"gradually I've come to realise that my house is haunted by the ghost of a dead astronaut"

Monday, 21 December 2009

16. Catch a Falling Star


"The radio transmission continued. I sat down in the passenger seat, my eyes staring at every shape and shadow around me. The sudden silence of the alarm should have relaxed me, but it only served to heighten my fear and uncertainty. After all, the hiss and hum of the wind was now increased and the words of the singer on the radio seemed like unearthly bellows"

Another letter from Lizzie. The whole notion of Lizzie writing, structuring, looking up spelling, struggling to find the right words, chewing her bottom lip regarding the finer points of punctuation, fascinated me, and I read and reread this new letter, wondering what she was thinking at each turn in proceedings: “A collar or a semi-collar?” she would ask herself; “An apostle before or after the ‘s’?”; “Is it time to open a new parachute?”

It was evening when I sat down to read the letter, plumped some cushions, raised my legs and sat back to savour it over and over again. I read it the way I would read Bronte or Gaskell – looking for underlying themes, looking for what wasn’t quite there on the surface but there in the detail. The Dizzie, I decided, was in the detail.

So, what did she say to me this time: “Letters that aren’t French are not what I’m about – all this pen on paper is not the kind of one-on-ones that I dabble in; it’s ruining my reputation; it’s straining my eyes; I’m sure I need spectacles now; the idea of that? gross, gross and triple gross; I’m sure you’ll end up married to a farmer of dairy cows and your fingers will smell of old penises and your hair will look like a pubic rug and when he goes for a wee-wee you’ll have to hold his antiquated bollocks out of the way for fear of them splashing off the un-bleached water.” It had that kind of air about it, essentially.

What was she really saying? “She hadn’t had a man in weeks. It was all my fault. I’d abandoned her. She’s getting headaches because there’s not enough alcohol and drugs in her system. My mother has told her I’ve met a farmer or that the town nearby is full to the brim with them and their muddy boots and patched elbows! The only men hitting on her these days were, as she always called them: of the ‘geriatric means hairy-back-tric’ type!”

It was only when my car alarm went off that I realised how absorbed I had been in analysing Lizzie’s letter. I went over to the window with a great sickening fist at the bottom of my stomach like some gall-stone of trepidation.

The car sat right in front of the house on the gravel driveway. It was a slightly cloudy night, darkening gradually, and seeming moonless to me from that window. There was very little wind in the air too and the trees that completely lined the front of the house were still, as if holding their breaths. All I could see was the headlights flashing on and off, opening up bright beams of light across the front of the house; the cabin of the car (that’s what I’m calling it anyway) was also illuminated and I could hear the sound of the radio playing just beneath the repetitive swirl of noise.

I chewed my lip and looked all around. Of course, it could be an electrical thing – not related to the house, I know. Lord, I’m not that dim-witted! But, on the other hand, it could be related to the astronaut. I didn’t know. But I would have to go through the house in order to get out of the front door – and I had begun to be fearful of the corridors and rooms outside of my little chambers when it had turned dark outside. There was nothing for it. I got my car key and tried pressing the alarm off by holding the key up to the window. Nothing happened. What if I opened the window? It required some serious argy-bargy and shoogling on my part, and no mean amount of muscular leverage and good old-fashioned shoving and slapping. Finally – and after I released the catch – it moved up. More pressing of the key, this time through the open window and with my arm extended out of it, but still the deafening, incessant whir continued. I believe that I uttered the expression: “Dash and confound it!” Or something mighty similar in sentiment, though perhaps slightly more contemporary, fulsome and, shall we say, well-rounded.

"All I could see was the headlights flashing on and off, opening up bright beams of light across the front of the house; the cabin of the car (that’s what I’m calling it anyway) was also illuminated and I could hear the sound of the radio playing just beneath the repetitive swirl of noise"

Well-rounded? What about ‘going round’? Circumventing i.e. manipulating my pert cheeks out of the window in order to avoid the corridors of Mordan House! No sooner had I thought this than there was an anus in the air (and it was mine), a tushy above head height (that was mine too) and boobs dangling in a fashion that is only appropriate to a female sprinter on her marks (hands up, I own and look after them both). Quickly uprighted and dusted down, I took a few steps towards the car.

How strange that in this position and in this place everything looked so different. It had appeared a simple operation, but now, out on the gravel and out of the house, everything seemed a great deal more sinister than it had appeared behind glass. There was in fact a breeze and I could feel it vibrating off my ear-drum. Then there was the song from the car stereo: ‘Catch a Falling Star’. The song seemed so crass and insipid, yet with the wind, the darkness and the violent screeching and flashing of the car it seemed disconcerting. Too much of a coincidence that the car outside of a house haunted by an astronaut should, all of a sudden, spurt out a song about stars? I thought so. But, just like before, I was caught in two minds as well as No-Man’s Land, both at the same time. As I moved closer to the car, even the crunch-crunch of my own feet on the gravel made me feel uneasy – even with such a din as a backdrop I felt each footfall to rouse demons from their slumber and awaken ghouls of some description.

I tried to stay focussed. I breathed as deeply as I could and strode purposefully towards the car.

“Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket …”

I opened the car door, my head looking in every direction around me all at once it seemed.

“… save it for a rainy day …”

Almost in complete synchronicity, the alarm stopped as soon as I opened the door and the headlights stopped flashing.

“… catch a falling star and put it in your pocket …”

The radio transmission continued. I sat down in the passenger seat, my eyes staring at every shape and shadow around me. The sudden silence of the alarm should have relaxed me, but it only served to heighten my fear and uncertainty. After all, the hiss and hum of the wind was now increased and the words of the singer on the radio seemed like unearthly bellows.

“… never let it fade away.”

I turned off the radio. For a moment, but only a moment, I felt better. I had only to switch off the cabin light and get back to the window.

Cabin light switched off, door slammed shut behind me and locked, I was ready to dash back to the window when I felt, for the first time in the manoeuvre, a sense of release from my fear. Nothing had happened. It was just a typical night and typical nights are experienced by billions of people across the world. Just a cloaking of light, a temporary covering over of things, a little time off for the world from the glare and intensity of appearance. Momentarily, I thought I would enjoy what little I could see; enjoy what I could sense of the world, its dark camouflage and slow somnambulance. The simplicity of it all was sweetly soothing. The trees were in fact moving – ever so gently, almost rocking backwards and forwards in their light sleep. The clouds above the trees were grey and tinged with a mellow orange in places – surrounding them was that muddy blueness that characterises the night-sky before everything goes entirely black and all there is is feeling without form.

At this time, there was still form, ever-so slight. And, above the trees, one of its forms suddenly caught my eye. Hanging at a slight angle and in complete stillness was a bright white shape - all of it was white except for a rectangle of absolute blackness that I knew instantly concealed eyes that were staring at me. It was the astronaut, hanging in mid-air above the trees as if floating in outer space.

"Hanging at a slight angle and in complete stillness was a bright white shape - all of it was white except for a rectangle of absolute blackness that I knew instantly concealed eyes that were staring at me. It was the astronaut, hanging in mid-air above the trees as if floating in outer space"

I ran. I ran without thinking and without looking back. Every step seemed to stick in the gravel but I found reserves of strength from somewhere and my hand gripped the window in seconds. My back and the hair on the back off my head shivered. I could almost feel him fly through the air towards me and his hand reach out to grab me. Somehow, but without really thinking, as I climbed back through the window I looked behind me at where the astronaut had been. He was still there. Still at an angle and still completely still; just a bright threat biding its time, its hidden eyes coldly and calculatedly taking me in. Somehow the stillness of him terrified me even more than if I had seen him descending towards me. Still awaiting that spectral touch at any moment, I got back into the room, slammed the window shut with an almighty crash and peered back out. With the window between us, the opportunity to breathe again presented itself and I took it deeply and luxuriously. There, in the space just above the tree-line where the astronaut had hung, was now emptiness. He had gone.

"Somehow, but without really thinking, as I climbed back through the window I looked behind me at where the astronaut had been. He was still there. Still at an angle and still completely still; just a bright threat biding its time, its hidden eyes coldly and calculatedly taking me in"

I stepped back from the window, my eyes still fixed on it. But all was quiet and empty outside. Then I glanced around me, just to reassure myself that he hadn’t somehow got into the room. It too was quiet and empty. More than that, it was peaceful; just as I had left it, and I started to feel secure again, although my hands were still trembling. I looked at them as they shook, and then wrung them together to heat and still them. As I sat down on a chair, the window was still in plain view.

I sensed I was getting back to normal when I eventually noticed the ticking of the clock: tick-tock tick -

I leaped from my seat as a bright image catapulted itself off the window with such force that the frame seemed to jolt and the glass bevel. The heavy thump and rattle of the impact made me scream out loud before I’d even thought that I was going to scream. At the window I saw the astronaut, no longer still and silent but ferociously threshing his arms and thumping his gloved fists against the glass. I could hear a mad and desperate groaning noise through the window, still sounding submerged and transmitted as if beamed back to me from space. The way he moved was manic and the sheer violence of it caused me to fold up into a ball in the corner of the room and try to hide my face. Around me, objects in the room tumbled from their perches while others rattled vehemently as each frantic thump rained down on the window as if those gloved fists were raining down on the walls of the room itself.

Every limb, every muscle of his, jerked, twitched and lashed out against those panes of glass. At the same time, the deathly gurgling continued, incessant and disgusting. In the pitch-black visor I saw the reflected light from my room and, at times, a blurred fleeting impression of myself huddled in terror. I began to cry and my hands busied themselves all across my body: in my hair, over my knees, down my arms, across my face. Never stopping, not knowing what to do, not knowing what was next. I vaguely remember pleading, but whispered, for fear I would be heard and found.

Then, in a moment that came so swiftly that it was almost unbearable, the astronaut was suddenly propelled back from the window as if dragged away by some extraordinary force. I noticed the image buckle with the suddenness of the movement and the limbs instantly fall stiff as it was hauled away with such speed that I doubted that it had happened at all. As the figure disappeared, the anguished groan seemed to die away as if it too was pulled unstoppably out of this world. The sudden silence all around me seemed to tremble and vibrate as if sensing after-shocks. All I could hear was a rasping that seemed so constrained that I thought I was going to die. My lungs were shrivelled in terror and the muscles in my chest, windpipe and throat seemed folded up like the fingers of a fist that would not loosen for fear of an event worse than death.

I don’t know how I got to my inhaler. I remember seeing my hands across the carpet, so I think I must have crawled. I don’t remember the moment of release when the chemical surged into me. I remember waking on the kitchen floor. I remember waking many times over the next couple of days. Nothing else that occurred, inside or outside of me, has since dared to be remembered.

3 comments:

IndigoWrath said...

Hi Stephanie, another eight entries read, and I'm still as intruiged and engaged by your tale as before.

By the way, I'm definitely the calm sort; there's not a lot of wrath going on. Some call me Indigo, some call me Mr. Roth. The choice is yours.

See you again, Indigo

The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after said...

I won't bother to scold but I'll say I glad you are all right.

Christopher said...

Scary.