Interstate-69 looked like a Metallica concert. Trees were head-banging like devoted, long-haired fans. Thunder crackled overhead like stage-lighting. Low hanging rain clouds loomed over the horizon like smoke effects, and the torrential downpour made it impossible for me to drive on the deserted road–it looked like flashy onstage pyrotechnics, illuminated into a billion sparks every time the lightning flashed. It was a performance, alright, and like the introvert-that-didn’t-belong kid brought to the concert by his metalhead girlfriend, it was all making me deeply uncomfortable. The deafening din of the thunderstorm sang in tune to Fade to Black. I was riding the lightning in the heavy metal rain.
Why was I caught up in this cluster of a situation in my breaking down Pinto? I’ll tell you why: last night I had the mother of all writer blocks. Three hundred pages into my novel I discovered that I was not able to squeeze another word, let alone a whole chapter, onto my computer. My girlfriend was going batshit crazy over my absconding and said she’d leave me. “This time for real!” I told her, “Go right ahead!” And when she didn’t, I pulled my luggage out, and put my t-shirts, baggy jeans that sagged and were ripped at the knees in it—leaving enough space for my Underwood typewriter, and black ink cartridges that I was sure had expired, and a moldy pile of paper. It did not matter if fungus had started eating it, my agent would take a manuscript I’d written on used toilet paper. I’m not going to brag, but here I go: After you’ve written five New York bestsellers in your four-year writing career, you know there’s no shortage of publishing houses, literary agents, and up-and-coming independent Amazon publishing companies. You can take your pick of the lot, and I had chosen to stay with Edmund Fulham for the same reason you still go to your longtime barber. He fit well with me. He knew me. He had believed in my drafts back when I was still a grungy starving artist. I’m not starving now, but I stuck with the grunge.
I rented this cottage in Evansville National Forest just south of Seattle. The real-estate site claimed it was a quaint haven perfect for solitary souls looking for a quiet weekend getaway. I rented it for the month. The images on the site showed lush greenery all around the hut, and an iconic lake to go with the place. There was even a canoe tied to the pier. If this rainstorm stops, I intend to take that canoe for a spin. The website also claimed there wasn’t any television or any Wi-Fi. I had no problem with that. In fact, this secluded hermitization was the main reason I was going on this writer’s retreat. Back in my suburban Seattle home, I used to write on my laptop. I would have six tabs open on Firefox; YouTube, Facebook, Gmail, and crap clickbait sites claiming shit like ‘you won’t believe what this single mom did after ditching her 9-5 job.’ Call me gullible, but these posts always intrigue me. What did she do? I’d spend all the productive time watching videos, streaming Netflix, checking which of my high school fellows had given birth to yet another child, browsing through millions of fan letters (always a bad idea to leave your email address at the end of your books).
I needed this retreat, but right now it looked like I needed to get the hell out of Dodge, Dodge being this storm-stricken interstate. My car was lurching in that unfavorable way cars do when you depend on them most. It’s like they sense fear.
I had to stop and wait for this tempest to boil down a notch. The last gas station I had come across was twenty miles back. I had gotten gas, along with a pack of Winston’s. It would have been wiser had I stayed there. Oddly enough, I don’t recall catching any forecasts about the storm on the news. It was all too sudden. Almost unnatural.
The thicket of trees—unmistakably belonging to the Evansville Forest—had started sprouting on my left ten minutes ago. I was searching for an entry gate, a welcome sign, but there seemed to be none so far. By now my car was practically swooning left and right due to the wind and the slippery road. There was a rough road heading inside the forest to my left and had I been a horror writer, I would have avoided it, but I wrote gooey romance (they sell the best), and to the romantic in me the road offered coziness. I should have avoided it.
Woulda shoulda coulda.
Instead, I drove my clunker junk of a car down that dark road. The cover from the trees would get me out of this storm, and maybe there will be some awning that will protect me from the downpour. It wasn’t a concrete road but an unpaved, gravel path that curved into the darkness of the woods.
It was supposed to be eleven in the morning, but the sun had gone under the weather. Get it? The entire sky had taken on a greyish-black hue and had I been anywhere else, like, in my writing room or in the cabin I had booked, I would have been enjoying a steaming cup of coffee and writing my novel, my writer’s block completely unclogged from the conduits of my mind. Any writer worth his salt will tell you, rainy weather is writing weather.
My car sputtered and jolted as it drove on the gravel, and a moment of self-wonder hit me about why I had decided to keep this piece of junk in the first place when I could easily have been driving a McLarens or a Lamborghini. This Pinto has been at my side for the past ten years, before I became an author before I became wealthy, and before I acquired the luxury of having my roof to sleep beneath. I guess you can’t put a price on sentimental value.
Derailing my thought train, a tree came crashing down from the right and had I not put my foot on the brake and cranked the handbrake, I would have died under the crushing weight of that elm. But luckily, I did. The tree came tumbling down, its leaves and branches waving everywhere, and fell on the bonnet of my car.
“No!” I yelled and slammed my hands on the wheel, sending out two angry toots of the horn. There was no way back, no way ahead, and the engine of my car had started smoking. Yelling my incoherent incantations of the Lord’s name in vain, I got out in the pouring rain and shielded my eyes with my hand, looking around where I was stranded. The sleet and drizzle wetted my entire body within the first minute.
And then I saw it, that most welcoming sight that a man stranded in a storm can want: a house at the end of the road, not far away, only fifteen yards, at the end of the curving path. It was a cabin, very much like the one that I had rented, with warm yellow luminance which could only mean a warm hearth and a generous soul (there went my romantic imagination at work again) residing within those homely walls.
A lightning whip cracked down at where I stood and hit the tree which had fallen over my car. Did God have something against me? The branches caught fire and started making their way like dynamite trail towards my car. Oh no! My unfinished manuscript was in the car, along with my Underwood typewriter! I ran, dog-wet, to the car’s boot and tried to pry it open—it was weak, never needed a key to open it. But Murphy’s law came into work (as if it hadn’t already!), and the boot didn’t budge. I tried in vain as the flames swept closer to the car, but to no avail. My nails had dug into my skin, and I could see blood streaks coming out of my fingers. That, other than anything, is the biggest horror known to a writer: the crippling or the injuring of their hands, their source of livelihood. My shrink once tried to make light of my phobia by saying that if that happened, I could always take the Stephen Hawking route and use a speech-to-text app.
But my hands were bleeding now, I was soaked and cold, and the burning smell of wood had started seeping into my nostrils. Within a minute my car would go boom and with it, my typewriter, my clothes, and the latest draft I was working on.
“You!” a voice shouted from the hut, and I saw an old man, dressed in a yellow raincoat and galoshes, waving his hands at me. “Come inside before you kill yourself!”
Before you kill yourself. That was a laugh. It sure looked like I was doing that, wasn’t it? Rain-stranded man standing next to a thunderstruck tree atop a broken-down car.
No use crying over burnt drafts, I thought and made a run for the cottage, counting my blessing. Singular. Or was it blessings? Maybe it was better that my draft burned. I had written pure crap, and I knew it. You always know when you’re on top of your game and when you’re not.
“Come in, my good lad, before you catch pneumonia,” the man said and opened the door to his cabin. I stepped up his porch and followed him inside, shivering, dripping.
The difference was immediately felt; the inside of the cottage was warm and cozy. It was hard for me to imagine that moments ago I was standing in that vicious tirade of icy raindrops now that I stood against the firelit grate of this kind man’s cottage.
A distant boom resounded outside.
“That must be your car,” the old man said, chuckling. I stood draped in a large towel that he had given me, and now the shock of the cold gave way to the shock of loss. Material loss, that is. “I’m sorry. That was rude of me,” the man said.
“Hey, thank you,” I said, still lost in a daze. Three hundred pages of my draft. 150,000 words. It took me the better part of last year to write that much, and every word had been an uphill battle against the mother of all writer’s blocks. And why had I been so adamant on manually typing it on paper? Why couldn’t I have written it on my computer?
“No thanks needed. Were it that I was stranded and you were inside, would you not have done the same for a fellow man?” he said.
“I…” I wouldn’t have. “Yes, I would,” I lied.
“Good, man!” he thumped me on the back and went away, perhaps in the kitchen. It gave me time to take a good look around where I stood. Beside the fireplace there were two velvety couches, coffee table in between them. Two-thirds of the walls on the room were shelves, loaded with every kind of literature imaginable. I did not want to move from my current spot, because I was afraid that I’d get mud and water over the man’s spotless wooden floor and because the warmth felt so good, but even from this far away I could spot Homer, Lovecraft, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Poe peeking out like old friends. There was other literature that I could recognize as well, fresher literature: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, James Patterson, and Alistair MacLean. An entire wall was dedicated to medical books; Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, Gray’s Anatomy, Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders, and then there were a lot of them which I could not decipher the names of, very old ones with their bindings in leather and nothing written on the spine.
The rest of the shelf-space belonged to many vials, bottles, and crystals of alcohol. You had your liquor store brandy, your Jack Daniels, and then there was the real stuff: Chateau Bolan, Chateau Mon Flite, and even three vials of absinthe!
“You needn’t stand there all night, my good lad, come, I’ll give you some of my old dry clothes,” the man appeared from the kitchen holding two steaming mugs. He came towards me and put the mugs down on the coffee table. I followed him as he took me to his room. It was a quaint little space with a window looking out at the wilderness behind the house, a king-sized bed in the middle of the room, a cabinet in one corner, and a door leading to a bathroom in the other corner. There was another room in the exact image in front of this one. These two rooms, the living room, and the kitchen were all there was to this cottage.
“Here,” the man handed me a pair of pants and a t-shirt and went out of the room to give me some privacy. I changed my clothes in the dim glow of the yellow lamp, and watched out the window as the thunder crackled mockingly at me. I left my old, dry clothes hanging in the towel-hanger in the bathroom, and went out into the living room, feeling much more comfortable and, for some strange reason, at home.
“Thank you, sir, for all this,” I said, and I meant it.
“Ah, like I said, you would have done the same. Call me Asimov, sir feels a little to British, if you know what I mean,” the man laughed and settled in one of the velvet chairs, mug in hand and a smoking pipe hanging from his mouth. He had a reverent visage, the kind of appearance you’d want to have when you grow old. White hair parted at the sides in a neat manner, a beard reaching down the middle of his neck, soft, baggy skin, and a set of clever blue eyes staring from behind oval spectacles.
“Dr. Asimov, if I am being correct, yes?” I asked and sat down beside him.
“Astute young man! Very astute! And what might your name be?” he asked as he clapped me on the shoulder.
“Grisham. Ed Grisham,” I said and buried my face in the frothy hot chocolate. It felt so good, the bittersweet flavor exploding in my mouth, and the warm flow of it heating up my body from within. I sighed and arched backwards, feeling drowsy, the trauma which had occurred recently forgotten in this new-found comfort.
“Not the same Ed Grisham…” Dr. Asimov abruptly stood from his sofa and went to one of his shelves, taking out my latest book from a stack of many new bestsellers, “who wrote A Bloodstained Romance?” he asked, positively aghast.
“You got me!” I said and toasted my mug to him. “The very same.”
“Dear God!” Asimov said, and came shuffling back to his sofa. His face was that of a child shown a new toy. “In all my years, this is the first time I’ve had someone notable in my humble abode. Granted, the circumstances aren’t the best, but I count them as a blessing!”
“Thank you, doctor,” I said, a little vexed at his fanlike behavior. I had learned to avoid crazed Annie Wilkies fans after I had a few too many unpleasant brushes with them. One crazy lady stalked me all the way to the grocery store and cornered me in an aisle, begging me to take her right there. I had to yell for help, and when people did show up, instead of helping me they started making videos of this commotion and uploaded them on social media. It was a laugh riot, but it is hard to laugh when you’re the butt of the joke.
“Ah, no, no,” Asimov said quickly and stopped on his chair. The next words that he said conveyed to me the notion that he could somehow read my mind. “I’m not one of those overhyped admirers, Edward. I’ve been a critic all my life, and a doctor. I write for the Times, both New York and USA, under a pseudonym. Well, used to write before the arthritis crippled my hands. My hands! I’ve not performed a surgery nor written a thing worth reading in five years! Five years!”
I felt sorry for the guy. If anything, I could relate to him right now. My hands were bruised, and blood had clotted under my sore fingernails. It ached my fingers when I handled the hot chocolate.
“I feel you,” I said and sipped some more chocolate. Each sip made me drowsier with comfort, and the urge to sleep became irresistible. “I… I have been having a hard time writing lately, and I’ve done everything that I can. I’ve read through my muse novels, I have listened to all the hit tracks I used to jam to back in the days, I’ve tried those useless tips on writer’s websites. Nothing has availed me. I’m stuck, and what’s worse, my manuscript has burnt down with my car, as has my typewriter…” I said in slurred speech. Before my eyes, things were beginning to deform, blurrily. Maybe I was tired. I had been on the road for three hours after a sleepless night.
Or maybe I had been drugged.
“You need sleep, Edward, come, follow me. Then we’ll see if we can get you out of your writer’s block, give you wings, so to speak,” the doctor said and with miraculous strength for an old man he lifted me from my chair and directed me, with my arm over his shoulder, to the second bedroom.
“Red Bull already does that,” I joked in my tiredness. He did not seem to understand what I meant. And, how could he? I saw no television, no computers in the cabin. Just Do It and Red Bull gives you wings were stupidly crafted one-liners reserved for the boob-tube addicts.
He plopped me on the bed, took my shoes off, spread a blanket over me, and went out of the room, turning off the lights as he left. I don’t remember being as comfortable ever before. Sleep came like a steep landslide, and I dreamt like a child: vividly and plentily.
I did not wake up like I had gone to sleep. Instead of the soft, warm bed I distinctly remember getting in, I was lying on my stomach on a cold hard surface in the darkness. I tried to move my arms, but they appeared extended and tied. My legs were spread apart, also tied. My head was strangled in an iron claw. To move it was impossible. I could only see in front of me, and there was nothing much to see. Just a stone wall, damp and dark.
“Help!” I cried out. I couldn’t even pinch myself to check if I was still in one of my nightmares or not. The steady throbbing of pain in my fingers, although, reminded me that I was not. Whatever this crazy was, it was real. I also realized that I was naked.
“Don’t scream, my good lad, it won’t do you any good,” the doctor’s voice came from behind me, and something told me he had been sitting there for a long time, waiting for me to resume consciousness.
“Hey man, what the Hell!”
“I know how you feel. I understand. I would too.”
“You need to stop empathizing with me and let me go. My girlfriend knows I’m here.”
“Ah, but you had a fight with her, didn’t you? How else would you explain a man running off into the storm at the break of day?”
He was right. I did have a fight with her. She’d screamed at me not to leave, I had screamed back that I needed to go.
I missed her right now. I regret arguing and leaving her. She was the salt of the earth, the loveliest person I had known in my life. Hell, compared to this deranged surgeon standing behind me with god knows what intentions, I can easily say everyone I had known in my life, even that horny fan in the grocery store, was the salt of the earth.
“I am simply helping you, and in the process, helping myself. This can be something very symbiotic, my lad,” the doctor said and came in front of my view. I could see, in what little light there was, that he was wearing scrubs, and had gloves on his hand. A green mask covered his face.
And then I heard a horrible sound.
Something struggling in a cage, ratting behind me, squawking, screeching. Ruffling sounds of feathers caught in a metal coop; they belonged to some giant bird, by what I could assume. Like an albatross, or a Spaniard Vulture. They had wingspans of four meters. I did not want to know what was in the cage. Instead, I struggled against the shackles that bound me. It was impossible to get free of them. My neck constricted harder in its clamp the more I moved. My eyes became red with breathlessness and anger.
“What are you going to do to me?”
“I only seek to liberate you, Edward.”
Liberate? This guy was going to perform some inhuman surgery on me, I knew of it. The horror movies that I had watched as a kid came back resurging, making me regret the decision of going.
“Look, I don’t know what kind of freak show idea you’ve got in your mind, okay? But leave me the hell out of this! I’m pretty sure I don’t need your help. I’ve had writer’s block before, I’ll have them again. I can get out of them on my own!” I screamed against the stifling collar.
“Silence, you, petulant little punk!” he shouted back, in considerable anger. “What I want to give you is a gift sought by everyone since the beginning of time. The Wright brothers! Yuri Gagarin! Daedalus! Icarus! Everyone has coveted flight, and you shall too, even if you think otherwise right now!”
“You’re not serious, are you?” How this man had eluded me into thinking he was sane earlier was beyond me. He was cuckoo crazy, and psychopathically so. I feared for my life, writhing, and wrangling helplessly.
He walked back to where the cage was. I could hear his steps on the swampy floor. He seemed to be opening the cage. The thing inside it squawked again. And then, a slicing sound, and the helpless yelp of the creature as the doctor slit its throat and the gushing rhythm of blood as it flowed from the throat of that bird.
“Doc! Let me go. I don’t even know why you’re doing this to me!”
“You yearn escape. You yearn for creative freedom. You need this. But more than that, I need this. This has been one of my life’s important works. Only a few came this way before. But they were unfortunate, so to speak. But I don’t want you to worry. I am sure this time,” he said and reappeared in front of me, this time with a cloth in his hand. He stuffed that rag inside my mouth so I wouldn’t scream and went in the back again. My muffled groans were no use to me.
I looked around once more—at least as much as I could—and noticed no new detail; the same old damp stone wall, and the minimal light coming from above. All at once a blinding operating table light shone from above, and I closed my eyes against it.
Behind me I could hear the doctor chopping away at something. Most probably, the poor bird’s wings. Clump, clump, clump came the sound of his butcher’s axe as it met the bird’s wings, tearing them asunder.
“Now, I would put you under anesthesia, but I don’t want to. I need you to be awake to feel this transformation, lad,” the doctor said in a greedy voice. He came towards my side and threw a giant wingspan on the ground. I could see it out of the corner of my eye. I hadn’t seen anything like this in my entire life. It was so humungous—bigger than an albatross’s wings or that Spaniard Vulture’s wings, for that matter. It looked like it belonged to some pterodactyl, or some small wyvern; something straight out of fantasy and myth. It was white, and splattered with blood.
“You’re going to want to bite down on that cloth in your mouth now,” the doctor, that vile sonofabitch, said as he incised a giant slit starting from my left shoulder blade all the way down to my back. The agony was maddening. Each pore of my skin, upon being split, burst into inconceivable pain, and I felt warm blood gush out of my back and fall on the damp floor beneath me.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
“A good start!” the doctor said and laughed. He moved to my right side and did the same. I felt like a turkey at Thanksgiving, being cut and sliced for serving. Medium sized, serves family of four.
More blood left me, and I began to feel lightheaded. The pain kept me sane, kept me conscious, but the blood loss was conquering my wakefulness with stupor. And so, despite being aware that the doctor was working on me, despite being pained at the sutures and slits he had caused, I went under…and this time I did not dream so much as I lived the nightmare I had just escaped. I was being chased by vultures, by albatrosses, by condors, and atop the biggest one sat the doctor, his eyes red and his old face curved in an evil grin.
“Icarus fell because Daedalus was clumsy! I am no fool. These wings are meant to last, my boy! You’ll see!”
More pain, blinding agony even in my nightmares, and then I woke up, not being able to bear all of it.
I wasn’t tied anymore. The doctor was nowhere to be seen, or heard. My head hurt as it does after a mean hangover. I was still lying on my stomach, still naked. Turning my face around with strain, I saw that I was in a circular room, made of giant stones and bricks. The floor was submerged under two inches of water, and in the cage behind me, there was the wingless carcass of a goliath bird. I had never seen anything like it.
There was a heaviness on my upper back like marionette strings were attached there. In what little trickling light there was, I saw two large white wings attached to my back. The area where they joined my body ached, and fresh blood was streaking down.
I sat up.
“Edward, my poor lad. I apologize,” the doctor’s voice came from above. Looking up, I understood why the room was cylindrical: I was in the bottom of a well, how much like Silence Of The Lambs. It was still night; otherwise, sunlight would have shone from the top, but only slivers of moonlight came and against them, the silhouette of the doctor as he peeked down at me.
“Fuck you!” I tried to scream, but my voice came out scrappy, hoarse.
“It was going so well until my disease kicked in. The operation’s successful, but the bleeding–I can’t get it to stop!” he confessed to me. “I’m sorry,” he added and then left.
Trapped in the bottom of the well, with no ladder or door leading out, I had only one way of getting out. It was the most outrageous idea: I could fly out. But how? It takes toddlers a year to learn how to walk, or six months at least. How can I learn to flap these unnatural appendages in a short course of time?
But I flapped, nonetheless. I did not know how I was doing it, I just was. Contracting the muscles on my back and then relaxing them seemed to produce a waving effect in my wings. Doesn’t that sound dandy? My wings! But with each contraction and relaxation, the insides of my back would burn with pain—each movement was torture. Yet, I continued flapping, beating, until I felt gusts of wind sweeping everywhere. I did not realize that it would be so easy, apart from the pain, that is.
And then, ascension.
I rose into the air, staggering and colliding against the walls, but I rose and flew as my bleeding wings thrashed, and thrust me into the air, up, up, up towards the entrance. My wings gave away, as did almost my consciousness, but in that terrible moment I plunged my hands up and caught the edge of the well. I heaved myself up and fell to the ground, crushing my wings underneath me. I heard, and felt, the crunch of bones in my wings, and cried out in more agony. Using them again was out of the question.
Looking around, I gathered that I was in the backyard of that Frankenstein’s cottage. Anger boiled up in me and granted me that last bit of energy I needed to get on my feet. I teetered towards the cabin’s back door, and my broken wings dragged behind me.
It had stopped raining, and the clouds had dispersed, giving way to the moon shining in all its glory.
I thrust open the cottage’s back door and fell inside. The lights were still lit, ever so dimly, but the doctor was not in the living room. I went into the kitchen and took the bloody butcher knife—with which he had killed the bird whose wings I wore now—and crept into the doctor’s bedroom. There he was, sleeping in his bed, turned on his back, bottles of whiskey lying on the bed, on the floor, and a note.
I pulled the doctor to look at his face and saw death. His eyes were lifeless, and his face was stretched in a grimace. Dried foam caked his open mouth, and the stench of whiskey coming from it was unbearable.
The empty bottle of sleeping pills in his hands told only half of the story while the note lying on the ground told the rest.
If you are reading this note, you’ve made it out of that well, and my surgery, to some extent, has gone successfully. It was all getting too much for me, ergo the suicide, and when I botched your surgery, one that I was so sure I would succeed in, I sought no more reason to live. I pray that you use your wings, and this experience, well.
I threw the note away in the fireplace as I went in the living room to look for a phone. There was a landline, thank God it was still connected, on which I called 9-1-1 and gave them the weirdest distress call ever. Before they could show up, the impotence from the blood loss and the heaviness of the wings prevailed over me, and I fell once again, into the abyss of unconsciousness.
Writer, self-publisher, and author…and more! I enjoy horror, adventure, and science fiction and find myself drawn to write about other worlds and the impossible.