Aether as Always: First Event – Darkness Perceived

Darkness Perceived

“It’s the long drives that make life worthwhile,” Damon thought as he geared down and pressed for something a little extra from the out-dated sedan he had borrowed.

“It’s the long drives that allow you to clear your head.”

Damon was in the habit of taking a Sunday night and a long stretch of road and bringing them together in a symphony of thoughts. It was his way of coping. Not coping with anything in particular, just coping with all of those little things that accumulate in the back of one’s head to form a clutter of unfinished thoughts and misunderstood emotions. Things like that missed phone call from a friend that it is too late to get around to now. And like the smile from that girl at the supermarket that may have meant something, you wish meant something, but probably didn’t. Like the late fees on your DVD rentals. That stomach cramp that comes back all too often. And sometimes, when the little things are thought through and the road allows for it, deeper, more pertinent matters.

It was the deeper matters that made tonight’s ‘therapy cruise’, as he had taken to calling them for his own amusement, so urgent and a little faster than usual. The sedan Damon was driving was a bit older and still marked off in miles per hour. In reality he knew exactly how fast he was going, but it still made for the perfect excuse for breaking the speed limit, should he be pulled over by some policeman with no better undertakings on a Sunday night. But this road was seldom patrolled.

The lack of law enforcement on that particular stretch of road was one of the reasons why he frequented it. The other was that he knew every dimly lit inch of it better even than those who built it or are charged with maintaining it do themselves. From where you turn onto it by the entrance of the old disremembered goldmine, around every dark bend with gnarled oak branches drooping lower over the road each year, as if they are slowly but surely moving in to scoop up the few cars that still passed this way; down past the old dried up lakebed that insisted a necessary break from the gloomy forest with its miserable shrubs and twisted, looming trees that unbiasedly blocked out starlight and streetlamp alike; to where it joined the highway again as the forest thinned out and civilisation groped for a foothold again.

Tonight however, Damon was travelling, for the first time, his beloved stretch of forgotten road in the opposite direction. His mind had been stuck on a particular matter for the last three weeks now, and he had to try a new approach. A friend of his, Lawrence, an architectural student in his final year, suggested that when he needs to find that ‘something that just does not fit’ on one of his designs, he often viewed it in a mirror, so as to see it in reverse, from the opposite side. So tonight Damon got on the road from the highway’s side where he normally would have ended his pilgrimage to lucidity.

The experience was more unusual than he expected. Not only did the bends and curves flow in the other direction now (something he had obviously anticipated), but he saw the decrepit old trees from a whole new side, each little forest plant and shrub and rock, illuminated anew by headlights from a long forgotten perspective.

From the panel behind the steering wheel Damon saw the needle of the speedometer rush towards the ninety five mark, as if though they had been long separated friends meeting at an airport after many years. He was not in the habit of driving this fast, but the possible consequences of such speeds did not particularly matter to him as of late. It was not that he was at all suicidal, nor was he even depressed, really. He was just ‘stuck’ and would not mind an escape. Especially an escape from everything, such as offered by the cessation of mortality. Even a brief hospitalisation would take him sufficiently away from everything he could not afford -or find an adequate excuse- to take a break from otherwise.

Still, Damon did not push the aging vehicle past the hundred mark, mainly out of respect for his mother. It was a most prized and sentimental possession of hers, as it was given to her by his father as an anniversary gift. Moving on was not one of her virtues, and this vehicle was more than just a remembrance. It was with great effort that he originally convinced her to let him use it on Sunday nights, rather than his own car that was a lot safer and capable of a bit more speed. But he unashamedly preyed on her sentimentality, and the words “…it is just… I also want to remember them, and this is the car that we used to go to church in on Sundays.” forced the matter into his favour.

It was only a partial lie. He did like to remember his dad and in particular, his baby sister, but unlike his mother he did not dwell on it, did not cling to foolish hope any more. He had moved on. He just preferred this car because of the ‘miles per hour’ excuse and the fact that in this older vehicle, the drive felt a little less controlled and a comfortable amount less safe.

The barren lakebed suddenly appeared without warning on the right side of the road. Damon braked hard but still overshot it by a considerable distance.

“Of course… It is on this side now.” He mumbled to himself, amused by the subtle changes that result from a difference in approach.

He put the car in reverse and pulled off next to the remnant of what he imagined was once a thriving aquatic ecology, before the mine appeared here.

The lakebed was surprisingly round, looking almost man made, and quite large, with a diameter of about a hundred and fifty, maybe a hundred and seventy meters, Damon guessed. All around the edge willow trees were growing, dangling their long, slender branches on the fine grey sand below. A couple of stones and rocks were scattered in and around the centre, as gravity’s eternal and unyielding call inevitably pulled and encouraged them ever lower into the depths of the bed, ever closer to that central point where the indentation left by the now long gone mass of water was at its deepest. It was the only part of this forested area where the stars were visible. The only illuminated part of a forest described by legends, grandmothers and schoolchildren as ‘haunted’. But then, all woodland areas where the trees block out all light and the surrounding vegetation is more grey than green will inevitably become the object of supernatural speculation.

Stories of hauntings, of ghosts and ghouls and monsters and madmen did not deter Damon. He knew that the sounds of howls were just the calls of normal, natural animals found in many forests in the world. That the ‘whispers of dead children’ near the lakebed was just the sound the willows made when the wind moved through them. That the only ‘humanoid tracks’ to be found in the entire area were those made by him and the occasional ranger, and the faint odour of rotting flesh was obviously due to the remnants of whatever the mine used to dump in here decades ago.

When he reached the centre of the lakebed, Damon sat down and took a little wooden box out of his pocket. He looked up at the stars for a while and then with his eyes closed, remembered some old nursery rhymes on the subject.

“I know what you are, you twinkly bastards” he said to the sky in a deep voice laden with sarcasm, “and there will be no wishing anymore either!”

From the wooden box he removed a small plastic bag filled with gritty flakes of green, some papers and a box of matches. He was not really fond of smoking marijuana, didn’t even particularly like the way it made him feel, he just did it for the sake of doing it. Not for rebellion, or to get away, just because he desperately needed at least one thing about him, one aspect of his persona, to not be perfect.

From his short, dark, neatly cut and combed hair, to his perfectly kept and cleaned finger nails, everything about him was as it should be. His eyes, a flawless single shade of olive green, his nose, jaw, in fact, his entire body was a boring shade of as-it-should-be. Six foot, no more, no less, muscular and limber. At school he excelled at every sport he played. His grades were good enough to get him into any university he wished, his friends varied and without criminal records or dubious lifestyles. Nothing was out of place about him. Nothing was interesting.

As Damon lit up the thin white stick between his fingers and inhaled deeply with his head thrown back, he saw a brief white line being drawn across Orion’s chest by a shooting star.

“Still not going to make a wish” he answered, sending his words to the stars on a cloud of white vapours.

From the edge of the lakebed came the now familiar sound of the wind through the whips and branches of the willows. As a child this curious hissing sound, along with the legends created around them, set his teeth on edge and riddled his flesh with a million little projections as his hair seemed to want to take off from his body. Now, however, in his maturity he had almost entirely lost all fears based on superstitions and missbeliefs. Rather, these days, the desperate whispers of long forgotten and made up children drifted towards him only to cool the hot summer night’s air and heighten the hint of sulphur (or whatever it was) in his nostrils.

“So cruel to make up stories about murdered children when some people actual- “

Damon stopped his star flung statement mid mutter in a vain attempt to avoid the memories that were soon to follow. He did not stop himself soon enough though, as the face of Misha, he’s younger sibling, crystallised into a painfully perfect picture in front of him.

“Another reason why I hate this shit” he muttered miserably has he drove the half-smoked plight against perfection he had so painstaking rolled earlier, deep into the coarse sand of the lakebed.

Often when he smoked it he had such vivid memories of the one thing he was better off forgetting. He would see his sister, her green eyes filled with excitement and the usual hint of taunting, her hand firmly clasped in those of their father. Her yellow dress, such a bright colour not entirely suited for the purpose of bird watching, already had muddy hand marks down the sides and violently contrasted her long black hair. And his father-

Damon promptly got up and carefully, with a swipe of his foot, concealed the place where he buried his sins, lest they be found out and somehow linked to him and reported to his already emotionally exhausted mother. Out here in this unobtrusive mountain town even murder was looked on less harshly than drug use, regardless of the kind of drug in question.

Damon started making his way up the side of the deep lakebed and away from the memory of his father. He was about halfway up and out when a small rock came rolling right past him, down into the depths of the bed. He immediately froze and stared straight ahead, a sudden chill gripping his chest as he tried to make out if there was someone there, lurking on the outskirts beneath the shadows of the willow trees. A moment passed, and then another, and soon reason returned and he figured that judging by the amount of rocks and stones at the bottom, they must roll down the hill quite frequently and of their own volition. Being satisfied with this logical supposition, Damon started up and out and away again, but still an inkling of cold, anxious apprehension lingered and he strained both eyes and ears for any evidence of a potential witness to his noxious habit. It was then that he realised that the willows had gone deathly quiet. As if the wind was holding breath with him, the breeze had suddenly disappeared, leaving only the heat and the rotting stench behind.

As he made his way past the edge of the lakebed and under the willows, the branches seemed to cling to him, as if trying to keep him from reaching his car. The whispering of the wind through the leaves had suddenly started up again, and now, as he was under the tree it seemed that the whispers filled his head and echoed through the inside of his skull. The dim light from the streetlamp above did nothing to remove the darkness and as he finally escaped the thin whips hanging from the trees and caught sight of his car the whispering instantly ceased.

Having decided to write his current stock of weed off as a ‘bad batch’, Damon gathered his composure and made for the car at a rapid, nervous pace. As he fingered the unlock button on the remote the car’s indicators flashed on briefly, and in a cold shocking instant he saw, illuminated by the dim orange light from the indicators, a figure standing on the opposite side of the road.

It was not exactly the shape of a man, but possessed the same form; A head, torso, two arms and legs. The head, however, seemed too small, almost perfectly spherical and devoid of any feature that would define it as human. No eyes, no nose, no ears to be perceived, just a deep and vacuous darkness where eyes and mouth should have been. This horrid head was set on a neck that seemed too thin and long to support it and led down to broad shoulders that dangled from them thin, blue-ish arms that ended abruptly without hands, but instead had at their extremities several long, white and sharp protrusions, almost like thorns or fangs. The lower part of the torso was bulbous and had various lumps and protrusions that moved around as if a throng of unborn children were desperately trying to escape from their long dead mother’s wretched womb. Underneath the writhing mass were legs as thin as the neck and arms, yet they did not end in feet. Rather it seemed more like two snake-like streams defying gravity and slowly flowing up towards the body from a thick, viscous puddle of grey sludge that had formed below it on the ground and somewhat solidifying as it joined with the waist. A faint scent, almost like sweet vinegar came drifting from that being and, inside Damon’s nostrils, it coalesced with the musky sulphurous smell of the lake. In his head the whispers of the wind through the trees suddenly turned into what sounded like the inconceivably distant, helpless screams of a thousand men being dragged across an endless bed of burning coals.

When the lights flashed on a second later the figure had disappeared, along with the smell and the wails. As much as he wanted to attribute what he had just seen to the hallucinogenic effects of the drugs, there was a chilling veracity about the experience. Frozen in a fear that he had not known since childhood, he stared into the darkness as a cold sweat formed on his hands and back. He tried to move towards the car, but his legs were locked in place. To move closer to the car meant moving closer to… that shape.

For what felt like an eternity Damon stood, just staring into the impenetrable darkness of the forest on the other side of the road. When the horrid feeling of terror had finally abated, he started slowly moving towards the car, not taking his eyes off of the spot where a man-like figure had appeared and disappeared right before him just a few moments, or hours earlier. When he got to the driver’s side door he reached for the handle and lifted it. When the door did not open he tugged a little harder, still entrance to the vehicle, and safety, and maybe sanity, was denied him. He glanced down and saw that the door was still locked. But how could this be? Had he not unlocked it moments ago? Was it not the indicator lights confirming the unlocking of the door that summoned that horrid apparition he was still unable to unperceive? Damon slid his thumb over the unlock button again, but froze before he could push it. What if it appears again? What if it stays this time? What if this time a single press of a button would reveal to him what it really is?

Having mustered every last spot of courage he had left, he pressed the button again, the lights flashing yellow into the dreaded forest twice more… revealing no misshapen man by the road. He quickly opened the door and shot into the car. The key found the ignition switch instantly and the car roared to life.

When he finally regained his clarity the frigid beads of sweat had completely soaked his shirt in a vivid contrast with the dust storm in his throat. With every blink of his eyes there flashed before him the apparition of an otherworldly figure. A figure not of flesh, not rigid like a man, and seemingly not subject to the laws of nature. A thing he knew couldn’t be real. Shouldn’t be real.

It was only on the last stretch of the deserted road, as he was approaching the abandoned mine, that he started to question the actuality of that terrible vision. “It may have been a delusion” he unconvincingly mumbled through a parched mouth. He tried to swallow, to get the dry burning out of his mouth, but to no avail.

Damon slowed down somewhat, noticing that in his desperation to get as far away from the sight that will no doubt haunt him for weeks, if not months to come, he had pushed his mom’s car a bit too hard and it was starting to heat up somewhat. And then a second vision appeared before him. This time clear as day in the high beams of the old sedan. There was no doubt in his mind that this time it was real. This time it was familiar. He knew exactly what it was and the consequences it spelled out for him. Damon blinked once as he accepted the reality of the shape of the creature that was no more than half a meter away from his speeding vehicle.

A deer.


Why All Brave Bears Must Leave

TbAs children we all had that one toy, usually a teddy bear, that was more than just an inanimate plaything. It was a comfort, a constant companion that shared in all of our adventures and to whom we told our biggest secrets. It gladly soaked up our tears and protected us from monsters. It never fought with us, never got mad and never, ever hurt us. It was a bestest friend. A protector.  An “always there”.

But we all grow up, grow older and grow out of our bears. Eventually most of us, on a rainy, reminiscent afternoon will remember our bears or bunnies or best friend doggies, and realise that somewhere between imaginary swordfights with the pirates in the pool and falling in love for the first time, we have lost our very first friends. We may try to search in dusty boxes and moth eaten bags, but they are long gone, forever lost with our childhood flights of fancy. This is the story of a not-so-little-anymore girl and one such bear.

In the middle of a nondescript stormy night, midst the howling of the wind and after a particularly brilliant flash of lightning, a cupboard door slowly creaked open in little Ally’s room. Though “Little Ally” was a term no longer used in that house, for Ally regarded herself as too old for such endearments, and indeed she was. At almost thirteen years old, she thought her full name, “Alison”, was more appropriate, and the “little” that preceded her name in earlier years was no longer fitting, because well, she wasn’t all that little anymore. But one person still called her that. One person remembered and to him, she would always be “little Ally”.

That person, or rather bear, no- teddy bear, was Cubby Bear. Cubby, as he was first called by Ally, was no taller than the footlocker he was struggling to climb over as he made his soft and quiet way out of the cupboard. A cupboard he was confined to these last two years. He was not named Cubby because he was a baby bear, nor was that the reason for his lacking stature, in fact Cubby was about as big as a teddy bear can grow. Rather, his name derived from the words “Cuddly Bear” embroidered on his chest. Little Ally’s infant speech did not allow for the forming of difficult words and so they both decided his name should rather be Cubby-Bear, or Cubby for short. And “Cubby” it stayed until the very end.

Cubby removed his little teddy bear suitcase from the cupboard and quietly closed the door. Another flash of lightning forced illumination through the darkness of the room and for the first time in years, made visible the soft curls of his dark brown fur. He used to love the light, especially from the warm sun that shone so brightly in the garden outside, even though that usually resulted in a dirty Cubby that had to pay a visit to the washing machine. But for the last couple of months he didn’t even get to see the light through the window. No light came in to the deep, dark corner of the cupboard where he was put, along with a pair of old shoes, a puzzle missing some pieces and partially completed colouring book. But that was the life of a teddy bear. That was how it always went. How it was supposed to go.

Cubby held on to the thought that this was the ordained path for most bears, lest they be given to the dog or left behind on vacation. He knew that all humans had to grow up and that the friendship of a teddy bear eventually becomes forgotten. He knew his duty to protect little Ally was now done, and that he, like her, had to move on. He had to remind himself of this, otherwise he would try to stay with her and then some other little child would go unprotected from the dragons in the tool-shed and the nightmares and the ignorance of brash adults and their busy lives. But little Ally, as it were, was now old enough to protect herself.

Cubby remembered the night when he really had to protect Ally for the first time. It was the night the first bad dream came. That day he and Ally had an interesting encounter with some worms in the garden. The worms were trapped underground and were very dirty (according to Ally), and he and Ally worked very hard to rescue as many of them as possible and give them a nice warm bath. After Ally herself had a good bath and Cubby had been brushed off -for he had not been too dirty that day (so mommy said)- he and Ally got in bed, talked about the day’s adventures, planned tomorrow’s, as was the ritual, and drifted off to sleep. At least Ally did. For Cubby, as a teddy bear on guard, never slept. Rather he stayed awake every night and kept the bad dreams away. It was that night that the first one came.

A grim specter pressed flat against the wall, so as to resemble a shadow, came in through the window and started creeping ever closer to little slumbering Ally. Cubby, who immediately saw it, patiently waited for the shadow to come within reach. Then, as soon as the nightmare had crept close enough, Cubby grabbed it off the wall, threw it on the floor and dived onto its back. Instantly he wrapped his little teddy bear arms around the specter’s throat and squeezed tighter and tighter until there was no more life left in that horrid bad dream. After making sure the nightmare had completely disappeared, Cubby grabbed onto the end of the blanket and struggled back onto the bed. He quietly made his way back to Ally’s arms, proud that he had been able to protect a little princess from unnecessary disquiet. He brushed the blonde locks from her face with his soft teddy bear hands, and whispered “don’t worry little Ally, I am here to protect you. I will protect you from all the nightmares in the world.”

Many times he fought off nightmares like that, but every now and again there would come two or three at once and then one would inadvertently reach Ally where she lay lost in innocent slumber. On those nights little Ally would cry out for help and quite soon mommy would come rushing in to see what was wrong. After mommy had dried most of the tears she would put Cubby back on the bed with Ally and say “See, Cubby is here, he will protect you.” Ally would hug Cubby and in a whimpering voice say “I love you Cubby.” And Cubby, feeling the last remaining tears on Ally’s cheek soak into his stuffing, would always reply “And I love you, little Ally.”

He still to this day told Ally that he loved her every night, but Ally, all grown up now, could not hear him anymore. Neither did she speak to him anymore. Nor love him back. The knowledge of this tore Cubby’s little teddy bear heart in two, but he knew that this was the natural way.

Presently, having softly made his way to the side of Ally’s bed, Cubby took a moment to gaze at her face. It was remarkable how much she had changed. The rosy plump cheeks of the toddler Ally had now been replaced by very defined cheekbones, not unlike her mother’s. Her golden hair had darkened to a light brown and no longer flowed down in locks, but was shorter, neater and somehow more managed than it used to be. Ally was right, she was no longer a little girl. She no longer needed a teddy bear. Cubby turned away and started to slowly drag his little teddy bear feet towards the door.  He understood that now he should no longer look at Ally, for what he was faced with will only distort the memory of the innocent little girl he once took such gentle teddy bear care of.

Halfway to the door Cubby stopped and drooped his head low. He remembered how he used to cover little Ally’s ears when mommy and daddy used to shout at each other, protecting the innocent little human from the realities of human nature. He remembered every scraped knee he made better with teddy bear love, every peaceful nights rest he ensured, every adventure they shared in the garden and every picture they drew of themselves together. And then, with the weight of a thousand memories and a silent goodbye, his little teddy bear heart tore open and from his little teddy bear eyes he silently cried every tear that ever seeped into his stuffing from little Ally’s cheeks. Cubby fell to his knees and sat on the floor in the dark, crying the softest teddy bear tears until he could cry no more, for he knew, a teddy bear may cry only once for the human it has to leave behind. He cried for all the years he spent in the cupboard, unable to protect his best friend, the little princess Ally. He cried for the times she herself lay in bed with silent tears draining away into an uncaring pillow about what some other child at school had said. He cried for all the bumps and bruises he could no longer heal with teddy bear love. He cried for all the mommy and daddy arguments she had to hear, for the bike she never got for Christmas and the nightmares she never even knew she was having.

He cried about that night he was stuffed in the cupboard when a friend was coming to sleep over, that last night that she touched his soft teddy bear fur.

And then, when he was all cried out, Cubby slowly got up. First to his knees, then leaning on his little teddy bear suitcase, he got to his feet. His head still drooped low, he turned to take one last glance at little Ally, but stopped himself halfway through. A tiny sigh escaped his little teddy bear lips. Still painstakingly dragging his feet towards the door, Cubby wiped the last tear from his cheek with his little teddy bear hand before slowly opening the door. As he exited the darkened room he used to share with a special little human girl, he stopped for a moment, lifted his head and said “Goodbye Alison, I wish you all the best.”

Cubby could have sworn that halfway down the hallway he heard the words “Goodbye Cubby” from Ally’s room, but resisted the urge to rush back. He always imagined hearing those words when he was moving on to the next child’s life, but knew he had to keep moving. Somewhere down the street was a little boy about to turn three in need of a little teddy bear guardian, and it would be most un-teddy-bear-like to keep a little boy waiting for a new bestest friend.

*Credit goes to my loving girlfriend whose fond memories of her favourite teddy inspired this story.

If Only You Could Scream

IOYCS coverShould anyone think they have known fear, yet has not from a night of restful slumber awoken to immobility and ensuing vivid hallucination, they know only the castle and not the beast that dwells within.

It is easy for us to relate to one another the feeling one gets when suddenly startled or frightened, whether it is from a real threat, or just an animated relative playing a joke. It is a reaction common to all animals, not excluding humans. It instantaneously triggers a rush of chemicals and hormones in the body that prepares us for a fight-or-flight reaction. The hair suddenly stands on end as the body instantly goes ice-cold and then within the space of a gasp becomes boiling hot. The muscles tense as breathing and heartbeat both quicken. Fear, hate, irritability, anxiety and aggression instantly become dominant emotions, and then, rather quickly, the rational mind regains control and assesses the situation. Intense feelings and emotions subside and determined, calculated action -or even laughter- is invoked to cope with the situation. This is fright. It is fleeting.

Similarly we have all at one stage or another experienced prolonged fear, where the mind continuously skips from fight to flight, with no course of action immediately apparent to resolve the situation. Such an experience may vary in intensity, and may even be brought on willingly. A person may decide to watch a movie designed with this in mind; or jump out of an aeroplane. Or someone with a phobia may be cornered by the object of their fear. Such a situation may also involve a series of frights as described above, continuously stimulating the neural pathways that govern this response. And yet eventually the conscious, rational mind wins out. The ordeal ends. The movie is over. This is fear. We know it intimately. We flirt with it.

An unfortunate few of us have even lived through true horror. Abuse, violence, disaster and war can all bring us face-to-face with how horrible life, and more often than not, human behaviour can be. This is something that cannot easily be shared with others, as the memories of such events may be dulled down by the mind, or even completely blocked out. Even when vividly remembered, such an experience cannot possibly be conveyed to those who have not lived it. To say “I can only imagine” in reply to a tale of such events falls far short of being the truth, as our imaginations are limited in invoking real emotion, actual sensations, and can easily opt out of the imagined scenario when necessary. Yet even in this most dire of times a strong willed individual can process, scream, fight, create, rationalise, understand and hope, all in an effort to survive. Most of all, there is sometimes even support for the individual, during, if at least not after the horrific ordeal. This is horror. I wish it not even on those who bring it on others.

Yet all of these things cannot stand in comparison to what the mind goes through when one night, after blissfully drifting off to sleep, you awake to the sound of an intruder in the house, or some unnamed, unknown presence in the immediate vicinity. Or maybe even just a bladder in need of tapping. At first a trip to the bathroom or enquiring eye around the house brings a moment of comfort, but soon the threat becomes real. You are in peril and you know it, but from where or whom can seldom be discerned.  As waves of fear rush through and over your body, breathing becomes a labour, movement constricted and then… you awake in your bed. It was just a nightmare. You know this for at least now you are awake. Yet the fear lingers… It is usually at this point where the decision is made to get out of bed and just make sure that all is well and our meagre security measures are still in place.

Now, as you try to soothe the frightened mind your attempt at removing yourself from your bed is rendered nothing more than fanciful, as the limbs refuse to move. As if restrained by shackles crafted from dread itself, not even a finger is allowed to stir, despite your most desperate attempts. Quickly now you resort to a desperate scream for help, but the voice itself is paralysed by horror and all that a weak and strenuous breath can force out of a fear-clenched throat is the softest of whimpers, barely loud enough to be heard even by the afflicted himself. You are now alone in your peril. The mind tries to rationalise, but the senses numbed and distorted by fear, the body immobile, weak and impotent can draw no logical conclusions. And so, eerily, slowly, it begins to construct its own explanation.

In the middle ages, when superstition abounded, witches and demons were imagined to be on the chest. Their weight rendering the sleeper immobile and their evil intentions could not be fathomed by innocent, mortal minds. The very soul was often imagined to be in danger, as an instrument of darkness extracted it, laughing and leering whilst the poor victim could do nothing but lie frozen, wishing he could scream for help.

More modern hallucinations during this horrendous affliction seem to draw from pop culture, as extra-terrestrials are blamed and envisioned to be the culprits. Using some strange, alien paralytic, they render the victim quiet, motionless, helpless, as they probe and manipulate the body for their own sinister and unsettling purposes.

To other minds, the dream often takes on the form of some intruder releasing some immobilising gas so as to go about their business undisturbed, which to a panicked and trapped mind is no doubt some terrible attack on the person. And to that same mind such a dream can become very real.

Still stricken with immobility the body refuses any command to move. You feel the muscle trying, but the more you try to move it the heavier it becomes. It is being held down, forced down. Unnatural sounds are heard all about and culminates in the source manifesting right by the door. You want to turn your head to look, but no movement is allowed in this vile state. This is not a dream. The vivid reality that a half lucid mind under unimaginable stress creates is more than a dream. More than mere hallucination. It is as real as any other moment in your life. Except this is the worst moment of your life. The fear that resulted from realising you are paralysed has now become a paralysing fear. The sheer and utter dread that comes from hearing yourself whisper forgotten moans when all you want to do is scream, now frightens you into silence. And you are on your own, without help.

Then you see it. With eyes willing to be opened to no more than slits, you sense motion in the corner of the room. Something is peering in through the curtains. It is waiting. It knows you cannot escape. It knows you can do nothing but lie in waiting panic for it to come in and mutilate your body, your mind, your very being in ways that you cannot conceive. One last time you attempt to wail for help. If only you can draw someone’s attention. But all you can manage is the softest of breaths with an incorporeal undertone of “hhhhhhhh…”

And then you realise, you know with absolute certainty, that it is all just a dream. For after all, you have had this dream before. You have had it a thousand times before and you will have it again. But now, all that matters is waking yourself up. The inconceivable sense of terror and anxiety that grips the mind and the body alike, will all disappear if you could just find a way to wake up. It will all end, it will all go away and let you return to peace if you could JUST WAKE UP!

And then it happens. You wake up. The fear lingers, the head feels like it is filled with mercury and the limbs are still heavy as if they were made of lead. But you are awake and know you must remain so until the panic subsides. So you go to the bathroom, wash your face, light a cigarette and convince yourself that it will all be okay. That there is nothing by the window, no one in the house that means to do you harm. That tonight was the last time you have had to suffer through this terror. That it will not happen again. You know you are lying to yourself, that tomorrow night it may come again. But for now you must calm yourself down. You take the last drag of the cheap cigarette that your parched mouth and throat finds revolting. If only you could lift your hand so as to bring it to your lips…

And slowly you realise that you never lit that cigarette. Never even took it out of the box. Never washed your face. Never even got out of bed. It is still your prison. You are still paralysed. It is still outside your window. It is still peering through the gap in your curtains. You don’t know what it is and you wonder why it is now suddenly by the door. Slowly it turns the handle. It is opening it. If only you could turn your head to look. If only you could see what this indefinable horror is. If only you could scream.

A Disclaimer

‘To be offensive, or not to be offensive?’ to paraphrase and mutilate an old cliché. This was, up until a while ago, the main issue I had to deal with in deciding what I should write about, and more importantly, how I would write about it. The answer I finally decided on came back to the first half of that phrase, as Shakespeare originally wrote it; ‘To be’. To simply be myself and present my thoughts and ideas as they take shape in my head. No censorship. I finally decided that one of my first pieces should deal with this issue, as well as some other complaints people may have about my writing. Thus, a disclaimer.

Please bear in mind that this relates not so much to content or the topics I will cover, but rather the tone in- and intention with which it will be presented. Furthermore this should not be seen as an apology for offending you. Neither should it be seen as a warning to brace yourself for a barrage of insults or a mountain of pure disrespect. Rather it can be viewed as a preparatory piece that will help you to better understand why I write what I write, and how I do it.
Bearing this in mind, there are a few topics under which your ‘preparation’ will be handled. The first and probably the most obvious is the matter of offense; will I intend it and should you take it? Let us attend the latter question first;

Yes. You as an individual, who is educated enough to use the internet, has the right to an opinion, to hold it dear and to feel hurt or angered should someone disrespect that opinion. Or at least become passionate when it is challenged. So please, feel free to take offense if you so wish. You have my permission and even my encouragement. There is however a condition to my accepting your offense, which also brings us back to my initial question regarding offensive writings; Will I intend to offend you?

Always bear in mind that my sole intent will never be to come across as belligerent or disrespectful. This does not mean I will sensor or sugar-coat what I want to say simply to avoid stepping on a few toes, but the reason for my writing will be the sharing of a thought or concept, not to offend the reader.
This is all I want to say about that matter and I think I have made my view regarding this clear and simple to understand.

Now on to the second complaint some people may have: My use of clichés, common knowledge and seeming plagiarism.

The very first and most important rule when writing is to write what you know about. This does not mean that one must simply stick to a select few areas of expertise. You can always research a certain topic, gain enough insight to form an educated opinion or base of knowledge, and proceed to include it in your writing. In fact it is well known that all great, even moderately good writers and especially journalists have to do this in order to expand the content of their work. But the bottom line is that you need to know about something in order to write about it. Now the nature of many of the topics I have something to say about will be even closer to home than something researched.

Many times my writings contain things we all know. Things that are regarded as common knowledge. On the face of it this may seem like lazy writing, but sometimes when those things we are all familiar with are re-examined from a different point of view or under a different light we tend to gain new insights concerning it. Thus, if it seems that I am not only writing about what I know, but about what we all know, the purpose will be to present it in a novel way or from a new point of view. This will be particularly true of motivational pieces and also introduces the problem of clichés.

Certain things are tried and tested, and have become clichés for a reason. It may be tedious to hear the same story about teaching a man to fish for the seven hundredth time, but many times it has not been considered in relation to, for example, the fishmonger, who stands to lose quite a bit by teaching every Tom Dick and Harry the fine art of fishing. Furthermore it also often helps to be reminded of something we all know, for it makes whatever knowledge the metaphor is supposed to explain seem like your own knowledge and indeed it then does become just that. Thus using a cliché allows you to immediately apply a certain mental model to something, affording the reader the comfort to skip the cognitive process of sifting through the various ways in which new information could be interpreted or applied.

There are sometimes cases where something is not entirely a cliché, but it is still a relatively common conclusion to be reached by anyone who thinks hard enough. Most self-help books are simply a neatly organized, well presented collection of such tacit clichés. Therefore, if at any point you think I am stealing from such a book, using someone else’s work in my writing without acknowledging them (i.e. committing plagiarism), please consider the following before bitching about it: Many times the people who write such books are in actuality plagiarizing the collected wisdom of eons of human experience, and selling it back to them as novel ideas. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying all self-help literature falls under this heading and not all of their writers and authors are glorified carnival tricksters, but many are and acknowledging their work is like acknowledging a porn director every time you have sex.

Even closer yet to home (or to me, in any case), than that which we all know is that which only I know, and most of what I write about will be based upon or at least include something which only I know that I wish to share. I will admit it is well known that I am a rather conceited individual and I will not deny that this blog serves, at least in part, as an extension of my ego, but reference to my own experience and understanding must not be seen as closed minded or self-absorbed, but rather as honesty. I refer back to the first rule I abide by when writing. I write what I know about. I know about me and feel most comfortable in referring to myself, as this is the most honest and accurate information I can present.

This concludes what I would like you to know about knowledge and ideas and where I get them from, and any comments and complaints in this regard I would suggest you send to Desmond Tutu, as he seems like the kind of guy who may under the right circumstances be the only one who would give a shit, and even that is unlikely.

Finally, having saved the best for last, I would like to brief you on my views about “-ism”s. I don’t believe in them. I don’t mean I think racism or sexism is bad, I mean I do not allow it to exist as a defined concept in my interpretation of the world. Should you find that the majority of the pronouns I use for hypothetical people are “he” or “him”, it has nothing to do with the way in which I view men or women. I write like that, first of all because I am a man and will often imagine a man in the hypothetical situation (see rule one), and second of all because I grew up in a time before it was cool to be politically correct. In those days we spoke of “mankind” and not “humankind”, and no one died or even got seriously injured. A theoretical person was almost always referred to as “he” or “him”, and it never even occurred to me that this could be interpreted as only referring to men, until people started the tedious process of writing “him- or herself” in every textbook printed after ’94.

Likewise I am not about to jump on the “regardless of race, colour or creed” bandwagon, because it does not work that way. There are differences between races. I am not about to pretend that there are none, but neither am I going to claim to know exactly what all the differences are, yet holding that view does not make me a racist. It makes me observant. Quite frankly if we all stopped defining things as “racist” then racism would cease to exist. So if I say black people run fast, you can either decide I am referring to someone running from the police, or that I have recently watched the Olympics. Both interpretations are stereotypes, only one is a racist stereotype. If you decide to interpret my words as racist let that reflect upon you and not me.

The two “ism”s mentioned above stand as example and must be applied to all forms of discrimination you may be obsessed with.

Furthermore if we all accept our differences and adopt a sense of humour about them there is a lot of fun to be had without fear of starting any wars.

In conclusion I think that you, like me, may have come to the conclusion that this entry is not so much a disclaimer as a literary version of an End User License Agreement. At least the five of you who has ever read one will agree. Our opinions will differ, as they should. You may have read or heard what I have to say before somewhere, good for you, you are well read. You may want to call me a bigot, don’t, you are simply projecting. You came to read my blog and I now consider you fairly warned.

PS. I maintain the right to contradict anything written here if I so wish.

Constant Improvement.

If there is one thing I cannot understand, it is people who live off quotes. You know them, you probably are one of them to some degree. You subscribe to some mailing list that supply you with a daily regurgitation of some seemingly universally valid words. Or worse, a Bible verse.

The general belief is that somehow these magic words must be applicable to almost every situation you encounter that day. That these words will guide you and help you become a better person or live a better life. And you cannot wait to spew them at someone else when they are facing any form of challenge, making you about as good a friend as a sugar satchel.

As you can no doubt deduce, I generally avoid “inspirational words”. Rather I rely on a principle to guide me;

Every night when you go to bed, you must be a better version of the person you woke up as, which means during that day you must have improved on some aspect of yourself or your life. Something does not need to be suffering, however, in order to benefit from improvement. A healthy person can always become even healthier, a clever man can learn something new, a rich man can easily make another dollar.

Most aspects of our lives are not constant or set in stone and continually keep changing. They are not limited to a binary, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ state. They continually move up and down a scale with a theoretical perfection at one extreme, and a theoretical absence at the other. You must control that movement, that change, and determine by how much it will change today and in which direction (we will mostly prefer it to be for the better). Some of these aspects of our lives may be

  • Intellect, learning and education
  • Health and fitness
  • Hygiene, cleanliness and order
  • Relationships
  • General knowledge and informedness
  • Skills and aptitudes in work and hobbies
  • Finances
  • Mindset, attitude and demeanor

The aspects listed above are mere examples and can literally be anything you consider to be a compartment or aspect of yourself or your life in general.

Improvement on these aspects need not be as grandiose as becoming a chess grand master or enrolling in a university course. It can be as small as taking the stairs instead of taking the elevator. It can be getting up 15 minutes earlier in order to talk to your kids or do the crossword puzzle. It could be drinking one extra glass of water or smoking one less cigarette. Delaying losing your temper by 1 minute. Today you were 1 minute more patient than you were yesterday. Sure, you are not Mother Theresa, but you are better than the person you were yesterday.

By improving general attributes of ourselves and aspects of our lives by these small increments each day, we gain momentum. Take note of these minor improvements, write them down, brag about them, and in a week, or two weeks, you will see them starting to ad up.You will not want to lose what you have gained yesterday. The person you were last week will stand in awe of the person you are today, and the person you are today will be inspired, maybe even a little bit intimidated by the person you will be next week. Youwill stand in comparison to the only truly important measuring stick, you.

It is not about how you compare to those around you. This is futile, for there will always be someone who is better than you, or is going to be better than you in a given field. It is however a competition with yourself. A friendly rivalry between the person you were and the person you are aspiring to be.

As for me, I know I have a talent for writing and I believe that creation is what makes us Gods. By causing something to come into existence that was not here before, I am adding value not only to my life, but the collective work of our species, all creatures in fact, as well as all the other forms and patterns that exist, have ever existed and will yet exist on this planet, in this solar system, in this entire spiral we call the Milky Way, and by extension, the whole universe, known and unknown.

So I started a blog. I have created. I am worth more tonight than I was this morning.

What are you going to improve on today?