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

Thursday, 31 December 2009

26. A Dream of Meaningful Noise


"Dead astronauts drop out of the sky as the air is sucked out of this planet, and every value is levelled and falls to the ground at the same speed. Love and horror. Value and vacuum. All the same"
Quiet. So much quiet now in Mordan House.

There are sounds in this house, but all seem so subtle, and even the ones that resonate have something impersonal and introspective about them, as if they have nothing to do with me, as if they shun me, stating only that I should not listen or think anything of them. And so I don’t. They are all a part of quiet. That world, and not the world of sound. And that's strange to think, especially on Hogmanay, when the world will be filled with so much noise tonight. But here I am, still snowed in within this haunted old house that surround this haunted life that contains this haunted imagination.

Nothing at all has occurred in this house since the strange apparition, or dream, that took place with the Imaginary Lizzie at my side.

Look at that! I even give Imaginary a capital letter, as if it’s real in some way, even though I know it’s not real at all! Just look at how fanciful my thoughts have become. Just look at how much I’m in trouble inside.

Corridors in this house just look like connecting flat surfaces that slide away meaninglessly. Chairs don’t even appear functional, they are just there, all joined-up but all unrelated and unpurposeful. I could have written ‘purposeless’, but I prefer ‘unpurposeful’ – the sound of it appropriately hurts just that little bit more. The gravel outside my window slips into grass where the driveway ends, and the grass merges into the shape of trees, and through the branches I see the lacklustre wash of the sky blending into empty formations of deadpan cloud. None of it speaks, none of it breathes – all is without point or significance.

And every sound from any of it is always ironic, not hinting at an inner reality. Instead, sounding its empty thereness. There, and nothing more. Things creak and groan, and it tells me what I already know: emptiness hurts. “What did you say to me, Object? Oh, you were just emphasising your thereness! Oh, I see.” And it groans. And so too do I. The world, and all the bits of stuff that comprise it, resound like a barrel, its contents long quenched – only the dead reverberation to be heard now. Hurt’s a feeling though, and that’s something, but really just another ironic reaction to emptiness. Some kind of trailing vapour.

"Corridors in this house just look like connecting flat surfaces that slide away meaninglessly. Chairs don’t even appear functional, they are just there, all joined-up but all unrelated and unpurposeful. I could have written ‘purposeless’, but I prefer ‘unpurposeful’ – the sound of it appropriately hurts just that little bit more. The gravel outside my window slips into grass where the driveway ends, and the grass merges into the shape of trees, and through the branches I see the lacklustre wash of the sky blending into empty formations of deadpan cloud"

There are not even any magnanimous symbols of emptiness in my world now. No symbol hanging white in the air above the treeline or suspended in a corridor or hammering against my window. Emptiness has slipped back, it has lost its ability to pronounce itself, and now it rests quietly dead in every artefact I see. Everything has flattened into one plain, one dimension, one wall or partition with the muteness of iron. All it exudes is “No”. All any of the things in this world transmit to me right now is “No”. And ever so quietly and impersonally too. As if just to each other, leaving me out of the loop.

I long for a meaningful noise, but I’m not sure what that would be. What would mean something to me? Perhaps something that would touch me? Something that would speak directly to me? The dead spaceman did that.

Huh! What did the world have to say to me that was meaningful? “You are empty and so too am I. Look at your emptiness.”

Yes, dead astronaut, you were right: it is my turn now.



An astronaut on the moon dropped a feather and a hammer to demonstrate Galileo’s claim that all objects fall at the same speed when there’s no air. The same is true down here now. Dead astronauts drop out of the sky as the air is sucked out of this planet, and every value is levelled and falls to the ground at the same speed. Love and horror. Value and vacuum. All the same.

I stand outside of Mordan House, my feet crunched down into the snow, and I think the word “No”. Nothing responds to my comment; after all, I’m not saying anything that the world doesn’t already know. So, privately, I dream of meaningful noise, and I wonder what that might actually be.

James was supposed to change things, of course. James. The guy from the neighbouring town. Yep, the one that knits.

I was scheduled to meet him yesterday. Let me tell you what happened.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

25. The Witch and the Kind-Hearted Man


"She would look up at the night sky and think: there's Ursa Minor, there's Hercules, there's Andromeda, there's Bootes!"

Once upon a time there was a man, a kind and simple-hearted man, so they said. This man married a tyrannical woman, a despot, an insidious controller. She made his life a misery, almost locked him in a cage of controls, demands and emotional manipulation. The kind-hearted man and the tyrant had two children – a boy and a girl – but the man became increasingly concerned for how their lives were being shaped. As I said, he was simple and kind-hearted and he didn’t care much for how the tyrant treated him, but he loved his children with all his heart and wanted only the best for them.

One day the man decided to question the tyrant, to tell her that her ways were wrong. The tyrant was furious and had a right hissy fit of monumental proportions!

Nobody knew that, secretly, the tyrant was also a witch. Instantly she conceived a spell that fired the kind-hearted man out of the children’s lives, sending his body flying up into the sky, and higher and higher out into the planets. Banished forever. The boy and girl stood and watched and cried. The tyrant simply gathered in her skirts around her and looked about for another kind-hearted man.

The two children schemed to find a way to bring their father back. They drew up plans to build a space rocket to help them carry out a daring rescue mission. But they struggled to secure the considerable funding required for a manned mission to outer space. Hyper-drive had not been invented to allow for speedy exploration of distant worlds, and they were unable to secure planning permission for a launch pad to be constructed in their garden. Also, the girl was asthmatic and they worried about the lack of oxygen in space.

The boy decided to give up the plan. Instead he opted to muck around with Meccano and cover his walls with pictures of Baby Spice and the female lead singer in that band Aqua. The girl, however, never quite gave up the dream.

She would look up at the night sky and think: there's Ursa Minor, there's Hercules, there's Andromeda, there's Bootes!

And, in this way, the family lived dysfunctionally ever after.

Anyway, this is the complete fanciful garbage I like to tell myself about why it was that my dad left, and my brother and I never heard from him again, left instead to fend for ourselves against our aging mother, The Silver Smirker!

It’s a nice story, although it kind of masks all the hatred and fear and frustration that I feel towards that absent man. Yeah, not much room for that kind of sentiment in fairy stories!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

24. Up to the Present Day

"The realisation came quickly that the song wasn’t just in my head, but also coming from the house"

Time to conclude my recollections of the astronaut and bring things up to the present day. Deep breath. Okay, here goes.

I started jogging. Yes, in a Scottish winter! Proper jogging too - not the running, jumping and falling down the side of a damn mountain stuff of before. That’s right, jogging with all the gear on. When you have so much delicious countryside around you, then it almost seems crazy not to. But, there again, when squirrels, deer and rabbits stop what they’re doing, and look at you with that aloof stare that seems to say “And the purpose of that is what exactly?” then you begin to suspect that the real craziness lies in what you’re doing! The way to deal with that feeling? Run away from it. Run fast, run true and keep on running! Look at me, look at me! I’m a slightly hippy gazelle!

Oh, and of course there are so many animals out at this time of year, aren't there, Steph! I hear you, dearest reader. But, listen, they come out when they hear me go by. They break off their big ol' sleep just to have a squint and a snigger!

The late afternoons were great for running; the mornings blustery and with a gritty, piercing cold that swirled its fog into my lungs, making me cough and wheeze. With the cold, distant sun lowering in the afternoons, so that its rays streaked and flashed through the trees and through the clouds, the countryside around me and the Clansman took on a silvery tinge that, at times, turned to flame. In essence, this world seemed balanced: waves of meager light mitigated by waves of coldness, and all the colours of the day presented in a perfect light that left no combination of the universe’s palette untouched and unpresented. Except darkness, blackness – only that element of the world’s character was nowhere to be seen. Barred! Banished, so it was! And in response, I breathed. And how I breathed! At those moments, the world has never seemed to me more perfect. And I have never felt more comfortable within it. Not bowed. Not dimmed in the slightest.

The odd afternoon shower would roll by though. On those days, the brightness would step aside quickly and make way for a disconsolate and broody greyness. If I was out jogging on those occasions when the sky would suddenly flip its colour chart and its character, then it was a matter of getting back to the house as quickly as possible. Especially if my run had taken me part of the way up the mountain; the pathways could turn muddy and slippery, fast-moving rivulets opening up in minutes, and the way home would rapidly become treacherous. I certainly had memories of that!

One afternoon, just a couple of days ago, the sky turned in such a way. My mind was wandering through a collection of memories that drifted into fantasies as I ran, and I think I was late to realise that something in the sky above me had rebelled, and that ominous, bulging, solemn grey clouds had at some point terrified the daylight to an early bed.

I was about a mile from home, but on a path that I was familiar with, so although I turned instantly for home I was not overly concerned. The first tiny drops began to fall when I arrived at the front of Mordan House and I knew that I would have time for some warm-down exercises before it came on heavy. The I realised that it wasn't rain, but snow that was falling. The flakes descended like great white flies and buzzed around me, stinging my eyes and delivering little pinprick stabs to my nose. As I stretched and pulled and prissied about like a poor man’s ballerina, I enjoyed taking in how the day around me was changing. For all the dark skies above me, the world still seemed bright all of a sudden, as if there was a window in the world somewhere that was still letting in sunlight. I looked up momentarily and saw the millions of flakes falling everywhere like little astronauts.

"It was only then that I shivered and felt as if I had swallowed something caustic and razor-sharp. It was ‘Catch a Falling Star’. The realisation came quickly that the song wasn’t just in my head, but also coming from the house"

I realised then that I had a song in my head that had been there for quite some time – probably since I had stopped daydreaming on the side of the mountain and turned to head for home. How strange! It had played itself out in my head with no opinion at all being made by my thoughts – it was only then that I shivered and felt as if I had swallowed something caustic and razor-sharp. It was ‘Catch a Falling Star’. The realisation came quickly that the song wasn’t just in my head, but also coming from the house.

I froze and my mind emptied of everything. Only the evidence of my senses was allowed in for analysis. The house seemed to be holding its breath and averting its gaze from me – only the slight, isolated song from within seemed directed towards me.

As I listened, completely lost as to how to respond, I felt the snow come on stronger. There seemed nowhere else for me to go except inside the house. My car was there, but the key to it was inside the house. It was a clear but limited choice: stand outside, having no idea how wet and cold with snow I would get, or go inside, having no idea what awaited me. I felt the wind pick up and it cast a cloak of snow into my face and for a moment I couldn't open my eyes. I went up to the front door of the house; but the doorway gave me limited shelter from the snow. But as I looked down at the snow beginning to stick to me and amass, I decided it was time to at least enter the hallway.

Once inside, I stood just behind the front door and listened. In the distance, from way upstairs, I could hear the song still playing. I could also tell that it was a recording and not, for example, some intruder singing as he stole – if any thieves in the world are disposed to do such things! Yet everything else was still and peaceful-looking. There appeared no threat at all – in fact, the house appeared oddly inviting and hospitable. This may have been an illusion brought on by the fact that it was still daylight outside – whatever the reason, I was thankful for it. One other thought came with this realisation: without fear I was less inclined to be affected by my asthma. If there was ever a time for me to be brave and explore what was happening in the house, then this was it. Events at night had taken the wind and courage right out of me. I had seen too much by night. But, by day, things might be different.

Not that I didn’t feel any trepidation at all. I did. And plenty. But it was masked as if by alcohol – muted as if a hand was pressed against it, partially stilling it, partially preventing outright fear or terror from invading. I felt it as if my uncertainty was contained within some actual person standing beside me, and I was aware of this person almost follow me, reluctantly. Someone? Lizzie perhaps. For that reason alone, because the fear didn’t seem like a part of me, I started to climb the stairs. And if you’re wondering why I was so stupid as to move towards the music, bearing in mind what had happened before, it was because I was feeling perfectly fine. Honestly. Really. No, please, believe me, it's true! It was the Imaginary Lizzie, the one walking beside me, who was terrified! And she was only following  me because she didn’t want to be left on her own! Typical Dizzy Lizzie!

“There is no way we should be doing this!” the Imaginary Lizzie whispered fiercely.

“Shh! It’s fine. We’re just going to take a little look.”

A little look? A little look where? At what? A little look right into the astronaut's black deadly eyes, you thick little bitch?”

I sighed and grimaced slightly. “No, a little look to see where the music is coming from. I want to know what room,” I told her as I climbed pretty confidently up the first flight of stairs.

“I can tell you that!” said the Imaginary Lizzie. “It’s coming from a spooky room! And no-one in their right mind should go in there – ever! Period! Unless they’re on their period! That’s the only time women are allowed to be wreckless, plain stupid and severely pissed-off, all at the same time! Oh, Jeez, you’re not, are you?”

I stopped momentarily. “No,” I answered tartly. “That was last week. Noww, here are your choices, Lizzie: stay with me and shut-up; go back and talk all you want.”

The Imaginary Lizzie rolled her eyes, then moaned at me with a silent mouth. And she was still doing this when I turned away and started back up the stairs.

Perhaps due to the changing sky outside, everything seemed a little darker all of a sudden. Not so doused in daylight, not so uncovered and gaudy. That wasn’t good, I thought. I glanced at the Imaginary Lizzie and she mouthed the words: “Did it just get darker?” I shrugged and carried on up the stairs.

With the stairwell darkening, the house’s atmosphere had changed slightly too. The face of friendliness had shifted, the muscles hardened and the brow knitted – the look of ease and conviviality that had induced me up the stairs had, it struck me, been a charade, a ploy to control me. From above, there was another hard whiplash sound of increasing snowfall churned by an increasing wind.

We were now climbing up to the second floor of the building. We had passed the floor that contained the room with the radio. I had only ever been up to the second floor once in the time I’d been living here. Everything seemed more dilapidated on this level of the house: the floorboards were more uneven,  the wood more splintered and broken; the banister was rickety in places; old wallpaper vied with old paint for decorative supremacy, yet with busted plastering seeming to win the day; and daylight seemed to have quit long ago, taking all hint of shadow with it. Near the end of the one corridor of rooms that this floor contained, I noticed, for the first time, a break in the wall denoting a small flight of stairs leading up higher. It was hard to see, but my eyes seemed to have adjusted the higher we climbed through the house. The Imaginary Lizzie tapped me on the shoulder as she noticed that I was planning to move towards the small flight of stairs.

Breaking her vow of silence, she said: “You wouldn’t throw yourself under the wheels of a juggernaut just to see how it feels, so why would you go down there and open that door just to see how many demons are inside it, and how it will feel when they devour your innards with you still alive and kicking? Are you freaking mad? Are you freaking insane? Are you freaking losing it? If so, lose it on your own. This Imaginary Pal chooses life!”

"What was I? A little like starlight itself: not dazzling, but distant, and with a brightness that was almost shy, almost brittle – so brittle that at times people could be forgiven for thinking that I was falling. Was all of this about me? Was this the astronaut’s aim? To catch me, put me in his pocket and never let me fade away?"

I wasn’t listening. And I don’t know how much of it I did listen to. I was on the move. All I was aware of was that I was sure that the music was coming from the stairs at the end of the passage and that the Imaginary Lizzie had started singing John Lennon’s 'Imagine'. I glanced round at her. She was following me with her fingers in her ears, singing meaningfully, her eyelids flickering: “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky.”

I tutted and drew her a look that is untranslatable, but carries two year of emotional and psychological weight as well as baggage. She shunned it.

At the end of the corridor, the break in the wall gave way to three stairs leading to what could only be an attic-type room. The door was closed over.

The Imaginary Lizzie suddenly stopped singing: “You may say I’m a dreamer – ”

Why did she stop? All I could hear now was how clear the song was from the other side of the door: “Love may come and tap you on the shoulder some starless night,” said the words.

The song suddenly held me in thrall, it fascinated me. The jazzy, middle-of-the-road tone was off-set by a staccato bassline that had an air of foreboding about it, of expectation. The chorus began again, but now with backing singers echoing the main singer: “Catch a falling star and (catch a falling star and …) put it in your pocket, never let it fade away (never let it fade …)” – something dreamy in this style made me feel a tad drowsy and out of sorts.

I think that it was just as the door started to open that something began to form in my mind. Those words: ‘Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away’ – they had greater significance. What was I? A little like starlight itself: not dazzling, but distant, and with a brightness that was almost shy, almost brittle – so brittle that at times people could be forgiven for thinking that I was falling. Was all of this about me? Was this the astronaut’s aim? To catch me, put me in his pocket and never let me fade away?

At the same time, I realised that my hand was not on the door knob. There was no hand that I could see. Instaed, the dooor was opening from the inside.

Who started to run first? Me or the Imaginary Lizzie? I’m sure I heard her scream: “Run!” As I heard it, I realised that I was already behind her. Lizzie’s scream was like nothing I had ever heard from Lizzie before – but she was an Imaginary Lizzie, so she could be forgiven for acting out of character! To see her running in front of me as if death had grabbed her and she only had seconds to break free was bizarre also. For a second I glanced at her shoes. All I saw was a red flash and a high, thin and sharply pointed heel. Almost as soon as I had thought how inappropriate the footwear was for an ‘escaping the clutches of death’ kind of occasion, an ankle turned and one of the heels snapped in two. At that moment, the clutches of death ripped her out of the air and she flew past me. I turned back to look at her and heard her screaming my name over and over and over. All the while I was trying to remind myself that she was imaginary; yet something else kept asking if I was sure of that, if I wasn’t perhaps forgetting something? The last I saw of the Imaginary Lizzie was the sight of her being dragged back along the corridor towards the attic door by a force that was completely invisible to me, but that was inordinately powerful.

"It could have been her last breath of life that contained my name, except for the very last sight I had of her face. Again she mouthed words towards me. Out of that mouth came transistorised, flat, monophonic words: 'Your turn, now, Steph. It’s your turn.'”

“Steph! Steph! S-t-e-p-h!” she screamed with everything that was inside of her. It could have been her last breath of life that contained my name, except for the very last sight I had of her face. Again she mouthed words towards me. Out of that mouth came transistorised, flat, monophonic words: “Your turn, now, Steph. It’s your turn.”

Then her body was pulled violently round the far corner, up the small flight of stairs and she was gone.

I think the door slammed shut but I was running again by that time. And everything was masked by the sound of my own feet on the hard floorboards. All I wanted was to get out of the house. The front door was torn open and I heard it slam against the wall as I threw it out of my way and ran outside. I stopped running a few feet outside of the door, close to where my car was parked. Only then did I turn and look back at the house. But it was not the house that I saw, but the character of the day. The sun had returned and the clouds had disappeared. The air was completely still as if all wind had been packaged and sent out of the land. It was my first encounter with the strange phenomena of the house where everything appeared to be an illusion. As if the entire thing had been in my head. From beginning to end; from the first bars of the song to the last strident chord. I sat on the gravel, folded up my knees, placed my head in my hands and wondered how much I knew about myself and how much I recognised myself since I had arrived at this house. I didn’t realise that my hands were tugging at my hair until I looked at my fingers and saw thick strands laced round my knuckles.

Over and over, I thought. Over and over she had called my name. Over and over again. And where was the song? Where was the song now?

And that takes me up to today.

Hm, today. Quiet day, actually. Nothing much happened. Just endless snow. No astronaut. But what of tomorrow? What if there’s nothing to write tomorrow? What if there’s never anything else to say about all of this ever again?

Well, if that turns out to be true, then I’ve got this house back – and this house might start to become a home of sorts.

If that happens, then good-bye! And hey, good riddance to all of you! Interlopers, eaves-droppers, nosey-parkers! And I’ll have my promise back again! In this day and age, too! One little value salvaged! Kidman will be pleased. I won't be looking her up on the internet anymore. And my promise not to do that ever again will be back in my hands.

Monday, 28 December 2009

23. God’s Pits


"But, when he turned up, the Smelly One seemed different. No, not cleaner – oh, don’t be silly! I wasn't at first sure what it was. He had – dare I say this of a man who smells like something exceptionally smelly placed alongside something of even greater smelliness? – softened towards me"

The Smelly God returned to Mordan House. You remember him? The electrician with the bum that, I suspect, is regularly anointed, cleansed and pacified by fig leaves, and who no doubt employs a puffer: that is, someone paid to squirt talcum powder onto his butt hole after each and every visit to Mr Crap’s shitting emporium! Why? Oh, reader, because of the excessive charges. Yep, another overcharging cowboy!

But I don’t know why I’ve become so fixated with my electrician’s ablutions – I think I’m just confused as to what he does with the vast sums of money he takes from the lip-biting shoulder-shrugging redheads of this world. He certainly does not put it into his pits! The Smelly God’s pits are unviolated by anything that comes anywhere close to fragrance. God’s pits are on the rough-and-ready side of horrendous.

But, when he turned up, the Smelly One seemed different. No, not cleaner – oh, don’t be silly! I wasn't at first sure what it was. He had – dare I say this of a man who smells like something exceptionally smelly placed alongside something of even greater smelliness? – softened towards me.

No, you unperceptive reader, do not go anywhere near that thought that you currently hold! I swear that thought's booby trapped and will rip the corpus callosum right out of you! I know what's in your mind! No, no, no!

He was a little shifty and uncomfortable too. Could it be true, I wondered? Was he kind of playing with his shoe against the floorboard as he talked to me? Almost coy-like?

Oh, sweet heavenly Mary and all the blessed celestial choirs of Paradise, say it isn’t true!

Why didn’t he looked me in the eye? The last time he called round he looked me straight in the eye, as if daring me to tell him that I wasn’t stupid, and daring me to say “How much, my oderous little friend! You must be attempting to take the smelly pee-pee out of me!” But this time around he wouldn't look at me. Not for a moment. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it at all. In fact, I didn’t like it one smelly little bit!

"Why didn’t he looked me in the eye? The last time he called round he looked me straight in the eye, as if daring me to tell him that I wasn’t stupid, and daring me to say 'How much, my oderous little friend! You must be attempting to take the smelly pee-pee out of me!' But this time around he wouldn't look at me. Not for a moment"

So, this is how Smell Boy got to be back here at Mordan House. After the goings-on of the previous night, I drove down to the local town, told Le Smell that the fuses were still “jumping out and going bang at the same time, but then jumping back in again afterwards, but without going bang”. He listened attentively, hummed and mm-ed and uh-huh-ed, and then said he’d follow me down in his van. And follow me he did. After arriving and being shifty whenever he spoke to me, he then buried himself in my cupboard under the stairs …

Behave, reader, behave! I won’t tell you again!

… eventually surfaced and then said: “I didn’t do a good job for you last time. Too quick. I hold my hands up. So I’m gonna sort it for you – free-of-charge, you understand. The box is old and the connections are poor. I’ll put in a new one. I’ll make it safe today and then come back again and sort it properly.”

I’m not sure what he was doing while he said this, but I know I was standing there with a face like a camel. My eyes were agog, and my chin and mouth were all just hanging down and looking broken and swollen or something. I may have dribbled slightly. I’m not entirely sure.

He glanced at me and I think he was shocked at my camel-face, so I quickly tried to reorganise my features into something closer to my bog-standard 'breathtaking and delicious-all-over' face.

He grunted and perused the floor as if it were a live wire. He looked, in fact, as if he was about to say something else. Something that was uncomfortable for him.

Oh, veiled prophet look down on such a one as me and spare me, spare all of me, even the cellulite and the dinky navel that doesn’t really go in or out, just a bit of both really, even my appendix that, lets face it, does Scooby-Doo for the greater good of the bod. Spare all of it! Spare all of me the attentions of the Smelly God! You and you alone are the true God, he’s just smelly, he’s just …

“Well, I’ll be going then. Be back in about two days. Suit you?”

Suit me? I’ll say! And so I said so: “Uh, yes, that suits me.”

As he was making for his van I felt the desire to say something. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’d been so cruel about him in my head. So I blubbered a kind of: “You must think I’m really stupid with these things. It’s probably something that anyone else could fix in a flash, eh?”

All I heard him say as he opened the door of his van and climbed in was: “Forget it. I don’t think you’re stilly at all.”

As he drove away, I suspect it was with my camel-face – and an angry camel into the bargain! - that I watched him go. Stilly? As in Stilly Stephanie? The nickname given to me by my interfering mother?

Her hands on hips, chest pushed out, cloak flapping in the breeze, I sensed that somewhere out there the Silver Smirker, as I liked to call the old witch, was smirking and interfering in my life again!

Sunday, 27 December 2009

22. Damning Blessed Love


"I wonder what James is doing just now? And Philip - I kind of wonder what he's doing too. And what their eyes are looking at. And how the fingers of their souls are touching what they see. I wonder. I wonder"

Damn his coal-grey eyes. Damn the sweep and fall of his hair. Damn the blessed finger that he raised and that rubbed against his temple; damn the flow of absolute life and pulsing breath that swept that move along and that continues sweeping every move in my absence. Damn the air that curls and gleams around him. Damn how his presence washes the air. Damn his brow that throbs with thought, that emanates signals like light, like words, like strong, keen glances. Damn the configuration of limbs, the set of shoulders, the casual thresh of little moves that cut me open. Damn my cuts. Damn the silvery bleeding and the sweet feel of each hot trickle. Damn the susceptibility of this body to cuts so small. Damn every droplet of word and how they coat every cell my head and heart possess. Damn the little weight inside a man’s chest that gives balance to every move and mass to every impulse.

Damn my absence, that all his moves of delicate, focused, layered life and character go on and on without me seeing, feeling it all. Damn the fact that my soul can’t fly and whirl in his space, in the ochre and pink of his skin, in the stubble that lives its short, determined life on his face. Damn my presence here to feel and think all of this.

"Damn the way my soul sees. Damn and curse its vision too beautiful for men"

Dam my heart. Keep up. Don’t fall. Don’t let things get through. Don’t let stuff out. Oh, damn this heart that never ever stops! Most of all, damn its seeking, its perpetual damn seeking. And damn the way my soul sees. Damn and curse its vision too beautiful for men. Damn men. For all that they are and all they appear to be. Damn that our vision always appears better than their reality; damn the fact that we also know that we’re wrong, and that the reality is what blesses the vision with all that makes it gloriously barbed, all that gives it its delicious toxin, that would be nothing but a small kick within without.

But bless the fact that I’m still alive inside. Without it, moments drop dead around me on the ground. Bless this ambling forward, this sore-footed shuffling. Without it, I’m still and falling. Bless this ability to even feel damned! We’re not angels yet. The soar and surge and sizzle of life is ours. Time enough to rest within one emotion, and one state only, when we’re in the ground or in the urn. Bless the way I can feel a smile just behind my lips, rolling around inside of my mouth, probing to find a way out. There is little in life that promises the presence of another moment to follow than the rising energy of love. And its smile. Turning within a mouth, singing its song of desired escape. Bless love’s faculty to dispel void, to eat-up vacuum, to overwhelm absence.  Damn blessed love for ever and a day.

"We’re not angels yet. The soar and surge and sizzle of life is ours. Time enough to rest within one emotion, and one state only, when we’re in the ground or in the urn"

I wonder what James is doing just now? And Philip - I kind of wonder what he's doing too. And what their eyes are looking at. And how the fingers of their souls are touching what they see. I wonder. I wonder.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

21. Your Turn Now

"I know I shrieked and I’m sure I threw the candle in the figure’s direction. I don’t know what happened to it, but all of a sudden the air in the room began to escape like a gust of wind moving backwards in time and space. The figure wavered. Gloved hands, blindingly bright, seemed to reach for me, and I felt my hand go up to my mouth. I was struggling to breathe"

After the incident in the stairwell, and after the incident in the library, I found a radio in one of the rooms in the house. A very old radio with a huge dial at the front and a speaker that makes every station sound as if it’s coming from an earlier time. I put it on and turned it up as loud as possible. I could only get one station on the damned thing – probably due to the radio’s age, I guess – so it was that station or nothing. Happily, it was playing music and I was quite easily charmed by the tinny, slightly garbled and compressed sound that wound its way through that part of the house. While the radio played, I sat on a chair on the gravel at the front of the house and watched the trees doing typically tree-like things in the breeze and sipped a glass of red wine (yes, I bought another bottle – if that's alright with you!) that, in turn, did typically red wine-like things to my sensibility; the monophonic sound of the radio was at times dim, distant, but then brash and crackly, and coming feebly along the hallway and through the open front door. It was achingly cold. Winter was striding in with its heavy boots, and I remember thinking how very possible it was that it would snow. Within minutes I was shivering and the red wine too icy to enjoy.

As dinner time got closer, I turned the radio off, leaving it in the first floor room where I’d found it, and retired to my own rooms, locking the front door of the house and the door to my own suite of rooms, as is my way of an evening.

After dinner, I sat down with Charlotte Bronte and one of those scenes in Villette where Lucy Snowe finds herself walking alone through unfamiliar, foreign streets. It had just turned dark outside and I turned a reading light on beside me and put on some mild music ever-so slight in the background. After only a few minutes, the electrical appliances, all of a sudden, went off and then back on again. I sighed and puckered my lips in irritation. A few minutes later and the same thing happened again. I slammed down my book, went into the kitchen and got a candle and matches ready, fully expecting to be plunged into electrical oblivion again, as had happened on that first night. The next time that the lights went off and on, I was sure I could hear a voice from beyond my set of rooms once the electricity had returned. I listened. It was the radio upstairs. Somehow – a surge perhaps? – it had turned itself back on again. I sighed. I couldn’t exactly leave it. If I did, it would most probably be on all night. But the house wasn’t so dark that I was completely disconcerted at the thought of leaving my rooms, so I decided to quickly go upstairs, quickly switch the radio off and quickly get back down the stairs. No sooner had I decided this than I was quickly putting the plan of all-round quickness into exceptionally speedy action! I lit the candle and took it with me in case the electricity failed altogether.

"After dinner, I sat down with Charlotte Bronte and one of those scenes in Villette where Lucy Snowe finds herself walking alone through unfamiliar, foreign streets. It had just turned dark outside and I turned a reading light on beside me and put on some mild music ever-so slight in the background. After only a few minutes, the electrical appliances, all of a sudden, went off and then back on again"

Once in the hallway I switched on the main light that was suspended from the ceiling at the very top of the winding stairwell. I was already half-way up the first flight of stairs before I wondered what it was that was playing out of the radio. Not music. Definitely a male voice speaking. But, although I could barely make it out, it did sound odd for a radio programme.

Darkness. Light. The electricity in the house continued to fail and then return. In between, my candle flickered, and dull, delicate light crawled meekly over the walls and stairs.

I reached the first floor and looked along the dark corridor before me. The room that contained the radio was the only one open, so there was a swathe of milky light coming from it, no doubt from the window and the dimming daylight outside. For some reason I started to slow down. The voice was still indistinct in what it was saying, but the delivery was very staccato, repetitive and slightly pleading. Yet I knew that it was definitely the radio, and for this reason I kept going forwards. Under foot there was the occasional creak, and I found myself walking as lightly as possible – for fear of disturbing who or what I have no idea! Darkness again. But then no return of the light. The candle light illuminated the few feet between me and the door, and instantly it conjured up shadows that had not been there before, making every shadow on the wall appear like skulking banshees endlessly leaping up from their places of hiding. I tried not to focus on their restlessness and the way every second flicker looked like an arm or a leg or a head or fingers, or great bulky implements raised high in the air above my head. No, I tried desperately not to think of those things.

At last, there was the room. I peered round the corner of the doorway, the candle extended in front of me. Everything was as I expected. The window was bare and a crusty, dimming evening was giving up its last throes of light. There, on an old wooden stool, was the radio, just as I had left it. Now I could make out what the man on the radio was saying: “Your turn,” he said. “It’s your turn now. Your turn.”

The voice seemed to be speaking to me. I froze – unsure whether to turn back or go forwards. As the voice spoke, I kept doubting where it was coming from – one second trapped and desperate in the radio, the next it was above my head, then at my ear, then behind me and on the move. The words were curious and the male voice was, as I had noted earlier, slightly imploring. The whole thing seemed distant, transistorised and muffled, yet reverberating in my mind, trembling and partially-recalled. The endless repeating of these words disconcerted me. I felt a knot growing in my stomach, my mouth dried, in what seemed like a second, and my senses started to heighten to everything that was around me. This was no radio programme – that much I was sure of. As I moved to switch off the radio I could tell that the voice was getting more uneasy: “It’s your turn! Your turn now! Your turn!”

"There, so close that I’m sure I saw my breath mist-over across its surface, was a shining black visor, reflective, perfect and cold like obsidian, and surrounded by a blurred and vibrating white light. The candle-light appeared to flash against the shining dark space, that really just seemed like a great swallowing hole where a face should be"

As my hand, slightly shaking, moved towards the radio, something happened. Light. Electrical. But so sudden out of the darkness that I jumped. Then darkness again. But darkness followed by another electrical surge – at least, so I thought. The radio transmission stopped, there was a slight shifting of light around me from somewhere and then the radio voice returned as before. But now it was not in front of me and emanating from the radio. It was behind me, unmistakably, and so was the light.

The voice was forceful, loud and ever so close to my ear. The candle flickered manically and I realised that it was the shaking of my hand that was causing it. I turned round, thinking that I was about to drop the candle. There, so close that I’m sure I saw my breath mist across its surface, was a shining black visor, reflective, perfect and cold like obsidian, and surrounded by a blurred and vibrating white light. The candle light appeared to flash against the shining dark space, that really just seemed like a great swallowing hole where a face should be, and, as it did so, I saw my own face reflected in the blackness: my eyes wide and terrified, my mouth open and everything about it pale and awe-struck. It looked like me, but dead; a flash-forwards, an echo from the future, of a lifeless face still and numbed to the depths, and surrounded by a coffin of black wood.

The voice now came from behind the visor as if it was coming from tiny speakers and like an antiquated radio signal trapped and writhing in static: “Your turn now! Your turn now! It’s your turn!” I thought I saw outer space deep inside the blackness of the visor and I saw its complete absence, its absolute appetite for everything that came near it. I saw every human lung shrink to the size of a pea in a blink and every scrap of air compress into a pinprick and extinguish with nothing more than a childlike gasp. The desperation in the voice was palpable – it seemed to increase in intensity as it appeared to be drawn further into something like space, conclusively empty. My vision was confused. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing: I saw light, I saw darkness, I saw myself, I saw my own heartbeat thumping above my head, I saw the candle, and I’m sure it looked to me like a face screaming and trying to liberate itself from the wax and to fly from the room.

"In my mind were thoughts of a vacuum devouring me and of outer space eating me whole with its great black jaws; the astronaut holding me down as the emptiness of space feasted on me. It had feasted on him. Now it was my turn"

I know I shrieked and I’m sure I threw the candle in the figure’s direction. I don’t know what happened to it, but all of a sudden the air in the room began to escape like a gust of wind moving backwards in time and space. The figure wavered. Gloved hands, blindingly bright, seemed to reach for me, and I felt my hand go up to my mouth. I was struggling to breathe. The voice was becoming frantic now and I think I began to cry – half in tears and half through terror. I couldn’t, of course, get out of the room. The white figure was blocking the way. It seemed to have arms around me, even though I wasn’t entirely sure where it was. Its entirety seemed to baffle my senses; panic and fear incapacitated me and I waited, utterly weakened, for some blow or grip to come down upon me that would end absolutely everything. As the gust increased I felt myself drawn towards the figure. At some point – probably the point just before I blacked out – it occurred to me, as it had the previous night, that the figure was that of an astronaut. I suspect that it was at this point, as the utter foolishness of the thought joined with the realisation that the foolishness was true, that I passed out. In my mind were thoughts of a vacuum devouring me and of outer space eating me whole with its great black jaws – the astronaut holding me down as the emptiness of space feasted on me. It had feasted on him. Now it was my turn.

When I woke up, the light that surrounded me was entirely natural. The radio was on. The singing voice said: “Love is in the air, everywhere I look around. Love is in the air, every sight and every sound.”

I realised immediately that, more than anything in the world, I needed to cry, right there and then. It was almost an hour later when I finally stopped. I spent the whole day in the neighbouring town, sitting in cafes and eating cheesecake, drinking coffee in bars. I spent the entire day trying, for dear life, to be normal and not haunted to the very depths of my soul. And when I returned to the house, I went straight to bed. I hadn’t had an asthma attack the night before – God knows, I should have done! But my chest felt threshed and perforated. My muscles felt pained, stretched and abused. Something and everything needed to heal inside me; needed to close up like petals and submerge into some personal oblivion.

Yes, it was all quite similar to what happened a few nights ago. But the thought of telling it tires me and my strength drips out of me and through the floor. I can’t do it. I need to sleep again. Only sleep will give me the courage and strength to see this through.

Why do I need to see this through? Ask Philip. Ask him. And, stupid as it seems, maybe you should ask this fresh new love of mine, James, too.

Friday, 25 December 2009

20. A New Terror


"Strange little towns can have their strange allure. After a time you begin to take on their crooked little ways in how you walk. Your thoughts have an odd kink to them that has something of the town’s beveled mindset to them, and your feelings run hot and cold about things that others in the town feel hot and cold about. Everything about you gets just a little misshapen, while you feel totally normal"

In order for me to be truly the heroine of this story I need to admit that after the encounter with the astronaut in the stairwell I resolved, as any sensible person would, to leave Mordan House. It could not be any other way really. But now, on Christmas Day, I plan to tell you what happened with these plans that mean I'm still sitting in this house, with the winter snow across my front door, roads unusable, and with only this internet connection to keep me company. So, what makes me a heroine now, rather than simply foolish? One small word, dear reader. Just one.

You know how sometimes you can fall in love in the blink of an eye, how your heart can be lost before your eyelashes have even settled back upright again, how just one solitary blink really is all it takes. Well, let’s face it, it’s not really love. It’s more like a reflection of a space inside you, a needful space, and the shape that you see coincides with that space. You could call it a premonition of love, at best. I’ve learned that absence can have the same reflective properties, even when a possible object of your love, of your need to love, is not around. The astronaut is the reflection of my inner absence, the needful space, and the astronaut coincides with that space. I know that I want love to fill that God-awful, tormenting, tempestuous hole of horror inside of me, but there’s nothing and no-one here. There’s no-one to love, so I wrap that cardigan around me tighter, knowing it helps a little to dull the pain. Just me and the dead space inside. And look how that dead space arises to take on a shape that threatens to eat me alive. In order to be truly the heroine of this story, I have to fill the void. The void of no progress, of dead vision. The cage of my imagination. So I have to leave the astronaut behind – both inside of me and in these corridors.

Appropriate to raise the subject of love right now actually! Especially when I’m set to tell you of the day I said good-bye to Mordan House and its environs, starting off with the neighbouring town.

So let’s hurtle on to try and bring this story up-to-date with what’s happening to me now. We’re nearly there, you know - this day that I want to write about was only two weeks ago. And this is how it went.

"The astronaut is the reflection of my inner absence, the needful space, and the astronaut coincides with that space. I know that I want love to fill that God-awful, tormenting, tempestuous hole of horror inside of me, but there’s nothing and no-one here"

Strange little towns can have their strange allure. After a time you begin to take on their crooked little ways in how you walk. Your thoughts have an odd kink to them that has something of the town’s beveled mindset to them, and your feelings run hot and cold about things that others in the town feel hot and cold about. Everything about you gets just a little misshapen, while you feel totally normal - yet you wonder why those passing through throw monkey nuts at you from their car windows. You don’t see your own limping shuffle, or notice the disjointed vagaries of your mental inclinations, feelings bounce around illogically, but you know your not alone in the warps and fractures that characterise your leanings.

Here are some of the quirks that this town has as part of its nature. When buying something in a shop, don’t say ‘Hello’ or ‘Can I buy these, please?’ – Jeez Louise, no, don’t say ‘please’! – you just say nothing at all, but then when the transaction's concluded you both say extremely hearty farewells as if you’re the oldest and fondest of buddies. If someone says ‘Hi’ to you in the street, because they say the first ‘Hi’ you simply smile, give a little nod and do a long kind of grunt of acknowledgement. In the café toilets, you have to write down in a book how many squares of toilet paper you used; above the book was a sign that said: ‘Ever mopped up with just one two-ply? No? Then why don’t you give it a try!’ I never discovered if it was about conservation or general stinginess. But, for the record, I mopped up with one two-ply every time! Nobody carried an umbrella, and if it rained then people always put their hoods down or removed their hats, no matter how bad the downpour. Dogs weren’t allowed to defecate on pavements or on any patches of grass – they had to do it in the road! Many a time I saw a dog owner standing in the middle of a busy road with the dog on a lead and traffic queued-up because it was struggling to push one out! Nobody seemed to bother. Lastly, there was a peculiar ritual whereby people would randomly say to each other: “Not yet.” As if something was anticipated to happen that still hadn’t happened. The other person’s reply was supposed to be a simple: “No, not yet.” I tried it in a café once. As I left I plucked up the courage to say to the waitress, “Not yet.” I half expected her to ask me what the hell I was on about, but she just sighed and said: “No, not yet, dearie.” I couldn’t really care less what it was that hadn’t happened, but it did amuse me – perhaps some dog somewhere had been stuck in the middle of a road for weeks trying to push one out and some drivers had died as they waited! “Any sign of the dog actually having a shit yet, then?” Big, long sigh, followed by: “No, not yet, petal. Vet’s going in with a shoe-horn today. See if that’ll budge it.”

Yes, it had its quirks and foibles, but I’d adapted to them, and I found the thought of leaving the neighbouring town slightly saddening, so I visited it to think and feel my good-byes. After all, there wasn’t really anyone that I knew in the town that I would want to see before leaving. It was just a general adieu, for my own satisfaction.

I parked the Punto, got out and hobbled down the street sporting the slightly cumbersome, jagged gait of the locals. Then I grunted and nodded at a couple of people who sneakily got their greetings in before me; said a passionate farewell to a woman who mutely sold me a newspaper; danced over some fresh canine shits as I crossed the town’s main street; let my hair get soaked a couple of times but then, in between times, protected it from the wind by reappointing my hat; and said “Not yet” to a policeman, a pharmacist, a kind of farmer-type, a mechanic, and a one-legged nun.  And the whole darn thing seemed all quite natural and sensible really!

I never did get to rummage around in the town’s library, to look for information - that could have turned out to be clues - to Mordan House’s identity and mystery. The doors stood before me and, before I knew it, I was walking up the stairs and through the wooden doors and into the silence within. To say a 'hello' and a 'goodbye', I guess. Typical of this town though, no sooner had I sensed the silence of the library than I heard a male voice from somewhere utter a loud “Ouch!” before being hastily hushed with shushes from other members of the public. Boy, they can’t even do silent libraries the same way as other people! Yet this was only a thought for a moment - the sight of Mrs Ormsley behind the library’s front desk swept it away, and I found myself with my hand up to my face, circumventing the front desk in sprightly fashion to avoid being seen by her.

Now I found I couldn’t concentrate. I was one quarter looking down aisles, another quarter looking out for Mrs Ormsley, a third quarter thinking up how I might get out of the library without being seen by Mrs Ormsley, and a final quarter trying to remember why I’d come in here in the first place! I felt hung, drawn, and most definitely quartered.

There she was again! I saw her, and I wondered if she’d seen me. I backed-up, feeling the wood of a bookshelf aisle touch my back, then I backed-up some more, reversing round a corner like a car, and feeling a little glimmer of relief as the sight of Mrs Ormsley disappeared.

“Ouch!”

It could have been me. It could have been my soul aching. God knows the feeling of inner disquiet that is almost palpably one of pain is a common one for me! But I wouldn’t utter it out loud. I turned round. There, sitting under a window at the end of the aisle of books, was a thin bespectacled man in a heavy jumper, firmly clutching a set of knitting needles, from which dangled a multi-coloured angular rag of uneven knitted wool.

His face was one of consternation and he was hunched down over the needles like they were dangerous and highly-charged lightning conductors. The tips of his fingers were white due to holding the needles so tight! His face was puzzled and defeated. His legs were crossed in such a way that they amplified his huddled appearance. And from the top of his head there was a sense of sadness. Yes, sadness! Coming right through his black hair, sweeping aside the concentration and the deliberation, and travelling all the way over to me.

"Something inside rose up like a gush of hot water from some invisible spring, that sprayed and singed me inside, gradually sending its fierce, uncomfortable droplets all through me"

He looked up, fingers not letting up their pressure, and he looked at me, for a second, with the eyes of a sad little animal. He whispered: “Sorry. I’ll try not to shout out again. It’s these needles. I keep stabbing myself. Damn it, I wish I could do the job properly, just slash my guts open with these blasted needles and be done with this ridiculous task.”

Within the time it takes for two sets of eyelashes to lower - lashes and lids kissing gently, then disconnecting and elevating again sweetly and silently - not only did I forget about Mrs Ormsley, but the other three quarters of the things that I’d had in my mind before I set sight on this man. But also, within that blink, something inside rose up like a gush of hot water from some invisible spring, that sprayed and singed me inside, gradually sending its fierce, uncomfortable droplets all through me. And all this within one blink of my eyes!

I spoke a reply. Yes, me! Actual words. Hell, I even moved closer. One of my hands moved up to my hair to flick it with a ‘hoped for’ degree of sensuality, rather than the fretful tugging I’d been doing for week upon week.  I crouched down beside him. Yes, crouched! Like a zoologist attending to a wounded little bear, for Christ’s sake! I wasn’t me at all! I don’t know who I was!

But I knew about knitting, so my fingers hovered above his, gently correcting - ever so, almost, nearly, very closely touching! He explained that his mother had asked him for a special present at her next birthday. She’d said that he bought poor presents. That he shouldn’t put thought into them, but put effort into them instead. He’d seen people knitting and thought it looked easy. He bit his lip for a second when he said this. He said it looked like a simple system repeated over and over again, and with a paper map containing the code to keep you right. He glanced at me a little shyly when he said this, and I was aware of discomfort in him but also awareness that his presumption was humorous. I sent back the same look, both shy but also acknowledging the humour.

And then the words just took over. It was as if they existed in between us. As if they knew what to say because they weren’t paying any attention to us, because this was about something other than just us. Before I knew it, we’d agreed to meet and I’d promised that I would pick apart the ragged sections and show him the techniques for both reading the pattern (or map, as he called it) and getting into a knitting rhythm. The words even discovered each other’s names. I heard that he was James, and I may – or may not! – have said that my name was Stephanie. I may have said George! Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been shamefully wrong, as he seemed to accept it quite happily. I also found that the words structured themselves in such a way as to end up with the knitting in my own pocket, to pick apart the errors, and an arrangement to meet-up the following week and an appointed time and place. He did all of that part: he knows the place and, hell, I have a lot of free time!

Then, all of a sudden, a new voice in the proceedings.

“Oh, I thought that was you!” said the voice of Mrs Ormsley as she came round the aisle and stood before us. I swallowed hard and my eyes widened anxiously. “Look,” she said, holding something out towards me that nestled on top of an old plastic sandwich bag. “Scraps from the bin. Fresh though. Look! Here, take them, before the dog gets a whiff and fights you for them!”

I wasn’t going to argue. I wasn’t going to get into it all. Not with James there. As I walked past her, I grabbed the little bag out of her hand and kept going. I didn’t see James’s reaction and I didn’t listen to overhear the sounds of confidential whispers between them about me. I just kept on going.

"I see on the screen of this laptop just how much I’ve changed and, therefore, what has been done to me. I notice how another man has punctured a vein and slithered in. The way men do"

Even as I put the scraps into a bin that sat just outside of the library, I knew that it wouldn’t, after all, be the last time I’d be outside of the town’s library. Not the last time I would cross the road as a dog began to squat over a white line and a car screeched to a halt. Not the last time I’d walk like I had bones loose and muscles in spasm.

As I reached my Punto I heard an elderly man who was pushing a shopping trolley say to me mournfully: “Not yet, ma dear, not yet.” I nodded towards him, but inside I thought that he was wrong. What he wanted to happen may not have occurred, yet for me it had. A shape now coincided with a space, and I knew that love would not allow me to leave Mordan House and the neighbouring town just yet.

Yes, everything has been changing since I moved here – some experiences that I’ve had have crept up on me, then at times others have blasted me, stunned me, pummelled me - and now I can’t keep it all to myself. I’m not quite the same person that I was when I entered this ramshackle, windswept wreck of a place. I’m strangely firm and resolved, yet I’m curiously unsettled and at war with myself.

I see on the screen of this laptop just how much I’ve changed and, therefore, what has been done to me. I notice how another man has punctured a vein and slithered in. The way men do.

I’m besieged, and many things can come to be lost, and found, at such times, don’t you agree? To my mind right now, words are all I have to help me stay sane, to hold on – to try and handle the black, all-consuming and terrifying arms of love that I now possess for this new-found stranger.

So, I'm still here. Suddenly the heroine of my own life.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

19. Untitled 2


"This age of no progress. This age of dead vision. This time of empty scampering around in the dirt for things that give meaning, only to find that it’s all just dirt, but we wash that dirt and sell it via international markets anyway, because what else can we do with time and space and with brains that want filling"

I shouldn’t be communicating with anyone at all – that was the promise I made to myself when I moved into this house two months ago. But everything has been changing. I’m not quite the same person I was when I entered this ramshackle, windswept wreck of a place. So my promise is discarded and I find myself communicating with you. Another personal value broken and trampled on in this modern day and age.

This age of no progress. This age of dead vision. This time of empty scampering around in the dirt for things that give meaning, only to find that it’s all just dirt, but we wash that dirt and sell it via international markets anyway, because what else can we do with time and space and with brains that want filling. This time of empty threats – religious fascists on the horizon, parading their own brand of emptiness and threatening ours, while we seek to destroy theirs, and it’s just one soft emptiness coming up against a hard one, and each seeing a different and disturbing quality to the dirt the other peddles. This age of dead science. Of stagnation. Of stagnating, pointless science. Of endless distracting fireflies and of bright and bold bravura on great flimsy boards, and of one great enormous moment nestling on a high cliff. This age of cages of the imagination, their vaporous shapes delineated by laws too founded upon other emptinesses to ever turn back, even if they saw through all the dead space. Yes. This age of dead space.

What was it exactly that I shouldn’t be doing? What was the promise I made to myself when I entered this ramshackle, windswept wreck of a place, anyway? To turn from an empty world. And what do I do? Communicate with you! Empty, dead you! I look emptiness in the eye, yet not to challenge it. No. With every word I’m more a part of it. I just mould it, in order to sell it. Oh, definitely! Who would play me in the movie? Kidman, for sure. It would have to be Kidman!

"Who would play me in the movie? Kidman, for sure. It would have to be Kidman!"

I should return to my story, emptiness demands that it have a shape in order that it can properly express itself. We’re nearly up-to-date in this tale, too – so I should definitely get back to attempting to make something out of nothing. That’s all you want from me anyhow. Nothing much, really.

Hey, reader, maybe you should try and make something out of nothing too! Or is that already everything you do in every part of your life? Your life of no progress. Your life of dead vision. Of cages of the imagination. Of endless, distracting fireflies.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

18. Thrown

"Above the house I sensed a kind of ball of flame, or a dragon propelled towards me, a crashing mountain of noise like steel and timber and bone and fire and stone cast down upon the house and now only an inch away from the roof. I anticipated the force ripping every brick and tile and window and scattering them for miles around, for miles up into the air and for miles down into the ground"

Lizzie wrote, and in the envelope were other letters – rather, hand-written notes from other friends and old work colleagues. She had gone round them all and gathered their little paragraphs – some asking me questions, some stating what they had been up to, some recounting bits of gossip I might be interested in, others criticising me for what one person called “Going all Grizzly Adams on us!” – and she had put them all in an envelope and sent them on to me.

Wonky Wanda (we called her this because she always seemed to go out with men who had some kind of physical disability) sent a wonderful pile of photos from my work-place’s leaving party. In one picture, (we are all there) (a waiter took the pic) there’s me looking shy and delighted, Lizzie pouting (Lizzie never worked at the same place as me but she had done some work there so everyone knew her), Wanda sitting in Gunther’s lap (he’s in a wheelchair), Gunther looking startled, Josh wearing a long blonde wig from a costume shop (he thought it would amuse me – it didn’t really – I don’t know why – perhaps it was because his nose is too short) and appearing to make some kind of aggressive, drunken yell (men do that at a particular point on evenings out – I think the point is around 10.45pm – give or take the odd pint), Lucy is looking serious (her nick-name – behind her back always – was Lucy Bladder because since her second child her peeing habits have been free and loose to say the least – hence the serious face – she’s way too terrified to laugh at jokes anymore!), then, lastly, there’s my old boss Agamemnon (so-called because he’s one hell of a hard task-master but on a night-out always requests that the DJ play ‘Agadoo’ – it’s the oddest dichotomy in the world to see one right hard-faced bugger ‘pushing pineapple’ and ‘shaking the tree’ on the dance-floor!) – we’re a lovely bunch, even though we are so different in many ways! Just looking at them makes my mind digress and go off in tangents and cul-de-sacs and basically go all messy and marvellous at the same time (what’s strongest, messy or marvellous, I really couldn’t say). And after a few minutes I have to sit down because all the many recollections are so multiplied and chaotic (on top of each other too and fragmented – phew! imagine that!) and all different colours and all loud.

Yes, loud – I’d forgotten all about loud. This house is so often so quiet. You know, I’d really forgotten loud existed.

This was about two weeks ago and I still have the pile of little letters and pictures sitting on a chest of drawers in my main room. From time to time I glance at them and finger them for reassurance, and all I feel from them is love and the moment is beautiful, but taut and raw at the same time, because I miss them all and I miss parts of my old life. But I can’t see me going back. Going back would be like inching towards a mousetrap that has a smile and a hug in place of a block of cheese. The end result being the same: my spine broken irreparably.

Loudness. Not that it’s always quiet here. The astronaut sees to that. One night in particular, he really did see to it that the silence was shattered.

What was I doing when I first noticed it? That’s right, I’d been washing knickers in the kitchen and in the process of ringing them all out when I heard the sound of a plane overhead. That was so unusual in itself that I was tempted to rush out and look at it, but it was late in the evening and, even if there was a clear sky outside, all I would see would be the lights blinking. I thought of people going on holiday with expectations and light clothing that feels curiously uncomfortable just because it’s alien, or returning home with souvenirs and tans that would instantly fade a little on landing just out of sheer disappointment at the climate that it stepped out into.

As the sound started to get louder I began to think that it was maybe an Air Force plane on night manoeuvres that was changing height rapidly and in a way that would be unusual for a passenger plane. I stopped what I was doing and listened to the rare sound of noise and tried to picture the plane – it’s a curious fact that plane noise almost always sounds as if it’s right above your head, only for you to find that it’s a mere speck in the sky, almost as if they drop packets of noise like food parcels as they fly by.

"If there is a noise that is like the devil arriving to take murderous and hate-filled souls out of this world, then this was it"

With my ears still focussed on the increasing noise of the plane’s engines, I moved from the kitchen into my main room in order to place my elegant and diminutive smalls on a place to dry. But as I entered the room, I started to become more concerned at the noise growing above me. From a distant rumble to a loud groan the noise had grown, but now it was turning into a screech and a dissonant and piercing whine. I looked at the room around me. An empty vase on a chest of drawers was rattling and I felt the ground beneath me vibrate. I thought about running somewhere or hiding behind or under something – but what? and where?

Before I knew it I was putting my hands up to my ears. I swallowed. I’m pretty sure that I whispered something about God and about angels and about a firmament – whatever all that is. Above the house I sensed a kind of ball of flame, or a dragon propelled towards me, a crashing mountain of noise like steel and timber and bone and fire and stone cast down upon the house and now only an inch away from the roof. I anticipated the force ripping every brick and tile and window and scattering them for miles around, for miles up into the air and for miles down into the ground. If there is a noise that is like the devil arriving to take murderous and hate-filled souls out of this world, then this was it. It too sounded murderous and hate-filled, almost as if it contained every damned soul in its loud, tortured, aching belly.

There was a ringing, cacophonous explosion like a bomb ripping through the floor and kicking up all the floorboards. Alongside it was another noise – full to the brim with energy and complexity and devastating anger – that moved through the house as a wave. The force threw me across the room and threw me upside down and against the far away wall of the room. The movement was so quick. I was thrown like a scrap of paper. My head and my back smacked against the wall and I was on the ground and delirious in seconds. The room was suddenly in absolute darkness and my head swam. All noise was gone now, but solely because my ears were shattered. All I could hear was a loud hiss in my head and all I could see was scanty shapes that flickered and appeared to slide around in front of me.
I must have stumbled out into the hallway of my suite of rooms. There I detected a vague swathe of light coming from under the door that led to the main corridor beyond.

I opened the door. I think I expected to see fire, smoke and wreckage, but by the dull and subdued light that was there, the house seemed completely normal. It was not at all clear where the light was coming from; everywhere I looked, the intensity seemed uniform in its weakness – no place looked any more likely than another to be generating the light. I started to climb the stairs looking for the light’s source, the high-pitched hissing still in my ears.

As I started to climb up to the second floor, I suddenly realised that there was one place I hadn’t looked as I had been climbing the stairs. The thought came to me along with the absolute realisation that the one place I hadn’t looked was indeed the place where the light was coming from. That place was right above my head.

My foot froze on a stair and I sensed the hair on my head and neck begin to bristle and tingle. A feeling like an electric eel scurrying around my stomach appeared from nowhere. Then I became aware that my feet wouldn’t move any further, nor would my hand move on the banister, nor my head arch upwards. Only my eyes moved, side to side, up and down frantically like terrified rabbits darting round a cage.

A two second burst of distant static. Just like the others, so short and so confused that as soon as it had gone I was unsure if it had happened at all. I glanced up. It was almost involuntary, as if someone had called my name and shattered my paralysis in doing so. As my head moved upwards, the brightness intensified in my eyes. And as I looked, for the first time, into the very centre of that light, I immediately heard the words: “It’s your turn.”

The words were delivered so quickly and almost dispassionately, and were bathed in a burst of static that lasted as long as it took to utter the words. On either side, silence. Not that I heard much of it. My eyes were consumed by the sight of an astronaut – but white, spectral, glowing and unreal – suspended from the ceiling right above my head at the very top of the stairwell. The figure seemed to be squeezed into the corner of the roof and the walls, the helmeted head appearing to look straight at me, the very blackness of the visor seeming like a great and dead eye pulling me in like a worm hole – black, but reflecting the world around it, all stretched and curved like the shape of the visor, as if reality was being distorted and all the shapes of the world were being skewed and warped. The figure did not move. At least, not that I noticed. In an instant, I took in the white suit, the heavy boots and large gloves and some rectangular pack on his back for breathing. After that instant, I was immediately running, my feet almost sliding down every step, every touch of my heel seemed like a rapid stumble. All I was aware of around me was the meagre, ineffectual glow of light that gradually seemed to be intensifying around me as I ran down and down the stairs. It was behind me. The astronaut. Close behind me. This was all I could sense or be aware of as I ran.

"My eyes were consumed by the sight of an astronaut – but white, spectral, glowing and unreal"

As I reached the bottom of the stairs I ran towards the main door of my rooms. Sensing darkness around me I glanced behind and noticed that there was nothing there. I stopped dead and stared at the point where the stairwell curved away from view. Then, in a split-second decision, I began to run again – back into my rooms, the door slammed shut so hard that I was sure that something deep in the ground boomed like an earthquake, and somewhere, perhaps in the Philippines, a butterfly felt the effect and fell off a branch, then sat on the ground feeling only anger that the universe’s laws had come back to haunt it.

I stood frozen somewhere. Not sure where. I didn’t move. I didn’t do anything. Not anything that I can remember anyway. I don’t even think I tugged my hair. My mind raced, but I felt it seizing-up and shutting-down at the same time. The pain I had felt in my back and head was gone. The delirium in my head and the hissing in my ears were gone too, although replaced by confusion rather than concussion. I felt a wheezing coming almost from my stomach, so deep down inside did it feel – it was sickly, jangling and poisonous, heavy and exhausting. It was like thin, spindly fingers dragging me down somewhere, and I was powerless to resist something that seemed so much a part of my identity.

By morning, my lungs, my stomach and my temples ached with the night of agonising breathing that had just taken place, and only my eyelids moved without discomfort and extreme lethargy. I don’t know when I finally got up, but when I did I found my mind to be empty of everything, almost as if the experiences of the night before had erased me, and left me as just some heartbeat with limited awareness, that knows nothing more than that it is just about alive and not, as yet, entirely, completely dead.

No, that's not quite true. Right beside nothingness there was a peripheral thought, sketchy and embryonic. All it said was: "It really was an astronaut, but suspended against a ceiling in a house. On the ground. An astronaut."

I recall the disjointed sense that entered my head and made my mind feel that it lay, all of a sudden, at an angle and I couldn’t right it. It was the sense that things had changed without me noticing. I realised that I’d left the door open once too often. Now the astronaut was inside the house.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

17. Hiss and Crackle


"I suppose I kind of edged my way closer to the source of the sound, almost the way that you see soldiers edging towards the enemy, leaping and scurrying from one safe position to another. The grating, crackling, hissing noise, that stopped and started every now and then, I eventually located to a cupboard on the first floor of the house"

Then, all of a sudden, everything changed.

For weeks nothing of real significance happened at all. Nothing. Not a thing. At night I rarely felt spooked either. Something appeared to have lifted. My mood, the house’s mood, or his mood?

My thoughts gradually changed towards the contents of Mordan House. Before, I looked at the house’s objects sideways, with a degree of uncertainty about what the fullness of their shape might bring or mean. Now, the old and faded name-plate stickers that were on many of the doors, turned from being sinister to quaint and sweet. Things like the wallpaper in some of the rooms that had struck me before as garish and disconcerting became brash, colourful and exotic. Even the old newspapers and magazines that were piled here and there and discarded hither and yon altered from being ugly, faded and crude into a kind of present from the past, rich with life that was preserved in each page like prehistoric bugs sealed in amber. The physical shell of the house still appeared like a neglected crypt and my sensibility could not surround, imbibe and embrace it in any way, but the detail, the minutiae, the tiny parcels of old fact littered throughout its rooms were things that I could respond to, study, appreciate and ultimately start to feel for.

Feel. What a pretty word. How far from me has its meaning and reality been for such a long time now! Say it right, and the word stretches right down inside of you like the reverberations of a chime. I’d forgotten that. I’d forgotten how to feel.

"The physical shell of the house still appeared like a neglected crypt and my sensibility could not surround, imbibe and embrace it in any way, but the detail, the minutiae, the tiny parcels of old fact littered throughout its rooms were things that I could respond to, study, appreciate and ultimately start to feel for"

My days were a tad curious though, I’ll admit. Often I wondered who I was trying to be. At times, I would think that I was trying to be the real me; at other times I would think that I was wearing a disguise that was ill-fitting and that I bumbled and jerked and tripped in it. When I wasn’t walking on the slopes of the Clansman and breaking into excited runs, I was gardening. I wasn’t so much a ‘ho’, as a woman with one! That statement is a Lizzie-ism – it’s the kind of thing she would say and I hear her voice as I type the words! At the back of the house is a wide-open garden space that the previous owner must have first forgotten to mow some time in the late ‘70s, or maybe the hippies liked it being all natural. Instead of tackling it by cutting, planning, weeding and sowing, I took a pathetic six-foot square section that was close to the house and against the stone wall that surrounds the garden, and I started to turn over the earth and plant small flowers. It was a sad splash of life. It was like one tree nurtured in an entire rain forest desperate for preservation. But it was all I could handle, if the truth be told. I put the flowers in randomly and, when finished, it looked to me like some complex check-mate move, florally represented!

But this 'feeling' duped me. I couldn’t avoid forever the dark-faced apparition with the ambition to confront me.

The signs were there, but I chose to ignore them. The signs said: “You think the strange events are all over, you think the house likes you and accepts you now. You think that the force of your personality and your presence has dispelled the strangeness, sent it back to where it originated from. You think you’re safe. But you’re not.”

I turned away from the signs. I took them in my hand, I squashed them in a tight fist and I imagined the contents disintegrating and slipping through my fingers like powder. At the same time, I looked at the sun. I looked at bright lights and I avoided all thought, sight, hint and sense of darkness or shadow.

Yes, the signs were there. In retrospect they were so many and varied that I’m not even sure that I can recount them all. I’m getting used to the sounds that this house makes, so now I can distinguish between the early sounds that just confused and threw me, and the ones that also confused and threw me but that I now know were manifestations associated with the astronaut.

For example. I recall using my electric whisk for scrambled eggs one day. I pressed the main switch intermittently - on-off on-off, loud drone on, then loud drone off - to ensure that everything was thoroughly mixed and separated. When I was satisfied and ready to put the eggs onto the hob, I noticed that a similar droning noise was coming from somewhere in the distance, inside the house.

I suppose I kind of edged my way closer to the source of the sound, almost the way that you see soldiers edging towards the enemy, leaping and scurrying from one safe position to another. The grating, crackling, hissing noise, that stopped and started every now and then, I eventually located to a cupboard on the first floor of the house. The courage needed to finally open that door and peer inside seemed to take an age to come – but if I could have harnessed the energy contained in the rapid beating of my heart then I would have opened the door before I’d even reached it. Not only did I take forever to decide to open the door, but forever was doubled in the time it took to open the door fully so that I could see inside.

"When I was satisfied and ready to put the eggs onto the hob, I noticed that a similar droning noise was coming from somewhere in the distance, inside the house"

Inside – much to my relief - was a large copper boiler, hissing and rumbling and groaning. Various pipes extending from it were shaking violently under the control of some unseen pressure. I sighed, and something sank inside and untied itself in a delicious way. The only ghost that I was aware of at that moment was the materialisation of my mother at my shoulder shaking her head slowly but with great certainty. And yes, I felt very very very stilly indeed. Thinking that the boiler looked and sounded unhealthy, I decided to flick a switch that lay close-by and hope that it would lessen its violent condition. Almost instantly the boiler started to settle and calm. I closed the door and turned away, feeling a little more that the house was starting to respond to me. “Sit,” I thought, “heel, walk, lie down and play dead!” I would soon have the house eating from the palm of my hand!

Yet no sooner had I started to walk away from the cupboard than the house bit back. The sound started again. But this time it was different. Still emanating from the cupboard, the sound now was more like brutal eruptions of white noise, rattling, dissonant and jarring - and with the vaguest impression of a voice hidden in the cacophony and muffled by the closed door. To this day I am sure it said: “Your turn now! It’s your turn now!” Subsequent events have, I think, proved me right. My system responded and instantly little tentacles inside gathered themselves together into a rude and nauseous ball, some great aching knot at its centre. I began to step away – there was no more struggling with myself. With every step I kept my eyes fixed on the cupboard door, fixed on the door handle for fear that it would move from the inside. After ten or so steps I was close to the stairwell, the monophonic stop-start crackle continuing without let-up. Just as I thought that safety was within reach, an extraordinary solitary thump vibrated the cupboard door, the wood jolting visibly under the force. I remember hearing nothing more after that. In seconds I was out of the house and into my car, my hand on the glove compartment lever as I wondered if I needed an inhaler or not. But it wasn’t the tight, hampered sound of my breathing that was the overwhelming impression in my mind, it was the dry, bitter taste of fear that burnished my tongue and coated my throat.

I called it ‘nothing significant’ and I found a way to put it out of my mind. Then, all of a sudden, everything changed again.

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.