The Silent Inferno

Artwork by Kamaira Anderson

The wind howled and the rain hammered down. Sharp nails screeched deafeningly across chalkboard & a swirling vortex of rage rose up inside him. It took him a moment to force the lid back onto these irascible thoughts and find an equilibrium amongst the roaring sounds within. He realised he was staring at the tearful woman across the street. He snorted loudly as if to expel his inner demons, then adjusted his jacket and trudged on into the night.

His thoughts drifted back to a time when he felt more in control of his anger. When he was more pensive, less reactive. His decisions were more judicious and level-headed. He certainly wouldn’t have almost flown into a psychotic rage just because someone looked at him in a way he didn’t appreciate…

He recalled living life to the full back then and having a tenacious appetite for self-discovery. Always reading, writing, travelling. He’d laugh off his friends’ complaining about paying off mortgages and being kept up all night by screaming babies with insouciance, which was almost admirable.

He had changed so much after the horrors he witnessed in Burma. He saw the threat of malice in every face. Even the most innocent looking was concealing spiteful hatred. His headache returned as his thoughts overpowered him and he could hear the crackle of flames and the sizzle of burning skin. He could almost smell it, that horrible, unforgettable smell.

The sounds in his head were amplified exponentially. A hundred alarm clocks bleeping, a thousand babies screaming and the sound of church bells rang incessantly until it was all too much to process. He instinctively covered his ears with his hands but it did nothing to quiet the raging storm within. He knew what was coming as he stumbled forward, arms flailing, reaching out for support. He tripped over his own feet and came crashing down into the gutter. His vision was blurring now and everything appeared like he was underwater, being sucked into a deep, black abyss of pain and turmoil. He could almost feel his soul being ripped apart like a medieval torture victim as the volume increased to unbearable levels…. and then silence.

Blackness.

An eternity of endless nothing.

Except, he realised there was something here in this emptiness. His happy thoughts and memories enveloped him, guiding him towards a distant glimmer. As he drew closer to this speck in the blackness he began to hear faint sounds. Almost like voices. They grew more audible and distinct as he began to recognise the familiar beeping sounds of an ECG. A rush of light and sound filled his senses….

He was in a hospital bed.

The voices belonged to doctors and nurses talking nearby. He managed to make out a portly, bespectacled man wearing a tweed jacket and a warm, friendly smile, sitting in a chair next to his bed. The stranger stood up and his smile grew wider as the burly man awoke. “I’m so glad you’re OK,” he said happily. “I found you lying in the street, bleeding. I thought you’d been attacked, but the doctors said there were no signs of physical abuse and that you appeared to have had an episode and hurt yourself when you fell.”
The burly man tried to sit up but pain shot through his skull like an electric shock. He sucked in air hard through his teeth and said “You…helped me?”
“Of course,” exclaimed the old man. “I couldn’t get an ambulance quickly enough so my son and I managed to get you into my car and drove you here.”
“Why….why would you do that?”
The portly man was taken aback by his question and furrowed his brow quizzically.
“Well, why would you even ask me that? I’d always help another in need.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much…” managed the burly man, genuinely touched by the stranger’s kindness.

The portly samaritan rose from his chair and clasped the burly man’s large hand in his and said, “It’s no lie that God’s green earth has been spoiled for the grateful and good by the greed of selfish people. I just hope that in some small way, I can make a difference with the time I have here.” He began to leave but stopped in the doorway, turned his head, and added solemnly, “I’ve seen enough people I care about lose battles with personal traumas to recognise a lost soul…. Take stock of what you have to live for and try focusing on what you can give to others. The Lord is watching out for you. May he guide you through this dark time. You take care of yourself, okay?”
The burly man smiled for the first time in a long time and replied, “I will. Thank you.” And with that, the portly stranger left, whistling cheerfully as he walked down the corridor.

The pain in the burly man’s head had subsided slightly and he was able to sit up in the bed. He looked out of the window as the sun rose on the horizon and took a slow and controlled deep breath. The smile on his face lingered for a long time and he slipped into a pleasant reverie, a modicum of his dwindling faith in humanity restored. The sound of cars honking their horns nearby dragged him back to reality, and suddenly the medical equipment in the room seemed to come alive with an ear-splitting disharmony. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly as the sounds of fire rose up around him, but it was no use. The friendly fat face of the portly samaritan was in his thoughts, aflame, laughing at him. The fire melted the skin on his round face as the screams of innocent children pierced every synapse in the burly man’s brain. The skin melted away and the flesh seared and sizzled. The eyeballs swelled out of their sockets and popped, spraying tissue and gore everywhere. Eventually, only a blackened, grinning skull remained, laughing maniacally back at him. As the sounds of the inferno in his head began to subside, the burly man realised the maniacal laughter was coming from himself.

Two frightened nurses were holding him down as an ageing female doctor with a scarred face hurriedly tried to inject a sedative into his arm. The laughter echoed through his mind as he slipped into the most comforting sensation he had felt in a long time, a long and peaceful slumber…

 

Adriano De Mello

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