By: Thomas M. Malafarina
© 2018 Thomas M. Malafarina
“In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
“Insanity – a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.” – R. D. Laing
“Insanity is the final surrender.” – Marta Caminero-Santangelo
“I guess if everybody went crazy together, nobody would notice.” – Cormac McCarthy
The previous months seemed endless, with day-after-dreary-day dark clouds, ceaseless rain, and damp, chill air. It had been one of the gloomiest springs and summers in recorded local history, with hardly a single full day of sunshine over the past six months. But now, finally, the sun had sliced through the gloom. If, even if only for a brief time, it had succeeded in illuminating the city park over this much-needed lunch hour with all its radiant glory.
Tad Dresden sat on the park bench, eyes closed with his face pointed directly upward into the brightness, absorbing every luminescent ray the sun could provide. He had chosen to sneak out a few minutes early and beat the crowd of what likely would be several hundred people once the clock struck noon. He had followed the weather forecast and knew this brief teaser of sunshine would be short-lived. The forecast said the rain would resume by 2 pm, with no end in sight. He might even extend his lunch hour a bit past one to enjoy the sun while it lasted. After all, his boss was on vacation in Florida and would have no idea if he did.
He couldn’t blame his boss for skipping town for a while. Tad wondered how much more of this constant rain he could take as he had so many times during the past months. He and many of his coworkers had questioned at what point the never-ending gloom would drive them all crazy.
“You might not want to get too used to that sunshine, my friend. From what the weatherman says, it ain’t going to last much longer,” an elderly-sounding voice said from nearby.
Not opening his eyes or changing his position, Tad replied, “That might be true, but I still plan on soaking up as much Vitamin D as possible, thank you very much.”
“Nobody can blame you for that,” the voice said with a chuckle, and Tad noticed the sound of the man’s footfalls getting further away. He hoped he hadn’t come across as rude or unfriendly. After all, the man had only been trying to strike up a conversation. But this was the first sunshine Tad had felt in weeks, and he couldn’t seem to pull himself away from it.
A few minutes later, he heard shuffling along the concrete path approaching him. At first, he thought it might be the previous stranger returning, perhaps to make another attempt at conversation. Tad hoped not, as he wanted to soak in more of this incredible sunshine. Then he thought, hadn’t that stranger’s footsteps sounded normal, like regular footfall? These didn’t sound like normal footsteps but were more like erratic dragging along the walkway. He suddenly realized how vulnerable he was sitting there, face pointed skyward with his eyes closed. Any mugger could walk up to him with a club and bash his skull to a pulp before he even had time to react. There were no guarantees even in this active part in a relatively safe part of town.
Tad heard a strange monotone voice coming from in front of him, murmuring in some unknown language he couldn’t begin to identify, “Mula roo. Wallama tang. Foona taloon.”
He cautiously opened his eyes to see a strange man standing before him, not more than three feet away. He appeared to be in his mid-thirties with a receding black hairline already showing signs of gray. He wore dark brown dress pants, matching socks and shoes, and a white shirt with a tan tie. At first glance, the man would have looked like any one of a dozen office workers out for a lunchtime stroll. Except for the crimson stain on the front of his shirt and tie. Not to mention the bloody box cutter he held tightly in his right hand.
“Fargar muffta varnoff palantarf,” the man jabbered incoherently. That was when Tad noticed the man’s eyes for the first time. Somehow those eyes had simultaneously managed to alternate between dead and void of all emotion to the wild eyes of a vicious, crazed animal.
“Look, buddy,” Tad said with a quivering voice, “I… I don’t want any trouble.” Tad wasn’t a big man, only about 5-6 and 135 pounds soaking wet. He knew nothing about self-defense and had never been in a single fight in his entire life, but he sensed the threat level was about to go nuclear. Tad slowly brought his cell phone around, prepared to call 911 if needed. He thought a whole lot of good that would do him if this weirdo decided to go ballistic. If the wacko was so inclined, he could slice Tad to ribbons long before any cops arrived.
To Tad’s surprise, the man didn’t attack, however, nor did he respond in any way to the attempts Tad made to calm him. It was like he hadn’t heard a single word Tad had spoken. He just stood staring wide-eyed as a broad Jack-O-Lantern grin spread across his face. Tad ventured a glance down at his smartphone and pressed the telephone icon.
Then to Tad’s horror, the man lifted the blood-splattered box cutter and placed the tip of its razor edge against his forehead where flesh met his thinning hairline. Tad grimaced in stunned disbelief as the man sunk the blade a quarter of an inch into his forehead, not so much as flinching from what had to be an incredible level of pain. Tad felt the phone fall from his grip and clatter to the park bench, but he was too shocked by what he saw to retrieve it.
Slowly the man dug the blade across his forehead, then down the left side of his face as blood streamed over his bulging eyes. Still, the man smiled that ridiculous Cheshire Cat grin, blood tricking into his lips. Somewhere in the back of Tad’s mind, a voice was screaming at him to find his phone, call 911 and get away from the maniac as quickly as possible. Yet he sat staring, transfixed.
The man’s lips were in constant silent motion. Tad was sure the stranger must still be murmuring those bizarre, unintelligible words. When the blade had cut to just below the man’s chin, he repeated the process on the right side of his face, completing the macabre bloody circle.
The stranger released the box cutter allowing it to clatter to the pavement. He began gradually increasing the volume of his voice as he lifted both hands toward his forehead. Tad’s stomach churned with disgust as the man dug his fingernails deep into the groove he had sliced into his forehead.
“Mongoda denolla avatar yulunda!” The man screamed as he began peeling down the flesh from his face, pulling it off in one piece like some hideous latex mask. Tad heard ripping sounds as flesh separated from musculature. As he looked on in disbelief, he saw the man’s crimson under-face revealed. The stranger tossed the skin mask aside, shouting, “Dura haarmazolla! Dura haarmazolla!”
Before Tad could react, if he was still even capable of responding, the now faceless madman turned and ran screaming across the nearby grassy park for a few dozen yards before collapsing to the ground, lying face down. His body twitched and convulsed for a few moments, then became motionless. Tad had never seen a man die before, and most certainly not in such a revolting self-inflicted manner. He sat in awe of the unmoving mass of tattered humanity lying on the ground before him.
A series of tremors began somewhere deep inside Tad’s stomach and quickly spread throughout his body in ever-increasing intensity. It was like ripples of water radiating from the epicenter of a rock dropped in a pond. He heard someone screaming a series of unintelligible gibberish words, and as he felt a slow stream of drool trickling down his chin, he realized the voice he heard was his own.
About thirty feet across the park, an attractive, professionally dressed woman named Emma Larson stopped in her tracks, staring in confusion at the man on the park bench. At first glance, he appeared to be a typical office worker dressed in the shirtsleeves and tie uniform she had seen thousands of times. But there was nothing ordinary about the way he was acting. The man, mumbling to himself, quaked from head to toe as if in convulsion. Emma had encountered more than her share of crazy homeless street people, but this character didn’t fit that profile.
She saw him staring off to the left, and following his gaze, she saw another man lying in a heap on the nearby grass. That man was motionless; at first, he appeared to have a red cloth draped over his face. Then Emma saw the crimson stains on his shirt and realized the man was dead. What she thought to be a red cloth was no cloth at all but the man’s face. And what had happened to him? He looked as though someone had beaten him to a pulp. Perhaps it had been that shivering man sitting on the park bench. Maybe he had hit the other man or shot him in the face. Could that be? Emma quickly took cover behind a large oak tree and fished her cell phone from her purse with trembling fingers.
Emma quickly keyed 911, desperate to hear the operator’s voice. She peeked around the tree, looking back at the man on the park bench. To her shock, he was now staring back at her. He raised his right arm, pointed directly at Emma, and shouted, “Garnog mon dragoob balute!”
She remembered her phone. Why hadn’t the 911 operator responded? She looked down and saw she had forgotten to press the call icon. She pushed it quickly as she looked back at the man on the bench again. He now was standing, and upon seeing her, he began running toward her rapidly, driven by nothing short of madness. Emma had never seen another human running so fast and knew she could never outrun him. But she quickly learned he had no intention of chasing her; the tree she hid behind caught his interest.
“Aronda mogolup grontach,” the man screamed at the top of his lungs as he slammed himself face-first into the tree trunk. The man backed away and repeated the process, ramming his face harder and harder each time until it looked like a sagging pile of raw hamburger meat. After a few final attempts, the man slid down the tree, lying unconscious or dead at its base.
Emma dropped her phone on the grass and cautiously walked around to the front of the tree. A ruby-red accumulation of blood, hair, and bits of flesh coated its bark. Looking down at the man, she saw his skull had cracked open, and gray matter slowly dribbled out onto the grass.
In the distance, she heard a faint voice saying, “911 operator. What is the nature of your emergency?”
Emma didn’t respond. She didn’t hear. She couldn’t hear. She was too overwhelmed by the sounds coming from her mouth. They were words she had never heard before if they were words at all. At first, they seemed like nonsensical gibberish until they weren’t.
“What the hell is going on over there?” Sam Hartley said to his friend Kevin.
Kevin, who was a far cry from observant, asked, “Over where?”
“Over there by that park bench,” Sam said with annoyance. “Something weird is going on. Let’s go check it out.”
“What are you talking about, Sam? There’s nothing weird going on. It looks like some woman is sitting on the ground by a tree. What’s the big deal?” Then Kevin’s voice took on a sinister tone. “Oooh, look out, everybody. Some scary secretary is sitting under a tree enjoying the first sunshine we’ve had in months. What sort of unspeakable horror is she busy conjuring? She might terrorize the world by eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Oh, the horror! Oh, the humanity!”
“Ok, I get it, Kevin. Your sarcastic wit has not fallen on deaf ears. But tell me what that thing is next to her. It looks like a man lying on his back; maybe he’s dead.”
“Oh yeah, I’m sure. Every person lying in the grass enjoying the sunshine is dead. Sam, you better do something about that wild imagination of yours.”
“Fine, Kevin, fine. I know I have an active imagination—big freaking deal. You can say whatever you want, but I’m telling you, something weird is going on over there. I’m going over to see what’s what.”
“Knock yourself out, Sammy boy. I’ll be sitting here on my bench, soaking in the rays and relaxing. After you’ve discovered all this was in your head, come back, and we’ll enjoy the rest of our lunch hour.”
Sam walked across the park toward the woman under the tree. As he got closer, he heard what sounded like the distant, tinny voice of someone speaking over a phone. It was coming from the grass, not far from the woman. Then he heard the woman herself, almost chanting in some strange dialect he had never heard before.
She rocked back and forth slowly, mumbling in her bizarre language, “Quavilla esto monalinko dazaflog.”
As he reached the woman, Sam noticed the other body lying in the grass. It appeared to be that of a man, but Sam couldn’t be sure, as the thing’s face was unrecognizable. Its head was cracked open, and its brains pooled in the grass. Sam could hear the buzzing of hundreds of blowflies, making him wonder what sort of communication allowed them to find death so quickly.
In the distance, he saw yet another body, this one was as faceless as the last, but it appeared less damaged than the other. Sam didn’t know why, but he thought of facial surgery for some reason. Then he noticed the buildings across from the park disgorging what looked like hundreds of workers who had chosen not to skip out early as he and Kevin had. They were about to get the shock of their lives.
What in the hell was going on? What had happened to these people, and why was this woman mumbling alone? That was when he noticed the two blackbirds bouncing through the grass toward the woman.
One of the birds pecked at something lying in the woman’s open palm. Sam’s stomach clenched with disgust as he saw the bird hop away with a human eyeball dangling from the muscles and filaments which the bird held tightly in its beak. The orb swung back and forth like a pendulum, dripping tiny droplets of blood in its wake. Sam released an audible gasp, and the woman turned to face him.
She shouted her gibberish now, “Mololla dero Banga harawan!”
That was when Sam saw the hollow black and crimson orifices that had once held the woman’s eyes. Deep furrows dug into her cheeks and ran down from the empty sockets acting like tributaries for the blood streaming down her ruined face. The woman’s non-seeing face turned toward the sound of Sam’s presence, and as she broke into a large, happy grin, her hands reached up, fingers sliding inside her mouth, each hand grabbing tightly onto the bottom jaw. With the sound of breaking bones serving as the soundtrack for this heinous ballet of the bizarre, Sam watched in paralytic horror as the woman began twisting and tearing at her lower jaw. At first, she broke it free of its physical moorings, then eventually pulled it entirely away from her face in a flurry of torn flesh, broken bones, and a shower of blood.
She fell sideways, collapsing to the ground in a heap as Sam reached her. But there would be no assistance he could render. She convulsed for a few seconds then all movement ceased.
Sam began to cry, something he hadn’t done since childhood. He whispered a prayer, something he hadn’t done in longer than he could recall. But partway into his plea, his words became a garbled mess of incomprehensible babbling.
As Kevin meditated, he heard a growing series of noises coming from the park’s far end. He couldn’t make out what anyone was saying, but he knew that something terrible was happening by the tone of the voices. Concerned about what sort of trouble his friend Sam might have gotten himself into, Kevin looked out in the distance and was staggered by what he saw. There were dozens, no hundreds, of people in the park, all screaming, waving their arms, and attacking each other. People were punching, kicking, and gouging each other in some of the most violent acts Kevin had ever imagined. Many of the people appeared to be inflicting pain upon themselves as well. He saw people tearing the flesh from their faces. He saw others ripping arms out of people’s sockets and using them as clubs to beat more people.
It was complete insanity. It was the sort of thing Sam might imagine, but not Kevin. Not only did his thought never travel to such places, but he was having great trouble wrapping his head around the reality he was now seeing. Sam was out there amid that horror, and Kevin could not find him. What in the hell could have caused so many people to lose their minds and begin slaughtering each other, not to mention maiming themselves?
As he turned to run, Kevin said to himself, “Ok. I may not be smart enough to know what’s going on over there, but I do know if I want to stay alive, I have to get out of here and pronto. Maybe if I can get far enough away, I can call … I can call … I … ironda maradunga banadogo ….”