In Between the Silent Spaces

“[It is] Always and definitely the Outside, just as the House is, respectfully, the House.”

– Caítlin R. Kiernan


1

Marie sat in her dark room, searching the internet for the perfect purchase. There was an empty space in the corner of her living room that had always bothered her. During the day, she could not stop staring. At night, it was a chill silent shadow that lent itself to certain anxiety and nightmare. Even while away at work, she was distracted by the random thought of that empty spot. It was wrong. Marie needed to fill that space – to undo it. It ate at her thoughts.

Several times before, Marie had tried various things to fill the space. A lamp. A cushioned chair. Many different throw rugs. Once she went so far as to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a taxidermy bear, poised for attack. She was satisfied with nothing, though she found a use for most things elsewhere. She was still stuck with the bear, unsellable, up in the attic covered by a sheet. Still being paid for.

Marie would occasionally listen to the radio, and it would temporarily stop her irritation. Eventually, the silence of that empty space would overpower the music. There would be an end to that silence soon, she was sure of it. She had thought of the perfect solution, if she could afford it. This time, Marie was looking to buy a piano.


2

FOR MOST OF US there is an inside, and there is an outside. There are certainly doors – wood, metal, glass – all three, perhaps. The inside is home, and work, and places to obtain things for a price, and a place where things are kept, stuffed, stored, forgotten, looked at, ignored. Outside is big. It is the place of the sky. It is where there is sun and moon, grass and cement, graves and birds in graceful flight. The Outside encompasses all of the indoor places – home, workplace, automobile, the small tent in the middle of nowhere, the densest, darkest part of the forest. We go day to day, night to godforsaken night – musically composed montages that we may forget about, if we even thought about it to begin with. Whether we thought of anything at all. Our lives are inside places. We go and sit by an ocean, on the hot sand, on a blanket, on a towel, and we watch the sunset, the waves, the crashing foam, the seashells that hopefully have not broken our feet – bleeding – leaving perfectly round shining spots on the public bathroom floor (and who knows what may have leapt up into the wound as the blood passed the opposite way – some miniscule beast that may or may not be harmless, but were we to view it through a microscope we would run screaming. Or limp away screaming. Or just scream. Water bear! Tardigrade! Whimper. Cringe…)

We are at the edge of the ocean. We are at the edge of all things. The border to the eternal sea. We are at a shoreline that must have cost a pretty penny. “A pretty penny.” What exactly does that mean? Is a shiny new penny, unblemished by human touch – fingerprints, germs, grease – more valuable than a penny dug up by a young child with a plastic yellow shovel in his backyard as he was searching for smooth rocks, or digging a cave for his action figure to hide away in, or digging a grave for a dried-out toad that he found on the edge of the sidewalk and shed a small tear for? Slowly wipe away the wet dirt from the coin with a firm thumb and discover Lincoln for the first time. Wheat. We are still at that edge. A seagull slowly passes. It passes regardless of its desires.

There is music here. It is not our music. It is the Outside music. There are no orchestras. There are no electric guitars, screaming. There are no amplifiers. There are no drugged-out long-haired wild ones with faded concert tees raising their swinging outstretched pale arms to their arrhythmic anti-melodic gods and goddesses, praying for the next big hit. No. There are a few here that belong in the outside places. They have found their garbage bags. Black plastic. Their shopping carts, steering inevitably to the left. Rust. Phosphorus. Rather than swing their arms and heads in worship to their heaven-realmed music, they hang their heads in shame. Dirty. Wrong. Failed. They have forgotten. They cannot hear the ocean, nor its flutes. They will not hear the seagulls though they try very hard to understand their message. (Do they? Or do the seagulls?)

There are no pianos here.


3

In the emptiest time of night, Rún stared into the black painted mirror upon her desk. She slowly filed away the rest of her surroundings into their proper places in her mind, and shut each drawer. All became dark beyond the deep of the mirror. There was nothing now other than Rún and her reflection. Her image soon turned and walked slowly away beyond the mirror’s edge, leaving a purity of black – the perfect void.

Rún concentrated on that void. Her focus was strong. Blurred images gradually swept behind the glass surface. There was nothing more than smoke-like filaments streaming randomly about. From random direction to a steady current. Soon, the images became recognizable. Alectoria ochroleuca. Angelica archangelica. Salix phylicifolia. Plectrophenax nivalis. She wandered through an imagined tundra at first, and then, ever so gradually, she knew exactly where she was. Central Iceland. She headed north – towards where she existed in reality. She paused a moment at Nonnahús, a place that made her happy, one of those rare Inside places that was not her own. Rún went on, and soon stopped outside of her own home. Normally, this would be her final destination within the mirror. However, this journey was made for a friend – not for herself this time. She kept walking, letting the unknown guide her.

After a moment she found herself standing at the entrance to the Municipal Library of Akureyri. A book? she wondered. Rún closed her eyes, and concentrated. She slowly rose from the ground, and hovered mere inches above. She let the In-between guide her, and she floated into the library. She passed great shelves of books, sorting librarians and their rolling carts, scholars at desks who were lost within the works.

Pages flipped and turned, bindings stretched, an occasional curt “shh” quickly after a sudden noise. Rún found herself in a small room of the library she hadn’t seen before. A study room perhaps? It was very bright, the sun’s rays found their way easily in. Rún’s eyes slowly adjusted to the light as her feet touched down lightly upon the floor. Well, that’s strange. What is a piano doing-

Rún found herself looking at her reflection in the black mirror. She took a deep breath, and gathered her thoughts, took in her surroundings, back from their drawers. She sat up, and carefully placed the mirror aside, covering it with cloth. Rún consulted her cards – major arcana, minor arcana, her own expanded star guide spread. She pulled her laptop over, and woke it up. A few mouse clicks away, and she sent a chat request to her friend.


4

Connections are everywhere.

Physical.

E l e c t r i c a l.

M e n t a l.

E m o t i o n a l.

There are more types of connections than can be possibly named.

They are real…

…and they are imaginary.

There is   m a g i c   within them all.

 

 


5

Marie sat at her desk, looking over at that horrible empty place. Her arms were heavy; her shoulders drooped. She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream obscenities and spittle and nonsense at the world. Marie lifted a hand half-heartedly to her laptop and shoved it further away. “Why? Why is it so expensive? I can’t… I can’t deal with this!” She sat motionless, tears threatening to burst from her eyes, but not quite finding their way.

There was a peal from her computer. Marie sat there. Another, and Marie blinked. A third beep and Marie gathered the energy to pull her laptop toward her and look.

WildRun [7 mins ago]: Marie! I see that you are on-line… are you there?
WildRun [4 mins ago]: Hello? Marie! La Di Da – Can you see me? \/\ Wavings! /\/
WildRun [1 minute ago]: …Are you OK? I am here.

 

Marie half-smiled, and responded.

ANoseForTreble: hi
WildRun: Ah! Marie! You are not feeling well, I see! Don’t you worry. I think I have found something that will make you feel better!

 

Marie shifted in her seat. Rún had such incredible intuition. She did not believe in magic, but if ever there was something close, Rún certainly had it. Marie relaxed a bit; the pressure behind her eyes lessened.

ANoseForTreble: don’t just show me another cute baby puffin pic. anything but that.
WildRun: No, no! Although… I always have one at the ready! >wink<
WildRun: Link incoming!
[ hlekkur! ]
WildRun: Just kidding, just kidding! Actually, I believe that I have found what you have been looking for.
ANoseForTreble: and what would that be?
WildRun: Okay. Look. There is no good way to explain this, but tomorrow, you need to go across your street to the blue house that has the black bird on it…
WildRun: …This is what I see. I think you know him there. Knock on his door – he will have what you need.
ANoseForTreble: ??
WildRun: Marie! Just trust me. Do this tomorrow.
ANoseForTreble: alright. we’ll see. you should sleep.
WildRun: I will do so very soon! Góða nótt, my friend across the sea!
ANoseForTreble: good night. (and thanks for the puffin pic.)
WildRun: 🙂

 

Marie signed off, and shut her laptop down. She yawned and stretched a bit, releasing much of her stress from her system. A blue house with a black bird on it, Rún said. Off the top of her head, she couldn’t think of which house that could be. There were at least three houses of various shades of blue across the way. Strange, Rún, strange. We’ll see in the morning. Marie stood, paused for a moment at the empty space as she always did, then went upstairs to bed.


6

There is the Inside. There is the Outside. Then, upon realizing this – upon creation of these two entities, these two states of being – a third is placed into quiet existence. There is the In-between. Those who walk the In-between know. They are aware that there is not just an inside, but an Inside. They know the Outside holds not just the winds, the grass, the planets, the racing fiery stars; it also holds that which we never want to find, to never want to know. It holds the pain. Those who are of the In-between can separate themselves from it all, and are able to manipulate, or perhaps at least recognize that they could manipulate, both Inside and Outside. Both spheres. Both ends to the hourglass. They hold the sand. They may hold it so tightly that not a grain could escape. They might hold it such that streams of sand whisper through their fingers and rush dancing off with the wind to unknown realms. The rarest of those of the In-between know of those realms, and rarer still are those who have been there. They are the true dreamers. They are the artists. They are the writers. Poets. They call up that which could never exist otherwise into being. They are sorcerers, witches, magicians. Pull a manticore from a hat; draw a rope of whispering willow branches from a spectator’s suit pocket. Lightning emits gently from the fingertips, crackling. Pick a card. The ones who are In-between are doors – what else could they be? They pass through others, and everything. It is clear – they open themselves.


7

Upon the light of dawn, Rún left her house. As she warmed up her motorcycle, she gathered in her surroundings. It was a day free of clouds; there was just a brisk chill wind to remind all that the sky was still there. Rún smiled, pulled her helmet on, and rode off, keeping the dirty side down as always. After stopping for a cup of coffee – a welcoming warmth, steaming and energetic – she headed to the library. She wondered if the room she saw during her In-between travel last night would actually be there. As she drew nearer, she saw a plume of dark smoke, and heard sirens. Her wonder quickly changed to fear.

Workers were in fire uniformed obscurity, scattered about. The smell of burnt wood and hot metal were prevalent. A mist was in the air from hoses still spraying, cooling. There was chaotic noise of fireman’s chatter, the sirens, hissing, and low creaking – a sad settling noise. Even with the moisture, a charred page blew by Rún in the wind, its knowledge lost to this reality.

The library had caught fire just as Rún had gone to bed in the earliest hours of the morning. She had asked a fireman resting by one of the trucks. “An errant cigarette, it was, miss. No one hurt, þakka Guði. Devastating, though, just devastating. All of those books. We should be able to go in soon to see the full extent. Now go; be safe.”

Rún went and sat on the curb, stunned. Nothing during her time in the In-between last night gave any indication of this. Nothing. She grew angry. At the carelessness of the smoker. With herself for not seeing – not preventing this. Rún fumed, and hit her fist against the curb. This act calmed her a bit, and she stood, licking blood from her knuckles. She walked briskly up to one of the firemen who seemed to be in charge, and asked how she could help. “Not now, girl. It is still very dangerous. If you want to help, go home, and come back in a few hours, in clothes that you don’t care so much about – you’re going to get dirty. Then it will be safe to start cleaning and salvaging, once you check in with the Library Director. He is here now, but in no condition to speak with – he is devastated, as you can imagine.”

Rún thanked him, and walked back to her motorbike. She rode slowly home under skies turned cold. An exhaustion came suddenly upon her; the effects of a fine cup of coffee nullified. She set her alarm to 1pm, just over three hours away, and fell immediately into a dreamless sleep.


8

FOR SOME, there is not simply an inside, nor an outside. There is an Inside, a Home. It is a place of safety – the only place. There are cushions, there is warmth. There are items owned, possessions, collections. There is Familiarity. The Inside is where one can truly be themselves, and sigh, and breathe. Sound is welcome, color is accepted. The Inside is where one can lock themselves in, sometimes throwing away the key – heavy, iron, black – and sit, close one’s tired eyes, and stop thinking – start dreaming reality. The only reality – to dream a safe dream. No nightmares. Nightmares are the stuff of the Outside.

For those that are of the Inside, the Outside is an evil thing. It is everything that Inside is not. A pressure of the mind, tightened thoughts, near-bursting blood vessels of the brain. The Outside is a slow ache. Unwanted. It is work. It is tedium, and nervousness. It is the rustling of leaves in the obscurity of twilight. A nervous ticking taps at the nape of our necks, coldly, clicking, reminding us of everything that shouldn’t be and yet still is. Unresolved childhoods. Deadlines. Necessary things that were we not to worry over we would smile just a little bit more each day. Deep lines in our foreheads and darkness under our aching eyes. Necessary things. The roots of all evil, entangling our lives in their dead brown claw-like tendrils.


9

Marie awoke from a restless sleep. She remembered a flickering of images, and trying to read words and strange symbols from random scattering pages. The more she tried to remember what she had seen, the less she could actually recall. She shook her head, and sat up on the edge of her bed. Marie was glad to have the day off from work; she didn’t want to wait to figure out what Rún was talking about. She took a quick shower, got dressed, had a bite to eat, then went and stood outside of her doorway.

It was a dark morning – the clouds and the misted rain an obscurity over all – the horizon threatening worse to come with occasional flashes of light from afar. Marie shrugged at the weather, threw her sweatshirt’s hood over her head, and walked quickly across the street.

She stood on the sidewalk, blackened from the rain, and looked up at the house before her. It was a three story Victorian, painted sky blue, trim of a mismatched deep brown. She walked up the stone steps to the front door and hesitated. Marie was not the most social of people – she was an Inside person through and through. She had never actually reached out to meet any of her neighbors. Thus she had quite a bit of uncertainty regarding Rún’s “I think you know him there.” She sighed, brushed herself off, and after another few seconds pressed the doorbell.

After a moment, the door opened. An older, slightly rotund gentleman, with short white hair and wearing a blue polo shirt that exactly matched the color of his house stepped out onto the landing to greet Marie.

“Marie! How are you? What brings you here, across the way, as it were?”

Marie was baffled. Upon his speaking, she recognized him as the owner of the antique shop across town that she went to at least every other week. The casual polo shirt rather than an old stuffy brown suit, and lack of feathered derby hat had initially thrown her off.

“Mr. Wootensmith! Hi! I didn’t know you lived here.”

“All the more reason for my wondering what brings you to my home, and on this dreary day, no less…” Mr. Wootensmith tilted his head slightly.

“Well, hmm. This is weird, I know…” Marie sputtered. “Okay, so. I’ll get right to the point. Do you have a black bird on your house?”

Mr. Wootensmith raised a wizardly eyebrow at Marie. “What a fascinatingly strange question. There is indeed a black bird, as you so call it, upon the roof of my house. It is not in view from the street. Curious. I’ll tell you about it if you wish; it is really quite a story worth the telling. Whether it is worth the hearing on the other hand is another thing altogether. Come on in, Miss Marie, and I shall make you a cup of oolong to go along with my tale.”


10

The Tale of the Black Bird

“A well fermented batch of Camellia sinensis leaves. Boiling water, like a storm. Leaves to teapot, and add the water. Brush aside any foam, cover and steep for no less than two minutes. Pour fairly, and enjoy. This is the start to every good story, I say. Sit, sit. There you are. Make yourself comfortable. Careful! – It is still quite hot. Smell it – bring its scent into yourself; allow it to permeate the senses.

“So, the black bird. Strange that you come to me today of all days to ask of it. It was, in fact, forty years ago to this very day when I first had the encounter.

“I was just a young lad of nineteen years, wandering the city’s streets for something new to catch my fancy. My collection was only beginning you see, ‘twas just a child being carefully raised by my greedy hands. I certainly loved it as it were, and still do.

“Yes. It was a rainy day, just as it is today, and I was walking along Second Street, unafraid of getting wet, just swinging my umbrella along as I would a cane. It had a different feel back then, that street did. All sorts of interesting things those that lived there had displayed for all to see. Well, I hadn’t any real hope to actually find anything out there on that stormy day- my goodness, was that lightning just now? Wonderful, that. No hope on finding anything out there, but I had a well-known acquaintance at the end of the street that I was certain would be holding something for me. As the lightning struck at that moment – coincidences, coincidences! – I saw something that held me to that spot immediately.

“I was just outside a small house, with an open porch. I had never paid it much mind before. It was one of those quiet places, do you know the type? But of course you do. Upon that porch I beheld an item that entranced me – an iron cast raven, four foot wingspan, solid, black. It was perfection. I had to have it. I walked up onto the porch, half expecting the statue to act as guard to the home and attack. I’m still here today to tell this tale, so clearly it did no such thing! As I rapped on the door with my umbrella, my eyes stayed on the bird. I hadn’t even noticed when the door opened; I was transfixed, riveted, enchanted, bound.

“When the woman who answered my rapping ever so politely cleared her throat, and I finally looked away from the winged guardian and up to her, I was enraptured all over again. I almost forgot about the bird. She was beautiful – long flowing black hair, perfect body, eyes that were… that were labyrinths for the soul. Madeline was her name. She knew I was lost, and she smiled and winked at me. She invited me in for tea – oolong of course.

“That day, I did forget about that wonderful item on her porch, but it has never left my mind since; it brought to me the most treasured thing in my life – my wife.

“Where is she now, you ask? Well, she grew sick after a time – she passed in the autumn of ’04. No, no, it’s alright. I accept it now. I’ve accepted it for a while now. An appropriate question though…

“Yes, really. How is it appropriate? Well, upon her passing, once I could endure life beyond my pained soul and darkened bedroom, I placed that raven upon my roof, in view of my bedroom skylight. It brings me great joy to this very day – in fact, every now and then that raven winks at me just as Madeline did on the day we met.”


11

Rún hit her palm against the screaming clock, silencing it. She jumped out of bed, briefly confused at the light coming through the window. Then it came back to her – the terrible burning of the library. Having slept in her clothes from earlier in the day, she just threw her jacket back on, smoothed out her hair a bit, and rode back to the ruined Municipal Library of Akureyri.

When Rún arrived, there were still fire trucks there, though no longer actively fighting fire – it had been effectively put out. The Ríkislögreglan was there in full force however, having already put up caution tape, ensuring the scene was secure. There were a handful of people going in and out of the ruined library, seeming to take direction from a tall, bespectacled, and heavily sideburned man. Rún parked her Honda, and walked up to one of the police officers. She showed her identity card and asked if she could volunteer. He lifted the yellow tape, and waved her on through.

Rún made her way to the center of the action.

“Library Director, I assume?”

He nodded morosely, extending a hand. “Yes, yes I am…was rather. Jón.”

“Hello Jón. I’m Rún. I traveled here earlier today to confirm some information, when I saw the fire. I came here quite a bit as a child. Please tell me how I can help.”

“Thank you… thank you, Rún. Well, they tell me everything is safe, but to be cautious nonetheless. We are just salvaging what we can – books obviously, paperwork, electronics, artwork, anything that we can carry out such that when they demolish… when they demolish…” Jón lifted up his glasses, and pinched the bridge of his nose.

Rún nodded and went right to work. She put on a dust mask, grabbed an empty cardboard box, and went in.

It was devastation. So many ruined books. Char. Ash. There was no smell of books as there should have been, old or new. There was just the scent of burnt wood, of ruin. There was an odd mist-like darkness but for errant rays of sunlight shining randomly from holes in the roof. Every now and then there would be a book left mostly untouched by flame. Recoverable. Rún went slowly, thoroughly, through the library.

Rún wiped away blackened sweat from her forehead. It was then she saw the door to the room that she had travelled to through her black mirror – through the In-between. She put the box of books down, wiped her hands off on her jeans, and placed a hand cautiously on the door’s latch. Warm, but not overly so. Rún backed up slightly, and opened the door.

It was the room that she found – found her, really – in the In-between. It was completely untouched by the fire. Unbelievably so. What could have protected it from the flames? In the center of the room, Rún saw the piano, still and silent in the glory of the sunlight shining from the windows. She walked over to it, and ran a finger across its surface. Images quickly flooded her head – random colors, to flickering lights, to a glowing turning to fireflies dancing in an endless green field, to a blurred overview of houses in a small town. The streaming of images slowed as a blue house came into view, a black bird perched on its roof. The last vision was of a street sign, and Rún recognized it as Marie’s. The In-between confirmed Rún’s predictions. She was glad, and the rest of the day passed easily as she continued the cleanup of the library, and as more and more volunteers came to help.


12

Marie sipped the last of her tea. “That was… I have no words, Mr. Wootensmith.”

“Marie, Marie, Marie. I think you can call me Gerald, now. Not at the shop, mind you. I am still only Mr. Wootensmith there. How did you enjoy your tea?”

Marie smiled. “Very good. Let me clean up.”

“Certainly. Just mind the rats, and their sharp yellow fangs.”

Marie froze.

Mr. Wootensmith chuckled. “I jest, I jest!”

Marie shook her head. She stood up and brought the cups and saucers back to the kitchen. As she rinsed them out, she thought about Mr. Wooten- Gerald’s story. Beautiful. Sad. Short, but sweet. As she walked back towards the table, she paid more attention to everything around her, wondering what of the home’s may have been Madeline’s, Gerald’s, what each of them bought together.

In her peripheral vision, she caught sight of it in a side room. A piano. Solitary. Mr. Wootensmith saw Marie pause, stopped mid-step.

“Ah, yes. She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”

Marie nodded wordlessly.

“I don’t play. Nor did Madeline. Upon purchasing this wondrous instrument from a fellow collector; we found its place right away. And there it stayed. It was quickly forgotten as my collection kept growing.”

“It’s perfect.” Marie whispered.

“Well, Miss Marie, I certainly don’t have any use for it. I can let it go if you wish to own it… for a price.”

Marie turned to face Mr. Wootensmith. “How… how much?”

“Understand, Marie, the pristine condition of the instrument. Unplayed. ‘Unopened’ if you will. Let me consider…”

Marie paled a bit as Mr. Wootensmith pondered.

“It is yours for the cost of…” He savored the pause. “…Money doesn’t mean so much to me, you know. It can be yours, transferred to your home within the day, for the cost of coming and visiting me here every now and then to listen to my myriad stories. And to continue to browse my curio shop, of course.”

Marie let out a great sigh, and nearly laughed in joy. “Yes! How could I not!”

Marie placed a hand upon the piano. There will never be that empty space again.


Afterword

The padded hammer crashes on its tightly-held string…

[ Ab Vox D’Angel – QNTAL ]

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The Improv Troupe of the Damned

Sometimes I feel as though I am a shadow on the dirty street, guided by blind gods with twitchy fingers. Twitchy fingers and a twisted sense of entertainment. Glancing briefly at the black others walking the opposite way, it is as though we pass through each other. They and their long coats. Them and their wooden faces. My face is more so because I do not care, and thus I do not care.

Come with me if you wish.

 

 


[ ⰏⰀⰓ ]

Keep our eyes to the ground, and we will just walk. Walk slow. There are not many others anyway, and tonight for once it does not rain, knock on wood.

This city in which we walk, in which we all live, I do not have a clue as to its purpose other than to make me ill. Every roof sags, every segmented ceiling within drips. Locks are rusted, and windows consist of spider webs, soil, and pain. There is no shelter here. The first floor businesses glow neon dull in the sour puddles that shadow our footsteps. Reflections of travesties. Adverts of unknown languages and suspect legitimacy rest crookedly in alcoved doorways. No one speaks the same language here in this city. Even the wind is foreign, bringing the smell of old hags and citrus long gone bad.

A shouting from above, and a crash of breaking glass. A cat starts screaming. Home must soon be near.

I use the term loosely. “Home”. I have never known home. I know what home is supposed to be, but I have never experienced such a concept. Home is but a place where there is a locked door. It is a place where clothes are stored, and food can be had, sometimes. Home is a place where the hard bed is kept, and the noises of the streets are slightly less gruesome.

Ah, yes, we have arrived. The cracks that smear the moon’s shadow in erratic patterns on the sidewalk pavement welcome us sarcastically. I look to my building and I see that someone has tacked yet another advert to the door. In front of the seasick graffiti and offensive stickers that are half peeled away, a new card. A bright red intrusion in this dead of night. I pull it off with two fingers, careful to touch as little of it as possible – it is advisable to avoid touching things as much as one can in this city, at all times. Written in a fine calligraphic hand on the card is the phrase ‘dreams be DAMNED’. There is also a bitly and a QR code on the reverse side.

Well, the card has served its purpose – it has me unusually curious. Come up, let us find out together, shall we?

 

 


[ Ⰻ ]

We go up the X flights of stairs – the exact number of flights is irrelevant. I am tired and sweating by the time I get to my floor, and even that does not matter. I offer you a handkerchief, but you surely have a vigor in you, you are not even slightly affected by the lengthy climb. Not even a heavy breath. Good for you. We go down the dim hall, get to the room, I fiddle with locks. We go in. Flicking the light switch up, the ceiling light stutters on, the cockroaches flee to their hidden corners. Fortunate that, tonight. For them or for us? Does it matter? We are all familiar with the cockroach dance here. Never mind. Yet another unimportant thing, in this city. Regardless, I have electricity, and thus my ancient laptop, battery long dead, has a hope of running. I plug it in, and hit the power button.

I sit in front of the black screen. I say this, and you understand what I mean. Know that there are times where it is all the black screen, regardless of where we may sit, stand, or fitfully sleep.

You may lean against the table. I have only the one chair, and I am tired.

The black screen turns grey, I plug the cable in, and open a browser. I expand the bitly code from the card, and run a validity check on it. I am somewhat shocked that it comes up as a legitimate site, though what might come after opening it we may never know. I open it regardless.

A red screen. The same garish red as the card. Black text. An address, local. A date, and a time. Saturday, 3:00 am. I go to close the window, but just before I do, from the speakers comes a warped chorus, a quiet and swollen deep warble.

 

     DIBIDI BA DI–

 

And it ends, interrupted. A diseased sound. Ugly. An abscess of music, filled with an unease that worms itself into my head. I reopen the site, and wait.

Nothing. Silence. I continue to wait, a good ten minutes. I have momentarily forgotten that you are there next to me.

It does not reoccur. I go to close the window, oddly disappointed.

 

     DI DOU DOU DI–

 

The window closes.

Well. How bizarre. I shutdown the laptop, and unplug the cables.

I turn to you after a few moments. You are still there, you have not fallen over from the strange vibrations. Bizarre indeed, but the awful and otherworldly noise has furthered my interest, and I happen to have that night free. Oh, you do as well? How fortuitous. We can rest until then.

 

 


[ ⰑⰐ ]

Dreams be damned indeed. Ridiculous. I barely remember what we have just seen, you and I. Let me attempt to recall.

It was an uneventful stroll to our destination, though it was of course raining heavily. The address, a dilapidated building amongst other dilapidated buildings. All the same.

At the door, which had a slapped on spatter of crimson paint, stood a large sort of a brute, though I am certain he had multiple layers of clothing on to enhance the look of his brutishness. Even his mustache seemed to add inches to his girth. Upon our arrival, he postured and puffed to make himself even larger, and asked for the password. As the website mentioned no such thing, I had to assume that it was what was on the card. Again, ridiculous, and I told you as such right there in front of him, and you smirked, and I audibly snorted. Anyone could have gained access to this place just in passing that gaudy red card wherever it may have been tacked up.

“Dreams be damned!” I practically sung at the ogre.

He largely opened the door, stepped massively to the side with a gargantuan smile, and waved us tremendously into a dark corridor. “Eleven,” he hugely said, as the door shut us in.

Once our eyes adjusted to the lack of light, we made our way down the barren hallway to the end, where there was a double set of doors propped open by orange street cones. Someone stood at the end, an usher of sorts.

Do you remember him at all? The usher? I cannot recall his face, nor his stature, nor anything else of him other than he asked where we were seated. I made the obvious assumption of using the number given to us, lucky number eleven, and I seem to remember starting to ask him something else, but my question escapes me. Do you remember? Nothing? Ah, well. Memory is but a dust mote in the air of our skulls. Memory floats about at random until it sticks to the damp black mold growing within.

We were ushered carefully in. A dim room, a grey stage. Lamps wrapped haphazardly in duct tape, Moth-chewed grey curtains. Folding metal chairs. Several others were already inside, creaking in their chairs, scraping the floors, observing the proper ritual of annoying and inane chatter before the “show”.

Of the main event itself, I wish I could say that I remember practically nothing. It was a terribly amateur improvisation troupe. “The Improv Troupe of the Damned”, they called themselves. They were to perform scenes of horror, the dark and the strange, based on cards pulled out of a hat with the name of an author, and other various aspects based on call out suggestions from the audience.

I was initially quite excited, what with being a fan of the genre, and considering myself somewhat of an expert at that. Excitement, however, quickly turned to disgust, and I nearly walked out, pulling you behind me.

It was terrible beyond belief. At least two of the actors read directly from wrinkled and shaking scripts. There was stuttering, and awkward pauses. Various items were thrown at the stage from the audience. They got Poe all wrong. Failed at Blackwood. Campbell was slain, Machen slaughtered. We shall not speak, ever, of King. I finally fell asleep during a Ligotti travesty.

I dreamt of a visionless music. A slow and horrid warping and warbling familiarity…

 

     BA DIDI DOU

     DIDI DIDLDILDIDLDIDL–

 

And there I woke up, and here we now are.

 

 


[ ⰅⰕⰕⰅ ]

I cannot seem to move my arms, nor my legs. My eyes are so dry. I cannot turn to look at you. All I can see is the sagging black ceiling of the theatre. There is dirt and a glorious pattern of cobwebs up there. Several small wooden crosses, with strings attached, are dangling, cut at the ends, up there.

Oh, oh. I see, I understand. Is that why the audience is now so silent? Is this why I feel I have also been cut?

Be kind would you, and lift me up, take me home.

Please?

…Are you still there?

 

     HOUDIHOUDI DEY DOU.

 

[ ]

Beating

The heartbeat is a drum. You know this already, you have heard it innumerable times. Too many times. It is a truth that cannot be avoided.

Beat.

Heart. Drum. Something else. What is it in the center of the darkness, with but wand and stand, that calls to you like this? It is barely legible, the confusion can come in an instant, and then that confusion is everything. Your sheet music falls apart, turns to wings of moth. This has happened before. It, in all likelihood, will happen again.

Beat.

In the morning, before the sun came and went, you woke up slow, in a cold sweat. The sheets were soaked, you shivered. It took all of your efforts to get out of bed, and it was a slow walk to where the mirror used to be. No music in mirrors.

There, was the only uncovered window. It stared at you. No – what was behind the window stared at you, you think. Why have you not yet blinded this eye? As you violently brushed your teeth, you stole an accidental glance.

Beat.

[ beating,

we are not
not yet
not just
of this rhythm. ]

The dirty pane. The glass. An ant on the outside of the glass, crawling to the meeting of ants, where they discuss your doings, and your undoings. A flying blur. The yellow grass. Something was on the grass, heaving. Heaving. Heaving. You could not tell what. The sidewalk. The stretched and faceless person walking through it, with its fingers brushing behind. Why have you not yet blinded this eye?

Beat.

Remember – a dark coat sat on a plain chair, waiting for you. The bathroom floor was soothing, but it was waiting. And the sun was nearly gone, and the coat was patient. You could never have left the coat behind. And it is a black, heavy skin.

Beat.

And now, you are here, again, in this darkness, that beats all on its own. It is of a deeper resonance, and you are certain that most people are unaware of it. But you are always aware of the darkness, keenly. The darkness keening. The darkness follows you even through the unobscured sun. The scorpion sun. It is your comfort, your blank slate.

[ blank slate is funny yeah
makes a laughing
laughing
laughing sound yeah
there are writings and symbols
and scrawled maniacals yeah
like them trebles
and g clefs.

oh, yeah
do we semiquaver

we rumble under
your hurting head.

seething.

soothing, we. ]

Beat.

You are here. Here in the theatre, the theatre of darkness. There is a sound of shifting chairs, a cough, an occasional whispering. Here, in the darkness, and suddenly there is loud applause. A multitude of hands coming together in the darkness to make a noise that invades your heart.

Then, in the darkness, silence.

Beat.

[ hey
the silence can’t wait forever
right? ]

Beat.

The darkness in your heart.

Beat.

Beat.

You raise your hand, tap your baton – your wand – to the stand once, beat. Twice, beat. [ rumble ] A feigned semblance of control.

A flurry of motion starts from your fingertips and extends outward into the darkness, illuminating all.

The flash of a shocked audience. A ferocity of couples grasping at each other’s hands, screaming. Several people scrambling from their felt chairs, shoving, pushing. An elderly gentleman in the first row sitting perfectly still. All this while a grand music builds, and not just from the instruments. The sound creates a strobe light effect, sending scores into epileptic shivers. Curling flutes bite their owners, and keep on whistling. Viola strings etch crimson patterns.

Beat.

This music! This music you create for them! Waving your arms to it all, for it all. The screaming, the chaos harmony.

It comes to a crescendo. Sound waves crash upon the theatre walls, they will fall, you are certain of it. Oh, to be deafened, and then finally know of the polyphony of mind and shadow, of memory and the end of all things!

Beat. Beat. Beatbeatbeatbea-

There is a vehement pause in everything, as your heart finally claws its way out of your chest. You stand, clutching at your bleeding edges. The gore. The outro.

The darkness spills from your wound, imitating your coat, encompassing your fallen heart. It is an oil spill, and you are an oil spill, spreading black across the stage. Unreflective.

You are a mirror, covered with a heavy grey sheet.

The music ended eons ago, before you were born. The drums are all broken.

You lie in the yellow grass, under an alien sun, heaving, heaving, heaving.

(review) Grant Tabard’s ‘Loneliness is the Machine that Drives the World’

A review of Grant Tarbard’s ‘Loneliness is the Machine that Drives the World’ © 2016

litmtdtw

Published by Platypus Press
Cover/Interior Layout by Peter Barnfather
Cover Photography by Ryan McGuire

First off, it is through a short series of wire-crossing with Michelle Tudor of Platypus Press that I was actually able to review Mr. Tarbard’s book. I feel honored to be able to do so regardless – by no means am I a professional reviewer. I am, however, a writer, and a poet, and as such connected with ‘Loneliness is the Machine that Drives the World’.

The cover photography and its layout are beautiful things, front and back. I am not quite sure what exactly it is that I am looking at, but it intrigues me. The cover, the shapes, the balance, they in their entirety draw me in. Were I to have seen this book on a store shelf, I would have picked it up right away. Well done to Ryan and Peter.

To the actual content. The poems, 30 in total, are divided into two acts. The first two thirds are set in the first act, and the final third in the second. This separation works well, in my opinion, with the second act being a much more cohesive and powerful collection.

The collection of poems, on first read through, seemed to be disjointed, and somewhat random, without an overlying theme. However, after my first read, especially after the second act, I do feel that there is a fine strand of connection that weaves its way throughout, and at the center of this translucent web is the title poem – ‘Loneliness Is the Machine That Drives This World’. That poem is a lovely little spider all by itself.

This connection for me, it is not easy to explain. It is that heavy feeling, that feeling that one is separate from the world, where one can look down upon it there spinning in the far away distance and feel everything and nothing all at once. There is a loneliness there for sure, but there is much, much more to it than that, and I am not sure there is one word for it. I will just call it a heaviness.

While I can not gather meaning from each and every poem, after reading through a second time, I felt that heaviness.

While I do not understand every word or phrase, though reading aloud the sound of it was beautiful, I felt that heaviness. (Mr. Tarbard’s choice of words was wonderful, astounding at times.)

Beyond everything else, reading these poems aloud was amazing. The words flow exquisitely off of the tongue, and, again, the sound of a poem can be so important.

My only slight distraction was the enjambment – the line breaking. While at times, it made a poem visually pleasing to the eye, it did nothing for the content, sound, or emotion – the heaviness – of the piece. This is but a minor note, which I practically glossed over during the second act.

Overall, I enjoyed ‘Loneliness is the Machine that Drives the World’, very much so. I recommend it to anyone who has any sort of passion for poetry.

Thank you, Grant Tarbard, for giving us your heaviness.

(prose) The Painter of Shadows

Dirty was this world of eternal night. A left-behind, miserable place. It was all that the Painter knew. His part of it was this particular stretch of ruined road, in some meaningless ruined city block, of a ruined city, in this dirty, dirty, ruined world.

All of the Painters, through the brief conversations that were had, agreed on this overall fact. It was a ruined, ugly world that they were part of. During their gossip, they shrugged, they joked, they threw their hands in the air. What could they do? It was all they ever knew. What could be better than this?

The Painter, Day, named by his neighbors as somewhat of a sick joke – oh, he laughed along regardless – sat on the dusty pavement. He dipped his brush in wet oblivion, and considered his next stroke, pondering the comparison to a brush sweep and the cool night sky. The Cat slept, barely moving, barely twitching, so his brush movement could be smooth, solid, simple. The moon shone brightly, almost directly overhead. This was a favorite. Not only because it was so easy, but also the resulting shadow would be so pure, so true. Shadows were perfection in this imperfect world. Not only did they hide the ruin, the ugly, but they were true oblivion, the ideal thing. And an ideal shape, the Cat’s shadow would be.

Oh, Cats. Cats knew of the Painters, being closest to the shadows. A Cat would occasionally purr at certain applications of the darkness at their side, would look at the work in progress and nod their approval, twitching whiskers appropriately, or even occasionally hiss at a decision the Painters may have made. The Painters would sit together, during the short time where there were no shadows in their area, and speak of the Cats. What interesting creatures they were.

The Vagrants, however. They were a truer part of their landscape. Fit right goddamn in. Dirty, dirty, ruins of people. They looked ruined, they moved in ruins. Their shadows were meant to be haphazard, sloppy, ugly. The Painters occasionally just dumped a small portion of their paint right out behind a Vagrant, and it would be a perfectly satisfactory job.

Besides, the Vagrants never noticed like the Cats did. Not one bit.

Day applied his brush to the pavement just past the end of the Cat’s whisker, when a Vagrant’s horrible, nasty boot kicked the Cat aside  – and his brush, causing a long uneven stretch of black to be left behind.

This… this was unheard of – nothing had ever touched a Painter or even their brush before. Day grabbed his brush and stood up. The Vagrant was still there. The Cat after a terribly angry yowl had long gone, but the shadow he’d created was still there, now starting to glide on its own.

Day pinned the shadow down with his brush before it could get away.

The Vagrant slurred. “What’re… you s’posed to be, man?”

Day continued staring at his brush, still befuddled as how it was kicked.

More slurring, with unfortunate spittle. “Man! Blurry man… I’m… speaking t’you!”

Blurry man? Day looked up at the Vagrant. The Vagrant was staring directly at him. Normally, Vagrants would speak to themselves all the time. But this one was speaking to Day, as clear as… as blurry as he was?

“Are you talking to me?”

The Vagrant let out a yap of a laugh. “Isn’t that what I just… said? You deaf, blurry man?”

Day’s eyes widened. “H-how?”

“Oh PLEE—“ The Vagrant coughed, wetly. “…EEASE. A cat told me. Love them cats. Good ea—“

The Vagrant froze mid-sentence. Perfectly still, like a bit of shattered window on a debris-ridden sidewalk. Day felt a chill, colder than the night that surrounded them all.

You have done well, Painter Day.

A… shadow. Larger than ever Day had seen. Not natural to the surroundings, disproportionate to the moonlight. And it spoke to him. Spoke to him in whispers, in glides, in smooth, smooth brushstrokes. The Vagrant was quickly and fully forgotten.

Yes, Day. I spoke. To you.

Day was at a complete and utter loss.

You already know why.

Did he? Day considered. He always felt a certain pride in his work, for as long as he could remember. Day was fairly certain that he took it more seriously than the other Painters—

More seriously? For the others, even beyond your neighbors in this city, for the others painting is but a task, something that they must do to pass their time in this eternity. For you, Day. For you is it not so terribly much more than that? Is the painting of us not your life? Your being?

Day did know this. But.

“’Us?’”

Yes, Day. Us. The shadows that cover all. The quiet ones. The things of the darkness, and the night, and the wanderers. Surely you have guessed before now that we were more than the paint? The black spots? More than the gliding shapes of ebony? You have known this, whether you realized it or no. This knowledge has been in the heart of your own shadow, in the core of your being.

There was a silence, then. Day felt it. That essence of oh god, yes. That knowledge spilling quietly from his stomach onto his tongue. That wavering feeling of “yes, yes, yes, I have been doing the right thing, and I never even thought about it.” He looked around him, through the greater darkness of the shadow that spoke. The moon still shone. The Vagrant – ah yes, ugh, that Vagrant – hadn’t moved in the slightest. Many Cats had gathered, watching.

“I think… no.” Day closed his eyes. “I know this is true.”

Good. Very good. Do you know where to go from here?

“I… I do not.”

Think. Take your time. I give you this to consider. What shall you do with what you have?

Day sat, nearly overwhelmed. So much, so much! The shadow, this night. The Cats. His tripped brush, the Vagrant. The Vagrant. Really, this was his doing. Had the Vagrant not kicked the Cat, where would Day be?

The moon crawled.

Day pondered what to do with the Vagrant. What he had. He had his brush. It was still pinning down the errant warped shadow. And what to do with that?

The moon crawled.

Yes. Day felt that he knew. He carefully lifted his brush, ensuring the shadow caught upon it could not slip off. He brought it over to the still Vagrant.

Quickly.

Quickly now.

Day pulled the brush. Dipped it into his paint. With a crazed swing, he left a swath of black over the warped shadow, as well as the Vagrant’s own shadow, attaching the two permanently together.

Yes… yes! So perfect. So, so beautiful. A pleasure and a punishment. You knew, you knew. I am proud of you, Day. I am proud of you, Father Painter.

Day nodded, having no words.

Now. I will ask again, do you know where to go from here?

Day nodded again. Words came. “The shadows. I created them, and loved to do so. But… I can no longer be satisfied with just that. Realizing… realizing… this. The shadows. I painted them, and I loved them. No. I love them. This is the only truth now. I shall become Shadow.

No more words then. You were us before in mind, now become us, Day, in all things.

A darkness. A sense of brush strokes, covered in wet night, cool oblivion.

Ω

Day chose to be hidden behind a broken glass window of a night-corrupted building to watch the Vagrant below.

The Vagrant wandered off randomly, gibbering to himself, sing song, loud soft, sing song. His new uneven stretch shadow slid smoothly behind him, mocking his every move.

Day waited for what came next in the darkness.

(prose) “Moon”

The moon swung low in her swing of stars. It was a fine night, a cool night, and she felt the wind of the universe – a calming breath on her face. She could go on like this for all of eternity, just swinging, swinging, swinging in the sky.

There was a slight breeze, a slight unfamiliar smell, and the moon remembered father earth below her, just under her feet, just out of reach. She seemed to remember that he was trying to do something new. She slowed her swinging, but without quite stopping, asked if he was alright.

The earth grumbled, and blew a terrible black smoke from his backside. He grumbled further, then turned away from her.

The moon scrunched up her face at the stench of the smoke. Clearly, there truly was something wrong, though she really hadn’t a clue what exactly he was trying to do to fix it. She reached out for him with a hesitant gravitational pull.

More smoke. The earth grit his teeth and pressed his eyes tight shut, shaking his head. A volcano erupted.

The moon took a cautious step back, but gave her father a look of concern. The earth continued his struggle. Why go through such pain? He was clearly in pain. Oh, and the smell! She knew she could help, she just knew it, if only the earth would listen. She took a step forward, and pouted directly at the earth.

The earth let more smoke go, from his backside and a newer volcano. He continued his struggle for what seemed to be eons. Then, he slowed a bit, and paused in his struggles. He seemed lost in thought, then blinked, and looked up expectantly at the moon. After but a moment, she felt a small gravitational pull from him.

The moon smiled. Finally! Taking a lunar leap, she asked the earth her question. She sent waves of gravitational pull, a potential calming force.

The earth looked back and forth in confusion, and shrugged. He didn’t seem to understand.

The moon knew she could help, she just knew it, and sent a more powerful wave across her father. Another. And another. What would he do to stop his pain?

Just after her final wave, the earth sent a response, though it was barely a shimmer. He then covered his mouth in shock, and hung his head in shame. She knew it, it was no surprise. The tiny things on him were causing such turmoil, were such a disease. She knew. There was nothing that he wouldn’t do to end it.

The moon thought that she saw a tear fall from her father’s eye, but it could have been just a shooting star.


This was one of the many things that I wrote during Mary Robinette Kowal’s 2015 short story writing intensive class. The assignment was to work with specific dialogue – and so, I used … well, I used … none?