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Today's Story by Benjamin Wachs

I had broken the lock on the front door. I had removed the crucifix from over the mirror in the unfurnished basement.

To be expelled from the castle

He woke up clutching his dream between his teeth.  He realized, without remembering, that there was a woman naked in bed next to him, a woman he barely knew.  He didn’t dwell on that.  He only used it as an impetus to keep silent, to be very still as he slipped out of bed.  He wasn’t thinking about her, he was trying to avoid having to pay any attention to her if she woke up.  He opened a drawer softly.  He removed a leather-bound book and a fountain pen.  He walked on his tip-toes around the bed and into the hallway, he crept all the way across the house, to the large study with the harpsichord, before he turned a light on.

He blinked, and kept blinking until he could make out the name he’d written on the book:  “Night Terrors.”  He curled up, without a blanket, on one of the swiveling canvas seats near the heirloom instrument, and opened the book.  Opened the book and took up the pen, while the memory was still there, held in his jaw.  Took a deep breath.

Having the woman in his bed had not helped much.  Usually they didn’t.  The right woman did.  The right woman he’d hold on to, use every tactic and trick and lever and leverage to keep coming back, but this one (he wasn’t even going to try remembering her name) had done nothing.  If anything, she’d attracted the dreams like … like a what?  Like an electric light attracts mosquitoes, or like a weather vane attracts lightning?  He considered the metaphor, and then realized his jaw was slacking.  He put the pen to paper, and began to write.

“March 18,” he wrote, “In my parent’s house.  But where my old room had been there was a waterfall.  My family, in the kitchen making dinner, then in the dining room, eating it, but I was not invited.  I was not allowed at the table, because I had done something terrible.  I had planted an evil seed in the back yard, and it had blossomed into a hangman’s tree.  I had broken the lock on the front door.  I had removed the crucifix from over the mirror in the unfurnished basement.”

He shuddered.  He refused to dwell on the basement, because memory of such distant things was his enemy tonight, trying to hold on to the memory of something that does not belong in this world.

“Darkness covered the moon,” he wrote, “and crashed through the unlocked door.  It came upon my family, eating lamb by candlelight, and covered them.  Only I was spared, because I had been exiled for my terrible crimes.  The darkness rushed through the house, rushing like a flood and like a swarm, searching for me.  It claimed the basement, and the mirror.  It claimed the kitchen, and the food.  It claimed the study, and the books.  All gone.  It began to claim the hallway, and there was only one place I could go.  I ran through the waterfall.  In the water, everything of my family melted away:  eye color, hair color, skin color, the mole on the back of my left shoulder.  All gone in the water, until nothing was left but what I had made of myself.   And that was not enough.”

He lifted the pen from the paper now, trying to recall … trying to remember what had been on the other side of the waterfall … where the darkness had not been able to follow, but he had not found peace.  What had it been like?

“Blue,” he wrote, and then she called his name.

From across the other end of his empty house, she called his name.  He grimaced, and looked back at the page.

“Blue,” he wrote, “and a castle by a lake.  Classes in linguistics, taught by angry priests.”

She called his name again, he heard her get out of bed.  He remembered she’d been aggressive, this one, and that recollection chased part of his dream away.

“To fail to learn languages, to be expelled from the castle, to be hunted by the things in the blue lake.”

He heard her walking down the hallway.

“Postpone inevitable,” he wrote, “one choice:  lake or priest?”

She came in the room.  For a moment, in the shadows, it looked like she had no eyes.  She stepped forward.  Her breasts were bigger than he remembered.  He put the pen and the book on the harpsichord.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“It’s nothing.”  He stood up.

She walked forward.  She reached out … to touch it.  “What is it?”

He reached out and grabbed her arm at the wrist.

She looked up.  He realized she liked that.

He had a choice now.  If they went back to bed, he would dream more … and harder … the dream stuff would swarm him like flies, cling to him like honey.  She was an unknowing trap.  But if they didn’t, he would have to kick her out this early in the morning, or explain …

She had reached for the book.

He pushed her up against the wall, pinned her hands above her head, and kissed her chest.  Bit her nipples.  Kissed up her throat.  Took her there, against the wall, and then again, on the floor, and almost one more time, back in bed, until they both collapsed … everything about the black leather book forgotten.  Then they slept, and he was falling.  After today, he would never speak to this woman again.  Never return her calls, or answer her texts.  After today, he would try again to find a woman whose presence kept his sleep light and even.

And he would never tell her why.  However much he hated the darkness, and the priests, and the lake, they needed to be protected from her.


Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media, Playboy.com, and NPR among other venues.  He archives his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.

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