Conflict of Men
Man vs. Fate
Hudson stared down at his senior year schedule, stunned. He was at a loss for words. First Block: Miracle Studies. What on earth was that?! Senior year was meant to be an easy-breezy year of fluff classes where he could hang out with his friends. He had absolutely no recollection of registering for some stupid Miracle Studies class! Had he been drafted by some religious club or something? Surely it was an accident. The roster said that the class was taught by a Ms. Sawyer, whom he was certain he’d never heard of.
He spent the few remaining weeks of summer desperately trying to change his schedule and trying to learn as much as he could about Ms. Sawyer. He assaulted his school counselors with phone call after phone call.
“I’m sorry Hudson, the schedules are all locked up. There’s no room to move you around. If it helps at all, we’ve heard great things about Ms. Sawyer. The last school she taught at was sorry to lose her.”
He was quick to give up on the counselor angle, and soon moved on to trying to switch blocks with his classmates. To his disappointment, most of them were also in Miracle Studies. If he was going to suffer, at least he wasn’t going to suffer alone.
The first day of school came fast. Hudson and his friends all reluctantly trudged to their first class of senior year. He let out a sigh as he walked into the classroom. He didn’t know what he’d been expecting, but this was exactly it. The walls were covered in ridiculous posters, each promoting something similarly insane: chakra, crystals, fate, essential oils, and other strange things. A woman bearing a nest of yellow hair and blue eye shadow eyed him from her desk. Her face was glowing orange in the light of her salt-rock lamp, which the boys next to Hudson immediately started mocking.
“She’s a freaking hippie,”
“Probably just decided to settle down after her gypsy years,”
“Is that a rock?”
It was odd, he thought, that she wasn’t greeting her new students at the door like most of the other teachers, who were chatting up kids in the hall. Everyone filed into seats and continued whispering about Ms. Sawyer’s classroom oddities. Finally, the bell rung and she walked to the front of the room.
“Today’s we’ll be looking at Destiny.” Hudson was surprised. Not only did she skip over introductions, but she was starting lessons the very first day of class.
“Who’s Destiny?” he heard a girl ask behind him.
“Destiny lays a hand on everything in your lives; nothing happens by accident-”
“I’m pretty sure I’m in this class by accident,” He interrupted, earning a few laughs. Ms. Sawyer shrugged, a twinkle in her eye.
In the next few months of school, Hudson would become very familiar with that twinkle. Ms. Sawyer would look at him with a sly smile and proceed to ramble on about magic, fate, and fortune. Luck was one of her favorite subjects, and he quickly learned not to get her started on the superstition of rabbit’s feet and four-leaf clovers. As it turned out, Miracle Studies was not Hudson’s strong suit. He was too “rigid” and “mathematical” for her taste.
He dreaded coming to school every day just to be lectured on ridiculous ideas. He never cared for what Ms. Sawyer had to say. That is, until she introduced the schools new transfer student. The girl stood confidently in front of the class, unlike most new students, who usually huddled shyly into themselves and spoke inaudibly.
“I’m Summer Addams,” The girl gave a blue-nailed wave. “I’m just in from New York.”
That explains the confidence. She’s a city girl, Hudson thought to himself. He could hardly hear the rest of her introduction. He was far too focused on her beach-waves and pouty lips.
“Is it okay if I sit here?” He snapped back to reality as Summer neared his desk.
“Oh-” He looked to his side. There was an empty desk next to his that he hadn’t recalled being there. How convenient. “Go ahead.”
Ms. Sawyer announced that today, they would be starting a project on soulmates with their shoulder partners.
You’ve got to be kidding me. He looked sheepishly towards Summer and found her smiling back at him. Maybe the year wouldn’t be so bad.
Man vs. Nature
Cooper exhaled largely. Once again, his Dr Pepper was flat. He resigned to getting off at the exit to stop at a gas station so he could pee and buy another soft drink. The sky was overcast and looked like it weighed more than usual. The interstate in front of him was straight, lined by trees on either side.
He was driving north. Cooper Gellis was traveling alone for the first time, from his home in Gatesville, NC to Cape May, Rhode Island to spend the month of June with his mother’s parents. He was somewhat miffed that he had nothing better to do with his summer than sit in a wallpapered living room and watch the Andy Griffith show with his grandparents.
As he passed a green sign that informed him the next exit was 49 miles away, the gray sky started to spit raindrops that splattered against his windshield. A few minutes passed and Cooper was caught in a summer thunderstorm, rain pounding against the hood of his car so loud he couldn’t hear his radio anymore. The rain didn’t make him nervous, he was an assured driver and it was just rain. Eventually the rainstorm was a torrential downpour. If there were any other cars on the road, he certainly couldn’t see them. He slowed down to about 60 miles an hour, gently easing off the accelerator. He suddenly found it difficult to focus on the road. The rain was so loud, like thousands of marbles were falling at high speeds onto his poor little Buick LeSabre. He found himself wishing the next exit were approaching sooner, so he could sit in a truck stop, read his book for a few minutes and let the storm pass.
He glanced out his rearview for a split second. When his eyes returned to the road in front of him, he couldn’t react fast enough. He came over a hill to find a semi-truck stopped in the middle of the interstate. He slammed on his brakes to avoid hitting the truck head on, and his tires spun out and pulled his car off the road.
My head hurts. My head really hurts. I need Tylenol. God, I don’t want to open my eyes. I need a Tylenol. Why does my head hurt so bad? Oh, God. Shit. Oh my God.
Cooper opened his eyes and was horror stuck. He was still in his car, in the bottom of a ditch, in the middle of the woods. His memories came back slowly, like a faucet barely trickling water into a sink. The pain in his head seemed to be slowing the process down.
I was driving. There was a semi... stopped… right in the middle of the road? I braked. Why did I brake? Why didn’t I try to go around it? The road was wet. I braked too hard and the car spun out. My car probably went into the ditch on the side of the road. Ohh, my car. My car is probably trashed. Shit.
He began to move, slowly testing each of his limbs for injury. His only ailment was the pounding in his head. He unbuckled his seatbelt and slowly tried to get out of the car. When he stood, he fought a massive wave of nausea and leaned against the car door. When the world stopped spinning, Cooper opened his eyes and looked around. Once again, he was horror struck and very confused. He looked in the direction that should have been the interstate. There was only woods. He did a 360 turn, trying desperately to orient himself so he could walk back to the road and wait for help. He was completely surrounded by woods.
Where is the road?! My car can’t have slid that far into the ditch. Where is the freaking road? Where is my phone. I need my phone.
He reached back into the car and quickly found his phone, plugged into its charger next to the gear shift. It turned on quickly. He was once again confused. The time on his phone was 2:11 PM, but it appeared to be dusk, and the sky darkened into deep blues and indigos.
Cooper was so disoriented that for a moment he just closed his eyes and prayed that when he opened them the highway would be in his line of sight.
It wasn’t. He let out a shaky laugh and wondered for a minute if he was drifting into hysteria or some kind of shock. He took a deep breath. I’m not gonna lose it. I’m fine. This is fine. I’m gonna pick a direction, and walk in a straight line until I find the road. If I don’t find it there, I will pick another direction and try again. This is simple logic. I can figure this out.
Determined to stay calm and collected, he opened his tiny trunk and found the small emergency kit his father insisted he carry. There was a flashlight, three bottles of water, a basic first aid kit, and a small blanket. He grabbed the flashlight and clicked it on. He slammed the trunk and began to walk away.
If I walk in a straight line, I can just turn back around and go right back to the car. Easy. Ok.
Dusk was falling quickly and he dreaded the nighttime, which would only make him more disoriented. Soon, his measly flashlight was doing little to cut through the darkness.
Wishing he wore a watch, he guessed he had been walking for about 15 minutes and the woods were only becoming more dense. He was beginning to consider turning around. Suddenly, he heard the unmistakable sound of a car start behind him. Cooper gasped and immediately sprinted toward the sound. He tripped over thistle and bramble but continued to run toward the sound of possible human life. He ran far enough that he eventually came back to his car. Disappointment flooded his body quickly.
My car is not started… and why would someone else’s car be here. Ok. I’m probably having some auditory hallucinations, that’s fine. This is fine. I’m probably dehydrated.
He opened his trunk once again and found the bottles of water. He took a small sip, deciding he was probably going to have to ration the supplies he had.
I need a plan. Definitely. Ok. He put his head and his hands and began to concentrate. Standing in the middle of the darkened woods, he suddenly looked very small. I need to conserve my energy, and probably let my concussion heal. There’s no point in continuing to wander around the woods at night and get even more lost than I am now. I will sleep in the car tonight, and then in the morning find the highway and get out of here. Rain started to mist his skin and he sighed bitterly. Rain was what started this mess to begin with.
He grabbed the blanket out of his trunk and climbed into the backseat of his car. Curling up to fit on the tiny seats, he grabbed his phone. The time remained the same. It was frozen. Something must have happened to the phone when he wrecked. Laying his head on the dated cloth seat, he slowly drifted to sleep, pushing the fear from his mind.
Cooper awoke with a jolt and immediately remembered where he was. He ignored the twinge in his neck that came from sleeping at an unnatural angle and shot upright. Surveying his surroundings, he became disoriented for what felt like the millionth time in the last day.
His car was not in the middle of the woods where he left it. It was parked in a spot outside a rest stop. The sun was slowly rising in the sky and cast a warm orange light over him. He saw a flat, one story building of dull brown brick with a vending machine and a few park benches outside. Cooper’s car was the only one there.
Some might have panicked. But Cooper knew that if he started asking questions he would never get answers and he would descend into a spiral of insanity that would end in catastrophe. So Cooper took a breath, moved to the driver’s seat, and called his mother as he pulled out of the parking lot of the rest stop.
Man vs. Self
You know how people say the older they get the quicker life seems to go, well that’s not happening to me. If anything life is slowing down and I fear that one day soon it is going to stop. I know that men are not supposed to be weak or have fear but I am suffocating in it. My waking hours are swimming in pools of fear, floating from one destination to the other, somehow functioning in that state. The unconscious hours are somehow worse. There is a specific feeling of weakness and the inability to help myself that only lingers during the daytime. Paranoia is my default setting now. This pure lunacy is new to my life. For 29 years I have lived a relatively okay, albeit lonely, life. The day of my 30th birthday was uneventful until I arrived home after a night of small talk and sadness at the local bar. When my father passed he left me a floor to ceiling mirror outlined in sheet metal. It looks prettier than it sounds, but that’s not important. What is important is what happened when I arrived home and looked in that mirror. I saw me, but it wasn’t me. I was wearing raggedy gray and the home in the reflection was all spacey and wrong. There were things dripping from the ceiling. The not-me me looked into my eyes and rasped in some language I could not begin to understand. That was the night I moved into a hotel, but the reflection followed me there too. I don’t have to see him now to know he is near and whatever hell he is in is not far behind. His voice echoes in my mind at the most inconvenient times. It would be annoying if I was not so terrified. I know I sound like a mad man, but that is the god honest truth. This must be a test from God it must. To prove my strength and worth as a man. I will overcome this man in the mirror and I will be free.
My father’s passing brought many gifts into my life. The mirror sure, but also the empty house, full bank account, and an end to myriad of barating. For years he picked apart every single one of my actions and deemed them manly or weak. I was resigned to a life of never being good enough in his eyes. I am constantly examining my own motivations and how I can be more of a man. My reflection man is stopping me from making any progress. 29 years of hard work are slowly dripping down the drain. One day I will reach the level my father always wanted for me. I will make myself proud.
Working is hard in my current condition, but that doesn’t make it unnecessary. My father's house is paid off and all, but insurance and food are still a thing I need. Plus grocery store where I work doesn’t have windows or mirrors of any kind. It is my only break from mirror me. The hellish world does seem to steep through the cracks sometimes. Especially in the fruit and vegetable sections. I think the beauty of the colors provides more happiness than the mirror me allows me. They turn into a dark brownish gray. Not like mold but like a disease. I’ve tried to warn the customers, yet they seem not to mind. My boss told me to leave the customers alone and I really can’t get fired from this job. The voice of the mirror me follows me in the store but the light music in the background is a nice contrast. I have not told anyone of the mirror me in fear that he will latch on to them or they will see me as not strong enough to handle something as harmless as a reflection. Closing the store is always the worst. The childish biological fear of the dark rears its ugly head. The hellish world grows, its tendrils of lies wrap around my coworkers changing their appearance into forsaken monsters. I am pretty good at keeping my expressions under control but my body always forces shivers. I think they will start to notice when the weather warms up.
For the last couple of months I have noticed a significant change in my behavior. I have moments of perfect clarity followed by extreme confusion and violent visions. The mirror me has gotten into my head. I’ve even tried to talk to him. Weeks I have spent sitting in front of that mirror begging him to stop, to give me a break, or at least tell me why. He just stares back with some twisted smile that hits my core in a way that is painful. Today will be my first time leaving the house and returning to work in a whole two weeks. I called in a vacation to see if I could straighten this mess out alone. All I have now is a massive headache and a million questions. Work is going to try every one of my nerves but I will make it because I am strong.
Closing time will forever be the worst time. My head is burning with a start of a migraine. My world is full of gruesome creatures. They want to attack me. Mirror me told me so. I will stop them. I am strong.
The ride to the hospital was enlightening. My vision was obstructed by the blinding ambulance overhead light. Apparently, in a fit of confusion, I grabbed a knife and threatened my coworkers. In the end instead of attacking them I stabbed myself. So there’s that. The doctors suspect that I had a schizophrenic break on my 30th birthday. I didn’t even know it ran in the family. My refusal for help led to my downfall. My father’s philosophy was wrong. Help is not weakness. With the help of the medication mirror me is gone and the hellish world has retreated. The pools of fear have dissipated from my belly. I am better now and I have made me proud.
Man vs. Society
I hate this town. I hate it with everything in me and cannot wait for the day that the universe implodes and all of creation burns, along with this town. People here don’t understand how the world works, they all have a skewed view of life and their importance. No, I don’t want to be a part of this town any longer. If only they’d let me leave. I suppose that no prison should be comfortable and pleasant, then people wouldn’t mind going and breaking the law. The deterrent doesn’t need to be accommodating. Assigned living, mandatory member of society- things that help everybody co-exist. Not only can I not disagree with them, but I have to live with them, subscribe to their beliefs, and never leave.
As I sit in this little bubble of conformity I think I might just melt into the floor and seep through the earth, eventually reaching the magma center and dissolve into a bubbling puddle of righteousness- finally at peace with my surroundings. Because believe me- I would rather be in a hellacious pit of molten rock and iron than here. I just want my freedom. The freedom to leave.
Fences and guards surround our town, they say that it is for our protection, but I know that it is really meant to keep us all in. If one insurgent leaves, then slowly more and more will leave, and eventually there will be no town. I hope to be that insurgent, but I don’t care if anyone follows me- honestly the less the better, I don’t want to be around anyone. I’m actually planning to leave tonight. I didn’t even tell my parents, they’ll be safer the less they know.
As I walk to my cubicle-like home, I go over my list of necessary items to bring with me when I go beyond the perimeter. Water, flashlight, thermal sleeping bag, rations, butcher knife, and matches; I wish I could bring more, but this is all I can manage. Even these small items took months to gather without raising suspicion. When I arrive home, I go directly to my room and sleep until the sun goes down. For some reason I can’t explain, when I awoke to leave I was teeming with the sensation of freedom, even though I hadn’t accomplished anything yet. I suppose it’s liberating to try. If you’re too afraid to fly you’ll never land. I like to think that the community didn’t break me, but rather that I am among the ranks of the insane, and will finally find peace out there. Whatever the “out there” is. Apocalyptic wasteland, wilderness, desert, or otherwise- I will embrace the unknown with wholehearted earnest.
I just have to hold on for tonight. I step over the dark threshold of my home, into the street, breathing in the inky heaviness of night. The second my foot hits the pavement of the street, harsh, white lights turn on, illuminating the neighborhood. Alarms blare and I hear the sirens coming for me. I run. I don’t even remember which way I turned, but I knew that they were gaining on me. I feel every muscle fiber in my body tense up from 50,000 volts pulsating through me.
When I awake in a cell, all hope flees. Trial by jury doesn’t matter, when everyone is a carbon copy of one another. Stringent and callous- my death is as sealed as the door. I enter the courtroom, the witnesses of the trial look upon me with confusion and disgust, as if I had committed a heinous crime- to them I guess I had. I decide to fight my best for my life, instead of giving into a predictable fate. I scream, I make declarations of freedom, call upon their souls, and even logical arguments; but the end is the end. Standing with my hands bound and burlap over my head I can hear the guns clicking into place and smell the gunpowder. Despite all of this, I’m glad I did it my way. Besides one day, the universe will implode.