Fiction by Kelsey Allman

Timber

         Curling my lips around the edge of the filter, I inhaled deeply and closed my eyes tightly. There was something all too helpful about the taste of a good cigarette, and Camel knew how to make that perfect for me. Really focusing on swirling the smoke about in my lungs, my spine relaxed into the beanbag chair and just was. This moment, this stillness would be what got me through this upcoming day. When I began to see colored flashes, I opened my eyes once more to see Jingle and Shadow playing in front of the coffee table. After hearing them snort and snuff for a few seconds, I at last exhaled and created an almost clear smoke tunnel and watched the puppies wrestle.

         The music rolled on, almost nonexistent.

         Deep breaths. Puppy grumbles. Elijah’s keyboard keys clacking away. Talia’s sewing machine whirring. Puppy whines. Somehow, it was all peaceful in its own chaotic way.

         “Claire!”

         Bitch. “Yes, Mother?”

         “Get your ass to class now! I don’t want to have to say it again!”

         Eye roll. Her car door slammed shut, followed by the garage door creaking and shaking before making contact with the cement floor. She never did ask what we did up in the attic, but I assumed she knew; she just picked her battles. And today, being late to class for me or to the shop for her was simply not going to be one of them. Whether we went to class or not was simply our decision and she respected that, if discouraged it. Quality parenting, honestly. I learned better that way.

         “Guys, she’s right. We really should get to class.” I stood from the beanbag, tossing the butt out the window as I had done for years now. Miraculously, I hadn’t managed to start a fire yet.

         “Almost done,” Talia chimed in over her machine’s mid-toned whirs and Jingle’s bone chewing.

         Elijah stayed focused on the white monitor before him.      

         Grabbing Jingle’s harness, I whistled him over to the stairs and began my descent. “Seriously, y’all.”

         Down came the dogs, followed momentarily by Elijah and Talia. Climbing in my Jeep, I let Jingle jump across to the passenger floorboard. Talia sat in the passenger seat, Elijah in the back with Shadow. Earl buckled himself in next to Elijah on the passengers side.

         “Anyone else care to join?” I asked sarcastically, hoping no one else would get in the car. Quickly shifting into reverse, I floored it out of the driveway and sped off to campus.

         Earl scoffed and shook his old, wrinkled head.

         “God, what?” I grumbled, catching his unfriendly gesture in the rearview.

         “I’ve been alive sixty-two years, and I’d like to think I’ve got a few left. Not with that kind of driving, though.”

         “Christ.”

         “Earl, shut up for ten minutes of your life,” Elijah mumbled from his phone screen.

         “In my day, children had respect for their elders and spoke to them with––”

         “In case you had forgotten, we’re not children!”

         Barking.

         “You’re forty plus years younger than I am and I––”

         “Such big words from a frail old man who can hardly—”

         “Would both of you quit fighting! I swear—”

         More barking.

         I’d had enough. “Shut up!” I shouted and mustered up the nastiest look I could. “I’m trying to drive here. If Earl would quit complaining, Elijah would quit threatening, and Talia would get to shutting the dogs up, that would be fucking wonderful. Thanks.”

         Relax. Focus on the road. Push them out. They’re only as real as I let them be, and today I choose for them not to be real.

         “Still here, sweet cheeks. We’re not leaving that easy today.” Earl had a fabulous smirk across his frail face.

         Just my luck.

         Talia tried to offer, “At least some of us are good company.” But frankly, she was more of a distraction than anything. All she ever wanted to do was talk and smoke pot and play with the dogs.

         At this point, I had no idea if anyone had noticed me talking to an invisible dog other than Mom. Maybe a couple of my professors wondered why I was narrating my actions when I came into the room (“Left. Right. Find the seat. Down and under. Good.”) or why I would occasionally stroke the air around my knees. But God, was Jingle so real to me. He had the softest fur of any Golden retriever I had ever known and he had a red collar with checks on it and he was so wonderful. Probably the only hallucination I ever appreciated.

         The rest could go the hell away.

         My fingers curled tightly around the wheel until my knuckles turned white. What a bad month to quit smoking cigarettes. Just shut up already, I pleaded with my mind.

         No, they all mocked back.

         On this drive to campus, I often wondered why it was me plagued with this. I had two brothers and a sister (not to mention dozens of cousins) who were all fine. The genetic lottery had chosen me to get schizophrenia––along with a plethora of other mental illnesses. There was the generalized anxiety, the depression, the eating disorder… It was no wonder I was hard to get along with: literally, even science hadn’t begun to unwind the tangled mess that was my psyche.

         Jingle barked to get my attention, as I was about to run a red light and cause a multi-car pile up. How simple it would be to just ignore the light, keep going through the intersection at 45. It would be over, just like that.

         “What are you doing, idiot? Hit the breaks.” Talia smacked my arm.

         “Don’t call me idiot. That’s rude.”

         “I’ve called you worse,” a disturbingly infamous voice said from the bitch seat.

         “Christ, as if these three weren’t enough already. And the dogs.”

         “You know I exist only to make you miserable. It’s fun,” Joseph said.

         Joseph and I had dated when I had just turned 18. He was a cop in training. It’s a very stressful experience. He also had bipolar disorder and did not believe in psychotropic drugs. For months, I stuck by him telling me I was weak for taking anti-depressants, getting drunk and trying to rape me, hitting me, choking me, threatening to cut himself if I didn’t come over, attempting to kill himself if I tried to break up… For months, he made me feel like I wasn’t even good enough to deserve the help I so desperately needed. For months, he told me I didn’t deserve to be alive and I was lucky to have him around to tolerate me.

         I hate him.

         And yet, I still love him.

         So I hate myself.

         “I can hear everything you’re thinking,” Joseph sang, creeping ever closer to the back of my seat. “And I know I ruined your life, and guess what? Mine’s great. I’ve got a cushy law firm job, trust fund set for life, engaged to someone who can satisfy me, plus she’s great in bed, I’ve got––”

         “A court order to take mood equalizers, dumb ass. Who’s the weak one now?”

         “Still you. You take all your poison voluntarily. And it still doesn’t even work. Because we’re all still here, making your life the living hell you want nothing more than to end.”

How was he always right?

         Jingle growled low in his throat, baring just a few teeth.

         “Shut up, mutt!” Joseph snarled back.

         “You shut up,” Talia ordered.

         Shadow started growling too. Her little hackles rose up in anger, her little lips curled back, and her little ears were on high alert.

         “Now you’ve upset the dog. God, Joseph, you’re such a dick.” Elijah picked Shadow up and tried to soothe the puppy.

         Earl scoffed again. “Yeah. Making a couple pups growl. That’s why he’s a bad person.”

         Raising an angry eyebrow, I shot Earl a look in the rearview. “Shut your fucking mouth.”

         Suddenly, tears started from the backseat. Allie’s braids swung around as she shook her head. “Why does everyone have to fight?”

         “Just what I fucking need, you here too.” I rubbed my forehead with my right hand and sighed heavily.

         “See? You are weak,” Joseph taunted, getting as close as he could to my ear and breathing heavily. “Remember when I used to get this close to you? It drove you crazy,” he said, seduction coating his words.

         “It still does, just in a different sense of the word,” Elijah said with heavy sarcasm.

         “Can you stop driving like a NASCAR racer? I want to get to campus alive,” Earl ordered.

         “I’m getting car sick,” Talia blurted out. She gripped the armrests on either side of the seat and focused on her breathing. “Turn up the AC!”

         Jingle started howling then. Shadow joined him.

         “This is why all dogs should be shot!” Joseph said, holding his imaginary gun and aiming it between Jingle’s eyes.

         “You’re a monster,” Elijah hissed, cradling Shadow close and trying his best to cease her howling.

         “I’m gonna be sick!” Talia shouted, eyes closed.

         “The fat cow is gonna hurl, and so help me God if it gets on my shoes, I’m suing!” Earl roared.

         “You’re not real. How can you get a lawyer?” Elijah asked back.

         Allie was still sobbing hysterically in the trunk.

         “Someone please shut her up,” Talia begged, looking quite green.

         The dogs continued to howl.

         Joseph started making gun noises as he continued to “shoot” the dogs.

         Elijah began lecturing him on what an awful person he was for shooting innocent animals.

         Earl started in on “in my day, we shot dogs for making this much noise” and “good for you, Joseph.”

         Stop.

         I can’t take it anymore. I just want a quiet place to myself.

         I haven’t been alone in nearly three years.

         But the madness continues. I’ll never be alone again. I’ll always fall victim to these hallucinations. No matter what I do. No matter how much I smoke or drink or cut.

There will

ALWAYS

be

someone

or something

with me.

         “Red light!” Earl screamed above the chaos that was my car.

         Slamming on the breaks, I felt my tires skid a bit on the damp pavement. But somehow, the Cherokee came to a stop on the white line of the intersection.

         Some pedestrians gave me an alarmed look as they hurried across. The mother held her daughter close, avoiding puddles as they awkwardly trotted across the brick crosswalk.

         Maybe I would be different if Mom had taken the time to talk to me more…

         The light changed and the Mustang behind me blared its horn as it veered around me and surged through the intersection.

         Driving forward, I pulled off into a parking lot by the local deli. This disarray had taken its toll on me, killed what was left of my high. It was 9:17 AM and all I wanted was a couple shots of vodka. Executing an awful parking job, I choked the ignition and began sobbing hysterically into the steering wheel in front of me. Today was not going to be a good day. Wrapping my fingers around my phone, I slid open the keyboard and penned a quick text.

                            Dad, today is a really bad day. I can’t stay present.

         His reply came through momentarily.

                            Do you need to come here? My couch is always open for you.

         Small smile.

                            I think I’m just gonna take the day off school today.

         I knew he was frowning.

                            Do I need to come get you?

         So caring.

                            I can’t sit here six hours and wait for you to drive here. I’m just going to Mom’s.

         I knew he was still upset when he replied once more.

                            Go sleep for a few hours, see if that helps. Love you, baby girl. Come see me soon.

         I could use a trip to the beach to see Dad, but my doctors currently were not allowing me to travel. The stress would be too much, they said. It would be severely detrimental to the progress I’d been making.

Progress. They’re just kidding themselves, or trying to keep the checks coming in. Either way, I’ve only gotten worse. And I want nothing more than to cease existing. I’m hopeless.

         I hadn’t even noticed the quiet that enveloped my car, but it had finally fallen silent. They were all still there, but no one spoke. They just stared at the back of my head, waiting for me to make a move. The tension in the air felt as heavy and thick as southern humidity, causing every single being in that car to be uncomfortable and twitchy.

         Staring down at my phone, I read over my dad’s message. “Love you, baby girl. Come see me soon.”

         You know, it’d be a hell of a lot easier to see you if you didn’t divorce my mother and fled to a different state.

         “You gonna do it?” Talia asked. But I knew she wasn’t asking about the visit.

         Deep breath in. “I don’t know. Maybe.” Slow exhale.

         Jingle whined and put his head on my leg, big brown eyes looking up at me with adoration and worry. That dog was too human sometimes. But he should be… He’s a creation of my deeply disturbed subconscious.

         Glancing out the window, I saw cars speeding by on the street and hurrying past me in the parking lot. The world would always do that. It just kept on keeping on. And me? I was stuck in my eternal madness, forever surrounded by my hallucinations. The reality of it all was that I would never be able to get away from it. Schizophrenia had no cure, only treatment. After years of medications and therapy, I just wasn’t sure how much more I could handle. Nothing helped. I only got worse. There was always a new voice, there were always more delusions, but there was never any relief.

         Turning the car back on, I rejoined traffic and headed north. Class was for people who didn’t have crises to deal with. Me? I had a mission today.

 

Three and a half hours later, I was on the John’s Mountain scenic overlook. Leaning against the safety rail, I considered the drop in front of me. How simple it could be, just two steps and that would be it. No more me. In a matter of moments, I could cease being. No more hallucinations, no more delusions, no more fights, no more suffering.

         The temptation was overwhelming.

         “So would you really do it?” Elijah asked. It was the first time he had spoken in a few hours.

         I looked my hippie friend up and down. Strange, to be friends with someone unreal. But at least I knew when he said I was one of his best friends, he really meant it. It’s not as though I had to fight for his attention. “I don’t know. I wish y’all would stop asking.”

         “We just want to know what our future holds,” Elijah offered frightendly.

         I could tell he was scared. That was something I had never considered. If I ended, they ended. Did that make it homicidal suicide?

         “You have so much life ahead. So many things to do.” Talia placed her hand on my shoulder and squeezed it gently.

         “What kind of quality of life is it if I constantly hallucinate?” I couldn’t even have a few minutes alone on the side of the road. My whole life represented what happened when people really spent some time alone with their thoughts, and it was nothing but trouble. How could anyone expect me to prolong an existence spent in insanity and terror? How could I expect myself to continue under such conditions? When was I going to come to a decision on it all?

         You may think you’re alone. But no one is ever really alone. Your mind is with you. And it is home to the darkest, most vile thoughts and most awful memories. Why anyone would want to spend time alone with their thoughts is beyond me. If anything, having schizophrenia has taught me that I would rather be like a beast, having no free will and surviving solely off instinct.

         “Maybe I’ll get ECT. Or a lobotomy,” I suggested aloud.

         “That escalated quickly,” Elijah said.

         “Better than the alternative.”

         “You don’t have the guts for that,” Joseph said. He walked around the overlook, toeing the edge of the mountain and hocking a loogie to the mountain’s base. As the wad of spit and snot went soaring, he whistled its descent and made a sickly comical splat sound when it hit the earth far below.

         “Just try me. I had the guts to literally fuck the police,” I spat back, literally spitting in his direction.

         “Quit talking like that,” Talia begged. “Jingle doesn’t like it.”

         “None of you are real. Why does it matter what any of you think?” I asked, looking deeply at each of them: the dogs, Talia, Elijah, Earl, Joseph, Allie. How could it be that they were so tangible to me? I could feel their breath on my skin when they whispered in my ear, hear their breathing when I laid in bed awaiting sleep; I knew their distinct personalities, their spirits, their thoughts, their hopes, their fears. How could someone be so real without existing? That alone was enough to drive me crazy. Knowing absolutely no one else could ever understand this terror was the absolute worst of it all. “Why aren’t you real? Why does it have to be me? Why am I crazy?” I screamed out into the forest all around.

         The trees whispered and shushed in the wind. The crippling loneliness around me swallowed me whole and reminded me just how alone I was in the world. No one understood. No one heard my screams of fear.

         Looking out once more, I just yelled. My primal spirit let loose its most basic fears in one loud shriek that echoed off the smaller peaks around John’s Mountain. The wind died down just long enough to let the noise take its full shape as it resonated in the valley below.

         “Feel better, Princess?” Joseph laughed.

         Still feeling empowered and enraged from that scream, I roared back, “You were the worst thing that ever happened to me. Worse than this diagnosis. Worse than the divorce. Worse than knowing I will never amount to anything.” I stormed closer to him. “I hate you. I hope you get some awful disease and suffer a slow and painful death. Whatever evil you might bring into this world, may it be stillborn and lifeless. May it be as dead as any trust I have in people.”

         “You’re scaring me,” Talia said.

         “You!” I wheeled on her. “You whine and you bitch. You’re needy. I can’t be your mother. Grow up.” Turning to Elijah, I shouted more. “You need to straighten out your priorities. All you do is play on the computer or your phone or whatever is closest.” Then to Earl, “You’re negative and you belong in the ground, you miserable old man. Stop taking your unhappiness out on the rest of us.” To the dogs, “You’ve been puppies for three years! All you do is bark! You’re easily the worst dogs to ever exist. GROW. LEARN.” And finally to Allie, “All you do is cry! What are you even here for? I don’t even know what side of my fucked up brain you exist in. You just make us all that much more stressed out.”

         Back to Joseph, I finally let everything go. “I regret ever having known you. I hate every fiber of your being. I hate that I dated you. I hate that I kissed you. I hate having known you at all. I hate myself for still worrying about you killing yourself. I hate that I still blame myself for your bipolar disorder. Your happy little existence now makes me hate myself that much more. I can’t move on. I will never move on. Part of you will always be with me. I will always remember those bruises and I will always have scars. I will always have brain damage from that concussion you gave me.

         “I’m tired. I cannot do this anymore.” I was standing in the middle of the road now, begging traffic to hit me at this point. The dogs cried anxiously and I could feel everyone staring at me, awaiting my next move. “I can’t do sixty plus more years of this. I just can’t.” Walking out of the road, I approached the mountain’s edge. “I’m done.” Pulling out my phone, I sent a quick text to Mom and Dad.

I love you. But I can’t do it anymore. I’m done.

Kelsey Allman is from Atlanta but considers Statesboro her home as well as the home of Georgia Southern University, where she proudly hails Southern and no place else (yet). She is currently in her senior year as a Writing, Linguistics, and Psychology student. When not in the classroom, she prefers the company of her dog Remington.