Prose

Bus Stop View

They call it the Bus Stop View. Framed by two trees, that bus stop opposes the row of houses with a smug air: it knows its customers will never stop coming, never stop planting their backsides on its bench, never stop reading its sign, never stop smashing its windows. Yes, the bus stop probably adores that sort of attention. It has that snarky superiority about it.

The bus stop has a neighbour though. About ten, fifteen feet to the left, should you be staring at the stop from the opposite side of the road, there is a cylindrical structure with a domed roof and an entrance way. A black gate separates it from the rest of the world, imprisoning with it gasping trees and entangled weeds. The trees suffer near the structure, but the ground foliage thrives. Their greens are deep, nurtured, well-fed. A green of floral gluttony.

We tend to call this the Troll House.

I wonder a lot why the ground is so healthy, where the shadows lead to, and what the lichen on the Troll House sees. Could some man live there? Sleep there, brood there, bury there?

Let’s suppose he could. Let’s suppose a man lives there. He’s a strange one, if he can get over the fence. He’ll have a secret entrance, or he’ll climb over despite his size. He’ll tread the same path to the Troll House, and enter at 4 am, when the eek of the hinges won’t wake a soul, and when there’s no one in the streets to disturb.

I’ve seen a rat run across the road a few minutes’ walk away from here, so we’ll say the Troll House has a nest. They’ll be friendly to him, he’ll name them all and perhaps kill a few on occasion.

Trick-A-Me, Capo, Clyde, Dolly, A-Bounds, Parakeet, Withburg, Tress, Jericho, A-Maze, Trigger, Tripper, the other Tripper, Rain, Lock-Up, Chewer, Birch, Sill, Polo, Severin, Sing-A-Long, Dust-Mite, Jess, Henri, Autumn, Origami, Petrol, Who-Goes, Mastiff, Capricorn, Barley, Enzo, Squat and others. He’ll have recently killed, cooked and eaten A-Bounds and Autumn, two of the fattest rats. The others will swarm to him and chew the bones in the morning. Trick-A-Me will bound across the road and scavenge for her army, while their patriarch sleeps.

He’ll sleep amongst the rotten ceilings and bricks, in the tatters of a sleeping bag. It was whole when he entered for the first time, but he couldn’t stop the rodent erosion. But he gave up in time and learned to settle beneath the tatters, and one day he’ll steal something else to sleep under. He won’t snore, for fear of attention, so he’ll sleep face down.

His sinuses will be clogged forever by the conditions, and he’ll live with a constant headache. He’ll throb with the pain of it, and boil water to breathe in the heat through his tattooed nose. And his nose is large, it must be. A nose must be large to compete with the matriarchy of rats.

Eating will used to have been a constant pain for him, but now it will be easy. He will know where to look and when, and what wild plants to consume and when. He will gather money and buy the occasional commodity but will have three more concealed on his person.

Propane for the tranger. Pair of gloves. Day-old bread. Pack of sponges. Rat poison. Old shoes. Bowl and cup. Threads of a blanket. Toilet paper. Something to break.

He will not have a toilet in the Troll House. Why would he? Nature will sustain him, and nature will relieve him. But he’ll have a human shred of cleanliness somewhere. So he’ll buy paper and use it, and he’ll wash the dirt from his fingernails another paper, and he’ll rub the back of his neck with the next paper, and he’ll bury it all when it’s done.

The rats will eat the paper, or breed with it. He won’t be delighted with more mouths to gnaw at his belongings, but he will name the children. The children of Clyde, the children of Birch, the children of Origami, the children of Dolly. Dolly’s will all be albino like her. At least he will have an idea of who sired them, and he will say to himself, It must have been Rain, and he will be correct but won’t know so. The rest are brown and indistinguishable. Yet he’ll name them all, and never forget, and name them after verbs, after people he knew, after things he did, after his surroundings. One will be called Head-Room, and another will be called Mildew, and another will be called Blue-Skies.

Dolly will die shortly after, and her children will suffer quietly while he takes Dolly outside to bury her shallowly below the foliage. The children will all die too, but he won’t notice and nor will the rats. They will end up being eaten in their white fur by their cousins and 2nd cousins, their step- and half-brothers and sisters. One day he’ll find a tiny bone and he’ll not remember who it came from, but it would have come from Blue-Skies who died last in her white fur, two days after her eyes opened.

He’ll see the bone has a sharp edge and pick his teeth with it then discard it elsewhere while supping his tongue and being blind to tragedy. He’ll do that after eating bread, and before he sleeps, as he goes outside with some paper and sees the breath of the sun rising in the east and the stars disappearing with the light, and he’ll squat in shadows after preparing a hole and he’ll sigh once because he’ll remember what it’s like to be sat down while doing this.

Sleep will come shortly after. He will breathe in dust and spores, slumbering as a rat bites at his tatters while seeking material to make her children comfortable. On second thought, there are two tugging at the tatters. Lock-Up and A-Maze, arguing over the same threads and they eek and he stirs in horror because he thinks someone’s found him, someone’s found him and they’ve opened the door to the Troll House but no one has found him, the sound was the rats and he is still alone, so he breathes in solitude and puts his head down and closes his eyes again as the sun ignores him in favour of shining dazzling light off the puddle of broken glass I can see though my Bus Stop View.

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His Skull

I left him staring into the eyes of his own skull and went to make some tea. Nothing special, but loose-leaf for the occasion. Brought it back on a tray with the sugar pot, and the strainer. Neither of us take milk.

He didn’t seem too interested in the tea when I laid it down at first, but eventually decided to come and investigate. The both of us have always seen tea as a bit of a comfort, and considering the situation I think it is fair to say we both needed it at the time.

He poured his, then I poured mine while he added an obscene amount of sugar – he’s always liked his sugar. He says sometimes that at least he died before he got diabetes. I tell him that’s the wrong attitude to have.

“That’s my skull?” he said looking over his shoulder at the yellowing object. The bone dome stood silently, teeth stretched in a never-changing grin. Looking its own way.

“Mm.”

“… God.”

I nodded. I wish I’d brought in a bit of cold water. Just to make the tea… drinkable. Far too hot as it is. And leaving it makes it stew. Or is that just if you leave the leaves in? I suppose that’s one reason why people take milk – just so they can drink it before their company has to leave.

“Why haven’t I seen it until now?”

“Why?”

“Yeah. Why.”

I frowned at him, “Well… the meat had to decompose. It was suspicious enough having to dig your bones back up.”

“You buried me on a hill.”

“I buried you out the way.”

He snorted, “Out the way, on a hill. Was a cemetery too much to ask? Didn’t a new one just open a few months ago? You could’ve put me there.”

I shook my head, “It opened about a year ago,” I said. “And besides, I wasn’t going to sneak into a cemetery to dig you up. Much easier just burying you on a secluded hill where no one goes. Made my job easier. Besides – you didn’t even stay in the ground.”

He didn’t seem happy, even though he couldn’t deny the logic of my decision. I’m rather surprised he cared that much. Honestly, I thought he wouldn’t care where he was buried. He never cared about much anyway. Why would he be so defensive about this?

Silence fell around us. I did my best to not feel too uncomfortable, though the way both of us left our tea to cool definitely gave the room a bit of an awkward feeling. And although I tried my best to come up with conversation, nothing seemed to flow at the time. You can’t ask a dead man how he’s doing. Or what he’s been doing lately. It’d be pointless.

I found out it was pointless after I asked him. I said, “What’ve you been up to lately?” as any friend would. And he just looked sideways at me and said, “Stupid question?”

That happened the last time we met, but at least conversation happened, no matter how much of a fool I looked.

“Hard to check if your skull was free of meat,” I said, attempting a bit of humour.

“Free of… meat? Why the hell are you calling it ‘meat’? That was me. That was my brain in there.”

“What? But you died.”

“So? Still my brain, even if it’s not working. Or wasn’t. I suppose it’s animal crap now.”

This is why it’s hard to talk to him.

“Um…” I said, trying to save face. “I’m certain it’s free of your brain. Or your flesh. It’s been in the ground… a good nine or ten months. And I cleaned it. And I bleached it in the sun for a few days. I put it on the shed roof.”

“Christ.”

“No one noticed, I swear.”

He sat back, his arms folded over his chest. His seemed to avoid looking at me, or anywhere near me. I was used to this. I wasn’t fazed by his attitude. He was always like this, even before he died. Equally standoffish, equally gloomy.

But he looked at me eventually, “Where’s the rest of me then?”

I shrugged one shoulder and tested if my tea was cooled with my top lip, “Black bag – ow.”

“Black–”

“I’m kidding,” that made me smile, despite my hurting lip. Didn’t make him smile though. Unsurprisingly. “Everything’s in a box in the shed. It took hours for me to sort it all out. I tried to put all the leg bones together, all the arm bones, all the ribs… that sort of thing. Not sure why. I mean, what am I supposed to do with it?”

He didn’t say a word. Just sat there with his arms folded. The same as he was before. He looked identical now to how he did before he died. Same hair parting, same bags under his eyes, same remnants of that skin condition on the back of his left thumb. Apparently it was a stress-related skin condition. I always thought otherwise; I always thought it was his skin reacting to the washing-up liquid. Because it always flared up after he did the dishes. He insisted it was stress though.

I scratched at my temple, “Do I just keep it all in a box in the shed? Bones in my shed? Human bones?”

“Fucking bury them again if it’s a problem. Sorry to be a burden on you.”

I sighed, “Not a burden, I just… what does one do with human bones? Honestly, if someone finds out, I’ll probably be arrested.”

“And being arrested isn’t a burden.”

“Well. I mean, it is. But… well what do you want me to say? Your dead body is a bloody nightmare to look after?”

He shrugged, “If you want to say that. It’s not even my problem.”

I sighed again. Same insufferable attitude. Plus my tea was still too hot. But at least it was cooling.

“It was so fucking creepy digging you up.”

“You don’t say.”

Despite his obvious disinterest, I decided to press on with my point. I wasn’t going to let his attitude deprive me of a conversation, “I mean, on the one hand you did ask me to last time you were here. So at least I had the peace of mind that you wanted me to dig you up. But on the other hand… I can’t tell whether seeing you made it more or less creepy. Because if I hadn’t seen you again, I’d just be digging up the bones of someone I’d spent years of my life around. Which is creepy on its own… but seeing you again, then digging up your bones is weird. Because maybe I don’t see those bones as yours? I can’t tell. But you’re welcome with the skull anyway.”

“What do you mean, ‘you’re welcome’. I never thanked you.”

“No I… I did what you asked.”

“Yeah, you dug my body up. Didn’t ask for you to display my head in your fucking house. Who wants that?”

I found myself truly glowering at him. Talking to him was getting me nowhere. It was just ending up annoying me. Still – I’d promised to take tea with him. Not that a promise meant much to him anyway. He never honoured his. Still doesn’t.

“Shall I take it down then?”

“Your house.”

I didn’t answer this. I just tried my tea again. Drinkable. A little hot, but not scalding. And perhaps the heat of the tea would quench the heat of my forehead. He was truly annoying me. And yet I felt awful being annoyed at him.

I’d mourned him. For months. And then… six months after he’d died, I heard a knock on my bedroom door and in he walked. In the flesh. Physical, nothing ethereal or see-through. I had a panic attack over it to which he stood there, scowling a little at me, but didn’t try to explain or help me. He just waited.

Waiting in the room probably helped, I admit. Probably helped me to come to terms with the fact that he was there. Unthreatening and… normal. Because I had missed him. A man made almost entirely of flaws, and I missed that? Apparently. Somewhere I cherished him, I admired him, I was amused by him. It felt strange to like someone like that, or to want him around… and, as I sat with my teacup at my lips, I wondered what I had missed. Had I missed the way he annoyed me, his blunt and unorchestral voice? What exactly had I lost with his death? Nothing much.

I’d actually gained a bit of positivity. I laughed a lot louder when I laughed during the understated healing process. When I wasn’t thinking about him, when he wasn’t on my mind. If I was amused, I was properly allowed to laugh… I was probably a bit happier.

Staring at him, I put down the teacup.

“What.”

“Nothing.”

“It’s cool?”

“I guess so. A bit hot but…” He was talking about the tea. He’d looked down at it when he’d asked. Tea came first. Insultingly enough.

He, with his new information, tried the tea. Then he complained he’d added too much sugar. So he added more tea. Then he complained it was too hot. So he put it down again. I watched. I didn’t say anything.

“You know something,” he said, unaffected by my silence.

“What’s that.”

“I discovered a lot about myself. When I died. It’s like… all the things I should have known, or maybe I did know them… all the things buried deep in my brain all were so clear. Whispers of thoughts were suddenly spoken properly, and facts were shouted. I realised a lot. It felt huge at the time. Just feels normal now.”

“Really?”

He snorted, “There, that perked you up, didn’t it.”

It had.

“Shut up. What did you… find out? Was it all about you?”

“Most of it. Some of it was about other people, some of it was about other places and things, most of it isn’t important. Perhaps I’d go and tell people things but… yeah they all think I’m dead so what’s the point?”

“I thought you were dead.”

He shrugged.

“Am I different?” I asked, with trepidation.

He just shrugged again.

Which annoyed me. But I tried not to let it show.

“What did you find out.”

“A fair bit,” he said. Then he kept me waiting by trying his tea again. Not to be put out, I drank some of my own. But when I put my cup down, he was huffing and adding a splash more tea and a lot more sugar. Apparently a dead man can’t make a decent cup of tea for himself.

I playfully asked if he needed any help – he declined less-than-playfully.

“Tell me what you found.”

“God, fine. I found out, well… this all might be a little surprising to you too. But I found out more about my actual family, I found out my actual name, and I found–”

“Hold up, your actual name?”

He nodded slowly. As if I was stupid.

“What parent calls their child Lull?” he said. “When their other children are called Rhesus and Lois? Why the hell would you think my real name was Lull?”

“I…”

“I know it’s what I told you, but I didn’t know I had a real name until I died. So. And yeah, I’ve apparently got an older brother called Rhesus. I didn’t even know that. Unless I did and it was just buried somewhere in my mind. Death pulled it out maybe.”

“Right?”

“You don’t sound all that surprised,” he said. Flatly.

I tilted my head, “Should I be? I mean, yes, you have an older brother, that’s new. But I don’t know him do I? Probably never will. Where is he?”

“How the fuck should I know?”

“Fine,” I said. “You don’t know. And I’m not that surprised. I’m more surprised about your name, though you’ve got a point about it… I suppose no parent would call their kid Lull would they.”

“No.”

“So what is it?”

And he smirked. In all the time I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him smirk. I don’t know if I’d ever seen his teeth, to be honest, that’s how little he ever smiled.

“What makes you think I want to tell you?”

“Um, the fact you brought it up? Is it really embarrassing?”

“Quite embarrassing, yeah.”

“Are you going to tell me…?”

He shrugged. “Ahh… yeah. I mean, what are you going to do. Tease, worse case.”

“I could tell Lois.”

He frowned. Darkly.

I blinked, “Or… not tell Lois? You could tell her yourself…? Actually, that’s a good point – why haven’t you appeared to her? I want the answer to that question first please, before your name.”

“Appeared? Hah. I’m not a spirit.”

“Alright, why haven’t you gone to her then?”

His eyes narrowed, and he developed some subtle snarl. Both combined contorted his features into something quite ferocious, and I regretted asking the question. It was a fair enough question too – Lois was his sister, his little sister, the girl he took care of even before she could walk.

“Why the fuck would I want to screw up her grieving process?” he growled. “She’s mourning, or she has mourned. If I showed myself to her… bang, whole thing screwed up. Whole thing pointless. There’ll be a point where you won’t see me again either, so if Lois knew I was here… well look at Lois. She’s a stupid little girl, she’d latch onto me again. Pretend I wasn’t ever dead and her head would make her believe that. Out of denial.”

“Alright, alright. Good point.”

“Then when I vanish forever, she’ll have to start all over again. You think that won’t be more damaging?”

I tapped the side of my teacup once and shook my head. I felt like I was getting scolded, like I was stupid. Because he had a good – better than good – point. He was right. Dying, going away seemingly forever, then coming back into Lois’ life wouldn’t be good. I’d never call her a “stupid little girl” but… he was right. He was. She’d start believing he never died.

Lois relied almost exclusively on me after her brother died. Perhaps because she thought I was closest to him, I was reliable like him. And I am reliable, I will call myself that, but I’m a lot softer than he ever was. If she pissed him off, he’d let her know. If he needed space from her, he’d physically push her away. I could never do that. I let her close to me, I held her when she cried, I talked about him with her, I smelled her tears and she smelled mine.

Something we both… realised… was that we felt as if he had never existed. It wasn’t long either. The denial was strongest, and scariest. As if he had just gone away on a trip somewhere and he would be back before long. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised I was waiting. I was waiting beside a door that he would never come through. I would buy cigarettes for him and only remember no one was going to smoke them when I was halfway out the shop door. I would prepare the sugarbowl when I made tea just in case he wanted any, before realising he’d never be there to take sugar again.

That was the denial. And it hit both me and Lois hard… but it affected her more. I was my own person, I looked after myself, but he looked after her. If I was waiting by the door, she was pressed up against it. With her nose at the letterbox. As if trying to use any sense she had to find him.

The belief that he never existed came soon after that, and Lois was indeed a wreck. I’d lost a friend, but Lois had lost a brother who was more of a father than a sibling. Not a good father, but a guardian nevertheless. So to believe he didn’t exist terrified her.

A year, and she is only just healing properly. She can go through his CD collection now. She can’t play any of them. But she can look at the boxes without weeping. Most of them.

 

“No. You’re right. Don’t go to her.”

“No.”

“I could tell her your real name. If you like.”

“Also no. What would that help?”

“Comfort?”

He sat back again. No longer as vicious. “Yeah. To reveal that her brother’s name wasn’t ever his real name? Lovely.”

“Fine, not that either.”

“Just… keep this to yourself. Honestly, it’s better if no one else knows. They’ll only ask questions about how you know. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned it.”

I scowled, “You can trust me, you know. I know when to keep my mouth shut.”

“Alright,” he sighed. “I know. You’re not stupid.”

“I don’t think I am. At all. Come on. What’s your real name?”

“Arby.”

I found myself smiling, trying not to chuckle. Arby? The man sat before me, who I’ve known as Lull, is called Arby.

“Short for anything?”

“Probably. Stop laughing.”

“I’m really not.”

He busied himself with his tea. Taking mouthful after mouthful. Until he had drained the teacup. I politely offered to pour him more, but he declined.

“Yeah, no more tea. I’ll be going in a few minutes. Back to the void of fucking nothingness.”

“Is that really what it’s like? To be dead?”

He shrugged. “Honestly I’m just speculating. I don’t remember a thing while I’m there unless it’s more subconscious revelations made conscious. Death is death. Nothing is nothing. Just how it is.”

“How much longer have you got?”

“How long has it been?”

“Not long, actually. Probably a couple of hours.”

“Mm. About as long as last time.”

I smiled, “Last time you were here for twenty minutes.”

He frowned.

“I suspected this for a while now – your perception of time is completely thrown off. Like you thought the cemetery opened a few months ago? It opened before you died, you know?”

“Shit. I remember. That’s annoying.”

“It’s alright. You just going to vanish again?”

“Most likely.”

“How do you know you’re going?”

He looked to one side. Perhaps thinking of the answer. Then he looked down at his hands. “I’m not… sure. It’s like an alarm clock in my head. Or something. I just suddenly realise I’m going to go. I don’t have long. Even if my perception of time is fucked.”

“When are you going to come back?”

“Might not. I can’t say.”

I felt suddenly vulnerable. My question, a child-like question, an innocent question. “When are you going to come back?” As if my happiness, my enjoyment in life, my purpose, relies on him… Even though I know that, if he never did return, I’d be okay. I’m logical enough – I hope – to avoid mourning too hard a second time. I know he’s dead, I remind myself of that fact every time he vanishes again. I remind myself that he’s dead, that he probably won’t come back. Ever.

But still. Asking that question, allowing that slice of childishness into my tone… it’s made me a little melancholic about the entire situation. I know I’d give up a lot to just spend a few hours more with him. And that’s proof I’ve not healed. Much. At all.

“Ah well. I’ll put the kettle on if you do come back. In the meantime, is there actually anything you want me to do with your bones?”

“Oh um… no. That is… you can bury them again if you want. Or you can keep them in your shed. Honestly, if I was you I’d keep them in your shed. Burying bones over and over might literally get you arrested.”

“Right… I’ll think about it. Perhaps I’ll invest in a big dog.”

“Charming.”

I managed to laugh.

 

He vanished not long after that. Fortunately, he wasn’t halfway through a sentence, or else it’d have felt even more abrupt. All that happened was that his teaspoon fell to the table. He had been fiddling with it slightly as he listened to me explaining what kind of dog I’d most want – my preference seems to fluctuate between one of those Russian bear dogs and an old English sheepdog – and then he’d –

He’d vanished. It was disconcerting, terribly so. To be looking at someone, chatting, and then they’re suddenly not there. No sound effect like in a cartoon, nor a flash of light. Simply, he was there, then he wasn’t. Instantaneously. No fade-out, no dissolve. Just vanished.

So the teaspoon clattered to the table and actually took a chip out of the teacup as its handle scraped past. I sat there for a while, still, not really moving at all. But I knew he’d not come back.

I cleaned up the table. Examined the chip in the teacup; nothing major, it wouldn’t cause a crack. So at least there was that.

After all that, I went back to the room and examined his skull. When he was sitting in front of me, the skull on the bookshelf behind him wasn’t weird. Now it was. I picked it up, and my fingertips didn’t like that. It felt too strange. Touching something which was, a year and a half ago, in the head of the man who’d been drinking tea with me…

Yeah, I put it down quite quickly. Simply too awkward for me to hold anymore. Even stranger to be in the same room with it after its owner had departed from the room so suddenly.

So I decided to leave the room too. Leave the room and call it a night. Tomorrow I’d feel differently about the skull – I’d be able to face it and feel comfortable with it. But looking at it now, looking at the teeth that, a year and a half ago, would have had held a cigarette while he lit it… it was scary. It made my head ask all those questions. The ones beginning with “how” and “why”.

I turned out the lights. All the lights downstairs. And I locked the front door. I stared through its window, my house dark behind me, and the streetlamp across the way glowing faintly, painting the surroundings in shades of brown and gold.

That hill he was originally buried on is a public bridleway. One I walked many a time either alone or with friends or family. It didn’t mean much to me then, it was only a bit of rough terrain with a few climbable trees… perhaps a dash of nostalgia here and there. I suppose it’ll mean something else now.

III: From Lull

Is it so fucking hard to simply be accepted by someone? Or is it just my destiny to walk through this wretched earth both hating and hated?

No, “hated” is far too strong. And “accepted” is also wrong.

Strike both of them. Shit.

Is it so hard to just mean something to someone – there, that sounds better already – rather than just… mediocre? I mean, it’s a rough estimation here, but I’m certain that’s what every human aspires to. People want to be loved, they want to be someone’s Number One, they want to be the first and last thought in someone’s head of a day. And then you have the people who will be happy with being hated… the ones who enjoy revelling in the anger and misery of others. You’ll probably still remember someone who did you very wrong twenty years down the line.

And that means – what? – that they mean something to you, correct? Yes – I might be someone’s brother, but that means shit. Of course Lois will remember me always, I’ll be so important to her. But she doesn’t count, why would she? She’s been around me long enough – and I around her – for both of us to piss each other off.

Although I don’t remember ever pissing her off. She pisses me off though.

But – where was I? Oh. I’d rather mean something, something real, to someone. Being a brother doesn’t count. And, and I know I say this with hypocrisy and a scoff, I’d rather be on someone’s Nice list than their Naughty list. Why wouldn’t I want someone to smile fondly at my memory, as blunt and unfriendly as it is.

Perhaps I’m just going soft, perhaps I’m… no, never mind. I don’t know what I mean.

It just… it’s sigh-worthy. I’m not someone’s anything. I’m anyone’s nothing.

Jesus Christ, I’m everyone’s nothing.

I: Air of London – I’m stuck on the ceiling

I am stuck on the ceiling. Do I know how I got there? No. I forgot my own name. Several times. But I consider there are more… pressing concerns. I’m stuck on the ceiling. I think I said that before. But I’m up where they hang the stars, with their long poles, and I wonder sometimes what they hang them on. Or if they just stayed up by themselves.

I can confirm there are hooks they hang the stars from. From the ceiling. But, while it’s a good discovery, I’d rather have both soles of both feet back on the streets on the ground, not up here. I can’t do anything up here.

Perhaps this is just a description in itself though, while remaining calm at least. I’m up here, all alone, with my mouth shut. But to me it seems like everyone else is up there. With their mouths open. And do they look up at me? No. No no no no no! They don’t know I exist. Yet here I am.

Stuck on the damned ceiling.

II: Human Carriage

I: Human Carriage

 

Emptiness leaves, replaced by a vague feeling of comfort. For, see, I have inserted things into space. And that leaves me happy.
Six of them, well, five and a child in their mother’s arms – I am even worse at judging a baby’s sex – fill up the space and I climb into the carriage behind the last man to enter.
Here we are.
All full in here. I am happy with this.
So I lock the doors as I do every time.
Can’t have that kid leaping off to his life. That would be backwards.
Oh no!
Can’t have that.
So I lock them tight.
-If you’re comfortable? I say. I speak in short sentences. Like I do every time. Simple. Short. Disconnected. Easy.
-If you’re comfortable? repeat I, just to ask again. But their eyes are still the same. So I give a hollow smile with full cheeks. -Alright. Sit loose. I will leave you now. A few minutes. To tell the Driver to go.
So I leave, just like that. I tell the Driver to go.
Or, I find my way to the Driver. It’s not an easy feat sometimes. He tends to leave empty coke bottles lying around. He seems fond of the stuff.
Only in glass bottles though.
Never plastic ones.
I hear he collects the caps. The metal caps you could cut yourself on. Maybe
his scars on his knuckles are there for a reason?
Because obsession is painful. Right?

Still.
I steal my way through the forest of upwards snouts.
Bottles, three here, five over there, all huddled like penguins.
Or… sardines, I suppose.
Hah!
What.
-Evening, I say to our Driver.
-Awright? he says to me. Not drinking a coke. Surprisingly. Maybe he doesn’t need the sugar boost just yet.
-Alright? I say back. I didn’t mean to.
He has a smile, just a little few seconds of a smile to ease me. He’s been around me long enough to
know my foibles. Know what I can be like sometimes. Echoing things. Screaming things. Repeating things. Copying things.
-Awright? he says again, but I keep mute this time.
Don’t want to make a fool
of myself.
Do I?
-We off? he says.
I tell him, -Yes. Everyone’s on. Settled. Sat. Comfortable.
-Everyone’s fine.
-Yeh. ‘Kay. Go sit. I’m moving.
-Alright, I look around as he swings to face the forwards direction. I don’t know how he Drives the train.
I suppose he presses forward.
I stare on the floor, at all the empty bottles, I ask if I can take one.
-Go mad.
Does he mean it literally?
I do not ask, merely pluck one off the floor. By the neck.
I don’t want to touch what has the Driver’s spit on it.
-I’ll sit.
-Yeh.
-Okay.
I leave him. No matter how awkward the conversation sounds-
or ‘convo’ as he’d say-
I never really come away rolling my eyes at myself.

So I find my way to my own seat with the bottle.
I want to wipe the opening. Quite
badly.
I don’t want to know where it’s been.
Really.
It might be dusty. But.
There isn’t much to wipe the snout with here.
So I have to use my glove. Very disgusting, especially when I imagine it all.
Oh.
No.

I rest the bottle between my knees and look over my shoulder. I cannot see the people.
There is a wall between us.
But somehow, looking their way is a comfort. For some reason.
I look their way. Are they alright?
My people?
My six?
My five and a child? They’re alright?
They’re awright?
I look back to the bottle. Just resting there as the train begins to shift a little. Like a living thing. It shrugs this way… and that way… before picking up speed it never seems to possess.
To me, to the me who has ridden the train the amount of times as unbent metal bottle tops in the world, it shouldn’t be surprising – should it – the speed the train has. But it is, every time it is.
Just starts off so slow… so slow indeed.
But then.
Two seconds.
Sixty- seventy- eighty!
Fairly skipping along the sleepers.
At least, I think there are sleepers.
On this track?
I actually cannot remember.
But.
Not important.
We are skipping though. And I look at my bottle for a few minutes.
Look at its emptiness.
I should do something about that.

Ever so Slightly Human – Part II of II

As a continuation, I’m astounded I wasn’t birthed sooner. I’ll enter into this world as blind as a shrew, unsure; whose continuation am I? I can stumble around in the darkness that is my world for as long as I have to, but what drives me? Heroism, thrust or something different? Desire, perhaps, or longing. Different but similar. I’m a continuation, I’m an echo of something written long ago.

Who is it though? Assume, momentarily, every story stands upright. Two legs, two arms, the boring human figurine. No wings, no snouts, no tusks.

The feet slink up from ankles, forming the curved swell of the calves, folding into knees at the front and still rising, thickening, spiralling around muscles to the hips, cascading down to form genitals and passing up again, a mid-line of the torso, and still the edges fold outwards, forwards and backwards, creating curves of breasts and soft spikes of collar-bones, switching perpendicular, falling down towards rippled elbows, over forearms and ending in the fingers. And no head or neck to be seen.

Is this what we all are?

Simple continuations, nothing ever thinking for itself. We live – our hearts beat softly beneath ribcages composed of backspacing and deletions. But it’s time for thinking that we’ve been here before.

We, the stories, are continuous continuations. Nothing new, I realise. The first episode of a saga stands a few metres away from me, headless, neckless. Not even that tall. The fantasy trope, I could imagine, redone and rehashed, made new, wringed out, tried again, but still a continuation, possibly, of another world. And unthinking and headless.

Episode two of the same saga stands to its left. Much smaller, missing the right arm. Missing both legs – but this is not why it’s short. Its body is much shorter than that of the first saga’s. And the third is nothing more than a torso, upright but unliving. I think I am starting to comprehend.

 

I search for the biggest body I can find. I want to discover what it is. I see it not too far off – black skin, a weak torso but strong legs, male, smooth and hairless. I stay below it, staring up, thinking nothing, mind quietly working. I stare at the place the body’s head should be.

And I see, I almost see a chin. It seems as though the neck extends – and it’s unusual there is a neck at all – into a chin. Nothing above, no face, no ear, no head, no brain. Just a neck, a chin and the rest of the heavy body, weight bearing down on itself. The feet are large, and I fully expect the white ground to crack and splinter beneath its form, but it remains stable. Supportive.

I wonder.

Is this figure the form of a story… or a continuation… that exceeded all limits? The types of stories some wonder why they ever got published or shelved. The types of stories some want to read but cannot dive into. The types of stories you feel envious that your friend understands.

I wonder.

Could this continuation be a book without a protagonist? Or written entirely without a full-stop? Or a book with no solid character at all? Or a story without an arc. Or a book devoid of all surrounding description. Or a story that uses the blankness of pages to enhance it. Or a book describing objects written by a blind man. Or a book filled with gibberish that becomes beautiful literature once you figure out how to read it. Or an event with no resolution.

Looking up at it, it is easy to think. But not so easy to consider a solution, an answer, to this. Who wrote this? Why is the figure of this book a huge, hairless black man? Why does this one have a neck and chin, an occurrence so rare I’ve not seen it before?

But alas the questions will remain floating in this emptiness, not one of them ever getting an answer. But I can understand this.

 

So I, a meagre and small continuation with no context to its birth, turn away. But still my blank mind rages with thoughts and I soon find myself still.

All around me, these stories, these continuations, these sagas and series and solos, stand as still as pillars. A storm could whisk the air around them, tsunamis could crash against their differing bodies, sledgehammers could buffet them, but they would not move. Any dents, or cracks, or chips would be minimal. But I, a moving version, would certainly get washed away. I am vulnerable, clearly.

And yet, another thought from my intangible soup of mind. I can see. I, unlike the tall and unthinking pillars, can not only move, but see. I can think. I can reason. I am small but different, very different. Nothing here can see me, though I am not hidden. These bodies are not dead, they live within their shaded shells, but they are senseless, motionless, invulnerable.

I am something very different.

 

I move on for some time, weaving, floating between each continuation. How am I different? What makes me a continuation worth eyes? What makes me worth movement? Numb feet that drag my body between lines and rows and columns and attentions. Are there more like me?

I pass bodies in the shape of women, some overweight, some slim, some missing limbs and some with extra. The same with the men, some have grotesque additions, body parts stuck on loosely, like a growth. And I remain silent through it all, letting my eyes take it in, letting my mind stay as silent and as cold as it needs to be. It works fast like this.

Some bodies are small, but not small like the 2nd and 3rd sagas I saw before. These are the head- and neckless bodies of children. Their tubby stomachs remain forever thrusted forward, elbows at their sides, and I wonder why some are smaller, some are bigger and some are missing limbs.

They are the same as the adult bodies in that way. The continuations of stories they are unlinked to, I suppose. Headless, thoughtless, but containing the heart and soul of something worthwhile. But yet, they see nothing, they think nothing, they are nothing.

I wonder about them.

V: Suicide Room

IV: Suicide Room

 

Disclaimer:

This file is not a pre-approved Suicide Room Case. However, it has become available to the public. It was discovered, and has been encrypted in such a way that hacking attempts have only managed to reveal unwilling words that do not work within any context. It is clearly a well-hidden file.

It has been released to the public under these conditions:
1) The main goal of releasing this file to the public is to recruit a larger number of people who could potentially figure out what it inside the document.
2) The contents of the document may not be used publicly until pre-approved by the Suicide Room.
3) Any readable and understandable contents of this document, if discovered, are to be reported immediately.
4) Any contents found unreported will be met with stern punishment.
5) Any names or assigned numbers within the document will be thoroughly investigated upon report and discovery.

To attempt to read the document, please select it below:

ENCRYPTED_DOCUMENT

Your co-operation on this endeavour is appreciated.

 

 

Hint: Pay special attention to the words used in III: Suicide Room

IV: Suicide Room

III: Suicide Room

 

A series of memorable cases from the Suicide Room. All information included in these documents is shown only for the purpose of exposing the weakness of the human mind. Together, with the right technology and purpose, we can overcome these weaknesses and create barriers to stop the impulses taking over. Together, we can create superhumans, immune to persuasion, obedience and oppression. But we can only do this with subjects willing to submit themselves to the Suicide Room. Through failure we will succeed. Through death we will live. Through the weakness of others we will strengthen ourselves.

 

–Case File 0103, Subject 0103–
–Pressuriser: 0071, Male, Experienced
–Status: Completed – Failure – Moderately soon suicide through a combination of drugs and self-amputation. Death caused by blood loss and shock.
–Case eligible for public viewing. All information contained within this document has been recorded for the purposes of scientific curiosity and for the sake of furthering the human race. All information was logged from physiological, audio and visual aids, plus the memory of Pressuriser 0071.

–Open Case–

During the initial meeting and setup of Subject 0103’s visit to the Suicide Room, several important discussions were recorded. Subject 0103, a young female, expressed the urge, which she has reportedly felt since she was a child, to become an amputee, or to amputate one or more of her limbs. She made the distinction between acrotomophilia and apotemnophilia – acrotomophilia is the sexual interest in amputees, and apotemnophilia is the interest in becoming an amputee, which may be linked to a deep spiritual or sexual desire. Subject 0103 made it clear she has never been sexually attracted to amputees, but that she has, since a young age, wanted to have at least one of her limbs amputated. She expressed a desire to remove, or have removed, her left arm from the elbow down.

Because of this desire, which, from society’s point of view, is often seen as eccentric, odd or perverse, this has brought on a strong depression for Subject 0103, as she feels cast out from the norms of society, due to the reactions she fears she will receive upon revealing her spiritual and human desire.

Because of the environment, she expressed she felt both comforted by the absence of judgemental stares, but also intimidated by the process of interviewing for a eligibility into the Suicide Room. The latter point has been raised both by potential subjects and indeed one Pressuriser, though the absence of people and use of communication directed towards the potential subjects is too precious to risk changing.

Once Subject 0103 became more comfortable speaking, knowing her information would remain anonymous and only used for scientific exploration and purpose, she opened up further.

Because of her depression, she had tried twice previously to remove her left arm, as a desperate attempt to experience happiness. These failed and foiled attempts have only made her desire stronger to achieve her goal. However, she is rarely left alone, always having a family member whom she resents near to her, so she has not tried for a third time. She also spoke of how she gets periods where her urges are so strong she considers running away, and urges where she is so low she contemplates suicide because she knows she is not happy.

Subject 0103 did seem reluctant when she arrived for the first time, as cameras captured her behaviour. She was reluctant to move, always glancing around for an escape should she change her mind. This sort of behaviour is very interesting, and always looked for when considering who should be a Subject in the Suicide Room.

Subject 0103 was chosen as she displayed several traits. She showed and expressed desire to end her own life, though her drifting and reluctant behaviour throughout the initial stages of setup provided a crucial contrast that is rare to find in those who come. Often, it is those who are definitely going to commit suicide who want to take part in the Suicide Room. Perhaps this is a way of abstaining from a guilty feeling; although they are leaving their family behind without warning, they are instead contributing to science.

Subject 0103 was not at this stage yet, so was selected relatively quickly to take part in the Suicide Room. She was assigned Pressuriser 0071. Usually, male pressurisers are not assigned to female subjects, as the male pressurisers display aggression more obviously than the female pressurisers. However, all female pressurisers were inconvenienced at the time, so Pressuriser 0071 was selected. Unfortunately, he presents a stark contrast to the 17-year-old Subject 0103, and this was taken into account when the data was analysed. However, after statistical tests and comparisons with other Suicide Room cases, Case 0103 was cleared as useful, and it was ruled Pressuriser 0071 would meet with her.

Precautions were taken immediately after clearing the case, and it was marked as a very possible potential failure. This girl fit all the criteria for wanting to end her life already, and the addition of the atmosphere and freedom from judgement, the law, or treatment offered would certainly do the opposite of deterring her from that conclusion. Pressuriser 0071 theorised it would not be hard to get Subject 0103 to take her own life. In his eager way, he only half-jokingly mentioned a bet when talking about the case. However, the bet was turned down, as it was believed she would almost-certainly take her own life.

Subject 0103 arrived three hours ahead of her scheduled time, which meant she had to sit and wait. Usually, subjects are merely kept an eye on, but Pressuriser 0223 happened to pass her an hour and forty-five minutes into Subject 0103’s waiting time. Pressuriser 0223 stopped to perceive the subject, but did not talk to her. However, after she had moved on past, and returned to her routine, she did note down her thoughts on what Subject 0103 looked like. This is second nature to her at this stage, as one of her strength is reading a person and remembering what she felt they meant as a whole. Although her notes were never officially turned in to be recorded, they were found and, as they are beneficial, will be recorded for scientific and memory purposes.

Pressuriser 0223’s Notes (written simply on a single sheet of notepaper found in the laboratory)

– Girl didn’t seem to have the look of finality around her. Simply by sitting where she was, she should have known she was almost certainly going to die, given the stigma around the SR [Suicide Room].
– Girl’s eyes were clear, no sign of tears or of crying.
– Posture suggests she’s been there a while.
– Compared to my memory of other subjects, she is alert. Not gazing into the middle distance or trying to block out the world.

Pressuriser 0223’s notes, while short and hardly relevant, as she has not received any information on Subject 0103, do raise interesting points about the subject. Perhaps it is beneficial that Pressuriser 0223 passed the subject and noticed what she was doing before she entered the Suicide Room, as subjects’ behaviour usually goes unrecorded outside, as most subjects present the same actions.

This information was passed onto Pressuriser 0071 who came to a potential conclusion that the subject was so calm and prepared because “she will possibly be able to fulfil her wish of removing her left arm”. As such, he took the hour before he was due to enter the Suicide Room to mentally prepare himself for the sights of bodily mutilation.

 

–Transcript–

This transcript captures the events leading up to, but prior to, Subject 0103’s decision. Throughout she was aware of the consequences of agreeing to be a part of the Suicide Room research, and, although withdrawal was impossible at this point, her permission and consent were given multiple times through the debriefing sessions.

While in the room, Subject 0103 showed the same calm demeanour she displayed outside.

[…]
0103 – Will I get to do it?

0071 – By ‘it’ I will assume you are talking about multiple things. If you refer to your apotemnophilic tendencies, then you are certainly not exempt from that. If you refer to suicide, you are certainly not exempt from that either.

0103 – You know what I meant?

0071 – It is my job to know.
[At this point, Pressuriser 0071 was informed via earpiece to heighten intimidation techniques. The Suicide Room is not a counselling suite.]

0071 – How did you develop apotemnophilia? Have you had it as long as your can remember, or was your perversion triggered somehow?

[Subject 0103 appears surprised by Pressuriser 0071’s questions]
0103 – I can’t rem–

0071 – I would assume, given that you’ve been shunned over this by people you should love, that it’s from birth. I will also theorise that your younger self, unable to control what she said as most children are, made it startlingly obvious at some point, either by trying to carry out your deep-set wish or by becoming obsessed with it, or with perhaps other amputees you knew.

0103 – I can’t remember. But…

0071 – You can’t be left alone anymore.

[Subject 0103 does not respond for a while, and simply looks at the pressuriser]

0103 – I… my mum didn’t want me to try again. She didn’t let me–

0071 – “didn’t”? She “didn’t” let you?

0103 – Yeah. No. No… doesn’t. She doesn’t let me… be on my own.

0071 – Don’t treat it like a mistake. A Freudian slip, maybe, but certainly no mistake. What makes you say didn’t, what makes you speak about your own mother in the past tense, a women we know to still be alive and connected to you?

0103 – She’s not–

[Pressuriser 0071 lowers his tone. On the cameras, it is clear his head tilts to the side as his voice softens.]
0071
– You know your connection with her is broken, don’t you? Just like you want it.

0103 – Yes, but… She’s… I hate her anyway so… I know. I’m free like this. Well, sort of. I mean, I’m not going to see her again, and it doesn’t matter, I’ll go.

0071 – You’re here. You’ve already gone.

0103 – That’s…

0071 – That’s not what you mean, is it? You might have thought about going, about leaving, at some point. You could have run away. But you never tried, because so many people were looking and watching you at all times. But yet, you managed to get here on your own, but you never managed to run away. Because, by “go” you don’t mean, flee to somewhere geographically different, do you?

[At this point, Pressuriser 0071 is urged via earpieace to have her make the final recorded consent. This is usually received before further verbal interaction within the room, but Subject 0103 began talking instantly.]

0103 – Obviously.

[Part approved to be cut by three separate parties. Contained Pressuriser 0071 becoming increasingly stronger with his points and Subject 0103 gradually becoming less and less positive.]

0071 – This is what you meant by “didn’t”, clearly. You arrived here on your own, twice. And this time, you haven’t the foresight to go further after your visit today.

[Subject 0103 doesn’t respond. She is looking at her hands, though she has not yet shown the common symptoms of anxiety. As Pressuriser 0223 said, she is calm, accepting.]

0071 – You are aware of the aims of the Suicide Room and have consented willingly. Your final decision can be made at any time, and any wishes directly regarding it will be followed through. You have stated your preferred method of suicide is by ingesting quantities of paracetamol over a period of time. This has been already provided and is in this room with us. You will find it below the table, available for your use whenever, and if ever, you decide to use it. However, if a different method is favoured, it can be arranged. This information has all been provided to us willingly by you and is all correct.

[Subject 0103 looks at him surprised. She soon returns to a look of dull calmness however]

0103 – Yes… can I… can I do it now? Can I just… I just want to…

0071  – Is this the opportunity or an urge that’s led you to have just made your final decision?

0103 – Both, possibly. I can’t wait anymore, you’re right. Can I just… do it, finally.

0071 – Amputation or suicide?

0103 – Both, possibly.

0071 – Beneath the table, you will find the tools with which you can carry this out. As requested, there is numbing agent, rope, painkillers and a straight-bladed motorised saw which has been sterilised for your personal use. All of these materials you requested, and every effort has been made to match your descriptions with the products. You may proceed with your final decision however you deem suitable. Should you survive the process–

0103 – I don’t think I want to. Survive, I mean. I’ve been ready for this for ever.

0071 – Should you survive the amputation process you can walk out, or continue with your final decision in another way. However, I will still be present, even if you do survive. Everything you have experienced with me will still continue.

0103 – Okay. Okay.
[Subject 0103 visibly takes a breath, before reaching beneath the table]

-Transcript Ends-

 

The following scenes are best recorded from Pressuriser 0071’s memory. As he recalls, the subject did not move from her position at the table. She first took the painkillers before tying the rope around her upper left arm. Pressuriser 0071 notes how fluidly she moved while performing these actions. He theorises she’s either practised or is well-read on the subject of self-amputation.

She next applied the numbing agent, spreading it around her elbow, just above and below it. While she waited for the agent to work, she traced a line around the bottom of her upper arm, mentally working out where she should cut.

She began to stare into the middle distance. According to Pressuriser 0223’s notes, often the very broken do that either while waiting for their time in the Suicide Room to begin, or while they wait for the applied method of death to work for them. She says that, when this happens, subjects do one of two things. Either they recall all their life, think of who they will be leaving, but often have no regrets leaving them. Or, they experience nothingness, only a calmness, such as the feeling when drowning. Pressuriser 0071 could not tell which category she fell into, though suspected it was the first one.

Finally, she picked up the saw. Pressuriser 0071 admits that this is the point he was dreading. However, as he is a highly trained and highly experienced Pressuriser, he remained deadpanned both in expression and emotion.

Subject 0103 expressed her discomfort very soon after she started up the saw. As the teeth got through into her flesh, pulling out fragments of muscle, she realised the numbing agent wouldn’t take away the deepest pain. She let the handle go slightly, and the saw fell, slicing her skin further. She gripped her arm and screamed.

Pressuriser 0071, all the while, kept his stern gaze on her, his hands clasped on the table, cuffs of his shirt being dyed a dark red. She met his eyes after a few minutes. Searching for direction or comfort, perhaps. However, she got neither, but she pushed herself on to continue, desire and futility getting the better of her. She placed her arm back on the table and carried on, the hand holding the saw shaking.

She became more serious when the got to the bone, knowing her arm was too ruined to be saved. Pressuriser 0071 says he saw her tears stop and she pressed on, still making vocal her pain but refusing to cry. Because of the adrenaline, she had the strength to push through the bone. However, because she was removing her left arm through sheer force, she was losing blood fast. It began pooling on the floor, rippling with every slam of her feet on the floor to try and redirect her senses. Her limp left hand was stretched out. A single drop of blood rolled down from the tip of her pinky and ran into the crease of her hand.

It wasn’t long before her right hand let the saw fall to the floor, and her left arm turned over freely, separated from her body. She sat back, expressing nothing, no pain, possibly because adrenaline had taken effect. At this point, her heart rate was slowing down. Pressuriser 0071, who still had not changed his position or expression, felt his heart racing. The shock was getting to him.

Before his eyes, Subject 0103 raised her messy left arm. In hers, he saw a glimmer, and the corners of her mouth turned upwards. But that only lasted a second before her head fell back, her arm collapsed to her side again and her eyes closed. Blood pumped from the stump of her arm onto the floor.

At this point, she had not died. She had merely lost consciousness due to lack of blood and from shock. However, by the time Pressuriser 0071 had readied himself, stood up and moved to check her pulse, she was gone. As usual, he stayed in the room alone with her corpse for ten minutes, just to be sure nothing else was wrong.

In the end, Subject 0103 did carry out the wish she had held for the longest time. However, this wish, this desire, something she could never deny cost her dearly, and caused her to feel isolated to the point of depression. She became weak, and succumbed to the basic human desperate response within the Suicide Room.

 

–End results: Subject 0103 failed. The results gained from her visit to the Suicide Room are certainly useful. Pressuriser 0071 reports that Subject 0103 really shook him. This has raised several questions regarding him within the process itself. In the end, Subject 0103 benefited to furthering the understanding of desire and suicide.