by Joshua Neff
Today was my first day at Greenfield High. I grew up being homeschooled by parents who don’t believe in the values of “modern society,” but they just couldn’t afford for my mom not to be working anymore so modern society it was. No one prayed. In fact, there was no mention of God at all. It was a strange secular world I was shoved into. The kids noticed my sheltered ignorance immediately and put a target on my back. Some of the other students joked about how I tucked my collared shirt into ironed khakis. One of the delinquents even tried to trip me.
In biology class, I heard of a man named Charles Darwin and how he’s the reason science no longer needed religion to explain life. Science no longer needed God. What did they mean we evolved? I raised my hand only to have my objection laughed down by Mr. Johnson and told it’s scientific fact, and it will be on the quiz whether I believed it or not. The rest of the day wasn’t as bad, but I couldn’t shake biology out of my head. I needed answers. So, I went and asked my mom what evolution was and she said and it was the Devil’s way of deluding the masses. Science was the language of lies and if I loved God I would not ask these kinds of questions.
I began to read the forbidden biology book. The beat-up green tome had a plant cell placed in the center along with the rest of the circuitry that animates life. I looked in the table of contents there was a chapter titled “Natural Selection” on page fifty four. It was all about the theory that made Darwin famous, evolution, natural selection, and the like. The worst part was that it made sense. An emptiness crept over me that I’d never felt before, loneliness that felt like ice on naked skin. If it was true, does that mean I believed lies?
Every Sunday afterward, I felt a clawing at my mind, especially during readings of the book of Genesis. The whittling away of my faith continued until I could bear it no longer, and I sought out my pastor to ask him those entropic questions. I asked Pastor Norman things like “why does science contradict the Bible?” “How old is the world?” “Why doesn’t the Bible mention dinosaurs?” He sat me down and spoke of a 6000-year-old Earth where dinosaurs didn’t really exist, and that I just need to have faith.Why couldn’t I ask any questions without being sinful? It sounded false; it seemed ignorant, and so I let that blind-man’s faith in me die.
The world spun with the acquisition of my newfound freedom and horror. A world without God. I could finally see the callous machinations of the universe that produced me, accidentally, with my only purpose being to fertilize my little patch of cemetary. Most nights then on, sleep evaded me with the pondering and contemplating. What was life without my God? Had it any meaning? According to Darwin, it was merely survival, but what’s the point if the end is the same. Any reason I thought of dissipated as dew does under the cruel glare of the sun, like lies before an aged detective. The truth was there was nothing objective left to attribute meaning to; they were all rationales to get up anyway.
My new philosophy was of the New World. I studied the work of my fellow materialists with zeal but I could only do so in secret lest my parents burn my books and brand me as an apostate. The only nourishment I needed was the nectar of Nietzsche and Freud. The rest of the world, in its stoicism, looked on the sheep in disgust, and I joined them. The kids at school saw my transformation with acceptance into their ranks, and I became their cynical leader in time.
Death, the inevitable outcome of all life, occupied my mind continually. If there was nothing else out there, when I’d die, that would be it. The ceasing of existence. My imagination couldn’t comprehend the concept. Just trying to do so was paradoxical to what nonexistence is. The ego, in its deepest recesses, finds such a state anathema. The infinite ways I could end up in formless oblivion. It polluted my mind, especially before bed, where the nightmare of sentient eternal nothingness waited for me each night. In my dream, I’d find myself conscious with a light just overhead but ever out of reach. The depth of darkness my consciousness was drowning in was crushing. Suddenly I’d become aware of a crying that would grow louder and louder until it was a wailing that pierced through my soul. Only to awaken to what could be my last day. It was a hateful existence.
Dreams, death, and even life filled me with dread, yet what could I do but cling to it as fungi to rotting wood. The rings around my eyes grew darker by shades, a tremor began in my hands, and the doctor, my parents, made me see prescribed drugs that dulled all my senses. I couldn’t bear to tell them I’d lost my faith because it would have destroyed them. The picturesque family they believed to be would shatter, and the loss of their happiness would only multiply my misfortune. So, they only knew of my sickness of my “anxiety disorder.” But sleep was still a terror to me no matter what they prescribed because it was foreshadowing, I’d stay up as long as humanly possible before exhaustion consumed me to avoid that impending nothingness each night.
Tick, tick, tick! The clock in each classroom I’d stare at until the metronome would hypnotize me into sleep. Startling my classmates as I’d jump awake with a gasp for breath. Settling down only once I was sure of my continued life. Those damned clocks reminded me day in and day out that my time was running out, that the sands were slipping away. I had to cherish every second, curse every second, fear every second. In time, I couldn’t bear the sight of them. They hung in every classroom, though, so with the stealth of a spider, I’d unplug them, anything to stop the ticking. At home, the clocks began mysteriously disappearing or breaking, foiling the passage of time wherever I went. Some made the connection but said nothing. Why would they when I was doing everyone a favor? Time was the enemy, and I was the greatest adversary. What hope had they against such a formidable opponent? No, but they could count on me to stop it. I realized that just stopping the clocks wasn’t enough. I could unplug them, break them, hide them, but there were other ways time reared its hydra-like heads. Such as the collection of dust, fading of colors, or even the blasted sun!
I had to clean every dank corner to keep my room and house pristine. If I didn’t, death would collect around me like dust. Dying faded clothes was just as paramount! If I didn’t, wouldn’t my own life fade the way blue does in jeans? No, no, as long as I kept things in order, neither time nor death could find me. The last step was to avoid the outside world as much as possible because the sky never lied. I would set my plan to secure my immortality in motion during the summer break. I had discovered what countless philosophers and alchemists failed to see, the philosopher’s stone was a metaphor for absolute control. All I had to do was utterly cover the windows with heavy drapes to block all that sunlight from ruining my plans and rely entirely on artificial light, which I was in control of. By controlling these things, I could create my own pocket space of reality, where I am God, where I am immortal. At last, I had figured out the recipe it was all within my grasp, but there was one thing I hadn’t foreseen, my family stopping me.
While I tried to carry out my will, I was confronted by my mother and father, who accused me of madness. Mad? I who had been sheltering them the entire time, which allowed them to continue their blissful ignorance, was insane? Frenzied, I leaped on my father swinging wildly but was overpowered. Chronic insomnia had left my body feeble. They called the cops while I pleaded not to be cast back into the mortal world. I told them I’d share the secret of immortality with them, but the fools couldn’t be bargained with. So, I was put in cuffs and dragged out of my sanctuary.
The courts, after my parents dropped the charges, committed me against my will to long-term “treatment” in one of their state facilities. It didn’t matter because I was put in a room without windows or clocks and the clothes provided were all bleached white. Here my immortality was assured. The natural flow of time stopped in that room, and so I could finally rest. I cheeked all the medicine they gave me and hid it in my pillow, there was no need for it. I was already better. Everything was perfect except for the lack of stimuli making my senses ever more acute. I heard a tick and then another and another. Where was the clock? Where was the God-forsaken ticking coming from? I inspected every inch of the white padded demiplane but found nothing, and still, it continued! Was this some sick treatment enacted by doctors who knew nothing of the universe? Oh God, my time, my time, it was slipping away, and I couldn’t find the source of the leak. Tick, tick, thump, thump, thump. My heart, it was my heart. The revelation was cataclysmic, Nature’s last laugh. Mocking my attempts at immortality, of godhood. I tore my hair and gnashed my teeth at the unceasing beat of my heart. I wanted it to stop but couldn’t. What a paradoxical hell, the bitter agony.
I began to dig my nails into my chest trying to get at my cursed heart but it was pointless. Blood trickled from the ragged dirty wounds I carved into my chest. The nurses and orderlies rushed in to restrain me but I swung wildly and nailed one of the nurses in the face and there was a crack as she fell to the ground. They tackled me to the ground, injected something into my neck, and my eyes became heavy too heavy to keep open. I fell into a deep sleep and the same dream where I was surrounded on all sides by wailing. It was so blood-curdling it overpowered the anesthesia in my body and I was thrust out of that horror.
I awoke with a primal fear and that’s when I realized I was in my cell but I couldn’t move my arms. The doctors ordered a straight-jacket to be put on me while I was knocked out and now I could do nothing to stop the mechanical beating of my heart. I’d stare at the wall for hours listening to the clock in my chest. As I was staring, the walls began to crawl around me. Shadowy tendrils oozed out from the shifting walls and wrapped around my body. My heart beat faster and faster, the tendrils were stealing my time! A creature’s face emerged from deep within a portal that appeared. It was black and burned and scarred with a grin that stretched so far the edges of its mouth were ripping. Maggots were crawling out of the holes where eyes should be and the wounds scattered across its face. I could only see half of its charred body when it spoke. “You’ve run out of time human, you’ll be joining my kin and I soon. I’ll continue to steal your life as long as you remain. Should I eat the last bit you’ll be damned for eternity.” Catatonic, I watched the being recede back from whence it came and I was left there unable to even wipe the tears from my face.
At that point I just gave the doctors what they wanted. I needed the jacket off so I could act. I couldn’t let the monster get me and the beating was a blistering presence in my existence. They monitored me 24/7 so I had to remain silent, motionless. I watched for hours to see if the creature would return but it never did. Just the memory of those maggot filled eye-sockets caused a cold sweat in me each night. Despite it all, I remained sane, I kept the doctors writing those positive evaluations. The day came when Dr. Cooper ordered that the straight-jacket be taken off since I’d made so much progress, it was time.
What left was there for me to do? If I couldn’t stop time, there’s no purpose to my continued life, and worst of all maggot-eyes was trying to steal the last of my days I had one option left. A final embrace with that which I hid from. So, I reconciled myself to the task and grasped for the pillow with my now free hands, and pulled out the handful of pills which were the only salvation left for me. Thump, thump, thump, I shoved them all in my mouth and swallowed. A few minutes passed without event; then I began frothing at the mouth, my body trying to expel the cocktail of poison I’d ingested. The staff finally noticed the fit as they came to give me a tray of food just as the convulsions set in. They rushed their cart in as a nurse tried to clear my airway, but it was for naught. Thump, thump….
Finally, silence. But I realized then I still had consciousness yet without form. I tried to see, but there was only void, void everywhere except above if there was an above. Light more brilliant than any combination of colors at sunrise or sunset hung above the vacuum containing my emptiness. Attempting to move toward it was futile, whether it be because I was an eternity away or I just couldn’t move I didn’t know. So, I waited. Then suddenly, I heard a voice coming from the void. It wept softly at first, becoming more and more intense. Some soul was here with me, and the spark of hope shot in me only to decay as two voices, then four, dozens wept all around the formless space that trapped me. It grew louder and louder until the cries were a wailing that pierced through even my formlessness. Out of the black I saw Maggot-eye’s burned and shredded face grinning at me. He wasn’t alone, among the thousands of disembodied wails creature after creature emerged. One with a skeletal-bull face and coagulated blood oozing from its exposed jaw. Another more human-like but its spine contorted and broken so that it walked on all-fours with its chest where a back should be. It was then I knew I would spend an eternity here. A hopeless, lonely eternity in the void of tears with joy just out of reach. With what’s left of me being eviscerated and consumed by gluttonous beastly horrors while wails of the damned echo infinitely in this abyss.
Tick, tick, tick! The clock sitting above a white board littered with diagrams of cell walls and chloroplasts watched a batch of new students find their desks. Desks that in a year’s time would hatch another dozen nihilists for every one scientist. Destroying their worldview and leaving no values to fill the emptiness created. Emptiness some would drop out over or find some metaphorical needle to turn to. The unlucky ones real needles. In the end the clock will take all and the clock hanging in Bio-101 takes soul along with it.