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Almost Normal

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There's a boy with chewed nails, leaning on a flickering lamp post. The sleeves of his hoodies are tatty, his hair in pathetic wisps. He looks tired and afraid. And then the lights go out

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Almost Normal

Naked and trembling, Alan bit hard on his thumb, anxiously and pathetically. He felt it bleed onto his teeth.
He was not tied down with chains, like the ones which swung threateningly from the invisible ceiling. But he was trapped.
To release, he thought, as he felt more blood gush from beneath his nails…to release was to escape.

Ice fell on his cheek, cascading down his neck and piercing any warmth he had previously held inside himself. He had shrunk into a ball on the floor that was infected with rust. In the womb, a child can sense his mother all around, before its eyes are ever even open. She lines the walls, comforting those who live in solitude inside her.

Yet here, no such warmth greeted him.
Though the shadows forced blindness upon him, he could sense the slow movement of hateful spiders on the walls. He felt their presence as though they crept upon the base of his neck and beneath his clothes. Beneath his skin, fear was taking hold.

Suddenly, two furious eyes smashed into the room, slamming the metal grilled door behind them. Breathing rapidly and heavily, the figure kicked a broken table out of its path, smashing it into an explosion of wooden splinters. Terror clawed and sank into Alan’s heart as she approached him in a rage, reaching for his throat.

“Why?!” she screamed. “Why won’t you let me go?! Why do I still have to be here?! Why can’t I leave, you SHITBUCKET!”
The nails of her shaking hands made a deep gash in his cheek in all of the confusion. As Alan felt the warm blood on his cheek mingle with his tears of horror, powerful hands clamped on top of his Adam’s apple.

“You are WEAK!” she hissed. “Can’t take care of yourself?! Need mother’s milk? This could have been so mother-fucking EASY!”
The figure’s hands tightened and Alan felt as though he was sinking underwater. Nothing felt real, nothing but those hideous bulging eyes, glaring at him, expressing an epitaph of utter hatred. He could feel his escape, his release, coming on swift feathery wings.

Until she released him and the nausea of his reality returned. She threw him to the ground with her now blood-stained hands, her furious eyes now contemplative. Alan lay on the floor, trying to retrieve his breath.
Littered on the floor all about him were hundreds upon hundreds of egg shells.

Broken. And empty. And he wished he were dead.

As the tears flowed, and the cold seeped once again into his skin, he prayed for a warm death and to be coddled by eternal sleep.
He was then pulled, slowly and deliberately, to his knees.
“It’s hard, isn’t it? Severing ties?” she asked, in a treacherously quiet voice. Holding his right arm painfully in place, she reached behind her. Her grip was otherworldly strong. He struggled, weakly. And then he saw the knife.

“It can be a quick process,” she said regretfully, tightening her grip on his wrist. A cry of pain escaped his lips.
“But you,” she whispered, meeting his gaze. “For you, it’s not the case.”
She lowered the knife’s ragged edge slowly to where the arm met the shoulder.
For the briefest of moments, Alan saw himself in her eyes. Then they flashed angrily, and she pushed.

* * * * * *

The knife ripped though the crusty loaf of bread that Alan had bought himself the previous day.
He was late for school because he hadn’t slept well that night and his mother had also neglected to wake him. As a result, he decided not to bother going in at all.
The dim light of day shone through the blinds of the kitchen window, casting shadows across his pale, thin face. When he had finished with the knife, Alan placed it back in its hiding place, inside the fan oven, which his father almost never used.
His mother did not object to this. Her neck bored an ugly scar, a souvenir from Valentines Day, last year.

Alan looked at her now, sitting in her chair, gazing at nothing at all. Her auburn hair framed the gentle face which many had likened to his own. Her cheekbones were gaunt, more so than his. She was not eating the slices of toast that he had laid out for her.
Valentines Day was fast approaching again, and it was a day that Alan felt nothing but contempt for. He was sure his mother had similar reservations, but it was difficult to tell.
Few emotions were ever openly expressed, except perhaps one of distant longing. A bland memory surfaced in his mind.

“I got a B in my biology test yesterday,” he announced tonelessly. “It was on the human body. The reproductive system and blood cells, you know.” He looked at her, smiling wanly. He didn’t expect praise, or even interest.

Somewhere in the surrounding labyrinth of suburbia, a dog barked.

The scream of rusty door hinges accompanied the arrival of Alan’s father. He stood there in the doorway of the kitchen, wincing in the dim morning light and reeking of the cheap piss they passed off for beer in Nolan’s bar. Alan couldn’t tell if he’d just woken up or if he’d just dragged himself through the front door. The side of his face shone with grime. It looks as though he’s been lying face-down in a rotting fish pile, thought Alan. There was a tear in his shirt, and Alan suddenly found himself thinking about a documentary he had seen dealing with the subject of rape victims.
Alan’s stomach clenched as his father cleared his throat as audibly as a dying horse.

“Mornin’” he grunted, as he stumbled over to the table and sat down heavily. The kitchen door closed behind him, again with screaming hinges, and the door handle fell loose. He glanced blearily across the table and, after a moment’s hesitation, reached over and simply took the slices of bread sitting in front of Alan’s mother.
She didn’t bat an eyelid. She continued to stare out the window, where the light drifted in.
“Rustle us up some bacon there, Al, there’s a good lad.” his father said, smiling wolfishly. Crumbs sprayed from his mouth as he began to chew noisily. Alan turned with a look of disgust and began searching the presses for the black frying pan.
“Thought I heard you talking there a minute ago,” rumbled between chews. “What were you sayin’?”
Alan’s hand passed over the sewing scissors he had hidden in the press, his hand still searching.
“Just talkin’ about school,” he replied timidly. His hand grasped the handle of the frying pan. He suddenly wished he had gone in and simply faced the principal’s disapproving stare for being late.

“Isn’t today a school day?” Alan’s father asked, reading his mind.

“No, it’s a bank holiday.”

A sigh emanated from Alan’s father. Alan held the frying pan up defensively. His father was finished chewing and had now turned to look at him with his dark navy eyes.
With a slight grunt, he rose from his chair. Steadily now, he walked deliberately around the table towards the presses. Alan saw his mother tense as he passed her. He stood before him now, looking directly down into Alan’s eyes. He placed one arm on the counter, blocking his escape. Another sigh.
“What were you saying about school?”

It was barely a question, just empty words. Alan knew what was coming. The ticking clock that hung on the wall was suddenly explosively loud.

“…just how glad I was that today was a bank holi-”

A hard slap across the side of the head, a warning from his father.

“Don’t lie to me. It’s not a bank holiday. What were you talking about?”

Alan held his head with one hand, his other reassuringly gripping the black frying pan handle. He knew he would never do what he wanted to at that moment. The dull throbbing pain ebbed away slowly, mercifully, making way for the insensible inevitable. The straightened up as defiantly as he dared.
“I got a B in my Biology test.” He spat out the word test far more aggressively than intended. “It was on the human body and I was telling mom tha-”

He had been expecting it, but this next slap caused his vision to blur and his ears to ring. His ear burned red and he was sent sprawling to the floor.

“For CHRIST sake Alan, when are you going to stop this?!” the man screamed at him. “The TRUTH, dammit!”

Now, almost completely sober, he stood above Alan, glaring down at him. Alan looked into his eyes and saw an all too familiar fury and anger there.
He was breathing heavily and the left side of his face had begun to twitch. Alan, scrambling to his knees, pushed at the side of his face, urging the pain that felt like electricity to go away. He looked over at his mother, who was standing now and looking at him with sympathy. She moved as if to intervene, but hung back, helplessly, when Alan’s father raised his hand again.

“Just STOP, all right?!” he roared at Alan, and landed another slap to the side of his head, causing him to crash into the breakfast cabinet. “Just…fucking stop!”

Alan, still winded, reached desperately into the cabinet, searching for a weapon.

But as his fingers gripped the sides, the cabinet slammed shut.

Alan cried out in pain, looking up at his father. There were angry tears in his fathers eyes as he dropped to his knees, his hands outstretched. Alan pulled on the hand that was trapped, freeing it.

In this process, he lost two fingernails.

“Al…” his father cried, noticing the blood on his hand. “Al, I…”
As his father sank into a quivering wreck, Alan scurried to his feet. He grabbed the loaf of bread that still lay on the counter and tucked it under his arm. With his left hand, he cradled his bleeding fingers and then ran out of the room. His mother stayed, gazing at her son and then back to the man who had once been her husband.
She never said a word.

Alan did not leave his room until 6 a.m. the following morning, when he awoke with a start.

* * * * * *

It was dark again. Alan was wet.
Was this a prison?
Was this hell?
…was this rain?

It was unpleasantly warm, like saliva. It made no sound as it fell, or if it did, it was drowned out by the piercing and repeated squeal of the wheels on his chair.
Alan’s eyes passed over the armrests. They were stained. Chemicals, the like they use to treat hospital patients, had stained this chair.

This is a throne for the sick, he thought, for the diseased.

Fearfully, and with considerable effort, he peered behind him to see who was pushing the chair. He felt no relief when he saw that there was no one was there.
As he arrived at the heart of the room, he became aware of a malignant presence, not behind him, but before him.

“Be quiet now, my little boy
Please lie down to sleep…”

Shuddering beyond his control, Alan slowly and painfully raised his eyes to look.
Before him was a wheelchair, much like his own, resting upon the rusty grated floor. The twisted metal of the chair had warped hideously in order to caress its singing occupant. She wore the hospital gown that was given to those who did not have long to live. It was white, with blue birds on it. The hem, it was torn.

“Mum is sitting by your bed
Singing rock-a-bye…”

Her hair, hanging like seaweed, completely masked her face as she leaned over the bundle in her arms. It was wrapped in white cloth and from it emanated a newborn’s piercing screams. She held it close to shield it from the rain. Yet her tears fell in the cloth, and the baby was wet.

Mum is so very…tired
She badly needs to rest…”

At this point, a shuddering sob could not be repressed and the blanket fell from the baby’s crown. Alan peered into the bundle and then recoiled in shock.

A dark hole opened there and all the world was screams. He stared in horror at the milky smooth skin where the child’s eyes should have been. Denied its sight, the screaming child did not know it was blind because it always had been.

“It is dark and late at night…”

Alan cringed in disgust and contempt as he realised that this shrieking child was being lifted towards him. He could not move as the hole in its face opened wider and the shattering cries in the night drowned out all else.
Wider and wider until all was black and he could not see.

He screamed.

“Go to sleep my child…”

* * * * * *

The blinding morning sun had maintained its level of brilliance right into the afternoon as Alan walked absent-mindedly home. His bag hung loosely over one shoulder, the broken zipper barely saving his books from falling. He yawned loudly as a car passed in the opposite direction. Provided he didn’t run into anyone, this could easily be the most enjoyable part of the day. Free from the sterilely polite conversation that he endured at school, he could take as long as he liked to walk home.

No one would notice if he strolled in late and if they did, their reactions would be no different than if he had strolled in early.
He walked at a slow and steady pace, enjoying the warm sun beating at the back of his neck.

A pale bruise garnished his features and the side of his face throbbed slightly whenever he smiled. It wasn’t a major issue.

As he walked past the window of the local pet adoption centre, a cool breeze passed through his polyester shirt, which gave him goose bumps. It was uncharacteristically warm for February.


He turned to see who had called, just as he brushed his unkempt and only slightly greasy hair out of his eyes.
A girl needlessly holding the straps of her backpack was walking towards him. Her normally straight blonde hair was tied up in what seemed like a bizarre fashion to Alan. Both the top and bottom buttons of her white school blouse were open, causing it to flap in the breeze.

This was Denise. And she was smiling pleasantly. At him.

“Were you calling me?” he asked her. Though the breeze had passed, his goose bumps remained.
“No, I meant the other Alan beside you!” she replied with good nature. Out of the corner of his eye, Alan glimpsed his reflection in the pet shop window. She bit her lip and then smiled at him airily.

“Mind if I walk with you?”

Alan shrugged in what he desperately hoped was offbeat and cool manner. She fell into step beside him as he resumed his steady pace. He glanced at Denise from the corner of his eye, being careful so that she wouldn’t see him doing so.

“Nice day, huh?” she said, swinging her arms in a deliberately bored manner. “You could almost lie in the grass.” Alan laughed sheepishly.

“It’s probably still soaked from yesterday though.”

“Was it raining yesterday?”

“I… think so. Wasn’t it?”
“You’re living in the past, man!” she laughed, ignoring his hesitation. She locked eyes with his, suddenly serious. “How are you ever going to…live?”
They stared at each other for a moment before she burst into infectious laughter.

“You know, I wouldn’t disapprove to any major degree if you wanted to hang out sometime” she intoned casually as they turned into a quiet estate.

“Definitely,” replied Alan, uncharacteristically at ease. “It’s Martin and Rob you usually hang out with, right?”

“Right. We’re in a band…. apparently”
She laughed at Alan’s quizzical stare.
“We don’t sing, we don’t write songs, and we don’t practice. But we generally hang out in Rob’s garage and he thinks he’s a musician. So…band.”

“I think I like that,” Alan reflected. “Well, I have a tambourine and I don’t know how it works, so if it’s cool, maybe I’ll bring that over sometime?”

“Go for it, dude!”

As they crossed the green that served as a handy shortcut across the vast estate, Alan caught a scent of Denise’s perfume. It smelled of rich amber.

“Hey, what’s the name of that film with Sandra Bullock and the trains?”

Alan remained quiet for a moment as he pondered this.

“Ha, yeah right!” she laughed. “No seriously, she falls in love with the guy, but it’s the wrong guy…”

Loving the sound of her laugh, Alan tried to make her do it again.

“Oh, Speed!” he replied, somewhat overdramatically. Denise smirked, which was disappointing, but then slapped him playfully on the arm.

“Useless. It was on last night, and it’s driving me nuts, I’ve seen it a hundred times!”

“Are you sure you didn’t dream this film?”

She slapped him again, laughing as he tried to dodge under her arm. They continued to play-argue right up until Alan’s front door, several doors down from Denise’s.

“All right, so Saturday then, Rob’s garage?” She unexpectedly wrapped her arms around him and gave him a tight hug as she asked the question. Alan repressed a shiver of pleasure as he felt her breasts press up against him.

“Sure thing. I might be a little late, because I have to look after my Mom for most of the morning, but I can be there in the afternoon.”

“Your mom?”

Alan instantly regretted mentioning his mother. It wasn’t exactly cool.

“Yeah, she had a bit of a breakdown…”

“I know, I read about it in the paper. I’m really sorry.”

The casual chemistry was rapidly dissolving, like sugar in water. Alan noticed her playing with the straps on her backpack restlessly.

She was going to leave!

“If you’d like, you can come in for a cup of tea? She’s probably sleeping now anyway.”

She looked at him with an expression that he would dwell on for the rest of the week. It was, to his eternal regret, the same polite regard that his teachers and classmates always reserved for him.

Just him.

“It’s fine,” he said, dejectedly. “You probably need to get home anyway, right?” She nodded as he pulled on the door handle and stepped into the doorway.
“See you on Monday.”
What he saw in her face as polite confusion was in fact complimented by a deep and sincere pity. She gazed at the door that separated them for a moment before turning to walk home.

The brilliant sun shone upon her hair, upon the grass she walked on and upon the house that Alan had just entered.

* * * * * *

A broken gurney rested at Alan’s feet.

The raging fires that lit up the four corners had secured asylum from the terrible darkness. The prison cell was still infinite and this sanctuary was but a prison of another sort. The fire in the south corner blazed painfully near his naked skin, searing across his ossified back.

Hideous, trickling laughter emerged from the gloom, inexplicably bringing the image of shiny black beetles to his mind. Alan’s eyes strayed across the floor, over the many broken gurneys until they rested on the heart of the room, upon which was mounted a pulpy cocoon.

The strands of the cocoon stretched indefinitely into the night sky and also deep in to the roots of the floor. It quivered suddenly and intensely as he approached it, lumps of the monstrosity falling to the floor and sizzling.

The foul stench of rotting meat was pungent and overpowering. Alan retched slightly as he fell before it.


There, trapped in the walls of the cocoon, was a face. It held the same meaty texture of the walls and it was crying, oozing, tears. These eyes, now so full of sorrow, were the same he had seen before, glaring with such intense monstrosity.


With a particularly violent shudder, the cocoon shook again, shedding layer after layer. Stretches of ruined meat fell to the floor, revealing the true nature of the beast.

Behind the walls of the haven, naked and newborn, was a woman. Her wet body clearly exhibited exhaustion on a profound scale.

Her long hair hung over her face as she stared at him, her eyes racked with agony.

Her arms tied with steel wire, she hung just above Alan’s head. And as the flesh on her bones began to decay, a low scream began to rise from within her.


Sinews and tendons became visible. She writhed uncontrollably.

“What do you WANT?!”

Rib bones rose and pierced her skin like wet tissue.

“Just let me go. Let me GO!!”

Her eyes shrank into nothing. The skin fell from her skull. All that was left grinned down at Alan, unbearably.

* * * * * *

The evening rain pattered upon the windowpane of the grey kitchen. It blended into a dull throbbing hum that served to numb the mind of the room’s only occupant.

A broken plate lay in pieces on the floor in the furthest corner of the room.

Seated upon a chair, with his head in his hands, a figure sat in a brown dressing gown. A cup of coffee rested beside him and it was as cold as the room. A whiskey bottle next to it had received considerably more attention.
The man’s elbows were folded upon a newspaper, blocking a page from view.
On the other, there was an ecology article regarding birds.

Primarily, it described the percentage of chicks that survive after leaving the nest.
Scattered across the table were numerous scraps of paper, many of them with illegible writings upon. Some words, or even sentences, could be deciphered.


“…delusional in terms of…”

“…male authority figures…”


“…same figure became central to his…”

“…to aggression towards…”


One scrap of paper, bigger than the others, rested at the head of the table. It reads in bold print:

“Centralia Central Mental Hospital

Progress Report

Date: 14/2/’07

Patient Name: Alan Nolan”

A great sob emanated from the man as he sinks into his arms, crying uncontrollably. The newspaper falls to the floor as he moves his arms. The page that was previously covered bore the following story:

Tragedy prevented in outskirts of Centralia

Local teenager, Alan Nolan, made a suicide attempt last night, but was thwarted at the last minute by his father, Derek Nolan.
Derek comments that he had known his son was not of sound mind and had suspected that it was due to the death of his wife, Alan’s mother, Helena over a year ago. Yet he states that he never would have imagined his son would take things so far, and that he thought it was a stage that would pass.
The policemen that arrived on the scene explain that Alan had attempted to hang himself from the rafters of the attic. He had almost succeeded when Derek had intervened; having noticed that the staircase to the attic was up. Considering the near identical nature of his wife’s own suicide, a woman who had allegedly struggled with depression for many years, it is understandable that this has landed an incredibly traumatic blow up Derek Nolan’s shoulders.
“That man is an absolute saint,” says one reliable source. “I’ve seen him working into the early hours of the morning, dealing with drunkards, trying to support his family. More than once I’ve seen him, while on my way to work, just walking home from cleaning the bar. Usually filthy as well, I feel genuine sympathy for him.”

Alan was transported immediately to a local mental health care centre and is currently unfit for questioning.
We at the Centralia Post extend our deepest sympathies, both to him and his grief-stricken father.

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