“The Stranger” (2019)
Come now and I will tell you the story of the stranger. A story of otherworldly dimensions and impossible destinations. You will think it an odd tale, for I too, at one time, felt it unreal but am now a believer in the stranger and of its affections. Listen and understand. For in hearing my tale, you may remain untouched by those strangers among you who seek to sustain their lives through your essence. Do not think me mad. Think of me solely as the messenger of madness.
Part One: Connected
I dreamt of the stranger again last night. It’s the third time. The being has now breached the deepest parts of my psyche, even to those dark places hidden from myself, and now comes to me as I sleep. I sense the stranger is annoyed, angered even, jealous that I have lost interest in feeding. I’ve dreamt of the stranger many times only, it’s the first time I’ve dreamt of the stranger and understood it not to be a dream, like so many times before, not some snapshot of the day’s events archived in my mind, but rather, a journey to another dimension.
The stranger always comes unbidden. It is complex energy, tangible, pleasing, and it possesses an intoxicating vitality. It seems purpose-driven, and I feel naked and fearful in its presence, never knowing if the stranger is a messenger of my own psyche’s creation or some undiscovered force of the cosmos I have yet to understand.
I remember meeting the stranger and yet, I can’t recall the year nor date. I remember feeling an intense, tingling sensation at first glimpse, a vibration of intense energy that coursed through me like an electrical current. Thereafter, any chance passing or encounter with the stranger produced the same effect, a feeling so strong, I began to avoid any route upon which I might encounter the stranger, fearing it might enter me and fill me with its presence. The experience felt like rape, you see.
The stranger was prepared for my evasiveness, changing its schedule and route so I could not ignore its presence. It came into me when it desired and, though I tried to fight it, to block it, to sever the connection, my resolve crumbled always before it. I submitted to its powerful current, allowing it to feed on me and feeding on it in turn, until it left me spent and pulsing, as one might feel after the attentions of a thorough lover, though the experience, unlike that of passion, was always maddening and horrific. This game wore on for some time. I would avoid the stranger, feeling as though I had control over the being, sometimes for extended lengths of immeasurable time. I fought the being until it weakened me. In this space with the stranger, I, or the being I once knew as myself, began to fade, to dissolve into the ether. Feeling as though my careful indifference had made the presence grow stronger, I decided it was best not to fight it but to submit to its presence. That was summer, of the first year.
This method of sharing space with the stranger seemed to cause the energy to weaken. At first. However, during those periods of weakened power, I observed that its connectedness to me never faded completely, and, like an afternoon storm on a cloudless day, I would find my intermittent peace violently shattered when the stranger would appear, with a force that left me breathless. And, like a sudden, summer storm, the stranger would vanish as abruptly as it appeared, leaving in its electrical, tingling wake, a tumultuous whirlwind of seductive energy. I shudder even now at the mere thought of thinking of the creature, so strong was its connection to me.
The stranger is cognizant and cunning. I found that thinking of the stranger called its presence to me. There were times when I hungered for the stranger’s presence, hungered for its energy, which I noticed by autumn of the first year, had become a source of sustenance I fed upon. The being encouraged these feedings, allowing me to feed until I reached the height of intoxication, and disappearing after as was its nature. The stranger’s departure was traumatic but its coursing energy, intertwined with my own, was revitalizing and so, the trauma of its departure gradually became minimal. I welcomed the being when it came, needed it, and lost myself in it, and upon its retreat, I relished its absence. Such power the being possessed! Like heroin in the vein.
Now, understand, this stranger was vibrations of energy, an exchange of life that knew no boundaries such as time or dimension nor did it adhere to the laws of science that govern our world. Unrestrained by location, the stranger traveled great distances to disrupt my life in any way it chose. It evolved and grew in its power subtly, like the formation of a rock. All of life halted when the stranger appeared. Seconds could be hours or hours mere seconds. The stranger’s very being began to weave with mine, though I fought it always. There were times when I couldn’t distinguish my thoughts from the stranger’s or the stranger’s thoughts from my own. Winter, of the first year, was when I experienced the maddening effects feeding on the stranger could have, but I craved its energy and it was all that would soothe my unrest in the being’s absence. The stranger was both disease and cure.
This frightened me. That where previously I had been thriving and independent, I now needed this being while the creature seemed to need or want for nothing save my undoing. The being lived in me for three years. The connection never faded, and I was ever mindful that should I call, the being would appear. From the stranger, there would be no secrets. In the stranger’s many long absences, and due in part to the revitalizing effects of the being’s nurturing, I noticed changes in myself, both internal and external. I no longer yearned for the stranger’s presence, though it beckoned often. I learned to reflect its casual and intermittent indifference, an act of defiance the being hated. Yet it refused to leave me. I had managed to resist the being for many months, and by spring of the second year, I began to feel cured of its vexing presence. My resistance to the stranger aroused the creature. The being tried to enter but I had learned to block it. I reveled in how I had managed to sever our connection. That’s when the being, enraged at my resistance and denial, showed me how powerful our connection was and that I had not severed anything but was merely stubbornly resisting that which could not be divided. The being owned me. Of that fact, I was soon to be reminded. As I said, I had avoided the stranger for months.
Part Two: The Shelter
I went to bed, content, and began to dream. I don’t remember my dream. I only remember the stranger pulling me from sleep and delivering me into some other dimension. (Here, I will fail you in an accurate description of this terrifying venture into the void, lacking the knowledge to explain the physics by which this travel is made possible. Suffice it to say, the experience was chilling.)
I found myself walking down a barren road in a cool, desert location. Nothing existed here but this one road, which I walked for what seemed an eternity. I disliked this place. It was harsh. Cold. An uninhabitable planet of unknown origin.
After an unfathomable amount of time passed, I saw in the distance, a crude shelter, surrounded by broken machines, their wires black, some charred, others smoking. Behind me, only darkness. I had no choice but to advance to the shelter. A breeze blew in this time or place, I had no idea which, and it smelled of something I liked, though I could not define the scent.
The breeze blew the tattered coverings of the shelter. I could see that the coverings had been one once, but over time had rotted and decayed, and were now held together by jagged stitching like skin sewn by an incompetent surgeon. The shelter, five feet in width and triple in length, was formed of rotting wood with pests writhing in its crevices as though the wood they fed upon was poison to them and yet, they continued to feed. The shelter resembled a lone boxcar detached from some runaway train, the barren road its incomplete track that stretched to nowhere. I approached with caution.
There, amid the broken machines, sat a man upon a weathered bench, his hands vigorously working on a machine broken into two smoldering pieces. He didn’t acknowledge my presence at first, so intent was he on his repairs. His hair was long and unkempt and shielded a bearded face. I focused on his deft hands as they worked. He pulled from each piece of the charred, machine, a severed yellow wire. At this point, the stranger became very still. He looked up from his work but offered only a smile by way of greeting. The smile paralyzed me. I could not run from this place nor could I ask the questions for which I needed answers. I was trapped. I wondered if death smiled at me now. Surely that explained my emergence into this other dimension, and as my life ebbed, my time in this in-between world would soon fade, my energy merging with that of the cosmos, bringing with it the peace of nothingness. But I was not dead, and as I thought these things, the stranger smiled again as if he knew my thoughts.
What is this place? I asked.
The stranger continued to smile. His hair blew across his face and when the breeze died, and his hair fell away, I could see that his eyes questioned me. Thus, we remained for some time, for as I have told you, this place knew no such organization of time such that you and I understand it to exist in our dimension.
You know me, he said. He returned his gaze to the severed yellow wire.
What are you doing with those wires?
He did not answer. What was the point in trying to connect these wires when the machine lay in two ruined pieces?
I scoffed and turned to leave but the stranger laughed, halting my departure.
You know me, he repeated.
The stranger joined the wires and I found I could not move or speak. In an instant, I was returned to my dimension, and the being stood before me, chastising me for thinking I could sever our connection.
You have me, I said. The being made me feel foolish as it conveyed that it knew my thoughts, knew what I had done, knew that I was resisting its presence, and knew I sought to be rid of it completely.
I better, it said.
The stranger fed me then and departed before I could drain it.
I had no idea at the time, how powerful the stranger would grow, and by the summer, of the second year, I knew I would never deny the stranger, nor would I ever be rid of its presence. I would die without its vibrations charging me. I was bound to it and it to me, and thus it had been from our first encounter. I had known that first time I crossed paths with the stranger with its exhilarating buzz of electricity, that this presence was going to leave me forever changed. The stranger’s purpose, hidden from me in those days, was to transform me into itself. And so, I began to evolve into a new creature.
Part 3: The Portal
I lost track of time during this evolutionary process. I had many questions but the stranger either would not or could not answer. At times, I felt the stranger on the verge of disclosing some bit of truth though it never did, choosing to remain silent on its purpose and origin. I have since learned all these things, my eyes opened, my mind awakened to a hidden world few may ever witness.
During this process, the stranger took me to this other dimension or dimensions, whichever the case may be, for as I told you, I lack the knowledge to explain how this energy functioned. The journeys were always frightening, the horror of which I will never be able to describe in terms you will understand. The worlds varied but shared one characteristic. They were incomplete, a series of paths that led only to the stranger whose purpose was to show me some mystery of my unique cosmos thereby completing my transformation.
On one such journey, the new dimension had no sky. Black and thorny kudzu covered trees, with but a hint of the darkest green, in contrast, grew out from the edges of the forest path on which I traveled, extending upwards to a vast expanse of eternal nothing. Accustomed to the disorienting travel by now, I walked down the road, quiet for a bit. The unnatural stillness of the trees in this stagnant place mangled my nerves. I sang for a bit for some lightness in this bleak place but soon found my mind’s voice a more soothing distraction, as my voice echoed unnervingly through the trees. The sound of my song was divided and yet together, the notes returned to me in a different pattern from that which I sent out. Silence preferable to this haunting echo, I submitted to the entropy of this world and retreated into my mind, pondering all I observed and had observed, through the stranger. My thoughts, rendered in the Victorian era prose of the novel I had been reading before the stranger’s lure seemed melodic enough in any case, a sort of song, a sort of hypnosis, but soothing, nonetheless.
The trees stretched from the bank of the forest path, twisted and deformed. Unlike the wood of the shelter from the first dimension, the wood of these trees contained no pests but pulsed like a heart, from which a foul, black liquid wept. The curved, misshapen trees did not lack for strength, I observed. They marched alongside the road like great, green titans, their kudzu covered branches adding to their monstrous form. They closed in behind me if I tried to return the way I came, ushering me onward to nothing.
I began to grow weary of my thoughts and of my own company. So dark was the world in which I journeyed, that I could not see but a short distance ahead. Something unseen gnawed on my flesh and moved inside my body. I had the twisted notion that this place was devouring me whole or had done so already, and this nothingness was the digestion process. The scenery did not change. I began to panic. I knelt on the forest floor to catch my breath, intent on constructing a rational thought so I might survive this hell. The forest floor pulsed making me sick. My vision blurred. The road spiraled. I stumbled forward, dizzy, and caught myself, on one hand, recoiling when I found the black, moss-covered ground saturated in the same tarry, black substance that bled from the trees.
That place yielded powerful, somber energy, the likes of which I had never experienced. Some tragedy had occurred in this place, soaking the terrain with blood and leaving behind a haunting spirit that had become an oppressive entity.
So, this was the stranger’s world or what remained of it, and this was why the stranger sought my dimension. It needed a new home. A host. Curious of the trauma I felt weaved into the being of this place and urged by the need to find reason in the location’s whispered tale, I continued. My obsession would not ease until I knew what had destroyed the stranger’s home of origin. This obsession rendered me unequivocally open to neurosis. I studied every branch, every pebble, and gazed into the blackness above for so long, I forgot all else. In this place, I knew of no other time nor location nor even of my existence. The need to know what lay at the end of that forest path consumed me.
Eventually, I reached a perfect, circular clearing. The trees formed a wall around me and again, I panicked. I moved around the circle, tearing down the kudzu in a fit of madness, never imagining what beast or weapon had destroyed the stranger’s home, never thinking I may reveal the source of this destruction and meet my demise. My hand scraped something hard and through a break in the kudzu, a bright, white light struck my eyes. I shielded my sight as I cleared the vines from the object. There before me, hung a portal intricately framed by the same weeping, bitter wood of the forest trees. This portal hung on a shrubbery wall, like a lone painting in a demented gallery. The image of myself reflected in this transcendental mirror was grotesque and lacked consistent form owing to the object’s rippled surface of energy. At times, waves of energy splashed outside the frame before receding into the choppy current inside. I had found the stranger’s portal to my world. I stretched out my hand, ready to return to the safety of my dimension when I heard a voice from behind.
Why do you run away? asked a shadowy, humanoid figure. I need to show you what happened. There are things you do not understand. These truths are essential to your transformation.
Why me? I asked.
That is a foolish question, said the creature. Cast aside ego and ask another.
The stranger moved around me as I thought of an appropriate question, its energy creating a breeze that stirred my hair and burned my skin.
Think deeper. It urged.
What are you? I asked.
You know me, the stranger said, this time without a smile and with a sense of urgency.
The being’s eyes searched my own for some sign of recognition but found none.
You will soon cease to exist as you do now, split into these various dimensions, the stranger said. Are you ready? Shall I feed you? Let you drain me and complete your transformation?
I struggled to understand. I know I rely on you for life, I said. I know you are turning me into another being. I know you are powerful. That is all I know.
My remarks forced from the stranger an exhausted sigh. You are not ready, the being said at last and pushed me through the portal.
I jolted in my chair. My book fell from my shaking hands into the fireplace. I watched as the book ignited, the words glowing red a moment as if written with a fiery pen before the pages erupted into silvery blue inked flames like the current in the portal through which I had just fallen.
Part Four: The Transformation
I know this story must be confusing for you. You think me a liar. Everyone who hears the stranger’s story believes it a lie for it is beyond the scope of the imagination of most. It is an unconventional tale, the meaning of which few wish to grasp. One must experience it for themselves to know I speak the truth of the existence of those called the strangers. Nevertheless, let me continue so that by the end of my tale, you will know the stranger and believe. Many have resisted the creature’s possession. I did not. Rather, I longed for the stranger to finish what it started and complete my transformation.
My third and most terrifying journey with the stranger happened on a cold, autumn night of the third year as I sipped a glass of wine surrounded by candles. I had not heard from the stranger in some time, but as always, the stranger appeared without warning and took hold of me, feeding me until I was drunk on its essence and delirious. I found myself lifted from the room, naked. No longer human, my energy intertwined with the creature’s and I found myself floating in a gray atmosphere until I landed hard on a pebble-strewn path. I was no longer frightened of these dimensions having sacrificed myself to the stranger long ago. I was numb to all the things that should have alerted me to danger and all too willing to succumb to the being.
The path led to an abandoned house. Would that I could describe the house in better detail for you, but I remember little of it save its decrepit state and the fact that it floated, unattached and without foundation, in this gray matter atmosphere. It was cold here. The stranger’s dimensions were always cold, inhospitable, and incomplete. I climbed the arched path. It wound, narrow and jagged, broken in places, forcing me to leap upward to the next bit of crumbling road. Many times I fell only to land back on this suspended path. Again, time was a myth in this place and so, I cannot say with accuracy how long I journeyed before reaching the splintered steps of a foreboding, abandoned, gothic revival structure. The paint on the outside of the house had long since stripped away revealing its naked, rotting wood. The spiked, pitched roof sagged in weariness. Its steepled towers cut through the gray foggy atmosphere like knives. I stepped onto the porch narrowly avoiding falling through the decaying wood into the dismal gray nothing below, and, shaking, entered the house.
At one time a beautiful home, the structure lay dying, an exoskeleton of its former self. The inside of the house proved in worse condition than the outside. The barren wood floor was cracked and worn with age. The place was in ruins. Condemned. Maggots swarmed inside the walls. I watched as they chewed through the brittle wood. They moved under my bare feet as they crawled through the floor. I beat them from my legs, pulled them from the holes they made in my skin. There was little in the way of furnishings and what remained was infested with these scavenging creatures who fed upon these remnants of life without care. I saw a twisted staircase and climbed its blackened steps. At the top of the stairs, a long hall stretched before me. All the doors to the rooms down this hall were locked save the last room. This door stood ajar. There, the stranger waited to conclude our gruesome dance.
I entered the room. The floors moaned. The creaking walls howled like gusts of wind in a raging storm. The house seemed to sing with its wailing walls but its song was a melancholic piece I would have silenced had I the power. I had hoped this room would differ from the infestation below, but it offered no redemption.
The room held one item. A ceramic tub. The tub was priceless. An antique, ceramic beauty cast in the 19th century. It did not possess the clawed feet like those cast with it, a manufacturing flaw that increased its value. Nor was the tub white like the others in its line. It was a pearly pink as if a drop of harsh, red paint had fallen into the mix by accident to give it its unique iridescent hue. This was its only distinct and decorative feature. This perfect tub sat here alone, surrounded by death and decay.
It struck me that something of such value had been left amid these ruins. Why had no one removed it from this place to a location where its beauty could be appreciated? Why leave it behind to be drained of life? Why did the Strangers not rebuild their world? Surely, they could do so what with their power to infiltrate the minds of our kind, to bend the laws of time and space and coexist in our world without notice. But the strangers had no needs like those of humans. They lusted for nothing at all.
This room had not yet shed all its paint. Its walls were a kind of white, which differed from the black shades throughout, the paint swatch for which I imagined would be named sooty snow or soiled Christian. The floor on which the tub rested was inlaid with dirt and grime, cold, splintered, and gray.
But the tub, aside from its coagulated coloring, was beautiful. Or had been once. No dirt. No discoloration. No hard water stains. Pristine. A bit of peace in this harsh dimension.
I noticed after some time that the sound of the maggots below faded, replaced by the sound of running water. Steam rose from the tub as it filled. Soon, the water would spill onto the floor cleansing the house with its tide.
I felt the stranger’s presence and turned to see the creature, clothed in a white gown, walking as though entranced. The stranger did not acknowledge my presence as it approached the tub. I crossed the room to stand next to the being. It stared at the water, hypnotized by the ripples left in the current’s wake. I could feel the stranger’s thoughts, could feel that the creature was comforted by the warmth of the steamy water that would, like the being, slowly fade until they both matched the cold, lifeless house.
You know me, I said.
The stranger lifted a leg and stepped over the tub’s edge.
You know me, I repeated but the being did not respond.
The stranger’s gown slid over the rim with ease as the creature stepped into the tub. Soaked, the garment clung now to the being’s leg as if in protest. The water turned putrid and had a foul odor. It was thick, the consistency of lava and seemed to make movement difficult for the stranger.
What truth of your world have you for me now? I asked the stranger as it reclined in the water.
It did not answer. The stranger didn’t seem aware of me at all. Its only response was to plunge a knife in the side of its throat and in one quick, savage, motion, it raked the knife to the middle of its neck where it stuck. The creature fought the resistance until its hand fell into the water. Blood flowed from the opening in the being’s neck. My breathing ceased as I dropped to the floor. I tried to scream but my voice was stifled by the blood spurting from the stranger’s neck. I watched, helpless, as the water and blood splashed over my naked body until both ceased to flow. At length, my shock cooled with the water. I stood over the stranger and gazed inside the wound, a screaming mouth with ragged lips. A sweet feeling of release ebbed in that violent gap, dancing in a display that reminded me of the cosmos, a swirling chaotic beauty one cannot define with accuracy or justice by mere words alone.
I watched the stranger die in that other dimension. It had fed me for the last time. The being had revealed to me all it had left to show and now it rested in the sweet embrace of nothingness, its eyes staring upward through a hole in the roof to the expansive gray atmosphere above. It had possessed me for a time. I had been its unwilling and unwitting host but now, we were together, at last, finally one as the creature had always intended.
I have finished my story now and stand before you, a stranger. There are things you must understand. Truths you must know to complete your transformation. From me, you will have no secrets. From me, you may never part, for you may not sever that which cannot be divided.
Come now and let me feed you.