This week's flash fiction challenge was to write a horror story with disease as its axis.
Sometimes, writers bend the rules of these things, and that makes for good stories. I'm not going to just bend them this week, though – I'm outright breaking them. It's not because my "muse" is failing me, but because real life is whispering in my ear so much more loudly.
This week's entry is still a horror story, and it's about a disease. The rule I'm breaking is the whole "fiction" thing. Sometimes real life is so much more apropos.
You're My Bogeyman
This Halloween, unlike in so many of the ones in the past, I'm not going to follow the tradition and dress up. We all dress up as the thing that scares us – the demons that haunt us, sometimes in bad dreams, and sometimes marking anxieties that make us uneasy while we are awake. It's not remarkable that I'll be flouting the tradition and refusing to dress up.
What's remarkable is that I've been dressing up every day for quite a while now. I've been donning this costume for years, as the thing that terrifies me the most in this world.
You terrify me. All of you. I know you don't mean to, and the vast majority of you will show me nothing but kindness when I step out of my door and do what I do during the day. It's not your fault. The culprit is the demon that follows in my shadow, taking up residence in my head as he pleases.
There are two me's in this body. One of us is the one that speaks most freely with a written word, combing over each one carefully to ensure that it's as free of the other's taint as I can make it. He whispers in my ear nearly constantly, and I don't know what life would be like without him.
I call him a demon or a shadow, but my doctor calls him Depression. The Zoloft doesn't shut him up, but it's softening the weight and power that he has in doing his work. I don't understand everything about why he does what he does, but it can weigh me down quite a bit while I'm trying to do the things that make me happy.
The First Rule
It turns out that I'm not the only one who has one of these loud shadow demons. I'm a member of a huge club, but we don't actually do anything together. The first rule is that you don't talk about it. We slink into rooms camouflaged and unnoticed, sometimes giving a subtle nod of solidarity when we recognize each other. We're everywhere, though. Some of us make your food, drive your taxis, and make the software on your beautiful new phone. We can be very good at dressing up and fitting in.
We don't talk about it because we have a disease, and sometimes we feel broken. People don't want to know we're there, and talking about it doesn't do the listener any good. We're all busy, and everyone has our demons to fight, and all of them are as equally formidable and legitimate foes as our own.
The difference in talking about it here is that I have a way of talking here that enables you to stop listening without offending me – you can stop reading here, and it's okay. I don't blame you, and I won't mind. It doesn't undermine my purpose for writing it because you don't have to read it as much as I have to write it.
Sadness and Novocain
One of the reasons we don't talk about it is because other people already have. The issue with that is that it's clinical or nuanced and dulled down because nobody wants to be in this club or know what it's like. The result can be that we're often swept into this group of brooders and worriers and do-nothings who just don't take the necessary actions to make themselves happy. Maybe these people enjoy being clothed in this sadness like a blanket. They do it to themselves.
Like every stereotype, there's a kernel of truth in that. There is an aspect of it that is magnified by bad habits and unwillingness to face it head-on. Some of it is biological, though. Some of it is just bad luck and hard times manifested in the long term.
Depression is the dulling down of everything, like a form of psychological Novocain that the brain administers in response to pain. Sadness isn't the depression, though. It's that strange tingle left after the Novocain has done its work.
The Appetite for Happiness
We eat because it makes us full and satisfied, but when we numb the pain, we also numb that satisfaction that comes when something does go right. When things go wrong, the demon mutters things like, "It didn't matter anyway," or, "Well, what did you expect?" When they go right, the demon will say, "It was luck. You're still not good enough."
In the long term, when the things you did to be full don't bring that feeling of satisfaction, some will compensate by consuming voraciously and incessantly, and some will simply stop altogether when it doesn't alleviate the discomfort. Thus arises the inactivity, the hopelessness, and the withdrawal from the rest of the world that is, after all, very different.
For the longest of times, I have been part of this latter group. I have languished away in my recliner watching football, wasting time in escapism by watching movies and playing video games to forget all the problems in my life that the demon said I wouldn't have been able to solve anyway.
I feel like I've awakened after a long sleep, and inherited the life of someone who gave up a long time ago while I was sleeping. Today may not mark a day where I get an underdog win over the demon who haunts my waking dreams, but it marks a day where I'm going to do something very unorthodox and new to get an upper hand in the long game.
Today, the mask will stay here when I go out to face you, and I am refusing to give the demon his cover in my cloak that has allowed him to run over me unfettered for far too long. If he wants to haunt me, he can do it in the light of the day. I'm hesitant to do this to you because he is ugly. But he's me.
Yes, this Halloween, I am scared of this demon and of you. This time, though, I'm facing you as I am, demon and all. I need to do this.
I've been told that even the most fearsome demons will languish in the light.