How Little He Knows for Sure
(A quick update before the curtain rises. Last week the rewrite behaved itself. Motivation was up. Momentum was on my side. Things went well. This week, almost predictably, not so much. The rewrite has turned on me. Causing the Unwelcome Catholic in my head to say that’s what I get for feeling good about myself. It’s been a week of steeper slopes and stupid problems.
So long motivation and momentum. Hello, frustration, my old friend.
Last week, I became interested in the body horror of Clive Barker. Hence last week’s sketch. It struck me that Barker, and many like him, channel a far darker fascination with pain and pleasing than I’ve ever attempted. My horror can be pretty chaste at times. A lot of ghost stories are. I guess it comes from the Victorian values in their haunted little hearts. It’s a genre scared of its own shadow. In a good way, a lot of the time.
Not that I’ve read a lot of Mr Barker. I went through The Scarlet Gospels the other year, which was a bit of a waste of time. I’ve also read Mister B Gone, Weaveworld, Nightbreed and The Books of Blood, back when I was squeamish teen.
Last week, I got to thinking I should give that flavour of horror a go. This week, I’m back to obsessing over the idea that writing doesn’t have to be an impersonation or a perfect reflection of real life. Not anymore. It doesn’t have to stay slick or follow rules written onto blackboards back when writing and coal were kings together. I think we have enough other mediums for that type of recording and retelling now.
I still think there’s a way to write that doesn’t tread so closely on the toes of movies and TV. Others have managed it, without a doubt. They’ve channelled it through poetic means, prose with a counter intuitive flow and some fairly obtuse structure choices.
I thought I’d give it a quick go myself.)
There he sits. Tripping fingers on shallow keys. Cramping legs tucked under a cheap desk. Fighting the urge to turn his head and glance out his window. Not that he sees much out of it at this time of day. There are no streetlights out on The Rise. Nothing on show but a stumpy spiral arm of sleeping house alarms and the occasional security light flaring at the sight of a cat or commuter. No, he won’t see anything until the sun comes up. Even then, The Rise stays on the quiet side. No good distractions for the desperate. Most motion he perceives is out of the corner of an eye. Not there at all. Not when he actually looks. The figures on the path. The people by the front doors. The occasional dark car, gliding silent down the road. They all just reveal themselves to be figments when he finally relents and turns his head. Just more shadows throwing dust at his senses.
Some mornings, there’s a rhythm to the typing. The dancing footsteps of a latest story. He doesn’t lead it when it comes. He doesn’t conduct it. He follows, light on a hunting step. Until he gets closer, then it’s like pulling into fast traffic. Entering their slipstream and moving with the loose chaos maths and magic pulses within the unchecked lanes.
All that talk of the collective unconsciousness when he was at college. Pretending to feel anything but fear after a quick lungful was coughed back into the cold canal air. On mornings like this, as he grows older and closer to stone, it didn’t seem very collected to him. More gathered up and taken away. The hive mind doesn’t want to share its toys on a day like this.
The rhythm has been robbed from under his fingertips for all of this week. Five days of stalled starts and very dead ends. He’s managed to exhaust himself without going anywhere but down. Down to the next paragraph. Down to the next page. The next screen. Left to right. Top to bottom. North on a western writer’s compass only leads to their feet. The twitching point taking them off the screen and down, into the ground. The only Rise for him on a week like this is the collection of houses hidden in the morning gloom that’s still pretending to be night.
The dark beyond the window to his lift and past the closed to his door line his world with silence. On a good day, that silence that works in his favour. On a good day, that silence acts like kindling. Brittle, ready to snap and crackle under the flames of some fresh fire. This week, it’s just a neat little, dead place to store his judgements.
These are the days where his eyes watch the page count more than the stirring shadows past the glass. These are the days when he wants to reach into the screen and screw up the fake page in front of him before casting it back to the black magic beyond the ones and zeroes making all this happen.
These blank white sheets he keeps filling and saving don’t exist. He knows that. They probably never will exist. Not in this form, anyway. Yet he spends more of himself on them than he does anywhere else. They eat into his sleep. They rewrite him more than he’s ever rewritten them. Plans have been cancelled for these electric placeholders. Weekends have sacrificed their own, comfortable white space to the creation of more unreal words. Writing, rewriting. Saving. Slipping off to the internet once in a while, just to see if the world past the glass has exploded yet.
There he sits. Thinking about stone tapes. The thought of ghosts locked into walls. Into the floors. They say it takes high emotion to put them there. That’s where your screaming apparitions come from. Your poltergeists and tormented phantoms. Perhaps, in the future, other owners of Eight will stay out of this room in the early morning hours.
“It’s always colder in there then,” they’ll tell each other in hushed tones. “You just get this feeling that someone’s sulking at you.”
Is that where he gets to end up? After all is said and done, he’ll just be an imprint of his own dead end.
This could all be a gamble. The world chose its favourites from his generation long before he crept into his third decade. If this really is a box of chocolates, then he’s turning stale near the bottom. He’s the dark centred treat that no one wants. His bright wrapping failing to attract the eye of everyone who came here looking for something sweet or bright or familiar instead. He’s watched class mates and associates find the extra rungs on their ladders and he’s waved them off, proud. Proud until they were out of sight and their fresh absence made him wonder why he wasn’t allowed to follow. What did he do wrong? They never leave a slipstream for him to find. A breadcrumb trail. Which would be fitting. The path of scraps.
No, there’s just more of his spectral, blank sheets. There on the lit screen. Bright in the dark morning. Bright enough to burn the shape of them onto the backs of his eyes forever more.
When he’s gone, the man in white will look into his empty eyes and see something tucked into the corner. A rectangle of blank white, curving on the whim of the bending horizon.
“Ah,” he’ll say, only half interested. “Another dead writer.”
By then he’ll just be an indent on a flat pack seat. Some worn keys on a keyboard. A few neighbours who might say how he was always up there. On his computer. Scowling and smiling. Possibly watching them from the corner of his eye, past the greasy lens of his crooked glasses.
Not that he stops writing. Not that he knows how. Even writing this is somehow just another clue of his compulsion. The recorder always on. Picking up anything it can. Because, without this, there would be nothing at all as far his blinkered eyes can tell.
That’s how little he knows for sure.