My escape was a most wretched experience, though I was grateful for the slack and sallow faces of my fellow refugees as we boarded, to help contrast the sharp horrors still festering in the back of my mind. Every time I blinked, the experiences of the day waited expectantly, ready to claw away at my inner eyes with their gibbering and little black mandibles. I found a seat in a near empty compartment – a luxury, I hoped, which would easy some of the weariness from my frame as I left behind the madness. I would have slept, but I was terrified of what my unconscious might unleash on my already fragile mind, if unfettered by Morpheus. Instead, to prevent myself from drowsing, I shifted my focus to my traveling companion, hoping to distract the overbright images of my imagination with a flood of external sensory information.
Across the compartment sat a portly gentleman, in a ruffled grey suit, reading the paper. Most of my companion’s upper body was occluded from my visual questing by the newsprint. The seams of the sleeves of his jacket had several times been mended by a clumsy hand, and the suit and his shirt were in dire need of dry-cleaning. The cloth of the suit was so soiled it exuded a nearly slimelike quality, and his shirt, which may have once been white, had yellowed to an unhealthy ivory. He wore neither rings nor a wristwatch, but had carefully manicured fingernails, which were the only well-kept thing about his appearance. Many times, while reading, he would shift to a one-handed grip on his broadsheet and run one of his palms over his stained pants legs, as if the slime might be wiped away in the motion.
I noted as he did this that the gentleman was suffering from some sort of acute psoriasis, or the aftereffects of a bad burn, perhaps by chemicals. His pasty skin was red and inflamed in places, and large flakes of dried skin were plastered to his wounds by some sort of fishy-smelling ointment. It was only after noting his hands that I realized the odor of the man’s medicinals had rather permeated the compartment, as the odor from burnt toast might – gradually, but once realized, impossible to banish.
I tried vainly to figure out a way I might politely start conversation, drawing him away from his paper, so that I might further inquire about the state of his injuries and his treatment. Failing any inspiration, I hit upon a solution to more than one problem – I opened the window to the compartment. The rush of air considerably lessened the stale fishy scent, and the man’s newspaper was quite disturbed in the process. I had expected a comment or retort, but my traveling companion simply readjusted the pages which had blown around him, and settled back into his seat, continuing to read.
I wondered what had him so engrossed – what was in the paper that was of such interest? Vainly, I tried to scan the headlines from across the compartment, but found myself unable to do so – the lettering was foreign to me. It looked almost Arabic, but with much sharper corners and lines, in lieu of the graceful curves and dots I was more familiar with. At last, I had hit upon a simple way to interrupt, without being overly forward or rude.
I pardoned myself to the gentleman, and inquired about the language that his broadsheet was set in.
With a gurgling grunt, the gentleman in the grey suit put down his paper. If his hands were the ruin of a burn or accident, his face and neck were surely more central to whatever event had rendered them so.
The gentleman had a thick brow, and broad cheekbones, well padded by jowly cheeks flecked with patches of scaly scar tissue. His head, as well as his face, were completely hairless, and his skin had an uncomfortable greenish tint to it. His lips were overlarge, and liver-like, but did not completely cover the mishmash of teeth, which, judging by what protruded from between his lips, were all in crooked disarray. His eyes were bulbous and bulging, as if they were twice too big for the eyelids which seemed strain to breaking, simply performing their duties, and preventing his orbs from freeing themselves from the orbit of his skull.
The most startling aspect of my companion’s visage was his nose, or what was left of it. It seemed that whatever process had led to his skin condition, which permeated the landscape of his curious features, had claimed nearly all the flesh of his nose. There was a white sliver of bone visible in the vacuous hole where his nostrils should have been. The flesh surrounding the area was scabrous, and the skin so thin you could see the forest of thin capillaries radiating from where his cheeks ended and the hole began. With the paper removed, I noted, for the first time, that the gentleman’s breathing was a bit labored, and though he inhaled through his mouth, he clearly exhaled through his nose, causing a nearly imperceptible whistle from somewhere far within his sinuses.
He looked at me curiously as I stared, like a fish noting people beyond the glass of it’s aquarium for the first time, and grunted again in his peculiar phlegmy manner, eclipsing his face once again with his paper. It was only the train made its stop at Heartsdale, that I realized that I had not escaped at all, but was simply trapped in an extension of the horrors I thought I had left behind on the White Plains.
|Originally published at delascabezas.com|