The Gray Place
By: Domus Vocis
First, there’s falling.
Next, there’s screaming from above.
Followed by impact.
Afterward, there is release.
Opening my parched, heavy eyes, my mind shouted to fully wake up and find myself. I did, and saw a cloudless sky above me. My back hurt, like I’d been hit by a bullet train, and the numbness in my bones hurt more than crackling popcorn in a burnt microwave. Judging from how I felt all over my body, maybe I did. In a final attempt though, I slowly lifted my aching head from the pavement.
I blinked repeatedly until my eyesight cleared enough to see through my foggy vision, eventually being able to see. My hands trembled with cold, and my skin felt the familiar touch of concrete against my palms. As I pushed against the ground and got to my shivering feet, the sound of car horns nearby jostled me to my senses. I stood on the edge of a sidewalk nearby the city’s river, with its giant bridge into the countryside looming over the murky waters.
And behind me stood other gleaming skyscrapers. People walked all around me, not glancing at me or even acknowledging my presence in any form of gesture.
Where am I? I asked myself. But something else shocked me. Who was I?
I tried to search for the faintest of memories, but the next five tries always came out the same.
All I got was the image of a face in a mirror, my eyes teary and red with anger. The memory became a slap to my face, and I shook it off. I felt scared, and I looked around, hoping for anyone to help me.
One man walked up to me dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. “Hello, can you-“
In a flash, the man went through me.
I gasped in deep breaths, almost like all the air was sucked out of my body.
Scared out of my mind, I fell to the ground and scrambled in fright. My body began to shake in confusion, and my hands trembled as I tried to make sense of things. I tried to get people’s attention, but every time I walked in front of someone, they strolled and ran right through me like
I was a fog.
“Hello?” I shrilled in a panicked plea. This couldn’t be happening! This could not be happening!
Whoever I was, I had to be dreaming or something. “Can anybody hear me?! Hello?!”
Uncomprehending of my situation, I looked down at my body to see I wore nothing but transparent white clothing, the fabrics. My shirt was white, my shorts were white, my shoes were white, and my socks were white. But one thing shocked me the most.
I couldn’t see any color, not the supposed vision of blue nor the crimson touch of red, not even the comforting sight of green or human skin. Nothing. It seemed like someone painted the entire place in gray and black, like a camera had taken a snapshot of reality in monochrome. Everyone had either gray faces, or a darker shade, and even their eyes carried no color aside from light grey or dark grey.
The sky was gray as well, like something painted the entire sky a shade of black and white. In fact, the more I stared at the city surrounding me, at its gleaming towers that went for blocks, its noisy cars, its streets and even its pedestrians, the more the city looked like a selective coloring photograph. But in this case, the color wasn’t there; it was sucked of any kind, leaving only a surreal and dreamlike quality. The lights were brighter, the people more of a shade than me, and the sunset atop the skyscrapers seemed like nothing more than a colorless white.
“What is this place?” I mumbled, terrified to the core. I could touch buildings, and even the sidewalk, but not anyone around me. “Am…am I dead?”
“Barely,” a voice echoed behind me.
I turned around to see a boy aged around sixteen, who stared at me with a gruesome frown. He had dark hair, a dull tan, and a set of white, pure clothes. He had messy hair, a grin with dirty teeth, and enough piercings on his face to probably melt into a wristwatch.
From five feet away, even with his hair covering half his face, I knew his eyes held no sense of wonder, no sense of life or joy. It was like seeing into the deepest recesses of an endless abyss.
“Where am I?” I asked him. “Am I dead? Is this some sort of-”
“Hell?” he asked with a sudden interest. “No, this…this is a Heaven that lies in the heart of Hell.” He paused for a moment, noticing his hand shaking uncontrollably. “This…This is the Gray Place, where people like you and I go when the universe, just loves to piss us off.” He paused again, this time blinking rapidly and sporadically.
“Are you okay?” I asked, stepping one foot forward. “You don’t look okay.”
He shortly chuckled. “I’m…far from okay…” he gasped a choke, startling me. “Emotions can be your enemy here, man, especially when your Terror searches for you…” He suddenly lit up his face in shock, his eyes giving off a look of terror. “Oh no, please no!” He bolted away from me.
“Wait!” I shouted while running. “Stop-” I felt the air escape from my lungs as a black form walked through me. “Oh my God…”
Running after the mysterious boy stood this tall creature composed of black ooze and shadows, a grotesque collection of oily claws and monstrous teeth that didn’t stop to turn at me with its hideous face. It ran like a feral creature, stricken with a horrible stench that made my skin crawl like ripples in a water. In full panic, I started running down the street after the boy, past the ghosts around me and the cars toward this creature and the horrified boy.
“No! No, please, don’t! Oh God no!” the boy screamed wildly with thrashing arms and legs. “No!
Somebody help me! Somebody help me! Help!”
A black arm suddenly stretched for the boy’s leg, and dragged it in like the tentacle of a Kraken.
I couldn’t see the sheer terror of the boy’s face, but I knew he knew something. And then, in the blink of an eye, once the boy was sucked into the demonic blackness of that creature, he and it disappeared like a thought.
They were gone, and I was left standing there on the city street.
Still stricken with horror and caution, I soon found myself in front of a dance club to my right.
The sun had fully set earlier, and the . Who was I? Where was I? And why was I here?
People walked right past me and into the night club, laughing, kissing, breathing their lives away.
Even in gray, I saw life in each person’s eyes, and it panged me to watch them live their lives, while no one could see me. I envied the woman taking a photo with her boyfriend, I hated the guys waltzing inside like they owned the world, and I especially hated how I could not see everything in color!
“Take that faggot!”
I whirled around into a nearby alleyway to see a group of younger boys beating up a smaller one, one of whom held up a camcorder in their hands while laughing at the spectacle.
“Look, Luke,” one of them said. “Prissy boy here wants us to stop!”
“Please, s-stop it!” the boy pleaded while lying on the ground.
“Hey!” I ran toward them, my anger my sword and shield. “Leave him alone!”
My clenched fist went through one of the men, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t stop them attacking the boy. I felt a wave of anger hit me like a wave, and then a tsunami as I kept seeing a bright white streak drip from the boy’s unconscious face.
“Stop it!” I screamed wildly. “Stop it!”
They didn’t. I kept seeing the sick pleasure in their eyes, the intense enjoyment they got out of hurting someone twice as small as them. My hands kept going through them like smoke, and I could not grasp that smoke from choking the life out of this innocent boy.
I felt this fire build up inside my chest, this venom that made my teeth grind against each other and my fingers twitch uncontrollably. “Stop it!” I screamed in tears. The boy wasn’t moving anymore, and they kept kicking him for no other reason other than for fun. “Stop it!”
I blacked out.
I heard my heartbeat, and felt the terrain change. I stood in a rotting kitchen, one that smelled of decaying wood and food. The walls were peeling away, and the dusty table and counter either held dirty plates or broken bottles.
“Have you ever thought of what I want, Marv? Huh? After Samantha killed herself, you’ve been acting though as your own daughter never-”
I was about eight years old, bawling with my arms around a young woman’s leg. I saw a man in front of us with a stare of hatred and lust. Not far from the counter, I stared at a vivid picture, of the family and I smiling at a picnic. There sat my mom, my dad, my older sister Samantha with dark red hair, and even the family dog Kenny. Whenever I stared at the pictures, I prayed for Samantha to come back home and take me with her, to wherever she went.
“Shut up, woman!”
I felt cold tears roll down my cheeks as Mommy’s face got slapped hard. She fell over and brought me with her.
I suddenly felt myself being pushed away to the ground, my head hitting the tile floor and my eyes turning daze.
“Go to your room!” he hollered at me, then turned to the young woman with an intense fire. “Mommy and Daddy need to have a talk.”
I froze where I sat, terrified by my father’s hot breath, his anger fuming in my face, the drunken jealousy in his…red eyes.
They were red, as red as my mom’s cut lip as he pulled her up. He then grabbed her and pulled her into the bedroom, where the door slammed so hard, my head pounded with a deep pain. I felt like I wasn’t being suffocated by hands, but by a hammering scream in my brain. The throbbing echoed around my skull and dulled my senses. It was unbearable. I hated my dad so much.
As fast as it came, it was gone.
My eyes flew open and I gasped, leaping to my feet in fright. I felt the ground of a city beneath my shoes, and saw I was now in a neighborhood deeper in downtown. I stood in the middle of a dark intersection, with the lights of decaying housing complexes and street lights reflecting in the heavy rain. For some reason, I felt cold and wet, and time had gone by so fast from what happened earlier, but that was not on my mind at the moment.
“Alan...” I remembered bits and pieces now. “My name is Alan.” I was seventeen years old; I had two parents named Marv and Hanna Sawyer, who works at a restaurant not far from where I was while Dad…stayed at home. I had a teenage sister my age, except she committed suicide around the time I was six or seven. I always loved how kind Samantha was to me.
And the reason I was here was because…“I killed myself,” the words escaped my lips.
I felt a horde of thick raindrops fall and splash my head, and saw light flash across the cloudy gray sky, sending me back to reality. In the blink of an eye, I ran for cover and cursed at myself for not regarding my health. Dead or not, I was freezing cold and wet. However, I noticed almost every house had boards on the windows, and the lawns were overgrown and filled with greyish trash and blackened darkness all around. I couldn’t see anymore lights on through the windows, nor did any house look deserted though.
My stomach swelled into a low growl underneath my soaked white shirt, and I wondered how long I’ve been in the Gray Place. Had it been minutes, or maybe an entire day? It felt so long that eternity felt like nothing more than just an endless calendar passing by my eyes.
As I continued running through the rain, my eyes caught glimpses of people on the streets, looking at me with wide eyes of tire and wearing white shirts like me, and others cowering in their moods and disappearing in them. Some of them gibbered and reckoned in either sorrow, lust, anger, or whatever emotions ruled them over. I looked to my left and saw others like me wandering around this place of demented déjà vu. Their ages went from only a preteen girl to a man old enough to be my grandfather. How long had they been here to become hopeless?
All of a sudden, my foot hit a slab of fallen concrete from a building, and I fell face-first into a giant puddle of water, and the impact made me swallow a mouthful of water to make me gag and have tears fall. I couldn’t even stand up.
Actually, I really couldn’t stand up; my hands and knees were sinking.
“Help!” I tried to pull my arms out, but it stuck like glue. I was sad, and now was gonna pay the price. “Help me!” The solidity of rain and mud consumed me, enveloping my body until it reached my cold neck. “Somebody help-” Mud covered my mouth, and I couldn’t even scream.
I felt weightless, my frail arms and legs lighter than a feather, yet they also felt motionless as rocks. I couldn’t see a single thing, not the beam of light or a crack of dawn. It felt like being stuck in a void, a pit of darkness with meaningless answers for meaningless questions in my meaningless speck of a life.
I also felt wet. “Alan, get back in here!”
The sky was now a dim twilight among the gray Earth, and a few yellow dots buzzed around us in flickering lights through the soggy rain. I was now eleven years old, and that noise came from my father, either back from his AA meeting or arguing with my mother over who’d be ‘getting rid of the stupid mutt’. I didn’t know what they meant at first; until I looked down. I knelt in front of a dog, maybe a German Shepherd, outside my house in the backyard.
The dog’s head lay on my lap and the body was covered in a...blue blanket.
I remembered. “Kenny,” I remembered his name.
Even with the blanket on, I knew his fur was graying like everything around me and on my body. His head looked up to me along my shirt’s chest with a shade of light blue eyes, staring at me with the memories we held together. I saw the days we ran through the lush park nearby with an old Frisbee, the hours when I ran to Kenny while Daddy was being mean to me, the days he’d defend me from his fists and growled at him, and the minutes when I needed a true friend to talk to. They were all colorful.
When I looked down at Kenny, his eyes were now gray. And not moving.
“Kenny?” I tried shaking him awake, and went faster when he didn’t budge. I never even noticed my cheeks were soaked underneath the stormy sky and the battering of the rain. “Kenny, please wake up!
Kenny, come on, get up!”
My eyes flew open, my face sweaty and vision blurred in foggy patches. “Hell…” I coughed and spat at the grassy ground, suddenly aware of the bright light above me. My stomach lurched as I struggled to my feet, everything now a roller coaster to my senses. I didn’t even know how long I’d been out.
I knew one thing though. Kenny, he died back there, back then. I saw his soul disappear to elsewhere in my memory, and he died in my memory. What if it was this place messing with me?
I was in a nearly dark place, what looked to be a park of some kind. I felt water splash quietly underneath my shoes, and barely saw the faint drizzling of rainwater. Beyond the trees, I saw a glimmer of orange, or what I thought to be orange. Everything was still grayscale, and I guessed it to be the sun. For being dull, the Gray Place really did look nice. Even after what I saw, I felt…calmer.
And the memories I went through, that’s what the mysterious boy meant by, ‘Emotions can be your enemy here.’ Is this life though? I asked myself. Is this how I’d live through eternity?
I started to walk in the empty park, gazing at the flowers blooming, and the grass dipped in morning dew. As the sun slowly awoke, I saw how truly beautiful everything looked as a bright and intense light shone onto the grass, the soaked trees, and I saw the sky above.
A few feet in front of me rested a river as clear as glass, trees that surrounded the park and its paths. It also carried a sense of wonder and life, and a breeze as soft as silk. It had been a long time since I touched silk, as far as I could remember.
A wave of warmth consumed me, took me over with a sense of joy in my soul. As I gazed into the waters, I saw different colors ooze out of the liquid, its lucidity fascinating to all my senses. I didn’t even realize I saw my eye color to be a bright blue, and that it now matched the sky.
Suddenly, all the colors returned into the Gray Place, stunning me like a child on Christmas morning or a teen at his first prom. The very few ghosts I saw just kept walking past me, like they didn’t see what I saw before me, along with the regular people outside this Gray Place turned
Colorful World. Shining yellows, somber blues, hazel reds, comforting violets, tender greens, and an eternal rainbow of colors appeared to me like gentle nostalgia. My eyes lit up in excitement as I saw the grass, the blue in the sky, snowy white in the clouds, and saw the skin color of people in the park.
As I got lost with myself, I stopped short when I heard someone nearby. “Hey, there’s…something I want to ask you,” I recognized that voice. “It’s…it’s very important.”
I heard a young woman giggle nearby, as if it were next to my ear. “What is it, Alan?” she asked.
On the other side of the river, I narrowed my eyes and saw an unrecognizable figure. In a burst of radiance, a face formed from streams of light, revealing a face as lean as mine. The man had black hair, a clearer, older face, and a smile that stretched from eye to eye.
And next to him sat a young woman, one literally made of light and rainbows of illumination, almost blocking my view of her face. However, I knew she was beautiful, too beautiful for words to describe.
I saw myself kneel down in front of the light girl, and grab her hand. “Will you marry me?” he asked in nervous pauses. “Will you be my wife?”
Everything stood still. From the blue jays chirping in glee, to the water dropping down the brook, and even the other people bustling by with a glance of curiosity, and then a cast of joy and surprise. Everything was perfect in this moment. Even I felt my heartbeat go more rapid before her answer.
I narrowed my eyes to see a smile form underneath her radiant eyes. “Yes,” she whispered. “Yes, of course I’ll marry you!” They both hugged, and I was left speechless as their forms disappeared into the colors everywhere, leaving me all alone.
Alone. What a funny word, what a torturous word.
I stared off into the brook in front of me, at my reflection, and saw those same eyes stare back at me. “That’s the future? Isn’t it?” I asked, grabbing a couple yellow flowers from the ground. They were very stunning, too real for me to forget their incorporeal touch. “It’s what could have been.”
The flowers in my hand burned away like a fire, leaving only dust and an oozing matter that camouflaged with everything. From the sound of a heartbeat stopping to the sound of my crying, everything flooded back to me in one huge mess, leaving only the black and white of my mood and imprisoning atmosphere of the Gray Place. Tears formed in my eyes and I covered my face with my hands, sobbing everything out from within me. Wetness covered my throat, my nose, my lips, and I already felt the ground grow wetter the more I allowed myself to melt away into sadness.
“Why?” I asked everyone who couldn’t hear and see me. My voice screeched with the darkness and soulless world I lived in. “W-why am I here? Why did killing myself put me here in this damn prison?! Why?!”
I whirled my head up and felt a person’s body push me to the ground hard, away from where I felt myself sinking. My eyes flew wide open to see a girl about my age, with clothing as white and gray as everything around us, slapping me across the face.
“Alan, get a hold of yourself, now!”
I groaned while rubbing my cheeks, and felt like cursing at her before I cut myself short. I knew her. Like me, she had darkened hair, and held eyes no grayer than mine, however, I knew through her colorless hair, it was red.
It came to me, and I sniffled as she realized it too and climbed off of me. “Samantha?” I asked in alarm. “I-Is that really you?”
She pulled me to my feet, and hugged me tightly. I hugged back tightly, not wanting to go either. “I’ve missed you so much,” she said in quick sobs. “I…I cannot believe how much you’ve grown up, and I’ve…” She paused then, pulled away quickly. “We don’t have that much time. It’ll be awhile before my Terror catches up, but you have to get yourself out of here!”
All of a sudden, we heard a rumbling behind us, and I noticed everything grow darker around us. The shining white sun above us grew blacker, and I caught a glimpse of a bewildered ghost like me running away from us.
“There’s no time to explain, Alan,” she said hurriedly, pulling my face close to hers. “I need to get you out of here. There’s a way out of the Grey Place, and you have an opportunity get out!”
My heart rate went up like my hope. “W-we can go home?” I gasped.
Samantha nodded. “You can,” her smile faded as she looked at the distance, “but I can’t. I’ve been stuck in this place for twelve years. My time is up. But you can go home. You can have a second chance.” She looked at me, and felt a look of fear and sadness coming over her.
“B-but how can I go home if I’m dead?”
A loud rumbling broke everything away, echoing throughout the park. I dared not to look behind her, afraid of my own Terror catching up from me if I saw its true form. Samantha cursed, grabbing ahold of my hand tightly. “You’re not dead yet; your body is in a coma in the hospital. I-I saw them place you in a hospital after you jumped. The next chance you get, you have to get to the place where you tried to kill yourself and head home. There’s a way out of this place. But you don’t have
that much time!”
Before I could reply, I felt my entire body sink into the ground again, and I struggled to break free as I felt tears run down my clear cheeks. It felt cold to my skin, and it ate at me like an addiction. The last thing I remember seeing is a demonic creature of ooze grabbing Samantha, and her screaming, “Head to where you woke up to wake up! You’ve still got time!”
I was running, running down a small street and past people on their way to work and home. My heart ached to stop in rapid gasps, my breath blue and cold with my now yellow skin. Why yellow? Maybe
I’m a coward?
There was still no color, except for the red fuming from my mouth and the blue in my breath, trying to keep a calm demeanor among the other pedestrians around me wearing a façade. I looked down at myself and saw my shirt caked with crimson blood, and my lip oozed out more red. My face hurt, and my stomach kept crying out in utter pain. After a while, I had to stop in an alley in downtown. My dad was gonna kill me for being late, but I no longer feared him; only the future.
I remembered fists, kicking, just like the boy in the alley, but much more badly.
“Go kill yourself!”
“Keep kicking him!”
“You’re a mistake to the world. Go drop dead freak!”
Yes, I would. Thank you for the encouragement.
I lifted my head up toward the river, eyeing the bridge not too far from me. With a slow pace, I made my way down walkways toward my final destination, ignoring the stares from other people and temporary concerns. I didn’t want their pity.
The world hated me, hated everything I did. From school, to the bullies that tormented me every day, to the teachers that thought I was a bad student when I got into fights defending myself. Ever since my birth, God has hated me for living, breathing, and everything else!
I made it to the top, and saw the entire city to my right, along with the calm waves rolling down below. I stared left and right at the few people, at the people going to their business. At first, they would mourn me, and then move on. Is this how everyone sees the deceased? Are the deceased someone to mourn and then forget like a birthday party? I didn’t know much, but I knew that every day, a thousand teens commit suicide, and I’d be among them.
First, there’s falling.
Next, there’s screaming above.
Followed by impact.
Afterward, there is release.
I awoke once again to a shouted gasp of relief, this time I was face down into the stone path of the park’s entrance. My bones felt sore all over, I could barely even get up to my feet and concentrate on remembering.
No, I had to get to my feet. “Head to where you woke up to wake up!”
“I promise, Samantha,” I bolted for it.
Everything around blurred, the people running past my ghostly form, the smells becoming less dull than before. I didn’t feel sad or angry or fearful; I was determined. I felt and pounded each step toward my goal, felt every sweat that fell off my face and hit the concrete under me. Samantha said
I didn’t have much time, and that time was not going to be wasted.
At last, I made it to a familiar road in the city, and saw the bridge over the river. I ran for the bridge, ran for my way out of here like it were my last minute of living. I ignored the ghostly apparitions with me, and the ones far away from me.
But all of a sudden, I felt wet all over. I was now underwater, in a deep pool.
I screamed and flailed my arms around madly in the water, trying to make sense of all this. But it took me a moment to realize I could breathe. Swirls of blue and crystalline bubbles clouded my vision, sending me into a sensation of darkness and grayish…light!
I lifted my head up, and saw it through the water’s waves, glowing downward into my face. That had to be my way out of the Gray Place!
Suddenly, something burning tugged me away.
“You can’t resist, Alan…You’re not worthy to live…” I followed the arm down to this hideous demon underneath me, a creature blended into the void under me. “You’re already trapped, you foolish child…Your time is up…” Its dark face was twisted, coiled with an atrocious smile of nirvana. And his eyes, they were red, red as hatred dark fire. “Feel your fear! Give in to it!”
Its clawing grasp felt like hot metal, even while underwater.
“You don’t deserve this chance!” it screamed wildly.
My mind raced back to everything I saw, back to the moment in the park. I looked so happy back there, happier than I ever felt in life. Staying here would destroy that chance; smash it away into time’s wake. No, I wouldn’t do that!
I kicked at the form wildly, and after a fifth attack, the burning pain ceased, and my legs thrusted to the surface. I could hear the shrill below me get closer, and closer, and closer. I thrashed more madly to the surface.
“No!” the monster’s voice receded away.
My hand reached for the light beyond the water, and I felt it.