A Black Tangle

The black tangle removed itself from my face, hovering above me a little. I could see parts of its smooth, randomly bent tentacles frantically vibrating against my scream. It was, quite curiously, as if the tangle was trying to shush me.

Obviously, I disobeyed. I rebelled the notion that I should not call attention to it, not bring an audience.

I screamed again, and the tangle pulled away from me completely, sticking to the wall, pressing itself tight across it, as if it had been thrown and splashed across the wall to cover pieces of the mural I had painted there. The mass vibrated energetically, charged and sticky; then, parts of the tangle achingly, slowly stretched out along the wall, a warbled cluster of strands, reaching. 

The weird appendage fastened itself to the wall and then dragged or pulled the rest of its mass along. I was relieved to see it move away from me. The scream it inspired had been authentic. I was still scared, and I watched the black squiggling with wide eyes.

It seemed a laborious process, what the tangle was doing along the wall, and I wondered if maybe my screaming had caused it some damage, perhaps even crippled it. I screamed again, though I admit, half-hearted. Watching the strange sticky tangle jerk bits of itself forward, I felt, unexpectedly, sorry. Though it was a mere tangle of stuff, no eyes or mouth or anything to make me think it might be good, or nice, it was definitely frazzled. 

I was still scared, but also curious and my sense of regret swelled a bit. But I also wondered if a sword would have any effect on it at all. 

Probably not. 

My scream certainly bothered it, but I had a vague idea it, the tangle, was mostly embarrassed. It’s strange to think of it now, that sense of embarrassment, wanting to hide.

My father, on the other hand, was completely frantic. Wild-eyed and wielding a long chunk of splintered wood with nails sticking out at one end (his homemade mace), he ran into my room. 

Clearly, he thought someone was killing me. 

“I‘m ok!“ I called out.

Not riveting dialogue, I know, but it was necessary for me to say those exact words in that exact way. My Dad looked like he was about to implode. I sensed Viking blood in his veins.

To be clear, it was 1980-something, I was quite the kid and I’m sure very adorable and certainly a low-maintenance joy. My Dad was still young enough to lift that mace he‘d made (it was super huge), and we were living in a southwestern corner of America, far from any actual Vikings.

At that point, he wanted to know what the hell happened. 

“What the hell happened?” My Dad advanced to my bedroom window, looking keen on finding something to kill. I don‘t even know how he got across my room to the window so quickly. It was like he took one step and was just there.

It takes me about eight steps to cross that distance.

“You won‘t believe me if I tell you.“ I never would have thought I‘d have reason to say those words, but there they were. 

Dad was there, reassuring. I hugged my pillow.

“Try me.“ 

I was still gulping for air. “What?“

He told me to just tell him what happened, so I did.

“This big. Mass of black energy. Monster. It covered my face. It was thinking, Dad. I screamed; it went away.” I pointed to where it had gone. “It‘s gone. I think.“

“Is it under your bed?“ He was not amused. He was also not as worried as I would have expected, or wanted.

“No. Dad, it went up into the air vent.“ I was struck with a thought, and suggested, “Maybe it’s in the heater now. Should we go look?“ I put my pillow down and started to edge out of bed.

My dad slumped. “What have you taken?“

I didn‘t know what he meant. I sat at the edge of my bed. Taken? I couldn‘t think of anything.

I asked, “Do you think I took something it wants? Maybe I accidentally picked up something that belongs to it.“ I thought a bit. “Maybe a rock? But I haven’t picked up any rocks for a while.“ It was true. I hadn’t done it in years.

“What DRUGS have you taken?“ I realized, in that moment, that my Dad was furious with me, and was talking through gritted teeth. I was actually shocked at the question.

I really hadn’t had drugs. Never felt like I needed them. I had decided years earlier that I was plenty weird enough and drugs would just make me intolerable, even to myself.

“Nothing. I‘ve never taken drugs in my life.“ I had known, right from the beginning and before I had said anything at all, that he wouldn‘t believe me, and I‘d been right. “You don’t believe me. But maybe it’s better you think I take drugs, and not that I’m crazy.” I tossed a flippant hand into the air. “So sure, I’m a drug addict. Just don’t have me committed.“

This erupted into an argument. 

My dad, after a while, seemed to settle on the idea that someone slipped LSD into my drink and that I was simply unaware and too naive to suspect an acquaintance of doing that to me. He was fairly cooperative then and at my urging, promised to check the heating unit.

I know that he didn‘t.

A couple of weeks later, as I laid back on my pillow for a bit of imagining, I closed my eyes again. I hadn‘t been able to do much imagining, as I‘d had exams. Pressing my head into my old, stiff pillow, I remembered the tangled mass and wondered if it would come back, possibly for a rock I‘d picked up or some other reason I hadn‘t yet considered.

Sure enough, after a little while I did feel it return. I could sense the strange prickle on my face and knew it had to be the tangle. This time, I determined to keep my eyes shut. I didn‘t trust myself to not freak out if I saw it again.

It tickled and prickled all around my eyes, clearing taunting me, trying to get me to open them.

I thought, Are you kidding? The thing, I felt certain, was pestering me, urging me to open my eyes and look at it.

Rebel that I was, I squeezed them shut even tighter.

Despite the tangle lacking a single humanoid feature, I swear it was chuckling. Not that I could see it chuckle, my eyes were closed. Not that I heard it chuckle, as it made no sound at all. I heard only a medium warm hum in my mind, as if my ears were filled with a strange energy. Yet I felt certain that the tangle was responding to me and that it thought me rather humorous.

Cheeky thing.

It zapped my cheek,  a not-even-remotely-gentle-push to open my eyes. I got angry. In my mind, I sent the tangle a few choice words, words that would have felt like a threat.

Instantly, I could feel my breathing become less burdensome, the prickling lifted away and so did the warmth and the hum in my head. The difference was so sudden and extreme, I thought a breeze must have swept through my stuffy room.

I lived in a desert with the windows shut. Any breeze in the desert isn‘t refreshing, it‘s hot and carries sharp, heavy sand with it.

But the breeze I‘d felt was refreshing, cool and clean, a type of breeze I did not yet know but that would become more familiar to me in time.

I waited, keeping my eyes shut. I exhaled, stretched my hands. I waited a little longer. I waited until I felt lonely.

It was a peculiar feeling, this sort of loneliness. I wasn‘t generally the type who felt lonely because I had an active imagination.

But in that moment, I was truly alone and I felt hollow.

I opened my eyes and looked around my quiet room. I looked at my paintings covering the walls, all the murals and little painted creatures covering every bit of the room. It was free canvas, and I just kept adding to it, changing it as my moods and interests changed.

Eyes open, it struck me how very ordinary my room was. I had a bed, and shelves with books, a closet (no doors, as I‘d taken them down), and a desk I absolutely never used. Maybe once, for a few minutes. I always preferred to write and read on my bed.

My bed was safe territory. It had been my pirate ship. It had been the Orient Express. It had been my spaceship. It had been where all my best dreams and worst nightmares came to meet me. It was my sleeping pod, my dining room, my library, and my playground.

The only thing I didn‘t do in bed was draw and paint. For that, I needed space, and there was enough of that on my walls.

I looked around my room, blinking at it, the glare of it so terribly ordinary and small shining back harsh and garish into my skull. Part of me wanted to flee, get far away. Part of me felt destructive, and wanted to tear it all down or maybe paint over it. White. Just white it all out, like I never happened there, never slept there or dreamt there or breathed there.