What I Hate About Writing
I've uh, taken up writing again. It's been a while. I guess it's different for everyone but here's the gist.
I've always admired the places writing can take you - sometimes to the point where you'll snap back to reality and have to spend a good second remembering (ah yes, this is me, I am here, hello, I've come again, oh-for-the-love-of-god-why-does-that-person-still-exist).
Except, when I try to do that for myself, to take myself somewhere new, it never works. I describe snow peaked mountains and end up imagining myself sitting on the floor trying to convince myself that painted cardboard shapes can be mountains. It doesn't work. The cardboard pieces fall flat in a second and I'm left moving on to something else.
Or it might be the timing of a scene. The seconds and moments between one gesture and the next, between pieces of dialogue and character development. Usually it takes too long for me and I rush it, and, in reading it over, I think to myself 'now there's no way that would every happen, XYZ would need to happen first before that, that and that....'
And writing. Is. Bloody. Meticulous. An adjustment here means an adjustment there (and there and there and oh god scrap the whole thing and start it over). Like throwing a rock into a pound and seeing all the ripples, all the changes that need to be made. That's what drafts are for, I guess.
...I don't have patience for drafts.
Challenges are great, I guess. I'm only responsible for a small little thing and I can deal with all the details. Longer stuff is a real nightmare because everything needs to be taken into consideration. And I'm a real stickler for details.
I don't know where this is going. But, uh, yeah, that's only a (short) list of why I hate writing.
I glanced up again at the little weathered door. Floating several feet from the ground in the corner of the dead-ended alleyway, it swayed and wobbled and flickered. The light of the lamp post from the distant road brushed its battered frame with golden fingertips but the door remained stubbornly dark. I took another step forward. Paused. Hesitated. A slight wind started up, wrapping my ankles in cold ribbons that spiraled up my legs. I barely noticed it.
Straining, I could just barely make out the sound of music and laughter from beyond the doorway. It sounded strange to hear it again after such a long time and I found myself moving forward, my earlier hesitation forgotten. Just as I raised my hand to knock the door creaked open, spilling warm light and whiskey fumes into the icy air.
The woman who appeared at the door was tall, almost absurdly so, and was stooped awkwardly underneath the frame. She looked at me with surprise and then smiled, cocking her head. Her eyes, I thought, seemed sad.
"You look like you'd be welcome here," she began, sticking the hat she'd been holding under her arm and extending her hand. Without really thinking I shook it, and noticed that her knuckles were bruised and red. A flash of gold drew my attention to a signet ring she wore around her finger sporting a symbol I did not recognize. She awkwardly shuffled back to avoid bumping her head and smiled again, holding the door further open.
"Would you like to come in?"
I paused, glancing briefly past her into the room. It was warmly lit, with a number of tables buzzing with conversation and the shuffle, snap and crack of cards. Waiters whisked around the guests laden with trays of drinks and off in a corner some musicians were performing the blues. White-yellow smoke drifted hazily above the tables and as a result the faces of some of the taller guests seemed blurred. I couldn't quite pinpoint why, but there seemed something slightly different about this particular bar.
The woman, noticing my hesitation, leaned forward and extended her hand again, loose brown curls spilling forward over her shoulders. Her eyes were soft, earnest.
"Here, let me help you."
I don't know what possessed me at that moment. I reached out and her hand clasped mine, hoisting me upwards with surprising strength. From how smooth and practiced the movement was I had the feeling she'd done it many times before. She steadied me with a hand on my shoulder and together we ducked awkwardly beneath the low door frame. As the door shut behind us, I felt the last tendrils of icy air dissipate from my legs.
Once inside, the woman led me towards the bar. She glided around tables bursting with chairs and voices and banter and skimmed past waiters with practiced ease. I followed more clumsily, narrowly avoiding several crashes with the other guests. I ended up stumbling but was saved from the embarrassment of falling by a man who caught my arm. He laughed, flushed from drink, and turned away before I had the chance to give him my thanks. By then I was caught up in another swarm of people that had arrived from someplace else, weaving in around me pulling out chairs and gleefully exchanging insults.
Eventually, I made it to the bar. The woman was already seated, taking a drag of her cigarette with her wide brimmed hat pulled low over her eyes. She smiled when she saw me and gestured to a chair beside her, which I accepted gratefully.
"Would you like anything?" she asked, angling her head in the direction of the drinks list. Looking over it briefly, I frowned. Most, if not all, of the drinks seemed unfamiliar. I shook my head and glanced around the room again. This time, I noticed something I'd not noticed before.
In the very center of the room stood a bed. It was empty and the tables were organized in haphazard rings around it. Most of the guests seemed not to notice it, exchanging cards and placing bets as though it were the most normal thing in the world. There were others, however, that stared at the bed almost as if in a trance, with hollow eyes and hands wringing together (either from nervousness or anticipation I did not know).
"They're new. Like you."
I started and turned back to the woman, who put her cigarette out in a glass of whiskey with an oddly empty look in her eye. She glanced once at the corner of the bar and, turning back to me, held a finger to her lips for silence. At that very moment, three consecutive rings went off.
Instantly, the noise and commotion in the bar ceased. All heads turned to the center of the room. Cards were folded and placed face down on tables. Drinks were lowered from lips. Smiles dropped and eyes became stony, serious.
From a table close to the bar, a man rose quietly from his seat. He was tall, lanky, with hunched shoulders and a haunted face. With an uneasy gait that became smoother and more confident as he neared the bed, he withdrew something from his pocket and stopped, straightening. I sat stiffly in my seat, lips pressed tightly together. It was a knife. The man had withdrawn a knife from his pocket. I shot a half questioning, half alarmed glance at the woman but she slowly shook her head at me with a look that invited no argument.
For a long moment, nothing happened. The man waited patiently, tightening and loosening his grip periodically on the handle of the blade. I exhaled sharply when a faint shape materialized on the bed, gradually gaining color and mass until it was impossible to mistake the young woman lying fast asleep amidst the tangle of sheets. The man bowed his head for a moment, muttering something underneath his breath. When he looked up again there was something cold and hard in his eyes, as if someone had carved them from stone. He advanced, knife drawn.
I made to get up but was stopped by a firm hand on my shoulder. It was the woman with the wide brimmed hat. She looked angry now, and her fingers dug almost painfully into my flesh. In my peripheral vision I caught the deep red and purple marks on her knuckles - in the flickering yellowish haze of the bar they seemed to pulse, spreading as I watched.
"I know you don't understand but please sit down. If it becomes too much you may look away, but do not interfere."
"What," I said, speaking sharply to mask my mounting fear, "are you talking about?"
The woman spoke low and fast, glancing from me to the scene unraveling in the center of the room.
"The man. He's getting back at her, for the abuse she put him through. That's us. That's you. It's why we're here. It's what this place is - an opportunity you'll never find anywhere again."
I opened my mouth to respond but a sudden flash of motion forced me to turn back to the man with eyes like polished stone. His knife came down in a heavy swing. What followed unraveled by itself.
When it was over the man sat down at the foot of the bed and I watched him sink into himself, knife clattering to the floor. The sound seemed louder than it should have been in the eerie silence of the bar, with every face turned in his direction. Eventually, someone came over to him and led him away gently by the hand. The man moved robotically, staring at the floor, seeing nothing. As he passed, people turned their eyes away and some murmured words of comfort. He didn't seem to hear any of it, or if he did, he gave no outward sign.
I could only watch, frozen, as the bed with the corpse flickered and shimmered. The dead woman disappeared, as did the knife, and the bed re-appeared moments later freshly made and new, with no trace of what had occurred just moments before. Movement and sound resumed, then, with the guests turning back to their tables and card games. The musicians struck up a new tune and slowly chatter and banter returned to the same rowdy level as it had been before.
All through this the woman watched me, her earlier anger gone. She'd dropped her hand from my shoulder and was busy lighting a new cigarette with practiced, efficient movements. After a long time I turned my attention away from the bed and took a new interest in counting the scratches on the bar top. I wasn't sure what to think, or to feel. The woman sat silently beside me, exhaling blue rings of smoke, humming something indistinguishable amidst the music and the laughter from the nearby tables. This was absurd. The whole thing was absurd.
When I was finally recovered enough, I looked up and folded my hands in my lap. The next words I spoke slowly, to keep my voice steady.
"I'd... like some answers."
The woman exhaled and nodded, lowering her cigarette. Far off to the left a table exploded with loud laughter and I wavered for a moment. The smoke of the woman's cigarette still lingered on the air and I took a breath, dragging it into my lungs. I didn't much like the smell but, oddly enough, it seemed to help me find my words.
"What was all that?"
The woman smiled, more to herself than to me, but it did not reach her eyes. She removed her hat and set it on the bar top, running a hand through her hair with a sigh and letting that smile melt back to nothing. I noticed for the first time how tired she looked, how drained her face was, how pale her features.
"I've told you already. It's an opportunity. Against anyone and everyone - it doesn't matter whom you choose, or how many, or what you decide to do to them." She looked away, took another drag of her cigarette. I was silent for a moment, glancing again at the bed.
"Are they real?"
When she gave me a questioning look I made an amendment.
"I mean, are they really here?"
The woman paused, thought for a moment, and then shrugged.
"Yes and no. I don't know any specifics. But they always appear sleeping. And whatever you do - or don't do - carries over to wherever they are."
"So, the woman who died just now, she's really -"
"Yes. But he killed her a long time ago. He stays just to relive that experience over and over again. Finds it therapeutic, or so he tells me."
I looked away. Half a second later, three distinctive tones rang out and I jerked in my seat. Again, the sudden lapse into silence. The folding of cards, the cessation of voices. Chairs scraping on wooden floors as bodies twisted away from abandoned games. Faces, stone masks, turning as if pulled by invisible strings towards the center of the room. The woman next to me smiled grimly, and this time it was her that rose up from her seat. I glanced at her hands and noticed that she, unlike the man, drew no weapon.
When she turned to me, her eyes were as flat and as empty as stones. I was taken aback by the hardness in them and felt me question die on my lips. The lines around her eyes softened momentarily and she seemed to know what I had failed to ask.
"You'll have your turn. At one point or another. It's why I invited you in, isn't it?"
With that, she turned away from me and strode towards the center of the room, flicking the cigarette to the floor. As she stood over the bed I could make out, even from this distance, how battered and bruised her knuckles were. She seemed calmer than the man had been and didn't fidget or give any sign of apprehension.
When it was time, I leaned back against the bar as she set to work. I watched, but my mind was whirling away with other things. Other places, other people, memories that seeped first as a trickle and then flooded as a river. A flash like a firework.
I closed my eyes.
Oh, there was one. One I'd meant to make pay for a long time. But how would I do it? Did the method truly matter? I could do it again. Hell, I could do it as many times as I liked. Over and over and over and over and over again. For ever minute, every hour. I became suddenly giddy with the thought of how much time I had. I could -
"Excuse me, miss?"
I opened my eyes and found myself staring at the man tending the bar. He was heavy set, with sloped shoulders and a pleasant, open face. He smiled brightly and quickly set something down on the bar top. It glinted gold as I picked it up, turning it over in my hand.
"That's for you. Enjoy your stay."
For the first time in a long time, I smiled.
And over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over
And over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over
And over again again again again again a.g.a.i.n a.g.a.i.n a.g.a.in.
The seas rumbled and roared and heaved, tossing black slabs of icy water into the wind. White tipped waves spitting foam and mist plunged snarling into depths roiling with currents strong enough to rip boats from hull to stern. Drums, thundering, pounding, unfurled into purple and black bellied clouds hanging low and heavy in the sky. Every so often, with a crack like a whip, fork-tongued lighting came lashing down in blinding streaks of silver and white. On that distant horizon, more rumbling thunderclouds bringing sheets and sheets of heavy rain. The winds, having rallied, came hurtling down in a deafening cacophony of screeches and shrieks and screams. The sea, black bodied and thunderous, rose to meet it, roaring a challenge with its gaping maw parted wide.
I encountered Them. An odd pair, outlined in grey strokes against a purplish thunder-headed sky in a slight rain. They had walked a long time in a wind armed with newly acquired teeth. October had passed silently. It was the first day of the new month. And the day that for every year of my life afterwards I would spend in my room, half slumped over and sick to my stomach. Awaiting what was to come.
I'd woken that morning stiffer and colder than usual. Glancing left, I noticed that, sometime during the night, a wind had thrown the window wide. Thin curtains in dire need of replacing flapped gloomily in the early grey morning. I rose and, crossing the room wearily, pushed the window shut and slipped the hook back in place. I don't know why I bothered - the thing was rusted and loose anyway. Yet another thing that I'd long told myself I'd replace. In looking out, I noticed, first disbelievingly and then with quiet resignation, the aforementioned figures traveling the long, winding path underneath that darkly-set sky. No one had reason to ever come this way. It was why I had stayed. Had, they, perhaps, made a mistake? But, alas, only a short moments more of observation made unmistakably clear: they were coming this way.
Although I'd never been one to enjoy hosting guests, I nevertheless decided to humor the unexpected arrival. I dressed, tidied, drew open the curtains in the main room and set the water for tea. When the knock came, I answered with the key surreptitiously hidden in my hand. In case of distinctly unwanted guests, I'd throw shut the door and bolt it. Although not as young as I'd once been, if it came to, I was more than capable enough of using force. A long time ago, I'd had to use it almost every week.
Whatever expectation I had became immediately overturned at the sight that greeted me on the front steps of my home. The man, at first glance, appeared as any other sharply dressed figure on the streets of some city - tall, neatly groomed, with an air of purpose and an undercut cunning. However, upon closer inspection, there were some oddities that gave me brief pause.
For one. His overcoat, an unremarkable shade of grey, had smallish buttons shaped as eyes. They gleamed in the greyish light and appeared to blink as he breathed. Glancing up, I found his face to be hard lined and tired. He had pale lips and dark half moons under his eyes that resembled bruises. The eyes themselves - every few moments or so, they'd roll back into his skull and I'd be left staring at a pair of blank slots. I did not have the feeling that he had any control over the unusual habit - he eyed me where I stood with a flat, unchanging expression and gave no outward sign of discomfort during those odd half-second instances.
I shifted slightly in the doorway and glanced at the second companion.
The pig was large. Covered in coarse black hair shining almost indigo in the heavy light, it stood leaning heavily to its side and seemed to favor a leg. Its mouth was half open and I could make out the pink lining of its bottom lip and yellowed points that were teeth. I did not, I realized, particularly like the way it eyed me - there was something a bit too intelligent about its eyes. Before I could make any further observations, a smooth voice interrupted my train of thought.
"Would you like an apple?"
I blinked, looked again to the sharply dressed man with the white-slated eyes that came back again to focus. When I did not reply immediately, he produced a crisp green apple from the inside pocket of his overcoat. He held it out to me. I half registered the fact that it had begun to rain - the wind had picked up, pushing raindrops onto the front porch. The pig shifted, the boards creaking under its feet. The strangers eyes rolled back, flashing white, and rolled forward again. The apple appeared to float in the air. After a long moment, I found my voice.
"I- no, sir."
His expression remained unwavering.
"It's for the pig."
My brow creased.
"The pig. The apple is for the pig."
I stared at him, uncomprehending. He'd come all this way, beneath a sky that since yesterday had promised stormy weather, for this? I lived several long miles from the nearest town with no proper road. I pressed my lips together and leaned back a bit, suspecting a joke I was in no mood to entertain. Many years ago such a thing had happened on a few occasions, but usually it had been the townspeople with their hurled eggs against my windowpanes or young boys with their shrill, sharp voices and sharper insults.That had been long ago, though - I thought they'd forgotten or grown bored of me. Apparently not. It was almost commendable. The man with the rolling eyes and the black pig. Really. They'd outdone themselves this time.
I made to close the door.
The next few things happened fast.
Like an eagle diving for its prey, the man sunk to his haunches in a fluid, sharp motion. All at once the apple was rammed between the pigs' jaws and a silver shape cut through the air. The man, eyes rolled white, had whipped a knife from his sleeve, arcing it towards the unfortunate porcine's throat. The slash sent black liquid splattering over the porch. The rain by now came down in torrents and the wind had risen to a scream. Or, perhaps, it was my own. I reeled backwards, losing my footing, and came down hard on the floorboards, the door flying open.
When I looked out again the man was gone. The pig remained where it was slumped on the porch. The black pool in which it lay spread rapidly, mixing with the rain and rippling as the biting wind passed over it. The apple hung loosely from the pigs' lips, half crushed and spilling juice. I noted almost absently the fact that the animals' eyes were still open. They seemed to stare at me, twin slots of empty black. A crack of lightning sent a flash of silver over the newly made corpse and, for a moment, it appeared as though the pig was still alive, observing me with those horribly, horribly intelligent eyes.
I don't remember too much after that. Days passed. I'd buried the pig and washed the blood from the porch. Days became weeks, and then months. A year.
It was the last day of October.
It happened the same every time.
Here - my treasures, my wares. I sell each of them for a coin a piece. They stopped using money long ago so only the ones who want desperately enough what I sell will undergo the trouble of finding a coin. It's become more difficult these days but - my wares are such that I am never short of clients. There are many; I forget all their faces.
I am easy to find. Listen, for the soft clinking of metal in my pockets, in my hat and the cuffs of my pant legs. In any light you'll see me - shining and gleaming with a thousand dulled copper-iron eyes. Coins - clattering, serpentine strands - hang from the soft trains of my long coat. I've had to lengthen them, every year, and fold them double. Didn't I tell you? Look only into some dismal back alley street and you'll find me. Or don't. You'll find me anyways.
My coat is beautiful, no? I don't feel its growing weight; I mark every transaction only by the slowing of my pace. The world speeds by and I've lost the tally of time but it never interested me much, anyway. Come here, come closer. See how that metal shines? It is more beautiful than I...
Would you like to walk with me for a moment? Let me show you, the things I sell. You will find it nowhere else - the streets, the clouds, the sidewalks caught in rain are empty, empty. I am the only one who can offer you anything. There was one, like me, before, but they've been gone a long time.
Open your hand. Can you feel it's weight? This is just one of my many wares and perhaps the most popular. It is, as I have formed it, colorless, unfinished, crystalline. To be morphed and warped into the shape, form and hue of your choosing. It will grow to any tremendous size but, please, take caution. Power, as it is so named, is not inherently dangerous but use it too often and you will find yourself emptied of everything else. I will have to come back for you, then. Give it here; carefully now.
I will press into your palm another of my wares and you will tell me, without looking, its name. Yes - that's correct. Strange, isn't it? To know and to feel beauty's fair form without having ever set your eyes upon it? I apologize but return it, also, lest it grow cold in your hands. It seems to spoil sooner than it did before but I cannot know for certain - I've abandoned time and consider the passing of the second and the hour one and the same.
Have I kept you long? Have I shown you my other wares? I sell power and beauty just as easily as death and decay. I can keep nothing for myself - nothing at all. I carry everything in oceans and can distribute only teaspoons at a time and I -
It was worse. In the beginning.
Do you know what it means? Would you even care to listen?
I am trying to empty myself. I wander alleys and lone roads and empty sewer lines in search of more people to ease what I was given. They flock to me, but it is never enough. I give them whatever it is they desire and they pay me in coin. Just one, only ever one. How ridiculous. A single coin for a happiness that could last their entire lives. One coin to restore health, another to speed death and yet another to split the seas. One coin to command, even, the passage of time.
I am not beautiful. Look at me - I have no face, no being, no soul. I am everything but that doesn't mean anything; therefore, I am the same as nothing. I fill that same space and am composed of the same things. If I am equal parts love and hate than what does that make me?
Perhaps, perhaps! I cannot die, but perhaps I can make myself into something that will. And what, save beauty, dies more quickly?
If I have frightened you, I apologize. Truly. I think, it would be best, if you and I were to part ways at least for this moment.
If you, by chance, decide you ever need something from me, I am easy to find.
Listen, for the soft clinking of metal in my pockets, in my hat and in the wind. You'll see me in any light, shinning, gleaming, Argos- eyed. Coins - clattering, serpentine strands - hang from the soft trains of my coat that I've had to lengthen, year after year...
Didn't I tell you?
(I am tired, more than you'll ever know.)