CLIENT: Personal Work
Acrylic on mounted stonehenge paper.
This painting was inspired by a little-known experimental drug from the 60’s called “Defender” that helped “jump start” children’s imaginations in order to deal with their nightmares. Here is the full story:
DEFENDER, Part 1.
The sky was a single pantone shade away from being pitch black. The humidity made the night air feel as heavy as Joel’s eyelids, which blanketed his bright blue lenses, shielding them from the silent flicker of a small TV that refused to turn itself off despite the infinite looping of a DVD menu showing a yellow dog and a boy with a sword. The only sounds edging their way into his bedroom were faint electronic snaps emitting from the bug-zapper hanging on a rope outside of Joel’s window. In other words, this night was like every other night in Decatur…until Joel violently jerked up and gasped for an unobtainable breath. His teeth clenched and his eyes widened, accentuated by the glow of the TV shining solely on his frightened face. Joel attempted to pull his arms away from his side, perhaps instinctively to help him physically clear a passageway for some air to inhale, but he couldn’t. His arms and torso felt magnetically adhered to his mattress. Within a heartbeat, he sucked in enough air to push it back out in order to squeal in pain as he felt something under his arms stretching. He was able to angle his neck and rotate his eyes far enough to see what the source of this pain was. His armpits had ripped open. Blood, skin, muscle and fluids that Joel hadn’t been taught about yet were soaking into his bed sheets as his arms crawled away from his body and scampered on to the floor. At this point, Joel’s squeals turned into uninhibited screams. In the milliseconds that his brain allowed him to think, all he did was wonder where his parents were as he watched his own arms transform into fleshy demonic serpents in front of his own wide eyes. What were his fingers changed into teeth, but the rest of his arms were barely recognizable as arms anymore. They were creatures, salivating and hovering over this paralyzed child wrapped in a bloodied Skylanders blanket. The monsters writhing in front of the TV forced the only light source to spatter new shadows all over the walls in Joel’s room, increasing the number of horrifying shapes that were surrounding Joel from two to eight. Joel was going to “die by his own hand”, he thought. Had he been any older, this revelation would have maybe garnered an ironic chuckle as he succumbed to death. But Joel was 8. He didn’t understand irony. He hardly even understood reality. All he knew was that he was terrified.
Moments later, Joel’s detached arm-monsters warped their finger-teeth into a subtle grin and then lunged at his defenseless face. The exact moment that Joel felt the darkness of the creatures’ breath, he woke up…again.
Daylight painted the room, drowning out the TV’s once powerful glow. Dogs were barking in the distance outside. His arms were intact. Joel let out a confused sigh that quickly turned into an embarrassing one as he assessed that his Skylanders blanket was no longer soaked in blood, but instead in urine. Joel’s brain attempted to tell his body that what had happened was a dream, but it was to no avail. Joel was changed. He started crying instantly. His body ached. He couldn’t breathe, and he was afraid of his own arms. Unlike in the dream, his parents rushed in the moment they heard him start to cry to console him. But over the next few weeks, with the exception of some unfriendly growls, Joel fell mostly mute at school and found numerous ways to bind his own arms to his torso, causing enough commotion and concern to force his parents to keep him home and seek help.
As his parents jumped through the usual hoops of psychology and physiology in hopes of helping him, Joel neglected to tell them that he continued to dream about these creatures that were born from his own arms, and he continued to wake up in tears. After multiple prescriptions for everything from insomnia to ADHD to body dysmorphia to even Schizophrenia. But all of those treatments just sedated Joel, which meant he spent more time in his dream world, the world he was terrified to be a part of.
Eventually, Joel’s father, Dennis, admitted to his wife, Dawn, that he may know of something that can help. At this point, Dawn agreed, the two parents were open to trying anything.
Dennis confessed to a similar situation when he was a child in the late 1960’s. Dennis, almost in tears, did the best he could to re-tell the tale of a monster that he once dreamt about. When his story was finished, he then shared with Dawn how HIS parents helped cure him.
“It was the sixties, you know”, he said, “so every doctor around had an experimental drug of some sort and my parents were getting desperate. They met an old, kind of odd guy who told them that all the other doctors were trying to repress these nightmares; trying to get me to pretend they weren’t there. But this doctor said that the only way to overcome these nightmares was to DEFEAT them.”
“What did that mean,” Dawn asked, intrigued.
“It meant that he had something that would give me the power to FIGHT them,” Dennis replied.
“I’ll never forget the day I met that him. Doctor Zerof. That was his name. In hindsight, it was like I was meeting Willy Wonka. He was an odd goofy man with a possibly made-up accent and a magical pill. And what he told me as he held up a small blue pill that had the letters DFNDR embossed on it, was that whenever I took one of these pills, I would be able to summon the ‘good’ dream monsters that roam around in dreamland. Dreamland, apparently, was a REAL place according to him. It was where our souls vacationed to in order to escape the monotony of the Real World. And that these ‘good’ monsters in Dreamland would help me fight the bad ones. Wow…saying it aloud now sounds just as absurd as I’m sure it did to my parents, but as a child, my eyes lit up. That’s what I needed! My own monsters!”
“So what happened?” Dawn said.
“As a last ditch effort,” Dennis continued, “my parents gave me the pills.”
“Just like that? That’s it??” Dawn sounded unsatisfied now.
“Not at first, they didn’t. But eventually, yes. The pills helped me LEARN. They helped me HUNT for something to assist me in the fights. And eventually, I don’t really know how to describe what they helped me do. They helped me understand the dream world. The helped me control colors, and shapes, and create these giant, horrifying, but ‘good’ monsters to fight the ‘bad’ ones.”
“Were there any side effects?” Dawn said with a slight concern.
“Yes, there were….I was able to actually grow up and get married to a wonderful woman and have a child with a good imagination,” Dennis said as he snickered.
Dawn smiled coyly before she said “So…do you still know Doctor Zerof? Is he even still alive?”
“No, I never saw him after that day…but I still have a few of those pills. I still have some DEFENDER.”
“Do you think they still have any potency?”
“I have no idea.”
“Well, then…” Dawn trailed off for a second before she continued, “what are we waiting for? Let’s save our son.”
To Be Continued….