I find myself standing inside a modern gallery. Cool bright floors, bright white walls, light breeze streaming through big open windows. At this point I vaguely remember leaving my house, I vaguely remember an afternoon of surprises, unusual circumstances, the sound of laughter, the bright sunlight on the sidewalk, the startled look in the eyes of the guy who gave me the mushrooms, the kids playing baseball, the trees in the distance, the way the clouds looked like oil paintings, the sound of the birds.
"You will laugh so much..."
But now I am inside this gallery, looking at a painting of a mountain. I can't quite remember coming here. It makes sense that I am here, but I can't remember. It just makes sense on its own terms.
I look at the painting.
I see a rocky mountainside, covered halfway up in stones the size of human heads. All the boulders are dark gray and cold and slightly wet. The mountain is wide and tall, it connects to an even larger mountain range to the north. In the distance, the mountains are brown and barren and covered only in scattered patches of dry grass. The sun is hiding somewhere behind a thick haze of clouds.
The day seems new, but somehow drained of energy, as though something very intense has just vanished and what remains is slightly diminished.
It reminds me of the light of the afternoon. This afternoon, not that afternoon. It reminds me.
I come to the realization that the painting implies a location for me. Within it, I am inside a small cabin, looking out the window. I can see the frame of the window at the edges of the painting itself. The mountain is outside the window, bright sunlight, blue sky. But inside the cabin it is dark, musty shadows.
Answers born from questions and questions born from answers tumble awkwardly over one another like dark suited gymnasts. What is that light there, penetrating the apparent serenity of this dark space?
Eerie and blue, it calls to me and points towards a startling terror.
I am not alone here. I am not alone.
There is a movement not far off, something that can see me, just as I can now somehow barely see it. Somewhere beyond the edge of my vision, beyond the frame, within the painting, somewhere in the in between. The nether region beyond my direct sight. Something in there. Somewhere. Something.
The age old questions arise: can this thing hurt me? Should I hurt it first? Who will eat who?
I turn away from the painting. The guy who gave me the mushrooms is looking for a general manager. He is asking questions in rapid fire succession. His hands move up and down. I can't see who he is talking to. Someone else is here. Someone. Somewhere.
I have questions of my own. Where did I meet him? How long ago? Were we good friends at some point in the past? Did we spend many afternoons together, drinking, talking, asking questions, laughing? Did we laugh so much that we came to know each other through our laugher? Have I temporarily forgotten?
His girlfriend is with him. She must be with him. I can't see her. I just see him walking around, moving his hands up and down.
Was I his girlfriend before? Was I someone else? Did I know him at all? Have I ever met him?
There are no clear answers in the gallery. No clear answers here. He is too far away to ask. Too far away to focus. Too far away to listen. Too far away.
I turn back to the painting.
I feel this thing again. Something beside me. In the painting, outside the frame, not in the gallery, not on the surface. And yet right here. Right there. Next to me. Some thing.
This is too close.
It can't be a friend. A friend knocks at the door, a friend calls to you, announces their presence from some distance before coming so near. This can't be a game.
Or are there other ways to play? Ways that belong to creatures far beyond the fear of safety and borders of individuality? Does one thought in my mind announce itself to another before it takes over? Does it knock? Does it ask for permission? Or does it just come in when I'm not looking? When I'm looking elsewhere?
Fear is such an insistent mistress, always calling for my attention, always making bold claims.
Such as this announcement, this sudden claim that this is a matter of life and death. This, right now.
How can it be? I am standing in a gallery, looking at a painting, sunlight outside, the sound of voices, a guy I may or may not know asking for a manager, cars passing by outside. Safety. The world.
Leap up and attack! Run! Act! Quickly!
Or tell yourself that it isn’t real. It's only your imagination, it's the mushrooms I ate, not too long ago.
It couldn't have been that long ago, it must have been today, earlier today, how long is today? How long does the sun stay up in the sky? What does it mean to ask how long when I can't feel time passing?
There is nothing there. Walk away.
I close my eyes. If I can’t see it, then it can’t see me…so goes the ostrich logic. Leave the hidden things to feast over my reposed form. What do they do while I hide behind closed lids? What do they want?
I turn to another painting. Right next to the first one.
I am now looking into a warehouse. I sense that they would want me to be the manager here. Who are they? How could I know what they want?
They need help keeping track of things, maybe someone is looking for me, just beyond the edge of the painting, looking for the manager, for someone that could be the manager, me. I'm the one they're looking for, I'm the one he's looking for. I can be the manager. I am the manager.
There is grass on the floor of the warehouse. There are lots of people inside, some of them are watching TV. A large screen TV in the middle of the room.
I think that it could be relaxing to sit in the middle of a crowd and watch the images flashing on the screen. But the air is stifling, it's too crowded, I need to breathe. I can't sit here the way I'm feeling right now. I can't sit among so many people, I can't.
I look into the TV screen, the one inside this second painting, inside the warehouse that is inside the second painting.
I see the dead horse. His dead eyes stare at me through the screen. Stare at me. Dead horse. Inside.
Has this happened before? Have I asked these questions already? How long have I been here?
I'm simply back here. Back in the cabin. And someone, something, is still here with me.
This is that thing, so familiar, so incredibly strange. I know it. That thing that they told me didn’t exist. The thing that was not in my closet, not under the bed, not at my window. The thing that was not.
Sleep they told me, go to sleep. So I did.
But now I can feel it. I am startled by this presence, this “should not be here” that disturbs the peace like a spider falling from the ceiling onto your cheek, a hand where there should be empty space, a pair of eyes in the raw darkness of a garden. Flashing eyes, glowing eyes.
Just inside the cabin, inside the painting, outside the frame, not here where I am, there, not here.
Now I know that it has always been here. It was always in the closet, under the bed, and at my window, then just as now. Now. Here.
I turn away and walk out the back door. I see the mountain once again. Maybe if I leave the cabin behind, the darkness, maybe the thing can't follow.
I step outside, into the fresh air. I breathe deeply. So much better out here. Leave the cabin behind. Finally, I can breathe. This is what I needed. This is what I need.
There is one four foot trail that travels the length of earth from peak to ocean. There are other scattered trails that are much thinner, only wide enough for one person at a time. Close to the shore is a thicket of trees beside a clearing thirty feet wide. They are as tall and thin as eucalyptus, only they have darker and wider leaves and more full reaching boughs that create a wide canopy.
Something is still moving behind me. I would not usually be here, walking on this mountain path. Usually I wouldn't be here. Usually.
I would not usually perceive that strange glow, should not. I would not hear the rustling, should not. I would not feel my pulse quicken and my eyes snap open.
Keep walking. Keep going. Don't look back.
The clearing is smooth and flat and free of all rocks. Because of the trees, it is covered in a nearly green-black shade. The earth here is damp and smells of wet bark.
To the left of the clearing and the trees is a grouping of dark wood condominiums. The singular structure is angular and modern. It would give off a very cold emotion if not for the wood used to construct it. The collection of two-story houses each have double pane windows and wide sliding glass doorways that face the seashore and the thicket of trees.
These things are ephemeral.
Yes, I have now decided, it is more than one. It is multiplicity itself, it is always many and now more than ever. Many and I am one. They continue their advance. They.
Why should they worry? I don’t believe that they exist. I have left the cabin, there can't be any thing here, no further thing, no further.
Reason should prevent me from rising to stop them. Why should I try to stop that which doesn't exist?
On the lower floor, beside a sliding glass door, is a dead white horse laying on the ground. Its legs are curled close to its body in the fetal position.
Sleep they told me, go to sleep. So I did. That has always been the way. Where there is nothing, sleep will brush it away. Gentle sleep, calming sleep.
Tell yourself that it isn’t real. It is only your imagination, there is nothing here. Mushroom, light, painting. Nothing there.
I am looking at a painting. This guy I know. He gave me some mushrooms. This is the mushrooms. This is what happens when you eat mushrooms. (Except mushrooms have never been quite like this. Except I can no longer see a gallery or a frame or a painting.)
The glass doors reveal the occupants of the houses. There are people inside. They are swollen and pale and laying on their backs on the damp linoleum of their kitchens. Their bodies are moist, as are the T-shirts and shorts which clothe their bloated bodies. They are not moving but I can see their chests moving up and down. Alive. Moist. Bloated. Inside.
These things are still behind me. I can't think of any other noun to describe them. Things. What do they want from me? What do they want?
Answers born from questions and questions born from answers tumble awkwardly over one another like dark suited gymnasts. I descend into the dark depth blotting them from my mind. Forget that light there disturbing the womb of darkness and retreat into slumber and the comforting illusion of solitude.
There is a rocky mountainside, covered halfway up in stones the size of human heads. All the boulders are dark gray and cold and slightly wet. The mountain is wide and tall, but it connects to an even larger mountain range to the north. In the distance, the mountains are brown and barren and covered only in scattered patches of dry grass. The sun is hiding somewhere behind a thick haze of clouds. The light is still very bright, the kind of light that requires squinting. The day seems new, but slightly drained of energy, as though something very intense has just vanished and what remains is slightly diminished.
I see a woman lying down. She's laying on the ground. Her legs are curled close to her body in the fetal position. Her face is towards me. She looks strangely like me.
There are no things. There is no gallery. There is no painting. There is no horse. Nobody. Nowhere. No.