Bumping Into Someone
Today’s headaches were bad. One of the worst. I had to excuse myself from the office to buy new meds before I started having an attack in the middle of the office and scare everybody. To be honest, I already knew how getting lazy on buying the antipsychotics the night before was a bad idea. Look at me now, suffering from my own decisions like always.
I drove home the best I could in my old Ford and bought my prescribed medicine in the nearby pharmacy before going up to my apartment. Taking in more than I needed, I go to my usual routine of dispelling strong illusions. A deformed figure making a croaking sound, faceless and bleeding from multiple wounds on its chest, a floating and emotionless face that would meet my eye with intense hate every time I met its gaze, and a tall pale man who grumbled on how he never got justice in this world. Few of my childhood experiences all mixed up with each other. For most it would be traumatizing, but this is just another normally bad day for Michael Rashford. Usually walking past them works, but it didn’t work earlier in the office so I had to focus harder.
Home was an apartment on the sixth floor down by North Harbor Drive, it was messy, filled with the scent of paint, and cozy. Most of all dark due to the paintings covering the walls and windows, brushes and canvases littered all over the place and it always smelled like oil paint. To earn some extra cash from the side, I had a website made where I sold my paintings. Each of them straight from memory of the horrors I encounter everyday and terrifying references that only I could see.
I closed my eyes and heard faint ringing in my ears, my psychiatrist, Dr. Brown trained me for this and is still doing so to make my mind better at separating my delusions from reality. The pitch gets louder and deeper by the second, and I feel this sensation at the back of my neck, something tugging at my nape until I feel like whatever material connected me to my hallucinations snaps off. This only works when I’m most focused. Sweat trickled down my forehead from concentration, I opened my eyes after, and they were flooded with whatever light they could find outside my window, but then once the bright flash fades off I would be reminded of something worse than hallucinations and weird creatures whispering they’d drag me to Hell. Reality. That I was alone.
I doused my face in the bathroom as if this would wash the thoughts clean off my mind. Only to find myself staring at my reflection in the mirror. My blue eyes I got from my mother, the pale skin from my father. My hair has now grown down halfway through my chin and my shoulder just stopping in the middle of my neck just below where the stubble of my beard stopped growing. I haven’t shaved in a week. I hold my chin up looking at my growing facial hair that matches my almost blonde hair. It wasn’t light enough to be called blonde, but not dark enough to be called brown as well, often I’d be asked if I was a surfer in the middle of Chicago. People are weird.
I remember how my parents would be engrossed with horror films and have the fascination with the occult starting their careers in the seventies as fanatics. Being an occult historian and a critic, I got the whole experience from them. Getting to go on their research trips which consisted of horror film and book reviews, conventions, dark tourism, up until haunted properties’ and items’ authentication, with some exorcism on the side. I remember the homeschooling which consisted of hopping hotels and moving to actual houses when my father needed to write his books full of haunted adventures for some time. We’d last five or six months most of the time, the longest being three years. These years I considered the best years of my childhood, just getting the chance to have them around all the time, learning and bonding with them. From analyzing skulls and paranormal artifacts to playing video games. I was eight at the time, only moving out when I turned eleven to hop hotels again in Eastern Europe. That was when all my hopes for a normal childhood were taken away. Partly my fault because I was expecting for us to settle down and I’d get to make actual friends once I got enrolled in an actual school. Making my first heartbreak not even with a girl, but with a house.
My parents were celebrities in the underworld, and their success completely provided for me so I couldn’t really complain. It wasn’t as if I was against it, I learned a lot more than other people- Well most people don’t know about cults, Satanists, and paranormal phenomena anyways. I loved learning about what they loved doing, and they were the best parents anybody could ask for when it comes to it. Besides, I got to travel the world through infamous tourist spots, the kind of stuff you don't see in the postcards. I guess I was just grateful for them not hiding that side of them from me, I appreciated them being true. Perhaps they hate dishonesty as much as I did, especially to one’s self. They are my parents after all.
My parents told me I was blessed with a protective spell as a baby to keep me safe from their line of work. Although, just when I was about to turn eighteen, I started seeing things. At first it was a wrinkly deformed old woman with an eye on her tongue standing in the dark of my room it was the entity that haunted an ancestral house in Malaysia. We were staying at an apartment in Calgary then. She’d stand there motionless every night, and since I’m used to these things it didn’t really startle or scare me, but the discomfort came a week after the first time she appeared and her visits became more frequent. Two weeks in was when the voices started to whisper incoherent words growing day after day for the whole week. Then the old woman, who I named Molly because my mom said it would help easing the discomfort, started following me to a nearby park. Eventually, she was joined by four other ghosts. The crippled man who had spikes impaled from the back sticking out his chest. He was a caretaker of a mansion in Wales who was murdered by a malevolent spirit in the middle of my parents' investigation. He was the first dead person I saw but I never knew his name so I called him Spike. The beautiful girl who wore a red dress and always asked me to go with her somewhere I could be god by making her my queen. She was different because she named herself, Loreta. Obviously I refused every time and she’d let out a blood curdling wail that nobody else heard but me, making my ears ring with pain then she would burn in front of me, making me smell the scent of rotting flesh in a matter of seconds. It had always made me nauseous. She was one of my parents' adventures in Alaska. Then there was Grandpa Frank, who only appeared in my dreams claiming that he was my grandfather. He looked nothing like my grandfather who passed away ten years ago at eighty-five years old as well as the fact that he was only in his mid-50′s. He’d always warn me of dangers to come for the coming weeks, but they never really happened. The most notable feature he had were his milky eyes that never shine. Lastly there was the shadow that could only be seen crawling at ceilings. I always had to look closely to spot him, but I knew he was there whenever I had this creeping feeling of someone watching me. I called him Peter, because Peter Parker, and why not? He was a lurker in a house in Alabama banished by my parents and exorcist uncle, a paranormal expert whom I was named after.
Like I said, they were still great parents. I told them only after three months when the five of them first appeared together at the same time which had been a month more for Molly who started it all. It was my birthday and we were celebrating in Sungai Bantang, Malaysia in the middle of an investigation of a haunted house in the middle of the forest. It made me see Molly more than usual, knowing she came from there. Long story short, they were horrified that my mother just dropped everything and decided for us to go home. They told me they somehow felt responsible for my predicament and they felt terrible that I was the one taking a toll from what they got themselves into. Being homeschooled and avoided by other children growing up, I tried my best to understand. Introverted and not knowing how to process and manage my emotions properly, I tend to realize what I’ve felt at a certain moment a bit too late. It can range from hours to years, and what I felt on my eighteenth birthday in the middle of the woods was disappointment in myself for letting them down which I’ve been able to figure out only after a couple of years since that night. They cut the investigation short. I tried to make them understand that it didn’t bother me anymore and that I wasn’t scared of it, which was a lie. That they didn’t have to call off everything because I wanted them to do what they loved most, this was not a lie even though I still get terrified by what they do and a lot of things in their point of view of the world still didn't make sense to me. “But we love you more than this, Michael.” My father cleared it out for me as he booked the flights back to- I wasn’t even sure then because we didn’t have a home.
This led them to an early retirement from investigating places, authenticating materials, as well as covering and assisting in exorcisms and place cleansings. Home became Michigan, the house in the middle of the bend of Cedar Ridge Drive. My dad kept doing his blogs for a website in Chicago and wrote books about their innumerable adventures and prioritized being a horror book critic, while my mother went on to teach occult history in the University of Michigan. But they made this one rule, no taking the job home. Being a believer of the supernatural and all, they wanted that away from me. They chose to believe that the spirits they disturbed were having their revenge on them by terrorizing me. They took me to witch doctors, witches, shamans, had the newly bought house blessed, the best of the best. All of them were family friends I came to know as a part of our small family, since our actual families never really wanted anything to do with us especially now that I have this... condition. I’ve only seen a cousin once, and it was by accident when my mother and her sister decided to visit my grandparents at the same time.
Anyways, it didn’t work. Although they couldn’t do anything to me physically, they were still terrifying as they shifted reality around me. I’d flinch out of nowhere, talk out of nowhere, seeing things that seemed normal even though they weren’t really there, I was more different than I already was. This left my parents with no choice but to go to the last resort, the desperation of going to the doctors. That’s when I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. I remember the doctor explaining, “His delusions are probably a result of your former work which is why this is the images his mind projects. All the horrors and malevolent thoughts and words.” I couldn’t listen long because Loreta was now smiling at me behind him as if she was glad I was finally understanding what she really is.
As the doctor scribbled my very first prescription, I read my parents’ emotions through their expressions. They haven’t been really good at hiding what they felt when it comes to me, being an introvert has made me good at reading people. I could see their guilt piling up, that they were the cause of their only child’s lifetime trauma. That I would see these horrible things for the rest of my life because they didn’t keep their dark fantasies from me. Living with it for months, I was just relieved that I finally got the answer I wanted, that they weren’t real. That they were nothing more than a figment of my imagination, I started to hold on to the slim chance the doctor gave me that I’d recover from this.
On the way home my mother talked to me, “How are you feeling?” I told her I was fine and was just relieved that we’re actually doing something about it. “I’ll be fine, at least we know it’s not real, right?” I forced a smile. The doctors suggested I develop a hobby to help me cope and learn to direct my focus, that’s how I decided to pursue a childhood dream of mine, painting. My parents were all supportive from the very start which helped a lot with my art’s fast growth and progress. Although I went to the same university as where my mother taught, I convinced them that I was moving out and got a place of my own for college. Before I knew it I was suffering from anxiety and depression because I wasn’t able to get my injections regularly and in schedule because of my workload and enjoying art school too much. This worsened my condition, so I had to stick with meds instead. But when meds didn’t work my parents sent me to a psychiatrist every Thursday which still went on to this day. Doctor Millicent Brown, but I called her Millie since she’s my only friend. She helped me develop routines and handle projections for my everyday life, learning how to be normal and how to engage with different types of people. I guess she became my best friend, considering she just graduated when I started seeing her. She was twenty-four at the time.
I get knocked out of my reminiscing because I just saw that my milk had run out. That wasn’t good, I love milk. It started a chain of noticing what my cupboard and fridge lacked. Grocery. First thing in my mind. I drove to the supermarket feeling drowsy because of the meds. Getting there, I started to get weak projections again, the antipsychotics starting to wear off. One way of separating projections from reality is that I couldn’t think whenever I was hallucinating. The voices in my head goes quiet, and I’d only hear this buzz and feel the tug at the back of my neck if I concentrated hard enough. I was getting that now, but it was fine. I was too sleepy to be scared anyways. I’ve run over two or three illusions, dispelling them on the spot and getting back on my thoughts.
I got to the cereal aisle where strangely the whole strip was empty unlike the others except for a woman deep in thought. She looks at the boxes with all seriousness, varying her options and muttering to herself. “Lucky Charms... No. Loops...” She almost seemed normal except my heart started racing and the voices in my head went silent again. Convinced that she’d turn into a horrible hag in a moment, I looked at the fine details that made her, because she was too beautiful not to paint. Her hair was highlighted pink, her eyes shone with a kind and intelligent light and you could never get to decide what color they were because they shifted with the colors they caught around her. Her lips were bright and smooth as she bit its lower half while her eyebrows met as she looked at the colorful boxes on the shelves. Her neck carved and connected perfectly to her jaw, that led to a slender and beautiful form one would call a body. I was convinced that this fine creature that stood before me would turn into a nightmare in a matter of seconds when the silence of everything seemed to make the ground swallow my shoes, making me stuck in place all of a sudden. I gathered myself as best I could as she started to reach her arm out towards the Lucky Charms in front of her, time seemed to slow down as I saw her long and elegant fingers extend. My cart started moving, determined to dispel this beautiful piece of my mind before it turns into something way less eye-catching, closing my eyes while I’m on it. My heart stopped for a second when I suddenly lurched forward as the cart seemed to get stuck on something, getting the feeling as if I hit a heavy object on the other end of the cart.
The loud sound of the cart frame rattling echoed through the empty aisle. My mouth hung open as well as my eyes when I saw her lying on the floor. She held the box of cereals in her arms sitting up. “Hey you could’ve asked nicely if you wanted this one, you idiot!” She glared at me. I caught the box she threw at me. “Jesus, I’m sorry. I- I didn’t see you.” I stammered as I rushed over her basket, putting the box inside along with all of her scattered groceries on the floor and then helped her up. “I didn’t see you.” I repeated as she brushed off her shoulder. “Sure you didn’t. Fucking staring at me for five seconds, and then just fucking ran over me. So let me emphasize the question for you. What. The. Fuck?” Great you managed to fuck up in five seconds. A new record, Mike. My thoughts came back to me.
She was several inches smaller than me but her personality towered over mine. Her fierce eyes shone blue green freckled with violets like a shattered mosaic. I hung my head as if the voices that had gone a moment ago started trying to catch up with time as they started flooding in my brain, making me helpless in front of this bright haired girl. “I’ll- I’ll make it up to you. Fuck... I got this condition...” I stammered, trying to explain digging for words to pluck out of the storm of thoughts inside my head. “Please let me make it up to you. I’ll pay for your groceries.” I offered, her expression softening by the second probably seeing the panic in my eyes. “Coffee.” She says, my face turning into confusion. “Buy me coffee sometime. Tell me all about your condition, Lewis Hamilton.” She looks at the shattered watch on her wrist. “I’m running late and I’ve got to go.” She straightens herself and fishes out a card from her purse. I couldn’t find the right words or gesture being faced with a real girl, a beautiful one too, I froze. So she slipped the card into my jacket pocket instead, chuckling. “Well, call me once you’ve found your tongue, Tokyo Drift.” She gave me the faintest smile as she rushed towards the cashiers with her basket. The first train of thought I had was, Did I do that to her watch? Which got me back to my senses again, but when I looked back to ask her about it she was already gone. The aisle suddenly gets filled by people looking for their cereals. What the fuck just happened?
I sat in my car just feeling out the card on my chest pocket. When do I call her? When was too soon? I probably should ask Millie this Thursday. She’d know what to do. All best friends should. I finally plucked it out which revealed her name and number in a fine print over the glossy card. I sighed before reading it, doing my best to calm down and compose myself. My blue eyes looking back at me at the rear view mirror of my cramped up car, wild and confused. I focused and started breathing slowly little by little, talking to myself in the middle of the almost empty parking lot. I finally look up to see what was written in the card.
The Art Institute of Chicago
AIC, huh? I thought as the golden afternoon light bounced off the card. I thought she was weird. That was saying something since I’m used to some fucked up shit. But maybe it was just weird because most people tend to avoid me because of my awkwardness and she didn’t seem to mind and even joked as if she’s known me for a long time. It wasn’t everyday you get a second chance for running someone over a shopping cart too. What’s wrong with her? I questioned myself. What have I gotten myself into? An even more important question. I put my forehead against the steering wheel in my final push to get my shit together before driving back home to my dark apartment accompanied only by paintings of my delusions.