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Dead Oaks: "A Dead Oaks Visitor"


A Dead Oaks Visitor
By S.H. Mansouri

“I wake up in the middle of the night.  The first thing I see is headlights sprayed against the wall. They shoot across the room, you know, like when a car passes by . . . or when someone pulls into the driveway. I’m not expecting company at this hour, I can tell you that for sure.”
            “And how do you feel?” asks the woman sitting in a dark brown leather chair. She scribbles across the legal pad resting on her lap. She waits for a reply.
            Marvin shuffles on the couch, burrowing deeper into a corner. He squeezes a throw pillow, pulling it up close to his bottom lip, preparing for a scene of horror. His eyes burn a hole into a throw-rug on the floor.
            “I feel . . . like I’m on top of a really big roller coaster, one of those towering new rides that starts out by slowly inching upward. The clicking sound locks me into the next foot or two I’ve climbed.”
 He looks up to the ceiling, eyes wide, clenching the pillow until his knuckles turn white. Digging his toes into the heel of his shoe, he quickly kicks them off and lifts his legs up. He folds his legs Indian style. His shoes plop down at the edge of the couch. Ingrid, the woman sitting across from him, glances down at the shoes and then up to the big toe that’s jutting out of his sock. She wonders if the odor will stick to her couch.
            They smell bad, she thinks, everything about them smells bad.
            “You know, I never liked amusement parks. What’s so amusing about them anyway?” says Marvin.
            He flails his hands around in front of him, painting a picture.
“They’re full of clowns and crying babies and they never clean up the gum and candy from off the floor, and you end up walking around with your feet sticking to every goddamn thing—
            “You were saying something about roller coasters,” interrupts Ingrid.
            Marvin pauses, his jaw hanging down like a draw bridge. His arms are frozen in time, thrust out like a mannequin; a mannequin sitting on a couch.
            “Ahem,” shoots Marvin, clearing his throat.  The wire-rimmed glasses that frame his face slump forward to the boney bridge of his nose. He seems to disappear into another world as the dream-like images flow toward him like passing cars on a highway.
            “Well, that’s not what happens next, if that’s what you’re wondering--the roller coaster I mean. It’s not part of my dream, just the way I feel. We’re supposed to be talking about how I feel, right”?
            Ingrid smiles, the kind of smile that a banker gives while waiting for a transaction to end. She nods uncomfortably. “Proceed Mr.--
            “Shhhhh. I asked you not to use my last name, remember?”
            “Right,” says Ingrid. “I apologize. Tell me again why I’m to refrain from using your given name?”
            “First of all, Marvin is actually a Martian. That little man with a blast-ray gun that comes on Saturday morning cartoons. It’s a codename . . .  to keep them guessing, keep them off my trail.” Marvin grins proudly as lines of skin shoot up to meet the corners of his eyes like a deranged parabola.
            “I sound completely insane, I know.”
            “Nobody said you were insane Marvin. All we’re doing is talking, weeding out the truth. After your mother passed away you began to have these dreams, is that correct?”
            Marvin’s fingers crawl into the front of his mouth, his upper lip twitching as he begins to gnaw at the nails of his index fingers. This is uncomfortable, he thinks. Just another drop in the bucket of folks that don’t believe a word I say. Maybe I need new glasses.
            “Yes . . . that’s when the dreams started. But let me finish please.”
            “Go ahead Marvin.”
“When I open my eyes, that’s when I feel like the roller coaster begins to drop. It’s a sinking feeling somewhere in my gut. The headlights disappear; the walls become painted with a red glow; my alarm clock flashes 12AM. Even the fan above me starts to spin in the wrong direction. I have no idea how they get inside. I don’t hear the door open or close. They just appear.”
 Marvin’s eyes dart from side to side like he’s expecting an ambush. His breath is labored.
            “Go slowly Marvin. You’re in a safe place,” purrs Ingrid as she jots down a couple of lines in the legal pad.  
            “I can’t move. I once saw a documentary film on this kind of thing, one of those three hour long brainwashing jobs shot on some teenager’s cell phone. Sleep paralysis, that’s what it’s called.”
            Ingrid sighs and puts down her pen, a shiny black torpedo engraved with thin silver script, probably a gift from some graduate committee.
            “Do you think that’s what’s happening to you during your dream?” Ingrid says.
            “No. I don’t have a condition or a syndrome or a glitch of any kind. I have visitors Ms. Ingrid. I can’t move because they’re holding me down, six of them, faceless shadowy giants with sharp-rimmed bowler hats. Oh, they look frail and thin and wispy, but together they can hold me down as long as they wish. And then . . . one of them sets a small box on my chest.  The box opens, light shoots up to the ceiling, and I can see the blades of my fan twirling wildly. It comes crawling out . . . Jesus Christ!”
             Marvin falls sideways on the couch, smothering his face with the throw pillow, weeping uncontrollably into the soft threading. He pulls at it, ripping out a tassel with one swift jerk.  He apologizes through sobs and sniffles, completely fetal.  
            “I’m sorry Ms.  I’m just so afraid . . . afraid that if I go to sleep I might not wake up again.”
Ingrid plants her heels on the floor and stares at the transformation before her; from a grown man to a child in mere seconds.  She holds her head down as she walks hesitantly to the empty side of the couch. As she takes a seat next to Marvin, the cogs in her head begin to turn. Delusional with possible hallucinations due to schizophrenia. He’s perfect, she thinks.
            “Marvin? I’m right here, Marvin. Can you hear me?”
            He looks up, head cocked sideways from beneath the pillow. His glasses fall down, bouncing first off the couch cushion then down to the floor next to a pile of chewed-up finger nails.
            “I’d really like to help you Marvin. Will you let me help?”
            Marvin sits up straight and wipes the front of his nose with the back of his hand. While reaching down to collect his glasses, he ignores the pile of fingernails; his hand passes right over them. Ingrid’s eyes narrow as she tightens the grip on her thighs. She imagines the airflow through Marvin’s windpipe coming to a halt. It’s all she can do to stop herself from screaming. He’s disgusting, she thinks.
            “Of course I want help. Why in the world do you think I’m sitting here Ms. Ingrid?”
            “Well then, I know exactly how to help you Marvin. There is no simple cure to the complexity of the ordeal that you face. I wish that I could simply chalk it up as a reaction to your mother’s death, or to plain old paranoia. But as you said earlier on in our conversation, you don’t have a condition or a disorder. I watched the sheer terror in your eyes when you described to me your dream. I don’t believe it’s a case of sleep paralysis or anything of the sort. I think you could gain a lot of insight as to what’s really going on here if you could perhaps . . . speak to others that have fought through the same ordeal as you.”
            “Others?” Marvin whispers. “What others?”
            “I know of a group . . . a gathering of people that have described to me the very same details of your own horrific experience.  They call themselves the VISITED.”
 Marvin and Ingrid glance up to a calendar on the wall. It’s a bold glossy layout dedicated to the works of famous artists. Ingrid looks over to Marvin, who is fixated on a painting of a ghastly figure screaming out from the top of a bridge.
“Marvin? Did you hear what I just said?”
 “Does such a group really exist? I mean, I’ve been to at least four people before I came to you, and here you are telling me that nothing is wrong with me . . . that I’m actually the victim of some supernatural event.”
“How else can I explain it to you Marvin? I believe you. But I also know that you need help with this thing. These people can help.” Ingrid stands and briskly makes her way to a small cupboard. She pulls the handle, scans the shelves and pulls down a white box framed in purple lining. She flicks her nail across a sticky tab and pulls out a small foil tray encasing a dozen white, circular pills.
“This is Rotisiv, samples of a mild sedative that will help to ease your symptoms.”
 “I don’t like pills Ms. Ingrid, they dull the senses and keep me complacent when I need to remain vigilant, aware of the traps,” says Marvin in a serious tone. He tosses the pillow aside and rises to his feet, resolved that Ingrid is just another pill-pushing non-believer patronizing his keen sensibilities about what truly happens when the lights go out.
“About this group, Ms. Ingrid. Where, and at what time, should I arrive?”
Sliding the foil tray back inside the sample box, Ingrid frowns and walks over to where Marvin is standing. She places her hand on his shoulder and holds out the box.
“I don’t blame you for distrusting me Marvin. If I was in your shoes,” she peers down at his socks, “I would feel exactly the way you do. After all, I’m only a recent graduate in my field. I have no clients that have truly turned their lives around for the better. I sometimes wonder if what I do makes a difference. All I can do is hope that we can make progress together . . . if we’re both willing to believe each other. I believe everything you’ve described to me and I know that with the help of this group, and the proper medication, we can progress beyond the torture you’ve endured. I’m not here to put you in a box Marvin. I’m here to help you transcend.”
Marvin’s demeanor softens. He balances on one foot, nervously thrusting the other into a shoe. He bends down, picks up his glasses and tucks them behind his ears, nearly inserting one of the frame arms into his eye. Holding out his right hand, Marvin begins to smirk, then grin. His mouth expands into a fully formed smile, silver molar caps shining through. A buzzing lullaby emerges from his bowels, then rolls into a frenzied laugh.
“Well, shake my hand then,” he rattles.
Before she can so much as raise her shoulder, Marvin snatches hold of Ingrid’s hand and shakes it vigorously up and down.
“You have no idea what this means to me Ms. Ingrid,” says Marvin as he takes the box of sample pills.
Ingrid is surprised. Her face lights up as she makes her way back to the desk. She takes out a small pad of paper and begins scrawling across it with her pen.
 It worked, she thinks.
Ingrid tears out the scribbled sheet and hands it to him.
“This is a referral. Bring it with you when you attend the group meeting tonight. I’ve included directions for taking the medication samples I gave you.”
 “Marvin . . . I’m really glad you decided to trust me.”
Marvin nods, slips on his other shoe and exits the room with the confidence that he’s made the right decision.
As soon as Marvin leaves, Ingrid sits down in the leather chair, picks up the receiver of her phone and gently pushes down on one of the speed dial buttons. The ringing sound echoes in her ear.
“Yes, hello, this is Ingrid. Everything is fine, thank you. The reason I’m contacting you is that I think I have a candidate for the group. He has the same symptoms, yes. He just left the office. I gave him a referral and the samples, he should be by tonight. That’s correct. Just make sure everyone is there. Right. Well, good luck then.”
She hangs up the receiver and continues on with her notes.

Marvin’s apartment is a mess.  Twenty minutes until his meeting. The place is close enough to walk to. Cold water pours down from the sink as Marvin stands in front of a bathroom mirror staring at the two white pills in his open hand.
Bottoms up. He throws the pills into the back of his throat, takes a glass of water and guzzles. He cups his hands and collects a small pool of running water from the sink, splashes it on his face then walks to the living room and stares at the bedroom door.
“It all ends tonight,” he shouts, wiping his face dry with the bottom of his shirt.

Marvin’s walk is uneventful. Most of the way he looks up to the stars. For months now he’s been plagued by the shadowy figures in his apartment. He knows they are real. Ingrid believes him, and it’s the first time any real help has come his way. Time doesn’t bother him anymore, he has nowhere special to be at this hour and doesn’t need a good night’s rest; he was fired from his job for too many no-shows. The shadows have kept him awake, stopped him from living a normal life. He watches cartoons all day just like he did when he was a child. They calm him. But tonight it will all change. There is light at the end of the tunnel for Marvin.
Outside the hallway door, a propped-up sign reads: VISITED Room 12.
It’s real. He pulls out a folded piece of paper from the pocket of his black windbreaker and holds it under the light of a flickering bulb overhead. The information matches. He turns his wrist and pulls it toward his face. The time is correct. Marvin lets out a deep breath. All the pent-up anxiety and fear rushes out into the world. He leans forward and pushes the steel bar inward. The door slides open into a polished hallway lined with numbered doors on either side. Room twelve is at the very end of the hall.
“Well good evening,” shouts a tall, middle-aged man at the head of the room.
“You must be Marvin. Ingrid told me you’d be coming by tonight. Welcome!”
The salutation startles Marvin. With one hand still hanging on to the door handle, he surveys the room.
 A folded index card sits on an empty chair. His name is written in black marker on the card. Stanley, the man at the head of the room, points to the chair and smiles.
“It’s yours,” says Stanley.
As Marvin makes his way to the empty chair, the group eyeballs him, scanning him from head to toe. Marvin picks up the index card, folds it a couple of times and stuffs it into his jacket pocket. He pulls out the referral that Ingrid gave to him and holds it up.
“Do you want this?”
Stanley shakes his head.
“That won’t be necessary Marvin, we all know who you are. We’ve been waiting to hear all about you. Everyone . . . please introduce yourselves.”
An elderly man with short, thin, white hair raises his hand.
“I’m Ed, just plain old Ed. I’m here because the shadows been following me around ever since I retired from law enforcement. I even tried using my service weapon on one of them--went right through and busted the television. Anyways, welcome Martin.”
“It’s Marvin, see.” He pulls out the index card and holds it up for Ed.
“Right,” grunts Ed.
“Ethel,” tweets the redheaded woman sitting behind Ed. “They injected me with some kind of poison one night. I woke up in an alleyway stark naked and bruised. I’m here for revenge. Welcome Marvin.”
The woman behind Ethel begins to giggle uncontrollably.
“And what’s so funny Ginger? It’s true, I’m telling it just like I’m supposed to, right?” She looks up at Stanley who nods back in agreement. Marvin begins to feel lightheaded. He reels sideways in the chair, leaning quickly to catch his balance.
“Ohhhhh, be careful there Marvin, we wouldn’t want you all banged up before we even begin. I’m Ginger, by the way. I’m here because I’m going to be a famous actress one day and well . . . I just love the stories; they help me assimilate better. Isn’t that right Stanley?”
She looks up to the man at the head of the room and he nods again, shuffling his feet across the linoleum.
“Excuse me sir,” whimpers Marvin. “Why is my chair in the middle of the room? It’s a bit uncomfortable to be in the spotlight and all.”
“I just love the spotlight,” says Ginger.
“It’s because you’re new Marvin. We all want to get a good look at you, that’s all. Standard procedure for a group like this, nothing to be afraid of,” says Stanley.
As the young man to his right stands and saunters to the rear of the room, Marvin stares at the clock on the wall above Stanley. He removes his glasses and wipes them with his shirt. It must be a floater or something, he thinks. This can’t happen here, not now.
The second hand on the clock is ticking loudly, in the wrong direction.
“My name is Irving,” echoes the young man from the back of the room. He turns the lock and stands in front of the door, smiling wildly. “I’m here to make sure that you can’t leave,” he cackles. “I’ve seen shadows too Marvin, but not the kind that hold you down in your sleep. You’re completely insane.”
The room explodes with laughter. The walls begin to glow red as the track lighting darkens. Finally, a young woman near the front of the room stands with her hands behind her back.
“My name is Martha,” she says.  Her hands slowly emerge from behind her. A small black box sits atop her open hands.
At the sight of the box, Marvin screams and shuffles forward, only to stumble to the ground, his legs buckling beneath him. Stanley moves forward to where Marvin has collapsed.
“Well that wasn’t very tactful, Martha. How do you know if the pills have even taken effect yet?” says Stanley. He pulls back Marvin’s eyelids and glares.
Stanley places his hands on Marvin’s torso and rocks his body back and forth.
“No resistance. You’re lucky, all of you. The Rotisiv is working now.”
As the group gathers around Marvin, his eyes open, bloodshot and glazed over like a foggy window. He looks around at the shadowy figures, paralyzed and helpless. Irving tips his bowler hat and smiles a mouthful of darkness. Ed, Ethel, Irving and Ginger pin down his arms and legs as Stanley braces his neck, his clammy fingers pressing into Marvin’s pulsating temples. “Martha, bring it over,” orders Stanley.
  Martha gently places the box on Marvin’s chest.
“Are you sure he’s the right candidate for this Stanley? He looks disgusting. Ingrid said he’s a total mess,” says Martha.
“He’s perfect,” assures Stanley. “No family, no job and no friends. Marvin might as well disappear from off the face of the planet. He’s a ghost. Now open it up.”
Marvin cannot speak, cannot move and cannot fathom what is happening to him. Only God knows the terror flashing through his mind as the small black box is opened.
First, a small stream, then a burst of bright white light breaks free from the box. Marvin stares up at the ceiling, petrified. It’s the only thing he can do. He wishes he was at home now, watching the fan above his bed spin wildly in the right direction. Stanley pokes his fingers into Marvin’s mouth and yanks his jaw open. The tiny figure scuttles across his chest, climbs his chin and leaps into his mouth.
 Marvin opens his eyes. He’s laying comfortably snuggled beneath fresh sheets and blankets. The fan above his bed is gone; only a few wires dangling down dance in the breeze from an open window. The alarm clock is gone, but Marvin pays no mind. He rolls over and looks down at his feet. Disgusting, he thinks.
He grabs the toe-nail clippers from off the night stand and begins to cut away at the mangled yellow ends of his feet.  He showers, shaves and brushes his teeth.
The living room is spotless, riddled with empty cans of air freshener and foot deodorant. There is a neatly folded note on the living room table.
Good morning Marvin. I’ve provided you with clean clothes and a new I.D. card. Come to the office as soon as possible. Sorry about the fan. Ingrid.
When he arrives at the office, Marvin is greeted by Ms. Ingrid.
“Well good morning Marvin. How did your meeting go last night?”
 “It was great. This new getup is quite satisfactory. It’s much bigger than I expected, but I’ll manage. No more smelly feet though,” he giggles.
“Come on in,” says Ingrid, swinging open a large door. “This is your new office. I hope I’ve included everything you need. Your first client will be along shortly.”
Marvin looks up to a plate on the office door.
Marvin Jones, Therapist and Life Coach. Visitors allowed.
He looks over to Ingrid as she steps out of the office.
“It’s perfect,” he shouts.

About the Author: S.H. Mansouri

              

S.H. Mansouri is a writer of fantasy, science fiction and horror. His short stories can be found in Beyond Science Fiction Magazine, The Manor House podcast, From the Dragon Lord's Library Vol. 2 by 18th Wall Productions and Best Horror Shorts 2015 by Disquieted Dreams Press. You can follow him on twitter @ShawnMansouri.


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