While my wife slept soundly, as she always did, it took me a long while to get to sleep. I was looking at the tacky Christmas lights she put up there on the ceiling and refused to let me take down after the festive season. Then out the window at the orange street lamps and the occasionally passing car. The wind was dusty and the leaves fluttered with the crackles of an autumnal cityscape. It was a Tuesday and there were still three more slow days of work before the weekend.
I closed my eyes forcefully and wondered if there was a God or if he was just a figment of our imaginations, or if, as my mother once suggested and I have regularly postulated and reworked, we are literally all him, all tiny pieces of him. Shattered by almost eternal time, cosmic explosions and the huge expanse of space to the most minuscule specks and shards of divine existence. Subatomic particles but real nonetheless and the most awake there is at this moment on earth. A good theory which I like and which can send me to sleep as I try to glimpse what glowering city light obscured stars I can make out in the dead of night.
But this night it didn't do its magic, so I switched to my other favourite dial-a-sleep topic: the future of the human race. No small topic but as everyone is snoring the night away and the politeness and etiquette of the day no longer matter, subjects close to death, destruction and pain are only as taboo as I would so choose. Being a consummate worrier no subject is off limits for my overwrought mind.
Even though I commonly legislate the subject illegal thought matter for myself, I recalled the short story of environmental mayhem I penned in my late teens, and wondered if my view point had changed since those rash days. Were we doomed to a chronic readjustment of our comfort and security? Would apocalypse return to our doorstep like the Black Death and the forever wars of the past? I was older, less dramatic, so in my fading thoughtscapes I constructed a picture of more quiet revolutions and slavery to come. Slavery was the biggest danger. The pace and scope of revolutions on the horizon was mind boggling. There were myriad possibilities for unknown slavery to forces of our unwitting creation, invisible traps that would take huge jumps of intellect and consciousness to overcome. Perhaps we could survive the next century if we rediscovered a true faith in something other than ourselves and our technologies. Perhaps, but my own addiction to email, internet, games and movies didn't bear this out. Perhaps my whole generation had to rid itself of power definitively, commit some form of mass suicide, before a day of reckoning and reawakening could truly be reached.
Sleep, when the tide finally turned, felt like a long slow painless dive under a gushing dark river. Sucked down, happy go lucky with my toes wriggling through the bubbles and my hair flying behind me. It was a journey to somewhere I inclined vaguely as warm and fuzzy, and which I embraced enthusiastically as I did most journeys. I no longer thought of work or the world or sleep. I travelled away from daily reality, making the fact of the journey even more real as I took on new forms of life and emotions, left one corporeal existence for another that seemed just as valid, just as true and everlasting as my actual life of numbered decades. Though in comparison the dream life was tiny set against the backdrop of my “real” life, in experience they both equalled each other. As a life could flash before ones eyes a dream could seem to reach epic time spans.
I landed on the edge of a forest with a strong desire to enter it. As I did a bearded man with a strong gaze of harsh but fair justice blocked my path with an outstretched palm. He spoke in deep tones as he stared at me.
“Those who wish to enter must swear to open their minds and drink fully from all the waters that present themselves. They must understand that life in this forest is not a game but a spiritual journey that has cosmic consequences for those involved. All your actions from here on in are yours and yours alone to decide and make happen and you must allow for the possibility of your own demise, draw strength from it as motivation for your own continuing existence as you are in this universe. Do you accept?”
“Without hesitation I do”, and he allows my passage without so much as a flicker of an eyelid on his parched and lined face, a face I have trusted with my soul as I pass into his domain, though he may be the devil for all I know. As I step further and further past the mass of his form I realise I am giving up the freedom and comforts of the technological world for the dangers and exhilarations of life in a chaotic realm of destruction. I think of the Buddha and his philosophy of life as decay as the leafs scrunch under my feet and the trees close around me darkly, creating creaking walls and ceilings of my beating heart. I breath in deeply and step further.
I walk on and on, past the bushes and ponds of strange life forms that I can only dimly make out in the shade. Nothing appears to talk or communicate with me, and I feel I am walking to oblivion in this noisily lonely place. Water trickles, birds and monkeys croon and the trees rub up against each other in the wind. I struggle to comprehend the size of this forest. After hours of walking, I begin to feel an unstoppable urge to know its boundaries and to see its full green extent under the clouds.
I come across a bent old tree, leafless and seemingly dying, yet strong enough to hold my weight as I walk up the path it presents to me. No squirrels emerge from its trunk, or birds twittering in its arms, and I only have to brush aside the leaves and branches of the living trees that surround it to eventually find myself atop its highest branches. I have a clear vista over the forest that I have been strolling through.
As far as I can see its extent, it is never ending, and sunless. Only white clouds cover its expanse, rising up in thick blooms and cotton wool bands until they return to the horizon to provide markers of my view. It appears to end with the lower vestiges of a giant dome of cloud that borders it. The thought occurs that I very much wish I wasn't trapped in its endless tentacles of branches and leaves. From this high point lost in the wilderness it seems I could walk for decades and never find my way out. Nothing is alien to me, it is only nature, yet I feel that I am alien to it. What I need is to fly to the clouds and walk on top. Only then can I find my bearings in this other world of greens and whites.
So I return to the forest floor and begin a search for dead branches serviceable as the backbones of wings I hope to construct. I go fishing in a pond and hunting in areas close to water, catching and killing animals with a sharpened stick to use as the membrane of my wings. Finally I construct my wings and attach them to my arms using the rubber from a rubber tree I luckily discover. Now all I need is to find the old stooped over tree and walk back up to the tree tops to launch, but I realise that in my hunting and building I have lost my way from there, and any search would be futile.
So I just continue walking in silence, hoping to find a suitable tree or an opening. After hours of walking through shaded and bendy paths, I begin to notice a faint voice in the distance. It is the voice of a woman singing and I am attracted instantly to its honest and pleading emotion. It beckons to me, and I begin jogging in its direction. As the volume rises the words become recognisable. I stop a moment to make them out.
“Where is he? Where is he? The man I long for who I must kill. Oh where is he? I can see his handsome face, feel his heart beating next to mine that I shall rip from his body? Oh where is he?”
There is an almost sobbing quality to her voice, as if she is excited and entranced by this man who she must kill. She loves him, her voice says. And so she must kill him, say her words. I am not sure if I am that man but I feel I must reach her whatever the case, perhaps she can help me to discover a way to the clouds above. So I continue towards her.
Within minutes I find her sitting on a rock in an unshaded area of soft green grass surrounded by low hanging willows. As I walk into her sight she immediately screams and stops singing.
“What have you done?” She shrieks at me with genuinely horrified anger. “Those trees and fish and animals taped in undignified death throws to your arms! Who are you to do this terrible thing? Tell me at once or I will run and tell my father. He'll kill you for sure. Tell me!”
I am at a loss.
“I am no-one, but I thought to reach the clouds. And while I was wondering in the forest I heard your singing and thought I might be the one you were singing of.”
She seems surprised and amused.
“You're not the one I sing of but I will surely kill you for you have taken the life of my forest. Make no mistake, you will pay in kind.”
She grabs a dagger from a pocket of her white dress and rushes towards me with murder in her eyes. I flee in earnest and realise that in paying attention to the woman I had forgotten that her singing had actually led me to an opening from which I might take flight. Instinctively I flap my arms so that my wings begin to feel the air under them. I begin to rise from the ground but far too slowly and the woman grabs a hold of my leg and begins stabbing. I can't believe it as I see the blood rushing from my leg. She holds her grip firm. I grab the branches of the willow trees that surround us to push us up into the air. I look away from her vicious stabbing and see we have taken flight to the tree tops. She screams at me to put her down, fearing the fall from this height, but I am too enthralled by the thrill of the flight to take any notice. For a moment I consider shaking her loose, but she has stopped stabbing me. Then it occurs to me that, shocking though they were, her stabs inflicted no pain or damage, they only made my spirit weaker to her somehow as the blood flows away. She is slowing my flight down but I don't want to risk killing her by giving her the drop. The fire of murder in her eyes was so intense it actually entranced me into believing murder might be justified. Her obvious beauty lets me wonder if I am really the man she is singing for, and if dying at her hands might not be such a bad way to go.
So we fly on up and eventually she stops pleading with me to put her down. She too is transfixed by the forbidden exhilaration of flight above the tree tops. We soar past the highest tree into a windless sky, swooping up and up towards the dome of clouds that rule. The last thing she mutters before she falls silent with the power of the moment is “father”, and I try to ignore the fact that I have possibly taken her away from her home and family forever, for I have no idea really where this flight will lead us.
We keep rising and rising, until the largest trees look little bigger than unkempt grass, and a fog seems to inhabit the roof of the forest in its outermost extremity from our view. We rise and rise and I try to spy the edge of the forest but can see nothing but the sloping dome of the clouds. I aim our flight towards the edge, any edge, trying to avoid flying too high now so that I might actually find the forests end. But as I try to alter my direction I feel a grip of something in the air that is pulling me inexorably upwards. I try a little harder and the grip turns into a wind which will not let up. I stop flapping my wings, slightly panicked, but the hands of nature cushion our fall so that it becomes a leisurely elevation. I look up and see a small dark hole at the crest of the cloud dome, our new predetermined destination. The woman, realising I have lost all power, lets go of my leg and we float together at an equal altitude, face to face, eye penetrating eye with stares of rage and wonderment. She is beautiful, I realise, and she hate's me.
The journey upwards continues and I search for words to speak to her. The time moves slowly and we seem to make little noticeable headway in our approach to the crest of the clouds. I begin to prise open my lips to speak some words of apology but sensing this she turns her head away from me abruptly with feisty indignation.
Then, resolving some inner question, she suddenly turns to face me with those fiery eyes burning murder into my heart.
“Why did you want to fly away in the first place? Had you grown bored of the forest already?”
“Not bored I would say. Trapped and inquisitive.”
“If you really felt trapped you could always have left any time you wanted to. You didn't have to go around killing things to make those wings. Now look where you've got yourself. Do you feel any less trapped?”
“Perhaps you know more than I. I only knew I wanted to DO something. And I don't know about now. The view is nice at least.”
“I will never understand your kind. Always running, aren't you? Never satisfied.”
“But satisfaction's just what I am looking for, only I can't seem to find it.”
“Really? Do I not satisfy you desire for desire?”
“How could I admit with a straight face to desiring desire for its own sake. Desire is inherently unsatisfying, but if looks could kill I would die unfulfilled at your gaze.”
“There's more to me than just looks.”
“I don't doubt. And I am more than just books.”
I don't quite know why I am saying what I am saying, or where it is coming from, perhaps the force that is guiding our ascent has taken control of me, imbibing me with meaningless rhymes. I can't remember anything about a relationship to books, or indeed anything from before the forest. To escape this almost frightening reality I am suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to kiss and embrace her. I reach forward slowly and her fiery gaze of hate flares ever brighter. My face is inches away from hers, and still she glares at me. Without letting up her animosity, I feel her hand touch the back of my head softly, and pull me toward her. Our lips meet as the unknown force pulls us through the opening in the apex of the white cloud dome. We pass through and I feel ecstatic.
This glow of sensuousness is only momentary. On arrival at our new destination I feel sudden fear. Breaching the cloud dome doesn't reveal a heavenly playground, puffy cloud stairs, stars, or some hallowed world of the gods. No, quite the opposite. Our private bubble of ascent is suddenly punctured, and we are thrown into dark city street. I recognise it as the street where I grew up as a child.
“What the hell?” I mutter to myself, and looking over to the woman I see only her long hair flaying in the wind as she runs towards my house. It is a bungalow with a unkempt law in front. My fear amplifies as I see my father, as he was twenty years ago, open the front door to welcome the girl.
She runs onto the law and as she does so is encased in a pulsating ball of light that descends with rapid decisiveness from high up above. She turns to face me in puzzlement and as she does so her atoms slowly unlock themselves, ripping apart molecule by molecule. I am not sure if she is undergoing destruction or merely being beamed to some other place, but the fear in her eyes does not bode well. I run in futility, hoping to somehow grab her star dust, prevent it form reuniting with the rest of the tons and tons of dead matter in the universe. Reaching her location, the light fades and I am left clutching at pure air.
My father, seeing my folly, strides over to embrace me saying “Son, son, its over, don't you get it, its over. We all lose the people we love one day. Just accept it and move on.” I feel an inconsolable loss over this woman who I only knew a few minutes, yet who somehow enthralled herself into the deepest crevices of my soul. “Oh dad” I reply, “you are right. Eventually I will lose you to, I am so happy to have found you like this again.” His face looks young and contented, a married man with healthy children and a beautiful wife. “I have always been like this for you son.” He replies, but then he too dissipates in my grip and I fall to my knees on the lawn, screaming “dad, dad, no! I want you back!” and recalling the day he died those years back. I have needed him badly so many times since then and he has been gone, yet here he was. To have him back so briefly is heartbreaking.
Eventually I open my eyes through the tears, my head held low towards the green of the lawn, and I see the same far away neverending forest that I flew so majestically and mysteriously away from with that beautiful, hateful, nameless woman. Oh how I have loved and lost, lived and died. Yet loosing those few ones I love, I see that in the garden I have come across many many more that are mine but which I don't love. As the tears leave my eyes and drop down to the grassy soil, my cleared vision reveals a world of tiny people living in a miniature forest.
Miniature to me, I realise, but to them it is simply their world. Its size makes it completely unaccessable to me, but I cannot take my gaze away from the realm beneath me. Is it really the same forest I left, I wonder? But it couldn't be, because this world, though embedded in a forest, is actually a world of people and houses and kitchens and bridges and porches.
Through the night activity of families and lovers and drinkers, and the chatter of stories and songs and arguments, I somehow zone in on one porch where a woman stands staring up at the moonlight. She has a whimsical look on her face, a look of hopes and dreams and desires unfulfilled but on the optimistic cusp of achievement. She is stroking her left hand with her right, and her eyes are filled with the whiteness of the moon, her smile creaking up at the corners of her mouth with some delightful secret she will one day accomplish. Is she praying? I begin to think she can see me.
I look around myself, to my old house and across the street at the other houses of my street. I look up to where the moon should be, but there is no moon, only grey night clouds serving as reflective back light to orange tinted street lamps. There is no moon and as I turn my head back down to the forest city I see that it is darkened, and I cannot find the girl until, as if by magic, my gaze reveals her now praying face and illuminates it with the same enchanting moonlight. Our eyes meet and I suddenly feel in a liberating moment that she is my creature and I am her God. I am the moonlight that guides her. I put my finger down tentatively to touch her, even though her body is no bigger than my smallest finger nail.
And I am struck by lightening. The girl of the tiny trees screams, running inside her trunk bound home, and a rainy wind blows havoc over her civilisation. The lightening catches me in its electric intensity, and I am but an rain grounded insect juddering in its unceasing power. All around is the pattering of rain, I can barely make out any of the suburban clutter. A voice is calling to me, dominating my world with stern reprehension.
“You are no god. You are a coward. I will show you what it is to be someone's creature.”
A white room, four walls, shiny, translucent, too brightly lit and a huge flat screen TV right in front of me. Everything in proportion, from the exactly square walls to the rectangular sofa and coffee table in front of me. I tilt my head forward to rest it in my hands, and a bottle of Jack Daniels appears on the table, accompanied by glass, coke and ice. I make myself a drink.
People enter and leave the room as I continue to drink. Drugs are passed round, cigarettes, cocaine, balloons filled with helium and laughing gas. I talk with the people but their personalities leave nothing with me as they come and go with the wind. I drink and do more and more substances, I am loosing my sense of reason, wanting more and more. Suddenly it is Max I am sitting next to, and I instantly recognise the face of my long lost best friend from high school. He says “let's go out and see what happens” and I follow him out the sharp edged door to our right.
We walk in the star lights passing unnamed thousands of revellers. They are smiling at us as we pass, and I feel the urge to talk to every one of them. Some of them I do but I can't seem to hold on to any of them. “What's going on, Max?” I ask my friend, but he too has disappeared. Instead I find I am walking alone in a street full of flashing neon signs and blasting techno and hip-hop music. It is so loud I find myself holding my hands over my ears.
“Don't worry honey, it's not too loud in here.” A girl wearing only a bikini outfit beckons to me from a stool on the side of the street. Her face looks clean and honest, and her body is as slippery and sexy as a undressed school girl. She waves me over and I move towards her.
“What's in there?” I ask, not really wanting to know but wanting to go inside.
“Let me show you.” Her eyes scream out at me, promising evil pleasures that I must be entitled to somehow. “Come in here and get high with me.” She takes my left hand and rubs the ring on the fourth finger. “Hmm, what's this aye boy? You been promising the universe again? You been giving what you can't give? I will show you what's right and wrong, I'll give you all I have to give.”
Her pull is irresistible and I flow inside with a great tide of men of similar mentalities. My ring grows on my finger, its golden light leading the way as she rubs and rubs on it. “Oh what a big ring you have. A big expensive gold wedding ring. I just love wedding rings, they get me so horny.”
I don't understand how, but we have reached a stage and are climbing up atop of it to perform a dance for a clapping and cheering crowd. She is raising her arms above her head, clicking her fingers and smiling seductively to herself. Only occasionally do our eyes meet as she pulls me towards her and pushes me away in the rhythm of the music. She whispers in my ear. “Give me yourself tonight and I will be forever yours to dream of.” I so want her but I know that there will be a heavy price to pay. “Just give me that lovely ring of yours and you can have me, right here right now. I have a special little room upstairs...” She rubs my ear and an electric bolt runs between us. We are attached in the waves of power that light up the whole city, the white room, my old house. We are not kissing but imagining the things we could be doing. It is so much greater in our minds, we know this meeting of consciousness will outdo any physical coupling, if the moment ever comes. It doesn't matter, for the shared imagining seems like a more intimate thing than the doing anyway. The crowds roar with approval at our bustling dance.
Once again our eyes meet as she turns her head delicately this way and that, slanting her view across the pulsating room. At one such moment our electric union provides me with a vision of her room upstairs, her mind power sending her deepest desires to my frontal lobe. I see a picture of a cupboard with draws inside. She opens the bottom draw, alone in the dead of night. In the draw is a briefcase with a combination lock. She carefully unlocks and takes out the jewellery box. Slowly prising it and sighing deeply, I see what she keeps there. A collection of gold bands, wedding rings, and diamond earrings. The gifts of love and of marriage. She strokes them gently and chuckles gently. “One more in the bag”, I can here her whisper to herself. “One more and I can buy myself into hell.”
Suddenly the dance has turned sour, her expression one of triumph that separates us, destroys our intimacy.
“I've had enough.” I pull away from her but her hands grip me too tightly. The crowd wont allow it to end, their grim stares pushing me into her power.
“I think its time to go upstairs now.” She whispers, and we are pulled upwards, floating to the chandeliers which move aside and allow us to pass through the ceiling. There is no hole, no passage, so we move through the floor, unlocking and interlocking our atoms with the dirty concrete, unknown spaces and floorboards. I see rats scurrying to and fro in the underfloor, and dusty balls of hair and nails.
Then we are in her room. It is darkly lit with a single light bulb hanging pathetically up above, and the brown, old looking wooden floor is dirty and unreflective of the light. I see the cupboard, standing guiltily next to the bed, a single creaky bed with stained sheets. I look at her, wanting to hurt her with harsh words about the state of her “special little room”. I begin to open my mouth but her expression has changed in Copernican fashion. The triumph has left her, leaving only down turned eyebrows and smudged make-up that reveal a sad, defeated, abused girl.
“Please do it. Do it now. And give me your ring. I need your ring. I don't take cash, it must be a real ring. Give it to me please.” She pulls up her skirt and turns herself onto all fours on the bed. I run to the cupboard with the ring drawer and jump inside, where I can hardly breath, hoping to find a secret door of escape. She calls to me, wailing uncontrollably. “Please, I need this. Do it to me however you like. Just give me the ring. He said I only need three more to get to the next level, please, I can't take another year of beatings. I want to go home!” Meanwhile I am desperately feeling up the dirty backside of the cupboard I can hardly breath in. The jackets and dresses push up against my face and I can smell the cheap perfume mixed with the cologne of the many men she has had up close and personal. I can smell unfulfilled executive, managing director, broker, gambler all writhing next to her and giving up their rings. My hands probe further at the walls of the cupboard and are rewarded with a small button that I instinctively push. The wall caves in and I fall through, but not before the girl grabs my hand with hers, covered in Vaseline, and slips the ring off like it was three sizes too big. I feel the loss and am powerless to stop it, because I am falling alone in windless darkness.
Falling, flying, swimming. It makes no difference when you are simply existing in darkness. I don't even know if I am breathing. There is a star faintly shining in the distance, and my foot begins to itch. Without warning, it suddenly seems as if I am actually being held upside down. There is something waving me to and fro across the expanse, playing with me, toying with me. It swings me with ever more ferocity. It swings me until my head spins and the natural alarm my body feels at this spatial violence causes lights to pop in front of my eyes, little bubbles to sprite in and out of view.
“What happened to your ring?” She screams. And then I know. It is my wife. She is gigantic and grotesque, and she has me by the toe. I can barely see her in this upside position, or where she is, but she is there and she is angry.
“The ring, damn you. I know just what this means.” She lets me slip from her fingers. Now I know down from up and I am definitely heading down. Falling towards our bed.
“I'll show you.”
And as I bounce into our bed, the speed of my fall propelling me back like a trampoline, she shows me her backside as she makes the moves necessary for sitting down. I fly up from the bed and bounce straight into it. Her momentum and the fattening cheeks I have loved direct me back towards the bed, where I land with her huge mass right on top of me.
Now I am really trapped, and I definitively aware that I am not breathing. I can see nothing, only faint browns and purples, and I am only able to move the very fingertips of my left little finger. This is not my wife, I think, she would never do this, this is a demon, or a witch. She doesn't move an inch, and what air that remains in my lungs is quickly exhausted. I feel as if I am dying. Then I think with horror. I AM dying. In a few moments I will be dead.
I concentrate on moving my limbs, however that might be possible. Move good damn you, I say. The fear and helplessness is amplified with every passing second that weakens me and makes it twice as unlikely that I will ever be able to move again.
I try to send the witch my dying thoughts.
“Who are you, witch, to do this to me? What have I done to you?”
“It's not what you've done, its who you are. What your being has done to all of us, all of your kind and my kind.”
“I am only a man!”
And then I know, and I think it so. You are not my wife, you are a vampire. But vampires aren't real, I think. And the realisation hits me. This whole situation isn't real. I am asleep on my bed. It's a Tuesday nightmare. But having rediscovered this fact I still find it impossible to move.
Move, move damn you. I will my toes and fingers first. I am literally suffocating. Not only is she on my body, she has closed off everything inside it as well. My heart is no longer beating, my veins are motionless, my brain is losing all electrical activity. I make one last final farewell push, scrunching my eyes together and my teeth apart.
Success. The ceiling of my bedroom with its tacky Christmas lights flash into view. My face, or at least my eyes, are awake. And now the struggle to move the rest of my body. What happens to the human race is of little concern, now I must concentrate of moving my limbs. With a great deal of effort I move my lips. Slowly the blood returns and my legs and arms twitch. Then I am able to lift them.
Outside the first rays of dawn are turning my curtains translucent and golden. I stir over and watch my wife sleep. “What are you dreaming of?” I wonder. And I get up to go and get a glass of water and take a piss. The clock says 5am and I am unsure if I will make it back to sleep again tonight. Yet another day will be spent yawning through work.