Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
Grey sea beneath a grey sky. Tossed carelessly between the waves, I cling desperately to the promise of air. Something awaits me within the water’s depths; I’m certain of it. If I look down, in the brief moments of calm, I will see it beneath the waves. The wind’s frigid bite is a harsh rejoinder; I dare not cast my eyes below. The tide worsens, and my reverie shatters. My heart races, and every breath is a desperate gasp. Disoriented and rendered blind by the gale, I struggle in vain against the ocean’s pull. The sky watches indifferently as I suffer. I wonder, for a brief instant, what waits for me beneath the waves, beyond the sun’s reach. What manner of formless thing floats silently in the darkness? I shudder; fighting a wave of revulsion. I can see it. Though my eyes fearfully decline to lower their gaze to the water, I can see it. A faint outline; a sudden ripple amidst the storm. The next wave is monolithic; a liquid mountain that fills the horizon. Its advance is relentless, green foam frothing at its peak. I can see an image in its reflection. I close my eyes as the water crashes down, and as the sea closes over my form, I refuse to open them. As my lungs beg for relief, I will not relent. Past my sullen defiance, I can sense it in the far distance. My body screams, my skin crawls, yet I suffer in silence. Cold and alone, I drown.
I wake with a gasp. The neon glow of the clock contrasts crudely with the dimness of the early morning. With a tired sigh, I rise from my bed. The rituals of the day have been rendered habitual; ground gruesomely into my psyche by thankless repetition. The sun’s reluctance mirrors my own on this frigid winter day; its light providing only a token resistance to the dawn gloom. As I prepare for the long drive ahead, I glance warily back down the empty street. The stillness is broken only by the shrill caw of a dour crow, and the rustling of a gentle breeze between the bare branches. Yet for a brief instant, as my car pulls away, I hear the sound of waves crashing upon a distant ocean.
I fight valiantly to keep my eyes open. My constant war against the monotony of the workplace is a doomed venture. The insectile buzzing of the overhead lights blends seamlessly with the droning of voices. My hands work as if alive; their mission possessed of a simplicity bordering on insulting. I feel as though my presence here is largely a formality; my mind plays no role in this task save for that of uninvited guest. It is here, with my consciousness free to wander, that I sometimes feel it. It is rare; the mundane cacophony often provides a bulwark against such flights of fancy. Yet there are instances; fragments of time when all sound seems to cease. When serendipity synchronizes the ebb and flow of speech and a sudden hesitancy seems to descend like a falling curtain. In these moments between moments, I can feel it. Distant eyes where before there was nothing. A brief certainty, and then it is washed away; swallowed once again by a deluge of senseless tedium. There are no eyes watching me. Here, amidst the bustling human tide, I am unseen. I close my eyes and dream of water.
The twilight air hums with the promise of rain. There is no wind; no sound. I see swollen clouds hanging pendulous in the sky. In the stillness, my mind weeps. I am paralyzed by the tranquil illusion; a veneer of calm belying imminent violence as a solitary peal of thunder rolls languidly in the distance. I can sense it within the sound. Tremulously, I glance upward. As the first droplets begin to fall, I catch a glimmer of movement; a sinuous shadow vanishing among the clouds. As the sky tears open and the storm unfurls its monstrous wings, I tear my gaze away. My clothes are drenched, and I shiver with cold as the wind begins to howl. I cannot see; blinded by rain and fog. I cannot hear; my senses deafened by the tempest. And yet, an instinctive drive compels my heart to race and my pulse to quicken. I am not alone here, in the heart of the squall. Amidst the distant thunder, something bears witness. I fall to my knees; my strength failing as tears pour from the heavens. Beneath the gaze of faraway eyes, my mind is overcome with memories of solitude. I see myself sitting at a computer, alone and invisible. Teeming throngs tumble past; their empty gazes leaving me hollow. As my suffering is laid bare before an unseen watcher, a sound is torn from my lips; raw and painful. I cry soundlessly into the uncaring wind as the thunder crashes and the rain pours. There is beauty in this song; a melody born of fear and shame. Performing before a silent audience, I scream.
Dreaming briefly entwines with wakefulness as the grating shriek of the alarm heralds my return to consciousness. With leaden limbs, I rise and greet the grey dawn. My footsteps echo through the empty hallways as I prepare to leave my lonely sanctum and face the day ahead. Before I depart, I am struck by a chilling flight of fancy. I suppress a shudder as I quickly check the weather; the forecast predicts clear skies in the coming days. I feel uneasy as I walk towards my car. Something happened last night, and I struggle to don my façade of complacent normalcy. My emotions hang about me like tatters, even as my rational mind scoffs at this newfound disquiet. There is a restlessness to my thoughts; a nervous energy that I cannot quite contain. The realization creeps upon me slowly; insidious as the first pale clouds that precede the rain.
My arrival to the office is met with habitual indifference; my only greeting is the eternal flickering of decrepit lightbulbs. As I settle into my worn seat and monotony grasps me, people flurry around me as though caught in a whirlwind. In the eye of this maddening throng, I am unseen. Revulsion wars with elation as I recall the fleeting sensation of eyes amidst a storm. Long years of loneliness have forged a cynic, yet I cannot quite dismiss the cruel beauty of being truly seen. I find myself mesmerized by the brief memory of baring my soul and my sorrow. It is some time before I shake myself back into alertness, and focus my attention on mundane trivialities. As my hands work and my mind flies, I find comfort in the half-heard sound of distant thunder.
The crackling of flames and the acrid stench of burning wood fill my senses. The room is large, it’s emptiness untarnished but for my presence and the fluttering of ashes. Fire courses up the walls, devouring the timber panels with contemptuous ease. I am buffeted by a wave of heat as I desperately look for an escape. Black soot blankets my vision, and my stinging eyes cannot discern anything beyond the gleefully dancing conflagration before me. My pulse leaps; my body and mind overwhelmed by instinctive panic. There is no way out, as the inferno creeps inexorably towards me. As my skin begins to blacken and peel, I see it hidden behind the pillars of smoke. Its nearness startles me, even as my lungs fill with noxious fumes. My weeping eyes have begun to scald, yet its presence is unmistakable; its ungainly shadow both alien and familiar. I do not look away as gasps of agony burst from my ravaged lips. I find some solace as I meet its watchful eyes with my own. I have known true pain. I have felt the pain of being a forgotten cog in an indifferent machine. I have felt the pain of an empty house and a silent phone. I have felt the pain of loneliness eroding a man until his ulcerated hope fades into numbness. Here, among the smoke and fire, beneath the gaze of ghastly eyes, I am witnessed. Though my body writhes, though my tongue melts and my flesh boils, I find myself content. Grinning through a lipless mouth, I burn.
Greasy streaks of ashen light filter through drawn curtains. Particles of dust hang languidly in the air as I desperately gasp for air; grappling with the residual psychosis of sleep. As I stumble from my bed, against the protests of my aching bones, I am startled by a flicker of movement in the gloom of an empty corridor. I stand frozen; my body instantly overtaken by millennia of evolution. I do not move. I do not breathe. Something is watching me. As abruptly as it arose, the feeling passes. My shoulders slump forward as I relax. I cannot help the dry laugh that escapes me; its mocking cadence a testament to my misery. My chuckling slowly fades as I acknowledge the inescapable truth. Nothing lurks in the shadows of my home; I am unworthy of even such a visitation. I am still smiling at my own absurdity as my tired old vehicle begins its creaking journey. And yet, as I glance through my rear-view mirror, I cannot help but shiver. Behind me, the drab, funereal curtains seem to slowly part. As I round a bend and my home disappears from sight, I am certain that I glimpse dreadful eyes watching from behind my bedroom window.
The hours crawl sluggishly past me as I work. I find myself distracted; my attention drawn to the mesmerizing dance of the overhead lights and the faint scent of burning wood. Beside me, a co-worker sighs; his boredom evidently rivaling my own. As he rises from his chair, his gaze passes through me; no spark of recognition or acknowledgement graces his bloodshot eyes. My cheeks redden; the scalding heat of humiliation at once occupying its familiar place. And yet, for the first time, comprehension begins to worm its way beneath the smoldering shame. My colleagues do not understand; their willful ignorance shielding them from suffering. They have never known misery as I have. Here, at last, I begin to see these people as they truly are. They are afraid. They fear failure, and pain; but above all else, they fear loneliness. And, with the same quiet loathing often reserved for the ill and deformed, they fear that my isolation could spread to them. Like a wound, I have been cauterized; seared away by the subconscious will of the desperate masses. Even as bitter resentment engulfs my thoughts, I cannot help but understand. The fault is my own. I am a tumor; a diseased organ in an otherwise healthy organism. I cannot begrudge them for excising me before the poison spreads. My eyes fill with tears, even as I slave mindlessly at my irrelevant labour, but I will not let them fall. I will face my fate without succumbing to undeserved pity. As my focus is once again drawn to the flickering lights, I am struck by a sudden longing. For a brief instant, I smile serenely as I dream of the agony of molten flesh, and the excruciating clarity of immolation.
There is blood on my hands. Beneath the watchful shadow of ancient trees, I come gradually to my senses. The snow is red, and the winter stillness is broken only by the quiet echo of something dripping in the darkness. I am disoriented, yet there is an unspoken familiarity to my surroundings. There is throbbing in my ears; an arrhythmic pulse overlaying each reluctant breath. My gaze alights on something sharp and gleaming, lying pristinely on a patch of crimson ice. The dripping has slowed, and I find myself gradually turning to face deeper into the forest. I feel a sense of displacement; a curious lassitude has taken hold of me. Actuality feels distant from me now; the nostalgic echo of a melody long-forgotten. Something waits for me within these mournful woods; an eager promise whispered upon a rancid wind.
As my eyes slowly begin to adjust to the faint light, I cannot help but gag violently as I admire my gift. Hanging from a nearby tree, its empty eyes stare accusingly into the distance. Through a wave of nausea, I am struck by a peculiarity of its appearance. Despite its broken limbs and mangled countenance, this majestic sculpture of flesh bears an uncanny resemblance to me. Ignoring the charnel odour, I step closer to my unanticipated offering. Externally, I share so much with this lifeless thing. And yet, even as I contemplate its breathtaking poignancy, I cannot suppress a wave of melancholy. Though we seem so much alike, I know that the comparison is axiomatically imperfect. No matter how kind the gesture, I am certain that my flaws are internal; hidden from sight by a thin veneer of bone and viscera. I am on the verge of despair when I realize that this bestowal is more generous than I first realized. The exquisite craftsmanship before me is intoxicating; new wonders becoming apparent with every passing moment. Every layer has been gently lifted away; glistening meat and quivering organs revealed by a loving hand. Finally, I am awakened to the true depths of this generosity. Turning back, I reach onto the forest floor and retrieve the instrument of my vindication. Its weight feels good in my hand. For so long, I have believed that I am different. That, buried deep within me, there lies a fundamental flaw. Now, there is only one truth left to discover. Tonight, at long last, I will learn whether, beneath our masks of flesh, we all look the same. The biting pain soothes me as, with a flick of my wrist, I begin to unwrap my final gift. Laughingly, eagerly, I bleed.
Black sand beneath a starless sky. No radiance dares shed illumination upon this dreadful shore; a celestial understanding that some truths are best left forgotten. It is some time before I notice that I am walking. I suspect that such frivolous notions as time and distance have no place here, and I discard them indifferently as I wander. My eyes, cold and wet and wretched, are of no more use to me, and so I gently set them down as well. It is liberating to be rid of them. Now, there is a newfound eloquence to the darkness. I am surrounded by its sinuous form, its glacial beauty embracing me unconditionally. Urgency builds as I continue onwards. The impenetrable silence wails and shrieks with a sound like shattering glass. I realize that I cannot hear the sound of my breath. I cannot hear the beating of my heart. There is nothing above me, and emptiness below me. I wonder if I am falling. I wonder if it matters. And then I feel it. It is a singular moment of utter intensity; a sickening, unbearable rapture. Though there can be no light in this dismal eternity, it sees me nonetheless. I do not think that I truly understood before. Until now, I was blind; staggering through existence as if in sleep. I am awake now. There is no hesitation as I lift my gaze. I feel a sense of inevitability in this moment. Gasping, retching, I weep as I look upon my forlorn witness. As my reflection writhes within the frigid grasp of apocryphal eyes, I am whole. In this final, unending instant, as I turn and plummet into my cradle of jagged solitude, I am free.
Credit : Adam Miller
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