Although this challenge, created and hosted by @loony_madness on Instagram, focused on visual artists, I’m participating (after the fact) as a “literary artist.” The challenge provided 30 prompts for works of art that span the spectrum of mental health.
1. Manic Smile
The windows to her soul looked in on a gloomy room in an abandoned building – her detachment from reality. Her eyelids sewn open, braided veins along the surface of her corneas had collapsed from desiccation. Beneath them, her nose was crumpled by the tension of spring-loaded rage, its angular wrinkles pointing downward at the jagged outline of the upper lip she had chewed off. Her lower lip was contorted into a widely spread “V” like a martini glass, and the stub of her bitten-off tongue oozed oily drool.
The rapid fire of semiautomatic gasps for air throttles my lungs as I suffocate. The hyperventilation has my brain performing pirouettes. My eyelashes reach involuntarily for my eyebrows as I find myself unable to blink. Alarms are going off all throughout my body, shocking me with clusters of chaotic neuroelectric pulses. My vertebrae grind together as I wrench violently from side to side, assaulting my spine with absentminded ferocity as I fight to unbind my arms. It feels like, any second now, I’ll pass out. And who knows what they’ll do to me then.
3. Body Horror
Particles of decay float up my nasal cavity, provoking a misty sneeze and catapulting a glob of phlegm onto my bare chest. Lying on a mound of nude cadavers, some partially digested by death, others partially regurgitated by scavengers, I wait to succumb to starvation or plague like the soulless sacks of meat beneath me. Freezing rain begins to fall, and shards of ice engrave the names of the dead onto their rigid carcasses. And in that moment, I’m thankful for the warmth of our collective decomposition under our blanket of quicklime.
Kinked, wiry stitches fastened the pieces of the dermal jigsaw puzzles on her forehead, pinching together the two diagonal incisions where the doctors had violated her prefrontal cortex with a scalpel. Like guillotines on standby, her eyelids were suspended over her pupils, threatening and mocking her useless sense of sight, while her droopy jaw dangled like a broken hinge. My attempts to greet her bounced around as echoes inside the void that was once her brilliant mind. And as I parked the pillow on her face, I knew this wasn’t murder; it was mercy.
Somewhere deep in the sewers of her nightmares, she was psychologically mutilated, and her identity drowned in an infectious flash flood of fright, wrath and egomania. Today, the jittery knot of neuroses that processes reality in her skull often assumes the victim persona: a pitiable maiden surveilled and hunted by all. Through loosely related phrases fished out of the rapids of her stream of consciousness, she narrates her persecution – one I’m convinced she believes. After all, the insane don’t question their sanity; they question yours.
The distressing cacophony of a thousand thoughts competing for my attention ravishes me from slumber’s relief, caging me with the anxiety I’m desperate to escape from by passing out for a while. Unresolved injustices, unhealed wounds, unfinished business, unkind words, unforgotten losses – anything agonizing. Hours of waiting to fall asleep pass, but the clock thinks it’s only been a few minutes; a single night can feel longer than a year. And the later it gets, the fiercer my angst as I dread facing tomorrow with debilitating exhaustion … again.
7. Collected Eyes
Spattering the screwdriver with blood, his ocular chamber birthed a hazel cue ball as the flathead that had been hammered through his eyebrow pried out the delicate specimen. It hung from the optic nerve like a yo-yo, swaying on his cheekbone while she slowly pruned the blood vessels around the nerve until snipping it. Flicking pulpy dollops of retinal discharge into his mouth as he screamed, she deposited his unshackled eye in a stainless steel kidney basin, then harvested the other one. After rinsing her prizes, she set them to dry beside the others.
8. Collected Teeth
Chills of outrage blast through my body, and the shock wave detonates an atom bomb in my psyche. My nails slit my palms as my fists clench until they’re bricks, squeezing all the blood into my arms, which are trembling from the pressure of the savage energy I can scarcely contain. I grab my clothes iron and head out to his car, where he’s seated by an open window, conveniently and providentially setting him up for a sucker punch. I shout “Hey!” to get him to turn his head, then slam the iron into his face five times and gather his teeth off the ground.
9. Padded Cell
The leather straps licked her wrists with a mucous blend of sweat and bacteria as they were unbuckled, polishing the ringworm and other moist fungal accessories adorning her forearms. The nurse’s meaty hand smacked the back of her head, and she tumbled into the room, landing on the spongy canvas floor, which reeked of ammonia. Puddles materialized as her bodyweight summoned the previous occupant’s urine up from the padding. Shrieking, she jumped to her feet, broke down in tears and yelled, “I don’t belong here!”
The vermilion splatter marks and streaks of green mystery-goo made the walls in the defunct rest stop look like a field of roses. The air – not at all floral in fragrance – was thick enough to choke on, its dense humidity intensifying the stench of the baked compost heaps under each primitive wooden toilet. In the corner, bodies at varying stages of putrefaction were stacked as if someone had been using them for shelter like a log cabin made of corpses. And in the moat surrounding that macabre shanty, cockroaches were foraging for solids in a pond of crimson DNA.
“You missed one!” she whispered angrily to her brother, pointing at the electrical outlet. She had just returned home from the mental hospital and was using duct tape to cover anything in her room that she deemed surveillance equipment. Afraid of having her lips read, she spoke through a slit in her mouth like a ventriloquist, explaining, “I told you, every screw has a hidden camera in it.” Her words seemed to sneak out from behind her clenched teeth, tremulously marching in single file toward an invisible captor in heroic defiance. “They see everything.”
A monstrous compulsion hatches inside me. It spreads from my mind throughout my body. A subliminal possession, a voiceless seduction, like something that’s pushing me toward numbness and apathy. I stop resisting so I can stop existing, chasing oblivion as soon as the drugs kick in. I do this to forget the pain. I do this to pretend I’m sane. It’s simpler than fighting obsession. It’s better than feeling depression. Staying saturated in poison and sedated by toxins, I perpetuate my mental abduction through self-destruction.
15. No Eyes
Paralyzed by the drugs, he lay there semiconscious, spitting out lumps of sound as futile cries for help. She had him pinned to the floor with her ample bodyweight, digging her knees into his chest and gripping his throat. With her free hand, she dragged the edge of a spoon across his temples to tease him, looking him in the eyes with a feral gaze that harbored lethal intent, but reassured him: “Don’t worry. I’m not gonna kill you.” Then, jamming the spoon into each of his eye sockets, she added, “But you’ll never look at another woman again.”
17. Word Salad
Falling psychotropic cinders singe and tease my flammable anger. Nerve-splitting tension trapped inside the fifth dementia ferries cells of regret across my stream of consciousness, surfing the high tide of hindsight, where I dive into a vile of bile that I found in exile while awaiting trial.
28. Sleep Paralysis
“Ouch!” I squealed, jolted awake by whatever had just yanked my foot. In my peripheral vision, a shadowy figure loomed by my bed – and I live alone. A scream rushed up my throat, but my mouth wouldn’t open. I tried to run away, but I couldn’t move. Suddenly, I felt prickly ropes squeezing my chest, and asphalt filling my lungs. Then, my blanket was peeled back, and the empty half of my mattress sunk as something got into my bed. Gurgling breathing replaced the silence, growing louder as the thing drew nearer to my ear and said, “Shhh.”