The crunch of footsteps on fresh snow raised the cold hairs on the back of the neck of the man in the black coat, and he turned to face his old friend.
“It has been a long time,” the approaching woman said, and puffed out a curling dragon of breath in the winter air, “do you remember when we used to do this every year? What were you called back then?”
The man in the black coat smiled. “I don’t think there’s a word for that any more. But back then it was barely past grunting so I could be wrong.”
The woman laughed and stroked some hair out of her face and behind an ear. “It’s amazing how fast they grow up, isn’t it? They’re like us when we were kids.”
“A lot louder,” the man in the black coat grumbled, as from the church behind him a congregation began to sing. The chorus of heavenly voices seemed to fall dead on the snowy surroundings. The pair listened in silence, watching the snow fall and not moving at all, and a passer-by might have said they had become statues, were it not for the regular puffs of breath coming from their noses.
The man in black winced, suddenly. “They got your name wrong!”
“At least I still get mentioned,” the woman replied, “you’re barely a thought in people’s heads these days.”
“That’s the way I’ve always got to them though,” the man grinned, and a flash of glee crossed his face. He frowned. “Not so much now though, what with their television and videogames.”
“It’s just a phase,” the woman said, sounding like a sympathetic mother, “Remember the Andros? They pretty much started living underground after they got opposable thumbs.”
The man laughed in reminiscence of a past life and a past job. “They turned out all right in the end, I suppose.”
The woman’s face seemed to darken, and she pursed her red lips together tightly. “You left, didn’t you, before…”
The man in the black coat raised his eyebrows at her. “Before what?”
“They went nuclear,” was her curt response. The man sighed, sending a plume of water vapour spiralling into the night air. “They were about the same age as this lot, actually. Ran out of space. And entertainment. None left.”
The man’s face contorted into a picture of frustration and anger, and he shouted out in anger at the still night. “Are we the only ones?” he screamed, “Why doesn’t it ever work out?”
The woman grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him into a tight embrace, her white coat pressing into his black one and calming him as he breathed through gritted teeth.
“Who knows,” the woman said into his ear, “maybe this one won’t end up the same as the Andros. I’ve seen some amazing things this time around. People smart enough to beat you at a game of backgammon, that’s for sure.”
The man in black pulled out of the embrace, his emotions closing away and his face becoming blank once more. “No,” he said, resolutely, “I know how this one will end.”
The woman stared into the night and through it, past it, and her eyes glazed over. She sighed. ”You’re right. Maybe…one day. But not here. Not this one. I will miss it though. They sing beautifully from time to time.”
The man in black grunted in agreement. “I guess this is it then?” he said, “Part ways and wait for the end?”
The woman nodded. “It won’t be long now. I’ll see you again soon, old friend.”
“Not long enough.” the man choked out through a terse jaw. “Not long enough.”
The two nodded to one another in acknowledgement, then turned in opposite directions and began walking away. The snow continued to fall on the small suburban street, and the hymn of the church continued to fall dead on the soft powder, and even though the names were all wrong, the woman still smiled wistfully, and wished that just once, things would be different.
“Tell me,” mused Doctor Ontover, perching his bridged fingers on his chin, “how have you been since last week?”
I squirmed ever so slightly in the plush armchair that had grown so familiar to me, as I did in response to the question every week. The room always put me in a slightly nervous mood, as much for the fact that I always felt intimidated by the sheer intellectuality of the room than for what went on when I was in it.
“I’ve been doing okay,” I said, folding my hands into my lap and twisting them around each other, feeling the shake in my sweaty palms without realising it.
Dr Ontover looked at me over his half moon spectacles, the epitome of a shrink, fountain pen resting in a poised hand and notepad on his lap.
“And how have your nerves been? Have you managed to meet any new people?”
I looked away from his wrinkled face to the bookcase behind his desk. It was lined with old tomes and texts that I would never read, but provided enough of a distraction from facing the issues that I was meant to be getting over.
“No.” I muttered, blinking the soreness out of my eyes that I knew was meant to be something about my subconscious and something about suppressed feelings.
Dr Ontover sat in silence for a moment. He seemed to do this often, and while I suppose on the outside it was perfectly normal behaviour, the side of me that needed these sessions couldn’t help but think he was waiting for something, like a predator waiting for its moment to strike.
He said nothing for long enough for me to begin to feel guilty. It always worked. Given time, my guilt would always seem to bob to the surface unbidden, a buoyant lump in my throat.
“I had another episode,” I force out around the lump. “Another one of those, what did you call them? Crises. I had another crisis.”
He scribbled something on his notepad. I fretted momentarily and wrung my hands again.
“Go on,” he said, calmly, with a glint in his eyes behind his glasses.
I swallowed hard, and felt the lump sink down slightly as I began to speak. “I was lying in bed, doing nothing, and staring at the ceiling. I was just thinking, like I usually do, and, it hit me again, that, that sense of unreality. Of not being.” I fell silent and blinked again hard. Perhaps even I could admit there was something behind my moist eyes now, as much as I convinced myself there wasn’t.
“Please, tell me more about this feeling. Anything at all.”
His pen rested once more on the surface of his notepad, and he looked at me with a patient eagerness that unsettled me.
“I, er, I just got this impression that, that the world, that me, I’m nothing. I know it’s something most people get but it hits me like a wall, like an impassable fact that makes everything else obsolete. I’m just a bundle of matter and thoughts and don’t really mean anything and I could feel the bed slipping away and myself retreating further inside and closing the world off and it seemed like an eternity before I came crashing back to, to…to, what, reality? To my room. I came back and was staring at the ceiling and panting.” I paused, the lump subsided and my throat clear. “That’s all.”
The Doctor lapsed into silence again. I wasn’t compelled to speak this time, I had said what I needed to say - it was his response that was needed now. He tapped his pen thoughtfully on his notepad before speaking.
“I want to try something new with you,” he said at long last. “I’ve been holding off from doing this until I felt you were ready, but I think it could really…open your eyes to this problem.”
I sat up slightly, lifting myself on my elbows to an upright position. “Anything,” I said, “anything to stop from feeling like that again.”
Dr Ontover frowned for the first time I had ever seen, and his wrinkles thundered into a crease above his nose. A moment later, his expression cleared and he leaned back, holding the pen in two hands between thumb and forefinger. “Well, I cannot promise anything. But it does involve some minor hypnosis, if that would be alright with you?”
Hypnosis was something I’d never considered before, but my paranoid and nervous nature immediately set me against it. “Hypnosis?” I stammered, my voice breaking slightly.
“Nothing major, only a slightly calming state so that the actual therapy may affect you in a stronger way. Otherwise you may be too distracted.”
I shifted nervously, and thought it over. It was with Dr Ontover, whom I had been seeing for long enough to think that I should probably at least respect his opinion, if not trusting him. And if he thought it could help me… I needed help.
“Okay.” I said, finally.
The doctor smiled a small smile and leaned back forward. “Excellent,” he said, “now what I need you to do is to close your eyes for me.” I closed my eyes, “now, relax. Clear your mind of all your worries and thoughts, as many of them as you can. Just focus on my voice, and nothing else.” I tried to do as he was saying, trying to forget about the thousands of worries and thoughts that were plaguing my consciousness. I breathed in deeply instinctively. “Good,” Dr Ontover said, “deep breaths now.” His voice went silent for a moment, and I heard the ever so faint sound of him rising from his chair.
“Now,” he said calmly, and I felt his hand rest on my shoulder. I flinched away from his touch. It had felt cold and sharp, as if the tip of a needle had rested on my shoulder for a moment without breaking the skin. “Now,” he said again, and gripped my shoulder with a warmer hand, reassuring and sure. “I want you to do exactly as I say.”
I nodded. I hadn’t meant to, but I nodded.
“Good,” he murmured. “Without coming out of your trance, I want you to open your eyes.”
Doing so, I felt as if I was undergoing a huge headrush; I could see, but it wasn’t really seeing - I knew that there were things there, but it just didn’t register that I was seeing, and I felt dizzy and trapped in my skull.
“It’s okay,” Doctor Ontover soothed, his voice an anchor in the delusion. “I just have one task for you. Hold out your hands.”
I felt my hands drift up in front of my sluggish vision. A heavy book thudded in them and I felt its weight as if from a distance.
“This is a dictionary,” the Doctor spoke, with a voice as heavy as the book in my hands, “and I want you to play a game called Vish for me.”
When I spoke, it was as if my mouth was made of foam. “Vish?” I managed.
“Yes. What I want you to do is pick a word that describes how you are feeling, and find it in the dictionary.”
I watched my hands turn the pages to the ‘A’ section, and my eyes settle on ‘alone.’
Isolated and lonely. “Think about that definition, and then choose one of the words, and look that up in the dictionary.” I felt like I was drifting farther and farther from reality as this process was repeated. Remote. Distant. Away. Individual. Single. Only. I was hardly aware of what the definitions were, but I could feel it sinking into my mind, the connectedness of the words, the linking of the definitions.
“Read aloud the definition of only.” Doctor Ontover spoke, and through a haze of confusion I saw him frowning again, watching me concernedly.
“A-…Alone of its or their kind. Single or solitary,” my mouth said, and as it did I felt the hint of an idea creep into the back of my mind.
The doctor smiled, I think. His face moved. “Good,” he said, though my ears slurred his words. “Again. Choose another word that describes your feelings.”
We did this for hours, for days, for years, I do not know. I lost track of all time and feeling, going through worry, and depression, and pain and loss and scared. Each time I came full circle, the doctor stopped me and started again. I felt each word thump into my brain and settle there, and the idea began to spread and my mind receded further and the haze got thicker and the words got slower and as I began to lose all connection with my senses I just had a moment, a brief flash of realisation, of horrifying truth, of the circularity of it all, the utter lack of reference, of how false it all was, and suddenly everything collapsed around me as the world became words and the words became meaningless and I no longer knew what I was and whether I was at all.
It started with the fish
It started with the fish. We’d never named them, except for the extremely fat one that was constantly blinking. We named him Blinky. It started with Blinky, and his friends. Five of them in all, floating about in their glass tank on the deep-set windowsill that ran the length of the small corridor between the hall and the kitchen back at home. I never used to pay them much attention, back when things were…normal. They were just a side-attraction, an insignificant object that was just…there. But that was before I noticed them…following me.
If you were to ask me when it first happened, I wouldn’t be able to tell you – it’s just that one day I became aware of the fact that when I walked past the tank, the fish would tend to flock towards me. I tested it out properly once – I positioned myself out of sight of the tank at one end of the corridor, and slowly edged my way past, acting nonchalant but keeping an eye on the tank as best I could. Sure enough, the fish seemed to gather towards me as I walked past. But as soon as I bent down to look and tapped on the glass, they scattered, floating about as if they were window shoppers and I was an overpriced handbag.
Try as Blinky and his cohort might, I was on to it now. After that, I kept my eye out for anything else odd happening. Soon, I began to notice things all over the place – animals seemed to react to me, sometimes as if I were an intruder, and sometimes as if I were a curio in a second hand junk shop. Dogs would often bark at me violently from behind their owner’s back garden fences, or sometimes they would run up to them and sniff at me as I walked past; birds would either stare at me from their perches in the leafless trees that turned my road into an avenue or fly away in great flocks when I came near; even my old best friend Johnny’s iguana seemed to think I was suspicious when I went round to his house one afternoon.
My eyes were open now. Something was happening, something supernatural, and it wasn’t just the whole animal kingdom that was going all Outer Limits on me. Books, pieces of paper, my phone, things like that, all started…moving. I would be sure, sure that I placed my phone on my desk. Absolutely sure of it. But no matter how much I’d look through all my papers, it wouldn’t be there, so I’d be off about the house, no doubt with Blinky wondering what I was doing the whole time, and I’d either find it in some far-flung place like the kitchen table, or I’d return to my beige bedroom in a humph and slump into my chair, only to be presented with my phone sitting on top of my desk as if it were the whole time, taunting me.
I knew what was happening here. I knew of George Romero fans who were fully prepared for the zombie apocalypse. Well, I was more of a J.K.Rowling, Robert Muchamore, hell, even Stephenie Meyer kind of guy. I was prepared for this. I was living out my own first few chapters, the boring prelude that introduced the character and laid the subtle (or not so subtle, Blinky) hints towards the big reveal that was to come. And when the big reveal came, boy was I ever prepared.
Damien Blackfrost. He appeared at the start of the new school year a few months ago. I had planned for something like this happening. It was the classic fiction character plot – after the first introduction, the main character goes back to school, and finds his soon-to-be arch-nemesis has joined the school pretending to be a normal pupil. With a name like Damien Blackfrost, there was no doubt in my mind that this guy was probably closer to 400 than 14. The jet black hair and closed personality sealed the deal. This guy was out to get me.
So I got myself armed. I didn’t go anywhere for the next two days without my dad’s old switchblade in my pocket. I wasn’t going to be the Doctor Evil of my own story, always letting the guy go without ever killing him. No, when he made his move, I was going to finish my own story the way any sane person in the latest magic teenager book would. And it was good that I did. Four days into term, I was walking home about half an hour after school had ended - alone. I had just left the front gate when I heard the quick pattering of feet behind me. And then, a hand on my shoulder, and an out of breath gasp of my name. My hand went to my pocket.
I don’t remember much of what happened next. The next few minutes are gone from my mind, but I remember flashes. Damien, defeated, somehow with my maths book in his hands, collapsed on the floor. Screams from down the street. Handcuffs. The back of a van. Pills.
I thought I’d won when I defeated Damien. Somehow they got me anyway. There must be more of them, out to get me. And now I’m here. Padded cell. The extremely dim fluorescent lights in the ceiling have a slight buzz to them that irritates me no end, but I have managed to phase out the annoyance for the most part. It took a lot of effort, but then again, I have a lot of time here. Time to think. And I have thought.
There’s a character missing from my story yet. The saviour, the mentor, the knight in shining armour. Damien must have a counterpart somewhere. The only question is how over how I’m supposed to let him know I’m trapped. There’s only one answer. Telepathy. I’ve obviously got some sort of supernatural power, so I must focus all my energy on sending out a message, letting my saviour know that I’m trapped and I need him to save me.
I begin thinking. Watching the door. Concentrating. Picturing the room I’m in, focussing on my anonymous messiah. I need him to save me from this blank and plain world I’ve found myself trapped in. Concentrating. Watching the door. Watching the handle. Watching the lock. Willing him to come.
A shadow in the window. The lock clicks open. The door opens wide.
A silhouette. Framed by a ring of bright light behind him, my messiah stands in the doorway, head turned towards me.
I rise from the floor, and move towards my glowing saviour. He came to save me. Just like in the books.
The silhouetted figure holds out his hand.
The messiah in the white coat places the pills on the floor, and shuts the door behind him.
So I had another idea for a book
It is revealed to every character that the world is just a fantasy, nothing more than someone’s dream. The discussion throughout the book is which of the characters is the one dreaming, and the book explores how they’d deal with it, possibly reflecting various big philosophies, taking a big nihilist/existentialist turn. Then in the end it is never revealed who was dreaming because the point is it’s a work of fiction anyway.
I had an idea for a book
Where like, it’s one of those stereotypical kid-who’s-special-and-needed-by-some-supernatural-power things. Maybe some ancient gods or something. And you know how they always do the tests, and pass, and come to terms with it and shit? In this book it would be different, like, when the gods first revealed themselves, instead of the whole slow realisation or whatever, the main character would be like “The fuck? Dude, what the actual fuck?” and swear loads at the Gods and then leave like fuck this shit and they’d be all dude what the hell then later when they like the guy to do the test stuff and he’s still all fuck no they’re like fuck you you do it we’re gods and he’s like fuck off I’m trying to be normal then like normally, the main character would pass the first test and get closer to his destiny, but in this book, he’d fucking fail, the gods would be all what the fuck, and the latter half of the book would be him afterwards, going about his life, dealing with the fucking crazytimes he had, then possibly culminating in the end of the fucking universe.
I really want to write a story…
...focussed around like an object. And following that object. But I don’t know how to get character investment out of that. I just really like the idea of a story about an object, and how it’s fit into many people’s stories, and about how objects survive us and stuff. But I don’t know how.
Ahaha, oh god…
So for Creative Writing Society, I had to write an “emotional, romantic, non-rhyming love poem”, because we’re all doing ‘something we’d never normally do’. And I’ve written it. It’s hilariously bad. I mean, the phonemes are nice, but it’s going to be so hard to read with a straight face :P