Short Stories

June 15, 2011      

Meta Incognita by Steve Finbow

And, strangely, I heard the sand to stir at my back, and
I looked round very quick, and the sand rose upward in
parts, and sifted back, and there came to my sight odd
things that did move and curl about.

William Hope Hodgson – The Night Land

Frozen earth. Water tinkling. Wind chimes. Snap of ice. Breathe in. Light out. Watch the boat dragged under smooth and viscous. Within seconds, it’s lost beneath a smudged screen of ice. Castaway. Cast adrift. I hear the ship’s horn seal my exile. A puff of steam. Nothing here. Except the whiteness. Nothing here. Except me. Open bag. Apple. Jerky. Flask of water. Look around. The horizon – an endless line of dark white, a hair on the eyeball, a flaw in the diamond. Shelter. Heat. Food. Scant trees. Box of wet matches. Flesh. Instinct. Logic. I would rather have felt the burn of hemp, a subcutaneous cool liquid death, or the nanosecond of pearlitic steel on minutely vibrating neck hairs. I didn’t ask for it. I was born with it. Hallucinatory migraines that increased in frequency over the years. The unthought known – like a magician palming ping-pong balls from an assistant’s glossy mouth. Like Gremlins splashed with water. Like fucking Tribbles. Exponentially. Here one comes. Mind your head. I hold out my hand as if holding back the crowd. Here it comes. Aura. Been there. Done that. Well, here we go again. Déjà voodoo. Hold on. We may experience some turbulence. For safety and comfort, we should be in good health and free from heart, back or neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride. Young children should be accompanied by an adult.

The first that I remember – the primal one. Two brothers, jawbone of an ass, wooden club, iron dagger – you choose. The ass’s jawbone being the most poetic. The iron bar being the most pictorial, the most efficient. In junior school, all the children gathered around as I summoned Cimber, Brutus, and the other senators to stab Caesar to death on the steps of the Portakabin classroom, the virtual blood flowing between the dropped packets of Skips and Fruit Pastilles. During a football game against our bitter rivals, the referee blew repeatedly to stop the game, believing the figure bleeding in the six-yard box to be that of our centre forward, not noticing that the doublet, breeches, and ruff did not quite match the blue and white stripe shirt and black shorts of the attacking team, nor had the 12-year-old boy the ability to grow a Van Dyke beard, nor would his breath reek of ale and lark pie. On my 14th birthday, just before my mother served the Arctic Roll, the words HeaLter SkeLTter appeared in what looked like raspberry sauce on the fridge door. My grandmother screaming from the living room, DEATH TO PIGS! We rushed in to see RISE scrawled on the wall in the same syrupy redness; a naked fat man sprawled in the middle of the floor, WAR carved zigzag into his abdomen. The sky, an impossible grey lit with orange light like an old television set shorting out, stretches as far as the I can see. My eye. The sparse vegetation, moss-marbled rocks, the cry of a seabird, a scampering of animal life unseen. The sun sits on the horizon, willing, waiting to drop, an old copper coin in a discarded pair of tweed trousers. I could just sit here wait for the visions to take over – become constant, 24-hour drive-in spectacular. Roll up! Roll up! See the magnificent Selber and his manipulative manifestations of mayhem and murder!

Dr. Hildegard Swanepoel: Northfields Psychiatric Institute. Report on Jack Selber, age 38. Reification of Hallucinatory Homicides: The Invocation of Mass Hysteria as a Crime. Mr. Selber has manifested these “hallucinations” since the age of three. His parents believing the “projections” to be from some undefined source. Both parents now deceased. These “hallucinations” are manifestations / reifications of what Christopher Bollas terms “unthought known” – things we know, events that make up our psyche, yet phenomena we cannot know or have known as personal experiences; we cannot put language to them – a form of psychological presque vu, or what Jung termed a “collective unconscious”. The inducer’s visions, these cultural memories of homicide, create in the acceptors (those in the vicinity) a folie à plusieurs. Witnesses attest to the veracity of the projected visions – the dark blue 61 Lincoln Continental Convertible SS-100-X causing quite a stir as it sped through the hospital canteen, the First Lady crawling across the trunk, grabbing for the President’s brain matter. Sedatives do not help in the remission of the visions – the hallucinatory events appear in the room in which the patient lies unconscious. Dr. Raskin is looking into the possible use of electroconvulsive and insulin-coma treatment to prevent or retard the patient’s disruptive and dangerous psychic emissions.

Court Report – 23 January, 2015. The Summing Up of Judge Thomas Berkeley.
(i) The charge concerning the homicidal hallucinations of Mr. Jack Selber.
The Judge stated that there was no dispute that the accused projected hallucinations of (in)famous murders, willfully causing chaos in public places and undermining the police force and laws of the Republic. Secondly, that the accused is cognizant with the pandemonium his “hallucinations” cause in the general public. On May 11, 2012, police found the accused emerging from Westminster Underground station heading towards the House of the Republic, the shadow of a man dressed in early 19th century clothing visibly following him. The police apprehended Mr. Selber but not before a group of Chinese tourists witnessed a muzzle flash and another man fall to the floor crying “Murder!” During their enquiries, the police discovered a diary cataloguing these “manifestations” covering the period from Mr. Selber’s 12th birthday to the present. The court is satisfied that these psychic manifestations may not be under Mr. Selber’s control but it is also convinced that they are a menace to society and, under Paragraph 367, Regulation 115F of the English Republican Charter, which defines this crime as “a violation of an individual’s or a country’s conscious or unconscious liberty,” would ask the jury to return a guilty verdict. (ii) Verdict and sentence: Mr. Jack Selber was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to exile. The sentences were confirmed by the President of the English Republic on 31 January, 2015, and the sentence of exile was put into execution on 1 February, 2015 – Mr. Selber imprisoned on ERS Cromwell sailing for the Republic’s territory of Meta Incognita where he will be exiled for the remainder of his natural life.

Different shades of ice forming patterns. Patterning. They locked me in a room. The visions broke through. Walls daubed with Mary Kelly’s intestines. Windows splashed with Trotsky’s blood. Passersby streaked red with Mishima’s arterial spray. Enough. Close me eyes. Wait for it to come. Nothing. Not even a shadow. Banishment and exile. Even during my trial. Four or five times a day. Shrieks of the witnesses. Screams of the jury. What had I done? What have I done? Prodded and probed. Injected and intubated. Drugged and bugged. I cannot stop it. It cannot stop. Freak show. Gore fest. Claret. Wanted by everybody from MI5 to MIT, from Mossad to the Mafia, from Scientologists to Sony. Night closes in. Temperature drops. Is that even possible? No shelter. Roar of the wind. I hope. Crack and creak of ice. Dig. Dig. Dig. The watch has a blue light. Scoop out snow. Huddle in hollow. No good. Crawl towards the darker shadows. Clumps of vegetation. Howl of the wind. I hope. Cover my shivering body. One night. Maybe two. A long day in-between. But here it comes. Vision blurs. Flock of motes. Swarm of floaters. Flood of adrenalin. The air warms. Perceptibly. The ice recedes leaving patches. Disappears completely. Darkness confined to a constricted space. Stars blink out. Disappear. A voice, “When you go to sleep, my life begins.” My breath. Her breath. His breath. Their breath. Visible. Visible. Naked. Trussed with rope. Brown parcel tape wrapped around skull. Head. Should say. Tube depending from nostril. Smell of sewage seeping up. Walls dripping wet. Light fluttering. “Fuck!” I hear and a clatter of steel. Breathing stops. Her breath. Not his. Not hers. Not theirs. The voice, “All I done was lifted him up and packed her underneath him, and dropped him back on top of her.” Mine catches. Stars blink on. Ice creeps over rocks, over earth. Growl of the wind. No witnesses. No one to stare. No one to see. Alone except for the visions. Alone except for the thing I cannot see.

When I sleep, I do not dream. Not that I remember. When I wake, the dreams begin. How long can I stay aware of my surroundings without hallucinating? How long before they take over? How long before I freeze to death? The sun hangs on the edge of the horizon like a man one-handedly gripping the grassy verge of a cliff, the chalk crumbling, his nails scraping, his tendons burning, his bones breaking. The fall. Darkness. Complete. Even the scribbled branches of the sparse trees blacked out against the night. Moon hidden behind dense cloud. I whisper, hear in return a rumble of laughter far to the south. I shout and the sound ripples in the darkness, spreads out, expires in the air. I scream. I cannot hear my breathing. I stamp my feet, feel but cannot hear the ice splinter. Aura. A lantern beneath lacquer-darkened paint. Barely visible. Stumble. Fall to the floor. See all at once, hundreds of hands reaching out of the blackness, as if a tree had spouted human limbs, and I can see huts burning, children running, animals falling under a hail of bullets, soldiers zipping up, moving on, women bayoneted, men beheaded, an old woman squats sobbing, a soldier wipes tears from his eyes as he fires his machinegun into a hole filled with cowering villagers, and I can see in my mind’s projection a running man, hear the weak throb of someone’s breath, the crunch of ice, the scattering of things before me, the muffled applause of wings.

Steve Finbow

About the author:

Steve Finbow is the author of Balzac of the Badlands (Future Fiction London – 2009), Tougher Than Anything in the Animal Kingdom (Grievous Jones Press – 2011), CircusCircus (Qol Books – 2011), Allen Ginsberg – Critical Lives (Reaktion Books – 2011), & Grave Desire – a cultural history of necrophilia (Creation/Solar – 2012).

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