Updated: Apr 4, 2020
What if your nightmare is your reality; your own little piece of Hell?
The air, moist and thick with salt, embraces him like a warm blanket. He sees her in the distance with her upturned face gleaming in the afternoon sun as the rays of brilliant yellow hues coat her chestnut curls. Her silky flesh shimmers and sparkles, reminding him of an angel dipped in golden glitter. She breaks into a run and sprints along the edge of the cliff leaving small footprints of bent jade-colored blades of grass in her wake. Her white cotton sundress flutters in the summer breeze. The sight of her like this, so glorious and alive, whisks away his breath and tugs at his heart. Thunderous waves crash on the jagged rocks at the base of the cliff, sending snowy mists of spray twenty feet into the air. Philip watches, his eyes hypnotized by her beauty, as he tries to remember why he was angry with her. Why they had fought.
“Gina, you’re too close to the edge,” he calls out to her, but no sound exits his mouth. He rubs his throat, ignoring the unusual chill in his fingertips, opens his mouth wider and tries again. “Gina!”
His brain registers his cries, but his ears hear only the crashing waves. What’s wrong with me? What’s happened to my voice?
Gold-kissed curls bounce over Gina’s shoulders, each lock cascading seductively down her back, as she turns away. Philip runs a shaky hand through his thick blond mane and watches as each playful, bounding step brings Gina closer to the cliff’s edge.
“No, get away from the edge. You’re too close Gina. Don’t go there. Please Gina, stop!” he shouts.
The silence of his voice mocks him. His heartbeat increases, pounding faster and faster, inside his chest. His breaths, rapid and shallow, fight against him. Beads of hot, salty sweat emerge along his temples. No, Gina, don’t go, his brain wails. Why can’t she hear me? Have I gone mad? Yes, that’s it. I’m crazy. Run after her you fool, his brain commands. Yes!
Philip tries to lurch forward, tries to lift his right foot to follow Gina. His foot refuses to move. He tries lifting his left foot and finds it equally uncooperative and firmly melded to the earth. He grunts and strains against the paralysis to no avail. His legs, like his voice, ignore his commands. He glances down at the scuffed slippers, with clumps of dried brown dirt clotted in the plush pile, adorning his feet and struggles to recall when he’d run through mud. Why the hell am I wearing slippers outside?
A frigid breeze attacks him from behind, nipping at his limbs and exposing his bare hair-covered legs peeking out from beneath the hem of a short blue gown. The blond hairs on his legs prick upright atop the growing rows of goosebumps. He tries, again and again, to move. Each attempt is a failure, as if his legs have been dipped in an invisible coating of lead. This can’t be. This isn’t happening. It’s not real. I know, I’m asleep. It’s the only answer. This is a dream—a nightmare. I need to wake up. If I wake up everything will be okay.
Stifling layers of heat replace the icy breeze, sending beads of sweat descending over his burning cheeks. I’m so damn hot. I can’t breathe. His fingers yank at the loose fabric covering his torso. He rips at the neckline, desperate for air as raspy wheezes, alternating with stabbing pains, pulse through his chest. He struggles to regain a normal breathing pattern. What’s happening to me?
He forces his eyes away from his feet, shaking away the disheveled strands of hair from his eyes in the process. Gina’s silhouette is a dark outline against the harshness of the setting sun disappearing in the horizon, disappearing over the edge of the rocky cliff.
“Gina! Gina, wait! Look out! Stop!” His nonexistent voice slaps at him with maniacal silence.
Gina doesn’t turn. She doesn’t stop. He knows she won’t; knows she won’t change her course and run to him because she can’t hear his pleas. She can’t hear you, you fool, his mind taunts. He watches, helpless, as she dashes along the dark precarious edge. Philip clenches his fists. His nails press hard into his flesh. He ignores the pain, his eyes unable to turn from Gina and the cliff, and watches his lover disappear from sight. And I can’t help her.
Gina reappears, like a feather drifting in a spring breeze, in the violet hues of the darkening early evening sky. Her sundress plumes up over her hips and drapes her shoulders like a limp useless parachute. He watches her as she falls. Her long, lean dancer’s limbs perform an aerial dance as her body descends. No sound departs from her plump pink lips. The only sound Philip hears is the menacing irregular thumping of his own heart. Oh, no, no! Gina, no!
She turns her head towards him as if she hears his agonizing thoughts. Her eyes, shadowed and wide, stare at him. He squints, desperate to make out her details. There’s no love in her eyes, only disbelief and questions, before her auburn hair whips across her face and masking her eyes. It seems to take forever, and at the same time only moments, for her to fall. Her body speeds up and the unforgiving, churning ocean grows closer. She turns her head towards the sky and raises her thin arms up towards the heavens.
A resounding thud, wet and final, as her flesh lands on the rocks, ripples through the silent air and sends shock waves of reverberating anguish up his calves. The sickening crack of her breaking bones on the crusted boulders pierces Philip’s eardrums. He turns away, tears pouring from his eyes, unable to look. His eyes betray him and glance back towards the ocean. The turquoise sea swallows Gina’s ruby red blood before a massive wave claims her lifeless body, dragging it from the jagged rocks and down into the black depths of her underwater grave.
The pounding of Philip’s heart intensifies and threatens to burst from his chest. Stop, please, stop this. Let me wake up. Save me from this madness. The pain is killing me. Sharp slicing shards of pain travel over his shoulder and down his left arm. He silently pleads for his heart to hurry up and explode, desperate for the pain to end and for the madness to be finished. It’s just a dream. Wake the hell up, Phil before this nightmare kills you, his brain screams at him. How? Tell me how to wake up, his heart replies.
“I had a feeling I’d find you here Philip,” a baritone voice murmurs beside him.
Philip’s body jerks. An excruciating rush of panic courses through him as he turns towards the voice. A pair of bloodshot onyx eyes, rimmed with dark gray bags, meet his own.
“Who the hell are you? And what the hell are you doing in my damn nightmare?” Philip’s voice bellows. His hand flies up and covers his mouth. “Holy shit! My voice. My voice is back.” His hand drops to his chest, clutching it like a child does a favorite teddy bear, as another breath-sucking wave of pain rolls through his heart with agonizing vengeance.
“You look surprised Philip.”
Philip doesn’t respond. He strains against the pain and glances over the stranger’s right shoulder, towards the horizon, towards where Gina disappeared beneath the ocean’s depths. He open’s his mouth and screams as hard as he can, “GI-NA!”
The stranger’s laughter, raw and gravelly, engulfs Philip. “You fool. You actually thought she’d hear you, didn’t you?” the stranger mocks. “Oh, I’ve forgotten how delicious and entertaining the first time can be.”
Philip’s head snaps away from the horizon. He narrows his eyes and glares up at the onyx pair glistening with dark molten liquid tears. Philip knows the stranger’s tears are not the result of sadness and despair like his own. They are tears unlike anything he’s ever seen, but Philip knows they are tears nonetheless—evil, bloody tears—tears of perverse delight.
“You think this is funny, don’t you?” Philip asks in a tone rich and familiar—his voice—the voice he’d used to woo Gina and proclaim his love for her before she had tried to leave him; before they argued in the pouring rain.
Memories flood his brain. Memories of love and of iced hatred, memories of burning rage overload Philip’s mind. I remember. Images of him pushing Gina from the hotel’s balcony, of her lithe frame plummeting to the black asphalt five stories below, of her crumpled lifeless body lying in a muddy puddle, of her engulfed in a pool of her own blood play behind his eyes in vibrant technicolor. No, I wouldn’t, I didn’t. It’s impossible, a lie, he tells himself, but his strangled heart knows the truth.
“Why the hell can I speak to you, but not Gina?”
The stranger raises a crooked finger. Philip watches the long black nail, curved at the end like a coke spoon, scoop away a crimson tear from the corner of one of the onyx eyes. Philip stares at the pale gray hue of the flesh clinging to the finger and then to the elongated fingernail, half expecting the stranger to snort the bloody tear straight from the nail. The stranger lowers the finger to its lips and slurps the blood through pencil thin lips the same ebony color as the fingernail and grins down at Philip.
“You already know the answer to your question Philip.”
Philip nods. “Yeah, I do. I’m dreaming. So, fuck off. Get the hell out of my head so I can wake up from this nightmare.”
“You’re already awake,” the stranger replies.
A surge of pain cripple’s Philip’s chest. His legs quiver as he collapses to his knees. The stiff grass slices at his bare flesh, but he ignores it.
“Liar,” Philip whispers.
The stranger’s lips curl into a thin smile. “Care to test your theory?”
A gnarled gray finger graves Philip’s shoulder before he can protest. Ice floods his shoulder as unbearable cold travels down his arm and through his body as a silent haunting dark nothingness consumes him.
Philip opens his eyes and shakes the grogginess from his brain. Where am I? The air, moist and thick with salt, hugs him like a warm blanket. He sees her in the distance. Her upturned face gleams in the afternoon sun as the rays of brilliant yellow hues shimmer over her chestnut curls. Her bare feet run along the edge of the cliff leaving small footprint-shaped indentations in the jade colored blades of grass. He tries to turn away. His body stiffens, refusing to cooperate with his commands.
“Gina,” he calls out and hears nothing.
She plunges from the cliff. Philip’s heart seizes; his breaths, short and haggard, as he collapses in a frozen heap onto the jagged grass with the image of Gina’s broken lifeless body seared into his eyeballs. He returns to the black abyss that exists between time and space, between life and death, between reality and madness, only to awaken what feels like a moment later.
He opens his eyes and sees his lovely wife basking near the sunlit cliff, alive and joyful, once again. He watches Gina in the distance and wonders if every man’s Hell is the same. If each man stands on the edge of darkness and light, body frozen and shivering, while the glorious warmth and brightness of the sun lies just beyond his reach before he watches Gina appear and then die, again and again. He is unable to save her and she, unable to forgive him.
Is each man forced to relive his worst sin without recourse or the ability to repent? He doesn’t know and decides that it doesn’t really matter as he watches Gina plunge to her death again. His eyes, as always, refuse to turn away from her broken body. Please stop this, please let me have a moment of peace. Don’t make me look at her face ever again. The waves engulf Gina’s body and she disappears beneath the sea and Philip knows his pleas will never be answered. Oh, the stranger hears the pleas and laughs at the feeble whines emitted from Philip’s mouth, but never helps. The stranger never eases the pain or issues Philip a reprieve from the perpetual misery.
As the pain grips his chest, Philip crumbles to his knees. How do other men react when they discover the truth? When they realize death has taken them like death has taken me?
The icy presence of the black abyss approaches. Philip closes his weary eyes, unable to protest, knowing that in a few moments he will awaken again and see Gina on the cliff.
This is my eternity. My sentence for my sin. This is my Hell.