Creighton


by Anders Svenning


Through dark mahogany doors, people once walked into the home of Randall Creighton. Cathedral high ceilings and high bay windows were on both sides of the entrance portcullis. The dark purple curtains fell tumultuously down to the floor and were embroidered with golden and scarlet stitches; the candles shone brightly in the dimmed corners of the halls and brightened the darkened corners. No cobwebs formed on the chandeliers or in the black corners of the ceilings.

The grand hall gave way straight into the sitting room—which was a fitting name, for in that room Randall Creighton’s time was spent. There were the East and West wings, which broke off, symmetrically, from the sitting room.

The small pieces of pleasure—fruits, wine, and caramel candies—and the pristine home, however, did not bring solace to Randal Creighton’s mental fragility. Time and time again, Randall Creighton’s thoughts receded back to a few choice times: Clarice, Beatrice, the war. He found himself mysteriously amidst those memories frequently, which worsened his appetite, swiped away peace of mind, and, as time wore on, accounted for physical sickness.

 

Randall Creighton, when he grew tired late in the evening, lay down to sleep in the East wing. Randall Creighton ate in the East Wing, read in the East Wing.

He many times thought somberly of the other side—the West Wing—which housed not only choice keepsakes, but the past.

The West wing was not menacing. On the contrary, it was pleasant. Reliving those times with his daughter and wife instilled infinitesimal feelings of joy, vaporous and one-dimensional thoughts, which lived in his mind and which he had not seen with his physical eyes for years. Leaving those clouds, those gaseous thoughts before dropping into the depth of night, he felt a void or an omnipresent sense of isolation.

Creighton thought of the inside of the human brain.

She never relearned to move or speak. Clarice, his daughter, had cracked her head on a rock while horseback riding.

Nobody had entered Creighton’s safe-haven since. He did not let anybody, nor did he leave. He wanted to be alone ever since the accident, alone to contemplate the basis of reality. The fabric that was Creighton’s reality began interweaving with a quasi-reality over the recent years, for he had begun to open doors, doors he had not opened in over a decade.

Creighton placed an empty wine glass on the table beside his armchair and stood. He ran his gnarled fingers through his hair. The house was in perfect condition.

Creighton walked West. Determinedly through the halls to Clarice’s bedroom he walked, the clicks of his heels sounding sullen against the hard wood flooring.

The door was the same. The same wood, the same golden doorknob, and he stood in front of the door and turned the knob.

Sunlight is glaring into his eyes as he steps onto lush green grass. Gurgling, the sound of a stream finds his ears and he, on the bank of a stream, follows the bright water and black rocks with his eyes up to the horizon. He sees Clarice. And she has picked up her trot to a canter, and she is dangerously close to the rocks along the bank, squatting, flying towards him faster than an albatross, and Creighton has begun to run, waving his arms, but she does not slow down. Only ten feet in front of Creighton, the horse has taken a nasty spill and Clarice is soaring into a somersault, smacks her head on a rock and cracks her skull, finishing her life. Randall Creighton’s voice shatters. He is about to pick her up, kneel before her. A pallid version of Clarice has risen from her body and stands before him, the color sanguine matted on her face. He tries to speak, but cannot; he can only manage a whimper. Clarice, expressionless and lovely, leads him back to the freestanding doorway and walks through, back into his life.

He shut the door behind him and watched his daughter walk East down the hall. He followed his daughter into the sitting room, where she wandered, looking at trinkets and books and furniture, touching the walls and books of the house, in which she had blossomed. For days, he followed the apparition around his home, gladdened again to see her young face.

Letting her back in, however, made him feel like he was slipping. Like he could not take hold and posses rational constitution. He begged Clarice, pleaded with Clarice, and cried to Clarice, so that she could speak. She never returned a word.

He had formulated a plan. After reliving Clarice’s death, he had immersed himself in the memory of her birth. He found her crib, her toys, her highchair and spoon, her clothing and baby shoes. He found a way to manipulate his past! There was balance. All he had to do was relive what had happened, and then immerse himself in the relating positive memories. And it was working!

He felt inflated, loved. He felt his chest, felt his hair, which felt thicker than ever. Color began to fill in his hair. It was working. He had vanquished the memory of Clarice’s death, and now it was time to vanquish the needless death of war.

As a hero, he had been rewarded; medals and ribbons had been given to him, and he had shaken the hands of many an older gentlemen, whose names escaped him, and he had been named a war hero. His metals and ribbons were kept in a small cupboard, deep in the West Wing. It was time to banish the fear that had chewed a hole in his self-confidence and respect.

Clarice’s death to the fallen soldiers’ was different. The soldiers’ death had been seared into his mind, forming an everlasting amalgamation, forbearance, his resignation.

Mustiness filled Creighton’s nose as he stood before the cupboard, a polygonal doorway. He bit his lip again and touched the round knob and caressed the wood with his thumb. He turned the knob, pulled the door, and entered the cupboard.

Again Creighton’s eyes meet light, constrict, by moonlight this time. It has soothed him, this soft blue, this breeze and warmth, and heard is the ritualized pat!-pat! in the distance. An all too familiar sound. Gunfire. And there! The wounded soldiers. He can remember what happens next. The Vietcong were close. Creighton—the four soldiers, wounded, are lying in the wet soil; Creighton can see himself, younger, taller, wearing fatigues—drawing straws with the two healthy soldiers who are still standing. He sees himself drawing the straw shorter than the others. The two healthy soldiers who can walk run into the bush, leave him and the four wounded men behind. Creighton, watching, re-lives the moment, sees himself putting a gun to a wounded soldier’s head and pulling the trigger. Two bullets to make sure the job is done. Then the next, and the next, and the next, eight bullets. Creighton has turned away as he hears himself finish off the last three soldiers, hears himself run into the jungle. Creighton has bowed his gray head before the four dead soldiers and has uttered something; and he sees them, as if what he has said had worked, lift out of their chests, and the four men, who are wearing fatigues and bullet holes, look at him clement and pull him with their eyes back through the cupboard doorway, back into his home.

The musky air of the hallway re-filled his nostrils. He was in shambles. Every step each of the four soldiers took chipped off a piece of his sensible state of mind. He had not only seen himself, the murderer, run back into jungle, but he also felt those emotions mixing with those at present. He felt his run through the jungle and was pleased, relieved, and thankful those had passed rather than he.

As the days bore on and as the dead soldiers stood and walked in the living flesh, he began to notice the paint inside the house was peeling.

Cobwebs began accumulating on the chandeliers, candles flickered then burned out. He looked out of a window from the grand hall and noticed a thick fog had descended down onto his villa, obscuring his vision.

He needed to revisit the times when he first befriended these soldiers, when the relationships were fresh. Only he had no photos, no pieces of them, nothing. Only the notion existed. And, of course, the four dead soldiers. The memories and the actual soldiers traveling through his home walked through walls as if the walls did not exist, as if they held no weight.

Creighton toyed with the idea of going back into the cupboard, searching there for something, what? He did not know. All he knew was that he needed to gain perspective on who these men were, where they came from, where they would have went. And still, a strong sense was preventing Randall Creighton from entering the cupboard. Instead, he approached a single soldier.

This man, excluding the two holes in his temple, was the best looking man, the man who looked most like a soldier, the man who had taken strong residence in Creighton. The soldier had a long, bony jaw line and pouting lips, which created dark traces around his mouth. His lips had turned gray and grayer still over the weeks. Creighton pulled at the soldier’s vest. “Excuse me,” Creighton said. “Excuse me, private. Who are you?” The soldier flickered, a small twinkle in his eyes, slight recognition and the soldier batted his eyelashes and shifted his vision briefly, and turned back to his inward glare. “Soldier,” said Creighton. “Who are you?” The man flinched. “Soldier, Goddamnit? Who are you? Who are you, soldier? Talk to me, Goddamnit!” The image shifted like a hologram, as if the man shone through a prism and the soldier backed away and came forward again.

Creighton, exasperated, eased into an idea of his daughter who was washing in and out of the walls. Randall Creighton turned to the soldier, the man with two bullet holes in his head, which Creighton had put there, Creighton the war hero, the decorated soldier, the one who had made it home. He turned to the faded soldier, hardened his face and saluted. The chiseled man stood slowly straight at attention and returned the somber gesture and a tear perhaps had fallen. Creighton could not tell. The man’s face was a translucent as a tear. And again the soldier backed away and walked East into the good wing.

A scabbard. Creighton felt like a scabbard. He was a bag full of trinkets, of age. Still he felt slightly haphazard upon walking to his armchair and sitting down and lighting his pipe.

He eased into trance, smoke filling his sinuses. He closed his eyes and immersed himself in clarity. He felt the walls around him breathe, his home, and upon opening his eyes he noticed some of the cobwebs were gone, the paint had grown a little more vibrant, and the candles, which had burnt out, were flickering once again, ignited miraculously. He breathed and remembered.

Loneliness was no longer a factor, Creighton had his family and friends in the house with him. He did feel euphoria, joy. Though, not the type of euphoria one felt when triumphing over hardship (although he had triumphed; he had conquered his past). This was the type of euphoria one experienced with delusions, a delusion of grandeur, for Creighton had delved into memories and had made them his own. A detachment from reality. A third-prong grasp. An acceptance of this. The giddiness he felt fueled his behavior. He had made the time, made the decision to relive Beatrice’s death, the only memory bounding him tight.

He needed to see the woman. With the hair of an angel, she should have been a goddess. He cherished her. He had lived in complete love and togetherness with her, for she carried with her control, and she had mothered his daughter, whom he had recently saved, brought back to life. To give that gift back to Beatrice, to give the gift of life—her own life and her daughter’s—back to her had him feeling completed.

He needed to find out how she had died. Her body was found with the others’, underneath the ocean, buried by a day’s sand.

The bedroom. The eye of life, where his life and Clarice’s had been created.

Long and empty years had passed since he walked down that corridor, in the West wing, the corridor, which held only that bedroom, the master bedroom. Creighton turned the corner and walked entirely placated across the lavender carpeting to the door.

He takes a deep breath and pulls open the door that leads to their old bedroom. And at first, the darkness has veiled his eyes. Pure black, reaching out and touching his eyes, Creighton notices he is in the ocean, eighty feet below water level. A gelatinous membrane. He extends in and feels cold water, gurgling. He pulls out his hand and tastes the salty reaches. He has ventured, and there! He has felt with his hand five slender fingers, A hand. He, with all his strength, is pulling out the hand into visible light. Fingers, nails! He recognizes them. A ring. He is pulling, pulling. There is resistance. With all his strength he pulls at Beatrice, to pull her back into his life. As her arm comes out dripping, the membrane stretched.

And then, it pops!

Creighton was blown back from the doorway, water gushing out onto the carpet and his face, soaking the walls. Sprawled onto the carpet are a dozen, well-dressed men and women, inside his home.

The water slopped through the halls, ran through the fibers of the carpet, and Creighton ran. He ran into the living room, where dust covered the floor, holes accentuated the walls, roaches scurried across the floor and ceiling. Beatrice and the others were walking beside him like a shadow. No features held any difference or substantiality. Everybody was the same. Creighton was aghast when the men and women, the soldiers, and Clarice began hemorrhaging others into his home. As each new entity flooded out of the phantoms that were Creighton’s past, the ocean splashed and eagerly encroached onto the sitting room floor, rolling and receding. More personalities spewed out of the walls, and more phantoms, and Creighton felt his train of thought explode into the corners of his psyche. The puzzle pieces that made up his rational mind, the nuts and bolts shattered into millions of tiny picturesque, oblong pieces. The windows shattered, all the candles blew out, extinguished, cabinets and drawers opened and slammed shut, chandeliers swayed violently and fell, crashing to the floor, bugs disgorged from the cracks in the ceiling, swarming Randall Creighton.

He heard whispers in his head. He lost everything that kept the minute features of his cognition wrapped up so tightly. He ran, ran away from the bugs, ran away from the voices, ran away from his villa. For the first time in his life he ran. He ran straight for the door, and out of his house, ran into the thick muggy fog that surrounded his once humble home. He ran far, far into the distance.

He was out.

Finally out.

Finally out of his mind.