My mother died two days after my eighteenth birthday: she had been thirty-nine years old. In the days leading to her death, madness took hold of her mind and she detailed the dark “truth” lurking in the shadows of Unpleasantville.
She described in great detail how the Obelisk, an obsidian monument in the center of town, is the foundation of all that we hold dear. It is both a blessing and a curse to those that dwell within its city limits. It uses its inhabitants as an energy source to sow cosmic mischief. It is all powerful and all knowing, but it is utterly unknowable to us mortals. It requires exactly 666,000 human inhabitants to maintain its omnipotence. A new birth means a death must occur and vice-versa. Equilibrium must always be maintained.
I sat on the edge of her bed, her icy hand gripped inside my own, and I watched the madness slowly consume her. She deteriorated quickly despite passing a plethora of medical tests. She often complained of shadowy tendrils reaching out for her, pulling her to the afterlife to be with the father I had never known.
Grief ate its way through my life and without my mother, I found myself to be utterly alone. My grandparents did their best to comfort me, but they too had lost a daughter, which caused them to be cold and distant. They did their best to help with the funeral arrangements, and we buried mom next to the father I never knew. A small part of me wished she was finally reunited with her one true love, but all I could imagine were two corpses decomposing for eternity. Both were in perfect health and far too young to be ripped from my life.
With the completion of the funeral services, I isolated myself from the remainder of my family and friends. I drowned my sorrow in alcohol and found the hangovers never came if I never stopped drinking. Weeks passed in a blur, but in my moments of sobriety, my mother’s mad rants of the Unpleasantville Obelisk took form in my imagination. I drank to erase the vivid images of the Obelisk siphoning the souls of my family into its black void.
I pulled myself out of a week-long binge and stared at my disheveled visage in the mirror. Even to myself, I had become unrecognizable. In that moment I had been dumbstruck by a sudden, awe-inspiring epiphany: I had to get out of this fucking town.
I had only driven past town limits when a migraine sent dancing orbs of light into my vision. The dull throb grew in my skull with each mile I traveled until it felt like a hot poker twisting behind my eyes. I swerved to the shoulder and fought the urge to vomit. I rummaged through the glove compartment and found two extra strength Advil. I rested my head against the steering wheel and chewed the pills until the inside of my cheeks went numb from the ibuprofen.
Static erupted from the car stereo and I grimaced in pain. The radio's knob twist and turned, seeking a radio station that didn’t exist. I bashed the power button, but nothing could stop the onslaught my senses were suffering. I covered my ears and turtled in the driver’s seat.
An ethereal voice called out to me from behind the blaring static, begging for my attention. I slowly unclasped my ears and in response, the volume of the possessed radio dropped to a hush. The pain in my head diminished to a dull throb, and I blinked the orbs of light out of my vision.
“Hello?” I whispered into the ether of the car, hoping to prove that I had not lost my mind.
The static crackled and a ghostly voice pushed the static away. “Honey, you have to go back. You need to turn around.”
Sweat trickled across the back of my neck and my stomach churned. No this isn’t possible, I thought. My mother is dead and I buried her body.
“I’m sorry I had to reach out to you like this, Noah.” My mother’s voice was soft and delicate, cutting through the static with the timber of her voice. “But you are in incredible danger. I love you son, but you need to turn around.”
“Danger? Danger from what?” I scoffed. I laughed and slapped my palm against the dash of the car. Listen to me, talking to my dead mother over my broken radio. “Sounds like I’ve inherited your madness-”
A violent roar of static cut my speech off. “If you don’t go back, the cycle will be broken, and we don’t know the ramifications.” A silence fell upon the world that lasted forever before my mother calmly said, “You will be lost to us forever.”
Tears flowed down my cheeks and I wept into the palms of my hands. Weeks of grief and alcohol abuse poured out of my soul. For a brief moment, I felt free of afflictions and I recalled the insistent need to leave Unpleasantville. Generations of my family had been trapped in this town, and the only way I could get help was to escape its clutches.
“I'm sorry, mum,” I said through blurry eyes. I pulled my seatbelt across my chest and shifted the station wagon into drive. “I love you.”
The vehicle lurched forward and the migraine tore my skull apart; static cascaded through the car in waves of iridescent black energy. I let out a scream of rage and stomped the accelerator to the floor. There was a sudden screech of metal on metal and a crunch of glass shattering into the sky.
The world flipped upside down while my car rolled into the ditch. Through the shattered driver-side window, I watched an out-of-control semi-trailer plow its way towards me. Thick tendrils of smoke weaved out of its grill, reaching out to drag me back to Unpleasantville.
Even in death, I could not escape.
Travis was born and raised on the Canadian Prairies where he works as a professional brewer in the craft beer industry. He graduated from the BA English program at the University of Regina where he focused on creative writing. He occasionally finds himself writing short fiction exploring the nightmares and horrors hiding just out of sight. You can find his other works in Schlock! Webzine, and horror anthologies from Gravestone Press and Hellbound Books. Of course, all of this is possible because of the support of his wonderful wife, Janelle, and beautiful daughter, Emma