A thick silence blows, tumbling through the city and piling up along the gutters, sitting heavy upon the tree branches and rooftops. Everyone is gone, and I’m alone in a house. I have been for years now. I’m not really sure where the rest of the world has gotten to.
I miss the birds most of all, cawing and chirping all morning long beneath a breeze that made the leafy canopies lining my street shift and shimmer. The sound of wind, the warm summer sun, all of it’s been replaced by shiftless boredom. Great gray things amble across a ruined sky that rarely moves, save to rain a bit, here and there. The moon’s been gone forever, crossed out of the cycle, I suppose. I miss that too, but not as much as the birds.
I’ve no idea how I survive here. I haven’t eaten in so long, I’m beginning to believe I never did. Each day that passes breadless and drinkless just seems to prove my assumption correct. Truth be told, I’m not even hungry. There is a thirst in me, however—for the coldest water, the clearest water, filled with sun-struck ice glittering like polished jewels gathered into artic pools. I could pour a whole ocean into me, so long as it was cold enough, clear enough. But the fact that I haven’t sipped a drop in what feels like years hasn’t seemed to hurt me any. I’m still here, still alive, for whatever that’s worth.
I think the world just broke one day, for some reason or other. I haven’t died because death no longer works as it should, and it’s become a given that life is all out of order. You don’t have to look any further than the sky to realize that. It’s failed to appear as anything but a massive, empty space. It’s horrible to look at. There are no more stars or planets up there, just nothingness in all its damning vacancy. Every now and then, enormous shadows glide across its empty face, slowly and with mysterious purpose. They could be living things, I guess, but so large and preoccupied with cosmic matters as to care little or not at all for the simple creatures cringing beneath them—which is just fine by me.
There’s also someone sleeping in my spare bedroom, going on forever it seems. From all the face paint, I’d say he’s a clown. I have no idea why he’s there, he just is. He’s been dreaming this whole time, moaning and shaking, bells twinkling and whatnot. Even though he’s never moved beyond the bed, I don’t find his presence any less disturbing. Despite the strangeness of his constant sleep and his occasional, if unconscious, ability to cast strange shadows against the pale light of the bedroom—the fallout of a dream, I suspect—there’s a deeply secreted part of me that appreciates the company.
Lately, there’s been a sort of dimming of the lights. It’s a kind of traveling darkness, too incomplete and strained to be considered a proper nightfall—which has also disappeared along with the moon and all the previous elites of the sky. It settles down into places where darkness would likely feel most comfortable—beneath trees and beds, tucked away into the corners of basements and attics. I’ve also noticed it playing within—and so, appreciably darkening—the shadows of certain corpses I’ve encountered, corpses which have never so much as drawn a single fly in all the years I’ve known of them. What all this means, I haven’t the foggiest idea.
It’s been somewhat of a pleasure to wander around, as of late. Not something I typically do. I don’t have the interest or energy to move around all that much. You see, while I don’t sleep, I’m almost always groggy. This sensation, combined with my apparent lack of biological needs, allows me to exist comfortably enough. I just drift through the gray, half-awake, listening for birds that never sing. I tend to literally float about when I fade out for too long a time. Once, I came out of my trance within the clutch of a crowd of cold branches, bobbing along beneath the scratching fingers of so many dead trees. After I finally pulled myself together, I slowly descended towards the ground like a bit of snowfall, gentle and silent. It wasn’t an altogether bad experience, but it had the unwanted effect of bringing me too far from home. I don’t like to stray far from that quaint little house on the thicketed lane. Granted, I could stay anywhere I’d like, for the most part, but that little place is special to me. Exactly why, I haven’t pieced together just yet. It might be because of the orchestra in my cellar. They play the sweetest music. I’d love to watch them perform, rather than pressing my ear to the heating duct to hear them, but they’re quick to scamper away when so much as my toe touches the stairs.
Anyway, during one of my walks, I noticed a strange little man staring at me from the bushes at the far end of my block. The gray light that now poorly brightens the world tends to retreat behind a framework of shadow that always haunts the corners of my vision, so the little man seemed highlighted, as if somehow important. I approached kindly enough, but he seemed put-off by my intention to visit with him. He immediately screwed up his face into a horribly disapproving expression. Not being the sort of person to go where I’m not wanted, I immediately returned to the sidewalk. I’m certain my face appeared no friendlier than his, having been so rudely rebuked for so friendly a gesture. I was about to be on my way when I noticed that the shrunken man’s eyes never left me, apparently secured by forces beyond his control. His face had turned pale and stricken, and once I’d moved a good distance beyond him, he broke into a run and disappeared into a matching stand of brambles across the street. It was an unusual encounter, to be sure. My first in I don’t know how many years. It was because of this chance encounter that I began to regularly wander about the streets and yards surrounding my special place on the thicketed lane, seeking a taste of distraction.
Not too long ago, while wandering, I decided to lie down beneath the overhang of a thick cluster of faltering magnolias, the white dim of the dying flowers recalling the lost stars of the vanished sky. As I said before, I don’t sleep, I just fade away for a bit. Well, it was during such a state that I noticed the thin patter of careful feet skirting my place beneath the wilting firmament. I tried desperately to imagine their collective scurry as the manic piping of morning birds, but it was no use. I opened my eyes slowly, knowing that my company might be a tad skittish, like the little man from before. Crowds of children clad in tatters surged around me, all of them balanced upon the tips of their stiffened toes, terrified at the prospect of waking me. I felt like a rock in a busy brook, where the rushing water twines around the stubbornness of stones.
When my gaze fell upon a few of the trembling children, they seemed to buckle beneath its weight. I stood, my head brushing the crumpled flowers above me, sending the overripe stars fluttering about my face. It was when the pedals touched me that I finally understood—they whispered against the irregular contours pressed deeply into my much-elongated cheeks and chin, revealing angles and outgrowths that had no business upon a woman’s face. I placed my hand to my mouth and felt a forest of pointed teeth rooted in raw, exposed gums. I was a grinning hag outlined in decaying flowers.
I wasn’t terribly shocked, I should admit. Not because the revelation wasn’t suitably horrific, but because I was too bleary to properly care. Besides, what difference was it to me that I should turn out to be a monster? I waved the children along with one hand, and with the other I continued to explore my appearance. Interestingly, I even had horns—like small, demonic antennae. Clearly, I was intended as some kind of monstrous witch, perhaps the bane of little children and stunted men.
I’ve since come to form a sort of theory as to my origin and ultimate purpose. I must either be a nightmare that’s dawned upon some flavor of awareness, meant to harass the dreamers who cross my path, or my condition has no meaning at all, and I’m only the reflection of a world stripped of its mind. I’m leaning towards the latter, but either way, I’m at peace with it. After all, nothing about my life has noticeably changed for my discovery. Being a monster feels no different than being a nameless memory. I certainly don’t regard my revelation as any kind of calling, whereby I’ve seized upon some valuable and transformative motivation, guiding me along through the confusion of my life.
Speaking of transformations, my shadow has deepened, as if becoming more of a depression than a stain of interrupted light. I noticed this only recently, as I strayed farther from the familiar brambles immediately surrounding my residence. The gray light seems to retreat from it, like a monochrome twilight fleeing the night. The itinerant darkness flows behind me like a queen’s gown, rustling like pools of jetty velvet. Then there are the claws, hooked and clicking, reaching out from my increasingly gnarled hands. They drip over the edges of my once delicate fingertips, and I wonder at the work they might accomplish. I can’t help but think of the little man. And the children. And when I imagine a cold ocean being poured down my throat, it now feels warm. Hot, even. And red.
I heard the orchestra today, perhaps for the last time, I’m afraid. You see, they were not so quick to detect my tread upon the stairs, now softened to near nullity by my company of shadows. When at last I saw them, gathered into staggered lines and piled into an unlit corner, they were immediately arrested by the glow of my eyes. I held them there, holding out a clawed hand as if I’d seized them within my crooked grip. I turned them over in my gaze like a child inspecting an insect. Having flipped over their rock and glimpsed beneath it, I let them go. They squealed into the vanishing corners of the room, musical instruments scraping and clanking as they scampered, their beautiful music melting away like embers of a dream. But their lesson stayed behind—how to listen, how to move carefully.
I no longer drowse across this graveyard of uncounted years, but stir at its uttermost edges, impatient. The darkness is mine now, completely. I’ve draped it around the house, the nearby sky, the thickets. I take it with me wherever I go. The birds I yearn to hear are no longer the lively celebrants of morning, but night-singers, black and sullen, their eyes holding a polished void. Sporadically, I hear their songs, tumbling coarse and warbling from the bottomless pit of my shadow. It has become somewhat difficult for me to remain inside, as of late. I’ve grown considerably taller, having to stoop to move about the rooms of my house. I’ve also set up a chair inside the sleeping clown’s room, where I eagerly await his shows of shadow and quivering light that secrete from his perpetual and fitful sleep.
Finally, it was time. Sinking my sharpened fingers into the sides of my yawning shadow, I descended into its abyss. The spaces opened to me like a softly remembered dream, knowledge assuming a doubtful but beautiful shape. While I couldn’t remember precisely where or how I might have begun as a living woman, beyond living in the house upon the deeply thicketed lane, I finally started to feel a kind of stability to my being, an emergent prospect of personhood—or perhaps monsterhood. A moment came when the air began to stir, the breath of a living world exhaling from somewhere beyond me. I grinned uncontrollably, my teeth gnashing together in a crackle of anticipation. The wind became a beacon, and I followed it out of the void, into the long-lost night. When I emerged in view of the moon, I threw my arms wide to let it look fully upon me, to see what I had become in its absence. It was at that very moment I realized I’d escaped from somewhere, which simultaneously made me understand that I had been a prisoner. Suddenly, my mind was focused, awake with the frantic energy that comes from living and breathing in earnest. I sank down next to my fully rejuvenated hunger, the pangs that now lived in my guts determining my new course. Hunting. Killing. Eating.
Men, women, children, all of them fell into my cavernous mouth. Big or small, ponytailed or hoary-headed, healthy or decrepit, it made no difference. My shadow brought me beneath their beds and into their encrusted basements, behind the brittle wood of their closet doors and up into their cramped attic crawlspaces. Yet, there was a twinge of guilt mixed into the roil of my meal-bloated bowels, as I couldn’t help but feel it was they who summoned me, from beyond their fever dreams and nightmares, to draw breath under the moon, fully shaped.
Now, I move through darkness like a creeping mist, seeking out the last detail for my portfolio of shadows. It’s exactly where I imagined it would be, upon a lane forgotten to bramble and thicket, a derelict afloat in forgotten time. I enter like a spider picking through its kingdom of webs. I pass a water-wrecked bedroom, its every corner choked in mold, nearly disconnected from the house for all its ruin. A single portrait of a sleeping clown hangs crooked and soiled upon the wall. I set foot upon the cellar stairs, my enormous weight asking not so much as a whisper from the weakened wood. In the corner I find a phonograph, its needle still sharp as a bee sting, records piled high. Selecting a song, I set the soft music whirling into the old darkness. I make my way back upstairs to the broken bay window. I stretch out upon the filth of the floor, head turned up to the moon. The songs of night-birds and the sway of whispering treetops fill me. Until I hunger again, I sleep.
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