Trigger warning. Dark. Normally I wouldn’t preface a piece with any comments, but this has severely disturbing content. Particularly the final paragraphs. However, those are invention – imagination, nothing of them comes from real-world experience.
There is a physicist – a man who dabbles at the edges of universal power. The beauty of infinity speaks to him. The subtle power contained in a beam of light, the unfathomable weight of the cosmic ether is his altar – and on that he allows his mind to lay ideas, visions of possibility – offerings of explanation. He seeks reward afforded by proof.
He had fallen in love once. Unexpected – an accident. Like a mistake on a page, it was surprising and disturbing, but he was sure he could sift through facts for the cause – through previous calculations and find a misplaced symbol; the source of his error.
And then she moved away. His purpose moved away with her and any explanation for why this might be followed on the same wind.
He hasn’t paid any bills and his computer has failed. He goes to the basement and digs in a box, a puzzling arrangement of contents thrown together, stored after the flood, and at the bottom sees his remembrance – an untouched yellow pages, thick and heavy – directory listings of businesses for the entire metropolitan region.
In the dim light the print is blurry, difficult to make out. He holds the book by its spine rotating it and aligning his head to its face, flipping pages with a wet digit turns to D’s and runs his finger down a column. The listings go by unremarkable. Physician-Surgeon of this and that until one listing, incongruous, piques his interest. “Jenra Synton, Doctor of faces and desires”.
This is what I’m looking for.
Doctor, what is this? I have this marking. It came a month ago. Here, here and here.
What were you thinking the day before?
I had lain on a sofa – closed my eyes and saw these things; a gargoyle – anchored to a battlement by cement wings, talons clawed into solid walls waiting, gaze locked downward over an empty courtyard, sentinel. It dreams – floating embryonic – eyes open and senseless, limbs curled in to hold heat, some vestigial kernel of soul, waiting through time for an unknown end. Or floating, silent, infinite, stasis – focus uncertain or unattainable. Nothing multiplied by exponent, no tragedy, no empathy, awareness with nothing to be aware of. The opposite of emotion.
I had a very bad night that night. My heart was raw and angry. I could not wrestle control from it, and my mind reeled with rage at the images it painted. Impotent, foolish old man. Laughing stock. Loser.
And before that?
Something happened to me – that day I was stalked by despair. In the end I had to abandon myself. I couldn’t be inside – I folded. I don’t know what it was – I haven’t been able to name it yet. And the next day my face began to itch.
You have disease of the mind and disease of the face. I don’t know which is cause and which is symptom, but one precedes the other in all cases. Here, look. He throws a book of medical examples on the examining table. It is open to a page of four pictures. The images are old – like Polaroids, terrible images, tilted angles, studies of what seems to be a single head, shaven and held in delicate feminine fingers, still for the camera, eyes closed against their own experience, looking inward for tactile comfort.
Few people are affected – you are the only one I’ve ever seen.
What do I do?
Where this has happened before they believe you can think it away. Not with wishes, but with focused intent. And it has to be thought in a dream. Somehow you have to dream this intention, Sleep, be in a dream, think these things as I’ve said and it will heal. Both mind and face – but the face will heal first and the mind will follow.
Who are these people? The ones who dream like this? The ones who have cured themselves?
I’ll find out for you. Come back later.
Later. That’s all I can offer.
The doctors cryptic instructions, a labyrinthine journey – false starts, circuitous paths, riddles and uncertainty, lead to the confluence of two streams in the dark woods, and there is a home.
The door frame is ringed with moss and an odd liquid issues at the base.
My name is Beth. You’re late.
The interior of the home is tidy and inviting. Furnishings from his memory, and pictures, lamps, books, all seem familiar.
What’s wrong with you?
I don’t know. There are these markings.
He points to the dark mottling on his neck, opens his shirt and shows the one above his heart.
She moves to him and he reels from the scent of her. She reaches for skin just beneath his ear and pinches, he cries out – stands firm and bears the pain, expecting absolution.
I will tell you this; you follow a thought process – a thousand tendrils leading through wide swings – calculation and intuition, yet there are only two possibilities; is your soul dedicated to love? Was there another person there? You are either correct and righteous, or mad. Do you hear me?
I need to tell you something.
You can’t tell this. It’s impossible. Go away.
On the way out the door he hears whispers – like a vapor from the vents at the floor. Someone is down there trying to reach him and he stops. Is this a secret that can save him?
I’m going to speak. I don’t care. All of those tendrils – searches, they result from something. A need to know. No matter how many times you start a new one, after a time – they all become familiar. An original thought, something that may have quality – promise – in a few minutes becomes familiar and you realize you’re on a path you’ve seen before. So – what is the use of these impotent sparks, if they’re not capable of a new resolution; if there isn’t one that comes through at the end to a different place? Why do they exist? Something’s missing. If love is real, something must work.
This Siren, this vision in his mind – she is engaged with business – her hands and her art overwhelm time.
I talk to her and send intention. There is nothing in the window. There is nothing in the mirror. Do the words die in my head, before I can speak them, or when they’re spoken back and forth with the images in my mind – and when the paths are run again – visualizations that loop back, separate, dance together and lift blood, do these words cement my heart in purpose – or madness? You see – I’ve been in this house before.
You’ve never been here. The things you think, the reverence, it stews – surrounds – and interferes with reality. You can’t know.
What if she is following the same routes?
If so, would she reach out her hand? You’ve never been here. How do you know her?
I kissed her. Once. I stood with her. I saw her eyes and felt her heart. She was there with me.
Cuneiform rain falls slowly – sparkling. Each drop disintegrates to splinters on impact with the cement. Like crystal spiders falling from the sky – their legs snap off when they touch the earth and their glittering pieces run between bricks of pavement and disappear through some hidden crack. It’s a sign. The solution is below. Follow the water down to redemption – maybe at the end of a long path, maybe by the solving of a puzzle – there is a route, some veiled circuit that will lead to the place where foolishness, life’s biggest mistakes are forgiven and forgotten.
Somewhere between the long days of a child’s life and the diabolical labyrinth of death – he is lingering.
He falls forward – wills his body to become water and runs through the split in the sidewalk to the underside of the blocks. Bulbous roots, dank scent leads downward, the earth gives and his body splits. Earthworms torsion their greasy bodies and twist into holes. Lost seeds – too deep for absolution lie rotted and wasted in the pits.
A thousand years or a minute of time pass indifferent to the soil. And down he goes. Crystalline deposits of mineral and slick wet pads of meaty bulk line the path and he is a piece of human again. Eyeballs and tendrils, fingernails and choking gullet claw and gasp their way forward and downward until he breaks the ceiling of an unfathomably deep cavern – and he falls, free and stinking – spewing mud and filth – passing through the black senseless void.
There is a gathering. There are voices and women weeping. A mad dog bares teeth with a guttural growl. Naked priests flagellate with wet boughs – the slapping of switches on pudgy flesh punctuates their pleas and wild chanting. He feels the weight of his skin, he sees the mottled spots on the back of his hands and the bulbous blue veins beneath, that wrap over tendon and then disappear at knuckles. He flexes his fingers to see if he’s real.
He’s dizzy and sitting up in bed. There are people around him. His mother and father. They are weeping and their mouths are leaking pleas. They wring their hands and he wonders what has destroyed them so.
His fingers – now they are purple and swollen – hands wrapped to the back of the knuckles with bandages. He is wearing a sky-blue smock and on the right sleeve is a single drop of spittle. It wobbles – presenting a perfect convex mirror and it draws him – the entire room is visible – reflected in miniature on this tiny surface.
He falls toward the drop – straightens his body into a dive with hands forward to break the entrance and he feels his fingers push through the membrane slowly. Cool, still water swallows his skin – fingers, wrists – up his arms – elbows and he feels the surface slip over him like a breeze and it swallows him until the fresh crystal liquid surrounds him and closes – a sphincter at the point of entry.
He stands in silence at the precipice of a valley – gazing out over an entire world of beauty – like another planet – he has traveled an entire lifetime to attain this perch. The view – a Utopian vista of lush forest, satin sky and a known destination – just there at the horizon on the other side – a most desirable and perfect place – at the top of the other side of the valley. At the entrance on this side the descent isn’t difficult – if you choose to use it, and at the base where you end up is a place where the walls are terraced stone and shrub – one end slopes up in a giant bowl – like a coliseum or open cathedral, but huge – the size of a mountain. The valley itself is so large that mountains exist within it – the slopes up to the foothills are immense.
He has been here – he has taken people to it – some friends, but can’t remember exactly the time or which friends. He knows the other side is perfection without peer – it’s the reason the valley exists – so that you can go there and look back to where you have been – that spot is perfect in a physical way, an emotional way, and in every sense – in every way it’s perfect. Although he knows this – at the peak of the commitment – at the top of the path that descends – the idea pleases and at the same time disturbs him – the depth of commitment to going there. He hesitates, but he knows both that he’s been there and will go again. He knows the draw of the place will overcome his trepidation and he will end up where he wants to be.
The feeling of wanting to share this place with others is afterthought – it seems incidental.
The quality of the place is the whole point. Its draw is paramount. As if it exists as a map to itself – reminding one that a perfect dream was had.
He awakens in dim, soft light.
They are standing hand in hand on a gray sphere with arms outstretched reaching toward the horizon on either side. In front of them the difference between sky and surface is masked – the gray haze of the atmosphere fading into solid only in imagination. The sphere is huge – he can feel its mass at his feet and he meditates on his own weight – he feels the pull of the sphere – its exact proportions – the gravity it creates by resting at this dip in the fabric of existence. No scent, no sound, no sign of reality but the perfect, soft wash of the color gray. Her hand in his.
Something is coming. There is a truth bubbling up from somewhere below – the hidden excitement buoyant and severing bonds – it roars with purity – rises with intent and it forces its way to the surface – birthing with a flash of white light.
He stands alone in a forest – arms outstretched reaching toward the horizon on either side. The depth of color, the detail of bark, grass, the fine flash of sunlight on veined leaf – glint of a fiber of web strung in scented air. There comes from inside of him an awareness of the gravity of his being. There is a singing and a dance of vapor twisting through life and a remark that perfectly frames each piece of wonderment with excitement and joy.
Infused thoughts; he starts to hear her speak to him – saying it’s OK – I love you – don’t worry. His mother, his father, people from the past, friends, and people he works with – all saying – we love you – we’re thinking of you and we want to comfort you – we feel you all the time and we want to say it’s all OK. Don’t cry.
A bird without feathers. Death in his hand.
A gift for her. She doesn’t believe in omens.
Black crow packed in newspaper.
Robin’s life crushed beneath his boot-heel. Death by his hand.
Two sparrows pierced by love. Death by his hand.
Their birds are all dead.
She will make forms of them. He’s never seen her hands work.
He doesn’t belong anymore, in any place. And given opportunity, has no wishes to make.
Death by his hand.
He empties his mind, walks downstairs to the locked cabinet, extracts its contents and sits at the chair in the corner of the room. He inserts a single hollow point bullet in the chamber, closes the bolt, removes the safety and puts the butt of the rifle on the ground, the end of the barrel into his mouth. His bowels turn to water and his mind and heart accelerate to thunder like a launched thoroughbred. It tastes like tinfoil and smoke.
He settles there involved in this experiment, looking down toward the trigger, allowing the hum of the earth to vibrate in his bones for a full minute.
The universe stretches its legs, yawns and shifts a little – restless. There is no intention to fire the weapon. He explains this gently to his mind – the fragile vapor of his being, in the same voice one would use to calm a child, he explains that this moment is simply a nod to the thoughts – that the end of all this may be more a welcome thing than a tragedy, and that a bullet kills with a speed that precludes any pain or indecision.
But it won’t listen. It is in panic – racing, screaming – engaged in a looping insane search for reason, producing sweat at its palms.
He wipes one hand on his pants.
Looking straight ahead and with great intention, he moves his hand down the length of the weapon, feeling for the trigger-guard, intending only to fully define one single instant, one consequence – the center of an idea. He curls this finger one more step – down onto the lever – the release device, the trigger for the rifle. A precise pressure is required at this piece. Better than a caress and less than a tug, but it’s somewhere in between those two – to define that pressure is all it would take. He pauses, thinking about this calculation – to the exclusion of feeling, fear, or reason. And then he closes his eyes and thinks about his finger, about the steel flange beneath it, he puts his entire awareness into those two simple things and lets them become the center of his being, and he feels the pressure of the air around him and the pressure of his soul on the trigger, and he hears a great wind howling inside his mind.
And then, when the bore and the barrel come out of his mouth, and when he returns upstairs attempting to find his center, when he looks across the room at the sparkling clean sink, and he sees clearly each item on the counter – a spoon from this mornings’ coffee – stained with tan liquid dried in a tiny puddle at the base, a fly at the tip of the handle – tiny legs articulating at the mouth, pausing as if aware of its weight, then launched invisible, straight up toward the ceiling, and he sees the window that looks out into the sun-kissed afternoon, when the rushing noise in his head finally stops and he examines the immediacy of his place, he finds he has become something new.