Heroes Don’t Exist – Mike Santiago

My father painted a world that was consumed in shadow, but it was my mother who told me to stay idle by the glow of the light.  I had to abide by their reasons and judgments alone.  Demons resides in those shadows, but that isn’t entirely true. However, it was in that darkness that I found absolute freedom, yet I lingered in it for a long time. As the years passed, my eyes adjusted, which revealed my scorched reality.  What I saw, was an intangible amount of suffering rooted in the bowels of my own kin.

With an outstretched arm, I could see my father preparing to lash my mother again with an old, tattered belt.  I cowered in the corner anticipating that his gaze would soon be fixated on me.  This had become a routine element in my life, yet I could not grow accustomed to it.  At the age of seven, I could never rationalize or pardon my father’s ill-conceived actions towards us, but I knew that his drunken stupor combined with his unrelenting anger would ignite his typical tirade.  

As my mother pleaded for the beating to stop, he glared at her with such intensity and let out one final flay.  At this point, droplets of blood sprayed the surrounding area.  I began to weep; begging my father to stop, and he did.  However, he locked on to me like a heat- seeking missile and grabbed me by my arm,; raising my petrified body off the ground as I dangled several feet in the air. 

“Now listen here, boy.  You say a word of what happened here to anyone and you’ll end up worse than this woman.  Do you understand me?” shouted his drunken father.

All I could do was nod my head in agreement, for when I looked into his eyes, I could see the devil staring right back.  And just like that, my father let me go as I plummeted to the cold and cracked wood floor.  

“Now get to your damn room and go to sleep,” he yelled.

I ran at mach speed up the stairs, slammed the door behind me, and catapulted myself under my covers.  Even as a kid, I knew the only solace I could find was within the recesses of my dreaming mind.  Because in my dreams, I could be anything and accomplish anything.  A superhero, a knight, a space explorer, a pirate, or at the very least, big enough to slay the dragon that was my father.  I could conjure up anything and not be a frail, hopeless child, or so I thought. 

My eyes were swelled with tears as I began to drift away into sleep.

Bam… Bam… Bam…

The whack of the gavel against the hard, cold surface of the table solidified that the mysterious man sitting six rows away from the auctioneer had won the piece that was just up for bid.  He bore a cold and calculating grin that was masked in a thin veil of darkness.  Not to mention, the attire he wore was an all black tuxedo, which helped him blend into the dimly lit facade of the auction hall.

“Gentleman, I implore you to prepare your bids as the next specimen up for display is the finest piece for sale today,” stated the confident and conniving auctioneer.

Then, a cage slowly ascended from beneath the show floor, and I could see the stark silhouette of a woman from within.  As the halogen bulbs locked its gaze onto the the steel box, the woman began weeping, the tears fell down her corset and pooled around her feet.  She had auburn hair that was reminiscent to the embers of a raging flame. Her skin was pale as if its natural pigment had been washed by her sobbing.  The resemblance was uncanny, and in that moment, it became immediately apparent that it was my mother who would be the next “item” auctioned off.

I turned around and could see the man in black’s grin exceed the width of his face.  He seemed pleased by what he saw as if she was cattle ready for slaughter. I began to quiver and convulse erratically. 

Once again, the gavel made a resounding sound that echoed across the hall.  “Starting bid is one million pounds. Do I have any takers?” the auctioneer shouted.  

The man in black raised his bidding card with little hesitation, which raised the stakes to five million pounds in less time then I could gather a breathe. 

“Six million!” I shouted without delay.

“Ten million!” said the man in black.

“Twelve!” I proclaimed with dread.

“30 million pounds… need I go higher?” screamed the man in black. 

With a thundering roar, the gavel slammed down once more, and the auctioneer reverberated the solemn words… “Sold.”

Beginning to panic, the realization that my own mother was sold to that bastard with his contorted, sly grimace began to fester and settle in. I grew uneasy and numb as each second dwindled away as two men carted her behind a velvet curtain.

“Mommy!” I bellowed at the top of my lungs.

Even in my dreams, I could not save my mother from the inebriated brute that saw little value in the family he had fostered as his own.  Defenseless even in my subconscious mind, I could not escape my despair that had formed most of my childhood. The next day would be just as redundant and unfortunate as the previous 24 hours.  

The next day, I expected to come home from school to another drunken whirlwind at my father’s behest.  I was not disappointed, as empty beer cans littered the ground, and my mother’s throat was locked in his death grip.  Her eyes began to roll back, and her complexion was recast to cobalt to match the fresh coat of paint on the very wall she was pinned against. 

I began to flail and plead with him to let her go, but with one hand, I was tossed to the side as if I was defunct.  

“You stupid son of a bitch! Do you want to be next? Get your ass to your room before I beat the skin off your back,” his father screamed with a bitter stare.

My routine never changed its course.  Every day was like this, and so I cried myself to sleep once more. Hoping that I could finally gather the strength to quell my father’s lunacy for good.

And once again, I drifted ever so deep into my subconscious mind.

“Lycanthrope, I can hear your ghastly snarl, and I’ve come to exterminate your pursuit for human satiation.  Come out now you dastardly fiend!” I shouted into the midst of a fog covered wood.

This was 17th century Bavaria, a time where inconceivable monstrosities infested the shadows.  However, our village was tucked away at the base of a mountain shrouded by a dense, thick forest.  In these woods, a menacing and vengeful beast dwelled.  The villagers knew him as the wolf man, but I knew him under a different banner: father.  

As I creeped through the murky forest, I could hear his piercing growls loom within my proximity, but I did not grow timid to the insufferable wailing’s my father made.  With every step, I pushed on with absolute determination to put my father to rest, and to end his unrelenting scourge.  

A bloodcurdling scream echoed through the woods, and I began to charge forward with haste.  Loading a silver pellet into my flintlock, I stumbled upon a scene so macabre.  Entrails were strewn across the canopy, and the lifeless body of a woman swayed from a tree.  Her gashed abdomen spouted blood on to the dry, dead leaves scattered across the ground.

“Bastard… show yourself now.  Father!  Do you not see what you have done? Do you not know who this is that lies before me?” I howled with utter intensity.

Mooooooother. That bag of flesh I feasted upon was the woman that bore you,” the wolf eerily stated.

“How dare you drag mother down with you.  Your conflict is your own.  You made no stride towards reversing your condition and succumbed further into your own demise.  Mother was not yours to dismantle because you saw little refuge from within,” I bargained.

In that moment, I raised my pistol and pulled the trigger – narrowly missing my father as he let out a distressing howl.

“Ahhhhhhhh,” my father yelled from downstairs.

Upon hearing my father’s scream from downstairs, I sprung out of bed ejecting myself from the sanctuary of my dream scape.  What I saw next, I couldn’t fathom, nor could I process as a 7-year-old child.  A knife was planted firmly into my father’s abdomen as he was laying on the floor, bleeding out. Droplets of blood made a trail to my mother, who was trembling with anxiety and fear in the corner.  In a split second, she decided to make a bold stand to save her own life from the maniacal villain that had swore an undying oath to her. 

At that age, my first inclination was to call the police as I had no other recourse.  My voice began to quiver as I shouted at the 911 operator to send someone to our house. Within a matter of minutes, bright flashes of blue and red illuminated the living room windows.  As tears began to trickle down my face, I opened the door to see six police officers rush in to find my father’s now lifeless body strewn across the hardwood floor.

One of the officers came over to me and placed me into the backseat of his police cruiser.  I could see my mother through the front door, still petrified, but her somber gaze was locked onto me. She seemed speechless and in shock over the events that had just transpired.  

“And was that the last time you saw your mother?” a middle-aged man holding a clipboard stated.

“It was… after that… it was one foster home to the next.  The courts determined that my mother was unfit to raise me after that night.  As the years went on, I kept replaying that night over and over again.  I couldn’t make sense of it then, and I still can’t now,” I uttered with a gawk.

“Allen, I’m sorry, but that’s all the time we have for today.  Shall we schedule you in for the same time next week?” he commented. 

“Of course, doc, I’ll be here next week,” I responded.

Despite fighting through the mental trenches with my therapist for months, I still felt as though my mind was a ravaged and desolate battlefield.  As the years racked up, I could find little solace in what had occurred during my childhood.  No matter how hard I tried to mount an insurmountable wall, I plummeted every time, and the obstacles grew greater and greater as the days dwindled.  These were the lingering effects of PTSD that had sustained and satiated itself throughout my life.

At the age of 37 I knew I could no longer let the vague visions of my former self consume my conscious and subconscious mind.  And still, after all these years, I used my dreams to escape.  However, I no longer used my unconscious mind to seek refuge from my father; instead, I used it as a means to revisit my mother and undo the events that led up to that fateful night.  It was supposed to be a means to an end.  A way out of the darkness that I found freedom in for so long.

heavy breathing

Suddenly, I woke up, but my head was pounding and my gaze was hazy. When I opened my eyes, I saw that I was surrounded by padded walls.  A steel door with a small metal trap was in front of me.  It was in that moment I realized that I once again was succumbing to my dreams.  I had lost all touch with my reality.  I had ended up in an asylum due to the demons I could not conquer or quell. 

“When will these damn dreams stop?” I shouted at the top of my lungs.

They never will… They are apart of you now…” My father’s voice said as his words rattled in my head. 

Then, my eyes adjusted – revealing the true nature of my world so I could see.

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