NeedleInTheHay.net called it “lyrical beauty”. I like that. The challenge this time came, fittingly enough, from a dead man: Martin Heidegger.
Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.
I say ‘fittingly’ because the brief called for 600 words of horror, into which contestants also had to somehow work the theme of the “power of language”.
Those of you who know me know that I am not the kind of man to write about ghosts and ghoulies and that, when I dip into the horror genre, I like to do so in a more creeping, subtle way. When the themes of language and horror came together in the same brief, I thought about Poe. What would he do?
If you go and check out the WINNER ANNOUNCEMENT, you’ll see that Sophie Macdonald took the trophy with her excellent story My Best Friend, a story with remarkable – but not obvious – links to my own. In both our stories, we explored the question: ‘Can you be cursed by language?’ And although Ms Macdonald and I both said ‘yes’, the way we went about it is different. In her story, it is a quite literal curse, and in my own – in a humble homage to Poe – the curse comes entirely from the mind of the protagonist.
Following judges’ feedback, I have made some minor improvements which have pushed it over the 600-word mark, but – as always – I am glad to receive any and all feedback from my readers. Enjoy!
Read up on Sophie Macdonald HERE
It’s time to go out.
The poem will never be finished. I understand that now. For when it’s finished, it will swallow me whole. How arrogant to even imagine I could capture you, trap you down on paper.
The diamond of her face as she slept
Her scent, drawing me as a beacon draws ships to the safety of harbour
The silver sheen of her hair at night. . .
Outside, the night is black and full of everything. Everything. A year I’ve been trapped, exiled in that room, eating because food was brought, sleeping only from exhaustion, my head upon the desk.
And still it isn’t finished.
But outside: Everything. My bare arms prickle with sweat in the warmth of the night, my feet moving as if they’re only now learning what it is to truly walk. Not to pace. Not to pace one room, endlessly, from wall to window, but to stretch and move.
So many smells. So many good smells: seafood; the sharp tang of spices; rich, greasy meat; baked bread; cocktails of sauces and dressings; piss from the alleyway, strong with ammonia – but that’s good, too. Everything is good.
Lanterns festoon the street, end to end, and the colours . . . had I forgotten about them? I must have written the colour of your hair. I must have, but now . . .
All the things I’ve missed, my year alone. You weren’t there.
You aren’t here either, in this street lined with bright pools of light, with tacky jewellery stands, with mountains of deep-fried doughnuts lost in clouds of sugar, all of it undeniably alive. Of course you aren’t here. You don’t belong here any more.
I drink the Everything in, I touch every surface. My senses draw me on, ever further from my door. I want to remember, not to disappear again. At home, there is only silence, and a poem that can’t be finished.
I open my mouth, taste the air. Midnight approaches and still people boil along the market street. Elbows scrape against my ribs, hair brushes my arm, something wet and cold – I don’t care what – splashes my leg.
The voices . . . a mad grindwheel, scratching at my ears like passionate fingernails. After the silence of my room, it’s agony, but if I had the power to stop it, I wouldn’t. I’m alive. You died, I remain. Perhaps I forgot to die with you, perhaps I wanted to finish your poem first. Perhaps, even, I hoped it would bring you back.
It lies unfinished, and I’m alive And I know now: I want to stay. I cannot embrace your cold, lingering traces any longer. It’s time to colour our memories with new experiences, fresh ones to flavour the old. It’s time to–
. . . drawing me to her . . .
I take the alley, forging into darkness. Here it’s cooler, with vague silhouettes lurking from the shadows. I must escape. I burst out into a street lit not by lanterns, but by streetlights. More puddles lie on the road here, shining–
. . . silver sheen. . .
I run. Why has it come? Why now?
Ahead, the harbour. The last place you ever were. We met here, once. But now I see: my poem isn’t at home.
It’s here, waiting for me at the jetty.
And here’s how to finish it:
It washes my feelings away, washes everything away. The silence feels like bliss. The waters close over my head, harbour lights shimmering above me. Below me, the diamond of your face.