Eclipse of a Nowhere Ghost
Alone in a bleak room, bare bulb, alight in the dim gloom. Soft fuzz of blurred focus and far away feeling of seeing himself as another person, watching the other him, there on the sofa. Drifting through distorted time and nothingness of no meaning and strange understanding of how funny it all is. The pain. The desolation, the lost hope and fear of everything. Carl knows it in his heart. None of this is real. And being alone for so long, as the days go by, drifting into day after night after day, is better than the loneliness of being around other people. No connection to anyone, or anything. Remote, detached. Removed. Nowhere. A ghost in the void.
Laying still, Carl on a sofa, staring into nowhere. No hope. Two and a half hours in a black-hole. Dark vortex of soul-suck paralysis. The black nothing enveloping him in the void. Fall back into abyss. Can’t move, can’t think. Lost. Non-day. Missing. The whole afternoon, gone.
The day had started out alright. A few missions. A pick-up, a drop. Couple of phone calls. Carl stopped at the supermarket to grab a few bits. It was in there things started to deteriorate. Atmosphere of cold horror. Android spies. Strange light. Endless boxes and tins and cartons. Looks of judgement, disapproval. He had to escape. Abandoned the trolley and left with nothing. Had to get home. He couldn’t look anyone in the eye.
Then the signal started. Invisible, alien beam projected into his mind. Disrupted thoughts, glitched visions. Stolen, replaced. He wished Anna was still with him.
Trying to watch a documentary about military invasion to distract. But the beam is transmitted on the back of the TV signal. Psychic attack. Winged creatures, diving. Agony of torment.
A strange rectangle appears in the air. Between the sofa and the television. Translucent. Hanging there, floating. About a metre or so wide and a bit less tall. Another screen. Frenetic fuzz of interference. And then it changes. Shimmers with light. Like the reflections of a swimming pool on a ceiling. It looks as though it’s made of nothing but the moving light. Small luminous waves and ripples. Carl stares at it in wonder. He thinks it might be a doorway. A way out. To escape the suffocating nightmare of everyday existence. It’s this or the noose. A portal into another world. If he climbs into it, he will be free. Or will he? What’s on the other side? He hesitates, watching it glimmer in the room. The rectangle is gone. Too late. He missed it. He missed his chance.
Drifts delirious. Desolation. Detached from reality, spectral spectator. Not present. Watching, like a film. The world around him, a dull sound from a long way off. Muted, muffled. Vision distorted. Faces shifting form. Changing. Blurring out to hideous masks. Becoming part of the background. Fading to nothing but dark and light. Disappearing completely. Speed-dial dreaming. Third-eye navigation of ecstatic sights, floating through the moon’s watch of the no-time, nowhere-night.
He swallows pills to murder the Harpies.
Alone in a sad street. The houses all look empty. Grey, melancholy sky. Unsolid sun, dim through spectral clouds, moving in the poison air. All below in shade. Parked cars abandoned, old, with kicked off wing mirrors and cracked screens. Windows knocked through. Flat tyres. Decay. Rust. Seal bags and empty cans in the gutter. Old mattresses and broken-down furniture in front yards.
Carl walks along, hands in pockets, collar turned up to the dirty breeze. Wonders why he is there. Has a vague idea he’s looking for an answer, but can’t remember what the question is. He thinks it might be something important, but nothing matters anyway, so he keeps walking, scraping the soles of his shoes on the paving stones. A nowhere shuffle, careless of destination and no hurry.
There’s no salvation. Only horror. All you can do is laugh.
Where is everyone? It’s as though all the people were wiped out. Disease, war, or some unknown disaster that missed him somehow. Desolation of lonely road. It occurs to him that this is what peace is. He stops and looks around. No sound but the slow wind. Something moves at the side of his eye. A shadow man. The dark figure hides round the corner of a high wall. He turns back and the sight of a house on the corner makes his gut drop in a cold terror. He stands mesmerised by the small house, torn between revulsion and a compulsion to go inside.
Round the back, a door, peeled paint in a rotten frame. He pulls the handle and it breaks off in his hand, but the door moves in the soft rot. He kicks it and it swings open. Inside, damp smell, floorboards missing and plaster fallen from walls. Laths showing, and brick. Torn wallpaper with black mould. Broken windows. The kitchen is derelict, filth piled up in the sink. No furniture in the front room. Strange atmosphere of dread and doom.
The stairs creek, risers and steps are gone here and there. The runner is cracked. The whole thing looks like it’ll collapse. Upstairs, the landing wall is crumbling, old graffiti, layers of paint. The bathroom is cold. Smashed toilet, shit on the floor. Bath full of mould and dirt. Carl gags on his breath and walks to a bedroom.
As he goes in, he stops, frozen in horror. A hanged man swings gently in the corner of the room. Kicked over stool below. A shadow hand grips his heart and the world falls away beneath him. The body turns slow and he sees the face. It’s his face. Stretched neck, distorted features, but it’s him. He watches himself hang there for a moment, then backs out the room and closes the door.
Outside, strange bird flies in a dark sky with a bright white sun. Black cloud billows. A storm bursts in the green air and the bird falls apart. Disintegrates in blizzard of buzzard feathers and fuzz. Wings falling. It all comes tumbling down in the wind and the rain. Carl watches it drop, spiralling down broken bird. And he feels himself falling too, as a shadow spreads out along the street and moves across him.
He walks over to where it hits the ground. Standing over it, looking down, he sees it’s still alive. The smashed bird moves its head and looks him in the eye. The beak opens and a strangled, high pitch noise comes out, but he hears the message projected into his head by some telepathic trick.
-You can’t escape.
Carl recoils in fear and reflex reaction, stamps on the bird’s head to put it out of its misery, but also to silence the transmission. He hears the beak and the fragile bones crunch under his shoe. But it’s Anna’s face his foot is on and she’s lying naked in the rain, bloody and bruised. Her mutilated body bleeding and the blood mixing with the raindrops and running away to the gutter. He lifts his foot to see her face half caved in and stumbles back, falling on the curb. Sitting in a dirty puddle, soaked to the bone, Carl stares at the nude girl in disbelief. He gets up and walks away, looking around to see if anyone saw. Nobody about still. He looks back at the body, naked on the pavement. A magpie lands next to her and pecks at the broken face.
Delirium hits him in a spinning rush. Brain floats off in a lurid liquid. Confused, disoriented, staggering. The street scene softens and blurs, shuddering and stuttering like a video glitch. Everything shifts this way, then that, like a ship on high waves in a rough sea. He falls on his hands and knees, scrambling about in the wet, oily rainbow patterns on the path and he’s broken and beaten and he doesn’t know why. Can’t remember what happened. He looks back along the pavement. He can’t see Anna. He can’t see anything through the grey haze of the rain. He gives up and lays there on the cold, wet concrete, shivering. It doesn’t matter. Nothing does.
A Bird Calls my Name
I pull the front door and it slams shut on a quiet street. Traffic sound from the end of the road. Sirens of chase get louder, then fade away. Two youths walking up the pavement. A bird calls my name,
-Ron, Ron… Ron.
I look round to see what it wants, but it says no more. Just side-eying me. Watching. Small black eyes. I realise its tone was mocking.
There’s a certain type of fear reserved for moments like this. A hollow ache. Anxiety of never knowing what the little cunt was going to say. A shameful understanding of being teased. An uncertainty of the animal being capable of that level of derision, or is it under the control of a higher power? Could it be some other being in disguise?
I walk on and the bird calls me again, but this time I ignore it. This has happened before. It could be a warning. Maybe the bird’s on my side.
I see further up the street, a shadow man disappear behind a tree. A terror spreads through my veins, cold as death. I know it’s hiding flat against the trunk. Waiting for me to pass. Waiting to jump out and attack. These shadows have haunted me my entire life. I know I will be eaten by madness if they catch me. Taken away to a room with no doors and left to my own torment forever.
I try to be brave, this is not real, this is not real. I keep walking toward the tree, I ain’t scared of no man, why should I be frightened of shadows? But I am. The tree gets closer and I cross the road. I look back, as I pass where the shadow man hid. Nothing there. I knew there was nothing there. I shrink inside, annoyed at myself for showing weakness.
I make up excuses for crossing the street, as though I’m justifying myself to a spectator. Lying that I’d had to cross anyway. I punch myself in the face hard and then look about to see if anybody saw. No one about.
In the shop, I can’t remember why I’m here. I hate supermarkets at the best of times. Lights too bright, strange din of activity. Sharp, revolting atmosphere. Everyone looks like androids. I feel like they’re watching me. Maybe controlled by the same agents as the bird.
For some reason, women look mean at times like this. I think they detect there’s something wrong with me and are disgusted by my strangeness. I can’t look anyone in the eye. I know I’ll get found out. They’re all looking. Faces seem plastic and tinted with odd colours. I don’t trust them.
Men look like enemies. A possible threat. I know I can smash their moronic faces out the back of their heads, or at least cause them as much physical damage as they can me, so I’m on a more level playing field with them. With women, the threat is more psychic.
I press a button in my mind. Power boost. These people are nothing to me. I could melt these cunts with my eyes. I strut, shoulders back, chin up to the beers and grab some very strong foreign lagers. I stare down any fuck who dares look. Man, woman or child. They know danger. They look away.
I go to self-serve till. Don’t fancy any human interaction with these creeps. I ring the beers through and then decide I ain’t paying even though I’ve got money. I put them in a bag and walk out, as the security guard looks on.
Out in the street again, I know the shadows can’t hurt me. Nor that bird. They can fuck off too. I look round. Nobody following.
Sitting at home, alone, I realise it ain’t anyone else’s fault. As the first beer goes down, I feel more settled. The people in the shop that inspired such violence in me, had no idea of the darkness I saw in them. They were just going about their business. Or were they? And was that shadow man really just a vision? Did he just vanish because he realised I’d been aware of him and outsmarted him and he couldn’t catch me and I keep getting away? And that bird. That fuckin’ bird. I can hear it outside calling my name again.
My wife comes in the room.
-Where did you go?
-Went ta get some beers.
-You could have let me know, I needed a few bits.
-I didn’t want to go shopping. Just needed a walk. Felt strange.
-I heard the door slam and didn’t know where you were going. I was worried. You’ve been odd today.
-You alright? You look agitated.
-I’m alright now. Had a bit of a strange day.
-What happened to your face? It looks swollen.
-I punched it.
-You’re an idiot.
She looks into my eyes and sees the empty depths of desolation and confusion behind them. Sees me holding it down.
-Quick, touch the magic globe, it’ll make you feel better.
-What magic globe?
She turns round and bends, lifting her dress and lowering her knickers to show her bare bottom.
-Quick. Touch the magic globe. It’ll make everything alright, she says looking back with a grin.
I smile and put my hand on it, feeling her warmth through the smooth skin. I stroke it all over and it works quite well. I start to feel a bit better. I run my hand down the crease and between her legs.
She wiggles it up and down, then side to side
-Oo, yeah. That’s better isn’t it? You dirty bastard.
Rob True was born in 1971. Unable to read or write very well, he left school with no qualifications. His wife taught him how to use paragraphs and punctuation aged forty and he began writing stories.Published in The Arsonist Magazine, Open Pen Magazine, Low Light Magazine, Occulum, Burning House Press, Litro Magazine.
“A Bird Called My Name” first appeared in Rob True’s book of short stories, Gospel of Aberration, published by Burning House Press. Twitter @RobTrueStories
Banner Image: “Red Figure” A digital drawing by Cathy Daley
Cathy Daley @cathydaley1 is a Canadian visual artist whose work is shown and collected internationally, including The National Gallery of Canada, Ontario Gallery of Art, The Canadian Art Bank and private collections. She teaches at OCADU and is represented by New Zones Gallery in Calgary, AB.