Looming, Between Man and Machine

I was standing in the centre of the station. Hands by my sides. Hands in my pockets.

The mass of bodies, growing and moving, made me want to hold myself. It was all I could do to stop and take a gulp, like a mountain climber peering down at their conquest; like an infantryman, peering down the length of his rifle; like a schoolboy, peering through a peephole, voyeur of the first female flesh. Gulp. Gulp. Gulp. My imagination popped with the possibilities of each of those I would rather have been.

Then, the roaring start of a train.

It was a big one, and seemed the biggest as I shambled over and placed my palm on its cold exterior. I felt the vibrations from the violent hammer of its engine. I think I smiled.

Mr Ludendorff told me that in order to overcome my fears, I would have to expose myself to them. I don’t suppose he intended to patronise me, but he presented his logic as if it could be met without criticism, as if it could be followed and understood by anyone. He used to bark instructive advice at me from behind his desk. When he was struggling to write, he would throw his pen across the room, and torture me with vivid descriptions of spiders, snakes, ants, holes and death.

I was afraid of many things, and Mr Ludendorff knew how to use them to his advantage. He would shut me in his lightless cellar, where I knew there were cobwebs and spirits of the deceased. My place was a bedded corner. I closed my eyes and shut my ears, and tried very hard to let go of a pounding headache.

Whenever Mr Ludendorff closed the piano lid on my fingers, I would dream of musical notes arranged to perfection. Whenever he pressed his knee into my chest and shouted in my face, I felt myself growing stronger. Whenever I watched him with a woman, I developed a strange sort of respect for his aggression.

The trains’ engines labour like the human heart, fired by fuel and oil. They come, they go, they grind to a screeching halt. Soldiers drop their kitbags to the platform, and hug their darlings. Others take one last look at the journey gone by.

The spider keeps its territory to a corner, gentle and small. It is a passive predator.

The snake adventures for food. Its greed represents a burning desire to survive.

The ant constructs a community with the strength of its back.

The hole is filled with water, the water becomes a well.

In 1989, the Boy stays silent, so as not to reveal his great ideas.

2nd May 1989

Jasmine and the Boy

The Boy doesn’t watch, so much as observe. I can’t tell if he’s curious. I can only guess, because he never speaks. Sometimes, I think he’s trying to scare me.

Jasmine and I have done a lot of talking. I have made it very clear to her that I have a lot to gain from reducing my responsibilities. It was only after we played cards this morning that she decided to probe.

I grabbed her wrist. I asked her, What do you think you’re doing?

“I want to know what’s going to happen to your students,” she said, repeating herself.

The students are my concern. Haven’t I made this abundantly clear, even when you haven’t even been asking for it?

“Please slow down.”

I’m calm. I’m fine.

“Then what can I do to help?”

Nothing, I said. Perhaps you might understand.

“But I don’t understand. Do you want me to leave?”

No, I said. I don’t want to be alone again.

The Boy joins me whenever I decide to go for a walk. Sometimes, we sit in the row boat, and work the Fjord.

Sometimes, we go for a drive. We go into town, park up, and watch the women descend from buses. That’s when the Boy feels miserable.

1st May 1989

Upon closer examination

I have made several trips into town, to the big, sleepy car parks, where I can unpack the bones in safety, but more often than not I just sit there and think.

I like to hold the skull in my hands. If you whisper into it, your voice is transformed, hollow. If you rap your knuckles on the crown, it becomes a sort of instrument.

The teeth are very well maintained, straight, with few cavities. Would that suppose a young person died? I don’t rightly know.

Every human skull is an enclosure, filled with darkness. It’s only because of our senses that we have access to anything else.

When I was a boy, Mr Ludendorff went to make a pot of tea. As he did so, he unwittingly left me alone with his grand piano. I went around to the side, and lifted the lid onto its prop. My height allowed me to reach in and feel the wire. It was something I had never done before, not only because it was criminal, but because Mr Ludendorff was a man with two black pearl eyes in the back of his head. It was my first opportunity to truly interact with the monstrosity I had been forced to play.

Upon his return, he set a tray down, and looked me directly in the face.

Before long he asked me, “What’s the matter?”

I said that I was struggling, that I didn’t understand the piano.

“What don’t you understand?” he said. “Think of everything you’ve accomplished.”

What about the piano? I said.

“You sit down and play. You play for the people. The people are selfish. They expect to book you into a show space, and that’s it. They expect you to say, ‘I’m done! I’m so done with the piano that I don’t even think about it.'”

When more isn’t enough, I said.

He laid his disgusting, bony hand on my own. “You can’t be brilliant all of the time.”

12th April 1989 (2/2)

Where the light goes

I was sat out on the porch.

I had been waiting so long that the tea had dried in the base of my cup. Looking at it made me feel even more thirsty, but I lacked the will to go back inside. Even on the brightest of days, the shuttered windows of this house trap light like a camera. It is something that never used to bother me, but now I notice how the darkness is shepherded by the architect.

By the time she arrived, the weather had changed. The domes of the trees had begun to creak.

She stepped out of a great big car, and walked down the slope with her arms outstretched, like a bird descending from flight.

I looked over her shoulder as she embraced me, and made eye contact with the Boy.

12th April 1989 (1/2)


I’ve learned that sometimes it’s very difficult to let things go. It doesn’t matter if it’s something real, like a person, or something unreal, like an idea, or a desire. And even those are interchangeable.

I’m not the voice of authority on letting things go, but I have experienced enough to understand when it is healthy to. That might not always be easy, because it takes time to develop the willpower to withdraw from what binds us. I repeat, and I emphasise, this could be anything—and this could happen to anyone.

I was sat out on the porch, somewhere close to freedom.

If I closed my eyes, it would have been impossibly difficult to open them again.

If I closed my eyes, I could imagine myself, trapped in a maelstrom of obsession.

I was sat out on the porch. That’s when they arrived.

10th April 1989

Time to kill

I’ve taken some more time off in order to do some sleuthing.

I can’t lie. I do feel guilty, not least because I’m now pretending to be sick, but that I still haven’t told anyone about the bones. I was always told to respect the dead, as if I would ever have some nerve to disturb them. But here I am, holding on to the disjointed skeletons of at least two former inhabitants of this world. No evil has befallen me. Nothing has happened, at all, in fact, apart from those stupid nightmares. And even then…

Today, I visited the library. I used their computer archives to pull information from the regional newspapers. This took me right up to evening, but I have learned some things. Apparently, there have been no significant disappearances in this area since January 1981. At least, no missing persons cases that haven’t been resolved. And even those were benign. Tourists getting lost in the forestry, or climbing too high up on crags. We haven’t even had a bank robbery.

What am I do to? I’m not going to be alone forever. When they arrive, I’ll need to have answers.

Or, I suppose, I could simply hide everything away.

7th April 1989

I had been processed

For the past week or so I have been plagued by nightmares. I am in no doubt that it is to do with the bones. My body shudders uncontrollably at the thought.

However, the nightmares seem to go as follows. I am in the darkness of the cave by the fjord, put to work by my own volition. I labour to pull endless folds of earth from the walls. My hands are numb, clotted with mud, and I can hardly tell one motion from the next as I scramble ever deeper. I push so hard that my vision becomes blurry. It is too late for me to realise that I am being consumed by some strange, ungodly force. The mud binds itself around my limbs, enclosing my torso, and eventually my face. I cannot breathe, but I persist, well beyond normality.

This is when I wake up. But, on one occasion, I made it through to the other side. I emerged from a different cave, leading out to the same fjord, to the same faraway view. I collapsed to my knees, and brought up my hands. They were skeletal. It seemed that the earth, like some violent machine, had stripped away my flesh.

2nd April 1989

Another pass by the cave

I spent the majority of the morning by the cave. The hike exhausted me, and I didn’t feel like going inside until I had drank my tea.

The mornings here are exceptionally beautiful. It might be the time of year, I don’t know, but the banks are populous with wildlife. You never feel alone.

I went inside the cave around noon. The transition from the outside world was more severe this time. I felt that my senses were elevated with the possibility of finding something revelatory. I even found myself flinching at the sound of my own footsteps.

I placed my torch in the same nook, and raked my fingernails through the dirt. Earthen clumps came apart from the walls as if they had been restored overnight. I worked my way through to the damp stone without finding a single fragment of bone.

As I sit here, typing, I realise that my mind is a muddle. I find it impossible that I would find two or three incomplete skeletons, as if they had crawled to safety on severed limbs. Could an animal have consumed them piecemeal? Or are some bones simply lost to time?

1st April 1989

The last pile of bones from a damp cave

I took a seat, and looked at the pile of bones I had emptied from deep inside the cave that morning. I’m not great with biology, but I recognised the three femurs to one skull, the many, many bones of the ribs. The two pelves.

I spent the afternoon cleaning my car as thoroughly as possible. And whilst doing so, I couldn’t help but look out to the fjord and wonder if I’d missed something.