This is a short story I wrote with the current situation in mind. I hope every reader out there is staying safe and keeping indoors as much as they can.
The lilac purple of the summer was slowly beginning to fade. In their place, the leaves of the deciduous trees, painstakingly planted so many years ago, were beginning to change. It should have enticed droves of tourists into the mountains. Hundreds upon thousands. Business should have been booming. But the fires had seen to that. If they hadn't destroyed businesses or homes, they had blanketed the entire region in a hateful smog.
What should have been a flood was but a mere trickle. Even when the rain came, people were hesitant. And only a few brave souls had cared to risk the visit up the mountains to the small town I call home.
I can't rightly blame them. Anyone would be fearful. People's memories are long and it was only a month ago when so many lives had been lost to the flames. I heard there was an inquest, actually, into the whole reason behind the fires: whether it was poor reduction practices or arsonists. It's all bullshit.
How long have we been in drought? How many years has it been when it seemed like summer would never end? The answer is staring us right in the face but our politicians are refusing to call it for what it is: climate change!
Sometimes when I watch the news, I just want to throw a bottle at the smug expression on the president's face. He has no idea what it's like to see small local business close up shop. To see friends and neighbors move away, giving up the dream of a lifetime. Or entire family lineages uprooted.
This wasn't just a bad year.
It was a complete and utter clusterfuck.
Sorry. I'm just trying to get my feeling down. Writing all this down is new to me. But I read somewhere online that it might help with all the anger. God. My family can't even afford a fucking therapist.
Is it any wonder that some of the younger kids, still fresh out of high school, are going out for joyrides and lapping it up at the bar despite being underage? I heard from the local sheriff that it's only going to get worse. Vandalism now, break-ins and property damage in just a few weeks.
My family has been lucky. Dad had been saving up a small nest egg just for emergencies. We'll be able to live all right for a while. If business doesn't pick up soon, though, we might just be like the others. Forgotten.
I haven't told my family but I set up a storefront on Etsy, Ebay and Amazon. It might help keep us afloat because we deal with unique and quirky items. Yet, I can't help feeling that it won't be enough. It's hard to stand out on those kinds of sites. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but it's not the same as holding a hand carved trinket and feeling the weight in the palm of your hand.
Numbers are still down and peak tourist season is right around the corner when it comes to fall sightseeing. I've been watching the news lately and there's something happening in China. A virus or something. So, in their infinite wisdom, the government saw fit to impose a travel ban. Those are our best customers! How is our town meant to recoup the losses from all the lost business?
Dad says it's fine. That the last year made us a killing and we can weather the storm. But I'm just worried about winter. A lot of good people might have to go without gas or electricity to keep them warm.
It's decided then. Every year during Halloween, there's a farmer's market down in the city. I could hire a stall and sell some of our goods. A simple Google search tells me that they're not too expensive, but if I want to do this, I'll need to use my own money.
That's okay. It'll be an investment. For the future. Whatever this virus is, it'll be gone in a couple of weeks. I can feel it in my bones.
Then everything will go back to how it was before. Normal.
But what if it doesn't?
There have been nights when I've lain awake, tossing and turning. Wondering what will happen to us if the worst should come to pass. Already, I've seen Sally Mae tempted. Two years of sobriety for what? She'll slip of the wagon sooner rather than later if things keep going downhill.
I know it's pointless – trying to make sense of the impossible. Mom always said it was better to focus on the immediate problems. At least I'd have control and know what I had to do. And that's what I've been trying to do. Business will be slow for the foreseeable future, but that doesn't mean I can't help my family soften the blow. I do have that, at least.
In any case, I'll be busy in the next few weeks. There are a few calls I'll need to make to both friends and connections. I'll see if I can't get a stall for cheap and start prepping for Halloween. Hell, maybe I should also start sending a few CVs out and see what work I can get.
I am a fucking idiot.
Why did I sink so much of my savings on a hare-brained scheme? I should have known it for what it was. A scam. Shit. Shit. Shit. Even worse than that, my plans to sell things at the farmer's market is a bust. They cancelled. How could they not when the entire state is in a goddamn lockdown?
I suppose, though, that our mountain town can call itself lucky. It isn't likely that any of us will be severely affected considering how remote we are and no-one has had the opportunity to venture further than the outskirts. Even if someone did leave, they wouldn't return, dreaming as they did of a better life.
Work also called to say that they were ending my contract. Good riddance. It was the next town over but the drive was torture. Half of my pay went into paying for gas, anyways.
Of course, this doesn't bode well for our business. Hell, the last two months were terrible. There were the occasional tourists but we were lucky if we got more than a thousand bucks in sales.
Shit. What's going to happen to us come winter?
Thanksgiving came and went. It was a pretty paltry offering. Friends and neighbors came together in a band of solidarity, true, but it also meant that we only got a small portion of all the food. Not sure when the army is expected to come through, dropping off care packages. It's the least the president can do after announcing a stimulus package to keep the economy going.
Well, we can't use that fucking money if we've all starved to death!
Mom keeps saying that anger won't save the problem. That we need to ensure social distancing and making sure we're all healthy. It's goddamn winter! I'll be surprised if none of us manage to catch the flu or a cold.
Sometimes I wonder that maybe Sally Mae had the right idea. I don't know how she did it. She probably has connections to some very bad people. Now she's as high as a kite and none of our current situation bothers her at all. Instead, she just smiles and says that if we give in to the Old One, everything will be all right. Sounds like nonsense to me. But sometimes I wish I could just as easily let all of the pent-up frustration and fear go.
I know mom and dad won't read this. Yet it still feels like I'm incriminating myself by putting this down on paper. Actually, forget it. Better not. If this is ever used for evidence in some courtroom, I'd be toasted. Not like you can plead the fifth when you've written it clear as day.
(Illegible scribblings follow with a crude drawing of a strange creature. It has two massive bat-like wings on its back and its face is a mass of tentacles. The body is a writhing mess. At the end of the page a message is written: This world is but a dream.)
Happy fucking New Year!
Sales are down. Businesses are closing. People are packing up and leaving. But not us. Oh no. Our family has been here for generations. It doesn't matter if our home is now a veritable ghost town. We can't leave. We won't leave. I would have taken another one of Sally Mae's pills but I've been having these strange dreams lately. I don't know if it's the drugs or my crippling anxiety.
To be honest, feeling happy and forgetting my worries for a few short hours isn't worth waking up in the middle of the night, half strangled by my bedsheets. Or finding myself covered in sweat, getting hot flashes.
I probably shouldn't put this down and yet I need to clear my thoughts. Particularly after the dream I had last night. It started like so many of the others. There was a man, dressed in a smart suit that was all in black. His body wasn't exactly proportionate, as if his limbs were too long.
When he turned towards me, it was like looking at a distorted reflection of myself. Though I couldn't make out his features, I had the impression that he was far older than anyone else I knew.
Usually, he would beckon and I would follow. He would take me to a forest glade high up in the mountains. One I had visited a long time ago with my parents and my sisters.
This time, though, I refused his offer and he glared balefully at me. He asked me a question. I don't recall what it was. All I remember was vehemently shaking my head. That seemed to anger the man and he lunged towards me. He grabbed me by the throat and lifted me up high. His arm transforming into a huge slippery appendage, wrapped around my torso and began to squeeze.
It should have terrified me. I think a part of me was. What did the man – this creature – intend to do to me? Was I going to die?
As my consciousness began to fade, the man pulled me close. His breath stank of rotting fruit as he whispered dirty secrets right into my ear. He promised me the world and chuckled when I tried to weakly squirm out of his grip. Then, he released me and I was finally able to take in a fresh lungful of air. Chuckling, he walked away, amber eyes gleaming in the dark.
"Soon," he said as he faded back into the darkness around me.
And then I was awake, a familiar ache down between my legs.
God, what is wrong with me? I would blame it on drugs but it's been at least a week since I last had them. Maybe it's the town and being cooped up inside for most of the day, even though there's not much chance I'll catch the virus here in town. Of course, that doesn't stop the sheriff from slapping us hard-working folk with a hefty fine for hosting a party or barbeque.
Screw it. I need to get out. Take in some fresh air. Sheriff can't fine me if she doesn't see me in the first place.
Mom is keeping me in my rooms and I'm deathly bored. It's because I came down with a cold. But for all she knows, I could have been infected with the new virus that's ravaging the country still. She brings me food and leaves it outside the door, knocks to let me know. As if we were living some twisted version of the Stanford experiment.
With time to spare, I'm trying to work out my anger and anxiety. Although being cooped up inside is slowly driving me insane. I've always been someone who's out and about. Dad always liked me serving out front on the counter because of how friendly I was when it came to chatting with customers. I had a natural gift of persuading tourists to part with their money for even the silliest of trinkets.
Shit, just thinking of how life used to be makes me almost incoherent with rage and grief. My throat's all clogged up. And not just with excess mucus.
I don't think writing is helping.
Maybe I'll just close my eyes and hope for dreams of happier days.
Our savings are running low. Thank God for the government relief package.
A few weeks ago, I might have sneered at the paltry amount our fair president had deigned to grant us lowly small businesses. But now? I'll take every penny and dime that I possibly can. Now's not the time to complain when it means that our very survival is on the line. Our last few meals were canned peaches and tuna. We're barely scraping by and the town is dwindling almost to nothing.
In other news, mom got sick. Probably caught it from me. She's a high fever and a nasty cough. Whereas I only experienced the occasional chill and suffered a blocked nose. It makes me wonder if I did somehow contract the virus that held the entire world in its deathly grip.
I'm terrified what will happen if mom dies…
Okay. No negative thoughts. We'll keep looking after her as best we can. If the worst should happen, the hospital is a few hundred miles away.
God, if there is one, I pray that you don't take my mom away from me.
A strange man came into town today. He was dressed to the nines. Atop his head, he wore a fedora as if he had stepped out of a movie from the 1940s. I met him at the local bar, feeling a bit 'morose.' That's the term he used. As for how I would describe my feelings? I was fucking depressed. D-E-P-R-E-S-S-E-D.
And why wouldn't I be? Nothing was going right. This morning, Mom looked like she was getting worse by the day and dad had started drinking. The national lockdown was still in place. Food and other essentials were getting scarce. We lived in the mountains and maybe the trucks had forgotten to deliver.
My old high friends were using what daylight there was in the day to get high. The one sister still with us was planning to move. With what kind of money, I wasn't sure.
I said all this and more to the man when he bought me my third drink of the afternoon. Can't say why I did, but he had an aura or something about him that let me run my mouth until I was all out of words.
Then he leaned towards me, his voice like warm butter. "What would you say if I promised to make your mom better?"
"That you're out of your mind," I remembered replying. "But, if you could do it, I'd ask how much."
"It won't cost you any money," said the man.
I think he was trying to be all mysterious and enigmatic. Or perhaps he was alluding to something else. There was something off about him. In my tipsy state, I couldn't have cared less. If he could help mom, I would have paid any price. It was only later when I tottered through the front door that I discovered his business card in my back pocket.
What kind of name is Michael Xemassth anyways?
Shit, I had one of those dreams again. I thought that after I stopped taking those drugs from Sally Mae, I was getting better. But this was freaky as fuck and I have to jot it down. Otherwise I think my head might explode!
It started off like all the others. I was walking down the dimly lit main street. Fog curled around me and I could barely see any of the shops. Then suddenly, standing in front of me was the smartly dressed man. But whereas before his features were amorphous, this time he looked like exactly like Michael Xemassth.
He smiled as I approached and asked me how my mom was doing. I told her that she seemed like she had got past the worst of it and was sleeping better. I even had a peek at her this morning right after I woke up, just to make sure I had told him the truth. Considering that she looked like she was on death's bed two days ago, mom seems much better now. Surprisingly so.
Anyways, Xemassth, in the dream, said that was good.
For a while, we walked down main street together. The silence between us growing. Until we stopped outside a familiar house.
"Why are we here?" I asked him.
"Watch," Xemassth cryptically replied.
Together we headed up the stairs and phased through the door. Within moments we stood beside Sally Mae as she lay before us asleep.
"This girl was my gateway to this world. And we always reward our most loyal followers."
Before my eyes, Xemassth transformed from a man to a series of floating lights. He was so bright that I could barely see as his ethereal form reached down to touch Sally Mae. She groaned. And then began to writhe. In pleasure or pain, I wasn't sure. Watching her, though, I felt a stab of envy. She was receiving a gift, a blessing, from one of the oldest beings in the known universe. Whereas I had been left bereft.
Then, Sally Mae turned into her own collection of lights. They were a pale imitation compared to the glory and beauty of Xemassth, but I couldn't help wanting to be uplifted as she had.
Why I thought and knew all of that, I wasn't sure. It was a dream, after all.
Satisfied with Sally Mae's transformation, Xemassth turned towards me. He reached out a finger and gently grazed my face. Almost immediately, I felt myself shrink down to a pinprick and a surge of euphoria shot through my body. I could finally see my place in the world and revel in how insignificant I was.
It felt better than any drug and I drowned in the feeling.
"The price has been paid," Xemassth crooned as my vision faded.
I woke up in bed with a gasp, disorientated but sated. Pleasure still hummed through my veins. Even without pulling down my pants, I knew I had made a sticky mess down below. It would have to be cleaned. But in that brief moment, it didn't matter. Nothing did.
It was only after I had luxuriated in bed for a good hour or two that my senses finally came back to me. I jumped out of bed and swiftly changed the sheets, lest my parents found out. After checking in on mom, I thought it best to put my thoughts in order. Now, here I am, recounting the events of my dream as best as I can remember it.
What is happening to me? Am I finally going crazy with this virus lockdown? I just wish I knew what to do…
For a good two weeks, I tried to avoid Xemassth. After the dream I had, it seemed imperative that I keep my distance. But my efforts were in vain. It was like he knew my every step before I had taken it. Or maybe there was something that tethered us together. Like a moth drawn to a flame.
Everywhere I went, Xemassth was there. Always, he would invite me to sit and talk. At first, I was reluctant. I always had an excuse at hand. My mom still needed me to purchase supplies. Dad needed me to pick him up from a meeting from AA. All of them were lies.
Mom was getting stronger with each day. And because of that, Dad didn't feel the urge to drink as much. Besides, despite the easing in lockdown restrictions, we didn't have the facilities for a proper AA meeting. The closest one was in the next town over and that was a three-hour drive away.
But Xemassth kept at it. He wore down my barriers until he finally had me cornered and we finally got to talking.
We talked about the mundane. He often asked how my family was doing, if business was finally picking up. I remained as honest as I could, even as I tried to mask most of my frustrations. He seemed to sense that hesitation and pushed me on certain topics until the entirety of the truth came tumbling out.
Then he would ruminate over what I had said before saying something poignant that cut to the very heart of my anger and fears.
I grew to like the talks we shared. Within days, instead of him finding me, I actively sought him out to continue our discussions. It was the first time I had someone that I could speak my mind with and would not judge me for my sins. Often, we would talk philosophy and the current state of the world.
Truthfully, I can't say when our relationship changed.
Xemassth always had such a unique perspective to everything. And he was very convincing. It didn't matter that he was almost as old as my own Dad. When it was just the two of us, everything was special. The heights he brought me to were nothing at all like my previous relationships. Hell, one touch from him and it's like I'm riding on Cloud Nine. It's like a drug, but one that never loses its lustre.
Laying together, he asked me to become his disciple. The ceremony is to be tomorrow. I can't say why he would gift me such an important thing but I'd gladly accept.
There is nothing I would not do just to be in the otherworldly presence of Xemassth. He is my everything.
I look over my past entries with amusement and pity. In most of them, I clung onto such human and mortal things that I would barely bat an eyelid at now. How materialistic I used to be when I had not seen the light of Xemassth. This will be my last entry. That, I can say, definitively, for I have no need of such things when I have my faith.
Under Xemassth's guidance, I have let go about all the things that tied me to this horrendous world. What is family, but a bunch of parasites? What is money, except a chain to keep us all tied to a life that is unfulfilling?
Over the last few months, I have learned that none of these things are important. And most of the other townsfolk have also come to understand that the government is nothing but a mouthpiece for a false prophet. Only by following Xemassth will the world be saved. Only by aiding him in bringing his brethren to the world will Earth be cleansed in holy fire.
The virus, Xemassth told me, was only the beginning.
This is our time to rise and to affect change. To bring about a new world order.
I cannot wait.