nightmare I would awake from any second, but opening them had only made things worse. The fog was heavier than before, blocking out anything more than a few feet away.
"Please... just let me go..." Fear and grief swirled through my body, and the cold air stuck to my skin like an extra layer of clothing. I rubbed my hands against my arms to warm up, but couldn't shake the feeling. Was this the cold touch of death? Was I going to die in this fog, surrounded by bizarre creatures in the middle of a century old amusement park? I felt empty inside, but my brain's survival instincts drove me to plead for my life, pointless as it might be to do so. The chanting had reached a fever pitch though, hundreds of little voices screaming at once. My head felt hot, like it would explode any second. I winced and cried out in pain. At first, I didn't feel the pressure on my leg, but soon, a second source of pressure joined it, prompting me to see what it was. Poking out of the fog and grappling the fabric of my pants were a pair of small, child-sized arms. I fuckin' lost it after that.
Screaming, I kicked my leg out to dislodge the hands and fell back, landing on the ground with a thud. More hands reached through the fog from different directions, each one more eager than the last. My heart was shuddering as I used my legs to propel myself backwards along the ground. Within moments, I had backed up into a wall of hedge. Realizing I had nowhere left to turn, I could only watch as the creatures plunged through the wall of fog. They were child shaped things, but they had no eyes, like unfinished clay models. Fleshy eye sockets stared soullessly forward, while toothless mouths snapped close at the empty air. More of them came through by the second, their hairless skulls bulging with veins. They climbed over each other, clawing the air to get to me, and then they were on top of me. I could hardly breathe, but I could smell their frigid rotting breath washing over my face.
And then there was only darkness.
Mark always went quiet around that time. Whenever he told the story, it was the same. Maybe it wasn't verbatim, but it was pretty close.
"Mark? Can you hear me?" The doctor sat on a rolling chair in front of my brother, a penlight in hand to check his eyes. After a moment, he frowned. "It's Dr. Balestro, Mark. Are you still with us?"
"Is he gonna be alright, doc? I mean, is there a chance he'll recover?" I was afraid of the answer, but I had to know.
"In all my years, Phil, your brother is one of the worst cases I've ever seen." Dr. Balestro sighed, dropping the penlight back into his pocket. He rolled over to this desk, opening up a few drawers before finding what he was looking for. I stepped up to the desk and leaned against it, unsure of what to do with myself as I waited. The doctor was busy scribbling out a prescription on a pad of paper. He ripped off the top sheet and handed it over to me as I chewed on my fingernail.
"What's this for?" I didn't like having to medicate my brother, but it was impossible not to.
"I'm upping his dosage of Prazosin. That's the medication for—"
"Yeah." I frowned. "The nightmares, I remember. If I don't give him that shit, he screams all night. Makes it impossible to get any sleep. At least with the meds, he only screams half the night. Will this really help, though?"
"Well, we've already got him on the antipsychotics for his bipolar. Have you noticed any more outbursts?"
"No." I glanced back at Mark. His unblinking eyes were lowered to the ground. I wondered what was going on inside of his head. "He hasn't destroyed anything, if that's what you're asking. He sleeps a lot. Probably fourteen hours a day. Is that normal?"
"Yeah, that's probably the Seroquel. It usually induces a little dizziness and dry mouth, so you've gotta make sure he's pretty well hydrated. But honestly, it's going to take time for his brain to repair itself. He's reliving that dream-state fantasy he's always talking about, and no one can really save him but himself. Literally, his brain is going to have to fix itself enough to distinguish the reality from the fiction." I chewed on my fingernail some more, mulling over his answer. I couldn't argue with it. I just wish that I had more control over what was going on in Mark's brain.
"I guess you're right, doc. I just hope it's soon. I don't know how much longer I can handle takin' care of him like this."
"Well, there's always the option of putting him in a group home. I could refer you to someone I know who's helped hundreds of people here in the valley find the right place. Then, you wouldn't have to worry about him so much." Taking his business card from a holder on his desk, he flipped it over and scribbled a half-way legible name and number. Handing it to me, I shoved his card and the prescription into my pocket with a nod of thanks.
"I'll think about doc. Thanks for everything."
"I'll see you two in a month then." The doctor stood up to open his office door as I rolled Mark out to the hallway in his wheelchair. We stopped by reception to schedule his next check up for December third, then headed to the parking lot. After we drove home, I brought Mark inside the house and wheeled him into the living room. He was asleep, so I turned the TV on to cartoons with the volume low while I took a shower. He always liked cartoons, and I needed some time to think.
Stripping down in the bedroom, I turned on the hot water in the shower and let it heat up as I brushed my teeth. My reflection in the mirror was looking older everyday. Feeling older too. My hair is getting a little long. Probably need to get a trim soon. I spit out the toothpaste and cleaned the bristles off before climbing into the tub. The water felt fantastic, and the steam rolled through the air in puffy clouds of awesome. As sad as it sounded, showers were the only thing that really made my day bearable. It gave me a sense of peace and relaxation, and room to think. I loved Mark, but I essentially had to help him do everything. Still, family was family, and there was no one else. Pops died from heart problems early on in my life, and mom struggled to keep us afloat. She tried to find us new father figures, but I couldn't accept a replacement. But it was also because there was no one else that I had to be the one to help. The accident hadn't been easy on either of us, but Mark took it the hardest. Maybe that's why he left for Berlin. At the same time, I would probably never know exactly what he was thinking.
I'd been bringing Mark to his appointments for the last few months since he'd come back to Vegas. Nobody really knows what happened to him in Berlin. He called me late one night from an unknown number, babbling about being trapped in a maze and attacked by faceless children, among other things. I asked him where the hell he was at, and that's the first time I heard the full story. I told him to stay put. I set my GPS for Berlin, threw a blanket in the car for Mark, then took off. Traveling from North Las Vegas, it took almost six hours to get there. By the time I reached the town, the sun had risen. I was a little confused when I first got there, though. From Mark's description, I'd expected to see some old ass garden park sitting in the middle of nowhere, but the place was empty. A big dirt field stretched as far as the eye could see, with some mountains dotting the landscape in the distance. I caught sight of Mark's '95 Honda Civic, but couldn't find him anywhere.
Eventually, I got pissed and turned to go home. But then, in the middle of the road, I saw someone just lying in the middle of the road. Somehow, I knew it was Mark. I don't know how I missed him before, but he looked like he'd been beaten half to death. His shirt was torn up and there was blood all over his face. I couldn't seem to wake him up, so I threw him in the backseat with the blanket. Racing home, I was doing a hundred, easy. I didn't know what shape he was in, and I didn't want to play doctor to try and figure it out. About four hours after the fact, I was sitting in a hospital hallway on a stiff, plastic chair, wondering whether my brother was alive or dead. It was the most helpless I've felt in a long time.
I was told probably half a dozen diagnoses that day. They said it could be bipolar disorder, maybe schizophrenia or posttraumatic stress disorder. And the solution? Medication of course. Medication for everything, because that's all those fucking doctors apparently know about anymore. I tried without meds for a while. It was impossible. Mark would have screaming fits, he would thrash around and cry and break shit. In the middle of the night, I would hear him talking to himself, telling the same story, and after a while, I couldn't take it. After almost a week, I took him back and told them to give him whatever he needed to make it stop. I'm probably a bad brother for that, but I didn't trust them putting him in some nut house where I couldn't see what was going on. I had failed to protect my brother from whatever the hell happened at Berlin, so I was going to do what I could to protect him afterward.
It's been a few months since then, but he hasn't shown any signs of getting better. I think it's starting to affect me as well, because I've been hearing things lately. I'm not sure what to call them, but it just sounds like someone's... murmuring. It happens late at night, when I'm alone in bed. At first, I thought it was coming from Mark, but even when I left the house to have a quick smoke, I could still hear the damn voices. I didn't mention it to the doctors, because fuck if I'm gonna take any medications. I'm not crazy.
Stepping out of the shower, I felt relaxed. The frustration was gone, at least for the moment, and I could think clearly. I toweled off and threw on some loose fitting pajamas and a tee before heading to the living room. The whole house felt dark, though it was only around three thirty. Noticing the blinds were closed, I opened them up but the sky seemed overcast and dreary. It was odd weather considering how bright and sunny it had been earlier in the day. A noise behind me caught my attention. Turning my head, I noticed that the reception on the TV had fuzzed out. Static played across the screen, and the light sound of white noise flitted through the air. Something strange was going on with Mark. Though I could only see his shoulders and head, his movements were erratic and unnatural. At first, I thought he was having a seizure or something, but I didn't rush to his side like I usually would have. Something was... wrong. I could feel the atmosphere in the room change. It was a subtle shift, but it made my heart beat anxiously.
"Mark? Are you alright?" I wasn't sure if he even heard me, but he didn't act like it. His breathing, light before, became raspy and agitated. Then, his let out an agonizing scream. The sound of cracking bones and tearing skin rang out through the household. I was horrified, but fascinated as I moved slowly toward my brother, unsure of what to expect. What the hell was happening to him?
"Mark? Mark!" The room darkened even more, and a layer of fog came out of nowhere, hovering a few inches above the ground. "What the fuck is going on?" I'd taken my eyes off of Mark for a second, but when I looked back, he'd stopped moving. Going around the chair to take a look at him, I reeled back in horror. My brother was dead. A gaping cavity that stretched from his neck down to his crotch was sitting open. It was like someone had taken the jaws of life and ripped his midsection open. What freaked me out the most, though, was that his insides were completely clean and empty. There was no blood or guts, nothing but white bone, like his body was just a vessel for something else.
The sound of raspy breathing and a snapping jaw behind me was more than a little horrifying, then. Turning around, I realized the fog had grown even more. Just outside of my sight, I could see a pair of shining orb-like eyes peering at me through the fog. The jaw snapping sound came again, echoing through the air, and a quiet murmuring floated through my head.
"Who are you? Who's there, goddammit! Show yourself!" My voice was frail, little more than a whisper. The eyes stared back at me mockingly. "Fuck you! Get out of here! Get the hell out!"
More eyes suddenly appeared from within the fog. Hundreds of them, staring into me, dissecting my emotions and penetrating into my soul. I fell against Mark's chair in a panic, knocking it over. Faint footsteps echoed around me, and I could feel them coming closer. Closer. Closer.
"No! Stay away! Get the fuck away!" As I watched, a single creature crawled out of the mist. It was the size of a child, but grotesque in appearance. The beady eyes were so sunken into the bald head they were almost nonexistent. The nose was little more than slits in the center of the face, and the mouth was filled with a handful of black, rotting teeth. It let out a screaming grunt, filthy fingers tearing into the carpet in a weaving crawl. Try as I might, I couldn't move. I felt pinned to the floor by a powerful force, only able to watch as the creature dragged it's way on top of me, blackened teeth snapping at the air. Then, the beast plunged it's hands into my chest, sharp nails easily parting the skin. As it tore at me, through the fog, I thought I saw my brother at the entrance to an amusement park. He was waving at me. To think, my brother had been right all along.
When I was dead, I wondered if I would join him there.
I guessed only time would tell.