Sunday, March 25, 2007

The House

Before I tell you my story I should make clear that I am not actually real. I’m just a figment of the writers’ imagination. How real the resulting story is –is an interesting question. Certainly for me it’s real –otherwise there wouldn’t be a story to tell would there? But then again -as I already said –I’m not real. No more real than an imagined past or a dreamed of future. You don’t doubt those do you?
Well, I was staying in a campsite in the shadows of a great mountain range. You can think of the Alps if it helps –it doesn’t really matter. The main thing, in terms of this story is that it was cold. Bitterly cold. If you began this paragraph thinking it was warm and sunny –I’m sorry you will have to create another image. The temperature is important to the story you see? I wouldn’t have said anything otherwise.
All I had with me was a small, inadequate, red tent which was slowly deteriorating with each night that my travelling continued. In fact, thinking back, I’m not sure why I bothered travelling with it. It didn’t stop the howling wind chilling me to my bones. It didn’t stop the sounds of things going bump in the night, or weird howls –which I hoped were owls. Owls don’t eat people, monsters of my imagination do. If ever anything is giving you the creeps –like a weird noise, shapes in the dark –just imagine something which fits with the noise or shape which is easier to live with. You need to control an imagination. They can get so easily out of hand. Look at me! Pure imagination. But you should ignore that –otherwise you’ll never get into this story. You have to start thinking of me as real.
So… I had a tent which let in wind, leaked, and was of no good to me whatsoever. Still, the thought of being without it troubled me. I felt unsafe sleeping outside without it. Besides, it’s nice to forget what’s around you sometimes. In a tent you can you can be miles from home –out by the Rockies (or the alps) –yet still be in your back garden at home. With a warm house and good food just paces away. Of course as a kid it worked the other way around. I’d be in the back garden in my tent (the same one!), but in my mind I was really in the Amazon, or a raft at sea. Why I could never want to be where I actually was is a mystery to me. When did one become the other?
This one night it began to rain. That icy kind of rain which actually stings when it touches your skin. I began to notice that the floor of this tent was getting wet. Somewhere I had a leak. Yet, for some reason, I just stayed there –wide awake in my sleeping bag. Maybe I was thinking it would stop raining or something… Well whatever I was thinking –it wasn’t about stopping the leak or anything. I think I must have thought that I didn’t want to go outside in the rain and get wet. Which is pretty stupid as –not only did I get soaked inside the tent –but so did my sleeping bag, my clothes, my travel book and map. Just about everything was ruined.
It got to be like a mini-pool in that tent, and I was still in my sleeping bag! Finally I came to my senses and grabbed up all of my stuff. Cursing myself all the while.
I clambered out of the tent into the pissing rain. I was already soaked and cold –so it didn’t really matter being outside. Yet, actually seeing the rain made the whole thing more depressing. I couldn’t see three feet in front of me it was coming down so strong. It was so loud it hurt my ears.
I left that tent there without a backwards glance. Well ok, just one look… but I couldn’t see it through the rain –so it doesn’t really count.
It seems funny now –but at the time it was incredibly depressing. I managed to end up walking across a river. Don’t ask me how. But one moment I walking through the grass and the next I’m waist deep in muddy water.
Several times I lost my footing in the strong current and was swept downstream, which had me cursing myself blue. In truth, it really made no difference. I probably wanted to go in that direction anyway and it was certainly a quicker way to travel than walking. I think it’s because in dire circumstances like that you tend to only think in steps, and my mind was set on getting to the other side of the river. Getting knocked off of my feet was counter productive to this.
Eventually I made it to the other side. I didn’t have a clue where I was. It was still pissing down with that numbingly cold rain. Stupidly, I decided to leave my map in my bag as I couldn’t face looking for it. I had my hands in my pockets as it kept them ever so slightly warmer and I did not want to get them out to fish around for a map.
Now, I know all this is hard to believe –but I’m really crap with directions –and I had been relying on the local bus to get me from A to B. I had only arrived at the foot of the mountains earlier that day and still hadn’t planned whether I was going to explore the surrounding area or move on. I really didn’t know where I was. So not consulting a map was really pretty stupid.
Instead, in the belief that it would lead me into a town, I decided I would follow the river. Only the day before I had been in a town with a very similar river, and in the back of my mind I think that I thought I could get back to the same town. I found out years later that the river going through that town was a completely different river. That’s all well and good to me now. But back then it meant nothing.
Figuring that I’d hit the town soon I put a bit of stride in my step. Why didn’t I follow the road the bus had come on to get to the campsite? Beats me! Crossing that river was stupid –I should have just got out the way I came in. but I did cross it. That was stupid –sure. But crossing back again seemed even more stupid. How could I explain that in a story? No. I was on the other side.
In the time it has taken you to read the last couple of paragraphs, I had spotted a glimmer of light in the rain and had begun walking towards it.
To begin with it seemed like I wasn’t getting any closer. It always seemed to be the same size. More than once I stopped and thought about turning around – but it always seemed too late to change my mind. Especially on the 3rd or 4th time I stopped.
After what seemed an age, I suddenly began to get closer. The dot of light turned into a window, the window then became a window on a house, and the house became a house in a street.
I laughed to myself in the rain.
God damn!
I made my way to the house with the light on. The first out of a total of three. Nice big houses. Warm and cosy! Well the one with the light on… surely!
How late was it? Was I going to be waking people up? It was hard to tell in places with street lamps for some reason, I guess because the light never changes. I never had a watch as I got fed up of changing it every time I went into a new time zone. There was only one light on in the whole street. So either everyone was away or it was late and everyone was asleep.
I decided to be a bit cautious, and tapped very gently on the front door.
I tried the door handle. It was unlocked.
I eased the door open very quietly for someone who wanted to get the homeowners attention.
I stepped inside.
I realised that I was holding my breath.
Directly in front of me was a flight of stairs. They reached upwards towards the soft light of the upstairs landing. If someone was in, they would be up there.
I should have done something. But I didn’t. Now I was acting as if I didn’t want to be seen at all. I felt terribly self conscious. How was I going to explain my story? Did it make sense? I tried to follow the events that led me here, but gave up in panic half way through. What was I doing??
I slipped into the more comfortable darkness of the living room where no-one could see me. No-one knew I was there.
I looked around for some family pictures. I wanted to see who lived here without them seeing me. I wanted to be prepared in case someone appeared.
Obviously they weren’t a sentimental family… not a single picture! Assuming it was a family of course –it could have been the home of one person for all I knew then. I know now of course, but I don’t want to reveal it just yet –it’s in my prerogative as a writer. Suspend information to create tension within the audience.
I moved deeper into the house. My curiosity was raised. The next room I went in was even odder. At first I thought that it was a garage with plants in it. Then I thought that I might have been in a green house. It was neither. It was a swamp-like with wild grass and weeds around it.
Surely this wasn’t in the house? (You and I think alike). But there was the roof.
Who lived here??
I began to feel uncomfortable and took out my penknife. I edged my way to the next door…
… A kitchen.
I can’t tell you how relieved I was to be in a room I recognised. I tried to listen, to see if I could hear anything. The only sound I could hear were my clothes dripping onto the floor. I looked down at the trail of drips and footprints on the floor. What was that?
I knelt down and touched the floor. Straw…
This was a very odd house and I didn’t like it.
Why would anyone have a straw floor? Pets? I tried to listen again.
No. This was not good.
Scratching, from the cupboard to my side.
Sounded like mice.
Easy now. I began to open the cupboard door with my foot and prepared to myself to stab at what was inside with my knife.
Just an inch at first…
What was that? Looked like metal… no wait… wire mesh.
Wire mesh?
God… what was this place???
Two inches. It began to look more like a cage.
I swung it open.
It was mice alright. About 200 of them, all crawling over each other trying to get space. They looked like maggots.
You may not believe me so far –but believe me when I tell you that I did not want to stay in that house! That cold, pissing rain, suddenly seemed a lot more inviting.
I slowly shut the cupboard, and in about the same time again I had moved to the front door again. I didn’t so much walk there, or even run –more glided. Fast and quiet. Which was just as well really, because it meant that I could hear the home owners walking up the drive before I opened the door.
Realising I’d be seen if I opened the front door –I panicked! In a heartbeat I had zoomed back into the kitchen. I thought that I might be able to escape out of the back. But when I got there I couldn’t see a door, and the screeching of the mice got in the way of my thinking. They obviously knew something that I didn’t.
I went back to the front door. In retrospect I wish I had hidden in that weird foliage room. I say that because, once at the front door and with the sound of the owners almost on top of me, the only thing I had time to do was run upstairs. It wasn’t a good idea.
There were 3 rooms at the top of the stairs. I dived for the nearest one.
It was small, dark, musty and smelled really, really bad. The ground crunched beneath my feet. It was like I was walking on rice paper. I’ve got a pretty good idea of what it was now, but I don’t want to tell you because it will ruin the whole dynamic of the story. I’m building up to this unexpected twist you see?
Now your mind is racing. Stop it! If you guess it’ll ruin the surprise. Then it wouldn’t be a surprise at all… it would be whatever the opposite of a surprise is… you know…
So… I’m in this tiny room with the wind and rain banging at some nearby window which I don’t see. Its pitch black outside too. I can hear unusual noises downstairs. No wait… Maybe that’s upstairs…
With all the noise and no room to move I start to feel very claustrophobic. I realise that I’m trapped in that room. So I go to get out –but I can’t find the door. It is pitch black after all.
I figured I could find the door by running my hands along the wall. But when I reach my hands out my hands out I knock something off of what must have been a shelf in front of me. There’s an almighty crash, which may as well have been my heart, because within seconds someone is coming up the stairs.
Worse still is that they seem to have some kind of animal with them which is growling something awful. It wasn’t good.
Not wanting to get eaten to death I panicked and tried to find the door again. I knock more stuff over… but eventually I find it.
The last few paragraphs actually happened very fast. It takes a lot longer to describe this than it was to live it. Well, this bit at least.
Anyway, I dash out only to stumble into something, and fall to the ground. There’s a small amount of moonlight shining through one of the broken windows. I can see two eyes looking back at me. I must have run into someone and knocked them out or something.
“Sorry. You ok?”
I go to approach… but then realise that the person is dead. I’m sure of that. On closer inspection I could see that there was no life in their eyes.
…on to my feet. To the window.
In the doorway, motionless –like it’s frozen, is what can only be described as an alligator which is standing up like a man. Its mouth is open and the moonlight glinting in its eyes.
I stand there poised like an action figure left posing by a child.
My heart is beating like fucking crazy.
It’s stuffed right? I never saw it before. It hasn’t moved. It’s stuffed. It’s got to be.
I scan it again. It’s got legs like a fucking man!
…Did it move??!
…Did it move??!
No, it’s stuffed. Stuffed.
I decide that I can move around it.
Something starts to move across the floor in the room I just came from. Rustling on the floor.
Got to move. But I can’t!
…and something is coming.
I’m so fucking scared at this point that I can’t even begin to tell you. All I could manage to do was shake. I felt like if I moved, the alligator man would move too. He looked real.
I don’t know how to convey how scared I was. I couldn’t hear the rain anymore. My bladder gave way, but all I was concerned about was staying upright. I was feeling so weak and shaky that I thought I might I collapse.
Then it happened.
This still keeps me up at night… I can’t wipe it from my mind… it makes me scream and wail like a stinking, shitting helpless baby… and flashed in my mind like lightning, when my heart is hammering like ice cold rain…
There in the doorway is another alligator. My heart almost gave out on me. In fact I think it did. Like the other alligator man I never saw it move. One moment it wasn’t there. Then it was.
But now I knew they were real. They were alive. Because the other one wasn’t there before and now it was.
Both of them –silent, still, staring –mouths open like alligators in a zoo. Waiting.
…and I screamed. I screamed as loud as I could, until there was blood in my mouth and my throat was sandpaper.
Then one of them moved. It tilted its head.
I must have jumped, because the next thing I know –like a thunder clap the first one lurches at me.
I somehow push its head with my hand and get past the doorway onto the landing.
Running down the stairs.
One appears in front of me. But I’m going too fast to stop.
I go headlong into it and both of us go flying down. Tumbling. I hit my head and black out.
I open my eyes to find that the alligator is next to me, half on the stairs, on its back. I’m not sure if it’s spasming or having trouble getting onto its feet. Before I can tell, I’m outside running.
It’s as if someone else is driving.
I have to forcibly take control of myself to stop from running into any of the houses. I don’t expect I would have found anyone human anyway.
I ran through trees that tore at my clothes and cut my face. I ditched my rucksack when it got snagged –just to keep moving.
I swamped through streams. Sometimes as deep as my waist.
I ran until I could run no more… finally collapsing in a field with the sun burning my face.
I just led there and cried.
I can now honestly say that with the running, the shaking, the swimming, the cuts, the crying and the shaking again –I have never been so exhausted in all my life.

Somehow I ended up in hospital.
I don’t remember going –just waking up there.
People would come in and ask me all sorts of questions. I can’t remember what. I just remember crying until I was exhausted again… and waking up.
It seemed like a lifetime –where it was always afternoon.
Apparently I was there 10 weeks.
At the time I figured that they must have been drugging me to go to sleep, but it turned out that they were actually struggling to keep me awake. I don’t really understand it.
They said that they had caught a man who was feeding children to his alligators thanks to me.
They said I must have broken free.
Their story was neat and explained the rope marks on my arms when I couldn’t. They liked and preferred their story more than mine.
But I was there –just like you were.
Frustrating isn’t it? When everything you followed turns out to be fiction.


Blogger Jonathan Harley said...

Apologies about the swearing!

The way that this story is told to you is as important as the story itself. It is about the way that a storyteller can manipulate the way you think, and how a version of a story can contain a certain degree of truth whether it is in fact fiction or non-fiction.

The idea was to have someone telling you a story like they were sat around a campfire.

3:36 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home