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It began as it always did: with the sky as black as anthracite and the rain falling like mortar shells against the thin window pane. A memory passes as if it was a year and then silence followed by a white noise. Then I hear it. It announces itself with a bone snapping crack causing my body to reel and tense before I realise that I am incapable of moving, as if cement had set into my veins. Sometimes you’d feel a prickle at the base of your spine or a tickle on one of your feet. That’s how he gets into your head; gently, tentatively, allowing you to believe that it is just your imagination. That it is all just a dream. On the second week everything changes. The thing has your attention now and after seven days you’ve grown so used to it’s presence that that it has to step it up a notch; it begins to leech off of the shock and fear like a tonic, which is it’s lifeblood, a substance which is more addictive to it and necessary in a way more than any human mind could ever comprehend. After a while though you begin to ignore it so it pulls at your legs as you doze off, forcing you to turn around and see nothing but the dark tv static of your room. But there’s nothing there. There’s never anything there. That’s what it wants you to think. For let me tell you that should you fall asleep face upwards during its machinations you will be greeted with a dark figure, darker that the blackest night, so much so that it stands out in a pitch black room so badly you could have sworn your surroundings were grey. It does not talk. It does not move. The very air around you becomes as ice, frost forms on the windows and curtains. Then, and only then, you are met with the lidless stare of the creature. The shadow of one of M.Night Shayamalan's aliens, tall with thin arms and legs, haunched over and primed to pounce at you the entire time; breathing deeply and slowly whilst making absolutely no sound. Then you try to scream, and you realise that those first symptoms that you had were not symptoms but it’s very own brand of a paralytic. A kind that only reacts when the body is in shock. It turns your bedroom into the Spiders Cobweb Hotel. Your bed becomes the dinner table. And the rest of you is lapped away slowly.
“What is it that draws you to churches”, said a voice from behind me. I turned slightly and saw in the corner of my eye a scrawny figure. It was Virgil. He was stood there, eye brow cocked in mild curiosity and his hands in his jeans. I stared at the procession and smiled, “I don’t know if I’m honest. During the day it’s so quiet you can hear a gnat fart – it’s so peaceful. During mass, however, it’s a bizarre experience; with this lot they’re so depressing to watch and listen to. It’s the problem with catholics: they’re mourners, every Sunday is another funeral. Gospel! Now there’s a way to celebrate faith, not singing in a laborious manner but in fact cheering and smiling and being bloody happy. A celebration is what it should be” Virgil frowned. I could hear his enormous greying eyebrows scrape against each other, “You’re searching for a way out aren’t you? Let me tell you something”, he moved to my side and stared down with me. “These people have a concept for what is a heaven and what is a hell. For them heaven is a a glorious gate with an equally glorious light, and hell is a fire pit of eternal torture. Hell, for you, is to spend the rest of your life chained to a desk job saying, “Yes Sir!” and “No Sir!”’. “And my heaven?”, I asked resolutely. “I don’t think anyone can tell you what that is. Although, I have my suspicions” “Which are?” He gave a sad smile, “For another time I think”. “I chose a way out, Virgil. It is what got me here in the first place so why couldn’t I do it again? Find a way out and go find my own Nirvana? The worst part of the human condition is the certain uncertainty that we know anything. Look down there. Do you see that man with the bald head and the hideous green jacket? Scientist. He’s a bloody scientist. Go back a good, say, few hundred years or so and that man would have been marked as a heretic. And there! At the head of the procession, leading this merry band of mourners – a female vicar. Why it matters what gender a spiritual leader is is beyond me, never mind what one of there representatives is! Why it took so long for that to happen in this church is beyond me.” “You’re digressing and beginning to rant, Old Boy. I trust you have a point?” “I’m getting there! Somewhat haphazardly, admittedly, but bare with me”, I took a breath and tried to slow myself and organise my thoughts. “What do those with faith see when they look up at the stars? I can’t speak for all – god knows I ain’t going to try – but from my friends who have faith they either see a wonderful creation or the path to heaven. Is it the same for a cell in a Petri dish? If the cells were – or are – capable of looking up at the at microscope, looking at it’s complexities and deeming it to be where their little souls go? No. And until such a day comes where we can communicate with single cells on a verbal level that is where my foot will stay on the subject. A scientist, for let’s not forget them in this, sees galaxies and tumbling and gorgeous nebulas and impossible, possible balls of gas. Is that not also beautiful? I think, with however short a time I have had on this planet, that however much faith both bores and confuses me but instils a sense of peace, and science causes some wonder and makes me feel smaller still, like our friend the single cell, I only ever saw the truth and beauty of the world and the universe through the arts and the books of my favourite writers – through someone else’s eyes. Through a kind of symbiosis. Is that what they see? I’m not so sure and I don’t care to assume”, I took another breath and wiped my forehead before looking into Virgils old blue eyes, “Quiet. That’s what I like about churches. Regardless of anything they make my mind quiet, and I enjoy them for it”. “You have a manic mind, my friend. You’re too busy trying to see everything, that you fail to see what is in front of you”. I looked at the people below all dressed in black, I looked at the stained windows all multi-faceted with colours and faded with age, and I looked behind me before meeting Virgils gaze once more. There was a kind of paternity in his eyes, sad but leading to a point and he finally turned and said, “This is your funeral”.
I blinked and she disappeared, as did the room, and the surrounding area was nothing but inky darkness, that flowed slowly as if made of water or very thick mist. I blinked again and the door to the kitchen had reappeared. Inside the walls and the tiles of the floor were cracked and often, and the only light source was that of a street lamp that had surreptitiously placed itself in the space between the door and the kitchen table. It, like its environment, was in a state of disrepair and the egg shaped bulb that was tucked away behind the fractured glass waxed and waned. I’d be safe there, I told myself. Walking however was not as easy as it once was. Every step was as heavy as the next as if my shoes were filled with cement and my muscles had given in to atrophy. Each time i couldn’t be sure if the shadows for which my feet scraped against would be solid floor or, like the shows would have me perceive, be like water and with my heavy, useless limbs I would fall into the abyss that had surrounded me. It was the light, I told myself. The light would keep me safe. But with each arduous shift of my body the bulb of the derelict street lamp shrunk and the kitchen itself peeled more and more away. If I didn’t get there soon I would be lost. I cried and shouted to the room ahead of me, each time my voice was become more hoarse and monstrous. Fire burned through my veins and pressure filled my head causing blood to pour from my nose and ears. I was steps away one moment then was a league away the next, each time I would drag and drag my feet towards the ever fading light, often pulling my legs by the knees with my arms. I was closer now and my hand could just about touch the door frame. A small amount of hope filled my body enough to push myself harder and make that last step through the threshold. As my right foot was about to land, like the last step of an absurd marathon, the door frame spasmed and collapsed on itself leaving me on my knees in the black smoke of the place that was once her living room. Hot tears filled my eyes and poured from my face as I gave into a sob. My throat was too dry for me to cry out leaving me making sounds that were more akin to that of a croak. “I can’t do it”, I muttered through snot and the bullet-like tears, “I simply can’t”. A hand placed itself upon my shoulder, “Dee”, said a soft voice. I spun around, faster than I could have, and found my self on my knees in a brightly lit room with her in front of me. She smile a soft smile, the kind that never made you feel alone nor ever showed any indifference and, whilst crouching in front of me said quite simply, “You never have to do this alone”. The world returned. The tar that had enveloped me had evaporated and colour returned to the world. She helped me to my feet and kissed me softly. I didn’t let go.