You Can Run from Your Demons, But Can You Hide?
A 'Foggy Waters' Submission
It was on a cold and ruthless night that Annelise would have her final dance with the ocean. Having grown up by the seaside, she was always fond of swimming in the sea. Little did she know her finale would involve her severed head bidding farewell to her body as they drifted apart atop the water. The once immaculate blue of the ocean became ruddied as Annelise’s blood streamed from the coarsely hacked gashes separating her parts. Her lifeless eyes were rolled upwards, staring beyond the veil of the night sky and into the Heavens that would soon welcome her soul.
Peace greeted Emmett like a long-lost friend. Everywhere he looked he was met by unfamiliar sights and smells. Although he couldn’t quite figure out where he was and how he got there, the state of unknowing felt calming like the soft caress of a lover. Emmett basked in this comfort for minutes until it hit him exactly where he was. His modestly thin gown; the stark white walls imprisoning him; the drip stuck to the crook of his elbow like a leech – Emmett was in a hospital bed. Yet he was still plagued by questions.
“What happened?” he mused as he eyed the tray beside his bed. On top of it sat a clipboard and a plate of untouched food. He reached out to no avail, so he resorted to ripping the drip mercilessly off his arm. As he began flipping through the papers clipped onto the board, he took a famished bite from the croissant; it was stale and repulsively sour, but no assail to the tastebuds could stop him from getting his long-awaited feed. Moments later he skimmed the section detailing the patient’s profile. Patient name: Emmett Braxton. Age: 36. DOB: 13 April 1985. Patient admitted for coma. Patient recorded to suffer from trauma and loss … The remaining text was unintelligible, likely due to a printing error. As curious as he was to know the rest, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach warned him from probing into the matter.
Emmett resolved to muster what little strength he had to leave the confinement of his cold hospital room. He hated being alone. He hated the dreary glow of the artificial lights. He hated the way the cold bit at his bare limbs. His only company was the monotonous tick of the clock on the wall. Though the curtains were drawn shut, moonlight shone softly through the veils. As he limped out of the room, he took note of the clock: 11:22am. The clock was ticking backwards, too. How long have I been here, for the clock to lose sync with the time?
Curiosity got the better of him as he stumbled through the hallways. Stealing occasional glances into the wards, he was met by some unfriendly sights. One old man was thrashing helplessly around in his bed while his wife, completely unfazed, snapped her neck around at the sound of Emmett’s footsteps and exchanged a cold, distant stare. The next ward offered no more of a relief than the previous; a mother was nursing her newborn baby, its twin set of heads buried into her chest.
To his delight, it didn’t take long for him to bump into somebody who gave him the slightest hope of being useful. She was a nurse, he deduced from the scrubs she was wearing. Her brown hair was wound up into a tight bun and her eyes were a rich chocolate colour. She was young enough to be his daughter, but he didn’t recall having a daughter. He always wanted one to carry his legacy. Emmett came from a bloodline of established male medical professionals, yet no female was ever able to continue this honour. He tapped her shoulder lightly to draw her attention.
“Sir,” the nurse said as she averted her gaze to him. “What are you doing wandering around here? Are you lost –?” In that moment their eyes locked, and the light in her face dulled.
Yes. “No.” He replied with the most convincing lie his mind could conjure up in that moment. “I uh, I was actually on my way to the vending machine to get a snack. I was given the green light by my uh- my nurse. Oh, I’m also getting discharged today.”
“Well, that’s great. I’m happy for you.” Her eyes searched his eyes; his eyes searched hers. What they were searching for, he didn’t know. All he knew was that she wanted to be released from his presence. With this, the nurse spun on her heels and walked briskly down the hallway into a ward, leaving her company standing cold and alone and even more confused than before their interaction. Emmett scanned his gown and ran his hands over his face, wondering if his appearance was some source of repulsion for the nurse. He resolved to find a mirror, so he began sweeping his surroundings for the nearest bathroom.
That bathroom was only one wind around the corner and two flights of stairs away. By the time he reached it, Emmett was able to regain his footing and the mere task of walking became less laboured. He swung the door open and launched himself in front of the mirror. As he began to run his fingers through his matted hair, his face dropped. Emmett didn’t know who he was looking at. He didn’t recognise the man confronting him coldly in the mirror. The man’s hair was matted indeed, caked with the stickiness of freshly dried blood. Panicked, he drew his hand from his hair, only to see that his hand was clear, save for the tackiness of built-up grease slick on his palms. He raised his eyes to confront his grotesque reflection once again. This time he was wearing an unbuttoned flannel and a white singlet stained pink like his bloodshot eyes. Ugly splatters of blood concealed what were once angelic features. One hand choked the neck of an axe, the other hand dripped slick with blood. In a provoked reflex, he flexed his fingers to drop the axe, yet the axe remained firmly gripped in the reflection’s hand. The terror within him exploded into an anguished wail. Emmett buried his face into his palms to relieve him from his sore sight. Head to toe, his body convulsed from fear. Insanity consumed him with each second that passed as he fought against his own confusion and helplessness. He may have been screaming for help, but what was real anymore, and what wasn’t?
Moments later – or minutes, or hours – Emmett heard the ka-chunk of the door lock releasing itself. Beneath the layers of cacophony in his mind, a whispered voice struggled to the surface. He couldn’t recognise the voice, but he could recognise the words: “oh, my God. Is everything alright?” Emmett tentatively lifted his head from its sweaty cradle, peering out to his sides where the voice trailed from. A man wearing scrubs similar to the woman he met earlier stood at the threshold, eyebrows furrowed with concern.
“W-what have I done?” The question came out with less force than intended as Emmett’s throat was still choked with terror. “You’re not supposed to see me like this.”
The nurse approached him and placed a tender hand on his shoulder. “Look, as clueless as I am to what’s going on inside your head, there’s nothing to feel ashamed of. I happen to have close relations with my seniors, and I could probably get you a referral to one of the state’s top psychiatric hospitals.”
“I don’t need your damn psychiatric hospital!” He sharply asserted. With this, he courageously turned his head back to the mirror. He was surprised to see a kempt, middle-aged man in a hospital gown staring back at him. He saw the derangement in his eyes and the wet gloss of tears on his cheeks. This reflection scared him much less than the previous, but he could still see the monster within this one.
“I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have spoken to you in that tone.” As he made an exit, he gave the nurse one last look. “Thank you for your offer, but I’m not sure that even the top psychiatric hospital could help me now. Have a good day.”
The nurse flashed a pitiful grin. “I really do hope you find yourself again.”
Truth be told, Emmett didn’t want to find himself again. But the nurse’s sympathy triggered a neglected feeling of warmth and love that he had abandoned long before he’d lost himself.
Emmett exited the hospital with no destination in mind. He let his feet carry him around the streets he had now become estranged to. The familiar smell of salt hung in the air; for some reason, he couldn’t shake off the memory that he lived by the ocean. He couldn’t quite pin down why, but the stark darkness of the night nauseated him. The stars weren’t as pretty as he remembered them to be, either. If stars could project emotions, he thought, they were frowning down at him with contempt. Even the stars don’t want to look at me! He released a hysterical laugh, nonchalant about the concerned looks people exchanged him as he walked past.
To him, these people were as real as the reflection he saw in the mirror, and as real as the promise of daylight breaking the following day. The clock he saw in his ward wasn’t broken, just like how the watch of a lady he had stopped on the streets was, indeed, ticking backwards. Time and nature were playing a cruel joke on Emmett, and it was only a matter of time before he would give in.
He didn’t stop for anyone or anything during his aimless wandering, but the stench of alcohol from the bar nearby screamed for his attention. His curiosity answered the beckon as his body approached the bar like a moth to a flame. The sight of people jovially chatting and drinking was nothing special, but one group tucked into the corner caught his eye. He saw himself there accompanied by two women. Their striking similarity and age discrepancy suggested a mother-daughter relationship. They both had deep brown features, but their soft faces were marred with anger and fear. They were cowering before Emmett who was gesturing wildly, one hand clenching a wine bottle ready to crack under the pressure of his menacing grip. Every action was deprived of coordination; a condition imposed by his evident drunkenness. As uneasy as he felt to see his apparition in this frightening state, Emmett was more focused on the two women. The younger of the pair caught his attention the most; he just couldn’t dismiss the striking similarity of her angelic features with his own. She had the same high cheekbones; the same scooped nose; the same full, pink lips. And then the realisation hit him.
He was fortunate to find a telephone box only metres down from where he was standing. Pain strangled his brain as fragments of his lost memory flashed before his eyes. The young woman he saw cowering before his disorderly apparition was his own daughter. Frantically, he punched in the numbers of her phone number as they returned one-by-one amongst the fragments of his returning memory. The phone rang, and rang, and rang, until he reached the voicemail note. This wasn’t enough to stop him, so he dialled the number again until he was graced with a polite “hello?” on the opposite end of the line.
Emmett sighed with relief. “Eve! Get out of there, now!”
There was a momentary pause on the other end before Eve could collect her thoughts. “I’m sorry, but who are you and how do you know my name?”
“It’s me, Emmett. I’m your father!” He stole a glance back into the bar where his apparition continued to frighten the two women. “I need you to leave before I- before I hurt you.”
For a moment, he thought the line had cut. Eve’s silence cut cold, but the sharpness in her tone following this cut colder.
“I told you to never contact me again, you monster. I should have stopped you from leaving the hospital and have you put back into that coma you overdosed your way into. But I was scared of how you might retaliate at me, and I didn’t want to have to bear another second in your presence.”
“Eve ... that was you at the hospital earlier?” It was shameful enough to not recognise his own daughter, but to have her condemn him as a monster was a disgrace he'd never recover from.
“Unfortunately, yes. Now, you could be in an alley right now getting wasted for all I know, but I’m nowhere near you. In fact, you’re disturbing my lunch break. And in case you forgot, you never hurt me. It was mum you hurt.”
Her tone as she uttered the last line showed no hope of mercy for her father’s heinous act. Incredulous, Emmett turned his attention back to the bar. Eve had left the scene, leaving his wife alone with Emmett and his axe. Suddenly he knew what would come next. He knew his wife’s fate. He turned back to spare himself from reliving this nightmare. He had almost forgotten his daughter was on the other end of the line until her quavering voice returned.
“I never wanted to hear from you again, and I’ll make sure I never do. But now that I have you here, may I ask you for one last favour, father?”
It felt comforting to hear his daughter call him father after her bitter convictions, he thought, but there was no warmth in her tone. “Yes, Eve? Of course. Anything for you.”
“I- I want you to tell me what you did with mum. I know you killed her. You were never stable, and you loved your alcohol more than you ever loved her.” If curiosity killed the cat, Eve was the cat, and finding out the ill demise of her mother was the killer.
Painful images of his past flashed before his eyes and assisted Emmett with his recollection. He saw himself standing beneath the night sky, his wife’s beheaded body cradled in his arms. He was wearing the same flannel and blood-stained singlet he saw in his reflection earlier. His wife was held together within a tightly wrapped cloth. As he approached the edge of the water, he began to unravel the cloth and released her body onto the water. He couldn’t tell what sight was worse: the odious disfigurement of the woman he loved and married, or the sheer absence of guilt in his eyes as he released her body. As painful as it was to confront this, Emmett told his daughter his recollection of the event with precise, bloody detail. After telling his story, he silently acknowledged his daughter’s wailing and stream of curses for minutes. Yet no lashes of rage and humiliation from his daughter could measure in pain to the guilt he inflicted on himself in this moment. Her words were a mere demon; his guilt was the Devil.
“I’m so sorry, Eve. For everything that I’ve done to you and your mother. I must go now. I know what needs to be done.”
Tonight was no different to how he remembered it to be last time. The same stars that looked down on Annelise with condolence looked upon Emmett with rebuke. If he was to be sentenced to an eternity of punishment for his crime tonight, his celestial company were to be his judge. The water was no less calm than it was the night it carried his wife’s corpse away to salvation. He edged near the water, not stopping until he was submerged up to his chest. The water was icy cold, but not as cold as the blade he held up to his throat. Tonight, he would join his wife. She truly deserved no reunion with her cruel husband, Emmett thought to himself, but he thought he at least deserved to experience what she suffered to some degree. In fact, he was sure he’d be denied entry into Heaven where he was certain his wife’s soul would be residing. Sobbing, he gently pushed the blade of the knife into his skin. With courage, he began to saw at his flesh. It took several attempts before he could feel the blade sink through and into his tendons. The pain was anguishing; his screams were muffled by his waning senses, and it wasn’t long before pitch blackness consumed his sight. After his remaining strength was stolen from his body, he fell face-first into the water that had now become his grave. Unlike his late wife, he floated face-down, his eyes staring through the ocean floor and down into the bowels of Hell that would soon disgrace his soul.