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

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

4. A Plea to Mr Hindsight

"As I climbed into the car, my senses all seemed to shudder and reverberate. The trees, the wind, the windows of the house, all seemed to bow down over me, almost trying to grab me as I slammed the car door shut"

The first thing I remember was a loud bang almost as soon as I entered the house.

But, wait, that’s leaping ahead too far. I need to go back earlier than that.

Loud bang put to one side, everything that could go wrong on the way to the house did indeed go wrong. It was a wrong-footed, inside-out, long-way-for-a-short-cut kind of day from beginning to end. Should I have taken the hint? Reappraised the knowing wink of sunlight as something more ironic and mischievous?

Mr Hindsight: timewise, you’re always in the wrong place. Nowhere when you’re needed and eternally present when you’re not required. Hindsight, dearies, is definitely a man!

So what exactly went wrong? How about a map that bore no relation to any geographical location this side of Pluto; a ditch from out of nowhere that took an hour and every muscle my car’s 1.2 litre engine could muster to get extricated from; a migraine of thunderous proportions complete with lightning flashing intermittently behind my eyes; and numerous things of great importance that I promised myself I’d take with me to Mordan House, all of which I could mentally locate back home but couldn’t physically locate anywhere in the car! That should do for a mere flavour of the day.

But, oh yes, the sun shone. Big goddamn deal! Now if the sun had been a torch that I could use when I got to the house at 10.00pm, I’d have seen it as providential and changed my downgrading of it from ‘Category Pointless’ up to ‘Category Practical’! Yet I didn’t anticipate the grounds of the house being so dark when I arrived, and, in my heart, I sang a torch song for all the absent torches of the world – especially the one I didn’t have right there in my hand right at that moment. I should have got to the house at 5pm at the very latest – time enough to get my bearings and get myself a little on the settled side before darkness set in. It really is one of those things that city people don’t quite appreciate: the sheer blackness that is possible out in the country. And that’s what I encountered.

"Instantly it terrified me. Hard to imagine how quickly fear - so total and consuming – can rise up so complete"

I got out of the car with the engine turned off and the headlamps off too, and it was only as I walked towards the house that it suddenly struck me that I was nearly totally blind. Darkness was like some uncompromising cloak right up at my nose and over my head, and with only the lightest wavering and flickering of texture detectable within it. Instantly it terrified me. Hard to imagine how quickly fear – so total and consuming – can rise up so complete. Not fear for what the darkness might have contained as some childish imagination kicked in, but for the instantaneous and uncalled-for extinction of an entire sense. I felt an icy, non-city breeze feel me out, the way a blind person would feel a statue, and, with my hands outstretched, I felt it back. We knew each other for only a second and I think neither liked what it encountered: I must have stank of the city, all antibacterial and anxious; while the wind smelled of unperfumed nakedness, all stripped of artifice, almost like some thought placed within a test tube, with nowhere to hide and nothing to conceal itself with. Each, for our own reasons, was, I fear, immediately repelled by the other.

Fumbling back to the car I turned on the headlamps and left the car door open so that the cabin was illuminated too. Cabin? Is that what it’s called? The inside bit of a car? With artificial light as my new-found friend and companion I could see the house better – although there was not much to see. It was a great solid rectangle of stone, bland and blinkered windows everywhere, only the main doorway ornamented in any way by a stone entranceway with the occasional chiseled flourish here and there and with several stairs up to a wooden door. The trees I could mostly just hear, purring and heaving gently as the wind teased their branches. Beneath my feet I heard the rapid crunch-crunch of shoes on gravel as I made my way, as quickly as possible, to the house’s front door. I fumbled the key into the lock like a baby cajoles a round peg into a square hole and eventually pushed the door open. In the same movement I was fumbling for a light switch. Found it! Ave Maria and hail to all the angels in God’s great and wondrous heavens! I applied pressure to the switch and, alongside it, a bang sounded somewhere far off in the house – and with no resulting light. As a domesticated animal, but not DIY-icated, I was, to keep the alliteration going, decimated. I remember putting my hand up to my red hair and giving a lock of it a sharp tug, my brow no doubt harshly clenched at the time. Yanking my hair hard and scowling is something that I'm apt to do when life is pulling the pavement, turf and laminate flooring out from under me!

"Then I heard it. A breath. Forced, deep, regulated, impassive, almost automated and clinical"

But then suddenly there was light. But only a slither of it. At first I felt relieved, thinking it to be a light going on after an electrical delay of some kind – as if such things existed! The light was coming from half-way down the hall that lay in front of me. It was like a bright blanch at skirting board level that surged and then moved away quite quickly. My chest tightened and my breath turned to frost in my lungs as I realised that the light was coming from behind me, from something moving in front of the car’s headlamps and causing the light before me to change. I didn’t move. Hell, for an instant I couldn’t move! My brain tried to make rapid calculations and assessments to determine what it was that could be there behind me but that made no sound on the gravel. Then I heard it. A breath. Forced, deep, regulated, impassive, almost automated and clinical. And loud. So loud that I jumped and looked around me in case it was beside me or on top of me or perhaps in my own mouth. In a split second – split, charred, splintered – I ran from the doorway, without another thought except bathing myself in a light that I understood. As I climbed into the car, my senses all seemed to shudder and reverberate. The trees, the wind, the windows of the house, all seemed to bow down over me, almost trying to grab me as I slammed the car door shut.

I started the car, turned it around and drove away – in second gear, I think, for about two miles – making for the nearest town that I had passed through earlier en route to the house. When I got there, I found a quiet, lit street of bungalows and fell asleep on the backseat of my car, sandwiched between boxes. When morning came – cramped, nauseous from the poor sleep and exertions of the previous day, stale and dishevelled too – I was instantly enlightened to how ridiculous I had been, how the tensions of the day had really got the better of me, and decided that the house and I should kiss, unpack, clean and make up. As for the play of light, it could have been anything or nothing. As for the sound, anything and nothing.

Oh Mr Hindsight, please take three steps back and give a woman a helping hand for a change, would you? Mr H, make a return journey to the present and tell me what my fate is, tell me one thing that’s true and that I can count on. Tell me what the astronaut wants with me. And, while you’re here, tell me why, after all that's happened, I still haven’t left this haunted, tormented, airless and lifeless house! Do I hate myself so much that I continue to stay?

2 comments:

logankstewart said...

Brilliant.

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

I love the way this chapter build. Your timing and pace from your personal anxiety as stranger in strange land with faulty map to the blinding dark of your new abode.
Then the shadow there in front of the light, which made for brilliant tension by the way.
So upward and onward I go.