Vanishing Curves

Right at this moment in her life Zoe didn’t like her job. In fact she hated it, mostly because the deadlines imposed by the client had demanded too many late nights these last few weeks. Without a car she was forced to catch the train home, in the darkness.

Waiting at underground Parliament Station caused no heartache, and neither did the fifteen minutes seated in the rattling coach to Clifton Hill Station. It was after this point that the fear came, when she had no choice but to walk away from the neon lights and the heavy highway traffic, into the backstreets between row after row of old suburban townhouses. It was in there that she had to risk the service lane, the only access to her small single roomed apartment.

As she feared, the same street kid was there again. Once more he was sprawled in the gutter, a wild animal moaning as if possessed. Pulling her coat tight across her chest Zoe ran on. He hadn’t bothered her the previous evening so she could hope he wouldn’t do so tonight.

Zoe always found it was inconceivable that people drove themselves to such levels of destitution. She’d never let it happen to her, no matter how much she wanted to tell her clients and her boss where to stick their job. To her working for a living would always be better than being poor. Besides, all destitute people did was scare honest hard working people like her, and that wasn’t fair. So she was running rapidly now, hoping like magic that if she didn’t look back he wouldn’t notice her. She wanted him gone, to forget him if only for the period of another evening.

Then she caught herself screaming, for he was right upon her.

“He.. m. pi…., I ca.’. ..nd .. wa. ho…”

Not even an adult and yet his breath smelled like a dumpster and the clothes he wore shone with grease from their years with out a wash. He wasn’t looking at her, but through her. Even his words sounded distorted, as if half of what he said was lost into the void. Inside his mouth were a few remaining yellow stained teeth amongst a blackness that seemed endless. It was as if there was nothing inside him. That he truly walked amongst the lost souls of the world.

“He.. m. pl…..”

“Ugh,” she felt sick when she pushed him back clearing space to escape.

“Yo.-..th..h h.s .e.”

But he wasn’t yelling at her, rather at shapes and ghosts created from his obviously drug-abused mind.

Clutching her coat again she now sprinted, afraid to scream again in case other lurkers living off the street might hear her fear. Afraid to breathe in case she did find enough oxygen to scream.

The door to her apartment came into view. No need to fumble for the keys for at night, she always carried them in her right hand, clenched in her fist with the sharpest key between her index and ring finger ready to stab like a knife, although she’d forgotten to use it on the intruder. She knew the order, found the right one and let herself inside. Only when she was on the other side, when the door was deadlocked against the outside world, did she breathe again.

Inside Zoe was alone and perhaps that was good. Then she remembered that she’d touched the man. His sickness was on her for there was blackness on her hands where they’d connected.

At the bathroom sink she scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed and still the blackness would not go away. In desperation she liberally splashed her arm with turpentine she kept in the laundry cupboard and scrubbed again, this time with a wire brush and still none of the awful emptiness would dissipate. In the dim light it was hard to determine if she was making progress, so when Zoe went to turn on the lights it was to her surprise to discover they were already on.

Every light was already on.

She vaguely remembered that she was the one who’d done so, yet still the apartment seemed dark and dingy. She couldn’t even remember how long she’d been home.

Worried she sat down to think. Looking at the time on the wall clock she was unable to make out what hour it was. The television was no good either for the actors sounded muffled and their faces were nothing more than a blur. The radio only erupted with sounds eerily similar to that of an injured cat dying alone. Was exhaustion getting her down? Was she falling into a serious illness brought on from a disease caught from a dirty street kid? Worse, had she been drugged?

Unable to focus, Zoe decided that she’d just had a shock and rest was the best option. She slept on what she could only presume was the couch, but it was hard to make out anything in this blurry light.

She woke for no other reason other than that the her vision beyond the blur had transformed from dark to light and the sensations on her skin had transformed from cold to warmth, but that was all.

She couldn’t see anything.

She couldn’t hear anything either.

Instead all around her were endless bubbles stretching in every direction, their distance and size impossible to gauge. They went on forever up and down as well as to side to side. But there was no up and down here. It was only when she looked upon herself did she appreciate gravity, for she could see that the pajamas she wore and her own flesh remained clear and in focus. The world around her had turned to sprawling spheres of grays and whites without form or texture, depth or magnitude, and yet she remained solid and tangible.

Willing herself to wake didn’t work either.

Screaming was the only answer, and she screamed for hours. That was if there was any concept left with which to measure time.

***

The grey bubbles never went away. In time she ran out of energy to scream and replaced it with a disjoined sense of calm. She couldn’t comprehend for how long she lost control. All she knew was that she’d lost weight, that her body was bruised and battered, and that her fingernails had regularly drawn blood from the palms of her hand. She was also hungry and thirsty, but every time she opened her eyes her apartment never materialized as she hoped it would.

Eventually Zoe became convinced that she had become blind and deaf.

Assuming that she was still in her house, she began to crawl, hoping to feel her way to the telephone and call for help. The police, an ambulance, even her parents who never called anymore, it wouldn’t matter. Yet even before the journey began and long after it ended, in what seemed like years and also just a few seconds, she hit her head hard and cut her hand. The pain came, but Zoe was more terrified knowing that she had neither an idea how she injured herself nor remembered how it happened. When she watched the blood fall away she saw it pool in nothingness. Then she noticed that this hand was the one previously absorbed by the darkness, but apart from her lacerations, thinness and bruising, it appeared back to normal.

Had the blackness consumed her whole body? Had the darkness pulled her into this place?

She crawled on again, trying vainly to see through the bubbles that moved as if they were living organisms, randomly shrinking and growing, vanishing and appearing. She was perceiving them better now that she’d become used to them, but there was nothing left to see of her apartment. This was no good, for pain from outside still found her in here. Light became dark again and with it what she thought was the cold. But even the sensations of body warmth were starting to lose meaning.

The nightmare never ended even though she had no still idea how much time had passed. Her pajamas were ragged, her hair a tangled mess and sores were festering everywhere on her skin. If she could trust her sense of smell Zoe was sure she stank and that the clothes she wore were of little use to keep out the awful feeling which she presumed was rainy weather. Somehow she’d found a jumper and an old pair of sneakers.

Remembering details became next to impossible for time and space no longer seemed to flow as expected anymore. Had she left that universe behind? This period into the grayness could have easily been ten minutes just as likely as it could have been ten years.

Where did the jumper come from, for she recalled it was not something she would have worn by choice? Had other objects also “disappeared” into the grey, this world of materializing and vanishing curves?

Then when she expected to she started seeing these objects, little things like rocks, pencils and weeds that belonged like her in the normal world. Each time she encountered something tangible she felt surprise, and yet each find reeked with deja vu. Right now there was a beetle crawling through the grayness, a cockroach. Zoe picked it up by its back, its six spindly legs helpless in the air.

It was food so she ate it, and knew that she’d tasted its acrid texture before.

***

Some time ago she started to collect other items that had somehow disappeared with her such as chocolate bar wrappers, or fallen leaves from gum trees. Sometimes she considered that she was hallucinating, and that perhaps the only way she could return to her reality was to dream it up again. That was what she was doing now, piece by little piece. Commonly she discovered things nobody would want, such as puddles of brown water full of litter and cigarette butts from which she replenished her thirst, or takeaway containers of half eaten Indian curries or wrappers with shards of hamburger. These foods were luxury compared to dead and decaying possums and birds she often found, the more common components of her meager diet. She still hit her head regularly on objects she couldn’t see, and her hands and limbs were always lacerated from unseen corners and edges. But if she moved slowly, in a rolling swagger, these tumbles lessened their severity.

She knew now that she was mad and that she had created this world. No matter how often she closed her eyes ready to open them again hoping to rediscover her world restored, the bubbles never went away. This existence seemed to have no end but if she was outside time and space, then of course there never could be an end.

***

One day she started hearing voices.

It was impossible to tell where they originated so she waited, knowing instinctive that the sound would come to her. Eventually the owner of one voice found her.

“Yog-Sothoth, ghnoth loyhthtuptep.”

It was a man’s voice, a youth. When he passed into her vision materializing from behind an invisible barrier she saw him as clearly as she saw herself. He was lost like her. His clothes were also like hers too; stained with grease, holes in his jumper reminiscent of rotten bullet holes, and what teeth that still remained in his sore-filled mouth were stained yellow.

“Help me please,” he begged, “I can’t find my way home.”

She knew where she’d seen him before.

“Help me please.”

She wanted to be sick.

“Yog-Sothoth has me.”

This time he could see her clearly too.

***

David didn’t earn much money, but regardless everyone needed somewhere to sleep at night where they could hide away from the dark and the cold. Fussy compared to others his age, he was after a cheap apartment situated near Melbourne’s city centre with easy access to public transport. He waited tables at night in the city, but by day a studio apartment was on his agenda, a sanctuary were he could draw his comics away from the interruptions always present in a shared flat arrangement. A few contracts had come his way lately, serious work and serious money from the United States. If David was going to make a break into the international market, well then the right time to do so had just knocked on his door.

“I should warn you,” spoke the real estate agent in concerned tones, “they say this place is haunted.” She was one of those types who decorated herself with too much make-up and wore navy blue business suits that didn’t go at all well with her lime green blouse. Just like an evil advisor straight from the pages of one of his favorite superhero series.

“Really?” He loved the idea of a haunted apartment. He already knew the story and that was another reason why he was here today. Who could ask for a better environment to inspire his creative flair?

“Well sort of, one person thought so anyway.”

He touched the kitchen bench with his already dirty black hand. The thin layer of sawdust left behind by the builders was still fresh. Yet no matter how often they had refurbished the interior, the stench of the woman who’d let her self go for all those months still lingered in the air. He could smell her even now, familiar smells.

“The one from the papers?”

She nodded. “Yeah the poor girl, lost all grip on reality. The doctors couldn’t do anything, it was like she was no longer there, or her mind wasn’t anyway. Kept talking about the key and the gate, the master of time and all that gibberish, or so they say. You’re not superstitious are you?”

David said no. He already knew the whole sorry tale, about the mad woman who kept walking into things, who ate rats and dead birds and kept seeing ghosts everywhere.

Later when the agent showed him the backyard she lit up a cheap cigarette. She was embarrassed by a pile of rubbish left in public view, broken bricks and splinters of wood with the ends of nails still dangerously exposed, more of the debris left behind by the renovators. She wanted to pretend that it wasn’t there but David saw something that caught his eye, a paper trapped in the rubbish.

He bent down to look closely. It was a copy of a local suburban newspaper. The front cover showed a faded image of a woman he recognized.

“That’s her, you know.”

“Yeah?” He didn’t feel so comfortable now about signing the lease, not now that he knew what she looked like.

“They never knew what happened to her. One day she just vanished.”

But unfortunately David did. On his way to this inspection he’d run into her in at the back alley, smelly and deranged and covered in muck and grime. Behind her was her companion, a man without any teeth. David had assumed they were drug addicts out to score money for another hit so he’d walked away quickly. Now he knew otherwise and wondered if she would ever come back seeking her old life again? Could she?

This thought reminded him of something else, that he’d better clean the black grim from his arm where Zoe had grabbed him. Who really knew what kind of diseases these awful street people carried?

***

“Vanishing Curves” originally appeared in “Book of Dark Wisdom”, Issue 3 2004 published by Elder Sign Press.


2 Responses to “Vanishing Curves”

  1. Donna Wrote:

    Loooved it! Freaked me out of my seat. I read your others enjoyed them too. I think you may just be the king of creepy.

  2. David Conyers Wrote:

    Thanks Donna, glad you enjoyed them.

    Cheers
    David

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