Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Electric Theater

Fear means something different when you’re dead.

Instead of the rubberstamped hallmarks that have been dramatically overused throughout the years, dark houses, vampires, werewolves, you know what I mean; fantasized ideas that a group of teenagers recite over the trailing embers of a campfire. None of those things are actually scary are they?

You tell me.

When you’re dead, you are the one who is in control of what brings fear. You are the one who decides what provokes terror into the hearts of those who are seeking it. You are the one who bangs pots and pans together in an abandoned warehouse. You are the one who wears a sheet and makes awkward noises parading around an abandoned mansion. When you’re dead, you are not the one who is a recipient of the bone-chilling moments. You are the instigator. You are the one who is in control of the fear.

Most of the others around here abuse those cliché effects. They play up the luminescent glows around an archaic headstone in the cemetery, or the creaking door banging back and forth on the doorframe. They sometimes even go for a much more disturbed effect, inspiring demented writers to publish screenplays about serial killers, or demonically possessed little girls. But that’s not for me. I try a more simple approach. I stick with the fundamentals.

I strike fear in the dark.

Everything is more terrifying in the dark. Your mind deceives you and makes things appear that don’t actually exist. The darkness elaborates on little white lies, producing colossally frightening objects that are normally just another daytime article, not something to be afraid of in any other given circumstance. At night, in the dark, is when boundaries are crossed; things are changed. As the mystery of the macabre envelops one’s mind, you can’t help but be paranoid at the surrounding conglomeration of horror.

I adore the electric theater in the town where I grew up. It had an Arcadian demeanor to it that would wrap its warm arms around me whenever I would stay after alone to rehearse the lines for the next show we would be putting on for the locals. That theater was my life. Everything about it; the ragged blood-red curtains drearily hanging on the walls, the polished brass guardrail next to the staircase ascending to the second floor, with the creaking oak steps that softly groan any time that you put them to work, the intoxicating aroma that was a combination of body odor, buttered popcorn, and eye shadow. I love every tiny detail about the theater.

On some nights, kids will come by and talk about me. Even talk to me. They try and get an amused arousal from the girl who haunts the electric theater. Sometimes they even go to great lengths, holding hands, closing their eyes, lighting a black candle, or scratching an upside down pentagram with chalk on the main stage floor to try and conjure my spirit back up to scare them. That’s just pure whimsical nonsense if you ask me. Again, I’m not into the typecast terror tactics that others like me so frequently abuse. I am into a more refined approach to scaring people. There are some nights, depending on the crowd, that I throw them a bone or two. I put on my red high heels and softly creep across the back of the stage, every step erecting a phantom image of a teenage banshee. I go into the makeup room and slam the door once or twice with echoing screams and trampling of feet to follow. If they’re lucky, I’ll even let out one of those dramatic moans, throwing in a few random names to see them rush out in a haunting bash of fear.

Some nights at the theater I see him there, that pompous putz; that pure curse word showing up unannounced, uninvited. I see him meandering through the lobby, down through the aisles, wherever he feels like roaming. He thinks that it’s perfectly fine to come into my domain and dance on my grave. That audacious oaf; he’s mocking me, egging me on, challenging me to scare him silly. Sitting blankly in the audience, dishonestly appreciating whatever performance is going on. I see him there with that smug look on his face. That unenthusiastic, unemotional, unloving plastered palate glazed over at whoever is reciting their lines for act two. For the longest time I was mistakenly smitten by him. I thought he was the man that I would wrinkle with.

But I was wrong.

Too often in life we create absurd expectations out of nothing, for situations that we have absolutely no control over. What will happen when they call us back? Where will we be moving once we get that dream job? When will he finally get over that hump and make it out of the ICU? How will we feel when the audience gives us a standing ovation for our performance? In our minds, we create detailed storylines for how events will play out once that hypothetical bridge is crossed. We begin elaborating on the reactions to the actions, actions that the majority of the time don’t go our way.

It is somewhat amusing how unstable our perspective is about how we think life is supposed to work isn't it?

How we think things will turn out and how they actually do unfold rarely coincide. They don’t call you back. The boss hires someone else. He decides to kick the bucket. You go flat on that last note, and they just sit in their seats muted. All of these victorious scenarios that we have in our minds never actually happen, and immediately we are dropped to an even lower level of despondency.

That’s how I felt about him.

As a heart throbbed teen I had all sorts of ideas about the life we would live together. I created hypothetical fantasies for how we would be attached for decades to come. I daydreamed up our wedding colors, wondered about potential baby names, imagined late night road trips with each other, all of the riff-raff that goes along with growing old with somebody. But all of that was flushed down the drain when he decided that there were greener pastures, despite the fact that he had been grazing in mine for over four years. Yes, the L-word is something that drives people to madness. That’s why so many people live in fear of it.

As he walks out of the theater, I trace my clammy dead hands across the back of his neck.

He keeps walking without blinking.


Everyone is afraid of something.

Fear is what prevents you from becoming something great. It’s what flashes despicable nightmares across your mind and shatters dreams that you have had about something that you wanted so very badly. Fear is what tells you that you can’t, that you won’t, that you never will. Fear is the mind’s greatest bully as you intellectually sit on the playground debating whether to stand up for yourself and hit him back. As children we all have fears. We are afraid of dropping from the pinnacle of that giant rollercoaster, or what lies beneath the surface of a shallow pond that to us is an infinite abyss. As we grow older, those things fade away when we understand the lack of logic in our emotion-driven fears. Fear happens when we create a false reality in our own minds about what will happen if we take high-risk actions.

One of the driving forces behind the idea of fear is that you are just slightly out of control with your surroundings. Not too much though, just a fraction. You don’t want to be completely overwhelmed and cast into fight or flight mode, you just want to have some inconvenient variables get tossed into the equation so that your envelope get pushed just a little bit further than you expected. That is fear. Things that you can’t control, that are controlling you.

I take pleasure in making people uncomfortable. Part of me thrives on provoking awkward feelings. There are the long pauses in the dark when a young couple anxiously stares each other down; mentally probing to see if they both heard the small rock I tossed at the rear window of their parked car. Or when a group of teenagers are sitting at a campfire telling scary stories and I scream into the ear of a crow, instigating its awkward caw at the plateau of the raconteur’s tale, creating the most dramatic of all bird cries, and causing the adolescents to look around and huddle closer together in the shadows. I love the uneasiness of the dark. It is what helps control people when they haven’t fully mastered their own fears.

Every so often I wander over to the cemetery and pace between the rows of graphite gravestones. That is where a large amount of us usually reside. It’s not that the creaking rusty gate at the entrance has a tender notch in our non-pulsating hearts. It’s that the majority of the ones that are here are geriatric fossils, and have nowhere else to go, almost instinctively thinking that a cemetery is where they are supposed to be. And given the decrepit state that they are in, they don’t want to do anything else than just wait. All they do is wait. Waiting as the hours go by. Waiting for the landscapers to come and clean up the teddy bears and trinkets dropped off in a hurry. Waiting for their loved ones to stop by, if they even have any. A lot of these people here don’t even have anyone who remembers them anyway. But they still wait for them. They wait for the ones that they have left behind. Sometimes a few people will stop by. People in black clothes holding cheap plastic flowerpots, sometimes almost stopping by just as a formality, as if they actually care about the people planted six feet below where they’re standing.

But they don’t.

There are a select few who stop by that actually do care about their fallen friends, but not many. Widows and widowers, who need to witness tangible proof that the person they loved is no longer around. They stand there next to the graves and sob. Sometimes even talk to them.

The reality is that those headstones don’t talk back.

Then there are the crazy ones, the mad ones. The ones who are delirious with lunacy, and wander around muttering foul phrases to themselves over and over again. We don’t talk to those ones. They drove themselves to this point, and are not getting out of here any time soon. Some of them are here intentionally; they put themselves here. Nobody can ever guess what drove them to this point. But there is a minority of souls who landed in this spot not by accident, or by illness, or pure old age, some of them are here because they wanted to be here. They chose to be here. They ran from their own fears and embraced the easy way out. Whether by a self-inflicted slash, or a refusal to resurface from the bottom of the pool, they are here because they decided when they were going to die. Not many are afforded that luxury.

The wrench that is handed to these mad hatters is that nothing really changes when you die. You are still the exact creature that left. There is a common misconception held by a majority of religious-minded folk that once you die, things will be different, things will change. You will be released from all sorrows and tribulations you had to impatiently deal with for the majority of your life. Death to them is the ultimatum of atoning actions. It is the warm blanket that they crave, amid the maelstrom of events smoldering around them. They have this illusion of death as if it were a moment of exaltation, and they think by tying that noose, or by stepping off of that ledge, that everything will be made better.

But it’s not.

I see him there again, at the electric theater. If he only knew what the visual perception of his face does to me. I hate him. I abhor him, that vile vermin, that detestable dirt bag, that pathetic waste of breath. It seems to happen every other Friday night around seven or so as the curtains are being raised. That annoyance rolls in and taunts me with his presence. If you want to know what Hell is, just sit in the same room as your ex-lover and watch him wrap his arm around another girl, having no regard or respect for anything that you ever did for him in your life. Watch him place his hand on her lap and dispassionately caress the inside of her knee. Watch her lean over and look him in the eyes, actually believing that he might be the one who she will soon be infatuated with. He doesn’t care. And at this point, I am the only one who can see that. One day she might. But until then, I’ll just sit here onstage in my ragged brown dress and ruby high heels and just watch him schmooze away some ridiculous love story that’s never going to have a happy ending for her.

The man who I adored is now just a despicable sickness who intoxicates any member of the opposite sex who is willing to divvy up her time for him. One by one they all fall for him. And he doesn’t care at all. This man hasn’t a single sensitive cell in his entire body. If I only knew then what is blatantly being painted before me now.

He brings her on to the stage after the play and sits her down on the dusty floor next to the baby grand piano. Everyone is gone home for the night by now. Polishing that debonair charm, he begins the recital of whatever egotistical swan song he relays that he has concocted “just for her”.

I drag my growing thumbnails across the treble strings.

He plays on.

I grab my high heel and throw it up at the catwalk.

He plays on.

I stand next to his lover and bawl out a high-pitched scream.

She lets out a small whimper and smiles up at him.

This is the part about being dead that I hate the most.

Sometimes I roam over to the hospital. All the way up to the fifth floor, where people are being prepped for what the next step is going to be on their journeys. Some of them make it out of here, but not many. I sit down next to an old man with a tube coming out of his trachea. On his withered left shoulder the word “colonel” has been tattooed. He’s only been in here a few days. Lung cancer, I think. Seems to be putting up a valiant fight though. Nobody has been in to visit the old man. I doubt they ever will. And so I sit and stare at him, yawning away at the ticking minute hands on the wall that are slowly dragging his soul away.

In the room next to him, a woman is on her way out.

Chagrin seems to be the word of the day for her family, as I vacantly look over at the freshly mopped talcum floor in the hall, leisurely intoxicating myself with the sterile surroundings. The brittle gray woman is softly moaning to the nurses that her chest hurts. She’s been in here a few days longer than the colonel has. The only difference is, she’s not progressing. Her physical body is gradually shutting down. Somewhere, a fat lady is starting to warm up. It’s going to happen soon enough.

Outside of her room a handful of red-eyed family members sit in limbo as to what will happen in the next ten minutes, next half hour, next nursing shift. They wait. Waiting for something traumatically relieving to happen, for their hallowed yet delusional mother, aunt, grandma, sister, friend, to be relieved of her difficulties; the difficulties of her physical body not being able to regenerate itself anymore, the difficulties of balancing pro-life and pro-death decisions, the difficulties of letting go.

Yes, that certainly is the toughest piece of life to chew on.

Deep down everyone is afraid of dying. Afraid of what lies ahead. Afraid that their faith in the afterlife will be shaken and stirred once their hearts have pumped out those few last beats. Death is one of the most constant uncertainties that we all have to face at some point in our lives, rather, at the end of our lives. Death is incessantly there. It is always with us. Sooner or later we will have to come to terms with the impending closure of our lungs, or the ceasing of neurons firing away in our brains. Our clocks continue to cycle down until the last granules of sand have passed through the hourglass.

Sooner or later, that day will come.

As the woman in the room next to me tearfully whispers the phrase, “just let me go” over and over again, with her supporting cast wiping away tears and hesitantly embracing the next step in all of their lives, I wonder about the inevitable future of the man lying in the bed two feet in front of me. These fools, if they only knew what was next. They make such a big deal about an event that climaxes this feeble speck of an existence. In a few minutes another set of expectations will be ruined by the reality of what death actually is. It’s just the next step, a step that everyone hesitates to take.

In the room next to me, the last step is being taken.

Well after the final curtain has come down a key opens up the main doors to the theater. I’m lying down in the orchestra pit wastefully staring away, my red heels tapping the floor in rhythm.

He walks in and slowly shuts the door behind him.

I rise to my feet, ready to hit on all cylinders and send him screaming into the night. That irreparable irritant, that foul-smelling buffoon, an excuse of a man with no soul, the man who caused me to be here. Doesn’t he know that if it weren’t for him I would be fine? And he comes waltzing in to my theater taunting me, jeering me on, asking for horror? This sinful sliver of a human being doesn’t deserve an ounce of good fortune for the pain that he put me through.

I hit the switch to the lights, enveloping him in the dark.

He walks down the aisle uninterrupted.

I reach over to the curtains and start swinging them back and forth in a metrical motion.

He sits on the front row.

I run up to the back of the theater and slam the oak doors over and over again until I’ve lost count.

His heart beats complacently.

Does this man not feel fear? Is he immune to the haunting that I have been destined to torment him with for however long I am banished to this to this isolated arena? Does he not understand the magnificence of torture that I have become so ingenious at by a barrage of nights scaring little kids half to death? Does he not recognize that I, I am one of the most horrific things that has ever been a part of his life, and am now so eloquently skilled at the art of deception and chaos and horror?

I look him in the eyes, staring down into his sunken skull, eyeing more than just the unflinching pupils mocking me back. But he doesn’t budge. He transparently stares through me to the back of the stage. Look at this disgrace of a creature, acting as if I’m not here. Abrasively mocking my own existence. Intimately leaning into his bubble, I place my cheek next to his.

“I know why you’re here.” I whisper into his ear.

A tear rolls down his cheek as he exhales quietly.

A wave of shock engulfs me as I sit back on the stage before him. Wiping away that isolated element of sadness, he stands up and begins slowly walking up the aisles.

This is my Hell.

The doors shut quietly behind him and I lay overwhelmed with the reality punch just delivered.

This is what true fear is. The understanding that you are the one that is not in control, that is the ultimatum of fear itself. I, am now afraid. I am out of control. This is my sentence, my punishment, my penalty. This is what I get for deliberately stepping in front of a southbound bus to Decatur. At the moment, I wasn’t afraid of the consequences. But now, fear rules my life. I’m afraid because every time I see him, I am reminded as to how I got here. On those nights, I am not the one who is haunting him; he is the one who is haunting me. As he sits in the audience, coldly watching whatever performance is going on, he is invoking terror. He doesn’t know it, but at that point in time, he is the one who is scaring me. He is the one who makes me afraid. You see I am not the one who is controlling him.

He is controlling me.




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