G-PTSD by Jeffrey Lehrberg

typewriterThe psychiatric community doesn’t have a name for my problem. Please believe me when I say I’ve looked. Medical journals (both antiquated and current), multiple expert opinions—I even went so far as obtaining and translating some of Kraepelin’s unpublished case reports from the turn of the century—it all leads nowhere. The closest I’ve come is Morgellons syndrome, but that isn’t right. The reality of my condition is much worse than any disease of the mind.

For all intents and purposes, my life ended a thousand feet over Eastern Europe’s last stronghold against progress and deforestation. The images on the kiosk in the hotel lobby showed a pair of smiling couples: one marveling at the incomparable view of the medieval forest below, the other undoubtedly enjoying the informative color commentary¬–available in five different languages–and included at no extra cost. Compared to the prospect of sitting alone in a cramped, Soviet-era hotel room, the helicopter tour seemed like an obvious choice. What a fool I was.

They say you always remember your first time, and boy are they right! That’s part of my problem: I can’t stop remembering. That’s why I don’t sleep anymore. Now I know what you’re thinking, and yes “something went wrong” during the flight, but it’s not what you’d expect. I mean sure, we crashed, but surviving a helicopter crash isn’t the reason why now, a year later, I’ve decided to take one last long drive through the mountains (an activity that will most certainly kill me). No, I’m going to kill myself tomorrow because of what I saw right before the crash, and what I’ve kept seeing since.

To be honest, I saw “it” for quite a while before it registered—what I mean is, I was looking at it long before I realized something was terribly wrong. Its skin blended perfectly with the snaking viscera of wires that comprised the helicopter’s interior causing me to pass over it a few times before realizing it was there. Like one of those magic-eye-posters, you had to relax your eyes before it popped out at you. The creature was small, about the size of a child’s teddy bear, and the way it rocked back and forth on the headrest across from me reminded me of a Halloween scarecrow I once made by stuffing newspapers into old clothes. Beneath an ancient face, the creature had a look of almost boredom, as if it too was simply enjoying a helicopter tour over the forest.

I’m not sure why I took so long to start screaming; perhaps seeing an otherworldly monster shorted out my brain. Whatever the reason, all I could do was continue listening to a prerecorded voice extol the virtues of the forest below in broken English. Did you know that the pagan inhabitants of the Bialowieza forest would often engage in human sacrifice to appease the forest spirits? If I had to guess, I think it probably realized I could see it when a series of guttural noises started lurching from my throat.
Blinding sparks, alarms, and a precipitous plummet toward earth interrupted our comfortable cruising altitude above the verdant landscape. Now, if you’ve been in an accident, you know how time slows down: miniscule details drown out more substantial ones. About ten years ago I rolled my girlfriend’s Honda taking a curve too fast in the rain. As the car spiraled off the road, the image of my soda can hovering in a slow-motion-yoyo above the passenger seat became branded in my memory. All that’s branded in my memory the day my helicopter dropped into the Bialowieza forest, is the pulsing yellow veins that metastasized through the creature’s eyes as it smiled at me from across the cabin.

I don’t remember the impact, but I remember the immediate aftermath. I recall being unable to move, and the smell of ozone. The pilot lay near the tail of the helicopter right before he died, mawing his lips over an assortment of ruined teeth in an effort to scream. Before drifting off into unconsciousness, I remember the Fear: the creature I had seen might still be nearby. Memories of the weeks that followed are hazy. Every time I closed my eyes, I would open them in a different country’s hospital; a groggy leapfrog home punctuated by bouts of night terrors and bed restraints.
Back during those early months after the crash—that is, back when I was still telling doctors the truth about what I had seen—I was willing to entertain a medical explanation. I was told that underlying schizophrenia, exacerbated by extreme trauma, had created a false memory of the event that allowed me to cope with said trauma. In layman’s terms, I was crazy before and the crash made it worse. More importantly, the creature I had seen was just my imagination. A quick succession of therapy sessions, and a daily dose of clozapine later, I was sent home and told to move forward with my life.

Please believe me when I say I tried; I took my medication and went to therapy. In fact, I was almost convinced myself that the horror I had witnessed that day in helicopter was some construct of my imagination. Then my accident changed my thinking.
Three months after the crash, a good part of my left hand was lost to the garbage disposal. My mind is still cloudy from that day, but like anyone who’s had to stick his or her hand in a garbage disposal, I’m sure I damn near triple-checked to make sure it was off. Nevertheless, after activating it easily swallowed a few fingers and part of my palm. I barely managed to tear back my hand and save my thumb. That’s when it happened. As I stood gaping at the bloody mess where my fingers used to be, the corner of my eye caught one of them scurrying across the kitchen floor. I can’t be sure, but I also think I heard laughter drifting up from the drainpipe. Did you know people are now getting bedbugs from movie theaters? They crawl onto you during the film and hitchhike back to your home.

At the hospital the doctors did what they could to repair my hand. An arrogant surgeon calmly nodded for a few moments after asking how it happened, and then promptly paged for a stat consult with behavioral health. The psychiatrist said my reaction was natural given my history. A few phone calls later, she upped my clozapine to 300 mg a day and told me how important it was to never miss a dose. A discussion was also had about a possible voluntary commitment; I nodded and played along. I know what happened. I know what I saw.

Shortly after being released from the hospital it got worse. I began seeing them more frequently: a waitress would spill scalding hot coffee on me, her eyes beset with sickly yellow veins; half asleep I would see one standing in my room, its mouth agape in mockery of the pilot’s silent scream. It was around this time that the pattern began to emerge. Subsequent to seeing them, there would be some kind of mechanical problem, accident, or tragedy; that’s how I ultimately found out what they were.
Unfortunately, based on all my research, there doesn’t seem to be a cure—and that doesn’t really surprise me. The last people to deal with my problem died in the 19th century believing in sprites and the evil eye. My tormentors have become the orphan disease of fairytale monsters: they just aren’t seen anymore, or at least reported for that matter. Sure, there’s been a few serious reports: probably the most well known is the mysterious fate of Legio IX Hispana; then there’s the account of a pilot from the Royal Naval Air Service in 1917; witnesses on a cargo plane flying over Papa New Guinea during WWII; a TWA pilot who ended up drinking himself to death in 1952. But nowadays they’re seen as cute, a harmless folk legend from our ignorant past. Instead of nightmares, they’re the stuff of Christmas movies and Bugs Bunny cartoons. Did I mention I had to stop taking my medication? It made me sick to my stomach.
I now see them all the time. Cars, planes, and boats are the most dangerous and definitely out of the question, but anything with moving pieces is hazardous and generally avoided. Yet, even the absence of mechanical objects from my life hasn’t prevented the creatures from tormenting me. They seem to be everywhere; it’s become an infestation. Maintaining my composure has become a fulltime job. I can’t risk being institutionalized. Too many machines. Too many opportunities

Oddly enough, they aren’t frequently named throughout history (even though almost every culture has reported them). To a small village in pagan Russia they were the Domovoi, in pre-Christian Scotland they were sometimes called Bogles. Our current name for them stems from the Old English word greme, which means to vex or annoy.
I’ve started keeping odd hours. I lie in bed, sweating until dawn breaks through the blinds. Sometimes I think I feel their hot breath grazing my neck, but when I roll over it’s just a breeze floating through the open window. Sometimes I wish I had died in that forest.

I’ve stopped speaking to my friends and family. When I look in the mirror I see a stranger staring back: sometimes he has the broken and bloodied mouth of the pilot from the crash; sometimes he has a pair of sickly yellow-veined eyes. I tried drinking, but even that doesn’t seem to help anymore. I had an anxiety attack and collapsed in the bathroom the other day after a woman in the doctor’s office offhandedly mentioned she heard a motor running.

So tomorrow I’ll go for a long drive in the mountains and I don’t think I’ll wear my seatbelt. One way or the other, this has to end; I can’t live like this anymore. Perhaps I’m only writing this for the sake of posterity, but hopefully it will help the next poor bastard afflicted with this condition; I hope that’s the case, I really do. I hope my story can help someone find a way to fight them, because I wouldn’t wish these monsters on anyone.

 

Jeffrey Lehrberg

Banner Image:- By English: Aleksandr Markin Русский: Александр Маркин (Helicopter Augusta/Westland RW-139) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

3 thoughts on “G-PTSD by Jeffrey Lehrberg

  1. Hi Jeffrey,
    I enjoyed the mix in this. It was a traditional monster story but you freshened it and made it your own. It is very difficult to put a new slant into an old idea but you did this with ease.
    I am a sucker for this type of story when it is done well.
    Please keep them coming.
    Hugh

    Like

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