By Martin Hayes
My mind is going. Of this, at least, I am certain.
The carpet whispers secrets, untold before now, but always hinted at, drowned out now by the wailing of the cracks in the plaster that covers the cold, red bricks before my face. The world is unfixed, unreachable, unmade. I am me, here in this dark and subtle craft of being, but I am also the madness that creeps from unseen places. I am duality squared.
Shadows loom, and years pass by in breaths, as I sit and wait for it. The television spews information at an ever-increasing speed and Jesus…my fingers can barely keep up with it. Got to type faster; come on, now. But other thoughts slope into view and distract my mind from the job at hand. Why are you such a cunt? Why does every single person on the face of this pox-ridden planet hate you and think they’re better than you and –
Put it out of your mind. Think on only good thoughts. Sunny places.
Come on, you stupid cunt. There it goes again. Like a bullet to the base of the brain. Fit me with a jack-socket and download me, and then wipe the drive and bin it. Have done with this long, drawn-out abortion, this futile, synaptic death.
How would Jesus drive? Badly, I’d say – he’d be fucked on Last-Supper wine.
I can’t get Ingrid Bergman out of my head. She will not abate. Her face fills my field of view, bright and letterboxed with the picture sharpness turned up as far as it will go. I can smell her hair and feel the heat from her neck. In the fleeting moments of perfect consciousness, when I am not here at all, I can see her in fully-realised 3D and she is beautiful. But that’s just the silly thoughts creeping in again.
<span>I can’t get Ingrid Bergman out of my head. She will not abate. Her face fills my field of view, bright and letterboxed with the picture sharpness turned up as far as it will go. I can smell her hair and feel the heat from her neck. </span>
The day flows out of me, but it is false, because I did nothing today but watch the telly. This is how I live my life now: through other people’s experiences, through their failures and petty victories. I hate them as surely as I hate myself. They come into my living room: fat people, ugly people, posh pricks and tarts in cheap frocks, gross old tramps and tidy wives, and I want to destroy and fuck them all beyond recognition.
The world is one, long car wreck, in perpetual slow motion. It never ends. There is never any reconciliation. Time passes and we grow ever nearer the awful moment of impact, and with each passing second, our fear and dread grow greater, but it never comes. The fatal contact will never take place and so, we are consigned to wandering in our lives, each day more scared than the last, always dreading what is just around the corner, but oblivious to the fact that the bad thing never truly happens.
I take a break from typing, stand up from my desk and turn towards the kitchen, but not before picking up my Dictaphone. The greatest sin that can be committed in a reality that contains cognitive thought is for that thought not to be recorded. Why should one, solitary imagining slip away and be lost? Better, I say, to jot everything down, get it down, on paper or if not, on tape, to be properly transcribed later.
The journey from desk to kitchen passes by without incident.
Magnolia is the colour Hell will be. Its pigments and hues are perfectly mixed in order to create the definitive soul-sucking machine. How many good men and women have been dissected by magnolia walls? Did they even notice as their essence and spirit were slowly drawn out of them? Maybe they welcomed it, as the guilty might welcome the hairy rope. Might it not be a relief there, in the end of your days, to know it will at last be over and done with, to feel the shit flow, and the piss? To feel the death spasm shudder you like never before. Might they find ultimate pleasure there? Ultimate surrender? A powerful muscular spasm on this side, and there, just beyond sight, on the other end, an end. To have an end in sight. That must surely be the goal.
Listen carefully to the squeak of the cutlery drawer. The pitch has increased noticeably since the wet weather came in last week. Wonder what it means? Is it a sign? Am I blind to be missing it? Close the drawer.
Mental note to check the Dictaphone later, examine the sound. Stir tea. Drink. Avoid eye contact with the garden birds. Back to the computer.
Don’t let it get away. Thoughts have to be channelled; you have to actively seek them out and catch them and get them down. I’ve said that before, haven’t I?
I added another owl to my collection today. The traps have been working splendidly of late. That’s five altogether now. The first one I caught has already started to decompose. Its once-bright-and-deep eyes have shrunk away to almost nothing; they look like hollow pea skins in their now-enormous sockets. The feathers, too, have begun to wither, but with these wide fields at the back of the house, I think there will be plenty to serve their purpose.
The streets around me throb with unknown power. Their footpaths and sewers and kerbs spell out meanings unseen by all but the initiated. How many know how much frazzled energy a line of lamp posts can suck up in a day? The paths around my house store my life in living rock; only the dead are free from the lichen chatter. And birds, too, sparrows and crows and the like, they know it and they see it and they never tell; at least, if they do, then no one is listening.
I have planned the deed.
There are no gaps in my logic.
The sigil has been working for over two months now, seeping into the town’s fabric, a ticking bomb, a waiting landmine, a hideous booby trap – its tripwires still intact. As above, so below, and all that other bollocks. Only the waiting left.
I am not sure what will happen when the swirls and angles reach a point of critical density, when the triggering numbers are revealed, when the power they contain has grown too unstable to be withheld from the greater cosmos any longer. I only know that it will happen. For it is written now in the dark matter and therefore, it must manifest itself on the material plane.
I drink my tea and go back to my typing.
Chaney was walking into town. He had a car, but since he’d got out of hospital, the doctors had been telling him to walk as much as possible. They said it would help with the mobility in his leg. Even now, over a year since the fall, he still walked with a heavy limp.
The rain had stopped earlier, leaving the newly-laid tarmac of the roads covered in a slick, oily discharge. When he caught it at the right angle, he could see miniature rainbows swirl across the surface.
All along this route, from the footpath’s edge to the peak of the embankments, sloped freshly-tilled earth, great swathes of new grass seeds, spreading away across the subtle slopes to the skyline. Here and there were freshly-gouged tire tracks, made by diggers and earth movers, and on the top of the incline to his right, sat a huge, caterpillar-tracked crane. The major construction of ring road and its huge, three-lane, six-junction roundabout had finished two months ago, but still, the machines toiled to bring beauty back from chaos.
Chaney was pushing fifty, but he was thin and wiry as any fit 30-year-old. His face was a crazy maze of wrinkles and his blue eyes were no longer the brilliant jewels they had been in his youth; now they were a milky blue, a little washed out.
Chaney designed roads for a living; at least, he used to. Thirteen months ago, he had taken a bad fall from the top of the stairs in his office building. He’d broken his right femur in two places. For five months, he’d been laid up with cold steel pins sticking out of his thigh.
The ring road project had been his; it was to be the crowning achievement of his career, but just as his plans had been accepted, he took his fall and the job was handed over to Nicholas Lincoln, Chaney’s understudy.
Lincoln had been there on the day of the accident; the two men had been descending the stairs and Lincoln’s umbrella had somehow tripped Chaney, causing the fall. Chaney had thought it an accident, unplanned, no one’s fault. But as the months had passed, his feelings on the subject had changed. You see, Lincoln had always been a bit of an odd bird, a bit out there, although he was hard-working and dedicated to the job. Sometimes, Chaney would ask him to join him for lunch, but he would always refuse, preferring to stay in the office, reading his strange books on the occult and chaos theory and multi-dimensional mathematics. He always seemed to be typing, or scribbling in one of his vast collection of dog-eared notebooks.
The project was handed over to Lincoln after Chaney’s accident and the first thing he did was to completely scrap all the work his predecessor had done on the roundabout. Chaney’s plans were torn up and replaced with ones that – while they did what was needed of them – were overly complicated. It seemed to Chaney that his young protégé was simply showing off, using strange artistic curves when a straight line would have served just as well.
Chaney made his way up the hill. His cane helped him but not much. His leg ached badly in the cold air.
The road was due to open the next day. Latest estimates predicted that up to fifty thousand vehicles would use the roundabout every day. When he made it to the top of the hill, Chaney looked out across the newly-terraformed earth. He could smell the fresh soil in his nostrils, almost feel it clinging to his damp face. If you had asked him why he had come to that spot, he would not have answered, for he did not know. He only knew that he had been drawn here somehow. The feelings had first surfaced over a month ago and had grown stronger with each passing day. He had to come here, just as surely as dawn follows night, as death follows life.
There was an air of expectancy about this place. It seemed to know more than it was letting on; it was hiding something.
Chaney felt strangely ambivalent toward the landscape, like a man unfixed, an outsider and yet, why should he? This was his town, his home. But there, on the sloping hill, looking out over the curves and angles and arcs, Chaney felt alien to the earth.
Fucking computers. Come on, work. No, I do not want to send a fucking error report. Double click…time passes…come on, you piece of shit…time passes…there. It’s working.
The screen flickers into fresh life and numbers scroll in vertical lines. Won’t be long now.
I wonder: do they know? Do they have any comprehension of what is about to happen? They, there in their suburban heaven, greedy bastards to a man, look at my fancy, fucking house and yes, I change the car every year and no, I don’t give a fuck about the bastards whom I’m bleeding dry by overcharging them on rent on the other two houses that I bought with Daddy’s inheritance. If you’re not on the property ladder, then you’re not worth talking to. Oh, Christ, Miranda, he works with his hands and he drinks pints of lager; watch the fucking silver.
My finger hovers over the return button. In the films, this is where the guy in the bloodstained white vest would come crashing through the window and mule-kick me in the solar plexus, but this is real, real as any made-up story, and so, nothing happens, no heroes, no vigilantes, no ghosts, just me and my computer and the work.
These last 13 months have been solely about the work. There was nothing else for a man like me. It was easy once that idiot Chaney was out of the way. It was all so simple in the end, so utterly free of complexity. It was almost beautiful. The right shapes, the right numbers, at the right time, and the world is your servant. I sit here in my shitty suburban hovel and inside, I know that I can bleed the earth and snuff out the stars.
I breathe the electric air. This will be a moment unlike any other. I press the button; the numbers stop scrolling…there’s a pattern there, an escape.
And oh how the feeling grows.
Chaney couldn’t get Lincoln out of his head. There was something weird about him, something off. There were rumours going around the town. He lived alone in a rented house; the landlord said he was always grumbling about the rent. Some people said they had seen him in the field behind his house, carrying a stuffed owl; others claimed that it had been alive.
He’d been going out with a girl, but they’d broken up six or seven months ago. She had told the local hairdresser that he talked to himself, that he cried in the shower and sometimes spent hours doodling circles and shapes in a notebook.
Chaney was on the verge of heading for home. That strange, expectant feeling, which had hung over him since he’d gotten out of his car, had slowly dissipated, the way the fury of a hurricane might die away as the eye bears down on you. It was getting cold, so he pulled the zip of his parka right up to his chin. And then…warmth…a well-known warmth, the warmth that newborn babies miss. It took him a few seconds to realise that he’d just pissed himself. He lifted up his parka and looked down at the dark stain growing from its root, there in his groin.
Then a slurping noise. He looked up and out and there, like worms in a can, the six roads that fed into the roundabout began to squirm. The movement was entirely fluid, like oil being squirted into water. The roads slipped and writhed and the air began to hum. Chaney’s wet penis grew hard and vital. His radar was picking something up. There was a loud moan, of either pleasure or pain, and the mud about his feet began to throb and heave.
Above him, in the blackening sky, huge thunder clouds swelled and churned. They seemed to be hiding something, some strange, writhing beard of limbs or tendrils that, at times, reached out from the great wall of black cloud and slithered across the earth and grass and roads. A streak of sickly yellow lightning struck the ground about fifty yards from where he stood. The wind was deafening. He fell to his knees, his knuckles turning white as he pulled out great clumps of his own hair.
He could have done murder, kneeling there, watching the hypnotic movement of the ground before him; he could have strangled and garrotted and raped and gouged and burned. The universal laws were corrupted, made obsolete, easily overruled by the shapes and spirals that formed and flowed across the now-kaleidoscopic roundabout.
Chaney could feel the heat of the blood as it ran down his face and into his eyes. It tasted good.
In the town, in the houses and shops and offices, people’s anger and self-loathing and spite grew and swelled within them: a woman was punched in the face by a man who had unsuccessfully asked her out two weeks previously; he then lay down on the ground, curled into a ball and shit his jeans. In another part of town, in a tidy house, a woman took a double-edged blade from an old razor that had belonged to her husband’s father – an heirloom of sorts, he could never bring himself to throw it away – she eased the blade out, being careful not to cut her fingers, and carved two long and horrendous incisions down the inside of each of her thighs. She watched, transfixed, as the blood soaked into the worn white material of the underwear around her ankles. Two doors down, a man attempted to slit his wrists and throat with a corkscrew, while in a pub called The Seven Bells, on the other side of town, the barman poured a freshly-boiled kettle of water over his head. The sudden realisation that there was a way to escape overwhelmed them. It was as though the knowledge that they could shake off their dull-grey shawl of reality and strike out into the indecipherable spaces had somehow corrupted their minds. The sigil had kicked open the doors, but they did not have the right password to leave. Without the right numbers, there could be no escape.
Chaney was scratching in the wet dirt, shovelling it into his slobbering mouth and wishing, wishing to the universe itself, that there was someone nearby whom he could hurt.
I am gone. The deed is done. The stars look different somehow. I will not think again.
The papers reported the case of the barman and the boiling water. He died before they could get him to hospital. It was, apparently, a sudden and complete nervous breakdown. There were very few other reports of the goings-on of that wet afternoon. It was almost as if the people had willingly forgotten it, although some, if they had been asked, would have said that they felt disappointed somehow, that they felt as though they had missed out on something, some rare opportunity, even though what that opportunity was, they could not have said.
Chaney had woken up at the base of the hill just as night was falling; he cried for a long time after vomiting the soil and gravel out of his stomach.
He went back to work two months later; his leg was as good as it was going to get and the Council were in need of a good man. Nicholas Lincoln had disappeared. His landlord called around for the rent at the end of the month and found him gone. He had not packed his bags; he had not even turned the TV or the lights in the bathroom off. His ancient computer was still switched on, but the screen had been smashed in; a tiny piece of scalp and hair clung to the jagged glass. The room looked like it had played host to a miniature tornado. The police found traces of blood on the keyboard and five dead owls in the kitchen cupboard.
Bio: Martin Hayes lives in Arklow, a small town on the east coast of Ireland. He has written for places like Nature, Flurb and Neon. He’s currently working with artist Roy Huteson Stewart on a graphic novel based around the life of Aleister Crowley. Crowley: Wandering the Waste should appear in 2011, with any bloody luck. He blogs at http://www.paroneiria.com.