This slow dying, that I ache for in the Summer months...burning cold, setting fingers and thoughts alight, a blue fire in my chest.
Witch's fire, imagining myself breathing it, igniting every bronzed and beautiful sun child, every slave of Summer. Laughing as they writhe, as beauty goes to black filth on their bones, as laughter kindles to hate in their eyes.
A cruel fantasy, though not the first, certainly not the last. What does it even matter, with no means to make it more?
Snow on the canals, hideous green waters not frozen, but somehow denser, congealing towards a state of ice or jelly. Pausing at the image, grasping the cold, rusted balustrade, staring down into the murk that reflects nothing:
Something beneath, coiling through the muck, serpentine bodies or quivering tendrils, rearing up, too wreathed in shit and filth to discern, screams as they constrict around barges and narrow boats, breaking them in two, dragging them down...as they lash out, plucking people from the path, from spanning bridges, pulling them apart, their remains raining down, turning the mire below into a rancid stew.
More hideous dreaming? A day for it, clearly; a day that most lament, surrounded by blasphemous complaints of it all fucking day; perpetual, Pavlovian remarks on the cold, the snow, the wind...weary, whinging tones, dead-eyed, drear expressions that look like badly fitting masks, that I might reach out and pluck away...
Those I walk with, the stream of humanity already threatening to become torrential as 5PM nears...all similarly dour, resentful; huddled and hooded, swathed in successive layers of winter coats, gloves, scarves and ear-muffs. Those that aren't...snarling and squinting, muttering quiet curses against the wind.
Happy to be the rock around which they break, refusing to be swept along by their desperation, their wittling, idiot fear of beauty. Happy to endure their snide looks, their sidelong glares, their muttered curses.
So very British; not a one stopping to challenge me, not a one making a remark above an unintelligible grumble.
The fire kindling in my fingers, now; the tips of my nose and ears, searing nerves, making them dance; a welcome pain, making me hiss breath through a rictus grin; the smile of something dead and in love with the condition.
Maybe I am; maybe I'll remember, after so long forgetting; finally peel away this mask named Indu Sunya, this face that has always felt like something borrowed, and become the abortive child of my own imagining.
No. An adolescent ache, that I refuse to entertain. No longer a child; dreams fine, in their place, when not indulged as I once did, to the despair of my family, my friends; almost to my ruination.
Flying, eyes closed, talons of frost-bitten wind raking my face, tears streaming as I become molten, as my back ripples and breaks, as great wings unfurl...
Laughing at myself, my own absurdity, some pausing in the stream's flow to throw confused, fretful looks my way.
Truly believing it, feeling it; my skin bursting, my bones flowing and rearranging, new nerves knitting as what I'd dreamed since adolescence made itself true in flesh...
No angel's flight, no laughing from on high, no rain of moonight tears to rouse the rest of humanity from despairing slumber.
A fractured skull, dislocated arm; four broken ribs, severe concussion. Lucky to escape with just that, or so they tell me.
Part of me still doubting, still believing that it happened as memory insists; that they took me, dragged me to earth, bound and mutilated me, to prevent me from inspiring the rest to sprout wings and fly...
I can't. Can't even entertain it. No knowing what will happen, if I do. Distractions. The pretty boy, with his blue, blue eyes, a crooked smile, as he catches me looking. The stinking drunk, muttering incoherently to himself, rousing complaints as he veers from one side of the path to the other, disrupting the stream's flow.
Not enough. Never enough; not my job, not friends or family. Not anything. The urge so strong; to jump into the foetid, freezing waters, part of me knowing that the things in their depths will find me, invade and remake me, raise me up like Scylla, transformed into something hideous and glorious, that I'll lash this ridiculous city to splinters, freeze it to glitteing waste with me breath...
Knowing that, if I fly again, there'll be nothing they can do; that I'll soar beyond their reach, laugh my scorn into their frozen, fractured faces, watch them fly apart, revealing the rancid, cockroach things beneath their facades.
Knowing, and despairing at the prospect of another tomorrow, of waking only to find myself here, again, on the same dead men's paths, following in dead thing's footsteps, over and over and over, until I join them, just another victim of the slow dying, the unravelling world.
No screams, as I clamber over the balustrade, some muted calls, muffled pleas; no efforts to stop me.
The fire consuming me, blazing from my throat, my palms, shrivelling my eyes in their sockets, leaving me as a bizarre species of Ifrit, not born of desert, but arctic waste.
Serpents rising from beneath the mire to embrace me, infest me, the monstrous remaking they promise welcome.
Wings of frost and white flame erupting from my back, blazing the eyes from the impotent who watch, filling their skulls with embers of the same fire.
No more slow dying, no more playing witness at a sick Mother's bedside, deluding myself that Cancer might recede, that all might be well again.
An end to sickness, an end to dreaming, and the idiot disappointment that inspires both.
The way between unremembered, seeming to almost teleport from the moment I stepped out of my front door to this. One second, terraces, schools, white clad and red brick houses, fenced off fields, locked and chained industrial estates.
The next?; Sunlight filtering through trees, frost on weeds and banks of earth, a low-lying mist coiling across fields that undulate into the distance, disappearing into shadowed forestland.
Not noticing the sharp cold, the frost underfoot; not consciously, though it bites my fingers, burns my cheeks, sets blue fire in my lungs.
Not noticing the cries of crows and gulls and children, the former two squabbling over scraps on the frozen earth, the latter with one another in the playgrounds and schoolyards, already driven half mad by their imprisonment.
Too much inside your own head, Harry, that you are...
An old mantra, familiar condemnation.
Too much inside your own head...
No curse, insofar as I'm concerned; never has been, though I'm so often sealed away from the world, though I sometimes don't see people I pass or say hello to those I know...though they ring or text me later, wondering if they've said something to upset me, accusing me of looking right at them, right through them...
Most understanding; shrugging it off as just how I am. Happy to let them have that, though it doesn't mean a great deal.
Happier there, in whatever dream-world I walk, whatever waste or wood or mountain I wander, with the dream things that infest them; the fey, the dragons; the things that have no name, because they're mine; my creations, as close as I'll ever come to children...
Lurching out of myself, this time, away from a long, white beach, curving around the roots of great, black mountains, the sea singing as it laps the shore...
Torn away, as violent and involuntary as any birth, as protested.
A sound, tearing my attention out and away, to the dense trees off to my right; a sound I've never heard before along this path, though I walk it almost every day:
Some animal...a shriek that rises, ululating, before dying to silence; some chimpanzee set upon by its siblings in cannibal frenzy, in incestuous assault.
Pausing, peering through the foliage, seeing nothing but shadows, the skittering silver of squirrels and rabbits.
Making to move on, when the sound comes again. Louder this time, longer; much, much closer. A rising shriek, not seeming so animal this time; almost like a child, a babe..?
I've heard foxes down here before; seen them on occasion, chasing squirrels or rooting trash through the undergrowth. Pretty things; blazing red or dusty yellow, bright green eyes. But not what people think; not like cartoons or puppets: often scarred and mangey, flea-infested, mutilated from whatever battles they fight in the undergrowth...qualities that only make them prettier, in my eyes.
When they cry, for mates or as a warning to rivals, out of grief for murdered and devoured young, they sound like babes whimpering, like tortured women screaming.
I hear them in my dreaming places, sometimes; the strange woods I walk there, where the trees writhe as though in fire, where they resemble the intertwined bodies of burning women, blackened beyond all sex and distinction by invisible flames. Hear them amongst the red grasses and fleshy flowers, where they rise bloody-muzzled from their feasts, scraps and tatters hanging from their jaws, eyes luminous in thanks.
Nothing quite so familiar, here; the sound so unlike a fox or rabbit, like the squirrels that chatter and squeal to one another, the buzzards and kestrels that sometimes dive down to snatch them from the grass, carrying them up, up into the clouds, sometimes dropping them to snare brokenly in the branches below.
Stepping from the path, something I rarely do, the earth soft and sweet smelling beneath my boots.
“I'd be careful there, mate.”
Heart snaring in my chest, catching my breath, straightening.
The trees stirring, breaking from their agonised dances, their tormented love making, to grasp the invader, to drag him back into the flames, where he burns, where they claw and kiss him apart, using his filth to water their roots, to fertilise the surrounding soil...
Turning with a smile, the man a dumpy, doughy creature, red-cheeked and worry-eyed, ugly, tattered tracksuit bottoms straining around his lower half, the meek greyhound at his side eyeing him as she shivers.
“Ye not read it in th' paper t'other day?; Some kiddy wen' missin' down 'ere. People said they 'eard summat, but...”
Lapsing into silence, baring his nicotine-yellowed teeth.
“...ah dunno. Ye 'ere stories, don't yer?; Big cats escapin' from zoos, alligators an' snakes an' all...ye don' know what yer gonna find, do yer?”
Nervous smiles, shifting from foot to foot, desperate eyes.
“I just heard...something...”
“Ah! Mebee a fox, as like. But...like ah say; ye wanna be careful; ah know the kiddee wus only small, an' all, but...”
“Well, thank you for the warning.”
Turning from him, silently praying for him to move on. Feeling his eyes on my back as I return to the edge of the path, step between the trees.
Cracking branches underfoot, crushed weeds and wildflowers. A pungency of wild garlic. Skitters of movement in the undergrowth, the boughs overhead. No sign of any big cat, alligator or otherwise.
Waiting, hoping the sound will come again.
A flicker of motion, but distant; catching my eye through the low-lying mist, disappearing between the trees at the far edge of the field, into woods where I won't follow.
No big cat. No alligator; nothing any zoo has ever boasted.
Knowing it, with the immediacy of love, the scintillation of hate: one of mine, somehow escaped, torn its way through, to the waking now.
The briefest impressions: a bloated bulk, shimmering as though wet, pitted and seeping, viscous matter dribbling down its flanks, many legs, pawing through the grasses, rising to taste the air.
Gone, melting into the shadows of the wood before I can even catch my breath. How? How can it be here?
Resisting a lunatic urge to follow, to flee after it, call it back, beg it to explain.
“'Ere, you all right, mate?”
My doughy, self-appointed guardian, quietly cursing his dog for growling in the back of its throat. Staring after, hoping to catch the beast re-emerging, to find myself wrong, deceived by my own fevered imagination...
Just a fox or badger, caught up in a tattered bin-bag.
But knowing, knowing otherwise.
“Mate! You okay?”
The way I used to snarl at my Mother, when she repeated such idiot questions.
“All right, mate, all right! Jus'...ye know, don't want yer to end up like that kiddie..!”
Smiling, almost laughing, making my way back to the path. My companion as faithful as his dog, still waiting, a distinct glare of fear in his eyes.
“Ye find anythin'?”
Almost confessing, the story buzzing in my throat, behind my eyes: I saw something from my nightmares.
Sighing, shaking my head. “No. Just a fox or something, I reckon.”
The man nodding sagely, as though this is profoundest revelation, never meeting my eyes, seeing something in them he doesn't quite like.
“Ah. Righty ho, then. Better get 'er back. She's frettin' over summat.”
Glancing at the dog, its arched back, its terrified, bulging eyes, the wet stain on the concrete at its feet.
“Yes, you'd better do that.”
The man nodding, slinking away, dragging one foot as though partially lame. So sad, so sad a creature, so eager to be friends with one who will never, never reciprocate.
Letting him go, not even taking a step until he turns away, some meters up the path. Pretending I don't see his farewell wave, hearing him curse ripely at his hound, dragging it along as it shivers and seeps.
Already late. So strange, for me; texts flashing on my phone: R U on shift today? R U coming in? Sharon needs to go home.
Curiously unconcerned, though only yesterday, the notion of being late would have had me near a panic attack.
That cry, coming again, distant, now, but enough to draw my eye back to the woods.
Something there, a shape in the shadows, all but obscured by them; barely a suggestion of huddled, twitching legs, of immense eyes, catching the mid-morning sunlight.
Staring back, seeing me, knowing me, as immediately and intimately as I know it, promising without a word that we'll know one another far, far better, in the days and nights to come.
Still smiling, I turn away, no longer quite so lost in my own head, the path I follow no longer quite so drearily familiar.
Long abandoned any hope of arriving before the last sun, before its red paints the ruins. Hoping only to see them, one last time; before light itself ends, and day becomes a memory.
The dark at my heels, devouring land and distance and time; memory and experience and everything, everything, everything.
Not a wound; a wound might heal, a wound might be stitched or bound. No...absence, the obliteration of even possibility. Devouring all; every star, every dream, every playground I've ever known.
Leaving only this; the last, decaying outposts of being, the temples erected against it, by those I no longer remember, those already given to it: the mad ones who maybe still wander, who still scrape some semblance of living from the shattered stone.
So cold, here; the dusk scarlet and heavy, shadows dense, almost fungal. Dead trees, dead flowers; grasses dried to shards and splinters. Great idols and sepulchers, partially swallowed by the earth, listing at strange angles, shattered or obscured by infestations of long dead weeds.
Distantly, within the walls, beneath the earth...music, the stuttering rhythms of the engines they built, that they stole and scavenged and cannibalised; murdered entire civilisations and species to attain, orchestrated wars and genocides and pogroms and apocalypses to shame any and all in history to discover.
Hated, denied; many not believing, not understanding, even when they saw evidence of it with their own eyes: the emptiness undoing all, swallowing their creeds and cultures, their empires that spanned stars and realities...some even concocting their own means of sustaining against it, of insulating themselves...
Dead dreams, now. Forgotten.
Scrabbling, a serrated knife twisting in my belly, hunger that has waxed over leagues and miles of desolation, where there has been nothing, nothing to sustain; nothing to even sift from the air or dig up from the charred dunes. No bones to gnaw or sewage to sup on; no vermin to devour.
Not even ghosts. Even ghosts can provide sustenance, to those who know the means of their rendering.
The absence taking them, too.
Weary, stumbling, half mad with it, what clothes remain to me scraping over lesions and sores, infected, weeping wounds.
Laughing, knowing that I've endured worse, though I can't recall where or when; what faces I wore, what roles I played.
Maybe for the best; maybe what we all deserve, at the end:
No more deceptions, no more theatres; only the unravelling we have denied and denied and denied with every mask, every contrived and practised verse, every orchestrated step of the dance.
Grinning, though many of my teeth are gone or shattered, grasping at a nearby statue to keep myself from toppling, bursting open against the soil, seeping away...
The scarlet sun blazing through a curious circle carved into the uppermost spire, clearly designed to capture its light at this point and channel it, a shimmering pool of arterial red staining the surrounding earth, animating the shadows, making the statues seem to grin or sneer, to weep blood or sorrow for the surrounding desolation.
Knowing their names, once; vague impressions of the saints and messiahs that inspired them: misty, smeared faces, far removed from those purportedly carved in their likeness, those that once bent knee to them, praying for guidance, not entertaining the least clue as to the truth of them in life; this one's flatulence, that one's penchant for bedding a different lover every evening, eventually losing his voice and tongue to a rot he contracted as a result. That one's casual cruelties for those that defied her word.
Saints and martyrs, prophets and messiahs.
Drunks and whore-mongers, perverts and sadists.
All one and the same, all equally forgotten, soon enough.
Maybe why I'm here; not to see, not to play witness to the final hours of light, but to hasten the end? So difficult to remember, now...so intent on the journey, on reaching this point, I've forgotten why.
Maybe they could have told me, once; the forgotten ones, my companions gone to bone and nothing along the way.
No more. Not even in dreams.
The emptiness yawning, not even cold, not attempting to snare or seduce; no need, its inevitability beyond denial, even here, in the last place, in the light of the last star.
Resisted, all this time, never turning to look, not even when I physically felt the leagues falling away at my heels, memories of the last steps and heartbeats flying apart. Warned, again and again and again: that to see it will be the end, that I'll not survive or be able to resist; that it will take me, the stories I have sewn, leaving not even echoes or shadows behind.
The urge all but irresistable, now. At least I'll have that, at the end: a moment, a heartbeat of the most terrible purity, the only perfection that can ever be. Then, I'll be one with it, and with all that will never be again.
The gates long since torn away, walls rent and collapsed; shattered in numerous assaults and cataclysms, sabotages and betrayals.
Remembering...the stories I've heard, the rumours that have whispered on the winds from this place: the temple perpetually under siege, by its last days, those that denied the very notion of oblivion in common cause with those that regarded it as holy; the final solution of whatever creator and destroyer they worshiped.
Smiling at that, the bitter irony; that even gods succumbed to it. I've seen, watched them stand against it, rouse all the Arts at their disposal to forestall it.
The eldest, the most omnsicient...coming apart, consumed, before breathing a single ember, not even slowing it.
Old gods. New gods. Dark gods. Blood and fertility and elemental gods. Gods that were men and women, once; re-written and made mythic by their own hands, through rites or technology, through Arts and stolen status...all of them failing, no matter what they roused or brought to bear.
None left, now; no prayers to court them.
Only me, and this place; the engines woven throughout its every inch, whose circuits thread its stone and shattered pillars, its strange statues and icons.
I don't understand...why I'm here, why I came, why I was sent. How I've been able to outrun it where so many have stumbled, been forgotten in a thought's span.
Comapnions, co-conspirators, lovers. Betrayers. Too painful to even try; the temple's burned and broken interior shimmering before my eyes, seeming unfixed, a paused image on old and warped VHS tape, about to tear and fray apart under the strain.
Alien structures; pillars that resemble the bones of titans, sculptures of molten wax, coral-like and sea-shell formations; things grown rather than carved or sculpted. Others betraying themselves; examples of the strange machinery that the temple and its surroundings are part of; that threads invisibly through the air, on shafts of light, in the shadows: pulsing, churning masses, states impossible to discern; seeming one moment to resemble flowing, molten plastic, the next to swell into organ and nerve-like systems married to bizarre devices.
Forms visible amongst the conflux, subsumed within it, protruding from it; the only certain elements in otherwise maddening ephemera:
Slumbering things, their elongated heads bowed against their chests, arms crossed, wires and umbilici threaded through their anatomies, binding them to the temple and its systems.
Its priests and architects, its dreamers and makers.
Told not to look, not to touch, but by who, I can no longer recall. Looking regardless, no longer caring if the sight of them drives me mad, bursts my eyes in their sockets, makes my mind bleed. What difference does it make, with oblivion aching at the door?
No such punishment for my trespass; the creatures stirring as I step ito their midst, raising their elongated, swollen heads, dark eyes blinking, amber lights blazing in their depths.
Their attentions spitting me, unseen spears of fascination, pinning me from all sides, hoisting me up quivering and gasping, filled with the cold light of a Winter dawn.
Inside, scouring my emptiness, surgeon's fingers running over the hollows where memory has collapsed or been torn from me, whispering to me and one another in their strange, mellifluous tongue that seems comprised entirely of hymns.
A hideous illumination; allowing me to see as they do; how mutilated I am, a rag-doll thing, scraps and tatters of self, barely held together.
The spears retreating, apparently satisfied with their autopsy, letting me fall, crying out as bones splinter, as wounds tear against the shattered stone floor.
Not understanding their strange whispers, but catching stray echoes of emotion; a bleak humour that rises in my throat like laughter riding a vomit of blood, a weary sadness, that things have failed, that there will never be a second experiment.
Over. Nothing they or any of us can do. The most ancient, the first and last, who I have come in search of, hoping they might have something, know anything...not a means of forestalling the inevitable...I see that, now; not even me and mine were naïve enough to hope for that...only something; some secret or revelation that we might take with us, into nothing and forgetting; that might make sense of the endless, idiot round of deaths and resurrections, of the lives we have lived over and over and over...
But no; nothing here, nothing they can or will say, at the end. Nothing I might understand, even if it were otherwise.
Rising, gasping blood on every breath, spitting on the stones at my feet.
Turning from them, from my path, at last, heading out, into the crimson dusk, where I look upon nothing at last, and lose myself in its perfection.
Time. To waste, to kill.
Before the appointment.
Wandering back and forth in front of the clinic, wondering if anyone notices from the upper window, if they watch, thinking: What the Hell is she doing? Is she mental or something?
Wouldn't blame them. How I must seem. How I feel.
Outside of myself yet also lodged deep, a splinter in my own brains and belly, twisting, growing sceptic...
Poison thoughts, lacing every consideration; paranoid, anxious idiocies: This man, with his perpetual scowl...scowling at me, murder in his eyes. Smearing me with a glance as he passes, leaving me as little more than a stain on the pavement. This woman and her screaming children, rolling her eyes, sighing. Not at them. At me, at me. Another obstacle, another unwanted distraction.
Strangers not the worst; people I know, people who purport to love me...I know. I know. What they think, what they sometimes say, whispering in their little cabals, their secret meetings at Moms and Trevor's...the messages they swap on line, the texts they send.
Some of them found, though they don't know it. Some of them read.
Some of them less cowardly, sent directly:
I know we've never got on all that well. I don't know why. But why don't we see you anymore? Was it what Trevor said at Gloria's funeral? He didn't mean to upset you, none of us did. People are worried about you. It's like you hardly speak to anybody, these days. Please us a call or pop over. We can talk, if you want.
The letter torn, partially screwed up before I even finished reading it. Not her; this concerned, fretting woman, this woman that suddenly cares what I think, what I feel.
Too late, too late, Mom. For a long time, now.
Early, as always. For everything. Another one of the anxieities she handed down to me, afflicted on me. Doctor Weathers likely already waiting in her office, having cleared her schedule, after last night. Panic, breathless, a frantic call.
I won't. Not today. No matter the rain, the cold; no matter the lightning searing my nerves. Late. Late, late, late...the word, the concept alone enough to make me breathless.
Stopping, closing my eyes, not caring what those who pass by make of it; that they tut and mutter and stare:
Forcing the world to slow, time to wind down. Not gasping, drawing in several deep breaths, imagining warm sea water, tinted amber by setting sun, washing over me, through me...
Calm. A moment, a place...maybe a memory: some childhood holiday from when I was a toddler, before the machinery of remembering had even fully calibrated itself.
White sand, warm sun... a forest of strange trees to the West, bounded by a broken wooden fence, mountains to the South, a small chalet in their shadow. Where we slept, where we bathed and ate breakfast, where Dad drank his vile, black coffee, before we headed down to the water's edge every day...
Barely a heartbeat, but enough. Sun giving way to murk and rain, calm to a more serene state of anxiety; enough to let me function, to seem as though I'm not a lunatic, an alien in a poorly fitting human skin.
Away from the clinic, though there are only fifteen minutes to go; back, back the way I came from, against the tide, the strange eyes, tuts and disapproving mutters, not one actually speaking, not one saying hello.
To the church, with its dark, high-arched windows, its plinth; a grassy hillock, raised and recessed from the road.
So out of place, amongst the scattering of electronics shops and hair-dressers; a structure from another time, better suited to surroundings of fields and forests.
The path rising beneath my feet as I head up the small lane down its right hand side; the houses here a strange confusion of modern structures and other anachronisms; those that clearly serve the church, and have done for some time, others looking as though they were erected throughout the years then successively modernised; fitted with double-glazing and extensions, conservatories and annexes.
So quiet, even the clamour of the road fading, though it's still clearly visible. A moment of thought for Doctor Weathers, a twitchy, nervous woman herself, always gnawing on a pen or fidgeting with her clothes, as though afraid they might decay around her, that they might suddenly constrict and crush her mosquito frame.
Grinding my teeth at the thought of it; sitting in that chair, pouring out my woes and secrets to her.
Though she's helped me so much. Though she's kept me from crisis, on more than one occasion. I don't like her; haven't from the first moment we met. Telling her so, during one of our sessions. The woman shrugging, fiddling with a loose strand of hair:
“We aren't required to like one another, Lisa. We're not here to be friends.”
No, no, and that's good, because we never will be.
Away. Away from the clinic. From letters. From watches. From Doctor Weathers. From prescriptions and pills and plastic-politeness.
This lane, descending down the back of the hill, winding like a great, flattened snake, the road itself poorly maintained, cracked and broken, rain welling from its wounds like infected blood, gurgling down its gutters, carrying a freight of dirt and leaves.
Decorating the hill's flank...a graveyard, a rusted steel fence surrounding it, a stiff, shrieking gate providing access.
Not knowing why I pull the gate open, its rust coming away in my palm, biting into my fingers. Not knowing why I follow the winding, overgrown path between the stones.
Serenity. Sweeter than any pills or memories -fantasies- of childhood beaches might bring; a sense of utter calm, stillness inside. Almost alien to me; a state that has me stumbling to a halt, a hand to my chest, a strange smile spreading across my face.
What is this?
Crows and magpies calling, perched on the lop-sided, moss-crawling gravestones, the boughs of the great, leafless sycamores and rowans that sprout between them.
The legends on the stones all but illegible, stained or weathered beyond interpretation, those rotting beneath long, long, long forgotten, no doubt, outside of some obscure church records.
Give us a call. Or pop round, if you like.
“No,” smiling, “no, I don't think I will. Not any time soon.”
Following the way, the path diversifying amongst the irregular ranks and clusters of graves, not even checking my watch, certain that my session has begun, by now; that Doctor Weathers will be calling to check up on me.
Always so punctual; what my teachers, my bosses, love about me. Its lack something I loathe in others, that Doctor Weathers tells me I need to understand at a base level: where does that anxiety derive from? What do I think is going to happen if someone is two or three or ten minutes late?
Nothing. Nothing. I don't know. All I know is...it physically hurts, sometimes; my temples pounding, my throat constricting, my heart...
Crows cawing as they take flight, more than I thought, the magpies following suit. So many, so many...enough to obscure the graveyard, the church...to blot out the sky.
Not flailing, not panicking; no familiar constriction, no lightning scorching my nerves, no storm waxing in my belly...only weightlessness, a sense of lurching forward, of the ground abruptly falling away, leaving me...
Not flying. Not falling. Drifting. A feather-thing, bones lighter than those of the birds that this new state is comprised of, that dart and flutter throughout every inch of space, that caw and croak and shriek and peck, though only at themselves, one another, leaving me untouched...
Poison. Tainted meat. Rotten mind.
Until they disperse, until the fluttering of wings ceases, and I fall. Hard, hard against the earth, the wet, almost fluid soil, as though the rain has been falling for days rather than hours, reducing the entire graveyard to mire.
Sliding on hands and knees down the slope, clawing at the muck, coming away with fistfuls of grass and weeds.
Familiar; the acid mainline of pure panic, a bolt of burning blue from crotch to forehead, igniting and scorching whatever it passes.
Something wrong...with my eyes; I can't see...
But I can; vague shapes, those of the gravestones, the surrounding trees, the silhouettes of nearby houses, the church. Windows burning, those of the houses white and cold, those of the church orange and warm.
Shivering, frozen, not with rain, but frost, glittering frost covering everything, colder than any winter dusk.
Staggering, the ground no longer sludge, but hard and cruel beneath my feet, biting into naked soles. The world reeling around me, melting before my eyes, becoming a smeard image in a damaged cinema reel.
Sunshine, afternoon warmth, a sweet and still haze, ghosts of children dancing between the stones, mourners laying bunches of flowers and sewn dolls upon them. Watching, as they smile, as they weep; as they call their dancing, laughing kin to their arms.
A thought, a heartbeat, the world shimmering once more, ripples passing through it like a reflection in a still pond.
Suddenly surrounded, milling with those who gather, here in the church grounds. The stink of them; enough to make me gag, every breath flatulent, the sweat and filth of their bodies, their unwashed clothes...all eyes on the figure swaying in the soft sun, her filthy, battered body spasming, her eyes bulging from their sockets, alight with hatred, poisoned froth bubbling from her lips as she curses them all, curses every inch of land they walk and air they breathe...
Letting go, turning the page; a sensation like twisting a kaleidoscope, watching the world come apart before falling into pattern once more.
Choking, clutching at my throat, a colony of parasite ants suddenly swarming within. Burning grit in the air, in my eyes, seeing the church through them; a burned, shelled out ruin, yellow and scarlet haze, a sick sun; feverish, ash on the breeze, on every breath...
Closing my eyes, seeking that place; that stillness. The beach, amber sea, white, blinding sun. Mom and Dad...still in the chalet, as I carve a path through the white sand, toddling to the water's edge. As the crow settles on a nearby bit of driftwood, as it caws to me, seeming to say my name...
The sense of flailing, unfixedness, fading, grasping this moment with unseen fingers, in a vice of pure intent.
Opening my eyes.
A new world, a timeless world, that I don't know; past or future, some other present...not knowing or caring.
The church still standing, the trees betraying Autumn in their gold and scarlet gowns, the majority of them shed to reveal the black, gnarled bodies beneath. My friends the crows and magpies perched amongst them in cackling multitudes, watching, as though awaiting my next miracle.
Now as then, when they cackled and cawed their secrets to me, as they did to her, before the jealous and unsung choked the magic from her.
Laughing. Inside and out, at the thought of Doctor Weathers and her gnawed shapeless pens, her twitching leg, her flitting, uncertain eyes...
Not needed, not here, not now, not ever.
Wondering who or what or if she is, in this slice of time, this snared, stolen moment. What I might find out there, early for my own birth, late for my own death, beyond all anxiety or concern, where tomorrow or yesterday are barely a thought away.
Hornet hive dreams, venomous sleep. Sad stories at the bedside, runes glowing with blue witch light. Incredulous, a heretic regarding gospels, my burning companion a habitual liar; the witch that will never go to ash, that the pyre cannot consume. Her curses daily and exquisite; the breaking of Heaven, the rupturing of bliss; hallucinations of grey Hell whose solidity leaves us doubting all possibility of salvation. But welcome, welcome today, the night's promises sour, its raptures curdled, leaving me wary of angel's wisdom, the kindness of sleep.
The Lonely Friend
Weary smiles, empty hellos. Throb, throb, throb; ugly, migraine music. Waiting outside, in the cold; green-eyed, grey beard; little, smiling man, alone, alone, always. Except for the limping and sad one, yellow eyes, a chain that binds, so old, now, near the end of a road that will never be long enough.
The Fey Mound
Unseen by day, cloaked in mirages of haste and distraction. By dusk?; A crowned hillock, stained gold and red by the setting sun, a place where the world grows thin, where they clamour at the gates, whispering their sweetly cruel hymns to children and the dreaming alone, the shadows singing, dancing in welcome of the forgotten ones.
The Siren's Heaven
Stirring from her blue, blue bed as day dies; as the first stars shimmer like dew on her flushed flanks, her fluttering eyes. A song like police sirens, growling seduction, husky and slurred, promising narcotic bliss in her arms. The sky the ocean in which she sprawls, too vast to see, to embrace, though the ache consumes me, as I walk, as they stare; the coward blind and silent, who wonder but never speak, never ask, and so will never know her ecstasies.
The Enchanted Way
Brief, brief gold; angel's laughter, giving way to red lament. Liquid pools of amber on black and broken concrete, turning weeds to jewels, dust to motes of ground crystal. Fairies dance there, the smallest of their kind; heralding the hunt that will never come. This world...anathema to it, now; out of love with capricious beauty and unkind magic. The only whispers of it I will know, as I pass through the sunlight, as those dancing in it settle on my outstretched fingers. Dreams, and dreams only, dying with the light, as cold and concrete insist on themselves.
The Vagrant Wizard
Faceless and unknown, yet smiling like an old friend, seeing, eyes sore with visions and the smoke of his pipe. Fetish-infested dreadlocks, gold in his grin. Ragged coat flowing around a magpie frame. Avoiding his eyes, though he steps into my path, though his goblin companions giggle and snear. Laughing eyes and friendly greetings hiding spit that can sear, words that can flay. Aching for me to join his story, though he does not ask, allowing me to pass with little more than a smile, silently cursing myself for denying the magic that will never come again.
The Innocent's Fate
Destiny's cry, a dagger in the sun, shadow descending. Great wings stirring the breeze, making dust dance. Innocence hearing, disappearing into long grasses. Destiny waits, blinking its deep, dark eyes, talons biting into soft wood. Inhuman patience, engine obsession. A flicker, a heartbeat, all it requires; innocence barely having time to squeal before black talons sink into its flesh, before it rises, higher than it has ever climbed, into a Heaven it never prayed to, knowing in its wisdom, how empty it is.
The Guardian Beast
White, waiting in the sun. Home so close, but beyond. The Beast between, eyes only for me; not for the children, playing nearby, nor its keeper, who strains to hold it at bay, whimpering impotent commands. The creature growling as I pass, its glare a warning: This is not the way. You can never return home. Turning away, until it breaks its chain, until it churns up the rain-softened earth, the dew-jewelled grass, its keeper crying spells that it doesn't heed, that barely graze it, the prophecy it didn't speak and the promise of blood and bone too strong.
Desolate journey, jolting, stinking bus ride. So tired, drained empty by smiling vampires, by laughing leeches. Barely awake, barely seeing the blurred, unhappy faes that board, that snarl or smile or roll their eyes. Spurning the flirtatious glances of the track-suited Mother in the front row, her golden-haired child smeared with what I hope is some sort of strawberry sweet, squealing as she tugs on her arm, ocassionally barked at or batted away.
Flitting in and out of half-sleep, dusk deeper, every time I rise from dreaming sludge. So dark, so cold, by the time we leave the outskirts of town, the time terraces, red-brick neighbourhoods and council flats give way to patches of forest and farm land.
Snatches of conversation, snarling together, becoming a nauseating stew of banality:
“...well, I got home, like, and I said to him, I said...”
“...I went in, like, just like they told me. Any road, I get there and I tell 'em my name, like, and they look at me gone out...”
“...sometimes, yer do wish ye'd thought about it, dont yer? Yer wouldn't be normal if ye didn't...”
Tatters without context, without meaning; certain they wouldn't have much more if I heard the entire conversations, if I knew who and what and where they babble about.
Grey noise, less meaningful than the sudden patter of rain against the windows. Smeared, molten world, striations of chemical orange or moonlight silver from passing streetlamps, packs of dark and faceless figures braying animal nonsense as we speed by.
Empty. A grey waste inside, tomorrow too distant, too unwanted, to even contemplate. A dream of not waking; of drifting away, on those wastes, just another mote to add to the dunes. Of maybe finding ocean at its edge, silvery, shimmering and polluted, but a means of leaving, a means of drowning...
A moment, the bus pausing to let on a shivering, stooped woman who fumbles her change into the plastic recepticle, her entire breath and being an apology.
The house beyond the window immense, looming above the tall outer wall surrounding it, its upper storey windows blazing.
Catching my eye, wrenching me from the wastes, the polluted shore. Strange light, somehow too intense, too precise...as though a star has fallen through the ceiling, still blazing, allowing me to pick out the most exacting details:
The room to the far left clearly belonging to children; little girls, by the looks of it: bunk beds, drawings stuck or pinned to the walls, pink and frilly decorations strung from the ceiling, white chests of drawers scattered with dolls and stuffed animals and art apparel...
The one next door naked, undecorated; a spare room, perhaps, a storage space...all of the ones I can see the same, apart from the girl's room, as though no one lives there but the children, in that one corner of immensity, sustaining on idiot dreams of cartoon Summer.
All of this in less than a heartbeat.
Seeing him, the figure that stands in the bedroom doorway. But not seeing; a shadow, yet somehow more solid, a man caked from head to foot in congealed darkness, tumescent and distorted, hardly able to fit through the door without stooping. Strange motions, his body seeming gelatinous, his head quivering and warping, his limbs likewise.
No screams; nothing I hear above the sickly clatter of the bus, the stacatto of the rain, the idiot, empty chatter.
But I see: a long-haired girl in a white night dress, flying from her bed, silently screaming as she hammers at the window, as she claws at it. Does she see me, watching, staring? Maybe. Maybe these screams and cries are for me, begging me to call someone, do something...
Watching, breath hitching as the figure steps into the room, as the door slams behind it, as she turns to face it, suddenly still, save for twitches that shudder her from hair to soles.
Watching, as the figure reaches for her, as they blur to nothing, the bus coughing, lurching on its way.
Watching, as they dissolve to the smeared silhouettes of trees, to stars, undulating tumors of hills and fields.
Turning away, not realising that there are tears on my face until a boy in the seat three rows in front starts laughing, muttering to his Mother, who tells him to sit down and be quiet.
Cheeks hot, feverish. A flash of vague self concern: Hope I'm not coming down with that fucking cold. Can't afford the time off...
Dabbing at my cheeks, my eyes with a ragged tissue, not even knowing why. Nothing. A fragment of time, a moment that might mean anything. What a fool you'll feel, if you call the police and try to explain:
“Oh, I just saw something a bit weird while I was on the bus. Actually, I'm not sure I saw anything, but...no, I can't give you an address. It's the 113 route, out towards Lockley..?”
Oh yes, that's sure to go down well.
Already fading, by the time we near my stop, the wastelands already risen again to claim me, dreams of drowning in sleep a bliss that washes away all concern.
Wondering if they see, if they somehow smell it: the worm of tension in my belly, its parasite babes crawling inches beneath my skin. A stink of dread worse than any rot or filth, as we sidle in, the room already wretched, foul with the funk of those gone before:
Ancient, stinking carpets, stained ceiling, grime-smeared windows in which the dessicated corpses of gnats and blue-bottles gather. Their effect to make the world outside; the sports field, reduced to mire in the current rains, the steel fences surrounding it, the familiar roads and streets and neighbourhoods beyond, to seem almost unreal, projections on mist, mirages or smeared paintings.
Only this real: this dimly lit, stinking room, the claustrophobic corridor outside, the naked brick walls, chipped and broken and scrawled with meaningless graffiti, stick-figures bearing exaggerated breasts and malformed erections. Promises of perversity that the pen holders have no experience or comprehension of, outside of internet pornography.
The only reality, for the next three hours; an eternity, a desolation, in which I'll wander and weep, barely present, though I'll scribble what they ask, answer when called on; respond in all the right ways and places. The mannequin they demand.
A familiar urge; to stand and walk out, ignore the cries and threats of Mr. Hutton, knowing that the strings are illusory, that there's little he can do to stop me.
Anticipating, imagining; that sense of freedom, the rush in my belly, the tingling in my fingers, how sweet the air will taste in comparison to this.
Almost, almost, the urge trembling me in my chair, making me lurch in it, but not enough.
Meaningless, animal noise, wittering I can't stand, that sounds like cockroaches in the walls, my marrow, beetles burrowing, eating them and my mind hollow.
If only. If only they'd spill out, seethe through the cracks in the walls or ceiling, make them scream and flee... bring down the building around us. At least that would be something.
But no; the noise diminishes, receding like a wave, as the lesson starts, as the grey sky presses down on the false, painted world outside, threatening to crush it, to smother it beneath its weight. A dead lover, having a heart attack in the midst of fucking. I read about that somewhere, some hooker handcuffed to a hotel bed, the client sweating and moaning atop her having some sort of stroke, almost smothering her, by the time anyone found them.
Hardly hearing...the growls and barks from the front of the classroom, Mr. Hutton threatening detentions and letters home for those who won't comply, who tug and tear at their strings, who ignore them as though they're not there.
A throb between my temples, another worm; twin to the one in my belly, or maybe its mate, pulsing awake, unfurling through the meat of my mind.
Begging it to burst out, to press through my eyes, rear up from my bleeding face for them to see, for them to scream and vomit and faint at the sight of. Maybe its mate will follow, burrowing through my belly to coil up, to twine with it, so that they might mate and flower together, showering the screaming animals with their young.
The thought of it making me smile; seeing them claw at themselves, watching them scurry and gag and choke, maggot-children eating through their idiot eyes, their slack, burning faces, finding some secret place inside; some forgotten dream or abandoned memory where they can grow, where they can swell and flower in their turns.
Yes. In love with that, the idea of it, as Mr. Hutton starts to drawl, scrawling on the whiteboard, as people whisper, as notes pass, as giggles slowly build.
Knowing the rhythm of it; more familiar than the music of my own home or heartbeat: waiting, waiting...
Familiar barks, the man's eyes burning black as coals, as they rove over the class, as I meet them, as they flicker away from me, seeing nothing they want, finding no purchase.
Sad and trembling man, balding and brown-jumpered and pepper haired. What kind of worm will you give birth to, how vast and trembling and fat will it be, when it bursts from your withered heart?
I want it. Want it so much. As earnestly as the old pyrophile fantasies; every one of them combusting in their seats, going up in flames around me, gasping, unable to scream as their fat melts, their skins bubble and blister, Hutton not knowing what to do, screaming in their place, as they fuse to their plastic seats, as the fires die. Nothing left in the aftermath but blackened, indistinguishable skeletons clutching at their desks, only the names scrawled on their workbooks identifying them.
Wanting this more, though I know it will never be, too disappointed by past prayers, knowing that there are no angels to answer. Almost convincing myself I feel it; a welcome pressure behind my eyes, a thrilling nausea in my belly, as he snarls and threatens and bellows, as he sends Jimmy Lanscombe to stand in the corridor, the boy provoking mass laughter as he flips a middle finger on his way out.
Clutching my desk, trembling, trying to bite down on what rises in my throat. Not wanting them to hear, to see, until it's time; until the worm is ready to be born...
Slathering silver from the corners of my mouth, suddenly, moronically self conscious. What if nothing comes, what if nothing emerges, and it's all some hopeless delusion? Mind and body acting in hideous concert to try and make an impossible dream true?
Knowing otherwise, when I lurch back, when convlusions wrack me, lightning arcing from scalp to soles, searing my spine black, when my mind becomes a tempest and the world washes red. Pain, oh yes! Pain as I've always dreamed, in every emergence or transformation; in the agonies of wings bursting from my back, of my chrysalis skin splitting and sloughing away to allow the wolf-thing within its time in the moonlight.
But not imagined, not this time; experienced.
Choking screams, echoed by others around the room as I clutch my desk, gouging runnels in the cheap ply-wood with my fingernails. Thrashing as Hutton barks for calm, so distant, beyond the red and black washing the world, beyond the wastes I have walked, that I see now with my waking eyes, knowing that I'll walk there soon with flesh and blood feet.
Pain, as my eyes burst, as burning tears pour down my cheeks, somehow still seeing, still seeing, as the parasite I have conjured, made meat in my desperation, squirm free, twin heads rearing up from the ruin of my face, blossoming hydra-like, myraid smaller lengths emerging from within.
Seeing. Through them, their eyeless, seething heads, sensing in ways I never dreamed, before now.
Seeing it all; the decay in the walls, the spiders and beetles and vermin in their warrens, the ghosts of this place; echoes of similar despair, accrued over decades, seeped into every inch and fibre of the place.
Them. The screaming ones, the weeping and vomiting as they flee, as they scrabble for the door. Hutton, as he barks commands, attempting to maintain a dream of order where there is none, never was and never will be.
Their despairs and accruing disappointments; poisoned revelations that the world refuses to be as they desire, as they've been promised. Diseased dreams; longings and fantasies they will never tell, not even to their most intimate and trusted.
Smiling at him, as his dead eyes find me. Seeing so much; the hereditary sickness slowly unravelling his entrails, his hatred for his Father, that drove him from home at the age of fifteen. The ghosts of ex wives; three at the last count, the death of love and the hope of it not driving him to suicide, but a dogged despair; a living that endures, despite lamenting its every moment.
Smiling, as similar songs erupt from neighbouring classrooms, as others, like and unlike, realise prayers that no angels would ever answer.
Her life...this sad and sorry girl, this barking, shrieking thing. This less-than-ape, this animal...dead eyes, dead smile, poorly dyed hair tight in a mind-throttling bun atop her head, school uniform rumpled and tattered from a day's wear...
Not her behaviour drawing my eyes, as it does those of other passers-by; not her barked insults, her shrieked obscenities; her infantile, impotent, flailing at the world, that would rip it apart and string its tatters around like tinsel on a Christmas tree, if it could.
No; were it just that, I would ignore her, not provide the attention she so clearly craves.
Her life...seeing it, as clearly as I see her in front of me; the hers she might become, the hers she almost certainly will, in less time than she has the capacity to imagine.
Contradictory stories, phantoms that flicker and dance around her, invisibly painting the air:
Barely two years from now, fifteen years old, looking almost a decade older, already swelling with what her absent Daddy-substitute pumped into her, the night he told her he loved her; the first time anyone has or will. The night before he stops returning her calls and texts, before she never sees him again. Weeping, raging; making carnage of her room, her Mother not hearing, not caring; her barely toddling brother quietly weeping in the next room, more terrified of her than anything in his short life. No abortion; her Mother not allowing it. Complications; something ruptured, so much red and sickness. So tired...the last thing she thinks or feels as welcome grey washes her, sterilising her rent-open insides, her equally ragged mind, leaving her with the first and last sense of calm she'll ever know...
That same fifteen year old, so different; a product of other choices and chances; an argument with her Mother driving her from home, into the custody of an aunt and uncle who give what her parents never could, even were both of them to survive; who change her in ways even she never thought possible, allowing her to grow and live as something capable of shame, who teach her how to open eyes on the inside, to look at herself, and wonder how and what and why. She grows, so far beyond fifteen; finding a passion for bakery, a means of profiting and living by it, thanks to her aunt's cafe. A brief, incestuous affair with her cousin, the source of a tabloid sensation much later, when she has become a household name; when her cookery blogs and on-line videos progress to television and a small library of books, when biographies start to occur, though she's still much shy of forty. When she's married, childless by her own inclination, still bemused and faintly afraid of that barking, hyena girl, that shrieking animal in the street and schoolyard. A confusion that will sustain her last moments, when she succumbs to the same cancer that, unbeknownst to her, killed her absent Father some twenty years earlier.
That spectre the flimsiest, least likely of all; barely a flicker in the air, a whisper in my ear.
Others drowning it into almost silence:
Surviving the pregnancy, though wishing she hadn't in the years following: the child and the siblings that come after weights around her neck, dragging her down into perpetually screaming sludge. No good, no good at it, as her Mother insists, over and over and over, as she sees in the disgusted, sneering eyes that glare at her when one of the brats won't shut up on the bus or in the paper shop, when she swears at and threatens them, when she placates and silences them with crisps, sausage rolls and enough chocolate to make them sick. She doesn't mean it; of course she doesn't. This one time, this one time, she doesn't answer his call, doesn't come running when he screams. Only when he stops, by which time there's nothing left, no sign of him...worse than the horror of his loss, the hideous, nauseating relief, an unspoken hope that he's truly gone, will never be found, and that the others will be taken in short order.
Suicide attempts; slit wrists in the bathtub, self-starving, pills and vodka. Leaping in front of speeding trains and from the sides of bridges. Some successful, many not. The latter far, far worse.
In most stories, she doesn't live much beyond forty, a squat, scowling, gargoyle of a fifty-five year old the eldest incarnation, one forced from several homes thanks to the vandalism and violence of her children, thanks to the horror she is to her neighbours. A part-time medium, her readings scarily accurate, even to her. Though she fails to foresee the stroke that will claim her before the end of the Summer.
In most stories, she is so unhappy, so unhappy, even in those where there's no especial tragedy, no loss or abuse beyond those that make up most lives.
The ones in which she's not...rare. Rare, brief and unlikely; most abrupt, ending in accident: car crashes, random slips on ice or wet floors. One explosively; a collision of aircraft, those on board barely even realising what's happening before their worlds briefly become Hells of fire, screams and jagged, burning metal.
All in an instant, a second's glance, in which our eyes meet. Rare, but a gift I've experienced on occassion since childhood. Not knowing where it comes from or what it means; only that I sometimes see far more than I want of people, of all they might be.
"What the fuck you lookin' at?"
Smiling, already recognising this story, seeing where it leads.
The girl slurring something unintelligible at me before stalking on, screaming similar insults over her shoulder.
I'm almost sorry, knowing what I know.
The gates of the white and empty city. Knowing I'm there without opening my eyes; its dust stinging them, whispering around me, its ghosts calling me from the desert.
Why? Always the same; wandering its abandoned streets, calling in tongues I don't understand, no answers, not the least sign of life.
Only shadows at the edge of sight, disappearing down alleyways, fading from doors and windows. Never waiting, never letting me see. Doubting eyes and sanity with every step, not calling after them for fear of driving them even further away.
Why does it call to me? Why do I wake here every night, sore and starving from journeys I can't recall?
Not this time; no matter how the storm rages, no matter how the desert aches at my back...I won't answer, won't wander inside. Let the ghosts and shadows have it; let the dust and sand bury its mysteries. I don't care any more.
That resolution enough to shudder me awake, a ripple passing through the air, the sand and dust at my feet, my bones and brain.
Seeing as fractures run throughout its walls, as the silent towers and minarets and temples crumble, as the message of dissolution spreads.
Staggering to my feet, legs wavering beneath me, pitching me on my knees in the dust. Reaching for it, silently pleading, as though I can stop what I have precipitated.
Howls, the ghosts and shadows screaming behind my eyes as they're buried, as they're thrown up on cascades of dust and debris. Rising winds carrying their laments out into the desert, to whimper in the ears of whatever blind and scavenging things still live there; the foresighted ones that escaped the apocalypse that originally reduced its makers to nightmare and rumour.
Why me? What could I have done?
Not this, not this...they howl, screaming in my thoughts.
Choking on dust, eyes streaming as it scratches them bloody, raking my own face open with ragged nails.
Rain coming as the walls shudder and fall, scarlet storm clouds massing, what they shed hideously warm, Mother's milk, the same stuff that paints my mask of dust.
My gospel of dissolution slowing as the rain turns desert to swamp, makes dust and sand into clotted mire, as the things worming and burrowing beneath rise to its percussion:
A garden of worms, coiling up around me, amongst the ruins; white and scarlet stained, pale and purple, veined and bulbous-headed. Some peeling open like fleshy flowers, revealing the elaboration of their interiors, others twining and knotting in mating and cannibal abandon.
Scurrying, many-legged things; beetles, spiders, white and black and hideous grey, warring amongst the ruins, seeking out new hollows in which to make their nests and larders.
Seeing them, stung and bitten by them, their venom simultaneously cold and burning in my veins.
Not scraping them away, even though the sight of them on my legs and arms makes me want to vomit; letting them batten and bite and coil and burrow, not caring if they fill me with such venom, I melt off the bone, turn to soup inside.
Sight bursting from its sockets in hallucinogenic trespass, carried on the winds, out across the ruins I have made, amongst the ghosts that still wander there, weeping tears of ash at the state they anchored themselves to; whose destruction has left them without even a hope of renewed shape or meaning.
Is that what you wanted from me? Some new story, a myth by which to remake yourselves?
Hearing, raising their swollen shapeless heads, their billowing, broken faces, weeping as one:
Laughing, a cruel and misbegotten child, a capricious god, no means of saving them; no inclination to do so. Not their prophet or saviour; never promising or pretending to be otherwise.
Returning, as the rain washes their dust away, to my own skull, my own wretched shell, rising from where I kneel, bloodied, weak and starving, as always, from my dreaming and forgotten journey across the wastes.
Tearing my eyes away, as the storm growls and thunders, as the ghosts scream, reaching for me through the deepening dusk, their ashen fingers finding no purchase.
Never yours. Not ever.
Staggering back the way I came, along forgotten paths to unwanted waking, where others wait to abandon me just as casually, where there's no one to even witness my despair or pretend that my mask of dust has the least meaning.
Terrible, terrible certainty. Worse than any confusion, any not knowing.
Denying, with every breath and thought, scrabbling as though for purchase on a glacial cliff: stillness, stability.
There, barely ten minutes ago; the laptop open on the coffee table, film downloaded, pizza warm. The day blissfully dying around them both, shut out with the night.
Nothing wrong; nothing that she sensed. As smilingly serene as ever, nothing finding purchase on him.
One of the many reasons she'd made a home here, with him. Never having encountered a man like him; that strange aura of quiet he emitted, of elemental calm...a natural balm for her anxieties; the evil, worming worries that had parasitically infested her since early adolescence, burrowed too deep and too intimately now to ever be winkled out.
Just being near him...dispelling the lightning in her brain, the fog it barely illuminated, allowing her to think clearly, to consider and decide without feeling as though she might faint or vomit at any moment.
Nothing; no distractions or disruptions in his habits, no flutters in his routine.
Home a little earlier than usual, maybe, but nothing particularly strange in that. Familiar smiles and stories; adolescent dramas, the idiocies of children, politics of the classroom and schoolboard.
Barely hearing, though she responded in the right places, the right ways. Thinking only of the evening to come, when the dull routines of daylight were fulfilled, when the engine cycled down again, at last...
When they could be nothing and no one. When they didn't have to speak or play or put on masks like children:
When they could be the adults they promised themselves and one another.
Not that Praveen couldn't pass for adolescent, given a sufficient shave and a schoolboy uniform. One of his other qualities that she found perpetually fascinating; older than her by at least five years, closer to forty than she would have ever admitted to her parents.
Looking as though he'd barely begun university; as though shaving were still a novel experience.
“I'm not going to find some weird portrait in the loft some day, am I?”
A consistent joke; one that she'd capitalised on for his birthday last year; making it manifest, a portrait using old photos of him in his early twenties as subject, hung up in the spare room, where it could age in his place.
More than once in the intervening months, she'd considered taking it down, adding age-lines and furrows to its brow, deepening its eyes, thinning its hair.
Just a joke, but too elaborate, too time consuming, for her tastes.
Lies. The first he'd ever told, beyond the casual white ommissions and deceptions that were part and parcel of married life; the first that made her hackles rise, that stirred old anxieties:
His mobile phone buzzing on the coffee table, after they'd finished the evening's routines; set out tomorrow's clothes, bundled today's washing into the machine, ordered food, showered. Simple rituals, having taken on religious quality in the years since their nuptials; ceremonies designed to placate the night, to keep its tragedies from their door.
Sighing, dragging the phone up as though it were weighted with rocks. An expression she'd never heard from him before; a grunt of impatience, of displeasure. Exhaling deeply, his head lolling back on the sofa.
“Who is it?”
A.J. An acronym she still didn't understand, that Prav wasn't quick to enlighten her on. Brother A.J.; a fact that she couldn't reconcile, the pair of them not simply different, but alien entities to one another: A.J., the younger, though he looked at least a decade Prav's senior, the last time she saw him. A.J., with his ragged hair and untrimmed beared. A.J., with his hungry, desperate eyes, that she recognised from their introduction, having seen a semblance of the same every time she looked in the mirror throughout her adolescence and early twenties. A.J., with his casual contempt for her; the bitch that stole his meal ticket, the family that had previously sustained off of Prav's income now reliant on him.
A.J. The only man she'd ever heard Prav raise his voice to.
“What the Hell does he want?”
Prav turning to her with a weary smile. “I'm not even gonna give you three guesses.”
Lies. Not sure how or why, but lies.
A moment, not certain how to feel or respond.
“...we're not going to give him anything, are we?”
Closing his eyes, shaking his head. “No. I told him last time. Clearly, it didn't take.”
Rising from his seat, groaning as his joints creaked and popped. A pang of panic in her belly.
“Where are you going?”
Smiling down at her. Such a sad, sorry smile, his eyes pits of apology.
“I'm...really sorry. I know we said...look; I want to speak with him. I need to tell him face to face.”
Turning away, whatever they'd been watching forgotten in the instant.
“No, you don't. Just leave it...”
“He'll keep messaging. He might even turn up on the damn doorstep, if he's desperate. I'm not having that.”
Plucking up his phone.
“I won't be long, I promise.”
Bending to kiss her, so casual, as though they needed milk, cash from the ATM up the road.
Lies. Something bigger, something unseen.
Accepting the kiss, though she ached to spit it back in his face, to clutch his hand and beg him to tell her, tell her...
Gone, before she could breathe another word.
Shuddering every second, resisting the idiot urge to scream and scream. This worry, this endless fretting...adolescent nonsense, like the warning tremors of panic attacks that she'd suffered from the age of eleven until the end of her university years.
Cursing herself for it, calling herself every epithet under the sun:
“Idiot. What the Hell's wrong with you? It's only been an hour...”
And a half. And forty five minutes. Two hours.
Evening long since deepened to full night, the ritual aching, resonating in the dark around her for not having been fulfilled. A sense as of invisible flies and moths infesting the room, waiting to swarm and smother her with their profusion and disappointment.
Waiting. A torture beyond any other, glancing at the partially drawn curtains, at the sliver of front garden peering between, hoping to see some flicker of motion, to glimpse him walking up the path, to hear his key in the lock.
A child again, praying for Daddy to come home.
“What the Hell is this? What's wrong with you..?”
A.J. She might have been concerned, if she believed he was the reason for Prav's absence; the lying, sneering shit had a way of inveigling himself, more often than not using their family as a way in, a means of plucking at Prav's strings.
She didn't know quite how much they'd leant him, bailed him out, over the years, but it amounted to more than they could quietly afford.
How? How was it possible for two such different men to be born from the same home, the same womb?
Prav sometimes joked about it himself:
“I don't know...I always expected my Mom to take me aside some day and tell me that she'd had an affair; that my Dad was the post man or something...”
But no, no matter how much she might have prefered that: in the right light, the fright framing, there was a resemblance. Slight, perhap, but definitely there; a certain way of smiling, crookedly, from the corners of their mouths, that made Prav look rakish and handsome whilst his brother resembled a hynea gnawing on a bone, a certain deepness in their eyes, that swam with molten warmth, in Prav's case, with something slime-skinned and swamp-dwelling in A.J.'s.
There must have been people she'd despised more and more immediately, at one time or another, but here and now, she struggled to recall them.
Always there, though he'd never directly acted on it; in the way he spoke and looked at her, the way he spoke about her, even when she was present: as though, being Prav's, she was also his, just like the toys of their childhood, the games and books and sweets that Prav was obliged to share.
Shuddering at the thought of him, but more at Prav's absence. A sudden, idiot paranoia: that she'd hear the key in the door, fly to greet him, only to find A.J. standing in his place, wearing his smile.
Closing her eyes, massaging her eyebrows with both hands.
Why? Why the lie? She didn't like the fact that he'd gone to meet A.J., but she accepted it. What could be so terrible that he'd used his fucking brother as an excuse..?
“Stop it. Stop it. You're going to drive yourself up the wall, if you carry on...”
The way her Mother used to speak to her, in the moments following her panic attacks, the periodic break downs that punctuated her adolescence.
Never working then, having even less purchase now.
Plucking her own mobile phone from the arm of the sofa, cycling through contacts until Prav's face smiled back at her. An old photograph, from when they first started dating. So young, looking like a teenager on his way to his first job interview in his suit and tie. A trendy haircut, close to the scalp, that he hadn't bothered to maintain, a light in his eyes that he had.
Hesitating, even now, not wanting him to think...
Holding the phone to her ear as it began to ring.
Her heart sprouting wings and barbs, fluttering manically around her chest, puncturing her inside as an echo sounded out in the hallway.
Breath slowing, becoming shallow, the first flies buzzing invisibly in the air, stinging her eyes, the tips of her fingers.
Rising from the sofa, tottering and dream-like, seeming to orbit her own skull, watching herself from dispassionate distance as she slowly stumbled from the living room, out into the shadowed hallway.
Swarming. Every inch of the place covered so densely in black, heaving bodies, she could barely breathe, barely move.
Nothing but shadows, stray strands of moon and streetlamp light filtering through the windows bounding the front door.
Prav's mobile phone rattling atop the small table where they typically kept keys and pens and notepads, beneath which shoes nestled.
The sight of it making her almost double over with nausea, bile rising in the back of her throat.
Plucking it up, nonetheless, its surface strangely slick, as though with sweat, as though the plastic had begun to moulder and secrete some hideous oil.
Flipping it open, her own face smiling back at her. Younger, like Prav, much further removed from the one she wore now; her hair longer back then, shimmering its lustrous red, her eyes a brighter blue.
Raising it to her face, clenching her teeth. Struggling to breathe.
Why? Why would you..?
Something not right; a distortion passing across the screen, ripples, as though the display were a reflection in a still pond, disturbed by her breath, her tears.
Her face distorting, eyes swelling, darkening, all hint of blue draining from them, her mouth likewise, every feature subsumed by those three pits as they expanded, expanded...
Letting the phone fall, thudding against the carpet, stepping back from it, half expecting it to shudder and flip upright, to continue staring at her as the blackness eclipsed all else, as it bled from the screen across carpet, walls, creeping in fungal fronds and poisoned rivulets up her legs, burrowing beneath her skin...
Her own phone ringing. Hissing at the sound, the sudden vibration, as though some assassin had crept up behind her and deflty slid a knife into her back.
Pressing the receive button, holding the device up to her ear. Already knowing, before the first distorted murmur, the first broken hiss.
“Prav? For God's sake, where..?”
Babbling nonsense, demon-static, a call from the depths if Dante's Circles. Almost wrenching the phone from her ear, letting it fall like the other.
Instead, holding it fast, pressing it so hard against the side of her face, she felt the plastic creak, threatening to splinter.
Voices, rising through the babble, only to dissolve again before she could make out any meaning: a sigh, a whimper, sick man's laughter.
“Who is this? Where's..?”
The laughter again, choked and burbling through a throat full of flies.
“Bitch. You...you. Took him. You took him.”
“A.J.? What the Hell's going on? Put Prav on, now.”
Laughter giving way to broken, high-pitched sobs, A.J. pausing, a sound like wretching, viscous vomit spattering concrete.
“...too late. Too late. I...I tried...to tell him, but...it's done, now. We...broke the bargain. Now...neither of us can be...”
His voice momentarily drowned out by babbling static, by voices that howled and wept and whimpered, that laughed like cruel children watching a fallen friend bleed. Amongst them, one she almost recognised, sobbing so quietly...
Darkness seething around her, shadows seeming to split and splinter, black-winged bodies filling the air, drawn to her like moths to moonlight. Feeling them, fluttering at her ears and lips and eyes, crawling beneath her hair, her night robe.
Not caring, focused only on the voices, the strange fumbling, rustling, as the phone swapped hands.
“He won't answer. Not any more.”
A voice that slowed the blood in her veins, that turned her interior to frost.
“Please, give him back to me...”
Fluttering laughter, not mocking, but sweetly affectionate, as though she were a little girl, asking Mother to pluck the moon from the sky for her to play with.
“I never took him from you, sweetheart. He's been yours forever and a day.”
Tears scalding her cheeks, sobs coming.
“He broke the bargain, true. Not his fault! Not his fault at all. A.J. should have done a better job reminding him, shouldn't you?”
A slurred, agonised cackle, the man sounding as though he heaved up hunks of his own insides somewhere nearby.
“No matter. Don't cry, lovely. All will be well again, soon.”
The line cutting dead.
Trembling, grateful to be outside her own head, a dust mode of consciousness, to be blasted away when the inevitable break down came.
That voice. That voice...
A key turning in the front door, streetlamp light invading as it swung open, momentarily blinding her, haloing him.
Slumping inside, the door easing shut behind him.
Seeing, as the light faded, as he raised his eyes to hers.
...he broke the bargain...
Knowing what that meant, now, though she did everything in her power to deny it.
The thing before her smiling a lipless smile, leaving smears of black and yellow filth on the wallpaper, squirming gobbets of matter on the carpet, as it limped towards her, reaching, opening tis mouth to whisper her name.
Not fleeing, not recoiling in disgust, though every instinct and ounce of reason screamed for her to. Going to him, though the stink and sight of him made her gag, though the touch of him repelled her; a thing moulded from compost, barely held together by his torn and tattered clothing.
A bargain broken, but that could be remade.
As she well knew, as she had time and time again.
The same voice that reminded her of the one they'd made so long ago now rising to her lips:
“Don't worry, sweetheart. It'll be tomorrow, soon.”
The creature unable to weep, not lamenting it; radiating that same calm, despite his condition, content to wait, to forget, and try to fulfil the oath he never could when day died once more.
George Lea is an entity that seems to simultaneously exist and not exist at various points and states in time and reality, mostly where there are vast quantities of cake to be had. He has a lot of books. And a cat named Rufus. What she makes of all this is anyone's guess.