I’m delighted to have my short story ‘Of Watching Mercury Flowers’ featured in this the latest edition of Suburban Witchcraft Magazine. Please do check out all the wonderful writing, art, and poems involved. A big thanks to the magazine’s editor, Mirjana, for doing such a fantastic job.
For those who fear to tread the streets, it is not the leering faces, the waves of crashing humanity, nor even the lines of cars who patrol as fuming anacondas that scare, it is themselves. I am no less a person. I would not wish it on anyone.
The palpitations begin at the city limits, as the towers rise like reflective mountains into a disrupted sky, my heart quickening. I gasp, seek to steady my breathing to the train’s repetition, a synchronising of man and machine. There is even a moment when I think it works and a sigh escapes my lips. It is short-lived. It is always short-lived, never lasting beyond the next batted lash. How life continues to disappoint.
Swamped by suburbia’s blur, the train gears up for one last dash, and we charge into the station like Usain Bolt for the finishing line: the tape broken, we stop; no one is victorious. One journey over, another begins.
Disembarking like so many ants from an anthill, we follow the chemical signatures laid down by history out into the glare of a city more on the rails than the train. People are everywhere. Like fish on a decaying reef, humanity teems across the porous concrete, searching for a purpose where there is no purpose. Some look to have hope in their eyes, most not. The difference between the believers and the sceptics is stark. Some might term it enlightenment versus resentment. I prefer reality versus dreams.
A stoplight glares in crimson; a double-dare to death. I have forgotten who waits for whom, so go with the flow and strive to remain somewhere in the middle. It’s only when I reach the other side that I realise I don’t want to be the last to go, the final smear on a Japanese car’s bonnet. I make a mental note to not make the same mistake, but an unhappy seagull, lost and far from home, squawks a distraction and the memory is lost.
The coffee district extends forever. Yes, there are intermissions in the chain of cocoa-driven madness, but not many, and nothing meaningful. I choose one that looks emptier than the others and order the same drink I do every single day. One day, I’ll risk a Latte, but I feel an Americano defines me. The smell of the bean soothes my mind. I wish to take the stuff intravenously, feel that brown warmth tickle beneath my skin. It is a dream I have in a world where dreams are scarce.
I linger at the coffee shop for longer than I should, but less than I wish. Before I know what’s happening, my feet are leading me out of the door and down the canopied street to my own private hell; the roof keeps the weather out and us in. My eyes remain on the ground wherever possible, striving not to look up, not to provoke a response. Not even the three false palms set to equidistant perfection fail to disturb my concentration. Like a robot, I approach the working district.
This world is glass. This world is made of a million versions of me. Everywhere I look, I am there. Even when I close my eyes. The last person I wish to see in repetition is myself. Anyone but me! Alas, life deems to torment me in refraction.
I open the doors to our office building; as I enter, another me leaves. A brief paisley respite — if ever paisley wall coverings can be called this — and I take the stairs. I work on the tenth floor but would rather ascend a hundred flights in preference to the glass elevator and be surrounded by those leering, sneering doppelgängers. Each step takes me higher, ever higher. Soon enough I see the world as a pigeon, a rat of the sky. There are more rats all around me. I feel swarmed by them.
I collapse into my office seat and a faux leather embrace. A moment. All I require is a moment. I don’t get one. Curlicues of steam flit like intangible faeries before my eyes. Where am I?
The office do-good has seen, found and presented before I’ve even taken my jacket off. I nod a thank you whilst contemplating stabbing her with my pencil; my pencil is blunt, typical!
My work provides a distraction, nothing more. The turgid rigmarole of everyday mundanity allows my mind the freedom of thinking itself elsewhere, somewhere where walls are rock and skyscrapers consist of trees. I wish myself away to a world without triplicated others and reciprocated frowns, but never for long enough.
A colleague wakes me from my stupor, even though my fingers continue to type in a fallacy of actual life. I smile, but he’s already gone. It is time to leave. The worst time of the day.
Most look forward to their return, the drive home, the commute. I do not. I hurry down the stairs and out of the revolving door. Too late, the sun is setting.
Everywhere I look, everywhere, a million others are doing the same thing. Each is crowned by a halo of liquid gold. The glass makes angels of all. All except one. The original, me. They mock me from their mercury sanctums, point, and laugh. Every face in every window, every man, woman, and worse, observe me. They know. Oh, how they know! I am abhorrent to them. I am abhorrent to me.
The train is stifling, dark and full of eyes. But as the lights click on, catching me off-guard as I gaze out into the nothingness, I realise there is only one certainty in this reflected face: these glass coffins have me captured and everyone’s watching me die.
The Night removed all colour like a reveller their masquerade mask. It wasn’t needed. Why dilute the perfect silver of the stars, the creaminess of the moon, the obsidian void, with unnecessary glare. In every shooting star, there were a million bright flowers. In every swirling galaxy, there were a billion neon signs. No, the night had it right from the beginning. It was I, the Day, who lived the lie.
Still, the darkness absolute scared me. So, I replaced my mask of colours and stepped back into the golden light like a true god, not a scared imposter. As I ever had, and would until the end of time.
I liked a good pair of legs as well as the next person, but four pairs on one body? Yet, there she was, hanging from the corner, suspended in a moonlit net.
How long she’d been there and for how long she’d watched, who knew, but her unblinking eyes regarded me as one might a tasty dinner. Hypnotic, she mesmerised with her stillness. I wobbled, wavered, fell.
She kissed mouth open, a slobbering affair. I savoured the feel of its disintegration. When, she sucked, I sighed. Soon, I was just a bound husk in a pantry of many that twinkled like the stars. Not bad for a fly.
“We are all ghosts in the greater scheme of things. We are invisible to all but those who know us there. Is that not the very definition of a ghost?”
The creature nodded to not a rustle, nor even a disturbance of the air. All that marked its presence was a chill down the spine and a momentary blurring of my vision. But I knew what it was, which proved my point. And still, I couldn’t run.
There wasn’t a person in sight, just a gawping fool of a frog.
The frog had no teeth, no claws, and no idea, apparently. It sat on the path between me and my destination like a small rock waging war against the tidal sea. The question was how to pass it? I could’ve strode over, leapt, or booted it out of the way. I wasn’t one for going around. To my shame, the boot won.
I drew back my hobnail boots like a famous striker and launched into a world-beating goal. The frog just opened its mouth. It did not stop.
I lost my foot, then leg, then felt the rest of me sucked inside the frog’s now vacuous maw. The clouds were last to go, as my vision passed from day to enforced night. The frog belched.
There were others inside the frog, but they claimed it a toad. We fought in the darkness for a meaningless victory. The frog just belched again and moved on to mice, cats, and dogs.
Jonny scowled at the onrushing dusk and the miserable old uncle his wife had lumbered him with. The day had almost gone. He tried the philosophical method first, knowing the miserable uncle as he did.
“The night’s an empty, unwelcoming place, Uncle Frank, full of nothing and proud of it. There’s no colour, no warmth, no proof of life. It’s like it’s not even trying. Give me the sun any day of the week.”
Jonny sighed. “Anyhoo, the party’s moved indoors. Janine sent me to fetch you. ”
The uncle said not a word.
“Not coming? It is for you, you know! Oh well, suit yourself.” Jonny spun on his heels and headed back into the party tent, frustrated that Frank hadn’t even raised his ancient head.
Old Uncle Frank was alone with only his thoughts. He watched the sun singe the horizon before disappearing in a charcoal puff of smoke. Soon, the stars appeared, and then the moon. The night blazed a celestial welcome. And even though the party continued, louder if anything, he raised his craggy face and smiled.
“The night is all those things and more, my young friend. And we can all thank God for that.”
A cool, languid wind eased itself down the mountainside, unhurried in its quest to reach the shaded valley floor. I felt it like a child its mother’s breath.
Rocks peppered the cliff face in sheer defiance of the laws of physics. They clung on for dear life. Silly rocks, I thought. We’re not meant to resist.
Up above the clouds lay a cerulean blanket so unruffled as to rival the placid sea we crawled from that eventful bygone day. A sparkling, citrine sun warmed my cheeks. The wind had gone. I missed it. Perhaps that’s why I jumped? Perhaps, not.