by Christopher Overfelt
In the deepest cavity of the deepest bowel, tender tissue begins to weaken under stress. Muscle fiber begins to unravel into thin strands as the contents of intestines are pushed through their walls. It is a violent force that vibrates the tissue, shaking it loose from its fixed foundations. The force pushes up through Christopher’s diaphragm, rupturing the muscle around his sternum and ribcage as his lungs are violently contracted, sending a gale force wind through his trachea. Larynx and vocal chords are stressed to the breaking point as air is compressed and molded like molten metal into the shape of a scream, bursting past his wall of teeth and ejaculating into the air.
Christopher watches as the scream grows sharp wings and skims just above the distant city skyline until, from its metallic underbelly, a payload drops and explodes in the streets below. Fire leaps through the city like a plague, devouring wood and glass and metal with a ravenous tongue. The hollow structures are left burnt and scorched, their windows eyeless and their skins peeled and tattered. In the air, the smell of roasting flesh is rich and succulent.
From his window perch, Christopher watches the glow that is reflected in the sky. It is a pale glow that hangs above the inflamed skyline like a halo, ringing the horizon with angel hair. Now he lets out another scream, only this time from the doorway behind him come four men who grab his ankles and wrists and lift him onto a bed where is strapped to iron railings on each side. Into his arm a long needle is inserted and the convulsions slow and stop and the screams go quiet and then he sleeps.
When he wakes up, there is a man in a white coat sitting on the bench beside the bed. Through the window a strand of sunlight falls onto the man’s hair and illuminates it like a halo. Christopher’s wrists and ankles are no longer strapped to the bed as he turns his head and looks at the man.
Am I in hell? he asks.
No, says the man. You’re in the VA psychiatric ward.
Am I here because I’m gay?
No, says the man again.
As the days pass, Christopher’s senses begin to return to him and he feels the hot water of a shower sting his skin and the smell and taste of hot food as it fills his stomach. He lies quietly on his side in a hospital bed as a long needle is inserted into his back to withdraw spinal fluid. In the white hallways of the ward, faces begin to take shape on the heads of people around him and he recognizes the drone of a television but he can’t decipher the words.
On a white countertop sits a telephone and he takes the receiver in his hand but he can’t read the numbers. He watches as the receptionist presses a series of numbers for him and then he can hear an audible ring in his ear. It rings and rings until suddenly there comes a voice and in a moment of clarity he recognizes it from another world, a distance of time and space that feels geological in scale, like he had been connected to it once eons ago.
Mom? he says, furrowing his brow and blinking his eyes with new found comprehension. From the distance, across the interminable gap of time and space comes a cry, a sobbing that can only be found in the grief of a mother.