Behind Her Eyes

Reads: 192  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Following an unfortunate encounter with a furball puppy, Finn becomes marginally obsessed with the magical flame-filled eyes of its owner, Beth. A second chance meeting leads Finn to Beth’s bedroom where he’s transported to a haunting ocean-covered world surrounded by a semi-spherical dome. There, a diabolical shadow overwhelms him and soon enters Finn’s world. Can Finn find a way to escape it?

Submitted: July 19, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: July 19, 2016

A A A

A A A


It’s a dewy morning, just beyond the hump of the year, a few days after the summer solstice strawberry moon, still early, not yet 6 o’clock and, pleasantly chilly. Light slices through half-opened blind slats of an un-curtained window. An attentive observer like me, like you, maybe –  should you be given over to spotting such details – might notice beneath the pale flap of skin that covers it, Finn’s right eye stirring into action. Think saccadic eye movements and you won’t go far wrong, except these movements aren’t your standard left to right variety. No. Finn’s eyeball is darting around in every direction imaginable, like a ball bearing ricocheting off the paddles and other sprung surfaces of a pinball machine. I should imagine there are multi-coloured flashing lights and the sound of buzzers and bells somewhere in the background, too.   No two ways about it.  That eyeball is energised.  It’s so damned impatient to the get on with the job of seeing, it overlooks the fact that it can’t do much without its associated eyelid being raised.   Finn issues the order to open up. The eyelid obeys enthusiastically. Finn’s left eyeball is equally energised and also demands to be unveiled so it too can get on with the job of seeing. Finn now lays in bed and stares momentarily at his bedroom ceiling.  A cursory inspection reveals a cobweb in the main light that needs brushing off and a small hole that requires patching.  Both jobs can wait. In Finn’s words, not mine “It’s a get-up, get-out and get things done morning”. Now there’s a mission statement and a half, if ever there was one, wouldn’t you agree?  ‘I bet the roads are clear of traffic, the greenways clear of dog-walkers, ideal for a quick turn of the cranks before heading into work’, Finn thinks. But he doesn’t think for long. Before reaching the end of that train of thought, Finn had already thrown the covers back and Jumped – yes literally jumped – out of bed onto to his feet.  The pinball energy of his eyes had flooded his body quicker than Oblivion plummets down that first exhilarating white-knuckle pulse-racing chest-crushing breath-catching drop.
 
A galvanised thirty-something now races to pull on cycling kit. Not the spray-on lycra kind, but the infinitely cooler baggy shorts and classic racing jersey kind.  Today it’s the turn of a favourite woollen blue Campagnolo top, the one with the short zip.  Expecting to ride hard, Finn collects two water bottles and, two slices of toast – complete with a generous smearing of butter and mountainous dollops of strawberry of jam –  presses them together jam-side in and, shoves them indelicately into a jersey pocket for later.  Out on the pavé – that’s cobbled roads to those in the know – three cars rattle speedily by.   Soon after, an HGV thunders past and, in a scene not unlike two high-speed trains passing in opposite directions on adjacent tracks, Finn’s bike is sucked toward then bounces away from the side of the vehicle.  In spite of the wobble, Finn, a hardened cyclist with a litany of inglorious spills in his Palmarès, remains relatively calm. He reacts in three ways. First, there’s a shake of the head. Second, a shrug of shoulders and third, two feet are stamped more forcefully into pedals, oh, and, ahem, there’s a fourth reaction I almost overlooked. Of its own accord, arguably, a middle finger stands to attention and gives the inconsiderate driver of that deathanaut a defiant salute. “Time to get off the road” Finn urges himself.  A quick turn of the handlebars and a small bunny hop sends Finn through the park.
 
“This is more like it, ” Finn says out aloud, smiling.
 
Meandering paths convey him, unhindered, past a large gaggle of Geese, the odd squirrel or two, an ornate and spectacularly tall Monkey Puzzle, a Picasso-esque lily lake and other innumerable visual delights all of which Finn gulps down as though inflicted with a severe case of polydipsia.
 
Thankfully, there are no dog-walkers, yet.  A good job too, Finn is fully immersed in the biomechanical action of pedalling. He’s in the zone or flow, call it what you like it, the result’s the same.  There’s no perceived effort – none –  on Finn’s part.  A glance down at a handle bar mounted speedo confirms progressive riding at 45 kilometres an hour.  “Not bad. Not half bad” Finn sub-vocalises, giving himself an attenuated pat on the back.  Another turn of the handlebars, in the opposite direction, this time, sends Finn swooping down a funnel-shaped tree-lined trail where broad canopy leaves block out much of the available light, causing Finn to momentarily lose the path.  At the bottom of this particular descent, there’s a narrow bridge –  no more than a foot wide – over a deep brook.  There’s no room for mistakes.  Finn knows that if he misses his mark, he’ll be swimming with tadpoles and sticklebacks in no time.  To be avoided at all costs.  “Time to hold my br-eeeeaaaaaath…” Brakes squeal, a rear tire screeches, there’s a dull thud of aluminium against wood and a burning sensation as brambles tear skin, but by luck or by skill or both Finn remains upright, albeit with a bloody forearm.  “All in a day’s work for a bike rider”, Finn reminds himself, attempting to gloss over his injury.  A few pedal strokes more, after a series of Suzuka-style S bends, Mr Tough Guy – or so Finn likes to believe – passes the tree, where, years ago an older brother demonstrated how to tarsi across the brook, but fell short of the opposite bank by a mile and splashed down into the main flow with all the grace of a pregnant rhinoceros diving off a 10-metre platform into an Olympic pool. The poor guy was too afraid to go home and face his parent’s music, preferring instead to walk about all day soaked. Finn smiled on the inside and let out an audible chuckle on the outside as he remembered that day.
 
He presses on, pushes down, pulls up with every technically brilliant pedal stroke, then a short way off, up ahead, just beyond the water pipe, Finn sees exactly what he doesn’t want to see: an overly long trip-wire lead cutting directly across his path, one end attached to a fluffy fur ball puppy, the other attached to a woman.  “This could get messy. Very messy.” From the racing fraternity of cyclist and thus without a bell, Finn turns his attention upwards to remove the obstruction.  “Oh God, please move…please move, please, please, pleeeeeeease move.” In the absence of divine intervention, however, Finn resorts to emergency evasive action.  He pulls hard on the brakes, but in a rare panicked amateurish move, inadvertently grabs too much front and before his brain can comprehend what’s happening the earth is spinning about him on entirely different axis.  He’s now flying through the air, headlong. Clark Kent eat you’re your heart out. A red neon sign that reads “This is going to hurt!” strobes on then off, off then on, repeatedly for a split second before Finn’s eyes.  A Claxton warning of impending doom sounds in his head.  Then…the inevitable. Thwack! Thud! Crunch! Three words roll slowly over Finn’s lips “It did hurt.”  He’s now a crumpled mess, man and bicycle wrapped around a Maple tree.  But it could have been worse, much worse.  Had it not been for the services of that tree, Finn, no doubt, would have needed the services of a buoyancy aid instead.
 
Don’t be fooled into thinking that avoiding the brook prevented Finn getting wet.  That would be foolish.  Still in a half-dazed state, not unlike that place between wakefulness and sleep, the injured party feels something like moist sandpaper scarifying his lips and something like feathers tickling his cheeks. A damp-doggy smell finds its way into his nostrils.  All three sensations combined snatch Finn into full consciousness.
 
“Hey, furball! First, you knock me clean off my bike, then lick me to death!  You really have it for me don’t you little fella?” Finn remarks to his new canine friend half gritting his teeth, half laughing, whilst pulling playfully on the pup’s ears.
 
“I’m so sorry. So, so sorry.  Teddy’s just a pup. Has a mind of his own. Here, let me help you up” says a female stranger with a lightly accented voice.
 
Finn excepts the offer, is hoisted to his feet by a strong hand and correlates the owner of the voice as the woman he saw moments earlier. The two now stand face-to-face but for a second or two don’t exchange a word.  Finn uses the time to examine the woman.  He takes a methodical approach and begins to scan her from the feet upwards.  She’s wearing Adidas trainers, without socks, double knotted with glow-pink nineteen eighties-style laces, three-quarter length Capri pants, Crop Pants, Pedal Pushers, Clam-diggers, Jams, Highwaters, Culottes, or whatever it is they’re called and, a skin-type vest top, both by the same brand as before. Though possessing a thick-set frame, the woman is not manly. Quite the contrary.  Her hips are wide, her bosom full, the tonus of her calf muscles evident; all qualities Finn admires.  The woman’s strong body is mirrored in her facial features.  On the basis of her top-heavy proportions, Finn speculates she’s Eastern European, Polish perhaps, an idea that’s discarded almost immediately when flame-red hair is taken into consideration.  She’s Scandinavian, Finn hypothesises.  ‘No wait, that can’t be right’ he counters.  Finn adds terms to the algorithm he’s using to calculate the woman’s genetic roots.  Strong body plus strong features plus brand choice plus fair skin minus flame red hair multiplied by accent equals… “She’s German, there’s no doubt about it!” Finn determines confidently.
 
In the silence, Finn’s examination continues.   He notices her eyes or rather the German woman’s eyes lasso every atom of Finn’s mind, body, and soul and begin winding him in by some unknown yet powerful and inescapable force. And no wonder pigmented heavily with lipochrome, the woman irises are painted in deep-copper-gold- hues.  Finn, still shaken by his accident, rubs his eyes, refocuses, takes a closer look and spots flashes of red, which, apart from appearing to somehow dance resemble the coloured fleck found at the heart of marbles.  From where he stands, the flashes or more precisely flames, appear alive and radiate a dazzling light.  Finn is mesmerised and, ahem, unusually lost for words. A perfunctory introduction breaks the impasse.
 
“You’ve already met Teddy, I’m Beth”
 
“Beth?” Finn replies, still lost in thought, lost in two flame-filled marbles.
 
“And you are?” Beth prompts.
 
“Oh…err…Finn…I’m Finn” a clumsy tongue-tripping response.
 
The two chat for a further five minutes, no more, no less.  Beth apologises for the accident and for Teddy’s overzealous licking.  She excuses Teddy’s behaviour with punctuations of “He’s just a pup.”  There’s a good amount canine small talk on her part too. You know the kind of thing:  breed, age, injections, disposition, all banal and unnecessary details I’ll skirt over here if you don’t mind. Despite a sore body and a semi-broken bike, Finn accepts Beth’s long list of apologies without complaint. His attention is captured wholly by two flame-filled marbles. Why? They’re visually stunning for starters and for seconds possess a magical quality that’s impossible to ignore. Frankly, Beth could have done or said anything to Finn there and then on that path, he wouldn’t have noticed.  At that moment, all that existed in Finn’s world were Beth’s eyes.
 
Beth terminates the conversation with “Come, Teddy, let’s go” and the two – or should that be three? – politely bid each other farewell.
 
For the remainder of his morning commute,  Finn is pre-occupied not with his unfortunate or fortunate encounter –  depending on your point of view – with Teddy, or the injuries to his body or bike, or even with the conversation he and Beth shared. No. Instead, two sensationally bright flame-filled marble eyes have become seared into his brain. The more Finn thinks about them the more he thinks about them but worse still, and paradoxically, the more he tries to stop thinking about them the more he thinks about them.  “I can’t win…a prime example of thought suppression at work” Finn says, chuckling to himself.  He’s still thinking about Beth and her eyes in the canteen queue.  Today’s lunch special is breaded fish in fiesta sauce with rice, an all-time favourite.  At the till, Finn reaches into the rucksack he carried this morning, for his wallet.
 
“Drats, I must have left it at home!” he says to Jill, the friendly dinner lady who’s serving him.
 
“Not to worry, Doc, I’ll put it on y’ tab, for flowers tomorrow. Deal?” Jill replies, jokingly.
 
“Anything for you,” Finn agrees.
 
The deal is done.  Finn sits, eats and thinks.  He returns to his office, sits and thinks more.  He arrives home, sits and thinks still more.  All day, his thoughts are consumed by two flamed-filled marble eyes.
 
The following day is much same was as one just described. Again, it’s a pleasantly cool dewy morning. Again, Finn wakes early with pinball energy and declares “It’s a get-up, get-out and get things done morning”, vaults out of bed, dons an ensemble of baggy cycling kit, collects two bidon –  fills one with water, the other with ‘full fat’ cola – prepares two slices of toast, this time, supercharged with a mashed banana peanut butter and clear honey combo, presses them together filling side-in, unadulterated side-out and, stows them in a jersey pocket for later.  Finn heads out on the same route as before, for three reasons.  Number one.  This particular route has all the ingredients for a terrific ride. Fast open roads, tricky bone-shaking, amalgam-filling-rattling cobbles, traffic-less greenways, swooping descents, strenuous ascents, all that and more.  Number two. It’s precisely the right kind of distance – neither too long nor too short –  for Finn to tackle in an all-out, gut-busting, leg-exploding, eye-popping, heart-thumping, head-dizzying way and reach work exactly on time, every time, before dropping dead from exhaustion and he likes it that way and that’s that.  Number three.  Well, that’s easy to deduce, even for the most unobservant among you.  That morning, Finn presses the repeat button in the hope of meeting Beth again.  He supposes that dog-walkers, like cyclists, tick-tock like clocks tick-tock and for practical reasons habitually traverse the same route day after day, week after week, month after month, oh, you get it, need I write year after year? He’s wrong. Finn doesn’t see Beth or Teddy, come to think of it, that morning or the morning after or even the morning after that.  Nonetheless, Finn does not, or more accurately, cannot stop thinking about Beth.  Flame-red hair creeps into Finn’s consciousness at breakfast.  Beth’s curvy, yet toned, top-heavy body edge’s its way into Finn’s mind at lunchtime.  At dinnertime, strong facial features catch Finn’s attention.  And, in the hush of the night, Finn can make out Beth’s light German accent inside his mind. On top of that, at all of those times and at almost every moment in-between Finn’s mind is captured by two flame-filled marble eyes. Thinking about Beth is becoming an obsession of sorts. No matter what Finn tries to put his mind to – reading his preferred broadsheet, preparing a lecture, watching an episode of Limitless with friends – his mind, seemingly of his own accord, ruminates insistently on Beth.
 
The day after the following day is a repeat of the one just described.  Finn wakes with the same pinball energy, tackles the same route on his bike, reaches work before dropping dead and, goes about his daily business as best he can, all the while with some aspect of Beth, especially those flame-filled marble eyes worming their way into his thoughts.  The day after the day after the following day is a repeat of the first day and the day after that and the day after that. Finn does not, no, cannot stop thinking about Beth. The general pattern of Finn’s life remains largely the same over the next two weeks. There, are, however, changes to Finn’s demeanour that only close friends and the odd colleague here and there – should they be given over to spotting such details –detect. The man, part academic, part cyclist, is, well, between you and me, losing sleep, he’s losing an appetite for pursuits he’d otherwise be deeply interested in too: food, cycling and, work, to name three.  One friend tells me, and I don’t mind passing on the message –  for Finn’s sake, not mine – that he’s is looking burdened, pressed-down, somehow, like an overzealous student’s flimsy flat-packed-shelf bending under the weight of a year’s entire reading list. But whereas the student burdens the shelf willingly, Finn carries his burden unwillingly.  There’s more.  Finn is unusually restless, agitated, and is snappier than a -grumpy crocodile, or so I’m told.
 
Two weeks on, little has changed. Now, if you’re willing to believe that, you’re probably willing to believe almost anything, which makes my job as a storyteller considerably easier. Come. I couldn’t write a story that you’d willingly read if the situation had not changed. So I lied. So what?  Finn’s condition is deteriorating fast. So fast, that on Wednesday afternoon, whilst students are busying themselves with whatever it is they should be busying themselves with – some or other form of physical activity –in the midst of preparing the first draft of a manuscript for an obscure academic journal, Finn is faced with an unconquerable case of writer’s block. A strong, toned, top-heavy, curvy body supplants empirical president. A light German accent overshadows formulae.  Flame-red hair elbows hypotheses aside.   Flame-filled marble eyes sear away logical arguments.  It’s no use, Finn’s mind is overridden, overtaken – possessed, even – with thoughts of Beth.  The only cure for Finn’s malaise is to find her.  But where to start?  He’s not seen Beth for two whole weeks and even then, the probability of finding anyone based on a first name alone is microscopically small, Finn reasons. Realising the futility of his predicament – not being able to work on one hand and not being able to satisfy a desire to see Beth on the other – Finn, frustrated, presses control- alt- delete, packs his belongings, including an uneaten ham and tomato sandwich, slams his office door shut and heads out for a KEEPTHEHELLOUTOFMYWAY kind of walk.
 
Finn’s feet transport him thudding-step by thudding-step through the parkland at the back of faculty building, around the edge of an unkempt duck pond where green algae are prosperously blooming, through the twists and turns of the old town and, finally, without truly being cognisant of how, Finn arrives at Vinyl, his favourite Coffee shop.  It’s a small privately owned shabby-chic place located in a back street off the main square, the kind of place a man like Finn can sit and forget about the world for a while.  On the downside, the coffee and panini there are overpriced, exorbitant, even, which Finn begrudges. On the upside, that keeps students away, which provides a sublime retreat.  More importantly,Vinyl’s coffee is supremely good, full-bodied, strong, just how Finn likes it and perhaps more importantly still, the owners taste in music matches his own.  Today, Olafur Arnald’s “Old Skin” – rendered with an eerie piano, energetic strings and a soothing rhythm –  is playing in the mid-ground which brings an instant smile to Finn’s face, not least because he loves that track but also because he believes that music MUST be played loud and, at home, that means setting the amplifier to just past half way.
 
“Usual Finn?” asks Vinyl’s longest serving barista.
 
“Sure why not, Ed, and…let’s see, oh yes, a gargantuan slab of that delicious looking carrot cake too!”
 
“Coming right up.  Take a seat, I’ll bring it over”, Ed replies chirpily whilst simultaneously pirouetting and in seconds, more steam is billowing out of an antique Italian-looking coffee machine than a Britannia Class Locomotive. A strong doppio espresso now trickles into a toy-sized cup with “Blue Monday” printed on one side.  Another cup on the machine top has “Stripped” printed on it and on another cup appears the words “Paranoid Android.”
 
Finn slaps a ten-pound note on the counter top melodramatically, enough to cover the bill and leave Ed a small tip. Finn turns, looks up and right at the back of the coffee shop catches sight of flame-red hair. “Surely not! It can’t be her…can it?” Finn quizzes.  Shocked, astonished, bewildered, chose any word you like, the effect is the same.  Two well-loved Vans are now glued to the floor. And whilst his body remains stationary, Finn’s heart and eyes shoot clear of his body Looney-tune style. “I didn’t expect…”  As that train of thought subsides another takes over. Finn cross-references the woman he now sees with the image of the woman seared into his brain two weeks ago.  Flame-red hair, check. Toned, top-heavy, curvy body, triple check. Strong facial features, check. Light German accent, unknown. Two flame-filled marble eyes, to-be-confirmed. Finn glances down and sees his left toe poking through canvass.   He collects escaped body parts and summons the spirit to look again. “There’s no mistake. It is her.” Finn concludes without confirming unknown quantities.  Beth is reading a book, which, judging by the Venn Diagram on the front, Finn recognises as “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.” “Great Book,” Finn mumbles.  For now, Finn is flying marginally below German radar, but he’ll be noticed soon enough. As he stands and stares, he comes to the conclusion that whilst Beth is attractive she is not beautiful, not if the images of contemporary fashion magazines are anything to go by anyhow. Yet, as he remains rooted he can’t help admire Beth’s form.
 
Beth glances up from behind Murakami’s words. A blip appears on her radar. Finn’s cover is blown. A polite smile from Beth, somehow, bellow’s oxygen into the embers of her eyes and suddenly two marbles erupt with bright dazzling flames and begin to work their magic.   They tug forcefully once more on every atom of Finn’s mind body and spirit.  For a split second, Finn is a dog-tired arctic explorer, who, having traipsed through knee-high snow drifts and battled against fierce freezing winds all day, every day, for last two weeks wants nothing more than to thaw his body against the raw energy of fire.  Finn floats more than walks to the back of Vinyl and without being aware of any movement, now stands two size-nines away from the fire that beckoned him.
 
“Hey, hun. Fancy seeing you here. Come join me,” Beth commands.
 
Finn does exactly as he’s told and settles into a green wing-back Chesterfield opposite
Beth, who’s part way through a mocha and a half eaten pesto chicken, mozzarella and beef tomato panini.   Finn does not, no, cannot speak.
 
“Finn, Isn’t it?” Beth asks, encouragingly, after putting down her book. “Play it cool, play it cool,” Finn thinks.
 
“Oh…err…yes… Finn,” another clumsy tongue-tripping response. “B – ?” but before he can spit out her name, a strong female voice interjects.
 
“No need to play cool hun…you know my name.  I’m willing to bet you’ve been thinking about me obsessively since we first met too.”
 
“Er…how did you know?” admits Finn, reluctantly.
 
“Call it female intuition.”
 
“How’s Teddy?”
 
“Oh, Teddy’s working out just fine, Danke,” Finn brushes off the absurdity of Beth’s statement for the sake of keeping the conversation going.
 
The two chat for a further thirty minutes, no more, no less. Do excuse my ineptitude That’s a misrepresentation of the scene on my part.   It’s probably fairer to say that Beth did most, if not all of the talking.  Beth told Finn about how her title of Research Assistant was grossly misleading.  After all, she had her own lab, her own students, designed all the experiments and, put all the papers together, she said. Every now and again, Beth pinned a few strands of flame-red hair behind her right ear. As she talked Finn became aware that Beth occasionally seemed to slip through a crack in this world – albeit for a nanosecond –  and vanished into another one, an orthogonal universe, somewhere. Yes, Beth spoke enthusiastically about a plethora of subjects, but somehow, she was simultaneously there and not there, like Schrodinger’s cat, alive and dead at the same time or something close.  Beth told Finn about how her boss had failed to spot a ‘gaping flaw’ in a well-received publication of a competitor.
 
“What an embarrassment…on both sides,” she said.
 
She also told Finn about how much she’d sacrificed to get to the top and finally about how walking Teddy was her only release from the pressures of working at a blue flag university like Metro. Throughout, Finn was transfixed by two flame-filled marble eyes. To make out he was listening, Finn shook and nodded his head in all the right places, mostly. As far as Finn was concerned, being talked at had at least one advantage.  It gave him time to examine Beth further. There, sat at the back of Vinyl, cocooned comfortably in leather, Finn saw something he overlooked that first meeting by the brook. A foreboding darkness lurked behind the flames. Finn was vaguely aware that if he met Beth’s gaze for too long, the darkness would soon work its way into his eyes too so he tried to find ways to distract himself.  First,he scanned the album covers hung around the place. Songs of Faith and Devotion was there, good. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust or in English that’s With a Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly was there too, excellent.  Then, in a corner, a stack of 12-inch singles topped with a cover resembling a large floppy disc caught his eye.  But he couldn’t help himself. Finn’s gaze soon settled on Beth’s eyes once more. It was a compulsion. As he stared the flames grew brighter and, the darkness, or whatever it was he saw or thought he saw grew ominously darker…
 
After the last bite of panini and last sip of mocha, Beth gathers up ‘Colorless’, her mobile phone and purse and pops all three items in an oversized trendy looking handbag, the kind with a manufacturer’s emblem on the front.
 
As she’s putting on her coat, Beth asks “Say, Finn, how about coming back to my place?”
The boldness of Beth question is met with coughing and spluttering on Finn’s part. Words stick to the back of his tongue.
 
“Come, hun.  Don’t be shy.  I know it’s been on our mind too.”
 
“Er…well, ahem…sure…why not…are you far?”
 
“Just around the corner. Let’s walk,” Beth commands.
 
Once again, Finn does exactly as he’s told.  He follows Beth and is directed, in silence, this way, that way, left then right, then right again, through the old town, until fifteen or so minutes later, the two reach a handsome three-story Georgian house with a large lustrous corn-yellow door.  Beth discards her outdoor wear in the hall and intimates, without a word, that Finn should do the same.  He kicks off two scruffy Vans, hangs up a duck down Gillet and abandons a brown leather satchel to the floor.  Beth Leads him by the hand up a sweeping staircase, into the master bedroom where ornate paper covers the walls and a bed of mammoth proportions occupies what Finn estimates to be the room’s centre.   Beth pours two small single malts, takes a sip from her glass and asks with her eyes for Finn to follow suit.   Finn obeys.  The ochre coloured liquid warms Finn’s throat and eases his nerves.
 
And this is the point where the story becomes weird.  Strap yourself in, buckle up! Within seconds, one by one the pixels of the screen on which Finn’s life is projected begin to vanish whilst concurrently one by one the pixels of another world appear until Beth’s bedroom has completely de-materialised and is replaced by a vast ocean on which Finn now stands. In the crepuscule of this other place, wherever, whatever it is, the water appears deep, dark. Fiery reds churn beneath the surface.  “I’m in a strawberry swirl ice-cream hell,” Finn thinks.  Small waves lap at Finn’s holey Vans, yet, oddly his feet remain dry. Odder still, he doesn’t break surface tension. “Wh-aaaat? Finn questions.  “I’m not an aquatic insect or the son of God, not even a saint and this ocean doesn’t appear to be a non-Newtonian liquid” Finn states, beginning to rule out explanations about how he can suddenly, miraculously, defy the laws of physics and stand on rather than be swallowed by an ocean.  Ever the scientist, in an impetuous and potentially self-defeating move, Finn leaps into the air and thrusts both feet –   like a polar bear hunting for a seal pup hiding beneath pack ice – into the ocean with everything he has. There’s no observable effect, nothing, except a painful jolt to Finn’s spine, oh, and the resultant grimace that follows.  “For every action, there’s an equal opposite reaction. At least one law of the universe applies here” Finn muses, in good humour.
 
With his initial anxiety about standing on water waning Finn spins through three hundred and sixty degrees, all the while scanning, hoping to get a fix on where he is.  From what he can tell there are no observable landmarks. On the unbroken horizon, however, there’s a grey translucent barrier.  That same barrier is above him too, so naturally,  he concludes the ocean is surrounded by a massive semi-spherical dome. Before Finn has time to fully acclimatise to his new surroundings,  without warning, a white light, intense, compelling, appears far away in the distance.  For an unquantifiable amount of time –  seconds, minutes, hours, it’s not possible to say exactly how long– Finn stares into the light and, since it neither expands nor contracts, deduces it must be stationary.   The light whispers “Come home,” and automatically, a left foot edges in front of the right.  As Finn walks toward the light, he’s suddenly aware of a presence behind him that was absent earlier, a dark shadow. It’s rolling in over the waves like a thick ocean fog. Pitch black, menacing, frightening, diabolical, Finn knows instantaneously that this thing, whatever it is, must be avoided at all costs. He hastens his steps, but the darkness creeps ever closer. It brings with it disturbing fractured images, projected on the inner surface of the dome. Mangled skyscrapers, more un-buildings than buildings smoulder. Small pockets of fire can be seen among the detritus at street level.  People, if you can call them that, appear mangled too-  more unpeople than people.  Here is the charred body of a 3-year-old girl. Here, the pallid form of a new born baby. To Finn’s left a 12-year old boy or thereabouts is huddled in one corner of a half-demolished room, rocking to and fro, and, stuck in a dysfunctional behavioural loop that’s all he does, rocks to and fro, nothing else.  Filled with compassion, Finn reaches out and touches each one of them in turn.  For a split second the charred girl lets out a hellish ear-piercing scream, the newborn reveals its baby blues and peers directly at Finn, the 12-year old boy, well, he begs repeatedly to be set free.  Human touch, Finn supposes, momentarily reanimates the unpeople. But not for long. Once Finn withdraws his hand, the girl, the baby, the boy, take on their previous horrifying forms. It’s almost as though they borrow energy from Finn only to die away afterwards.
 
“Forget strawberry swirl Ice-cream: THISISHELL!” Finn shouts out, terrified.
 
A volley of questions stampede through his mind “How can this be?  What’s happening?  Where am I? Am I hallucinating?  How can touching an image make it real?
 
In a bout of denial, Finn cries out “I’MNOTHERE. THISISN’THAPPENING!”
 
Truth is, Finn is not in a dream, he’s not hallucinating, he’s fallen through a crack in his world into another one.  In the absence of answers, Finn’s steps break out into a run.  He’s now sprinting toward the light. But it’s no use, he’s not perceivably closer to the light than when he started and the darkness matches then outstrips his speed. Finn glances behind.  An enormous ill-defined hand emerges from the pitch black fog, reaches out and wipes Finn clean off his feet. He falls onto the water. And now  pinned to the ocean surface, amid the waves, the true horror of the darkness reveals itself to Finn.  By some unknown mechanism, that same ill-defined hand grabs every atom of Finn’s mind body and soul and bears down with a tremendous crushing force. In every way imaginable he’s being squashed, squeezed, pressed in.  The physical and mental pain is excruciating.  Then for while nothing. A blank. No thoughts. No feelings.  No sights or sounds or any other discernible sensations.  Simply nothing.
 
Slowly, a vague sense of summer percolates into Finn’s awareness drop by drop. It’s the smell of freshly cut grass or freshly cooked grass as Finn’s Arabian friend jokes.  Other sensations make their acquaintance.  Finn can hear children playing in the background.  A light breeze caresses a cheek.  Finn also has an imprecise idea that he’s lying down. Opening his eyes to a leafy oak tree above confirms that hypothesis. He is, in fact, uncomfortably supine on a park bench. Like you, like me, he has no idea – none –  how he got there.  “I must have fallen through a crack…” Finn’s speculative thought subsides.  He sits up and stares at a bed of purple tulips, hoping the wooziness in his brain clears. He sits there disbelieving more than believing all that just happened.  He searches for a rational explanation.  “It must have been the whisky” he conjectures. “No, it can’t be…I had just one sip” he counters. “Or was it Rohypnol, or something worse? he adds “And what about that other world?  Was it a dream? It didn’t feel like a dream. It felt real. Tangible. Altogether more solid than a dream. The screaming girl felt cold, that baby peered at me and, that boy, well, dirt from his body rubbed onto my hand.” Mugginess, brain-fog – call it what you like – prevents Finn thinking with any clarity. He sits on that bench for the remainder of the afternoon, sometimes people watching, sometimes thinking but, mostly in a half-dazed state, rocking to and fro, just like that 12-year old boy he saw earlier.  At dusk, the park keeper dispassionately throws Finn out.  He leaves, walks home and falls into then out of a restless sleep.
 
The following day, Finn wakes unusually unrefreshed. Get-up, get-out and get things done mornings have got up and gone, Finn thinks.  He goes back to the business of faculty meetings, of preparing lectures, of giving abysmal grades to terrible students. He does his utmost to forget about Beth and the horrors of that other world…
 
Finn hasn’t so much as looked at a bike, let alone ridden one, in the last month .  He has nonetheless thrown himself headlong into his work. As a reward, man, part academic, part cyclist and, part human, rewards himself with a visit to the only local Belgian-style bar in town. There, he orders a pint of Freedom, a crisp organic larger, sits and takes the first sip. Refreshing and strong. Perfect.  All the usual characters are there that Thursday night.  Two fat men with beards sipping dark liquid prop up the bar. A cravat-wearing eccentric-type is nursing a glass of red in a corner. The local vicar, who, judging the two empty glasses on the table and, the half-empty glass in his hand, is well on the way to finishing his third pint. The philosophical polish diarist, who Finn planned chatting with later is also there. But he doesn’t get the opportunity. Before Finn reaches the end of that first pint of honey-coloured liquid, a woman with flame-red hair and flamed-filled eyes enters  the bar. Finn is arrested. There’s no doubt, it’s Beth. She boldly approaches the bar, orders a strawberry beer, takes it over to Finn’s table, pulls up a chair without invitation and sits down opposite Finn, also without invitation. As before Beth does most if not all the talking.
 
“Hey Hun, fancy seeing you here.” She begins. Finn almost drowns in his beer.  He coughs, splattering larger over Beth.
 
“Thanks, hun, I’ll make you pay for that later,” Beth says half literally, half…well, with a certain something that promises much more.
 
That evening, Beth told Finn about the inconvenience of having the builders in and how much mess they made. She told him about how a next door neighbour keeps her awake on school nights by playing his guitar annoyingly loud. She also told him about how her colleagues and friends were jealous about her toned curvy body, her flame-red hair. All the while, Finn was mesmerised by two flame-filled marble eyes, despite the danger of darkness lurking behind them. Soon enough Finn finds himself standing before a corn-yellow door. He’s now discarding outdoor wear in the hall and now has a glass of ochre-coloured liquid in his hand and before he knows exactly what’s happening he slips through a crack in his world and falls pixel by pixel into another more horrifying one. Again he stands on a deep dark ocean surrounded by a translucent semi-spherical grey dome. Again a bright lights calls and a dark shadow gives chase. As before, the girl screams, the baby stares and, the 12-year old boy begs to be set free.  An ill-defined hand emerges, trips Fin, pins him down on the deck of the ocean where the true nature of the darkness is revealed.   The mental and physical pain is excruciating.
 
This time, Finn comes to himself on a curb along a trunk road into town. A driver honks a horn, rolls down a widow and shouts “D’ ‘ave a death wish, or summut?”
 
“I must,” Finn mumbles in reply.
 
Again Finn tries to piece together what just happened and goes through a similar deductive process as before. Nothing makes sense. He applies Occam’s razor. “I must have been drunk” he concludes.  But wait. No.  “I had one beer” Finn recalls.  “It makes absolutely no sense.” He dusts himself off, brushes himself down and moves off the curbside, to avoid on-coming traffic.   “Let me look at it like a scientist or better still, like a detective” he urges himself “I’ll eliminate the impossible and, whatever remains, however, improbable must be the truth.” With that in mind, Finn concludes “going to different place, a world beyond the one I inhabit is a ridiculous idea.  If it can’t be measured or recorded, then it doesn’t exist. Whatever that other world is, it’s not real.  A mere figment of my imagination.” Without knowing it, Finn falls into the trap of McNmara’s fallacy, or if you prefer, makes an erroneous conclusion based solely on easily measured parameters, whilst ignoring others. In a rare moment of academic weakness, Finn “presume[s] that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t important” which according to Yankelovich is blindness and forgets that “what can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist is suicide” Shame on you, Finn!
 
The following day, Finn doesn’t wake until ten o’clock am British summertime, despite being a workday.  He doesn’t go back to the business of faculty meetings or preparing lectures, of giving abysmal grades to students who really shouldn’t be at university. Instead, he calls in sick and heads out to Vinyl to forget about Beth and the horrors of that other world.  Today, Finn is Vinyl’s only customer and Sigur Ros’ Brennisteinn, is reverberating loudly around the place, probably for that reason.
 
“No work today?” asks Ed. There’s no reply.
 
“Rough night, huh?
 
“Something like that,” Finn replies half-heartedly.
 
“Want the music down?” enquires Ed thoughtfully.
 
“No, turn it up and give me a beer and large slice of tortilla de patatas.”
 
“Sure thing!” says Ed cheerfully.
 
Finn makes his way to the back of the place and slumps into the same wing-back chesterfield he occupied that day he and Beth talked.  He tucks into the omelette – delicious as usual – and throws the entire contents of a chilled glass down his neck in one go.  He orders another beer and not half way through Finn begins, by degrees, to relax.  The music does its job too.  It transports Finn, metaphorically speaking, beyond Vinyl and that other world.  “Good beer plus good food multiplied by good music is the perfect algorithm to solve almost any problem” Finn muses. Varúð, by the same band as before now plays ear- poppingly loud.  Finn congratulates himself for walking in at just the right moment, two of his favourite songs played back to back.  Just as things start to look up, a woman with flame-red hair walks through the door and suddenly things start to plummet down.  Finn decides his best option to hide.  He slides down the seat, hoping, praying that he’ll avoid being detected by German radar.  No Such luck.  The woman with flame-red hair strides over confidently.
 
“Hallo, Hun,” shouts Beth, over the music.
 
“Hey, Ed, how about knocking the amp down?”  Finn shouts to Ed who acknowledges the request by turning the volume dial a full half-turn anticlockwise.  Finn turns his attention to Beth.
 
“Don’t tell me, fancy seeing you here,” Finn says sarcastically, fortified with alcohol.
 
“Took the words out of my mouth, hun.”
 
“I have questions.”
 
“I’ll answer all your questions soon.  For now, look at me.  Look at me!” demands Beth Impatiently.
 
Finn makes the fatal mistake of doing what he’s told and, peers directly into two-flame filled marble eyes. Within in moments, Finn is memorised by the dark magic within.  Finn listens to all that Beth has to say and before his brain can catch up with what his body is doing, he’s stood at that corn-yellow door again, in Beth’s bedroom again, sipping single malt again and pixel by pixel enters that other terrifying world, again. The light calls, the darkness gives chase, the girl screams, the baby stares and 12-year old boy begs to be set free again. That same ill-defined hand reaches out and pins Finn to ocean’s surface from where the true horror of the darkness reveals itself. Finn’s mind, body and spirit are being crushed. Worms burrow into his head. Zombie chickens gnaw his bones. Dark menacing thoughts – back cupboard thoughts- convince Finn that Death is his only escape.
 
Still weighed down by the horror that other world, Finn comes to himself on Chester bridge in the new part of town where back-cupboard thoughts engulf him. He’s now looking down on the tracks below, places a hand on the wall in front of him and motions to climb over. He pauses.  Finn wants a quick sudden death and to achieve that timing is everything, he supposes.  “Jump too soon there’s room for second thoughts and maybe I’ll break a leg and live. Jump too late, and, well, that would be embarrassing,” Finn thinks.  “Either way, too soon or too late won’t get the job done cleanly,” he adds, so Finn waits for the perfect moment. He doesn’t have to wait for long. The mechanical whir of a Pendolino can now be heard hurtling along the track toward him. Finn compresses his legs in readiness to leap. “Wait…wait…wait” Finn coaches himself “Wait…” and then somewhere over his right shoulder, sounds of children playing in a nearby playground catch Finn’s ears and he remembers: he’s from this world, not that one.  At home, Finn takes an Estrella Galicia from the fridge, peels back the top, downs the bottle in one and, thanks those children for saving his life.  A near miss.
 
That night Finn’s nightmare’s take him back to the horrors of that other world.  The light calls, the darkness gives chase, harrowing images of children present themselves. A dark hand pins, crushes, torments. Finn peers at railway tracks. A mechanical whir hurtles toward him.  Faceless children goad him to jump and mock him when he doesn’t.  Finn wakes from that other world with a start, sweating copiously and screaming three words over and again “There’s no escape! There’s no escape!  There’s no escape!” Finn is just about right on that score. Worms burrow, zombie chickens gnaw, back cupboard thoughts swamp.  Though he wakes at midday and should, therefore, be well rested, Finn is unrefreshed – exhausted more like. He has a feeling that he’s being watched or followed by someone, something diabolical. He does not, no, cannot be alone.  Finn heaves his crushed body and tortured mind out of bed, doesn’t bother to shower or shave, throws on a scruffy pair of jeans, a green Atari t-shirt, a hoody, slips into his holey Vans, slams the front door shut and heads out for a KEEPTHEHELLOUTOFMYFUCKINGWAY kind of walk. He heads vaguely in the direction of Vinyl but doesn’t get there.
 
Ambling aimlessly through the new town’s wide streets, amid a crowd of Saturday shoppers, Finn spots flame-red hair in the periphery of his vision. He turns, rubs bloodshot eyes, refocuses… “It must be her. IT HAS TO BE HER” Finn thinks. A brawny looking man accompanies the woman.
 
“Beth!” Finn calls.  The owner of the flame red hair quickens her pace.
 
“Beth!” he calls again.  The woman pauses. Finn strolls over.
 
“Can we talk?” asks Finn, the desperation in his voice evident.
 
“Hun, it’s not a good time. Can’t you see I’m busy?”
 
“Five minutes, just five minutes” Finn implores.
 
Beth turns, whispers a few words to her companion. Finn catches “Loon” and “dispose.”
 
“Okay, just five minutes, no more, ” says Beth to Finn.
 
“But please do me a favour, okay?” asks Finn.
 
“What it is?” Beth demands.
 
“Keep those sunglasses on, okay?” hoping the request will keep him from the magic of  flame-filled eyes.
 
“Sure hun, anything you say.”
 
They enter the nearest café, a characterless franchised place. Finn orders a doppio espresso, Beth a mocha.  They sit opposite each other at a table in the window, Beth with her sunglasses on. Finn’s earlier mugginess is replaced by urgency. Polite small talk is absent.
 
“Do you ever reach the light?” Finn dives in.
 
“What?  You see it too?   I thought that other world belonged to me.  Do you have nightmarish thoughts afterwards?
 
“I do… I’ve never looked at trains in quite the same way,” Finn replies.
 
More insistent this time, through gritted teeth, each word a Jab socking a leather punch bag. “DO…YOU…EVER…REACH…THE…LIGHT?”
 
“Never.  Not even close.  When I  do eventually get there, my hope is that the darkness will disappear. A far away dream. In reality, I’ll probably never be free of it. And I suppose it will be the same for you” Beth nudges up her sunglasses and wipes away two small pools of moisture with a paper napkin.  Finn notices a dark-coloured ink-like splodge on the tissue paper once she’s done.
 
“When did you begin travelling to that other place, that other world, as you put it?”
 
“After the picture of the little girl was taken.”
 
“Huh? What picture?” Finn’s incredulity is obvious.
 
“Come, you know the story, you’ve seen the picture…it’s the one I used to keep folded in my purse. It’s hanging in the kitchen now, in that gilt frame. Where did you start your journey?” asks Beth.
 
“Start my journey?  What exactly do you mean by that?
 
“What images did you see on the dome?”
 
“Smoke, the odd fire, half-demolished buildings, the charred body of a girl, a dead baby, a boy rocking.  I tried to reach out, to help… then…then a hand from the darkness grabbed me.”
 
“Then you’re already much closer to the light than I am. I started my journey in a park where nothing grew. Every flower was withered, the grass yellow-brown, scorched”
 
There’s a pause.  From Finn’s point of view, it’s an uneasy one that feels like hours.  By the hollow look on Beth’s face, she doesn’t much care. Beth pins  a few strands of flame-red hair behind her right ear draws in a deep breath and continues.
 
“Each time I pass on the Darkness, I start closer to the light, but in the end, well, you know now what happens in the end, the darkness, it always consumes me.”
 
That’s one reason why the two have never seen other in that dreadful place. Even though Finn and Beth may have been in that world together, at the same time, they were in different places.  Beth much farther behind and beyond Finn’s horizon and Finn much farther ahead and beyond Beth’s horizon. A simple trick of perspective. Nothing more. Same time, same place, different locations. The pair beyond each other’s horizons.
 
“How many times have you passed the Darkness on?”
 
Doing her best to avoid answering, Beth eye’s dart  around the café. She momentarily admires the barista’s symmetrical tattoo and takes in a print of the New York skyline that covers one wall. She mumbles a tut and thinks disdainfully the decorator could have been more inventive. What is it with New York anyhow? What about the London skyline or Barcelona’s or better still Milan’s…now there’s highly fashionable sexy city, I must go back there soon…
 
“HOW…MANY…TIMES?” Finn asks punching out each word.
 
“Oh hun, I’ve lost count” Beth replies, glibly.
 
“And it started after that picture of the little girl was taken?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“So you’ve been doing this for over twenty years?”
 
“Pretty much. Sounds about right” Beth says, almost with a hint of pride.
 
“How many men?” Finn interrogates further.
 
“Two, maybe three…a week?”
 
“That makes thousands,” Finn says in astonishment.
 
“I’m unashamed. I give each one an experience they’ll never forget and, well, I get closer to the light.  It’s win-win. It’s not like they don’t get anything.  It’s the intimacy that makes it all work. Offering myself as a gift, that deep connection is an umbilicus from my soul to theirs.”
 
Trench-deep furrows appear on Finn’s forehead.  Finn gasps for air.
 
“So what happens now?” Finn petitions.
 
“Well, you can try and live with it…but you won’t last long…only two weeks after that picture was taken, I slashed both wrists. Spent an entire year in a special hospital. No, it’s impossible to live with.  You’ll be dead in no time. My advice is to pass on the darkness, as many times as possible, just like I do…it’s the only way.”
 
“There must be alternative.” Finn avers.
 
“Look, I’m no green-hand at this. Believe me, THERE IS NO OTHER WAY.” Now Beth words are walloping a punch bag.
 
“So I have a choice.  Let the darkness destroy me or pass it on? Right?
 
“You gottit,” says Beth, smiling, sardonically.
 
“Thanks. Much appreciated. Great. Terrific.  You’ve handed me a death sentence, else made me a murderer”
 
“But there are rules” Beth snaps back, talking over Finn’s last few words.
 
“Rules?  What rules?”
 
“Limits,  if you like.”
 
“No, I don’t like! I don’t like any of it.  Are you completely crazy?” Finn says angrily, trying not to raise his voice.
 
“Not Crazy.  My reaction is a perfectly rational response to an irrational situation.  I slip through a crack in this world and fall into another, I’m tormented by horrific images, chased by darkness. Now that’s crazy.”
 
“And the rules, the limits?  Tell me, now!”  Finn is now throwing heavy word-punches, an upper-cut here, a kidney blow there.  Finn’s anger is a molten mass beneath a caldera that’s ready to explode.
 
“The effects of passing on the darkness follow a negatively accelerating function.  With a new person, the first time round there’s a big leap toward the light, the second time the leap is shorter and third time, well, the gains there are almost negligible. After that there’s no point, that’s when….” Beth’s sentence dies away.
 
“Three is the limit… three is limit” churns over in Finn’s worm-eaten brain.
 
“When, what?” Finn probes.
 
“That’s when I get rid of ‘em.  AUF WIEDERSEHEN! That’s the other rule. You have to get rid of them, dispose of them, cut them out of your life like a surgeon cuts out cancer. You have to be cruel, vicious somehow.  You have to really hurt them, inflict harm.  Believe me, I don’t like doing it that way, but it doesn’t work otherwise. I tried to be kind once, but I made no headway towards the light, I started my journey in the same place as it started the time before.”
 
“So how have you hurt me? Other than introducing me to the darkness?”
 
“The money, hun. The money.”
 
There’s a penny drop moment, a bouncing bomb splashing down onto a German reservoir moment more precisely.
 
“It was you? YOU! YOOOOOUUU!” Says Fin in a loud whisper, not wanting to disturb the other customers. There’s no volcanic explosion. Nonetheless, a palpable burning rage is now written on and between the contorted lines of Finn’s face.
 
“Yes, ‘course it was me, hun.  I bought these Prada sunglasses and a few other luxuries with the proceeds. They’re lush, thank you.”
 
“Wait!”
 
“For what?  For your sluggish brain to catch up with the brain between your legs?”
 
“How did you do it?
 
“Oh huuuun, honey,” Says Beth, whilst pulling Finn’s cheeks, adding a dose of humiliation into the mix of emotions he’s is now experiencing.
 
“It was easy.  That first day whilst you were petting fur ball, I stole your wallet. It slipped out of that ghastly red rucksack you always carry around as easily as your tiny cock slipped into my pussy. After that, all I had to do was open a browser, go to the online shop I set up the week before and spend, spend, spend!”  The money- your money – all TENGRAND of it, flooded directly into my bank account.  Easy pickings.  Gullible guys like you are suckers for cute looking puppies, gorgeous eyes and a beautiful smile like mine, not to mention my expensively firm tits.  I played you like a virtuoso plays the violin!”
 
“So it was all a game? Bumping into me like that?  Teddy?  Our other chance meetings?”
 
“’Course it was honey, why would I be interested in someone like you?”
 
“What will you do with Teddy?” asks Finn, unexpectedly concerned for the dog’s welfare.
 
“I’ll use him once more, then drown him like all the others.  Dogs love water and they don’t feel a thing.  It’s a peaceful way to go…”
 
Finn, half-admired the fuzzy logic to Beth’s statement then was repulsed by it.
 
“Don’t tempt me!”
 
“Don’t even think about it honey.  Touch me and I’ll scream rape.  I have samples of your hair, sperm, fibres from your clothes, everything I need, in fact, for a successful conviction.  You’ll be behind bars before dinner time if you’re not careful.  It’s your choice, pass on the darkness, or learn to live it, for as long as you can, IFYOUCAN. Now go away. leave me alone.  I never want to see you again”
 
Finn storms out the café, leaving his espresso untouched. Finn’s feet convey him along the railway sidings. He ruminates on the conversation with Beth and all that’s happened since the two met. He’s overwhelmed by back cupboard thoughts, worms burrow, zombie chickens gnaw. Finn has no more options than Hobson. “Murdered or murder” plays continuously in Finn’s mind.  The following morning the headline of the local rag reads “LECTURER LOSES LIFE ON LINE.”


© Copyright 2017 AJ Hayward. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Literary Fiction Short Stories

Booksie 2017-2018 Short Story Contest

Booksie Popular Content

Other Content by AJ Hayward

Behind Her Eyes

Short Story / Literary Fiction

Popular Tags