Here I am. Corsica. Tourists on beaches with that lay around get sun get red. With its spine of mountains lunging at that harsh blue sky, over jagged gorges, tight sharp roads with locals doing at least fifty over.
And here I am, all youth and this is new breathe it in. Trying to wash myself of salt stains and grime and empire and not knowing what I don’t know. A disquiet sits on my chest.
Can’t think. Don’t belong. I run from the crowds.
I rescue an old lady. Push her broke car off the road and give her a ride. At her place, she speaks in rhymes. Confuses me. But her eyes are full of wisdom. She reaches across, a drink in one hand, takes my hand in the other. Then soft words, slowly turning harsher. Those words seep into my mind.
The day after, I walk up a trail. A group of cows come running and block the way. Staring. Begging. As if warning me. I go around. Go up. Running now from it all. It feels just perfect.
Such a view. I feel the air leave my lungs. I feel like I belong. A range of green and sloping backs of ancient creatures for miles. So far from that desert—the blackened hulls, cloaked mothers screaming, modern monsters fighting over the remains of ancient ones—and the chattering world I never understand, and the reasons for running. All that weight now a rumble inside my chest. Something there. Always there.
A moment of fresh thoughts.
The old lady’s words come back to me.
You look lost son. What are you running from?
Enough closeness to jolt me.
But her words continue. I’m not sure you’ll find what you need out there. She points to the mountains. It’s out there. In the caves. And it shows no mercy, just like in that desert. They’re all the same, they all want flesh.
I nod now, letting the drink burn in my throat. Waiting for it to burn my mind.
You may want monster to eat monster. Don’t.
I’m inside out being read by this, this witch.
I try to brush this off, think on the ways she is possibly mad.
Must be mad
I sleep on a mountain beneath some granite rocks. Cool air hitting my face. I awake in the dark night staring at the stars, thinking that I shouldn’t think.
As I stare at a satellite gliding across the stars I hear a twig snap. The ground shakes.
I can feel its presence, sense a size much larger than myself. A fear erupts from my brain stem to my stomach. Heart running up throat. Shivers.
I steel myself then look over. I can see an outline blocking the stars. Two red eyes stare me down. I force myself to breathe a few times, my heart bouncing hard enough I am sure the beast can hear it. Maybe licking its lips. Then I muster all I have, some might call it bravery, others nihilism, and nod at the creature.
For a split second I feel a strong pull from my heart to its.
I am certain I am mad.
The next morning I look around and see nothing. I repeat to myself: there is no such thing as monsters. No thing a monster. No thing.
Years later, time has hammered much of that disquiet into pains plaguing my aging body. Not trying to wash myself anymore because I know what I don’t know. I’m back in the cocoon of empire, the softness, the things bought from desire in the internet stream, click, now at doorstep and you have. It. All. And the emptiness of this churn and the monsters, they’re here now, hungry for flesh, my flesh. Because I don’t belong. This much I know.
A nightmare, so real I wake up wet. Those red eyes still searing through the awake time. Yet it makes me feel like I belong. I look through the internet stream for monster sightings or unresolved murders or disappearances in Corsica. Flashes of videos, red eyes and screams. Can’t be real. I float around fights, KO, ships crashing into waves. Then I find a rumor about a shaman in the mountains. Centuries old. Cursed with seeing the future folly of humankind, a pain it can barely contain. Sometimes to pass the pain on to others, it stares these visions of the future into people.
They cannot handle these visions. The visions eat their hope and they end up alone, crazed. They then return to the shaman in Corsica and serve as its vassals who carry out its murders across the island.
Not real, I say to my screen. I float some more: tornadoes wiping out homes, dead bodies littered on streets. The back and forth screams if anything is real.
I float back to the shaman. Some on the internet claim it’s just a randomized horror, that the shaman only wants flesh, while others say that it directs its ire against any evil human out there. It sides with the powerless.
The nightmare has brought back that disquiet. And those monsters back in that desert? I see them everywhere now. They were here all along. Masked. All cruel all evil, but when I think on the monster in the Corsican mountains, I feel something different. Some hope. Belonging.
And I still remember the old lady and her warning. I visit her place. She’s long gone. Just dust in that house. But she has left a note. A map. I follow it and find a cave marked up with a large epic-tale of just… monsters.
This is madness.
I sleep there, alone, in my sleeping bag. In the morning some locals come by. I ask them if they know anything about the cave or its paintings. They laugh that it was all just a prank of the kids. I try to talk about what the old lady had told me and they laugh it off as a common story told by locals to entice more tourists into the area.
I’m sure I’m mad.
I spend another night there, wondering why I am here chasing ghosts and conmen tales at this age. That’s when I hear a twig snap. I stare at the two red eyes. I can feel its menace, its cruelty. But I feel that belonging and I step forward.
Nelson Lowhim – Writer artist immigrant veteran