He Doesn’t Talk About It

by Adrian Scanlan 

It was all going well, up to a point.

Dennis and Julia had invited friends of theirs. Nathan and I sat beside each other in the middle of the table. Occasionally I’d squeeze his hand. He’d smile at me. There was wine. There was chatter. I thought Nathan would be disturbed by the loud voices, or the red of the wallpaper. But he wasn’t, he was fine. That’s something people don’t understand. He’s not scared of what he can see.

Conversation was difficult at first. Everybody knew who Nathan was. They knew that they shouldn’t mention Muscoda, or Vizer. Nathan was quiet, and didn’t look at people directly. He rarely makes eye contact these days. Plus, he can’t be in the room while skin is removed from meat. Dennis and Julia were under strict instructions: carve the chicken before you bring it out.

Nathan is also afraid of anything that floats in the air. He can’t stand those ghosts on a string that you see at Halloween. And certain sounds. Like mosquitoes. They are triggers. They send him back to Muscoda. We have to avoid those triggers.

We’re lucky to have come this far. In the beginning, he was hysterical. Crying, calling people’s names. Nightmares and insomnia. Restraints. I started out as his nurse, then his Personal Rehabilitation Officer. Now, we’re in a relationship. The other nurses said this was a bad idea. I said I’ll take my chances. He’s incredibly brave, and strong. He can go places now. This was our first time out with people. When Nathan started to speak, everyone stared as if he was the Dalai Lama. That was awkward. He’s not stupid. They thought he would say something revealing. They all wanted to ask questions. But that was forbidden.

He doesn’t talk about it. They had to get by on what they already knew. Muscoda is a ghost town. Abandoned since the thirties. Nathan went there with a bunch of friends on an executive teambuilding junket. The Vizer came out of an old sulphur mine.

Nobody knows what it looked like. When the military turned up it was gone back into the mine. They collapsed it. Only Nathan survived. He said there were tiny flashes, like when fishermen cast their lines out. But dozens of them. As if the Vizer was just invisible whips, tipped with knives.

It killed all of Nathan’s friends. They were mutilated. Their faces gone. The coroner said it was done surgically. But they had all been running. It didn’t seem possible. At first, the authorities didn’t believe the story and they tried to force answers from him. He was already traumatized. So he shut down. With counseling, compassion and medicine, we brought him back. Most of the way.

We were in the kitchen. It was winding down. Everyone was happy. Nathan’s weird celebrity status was forgotten. Dennis put a kettle on the stove. I didn’t see the harm in it. Neither did Nathan.

We were talking about how pricey a good rug can be when I saw Nathan’s face. His mouth was slack and he was pale and he stared at the kettle. A thin whistling sound coming from it.

He’d frozen utterly. I knew what was happening, and bundled him out of there with the least amount of fuss. They only knew there was something wrong when I was gone.

When were were alone together in the hall he took a few deep breaths. “Was it the kettle?” I said. He nodded and cleared his throat.

“The sound,” he said. Gradually, some colour came back to him. “Thanks. I’ll be fine.” He went to the bathroom. I returned to the kitchen. Nobody was talking any more.

“He’s okay,” I said, and forced a grin.

“How did he survive?” said Ruth, brazenly, breaking the rules.

“We don’t know,” I said.

“Did he see it happen?” said Isaac.

“Yes,” I said. “He saw it all. All their faces, ripped off, floating in front of him.” I am ashamed I said that much. Damn them.

“What was it?” said Ruth. I didn’t answer.

Dennis, with a warning in his voice: “Nobody knows, nobody ever will. Who cares? Eight people died. Horribly. Remember that.”

From the hall, there was a scream. Like someone losing their grip, falling into Hell.

We ran to him. He was on his back, staring. There was a mask on the wall. A souvenir of some festival. Pale and eyeless. Just hanging there. Nathan made animal sounds. His mind bleached out. I brought him home. He’ll recover; but this is a big setback.

He shivers, calling the names of his friends. I have to sedate him. Then I undress him and put him in bed. I stroke his hair. He looks at my face for a long time. I try not to blink. His expression is clouded. Then he talks slowly, through the morphine, as if he doesn’t know I’m really there.

“It made that hissing noise. The blades, whipping. Their faces just…lifted off. They moved in the air. Like a dance. It had to show them to me. I think that’s why it didn’t kill me. I think it was trying to tell me something.”

%d bloggers like this: