Daniel sat deep in thought for a moment as he tried to come up with an answer to a question that had caught him off guard, and he was drawing nothing but blanks. His old eyes were drawn to the sun as it began to crest over the hills, and his expression was impassive despite how hard his mind toiled for an idea.
“Grandad?” A child’s shrill voice broke the silence as well as Daniel’s train of thought. “Is that too much trouble?”
The older man blinked twice before turning back to look down at his grandson, who had taken to sitting cross legged next the older man’s rocking chair. He offered the boy a tired smile. “No trouble at all, son. I’m just having a time and a half trying to think of a funny story this early in the morning, is all.”
That wasn’t entirely a lie. He had hoped that this little reunion at the family farm could help him catch up on his reading and writing. Maybe he could finally get to fixing the barn’s roof after putting it off for so long. But no, instead he had to pan through sixty odd years of memories for a story, or come up with one on the fly. That took time, and time was something his impatient grandkids never seemed willing to give.
“That’s right fucked up, grandpa.” The boy replied matter-of-factly.
Now, the old man couldn’t help but break into a low chuckle at that. Back when he was twelve- years-old, profanity like that wasn’t exactly encouraged when you were in the company of family.
But then, plenty of things had changed between the years of 1998 and 2062. Children swearing up a storm was the least of his concerns.
“Right fucked up indeed, Arthur.” Daniel nodded, before turning his head. “What kind of story would you find funny anyway, kiddo?”
The boy brought a fist up to his cheek and frowned. “Uhm…hm…”
After sitting in silence for a moment, Arthur simply shrugged. “I dunno. Something weird? Something I’ve never heard before, I guess?” The boy shook his head. “I’m getting tired of watching slapstick comedy and listening to embarrassing stories. I want something crazy, grandad!”
“Crazy, eh?” Daniel grinned, an idea taking form in his head. “I dunno, kiddo. I’ve been around for a long while and have lived through some pretty crazy experiences.”
Arthur rolled his eyes. “If you’ve a funny story to tell, then just tell it already.”
The older man snorted. “Fine, fuck’s sake. Listen up and don’t make me repeat myself, because this story’s one for the ages.”
“This story revolves around a nightmare I had when I was three or four years older than you.” Daniel began, pushing off with his feet and sending his chair rocking.
“A nightmare?” Arthur asked. “How is a nightmare funny?”
“Listen to what I have to say and you just might find out.” The boy’s grandfather smiled at him, before starting his story…
I opened my eyes to a nightmare I will never be able to forget, a nightmare unlike any I’ve ever heard described. So indescribable it was that I’m sure I could’ve brought it to my therapist and she wouldn’t have a clue about what caused it. I didn’t have the sense of falling through nothingness. Nor was I running away from some unseen threat. My teeth weren’t rotting and falling out of my gums. And I wasn’t late for something of great important. No, I was in something else entirely.
“This doesn’t sound like the start of a funny story, grandad…” Arthur started.
“Don’t worry kiddo, it gets better.” Daniel reassured him, before clearing his throat…
I was alone, standing barefoot where the shore met with a boundless sea. My legs were heavy and the water was brushing passed my feet. The waves were as cold as ice, and the water was black. Not “black” like the colour, but black like the absence of light between the stars in the sky. Any effort I made to look up at the sky was met with a distinct sense of vertigo.
“What’s vertigo, grandad?”
“Another word for dizziness, Arthur.” Daniel clarified. “Anyway…”
It felt as though I was underwater, with the sky rippling like recently paddled water, its colour like that of spilt wine. I saw great whales swimming high above, the length of their forms covered in serpentine eyes and gnashing teeth.
When I first tried to take in a breath, my throat and lungs were instead filled with the bitter taste of tannin.
Daniel spun his head towards his grandson and raised his hand before the boy could get a word out. “Tannin is something really bitter. Have you ever had black tea?”
Arthur shook his head. “No, grandad.”
“Ask your mom to buy you some, it tasted something like that.”
“Why didn’t you just say it tasted like black tea to begin with, then?” Arthur asked, before realizing that his grandfather was already talking again…
Confused, I tried to take in another deep breath. Salt water. Now I’m a pretty nervous person to begin with, but when I realized I couldn’t breathe I was absolutely overcome with panic. Again and again I tried to take in the air, and every time I was instead greeted by a variety of different tastes, from the familiarity of cinnamon to the sour tang of lime. It didn’t take long for me to fall onto my hands and knees, desperately trying to take in air that continued to evade me.
“Your life is not but atoms.” A sourceless voice rang out, its words curling around the back of my mind.
The edges of my vision began to blur, and my body started to shake violently. All I could see were my wrists sticking out of the dark cold of the sea, my hands having disappeared beneath the waves. I couldn’t see my reflection, but I knew I was sweating like mad.
“All of your memories are dust,” The voice in the back of my head went on. “While your achievements amount to nothing but shapes; nothing worth understanding.”
One last time, with my heart beating out of my chest and ribs coiling around my empty lungs, I tried to breathe in deep. My mouth filled with the sweet taste of red wine, and my body collapsed into the colourless black of the sea, fully absorbed by its cold embrace. It didn’t take long for my vision to follow after it.
“And the universe goes on,” The sourceless voice fell to the softest of whispers. “Forgetting your existence, as you are but drops of water in a sea of incomprehensible size.”
When Daniel turned back to Arthur to see if he was still paying attention, he realized that his grandson had simply been stunned into silence. That silence permeated across the farm for long moment before the boy finally spoke up.
“What kind of fucked up story was that, grandad!?” Arthur sputtered, waving his arms around.
Daniel cocked his head to the side and offered his grandson and small shrug. “You’re the one who asked for a weird story.”
“Weird but funny! Not weird and freaky!” Arthur stood up from his cross-legged position, his voice raising alongside him. “I’m going to have nightmares about this nihilistic crap!”
Now it was Daniel’s turn to be stunned. Not because his grandson had the audacity to raise his voice at his elders. Not because he was ashamed for potentially giving the boy nightmares. No, he was stunned because he was surprised that Arthur even knew what the word nihilistic meant.
“Maybe the nightmares you’ll have will make for a good story too, Arthur!” The child’s grandfather suggested.
“What the fuck is wrong with you grandad?” Arthur cursed. “What made you think that telling this ‘story’ was a good idea…”
And then it hit him. The young Arthur looked down at his grandad and lowered his arms. The boy’s anger was replaced by sadness - pity, even - when he next spoke.
“…You’re off your meds again, aren’t you grandad?”
“You know it, kiddo!” Daniel laughed, clapping his hands together before he threw on a pair of sunglasses, stood out of his rocking chair, and finger-gunned his way back inside the family farmhouse. Arthur, meanwhile, was left to stand there on the porch, dumbfounded by what he had just seen and fearing for when he next had to sleep.
Daniel is a second-year student of the Professional Writing Program at Algonquin College with a terrible sense of humour and an interest in all sorts of music. Whether it be due to raw talent or absolute dumb luck, he’s somehow made it this far and is ready to subject more unsuspecting students to his opinions.