Yesterday I was feeling completely listless and dull-witted. Couldn’t work up the energy to do much of anything.
Then I remembered a couple of photos Sherron sent me. Sometimes, in the morning light, our kitchen walls get these really cool shadows and patterns projected onto them; my visually-oriented wife noticed this pair and took some shots with her cell phone.
I called up the photos, placed them side-by-side on my computer screen, stared at them for about thirty seconds.
Then I grabbed my blue Hilroy exercise book…and started scribbling. No thought, no pre-planning, just went for it.
It’s an old trick…worked for the surrealists and, by God, it worked for me.
Here’s the story, accompanied by the images that inspired it:
* * * *
The Test Subject
ALL RIGHT, TERRY, YOU KNOW THE ROUTINE. WE NEED YOU TO TAKE US THROUGH WHAT YOU’RE EXPERIENCING AND DESCRIBE—
It’s hard…I don’t…there aren’t any…
COME ON, YOU HAVE TO DO BETTER THAN THAT. WE NEED SENSATIONS, COLORS. PAINT US A PICTURE.
(Laughter) You don’t…it isn’t like that. God, I wish I could explain, show you…but there’s no (indecipherable), no, ahhhh, common reference points.
ARE YOU DISORIENTED, DO YOU—
What? Did you say ‘distortion’? Everything’s distorted. It’s like…like…
…this kaleidoscope…constant movement…twisting and spiraling…
ARE YOU FEELING NAUSEOUS?
I feel—oh, Jesus! Jesus! Did you see that? It just…wow…this bolt of pure blue light…zipped right past me and it—I swear it smelled like cinnamon.
THAT’S WHAT WE WANT TO HEAR! YOU NEED TO DESCRIBE THE EFFECTS, HOW THIS THING MANIFESTS ITSELF. TERRY? TERRY, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?
I know. I see what you’re…but it’s really got on top of me and…and…it’s just too…and then everything just changes, like that! Did you see it? Like the whole universe suddenly switched polarities and—and flowed in the opposite direction. Whoa, trippy. And there’s something…I see something…
I dunno…a shape…presence…now it’s up there, by the ceiling, sort of floating…
POINT. SHOW US WHERE YOU MEAN.
There. It keeps shifting, flowing, like I said. I can’t quite…it blends in with these other blob things…they kind of swirl and mesh…yeah…swirl and mesh…mesh into a mess…
WHAT ELSE? DO YOU GET A SENSE OF ANY—
–someone turn up the heat? It’s freezing in here.
THE TEMPERATURE IS KEPT AT A CONSTANT 24 DEGREES CELSIUS.
I’m telling you—fuck! That time it zoomed right past me. This bright-colored blur…I could’ve reached out and—
TELL US WHAT IT LOOKED LIKE. GODDAMNIT, TERRY—
It’s made of light and…uhhh…wow! Oh, wow…there it is. Hovering, just in front of me. Holy shit, I think it’s looking at me—
EASY, TERRY, COME ON NOW. YOU’RE TRIPPING, REMEMBER? IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD. SO GET A GRIP—
It’s staring at me, man. Studying me. I’ve never…I’ve seen little green men before but…this thing knows…
KNOWS? WHAT DO YOU—
–knows I’m here and it’s curious too. Wondering who I am, what I’m doing. This is its backyard and I’m trespassing on…
–ONLY AN HALLUCINATION—
Bullshit! Bullshit! There’s something in here and it isn’t just the fucking drug. It sees me. It sees me and I want out. Get me out of this! Somebody! I need to–
Gimme the fucking antidote! I want to (indecipherable). This is fucked, this is totally—
AT THE REQUEST OF THE TEST SUBJECT WE ARE DISCONTINUING THE SESSION AND—
What the fuck are you? What do you want from me? Keep away from me—
IT’S OKAY, TERRY, WE’RE COMING IN. BOB AND ANGELA ARE RIGHT OUTSIDE AND THEY’LL—
Oh, Jesus, oh, Jesus– (Heavy breathing, panting)
It’s coming, it’s—ahhhhh…Christ, it’s got me…help me…it’s–(indecipherable).
(Shouts of alarm, a woman screams)
BOB? ANGIE? SECURITY! SECURITY! WE HAVE AN EMERGENCY SITUATION UP HERE AND WE NEED A COMPLETE LOCKDOWN, REPEAT—WHAT? WHO’S THAT? WHO’S THERE? IS SOMEONE OUT THERE? HELLO? HELLO?
An intimacy only death allows.
Forced into close alignment to conserve space.
A press of upturned faces.
Rows and rows, near a field of spring wheat.
Bright sunlight, a perfect cloudless day.
In defiance of this latest atrocity.
* * *
The Last Room
Is someone there?
Why don’t you come nearer?
Step into the light…
I can barely see you.
There’s so little time.
Please, show yourself.
I don’t want to be alone.
Take pity on my penitent soul.
* * *
—careening down a narrow path, bucking and weaving through the forest, in headlong flight.
“Hurry! It’s catching up with us!”
Realizing my mistake when the trees around us begin to glow, giving off a vivid, blue light.
The ground vibrating, feeling it through the floorboard beneath my feet.
“Oh, Christ! Oh, Jesus, help me—”
The light coruscating, fierce, accompanied by a blaze of heat, the exterior of our vehicle starting to blister and smoke…
* * *
Reporting as ordered, funneled in with the rest.
Hemmed and jostled, barely able to move.
Exhausted and compliant.
A clipped, officious voice from the loudspeaker, appealing for calm.
Distant shouting, the news spreading in visible ripples through our midst.
The gates are closing…
© Copyright, 2014 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
So Dark the Night is done.
Editing, polishing and buffing now complete. After some proof-reading for typos and mis-spellings, it’s off to the printer in the form of a PDF and, hopefully, by early March we’ll have a physical book to offer you. Really pleased with the changes I’ve made; I’ve tightened the novel considerably, lopped about 5 pages from its length. Speeds up the pacing..the idea is to make the book impossible to put down. And I think I’ve come pretty close to achieving that goal.
Can’t wait to see Ado Ceric’s gorgeous cover art on a trade paperback. Hoping to keep the price around $17-18 max. And, of course, we’ll still be offering the newly revamped So Dark the Night as a free e-book for those of you who have evolved and now do most of your reading from some kind of screen. Judging by the number of downloads I’ve had over the past couple of weeks, I’d say a lot of folks received Kindles or other e-readers as Christmas gifts. After all, what else do you give a discerning bibliophile (if you’ve got over $200 to spare)?
There will be more posts re: the release of So Dark the Night (the book) so stay tuned.
* * * * * *
In the meantime, idle hands and all that: once I completed edits on the novel, I had some free time and indulged in some “automatic” writing. This is what I came up with, my first fiction and verse of 2010:
A witch’s heart won’t burn, so what do you do with it? It can’t be buried, its evil influence would still be felt, blighting crops, causing stillbirths. To cast it into a well would poison the water for miles around.
No, best to keep the vile thing locked away. In a lead-lined canister, sealed with wax, submerged in holy water.
And who better to steward the damned things than me? Serving as an invaluable repository for witch-hunters desperate to dispose of something infernal, indestructible. Making a pretty penny off it too, if I may say so. Not many willing to do the work, to be honest.
It’s the shrieking and carrying on that’s the worst. There are nights I have to stopper my ears. They never rest and they never stop yearning to be free. From a hundred shelves, a thousand faceless jars. Some of them claiming innocence, and they’re the most dangerous and insidious of all.
© Cliff Burns, 2010
They have departed to the pleasure domes
abandoned their husks to decay
Meatless, eternal, every wish fulfilled.
Etheric couplings, satisfaction guaranteed;
high adventure, simulated to the last pixel
experience without significance,
vouchsafed by an overcautious A.I.
You can never die and so
you can never live
and virtual love is no love
They can emulate everything except a soul
(but it’s only a matter of time)
© Cliff Burns, 2010
This is a car crash. It’s happening right now. A collision in progress. Metal folding and bending, glass slow-motion bursting, bodies swaying in their seats.
And the thing is you see it with perfect clarity, high-def to the max. You watch in fascination as the air bag blooms in front of you, a time-lapse explosion expanding toward your face as you lean forward to meet it.
Something else. A heaviness. In the region of your chest. A tug in your neck that isn’t quite pain but soon will be. A sound, a soft exhalation but really a scream in the midst of being born. From the backseat. Ten A.U.’s behind you.
Any moment now it will all come rushing in, a cacophony of distress, a wall of noise and sensations. Someone, maybe even you, might be in the midst of dying.
On the threshold of an instant. The law-defying lip of an event horizon. Falling…and forever suspended mere petaseconds away from nothing at all.
(A tune-up of sorts, the equivalent of a pianist cracking his knuckles. No pre-planning, just put fingers to keyboard and see where it takes me. Some of my best stuff comes through this process. It requires a leap of faith…and a willingness to fail. I like “Accident” and welcome your thoughts on this modest example of “automatic” writing. If you’d like too see more of my short-short prose, go to the “Rarities” page and check out some of the work I’ve posted there…)
* Also, be sure to have a look at my latest post on RedRoom where I talk about nearly taking my stupid head off New Year’s Day. And the important object lesson I drew from the experience.