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Cold Images

Part II
Timothy Ballan




Giving Away Anxiety.......................................................................18

A Personal Hell................................................................................20

The Last Taiz.................................................................................24

The Swamp Where No One Ever Goes...........................................30

Eternal, Unmeasurable Suffering....................................................31

About the Author..............................................................................35

I would like to acknowledge my friend Molly Kienzler for helping
proofread this book.

I refuse to use quotation marks in such a way that envelopes any
commas or periods not suggested by the quoted material. For
example, quoting a child saying the words "I don't want to go now",
I did not put the comma within the quotation marks, as the comma
is not suggested by the child's words. On the other hand, I will end
this next sentence in a different way. As someone once said, "Use
your head, not your rule book."
With a similar emphasis on clarity over convention, I also
follow dashes with commas at times. Even if preceded by a dash
as I will now demonstrate, I retain commas that retain usefulness.
Beyond just punctuation, though, I'd hope abundant clarity pervades
my writing, from word order, to sentence structure, to overall
presentation of ideas.

Misery Surround Us

Misery surround us,

bring us harm,
and let us unwillingly find all that is dark.

What Looks

What looks at you in the night?

Nonsymbolic Whimsy

A gaseous thing on Jupiter

mirrors my galavanting
as a form of carbon.
I move frantically panting through these dark and tall woods,
chased by a vacuuming noise and pouring white light above,
something I cannot fathom and thus breathlessly fear.
Between one person's thoughts about the past,
and ink on woven wood or singing waves in space,
Between a guess about something,
and messages in hands or eyes,
Maybe a pattern similar to that of particles and their movements
composing all of this.
After images of an eyeless lady,
I am reawoken by booming sound and gleam
before another flight through tall near-evenly-spaced conifers.
To take a child's new wonder
with a peer through a telescope,

To find a signal of a body strengthened
for helping young or old,
To take your body's energy
and devote it to helping yourself to help others is
To hopefully be aligned with spinning dots enough
for the promise of more gratification in wonder,
To show an even better self and world.
I find my house,
but the light has followed me even here,
and I see a lady with blackened eyeballs coming up the stairs.

The Passing of the Spores

On an unusually warm spring day the second week of buds'

on a lightly but thoroughly cloudy day one and a half hours before
driving on a major interstate but with all other lanes laying still and

To the left of a slight bend about a half mile ahead

I see gently shaped hills colored in buds of purples, reds, and

Rising above all other growth on the hill furthest to the left
sway four tree-shaped strands of white fungus
equidistant from one another and enough for each tree's tendrils
to just reach those of that next-highest upon the hill.

They move by a wind affecting neither growth beneath them nor

anything else in my vision.
I can only see four of these strands,
but it appears the highest one is motioning toward another just
beneath the hill's crest.

Floating in Northern Canada

I'm frightened
as I glide above the land
I once thought only so close to home,
but it is in the far reaches of Canada,
and after even an hour
I cannot make sense of my direction.

Go Wherever It Is Winter

Go wherever it is winter,
from north to south and in between,
until you shrivel, sicken, and near your death;
then you I'll save and take on my back,
but just to leave in some arid land,
where you will try to find your way,
yet dry with thawed but weakened heart
and, in your body and in your mind,
soon will crumble all once you were.

Outdated Clothes Gathering Dust

outdated clothes gathering dust and mildew crumpled into a pile in

a disorganized closet held together by rotten wood like the splintery
floor where worms slither through and around bone-exposing
carcasses of rats chewed on by deformed putrid cats who sleep on
broken stoves covered in old grease, thick dust, and dried-up brown
leaves blown in through a shattered and black-spray-painted
window that's surrounded by chipping bloodstained paint flaking off
onto the edge of an abandoned hayfield overgrown with swirls of
weeds and dotted with the trash blown over from an oozing landfill
overlooking a horizon of utilitarian box-like houses and flattened
carpet-like lawns interspersed in no particular pattern between

winding slick dried-up tar leading back to the gravel road in front of
the abandoned hayfield and farmhouse that's buried under a
murdered, tortured past

The Punishment of Progressive Narrowness

I've heard of a new biotechnology that would allow the prompting

not of hallucinations but of their opposite, the non-perception of
sensory data. Upon undergoing a surgery allowing this type of
sensory deprivation, one would only gradually lose contact with
external reality, however, preventing a mere sudden psychotic break
easily renderable otherwise.

This surgery is currently being tested as a supplement to traditional

solitary confinement, supposedly helpful in both deterring major
crime and protecting prison guards once they are no longer
perceived by prisoners. If not dying from bodily trauma upon
colliding with an unseen wall in their cell, prisoners will slowly
learn not to interact with their environment but for their own pained
thoughts, their brain will become stagnant and begin to shut down,
and they will die alone.

Progression of a Boy's Nightmares

I wake up then reclose my eyes, only to see him again.

My eyes reopen but he's still there.

Time stops and there's only him and methe man with the wolf

Embrace the Pain

I bound up with cables my apprentice

on a swiveling chair within my office.

I was teaching her the good of pain,
its power's needed conquering,
where nothing would be fearsome anymore.

I hired a criminal with a hacksaw

to deeply slice around her face and neck and lower
as he pushed the chair around so it rose.
She cried and howled,
but I began to coach her,
"Embrace the pain! Embrace the pain!"

Cutout Shapes of Flesh

Rather than stitchable, healable slits,

cutting untreatable, unsoothable shapes into a face,
a square from the center of an eyelid,
a large hole in the cheek.

Just Beneath the Threshold of Shock

She felt fully every cut and every threat,

though just a degree faster, deeper, louder, or stronger
would have brought at least some relief in shock.

A Mother's Calling

After teaching her year-old son to smile from her hugs,

a mother meets the day she planned to begin her calling.

The boy's limbs strapped to a bed,

she begins to poke him with a long screwdriver
as he hesitantly smiles,
even between surprised tears every few prods,
where more pressure is applied.

But the mother never revisits her former demeanor
which she adopted only to frame her child's mind
to most appreciate her change.

While making hours of prodding his face and torso a daily ritual,
she rarely lets him sleep,
setting loud and dissonant music by his crib to play automatically
and for randomly varying lengths and at randomly varying

When she decides to feed him his sour food,

she intermittently forces him to choke and for randomly varying
lengths of time,
and when she decides to change his diapers,
she consistently smears their contents over his face, but for
randomly varying amounts of time, and from minutes to

This is the woman's dedication every of her waking hours:

Alone in a woodland cabin providing all her needs from the
surrounding wilderness,
she fulfills a vow of silence began at her son's conception,
so as to expose him to no language,
and soon exposing him only to violence that grows always ahead of
his ability to adapt to it.

And all the while she smiles not,

believing this her solemn duty,
to provide for her son no moment free of broken tears.

A Harmful Prayer

I pray for more and more of enemies,

that those closest to me would disappear,
For all the world's children to learn contempt,

and all the while be nothing but the air.

What Stays Behind

What stays behind when you look away?

And what watches you when you don't watch?

The Worst Things

I float above a large interstate highway and see that, for miles, its
width and length is overflowing with piles and pools of bloody
body parts, tissue, and fluid.
Driving with some friends far into the desert, when a translucently
red and white cloaked aggressively grinning figure flies up toward
the windshield before disappearing.
Near the edge of woods bordering a swamp that large power lines
pass through, a middle-aged man grinningly and violently pulls
apart a live turtle's body as his young son and daughter giggle while
stomping on baby turtles.
A young woman glances into a small bathroom's mirror to observe
blackened scabs dotting her face. Despite slightly quivering with
hesitancy, she proceeds to scratch and rip one off and with seeming
great wincing pain. After a moment of apparent shock, she observes
the skin around the small wound crumblingly shed to reveal a larger
blackened scab beneath. Upon regaining relative composure,
though, she proceeds to rip into this larger and deeper scab, and
again finding the skin around it to shed and reveal yet another level
of larger and deeper blackened scab. With increasing calmness and
steadiness, this same process is repeated with several of the still-
smallest scabs located at near-equidistant points on the woman's
face. Her whole face is soon but a crumbling concave crusted
wound, and while she only continues to pull at it and with
seemingly lessening struggle and pain. And finally, with a mere
light and gentle touch, she removes her nose and lips, eyes, teeth,
and cheeks, and as the remnants of her head then simply collapse.
I steady a narrow table that Erik's naked male hook-up lies upon

after requesting a thin-headed axe be chopped into his leg while
masturbating. This is done while I shakingly look away and
forcibly shut my eyes and mouth, even as I taste salty blood, and
both's irregularly lengthened sprays of semen.

I do this many times, as Erik hurts his hook-up in new ways, though
treating the wounds in between rounds. I steady the man through
silenced guns' shots, stabbings, and bludgeons to different parts of
his limbs, each time sprayed with two streams of strangely putrid
semen or also one of seemingly acidic, saline blood.

I feel my body is somehow icing through from the quivering I

vigorously attempt to hide amidst a stranger's tears, and screams of
anguish and pleasure. I am cold and weakened, profoundly
disturbed, and I feel frightened that I might be implicated in some
crime I never knew could be committed.

We finally end, as I promptly walk away as Erik and his date stay to
talk. I steady my body's pull to vomit, then scream and run, until I
emerge into a frigid winter's dim daylight, from the bottommost
cellar of the warehouse abandoned but left filled with old machinery
and supplies.
A young boy turns over to his sleeping, seemingly sad and relatively
old mother in bed, to shake her and coarsely state, "Mom, I don't
love you." The boy turns back to sleep as the mother also sadly
recloses her eyes.

From Far in a Field

I saw her run up to me from far in a field to smilingly slice a cut

down her cheek with a scalpel from a large pocket in her white and
blue checkered dress. Singing a chorusless song, with each end of
each verse, she would hurt herself in a new way. She lit her arm on
fire with a small blowtorch also from her pocket before cutting a
finger off with a saw found near some machinery at the field's edge.

She then sawed her non-burnt leg and five-fingered hand off before
thrusting herself into a wood chipper machine, all while smiling.

A Forest Fire

A pair of apparent friends, a man and woman in their early- to mid-

twenties, park their car on the side of the road in a snow-covered
forested area, leaving the car for a walk in the woods. The woods
are mostly evergreen, but also with much undergrowthincluding
mountain laurel and some smaller holly-like shrubs with red berries.
The friends decide, for some reason, that it would be fun, because
so risky, to start a forest fire and then run from it. They do this, but,
after lighting the fire, they are blocked from returning to their car.
Panicking, they end up running from the quickly expanding fire
with no plan, and, soon, they lose track of their twists and turns and
have no sense of where their car is. Although they outrun the fire,
suddenly, from underneath some mountain laurel, a large bright
semi-fluorescent brownish orange alligator rushes at them. They
run away from the alligator and soon believe to have outsmarted
and gotten away from it. However, the alligator suddenly appears
as if out of thin air from behind a tree. And, even after the pair of
friends once again seems to have gotten away from it, the alligator
unexpectedly rushes out at them again from behind some shrub.
Feeling trapped, the friends begin running together in no particular
direction, not able to tell where the alligator will materialize from
next. Soon the friends find themselves in the middle of what
appears to be a small Christmas tree farm randomly in the middle of
the forest. They huddle together and hide beneath one of the

The Gigantic Wolf

On a bright, hot summer day, driving on semi-windy country roads

through a constant mixture of pasture and forest, I notice a large
duck ahead fly over the road from high in one tall pine tree to high
in another tall pine tree, amidst both leafy and evergreen trees. Past

a bend in the road, I notice several more large ducks up ahead, each
also flying across the road from high in one very tall pine tree to
high in another. And, past another such bend, I see likely forty large
ducks crossing high above the road, and evenly covering the stretch
from my car to the next bend ahead. In spite of their increased
numbers, no duck I have seen so far has made a sound. I also notice
that the sky has become cloudier with each of these bends in the

With one more turn, the sky is a deep grey, and there might be a
hundred ducks flying above the road, and still silently. Yet, with the
next turn, the sky has abruptly returned to its mostly clear, bright
state, and I note not one bird ahead. Neither do I see any upcoming
bends in the road. I do, however, notice what appears to be a small
wolf far ahead seated in the middle of the road and facing my

As I drive on, the wolf looks to be growing, and not simply because
it becomes less distant. It enlarges even exponentially as I only
slowly near it. Now at the halfway point between it and the last
bend I passed, the wolf is about the size of a full-grown bear. At the
three-quarters point, it looks to be as tall as even a three-story
house. And all the while, despite its unceasing growth, the wolf
keeps its glance unwaveringly fixed upon me, lowering its head as
necessary to compensate for its ever-changing size. Now, I must
stop before it, as I cannot realistically drive around it; the wolf is
now at least ten stories high. Neither I nor the wolf move, until I
eventually collapse into sleep.

A Thick Blue Gel

As I started to fill the bathtub, I noticed some thick blue gel

drooping from the faucet, so I turned the water off. Yet, the gel still
drooped out and in only greater amounts. Stepping out of the tub so
as not to get any on me, I noticed the gel also seeping from the
ceiling corners and stretching down the walls. And turning back

around, I noticed the tub now filling exponentially faster and faster
with this gelboth from the faucet and down from the ceiling.

I sat down in the corner of the bathroom to gather my emotions but

soon became nearly covered with this gel myself. I flusteredly
hurried to open the window to let some air in and maybe somehow
stop all this, but about a dozen bees almost immediately rushed in
and almost immediately became stuck in the gel. And these bees
were followed by more and more, hundreds soon wiggling across
every few inches of the blue substance now flooding the entire

I tried to rush out through the bathroom door, but it hardly budged
open, gel covering all parts of it, including a foot of its base. I soon
slipped anyway and, despite my body's thrashings, became stuck in
the gel. I thought I would drown. But, even while covered with
bees still multiplying with the gel, I only felt myself floating into
something like plush grey clouds.

Turning to look around, I saw only heavy smoky clouds except

across an expanse of clear skies ahead of me. And, looking below, I
found myself gliding above a landscape of plains and rocky bluffs.
As I began to realize that I was flying, I also noticed surrounding
me the moderately loud rumble of thunder neither decreasing nor
increasing in volume or intensity.

But it was not just thunder, but thunder and the booming deep bark
of a dog echoing from maybe a mile behind. But these noises
neither subsided nor altered, and I followed them around the world
forever as a storm.

A Darkened Forest Path

I was on a darkened forest path and saw crossing before me tall-

legged large rabbits, one clenching in its jaws a dead small rabbit.

From behind I heard some of my long-dead old classmates
beseeching me to come join them in Hell. I should have just hurried
away from here, but I turned and stalled as I met their eyes. They
sped toward me to force my face down into and through the soil.

Giving Away Anxiety
A man begins therapy, complaining of low self-esteem and
generalized anxiety stemming from low self-esteem. He also
worries over an unwanted thought he has, where he believes that if
he made someone else experience his low self-esteem that it would
go away.

The man takes a while to warm up to his therapist but soon begins
steadily improving, experiencing increasing self-esteem and
decreasing anxiety. He solely credits his therapist for helping him
along, and, during one visit, he discusses potentially ending therapy
with her in the foreseeable future because he has improved and
continues to improve so much.

Minutes after discussing ending therapy, however, the man makes

several bold, slightly critical statements toward his therapist. And,
these statements continue into his next visit, where the statements
are stronger, more forceful, and more frequent.

When the therapist does acknowledge his statements, however, her

comment is greeted with yet another insult that is highly critical of
her. Directly following this insult, though, the man gently provides
a specious argument in favor of how the therapist ought to expect
his insults and how she should try to work through it, rather than
feel offended. The therapist seems upset with herself and agrees.

Even while the man continues to experience increasing self-esteem

and decreasing anxiety, he decides to continue therapy. The man no
longer offers critical statements to the therapist, though. Instead, he
begins to offer increasingly frequent gently-offered advice about
how she should conduct her sessions. The therapist is resistant to
taking the advice at first but soon reports to find the advice
considerate and helpful.

Over time, the therapist begins to wholeheartedly accept and trust
the man's advice and words in general. However, the man's advice
gradually becomes less and less gently offered. As the therapist has
come to trust the man, however, she believes that his increasingly
harsh tone must be justified. She also begins to overtly solicit his
advice, even as it becomes offered in an ever more critical and
eventually degrading manner.

The therapist eventually speaks of increasing problems in her own

life, including steadily decreasing self-esteem and steadily
increasing anxiety stemming from low self-esteem. In response, the
man reports that he feels to have nearly fully recovered from any
low self-esteem or generalized anxiety stemming from low self-
esteem, and crediting only himself for this improvement.

Weeks later, the therapist requests a leave of absence from her clinic
for mental health reasons, while the man feels that he has fully
recovered and that therapy is no longer necessary for him.

A Personal Hell
An older woman becoming feeble but bitter in her older years is the
object of a good-natured joke offered from her mostly younger
coworkers at a company dinner.

One week later it is recommended that she find a position in the

company less demanding, due to her age. This is offered to her in a
very felicitous manner not drawing attention to her slowness and
irritability that upsets those who work with her. However, feeling
slighted, she leaves work that day in an obvious rage and never to

It was a much younger woman who suggested the job changea

woman who now holds the executive position she once did, and the
woman who offered a much resented but innocent tease one week
earlier. This younger woman instantly becomes the object of a
growing private wrath as the older woman can find no other work,
collects retirement money, moves into an assisted living community,
and, falling ill, is soon placed in a nursing home.

The younger woman, Susan, hears that April has become ill, moved
to the infirmary section of her nursing home. At her bedside Susan
stands awkwardly, beginning to cry at the state of her former boss.
Susan came mostly to appease a sense of guilt, but also to offer a
card from the company. She tells April that she has been missed.
They even hug, but the old woman speaks nothing and keeps her
lips tightly pursed all the while.

After an unrequited goodbye, Susan turns toward and nears the door
but stops and slowly pivots at the crackling of April's voice.

"I want a lock of your hair."

Though caught by surprise, Susan smiles politely and starts back

toward her. She is seemingly drawn to comply with April's wishes,
but also somehow terribly afraid.

"Do you have any scissors? ...Or nail clippers?"

April points toward a pair of nail clippers on a small table across the

Susan hesitantly approaches and lifts it to cut a small portion of her

hair. April looks unmoved by what Susan is about to offer,
however. Expressing more unease, Susan is reluctant to cut more,
but she is scolded with the old woman's eyes. Starting to cry and
shake, as if forced, she continues to cut and collect increasingly
large snippets of her hair and with an increasing pace and intensity.
Yet April still remains visibly displeased. Jolted to a stop, Susan
begins to steady her hand and features to cut a noticeably large and
long bundle of hairs from the side of her head.

"That will do," April says finally, yet ungraciously.

Susan seems relieved but too terrified to stay any longer. With a
deeply flushed and wetted face and shaking more than she has yet,
she quickly places the clippers and handfuls of hair by the old
woman's nightstand and leaves without another goodbye.

Smiling and beginning to softly laugh, April holds Susan's hair

above her to examine it as if a prize. She begins laughing more, but
no louder, just deeper and more gurgling within her infected throat.

Early one morning a few weeks later, April dies. Susan's friend
Sam reads it in the obituary the next evening and proceeds to call
her, but there is unexpectedly no answer and after three attempts
over several hours. He calls his other friend Taryn who has found
the same problem and since the day before. They decide to go over
to Susan's apartment.

After waiting to be buzzed in for several minutes, they realize she is
not home. After also talking to her very concerned coworkers, a
mutual decision is reached to contact the police.

Two police officers arrive to meet Sam, Taryn, and two of Susan's
coworkers waiting agitatedly at the front of her apartment building.
The building manager is also present to open Susan's third-floor
apartment. Upon unlocking the door, however, there is almost no
sign of Susan, no sign that she had left or planned to leave or any
sign of anything unusual. It seems that she just disappeared in her
sleep, leaving only a somewhat strange amount of hair on her bed.

Elsewhere, Susan sits beside mostly men about April's age or older
around a long, dark-wood table in a nineteenth-century mansion's
large, high-ceilinged rounded dining room. The room is dimly lit,
but light enough for one to make out a hardwood floor with thin
olive-colored carpets scattered evenly around, and books lining the
walls all the way to the ornate plaster ceiling where there are two
rectangular skylights letting in the last rays of a sunset.

Between lighted candles Susan strains to recognize the faces of

people laughing and seeming to hold a mocking tone, gesturing and
pointing toward her.

From behind her, she hears the muted cackling of April who moves
with her wheelchair in between Susan and another very old woman.

"You thought you could laugh at me?"

This brings about a louder wave of mocking laughter among the

eight or so dinner guests.

From a mirror across the room Susan also notices all of her hair
gone, likely at least part of what everyone is finding so amusing.

A missing persons case was opened, but it is never resolved. This is
because Susan's body vanished simultaneously with the death of
April. April studied witchcraft in her later, bitter years and
accurately enough to cast Susan's body into some unearthly realm,
along with the impressions of April and her old comrades.

Susan's body is frozen still, but her mind is racing trying to make
sense of all this. She begins to realize this to be the setting of a
company dinner from when April was the executive of their
company. Though heavily confused, she has eternity to think, even
though the same forty-second scene around her repeats exactly
forever. Her body and surroundings repeat, but her mind is trapped
in motion and unendingly.

The Last Taiz
The Bulletin

The worship tradition represented in this evening's service began

many years ago in the ecumenical French monastic community
called Taiz. It is a quiet service of meditation, reflection, readings,
and music. The experience finds its true meaning in the active
participation of all assembled by focusing and deepening our faith
through the power of prayer. Therefore, everyone is encouraged to
participate as the Spirit moves them, whether that be in song,
prayer, or quiet meditation. The liturgy that has been developed
around the Taiz community is primarily for the worship of God,
but it is also meant to quiet the soul. The quietness does not happen
at once, but gradually during the worship. There is repetition in the
words of the music, there are many periods of silence, and the
readings are read slowly, so a deep quiet may grow in our hearts.
Then we may be still and be at peace in the presence of God.

Sunday, March 21: Lent

Song 1: (all sing) #28 in Song Book

"Come and Fill"


Psalm: From Psalm 86 (Leader Reads)

Psalm 86 (New International Version)

A Prayer of David

1 Hear, O LORD, and answer me,

for I am poor and needy.

2 Guard my life, for I am devoted to you.
You are my God; save your servant
who trusts in you.

3 Have mercy on me, O Lord,

for I call to you all day long.

4 Bring joy to your servant,

for to you, O Lord,
I lift up my soul.

5 You are forgiving and good, O Lord,

abounding in love to all who call to you.

6 Hear my prayer, O LORD;

listen to my cry for mercy.

7 In the day of my trouble I will call to you,

for you will answer me.

8 Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord;

no deeds can compare with yours.

9 All the nations you have made

will come and worship before you, O Lord;
they will bring glory to your name.

10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;

you alone are God.

11 Teach me your way, O LORD,

and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.

12 I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify your name forever.

13 For great is your love toward me;

you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.

16 Turn to me and have mercy on me;

grant your strength to your servant
and save the son of your maidservant.


Song 2: (all sing) #12 in Song Book

"Wait for the Lord"


Song 3: (all sing) #36 in Song Book

"The Lord Is My Light"

Silent Meditation

God understands every human language. Remaining close to him in

silence is already prayer: your lips remain closed but your heart is
speaking to him. And, by the Holy Spirit, Christ prays in you more
than you can imagine.
(Brother Roger of Taiz)

Our Father (together)

Our Father, Who art in heaven

Hallowed be Thy Name;
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.


Song 4: (all sing) #37 in Song Book

"Within Our Darkest Night"

Song 5: (all sing) #29 in Song Book

"Nothing Can Trouble"

You are welcome to leave whenever you are ready; please remain
silent for those who wish to keep on praying.
The Service

"We know why we are all gathered here today. There is an

impending ultimate tragedy touching us all in ways that unite us on
a most profound levelnot just as humans, but as living things. I
will preface the service as outlined in our booklets with a few more

"...Have you not known? ...Have you not heard!?" The young
priest begins excitedly gesturing and striding between three tall,
cast-iron tree-like candelabra holding tea lights. These lights dimly
light the church fellowship hall along with two large candles in tall
gilded holders at both corners behind the small gathering of people.
"This is the day! This is the day we have all known and heard of!

"...But this is not that day!" Becoming audibly and visibly

overwhelmed with emotion, the priest's voice is momentarily

muffled and shaken while he pauses to hold back tears from filling
his eyes. Continuing in emotion, but with more control, "But God
is. And he is even here; he is with us and will be with us until the
end of this hour."

There is about a minute of silence as the priest turns his face away
from the nine people gathered before him. He and they look fixedly
in different directions, mostly downward. The sun had already
begun to set before these people several minutes prior began to
gather mostly silently and from apparently different places in the
community. They sit upon brown faux leather-padded aluminum
foldable chairs arranged in a two-row arc before the three
candelabra that the priest is now to the left of, his gaze fixed beyond
the only window toward his right. The only other window shows a
seemingly rushingly setting hazy orange sun directly across from
this window, which shows deepening blues, greys, and purples.

The flames of the tea light candles and two larger ones are growing
more noticeable by the darkening sunlight, but also by their
increasingly erratic flickering. The grains of the hardwood floor
and walls, and the pores of the spongy ceiling tiles are pronounced
with dancing and gilded highlights. Behind the priest, however, lies
nearly a third of the fellowship hall barely perceptible, unreached by
the candles. The basic shape of a raised stage can be seen, though,
along with its half-opened drab beige curtains poorly hiding reams
of chairs, podiums, desks, and stacks of religious paraphernalia
from candles to hymnals and Bibles.

A thin young woman begins to speak. "I know God is here. And I
thank him. I feel my smallness for one of the first times since
childhood recently."

A large, muscular man probably in his forties speaks up after a few

seconds of silence, as the thin young woman has begun to look
downward. "I feel that way too. I don't come to this church or any
church really. But I know I needed somethingor at least a way to

connect with others since all that has started getting worse.

"When I first heard about it, I just had to go into the woods behind
my work to get my mind off things. That's where I usually go to do
that. But I noticed this boulder that I never had before. And I felt
so tiny, even though I work out every day and people think of me as
substantial in size, powerful. But I felt and feel so small compared
with what I can't control."

An old woman begins to shakingly speak. "I understand what you

are saying, sir. And I appreciate you coming here. Without my
Lord I don't know what I'd do; you must be strong to live without

"I don't believe, ma'am. But I know I needed to come here today."

"My husband has just gone. I usually come with him." She begins
to cry.

Probably as the sun is setting faster than he expected, the priest

signals to the church harpist to begin an introduction to only the
final song on the bulletin. People are sniffling and shaking but still
begin to sing. As the song ends, people's emotions overcome them,
and each who hasn't already begins to cry. As the sun has been
setting, the candles have also dimmed with it. Darkness soon
overcomes all things.

The Swamp Where No One Ever Goes
Our son disappeared from our backyard one year ago today. And,
one year ago today, I carved him a wooden toy sail boat, his name
engraved in large letters across the bottom. This toy boat
disappeared with my son.

My son's friend Deb said that she just saw this boatin the
condition it would have been one year agosailing in the pond
behind our yard that flows into a swamp where no one ever goes.

After Deb told my wife and I that she saw this, my wife confessed
to me and to Deb that she believes she has heard his voice calling
out from the woods late at night. We each wonder if he is alive
somewhere, but we believe he cannot be.

After much emotional discussion, my wife and I decide to canoe out

to the swamp where no one ever goes.

Past the pond, we paddle up a long stream and see the swamp in the
distance: black, and filled with dead and dying trees as far as can be
seen. Though we shake and are both terrified but cautiously
hopeful, we steer our way around a corner of trees and notice in the
near distance a hill in the middle of the swamp covered in living
evergreens, where we see a cabin.

Docking our canoe on the shore of this island, we walk up to the

cabin to find it clearly dilapidated and abandoned. However, we
soon notice a rustling sound from behind the cabin, where we find
our son playing in a clearly decades-old sandbox filled with weeds.

Eternal, Unmeasurable Suffering
Nights ago I awoke in a panic from my usual nightmare: the usual
roller coaster that extends down and down and no bottom is ever
found. But it was worse this time. What I knew in the dream to be
just seconds felt like hours of intense torture. It was worse than the
night before, just as the night before was worse than the night
before that. I am now afraid to sleep again and haven't slept for

I am so tired and feel as if I'm beginning to hallucinate. I see

flashes of what looks like a small hunched man with bright red skin
thinly coated with a tan-colored fur except for what looks like a
thick lion's mane around his face. And today, for the first time, I
saw his face. It was the face of my grandfather twisted in anguish.
I was so disturbed by this vision that I called my mother for the first
time in weeks. And, yet, before I could even relay my experience to
her, my mother reported that my grandfather had diedand just
about the time when I saw his face.

Days go by and I feel less and less connected to reality. I feel as if I

am dreaming, and I see the red man increasingly frequently, and
increasingly vividly. And, every time I see him, he carries a new
pale face of some person wearing a contorted, tortured expression.

Now I can only hope that I am sleeping through a nightmare as I

shake and see before me a five-story-high bridge and far below me
a dried-up rocky river bed. The red man is standing in front of me.
He has my face. My face is screaming, and my eyes are red and
bleeding, stretched open wider than I have ever seen eyes stretched,
and my face and hair are forcefully whirling as if blown by some
extreme tornado-like wind. I turn away and fall.

I feel as if I have awoken from a nightmare, but I am not in my bed.

I am in a dry, confined cavern somehow moderately lit but with no

clear source of light. As I stand up to gain my bearings, I find that
the low ceiling even forces me to hunch. But I need to get out; I
somehow feel a heavy, burning dread that I know I must escape.

There is only rock behind me and only one clear path, but I follow
it, even as it twists and turns in labyrinthine patterns and curls.
While the light seems to dim and only increasingly, I soon find that
I can stand a full height. I turn one last corner and finally come out
to an openingthough it is still clearly underground.

A relatively expansive but ceilinged area stands before me, where a

fiery orange and red lava swirls around rock scattered here and
there, and around a large central rocky "island" where a wide
column connects with the ceiling about one-story-high above my
head. I also notice several smaller rocky islands around this circular
opened area.

I am afraid of slipping and being burned and I am beyond confused.

However, I am led to cross this span of lava to reach an area almost
directly across from mewhat appears to be a hall that is part of
some office building, lit with a yellow-orange seemingly electrical
light. I feel this is my only hope for a way out.

As I begin intensely carefully leaping from one rock to another, I

suddenly spot the red man againthough thankfully faced away
from me and not seeming to notice me. He is crouched on the edge
of the large central island, staring into the lava and mumbling out
some unintelligible speech. I soon notice that he is actually
speaking and motioning as if scolding and mocking someone
directly underneath the surface of the lava, though.

Even as I focus on the red man, I desperately attempt to continue

avoiding his notice by only increasingly carefully making my way
from one rock to another. Soon, I finally near reaching the office-
type hallway.

Once I step into the hallway from the last lava-encircled rock, I
notice about a dozen doorless rooms on either side of me. And,
each is only about as large as a typical medical examination room,
empty, built with white floor tiles and painted white just as the halls,
lit by bright white-yellow industrial fluorescent tubes built into the
ceiling, and connecting to nothing but the hallway where I am. All
the rooms seem identical in this way, except for one clear exception:
the last room on the left, which emanates a pronounced, bright
yellow-brown glow.

I rush to enter this room and suddenly feel frozen still. The room is
differentabout four times larger than the other rooms and with its
ceiling and each of its walls completely covered by a single sheet of
mirror. And, there is no exit. I know I am trapped, and I believe I
will die.

However, I suddenly notice that the yellow-brown light filling the

room emanates from a roughly five-foot-wide square hole in the
middle of the floor, which could lead out of this place. And yet, as I
approach the hole, I feel as if I can somehow see miles down into
the hole and while seeing no bottom or clear source of light.

I am filled with more fear than I have ever felt and tremblingly turn
to leave this room. I would rather search throughout this cavern for
hours and hours for some other way out than to step into this vastly
deep hole.

But once I turn around, I find that the room's entryway has
disappeared. Only a mirrored wall stands in its place. And, in the
mirror, I see myself and, behind me, the red man.

As I turn back around, the red man is now somehow directly next to
me. I see now that he lacks any pale representation of my face, only
red skin with a mouth and only enough facial structure for me to

perceive a loathing angriness as he begins to speak.

"Remember that last dream I gave you, where you fell only for a
few seconds? Remember the torment that brought you, especially
while you felt yourself falling?"

The red man pushes himself into my face, and I am forced to walk
backwards around the room, and I begin to walk faster and faster
away from him as he continues to follow me and speak in an
increasingly screaming voice.

"Well, what if you fell not just for a few seconds, but a few
minutes? That would be multiples of the torment you felt, and
worsening exponentially with each moment. I can assure you, I
could make this so, and prevent you from ever reaching a point of
numbness, just ever-increased violently screaming terror. And I
could make it so that these minutes become hours, and days. You
would scream and shake and convulse to degrees you could not
imagine, ever. And these days could become weeks, months, years,
decades, a hundred years, a million, billions, trillions and trillions
and trillions upon trillions, and then a repeat of these years
infinitely. I can assure you that I can make this so, and where there
would never be an end, ever.

"Have you thought about infinity? Well, you could have infinity to
discover it. But you would not be able to think, just feel ever-
exponentially increasing violent horrors of a hell you could never
even approach even an infinitesimal degree of closeness to even the
vaguest conceptualization. I assure you, I can make it so. And I
will! Welcome to Hell!"

With these last words, the red man kicks me into the hole with no
bottom, where I know I will fall forever and never awake. God help

About the Author
Timothy Ballan is a composer and writer who currently resides in
Western Massachusetts. As a composer, Timothy mostly writes
accessible classical music. As a writer, Timothy mostly writes
plotless stories, atmospheric vignettes, poems, and non-pretentious
philosophy. When not composing or writing, Timothy teaches
private piano lessons and leads several musical groups in urban
schools and youth development programs. In his free time, Timothy
enjoys driving on country roads, hiking, watching scary movies, and
sharing time and an absurd sense of humor with his human and
mint-flavored bobby-pin friends.


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