STUCK IN A CLICHÉ

It was dark.  The Man With The Mustache woke up and saw nothing but a dimly lit wooden plank.  If he was smarter, or at least well versed in the English language, he may have thought the sight of nothing more than a dimly lit wooden plank was a bit ominous.  But he was not an altogether smart man, nor was he well versed in any language, let alone the one he had used since birth.  So all he thought now was how very strange it was that the ceiling was so close to his nose.  He looked around and saw the wooden plank had multiplied and was not only directly above him but on all sides of him as well.  He couldn’t be sure of it, since he couldn’t see it, but it felt as though he was also lying on a wooden plank.  Even though his brain was not the fastest moving brain ever to inhabit the head of a man, it took him very little time to realize he was in fact stuck fast inside some sort of box.  After he came to this conclusion it did not take him long to realize the box he was caged in was some sort of coffin.  The only reason he could see, as was easily deduced, was because some kind soul had felt it necessary to allow him a flashlight.  He held it between his knees and it pointed up, bouncing light throughout.  Perplexed, the Man With The Mustache tried to force the top plank off the coffin, but it wouldn’t budge.  He kicked, thinking his steel-toed work boots might succeed where his arm muscles failed.  But they didn’t.

     He felt his temples begin to sweat and the pace of his pulse quicken.  Nevertheless, he tried to keep a calm head.  This couldn’t be what it seemed.  He would have remembered being shoved into a wooden coffin that wouldn’t open.  He would have also remembered being buried alive, for he had decided by this point the reason he was finding it so difficult to remove the lid was because there was a good six-feet of dirt packed above it.  That is what people did to people they put in coffins—they buried them.  He would have remembered the faces of those who did it though, wouldn’t he?  At the very least, he would remember why this horrible thing was done to him.  What had he ever done to anybody to deserve this sort of treatment? 

The Man With The Mustache closed his eyes and forced himself to calm down.  He concentrated on slowing his heart rate and breathing steadily.  He didn’t think to himself, “I need to slow my heart rate and breathe more steadily.”  Remember, that wasn’t the type of man the Man With The Mustache was.  He just knew on an instinctual level that if he did not keep a cool head, sooner or later, probably sooner, his head would become very cool, but also very vacant. 

     “What am I going to do?” he thought, using his legs to click the flashlight on and off in a futile attempt to burn some of the adrenaline awakened when he realized the dire situation he was in.  He looked from side to side again.  Wood.  Light yellowish-brownish wood everywhere.  His world had become quite small.  Since he was unable to figure out how to free himself of his wooden prison, his thoughts began to drift.  He tried figuring out what had brought him there.  But it was all black; there was nothing. 

No.

He remembered a few days ago.  He remembered waking up, taking a shower, eating his breakfast, kissing his wife goodbye, and then getting into his car.  Beyond that, there was nothing.  Curiously, he realized that before he realized he had those memories there was also nothing.  For a fleeting second he pondered the possibility that he did not exist before that memory and maybe after that memory he stopped existing again until he found himself in the coffin.  But the second slipped away speedily for the Man With The Mustache knew thoughts such as those held for too long could lead a person to insanity faster than an abusive mother.  Then it actuality hit him.  How did he know thoughts such as those were more dangerous to the mind than an abusive mother?   

He took a deep breath, but as soon as the oxygen sucked down he realized taking deep breaths was probably not a wise idea.  He released the air that had just filled his lungs.  Then he remembered oxygen did not come out of a person’s body once it had passed through the lungs.  It was carbon dioxide he had allowed to escape his insides and set up shop in his small airtight box.  That was no good.  He couldn’t breathe carbon dioxide.

     Then he caught himself again.  “I have to concentrate,” he chided out loud.  “I have to figure out how to escape and then I can figure out how I got here.”  Hearing his own voice seemed to calm him some.  He breathed easy for a moment then shifted the flashlight as much as he could so he could see if there were any weak spots in the wood.  Then he remembered he already did that once before.  The word HOPELESS flashed across his mind’s eye in bright red mocking letters and the Man With The Mustache felt tiny wet dots spring forth from the corners of his eyes.  HOPELESS, like flashing lights on a marquee sign. 

His mind wandered.  He saw HOPELESS again.  This time there was a teenage boy wearing a blue smock and using one of those long sticks to place large red letters on a sign fifteen feet above him.  HOPELESS STARRING THE MAN WITH THE MUSTACHE SHOWING AT 1200 NOON, 310, 550, 800, 1115.  He was standing outside a theater.  He looked at his watch, it was three o’clock.  People were walking past him, going in the theater, paying for tickets, buying popcorn and pop.  The Man With The Mustache followed them, repeating their actions. 

The theater was cool, almost cold, and it held only three people.  “Everyone must’ve come for the Affleck movie,” he thought, chomping on popcorn and waiting in the darkness for his film to begin.  “HOPELESS,” he said to the elderly lady sitting next to him, “I heard this was a good flick.”

From the side she appeared kindly.  She had an orange sweatshirt with cute kittens wearing witch hats covering her ample belly and her chubby cheeks were red but her eyes were pale blue like the Man With The Mustache’s grandmother.  When she turned to face him it all changed.  He saw her chubby skin peel away to reveal a gleaming white skull covered in trickles of blood.  “The hero dies at the end,” the skull whispered.  “Shh!” 

The Man With The Mustache jumped and wondered how an entity with no tongue or lips could speak so clearly, so succinctly.  Then he realized what he was seeing wasn’t happening and he closed his eyes tighter only to open them to the wooden box.  He suddenly wished he was a hero.  He wouldn’t even need a superpower if he was as smart as Batman—the World’s Greatest Detective.  He paused, thinking it was odd that he knew Batman was sometimes referred to as the “World’s Greatest Detective” but he couldn’t remember how he had come to find himself in a buried coffin.  “Maybe it’s someone else’s memory,” a small, tittering voice spoke in his ear.  The Man With The Mustache turned his head, shocked, scared, and he felt the edges of his brain shedding, making room for the Crazy that was soon to make a home there.  All he saw was wood.

     As the oxygen thinned around him he began to envision himself as something wholly different.  His faded, blood and dirt covered (where did that come from?) white tee-shirt with yellow pit stains vanished, taking with it his baggy, ratty blue jeans and black high-tops.  “I thought . . . I thought I had work boots on . . .” he thought, staring at the disappearing Chuck Taylors.  His flabby belly tightened into a hansom six-pack of abdominal muscles.  He stared at those muscles for a moment but just as soon as they appeared, they were covered and he was clothed again, this time however, he wore the tights of a superhero—not just ‘a superhero’ though, THE superhero.  He looked down at his costume and realized he was Superman.  The red ‘S’ stood out brightly, emblazoned on his manly chest made of the finest masculine architecture.  The hard, uninviting wood pressing against his back suddenly felt more comfortable and he knew it was the cape.  It was the red cape he was wrapped in as a baby when his parents sent him shooting through space away from the dying planet Krypton.  His hands felt strong and as he studied them he saw they were indeed strong, and again he pushed on the lid.  Nothing.

     He blinked and his strong Superman hands grew thinner and longer, then were covered in red cloves that appeared to be lined with spider-webs.  The Man With The Mustache realized he had become Spider-Man and tried to shoot webbing from his wrists.  Nothing came and he blinked again.  When he looked down a large black bat was on his shirt.  He was Batman.  Batman was smart.  He tried to think.  He tried to devise a way out of his grave but nothing would come.  He began to wheeze, running out of oxygen, and felt himself grow angry, very angry.  “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry,” he thought and felt the coffin growing cozier.  He knew immediately what was happening to him and hoped his new bulk as the Hulk would break his wooden confines.  Digging out after that would be easy enough for the Hulk; so he wasn’t worried about getting to the surface.  But again, nothing happened.  Tears began running from the corners of his eyes, down his temples like women and children escaping a sinking ship.  He felt himself again change.  His hair grew shorter and a new set of clothes appeared about him.  He looked down at the orange mesh shirt and green tights of Aquaman and he knew all was lost.  He wailed as the realization sank in.

     But the wail snapped him back to reality and he sucked it up.  “I guess I start hitting,” he told the flashlight.  The flashlight agreed that was a good idea.  And the hitting began.  He didn’t know what else to do.  He thought to himself that later, if he survived, he might admit he could have possibly thought of another way to get out of the situation.  But hey, you try being trapped in a coffin for a few minutes and see what happens to your thought process!  He knew if he hit hard enough and long enough the wood was bound to give.  On some level he knew it was a gamble of sorts.  He knew he was exerting quite a bit of strength and he knew exerting said strength was bound to put a strain on him that only taking deep, strong breaths could ease.  So the question was—was he going to make enough progress to keep him going before he used up all the oxygen in his box?

     He was both hot and cold at the same time.  His armpits were damp and his eyes were opened so wide he had trouble keeping them wet.  In intervals he would slow and give up, knowing he was going to die, then he would change his mind and fight on; the beat of his hand hitting the hard wood becoming a song in his head. 

He swayed to the rhythm and found himself at his freshman ball dancing with Cindy Thomas.  Her tall, slim body was pressed up against his and his mind was being torn with all the duties the close proximity of Miss Thomas demanded.  First, he had to keep pace with her movements.  She was an experienced dancer who had spent upwards of four hours a day dancing for as long as he had known her, and he had known her for many years.  He had spent upwards of four hours a day playing video games since as long as he remembered, and he could suddenly remember many years.  “How do I remember this?” an abhorrent thought broke into his brain and was quickly squashed.  Secondly, he had to consciously force his penis to not stand erect while her warm pelvis rubbed against his.  Thirdly, he had to keep an eye on Jeremy McPherson, the ninth grader who should have been in eleventh grade who, for reasons completely unclear to the younger version of the Man With The Mustache, hated him and watched him, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce.

     The fear of McPherson sent him to another memory.  He recalled how his relationship with Cindy ended, how she took up with Jeremy, and how, a month later, she had discovered she was pregnant and Jeremy dumped her claiming the baby was not his.  He felt sad.  He remembered acting very unkind to Cindy.  He remembered immediately wishing he hadn’t.  He remembered the pride inside him preventing him from telling her all this.  Finally he remembered the cold, wet autumn afternoon when Cindy called telling him of her abortion.  He had feigned uninterested disgust. 

     But how could these be memories?  He hadn’t had them moments earlier, had he?  What was going on?  He saw his blood in his veins moving like creatures separate from himself.  He forgot that the blood was his own and he watched, in awe, the way it moved, as one creature but many at the same time.  Then the mixture of hot and cold sensations took over.  He opened his eyes, looked down at his hands, knuckles now covered in thick, coagulating blood and jagged splinters.  He turned his eyes away and looked again toward the wood.

     There was a crack.

     The crack spoke.  “You are almost to your desired destination,” it said solemnly with the voice of a wizened wizard or a messiah.  “You can not give up now.”

     The Man With The Mustache discovered a reserve of energy after he heard the crack speak and he burst through his wooden prison, ignoring the blood, the pain, and beginning the long dig to the surface.  The dirt poured in, surrounding him but he knew he was over the hardest obstacle so franticly he dug on.  As he pulled his body through the broken wood he could feel the pointed edges pierce his skin and he winced at the pain but he did not stop.  He kept digging and digging.  The ground was soft and wet and easy to move although the surface did not seem to be nearing.  He wondered how he was managing to breath but shook off the wonder because he knew if he took the time to wonder such things, such things would take the time to be his undoing.  Mud was in his eyes. 

Worms and other dark creatures who spent their days below ground were swarming around him.  He felt as if he was one of them and suddenly he was.  He didn’t think anymore, he didn’t know how, not the way he used to.  His arms and legs were gone.  His eyes were gone.  All that drove him was a desire to eat more dirt.  And it was that taste in his mouth, the cold, heavy, black taste of mud that snapped him back to reality again.  He spit it out and continued to dig.  He was losing even his last store of energy now.  He didn’t know if he was going to make it, then his right hand forced its way through.  He had reached the surface.

     When he dug the rest of his body out, he found himself sitting on the floor in a small, comfortable room.  There was a light fluffy brown rug covering a hardwood floor and on the wall to his right a fireplace was burning.  When he stood and turned to examine the hole he knew he had surely made, there was none.  He lifted up the rug but only saw the smooth, shiny surface of the hardwood.  He shook his head and began thinking that, sure enough, he had indeed lost his mind.  There was a ratty, tattered blue recliner facing the fireplace.  No one was in it, but the Man With The Mustache knew he had been seated there before, so he sat again.  On either side of the crackling fireplace were two cherry oak bookshelves housing more books than the Man With The Mustache thought anyone could or would want to read.  The room was painted light blue and there was a window on the wall now opposite him and a desk next to that window.  The Man With The Mustache stood up, walked to the window, and pulled back the soft shade, peering outside.  It was raining.  No.  It was storming.  It was a dark and stormy night.  He turned away from the window, not wanting to ponder what might be creeping around in the shadows out there, because there was something creeping, he could tell.  He went across the small room to the darkly tarnished door adorned with intricate carvings of what the Man With The Mustache could only describe as swirls.  It was locked.  He scanned the room again.  It seemed like a nice place—better than the coffin anyway.  If he was trapped, he would rather be trapped here.  The Man With The Mustache studied the desk.  There was a printer, a few photographs of people who looked oddly familiar, and some baubles and trinkets scattered about its flat surface. 

But the thing that caught his eye was the computer.  It was a small black lap-top.  It was open and on the screen there were small black words.  The Man With The Mustache moved across the room and sat down in the desk chair with wheels on it (which was far less comfortable than the blue recliner) and he pulled a pair of reading glasses from the breast pocket of the tweed jacket he now found himself wearing.  For a moment he wondered how they got there, but again shrugged off the wonder.  His life, as far as he could remember, was one confusing thing after another.  He didn’t need to ponder something as insignificant as glasses in his breast pocket. 

As he sat down to look at the screen a chill fell across his body.  The whole affair with Cindy Thomas—he hadn’t known about that when he first found himself in the coffin—had he?  The childhood memories that came with the thought of her—they weren’t there before.  And why did he know so much about superheroes?  Again, that voice spoke to him softly, like an evil fairy in his ear, “Someone else’s memories.”  He looked to his left and no one was there.  He thought he felt a presence but he couldn’t be sure. 

He sighed, swiveled around in the chair and looked at every corner of the room.  There was nothing.  He took off the glasses, rubbed his eyes, then put them back on, thinking maybe there would be answers in the words on the computer.  “Can I even read?” he thought as he leaned in toward the computer.  “Yes I can!” he announced triumphantly, scanning the first line.  It read, “The inside was dark.”

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