I do not like The Captain. I’d much rather see my father. I miss him. I miss seeing him and only him. He goes away a lot now, leaves. And that’s when I have to live with The Captain. But The Captain scares me.
He’s taller than father, stands straight, walks upright. He loses that lovable, huggable layer of fat. The Captain doesn’t have any fat. He’s very strong, very powerful.
I feel more comfortable around my dad when he wears his faded baseball shirts and gym shorts and slippers. It’s hard to approach The Captain. He wears pressed naval uniforms, usually blue or green or black or sometimes gray. It’s the only thing he ever wears. Around the ship, at dinner, on deck, and as he watches me fall asleep.
The most unsettling part of it all, is that father looks a lot like The Captain… if you look at his face, and only his face. It’s the same eyes, same forehead, same mouth. But his nose is longer, his features sharper, his jaw square, his head with more hair. It’s ruffled back, mostly black, lined with gray. And his voice is so cold, and dry, and harsh.
When I’m with father, The Captain is never around. I’ve never seen father and The Captain in the same room, come to think of it.
But that’s okay, because I like it more when it’s just me and dad, because we can go places and laugh and I can love him fully. It’s why I can’t stand the sound of The Captain’s boots making their way down the corridors of the ship. And I search for dad, but he’s gone. I didn’t even see him leave.
I’ve heard about the things The Captain has done. He used to hit my brother, a lot. When brother was little and defenseless. The Captain called him worthless. Maybe that’s why brother used to do that to me, when I was younger, and smaller.
I hear what goes on in the control room of father’s ship. During the divorce battles. He’s heartless, cruel. Relentlessly ordering the soldiers. They fire missile after missile, on The Captain’s command of course. And mother’s ship goes up in flames while he watches. I know mother’s on there, so is sister. He only want’s mother dead. I wonder if he realizes his daughter is trapped in the flames.
I can’t tell him to stop. What if he does to me what he did to brother. As mother tells me, “The Captain gets very angry, when he doesn’t get what he wants.” If I told him to stop, he could hurt me, and would hurt mother. And would father be there to save us? I can’t say. I never know if I’ll be met by father or The Captain when I board that gray and red ship every other weekend. I never know.
Mother tells me my father died long ago. It’s only The Captain, it’s only ever been The Captain. The man she married, dead and rotted away in his grave.
But on the other hand, when I spend time with father, away from The Captain, I wonder if that man in the dark green uniform with the metals and bitter stare actually takes orders from mother. Mother tells me that’s not true. She’s never lied to me, but I’ll never know for sure.
The only thing I know to do now, as all of this degrades my sanity, is to separate father and The Captain. That helps me cope, even though I know deep down they’re the same person. They live in the same body. They look at me with the same eyes, hug me with the same arms. They say “I love you” with the same lips. I want to ask you, how should I respond to that?…when I love my father, but want nothing more than to have The Captain dead, before he gets what he wants, and mother’s ship is swallowed by the ocean, joining the mighty vessel that our family used to captain together, before the war, before The Captain.
He first appears as a mist. Only in certain places. Stages, audition rooms, father’s house. And always the halls of the high school. He’s always in the air. A fine black vapor, a mist, a fog. He waits to make his prominent appearance. I do not know when that will be. He never tells me. That’s how he likes it.
It can be a single word, or sentence, or sight, or person. And that roar of wind floods the hall, and that hallowed voice violates my ears with a drowning groan, and there’s that shaking in the walls, and vibration in my skull and the mist swirls and condenses into a heavy black smoke. It pulls itself into a single swirl, that grows out of the floor, fed by the carpet of smoke around it. At eight feet tall, that faceless, hooded head of black smoke can be seen, and as if on cue, the long black arms branch out slowly and gradually, ending at the tips of his massive curved fingers. He’s a shadow, he’s vapor, yet he stands there. I can’t touch him, but he knows he can touch me.
The smoky figure collapses. The black gaseous substance speeds across the floor until he reforms in front of me, his deathly voice moaning threats. The fog burns my eyes and skin. He wraps those hands around my skull. His fingers work like pythons. My head tied up in these constricting fingers of his, he pries my mouth open, and his smoke pours in, ready to steal every passion and person I know to love.
This is anxiety. Now, depression is different. Depression isn’t a figure, or character of any sort. Depression shows on your own body. It’s the visual effects of anxiety’s careful craftsmanship.
See, being exposed to that black smoke for as long as I am, is not healthy. It rots you away. At points this year, mornings after torturous nights with that shadow man in my bedroom, I walk to work with gray skin. Dried out hair, and crumbling flesh.
It’s difficult to walk with such brittle bones. Yes, I’m worn on the inside too. I think it must start on the inside. After all, anxiety fed his smoke hands all the way through my soul, so it seemed. That smoke eats away at your insides, until it shows on your out.
I sit down at my baby grand piano, in my corner by the windows. The decayed faces of the dozens of elderly folks around me wait for my music. Their faces don’t look as aged as mine feels. I begin to play. I wince when I hear my first mistake. The sudden movement in my facial muscles is too much. My right cheek crumbles onto the piano keys. My foot cracks with each pump of the pedal. My black dress shoe fills with dust.
“Excuse me” she says. I didn’t even notice her beside me. “You don’t play with any melody… I know this must sound rude of me to say, but well, I’m gonna go ahead and say it anyway. Your music, it’s unsettling. And I don’t enjoy it.”
“Yes, ma’am. I apologize. I’ll slow things down for you, play something real pretty.”
Well, that’s how I responded.
What I saw in that moment old silver-haired Julie complained was the eight foot tall, faceless figure forming from the mist behind her. He raised his arms above her. At that sight, I watched my fingers disintegrate. Snap from my hands, and dry up on the keys. I couldn’t play. The will to had been stolen from me.
The shadow figure walks Julie back to her seat, controlling her frail body like a marionette. The shadow figure curses me, and demeans me. He orders me to play better. That’s all I wish to do. But I look down at my hands. The flesh is almost gone. I don’t see how I can do anything with what anxiety has done to me. He knows what he’s done, but continues to shout at me. To make beautiful music without any fingers. Fingers he stole from me.
The Morning that Killed James Winston
from Lions In Galagar
Young Thomas Winston was awoken that morning by the rich sound of the orchestrion downstairs. He slipped from his handmade four-post bed and lowered his bare feet onto the rare oriental rug, which spanned the area of his room. Exiting the comfort of his domain through a single polished wooden door, maids rushing in from the servant quarters to arrange his sheets and pillows to perfection, Thomas descended down the grand staircase, crossed the entrance hallway of the manor, and entered the sunroom, which overlooked the gardens.
His twin sister Lilly sat on the tile floor, the sun appearing to somewhat feed her lively, glossy yellow hair from it’s roots to where it ended at her lower back. She stared at her father’s music machine, it’s bellowing pipes, vibrating horns, and tiny mallets that subtly tapped each metal key. And with those sounds combined, the manor was filled with the joyous music of their father’s most prized invention.
He had built the orchestrion months earlier as a parting gift to his children. So they thought of him when they heard its music in the time he was gone, helping The Regionals invest the powers of a much darker land, on the back of a great dragon, as the children had understood it.
The music machine wasn’t his most profitable invention. It wasn’t responsible for the gold that was shipped to the Winston family, the boxes stamped with the seals of Akaili’s most powerful enterprises. But perhaps more importantly, it put sweet smiles on his children’s faces, which, to James Winston, was far more valuable than all of the golden aurea’s in Akaili.
The charm of that morning in The Winston Manor ceased to exist the very moment a knock sounded from the door.
“Thomas, Lilly, turn that off.”
It was Murphy, father’s head butler, straightening his bow tie while scurrying across the entrance hallway, making his way to the door, his stick-like arms tucked neatly in at this sides. “James! James! They’re here- children, please, your father wants that machine off!”
The twins exclaimed together that they hadn’t a clue as to how to shut down the music machine in the middle of a song. They rushed behind Murphy, pulling at his coattails.
Mr. Winston descended the grand staircase quite elegantly, considering the great hurry he was in. His long, brown, fabric coat trailed behind him. He tucked a pocket-watch into his vest pocket. “All right, all right, open the door let them in” he said with clenched teeth. Murphy did as he was instructed, and Thomas and Lilly backed themselves against the wall as the people flooded in. These people wore robes colored pure white, and carried matching white staffs, topped with a transparent crystal. A uniform impossible not to recognize, the Imperial Guards, they had come from the capital city.
While more and more Imperials filled the foyer, Mr. Winston strode hurriedly into the sunroom, where he forcefully yanked several of the orchestrion brass levers, until the music stopped. He stood there, staring at the floor, breathing heavily, his hand over his mouth, waiting for the last of the air to exit the machine. This called for an uncomfortable ten seconds on the ears, as the unused air was forcefully expelled through the pipes, and it sounded as if the once beautiful song was melting away.
“Gentlemen” called Mr Winston to the guards, leaning up against his now silent machine. The men in the white robes only nodded in response. Mr. Winston ran his hand through his glossy and golden, pushed back hair. He looked around the scene for his children, to find them tucked against the grandfather clock in the hallway. “…Uh, children, dears…perhaps you should head down to the boathouse…?” He trailed off. It was unclear if he was asking a question or giving an order. Thomas and Lilly did not move.
Mr. Winston turned back to the guards. “Alright…we’ll discuss matters in the study.”
That morning Mrs. Lucy Winston was having tea with her maids, or friends as she called them. They were outside the carriage house. So, when Mr. Winston had led all of the men up the grand staircase, where they disappeared into the left hallway, Murphy trailing not far behind them, the children were left alone. It did not take the two long to depart their snug corner against the grandfather clock. Side by side, as always, the fair-haired twins bolted across the hallway, through the dining room, into the kitchen, startling several butlers who struggled not to drop their silver platers. Thomas and Lilly then rushed up the narrow servant staircase which brought them quite close to the double doors that guarded their father’s study.
“Did I even cross you brilliant minds before you made that decision?”
That was father’s voice. The twins could tell.
“James, it wasn’t as if we had that much of a decision in the first place.”
“No? You had to hide it here. Anywhere else Alec, anywhere else on this entire island you had.”
“You are acting as if we stowed it under your precious gold embroidered pillow.”
A few of the guards chuckled, but Mr. Winston responded with such grave seriousness, their laughter was silenced the moment his tongue touched his teeth. “Thirty three miles. It’s thirty three miles up the road, from you, and I, as I speak to you this very moment.”
“It’s with Strato, guarded by his soldiers, why have you convinced yourself that he’ll come here for it? It’s Strato’s responsibility, and he’s ready to defend it.”
“Gora doesn’t want Strato, he’s gonna be after me.”
“But Strato has the necklace.”
“Gora’s current and very fresh hatred towards me, will in fact convince him I have the necklace, I’m sure of that, especially with the damn thing only a mornings stroll away from my home!” The sound of a wine glass being aggressively placed on a maple wood desk caused Thomas and Lilly to jump back a ways from the double doors.
“James, I can assure you, Strato is a greater threat to Gora than you’ve ever been.”
The soft tuft of Mr. Winston dropping himself onto his leather armchair was audible. He spoke as if he was very tired. “No…no I saw the way he looked at me, when I saw him…how did you convince me to go on that bloody dragon journey anyways, I’ll never know…” The floorboards creaked. He was back on his feet, and his voice gained intensity. “And who’s the man who keeps Strato in business? Who’s the man who supplies him captured sunlight for his rotten flying machines? You know damn well I am, I’m just as great a threat, you know that damn well.”
“What do you expect we do?” asked a guard, clearly annoyed.
“What do you do? What do you- I can’t protect myself, I have a wife, two children, they’re the loves of my life, and they will not become part of this war. They stay out of it.”
“How many do you want?”
It took a few moments for Mr. Winston to respond. “The grounds here are large…I want a hundred men, so they can cover my borders-”
The guard raised his voice. “No, no, that will not be necessary, and half of our men are stationed with Strato anyways, you get twenty five second class Imperials, James, that will be plenty of protection for you, and your family. ”
“Half of your men with Strato? He has an army of his own! Sutter should send his men to protect the people he’s dragged into this mess, people like me, not-…don’t you dare leave his room Alec-”
“It’s best we be leaving,” the head guard called to his men. “James, it’s been wonderful seeing you. Your guards will be here this afternoon. We’ll let ourselves out. ”
“You get back over here! You bring me Sutter White, and tell him his precious inventor’s gonna be dead in a week because of you! And you can tell Akayah Redwood to protect his own bloody necklace, do you hear me!”
The double doors swung open and Thomas and Lilly leapt to the side. The men in the white robes rushed past them, each allowing only a second of eye contact, a hint of guilt behind their eyes. Behind the open doors stood Murphy, starring out the window, sweat on his forehead, and father standing in the center of the room, watching the last of the guards turn the corner at the end of the hall, his chest heaving, his brown coat hung on the wall, his vest buttons undone, and his sleeves rolled up to his elbows.
“Father?” asked Lilly with her wide green eyes. “Everything’s okay?”
Mr. Winston met the eyes of his daughter with great fear, with his lip quivering slightly. “Everything’s wonderful darling…stay close to father. Don’t leave the gardens.”
“The Ways I’ve Seen Him”
When you pick someone, someone you trust, you learn their different forms. Everyone has these forms, though they’re just a little different for each and every person you meet. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to see most all of someone’s forms, if you become close enough to them. If you choose to see them.
I’ve seen him pass through the halls. Just another student with a worn book bag and dull-tipped pencil. You don’t pay much attention to a person in that form.
I’ve seen him at home. Wearing no shoes, only socks, sliding across the kitchen floor, knowing which cabinet to grab the glasses from, knowing which chair his black cat enjoys most. Knowing the sounds of the house, which footsteps belong to who. Knowing which family photo was taken when. I think you gain a new understanding of a person when you see them in that form.
I’ve seen his timid form. Heard his heartbeat through his shoulder. When he sits hunched over, looking at nothing but the wall. Hands tightly folded in his lap. And how his leg shakes, the knee jerking up and down, bouncing off the heel.
I’ve seen his radiant form. Sparkling blue eyes, a smile that never quite leaves his face. And he can’t help but giggle with pride.
I’ve seen his innocent side. When he just needs attention. We all do. He’ll ask stupid questions just to keep the conversation going, questions he knows the answers to. But I always try to answer anyways.
I’ve seen his bubbly side. When laughter fills him up and he rolls across the floor, tears leaking from the creased corners of his bright eyes. And he eventually just lies on the floor, staring at the ceiling. I watch as the movement of his stomach matches the sound of his last laughs, before he looks to me, and just smiles more.
I’ve seen the form he takes, only when he talks about his passions. And he glows, and has enough energy to talk for hours on end, with hand movements and all.
I’ve seen his confident side. When he’s on top of the world. There’s a bounce in his step, and a strut in his walk, and a beam in his smile, and a pierce in his stare. He likes to puff out his chest and squint his eyes, but he can only keep this act up for a few moments, before he breaks down in that sweet laughter again.
I’ve seen him in the form where nothing else matters. Just us sitting on the roof of that old timber cabin, stranded in the woods with nothing but our youth.
I’ve seen him in his needy form. Where he needs hugs, and really nothing more.
I’ve seen him in his lonely form. Where I realize just how sad the happiest people can be.
I’ve seen him in his sorry form. Where he makes sure not to leave my side. He repeats his apologies until I have to grab his head to look him in the eyes and repeat my words to him now, that there was nothing to be sorry about.
I’ve seen his scared form. Scared for me. He didn’t sleep that night. Cause he was scared for me. We were both scared. We stayed up together that night. Far into the morning.
I’ve seen him in his confused form. Where his brows furrow and his eyes dart along the scenery behind me, until they finally land on my own eyes. And that’s when his nose scrunches and he tilts his head.
I’ve seen his frustrated form. He doesn’t talk much in this form, which is really rare. Communication consists of mostly shakes of the head, shrugs of the shoulders, and empty stares with the corner of his mouth curved to the ground.
I’ve seen the side that worries me. I worry that he’s done. That he’ll leave. That he’s given up. I’ve really only seen it once. Or I thought I saw it. It was in an empty classroom of an abandoned church. But I now know he’ll never leave.
Because I’ve seen his protective side. When he’s right there next to me in the middle of that forest, in the midst of the pouring rain and thunder. We were so scared, both of us. I tried to leave. He never let me.
And now, tonight, I’ve seen his hurt side. I’ve heard him cry while I lie on the fraying carpet of my basement floor. I cry with him. As to why we cry, well I’ll say this to him.
It’s important that I see you in all these forms. And that you’ve somehow dealt with my far more problematic forms, with such ease…This piece is for you, I know you’re confused, and scared, but the fact that we’ve stuck with each other through all of our forms, especially the ladder examples…it has to mean something, don’t you think? I don’t know if that will help to calm you tonight. But I think that’s all the evidence we need until we figure out the exact meaning behind this all. Evidence that something’s there, even if we don’t know how or why yet. I know its there. And I’ll never forget.