The Reptilian Man

The Reptilian Man

Caile Michelle Donaldson

The walls begin rippling about an hour after she takes the sleeping pills. The pills are supposed to calm her nerves, help her sleep, not make the walls breath.
But then she remembers drops in her eyes like liquid sun, sugary cubes of dreams and trips, papery squares dissolving on her tongue like tasteless butter, how all of it is still swimming through her blood and brain like smooth, invisible fish.
The walls continue to ripple, the white paint filmy and translucent, breathing like a curtain in a breeze. When she presses her hand against the wall it still feels solid and firm. She would lean against it if she were not already in bed, to see if she might fall into the world that is making the walls breathe so. A world of wispy winds and walls that look tissue-paper thin, white and pulsating.
It’s dark in the room, her little girl room. She hasn’t slept in this bed since she was very small, the mattress stiff and forsaken. Her parents’ house. The fresh smell of non-smokers, the fading fragrance of suppers cooked, real, hearty meals. The sheets are crisp and clean, and this room still holds her presence a little bit, the way some of her old things are lined up on the dresser-top. She was here once, this room was her own.
Now, though, this room is something else entirely. She sits up straight in the bed, eyes wide and dry, unblinking. There is no light in the bedroom but somehow she manages to see anyway, her eyes glaring through the heavy night like flashlight beams. They train themselves on the walls, which are still puffing and swirling merrily away. She wonders at her lack of fear, but knows that fright would be useless; she is strapped into this trip and whatever happens will happen, whether she is afraid or not.
The people crowd in through the door. The skinny door frame seems to stretch out as the crowd roughs and shoves and stumbles in through the door. It stretches like a rubber mouth, allowing them passage into the room. Her room.
They’re partying, carrying on like her room is a night-club or something, they dance and trip and jump, all elbows and stomping feet. No music, but they scrap together a tune anyway and have it out right there on her floor, right by her bed. The noise is incredible; her parents are going to be through the door any second now, demanding an explanation to the dance party before her.
The light fixture, the light fixture is having a turn at strange mutation now. The crowd keeps bopping and jiving and laughing and sweating and swearing, but the light fixture, it seems to have something else in store.
A skull. A melting, twisting skull drips down over the light fixture like wax, black in the darkness of the room, leering down at the fool in the bed. She helplessly gapes, the dancing crowd at her bedside forgotten. It’s grinning down at her, like a rubber mask over the light-bulb, not moving or making noise, but there’s that horrible, hideous grin, all teeth and bone.
And the crowd, that noisy tangle of teenagers, leaves her tolerance in tatters. She glares at the mass of them and demands quiet.
“My parents are in the next room, keep it down!” She is fierce with them, firm and unyielding, but they ignore her, dancing away with her words, trampling them in the din.
There is one boy who breaks away from the crowd, grinning sheepishly, shrugging his shoulders in a gesture of apology. He has blonde hair and a t-shirt that would probably be blue, if it was lighter in here.
“Sorry. I didn’t know you’re parents were sleeping. I’ll get these guys outta here for you, if you want,” he vows solemnly, looking her straight in the eyes.
It’s completely unnerving to be on this plane, with its realistic images and the clarity of these figments. The way he looks at her with those clear, serious eyes, it all seems so tangible; she can touch his smooth arm, she can see the hem on his shirt, the weave of his denim jeans. There is even a faint spill of freckles on the bridge of his nose, barely visible at all in the thickness of no lights.
And there’s the people dancing before her; a mingling mass of arms and knees, the throbbing heart-beat of the white walls, the smiling skull ceiling light and the clear-eyed boy telling her that he can make them leave if the noise level is too loud.
He is good on his word, herding them away, back through the door that stretches and yawns for them to crush out of. He even comes back for some small talk. Only now his mouth is a smear, as if he was an unfinished painting and she rubbed her hands over him, messing his mouth up. There are words that he is saying, but those are smeared too, muffled like he’s talking through clots of cotton, or as if this is just a sleepy dream. But she knows it’s not a dream, she’s perfectly awake and that skull light keeps leering, leering, an eerie intimation of her insomnia.
She wasn’t speaking back to him, only gaping, completely stupid in her shock, and so he wanders away, amiable to the very end. But he was her protector, she senses this in the starkness of his absence. She is alone in the black room with the whispering white walls, the skull light and the…
The black cloths. There are black clothes, little hills of black cloths, like rags, beside her. No, not hills, she strains her eyes in the dark to make out the shapes, and when she does, goose-bumps come. She feels the first dark butterflies of fear flap in her stomach.
The black hills of cloths, they are little old women, three of them, standing near the head of her bed. They remind her of a choir, the way they are lined up like that, shortest to tallest, and now their wrinkled faces fall from the folds of the fabric. She cringes inwardly, repelled by their ugliness. Their protruding, red noses, hunched shoulders, their pinched, sour mouths, sunken cheeks, everything marred with deep lines, filled in with shadows and further defined by their unpleasant expressions.
She tries to speak to the three of them, but their voices are crackled and rusty. They attempt a conversation with her anyway; it’s gossipy and typical of old, bitter women. They point eagerly toward the door, cackling, jabbing their warty, bumpy-boned fingers in the direction of the door, squinting up their eyes which are marbled yellow and white with infection. But their effort is wasted on her; she remains bewildered and uneasy. Someone is coming, she manages to extract this, someone else has yet to arrive. They cackle maliciously, and begin whispering among themselves.
When he does comes, the old women scatter like battered crows, running around underfoot and then vanishing altogether into the darkness.
He too is wearing a black cloak. It sweeps the hardwood floor and billows around him, a hood pulled up and over his face.
She sits still in her bed as he stands before her. She will not speak first or make a move. The air is full of metal and fear, but she is not possessed by the fear. Instead it floats above her, up there with the skull light, waiting until he departs the room so that it can flock down into her like violent bats, swooping into her mind and roosting there.
He is talking to her, but she cannot understand his language, it is all hisses and spits like a gas fire. She sits and stares, sits and stares from her spot on the bed, bundled under the covers, trapped by the blankets. She sits and sweats, silently, waiting for the episode to end.
He is still talking, spitting and hissing, but she can’t understand him and he realizes this. So he removes his hood, slowly and sensually, and she looks immediately at his hands, gnarled and scaly and…green.
And now his face is available, and it matches his hands. Scales. Deep, emerald skin, gleaming as if polished. Yellow eyes. He had attempted to make himself resemble some sort of deformed human; there’s a matted brown wig on his head. But nothing will disguise that flicking, forked tongue, the reptilian nose, the glitter of those eyes. He is a reptilian creature, a tower of black cloth and green skin. How tall he is.
He had spoken messages to her, he had been telling her something in his language, but now he impatiently switches to English with a fierce hiss.
“This is not going to be my first visit. Know that. Know we will be back.” He whips around and she can see the snake of his tail poking from the cloth as he storms out of the door.
Dawn comes then, in a pallid gray white sun, slinking about the bedroom like it’s not allowed yet.
Standing in front of the door is a guard. An intimidating hulk of man. He looks more like a mountainous ape, clothed in a white tuxedo, his knuckles kissing the ground, his back hunched and broad. His face is blacked out, as if someone came along with a thumbful of charcoal and touched it upon his face, making it smudged and impossible to know.
He stands in front of the door, turning his back to the bed and to her. He is guarding the door. Keeping her in. She doesn’t try and get out of bed anyway. It is dawn, suddenly, and the night that has past weighs heavy on her brain. It presses down on her head like the pressure of the sea, and she does not move, does not speak, just stares and stares at the monster at her door.
The walls have stopped breathing, they are solid and spent, but the skull light hangs around like a pest, refusing to change itself back. Even in the dirty light of the morning, it leers and glows, the color of scrubbed bone.
Without realizing it, she has begun to speak. Well, not speak exactly, but babble. Babble in the non-language of the ladies and the lizard, babble without saying anything, but still trying to talk. She is trying to converse with the body-guard, she is trying to snag his attention, but he does his job so well. He will not heed her.
Suddenly, the impossible happens. Her mother. Her mother enters the room, enters the game, enters this snowdrift of strange images. She pushes her way into the room, pushes past the bodyguard, and sits on the edge of the bed, concerned. Her mother had heard voices.
Her mother’s face has the same effect as the bodyguard’s, the way it’s all blacked out like that. The more she scrutinizes her mother’s face, her mother with her warm hands on her daughter, trying to shake it out of her, asking what’s going on, but the daughter hears no words, she just sees that black face. That face grows blacker and blacker, like a sludge being stirred and disturbed, it swishes stormily across her mother’s face, the blackness like a cloud, obliterating the familiar features of the parent she knew so well.
“I don’t know you, I don’t know you, go away!” The daughter is frantic now, as this woman with the black face, her mother, shakes her and prods her, neither woman recognizing each other, both stranded in their own separate planes of understanding.
“How did you get past the bodyguard?” The daughter demands to know. She can’t comprehend how her mother got into this, with that black mask of a face, how she managed to get past the mutant at her door.
The mother takes her daughter by the arms and brings her to her parents’ bed, insists she get between her parents, close her eyes, sleep.
The girl, she curls up into a fetal ball, pretending she is just a seed in space, aimless and unknowable. She closes her eyes. How good it feels to sink down, to sink deep down inside the blackness, safe in her parents’ bed like an infant. She sinks down, settles on the sandy bottom, and stays there.

The Reptilian Man

  • Artist

Artist's Description

Acid binges result in wildly realistic hallucinations.

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desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait

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