For a moment, the room stopped spinning around Jason. He took a deep breath and tried to focus. The stench of sweat and filth made its way to the lowest pits of his stomach and he cringed. He realized he had been out, but he didn’t know for how long. As he looked ahead, he noticed wide, green eyes staring back unblinking. He slowly tilted his head. The eyes mimicked his movement. Jason frowned, trying to understand at what he was looking. The face had human features, but at the same time they seemed out of place and wrong. The yellowy face was oddly proportioned, the skin hard and callous.
“Who the hell are you? And why are you painted like an owl?” asked Jason, his voice raspy.
“I am here for you, Jason” said the owl.
“Right… You do realize you look like a meth head who decided to become an owl, don’t you? And how come you know my name?”
“If you think a bit harder, you will understand. I know all names when the time is right. But, the important thing for now is that you can see me.”
“What the hell kind of an answer is that? And why wouldn’t I be able to see you? You’re right in front of me. Do you think you’re invisible or something? I thought that once and I ended up being kneed in the groin by a girl in the lady’s bathroom. It wasn’t fun, I can tell you that. Just because you think you’re invisible, that doesn’t mean you actually are.”
The owl was silent. Jason frowned again. There was something about those eyes that made him unable to look away. The color was deep and rich, and the shape wide and round. He blinked rapidly as though to break the spell.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t have owl snack on me right now to give you. What do you want?”
“What do YOU want?”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake; do you understand what you’re being told, or do you just repeat whatever you hear?”
“I could ask you the same question and it would be just as valid.”
Jason gave a long sigh. The owl was starting to get on his nerves. He forced his eyes to look away. There was nothing on which he could focus his attention. He moved his gaze from blurred shape to even blurrier shape. He turned back to the owl.
“Apparently, you’re the only thing I can see for now. This is the last time I tell that asshole drug dealer to surprise me when he asks what I want. What happened to this world when you can’t trust your friendly, neighborhood drug dealers?” asked Jason, giving a short laugh.
He thought that the joke might drag out some sort of emotion from the owl, but he was wrong. It was sitting, just as placid and as peaceful. Jason observed the frail and pale shape of the owl’s body. It was naked but for a long, brown skirt that covered the lower part. There was nothing frightening or menacing about the creature. It almost looked forgettable. Like another nameless body, drifting somewhere in his peripheral vision. Even with the odd colors and questionable features, the owl’s body could go undetected; everything except those eyes.
“The first thing you told me was that you were here for me. That means that I should know you, but do I?” asked Jason, struggling to get up from the floor.
“You do. Everybody does. I have been here since the beginning of life. But, at this moment, I am here for you,” said the owl.
“Again with the saying of the words, but not the making of the sense,” said Jason, annoyance building in his voice.
He took a deep breath and tried to arch his back, but the muscles of his shoulders felt as hot as fire and as stiff as a poker. He relaxed to stop the pain.
“My muscles are all swore. I think I’m going to be here for a while, so might as well get to know each other. So, for some strange reason you already know my name. I’m not going to ask again why, because I have a strange feeling you’re going to tell me about the ethereal quality of the human spirit and I’m too tired for that. But, do you have a name?” asked Jason.
“I go by many names, each person, each culture calls me something different. But, I have always been and forever will be the same.”
“So, I was right! You’re answers are getting weirder and weirder. I feel like with every answer you give me I just get more and more confused. You know what? If you said that each person gives you a different name, I’m going to give you one myself. I’ll just call you Owly. You know, because you look like a fucking owl.”
The creature was silent and still. It almost looked like it wasn’t breathing. Jason thought whether other people could see this creature, or if he was hallucinating. He had met a lot of odd characters during his drug adventures. He remembered one time after shrooms he had a very lengthy conversation with a five-headed otter that told him to quit his job and open a tea shop named ‘The Jasmine Dragon’. But the creature sitting in front of him was by far the weirdest. He wanted to reach out, but his arms felt paralyzed. He looked down and noticed the needle sticking out of his left arm. He tried to flex it. A fast flash of pain numbed him. He bit his lips to stop the shouting from escaping his mouth. He closed his eyes and controlled his breathing. Second by second, his pain receded, but not fast enough for him. It had been a long time since Jason last felt this bent.
“If you do not get out of here, you are going to die,” said the owl.
Why can’t I move my body? How long have I been out? I need to call someone to help me up, or this weirdo might be right, thought Jason, trying his best to keep his mind away from the pain.
He opened his eyes and looked around. He knew there should be other people there, but the room was poorly lit and his eyes were still unfocused. Shades of grey and brown danced in front of him, but they made no sense or shape.
His body felt weak; weaker than he could ever remember. He knew he had to get out of that place and go somewhere he could be safe until he was again in control. He remembered he had some money in his back pocket, probably enough to get home. He tried to make a mental plan.
Ok, he thought. First, get this needle out, because I have no idea how long it’s been in there. Secondly, get up and lose the creep and his fucking premonitions because he’s bumming me out. Thirdly, get home and take a shower. And maybe some McDonald’s on the way because I’m starving. But I’ll need someone’s help.
He opened his eyes and looked at his arm again. He tried again to move. He couldn’t.
“Owly, could you do me favor? Could you pull this out for me real quick?” asked Jason, looking at his left arm.
“I think it is not necessary. If you choose to live, you will need it,” said the owl.
“Aren’t you just fucking hilarious? I meant the needle; the metal thing sticking out. I’m not sure how long it’s been in there and I don’t want it to keep my vein open. I would do it myself, but I’m afraid I can’t really move for now.”
The owl came closer and with both hands, took out the piece of metal with great care. It looked at it for a few seconds, examining it from every side as though to understand it, but threw it away over its shoulder. Jason tried to focus on the chest of the creature. The texture looked like skin, but it was blue and green. The colors were overlapping in weird patterns. They almost looked like feathers.
So, this idiot is actually real. Good to know, thought Jason.
“Nice tattoos; must have hurt like hell to get them,” said Jason.
“They are not really there. They are just details to make you remember.”
“Make me remember what?”
“Why I am in this form.”
“I don’t know what you took man, but I have to try it next time.”
“The next moment is promised to none,” said the owl, in a stern voice.
“You’re really getting annoying and the fact that your answers managed to make me more confused is not really pleasant either. And listen, I know I can’t really move right now and I’m pretty sure I’m standing in a pool of my own shit and cum, but I know I’ve been worse. Once, after I snorted too much cocaine I ended up not sleeping for three days. I was concerned at first, but a week later I was good as new. I’ll be fine after I get home and take a hot bath and a long nap,” said Jason, a small smirk forming on his tired face.
The owl sat crossed-leg in front of him. Jason noticed the yellowy tint of the creature’s feet. There was no hair on the legs, but there were some scars.
“So…are you going to help me out of here?” asked Jason.
“You are now on the edge of death. The only one who can decide if you live or die is you. What do you decide, Jason? Do you want to live?”
What the fuck is wrong with this guy? thought Jason. He was still having doubts whether the creature in front of him was sane or not. But he had no other choice but to talk to it. He still couldn’t see or hear anyone familiar around him. He stared at the owl. The ominous eyes demanded a response. He thought he should do something more drastic to increase his chances of getting himself out of the current situation.
“Of course I want to live, you crazy asshole!” yelled Jason.
“Then get up and get out of this place, because otherwise this will be your tomb.”
Jason frowned at the creature. He felt anger building in his chest, like lava bubbling inside a volcano. He hated that he couldn’t focus on anything around him. He hated that his body was not obeying him and he was now hopeless and at the mercy of strangers. He felt a storm of rage form somewhere deep inside his core. But most of all, he felt a great flame of hate for the owl in front of him.
“What do you choose?” asked the owl again.
“I’m going to live!” shouted Jason, the words scratching his throat as they were spitted out.
“Then get up and walk away. If not, follow me.”
“Follow you where?”
“I cannot tell you. I can only show you.”
“For fuck’s sake. Get away from me! I’m done with this place and with your bullshit. I need to get home before you eat my liver, or some fucked up shit like that. I’m not going to end here!”
Jason tried to stand up. He pushed his back to the wall as hard as he could. He could feel his muscles ignoring his orders. Try as he might, he could only hunch his shoulders. He closed his eyes and tried to control his breath. I can do this, he thought. He tried again, but his body disobeyed. Pain rushed from every movement. He was trapped in his own body.
As he was focusing on his control, he felt a hand on his wrist. He opened his eyes and looked down. As through mist, he saw a hand with a familiar ring on the thumb. It was his friend, Mike.
“I’m still alive, you asshole,” said Jason.
Mike didn’t turn to look at him. Jason thought that maybe he did not hear him. He said it again, but this time he shouted as hard as his lungs could stand. He felt another hand touching his neck. It felt cold and strange.
“I’ve had enough of your jokes. I know you can hear me. Something I took made my body completely sore and I can’t get up. Help me out, you idiot. I have no idea how long I’ve been out, but I have to get home,” said Jason, gathering all his strength.
There was no response. The hands continued touching his body, as though searching for a sign of life. As the fingers found his heart, he could feel the muscles pumping blood with great difficulty. I’m not dead yet, he thought. Jason smirked at the owl.
“My heart is still pumping. I can feel it. I still have a chance to get the fuck out of here and away from you,” said Jason.
“I know,” said the creature, still sitting cross-legged.
Mike and the other unknown person raised Jason’s body. His arms were put around necks and his feet dragged over warned out carpets and squeaky floors.
“Help! Someone fucking help me. This isn’t funny anymore!” yelled Jason.
Why can’t they hear me? Am I really shouting, or is it in my own head? he thought.
With great difficulty, he turned his head to face his friend. Jason could barely understand the expression on his face. He hoped it was concern, but maybe it was just annoyance with the fact that he had to carry his lifeless body to a safer place. He looked around. He forced his eyes to focus, but the only things he could see were blurred shapes. He didn’t know where he was, or where he was taken.
“Mike?” he asked, “Buddy, it’s me. I need your help. I need to get home. Help me!”
There was no answer.
He felt his body fall on something softer than the floor. He guessed they had carried him to the couch underneath the window. Jason could feel a cold touch in the place the needle once was. Mike had wiped his arm with alcohol and put some sort of bandage over it. He didn’t notice he was bleeding. Mike tied the bandage tight. A bottle was raised to his lips. Even though most of the liquid ran down his face, some managed to find its way down his throat. Only then did Jason realize just how thirsty he had been. Mike put the bottle down next to Jason and left.
“Mike!” yelled Jason as loud as he could. “Come back. Don’t leave me here alone. I need your help!”
Mike stopped and turned his head for a second. A glimmer of hope grew in the darkest of his soul’s corners. But it disappeared just as fast as Mike was lost in the sea of blurred colors.
“Come back, you idiot. I, I, I...I have some money. You can have it. You can have my car; whatever you want. Just help me get home! I don’t want to die here!” bellowed Jason, desperation taking slowly over.
“He cannot hear you. I am the only one who can,” said the creature.
Jason was startled by the sudden appearance of the owl. He almost forgot about it. But there it was, sitting calmly crossed-legged as it had before. Some soft light was entering the room through the window and it cascaded over the owl. It looked almost transparent.
“When did you get here?” asked Jason.
“I never left. I never do.”
“I’m getting pretty sick of your evasive talk. Go get Mike for me. I need his help!”
“I cannot do that. I cannot interfere.”
“Then, you fucking help me! I need someone to help me get to a cab that can take me home!”
“Only if you chose to come with me. I cannot help you live.”
“Then, why did you take my needle out?”
“Because the decision had to be yours, not the needle’s.”
“But Mike would have taken it out.”
“Maybe, but the time that had passed since those two events might have meant the difference between life and death.”
“What the hell are you talking about? It couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes.”
The creature was silent. It just pointed at Jason’s arm. The bandage had fallen off and his festering vein was now exposed. What once Jason remembered as a few delicate, highlighted lines, now became a defined pathway of pain and regret. He looked down at the dying vein that was slowly oozing a liquid. Jason almost stopped breathing; terrified that one wrong move might open a river he might not be able to close.
“What the hell is going on? When I last looked at my arm it was fine. Now it looks like it's going to kill me. I’m not fucking around here, man. Get me some help. I need someone to help me!” yelled Jason.
The creature was silent.
“Get me some help, you fucking sadist!”
The creature was still silent.
“I see what you’re doing. You’re playing dumb. You want something, don’t you? Is that what this charade was about? I don’t have a lot on me, but if you help me get home I’ll give you my car,” said Jason.
“I just want you to decide.”
“I’ve already told you. I want to live, but I can’t move. If you can’t help me, then tell someone else. Find Jimmy, he’s my friend. He came here with me and he can take me home,” said Jason, desperation in his voice.
“If you cannot help yourself, maybe there is a part of you that doesn’t want to live.”
“Fuck you!” yelled Jason. “Don’t tell me what I want; you have no fucking idea who I am and where I’m coming from. There’s one thing I want; I want to get out of here, I want to get home. It can’t end here. And I can’t get up and nobody will help. Not even the only fucking person who can hear me.”
“I cannot help you live,” said the creature calmly.
“Stop saying that!” shouted Jason.
Jason gave a loud shout of frustration. He refused to accept this. It was wrong, it was all-wrong. He closed his eyes to make his thoughts clear. He took a deep breath and started crying. A few tears at first, but as all the years of oppressed emotions began to come rushing out of him, his cries resembled those of a wounded animal. He cried out of disappointment and anger; out of bitterness and regret; out of deep shame and hatred for himself. He felt like he was on the edge of a very tall building and a voice in his head whispered ‘jump’. He cried more than he had cried in his entire life. He had cried more than he had thought he could. He thought that crying was the only thing he could do.
Nobody can hear me, he thought, but if they could, would it make a different. Would they care? Would they help me? Would I help someone in my situation? Fuck this. Fuck all of this! I just…I just…I just want to give up.
He didn’t know for how long he had cried, but he did it until his demons stopped screaming. He looked at the owl. It hadn’t moved.
“What’s happening? I don’t understand, make me understand,” he whispered.
His throat was desert dry. He knew he had the bottle next to him, but he couldn’t reach it. A bitter smirk formed on his face, imagining dying of thirst with water just inches away.
“It is the moment of decision,” said the owl.
“You’ve been saying that since I met you. I’ve already told you I want to live, but…”
Jason was silent.
“I can see doubt in you. You cannot ignore it. Let it out and examine it. Let it tell you what it has to say. Let it show you the side you have been missing.”
“Tuesday I decided to walk to work,” said Jason. “I usually take my car, but it was such a nice day out that I thought it was a waste not to get some fresh air. I walked by an apartment building and one of the apartments was under renovations. I could only see the balcony windows. Inside, there was nothing. It was so empty that is gave me the chills. There was no door to the balcony and the walls looked like they had vanished. It looked like something was there at some point, but now it was gone; as thought it had simply vanished. That’s how I feel now. And I think that’s how I’ve been feeling for a long time. Like an empty apartment where no one has lived in for many years.”
The owl didn’t say a thing. Jason felt like the creature understood what he was talking about; or at least wanted to believe that.
Jason looked down at his arm again. A fresh crest had formed over the place that was before oozing. He thought that maybe a few hours might have past again, but he had abandoned the idea of keeping up with the passing time. He tried moving his right arm. His fingers were slowly starting to cooperate. But he didn’t know how long it would be before he could stand on his own feet and walk home. He didn’t know if his heart would still be pumping by then.
“I wanted to be a pilot when I was young. It was my dream. I always loved flying; the feeling of freedom and of total control. I wanted that; I craved that. Like a bird unbound by any strings. I did all I could, but my body couldn’t handle the pressure. I can barely fly in a commercial plane without throwing up every time. And you know what I became, Owly? A fucking system administrator. I wait for people to fuck up, so I can solve their irrelevant problems. I’m just a little piece in a very big puzzle. I don’t matter and I don’t care that I don’t. I’ve been doing it for so long, that I’ve gotten used to it. I forgot what I wanted because my body fucked me when I needed it the most; and now it’s fucking me one last time.”
Jason gave a short laugh, as though to acknowledge his own short comings.
The owl was silent.
“I wanted more from life. I could’ve been better. But I wasn’t. Both my parents are dead, I never married and I have no true friends. I was barely mediocre and I don’t think I’ll get the chance to do anything about it anymore,” said Jason, a cold emptiness in his voice. “But the worst part of all of it is that, somehow, I felt like if I had been exceptional I still wouldn’t be happy. So, I never really tried and I ended up alone and empty. I think that hurts the most.”
The owl still was silent.
“I don’t know why I’m telling you all these things. I’ve never told anyone that I wanted to be a pilot. I didn’t want to get mocked, or to receive false encouragement. I wanted it to be mine and mine alone.”
“It’s easier to show one’s true face to people one does not know. There is no pressure to perform, no need for acceptance.”
“Guess that sounds about right. I don’t know if I’m getting closer to death, or you’re actually starting to make some god damn sense.”
Jason never felt this alone before; it was as though he was the only soul in the universe. His eyes started focusing a bit, and he could see zombie like people walking around, desperately trying to get their hands on anything that could make them feel something. He never knew one could be so alone in the world. In a sea of colors and sounds, he was invisible. He didn’t know how much time had passed since he opened his eyes; could have been an hour, could have been a day. The owl came closer and looked at Jason’s left arm. The vein was deep blue in color, the skin pale and flaky. It looked like the body was fighting, but the mind gave up a long time ago.
“You wanted to touch heaven. Is that why you came here? Is that why your veins are so battered?”
“Yeah, I wanted to touch heaven and I ended up in purgatory. I guess at some point we all end up paying for our mistakes.”
Jason turned to look at the owl. Its green eyes had something familiar in them.
“I’m starting to think I’m not getting out of this place alive. But before that, could you have the heart to tell me why the owl? It’s bugging me so much. It’s like when you see some at a party and they look so familiar, but you can’t remember their name or from where you know them. And your brain is desperately trying to solve the enigma, so you’re just half listening to what other people are saying.”
“I chose this appearance because it was something you wanted. I take a different form for each person, when the time comes. Some tend to choose a more religious figure, while others prefer loved ones. Your choice was more symbolic. The answer to your question is in you. You just have to look at the right memory.”
Jason sighed and closed his heavy eyes. Slowly, he could feel his body going numb, as all the noises around him melting in a soft hum. He was aware he wasn’t on the couch any more. He thought that his body must still be in that dirty room, but his mind was softly searching for a safer place. When he opened his eyes, all he could see was mist.
“Hello, anyone there?” he asked.
The owl appeared in front of him again. Without saying a thing it looked intensely at Jason. Those deep green eyes started rapidly changing color. Jason could barely keep up, but the harder he looked the more he understood. He saw everything. In those eyes he saw everything he had ever seen in his life and he understood how they were all connected; like roots that belonged to the same tree. They stretched for miles and miles, but in the end they were all the same. They were one. He saw how he tripped when he was in the third grade and bumped his head on the sidewalk. His scar was still on his forehead. He saw how he lost his virginity to Mary Parker in senior year and how he still shed a tear when he got her wedding invitation in the mail ten years later. He saw his mom, he saw so many moments with his mom. When she was sad, when she was happy, but also when she was sick. He saw her weak, sleeping in a hospital bed, days before she died. He saw her hand on top of his, putting the last piece in place together.
“The puzzle!” yelled Jason, snapping back. “The puzzle I did with my mom in the hospital. The last thing we did together!”
“Exactly,” said the owl.
“You took a shape that would bring me some comfort. Something that would remind me of a time I had to be strong. Like a connection to someone I love whom I’ve lost.”
“I saw that in that moment, your heart found a moment of peace.”
Jason remembered the brightly colored bird puzzle sitting in his bedroom. He had promised himself that he was going to cherish that memory, but instead it faded away slowly as his veins become more and more cracked.
“What have I become? How did I let it go this far? I told myself that every time was going to be the last time. I needed one more to get me to tomorrow, because tomorrow I was going to be strong. How could I’ve let my mom down so much? She had always fought for me and I threw that sacrifice away for a few grams of delusion.”
The acceptance of what he’s done made him go numb. Inside, everything went cold. As though time had stopped, Jason couldn’t make his mind focus. Everything inside him stood still. He took a deep breath and forced his eyes shut. He screamed for what must have been minutes. When he was out of breath, he fell on his side.
“Is this the end? Don’t I get redemption?” he asked.
His words came out lifeless and aloof.
“You are here because of your own choices,” said the owl. “And the next one will be yours as well. I can sense that you can still live. There is still a little flame in you. It is your choice if you nurture it or if you kill it. This is the last time I will ask you the question. What is your decision? You just have to get up and walk; either with me or away from me.”
“I understand,” said Jason, in his calmest voice.
Without giving him time to say anything else, the owl sat up, turned around and began walking. Step by slow step, his shape began to blur, like watercolors on a page.
As dragged by an invisible hand, Jason stood up. His legs felt weak. He stumbled for a while, but managed to catch himself. His whole body screamed in agony, but he ignored it and began walking. He knew where he needed to be.
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 24.02.2019
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