“Of Heaven and Hell” (Short Story): Fred Tucker is a man driven to madness. When he closes his eyes at night, Fred sees faces. People he comes to believe are in danger. His descent into his personal hell accelerates when he becomes obsessed with finding these people, believing he is meant to save them…and ends when he is successful and must accept that he is not their savior, but something far more sinister.
Face scrubbed, teeth brushed, hair still damp from my shower, I slide beneath the covers, but my hand hesitates on the lamp switch. In the light there are objects to focus on—the bureau, the book on the nightstand, the cat curled on the foot of the bed. With the dark come the faces. Flashes on the backs of my eyelids: old men, young women, children of every age and color.
When I was a kid myself, the faces were entertainment. A kind of bedtime picture story. As a young adult they became an annoyance. A distraction from more pleasurable bedroom pursuits. With middle age, they simply are. The faces are a part of me. Perhaps the only part that matters.
I see their features in stark detail, as sharp as a high-resolution photograph. They could be my neighbors, my coworkers, the clerk at the local grocery, but they pass so quickly, illuminated only for an instant by a strobe of insight, that my mind hardly has time to process what my closed eyes see.
There is, however, always time to feel. With each new frame I’m stabbed by a blade of emotion. Pangs of grief, of shame, of terror, or of rage. Sometimes I’m pierced by all four at once, sometimes more. Where are the smiling faces? The people who laugh? The only thing my faces seem to have in common is pain.
“Turn out the light, hon,” my wife says.
I’ve tried to tell her about my nightly visitation by hosts of sad strangers. A doctor, she explains away my visions as overactive photoreceptor cells in my retinas and pareidolia—the psychological phenomena in which the brain attempts to organize random stimuli into known patterns, hence why people see bunnies in the clouds. I ask if others see faces. No, she tells me. Most rest in darkness. A few perceive splashes of mutating color, like a hippie lava lamp. But never faces. Not that she knows of.
I should speak to her again, tell her my faces are more, that they mean something, I’m sure, but her head is turned away, her cheek buried in her pillow. The face I love is the one face I rarely see.
Vickie Taylor has published 15 novels and novellas with Silhouette Books and Berkley Publishing Group. She has won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense and been nominated for the Romance Writers of America’s highest award, the Rita, four times. This year she hopes to expand into new genres including thrillers, YA, and mystery. When she’s not at her computer, Vickie is usually out riding her horses, training search and rescue dogs, or volunteering with her local humane society.
Buy link for Of Heaven and Hell: http://tinyurl.com/7y8og9d