by Justin Faull
I smiled into the yellow, orange and red. Sometimes a simple squinting of the eyes could make the ugliest aspects of life seem beautiful. My eyes half-closed; I could take my mind half elsewhere. Those individual lights! Those individual people! All consolidated into a galactic communal blob. It was almost inspiring to think of the world like this. But once you focused upon the finer details, it all became so much more sinister. A cog lost in the machine was a metaphor that had long since become hackneyed in these modern times — which made it all the more apt. Floating outside the ego in this way was peaceful as my own had been tainted long ago.
I opened my eyes. The motorway’s cold and calculated shape entrenched and overwhelmed my vision once again. I wasn’t sure how long I’d been daydreaming. I hadn’t crashed the car yet, so it mustn’t have been too long. What a shame; to off oneself accidentally allowed them to squash their demons without ever having to confront them. I turned the music up till it evaporated my other senses and shifted my focus back towards the road. Music seemed to be one of the few medications for my dangerous tendencies. Sometimes I would arrive at my destination, an hour having passed, with no recollection of actually driving.
I hadn’t always felt this way, had I? Changes were barely noticeable because they always occurred simultaneously, constantly reacting to the present and intertwining with the past. And there was never a clear indication of some incitation; did this disillusionment exist in everyone? Perhaps this fire burns in all of us and some are better at repressing it. Back and forth we go through these phases until a definer prevails. I chuckled aloud. The fuck was I on about? The world was shit. Everyone knew that. No amount of contemplation and philosophising would secrete an ‘aha!’ moment that would truly give a direction worth following. It all found the same destination.
I often loved to look at the other drivers. I wondered how they dealt with their lives. Did they ever presume that everyone was just as inane as them? Speeding along these motorways was perhaps the most exhilarating experience of self-expression we could all have. Our menial conversations, jobs and chores are tied down by deliberations for survival and slow consequences. But driving alone was the purest form of instinct! No one could stop you from wavering off the path. And aren’t the lines on the road a funny thing? Like a guideline, they funnel us into pathways to and from. There is never any true choice, we simply choose the most applicable pathway. To forego the lane lines would result in actual freedom.
My train of thought derailed as I realised that the idiot in front of me was doing a hundred instead of a hundred and ten. I slammed my palm on the wheel until they looked in their rear-view mirror. It was a young kid, probably just off his P plates. He swerved into the left lane and gave me a dirty look as I passed him. I gave him the finger.
I twisted and turned around the dimly lit streets, occasionally glancing at those making the treacherous walk home, darkness lapping at their feet like a rising tide. A dead bird lay on the road ahead. The car made a slight jolt as it ran over it.
I parked my car in the street. I lived in a large apartment complex, sandwiched somewhere on the third floor between a multitude of identical rooms. When it was being built, someone fucked up and failed to account for enough parks for each room. So these days it was first come, first serve. And once again, I was late home from work, so I assumed that all the parks were taken. The streetlight above illuminated like a spotlight on the car. It flickered briefly.
As I slammed my car door, I noticed that the sound broke into an eerie silence that fell on the street side with the heaviness of gravity. No moon shone bright and unwavering. No stars nor clouds nullified the caliginous sky. The evening had descended into night, but I had missed the transition. The silence was so palpable that I felt my footsteps reveal myself. Anxiety oozed from me in a sticky sweat. There was a sense that everyone had left this place in mutual agreement, colluded against me. I took a quick peek into the underground car park. It was full. Perhaps paranoia was manifesting in my loneliness. Though if there was another person out here amidst this emptiness, perhaps it was preferable to be alone.
Thumps reverberated off each footstep as I climbed the stairs and the bright, clinical lights of the stairway wavered just enough to inject a further unease. And as I saw it, a vague epiphany crept into my mind. I found out later that this psychic feeling was not unwarranted. It was a warning.
The door was wide open; no effort was made at any concealment. The lights inside stung my eyes. They always were brighter than the ones in the stairway. Irresistibly, I paced towards the door. I had no instinct to retreat. This was my home, where else could I possibly retreat to? I had many friends I could call but not a single best friend. The dilapidated apartment was all that I had. Losing control of it was like a smug spit in the face. I heard the airy spin of the ceiling fan. Why was it on? I did not leave it on.
I slid my car keys through my fingers, gripping it tightly in an attempt to convince myself it was a part of me. Truth be told, the majority of myself was eager for a physical encounter, a visceral savoury to end the day at hand. I imagined it as I stepped through into the kitchen, barely aware of the open draws, scattered cutlery, broken glasses, dirty dishes and half-drunk beer bottles. The bloody fight would end in some badass collision! The keys brought upon their eyes, I would dig — and their satisfying screaming would not halt me as I pushed until I was the final image left burnt into their brain. “Self-defence,” I could say. These thoughts left my mind the moment I saw the intruder.
Sitting on the couch was a thing not of this world. It appeared to be in the shape of a human, yet within it existed only the absence of any perceivable matter. It was as if a deity had cut a fourth-dimensional hole in the shape of a human. What filled the space in between was a coarse and darkened grey, like the fuzziness of an old television, or the floaters that bounce in your eyes when you stand up too quickly. It was all and none of these, for I can only provide examples of existing things for a barely tangible comparison.
The exciting bravery that filled me just moments prior exited in an audible gasp. The intruder turned its head to look directly at me with eyes it did not have. The idea of escape entered my head too late for it to be of use. The door to my apartment slammed shut. I scrambled towards it, grappling at the knob as if it were some dog that refused to give up its ball. I stole a look back at the intruder in my struggle; it continued its absent stare. In my panicked state, I saw the window as an only resort. The fall would perhaps break several bones or kill me. Either seemed infinitely better than existing with the intruder. It radiated toxicity, an evil that gassed the room, threatening to intoxicate me. I made an attempted sprint towards the window. I thought of it as my last decision. In the split-second I existed within line of the intruder, it apparated in front of me and I fell into its perfect shape as if it were a carefully personalized noose.
I was freefalling within the depths of an infinite dark. Blind, I felt thousands of corrupted, otherworldly worms wriggle over me, digging tiny needles into my skin. I tried to cry out, some kind of pathetic whimper, but instead, the worms seized the opportunity for entry. The pain went beyond the physical, it was a war on my being, into the synapses. I wanted to cry, but the intruder would not even allow me these simple comforts. Instead, I saw the image of my body breaking down from afar— convulsing, dribbling and blubbering like a child.
My freefall halted. Vision returned, but it was blurred, filtered through something charcoal-like, like a black rubbish bag. Rapidly it condensed until it wrapped my skin tight until I was paralysed. It broke through the skin, through the thin layer that my body interacted with the outside world. My consciousness refused to deflate despite an overwhelming desire. The intruder showed my organs collapse, bones break and blood dry. I was but a tiny glimmer within myself. I heard my laughing. He was on the floor of my apartment, swigging a bottle, laughing.
I wake up. I get out of bed. I have a shower. I put the kettle on to make a coffee. That horrific ordeal now feels like a distant dream. Perhaps it was. I pour the kettle. I go to work. A co-worker makes a risqué joke at the water cooler. I laugh. I don’t know if it was funny. I can’t quite tell what my laugh is. I finish work. This goes on. Things happen to me, but I don’t understand my reactions. The intruder sits within me now. Most days it remains subdued, but every day it influences me. Days pass more rapidly now. At some point, the intruder began to intertwine with me. It’s difficult to say when. I now question if the intruder truly was different to me. The longer I live with it, the more familiar it becomes. I now wear expressions like a fresh coat of paint on a dilapidated house. I do not know what lays underneath me, but I’m not sure that it matters anymore. I remember something from the dream now. I must have left the door open.
Justin Faull is a writer of surreal and literary fiction from the Gold Coast, Australia. He is currently at work on his first novel.