Before the World Disappears, Some Men Keep a Journal
Before the World Disappears, Some Men Keep a Journal
Kit didn’t realize how long he had been reading from the notebook that was discovered in the secret compartment under the desk. It took several minutes to find the right spot where the light was bright enough to see the words on the page. He had to angle his body beside the window while not being directly in front of the window in order to capture the slant of moonlight that fought through the trees on its descent across the vast night sky.
Once Kit discovered the proper position, he was afraid to move. He was afraid the words would vanish before his eyes if he lost the weak, yellow light that dripped across the pages. The pressure of the writer’s pen was in constant flux and the letters shifted from bold to thin on a whim, so Kit had to contend with that as well.
Kit knew he was in possession of something no one had ever read before. If someone were to ask him, he would not know how to categorize what he was reading. Perhaps it was the first draft of a memoir. Maybe it was a dairy. Someone might even consider it a journal. The sequence of events he had read were in no particular order. On such a cursory read, he could not say definitively, however, he was fairly certain the events jumped around in time continuously. There was no narrative logic. There was no sequential logic. It wasn’t as though the writer woke up every morning and scribbled the events of the day before or just before bed set down with a date what had occurred before he fell asleep. The reminiscence on the page moved with a stream-of-consciousness. He scribbled words that represented his experience as they returned to him with no regard for their timing in the arc of the man’s life.
Kit didn’t know enough of Halloran’s life or even enough about the course of events from the birth of cinema until the time of Halloran’s death to put the events he was reading into any sort of time-line. But he understood how important the words were that he was reading. He knew that film historians, museums, and preservation societies would fit to the death to get their hands on such an artifact.
Whatever the man had written in these pages would be sanctified by the film community at large. But at the moment, Kit didn’t care about any of those things. He just couldn’t believe the words he was reading. He couldn’t believe what the man was claiming in this notebook. It was hard to accept that one word of what he had read was true. Everything on the page was blasphemous to the world that Kit accepted as reality...that any sane person would call reality.
The man passed out. So I waited another night to hear the story.
I decided to sleep in the chair in his room. I worried I might not find my way back to his room.
It was impossible not to grow paranoid. I had waited so long to hear someone recount what was contained on those reels of film that I worried now that I was so close the universe itself might begin to work against me. If not the universe, at least, the house might turn on me. I had done it before that night when I couldn’t find my housekeeper or even the kitchen.
I had begun to believe that whatever was captured on that celluloid was never meant to be comprehended by a human mind. Everyone who had witnessed it had died, so why should I be allowed to learn the contents.
I began to wonder if the man would die in his sleep. Had I done everything in my power to keep him alive for the viewing, yet his body would find a way to succumb to the images he beheld.
I realized I shouldn’t sleep until he woke. I had already decided not to leave the room again. But now I thought there was more I could do to keep the film from completing its diabolical plan.
Perhaps I could even revive the man in the night if sleep tried to take his life.
I do not want to waste time recounting all that I have collected in my journals. I imagine whoever finds these words must have found the others in the other books. They are collected together for the express purpose of reading them together in order to understand what has brought me to this moment and beyond.
I have written extensively about how the church has tried to destroy the very concept of motion pictures since the very beginning. During my exhaustive research I have come to agree with the church’s claims. I do believe that the process of tricking the mind into seeing a still image as moving is the work of evil. Filmmaking is a dark magic.
As I fought to stay awake deep into the night, desperate for the man to rouse and tell me his story, I couldn’t help but think through a lifetime of hunting for clues as to what happens in between those flickers of light on white screen. Those fractal moments that exist between each still image. Those empty spaces that tell our brain a lie. I have spent my life searching for that lie. That untruth buried in the white space.
Another life was born in that blank space. A cinematic life was born from that lie.
I had convinced myself that this film that had come into my possession had found a way to capture the blank space of the lie and turn it into something comprehensible.
I fought to stay awake by writing…
But I must have fallen prey to sleep.
I woke up with the pen still in my hand. The journal had fallen to the floor beside my chair.
Something was happening to the man as he slept. I believed it was the exhaustion from his brain processing the film that caused him to sleep so much. However, I couldn’t but reevaluate the situation by the new evidence I faced when I awoke.
The man was transforming.
Before my very eyes, the man was vanishing.
When I woke the first thing I noticed was that his hands had disappeared. He wasn’t left with stumps as one might imagine. There was simply an empty space where his hands once were.
I tore the blanket off his body. As I had feared, the man’s feet were gone as well.
Not long after I stole the blanket from him, the man began to rouse. He yawned and opened his eyes.
I couldn’t find the words to express to him what had happened. But I didn’t need to. Before I would have had time to speak. Before I could have framed this horrific turn of events into words, the man lifted a hand to his face. I can only purport that his intention was to rub his sleep-dried eyes. But he had no hands by which to touch his face.
He gaped at the emptiness where his hand should have been. He lifted his other arm.
I watched as his mouth twisted in a silent scream of terror.
All the blood drained from his face. I had never seen a human visage so gaunt and pale.
He began to hyperventilate. He couldn’t get air into his lungs. He choked on his own dry throat. He gasped. He wheezed.
I stood dumbfounded. Apoplectic. My mind could not seize upon a single word of comfort. I don’t believe any word could have soothed him at that moment of sudden and complete trauma. But I was useless even to attempt consolation.
Tears flooded into his eyes.
He attempted to speak but he could not unbind his throat from the dry gasp for breath.
It was at that moment that I knew whatever was consuming his appendages had no intention of stopping. The man was vanishing before my eyes. I wanted so desperately to plead with him to tell me what he had witnessed on that film. I needed to know. I wanted to understand if that was part of what was happening to him now. I had found a way to let him watch the film without destroying himself. I kept him bound so he could witness the film without tearing his eyes out.
However, my best efforts were for not. Because something would still get him. Something I couldn’t even see standing in the room with him, hovering over his bed like a mute protector, I could do nothing.
He was literally vanishing before my eyes.
He was disappearing before his own eyes.
Finally his voice freed itself from parched silence. He howled in agony and fear.
I had never heard a sound like that before.
He would not stop screaming.
I had to cover my ears.
I had never heard such a sound before. It was like his very essence was escaping his lips. I would hear it again. But it was never so terrible as the first time.
I covered my ears and closed my eyes. I so desperately wanted to comfort the man long enough to hear him tell me one sentence about what he witnessed on that screen. Never so selfish a thought went through my mind. I had become obsessed. I needed to know what was on that film.
Even as a man’s body vanished before my eyes I still wanted to know. I should have been mesmerized by what I saw. I should have been transfixed by this indescribable sight. But I wasn’t. I was fixated.
Can you imagine the sight of a man disappearing? He wasn’t dissolving like one might if they were dipped into a solution like hydrogen chloride.
Even as he screamed, I watched his mouth begin to vanish. His lips became translucent. His crooked, yellow teeth turned pure white for an instant and then they were gone. His tongue wagged in the final holler of agony that was swallowed up by a silence I have yet to encounter again. Suddenly there was a space in the middle of his face where his mouth had once been.
His eyes cried out in horror. Only to be swallowed up by the nothingness that consumed his mouth moments before.
As his skin and bones dematerialized I could see the working of his organs for an instant. His heart thumped unencumbered by a ribcage. His gestural intestinal juices churned in his stomach and the twisting and turning maze of his intestines. His lungs inflated and deflated before my eyes.
Then his organs were gone to.
Given everything I witnessed during those minutes at his bedside, nothing filled me with so much fear as what happened next.
Even though the man’s body had vanished entirely, the man did not leave. Although he was no longer what you could call a man. He had been transformed. To what, I could not tell you.
But it was at that moment, the instance he became another thing entirely, that I jumped to my feet. At the sight of the man, I leapt out of the chair and raced for the door.
He was not a man, but he was not gone entirely, either.
He became a vibrant mass of color, light, and gas. It was like witnessing pure energy floating on the bed.
And I ran. I didn’t stop running. I didn’t even see where I was going. I raced down corridors, up flights of stairs, through passageways that led to new rooms I had never been inside of before. I kept running.
I did not have the strength to look upon what that man had transformed into.
I have let this journal languish for too long. I could not face the blank page. I could not so much as pick up a pen. I don’t know how long it has been. The house seems to have its own idea of how time works I understand that now. I didn’t want to believe that before. I didn’t want to believe a house could have a mind of its own. But I know that it does. At least, I know this house does. Something has happened to this house. I want to blame it on the film reels that are still mounted in the projector in the screening room in the basement. I believe that by placing that film in the projector I have turned on an engine inside the house that even I can no longer control. This film has a power that is beyond anything else that exists in this world.
It has taken me until this moment to find the courage to write down some of the things that I have learned since the man vanished before my eyes. Before his own eyes. Since the day I watched his body turn to light and air.
I am not a scientist. I do not have that gift of objectivity one needs to face terrible truth and not succumb to it. I have fall to pieces in the face of terror.
Instead of facing what happened in the room where I placed the man to rest after witnessing the film, I retreated to my books. I spent what must have been months scouring study for answers. I believed somewhere someone must confront the sight that I witnessed in that room that day. This could not have been the first time in human history something like this happened. I felt there had to be answers.
My books contained secrets. Men for millennia had searched for ways to capture their visions of the unexplainable. Mad men throughout time had tried to paint the unconscious mind. They tried to capture it in words. They tried to find notes and meters that tapped the deepest recesses of their fear.
Men and women have tried to cross the vail that separates this world from the next and have come back to find new methods by which to record what they experienced. They filled canvases with their nightmares. They wrote music that unhinged the soul from the body.
No one greater than David, the man after God’s own heart, wrote songs and played a melody on the harp that soothed the anguish of a mad king. I don’t think in all the books I ever read did I come upon a passage that so explained the unexplainable than the story of young David sitting at the kings feet playing a melody that tethers the soul and the mind and the heart back into one.
I have witnessed madness. Yet I have not found a word or rhythm to quiet the screams that follow me into sleep. The cries of a man as he watches his body vanish on a bed unable to comprehend or stop the transformation that is taking place.
I have read the accounts of photographers having snapped the portraits of the recently departed and somehow, inexplicably captured the image of the spirit leaving the body. I have read their most private thoughts in the days after developing the photographs. In their own words, they have described how their minds have turned to dust and blow away in a passing breeze at the sight of the spirit world hovering in the image as the dead eyes of the corpse stare from the confines of its pine box. The very pictures they have taken turned their mind to madness.
So it comes as no surprise that I spent so many days shivering in my bed trying to pull my senses back from the nothingness that I witnessed in my own house.
I have also come to grips with the fact that the creature is still in this house with me. The colors and light and gas moved through the corridors from dusk until dawn and dawn until dusk again. I don’t know where it goes or what it wants. Perhaps it is still trying to unravel what has happened to it. Perhaps it doesn’t realize it is trapped in this place the same as I am now trapped in this place.
Perhaps there is something we both must discover before we can be set free of this ever-changing construct. Perhaps there was some secret I have yet to discover. So I read from morning to night. Over the years, I had acquired thousands of books. Many were gifts. Many I spent years searching for. In my younger days, I hired investigators to hunt for the collectors who safeguarded the most obscure texts. The word is full of secrets and the people with wealth will go to great lengths to uncover those secrets. Answers come at the highest price.
Think of Adam and Eve in the garden. They were richer than any person who walked the earth after them for all of human history. They inherited paradise. It was given to them purely because they were the children of a father who had unlimited resources. They were given the gift that every human spends their lifetime striving for. It was handed to them. Unlimited nourishment. Unlimited time. And unlimited joy. People often squander the word blessed. Few people can even comprehend the meaning of the word blessed. Even fewer people will ever experience the fullness of that word manifest in their life. But Adam and Eve were blessed. But that was not enough. Why? Because God told them there are two trees. One tree held God’s knowledge of what was best for his creation. He filled a tree with a fruit that granted the eater true inner peace. A peace brought by the understanding that something greater than yourself can guide you to ultimate joy. But there was a second tree. A tree that could give you an answer. Perhaps you didn’t even need that answer. Perhaps you would be better off not knowing that answer. Perhaps that understanding, that knowledge would undermine the very peace that fills your soul.
Why wouldn’t you eat that?
Everyone would eat that fruit no matter what the consequence.
I watched what happened to that man who watched the film in my basement. I listened to his earth shattering screams as his body separated at the atomic level. I watched as the atoms that made up his body and mind unraveled like so much twine.
Yet, I still wanted to know what was on that film.
I needed to know.
Despite the very safety I possessed in not knowing.
So I brought more people into my house to see the movie. I offered money. I offered more than money. I offered wealth. Money is transactional. Money is transitive. But wealth is substantive. Wealth grows. Wealth is a living organism that breeds.
It was hard to find a way to get my message out into the world. It was hard to make my offering to the people in the towns beyond my house. I could not find the door. I could rarely go outside. If I was granted a moment’s reprieve in the sunlight it was in the acreage that spread out towards the jagged coastline. I was provided access to the hedgerows that grew up so tall I could not see beyond them. The hedgerows were protected by stone statues that screamed in the night. I could see them from the window of my study. Their mouths would be agape with silent howls in the light of the moon.
I would have to manufacture stories that would so entice a person they would be willing to venture up to the house. The stories would make it into the newspaper. Once I got a story into a real estate circular that so intrigued an investor he sent abbaters to the house to investigate the soundness of the property. He sent a team of men to test the asbestos levels in the walls, the floors, and the ceilings.
I needed more people to watch the movie. I needed to find new ways to get answers before their bodies disintegrated. Before they turned into light and gas. But I also couldn’t abide the notion of having more creatures like what the first man had become just floating around inside the house. When I fell asleep at night I was terrified whatever that thing was the man had become would find me in my bed and snuff the life out of me. I did not know how, but I feared that might be what would happen if the creature found me. I rarely slept in the same room twice. I always locked the door, although I knew intellectually that the creature had no fixed construct and a door would not prevent it from entering whatever room it wished.
So before the men began to disappear the way that first man did I would push their body outside into the hedgerows. When I could not find the way outside with a body, I pushed a bed through a window. The man was screaming as his feet and ankles and shins turned to light and color before his eyes and I shoved the bed through the glass. His cries mingled with the sound of shattering glass as the bed tumbled through the air.
The next morning the window returned just the way it had always been. The same frame and glass I had looked through for a hundred years or more.
Every person I showed the film to came out of the experience of watching it exhausted akin to only death.
I attempted a dozen tricks to keep them from falling asleep. I knew I was working against time to get the answers I needed. I knew that in time each of them would vanish. So I had to find a way to break the cycle of fatigue that so consumed them upon witnessing the film.
Once I managed to get someone to talk to me. It was almost as if he was communicated from inside a dream. The very logic of his sentence construction seemed compromised. I could not square his description with the harrowing torment the film inflicted upon its viewers. Not only the men I had seen now after learning that I needed to bind them in order for them to survive the viewing. But the people who attended my parties and watched the film of their own free will. The men and women who heard whispers of a film so terrifying the one audience to ever watch it died of fright. It seemed like the faint praise of an exploitation huckster. I knew plenty of producers in my years in Hollywood who would hire young girls to faint in their chairs during a horror movie. They would even go so far as convince a young, wannabe actress to attend a screening in order that during the climactic fright she should vomit in the aisle. There was no better publicity than film critic claiming he watched a movie-goer spew undigested popcorn in the aisle. Plenty of people who arrived at my parties came with the express desire to see the film that people whispered about. None of them could have ever expected they would pull their eyelids off before the second act. What man would believe even if I told him that he would tear his throat out with his manicured fingernails?
Finally, after so much carnage, after so many experiments, after so many bodies that I shoved out of my house before they turned into gas and were left to drift through my corridors, I managed to get someone to speak to me. Even if they were speaking from inside a dream, I was able, for the first time, to put words to the mystery…