Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Skull: A Short Story

Michael sat at his desk in the bedroom of his home and peered at the yellowed bone of the skull he held in his hands. The two sunken pits, where the eyes had been, looked to Michael like caves of murky black death staring widely out at him. Their stare was seeming to call to him to look ever deeper into what remained of its being. He forced himself to look away from those pits and down to its lower jaw, the majority of its teeth still in place, and at its high cheek bones, the combination of which formed that ghastly grin, and thought, for a moment, that he seemed to almost hear the skull speaking to him.
Yes, I know you. I know all about you. Your lack of endearment to your family and friends. Your inability to commit yourself even to your work. I know that soon you will end up just like me. Soon, so soon, you shall lie in the cold, lonely earth, taken by the worms, as I have. Soon you will know the pain and suffering of those last moments of life as you struggle to stay with those you love. You will come to find, as I have, that life in the end is nothing but despair. For all that you have done, all that you are, will be forgotten. In the end, you will be just like me, just a faded memory of what you once were.
Michael shook his head, catching himself, frightened by his thoughts. The skull captured him again, at least that’s the way he was beginning to think of it. Those dark sockets seemed to look deep into him, into his inner thoughts, as if excavating his subconscious and drawing out the darkest of his emotions, his frustrations, and fears. Once again, he put the skull back down on his desk and glanced around his sparsely decorated room, at his bed that had not slept in the night before, the bedsheets still perfectly made. At the once well-kept writing desk that was currently in disarray, the curious yellow stains he noticed on the carpet and that awful smell of offal that had begun to permeate the room and thought to himself, not for the first time, that he really should move on to another project.
He had seen plenty of pictures of skulls on the Internet while searching for his muse, but there was something different about actually being face-to-face with this shadow of death. To feel it in his hands, to smell it, to see its grim set features, the final face of one who passed to the nether realms, to the other side, to the paths of the dead…,
“Stop it!” he said to himself sternly, as he realized he was staring at the skull again. He knew it was crazy to think that way, to think that those dead eyes had any power over him, that maybe the dead man that returned his gaze was intentionally laughing up at him with that horrific grin. In the end, it was just a skull, just a prominent feature of the skeletal structure of human being, nothing more, nothing less.
He remembered when he had bought this last remnant of an unknown man online to act as a muse of sorts, hoping that the stark image of a human skull would help inspire the deep fears of his subconscious to spur his writing. In some ways, the muse had worked. The skull certainly inspired fascination and fear in him, but in other ways, it had not. He had yet to write even a word since its arrival. He suddenly realized, of course, that the skull had only just arrived earlier that day or was it yesterday, he was unsure now. And he had only just begun the process of writing an hour or so ago, or was it several hours now? It was hard to say, but he thought no more of it. He looked down at the computer at his desk, but not a word looked back at him on the computer screen. The only thing that stared at him today had been the skull, staring with that deep creased and roughened brow, giving it a stern countenance, as if admonishing him.
You’ve accomplished nothing Michael; It seemed to say. You have nothing to show for your efforts. Again, wasting the precious little time you have on this earth. As if you only desire that moment when you too can come home to this place of emptiness, beyond death’s door. That place where I can greet you with more than just this knowing grin. Are you so enamored with despair and death that you must watch it as it stares back with a woeful silence, only to have to utter your name to call you to its cold embrace, as I do now? You look at me with those lonely, lost eyes. Those moist wet eyes that moments ago seemed so full of life, but now look as dead as my own.
Michael forced himself to look away from the skull and sat, for not the first time that evening, at his writing desk, when finally, a moment the inspiration took him. The first words he typed were, “The cruel skull stared back at me with a look of knowing, malevolent pleasure,” he then a looked back at the hideous presence upon his desk.
A moment later, or had it been a few minutes later, he found that the skull, that fascinatingly loathsome skull, was back in his hands. The texture of the thing uniquely sensual, in its way. The suture lines that webbed the skull’s surfaces, finely woven, the deep sockets of the skull’s eyes, so murky, the jaw line astonishingly strong. He had begun love this thing, to hate this thing, this presence that had absorbed his very being.
His bladder yearned for relief. His need to urinate was profound. He had to put this damned thing down, this evil that had crept back into his hands, but a moment later his bladder was forgotten as this constant reminder of mortality seemed once again to speak to him.
I look into your soul and see the Stygian blackness of your heart as you stare at me. Your fear, not of me, not of my cool dark grimace, but of what I represent, the cold horror, life seeping away through your fingers. What a simple thing it would be to see, emptiness, to hear, silence, to feel, nothing. I offer this to you.
A warm rush of fluid exploded in his pants as his desperately full bladder emptied into his chair and onto the floor while he sat staring at that alluring abhorrence in his hands. Fear shot through him then, a deep primal fear. That feeling some people describe as the fight or flight response. He took the skull in his right hand and with stunning brutality, threw it against the wall of his bedroom, the lower jaw of the skull exploded outward, shards of ancient bone and teeth scattering about, but the remainder of the skull lay intact upon the floor, once again staring back up at him. Once again, catching him in that malignant gaze.
His feet and right arm ached, and his stomach growled. His lips were beginning to parch as he felt an overwhelming thirst rise in him. He shakily reached for the glass of water perched on his desk but once again, found himself holding that malevolent skull in his hand at almost eye level. His arm ached and had begun to cramp. How long had he stood this way? How long had he been lost in those pestilential eyes? He panicked once again and made to throw the vicious parasite from him, but stopped as he caught the ever scrutinizing gaze of the thing. That was it; he thought to himself. Maybe this time, maybe if he were calm, he could do it. Michael, slowly, with all the will he could muster, carefully placed the skull back on the desk and made to turn away, turn away from those eyes. Those mysterious pools of utter blackness, those eyes that spoke to him and sat back down at his desk.
He noticed he must have been typing for some time, yet he had no memory of doing so. For a moment, curiosity overwhelmed his panic, and he once again sat and faced his monitor.
“You mortal fool, you pathetic mortal fool. How I own you. How I love to see your confusion…, your revulsion…, your love and your hate as it crosses before your gaunt sickening eyes. Your feeble attempts at escape and that moment, that precise moment when you realize you have no hope and once again see only your despair. How I love to see the tears now, as you type this, now as or shall I say I love to feel your tears as you stare back at me through our mutual mirror of the souls as I type this,— laughing. How does it feel? To stare back in me from those pits I wonder? Soon your body shall be mine, whole and complete, and I, I shall see you alone and empty upon the desk, until finally I tire of you….”

Terrified, Michael could read no more, horrified at he saw on the screen. Panicking once again, he desperately threw himself backward in his chair in an attempt to get away, away from that menace, but his strength was ebbing, and he found himself falling to the floor. With an unsteady and shaky hand, he reached desperately for the desk to pull himself back to his feet, but only succeeded in allowing the skull to fall inches from his face. Weakly, he groped for it, as it once again caught his eyes and lying on the floor, and slowly, ever so slowly dragged the skull once more to him.