A spiral is walked. A mind awakens. A need hungers.
Written and performed by Michael Meinberg @meinberg13
Tracks “Spider’s Web” “Snow Drop” “Moorland” “Blue Feather” and “Awkward Meeting” by Kevin MacLeod of incompetech.com
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
For all of my efforts to forget the strange sights I had seen in the rain, in the end there was no escaping them.
One night, after once again eschewing the comfort of my peers in order to explore the paths of the city, I found myself caught in a sudden downpour. The rain pounded the streets, forming strange geometries as the drops impacted and rose upwards like bizarre fountains before collapsing onto themselves. I gripped the handle of my umbrella all the tighter, not wanting to be exposed to that water, fearful of being made beast-like by the addiction of the chemicals that might be found within.
I traveled off in the bad parts of town, down a path that spiralled in on itself, ducking beneath walkways and weaving over tunnels to form a three-dimensional pattern. The place had developed a reputation for consuming those that entered, with its splintering pathways leading back onto the spiral from unexpected angles, forming a nearly impenetrable maze for any who sought to escape.
But I was walking the street, slowly making my way towards the center as I followed its pattern. However, that spiral also served as a channel for the wind, driving it at my back and making my umbrella flutter in my grasp.
As I fought to seek shelter within the nook of an alleyway, or an alcove to crawl into and achieve a degree of succor from the rain, the houses along the way burst open and thick jacketed folks, from the poorest to the richest, strode forth. Their dark coats like a mass of storm clouds, they moved through the space with the regulated motion of a machine, booted feat tromping on the ground, making the puddles splash around them.
They formed a tapestry of flesh before my eyes, weaving and warping, a mass that pushed me back into an alleyway. I was hemmed in by narrow walls on either side and stairs behind me leading up to another looping street. I stumbled halfway up a set of stairs before collapsing fully onto my backside, the wet stone beginning to seep through my trousers. I attempted to scramble back onto my feet, but I couldn’t find purchase on the slick stone.
And then I felt the umbrella roughly pulled from my fingers. The rain fell upon my face and hands, drenching my clothes, the heavy drops easily saturating the cheap fabric. I rolled towards my side and caught sight of a figure on the steps above me, holding my umbrella while a broad grin rested on their face
They immediately stood out from the rest and wore a dark vest and a white formal shirt, though both were soaked through, but paired with a ankle length skirt. Their light colored hair was cropped short into messy spikes and their soft cheeks and curved jawline were capped with brilliant blue eyes, which contrasted with their deep and warm beige hued flesh. I couldn’t help but stare in those eyes, intense and numb all at once.
Perhaps detecting the sudden attraction behind my gaze, a flush played over their cheeks before they turned and disappeared into the grey haze of the rain. Only after they were gone did I remember where I had seen them before. They were one of the five that I had seen the night that had opened my mind to the strangeness of the city.
There was no escaping the rain, not now that it had marked my flesh. I could practically feel the liquid worming its way deeper and deeper. I had to get out of there, I had to get back to civilization, back to normalcy. The walls pressed in ominously around, bounding me into the space, surrounding me in its claustrophobic grasp.
I descended into a river of people, taking advantage of the cover of umbrellas that they offered, and pushed my way further forward. All around me, voices babbled in my ears, sounds and the concepts of sounds, the very fabric of language poured itself into me. And all I could do was swim through the crowd, slowly unwinding around the spiral.
I looked up to the faces that seemed now to tower over me, like the tops of the spires, and I could see their mouths unmoving, even as those raw sounds seeped through into my skull. I felt myself shiver without even realizing it, the cold and the heat and the sweat and the rain all merging together into my gestalt of sensations. I could do nothing but push forward, clawing and scraping, pushing aside those in front of me.
Finally, I emerged from the spiral just in time for the downpour to fade, leaving me alone in a suddenly empty and silent street.
That absence thundered in my skull as I stumbled along the street. My consciousness began to expand, began to fill even more space around me, flooding my senses with new revelations. I could feel the impressions left behind in the stone and the wood, the lingering residue of a thousand stomping feet in the pavement.
But I couldn’t hold onto those scraps. The residue sifted through the fingers of my mind, leaving trails behind in my mental sight. The fingers grasped at substance, tugging and pulling, searching in vain. And then they turned inward, pouring into the substance of my own mind. I shuddered then stilled as if electrocuted and then collapsed against the nearest wall.
My vision shifted, became replaced with a panorama of sights, frozen images that formed the tableaux of my past.
I sat at my father’s side, holding his hand as the life slowly drained from his features. He had fought so long, for himself, for my mother and I, and there was not a jot of strength left in his face. I was but a boy, but despite my youth, I knew full well the weight of what was yet to come. I knew that within the span of a few days, my father would die. He might have stood a chance, if the doctors were authorized to use their more experimental techniques. My father might have survived, if we had the funds or the insurance.
Instead, he died in a hospital bed, and was buried in a pauper’s lot.
I stood behind my mother as her voice rang out over the streets. A crowd had gathered to listen and stared up with rapt faces. Her words and her rhetoric echoed in their heads and in their hearts, and would be returned with a choir of cheers. But in the moment, I could only lurk, my features covered in shadows, knowing that there were consequences for such words.
A week later, my mother lost her job. She did not stop her preaching.
A month later, enforcers from the local Corp beat her black and blue. But she did not stop her preaching.
A few days later, she died in a prison cell, and received no burial.
No members of my extended family wanted anything to do with me after that. And so I was inducted into the ranks of The Orphanage. Considering my age, and my background, I knew I had little to no odds of adoption. But that was alright. I knew my parents well enough, and I had learned first hand of the weakness that family love can bring to the heart of a child.
No wonder I turned myself so heavily into scholastics, no wonder I sought to hone myself into a stronger person, a cog powerful enough to rise from the lowest ranks of the cogs. No wonder I cared little for the passing affairs of humanity, and cared only for the power of the machine.
In the palace of mind, I saw my future as a grand clock tower. I marvelled at the intricacies of the construction, the thousand cogs fashioned from the detritus of human lives. Cogs turned over every inch, over every exposed bit of the tower.
I felt the hands of my awakened self dragging me backwards, trying to pull me into those memories. Perhaps they sought for the connection of minds that occurred in the passage of memory. Perhaps they sought for the bits and pieces that those that had touched my life in the past left behind inside of me. But here, I couldn’t deny it to myself.
It was not the climb and the power that drove me forward. I did not marvel for my goal. I fled from my origin. The pain, even now, after the passage of so many long years, had not faded. I still felt the keen stabs of longing and loss and my despair at my inability to stand up for those that needed me most.
I had to be strong, not for the sake of being strong, but to keep myself from being hurt like that again.
And so I climbed. My fingers grasped the gears and I pulled and pushed myself further and further upwards. The ticking of the gears made my hand and foot holds unsteady, but at least the clockwork machinery provided them in sufficient quantity. Inch by inexorable inch I climbed, seeking the pinnacle. Eventually I came to stand before the face of the clock, the hands frozen still.
And I gazed into it, the face of the clock became the face of the moon as I stared upwards at a sky that seemed to stretch infinitely away. I did not hesitate, but reached forward and touched that face, feeling its light bask over me.
I pulled myself from the space forged within my memories to find myself standing on the flat roof of a small two-story building, out of that mindscape and back in reality. Those fingers searched outward once again, but I concentrated with all of my will and held them back. Slowly but surely, they began to withdraw back into my head. But in time with that, waves of nausea gripped my form. I lurched forward and nearly fell off the edge.
The nausea intensified within my gut and finally I leaned forward to vomit over the edge, splattering onto the pavement below. With the expulsion of my guts, the world seemed dimmer around me. The stones lacked lustre and the sky seemed more clouded above. A sense of disconnect settled over me, the feeling that I was now deprived of a richer reality than the detritus that surrounded me.
I longed to reach out, to know the presence of another mind meeting my own. And a thirst rose in my throat, an urgent need to drink, to satiate my loss through the consumption of water. I knew that the water contained what I needed, that the water could give me license to be free of the constraints of being a singular and isolated self.
If I drank deeply enough, I could turn my mind outward, I could turn my pain into nothing by washing it over with the presence of other. I needed to unleash that pain, turn it from a thing gnawing in my brain into a tool that I could free unto the world and let everyone else deal with.
I discovered a ladder on the backside of the building, no doubt my means of ascent, and then gradually made my way down. My limbs trembled beneath me, feeling drained and weak in the absence of the light in the world. Finally I landed on pavement and collapsed to the ground, panting and wheezing.
I took my time to gather my breath, before crawling over towards a conveniently placed water barrel. I climbed up along the edge and gazed down into my reflection below. The rain had slicked my hair and ruined my clothes, and I looked dreadfully pale in the dim light of twilight. My eyes shone in that reflection, pupils dilated to the point that my eyes were monochromatic.
I dipped a hand down into the water and cupped it within the barrel. Slowly but surely I lifted the hand up to my lips, but then paused. I recalled Teri’s story. I remembered that man brought low by his need, and I saw that reflected in myself.
I let the water drain out between my fingers.
The walk home was torturous. I stopped several times along to sit and rest my legs, slumping onto benches and steps on the streets where I had to. But I eventually made my way there. I tossed my clothing into the garbage and subjected myself to a scalding hot shower. For whatever reason, the water that flowed from the pipes did not have the same effect as the water pouring down from the heavens.
I put on a pot of coffee, hoping that the heat would serve the purpose of purifying the water, or if failing that, then the power of the beans might counteract the worst of it. The brew proved to hit the right spots, not sending me into a psychoscape of my own creation, while also giving me a jolt of energy. I set to work in my journal, detailing what I could recall in as much detail as I could.
I wanted to leave behind a record, if I were to pass on without notice. I knew well enough what price was most often paid by those that stuck their noses into the business of the city. I knew with full recollection what would be my fate if I wound up going against the Autocrats. But I also knew what I needed to do.
I needed to get to the bottom of what was going on. Not just with the strangeness of the rain, but the entire strangeness of the city. It seemed that too much fell between the cracks, that too many of the cogs became lost in the spaces where the machinery failed to function.
I had to know what the truth of the city was, I had to grasp this higher realization, not only for my sake, but for the sake of those I had already lost.
The next day, after work, I asked Teri to see the bottle that she had received from the elegant woman.