His consciousness was like a bubble in an inky lake; It strove to rise to the surface of his mind, and bring wakefulness. He strove to avoid it, because on some deep level that was not quite awake, and not quite asleep, he knew that waking up was going to be a bad thing. There were no dreams, and his body knew the world outside, through subtle touches of cool air, and a disquieting odour that just once or twice slid past his nose. Despite all his efforts he knew that it was time to accept, and wake.
As he turned within his dark lake, he began to look for order, to rearrange his identity ready for the day. The surface came nearer, but no order was to be found. Although he searched every corner, there was no sense of who, or of where - not even when. This seemed to be a cause for worry, panic even, but he felt no real distress.
His eyes creaked open to stare at a leaden sky. It was either early or late, there was no sun, and the quality of the light was poor. Some distance away there was the sound of running water, a suggestion of immense power, width, and depth, not a stream, but a river or a sea. Around him, there were only fields stretching away, broken up by poor hedges, with an occasional sparse free sticking out of the ground, mournfully alone. Most of the fields were brown, rather than green, with what looked like the long standing, and rain washed remains of wheat and barley crops; they hung brown, yellow, and dead, in clumps of gently rotting plant matter. A vague memory of the smell twitched his nose in anticipation.
A path ran away into the distance, towards the water sounds, but it started, or ended, where he was lying. He felt that this should have disturbed him, but it didn't, and because it seemed the right thing to do, he began to follow the path.
After a time that could have been long or short, he saw a figure approaching. They met. He saw a man of middle age, small, slightly stooped, with one runny red eye, the other was of a piercing blue. The man was dressed for business, and carried a briefcase, and a rolled up newspaper, which was frayed in the middle, as if he spent hours twisting it.
'Do you know where you are?' he asked, in a voice that reeked of dusty offices and official letters.
'No' he replied.
'You are where you won't be soon'.
The businessman looked at a very old fashioned gold pocket watch, tut tutted, rubbed his weeping eye, and marched away up the path.
He stood and watched until the businessman was out of sight, until he
heard a scratching noise by his right foot, which was, he noted, wearing a black
trainer, as opposed to the blue trainer on his left foot. It was his dog, Jenny,
a border collie, who usually had bright intelligent eyes, and an almost human
grin. Now she looked dull. With the knowledge that she was his dog, came a
sudden crack in the darkness in his mind.
He felt, rather than touched, distant memories of play, of car rides during which Jenny would snap at vehicles that came too close. There were other shadowy figures he could almost, but not quite see, and each time he felt recognition stir, the thought would flee down into the blackness. He felt a tingling in his right hand; he had absently begun to stroke Jennys head, and it was only the sharp tingling of an almost pins-and-needles in the hand that made him aware that the rest of his body was like an arm that he had been lying on in his sleep.
Jenny felt odd to his newly awakened touch, she felt, sort of squashy, although when he pressed he could feel bone. She glazed dully backwards, and he followed her gaze, to see that he was almost at the banks of a turgid black river, that oozed, rather than flowed. Where the river ran against the bank, droplets rose lazily into the air, and splashed down on black soil, and grey clay. For yards there was no sign of vegetation. The river was so wide that he could only vaguely make out the other side.
Jenny moved heavily up-river, keeping to the areas that still showed greenery, until they came to a jetty, which was incongruous in its bright reds, and green paintwork.
At the end of the jetty, a rowing boat waited, manned by his father.
The tingling began again, in his left leg, and his mind whirled in a
kaleidoscope of images of fear, love, shame, games, warm places, cold places,
and a final dark image of soil, which he tasted suddenly bitter in his mouth.
His father said 'Do you know where you are?'
'You are where you will no longer be'
Jenny had never known his father, he knew that, and she looked now hostile in a lethargic way. But she padded forward, and jumped heavily into the boat.
He moved to follow, but paused to look again at his father. There was something wrong with him, that he took a moment to identify. It was his teeth. They were too big, and rigid. For the first time the underlying uneasiness turned to fear which moved as a tremor down his awakened left leg.
He climbed into the boat, unsurprised that the turgid black water was still around it. His father began to row, and sing a song that had no words, he struggled through the cotton wool in his mind to understand the song, but from under the boat his fathers strange song was joined by an almost subliminal chorus. It was almost as if the river was full of fish, drowning, or struggling against hooks, and the voices were being raised in an offering to his father for aid the boat moved surprisingly quickly toward the opposite shore. His father looked neither left nor right. He rowed and sang, with his big, rigid teeth seemingly the point around which the rest of his body moved. They arrived and tied up at another jetty. This one was of dull, black metallic material, whereas the land around it was almost painfully bright with colours.
For a moment his mind summoned forth a memory of a children's book; a
tree, so high that when you climbed it you went into a cloud, at the top of the
tree you would climb onto the cloud, and enter a make-believe land that was full
of colour and noise. He saw the colour, but the noise was only a fading of the
father song. He stepped ashore, and looked momentarily back - his father said,
“you shouldn't have left your cabbage, I had to pay for that”.
Jenny climbed from the boat. His father left.
He looked around him; there were bright fields, almost mathematical in their regularity. They varied in colour from sparkling yellow, to glowing reds; they were separated by walls of clean sharp lines, in grey stone. The green fields were worst, they looked wrong, as if they were the result of a council painting policy rather than the bounty of nature. He looked upwards, half closing his eyes against the brightness. The sky was a faultless blue, but had no tones or hues, and the clouds were moving seemingly at random - there was no wind, nor was any sun visible. He began to walk, sometimes climbing over a wall, sometimes opening an inch perfect gate. At one point he found a ball; it was a plain white ball, slightly discoloured with dirt. When he touched it the tingling shot into his right leg and lower right side. He threw the ball in a familiar arc; Jenny walked after it, her eyes puzzled. Almost without volition, her mouth opened to emit a dusty, strangled bark. She stopped, and with eyes that showed pain, she turned to look questioningly at him.
He was lost in another torrent of stirred memories of fields, animals, of a strange feeling of joy of running till his throat hurt, Jenny barking at his heels The ball had played a part in their games. He saw shadowy shapes in his mind, reaching out to him, calling, crying, and most of all wanting. He KNEW them, but could not name them, nor place them. A small groan wormed between his clenched teeth.
He stood for a long time, head bowed, hands clenched into fists, until, as if a switch had been thrown, it was night. It was not any night that he had known before - there was no moon, yet sufficient light was available to enable him to make out the beginning of a tract of forest, and the path that ran into it. The noises of night were also there, but completely regular. A knock that came every 2 minutes, a regular rise and fall of insect noise that never changed its pattern, and a deep rustling within the shrouded woods that suggested heavy weights being dragged by unseen hands in some demented circle.
As soon as he followed Jenny into the woods, he saw the cheerful glow of electric light in the distance. He walked towards it, drawn like a moth. It was the paper shop, and the paper shop man was dragging bundles of papers into shop from an enormous mountain of periodicals which spilled into the trees which, surrounded the shop.
The paper shop man turned at his approach, and beckoned him into the shop. It was as it should be, with groceries stacked on the shelves to the right, the refrigerated section in the middle, and the racks for magazines to his left. The paper shop man ducked under the counter at the end, and turned toward him. His eyes stared madly from within a powdered face, and his lips which were heavily painted with blood red lipstick were curled in a grin of rictus proportions. The paper shop ma waited. And as he waited,' he dragged his nails front to back of the old wooden counter. -He must have done it for yea because there were finger sized grooves in the woodwork uneven, and chewed looking. Once or twice, a finger, or nail, would catch on a splinter, which would drive into flesh and disappear. The paper shop man never stopped.
Jenny placed a paw on a car magazine; to avoid having to watch the fingers any more, he took it, and place on the counter. He reached into his pockets, but with an inexplicable feeling of dread, knew that he had no money pay. The paper shop man never broke rhythm of his scratching, and his grin, and staring eyes remained even as Jenny lead him from the shop.
There was another light in the distance, electric blues and reds, flashing. He moved onwards, and eventually stumbled through a break in the trees into a clearing in which stood a huge cathedral of almost glowing white marble. It towered up blotting out everything to its sides, and on its front, over two large square doors, flashed a gigantic neon sign 'The Cathedral'. Other signs were to the sides, including “Coca-Cola”, and “Panasonic.”
At the front of the cathedral was his brother, dressed in is navy uniform, but with one leg replaced by a wooden peg. His brother was laughing whilst tears coursed down his cheeks, and he danced a sailors horn pipe, which due to his missing leg, kept forcing him to career into trees, or to fall against the walls of the mammoth building.
He watched the dance for a while, and then entered the cathedral. It was dim within, and his mouth filled with the cloying taste of mouldering books, and carpets. Some sort of service was being held at the front, where several people were sitting, listening attentively. He moved forward.
A priest or vicar was standing in a pulpit, which creaked and groaned under the weight. The man was enormous with a huge gaping mouth from which he wheezed asthmatic platitudes. With Jenny at his side, he sat down in the front row, without looking at the people in the row behind him. He knew that he shouldn't look at them. His mothers voice, a whisper, stole through the wheezing, 'late for his own funeral', followed by the oh so familiar clicking of disapproval he had heard so many times before. He noticed the coffin, and knew it was for him. Other memories were coming clear now, like an autofocus on a camera suddenly finding the range. He turned. They were all dressed in black. Everything was black. His mother wouldn't look at him, and his sister was trying not to laugh. Beside her was a small, emaciated black child, who carried his video recorder, and from time to time tried to bite it..
The vicar wheezed at him, and pointed to the coffin; like an actor who has suddenly remembered his place in the script he walked to it, lifted the lid, and climbed into the empty space within. The lid was closed. And he waited, with quiet acceptance and dignity, for whatever may have happened next. Eventually a scratching noise interrupted his tranquillity, and the lid moved sideways, under the pressure from Jenny's black nose.
He sat up, feeling faintly foolish. The cathedral was empty. The doors opened, and he saw his daughters approach. He reached a tentative hand towards them, hope lifting him momentarily. The younger drew close, and looked accusingly at him. His perceptions shifted, and catapulted him through a series of memories, whether his or his daughters he did not know. He was forcing her to eat. He was dragging her into school. He was smacking her for breaking an ornament. He was reading when she was trying to show him her gold star from school. In his mind he pleaded with her that there was good too, wasn't there, but she turned and left. His eldest daughter showed him her watch, and left too.
He fell from the coffin, his entire body now awakened, and stumbled out of the cathedral. As he stepped outside, he found the blue daylight had returned.
He knew he was dead, and fell to his knees and wept, he longed for those he had loved, and just one chance to say the things he had meant, but had never had the time or situation to say. The love he had had for his woman was stronger than anything in his life, but he had never had a chance to say goodbye.
A great anger began to well inside him, that he was not going to surrender to his fate; he arose and ran. He loped until he left the forest, in a far distance, he could see a sandy plain, and in the middle of the plain there were stairs ascending as high as he could see. He ran on, never tiring. When he arrived at the stairs, there was a string quartet seated around the stairs, playing, and his school music teacher, dressed in regency clothes was playing a harpsichord with his left hand, and a grand piano with his right. He was sandwiched between them, with his lower body impossibly thin between the instruments. They blocked his way onto the stairs, and pointed at Jenny, shaking their heads. He snarled with rage, picked up the dog, and forced his way through. He raced up the stairs, the circles making him dizzy, until the stairs ended in front of a normal office exterior, with a door, chair, magazine rack, and a glass panel in the wall marked 'reception'. He knocked brusquely on the glass. Just a moment' a voice replied.
There was suddenly enormous pressure against his chest, and he was thrown back down the stairs, rolling faster and faster to the bottom. He plumbed the deepest well of black despair, because the final memory had dropped into place, and he knew all that there was to know. He rolled from the stairs across the plain, fighting desperately to keep them with him, but as he swept past the cathedral, his children, brother and mother vanished, Jenny dropped from his arms, over the river his father fell from his thoughts, he knew he would no longer be.
His consciousness was like a bubble in an inky lake; It strove to rise to the surface of his mind, and bring wakefulness. He strove to avoid it, because on some deep level that was not quite awake, and not quite asleep, he knew that waking up was going to be a bad thing. There were no dreams, and his body knew the world outside, through, subtle touches of cool air, and a disquieting odour that just once or twice slid past his nose. Despite all his efforts he knew that it was time to accept, and wake.
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